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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Driving Me Crazy

This image from the 2007 archives is my attempt at hanging onto visual sanity. Not only do I have a growing pile of beautiful new fall photos that I can't upload at present, but migraines have interrupted all work and pleasure twice in one week. One consolation is that I'll have a huge backlog of color images to post when the landscape goes black and white.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Brain Book, Tentative Schedule, Seasonal and Bookstore Events

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge, M.D. The brain science surveyed in this book has wide applications for dyslexia, stroke, autism, etc., and important implications for education, including but not limited to special education and older adult learning. Every educator and parent should read this book. Its main thesis, neuroplasticity, supported by research and case studies, gives realistic hope not only for young children with learning disabilities but even for older people whose stroke events may have occurred long ago in the past. There is also--surprise!--support from neuroplasticity for psychoanalysis and other "talking cures." Just when you thought there would be nothing more to brains but surgery and drugs! Thanks to Nancy Swink for bringing this important and fascinating book to my attention.

Tentative schedule for the weeks ahead:

Saturday, Nov. 22, 2-4 p.m. Grafton McCready ("Mac") Thomas will sign Confessions of a Maverick Minister: A Life of Butterscotch, Horseradish, and Strawberry Pie [Note: This is the new date. We had to change from the 29th to the 22nd of November.]

Saturday, Dec. 13, 5-8 p.m. Holiday Open House

Saturday, Dec. 17, 2-4 p.m. Ed and Connie Arnfield will sign Michigan Roadside Guide to Plants, Trees and Flowers: An Ecological Approach [LATE-ADDED NOTE: This book will not be ready from the printer in time for a 2008 launch, so we're delaying the party until spring. Watch blog and Dog Ears Books website for announcement.]

Colors are gaining in richness what they have lost in brightness. Beech trees are like buttered toast with honey dripping through, golden yellow with crisp, warm brown edges. There is color in the orchards now, too--some going golden, others rosy. Milkweed pods have burst. Cottonwoods shimmer silver, poplars gold. Today, Monday, alternated between sunshine and rain showers, with rainbows and dramatic cloud effects until about 4 o'clock in the afternoon when the temperature dropped. Then, suddenly, it was winter mitten weather.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Movie for Book Lovers

The bell jar effect continues. That is to say, the cold drags on. Sniffle, sniffle, sneeze, sneeze, cough-cough-cough. Among but not quite with people, I apologize for not shaking hands, figuring they'd rather not get this bug if they can help it. Reading is an escape from my state of mind and body, as well as an escape from news political, financial and meteorological.

Have you ever read an author's first book and hungered impatiently for the next? Have you ever made repeated stabs at getting into a book, not succeeding until years after the original purchase and then falling completely in love with the book, wanting all your friends to read it, too? "Stone Reader" is a nonfiction film, if you will, documenting the filmmaker's search for an author whose first and only published book he loved when he finally managed, after many years, to read it in its entirety. The book was called The Stones of Summer, and its author, Dow Mossman, came out of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, wrote and published his novel, got a great New York Times review, only to fall off the face of the earth, or so it seemed. What happened to him? Did he never write a second book? Was he still alive? These were questions that drove Mark Moskovitz, the appreciative reader, to launch a nationwide, filmed search. I don't want to give away the ending so will only say that the search is one every book-lover will understand. Throughout the film, in conversation after conversation, the subject of one-book authors comes up. Another recurrent topic is the stress of success.

Sometime during the same decade that first gave birth to The Stones of Summer (since reissued), I read a first novel called The Trapper's Last Shot. It was by John Yount, but over the years I forgot the author's name, only remembering the title of the book and wondering if its author had written more. The answer in this case was a happy affirmative. Reading another new novel many years later (what was the title???) and finding there the same magic I'd found in The Trapper's Last Shot, I was excited and gratified to find they were by the same man, John Yount. The film on Mossman reminds me to look up Yount again, and I see another couple of titles by him. So what's the connection? He was not at all a one-book author. The tie here is subjective only, my excitement, like that of Moskovitz, at discovering an author's first book.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

R&R Reading

It's beautiful late October here in Leelanau, browns and bronzes adding their rich, deep notes to the color symphony, which unfortunately is muted for me due to--a cold! Took Sarah out for a romp yesterday afternoon and had to stretch out in the sun for a while before returning home. Early to bed it was then, too, with a young adult coming-of-age novel from 1974. No heavy stuff, please! Just keep the Kleenex box handy!

