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Monday, July 28, 2014

Let Us, One and All, Eat Cake!

The Cake Chronicles: Finding Sweet Hope in this Crazy World, by Jayne B. Robinson
Paper, $21.95

Let’s admit up front that doctors, dietitians, and health food gurus are all against cake. Wheat bad, sugar bad, carbs bad! I’m all for fresh salads and vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds myself, but I love this book and can hardly wait to try the recipe for fresh tomato cake with cream cheese frosting! Can you believe it? Carrot cake, move over! I also want to make the almond semolina cake, “dense and not too sweet and good for brunch or dinner.” And Irish buttermilk bannock for the Feast of St. Michael. Mind you, I have very seldom in my life made cakes at all (pies are more my thing, in general), but this book inspires and excites even a hesitant cake baker like me.

Here’s how it starts: When her younger daughter asks if the family can’t have a home-baked cake every week, the busy working mom agrees. Cake night, she thinks, will be good for everyone. Inspiration also comes from another, more surprising source, a novel by Dean Koontz called Life Expectancy, in which a family of bakers take as their motto, “Where there is cake there is hope, and there is always cake.” The Robinson family adopts the motto, also, as every Saturday night that year becomes Cake Night! A year of 52 cakes!

(I was relieved that Robinson did not agree to bake a cake every night of the week for a whole year. Just reading about that would exhaust me.)

Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, and back to Summer is the way Robinson’s year is laid out in the book, with each “chapter,” as it were, beginning with two or three pages setting the scene. One summer entry begins as follows:
This morning there were over 100 Heavenly Blue morning glory blooms on the arbor in my backyard. I paused before heading to work to take a photo just as the morning sun began to light them up on the edges.
Along with morning glories, though, the morning also brings radio news full of rising death toll numbers from Hurricane Katrina, making it a day that “wasn’t Monday” but “felt like it.” I’m not going to recount Jayne’s whole story of that day but simply tell you that she made “New Orleans Blues Chocolate Layer Cake” in the evening (after contributing to relief victims), in honor of the culture and cuisine of the Big Easy.

Disaster in Louisiana, war in the Middle East, World War I, WWII, Colony Collapse Disorder, a diagnosis of MS in the family – in a book of recipes? Yes, because The Cake Chronicles is much more than a cookbook. There is also Girl Scout camp, a grade school science fair, an academic conference or two, and vacations in Ontario and Leelanau County. (Omena rates a mention, I was happy to note.) That's because the author, a Ph.D. biologist, professor and researcher, is also a refreshing and entertaining writer. Renaissance woman! Her personal essays, you begin to realize as you turn the pages (and begin to recognize and think of them as essays), could stand alone without the recipes, at least as easily as the recipes could stand on their own, unaccompanied by stories, but having both together makes this book a very special treat. It’s a window into one woman’s life that takes note of academic work and family, world headlines and intimate, personal, daily details. It is a happy place for the most part -- you'll love visiting -- but has its share of challenge and sorrow, too.

I wanted to cheer when I reached the fall entry telling of Robinson's promotion to full professor, but what she writes about the celebratory cake her daughter baked for the occasion is surprisingly down-to-earth and heart-warming:
Katie’s cake this week is also the first cake I ever made by myself. I found the recipe on the side of the Bisquick box when I was eleven. It’s still there in the same place, a fact that is immensely comforting. It’s the same great comfort I feel knowing that books I haven’t read for decades, as well as books I might never read but hope to read someday, are waiting for me on the shelf at the library.
You see? She’s cake, I’m pie; she’s biology, I’m philosophy – and yet, in so many ways, we’re on the same page. Again, I just love this book! I hope Jayne accepts my loving it and, for that reason, forgives me for quoting from at such length.

Here’s another bit that tugs at my heart, the author reflecting on traditions lost or left behind:
All of the houses built of sand in July and the castles built of gingerbread in December may be gone, but they live on n my memories and those of my daughters. And besides, we can always start new traditions to take the place of old ones.
Ever wish that you could go back to Girl Scout (or Boy Scout) sleepover camp as an adult and enjoy a glass of wine with the evening campfire? What cake would go with that? Homecoming cakes, wedding cakes, cakes for birthdays and for vegan houseguests – all are in this book, along with memorable stories and stories of memories. There are even Michigan cherries and  sandcastles on a Lake Michigan beach, so really now, what more could you ask?

With some of my bookmarks
Note #1: This is the fourteen-hundred-and-first post on Books in Northport! On Sunday I noticed I was at 1400 and could hardly believe it. Time has flown since 2007, and a lot has changed in our little town, but I’m still here, still selling books, and still excited to discover new books and new friends.

