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Steinbeck Slept Here!

Today, February 27,  is John Steinbeck’s birthday as noted, thoughtfully, but incompletely by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. (

We must add that Steinbeck lived, worked, fished, drank and generally had a good time here in Sag Harbor on the East End of Long Island. Some have called ours a “charming fishing village” not dissimilar to Steinbeck’s beloved Monterey Bay. Steinbeck spent the last decade of his life here, driving out from New York when his works were performed on Broadway stages.

We see a steady stream of  Steinbeck fans on pilgrimage who stop in to ask about where he lived — The writer’s home is now a private residence overlooking Sag Harbor Cove.  Our literary walking tours always wind up there, a respectful distance from the place he wrote The Winter of Our Discontent. It’s said he based several characters on Sag Harbor locals. Steinbeck’s American road book, Travels with Charley begins here in the wind-churned cove, just as Hurricane Donna blows through:”Under the big oak trees of my place at Sag Harbor sat Rocinante…”

John found pals among the locals, fishing buddies and drinking buddies in the days of the notorious Black Buoy bar when Sag Harbor was a place God-fearing mothers forbade their kids from venturing to. But local folks just let Steinbeck be Steinbeck, allowed him his privacy.  In a show of affection for what was then a proudly blue-collar town, Steinbeck helped create our Whalers festival, a giant street parade and rowdy weekend party featuring boat races that once brought sailors and boozers from far and near. The festival, now toned down as Sag Harbor has gone upscale,  is celebrated as HarborFest,  in early September when the crowds have dissipated, but when the weather’s still fine.

Steinbeck conducted his war with the ospreys here, as described in a humorous piece we included in our Sag Harbor Is: A Literary Celebration.  At the centenary of his birth, we hosted a Steinbeck celebration with an exhibit of photographs from the family collection and a stirring tribute by Steinbeck’s friend, the late Budd Schulberg. There’s a beautiful bronze bust of the writer in our beloved John Jermain Library, a tribute to the village’s claim on the Nobel Prize winner.

All this to say, Steinbeck once slept here! He lived here, played here, wrote here. Happy Birthday, John Steinbeck. Sag Harbor salutes you!

Keep It Simple

Stacks of books and boxes, piles of paper, catalogs, bills surround us. Call it clutter, or call it cozy lived-in. We’ve got lots of “stuff” here at the bookshop, most of it important, but some of it could go.  So we’re eager to start another community discussion course  this month called Voluntary Simplicity. We’ll address not just physical clutter, but personal as well as environmental clutter.

Call it ironic that here in the fabulous Hamptons a sandbar of conspicuous consumption, a small group of folks will gather to discuss how to get more out of life with less.

In 1981 Duane Elgin’s book, Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich  announced the movement.  Reissued in 2010, Voluntary Simplicity has become even more relevant, mainstream rather than marginal,  more urgent. According to Elgin, voluntary simplicity helps create community through a common purpose; protects plants and animals from extinction;  promotes self-discovery and well-being among humans, all the while promoting a balanced use of Earth’s precious resources. In fact, voluntary simplicity is crucial to a sustainable future.

Voluntary Simplicity, a five-week course designed by the Northwest Earth Institute, begins at Canio’s Tuesday, January 29. We’ll read intriguing articles, discuss our experiences, as we become more aware of how we’re spending our precious time, our limited resources. We’ll discover how these choices affect our health, our relationships, and Earth.

Pre-registration is required along with a $30. materials fee. Space is limited; contact us soon! The program is sponsored by Canio’s Cultural Cafe.

Remembering Harvey Shapiro

Harvey Shapiro

Word reached us that poet Harvey Shapiro died on January 7, 2013.  Harvey, a longtime and loyal customer of the bookshop, read at Canio’s several times from his various collections including How Charlie Shavers Died and Other Poems; The Sights Along the Harbor, and the volume he edited:  Poets of World War II published by The Library of America.  Here’s one from The Sights Along the Harbor.

To Nature

Sun gilding each lance-like pine needle.

One needs to have a proper attitude of respect

as a Jew only recently out of his village in Russia

would have had when he first ventured

from the Lower East Side on to broad Fifth Avenue.

My eyes are wide. I lift my cap.

We lift our cap to Harvey, who always had a ready smile and affable way about him, who supported other poets, and who seemed to remain just a regular guy even though his many prestigious accomplishments lift him above the crowd.

