Friday, January 19, 2007

The Library Restaurant and Writers on a New England Stage

I took my mother out to dinner last night in a beautiful restaurant in Portsmouth, NH. She lives about 45 miles from there and I'm about an hour away, so it was a nice half-way meeting place. The real reason we were town was to attend a lecture by a favorite author of ours, Anita Diamant. But we thought we might as well make a full evening of it. Hence, the dinner prior to the "real" event.

In searching out places "within walking distance" (of which there were many), I saw "The Library Restaurant" and knew we had no choice but to go there. I was even more intrigued when I went to the website and read its history:

"The Rockingham House occupies the site of the home once owned by Judge Woodbury Langdon. When this mansion was built in 1785, it was one of the most handsome brick houses in New England. It was first opened to the public as a hotel on Nov. 1, 1833 by Thomas Coburn. Frank Jones became the owner of the Rockingham in 1870 and greatly enlarged it. In 1884, there was a disastrous fire which destroyed all but the octagonal dining room. Mr. Jones rebuilt the hotel around this room, sparing no expense. His payroll for the project was more than the entire Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Much of the Rockingham's original elegance and grandeur has been well preserved, and it is still very much in evidence. The most significant historic event to take place at the Rockingham was the signing of the Russo-Japanese Treaty on August 8, 1905, for the press. Just a few of the noteworthy personages who have eaten or stayed at the Rockingham include presidents George Washington, Franklin Pierce, James K. Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, Chester Arthur, William Taft and John F. Kennedy." And now, my mother and me!!!

As we are vegetarians, and we really were there for the ambiance more than the food, we ordered several of the sides and a salad. Those and an incredible strawberry cheesecake more than satisfied us. Then, it was on to the Music Hall for the icing on the cake, as it were.

Anita Diamant--author of The Red Tent, Good Harbor, and The Last Days of Dogtown--was the speaker for the evening. As her work mostly appeals to women, the audience was largely women. Only a handful of men had the "courage," as she put it, to come. Speaking about her writing process, Anita held her audience captive, hanging on every word. She was witty, funny, charming, fascinating. When she finished her talk, the host of New Hampshire Public Radio interviewed her and presented questions from the audience. In all, it was a wonderful evening.

The Red Tent is the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, found in Genesis 35. The story is just a few verses long there, so Anita's work is more a product of her imagination than anything else. Still, it is a real as if Dinah had left a detailed diary behind for all to read. I could not put the book once I started it. And I did not want it to end. That, in my mind, is the sign of a good book!

Good Harbor is a contemporary work set on the North Shore of Massachusetts at a beach my family has often visited. I like reading books about places I know, so this book caught my attention for that reason first. Well, perhaps the author's name was the first reason. So, second. Anyway, this was another attention-capturing work exploring "the lives of modern women, considering the precarious balance of marriage and career, motherhood and friendship."

I've yet to read her most recent book, The Last Days of Dogtown, but I now can't wait to read the copy I purchased for my mother--after she finishes it, of course. It was this work that Anita mostly talked about. It is, according to her, "set in the early 1800s in rural Massachusetts. In it, I set out to imagine the lives of people who have been left out of history: the poor, widows and spinsters, orphans, New England Africans - both enslaved and free. Marginal and voiceless, these folks fascinate me because so little is known about them."

Anita Diamant lives not 15 miles from me. I've been reading her column in the Boston Globe for years. To hear her speak was not only interesting, but inspiring. I am hoping that inspiration will drive me to action to write something substantially more than the little pieces I do each week. Someday, I will just need to stop everything else and just do it!

Next up, Cokie Roberts. This time my dad will join my mother and me to hear yet another favorite writer of ours. This was our first experience with Writers on a New England Stage, but I am betting we'll be back for more than just these two now that we have enjoyed our first taste.


Heidi said...

Hi Rondi--two things. First--thanks for your friendship. I've enjoyed our e-mails back and forth this week. They've been an encouragement. Second--thanks for the book recommendations! I need to incorporate some new authors into my reading digest. Right now, I'm reading the same authors over and over, and it's time for a break. :-)

Rondi said...

Heidi--I know you will enjoy and appreciate Anita Diamant. She is an excellent writer...makes you feel as if you are a part of the book, even as the main character. The Red Tent is one of the most outstanding Biblical/historical novels I've read. hope your weekend brings some refreshment =)

Patty said...

Sounds like you and your mom had a great time. I will have to check out these books. Look interesting. I am always in need of another book. Books are my addiction.
You my friend, must write that boo that is within you. Write about what you know and feel and it will come without having to put everything else aside.

Heidi said...

I just finished reading The Red Tent about 10 minutes ago. I ordered it a couple weeks ago, and it came in a few days ago. I devoured the book in about three settings. Wow! You are right. Diamant really pulls you into the story and adds such strength to the story. I have a greater appreciation for Leah and for Dinah. I found it interesting how Diamant had Dinah and Joseph crossing paths later in life. Never thought of that possibility. Ah, the power of a novel. And ah, such a nice way to begin the weekend. :-)