Saturday, November 30, 2013
Today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (it’s already started!) a holiday arts and crafts bazaar is taking place across the street from Dog Ears Books, upstairs from Lelu Cafe. With over 20 vendors participating, there’s a lot of variety in their colorful offerings. I was there early this morning as people were just setting up their booths.
Right at the top of the stairs I found Madeleine from Idyll Farms setting up a table of goat cheese. Ooh, that rich aroma!
Marjorie Farrell is so creative, there's no telling what new items she'll have from year to year:
Local photographers Sharon Kalchik and Karen Casebeer always have beautiful, tempting tables:
The maple syrup lady! Margo! She's here, she's here!
Sally Coohon from Dolls and More was getting a helping hand from her husband, Bill. I don't know what Bill thought he was doing here, but it looks like he's impersonating a reindeer!
The holiday bazaar is sponsored this year by the newly formed Northport Arts Association, the same lively, enthusiastic, idea-driven bunch who brought us Leelanau UnCaged in September. Carrying over from previous years’ bazaars (sponsored by a different group) is the idea of donating a portion of money from sales to the Leelanau Children’s Center.
With the sale on Waukazoo Street this year (instead of over on Mill Street – a different world!), I’m hoping Northport shoppers will keep in mind that today is also Small Business Saturday. Did you rush off to the big box stores yesterday? Today’s the day to think small and to think local.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Whenever you purchase locally, goods or services, you are supporting your community, and that means local jobs and support for local families -- and kids!
P.S. I’ve set up a new blog for my meditation drawings and will post them there from now on instead of here.
Friday, November 29, 2013
“When We Come Home, Blake Calls For Fire”
- by Nancy Willard
Fire, you handsome creature, shine.
Let the hearth where I confine
your hissing tongues that rise and fall
be the home that warms us all.
When the wind assaults my doors
every corner’s cold but yours.
When the snow puts earth to sleep
let your bright behavior keep
all these little pilgrims warm.
They who never did you harm
raise their paws a little higher
and toast their toes, in praise of fire.
This is only one of the irresistibly imaginative and alluring verses in Nancy Willard’s book titled A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers. I chose this one to share because it seemed so appropriate to the season underway.
I can hardly believe I am only just now discovering Nancy Willard. She has written so many books – and she’s from Michigan, born in Ann Arbor and educated all the way through a doctorate from the U of M. Now a couple of my regular local customers tell me they knew Willard and her photographer husband, Eric Lindbloom, in upstate New York. Marjorie was a long-time admirer of Willard’s books before meeting the author at an exhibition of Lindbloom’s photography.
I feel a little silly for not knowing Nancy Willard’s work before, especially since she was the first Newbery winner for a volume of poetry, but I am determined to remedy my deficiencies. On the day before Thanksgiving, I read the entire Visit to William Blake’s Inn, completely charmed and won over by the verses, and I am ordering several more of Nancy Willard’s books right away, so as to have a good stock in for holiday shoppers. I suspect that many parents and grandparents, poetry-lovers and poetry-phobes alike, will instantly fall in love with this Michigan writer, as I have done.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
|Potatoes placed on sheets of paper on table|
|Pure contour drawing (done without looking at drawing while doing it)|
|Modified contour drawing (looking back and forth from potatoes to drawing)|
|Details and shading added to modified contour drawing|
|Shadows from light source added|
Dog Ears Books will NOT -- absolutely NOT -- be open tomorrow! We're here for a while today (Wednesday) and will be here on Friday and Saturday. Tomorrow is a holiday. We're taking it and hope you can, too.
So until Friday, then, if we don't see you today,
Saturday, November 23, 2013
C’est la neige qui nous arrive! La neve in Italian, la nieve in Spanish. Oh, those Romance languages and their kissing cousin words! Our English word originates further north: Snaw, snie, sne, Schnee, snö, snjór. Whatever you call it, it’s beautiful – and can be treacherous.
