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Thursday, September 16, 2021

I don’t finish every book I start.


I don’t finish every book I start. Life is too short. Or, you might say I am too curious and can’t help opening and reading in part books that I will not stay with long enough to finish. 


Have you heard of the rule of 50? According to that rule (if one chooses to follow it, and it is not, after all, a law), you must read at least the first 50 pages before bailing out of a book – until you reach age 50! Then, after your 50th birthday, however, you get to subtract one page for every year over 50 you are, so that at age 70, then, you only need to read the first 30 pages. It makes sense that a reader should get a break with increasing age, as the remainder of life, i.e., time to read, diminishes every year, but I’m afraid I don’t hold myself to the rule. Recently I bailed on a book because the aimless drifting-about of bored youthful characters depressed me. I don’t need happy, feel-good books all the time, but I want suffering and hardship to be met, if not with meaning and triumph, at least with character.


(When a friend recommended Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy, my heart sank at the size of the tome. Over 1400 pages, as I recall. “Just read the first 100 pages,” she urged, “and then quit if you don’t like it.” Well, I was hooked after two pages, and reading the novel only took me a month (June), not the entire summer I had feared it would absorb.) 


So I don’t follow the rule of 50 or the rule of 100 or any other rule when deciding whether or not to continue reading a particular book, though if the beginning is dull or annoying, I’m careful about going too far, because one hates to read halfway through a book before deciding against finishing it (Lost time! And not the kind that makes for wonderful memories!) and because if I don’t read the entire book, I don’t allow myself to put it on the “Books Read” lists I’ve been keeping every year since 2009.


But lists be hanged, little dips into books I don’t devour in their entirety remain irresistible! For instance, a book of essays by Jacob Bronowski called A Sense of the Future. Published after Bronowski’s death, in these essays he is envisioning the “future” from half a century ago. Concerned with what nonscientists think about science – what they think it is, how they think it’s done, and its body of accumulated knowledge – he also believed that no meaningful division could be made marking off the humanities from the sciences. 


As for books I’ve read all the way through since the last few I listed, here they are for the week past: 


122.              Gabrielson, Catherine. THE STORY OF GABRIELLE (nonfiction)

123.              Emerson, Victoria and James J. Thompson. INTO THE WORLD (juv. fiction/sex ed. – 1950)

124.              Bell, Derrick. AND WE ARE NOT SAVED: THE ELUSIVE QUEST FOR RACIAL JUSTICE (nonfiction)

125.              Hayes, Christopher. TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES: AMERICA AFTER MERITOCRACY (nonfiction)

126.              Richards, Eva Alvey. ARCTIC MOOD(nonfiction)


The Story of Gabrielle and Into the World were quick reads. (Into the World was frank talk to a young girl, with farm scenes playing a part, the fiction a pretty obvious narrative thread on which to hang the facts of reproduction.) My reading of Derrick Bell’s And We Are Not Saved, on the other hand, and Christopher Hayes’s Twilight of the Elites both stretched out over several days each. Bell and Hayes lean heavily on history, but each finds in America’s past social and political cycles that put our future in question. How did we get here? Where do we want to go? And how can we – can we? -- get there? Such are the questions posed by these two nonfiction books.


After that serious nonfiction immersion, when I turned for relief to a comfort book read many times over the years, it was nonfiction again, the story of Eva Alvey Richards’s first year as a teacher in the Far, Far North, Arctic Mood that soothed my middle-of-the-night insomniac attention.


Time now, however, for me to re-read The Waves, Virginia Woolf’s novel that I read for the first time only this past July. But July! It seems so very long ago as September takes hold!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Peasy Tales: From Sarah to Peasy

A friend sent me the link to an article on pet loss – and even as I type that phrase, “pet loss,” it seems wrong, the words trivial and inadequate to express an experience more properly called heartbreak, as the article describes so well. 


I’ve reached the stage now, though, where I can talk about Sarah and her death and her absence to old customers who visit the bookstore. I see some of them looking for her bed under the table by the window, and I see their hesitation. They’re afraid to ask. It’s all right. I can talk about her. But when I read this article, I cried once again. There will never be another Sarah. Sometimes, I admit, I think that even as I watch little Peasy bounding joyfully ahead of me on our morning walk-run.


