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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Far Corners of Home

Kamloops. The name won’t leave my head, and I can’t help pronouncing it aloud every few minutes. (Try it. It's very satisfying to say aloud.) Sarah can’t figure what I’m talking about. David hasn’t asked—yet. The Kamloops on my mind has nothing to do with British Columbia. No, it was a ship—and is, still, a shipwreck. The 1923-built ‘Kamloops’ went down in 1927 off the coast of Isle Royale, and it’s on my mind because I just finished Nevada Barr’s A Superior Death. (What a story!) And now, ever so slightly obsessed with Nevada Barr, I was intrigued to find her on a website of Mississippi writers, although she was born in Nevada and grew up in California. Since she lived a while in Mississippi...also in New York...and currently lives in New Orleans, by the unwritten rules of bookselling this makes her a Nevada writer, California writer, Mississippi writer, and Louisiana writer, at the very least. (Whether or not New York booksellers claim her as belonging to the Big Apple, I know not. NYC is its own universe.) How many states, after all, claim Hemingway as one of their own? Illinois (birthplace) and Michigan (family summer home) are among the number but hardly form an exhaustive list.

In my bookstore, Dog Ears Books, as in others I know in northern Michigan, there is a section called “Michigan.” All my used and out-of-print Michigan fiction is there, followed by used and OP nonfiction—history, natural history, memoir, essays, etc. On the bookshelves holding new books, there is also a section for books Michigan.

Deciding what counts as a Michigan book is a little more straightforward than identifying Michigan authors. A Superior Death takes place on Isle Royale in Lake Superior within the boundaries of the state of Michigan. The story is clearly set in Michigan. If a Michigan historian wrote a history of Georgia, I would shelve that book in Southern history and travel. (I collapsed travel and history sections some years back, frustrated by such questions as, “Do you have any books on China?” and the confusing directions involved in the answers.) But on the Michigan fiction shelves there are always, besides stories set in Michigan, others set elsewhere but written by Michigan writers--for example, Alaskan Gold Rush adventure stories by James B. Hendryx of Suttons Bay and James Oliver Curwood of Owosso and Western literary fiction by Jim Harrison.

Now that I’ve been immersed—submerged—in Michigan fiction for a couple of days, I've turned back to The Honey Trail, by Australian travel writer Grace Pundyk, where, in the chapter on Borneo, I’ve just traveled five hours upriver to an isolated, roadless river village. I’m not in Michigan any more—until I put down the book and walk outdoors again.


Gerry said...

Sooo . . . we're a bunch of turkeys, eh? Prob'ly so.

The way a store organizes its books always interests me. Back in the day, before Margaret Atwood's work was widely available all across the United States, I went across the river to a nice bookstore in Windsor in search of one of her novels. Maybe Bodily Harm.

I browsed through the fiction section at the front of the store with its prominent NYT Best Sellers poster and found no Atwood there. I went up to the counter.

"Are you out of everything by Margaret Atwood?"

"No, no--she's in the Canadiana section at the back of the store."

It felt, somehow, like the store had made Margaret Atwood ride in the back of the bus. Of course, I went back there and found a whole lot of books to buy because the back of the bus was a treasure house, but it still felt like I was rescuing those books.

At Dog Ears there are nooks, crannies, and prominent displays of everything wonderful, including the Michigan author who's there signing books, often as not, so I'm definitely not criticizing the Michigan section. No indeed. But at Dog Ears, it feels like the windows of the bus . . . by which we know where we are.

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, if "we're a bunch of turkeys," I'm one, too. No, I just needed an excuse to use that turkey photo, and since it's in the neighborhood, northern Michigan winter, I figured that was good enough.

Glad you don't think my Michigan section is the "back of the bus"! (I reorganized the new books today and now have Michigan in a vertical rather than horizontal row, which allowed me to move new cookbooks up to the top of a shelf.) I do not have separate sections for "Christian fiction" or "gay fiction," and I don't shelve authors by skin color, either. Walk on the wild side, I say! Take a chance on FICTION, and see what you find!