Note #2: The Cake Chronicles and today's heading would have been perfect for Bastille Day, but, having missed this year, no way was I going to wait for July 14, 2015!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Turning the Question Back on Myself

I’ll try this idea out again, putting it in the first person this time. Maybe it will spark agreement or disagreement – anyway, perhaps (I can only hope) it will birth a discussion. In my previous post (here, in case you missed it) I wrote about the books colonists brought from England to America when they left the Old World behind, and I wondered what choices Americans of today might make if they were leaving for new homes, never again to see the old. I asked readers to “think of this question not only in terms of your own survival, well-being, recreation and interests but also in terms of what would benefit future generations in what would be their native land.” But I didn’t say what books I would take. Now I’ve done some soul- and shelf-searching, and here’s what I come up with:

First, my French bible, La Bible de Jerusalem. The Bible is many books in one, so that’s a good deal, and taking the French translation would help me keep that language in my head. Next, the complete works of Shakespeare – in some edition with small type, of course, but if I couldn’t take everything, I’d take the sonnets and leave the plays behind. One woman I said this to said her choice would be exactly the opposite – take the plays, leave the poetry – and that’s just the kind of difference that interests me: what would I take; what would you take?

Following Dawn’s very good general suggestion, I’d take along Bradford Angier’s Handbook of Woodcraft Wisdom, with its indispensable, life-saving information for finding safe drinking water, making shelters, tying knots, marking trails, etc. A heavy book from my home library that would have to accompany me to my new home tells how to do pretty much anything that needs doing in the country, from digging a septic pit and mixing concrete to raising livestock and poultry, with first aid and food preservation thrown in, so I couldn’t leave behind The Rural Efficiency Guide, published in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1918. But I still might that great old standby, Putting Food By and/or an old personal favorite, Going Wild in the Kitchen.

After those necessities, the choosing gets harder, but there are certain books of fiction I wouldn’t want to my life to be without. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion would have to accompany me to my new home. I’d also have to be able to re-read Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and The Borrowers Afield; St.-Exupery’s The Little Prince, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows; and Palmer Brown’s The Silver Nutmeg.

If I had to leave Michigan forever, I’d be leaving a large part of my heart behind and would want to revisit home via the poetry of Jim Harrison; Michigan: A History and Waiting for the Morning Train by Bruce Catton; and Altrocchi’s Wolves Against the Moon; Airgood’s South of Superior; and Campbell’s Once Upon a River (those last three all fiction), as well as (how could I almost forget this?) Alexis de Tocqueville’s Journey to America, with his wondrous evocation of the southeast Michigan wilderness, on the verge of its extinction!

I’d want to be able to revisit France, too, from my new world, so I’d need Elliot Paul’s The Last Time I Saw Paris and Jean Dutourd’s The Horrors of Love -- or, maybe just the first and last volumes of Proust’s À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, certainly an appropriate theme for my long future of exile.

A good poetry anthology or two would have to find room in my trunk. Maybe The College Anthology of British and American Verse (1964) and then Poetry in Michigan, Michigan in Poetry (2013), the latter including all that beautiful visual art, as well. Of the philosophers, I would take Aristotle (certainly De Anima) and Bergson (Les donneés immédiates de la conscience) and something by William James.

If I had room for drawing books, I couldn’t do better than to take along Frederick Franck’s The Zen of Seeing – or any of his books or any of Clare Walker Leslie’s. Essays? Jerry Dennis and Anne-Marie Oomen, Primo Levi and Tony Judt, Wendell Berry and Adam Gopnik. Would I have left behind a world in which I needed the piercingly intelligent humor of Barbara Ehrenreich? Charles Lamb’s letters?

One thing I would definitely need to take would be plenty of paper – loose paper for writing letters, books of lined but blank pages to keep journals in, and books with unlined blank pages for drawing. Also pencils and pens and erasers. Lots of paper, lots of pencils and pens and erasers.

Is it surprising that in the “brave new world” of my imagination there is wilderness (hence the need for Angier) but not modern technology (hence the need for The Rural Efficiency Guide and all that blank paper)? Perhaps you imagine your brave new world on another planet entirely! Or a space station! I am so curious!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What Books Would You Take to a Brave New World?

When prospective colonists, preparing to embark for North America in the seventeenth century, came to pack their belongings for the long voyage in crowded little ships, the decision as to what to take and what to eliminate was a matter of such vital importance that it might mean success or failure, life or death. Since freight was high and even the most elementary essentials of life had to be transported, the wonder is that the emigrants found room for such luxuries as books. But the fact is that they did. 
 -       Louis B. Wright, The Cultural Life of the American Colonies, 1607-1763, Chapter 6, “Books, Libraries and Learning”
What books did the early American colonists bring to the New World? The Bible, of course, and works of theology considered important in their time; lots of history (“the sweetest recreation of the mind,” according to Richard Braithwaite, author of The English Gentleman, published in 1630), both ancient and contemporary; and practical books on farming and what passed in that day for medicine. For the “gentleman,” as well as the educated theologian, works by classical Greek or Latin authors were de rigueur, either in the original language (often) or in translation. The colonists also loved encyclopedic books of knowledge, a foundation in their time for adult, or continuing, education. For example, Pierre de La Primaudaye’s The French Academy (not to be confused with the Académie Française) is identified by Wright as “an outline of knowledge with a strong emphasis on the natural sciences, heavily moralized to take away any taint of damnation which meddling with God’s mysteries might have suggested.” They also held onto their grammar school books long after leaving the classroom and referred in later life to their old textbooks on rhetoric and logic.

