Jane Austen Bicentenary Readings & Various Non-Jane Literary Links

persuasion-jane-austen-paperback-cover-art

I’m not big on death anniversaries, but I had intended to participate in The Guardian Book Club’s discussion of Austen  to commemorate the bicentenary of her death (July 18).   Alas, they have chosen to read  Persuasion, which I just read in May.

And so I will quietly read Jane on my own.  I am not sure which book.  What will you be reading?

If you think you have read Austen too many times, don’t despair:  there are dozens of new books every year about Austen. In Jane Smiley’s entertaining essay, “The Austen Legacy: Why and How We Love Her, What She Loved, ” in The New York Times,  she writes about Deborah Yaffe’s  AMONG THE JANEITES:  A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, Devoney Looser’s THE MAKING OF JANE AUSTENand Paula Byrne’s THE GENIUS OF JANE AUSTEN.

AND NOW FOR SOME NON-JANE LITERARY LINKS.

1 Have you read the satirical novels of Thomas Love Peacock? Pamela Climit at the TLS recommends the new Cambridge editions of Nightmare Abbey and Crotchet Castle.  I’m always ready for a laugh.  (And the Penguin is good enough for me.)

2.  Michael Dirda at The Washington Post recommends eight small presses, NYRB, Haffner Press, The Folio Society, Poisoned Pen Press, Wildside Press, Europa Editions, Centipede Press, and Cadmus Press.

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” So said Henry James, who would doubtless recommend spending some of those sunlit hours with a good book or two. Whether you enjoy escape fiction or literary fiction, check out the home pages of the following small publishers. I confess to deeply admiring their commitment to older or neglected writers, which explains why a few titles from New York Review Books, the Folio Society and Tartarus carry introductions by me.

The Folio Society Jane Austens

Sylvia Plath

Emily Van Duyne at the Literary Hub asks. “Why Are We So Unwilling to 
Take Sylvia Plath at Her Word?” She writes,

Back in April, the Guardian dropped an apparent literary bombshell—new letters had been discovered from the poet Sylvia Plath, alleging horrific physical abuse at the hands of her husband, the British poet Ted Hughes. The letters had gone unread by any major Plath scholar through one of those black holes so common, and frustrating, to those of us who love her work.

It is not a matter of not taking Sylvia Plath at her word; it is a matter of needing to know more.   Van Duyne is writing a book on Plath, so she has read everything  and obviously this discovery means something to her.  I myself know so little about the couple that an article in The Guardian  doesn’t say “Of course!” to me.

But poor Sylvia!  I do love her poetry.

Should We Build a Cat Wing? & Literary Miscellanea

Cats lounging in bed.

I adore cats.  A friend has ten.  Five is our limit.

Multi-cat households can be hectic.

Have you tried to type only to have a cat jump on the keyboard and (a) send an email before it is ready, (b) add a zesty sentence in cat language, or (c) delete an entire blog post?

They are cute and energetic.

When we lived in a large house in a cheap bad neighborhood ( where we dared to live when young), the cats had three floors to explore.  Emma and Miss Beethoven spent hours trying to break into the attic, while Max, Tigger, and Baby lounged like beatniks in the living room.

Now we live in a smaller house, with fewer cats.  They are too fond of me.  If I am on the couch, they sit on the couch.  If I am in bed, they sit on the bed.  If I am in the kitchen, they sit in the kitchen.

So I looked into building a Cat Wing, so they could have more space.  I visualized it as a cheap prefab four-season porch, assembled quickly and attached to the house.  Like a garage!

But it’s not as simple as I thought–and very expensive!

So I made an  experiment.

I bought a comfortable chair.  Not too comfortable–not like our Barcalounger.   It is just a  chair where you can sit and spend some upright cat-free time.

And now the cats give me a few hours while they lounge on the couch or the bed.  It is my new wing!

AND NOW FOR LITERARY LINKS!

My own girly vinyl-and-silk ’70s diary

1.  Do you keep a journal?  Jane van  Slembrouck wrote an enjoyable piece for The Millions, “A Gift to the Future: In Defense of Keeping a Journal.”

