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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

I Said, He Said

The little notice at the top of today's post is something I taped outside my bookstore door a couple weeks ago. Originally I had it inside on the bulletin board, but my helper, Bruce, thought it needed to be bigger, so Bill Coohon made me a full-size printed sheet (now on bulletin board), and the little original moved to its current location, where people see it as they reach to open the door. 

Another small notice on the door itself provides information on when the bookstore is open. I list my hours as 11-5, though I’ve generally been open by 10 this summer and often don’t get away right at 5, either, if the store is full of (ahem!) browsers. (No one minds when a store opens early and closes late. They do mind if it opens late or closes early!) As for those Mondays, I've been open regularly on Mondays, but yes, my bookstore is closed on Sundays this year. Having a day off preserves my sanity and helps me be happier in my work.

This morning I got to town earlier than usual, because Wednesday’s early morning errands get me on the road before 8 a.m. I wasn’t all that surprised to see a note taped beside my door: sometimes a friend stops by before I get here or a delivery person makes an unexpected early morning stop, or maybe someone I don’t know is leaving greetings from a mutual friend faraway. Today’s note was different, however. The writer, though I’m not sure why, seemed to take exception to my browsing instructions. Here’s what I found:

I admit I was puzzled. Could the writer not see through the windows that the space inside was furnished and stocked? Did the writer expect the bookstore to open before 8 a.m.? I have been serving my Up North market — locals, summer people, tourists — since 1993. Had the writer ever seen me crying over online shoppers? No one has ever seen that, because it doesn’t happen.

While my own note beside the door does not bear my name, people generally make the correct assumption that I am its author, and if they ask I say, yes, of course. The note left for me, on the other hand, was anonymous. (Wouldn’t you know?) Without a clue to the anonymous writer’s identity, therefore, other than handwriting (very neat printing, actually, using good ink) and the kind of blue masking tape used by painters, I’m going to hazard a guess. 

I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that Anonymous is male. I’m guessing further that he is relatively young. As I say, I could be wrong. 

Here is the background assumption behind my guess: Young people, and particularly young men, often think they have figured the world out much better than their elders. They are eager to proffer sage advice — and yet, not always eager to enter in dialogue. Those seeking the last word prefer the exit line zinger. Better yet, the anonymous message.

I wonder if Anonymous has ever read Nietzsche. Poor Nietzsche! He was so eager to have the last word that he larded his later writings with off-putting remarks about how no one alive could possibly understand him, how he was speaking to the future when, presumably, humans would have evolved the higher intelligence he himself already possessed. Ah, the Myth of the Elusive Last Word! The world has not yet ceased interpreting Nietzsche, and it never will as long as his works persists, so he didn’t have the last word, after all, and neither will Anonymous -- and neither will I, for that matter. The world spins on, opinions multiply. Whatever we say, however carefully we say it, someone will find a way to object. 

Well, sorry! I digress.

Anonymous left a second note written in black magic market on his blue masking tape. Or maybe this was his first note, the inked list his second? Anyway, here's the shorter message:

I don’t know if you can read that. What it says is, “Also, Respect Your Customer.” Then below that it says, “WTF? Nice Joke,” with an arrow that pointed down (before I removed it) to my browsing instructions. 

My first response to “WTF” was “NVN!” (By that I mean Not Very Nice.) But it’s so hard to interpret the rest without context or facial expression. By “Nice Joke,” was he saying he appreciated my humor (as do most people coming through the door)? Or was he being sarcastic? Well, no way to know, is there? As far as respecting the customer goes, though, I’m proud to say I have an excellent track record, but don’t take my word for it. Ask around. I'm not hiding behind anonymity. 

And now, enough of that nonsense. It was fun for a while and good for a laugh to start the day, but let’s not get completely distracted by anonymous note-writers or bullying tweeters, because the more we can talk to each other face-to-face, the better our lives will be. 

Also, whatever you do, do not lose track of my Thursday Evening Author series, with two more events to go this summer! Next week, Michael Zadoorian! Read about his new novel here, and come meet him on August 8! 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Where Did YOU Go to High School -- and When?

