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Monday, August 30, 2021

Girls Dreaming


Anne’s House of Dreams is the fourth in L. M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne books. The first, of course, was Anne of Green Gables, the story of the young red-haired orphan girl coming to live on Prince Edward Island with unmarried brother and sister Matthew and Marilla. In that first book Matthew goes to pick up the boy they are taking in, to help with farm chores, and comes home with a girl instead, much to Marilla’s initial dismay. Anne wakes up the next morning desolate at the thought of being returned to the orphanage, unwanted, but shy Matthew surprisingly champions her acceptance, and Anne is launched into a new life. 


My opening image today is of my mother’s wedding announcement in the newspaper, with her orchid corsage pressed beneath the glass of the frame 76 years ago. My copy of Anne’s House of Dreams, copyright 1917, no better than what dealers in used books call a “reading copy,” meaning it’s battered and falling apart but there are no missing pages, bears an inscription written in 1936 on the front-facing endpaper to my mother before she was my mother, before she was even a bride:


To Nora – May she be as nice a big girl as she is a little one.

Helen Garner

Hayward Librarian


“Little girl” Nora would have been 14 in 1936, just the right age – back then, anyway, in what can’t help but seem like simpler times – to begin dreaming of having a wedding and a house of dreams for herself one day.


I wonder if the “Anne of Red Hair” craze is still going strong in Japan. At one time, it seems, not all that long ago, every young Japanese girl had read the Anne books and dreamed of honeymooning on Prince Edward Island, and the very lucky ones actually did so, little P.E.I. coming behind only New York City and Paris, France, as the top dream destination for Japanese brides. All thanks to a series of simple stories for girls written a century ago!

(Well, now I see a serious research paper has been written on the subject. Something else for us to read.)


How many girls from poor Japanese fishing villages on coastal islands were ever able to make such an elaborate honeymoon voyage? After Anne marries Gilbert Blythe, which happens early in the House of Dreams book, the newlyweds spend their first month of marriage right there in their first house, rather than travel anywhere at all.


“I’m so glad we decided to spend our honeymoon here. Our memories of it will always belong here, in our home of dreams, instead of being scattered about in strange places.” 


I can’t help but think, though, how those girls on faraway Japan's coast would have felt the atmosphere of Anne’s first married home as something familiar. Much more than it ever had in Matthew and Marilla’s home in Avonlea, the sea so near to the house in Four Winds Harbour


…surrounded her and called to her constantly. From every window of her new home she saw some varying aspect of it. Its haunting murmur was ever in her ears. Vessels sailed up the harbour every day to the wharf at the Glen, or sailed out again through the sunset, bound for ports that might be halfway around the globe. Fishing boats went white-winged down the channel in the mornings, and returned laden in the evenings. Sailors and fisher-folk travelled the red, winding harbour roads, light-hearted and content. There was always a certain sense of things about to happen….


There were memories that my mother carried to the first home I knew but kept tucked away, hidden from her daughters’ curious eyes for decades. Even the scrapbook started before her marriage and continued for a time afterward was a treasure my sisters and I saw for the first time after only our mother died and we were going through the house and all her things. But Anne’s House of Dreams, now – the reason my copy is so battered and worn is that all three of Nora’s daughters read and re-read it over the years. (I don’t doubt that one of those girls probably took it up into her hiding place in the backyard apple tree more than once.) Despite not-always-gentle handling, however, it survives.


And because I had been looking at my mother’s wedding picture in our tiny upstairs guest bedroom only the day before, last night when I began turning the soft, worn pages of the old volume, I thought of my mother as a young bride – the dreams she would have had and her first married home out in South Dakota. For me, this old book holds all of that.


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Interim Thoughts: The Eyes and Hearts of Women

With women writer friends at our annual luncheon

[I’m calling today’s post “Interim Thoughts” because it’s only been four days, not a full week or more, since I last posted, this summer having settled down into a once-a-week blogging routine.]


