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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

My life has changed a lot. (Our lives are always changing.)

School is back in session. The number of boats is thinning in the marina. Playground equipment stands empty in the rain, and leaves are beginning to turn and fall. Autumn is a season of change more obvious than the gradual changes of summer.

The rest of the United States, when it recognizes the name Bruce Catton, thinks “Civil War historian.” Here in Michigan (especially northern Michigan, where Catton spent his boyhood and youth), we know him as one of our own, not only the writer of books about the Civil War but also author of an engaging and moving history of Michigan, as well as his beautiful and much-loved memoir, Waiting for the Morning Train


Catton had a tragic sense of history. His thesis in Michigan: A Centennial History can be stated simply, if metaphorically: “We are all Indians.” With this phrase, the author was not taking on the colors of a wannabe and dressing up in literary pow-wow regalia, pretending to be something he was not. This is not cultural appropriation. What Catton meant is clear to readers of the book: the relentless march of American history, the tide of white Europeans invading and claiming ancestral tribal homelands, which meant cultural destruction to Native American tribes, bringing change faster that the native peoples could adapt to it (had the Europeans even allowed them to adapt, which is another story) – that kind of rapid, destructive cultural change is the fate of us all, whether we realize it or not. One example from Michigan history is the destruction of old-growth white pine forests: in the short term, the timber industry provided jobs locally and lumber to rebuild Chicago after the fire, but the resulting fields of stumps provided nothing for the many young lumber towns that rapidly fell into decay.

Perhaps being overcome and left behind is the fate of the older generations everywhere in the world where change is rapid. In this Western “civilized” world, certainly, we are (and have been for generations) overdriving our headlights – and we are also, simultaneously, the deer in the headlights, those bringing change no more in control of the future than those overwhelmed by changes wrought.

In my own life, for a long time, there were certain things I did every year and naively thought I would always do, and now I find myself falling away from many of what used to be annual personal traditions, while at the same time unforeseen developments have come into my life, complicating and changing it irrevocably. One recent development is the dog we call Peasy.  I knew I was adopting a shy dog, a dog with “issues,” but I had no idea what it meant to live with a “reactive” dog until, as we got to know him better, I began reading more about the special needs this little guy has, which is why I now say that he is “my comfort and my challenge, companion and burden, solution (to some of life’s problems) and problem (on his own, in many ways).” Fortunately, I am not alone in dealing with the challenges Peasy presents, however, because the little dickens has managed somehow to worm his way into the Artist’s heart, as well. How amazing! 

“He’s so full of life! And he’s so grateful to us! It would be churlish not to love him,” says the Artist (who adds that the last thing he wants to be is a churl). When Peasy trots proudly into the bedroom carrying one of his toys to show us, we dissolve in laughter. He plays joyfully and brings his joy to us, another of his treasures and one he shares happily. If only he could spread his joy and love around to other people, as Sarah did! But that, sadly, is not his nature.

Nikki was a shy little plain Jane, “pure mutt,” as I used to say when people asked. Sarah was a beautiful, calm, very sociable Aussie-border collie mix. The world was a scary place for Nikki, but with us she had a good, long life. Sarah was the easiest puppy and dog in the world to live with and loved just about everyone and everything in the world. Neither of those dogs prepared us for Peasy. But although the accommodations necessary for dealing with him and friends and family at the same time are sometimes a real pain in the neck, he loves us so much that we can’t help loving him back.


So that is one big change in our life. Another, creeping on us gradually, but more speedily with each passing year, is that we are getting oldUs! Whoever thought that would happen? It doesn’t mean a thing that it happens to “everyone,” because what has “everyone” to do with us? 


I began this post with Michigan history, zoomed in on my personal life, and now want to pull back again for a wider, longer view. Northport. Leelanau County. Traverse City. Northern Michigan. In Traverse City, change has been bigger and faster than out here in the county, such that if we don’t go to town for a couple of weeks, we hardly recognize the place. Okay, slight exaggeration. But really! High-rise hotels and motels have taken the place of old mom-and-pop tourist cabins, and enormous condominium buildings sprout like giant mushrooms from outer space along the Boardman River and Grand Traverse Bay. We look at what we see there now and recall to each other how the same place used to look forty, fifty, sixty years ago, when Traverse City really was still a small town. 


