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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All Over the (Site) Map

Reader, beware! You never know what you’ll find on this blog from one day to the next. Is forewarned forearmed? Here are a few of the more obvious possibilities:

Announcements of coming bookstore events: These comes under the heading of shameless self-promotion, but if I am not for me, who will be for me?

Book reviews: That’s self-explanatory, isn’t it? And kind of what you’d expect on a blog called “Books in Northport.” If you want to hunt reviews out specifically, use the search tool at the top of the page and ask for "book reviews."

Other book chat: Sometimes I ramble on about what I’m reading, giving samples and snippets without doing a full-blown review. This winter I may give an informal tour through my private library.

Bookstore and community news: Again, self-explanatory and unsurprising, right?

Dog stuff: Who doesn’t love pictures of Sarah? Sometimes there are pictures of Sarah and friends!

Gardening and cooking notes: News from the garden is seasonal, of course, as is news from the kitchen, but the kitchen operates year-round. Occasionally a recipe might sneak in.

Travel notes: Whenever I’m fortunate enough to have an adventure to share, I’ll share it, even if it’s only a drive down to Cedar to shop at Bunting’s Market.

Political rants: Who can help it? Once in a while the steam builds up and needs to be released.

Economic rants: Well, I’m not alone here, either, am I?

Grammar rants: I try not to go overboard with these, but occasionally one or more of my pet peeves itches so badly it needs to be scratched.

Philosophy: I keep this to a minimum, as doesn’t interest too many people, but it interests me greatly, so sometimes it muscles its way in. No, let’s be honest—I invite it in. I just don’t expect a lot of comments on those posts.

There. This doesn’t cover all the ground but hits major high points of ground I may touch on here. There are usually photos, too, but for those who want more pictures and less talk, see my photo blog, “A Shot in the Light.”

There. Now don’t say you weren’t given fair warning.

Today is the last day of firearm hunting season. I hope all who needed the meat got their deer. Sarah isn't watching the calendar, but I keep an eye on it for her, and we will enjoy the return of our outdoor freedom and safety.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: AND SHE WAS

And She Was, by Alison Gaylin (HarperCollins, 2012)
$7.99 paper

Nelson Wentz contacts Brenna Spector, private investigator, because his wife has disappeared, and he can’t get the police to believe that Carol isn’t simply another runaway wife. Long before Brenna discovers that Carol herself had been pursuing another missing person, she encounters numerous memory triggers to scenes from her own past. For one thing, there was the disappearance of her own older sister, a mystery that still remains unsolved, another case of police dismissing a vanishing as a standard runaway. And because younger Brenna felt somehow, at least in part, culpable for the hole in her family, she took note of the later disappearance of six-year-old Iris Neff, one for which Carol Wentz felt responsible.

Where are all these missing people? Carol Wentz, Iris Neff, Iris’s mother, Lydia, and Brenna’s sister, Clea? What has become of them, and are the only connections in Brenna’s head?

Brenna, you see, has an unusual condition: its name is hyperthymestic syndrome. She forgets nothing. Name a date, and she can tell you where she was, what she was doing, and she’ll be seeing and hearing everything as it happened then, as if the distant day were the present. If she saw a face or a number or an address once, it’s in her memory forever. Such a condition has obvious advantages for someone in her line of work, but the remembered images don’t automatically add up to infallible answers. As Brenna puts it, “Just because I remember everything, it doesn’t mean I’m right about everything.” Like the rest of us, Brenna is capable of drawing false conclusions from insufficient evidence.

In fact, Brenna Spector often experiences her peculiar memory as a kind of curse, since anything can serve as an association that triggers a recurrence of the past, often at inconvenient moments. Eruptions of the past can distract her from work or a conversation with her daughter or simply take her out of the present when she would rather remain there. Almost every reader of this novel will be without Brenna’s gift or curse--the condition is extremely rare--but will feel sympathy and admiration for the character. She is a hard-working, caring, vulnerable but strong woman, lonely without being pitiful, the brave, competent woman other women want to be. It is because we don’t want to see her remain lonely and in danger that we accompany Brenna so eagerly along the difficult and confusing trajectory of her story.

Other interesting characters enliven the scenes. Brenna’s assistant is a young techno-geek who frequents nightclubs and decks out in see-through fashion and body piercings. Trent’s slang is so current that it sometimes leaves his boss without a clue to his meaning. He’s always on her case to upgrade to a more complicated cell phone, too. A younger character still is Brenna’s daughter, Maya. There is just enough of Maya, her father (Brenna’s ex-) and her stepmother, along with flashbacks to Brenna’s vanished sister and a glancing allusion or two to her mother, to give a sense of the treacherous family shoals our private P.I. has to navigate when she’s not immersed in an investigation.

