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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

We Needed a Little – and Got a Lot

Rising to the occasion, Northport put on a great party for the Saturday following Thanksgiving. A little snow would have been pretty, but we were all just thankful not to have rain. The village was decorated, stores open with treats and surprises, and this year the townsfolk turned out. Hugs, laughter, and conversation were accompanied in my place of business by the all-important book purchases, that critical element that decides whether or not a bookstore can keep its doors open. Then, starting at 4 o’clock, clip-clopping hooves on pavement told me that the horses had indeed arrived. As the line for free rides in the decorated wagon grew and grew, I was proud to remember the first year it was my idea to bring horses to town and give free rides. I’m happy it has become such a popular Northport holiday feature. Sorry I did not manage to get any decent pictures of the horses....

Carolers in Victorian garb strolled through town, spreading cheer, while band and choir assembled under the roof behind the big tree, and the darkness felt friendly, filled with happy crowds. A lighted magic wand appeared, waving up and down, back and forth, and then – all four thousand lights blazed forth! It was the absolutely best-ever tree-lighting our little town has ever seen, greeted by spontaneous applause and oohs and ahs.

Sometimes it’s hard psychologically, ahead of time, to gear up to rise to an occasion, but happy occasions more than make up for the effort required. They give us back our appreciation for and joy in one another. Thanksgiving at our house was like that, and Saturday in the village was like that, as was a Monday night dinner at home with old friends. We needed it. We needed a little Thanksgiving, we needed a little Christmas, and we needed time to relax with old friends.

Monday brought rain. Now on Tuesday the welcome sun has returned, giving us a bonus of light for our spirits and another chance to do the last of fall’s outdoor work before winter is upon us. Snow in the forecast for Friday! Everybody up and at ‘em!

Friday, November 25, 2016

More Treasure Stories Coming In

I’m still getting e-mails from customer friends about treasures they discovered in my bookshop. Sometimes I remember the book or books purchased but not always; often I’ve forgotten something that still glows in my customer’s memory and holds a cherished place in that friend’s home library. Here are some more stories of treasures found:

Susan A.:

Just LOVE Frank and Lucky Get Schooled! We leave it in our guest room so everyone who visits ends up loving it, too. A boy and his dog, and what the dog teaches him. How much better can you get than that? And with the always honest-as-an-apple illustrations by Lynn Rae Perkins, who is double-blessed with word and image genius.

Deb W.

Possibly the coolest and spookiest discovery I ever made at Dog Ears Books was a used copy of a book I had as a kid called McCall's Giant Golden Make-It Book of Crafts and Activities.  It was published in 1953.  I took one look at it merchandised atop a shelf of children's books and my whole childhood flashed before my eyes! 

I think I made every project in that book.  I'd lost track of my original copy but it was probably in tatters anyhow.  So the Dog Ears copy was certainly meant for me.  Thanks for the memories and thanks for the fun

Tom W.

I, too, have a number of great books that I discovered in your shop.  My discovery of the Joseph Heywood mysteries was at Dog Ears. Snowfly is so far the absolute best of his books.

Then there was the chance to meet Louisa Lang Owen, Eric's mother, and read her amazing story of her childhood as a casualty of war.  I will never forget her charming personality.

There are many more books, such as John Mitchell's Grand Traverse the Civil War Era, and other histories that I have found at Dog Ears.  

How lucky we are in Northport to have access to so many new and used books. Not many small towns have this luxury.  Happy Holidays.

Alan M.

I can’t remember if it was my first or second visit to Dog Ears a few years ago after my wife and I took possession or our cottage north of Northport.  I gravitated to the philosophy and religion section.  I’m a college professor and lately have been reading a lot and writing a bit about comparative religious philosophy.  I found there a small, truly exotic text for any bookstore, let alone, I thought, one in Northport, Michigan, at the tip of the Leelanau peninsula.  The book is Traditions of the Seven Rsis by an English Scholar, John E. Mitchiner, and published by the eminent Indian publishing house Motilal Banarsidas. 

