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Monday, September 19, 2022

Did the author write this book just for me?

September field, Leelanau County

Ah, September! It can really break your heart, can’t it? And so can books, even – maybe especially – the ones we love most. 


In my high school French classes, every year the teacher (different teacher, different years) urged us to read The Little Prince. It was like English teachers urging us to read (actually, this latter book was assigned reading, and I still skipped it) The Red Badge of Courage, but I was the quiet rebel in the back of the room, resisting what seemed like such common coin. If everyone read it, I didn’t want to. I wanted to discover my own books, thank you very much! Eventually, years later, I finally picked up The Little Prince and couldn’t believe I’d denied myself such an exquisite gift for so long. 


Sometimes I called my late husband, the Artist, “the little prince.” He was an only child, after all, adored and indulged by his doting mother, who was quite thoroughly “wrapped around his little finger,” as the old, trite saying goes. The youngest in his generation of cousins, many of whom were already teenagers when he was born, he was doted upon by those girls, too. Their real, live little doll! He learned quickly that charm was a winning formula, as in the church pageant when he had failed to learn his Bible verse and stood on stage grinning and twirling his new tie and saying to the congregation (instead of the assigned Bible verse), “See what I got for Christmas?” They loved it! So I would tell him that he was “the little prince” or, alternatively, “Fate’s little darling.” Not that the life of my Artist or any artist is ever be financially easy, but he knew what really mattered, and he drew love to him, always. His gift for friendship and for conversations on important topics (see again The Little Prince) made him unforgettable.


Last winter in our mountain cabin, I handed David an English translation of the St.-Exupéry classic, and he had time to read enough of the first few pages, before another hospital trip intervened, so he could understand why I thought he was that little prince, as well as a little prince – and why I had felt like that little prince myself reading it and why he and I were so drawn to each other and so happy together. The pilot gave up his dream of becoming a painter, but the Artist never did, despite countless material sacrifices necessary to gain the dream's reality. But a drive from Kalamazoo to Galesburg for thrift shopping and coffee with him was, I told one of his friends years ago, more wonderful, I'm sure, than some people's trips to Paris: Our conversations could be adventures in themselves.

Conversations – about things that mattered! And that laughter! I have stars that laugh!

Whenever I said "asters," he would say, "Lady Astor's horse."

When Lynne Rae Perkins’s book about squirrels having adventures was published, the Artist was amused to hear me recommending it to adults until one day he happened into the bookstore while I was reading aloud from Nuts to You! “Is that the squirrel story you were talking about?” he asked. Of course he got it! Can you think for a moment that he wouldn't have?


No wonder, then, that I would think of him while reading Violet & Jobie in the Wild. (Actually, it’s no wonder that I think of him whatever I do, is it?) What I didn’t expect were all the accumulating passages and similarities in Violet’s story and mine the further I got into the story. I'll share just three with you.


When Zolian recounts to Violet his flight in the owl’s talons, immediately I thought of the Artist’s flight by helicopter from Willcox, Arizona, to a larger hospital in the Phoenix area. He said of that flight, still thrilled the next day, “It was transcendent!” and when I think of it now, I think, He had that -- and loved it!


Zolian wanted to see once again the morning flight of sandhill cranes. The Artist and I went many times to Whitewater Draw in Cochise County, Arizona, or, closer to our winter ghost town cabin, to Twin Lakes outside Willcox to see sandhill cranes in flight. You hear them long before you see them, and they circle for ages, it seems, high in the sky, only gradually coming to water and earth. The cranes were always transporting to hear and see.

Then on one page came the words (I could scarcely believe it) “Easy peasy”! 

Our little Peasy

There was more, but….


Disclaimer: This is not a book review. In case you have not already figured it out, I cannot be objective about a book that touches me so very deeply and seems so personally directed at the deepest moments of my own life. But that has always been the wonder of the best children’s books! 

Doesn’t every girl who ever read Little Women feel that she is Jo March? Doesn’t every boy or girl reading The Black Stallion inhabit the character of Alec, befriending that magnificent horse on the island? Children a hundred years ago, hearing the story of “Hansel & Gretel,” must have imagined themselves surviving in the woods and narrowly escaping a hideous fate and then, thanks to the story and their own imaginations, taken courage for whatever was frightening in their own lives. 

