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Saturday, April 30, 2016

It's Indie Bookstore Day

No balloons, no visiting authors, but Sarah and I will be on hand to greet you with a few little surprises, starting at 11 a.m. Come see us!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reading Alice Munro on a Blustery Day

Freshly turned soil drew gulls on Monday

Imagine you are home alone with a big tin full to the brim of Oreo cookies. I don’t know if Oreo cookies were ever available in tins, but imagine that they were, and that you have a tinful. You also have a supply of more grownup treats – maybe rice crackers and rolled anchovies or fresh avocadoes and slabs of good bakery rye bread. Whatever you love that gives you a feeling of sybaritic luxury. Something exotic to drink, too, like a bottle of Calvados, taken in small, languorous sips. But those Oreo cookies, too, don’t forget, and no one else in the house. Maybe the wind is from the east, as it was on Monday, a cold, blustery wind driving everyone indoors who had a choice in the matter. Driving you indoors to cozy down with your factory-made cookies and high-status alcohol and upper-class foodie treats. No, I didn't have all those: it just felt like it, reading this book. Alone with adolescent dreams and adult memories -- that’s the atmosphere created by the stories of Alice Munro in Lives of Girls and Women.

It isn’t necessary to have grown up in Ontario. The American Midwest will do, or the South. Why not the Great Plains? The East or West Coast, no, probably not. This is fiction from the interior of the continent, recollected dreams of anticipation, from places young people dream of escaping, although the majority never do.

*   *   *

This coming Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day, but I’d rather think of a week, or at least part of one – beginning, let’s say, on Wednesday, so make that Wednesday through Saturday, this week. Come in any of those days, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and find new titles waiting for you, along with a number of newly arrived used books, some shelved with their subject companions, others – temporarily -- in the “Newly Arrived” section, simplifying browsing for frequent visitors. At Dog Ears Books, every day is potluck and a treasure hunt, to boot.

And now, meanwhile, and à propos of none of the foregoing, if you’re looking for a good movie, I recommend “Bridge of Spies,” starring Tom Hanks. Hanks plays Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer asked to defend a Soviet spy because the Americans want to show that in the U.S., even a spy is allowed a defense in a court of law. (The Fifties were more than Ozzie and Harriet: they were also the Cold War.) The arrangement is more for show than anything else, but Donovan takes it seriously. That's the first complication. Meanwhile, the C.I.A. has hand-picked a group of pilots to fly the new U-2 planes and take photographs of Soviet ground installations. Also, Donovan's kids are shown a movie of the atom bomb in school. They learn about the kind of destruction of brings and get taught the "Duck and cover" routine. (The son, like Jim, takes things seriously: he comes home and fills the bathtub with water, telling his dad there wouldn't be time to do it if they were caught unprepared.) Donovan attracts public hatred for defending the spy, and his wife and children become targets. Then Gary Powers is shot down (and, coincidentally and close in time, a young university student gets caught on the wrong side of the new wall in Berlin), and Donovan is asked to go secretly to East Berlin – not even his family is to know he’s gone, and he has no official government role or protection -- to negotiate with the Soviets for a trade, Abel (the Soviet spy) for Powers. Period details are beautifully done, as is every other aspect of the film, but it's the character of Jim Donovan that carries the story.

And for Paris dreaming, here at last is a new offering on my kitchen blog.

I am not working outdoors today!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Is Overkill Even Possible?

Spring maples

Everywhere, flowers! High above the ground, the first, faintest blush of red flowers shows in maple tree crowns, challenging notions of where blossoms belong. In this season of burgeoning abundance, I have taken another crazy leap and started a new blog. I plan to be more faithful to it than I have been to my kitchen musings or the abandoned sketches and drawings, however, because this is another blog related to my bookstore.

And because, here’s the thing. The blog you’re reading, Books in Northport, has never been a one-subject forum. As you know, I wander from bookstore and book reviews into philosophy or gardening or local politics or world economics, and I don’t apologize for doing so. Walks in the woods and laundry on the line are as much part of my life as is my bookstore. But now, with the sad demise of Partners Book Distributing, all of us with independent bookstores are going to have to work a lot harder to bring books to our customers’ attention that might otherwise have a hard time finding local readers.

Therefore, Northport Bookstore News! That’s the place where you’ll see just the books, ma’am, just the books. No long essays or diatribes or meanderings far from the bookstore door. No, just -- here’s a new book, and here’s why you should consider buying it. That will be the focus. Books at a glance, as it were.