“I don’t think I want to go to high school,” I finally confess to my mother as we sit at the kitchen table two nights before school starts. She’s in a pretty good mood, so it seems like the right time to bring it up.  
My mother stubs out an L&M 100 in the hubcap-sized ashtray we keep in the kitchen. I make a note that it’s due to be emptied. She looks at me, exhaling the last pull of smoke almost away from me, but not really. “Excuse me, what did you say?” 
- Michael Zadoorian, Beautiful Music

Literary critics call a novel like Beautiful Music a Bildungsroman. The term a combination of the German word Bildung, meaning "education," and Roman, meaning "novel." So a "bildungsroman" is a novel that deals with the main character’s formative years, especially psychological development and moral education. Here in the U.S. we generally call these books “coming-of-age” novels. 

In Beautiful Music we meet Danny Yzemski and his parents shortly before Danny begins high school (didn’t you know he wouldn’t get out of it that easily?), and as we read we travel with him along his particular, sometimes frightening and occasionally exhilarating, path through 1970s urban adolescence.

Danny has not been looking forward to high school. He’s not even excited about learning to drive and would have postponed getting behind the wheel indefinitely, if not for his father’s insistence. In fact, Danny might have been content to hide away in the basement forever building his model cars, if he’d had his way. High school — well, that’s an obstacle course of dangers and pitfalls.

At school, I master the art of not being seen. Even though I’m not so tall and slightly wide, I’m very good at working my way through all the different kids in the hallways without making any contact. While I’m weaving through the halls, the other kids are only blurs to me — white blurs, black blurs (more every day), pretty blurs who see right through me, smart blurs who I work the hardest to avoid. I bend my body, weave and wiggle between them, like walking between raindrops, taking care to never touch or look at anyone. If I brush anyone at all, that’s a point against me in my head. Touching or being seen also makes me more vulnerable to the mean blurs who torment kids like me. That’s why it’s best to keep moving. The faster I walk, the less they see of me. I’m a bat, flying low through the halls, using my sonar to find the spaces between the other kids….

Danny’s parents do not have the happiest marriage in Detroit, but they are together, and his father looks after his pretty obviously depressed and alcoholic wife as best he can. And both of them love Danny, which is a big plus. But it’s the boy and his father who are close buddies, without having to put their closeness into sentimental words — and that makes his father’s sudden and unexpected death all the more traumatic for Danny, already feeling at sea in his transition from boy to man.

What saves his life, basically, is music, though I’ll leave the what and how of it for you to discover in reading the novel. And seventies rock doesn’t solve every problem or answer every question. It certainly make Danny’s mother stop drinking or bring his father back to life. But it does give him a reason to get out of the basement. Something to hang onto. Eventually, it opens a few doors for him into the larger world. 

Sometimes Danny uses music to stop thinking, but he’s too smart to cut off his thoughts altogether, and one of the theories he develops has to do with bad dreams. Parents, he reasons, “build a bubble around you” and tell you that a bad dream is “just a bad dream, nothing to worry about…,” instead of what he now thinks it is, “your own creeping awareness that you … are going to die.” He wonders how childhood might be different if adults didn’t distract kids with “tooth fairies and Easter Bunnies and Santa Clauses” but told them the real truth about the world.

That people do bad things. They beat you up. They say horrible mean words to each other, even when there doesn’t seem to be much difference between them. That dads don’t wake up and moms stop taking care of you and start going crazy. That nothing is going to turn out like you think. 

Even if a young person were told these truths, though, hearing the statements would not be living the experiences — surviving, becoming stronger, and finding a way through to a reasonably happy and fulfilling adulthood in an imperfect world. At the end of Beautiful Music, although for his sake we wish his path were easier, we think Danny is going to do all right. 

The music of the Seventies grounds and surrounds the story. It is the friendliest part, for him, of the world Danny inhabits. More than that, it is his salvation. The uneasiness of race relations in that decade of Detroit’s history is mostly in the background, except for a few incidents, but then, Danny’s life has been very quiet and protected and narrow until his father’s death — he has never had a date and doesn’t hang out with a “crowd” — so for me the fact that he doesn’t dwell more deeply on racial issues is just part and parcel of where he is in his growing up. He’s an adolescent white male, a loner who has lost his father, and he is naturally preoccupied with his own personal problems.