Friday morning roads were slippery in Leelanau Township, and in the village of Northport pedestrians were stepping cautiously. By afternoon streets and sidewalks were clear, but the cold, so different from yesterday’s balmy air, remained. Is it winter? Is it here? Were the deer hunters happy this morning with snow on the ground? Will there be a reprieve before Thanksgiving for the rest of us? There was no reprieve on Saturday. The snow was not heavy (yet!), but the wind was sharp and bitterly cold. That early morning customer stocking up on Steve Hamilton mystery novels had the right idea for the weekend.
|(Picture for Dawn P., who requested it)|
|Another good idea|
A particular kind of reading seems to go with these first snowy days. I can’t resist pulling out cookbooks and dreaming over recipes of slowly simmered soups and stews, eggy-rich cakes drenched in honey and dusted with powdered sugar, astounding pickles (we are addicted to pickled okra; now if only I could succeed in growing it in my garden!), anything at all involving apples, or any noodle recipe whatsoever. Could a sweet noodle kugel, I wonder, be served with homemade spiced applesauce? Why not? Imagination feeds on cookbook dreams as the weather turns cold.
But those tidy volumes, new and old, I must admit, are in my bookstore. At home, the shelves are not as well arranged (though much better than before we did a massive rearranging), and some of the volumes, taken from the shelves, reveal themselves to be downright disreputable.
Cold weather that tempts us to the fireside is great weather for any kind of reading. I really, really did read recently (despite my earlier protestations of lack of interest) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, “complete and unabridged,” and enjoyed the stories very much. This morning I started in on Algerian Chronicles, a collection of essays by Albert Camus, many translated into English for the first time, the rest re-translated, by Arthur Goldhammer. At the bookstore this cold Saturday afternoon I fell into Cathy Johnson's On Becoming Lost: A Naturalist's Search for Meaning, and was exclaiming out loud over the first page of the introduction, "This is me! I was just writing about this!" Here are some of the sentences from Johnson that so resonated with me:
Being lost is not a negative concept. Like the earth-shadowed moon, like night and day, being lost carries within itself its opposite: being found. Being lost simply means we are wandering; is that so bad?
The loveliest lost of all is that I choose myself -- lost in the crowd, lost to the world, lost, perhaps, to my own incessant self-awareness and able to see what's beyond the end of my own nose. I am forced to look elsewhere for answers and I love it. Being in possession of all the answers holds no appeal at all, but owning a good pocketful of unanswered questions is to me like bread to the starving.This is a book I will devour hungrily. It has already given me an appetite.
Our Intrepid Ulysses Group will discuss Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in December and then – just maybe – we’ll take on the first volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things past as winter really sets in. As one member of the group said with a nonchalant shrug, “If we got through Ulysses, we can get through anything.” Another person said, “It’s going to be a long winter. We need a long book.”
Here’s the big question: Will the first volume, Swann’s Way, be long enough to last the winter, or will we bold and happy readers be led further and further down the course of the narrator’s life, until finally he recaptures the past he thought was lost to him forever?
Full disclosure: In the past I cheated on Proust, reading the first volume and half of the second before skipping ahead to the last.
More questions: And now? How short is life? How fast fly the winter days? Is there time to read all of Proust?
More questions: And now? How short is life? How fast fly the winter days? Is there time to read all of Proust?
|Stay tuned in -- or tune in later in the winter -- for the answer to these burning questions.|
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
|When is a path more than a path?|
What does the word ‘explore’ mean to you? I’ve come to the realization that it means something very different from its standard definitions to me, something rather idiosyncratic. Investigate or examine systematically, for diagnostic or scientific purposes? Me, not so much. Then there’s this etymological stuff about “setting up a loud cry,” as hunters hallooing to other hunters. Again, unh-unh. When I'm out doing what I call exploring, I'm as quiet as I can be, trying to take in my surroundings with all senses.