Well, Northport is still a small town. We have our dog parade in August and homecoming parade in the fall. In the summer, there is the farmers market and, on Friday evenings, Music in the Park. There is a blinking traffic light at the south end of the village, and there are parking lots but no parking meters. Yet change is inevitable everywhere, and Northport is no exception. Will our little village be able to accommodate change and retain its friendly small-town atmosphere, or will the atmosphere itself be changed? No one, I think, wants the latter possibility to be realized. Those of us already here like our town the way it is, and new people come because they like it, too.


When I posted on Facebook that I had a couple copies of the book Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, two village council members put dibs on those copies (so I should probably order more). Is it possible to limit growth? How do we do it?


It’s bow season right now for deer, to be followed by firearm deer season, and slowing down on county roads is a good idea. Maybe slowing down in other ways is a good idea, too. Easy for me to recommend slowing down, though: I’m getting old. How do you feel about change and speed?


P.S. Please see here my pitch for the kind of support that counts with booksellers, whether you like life fast or slow. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Local Color and Stubborn Onions


Northport Harbor is so beautiful! 

If anyone ever asks me….


Someone did ask me, a few years ago, to what I attributed my success in a world of bookselling dominated by the online behemoth, and my answer was to tell him I am very stubborn. Too stubborn to give up, that is. So last night as I was sauteing onions and musing on how often I am slicing or dicing or sauteing onions, it occurred to me that if I live to be 100 (my mother was just shy of 96 when she died) and am asked the secret of my longevity, I can say, “I’m very stubborn and I've always eaten lots of onions.” 


Onions were not part of my bookstore’s success, but Dog Ears Books had its 28th birthday this past July, putting us now into our 29th year. Longevity! In a challenging world!


Onions are not good for dogs, we are told – toxic, in fact -- but not giving up is essential when working with a challenging rescue dog. More on this in a minute….



Since the end of September, 


I have read these books to add to my 2021 list: 


134. Thomas, Dylan. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (fiction). Largely autobiographical fiction, that is, and for some reason I never really entered into it deeply enough to lose myself in the stories. “How was it?” the Artist asked. “Okay.” “Only okay.” Shrug. “Okay.”


135. McKenzie, C.B. Burn What Will Burn (fiction). This crime novel set in backwoods Arkansas opens with a body in Piney Creek and gathers complications from then on. The characters and dialogue are vivid, along with touches of local realism (for instance, “snake pit” is not metaphor but simple fact), and yet the story faded from my mind quickly after I finished reading the book. It was, I’d say, very plot-driven, with not a lot of the kind of description that makes a place I don’t know come alive for me. The contrast I’d make is with Damnation Creek, by Ash Davidson. But then, McKenzie’s is more of genre fiction, Davidson’s more literary, as I read them.


136. Bragg, Rick. The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People(nonfiction). This story of a “bad” dog who finds a family unwilling to give up on him had me laughing with tears in my eyes. Will he bite? Under certain circumstances, he’ll even bite Rick. But he’s a handsome dog. Rick says, “Looks ain’t his problem.” Oh, my gosh! These are not only real people – they come across the page as real people, and the place as a real place. I could see it all as if I were there.


137. Cogan, Priscilla. Winona’s Web (fiction). Most chapters in this “novel of discovery” (as it’s called on the cover) recount sessions the protagonist, a psychotherapist, has with an elderly Native American woman who expects to die soon, although she is not ill and is not planning suicide. The client quickly becomes the therapist, and the therapist of record allows it to happen, for her own sake and the sake of the old woman. Despite the obvious setup, the story is never boring, and I quite enjoyed it, both for the cross-cultural learning and the opening up of the main character’s heart. I suppose, however, that I must add that this is very much a white woman's book, and that cross-cultural learning could also be seen as cultural appropriation -- which is why it has taken me so many years to get around to reading Winona's Web in the first place.


138. Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War (fiction). Somehow this book had slipped under my radar completely since it was first published in 1974, although now I find it created quite a stir. The protagonist, an only child and a freshman in a Catholic boys’ high school, has recently lost his mother and does not seem to have a close relationship with his father, although there is no real friction between them, either. My take on this novel is that it’s Lord of the Flies without the isolation of an island or the absence of putative adults: human greed and cruelty and desire for power and status infect some of the teachers as well as the boys in school, which allows a small group of boys to terrify the rest into submission – until Jerry takes it in his head not to go along … and pays the price.


139. Zadoorian, Michael. The Narcissism of Small Differences(fiction). Reading this novel for the second or third time, I entered more fully into the lives of a just-turned-40 couple still trying to find themselves before they age out of being cool and “weird.” I need to think more about the title, which comes from an idea of Sigmund Freud’s, that “the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them.” Some of the scenes in Zadoorian’s short story collection, Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, come into this longer work with more detail, and there is plenty of ambivalence to go around, both toward the abandoned inner city and toward capitalism in general, but the characters take center stage.


And now, about Peasy –


-- Because I know that’s really why many of you tune in to Books in Northport in the first place. Recently I posted on Facebook that Peasy is my comfort and my challenge, companion and burden, solution (to some of life’s problems) and problem (on his own, in many ways). All in all, it’s fair to say he is in some ways my salvation and in other ways my nemesis! How can one dog be so many things? Rick Bragg (see book list above) would understand, I know.


The first time I saw Peasy in the Graham County, AZ, pound (thinking he was a she, but that’s another story), it was clear that this dog was very skittish. That was the mild way of putting it. He was afraid of people, to put it more bluntly. And once I had him home, it was clear that he knew no commands, had no manners, and had almost zero impulse control. So he has come a very long way in ten months, to become an affectionate, devoted, fun-loving companion to the Artist and me. The trouble comes when other people come onto “our” territory, which he seems to feel responsible for guarding.


Will Peasy ever be able to have a normal social life? And will we, given that he is such a part of our life? Such challenges! I yo-yo back and forth between hope and despair. But we are not giving up on this little guy – and I say “we” because the Artist is now squarely on Peasy’s side, the two of them quite bonded at last – and my stubbornly hopeful (or hopefully stubborn) nature got a big shot in the arm reading about clicker training for to curb reactivity by getting the dog to stop and think.


Among the reasons I look forward to my annual seasonal retirement in southeast Arizona, this year being able to concentrate on Peasy and work intensively on his social skills is high on the list. It will be good to rejoin the neighborhood pack (my friend Therese and her dogs), which was the groundwork of Peasy’s social life last winter and will be our starting point again in 2021-22. Thank heaven he didn’t exhibit dog-dog aggression! Molly is more than a match for him, anyway! No, it’s people he needs to stop fearing, but I have, once again, hope. So stay tuned, because I fully expect to have happy news to share. I am determined to have happy news to share.

Our beautiful boy!

P.S. The beautiful art adorning the marina in Northport, Michigan, was created by Kat Dakota

Saturday, October 2, 2021

What Constitutes 'Simplicity'?

Misleading minimalist photograph from our front porch

Recently I read an article in the New Yorker magazine about minimalism as it relates to living spaces ["Simple Plans," by Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker, February 3, 2020], in which the author describes a video featuring a $60M mansion as "a stark, blank, monochromatic palace...." Readers are not informed of the square footage of the mansion, but I'm guessing the effect was as much in its size as in its minimal furnishings. I would be more impressed by a "minimalist" lifestyle if the homeowners had built themselves a one-room cabin by hand.


The Artist and I don’t live with bare walls and have no desire to do so. Walls, in our life, are for displaying art and for accommodating bookshelves. Besides paintings, prints, and books, we have our other little béguins matériels, if I may use that phrase to indicate things we fall for and impulsively must have but don’t need at all. For me, it’s bed linens, kitchen linens, specialty cookware, and what the Artist calls “kitten dishes.” For him, it’s boats (all kinds), leather bags, shoes and boots. And both of us have a thing for attractive boxes of all kinds. So no, we are not minimalists.


