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Friday, January 9, 2015

Steal From the Best

M-115 on Wednesday

We weren’t sure how long the first “leg” of our road trip would be. When we got stuck in our own driveway, trying to leave home, we weren’t sure we’d get away at all. But a phone call to the plowing service had us on our way within the half-hour. Then, errands in Leland, Suttons Bay, and Traverse City accomplished, we took time for a sybaritic breakfast at the Flap Jack Shack while assessing the situation. Stay in Traverse City? Push on and hopw to get as far as Cadillac? We pushed on – not at high speeds and not in any kind of relaxed or carefree spirit, but on we pushed.

The road between Traverse City and Cadillac is always the worst. (The mere thought of M-115 in winter gives me nightmares.) The photo at the top of today’s post shows you the view we had heading southeast. Below is the back of the truck we followed up the entrance ramp onto US-131.

See the truck?

Blue sky!

After that, as we’d hoped, both road conditions and visibility improved. What had been a pale winter sun seen only dimly through snow broke through the clouds to lift our spirits. Blue sky! Lovely, lovely day!  But by the time we reached Hastings, it was dark, and we were tired, and so after settling into a motel near downtown we agreed to spend the following day with our friends and stay a second night. The next day was good, but – another Arctic clipper blew in that afternoon! It was going to be blowing through all night and all the next day until late afternoon! What could we do? We decided to play it safe and stay a third night, and I began to envision a winter sabbatical in central Michigan, fighting blizzards day after day, poor Sarah with frozen feet. Well, I didn’t have any boots that would fit her. I had an extra jacket, though. She was dubious, but I felt better, knowing she was warmer when, occasionally, she had to wait in the car for us. She enjoyed visiting our friends (she especially seemed to enjoy the warmth of their woodstove), and if you click on this link, you can see some of the birds we all watched outside our friends' front window. 

Waking at 3 a.m. in the motel and unable to get back to sleep – 3:30, 4:00, 4:30, 5:00 – I amused myself in the dark by thinking of how I would answer the questions put to authors in “Shelf Awareness,” the daily newsletter on bookselling and publishing that appears in my e-mailbox every business day. Am I stealing or borrowing these questions? Will the Shelf Awareness people mind? I hope not! Here is, more or less, what I came up with, as far as I can remember:

On your nightstand now: This is easy. It would be different at home, but in a motel my nightstand is relatively uncluttered. There is The Lone Winter, by Anne Bosworth Greene, and Coyote’s Wife, by Aimée & David Thurlo, the former almost finished, the latter not yet begun.

Favorite book when you were a child: So many! How to choose? I guess, if I must select one, it would have to be James Barrie’s Adventures of Peter and Wendy, because it was the bedtime story my father read to me over and over, one chapter at a time, beginning over at the beginning each time we reached the end.

Your top five authors: Jane Austen, Marcel Proust, Tony Judt, Betty Smith, Thoreau – today. The list would begin with Austen any day but might have four different authors, depending on what I’d been reading.

Book you’ve faked reading: I don’t think I’ve faked reading any books, but I have yet to read the middle volumes of Proust’s huge, magnificent work. I’ve read Swann’s Way several times, in French and in English, and Time Regained twice, but I got bored halfway through the Budding Grove volume and haven’t tried the others yet. When I confessed this sin to a lifetime Proust scholar, he surprised me by saying that many people read only the first and last volumes of Proust. I didn’t invent the idea of skipping the middle, after all.

Book you’re an evangelist for: So many! Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Harlan Hubbard’s Shantyboat; Conrad Richter’s The Trees; Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train; Tony Judt’s The Memory Chalet – all those, for sure. And then there are all the books by Michigan authors I evangelize for – Anne-Marie Oomen’s Uncoded Woman; Jerry Dennis’s The Windward Shore; Ellen Airgood’s South of Superior; Benjamin Busch’s Dust to Dust; Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Q Road and Once Upon a River; David Greenwald’s Frozen Moon; Lynne Rae Perkins’s Nuts to You; just to make a start on a list. And the poets from Michigan – Jim Harrison, Teresa Scollon, Fleda Brown – again, there are too many to list, and I’m an evangelist for many, many more writers than this paragraph contains. That is part of being a bookseller, but it’s also simply part of being a passionate reader.