I look into synonyms and find myself rejecting them all, although ‘question’ and ‘look into’ are getting closer to my feeling for the word 'explore.' If Phil Caputo is right when he writes, “Without a design, a journey becomes aimless wandering” (The Longest Road, 2013), how far from scientific is anything purporting to be exploration if there is no design to the search? Once again, I confirm within myself a bias in favor of “aimless wandering.” How can I set out searching for something in particular if I have no idea what the territory will contain? And yet, if I pass by a bit of terra incognita without looking into it, how much will I miss? All of it, surely!
Our world presents an infinity of aspects to be explored – nature, history, culture, psychology, art, literature, molecular structure, genetics, to start with a very abbreviated list. Some people choose an area and proceed systematically, and that’s not a bad plan. It’s pretty much the basis for university studies, in fact, and preparing for a career demands such an approach. I’ve done it, haven’t you? Don’t you still do it when a situation demands systematic inquiry? My point isn’t that systematic inquiry is bad or should be forsworn but that “aimless wandering,” whether in a library or in the woods or simply in our own minds, can offer rewards of its own.
Sometimes, without our having seen it coming, a new way beckons. It promises nothing but adventure. Maybe we had a specific agenda in mind for the day, and this alluring path can only pull us off-course. Shall we follow? Is there room in the day for improvisation, for a detour from schedule and well-worn habit? If not that day, will we go back another day and take up the challenge? What is there to lose, and what might we gain?
Along the unfamiliar way, questions arise. The path is raised, and alongside it, water and autumn leaves are held in earth that seems to have been excavated. Soon we reach a spot along the path that transects a small stream. The water has been guided underneath the path so it can flow freely on to open water nearby, joining the Great Lakes.
Farther along, a clue too obvious to be missed shows amidst fallen leaves. What do you see in the image below?
An old, rotting bit of trash farther back on the trail takes on new significance in light of this new evidence. It bears further scrutiny. Again, there is no plan other than curiosity. I could more easily find answers by visiting the local historical museum or putting out an inquiry to those who grew up here decades ago. And it isn’t that I am rejecting those avenues, so much as that here, right now, I have a chance to wander back in time by myself, in the very place that still holds that time, to wander and question and search in near-silence to hear what the contours of the land will tell me.
I could be wrong. I could so easily be wrong. But I don’t really care whether I am right or wrong in every detail. I come from a railroad family, and this bit of trash could be (couldn’t it?) an old railroad handcar, the kind my father used out in South Dakota when he went on survey for his employer, the Milwaukee Road. (Follow this link for a history of railroad handcars, especially if you've never heard of them before. One thing I know for sure is that I am exploring an old railroad line. There is no mistake possible about that.
I cannot stumble over old rails or rotting ties without a tug at my heart. Memories come pouring back – a thrilling ride in my grandfather’s steam engine, the move from South Dakota to Illinois, family trips to Ohio and Florida, a school band and orchestra odyssey to the National Music Festival in Enid, Oklahoma – but more truly, I am not living my own past here in the woods: I am living a past that was never mine, exploring life lived by people I never knew, a century before I came upon the scene.
On my second exploring adventure to the old railroad line trail, I see what looks like a branching path off the mainline. Or was the curving line the mainline, the straight path ahead a spur? These questions can be answered another time, with old maps and old books and information from old local people. For now, for this morning, I would not trade the excitement of the questions for any list of answers.
Ours is a soggy township, clay and sand that drains in all directions, always, eventually, to Lake Michigan, and everywhere along the old rail beds water had to be engineered.
Are you familiar with the name Errol Morris? This unconventional filmmaker studied philosophy, right on up to the stage of his doctoral dissertation, but at last his committee lost patience, and he was dropped from his program. He “lacked focus,” they said. Indeed, he would begin with a question, but that always led to another question and another and another and another, and he could not resist following every beckoning path that led away from the highway toward his degree. Well, I have my degree (and no fame as a film director or anything else), but I see the curiosity Morris showed as another and different kind of perseverance. His willingness to wander, to let himself be diverted again and again, is what exploration means to me.
Some writers begin with an outline. Others begin with a question. One painter I know sometimes gets herself into a bind with projects that grow out of all proportion to their beginnings. Her husband suggested once that she lay out a plan before starting work. She replied that if she knew ahead of time what the result would be she wouldn't have to do the work.
