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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Road Ahead

We have appointments written on the calendar, and we expect certain events. Others will surprise us. It looks like a warm, misty transition from 2010 to 2011. Maybe rain tonight. Time will tell.

Wishing happiness, health, prosperity and peace to all in the new year--

Monday, December 27, 2010

Letters, Trees and Stories

Going light on gifts this year and even lighter on wrapping, our only tree the one at the bookstore, we did not have a lot of boxing tasks on December 26. One little thing I got inspired to do early in the day (pre-waffles) was to trim the scruffy, stringy wisps of hair on Sarah’s ears that gave her such a pound puppy look, but that didn’t take long. The period after breakfast and through most of the early afternoon, however, found me glued to the dining table for hours, writing letters to faraway friends. There are more letters yet to write, but I feel good about the hefty stack ready to go to the post office.

Bright sunshine lured me out for a dog romp later in the day. Surprise! Despite the sun and lack of wind, it was very cold, as I discovered when I pulled off a glove to activate my camera shutter. Did I say we didn’t have a Christmas tree at home this year? The little pine at the top of this post is right at the southern edge of our property line, a bit far from the house to string with lights (and not visible from the road, anyway), but it’s grown considerably since we first noticed its accidental existence. How big does it look to you? I realize it’s difficult to judge without much context, so I tried to take a picture of myself with the tree, but the cold got in my way. You’ll have to take my word for it that this little tree is almost exactly my height.

It’s a funny thing about trees one hasn’t intentionally planted in the landscape. First the tree is not there or so small you never see it, then one year you begin to take notice of it, and finally it becomes a part of your everyday spiritual map, something you would miss if anything happened to it.

My reading on Christmas Day and Boxing Day was Loreen Niewenhuis’s A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach: One Woman’s Trek on the Perimeter of Lake Michigan. Here’s the thing: I love to read books about real-life adventures undertaken by women far gutsier than I will ever be; I love enjoying vicariously, from the comfort of my reading chair, their lives of challenge and risk. What makes Loreen’s story all the more irresistible to me is that it all takes place on the shores of Lake Michigan, my home lake from childhood in Illinois to adulthood in Michigan. Many of the beaches, parks, cities and towns described in this book I have visited over the years myself. But walk the perimeter of Lake Michigan? Mostly alone? I’ll never do it! I’m just glad Loreen did so that I can have the experience secondhand.

There was one part I particularly wanted to read aloud to David, and after hearing the two pages I’d chosen to share with him, he wanted more, and I ended up reading aloud all the way up and through the U.P. segment before he fell asleep. We both enjoy being read to, and falling asleep while being read to is a big part of the comfort, like being a child again, I suppose--though the reader is always testing and trying to keep the listener awake longer, the very opposite of a parent reading a child to sleep!

On Boxing Day morning, over waffles, we exchanged stories of childhood Christmas trees. David told of being given money and sent out alone to get a tree when he was only 11 or 12 years old.

“How did you feel about that?” I asked.

“I felt proud! It was a lot of responsibility for a kid.”

“It didn’t make you feel like an orphan?”

“Not at all. I felt like a householder! And I wouldn’t take just any old tree, either. I was very selective.”

David and his mother would decorate the tree while his father watched from a chair, giving “directorial” advice. This is clearly where David got his notion of decorating-the-tree-as-spectator, rather than participant, sport.

Then it was my turn to tell how the whole family made two different trips for our tree, one in early winter (before there was snow on the ground) to choose and mark our tree, the second a week before Christmas to cut it down, have sandwich supper and piles of cookies with our friends at the tree farm and, finally, as early darkness fell, to see a color slide show of their most recent summer vacation. And in the evening of the next day, when the tree was all set up in our living room, with the cardboard crèche scene set up underneath, my two sisters and I would play “Hide the dove” with the little bird from the crèche. If the hider hadn’t given clues (“Are we warm or cold?” “You’re freezing!”), the seekers would never have found the thumbnail-sized paper bird on the densely decorated tree.

