I love (Tivoli) NY

Movie scouts, listen up. You should film something in Tivoli. It’s quite possibly the sweetest little town in New York. I walk past the book shop, the vegetarian cafe, the colorful Mexican restaurant, the corner laundromat and half-wonder if real people live here. Its small, four-way intersection has stop signs, no lights, and is the hub of the town–the type of place where your waiter yells out to the guy walking by, “You got a haircut!” then continues taking your order.

The library, located in a renovated fire station, is open on Friday nights for neighborhood kids to gather and make stuff. Couples bike through town on old-fashioned bikes and precocious kids order their steak quesadillas medium-rare. I realize later that Bard is down the street. The waiter at Santa Fe tells me that yes, real people live here, some families, some professors, some students who attend Bard and some who never leave. The restaurant has the requisite twinkly lights. The porches are reminiscent of New Orleans or Savannah. The street signs are funky. Gardens are in bloom. When I visit the restaurant later in the week, the waiter comes over to say hello, like we’re old friends. I really like it here.

Santa Fe restaurant

Tivoli library

Children's room at Tivoli library

Tivoli library entrance

The Lost Sock

Painting of Tivoli four corners


Horseshoe and plaque on Black Swan bar


The desecration of a library

I’m all about the ports lately. Last week was Westport, CT for the birthday. This week was Freeport, ME to see Martin Sexton at LL Bean’s Discovery Park, a free outdoor concert series that would make me like the Bean, if I were on Facebook. Anyway, the “sex” in Martin’s name is no mistake; he’s one sexy folk singer. Just look at that swoop of hair and the way he sings, eyes closed in ecstasy. Lullaby, please.

Other than sexy Sexton and the campus that is LL Bean, complete with boot mobile, there’s not a lot to Freeport. A handful of outlets would disappointment me, if I were a tourist. But strolling down Main Street, my friend Kim and I, not tourists, just naive New Englanders, encountered this sweet brick library. She snapped a picture while I pointed out its quaintness—red and solid and stout amid the trees. A classic.

The chiseled bare-chested man peering at us from just inside the door did seem an incongruous entry to the little library, but who am I to judge Down Easters? Perhaps the image helps uh, circulation.

An art exhibit, I thought, puzzled. Until my friend pointed out the sign, in alarm, confirming the desecration of a most sacred space. Freeport, if it takes me 20 years, I will strike out your entry in all guide books from Fodor’s to Frommer’s.

Library of old

I’ve been dying to read Ann Patchett’s new book State of Wonder, so when I got the email that the book had arrived at the library, I trekked there in the storm. Opening the heavy door, I peered in to a dark, cavernous Salem Library: the electricity was out. Such a quiet, tranquil spot the library is, but all the more so when it’s dark and cool. All I could think though was: will I still be able to pick up my book?

“Sure,” the librarian said, switching on a flashlight. She scanned the Hold shelf for my book and handed it over, noting my card number and the book title on a paper log, like the days of old.

We agreed the lights-out night at the library was kind of nice.

“I told the other librarians we should roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories,” she said.

“Plenty of stories here,” I said.

And here in Salem, all the stories are ghost stories.

A virgin copy

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen is causing quite a stir in the book world. Heavily promoted in Boston (the author is from Brookline) with a book reading and a slide show on boston.com, and accompanying media on its Amazon page, I was eager to get my hands on a copy. The novel chronicles the adventures of a 12-year-old genius mapmaker, and the text is full of marginalia—maps and illustrations drawn by the narrator. Who can resist that?

Once again, the library has come through. I’m even the first one to borrow the book—a virgin copy—seeing as it was just catalogued today. And yes, I take a nerdy pleasure in that. The hardcover is all newly wrapped in clear plastic, free of smudgy fingerprints, and the Due Date flap is practically blank. No dog-eared pages here. I can’t wait to dig in.


An illustrated novel for adults!

An illustrated novel for adults!

Books: buying vs. borrowing

As a reader, I like the idea of buying books to read, keep, and savor. As a writer, I like the idea of buying books to support other writers. But as an environmentalist, I know I should use the library. The struggle between wanting to support an author and wanting to consume less is a tricky one. What’s a writer or reader to do?

I rarely buy new books but stock up on good reads at yard sales. The books are gently read, cheap, and often fairly recent. If I need reinforcements, I head to my neighborhood used book store in Cambridge where a bunch of local authors and reviewers bring their review copies; I’ve made plenty of serendipitous finds on their display table of carefully selected books. On birthdays and at Christmas, I ask for the ones I’d really like to own, but even that list has been dwindling since I don’t tend to reread books; I’m a sucker for a pretty cover though like Eventide, The Museum Guard or Julie & Julia, so those I knew I had to have. I’m almost relieved when a favorite author comes out with a new book donning an unappealing cover. Well, I can’t own that, I think.

If everyone opted to borrow books from the library, eschewing new books (and in a crumbling economy, indulgent purchases like new books are the first to go), I fear the book industry would collapse. And I can’t be responsible for that. I have no idea what the answer is, so I think I’ll just stick to my matrix of book buying and borrowing that takes into consideration desire, permanent collection essentialness, the cover’s aesthetics, and the weather, because if it’s a sunny day, then I’m going out in search of a yard sale with a whole tumble on books on someone’s front lawn.

The library giveth, and the library taketh away

Eager to read Jhumpa Lahiri’s new short story collection Unaccustomed Earth, I reserved a copy at the library as the publication date neared. I was at the top of the list for when the book came in and was unnaturally excited when my inbox told me Unaccustomed Earth is waiting for you. For me? I tried to act surprised. I had four days to pick it up, but each night I got home too late and thought about the book sitting there, wondering where I was. Given work and the library’s hours, I couldn’t make it there till Day Five.

“Do you still have it?” I asked the librarian. They’d already been holding it for me, but I thought with some hope, it’s the very next morning; maybe it’s still lingering on the shelf.

“No,” the librarian said curtly, which I read to mean: you had your chance. True.

Resigned, I logged in to the computer nearby to get myself back on the list to find there are now 527 ahead of me. Oh, come on. I estimate with my poor math skills that if everyone checks out the book for even a one-week period, I’ll be waiting for years. I’ll be asking for that one for my birthday.