Some people who have lost a beloved dog say they’ll never have another because they don’t want to – can’t -- go through the losing again. I understand what they’re saying. We all grieve and recover differently, whatever the nature of the loss. The Artist and I had each other after we lost Sarah -- but still, just could not stand not having a dog


Sarah had been a focus for the two of us outside ourselves, the third member of the pack when we were on the road, and my constant companion in the bookstore, as well as on outdoor explorations and rambles. My winter ghost town hiking partner and neighbor continued to invite me to join her with her two dogs, but without a dog of my own I felt incomplete, a kind of walking-wounded ghost myself.

Sarah at the bookstore

Sarah in the car

with friends in Arizona

with Michigan neighbors in youth -- all three gone now

So the Artist and I began the search, hampered because what we really wanted was another Sarah: female Aussie-border mix with big, soulful brown eyes, soft, floppy ears, and a beautiful plume of a tail. Maybe something smaller…. It didn’t matter, anyway, because “our” next dog was never waiting for us in the shelters we visited, and we couldn’t afford to go traveling the country in search of a purebred Aussie.


Well, you know how the story turned out, so I’ll cut to the chase. You know (and if you don’t, you can revisit it here and here and and on and on) how I took a chance on the dog no one wanted, the skittish little boy we thought was a girl, a skinny, wild thing with only a stub where his tail should be. You might remember that it wasn’t love at first sight but that I did grow to love the little guy, despite his “issues” and the challenge of getting him through and past his fears and defensive responses. 

Early on, our outdoor rambles with Therese and Buddy and Molly were a great success. Another hurdle was the cross-country car trip back to Michigan, something the Artist and I had both dreaded, fearing the worst from our special-needs dog, but he was as good a traveler as Sarah had been. 

His issues remain, however, and we have to make special arrangements when out-of-town guests are expected. Sarah loved the whole world and always welcomed company. Not Peasy. He was and remains wary and nervous with strangers, apparently as concerned for our safety as for his own. He is going to need a lot more practice to develop anything that could be called “social skills” with human beings outside his own family.


But he loves having a family and a home, and when the three of us come together again after the end of a human work day away from home, he nearly turns himself inside-out with happiness, dancing around us and emitting tiny little yippy moans of ecstasy. We have grown accustomed to his little ears, his amber eyes, and his goofy little stub of a tail. As I say, he has established himself in the winter ghost town neighborhood pack, too, and proved himself like Sarah in being a dog for all seasons.


Peasy is not a replacement for Sarah, and no dog could ever replace her. She was the dog of a lifetime, for both the Artist and for me. But little Pea and the Artist are finally bonding (it took them a while to begin, long after Pea and I had fallen in love with each other), so that coming-together at the end of the human workday is joyful for all three of us.


And while what my friend Helene said of people, that “No one replaces anyone else,” is true of dogs, also, it came to me the other day that a large part of my comfort and happiness with Peasy comes from the fact that he has displaced not Sarah but the pain left by Sarah’s death. There has been no empty time to drag around and sob over the dog no longer with me since needy little Pea came into my life. 


Yes, he needed me. He needed a family and a home, no one else wanted him, and without me it’s likely he would still be in prison, if alive at all. 

Good wait!

But I needed him, too. I needed a dog that needed attention and training and love and exercise, a little being I could bring out of the darkness and into the light so that we could explore the big bright world together. He was my dog when I adopted him, the Artist emphasized. The Artist could have lived “dog-free” without our practically perfect girl and would certainly not have voted to take on a “dog with issues.”  Even I have had periods of hopelessness when Peasy backslides and shows one of us his Mr. Hyde face -- which happens less and less frequently as time goes by, thank heaven! So, all in all, it was months before the Artist said, in a tone that managed to combine affection and resignation, “Peasy, I guess you’re our dog now.” 


We have challenges yet to overcome with this guy, but he has definitely won a place in our hearts. It isn’t Sarah’s place. It’s his own place.

Monday, September 6, 2021

We Survived Another Summer!

(Because EVERY day begins with Peasy!)

It is the evening of Labor Day, and a beautiful day it has been, perfect for celebrating our survival of another summer and the busiest we have ever known in Northport. The Artist and I did a few little bits of work around the home place, but not too much, because this was a holiday. And so my images for the day are from our holiday-making this sixth day of September, 2021, though they have little or nothing to do with the books discussed in this post. 

