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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Holiday Weekend Saturday Miscellany

Today is the famous Northport Fish Boil! Noon to 6 p.m., but my advice is not to wait until 5:45 p.m. to get there.

My sister and brother-in-law are very content with their accommodations at Krikat Farm, just south of Northport. Deborah is thrilled by the horses, and she and Joe are both happy there’s plenty of room for their dogs to be off-leash. Little Bosco and now-big Sarah played here in our farmyard for over four hours straight, and Bosco never tired. Old Hersey, the dignified patriarch, kept his distance but did come on the sunset walk with women and other dogs.

Elsewhere, our grandchildren are waking up this morning on Mackinac Island. Will they be as excited by all the horses as I was last September? Is the sun as bright on the island as it already is here in Leelanau? I hope so!

Finally, against all odds, I not only finished that Swedish mystery novel (soon to be reviewed) but have forged ahead into the third (Indonesia) section of EAT, PRAY, LOVE. Obviously the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, was in comfortable financial circumstances to be able to devote a full year to her spiritual quest, but I wouldn’t call her spoiled. After all, she not only “got a book out of it,” but a very well-written, highly entertaining and even, at times, inspiring book. Is it worth reading? Only if you enjoy travel books and good writing…and love to laugh and think…and suspect that thinking a bit less and being more present in the moment would make you a happier, kinder, all-around better person.

What's the spiderweb all about? Reminding myself to see at least one new thing every day, I'm often captivated by the ephemeral, the things that may not be here to be seen tomorrow. I'm here now. That's my mantra.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer, While It Lasts

The horizon must have been ringing like a bell from the riotous living at our house recently! Our younger grandsons have been in Leelanau this week, and last night a former VERY good buddy of the six-year-old grandson was on hand, along with his mom and dad, Charlie and Barb, publishers of EDIBLE GRANDE TRAVERSE, making for a combination best-friends reunion and adult food-talk fest. Grownups enjoyed different varieties of Leelanau wines throughout the evening, while children glugged down apple juice. Burgers and fresh sweet corn and green salad, following cheese and smoked fish, filled everyone up so that only small pieces of blueberry pie and apricot-cherry upside-down cake were requested, and only Spencer and his dad asked for and finished their Moomer's Mr. Monkey Tail ice cream (banana flavor with chocolate and peanuts, and isn’t the name wonderful?). When parents sent boys out to yell in the meadow (rather than directly into our ears), Sarah was more than happy to romp along with them.

With all the company fun, along with usual bookstore hours (Bruce took the whole day for me on Monday so I could stay home and pit cherries), I can hardly believe I’ve been getting some reading done, too, but THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO has been holding me spellbound. One night, holding the paperback ARC over my head in bed, I fell asleep and dropped it on my face half a dozen times before finally giving up for the night. Nearing the end now, I’ll write about it before another full week goes by—but probably not sooner, as my sister and husband arrive tomorrow. Leelanau summer is winding up with a loud hurrah!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Town, Books

Our grandchildren arrive today! The drought is over, the storms have passed, the humidity is gone—everything is perfect for their Leelanau week.

Thinking about their coming, I took time this morning to walk around town with Sarah, trying to see Northport with new eyes. For the first time, I visited the Visitor Center, down by the harbor, and talked to the greeter there, a woman I’d never met before. The building is airy and attractive, with lots of maps and informational brochures. I invited Shelley to visit the bookstore and gallery sometime, offering her a personal tour of my Waukazoo Street domain. It’s always surprising to meet someone in Northport (especially, in this case, someone who lives in our same general country neighborhood) who is still a stranger to me.

In the marina, one party of vacationers was using the boat ramp to launch a motorboat, while someone else was tidying up a handsome motor yacht, moored against the north breakwall, doing some of the perennial little jobs always needing to be done on a boat. The sailboats in their slips sparkled, the smaller ones bobbing in the breeze.

Over on the other side of the marina, I thought at first that there was a hymn sing going on, but my second thought (I’ll check this later with Susan Cordes when she stops in) was that it might be the church pig roast scheduled for today.

Back across Mill Street from Barb’s Bakery was Keith Ashley’s beautiful three-tone vintage automobile. This is one of its three colors.

