On August 16, from 7 to 8 p.m., Princeton Public Library presents a virtual Poets at the Library featuring readers Catherine Doty and John David Muth. Each reader will share their work for 20 minutes followed by an open mic session. Poets who sign-up in advance may share one poem during open mic. To sign-up via crowdcast to attend this virtual event, or to reserve a spot during open mic, visit https://princetonlibrary.libnet.info/event/5414024.

Doty is a poet, cartoonist, and educator from Paterson. She is the author of Wonderama and Momentum, volumes of poems from CavanKerry Press and Just Kidding, a collection of cartoons from Avocet Press. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize and fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. more

Princeton Public Library (PPL) presents an evening of historical fiction featuring two bestselling authors discussing their latest novels, one set in Poland during WWII and the other in prewar Italy. This is a virtual event hosted by the platform Crowdcast. The authors will be speaking from 8 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 8.

To register, visit https://princetonlibrary.libnet.info/event/5300423. This program is free to attend and is best suited for teens and adults. more

Noah Webster

It was on this day in 1828 that Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language was published. Webster put together the dictionary because he wanted Americans to have a national identity that wasn’t based on the language and ideas of England. And the problem wasn’t just that Americans were looking to England for their language; it was that they could barely communicate with each other because regional dialects were so vastly different. more

1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar

One hundred years later, there is a continued fascination with “The Roaring Twenties,” the only decade in American history with a widely applied nickname. How did a surge of innovation and cultural milestones emerge out of the ashes of WWI? Eric Burns, author of 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar, will look back at that critical (and often misunderstood) time, highlighting events that set the tone for the century that followed.  more

The Friends of the Princeton Public Library will host a virtual fundraiser on Saturday, January 30 at 11 a.m. via Zoom. “Restoring Civility and Bringing Social Justice to American Life: A Virtual Brunch and Talk” features four lifelong advocates for social justice as they share their vision for a more just, egalitarian, and united America. more

The Shakespeare Book Club unites Bard-ophiles and Shakespeare novices via fun, social, thought-provoking, and informative exploration of his plays. This fall, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has announced that the Shakespeare Book Club can now be experienced in-person at its Kean Theatre Factory or through Zoom for participants who wish to engage remotely. more

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has admired all the creative energy some people have been able to muster while they are staying at home these days. Having an outlet for imagination and play is a great strategy for keeping your energy up and creative juices flowing. more

American Girl (AG) has announced that it will share its most popular book series for free online at https://www.americangirl.com/explore/articles/onlinelibrary. Each week, AG will release a new set of books that highlight the brand’s many historical fiction and advice offerings.  more

This May’s Historical Fiction Book Group session presented by the Historical Society of Princeton is Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing. The novel is one of several best-selling works by New England-based writer Brooks. more

Hosted by Anna Borges, a mental health journalist formerly at Buzzfeed, senior editor at Self Magazine, and author of The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care, We Are YA can help keep teens company in these days of social distancing.  more

By Taylor Smith

Produced in partnership with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library (NYPL) at 476 Fifth Avenue (at 42nd Street) presents an evening of performances and conversations centered around Toni Morrison, the American icon, writer, and intellectual, on Wednesday, March 18 at 7 p.m. more

By Stuart Mitchner

This Book Scene began with lunch at cookbook legends Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer’s newly opened Canal House Station restaurant in Milford, N.J.

At the time, all I knew about the Canal House series was what I heard from my wife on the drive up. According to an August 12 article in Food and Wine, the “meticulous restoration” of the Milford station took about two years, with the result evoking “the warmth of a dear friend’s home…. Even the entrance, past the small garden and through a back door, contributes to the familiar sensibility the brand new restaurant has already managed to create.”

I understood “familiar sensibility” as a way of describing the quality that has made the Canal House books so popular, an idea that accords with the Cambridge English Dictionary definition of sensibility as “an understanding of or ability to decide about what is good or valuable, especially in connection with social activities.”

Poetry Up Front

I found the “familiar sensibility” in evidence as soon as I opened my wife’s prized copy of Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel $45) to a photograph and a poem that would seem to have more to do with what is “good and valuable” than with cooking. The first image you see after turning the title and dedication pages is a blurry vision of blue sky and cloud mass photographed through the window of a plane en route to Istanbul; taking up the facing page is C.P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca,” which begins, “When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,/pray that the road is long,/full of adventure, full of knowledge” and ends “Wise as you have become, with so much experience,/you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.”