(Try this – or don’t: do an online search for ‘declutter’ and tell me how many times it took for the word to become a cluttering brain worm. Declutter, declutter, declutter….)


But although our life is not minimal, I would argue (mildly, gently) that it can be called simple. Not jet-setters or high-rollers, we don’t buy what we can’t afford, buy very sparingly of the new, and don’t gamble more than a couple dollars (literally) a year (scratch-off lottery tickets). We are possessed of nothing like a wine cellar, and the tiny little Paris kitchen in our old farmhouse does not even boast a dishwasher. Central air conditioning? Are you kidding? An old oscillating fan on the front porch and a tiny one in our bedroom window are all we ever need to get through a Michigan summer. 


Minimalism does not necessarily equal simplicity. And there are ways in which a so-called minimalist lifestyle may not even be as simple as it looks on the surface. 


One recent morning a man walked into my bookstore looking for a specific title – which is always a long shot, but as it happened that day I had in stock the book he had read years ago as a boy and wanted to read again. It was an out-of-print Michigan title, signed by the author, and while he had no reluctance to pay my $22 price, he surprised me by asking if I wanted him to mail the book back to me after he’d read it so I could “sell it again.” That was a new one! “I don’t like stuff,” he explained. And then he told me (this takes my breath away!) that if he wanted to “keep” a book, rather than pass it along to a friend when he finished reading it, he would take a saw, cut off the binding, and scan the pages! I begged him not to saw up the book he had just bought, and he said he wouldn’t, so it may come back to me, or he may pass it along to a friend. 


…He doesn’t like stuff


While not denying that they are material objects (and I love that about them), I’ve never considered books to be stuff. What I was mulling over in his wake, however, was not books as beloved or even sacred objects but the issue of human-readable vs. machine-readable text. In my simple home life, all I have to do to read one of my books, regardless of its age, is to take it in my hands and open it. At night I may need a lamp (or a couple candles if the power is out), but my daytime reading is completely grid-independent. And my book-reading requires no special digital storage or retrieval technology. I don’t need to worry that the “technology” of my printed books will be outdated during my lifetime, the content become inaccessible. Keeping my books comfortable and healthy adds no layer of complexity, either: if we are comfortable, they are comfortable.

The Artist once made a memorable statement about the way we live. “We can’t be trusted with horizontal surfaces,” he observed. True enough! Tables, counters, chairs, and couches all make themselves readily available as temporary storage for (among other things) slippy-sliding stacks of books, magazines, and mail. The minimalist mind would quail at the sight! And yet the solution, employed whenever one of us gets the urge, requires no cords or batteries.


What does ‘the simple life’ mean to you? Do you admire it? Are you living it? Is ‘clutter’ your nemesis or your comfort? Do I protest too much?

A bowl of apples: the simple life!

Monday, September 27, 2021

Changes and Dogs and Books

Summer is over vs. Fall is not over yet, OR Fall is beautiful!


Two Different Ways to Count Blessings


As my blogger/reader/dog lover friend Dawn says, right in the title of her blog, Change is Hard. As I recall, the hard change Dawn initially referred to was a transition from one job to another, and that was years ago now – she is retired now! -- but changes don’t stop coming, as long as we’re alive, and all of us been through a lot of hard changes in this country since Dawn and I connected via our blogs. There have been, of course, other kinds of changes, long anticipated and welcomed. Life just keeps coming at us, one way or another, and we do our best to adapt each day.

I absolutely love asters!

When I was young, my friends and I used to say (thinking ourselves very clever), “Someone told me to cheer up because things could be worse. I cheered up – and sure enough, things got worse.” Gallows humor, I suppose, which we could afford because we were, as I say, young and therefore, secretly felt invulnerable. What we find amusing changes as we advance in age….

