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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

News--yes, news--from Afar

A bookstore cat has died. Fup, of Powells, was 19. Clicking on a link from this morning's "Shelf Awareness," I found an article in the local Portland, Oregon, newspaper and was very saddened to see that the first comment came from a sarcastic reader whose take on the feature was political and dismissive. "Inappropriate?" asked a standard web question about comment content. Well, yes, but not legally.

Why is it "news" that this cat has died? Because Fup was companion of bookstore employees and customers for 19 years, and it is human to mourn the loss of a companion. It is human to pause and acknowledge. It is news in the same way that a change of CEO in a major corporation, a rise of drop in the stock market, a plane crash on the other side of the globe are all news. Life was a certain way yesterday and is now different today. To notice--and to care--is human.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Limited Success

Nearing the end of Maxwell's THE WILD IRISH, with my next book waiting in line (SEVEN LOVES, by Valerie Trueblood, and to be honest I'm 54 pages into it already), I'm in no humor to wrestle further with web browsers this evening. I did manage to add a list to the page layout, so you can look at a few blogs I enjoy. As for adding links to these posts, that success is still eluding me. Pity, because I found a great site on May Thielgaard Watts.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Books, Sun, Wind, Seeds

Around 20 people showed up for Erin’s reading on Saturday, despite the rain. It was a good turnout—not, however, enough to eat and drink through all the pumpkin donuts and fresh apple cider I had provided, overestimating wildly what was needed. Never mind that. The important thing is exposure for Erin and her book, and luckily friend Dan Stewart from WNMC was able to attend. Now I’m hoping to hear Erin on the radio one of these days, in one of Dan’s productions, telling some of her wonderful stories about her mother, Hope Quinlan. I worry somewhat that anything short of the whole book would fail to do justice to Hope’s life. Fortunately, we have the book, so an interview by Dan can only add to the story.

This morning, taking it easy and doing laundry at the same time, I finished two books, READING THE LANDSCAPE first, then TOUGH LITTLE BEAUTIES, a new book of essays from Leelanau County’s own (by adoption) Stephanie Mills. My favorite essay from the Mills book was a short one called “Is the Body Obsolete?” Stephanie’s writing is, for the most part, rational and measured; her answer to the body question (posed in WHOLE EARTH REVIEW) is different in tone and a window into the passion that drives all her ecological concerns. She hurls her own questions back at the questioner, steams ahead to state her case and wraps up—in short order--by saying bluntly that the question posed “is a jaded question best answered by well-placed lightning bolts, if wet chicks cracking their way out of eggs or the gnarled prolific hands of an aging Monet or Renoir don’t do the trick.” Amen, amen! The “brains in vats” game (a favorite among certain contemporary philosophers) gets short shrift here—and high time, I say.

Sunshine lured me outdoors to hang laundry in the fresh air (one of life’s great pleasures), and dozens of white wings dancing in that air drew me out into the meadow to see what hatch was in process. I found not insects but seeds born aloft on the breeze. Milkweed pods, dry and full, were bursting open, releasing their offspring (tough little beauties) into the cold fall air.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Morning Mist

Having to run errands can bring unexpected blessings. My drive south to Leland this morning to distribute publicity for Erin’s reading and signing (2 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, at Dog Ears) gave me a chance to see this beautiful mist over Lake Leelanau. And after putting up a notice about the bookstore event at Stone House Bread, I treated myself to 15 minutes with READING THE LANDSCAPE by Watts, enjoyed with coffee and scone and learned that the designation Michx. after a plant name does not have anything to do with Michigan but is an indication that the plant was first described by AndrĂ© Michaux, who collected plants for Louis XVI for his gardens at Versailles.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Train of Days

This was yesterday morning’s sunrise, a brief glimpse of the sun between horizon and clouds before hours of rain. The walk two friends and I had hoped to take (while Bruce manned the bookstore counter) turned into four hours of indoor talk. (Not to say we didn’t enjoy the talk!) Inexplicably, clear skies returned today.

