Search This Blog

Monday, July 30, 2012

Leelanau Farming, July 2012: Green, Green Fields

Wild and Domesticated, Side by Side

One of my bookstore customers from the Lansing area told me that crops downstate are fried brown by the long drought. We haven’t had enough rain Up North, either, but my far-from-expert eye tells me we’re not in totally dire straights. There won’t be as much hay as usual this year, but hayfields are green, and this alfalfa (below) looks decent, doesn't it?

Field corn is tall and green, and stalks have ears. It is good-looking corn! 

Small grain crops and their straw are already being harvested in some parts of the township.

Stone fruit crops (cherries, peaches, apricots, plums) were hard hit in spring by too much heat too soon, followed by damaging snow and freezing temperatures, but at least some of the apple varieties are bearing fruit, and this week’s Leelanau Enterprise gave us all a reality check, in the form of news items from the past. Ten years ago the county cherry crop was disastrously bad, and it wasn’t all that good 115 years ago, either. 
July 25, 2002: ...John Henry Schlueter has 100 acres of tarts and another 10 acres of sweets, but is not harvesting either this year. ... "This year I'd be lucky to get enough for three cherry pies," he said.
July 22, 1897: "While in Northport supervisor Garthe informed us that the fruit crop around there would be a small one this season."
But farming, like art, like poetry, like bookselling, like any true vocation, is in the blood. Orchards and farmers aren’t going to disappear, and 2013 will be another year.

Behind orchard and woods, a sailboat cruises the Manitou Passage
I finally got outside again to sit quietly, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Far From New York, I Lead a Literary Life

Petunias at Bella Fortuna

Although my news from Northport this week is literary, I’m going to give a lot of it in pictures. You can follow the links for more words.

Poet Teresa Scollon
Teresa Scollon was at the Leelanau Township Library on Tuesday evening, where the audience happily succumbed to tears in response to her quiet reading of very powerful poetry. She read from her book of poems, To Embroider the Ground with Prayer, talked about her writing process, answered questions, and wound up by sharing with us a new poem. Teresa and I will be connecting again, as I am determined to get her back to Northport this fall for a visit to Dog Ears Books, so that people who missed her at the library will have another chance. She is, as some of my literary friends say, “the real deal.”

Dorene, Trudy, Linda, Pamela, Marilyn 
Dorene O’Brien, fiction writer from Detroit, is the real deal, too, and her annual visit to Northport is the occasion for a group of us to get together for lunch and writing talk. This year we convened at Bella Fortuna, the new Tuscan restaurant in Lake Leelanau. O’Brien is the author of Voices of the Lost and Found (a short story collection available at Dog Ears Books) and many other stories, one of which you can read online here. I highly recommend the tiramisu.

Don't skip dessert! 
Lynne Rae Perkins
Finally, Lynne Rae Perkins, Newbery winner for her YA novel Criss Cross, trekked up to Northport from Suttons Bay with posters for the new children’s book she illustrated, Seed by Seed, a children's story of Johnny Appleseed written by Esme Raji Codell of Chicago. We will launch the book at Dog Ears on August 21. That’s a Tuesday evening, and the event is scheduled for 7-9 p.m., so mark your calendar now. And while you’ve got the calendar out, be sure to make a note about Bonnie Jo Campbell’s reading at Dog Ears, too, on Sunday, August 19, 1-3 p.m.

Poster in bookstore window

Finally, did you read Doctor Dolittle books as a child? I certainly did, and one character in particular made my single head spin.
 “Excuse me, surely you are related to the Deer Family, are you not?”  
“Yes,” said the pushmi-pullyu—“to the Abyssinian Gazelles and the Asiatic Chamois—on my mother’s side. My father’s great-grandfather was the last of the Unicorns.”  
-      Hugh Lofting, The Story of Doctor Dolittle    
Here is my own neighborhood pushmi-pullyu. Do you see it? Do you believe it?

Which way is it facing?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Village and Township Life and Future

Morning at Peterson Park
The only constant is change. Our village lost a very special person this week with the death of Reverend Marshall Collins. Another long-time Northporter and regular customer of Dog Ears Books, Catherine Caraher, also passed away. Dr. Caraher taught history at the University of Detroit, but I knew her more as an avid reader and devoted dog-lover. One friend commented mournfully, “This is the trouble with living in a small town!” Really? 

In a large city, would we only rub elbows with other anonymous inhabitants and not be affected by their troubles and deaths? Wouldn’t the circle of acquaintance be about the same? There would be more people one did not know, but not everyone would be a stranger, surely. I remember when my father began to complain of the number of funerals he had to attend, and my mother, taking a brighter look, told him that was because they had lived there so long. They had moved from South Dakota to a county seat in northern Illinois in 1951, so of course in 50 years time they had made many friends. What she left out was that they and their friends had all aged 50 years in that same time period! Well, this happens anywhere, town or country, city or village, but I’ll admit that my friend in her sadness had a valid point to make: losing someone in a small village is a proportionately greater loss, due to the size of the population. And wherever you live, no one is a replacement for anyone else, but life goes on, so to whom will the torches pass?

