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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Raging Blizzard in My Head as Year's End Nears

The world Up North is big and white and cold

What has become of your Up North blogging bookseller’s forays into the realm of thoughtful essay? Gone by the wayside? I hope not. It’s just – I mean – it isn’t that my thoughts are exactly just lying around on the surface of life like bodies in a tanning salon with nothing to do but soak up rays. It’s more that there is too much going on right now in mind and heart and life for me to settle down, narrow my focus to a single topic, and explore it in depth. Each snowflake may be a uniquely wonderful – literally, full of wonder, or, that is, we are when we contemplate it -- work of nature, but in a blizzard, who can take the time to contemplate each one?

Holidays have been one obvious focus lately. Presents, mailing presents, calling and e-mailing and writing to and generally being in touch with family and friends, planning holiday meals, attending social events, not to mention (but here I go mentioning it) keeping up with book orders and bookshop hours. It’s all quite lovely but does not exactly encourage or allow hours of quiet reflection.

Which tree is creaking and ready to fall?
Then, this is not much of a holiday topic, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. A lot. I’m remembering friends lost long ago, as well as those who have died more recently. I’m thinking about what a friend calls the mysterious “here/not here” phenomenon that makes death of a loved one so difficult to absorb, much less accept. I think about how difficult holidays are for those dealing with loss. At the same time, one does not want to deny holidays and the cheer and comfort they can bring to so many. It’s all there at once – life, in all its ambiguity and contradiction and sun and shadow, babies being born at the very moment others are dying. Those are some of my background thoughts this December, ebbing and flowing.

Books don’t stop coming at a bookseller because of the holidays or thoughts of death. Marjorie Farrell did one recent book review for me, but I have another hanging fire and another review book coming in the mail soon. I’m thinking I’ll save the former to publish after the first of the year, even though the release date is December 31, because how many of my little coterie of readers will be up for leisurely book review reading as New Year’s Eve approaches? My Christmas Day and day-after treat was reading a friend’s YA novel manuscript. I mean it. It really was a lovely treat. None of this is complaint! It is, I hope, some kind of explanation. Reading and writing can feed each other, but they can also compete for available time.

Winter itself both encourages and discourages quiet reflection. Once the holidays are over, there will be many quiet hours and quiet days; for now, however, holiday bustle combining with frigid temperatures and very deep snow make every day and every errand a challenge. Strategies must be plotted, campaigns carefully planned in advance of effort. My sorties with Sarah into the cold world of deep snow – those alone require a lot more than just sailing out the front door. Sarah may sail, of course, but I must first bundle and then trudge and pay close attention to footing.

My one calm, contemplative winter meditation, not forsaken even during the holiday season, has been drawing. In 2012 my solitary project for the year was to go out and sit still for an hour once a week, soaking in and sketching the small world I call my home ground, Leelanau Township from roughly Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern to St. Wenceslaus Church. It was cold going out in the winter for those stillness sessions – but easier to find time then than during spring planting or summer tourist seasons.

The new drawing project I have purposely left more freeform: no daily or weekly hours that I “must” fill or try to meet; no limits on subject matter or locale. Calling the project “Morning Drawing Meditations” set the tone I wanted to establish, and so far, beginning ahead of the new year, it’s going well. On mornings I get up too late to fit in a session, I don’t beat myself up, and whenever I do sit down with drawing pad and pencils I love losing track of time and leaving all other concerns behind.

When I draw, the blizzard in my brain subsides. I’m not in my brain or my thoughts at all, reflective or otherwise. There is simply a subject in front of me – a butternut squash, a few yams or pears, a crumpled potato chip bag, a mitten – something to look at carefully, seeing its complexity and uniqueness. Like that snowflake, you know?

Sustained reflection and even argumentation will revive again with the new year. For now, sigh ....................

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Counting Our Holiday Blessings

Many people had horrible weather and inconvenience stretched to the point of danger. Downstate there were ice storms instead of fluffy snow, with power outages closely following the ice. Temperatures are as cold as they’ve been lately, and right in the middle of Christmas? Losing power couldn’t have come at a worse time. We were so lucky! It has happened to us before, and it will again, but we were happy to miss the excitement this time around and to have a quiet, cozy Christmas at home, snug and warm.