One morning recently, before sunrise, I finished reading the self-published memoir of an Army veteran and police officer, a book titled Memoirs of a Public Servant. The book had no indication inside of an address other than “Made in the USA / Middletown, DE / 05 October 2017.” The author’s name, Charleston Hartfield, appeared on the cover of the book but nowhere inside. I’d been drawn to it by an arresting cover image. And despite misspellings and typos and many small, easily correctible proof-reading and copyediting errors, I found the book to be strongly written. The author’s voice came through clearly, with effects of difficult experiences he had had in childhood and youth, in the army in Iraq, and later in the course of his law enforcement career, told honestly and without self-pity. 


On the eve of his 32nd birthday, he wrote, 


Life has been good and I have been the recipient of many blessings. I am thankful for each of them, as I am equally thankful for my challenges. As they have all made me the man that I am today collectively. I can only hope to receive many more years of experiences. Experiences that may not have always been positive, but they have been mine. I own them; they are my stories to tell, my visions to store, my truths to unfold, and my miseries to despise. I own them all, good, bad and indifferent.


Reading the book, I was drawn in and terribly moved, feeling that I was getting to know an imperfect but wonderful human being. Someone truly exceptional. And as a bookseller I couldn’t help wanting to introduce him to other people. This book, I felt, deserved a good copyediting (nothing more) and a publisher to market it seriously to a national audience, so later that morning I did an online search for “Charleston Hartfield,” hoping to find him and send him a message. 


Shock! Off duty but on the scene, with his beloved wife, during the Las Vegas massacre in 2017, where a single shooter from a high hotel room window killed 58 people, “Charlie” was one of the victims --  shot and killed even as he tried, with all his Army and police training, to remove others in the crowd from danger. What a tragedy!


That night I needed a comfort book. You know, like you sometimes need comfort food? My choice was my mother’s old copy of Anne’s House of Dreams, and it did not disappoint. 



Back in my bookstore the next day, I began reading Choteau Creek: A Sioux Remiscence, by Joseph Iron Eye Dudley, beautifully written memoir of life growing up on a South Dakota reservation in the year following the Second World War. The author went to live with his grandparents after his parents divorced, and when his siblings go to live with their father, he stays behind with the old people. It is a life poor in material things but rich in love. His first Christmas at his grandparents’ house without his siblings, for example –


The five presents I received were a handkerchief, a pair of socks, a ballpoint pen and a tablet to go with it, and a box of chocolate-covered cherries. I could expect to get those items every Christmas from then on, for the next eight years, until I was sixteen years old. I not only expected getting them, I looked forward to them. And the year I stopped getting them, I missed them, and did so for several years afterward.


There were no presents for his grandparents and never had been, unless the children had made something in school to give them, but his grandfather would give his wife a morning kiss and a “Merry Christmas, my love” when he took his coffee to their bed to share with her on Christmas morning, and she would make a special roast chicken dinner for the holiday.


As I grew older, it became apparent that their Christmas gifts to each other were themselves. …And every year I received from not only a handkerchief, a pair of socks, a ballpoint pen, a tablet, and a box of chocolate-covered cherries, but also the gift of Grandpa and Grandma.


One of my Northport customer-friends recommended this book to me because, among other reasons, the author’s beloved grandfather “…had been born in a place called Northport, Michigan,” where he lived until he was 17 years old, summers on Fox Island, winters in the village on shore, the very village where my bookstore came into being back in 1993 and remains to this day. We’re not told whether the grandfather’s “Fox Island” was North or South (the grandson doesn’t say), but I’m guessing the great-grandfather may have been lighthouse keeper on South Fox, because he exercised that profession periodically, so South Fox in summers would make sense. 

A gift book that came my way is a contemporary novel in French, filled with challenging contemporary slang (challenging to me, at least), called Leurs enfants apr├Ęs eux, by Nicolas Mathieu. Time will tell how I do with this one. At least I am able to picture the setting and action pretty well in the first few pages, but I put it aside for something else when the holiday weekend arrived.