Born in 1909 in Camden, NJ, Betty Cavanna turned to writing full-time in 1043. Her prolific output (70 books) included mysteries, historical fiction and nonfiction, but her special focus was on books for American teenage girls. Joyride, published in 1974, tells the story of Susan Cucci's high school years, but the story is set in the 1920s of Cavanna's own adolescence, in New Jersey as it was when she was growing up.

"In an era when jazz and joyriding were in vogue, when flappers were stylish and speakeasies flourished in the cities, Willowbrook was positively quaint. An occasional pony and cart still appeared on the streets, and after a winter snowstorm sleigh bells jingled, making a happy sound."

Susan's adolescence, however, is not set in some Golden Age, and Susan herself has serious challenges to face in life. We learn gradually (rather than on the first page) that Susan "always limps," and eventually we learn that her limp is the result of a bout of infantile paralysis she suffered at the age of four. If only her polio had come a year later, in the national epidemic of 1916, Susan can't help thinking, "then she might have been treated properly--even cured!" As it is, though able to walk and run, ride a bike or a horse, even play some sports, Susan's handicap sets her aside socially as boys and girls get to the age to recognize each other in new ways. As Susan is entering high school (a year early, having skipped eighth grade), her father loses his job, and her mother sets up a home business, sewing clothes for other women in Willowbrook. Susan dislikes Sunday School, as her Sunday School teacher, like her father, is a Fundamentalist. Her parents quarrel over money and religion.

There are other, larger flies in the wider social ointment. Along with Prohibition and its counterpart, bootleg booze (leaving one minor character dead and another blind), teenage pregnancy comes into the story, as does racism, and none of these issues is glossed over. Even in the 1920s, growing up wasn't easy, and this novel of Cavanna's pulls no punches. By the last page, Susan has found a direction for herself in life, but "happily ever after" hardly describes it.

I had hoped to be able to upload at least a couple of pictures today, but no such luck. When systems are all finally GO again, I may indulge in a Roman pig-out of images, making up for lost time. For now, after spaghetti dinner prepared by a concerned spouse, it's early to bed again for me with that Kleenex box, another spoonful of honey and The Dog Who Knew Too Much, by Carol Lea Benjamin. Oh, and our own little "cuddlier than a koala" puppy, too, of course!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Native Son, One Who Came and Stayed, One from a Spaceship

I want to quote directly from The History of the Michigan Agricultural College, published in 1915, to give additional information on two men who figured in my last posting. The material on Bailey in the History is largely copied, the editor admits, from Who's Who in America.

"Liberty Hyde Bailey, M.S., was born in South Haven, Michigan, March 15, 1858. He was the son of Liberty Hyde Bailey and Sarah (Harrison) Bailey; reared on a farm; B.S., Michigan Agricultural College, 1882; M.S., 1886. He married Annette Smith, of Lansing, Michigan, June 6, 1883. Has given particular attention to botany and horticultural subjects, and to economics of agriculture, agricultural education, and general rural questions; assistant to Asa Gray, Harvard, 1882-83; professor of horticulture and landscape gardening, Michigan Agricultural College, 1885-88; professor of horticulture at Cornell, 1888-1903; director of the college of agriculture since 1903, an LL.D. from Wisconsin University." A long list of publications and edited series follows. The entry ends: "Brought up COngregationalist. Democrat by preference."

