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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Conflict! Every Way You Turn!

Timely photo unconnected to text that follows

Imagine (asking readers to imagine seems to be a theme of mine this week) two headstrong individuals in the same organization, each determined to rule alone as autocrat. That’s a recipe for conflict, whether the organization is a nation state or a high school club. If only the two would-be autocrats could join forces and work out ideas together, then go even further and present their ideas to the organization for feedback, what wonders they might achieve! Am I dreaming?

And then there is the national political scene, but I’m not venturing into that minefield today, except to say I am so glad not to have chosen a life in politics!

Idealism, pragmatism, or blind dogmatism; out to win at all costs or hoping to change the world; in it for self or for country – anyone who chooses a life in politics has got to start out with or quickly develop a thick skin, because it’s one thing to realize that no one, even dear self, is universally beloved and quite another, I’m sure, to be ducking slung mud on a daily basis, in public. I have chosen to dedicate my life to a different realm of what Greek philosophers called “the good,” that of literacy and literature and scholarship and art. And yet, even the quietest life presents conflicts, as I’m sure every reader is aware.

Some are small, momentary, and easily resolved.

Whether to linger over coffee and pastry or go for a walk with the dog – that was my first conflict last Wednesday morning, but I resolved it fairly easily by sitting in a park with Sarah for a while, sharing bites with her, and then doing our one-mile walk. No doubt a mere mile was not enough to counteract the effects of the pastry, but that was not a conflict for me, because I don’t have energy to fret about calories in the summer.

Remember those lovely yellow flags not so very long ago? Already Joe-Pye-weed has taken their place as streamside flowers in bloom, and there is loosestrife, too, and also – oh, good heavens! – a few very early goldenrod blossoms rushing the season.

Look closely....


Loosestrife is an invasive alien we are called upon to despise as an enemy, but I can’t help loving its colorful spires and old-fashioned evocative name. Loosestrife sounds much more poetic than “conflict resolution,” doesn’t it? It is impossible to imagine a flower with the latter name! At least in English it seems impossible, but maybe there is a lilting Japanese or Ojibway phrase that would do the job beautifully.

More vexing for the bookseller in a summer tourist town are schedule conflicts that plague efforts to assemble audiences for author events. Impossible to find a date when no one else has something going on! Tuesday evenings are out for much of the summer (township library author series), and Friday evenings in Northport are for Music in the Park, and both the libraries series and Music in the Park are traditional, classic, wonderful public gatherings with which one would not want to conflict, anyway. Every weekend, it seems, has a festival going on somewhere in the area.

So I hit upon Thursday, thinking to land safely on an evening not already crowded with obligations for my target audience of friends and readers and bookstore supporters – but alas! Back to that unfortunately true sentence two paragraphs back: It is impossible to find a date when no one else has something going on.

Kathleen Stocking and I had agreed on Thursday, August 4, at 7 p.m. for a presentation she would give in connection with her new book. Kathleen has traveled all over the world in the past twenty years, always circling back to her Leelanau home when between trips, and she has a lot to share, and it is an honor to have her agree to give a talk in Northport. All good! Imagine, then, my dismay when a local visiting the bookshop looked carefully at our flier for the event and observed that the Leelanau Conservancy’s annual picnic is the same day!

Kathleen and I had already announced the event and put out publicity. We’ve been telling everyone. Too late to change the date now! “What will be, will be,” Kathleen Stocking observes philosophically.

Here are my suggestions:

(1)        It is possible to go online and bid on auction items, rather than waiting for the physical gathering. That’s one idea. Do that.

(2)        Another thought is that the picnic begins at 5:30, and Kathleen Stocking will not be speaking at Dog Ears Books until 7 p.m., so it would be possible to go to the picnic, place a couple of silent auction bids (if you didn’t do it earlier online), and then come on up the last six miles to Northport.

Of course, if you hadn’t planned to attend the Conservancy picnic, you don’t have that particular schedule conflict, and as for others, there may be a way around them, too. (3) Having family or friends visiting? Bring them along! It’s free entertainment, the talk will be lively and stimulating, and you can get ice cream nearby afterwards.