Only on the morning of August 27, very early, with the sky still dark outside my window, did I learn that August 23 had been the official Mari Sandoz Day and that, in my ignorance, I had completely missed it. Four days late already, and 67 years after Nebraska’s governor first proclaimed the day, I read about the date in a chronology of the author’s life at the end of a University of Nebraska edition of Sandhill Sundays and Other Recollections, by Mari Sandoz, memoir essays reaching back to her childhood days in the sandhills before she learned English (although born in Nebraska, her immigrant parents still spoke the French and English of their native Switzerland) and extending to the apartment she rented in Greenwich Village and occupied periodically for a number of years, beginning at a time when the Village was still occupied primarily by Italian immigrants.


Of the many volumes of fiction and history written over her lifetime, the two books for which Mari Sandoz is best known today are biographies, Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas and Old Jules, the story of her father’s life. Of the latter biography, she later wrote that


…it gradually dawned on me that here was a character who embodied not only his own strengths and weaknesses but those of all humanity – that his struggles were universal struggles and his defeats at the hands of his environment and his own insufficiencies were those of mankind; his tenacious clinging to his dream the symbol of man’s undying hope that over the next hill he will find the green pastures of his desire.

        - Mari Sandoz 


I read her Crazy Horse biography only last year but need to read it again now to answer my new question, which is if Sandoz also saw the struggles and defeats, hopes and insufficiencies of Crazy Horse as “universal.” How could he have pursued his desire – which would not have been his alone but that of his people – “over the next hill”? And after all, Old Jules was not one of those restless Westerners continually on the move, leaving one region for the next until stopped by the Pacific Ocean. He put down roots. I probably need to read Old Jules again, too.


Another, more general but personal realization came to me on Friday morning: without intentionally seeking out books by women for my reading pleasure this year, I have been discovering books by women, a dizzying variety of fiction and nonfiction, that seem to have sought me out: novels and a memoir by Penelope Lively; Barbara Olenyk Morrow’s book about the life and work of Gene Stratton-Porter; murder mysteries set in Cochise County, Arizona, by J. A. Jance; a re-reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; Soon-Young Yoon’s experiences working with poor and indigenous women around the world; and numerous other books of both fiction and nonfiction.


So now I have another question, more general than Mari Sandoz and Crazy Horse, and it harks back to Mary Helen Washington’s study, The Other Blacklist, in which she notes that Black artists, writers, poets in the 1950s were encouraged to stop writing of their experience as Black men and women and write instead from a “universal” perspective, leaving race aside. My question is this: where is the “universal” to be found, other than in the particular? Each of us has only our own experience. Zora Neale Hurston could only write as a Black American woman, because that is what she was. Mari Sandoz could only tell her life stories from her own experience, that of a child of immigrants growing up during pioneer days on the Great Plains, and her interest in historical subjects was also shaped by her living in that place and at that time. So do these women’s writings fail somehow to be “universal”? Surely they are not writings only for women readers!


Shakespeare, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Marcel Proust – all of them, too, had the experiences they had because of where they were born, the era in which they lived, and how they were seen and treated by others. Their experiences were particular to them, and their writings were thus saturated by that particularity, whether or not it is obvious to all their readers. I am not saying these men failed to discover and write of universal truths – hardly! -- only that the universal is always and only to be found, as they found it themselves, in particulars, in the infinite variety of our endlessly repetitive human experiences. 


From the foregoing you may correctly conclude that I am not a Platonist. Peasy is not a Platonist, either. For him, life is all about discovering the ephemeral universe of smells, about making the most of each fleeting moment. 

Would you disagree? And if you say we need larger goals, that we should work to better our world, I ask you, what time do you have to work for those goals except right now? The present moment is the time we have, even as it continually slips away from us.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It Is Still Summer!

Since I’ve heard from people who want more pictures of Peasy, I’ll intersperse my reading notes and other thoughts with images of the little guy. It’s true that, like the late, great Sarah, Peasy is quite photogenic. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve shown his picture (on my phone) to someone whose eyes have widened as the reaction came in these words: “He’s gorgeous!” He still needs my mother’s reminder at times, however: “Pretty is as pretty does!” 

At 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the moon was so bright when I awoke that I thought it was time to get up. No, too early even to make coffee. Not, however, too early to get in a little reading and then maybe another hour or so of sleep. I love summer nights, when the outside and inside temperatures are about the same and a light breeze through a window lets me feel as if I’m sleeping outdoors -- under that big, bright moon whose light is filtering through the trees.

