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Monday, September 25, 2023

My Kind of Positivity (More than $$)

My work environment --

Megan Greenwell, in an article “Can Private Equity Be — Nice?” (published 9/19/23 in Moneybox), makes a clear statement about the publisher Simon & Schuster being bought by private equity firm KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.): "Private equity’s entire M.O. is maximizing profits.” Greenwell posed questions to the co-head of KKR about what it means to employees that they will now be “given a stake” in the company. 

Q. How would KKR maximize publishing profits to enrich employees as well as high-level officers and big-money investors? 

"I’m sure you know the brand Zara. The entire success of Zara is their supply chain. Zara basically said, 'We’re going to massively shrink lead times. We are going to more locally source everything that we do, and we are going to have the most responsive supply chain in the world. We will test at the beginning of a season, colors, fits, and we’ll see what sells. And then we’re going to shift our whole supply chain to what’s selling.' That’s how Zara made gazillions of dollars. No one has ever tried that type of thinking in book publishing, and there’s no reason those types of ideas can’t work, right? It’s just, what’s the incentive?” - Pete Stavros, KKR’s co-head of global private equity, quoted by Greenwell from interview with him

"No one has ever tried that type of thinking in book publishing." He said that. Shifting the supply chain to what sells best — whatever that may be — in order to maximize profits is to be the new face of publishing under the old name Simon & Schuster. The best-case scenario that Stavros outlines would result in more employee engagement and fewer people quitting their jobs: 

"I think people would agree, if those two metrics move meaningfully, it’s irrefutable that the culture has improved. The other part, from an employee perspective, is that they generate meaningful wealth for themselves, and it’s great for our investors. That’s the home run you’re always trying to hit: People are happier, they participate in the value creation, and investors did great. That doesn’t have to be a blowout deal. It can be a good deal and people can make a lot of money.” - Pete Stavros

Two important points, less anyone misunderstand me: 

1) I am not saying KKR is some kind of evil entity. Reading their public statements, one finds strong commitment to employee welfare and also to investments that are environmentally as well as financially sustainable, worthy principles that certainly cast maximization of profits in a kindly light. And I don't know much more about them.

2) Nor do I believe that making a profit is bad. Modest as my own business is, if it hadn’t turned some kind of profit over its history, it would not exist today, 30 years after its inception. 

(I am not anti-capitalism, only anti-unregulated/unrestrained capitalism that leaves no area of human life untouched, but even that is a bigger topic than I have in mind today.)

My only concern with a private equity company owning a publishing house is the idea that a publisher should crank out “whatever sells.” Not that they shouldn’t make money, not that they shouldn’t share profits with employees, but in my ideal world a book publisher would also be concerned with quality of its list -- value apart from dollars; a different kind of value -- and that I don’t see anywhere in the interview.

A private equity company buying a publishing house is one way employees can be given a stake in the business, but it’s not the only way. W. W. Norton & Company has been an independent, employee-owned publishing house since 1952. Here is a link to the fascinating Norton story, concluding that Norton’s “Books That Live” motto, adopted in the 1930s, meant then and means now that the books Norton publishes are “not for a single season but for the years.

And that, my friends, as I insist on continuing to see the world, is the best principle of traditional publishing: to publish books the house believes will be of lasting importance. Books are not hula hoops or pet rocks, and manufacturing and selling them in the same way as those fad items cheapens the history of literature.

Mint -- nothing to do with my story.

Postscript: Since I drafted the foregoing, a happy story has come from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the effect that Zingerman's partners are "giving the store away" -- to their employees. Quoting from the Ann Arbor Observer

Zingerman’s Perpetual Purpose Trust will be the legal owner of the Zingerman’s brand. Its terms prohibit the company from going public, being sold to an outside company, or franchising. “The intent is that it keeps the decision-making power and the profit local,” says Weinzweig, “as opposed to what generally happens [when founders sell], which is both of those move further and further geographically afield”—a process he likens to “colonialism.”
You can read the whole story here. When I re-read the story or even think about it, I can't stop smiling! 

Postscript two days later:


The latest issue of the New York Review of Books (October 19, 2023) takes a look at two new books that scrutinize private equity firms, Plunder: Private Equity’s Plan to Pillage America, by Brendan Ballou, and These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs – and Wrecks – America, by Gretchen Morgenson & Joshua Rosner. I don’t have the books at hand but already find plenty to worry about in Kim Phillips-Fein’s review, entitled “Conspicuous Destruction” (NYRB, Vol. LXX, no. 16). Before considering the titles under review, Phillips-Fein gives readers an introduction to what “private equity” is.


