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Friday, September 30, 2011

Please Meet a Few of My Friends

Maybe you have stumbled upon Books in Northport this moment for the very first time, or maybe you’re a regular reader. Wait! Don’t touch that dial! Scroll down the right-hand column and take a look at some of my favorite fellow bloggers. The purpose of this post is to give a brief introduction to each one in the list. Some are Up North Michiganders, and a couple are from other countries; some I know well, while others I’ve never met; our main connection may be books—then again, it may be something entirely different. Here it is, then, my blogroll as it stands the first of October 2011:

A 1000 Mile Walk on the Beach is writer Loreen Niewenhuis’s blog. Loreen blogged her way all around Lake Michigan and has continued blogging as she reports on her book tour. She is lively and fun, so take a look at her calendar and see when she’ll be at a bookstore near you.

The Agatelady: Adventures and Events comes to you from the shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as does Lake Superior Spirit. If your soul (like mine) yearns ever northward, you’ll want to visit Karen’s and Kathy’s blogs, Karen’s from Grand Marais and Kathy’s from way up north of Houghton.

Anishinaabekwe is a Michigan blogger, also, a poet with Ojibway roots and strong love for her native lands and culture. She also posts occasional terrific links to other Native American writers and issues.

The Bookshop Blog is shop talk. Maybe it will interest you and maybe not. Sometimes it interests me—but then, I’m a bookseller, aren’t I?

In my list you’ll find books, etc., written by a librarian friend; Books Books Books, written by a bookseller friend in Massachusetts with whom I share a birthday (we’ve never met in person), and Collecting Children’s Books, by another librarian. What do you think you’ll find at these addresses? Warning: Alan, Helen and Peter are all capable of surprising you.

Casaubon’s Book and Casaubon’s Book – Science Blog focus on resource use and other issues stemming from peak oil. The blogger is book author Sharon Astyk, who is also a small-scale farmer. She has important things to say, so give her a try.

The Bone-eye: A Writer’s Adventures comes to us from fiction writer Bonnie Jo Campbell from down near Kalamazoo. Another fiction writer, Ellen Airgood, makes her home and living up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, while essayist and nature writer Jerry Dennis, writing about this bountiful world, is only one county away from me, down on Traverse City’s Old Mission peninsula. All three have new books out this year. Ellen and Bonnie were here in the summer, and Jerry comes on Friday, October 7.

Dawn King is a long-time banker who went back to school to become a librarian but found herself back in banking as library budgets evaporated. She writes about many topics, including her Sheltie and highway safety legislation and activism.

The blog called Flandrum Hill originates in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, where Amy-Lynn is often to be found exploring the saltwater marsh and seashore, sharing photographs and observations on nature via her blog.

Lifetime Reading Plan—obviously, another blog about books and reading. The focus here is on classics, but the blogger occasionally ventures into recently published books or even, more rarely, personal revelations.

Want to read about something other than beaches, books and dogs? (So why would you be reading Books in Northport?) Check out Horse Dancing, which I only recently discovered.

Neige au Printemps will give you a chance to brush up on your French and learn about modern Chinese culture at the same time. I started following Neige’s blog back when she was “Le Pays de Neige” and worried terribly when I was unable to find her for a while.

Sleeping Bear Dunes and Torch Lake Views are geographical neighbors, as well as Up North blogger friends. You’ll find plenty of news about all kinds of northern Michigan events on these sites.

Then there’s Throwaway Blog. Look here for posts on science fiction books and movies, Traverse City sights and news, postcard images from bygone days and more.

Finally, Wynken de Worde’s author, Sarah Werner, says her blog is about books, early modern culture, libraries and readers.

I think that’s everyone. A Shot in the Light is just me again but with pictures taking a front seat, and Lacking a Clear Focus, not a very active site, came about when my head was zinging with stuff that didn’t seem to belong in either of my two “real” blogs.