So here are the books I’ve finished reading in the past week: 

111. Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality (nonfiction)

112. Soon-Young Yoon. Citizen of the World: Soon-Young Yoon and the UN (nonfiction)

113. Hale, Norman. All Natural Pogo (nonfiction)

114. Zimmerman, Marilyn. In Her Defense (fiction – ms.)

115. Meeder, Kim and Laurie Sacher. Blind Hope: An Unwanted Dog & the Woman She Rescued(nonfiction)

116. Giridharadas, Anand. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World (nonfiction)


The Luhan book was a little escape to New Mexico for me. Mabel herself was quite a character. I’m not going to go into either her life or the book. For me it was, though nonfiction, pretty light reading. 

Citizen of the World was an entirely different kettle of fish, and I became more and more excited as I read along in it, as you can see from my review hereI’ve enjoyed getting to know the author a little bit, too. For a world powerhouse feminist, Yoon is completely down to earth and has a delightful sense of humor. But what would you expect of someone who grew up summering in Northport, eh?

The Pogo book – now there was an entirely different kind of surprise. It wasn’t a book of the cartoons but a carefully worked-out philosophical thesis by Norman Hale on the moral code of Walt Kelly’s world of Pogo. I don’t know if Hale wrote other books or how he came to write this one. I find only that not everyone agreed with him. In any event, I enjoyed my reading of this little paperback book. 


Just as a conflict between two different instincts must be resolved, so must a conflict between instinct and intelligence be resolved; if you look the other way and pretend the conflict doesn’t exist, you’re leaving it unresolved – and no good can come of that. 


-      Norman Hale, All Natural Pogo


I probably shouldn’t say much at all about the novel read in manuscript, since there’s no telling how soon it will be available to the rest of you in book form. I’ll only say that the story is gripping from beginning to end! Oh, and that, besides plot and characters, I loved the setting on the shores of the St. Clair River, the river itself a constant presence in the story. 
Blind Hope quickly took a turn toward religion that I hadn’t expected, but it worked well in the context of the story, and I was happy that the old “unwanted” dog found home and love. The title had attracted me because, as you’ll recall, Peasy was also a dog no one wanted until I came along to take a chance on him. 
Winners Take All – now there’s a book I’d love to give you all as assigned reading. Do you think market forces are the best -- perhaps even the only -- solution to all the problems of the world? Giridharadas urges us to question that recently minted, self-serving dogma:


It is disturbing that the most influential emerging power center of our age is in the habit of denying its power, and therefore of promoting a vision of change that changes nothing meaningful while enriching itself. 

                    -      Anand Giridharadas, Winners Take All


And don't just take my word for it. Here's what others are saying: 

A New York Times bestseller Named one of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018 Named one of NPR's Best Books of 2018 Named one of the Financial Times Books of the Year Named one of The Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction One of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Best International Nonfiction" books of 2018 One of the GreenBiz "10 Best Climate and Business Books of 2018" 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year

Now take a look at someone who did not fall for The-market-is-our-only-hope dogma: Chuck Collins. (I have ordered another of his books, which should arrive sometime this week.) And take a look at this page on the website for Institute for Policy Studies website to understand why big gifts from wealthy donors sometimes don’t even provide bandages, much less solutions to serious problems. 

Okay, but here’s a cheery thought from my bookstore: beautiful blank notecards by Montana artist Sarah Angst. 

I love Sarah’s feel for plants and animals, and much of the Up North vibe from Montana fits well here in Michigan, too. See more pictures here. Better yet, come in the shop and choose your favorites! Peasy, no doubt, would suggest the dog images (there are three), but horse and frog and fireflies and many more are quite beautiful, too.

Oh, Peasy! You are so silly!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

An Important Book Surprise from Korea



If women have one lesson to teach about social change, it is this: where there has been a culture of oppression, there have always been custodians of hope. You only have to find them and let them speak.


- Soon-Young Yoon, Citizen of the World: Soon-Young Yoon and the UNSeoul: Ewha Womans University Press, 2021. Paper, 327pp.



Soon-Young Yoon grew up summers here in Northport, Michigan, so we can claim her as a local author. She is truly, however, what she calls herself in the title: a citizen of the world. 