Coming out of the second summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Delta variant prompting many of us to return to our mask-wearing and avoidance of crowds, I was drawn to Betty MacDonald’s 1940s memoir of her spell in a TB sanitarium, The Plague and I, a book that is on many pages laugh-out-loud hilarious, despite the setting and subject manner. For me, it was good medicine.


Even better medicine, however, was our long walk along a beautiful northern creek and then through a meadow of bracken fern, goldenrod and asters, horsemint and horsetails. More than a walk, it was a stroll down memory lane. Despite amazing changes the years have wrought, some places still hold our hearts.


I hope you all had a good Labor Day, whether it was a holiday or a work day, and if the latter, I hope tomorrow will be your well-deserved holiday. 

Books read since last listed:


118. Hartfield, Charleston. MEMOIRS OF A PUBLIC SERVANT (nonfiction)

119. Montgomery, L.M. ANNE’S HOUSE OF DREAMS (fiction)


121. MacDonald, Betty. THE PLAGUE AND I (nonfiction)

Monday, August 30, 2021

Girls Dreaming


Anne’s House of Dreams is the fourth in L. M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne books. The first, of course, was Anne of Green Gables, the story of the young red-haired orphan girl coming to live on Prince Edward Island with unmarried brother and sister Matthew and Marilla. In that first book Matthew goes to pick up the boy they are taking in, to help with farm chores, and comes home with a girl instead, much to Marilla’s initial dismay. Anne wakes up the next morning desolate at the thought of being returned to the orphanage, unwanted, but shy Matthew surprisingly champions her acceptance, and Anne is launched into a new life. 


My opening image today is of my mother’s wedding announcement in the newspaper, with her orchid corsage pressed beneath the glass of the frame 76 years ago. My copy of Anne’s House of Dreams, copyright 1917, no better than what dealers in used books call a “reading copy,” meaning it’s battered and falling apart but there are no missing pages, bears an inscription written in 1936 on the front-facing endpaper to my mother before she was my mother, before she was even a bride:


To Nora – May she be as nice a big girl as she is a little one.

Helen Garner

Hayward Librarian


“Little girl” Nora would have been 14 in 1936, just the right age – back then, anyway, in what can’t help but seem like simpler times – to begin dreaming of having a wedding and a house of dreams for herself one day.


I wonder if the “Anne of Red Hair” craze is still going strong in Japan. At one time, it seems, not all that long ago, every young Japanese girl had read the Anne books and dreamed of honeymooning on Prince Edward Island, and the very lucky ones actually did so, little P.E.I. coming behind only New York City and Paris, France, as the top dream destination for Japanese brides. All thanks to a series of simple stories for girls written a century ago!

(Well, now I see a serious research paper has been written on the subject. Something else for us to read.)


How many girls from poor Japanese fishing villages on coastal islands were ever able to make such an elaborate honeymoon voyage? After Anne marries Gilbert Blythe, which happens early in the House of Dreams book, the newlyweds spend their first month of marriage right there in their first house, rather than travel anywhere at all.


“I’m so glad we decided to spend our honeymoon here. Our memories of it will always belong here, in our home of dreams, instead of being scattered about in strange places.” 


I can’t help but think, though, how those girls on faraway Japan's coast would have felt the atmosphere of Anne’s first married home as something familiar. Much more than it ever had in Matthew and Marilla’s home in Avonlea, the sea so near to the house in Four Winds Harbour


…surrounded her and called to her constantly. From every window of her new home she saw some varying aspect of it. Its haunting murmur was ever in her ears. Vessels sailed up the harbour every day to the wharf at the Glen, or sailed out again through the sunset, bound for ports that might be halfway around the globe. Fishing boats went white-winged down the channel in the mornings, and returned laden in the evenings. Sailors and fisher-folk travelled the red, winding harbour roads, light-hearted and content. There was always a certain sense of things about to happen….


There were memories that my mother carried to the first home I knew but kept tucked away, hidden from her daughters’ curious eyes for decades. Even the scrapbook started before her marriage and continued for a time afterward was a treasure my sisters and I saw for the first time after only our mother died and we were going through the house and all her things. But Anne’s House of Dreams, now – the reason my copy is so battered and worn is that all three of Nora’s daughters read and re-read it over the years. (I don’t doubt that one of those girls probably took it up into her hiding place in the backyard apple tree more than once.) Despite not-always-gentle handling, however, it survives.