Off and on during the day yesterday, between customer purchases and while browsers were busy browsing, I read through, in pieces, EX LIBRIS: CONFESSIONS OF A COMMON READER, by Anne Fadiman. Often hilarious, sometimes poignant, always seeming to be pointing right at me, this book had me yelping with happy laughter. Young Anne’s introduction to literature was using her father’s hardcover books as building blocks. The Fadiman family, Anne notes--father, mother, sister and brother--were a pack of compulsive proof-readers. Finally combining their respective libraries was a significant milestone in her marriage to George, and the best birthday surprise he ever gave her was a trip to a used bookstore in the Hudson River Valley. Every page struck me as so quotable that my desire swelled until I wanted to quote THE WHOLE BOOK—which of course would rather lose the point of quoting, as one of my philosophy professors in Cincinnati pointed out to another, the second of whom had underlined about eighty percent of his text of Descartes’ SEARCH FOR A METHOD. But I digress.

Let me choose an obviously self-serving favorite group of sentences from Fadiman’s Chapter “Secondhand Prose.”

“Then I saw it: a weather-beaten little shop, perched on such a declivitous slope that it looked in danger of sliding into the Hudson River, with a faded blue sign over the door that said BOOKSTORE. Inside were an unkempt desk, a maze of out-of-plumb shelves, a flurry of dust motes, and 300,000 used books.

“Seven hours later, we emerged from the Riverrun Bookshop carrying nineteen pounds of books….”

Anne and George clearly excel in the art of browsing. Not for them the hands in pockets, wary suspicion and comments along the lines of, “All we need is more books!” It is for the Annes and Georges that I have good, strong boxes on hand. Each George, each Anne, may only visit once a year, but they and I, “literary gluttons,” as Fadiman calls us, recognize and understand and even love each other. --Oh, I cannot stop! I must quote at least one more passage!

“And when the eighteenth-century London bookseller James Lackington was a young man, his wife sent him out on Christmas Eve with half a crown—all they had—to buy Christmas dinner. He passed an old bookshop and returned with Young’s NIGHT THOUGHTS in his pocket and no turkey under his arm. ‘I think I have acted wisely,’ he told his famished wife, ‘for had I bought a dinner we should have eaten it tomorrow, and the pleasure would have been soon over, but should we live fifty years longer, we shall have the NIGHT THOUGHTS to feast upon.’”

A sensible man? Or already fated to be a dreamy bookseller?

The literary glutton in me is tempted to hoard EX LIBRIS for the rest of my life, while the hard-headed bookseller in me hisses, “Sell it!” The grateful person I remind myself to be more often, however, knows that this particular book must be a gift to Bruce, the bookstore angel, who loves not only books but the genre “books on books” better than anyone I know.

IN THE NEWS: Our friend Susan Ager's last column appears in today's DETROIT FREE PRESS. Susan took the proffered buy-out but is calling her transition an "indefinite sabbatical" rather than retirement. She says she wants to be a "better friend and a better person," and, while unsure exactly what the future holds for her (there's reality for all of us!), she is keeping busy at present answering notes and e-mails from well-wishers. We'll miss her in the paper. We'll hope to see more of her around Northport. Job well done, Susan!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Time, As It Flows

PROUST WAS A NEUROSCIENTIST, by Jonah Lehrer, has a beautiful cover, and the title, as well, says, “Pick me up!” I did and was not disappointed. Turned first to the chapter on Proust, pleased to find Henri Bergson included in the story. Lehrer writes beautifully and tells the story well. Proust was keenly alive to the unreliability of memory, a truth confirmed by recent neuroscience, wherein studies have shown “that memory obeys nothing but itself,” mutating with each occurrence of remembering. “This is what Proust knew: the past is never past. As long as we are alive, our memories remain wonderfully volatile.” (A glass-half-empty person would say “horribly volatile,” I’m sure. Lehrer, like Proust, accepts and exults in reality on its own terms.) Next I read about Virginia Woolf and the illusory, slippery self (the problem of personal identity), the self that invents itself out of its own sensations, attention binding the moments together, and then Paul Cezanne, the anti-impressionist, not content with light but intent also on leaving room for and somehow inviting the viewer’s mind’s interpretation, giving us, “in the same static canvas, the beginning and the end of our sight."