Book You’ve Bought For the Cover: Frederick Franck’s Simenon’s Paris (the title didn’t hurt, either), and I was not disappointed. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, as is the same author’s The Zen of Seeing.

Book that changed your life: Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley, probably changed my life in a subterranean manner over the course of many years. I first read those books as a child and re-read them many times over the years, doubtless shaping my future life in bookselling long before destiny and I finally joined hands with Dog Ears Books. Another Country, by James Baldwin, changed my life by showing me that writers could do the impossible – that a writer could get inside the skin and mind and heart and soul of another person, regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation or age or country of origin. A writer does not have to write only of and out of herself! No other book had ever opened my mind that wide before. Drawing on the Left Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, convinced me that even I could learn to draw, and finding a teacher who used those methods proved to me that it was true. That was a happy life-changer.

Favorite line from a book: In one of Tony Judt’s essays collected in The Memory Chalet comes the first sentence of Judt’s that I ever read, when first the essay appeared in The New York Review of Books: “I have always loved trains, and they have loved me back.” Another wonderful line about train travel occurs in one of Wilfred Thesiger’s books, and for years I had it by heart, but (sadly) the memory has faded. It was something like, “I’ve never been happier in my life than on the train traveling from Addis Ababa to Djibouti.” 

Which character you most relate to: I’ve identified with characters in almost every book I’ve ever read, but perhaps the one I most relate to is the protagonist in Ellen Airgood’s South of Superior. I understand the feeling of Madeline’s life from facing similar mundane struggles in a small northern community and finding, as she does, joy and beauty in very ordinary aspects of life.

Book you want to read again for the first time: I’d never have thought of this question myself. Re-reading is always such a rich experience that I’m never wishing I hadn’t read the book before. The book I’ve re-read more than any other is Pride and Prejudice, though, so what would it be like to come to it again for the first time? That would be interesting, contradictory as the question is!

Invaluable lesson from a book: One that comes to mind right away is from The Art of Driving in the Rain, a race driver’s lesson, to the effect that where your eyes go, your car will go. More generally, what you pay attention to is what will occupy your mind and, therefore, what will determine your direction in life.

Shelf Awareness, you guys are the best! Thanks for letting me steal from you today. You helped me get through a sleepless night during another Michigan blizzard. -- And here I'd promised a change of scenery! Not quite yet....


Bill C said...

Thanks for the Sarah fix! Stay warm. We aren't up here.

P. J. Grath said...

Motel room is warm. Car will be cold. I could probably do a whole series of "Ssrah on the Road," including the books she's reading in the car, eh?

Karen Casebeer said...

Three nights in a Hastings motel! I'm a little surprised that such accommodations even exist, but, of course, I'm remembering the Hastings of my youth when I lived in Battle Creek and Hastings was a tiny village off M-37. Sarah does not look too happy in her warm garb. Have you yet read All the Light We Cannot See? I'm hearing lots about it.

BB-Idaho said...

Blizzard whiteouts and following a truck. Back in the late 60s my
wife and I were driving east out of Salt Lake City. She was driving and I was sightseeing.
The blizzard and dusk arrived simultaneously. Those conditions make you feel in the middle of nowhere (even if you ARE)and as
we came up on a slow-moving semi
truck, I told her to follow his tail lights. So we plodded on in
a lonely interstate tandem. He slowed, we slowed- he speeded up,
we speeded up. Then he slowed and flashed his right blinker lights.
"should I pass him?" "No, there must be an accident or something,
stay right on his tail". He stopped, we stopped. Through the
blurry snow and fog, we found ourselves on a weight scale!

Dawn said...

Sarah looks a bit unhappy by the coat...but I'm sure she settled into it eventually. Safe travels!!

P. J. Grath said...

Hastings has two motels (one old, one new -- we chose old and liked it fine) and a very nice B&B for people not traveling with a dog. Sarah was a little embarrassed at first in the jacket, but she got used to it quickly. BB, funny story! I can easily imagine it!

P. J. Grath said...

Sorry I didn't respond to that question the other day, Karen. ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE -- no, I haven't read it yet and haven't even seen the cover, but I too am hearing about it everywhere. Hoping to make long-delayed contact with a real bookstore before the week is over....