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Saturday, November 28, 2015

New on Waukazoo Street Now

What makes a book special varies, of course, from one reader to another, but whenever I put in a new book order to fill specific customer requests, I add a few titles “on spec,” choosing what I hope will be irresistible not only to me but to bookstore browsers, too. Approaching winter holidays are a great time for these special items. Buyer’s remorse may follow purchase of an expensive exercise machine or clothing that’s the wrong size, but who can regret buying a book? As I remind readers every year, books are easy to wrap, eminently shareable, and serve as magic carpets to carry us to other worlds.

Plotted: A Literary Atlas, by Andrew DeGraff, with essays by Daniel Harmon is perfect for literary readers with a taste for maps and quality graphic novel illustrations. DeGraff was inspired by teachers, maps, and history, as well as by classic literature, short stories, and fantasy novels. In this quirky book you will find his visual rendition of Homer’s Odyssey,  Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, and the castle Shakespeare imagined as the setting for Hamlet. Mark Twain is here, as are Kafka and Melville, Frederick Douglass and – surprise! – Flannery O’Connor. What would the book authors make of this book? Give it to an English major and pose the question! Hardcover, $24.99

Lynne Rae Perkins first called my attention to Maira Kalman when she asked me to order one of her books. Warning: this author/illustrator’s works are addictive. And how could I not order a book with Beloved Dog for a title? Kalman has my number.
You, reading this book, mostly likely have, or had, a dog. You certainly know that your dog is, or was, the dearest, funniest, lovingest, loyalest friend you ever had.
You will meet many dogs in these pages, dogs of all sizes and kinds. You will also take a walk in New York City, stroll through Paris, France, and find yourself in Washington, DC, in cherry blossom time. If you haven’t met Maira Kalman before, now is the time. Hardcover, $29.95

This one is as quick and simple as its title: Big Bear, little chair, by Lizi Boyd, is a book for young children that explores the world of BIG and little, with examples taken from different natural objects and human artifacts. Some are surprising. Would you think a big zebra would wield a little broom? This book is just plain fun! Hardcover, $16.99

Then, do we ever outgrow Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol? This new edition begins with historical background and goes on to give us every word of the familiar story, beautifully and memorably illustrated by Australian artist Robert Ingpen. The pictures somehow make the story seem brand-new, while at the same time transporting me to Victorian England, where I am encouraged not only to enter the characters’ lives (all good books do that) but also to dwell lingeringly on the daily details of the way they live. Magic! Hardcover, $24.99

Another familiar classic appearing in new guise is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. The 150th anniversary edition illustrated by Salvador Dali, the first “affordable” edition with Dali’s art, is as psychedelic as any Sixties flower child could possibly wish. 

I love the semi-abstract illustrations rhr remind me of the first “abstract” art I ever saw, dreamy watercolor illustrations in the two-volume book club edition of Kipling’s Jungle Books. There is also a description of Dali’s mathematical interests, the “math connection” between the artist and Oxford mathematician Charles Ludwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. In other words, this book has in it something for every age and every interest. Hardcover, $24.95

Art and literature combine again in Sunlight on the River: Poems About Paintings / Paintings About Poems, edited by Scott Gutterman, pairing over fifty masterpieces of art with poetry from across the ages. Charles Wright meets Paul Cezanne, Jane Flanders and Anne Sexton both dance with van Gogh, and many other poets and artists are brought together in sometimes surprising juxtaposition. Hardcover, $34.95

Finally, we leave the realm of literature and art for memoir, but the new memoir I have in stock is also a travel book: The Only Street in Paris: Life on the rue des Martyrs, by Elaine Sciolino. Moi, je connais la rue des Martyrs. I would never have claimed it as the “only street in Paris,” but neither could I resist revisiting la rue qui monte (the street that climbs) de Notre-Dame-de-Lorette au Sacré-Coeur. Alas! I learn that the famous Poissonerie Bleue, one of the premier Paris fish shops, closed three years ago. But there is still some of the best food shopping in town on the rue des Martyrs, and the book makes me long again for the wonderful cheese shops of the unfashionable but lively 9th arrondissement. One merchant complains to the author that foreigners sometimes come in and don’t say Bonjour. (And then they think the French are rude!) Ah, yes, that is the Paris I remember! Would you like to make the trip? Hardcover, $25.95

So there you have it, this week’s sampler of new titles newly available for in-store purchase at Dog Ears Books, an island of treasures, where every day brings unexpected encounters between people and books.

