Mushroom Paintings, Reading Speeds, and Other Letters to the Editor


For the editor:

The last page of Brian Blomerth’s sketchbook, “The Mushroom Painter” (January 23), deserves a happy ending. Although Jean-Henri Fabre worries, as Blomerth has noted, about the future of his mushroom paintings, they are safe and well cared for in the Harmas de Fabre museum – Fabre’s longtime home in Sérignan – du-Comtat, France, which is now part of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, and is operated as a museum, garden and center of study. The paintings were also published as a limited edition book in 1991 under the title “Les Champignons de Jean-Henri Fabre”. Neither the rats nor a great-nephew have attacked these treasures, thanks to the work of his family and the museum.

Donald H. Pfister
Cambridge, Mass.

The author is Asa Gray Research Professor of Systematic Botany at Harvard University.

For the editor:

Regarding Troy Jollimore’s review of “Jim Harrison: Complete Poems” (January 16): For many years, 40 years ago, we stayed at a resort on Lake Michigan on the Leelanau Peninsula owned by the Jolliffe family and called the Jolli-Lodge. One day, Mrs. Jolliffe was showing me around the main house, built for Chicago’s wealthy in the 1920s. When she opened the door to a bedroom, still furnished as the original owners had left it, I saw a huge bottle of Gallo wine on the rickety desk. Mrs. Jolliffe said, “Oh, that’s Jim Harrison’s. He comes here to write when he needs quiet and privacy. I almost genuflected in the doorway but held back. I knew Harrison lived on the peninsula, but this was the closest I’ve ever had to a sighting despite many visits to the area. (We also have a poster created by the Leelanau Cellars with some Harrison poetry in the guest bathroom.)

Judith K. Simonson
Grand Rapids, Mich.

For the editor:

Your review of Kendra James’ “Admissions” (January 23) brought back a flood of memories, including tragic ones. I’m white, but I too have experienced the paradox of being an outsider on the island world of an elite boarding school. Fifty years ago, I was a scholarship student at the Lawrenceville School, a prep school with classes of 12, teachers with Ivy League doctorates, and amenities like black men serving food to white boys whose surnames revealed which society their families belonged to.

To get there, I dragged a trunk that weighed as much as I did through the Port Authority Terminal in New York. I’ll never forget the intellectual excitement I felt when a Yale-trained teacher had me read and write about books like “A Clockwork Orange.” I will also never forget a school official’s failure to do simple, obvious things when I struggled emotionally in my second year. My worker past made me an outsider. Both of my parents suffered from serious mental illness, which put me at even greater risk than teenagers in a low-supervision environment already are.

Reading the review of Kendra James’ memoir was painful, even 50 years after my own experience. Stunning endowments create the conditions for an exceptional education. Efforts to create racial and class diversity are commendable. But when elite schools bring in outsiders on what can be a Lewis Carroll scale of cultural change, they have a duty to reach those students as the vulnerable young humans that they are. For me, that didn’t happen.

David A. Scott
Columbus, Ohio

For the editor:

In her By the Book interview (January 16), Annie Leibovitz reports that Susan Sontag once told her that if she read as slowly as Leibovitz, she wouldn’t read anything. Some adults are quite capable of shaming children about their reading, but this is proof that anyone, regardless of age, can be the subject of this kind of condescending talk. Maybe Sontag “inhaled books”, but I suspect it’s likely that Leibovitz, instead of inhaling books, savored them and ultimately got more out of his reading than people who maintain a reading list without purpose and who confuse the rate of book consumption with comprehension.

David English
Acton, Mass.


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