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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Not Everything Victorian is Outdated

It’s the last day of the first month of this new year already. Author Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman, died two days ago. Here in northern Michigan, the wind has died down since yesterday, and now the sun has even come out. Outdoor scenery, though, while beautiful, is fairly monochromatic about now, though, so I’m turning my attention back to the warm coziness of my bookstore.

“I do dislike the modern fashion of giving children heaps of expensive things which they don’t look at twice.” Don’t we all? Well, Beatrix Potter expressed this sentiment over 100 years ago in a letter to her publisher, clarifying her personal preference that her own stories for children be brought out as small, modestly priced books. I am reveling in Linda Lear’s biography, BEATRIX POTTER: A LIFE IN NATURE, and am learning for the first time just how seriously Potter pursued both her art and her scientific investigations. The family connection with Millais, her admiration for Turner, the hundreds of botanic illustrations of fungi and solitary researches into their germination were all new to me. I’d known about her speculations regarding lichens and that her view was later vindicated but had no idea of the many trips to the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Natural History Museum, or all the happy hours spent outdoors, “botanizing” and collecting. And then she buys her own farm! What emerges from this biography is what one might call a “woman of substance.”

When we finally saw the film version of her life, “Miss Potter,” I wondered if the romance with Norman Warne had been a cinematic invention, some screenwriter’s ploy to bring the viewers closer to a Victorian woman. Such, it appears, was not the case: the romance was real. Had it not been for Norman Warne, would Potter have continued to direct her talents in the direction of science rather than children’s literature? Yes, there were already those “picture letters” to the children in her life, first versions of what would later become the wonderful little tales of rabbits, mice, squirrels and cats, but what a shame if all the rest of us could not have shared them, if my son and I had not had THE TALE OF JEREMY FISHER to read together or our dear NOISY-NOISETTE, the French version of SQUIRREL NUTKIN.

I am so inspired that I’ve re-ordered several of the little Potter titles, still (in the anniversary edition) well under $10 each. Now that’s a children’s book!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cozy in the Kitchen

This poor old cooking pot in the snow won’t be called into service again, but there are others in the kitchen, and the kitchen is where I’ve been for a large part of this winter day.

At 5:45 this morning, when I called the weather line at Northwestern Michigan College, a recorded message told me that all classes for the day had been cancelled. What a relief! High winds had scoured the driveway bare, so drifts weren’t a big worry, but that same cold wind was brutal, and swirling snow would have severely reduced visibility on the road. In fact, the sheriff’s office and state police were warning people against any unnecessary travel. David and I were glad to oblige. I talked to Bruce (more intrepid than a postman!), who had gone to Northport and opened the bookstore as he usually does on Mondays and Wednesdays. “The windows are so frosted over I had to scratch ‘OPEN’ in the frost to see out,” he reported. “I’m looking through the ‘O’ now, and there’s not a car in sight.” We agreed that being open for the rest of the day was not a priority, that he would go home and David and Sarah and I would stay home.

Fortunately, the wind had not knocked out our power. Coffee and oatmeal from steel-cut oats were the first order of the day. Minestrone followed. A pan of oatmeal-apricot cookies, along with herbal tea, cheered the early afternoon, and my foraging in the freezer turned up an intimidating rack of ribs. “Be brave!” I told myself. Nothing ventured, etc….

Every foray outdoors with the puppy brought me back as hungry for something to read as for something from the kitchen, and I spent the day going back and forth between cookbooks and the Beatrix Potter biography by Linda Lear that I’ve been wanting to read for an entire year. I’m captivated by the latter but will write about it another time, because cookbooks have been on my mind for the past week.

My first cookbook was a wedding shower present in 1966. It’s still with me, missing cover and title page, along with half the index, the remaining text in large chunks rather than an integral volume. “Can we throw this away?” David once asked innocently. No way! Odds are I’ll never use the recipe for roast possum, but those cookies made with leftover oatmeal, the brownie recipe modified in ink over the years, the well-thumbed table of equivalents pages—all these, along with the old, familiar, corny color photographs and outdated menu ideas are part of my kitchen history. And that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Every person, every couple, upon setting up housekeeping for the first time, needs a good, basic cookbook. The one I started with was good for the 1950’s and 1960’s but would hardly satisfy 21st-century young Americans. JOY OF COOKING is still around, it’s true, and it’s still a good cookbook, but my vote for this generation’s wedding present cookbook (family and friends, take note) is THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD: NOTES, LESSONS, AND RECIPES FROM A DELICIOUS REVOLUTION, by Alice Waters.

This is not an offhand recommendation. The first consideration for a foundational household cookbook is that it be, indeed, basic, and SIMPLE FOOD fills the bill on this count. Before embarking on recipes, Waters provides annotated lists of kitchen staples and equipment, giving details, for example, on varieties of potatoes and what to look for in a pair of tongs. Moving on to basic sauces, she continues in a conversational, informal tone, and the reader listens, trusting the source. I’ve already noted in an earlier post that there are additions I would make to her list of staples (honey, maple syrup), but additions are easily made. That’s how one makes a cookbook one’s own.

“Don’t hesitate to experiment,” reads one line in the salsa verde recipe, and this urging the reader to improvise on the basics is one way SIMPLE FOOD will speak to today’s fledgling cooks, regardless of age. Many dishes include variations following the basic recipe, and over and over, from the first pages of the book, the reader is encouraged to experiment. “By cooking your way through these lessons,” the introduction promises, “tasting and learning from your success (and your mistakes), you will get to know some fundamental techniques by heart and you won’t have to look them up again. This will enable you to cook with ease and confidence, inspired by recipes—rather than being ruled by them….” From basic food and basic techniques, one progresses to confidence and improvisation.

Fresh, local, organic: This is the Alice Waters mantra, taken seriously by Americans serious about good food. Here again, this book suits the tenor of the times (Alice Waters having contributed greatly to the creation of that tenor) in ways that older cookbooks would not. Local farmers markets, CSA membership, a garden or at least a few pots of herbs on the windowsill--Waters begins with urging fresh, local, organic, and is not shy of reminding the reader at later points in the book. The point of all this is not self-denial but the fullest flavor possible, the most pleasure that can be obtained from the simplest food.

Recipes themselves are divided into the usual chapters (e.g., soup, vegetables), as well as into chapters focused on technique (e.g., slow cooking, over the coals). Pages are not crowded with recipes; instead, certain delicious basics are presented, with plenty of commentary on details of technique and explanations for the directions given. And here is another important feature in any basic cookbook. Beginning cooks need commentary on instruction, and all serious cooks enjoy it. SIMPLE FOOD is thus a good starting-out cookbook and one that will stay on the shelf for the cook’s lifetime.

