Over the years, I’ve walked across this bridge many times on my way to watch the Cincinnati Reds. The blue John Roebling bridge is an iconic landmark in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. My family often stayed or parked across the river and walked to games in the old concrete monstrosity of Riverfront Stadium (which I dearly loved in spite of its design flaws).
A perfect day for me in Cincinnati now (or would be if there baseball weren’t on a hiatus) is to start the day with a coffee and some time spent wandering around Roebling Point Books & Coffee and then head over the bridge to catch a game at Great American Ballpark.
The bookstore has a great all around selection of literature, but always has a special section devoted Kentucky and Cincinnati area writers. The store isn’t large but they’ve done an excellent job curating their selection of books. There are several small rooms with soft seating available.
If you aren’t into baseball (I can like you even if I don’t understand you), Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky is still a wonderful place to visit. Lots of great restaurants, outdoor activities including trails along the river, the Newport Aquarium, and a number of other independent bookstores (Joseph-Beth, Iris Bookcafe, Duttenhofer’s, etc.).
Spring is slowly coming on (still more 50 degree days in the forecast) and as the state of Ohio begins it’s slow reopening from the Covid-19 crisis, I thought it would be a good idea to make another bookstore recommendation. The Book Loft in German Village, just south of downtown Columbus, is one of my all-time favorite bookstores. They almost always have books spilling out the front door and 32 rooms of glorious book browsing inside.
There are a number of great restaurants in the neighborhood of the bookstore and Stauf’s Coffee is right next door. Grab a coffee and be ready to wander. Yes, some of the rooms and walkways are a little cramped (lots of sideways walking through the hallway shown above). Yes, it is possible to get lost in the building for a little while (getting lost is part of the fun). Those elements are a small price to pay for 32 rooms of books (my wife and children are shaking their heads at me somewhere, I’m sure). If you are a book lover and in the Columbus, OH area, do yourself a favor and take a trip to The Book Loft (reopening date TBD).
*In this guest post, David J. Ballenger reviews Wendell Berry’s novel A Place on Earth. David is an author and happens to be my brother (don’t hold that against him, he’s suffered enough for it).
A Place on Earth begins with a group of men playing cards in the empty back room of Jasper Lanthrop’s empty store. Jasper, like many of the town’s young men, is off fighting in World War II. The war plays in the background of the novel; news from the European and Pacific theaters trickle in by way of radio broadcasts and letters from the front lines, but the town is always listening and waiting for news. While they listen and wait, life proceeds but always in the shadow of the absence of sons, brothers, nephews, and husbands.
Berry does not give the reader a romanticized pastoral setting in which to escape and feel better. He tells the story of a place. In this place there is suffering. A child dies in a flood and a man takes his own life. There is drunkenness and sloth. There are also moments of levity and there is plenty of love, love for people and this place.
Over the past month, most of us have been forced to stay at home, and some of us have found a new appreciation for our place and others are dying to get away, to get back out into the world. There is a mix of both in Port William as well. While a character like Jarret Coulter keeps his nose to the grindstone and his mouth firmly shut, his brother Burley finds time to seek out the companionship of friends and writes letters to his nephew Nathan. At their best, the characters in A Place on Earth cope with their losses and the cloud of an international crisis through work. Good work. Work that brings about new life and orderliness in this place. Celebration and death will come, but in the meantime, a supper needs to be cooked, a grave needs to be dug, a head needs to be barbered, a field needs to be plowed, and a lamb needs to be birthed.
In one of the final chapters of the book, family and friends sit in their home with the body of Ernest Finley. While a group of men sit on the porch, neighbors begin flooding from their doors celebrating the end of the war. The contrast between the two groups is representative of the novel. In the same place, there is a time for mourning and a time for celebration, and sometimes those overlap. However, they are all interconnected. The best of them know that what is good for their neighbor is good for them. It is the international crisis that is abstract and difficult to fathom. The crisis is not what defines them; they are defined by their work and their shared lives, their love for the place and the people there.
My friend, David Wright, published his excellent book of poems, Local Talent, in 2019. The richness of the poems is in David’s keen eye/heart/mind for the distinctly middle American experience. It is also in his command of the musicality of language. While I’m what you might call rhythmically challenged, I have great admiration for subtlety and complexity of the music in Local Talent. It is also filled with David’s wry humor (he’s full of it) which I love. The title of the book, I think, it supposed to be funny, ironic, sad, and hopeful (where else could talent be?) all at the same time.