Only once time did the narrator’s language depart from what I thought a high school boy like Danny would naturally use. The use of the term “cross-stitching” (or was it “cross-stitched”?) stuck out in one sentence. But that was all. On every other page I believed every word came from a teenage boy, albeit it one who is something of a “nerd.” 

Beautiful Music is a novel for adults, but I can also see it being read and enjoyed by teen readers, especially those interested in “what the Seventies were like.” It wasn’t even my era (I was a Sixties teen) and have never lived in Detroit, but Zadoorian made the era and the protagonist come alive for me. 

Michael Zadoorian will be my Thursday Evening Author on August 8, when I look forward to meeting him and hope you will be able to join us. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Generation Gaps

Was the phrase ‘generation gap’ invented in the Sixties? I suspected so and found confirmation online. I had started wondering about that and other, more complicated questions after a brief but unusual conversation a few mornings ago in my bookstore, when a man younger than my son remarked to me, after we had found we had similar views on many current issues, that he thought, “no offense, but I think your generation screwed up our country.” I didn’t argue but have been reflecting on his opinion since our encounter. 

First, it’s important to remember that my generation, that of the 1960s, felt our parents’ generation and those before it had screwed up the country! We didn’t want to grow up to be men and women in grey flannel suits, selling our souls for big, shiny automobiles and houses in the suburbs and turning away from problems that didn’t affect us personally. We certainly didn’t want to see our world destroyed in senseless atomic war, a possibility the “Greatest Generation” invented and we inherited.

So hippies followed postwar existentialists in seeking lives of authenticity. Some went “back to the land,” and some sought spiritual enlightenment in music and/or meditation and/or drugs. Many fell for the dream of “free love,” finding that idea more honest than unhappy marriages they saw their parents suffering through and imagining foolishly that jealousy could be overcome with reason (a lesson it seems every generation has to learn for itself). But there was much more. Idealistic Peace Corps workers went abroad to other countries, the Black Panthers set up idealistic projects in urban neighborhoods, the American Indian Movement was born, and passionate kids from the North went South to sign up black voters. There were marches and demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, a war we now know was started by accident and criminally pursued for years.  

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” we said, and I still believe that, but then the question is, was our generation part of solving any of the problems we faced? 

Here’s another question: Did our children’s generation do any better? 

And another: How will our grandchildren’s generation do? 

Except for laundry I’m taking a day off today, so I’m going to cut this short and leave my questions hanging. If you have thoughts or answers or opinions or experiences to share, I welcome them right here. You can leave a comment as ‘Anonymous,’ if you like, and that’s fine, too.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Girl on Horseback

Laurie reined in her horse at the place where the hill dropped away. She sat quietly for a moment looking down at the ghost town that was her home. 
Barbara Corcoran, The Long Journey
As you can see by the cover, the little paperback book shows a girl on horseback, so it merited a closer look. Published in 1970, it said inside. Then the first two sentences pulled me in, and the next paragraph began in a similarly promising way:
Off to the right on another hillside were a dozen little shacks where the miners had lived, and to the left was the long building they had used for a dining and reception hall. 
Really! Well, the little ghost town in the book is in Montana, so there are many differences between the settings of Hawkins Dry Diggings, Montana, and Dos Cabezas, Arizona. No adobe in Montana, of course. Instead, summer snow on the high mountaintops, trees on the slopes and across the land, and creeks running with clear water as Laurie heads south to find her Uncle Arthur to let him know that her grandfather, growing blind, needs medical attention.

If she were to make the journey by bus, her grandfather reasons, someone might question a girl that young traveling alone, and authorities would be called in, authorities who might think Laurie shouldn’t be living in a ghost town with an old man, even if he was her grandfather, who would probably think she would be better off in an orphanage. So travel by bus is out. 

Couldn’t he just go into their own nearest town and telephone Arthur? 
“No, no,” he said impatiently. “Telephones are no good. Can’t half the time hear what the other fellow is saying. You’d never be able to explain everything like it’s got to be explained. No, there’s nothing to do, but go there.” He sighed. “I hate to send you on such a long journey and you so young.”
Laurie reminds him that he had plenty of independence and adventures when he was a boy, and her grandfather is reassured. And so he gives Laurie her uncle’s address in Butte, a map, a compass, three gold nuggets, three silver dollars, and sends her off on her horse. 