I might have gone on to think and read further in a Proustian or Woolfian direction, but, by chance, the next book I picked up was Rilke’s LETTERS ON CEZANNE (written to his wife from the rue Cassette in Paris), and out of that coincidence an intention formed: after reading several letters, I looked in the case holding the art books for THE WORLD OF CEZANNE, a Time-Life volume. So, immersed in Cezanne, I was yesterday. Having dinner with three painters in the evening seemed more than appropriate. Life is too wonderful to spend it obsessing about dust bunnies. One of the painters (not David but a guest) commented that painters in Italy were probably sitting around their dinner tables moaning, "Oh, why are we not in Leelanau, with its beautiful, incomparable light?"

This morning, awake early in the dark, I got up to read, continuing with the PRAY section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s EAT, PRAY, LOVE, until, for some reason, that book inspired me not to wait until sunrise to get outdoors with my dog. We were out by 6:20 (not as dark outside as it had looked from inside the house), and the sun hadn’t cleared the trees until long after we got back home an hour later. I didn’t take a camera. Just wanted to be there. Today’s images are from other recent mornings.

Downpour yesterday afternoon, another this morning. The drought has definitely broken. Fall is in the air, but temperatures still warm, and with lake water warmed up, there’s lots of good swimming yet ahead for vacationers.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reprieve, Probably

Some news is so sad that it’s hard to share. That’s why I held back some of my pictures from the dog parade, the ones of the colorful float with the very sad sign announcing that this, the 14th, would be the LAST Northport Dog Parade! After a heart-to-heart talk with the organizer, David Chrobak, I was hopeful. Today, in the Leelanau Enterprise, came a letter from David saying that, if all the people who have volunteered to help actually step up to the plate, the dog parade WILL go on again next year. David needs people to carry banners and balloons between groups of dogs, both to add color to the parade and to keep the dogs from bunching up into one big, too-fast-paced, unruly pack, racing for the finish. Call or write or e-mail David at the Old Mill Pond Inn to volunteer your services. Keep Northport on the map!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday Miscellany

Enjoying Aldo Leopold’s SAND COUNTY ALMANAC over breakfast, after a long cross-country ramble with Sarah, I smiled at how his observations fit with the terrain my dog and I cover on a daily basis. When he writes “that dead trees are transmuted into living animals, and vice versa,” I see in mind’s eye the rotting tree trunk in the early morning deep shade, turned soft and porous as damp sponge, holding its tree shape for the time being only because nothing has yet fallen on it or torn chunks from it. On another page is this avowal: “I love all trees but I am in love with pines.” Did he, I wonder, love box elder? I cannot love box elder. Pines, of course. Birches. Apple trees. Beeches. I am in love with beech trees…. But here are words to warm my heart: “We classify ourselves into vocations, each of which either wields some particular tool, or sells it, or repairs it, or sharpens it, or dispenses advice on how to do so; by such division of labors we avoid responsibility for the misuse of any tool save our own. But there is one vocation—philosophy—which knows that all men, by what they think about and wish for, in effect wield all tools. It knows that men thus determine, by their manner of thinking and wishing, whether it is worth while to wield any.”

Later in the day Pearl Buck’s THE GOOD EARTH came up in conversation with two different bookstore customers, and I tried to recall which American novel it was that gave me something of the same feeling of historical scope and tragedy. Perhaps Conrad Richter’s THE AWAKENING LAND trilogy. Then Stephanie told me she had just finished GONE WITH THE WIND for the first time (has not yet seen the movie) and loved everything but the ending (“They should have been together!”) and I remembered that that’s how I kept feeling about the husband and wife in THE GOOD EARTH, that surely he would have to fall in love with the beauty of her soul, with her devotion to him, all her hard labor on behalf of their family. I call the story a tragedy because he never did. And because, in the end, his sons had no feeling whatsoever for the land he had sacrificed so much to accumulate.