Anyway, the other morning I had a little epiphany (I don’t know about your epiphanies, but most of mine are little ones), and maybe you’ve read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and will recognize my lightbulb moment as the difference between Anne’s way of counting her blessings and her mother’s way. Her mother’s advice when Anne felt gloomy was that she should think of other people whose lives were worse. At the time, the Frank family were living in hiding from the Nazis, but their situation could have been worse -- and became tragically worse when their hiding place was discovered, with only Anne’s father surviving Auschwitz.

Anne, however, even in hiding, was young and full of hopes and dreams and looked for sources of joy rather than other people’s misery to bring herself out of spells of despair. “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains,” she wrote in her diary. She could not leave the hiding place to go outdoors into nature, her favorite medicine, but she could peep out at the sky: “As long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?”

Little Pea and I love our outdoor rambles.

So how can I ever be sad, with my oh-so-fortunate life? But sometimes we all are, and we need to pull ourselves back into the light, so although what I call my little epiphany is one I’ve had repeatedly in the past and repeatedly lost sight of, I was glad to have it again the other day. 


Because I’d been despondent over the most recent appearance of the Mr. Hyde side of my dog Peasy’s personality. It’s a side of him that only flashes out briefly, never lasting even sixty seconds, and is much less frequent than when he first came to live with us, but now when he falls off the good-dog wagon in that dramatic and frightening way, even for only a moment, and after weeks of seemingly near-normal behavior, I am plunged into the Slough of Despond!  So I called to talk to a woman who has extensive experience with special needs dogs like Peasy, and I did feel not quite so horribly depressed afterward. Some of the dogs she houses, the unadoptables, are so much worse! But there, you see? That is the negative way of counting the blessing that is Peasy: to say he could be "so much worse!" Thinking of his Mr. Hyde self in that comparative way helped me to calm down, but it was no ode to joy! The return to joy took Peasy himself, his daily unquenchable curiosity about the world and his wonderful bounding energy. Whatever his unhappy earlier life, Peasy has become, over time, a mostly happy dog. He loves having a family and a home! And regardless of how he feels about meeting strangers (from nervous to terrified), he is very comfortable and affectionate with us.

New toy! Mr. Rope! Such fun! Happy boy!

Recent Reading


Our intrepid Ulysses reading circle met last week to discuss (my choice of book) Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and we stayed on topic for two hours, everyone agreeing that it had been a brilliant, unusual, and very worthwhile novel for reading and discussion. September’s book will be Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I'll be reading that one for the third or fourth time, but it is worth re-reading.


After rather an overload of mostly nonfiction read recently, this morning I finished a long novel, Damnation Creek, by Ash Davidson, recommended to me by my sister. The story is set in redwood country, near the town where my younger nephew presently lives (the author is from Arcata, California, and now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona), and is fairly even-handed in its treatment of the logging industry from the perspective of people who depend on it for their living. I recommend it to anyone who has read The Overstory, not because it takes the "other side” but because it is sympathetic to working people’s needs and at the same time acknowledges serious harms done. Also, it’s beautifully written. 


So here are books I’ve read since my last post:


131. Cameron, Peter. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (fiction)

132. Gootwald, Linda. Once Upon a Shelter (nonfiction)

133. Davidson, Ash. Damnation Spring (fiction)

Fruits of wild roses --

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Finding Beauty Indoors

Thursday morning

Thursday was the second grey morning in a row. My phone said the temperature was – oh, I forget, but the “feels like” number was several digits lower. It’s September but “feels like” November, I thought to myself. Dogs, meanwhile, while most are not crazy about being out in the rain (some don’t care) do not seem affected at all by gloomy skies. A dog is a good companion on a gloomy day, for that very reason. Happy, happy, happy! On the other hand, without the dog, I wouldn’t have to be out there at all! Oh, but I need the exercise, too. But couldn’t I do yoga on a mat indoors? But the fresh air is all outside. Round and round and round…. Stop thinking about it! Look for mushrooms!


And then, back to the house, glancing at my colorful annuals and perennials on the way to the door.


Thursday evening would be reading circle, and we would be discussing a book I had chosen but read way back in July. I’d started looking at it again (no time to re-read the whole novel) and making some notes, but after the cold, windy, spitting-rain a.m. constitutional, I simply opened at random and began to read. The character on the page is Louis, and, having signed his name already 20 times on letters and papers of business, he is feeling clear-minded and singular, but his singularity in this moment, as always, contains multitudes.