It is not uncommon for someone to come a few feet into my bookstore, just far enough in from the door to address me directly, and ask, "Do you have such-and-such?" and if the answer is no, that someone will, nine times out of ten, thank me, turn around and leave -- without so much as glancing at what I do have in stock! I've been a bookseller for over 20 years and am still amazed by this phenomenon. I can understand that someone might want a particular book and be disinclined to buy anything else that day, but not even to look around? To sail right on past my little Treasure Island without exploring so much as a single cove?
Plans and lists and projects are good ways to get things done, but there's got to be more to life than getting things done. There's got to be time for daydreaming, for exploring, for aimless wandering, for letting life surprise us.
|Still green on November 20th|
It is 10:50 a.m. on Friday morning as I type these lines, and the snow is being driven horizontally past the bookstore windows. Forecast is full of snow, snow, snow from here through the U.P. In case you were wondering....
Monday, November 18, 2013
Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,
by Maria Konnikova
NY: Penguin, 2013
When it comes to stories of the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, you’re either a fanatical follower or you’d pick up almost anything else before the desperation of a rainy evening alone in someone else’s remote cabin would tempt you to open A Study in Scarlet or The Sign of Four. Holmes fans simply cannot get enough of the master, while the rest of us politely cover our yawns when when a fan mentions his name. Yes, I admit it: I’m in the latter group. I don’t even like the movie versions much.
But hand me a book on how the mind works, and I’m as eager as a puppy with a new toy. Hand me Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational or Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow or anything by Temple Grandin, and I’ll be opening the book while you’re still talking. How we human beings perceive and remember and reason and draw conclusions, including our making of egregious errors, never fails to fascinate me. The promise of Maria Konnikova’s book on the mental processes of Sherlock Holmes is that we, the readers, can learn to remember better, think more clearly, thinking less like Dr. Watson and More like Sherlock Holmes. Okay, I'm in.
Because who – I ask you, who? -- wants to stand there like a chump (or like Dr. Watson), mouth hanging open, in reverent awe of Mr. Holmes? Don’t we want to come up with the solution to the mystery? I’m not out to collar murderers, but I would certainly like to know where the charger to my cell phone is hiding or figure out where the Farberware Dutch oven has disappeared to.
The “scientific method” of observation, though, doesn’t sound like my way of being in the world. It sounds so cold, so detached, so objective. Quite anti-social, in fact, don’t you think? The skepticism the author cites as fundamental to scientific observation reminds me of Descartes’ radical doubt thought experiment. Is it really possible – would it even be desirable – to go through every minute of every day doubting before believing? What could that possibly mean?
When the author makes the distinction between fast and slow thinking, I’m more comfortable. My husband says of my decision process in general, “She grinds exceeding slow, but she grinds exceeding fine.” I’m a slow thinking by nature. But not always, of course, slow enough: the default setting Konnikova calls “System Watson” is always poised to jump in quickly. Like the left brain when the person holding the pencil is asked to draw a house, “System Watson” is there jumping up and down and waving its hand in the air and saying, “I have the answer!” The left brain wants to draw “what it knows” without bothering to see what’s in front of the eyes at that moment, and “System Watson” wants to go only on the evidence of its eyes in that moment, without reference to further observation or salient memories.
My favorite way of conceptualizing Konnikova’s “System Holmes,” in fact, is to think of it as the calm, quiet, open receptiveness of meditation. In our drawing class, we learned techniques to frustrate the noisy, know-it-all left brain so it would get out of the way and let us draw what we were seeing – really to let us see. Holmes uses ‘seeing’ in a pejorative sense, but in the lexicon of drawing class Holmesian ‘seeing’ is ‘knowing,’ the left brain running forward with answers before true observation has taken place.
Here’s a true story: I had been looking for my “lost” cell phone charger for two or three days before I started reading Mastermind. Arriving at page 22, I closed the book, sat calmly for less than 60 seconds, got up and went right to where the charger had been all along.