The snow is deep. It’s been snowing for days, and it’s been cold for such a long time it’s hard to remember anything other than cold, but no one can deny that the recent Up North snowfall has been beautiful – sparkling and glittering in the sunny air on Christmas Eve day like chips of mica, sifting down like finely granulated sugar on Christmas Day morning.

Sarah was a little puzzled when we went out on Christmas Day. She couldn’t figure out how all the bunny tracks from the day before had vanished so thoroughly. For me, the outside interest was more visual than olfactory.

"Where did the bunnies go?"

Presents opened, holiday meal eaten, phone calls made to and received from relatives, and now it’s the Day After. Our plow guy came again and, once again, did his work splendidly. We came to Northport and found the sidewalks cleared of drifts, too. We have been blessed by beauty, by warmth, by family, and by neighbors just doing their jobs. I know that people doing their jobs in places where the power is out will have it on again as soon as humanly possible.

Now, if anyone wants to help me eat pretzel stars dipped in white chocolate and peppermint chips – or caramel corn – or windmill cookies – stop by the bookstore. The coffee’s on, and Sarah and I are here, keeping snug and warm. We have also (well, I have: Sarah didn't have much to do with it) restocked that Bright Wings book, the poetry anthology edited by Billy Collins with Sibley illustrations, and I have another new one bird-lovers will find fascinating, Their Fate Is Our Fate: How Birds Foretell Threats to Our Health and Our World, by Peter Doherty.

Here is what Sarah and I saw when we went out for a walk about an hour ago. No birds in sight. No bunnies, either.

Northport Creek today

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Guest Book Review: CITY OF LOST DREAMS

City of Lost Dreams, by Magnus Flyte (Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch). NY: Penguin Books, 2013. This is the second book in a series (City of Dark Magic was the first) telling of the musical European adventures of  Sarah Weston and her friends, a lot of ghosts, and a bit of sex.

Sex, drugs and classical music—not to mention eons of ghosts viewed only by those under the influence of said drug, or who have the gift—all in modern-day, staid Vienna.

In City of Dark Magic we met musicologist Sarah Weston in Prague, following in the footsteps of her beloved dead mentor who was, in turn, following in the footsteps of Beethoven seeking his Immortal Beloved.  While, perhaps unwisely, ingesting a drug given to her by a 400-year-old dwarf (Nico), Sarah saw Beethoven at the apex of his creative genius, fell in love with an American prince (Max), befriended a sickly ten-year-old music protege (Pols)  and solved at least one murder.

Now in City of Lost Dreams Sarah and her friends move on to Vienna in the hopes of finding “The Golden Fleece.”  The fleece they seek is not the colorful mythological sheepskin but a cookbook of sorts, a book of alchemist recipes, some purporting to bring immortality -- or cure it.  (Her dwarf friend was the victim of one such experiment.)  Another recipe purports to induce visions in which the participant can travel through time and interact with long-dead (or maybe not) historical characters.  Yet another is supposed to cure incurable illnesses. Sarah's mission this time is to find a cure for the gravely ill Pols. 

The book is fast paced and filled with scientific and historical references to purpose, place and time, all of which become blurred under the influence of the time travel drug.  I found myself constantly torn between putting the book down to Google a scientific theory or historic place, event or character and wanting to keep reading, to run through the book as fast as Sarah and her friends to find The Golden Fleece or the ending of the story.  The novel is a mesmerizing ride through Vienna’s golden age with Sarah, Nico, Max, Pols, Beethoven, Mozart, Mesmer and a time-defying villain bent on centuries-old revenge.

Though mainly in the fantasy genre, this series so far spans romance, mystery, intrigue, historical fiction, science, and science fiction.  Now they have another time-traveling companion—a ancient rat rescued by Nico from a mad scientist's lab, and I look forward to another book continuing their adventures in history, mystery, science and alchemy. Will Sarah, like Beethoven, finally connect forever with her Immortal Beloved?  If so, in what century?  Does she still need the time-traveling drug, or has she finally found her own strength and power to move throughout time and dimensions?  We can only breathlessly await the future.  And the past.

This richly textured book is steeped in history, cutting edge science and speculative fiction at its finest.

*  *  *  * 
Marjorie Farrell is an avid reader of most anything put in front of her, but especially of science fiction, fantasy, art history and mystery. When she finds a book such as City of Lost Dreams which includes all of these genres and areas of interest, she is spellbound.  She is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop, formerly at Michigan State University, and holds a BA in art history.