And because I had been looking at my mother’s wedding picture in our tiny upstairs guest bedroom only the day before, last night when I began turning the soft, worn pages of the old volume, I thought of my mother as a young bride – the dreams she would have had and her first married home out in South Dakota. For me, this old book holds all of that.


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Interim Thoughts: The Eyes and Hearts of Women

With women writer friends at our annual luncheon

[I’m calling today’s post “Interim Thoughts” because it’s only been four days, not a full week or more, since I last posted, this summer having settled down into a once-a-week blogging routine.]


Only on the morning of August 27, very early, with the sky still dark outside my window, did I learn that August 23 had been the official Mari Sandoz Day and that, in my ignorance, I had completely missed it. Four days late already, and 67 years after Nebraska’s governor first proclaimed the day, I read about the date in a chronology of the author’s life at the end of a University of Nebraska edition of Sandhill Sundays and Other Recollections, by Mari Sandoz, memoir essays reaching back to her childhood days in the sandhills before she learned English (although born in Nebraska, her immigrant parents still spoke the French and English of their native Switzerland) and extending to the apartment she rented in Greenwich Village and occupied periodically for a number of years, beginning at a time when the Village was still occupied primarily by Italian immigrants.


Of the many volumes of fiction and history written over her lifetime, the two books for which Mari Sandoz is best known today are biographies, Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas and Old Jules, the story of her father’s life. Of the latter biography, she later wrote that


…it gradually dawned on me that here was a character who embodied not only his own strengths and weaknesses but those of all humanity – that his struggles were universal struggles and his defeats at the hands of his environment and his own insufficiencies were those of mankind; his tenacious clinging to his dream the symbol of man’s undying hope that over the next hill he will find the green pastures of his desire.

        - Mari Sandoz 


I read her Crazy Horse biography only last year but need to read it again now to answer my new question, which is if Sandoz also saw the struggles and defeats, hopes and insufficiencies of Crazy Horse as “universal.” How could he have pursued his desire – which would not have been his alone but that of his people – “over the next hill”? And after all, Old Jules was not one of those restless Westerners continually on the move, leaving one region for the next until stopped by the Pacific Ocean. He put down roots. I probably need to read Old Jules again, too.


Another, more general but personal realization came to me on Friday morning: without intentionally seeking out books by women for my reading pleasure this year, I have been discovering books by women, a dizzying variety of fiction and nonfiction, that seem to have sought me out: novels and a memoir by Penelope Lively; Barbara Olenyk Morrow’s book about the life and work of Gene Stratton-Porter; murder mysteries set in Cochise County, Arizona, by J. A. Jance; a re-reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; Soon-Young Yoon’s experiences working with poor and indigenous women around the world; and numerous other books of both fiction and nonfiction.


So now I have another question, more general than Mari Sandoz and Crazy Horse, and it harks back to Mary Helen Washington’s study, The Other Blacklist, in which she notes that Black artists, writers, poets in the 1950s were encouraged to stop writing of their experience as Black men and women and write instead from a “universal” perspective, leaving race aside. My question is this: where is the “universal” to be found, other than in the particular? Each of us has only our own experience. Zora Neale Hurston could only write as a Black American woman, because that is what she was. Mari Sandoz could only tell her life stories from her own experience, that of a child of immigrants growing up during pioneer days on the Great Plains, and her interest in historical subjects was also shaped by her living in that place and at that time. So do these women’s writings fail somehow to be “universal”? Surely they are not writings only for women readers!


Shakespeare, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Marcel Proust – all of them, too, had the experiences they had because of where they were born, the era in which they lived, and how they were seen and treated by others. Their experiences were particular to them, and their writings were thus saturated by that particularity, whether or not it is obvious to all their readers. I am not saying these men failed to discover and write of universal truths – hardly! -- only that the universal is always and only to be found, as they found it themselves, in particulars, in the infinite variety of our endlessly repetitive human experiences. 


From the foregoing you may correctly conclude that I am not a Platonist. Peasy is not a Platonist, either. For him, life is all about discovering the ephemeral universe of smells, about making the most of each fleeting moment. 

Would you disagree? And if you say we need larger goals, that we should work to better our world, I ask you, what time do you have to work for those goals except right now? The present moment is the time we have, even as it continually slips away from us.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It Is Still Summer!