My first post on Northport Bookstore News features a new regional book. Go check it out! Since it is regional authors and publishers, along with us booksellers, who will most feel the absence of Partners, my new blog is partly an effort to compensate for our mutual loss. Not all titles featured there, however, will be of local or regional interest, and I probably will not stick strictly to new books, either. All I’m promising is to focus on books and not be excessively wordy.

There is a gadget on this blog, up there on the right column, called “Subscribe by e-mail,” and I’ve added that gadget to the new blog, also. If you’re not a subscriber here already, consider subscribing. On the other hand, if you want “just the books, ma’am,” subscribe to the new blog. And, naturally, it won’t hurt my feelings if people choose to subscribe to both.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Looking for That Thin Line

Showing you my daffodils

The intrepid Ulysses Reading Circle met last night to discuss Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. I don’t intend to give a full report on our discussion (some of what is said in Reading Circle stays in Reading Circle), but the book got me thinking again about something I raised in our conversation, addressing myself primarily to the two fiction writers in the group. It’s this business of “Show, don’t tell” that writers hear all the time these days. (They are told. Is that ironic?) Sherwood Anderson, I noted, did quite a lot of telling. His characters were often silent types, either unable or unwilling to express themselves to others in their little town, even to their own spouses. (Marriage in Winesburg was more inevitable than desired.) The writers agreed, and I guess we chalked it up to the time, this novel or group of stories – whatever one decides to call it – being now almost 100 years old.

This morning I remarked to David that “Show, don’t tell” these days has almost the force of law in writing advice. Certainly it is an article of belief, a dogma of fiction instruction. Does this mean fiction before our time somehow fell short? Was it in an earlier, lesser stage of literary evolution? Or is today’s dogma simply current fashion, possibly “tomorrow’s outworn myth”?

David made an interesting point. If we see fiction as coming out of story-telling, he said, why would we denigrate it for telling? A story-tellers tells a story, he said, adding, “It’s not a movie!”

I’ve pondered this question before. Like so many of life’s fascinating questions, though, it has a way of coming around to nag me again and again.

Here’s one of the first sites (following a Wikipedia entry) that turned up in my search today. It’s a copyrighted site, and I’m reluctant to quote from it, partly because of the copyright and partly because I’m not crazy about the “evocative description” he uses as a substitute for flat telling. For me, the description is full of trite adjectives. And anyway, isn’t the writer telling the reader what the woman looks like, rather than, as in the rejected sentence, just telling the reader she’s old -- so that the former, more descriptive telling is not called telling, but showing?

Another site offering the same lesson and advice on avoiding the pitfall urges the addition of detail. So is showing just telling more? Caution is urged, relevance of detail stressed....

I keep scratching, and the itch doesn’t go away.

Then I come upon a site where a writer calls “Show, don’t tell” “the Great Lie of Writing Workshops,” and I can’t wait to read it! Joshua Henkin makes the same point David made, i.e., that stories are not movies and can do things movies cannot --
most important, novels can describe internal psychological states, whereas movies can only suggest them through dialogue and gesture (and through the almost always contrived-seeming voiceover, which is itself a borrowing from fiction). To put it more succinctly, fiction can give us thought: It can tell. And where would Proust be if he couldn’t tell? Or Woolf, or Fitzgerald? Or William Trevor or Alice Munro or George Saunders or Lorrie Moore?
Henkin blames lazy instructors’ and lazy students’ reliance on the “Show, don’t tell” dictum for a lot of bad fiction writing, the kind full of pointless description that does nothing to reveal character or advance plot. I really, really recommend going to the Writer’s Digest site (so I’m giving the link here a second time) to read what Henkin has to say. And then you might want to go back and read again the supposedly improved versions on other sites advocating what they call “showing.”

Read like a writer. Write like a reader. That’s my very vague and unspecific advice.

How do you see the telling/showing question?

Showing chionodoxa

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tolerance and Its Opposite Number

There is often worldwide unease when centuries turn. Certainly such was the case in Europe as the fifteenth century transitioned to the sixteenth. The showdown deciding that era's conflict was dramatized in history in the persons of two very different kinds of Roman Catholic clerics, Erasmus of Rotterdam and Martin Luther. Both men saw abuses in the Church crying out to be corrected, but their personalities and their ways of addressing conflict could not have been more different. 