Please think about squashing us onto your calendar for August 4th! You’ll be glad you did. How many people do you know who have taught in a private school (under armed guard) in El Salvador and taught in the Peace Corps in Thailand and Romania? Her experiences gave her plenty of food for thought, and she will share many of her thoughts with us this coming week, as well as signing copies of her book for anyone who cares to purchase.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Morning Reading: Back for the Last Few Chapters

“Do you have time to read?” one of the first people in the bookstore door asked me this morning? Not so much here at work, I told her, but I get up early. This morning I read between 7 and 8 a.m., but I’m often up by 5 or 6 a.m. (more time to read) or occasionally up at 3 a.m. to read a while before falling back to sleep for the rest of the night.

(How could I sell books if I didn’t read them? When I told my sister once that I felt guilty about reading, she sternly told me to buck up: “It’s part of your job!” There’s another question behind that one, however: Why would I want to sell books if I didn’t read? For the challenge alone?)

Thursday was a surprisingly busy bookstore day, with annual visitors from Chicago, part-time residents from Pennsylvania, old Leland neighbors, and others who have become dear friends over the years. There were first-time visitors, too, as is often the case in summer. So when I woke in the middle of the night and thought about getting up to read on the porch, I managed to go back to sleep instead and not get up until the sun was up, too,

and that’s when I finished the final gripping chapters of Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo.

The undercity in the book's subtitle is a slum called Annawadi, a makeshift settlement cheek-by-jowl with the official city’s modern airport and high-rise motels. Annawadi residents live in shacks built of whatever materials they can scrape together, and they make their lives pretty much the same way they build their homes, children sorting through garbage for recyclable materials they can sell to buy food for their families. Around the airport a tall fence plastered with advertising keeps the poor at a distance and hides them from international travelers, one floor covering advertised promising to remain BEAUTIFUL FOREVER BEAUTIFUL FOREVER BEAUTIFUL FOREVER ... FOREVER ... FOREVER ....

Katherine Boo spent three and a half years, with three different interpreters, interviewing residents of Annawadi for this book, determined to learn how ordinary low-income people, especially children, were navigating “the age of global markets.” Over and over, she found them improvising and adapting.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a nonfiction book, extensively researched, that reads like the most gripping of novels. We come to feel we know various characters intimately and share their struggles and defeats, hopes and dreams. Katherine Boo in her “Author’s Note” at the book’s conclusion writes:
Just as the story of Annawadi is not representative of a country as large and diverse as India, it is not a neat encapsulation of the state of poverty and opportunity in the twenty-first-century world. Still, in Annawadi, I was struck by commonalities with other poor communities in which I’ve spent time.
In the age of globalization—an ad hoc, temp-job, fiercely competitive age—hope is not a fiction.
Much else that reads like fiction in this book is not, for example, the boy Abdul’s musings about water and ice.
Water and ice were made of the same thing. He thought most people were made of the same thing, too. He himself was probably little different, constitutionally, from the cynical, corrupt people around him.... If he had to sort all humanity [as he sorted garbage] by its material essence, he thought he would probably end up with a single gigantic pile. But here was the interesting thing. Ice was distinct from—and in his view, better than—what it was made of.  
He wanted to be better than what he was made of. In Mumbai’s dirty water, he wanted to be ice.
Abdul is a real person, and the image of ice was his. He wanted to have ideals and to believe in justice, despite his experiences with corrupt police and judges and hurried, overworked courts. And Abdul is only one of the real human beings you will meet and come to know in this unforgettable story.

“Would it make a good choice for a book club?” I was asked by the same woman who asked if I have time in my life to read. Definitely. Without a doubt. It is part of our real world of today, presented to us in human terms, in the lives of individuals with real names. Not surprisingly, it received for its Pulitzer-winning author a National Book Award for the year 2012.

Paper, $16

[The flowers in today's post, brought by friends Ed and Don, came from the U-Pick gardens in Omena, between Peshawbestown and Northport.]

