Seward’s Folly Bookstore

sewards folly


Back in the 1970s / 1980s, there was a little bookstore on the corner of Transit Street and Brook Street in Providence, called “Seward’s Folly.” It was run by an older couple, Schuyler Seward and his wife Peterkin.

 

 

It was a small musty wonderland of a bookstore, and the Sewards were always very kind to me. I went there whenever I could. I wanted a book by Will Cuppy the 1940s humorist, and they managed to find it for me, and after that they knew me as “Cuppy,” because who in the 1980s remembered Will Cuppy?

 

 

Schuyler had a beard and mustache as I do now, and was very wry and very smart, and one online source claims that he was a speechwriter for the Truman Administration. Peterkin was small and walked with difficulty, but had a wonderful smile. They had two dogs when I knew them: a huge poodle and a huge bulldog – both elderly and tired – who had to be taken upstairs (where the Sewards lived) and showered with cool water from time to time in the summertime, so that they wouldn’t overheat.

 

 

The Sewards were lovable people, and very memorable.

 

 

I wonder how many people remember them now?

 

 

And who will remember me when I’m gone?

 

 

This is the very last bit of Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”:

 

 

“But soon we shall die . . . and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” 

 

 

Do you get that? We don’t last forever, but we will leave something behind.

 

 

The Sewards left me a wonderful legacy – a memory of two intelligent kind friendly people. I hope, when my time comes, that I will leave behind some tiny fraction of the kindly legacy the Sewards bequeathed me.

 

 

(Postscript: while researching this blog, I discovered that Peterkin died only a few months  ago – on July 30, 2013 – not far away, in Rumford, Rhode Island. Schuyler evidently predeceased her, though I couldn’t find his obituary. They are survived by their daughter Abbi.)

 


 

For the first day of summer: a young-adult reading list

The-lost-hero


Summer is all about recreational reading, but everyone’s idea of light reading is different.  Some like John Grisham, or Patricia Cornwell, or Stephen King.  I like young-adult stuff.

 

 

For me, “young adult” is any chapter book not directed to an adult readership.  Some are perfectly appropriate for bright eight-year-olds, and some aren’t. 

 

 

Young-adult literature is unassuming, and it gets right to the point without dithering.  There’s very little padding in most young-adult books.  Sometimes the authors pander – they lay it on too thick, or they get the atmosphere wrong – but there’s some pretty good stuff out there, both old and new.

 

 

Let’s acknowledge J. K. Rowling right at the top of the list.  I hope she figures out a way to continue her story.  What about Harry and Ginny’s kids? 

 

 

Still have your set of Narnia books?   I’ve purchased them and gotten rid of them twice over.  I like the characters and the storytelling, but C. S. Lewis’s drippy Christian moralizing makes me feel sticky after a while.  I can’t even touch “The Last Battle” anymore, although Neil Gaiman has written a wonderful short story about the flip side of that story.

 

 

(Lewis, for all his faults, was a pretty good writer.  If you haven’t read the space novels – “Out of the Silent Planet,” “Perelandra,” and (especially, and weirdest of all) “That Hideous Strength” – do it.  Great stuff.  Nasty stuff here and there, too.  If you don’t wince a couple of times while reading these, you’re not reading very carefully.)

 

 

If you like surreal whimsy – and who doesn’t? – try Tove Jansson’s Moomin books.  My favorite is “Moominland Midwinter”: the Moomin family is hibernating, but the little Moomin boy wakes up and discovers that, during the winter months, their house is completely taken over by all kinds of peculiar creatures.  It has the creepy stillness of a deep Scandinavian winter, and it’s lots of fun: perfect ice-cold reading for a hot New England day.

 

 

P. L.Travers wrote “Mary Poppins,” and “Mary Poppins Opens the Door,” and “Mary Poppins in the Park.” Her original Mary Poppins is not Julie Andrews: she’s ferocious, and truly scary sometimes – the cobra in the London zoo calls her “cousin”! – and Jane and Michael worship her.

 

 

Thornton Wilder wasn’t really a young-adult writer, but some of his novels – especially “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” – fit perfectly in this category. I read it in high school, and was moved to tears, and I still quote it endlessly. If you haven’t read it, read it immediately.

 

 

And finally, here’s a writer who’s still among the living: Rick Riordan.  The Percy Jackson books were a Greek-mythology knockoff of Harry Potter, but Riordan can really tell a story too.  He left the Percy Jackson story to tell a sort of parallel story involving Egyptian mythology instead, but it doesn’t quite have the energy of the Percy Jackson books. He seems to have realized this, however, and has gone back to Percy, with a side twist through the Roman version of the Greek myths; he’s written two of these, and they’re both wonderful, and I’m looking forward to number three.

 

 

There’s your summer reading assignment, kids.

 

 

And it’s fun.

 

 

So get reading!

 


 

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