That text opened at least three worlds, at which I still marvel.  The first is the world that is the subject of the book, the world of the classical Vedic era in ancient India. The seven Rsis play a central role in the mythology of that period and the continuing cosmology of Hinduism.  They are regarded as “mind-born” sons of Brahma, third in the triumvirate of Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma, the creator God.  They aid Brahma in the creation of the manifest world, are progenitors of races of men on earth, and are the source of the knowledge of the Vedas, the foundational scripture of Hinduism.  They, or at least some, are thought to reappear regularly as needed in the cycles of time to keep alive the knowledge of the nature of the inner-most Self and all of creation as nothing but the play of a primordial field of pure consciousness.

The book is based on Mitchiner’s dissertation and is a painstakingly thorough account of everything ever written about the Rishis in the dozens of diverse texts that make up the tradition.  Because of the central role of the rishis in the founding stories of Hinduism, Mitchiner’s account immerses the reader deeply into the very complex and colorful fabric of Hindu mythological history.    

But Mitchiner’s own story is yet a second fascinating world that may no longer exist.  After being awarded his PhD from London University, Mitchiner spent a couple of years continuing the research that led to the book.  After that, though, he spent a career in Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service as an Ambassador.  This is the world of aristocratic England where a scholar could become a valued member of the diplomatic service and a university education in the humanities was held in esteem as cultivating a sophisticated outlook and manners, a view in very short supply in our world now dominated by STEM studies and narrow careerism.
The third world is the world of Northport.  Who in the world owned this exotic text and brought it to Dog Ears for Pam to buy and put on her shelf?  I imagine another college professor, retired moving to the Northport area, maybe downsizing a bit to a cottage, maybe with a spouse who always thought the library was a bit cluttered in any event.  I hope that person thinks of this book from time to time and smiles, happy to have read it, maybe a little sad that it’s gone.  I can assure him or her that it was adopted into a good family and I’m grateful for the worlds it opened.   


Now I just have to get the Christmas tree in the stand and upright! Remember, big doings in the village tomorrow (Saturday), including -- what more could you ask? -- horses!

Had intended to close with a photo of tree lying on bookstore floor, but my camera battery pooped out (hence the recycled image at the top of this post), and the charger is at home. Maybe tomorrow, tree standing up? Stop by in person and see!

P.S. Got it up! Squeezed another shot out of camera battery! Stop by, anyway!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Holiday Fun -- AND Treasures!

My original subject heading today was going to be “No Big Plan – Just Good Books.” On Saturday, however, I had a visit from a representative from the Chamber of Commerce, and plans for the holiday weekend in Northport have taken promising shape. There will be band music, caroling, evening lighting of the village Christmas tree (with 4,000 lights this year), many other events and attractions, but my favorite, from 4 to 7 p.m., will be the decorated horse-drawn wagon giving free rides through the village. And the horses this year will be black Belgians! So my new plan is to keep the bookstore open until 7 p.m. on Saturday rather than closing at 5. Weather, as always, permitting, so cross your fingers!

Schedule for Saturday, Nov. 26, in Northport
Meanwhile, I posted on Facebook and asked a few people on e-mail what was the most memorable book they had ever found at Dog Ears, whether they bought new or used books, ordered new books not in stock, asked for suggestions, etc.., and here are some of the answers I received.


My favorite purchase of all time took place at Dog Ears when I discovered that you had a (used, of course) copy of a now out-of-print childhood favorite book on your shelf. Flying Skis is now in my granddaughter's possession.

Another favorite book I purchased from you was one you thought I would appreciate after you read the early reviews. Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being remains one of my favorites and I might have missed it if not for your kind suggestion.


Hard to select a favorite. My most recent favorite is Even in Darkness, which I purchased new having read your review. Another book I purchased after eagerly awaiting its arrival was Long Arc of the Universe by Kathleen Stocking, another new book.


You helped me find a book for my husband George--a Mosley book he really liked! I felt proud to bring my young granddaughter to your store. She and I both love to read, and you order the books she likes best.


What I have found at Dog Ears is a warm welcome, an open mind and heart, good and wise advice on books and life in general. I love the author visits, the chance to sit and listen to an author read, and to ask questions and buy the books and get them signed. I love that there are so many books at Dog Ears that have a local connection.


I loved delving into a series of books called Introducing. The Guardian said that Introducing is a miracle of modern publishing. For me it really is. The series covers topics from Ethics and Psychology to Chaos and Quantum Theory and Semiotics and Joyce and much more. Lots of graphics to liven them up and help explain.