Ashes to ashes: new ash tree sprouts in old tree's place

Village of Northport (incorporated), village of Omena (unincorporated), Township of Leelanau. Northport has come a lot way up from the Slough of Despond it was in six years ago. New energy is palpable and manifest all over town—new businesses (many made possible by new sewer system), improvements to buildings, new marina facilities, hiking trails, flowers, etc. Where do we want to go from here? What are the community’s priorities?

Looking for excitement? Make it happen!
To those who look at the postcard and poster for a Community Engagement Workshop and say, “Been there, done that,” I want to urge second thoughts. Yes, we had a series of meetings in 2007. Since then, a lot has been accomplished in Northport, Omena, and Leelanau Township. The question is, where do we want to go from here? You would not go into business with a plan carved on stone and never revisit the plan. You would not get married and set up a budget and never look at it again to see where changes in family life indicated new priorities. Yes, we’ve been through something like this before, but it’s time to do it again. It could even be fun! Come find out on Wednesday evening—7:30, small gym up at school. Bring your ideas and prepare to roll up your sleeves.

And before tomorrow night is tonight, with poet Teresa Scollin at the Leelanau Township Library in Northport. Don't miss this event, either. 

Volunteers created and maintain the gorgeous library garden

Friday, July 20, 2012

Burger Shack Story #8

Where Home Is©

Joe was okay for a long time. Then he was pretty good for a while. After that he didn’t know. And then--.

“You are Americano,” his parents always told him. “Born here. You belong.” They were saying that they didn’t belong the way he did, although they were the ones, he always thought when they said this, who had made him American by coming here.

The years the family moved from place to place were okay for José Felipe, the first-born. He was young and knew no other life, and he was always with his parents, even if they were all sleeping in their old Chevy, caught between asparagus and cherries. Later on, as summer merged into fall, the older children had to be in school for most of the day, and in asparagus season, early spring, the parents sometimes had to pick in a cold rain, bent over even on sunny days, even when wagons were brought in and the workers no longer had to walk the rows, so in asparagus season the whole family was very tired and often cranky by the end of the day, but still they were together and happy about that.

Then there were cherries. Compared to asparagus, cherries were a vacation. Joe’s parents worked cherry harvest for the same family year after year, along with other long-time friends. The kids were out of school, their housing was simple but clean, with several cabins that formed a kind of temporary village for the group of them, and at the end of the day everyone, all ages, piled into an old school bus the orchard family kept around the place, all the migrant families heading down a sandy, tree-lined two-track to the lake. They had a picnic supper on the beach, with little children running in and out of the water, squealing and laughing, and fathers squatting at the water line, smoking cigarettes and holding toddlers by the hand while mothers made fresh tortillas over fires of driftwood. No one was ever too tired for an evening on the beach. They stayed until the stars came out and sleepy children had to be carried back to the bus.

Apples in the fall weren’t as joyous as summer cherries—again, the kids had to be in school except for weekends--but the work was still better than picking field crops. Apple weather might be cold, sometimes whole days of drizzling rain, but you were standing, either reaching up from the ground or out from a ladder. No bending or stooping. You wore the bag slung in front of you, filled it, emptied it into a tall wooden box. Pickers often sang as they worked, music carrying them like a boat through the cold, crisp mornings, their hands in constant motion, double- and triple-timing the beat. From high on the ladder, you could look way down the rows and see other pickers on other ladders and, between the trees, rows of apple boxes, four feet high, wooden sides dark from years of exposure to the weather. When all the boxes in a row were full, the crew moved to the next row. Later another crew, not as fast or skilled, maybe young Anglos who had dropped out of school or slightly older ones who didn’t have regular jobs, for whatever reason, and were doing this to make a few weeks’ pay, might pass through the trees to pick the remaining good fruit, and after that some of the growers allowed gleaners to come in (others didn’t), but Joe’s family and their friends had nothing to do with the apples after the first picking. They were the pros.

Those years growing up hadn’t always been easy, but they had been okay, especially the Michigan summers. The family shared good memories from that time.

Afterward, too, when his parents settled down in one place with steady work, life was pretty good for several years. Home was only a rented trailer in a dilapidated older trailer park, but they had an address and could get mail from their relatives in Mexico without waiting for it to catch up with them on the road. They had a shade tree on one side of the trailer and sun for growing his parents’ vegetables and flowers on the other side. All the kids, in school now from September to June without a change of residence, started getting better grades.

“But if anything happen to us,” his mother still said at least once a week, fixing her gaze on Joe as if to imprint her instructions directly on his brain, “any time, you go to Tia Melita. You go right to her—nowhere else! Entiendes?”

