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Friday, November 30, 2012

There’s Energy, and Then There’s “Energy”! Ideas, Peeps?

Wind howling around the old farmhouse as cold morning light slowly banishes outdoor darkness. Much has happened since Aaron Stander’s visit to Dog Ears Books. There was a trip to Traverse City on Sunday to see old friends; a long, cold Monday in the bookstore while the crew worked to dismantle and remove the old furnace and install a new one; another trip to town Tuesday for an appointment, with lunch at Oryana afterward; power going out again at home on Wednesday and new furnace at the shop not working up to capacity; parade of furnace crew on Thursday, bringing in parts to finish up the job. Ups and downs. Pleasures and setbacks.

Wednesday was a discouraging day for me, despite Bruce’s help at the bookstore. I’d had in mind all kinds of housework projects at home, with washing my hair on the agenda, too, but after the housework. And then—? No power! No hot water! Cap pulled down tight on my head as we took refuge with a pizza in a brightly lighted public place!

I still say we are lucky. A friend out East tells me her sister was without heat and electricity for a week, got it back for a day, then lost it again. Some people who lost it with Sandy still don’t have power back. What are they doing? How are they managing at all? Many must have homes in cities, even apartments many flights above the ground. No, we are very fortunate. I knew that on Wednesday but still felt tired and discouraged, because we have other issues we’re dealing with these days besides power outages and a balky furnace.

But Thursday morning, for some unaccountable reason, I felt better almost as soon as I was on my feet. It was a sunny morning, and the temperature was warm, but that isn’t always be enough to bring my chin off the floor when life gets me down. What did it, I think, was a magazine David found in the free stack at the library, the place where patrons put their personal subscription magazines when they’re finished with them so that other people can take them home to read. Actually, David picked up several magazines, but among them three issues of one in particular that he thought I would like and that I love, love, love! It’s called “Acres USA,” and it’s been around for over 40 years, and I can’t understand how I didn’t know about it before now. I devoured it along with pizza on Wednesday evening and started feeling better and more energized with every page.

The articles are long and go into important matters in depth. That’s so satisfying and encouraging that it gets my brain pumping and thinking again of the future in two positive, proactive ways, and I am very excited. First, what I’m reading affirms my sense of stewardship for the little piece of Michigan land that is my home, and all kinds of ideas sprout up as I consider the future of our land. That will take shape slowly over the long term. More immediately, I really want to take the small percentage of my store inventory that is new books in a more focused direction, expanding offerings on organic food production and ecological self-sufficient living.

With that in mind, I welcome suggestions. Gardening, greenhouses, seed starting, small orchard production, poultry and livestock, woodlot management, wind and solar energy, appropriate technology—what would you like to read about or make accessible to more people in northern Michigan? I’ll be making a list and unveiling the new collection in early summer, so please send me your ideas. Better yet, if possible, stop by and talk to me about them. Our summer farm market in Northport has grown into a beautiful thing, and I would like the books in my bookstore to complement the food at the market and the lives of the people who grow it. Taking that direction with books will also complement my own plans for future plans at home.

I have a third idea brewing that I’ll reveal after the first of the year if I decide to go ahead with it, but all in all, while bookstore viability becomes more and more problematic in today’s virtual world, I am not ready to hand in the towel yet. And though country living and outdoor work take more of a toll on a body no longer 20-something, I’m not ready to give that up, either. That’s my “bottom line” determination. Stubborn? Yes. But also full of happy anticipation!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nothing Like a Good Guest

Author Aaron Stander at Dog Ears last Saturday
You know you've got a good guest author when he shows up for a two-hour book signing on a day the furnace isn't working and isn't a bit fazed. He's an Up North guy. He's dressed for winter. (See wool pants and pullover sweater in photo. See space heater by his side.)