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Musings on a Book: THE SNOW CHILD

I don’t want to call this a “book review,” but I do want to write something about this lovely first novel, written by a bookseller colleague up in Alaska. We’ve never met. I know her only through her book, and not until I reached the end of the novel did I read “A conversation with Eowyn Ivey” and learn that she is a bookseller. There, when asked to tell a little bit about what energizes her, the author replied:
One of the reasons I left the newspaper business and joined Fireside Books [in Palmer, AK] is because I wanted more time and energy to write. What I didn’t expect is how stimulated I would be by the actual work of bookselling. To be constantly surrounded by all these ideas and stories and art!
The “more time and energy” part comes from being an employee, I guess, rather than the business owner, but I can certainly relate to the stimulation a bookstore atmosphere provides.

The Snow Child is a mysterious book. As readers, we are not sure, early on or even by the last page, whether we are meant to understand it as a fairy tale or realistic fiction, that is, a fantasy or a story with characters who could be real people in situations that life might present us with ourselves, were we to be transported through time and space to an Alaska homestead in 1920. The place feels real enough.
The morning was so cold that when Jack first stepped outside and harnessed the horse, his leather boots stayed stiff and his hands wouldn’t work right. A north wind blew steadily off the river. He’d have liked to stay indoors, but he had already stacked Mabel’s towel-wrapped pies in a crate to take to town. He slapped himself on the arms and stomped his feet to get the blood flowing. It was damned cold, and even long underwear beneath denim seemed a scant cotton sheet about his legs. It wasn’t easy, leaving the comfort of the woodstove to face this alone. The sun threatened to come up on the other side of the river, but its light was weak and silvery, and not much comfort at all.
The author’s inspiration for her novel was a used paperback she ran across by chance at Fireside Books, and what initially captivated her in the book was the role of place in the story. (Shades of Lynn Kimball!)
...Black spruce and dark winters spoke of lonely isolation, and the fresh, sparkling snow brought hope and magic. 
Growing up in Alaska, I’ve at times felt a foreigner in the pages of my country’s literature. All the books I had read and loved, but not one of them told of my home. The characters didn’t live the way we did. ... But the setting of the old Russian fairy [tale] was hauntingly familiar.
The paperback book led her to a fairy tale telling of an elderly childless couple who fashion a child out of snow. The snow maiden comes alive – and from there various versions of the tale spin out differently, but all somehow involve joyful childhood, love, marriage, and death.

In Ivey’s The Snow Child, the homesteading couple at the center of the story are in their fifties and childless, the sole pregnancy of their marriage having ended in a stillbirth. It was the loss of that infant that ignited Mabel’s desire to leave familiar surroundings, family and friends, to make a life in the wilderness that would encompass just the two of them. When Jack meets their nearest Alaskan neighbors, Mabel is initially reluctant to socialize. Making new friends and becoming known again is not why she came to Alaska. But somehow meeting George and Esther begins to thaw something in Mabel, providing an opening for fun and joy. Thus when that winter’s snow comes, she and Jack, at her suggestion, fashion a girl of snow.

In time the snow girl disappears, but so do the scarf and mittens. Human footprints, the size of a child’s feet, lead into the woods. Jack follows the trail but does not immediately share his discovery or his search with Mabel. He is uneasy.

As readers, we hardly believe the girl is real even after she comes to be a regular part of Jack and Mabel’s life. She comes to their cabin again and again, but she never stays, and no one else sees her. No one else believes a child could survive alone in the wilderness. Esther thinks winter’s isolation has made Mabel a little bit crazy. One day Jack and Mabel and the girl, like three children at play, lie in the snow and make snow angels. That will prove the girl’s existence to Esther, Mabel thinks, but by the time Esther gets around to visiting, the angel prints in the snow are no longer discernible.

Is Faina real, or have Jack and Mabel imagined her? We read on, expecting to receive a clear answer in time. As the girl comes to seem more and more real, however, the author somehow continues to keep us in a state of uncertainty, suspended between belief and doubt.

I love books, fiction or nonfiction, with women characters surviving in nature and pitting themselves against wilderness. Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River; L. E. Kimball’s Seasonal Roads; Down the Wild River North, by Constance Helmericks, and so on. In the early chapters of The Snow Child, while the girl (real or imaginary) was a creature of the wilderness, the role of Mabel, the homesteading wife, was pretty much restricted to housework. Then Jack meets with an accident while plowing, and while he is laid up their neighbors come to help Mabel with the spring planting. From then on, throughout and following Jack’s recovery, Mabel takes her part in the hard work of the farm.
...She had never understood how Jack could fall asleep in a chair without washing up, talking to her about his day, or even removing his filthy boots. Now she knew. Yet for all the sore muscles and monotony, the days of working in the fields filled her with a kind of pride she had never known.
They became true partners in the farm. As for the snow child, she grows up into a young woman, but what are we to make of her?