Winter Jazz Warms the Bookshop

Some Monk tunes, “Olio”, “Here’s That Rainy Day” and a beautiful traditional hymn often performed by John Fahey… just some of the numbers performed by jazz bassist Steve Shaughnessy and guitarist Bryan Campbell at Canio’s recently.  A beautiful way to close out 2012 despite the stormy weather that night. Snug inside the bookshop and before an intimate appreciative audience, these two fine musicians seemed to pull notes out of the air each complementing the other in a respectful collaboration. Shaughnessy and Campbell often play at the Bay Burger Jazz Jam, and we’re happy to note, will be performing weekly in a quintet at World Pie in Bridgehampton beginning Thursday, January 10 from 8 to 11 p.m.

Campbell is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Jazz Performance at Queen’s College. He is a gifted artist with a long career ahead of him.  Shaughnessy, a master musician in both classical and jazz performance,  a long time member of the South Fork Chamber Orchestra, is also a music educator. He and jazz guitarist Tom DePetris have collaborated for decades particularly when DePetris headed up the jazz fusion band Solar popular on the East End. DePetris was scheduled to appear at Canio’s as he has many times before, but bad weather changed that. We hope to welcome Tom back another time.

On this late December night, the lovely notes of  “I Fall In Love Too Easily” swirled  among the poetry and art books, and seemed to say it all!

Rilke Through the Storm

A string of very dark nights, post-Superstorm Sandy were lighted by a new collection of Rilke poems, Prayers of a Young Poet translated by Mark S. Burrows and just out from Paraclete Press. These are supple renderings of poems some of which we’ve never seen before in English.  Without electricity for a week, I lit the hurricane lamp and read “I love the dark hours of my being,/ for they deepen my senses…”and followed the voice of the monk traipsing through the dark forest of his soul.

A bit more than a month later, we were inundated with another wave of bleaker darkness as the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School left unspeakable grief in its wake. Poetry is not a  cure nor can it protect us from evil, but  in it we hear the human voice of anguish:  “You are the forest of contradictions./ I could rock You like a child,/ and yet Your curses reach their goal/ and wreak havoc among the people.”

It’s really too much to burden these poem-prayers with our contemporary events but through them we plumb the depths to arrive at constants.  We hear the strivings of one seeking wholeness: “This is my daily work over which/ my shadow lies like  a shell./ And even if I’m like leaves and loam,/ whenever I pray or paint/ it becomes Sunday once again, and in the valley/ I’m the voice of a praising Jerusalem.”  These earnest “prayers” of the young poet Rilke, cry out not from the mountaintop, but from deep within that dark valley, a troubling night when searching is all.

In his Afterword, Mark Burrows comments on his translations: ” My hope is that these renditions enable Rilke’s poems to gesture beyond what they say, thereby conveying a sense that is as free and dynamic in English as in the original German. When they do this, they call us to ‘widen [our] solitudes/ from one new beginning to the next’ , glimpsing with the poet what he calls ‘the radiance of a new page/ on which everything could still come to be.’

This New Year, this 2013, let it be so.

Canio’s Lunches With The Library

Harry Belafonte was so impressed with Coal River, an expose of mountaintop mining in West Virginia, that the celebrated performer and civil rights activist asked long-time Vanity Fair contributing editor and author Michael Shnayerson to work with him on his autobiography.   Belafonte’s autobiography: My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance recounts stories of  Harry’s early years, his activism and rise to fame.  Shnayerson, of Bridgehampton relied on interviews rather than documents to compose the book. “He had so many stories in his heard,” said the reporter, featured guest along with writer Kati Marton, at the recent literary luncheon hosted by the Friends of the Jermain Library. Belafonte’s involvement with the civil rights movement, and his friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. almost cost him his career. But Belafonte’s rise from his beginnings as a janitor to performing at the Inauguration of Pres. Kennedy to international aide work and more evince a life of tenacity, dedication and influence. Shnayerson is currently at work on a book about New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“Patience, perseverance and focus.” That’s how Kati Marton described the qualities her late husband Richard Holbrooke brought to both his diplomatic career and his personal life. In her memoir Paris, A Love Story, the former NPR and ABC News correspondent describes her marriage to Ambassador Holbrooke, and before him to Peter Jennings. But Paris is at the core of her story, the city of lovers that helped her move on from loss and grief. Based on journals and bundles of letters saved, the book, Marton said, is not solely her story, but “a human story,” and one that ends on a poignant but hopeful note. Marton, author of eight books including Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America,  is ready to begin a new chapter of her life.

Post Sandy: We are open and we are grateful

We are very grateful for having weathered the storm safely. Canio’s Books is open for business during our usual hours. Power was restored to Main Street at 3 p.m. Our thoughts and prayers are with those still in need. Stop by to chat, get a great book and enjoy some Halloween treats.