Marjorie gave me the information in the paragraph above, but let me add that she is a very creative fabric artist and craftsperson, as well, and you can see -- and purchase -- some of her work at Red Mullein, next door to Dog Ears Books.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Does Spending Money on Gifts Corrupt the Giving?

Shall we ask Sarah? No, not the kind of question that perks up her ears. I'll just tell you what I think and how I feel, and I'm interested in your thoughts and feelings on the subject, too. 

For me, giving a holiday gift is akin to writing a letter because, whether giving or writing, I take a lot of personal pleasure in the process. I’ve been thinking about gift-giving lately, in this season of holiday shopping and preparation, and wondering where my pleasure in buying and giving comes from. As with most questions involving holiday traditions, my answer can be traced back to childhood.

My parents were not big shoppers, in general, so our at-home family Christmas was hardly an orgy of materialist excess. Gifts were modest. The thing is, my mother and father were not routinely buying things for us twelve months of the year. We usually got a few new school clothes in September, along with school supplies, and there was always a cake and a special gift for each girl’s birthday, but we were not continuously showered with new clothes, toys, games, records, or even books. We were not deprived, but neither were we overindulged by any measure, and I think this is why gifts at Christmas were so special.

When we were little, the “Santa Claus” presents appeared unwrapped under the tree to greet us on Christmas morning, while presents officially from our parents and grandparents were wrapped in colorful paper. We could get at the Santa Claus gifts right away but had to wait for our parents to join us in the living room (all of us in pajamas and robes) to open wrapped gifts. And when we started unwrapping, it wasn’t a free-for-all. We sat around the living room – no hurry to get breakfast that morning! – and one person opened one present at a time. We all paid attention and enjoyed the opening, no matter who was doing it. As I’ve said, we didn’t have presents and treats every day of the year. Neither was the dining room sideboard all year long laden with cookies and fudge and divinity and a sugar-cube cottage and bowls of oranges and nuts in their shells with nutcrackers laid carefully on top. The holiday was a special time, and part of what made it special was presents, things we’d been wanting for months and were now to be given. 

One gift I’ll never forget, one of my very favorites, was a new hardcover copy of Marguerite Henry’s Black Gold, a story – yes, about a horse! -- that still gives me shivers just thinking of it. I remember one grandmother giving me my own first alarm clock, too, a windup Baby Ben, and the other grandparents sending a long-playing record, an anthology called “Great Hits on Dot.” All these gifts had been bought, rather than homemade, but they were precious to me. I say “but” because there seems to be a feeling in some quarters that gifts purchased with money don’t come from as deep in the heart as something the giver has made by hand, and that doesn’t fit with my experience. I’m not saying that purchased gifts are better. I just don’t think they must be seen as inferior.

Let me come at this from another angle. Even as children, we were encouraged by our parents to give as well as receive. Without a lot of spending money, again, our gifts to each other were modest, but each one was chosen with the recipient in mind, and my sisters and I were proud to choose, buy, wrap and give presents to each other and to our parents.

One year as a young adult, barely able to afford the trip back to my parents’ home for the holiday, the gifts I gave were all homemade. There was a jar of spinach noodles for each relative and a poem written for all to share. It was all I could do.

For several years more recently, I fixated on the idea that no one in my family “needed” anything, and I coerced them (there is no more accurate word) into giving donations to charity in each other’s names and calling those “gifts.” Don’t get me wrong. My family is not “needy,” and plenty of people in the world are, and charitable giving, whether for the holidays or any other time, is important. But I’ve gone back to giving my family simple gifts, things in packages to be opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, depending on the tradition of the individual nuclear family involved, because I like doing it, and so do they.

Certain people are easier to buy for than others, but when inspiration strikes for hard-to-buy-for relatives, I am overjoyed. Yes! “Do you want gift boxes?” Yes! “Do you want us to gift-wrap them for you?” No! I want to do that myself!!!

(There are no pictures here of gifts I’ve sent off to family or squirreled away for David (some wrapped in reusable cloth, others in new or even re-used paper), because the former lot have gone out in the mail, and the latter are not yet wrapped, and anyway, they are surprises, and they are just for the people getting them, not for my blog readers. Yes, some of the gifts are books, but by no means all. Some presents are practical, some inspirational, and some are edible, either homemade -- those mostly to local friends -- or gourmet treats my relatives would not buy for themselves.)