No, I haven’t finished STORM. A novel, THE WILD IRISH, by Robin Maxwell, distracted me. The story begins when a female Irish pirate comes to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Talk about a literary device! Quite gripping! But then along came READING THE LANDSCAPE, by May Thielgaard Watts, so now I’ve got three different books going, and it’s anyone’s guess which one I’ll ride to the finish line first. And why not? The joy of having left academic life is that I have no required reading list and can pick up whatever calls my name loudest.

Today was a furniture-moving day at Dog Ears Books. My printer moved up into heatable space, and the stage was set for Erin Hartman’s reading on Saturday afternoon. We're making it an autumn party, with apple cider and pumpkin donuts. I think Hope Quinlan would approve.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Goodbye, dear Sigrid

It is always sad to lose a friend. When word came yesterday that Sigrid von Bremen Thomas, author of GOODBYE STALIN, had died of cancer at her home in Potomac, Maryland, I was saddened, though I had known her only a short time.

Sigrid and I met at my bookstore, of course. She told me in the summer of 2006 about her memoir and promised to be in touch, and we e-mailed over the course of the following winter and spring. Her cousin, Karin, planned the pre-publication party for GOODBYE STALIN, held at the new Dog Ears Books location in the summer of 2007. It was Sigrid’s book that brought us together, and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend time with this wonderful woman and come to know her even a little.

Sigrid von Bremen was born in Estonia between the two world wars. Her memoir tells the story of the family’s flight from Estonia to Poland to Germany (where they were unfortunately caught on the wrong side of the partition after the war) and her eventual departure from Europe and immigration to the United States. I will not recount here what Sigrid has told so memorably in her book. She and her cousin married brothers, men who are first cousins to three Thomas brothers in Northport, and so Northport became her second new home.

After beginning her American career life in New York as a photo editor at LIFE magazine, Sigrid went on to work as a landscape designer and writer on horticulture and--a serious equestrian herself--horse sports. She and her husband made their home in the East but always returned to Northport for an extended family summer visit.

Sigrid signed a copy of her book to me, “with thanks and love for a good year.” It was indeed a good year, and Sigrid von Bremen Thomas was part of its goodness.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Authors in Northport

This Saturday Erin Hartman will be reading at Dog Ears Books from her recently published HOPE FOR CARSONVILLE: A DAUGHTER'S MEMOIR, and I’ve been thinking about the high-quality “first” books we’ve been able to introduce this year in Northport. Sigrid von Bremen Thomas kicked it off with GOODBYE STALIN; then came Joe Borri with his wonderful EIGHT DOGS NAMED JACK AND OTHER STORIES; next we had Dorene O’Brien and her book of short story gems, VOICES OF THE LOST AND FOUND; and now, finally, comes the inimitable HOPE FOR CARSONVILLE.

None of these writers had had a book published before, so in each case there had to be something special that said to a publisher, “This is worth investing in. There’s something new and wonderful here.” I read two of these books in manuscript and have some idea how long that stretch of time between submission and published book must have felt to their authors. I have not experienced first-hand the thrill of holding my own book in my hands. I have not felt the anxiety or anticipation of having my own book signing, giving a reading, making a public appearance as an author. My great privilege as an editor and as a bookseller, however, is to have a part in introducing deserving books to waiting readers.

There was a fifth book and author at Dog Ears this past summer. Our friend and lawyer from Suttons Bay, Stuart Hollander, was on hand for the Grand Opening of the Painted Horse Gallery and the new Dog Ears digs, signing his informative SAVING THE FAMILY COTTAGE. That was July 13. We lost Stu, suddenly and unexpectedly, in August. He left us too soon. His book was one of the best-sellers of the season and continues in popularity.