Marilyn and I had a good catch-up session in the middle of the afternoon, beginning with my telling her about Eckhart Tolle’s A NEW EARTH, a book I picked up with a certain degree of skepticism. Reading did away with doubt. I’m ready for the change: “If you can neither enjoy nor bring acceptance to what you do—stop. Otherwise, you are not taking responsibility for the only thing you can really take responsibility for, which also happens to be the one thing that really matters: your state of consciousness. And if you are not taking responsibility for your state of consciousness, you are not taking responsibility for life.” My Sarah: happy, eager, relaxed, alert, comfortable—bien dans sa eau. My dog cannot exactly be my guru, but she can serve as my exemplar.

After dinner (a delicious, cool, rainy evening making our warm porch lights all the more satisfying), I forged ahead with the second (PRAY: India) section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-seller, EAT, PRAY, LOVE. I had laughed myself through the EAT section (Italy) last winter and then somehow got sidetracked by an avalanche of other books.

It’s been a light-hearted literary day, a grazing at the smorgasbord table as time permitted, time also permitting a long dog walk, hanging out laundry, sweeping of floors, conversation with friends, appreciation for the downpour that slowed my drive home, and dinner on the porch with David. That laundry on the line is dripping wet now, but it will dry in tomorrow sunshine, and all the softer and sweeter for its soaking.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Third Saturday in August, Leelanau

At the fly-in and pancake breakfast at Woolsey Airport on Saturday morning, I took a lot of pictures. For me, one of the best parts of the fly-in is seeing the planes arrive. From the south, they fly past and beyond the field and turn, making their descent and approach from the north. Then, on the ground at the southern end of the north-south runway, they turn and taxi back, turning again to park, some by the road, others at the west end of the shorter, east-west runway. (If I’ve gotten any of this wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me!) It’s exciting to hear and see them—engines, colors, motion. The air in late August has that delicious, ever-so-slight crisp edge, and the grass is wet with dew.

Besides the planes, there is a car show, pretty informal but full of beautiful, shiny convertibles, hot rods and collector vehicles of all sorts. There are a few dogs on leashes (Sarah one of them), lots of kids, even a horse or two. (The horses are working, as was one of the dogs.) Of course, there are pancakes and sausages and syrup and cherries and coffee, tee-shirts and caps, and there is the BAND!!! I couldn’t stay to hear the band or see the Coast Guard helicopter arrive, and the soccer team was still setting up tables when I finished my breakfast, but the crowd was already huge. It couldn’t have been a better morning.

Then after a day in bookstore and gallery, when afternoon came to an end, David and I went to Peshawbestown for the traditional pow-wow, which we usually attend but which, for a variety of reasons, we had missed for the last three years. I don’t take pictures at pow-wow. There are parts of the ritual during which people are requested not to take photographs, other times when it is permissible. The wooded setting and colorful regalia and frolicking children are beautiful. Taking photographs simply isn’t the way I want to go to pow-wow. All I want is to be there, as fully as possible, not trying to do anything at all. It’s good to meet friends, to appreciate how children have grown, to honor elders and see new little ones, to eat frybread and corn soup or wild rice soup, to admire the dancing, and to feel the drums. To be permeated by the drums. As the sun sets and the colors are retired, it’s good to leave with what I call “that pow-wow feeling.” Years ago, feeling I was too tired in late August to drag myself to yet another event, I made the effort anyway and discovered that pow-wow renews me. The feeling isn’t something I want to analyze or try to explain, even to myself. It’s enough to come home with it.

Coming home, around that big, sweeping curve of Jelinek Road above Lake Michigan, we saw the white tents and lights set up on the hill for the Conservancy picnic and auction. They too were enjoying the most desirable weather possible.

It was a very good day. Was there a full moon later? We were fast asleep!

Friday, August 15, 2008

One Reader's Break Is--

Skies are blue, corn is ripe, and I’m coming off a fiction binge (tucked into wee morning and after-dark hours), ready to take it easier for a night or two with an old memoir, and the one that came to hand was TALES OF A WAYWARD INN, by Frank Case, published in 1938. Three chapters in, already I’m enchanted. Case opens by saying that other people have used his stories for years to their own profit, and now he figures it’s time for him to cash in on them himself, but he does wonder what his professional writer friends will think. --Maybe what he himself feels when amateurs want to horn in on his hotel gig. Sinclair Lewis, he said, once proposed going into the hotel business with him. Case responded by telling Lewis that “’in the space of ten minutes, I can set down on paper suggestions enough to keep two men busy for days. If your idea of hotel-keeping would be to sit upstairs in a suite and jot down ideas while I ran myself into a lather downstairs trying to execute them, I wouldn’t enjoy it. I want to be the jotter-down myself and let others do the lather.’” Lewis, he reports, backed away graciously from his partnership proposal.