As someone whose heart has never soared at the sight of a cookbook, I was more impressed by the association of cooking with a “beautiful voyage” than with any of the celebrity testimonials on the endpapers, except perhaps the tribute to “this kitchen bible” from actress Jamie Lee Curtis, a Canal House devotee who, like me, is not a “foodie” and admits to “no discernible culinary talent.” In fairness to Jamie Lee, the resemblance is strictly superficial; she cooks every day for “lots of people” and I’m a back-up cook, occasional sous chef, grater of cheese, composer of salads, and cleaner-upper. more

Film still from Cider House Rules

By Taylor Smith

Autumn can often induce feelings of nostalgia. As the weather turns cooler and a hint of the coming winter is detectable in the late evening air, you might be tempted to curl up with your favorite blanket and settle in for a fall movie marathon. Here are a few films that are guaranteed to send you on a journey and make for a memorable evening (or two). more

By Taylor Smith

 American poet Walt Whitman has been honored with a new United States stamp.

The stamp is intended for domestic first-class mail weighing up to 3 ounces, and is priced at 85 cents. USPS Art Director Greg Breeding designed the stamp with artwork by Sam Weber, who previously illustrated the Flannery O’Connor stamp in 2015 and the Henry David Thoreau stamp in 2017. more

By Taylor Smith 

In The Stressed Years of Their Lives: Helping Your Kid Survive and Thrive During Their College Years, authors B. Janet Hibbs (psychologist and marriage therapist) and Anthony Rostain (psychiatry and pediatrics/Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania) write that today’s students “experience the very real burdens of constant striving on behalf of uncertain futures, amidst swiftly changing political and economic landscapes. They’re also stressed by the 24/7 availability of the internet, by social media pressures, and the resulting metrics of constant comparisons, whether social or academic.”  more

Ellis Island Arrivals, Ellis Island mural detail, 1937. Photo courtesy of The Public Buildings Service, General Services Administration, Washington, DC.

By Stuart Mitchner

Mural painters love walls. In place of a symbolic denial of freedom, a barrier between two countries, they see an immense panorama of possibility, a space free but necessarily and beautifully finite. When muralist Edward Laning (1906-1981) looked at the 100-foot-long wall of the Aliens Dining Hall at Ellis Island, he was pondering his assigned subject, “The Role of the Immigrant in the Industrial Development of America.” He was happy to have the work. It was 1934, he was broke and months behind in his rent for a top-floor loft with skylights on East 17th Street. As he recalls in “Memoirs of a WPA Painter” in American Heritage (October 1970), doing justice to his subject meant “learning how railroads were built and saw mills were operated and coal was mined and steel was manufactured.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

My only problem with a ceremonial institution like last month’s celebrating black history is in the way “history” implicitly detracts from the ongoing immediacy of the African American experience. “Lives” in my title can be read both as a reference to the lives of people and to the force that lives in the present, which happens when we listen to Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday, read James Baldwin or Frederick Douglass, admire a painting by Jacob Lawrence or a photograph by Gordon Parks, or go online to watch First Lady Michelle Obama’s stirring speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention.

The good news is that millions of people have been reading Obama’s memoir, Becoming (Crown $32.50), and David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon and Schuster $37.50).

Blight’s landmark biography begins with President Barack Obama’s September 24, 2016 dedication speech at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in which he delivered “a clear-eyed view” of the “tragic and triumphant” experience of “black Americans in the United States.” After referring to “the infinite depths of Shakespeare and scripture” in black history, Obama paid tribute to “the fight for our freedom … a lifetime of struggle and progress and enlightenment … etched in Frederick Douglass’s mighty leonine gaze.” more

By Taylor Smith 

Each year, thousands of new movies are produced and released, and only a few are nominated for Academy Awards. Many of these chosen films actually began as books, plays, and short stories. Here is a collection of seven written works that have gone on to become beloved Oscar-winning films.  more

How to clean up your home and work space once and for all

By Taylor Smith

Organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has sold over two million copies for good reason.

In her native Japan, Kondo says that tidiness and simplicity are a matter of everyday living. She cleverly applies these feng shui principles to cleaning house, simultaneously challenging long-held beliefs in cleaning little-by-little every day, storing things for a different season, and/or discarding one item for every new item brought into your home. more

By Taylor Smith 

It’s the start of 2019 which means one thing — you’re probably assessing your New Year’s resolutions. While a gym membership and a trip to Whole Foods may help you to exercise and eat better, real change begins with a fresh perspective and more all-encompassing lifestyle habits. Here are a just a few books that might help guide the way to a new and improved you.  more

By Stuart Mitchner

Amsterdam was the first stop on my first trip to Europe and the first time in my life that I’d walked into a museum on a whim, on my own, casually, without thinking of it as a prescribed learning experience. Every painting was by the same artist. At 19, I knew about Van Gogh of course. I’d seen Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life. But here was the reality, vividly, wildly, uncontainedly there in the gobs, clusters, and swirls of paint everywhere I looked, and no one else was around, no crowds to contend with; somehow some way I’d lucked out and had the place to myself, just me and Van Gogh. I could almost hear him breathing, smell the smoke from his pipe, as if he were working as I watched, no brush, I imagined him squeezing the paint between his fingers and then slapping it on. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, I’d landed all by myself on the shore of a new world of art.