I’m very proud to offer these books in Northport. Working with authors is one of the many pleasures of the road I have chosen in life.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It is a bright and sunny weekend

Awake in the middle of the night, I read further in Meredith's STORM. The J.M. (junior meteorologist) is no longer so dismissive of the Old Master (the retired meteorologist), while the Chief still hesitates to make an official prediction of rain, which will throw California's economic activity a giant curve ball. Meanwhile, out in the Pacific, one ship has lost a crewman plowing through the gales. The storm is the book's central character, all the human beings supporting cast, from the weather room personnel to the men on ships and planes and road crews to individuals here and there in every walk of life, all going about their daily lives with no suspicion of what's coming.

Whatever is coming next here, we're having a second day of beautiful sunshine today, making the colors sing.

Friday, October 19, 2007

It was a dark and stormy night--

I lit a couple of candles when the electric lights started wobbling as we were settling down with our books after dinner. Then came the wind and rain and hail. We really got socked but didn’t lost power. You see here the rain and hail, with branches still and water pouring straight down, all obviously after the great winds that prevented my opening the door earlier.

Friend Susan’s question yesterday about a book featuring lots of rain had sent me searching through shelves at Dog Ears Books. Many novels have rainy scenes crucial to the plot, but could I find a whole book full of rain? I plucked likely-sounding titles off the shelf: Nevil Shute’s IN THE WET; Harry Hemelman’s WEDNESDAY THE RABBI GOT WET; something else I can’t remember. In the end I brought home George R. Meredith’s STORM, published in 1941.

Novelist, essayist, photographer, Meredith achieved Modern Library status but was not included in my ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LITERATURE, so I’ve had to look around to the Internet to find out more about him. He was fascinated by American places, place names, roads, and agents of change—fire, hurricane, viruses—and his interests ranged across the continent and across scientific knowledge.

STORM begins like a modern disaster movie. We are taken inside the weather station, where all official predictions are for continued fair weather, though one old codger, long retired but still a frequent visitor, says he knows it’s going to rain. The scene shifts to a road crew out in the mountains, a ship at sea, a pilot over the Pacific, all of them alert to the weather but still with no idea of what’s coming their way.

“Over all the top of the world rested unbroken darkness like a cap. Through that polar night the flow of heat off into outer space was like the steady drain of blood from an open wound.” But shortly after this point, lulled by a calm after our own storm, I fell asleep….

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Revisiting Yesterday's Sunshine

This morning's curtain is going up on a very different kind of day, but I'm not ready yet to dwell in and on autumn rain, so I open today with an image from yesterday.

My first wakeful thoughts today were of Edwin Way Teale and the customer who recently bought her second Teale book to read aloud to her husband in the nursing home in Suttons Bay. Her husband planted thousands of trees in his abler years and enjoys this kind of writing, so I loaned her Henrich's THE TREES IN MY FOREST to read to him, also. I appreciate that this reading is something they can still do together.

The main bookstore project on today's agenda (at least as far as I can foresee, because who knows what may come up?) will be continuing promotion for Erin Hartman's October 27 appearance, which is not much more than a week away.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This and That

Not having a lot to say tonight, I'm making the picture big. Also, something tells me that today was the peak of our Leelanau color: storms predicted for tonight and on through the week will no doubt strip many trees of their leaves.

Blogging is something like talking on the radio, as I recall it from my high school days as a volunteer take-a-request telephone answerer and radio announcer. Sometimes no one would call in, and we would make up requests. "The next song is for Nancy from Glenn, who can't wait to see her tomorrow in social studies." Stuff like that. We wondered if anyone was out there listening. I mean, how would you know? If anyone is out there reading tonight (or in future, whenever you might happen across this, by accident or design), and if you belong to a book club, I'd appreciate hearing from you with a list of books your group is reading. I'll be speaking at the Kalamazoo Public Library in the spring on the subject of book clubs and what they read and would like to have as diverse a list of lists as possible. Thanks in advance!