Yoon came to the U.S. as a child refugee from North Korea and has worked with the United Nations and with NGOs, as well as universities. (Her Ph.D. is in anthropology.) But despite her cosmopolitan career -- or maybe because of it -- American-ness shines forth in her can-do attitude toward the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. 


Each small section of this book (I would think of these as chapters, but the table of contents calls the larger sections chapters) is a short, self-contained essay, typically three to five pages, usually with a photograph, each focusing (beyond the introductory autobiographical pieces) on a serious global issue. Despite many acronyms and dates, the author’s style remains simple, conversational, and highly readable, always engaging the reader on a personal level. Beginning with her own United Nations experiences, she cites initiatives taken by other individuals and groups around the world to deal with the specific problem that is the chapter’s focus. There are problems here but no helplessness or hopelessness. 

Sample page with photograph

Yoon is a strong advocate for women around the world, especially in too-often overlooked poor and/or indigenous populations, and she is a staunch believer in motivation and action to make positive change. For example, she tells an inspiring story from Burkino Faso, where one woman’s determination to move forward from complaints to positive action made all the difference in a local meeting. Dying cattle, deforestation, and the exodus of youth from the region all stemmed, this woman believed, from the disappearance of the area water supply, so she organized other women into groups to build traditional earth dams, to plant trees and gardens around them, and to feed the cattle. Men eventually became involved, also, and life changed for the better for everyone. 


Since indigenous women are always involved with agriculture at the ground level, Yoon says it is imperative that their voices be heard and their knowledge brought to the table whenever solutions are sought to environmental problems. 


While deeply concerned with improving the lives of women and girls, from working for gender equality to ending all kinds of violence against women, Yoon realizes and emphasizes that boys and men cannot be left behind. Even public clinics open to all, she writes, benefit girls whose mothers bring them in to be seen by doctors, but too often boys do not want to come with mothers. Their fathers do not bring them. “We cannot assume that backward traditions affect only girls,” she writes. “Sometimes, boys are also the losers.”


And although the book is divided into sections – “About Me”; “Navigating the Boundaries of Identities”; “Violence Against Women”; “Finding the Earth’s Balance”; “Claiming the Right to Health”; “Economic Empowerment”; “Collective Voices”; “Circle of Women: Portraits” – again and again the author reiterates her truth about connections linking all social and environmental issues. Her image is that of a spiderweb, a web of life that includes everything on earth, animal, vegetable, and mineral, and she insists that those who want to help others need to listen to what those others say about what they need, because the people of a culture are the ones who know that culture. Those in technologically “advanced” countries, she speculates, may even have much to learn from peoples with simpler ways of living, those from cultures that have not created the problems of pollution and waste we face in, for instance, the United States.


Citizen of the World: Soon-Young and the UN is published, in English, by the Ewha Womans University Press in Seoul, Korea. (Yoon tells us that Ewha Womans University is the largest women’s university in the world, with 25,000 students. Did you know that? I did not.) In this highly readable volume, focused on important world issues, with serious problems never oversimplified or minimized, the author manages to give inspiring and encouraging anecdotes and observations. 


My hope is that this book will become easily available in the United States (at present it is not) and read by as many Americans as possible, men as well as women. For this to happen, there needs to be a groundswell of demand, from book clubs and libraries, as well as colleges and universities, and this post is my little push in that direction. This is crucial because, as the author notes in an online interview, the changes that are necessary in today’s world must necessarily happen fast. 


I am so proud to be the first bookseller in the world to offer this book to the public! Thank you, Dr. Yoon!

Monday, August 16, 2021

Halfway Through Yet Another August


Poignancy, Change, Loss

Goldenrod is bright along the roadside, and Joe-Pye weed’s soft, subtle mauve accompanies firm brown cattails in ditches and along streams. The air is soft and clear after recent rains, sky bright, as September smuggles itself into August on the breeze. The seasons are changing in the way that they do, gradually, back and forth, not marching lockstep as the calendar so unreliably suggests. Autumn is coming.

And we have lost another old friend. The last time I saw him, not much more than a week ago, we hugged and cried and yes, finally, laughed together on the sidewalk outside the post office. He wondered how he would be able to carry on without his dear wife, who had died so recently. “My heart hurts,” he said, pressing his hand to his chest. When he and the Artist visited (both of them painters), our friend was planning a getaway to the U.P. with easels and brushes. And now he and his wife are  both gone from us, almost together, the two deaths only weeks apart (July 22 and August 14).