The hand that wields the pen
The guest author brings his own pen, and it is a fountain pen charged with real ink--brown ink, the color used by his fictional mystery-solving character, Sheriff Ray Elkins of fictional Cedar County, a place that might well remind readers of Leelanau County.

Pen in action!
Aaron's newest book, sixth in his series, The Cruelest Month, is a story set in early spring, but here he is (above) signing the second title for a customer. Earlier novels are Summer People, Color Tour, Deer Season, Medieval Murders (prequel), and Shelf Ice.

Serious tools
You know you have devoted workmen in Northport when they show up on a moment's notice on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and work for a couple hours in a freezing cold furnace room. Alas, the old furnace does not come back to life! The crew will come back on Monday to install a new furnace, but meanwhile the obliging guest author stays an extra hour. Talk about going the extra mile!
A lot of people were with family over the long holiday weekend, and I'm sorry some had to miss Aaron Stander's visit, because everyone who came had a chance not only to have a book signed but to pump the writer with questions about his creative process and hear wonderful stories that have not yet worked their way into his novels. It was great! Once again I was left to reflect on the generosity of working writers, giving of their time to readers, fans, and booksellers. 

P.S. to story: The furnace crew did return on Monday, and the new furnace is installed and putting out heat, so everything is toasty and cozy again at Dog Ears Books. 

Timely reminder: The Leelanau Children's Choir and Youth Ensemble Madrigal Christmas concert is coming up on Friday, December 7. It is the 20th anniversary of the group directed by Margaret Bell and featuring schoolchildren from all over Leelanau County. The concert will once again take place at the Northport Community Arts Center, and tickets ($15 adult; $5 student) are available at Dog Ears Books, as well as from Leelanau Books in Leland and The Painted Bird in Suttons Bay. 'Tis the season!

Tree is leaning slightly but cheery

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Surprises Seasonal and Unseasonable

Thanksgiving Day sunrise
Aaron Stander comes to Dog Ears Books in Northport today to sign his latest Sheriff Ray Elkins mystery, The Cruelest Month, and wouldn’t you know that while the power was back on this morning, the phone was still out? No internet at home! Well, plans can be changed with the weather and its exigencies, as the last few days have plainly demonstrated. Weather today in Northport? Power? Phone? Time will tell!

Let’s start with the morning of Thanksgiving Day. Beautiful sunrise! Oatmeal or waffles for holiday breakfast? Hardly a question, is it? A friend and I had divided up the items to be prepared for dinner, and she would be bringing dressing and dessert, along with yams, so my part of the feast did not require a pre-dawn start. Instead, my holiday morning was waffles with David, a walk with Sarah, a little radio with David, a dog bath for Sarah (she is so good about baths!), and then the dive into cleaning!

After settling Sarah out on the front walk, drying in warm sunshine and enjoying a beef bone reward, David dove into cleaning along with me, which always makes for a more thorough and more interesting and surprising job. Lots of surprises! It was good to get so much done. I just had not planned on doing quite so much.

We had the door to the front porch open to the outdoors. It felt like September! At David’s urging and on his inspiration, we moved the indoor dining table and chairs moved out onto the porch, and took the leaves out of the big porch table so that it became a small square and could move to the indoor dining area with the smaller captain’s chairs. (Should it be captains’ chairs, as there are two of them, because doesn’t that indicate two captains? Hardly the case at my house, or I would not be moving all this furniture!) The change in tables necessitated a change in lighting, with various lamps tried here and there until Goldilocks herself would have had to agree that it was “just right!”

Meanwhile, as David kept having ideas for more and more changes, I had been wielding vacuum, broom, dustpan, rags, and an array of cleaning products. Piles of discard items, from clothing to kitchen pans, were growing on the walk outside the front door. And somewhere in the course of all this madness a couple loads of laundry had gotten done and hung out on the line, too, and the first load brought in, wet laundry having dried quickly in the sun and breeze of the unseasonably warm day. Oh, let me rake leaves for a while! Attend to my compost!