I don’t want to give any hints about Faina’s evolving role in the homestead and neighborhood world of this bit of wilderness Alaska, because you should not be deprived of discovering her world as I did, page by page. In the end, one thing you will know for sure is that you have been transported, carried on story’s wings to another world. Do you need more certainty than that?

And how delightful that the author is a bookseller! For me, that is icing on the cake!

Monday, July 25, 2016

More and More and More

Repeating Itself (Another Summer of Wildflowers and Cherries)

Certain aspects of life capture my attention year after year, so much so that I know my blog posts and letters to friends become filled with repetitions. Same words, same photos: first spring wildflowers (again), succession of summer blooms and fruits (again), fall color (again), winter storms and snow (again). Do I repeat myself? So does Nature, and that is my excuse. Snow, thaw, spring beauties, cherry blossoms, daylilies, cherries, loosestrife, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, fall color, frost, and back to snow. Rain, shine. Sunrise, sunset. But for me the seasons never grow old. Each one is new and exciting when it comes around again.

And that's good, because the details of particular days are not always too exciting. For instance, this morning:

5 a.m. Up to read on the front porch, finishing Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child (more about this another time).
6:30 a.m. Started another load of wash, folded yesterday's dry laundry.
6:40 a.m. Walk up the lane with Sarah; come back to water garden and start coffee.
7:15 a.m. Hang another load of laundry on line.
7:45 a.m. Leave for Traverse City errand, stopping in Lake Leelanau to get a croissant for the road.
Etc., etc., etc. You see what I mean.

More Authors Visit Northport

What is exciting is having authors visit Dog Ears Books, and from mid-July to this past weekend, I’ve had writers visiting Northport from Grosse Point, Newberry, and Suttons Bay, Michigan. Both Kelly Fordon (see next-to-last post) and Lynn Kimball have new collections of linked stories published by Wayne State Press. Here is Lynn’s from this past Friday with her book, Seasonal Roads:

It was interesting to hear Lynn explain that she likes to present her characters through the places they inhabit, rather than with lengthy descriptions of their personal looks. She read three selections, focusing in turn on the three main characters in her collection of linked U.P. stories, and it made perfect sense.

Even when authors are making repeat appearances, it's usually because they are presenting readers with a new book. That was true of Lynn Kimball and also of Lynne Rae Perkins, who came up from Suttons Bay with spice cookies in the shape of dog biscuits to go along with her reading from her delightful new illustrated children's book, Frank and Lucky Get Schooled. The story and pictures, however, rightfully held first place in the audience's attention.

Lynne Rae was asked if pictures or story come first with her books, and her answer (I hope I'm reporting this correctly) was that sometimes it's one, sometimes it's the other, but usually she's working back and forth between the words and the images. However she does it, it certainly works, all agreed.

Each visiting July author maintained gracious good humor and infectious enthusiasm despite heat and humidity, as did audience members who came to celebrate Michigan writing and art and enjoy behind-the-scenes glimpses into the creative process. As always (another repeating theme) I was struck by the generosity of writers. My authors! That's how I think of them that way and am so grateful to them for their work, as well as for sharing time with us. Similar in having talent and a strong work ethic, each author works differently, and that is fascinating, too.

More Memories: “Was it really that long ago?!”

The words burst from me as I read an item in this week’s Leelanau Enterprise. Under the heading “35 YEARS AGO” I read about boxer Thomas Hearns training at Sugar Loaf Resort. The “Motor City Cobra” (I liked that nickname much better than “Hit Man” Hearns) was in training at Sugar Loaf from August 14 to August 28, and David and I were in the audience one day as part of a group brought together by Leelanau poet and friend Jim Harrison. We had all been up late the night before, dining and drinking together, and the space where the training was set up was not air conditioned that August of 1981. The idea, we were told, was to simulate the conditions Hearns would meet when he fought Sugar Ray Leonard in Las Vegas. Impressed as I was with the fighter and his entourage, including wife and children, it’s chiefly my own misery that stands out in my memory of that day. Worst hangover of my life – a sad confession.