Chapters of our lives. Irreplaceable. In my dreams last night, I had dinner with another dear departed friend, a dream with no logical plot but one that jumped from one scene to another. “It sounds meaningless,” the Artist commented, laughing, as I tried to reconstruct the non-sequitur sequences. “Not at all,” I objected. “It was wonderful spending time with her!” It was a gift, seeing her again.

News of the latest loss came to us on Sunday, at least, while we were at home, which was a small relief. So often in the bustle and rush of retail, mental and emotional gears require shifting on a moment’s notice, as one conversation is interrupted by another with entirely different content and timbre – greetings, stories, news, departures. I was in my bookshop on two separate occasions when I learned of the deaths of friends who meant the world to me. One of those times, after hanging up the phone I was wracked with sobs; the other time I sat paralyzed in shock and disbelief.


It is feeling too deep for irony, though we had seen other friends only hours before and caught up on their lives. “We hardly ever get up to Northport,” one said, and I replied, “And we hardly ever get out of Northport.” We are all hard at work. It is summer. And yet, life and death keep happening….



Reading and Writing


I was asked to write a book review for a local church newsletter and chose to devote my 350 words to two novels. Since then I have been unable to resist amplifying that short essay, so I'm including it all in this post. I’ve also been reading two nonfiction books that I’ll mention more briefly. 

The two new novels this summer come to us from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: The Fire Keeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley, and Tin Camp Road, by Ellen Airgood. Both are written from the heart and also offer glimpses of life perhaps unfamiliar, at least at firsthand, to many (though not all) northern Michigan readers and residents. 


The protagonist of Tin Camp Road, Airgood’s fourth book of fiction (South of Superior for adult readers; Prairie Evers and The Education of Ivy Blake for the younger set), is single mother Laurel Hill, who struggles to support herself and 10-year-old daughter, Sky, with whatever honest jobs she can find, mostly hard work at low pay. Laurel has plenty of sisu (the Finnish term for grit), and she needs every bit of it as life throws her one unexpected curve ball after another. 


Laurel worked until the last stump fell into wedges and every wedge was stacked under Crank’s lean-to under an ever-steadier drizzle. The three twenties he handed her for this effort crackled in her pocket as she headed home, her boots splashing. She banged on the WELCOME TO GALLION sign at the outskirts of town, a hello punch to an old friend.


-      Ellen Airgood, Tin Camp Road


A serious issue facing much of northern Michigan (including Leelanau County) is widespread conversion of formerly year-round affordable housing to expensive short-term vacation rental, an economic trend that hits Laurel, literally, right where she lives. Finding a solution isn’t easy, and Laurel’s temporary fix leads indirectly to an even more painful situation, which I won’t reveal because I don’t believe in spoilers.


But Laurel and Sky are Hills, and Hills don’t give up. Gallion is their home.


Also set on Lake Superior shores is the first novel from Angeline Boulley, Fire Keeper’s Daughter, already a national bestselling YA sensation. This book’s main character and narrator, 18-year-old Daunis Fontaine, bears her mother’s family name, and because her father’s name does not appear on her birth certificate Daunis is not an enrolled member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians and cannot vote in their elections, so although Daunis has lived her whole life in Sault Ste. Marie, she often has trouble feeling she fully belongs anywhere. The social gulf the gulf is wide between the Fontaine and the Firekeeper families. She identifies strongly with Ojibwe language and culture, however, thanks to her late Gramma Pearl and beloved Auntie Teddie. 


My cousins always tell stories about my aunt’s fighting days. Tales of Fierce Teddie and her legendary shenanigans that grow more hilarious with each retelling. Like the time when she was at a bar with friends and a Zhaaganaash [white] guy kept asking each girl if she was an Indian and how much Indian was she? He leered at Auntie and asked if she’d show him which body parts were Indian. She throat-punched him. While he was gulping for air, my aunt told him he just experienced a real Indian fist and she had another if he wanted to see that one too.