Obviously, I haven't resolved the problem of Blogger not liking the Mac/Safari combination, which is why there are no links in my postings. Guess I need to go researching and see what other Mac users have done to get around the trouble.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another view

Here's Ian in Michigan News again, this time browsing the magazines. I couldn't get both images in one posting without having my text all chopped up in the middles of words. Anyway, note the beadboard ceiling and old ceiling fans.

Saluting a Survivor

This is the Michigan News Agency in downtown Kalamazoo. Sixty years in business, changing blessedly little from year to year, Michigan News never disappoints. Besides magazines, they have maps and lots of books, including a large POETRY section. (Yes, that's right--poetry.) Along the back wall are magazines and newspapers in foreign languages, where I found a current copy of LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE (not readily available in Northport).

When my son was just a little kid with a paper route and had to deliver Sunday papers in the dark, I would walk the route with him (I helped carry, but he did all the delivering, not throwing from the street but leaving each paper where the customer wanted it left), and afterward we would go to Michigan News, where I got the latest NEW YORKER and he got the new comic book of his choice, before we went down the street for our downtown Sunday breakfast. This past Sunday was a small, nuclear-family reunion of sorts. I drove south from Northport, my mother and sisters came north and east from Illinois, and on Sunday morning Ian and Kim met us downtown for a very large, very late breakfast. Michigan News was our dessert. May it live a hundred years!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


A trip to the post office, library or bank means a walk down toward the harbor, always a welcome sight, whatever the weather. Today is Northport's annual Fall Festival. There will be a chicken soup competition, apple pie competition, pumpkin decorating competition, and all kinds of fun. Artist friend Deb Ebbers will judge pumpkins. Thanks, Deb!

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Little Thoreau

"The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our muskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell." - Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

Pumpkin Man and Me

Seeing the pumpkin man across the road every day (this picture taken on a sunny morning last week) adds to my anticipation of Halloween, a holiday I never liked at all until experiencing it in Northport. But that is still in the future--.

For now, fire in the fireplace, fresh coffee ready: guests in the house! Another morning begun with the ECONOMIC HIT MAN, John Perkins, and, consequently, many thoughts swirling around in my head. But I need to be on the road earlier than usual today, traveling first southeast to the little town of Lake Leelanau to deliver a hard copy press release and CD with photo, both relating to Erin Hartman's Oct. 27 appearance at Dog Ears Books. So I only bookmarked the Book Tourism blog address and will return to it when not so rushed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

No Blog as Lovely

After waking early and reading several more chapters of the book by the former EHM (see yesterday's post), I drove through a soft rain to Northport, appreciating the muted fall colors and thinking, "I need to write about trees."

One of my favorite books on the subject is Bernd Heinrich's THE TREES IN MY FOREST. Woods rambler, tree climber, sketch artist, landowner and timber manager and professor of entolomology, Heinrich has strong feelings for trees, along with deep knowledge of them. I'm fascinated by his analyses of growth, flowering and seed production in terms of a tree's general "economy," i.e., how much energy it has to put out to make its gains. "Trees," Heinrich writes, "are in a dilemma. They have to use their hard-won energy to produce wood (which is dead tissue) and often disposable leaves in order to grow, so they can obtain more energy. Usually this process results in a net loss, ultimately killing the tree."

The individual tree dies, but first, while it lives, it produces seeds, and the species survives. Like our old neighbor, Julius Houdek, Heinrich loves and recognizes individual trees, not just tree species. "Every birch, every old oak, is different from every other tree that ever lived and that ever will be."

A beautiful and surprisingly inexpensive recent publication is THE MEANING OF TREES, by Fred Hageneder. This book covers "botany, history, healing, lore," and exquisite color photographs of aged specimens the world over steal center stage, stopping this reader from reading, as I lose myself in the images, each tree my "favorite" until I turn the page to the next. Trees, like horses and dogs, call on us for emotional response. That response is inextricable from their meaning for us.