Being new books, Pamela promptly placed my order and they soon arrived. The experience is much better than online. A visit to the bookstore can evolve into a wonderful conversation. I have more than twenty of these Introducing books on my bookshelf, close at hand.

Books are important to me. I am in two reading circles.


Giving Thanks and reasons to head for Dog Ears Books on Buy Local Saturday:

I’d still have to say the most impactful book I’ve gotten at my favorite book store, Dog Ears Books, is Donald Lystra’s Season of Water and Ice. Not only was the book itself absolutely captivating and beautifully written, but Pamela Grath’s recommendation that I read it led to a turning point in my pathway to authorship, and was a perfect example of why she is a talented bookseller. She knew I’d become a novelist after a long career doing something else, and she knew I loved northern Michigan, and split my time between Northport and Ann Arbor. She also knew Don Lystra had a similar trajectory and that I would appreciate his work. His successful example and beautiful book inspired me to move forward, and Pamela was the catalyst.
It’s hard for me to choose among my favorite activities at Dog Ears (and I decline to leave Sarah out of the equation!!!) a. choosing a section of the store to browse that I haven’t seen in a while, b. the front table- the new and often local books to peruse c. chatting with Pamela (and YES! Petting Sarah!). I must say, however, that my favorite day at Dog Ears, aside from my own author events, was the day I got to be a bookseller for a couple of hours!  Hunting for a military mystery for a customer, helping a little girl pick out that best one book, handing off a book club’s books to a regular customer, and being grateful – again – for Dog Ears and Pamela Grath.
Wish I could be there Saturday … will be up for about 5 days the first week of December….

Susan L.:

1.  Over the years, I've purchased many treasured books, from Modern Library editions to The Legend of Sleeping Bear, books both new and used.

2.   I've asked for help, and have also found things by chance.

3.   Books have been ordered on my behalf with never a problem. They also have been sent in many different directions. They've always arrived at their destination.

4.  Yes, Sarita! I love the peace, comfort, and organized environment. The selection and the encouragement to dabble in different reading materials.

5.  Books revive me. Books open my mind to different points-of-view. Books are filled with fascination. Book discussions bring people together. Books fill every nook and cranny of our abodes. Books are in the rack opposite the toilet so not a minute is wasted. Books are amusing to Finnie and Bianca [her cats], particularly Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Books are vital, as are bookshops.


The best? The most memorable? My most favorite? After 20 years of shopping at Dog Ears Books in Northport, Michigan, I have to say it's a little treasure I spotted high up on a shelf called "Love Letters." It was a small paperback with an old-fashioned drawing on the cover, and for some reason it caught my eye. It was too high to reach, and I didn't want to disturb the lovely bookstore owner, so I resisted my first impulse. As I knocked around the gallery and bookstore, it kept drawing me back. Finally I asked Pamela about it, just asked, and while my back was turned, she grabbed a ladder, climbed up there, and brought me that book. I didn't know if it was fiction or nonfiction, old or new. Inside the charming front cover the frontispiece said, "The Etiquette of Introduction, Courtship, and Proposals; Also a Large Number of New and Original Letters to be Used as Models for any Style of Love Letter." It was just as advertised: Love Letters. So many different ways to say I love you; I want to make you my own; and also, stop asking, already! Published in 1914, it seems more than many lifetimes old, with sentiments so delicately expressed they would be unintelligible to today's young men and women. I couldn't determine if it was old or new; there are no indications of a reprint. The volume is high quality and so perfectly preserved it seems new, yet it's hard to imagine a publisher reissuing this. Writers of love letters are not even a niche market!


If not for Dog Ears Books, I would never have discovered MIchigan author D.M. Greenwald and his series of books (Frozen Moon; Cody; and The Wichita Mountain Manhunt) about a man and his search-and-rescue dogs.

One of my other favorite meet-the-author/book signing experiences was with Ellen Airgood at Dog Ears, with her then-new novel South of Superior, which is a wonderful read.

For keeping up with regional authors - as well as many other discoveries - Dog Ears is the place to go.