Laurie has never been to school, never known any society at all other than what she has read in books and in National Geographic magazines, but she knows how to shoot and hunt and live off the land, and she and her grandfather are confident that she can find her way to Butte, no matter how many days the long journey takes. Neither of them anticipated that she would be shot for trespassing while trying to free a colt from barbed wire or that she might meet the devil along the way! Well, maybe not the devil, exactly, but a dangerous and frightening man, all the same, determined to steal her gold nuggets! 

It was confusing to meet so many people, all different kinds of people. Her grandfather taught her that the world was bad, but she finds good people, too — Kicking Horses, the boy who guides her to the trail she needs; Miss Emily, the retired schoolteacher who gives her shelter from the storm; Doc Ashe who tends to her gunshot wound. There is even a much younger girl, lost in the forest, needing Laurie to rescue her. Throughout the book, however, a lurking threat appears and reappears in the form of the crazy man on the mule, devil or not, and the song he mindlessly sings, its refrain disturbing Laurie’s peace of mind even when the man is out of sight. Keeping out of his clutches along her way is essential to reaching her primary goal.

Whatever age the reader, there is something exhilarating and inspiring about a young person setting out alone in the world, and as a female reader I find a girl’s adventures bring me added satisfaction. Among adult novels, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River satisfies in a similar way. Even the dystopic YA novel Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, with the unforgettable Katniss Everdeen, gives 21st-century readers hope that even in the most horrible future society, wild nature beyond towns might offer salvation for young people willing to learn and live its ways. 

But The Long Journey is a simpler story, the motivation for the girl’s setting off on her adventure uncomplicated.

And I needed the uplift of The Long Journey because I’ve been reading a very different kind of book, another difficult book, taking it in small doses but still feeling overwhelmed. The first words of the title, Amity and Prosperity, don’t sound bleak, but the subtitle, One Family and the Fracturing of America, gives a pretty clear warning. Amity and Prosperity, you see, are not what the family will find at the end of the story. They are the names of two desperate towns, and the author of Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, Eliza Griswold, tells the story of one family’s experiences when they and their neighbors sign contracts to allow fracking wells built on their land. I can only read a few pages at a time. What was done to these people — what continues to be done in countries that still allow the process — fills me with rage. I’d love to have people with “Drill, Baby, Drill” bumper stickers trade places with the Appalachian residents who thought their lives would be changed for the better by fracking. People were lied to, deceived, taken advantage of, made horribly ill, wells and land and livestock and children poisoned. What is the hope for the future of these people and their land?

So even while I was enjoying The Long Journey, I couldn’t help having intrusive, skeptical thoughts whenever Laurie and her horse drank from wild Montana creeks. Mining has never been an environmentally friendly way of life, and extraction industries in general rely on dangerously polluting chemical processes. How many rivers and streams in North America are clean enough that one could drink their water even after boiling (which Laurie does only once) or purifying it? What if Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Margo Crane had been on the Kalamazoo River after the oil spill of 2010? Even Katniss Everdeen had only society to fear, not poisoned nature. 

Such a beautiful world! More wondrous than anything ever built by mankind! How can we mistreat it so, fouling our precious, irreplaceable nest?

Blue flag, wetland, Leelanau Township

Postscript, Tuesday afternoon: We were walking around the marina in Suttons Bay on Sunday evening when we happened upon two little girls catching frogs. None of us knew what kind of frogs they were, but now I think maybe these. Anyway, it made me very happy to see little girls catching frogs. They had a big black net and were putting the frogs in a little see-through plastic carrying case. "Do you want to touch one?" I asked if I could pick one up. Very slippery! It tried to escape, but I got it back in the case and asked the girls what they planned to do with the frogs. "Let them go again," they told me. And that made me happy, too. Girls need adventure and freedom in the great outdoors every bit as much as do boys.

Friday, July 19, 2019

I Turn to My Mother’s Book

There are some books it takes me a while to get through, but I don’t see any point in just flipping through long books on serious topics. If one is going to take the time and trouble to read such books, it only makes sense to read them carefully. The good ones merit attention, and why bother with any other kind? After a long trudge through history, however, and at the end of a week marked by more immediate political strife, I needed to a break, and so I picked up this old book that belonged to my mother when she was a girl and that my sisters and I read repeatedly when we were young.