There will be cookies today, also, at Dog Ears Books, and horse-drawn wagon rides -- free! -- through our sunny little village, and when darkness falls, lights will appear on the big Christmas tree on Nagonaba Street, and carol-singing will follow. 'Tis the season. Bundle up! Come and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holiday Hiatus

I am thankful for readers and writers and artists (no hierarchy intended!), for words and thoughts and ideas and images, and for a life rich in such people and such objects. I wish you all either comfort at home or safe travels, happy times with loved ones, and/or warm memories of those no longer present in the flesh.

(Dog Ears Books will welcome you back on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving, and on Saturday there will be cookies and selected sales.)

From the bottom of my heart, thank you -- to anyone who reads this -- for being part of my life!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

If Books Were Spices, What Would These Be?

Sometimes a cliché can give rise to fresher thoughts. The cliché that came to me this morning, as I looked at the three thoroughly unrelated new books I’m featuring this week in my bookshop, was “Variety is the spice of life.”

Should I be ashamed that my first thought was such a trite reflection? Next into my head came a personal statement I can make very truthfully, so it may mean more or again it may not, which is that one of the things I love about books is their infinite variety. Books give us a variety of subject matter and writing style as great as the number of human minds who have written books in the past, write books today, and will write them in the future -- lives and thoughts and fantasies and observations – worlds and perspectives we would otherwise never know, available to us in this simple, as-yet-unsurpassed, durable hand-held technology. Wow!

Well, but then I thought more literally about spices and, by metaphorical extension, how one might link spices and books, and I may have gone too far afield with my third thought. Would Nuts and Buried be nutmeg, or is that too simplistic? Would The Mare be coriander because of the Dominican connection? What about Nineteen + Conversations with Jazz Musicians? Soul food? Maybe red pepper? But wait, where’s the cumin, and how can I attach it to one of these featured books?

Sometimes one gets carried away by a metaphor, so okay, let’s forget that one. At least it got me started writing about my Books-of-the-Week.

Michigan readers will remember Elizabeth Buzzelli as the author of the Dead series: Dead Dancing Women, Dead Floating Lovers, etc. I hope you also remember that she is now writing murder mysteries as Elizabeth Lee and that the new series takes place in East Texas on a pecan ranch. Want to go somewhere warm for the winter? Enjoy a vicarious getaway!

Lindy Blanchard is the first-person narrator of these funny, lively stories. With her strong university background in research science, she’s come home to develop a pecan tree that will be resistant to drought and pests, as well as to help out in the family store, the Nut House. When murder occurs, however, she and her intrepid Meemaw are right there in the thick of it, investigating and interviewing and putting their lives in danger to find the killer. Nuts and Buried is the third book in this irresistible series and a very affordable self-indulgent purchase at $7.99. Impossible to go wrong! Yea, Elizabeth!

Of my second featured book this week, The Mare, by Mary Gaitskill, I’ll refer to you my last blog post, where I wrote about it at length. (You have to scroll down through the weather and stone stuff to get to the book review.) The Mare is a hardcover novel and not cheap at $26.95, but if ever a new book was worth its full cover price, this is that book.

And now for something I’d love to call my own discovery, except that I learned about the book when a friend who is also a friend of the author sent me a copy. Garth W. Caylor (he actually goes by “Bill”) interviewed New York jazz musicians in the 1960s. He interviewed them in their homes, sometimes with interruptions by children or the telephone, so that the reader has the sense of being there in the room, and conversations ranged from music and dance, painting, literature, i.e., creativity in general, to the nitty-gritty of making a living in New York at that time, pros and cons of living in one part of the country or another or in another country altogether, to the deepest meaning of life as these creative individuals found it. These interviews are extraordinary, even to a reader (like myself) without a deep jazz background.