Of course, one smart-aleck (Kirk, you know who you are) accused me of running a bait-and-switch operation, in that I sell only books and not dog toys and treats. Well, thanks, anyhow, Kirk, for being a good regular customer and buying new books as well as selections from the "just a bunch of old books" you wrote to say is all I have. (Why is it, with all you quick-witted, zany guys I always feel like George Allen playing straight man to Gracie?)


And no, I am not ignoring or skipping over Thanksgiving! I am deeply, deeply thankful for a loving, supportive marriage; physical and emotional shelter from the storms and vicissitudes of life; dear, dear family members and friends; a planet with heavenly touches like dogs (especially Sarah!) and horses; and my work of nearly a quarter-century in a life of books, where fellow booksellers are colleagues and customers are friends. 

Thank you all for being part of my world!

Beginning of winter project: organizing photographs!

Friday, November 18, 2016

"I Forget Just Why"

Literature is the memory of humanity. Anyone who writes remembers, and anyone who reads takes part in those experiences. 
 Books can be reprinted. The fact is, there are archival copies of books. 
 Not of people. 
 -      Hans Keilson, in the Afterword to a 1984 reprint edition of his autobiographical novel, Life Goes On

Leben geht weiter (Life Goes On) was published in Germany in 1933 by S. Fischer Verlag and was the last debut by a Jewish writer from that publisher before the German government banned the book in 1934.

An autobiographical novel, Life Goes On is not an account of large political movements or dramatic military events but a portrait of one ordinary family’s life between the two World Wars. Herr Seldersen, proprietor of a modest clothing store, lives above the shop with his wife and son, Albrecht. (An older daughter has finished school and works in Berlin.) He is a decorated veteran of the First World War who came home from the war alive and made his living as a traveling salesman until he saved enough to open his own store. Now in his fifties, as the story opens, he wants nothing more than to continue working for a few more years before retirement.

But Germany’s economic climate between the wars was disastrous. First hyper-inflation, then government deflationary policies, on top of war losses, reparations debts, and a world-wide Great Depression sent unemployment skyrocketing. Early in the novel, a factory on the edge of town burns to the ground.
That night, around two hundred workers lost their jobs and would stay unemployed for a long time. The owner took the insurance money and moved on. People said that the fire had not come at an inconvenient time for him; he was going to have to cut back the size of his business in the foreseeable future anyway, it wasn’t making enough of a profit.
The merchant realizes the workers who have lost their jobs will not be the only ones to suffer. No one will remain untouched.
...Nothing that ever happened had consequences limited to the event itself—everything was linked by fate, one way or another, and in the end no one could escape their share of responsibility for the whole.

We see events in the town through the eyes of both the father and the son. As customers grow fewer and fewer, with more of them buying on credit and unable to make payments, the Seldersens try to keep their financial worries from the boy as long as possible. He, the son, goes to Berlin to study at the university largely because there is nothing else for him to do, but once there he must make money to cover his expenses and to send home to his parents. He becomes a musician for hire and, of necessity, neglects his studies.

The story’s proceeds at an agonizing pace. As Selderson becomes ever more desperate to make ends meet, each day brings new trials and burdens. He buys stock on credit, borrows money to pay his bills, and is crushed by a combination of interest payments and absence of paying customers until, in the end, unable to avoid bankruptcy, he is snatched back from the cliff-edge of suicide by his wife. At last they move to Berlin to live with their son, having lost everything.

Here is the Translator’s Note that follows the main text:
Shortly before Hans Keilson’s death in 2011, I corresponded with him about the end of the novel. The last scene seems strangely like a Nazi rally, but surely he intended it to be a Communist march or other left-wing demonstration? He told me that the publisher (in 1933) had made him change the ending of the book, hoping to avoid political difficulties. Originally, Albrecht and his father had explicitly raised their fists in the Communist salute, not their hands in a Nazi salute. In the published version, it was left ambiguous.
(The hope of avoiding political difficulties was dashed when the book was banned in the year following its publication.)

Another story line concerns Albrecht’s close friend, Fritz Fiedler. The Fiedler family were working-class, and Fritz would have been content to continue in that tradition, but there is no work for him. He is prepared to venture out in the larger world and take his chances, but even far from home, whatever work he manages to find is only temporary. His last hope, emigration to America, proves a dead end: the Americans have their own unemployment and have nothing to offer a would-be immigrant, who returns home with no hope of a future. Fritz’s suicide is a turning point in the way Albrecht sees his own place in the world.

