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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Guest Review: 1453

Title: 1453
Author: Roger Crowley.
Published by Hyperion, 2005.

This was not only the most interesting history I read this summer but also the most topical because of its description of the rise of Islam in North Africa, subsequent expansion of the religion, and efforts on the part of Christians to resist that expansion. The title of the book refers to the date when Constantinople, capital of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire for 1100 years, fell to the Moslems, a particularly significant event because it opened Europe to invasion by the Moslem armies. These armies were halted only at the gates of Vienna, Austria, more than 200 years later.

In 300 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to the Eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Here was the crossroads of three continents--Europe, Asia and Africa--which made the new capital a much more significant site both economically and militarily than Rome on the Italian Peninsula. The move proved providential. Constantinople, as the emperor named his capital, was able to withstand repeated assaults by barbarian tribes long after Rome had fallen into ruin, and in the seventh century, when Islam had enveloped all of North Africa and was eying Europe as its next conquest, the Moslems were able to move their armies steadily northward through Spain at the Western end of the Mediterranean but were unable to make significant progress at the Eastern end because of the fortress at Constantinople held by Christians.

The mightiest fortress on earth did, however, finally fall. Crowley describes in detail the desperate maneuvers of the 8000 Christian defenders as they battled 80,000 Muslim invaders. For a time it looked as if the defenders might succeed, but they were finally defeated by a new ploy utilized against them: instead of dragging a few cannons along from home, as previous armies had done, the Moslem army brought from Turkey all the materials necessary to forge enormous cannons on-site, using them to batter down the fortress walls.

The author did a lot of research and provides copious detail, but he has an interesting writing style, so the book is an absorbing read. When you finish 1453, if you would like to learn more about the subsequent Moslem invasion of Europe, read The Siege of Vienna, by John Stoye. Are you young enough to remember the Fifties pop song with the lyrics…”they called it Istanbul, not Constantinople…”? It probably didn’t make sense to you then, but it will after you read these books.

- Bruce Balas, September 2009

Note on reviewer's whereabouts: Bruce is away from Northport and Omena this week, attending a conference on his favorite author, G. A. Henty, out in Maine. Perhaps when he returns, if we ask him nicely, he will write something about that conference for "Books in Northport" readers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Armchair Time Travel: An Ordinary Day

The history of many other countries—Greece, England, Russia, France, Turkey, Egypt, China, to name only a few—is so much longer and more complicated than American history that it’s easy for Americans to throw up their hands and give up any attempt at historical perspective on the rest of the world. If we need to master 3,000 years of religion, philosophy, military and political dynasties, let alone a non-alphabetic language to understand another country, the task seems hopeless. This is where a time capsule may come to our rescue. What if we could visit a foreign country and vicariously experience its life, to see and hear the entire nation in their work and thought, from city intellectuals to those in rural nooks and crannies? Such is One Life in China, which I recommend for the candid overview it gives of pre-Revolutionary Chinese life and thought.

The idea was a simple one, inspired by Gorky’s 1935 One Day in the World. An unexceptional date was selected--not a holiday or a day of great political importance commemorating some national event, just an ordinary day. Then essays were solicited from people all over China, writers asked to serve as witnesses to that day, in town, country or village, wherever they were in the country, and the composite portrait would reveal—what? What had the organizers envisaged? Were they surprised by the picture that came together?

From our present perspective of almost three-quarters of a century, the view is astonishing. Here is China at the point of starvation and on the brink of foreign occupation, with World War II and the Communist Revolution on the horizon but not yet visible to those whose lives are revealed in the essays. We see instead ordinary life events, corruption and cruelty, struggle for the barest survival, small political awakenings, reports on the weather, and, over and over again, those small, poetic observations on nature—so many lives, caught under the lens, preserved not in amber or in photographs but in words. The effect is overwhelming.