She writes,

The first one was the size of a piece of American cheese. It had a photo on the cover of a horse tossing its mane and a silver lock that opened with a key.

2.  At Publishers Weekly, Rosalind Reisner writes about a Depression-era newsletter with a quiz for women booksellers she found at the Columbia University library.

In fall 1917, a group of 15 women booksellers—excluded from membership in the ABA and the Booksellers’ League—met at Sherwood’s Book Store in Manhattan to form the Women’s National Book Association. Membership was open to women in all areas of the book world: publishers, editors, booksellers, authors, librarians, illustrators, and production people. Today the organization is nationwide, with 11 chapters; members are women (and men) who support the WNBA’s mission to promote and connect members of the book community.

As the organization prepares to celebrate its 100th year, research in the WNBA archives—housed at Columbia University—has turned up some treasures. The following bookseller quiz is condensed from a Depression-era issue of the WNBA newsletter, The Bookwoman, and is a reminder that some things seem never to change. The quiz will appear in the forthcoming book Women in the Book World: 100 Years of Leadership and the WNBA.

The quiz is posted at the end of the article.

3.  At Booker Talk, I learned that academics have their own definition for “social reading.”

 What the academics are interested in is a deeply immersive group–based collaborative process that happens on-line. It can involve several readers or even hundreds. All of them read the same text, post comments on it and respond to other people’s comments. Now you might think that’s what you’re doing when you join a ‘read-a-long’ and it’s true this is a fairly simple example of social reading. But for a more sophisticated approach — and the one the academics are most excited about — you’d need to get involved in a synchronous reading where people are reading and commenting on the same text simultaneously.

And she tells us about an excellent website where seven women discussed Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.  They commented in the margins of the text, which is posted online.

4.  At She Reads, a website run by popular women’s fiction writers Mary Beth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon, the Summer Book Club selections have been announced.

THE BOOK OF SUMMER by Michelle Gable

THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate

I read at least one popular  women’s book every summer.  And I do like their posts.

Reading Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises & Literary Links

margaret-drabble-the-dark-flood-rises-51zpqxcwb2l-_sx337_bo1204203200_What am I reading?

I am halfway through Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises, a new novel which harkens back to her ambitious multi-character masterpieces of the ’70s and ’80s (my favorites are The  Needle’s Eye, The Realms of Gold, and The Radiant Way). She boldly balances the struggles of her ageing characters and their children with a fictional investigation of the plight of the elderly, the sick, and the dying.  Appropriate housing for the aged is at the core of the novel, and is in many ways at the core of the problems of ageing.

Drabble’s new novel is not as dark as you might expect.  It is positively cozy compared to what we found as we searched for the right assisted living facility or nursing home for my mother. (In other words, we knew nothing about eldercare until we had to know.) My favorite character in The Dark Flood Rises is Fran Stubbs, an  exuberant woman in her seventies,  who works for “a charitable trust which devotes generous research funds to examining and improving the living arrangements of the ageing.” She is not slowing down, which we find cheering, and travels all over England to conferences, driving her car.  She lives in a high-rise (not recommended for the aged), where she sometimes must walk up many flights of stairs. Her friends, many of whom are sick and dying, live in retirement communities, at home with aides, or, in one case, in the Canary Islands with a younger lover.

Brilliant writing!  and depressing, but my mother would NOT have found it depressing.

AND NOW FOR LITERARY LINKS:

1917-ows_1481847425738301. ARE YOU A RUSSIAN LITERATURE FAN? The TLS has recently published several articles on Russian literature.

Go here to read a review of 1917:  Stories and poems of the Russian Revolution, edited by Boris Dralyuk

Go here to read a 1967 review by Edwin Morgan of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which, by the way, had its fiftieth anniversary last year.

2 RACHEL INGALLS’ FICTION.  At the Literary Hub, Daniel Handler writes on “The Best Writer You Don’t Know:  Rachel Ingalls.”  Pharos has republished three of Ingalls’ novellas in a new book, Three Masquerades.

