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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Report from the Tweet Front

Awaiting the big news --
Today’s report is from Saturday, June 25, the first-ever Dog Ears Book tweet fest. Will there be another? I suppose it could happen, but it would be hard to top yesterday’s for thrills.

Logging on....

The tweeting occasion took place far from Northport, down in Orlando, Florida, at the national convention of the American Library Association. ForeWord Reviews was there to announce their 2016 Indiefab awards, and Even in Darkness, the novel by Barbara Stark-Nemon of Ann Arbor and Northport, was a nominee in a couple of categories. ForeWord would be tweeting from Orlando, Barbara would receive the tweets and Facebook announcements, and so she proposed re-tweeting results from her favorite bookstore, as a few other nominees around the country were also doing. Being Barbara, she not only brought laptop, iPad, and iPhone but also what my fellow blogger Gerry Sell calls “excellent treats.” My technological role was limited to sharing a Facebook post Barbara tagged me in. I could handle that.

We didn’t have a big crowd, but the moment Barbara logged on and saw her award – right away, no waiting! – she read it aloud, and she, Clare, and I screamed in delight. You should have been here. I’m sorry you missed it. Barbara won the Gold (first prize) in literary fiction, and Bronze (third) in historical fiction! Over the top excitement! 
Sharing the excitement
Our giddy delirium lasted quite a while, and several browsers who wandered in caught the fever and bought copies of Even in Darkness to take home. Then when the decks cleared, Barbara and I went down to Northport Brewing to relax and chat at an outdoor table with a couple of cold pints. That was a first for me, too. Finally!

Relaxing, enjoying....

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tweeting? From Dog Ears???

Still making news!
Can you imagine tweets coming from Dog Ears? If it’s ever happened before, the activity was surreptitious, and I was not involved. I won't be the one doing the actual tweeting this time, either, but it will occur in my bookstore, with my blessing.
The instigator is -- and tweeter will be -- Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of Even in Darkness. And the reason is that Barbara’s book is up for a 2016 INDIEFAB book award from ForeWord Reviews, and ForeWord will be tweeting live (and posting on Facebook) on Saturday from the American Library Association’s national convention in Orlando. Make sense now?

Our “live” show will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday. This is the first such event hosted by Dog Ears Books. Call it a historic occasion. And if you want to be part of the excitement, come join us!

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Unrelated to Saturday's planned event (except insofar as this other item is also related to books), this morning I finished reading The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story, by Susan Hill, a former library copy that turned up in some random box a few days ago. Opening to the first page, I was immediately taken by the illustrations and probably began to read the book for the sake of the pictures. John Lawrence, the illustrator, was not a name I recognized, and there was no further information about him on the dust jacket. The publisher, however, was David R. Godine of Boston, one of my all-time favorites. That explained a lot. Trust David R. Godine to come up with the perfect illustrator for a story! From now on, I'll be looking for John Lawrence's name, as well as Godine's. The book really was charming. And yes, there was a dog in the story.

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Finally, today is St. John's Eve, and the St. Johnswort has started blooming, but my golden yellow wildflower closing today's post is coreopsis. Aren't they simply glorious?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I Fall Down a Rabbit Hole

My title is a phrase used by friend, fellow blogger, and intrepid historical researcher Gerry Sell, over in Antrim County. It’s what Gerry says about the way she’ll start out looking for a certain piece of information and much later find she has pursued a long series of connecting facts that led far from her original question. Curiouser and curiouser, we book people and our unplanned quests! It isn’t distraction. It’s serendipity.

And so it was with me on a quiet afternoon in my bookshop when most vacationers were out enjoying sun, wind, and water. The hunt began innocently enough in the familiar and leisurely task of rearranging books on shelves, and then I couldn’t help sitting down with one large format, staple-bound item, Currents of the Boardman, since it was compiled by the Boardman River Historical Committee under the chairmanship of Martin Melkild, whom I was privileged to know for several years prior before he died. 

Falling, falling, falling into the past – I am lost in the days of one-room schools and boarding houses, train fares of two-and-a-half cents a mile, an old Swede who kept chickens and bought a bull “yust ta pet.” Then in Chapter VIII, “Those Good Old Fishing Days,” by Gordon Charles, in an account of the Traverse City Fly Club, appears an entry quoted from “The Shack Diary” by shack guests Harold Oswald Titus (1999-1967) and Beth Vladimir Titus. Charles notes that Titus “was one of Michigan’s earliest conservation writers,” and I jump up to pull a couple old novels from my Michigan shelves.