Previous chapters of Wright’s book, on “Diversity of Religions” and “Zeal for Education,” give striking evidence of the forest of fear and suspicion with which members of various religious sects regarded one another in the colonial period (such sentiments and opinions in our own time are nothing new to the New World), and yet, despite these conflicts, the author insists that similarities between 17th-century colonists’ private libraries are as striking as their differences and claims that “the intellectual differences between New Englanders and Virginians were not as great as some of their descendants would have us believe.” It is a sobering thought, to think that, for all the animosity and conflict between Christians and Jews, Protestants and Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans, everyone else and Quakers, perhaps Americans over 300 years ago shared more common values than Americans today.*

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been wondering -- about myself and my fellow Americans, but I’ll pose the question in the second person: If you were leaving home, ancestors and family history forever behind and heading into the Great Unknown, to start a new life in a New World, what books – if any – would you take with you? If no books, why not, and what else would you take in their place? Think of this question not only in terms of your own survival, well-being, recreation and interests but also in terms of what would benefit future generations in what would be their native land.
*Democracy is a difficult art of government, demanding of its citizens high ratios of courage and literacy, and at the moment we lack both the necessary habits of mind and a sphere of common reference. The marvel of postmodern communications—five hundred television channels, CD-ROMs, the Internet—invites each of us to construct a preferred reality, furnished ... with the objects of wish and dream. The commonwealth of shared meaning divides into remote worlds of our own invention, receding from one another literally at the speed of light.  
- Lewis Lapham, “Bomb-o’Gram,” July 1995, included in his collection entitled Waiting for the Barbarians, published by Verso in 1997

Monday, July 14, 2014

Summer: Living and Working in a Tourist Economy

Sarah knows how to relax
Only the briefest pause for me
“How’s your summer going?” Friends and strangers ask each other this question all the time. I get it at the bank, at the post office, on the street, and in my bookstore. So here’s a very unpoetic synopsis of summer-so-far.

Corn along our driveway

Further in, cherries
It’s been a gloriously beautiful season -- not too hot, not too cold, plenty of both sunshine and rain. First cuttings of hay look good, cherries are ripening in the orchards, leaves of field corn are lush and glossy green. In our farmyard, a huge change has been wrought by the removal of what was a large, spreading colony (perhaps all clones from a single root system) of popples, a.k.a. quaking aspen. Popples would take over the north, if they had their way. You see them venturing out from the edges of woodland and forming new communities around old farm buildings and in fallow fields. Our “grove,” as we called it, pretty much surrounded the old chicken house.

New view to south

New view to southeast
Now that our view of meadows, orchards and woods is greatly enlarged, a long-neglected garden is receiving enough sunshine that I’ve been inspired to begin cleaning out grass and weeds to encourage what flowers have survived, and we’re even talking about bringing the poor old chicken house back to life. Not for chickens, though. No, I want a mobile “chicken tractor” for my poultry when I get them. The old chicken house would be -- will be -- my writing studio. At least, that’s the dream. Chickens and writing: my next career....

Old chicken house

Volunteer tulip tree saved from woodsman's saw

Former entrance/exit for chickens
In Northport, at the bookstore – and on the streets and everywhere I go -- everyone is still clamoring for Ice Caves of Leelanau: A Visual Exploration by Ken Scott, with an essay by Jerry Dennis, published by Barbara Siepker’s Leelanau Press. Two boxes originally ordered for Ken Scott’s signing in May were pre-sold before the event, before the books had even arrived – and then only one box came in time for his appearance, and he had to (well, he graciously agreed to) come back again to sign books from the second box. And now we await a second printing, promised for sometime this month. And that’s all I know about a date: “sometime in July.”

Important: I am not taking any more names for reserved copies and have not since May; people on the list from May get first dibs on second printing, and after that it’s going to be first-come, first-served, with a limit of one to a customer. Please! This is the only way I can deal with the phenomenon that is the ice caves book! But never fear – there will be a third printing, and we are supposed to have books from that printing before Labor Day, in plenty of time for your holiday gift shopping!

