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From the Editor: Age of Consent

From the EditorSpring 2008  |  Share This  |  E-mail  |  Print  | 
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One of the first friends I made after I began work at Vanderbilt in 1986 was Grace Zibart, then editor of The Vanderbilt Lawyer and associate editor of Vanderbilt Magazine. A native New Yorker, she had been assistant fashion editor at The New York Times before she married a Nashville boy, Carl Zibart, BA’29, at the close of World War II.

Carl and his brother, Alan, BA’31, owned and ran Zibart’s Bookstore. Grace was hopeless on a computer or behind the wheel, but she was a peerless writer and a great friend to aspiring writers. She seemed to know everyone on a first-name basis–Allen Tate and Robert “Red” Penn Warren and Al Gore and David Halberstam, sculptors and chefs and nuns.

Being invited to Grace’s and Carl’s home for dinner was always an event. On one such occasion, I remember Carl declaring over cocktails–there were always cocktails–that he had reached the point in life where, if he got 100 pages into a book and didn’t like it, he quit reading without guilt. He was past 80 at the time.

Grace died in 1999 and Carl in 2004. I’ve been thinking of them lately as my husband and I have been de-cluttering our own home, culling books we’ve accumulated during 30 years of marriage.

I’ve no qualms over giving up outdated travel guides, reference books made less essential by the Internet, and how-to books acquired back when I envisioned myself as someone who would make potpourri from my own roses and jam from my own peaches.

But what should I do with that stack in the corner of the loft, books I’ve started but never finished, a towering testimony to my failings as a reader? There’s Don Quixote, started when we were working on a Vanderbilt Magazine profile about Cervantes scholar Edward Friedman (Fall 2005 issue). Holding up a 940-page book in bed gave me reader’s cramp. There’s Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, abandoned after three chapters, in that corner longer than our troops have been in Afghanistan and Iraq. There’s The Satanic Verses, bought after Salman Rushdie visited Vanderbilt last year. I made it to page 83 before I bogged down; now the characters of Farishta and Chamcha have become a muddle and I need to start over. You’d think a book that created such furor would be more interesting.

There are a dozen more volumes in the corner, too, their covers curled and forlorn, spurned in favor of books I found more readable. I will be married nearly another 30 years before I reach the age Carl Zibart was when he cut himself some slack and stopped reading past page 100. I don’t think I have his fortitude. Cervantes and Rushdie are going into the Goodwill box; Friedman stays. The need to understand more about the Mideast isn’t going away anytime soon.


© 2015 Vanderbilt University

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Sen. Roy B. Herron, MDiv’80, JD’80 (Dresden, Tenn.) says:

I am just short of tears as I have read and re-read and even marked up your editor’s column. Grace Zibart touched me and changed my life.
When I was a law and divinity student at Vanderbilt in about 1978, somehow I wound up catching a ride with Grace from the airport to the Vanderbilt area. I don’t recall how we wound up with her kindly letting me hitchhike into town. But in some grace-filled (and Grace-filled) way, we came together. As we rode we talked about what I’d been doing. If I recall correctly, I was returning from a summer of doing ministry in the Hell’s Kitchen (now gentrified and called “Clinton,” but not after the president) neighborhood of New York City. It had been an extraordinary experience for a youngster from a rural West Tennessee town whose population did not reach 2,500. I’d gone there to work with brothers from a French religious community called Taizé and lived in a Catholic church and then a Presbyterian church. I’d worked with street people and children, and I doubt I accomplished much in terms of helping others, but those people sure blessed me. And it was clear to me even then that the experience had changed my life–though I did not yet know how or how much.

Grace told me I ought to write about the experience for your magazine’s predecessor, The Vanderbilt Alumnus. And with her help and editing, I did. (Actually, it wound up being an article not only about that summer, but also the one before when I’d been a law clerk on a case trying to keep five innocent African American teenagers from being executed.)
That article was the first time I’d ever published anything outside of my native Weakley County. And it led directly to me wanting to do a Divinity School field placement on writing. That led to an unpublished book, and eventually the path twisted and turned until three other book manuscripts were published.

All because of Grace Zibart. I truly doubt that any of those books would have been written, and I know for a fact that the article would not have been written, if not for Grace. So when you wrote about Grace and Carl, you touched me. And I thank you.

Dr. Bill Doak, ‘53 (Nashville) says:

I was interested in reading, in your piece about when to give up on [reading] a book, that you also were obliged to set aside Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote. This makes me feel better somehow. I also remember fondly the Zibarts. I did not know them intimately but thought they were wonderful.

Eve Zibart, ‘74 (Washington Grove, Md.) says:

A belated note (I am nearly as behind on magazines as books) to say what a chuckle I got from the Carl Zibart anecdote. Daddy [Carl's brother, Alan], unfortunately, was either more dogged or had a higher guilt level–he nearly always finished [reading] everything. But I too am beginning to think along the Sherlock Holmes lines: My brain has only so much space, and whatever in the attic doesn’t need to be there is going out.

Taber hamilton says:

Are there any Zibarts left in Nashville I have forgotten the name of their childern. I lived at 3311 love circle in the 50’s and 40′ s

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