That’s it, you see. We escape into stories, and the best don’t take us away from life but deeper into it. “Real life,” says Zolian in Violet & Jobie. “What other kind is there?” 


I hope all readers, of whatever age, who read Violet & Jobie in the Wild feel that the story was written just for them. Lynne Rae Perkins has made magic here once again for us all. Even tears can be good....

"The world: it really is such a beautiful place."


P.S. Please do not overlook the other new September book gifts from Leelanau County authors. More about these sometime in the future, I promise. 

P.P.S. And Sunny Juliet -- just because --

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

5 September Books Not to Miss!


Everyone has a list – newspapers, publishers, book bloggers – but mine is directed straight at you, northern Michigan, and especially you, Leelanau County, because the talented writers in our region are unstoppable. Here are five new September releases (alphabetized by authors’ last names for the sake of objectivity, because I love all these authors), and you won't want to miss a single one.


Harrison, JimThe Search for the Genuine: Nonfiction, 1970-2015 brings together classic Harrison essays and some never before published. With a deeply moving introduction by Luis Alberto Urrea, who describes the late Harrison as “a big river in flood,” and a jacket photograph by Dennis Grippentrog of Jim in leaning in his granary/writing studio doorway, this is a book no fan of Jim Harrison and his writing will want to live without. As for the delightful and insightful contents, you'll have to read the book yourself, but I say, Thank heaven for written words and their power to live beyond the grave! 


Hardcover, $28


Oomen, Anne-Marie. All you have to do, if you have any previous acquaintance with this author’s work, is read the title, As Long as I Know You: The Mom Book, and you know you’re in for an unforgettable ride. Who dares to tell the truth – that mothers and daughters are not always best friends? Anne-Marie doesn’t stop there, however, but goes on with a compelling tale of compassion, big decisions, and the loss that is, eventually, part of all love, somehow (as she always magically does) making you laugh -- and, yes, cry -- along the way.

Paper, $19.95


Perkins, Lynne Rae. Our own Leelanau County Newbery author brings us this month another charmingly written and illustrated children’s books, Violet & Jobie in the Wild. A mouse story! Mice, rather. And a chapter book, on the order of her marvelous Nuts to You! (Remember those squirrel adventures?) And lucky me, lucky us, because Lynne Rae will be at Dog Ears Books on Saturday, October 1, to sign books for customers. So mark your calendars now and watch my blog and Facebook posts for coming details. 

Hardcover, $16.99


Shoemaker, Sarah. By now you’ve been hearing a lot about Sarah’s historical novel, Children of the Catastrophe, but if you didn’t make it to the book launch party on September 6, never fear. I have more signed paperback copies and have restocked hardcovers (after selling out of those at the launch) that I'm sure Sarah will sign soon. Children of the Catastrophe is this year’s “Leelanau Reads” choice by our county librarians, and other book clubs will want to include it in their lists for the coming winter, too. It's both historical and timely reading -- and an engrossing family story.

Hardcover, $28.99; Paper, $17


Wheeler, Jacob. Angel of the Garbage Dump: How Hanley Denning Changed the World, One Child at a Time is nonfiction and a story that was very important for the publisher of the Glen Arbor News to tell. Hanley Denning, a former track star and the “angel” of the title, couldn’t turn away from children she saw picking through garbage in a dump in Guatemala City, hoping to find enough to eat to stay alive, and the nonprofit she set up, Camino Seguro (Safe Passage), continues to save the lives of Guatemalan children, although Hanley was tragically killed (in a road accident) in 2007. One person can make an enormous difference. 