“The sun shines from a clear sky. But twelve o’clock brings neither rain nor sunshine. It is the hour when Miss Johnson brings me my letters in a wire tray. Upon these white sheets I indent my name. The whisper of leaves, water running down gutters, green depths flecked with dahlias or zinnias; I, now a duke, now Plato, companion of Socrates; the tramp of dark men and yellow men migrating east, west, north and south; the eternal procession, women going with attaché cases down the Strand as they went once with pitchers to the Nile; all the furled and close-packed leaves of my many-folded life are now summed in my name; now upright standing in sun or rain, I must drop heavy as a hatchet and cut the oak with my sheer weight; for if I deviate, glancing this way, or that way, I shall fall like show and be wasted.” 

- Virginia Woolf, The Waves 


A few pages later phrase-maker Bernard meditates on time:


“And time,” said Bernard, “lets fall its drop. The drop that has formed on the roof of the soul falls. On the roof of my mind time, forming, lets fall its drop….


…This drop falling has nothing to do with losing my youth. This drop falling is tapering to a point. Time, which is a sunny pasture covered with a dancing light, time, which is widespread as a field at midday, becomes pendent. Time tapers to a point. As a drop falls from a glass heavy with some sediment, time falls.”


Bernard makes his phrases not for pages but for company. He makes them to utter aloud, while restless Jinny sees and smells and hears and feels the world about her constantly, living more in her body than any of the others, and Neville awaits a lover whom he will replace when the lover ceases to come to him, and Susan’s life has become an enclosed life of interiors:


“I pad about the house all day long in apron and slippers, like my mother who died of cancer. Whether it is summer, whether it is winter, I no longer know by the moor grass, and the heath flower; only by the steam on the window-pane, or the frost on the window-pane.”


Rhode’s affair with Louis will not save her from feeling even more an outsider than he, the Australian, feels among the English, her own people. She hates her fellow countrymen.


“…I have been stained by you and corrupted. You smelt so unpleasant, too, lining up outside doors to buy tickets. All were dressed in indeterminate shades of grey and brown, never even a blue feather pinned to a hat. None had the courage to be one thing rather than another. What dissolution of the soul you demanded in order to get through one day, what lies, bowings, scrapings, fluency and servility!”


She sees herself as “corrupted” because Rhode too covers her “sneers and yawns,” tells her lies, and copies the expressions and actions of others so as not to stand out.


And behind them all, always, is Percival, the golden athlete, who died far from home, never to return.


What seem to be speeches, the paragraphs in quotation marks, are thoughts and feelings of the six characters (Percival excepted, as he only appears in the hearts and minds of the six) as articulated and transformed into lyric poetry by the author, and as I read I see and hear the scenes as if watching a movie but am also carried along by the rhythm and music of the words and phrases and lines of poetic prose. And although I know (I remember) that Rhoda will commit suicide, that Bernard will never write a book, that Neville will not find another love like the love he felt for Percival, that Susan will slip deeper and deeper into a complacent, bovine existence, and that Jinny will suffer from the effects of aging on her beautiful body, somehow the moments and hours of their lives, and the details of their days as Woof captures and presents them, are so fully formed and filled with beauty that the effect on – well, this reader, anyway, is as calming as a forest ramble or a stroll along the water’s edge with the rhymical waves coming in and retreating, over and over, each one perfect. Dipping into this book is like dipping into Proust or Whitman. Anywhere is good. Every page is a jewel.


With a book such as this for a cold and cloudy day companion, let it rain! I’m just fine.

P.S. Books Read Since Last Post: 

127. Haig, Matt. The Midnight Library (fiction)

128. McKenna, Martin. The Boy Who Talked to Dogs (nonfiction)

129. Harper, Michele. The Beauty in Breaking (nonfiction)

130. Loomis, Susan Hermann. In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France (nonfiction


Thursday, September 16, 2021

I don’t finish every book I start.


