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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Local Color and Stubborn Onions


Northport Harbor is so beautiful! 

If anyone ever asks me….


Someone did ask me, a few years ago, to what I attributed my success in a world of bookselling dominated by the online behemoth, and my answer was to tell him I am very stubborn. Too stubborn to give up, that is. So last night as I was sauteing onions and musing on how often I am slicing or dicing or sauteing onions, it occurred to me that if I live to be 100 (my mother was just shy of 96 when she died) and am asked the secret of my longevity, I can say, “I’m very stubborn and I've always eaten lots of onions.” 


Onions were not part of my bookstore’s success, but Dog Ears Books had its 28th birthday this past July, putting us now into our 29th year. Longevity! In a challenging world!


Onions are not good for dogs, we are told – toxic, in fact -- but not giving up is essential when working with a challenging rescue dog. More on this in a minute….



Since the end of September, 


I have read these books to add to my 2021 list: 


134. Thomas, Dylan. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (fiction). Largely autobiographical fiction, that is, and for some reason I never really entered into it deeply enough to lose myself in the stories. “How was it?” the Artist asked. “Okay.” “Only okay.” Shrug. “Okay.”


135. McKenzie, C.B. Burn What Will Burn (fiction). This crime novel set in backwoods Arkansas opens with a body in Piney Creek and gathers complications from then on. The characters and dialogue are vivid, along with touches of local realism (for instance, “snake pit” is not metaphor but simple fact), and yet the story faded from my mind quickly after I finished reading the book. It was, I’d say, very plot-driven, with not a lot of the kind of description that makes a place I don’t know come alive for me. The contrast I’d make is with Damnation Creek, by Ash Davidson. But then, McKenzie’s is more of genre fiction, Davidson’s more literary, as I read them.


136. Bragg, Rick. The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People(nonfiction). This story of a “bad” dog who finds a family unwilling to give up on him had me laughing with tears in my eyes. Will he bite? Under certain circumstances, he’ll even bite Rick. But he’s a handsome dog. Rick says, “Looks ain’t his problem.” Oh, my gosh! These are not only real people – they come across the page as real people, and the place as a real place. I could see it all as if I were there.


137. Cogan, Priscilla. Winona’s Web (fiction). Most chapters in this “novel of discovery” (as it’s called on the cover) recount sessions the protagonist, a psychotherapist, has with an elderly Native American woman who expects to die soon, although she is not ill and is not planning suicide. The client quickly becomes the therapist, and the therapist of record allows it to happen, for her own sake and the sake of the old woman. Despite the obvious setup, the story is never boring, and I quite enjoyed it, both for the cross-cultural learning and the opening up of the main character’s heart. I suppose, however, that I must add that this is very much a white woman's book, and that cross-cultural learning could also be seen as cultural appropriation -- which is why it has taken me so many years to get around to reading Winona's Web in the first place.


138. Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War (fiction). Somehow this book had slipped under my radar completely since it was first published in 1974, although now I find it created quite a stir. The protagonist, an only child and a freshman in a Catholic boys’ high school, has recently lost his mother and does not seem to have a close relationship with his father, although there is no real friction between them, either. My take on this novel is that it’s Lord of the Flies without the isolation of an island or the absence of putative adults: human greed and cruelty and desire for power and status infect some of the teachers as well as the boys in school, which allows a small group of boys to terrify the rest into submission – until Jerry takes it in his head not to go along … and pays the price.


139. Zadoorian, Michael. The Narcissism of Small Differences(fiction). Reading this novel for the second or third time, I entered more fully into the lives of a just-turned-40 couple still trying to find themselves before they age out of being cool and “weird.” I need to think more about the title, which comes from an idea of Sigmund Freud’s, that “the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them.” Some of the scenes in Zadoorian’s short story collection, Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, come into this longer work with more detail, and there is plenty of ambivalence to go around, both toward the abandoned inner city and toward capitalism in general, but the characters take center stage.


And now, about Peasy –


-- Because I know that’s really why many of you tune in to Books in Northport in the first place. Recently I posted on Facebook that Peasy is my comfort and my challenge, companion and burden, solution (to some of life’s problems) and problem (on his own, in many ways). All in all, it’s fair to say he is in some ways my salvation and in other ways my nemesis! How can one dog be so many things? Rick Bragg (see book list above) would understand, I know.


The first time I saw Peasy in the Graham County, AZ, pound (thinking he was a she, but that’s another story), it was clear that this dog was very skittish. That was the mild way of putting it. He was afraid of people, to put it more bluntly. And once I had him home, it was clear that he knew no commands, had no manners, and had almost zero impulse control. So he has come a very long way in ten months, to become an affectionate, devoted, fun-loving companion to the Artist and me. The trouble comes when other people come onto “our” territory, which he seems to feel responsible for guarding.


Will Peasy ever be able to have a normal social life? And will we, given that he is such a part of our life? Such challenges! I yo-yo back and forth between hope and despair. But we are not giving up on this little guy – and I say “we” because the Artist is now squarely on Peasy’s side, the two of them quite bonded at last – and my stubbornly hopeful (or hopefully stubborn) nature got a big shot in the arm reading about clicker training for to curb reactivity by getting the dog to stop and think.


Among the reasons I look forward to my annual seasonal retirement in southeast Arizona, this year being able to concentrate on Peasy and work intensively on his social skills is high on the list. It will be good to rejoin the neighborhood pack (my friend Therese and her dogs), which was the groundwork of Peasy’s social life last winter and will be our starting point again in 2021-22. Thank heaven he didn’t exhibit dog-dog aggression! Molly is more than a match for him, anyway! No, it’s people he needs to stop fearing, but I have, once again, hope. So stay tuned, because I fully expect to have happy news to share. I am determined to have happy news to share.

Our beautiful boy!

P.S. The beautiful art adorning the marina in Northport, Michigan, was created by Kat Dakota

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