Saturday, August 4, 2012

Old Book Smell

I've always loved the smell of secondhand bookstores. Who knew there's actually science behind it?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Smelling Salts

I’ve never fainted from excitement while reading, but I must admit the image fascinates me. A woman was said to have had this response when she read French Renaissance essayist Montaigne's work. I love the possibility that people can experience such strong visceral reactions to what they’re reading that they faint. New ideas are thrilling, and they should energize and excite the writer and the reader. Why don’t we have more excited readers? Maybe it’s because we don’t have more excited writers.  

There are a breathtaking number of possibilities and experiences in front of us each day; yet we often find ourselves thinking the same thoughts, seeing the same things, and responding in the same ways. An excited writer has the power to awaken us to the possibilities, breathe life from the page, and encourage us to live like the bases are loaded—with enthusiasm, intense curiosity, and passion.

As an excited reader and writer, I’m fascinated by ideas and simple concepts under complex surfaces, and I’m always looking for connections between disparate things. Being a student of life is required if our words are going to have the power to shock into truthfulness, help others to see things in different ways, and create a highly reflective surface that shines others’ brilliance back at them.
One of my favorite quotations is from Ram Dass, who said, “We're all just walking each other home." What a lovely journey that can be when we’re walking with those who reflect and enhance our brilliance. Don’t forget your smelling salts.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Read to Grow

"Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow."
~ Lawrence Clark Powell

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Forgotten Bookmarks

I opened an old book at a used-book store and a hotel cocktail napkin with a room number printed on it fell out from between its pages. I imagined someone reading a book, being interrupted, and reaching for the nearest thing at hand to mark their place. What story did the napkin tell? I purchased the book solely on the basis of this forgotten bookmark.

Michael Popek runs a used and rare book store in New York. He began to collect the odd things left behind between the pages of the books he bought and sold. He describes them as treasures within treasures, like bits of random ephemera left inside books, often untouched for decades, which leave him with a misplaced sense of nostalgia.

He is the voyeuristic force behind a fascinating book, Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages. In it and on his website, he shares his collection, offering a glimpse into other readers’ lives that they never intended for us to see, while withholding the full stories they tell.

I adore finding left-behind mementos in books. And to those who have ever left something behind in one, as well as to Mr. Popek for sharing with us his finds, I am indebted.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Touched By Books

"A library should be like a pair of open arms."   
                                           ~ Roger Rosenblatt

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I love the beauty found in castoffs and things discarded. And I’m often compelled to repurpose and find function for mundane and quirky objects that become symbolic of something bigger simply in their arrangement. Anne Morrow Lindbergh understood this: “That had been their fourth time. She put four diamond buttons in an exact row on the windowsill.”

The French call it bricolage: making artful use of objects at hand in a way that instills new meaning or upholds a legacy or story.

I’m especially partial to objects in sets of threes, which is likely tied to my precious relationships with my three children. But what really takes my breath away is when I happen upon a “treasure of three” unexpectedly, either naturally occurring or something placed and forgotten by someone who came this way before. There seems to be a deeper significance than random arrangement would explain.

These kinds of items become sparks of inspiration, reminders of times past, and lovely connections to caring relationships. When I hold them in my hand, they feel relevant and seem to take up more room in my heart than I can explain.

I can think of a million reasons to look for significance and meaning in nature and simplicity, but I need only three.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stars and Dreams

Last Wednesday I spent an incredible morning at the beautiful Frauenthal Center in Muskegon, Michigan, watching my brave autistic 10-year-old son perform with the West Shore Symphony Orchestra. When he got up the morning of the event, he didn't think he could handle it. He was concerned about auditory over-stimulation and performing in front of people. But he decided to give it a try.

And I'm so glad he did. It was an amazing experience, and I sat there for an hour with tears in my eyes, knowing it was not easy for Corban. I listened to him accompanying the orchestra on Mendelssohn's Nocturne, A Midsummer Night's Dream and singing the Toreador chorus from Bizet's opera Carmen.

Afterwards, I asked him what made him decide to go for it. He said, "Because I know how much you've always wanted to play with a symphony orchestra, Mom." It's true; that was always a dream of mine. Did my dream come true last Wednesday? Close enough!

Friday, March 2, 2012

National Grammar Day

National Grammar Day is Sunday, March 4th this year.

I can’t let this day go by without some sort of tribute to the importance of grammar. So to celebrate, I’m posting last year’s winner of the Editor Mark National Grammar Day Haiku Contest, which features the always entertaining homophone!

Spell-checkers won’t catch
You’re mistaken homophones
Scattered hear and their

                           ~ Gord Roberts

Monday, January 9, 2012

Unwrapping the Gift

On a January morning during rush hour in the Washington, D.C. Metro station, a non-descript young man wearing jeans, long-sleeved T-shirt, and baseball cap positioned himself beside a trashcan, opened his violin case, and began to play.

Over the course of an hour, close to 2,000 people passed by him. Only seven stopped to listen before hurrying on; 27 dropped money in his open case, totaling about $32. Only one person recognized him.

The street performer playing in the metro station that morning was Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing a priceless violin handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari.

It was a social experiment arranged by The Washington Post to see if we perceive beauty in commonplace environments at inconvenient and even inappropriate times. And if so, do we stop to appreciate it? 

A hidden camera captured the steady march of an indifferent human parade. There was no applause and no acknowledgement; just the awkward silence after his music stopped.

So what did the experiment teach us? That if we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many other things are we missing as we rush through life? The world unwraps itself to us again and again. Do we pause to accept the gift? Do we invite beauty to transcend?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Is there a word in the English language lovelier than murmuration? It’s one of nature's most phenomenal sights: the incredibly beautiful group behavior of thousands of starlings swishing and swooping together like one living, breathing entity. Why do starlings gather in these odd flash mobs?

The mesmerizing act is typically seen at the beginning of winter, right before dusk, as the birds look for a place to roost for the night. It’s actually a survival function. Numbers build up slowly near the roost, and by late afternoon there is a huge swirling, living cloud. Essentially, it's an epic battle to determine who in the flock survives, and who's a target for predators. It’s all about safety in numbers — none want to be on the outside and none want to be first to land. Each bird tries to copy the bird next to it exactly, which results in a stunning rippling effect with uncanny coordination that biologists don’t yet understand.  

Survival can be a gloriously beautiful thing. And starlings may be the most visible example of the beauty that can happen when we work together.