Paper, $17.95

Dog Ears Books is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 - 4, from now until the end of October. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Backwards From Tuesday


We Had Launch! (Tuesday)


Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, is a traditionally quiet day Up North and was definitely a quiet day on Waukazoo Street (with the Mitten, the Garage, and the New Bohemian all closed for a little post-summer break), but we made up for the quiet day with a celebratory evening at the Leelanau Township Library with Sarah Shoemaker and her new novel, Children of the Catastrophe


The weather could not have been sweeter. Big, enthusiastic turnout was gratifying, to say the least. (Northport loves books!) Sales were gratifying, too, and Sarah was kept busy signing until the assembled multitude demanded that she speak, and then an appreciative audience listened to her reading from the novel and asked good questions afterward. 

Sarah reading to library guests


My neighbor Julie, who is also the new librarian in Northport, was there pitching in, as were several library friends (Northport is a true community) and Sarah’s visiting family. Sarah and I both neglected to mention, however, her husband’s photographs from Greece that have current pride of place on the walls dedicated to local artists, so if you’re in Northport be sure to stop in at the library and look at those. 


Kent Shoemaker's photographs of Greece


Other than selling books (which I do with fair competence after 29 years’ experience), my contribution in the form of cucumber mint lemonade was a total disaster. What on earth had gone wrong? After all the preparation work and assembly, I got home after the book launch to find the honey water sitting on the kitchen counter! Lemonade without sweetener is a challenge to the taste buds that I had not intended. Sorry, Sarah! Sorry, Northport! It would have been as good as it looked if I hadn’t left out that key ingredient! 

Refreshments table

Luckily for the crowd, Sarah’s Greek dessert buffet was delicious as well as beautiful.


A Labor Day of Labor (Monday)


Sunny Juliet in high-def!

Sunny Juliet had a workout Monday morning. It was her very first introductory attempt at agility work, and she took to it like an eagle to the air. (She’s no duck. Won’t even put a paw in the little wading pool I bought for her.) She is agile, smart, and supremely confident, so after a little initial skepticism over the tunnel, she handled the new equipment and experiences eagerly and easily. She also made a new dog friend – her first Michigan dog friend! – a border collie named Cookie, so maybe next week I’ll get photos of Cookie and Sunny working the equipment or enjoying their after-work play together, which they certainly did. All in all, it was a very successful morning, and I admit I was relieved. Mike, our instructor, was not surprised that Sunny did well. Though he had never met her, he knew SJ would be good at agility. I had just wondered if she would be too wild to focus, but she did a good job. Good girl!


Next I spent Monday afternoon with lemons and cucumbers and honey (and you already read above the sorry result, not of the preparation but of my forgetfulness) and outdoors throwing tennis balls and Frisbees for Sunny and more mowing of grass. (Note: Isn’t it amazing how fast grass can grow?)



Meandering Led to Memory Lane (Sunday)


Lake Michigan Road

As was the case this past spring, when I had not planned ahead of time to dare the road over the Chiricahua Mountains, all the way up to Onion Saddle and down again on the other side, with only my puppy as copilot, I didn’t plan what turned out to be last Sunday’s destination. Destination? Was it destined? The expedition began as a simple drive to Lake Leelanau to pick something up at NJ’s, then a slow cruise down along South Lake Leelanau and a stop in Cedar for ice cream (shared with SJ). After that, I thought I’d started for home but somehow found myself circling Little Traverse Lake from north to south (how did that happen?), and then, coming out on M-22 so close to Bohemian Road, destiny pulled me south again.  Bohemian Road (C.R. 669), Lake Michigan Road, second crossing of Shalda Creek, and down past Shell Lake to where the old two-track, growing over now with vegetation, winds through the meadow and back to the woods where the Artist’s house used to stand, all this territory now part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.


across the old meadow

We made this trek last Labor Day, the Artist and Peasy and I. We walked all the way in, a long walk for David but worth it. It was the most beautiful day! We stopped at last in the quiet of the woods, where I photographed David sitting on a log, holding the rope (we had somehow left the house without a leash) that had Peasy at the other end (didn’t get Pea in the photograph – terrible lapse), but though I looked this year at various logs in the woods, I couldn’t be sure if any of them was the log. None seemed right. My heart was heavy.