-      Angeline Boulley, Fire Keeper’s Daughter


On the verge of beginning freshman classes at the University of Michigan (her goal is to become a physician) when her uncle dies unexpectedly and her Fontaine grandmother suffers a debilitating stroke, Daunis enrolls in Lake Superior State University instead, to be near her grieving mother and her grandmother’s nursing home. Then a third unexpected tragedy strikes, and she is drawn, despite conflicted feelings, into a mission of goodwill for her Anishinaabe people that soon has her embroiled in falsehoods and deceit.


With magnificent Lake Superior as their backdrop, these two works of fiction include serious economic and social problems facing today’s Yoopers, housing and drugs, as integral parts of their characters’ daily challenges. Ellen Airgood and her husband operate a diner in the tourist town of Grand Marais on Lake Superior, and Ellen (who waits tables as well as baking pies and muffins) presents U.P. working life in her novels as it is in real life, difficulties along with rewards. Angeline Boulley lovingly describes the beauty and glory of Ojibwe traditions but doesn’t shy away from some of the harsher, behind-the-scenes aspects of modern tribal life. Life in the Upper Peninsula is not for the faint of heart. Life in the 21st century is not for the faint of heart, is it? But both Boulley and Airgood give us strong, resourceful women characters who face up to life’s challenges, never forgetting the loveliness of northern Michigan that is their birthright.


The next book in my home reading, following another Primo Levi and a wonderful novel by Detroit writer Michael Zadoorian, was a travel memoir by a Scotsman who decided, in the wake of his beloved wife’s death, to follow the route of Robert Louis Stevenson through the French mountain region known as the Cevennes. And he would do it the RLS way: with a donkey. The first section of the book, however, a recounting of his wife’s illness, dying, death, and his own comfortless bereavement, was a tough slog. He said that he confided his grief and depression only to his journal and tried to hide it from the world, but he spares his reader nothing. And that section goes on to page 81. It isn’t that I think he should have “gotten over it” sooner: there is no timetable for brief, heaven knows. I only wonder why all of that agony from his journal was included in the book. At length, however, he sets out with his donkey, and then I was transported. His route – the same that RLS took a century earlier – lay not all that far from a part of France that captured my heart when the Artist and I wandered through it by car 21 years ago. 


And now I am reading a book written and published in English but from a Korean publisher, which came to me because the author’s family has a vacation home in Northport, where she spends summers. Soon-Young Yoon’s Citizen of the World: Soon-Young and the UN is a series of short memoir essays of her work with the United Nations, and anyone who thinks (with smug self-righteousness) that “citizen of the world” describes someone without a home country and without political allegiance or commitments needs to read this book! I will be meeting with the author again on Tuesday and hope to be able to acquire copies for stock at Dog Ears Books. Stay tuned. 


Books I Finished Reading Since My Last Post


108. Levi, Primo. The Truce (nonfiction)

109. Zadoorian, Michael. The Leisure Seeker (fiction)

110. Rush, Christopher. To Travel Hopefully: Footsteps in the French Cevennes (nonfiction)



Dogs (Again)


Life is such a mixed bag, isn’t it? The catholicity of my reading mirrors the myriad emotions and moods of my days. This post opened with sadness, but I will leave you with the smiles of Northport’s annual Dog Parade, cancelled last year but back this year to delight locals and visitors alike and give us all a few moments of joy that lingered with us long afterward like the aromatic smoke from a campfire. The coneheads deservedly placed #1 for costumes, but every person and every dog in the parade contributed to the overall joyous occasion, and you can see many more pictures over on my photo blog, "A Shot in the Light." 


Peasy, of course, did not participate in the parade. Good heavens, all those people! He would have freaked out! But he was a happy dog on Sunday, to have us home and working out in the yard, and we were happy to have him with us. Don’t tell anyone, but I think little Pea is worming his way into the Artist’s heart. Who could resist such a cute little devil?

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

What’s in a Book?


Better (at least more interesting) Than Money


“Do you ever find money in old books?” I’m often asked. In 28 years of bookselling, I haven’t found so much as a single dollar bill, and it seems unfair, too, considering my own long-ago habit of hiding 5s and 20s in volumes on my shelves at home. It’s been a long time since I did that, but somewhere in the world there may be paper currency inside the pages of a book that once belonged to me. 