At its most basic level, a private equity fund is a type of exclusive investment fund – a pool of money managed by professionals to maximize returns for rich investors. Because private equity funds are not subject to regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, investors must be accredited and provide proof of family wealth, and funds often have minimum investment requirements of $10 million or more…. [They] buy up all the shares of publicly traded companies, gaining complete managerial control. …Usually a purchase is financed with heavy borrowing, so that a newly acquired company is saddled with debt that it needs to repay quickly – often by selling assets or laying off workers.


Later in the piece she writes –


Distant investors [who have managerial control, unlike other forms of investment] have little knowledge of day-to-day operations.


Nor do they have any commitment to community or workers. In effect, private equity funds are the newer, leaner, hungrier model of what were “leveraged buyouts” (LBOs) in the 1970s and 1980s, many financed by junk bonds that brought about the bankruptcies that brought us bailouts of banks “too big to [be allowed to] fail.”


Note that private equity funds are only for the very, very wealthy who can prove their financial worth. Note also that they are exempt from SEC oversight. 


Now, here is a partial list of the kinds of businesses that private equity likes to take over: hospitals, nursing homes, medical billing centers, day care centers, for-profit universities, medical practices, dental practices, veterinary practices, payday loan companies, ambulance companies, hospices, and prison services, from collect phone calls through ankle monitors to debit cards. In other words, private equity likes businesses that rely on vulnerable populations, are often funded in part by government programs, and can be counted on to generate debt for the populations “serviced” and profit for investors in the funds

Reading this makes me say again, with Christopher Morley’s fictional character Roger Mifflin, “Thank God I am a bookseller!” And then I add, “And not a millionaire!”

"Merely a medium of exchange" (to quote my father)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Michigan People in the Middle: An American Classic

Sunrise over cornfield

This past week I re-read Bonnie Jo Campbell’s novels, Once Upon a River and Q Road. I could say that my re-reading was in anticipation of the new novel coming out in January 2024, but in truth that was not in my thoughts at all. I just wanted to be on the river again with Margo and on the farm with George and Rachel and David. 


I have written about these books before. In the order of writing and publication, Q Road came first; in the chronology of the two fictions, however, Once Upon a River, the second of Campbell’s novels, begins the saga. Campbell wrote Once Upon a River when readers (and probably the author herself) wanted to know more about Rachel’s shadowy mother, a strange, unsociable, gun-toting woman who had lived for years on an old homemade houseboat on the Kalamazoo River and made her living by hunting and trapping, but who disappeared early in the Q Road story, leaving teenaged Rachel to find her own way in the rural world outside Kalamazoo. 

Margo Crane fried slices of puffball fat from a duck she killed.

In my re-reading this time around, I began with the river journey that brought Margo Crane to the Kalamazoo River and followed with her daughter’s story, choosing fictional rather than publication chronology.


Campbell’s characters in these novels, as is the case with those in her short stories, do not dwell on the shores of Lake Michigan, Superior, or Huron. They live in the state’s interior, often in somewhat scruffy, forgotten corners – or, like George Harlan and David Retakker of the Queer Road neighborhood, on land originally farmed by the Potowatomi, then in the 19th century by white settlers, and now, at the end of the 20th century (Q Road is set in the year 1999), threatened by fast-encroaching suburbia. Rachel is there because her mother moored her houseboat on that particular stretch of the river, at the outlet of a freshwater creek, before Rachel was born. George is in the area because his great-grandfather was one of the pioneer white farmers. 

There is always water in Bonnie Jo Campbell's books.

The new book coming next year is simply called THE WATERS.

Campbell’s central characters are individuals that psychologists call satisficers rather than maximizers. They don’t ask for everything. Instead they welcome hard work and can live, satisfied, with a lot of imperfection and difficulty, as long as what is most important to them is in their daily lives. Here, for instance, is the boy David:


…If he lived with George, he’d get up early every morning and feed the animals. David would go to school if George insisted, but he would make it clear he’d rather stay home and help with farm work.

Ripening field corn

George inherited his devotion to barn and fields, but boy David and adolescent Rachel love the same acres with equal ferocity. Asked why she married an “old” man like George, Rachel replies, “I wanted his damn land.”