Erasmus, ever the humanist and conciliator, hoped for reform from within the Church. In truth, he did not interest himself overmuch with theology – certainly not with dogma – and his definition of “Christian” had more to do with a way of life than a set of beliefs. “He alone does honour to the saints who imitates their virtues,” wrote Erasmus. To be Christian, he felt, was to live as Jesus lived. “The quintessence of our religion is peace and unanimity.” Moreover, “Wherever you encounter truth, look upon it as Christianity.”

As someone raised Lutheran, I was shocked to read about the historical founder. I have long disagreed with Luther’s complete dismissal of good works, the dogma of “salvation by grace alone,” but I had no idea – we were never taught in confirmation class – that Luther believed in predestination. No wonder he put no faith (if I may so phrase it) in good works! Theology aside, I was repelled by Luther’s unprincipled pragmatism, as I found it in this book. (I am a pragmatist myself, a romantic pragmatist, but for me pragmatism does not – cannot -- demand the rejection of principles.) Here is Luther, in his own words, telling what we might expect of him in a presidential campaign and what the people of Germany did get from him in his struggle against the Church and against mild-mannered, truth-loving Erasmus: “If you want to better humanity and reform the Church, you cannot afford to fight shy of a good, thumping lie.” Lies in the service of reform. How Socratic!

I have taken these quotes from Erasmus and Luther from Erasmus of Rotterdam, by Stefan Zweig. If you’ve ever wondered how the Enlightenment was pushed offstage by the Reformation, this little book makes a clear case.

Erasmus, the tolerant peacemaker and lover of truth, had no stomach for battle. He wanted only to be left alone with his books. Twice, first at the Diet of Worms, later at the Diet of Augsburg, he stayed away, leaving the field open to Martin Luther and his revolutionary followers. Had Erasmus gone to Augsburg, Zweig believes, reformation might have begun within the Church. There were those on both sides prepared to give ground. But Erasmus did not appear, and Luther’s bombast carried the day. In fact, according to Zweig, Luther by that time had had second thoughts but had lost control of his troops.

Thus inflammatory rhetoric carried the day, and the humanistic idea of the unity of mankind gave way to newly resurgent nationalism and the power politics laid out by Machiavelli in Il Principe. Zweig saw parallels between Europe in the time of Erasmus and Martin Luther and Europe in the 1930s.

Where are we headed now? Are we ever going to be ready to give peace a chance?

It occurs to me that I should say that I don't intend to characterize modern Lutherans as being in the mold of Martin Luther, either in character or in all aspects of his theology. Pace!

Friday, April 15, 2016

To the Powers That Be

Dog Ears Books, July 1993

April 15, 2016

Dear Village Trustees:

My business started out in Northport, on Waukazoo Street, back in 1993, so I have had a lot of experience with summer tourists. Some now make the trip to Northport specifically to visit my bookstore, while others driving up the peninsula are surprised to come upon it unexpectedly. 

First-time visitors have a lot of questions, but the Top Three Questions -- of all time -- are the following, which I hear on a daily basis all summer:

At all times of the day:
Where is the nearest public restroom? (It's surprising that no one yet has invented a bathroom app for smart phones. People still seek out physical facilities.)

Early in the day:
How far is it to the lighthouse, and how do we get there?

Later in the day:
Is there a restaurant where we can have dinner and look out on the water?

That’s what tourists want. I have never heard a tourist complain about traffic or parking or absence of benches or even our admittedly ugly streetlights (which I have always yearned to see replaced with more attractive lights). Visitors love our parks. They love our marina. They love, as we all do, our summer farm market and the welcoming friendliness and peacefulness of our town.

As for comparing Northport to Suttons Bay:

Suttons Bay has always been a much larger town and has always been ten miles closer to Traverse City. Thus Suttons Bay has become in large part a bedroom  community for people who work in Traverse City. Traverse City is also where most of the overnight tourist accommodations have always been, so it has that edge over Northport. But moving Northport closer to Traverse City is probably not feasible, and some of us, whether natives or transplants, like where we are. We chose life in the slow lane.