At last I called “Enough!” and announced an intention to wash my hair and rest my back. The porch had grown ever more appealing, sun-warm and newly arranged and swept clean. A sofa bed down at the south end was calling my name, and I answered the call. For a while my reading was interrupted periodically, as David had decided the porch closet needed to be cleaned out, too, and kept asking me if I wanted to keep this or that. “I’m reading philosophy!” I finally cried out pitifully. At that he disappeared down into Man’s World (basement), where he could putter in peace. Sarah took up her windowseat post, and I was left with my book. My book was so interesting.... At last, quiet....

It was only a short nap, I swear! And after the refreshing break, I had plenty of time to chop red onions, white mushrooms, and morels to be sauteed and added to red quinoa. Cream sauce for the creamed onions was a snap. Cranberry-orange relish had been made the night before. The turkey breast would not go in the oven until shortly before Laura arrived, to give us time for a walk and leisurely conversation on the porch.

“Can you believe we’re sitting out here on November twenty-second?” David couldn’t help remarking as the three of us tucked into almonds, black olives, and smoked oysters, toasting to friendship with glasses of red wine. This was after Laura and I had gone with Sarah for a walk up Claudia’s hill, but outdoors or on the porch, the balmy sweetness of the day continued to thrill. It was a little unexpectedly extra something to add to things for which we were all grateful. Laura and I met first 42 years ago, David and I and then David and Laura in the mid-1970s, and many is the Thanksgiving dinner we have enjoyed together. Once, long, long ago, Laura made duck à l’orange! Her dessert this year was Julia Child’s apple tarte! Lovely, lovely, lovely....

After dinner and a movie, the dark sky was strangely mottled with clouds as we bid Laura goodnight, and during the night the wind picked up speed and the temperature dropped. Friday morning—snow! Bitter, fierce wind! Tall meadow grass bending horizontal and penitential. Barn doors flapping! The front porch issued no invitation to relax on Friday morning!

What next? It was hardly surprising: the power went out. David came home first late Friday afternoon and got the oil lamps filled and the fireplace going. My contribution shortly afterward was fresh candles (from the Pennington Collection in Northport). We had leftover turkey and dressing and cranberry relish by fire-, candle-, and lamplight, and after dinner I read nearly all of A Small Farm in Maine, completely lost in that other world, without the distractions of radio or movie in the background. Then David and I went to bed in caps and robes, entertaining each other with our respective reminiscences of childhood dream hours spent over Sears Roebuck catalogs until we were too sleepy to talk any more. That was nice.

Sometime in the middle of the night the power came back on. The phone, as I say, was still out come morning.

What are the roads like between Interlochen, where Aaron lives, and Northport? What will today bring, and tomorrow? The forecast had something like a 40% probability of more snow both days.

Seasons change as the year cycles around, and then there are stretches where one season is surprisingly tucked into another for a few days. We had a little extra September leading up to and going through Thanksgiving Day, and now November is back. But what does that mean? It hardly gives certainty about any specific day or how plans may have to be altered at a moment’s notice. Is it Michigan? Well, yes, and it’s life, too. Life is change, and change is surprising as often or oftener than it is expected, and it’s good to have jugs of water and candles and matches on hand.

Rosehips at the top of the hill

Monday, November 19, 2012

Unpredictable Flow of Random Thoughts

What accounts for the randomness of thought sequences? Here’s just a snippet of mine this morning:

Small town residents all over America practice a lot of Cargo Cult thinking: If we could just lure enough people here from outside, our problems would be solved! If we build it, surely they will come! Our prayers will be answered!

Every solution to an old problem creates brand-new problems, usually unanticipated or minimized.

Ernest Hemingway would never have made it as a murder mystery writer. Not enough adjectives. Agree or disagree?

If Marguerite Henry were still alive, she would be writing a book about the Australian wonder horse, Black Caviar. How many Americans have even heard the name? And yet this filly won every race she ever won, all 22, including the Royal Ascot in England.