THE WILD TREES: A STORY OF PASSION AND DARING, by Richard Preston, is an entirely different kind of book. Here the subject is extreme tree-climbing and the adventurous naturalists who explore the canopy of forests. Like Heinrich's, this book is illustrated with modest, evocative sketches but is primarily a book to read. I like to live my death-defying escapades vicariously. Armchair adventure is my sport. Climb to the top of an 800-year-old redwoodf? Thanks, I'll read about it instead. Admiration of the trees in my daily life, on the other hand, is part of that daily life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Season Shift

Pelting. That's the word for this morning's rain. Naturally, my umbrella is in the car, and the garbage to go out to the highway isn't bagged up yet. Only five nights ago this little ash tree in Cedar was at its fall color peak.

While I wait to receive my next book order containing THE SHOCK DOCTRINE: THE RISE OF DISASTER CAPITALISM, I've begun reading CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN, by John Perkins, a book I've had on my (unwritten) to-read list for quite a while. Eerie night-time reading. The goals of the EHMs are not a surprise. Nor is their success. What I had never thought of before (and the blood-curdling part) is the method. Blend in, look safe, be a friend, offer to help. Betrayal, in a word, is the means to the end. More on this to come....

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Two-Dog Days

The collie is Dusty, beautiful Painted Gallery mascot and greeter, who has also become the unofficial mascot for Dog Ears Books this past year. Here Dusty poses, unconsciously, next to a little faux (not fu) dog of similar coloring.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Summer's End, Reprise

The past few days have been so very warm that it has seemed like July or August all over again. Windows open again (screens still up), fan pressed back into service, but I still had trouble sleeping last night and got up to read for a while.

I've been avoiding Cormac McCarthy's work for years. THE ROAD, however, looked as if it wouldn't pull me into a tale of violence for weeks, so I prepared to take the pill. Written mostly in dialogue, the book promised to be over quickly. And it was. Bleak as bleak could be it was (not a surprise, after all the publicity), but what I appreciated most about it were sentences and fragments that were quite simply poetry. In fact, I found myself stopping to rearrange lines, breaking them mid-sentence or wherever it seemed the lines of the poem--to which I was converting the text in my mind--would break. By dawn I had finished the book, and another day of unseasonable heat began with geese honking overhead. What is their hurry? With weather like this!

David had an appointment in Traverse City, and Bruce was at the helm (sales counter) at the bookstore, keeping an eye on the gallery as well, so I went with David to the doctor, then to Another Cuppa Joe (our favorite in-town cafe), then on our usual rounds. We also, with trepidation, visited the Cherryland Humane Society. Either we "aren't ready yet" or the "dog for us" wasn't there today. Had we been fully committed to immediate adoption, there was one I could have taken into my heart, but it wasn't like the first time I saw Nikki. Of course, all those memories surged forward and engulfed me.

It isn't unusual for my first swim of the season to be postponed until September, what with cool June water and busy July and August days, but this September it didn't happen. Tonight was the night. After dinner, a drive down to Good Harbor, my favorite beach. A man coming out of the water as I was wading in said, "You have to dive in!" Later, as I was swimming out toward the setting sun and back, I saw the man talking to David on the beach. Turned out (I'd left my glasses on the beach and hadn't been able to recognize him when he spoke) it was our friend Nello Valentine from Cedar.

Now the forecast is for a cold front to move in tonight, bringing rain, but we seized the day today.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Book Party in Three Weeks

I couldn't find it online, but there is a book review today (Sunday, Oct. 7) in the "Northern Living" section of the Traverse City Record-Eagle (p. E8) that I wish you all could read. The author, Erin Q. Hartman of Suttons Bay, will be at Dog Ears Books in Northport on Saturday, Oct. 27, to read from her memoir, HOPE FOR CARSONVILLE: A DAUGHTER'S MEMOIR. I agree with everything the newspaper writer said except for his tagging the story "gritty." That's much too strong and negative a word. There are some tough episodes in this family story, but there is no shortage of love. But come hear Erin read in three weeks, and you can judge for yourself. This is Hartman's writing debut. I'm predicting a big success for HOPE. And I'm sure that three weeks from now we will have seen the end of the unseasonable and enervating heat that has had some people today complaining and others jumping in the lake.