But now I must close for the day and start another little ‘soffritto’ for tomorrow’s barley dish. Thank you, Alice, for teaching me that wonderful new word!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Still here

Here’s Sarah on Saturday, making herself comfortable in a friend’s lap. She’s had many adventures since then.

Half-moon (on the wane) bright over Claudia’s wooded hill, morning star bright over the wooded ridge to the east, puppy’s nose eagerly burrowing into deep, water-heavy remains of snow in the meadow--so my Tuesday morning began. Later this morning the sun disappeared behind dark clouds, leaving wet, muddy streets in the village (wet, glare ice in the driveway at home) and bringing a forecast of dropping temperatures and “hazardous conditions” through Wednesday morning. Michigan weather—gotta love it!

I’m going to treat myself sometime today to a little quiet reading, now that my Monday class is behind me and no new prep required for Wednesday. Last night after dinner I settled into my reading chair with GRUB, by Elise Blackwell, an entertaining novel about several young writers in NYC and their struggles to become published novelists. I’m enjoying it but must admit that, over halfway through the book, I still don’t understand the significance of the title. “Grub” is the name of the upscale restaurant in the neighborhood of one writer (where his roommate works as a waitress), but it has yet to play a major part in the story. Several one-word titles have appeared within the novel: OINK is one writer’s title, BAILIFF another’s, and the publisher of THE RELUCTANT LEPER wants to change that title to PONCHARTRAIN. The one-word title as marketing strategy? Perhaps. And surely there will be some shuffling of partners, suggested already by midpoint.

Belated official congratulations today to Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, out on the East Coast, a fellow bookseller whom I’ve never met in person. Jessica was the winner of this year’s top prize, $15,000, in a business plan competition, PowerUp, sponsored by the Brooklyn Public Library. The prize money brings her that much closer to realizing her dream: her own bookstore in Brooklyn, New York. You can peek into Jessica’s world, dreams and all, through her blog, the “Written Nerd” (see links list at upper right).

Later same day: Well, P.S. and don’t I feel stupid again? Devouring today’s book during all the stolen moment I could put together, I reached the end and found, opposite the last page of the novel, this note: “GRUB is an updating of George Gissing’s satire of the Victorian literary marketplace (NEW GRUB STREET 1891). It draws on it, borrows from it, and could never have been written without it.” So there you have it. Do you write? Edit? Publish? Sell books? Just read ‘em and love ‘em? You’ll have a good time with this one.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Short Stack

Morning sunlight warms the look of this cold winter scene. Jesse Lacross was logging with horses for weeks near this bend in the road, and for days there were massive, magnificent arrangements of huge logs moving down to the road. Someone else was logging north of town, big trucks loaded high rumbling south on Waukazoo Street every morning. But somehow I never had enough time or enough light to capture the many impressive images that caught my eye, and this morning there was only this small remaining stack of logs not yet hauled off.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Northport Does Winter

This is Northport, cold and snowy. Clearing sidewalks in town again this year is Five-Oh, indispensable village workaholic. There are many guys named Jerry but only one called Five-Oh. What would we do without him?

Other news is that the registration forms and “rules” for the chili cook-off are now available around town. (This is part of the Winter Carnival, scheduled this year for February 23,11 a.m. to 4 p.m. out at Braman Hill.) The four chili categories to be judged are: combustible, wildlife, traditional, and white. I might as well go ahead and tell you the rules: Bring 6 quarts (at least) of your chili to the warming house, along with your own ladle with your name on it. Have it there by 11:30 a.m. Provide the name of the cook and indicate in which category the entry is to be judged. The Northport-Omena Chamber of Commerce will provide bowls and spoons, electricity and grills. Questions? Need more information? Call Lisa Drummond at 386-7444 or 386-5575.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


During the time Ulrich Straus was writing his book, THE ANGUISH OF SURRENDER: JAPANESE POWs IN WORLD WAR II, he thought its importance would be chiefly as part of the historical record of that war. He did not dream then, or even after the book was first published, that the United States would be debating the permissibility of torturing prisoners in the 21st century. But because of stories that came out of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo since the publication of his book, and because of public statements by individuals highly placed in the American government, Straus has been repeatedly invited to speak and write on the subject of treatment of war prisoners. It has almost become a second retirement career for him, and he is passionate about it.

In the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, on December 22, 2004 (complete text available online), Straus wrote: “The abhorrent and illegal treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the coercive interrogation of Afghan war detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, contrast sharply with the human extraction of ‘actionable’ intelligence from Japanese POWs during World War II. Sixty years ago, we learned that abiding by international law and treating the enemy as a member of the human race not only shortened the war in the Pacific, but also helped win the peace in the occupation that followed.” During that long war, Straus writes, the United States “realized that in order to win the war and, equally important, the peace that would follow, we would have to treat POWs decently, as we ourselves would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.” This was the right strategy both on moral grounds and in terms of its consequences: It was the respectful way to treat fellow human beings, and it worked to win them over to our side.

When I contacted Rick by e-mail recently, telling him I wanted to feature his book in my blog, this was his reply: “Pamela, Your message could not have been more timely. My book has become the centerpiece, it seems, of an effort by retired and active duty U.S. military to stop the torture of POWs in Iraq. My book demonstrated, quite convincingly I think, that by and large we treated Japanese POWs in World War II decently, with the result that we got information that helped shorten the war somewhat and also contributed among many factors to a successful Occupation. When I wrote the book all this did not seem especially relevant, but that was before the US Government made torture a valid form of POW treatment. Aside from being illegal and immoral, torture is generally not an effective means of gaining intelligence. Our military hate it because it leaves us with nothing to say when, in the next war, the other side employs torture against US POWs.” In other words, when we desert the moral high ground in our treatment of those we hold as prisoners, we cut out from under ourselves any ground from which to ask for humane treatment for our people taken as prisoners. Immoral, illegal, ineffective and dangerous to our own people. Straus makes a strong case, not based on argument alone but on evidence from wartime prison camps. This is a story that demands attention, now more than ever.

Rick Straus serves on the board of the International Affairs Forum held at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, a series of presentations in which top international issues are addressed by former ambassadors, government advisors and think tank participants. Recognition of the importance of his book continues to grow.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Work-in-Progress Report #2: Elizabeth Buzzelli

From the remote and frozen shores of Starvation Lake, Elizabeth Buzzelli writes this account of her writing life in January 2008:

“I heard today that my deadline for the second book in the Emily Kincaid mystery series is March, not June, as I've been telling myself. So I frantically counted words and found I am within striking distance of the end---70,000 words written--and have no reason to panic. The way I work, when I've finished what should be a first draft it isn't really a first draft. I work back and forth---two steps forward, then back to see if the steps hold weight. At a little beyond the middle of the novel I go back to the beginning to see what I've forgotten, whose eyes I've changed from blue to brown, how I can strengthen the plot, and how badly my syntax has deteriorated. So, I've done that.