Yes, there are more restaurants and shops in Suttons Bay, but anyone who thinks Northport should be more like Suttons Bay needs to think about how many new shops and galleries and restaurants opened and closed in Suttons Bay in the last 20 years. Those of us in business keep an eye on that kind of thing. It's easy to have a dream, harder to take a flyer on it, but the real work comes in the long haul and requires sacrifices not everyone is prepared to make -- or, if they have families to raise, sacrifices not everyone can afford to make. Even in Traverse City, exorbitant rents and seasonal traffic have done in many a dreamer. 

Northern Michigan business is seasonal and will remain so as long as we have winter -- and not only because we depend so much on tourists. A large segment of our "permanent" population goes away in winter. More and more former single-family homes converted to seasonal summer rentals only exacerbate the pattern.

You want to improve Northport’s looks? 

o    Keep it simple. 

o    Don't do what doesn't need to be done. 

o    Don't try to make Northport look like somewhere else.

Because cosmetic improvements will not change underlying reality. Because wishes are not horses. And do you really think Northport at present is unattractive? I don’t see that at all.


Pamela Grath
Dog Ears Books
106 Waukazoo Street
P.O. Box 272
Northport, MI  49670
(231) 386-7209

Dog Ears Books, April 2016

Thursday, April 14, 2016

One Day Too Late!

Ed came on Wednesday and chalked an Anaïs Nin poem on the sidewalk by the bookstore door. In honor of National Poetry Month, our little township library was hosting an “Open Mic” night on Wednesday. I could restrain myself here and not go into how the shortened name for microphone was ‘mike’ when I was young, spelled the way it sounds, and how ‘mic’ looks like ‘mick’ to me, but you see how far my self-restraint goes. The spelling, of course, does not affect the quality of such an event, and it is to the credit of our librarians and Friends of the Library that they plan so well.

When time came to close the bookstore for the day, we had some visitors so did not rush away. And I had to walk over to the grocery store. Then on the way home it was only fair that Sarah should have time to run, after hours in the shop. And when we get home, it falls to me to get dinner on the table. So after dinner, I let David go back to Northport alone for the poetry evening (which he said was very nice and well attended) while I lazed in the evening sun, reading short stories.

On Thursday the FedEx man came to Dog Ears Books. I see Dan, the UPS man, on a regular basis but Jerry, the FedEx man, not so often. What was he bringing me? It was a book of poetry from Dolan & Associates, publishers in Colorado Springs. The book was titled Where Do Things Go? The poet was – still is – Marcy Heidish.

I opened the book at random and found a poem called “The Bakery,” and I thought, How Northport! I flipped a couple pages back and found one called “Once Upon a Time,” written about the magic of bookstores. Suddenly I wanted to turn back the clock! I wanted it to be Wednesday again, so I could take this book to the library and stand up at the microphone and read to the local audience about places and experiences familiar and important to them. A lost opportunity!

Well, the book comes a day late for me to read from it at the library, but it is still appropriate for National Poetry Month, so I’ll be putting a couple copies on my book order next week. (“Mud Time” and “Spring” are poems I intend to read as soon as I finish posting this little vignette and return to printed pages.) I’ll only take another minute now to note that my Wayne State University Press order arrived today, which means I have available copies of Seasonal Roads, besides the ones reserved for early bird customers.

The magic of packages!

The magic of books!


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I Wish It Were Every Day and Every Week and Every Month

April is Poetry Month. Have you read your poem today? One of the Friends of the Leelanau Township Library, Ed Lefson, came around and, with my enthusiastic permission and support, chalked one on the sidewalk by the bookstore door. He was glad the snow had cleared off and that we have sunshine instead of rain but told me he had learned many lessons already about chalk on sidewalks. One has to do with colors. We observed his first transcription of “Risk,” by Anais Nin, and realized that the paler color of chalk made a stronger contrast against the cement and showed up better than the brighter color, so he came back and outlined the first letters in the second color.

This has been National Library Week, and local librarians and their Friends have been pulling out all the stops. I should have taken pictures in Leland, where cookies and other snacks greeted morning patrons. In Northport, the Leelanau Township Library began planning weeks in advance for their poetry month.

Saturday, April 30, will be the second annual Independent Bookstore Day. Dog Ears Books will definitely have books of poetry available, as we always do. We are also featuring the two last Jim Harrison books, Dead Man’s Float (poems) and The Ancient Minstrel (three novellas); the new book of Michigan-inspired fiction by L.E. Kimball, Seasonal Roads; and a selection of new titles your Northport bookseller thought worthy of attention.

You don’t have to wait until April 30 to come visit and shop our new book titles, and you’ll also want to check out our newly arrived used books section, too (see below). 