Before the Algonquin, Case got his hotel feet wet at Taylor’s Hotel in Jersey City, where a sign on the back door read “NO DESERVING POOR TURNED HUNGRY FROM THIS DOOR,” but Case muses, “I always thought Owen put in the word ‘deserving’ for euphony, for rhythm, because he didn’t care a hoot whether a man was deserving or not and certainly never asked him any questions about it.” Anyone who asked for food got fed, whether or not they could pay. Hard to imagine that today, but I'm sure it was rare even 100 years ago.

According to Case, he was responsible for the name of the legendary Algonquin, as the man who hired him had planned to call it the Puritan and had to be persuaded otherwise. Can you imagine witty repartee among writers at the Puritan Round Table? A downright contradiction in terms! Dorothy Parker wouldn’t have set foot in the door.

His hotel attracted actors and writers, he says, because those were the people he liked best. Many of the names of many of the actors and writers he mentions would draw blank looks from college students. Rex Beach? Florence Easton? Buffalo Bill?

The past before one’s birth can be such a peaceful time to visit, all its quarrels and troubles long laid to rest. This, not fiction, is what I consider escape reading.

Tomorrow morning is the Fly-In from 8 to 11 at Woolsey Airport, north of Northport, and tomorrow evening is pow-wow in Peshawbestown, off Stallman Road. The waters of Grand Traverse Bay (seen here from a hill south of Suttons Bay) are bluer than blue as we head into the second half of August, wrapping up summer for another year.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Épuisée, Moi

Never do I recall reading a mystery with as many hairpin turns and switchbacks as L’AIGUILLE CREUSE, by Maurice Leblanc! Who is who? What do the mysterious clues mean? Then to arrive at the last page and have the feeling of still hanging over a cliff--? Exciting but exhausting. I haven’t the strength left to write more. Would love to see the movie, though.

Nearer home, life is more tranquil:

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"Indiana Bones" -- 14th Northport Dog Parade

The morning rainclouds cleared off in time, leaving behind a cool breeze for comfort. All the dogs had their day today in our little town.

Sarah the busy book dog was a fascinated spectator:

Friday, August 8, 2008

Differences, Similarities, Coincidences

The plot of the Arsène Lupin ‘policier’ I’ve been reading, L’AIGUILLE CREUSE, by Maurice Leblanc, has as many twists and turns as a rollercoaster. It was interesting, halfway through that century-old thriller, to receive an advance reader’s copy of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, a European best-seller by Steig Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland and due out in September from Knopf. Leblanc’s story began with murder, burglary and conflicting eyewitnesses reports. Larsson’s, on the other hand, opens with the arrival in the mail, on the recipient’s 82nd birthday, of a rare flower, pressed, from an anonymous sender. It is the 44th such annual—gift? Is there a crime here? A five-generation, partial family tree follows the prologue. Then the first chapter introduces a journalist, convicted of libel in a court of law moments before. How will these disparate pieces connect?

Leblanc lays down clues, commingling truth and falsity in the manner of Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle, where Larsson, more like Georges Simenon (though without GS’s heavy reliance on dialogue), emphasizes mood and character. Surveying his gallery of pressed flowers, the 82-year-old “birthday boy” begins to weep: “He surprised himself with this sudden burst of emotion after almost forty years.” The humiliated journalist, tallying up his losses, is more concerned with his reputation than his bank account: “For the foreseeable future, editors would hesitate to publish a story under his byline.” I’m not big on political thrillers, in general, but there is a nice subtlety to the opening pages of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO that might just pull me along, once the French master thief is brought to ground.

Meanwhile, the world of book coincidences is such that only two days after I finished THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, by Garth Stein, Davie Looman (“Davie” his childhood name and pen name) from Alden appeared at Dog Ears Books with his book, SHEMPI: EARNING THE RIGHT TO BE CALLED HER MASTER, and Davie and his wife, it turns out, are race car drivers and aficionados, too. The Sheltie memorialized in Dave’s book spent a lot of time traveling with them on a Michigan circuit that included the old dune climb at Empire in Leelanau County. SHEMPI is an attractive, entertaining book that will appeal to adults and kids young and old. Like cars and dogs and books? This is a winning season.