Of the thousands of essays submitted for One Day in China, from those published in China, with only a fraction were translated into English for the edition I read, and the picture is somewhat limited by the literacy factor. (Obviously, only literate Chinese were able to write essays.) A disproportionate number of the writers are teachers, and men far outnumber women. Still, there is great variety in the stories, organized in this volume by subject. On May 21, 1936, there were weddings and funerals, police and courts and local officials at work (though generally seen as corrupt), teachers burdened with peace-keeping and propaganda duties, students either bored with their books or excited by unauthorized lectures, parents worried about the next day’s meal, peasants forced from their fields to build roads and told, when they complain, that the roads are for their own benefit, so that their army will be able to protect them from invading Japanese soldiers. Or to make it easier for the Japanese to invade? Who is in charge, and is there a national agenda? That is unclear. Part of the country has already fallen to Japanese occupation. Chinese Communists are represented as bandits or as heroic patriots, depending on point of view, while Christian missionaries are portrayed uniformly as unwelcome, insufferable busy-bodies. Throughout the country, there is great hardship. For example, one young woman reports for work on the night shift only to learn there will be no more night shift. How will her parents eat? Their rice is gone, and they have no money to buy more. The theme “How will we buy rice?” is a recurrent one throughout the book.

Although the day was chosen for its unremarkable date, what comes out in a number of essays is that the date was important on the “old” calendar, the banned calendar, and many in the countryside still keep to the old traditions, honoring the appropriate gods with prayers and gifts (including opium) The poorer and more desperate the people, the more ardent their prayers. Who but the gods will listen to starving peasants?

There is a Chinese saying, “We must draw a lesson from this.” It is the pragmatic equivalent of looking for teleological reasons. What can be learned? One Day in China is rich in lessons, but I leave it to others to read the book and draw their own.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

October Poetry Workshop in Traverse City

Michigan Writers is offering a free—repeat, FREE--poetry workshop on October 14, 7-9 p.m., at the University Center, 2200 Dendrinos Dr., Room 12, in Traverse City. This evening of exercises, discussions, examples and explorations of various creativity blocks and how to work through them will be guided by Faith Shearin, whose first book, The Owl Question, won the May Swenson award, and whose second, The Empty House, was published in 2008. No preregistration is necessary. Just show up with your writing tools, prepared to work. What have you got to lose? Put it on your calendar!

Here is the William Carlos Williams poem, "This Is Just to Say," that Gerry reminded me about because of the plums:
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September, Subtle and Bright

This deer photo been subjected to Photoshop. Before post-production alteration, the coloring of the three adult deer in the image, turning from tan to grey, was subtle to the point of invisibility. There are many more instances of subtlety to be found in the September fields, woods and orchards, but Sunday’s bright, sunny plum harvest deserves to be recorded in its natural color. It was our first harvest of edible fruit from this little tree, two sweet, tiny plums, and I ate them both, after David waved his share away. They tasted like sunshine.

My reading these days, especially since I finished the absolutely riveting One Day in China, is as diverse as the sights that attract my camera. The most difficult book to read, from an emotional and moral point of view, is Skinner’s A Crime So Monstrous, a detailing of slavery around the world in our own time. The quirkiest is a book on diagramming sentences, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog, by Kitty Burns Florey. And the most relaxing, a book I may even have read once before, perhaps last year, is a mystery by Alexander McCall Smith with an Edinburgh setting, entitled Friends, Lovers, Chocolate. Wildly different as they are, each of these books is worth reading in its own way.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Landmarks Whiz By

Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, births, funerals. (I hate to include divorces in the list, but they happen, too.) Sarah’s birthday, the one we chose for her based on her age of four months when adopted, did not go unmarked. I did, however, let the second anniversary of Books in Northport slip by without mention. Saw it coming ahead of time, but then we were on vacation.... The day before our return, September 13, was two years from my first post.

What to say about this overall project and its two years (so far) of existence? Have I strayed from my original mission? Scaled the heights or fallen down on the job or both, depending on the day’s post under consideration? That’s not for me to say. I do enjoy sharing my world—Northport, Dog Ears Books, the beauty of northern Michigan, the delight given to me by books and dogs—and am pleased when other people, who also enjoy these topics, visit and comment. And now, you few, you happy few, is there anything you’d like to see changed, expanded or omitted in future? I don’t promise to honor all requests but will take each one (if any there are) under careful consideration.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Small Sights and Big Events

Morning shadows are long on the lawn, chard beaded with morning dew, a last visual hurrah sounding from the beautiful blue, true geranium.

It was another season that the wisteria vine on the barn failed to bloom. It grows, it thrives, and yet it doesn’t bloom, but I let it be, having grown accustomed to it as it is rather than what a garden book or catalog would have led me to expect.

