A Day of Book Related Fun

On this past sunny Saturday in November (the doom laden stories of thigh high snow drifts and frozen eyelashes that everyone I meet has been anxious to assure me are commonplace during New York winters are yet to come true – it’s still positively balmy here!) I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Jenny of the always intelligent and frequently hilarious Jenny’s Books. Jenny is a recent arrival in the Big Apple, like me. However, unlike me, she is actually American and comes from the South, though she was quick to dispel my stereotypical beliefs of life in this region, namely that in the part of Louisiana she’s from, they don’t talk like Forrest Gump, or spend all day sitting on their porches drinking sweet tea and chewing tobacco. Mea Culpa! Not only is Jenny just as funny and clever and adorable as she appears through her writing, she’s also exactly a day younger than me, which was a rather spooky coincidence, and loves most of the things I do. So, in short, Jenny and I got on like a house on fire, and had a thoroughly wonderful day.

We met at the Morgan Library, which you may remember me mentioning is a rare example of a Brownstone mansion of the Old New York style, situated on 36th st and Madison Avenue. Now, with one of those ubiquitous all glass extensions that architects seem obsessed with tacking onto old buildings, it is a real gem of a Museum, showcasing not only J. Pierpont Morgan’s magnificent former residence, including his impressive library and collection of rare books and prints, but also a fascinating and unusual selection of literary and artistic rotating exhibitions that are housed in the new extension. Jenny and I were both mesmerised by the intricate decoration inside, along with the walls and walls of beautifully bound books, stunning reclaimed medieval stained glass, fake mosaic ceilings and general splendour that surrounded us in the stately rooms of the mansion. From its drab brown exterior, you’d never guess what treasures it hides inside.

When we could stop excitedly whispering to each other, Jenny and I gasped over truly breathtaking illuminated manuscripts, priceless documents (such as an original Declaration of Independence) and scribbled first drafts of famous novels, marvelling at how this collection came to be amassed and displayed in such a beautiful and opulent space. We then moved on to the exhibition spaces, where currently a huge collection of Mark Twain manuscripts, letters and photographs are being displayed, as well as Roy Lichenstein drawings, Degas sketches, and the fascinating photographs taken by J.P.Morgan’s daughter Anne while she was working for the American Friends of France during WWI. It’s the perfect Museum for a bibliophile, and I especially appreciated the exhibition of Anne Morgan’s photographs, which demonstrated the role played by upper class women of the period in the relief effort in rural invaded France. One photograph in particular wonderfully illustrated the incongruousness of the situation; attractive, long skirted, beautifully coiffed girls with grease up to their elbows, fixing their cars, laughing away merrily. Though they still looked like nice girls from Fifth Avenue mansions and Swiss Finishing Schools, their ability to roll up their sleeves, pack up and move half way across the world to war torn Europe, learn a completely new set of skills, mix with an entirely alien set of people, and laugh while doing it, was wonderful to contemplate. If you’re in the vicinity, I’d encourage you to visit the library for this exhibition alone.

Once we’d annoyed everyone fully with our constant talking and giggling, we left the Library and went off in search of food. My favourite place for brunch is called Whym, and so I took Jenny here promising her a very good meal, though we did stop off at F.A.O. Schwartz to marvel at the gigantic stuffed animals on the way. Neither of us were disappointed when we finally got to eat; Whym’s chicken pot pie is to die for! After stuffing ourselves to the point of bursting, we headed off to the Strand on 14th street, a good 40 blocks away. On the way we swung by the Flea Market in Hell’s Kitchen, where I was nearly persuaded to buy a beautiful 1930’s quilt top I didn’t need and couldn’t afford, and Jenny and I thumbed our way through some very interesting 1920’s books on Sex Magnetism. We eventually arrived at the Strand and proceeded to encourage each other to buy books we could very well have done without, and so I left with a beautiful first edition of Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl and a rather grubbier first edition of Ford Madox Ford’s The Last Post, which I now realise is the fourth in a quartet, and as such, was a rather pointless purchase, as I haven’t read the others. Oh well! Even so, I got change for $10, so not exactly a bank breaker. Jenny bought a fascinating looking book about the Raj that I fully intend on stealing from her when she’s finished it, so I was of course very forceful in my encouragement when she wavered over buying it!

So, another lovely day in Manhattan was passed, and by the end of it I had a lovely new friend, a full stomach, a greater knowledge of WWI relief efforts and a bag of nice new books. I can’t ask for much more than that out of a Saturday, now, can I?!

41 comments

  1. What, where are the BFF pictures of the two of you?๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m glad you got some Ford Madox Ford, even if it’s one you can’t quite read yet, as The Good Soldier is… well, not a fun book, but a good one. I’m glad you had a good time together, it’s so nice to hear about book blogger friends meeting up, there’s Team New York, Team London, Team Calgary…

    1. Hahaha! Jenny would have MURDERED me if I put up the picture I took of her – I had to bully her into letting me take it in the first place!