The next scheduled bookstore event is not until August 7, when Mary Elizabeth Pope will be reading from her book of short stories, Divining Venus. The reading will be at 7 p.m. that Thursday evening. Please put this on your calendar and plan to be with us for Mary Elizabeth’s reading. It’s not only the next event scheduled – it’s the only event scheduled for the bookstore for the remainder of the summer!

In previous summers, I have sometimes put myself under enormous stress by scheduling as many as three events in a 2-week period. This year I’m throttling back. All of northern Michigan is filled with summer events! Also, in June I crowded an entire summer’s stress -- and excitement! -- into a single event, with 13 guest poets reading their work during a bookstore birthday celebration, and in a way I’m still reeling from that enormous, wonderful, crowd-filled, dream-come-true evening.

Don Lystra will be guest author at the Leelanau Township Library series on Tuesday, July 29, though, and I’ll be there to sell some books for him, relying on the Friends of the Library for organization and refreshments. Ah! Volunteers!

What else?

I promised three or four people that I would host a participatory poetry reading at Dog Ears Books and originally thought that might happen in July, but now I’m leaning toward September, thinking it might be something to tie into Leelanau UnCaged on Saturday, September 27. It makes more sense to do it then, I think, since UnCaged is all about a whole community releasing its creative spirit. So that makes my line-up Don at the library this month, Mary Beth in August, poets in September.

-- But there! I leaped ahead to September, the first month of fall, and here we are only in the second month of summer -- if you consider June, July and August, rather than simply July and August, which is more realistic as far as the northern Michigan tourist economy is concerned. And how is the summer going?

Does gauzy curtain obscure or soften summer view?
Sometimes, in the midst of it, I feel as if I’m on a treadmill. Wake up, work, fall asleep; repeat and repeat and repeat. Then, when Labor Day has escorted summer people back to their hometowns and locals ask one another, “How was your summer?” my response to the question posed in past tense is usually, “It was a blur.” It’s easy for someone who’s never had a summer-dependent business to advise taking days off, but the reality is that a retail business cannot make sales when it’s closed, and it doesn’t make sense to be closed during a short, high-traffic season that makes or breaks the business. I’m very lucky to have Bruce come in one day a week. On “Bruce days” I can stay home and catch up on laundry and housework and spend a little time out in the yard with Sarah doing something other than mowing grass. But really, doesn’t summer pass too quickly for everyone? Doesn't it for you?

Problems with transferring images from camera to laptop got in the way of keeping my photo blog updated recently, and as for drawing – well, how long has it been since I did any of that? I don’t feel very creative these days, to put it mildly.

On the other hand, while I haven’t been writing fiction or gotten very far with beginnings (?) of poems on little scraps of paper,  I spent considerable time recently drafting material for a workshop I want to offer sometimes in the the months ahead: “Should You Self-Publish Your Book? A Bookseller’s Perspective." I’ve incorporated five interactive exercises in the lesson plan, and when I find time (always summer's greatest challenge) I’ll do a little practice run-through by myself to get an idea of how much time the different sections take. My initial thinking is that 2-1/2 hours is long enough to have people sitting around a table. The next question will be, when to do it? Floating the idea out on Facebook the other day generated a little interest already, but whether summer or fall is better I'm not yet sure. Maybe two different times?

Strawberry jam with berries from my garden
Also last Wednesday I made my first batch of 2014 jam from our own backyard strawberries. That's cooked jam, not freezer jam, but in the freezer is enough mashed pulp for a second batch, and the strawberries are still coming on strong. Wild bramble fruits are blossoming, their simple rose blooms telling of more fruit to come and more jam to make. Summer is flowing along nonstop, wherever you look. Carpe diem!

Friday, July 11, 2014

“Wordsworth in Our Very Legs”

There’s so much I haven’t been able to show you lately – new sights in Northport and in the countryside – owing to technical difficulties. But then I thought, the natural world looks pretty much the same as it looked last year, so maybe I can find an old picture. It was old pictures I used recently to illustrate my post on Mary Russell’s book of Northport reminiscences. I’m still trying to work through the logjam preventing me from transferring photos from my camera to laptop and thence to blog, but for today, again, I have no new images.