I turn to her book to hold my mother close again, since we lost her nine months ago, and also to try to capture something of what she must have been like when she was a schoolgirl. 

I turn to my mother’s book to recapture my own girlhood, too, those long summer days spent reading -- sometimes reading this very book -- on our family home’s front porch, corn rippling in the fields across the road, apples ripening in the trees below and behind the house. Each soft, worn page that has worked loose from the binding I turn over with care as I read. 

Was my parents’ little grey-shingled house in South Dakota my mother’s “house of dreams”? They look so young and happy in the old black-and-white snapshots. 

I am not a collector of valuable editions, but the value of some of my books goes way beyond price. As I hold this dilapidated volume, an inexpensive reprint to begin with of a title published in 1917, I know that I hold a treasure in my hands.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Whose “Good Old Days” Are You Talking About?

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” said the character Stephen Daedalus in the novel Ulysses, by James Joyce. True for the Irish, and it should have been true for the English, also, but was it? An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is a difficult book to read, because the facts themselves are brutal, but for that very reason it is also an important corrective to U.S. history as generally taught. I’ve made my way through it slowly so as not to skip over any of the unbelievably horrible but horribly real — and horribly repetitive — details. The awful repetition of horrors is important because it shows that, rather than being something that can be brushed aside today as anomalies, all were part of systematic, government-sanctioned and often (though not always) government-led racism and genocide in our country’s history. 

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz did not grow up on a reservation but “in the midst of,” as she puts it, Native communities in rural Oklahoma, her father a cowboy, her mother “ashamed of being part Indian.” She became involved in political movements in the Sixties — antiwar, civil rights, anti-apartheid, women’s lib — and eventually with the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the International Indian Treaty Council. She earned her doctorate in 1974 with a dissertation on land tenure in New Mexico. It’s easier to tell you about the author’s background than about what’s in her book, though, because even white people know, after all, that the history of the frontier was not a happy one for Native Americans. We have all heard and read that the westward movement was made possible by a series of broken treaties and bloody encounters. But what about colonial days? Weren’t we taught in grade school about a peaceful “First Thanksgiving” between Native Americans and English colonists?

One point the author makes repeatedly is that the “Indian Wars” did not begin in the Wild West but right there in the beginning on the Atlantic Coast. From England’s invasion and subjugation of Ireland (that nightmare history) came the practice of scalping, with bounties paid and few if any questions asked about sex or age of the murdered and mutilated. Thus immigrant men without property in the colonies and new United States, organized into volunteer militias, might better themselves financially as scalping and land-taking practices accompanied immigration to the North America.

European justification for seizure of Native lands can be traced back to the 15th century, when the pope promulgated and clarified the Doctrine of Discovery, cited in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson and reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1823. According to this doctrine, which came to be enshrined in international law, “discoverers” of a land could claim it as territory for their own country, thus jumping the property rights claims of all other European countries. Prior inhabitants (called “First Nations” in Canada) were not considered to have any property rights in their own homeland. In their religion, land was too sacred to be bought and sold — and so they were sold out by invaders with a different set of values and customs.

Another theme Dunbar-Ortiz presents is the idea that “total war” — i.e., war fought not only between armies but waged against an entire population, with villages and crops burned and game slaughtered so that, facing starvation and “scorched earth,” no choice is left but to take to what was called, in the case of the Cherokees, the “Trail of Tears” — is nothing new to the U.S. military. Used first against Native Americans, it was national and military policy at the highest levels of American government, as the author demonstrates with quotations from governors, generals, and U.S. presidents. Military experience in dealing with Native Americans was subsequently taken overseas to the Philippines and, later, to Vietnam. The first U.S. invasion of Iraq was promised to bring speedy victory of U.S. forces over Iraqi “Indian country.” The phrase “Indian country” came from the Vietnam era but has come to be abbreviated as “In Country,” disguising the origins of the term designating “behind enemy lines,” the change, though at best only cosmetic, perhaps due in part to a protest from the National Congress of American Indians in 1991.