But dollars are interchangeable. One is worth as much as another. What I found recently in an old book, on the other hand, was something unique. Since it’s a little hard to read soft pencil, especially in a photograph, here is my transcription:


Empire Mich Dec 13, 1897.

Mr. W. Benjamin

Leland Mich

Dear Sir: It is snow

ing fast today.

Our school has just 

had examination

and did fairly will.

Hoping you will

come soon I remain

Very Respectfully

Neddy Drow


Did young Ned ever send this letter to Mr. Benjamin? What were their respective ages? Their relationship? Can you believe this little epistle in pencil is almost 125 years old? Doesn’t that have much more interest (and intrinsic value) than a dollar bill?


 Books I finished reading since my last post:

I should explain that I am often reading several books in the course of a day, which means that the reading of one is often interrupted by reading others more quickly finished. Anyway, additions to this year's list since my last post --


102. McAnulty, Dara. Diary of a Young Naturalist (nonfiction

103. Washington, Mary Helen. The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s (nonfiction)

104. Hicks, Joyce. One More Foxtrot (fiction)

105. Roberts, Tanya. A Little Italian: A Journey, A Family, and St. Francis (nonfiction)

106. Levi, Primo. If This Is a Man (nonfiction)

107. Smiley, Jane. Perestroika in Paris (fiction)


Despite the many ways in which these books differ (and they differ very widely!) from each other, I found all full of life and passion and humanity. And on the subject of life, passion, and humanity in books, I must note that my first shipment of Ellen Airgood’s new novel, Tin Camp Road, is here now, with another case arriving later this week.


Better Late Than…


My sad, dwindling selection of postcards should be beefed up with colorful images this week, too, since I finally located my “postcard lady,” who hasn’t visited the shop for three years but does have an online presence. Stay tuned also for a new line of notecards I hope to have before summer is over!

Because summer is racing by pretty quickly, fields filling with blossoming coneflowers and Queen Anne’s lace and spotted knapweed -- yes, that last an invasive alien, but it’s hard not to appreciate the lavender color it lends the hills – as September keeps appearing here and there while August is still here. Don’t you smell September in the rain? Feel it in the wind?

Peasy doesn’t take much note of wildflowers, and while this is his first round of spring-summer-fall in northern Michigan, he seems to be enjoying it. We love his joy, too. A dog’s happiness: irresistible!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

To Mask or Not to Mask (Big Sigh!)

Open, uncrowded spaces!


The Big Question – Again!


August is here, the summer of 2021 is two-thirds over, but we have not heard the last of COVID-19. Leelanau County, leading Michigan with over 70% of the population vaccinated, is filled with eager vacationers from all over the country, and in many other places the vaccination rate continues to lag, despite a resurgence of cases, hospitalizations, even deaths. 


A friend called me on Friday evening to discuss the question of remasking. She and I and our husbands are all over 70, so – perhaps not “compromised” but definitely in the at-risk demographic. Here is a map of the U.S. showing statistics, but the text is worth reading, too. Eighty-eight percent of those infected are among the unvaccinated: you can subtract 88 from 100, right? Twelve percent (12%) of COVID cases involve vaccinated people? That’s what my friend wanted to discuss with me. Recall that the vaccines were never advertised as 100% effective, the first numbers given ranging from 91-97% effective, as I recall, and Pfizer now reporting a drop in effectiveness after four months to 87%.

Well, people living and working in Northport have a Facebook page that I joined shortly after it began, and it was on that page that I posed my question – Remasking? Never stopped masking? – to other people in our business community. My friend and I during our phone conversation had heaved a few big sighs over the remasking question, and the number of sighs coming from me increased after I posed the question to the Facebook group.


It was intended as a simple question. I wasn’t asking for medical advice or looking for an argument, only trying to get a feel for how others in business in my community were feeling about this health and safety issue. We all see license plates from Florida, Texas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Alaska, etc. – and everyone who drove from those places traveled through other places (as do the Artist and I when we go between Michigan and Arizona), so how are others feeling about risk these days?


Omigod, the brouhaha that ensued! 