Here is the Las Vegas fight from September of the same year:

Summer Again -- But Don’t Say “Hot”

A local friend of mine chides anyone who dares to complain of “hot” weather here in northern Michigan. The most he will allow is that sometimes the temperatures are “warm,” but we should remember winter’s cold and be grateful for warm, he maintains. That has been the challenge of the past week: remembering winter cold to be grateful for summer warmth. How did you do with the heat wave?

I felt cooler when I heard of other parts of the U.S. that were 20 degrees warmer than here in Leelanau County – and without a lake breeze, too – and the realization that summer has passed the halfway mark reminded me of my mother’s words, “Don’t wish your life away!” These warm days too are beautiful days. And they are flying by, faster every year....

Monday, July 18, 2016

How We Live (Hint: We Are Not Minimalists)

Friday farm market haul

“Weekend”? It begins with the farm market on Friday morning, but otherwise Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, in the summer, are much like other days of the week. We come to Northport, David to his studio and gallery, I to my bookstore, and we live our public lives, surrounded by art and books. The way we live at home is not entirely different, since there too we are surrounded by art and books. Our home life is just a little quieter and calmer than days in the bustling summer village.

Minimalism is not our style, but we cannot be called hoarders, either (We recycle on a weekly basis), and I like to think – this gloss actually occurred to me as I began composing the sentence – that we live according to Aristotle’s golden mean. Be that as it may, we are happy to live as we do. Original art and attractive prints and other objets d'art vie for wall space with fully loaded bookcases.

Tables are a different matter.

“We just can’t be trusted with horizontal surfaces,” David once remarked. Certainly, we cannot be trusted to keep those surfaces empty. I survey the house and find stacks of books on every table.

Is this so bad? Books are not dirty dishes, after all. Clutter is not squalor. (You may quote me, you with similar tendencies.) And to my eye, a house with no books in sight looks like a house where no one lives. (Our house certainly looks lived in.)

About four days ago I began reading (finding it on a table on the front porch) Letters From Russia, by the Marquis de Custine, Astolphe Louis LĂ©onor, a Frenchman born in 1790, who wrote his impressions of a trip he made to Russia in 1839. One aspect of this book that fascinates me is how many criticisms the author made of the country under the czars that sound identical to those later made later under the Soviets: an unwieldy, overgrown petty bureaucracy seemingly designed to harass rather than help petitioners; constant rewriting of history with each shift in political power; governmental discouragement of travel, either into (by foreigners) or out of (by citizens) or within (by anyone) the country; the nonexistence of detailed maps (which goes along with keeping each Russian in his place and keeping foreigners from straying far from carefully policed urban centers); almost complete lack of concern for individual life at every level of society; and constant preoccupation with what should not be said.

Seventy-seven pages into Letters From Russia, however, fascinating as it was, I was distracted by Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo, when a neighbor brought two bags of books to the bookstore, each book with her little one-phrase summary. Inside Boo’s book, Bobbie’s note read: “This book ought to be required reading!” Curious, I opened to the first page and then could not stop. I keep reminding myself the book is not a novel. These are real people. This is the way they live. That children survive and grow to adulthood in such conditions is astonishing.

So then I could not stop reading that book - except when, after avidly turning pages all evening at home, the next morning I left it on one of the porch tables. And so, next day at the bookstore, during a quiet lull, I picked up The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls, author of the bestselling memoir The Glass Castle. The Silver Star. It is no criticism to say that this novel clearly owes much inspiration to the author’s actual life. A writer’s experience, after all, is her raw material. The Silver Star could easily be one of those adult-YA crossover books, too, because I’m sure teens would find the story as captivating as adults.

So, nineteenth-century Russians, poverty-stricken garbage pickers in an Indian slum, and the fatherless daughter of an unstable mother were some of my companions over the summer weekend. Not my only companions, of course, and reading isn’t all I did, either, but it is a big part of the way we live. After a busy day in Northport and a leisurely supper on the porch, David and I enjoy settling down with our books, our sweet, patient little dog girl at our feet. We never lack for beautiful objects to regard, books to peruse, or conversation about our rich life, filled with art, literature, friends, and good, fresh food.