Busmen’s Holiday

We can’t visit a new city without stopping in its bookstores. Who wouldn’t want to, even, or especially, while on vacation? We walked into River Run Books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where we’d been before albeit in its different locations. Portsmouth is an interesting, historic and lively place, and River Run is a great shop full of contemporary and classic titles, local interest books, second-hand sale books, gifts and a new publishing sideline. While wandering the well-stocked tables and chatting with knowledgeable shop owner Tom, we learned that the next night Salman Rushdie would speak at The Music Hall as part of their Writers on a New England stage series.  Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton describes his harrowing experience during the fatwa. It’s also about his school years, his marriages, his life as a writer, the intrigues of the publishing world.

Tom saw to our tickets, and to our surprise, even invited us to the V.I.P. reception backstage after the presentation.The historic theatre that dates from 1878 was packed. Over 750 people filled the hall to hear Rushdie read from Joseph Anton and converse with a New Hampshire public radio journalist. You had the feeling the man, the writer was coming back into his own, stepping out from behind a dark curtain of years lived in secrecy, and he emerged confidently as the formidable artist he is. After the talk, some one hundred v.i.p.s crowded into the reception area and nibbled delectable goodies and sipped delicious drinks. When we presented our books to by signed by the author, Rushdie said he remembered Canio’s. He’d been there several times having visited Kurt Vonnegut who’d lived in Sagaponack. Some twenty-plus years have elapsed since then, and unimaginable challenges have been endured. But Rushdie has shaken free those dark years having written this fascinating account — a testament to the strength of his own character. Of course, we invited him to visit Canio’s again. Welcome back, Salman Rushdie!

Vonnegut, Survivor of the Apocalypse

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Greg Sumner drove his car from Detroit and parked it in New Jersey.  He’s on a Vonnegut tour that brought him through Ithaca to Manhattan, then  Sag Harbor.  At Canio’s Saturday night he gave a compelling and passionate  presentation that might be summed up as follows: read more Vonnegut now! Sumner’s book, Unstuck in  Time looks at Vonnegut’s life  through the novels and charts his literary development from childhood days in Indiana to time spent as a prisoner of war in Germany. Sumner himself is also from Indiana. He teaches history at University of Detroit Mercy and has taught in Rome as a Fulbright senior lecturer. Greg’s Italian accent is excellent we later learned over pizza before his bus back to New York. The next day, he’d be on to Cape Cod,  East Sandwich to be precise. It’s a whirlwind tour, to be sure, but one that Sumner seems to be relishing. He explained he “found a friend” in Vonnegut through the novels. Someone who could look death and destruction in the eye, witness the bombing of Dresden, and live to tell about it in way that transformed the experience, that’s someone to read and learn from. Vonnegut’s father was an architect. The novelist studied anthropology; he was concerned about what an over-reliance on machines would do to people. And he was a old-fashioned guy, a true patriot who questioned his country because he loved it. During Sumner’s short visit to the East End (just a few short hours), he noticed signs for the upcoming Soldier Ride event.  It’s a cause Vonnegut would have appreciated, Greg told us, holding up the Soldier Ride t-shirt he bought to support the effort.

Sumner’s book was released on the anniversary of Vonnegut’s birth, November 11,  a meaningful connection for the author. His erudite presentation enthralled all, and his graciousness was impressive. Is that a Midwest trait? At the conclusion of his talk, Sumner presented us with a commemorative pen from the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, a place we hope to one day visit. Soon as we finish reading Bluebeard!

We have a few signed copies of Greg Sumner’s book, Unstuck in Time. Highly recommended!

Green thumbs up for American Grown

It could be because we’re grandchildren of immigrants and fondly remember our grandparents’ bountiful backyard vegetable gardens. It could be because we support and advocate for community gardens. This year we’ve created our own front yard raised-bed garden following Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening methods.  Or it could be because First Lady Michelle Obama’s first book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America is bursting with beautifully photographed fresh produce just plucked from the South Lawn. But American Grown is our  current favorite summer read for more reasons than this. It’s about kids and families enjoying healthy food; it’s about the pleasures of planting and caring for the Earth. It includes interesting history, and hope-filled stories about community gardens across the country.  Not since Eleanor Roosevelt’s WWII victory garden has food been grown on the White House lawn. Two Thomas Jefferson beds have been planted with seeds collected from his gardens at Monticello.   An office building in Texas agreed to create container gardens out on the hot concrete of Houston. Workers on each floor assume responsibility for one container. They’ve got squash and okra and sweet potatoes and tomatoes thriving. Mostly, American Grown shows us how one  supremely intelligent and insightful First Lady can share her enthusiasm about vegetables and change a nation one backyard at a time.

Canio’s Books is located at 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY 11963, 631.725.4926. Call or email us, While we love you to SEE you, you can also order new titles at our online storefront or some of our second hand inventory HERE. Thanks for visiting!