Keilson himself emigrated to the Netherlands following the banning of his novel, and his daughter was born there while he was in hiding from the Nazis. He completed the work for his Ph.D. in medicine 45 years after beginning his studies in Berlin (told then that, as a Jew, he would not be permitted to practice medicine) and pursued a career in child psychology, publishing a monograph on “Sequential Traumatization in Children,” based on his work with Jewish war orphans. “My work as a psychoanalyst,” he said once, “is more important than my writing.” He did, however, write a second autobiographical novel, published in 1959, and also many poems.

Keilson’s parents, the merchant couple in Life Goes On, also emigrated to the Netherlands, but they were arrested and died in Auschwitz. At the age of 100, he still felt guilt over not having been able to save his parents' lives.

Recently my sister woke up with poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay in her head. The last lines (see complete text here) are 

Life must go on;
I forget just why.

Though his best friend killed himself, he was forced out of the country he considered his homeland, and his parents were murdered, Hans Keilson’s life went on. Why? Perhaps so he could help the orphans in Amsterdam, so that he might have two daughters and three grandchildren, and preserve memory for all of us, through his contributions to literature, of a world we never want to see again.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Thomas Wolfe Fatigue

My rule for including a book on my “Books Read” list for any given year is that I have to read the whole thing. If it’s on my list, I read it from beginning to end. That doesn’t mean I read every book I pick up from beginning to end, but it does mean I try not to waste much time on books that aren’t worth reading in their entirety.

Earning that listing right (my own rule) might seem like enough reason for me to plow ahead with Of Time and the River, though at page 511 of the 912-page book I was beginning to long for the end. But I like to have at least one additional reason, because otherwise I begin to have doubts, coming because I remember a why-we-are-in-Vietnam argument that went, “We have to stay and keep fighting because it’s already cost us so much.” My Thomas Wolfe reading correlative might be, “I’ve spent so much time on the book that I have to [double my investment to] reach the end.” Not a great comparison, since it’s only time, not lives, at stake, and only my own time, and the end of the book is in sight, whereas, for year after year, no one could not say that about the war. But I do think I need more reason to keep reading a book than having already read a lot of it.

So what’s my supplementary reason for battling on through Thomas Wolfe fatigue? Maybe I should first say something about what’s brought on the fatigue, and I’ll introduce it with a question: How does Thomas Wolfe portray character?

The main character in Of Time and the River, Eugene Gant (from Look Homeward, Angel), is so intensely autobiographical it’s embarrassing. Wolfe spares us none of young Gant’s overwrought emotions, and we are privy not only to every sensation but also to every judgment that Gant makes about other characters, almost as if in reading the book we have the experience of inhabiting his mind and body. Other characters are portrayed very differently, which makes sense, since the story is told from Gene’s point of view, albeit in the third person. Of course Wolfe/Gant, with access to Eugene’s insides, could only know other characters from the outside – from their appearances, speech, and behavior. I get that.

But the extreme lack of sympathy shown for other characters, especially those with different ethnic backgrounds – is it only the characters, or is it also the author’s, or was it the way the author felt when younger but got over as he matured? Negroes (frequently referred to with the more vulgar N-term) and Jews, Greeks to a lesser extent, are “oily” and “primitive,” with features of face and hair and body exaggerated and dwelt on at great length. Women, of any age, are generally either seductive or repulsive – sometimes, paradoxically, both! Is it only Gant, or was it Wolfe, too, who looked on other human beings not only as separate from himself but almost as members of another species? All others in this book, it seems, are Others, examined and described with the glittering, objective, curious but at the same time repelled eye of a boy collecting insects and pinning them, still wriggling, to his collecting board. This would be off--putting at any time, but at the end of an election cycle marked by statements of prejudice, hatred, and fear, it's downright sickening.

Sickening. Tiresome. Sad. Maddening. You just want to slap the egocentric, self-dramatizing young genius (already a legend in his own mind) upside the head and remind him that he, too, is a human being, seen from the outside by other people! How about putting that gigantic imagination to work to try to understand other people’s situations? That’s what I mean by Thomas Wolfe fatigue.