Here’s what makes me a little crazy, though. The author of this extraordinary book, nothing like which is available anywhere, could not find a publisher in the Sixties, after he had carefully secured permissions from all the musicians he interviews (can you imagine how disappointed they must have been?) and even after a book reviewer for Little Brown, one Ralph J. Gleason, music columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, contributor to the iconic Downbeat (now online), and cofounder of no less than Rolling Stone, “urged” the publisher “with every ounce of conviction I have to publish it.” Little Brown sent a copy of Gleason’s review along to the author with their own rejection letter. What were they thinking? Caylor goes on to quote from Gleason’s letter (and who can blame him?)
...I have read it twice, and both times I have found it fascinating, but more than fascinating, I have found it illuminating. I would recommend it to my class and to my readers as I would recommend it to you.
And they passed it by. The mind boggles, does it not?

So now, decades later, the author has been driven to self-publishing to get his baby out into the world, and thanks to a friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I learned about author and book and was able to obtain copies of the book from the author and now have it for sale in Northport. I take great pride in offering it here.

But I should give you a taste of the book itself. Here’s a bit from the interview with Bill Evans, whose music I’m listening to as I compose this post. Caylor has just asked if Evans has become more “objective or detached” in his playing from early work to Little Lulu.
No—I don’t know. I still have to feel that I really like something for some reason or another. Like Little Lulu, I think, is a keen little melody. It’s not a matter of taking something which is a challenge—it just happens to be something we can work with, and happen to like. That’s the only thing. We simply enjoy it; I take it entirely seriously. It’s a humorous sounding tune, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take the humor seriously—I take it as seriously as anything else, and I try to make as much music out of it as I can.
I would love to quote the whole long section here but am refraining. Evans goes on to say that music too abstract to have a frame of reference is not satisfying to him, and both of those thoughts are important, I think, coming from a musician – the idea that enjoyment and fun are not divorced from taking music seriously and that, for this musician, some traditional frame of reference is crucial, however much freedom is introduced.

And here’s someone else, drummer Milford Graves, talking about looking at objects and needing the environment (as opposed to only looking inside himself) to build his mind:
I really enjoy the subway. Well, I’ve had to make myself enjoy it, since it’s been my only transportation; at one time it was a bad thing to me, but I can’t have anything like that causing a mental disturbance, because if that happens I can’t play the way I want to. So I try to take whatever it is that disturbs me and balance it out, so that nothing outweighs anything else. The subway is like a happening, there are so many things to see and hear, the people and the tension, it’s something to let me know where people are. Then the train itself, too. Everything caused by friction of one kind or another, and you can’t say it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ You can only say it’s good if at any given moment it is satisfying a need, and you can it’s bad if at a given moment it disagrees with you.
Graves goes on to speak more and more abstractly about sound in general being without shape or style, but also insisting that music is “just sound.” Reality, illusions of reality, transformations – it’s heavy but, as Gleason recognized fascinating stuff. It's life perspectives from some of the most creative individuals in New York in the Sixties

Nineteen + Conversations with Jazz Musicians, New York City: 1065 1965 is a small book and expensive for its size. It’s less than 5”x7” side to side, and top to bottom, but there are 248 pages, with illustrations, bibliography, and index. More importantly, you just won’t find these musicians’ words and views on art and life gathered together anywhere else. You needn’t call yourself a jazz aficionado (I certainly don’t deserve the name) to find this very special, unique little book worth $32.95. Maybe for yourself, maybe for someone on your holiday gift list, but here’s something for the music lover who has everything, because it’s a sure thing they don’t have this book!

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Book, a Stone, the Weather, and Another Book

Weather Report and Forecast

Predicted gale-force winds moved in on schedule late Thursday, whipping Lake Michigan up into a roaring monster, but we did not have the damaging, tree-dropping wind speeds that some downstate areas experienced, nor did we suffer (yet! fingers crossed!) power outages. Sarah and I managed our morning walks on Friday – first near home, followed by a north-of-town expedition -- in a spitting rain, cold and kind of nasty but not heavy enough to warrant the annoyance of carrying an umbrella.