His aunt and uncle ran a Mexican restaurant in the two front rooms (with seasonal seating on the porch) of a one-story building that had originally been a bungalow before the street went commercial. They owned the building and lived in the back and were a first-generation American success story, naturalized citizens with their own business. Joe’s grandmother from Mexico lived with them, so Tía
 Melita’s husband, though not a blood relative, held the position of unofficial patriarch, and Joe’s mother was so grateful to her brother-in-law for bringing the old lady across the border that she believed he and his wife, her beloved sister, could solve any problem.

“Ma, I know. You been telling me that my whole life.”

“I don’t want you forget.” She stroked his cheek lightly with her fingertips, where signs of incipient beard brought tears to her eyes. His eyes were liquid brown, his hair curly, springing blue-black. So handsome! He was so beautiful she could not stop being afraid for him, her perfect first-born.

“You listen to your mother,” his father added, coming through the screen door, hearing the familiar exchange and adding his own regular emphasis. He was bringing in tomatoes and peppers from his garden so Joe’s mother could make fresh salsa. Joe rolled his eyes and shook his head, smiling at the same time. They had always presented a united front, his parents. He felt close to them, tied tight, and safe in their presence, yet the increasing protectiveness he also felt for them was becoming its own kind of distance. As he grew older and taller, they seemed to diminish in size.

He was in high school now and caught an old yellow bus out by the highway. On his first morning at the bus stop three other Mexican boys appeared from farther up the road, walking with a rolling gait as if moving to music. One of them, walking slightly ahead of the other two, was tall and handsome, despite an ugly scar along his jawbone. He stopped in front of Joe, looked him up and down and asked cryptically, “You wid us?” Joe read the unspoken rest of the question as, or against us, and jerked his chin upward, affirmatively. When the bus came, they all got on together. He told himself they weren’t a gang. Not having to get on the bus alone, being able to walk into a big, new, strange high school with friends, amigos, instead of by himself—for that Joe was grateful, and if Anglo kids drew back when they passed by, if teachers cast hard, suspicious looks in their direction, that was not a high price to pay for friends.

His days fell into a new routine, starting with his friends at the bus stop. At the end of the ride, he was part of their scene in front of the school doors, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as they did, the others joking and laughing and punching each other in the arms while he remained the quiet one. Miguel, the boy with the scar, didn’t push him to talk after Joe answered a few questions that first day—where he lived, where the family came from, where his parents worked. Maybe Miguel needed a quiet one in the group to set off his own leadership. During the day Joe was on his own in classes—English, social studies, environmental studies, algebra and physical education. He kept a low profile and got by. 

After school and the bus ride back to the trailer park, where he parted from his friends, he took care of his brothers and sisters. He went to meet them in front of their grade school and shepherded them home for after-school snacks and homework. Evenings the whole family was together, as they had always been. Saturdays Joe worked with his father on a landscaping crew, and on Sunday the family went to mass and to Tia Melita’s afterward, the restaurant, closed to the public on Sundays, their family gathering place.

It was on a Monday that this simple world flew unexpectedly out of its familiar orbit. The morning, the bus, school—all were as usual—but then at the elementary school, when a river of little kids streamed out at the end of the day, his brothers and sisters did not appear. Not one of them. His impulse was to go inside to search their classrooms, but something held him back. Instead he waited where he always waited for them, on the other side of the street, far enough away from the crossing guard that he didn’t have to speak to her. This time she kept glancing at him, anyway, and her glances increased his anxiety. He edged farther down the sidewalk. When he saw two men in suits come out the door behind the last of the children, he turned and ran.

Tia Melita’s was bright and busy. He could see that even from a distance, but creeping closer to peer into the windows he saw no sign of his brothers and sisters, neither in the public rooms in front nor through the gauzy window curtains in his aunt and uncle’s living room in back, a room crowded with chairs but empty and quiet during their working day. But those men—they would come here, too, Joe felt sure, just as they would go to the trailer park, if they hadn’t already.

Heart pounding as he turned away, this time Joe forced his feet not to run. Outside the tabaquería on the corner, he saw Miguel and the others. Miguel tossed his head up and back in a cool, wordless greeting. Joe acknowledged but signaled that he had to keep moving. The three boys turned away, ostentatiously granting him, for now, the privacy of his decision.

Without a plan but pulled toward home, he forged a quiet, cautious, meandering but steady trail through a series of streets and diverse neighborhoods, making his way back to the highway, to the vicinity of the trailer park. For the moment, certain that his parents had been taken away, being near the place they had lived together for so long felt like the closest he could get to them. But no closer. American-born though he was, he knew better than that. If his parents had been taken away, the little children would have been taken somewhere else, and Joe, not yet eighteen, would be taken somewhere against his will as well if he didn’t disappear into the cracks for a few months.