Back to yesterday, a busy Thursday morning: who should pop into Dog Ears Books? Among others was children’s author David McLimans, who obligingly signed my store copy of his Caldecott Honor book, GONE WILD: AN ENDANGERED ANIMAL ALPHABET. First lucky customer for that book gets the signed copy….

And yes, it IS Dog Parade Day tomorrow in Northport. The parade begins at 1 p.m.—and it doesn’t last long, so don’t be late!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Moved by Books (and Clouds)

Yesterday and today (Wednesday, Thursday) the clouds have been magnificent. Cumulus mountain chains and towers have captured everyone’s attention. This was the sky scene over Lake Michigan on Wednesday evening, when a storm seemed to be approaching…then hovering over us…then—it passed us by. The grass is very dry. How do the field crops fare without irrigation? So far they are still looking good.

Here’s a book question: Is fiction manipulative? If you answer in the affirmative, who or what is the manipulator? In the past week I have finished two novels, each one unlike any other I’ve read and the two (as follows logically) completely different, one from the other. Both moved me deeply. In both cases--and this, I would say, is the general mark of a successful novel--the impression I had was not of reading some writer’s “made-up story” (as one of my early bookstore customers called fiction, words that have haunted me for 15 years) but of being allowed into the most intimate lives and thoughts of real people. Well, in one case, a real dog. Really. --It feels strange even to write of these two books together in a single posting, but there you have it: in the bookseller’s life, as in the politician’s, bedfellows may be strangely paired.

Last week I read THE BOOK THIEF, by Markus Zusak, and promised to write about it soon. I finished it one morning and was asked in the evening to rate it on a scale from 1 to 10. After a few moments’ reflection, my answer was “At least nine and a half.” Next question was, what other book would you rate between 9 and 10? (My questioner wanted a baseline on which to judge my ratings.) Thinking it wouldn’t be fair to name an established classic, I told her THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY, by Michael Chabon, was definitely a 10 in my book.

The eponymous book thief, Liesel Meminger, is a young girl, 9 years old at the beginning of the story, quickly given over to foster parents by her mother. Her brother was to go with her to the new home but died on the train. We do not learn until much later what has become of her father. The couple who take her in, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, have two children of their own, grown now. They are simple people, Hans a housepainter, Rosa a cleaning woman, but there is more to them than first appears on the surface. Other characters are Rudy, a playmate, and Max Vandenburg, a Jew in hiding. The year is 1939, and all the events take place in Nazi Germany. The characters, however, are unique individuals, people--not stock characters--we have never encountered them before.

Did I forget to mention that the story is narrated by Death? “You might argue that I make the rounds no matter what year it is, but sometimes the human race likes to crank things up a little. They increase the production of bodies and their escaping souls. A few bombs usually do the trick. Or some gas chambers, or the chitchat or faraway guns. If none of that finishes proceedings, it at least strips people of their living arrangements, and I witness the homeless everywhere. They often come after me as I wander through the streets of molested cities. They beg me to take them with me, not realizing I’m too busy as it is. ‘Your time will come,’ I convince them, and I try not to look back. At times I wish I could say something like, ‘Don’t you see I’ve already got enough on my plate?’ but I never do. I complain internally as I go about my work, and some years the bodies and souls don’t add up; they multiply.” Read this book but once, and you will never forget it as long as you live.

Garth Stein’s THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN is a very different kind of story, a novel set in Seattle, in our own time, and narrated by the family dog. How far from personified Death can one get? The family dog is brimming with Life! Sound too precious? Well, the book reviewer at Car & Driver magazine didn’t find it so, and neither did I, despite the occasional “woo-woo” passage (“woo-woo” being our household term for New Age-type, beyond-the-grave communications and such, and I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone).

The narrator dog, Enzo, exposed early in life to television, has absorbed many lessons on the subject of auto racing (his owner’s passion), but he also watches and reflects the weather channel, history programs and other broadcasts, all of which give him much food for thought over a lifetime. He reads human beings—no surprise there. The surprise is that he yearns to be one in his next life. As a friend of mine said last year, of a very different book, “It shouldn’t work, but it does!” This one definitely does.