Here’s another thing. We don’t travel on holidays. In the past, I spent many white-knuckled hours on dangerously ice-covered roads, praying I wouldn’t join the jack-knifed semi-trailer trucks in the median ditch. Weather is always a possible issue. Days are short in December, too. Driving expressways in the dark? No, thank you! Then there is the expense of travel, a sure thing, and add to those negatives my wanting to be in my bookstore open the day before and after Christmas, the last time people will be coming “home” to Northport until their summer vacations. It all adds up to staying home. Our kids and grandkids have busy lives downstate and in Minnesota, as do my sisters and mother in Illinois. The upshot of all this is that we don’t hop planes or hit the road in December. Instead we call and talk to each other on the phone. We also send presents. It’s yet another way of “being together” across the miles, and it means a lot to all of us, as I’ve come to realize more and more.

No one in this country is obligated to observe any holiday, and every one of us is free to celebrate or not in whatever way we choose. The day may come -- may it be far, far in the future! -- when I can no longer shop for holiday presents, but while I can I am going to enjoy it! And I must say, if my family has one-quarter as much fun opening their presents as I had buying and wrapping and sending them, I will have my pleasure all over again in theirs. Clearly, there is an aspect of self-indulgence here. Is that a bad thing? All I can say is, I feel very, very good about it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ideas, and More Ideas

Rock on!
All about knots
Everyone is busy. Me, too. Wrapping and shipping and still finding time for reading (book review coming soon) and drawing (my morning meditations) and getting outdoors with Sarah, so I won't have much, if anything, to say here today. I'll just show you pictures of a few books, some new, some used. Maybe someone on your holiday gift list would connect with something here -- or maybe there's something you want for yourself and that's okay, too, Santa.

used classic

new and lovely

bright and gently used for Civil War buff

Everyone's been asking for it

New translation

More poetry

Albert Camus titles

various new books

Leelanau history here
Up North collection must-have

This poetry anthology is an art anthology, too

For your inner farmer or someone else's

Indoors and outdoors in Michigan
Cool Michigan posters for dorm rooms

Friday, December 13, 2013

To Rest or Not (Yet) to Rest?

On one's laurels, that is. The question does not admit of a universal answer. Everyone must come up with a personal response. There are different ways to ask the question, too. Perhaps, “Have I earned the right to ...?” or “Am I now comfortable with the decision to ...?” This post is about dreams, about making them come true, and about putting them back on the shelf.

Throughout my adolescence, I dreamed of a career on the stage. Sometimes I planned to become a serious actor, other times a folk singer or a blues singer, and occasionally I imagined myself combining singing and acting on the musical comedy stage. As a young girl, whenever I was alone I was almost never not singing. I would sing my way (very dramatically) down the sidewalks between my high school and downtown after my half-day finished up at 12:30 or so with orchestra practice, only closing my mouth when another pedestrian came within hearing range.

Because here’s the dirty little secret about dreams: They’re easy to have. They cost nothing and involve no risk of public exposure. Making dreams come true – daring to make dreams come true – ah, that’s another matter!

Well, eventually, butterflies in stomach and heart in mouth, I went public with the performance dream. My sister and I, she in her first year of high school when I was in my last, made a couple of appearances as a folk duo, granny dresses and all. I tried out for plays and landed parts. Then in my 20s, first with a jazz quartet and later with a honky-tonk piano player, I sang at parties and in clubs in Lansing, Traverse City, and Kalamazoo. There was never a time I wasn’t nervous beforehand, but as long as I didn’t have to talk to the audience (I’d warned my piano player ahead of time that he would have to provide all the patter) I got through those evenings just fine. Enjoyed them. Felt “in my element.” Where I belonged.

When I decided to take a break from performing, that’s really all I had in mind – a little break – but I never did go back. What surprised me in later years was that I had no regrets. The thing is, I had those gigs. Had I never gone public, only harbored a secret, unfulfilled dream, I’m sure I’d have regrets aplenty. But no. At this stage of life, I’m resting on my vocalist laurels, content with having, for a while, dared to make that dream come true.

Another dream took me away from the drudgery of office work and into another world altogether. I came to philosophy late in life but did not keep that dream hidden in a closet, either. It took years, but I finished my undergraduate and then my graduate degrees and subsequently taught part-time, off and on, at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. College teaching was no more a lifetime career for me than singing, but I’m proud of having achieved at least a modest reality for that dream, and so yes, I rest on my teaching laurels, too.