He remembered that behind Rocket’s Burger Shack there was a tall board fence, and behind that was a quarter-mile strip of scraggly woods, and he made for the fence. Like the wall of a house, it blocked the wind, and he could lean against it. He could hear cars and voices from Rocket’s parking lot, but he was safely hidden. Two nights he stayed there. The first night, after Rocket’s closed and the manager finally locked up and drove away, leaving the place in darkness, Joe loosened a board in the fence and made his way to the dumpster. Sure enough, plenty of take-out bags held unfinished sandwiches and errant French fries. He tried not to think of the unknown hands and mouths that had touched the food and tried not to think of the food itself as garbage. There was a stray dog crouched underneath the dumpster, and Joe, still without a plan, coaxed the dog back through the fence with him for warmth and company.

The third night he could wait no longer. Ordering the little dog to stay, he made his way by stealth to the family trailer, letting himself in with his key. He found his father’s flashlight on the floor behind the sofa, where it was always kept, and by its light saw that a box of papers and documents had been dumped upside-down on the carpet. Moving warily through the rooms, keeping the narrow beam away from windows, he was not surprised to find other evidence that his family was gone: coats and toothbrushes missing; his sisters’ dolls not on their beds; a smell of strangers in the small, close rooms. Joe held his own wrist to his nose and smelled stale grease. Even his own body no longer smelled familiar to him. Though not surprised, he felt cold and faintly nauseated by the odor. Hurrying to the bathroom, he stripped off the shirt he had worn for three days, rinsed his mouth with water and then Listerine, scrubbed underneath his arms, and finally grabbed one of his father’s shirts from a doorknob. He thrust his arms through the sleeves and buttoned the shirt as fast as his fingers could move, inhaling deeply.

Back in the kitchen he stood still, waiting to know what to do next, and a picture came unbidden into his head. The image was of a small, palm-sized, folded manila envelope tucked inside the sugar canister. In that envelope his mother kept her key to the largest of the houses she cleaned, one she would not have cleaned on the day she disappeared because it was her Tuesday-Friday job. The house was in a spacious neighborhood behind a wall, guarded by a gate, but Joe had worked in the neighborhood on Saturdays with the landscaping crew and knew another way in, through the vacant woods and over the back wall. He had even been inside once when his mother was at work. On the heels of the picture of the key envelope in his mind came a different picture: beautiful, open rooms with cream-colored walls and brown leather chairs, piles of books waiting patiently on tables, and enormous tropical plants, not a single one of which would have fit into his family’s little trailer. Without thinking the word, ‘sanctuary’ was the feeling he craved as he slid the key into the back pocket of his jeans. It would be dawn soon.

He eased out the door of the trailer into the dark, but before he could take another step, wary for a reason he could not immediately identify, his arm was twisted behind his back and a hand clapped over his mouth, and he recognized the voice even though it was held down to a sharp, hissing whisper. “What’s up, my brother?” Miguel asked, turning him loose.

The other two boys, Diego and Eduardo, stepped forward from behind the trunk of the big shade tree Joe’s brothers and sisters loved to play beneath in all seasons of the year.

“You can’t stay here,” Miguel said flatly. “So what is your plan, my brother?”

Miguel had never before called Joe “my brother” or come to his home, and the hairs on the back of Joe’s neck prickled, and sharp perspiration started up in his armpits, though he could not have said why. It was too dark to see faces clearly, but Joe felt Ed and Diego grinning.

“He got a plan,” Miguel whispered confidently, and the others echoed “Yeah” in their own whispers, and Miguel gave the order, “Les’ move out now where we can talk,” and the four of them slid down the dark, narrow street, Joe with his heart in his mouth, two keys in the pocket of his jeans, and no semblance in his mind of any kind of plan at all. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cook Gone, Fish Coming

That’s the headline that popped into my head this morning, although it makes little sense. Well, it makes a very little sense, for what I was thinking was that the appearance of Mario Batali yesterday evening at the library was over, with the Fishtown book author coming up at the bookstore this afternoon.

Mario was splendid! He and Bob Sloan, another cookbook author, entertained and enlightened the audience with food advice and opinions and humor. Audience for the 7:30 event was already assembling well before 7 o’clock, and more and more chairs kept coming out of the township hall to accommodate those who had not gotten the message to bring lawn chairs, and the grey clouds overhead raised some minor anxiety—but not, it seemed, with the FOL folks, whose remarks ranged from a confident “It won’t rain” to a philosophical “If this is what it takes to bring rain, great!” A few drops fell, and a handful of people put up umbrellas, but no one had to scurry for shelter. I sold books afterward, which Mario graciously signed with a big orange pen, and that’s when I noticed he was not wearing his signature orange Crocs. What I’d realized much earlier, to my great chagrin, was that I had forgotten my camera! Many other people did have cameras, and many fans had their pictures taken with Mario, and the entire event was well documented for Northport history—just not for this blog, and I can only apologize and hope there will be another chance in the future. Meanwhile, introduce yourself to Mario here.