September’s next-to-last weekend was busy and beautiful in Northport. Friday was a noteworthy first for Dog Ears Books when we served for an hour or so as a location for an independent film crew needing to shoot a scene in a bookstore. Quite interesting to watch and listen to the professional young crew while they did many indoor takes. Then, before leaving, the director sent the cameraman across the street to get an establishing shot of the front of the building with the two characters from the scene exiting and walking down the sidewalk in the blinding September sunshine. The plan with this film is to submit it to various competitions in hopes of attracting studio attention. I can’t say I ever expected my small-town bookstore to make a big-screen appearance, but it would certainly be exciting if it came to pass.

Saturday morning, as I made several walks from bookstore to post office and grocery store, trying to organize my mind and life before the long-awaited afternoon event, a passing parade of Model A Fords gave me an excuse to pause for a moment. One license plate I saw said ‘Ontario.’ The drivers had stopped in town before going on to Grand Traverse Lighthouse.

But it was Gustav Niebuhr’s Saturday visit to Northport that was the big weekend headliner. In his publicity photo (sorry, Gustav, but it’s true!), he looked rather forbidding, and I struggled not to be intimidated beforehand. No worries, as the Australians say. He was altogether charming—so very relaxed, friendly, easy-going, low-key that he could have been a Northporter! Women from Trinity Church came early to the bookstore with tablecloth, flowers and refreshments, and between the times when Niebuhr was busy signing books and talking with customers and I was busy selling books, there was time for us to have bits of pleasant conversation.

(One thing I realize missing from my photo archive, however, true throughout the years, are pictures of me, the bookseller, with visiting authors. I am always taking the pictures, never in them. Should I be more of a publicity hound? More concerned with a record for posterity of my role in these events?)

Organizers and I were pleased with the turnout, but someone suggested I bring books up to the church for his lecture, too, as there would likely be people there who hadn’t made it to the signing, and that was indeed the case. Great attendance for the Fifth Belko Peace Lecture and no one disappointed: Niebuhr is a passionate, engaging speaker, and he had important things to say about interfaith projects in our country and sources of hope for peace that we can draw on, even while reminding the audience that such projects for peace are hard work. One point he made from his journalistic background seemed especially important to me in countering voices of despair, and that is that acts of violence are highly visible and quantifiable, while work in the service of peace and understanding, much quieter, impossible to quantify, usually flies under the media radar.

Small footnote to this story. Several people dropped in during the course of the afternoon to see Sarah, disappointed that the mascot had taken the day off. “Don’t take it personally. You’ll notice they weren’t coming to see me, either!”” I said to the guest author, who seemed more amused than offended and quite content with this taste of small-town Up North.

So, for those of you who missed her on Saturday, here's the little scene-stealer:

Friday, September 18, 2009

2009 Belko Peace Lectures Feature Gustav Niebuhr

The images today, more from our time in the U.P. last week, are from the agate beach on Lake Superior at Grand Marais and from the road between Sault Ste. Marie and Seney. The text in between comes from Karen Kasebeer of Trinity Congregational Church and gives more background on this weekend's visiting peace lecturer, who will also be signing his book at Dog Ears--don't forget!--from 1-3 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday.
By now most of you know that the Social Action Committee and the Board of Christian Education have collaborated on a series of educational events to increase our understanding of interfaith issues. We saw the documentary "Beyond our Differences," read and discussed the book The Faith Club, and heard a panel discussion featuring one Christian, one Jew, and one Muslim. All three events were well-attended and received positive feedback from church members and the wider community as well. Individuals traveled from as far as Gaylord to attend these events.

In choosing Gustav Niebuhr as the 2009 Belko Peace Lecturer, the Social Action Committee selected a speaker who could continue our study theme of interfaith dialogue and understanding. Niebuhr currently serves as associate professor of religion and the media at Syracuse University. He also is director of the Religion & Society Program, and founding director of the Carnegie Religion and Media Program, an undergraduate minor focusing on courses in religion relevant to understanding contemporary events.