Vegetable Light

Can you identify this brilliant yellow burst of fire against the quiet fall landscape? It reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver's ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

After the Ball is Over

The combination of bookstore and art gallery makes for dynamic synergy. Participation of the Painted Horse Gallery in this weekend's "Fall for Art" tour made for very good business at Dog Ears Books, too. Steve and Deb Zinger's marvelous homemade gingerbread and truffles earned us the honorary (everyone was saying it) "Best Refreshments" award. (Thank you, Zingers!!!) After the crowds cleared, Woody and Bonnie (gallery owners and artists, pictured above), Steve and Deb and I kicked back with a few other friends in front corner of the bookstore. (Woody loves it that people "hang out" at Dog Ears.) We were a happy group of campers. Over a hundred people came through today, and over half of them didn't even have brochures to be initialed.

I read the first two pages of an old book first thing this morning, but that's as far as I got. It was a busy day!

Traffic on the Back Roads

Consider this picture as 1,000 words from me this morning.

I'll be in Northport soon, ready to initial brochures and count gallery visitors. This (Saturday) is supposed to be the heaviest of the three-day "Fall for Art" weekend. Weather: air still warm, slight breeze (last night very still), grey clouds....

Friday, October 5, 2007

"Fall for Art" Weekend Begins

My head is full of thoughts about memoirs and fictional works encompassing lives of characters who live in the minds of readers. I'm reading a memoir before I fall asleep at night (mentioned in 10/2 posting) and thinking of Betty Smith's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and Conrad Richter's THE AWAKENING LAND trilogy, and Suttons Bay author Erin Q. Hartman and I set a date this morning for her to do a reading at Dog Ears Books from her book, HOPE FOR CARSONVILLE, a wonderful memoir of growing up with an unforgettable mother. But today was the first day of the three-day "Fall for Art" weekend, a self-guided tour of 22 Leelanau County galleries from Empire to Northport, and visitors who have their brochures initialed or stamped at all 22 are eligible for prizes at the end of the tour, so I was busy initialing brochures, explaining the gallery to people who hadn't been in before (Painted Horse Gallery only opened July 13 of this year), urging them to help themselves to apple cider and cookies--and, yes, selling a few books, too. All of which is to say I don't have the energy tonight to compose an essay on fictional and nonfictional characters. There's no promise these particular thoughts will take shape by any particular date, either. Each day brings its surprises, so there's no planning these entries in advance.

Our weather today stayed sunny and beautiful, with no sign of threatened thundershowers until clouds moved in close to six o'clock in the evening. Knowing it would be a busy day, I treated myself to the long route to town this morning, back through orchard country, through the old golf course, then north on a dirt road that would be perfect on horseback. Sigh!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Horse Stories

Thanks to everyone who's been reading and especially to those of you who have left comments. I appreciate the encouragement and dialogue and hope others will jump into the conversation.

There was no post yesterday because, after I closed the bookstore, Bonnie and I took advantage of a beautiful, warm, sunny day to go riding. I rode her husband's horse, Jet, a wonderful, sweet, gentle black-and-white paint, Bonnie rode Scout, and the world we moved through was Eden. The picture here is of Pawnee, Scout and PJ, taken early in the summer. Yesterday the camera was definitely upstaged by the direct experience.

"Horses make the landscape look more beautiful," wrote Alice Walker. Horses lift my heart and bring tears to my eyes. They are the embodiment of perfect grace. How can we be worthy of all they give?