      I really enjoyed The Good Soldier – I read it in my pre blogging days – and I’m looking forward to reading more Ford Madox Ford.

      Book blogger meet ups are wonderful because you already know you have lots in common!

  2. That sounds like an amazing day! Funnily enough, I’ve been following (loosely of late, due to hectic work life) both of your blogs and had vaguely pegged that two book bloggers had both just moved to New York, but not quite made the connection that you were now both in the same place.

    At any rate, I’ve never been to New York (or America, actually) so I’m enjoying this virtual tourism!

    1. Hello! It’s lovely to meet you for the first time! Yes it’s very nice to have a new friend in New York – such a coincidence that we both moved at around the same time!

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the peek into New York life – it’s a wonderful place to live!

      1. Sorry – I’m not that Jenny! I probably should have mentioned that, huh. I am a totally separate person, but I follow both of your blogs, and you’re both being excellent at providing little snapshots of a place I’ve never been๐Ÿ™‚

      2. I just realised that you meant meet in the blogosphere sense. I’m way too tired to be reading blogs right now, clearly! Anyway, yes, glad you’re enjoying New York!

  3. I agree with the previous post by Jenny, I remember you’d both moved to New York recently! How nice that you got to meet. I do miss living in a big city — I spent ten years in Chicago and I really loved it, though of course it’s not the same as NY. It sounds like you had a lovely day.

    1. It’s wonderful to meet another book blogger here, Karen! I was feeling starved of bookish chat!

      Living in a big city is the only way I know how to live – I was born and bred in London and the only place that could tempt me to leave the Big Smoke was the Big Apple!

      I have to visit Chicago, I’ve heard it’s marvellous.

  4. Oh, yay, what fun! I have been thinking of you both transplanted to NYC and hoping that you would meet up.

    So, at around the same time (give or take 5 hours) as UK bloggers were meeting the lovely Thomas of My Porch, you and Jenny were having a bookish day of your own? That’s serendipitous and heartwarming๐Ÿ™‚

    I would love to visit the Strand bookshop and Whym sounds delightfull comforting. Have you been to Serendipity or Alice’s Teacup?

    Congratulations on the Willa Cather find; I have been craving more of her books recently. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford is poignantly beautiful.

    1. I know, it was so much fun and I was so pleased we got together!

      Oh I didn’t realise that! How wonderful! That is serendipitous indeed…us book bloggers think alike!๐Ÿ™‚

      Serendipity I haven’t dared go to yet – it’s always heaving – and Alice’s Teacup I haven’t even heard of! I shall go and look that up now!

      I am becoming slightly obsessed with Cather and her books are so cheap and easy to come by here that I can’t help amassing them at a great rate! I love The Good Soldier as well and I hope Parade’s End will be equally good.

  5. The Morgan and F.A.O. Schwartz. What a day! haha!

    I have always wanted to visit the Morgan Library, Rachel. It was so much fun viewing it from here from your perspective. I had not realized Ann Morgan contributed to the war effort so in France. Then again, there is a good bit I don’t know about that effort and should make that a goal to learn about. The Mark Twain exhibit sounds interesting as well. Twain is, of course, often touted as the father of American Literature. You know, Rachel, you have already seen so much of New York City and have such a passion for its people and its roots that you could be its finest docent. I admire your spirit of adventure.

    You remind me that I have a rather shabby copy of Sapphira and the Slave Girl balancing on my book pile. I should attend to that. It sounds like you nabbed a wonderful edition of it. How grand! Enjoy, Rachel. I’m so glad you posted on your Saturday in New York.

    1. The Morgan Library is spectacular, Penny. I am certain you would love a visit. You are not sooo far from New York…

      Yes, the American Friends of France was a huge group of wealthy women who went over to rural France and used their skills to improve the lives of the people whose villages had been destroyed by the fighting, and also replace the functions filled by men now gone, hence the mechanics! I would love to find out more about them as well so let me know if you find anything!

      Penny you are so lovely! Thank you. As Marvell would say ‘at my back I always hear, time’s winged chariot coming near’ – as I’m only here for a year I am very anxious to make the most of every moment, hence why I pack so much into my days!

      I have read a few pages of Sapphira and it promises to be good, so I hope you pick it up very soon!

  6. Fabulous day out, Rachel and it warms my heart that you’re making friends all over the place! You two sounds like a perfect pairing. And such a lovely outing packed with a mix of fun, food and something educational.

    I’ve been so grateful for the lovely November weather, it seems as though the seasons are shifting a bit. Don’t let your guard down though, Rachel…those frozen eyelashes are coming!