I don’t finish every book I start. Life is too short. Or, you might say I am too curious and can’t help opening and reading in part books that I will not stay with long enough to finish. 


Have you heard of the rule of 50? According to that rule (if one chooses to follow it, and it is not, after all, a law), you must read at least the first 50 pages before bailing out of a book – until you reach age 50! Then, after your 50th birthday, however, you get to subtract one page for every year over 50 you are, so that at age 70, then, you only need to read the first 30 pages. It makes sense that a reader should get a break with increasing age, as the remainder of life, i.e., time to read, diminishes every year, but I’m afraid I don’t hold myself to the rule. Recently I bailed on a book because the aimless drifting-about of bored youthful characters depressed me. I don’t need happy, feel-good books all the time, but I want suffering and hardship to be met, if not with meaning and triumph, at least with character.


(When a friend recommended Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy, my heart sank at the size of the tome. Over 1400 pages, as I recall. “Just read the first 100 pages,” she urged, “and then quit if you don’t like it.” Well, I was hooked after two pages, and reading the novel only took me a month (June), not the entire summer I had feared it would absorb.) 


So I don’t follow the rule of 50 or the rule of 100 or any other rule when deciding whether or not to continue reading a particular book, though if the beginning is dull or annoying, I’m careful about going too far, because one hates to read halfway through a book before deciding against finishing it (Lost time! And not the kind that makes for wonderful memories!) and because if I don’t read the entire book, I don’t allow myself to put it on the “Books Read” lists I’ve been keeping every year since 2009.


But lists be hanged, little dips into books I don’t devour in their entirety remain irresistible! For instance, a book of essays by Jacob Bronowski called A Sense of the Future. Published after Bronowski’s death, in these essays he is envisioning the “future” from half a century ago. Concerned with what nonscientists think about science – what they think it is, how they think it’s done, and its body of accumulated knowledge – he also believed that no meaningful division could be made marking off the humanities from the sciences. 


As for books I’ve read all the way through since the last few I listed, here they are for the week past: 


122.              Gabrielson, Catherine. THE STORY OF GABRIELLE (nonfiction)

123.              Emerson, Victoria and James J. Thompson. INTO THE WORLD (juv. fiction/sex ed. – 1950)

124.              Bell, Derrick. AND WE ARE NOT SAVED: THE ELUSIVE QUEST FOR RACIAL JUSTICE (nonfiction)

125.              Hayes, Christopher. TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES: AMERICA AFTER MERITOCRACY (nonfiction)

126.              Richards, Eva Alvey. ARCTIC MOOD(nonfiction)


The Story of Gabrielle and Into the World were quick reads. (Into the World was frank talk to a young girl, with farm scenes playing a part, the fiction a pretty obvious narrative thread on which to hang the facts of reproduction.) My reading of Derrick Bell’s And We Are Not Saved, on the other hand, and Christopher Hayes’s Twilight of the Elites both stretched out over several days each. Bell and Hayes lean heavily on history, but each finds in America’s past social and political cycles that put our future in question. How did we get here? Where do we want to go? And how can we – can we? -- get there? Such are the questions posed by these two nonfiction books.


After that serious nonfiction immersion, when I turned for relief to a comfort book read many times over the years, it was nonfiction again, the story of Eva Alvey Richards’s first year as a teacher in the Far, Far North, Arctic Mood that soothed my middle-of-the-night insomniac attention.


Time now, however, for me to re-read The Waves, Virginia Woolf’s novel that I read for the first time only this past July. But July! It seems so very long ago as September takes hold!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Peasy Tales: From Sarah to Peasy

A friend sent me the link to an article on pet loss – and even as I type that phrase, “pet loss,” it seems wrong, the words trivial and inadequate to express an experience more properly called heartbreak, as the article describes so well. 


I’ve reached the stage now, though, where I can talk about Sarah and her death and her absence to old customers who visit the bookstore. I see some of them looking for her bed under the table by the window, and I see their hesitation. They’re afraid to ask. It’s all right. I can talk about her. But when I read this article, I cried once again. There will never be another Sarah. Sometimes, I admit, I think that even as I watch little Peasy bounding joyfully ahead of me on our morning walk-run.