I wish every day were bookstore day, every week library week, and every month poetry month. Why not?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Last Time a Shock

First times are marked in the moment and often memorialized in snapshots. A first haircut, first bicycle, first date, first job, first car. Many are landmarks in life's landscape -- for me, my first garden, Traverse City, 1970; first bookstore, Northport, 1993 (and a score of more personal dates).

It is often only in retrospect that we recognize a last time. The last trip to the U.P. in the old truck. A last trip on a favorite country road, lined the next time with subdivisions, shopping centers, and mini-malls. The last letter from a friend before receiving news of her death or a last evening spent with other old friends, gone too soon.

(When something or someone is a treasured part of one’s life and memories, the last time always comes too soon.)

I began ordering new books from Partners Book Distributing, down in Holt, Michigan, in the late 1990s. Until then, I had bought and sold only used books, but every summer there was heavy demand for nature field guides – more than I could supply with used versions, or maybe I didn’t have the specific guide a customer wanted -- and finally it occurred to me to remedy the situation in the only sensible manner. Partners was the distributor of new books for the Great Lakes region. They were not tiny -- but neither were they a global, engulf-and-devour presence in the world. When you called, real human beings answered the phone. It was always a pleasure. It wasn’t long before I was inspired to order a few children’s books with Michigan themes. Then fiction and poetry and memoirs....

Some people don’t believe in middlemen, but I do. Without book distributors, a bookstore would have to maintain separate accounts for every publisher, large and small, and every self-published author whose books were worth stocking. Say I want to order only one or two copies of a book. Will the publisher extend a discount for a single book? Ha! The sad truth is that without distributors, there are many books a bookstore cannot stock. And books need visibility! Placing an order with a distributor makes it possible for me to order as many or as few of each title as I need, flexibility which is absolutely critical for small operations like mine.

Independent bookstores. Small regional publishers. New authors without name recognition. All of us depend on book distributors, and in the Great Lakes Region (with a second division in the West), Partners was the gold standard.

On March 30, UPS delivered a box to Dog Ears Books from Partners. I opened it eagerly, happily, as if it were a Christmas present, even though I knew what I had ordered. (Opening a box of books is always exciting.) I could not see into the future, close as it was.

Two days later, on Friday, April first, there was a strange message in my e-mail from someone with my larger, national distributor, assuring me that they would try to supply as many as possible of the titles Partners “had carried,” though they would be unable to pick up each and every one. Had? What could that mean? What was going on?

I called Partners and asked for my favorite salesman. “Is this an April fool’s joke?” I asked. Sadly, he told me it was not. That very day was the last day of business for Partners, and the box I had received on Wednesday was the last I would ever have from them.

Stunned, I called a friend with a new small publishing house. He was in shock, too. And we were not alone. A self-published children’s book author who had been thrilled to have Partners agree to carry her book knew nothing of the closing until she heard it from me. Now she’s completely at sea. Regional authors, publishers, and bookstore owners were all blindsided and devastated. None of us knows yet quite how far-reaching will be the effects, but we know they’ll be significant, and we can’t believe they will be good for any of us.

I don’t clear out my inbox as often or as thoroughly as perhaps I should (I am not the world’s most efficient business person -- and too bad about that, but I am what I am), so I looked and found “Ye Olde Partners Page” from March 24. Here’s one line from that page:
Tune in next week for the quixotic conclusion of Great Lakes Alien Lawman!   
Only, as it turned out, there was no “next week."

I never imagined that these old friends, these valued partners in my book world, would ride off into the sunset before I did. What will the sales and warehouse staff do now? And what will the rest of us do without them?

I feel like raging against this "Good-night." 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Fat Cats and Very Skinny, Very Hungry Mice

Economic disruption is nothing new, as anyone who thinks about it for two minutes must realize, but how far back in history would you look for the first displacement of workers? Douglas Rushkoff, in Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity, sees the beginning of the corporate model, still dominant today’s digital economy, occurring in the late Middle Ages -- not long after a few clever peasants (mice, in my scenario) had managed to escape the thumb of the aristocrats.

Prior to the rise of trade guilds, the aristocracy held all the cards. With the guilds, a previously nonexistent merchant class began to emerge. Europeans returning from the Crusades brought back the notion of the bazaar, and European economic expansion took off.