“The story is flowing. Emily Kincaid and her friend, Deputy Dolly Wakowski of the Leetsville police, are deeply involved in an old double murder. The bones have been analyzed. The sad remains have names. And now the women are desperately hunting for a murderer while at the same time Dolly is finding family and Emily considers remarrying her ex husband and moving back down state, to Ann Arbor.

“Winter is supposed to be a great time for writing. I live in a snow belt, a mile from where Gloria Whelan used to live. She wrote a book every winter, she once told me. I envied her then and envy her still. I stand at the window in my studio looking out at a monochromatic world with not a single passing fox, or deer, or turkey, and I wonder what normal people are doing--maybe playing in the snow, or gathering in coffee shops for wonderful conversations. I go back to my desk having settled into deep self-pity and pound out another paragraph before coming up with the bright idea of taking myself into town for lunch.

“Since there aren't many restaurants in the nearest town, lunch turns out to be a sandwich at Arby's, by myself because I haven't called anyone and don't really want company. I sit there and smile at the toddlers who meander past. Sometimes an elderly lady takes pity and says something nice. Mostly I read--a thing I could have done at home. Or do the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Then I brave the cold and snow and roads too dangerous to be on and go back home to slide down my driveway and go back to the studio and stand at the window and wish just one damn squirrel would come scalloping by.

“So, will I make the deadline? Of course. But it won't be due to a steady forward stream of perfect prose. It will be that last push: a chapter a day just as spring comes softly over the hill. I'll probably miss the intimations of hope. I'll miss the first pregnant fox passing on the other side of my meadow (which used to be a pond). I'll miss the orioles diving and the robins going crazy. I'll be in there, nose to the computer, doing rewrites and cursing all those heavenly winter days I frittered away.”

Elizabeth Buzzelli, who always gets her work done, has a non-mystery story entitled THE VW BOARDING HOUSE currently available for download on Amazon. You can read it, review it and recommend it for a publication prize. Her DEAD DANCING WOMEN (the first Emily Kincaid mystery) will be out in fall of 2008, and the sequel, DEAD FLOATING LOVERS, is the book currently nearing completion.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Corrections and Miscellany

The weather has turned to bitter cold, with fierce, biting winds, gusts and drifting. It is not pleasant weather for walking a puppy, but that still needs to happen, of course, even with a wind chill of 20 below zero. Here’s Sarah, off her leash for a romp, hardly plain (so cute!) but tall, yes, and getting taller every day. She enjoys the snowy meadow that Nikki used to love.

Well, once again, the evidence is in: I will never be a journalist. My imagination filling in between the facts distorted reality, and Rick Straus corrected me on two points in his life story. I have now gone back and corrected the original post and labeled it, for the record, as a corrected version. Sorry and thank you, Rick, for your patience.

On other literary fronts, friend and neighbor Bob Underhill brought by the galley proofs for his second murder mystery, which will hit the stands May 15. CATHEAD BAY brings back characters from STRAWBERRY MOON and will surely be one of the summer’s big Leelanau County books. I don’t think he will object to that prediction. Eh, Bob?

As hinted in the first paragraph, I read SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL, by Patricia MacLachan, the other day. Newbery winner from 1986, it is a lovely, simple story, simply told. This book wasn't around when I was young, but I'd heard of it, and from the moment we saw our puppy’s name at the Humane Society, the title phrase kept running around and around in my head, “Sarah something and tall,” and I’m glad. My new puppy inadvertently brought me together with a wonderful story.

Reading for philosophy lately has led me over into the pastures of psychology, to see if Carl Rogers really took the bad turn the philosophy textbook author says he did. We’ll discuss that question in class this week.

This cold weather is great for staying indoors and reading.

Friday, January 18, 2008


(This is a corrected version of the original posting.)

Like many retirees, Ulrich Straus wanted to write a book, and he did. Unlike most other books by retired state department people, he did not write a memoir but a book of history, a story from World War II that had not been told before in English, the story of Japanese soldiers and sailors taken as prisoners of war by the Allies in the Second World War. The plight of Japanese-Americans denied their civil rights and interned in camps during World War II is familiar now, even to schoolchildren; by contrast, the story of Japanese prisoners of war is barely known at all. Perhaps it took someone with Straus’s unique personal history to bring this chapter to light.

Leelanau County is Rick Straus’s retirement home, but over the course of his life, beginning in childhood, he lived a total of about 27 years in Japan. His father was a German businessman who was sent to Japan by his company during the Great Depression and later moved his family there. When Japan started to feel unsafe, the elder Straus brought the family, still German nationals, to the United States, where Rick finished high school and went on to the University of Michigan for its Intensive Japanesse Language program.

Enemy aliens could not volunteer for the military, but they could be drafted, and the story of how Rick, still a teenager, was drafted into the army is a story in itself but one I won’t get into here. He served in the military in post-war Japan as a translator of German and Japanese documents at the Japanese War Trial in Tokyo in 1946-48 (he was 18 at the time), later went back to Japan as a Fulbright scholar, and eventually went to work for the state department, finally serving as American consul general in Okinawa from 1978 to l982. It was an exciting life. His interest in Japanese POWs was natural: besides having lived in the country as a child, had the war lasted longer he would have been interrogating Japanese prisoners of war himself.

David and I first met Rick on the beach at Gills Pier Road, when his Samoyed approached our Nikki, their tails wagging. Fast-forward several years to 2001 when Rick asked me to edit the manuscript for his book, THE ANGUISH OF SURRENDER: JAPANESE POWs OF WORLD WAR II, subsequently published by the University of Washington Press in 2003. Everyone remembers the fall of that year. Waking from nightmares in the wee, dark hours, I would make coffee and sit down with the pages of an engrossing story from over half a century before. The work kept contemporary demons at bay but did not banish them utterly, for one very good reason: perception and treatment of enemies forms the thematic core of THE ANGUISH OF SURRENDER. When the project found a publisher, David worked with Rick in selecting photographs for the book. We were honored to be able to make our modest contributions to the large, important work Straus had produced.

Straus conducted thirty-five personal interviews with former Japanese POWs for his book, on top of copious documentary research, and when I say he tells the “life stories” of these men, that’s what I mean. He begins by tracing the development of the traditional Japanese military man from schoolboy indoctrination through formal military training. Never denying that Allied troops captured by the Japanese suffered terribly in captivity, he makes it clear that everything in Japanese culture up to the close of the Second World War taught that surrender was shameful and that those who surrendered had dishonored themselves. The Japanese had never even ratified the Geneva Conventions, their reasoning being that the enemy would not have to feed and house Japanese prisoners—there would be no Japanese surrendering—so why should Japan take on the cost of caring for prisoners?