So you’re probably wondering, why go on at all? What on earth can justify my spending more time in Wolfe’s world?

“I love the language,” a friend of mine frequently says of a book she’s just read. And while there’s plenty of Wolfe’s language I don’t love, there are other passages, long and lyrical, which absolutely soar. Overwritten, maybe, from the postmodern point of view (certainly often emotionally overwrought), but when he leaves characters behind and pens hymns to land and trees, to rivers, to cities and towns, to trains and night, to time – all manner of general experiential topics having nothing to do with individuals or plot – then I want nothing more than for a friend to interrupt my reading just long enough for me to say, “Wait! Listen to this!” And then I’d begin to read aloud.
The river is a tide of moving waters: by night it floods the pockets of the earth. By night it drinks strange time, dark time. By night the river drinks proud potent tides of strange dark time. By night the river drains the tides, proud potent tides of time’s dark waters that, with champ and lift of teeth, with lapse and reluctation of their breath, fill with a kissing glut the pockets of the earth. Sired by the horses of the sea, maned with the dark, they come. 
 They come! Ships call! The hooves of night, the horses of the sea, come on below their manes of darkness. And forever the river runs. Deep as the tides of time and memory, deep as the tides of sleep, the river runs.
In these passages, repetition of words and phrases, so very annoying (and at times disgusting) when a character is described over and over with the same objectifying words and phrase -- these descriptive passages not involving other human beings are poetry, song. Wolfe can go on for pages like this, and when he does I feel the wind in my hair as the horses of the sea carry me across the water, and I ride through the night in the train, peering through the window at passing scenes. Oh, then Thomas Wolfe is glorious!

So there you have it. In the early pages of the book, I was thinking of recommending the novel to others in our Ulysses Reading Circle. I have abandoned that thought. I will, however, finish my own reading Of Time and the River, and I believe it will have been time well spent.

On the other hand, will I re-read it someday or pick up another novel by Thomas Wolfe? Not likely. By the time I get to the last page of this one, I will have been well immunized. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Morning After

Whoa! Night came on early!

While I have no plans either to flee my country or to give in to despair, last night was long and hard, and this morning was no easier. My heart is too full today to post much, if anything, in the way of original thought. I do have one small idea that feels positive and citizenship- and life-affirming to me, and I am trying it out on a few friends, one at a time, to see if there might be the energy and willingness to get it together, but that is a tender, fledgling thought, too tentative to put out into the sometimes harsh light of the Internet. Maybe sometime in the future, but not now.

Instead I will quote (assuming their kind permission) from today’s “Shelf Awareness” newsletter, since the words there give voice to the booklover (and bookseller) aspect of my feelings today, here in my little northern Michigan bookshop:

Many of us here at Shelf Awareness are in shock at the election results, in part because polls and predictions were so far off. We're also wary of the rhetoric of the winning campaign, which too often has been inflammatory and not exactly fact-based. 
Much of the book world supported the losing side. And while it's difficult to take in the results of the election, it's important to remember that in the turbulent days and years ahead, books will remain a key part of public discourse and provide so much of the information that is part of--or should be part of--discussions of the issues and constitute the basis of momentous decisions and laws. Books are also a great source of perspective, understanding, solace and, when needed, escape.

Perspective and understanding, please note, not only solace and escape. It is very important that we Americans find our way forward from here as a nation, helping each other to create a path characterized by kindness and grace. Let us find the books to help us do that, shall we?

Tuesday evening orchard and sunset

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Newspapers, Novels, and Radio

Long view out to Manitou Islands

View across orchards and hills

What looks like a low-lying cloud in the photo above was heavy mist over north Lake Leelanau this morning, but the view of any field depends on where you’re standing. Baseball and politics. Past and present. And so I say that good fiction is not an escape from real life but allows us a different perspective on our reality.

Back in the last decades of the last century, David and I, younger then, were late night people. Now I get up early most mornings, sometimes actually waking as early as 2 or 3 a.m. and going to another room to read until I can fall asleep again until 6 or 7 a.m., a more decent hour to begin a new day. (So I still see 2 a.m. as often as I did long ago, but from the other end, as it were.) Two a.m. used to be the hour the bars closed, time to look for an all-night diner; now the same hour is morning but too early to make coffee.

