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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Sometimes Reading Makes Me Dizzy

It happens when I’m reading three or more books at the same time – not during the same moments, but going from one to another for several days or weeks, as I’ve been doing since reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life.

I’d heard of Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates before someone at our reading group mentioned it, so that was my first post-Stowe book. Very heavy going but speaking from deep in the heart, this black American father’s “letter” to his teenage son is called “required reading” by Toni Morrison. Coates pulls no punches, sugar-coats nothing. Yes, it should be required reading, but I’m afraid it is the kind of required reading too many white Americans will either avoid or set aside quickly. The truth hurts.

Next I picked up Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film and was immediately transfixed. Discovering anything that documents one’s family’s past, whether letters, photographs, or home movies, cannot help astonishing the finder, all the more when the existence of what is found had not been suspected beforehand. In this case, Glenn Kurtz found his great-grandfather’s travel films from 1938 and 1939, including three minutes of footage shot in a Polish village immediately prior to the beginning of the Holocaust. The book is the author’s story of trying to piece together the life of that village, to put names to the living human beings in the film whose lives were soon to end.
Three Minutes in Poland is unlike any other book I have ever read. Aside from the compelling particulars, I took two general messages from it. The first has to do with the ephemeral nature of physical memory storage, the second (not a new realization) with the dismaying human propensity, when the chips are down, to categorize some human beings as Other.

Between the World and Me and Three Minutes in Poland were such intense reading experiences that I needed something else right before sleep each night. For a while, the lighter reading at bedtime was Laurie Lee’s The Edge of Day: A Boyhood in the West of England, originally published in England as Cider with Rosie, but even lyrical memories of boyhood in rural England contain dark episodes. Another “escape” book was The Girl at the Lion d’Or, by Sebastian Faulks, a book that held my interest but left me confused at the end. Was that the end, or were pages missing?

And all along, alongside those four books, I was slowly making my way, a couple pages at a time, through Northern Border, a festschrift volume of research on the Upper Peninsula (and one paper set in Detroit’s factories). Although Coates and Kurtz had the most painful truths to tell, in the book of U.P. history, there was much poverty and violence, and characters in the Faulks novel were haunted by World War I, as was true of people in Laurie Lee’s memoir, too. Last night my dreams were strange.

This morning, awake in the wee, dark hours, I turned to an old stand-by, The Haunted Bookshop. Yes, World War I is in the background there, too. Yes, there are German spies. Yes, violence lurks in the shadows. But the story is a familiar one that I have been re-reading for decades. Interesting how one’s perspective on a book shifts over the years – but that’s another story.

Tonight is the last big bookstore event before the Labor Day weekend, summer’s unofficial end. Northport’s own Steve Gilbreath and his sister, Susan, will be presenting Dignity of Duty, a book of their great-grandfather’s military memoirs, edited by Susan. Another family, another war, the family now connected to yet another village: Northport. As is true of people, sometimes all books seem connected.

I hope that many of you will be able to join us tonight at 7 o’clock. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Northport's Greatest Hits in 70th Foundation Anniversary Parade

A parade begins with anticipation, with people along the streets waiting in holiday mood for the marchers and floats to pass by.

The occasion for Sunday's parade in Northport was the 70th anniversary of the Leelanau Township Community Foundation, founded in 1945 to support nonprofit organizations in Northport, Omena, and the surrounding township. Francis Haserot, for whom Haserot Park is named, then owner of the old Northport Cherry Factory, kicked off the Foundation with a $35,000 gift. Organizations and groups benefited by the Foundation were represented in the parade, along with just about every other local group and annual event. Proud banners were held high!

Sorry the old fire engine is a little fuzzy. Apologies also to anyone I've missed. 

If you're wondering why there are so few people on the sidewalks, it's largely because most of the township was in the parade. This was Leelanau Township celebrating itself, not a tourist event -- although any strangers who caught the parade got a good introduction to the community.

And there they go, down to the park for games and refreshments. It was a fantastic parade!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Is Still Overflowing

Say it isn't so!

How to put the past week into words? September is in the air, a few leaves are turning and falling, and yet summer activities continue apace, each day filled to overflowing. Music in the Park tonight will feature the Hot Biscuits; Saturday night is the annual and always crowd-pleasing Sousa concert by the Northport Community Band; and Sunday afternoon will bring a parade through the village beginning at 2:30 p.m., with cake and ice cream and games afterward in Haserot Park, all to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Leelanau Township Community Foundation.

Northport Community Band

The red-letter bookstore event of the week, of course, was the long-anticipated visit and presentation by Luisa Lang Owen, reading from her memoir, Casualty of War: A Childhood Remembered. Here (below) is Luisa at the bookstore immediately prior to her reading (1) and meeting an ardent local admirer (2).

Then came the reading itself – and it was S.R.O., Standing Room Only, with a large, attentive, very engaged audience spilling over from the gallery into the studio and bookstore. There were many in the audience who had never before heard of the postwar concentration camps Tito's government put in place for Yugoslavia's ethnic Germans. Everyone was impressed not only by Luisa's vivid memories but also by her lack of hatred. "We are all connected" was her message, all part of each other.

Most of us had time afterward for more conversation while Luisa signed books for eager customers – until we ran out of books, that is, and I had to start a waiting list! Then at last, around 10 o'clock, it was home by the light of the moon, as I planned an early Friday morning trip to the farmers market before another bookstore day, the beginning of our last August weekend, with the first September weekend bringing the Labor Day holiday, and in between this weekend and the next our final pre-Labor Day bookstore event, starring Steve Gilbreath and his sister and their great-grandfather's wartime journals. That's Thursday, September 3, 7 p.m., and again we will be set up in David Grath's gallery.

Summer, you ask? Whoosh!!!