Years ago, when we lived in Kalamazoo, David and I made regular weekend trips out to the nearby village of Paw Paw. From late spring to early fall, the flea markets were a main attraction, but we had friends in Paw Paw, we made many paddle and float trips down the little Paw Paw River, and always we dreamed of having a bookshop downtown. Paw Paw would be perfect, we told each other – less expensive rents than Kalamazoo but close enough to the city attract faculty and students from Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. Fast forward (through a long, winding, complicated history that has no place here) to 1993 and the birth of Dog Ears Books on Waukazoo Street in Northport. Another dream come true! A dream now in its twenty-first year of life (and don’t think that fact doesn’t still amaze me).

No independent bookseller, however, can afford to rest on her laurels and keep her business alive. Every year a bookseller learns many new things, and every year the business changes and there are more new things to be learned. Being the only bookstore in a small village is no guarantee of a local clientele, either, because it’s easy for people in cars to drive by the same businesses day after day without stopping. They need reasons to stop, reasons to visit, reasons to come back, and it’s up to the bookseller, i.e., the bookstore owner, to be constantly generating new reasons for people to come in.

This blog has more than one purpose. It’s a quiet little avenue of self-expression, a place for me to try out thoughts and ideas, as well as a bulletin board of sorts for local events and somewhat of an online diary, but it’s also an attempt to keep my little Up North bookstore from fading out of customers’ consciousness when they are elsewhere. Long ago someone said to me mournfully, “You just can’t compete with Borders, can you?” He didn’t get it. Borders was a chain, and Dog Ears Books was and is unique. That’s what I thought at the time, and then, when Borders stores closed all across the U.S., my first thought was, I’m still standing. I’m still here.

Life comes with no guarantees. Each of us, one by one, we make our choices, and we take our chances. We keep dreaming, keep learning, keep daring, keep moving -- or we’re not alive at all.

So when it comes to bookselling, I’m not resting on my laurels. Things are going to be quieter at the bookstore for a few months, that’s all. Glenn Wolff was our big December event star, and now we won’t be doing events until spring, but the bookstore will be open, five days a week through the end of the year, closed Sundays and Mondays. (In January we’ll decelerate, going on a four-day schedule, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.) And this blog will continue through the winter, too, wandering through book reviews, snowy dog walks in the woods, news from my authors and  reading groups and the art world and the local community and, well, whatever other camels get their noses under the tent.

Making a dream come true and then keeping it alive takes much more than simply “having” it. Actualizing and sustaining a dream takes continued attention and dedication. You have to want it, yes, but you have to do more than just want it. Cost can be measured in countless ways -- in hours of sleep lost, for instance.

It’s too soon to know if I’ll someday rest on my bookseller laurels (there is that chicken dream, after all) or simply die in harness. All I know right now is that the time of resting has not yet come.

For all of us, there are always more leaps off the cliff to be made, as long as life and health hold out, but it’s good to stop from time to time and pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve accomplished, too. What about you? What dreams are you proud of having dared to make true? Which ones are still going strong ones, and which have you retired, accepting for your accomplishment a laurel crown?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guest Blogger: December Report from Thailand

Thailand Report

John Mitchell

When my wife Ann Marie and I left Leelanau nearly three weeks ago, I was suffering from an extreme case of sensory underload, bouncing off the walls of our spacious Omena home as if it were a six-by-nine-foot prison cell. We were heading for Bangkok, Thailand, where eight months ago our youngest son Drew landed a job as an English teacher in one of the country’s best universities. I was praying for an adventure vacation, one that would stimulate and recharge my imagination before settling into a winter of writing. As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”

On the morning of December 2nd, the lead story in the Bangkok Post read: “Parts of inner Bangkok were yesterday plunged into chaos as anti-government protesters tried to seize key state offices but faced strong resistance from police. Protesters tried to seize the offices since the morning but by evening had still not pushed through the barriers erected by police, who fired tear gas and water cannon. ”

For three years, while writing my most recent book, Grand Traverse The Civil War Era, I studied the escalating violence that led to catastrophic war in mid-19th century America, and I followed this work with my regular Civil War column in the Leelanau Enterprise; however, it is one thing to document a civil war in the distant past, quite another to face civil unrest live and halfway around the world from home.