William S. Holdsworth, as it turns out, was not a Michigan native. "He was born in London, England, February 28, 1856," son of cabinet maker and bookkkeeper William S. Holdsworth and Mary (Saunders) Holdsworth. "At an early age [unspecified] he came with his parents to the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan. His fondness for this beautiful, invigorating region never waned; here he built his summer home and while resting, he gratified his artisti taste with brush and palette." Holdsworth apparently earned his bachelor of arts degree from M.A.C., "graduated with the class of '78, supplementing his work with a course in art at Boston, Massachusetts." There he met Adeline Smith, a teacher, who would become his wife. "In 1881 he began teaching at M.A.C.; from 1883 to 1887 he was designer and draftsman for Bond & Chandler, Chicago, Illinois. From there he returned to this College to take charge of the department of drawing, first as instructor, then as assistant and then as full professor from 1904 to September, 1907." Ill health led Holdsworth to try warmer climates (California, Florida), but in 1907 he died of tuberculosis "at his home just north of College Campus."

Bailey's portrait shows a clean-shaven man in wire-rimmed glasses, while Holdsworth wears a shy man's long, dark beard.

The third passage I want to quote today has nothing to do with Bailey or Holdsworth. It comes from Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose. During a time in her life when she had a long commute between home and her teaching job, a time made horrifyingly memorable by the Challenger explosion, which replayed endlessly on the bus station TV, Prose tells how she made the daily transition from anxiety to peace and hope. The experience she recounts is very familiar and meaningful to me, and I hope it will be to others:

"As soon as I was settled [on the bus] and had finished my soda and cookie and magazine, I began reading the short stories of Anton Chekhov. It was my ritual, and my reward." She begins to relax. "A sense of comfort came over me, as if in those thirty minutes I myself had been taken up in a spaceship and shown the whole world, a world full of sorrows, both different and very much like my own, and also a world of promise. It was as if I had been permitted to share an intelligence large enough to embrace bus drivers and bus station junkies, a vision so piercing it would have kept seeing those astronauts long after that fiery plume disappeared from the screen. I began to think nothing was wasted, that someday I could do something with what was happening to me, to use even the New Rochelle bus station in some way in my work.

"Reading Chekhov, I felt not happy, exactly, but as close to happiness as I knew I was likely to come. And it occurred to me that this was the pleasure and mystery of reading, as well as the answer to those who say that books will disappear. For now, books are still the best way of taking great art and its consolations along with us on a bus."

That feeling of comfort, of sharing another's large intelligence, of no part of life being a waste--one enters the world of another mind and, in so doing, sees the entire world from an almost detached and distant vantage point. Annie Dillard described seeing the earth from outer space, something she could only do in her imagination. When we see it from there, in all its beauty and wholeness, petty irritations and worries fall away.

Of course, receiving this gift depends on the book one chooses to read.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Books, Plants and Plant Books

Starting into a new novel on Saturday night, I was stopped cold on page 10 when a character was said to have "gripped the podium as if without it he'd collapse into a pile of colored laundry...." I pictured the professor in question bent at the waist, hands gripping the platform on which he stood. Surely the author meant to say that he gripped the lectern, don't you imagine? But to imagine this we must also imagine that no one at the major publishing house responsible recognized the error. A sad state of affairs. I plowed through a few more overwritten, self-conscious pages before sleep rescued me but will probably bail out of that particular book. Why not mention book and author by name? For the same reason a friend of mine, a painter, says she will no longer provide negative criticism about the work of her fellow painters: she knows the time and effort and hopes and dreams that went into the work. I do give my candid opinions to people buying books in my bookstore, some of whom decide to chance the book I didn't like, others grateful for the warning. Ater all, reading tastes differ--to put it mildly! One book I dragged myself through, a very good friend adored, while another that is in my all-time top 100 list she "couldn't get into."

When my friend Jeanie was here last week from Massachusetts, I really wanted to show her my closed gentians in bloom. Ethereal blue and bizarre in form, they bloom so late in the year that I've usually either lost hope of seeing them or forgotten them altogether. Yesterday I learned from my friend Richard, over Liberty Hyde Bailey's LESSONS IN BOTANY, of another botanical oddity, the cleistogamous plant. It is self-pollinating in the extreme, producing seeds although it has only non-opening flowers, chasmogamy (opening flowers) being the rule, cleistogamy (closed flowers) the exception. I'm not sure but think that the closed gentian, also known picturesquely as bottle gentian, is technically (and nonintuitively, going by its name) a chasmogamous form. Does that adjective look correct?