After watching a young Gerard Depardieu in a beautifully filmed version of Rostand’s “Cyrano” (the dialogue following exactly the original play, all in verse), David asked if I wanted to tell him another story, but I insisted that he is the better storyteller. I love his stories of when he was a little boy in Detroit, his marvelous childhood neighborhood full of colorful eccentrics, and over the years I’ve developed a number of sure-fire ways to prime the pump. As with the reading, I find it delicious to fall asleep to someone telling me a story, but it’s also important to struggle to stay awake and with the story as long as possible. “Did you hear the part about--?” David will ask, testing me. “Oh, yes,” I reply and grab at random the last word I remember to prove that I was not asleep! The object for the listener is to keep the voice going as long as possible, the story fading imperceptibly as dreams take over....

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Squeaking Out All I Could Manage

What do you do when your camera batteries go dead on one of the most picturesque mornings of the year? “Buy more batteries” might be one answer, but I use rechargeables, so my choice was to make do today with the last images captured. The one above and directly below were taken on Wednesday, a day that brought alternating sunshine and dark clouds to northern Leelanau County. Skies were dramatic.

This morning, Thursday, the sky was not as exciting, but heavy new snow, bright and white, made every corner of the landscape beautiful.

It was probably just as well I didn't have dozens of photographs to fool around with today. Customers and friends kept stopping by the bookstore, and between visitors I kept diving back into that irresistible ARC of Loreen Niewenhuis's book. But sometimes, if the batteries are allowed to rest a while, I can turn on the camera and quickly snap, tricking the camera into giving me one more shot.... It worked! Here’s Sarah at Dog Ears Books in a bright, colorful new scarf. (We stole this idea from Bonnie.)

There was good news in the batteries running low. When I got home and plugged in the charger, I found the wool tam that had gone missing. Now I’ll be going into Christmas Eve with a warm head, charged batteries and a stylish dog.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some Mother’s Favorites

My most often-viewed blogpost, “I Am Not a Luddite,” got a boost when Shelf Awareness picked it up for “Quotation of the Day” and included a link, and it’s still getting the most hits of any of my posts. But like the mother of a huge (and still growing) brood, I have my own special favorites, and one I’ve always loved since posting it is mostly photographs of Up North wild fruits of autumn. I remembered it but had a hard time finding it again to link here, thanks to the obscure title I’d given it. I kept looking for “fruit,” which did turn up another post I liked, but the one I was looking for had “reflections” in the title. Over a year later, this series of wild fruits in the rain is still one of my favorites.

On the matter of a mother’s favorites, trust Bonnie Marris to spot the furoshiki cloths and instantly think of holiday kerchiefs for Dusty and Shane!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Too Busy Reliving History to Watch Lunar Eclipse

Okay, I admit it: I neither stayed up nor got up to see the lunar eclipse this morning. When I looked out the window last night at 9 p.m., the sky was clear, the moon was full, and I thought what a perfect night it would be for the eclipse—for other people. A few years back, returning from a visit to friends at Walloon Lake, we drove south along the east side of Grand Traverse Bay accompanied by a lunar eclipse and a comet. I was almost afraid to look in the rear-view mirror, because if we’d seen Northern Lights that night, too, why go on living? How could there be more after a night like that?

Why? Because life always has more to offer, and right now, in mine, books are so exciting that it’s hard for me to sit still in my reading chair! I want to rush to share the wonders! First, I’m nearing the end of Julie Altrocchi’s 1940 novel, Wolves Against the Moon, with a setting that ranges from Quebec and the Great Slave Lake to Mackinac Island, through the Michigan territory, the Indiana dune country and Checagou, and down the rivers leading to the Mississippi and Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The story begins in 1794 and ends in 1835. The main character, Joseph Bailly (real man, part of history), was French by birth and a British citizen by virtue of his family’s immigration to Canada. He traded furs throughout the Michigan territory and eventually settled his family in northern Indiana, under the mistaken impression that the land he chose for their home was in Michigan. I could go on but am reining myself in, because there’s too much to go into this morning with this novel.