Since I’ve heard from people who want more pictures of Peasy, I’ll intersperse my reading notes and other thoughts with images of the little guy. It’s true that, like the late, great Sarah, Peasy is quite photogenic. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve shown his picture (on my phone) to someone whose eyes have widened as the reaction came in these words: “He’s gorgeous!” He still needs my mother’s reminder at times, however: “Pretty is as pretty does!” 

At 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the moon was so bright when I awoke that I thought it was time to get up. No, too early even to make coffee. Not, however, too early to get in a little reading and then maybe another hour or so of sleep. I love summer nights, when the outside and inside temperatures are about the same and a light breeze through a window lets me feel as if I’m sleeping outdoors -- under that big, bright moon whose light is filtering through the trees.

So here are the books I’ve finished reading in the past week: 

111. Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality (nonfiction)

112. Soon-Young Yoon. Citizen of the World: Soon-Young Yoon and the UN (nonfiction)

113. Hale, Norman. All Natural Pogo (nonfiction)

114. Zimmerman, Marilyn. In Her Defense (fiction – ms.)

115. Meeder, Kim and Laurie Sacher. Blind Hope: An Unwanted Dog & the Woman She Rescued(nonfiction)

116. Giridharadas, Anand. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World (nonfiction)


The Luhan book was a little escape to New Mexico for me. Mabel herself was quite a character. I’m not going to go into either her life or the book. For me it was, though nonfiction, pretty light reading. 

Citizen of the World was an entirely different kettle of fish, and I became more and more excited as I read along in it, as you can see from my review hereI’ve enjoyed getting to know the author a little bit, too. For a world powerhouse feminist, Yoon is completely down to earth and has a delightful sense of humor. But what would you expect of someone who grew up summering in Northport, eh?

The Pogo book – now there was an entirely different kind of surprise. It wasn’t a book of the cartoons but a carefully worked-out philosophical thesis by Norman Hale on the moral code of Walt Kelly’s world of Pogo. I don’t know if Hale wrote other books or how he came to write this one. I find only that not everyone agreed with him. In any event, I enjoyed my reading of this little paperback book. 


Just as a conflict between two different instincts must be resolved, so must a conflict between instinct and intelligence be resolved; if you look the other way and pretend the conflict doesn’t exist, you’re leaving it unresolved – and no good can come of that. 


-      Norman Hale, All Natural Pogo


I probably shouldn’t say much at all about the novel read in manuscript, since there’s no telling how soon it will be available to the rest of you in book form. I’ll only say that the story is gripping from beginning to end! Oh, and that, besides plot and characters, I loved the setting on the shores of the St. Clair River, the river itself a constant presence in the story. 
Blind Hope quickly took a turn toward religion that I hadn’t expected, but it worked well in the context of the story, and I was happy that the old “unwanted” dog found home and love. The title had attracted me because, as you’ll recall, Peasy was also a dog no one wanted until I came along to take a chance on him. 
Winners Take All – now there’s a book I’d love to give you all as assigned reading. Do you think market forces are the best -- perhaps even the only -- solution to all the problems of the world? Giridharadas urges us to question that recently minted, self-serving dogma:


It is disturbing that the most influential emerging power center of our age is in the habit of denying its power, and therefore of promoting a vision of change that changes nothing meaningful while enriching itself. 

                    -      Anand Giridharadas, Winners Take All


And don't just take my word for it. Here's what others are saying: 

A New York Times bestseller Named one of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018 Named one of NPR's Best Books of 2018 Named one of the Financial Times Books of the Year Named one of The Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction One of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Best International Nonfiction" books of 2018 One of the GreenBiz "10 Best Climate and Business Books of 2018" 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year

Now take a look at someone who did not fall for The-market-is-our-only-hope dogma: Chuck Collins. (I have ordered another of his books, which should arrive sometime this week.) And take a look at this page on the website for Institute for Policy Studies website to understand why big gifts from wealthy donors sometimes don’t even provide bandages, much less solutions to serious problems. 

Okay, but here’s a cheery thought from my bookstore: beautiful blank notecards by Montana artist Sarah Angst. 