Have I missed anyone? Misidentified or misrepresented anyone? If so, bloggers, please let me know. Also feel free to explain yourself better than I’ve done here. Do all the links work? Readers, let loose your curiosity by visiting these sites, and, if you have time, leave comments to let the bloggers know you were there. Me, I'm exhausted from posting all these links and am going offline for the rest of the evening, but next up will be--"Otters BY Request"!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

From Walt Whitman to Jerry Dennis

Being a reader means continually shifting gears and moving from one writer’s mind to another. As I look forward to a discussion on Leaves of Grass later today, I find myself comparing Whitman's celebratory voice to the more measured voice of Michigan nature writer Jerry Dennis. I find myself thinking about optimism and about love of land, home and country.

Despite the horrors of the Civil War, Whitman seemed to share in the general optimism of the dawning industrial age in America. New railroads and factories, busy and bustling, across the country, put immigrants from all over the world to work and fed this optimism. Whitman and those of his time did not at all envision the noisy, busy factories as a poisonous blight: they were progress toward better lives for all. The optimists did not foresee the factories empty and silent, as owners moved operations overseas to cheaper labor markets, and they did not imagine railroad lines abandoned, the country being flown over rather than crossed by land. Whitman and those of his time saw, perhaps we can say, a "rising tide lifting all boats," the natural evolution of social equality to complement America's democratic ideal. They would be astonished to return today and see rich and poor growing ever farther from each other, rich growing richer as poor grow poorer.

The optimism of Whitman's time, I think, also explains the poet's feelings toward war. Surely the country was battered and exhausted by the Civil War, by the unthinkable numbers of lives lost, by the devastation of the countryside, but in the North, at least, I can imagine that many thought surely war was over in this country once the South surrendered. They did not anticipate terrorism. Neither did they anticipate conventional warfare waged against civilians, cities as targets never seen up close by those launching or dropping bombs.

Did optimism seem more realistic in those days than it does now?

Thinking of Whitman's optimism in light of what Jerry Dennis and others these days have to say about the entire Great Lakes region (an area Whitman does not bring into sharp focus in Leaves of Grass, as if he did not spend much time exploring our part of the country), I keep thinking of how Dennis writes in his introduction that he doesn't know whether this new book, The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes, is "a love song or a lament." What is the future of our beautiful fresh waters? There is some anxiety in all of us over this question. And yet, the first page of Dennis's prose, ambivalent though it is, has echoes in it of Whitman's poetry, to my ear. Listen:
This land, surrounded and surmounted by waters; this underappreciated and overexploited provincial backwater deep in the belly of North America; this quilt-work landscape of woodlots and cornfields, of cut-over forests and vestigial prairies, of industrial parks and subdivisions and bunched-up cities on the shore, of bedrock and dunes and glacial hills and limestone scarps and so many ecologically sensitive rivers, lakes, swamps, bogs, fens, marshes, sloughs....

All this and more, the richness of existence spilling forth in lists of bare nouns and nouns modified by adjectives. It's a love song, Jerry. Love is not without its anxieties. Besides, “love alters not when it alteration finds.” This is our home. How can we not go on loving it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Assigned Reading: Bits and Pieces

Somehow I became responsible for two different reading group assignments that have discussions within a week of each other, so what with the groups and making preparations for the Jerry Dennis book launch and Fall Festival, it's a busy time. No pictures today. Sorry!

For the small group reading Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, I sent these questions:

I suggest we focus for this work on the poet's voice. What do you think of the way Whitman portrays America? How does the poet come across as a man? What did you like and/or dislike about Whitman based on this book? Do you feel that his poetry was sincere?

To another small group meeting to discuss Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, I suggested we begin with these:

(1) The twin theme opens and closes the story. What did you think of the way it was developed? What did it add to the novel? Did any aspects of the author's development of the twin theme delight/surprise/disappoint you? Why?

(2) Who was your favorite character and why?

(3) The cultures of Ethiopia, America and India take distant second place to the culture of medicine as presented in this novel. Do you think this is true for surgeons? What other groups might it also be true of? [Obviously I was too lazy to rewrite this sentence to avoid the preposition at the end!]

(4) Some people think this book would have been stronger or better if it had been shorter. What do you think? If you were the editor, would you have asked the novelist to make cuts--and, if so, where?