Then, before I’ve reached the end of Wolves Against the Moon, Monday’s mail brought me the long-awaited advance reader’s copy of Loreen Niewenhuis’s A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach: One Woman’s Trek on the Perimeter of Lake Michigan. Do you think I could set this new book calmly aside and finish my novel first? No, indeed! I had to open it and read the introduction and then, like a lake trout, I was hooked! Loreen begins her walk in Chicago! Oh, wonderful coincidence! Chicago, the Calumet River, Gary, the railroads and steel mills, and on to the beautiful beaches and the Indiana dunes—this was the Lake Michigan of my childhood. It was also—log cabins of Checagou, the Little Calumet River, Marquette Spring, the Sauk Trail, Parc aux Vaches--the Lake Michigame of the Indians and fur traders many years before, in the time period covered by Altrocchi’s novel.

In my own life, for years after the expressways came, I could still escape them on trips from Kalamazoo to visit my family in Illinois by taking the back roads of the old Sauk Trail through small towns and countryside. That’s all over--now it’s subdivisions, shopping malls and multilane, stop-and-go traffic--but I have traveled this part of the Midwest all my life, earlier and later following the lakeshore north to what has been my home for many years. The country of Altrocchi’s novel, later my life’s landscape, is the country of Niewenhuis’s true-life adventure, too, so I will have the thrilling satisfaction of exploring twice in one month, with two different authors, two centuries apart, land and water that I know and love, learning from both books aspects of the beloved geography that I never knew before.

Do you wonder I am so excited?!

Meanwhile, at the bookstore, thank heaven for the little tabletop trees and their brightly colored ornaments brought in by Marjorie Farrell this holiday season because cheap, nonworking electric holiday lights have been my Grinch issue of 2010. Shoddy consumer goods isn’t a very festive topic, but those strings of lights from last year that wouldn’t work at all this year, plus the one string that worked for a few days and then died a gradual death, bothered me a lot.

“Can’t you just get more at the hardware store? They don’t cost very much, do they?”

Yes, the hardware has plenty, and no, they are cheap as dirt, and that’s a big part of the problem. Like disposable everything-else, they are made to be thrown away—but as McDonough & Braungart in Cradle to Cradle, Paul Hawken in The Ecology of Commerce and many others have noted, there is no “away.” It all goes into someone’s backyard. Now here's a new book on what we can do about the problems.

Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, by Julie Clawson (IVP Books, 2009, $16)

Julie Clawson addresses exactly the question asked by one of my commenters recently, i.e., “What can I do—me—in my own life to change the world?” Clawson’s perspective is Christian, and her theme is that while not everyone can be a designer, we are all called upon to live justly and that justice demands we take responsibility for the consequences of our choices, however remote. On the other hand, she doesn’t want her readers to freak out and say, “It’s too hard! It’s too complicated! I can’t change my whole life completely!” So chapter by chapter, Clawson takes on justice issues involved in coffee, chocolate, cars, food, clothes, waste and debt. A little scenario begins each chapter, followed by hard and difficult truths (including child slavery overseas, and you don’t want to be part of that, do you?), but then she winds up with concrete suggestions for changes we can make in our everyday lives, some of them very small.

Electric and electronic waste, e-waste, my bête noir of the season, isn’t just strings of dead lights. It’s dead cell phones, dead computers, dead microwave ovens, dead television sets and, soon, dead e-readers.
Theoretically, recycling electronic waste should be a money saver for corporations. Reusing heavy metals like lead is far easier and cheaper than mining them. But the infrastructure for safe recycling isn’t widespread in the United States, and the government generally subsidizes virgin-mining operations [my emphasis added]. Until structures are in place and systems change, these expensive and precious, yet toxic, metals will continue to be thrown away—or else sold overseas to countries eager for easy and cheap access to expensive metals.