But now it’s another new day, and besides my 8:30 a.m. meeting (ah, yes, I knew there was a reason I was up at 6 o’clock!), this afternoon will bring Laurie Kay Sommers to Dog Ears Books with Fishtown, Leland. That’s a book whose time had come, and I’m pleased to introduce its author to Northport. With design by Dan Stewart, concept from Amanda Holmes, and photographs and documentation from many, Fishtown, Leland is a real keepsake, for natives, newcomers, and visitors. One of my customers has already reserved multiple copies, and I’m sure others will follow. It’s that kind of book.

Will the days ahead be quieter? Somehow I doubt it. It is, after all, "high season" Up North. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Authors, Books, Birds, Bookmarks, Dogs and the NORTHPORT DOG PARADE!

Author and book-loving fan
Thursday was great fun with the Chickadee Man! Bill Smith, author of Chickadees at Night (northern Michigan’s current best-selling hardcover book, the paperback bestsellers being “shades” of some dull color...), did a recitation of his “fun” verse about chickadees (defending "funner" as "more fun than 'more fun'") and also gave his audience an insider view on how an illustrated book comes together, crediting his illustrator, Charles R. Murphy, and graphic book designer, Jenifer Thomas, for their contributions. There’s no doubt about the quality of the collaboration--the book speaks for itself—but the magic that happens between author and audience adds a dimension all its own, which is what bookstore events are all about, so here’s a little more of the flavor of Dog Ears Books on Thursday, for those who couldn’t be with us:

Imitating chickadee doing WHAT?

Explaining how the book illustrations evolved
Bill left behind a copy of his petition to make the chickadee Michigan’s new state bird, replacing the robin. Signatures welcome! Thanks to him, I have realized that the bird I heard on my first day sitting still in the woods in January was undoubtedly a chickadee, so of course I signed the petition. How about you?

Birds! On the back roads and close to home, one of my new bird friends this year is the Eastern kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus. (Isn’t that a name? Wow!) All the guidebooks say the kingbird is “common and conspicuous.” Well, what can I say, as one who only learned to see it this year? All previous summers I was looking for a much smaller bird, and so I missed it altogether. Now I spot a kingbird and greet it as a friend and neighbor.

Kingbird, my new friend
We are also honored to have bluebirds nesting in a dead popple, close enough to our outdoor dining table that we can watch the parents feed their young while we ourselves are feeding. Saturday evening I could see (but was not quick enough to photograph) two gaping baby beaks at the nest hole entrance when the father bird returned with a grasshopper almost as big as his own head. One baby got that giant insect, and the other had to wait for their mother to arrive with a smaller tasty treat.

Papa at nest tree
Still on the subject of natural species, but switching from fauna to flora, I was intrigued to run across a couple stands of fireweed in northern Leelanau Township recently, up on the way to Christmas Cove. To me, fireweed is a U.P. wildflower, past blossoming by the time I get to Lake Superior for a visit in September, but here it was, close to home, and somehow that pleased me greatly.

Fireweed here in Leelanau Township

The third week of July will be busy for me. Mario Batali is the guest author on Tuesday evening, July 17, 7:30 p.m., at the Friends of the Leelanau Township Library’s Suzanne Rose Kraynik summer author series, and I’ll be there with a few of Mario’s cookbooks (four different titles) for those who want to purchase and get his signature and personal inscription after the formal presentation. (FOL president Suzanne Landes asks that everyone coming to the event bring a lawn chair, as the crowd is expected to be large, necessitating an outdoor evening!) Then the very next day, Wednesday, July 18, the author of the new Fishtown, Leland book, Laurie Kay Sommers, will be at Dog Ears Books from 4 to 6 p.m. to sign that exciting regional offering!

Bookmarks are a natural complement to bound books printed on paper, and a new addition to my bookstore inventory is a selection of beautiful, colorful, scenic (and laminated) bookmarks by local photographer Karen Casebeer. Karen urged me to carry “just the ones you like,” but there were none I didn’t like, and so my customers can choose wildlife, scenery, or sailboats on Grand Traverse Bay. There is only one photograph that was not taken here in Leelanau Township, and it will be up to you to determine which one that is, if you want to guess, when you make your choices. And yes, there is a snowy owl....

Last but hardly least important, let’s not forget the Northport Dog Parade. This year the parade will be a week earlier, taking place on Saturday, July 11--which is also the date of the Leelanau Township wine festival here in Northport, but let’s not get sidetracked. Dog Parade, Dog Parade. The theme this year, a nod to the marina improvements, is “Old Un-Salty Dog.” If any of you are going “Huh?” please recall that “salty dogs” are sailors and that Lake Michigan is “unsalted.” Now, start thinking about a costume or a float.

