I’ve been working this month on a new story that takes me back to the 19th century and a familiar theme that I touched upon in A Violet Season: how we used to feed our babies. This time, I’m turning my attention to a dairy farm, an enterprising young teacher, and some of the questions scientists were wrestling with at the time as they learned about bacteria. According to one source, in the early part of the 19th century one-third of all “artificially fed” babies died in their first year . The culprits were spoiled and contaminated milk, poorly-cleaned bottles that harbored bacteria, and a simple lack of proper nutrition.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this research is looking at pictures of the old baby bottles themselves. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that the design we know today came into use. Before that, bottles were shaped more like pitchers, hot water bottles, or oil lamps; in fact, that’s what ancient clay baby bottles were mistaken for when first uncovered in the graves of newborns. Perhaps the most lethal of the 19th-century baby bottles included a long siphon tube between bottle and nipple, the perfect breeding ground for deadly bacteria. Once again, as I learn about everyday life in times past, I am grateful for the choices and technologies we have today! I hope to have this new long-form short story, based on the true story of an 1874 Vassar College alumna and tentatively titled “Mother’s Milk,” available to readers by the end of the summer.
Photo source: babybottle-museum.co.uk
Info sources: Stevens, Patrick & Pickler, “A History of Infant Feeding,” The Journal of Perinatal Education, spring 2009 and Wood, Infancy and Childhood, 1897
June 24, 2013
Book club discussion, 7:30 p.m.
Case Memorial Library
August 26, 2013
Presentation & Reading, 7 p.m.
Miller Memorial Library
I do book club visits, in person and via Skype! For more information, send me an e-mail.
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Door Number 1, 2, 3?
Remember the ’60s game show Let’s Make a Deal? I loved watching that as a kid, maybe because it was about making choices, something every kid can relate to. I was reminded of Doors 1, 2 and 3 recently while thinking about all of the choices readers have today in our frenzied publishing marketplace. Will you read on an e-reader? Buy hardcover or paperback? Go to the used bookstore? The library? Borrow from a friend? Many readers don’t give this much thought, but you should because the survival of your local bookstore and your favorite authors’ careers depends upon it.
How’s a Reader to Choose?
I use all of the above sources for obtaining what I read. But since entering the publishing world as a writer myself, I’ve become more aware of the implications of those choices. Many people argue that if independent bookstores can’t compete with Amazon, they will disappear and rightly so: the market has spoken. But that assumes that we are all far-thinking consumers, consciously shaping our future marketplace. We’re not. One of my greatest fears is that we will someday speak with nostalgia about the neighborhood bookstore where we could browse, chat with the bookseller, have a cup of coffee, kick back in an armchair and discover something new and interesting. It is no exaggeration to say that the bookstore is going the way of the soda fountain with twirly stools and the hardware store with creaky floors and quirky gadgets.
Here are some of the questions I ask myself when I decide where I’ll get my next read:
Is the author still living and collecting royalties?
Will I want to keep the book after I’ve read it and refer to it again?
Is it out in paperback?
Do I need/want to read it right away?
Will the library borrowing period be long enough?
Is it the kind of book I’ll read straight through, quickly, or will I want to flip back and forth and savor it?
If the author is living and collecting royalties, especially if he or she isn’t a huge bestseller, I usually purchase the book, preferably from a “bricks and mortar” bookstore like my local independent or Barnes & Noble. (If money were no object, I would purchase every book I read!) If I’m trying something I’m not sure I’ll like I might borrow it from the library. I borrow a lot of my kids’ books, too (they go through them super fast!). I find e-readers cumbersome unless I’m reading quickly from start to finish, so I rarely purchase a book that way, but authors do earn royalties on e-books, and you can support your independent bookstore by buying your e-books from them, too! Just visit their website. I also want my local used bookstore to thrive, so if I’m reading an older book, such as a classic, that’s the first place I’ll look. That author’s estate doesn’t need my new purchase. I make impulse buys there, too. I rarely purchase from Amazon, unless I can’t find the book anywhere else—for example, if it’s out of print. Amazon is doing just fine, and I worry more about it crushing the rest of my choices than about its survival.
I don’t actually go down a checklist in making these choices, but I do take a minute to think about them. If you do the same, using your own criteria based on your own reading values, you’ll know that you are helping to create the publishing future that suits you.
Photo source: http://www.bookstoreguide.org/2008/10/stanley-livingstone-hague.html
I just read. . .
Thomas Mann’s classic The Magic Mountain, often cited as one of the greatest books of the 20th century. The novel is set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss Alps just before the breakout of World War I. It follows an “ordinary young man” named Hans Castorp through his visit to the “Magic Mountain,” which becomes an extended stay. I found this 706-page tome tough going for several reasons: it's translated from German, which often made me wonder what I was missing both in terms of culture and language; it includes long, philosophical passages in the form of arguments between two prominent characters which, frankly, I often lacked the context to follow; and it is, in the end, an experimental novel, one that doesn’t always do what we expect novels to do. For that reason in particular, readers who tackle it a second time report a quite different experience of it, entering their reading with different expectations. What made this novel a good read for me was Goodreads. I sometimes follow a group called Classics and the Western Canon, a group of smart, thoughtful readers—including at least two who were reading the novel in the original German—whose lively and extensive conversation carried me through and vastly enriched my reading. For me, that’s the mark of a great book group and, ultimately, a great book.