Nearly 80 percent of electronic waste that is recycled [sic] in the United States ends up being sold overseas. While the idea of recycling this metal is good on one level..., problems arise because of the lack of environmental laws in many of those countries. As electronic waste gets recycled (smelted down) in these countries, the toxic byproducts of that process spread into the surrounding environment.

Investigation into one rural area of Peru where metal recycling had contaminated soil in farmers’ fields found 99 percent of children suffered from lead poisoning. That’s just the metals, too. What about the plastics encasing those metals and the gases released when those plastics are heated?

In light (yes!) of all this, I’ve regretfully decided to boycott the product in question until some environmentally responsible company offers strings of holiday lights with a good, solid 10-year guarantee, price fully refundable. I don’t expect to get them for a dollar a string but am willing to pay for a durable, quality product.

Please note that I am not criticizing or condemning anyone who has working strings of holiday lights, even if they were bought new this season! Each of us makes different choices, and my life is no more environmentally blameless than anyone else’s. This is just one place I’ve decided to dig in my heels and say, “Enough’s enough!”

Something else strikes me here: Judaism always stressed justice and mending the broken world (a figure of speech Clawson uses early in her book), while the just society was a major concern of the ancient Greek (pagan) philosophers. “Christianity” is not one religion but many, with great differences across the spectrum, but if Clawson’s arguments can reach that large, diverse population, then more power to her. Our world needs to have this message coming in on as many channels as possible.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Woodstock Woman Brings/Finds Fun to/in Northport

Saturday arrived, the day of the furoshiki wrapping demonstration at Dog Ears Books, and so did the snow! Someone in the bookstore commented that it was like one of those glass paperweights that you shake up to make the snow fall, except that we were indoors and the gently falling snowflakes outside the glass. I like the photo below, looking out from inside, because there is another OPEN flag across the way and lots of cars on Waukazoo Street, showing that Northport is open for business and fun.

Marjorie came early with the beautiful wrapping cloths and good, clear instruction handouts, too.

She also brought delightful homemade sugar cookies. She’d found a cookie cutter in the shape of Michigan’s lower peninsula, and each cookie sported an additional decoration to locate Northport on the map. Charming!

Okay, it must be admitted: The laughter started immediately, as we all wanted to get at the cloths and make our selections before the demonstration even got underway.

But finally everyone sat down and prepared to be attentive, and we quickly learned three different ways to wrap something as simple as a book or CD.

Isn’t this a pretty presentation?

There’s a more complicated wrap for a wine bottle, which Marjorie demonstrated with what I could find in my recycling bin, namely, a root beer bottle. The wrapped bottle looked particularly whimsical to me, and Marjorie says each wrapped bottle tends to take on a different character, depending on size, shape and fabric used.

A couple more people came after the first scheduled demonstration was finished, and Marjorie obligingly repeated her instructions. As I have already indicated, there was a lot of laughter in the bookshop on Saturday, several people expressing relief that they had chosen not to drive to Traverse City on such a wild winter day. Whatever the weather, we do know how to have fun in Northport, and women everywhere tend to laugh a lot when we gather together.

One group, leaving Dog Ears, was headed right around the corner to Sally Coohon’s Dolls and More for more shopping, craft-making and fun.

Marjorie and Walt make their home in Woodstock, New York, but they spend a couple of nice, long stretches in Northport, Michigan, on summer and winter visits to Walt’s mother. Unsolicited, Marjorie gave Northport quite a nice little rave during the course of her presentation. She loves all the art galleries that are open in summer, but even in the quiet winter months she finds plenty to keep her happy from Dog Ears Books to Dolls and More to the Pennington Collection, with a break at Brew North while Walt works out at the Northport Fitness Center. I loved hearing her say how much she found to enjoy and keep her busy in our little village. Thank you so much, Marjorie, for bringing your enthusiasm and ideas to share with us in Northport!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Julia’s Kitchen Was Not Magazine-Worthy, Either

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto--Food, Friendship & tha Making of a Masterpiece, ed. by Joan Reardon (Houghton Mifflin, 2010, $26)

Have you ever picked up a volume of some famous person’s letters and wished you had a correspondent like that? Even at the historical height of letter-writing, whenever that may have been, odds are that most missives were pretty pedestrian. “How are you? I am fine. Wish you were here. We saw Uncle Bertie and Aunt Evelyn on Sunday. Please send my blue sweater.” By contrast, there were the letters of Charles Lamb, full of news and wit! Oh, when first I read them, how I longed to have Charles Lamb for a correspondent, but alas! He lived and died long before I was born! I did read his published letters over and over, however.