3. WALT WHITMAN’S LOST NOVEL: JENNIFER SCHUESSLER at The New York Times writes,

The 36,000-word “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle,” which was discovered last summer by a graduate student, is being republished online on Monday by The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and in book form by the University of Iowa Press. A quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures, it features a villainous lawyer, virtuous Quakers, glad-handing politicians, a sultry Spanish dancer and more than a few unlikely plot twists and jarring narrative shifts.

life-and-adventures-walt-whitman-978-1-60938-510-1-frontcover

4. IS THE TEMPEST YOUR FAVORITE SHAKESPEARE PLAY?  At the Barnes and Noble blog, Kelly Anderson writes about Jacqueline Carey’s new novel, Miranda and Caliban, a retelling of The Tempest

Enjoy your reading!

Can Bad Bookstores Sell Good Books? & Four Literary Links

pile of books open_booksThis year I made two resolutions:

  1. I would no longer accept “free” books from publishers.
  2. I would buy books only at bricks-and-mortar stores.

Guess which one I’ve kept?  The first.  I’m gobsmacked as to how anyone can keep the second.

It’s hip, it’s chic, and, according to all book publications, it’s revolutionary to shop at bricks-and-mortar stores.  Support local businesses!  Support writers!  Where’s my Che Guevara beret? Do they even give their employees health insurance?   Well, you can shop for books in London. There are good bookstores in London.  It can be done in Portland. It can be done in Nashville.  But in the Midwest it’s a challenge. It comes down to:  what on earth do they have that I want to buy?

The bookstores here are in a decline.  The indies are often owned by rich hobbyists–tax write-offs, I suppose.  The Bookworm in Omaha used to be a pretty good store,  located in a rather pretty strip mall, with trees growing along the side of the parking lot.  The store’s displays were clever:   Dan Brown’s Inferno surrounded by Dante’s Inferno (and the rest of The Divine Comedy).  An attractive shelf of  the small-press Pharos Editions’ reissues of American classics like Brian Kittredge’s Still Life with Insects.  A display of copies of Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone, a novel about Louise Brooks, next to a flapper dress.

But then…

I love you, Charlotte, but I've already read so many biographies of you!

I love you, Charlotte, but I don’t need another biography of you!

It moved. Why?  According to hearsay, the  landlord of the old building didn’t keep up the maintenance.   The store at the new mall is ugly.  And what happened to the new fiction and new nonfiction sections?  A few new hardbacks are mixed in with the paperbacks, but the new titles are missing.  And they have lost their oomph:  no more displays or small press books.  I thought of buying last year’s biography of Charlotte Bronte , but you know what?  I have already read biographies of the Brontes.

And then there are the chain stores. I would say, thank God we have chains, but I am doomed to live in a region with moribund chains.  It’s like going to the Scotch tape store in the dying mall on Saturday Night Live. When I wanted to buy Doris Lessing’s last novel, Alfred and Emily, Barnes and Noble had never heard of it and I went to Borders.  When I wanted to buy John Sayles’s A Moment in the Sun, B&N had never heard of it and I had to go to Borders.  When I looked for the new translation of Pushkin before Christmas, they didn’t have it, and I didn’t ask.

To be fair, I doubt the local Barnes and Noble has an individual buyer or any control over which books are shipped there.  I heard, or read, they are given maps of what to display where.  I am doomed to live in a region where it is assumed the readers read junk.  Perhaps they do, judging from the Little Free Libraries.   But, alas, we need  good books, too.  And what IS the point of NOT carrying the latest books?  It’s Barnes and Noble!

Oh, dear, I miss Borders, but we need our Barnes and Noble. Desperately.

AND NOW…

HERE ARE FOUR LITERARY LINKS”

emma-tennant-2356009092_b8de2754ce1.  The writer Emma Tennant died on January 21 at age 79.  (I wrote about her novel Confessions of a Sugar Mummy here.)  She was the author of comic fiction, women’s fiction,  surreal fantasy and  science fiction (The Crack, Wild Nights), autobiography, and sequels to Austen, Hardy, Stevenson, and others. I very much enjoyed The Crack and Wild Nights.   Here is a link to the obituary at the New York Times .

