Little Free Library

I don’t take nearly enough walks, but when I do I usually take a picture of something that catches my eye. On recent walk around the SE Division and 50th neighborhood (taken only because my Ethiopian takeout was going to be another 15 minutes), I came upon this:

A Little Free Library box in Southeast Portland

A Little Free Library box in Southeast Portland

Something about the way it’s painted was just so cheerful, that was the picture I took for the walk.

I remember backing a kickstarter project in Brooklyn a few year years ago for a tiny free library project, and certainly I’ve seen little book boxes like this one scattered throughout Portland, but I never really thought about there being an overarching organization. There is, though! Little Free Library is a whole network of people putting book boxes on posts, with around 15,000 in place today. You can buy a pre-assembled box, but boy are they spendy — you could buy a used car for the price of some of them. They also have free plans for some of the models they sell, and you’re free to build a box in whatever style you like, as long as it keeps the rain off the books.

I’m not letting myself start any more projects until I finish unpacking my house and build a driveway ramp so that I can park my car near the house (low-slung hybrids and steep driveways don’t mix well), but I’m thinking that at some point maybe I’ll make a box and join the Little Free Library network in memory of my grandmother, who was the one who taught me to love reading. She went to the library every week and maxed out her card until the day she died, which was about a week after she told my mom that she was ready to die because there was nothing left to read. She hated her name, which was Myrtle, but maybe I could plant some crepe myrtles around the box.

And then I’ll start the book club I’ve always wanted. Not a lively intellectual discussion group, debating the subtext of the imagery inherent in author x’s description of y. No, I would start a Sit Around and Read Book Club, and it would be just like it sounds. Bring a book (or grab one from the box, once it exists!) and sit around and read it. Company + time to just read. The introvert’s party. :)

Huzzah! RIP Elizabeth Peters

Last night I had insomnia, and as I jumped from browser tab to tab looking at things I never make time for during the normal day, I discovered that one of my favorite authors died in August. I was sad, because I loved her work, and it’s had a recurring role in my life, despite not being lit-ra-choor.


In 1991 I was 19 years old, living and working on a dude ranch in the Sonoran desert of Wickenburg, Arizona — dude ranch capital of the world. I’d lived/worked away from home before, but only within a couple of hours. This was right after I dropped out of college and decided I wanted to try living in the desert. I had not actually read Desert Solitaire yet, but I was surrounded by people who had, and absorbed their secondhand Edward Abbey fantasies.

The main living room at the ranch where guests would gather for drinks before dinner had a wall of bookshelves, filled with paperbacks that people could borrow or trade as desired. One day when I didn’t have a ride to the library in town, I went to the wall and pulled out a tattered paperback titled Naked Once More by Elizabeth Peters. It turned out to be a mystery novel with a fantastic middle-aged former-librarian-turned-romance-novelist amateur detective female lead (long before chick lit made such things popular). It was full of literary references, and it made my brain light up so much that I decided to go back to school during the spring term while I finished out my dude ranch stint.

I also spent that spring semester motoring through every book written by Elizabeth Peters and her other pen name, Barbara Michaels. The Elizabeth Peters series were my favorites, especially Jacqueline Kirby (of Naked Once More) and Amelia Peabody.


I don’t remember when, but at some point between 1992 and 1995 (I *think* it was then. Maybe it was later. She might remember; I can’t.), I introduced Andrea Middleton to the books. She also loved them. We would shout, “Huzzah!” in true Amelia Peabody form when we needed to get ourselves going.


During a period of winter depression when I lived in Bellingham (sometime during 1995-1996?), I pulled myself out of the pit by reading all the Kirby and Peabody novels in a marathon to rival any of today’s Netflix marathons. When I emerged, I shouted, “Huzzah!”


Living in Vermont (1996?) and reflecting on that time in Bellingham, I wrote the 2nd of 2 fan letters I’ve ever written in my life (the first was to Luke and Laura of General Hospital when I was very young and watched it with my grandmother). I thanked her for writing books that were so good they could beat depression, told her that Huzzah! was the Andrea-Jen war cry, and asked if it was going to turn out that Sethos was Emerson’s illegitimate brother. She didn’t reply, but based on the way she wrote about author fan mail in Naked Once More, I was glad to have written the letter.


Andrea was pregnant and choosing a name for her first child in May of 2008. She had a boy name lined up and was trying to figure out a girl one. Emma, a family name, was in the running, but all the girls in Andrea’s generation had had A names, so she considered that as a possibility and mentioned the one she had in mind. I loved Emma, but hated her A name, so I sent her a list of girl A names I thought were better, including Amelia after Amelia Peabody for an adventurous spirit and steel-trap brain. Just after election day, welcome Amelia Middleton.


On August 8, 2013, at the age of 85, Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters’s real name) died at her home. Her Amelia Peabody series spanned 35 years. Mertz won numerous awards for her books, and is one of the few writers of historical novels whose accuracy I have never questioned — she held a PhD in Egyptology. She was also an animal lover, and cats frequently featured as characters in their own right in her books.

Today I adopted another cat (Sadie Zap’s mom, who was destined for a shelter), and I’ve named her Miz Kirby in memory of the first book that sucked me into the Elizabeth Peters world.

Brown and white cat

Miz Kirby

Andrea and I are thinking that we should re-read the Peabody oeuvre in memoriam. Anyone want to join us?