And then there is Detective Nick Morasco. He’s a cop, but he and Brenna are, she thinks, on the “same side.” He smells comfortingly of Ivory soap. If only he had paid some attention years before when she called the police station to volunteer information following up a lead in Iris Neff’s disappearance!

In any novel of suspense, it’s up to the author to give readers a satisfying explanation in the end. Alison Gaylin does that and more. She left this reader satisfied with the conclusion of this complicated, convoluted case but also wanting more--wanting to continue vicariously enjoying Brenna Spector’s adventures and victories, wanting to go forward into her future to see how her family relationships will evolve and what possible remedy may present itself for her loneliness.

The sale date for And She Was is February 28, 2012. That date appears on the back of the ARC. Following the author’s note following the text of the novel I was happy to find the welcome announcement of a sequel due out in the fall of 2012. I’m hoping for a whole series. I’m already hooked on this gutsy P.I.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Anguish of Readiness

Getting ready for an event can be nerve-wracking, it can be exciting, it can be fun or full of anxiety or all of the foregoing. One thing must be said about getting ready: it gives you something to do. Sometimes too much to do, but even that can be good. Being ready, on the other hand, with time to spare--that can be frustrating. You want to yell to the stage manager, "What are we waiting for? Curtain up, already!"

Ask Sarah. She'll tell you. When friends begin to arrive, human and canine, that's when we can relax and enjoy ourselves.

At last! Here is Sarah with Fergus and MacDuff, two new friends:

So yes, the audience does arrive, the curtain does go up, the show does go on. And then, suddenly, it's over! Saturday, so long anticipated, was quickly over. The Village Band and Village Voices and townsfolk gathered by the Big Tree. There was music and cheer. And then, at a signal, the lights went on! Good work, Jamie! (Jamie Covert of the Northport Bay Dog and Cat Company organized the day's events.) Good work, musicians! Another day for the archives now....

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Do NOT Come at Midnight (or You’ll Have a Long Wait)

Dog Ears Books will be open for business the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving during our usual fall business hours, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Will there be anyone on the streets and sidewalks of Northport on Friday, or will all have camped outside the Big Box Stores in Traverse City, storming the doors at midnight, engaging in wild, frenzied orgies of shopping hours before daylight? It doesn't matter. Come what may, come who may, we'll be open our usual hours.

Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a busy day getting the bookstore tree decorated. It isn't even done yet, but the rest will be icing on the cake. Anyone who shows up on Friday is welcome to help.

Saturday will be a lively day, with headline author John Mitchell, who has been getting unanimous rave reviews for Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era, kicking off the day at 11 a.m. Come meet him, chat him up, purchase his book, and he’ll add a personal inscription to his signature, if you like. He’ll be with us until 1 p.m.

We’ll have Children’s Story Hour from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, and then at 3:30 Santa will be across the street to welcome children of all ages at Brew North until 5:30.

The village Christmas tree will be lighted at 6 p.m. Saturday evening, with the Village Voices there to lead carol singing. Lights will shine in the darkness of our little village. The scene will be festive but not at all crazy. You won’t have to worry about losing your friends in an out-of-control mob.

A sense of proportion. A sense of scale. And yes, an air of cheerful sanity. Who's voting for it? Northport's got it.

Gratitude and Grief

No, I am not grieving today, but I can’t stop thinking about those who are. I'm thinking of those who have recently lost family members and friends, who are out of work, whose lives have been disrupted by life-threatening and/or painful illness or injury, etc. I don’t usually think of such things on Thanksgiving Day but was reminded by a visit to the bookstore by someone who has lived through multiple traumatic events this past year how difficult holidays are for those in pain.

Gratitude and grief—does either one occupy so much space that there is no room left for the other? How easy it is for me or anyone else whose life is full and happy to remind others to be thankful, but I wonder--if my life had been torn apart, would the reminders to be grateful help me, or would they be yet another blow, meaningless noise from an uncaring world? I don’t know. It probably depends on the person hearing the message and how it’s delivered and any number of other seemingly inconsequential circumstances.

To everyone celebrating and giving thanks today I send warm greetings, To those in grief and pain I can’t think of anything to say, but I send you hugs. What can that possibly mean? Hugs can’t feel very warm coming through a blog rather than in person, can they? I just want you to know you are not forgotten, and the whole world is not uncaring, though it sometimes feels that way. Sometimes when people are happy they don’t know what to say to others in pain, but we can still listen, so call someone if you need to! Reach out if you can! We do care, however wordlessly and helplessly. And if you don’t have the energy to deal with anyone face to face today, this link may help a little bit.

I know. This seems like a strange post for Thanksgiving. But it felt important to me, too, so here it is.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Santa’s Helpers Helped Me, Too

My son’s visit was wonderful, but I’m going to put those photos on my other blog, “A Shot i the Light,” since he and Sarah and I got out for an adventure that deserves pictures not reduced in size. Meanwhile, here at Dog Ears Books I’ve had a lot of help getting ready for the holidays.