“The problem,” Rushkoff writes, “was that while the merchant class was gaining wealth, the aristocracy was losing it.” Naturally, the aristocracy was not thrilled with this turn of events, and since they were still the ones making laws, they had the power to reconfigure the emergent economy. Demanding taxes and official charters, breaking up guilds (think “unions” today), and outlawing of local currencies by mandating that only the “coin of the realm,” issued by the king, was legitimate, the aristocracy soon had craftsmen selling their labor rather than their products.
What we now call industrialization was actually an extension of the aristocracy’s effort to usurp the growth it witnessed in the peasants’ marketplace and to imitate it by other means.
With mass production came cheap goods – nominally “cheap,” anyway, because many costs, then as now, were hidden or externalized. “Prices may be low, but the costs are high,” Rushkoff writes. Then, for some reason obscure to me, he puts the following key sentence in parentheses:
(The government pays for wars to procure cheap oil and roads to convey mass-produced products, while we all pay for the environmental stresses caused by corporate agriculture, and so on.)
His primary historical thesis is that the digital revolution has only speeded up a sequence of events repeated many times throughout the course of history: independent artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs find ingenious ways to escape what we in the Sixties called “the System,” only to have the System evolve new ways to ensnare labor or eliminate the need for workers altogether so fat cats can take the lion’s share of profits. Industrial robotics? Just the latest wave.

Responsibility of corporate CEOs is only to shareholders, not to you, the employee, or you, the member of a community. Not only industry but even education has been transformed by burden-shifting. And as for the immigration “problem,” it isn’t so much families illegally entering the U.S. from Mexico but business gaming of guestworker regulations that should be worrying Americans. Read about that, if you please.

These days musicians and writers are expected to give their work away 24/7 for the “exposure,” Uber drivers (many of them unemployed workers driving fulltime) find themselves making less than minimum wage after expenses, and at-home keyboard pokers for the online behemoth earn less than two dollars an hour.
...When Arianna Huffington went on to sell [her] entire enterprise to AOL for $315 million, she did not cut her nine thousand unpaid writers in on the winnings. It was as if receiving exposure on the Web site’s pages, we were already the beneficiaries of Arianna’s largesse.
“Re-invent yourself! Brand yourself!” the laid-off worker is told in hearty, encouraging tones by life coaches paid to promote positive thinking. Meanwhile, firms that manage retirement funds take bites out of the savings of others at every turn, that savings often shrinking rather than growing, while 70% of the savers don’t even know they are being charged fees.

So it’s an old story, repeated down through the ages -- but now that there are no new continents left to exploit, according to Rushkoff, the system has begun to cannibalize itself, and that’s why in the digital/investment world the best way to make a killing is not to make anything. The dream now is to have an idea, attract investors, and then turn around and sell for a fortune. Those of us who still work for a living and believe in the value of work are the chumps, as in “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

Could the world be different? Amazingly, the author believes the answer is yes. Money, he points out, is a system created by human beings, so there’s no reason they can’t modify the system or create substitutes. He gives detailed examples, but I’m not getting into that. I’ve tried to distill only enough of the story to convince you that this book is worth reading.

What do you think?

*  *  *

Oddly, perhaps, I feel less alone seeing my life and those of my cohort in historical perspective, and I feel proud of those of us who do an honest day's work. Am I crazy? We’re not raking in the dough, maybe barely hanging on, but we’re keeping the faith, and I would be ashamed to acquire wealth, as my artist husband puts it, by “kneeling on the backs of the oppressed.” 

A few years ago I was approached by a financial scam artist who opened his spiel by saying that perhaps I’d noticed he wasn’t working any more – and that was because, he boasted, he longer had to work. He’d gotten in on this terrific Ponzi scheme – oops! He didn’t call it that, of course. “Financial opportunity,” I believe, was the phrase he used. Still, he was not a very smooth operator, in general, putting his foot fully into his mouth to assure me that he didn’t expect me to have money for the scheme (true, but gratuitously insulting). He just thought I could give him the names and telephone numbers of some of my “rich friends.”

What kind of friend did he take me for? Drive my friends like lambs to the slaughter? I hope it goes without saying that I declined to be involved in any way, shape or form.

Only later, à l’escalier, as it were, did it occur to me what I should have said when he told me he was no longer working because he “didn’t have to.” This is it:

I’m still working. I feel I have something to contribute to society.

