By The Book

For Book Lovers and Other Curious People



“Ask Amy” syndicated columnist Amy Dickinson thought she was all set – after all, she had been preparing for the loss of her ailing mother for five years. “In my arrogance,” she tells podcast host Roxanne Coady, “I felt I had pre-grieved her passing. But I wasn’t prepared.” It’s one of the moving anecdotes in this week’s episode of “Just the Right Book Podcast,” in which Dickinson discusses Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home. “I tried everything in my toolkit – writing, therapy, meditation,” she says. “I was so sad, so stressed, I needed to be gentle with myself.” The book describes how Dickinson, whose advice column appears in 150 newspapers and is read by 22 million people daily, returned to her small hometown of Freeville, NY (population 520) to care for Jane, who was her mom and her best friend.


It took four months and 17 episodes, but we did a double-take when we heard these words from Roxanne: “I don’t know that book.” But we’ll bet that in short order, she’ll know more about it than most people alive. The book is Bettyville by George Hodgman, who, like Amy Dickinson, moved back to his small hometown to care for his mother and who provided an inspiration for Dickinson in her own memoir. Hodgman, also like Dickinson, referred to his mother by her first name. As for her future reading list, “I’m writing that down,” said Roxanne.


How in the world would Henri Matisse be linked to the most valuable book among the approximately half-million titles at New York’s iconic Strand Book Store? In a recent episode of “Just the Right Book Podcast,” Strand’s Carson Moss tells the fascinating story about a rare copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, signed by both Joyce and Matisse. As it turns out, Matisse was asked to illustrate an early printing of the classic work, based and structured on Homer’s epic, The Odyssey. Matisse, who confessed to not having read James’s book, went ahead and did the illustrations – but he based them on the tale of The Odyssey – not Ulysses. Some 1,500 copies were printed, and Matisse signed every one. Joyce, somewhat perturbed, stopped after signing 250. It’s one of those 250 that is sitting in the Strand. If you haven’t read Ulysses, no problem, you can pick up this copy for $45,000. Better yet, listen to this fascinating podcast interview (no charge).

The events of the past year, Roxanne notes, have generated a renewed interest in people to understand our Constitution, the workings of government and many subtleties of the electoral process that came forth during the Presidential election and its aftermath. While she believes it is not the place of a bookseller to take a formal political position, it is certainly the opportunity for booksellers to promote healthy discussion and remind readers of the many volumes available to increase awareness. At her bookstore, R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT, the team has set up a table full of titles that hold the answers. A new series from Penguin Books called Civic Classics includes some of the great ones: The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, as well as The Federalist Papers. Roxanne says, “We may think we know what they say and mean, but maybe not!”


He certainly isn’t the most well-known member of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, but that didn’t stop a throng of football and book fans from standing in line outside R.J. in the bone-chilling cold to meet Malcolm Mitchell and have the wide receiver sign his delightful children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, in which his protagonist explores the magical power of books. Mitchell is no stranger to magic, hauling in six receptions, some of them dazzling, in the Pats’ dramatic win over Atlanta. He’s also trying to work some more magic with his “Read With Malcolm” initiative designed to encourage young kids to read.


When Time in 2012 named “The World’s 100 Most Influential People,” some surely wondered what author Ann Patchett (Commonwealth, Bel Canto) was doing on the list. It probably traced back to her opening of Parnassus Books in her hometown of Nashville and her efforts to help preserve and save independent bookstores from the large commercial forces threatening what they’ve represented for so long to the American spirit. Meanwhile, art imitates real life in Patchett’s latest work, Commonwealth. Coming March 29 on “Just the Right Book Podcast.”


We hope you’ve been following on social media our podcast’s Daily Book Quotes from authors, past presidents and celebrities of many shapes and sizes. How’s this one from Edward P. Morgan to get you in the mood: “A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it.” Or the more whimsical from P.J. O’Rourke: “Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”

Thanks for listening. Now go read a book!


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