Some people who have lost a beloved dog say they’ll never have another because they don’t want to – can’t -- go through the losing again. I understand what they’re saying. We all grieve and recover differently, whatever the nature of the loss. The Artist and I had each other after we lost Sarah -- but still, just could not stand not having a dog


Sarah had been a focus for the two of us outside ourselves, the third member of the pack when we were on the road, and my constant companion in the bookstore, as well as on outdoor explorations and rambles. My winter ghost town hiking partner and neighbor continued to invite me to join her with her two dogs, but without a dog of my own I felt incomplete, a kind of walking-wounded ghost myself.

Sarah at the bookstore

Sarah in the car

with friends in Arizona

with Michigan neighbors in youth -- all three gone now

So the Artist and I began the search, hampered because what we really wanted was another Sarah: female Aussie-border mix with big, soulful brown eyes, soft, floppy ears, and a beautiful plume of a tail. Maybe something smaller…. It didn’t matter, anyway, because “our” next dog was never waiting for us in the shelters we visited, and we couldn’t afford to go traveling the country in search of a purebred Aussie.


Well, you know how the story turned out, so I’ll cut to the chase. You know (and if you don’t, you can revisit it here and here and and on and on) how I took a chance on the dog no one wanted, the skittish little boy we thought was a girl, a skinny, wild thing with only a stub where his tail should be. You might remember that it wasn’t love at first sight but that I did grow to love the little guy, despite his “issues” and the challenge of getting him through and past his fears and defensive responses. 

Early on, our outdoor rambles with Therese and Buddy and Molly were a great success. Another hurdle was the cross-country car trip back to Michigan, something the Artist and I had both dreaded, fearing the worst from our special-needs dog, but he was as good a traveler as Sarah had been. 

His issues remain, however, and we have to make special arrangements when out-of-town guests are expected. Sarah loved the whole world and always welcomed company. Not Peasy. He was and remains wary and nervous with strangers, apparently as concerned for our safety as for his own. He is going to need a lot more practice to develop anything that could be called “social skills” with human beings outside his own family.


But he loves having a family and a home, and when the three of us come together again after the end of a human work day away from home, he nearly turns himself inside-out with happiness, dancing around us and emitting tiny little yippy moans of ecstasy. We have grown accustomed to his little ears, his amber eyes, and his goofy little stub of a tail. As I say, he has established himself in the winter ghost town neighborhood pack, too, and proved himself like Sarah in being a dog for all seasons.


Peasy is not a replacement for Sarah, and no dog could ever replace her. She was the dog of a lifetime, for both the Artist and for me. But little Pea and the Artist are finally bonding (it took them a while to begin, long after Pea and I had fallen in love with each other), so that coming-together at the end of the human workday is joyful for all three of us.


And while what my friend Helene said of people, that “No one replaces anyone else,” is true of dogs, also, it came to me the other day that a large part of my comfort and happiness with Peasy comes from the fact that he has displaced not Sarah but the pain left by Sarah’s death. There has been no empty time to drag around and sob over the dog no longer with me since needy little Pea came into my life. 


Yes, he needed me. He needed a family and a home, no one else wanted him, and without me it’s likely he would still be in prison, if alive at all. 

Good wait!

But I needed him, too. I needed a dog that needed attention and training and love and exercise, a little being I could bring out of the darkness and into the light so that we could explore the big bright world together. He was my dog when I adopted him, the Artist emphasized. The Artist could have lived “dog-free” without our practically perfect girl and would certainly not have voted to take on a “dog with issues.”  Even I have had periods of hopelessness when Peasy backslides and shows one of us his Mr. Hyde face -- which happens less and less frequently as time goes by, thank heaven! So, all in all, it was months before the Artist said, in a tone that managed to combine affection and resignation, “Peasy, I guess you’re our dog now.” 


We have challenges yet to overcome with this guy, but he has definitely won a place in our hearts. It isn’t Sarah’s place. It’s his own place.