Wet, windy weather is supposed to keep up through Saturday, but Sunday and Monday (my “weekend”) we should have calmer, warmer days. And while the NOAA forecast talked about two inches of snow accumulation on Saturday, the predicted high of 40 degrees makes me doubt we’ll see much snow on the ground. Not for long, anyway. Up in the 50s on Sunday? Good for wrapping up the last little bits of yard work around the old farmhouse.


One side
On that north-of-town walk Friday morning, I had my head down most of the time, partly to keep wet rain out of my face but also because the unpaved road, for some reason, seemed to have a lot of enticing stones lying on the surface. My attention to them was rewarded when I’d about given up hope. The markings on this hexagonaria were as clear as if it had just been tumbled in the surf, several miles away.

Other side

Book Review: THE MARE

Mary Gaitskill’s most recent novel really deserves a post all its own, but I want to post, not postpone, my response to the novel, so here goes:

You don’t have to be horse-crazy to love The Mare, you don’t have to love children to fall in love with the girl called Velvet, and you don’t need to have experienced firsthand either the painful yearning of childlessness or the struggles of a single parent in poverty to feel for both Ginger and Silvia as they negotiate through trial and error their own challenges and their separate efforts to do what’s best for Velvet. Come to this novel from whatever experience you have, and the author will take you to new places. Another voice in the book is Paul, Ginger's husband, but femaleness is in the foreground, from Velvet's urban school to the stable next door to Paul and Ginger's suburban home.

Gaitskill’s story is told from the perspectives of various characters – primarily through the experiences, thoughts and emotions of Ginger, Paul, Velvet, and Silvia – as these shift through time and through their interactions with each other, with minor characters, and in the various worlds they inhabit and visit. “It it a YA novel?” David asked. No, I told him, not at all. “Well, is it a coming-of-age story?” Well, partly, and it’s been called that, but I find it much more. Each character is living through multiple story lines and trying to find the path forward.

Nothing is simple. Numerous critics cite the author’s awareness of emotional complexity, of characters with so many emotions they overflow. Although Gaitskill has always been called “unsentimental," at least one reviewer found this new novel overly tame. Readers will decide for themselves. Reviewers, after all, are only readers whose opinions are published, so it is not surprising that their opinions will vary and sometimes conflict. Here’s an excerpt from a review by Hannah Tennant-Moore that better expressed what I found in the novel: 
In The Mare, Gaitskill writes of race, parenting, early adolescence, and horses with the same tender complexity that marked her earlier work on sex and relationships. The book is written from inside the minds of its main characters. The perspective changes frequently, sometimes from one paragraph to the next. Together, these overlapping inner monologues offer a full portrait of the visible and invisible factors at play in each scene.
I loved this book. I loved it for its complexity, its eschewing of easy answers, the way the author avoided both pat solutions and the tragic outcomes any reader cannot help but fear its characters will meet. I wonder, do we think that only fiction plunging its characters into fullblown tragedy is “realistic” or “serious”? Because I loved this book also for its redemptive moments, the kind that life really does offer from time to time but that literary novels so often withhold. The picture-perfect “photo finish,” after all, is not the end of the book. That is the climax, yes, but it is followed by a much more nuanced and less simple denouement, with many hurdles yet to come for all the characters. Is that not realistic? Life is never "over" at the end of a book, as long as the author has not killed off all the characters.

Finally – and this is not a particularly literary note – I loved this book especially (my friends will not be surprised to hear) for the very important role played by horses in the story. I’ve had more than enough of books with beautiful horses on the covers and only a few scant paragraphs, if that, where horses appear inside. Fugly Girl isn’t a beautiful horse, either. Her name tells you that, right? But Velvet sees the horse, and the mare sees her, and the two develop a bond. In fact, it’s amazing that someone without a horsy background, as I believe I read about Mary Gaitskill, was able to make the horse environment and horse-human bond come so beautifully and quiveringly alive.