Well, now we have letters between the ebullient and irrepressible Julia Child and Avis de Voto, letters full of news, observations (political and otherwise) and recipes. They are very logically organized, and they are also quite long, and here is a whole book full of them, ranging from 1952 to 1961. I’ll never master French cooking, but when it came to writing letters, Julia was a gal after my own heart. She begins a letter on January, 19, 1953, by writing
We both enjoyed your nice long letter immensely, and this will be but a short one from me, as I’ve got to get to work. I find I’d much rather write to you than to work, and I must not indulge myself. [This is the mark of a true letter-writer: that she writes as much, if not more, for her own pleasure as for that of her recipient. It is a more selfish pleasure than many people realize.] ...We knew Paris could not last forever, as we’ve been here just over four years. We’ve been living on borrowed time, really.

This “short” letter goes on for six printed pages in the book, so you may imagine how long the original must have looked, whether typed or handwritten.

When is the last time you received a real letter in the mail, and how long and well organized was it? When is the last time you wrote a real letter to someone? One friend and I still exchange precious handwritten letters, pages written with love and received with gratitude, but honesty compels me to admit that we write less frequently, less carefully and more sketchily than we used to do. Neither of us is complaining: seeing my friend’s handwriting on an envelope is sufficient cause for joy. We could, of course, correspond more easily and therefore more often with e-mail, which would also allow for more careful composing and editing. (In fact, let me say here and now that I value my in-depth e-mail correspondences very highly, all the more so in contrast to the brief and superficial exchanges on Facebook.) But even printed out, an e-mail is not a letter. It is almost instantaneous, and part of the pleasure of a letter is anticipation, the hope that may be disappointed one day but will rise again the next until one day it is rewarded. There at last is the envelope to be opened, the letter to be slid out and unfolded, eagerly read, refolded and put away, only to be taken out and reread half a dozen times.

Correspondence between Avis and Julia began almost accidentally after Julia had read an article of Bernard de Voto’s in which he complained about stainless steel knives, all the new rage at the time. They could not, he said, be properly sharpened. So Julia, who had never met the couple but appreciated de Voto’s writing and knew something about knives, sent the American writer a knife from Paris, and Mrs. de Voto, her husband’s secretary and proof-reader, wrote to reply with thanks. The first few letters discuss knives and knife-sharpening at great length, but right from the start the two women veered into other, related interests.

Did they handwrite or type? Did either of them write such long, interesting letters to other friends? Many friends?

But besides the letters themselves, my attention is brought back again and again to this black-and-white photograph in the front of the book:

This is Julia in her Paris kitchen! Linger, if you will, over that image for a minute. I have cooked in a couple of Paris kitchens, and they are generally tiny, which is why I refer to the tiny kitchen in our old farmhouse (a few inches over 10 square feet of floor space, I kid you not) as “my Paris kitchen,” but I am nowhere near Julia Child’s height! The top of her stove was not far above the height of her knees! Please, please notice, also, that her stove was not a huge, expensive, restaurant-quality range, the kind that architects and decorators seem to think every new American home--those worthy of being shown in magazines, at least--must have these days. Did Julia complain? Did she mope and whine over not having a dishwasher or a copper stove hood or a walk-in pantry? No, she was Julia Child, and she got busy and wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking!!!

Note to self: Stop complaining about your old farm kitchen and remember how lucky you are to have spent time in Paris and to live now in northern Michigan.