Because they expected to be severely punished and believed they deserved it (as the Japanese military believed, too, of those they captured), Japanese POWs were overwhelmed to receive humane treatment, including good medical treatment and gift cigarettes, from their captors and guards. Amazed and grateful, they quickly began to see their captors as human beings rather than monsters, and most were eager to cooperate with the Allies. Escape attempts were rare.

When the Japanese government was sent lists of men taken prisoner, they notified the families that these men had been killed. Dying for the emperor was honorable; surrendering was not. Most of the prisoners, for their part, dreaded returning home, and many felt they would never be able to do so, that returning would bring shame on their families. Reality was kinder, and Japanese culture underwent deep changes as a result.

Coming Tuesday, January 22: THE ANGUISH OF SURRENDER, by Ulrich Straus, Part II

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Food, food, food (and books)!

The air is colder today, but the winter sun is a cheery sight. It keeps getting brighter and brighter, too, as the morning goes on.

Small epiphanies for me usually come in the morning. When I hit the statistic in PLENTY today about food shipped nationally using 17 times the fuel (even with “cheap” oil) that regional food requires to get it to market, that Vermont maple syrup came instantly to mind, and the next instant brought the realization that I can buy the Michigan syrup in the plastic jug and transfer it to a glass container. Why didn’t I think of that right away? Or, I wonder if the co-op in TC sells Michigan syrup in bulk. Since I’m driving to town two days a week to teach, making a stop at the co-op wouldn’t be that far out of the way. (Diane’s comment was probably the seed for this brainsprout.)

I’m having a strange, emotional response to this book, PLENTY. The first teary-eyed sensation came with Alisa’s grandmother died, though it was early in the book, and I’d hardly had the chance to take the grandmother deep into my heart. Then there was the quotation at the beginning of the May chapter, “When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” Then James wrote of their first garden salad from the farmers’ market, “The foods that overflowed our big glass bowl were not only the flavors of spring, but of this particular spring, this unique year with its hard rain and rare glory of sun.” I’m all verklempt! What’s going on here?

Farmers’ markets in this country are a phenomenon of the 1970s, the book says, and that may be true of country and small town markets, but I remember shopping at the big farmers’ market in Springfield, Ohio, with my grandmother, and Cincinnati had a huge open-air market that went back much further in time.

Coming soon in this space: THE ANGUISH OF SURRENDER: JAPANESE POWs IN WORLD WAR II, by Ulrich Straus. Meanwhile, see the new link in the list at right for a blog called "Collecting Children's Books," which I learned about from today's "Shelf Awareness" newsletter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Eating More Consciously

PLENTY: ONE MAN, ONE WOMAN, AND A RAUCOUS YEAR OF EATING LOCALLY, by Alissa Smith & J. B. MacKinnon, is the book I barely opened yesterday. I’d made more headway (having started it earlier) with THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD: NOTES, LESSONS, AND RECIPES FROM A DELICIOUS REVOLUTION, by Alice Waters. The books go well together, with their emphasis on what the French call ‘terroir,’ or regional soil. Grow, buy, eat what you can get close to home is the message of both books. For Smith and MacKinnon it was a challenge they made more stringent by drawing the acceptable border of home at 100 miles in any direction. I can’t imagine that Waters would rule out food that hadn’t been grown or produced within 100 miles of Berkeley, California; on the other hand, she’s been in this local food game a lot longer and has been responsible for a lot of fresh local food production, domestic and commercial.

Well, anyway, I woke up this morning thinking “Honey! Honey, too!” Yesterday I wrote that I’d have to add maple syrup to the list of staples Waters recommends, and this morning I rushed to the book to look at the list again, finding only sugar as a sweetener. What I guess is that AW uses very little sugar, that most of what she cooks relies more on olive oil, vinegars and herbs than on sweeteners.

Late this afternoon, I got back to PLENTY for a while. The original, inspirational northwoods dinner consisted of a fresh-caught Dolly Varden char; chanterelle, pine and hedgehog mushrooms; garlic and three kinds of potatoes (from a neglected garden); baby dandelion leaves; apples and sour cherries. Red wine they had brought with them. Aside from that dinner, the second inspiration was a statistic that kept nagging at MacKinnon, wherever he turned, recurring news items telling him over and over that “the food we eat now typically travels between 1,500 and 3,000 miles from farm to plate.” That’s a big carbon footprint. And what, MacKinnon wondered, do we know about food that comes to us from that far away? What connection can we possibly feel to it? Smith and MacKinnon tell their story month by month, their voices alternating chapters. The writing is entertaining and down-to-earth. (No pun intended.) One of her first questions when he comes up with the idea for this year of limits is, “What about sugar?” Predictably, his answer is honey.

Then I went to the grocery store, Tom’s Market, around the corner from Dog Ears Books, where I shop almost every single day. (Coming back from the veterinarian’s office yesterday, I’d stopped at the Leland Mercantile for the steel-cut oats I can’t get in Northport. Not local, obviously.) Some people complain about Tom’s, but I say we’re lucky to have such a good grocery store, and it gets better every year. Today my first decision was maple syrup: Michigan or Vermont? That might not even sound like an issue—why not automatically Michigan?—except that my experience has been that maple syrup keeps better in glass than in plastic. Both were reasonably priced (the one Michigan label in Leland cost more than I wanted to pay), but the Vermont syrup came in a glass bottle, the Michigan syrup in a plastic jug, and while I don’t even like plastic, I’d buy it, because it’s Michigan, if I hadn’t had syrup in plastic jugs grow moldy too often.

Canned soybeans. Those aren’t local, but after the ingredient ‘edamame’ came up twice in two days, sending me scurrying to find out what the heck it was, I’ve been curious to try these little guys. It’s hard to tell where canned food is grown. This can says the certified organic product inside was “manufactured” in Melville, New York. Does that mean processed and canned? Where were the soybeans grown? The consumer relations people who might be able to tell me are way out in Boulder, Colorado. Well, I want to try these things, so I’m buying them.

Fresh spinach. The bunches look great, not even wrapped in plastic! There’s a brand name on the twist-tie holding them. It says Tanimura & Antle. No indication of where it comes from, but again, I’m buying. Fresh blueberries? No, they’re not from South Haven (how could they be, in January) but South America, so I choose two apples and a pear instead, all grown somewhere in the USA, though that’s as specific as their stickers get. The little bag of turnips, bless its heart, says Michigan right on it. Hudsonville, Michigan. But “packed in”? Where were they grown? Surely it came from somewhere close to Hudsonville!