2.  At the blog Leaves and Pages, I read about a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim I have never heard of, Introduction to Sally:

 Oh joy! Oh bliss! What a sweet romp of a thing. I loved it. What happens when an unbelievably beautiful girl is born into a modestly situated, working class, strictly God-fearing family, unable to fathom how best to protect their jewel of a child from the increasingly lecherous gaze of every man who sees her? By marrying her off, of course, to the first man who offers for her, thereby shifting the responsibility to other shoulders. Beauty as burden is the theme of this little novel, with a dash of reluctant Eliza Doolittle-ism thrown in.

3. At the Guardian Lorraine Berry writes about “Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying.”  Here’s an excerpt:

When I was a young woman, I drew a sort of perverse pride from my willingness to skip a meal or two in order to afford books. Soon enough, with the ubiquity of credit card touts on campus, I could buy both books and meals. I justified my increasing debt as necessary for my education, and joked with friends that while others spent their money on cars and expensive clothes, anything of value that I owned was on my bookcases.

4.  And at Tor, Steven Brust writes, “Five Roger Zelazny Books that Changed My Life by Being Awesome.”

You always get asked, “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” And, of course, there’s no answer, or a thousand answers that are all equally valid. But I usually say, “In high school, when I read Zelazny’s Lord of Light.”

You see, until then, I had never known you could do that. I never knew you could make someone feel all those different things at the same time, with all of that intensity, just by how you used 26 characters and a few punctuation marks. What was it? Well, everything: Sam and Yama were the most compelling characters I’d come across; it was the first time I’d ever stopped reading to just admire a sentence; it gave me the feeling (which proved correct) that there were layers I wouldn’t get without a few rereadings; and, above all, it was when I became of what could be done with voice—how much could be done with just the way the author addressed the reader. I remember putting that book down and thinking, “If I could make someone feel like this, how cool would that be?” Then I started reading it again. And then I went and grabbed everything else of his I could find.

The Dickens Set I Didn’t Sell & Three Literary Links

My Dickens set!

The Dickens set

For weeks I intended to go to Half Price Books, the only used bookstore in town, one of a 120-store Texas-based chain.  I wanted to try to sell my Folio Society five-book Dickens set (1985).

The problem was my husband wanted to divvy the Dickens up in our panniers and bike there.  I wasn’t enthusiastic about biking with ten or more pounds of hardbacks.  And so weeks went by, but I finally persuaded him it was worth a trip in the car (we seldom take the car). We weren’t even sure we would sell the Dickens, because they used to pay a laughable 25 cents per paperback.  I had in my mind a lowball price beneath which I would not go.

Many people sell their books at Half Price Books.  Stacks and stacks of romances and vampire books were piled on the counter.   People wheeled them in on dollies.   More kept coming in.

They offered me $10.  I declined.

Well, I didn’t expect much, but I did expect more than $2 per book.  It’s a set, in excellent condition. At a garage sale I might sell it for $20.   On Abebooks the lowest price is $79.  I’d rather give it to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale than Half Price Books.

Heavens, I see why people sell them online!

Does anybody sell books online?  Do you have good experiences?

LITERARY LINKS.

1. The Literary Hub recently published the article, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump:  What Do They Read?”   Who has good taste?  Who does not?  Clinton recommends The Brothers Karamazov and The Clan of the Cave Bear,  while Trump doesn’t have much time to read, except his own book.  (Obama is a more literary reader.)

brothers-karamazov-51hgj-nc7bl-_sx312_bo1204203200_2. The classicist Mary Beard recently wrote  about Max Beerbohm’s novel, Zuleika Dobson, at A Don’s Life her blog at the TLS.   (Statues of Roman emperors play a part.)  I must admit  Zuleika Dobson is one of the more misogynist novels I’ve read, but  her lively essay makes me want to reread it.  Here is an excerpt.