The scenario here in Thailand seems altogether surreal. We are thoroughly enjoying the beautiful and historic country of Thailand and the proud and friendly people who have embraced my son and given him meaningful work. The pace and crush of humanity in Bangkok makes New York City seem tranquil, but I have yet to see a single scrap of paper or spray of graffiti anywhere on the metro system. Dare I mention that the night/day temperatures ranges from 70 to 85 degrees, the ancient temples and palaces are inspiring, the food is outstanding, and the daily, hour-long massages Ann Marie and I are enjoying cost only $6 to $9? But the potential gravity of the situation struck home when Drew, who had been downplaying the downward spiral of events, accepted an envelope I handed him containing Thai baht and US dollars, just in case.  

Ongoing Thai newspaper editorials addressing the country’s comparatively new experiment in democracy often refer to our 237-year-old nation as the world’s best example of government by the people, where unpopular leaders lose elections but are not overthrown. Though we are certainly suffering through a terribly divisive time back in the States, almost all of us accept the concept of change through the ballot box rather than the mob. I hoped that sentiment would prevail here in Thailand, too.

On December 3, Ann Marie and I both flew out of Bangkok, she on her scheduled day-long fight back home, I to the northern city of Chiang Mai to pursue leads on a story I am writing and to attend a noted Thai cooking school. Before she left, Ann Marie transferred enough money to Drew’s credit card should he need to book a flight to join me in Chiang Mai -- again, just in case.

I spent most of the day preparing for an interview with 86-year-old Thai art collector James E. Bogle, an American who stayed on in Bangkok after his service in the Korean War and built a distinguished career as a Southeast Asia city planner.  Bogle is one of the last surviving friends of another American expatriate named Jim Thompson, a hero in Thailand, who is credited with rebuilding the country’s silk industry after World War II. Thompson’s mysterious disappearance in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967 is still unsolved, and my three-hour conversation with Bogle shed light on that event, which I’ll cover in my upcoming book of nonfiction short stories.

I didn’t catch the news until late that evening, by which time the tide of events in Thailand had turned for the better.  The police had torn down their own barriers and welcomed the demonstrators into various government compounds, instantly diffusing the escalating violence. There were pictures of demonstrators and police laughing, embracing, and sharing tea together.  As the lead story in the December 4th Bangkok Post explained:
The upcoming celebrations for His Majesty the King’s birthday are behind the Metropolitan Police Bureau’s decision to allow anti-government into their headquarters and Government House. The military asked the government to allow protesters inside as a symbolic gesture to end the violence. 
The military was keen to avoid clashes during the King’s birthday tomorrow. Police Lt. General Kamronwit said he had been summoned for an audience with a royal family member at the palace. He was told Thais must not fight each other.
The long-serving King is revered in Thailand, wielding influence of the kind George Washington would have if he were to reappear in the present and ask Americans to behave in a certain way. Drew told us a story of a friend visiting from the States who dropped a coin on a busy sidewalk, and as it began to roll away on its edge, stomped on it with his foot in order to stop it. Thais who witnessed the scene gasped in horror and disbelief, for one side of the coin featured a bust of the King.

Fathers Day in Thailand is a moveable feast pegged to the King’s birthday, which is today, December 5th.  My Fathers Day present this year is the truce and at least a day of peace on the streets and the knowledge my son won’t be compelled by events to join me today in Chiang Mai.

As I advance in age, I sometimes have fleeting doubts as to whether the fortune I have spent on travel over a lifetime would have been better put aside for retirement, but just as quickly I answer myself, “No way.” If my last words turn out to be “paper or plastic,” so be it, for every time I experience other countries and their distinct cultures I am awed by the beauty and diversity of our world. Never has that been truer than on this rollercoaster ride of a month-long- trip to Thailand. As a bonus, the more I see of the world, the more I am convinced there is no better place on the planet to live than Leelanau County, Michigan, USA.

- John Mitchell, 12/5/2013

[John Mitchell's most recent book is a best-selling northern Michigan work of history, Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era.]

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Do Artists and Musicians and Writers Have More Fun?