What I do have is some wonderful writing to share, going back and forth as I have been doing in the evenings between J. B. Priestley’s English Journey, first published in 1934, and Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island, first released in 1996. Two different worlds, in many ways, the intervening decades having wrought such changes to English cities, towns, and countrysides, but continuities and similarities, too, I find. Yesterday morning I finished the last couple pages of Bryson, so after my arduous evening of mowing I settled down on the porch once more with Priestly, at that part of his book when his travels took him near enough his home town of Bradford that he spent several days there, visiting old friends and old haunts and comparing 1930s Bradford to that of his boyhood. Here is a wonderful passage I will indulge myself by quoting at length:
...Bradford is a city entirely without charm, though not altogether ugly, and its industry is a black business; but it has the good fortune to be on the edge of some of the most enchanting country in England. A sharp walk of less than an hour from more than one tram terminus will bring you to the moors, wild virgin highland, and every mill and warehouse will be out of sight and the whole city forgotten. However poor you are in Bradford, you need never be walled in, bricked up, as a round million folk must be in London. Those great bare heights, with a purity of sky above and behind them, are always there, waiting for you. And not very far beyond them, the authentic dale country begins. There is no better country in England. There is everything a man can possibly want in these dales, from trout streams to high wild moorland walks, from deep woods to upland miles of heather and ling. I know no other countryside that offers you such entrancing variety. So if you can use your legs and have a day now and then to yourself, you need never be unhappy long in Bradford. The hills and moors and dales are there for you. Nor do they wait in vain. The Bradford folk have always gone streaming out to the moors.
Priestley’s paragraphs are long. The one from which I’m quoting does not stop where I stopped but goes on, so let’s go on with it, shall we?
In the old days, when I was a boy there, this enthusiasm for the neighboring country had bred a race of mighty pedestrians. Everybody went enormous walks. I have known men who thought nothing of tramping between thirty and forty miles every Sunday. In those days the farmhouses would give you a sevenpenny tea, and there was always more on the table than you could eat. Everybody was knowledgeable about the Dales and their walks, and would spend hours discussing the minutest details of them. You caught the fever when you were quite young, and it never left you. However small and dark your office or warehouse was, somewhere inside your head the high moors were glowing, the curlews were crying, and there blew a wind as salt as if it came from the middle of the Atlantic.
Is the paragraph finished here? It could end on that lofty note but doesn’t. It continues,
That is why we did not care very much if our city had no charm, for it was simply a place to go and work in, until it was time to set out for Warfedale or Wensleydale again. We were all, at heart, Wordsworthians to a man. We have to make an effort to appreciate a poet like Shelley, with his rather gassy enthusiasm and his bright Italian colouring; but we have Wordsworth in our very legs.
Well, there is every so much more in this wonderful old travel book of Depression-era England, but just for a lark let’s dip into our contemporary’s book and see what Bill Bryson has to say about Bradford, 60 years later.
Bradford’s role in life is to make every place else in the world look better in comparison, and it does this very well. Nowhere on this trip would I see a city more palpably forlorn. Nowhere would I pass more vacant shops, their windows soaped or covered with tattered posters for pop concerns... or more office buildings festooned with TO LET signs. ... Such life as there was had mostly moved indoors to a characterless compound called the Arndale Centre. ... But mostly Bradford seemed steeped in a perilous and irreversible decline.
Another Depression clearly hit Bradford since Priestley’s time, this more recent one doubtless brought on largely  (though this cause doesn’t seem to have occurred to Bryson) by the advent of synthetic fabrics. Old Bradford was a wool town, dominated throughout by the wool trade. Bryson does allow that “Bradford is not without its charms,” and he cites the old Alhambra Theatre, “built in 1914 in an excitingly effusive style with minarets and towers” and now “suptuously and skillfully renovated.” And he adored the film museum and the old travelogue being shown there, “This Is Cinerama.” The magic of movies!
And then it was over and we were shuffling out into the drizzly twilit bleakness of Bradford, which was something of a shock to the system, believe me. I stood by a bronze statue of J. B. Priestley, who was a Bradford lad, and stared at the bleak, hopeless city before me and thought, Yes, I am ready to go home.
What a pity Bryson did not escape to the moors!

Lest we end on a sour note, however, it’s worth following old Bill to the Lake District, where he joined friends in the Wordsworthian pursuit of a “walk” to the “fabled summit of Bow Fell, at 2,900 feet the sixth highest of the Lakeland hills.
Walkers ahead of us formed well-spaced dots of slow-moving color [wearing modern clothing made of bright, synthetic fabrics, I’m sure) leading to a majestically remote summit, lost in cloud. As ever, I was quietly astounded to find that so many people had been seized with a notion that struggling up a mountainside on a damp Saturday on the winter end of November was fun.
The weather gets worse and worse, the higher they climb, and once they lose the path and become briefly lost, but at last they reached the summit, where their party joined in a more general party:
I counted thirty-three people there ahead of us, huddled among the fog-whitened boulders with sandwiches, flasks, and wildly fluttering maps, and tried to imagine how I could explain this to a foreign onlooker – the idea of three dozen English people having a picnic on a mountaintop in an ice storm – and realized there was no way you could explain it. We trudged over to a rock, where a couple kindly moved their rucksacks and shrank their picnic space to make room for us. We sat and delved among our brown bags in the piercing wind, cracking open hard-boiled eggs with numbed fingers, sipping warm pop, eating floppy cheese-and-pickle sandwiches, and staring into an impenetrable murk that we had spent three hours climbing through to get here, and I thought, I seriously thought, God, I love this country.
Perhaps this shows that no matter how bleak the town or how wretched the weather, getting out in it energetically refreshes the human spirit. Do you think so?

