Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Far Corners of Home
Kamloops. The name won’t leave my head, and I can’t help pronouncing it aloud every few minutes. (Try it. It's very satisfying to say aloud.) Sarah can’t figure what I’m talking about. David hasn’t asked—yet. The Kamloops on my mind has nothing to do with British Columbia. No, it was a ship—and is, still, a shipwreck. The 1923-built ‘Kamloops’ went down in 1927 off the coast of Isle Royale, and it’s on my mind because I just finished Nevada Barr’s A Superior Death. (What a story!) And now, ever so slightly obsessed with Nevada Barr, I was intrigued to find her on a website of Mississippi writers, although she was born in Nevada and grew up in California. Since she lived a while in Mississippi...also in New York...and currently lives in New Orleans, by the unwritten rules of bookselling this makes her a Nevada writer, California writer, Mississippi writer, and Louisiana writer, at the very least. (Whether or not New York booksellers claim her as belonging to the Big Apple, I know not. NYC is its own universe.) How many states, after all, claim Hemingway as one of their own? Illinois (birthplace) and Michigan (family summer home) are among the number but hardly form an exhaustive list.
In my bookstore, Dog Ears Books, as in others I know in northern Michigan, there is a section called “Michigan.” All my used and out-of-print Michigan fiction is there, followed by used and OP nonfiction—history, natural history, memoir, essays, etc. On the bookshelves holding new books, there is also a section for books Michigan.
Deciding what counts as a Michigan book is a little more straightforward than identifying Michigan authors. A Superior Death takes place on Isle Royale in Lake Superior within the boundaries of the state of Michigan. The story is clearly set in Michigan. If a Michigan historian wrote a history of Georgia, I would shelve that book in Southern history and travel. (I collapsed travel and history sections some years back, frustrated by such questions as, “Do you have any books on China?” and the confusing directions involved in the answers.) But on the Michigan fiction shelves there are always, besides stories set in Michigan, others set elsewhere but written by Michigan writers--for example, Alaskan Gold Rush adventure stories by James B. Hendryx of Suttons Bay and James Oliver Curwood of Owosso and Western literary fiction by Jim Harrison.
Now that I’ve been immersed—submerged—in Michigan fiction for a couple of days, I've turned back to The Honey Trail, by Australian travel writer Grace Pundyk, where, in the chapter on Borneo, I’ve just traveled five hours upriver to an isolated, roadless river village. I’m not in Michigan any more—until I put down the book and walk outdoors again.