Update: Okay, this is uncanny. I had just finished drafting what you just finished reading when David told me he had had an epiphany about the kitchen. He’d been thinking about the kitchen, too! But he’d had an “epiphany”? My dismay burst from me: “Oh, no!” I groaned and tried to stop him from telling me about it right before bed, thinking I’d never be able to get to sleep. My visionary David, you see, has a way of mentally seeing a plan that leaves no room for changes by a second party, even if the plan is for a kitchen and the second party is the one who will be living with and in the result! We’ve talked about the kitchen before, you see, and I’ve been insisting for quite a while that we need to tear everything out, while he’s been trying to figure out how to keep and make do with the cupboards we have. (They are very old but worse, they are too high and too deep to be efficient, and they drive me crazy!) So this project, before it has even begun, has been a bone of contention.

But now, suddenly—hallelujah! His vision began with “We start by tearing everything out!” My heart soared! He really did have an epiphany! Unstoppable, he continued to describe the simple lines of the galley in his mind, just what I have been seeing all this time! “We start with a crowbar,” he said, and I reply enthusiastically, “I’m really good with a crowbar!”

It will still be a Paris kitchen in northern Michigan, no bigger than it was before, but maybe we can turn it into space more conducive to pleasurable work. At least I now have hope.

Hope? The thing with feathers? Waiting for a letter, looking forward to a more workable kitchen, the artist and the bookseller live on dreams and always have. David said last night of our dog, Sarah, “She’s the only thing standing between us and reality.” Yes, this is who we are. I wonder what Julia would think.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It’s Official: We’re Downsizing Our Environmental Footprint

There, did I get your attention? I think my headline makes a true statement, although there are many factors to consider in comparing the two scenarios: highway miles vs. home heating bills, motel nights vs. driveway plowing, etc. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, our pack is staying in Michigan this winter rather than fleeing for the sunshine of Florida, a decision we made over the weekend after considering it for almost five minutes.

Believe it or not, we are experiencing great relief and anticipation over the change in plan. Sound crazy? Well, for starters we won’t have to close up our house and pack for three months and worry about getting our mail. We don’t have to face that long drive and all those meals on the road. I won’t be fretting over not being able to let Sarah off her leash for a good run but having to walk her on a busy highway with a narrow shoulder for three months. And finally, we won’t be leaving behind all our dear Michigan friends.

True, we’ll have to deal with cold and snow, but we’ll have the Up North comradeship of others facing the same challenges. Besides, we’ve gotten through long, hard, cold, serious Michigan winters before. And it’s only one week now until the shortest day of the year, so how hard will it be for us to travel once more from winter solstice to vernal equinox under northern skies, hunkered down on home ground?

Here’s the plan: I’ll be at the bookstore three days a week—Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Bruce will cover Wednesday. Bookstore hours from Wednesday through Saturday will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and we’ll be closed Sunday through Tuesday.

One thing our staying means for Dog Ears Books customers is that I will, after all, be able to fill special requests over the winter for new books (all you have to do is get those requests to me in person, by phone or by e-mail), and what the shortened week means is that I’ll process orders on Monday or Tuesday so deliveries arrive on Thursday or Friday. What it means for the blog is that I’ll probably cut down to a couple of posts a week.

And now, back to the present. Wednesday was a busy day on “Books in Northport,” with more visitors than ever to the blog, though not many left comments. The unusual activity was due to “Shelf Awareness” having picked up part of my Dec. 9 post, “I Am Not a Luddite,” for their “Quotation of the Day.” Ah, fame! The fleeting aspect of its nature is probably as much blessing as curse, in this case because quotations by their very nature are lifted out of context, and the only comment I had from the SA link was, I fear, a response only to the quote rather than to the entire piece.

So I’d like to take a moment here to clarify and amplify my thinking about new physical books, which is where I think most if not all of the environmental argument needs to be directed. The book I’m currently reading was a new book when it was first published in 1940. How many people have read this copy before it came into my hands? That is the defense for used books, but doesn’t it naturally carry over into new books? That is, does anyone buy a new book planning to read it once and throw it in the trash (or, in the case of paperbacks, recycling bin)?

