Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Every now and then, I come upon a book that surprises me and I have to share it. This slim publication by Anne Fadiman is one such book (1998).

First off, Ms. Fadiman is anything but a common reader and I am embarrassed to admit that I had to purchase a dictionary just to fully understand this book. That said, I still loved it and highly recommend it to my bibliophile friends.

I think one of the most important attributes of this book is that it made me look at writing, reading and books, in general, differently. This is the author's love story with books and language and her family's way of embracing both. It may not be for hoi polloi but it was certainly for me.
Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family.

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Old Town Bluffton, SC...

We have been wanting to visit this quaint village since a girlfriend's daughter moved here a couple of years ago. We're so glad we detoured for a quick, local history lesson.

Bluffton’s coastal location along the May River with its adjacent forests, saltwater estuaries and wildlife provided a rich environment for the birth of this 19th century town. Its story is as authentic and chocked full of history as that of its home state, South Carolina and we were here to learn as much as we could during our brief visit.
I have a new bumper sticker on my car that says "I BRAKE for Little Free Libraries".
Breakfast was delicious and on the porch of the Carson Cottage (1890).

An intriguing stop for us was the Bluffton Oyster Co. (1899). The oystering was the business of Bluffton up until the 1930s, with five different oyster gathering operations. This building, recognized as a historic structure, is as much a part of Bluffton’s history as much as any other historic building in town.
Located at the end of Wharf Street on the pristine May River, it was built on a foundation of shells from previous shucking operations from the last two hundred years. It is the oldest cannery factory still in operation in the state. So interesting.
Our night will be spent at the Hilton Head Marina. "Home is where you park it!"

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Tybee Island in 16,063 Steps...

Needing to get our toes in the sand, we headed to the closet beach possible, Tybee Island, Georgia. We rolled in last night and pretty much just set up camp and walked to a cool Shrimp Shack for dinner.

Officially renamed "Savannah Beach" in a publicity move at the end of the 1950s, the city of Tybee Island has since reverted to its original name. The small island, which has long been a quiet getaway for the residents of Savannah, has become a popular vacation spot with tourists from outside the Savannah metropolitan area. Tybee Island is home to the first of what would eventually become the Days Inn chain of hotels, the oft-photographed Tybee Island Light Station, and the Fort Screven Historic District.
It was intriguing to meander through town and come across Battery Garland (built in 1899) in the Fort Screven Historic District. This fort was first commissioned in 1899 and served as a valuable part of coastal defense until it was decommissioned in 1947.
Beaches here are different than we are use to and people have known that since the late 19th century. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, residents in large, polluted cities frequently sought out remote beaches for summertime getaways. Clear, saltwater breezes were thought to be remedies for numerous ailments, including asthma and certain allergies. Steamships began carrying patients and tourists to Tybee Island just after the Civil War. We definitely felt an "old world charm" as we strolled through historic neighborhoods.
It's amazing to feel the warm, soft waves as well.
As we beachcombed, we encountered unique sea creatures. This was the first time we had found live sand dollars.
While this horseshoe crab was not alive, he was intriguing to look at anyway. Because of their origin 450 million years ago, these massive crabs are considered living fossils.
We watched as a fisherman tried to decide what to do with this catch. 

The sand dunes that lie along the ocean shore are a beautiful sight; but not many people know that these dunes actually have their origin on the opposite (marshland) side of the islands. Dead marsh grass from these areas between the barrier islands and the mainland are loosened and carried out toward the sea by the force of receding tides. The grasses then wash up on the beaches where they provide shelter for very hearty species of grasses to grow. These plants hold the sand and make it less susceptible to movement by wind and surf.  Eventually, small ridges of sand form and as the process continues, new generations of plants hold more and more layers of sand. As a result, dunes slowly grow larger and larger.

If the citizens of Savannah Georgia had to choose a single, iconic image to represents the city, you would be hard pressed to find a Savannahian that would not choose photographer Jack Leigh’s 1993 image titled Midnight. Leigh’s photograph is of the “Bird Girl” statue originally cast in 1936 by sculpture Sylvia Shaw Judson. A local family purchased the sculpture and named it “Little Wendy” and placed it in their family plot in Bonaventure Cemetery. Long story short, Leigh's photograph was used for the cover of the highly successful book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Out of concern about possible vandalism or theft of the statue, not to mention increased foot traffic the grave plot was receiving, the family removed Little Wendy from Bonaventure, and donated her to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah for public display. It was fortuitous to discover a copy in a garden in Tybee.