I've had and loved dogs, most recently (and loved most deeply) our beloved Nikki, and I've loved dog stories and books since childhood. There's HARRY THE DIRTY DOG, which my son and I enjoyed in his childhood; GINGER PYE, read first when I was in grade school and again and again since (sharing it with grade schoolers at Northport School a few years back, I enjoyed it every bit as much as they did); the heart-breaking DOG OF FLANDERS, which I did not read until adulthood; books by Albert Payson Terhune; modern treasures like THE SECRET LIFE OF DOGS. I don't understand people who don't respond to dogs. Our species have co-evolved. Would we even be human without them? I could never love a horse more than I loved Nikki. And yet--.

Where do feelings for horses come from? I've decided lately that my own feelings must be genetic. Seeing them, being near them, touching them, smelling them--why should this make me so happy?

Neither of my parents ever had horses, and yet, out on the plains of South Dakota, before uttering my first word of English, I was shrieking with delight at the sight of a horse, quieting only when my parents threatened not to point out horses to me any more if I didn't stop screaming in the car. My father's father loved horse racing and always went to the Kentucky Derby. He dreamed of starting a pony farm in Florida when he retired from the Pennsylvania Railroad. (He and I got a lot of mileage out of that dream.) I never knew my mother's father, but he was Irish. My father took me to a riding stable on occasion when I was a little girl, leading me around the ring on "Linda," the oldest mount in residence.

Despite the dreams, my grandfather never got his pony farm, and I have yet to have a real horse of my own, but, thanks to books, in my imagination I have had the most magnificent of horses.

Marguerite Henry's unforgettable stories, so perfectly illustrated by Wesley Dennis, captivated me early and have never lost their charm. Say "Chincoteague," and my first response is "Misty!" I learned about famous race horses from Marguerite Henry. Of all her books, BLACK GOLD was far and away my favorite. "He finished the race! On three legs and a heart, he finished it!" I am quoting by heart and may not have the race announcer's words exact, but they give me shivers even now as I type the words.

My all-time favorite horse series author, though, was Walter Farley: THE BLACK STALLION; THE ISLAND STALLION; and every sequel about the Black and Flame. When the film version of "The Black Stallion" came out, I was afraid of disappointment but couldn't stay away. Alec should have been older--otherwise, no complaints. From the moment that horse reared onscreen, I was ten years old again, enthralled. THE BLACK STALLION ranks right up there with WIND IN THE WILLOWS in my personal list of childhood classics. I remember my grandfather borrowing and reading my library copy of THE BLACK STALLION'S FILLY, sweat popping out on his forehead as the filly took the lead in the Derby. And THE ISLAND STALLION! The unbelievably mysterious, romantic, magical setting, that hidden world! I'm very pleased that these books are available in modestly priced paperback reprints so I can stock them at Dog Ears Books for young horse-crazy readers.

The novel THE HORSE WHISPERER wasn't what I'd expected. I wanted to read about horses, not romance. (For romance, give me Jane Austen.) Better for horse thrills are the books of Monty Roberts, the real-life horse whisperer. His writing can be repetitious, but who cares? His stories are real. He changes lives, those of horses and people, for the better, and he's one of my heroes.

Three years ago a holiday picture book for children appeared called WINTER'S GIFT, by Jane Monroe Donovan, who also illustrated her story. On the cover, in a snowstorm, is a lone horse, heavy in the belly, wind at its back. My favorite new book that season was a shoo-in.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Summing Up

That's Sally Coohon, president of the Northport-Omena Chamber of Commerce and a tireless worker on behalf of our community. You can see her good spirit in her smile. Tonight was the annual meeting, preceded by dinner at Knot Just a Bar in Omena. (It was my first visit to the new restaurant. The Greek salad with pita wedges and lamb strips reminded me of Tarpon Springs, Florida.) Meeting stayed right on track. Great job, Sally! It was a terrific year for Northport: we're well on the way back up!