I’m refraining from incorporating very many quoted passages, but here’s one that encapsulates all the rest. The author writes that Dee Brown’s 1970 account of a 19th-century massacre, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, became a “surprise best seller,

so the name Wounded Knee resonated with a broad public by 1973. On the front page of one newspaper, editors placed two photographs side by side, each of a pile of bloody, mutilated bodies in a ditch. One was from My Lai in 1968, the other from the Wounded Knee army massacre of the Lakota in 1890. Had they not been captioned, it would have been impossible to tell the difference in time and place.  
- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
Dunbar-Ortiz, however, does more than bust myths and document genocide. Equally important to her story is Indigenous resistance and survival, from the beginning to modern times, including legal battles ongoing today. Here’s one that may surprise you:

…In the first land restitution to any Indigenous nation, President Richard M. Nixon signed into effect Public Law 91-550, which had been approved with bipartisan majorities in Congress [my amazed emphasis added]. President Nixon stated, “This is a bill that represents justice, because in 1906 an injustice was done, in which land involved in this bill — 48,000 acres — was taken from the Taos Pueblo Indians. The Congress of the United States now returns that land to whom it belongs.”
Yet today, even as I was working on this expanded version of my review of the Dunbar-Ortiz book (a shorter version was written for another publication), a young man from Leelanau County, Zhaabadiis Biidaasige, whom I knew when he was a little boy as Johnny Petoskey, was standing before the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People, representing the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Kitchiwikwedongsing Anishinaabak, and speaking to the issue of unfulfilled treaty promises made by the State of Michigan to the Anishnabe people. 

Survival. Resistance. Renewal.

A special edition for young people of this book is due for release in late July. How will the story be told there? And what do we want American children of any skin color or ethnic background to know about American history? How do we tell them the truth and still inculcate in them a love of their country? Perhaps that depends not only on how we teach about the past but even more on how we conduct ourselves in the present and into the future. 

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014), paperback, 296 pages with index, $16

Saturday, July 13, 2019

“How Doth the Busy Little Bee…”?

Can you believe it’s practically the middle of July already? Is summer half-over? Vacation just starting or still a few weeks in the future? Anyway, the marsh marigolds have given way to daisies, yarrow, and sweet peas along the roadsides, and while coreopsis and St. Johnswort were a little late this year they're now making quite a showing, as are garden roses, making up for the iris performance that's over for the season. Cherries are ripening. Hay is being cut and baled and transported from the fields.

It was another very busy week in your Up North bookseller’s life (making hay while the sun shines) -- so busy I’ve already forgotten what happened on Monday. Tuesday, I know, brought Barbara Stark-Nemon to the library with her new novel, Hard Cider; Wednesday our little reading circle escaped vicariously to Vienna for a couple of hours (with the help of a couple book and three special guests); and Thursday, of course, Kathleen Stocking was my Thursday Evening Author at Dog Ears Books, where we had, as I had anticipated, standing room only in the Artist’s gallery, with audience spilling over into studio and bookstore. I have to thank the versatile Artist, David Grath, not only for letting us use the space but also for setting up chairs and for his beautiful painting on the cover of the guest author’s book! Sorry I don't have better photos -- I mean, really, sorry I don't have good, illustrative photos at all of the evening. There was just no room to maneuver.

As it was, I had to elbow my way past the overflow crowd to get the above.

Kathleen Stocking is, to resort to a word I generally consider overused but one very appropriate in this case, iconic Leelanau. On this particular occasion (she seems to have a different twist for every appearance) she brought along children of a friend to perform a skit illustrating the history of the universe! Who would have expected that? And after her talk, copies From the Place of the Gathering Light: Leelanau Pieces flew off the sales counter. 

Whenever I’m tempted to say the weather is or was “hot,” as it was on Wednesday, I am always reminded of a friend (you are gone but not forgotten, Chris) who forbade the use of that word in northern Michigan. He would allow his friends to say “warm,” when summer finally came after a long northern winter, but no complaining, ever! Whatever you call temperatures in the 90s, I was relieved when a cold front moved in Wednesday evening, so that the Artist’s gallery space on Thursday, even filled to overflowing, remained comfortable. 