Anyway, read the book. No kidding, it’s a page-turner. I’d love to see the National Writers Series bring Rushkoff to Traverse City. Anyone else feel the same way?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Reading Relative Shares

Deborah and Sarah, I.

I’ve known her for her entire life and most of my own. My parents are the only people on earth who have known her longer, and not by much. When I was two months shy of three years old, Deborah came home from the hospital in our mother’s arms, and I was told to sit in the big living room chair (the daddy chair), a pillow from our parents’ bed laid across my lap. The new baby was placed on the pillow so I could “hold” her. Years later, when that same sister brought her firstborn home from the hospital and I looked down at that boy’s little face, I flashed back to the arrival of my sister into my life.

Deborah and Sarah, II.
My sister came up for a visit this past week. It’s April, and we had warm weather in march, so she thought she would be helping me prepare the garden bed and clearing the yard of winter-fallen branches and in my ongoing popple removal efforts. Instead of rake and pruners, she found herself wielding a snow shovel. Snow, snow, and more snow! Also taking her spoiled furry niece for lots of extra walks. Relieved of yard work, we got Sarah to the groomer on Monday and spent Tuesday wandering back roads, enjoying the scenery

Not exactly wading weather!
I’ve said more than once in this forum that we are a family of readers, so it should be no surprise that my sister and I, besides spending time in my bookstore, also visited the local library and sat around the house reading quite a bit, too. (We also cooked together.) So this morning, as I was taking a break from working on the next review for Books in Northport, it occurred to me that interviewing my sister for the blog might be a nice change of pace for all of us. 

Here it is! I'm the black font, and Deborah is the blue.


What is that book you just opened?

Dick Francis. Under Orders. Love Dick Francis! Horses! You know, he was a jockey.

What else have you been reading this week while visiting Leelanau County?

Let’s see. Remember, the Walter Mosley book that I’m almost done with at your house. Cookbooks! I’ve been reading cookbooks, and I have all kinds of plans now to go home and try new appetizers and side dishes and main courses and desserts. I also bought that Jim Harrison book. I’ve already read Even in Darkness [book by Barbara Stark-Nemon that was recently named Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal winner for European Fiction] but loaned it to a friend, and I wish she would give it back so I could read it again.

Didn’t you also read a mystery involving food?

Oh, exactly! The author’s last name is Fluke. She writes mystery stories and includes recipes in the books.

Have you ever made any of the recipes?

Oh, yes! I make her recipes. The book I just finished was Plum Pudding Murder. They’re very light, very easy reading.

I’ve never read Walter Mosley before, and I really like him.

Who’s the main character in the one you’re reading?

It’s actually a volume containing three different books. Gone Fishin’ is one of them....

[Later clarification: Deborah was reading two different books. Upstairs, her bedtime reading was Mosley's Gone Fishin' and downstairs, when we were reading together at the table, she was making her way delightfully through Three Short Novels by Wendell Berry. We cleared that up when we got home.]

Oh, I love that one! But Walter Mosley is very different from Joanne Fluke, right?

Oh, absolutely! Yes! I would say I have eclectic reading tastes, though I’m pretty much a fiction reader. I always think I’m not as intellectual as you and Bettie, and Matt [her older son, the one who looked so much like her when he was a baby] is more like you, I think.

But I can read some frothy stuff, too. Jane Austen knock-offs, for example.

Oh, of course. Yes. But I think when you read that kind of stuff, it’s because you have a bookstore, and you have to read it.

Not really. I enjoy light reading like anyone else.

-- Oh, and I’ve been re-reading parts of Prairie Evers and The Education of Ivy Blake [by Ellen Airgood]. I love those books! I just think they’re marvelous.

Do you know what Matt’s reading these days?

No, I don’t. I wish I did.

We’ll have to ask him....

I’ll send Bob [her partner] a text and find out what he’s reading these days. He’s in a book club, of course....

And what kind of books do they read? Serious stuff, right?

They do. ...Right now they’re reading Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams.

They must have good discussions.

They really do. Two of them are M.D.s, one is a Ph.D. Two are very serious Christians, the other two don’t go to church any more.


And then I lost her. She was back in her book but looked up with a laugh and a smile to say,

Oven Cleaner! That’s a good name for a racehorse!

Deborah and Sarah, III.

Note: We have a third sister and look forward to another visit -- in warmer weather -- to include Bettie and our mother. As you may recall, they are readers, too.