Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Montague Bookmill & The Hungry Clothes

Three of the things I adore most in the world (apart from my husband and a good sandwich) are books, cats and nature. Books and nature have the ability to inspire you and take you on a journey. And cats, with their comforting sameness, (they're always waiting for you at home) make me feel safe and cozy.

The Montague Bookmill in Montague, Massachusetts may not have any cats, at least not any that I could see, but they do have an abundance of books, sunny nooks to read in, and several windows from which to view the rushing river and stately trees. There is also a café and restaurant on the premises in case you get hungry while sitting for hours looking at used books, as I did on a recent visit.

I plopped down in front of the picture book section and browsed for a couple hours. Since this a used bookstore, I didn’t find a lot of bestsellers and newest/hottest releases, but I did discover many unique and thoughtful children’s books, and a few of last year’s trendy titles. 

I’d like to highlight one of the children’s titles I picked up, The Hungry Clothes by Peninnah Schram. 

The Hungry Clothes is a collection of 22 traditional Jewish folktales. I enjoyed these stories for both their writing and their message. These tales are funny, insightful and profound. They speak to virtues like courage, cleverness, kindness, and loving family.

In college, I was introduced to Jewish literature through my Contemporary American Literature class, where we read Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Saul Bellow. (I liked Singer’s short story Gimpel the Fool, so much that I adapted it into a one-act play and directed it for an independent study in theatre my senior year.) What I love about these writers is their ability to bring the transcendent into the everyday, and to make you feel connected to a larger story. I also like that their worlds are moral worlds. They show that there is a certain way to behave in the world, and that the best way, is for us to treat each other as human beings, flawed though we are.

Reading the stories in The Hungry Clothes reminded me of these Jewish-American writers. Similar themes run through their work as these folktales told to children. Many of these stories are very old, passed down from generation to generation, and told to children to inspire them to be brave, shrewd, and loyal. I like to think that perhaps Singer, Bellow and Aleichem were told these same stories, or some variation thereof, when they were children. And that these stories inspired their work as adults.

I guess you can never know how your story may affect the heart and mind of a child. That's why we should keep telling them.


Getting back to the bookmill---I hope I’m able to visit it again soon. The comfy chairs, plenteous books, fresh air, and dappled light are calling me. Even without cats, it feels like home.

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