Red twig dogwood, close up
My middle-of-the-night reading has its corollary in David’s dark-of-the-night radio hours. Sometimes by dawn he has listened to the same news cycle half a dozen times over and is ready to turn to another channel; his alternate listening then is a station where two men and one woman each morning find endless sources of hilarity in the happenings of the last 24 hours. Sometimes I try to imagine how that trio would have responded to the announcement of America’s entry into World War II or news of the assassinations of the 1960s. My imagination fails me. But that’s neither here nor there.

Beautiful fall ash leaves -- ash, traditional wood for baseball bats

Back to last night. As usual, I was ready for bed earlier than David and took my book with me – and yes, dozed off over it, with Sarah pressed up against my feet, keeping them warm. When David was ready to join us, I woke up, and he put in a DVD of “The Man From Snowy River,” telling me, “I got this for you because it has horses in it,” but he was also keeping track, for both of us, of Game 7 of the World Series on the radio, and from time to time he would pause the movie and turn up the radio so I could share in the baseball action.

I’ll be honest: I was fading in and out of consciousness a lot of the time. I’d drift off and then open my eyes to watch beautiful horses thundering across the screen, drift again and wake to hear the current score and share the nail-biting suspense as another player came up to bat. “An epic battle,” said Ben Zobrist. It certainly was. Despite the fact that I slept through a lot of it, I was excited by every moment I heard – and thrilled by Chicago’s win!

Lake Leelanau Narrows, Thursday morning

This morning when David came out for his first cup of coffee, he gave me the latest radio report of the joy in Wrigleyville and I told him of the coincidence of my having reached the final game of the Series this morning in Wolfe’s famous novel. “Those Cubbies!” we said to each other happily, we who seldom pay attention to sports. Here is the literary coincidence I experienced:
They look at him with laughing and exuberant faces, unwounded by his scorn. They look at him with a kind of secret and unspoken tenderness which the strange and bitter savor of his life awakes in people always. They look at him with faith, with pride, with the joy of confidence and affection which his presence stirs in every one. And as if he were the very author of their fondest hopes, as if he were the fiat, not the helpless agent, of the thing they long to see accomplished, they yell to him in their unreasoning exuberance: “All right, Ben! Give us a hit now! A single’s all we need, boy! Bring him in!” Or others, crying with the same exuberance of faith: “Strike him out, Ben! Make him fan!” 
 But now the crowd, sensing the electric thrill and menace of a decisive conflict, has grown still, is waiting with caught breath and pounding hearts, their eyes fixed eagerly on Ben.... 
 The batter stands swinging his bat and grimly waiting at the plate, tense, the catcher, crouched, the umpire, bent, hands clasped behind his back, and peering forward. All of them are set now in the cold blue of that slanting shadow, except the pitcher who stands out there all alone, calm, desperate, and forsaken in his isolation....
Reading Of Time and the River for the first time, there’s no way I could have known ahead of time that this morning I would reach the pages where Thomas Wolfe describes the last game of a long-ago World Series! The scene is set about a hundred years ago, and protagonist Gene’s older brother, Ben (shortly afterward to die in the early 20th-century pneumonia epidemic) has a very visible role to play in their town’s national baseball experience. As we learned 150 pages earlier, it is Ben who announces the faraway game to fans in their little Southern hometown. Gene’s entry into the smoking car of the train in that earlier section of the book provoked memories among the older men there.
“Oh, I remember that boy now,” the swarthy pompous-looking man suddenly broke in with a flash of recollective inspiration—“Wasn’t Ben the boy who used to stand in the windows of The Courier offices when the World Series was being played, and post the score up on the scoreboard as they phoned it in to him?” 
 “Yes,” wheezed Mr. Flood [the publisher of The Courier], nodding heavily, “You got him now, all right. That was Ben.”
Forward again to the pages I reached this morning, we have a flashback to the final game of that World Series, with Ben, still alive, death still in his future, standing in the window of the newspaper office, phone to his ear, facing the local crowd out on the sidewalk.
The young man on the floor thrusts another placard into his hand. Ben takes it quickly, swiftly takes out a placard from the complicated frame of wires and rows and columns in the window (for it is before the day of the electric scoreboard, and this clumsy and complicated system whereby every strike, ball, substitution, or base hit—every possible movement and event that can occur on the field—must be indicated in this way by placards printed with the exact information, is the only one they know) and thrusts a new placard on the line in place of the one that he has just removed. A cheer, sharp, lusty, and immediate, goes up from the crowd.
Last night we could hear the cheers from the stands in Cleveland on our bedside radio, and friends who reported this morning being in a Chicago bar last night said the mood there was ecstatic. No doubt!