Sarah and I did not have wretched weather this morning for our outdoor play time and woodland rambles, merely an overcast Michigan sky and a mild breeze. But then, we don’t need an ice storm to take refreshment in nature. Michigan is not England. But I do think my dog and I have Wordsworth in our legs.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I Had a Jane Austen Moment

It wasn’t the first time, either. 

Many years ago a man came into my bookstore and somehow got onto the subject of concealed weapons and his right to carry same. Don’t ask me how that subject arose. It was very important to him, so my guess is that he was adept at bringing it into the conversation. But as he was giving his impassioned speech, all I could think was, Are you carrying a weapon? Because I’m not. So we are on very unequal footing. I don’t like unequal footing. And while I occasionally have people wander into my bookstore, hands in pockets or clasped nervously in front of them, exclaiming (much to my annoyance, because it’s not as if I’m running an opium den or a speak-easy), “This is such a dangerous place for me to be!” I can’t imagine any of them would feel the serious need to enter armed. And I thought then, and think now whenever I recall the encounter, of Emma’s protests when she learned from the concern of her friend Mrs. Weston that Frank Churchill, who had flirted with her outrageously, had all the time been secretly engaged to another young woman.
“I have escaped, and that I should escape, may be a matter of grateful wonder to you and myself. But this does not acquit him, Mrs. Weston; and I must say, that I think him greatly to blame. What right had he to come among us with affection and faith engaged, and with manners so very disengaged? What right had he to endeavour to please, as he certainly did – to distinguish any one young woman with persevering attention, as he certainly did – while he really belonged to another? How could he tell what mischief he might be doing? – How could he tell that he might not be making me in love with him? – very wrong, very wrong indeed.”
That Frank Churchill should come into that small country society and behave as a single man, without romantic or marital commitment, when his affection and promise had already been secretly given, meant to Emma that Frank had been treating society, as well as the marriage market of the time, as his personal plaything. “Impropriety!” Emma exclaims.
“Oh! Mrs. Weston – it is too calm a censure. Much, much beyond impropriety! It has sunk him, I cannot say how it has sunk him in my opinion. So unlike what a man should be! None of that upright integrity, that strict adherence to truth and principle, that disdain of trick and littleness, which a man should display in every transaction of his life.”
I am not saying that Jane Austen or the society of her time would have the same attitude toward concealed weapons as they had toward concealed engagements or marriages, only that in my mind there is a parallel. Do we meet openly, as equals, or with our secret selves carefully hidden away until -- ???

Well, that was a lengthy introduction, but get me on the subject of Jane Austen, and I am as likely to be carried away as my one-time visitor with his own pet hobby-horse. My more recent Jane Austen moment came when Mr. X said of Mr. Y that the latter was often considered “arrogant.” Mr. X continued, “When you find out about his life, you see he’s entitled to be arrogant.” Austen fans will not have a moment’s hesitation here but will know instantly that Mr. X’s account of Mr. Y brought Pride and Prejudice to my mind.
Mr. Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike .... but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. ,,,[H]e was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.
Mr. Darcy is quickly detested by almost the entire town of Meryton and all the family at Longbourne except Jane (who never thinks ill of anyone) for his insufferable pride, and it takes nearly the whole novel for Elizabeth to realize that she, too, has been guilty of the same deadly sin, prejudiced against Mr. Darcy because he wounded her own amour-propre. A couple of more moderate voices are heard, however, as early as Chapter 5.
“His pride,” said Miss Lucas, “does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”
Elizabeth’s friend, Miss Lucas is in general much less critical of others than Elizabeth, sometimes (as we later learn) carrying nonjudgmentalism to extremes Elizabeth regards with something like horror. Elizabeth’s sister Mary, the family moralist, “who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections,” was the first to make a distinction between pride and vanity.
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
What, though of Mr. X’s opinion of Mr. Y? Can one have a “right” to be arrogant? A man who takes pride in his accomplishments – or, of course, a woman who takes pride in hers – does not necessarily need to parade them before others to satisfy his or her vanity. But arrogance – where does that put us?

Without consulting a dictionary, and only going by my own sense of the word, I can’t help finding arrogance, as one of Austen’s characters would put it, “a grievous fault indeed.” I see the arrogant individual lording it over others, disdaining others, riding roughshod over anyone who gets in his or her way – and can there ever be a question of a “right” to such behavior?

Yes, I sound like Mary! Sigh! Mary the earnest bluestocking, not the lively, witty Elizabeth Bennett. And yet, I don’t think Elizabeth would put up with arrogance for one minute. She would puncture it verbally and/or turn and dance away gaily in another direction.

P.S. Next day: Here's an interesting site, not only defining but giving tips for spotting and dealing with arrogant people.

