Yesterday, I walked into a meeting at the Greenwood Public Library with a Post-it-flag-filled non-fiction book. Not all that unusual for research. But, I also carried a much-flagged fiction book. Just as our State Librarian, Annie Norman transcribes her non-fiction finds to share with her staff, I transcribe my own. Now, I am starting to transcribe my fiction reading. Let me open the pages of Homeland for you to a few passages that speak to novels, books and those who read them. Remember that these two women write to one another from the wilds of Deer Island, Maine to the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi throughout the Civil War.
Cora ~ “I have realized this about novels: they are like conversations or acquaintanceships, that change us deeply by widening our experience. They are like friends.” Susannah ~ “Mrs. Elliott would say, like your Father, that we should read only what improves the mind, but I don’t think that’s so. Sometimes we just need to rest our minds, to let our hearts sit quietly next to a warming fire while the chill abates.” Cora ~ ” I re-read the novels I read last winter, encountering new things…it is as if new chapters grew in them when I wasn’t looking.” And, lastly, Susannah ~ “This is what they do for us, both books and friends: they remind us what it is to be human. As you wrote to me, they are the window into sunlight, even if we ourselves are shut in the dark.” Enough said there, I think.
How does this effect that meandering learning path of mine? First, these written conversations between Cora and Susannah sparked an interest in the lives of women during the Civil War. Before the book’s end, I reserved Mary Chestnut’s Letters and started a search for a similar author with a Northern viewpoint. Second, imagine my joy when I found Hambly’s sources list at the back of the book! I am on the hunt for A Maine Town in the Civil War by Vernal Hutchinson and My Cave Life in Vicksburg by A Lady (Mary Webster Loughborough).
And why is A Christmas Carol pictured here? To remind us of our good fortune. We can borrow this from any of our local libraries. As the war progressed and the books disappeared, Cora and Susannah “read” the classic each Christmas by recalling it from memory.