Tybee Island's strategic position near the mouth of the Savannah River has made the island's northern tip the ideal location for a lighthouse since Georgia's early settlement period (1736). Today, the Tybee Light Station is a popular tourist destination, having all of its support buildings on the 5-acre site historically preserved and is one of just a handful of 18th-century lighthouses still in operation in North America.

When one needs to get to the sea... who knows what will be a part of the discovery!

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Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah

I believe a city's history can be found within its cemeteries. Edwidge Danticat said about them, “I have always enjoyed cemeteries. Altars for the living as well as resting places for the dead, they are entryways, I think, to any town or city, the best places to become acquainted with the tastes of the inhabitants, both present and gone.” We certainly became acquainted with the people of Savannah during our time at Bonaventure.

Though not Savannah’s oldest cemetery, Bonaventure is certainly its most famous and hauntingly beautiful. Quintessentially Southern Gothic, it has captured the imaginations of writers, poets, naturalists, photographers and filmmakers for more than 150 years. Part natural cathedral, part sculptural garden, Bonaventure transcends time.
The cemetery became famous when it was featured in the 1994 novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.
We found a variety of tributes to those who have gone before us. This was the first 'likeness' of the deceased we had found. Robert H. Anderson (1835–1888) was an infantry officer in the United States Army then a cavalry and artillery officer in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. After the war he served as the Chief of the Police for the city of Savannah for 23 years, and played an important role with reunification activities at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
In 1867, John Muir while on his Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf sojourned for six days and nights in this cemetery, sleeping upon graves overnight, this being the safest and cheapest accommodation that he could find while he waited for money to be expressed from home. He found the cemetery breathtakingly beautiful and inspiring and wrote a lengthy chapter about it titled "Camping in the Tombs."
In 1889, six year old Gracie Watson passed away from pneumonia. As a tribute to his beautiful only child, Gracie's father had sculpture John Walz carve a monument to his little girl. It is said to be life size and a picture perfect representation of her. This hauntingly beautiful monument to Little Gracie has captivated visitors for over 100 years.

We enjoyed meeting Johnny Mercer (1909 –1976), an American lyricist, songwriter, singer and founder of Capitol Records. He wrote the lyrics to more than fifteen hundred songs, including compositions for movies and Broadway shows (many that we were surprised we knew). He received nineteen Academy Award nominations, and won four Best Original Song Oscars. The quote on the bench, near his grave reads, "Buddy I'm kind of a poet and I've gotta lotta things to say."

One grave marker that we really enjoyed was that of Conrad Potter Aiken (1889–1973), an American writer, whose work includes poetry, short stories, novels, a play, and an autobiography. According to local legend, Aiken wished to have his tombstone fashioned in the shape of a bench as an invitation to visitors to stop and enjoy a martini at his grave. Its inscriptions read "Give my love to the world," and "Cosmos Mariner—Destination Unknown."

History and beauty were found as we strolled. And to quote Christopher Wren, "My walk through the cemetery was an acquaintance with local history."

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Augusta's History via the Canal...

Since our time in this Georgia town was brief, we headed directly to the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, with its incredible museum that tells the city's 'beginnings' based on the construction of the canal.

The Augusta Canal, built in 1845 as a source of power, water and transportation, is the only intact industrial canal in the American South in continuous use. Spearheaded by Augusta native Henry H. Cumming, who perceived that Augusta could one day become an industrialized, manufacturing town with the building of a canal. The Augusta Canal began to fulfill Cumming’s vision in short order. By 1847 the first factories – a saw and grist mill and the Augusta Factory-were built, the first of many that would eventually line the Canal. Hydro-power would come to make everything run efficiently.