Here are some of the various fates met by books purchased new:

➢ They become part of the purchaser’s permanent home library, read by other family members and passed on to children.
➢ They are read and passed along to a friend or relative.
➢ They are read and donated to a library, usually going into the library’s next sale.
➢ They are read and donated to a thrift shop or other charitable organization.
➢ They are read and brought back to a bookstore as used books.

Have I left anything out? My point is that a new book quickly becomes a used book, and therefore the Life Cycle Analysis of a new book must take into account these multiple lives! The same cannot be said of an e-book, the “purchase” (really, rental) of which rules out sharing and passing on.

Again, I also see (1) the development and use of new materials to replace paper and (2) the abolition of returns as taking care of most of the very legitimate objections to resource use and waste involved in printed books. I feel bad enough about the four strings of Christmas tree lights I bought last year and the year before, all of which are now dead as doornails. Electronic waste is a nightmare! Do we really want to make that mountain grow faster?

When it comes to reading, this moment in history is a time for decision. Different readers will decide in different directions, and eventually the results will get sorted out. Another fascinating and exceedingly complex issue of print books vs. e-books has to do with human brains. If you are interested in this tangled nest of question, knowledge and speculation, here's a site where different experts bring to the table diverse points of view on the books-and-brains issue. Fascinating! You'll want to read the whole thing, including all the comments, which themselves range all over the map in terms of likes and dislikes.

It occurs to me here that I should add a personal note to my new correspondents out in the wilds of New South Wales. Dear Grahame and Kathy, if it makes sense for anyone to download e-books to read on a screen, it makes sense for you! It’s kind of the way I think about snowmobiles: there are places where they are appropriate transportation. I hope this analogy makes sense to folks who live where there is no snow!

Where do the rest of you stand? What do you like and dislike about the different ways of reading? Are you ready to make and own a decision?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From Happy Holidays to War and Back Again

We needed a little more Christmas at Dog Ears Books, where I have been quite frustrated over cheap strings of tree lights that last only one year. They don't cost much, it's true, but they are turning into mountains of electronic waste, and I can't justify contributing any more to the heap, although there are only a few bulbs that remain lighted near the top of my tree. But here, you see? Marjorie Farrell brought in two small artificial table trees, and we spent a pleasant part of the early morning decorating them with her handmade ornaments.

The little stockings and hearts and such are bits Marjorie rescued from an old holiday sweater found in a thrift store. She felted them and turned them into beautiful decorations.

She used to make these paper stars from marbled paper but to avoid the harmful chemicals used in marbling she switched to plain paper. Another friend stopped in and, admiring the stars, asked if Marjorie would be giving a star-making demonstration. She hadn't planned to. The plan was and still is that she will demonstrate furoshiki wrapping this coming Saturday, but now there's a possibility she can show how to do the stars, too. Time will tell if she can get together everything she needs this far from her craftmaking studio in Woodstock, New York. The ornaments on these trees are available for purchase, however, leaving you more time for baking cookies and writing cards.

If you're wondering how war comes into the picture, it comes obliquely. You see, while this blog feeds regularly on Sarah’s cuteness and on the many books that enrich my life (and, I hope, the lives of my customers), it also feeds at times on other blogs. Occasionally, also, I contribute to another blog, the Bookshop Blog, which you can find in the list in the right-hand column, and today I was rewarded with a surprise there. An author whose book I had mentioned left a comment on the post. You can read the post and the author’s comment here. The book is Truce, by Jim Murphy, about the Christmas Eve truce that took place during World War I.

But now, it's been a long day and I'm tired, so let's close with the ornamented trees. There, that looks like Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Guest Blog: Bruce Goes to Toronto for Henty Meeting

Here’s another contribution from Bruce Balas of Omena, Dog Ears Books volunteer for a solid decade:
Recently Judy and I flew to Toronto for a gathering of the G. A. Henty Society. George Alfred Henty, the object of the gathering, was a writer of historical novels in England from 1860 until 1902. His historical adventure stories, written mainly for young people and full of action, made him the most popular writer of his time. And since his books are historically accurate, they are still very popular today, especially with the home school families. In addition, in Victorian England where they were originally published, his books were beautifully bound and as a result are very collectible.