Prior to coming to Syracuse in 2004, Niebuhr spent two years as a visiting fellow and scholar-in-residence at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Religion. From 1980 to 2001, he worked as a reporter for various newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Viking Press published his book Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America in 2008. You’ll find copies of Niebuhr’s book in both the church and township libraries. [Bookseller's note: also available for purchase at Dog Ears Books.]

The Belko Peace Lectures will occur on the weekend of September 18-20. On Friday afternoon, September 18, Niebuhr will sign books at Horizon Books in Traverse City from 2-4 pm. He will do another book signing here in Northport at Dog Ears Books on Saturday, September 19 from 1-3 pm. Niebuhr’s first lecture will be here at Trinity at 7 pm Saturday evening, and his topic will be “Beyond Tolerance: Building Bridges of Religious Understanding in a Violent Time." A time for refreshments, and questions and answers will follow. Niebuhr’s second lecture will be Sunday morning during the 11 am worship service, and the topic will be “Making Peace is Hard Work." Time for questions and answers, and refreshments will follow the service.

Please make sure you mark your calendars for September 18-20 and join us for this exciting and educational weekend. If you have questions, contact Karen Casebeer at 386-7759.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


What is lovelier this time of year? Many things equally but surely none more lovely than these bright royal purple flowers. They are a sign of the season, these colorful stars of earth. I woke thinking of their name and of stars, and found that Flandrum Hill's thoughts had taken the same direction. The asters in this post are blooming in Northport, outside my friend Sally's shop, Dolls and More, but they are also blooming in the meadow behind my farmhouse and along the roadsides, mixed in with goldenrod. "Asters!" I exclaim in delight, as we drive by a wild stand of them, and David's association is always the same: "Mrs. Astor's horse." I have no idea what that means.

As so often happens, a closer, lingering look today revealed much more going on, an entire world of activity, the blooms and the still, sunny day having brought bees by the dozens. Making honey, making hay, making memories. Now is the time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vacation Reading and Northern Berries

The pictures of U.P. berries are to provide visual breaks in what would otherwise be nothing but words, words, words. Are any of these late-season fruits unfamiliar to you? Books, my recurrent theme, are always new, even the old ones as we discover or rediscover what we hadn't read or known before, and we do read on our vacations. It isn’t all we do, but it’s always a feature. So here’s some of what we read Way Up North this year.

Beyond Tolerance (see Recommended at right), by Gustav Niebuhr, was the most important reading I did while away from the bookstore. His subtltle does not indicate this, but what Niebuhr is offering for our consideration with the quiet, diffuse movement he chronicles is an alternative response to terrorism, an affirmative rather than negating alternative to a “war on terror." Given American history, tolerance—at least at the political level--is a given, but by itself it does nothing to build bridges or strengthen communities. To go beyond is to engage in dialogue, to offer hospitality, to turn strangers into friends, without trying to convert anyone away from one religion to another. Niebuhr gives many examples of such projects across the United States, some between two specific religious communities, others as broadly multifaith as possible, and one general response to participation in such dialogues seems to be a strengthening of commitment to one’s own faith, alongside appreciation for the faiths of others. I’m sure the Northport community will have many questions for author Gustav Niebuhr and perhaps some reflections on our community as a neighborhood of different churches and faiths. He will be at Dog Ears Books on Saturday, from 1-3 p.m. to meet the public and sign copies of his book for those wishing to purchase it, and his address in this year’s Belko Peace Lecture Series at Trinity Congregational Church will be open to the public on Saturday evening, 7 p.m., and again Sunday morning at 11 a.m., so be sure to catch him one way or the other.

During our three-hour wait to cross the Mackinac Bridge on our way north last week, I read aloud to David from Suzette Haden Elgin’s The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. Her first book on this topic, The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, won me over years ago with its very specific advice on how to recognize and deal with verbal bullying without stooping to bully’s tactics in return (there was an intermediate book that I did not find quite as exciting, though I don’t remember why), and this “last” book on the subject has the same magic. Her advice is specific, though the applications are general—and sometimes she is quite funny, too, which always makes learning more memorable. I like, too, her acknowledgement that verbal bullies aren’t always intentional bullies but may simply, for whatever reason, have developed bad habits. Either way, her book can help each of us step around victimhood and step back from bullying or inviting bullying. Very good stuff here.