The story is a simple one. It tells of the young, exotically named, and stunningly good looking Zuleika who arrives among the dreaming spires to stay with her grandfather, who is the head of the semi-fictional Judas College. Not only does Zuleika herself fall in love for the first time; but all the male undergraduates fall in love with her. Literally all of them: and so badly in love that they end up killing themselves for her, every single one. At the end of the novel the unworldly dons seem hardly to have noticed that the students are all dead (even though the dining hall is strangely empty); meanwhile on the very last page, Zuleika is found making inquiries about how best to get to Cambridge . . . and it’s not too hard to guess what will happen there. It’s a satire not only on the dangers of women, but also on the madness of this masculine university world.

zuleika-dobson-beerbohm-zd3. The stunning novel La Femme de Gilles, by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, translated by Faith Evans, is one of the 10 Must-Read Books for November at Flavorwire.  On May 26 I wrote at this blog,

The Belgian writer Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s exquisite first novel, La Femme de Gilles, published in 1937 and translated by Faith Evans in 1992, explores the pain of adultery. It is told mainly from the point of view of Elisa, the faithful wife who is in love with her handsome husband Gilles, a factory worker.

We don’t think of working-class marriages in fiction as erotic. In most working-class novels, marriages are exhausting and unhappy: in D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Paul’s refined mother despises her coal miner husband; in Hariettte Simpson Arnow’s The Dollmaker, Gertie’s factory worker husband squanders her savings; and in Tillie Olsen’s Yonnondio, Jim works in a slaughterhouse and beats his wife and children.

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Good Sportsmanship, Reading Calendar for August, & Literary Links

2016 Rio Olympics - Swimming - Final - Women's 200m Freestyle Final - Olympic Aquatics Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 09/08/2016. Katie Ledecky (USA) of USA and Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) of Sweden celebrate

Good sportsmanship:. Katie Ledecky (USA)  and Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) embrace.

“Go, go, go, go!”

Yes, we yell at the Olympics on TV.  We are Olympics-crazy!  And how could they win without our yelling?  After Katie Ledecky won the Gold Medal for  the 200-meter women’s freestyle tonight, we approved the sportsmanlike embrace between Ledecky and Swedish Silver Medalist Sarah Sjostrom.   Some athletes prefer one-upmanship to sportsmanship:  we saw clips of South Africa’s Chad le Clos’s repeatedly taunting Michael Phelps. Then  Phelps won his 20th Gold Medal for the Men’s 200-Meter Butterfly and Cahd le Clos came in second, so let’s hope that nonsense is over.

BLOGGERS’ LITERARY EVENTS !

Summer is prime time for enjoyable online reading events, with many bloggers and readers coming together to read books in a designated category.

A Virago: it has the green spine!

First up:   All Virago/All August.  This was founded by the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group.  My choice?  A Virago I found in London:  American writer Alix Kates Shulman’s On the Stroll, a little-known novel about a pimp, a runaway, and a bag lady who has visions.   I loved Shulman’s Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen and her 1995 memoir Drinking the Rain, so I’ll give this a try.

Second up:  Women in Translation month.  Here is a link to an article at PEN America about the genesis and progress of Women in Translation Month.

In May 2014, blogger Meytal Radzinski, a student of biophysics in Israel and an avid and insightful reader, announced the first Women in Translation month, to be held that August. Her goals, she wrote, were simple:

1. Increase the dialogue and discussion about women writers in translation

2. Read more books by women in translation

And, by the way, I have already finished a book in translation,  Colette’s The Pure and the Impure, a  collection of essays about gender and sexuality, possibly shocking in her time, doubtless politically incorrect in our time.

the pure and the impure colette 89848LITERARY LINKS.

1. At The Guardian,  Alex Clark’s article on women’s friendship in fiction is worth reading.

2  At Salon, Dan Green complains about Little Free Libraries. Here is an excerpt:

Little Free Library has a seductive marketing slogan that’s carved into the top of every unit: “Take a Book; Return a Book.” Such a simple equation. And such wishful thinking. Take? Oh, absolutely. People are, in fact, really good at that part. For example there was the young mom who lifted her toddler up to the box, watching uncritically as he scooped up “Imaginary Homelands,” Salman Rushdie’s collection of criticism and essays. Which I’m sure he enjoyed.