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By Stuart Mitchner

I never had to deal with the college search process. The Indiana University campus was five blocks away, and since my father was on the faculty, the cost was minimal. I’ve never regretted staying at home. Besides making some lifelong friends, I wrote a novel, having figured out a plot in a sophomore geology class taught by a man whose amusingly morbid mannerisms influenced my depiction of a predatory professor at a fictional Eastern college. So even though I didn’t go away to school myself, my main character did, and came home to Indiana disillusioned about love and life. When the book was published the summer before my senior year, several reviewers gave me credit for at least not imitating J.D. Salinger, while others took the patronizing tone of the notice in the New York Times snidely titled “College Capers.” The Saturday Review quoted Picasso to the effect that “it takes a very long time to become young.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

The freshest, most appealing baseball books of the summer look to be I’m Keith Hernandez (Little Brown $28) and The Comic Book Story of Baseball (Ten Speed Press $18.99), with words by Alex Irvine, and graphics by Marvel artists Tomm Coker and C.P. Smith.

I grew up in post-war southern Indiana loving baseball. The nearest major league team was the Cincinnati Reds. About 250 miles to the north were Chicago and the Cubs and White Sox. St. Louis and the Cardinals were about the same distance to the west. I still remember Cubs broadcaster Bert Wilson exulting, “It’s a beau-t-iful day for a ballgame!” But I was never a Cubs fan, nor did the Reds ever mean much to me.  more

Taylor Smith

A rare joint appearance by two old friends at the 92nd Street Y in New York on Monday, April 23 at 8 p.m. at the Kaufmann Concert Hall. Julian Barnes’s new novel, a poignant tale of first love and long memory, is The Only Story. “He reveals crystalline truths that have taken a lifetime to harden,” wrote The New York Times.  more

By Stuart Mitchner 

Summer camps in literature are not easy to track down. One that comes immediately to mind is J.D. Salinger’s Camp Hapworth, from which 7-year-old Seymour Glass pens the longest summer camp letter ever written. The last work by Salinger released for public consumption, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which runs between pages 32-113 in the June 19, 1965 New Yorker, offers a unique — which is to say Salingeresque — view of camp life at Hapworth Lake in Maine. Then there’s Humbert Humbert’s favorite camper, Dolores Haze. Readers of Vladimir Nabokov’s landmark 1955 novel Lolita and viewers of the 1962 Stanley Kubrick film may recall Lo’s eventful stay at all-girl Camp Q in the Adirondacks, where she is deflowered by the camp mistress’s son Charlie, the only male on the scene.   more

By Stuart Mitchner

Among the holiday season’s crop of new books, most of which are immense, amply-illustrated volumes destined for display, some of this year’s stand-outs feature interesting women, whether photographers like Mary Caperton Morton (Aerial Geology), painters (Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900), or women of the Old West like Calamity Jane (The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary), or superstars like Wonder Woman (The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen) and culinary legend Alice Waters, whose modest-sized, compulsively readable best-selling memoir is more suited to bedside than coffee tables. more

By Stuart Mitchner

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous line, “The very rich are different from you and me,” in his story “The Rich Boy,” inspired Ernest Hemingway’s sarcastic retort in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro, “Yes, they have more money.”

In The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us (Delphinium $25.95), novelist Alison Lurie begins by stating “A building is an inanimate object, but it is not an inarticulate one. Even the simplest house always makes a statement, one expressed in brick and stone and plaster, in wood and metal and glass, rather than in words—but no less loud and obvious.” more

By Doug Wallack

Quoted in the December 1963 Life article in which she famously coined the “Camelot” epithet for her late husband’s presidency, Jacqueline Kennedy says, “Once, the more I read of history, the more bitter I got. For a while I thought history was something that bitter old men wrote. But then I realized history made Jack what he was.” She goes on to outline a vision of a young John F. Kennedy for whom history was a great repository of heroes and role models—a catalyst for his own idealism. more

Princeton’s new poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith. Princeton University, Office of Communications, photography by Denise Applewhite.

By Stuart Mitchner 

If you don’t count nursery rhymes, songs, and “The Night Before Christmas,” the first time poetry happened to me was at the end of the Classic Comic of Moby Dick. Each issue closed with “Highlights in the Life” of the author. Herman Melville’s ended with four couplets from a poem “published during the Civil War” that “best expresses our bewilderment of today.” I had no idea what was meant by “bewilderment.” I was 6. The Second World War was still going on. A red, white, and blue banner at the bottom of the page contained a Buy United States War Savings Bonds stamp. The lines that struck and stayed with me were these: “Can no final good be wrought?/ Over and over, again and again,/Must the fight for the Right be fought?” I had only a vague sense of the meaning beyond its being patriotic; what resonated, and still does, was the infectious play of rhyme and rhythm, especially the way it rocks the last line. more