One book I read while lounging bayside in Munising was QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, etc. (for longer title, see list), which I picked up because I’ve been noticing for a few years that people often ask questions to lead up to what they really want to know rather than ask directly. This book’s direction isn’t that, but I like the direction it does take. The author says we very often ask “incorrect” questions, ones that seek to assign blame rather than solve problems, and he gives examples of those questions, then examples of the ones we should be asking instead, with personal accountability as his central theme. Don’t ask when x will be taken care of or who should take care of it or why the problem came up in the first place but “What can I do?” and “How can I improve this situation?” It’s a simple little book with simple ideas and can be read quickly, but like so many simple ideas it goes against a lot of ingrained habit, which is why we need the book.

To communicate, to listen authentically to others, to avoid bullying and being bullied, to assume personal accountability--these three books together, although I did not plan a course of reading with that in mind, dovetail nicely.

I also read further in Le rouge et le noir (a long-term project, that one, but I’m not giving up), and David and I read to each other from the little Arcadia history book on Grand Marais, full of pictures of how things used to look during the brief lumber boom. David’s main vacation book was Andrei Codrescu’s The Disappearance of Outside: A Manifesto for Escape, a book that sounds as if it would be about outdoor adventure, camping and the like, but is actually (to quote the back cover) a “cultural-literary-social critique [that] examines the paradoxes of repression and artistic freedom in both totalitarian and democratic societies.” I dipped into this book, also, and David read a few passages aloud to me. The writing is brilliant, the tone much more serious than what one might expect from the author’s often-humorous NPR spots.

What next? Bruce recommended Barbara Hall’s The Music Teacher, and it is time for me to give contemporary American fiction a turn on the bedside table.

Then there’s the business of getting all the tomatoes picked, mowing grass, catching up on laundry and preparing for big weekend art and book events. It's the quiet season between school-vacation summer and color tour, but life is still busy Up North.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Little Time Up in the U.P.

We spent the week after Labor Day above (that is, north of) the Mackinac Bridge; Labor Day we spent getting there, which entailed a three-hour wait south of the Straits of Mackinac. I knew—have known for years; have considered doing it myself sometime--about the Bridge Walk but had forgotten it in relation to our trip north. It was frustrating to be in standstill traffic so near to my goal of a Lehto’s pasty (8 miles west of the bridge on U.S. 2), but the weather was glorious, and we weren’t stuck on the expressway outside Chicago, and none of the three of us (counting Sarah, the dog) desperately needed a rest stop, so we got through the ordeal relatively unscathed. The Bridge and the view always more than repays any delay in crossing. The Straits! Magnificent! Alas, however, we arrived at Lehto’s just a minute after closing time, and I had to wait until our return trip six days late for my Yooper pocket sandwich.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute account of the week but just give highlights and glimpses. One highlight was the news from Ellen Airgood, of the West Bay Diner in Grand Marais, that her novel has been taken under contract by Viking Penguin! We are thrilled for her. After five years of hard work, disappointment and revisions, she had considered putting the project aside for good and taking life easier. She and husband Rick would still be commuting a long way over rough road to operate their restaurant from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., so “taking life easier” would have been definitely relative. But it turned out she couldn’t do it. “I couldn’t figure out how to be me without working on the book,” she told us in her usual simple, straightforward manner. Then came the call. She remembers that she was waiting for an order from the kitchen: two cheese omelets with crispy bacon and pumpernickel. Joy? Joy who? Oh, good heavens, can this really be happening? The title of the novel is still in question and may be changed from Ellen’s original Stone Lake, but while we’re waiting for publication in 2010 we can enjoy again her essays in Stories From Where We Live: Great Lakes, “At Uglyfish Lake.”

While we were in Alger County, David and I found a piece of property to dream over, as usual. We also made forays out to the Soo and to Munising (visiting Wagner Falls for the first time) and little excursions to the Seney Wildlife Refuge and Hurricane River.

We lingered at the bridge over the East Fork of the Fox River, where the boggy views enchant us every year.