Not only do we hear little Australian news in this country, we hardly know what’s going on in Canada, with whom we share a border from sea to shining sea. What’s up with that? I love Canada! I want more Canadian news!

Please remember that Aaron Stander will be at Dog Ears Books this coming Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. I’ve read all six of his Sheriff Ray Elkins mystery and agree with Elizabeth Buzzelli that this latest one is the best yet.

But before that, it’s Thanksgiving in only three days, and that’s where all our minds are focused. So many blessings, even in the midst of anxieties and concerns. Family, friends, books, dogs, woods, fields, and lakeshore. Love and friendship. Intellectual stimulation and pleasures of the senses. Opportunities to help and give comfort to others. Knowing and remembering that giving as well as receiving is a gift. Soup to nuts. The whole nine yards. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Saluting a Great Michigan Lady

In the two centuries after the founding of the nation, women gradually gained the right to own property, to get an education, and to vote. The latter required 72 years of unmitigated struggle, culminating in the passage of the 19th Amendment. Some of the arguments that were used against suffrage have a strangely familiar ring: that women didn’t really want it; that it would break up the family; that woman’s place was in the home . . . Those same arguments are used against the Equal Rights Amendment.  
– Helen Milliken, November 1981.

Helen Milliken, First Lady to Michigan’s longest-serving governor, died this morning at the age of 89.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Revisiting the Old Fabulist, or, Could You Love a Book That Looked Like This?

Pretty rough shape: "reading" copy
nice design

You see I did not exaggerate when I said my old book of Aesop’s Fables was falling apart. On the other hand, how could I throw away a book with such beautiful illustrations?
Designer Harrison Weir and engraver J. Greenaway get high marks from me. 

The Fox and the Crow
The paper stock is good quality, too, stout and strong and unfoxed despite the book’s great age, and the translations by Reverend George Fyler Townsend (1814-1900) are pithy and direct. In short, this is exactly the kind of book—not good enough to sell but too good to discard—that often finds its way into my heart and my tattered, dog-eared home library. Not every book in my home is a waif or a stray, but many are, as I’ve admitted on other occasions.

Wolf and Sheep
Cattle and Butchers (only cattle shown)
The Oak and the Reeds
“The Tale, the Parable, and the Fable,” reads Townsend’s Preface,
are all common and popular modes of conveying instruction. Each is distinguished by its own special characteristics. The Tale consists simply in the narration of a story either founded on facts, or created solely by the imagination, and not necessarily associated with the teaching of any moral lesson. The Parable is the designed use of language purposely intended to convey a hidden and secret meaning other than that contained in the words themselves.... The Fable partly agrees with and partly differs from both of these. It will contain, like the Tale, a short but real narrative; it will seek, like the Parable, to convey a hidden meaning ... by the skillful introduction of fictitious characters; and yet, unlike to either Tale or Parable, it will ever keep in view, as its high prerogative, and inseparable attribute, to inculcate some moral maxim, social duty, or political truth.
The Fable, continues the Preface, “conceals its design ... by clothing with speech the animals of the field, or the beasts of the forests.” Thus the Fabulist (isn’t that a marvelous word?) offers his lesson indirectly, seeking to charm us into seeing his truth. Both the action of the Fable and the lesson it contains should be simple.
The narration should relate to one simple action, consistent with itself, and neither be overladen with a multiplicity of details, nor distracted by a variety of circumstances. The moral or lesson should be so plain, and so intimately interwoven with, and so necessarily dependent on, the narration, that every reader should be compelled to give to it the same undeniable interpretation.
There should be no confusion about authorial intention with a Fable, no need of literary criticism at the graduate school level to get at meaning. The Fox and the Crow? Crow has a piece of cheese. Fox wants cheese. Fox tells Crow how handsome he is, how beautiful his plumage, and suggests slyly that his voice must be equally beautiful. Gullible Crow opens his beak to sing. Uh-oh! Every flatterer lives at the expense of his listeners! This one I memorized in high school in the La Fontaine (French) version. La Fontaine rewrote Aesop as Pullman, following many others, has rewritten the Grimms

