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Falling in love in the used bookstore

Whats Next Packet 2016When I was visiting my daughter in North Carolina, I fell in love with a book. My girls were both next door in a comic book store, so I was left to my own devices in a used bookstore, something that used to happen to me all the time but now rarely does.

At this point I am going to both digress and date myself (again), but I remember that heady days over twenty years ago when I had just discovered romance.The internet was still a baby, and few people used it to buy books. Virtually no one was reading digitally yet. I would go to the used bookstore with a big list in hand and come out with a bunch of romances. The whole genre was new and I’d hardly read anything yet, so I was like a kid in the candy store. Better yet, I always had books to trade in so I don’t remember ever having to pay for anything (an important consideration when you’re young and poor). Now, I seldom bother with used bookstores. Not only have I spent the last 15+ years having free books show up at my door every day; I also just buy anything I want digitally when I want it. You don’t need to go to a physical store anymore.

However, if you are stuck and need to kill time, there are worse places to be. For some reason I found myself in the cookbooks, even though I need a cookbook like I need a hole in the head. I have a million and I rarely, you know, cook. After laughing about a militant, insufferable vegetarian cookbook from the 1970s (The Subversive Vegetarian: Tactics, Information and Recipes for the Conversion of Meat-Eaters. Seriously, the asshole who wrote it probably got punched in the face at least once a week.) I found a section called “Rare Cookbooks”. I didn’t even really know there was such a thing. In it I found a cookbook that was much more than a cookbook: The Captain’s Lady Cookbook – Personal Journal. It was a journal, a scrapbook, and a notebook written by a sea captain’s wife in the 19th Century (it covers a period roughly between 1857-1872). The woman who published it in 1981 had found it at a garage sale in Amherst (why don’t I ever find anything like this at a garage sale, or in an attic?) and done some editing, but mostly it was just the musings of the Sea Captain’s wife.

I started thumbing through and before I knew it I was utterly engrossed. When I pulled my phone out for the third time to take a picture of a page, I knew the book was coming home with me. Not for the recipes, which are written the way people used to cook, with measurements and ingredients that we don’t have or want (I’ve lived a happy life so far without using “suet” in anything at all). I bought the book because I felt like I was getting to know the Captain’s Lady, and I liked her. I liked that she threw in poetry with her recipes. I liked her shopping list from Boston. I liked that she was clearly head over ears in love with her captain.

I also identified with her on two levels. The first is that I am completely head over ears in love also (my daughter refers to it as “cartoon-level heart eyes”). The second is that Marine Guy is currently away (but almost home!) and I related to all her sappy thoughts about missing her love and their joyous reunions. “I would choose to wait for him rather than any other man in the entire world,” said she. I feel you, 19th C. sister.

Here’s the other thing: The Captain’s Lady was a good writer. What she was doing, actually, was writing her own blog a century and a half before blogs existed. (Kind of like the way my Grandma anticipated Photoshop by constructing crude, photocopied Christmas newsletters in which her grandchildren’s heads were all decapitated from pictures and repositioned with tape inside drawings of trains and calendars. After she died, we found the headless pictures and the heads, both of which she’d saved). It’s a shame so much has been lost, thrown out, or considered unimportant because the author was female, but women have always written. Writers – both fiction and otherwise – just are. Here’s to finding a lost voice from another time, feeling sisterhood, and love.

Blythe Barnhill

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