What’s the secret? My parents had emphasized throughout my childhood and adolescence that “retracing your steps” from the last place you can picture in memory having the lost object was the key to finding it. That isn’t a new idea to me. Purging the search of panic and frustration, setting aside judgment (e.g., “I’ve already looked there; it can’t be there”), I’m discovering, is as important as the retracing of steps.
Caveat!!! Beware!!! Konnikova does not promise instant results. She might even be dismayed by my story of finding a lost object before finishing the first chapter of her book! To improve our thinking, we need, she says, to be interested and motivated. She also emphasizes that it will take practice, practice, practice to retrain our minds. Interest, motivation, practice? That sounds like learning to draw, too! I’m hooked!
Summary and Conclusions
I finally had to give up hope of keeping the pages of this book pristine. If a book is to be more than entertainment for the time it takes it read it, if it is to be a tool, I have to make it my own in some way. A library book, then, would be bristling with Post-Its, and those slips of paper would have scribbled notes on them, and there might be additional folded sheets of paper inside with more notes and page numbers. With a paperback book of my own (this applies generally to nonfiction), I may begin with Post-It notes, but the more there is to remember and keep straight, the more likely I am to make, first, discreet little dog ears, then light pencil check marks in the margins, and finally – throwing all caution to the winds – underlining madly. My copy of Mastermind went through all these stages.
The book might have been written differently, and then I might not have resorted to underlining, or at least not as much, but Konnikova makes no allowances for chatting or tweeting attention spans. This is a book, with paragraphs are long and discursive. There are occasional section headings but no numbered or bulleted lists and no graphic displays illustrating the “brain attic” in states of order vs. disarray. Shorter and fewer sentences, with more signage along the way, may have improved this book’s chances at bestsellerdom. It would certainly have made it faster and easier to read. – But would it have made the book better?
What might first seem an unfortunate shortcoming can appear as a virtue in a different light. Just as there is no shortcut to thinking like Sherlock Holmes (you don’t read this book one evening and wake up a problem-solving genius the next morning), just as leaping to conclusions can prevent consideration of important evidence, and just as stopping to reflect on how much we actually know (as opposed to everything we’re tempted to think we know), just so a book that forces thinking to slow down and forces it over the same ground again and again may be the book best suited to fulfilling the author’s promise to her readers: You can improve your thinking, but you must be interested and motivated, and it will take practice, practice, practice.
Many of the problem-solving pitfalls cited in Mastermind will be familiar to readers of literature going back to Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman’s work on heuristics and biases in the 1970s and 1980s, work that has been amplified since by many other scholarly studies and popular books. Konnikova’s genius, if you will, is not only to draw all this work together but to present it in a familiar literary frame, so that the well-known characters of Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes exemplify, respectively, error-prone and largely accurate and error-avoiding thought. Examples from Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories that illustrate her points are well chosen.
I have a few minor quibbles. One concerns deductive logic. Konnikova is accurate when noting that formal logic is something different from what Holmes means by deduction. She is on less firm ground when explaining formal logic, which is not, as she seems to say it is, limited to Aristotelian syllogisms. The syllogism is one but not the only valid deductive form. In the same chapter she gives an example of an invalid form without explaining why the true statement in the conclusion cannot be relied on, only saying there is a problem with the reasoning. If formal logic is to be brought in at all, a paragraph or two might be added to clarify the difference between valid and invalid forms. Otherwise, it were better left out entirely.
Will this book find the audience it deserves or only the audience deserving of the book? “I’m not always known for my conciseness,” the author admits candidly in her Acknowledgements. But I have already admitted myself that too concise a Holmesian program might lead astray more minds than it improved.
Do Arthur Conan Doyle readers grab at studies by Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely? Maybe not, and this may be exactly the strength (in addition to the charm) of Konnikova’s book. A new audience for works on reasoning!
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Sometimes flipping a coin isn’t necessary. Which would my readers rather see in a new blog post, philosophy or travel? Post-structuralism or American roads? No contest, is it? Add to those considerations that any new book from William Least Heat-Moon is worth attention -- which would doubtless even be true if he were to write about philosophy, but you can relax on that score.