There are two egg choices, the Spartan brand (no clue where they come from) or the eggs from Pennsylvania hens fed a vegetarian diet. I prefer and buy the latter, which have much firmer, darker, higher yolks. What I really need in my life (until I persuade David we should keep our own hens) is an egg lady, preferably one between Northport and my house.

I’ve been annoyed for years when the only carrots and potatoes I can find come from California. Why not Michigan carrots in Michigan stores? But living in the country as I do, what’s my excuse for not having my own Gills Pier carrots? It’s the old story of the neglected garden, and this year I vow to use part of that college teaching paycheck to get the plot in order before planting season arrives. I don’t have the time or strength in my hands to do it myself any more, but I can pay someone to do it for me.

Susan’s right (comment to yesterday’s posting) in saying that it’s easier to eat locally grown food in northern Michigan in the summer. But if I had chickens (or an egg lady), if I grew and canned and froze and dried (staying home or working the night shift to get it done), if I shopped more in Suttons Bay or Traverse City (driving fewer miles to buy Michigan food than food would travel to Northport from Pennsylvania, New York, California, etc.), it could be done. Bottom line, though: we won’t be going on the 100-mile diet in our house. Still, I don’t mind becoming more conscious of the choices I’m making, and these two food books together are inspiring me to make some changes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Growing, Reading, Eating

Who’s being silly here? We are infatuated with our puppy! "She landed in a tub of butter when she came to live with you," a friend said, quoting what someone had said to her when she got her new dachshund. Well, we think we were incredibly lucky to find her. There's a line in the musical "Showboat," when the director of the troupe asks the potential leading man if he's a quick study, and he answers in a single word: "Lightnin'!" That's Sarah. She went to the vet for the first time today and has, he says, no fleas, no mites, no worms. A little infection in one ear but otherwise fit as a fiddle and—can this be true?--likely to get up to 65 pounds as an adult! So much for our idea of getting a small dog!

Deciding I needed to lighten up a bit after all that Aristotle, I took a cookbook to bed with me last night. It’s the latest (and last, she says) Alice Waters, SIMPLE FOOD, and right at the beginning it hit the culinary spot for me when she said she hoped her book would help people use cookbooks for inspiration, without feeling the need to follow every line slavishly. That’s the way I generally use cookbooks, and most people I know who love cookbooks read them as much for pleasure as for following recipes.

Waters (I want to call her “Alice,” because her sister is a good friend of mine, but Alice and I have never met) is very insistent on fresh, organic, locally grown products. To say she “recommends” farm markets is putting it mildly. Not long ago, the question of local food came up at a small dinner party where I had served pomegranate and chocolate for dessert. Yes, I do stray from apples and cherries once in a festive while, but basically I’m on the same page with Waters, Wendell Berry, etc., etc., when it comes to local agriculture. I see this not simply as assuring fresh, healthy food and supporting farmers in their tough business of making a living, but also looking to the long-term sustainability of community. There’s historical evidence that a dependable food supply is essential to any population’s security (cities have always been vulnerable during wartime, and tyrants make sure to feed as many of the people they want to tyrannize as possible), but that’s only the preventative side of food and community, the positive, emotional satisfaction of connectedness being more obvious and no less important.

I'd add maple syrup to AW’s list of kitchen staples. We use it on oatmeal as well as pancakes, and a couple of drops in a vinaigrette finishes the taste without being noticeable in itself, a tip from my friend Kathy Garthe, wife of an organic cherry farmer. I don't like to be without it in the house.

Another book on food I’ve been waiting for is PLENTY, and that finally arrived. The 100-mile diet idea started, the authors say, with company to feed at their remote Canadian cabin and nothing in the larder but one old head of cabbage. Someone caught a fish, others gathered berries, picked apples, what-have-you, and a memorable meal put together. (It was a one-dish meal, as described in the book, which sort of boggles the imagination.) I only just opened the book today, and then it was time to close the shop and get Sarah to the vet, but the idea is that for a year the authors lived on the food they could acquire within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver home. I’ll give a full account in future.

There’s something about winter that makes reading and thinking about food almost as satisfying as eating. Well, almost….

Monday, January 14, 2008

Another Day in the Life

Snowy all day today, from dark to dark. Country roads were snow-covered this morning, streets in town wet, parking lots slushy and sloppy.

Thank heaven for Bruce!--loyal, long-time Dog Ears volunteer, who opened and manned the bookstore this morning, while I was 40 miles away, expounding Aristotle. Some might say of both of us that we were “in the trenches” today. I don’t use that phrase much but often say of grade school and high school teachers and administrators that they are “on the front lines,” and either way, it’s a war metaphor, isn’t it? This is bad if taken the wrong way, but students and customers are not “the enemy.” No, what booksellers and teachers struggle against is not an enemy “Other,” but the possibility of our own failure. Our success depends on communication and active engagement.

Well, I keep thinking (to change the subject) that the community college in Traverse City, Northwestern Michigan College, where I’m teaching two sections of Philosophy 202 this semester, must have had its marking periods named by someone in marketing. The current semester is called Spring, while the one that ended in December was Fall. The summer term is called, reasonably enough, Summer. “But if this is Spring and summer is Summer, what’s the short session in May called?” I asked in perplexity. “Early Summer” was the reply. The existence of our longest and most challenging season is glossed over as if it didn’t exist! What an brainstorm! I’m sure no one is fooled, but it does make me laugh.

David and I are cozy in front of the fire tonight, our new dog lying on the rug (chewing her new rawhide bone) where our old dog used to lie, and life feels again the way it’s supposed to be.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Day at Home

The little popple grove between the house and the old chicken house takes on an air of mystery in winter. To tell the truth, it has mystery in other seasons, as well. I discovered the old daffodils under the silver maple (by the old well) early on, but it was three springs before I found, quite nearby, the clouds of yellow violets, one of my most beloved woodland wildflowers. This is part of baby Sarah’s new world now, and she explores with all the eagerness and enthusiasm of the puppy she is, her nose leading the rest of her small, wriggling self tunneling into the snow.

Reading Aristotle this morning, I was struck once again by his emphasis on the importance of good habits in character-building and, while not disagreeing, could only wish he had left a bit of room for the possibility of redemption. “If a man, acting not in ignorance, commits the acts that will make him unjust, he will be voluntarily unjust” is a reasonable statement. As a lifetime of health choices contributes either to good health or disease (heredity and fortune playing their parts), he points out, a lifetime of moral choices creates character, for which the person is responsible, just as, “once a man has thrown a stone, it is no longer in his power to call it back; still for all that, it was in his power to throw it, since the source of the act was in him.” In similar fashion, Aristotle argues, once a man has created his character through repeated actions, becoming unjust or licentious, “it is no longer open to him not to be so.” Is this so?