Richard formally introduced me--insofar as one can be introduced to the deceased--to an illustrator whose work I had seen before in Bailey's book without paying attention to the name or realizing that Holdsworth was a native of Traverse City. Bailey himself was born in South Haven, making LESSONS IN BOTANY a collaboration of Lake Michigan native sons. I appreciated the charm of Holdsworth's detailed, shaded drawings, and Richard agreed that Bailey was a beautiful literary stylist. We talked about the vast difference between botany confined to the laboratory and "botanizing" (as the serious amateurs used to call it) done in the field. Later at home, outdoors again with Sarah, I paid closer attention to the seedheads of the little grey coneflower and even the lichens on the bench of our old, weathered picnic table.

A new book on northern Michigan plants is due out in December. My good friends Ed and Connie Arnfield of Northport are the perpetrators (they will take that identification with good humor, I'm sure), and if the book arrives on time from the printer (Arbutus Press in Traverse City is the publisher), we will have our first signing party at Dog Ears Books on Wednesday, December 17, with another event in late spring 2009 for returning snowbirds. Ed and Connie focus on common wildflowers and trees in our little corner of the world, providing both drawings and color photographs to aid in identification, as well as a graph along the bottom of each page highlighting the months in which each plant would be most noticeable. We can hardly wait to have this book in our hands! That is not the royal bookseller "we" but the "we" of Ed and Connie and me, along with many other Northport friends and readers and nature lovers.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mystery and Magic in Color Season

It was an enormous forested bowl, hidden away from the roads behind acres of fields and orchards. A narrow farm lane led down into it, the sides of the bowl rising ever higher all around as one descended. From the bowl's ample base gew old maples, tall and straight, their yellow crowns rustling in morning sunlight high above the ground. Raspberry canes lined the trail. Planted? Wild? The lane was mowed but felt otherwise innocent of human activity, except for a few stacks of kindling along the way. At the very bottom, where the land stretched out wide at its lowest, quietest reach, protected by the steep, wooded slopes, a flock of black-capped chickadees broke the silence, flitting and cheeping in a stand of sumac flaming red as the sun finally cleared the top of the woods and shed light down into the bowl. No camera with me, only eyes to see, lungs to breathe, legs to climb, heart to wonder. And dog for company.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Between Seasons Again

Not between summer and fall any more, but feeling the first hints of winter, even as beautiful leaves dance in the wind. Hard frost yesterday. Apple boxes leaving the orchards (reminding me how cold apple-picking can be in October). Sunrise dragging itself up far too late in the day--reluctantly, it seems. Indoors at 106 Waukazoo Street, the doors are back up closing off the unheatable gallery space, but the Fox Island show is still on view up front. Also, I have eight or nine remaining signed copies of Buzzelli's DEAD DANCING WOMEN, and today and tomorrow are Haunted Lighthouse days out at Grand Traverse Light at the end of the Leelanau peninsula.

Reading books about writing--is that a bad sign? Should one either be reading OR writing and not dithering about in between? I have returned to Pagnol (escape!) and am also (not escape) re-reading THE BOOK THIEF to discuss with friends reading it for the first time. Unsettled, though. Need to put myself on a strict schedule for a while to get through this between-times time.

Last Monday's fresco dinner under the walnut and basswood trees, their leaves bright oil lamp on the table, glowing on faces as darkness fell...friends laughing and passing plates, refilling glasses. It feels like years ago instead of only five days past. And in the midst of all that easy happiness, neither Jeanie nor I remembered to get out our cameras. The pictures are all in my mind.