Heat-Moon’s new book is Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories From the Road, and it’s a collection of short journalistic travel pieces the author wrote over the years. (“One advantage books have over a newspaper or magazine is that it’s harder to wrap yesterday’s fish with them.”) In it he travels to Japan, his assignment to investigate the postwar economy, his personal mission to purge himself of World War II hatred of the Japanese. He scours the U.S. for authentic, traditional beer and ale, back before microbreweries had popped up everywhere. He pilgrimages to Mississippi in search of William Faulkner when that famous author was still alive (but alas, teaching in another state at the time). And that is only the beginning.
These stories are a famous American writer’s early work. His love of travel, he tells us, goes back to boyhood and his realization that the highway outside the drugstore soda bar window stretched all the way to New Orleans and that U.S. 40 through Kansas City, Missouri, connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of America. “To me,” he writes, “a road map is the printed lyrics to a siren’s song....” Heat-Moon also sees American roadways as the web holding Americans together:
It’s a commonplace to say that no one can interpret America without understanding our use of automobiles, but I think what we really mean is that one doesn’t comprehend the United States without taking into account our mobility, and preeminently that means roadways, perhaps the most American of symbols, one even more functionally representative than the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore. We are a widely dispersed and numerous people bound together by three million miles of painted stripes atop concrete and asphalt.
He cites Albert Gallatin’s report to Congress in 1808 recommending more good roads through the country, “to strengthen and perpetuate the Union which secures independence, domestic peace, and internal liberty.” I find that idea worth pausing over. As Americans, we are free to travel anywhere in our own country. Some areas have higher crime rates than others, but nowhere do we find a region in the hands of armed insurgents. Should our system of highways get some of the credit for this happy state of affairs? William Least Heat-Moon thinks so.
Answering and amplifying the author’s love of maps, love of travel, and appreciation for the union of diverse regions and peoples, this new collection adds a special interest for writers.
Despite assertions to the contrary, exceptional is the magazine editor who truly trusts in the intelligence and creativity of his readership. How many times from an editorial desk have I heard, “Our audience won’t understand this.” “This” being an idea, a word, sentence construction, sentence length, literary allusion, historical reference, or a brief digression underpinning an idea. Too few editors grant American readers much capacity or willingness to think critically, just as they believe their audience will not tolerate a vocabulary beyond the basic five or six thousand words in common usage. If I formerly thought editors were wrong on those questions, now I believe my argument is weaker. Evidence of America getting “dumbed down” in self-fulfilling ways grows apace.
Heat-Moon had to suffer the editorial blue pencil when he originally turned in his assignments, but putting together this new collection gave him a chance “to restore elements one editor or another deemed too challenging for the audience he perceived.” He also gave himself license to rework or expand ideas where inspired to do so.
To my surprise, I’ve liked doing the restitution of the pieces here as I’ve liked returning details and sentence structures I dared not even try with an editorial practitioner of the hack-and-hew school....
What writer can fail to be sympathetic to these feelings? In light, then, of the time that has passed and the changes made to the originally published articles, as well as changes made by the author for the sake of the present collection, each piece is preceded by a brief explanatory note, with Heat-Moon telling us why that particular trip was important to him when he made it and why he thinks we will enjoy revisiting the old ground, perhaps reworked, with him today.
Aficionados of travel writing will open this book eagerly. Fans of William Least Heat-Moon will be grateful for it. Anyone who writes for a living – or simply from love – will be fascinated by this writer’s look at his own pages past.
And happily, Here, There, Elsewhere is already available in paper, and I have ordered it and will have it next week at Dog Ears Books! To my customer this morning who said her husband has Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways on his bookshelf but she hasn’t read it yet, I say, “Open that book today! You have denied yourself the pleasure far too long already!”
We have no travels planned for this winter, but we are happy to have plenty of travel books at hand.
We have no travels planned for this winter, but we are happy to have plenty of travel books at hand.