First the Von Voightlander family offered free Christmas trees to downtown businesses. Kathy Walraven went around taking “orders.” Bruce, my year-round bookstore helper--I appreciate him too much to call him an “elf”--was here on Monday for tree delivery, and he chose a very tall tree, so tall that when it was brought indoors, even before going in the stand, its top was bent over by the ceiling. What to do? Get a saw and take a foot off the trunk? Elizabeth Gallo stopped in Tuesday morning as I was contemplating the project and proposed an alternative: “Cut a bit off the top instead. No one will ever know [well, no one would have known if I hadn't spilled the beans here], and you won’t lose all the fullness of the lower branches." Great idea, Liz!
Just as I was about to suit action to words, in came Ken Wylie, who helped me lay the Green Giant on its side on the floor to facilitate surgery and then join tree and stand and get the tree not only upright but close to vertical.

So many friends to thank! And yes, those are sweepings and trimmings on the floor. I couldn’t stop to sweep before taking a picture of this year’s glorious bookstore tree!

The larger bits of cut-off branches I can never bear to throw out, and this year I was inspired to add them to the basket that holds the bookstore cat. Not a live cat. This one doesn’t catch mice but doesn’t need a litter box, either (nice!). Okay, a Christmas cat seems nice, but something’s still missing. A red bow for its neck? Maybe a bell? Who will bell the cat? I guess I can handle that bit alone. My friends have already given me an awful lot of help.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Steve Went Swerving—Will You?

My friend Steve asked me to order a book for him, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt, but I already had it in stock. Then another friend called for it. “It’s here, and I’ll set a copy aside for you.” Makes me feel good that I recognized from a review, before it won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, that this would be one very interesting book. Here’s what Steve (who is now recommending the book to others) has to say about it:
The Swerve is a book for book-lovers--and not just any book-lovers but lovers of used books. For me it was less about Epicurean philosophy [Epicurus is Steve’s main philosophical man], than about the humanist search for, and preservation of, ancient texts. The commitment that Poggio Bracciolini (February 11, 1380 – October 30, 1459) had to rescuing the thoughts of Cicero, Plato, Aristotle and many, many more is a remarkable story. It takes us to Florence and Rome, showing us the politics and culture of the day. We find ourselves in rooms full of monks bent over their desks, completely silent for hours, except for the scratching of their pens on parchment, as they save book after book from being lost to humanity. Poggio knew that he had made a great discovery in 1417 when found Lucretius' poem "On the Nature of Things." He had seen references to it in other works that he had copied and although he was not an Epicurean he saved the book. It's a book that, when plunked down in the middle of a Christendom, opened up a new way of seeing things, a way that Thomas Jefferson ultimately embraced. It was a real page-turner for me.

Thanks, Steve, for reviewing and sharing your enthusiasm for this new book and for saving me the trouble of writing a blog post during my son's visit! Friends and family are a great combination....

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Things in My Life Today

The snow came yesterday, starting early in the morning and continuing on and off through the day. The ground was never completely covered, and we got no accumulation, but there was a festive dusting. There was snow in our yard at home...

snow in the meadow...
...and snow on the sidewalks in town, mingling with late-falling leaves.

The wind was bitterly cold all day, I admit. Still, snow is seasonal, right?

Now today the sun came out! I was paying a brief visit to the Leelanau Children’s Center in Northport when the sun broke through. Sunlight, combined with happy children at play and smells of a wholesome, nutritious lunch being prepared, made my heart sing with joy. The Children’s Center is really fabulous! We are so lucky to have it in our town, and I am proud of my new affiliation with it through the Leelanau Township Community Foundation.

Downtown, village workers were putting up decorations for winter holidays, swags of greenery and happy red lanterns. At least, the lanterms looked happy. (I know I was.) Here are the guys working on Waukazoo Street--yea!!!

Earlier this morning I received by e-mail today’s issue of “Shelf Awareness,” with a lengthy article by Robert Gray featuring Dog Ears Books and our new partnership with the LCC. That was pretty exciting for me (as is the partnership). My initial proposal was to the “Best for Kids” committee, rather than the LCC director, but Bob’s inference was natural and doesn’t affect the rest of the story. I was surprised and pleased that he included as much as he did of my reply to his question about what makes a community.

Finally, my son arrives tonight from Kalamazoo for a long weekend visit. So that’s snow, sunshine, children, holiday decorations, bookstore publicity and my own kid coming to see me. You’ll excuse me, I hope, for not writing anything about books today.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

History on Waukazoo Street!