With or without pictues, I promise here and now to have a substantive post up by late Monday evening or early Tuesday morning. It's the least I can do. No, it's a little more than the least, which is what I've been doing lately.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On the Light Side

What with bookstore and gallery events, visitors and customers, daylight coming later and leaving earlier, not to mention computer woes, my reading of late has not been terribly ambitious. Since I love Jane Austen so (no shame there, eh?), I approach Austen knock-offs with trepidation but have been known to enjoy one or two, and the other day I picked up one I'd formerly passed by with scarcely a glance. I was particularly suspicious of AUSTENLAND, by Shannon Hale, as, early in the book, we learn that the main character is going on vacation (thanks to a deceased aunt's bequest) at a manor house in England where the whole point is to pretend to be living at the time and in the manner of characters in Austen's novels. I mean, 'precious' hardly seems to cover the ground. But it turned out to be fun, after all, and there were a few times I stopped in admiration of the writing, e.g., "Her heart bumped around in her chest like a bee at a window..." and "That was her problem, Jane decided--she'd always lugged around an excess of hope." Also, formulaic as the novel was, it did manage surprises all the way to the end. This cold, chilly, cloudy, cheerless afternoon I also raced to the end of THE RICH PART OF LIFE, by Jim Kokoris, a novel told from the point of view of a young boy whose widowed professor father unexpectedly (how else?) wins big in the lottery, changing their lives dramatically. A small book, but it works and doesn't copy anyone else.

One can't, after all, read economics all the time, but I read an Adam Gopnik piece in the NEW YORKER about a new biography of John Stuart Mill that I'll have to order, and I was surprised to learn that Mill is buried outside Avignon. Had we known that eight years ago, we might have visited his grave. Eight whole years ago! How is that possible?

Saturday and Tuesday were particularly busy days at the bookstore. Was it the glorious weather? The symphony of fall colors? Lots of Indiana and Chicago visitors on the road and in the skies this past week. Sarah has been making lots of new friends.

NORTHPORT NEWS: The new Northport Fitness Center, right across the street from Dog Ears Books and the Painted Horse Gallery, is slated to open this coming Monday, Oct. 20. From my vantage point, the place is shaping up nicely. Cheers to Jeanette Egeler and Bruce Viger for this new addition to town!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Turning Leaves

The images are all on my camera. Can't get them up here at present, alas! Sumac is flaming red, pin cherry orange-red, black walnut and basswood golden yellow, and ash every color from butterscotch to deep plum. Beautiful fall so far.

Without images, a few notes:

First, deep and heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli, who came all the way from Kalkaska to Northport on Saturday to entertain Dog Ears Books customers and visitors with a fascinating and humorous talk, touching upon everything from the magic and mystery of Up North to how she came to live in the pine woods, how pieces of her life translate into fiction and especially to the role of crows in that process. To meet with such talent and generosity in one and the same person leaves me almost speechless with gratitude. Those who missed the chance to hear and meet Elizabeth can still buy a signed copy of her book, DEAD DANCING WOMEN, at Dog Ears Books--while they last! I have to warn that my supply of signed copies is rapidly dwindling.

Another extended opportunity--to contribute to the restoration of the old lighthouse on South Fox Island and to acquire beautiful art at the same time--is being offered at the Painted Horse Gallery, our neighbor at 106 Waukazoo Street. Most people at the Friday reception were having such a good time ("It was a great party!" all agreed) that the fund-raising aspect of the event slipped out of focus. So, a reminder: A portion of the proceeds from sales of all photographs and paintings in the show (prices range from $5 to $2,800) goes to FILA, Fox Island Lighthouse Association, to restore this historic old northern Lake Michigan landmark. That was the whole reason for the artists' trip to the island in June and for this October's show in Northport, so please come back for another look. This show is worth looking at more than once, anyway.

David and I made a change in our lives recently, liberating ourselves from TV. It was his idea, and I provided the applause. When asked on the phone (when he called to cancel) why he wanted to stop the service, David told the representative he wanted to read more, talk to his wife more, listen to music, play music "and pet my dog." Already we are reading aloud more to each other in the evenings, and it's great. Whoever is the listener for the evening does most of the dog-petting. All three of us benefit, and the pack bond is strengthened.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Erratic But Not By Choice--What Else is New?

Technical difficulties--sorry, no pictures, but I'll post as I can until the problem is solved.