“A little good news,” I said to David, the two of us beaming at each other.

“We needed it,” he agrees.

What we call popples are called aspen out West

Following the end of the final game in the book, the crowd quickly disperses.
And instantly, there in the city’s heart, in the great stadium, and all across America, in ten thousand streets, ten thousand little towns, the crowd is breaking, flowing, lost forever! That single, silent, most intolerable loveliness is gone forever. With all its tragic, proud and waiting unity, it belongs now to the huge, the done, the indestructible fabric of the past, has moved at last out of that inscrutable maw of chance we call the future into the strange finality of dark time.
And almost instantly the dispersed crowd loses its short-lived unity.
To pace again the barren avenues of night, to pass before the bulbous light of lifeless streets with half-averted faces, to pass the thousand doors, to feel again the ancient hopelessness of hope, the knowledge of despair, the faith of desolation.

But Thomas Wolfe was only 31 years old when he began writing the novel and only 38 years old when he died. It is far easier for younger people to despair because they have not lived through earlier crises. Is it true our country has “never been more divided” than it is today? How about during the Civil War? How about during the 1960s? This morning, all over Leelanau County, people are smiling over and taking joy from the Cubs’ victory. So while I am reveling in Wolfe’s prose, in his wide ecstatic national vision, I’m not going to let go so quickly and easily of last night’s happy victory.

Cherry orchards are as beautiful in fall color as in springtime blossom

We needed happy news! We needed a reason to cheer! Oh, those Cubbies! Surely even Cleveland can’t help loving them?

Dark clouds sometimes make bursts of sunshine look brighter

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Contested Autumn

It was at just that season of the year when two events which are dear to the speculations of the American had absorbed the public interest. These events were baseball and politics, and at that moment both were thrillingly imminent. The annual baseball contests for “the championship of the world” were to begin within another day or two, and the national campaign for the election of the American president, which would be held in another month, was moving to its furious apogee of speeches, accusations, dire predictions, and impassioned promises. Both events gave the average American a thrill of pleasurable anticipation: his approach to both was essentially the same. It was the desire of a man to see a good show, to “take sides” vigorously in an exciting contest—to be amused, involved as an interested spectator is involved, but not to be too deeply troubled or concerned by the result. -      Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River

Thomas Wolfe has a lot to say in this book, edited down by Maxwell Perkins to a readable 899 pages, but by the end of Part I he has said not a word of Halloween, a holiday of fun undoubtedly restricted to children in the years immediately following World War I (the time period of the novel quoted above). Passages on train travel, however, are thrilling, especially to one who can remember, if only just barely, riding in a Pullman sleeper car as a young child. Happy memories and comfort books -- that's where my fevered mind has sought relief. I'm reading Time and the River for the first time and don't expect it to be bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy, but the poetry of the language and the author's Proustian willingness to stay with a scene are certainly voluptuous reading pleasures.

Politics and baseball? Well, the World Series has certainly been exciting without being, for me, in any way unnerving, but I cannot say the same of Halloween or the presidential election. Amused by this campaign season? Not too deeply troubled or concerned? I can’t say that. Can you? Now Halloween, at least, is past. For me, that's minor one down, one much greater trial to go....

But rather than close on a deep-sounding note of anxiety, I want to leave you today with Thomas Wolfe’s words of appreciation for his editor, surely one of the most effusively grateful dedications in all of American literature:



A great editor and a brave and honest man, who stuck to the writer of this book through times of bitter hopelessness and doubt and would not let him give in to his own despair, a work to be known as "Of Time and the River" is dedicated with the hope that all of it may be in some way worthy of the loyal devotion and the patient care which a dauntless and unshaken friend has given to each part of it, and without which none of it could have been written.

Wow! That's what I call gratitude!

And now, come on, Cubbies!!!

Continued entwining of World Series and Thomas Wolfe here