7 things I learned in October

Taking Emily Freeman’s lead to share a handful of things I learned this month, from the (occasionally) significant to the (mostly) shallow.

1. Louise Penny talks about licorice pipes in every Three Pines novel

A friend and I enjoyed dinner not long ago at a place that was just bistro-y enough to put us in mind of the one run by Olivier and Gabri. The conversation turned to licorice pipes, and had I noticed Penny drops a reference in every single novel she writes? I had not. I didn’t even know what a licorice pipe was. Is it like a Twizzler?

No. It is not. It is a piece of candy shaped like a smoking pipe, and sure enough, Three Pines diners are forever plucking them from The Bistro’s glass jars, nibbling them while having deep thoughts. I couldn’t track down the ones with red candied embers Isabelle Lacoste enjoyed in Glass Houses (that’s page 307 for you Penny fans), but I did find these basic black pipes online. And I’ll never miss one of Penny’s candy references again.

2. A tiny town in the middle of Indiana has some of the best modern art and architecture in the United States.

This month I spent a weekend in Columbus, Indiana, a small town a mile off I-65 between Louisville and Indianapolis. I’ve driven by this highway exit a hundred times without stopping, not realizing what I was missing.

The city first hit my radar a year or two ago, when a design-obsessed friend who especially loves mid-century architecture surprised me by planning a trip there to check out the world-class architecture and public art I didn’t know was there.

Then in October, I was invited to join friends for a weekend getaway. The destination wasn’t the point; the object was to leave town for a few days, and we ended up in Columbus (and nearby Brown County) for the weekend. We weren’t knowledgeable enough about the art and architecture to appreciate it like my friend, but we saw some cool buildings, ate great food, and thoroughly enjoyed our weekend away.

3. The story of how and why Manhattan’s Penn Station was demolished …

will make you weep. My trip to Columbus inspired some interesting conversations about art, architecture, and zoning at my house. (We are fascinating people, I’m telling you.) Several of Columbus’s buildings are protected historic sites, but most are not—if the owners wanted to raze them and build something new or even turn them into parking lots, they could.

Will asked if I knew the story behind how architectural preservation laws came into existence. I did not, and he shared something he’d read recently about how and why Penn Station was demolished beginning in 1962 to make way for Madison Square Garden, the international outcry that resulted, the historic preservation laws that were enacted in the aftermath.

Favorite line about the station’s before-and-after:  “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”

4. The difference between pop lyrics and musical theater lyrics.

My husband recently got me hooked on the podcast Song Exploder. In every episode, an artist tells the story of how a song came to be made. In the episode about La La Land, lyricists Benj Pacek and Justin Paul came on to explain how they wrote the lyrics—and specifically, how they got away with using the word “sneezing.”

They explained that word—as with most of La La Land’s lyrics—could only work in a musical, and never in pop songs. That’s because pop songs are about feeling and mood, but a musical is about telling a very specific story. To oversimplify: pop lyrics deal in the general; musical lyrics are very specific. Thus, sneezing.

5. What bookcrossing means.

This month I found an abandoned copy of Hamlet on a park bench, shared it on Instagram, and asked what you thought the story of the lost book might be. Several of you wondered if it might be a BookCrossing book … and I had no idea what that was.

Google sent me to the BookCrossing website, which explained that bookcrossing is “the act of releasing your books “into the wild” for a stranger to find, or via “controlled release” to another BookCrossing member, and tracking where they go via journal entries from around the world.” You can identify a BookCrossing book by the sticker on the inside cover.

Sadly, Hamlet wasn’t strategically placed on the bench by a BookCrossing member, but I’ll be keeping my eyes out for one in the future—and maybe ordering some stickers and putting a few of my own books into circulation.

6. Fredrik Backman’s next novel has a title and a pub date! 

Backman has a short, strange novella coming out on October 31. It’s called The Deal of a Lifetime, and it’s a beautiful little book that reads more like a short story and reminded me of The Book Thief.

But tucked away in the back was a brief announcement: Backman’s next novel, Us Against Them, will be published in the States on June 5, 2018. This is the second book in the planned trilogy Backman began with the fabulous Beartown, and he told Modern Mrs Darcy book club members a little about the plot when we chatted about Beartown this summer. I CAN’T WAIT.