Beet greens to steam

Thursday, July 14, 2016

July in its infinite variety

Summer days. They can be good days from morning ‘til night, somewhat uncomfortable (we don’t often say “hot” in northern Michigan), or bring crop-damaging storms. “What’s it like here in the winter?” visitors ask. Well, what’s it like now, in the summer? It varies – enormously!

Do you tell yourself you’ll do such-and-such when you “have more time”? You never will. Each day that slips away is forever gone. That why those of us who work all summer don’t want to waste a moment of precious days off.

Bruce worked in the bookshop for me on Wednesday, giving me a chance to drive down past the Glen Lake Narrows to pick up books from Leelanau Press. The dunes were lovely, the water sparkling. It could have been a good beach day. Instead, my patient canine companion and I went home to her once-a-month bath, after which we lolled around outdoors in the shade, enjoying the breeze. Well, she lolled. I hung laundry on the line, clothes and towels that dried so fast in the hot wind that I was able to run through the routine more than once.

*  *  *

Here I want to backtrack for a minute to the “different roads” theme of the other day, with a few more images of Leelanau's summer variety, today showing you small, hidden-away waters, because sometimes I think I love these as much if not more than the magnificent lakes. They are modest secrets, but you can find them if you look. 

Along one of our favorite back roads this month I also discovered a wildflower I haven’t seen for years, on this road or anywhere else. The stalk is slender and tall, standing at the height of my hip; the flower is bright but very small. Because it is neither large nor massive, the plant is easily overlooked (so perhaps it’s been there for years, and I was simply missing it), even when one is on foot.

I remembered seeing it once before, and I can even conjure up the immediate surroundings but cannot put that mental picture on a larger map. The name of the plant eluded me until the end of the day, when suddenly I exclaimed, “Deptford pink! That’s what it was!” Much to David’s bemusement. Another flower....

*  *  *

Another change of topic – Thursday’s guest author:

Kelly Fordon was charming, relaxed, and personable. We were a small group but entirely caught up in her reading, though I had already read and so knew what was going to happen at the end of that first surprising story. It is always a pleasure to meet an author whose writing I have admired, and I was very grateful to the weather gods for backing that heat off and giving us more comfortable temperatures for a bookstore event.

Kelly signed a few extra copies of Garden For the Blind, and Karen Trolenberg stopped by near the end of the day with a couple more copies of Flight of Megizzewas, which she kindly signed.

July light is heart-breakingly lovely. July is generous in giving us long days, each  unique and never to come again. I hope all of you are able to make the most of your July 2016, wherever you are.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Writers' Days of Shame

Some writers should be ashamed of themselves. 

The other day I was taking a little mini-vacation on my front porch, reading an anthology of stories, essays, and short memoir pieces from Montana. There were lots of fishing stories. Most of the writers, understandably, worried about the purity of Montana waters and whether enough open space would be preserved to allow continued wilderness experience. We worry about the same things here in Michigan (a much more populous state), so I was sympathetic.

Then I came to a story – a true story, I’m sorry to say – that left me, by its end, without any sympathy whatever for the writer. He had gone on a cross-country road trip with another writer (the second writer’s name was one you would all recognize, though I’m happy to say I never met the man), and the entire trip was one drunken blur. By day in the car, by night in the bar, they drank their way down the highway.

Drunken driving is bad enough, but that wasn’t all. The famous writer had another reprehensible foible. He loved to sneak out of restaurants without paying. 

Mind you, this was not some starving writer – his reputation was well established, his wisdom sought by students. But he strategically chose his restaurants, and he instructed the other writer, who was driving, on where to park before they went in for their meal, with the intention of skipping out on the bill. I was disgusted, repelled and sickened by the story. 

The writer of the essay, who was the driver on the trip in lieu of the obvious alcoholic, says he was bothered by the famous writer’s assumption that he, the writer-driver, would be complicit in cheating the restaurants and waitresses of their due compensation. And yet – time after time -- he complied! And then he wrote and published the story of the shameful behavior, with both their names attached! As if he were only a reporter, giving an account of two completely different people. I am being kinder to the two than they were to themselves, by omitting their names from this blog post.