Dog Parade registration forms are available at Dog Ears Books, the Pennington Collection, and the Northport Bay Dog and Cat Company. Registration is $5/dog before August 11 and $10 on parade day. Parade day registration runs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with the parade beginning at 1:00 p.m., and JUDGING BEGINS AT THE MILL POND on 3rd Street at 11:30 a.m., so be there early, in costume!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Guest Blogger: Michigan Novel Takes Flight

A couple of days ago I put on Facebook an idea that had popped into my head: I asked anyone having bought a book in my shop that made a big impression to write and tell me about it. Then, I said, with the customer’s permission, I would put the story on Books in Northport. To my delight, someone took up my “Facebook challenge,” and here is today’s guest blogger, Barbara Stark-Nemon. A retired English teacher and speech/language therapist (speech pathologist), Barbara has finished her first novel and is well into a second—but I’ll let her tell the rest of her story:

I’ve taken up your FB challenge!  Donald Lystra’s  “Season of Water and Ice” came to me from you last winter on one of my solo sojourns to the lake house to write.  Set in Michigan and written by someone who came to novel writing as a second career, this book was immediately of interest to me.  Then I read it, and was treated to its taut, honest narrative voice and the spare simplicity of the 1950s setting with which I further identified.  I loved this book, and a year later it found its way into my own novel…. Here’s the excerpt…  you never know where a book recommendation will lead!


Sh’ma Yisroel........   The traditional prayer, watchword of the Jewish faith, floated unbidden into my mind along with gratitude for the opportunity to be pressed into the window seat of a small jet at take-off.  To this very day, taking off in an airplane signaled a momentary suspension between the end of exhausting preparation and extrication from the complexities in my life, and the beginning of the rigors of an adventure that lay ahead.  I had a childhood full of air travel in small single-engine planes, piloted by my parents and a family friend. I’d gained a visceral experience of the mechanical insecurities of aircraft, and the physical alarm systems offered by the human body to remind us that flight is not what we were designed to do.  The prayer always seemed like a perfect acknowledgment of my transitional state on every level.  It was all about oneness, and whatever will be will be.
“How are you liking the Lystra?” The deep voice penetrated the roar of the jet engines and my early attempts at mind-clearing meditation, another favorite airplane trick. I opened my eyes and looked at the man seated two seats over.  He was very good-looking and as relaxed as a tall person can be in the undignified  confines of a coach seat on a small jet. His violet-blue eyes met mine and then glanced at the book in my lap.
“Quite a bit, actually.  Have you read it?”
“I wrote it.  Donald Lystra,” and with that he offered his hand across the seat.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” I felt a whoosh of excitement synchronous with the ascending airplane.  “That’s pretty amazing.” I could tell this man was not yet famous enough to expect to be recognized, and he was as pleased as I at the serendipity. “You first.” I ventured. “Where are you going? Are you giving a book talk?”
“Nope.  I have a reunion.  What about you?”
“I’m going to see apple orchards and hard cideries.  Business trip.” I rushed on. “What I love about this book is the way you portray this adolescent boy in a world of adults that aren’t working in his best interest, but who love him.  It’s so real.”  I didn’t care that I sounded earnest and intense.  It was an airplane after all.  And the novel about a lonely young boy burdened by loyalty to his unhappy parents in their separate lives had touched me.  It was spare and intimate.   The boy was going to make it. The ultimate robustness of children was a theme that comforted me.

Barbara Stark-Nemon blogs as the Northport Muse on North by Northport.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Take Time, Find Treasure

1973 El Dog w/ 501 cu. in. engine

David and Sarah and I went to Northport in style on Sunday morning, where David and I had breakfast at the North End on Mill Street, outdoors on the back patio. After breakfast I took Sarah for a stroll around town. 

We do not have magnificent mountain ranges in Leelanau County or monuments dating back to the Middle Ages, but anyone who takes the time to look carefully will find sights worth seeing, such as these pretty little spots in Northport.

Rustic sign for a one-of-a-kind B&B

Northport Creek winding to Grand Traverse Bay
Paperback classics, used
And that’s how I feel (are you surprised?) about the books in my bookstore, too. I don’t have a Gutenberg Bible, and I may not have the latest bestseller you want the minute you walk in the door (I’ll gladly order whatever it), but there are so many possibilities that sometimes it makes my head spin! There are books for every budget and for almost every taste and field of interest--so much variety that anyone who leaves empty-handed probably did not really want a book in the first place. 

A variety of treasure awaits, from brand-new... very old,

from special bindings... paperback books for the beach.

July marks our 19-year anniversary, making this the 20th summer of Dog Ears Books. Hard to believe. We're now just up the block from our modest 1993 beginnings, but we've come a very long way.