Now, what book will I fall asleep over tonight? Will it be THE ROAD, by Cormac McCarthy, which I today committed to reading, or will it be the other book I couldn't help picking up and starting at the end of the Dog Ears day today, IT STOPS WITH ME: MEMOIR OF A CANUCK GIRL, by Charleen Touchette?

Why Elephants?

After weeks of being unable, upon awakening, to recall the merest shred of dream and worrying that this inability signaled the beginning of general memory loss (does our age have any greater personal fear?), I have been happy the last two mornings to have carried a few images into my first conscious moments of the day. The images are not important in themselves; it is remembering them that is important. Today, for instance, I remember a mother elephant and her child, separated from one another in a large, abandoned garden surrounding an old mansion. "Why elephants?" my friend Laurie would ask, wanting to find significance for the dreamer in the dream. Why indeed? There was an elephant in one of my dreams the night before, also. All I can say is that as last night's little one trotted anxiously about the garden, looking for its mother, its ears flapped up and down in the most adorable way, just as my Nikki's ears (much smaller) used to do when she trotted around the yard here at our old farmhouse. And the night before, besides the elephant, there was a little black dog in my dream. The comfort in this is that as long as my memory serves me, my dear dog will continue to be with me in spirit.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Slow Books

The self-described "slow food" movement pits itself against speed and convenience, urging us to slow down and enjoy meal planning and preparation, not just chow down in a rush. Slow food offers meditative, voluptuous, healthily hedonistic pleasure. The same is true of what I like to call slow books.

Proust leads the list. I used to say, dismissively, that life was too short to spend it reading Proust. Then one summer I tumbled into SWANN'S WAY, and my life was forever changed. Those hawthorne trees in bloom! The magic lantern slides! Who would want to hurry through such mesmerizing reveries?

Another slow series is the literary and artistic history of our country by Van Wyck Brooks. Beginning with THE FLOWERING OF NEW ENGLAND, 1815-1865, one can at first become impatient with what seems a long-drawn-out setting of the stage. That was my initial reaction. When I realized that what I was reading would be the pace of the entire book, I slowed down and relaxed into it, no longer frantically dog-paddling for a distant shore but content now to float along on the current, with only the occasional lazy sweep of an arm through the water. One morning during a period in which I was reading Brooks, someone tried to engage me in an "Ain't It Awful?" political discussion. "Sorry," I said with a peaceful smile, "but I'm back in the nineteenth century right now."

Fiction, history, essays--it isn't genre that puts a work in the slow books category. Difficulty is neither a criterion nor a barrier to membership. It's a matter of how long the reader takes to turn each page while remaining fully engaged with the content. Frederick Franck's books on drawing, photographs and texts of Jim Brandenburg, Anita Brookner's fiction, M.F.K. Fisher's travel memoirs are all slow books, as are Anthony Trollope's novels.

You don't read a slow book to "get through it," to have read it, but to immerse and lose yourself. It is "escape" reading of the richest kind.


My mind is more like these scattered crabapples on the ground than it is focused on a big, clear picture. Summer over, vacation past, winter looming. There will be time to settle down to large projects, but these days I'm more in grazing mode, easily distracted. Yesterday in the car, waiting for David, I started a book by May Sarton. I think it's called KINDS OF LOVE, but it's still out in the car, so when I woke up in the middle of the night it was Karen Armstrong's A SHORT HISTORY OF MYTH that kept me company.

Friend Sally stopped in the bookstore on Saturday and recommended Naomi Klein's THE SHOCK DOCTRINE: THE RISE OF DISASTER CAPITALISM. John Cusack did an interview that Sally forwarded by e-mail, and I'll put a link in here as soon as I can figure out how. Then this morning's issue of "Shelf Awareness" featured Klein, also. The book certainly sounds, as our grandson Spencer would say, "right up my alley," so it will be on my next order list.

Most important thought of this morning, however, is that it is my son's birthday. A Michigan resident since the age of three months old, he will, like me, never be a native. (I was born in South Dakota.) But this is our home, right, Ian? Happy birthday!!!