We can agree that the man had the original power to become just or unjust, and we can see that some become unjust in the course of their lives. The question is, can settled character never be overturned? To answer the question Aristotle’s way argues against any hope of rehabilitation. But if the unjust cannot be happy (again, in Aristotle’s terms, but a case could be made on other grounds, as well), could the problem be, in at least some cases, not impossibility of change but lack of vision and belief?

Redemption does not change anyone’s past, but however short one individual’s remaining future, an example of redemption, of a life retrieved, can inspire others. True stories of human lives that have been turned around, along with true stories of dogs and horses gone “bad” and “brought back,” keep me from accepting Aristotle’s conclusion. Horses and dogs must have the choice made for them. Human beings have to choose for themselves. A man is the thrower, after all, not the stone.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


The bookstore Christmas tree is gone from the window, decorations and other accoutrements put away, large houseplants in floor pots and a couple windowbox inserts of overwintering geraniums replaced so as to capture maximum light. I consolidated paper and cardboard for recycling and moved stacks of other boxes (most full of books) back to storage, sweeping the floor of needles and remains of two ornaments I broke taking them off the tree. Sarah had several more short lessons (improving on the ‘Stay’ command, doing well on “Drop’ when she returns with a thrown toy), and she had her first meeting with another Northport dog, the Carpenters' dog, Cricket.

Having read ethics with morning coffee, at the bookstore I opened DOGSMART: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR FINDING THE DOG YOU WANT AND KEEPING THE DOG YOU FIND, by Myrna Milani, to a wonderful chapter, “A Meeting of the Minds,” all about dominance and subordination in dogs, humans, and in households combining dogs and people, along with the subtle and sometimes confusing signals the two species inadvertently give each other. There was nothing that contradicted anything we’ve learned from Cesar Milan (what a coincidence the two names are so similar!),and I’ll go back now and begin at the beginning of this fascinating book. Or should it be more Chiang Lee tonight? Or first one, then the other? Housework and transferring class lists to gradebook can wait until tomorrow.

Sarah had a hard time on her leash after dinner. Not only was the air redolent of skunk (there's always been a skunk living in the barn), but at least half a dozen deer had crossed Claudia’s road minutes before we came upon their tracks. The little puppy nose wanted to immerse itself and follow. Sorry, Sarah! Good dogs don’t run deer!

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Busy Life and an Old Friend

This close-up will probably give a better idea than a dreamy panorama of the quality of today's snow. Heavy. Wet. Gorgeous.

To say it was a busy day in the bookstore today would be putting it mildly. For one thing, I had new book orders to unpack, customers to call, and another set of requests to order. Then there was the business of getting my faculty e-mail account up and running so I could download and print out class lists. (There have been many changes in academic life in the decade since I’ve been away from it.) And of course (see posting from earlier today) there was Sarah. She and I had several sessions of Come-Sit-Stay, as well as several walks down the street. We also had visits from friends and well-wishers who just couldn’t wait to meet her. (Joanne alone made three visits, Pat two.) I’m happy to report that there wasn’t a nay-sayer in the crowd. It’s unanimous: Sarah is a darling puppy and will be a great asset to the bookstore.

With puppy and teaching added to my schedule, it may be more challenging to post regularly in the coming weeks, but I’ll do my best. To give substance to that pledge, and to prove that I’m not ignoring books altogether, even on what is only Sarah’s second evening at home with us, here is something on an old favorite author (and if I miss a day next week, remember that I posted twice today!):

David was watching television one recent evening when I took up a book, but when I was only a few pages into it, he asked what I was reading. When told it was THE CHINESE EYE: AN INTERPRETATION OF CHINESE PAINTING, he invited me to read to him. I thought I might as well go back and begin at the beginning, but first I read a bit from the blurbs on the back of the book, next turning to the front of the book to tell David the author’s name. The name! Suddenly it struck me: this book was by the Silent Traveler! David remembered the Silent Traveler, too. “Simple, declarative sentences,” he recalled. “Equal attention to everything around him. Have I got it?” Yes, and also a cheerful, kindly, benevolent disposition. Whether in New York, Boston, London or Paris, the Traveler’s observations were those of a happy man, describing everything around him with goodwill. I opened the book on Chinese art with eager confidence now, in place of my earlier mild interest. It was like beginning to explore a strange town, only to encounter an old friend in residence.

Ah, but I have not yet told his name! Chiang Yee, graduate of Nanjing University (Nanjing is a city I’ve long wanted to visit), left China for London in 1933, living and working there for many years before coming to the United States in 1955 and eventually gaining U.S. citizenship. He never returned to his homeland, but its influence never left his life. He retained his “Chinese eye.”

If I had to describe Yee’s writing in a single word, it would be that vague and overworked word, “charming.” Whatever is going on in your own life, when you enter Yee’s world you can’t help becoming calm and centered, taking on his general benevolence. I recommend viewing life through Yee’s particular “Chinese eye.” It makes for very happy traveling.

New Dog Ears Dog

We were agreed that we didn't want a puppy. We were agreed that we wanted a small dog, one no bigger than Nikki, and David really wanted a lap dog, which would have meant something smaller than Nikki's 30 pounds. So yesterday we went to the Cherryland Humane Society and left with 4-month-old Sarah, whose paws indicate (our vet will tell us better when he meets her) that she may reach 50 pounds. But she is (besides being cute) very smart, friendly, affectionate, unafraid--and, well, irresistible.

Sarah? That was her name at the shelter. It may stick (as did Nikki's), but so far I'm calling her Sarah So-Far (like Maggie-Now in Betty Smith's Brooklyn novel). My suggestions of Missy (one grandmother's dog), Pepper (the other grandmother's dog), and even Eliza Bennett (Lizzie, for short) were rejected by David, and it was David who came up with the name Barkis (from DAVID COPPERFIELD) for our long-ago dog, so I'm not arguing with him.

So far Sarah is practically the perfect puppy. She slept peacefully all night long in her crate in our bedroom and hasn't had any accidents in the house. She's taken to the bookstore like a duck to water. When I called various customers to tell them their special orders had arrived, I told them also about Sarah, and everyone is eager to come in and meet her. She loves meeting new people.

Two friends arriving now--gotta go....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Colorful Companions Along Life's Way

We haven't had fresh snow for a while, and what's left is looking pretty tired. More tired-looking still is all the bare, wet ground. There's a lot of brown in all directions. But it's possible to find color if you know where to look, and here along the creek in Northport, behind the library, the red twig dogwood and clusters of nightshade berries (aren't they") caught my eye this morning.