As for me, I’ve been reading further in Teresa Scollon’s wonderful book of poetry, To Embroider the Ground with Prayer, and continue to be impressed and moved by her work. Many people tell me they “don’t get” or “can’t understand” poetry, and I have two responses: (1) Poetry is best appreciated, in my opinion, if a reader or listener begins with total immersion, rather than trying to analyze or attach symbolic meaning to each word or every line. (2) Maybe you’ve been reading the wrong poetry? Good poetry does not have to be incomprehensible. Sometimes it may be difficult, but not even always that. Stop in and try a poem with me: I promise I won't let you drown.

I also started reading Moby-Dick for one of my reading groups. It was our first selection for the coming year, and we'll begin discussion in September, but it seems I couldn’t wait. Marvelous early chapters! I was prepared to slog dutifully through this tome but am turning pages with a glad heart. Of course, that could change when I hit the technical chapters on whaling....

A couple of notes to this week’s Northport calendar:

Featured book for Thursday, July 12, author visit

(1)       Bill O. Smith, author of the illustrated children’s book, Chickadees at Night, will be at Dog Ears Books on Thursday, July 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those with discerning minds no doubt already figured out that Thursday is the 12th and not the 11th as I had it in my calendar column. (Bill and I had been playing around with dates....) Anyway, it’s this coming Thursday! Children, parents, grandparents, bird-lovers and everyone else, welcome!

(2)       The first event in the summer author series at Leelanau Township Library, featuring Stephanie Mills, scheduled for Tuesday, July 10, has been cancelled. Friends of the Library decided not to substitute anyone at this late date but to begin on July 17.

See you on Thursday? Or before! It's summer, our 7-day-a-week time of year!

Sarah sometimes catches a snooze on the job.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Books You Don’t Want to Miss

These organic cherries were hand-picked!
When people visiting my bookstore ask what I recommend, I try to get an idea what kind of books they usually enjoy. That said, today will be a very short list of some of the books generally high on my list for 2012, along with a few of the reasons why I love them and links to other posts where I’ve discussed them at greater length.

GRAND TRAVERSE: THE CIVIL WAR ERA, by John Mitchell, was my #1 best-seller of 2011, still going strong—and deservedly so. Whether you’re a “history buff,” a professional historian, or just a general reader looking for good stories about how real people lived in the past, you will not be disappointed. Mitchell’s research is married to a very readable style: I haven’t had a single negative response on this book. It sets the bar for self-published work, too, having won a Michigan history award and a nation-wide Independent Publisher nonfiction award. Those on vacation wanting to learn more about the area will find many prize nuggets (and familiar local names) in these pages. 

SOUTH OF SUPERIOR, by Ellen Airgood, is in paperback this summer, poised to reach a whole new audience. NPR listeners as well as my Northport bookstore audience loved Ellen’s fictional take on Up North life, based on her many years of personal experience. Here’s what I love about this book: the style is simple and unpretentious, reminding me of Betty Smith’s novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but, like Smith’s, Airgood’s characters are anything but simplistic. There is no "Us vs. Them" in her story. You won’t find here Noble Locals besieged by Demanding Newcomers and Insensitive Tourists. Neither are the locals pictured as bumbling yokels that sophisticated vacationers must suffer. These are real people. Their lives are ordinary, their challenges are real, and you can tell the author is sympathetic to each and every one. 

ONCE UPON A RIVER, by Bonnie Jo Campbell, is another novel from 2011 now available in paperback. I think the Leelanau Township Library has chosen it for one of their book discussion group meetings in the coming season. Campbell’s characters, like Airgood’s, are real, though they may not be as familiar to general readers. Here you will see Michigan rural life from a whole new perspective. Margo Crane lives life way out on the edge, and her adventures are not those of the average American teenager. (Be forewarned, too, that this is an adult novel, despite the age of the protagonist.) But Margo’s determination and Campbell’s lyrical prose will keep you glued to the pages of this exciting and beautiful novel. 

DUST TO DUST: A MEMOIR, by Benjamin Busch, was featured in a guest review by Tim Bazzett. Ben was here in March for the Up North launch of his book and is now (or was on July 4) on the 100th bookstore visit of his national book tour. A Vassar graduate (studio art major) who went on to become a Marine and serve two tours in Iraq is an unusual person. Busch is also an actor, filmmaker, and gifted photographer. Given all that, his memoir will probably surprise you. There is a lot of solitude recounted in his story—child and young man, he always loved spending time alone in the woods. There is a lot about his parents, also, both deceased and greatly missed. Like Proust (I hope Ben won’t object to this comparison), the wonderful gift he discovered in writing this memoir was having his childhood again and getting his parents back. Beautifully written! 

TO EMBROIDER THE GROUND WITH PRAYER, by Teresa J. Scollon, is a new book of poetry by a Michigan native and recent recipient of an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems draw inspiration and sustenance from her farm family background and also transcend it utterly. Each poem in this collection is so powerful that after reading it you close the book to recover before going on to the next. Scollon will be at the Leelanau Township Library on Tuesday evening, July 24, at 7:30 p.m. I haven't written a review yet because I'm savoring this book poem by poem.