It was an uncanny coincidence. Only Wednesday morning I had received e-mail from a friend with a Ph.D. in history who had reached page 195 of John Mitchell’s book, Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era and was overflowing with praise for the work. Then that very afternoon John called to see how I felt about having him come in to do a couple of book signings before the holidays. Yes, by all means!

If you look at the calendar in my right-hand column (where I am now directing your attention), you will see two different days you’ll be able to catch Mitchell at Dog Ears Books. The first chance will be the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which is also Merchants’ Open House day in Northport (and something like Shop Small Business nation-wide) when John will be with us from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. That same day from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. we’ll have Children’s Story Hour, as we did last year at this time, and the village Christmas tree lights will go on at five o’clock.

(There are fliers around town with a full list of special activities around town for November 26. I have some at the bookstore.)

It was our friend Dr. Kenneth Wylie, formerly of Michigan State University, who said of John’s book--
Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era (as I believe you suggested) is far more than a local history. I consider it superior to most leaden memorials to a particular regional or regimental history of the Civil War. John has dredged the abundant sources in anthropology (as far as the local Amerindians), into social and economic patterns, daily life and moreys. Like any trained historian, he manages to cobble the paths throught he greater story (death and mayhem in war) via an intricate tracing back through the core story, how did the diarirst (missionary) Smithsee it all; More important, John shares a popular historian's gift of narrative.

Ken has high standards, so this is high praise. But then, the book has already won a state history award, too.

Those of you who won’t be Up North until December will still have a chance to meet John and have him inscribe a book especially for you or someone on your holiday gift list, as he will make a return visit on the Friday before Christmas, December 23, again from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Poems by Spencer Grath Willits

Our 13-year-old grandson, now in junior high, had the following English assignment: He was to write two completely different poems evoking one and the same feeling. Below is the work he turned in, which he has given me permission to publish here on "Books in Northport." We have always known that Spencer is smart and creative, but we are completely blown away by this latest evidence.

I am the heart of the flame,
Cackling with glee

To heat and fire I say stay,
To chill and ice, be gone

I am a blazing inferno
Burning the old forests,
Letting the new trees grow,
Bringing in new life

I can be controlled by none,
And contained in no cage

You may try to escape into water,
But you must eventually come onto land

I am chaos at its core
Following my own rules and nothing else
From a dying spark,
To a white hot supernova

I do what I please, not what pleases others
Doing what I need to survive

I stay, and I move on
there are those that love me,
And those that hate me,
For I am the heart of the flame


I am the fighter, the warrior, the survivor. Did you know that I am the one who fights for all your quarrels?

I am the general, the master, the king, taking charge of the troops.

I am the trooper that fights to the death. Fire and storm come from me. They die, and I send more until my purpose is fulfilled.

I am the eye of the storm. I am the battle field that will bear blood. Terrible storms form around me. I forget. Battles tear my life apart. I forget. I welcome death. Bringing forth all of my innermost emotions. And I forget.

Sometimes I growl and fall short of myself. Then, I forget. When I, the fighter, accept the lessons of today, without forgetting the battles of last year, and those who fought against me, then there will be no speaker in the world who will say “The fighters,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice, or a far off smile of derision. The fighter, the warrior, the survivor, will arrive then.

- Spencer Grath Willits

Spencer, thank you so much for allowing me to share your work with "Books in Northport" readers! We love you TONS!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Path for the Pack

I should qualify that headline. Our dog, Sarah, continues on her old path, except for plaintive, questioning looks that say, “Where are the pork chops?” as she gazes up at our dinner table. The new path has been taken, the big change made, at David’s request (that’s the really astonishing part of the story), and it is—that he and I have recently embarked on a plant-based diet!

So far the change has not been at all painful. I haven’t photographed our exciting new meals, despite the fact that many of dishes have been very attractive visually, as well as tasty, but here’s the run-down so far:

Wednesday: collard soup, mixed wild rice, acorn squash with golden raisins and maple syrup, sauteed leeks

Thursday: sauteed mushroom caps, rice/collard/mushroom “pancakes,” baked yam, cold tofu salad with scallions, toasted sesame seeds and peanut dressing

Friday: red quinoa w/ golden raisins & green leek tops, chopped mango and red pepper with fresh ginger and Balsamic vinegar, steamed broccoli, cottage cheese

Saturday: pureed chestnut soup (no cream), veggie burgers (tofu, chopped walnuts, chopped parsley and scallions, egg white, bran flakes), mixed wild rice, tart cranberry-tangerine-mango relish

Sunday: leftovers from Saturday, along with leeks and red pepper sauteed in sauterne and Balsamic vinegar

Monday: French onion soup, steamed collards with garlic and sesame oil, baked acorn squash

My sister asked if the onions were cooked in butter. They were not. They were cooked, slowly, with many turnings, in olive oil, and the broth was made with Better Than Bouillon vegetable base (comes in jars in soup section of supermarket) and Worcestershire. The house smelled delicious. (The collards were like candy, too.) So you see we are not rabidly pure vegans, but we are tending toward that end of the vegetarian spectrum.