Nature's cathedral -- and mine

David’s memories of his house in the woods went back years further than my own, as it was his summer studio and a place his children came on vacation for years, the girls burying their little tea set dishes over and over in a sand pit -- to dig up again and again years later in adulthood. I remember my first visit there, however, and I will always remember our Labor Day 2021 visit, as well as times in between. And probably this one with Sunny, too, will stay in memory. The thing is, the two-track is disappearing, but all the same plants are there – the brambles and bracken fern, horsetails and horsemint, goldenrod and asters. I do believe bracken fern, although not a true fern at all, is my favorite fern. [Update & correction: Bracken is a fern, it seems. Someone told me it wasn't, and I believed. Mistake.) It is ubiquitous in the poor soil of northern Michigan, and thus for me it is drenched in memories, as are the asters and the horsemint, and all the oaks and pines and other trees, both the old and the new young ones….

The pond looked low.

This old tree has been around a while.


Bracken in full sun ...

... and in dappled shade.

moss and 'shrooms

Reindeer moss -- a lichen -- amid the true mosses

It was a slow drive home, by an inland route. Near School Lake, I recalled a day one early winter when we stopped for about a hundred turkeys in the road. “About,” because it’s hard to count that many turkeys when they’re milling around. I have no picture of those turkeys, and it was years before Sunny was born, but I can almost see them there still, every time I come to that portion of road.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Did you ever -- write a letter to a stranger?

Patience on a comforter


Good morning! And no, to answer a question about my question, politicians don’t count (although writing to them is always a good idea). I'm thinking of writing to someone geographically distant whose story you read or heard somewhere, and you’ll never run into each other at your local grocery store, but you thought, We have a lot in common. I’d like to know him-or-her-or-them. (There. I’m practicing using they/them as a singular pronoun. I need practice with that, I guess.) Have you ever done that?


Occasionally I receive notes in the mail from people I’ve never met or encountered so fleetingly that no memory image remained, because I have had a bookstore in Up North tourist country for 29 years and counting. (Thirty next summer!!!) Because some of my annual visitors keep track of my life on this blog. Or because someone ordered a book or books from me years ago, and we fell into correspondence for a while.


But it doesn’t always work out long-term.


Once, for example, I had a book order from a Frenchman who was teaching at the time in an agricultural lycée on an island in the Indian Ocean. We were both devotes of the entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre. He had ordered a Fabre book I had listed online (back when I did that sort of thing) and explained the reason that his mailing address was France: all mail went there first, then came to the end of the island where the airfield was, and eventually worked its way to the other end of the island where the school was. He sent me a little package of vetiver, one of the island’s chief exports. 


I sent something back (I don’t remember what), and things were going along swimmingly until I shared an idea I had: When he and his wife returned to France, we should set up agricultural exchange visits! I imagined having my French visitors stay in our old farmhouse and touring them around Leelanau County, introducing them to cherry growing culture and farmer friends in my township and beyond. They would have so many questions and would love northern Michigan, wouldn’t they? Then they could host an agricultural visit in return. We might have several of these from one year to the next -- as I imagined the concept growing.


But after sharing my brilliant idea, I never heard from my distant friend again. In retrospect, I think he must have thought I, personally, was angling for a free country place to stay in France with my husband, which wasn’t at all the idea, but I never followed up on whatever misconception or misunderstanding there must have been, and there ended our exchange. 


Another correspondence was more successful. My distant customer was a woman who ordered several books of old dog stories, and as it turned out, she was also a writer. When her next book came out, she sent me an early copy. Wonderful writer! That was years ago, and we are still in touch, albeit infrequently. 


So now, this morning, I’m kind of on the fence. Does a woman-woman letter-writing connection between strangers work better, especially when the women are roughly the same age? Or is there any chance at all that a young(er) male Scottish bookseller (my son’s age) would welcome hearing from an aged female colleague in the wilds of northern Michigan? He and my son have the same birthday, but surely the fascination of that coincidence is only in my point of view and would mean nothing to him. 


Really, don’t I already have enough to do without launching – no, attempting to launch – another pen pal relationship? That was a rhetorical question….


Happy Labor Day weekend! And remember to join us at Tuesday evening’s open house at the Leelanau Township Library, where you can have Sarah Shoemaker sign a copy of her new book for you, beginning at 7:30 p.m.