Years ago one of these groups chose to read read Wangeri Maathai’s memoir, Unbowed. Now I see that Nobel Peace Prize winner Maathai has died, age 71. One thing is certain: while alive, she did her work. What is your most important life's work? What is mine? Are we doing it?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Back Home and Resolved--to Celebrate!

Yes, we’ve been back home for a week already, and although it’s pouring down rain this morning in Leelanau I decided to post a sunny image of Roaring Brook where it comes out to meet Lake Michigan, this photograph taken last—was it Wednesday? Thursday? The blur of summer is past, but time doesn’t seem to have slowed down much yet, what with fall plans and catching up after September vacation.

I’ve also decided (making up my mind right and left today!) to make October 7 a dual celebration at Dog Ears Books. First, as has already been announced on this site more than once, we will be proudly hosting Jerry Dennis and celebrating the Leelanau launch of his long-awaited new book, The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes. That alone has had me in a state of high anticipatory excitement for weeks and weeks.

But then I got to thinking about having been in the book business for 18 years as of this past July and how summer is always too busy a time to think about the bookstore birthday, and that got me thinking about the iconic (yes) Horizon Books in Traverse City recently celebrating 50 years in business (BIG congratulations, you guys!!!) and what an achievement that is, and that led to the question of bookselling in the future. The future? For any of us? Who knows?

So I thought, why wait to hit the 20-year mark? Why not celebrate, three months after the fact, what I’ve already achieved, 18 successful years of bookselling? “Have dessert first,” as the saying goes. I’m sure Jerry Dennis won’t mind. Life is short. Let’s get at the celebrating! What do you say?

But I need to be clear about the dual-purpose event: Jerry Dennis is the headliner, the birthday only an extra excuse to have (and eat) our cake, so please do not bring presents! Only your presence and appreciation are required. Nzaturally, purchases will be much appreciated on our part, too, as always: they are what allow us to be here and bring writers like Jerry Dennis to Northport.

Finally, in closing today, I’ll leave you with otter tracks on the beach in front of the house of one of my friends. Otters and Roaring Brook belong together. Maybe I’ll tell you a story about the otters of Roaring Brook, back in the old days, some other time. Which would you prefer--the otter story or Part II of a diatribe contra Nietzsche?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

“The only constant in the world is change.”

So said my high school earth science teacher on our first day of class, freshman year, and I have never forgotten Mr. Graham’s introduction, although it’s taken me several days to dredge his name from my memory banks. Everything changes. Even rocks erode and stars die. Everything material is ephemeral, if you measure time relative to the object’s life.Yesterday’s post showed Miner’s Castle as it looks now, a dramatic change from previous years, and today's shows the mouth of the Sucker River as it appears in September 2011. It's been different every time I've seen it.

The mouths of rivers and creeks emptying into the Great Lakes, especially via sandy shores, change rapidly from one year to the next. It’s true of Shalda Creek and Roaring Brook here in Leelanau County, and it’s true of the Sucker River up east of Grand Marais, where the bay and harbor also undergo constant transformation. First there was a sheltered bay with two long peninsula arms embracing it...then a channel was dredged through one point, creating an island...then the island washed away in a storm. Recently the harbor has been silting in, and, always, the high bluffs of Lonesome Point (or Artists’ Point) are being eroded by Lake Superior storms and waves. But the quiet, tannin-stained river? Yes, that contour too undergoes continual alteration where it pours its cold water along and across the sandy, rock- and driftwood-strewn sands, and the beach we enjoy one year will be underwater the next, with new beach created where there were only waves the year before.

The shifting of river mouths are Nature’s changes, channel dredging with machines the work of human beings. While our species introduces change constantly and often at breakneck speed, one aspect of cultural changes I find interesting is how many of them are motivated by an urge to preserve the past, one example in Grand Marais being new post office museum.

The building had already been moved to its new location when we visited a year ago and is now filled with displays of local history.