There are many wolves, foxes, crows, frogs, and lions in Aesop, wild animals with very human characteristics. There are also sheep and cattle and horses and asses and cats and dogs. Lots of dogs. It’s interesting to see how the Fabulist (I am in love with that word!) portrays the different canines and what lessons he finds for human beings in their predicaments. Occasionally a human being appears but never by name, only as a boy or a “Labourer” or some such stock character. There are many mice, perhaps most memorably “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse,” which to this day continue to inspire children’s book illustrators.

19th century
Charles Panati is the author of Words to Live By: The Origins of Conventional Wisdom & Commonsense Advice (Penguin, 1999), and it should probably not be surprising that many of these truisms are attributed to Aesop and have been handed down since the 6th century B.C.E., Here are a few examples:
  • “Gentle persuasion Is better than force” is the moral of “The Contest Between the Wind and the Sun”;
  • “It is better to bend than to break” comes from “The Oak and the Reed”;
  • “Practice what you preach” from “The Quack Frog.”
  • “In dangerous times, wise men say nothing” is the moral of “The Lion and His Three Counselors”; while
  • From “The Hen and the Fox” we are to draw the lesson, “Beware of insincere friends”; and, finally (for this very brief list of examples),
  • “Treat others as you want them to treat you,” the Golden Rule, Aesop’s version, comes from “The Eagle and the Fox.”
A complete list would go on and on. The credit for “Ignorance is bliss,” however, goes to English poet Thomas Gray, and according to Panati, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings” comes not from opera but is a black saying from the American South. So now you know, in case anyone asks.

Looking for a good closing for today’s post, I turned in the Panati book to his section called “The pen is mightier than the sword” and there found, though it includes no mention of reading or writing or book learning, Aesop’s fable of “The House Dog and the Wolf.” The dog brags of easy living and luxuries but then admits that he is often chained. Here is the end the story in two versions:
Townsend: Then said the Wolf: “May no friend of mine ever be in such a plight; for the weight of this chain is enough to spoil the appetite.” Panati: As the wolf started back toward the forest he said, “Good night to you, my poor friend, you are welcome to your dainties—and your chains. As for me, I prefer my freedom to your fat.”
MORAL: Lean freedom is better than slavery.

Do you have a favorite among Aesop’s fables? And do you think your dog would change places with a wolf?

The Dog and the Wolf

Friday, November 9, 2012

Book Review: Fairy Tales for Grownups

Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, by Philip Pullman (Viking, 2012). Hardcover $27.95

My introduction to reading fairy tales for myself came in a volume from a set of books called “The Young Folks’ Library.” (Was there an apostrophe on the bindings? I don’t remember.) The set contained everything from poetry to biography, and while I read every page in every volume, some I read more eagerly and more often than others, and the fairy tales volume was a special favorite.

The Brothers Grimm have had a hold on the Western world’s imagination for a long, long time. How many versions of those collected fairy tales have there been in 200 years, since the first edition came out in Germany in 1812? (Six more editions came out during the Grimm Brothers’ lifetimes: Wilhelm died in 1859, his brother Jacob in 1863.) “Children’s and Household Tales,” the stories were called back then—Kinder- und Haus-Märchen