Monday, July 7, 2014

More Backward Looks to an Earlier Northport, Michigan

Sam and Margaret McClellan came to the village of Northport from Kalamazoo in 1858, bringing their son and two daughters with them. Ida, the youngest, was three years old at the time, and was destined to become my grandmother. Sam came to open a general store to trade with the Indians, who were being paid for their lands. He bought two lots on the hill in the village, overlooking Northport Bay. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the family left Northport, going by boat to Chicago where Sam joined the Union Army. The lots on the hill lay empty until 1918, when my father and grandmother built the cottage which was my happy summer home for many years.
- Mary W. Russell, Idyll: Reminiscences of Childhood Summers in Northport

A couple of conversations spontaneously arose recently about the number of people from St. Louis, Missouri, who summer in Glen Arbor. In Leland, there's a big concentration of Cincinnati people. Then the question arose, from where does Northport draw summer people and new residents? My only anecdotal evidence suggested Kalamazoo, which happens to be where David and I lived for years before moving to Leelanau County, and I mentioned several other families now established here who lived earlier in Kalamazoo. Then I picked up this little collection of memories written by someone who was one of my early local bookstore customers. She was from Kalamazoo, I never knew that, and now she no longer lives here in Leelanau Township, so the opportunity for those conversations is gone.

People often ask, "Are you from here?" No. Then, "Where are you from?" Well, I was born in South Dakota, grew up in Illinois, and my family started camping in Michigan when I was 12. I only came to live in Michigan at age 18, but by now Michigan has been home for a long time. Here's how Mary Russell put it in her reminiscences:
I was brought to Northport when I was two years old for the first of many happy summers spent there. I always considered Northport my true home, although I was there only three months of the year for many years. As the saying goes, "Home is where the heart is." 
Mary writes of a boatbuilder who helped her brothers build a "hybrid sailboat" out of scrap lumber scavenged from the beach. The boatbuilder would have been Bill Livingston. She describes going to the home of neighbors for water from the pump after their own well at the cottage ran dry, and that would have been -- or is now -- the home of Will and Virginia Thomas. She tells the story of a neighbor boy who "accidentally burned the garage down" in his attempts to make maple syrup: that "budding businessman" was the late George Anderson. It's fun to read Mary's reminiscences and be able to identify individuals and locate places in town. We never chatted about Kalamazoo, but because she wrote down her Northport memories, I've been able to share them with her by reading her little book.

Much of what she writes took place long before I ever knew Northport, though I've heard stories from other locals about, for instance, the silent black-and-white movies shown down by the creek, picnics on Gull Island, and chicken dinners out on the bluffs where the Garthe sisters ran a restaurant for many years. The cherry canning plant, the little train called "Maude," and the downtown library in an old frame house are all a tiny bit familiar to anyone who's been around Northport long enough to hear old-timers' stories. But it's all the details Mary recalls that make the old days come alive for me, like the big toad she looked for in the grass at the corner of the cottage every time she had to venture to the outhouse at night. Amenities at Northport's marina and bayside parks and beaches have increased greatly, just in the last couple of years, but the picture painted by Mary Russell of the water's edge is quite different.
The waterfront then was a jumble of cattails, pools with tadpoles of varying sizes, frogs, and all sorts of wildflowers. An old house with a board walk built above the swampy area and surrounded by willow trees, stood nearby. Always a lover of nature, I found all of this fascinating. Late, of course, the area was "improved" and all of these things vanished, including the picturesque little fishing docks with their rickety sheds, nets drying in the sun, and gulls perching in rows on the roofs. 
Doesn't that sound sweet? Many of the photographs in this little book -- more a booklet, really -- are attributed to Cherry Scott, and the pictures, too, carry me back into Northport's past.

Other books dwell on area history. In those books names are named, and dates are given, and the information is illuminating and fascinating. But I love Mary Russell's little book and only wish I'd been able to read it while she was still here so we could have talked about more of her memories.
All too soon we grew up and the happy, heedless days of childhood were over. But the memories remain, like a book read long ago, which can be opened again and enjoyed at leisure.
Thank you, Mary, for putting together this little book of your memories so I was able to open it and enjoy your memories, too.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

One of “My” Authors Receives Well-Deserved Recognition

Some of you remember Katey Schultz from her 2013 visit to Dog Ears Books, while others who weren’t with us on that day nevertheless know the book she read from at our bookstore event, the volume of short stories called Flashes of War. Katey is presently hard at work on her first novel, doing extensive revisions. In fact, all fiction writers, beginning or experienced, who haven’t read her blog are advised to make a visit, and if you don’t write fiction but think it might be a cushy way to make a living, her blog will open your eyes on that score. She tells it "like it is," as we used to say.

The writer’s life is not for sissies, but it does have its rewards – usually in the work itself but occasionally, also, recognition for a talented and hard-working young author like Katey.