Amid all the cultural and natural changes, so far it still remains true that the setting of Grand Marais features “Nature in Abundance.” I hope this will always be so. Just knowing that such places exist refreshes my soul--and other souls, too, I know.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Smooth Glide Along Lake Superior Shoreline

Alternative title: "Something More Than Good Intentions." Above are the eastern end of the Grand Sable Dunes seen from the east shore of Sable Lake, the small lake east of Grand Marais, Michigan. Even coming this far outside of town used to mean sliding around on shifting sands, but no longer. Can you see the road? Not really, but it’s there, between the dunes and the lake, and it’s smooth as silk. Last year when we visited, the paved road had been extended as far as Hurricane River. Apparently, soon after the bridge there was completed, the rest of the project zoomed forward.

“I hear H-58 is paved all the way to Munising now,” a friend commented as I was mentioning various changes we’d seen during our vacation along Lake Superior, admitting he’s “ambivalent” about this particular change. Yeah, me, too. I loved the safari aspect of the old sand trail, on which every trip was an adventure. As yesterday’s post indicated, however, there are still plenty of unpaved sand tracks offering adventure in Superior country, and I must say it’s a a whole lot easier to drive to Munising without first driving south 25 miles to M-28 and then taking the straight-as-a-string Seney stretch west.

My main complaint about the new road is not the paved surface but all the “No Parking” signs and the dearth of pull-off places. Curves and dips are lovely, but the feeling of being on a nonstop “people mover” is disturbing, especially when the road is within sight of magnificent Lake Superior, so near and yet so far away! Notice how there aren’t many photographs to accompany this stretch of road? What’s wrong with this lack of picture?

Further west, though, into the old, logged-over stumpfields, we managed to jump the conveyor belt, and I had a startling thought.

No one loves a raw, new clearcut, but had clearcutting never taken place, these beautiful open expanses with their lovely weathered stumps would not exist. You would rather have an unbroken stretch of forest canopy from one end of the U.P. to the other? Think about what you’d be missing.

There would not be sunlight for wild blueberries on the ground.

There would not be open sky above to let you see the sandhill cranes streaming overhead.

Everything is a double-edged sword. That’s my philosophy of life, and the logged-over areas of the North Country once again corroborate my belief.

We had to stop at Miner’s Castle, of course. The famous landmark has changed in recent years, one of its major turrets gone now, but the view is still breathtaking.

A pause in Munising, then on to Marquette, where the clouds vanished, leaving sunny blue skies for these rowers out on the bay.

Canada geese seemed content in the sunshine and in no hurry to fly south. Sarah was a bit dubious about mounting the big rock, but when I told her “Up!” she played along. Do you think she knows that U-P spells UP? Probably not, but she's good at playing along with whatever we suggest. (Thought to develop in future: dogs don't differentiate between work and play.)

We visited Snowbound Books in Marquette, and Diane remembered me, though it’s been at least a couple of years since I’ve been there. The shop has been freshly painted and rearranged, with a few sidelines added, but retaining its wonderfully inviting, bookish feel. Sorry I don’t have pictures of the bookstore. I was running out of memory on my camera card, and besides, my mind was on—what else?--books!

Backroads Rambles in Superior Country

It’s no secret that I love a two-track road. When David and I are on a paved route and see a two-track off to the side, we both turn to check it out as we drive by, as is true also when we spy a cabin or an open, savannah-like clearing, all of these sights beckoning our eyes and spirits. Luckily we don’t mind getting somewhat lost, either, as our Michigan county atlas is old and battered and, it turned out, missing a few crucial pages, while the xeroxed map we got from Bess at the hotel was, she warned us, about 20 years old. On two different days, therefore, we set out with specious destinations. Specious: plausible but false; deceptively pleasing—or, how about “more an excuse than a plan”? I can hear it all said against us in a court of law, and my only response (in our defense, as it were) is that it seemed like a good idea one day to search out the old airfield far from town (getting there is like an African safari), and another day we said to each other, “Let’s take a drive out to Peanut Lake; do you think we can find it?” but we didn’t care all that much where we ended up. Sometimes taking the wrong road turns out better than the original plan. This isn’t where we meant to go, but isn’t it gorgeous scenery? Well worth the time taken to stumble upon it!

Sarah's a good traveler on any kind of road. She doesn’t care where we are, as long as she’s with us.

Then there is the micro-scenery--as good as the big picture, in my opinion.