Yes, indeed! There he is! Bruce of the Circle A (1918), a Western, is set in Arizona, but the story of a later novel, Spindrift (1925), takes place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, when a young sailing captain finds himself charged with murder. Carl Garrison is innocent but goes to prison, escaping after three years – and that’s about all I can tell today, because I left him, still on the run, to write this post. Oh, one other thing – at the end of Chapter VI of Spindrift, the protagonist in flight has taken responsibility for an injured dog. Lynne Rae Perkins, in her latest book, Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, observes that “every picture can be better with a dog in it,” and what’s true for pictures is certainly true for stories....

I suppose it isn’t surprising that Harold Titus would write the Western, as well as books set in Michigan. After all, he was of the same generation as James B. Hendryx (1880-1963), another Michigan novelist and outdoorsman, who wrote Westerns as well as what I call “Northerns.” Westerns were to that time in American popular literature what spy novels are today. But to my mind, there's nothing like an Up North story.

The village of Fairport strings along the shore of the Garden Peninsula just before that land reaches its extremity in Point Detour, on one side of which rolls Lake Michigan and on the other Green Bay. There are perhaps a score of houses under the balsams, scattered along half a mile of shore line, and in front of the cedars which fringe the beach itself rest the weather-beaten net houses and docks of the fishing rigs. 
 Under those cedars on fair summer evenings the village gathers.... 
 - Harold Titus, Spindrift

Friday, June 17, 2016

Exciting Week in So Many Ways

With so many different avenues of excitement, it’s hard to know where to start, but a picture of Sarah is a good introduction to almost any story, so there she is, above, soaking up attention from her aunt and grandma, i.e., my sister Deborah and mother Nora, who came to visit from Illinois Sunday through Friday. Sarah gets two-three times as many walks when Aunt Deborah, a dog person without a dog of her own at this time of life, is on the scene.

We had many quiet, peaceful suppers on the front porch and also a few breakfasts out and one restaurant dinner. My mother’s Thursday dinner was the fanciest, while fanciest breakfast on Friday was Deborah’s.

Way before last weekend began, I came to the bookstore one morning to find a bouquet of enormous peonies on my doorstep. Now it’s Friday, a week later, and the are still gorgeous. What a treat! At home, I have only one peony bud beginning to open, so the magnificent Japanese-appearing blooms were (and still are) very exciting. They also have a beautiful natural perfume.

It’s been an exciting week for selling Kathleen Stocking’s newest book, The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale, and Jim DuFresne’s The Trails of M-22, my two current bestsellers. Then on Thursday came delivery of the latest Lynne Rae Perkins, Frank and Lucky Get Schooled. “Is it like Christmas?” the UPS man asked when he brought in the boxes. Every day in a bookstore is like Christmas!

Then toward the end of Thursday afternoon, Kathleen Stocking herself made a surprise visit, and I had a chance to introduce my mother and sister to her before she and I got into a deep shop talk conversation. Unfortunately, thanks to the shop talk, I didn’t think of taking my relatives’ picture with the author until after she had left! Kicked myself for missing that opportunity.

July is going to be a busy, busy month, with four authors on the bookstore calendar. See the list in the right-hand column for dates and times. Latest addition to the lineup is Kelly Fordon, whose “novel-in-letters,” Garden for the Blind, was chosen as a 2016 Michigan Notable Book, was a finalist for the Midwest Book Award, the IPPY Award, Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Award and the Eric Hoffer Award. In addition it received an honorable mention at the New York Book Festival. My northern Michigan writer friends will definitely not want to miss Kelly’s book or her appearance in Northport -- or any other of my special visiting authors and their wonderful books.

Constant companion -- she would read if she could!

Friday, June 10, 2016


Quiet moment, Lake Leelanau Narrows

The hard thing about living anywhere, I decide, and traveling in general, is that one can never live long enough or see enough of the world to fully understand the long arc of the universe and make any sense of it. Little bits are all we get, and it’s never enough to see the big picture. 
 - Kathleen Stocking, The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale (2016)
Kathleen Stocking’s written arc soared high in 1990, with the publication of her first book of essays, Letters from the Leelanau. That book, published by the University of Michigan Press, was reviewed in the New York Times under a headline reading, “Notes From a More Real World.” Interesting, no?

Is Leelanau County more real than New York City? Was it then?