Well, now Viking has brought out a new English version in which Philip Pullman, author of the wildly popular “His Dark Materials” trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Amber Spyglass; and The Subtle Knife) has chosen 50 of his favorite Grimm tales in honor of the 200th anniversary, retelling them and adding a brief commentary of his own at the close of each one. There are no illustrations in this new edition, and some of the commentary would have set my eight-year-old head awhirl, e.g., when Pullman notes after his telling of “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers” that “Marina Warner, in From the Beast to the Blonde, suggests a sexual interpretation of the bucket of minnows.” (To my adult mind, the suggestion seems superfluous.) The book has read-aloud potential, but little children primed to beg, “Let me see the picture!” may prefer pages more specifically aimed to their tastes. This is not criticism, just the facts of the matter in one bookseller’s view—although, according to Wikipedia, even the first edition was not considered suitable for children, both for its content of the stories and for the scholarly additions. Inote, however, that Elizabeth Kennedy’s commentary on the tales is found under the 4-8-year-old tab on Make of all that what you will. Given a little discretion in choosing tales and times and audience, here is a book with almost boundless appeal.

As an adult reader, I find Pullman’s retellings delightful. His introduction is informative and sets the tone by reminding us that fairy tales are about stock characters and that they are, first and foremost, storytellers’ stories. The pace is quick, description minimal where it exists at all. In his retelling, therefore, he notes that the best he felt he could do was to aim for “clarity.” No invention is necessary: the story is already there, freeing the storyteller to improvise. At the close of the introduction, this storyteller makes the lovely statement that the finest of fairy tales “have the quality that the great pianist Artur Schnabel attributed to the sonatas of Mozart: they are too easy for children and too difficult for adults.” I interpret that “too difficult” to be saying that one has never done mining the richness of fairy tales, and I don’t think what I’m calling richness argues against Pullman’s characterization of them as clear, fast-moving stories peopled with stock characters.

There are surprises in some of the tales themselves. An early surprise for me came with the “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich.” I know the basic story as “The Frog Prince,” and the princess who promised the frog a reward for retrieving her golden ball was familiar. The character of “Iron Heinrich,” the prince’s servant, says Pullman in his commentary, “is nearly always forgotten.” Also, because this character “appears at the end of the tale out of nowhere” but with a striking image (one I will leave to your discovery), Pullman notes that a separate story seems almost warranted for Heinrich. Also—prepare to be shocked—the princess does not kiss the frog to return him to human form! Instead she hurls him against the wall of her chamber in anger and disgust! No matter. The charm works, anyway, and the spell is broken, returning the frog to princely form.

After beginning at the beginning and reading several tales in order as Pullman presents them, I let my curiosity off the leash and turned back to the table of contents. Ah, “The Musicians of Bremen,” an old favorite. Yes, yes, it is as good now as it always was—perhaps better, now that I am getting a bit long in the tooth myself. The old animals, no longer valuable to their masters, take to the road to find new careers as musicians. Do you remember what happens? I love this story! It involves no mutilations, no deaths, and the old greybeards come out on top. Yes!!!

Which Grimm tale is your favorite? “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Snow White” are all here, along with tales less often told, such as “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces.” I’m not going to give away every surprise in this book, but I can’t help saying that the happy ending of the danced-to-pieces shoes gave me considerable satisfaction. The prince did not choose the youngest of the twelve princesses for his bride. Sssh-sh-sh! Enough said!

Pullman’s language in these stories is casual and conversational, so I see a lot of read-aloud possibilities for friends, lovers, and families. Although it might not be the best book version for reading tiny ones to sleep at night (and some of the stories would work fine for that, if the tiny ones don’t insist on pictures), this book would definitely be my top pick for groups of mixed ages, from toddlers through the oldest elders. Maybe Thanksgiving evening, when the dishes are all done, the big game over, and the last pieces of pumpkin pie are being passed around? I can imagine very spirited discussion among all ages following each story. Doesn’t that sound like fun for the holidays?