Ferocity. The ferocity of a mare, of a strong woman, the ferocity that shy outsiders must find inside themselves if they are going to find an independent path forward in life. Never before have I encountered a novel that gave me, in combination, the difficult modern realism of Bonnie Jo Campbell and the heart-soaring magic of Walter Farley. 

As I say, you don’t have to love horses to read this book, as I hope all of my blog readers will. It's on my order for books I'll have by next week.

P.S. I see I did no plot synopsis for this book. You could follow one of the links to another review and get it, but here's mine: 

A childless married couple, Ginger and Paul, sponsor an inner-city child at their home for two weeks in the summer, and following the official two weeks, Ginger, unable to lose the girl's presence, arranges for her to continue visiting and to return on weekends after school starts. There is a riding stable next door, where the girl, Velvet, falls in love with a dangerous, abused mare. The stable houses an interesting cast of characters (besides the horses), one of whom is Pat, the manager, who gives Velvet riding lessons in exchange for work. Ginger is jealous of the real mother, Silvia; Silvia -- a Dominican immigrant and single mother -- afraid for her daughter's safety; and Paul, feeling neglected, falls into an affair with a graduate student; while Velvet's life is complicated by the onset of puberty and new feelings towards boys, as well as the hurtful shifts of girl alliances. Does Ginger really love Velvet? Is she helping or hurting the girl? Helping or hurting her marriage to Paul? Is Silvia an abusive parent? What is her relationship to her young son, and why does she seem to love him so much more than her daughter? Will Velvet be destroyed in a tug-of-war between Ginger and Silvia? In the violence of her city neighborhood? By taking too many chances with a dangerous horse? How will all these characters negotiate the difficulties in their lives? None of my either/or questions can be answered that easily, and no question about the story can be dismissed with a simple yes or no.

For whatever answers you can find to whatever questions this book asks you -- and for pure enjoyment -- read the book!

Reading Circle Report

This is a relentless post, isn’t it? Will it never end? Soon, but before it does I want to say a few words about Chaucer. Our reading circle met to discuss Canterbury Tales, and along the way we celebrated, for three different members of the circle, a retirement, a recovery from surgery, and a published short story. Cake and bubbly!

Published writer, Fearless Leader, bookseller, book and bubbly

Not everyone in the group read all the tales. I finished the last page of the book only an hour before our meeting and did not have time to finish my notes. I had to make the notes because it was so confusing (to me) trying to keep the names of the tales and their stories straight. “The Miller’s Tale,” for instance, is told by the miller, but the main character in it is a carpenter. In another tale, the Reeve, who used to be a carpenter, gets back at the miller by turning the tables and telling about a cheating miller who gets his comeuppance. That’s in “The Reeve’s Tale.” The first story in the collection is “The Knight’s Tale,” but many other tales also involves knights. Some of the tales are quite bawdy, others bawdy and scatalogical, others very serious and even downright boring.

Had Chaucer completed the story cycle he proposed, there would have been four tales from each character (two on the way to Canterbury and two on the return trip), and the Host would have chosen the one he deemed best, treating the teller to dinner. Since we never get all the tales, we don’t know which the Host would have chosen (although some he would not have chosen are obvious, when he interrupts to say the story-teller is boring the audience), so we can only choose our own favorites. The Knight and the Wife of Bath are two of the best known, but my two favorites are “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” and “The Franklin’s Tale.” The former is a beast tale, reminiscent of Aesop, with the moral that one should beware flatterers. In the latter, a knight and his lady love marry, agreeing that neither wants to dominate the other, and they overcome obstacles to end up still together, still happy. In neither of these tales is anyone murdered or cuckolded.

Yes, I like happy endings. Don’t need them every time, but once in a while they ring true -- and are a great relief.

New addition to bookstore wall

Monday, November 9, 2015

Different Pace and Content: Work at Home

November palette

Over the weekend I read through the latest Bookforum (disorientingly labeled the “December/January 2016” issue), reading that began between customers at my bookshop on Saturday and continued early Sunday morning, stopped for Sunday breakfast, and ended finally mid-morning on a sunny November day at home. I read parts of a couple pieces aloud to David after breakfast as we enjoyed a leisurely start to a day that would be largely consumed by home improvement work, but mostly I read quietly to myself, pen in hand.