What reviewer Peter Leschak actually had in mind was the way Stocking gave her readers so much more than just stories of the “vivid lives of ... rural folk.” He was saluting the way the author connected the lives in her essays (in portraits he called “touching,” “authentic,” and “sometimes quirky”) to the rest of the world, to history and to human and cultural evolution. He called her a “seer.” Poet Jim Harrison said then, of Stocking’s writing on the Leelanau peninsula and its inhabitants, “I don’t think anyone does it better.”

Three years later the University of Michigan Press published Stocking’s Lake Country (1994), new essays that took readers from the U.P. in the north of the state to Ann Arbor in the southeast corner (where the author attended her daughter’s graduation, having skipped her own in the Sixties). Here is a sentence I love from the preface to Lake Country:
Michigan is a state where it seems one can travel almost indefinitely and never come to the end of the journey.
Stocking also wrote in that preface that she needed in her second book to get beyond the Leelanau peninsula, “to understand herself in relation to something larger....”  A series of travels throughout Michigan gave her that larger context.

Village corner

The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale (2016), Stocking’s third collection of essays, completing her nonfiction trilogy, again combines memoir with travel, history, and social commentary. Again the author starts out from the small northern village of Lake Leelanau to explore a world she has realized is no longer separate from her sheltered country life, and between travels she comes back again and again to her familiar home territory. 
As I continued to come and go from my village of Lake Leelanau, to and from villages overseas, the whole world was becoming an Internet-connected village. Computers changed everything. It happened so fast and spread so far, it was hard to take in.
But why did she go at all, and why so far this time? What possessed her? What inspired a woman her age (you should excuse me: she and I are of the same era) to venture away from the beautiful, peaceful place she calls home, or, as she puts it in her introduction “to leave Paradise and visit Hell”?

Paradise -- at least in summer!
In response to the question in conversation, Stocking says she thinks we all have a natural curiosity about the larger world. “When I worked summers at the Totem Shoppe in Glen Arbor when I was a kid, if I heard a foreign accent, I always wanted to know where that person was from and what it was like in their country.” Fair enough. Maybe all of us have the curiosity. But Kathleen has, in addition, the guts to take her curiosity to countries most of the rest of us don’t want to visit even as tourists (I’m speaking for myself here), and she has the strength to rise to challenge after challenge, a probing mind never content with easy answers, and relentless honesty in describing whatever she finds. Horrors as well as delights. Beauty, kindness, in strange and unexpected places -- but also, at times, the stuff of nightmares.

How did she survive it all? By keeping her wits about her -- and with natural camouflage:
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending, but fortunately in this case, my looks are deceiving. I look like the most spaced-out, uncoordinated, naturally physically awkward, sheltered, poetry-loving, middle class, not-a-thought-in-my-head, straight-laced and inattentive person in the world. It's just the way I come across....
Of course, if you know Kathleen at all (or even as you will come to know her in this book, if it's your first introduction), you realize that she has more thoughts in her head at any given moment than some people have all day. That's what I mean by "camouflage."

My temptation when I am excited about a book is to quote at length, choosing passage after passage, but I'm not going to do that with this book. Readers deserve a chance to discover it for themselves. My job here is simply to assure you that it's more than worth the admission price, and I’m not going to cheat you out of the pleasure of discovering your own favorite lines and moments and episodes. But please do not cheat yourself, either! The Long Arc of the Universe is as deliberately structured as a good novel, structured to be read from beginning to end, and the effect of the whole would be lost by random sampling.

From Soledad Prison and the San Francisco jail to a private school for children of the wealthy elite in San Salvador to Peace Corps assignments in Thailand and Romania (those assignments bookends to an interval spent as a park ranger at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore), The Long Arc of the Universe: Travels Beyond the Pale is a head-spinning, mind-bending series of journeys, and wherever she finds herself, whether in Empire, Michigan, or Istanbul, Kathleen Stocking’s keen mind, clear eye, and determined questioning, both of herself and her world, enlarge and enlighten the all-too-brief experience available to us in our short time on earth.

We are very fortunate to have this gifted seer among us, writing our world, near and distant.

Kathleen Stocking will sign her new book for bookstore customers at Dog Ears Books, 106 Waukazoo Street, on Sunday, July 3, from noon to 1 p.m. I will also be happy to hold prepaid orders for the author’s signature if you cannot attend on the day she will be here.

Narrows looking northwest

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


In June, the color green is ubiquitous. June is as green as January is white, with the difference that flowers, not just road signs, add bright color accents.