[Cue trumpets!]

And now, I’m more than happy to tell you that Ms. Schultz has received an IndieFab Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews and the Gold Medal for Adult Fiction in the Military/War category! Foreword IndieFab awards are judged by a select group of librarians and booksellers from around the country to help readers discover distinctive books from the indie publishing community, so if you haven’t read Flashes of War yet, now’s the time to catch up with Katey before her novel comes out. That way, you can tell people, “Oh, I know her work! She’s great!”

Do you want a signed copy? I have two left! Can you tell I’m very proud of having hosted Katey Schultz at Dog Ears Books?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 4, 1849, Northport, Michigan; Northport Today

“The little colony at Northport was scarcely settled in their new home when they were reminded that the anniversary of the nation’s birthday was close at hand. They determined to celebrate it in a becoming manner. They had no cannon or flag. An old sailor on board the vessel undertook to supply the latter. Cutting up a red flannel shirt and a white cotton sheet, he manufactured of the two a flag that was deemed respectable for the occasion. The morning of the Fourth was ushered in with a salute from all the guns that could be mustered. Then all the party, young and old, repaired to the little island in the bay [Gull Island], where the day was passed pleasantly. We may well believe what we are told by one who was present, that this Fourth of July celebration in the Grand Traverse country was as full of patriotism and love of country as any that has ever been held since.”

-      Dr. M. L. Leach, Grand Traverse Region: A History (1883)

Between marina and beach playground

“M-22 between Omena and Northport is under construction, and a mess, but the wait in traffic will be worth it, as Northport has undergone a near-complete transformation. Why, the village has a bowling alley, and a 9-hole golf course is expected to open later this month. The transformation offers proof that communities with older people can start anew.”

- “Our 
Opinion,” Leelanau Enterprise, Thursday, July 3, 2014

Northport still holds to and displays its patriotism with a beautiful Memorial Day service out at the cemetery and a fun- and music-filled prelude to fireworks on the evening of July 4.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Guest Book Review: A DESPERATE RUSE

A Desperate Ruse,
by Robert Underhill
Paper, $14.95

Readers of Robert Underhill’s previous books will find this one significantly different, since this is a period piece, located in London, England, in the late 1800s. It’s also different in that it is centered around a quasi-historical character, the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, creation of the Englishman Arthur Conan Doyle.          

In the Doyle story “A Study in Scarlet,” the great detective is first introduced, along with his partner, Doctor Watson, and Holmes’ brother, Mycroft.  These three are the main characters, along with two police detectives who work with Holmes to solve the mysteries that arise in Victorian England.

Sherlock Holmes and his new method of using “deductive reasoning” to solve crimes became immensely popular in that period in England, and since then his popularity has spread all around the world.  For example, in the past few years here in the U.S. there have been a new film and several TV programs with him as the main character.   The main feature of these exciting adventures, aside from the use of deductive reasoning, is the relationship between the emotionless, cerebral detective, his stolid, unimaginative doctor assistant, and the two bumbling detectives who can’t find a clue even when it’s right in front of their faces. 

Doyle wrote many short stories and novelettes featuring these characters.  His creations became so popular that Londoners would line up to get newly released stories, much as kids did recently when a new Harry Potter adventure came out.  In fact, the character Holmes became so popular that when Doyle became tired of writing about him and killed him off in what he intended as the “final” Sherlock Holmes story, the furor was so great that Doyle had to bring his hero back to life and write even more stories.

Now Robert Underhill, a popular local mystery writer, has done something interesting and new with Sherlock Holmes.  Many authors have written new Sherlock Holmes stories, but most have kept the familiar characters and simply introduced a new mystery.  Underhill does the reverse. He makes a significant alteration in the personality of each character and then re-tells the original story, observing the changes that result. For instance, what if Holmes wasn’t as brilliant as originally designed? What if the doctor was the imaginative one?  What if the detectives weren’t bumbling but rather intelligent police officers?  If these altered characters were to face the same mystery, for example, “The Study in Scarlet,” would the mystery still be solved?  Would the result be the same?  

If you are not a Holmes reader, you will still enjoy this Victorian period mystery. Perhaps it will even lead you to delve into the Holmes stories written by the great writer Arthur Conan Doyle. If, however, you are fortunate enough to be a Holmes enthusiast already, you will be delighted to see how cleverly Underhill alters the personal history of these characters and, as a result, how their motivation changes.  Then you’ll see how the motivational changes affect the solving of the mystery.  It’s almost as if it were written by a psychiatrist!                                   
Bruce Balas, June 2014

Omena resident Bruce Balas is a long-time volunteer and bookstore angel at Dog Ears Books. He’s pulling your leg (something he often does) with that last sentence of his: Robert Underhill, as many of you (including Bruce) already know, is a retired psychiatrist.