If you missed the event, a few signed copies are still available, along with signed copies of Stocking's previous book (her third of four), The Long Arc of the Universe—Travels Beyond the Pale, which I highly recommend you read, also. In short, it was a glorious evening!

[Note on refreshments (skip if not interested): The event series is still called TEA, but I’ve switched to punch this summer. We had “library punch” for Jennifer Clark (Vernor’s and white grape juice — always good), and for Kathleen I modified a punch recipe that is so good that it needs a name of its own. Nancy Giles makes her punch with frozen orange juice, frozen lemonade, pineapple juice, 7-Up, water, vanilla extract, and almond extract. My modification was the substitution of Vernor’s for 7-Up, and because of that change I omitted the almond extract. Sorry not to include measurements here, but I kind of winged it on those, reducing the amount of Vernor’s and water and trusting on melting ice to make up for it. Tip on Note: Don’t add all the carbonated liquid at once, but add a more gradually as the ice melts to keep the kick in the punch.]

Friday morning was beautiful, too, and, with Bruce opening the bookstore for me, I treated myself to a leisurely late rising and unrushed garden-watering session. Forget Shakespeare’s sonnet about June — it’s July that is bringing perfect days to northern Michigan this year. Perfect morning for farmers market on Friday. Perfect evening for Music in the Park. Perfect all day long for strolling around the village to admire garden blooms.

Perfect days for relaxing with good books, too, so steal the time, one way or another. I look forward to these future TEA guests at my bookstore in Northport.

Authors and books still to come this summer

P.S. Today's title was taken from this poem

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Novel Worth Reading, Physical Copy NOT Incredibly Valuable

Where are we?
Whoever wrote the entry on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in Merriam Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature offers a pretty opinionated view of the writer’s work: 
Rawlings took her material from the people and land around her, and her books are less fiction than vivid factual reporting.
Really? Is that shocking? Did F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway not take their material from people and places familiar to them? Willa Cather and Eudora Welty? Marcel Proust? John Steinbeck? I could go on and on, but so could you, I’m sure. 

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was born in 1896, and her first novel, South Moon Under, written from her rural home in Cross Creek in interior northern Florida, was published 1933. The writer of the Encyclopedia of Literature piece acknowledges the author’s “magical description of the landscape” of the area in and around Cross Creek, brought to the attention of other Americans in her most famous novel, The Yearling. But it’s South Moon Under I’ve been reading — for the first time — and on the very first page the Florida scrub habitat springs to life:
Light still hung raggedly above the hammock west of the cleared acres. Here and there a palm shook its head against the faint orange of the sky, or the varnished small leaves of a live oak were for a moment luminous. There was an instant when the hammock reared back against the west; when the outline of each tree-top was distinct; when the clearing gathered about it the shreds of twilight. Then there was no longer scrub or clearing or hammock. Blackness obliterated them with a great velvet paw and crouched like a panther on the cabin doorstep.  
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, South Moon Under
I can see the palm tree shaking its head and then the black velvet paw of the panther blotting out the trees and everything else. Rawlings does indeed capture the uniqueness of the scrub habitat, its moods and effects on moods as well as its flora and fauna. 

But her artistry does not end there. All the while as you are reading along, lulled by scenery and character and dialect and the small events that form the society of the Florida scrub, a world completely different from the one most of us inhabit (and all the more so in that she was describing it as it was over eight decades ago), Rawlings is building a subtle, almost invisible narrative arc. My opinion is that this surprising first novel has been terribly underrated and deserves far more serious attention. 

I want to turn my attention now, however, to the physical book in my hands and ask you to look at it with me. How can this possibly be a first edition, although the Scribner’s “A” is there on the copyright page?

Look carefully at the pages. The type is not crisp and clear. The binding, however, is in excellent condition, though, isn’t it? For a book from 1933, without a dust jacket, to look so good is -- or would be, if it were that old -- astonishing. Sure enough, when we search online we find that the cloth binding of the first edition was light green, not dark blue, thus the volume that came into my hands is a modern reprint masquerading as a first edition. What individual or company is responsible for its production? There is no hint in or on the book. 

Book piracy is rampant online, and there are few protections against it. Know your book dealer!

Coming soon: Thoughts about literary regionalism. Do you have questions about it?