As mill after mill opened along the canal, it became clear that Augusta's gamble on industrialism had paid off in a very big way. Around 1900, Augusta flourished, with 23 mills operating from the canal's 12,000-horsepower water-power capability. The city's mills produced everything from textiles to iron machinery.

As an early economic development project, a group of local business men formed the Sibley Manufacturing Company in 1880. Soon after the mill began operation, it became one of the largest and most successful cotton mills in the region, a model of good management and worker relations. Eventually, Sibley Mill became a part of the Graniteville Mills. Modernized in order to compete in an ever-increasing world market, the mill continued in operation until 2006, making denim used by major clothing manufacturers. Although no longer used for textile production, the mill's water-driven turbines still generate electricity which is sold to Georgia Power.
This magnificent 76 ft wide, 528 ft long, four storied, 160,000 sq ft building has been vacant since 2006. I can only imagine the memories those bricks hold.

We strolled the banks of the canal, trying to picture it teeming with that activity that made Augusta into an industrial leader over 200 years ago. In the 21st century, the Augusta Canal is once again a source of pride and potential for its community. The Heritage Center's exhibits and artifacts, which depict Canal construction and mill life, remind Augustans and us visitors of the progress, problems and promise of the Augusta Canal. This was a very interesting history lesson that we are glad we learned.

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Carl Hiaasen in Person: We ♥ Him

We have been big Hiaasen fans since the 1990s. His humor is out there and we enjoy it. When we learned he was going to be in the Atlanta area at the same time as us, we secured tickets immediately.

Join Carl Hiaasen, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Monkey, Star Island, and Hoot, when he discusses his latest full-tilt, razor-sharp, unstoppably hilarious novel, Razor Girl. With a premise that can only be described as classic Hiaasen, Razor Girl tells the story of Merry Mansfield–a crash scam artist also known as the eponymous “Razor Girl.” When she bashes Lane Coolman’s car from behind on the road to the Florida Keys, what appears to be an ordinary accident is anything but, setting off a chain of events that spiral crazily out of control.
Mr. Hiaasen shared his life story and while he spoke, I jotted down a few comments that I did not want to forget. When discussing how out there  he can get, "I know how high the diving board is that I have to jump off of but I'm never sure how big the splash will be." When asked why he doesn't do his own audio books, "Because I suck at it". When talking about the rich subject matter that life in Florida provides, he said, "My books in Florida are viewed as documentaries". For over an hour and a half he shared and I sat mesmerized (and laughing).

What a phenomenal evening with one of our favorites. Atlanta will forever be ÜBER awesome due to this experience with Mr. Hiaasen. Timing truly is everything.

"I've always enjoyed making people laugh.
But in order for me to be funny,
I have to get ticked off about something."
-Carl Hiaasen

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Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum

When heading to Atlanta, the only thing on our list was to visit this exceptional place which documents an incredibly interesting man.

We always begin a place by watching the introduction video, when offered. After being informed, we pretty much strolled through President Carter's storied life from his farming beginnings to his accomplished Navy career to the death of his father that brought him back to the farm. The collection of personal items, documenting this life's journey, were wonderfully thorough.
The Museum of the Jimmy Carter Library includes photographs and historical memorabilia from the Carter presidency (1976 - 1981). A permanent exhibit of significant events occurring during Jimmy Carter's life and political career includes photographs with interpretative text.
An exact replica of the Oval Office and gifts received by the Carters are also featured.
Coca-Cola is big here so it makes sense that it would be in the museum, in some manner. Coke was one of the first American companies to begin settling in China. Others like Disney soon followed. These bottles were created for the Beijing Olympics. During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the most dramatic moment in Sino-American relations occurred in 1978, when, following months of secret negotiations, the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced that they would recognize one another and establish official diplomatic relations.
I have to admit, I've never been political and I was in high school when the Carters were in the White House. I learned a great deal about their accomplishments through their term. Even more so, what they accomplished after leaving the White House is exponentially more impressive and admirable.

Since we were in our over-sized vehicle, I called and asked about parking. Jennifer, at the Library, was so helpful and caring that we visited her (to deliver a thank you note). She gave us an overview of the Library and a great recommendation for a lunch spot. So very cool.

"You can do what you have to do,
and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can."
-Jimmy Carter

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