One of the things I enjoy about reading Bookforum and the New York Review of Books is that they are not books, and therefore (this is the payoff) I can let myself underline with impunity, guiltlessly, compulsively, even with a sense of performing a serious readerly duty, in much the way I once marked up and made my own xeroxed copies of scholarly philosophy papers handed out by professors in graduate school. In those days, when the books were my own and not borrowed library copies, I even underlined and made marginal notes in bound philosophy texts because those texts, in those days, were my work. Casual reading was not an option: sharp focus was essential. Reading and forgetting would be time lost: I wanted to be able to relocate main lines of argument quickly, along with the writer’s points of support.

Old graduate school habits return when I read literary reviews in magazine form. What praise is the reviewer bestowing, and why? What is criticized, and how? What criticisms leveled by others does this reviewer mention and then either confirm or reject? Finally, in the end, has the reviewer convinced me to read the book – and with what particular words? Reviewer Leslie Jamison on Sunday gave me an eagerness to read Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare, an eagerness I had not felt when reading a couple other reviews elsewhere of the same book.

Bookforum and NYRB also contain whole pages of new release ads from various publishers. Pen in hand, I circle promising titles. That is part of my work these days, in the bookseller stage of my life.

This year’s October excitement for us at home was the long-awaited installation of seven new windows in our old farmhouse, along with removal and replacement of one wall’s old insulation and exterior siding. Now begins the do-it-ourselves phase: getting bedroom walls prepped and freshly painted. And so my Sunday – reading and underlining, big breakfast, then up and down ladders with rags and tools. Later, time outdoors with Sarah and a run to Northport to retrieve Chaucer and nip into the grocery store for more eggs so I could make stuffing for Sunday roast chicken. Tonight will be chicken pie.

How quickly November days reach an end! And long before they end, how sharply the temperature drops as the sun begins its afternoon drop in the west! First, “Already cold!” followed by “Already dark!”

It’s good to have plenty of books (and the promise of more), and it’s good to have stout, tight new windows, too, as days grow shorter and winter comes near. When the painting project is finished and the room put back together, walls a clean, calm, restful cocoa color, it will be good to have quiet mornings again, as I had last winter, with the fictional characters of my own creation. We were not together much over the summer, but perhaps I begin to see them more clearly for our time apart. Anyway, I’ve missed being with them.

I will, of course, be back at the bookstore tomorrow, Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sarah will be there, too.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

November in Northport

Looking toward Grand Traverse Bay on Saturday morning

What has come over me? That’s what I ask myself lately. I’m barely managing to put something new up this blog once a week. Foolishly, I also started another one, put up a single post, and haven’t done anything there since, either. My most widely read recent piece is one I tossed onto my odds-and-ends blog, “Lacking a Clear Focus,” putting a link to it on Facebook. But my primary blog, the one about books and the bookstore and Northport life? How can I neglect it so?

Maybe what’s coming over me is November. It isn’t that I’m not reading these days. I’m reading! Our intrepid little reading circle will meet to discuss Canterbury Tales on November 12, so most days find me spending time with Chaucer, and on my own I am at long last tackling Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, and I plan to write about both of those books in the near future. But right now, adjusting to November seems to be at the top of my To Do list.

Most of our bright autumn leaves have been swept away by the wind. Many of the orchards are still colorful, but elsewhere brown is becoming the season’s thematic color, reminding us that brown can be a rich, warm color, the perfect antidote to cold, biting winds. Below are a few of my attempts to photograph one of Northport’s most fabulous trees, the copper beech on the corner as you come down the hill and turn onto Waukazoo Street. 

The tree is so large and so spectacular that it is difficult to fit into a frame. Some of my more modest attempts, photographing only part of the tree, almost seem to capture the tree's personality better.

This is an almost book-free post, but it does give you a glimpse of what life Up North looks like these days.