I love Sarah’s feel for plants and animals, and much of the Up North vibe from Montana fits well here in Michigan, too. See more pictures here. Better yet, come in the shop and choose your favorites! Peasy, no doubt, would suggest the dog images (there are three), but horse and frog and fireflies and many more are quite beautiful, too.

Oh, Peasy! You are so silly!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

An Important Book Surprise from Korea



If women have one lesson to teach about social change, it is this: where there has been a culture of oppression, there have always been custodians of hope. You only have to find them and let them speak.


- Soon-Young Yoon, Citizen of the World: Soon-Young Yoon and the UNSeoul: Ewha Womans University Press, 2021. Paper, 327pp.



Soon-Young Yoon grew up summers here in Northport, Michigan, so we can claim her as a local author. She is truly, however, what she calls herself in the title: a citizen of the world. 


Yoon came to the U.S. as a child refugee from North Korea and has worked with the United Nations and with NGOs, as well as universities. (Her Ph.D. is in anthropology.) But despite her cosmopolitan career -- or maybe because of it -- American-ness shines forth in her can-do attitude toward the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. 


Each small section of this book (I would think of these as chapters, but the table of contents calls the larger sections chapters) is a short, self-contained essay, typically three to five pages, usually with a photograph, each focusing (beyond the introductory autobiographical pieces) on a serious global issue. Despite many acronyms and dates, the author’s style remains simple, conversational, and highly readable, always engaging the reader on a personal level. Beginning with her own United Nations experiences, she cites initiatives taken by other individuals and groups around the world to deal with the specific problem that is the chapter’s focus. There are problems here but no helplessness or hopelessness. 

Sample page with photograph

Yoon is a strong advocate for women around the world, especially in too-often overlooked poor and/or indigenous populations, and she is a staunch believer in motivation and action to make positive change. For example, she tells an inspiring story from Burkino Faso, where one woman’s determination to move forward from complaints to positive action made all the difference in a local meeting. Dying cattle, deforestation, and the exodus of youth from the region all stemmed, this woman believed, from the disappearance of the area water supply, so she organized other women into groups to build traditional earth dams, to plant trees and gardens around them, and to feed the cattle. Men eventually became involved, also, and life changed for the better for everyone. 


Since indigenous women are always involved with agriculture at the ground level, Yoon says it is imperative that their voices be heard and their knowledge brought to the table whenever solutions are sought to environmental problems. 


While deeply concerned with improving the lives of women and girls, from working for gender equality to ending all kinds of violence against women, Yoon realizes and emphasizes that boys and men cannot be left behind. Even public clinics open to all, she writes, benefit girls whose mothers bring them in to be seen by doctors, but too often boys do not want to come with mothers. Their fathers do not bring them. “We cannot assume that backward traditions affect only girls,” she writes. “Sometimes, boys are also the losers.”


And although the book is divided into sections – “About Me”; “Navigating the Boundaries of Identities”; “Violence Against Women”; “Finding the Earth’s Balance”; “Claiming the Right to Health”; “Economic Empowerment”; “Collective Voices”; “Circle of Women: Portraits” – again and again the author reiterates her truth about connections linking all social and environmental issues. Her image is that of a spiderweb, a web of life that includes everything on earth, animal, vegetable, and mineral, and she insists that those who want to help others need to listen to what those others say about what they need, because the people of a culture are the ones who know that culture. Those in technologically “advanced” countries, she speculates, may even have much to learn from peoples with simpler ways of living, those from cultures that have not created the problems of pollution and waste we face in, for instance, the United States.


Citizen of the World: Soon-Young and the UN is published, in English, by the Ewha Womans University Press in Seoul, Korea. (Yoon tells us that Ewha Womans University is the largest women’s university in the world, with 25,000 students. Did you know that? I did not.) In this highly readable volume, focused on important world issues, with serious problems never oversimplified or minimized, the author manages to give inspiring and encouraging anecdotes and observations. 


My hope is that this book will become easily available in the United States (at present it is not) and read by as many Americans as possible, men as well as women. For this to happen, there needs to be a groundswell of demand, from book clubs and libraries, as well as colleges and universities, and this post is my little push in that direction. This is crucial because, as the author notes in an online interview, the changes that are necessary in today’s world must necessarily happen fast. 


I am so proud to be the first bookseller in the world to offer this book to the public! Thank you, Dr. Yoon!