Here’s a passage from the beginning of Chapter 26, one that won’t give away anything of the story but gives a good idea of Enzo’s voice: “I love very few things more than a nice long walk in the drizzle of Seattle. I don’t care for the heaviness of real rain; I like the misting, the feeling of the tiny droplets on my muzzle and eyelashes. The freshness of the air, which has been suddenly infused with ozone and negative ions. [I’m sure he got this vocabulary from the Weather channel!] While rain is heavy and can suppress the scents, a light shower actually amplifies smells; it releases the molecules, brings odor to life, and then carries it through the air to my nose. Which is why I love Seattle more than any other place, even Thunderhill Raceway Park.”

So strange to read these two very different books back to back, as it were. THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN is a “simpler” book than THE BOOK THIEF--more “accessible,” I suppose one would have to say. The backgrounds of the two stories (Munich; Seattle) are very far apart, and I would feel on safer ground recommending the former, as the latter challenges on a cultural and historical level, not merely emotional and aesthetic. But actually, death plays a major role in both books, as does human striving for the right. Passion and poetry each have a place in these stories. Will either book change your life? It may change the way you see yourself and others in the world around you. Liesel is ambivalent about words and often retreats into silence; Enzo longs to be able to speak, frustrated that his communications are limited to gesture. But both of them are watchers, and both reach out with love.

I read THE BOOK THIEF in an almost paralyzed stillness. THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN had me laughing and crying. Both touched and moved me deeply. In neither case, however, did I feel like a puppet dancing on the author’s strings, having my feelings elicited on demand. Rather, it was the reality, the humanity, the truth in these books that moved me. The authors of these novels did not dress up the world but laid it bare.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Big Day in Northport Coming Saturday

It’s hollyhock time all over the North. Here are some in front of Dolls and More, and in my mind I’m picturing them in the alleys of Grand Marais, too, up on the shore of Lake Superior. From the title of my last post, you may correctly infer that the big action was somewhere other than Northport recently. (See Throwaway Blog for the dmarks account of the TC film festival, already rivaling Cherry Festival as an Up North draw.) But things are about to change, and the center of the universe is about to shift, because this coming Saturday is an all-Northport headliner day:

(1) We’ll have the 14th annual DOG PARADE, starting at 1 p.m., this year held in memory of the late, great Cydnee. This year’s theme (plan costumes accordingly) is “Indiana Bones and the Raiders of the Lost Bark," and you can register early at Dog Ears Books or at the Northport Bay Dog and Cat Company. I registered my first entry yesterday. (2) There will be the Leelanau Peninsula WINE FESTIVAL in Haserot Park, down by the harbor, always a beautiful venue for that fine event. (3) The NAHA (Northport Area Heritage Association) Garage MARKET FLEA Sale will be happening at the depot, near the marina park. (4) And last but not least, for all you fishermen, do not forget the SALMON SLAM! I love that name! (See the Northport Omena Chamber of Commerce Site for information about the Salmon Slam fishing derby.) Everyone in the family can find fun on this event list, no matter where you’re from.

But dogs, wine, fleas and fish won’t be the only things going on. As always, there will be art and books in Northport. More copies of LAKE EFFECT should arrive any day now, if you missed it the first time around, as well as other books I've mentioned recently. And you never know what gorgeous boats you may see in our beautiful harbor.

Reminder: driver safety is of utmost importance, especially now at harvest time, with farm machinery and big trucks transporting cherries around every curve. My friend Chris said the crew he's part of shook cherries for 11 hours the other day. These guys are working hard. If you're on vacation, slow down and be patient, please.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dog Stuff Again

That picture is from last Friday evening, when a thunderstorm made sudden rivers down Waukazoo Street in Northport. This morning, here at home, a soft rain patters on the large, flat burdock leaves outside the back of the house, downhill from the lawn and garden area we really do keep free of burdock. It's a Scottish morning. The rain also reminds me of a book I haven't read yet.

