Category Archives: books

A Quick Gift for Readers

Hey, friends! Joce back with a not-so-heavy post about DIY gifts. If you’ve picked up on any running themes here, you may have noticed that Cath, Jen, and I are three of the biggest book nerds you’ll ever know. When we were all living together in 2137, our cumulative library was pretty darn good; and if one of us didn’t have a book in particular, one of the others probably did. This post is for you book-lovers, and you lovers of book-lovers: while the very best gift for a bookworm might just be a new book, a handmade bookmark might be the next best thing.

When I was a girl, my next-door neighbor and surrogate grandmother Ms. Dot taught me how to cross-stitch, and she also made me the occasional cross-stitched gift. So when I was visiting her over the summer and she handed me this book of patterns, I recognized it immediately:

Dot made me one of these bookmarks and gave it to me probably fifteen years ago. I still have it marking a spot in a favorite book, so it has lasted much longer than the standard bookmark. Since she doesn’t cross-stitch as much anymore, she let me have the patterns, and now I’m going to share one of my own with you.

Materials needed for homemade bookmark:

  • DMC floss in 3 complementary colors
  • grosgrain ribbon in a complementary color
  • needle, scissors, and a small hoop
  • aida cloth in whatever size you want (medium density)
  • hot glue gun

I thought I’d make my own pattern for this one, so feel free to use it yourself. You can easily use graph paper to make your own patterns, but since I couldn’t find any, I made my own with pen and a ruler. A good pattern size for this project is 24 X 24 stitches if you want to get your design on.

Take a look at your ribbon and floss collection, and pick out whichever colors you like together. For this project, I used DMC floss numbers 312, 3348, and 3350.

Dot taught me the trick of finding the center of a cloth scrap by folding it in half twice, then sticking a pin in the corner. It may not be the exact center, but since this scrap is plenty large, close-to-center is good enough. Start your stitching from the center, then work your way out.

I like how this one turned out a little bit like a pinwheel. Once you’re done with the cross-stitching and outlining, cut your square out with four extra lines of cloth around the edges:

Next, to create a frayed look around the edges, use a needle or pin to lift out two layers of the horizontal fabric. Depending on the tension of your fabric, this may be easy or a bit more difficult.

You are almost done! All that’s left to do is cut your grosgrain to whatever length you want. With a dab of hot glue, adhere the ribbon to the back of your square. And if you want, you can cut a fancy notch in the bottom of the ribbon like so:

This bookmark is so easy and really does not take much time at all. In fact, I cranked out a couple of these while watching two episodes of The Wire over the weekend. I gave one to my granddad for his birthday, since he really is impossible to buy for. And if my cat hadn’t so mercilessly eaten the other one, I might have sent it to someone else. I’ll just pretend I sent it to Omar Little for his copy of Ghettoheat.



PS – Thanks to everyone for the feedback on the Troy Davis post. Though the outcome of  Davis’s story is just as tragic as many of us expected, it serves as a reminder that this important discussion is far from over. Peace and love, J.


To Mary Flannery: In Memoriam

It’s August 3, 2011; and it was exactly forty-seven years ago today that my all-time favorite writer—Mary Flannery O’Connor—died of Lupus complications at the young age of 39. When this day approaches every year, I can’t help but take a moment to reflect upon the bizarre, uncommon woman whose authorial presence influences everything I write and even read. Sometimes when placed in puzzling or upsetting situations, I have wondered to myself, “What would Flannery O’Connor say about this? What would she do?” From what I know of her, she would say something morbid or shocking and above all, hilarious. She would reveal the hidden and immortal layer of things. And she would do it by bringing you to tears of joy, sorrow, or gratefulness. To be sure, Flannery will not take you on a leisurely walk in the park.

If you are not familiar with O’Connor or her work, consider your life the worse for it. I remember reading “Revelation” (one of her short works) for the first time and believing that it was the most perfect short story ever written—which is exactly how I still feel about it. In fact the last two paragraphs of that story may be the most perfectly-composed paragraphs I’ve ever read, as we see the same vision of heaven that Mrs. Turpin—the story’s arrogant and self-righteous protagonist—experiences:

There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven.

The prose is beautifully aflame, and O’Connor’s vision of the heavenly pageant is more transcendent, graceful, and apocalyptic than any other. Beyond the grit and grotesqueness that have made her so distinctive, she still delights us with a nonpareil image of the supernatural grace that ordered her life and her universe.

Last year it was my great pleasure to visit both of Flannery’s childhood homes. I convinced my family to take a detour on our way to Savannah, Georgia, so that we could visit Andalusia—the home in Milledgeville where O’Connor did much of her writing and lived the last years of her short life.