An odd coincidence is part of the story. A week ago Monday one of my customers e-mailed to ask me to order two books for her, Veganomicon: the ultimate vegan cookbook, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero, and The Joy of Vegan Baking: the compassionate cooks' traditional treats and sinful sweets, by Colleen Patricdk-Goudreau. My customer and her husband had just read The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell, and they had been converted by the book to veganism. “Never say never,” she remarked in her e-mail. I’d made a joke only the evening before, saying ostensibly to Sarah while she eyed our grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, “You better hope your dad never decides to become a vegan.” “Fat chance!” was David’s response.

But then fast forward to Tuesday evening. David had brought home from the library a documentary called “Forks Over Knives,” not knowing anything about the film, which we watched it after dinner, and as the final credits rolled he announced, “I’m ready!” Campbell’s cancer research was presented in the film, along with clinical results achieved heart patients changing to plant-based diets under the supervision of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn.

Research results are not “noncontroversial.” (What is?) You can read the evidence pro and con for yourself. For now, we’ve decided to give this path a chance. We’re finding our meals very satisfying and at the same time not overly filling (no “stuffed” feeling afterward), and I imagine this is the way I might be eating at a health spa, except that someone else would be doing the planning, shopping, preparing and cleanup--I’m not complaining about the work involved, though. It’s actually pretty interesting and challenging, being “whacked” out of our old, dull routines, paying more attention to colors and textures.

As for which cookbooks I’m using, I’ve been consulting many, both at home and here at the bookstore, and including but not limited to vegan and vegetarian books. That gives me an idea: I should write a post sometime on my personal cookbook library. I keep it under control by having one small bookcase dedicated to cookbooks (and French dictionaries—don’t ask why!), so if I want to add a new one, an old one has to go. Yes, that will make an interesting post sometime this winter.

Meanwhile, we will be having a visit this coming weekend from my son, who is a Paleolitic Man in terms of diet. Meat and fat. Avoids grains and sweets. Well, we are avoiding sugars, too, so that’s not a problem, but does my son eat vegetables and fruits these days? There may be a lot of accommodation for a few days in the old farmhouse kitchen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Studyin' War

A novel set in 1960s Biafra: I I want to tell you about it but to come at it obliquely, from a distance that is temporal and cultural as well as geographic, in the way I’ve been thinking about it since reading the last heart-breaking page, looking for a historical context to connect it, somehow, to my own experience. How else to enter into another’s experience if not by means of connections? And yet, the distance always remains.

One friend of mine gets upset when people say that the American Civil War was “not about slavery,” but the other day a bookstore customer made the not-over-slavery claim, and another of my friends said that her very good friend, a black Southern professor, agrees with this view. Slavery or something else? What else? Preservation of the Union vs. two separate countries—but why did the South want to secede in the first? States’ rights, not slavery? But wasn’t it the right of states to allow slavery that was the key issue? “I’ve read that the causes were economic,” someone else remarks, and that reminds me of David R. Montgomery’s claim in Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations that growing crops with slave labor had already become unprofitable by the time of the Civil War because cotton had worn out the land, and so the only way owners of large numbers of slaves could continue to make money was by selling slaves, and that the only way to insure a continued market for slaves was to have new states in the West open to slavery. So, economic? Yes, but that involves slavery, too. I don’t see how economics or states’ rights or self-determination issues leading up to the Civil War can ever be separated from slavery at that time in American history.

Of course, I am a Northerner. And no historian....

I see clearly that from the personal point of view, whether it’s a private foot soldier or a general with an Academy background, the Civil War could well have been “not about slavery.” Individuals’ reasons for fighting, their personal values and ideals, are often very different from what emerges in the larger, impersonal picture history presents. How many soldiers ever go to war to secure a market, whether for slaves or silk or spices or oil or whatever? They go for love of king or love of country, out of a sense duty and gratitude for freedom, for honor and glory, for adventure, for family honor, to defend or free themselves or others—all manner of different reasons.

When the Civil War question comes up, I often want to object, “The war was over a century and a half ago! Why do we have to keep fighting it?” Yet I understand, too, that human beings have a hard time agreeing to disagree and that the truth of a nation’s history is something important to every citizen. Who are we as a country? Our history is a big part of how we answer that question.

