Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of MarysLibrary.
"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.
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"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union."
Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, 1863
This week at MarysLibrary we have been remembering American lyricist Johnny Mercer (1909- 1976), who was born 100 years ago. Mercer's work, especially for the movies with composers such as Harry Warren, Harold Arlen, and Henry Mancini, practically formed a sound track of 20th century popular music. He composed a remarkable number of standards that will keep us remembering him for many years to come. His works include "Lazy Bones", "Goody Goody", "You Must have been a Beautiful Baby", "Jeepers, Creepers", "And the Angels Sing", "Blues in the Night (My Mama Done Tol' Me)", "I Remember You", "Tangerine", "Hit the Road to Dream Land", "That Old Black Magic", "Skylark", "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)", "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive", "Come Rain or Come Shine", "Glow Worm", "Satin Doll", "Moon River", "Days of Wine and Roses", "Charade", and "Summer Wind".
“The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls, but from countinghouses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.” - Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
I have long had a bit of a fascination with forest fires. Maybe that is because I grew up here in the Inland Northwest where forest fires are an annual fact of life. Or, perhaps, it is because I spent a few summers during my college years working for the U.S. Forest Service in Northern Idaho. I worked on survey crews and was sent out on a fire only once. At that fire, we basically had nothing to do other than watch a fire line be constructed by a bulldozer operator from a logging company. Still, seeing even a relatively small forest fire up close, at night when the smoke and flames turn a full moon bright orange, is a memorable experience.
So, over the years I have read a few books about forest fires. Perhaps the best is Norman MacLean's Young Men and Fire, which recounts the tragic Mann Gulch fire in Montana in 1949 when most of a crew of smoke jumpers were killed when a fire blew up on them. Then there was The Thirtymile Fire (named for the location, not the size, of the fire), also by MacLean, about a fire in Northern Washington State in 2001 where several Forest Service fire fighters were killed, mostly as the result of a series of mistakes and mismanagement. The crew chief was later tried on criminal charges as a result of the fire.
Most recently, Timothy Egan's The Big Burn tells the story of the grand-daddy of 'em all -- the fire of 1910 that ravaged parts of Western Montana, Northern Idaho, and Eastern Washington. Along the way, Egan tells the story of the fight for conservation of the Western forests, led by Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir. In all, the book has a wide and startling cast of characters who are variously herioc, cowardly, and just plain strange.
The summer of 1910 was hot and dry in the Inland Northwest. In July, hundreds of fires were started by heat lightning strikes in the northern forests. But, over one terrible weekend in August, driven by heat and wind, the fires merged and exploded over a vast area. The blow-up was beyond any human control. Entire towns burned. By the time the rains came and extinguished the flames, over 3,000,000 acres of forestland had burned -- an area nearly the size of Connecticut (or a bit larger than Yorkshire, for our British readers).
The history of conservation and of federal forest management since 1910 has been a decided mixed bag. Nonetheless, Egan's book is a dramatic and readable account of the people and events that made conservation a factor in American public policy.
"The internet . . . can have an insidious, corrosive effect. Too much internet usage fragments the brain and dissipates concentration so that after a while, one's ability to spend long, focused hours immersed in a single subject becomes blunted. Information comes pre-digested in small pieces, one grazes on endless ready-meals and snacks of the mind, and the result is mental malnutrition." - Susan Hill
Having learned of The Book Depository, I took advantage of their world-wide free shipping again recently and acquired Susan Hill's new book, Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home. In about 30 chapters Hill talks about the books in her house, re-reading some, reading some that she bought but had never got to, and generally reminiscing about the books in her life.
The plan was to buy no new books for a year, reading instead books she already owned. The result is a delightful ramble through the world of literature and is filled with incidents in her life during which she met and sometimes became friends with a lot of famous writers. It's always a treat to read anecdotes that let you into the lives of writers you admire and Hill has many of them to share.
I naturally thought about doing the same thing: not buying books for a year and instead reading or re-reading the books I have around the house. This is unlikely to succeed, considering my history of new year's resolutions broken, usually by the end of the week, even when New Year's Day is on Friday.
But I can do something similar, with the understanding that I can buy a few books by authors whose works I collect (Michael Chabon, Dennis LeHane, Toni Morrison) and that I can borrow books from the library. I might also give myself the ok to buy books for my Kindle. And there's the problem of all the wonderful books Hill describes with such joy that I'm eager to read them myself.
In any case, this was a delightful book and I zipped through it in no time. And of course it wins second prize for the lovliest book cover of the year, comeing in close behind The Children's Book.