I had asked another question in the past week about the local source for all the big logs I’d seen being trucked south through the village, and the same thing happened with my mask question that happened when I asked about the logs: First responses were simple and to the point, but very quickly ideology came rushing into the picture, with sides lining up and throwing spitballs at each other. One person not only referred to the slippery slope argument (more entertainingly titled, I always feel, the camel’s nose) but made one of his own. No one (yet) has called anyone else a fascist or a communist, but the terms ‘dictator’ and ‘socialist’ have been thrown around. Ye gods and little fishes!


Yes, it’s freedom of expression. Yes, that’s what democracy is all about. But does every question have to be a political football? Really? I mean, everyone on the site already knows which side everyone else is going to join. Nothing new is being said, and no minds are being changed. Oh, one new thing was said: Jean-Paul Sartre was called a utilitarian. No, sorry, he was not a utilitarian. Existentialism and utilitarianism are poles apart. I mention this to the handful of people who will care….


Meanwhile, on Saturday in my bookstore I noticed that about half of the people coming in were masked. I wore a mask myself most of the day and will be doing so in other crowded indoor situations.



Among My Current Books


I read two novels from beginning to end this past week, began one nonfiction book and am continuing my reading of another. 


100. Akers, W. M. Westside (fiction)

101. Hicks, Joyce. Escape From Assisted Living (fiction)


The novels were as unlike each other as could be. Westside is a noir fantasy, set in an imaginary New York in a Prohibition Era that was never quite like this. The action rarely slows, and I can’t say I followed every twist and turn, but the writing is good, and I could picture the settings as I read, which is always something I look for in fiction. To my thinking, the novel cries out for an animated film adaptation. I’m told that Martin Scorsese has bought the rights and that the book’s author is writing the screenplay, though, so we’ll see what develops.


Escape From Assisted Living has no murders (one small mystery as a plot thread) but could legitimately be termed a “cozy” read. I enjoyed it. Again, good writing, interesting and varied settings, and a main character I did not identify with but for whom I felt affection and empathy.


I will read the sequel to Escape From Assisted Living but probably not the sequel to Westside. Noir fantasy is just not my genre. I read The Hunger Games and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but not the sequels to either book. I’m not boycotting, just limiting my intake.


A friend loaned me the U.K. edition of Diary of a Young Naturalist, by Dara McAnulty, a book I'm enjoying enough that I put two copies on my new book order list for the coming week, anticipating that some of my customers will want to read it, too. The author is very young, an extremely gifted writer, passionate about nature (especially birds), and on the autism spectrum. And we’re on “the other side of the pond” as we read it, so altogether we enter another world in more ways than one.


I’m about two-thirds through The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, by Mary Helen Washington, a writer who came to my attention because she wrote the introduction to my edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Although the style of The Other Blacklist is academic, with requisite citations and the usual repetitions, it makes for fascinating reading, and I am learning quite a lot about how 1950s black artists were targeted and persecuted as “subversive,” whether or not they were officially affiliated with the Communist Party. The official government line was to counsel patience, gradualism, and urge “universal” rather than “racial” themes on black writers. In other words, writing about the black experience at all was suspect. Like Native American children sent to boarding schools to learn how to be white, black artists also were urged to leave color behind – as if white America would ever let them! – if they wanted to succeed nationally. Talk about Catch-22!



Peasy and the Larger World

He loves his yard.

I’ll confess that Peasy met our most recent visitors (last Sunday and Monday) only while on-leash. And he barked. When we dined outdoors, he watched from the porch window (not barking, please note), and the next evening we occupied the porch for several hours while he lay patiently outside the front door. He is getting used to people coming and going – I hope! Part of managing a reactive dog, however, is not putting the dog unnecessarily into stressful situations. And since Peasy is so bonded to me, he’s more relaxed when I’m more relaxed, so that there is that aspect, too. 

He's good about waiting.

But he is learning. He is very patient when we don’t want to be bothered, and then, when we are ready to pay attention to him and play with him again, he is all wiggles and kisses and overflowing happiness! He is just wicked cute, that little guy! He waits like an angel for permission to approach his food dish or go through a door or jump out of the car. And he is much, much better about not lunging like a cobra when we drop things on the floor. In those respects, his sweet, nonchalant behavior now approaches – normal!


So there you are – the world chez nous, as we slide into the beginning of August, with a hint of September in the air. I hope the summer has been treating you well and that you are enjoying books and the outdoors in equal measure.