This is a circuitous route to take to get to Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The time of the novel is the 1960s; its sections move back and forth between the early and the late Sixties. In the early Sixties, Biafran independence is a dream for certain of the characters, notably Odenigbo and his university colleagues. Odenigbo’s houseboy, Ugwu, can read and write, but his education takes leaps and bounds once he joins Master’s household. Beautiful Olanna comes from a privileged background and is much more concerned with her love affair than with politics, while her twin sister (not identical) Kainene is the practical one, absorbed in the family business, securing contracts and making money. Kainene is an irreverent cynic with little patience for Olanna’s romantic acquiescence. And finally there is Richard, a foreign white man who comes to call himself Biafran. Is he? Can he be?

Roughly two-thirds of the novel takes place with these characters living their day-to-day pre-war lives. They love each other, argue with each other, have affairs and hurt each other. There are problems with parents and in-laws and disagreements between friends. Ordinary life, in other words. For a while you might think the author is taking an easy way of presenting Sixties life in Nsukka and Port Harcourt, even while you marvel at her surprising, lovely turns of phrase. But then comes war, and with it comes fear, rumor and food shortages, horrible deaths, evacuation, repeated moves that bring ever-worsening conditions, refugee camps, starvation, and because you have had time to come to know the people involved, the violence and famine are no longer abstract concepts or news stories from far away but personal tragedies. The author has led you to the truth of war.

Who is telling the story? Which story or stories will be told? Why was this war fought? What is the official story today, and how does it differ from that of Adichie’s novel?

Asked why she chose the Nigeria-Biafra war for the subject of her novel, the author responds:
I wrote this novel because I wanted to write about love and war, because I grew up in the shadow of Biafra, because I lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war, because I wanted to engage with my history in order to make sense of my present, because many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved in Nigeria today, because my father has tears in his eyes when he speaks of losing his father, because my mother still cannot speak at length about losing her father in a refugee camp, because the brutal bequests of colonialism make me angry, because the thought of the egos and indifference of men leading to the unnecessary deaths of men and women and children enrages me, because I don’t ever want to forget.

What is it that should be remembered—from any war? There could be so many answers, but here is a passage from Adichie’s novel that says a great deal about personal experience:
...The bombing was louder and closer. The ground pulsed. She felt nothing. She was floating away from inside herself. Another explosion came and the earth vibrated, and one of the naked children crawling after crickets giggled. Then the explosions stopped and the people around her began to move. If she had died, if Odenigbo and Baby and Ugwu had died, the bunker would still smell like a freshly tilled farm and the sun would still rise and the crickets would still hop around. The war would continue without them. Olanna exhaled, filled with a frothy rage. It was the very sense of being inconsequential that pushed her from extreme fear to extreme fury. She had to matter. She would no longer exist limply, waiting to die. Until Biafra won, the vandals would no longer dictate the terms of her life.

The individuals in this story take many different journeys, some parallel but each one unique, as in life. The ending left me shaken. And then, immediately following Half of a Yellow Sun, I read a book of nonfiction by a Norwegian Journalist, Åsne Seierstad’s A Hundred and One Days, a report on her time in Baghdad leading up to the arrival of American troops in 2003. What was happening on the ground before the Americans arrived? Did the population support Saddam Hussein? Once again, there are no easy answers and no one attitude shared by everyone Seierstad meets. Like the Adichie novel, most of the “action” comes late in the book, and one thing is clear: the cost of freedom was very high for the people who call this place home.

Northport had an unusual Veterans Day program this year. Retired Congregational minister Grafton “Mac” Thomas had the idea and wrote the script and was joined by three other local men. The four together made a presentation on peace for students and the general public. I only heard about it afterwards. Wish I’d been there. Northport is full of surprises.

Friday, November 11, 2011

It’s Official—It’s in the Enterprise!

Dog Ears Books is offering a new local deal--and I have order forms in the bookstore now, but the forms are not necessary for participation, as I’ll be keeping track of all partners in a special notebook. Ready? Here it is:

When anyone who wants to participate in the new partnership program orders new books not already in stock at Dog Ears Books, Dog Ears will give 10% of the retail price of those purchases to the Leelanau Foundation, earmarked for the early child development fund, and one hundred percent (100%) of those donations will go to the Leelanau Children’s Center.

The Best for Kids committee, Maggie Spratt-Moran of the LCC and I are all excited about this new program. It’s good to be excited about something at this time of year. Naturally, I’m hoping for a boost to my winter business but am equally excited about the opportunity to benefit children in our community in an important way on a year-round basis.

Working together, interdependently—that’s what community is, after all, not just a collection of unrelated individuals who happen to sleep within a certain radius. Suddenly the winter ahead is starting to look a lot more interesting--and more connected.

If you’re interested in reading more on the rationale for shopping local and supporting community, click this link.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wonderful Surprise and Surpassing Delight!

Do you recognize the little creature on the left? I’ve written before about The Silver Nutmeg, by Palmer Brown, one of my all-time favorite and most beloved books from childhood and one I still love very much. It was a sequel to Beyond the Paw Paw Trees, a charming story in itself, and the animal in the illustration is a hedgehog, one of Anna Lavinia’s pets in both Palmer Brown stories.