7. You can listen to podcasts on Spotify.

Including What Should I Read Next! Here’s how to do it.

What did YOU learn in October?



Leave A Comment
  1. Sarah Peden says:

    Licorice pipes were a big part of my childhood vacations in the Adirondack Mountians… the general store in Lake George sold them and it was our go-to treat! I had forgotten completely about them until reading this post! Thanks for the throwback!

    • Pam says:

      Yes, I know and love black licorice pipes from my childhood as well! They have a different texture than licorice twists — solid, yet softer and deliciously chewy. We used to buy them for about 5 cents apiece with our allowance, at just about any corner store. Maybe they are more popular/known the farther north you live? Louise Penny is a Canadian author who sets her books in Quebec, and I’m from western Canada – about an hour north from the Montana border. My brother still buys licorice pipes, I believe by the box at our local Costco.

      • Sarah says:

        probably so! I’m inspired to get a bunch to stuff my siblings stockings with this year! only the older siblings in my family grew up in central New York, the rest have been in Tennessee most of their lives, and have no idea what they’re missing out on!

  2. I am all for historic preservation, but having done some preserving I have to admit it’s difficult and expensive and not always practical.
    Re Bookcrossing, you would like the village of Montolieu, near Carcassonne in the south of France, where books are left here and there, and I’ve never seen so many bookstores, let alone in such a small place. Plus, it’s a gorgeous village.

  3. Susan says:

    I had noticed the references to the licorice in Penny’s books, but I never googled it! I assumed it was a hard candy stick (like a candy cane) that was licorice flavored. I love Twizzlers, but hate licorice flavorings, so these would not be for me.

  4. Laura says:

    I’m learning about Fred Harvey and his reinvention of hospitality along the railways of the Southwest. It’s utterly fascinating, possibly because I live in New Mexico, but it also captures a piece of US history I didn’t know much about. The book is Appetite for America by Stephen Fried.

  5. OMG – thrilled to hear about the new Backman and that Beartown was the first of a trilogy! I had no idea! On the same note of things we learned in October…that Megan Abbott has a new book out in July was something I learned!

    On Penn Station: I lived in NYC for almost 15 years and Penn Station is a total dump. And MSG is still the bane of its existence…as MSG and Dolan are still the major impediments to making the massive upgrades it needs. Such a shame…that quote is right on target.

  6. Lisa White says:

    Columbus, IN is my hometown. As I was scrolling through your post, I thought, “Hmm, this library looks familiar.” Most people show a picture of the sculpture outside the library! Thank you for the nod to the “Athens of the Prairie”. I got married in nearby Brown County State Park; another lovely area of Indiana.

  7. Gabby says:

    I leave my books that I didn’t love enough to keep forever or have somehow acquired multiple copies of in a Little Free Library in my town with BookCrossing stickers! I know they’re getting taken because they’re not there when I put the next book in, but no one has made an entry to let me know where they’ve gone yet!

  8. Lisa Zahn says:

    In 2008, we traveled to Kentucky for a bit of genealogy research I was doing, and on the way stayed in Columbus, IN, for one night. I don’t know how I’d heard about the architecture ahead of time, but I had, and we took the city bus tour available to learn about all the amazing buildings. It’s so worth it! I love knowing about little hidden gems throughout our country. It’s very different in scope, but it always reminds me of the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota, which is a bit closer to my home and is also a little-known gem to travel.

  9. Diana says:

    My sister and her husband are considering moving to Columbus, Indiana, from Indianapolis, and now I would have even more of a reason to visit! I’m a life-long Hoosier but have never been although Brown Co. is gorgeous, especially in the fall!
    When we take the Amtrak to NYC we end up in Penn Station and it just isn’t pretty. When I was first looking into making that trip I thought we’d get to end in Grand Central Station. Nope.

  10. Sarah says:

    I grew up in Columbus, IN, and I actually worked at the public library when I was in high school! It’s a gorgeous building, and a wonderful place to have as my original home library. I’m glad you were able to see it!

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