And here is—Peanut Lake! We found Peanut Lake! Can you believe it? We actually found our way to Peanut Lake!

Coming soon: a trip to Munising and Marquette, a few odds and ends, and then no more vacation photos for another year, as the blog catches up to my life, which is already back to the book business in Northport.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hardly a "Grand Tour" Kind of Vacation

There it is, a corner of the pretty little sheltered harbor on Lake Superior that is home to the small village of Grand Marais. This is my morning view when I walk from the Superior Hotel down toward the West Bay Diner. Trips to the Upper Peninsula, ours or anyone else’s, are nothing like London-Paris-Beijing-etcetera travel. While David and I (and now Sarah, also) explore a few new corners each year, much of our time away is taken up with revisiting old, familiar haunts. We are still in Michigan, after all, our home state, and Grand Marais is our “home away from home,” having a lot in common with Northport--and, as always, it is the little homey things that mean the most to me.

For example, Bess had loaned us one of her birthday presents, a fat notebook bristling with pictures and stories from old Grand Marais, and we took it along to the West Bay Diner with us to enjoy at a table by the window with coffee and peanuts while waiting for our meal.

Oh, look, there’s author Ellen Airgood! Well, yes, she is a bit of a blur—and so would you be, too, if you and your partner ran a diner seven days a week! Unlike vacation visitors, Ellen doesn’t have time to hunt for agates on the beach. That is, she would have time if she weren’t such a dedicated writer, but her new YA novel, Prairie Evers, is due out in May 2012, and she has already begun work (South of Superior fans, take note) on another adult novel and another YA novel. Anyway, it's good to catch up with friends' news, even if the news has to be shared in hurried bits and pieces.

We already established on the report of Vacation Day 1 that Sarah is good with cats. The cat pictured here below, Phantom, belongs to Bess’s daughter, Vicki, and often visits the picnic table outside the back of the hotel, where hand tools for gardening were posed as a still life on Tuesday morning. You see what I mean? Doesn’t it all look like home?

An old log cabin on the first road above town was getting a facelift, and the steps down to the side street were not being neglected. Simple. Homemade. Rustic. Old-fashioned. And do you know the Up North wild clematis? When it blossoms in spring, it is called virgin’s bower, while in fall it takes on the name old man’s beard. Same plant. Go figure. Discussing one aspect of a new story with us, Ellen remarked, "I like concrete details." Me, too, and it doesn't matter how small they are.

I found a juvenile “chapter book” on the shelves at the hotel and bought it from Bess. Read it quickly. Loaned it to Ellen. Shoeshine Girl was a very satisfying book to read on vacation. Later in the day I bought Agates Inside Out and began educating myself on how to find these magical beach stones for myself. This is true R&R reading.

The light takes my breath away. Nothing looks “ordinary” to me with the warm, intense September sunlight descending to drop its benediction. Who needs mountains when simple grass stuns the eye like this? But we took in larger vistas, too, as Day 3 will reveal. Day 2 was just our resting-up, here-at-last day....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's Going to Take Me a While to Catch Up

Eight days ago (a week ago yesterday) we were breezing over the Mackinac Bridge, heading north. Vacation! What a concept!

First stop--since we reached that stretch of U.S. 2 too late to find Lehto's pasty shop open--was my friend Mary's bookstore on Worth Road. It's hard for me not to envy Mary when we stop to visit: her bookstore is right next to her house, which is only a few steps from her butterfly garden and her vegetable garden, and her Rhode Island Red hens have the freedom of all these yards. Trying to keep my envy in check, I didn't photograph the chickens.

We hadn't phoned ahead. We took a chance. We were lucky.

While I browsed happily and selected my bookstore booty to buy, David and Sarah and Mary caught up in the garden. Sarah was good about the cats and the chickens. "Now I see that everything you say about Sarah is true," Mary remarked. "She's a real lady!" Our dog's good behavior was a joy to David and me.

Daylight was still in the sky when we arrived at our destination, beautiful little Grand Marais. End of Day 1 for happy bookseller on holiday with loved ones. I'm going to be selective in how many pictures I post, but it will take a few days nonetheless to give the true getaway flavor.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What Do We Do After You're Gone?