I subscribe to the New York Review of Books and deeply appreciate the in-depth essays there. Often a review will address several books on the same subject, going into very helpful detail on how they cover the subject and, perhaps, what each one leaves out. There are also essays that are not book reviews, such as those by Tony Judt, published over a long period and at last, thank heaven, collected into a book. But book reviews are the stock in trade of the periodical, so it’s natural to find books advertised throughout each issue, and skimming through the publishers’ ads is part of my pleasure, as much as it is attention to my business.

Well, imagine my amazement and delight to find that NYRB itself has republished Beyond the Paw Paw Trees! Hurrying to place an order, I was even more amazed and delighted to see that The Silver Nutmeg will be re-released in April of 2012! My cup runneth over! And my son’s cup runneth over, too, because how could a reader have a child and not inflict her favorite books on him at an early age? I made a lot of mistakes as a mother, but Palmer Brown was not one of them!

If you followed the first link in this post and read my old one through the comments section, you found my synopsis of the setup for the action of The Silver Nutmeg, but I know not everyone follows links (I don’t always do it myself), so I’m going to insert my long comment on the story here:
What is THE SILVER NUTMEG about? Oh, my!

Well, things are not at their rosiest for Anna Lavinia. Life is never quite right when her father is away, and this time drought has even her pets drooping. The well is dry, and Anna Lavinia must make repeated trips to the spring for water as her mother puts up spicy green paw paw preserves so as not to waste the paw paws that fell from the tree before they could ripen.

Uncle Jeffrey’s visit is a pleasant diversion. His relationship to the family is a little vague, “twice removed,” though he won’t say from where, but he brings spices and songs and gifts.

Before he left on his trip, Anna Lavinia’s father had begun making a hole in the stone wall surrounding their garden. The purpose of the opening was to broaden Anna Lavinia’s horizon and give her a point of view. Through the opening she could see a small wooded hill. On top of the hill was a dew pond. How many hills have a dew pond on top? Her point of view was something special.

When Anna Lavinia visits the dew pond, she learns the truth of the old saying, “Still waters run deep.” There is another world on the other side of the still water! A boy on the other side invites her to jump, assuring her that if the water is still she can get through without getting wet. She jumps, and thus begin her adventures in a world without gravity, where people and objects are attached to earth by the tingle as long as they are touching the ground or something that is touching the ground.

But the workmen were going to drain the pond to irrigate the parsnip field! How will Anna Lavinia get home again? And who was Aunt Cornelia’s lover, and will he ever return?

This is the beginning of what the story is “about,” and I feel it tells nothing at all. The charm is in the very specific language, the songs and rhymes, the drawings, the faces of Anna Lavinia and the other characters, the details of the animals, and so on and so forth. It is truly a magical book.

(You’ll have to look at the old post if you want to see a picture of the cover of my copy of The Silver Nutmeg because it is currently on loan to a friend. Needless to say, she is a very good friend, tried and true, for me to let this precious book out of my house and into her hands.)

Well, I couldn’t wait to send the glad tidings about next year’s reprint availability of The Silver Nutmeg to my son, who thoroughly understood and shared my joy. He wondered if that would mean Beyond the Paw Paw Trees would be reprinted, too, and when I told him it’s already available he wondered if he could put in a request for a late birthday present. (I’m thinking it might be an early Christmas present, since he will be visiting soon.) Then he sent me a link to a wonderful blog post from Pittsburgh, which you should definitely follow if you love books, even if you’ve never heard of Palmer Brown, because the serendipity of this blogger’s story will make you smile happily and put a rainbow into your day.

Until you discover or rediscover the stories of Anna Lavinia for yourself, here at left is a little illustration of her precious book, “Songs From Nowhere,” and here below are the front and back of the lovely, lovely newly reprinted Beyond the Paw Paw Trees. Oh, lucky me, to be a bookseller! I can hardly wait to introduce people to these magical tales!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Berry Obsession, Part II, or, Hawthorns, Continued

(If you missed Part I, you can find it here.)

More like it! In the line drawing of hawthorn above, from Illustrated Guide to Trees and Shrubs, by Arthur Marmount Graves, published by the author in 1952, look at those leaf edges with their nicely rounded lobes! The fruits look flatter than mine, more like blueberries in form, but this is a generic drawing, not meant to represent exactly a particular species. Next, in Avril Rodway’s Wild Foods (1988), with illustrations by Zane Carey, I found another promising line drawing:

Wild Foods also has full-page color illustrations, and here are a couple details from the hawthorn page, looking very like my specimens.