I'm going to make a long introduction to the book I want to focus on today, so bear with me.

The two stories that make up FRANNY AND ZOOEY, by J. D. Salinger, were published in book form in 1961. “Franny” had been published in the "New Yorker" magazine in 1955, but somehow, child that I was, I missed its appearance; not until 1966 did that magazine take hold in my life and dreams. No, like so many others of my generation and in my part of the country, I came to Salinger in high school, by way of CATCHER IN THE RYE. Oh, that small paperback novel with the plain red cover! “Are you reading that dirty book?” someone would ask with a leer. Spirited defense would follow, of course. It was a cult but much more than that, too. For me it was an introduction to life in New York, to young people who called their parents by their first names, to a whole world of unbelievable sophistication. My midwestern brain reeled. I took to calling my own mother ‘Bessie’ for as long as she let me get away with it--and that wasn’t even her name.

Do you remember Franny Glass? Do you remember the book she was carrying when she and her boyfriend, Lane, were at the restaurant, the book that was related somehow (probably not causally, but not casually, either) to her nervous breakdown? It was THE WAY OF A PILGRIM, and when a paperback copy came my way recently, I couldn’t resist it. “A classic of the spiritual life,” the cover read, but my immediate reaction was, “It’s Franny’s book! That’s the book Franny Glass was reading!”

The pilgrim’s quest is to learn how to “pray without ceasing,” and in search of this knowledge he leaves his home to wander the countryside with a knapsack of dry bread and a Bible. Early on he has the good fortune to meet a man who becomes his teacher and confessor, leading him to the second book that will guide him on his way, a book on prayer by a variety of sainted church fathers. Sometimes when he stops with people for a while, but most of the time he stays away from main roads and villages, “that I might be more by myself and read more quietly.”

I was disappointed once. That was when a little dog ran to him in the woods, and I expected the dog to accompany him from then on. Didn’t happen. Still, the little pilgrim himself is a good companion, very good in a surgical waiting room, as it is a calming story. Hardly kosher, of course. Is that what bothered Franny’s brother Zooey? I can’t remember, and now I need to re-read Salinger. Say, maybe that will make me feel 18 again!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ice and Austen

Those are last week’s icicles. All day today, driving to Traverse City, waiting in the surgical center waiting room while David had a cataract removed, then again driving home in the late afternoon, I was conscious of the sunlight, dark clouds, revealed expanse or glimpses of blue sky, play of light and shadow. The rich last light on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay was golden, with Old Mission peninsula cloud-dappled, and the water between the two land masses rippled like a sheet of silk. As designated driver, however, I didn’t feel it was my role to leave the “patient” cooling his heels in the car while I poked around taking pictures.

To revisit and wrap up what I started in yesterday’s posting:

THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB (hereafter JABC)) is more complex than my posting of the other day implied. At various times through the book, one sees reflections of Austen’s different novels, characters and situations. Once the first of these is glimpsed, the reader (okay, you know—this reader) is on the alert for more. It’s like the game of looking at a complicated drawing and finding, besides the obvious picture, “hidden” objects, right there on the page but turned on their sides or upside-down, incorporated so craftily into the obvious as to be almost invisible. Once you begin to see what’s “hidden,” you see more and more.

The novel does have a narrative of its own. Will Sylvia’s husband ask for a divorce? Will Allegra return to her lover? And what on earth is Grigg’s story? (His, for me, was the most unexpected.) These questions, along with the game of finding Austen parallels, kept me going until the end last night.

I had only two complaints. (Decide for yourself how serious they are.) One was the number of small editing glitches (I resisted going for the pencil!), and the other was the synopses of Austen’s plots at the end of the book, which reduced the stories to farce. I did however, enjoy the book, and since I love PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, and PERSUASION unreservedly (and enjoy Austen’s other novels with a few reservations), I guess I’m recommending JABC. Those who haven’t read Austen would probably still enjoy JABC for its own characters and stories, though they’d miss all the fun of the allusions and parallels.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Sometimes I really like these minimalist winter views. Yesterday the fog was such that the eastern horizon of Grand Traverse Bay vanished from sight entirely. After morning fog and afternoon deluge, we have another day of rain in today's foreast, turning (back) to snow tonight. Warm temperatures and non-icy road surfaces have made life temporarily easier in some respects, which is good, since it’s been more difficult in other ways.

Question here: why is it that mechanics have to provide a written estimate before doing anything to your car but doctors can recommend—even order--tests for you with no idea what you’ll have to pay for them? I have to suppose that the idea (rationalization?) is that what you need in terms of health care shouldn't be a matter of cost--but of course it is, for most of us, one way or another. Looked at the other way around, what your car needs is often a matter of safety as well as cost. So isn't it important in both cases, both to get what you need and to know what it's going to cost?

Okay, enough of that. Rather than bog down in complaints, let me turn to books--exactly what I did last night. Call it self-medication. Prescription: books and bed rest.

As a Jane-ite (is that what one says?) of decades, I’ll admit I was surprised last year (having picked it up not expecting a lot) to enjoy very much Paula Marantz Cohen’s JANE AUSTEN IN SCARSDALE, a modern reworking of PERSUASION, one of my favorite Austen novels (and coincidentally, the one I believe was most faithfully translated to the screen in recent years). Cohen has a nice, light touch, making her modern version of the plot neither slavishly imitative nor relentlessly determined to be as wild as our modern times can be. I look forward now to reading her JANE AUSTEN IN BOCA (which preceded SCARSDALE and was a best-seller), and just my wanting to read it tells you how much I enjoyed SCARSDALE.

Yesterday, however, I decided to go out on a different limb, to stop (finally) rolling my eyes and give THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB, by Karen Joy Fowler, a try. Fowler’s book, unlike those of Cohen (and so many recent films), is not, it turns out, a retelling of one of Austen’s novels but exactly what the title suggests: the characters are a group of people (six women of varying ages and one man) getting together to discuss Jane Austen’s novels, one book per meeting and, reasonably, one meeting per chapter of the novel holding all the stories. Each meeting is hosted by one of the book club members, and the narrative moves back and forth between the meeting itself, with members’ comments and disagreements on the book under discussion, and the life, past and present, of the member hosting the meeting.

It was a brilliant prescription, if I do say so myself. The novel kept me reading until sleep claimed my weary brain. I’ll have more to say about it in the future, but I can say now that the story was pleasant, intriguing, relaxing and rewarding and that no sleeping pill could give anywhere near as much pleasure.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Roger Landrum, of Washington, DC, writes this review of a Leelanau County original:

“Over the holidays I read Kenneth Wylie’s new collection of poems—twice--and I’ve been musing about why I feel so captivated by these beguiling poems. The collection is titled THE LAND THAT SUNRISE WASHES and comprises 70 poems, opening with ‘Pre-dawn breeze’ and closing with ‘Buzzing Garden.’ Common stuff, uncommonly observed.