There is a “society,” headquartered in England, with a branch in North America, consisting of the people who collect his books. Our North American branch meets at least once each year to trade books around, share information we’ve learned about Mr. Henty and, of course, just socialize.

In addition to the conference itself, Judy and I got to spend several days exploring Toronto. The city has a lovely park along the north shore of Lake Ontario, a dynamic downtown and a wide variety of cafes, bookshops, and museums, with a very European feel. This area is small enough to be easily walked from the University in the north all the way down to the lakeshore. We enjoyed it very much and recommend a visit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Socked In with Cozy Blizzard Reading +P.S.

It was the first bear trap that Joseph had ever set, but he was thoroughly satisfied. He leaned over towards the partridgeberry bush, and, picking off two more branches, careful to disturb the crusted snow on them as little as possible, dropped the branches carefully over the trap. Out of the great, snowy silence, a sudden, sharp “Ca-ca-ca!” at his heels startled him. He pivoted about, to catch the gray wing flash of the Canada jay as she swept mockingly to a pine overhead. His boots must have polished the snow to glass underfoot as he worked at the trap. He slipped as he started to turn, lost his balance, fell—and with a mighty snap of great steel teeth, the trap closed over his left leg.

...He was seven miles from camp, and his trail was already obliterated by the snow that had fallen during the earlier part of the afternoon. No one would be sent out to search for him for four or five days....

The big storm was forecast, so there was plenty of time to prepare, plenty of time to lay in tea and chocolate and oranges, as well as time to select just the right long novel to while away a long Sunday indoors before the storm arrived right on schedule. What a difference for Sarah between Saturday and Sunday!

What a difference for me, too. This morning I can stay home with the aroma of homemade cinnamon rolls, anticipating the moment they come out of the oven, and looking forward to a long, cozy day with my pack.

The book I pulled off the shelf yesterday, started reading at the bookstore and brought home for the rest of the weekend is an old classic Michigan novel, Julie Antrocchi’s Wolves Against the Moon. You know how it is—somehow there are always books you haven’t gotten around to yet. Well, this one is perfect for a winter day at home: the action ranges from Quebec City to the Great Slave Lake, down through the Straits of Mackinac and all along the shoreline of Lake Michigan through Indiana to Chekagou. You do recognize that last place name, don't you?

You can read about the real man who is the main character in this novel here, where you will find that his life was a bit different from the fictional account. Would you mind? I don't--because Wolves Against the Moon was written and published as fiction. The author is very clear about this in her preface:
The narrator demands the freedom of action of the characters as they came to life and marched out, masters of themselves, upon the pages. The author hopes that the fictitious characters may seem fully as real as the authenticated ones. If some of the episodes seem overdramatic, this may also be ascribed to the “strangeness of truth.” The author has, if anything, underdrawn the amazing happenings in the old Northwest.

An added bonus is that I had a customer for this same book yesterday, and I insisted she take the copy with dust jacket and map endpapers. Map endpapers add so much to a story, I always think. But later I found in my much plainer copy a newspaper clipping from April 1947 about the Indiana Dunes state park, the area of dune country where much of the Bailly story takes place. The park had opened the summer of that year, and in subsequent years my family made many summer day trips to that Lake Michigan beach. Follow this link for a description and a photograph of the big bathhouse that I remember so well. Lake Michigan! The beach! The scary changing rooms with their clammy, wet cement floors and all those fleshy grown women!

The cinnamon rolls? They turned out great. And it feels great to be indoors today, too.

Postscript: The comments about Sarah’s pensive expression told me to show a more engaged aspect of her personality. Call her Snow Dog, or call her Princess of the Mountain—this girl loves the outdoors!