My last post featured one greenish-yellow “flower” and several white blossoms. Today, now that we’ve got the other colors out of the way, let’s look at another limited palette, yellow and green. The top photo today shows one of the showiest June wildflowers, the yellow flags clustered in and around the many small creeks of Leelanau County. Some of are creeks are so small you might miss them if not for white posts by the side of the road, one on each side, and a narrow, meandering northern Michigan jungle of cattails and red-twig dogwood. The wild iris flagging this stream, however, cannot help but attract a human eye.

Another yellow flower that thrives near creeks but also seems happy in cool fields is the happy little buttercup, one of my favorite June blooms. If you have a sharp eye, you might even see it on a shady roadside. The reflective cells on their petals make them shine like lacquer. 

What do you see when you drive or bike or walk along our county roads? Does the modest goat’s-beard flower catch your eye? Have you ever read of people eating salsify? Who knew goat's-beard and salsify were one and the same? I didn't.

How about quiet colonies of leafy spurge (sadly, another invasive alien)?

Or still quieter and more modest wild sedum at the edge of the road? Our old yard in Leland had huge patches of sedum that had outcompeted the grass, but I never minded. It was green and more interesting than grass. Undemanding, too. Loves poor soil. And we’ve got that here in northern Michigan.

Wildflowers of Wisconsin in the new book section at Dog Ears Books has been cruelly overlooked by customers, considering that the subtitle is and the Great Lakes Region. The only parts of this book not pertinent to Michigan are the distribution maps. And how many wildflower guides don’t have distribution maps at all? In every other way, Wildflowers of Wisconsin works quite well for Michigan. Of course, we have Michigan wildflowers guides, as well – I’m just pointing to one you might not otherwise have considered, a book easily overlooked, like those inconspicuous greenish-yellow roadside flowers.

Flower books, garden books – impossible not to love them! Practical, they are at the same time dream volumes.

The discerning eye will have noticed earlier in this post that my poppies and some of my iris are struggling for survival (quite successfully) in space now overgrown with grass. In my own defense, however, I must protest that I have gotten back on the job this year and have reclaimed half of my original backyard vegetable garden, so if only the rabbits will leave some greens for us, we’ll be all set. They don’t bother the rhubarb at all. Why is that? Can’t they see I have rhubarb to spare?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Scent of the Past

By the side of the road ...

... have you ever noticed this?
My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one gray morning of war-time. 
-      Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

A summer visitor who usually comes up from Texas later in the season was enchanted by the woodland wildflowers in May and asked me what would be blooming there in June. Not much, I told her. The spring ephemerals are pretty much finished by June, and the canopy filling in with leaves, shading the ground. But field and roadside and garden flowers come on strong and are so many and so varied that it’s hard to keep track of them.



Some are, however, easy to overlook. The plant in the three images at the top of this post is an instance of the easily overlooked June wildflowers – or weeds, if you prefer. A scruffy little fellow that sprouts in the dust of driveways and dirt roads, pineapple weed, Matricaria discoidea, is identified by Stan Tekeila in Wildflowers of Michigan: Field Guide as “inconspicuous.” But when I pull over to the side of the road and my tires crush its greenish-yellow tops, releasing their scent, I am once again, if only for a moment, seven years old.

There were pineapple weeds in my grandmother’s dusty driveway in central Ohio. Must they not still be there? And shouldn’t my grandmother still be there, too, feeding her chickens and shelling peas, with little me beside her, eager to help? Will my grandfather be working out in his garden or his large raspberry patch? If a storm is coming, will my grandparents call me down from the swaying fruit trees in the backyard to join them in the safety of the house?

Other easily overlooked June blooms bring other memories.

Clover in the grass takes me back to Barry County.

Daisies by the drive elicit "Thank you, Claudia" every day they bloom.

In Brideshead Revisited, the narrator recounts, from the perspective of World War II, scenes of his adolescence at the end of the Great War, the one not called “First” until the Second arrived. The book opens with his coming unexpectedly upon scenes from his youth:
“I have been here before,” I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest.
How strange it is to come upon – often out of context -- an old familiar aroma strongly associated in memory with a particular place and time and people. Here it is again, the same as always, that old sense perception, but now absent its old surroundings. Or one comes upon it in the old surroundings, as did Charles, but the familiar place has been transformed and is empty now of all those one remembers in it. 

Hidden creek blooms: Where is the old water ram?

How can it be? we ask ourselves. How can those vivid scenes have vanished? They feel so very near at hand that one more than remembers: memory repeoples, reanimates, and reincarnates the past.

The river in Waugh's novel was the Bride, and June is the traditional month of brides. The many white flowers of garden and field seem to honor wedding couples, don't you think?