THE THIRD SIDE: HOW WE FIGHT AND HOW WE CAN STOP, by Wiliam Ury, originally appeared in 1999, but I only discovered it recently and am raving it right and left, not only to my friends in the peace movement but to all my friends, because Ury’s observations, experiences, and practical advice span the range of human conflict from the interpersonal to the international. Yes, practical. That’s what’s so great about this book. Do not miss it!!! 

Finally, rounding out the nonfiction side of things with a how-to title, I’ll mention KEEPING A NATURE JOURNAL, by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth. You can simply leaf through this book and enjoy the inspiring illustrations, or you can treat yourself to Leslie’s encouraging text. She takes the fear out of drawing. In your own journal, there’s no such thing as failure. Like Frederick Franck’s The Zen of Seeing, Leslie’s approach opens up for amateur sketchers the whole, wide world of nature in all its splendor. 

So there you are. I could have come up with a longer list, and naturally there are many classics, many other worthy Michigan offerings (fiction and nonfiction) and a wealth of out-of-print treasures in my bookstore, but this is a starter list of recommendations, and these books should have wide appeal to discerning book-lovers.

Lose yourself in nature, lose yourself in a book—summer is the time for both.

Every single one is delicious!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Painting, Drawing, Writing, Being

Yes, here I go again with my beloved present participles! It only seemed natural, given the books I’ve been reading lately and other goings-on in my personal and bookselling life. For starters, I’ve been reading David McCullough’s The Greater Journey, all about Americans in Paris in the nineteenth century. Painters, sculptors, historians and statesmen, musicians and physicians—Paris was the Mecca to them all, with her museums and other cultural offerings not yet available stateside. The author does not ignore world history unrolling in 19th-century Paris, such as the dreaded Prussian siege of 1970-71 and the bloody events of the Paris Commune, both of which he makes come alive in all their horror, but in the end it is the artistic growth of Americans in Paris that stays in this (my) American mind.

On a much lighter note is Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge, by Laren Stover. It’s light entertainment but not as frothy as you might expect from the title. Even bound to a business schedule as I am, I see myself in other aspects of Stover’s descriptions of Bohemian life:
The Bohemian understands the historic, poetic and melancholy nature of dust. To the Bohemian, dust is powder from the wings of moths, ash of Vesuvius, cremains of Joan of Arc, atomic fallout, debris of bombed Berlin, soot brushed from the boots of blue-eyed, black-lunged pubescent chimneysweeps in nineteenth-century London... Dusting is, for the Bohemian, counterproductive, a thief of time. When the poem is read aloud or published in a literary journal, when the painting is finally hung on the wall, when the film is premiered, the dust that collected during creative days and nights is of no consequence...
Hear, hear! Another?
It is splendor in which the Bohemian lives, not squalor—the splendor of the creative mind—and it requires ingenuity, free-thinking and nerve.
I rest the author’s case!

As for drawing and meditating, after six months of discontentment with my stillness project blog I’ve finally pared its look down to bare bones. No more pastels. (Pastels do not suit me.) I wanted that blog to be uncluttered, and now it is even more so--purely black and white and grey--and I like it much better. See what you think by clicking here.

David Grath has reappeared with a gallery presence in Northport! Conveniently for both of us, the new gallery is a side room directly off the bookstore. If features paintings and posters both, so there is something for every art-lover’s budget.

Soon (but after the 4th of July, close upon us tomorrow) I’ll set up links in the right-hand column of Books in Northport to all of my Burger Shack stories so far published here in the blog, adding as the final three are posted. My current thinking (subject to change of mind) is that the final story will go up in early to mid-August. But we’ll see about that as the weeks whir by.

If you’re in Leelanau County these days, you probably saw the very nice feature piece in the Leelanau Enterprise about Bill O. Smith’s book, Chickadees at Night. “I always wondered about that,” said one of my bookstore customers as she brought a copy of the book to the counter for purchase. “What do birds do at night?” Smith’s book for children provides an imaginative answer, with charming illustrations by Charles R. Murphy. Smith does give a serious list of chickadee facts at the end of the book, for those who want “Just the facts, ma’am.” And don’t forget that Smith will be at Dog Ears Books next week, on Thursday, July 12. He’ll be here from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will do a recitation (“not a reading”) from his book. All are welcome, with parents, grandparents, kids and birders especially invited.

Thunderstorms, heat, humidity, fireworks. Does all that work together? I remember one summer it did, when we watched Northport’s pyrotechnic display from the beach in front of the home of friends, lightning and dark clouds cooperating rather than competing with the fireworks for a very memorable evening. Wherever you will be this Independence Day, on the road or on the water, be safe and enjoy the holiday.