Yes, if Labor Day is your marker for the end of summer, then summer is over. Summer people and tourists are few and far between (though not yet nonexistent). Those of you who have gone home might wonder now and then what happens Up North in your absence. So here are a few things we're doing these days. First there is sitting and looking out over the water, which does not end when school starts, even if an early morning chill makes sweatshirts advisable.

The usual errands still call out to be done, although the stroll to the post office and bank are a bit more leisurely these days. We take a little more time for conversation. The most popular exclamation this week has been "Beautiful day!" The most widely asked question is, "How was your summer?" or "So, didja have a good summer?"

Flowers are still blooming in flower boxes, Barb is still making cinnamon twists, and locals are still gathering for coffee around the big tables. It's still warm enough to sit outside on the benches, too, as some prefer to do.

Here's news you may find shocking. Sometimes there are even bookstore events after Labor Day! Friday (just yesterday), for instance, we had a visit from Traverse City gardener and writer Dee Blair. We did not have a huge crowd, but it was a decent turnout, and those who came enjoyed themselves with the guest author for quite a while, one calling me later from home to rhapsodize about the opportunity for personal conversation with Dee. "It was the best afternoon of my summer!" this friend confided happily. "I feel like I'm back in the world!"

Note to those still here or those who will be back in October: Jerry Dennis will be on hand from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, October 7, to sign his new book, The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes. Then on Saturday, October 15, the horses and the Oompah Band will be back in town for our Fall Festival. (See here for pictures from last year.)

Yes, we're all drawing deep breaths as life slows down a bit. It was a lovely summer, but fall is lovely, too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Am I Plagiarizing Myself?

[Okay, if this post looks familiar to you, it's because you've already seen it on my other blog, "A Shot in the Light." Since it's wordier than what I usually post there, however, and does involve dogs and books, as well as a road trip, I thought I'd post it here, too. I'll do here what I didn't do there, which is to insert some links to at least one other old "Books in Northport" post.]

The morning mist on Lake Leelanau was gorgeous on my way south to Little Traverse Lake to pick up my sister, staying this week on Shepherd Creek. Doesn't the driveway in look inviting?

We were off to Antrim County for the day!

Oops! The road was so familiar, and I was so engrossed in conversation with my sister and enjoyment of the sunny day that I missed a crucial turn and drove clear to Alba before realizing my error! Oh, well, it was interesting, and it gave us a chance to take M-88 from Mancelona back to the east side of Torch Lake, which we would not otherwise have seen. See one Alba building below:

Okay, back on track. We got to Sonny's Torch Lake Market and managed to connect (thanks to Chris, whose father was born on Leelanau County's North Manitou Island) with my book-and-blog-and-dog friend Gerry Sell, who led us on a wonderful byway.

We began on a stretch of the Old Dixie Highway. This piece would also have been part of what was originally known as the West Michigan Pike, which brings up the matter of the new book by that name, which I've noted but not written about (yet) at length and promise to do before snow flies. In the photo below, you might not be able to read the note on the red object that says "Water for Cyclists." Click here for Gerry's detailed introduction to this particular stop.

We detoured up a high and windy ridge that gave us a view of Leelanau County in the distance. I zoomed for this shot. We could also see both South and North Fox Islands (not shown here).

Okay, now back downhill and on up the pike....

Here's Gerry showing us where we are on the map at the Antrim Creek Natural Area,

and here Gerry and Deborah orient themselves to the ever deeper geologic layers of old Lake Nippissing we will explore as we follow the path along the creek down to Grand Traverse Bay.

Here's the creek--

Sarah enjoys creeks and lakes.

So does Deborah, whose day was made when she found her first Petoskey stone.

Back on the quiet little Old Dixie Highway, the old house below caught my eye.

And what road did we take to pop out again, back on the modern highway? Nothing but Rex Beach Road! We're looking south here, with Atwood "the Adorable" in the background. No, there is no beach named Rex, but there was a Michigan writer named Rex Beach, and this road is named after him because he lived in this neighborhood. Now I'll have to read one of his books. Thank you again, Gerry, for a wonderful tour of Antrim byways!