Concert poster
Our weekend got off to the best possible start on Friday, with the annual Madrigal Christmas concert by the Leelanau Children's Choir and Youth Ensemble. I didn't take my camera to the concert this year, so all you get to see (if you weren't there) is the poster at left. The costumes and staging are beautiful, too. But of course the focus is on the singing. All hearts in the audience were lifted by the young voices. The Christmas concert is director Margaret Bell's "skill-building set" for her singers, with largely the same traditional English and French carols every year, solos and ensembles with different personnel, of course, from one season to the next. With what they learn from preparing this concert, they go on in the spring to put together a new program each year. (I'll let you know in plenty of time, so if you're close enough to Northport you won't miss it.) If musicians do have more fun, they certainly work hard for it.

Saturday evening I spent baking cookies with a friend. One kind of dough, chocolate added to some portions, colored sugar and sprinkles to a few -- and here is the result, all ready on Sunday for our bookstore event:

I told you there would be cookies!
Here's what I was thinking off and on during Glenn Wolff's book signing. Glenn is an artist. He's also a musician. We had many other artists and writers in the room today. So do these people have more fun? Artists' and writers' work is often solitary, but they seem to enjoy getting together and comparing notes, and their appreciation of each other's work is heart-warming. I wonder if you can tell from the pictures below which people are artists, which are writers, which are musicians, and which are fortunate benefactors of the work of the artists, writers, and musicians.

Add caption

We all had fun at Dog Ears on Sunday! Thank you, Glenn!

Friday, December 6, 2013

What Title to Give This Posting about Holiday Gift Ideas?

First, the reminder that Sunday afternoon is our bookstore event with Traverse City artist Glenn Wolff. Again, that's from noon to 2 p.m. Books, notecards, posters, and a gift to each Wolff book purchaser. See right-hand column for details, if you’ve somehow missed the blitz of publicity on my blog recently. As Northporters and 2013 bookstore visitors know, I don’t have quite the space up front for holiday decorating that I’ve had in years past, so this year my “tree” (thanks, Mom!) is not quite 11 inches tall. It does light up though (from the inside), and the even light changes color. (Don't ask me how.) I’ll try to make up for the absence of a real tree on Sunday (and that good spicy fir tree smell) with the presence of home-baked cookies. (Blogger, what is it with you and the parentheses today, anyway?)

Looking at another bookseller’s blog earlier today, I realized I’ve been rather neglecting the historic nature of my larger collection, so that’s where I want to put the focus today. Old books. To me, they're treasures, and sometimes I don’t do enough to showcase them to casual browsers. I mean, a lot of these  are classics!  To begin under a fairly broad umbrella of what constitutes a classic, for example, how about the two children’s books below?

You remember Eloise, don’t you? She lives -- by herself, mind you -- in the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Book cover

Detail of book illustration
The Eloise book is pretty pricey, but The Littlest Christmas Tree can be taken home, tax included, for under $10. And can you believe no child has yet written his or her name inside this 1954 Wonder Book by popular children's author Thornton W. Burgess?

Book cover

Illustrated endpapers

Book slides in and out of slipcase
Moving on to more adult fare (and staying with bargains), here's the kind of books I love to find under my tree (or wherever!). First, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s A Gift From the Sea, illustrated and in a slipcase. I love slipcases! Tucking the book into own little bed is a delicious thing to do.

Chapter illustration

Then a sweet old volume of essays by the incomparable Charles Lamb. Book spines and covers just don't look like this any more, more's the pity.

Pretty spine

Ordinary old book cover
Or any of the little Peter Pauper Press editions shown below, all with original dust jackets. Yes, I do have a thing for small books, as well as for slipcases....

Books from Peter Pauper Press

But my big excitement earlier this week was taking delivery of a mammoth box of old books on Michigan. Unpacking, pricing, shelving -- such are the joys of a seller of used books, and great her satisfaction as she stands back to admire newly restocked shelves.

Partial view of overflowing Michigan section

Small AND local!
There are three of the Great Lakes series (Michigan, Superior, Huron – i.e., our western lakes), several titles on early days when timber was Michigan’s main attraction, and many books, large and small, on various Michigan cities and villages and islands.

David and I were saying only this morning how fortunate we feel not to have workplace politics as part of our lives. Neither of us -- he, the artist, and I, the bookseller – have either bosses to please or employees to oversee. Sometimes, though, I sigh over the concept of retirement. Yes, it’s only a concept, as far as my life is concerned, but I would love to spend a year reading in a more focused and continuous way, being transported back 50 or 75 or 100 years to Michigan’s past.

I live on my own little Treasure Island!