Set back from the main drag in Milledgeville, and even further from the old downtown, Andalusia is a beautiful, quiet old farm with rolling trails and plenty of shade trees. One can imagine Flannery, even in her weakened state, taking a walk around the grounds and being inspired by the simple beauty of the place.

Inside the home visitors can see some of Flannery’s books, her crutches, and other items that furnished the home. Some of the books on display include her snarky marginalia.

downstairs bedroom, with Flannery's crutches

"M.F. O'Connor - a splendid book"

"This is absolutely the worst book I have ever read - don't read it. M.F. O'Connor"

Though they aren’t from the bloodline of the several peacocks O’Connor kept around the farm (in her essay “The King of the Birds” she reckons she had around forty altogether), Andalusia has a few of the beautiful creatures on the grounds to keep the spirit of the place alive. Of peafowl, O’Connor wrote: “I have never known a strutting peacock to budge a fraction of an inch for truck or tractor or automobile. It is up to the vehicle to get out of the way. No peafowl of mine has ever been run over, though one year one of them lost a foot in the mowing machine” (“The King of the Birds,” Mystery and Manners).

In a sentimental act common to readers, I couldn’t leave Milledgeville without paying homage to Flannery’s grave. After stopping by the Sacred Heart Catholic Church—where O’Connor attended mass most days—we found her stone along the edge of the nearby city graveyard beneath a shade-bearing tree. As I stood and reflected on the short life she had lived—and the eternal one she never lost sight of—I imagined her being a tour guide in heaven, showing her readers around the pearly gates with the most sarcastic and odd commentary eternity has ever seen.

To Mary Flannery, my friendliest of literary friends: thanks for the art you have given to the world, and to me. Like you, it is immortal.



PS — Go here for an audio recording of O’Connor reading her story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” It’s even better in that Georgia voice.

PPS — Check out the Flannery O’Connor Conference I’m thinking about attending at Loyola University Chicago.

Coronation of Books

Catherine here with another post about books.

In my last post, I shared my lofty goals for summer reading.  While the pace of my reading has been steady, the volume has not been as exceptional as I might have hoped.  I’ll tell you WHAT has been exceptional: the amount of TV I’ve watched thanks to the wonder that is Netflix.  But that’s a post for another time.

A common bond uniting the three ladies of 2137 is a love of BOOKS.  We all boast (not sure that’s the right word, ha!) English majors (Jocelyn is working on English degree numero tres), and Jocelyn and Jennifer make their living by loving books. This shared love was the unofficial theme of Christmas 2010.  Jennifer gave us each Hatch Show Prints celebrating the 30 years of the now deceased Davis Kidd Booksellers.  (My print is now framed and hanging proudly in our entryway).

Jocelyn, delight that she is, gave me bookplates.  Mine have lain dormant until today when I chose books worthy of receiving a bookplate!

To choose the tomes worthy enough to receive a bookplate (and immortalization as one of MY books), I knew I had to go to the holiest of holies: my FICTION collection.


While there are lots of books throughout our humble abode, I hold my fiction dearest.  Try as I might to read nonfiction, I will always be a fiction girl.  So these are the books that live in our bedroom because they are my favorites.  (Not pictured: books on my nightstand, those that have been loaned, and the ones that still live in Chattanooga).

I plopped myself down in front of these lovelies to pick the 8 that would receive a bookplate:

Here are the winners (surprisingly, one book of non-fiction made the cut!):

Elite Eight

They are, in no particular order:

(Before I go any further, let me say that I think books are the ultimate home-decor item.  I long for a day when I can line entire walls with books.  See my Long Live Books pinterest board to see what I’m talking about…).

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Good Life by Jay McInerney

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (I love her)

And for the one non-fiction honoree:

Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner (so love-worn)

So there are the initial 8.  I believe that all of these are books I have read in the last few years so they do not necessarily (or exclusively) represent my favorites of all time. Some are loaned out and others are in Chattanooga but these 8 books are the ones on my shelves that I love most dearly.

I had two bonus bookplates (I gave bookplates to some graduates from my school and had extras) and so the two books that earned these were:

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Here are two in their plated glory:

Plate from Jocelyn

Leftover plate (from papermonkeypress,

So there you have it!  My initial inductees into the “Catherine Bookplate Hall of Fame!”  If any of these books strike your fancy, make your way to a brick and mortar bookshop and pick one up today.

(And in case you were wondering, here’s what Atticus and MowMow did during my bookplate-ing ceremony):

Useless creatures.

xoxox and happy reading,