I have a really bad habit, that I have no intention of breaking, of judging books at a glance, by their cover. This habit our parents and grandparents warned us against, is justified to me by two things: my marketing degree and a blurb Paul Collins wrote in his book Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books.
Regardless of that justification, it has led me to some horrible mistakes (I thought Rudolf Steiner’s Festival series was going to inform me of the historical significance and establishment of festivals, not be metaphysical ravings of his take on religion butchered by an editor) but also to many happy mistakes.
Directly, it led me to Tanya Egan Gibson’s (Yes, I have a writer crush on her right now, forgive me) How to Buy a Love of Reading, whose cover is amazing, but what’s inside is unexpectedly ten times better. Indirectly, I have discovered the delightful Edna St. Vincent Millay, and that story is a little more intricate.
You see, I once belonged to an online book club. It was lovely place that I adored, where as a group, we read lots of British things. We had fabulous nicknames (I was Lady Klemm of Deasa Manor) and were only required to read the selections and maintain our character. At first… later there were a whole host of requirements, like reading and participating more each year than you did the last and agreeing with the admin of the group on every particular. I was kicked out- “expunged” the admin liked to call it – indirectly for getting pregnant and having a child, directly for knowing the proper definitions of literary terms.
In this group, the Mitford Sisters were often referenced, Nancy the most often for her Pursuit of Love. Browsing my favorite bookstore one day, I saw a book which I presumed was by Nancy Mitford, but only at a quick glance, and impulsively added it to my stack of purchases. I took it home without further survey.
You will laugh when I reveal that instead of Nancy Mitford, I had grabbed a book by… wait for it….
but didn’t realize this until months later as I was reading through my TBR pile, something every voracious reader has stashed about the house and never seems to diminish no matter how quickly you pluck through it.
Alas! It was a biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford. Well, who is this? I asked myself. I can’t read a biography on a person without reading their work first. I want to have a feel for the quotes, I want to understand their mood they were in while writing my favorite piece, and I can’t get the full picture without having a favorite piece!
So, back to the bookstore I went and found myself a hardback of Edna’s poems, a collected works. It’s been heavenly. Reading her poetry has made for some of the sweetest moments with my baby.
Late at night, when she’s teething and can’t sleep, we rock in the glider and in the lamplight of my library I whisper lines from Edna. When the kiddo is at her crankiest, she sometimes crawls into the chair ahead of me and points to the white spine, she is aware that she is soothed by the rhythm of these poems. When it’s raining, like today, and we’re feeling scratchy and feverish, all the singing and hot tea in the world is no match in comparison to the calm that is offered by reading Edna aloud.
Poetry is not something I read often; it’s not my “go to” genre. But I appreciate it, usually the sarcastic and simple like William Carlos Williams, a pre-teen favorite of mine. Edna St.Vincent Millay has changed that for me, I think. I’m prepared to seek out more poetry in the future, especially as I raise this kid, my beautiful daughter, in hopefully the most literary household anyone has ever seen.