Finally—wow!—Field Book of American Trees and Shrubs, by F. Schuyler Mathews, published by Putnam’s with an author’s copyright date of 1915, gives a dizzying array of hawthorns, beginning on page 211 and going through page 253, although this is only a sampling, according to Mathews, who begins his introduction to hawthorns as follows:
An extremely difficult and complex genus separated by botanists into many divisions comprehending about 200 species. The subtle distinctions of leaf-form, anther-color, number of stamens, and character of fruit, etc., are more or less precarious....

A visit from my botany guru, Chris Garthe of the Leelanau Conservation District, however, confirmed that my leaf and berry samples--and we can now refer to the berries as haws--are definitely hawthorn. I showed him my photo of the little tree, too, which nicely conforms to the description given by Mathews:
The Hawthorns are mostly flat-topped trees, irregular in limb and branch, the shrubby form generally showing ascending and the tree form spreading branches, but no rule is possible in this direction.

“No general rule” seems to be the general rule for hawthorns. Is this why I love them, other than their having been featured in the first volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past? That’s where my initial obsession with hawthorn trees began.

[Pause while bookseller combs house from stem to stern, searching for first volume of Proust. Does not find. Only final volume surfaces. Must go to press without relevant literary quote here. Rats!]

Hawthorns go back centuries in the Old Country, whether in France, England or Ireland. Sometimes fairies figure into the lore, but legends of all kinds abound. Here is a paragraph from Rodway:
The Holy Thorn . . . at Glastonbury in the west of England, which legend has it, sprang from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, blooms in winter – on Christmas Day, or near it – and cuttings from it flourish in both Britain and America. In fact, reverence for the hawthorn has crossed the Atlantic and many of the same feelings for the tree exist in both Britain and the United States.

(The reason for my ellipsis in the paragraph quoted above is that Carey writes of the "Crataegus family," and there is no such family. Crataegus is a genus within the family Rosaceae).

Now for the disappointing news. Chris and I tasted a couple of haws.

The texture is mealy, taste bland, and each little haw contains a big, hard pit. Turning to new books, I find in Tree & Shrub Gardening for Michigan, by Tim Wood & Alison Beck (Lone Pine, 2003), I find this notation:
Hawthorn fruits are edible but dry and seedy. Some people make jelly from them, or ferment them and mix them with brandy.

Before I tasted the haws, I had imagined making jelly, but now I think I’ll leave them for the wildlife. Anyway, I enjoyed the collecting, the mystery, the literature search and finding a solution. That was plenty of satisfaction for a November day.

A Berry Obsession--Help Requested From Botanists!

First, here's just how beautiful it is this morning in Northport! We may have snow sometime this week, but today is sunny, warm, colorful, gorgeous--it just feels so good I "can't help singing," as the old song goes, but that's a song about April and love, so maybe I can be content to smile.

[11/11 Addendum: This post is still getting so many hits that I'm inserting a link to the following post, which contains the solution to the mystery.]

But now, for the morning's obsession. That's what David is calling it. I told him I thought it was a good obsession to have, and he said everyone thinks that about their obsessions, and I said no, I'm sure some people feel imprisoned by their obsessions and would love to shake them off, but this is not that kind at all. It's berries. Specifically, a mystery berry I'm trying to identify. So first, here's the small tree (or large shrub), with Sarah standing near it for scale:

There are thorns, and the berries have that rosehip look that makes it perfectly reasonable to think of calling them thornapples, apples being in the rose family and thornapple being another name for hawthorn.

Here's the problem: the leaf. The leaf does not have the sharp teeth that is characteristic of hawthorn. No, it has rounded lopes that look more like gooseberry leaves. But the fruit looks nothing like a gooseberry! So I go back and forth, from berries to leaves, from one page of my field guide to the other. Here are the mischievous leaves:

Deepening the mystery is the well-known fact that hawthorns hybridize wildly, and even the experts find it hard to identify varieties. My question today for those experts--and for anyone else who has knowledge to share--is this: can hawthorns and gooseberries hybridize? Could this possibly be a cross between a hawthorn and a gooseberry? Or am I grasping at straws here? (Probably!) I'll be consulting other botany books and later in the afternoon will visit a friend who is my resident botany guru to see what he makes of my samples. I haven't tasted the fruit yet. Here are some more shots of berries and leaves taken indoors under light (but not edited for quality). Would you throw caution to the winds and chew up a handful?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Falling Back, Retrieving Moments

It’s a good thing to gain an hour. There are always so many moments that passed by too quickly, like this one of a surprise visit to Dog Ears Books by Nancy Bunge, editor of the missionery writings of Harriet Wood Wheeler in WOMAN IN THE WILDERNESS: LETTERS OF HARRIET WOOD WHEELER, MISSIONARY WIFE, 1832-1892.

Then one day it was Homecoming--

--and then it was over.

Halloween came and went, just as quickly.

The moments do not stay. They are here and gone.