"What's new?" people ask all the time. They're not really asking a question, let alone a specific question, but as a matter of fact there is some news, and I want to get it "out there" before the occasions slip by. First is the artist reception next Friday, 6-9 p.m., at the Painted Horse Gallery to benefit the South Fox Island lighthouse restoration. New paintings and photographs on exhibit. 106 Waukazoo.

Then the very next day, Saturday, October 11, at 2:00p.m., Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli will be at Dog Ears Books (also 106 Waukazoo), and we're not just offering a chance for people to buy signed copies of DEAD DANCING WOMEN, the book that's selling faster than the publisher, Midnight Ink, can print more copies. We're also offering free entertainment! That's right. Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli, writer and teacher, is a FUN person, whether she's leading a workshop (as she did here in March of 2007) or giving a talk (as she did this past summer at our little library in Northport), and she's coming to Dog Ears next week with a brand-new presentation for us: "Murder, Mayhem and Mischief: One Writer's Up North." You didn't think murder could be uproarious? You haven't met Elizabeth!

There are other new books at Dog Ears Books, and I want to mention one today, because one of my friends (Kathie, you know who you are!) tells me now and then that I need more cat books, not just dog books. Well, here's a winner: DEWEY: THE SMALL-TOWN LIBRARY CAT WHO TOUCHED THE WORLD, by Vicki Myron, with Bret Witter.

Okay, yes, it is a "feel-good" book (you want to feel bad instead, maybe?), and it really does have a cat as its central character. But it's a true story, and it's only "about" a cat in the way the song "City of New Orleans" is only about a train.

My bookstore is at home in a small town, and one of my ongoing and abiding interests and concerns is with the health of small towns. So, cat-town-people. What brings people together, especially during hard times, when there is a tendency for many of us to pull our heads into our shells like grumpy tortoises? Spencer, Iowa, and its inhabitants found a catalyst for community in a stray kitten adopted by the local library.

"Dewey reminded us, once again, that we were a different kind of town. We cared. We valued the small things. We understood life wasn't about quantity but quality. Dewey was one more reason to love this hardy little town on the Iowa plains. The love of Spencer, the love of Dewey, it was all intermingled in the public mind."

That's only the briefest of overviews. The story is, as all stories are, in the details.

Though a funeral is a sad occasion, Northport came together on Friday to remember and honor Charlie Brown (formally, Charles F.), operator for 20 years of the Willowbrook restaurant on Mill Street. Charlie was only 56 years old. We'll all miss him.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fall Travel by Car, Foot and Book

My corner of Leelanau Township (that is, the place I live) was settled more than 100 years ago by Bohemians, immigrants from what is now part of the Czech Republic. Gills Pier Road is only part of the larger general neighborhood known as Gills Pier, the parish of St. Wenceslaus Church, which one Bohemian neighbor told me yesterday his family used to tell their kids was the “disappearing church.” Because of the way the long road from the south dips down at one point, the church building ahead would vanish from sight as the little kids in the car watched through the windshield. As the car climbed back up the next hill, the church would pop back onto the horizon.

Northern Michigan’s Bohemian immigrants were farmers and iron workers in the old country. When they left home, knowing they would never return, they brought with them the iron crosses for their own graves in the new land. The ornate crosses and the simple lines of the small church dominate the top of their hill in old-world fashion.

It was a book with pictures of that old world that sent me up to St. Wenceslaus the other morning. Karel Plicka’s CESKOSLOVENSKO, published in Prague in 1974 brings took me back in history to a place I’ve never seen but have only visited in the novels of Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera.

Here in Northport today, fragmentary visual history appeared on the north wall of Phil Kellogg’s building, a wall covered for decades by the recently razed dining room (kitchen remains and will soon be transformed by Bruce Viger) Little Finger restaurant. Who is this fantasy woman in the ermine collar? What business was she advertising, and was there a holiday connection? Maybe a circus! The closer the camera moves in, the more intriguing the questions become.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

For the Record

I drafted the post below yesterday and added the opening weather paragraph today. October 1 would be the correct date for it. Happy birthday, Ian!!!