And, as always, it was often the smallest of sights that caught my eye:

It was good to find our friends at the Superior Hotel in good order, and it was good to sit in the sun with Bess Capogrossa in front of the hotel and watch the world go by. Even there, the world does go by. Grand Marais has a lot in common with Northport. For example, one can cross intersections on the diagonal. There are very few secrets in either village. The harbor is beautiful in both towns. Most new residents are retired, and both K-12 schools, now “out of formula,” struggle to remain open. Northport is at the end of a peninsula, and Grand Marais seems like it’s on the edge of the world, what with the expanse of Lake Superior stretching north right from the foot of the village. Is this why it feels like our home away from home?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Holiday Weekend Saturday Miscellany

Doesn't this look like the start of a holiday picnic? Late but delicious! Get some!
You can, in fact, save the world - all you must do is feed someone who would starve otherwise, give refuge to someone who would die otherwise, tend the sick who would otherwise die - and you save a piece of the world who size cannot be calculated - the part becomes the whole.

Rather than write at length today, I've decided to ask you to go to Sharon Astyk's blog and read the current post. Important and well said.

My postings will be spotty for the remainder of the month, as we take a little time off for our summer, i.e., what other people call September.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Birthday Girl and a Special Late Summer Evening

Sarah is now officially two years old. Today. Alas, she still cannot read, and long days in the bookstore reduce her to a state of sulky boredom. This evening, then, after her arduous work day, we took her, for a birthday treat, down to a favorite haunt of ours.

Shalda Creek was lovely, as always.

And the sunset in Leland was unbelievable.

Not a Holiday Topic

Don't let the image fool you. I haven't written today about the joys of life Up North. There's nothing here about books or reading, either. Sorry, summer is over, it's time for a rant, and here's mine:

There was a time, not so long ago, when a late credit card payment resulted in a $10 late fee: ten dollars added to what was owed, ten dollars that would not reduce one’s balance a cent and for which one had acquired no new product. I don’t know about most people, but I found that penalty a sufficient deterrent. It happened to me once, and I vowed it would never happen again. Lesson learned.

Well, now that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how good your payment record is or whether you pay off your balance each month or how small that balance may be, because usury laws are a thing of the past, and credit card companies have realized that, sooner or later, everyone slips up. Reality and the freedom of the market thus open the door to unlimited opportunities.

The other day I received, as a “valued customer,” a letter from my credit card company. It was not congratulating me on my good payment record, let alone announcing a reward for that good record. Far from it. This was merely a “timely communication” (the anonymous letter writer patted the company on the back for their commitment to “timely communications” to customers) of changes to my account. There were several, but one stood out. The fee for any late payment, i.e., any payment received after the due date on my monthly statement, I was informed, will now be $39.95. Slip up by a day? Gotcha!

Forty dollars, however, is only the beginning, because—read the writing on the wall--the consequences for a slip-up are no longer aimed at merely encouraging timely payments. The companies have discovered a gold mine in punishment. So now a customer making a late payments is punished as severely as one writing a payment check that gets returned for insufficient funds: your interest rate goes up! How much? As a “valued customer,” I am informed by this “timely communication” that in the event of a late payment “the current penalty APR would be up to 30.24%.”

The card I hold is the State Democratic Party MasterCard. These days it is possible to hold credit cards to benefit any number of organizations. I could have taken out a card bearing the name of Western Michigan University or the University of Illinois or any number of organizations looking for revenue from supporters. The bottom line, however, is that the ultimate organization supported with the financing of credit card debt is the credit card company. This is reasonable, given that the company is the lender. Their terms, fees and punitive interest rates, should I falter on the path in the months ahead, are not reasonable but usurious. Unfortunately, usury is no longer against the law, and those individuals making company policy are no longer held in check by either ethics or civility. It’s a jungle out there.

The letter includes a brilliant final touch: “You have options.” Basically, I have two options, the first of which is to accept the new terms, the second of which is to have my account closed.

Where did this strange and perverted notion of contract arise, and what in contract law makes it possible, or is money-lending outside of contract law altogether? I have not studied law and ask the question out of genuine perplexity. How is it possible that an “agreement” may be changed, at any time, by one party and never by the other?

In defense of the company, I should recognize that no one has threatened to break my kneecaps if I’m late with a payment. Perhaps that will come in a future communication. What, after all, should one expect for a good credit record but threats?

--There, that's off my chest. Now to enjoy the holiday weekend, which for me will be the last "summer" weekend in Dog Ears Books. Autumn will be good, though, with some interesting events coming up in September and October, so keep reading, and I promise not to crank like this every day.