Then, of course, there are the Pullman fans (of all ages), along with a whole crowd of young people who will be meeting most of these characters and settings for the first time in Pullman's version. What a treasure trove this book will be for them! Finally, another, more specialized group of readers sure to appreciate the new Grimm version will be writers. Like the Bible and Shakespeare, fairy tales offer infinite inspiration, and I can easily imagine a writer trolling through the stories to find a way around writer's block, real or imagined. Yes, fairy tales--a must for every writer's reference shelf. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why I Still Prefer Blogging to Facebook

There is a lot of criticism of Facebook from various fronts. There are legitimate concerns with privacy, data sharing, commercialism, triviality, even narcissism. A lot of the criticism is undoubtedly right on the mark. But there are positive aspects, too, that critics overlook or underestimate. These include generations connecting, old friends finding each other, online support for grief, and all manner of happy sharing. I see that and appreciate it for what it is. I toss out my bookstore reminders and occasional personal notes on Facebook. But I still enjoy the blogosphere more. Blogs and Facebook posts are different.

The thing is, I’m not great at cocktail parties, either. I’d be the “wallflower at the orgy,” in Nora Ephron’s memorable phrase. As I see it, the default tone (there are, of course, departures from the default) of Facebook is banter, and I have never been good at banter.

I neither text or tweet. Being “wired” every minute of the day and night sounds like a nightmare to me, not a dream come true. It astounds me that anyone would want to be followed and monitored on a constant, nonstop basis. Don’t they ever need quiet time? I need a lot of it!

Sometimes I write and post something on my blog and then put a link on Facebook, in hopes that friends who don’t follow the blog regularly will at least read that post. That, I guess, is my trying to have my cake and eat it, too, and to a certain extent it works, in that there are usually more readers for a post I’ve linked to Facebook than one I haven’t. But then Facebook friends usually leave their comments on Facebook rather than on the blog post, which to me seems a little like whispering in the back of the room to your cronies rather than sharing with everyone. I realize that blogging platforms don’t always make it easy for readers to leave comments, but figuring that out isn’t any harder than working with Facebook, is it?

What it takes to read a blog post and leave a comment is a slightly longer attention span than Facebook requires, a more leisurely and yet more careful approach. Here’s how I see the difference:

Imagine whizzing down a street on a bicycle, a street where you know everyone in every house. Neighbors are sitting out on their porches, and as you ride by you wave and call out a greeting, friends on their porches call greetings in return. Some have signs in their front yards that you read as you ride past—advertising signs or campaign signs or whatever. You are probably wearing a shirt with some kind of slogan on it. Little clots of bicyclists may stop at an intersection briefly to share a bit of news or gossip. Okay, that’s Facebook.

Now imagine yourself sitting on a front porch. Maybe you know a few of your neighbors, and maybe you know everyone on the street, but people from anywhere in the world may be walking or riding or driving past. From time to time some of them come up and sit with you a while on the porch. They listen patiently and with interest to a story you have to tell and may have a reflection to make on your experience. If you take a position on an issue, they may agree or argue, and they’ll tell you why. Maybe you get out your photo album, and they look through the pages with you. In turn, you accept their hospitality and visit them on their porches, even if they live in India or China, because there is no distance in the blogosphere. Everyone on earth is a potential neighbor. There is a serendipity to these meetings with strangers and a leisurely quality to all the exchanges, and often strangers become friends. That’s blogging.

Years ago a friend and I got into a spirited discussion in my bookstore on the philosophy of John Rawls. We were really into our subject! (I’ve told this story before. If you’ve already heard or read it, sorry!) A young woman, the sole browser in the shop, finally made her circuitous way to the door, and before leaving turned and said to us disdainfully, “You two are the most boring people I’ve ever eavesdropped on!” She left, and we looked at each other and laughed, then went back to Rawls. Chacun á son gout! If the young woman had found our subject of conversation interesting, she would have been welcome to join us. She didn’t, and that was fine, too. A blog is like that.

A blog makes no demands but is open to anyone who cares about what the blogger finds interesting. It isn’t a closed club. No one need submit a friend request to access it. My life would be the poorer without friends I’ve made serendipitously through my blog and theirs over the years.

This Is What I Call an Endorsement