I ordered THE ART OF DRIVING IN THE RAIN, by Garth Stein, after reading a review of the book in David’s CAR & DRIVER magazine. The reviewer said something like (this is a paraphrase), “If anyone ever told me I’d read a novel written from the point of view of the family dog, I’d have said they were crazy, but this is one of the best books I’ve ever read.” Other people have said the same. One person in the bookstore said it was THE BEST book she had ever read! Anyway, it seemed perfect for reading aloud at home, as we are a dog household and David is a car guy (among other things). The first few pages I checked out for myself, though, gave me a shock. The whole story must be told in flashback, because at the beginning, the dog is old and maybe on his way to the vet for the last time! Well, I couldn’t read much of THAT without breaking down right there in the bookstore, in front of my summer customers, so the book went back on the shelf. (It’s only a little over a year since we lost Nikki.) Shall I give it another try?

And where is dog-friendly lodging near Northport? You’d think I’d be able to find it, if anyone could, but I’ve been having a terrible time. Would appreciate tips for the Labor Day weekend for couple with two dogs. Thanks!

Here are flowers on the porch from a recent sunny evening. I will dedicate them to Russian author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died Sunday evening at the age of 89. He got his work done, paid his rent in the universe.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Small Things

With the arrival of August, my thoughts shrink until they barely deserve to be called thoughts at all. I’m tired, and I can tell that by the intense crankiness that overcomes me when other drivers don’t signal their turns; on the other hand, small scenes make a big impression on me, and it doesn’t take much to capture my attention and hold it spellbound. I’m like Sarah when the moth landed on her paw--transfixed.

Sometimes when summer seems to be all green (or winter nothing but white), I pick a color and look for instances of it in my path. Here are some bright yellows in a parking lot: truck and painted lines, with reflection of the truck in a puddle. (Yes, we did have rain Friday evening.)

When my car wouldn’t start at the end of a long Saturday, and David returned to Northport to rescue me, we got a pizza and took it down by the harbor for fine dining by the waterside, where the reflection of an American flag on the surface of the bay took on successively fascinating shapes.

My favorite late summer wildflower, the little grey-headed coneflower, is just coming into its own, and a few of them (along with their purple relatives) begged to come to the gallery, promising they would not upstage the paintings. They don’t really, but I’m giving them the foreground here, just this once, in gratitude.

Beans. However negligent the gardener, beans succeed, magnificently reinforcing dreams and intentions. Here are some of my beans, both the verdant rows of plants and the picked vegetables for dinner.

One very small book containing one very big thought came to my attention via a Northport woman who wanted additional copies. Called THE GREAT SILENT GRANDMOTHER GATHERING, it is a 41-page hardcover book at paperback price ($10.95). The cover is bright and cheery, as is the story. Sharon Mehdi wrote it for her own granddaughter, though for a long time she kept insisting it wasn’t a “book” at all. “A story for anyone who thinks she can’t save the world,” says the dust jacket. Would you try to save the world for your grandchildren? Do you think it’s worth doing?

Friday, August 1, 2008


The talk was all of writing, of writing habits, of reading, favorite books and writers, of journalism and its standards, the value of workshops and retreats, of submissions to journals and how to find out where to submit. Someone raised the question of whether or not a writer could make up facts in something labeled and marketed as “nonfiction.” (Fact-checking got heavy votes.) Each of us named a novel we’d “hated,” as well as one we loved. Did the time fly, or did it stand still? I felt outside of it, released for a while from my usual treadmill of summer (nonstop work).

“Ladies who lunch” are those who don’t have to work for a living, and I’m not one of those. Once in a while, though, life gives me a chance to play the role for an hour or two. Three fiction writers, one journalist/nonfiction writer and me, the bookseller, happy to be included. Marilyn Zimmerman has a story coming out in the next NORTH ATLANTIC REVIEW, where one of Trudy Carpenter's stories was published last year. Julie Irwin Zimmerman, the youngest luncher and a Cincinnati journalist, is the author of THE SPIRITUALITY OF INFERTILITY, due out in early 2009. Dorene O'Brien, author of VOICES OF THE LOST AND FOUND (Wayne State University Press) and visitor to Northport every summer, was guest of honor.

Thanks, Trudy, for hosting this lunch, and thanks to both Trudy and George Carpenter for sponsoring a welcome bookseller getaway.