When it comes to returning, people mean well. For example, I don’t doubt the sincerity of that young mom when she told her greedy little urchin, “We have to remember to come back soon and give them some books.” The problem is that, to borrow my favorite report card phrase, remembering, for most people, “remains an area of growth.” It’s not that I blame my (mooching) neighbors. Indeed, I, myself, seldom return books to the public library on time. And they fine you if you don’t. But since I don’t punish people (unless you count silent, withering judgment), I’ve got no leverage. The truth is laziness is just part of human nature. It’s what separates us from the beavers.

3  And at Literary Hub, Daisy Dunn, author of Catullus’ Bedspread, writes that her longest relationship is with the dead poet Catullus.

Catullus' Bedspread 61nE1tim0bL

The Summer Reading Kit & Three Literary Links

Mrs. Modern Darcy's Summer Reading Kit

The Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Kit

Do you long to spend your vacation in a hammock catching up with Daniel Deronda or The Tale of Genji?   Though summer reading has a reputation for being dumbed-down, many of us love to combine a classic with mysteries and pastel-colored beach books.

And there are plenty of recommendations on the net, because. as the critics like to say, everybody’s a critic.  If you’re looking for down-home suggestions, some serious, some light, visit the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy and sign up for her Summer Reading Kit.

“Mrs. Darcy” has designed the Summer Reading Kit for librarians and “bookish enthuisasts.”

She writes,

To inspire your patrons in their reading journey, I’ve created a summer reading poster (sized 18×24) that lets patrons see 30 absorbing, high-interest titles at a glance. These titles are from the Summer Reading Guide (which many librarians are already using as a summer reading resource), and they’re organized by category so readers can easily see what books will appeal to them.

I’ve also created summer reading bookmarks that double as a reading list. Patrons can jot down titles they hear about from you or anyone else so they don’t have to agonize over what to read next after they finish a great book.

I certainly would love those bookmarks.

THREE LITERARY LINKS

hold still by strong 256228941.  There is a fascinating interview at The Rumpus with Lynn Steger Strong, author of the novel Hold Still, in which the main character, Maya, is obsessed with Virginia Woolf.

Filgate writes,

As soon as I was introduced to Lynn, we immediately bonded over our shared love for running and Virginia Woolf. When I found out that her debut novel Hold Still has to do with both, I moved it up to the top of my gigantic to-be-read pile, and I’m so glad I did. Hold Still is about an English professor who has to reckon with a terrible mistake her daughter made, one that tests their already shaky relationship. But trying to sell the book on the plot alone takes away from the true backbone of this novel. Open it for the story; read it for the sentences that stay with you like a gift.

2. Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm writes about leaving Facebook.

Some of my readers may have noticed me around the blogging world a little more often recently. That’s because I quit Facebook on Saturday April 23. I initially joined two years ago just so my kids wouldn’t have to bother to send me text photos of pictures they had posted on Facebook. But it grew and grew. You know how it goes. Someone asks to be your friend, and you think of people you ought to send a friend request to, and boom you’ve got a whole bunch of Facebook friends. There were very occasional requests that I did not accept. But I still ended up with some friends that I barely knew or had never met. I’m not the kind of person to ‘unfriend’ so I’d keep getting information from them. I connected with some high school friends, and just like when I was actually in high school, there were some people I liked and others not so much. A lot of my friends were younger, Margaret’s friends, who so very kindly welcomed me. At first it was loads of fun but then it was not fun anymore. There were too many notifications and too many items in my feed. It was too busy, too quick.

all fall down image003.  At A Penguin a Week, Adam Gee writes a guest post about James Leo Herlihy, a writer best known for Midnight Cowboy.

Gee writes about his debut novel, All Fall Down.

When I pick up an old Penguin I’m hoping for a surprise – something off-beat, long neglected, out of left field, a lost gem. ‘All Fall Down’ delivered.

It’s the first novel from the Detroit writer who went on to write ‘Midnight Cowboy’ five years later in 1965, James Leo Herlihy. It’s a coming of age story in the heritage of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, a decade in its wake. It follows the growth of Clint Williams from an isolated, uncommunicative 14 year old to an emerging adult with the capacity to care and love.

I hope to find a copy one day!