    1. Oh Darlene! You are loveliness itself!

      Since I got here I have made so many lovely new friends – I am so blessed!

      I know – the weather really hasn’t been cold at all. Every time I call home my mum is complaining how dreary and wet and cold it is in England and each time I have been able to say ‘oh, it’s so sunny here!’. I won’t be TOO cocky though Darlene – I know these awful times are coming and I am buying a down coat, don’t worry!

      1. Winter is really not that bad in the Big Apple. I’m from upstate, where it REALLY gets cold, and I always found the city balmy by comparison.

        I’m reminded of when Jenny’s sister(the one we called “Sibyl”)was preparing for a year abroad in Hull (UK). She had a frightful nightmare in which people were telling her that Hull was actually “the third coldest place on earth.” (Not true, as it turned out.)

      2. Mumsy you are funny! I’m glad to hear winter isn’t THAT bad, though I am spending Christmas upstate!!

        Oh Hull isn’t that cold. It is ugly though!

  7. Hehe – Claire beat me to it saying that your meet up was almost at the same time as the others met up in London. Sounds like an excellent day out – I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself so much!

  8. I love the Pierpont Morgan library! I went to see it during my honeymoon in 2008 (sans husband; he was doing PhD research at the Columbia archives at the time – yes, on our honeymoon! It was a planned combo honeymoon/research trip.). I thought it was the best thing I saw during my entire trip to NYC. I saw an exhibition about Philip Guston and another about illuminated medieval manuscripts about hunting scenes. It was a fantastic discovery and I’d go back there in a second!

    1. Hi Nadia! Isn’t the Morgan fantastic? I’m glad you’ve had a chance to go. That’s so funny about your honeymoon – but compromise is the key to any successful relationship! Those exhibitions sound excellent – they always seem to have good stuff there that’s a bit different to what anywhere else in New York is offering. I’ll be back again!

  9. That sounds like a really perfect day and was one of the first things I’ve read anywhere that made me with I was in New York. For whatever reason I’ve never been interested in it. Too busy, important and bustling for me, I guess. I wouldn’t fit in and/or it wouldn’t meet the needs I currently have of a “place.” But that sounds like a dream day!

  10. What fun and adventures! How lovely that you got to meet Jenny. I loved the Morgan Library too – I’ve only ever had a few days in NYC but it was a real priority for me, not only in its own right but because a dear friend of mine used to work there and used to sing its praises so highly. And she was right, what a place! One of my favourite spots in New York (the other probably being the bagel places…!). I was fascinated to see the Gutenberg (spelling?!) bibles there. Even though I am not a religious person they were clearly incredibly special whatever one’s beliefs. So much incredible stuff there – from things I knew I’d love to those I for some silly reason thought I might be ambivalent about… for instance, I am not really a huge Byron fan but to see his manuscript was still a privilege! Okay, I’m not sure why I didn’t think I’d appreciate it, but still!
    Hope you enjoy your new books – I am a big fan of Ford Madox Ford, and I recently read a Guardian column saying that Tom Stoppard is adapting Parade’s End for the BBC – eeek! It’ll be on next year some time I think – so exciting, I am a big fan of all the Tom Stoppard plays I’ve seen and FMF that I’ve read, so this bodes well! So I will definitely be trying to read the book(s) soon too!

    1. I know, it was just wonderful! I so like to meet bloggers in real life. It’s always a pleasure! The Morgan Library really was terrific and I have to go back to appreciate it more fully – I was so busy talking to Jenny that I didn’t really take it in as much as if I had gone alone.
      Thank you – I really enjoyed The Good Soldier so I hope that Parade’s End will also be just as brilliant. When will I get time to read it, though! Oh! The pressures of life!

  11. Oh-ho, so now your ulterior motives become clear. I will try and read it promptly – I have all these amazing books out of the library and I am having a hard time sticking with just one book at a time. But the Raj one will be a good one for the bus ride tomorrow – it’s paperback which means not that heavy to haul around all evening. :p

    The picture of the FAO Schwarz nutcracker came out really well. After I got home, my uncle said if we’d gone upstairs we could have seen the huge piano that people play with their feet. He says in the Christmas season, they hire professional foot-piano players to come play the piano.

  12. It sounds like you are having so much fun. What a day! Isn’t wonderful that you have been recording your adventures here for all of us to enjoy. This is so much better than a box full of photos forgotten on a shelf to peek at years later. You have shared your perspective with your cyber-friends and can relive all of this with a few clicks. Thanks for sharing an continue to enjoy.

    1. I am, Janet! I know, it’s going to be so lovely to have this to look back on. I am keeping a diary but it’s good to have this blog too as I can write in so much more detail on here!

  13. Sapphira and the Slave Girl! Darn, that’s one of the few Cather’s I’ve not read. Please post a review. Enjoyed reading of your literary friendship and day out very much.

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