I don’t understand. I don’t understand their behavior in the first place. They weren’t teenagers, either: they were both married men with wives and children. Acting like total jerks. And then publishing the account? As if to say, “Weren’t we wild and crazy guys? Weren't we exciting, naughty little boys?” No, you were jerks!

My writer friends, I say without hesitation, are a different breed – honest, hard-working, even generous. I’ll bet anything they overtip waitresses. Some of them have worked as waitresses themselves, but none of them would behave in this manner.

The story turned me off reading anything else, ever, by either writer. Even the famous writing school, their destination, seemed ever so slightly smudged by association, but I’m going to try to get past that. It was not the school’s fault.

But really! Does anyone think such reprehensible behavior is somehow the mark of genius? Ha! More like a couple of guys who can’t manage to be grownups.

Postscript, 14 July: I have changed my mind, due to Maiya's comment. I would not want anyone to imagine the wrong people in this story! The book (overall a wonderful book!) is The Big Sky Reader: A Treasury of the Best Writing From Big Sky Journal, edited by Allen Jones & Jeff Wetmore. The disgusting essay, "Ridin' With Ray," was written by Jon A. Jackson, and his road trip buddy was Raymond Carver. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Try a Different Path Once in a While

Nothing has been planted along our old driveway. What grows there is of Nature’s choosing. Like any more carefully landscaped drive, however, its flowers change with the season’s advance. Just now it is the turn of gaudy wild sweet peas, happy daisies, bright yellow St. John’s-wort, delicate, pale bladder campion, and the sweet lavender blue rays of chicory. Early in the morning, greeting the sun, chicory flowers are both wide-eyed and eye-catching. Unfortunately, I left my camera's memory card in the card reader at the shop so couldn't photograph the chicory this morning as I'd planned.

Monday inserts (after original posting:

A woods road presents a very different aspect, mostly green now that the canopy has filled in and the blooming of spring ephemerals long past. But there are ferns, and you may find the wild rose-like petals that promise blackberries in the near future. Little wild geraniums, storksbill and cranesbill, seem to be happy anywhere, in the sun or in the shade.

Beaches, bogs, wandering creeks, lakesides – each habitat offers something different out of nature's variety. The same diversity holds true with fiction. Each genre, in all different lengths, presents a different kind of reading experience, all of them valuable.

Two of my Michigan guest authors in July are writers of adult fiction, and both their new books are short story collections. Some bookstore customers, I know, resist short stories, not wanting to meet and have to get to know new characters in every new “chapter,” as it were, but Kelly Fordon and L.E. (Lynn) Kimball have demolished that objection by linking their stories, so that the overall effect in each case is very similar to that a reader experiences in reading a novel.

Garden for the Blind, by Kelly Fordon, is set in the contrasting worlds of suburban materialism and urban decay of southeast Michigan. (Here is a good review.) Alice can perhaps be thought of as the central character, for it is Alice we meet first, as a child, in “The Great Gatsby Party,” and it is Alice and her daughter’s story, “Garden for the Blind,” that conclude the volume, though the cast of characters as a whole is large and diverse. This is a book that overcomes your aesthetic distance (and, at times, moral repugnance) gradually, pulling you in slowly and almost imperceptibly, until you catch your breath, literally, having arrived at empathy.

L.E. Kimball’s Seasonal Roads is set in the Upper Peninsula and features three generations of U.P. women. I reviewed this book in the spring but want to reiterate here the sense the stories give of a longer work, what some would call a “nonlinear novel.”

Wayne State University, the publisher of both these books, does not publish novels. They do publish short story collections. But what I’m telling you is that if you’re a reader of novels who generally eschews short stories, you need to give these two WSU titles the benefit of the doubt. Either one is an excellent introduction to the high literary quality of today’s Michigan fiction. The authors are coming to Dog Ears Books not only because they want to come but because I am able to recommend their work without qualification.

Kelly Fordon is coming to Dog Ears Books on Thursday, July 14, from 1-3 p.m., to read from her book and sign books for customers.

Lynn Kimball will be here the following week, on Friday, July 22, from 1-3 p.m. She also will read excerpts and sign books.

I hope all local readers of fiction will decide to give these short story authors a hearing and reading. It is a privilege to have them come to Northport.