“All of these poems are tethered to a very specific place: rural northern Michigan, mostly the author’s back yard, home, the passing seasons; his memories and his reflections about everything from Emily Dickinson to a blue jay egg. These keen observations of place and the sensibility infusing them are edgy (like Robert Frost in this one way), anything but sentimental or cheerful. They are poems of solitude, of being alone without being lonely. It is the natural world that is acutely present in this poetry, with its sensory impressions and human meditations evoked by it.

“Wylie’s style, unlike so much of today’s ‘professional’ poetry, is not at all obscurely formal or academic, but the poems teem with ungovernable things—wild birds, coyotes at night, weather, dreams, loss, irony. More like Jim Harrison than Frost in this respect, but more civilized.

“Wylie is fond of Japanese poetic forms—Haiku, Tanka and Kanshi—with their vivid images of Nature and familiar rituals accompanied by sudden plunges into recollection, allusion, metaphor, and philosophical abstraction. He has a skillful easiness with these forms that makes for accessible but evocative reading. We all inhabit many levels of awareness and perception beyond the ordinary conventions of our social lives. We are all filled with innermost reflections upon the various realities of our lives. I like this quality in Wylie’s poems very much. With it, he may have achieved something universal, exactly what we cherish in good music, visual arts, and literature.

“I suspect one can revisit these poems often and that, as with a morning breeze or buzzing garden, they will lose none of their freshness. Exquisite little black-and-white photos by Jocelyn Trepke accompany the text.”

- Roger Landrum, 1/2008

Roger Landrum, a photographer, grew up in Michigan and now lives in Washington D.C. His Michigan photographs can be viewed at

Kenneth Wylie and his dog, Leo, are residents of Leelanau Township in Leelanau County. THE LAND THAT SUNRISE WASHES, $12.95, is available at Dog Ears Books in Northport and at Horizon Books in Traverse City.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

January Thaw

This weekend, it’s New York in Leelanau! Singer Gillian Bell, home visiting her parents for the holidays, gives her annual recital tonight. The program, this year entitled “Defining Moments,” begins at 7:30 at the Suttons Bay Congregational Church at the corner of Lincoln and Madison Streets in Suttons Bay. You don’t need a ticket; donations will be accepted following the performance. If you’re anywhere in the area, don’t miss this event—it comes but once a year!

Take time, also, to read the Written Nerd’s latest blog posting (link at right, bottom of list), and take her advice and mine to check out Arts and Letters Daily (top of alphabetical list at right), where you may be tempted to wander delightedly for far too long....

Rain is in the forecast, along with temperatures you'd expect with rain. Don't worry, skiers: we'll get back to snow before you know it. Of course, the tribe of readers, snug indoors, doesn't mind the weather, whatever it is.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Briefly (About Toys)

While I'm flush with the success of solving (thanks, Walt!) a linkage problem from two days ago, I'll try immediately to put in a link today. This one comes from one of Diane's blogs, not the one listed at right but one I don't have in my list. It's for anyone with young children or grandchildren who's looking for good, wholesome, fun toys.

Here in Northport, Sally Coohon of Dolls and More has arts and crafts supplies, dolls and toys for all ages. The elegant teddy bears in the basket were made by Sally from a customer's vintage full-length fur coat. Go to the Chamber site at right to find Dolls and More and other Northport businesses.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

More on Why I Love Books

Today I heard a very sad story. A little girl had received one of those stuffed animals that kids “play with” by registering them online on the Internet, after which their toy can “interact” with those of their friends. If I understand the concept correctly, kids then play on computer screens with representations of their toys (which are, as David points out, already representations of real animals, taking abstraction pretty far out, one would think). What happened in this particular case was that the mother had endless trouble registering the toy online, blocked at various levels after putting in information. Well, not “endless,” because eventually, after trying two or three computers and two or three web browsers, she finally achieved the goal, but before it was reached, she said her daughter was standing next to her, quite forlorn, holding her stuffed animal and waiting and waiting until she could “play” with it.

This is where I can’t help thinking how it was “back in my day,” when we just sat down on the floor (or on our beds) with our friends and our stuffed animals. We played with the toys directly. Same with games. When we wanted to play a game, we got out the box and took out the board and game pieces, and we were in business. To play baseball or hide-and-seek, we ran around outdoors.

Reading was simple, too, back in my Dark Age childhood. We didn’t have to download texts or go screen-blind or didn’t worry about power sources or program glitches. We just opened a book and dove into the story! In bed, on the bus, under the living room desk, up in the apple tree—the book could go anywhere. Dinosaur that I am, I still read that way most of the time. Human-readable text! What a fabulous concept! It’s so darned easy (not to mention cozy, a top criterion in our household)!

Okay, sorry! Can’t blog any more tonight. Gotta curl up with a book! CUTTINGS FROM A ROCK GARDEN calls!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Around and About

After a magnificently bright sunrise against clear blue sky, sunshine has appeared and disappeared today. Bruce is at the counter today--when he needs to be; when things are quiet, he’s in one of the red leather reading chairs—so I’ve been able to get out for a couple of walks in the frigid January air. These girls outside the library with their prize icicles were having a good time.

I had a good time in the early afternoon, reading Aristotle down at the Treasure Chest over a hot chocolate. Explaining how it is that he can say a man becomes just by performing just actions (answering the objection, How could he perform just actions if he weren’t already just?), Aristotle wraps up by saying observing that “most people, instead of acting, take refuge in theorizing; they imagine that they are philosophers and that philosophy will make them virtuous; in fact, they behave like people who listen attentively to their doctors but never do anything that their doctors tell them. But a healthy state of the soul will no more be produced by this kind of philosophizing than a healthy state of the body by this kind of medical treatment.”

Talk is cheap, Aristotle is saying. And even the philosophers can’t get away with talk alone. It is because life demands action that ethics (for all its theory) is the practical branch of philosophy.

Big book news today is the Literate U.S. Cities list, with Minneapolis at the top. I was glad to see that Cincinnati made the top 10 bookstore cities. Chicago was on neither list, which is sad.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

First Day

I’ve been hearing people say that January 2007 was unusually warm, but I couldn’t remember. This picture from my archives, however, shows bare earth in the foreground of a January sunrise, evidence for the claim.

The new year for me is starting with myriad pedestrian tasks, so for today’s literary musings I refer you all to an essay by Valerie Trueblood, whose novel SEVEN LOVES was reviewed in this blog not long ago. She spells out the distinctions between novel and short story with more eloquence than I can muster today or ever.

This is my 90th posting.