Field horizon

Other characters have different feelings about the land they inhabit or, in the case of George’s friend Tom Parks, the land they have lost. Sally, David’s mother, lives rent-free since her husband, George’s hired man, took off for parts unknown, but Sally longs for California: the house sheltering her and her son and the land surrounding it mean nothing to her. Another young woman, Nicole, feels that marriage brought her life to an end, rather than giving it a real beginning, and she fantasizes about murdering her husband. An older married woman on the same stretch of road, retired from her job as a school bus driver, awaits the coming of aliens from outer space.

Milton converts a barn into a bar and grill, in hopes of bringing people to Jesus, while Steve (whose wife dreams of murdering him) bemoans the monogamy imposed on him by marriage. Neither Steve nor Milton can get anywhere with Rachel, although both of them try. They just don’t have anything she wants. 


History, both recent and long ago, comes into the picture also in the minds of the key characters: the Potowatomi, marched off their ancestral lands in a previous century; a schoolteacher driven away when it was discovered she had been “in a sinful way” with one of the neighborhood’s farmhands; a barn consumed by fire when the husband of the wife whose family built it ignored her warnings and filled the barn with fresh hay not yet dry; and a tornado that blew away the house the driven-away teacher had lived in. Everywhere, too, graves marked and unmarked, known and unknown.


Q Road conforms to a classic form. Like Greek tragedy, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Virginia Wolff’s Mrs. Dalloway, the story unrolls in a single 24-hour period. Written in the third person throughout, the novel’s point of view shifts among various characters, and thanks to Campbell’s sympathy for her characters, the reader also is able to feel sympathy for them all, though probably in varying degrees. 

George’s story began with his great-grandfather and will continue on this land as long as he lives, whereas Q Road will doubtless be only a dusty chapter in Sally’s life by the time her life story comes to an end. Rachel’s longing is clearly to imprint herself on the land and incorporate the land’s story into her own. We are also given brief glimpses of this rural world through the eyes of a cat, a bird.

Throughout the 24 hours, from one autumn morning to the following day, woolly bear caterpillars are ceaselessly performing their seasonal migration, crossing the road in an attempt that will end in death for many of them. “It is land they have occupied for centuries,” we are told in the novel’s first paragraph, and throughout the novel the woolly bears’ periodic appearances are remarked in different ways by the various characters.

Wild apples behind old barn are good eating and good keeping.

Later we are told –


Autumn woolly bears didn’t ask for much, just a little protection from automobiles, tractors, stomping livestock, and spiked golf shoes, so they could survive long enough to freeze, thaw, and build a cocoon of silk and their own bristles, so they could make it to that most remarkable of days in late spring when they would awaken into wings and become invulnerable to the old dangers. Next spring, just like this spring and the one before, a good number of the caterpillars would wake up from under logs, spin cocoons, and emerge as small white moths to dance like pieces of ash above a fire, with only a short time in which to mate before dying.


Like the woolly bears, George, Rachel, and David don’t ask for much and are willing to endure anything to hold onto the “little protection” given them by the farm. As we read, we ache for their fears and sorrows and are thoroughly invested in hopes for their future on Q Road.


For the life of me, I cannot understand why this novel is not more widely known and more highly acclaimed. As far as I’m concerned, it belongs in the all-time top rank of Michigan fiction and is a pure American classic for the perfection of its form, its deep and loving knowledge of Midwest farmland past and present, and for characters brought to life on the pages of a book, people who surely “dance like pieces of ash above a fire” in readers’ mind long after the book has been closed – until the next re-reading.


Roadside alfalfa remnants of former hayfield....

Tuesday, September 19, 2023



Outdoors Nearby


Days are cool now, in the low-to-mid 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but nights are not much cooler (low 50s), so the transition from summer to fall creeps along thus far in small increments. In corners here and there, fall colors begin to sing, but for the most part the world is still green, even if (except for the brightness of rain-refreshed grass) a tired sort of green that seems to say it’s getting ready to give way.

In Swann’s Way, the opening volume of Remembrance of Things Past, Proust wrote of hawthorns in blossom, and the summer I first read those descriptions of the family’s walk alongside the flowering hedges, I was obsessed with hawthorns. Whenever the Artist and I went for an evening drive, my eyes searched in vain for hawthorns. Later, in another summer, I found one on the hill between our farmhouse and the neighbors’ house on the slope where our dogs used to meet for play. And now there are two or three closer to me, one in my meadow, another bearing its fruit closer to our south boundary.


“Hips and haws,” I muse, admiring the bright red berries and thinking of a character in The Borrowers, Homily, Arietty’s mother, so reluctant to leave their indoor home and take up a long outdoor search for fugitive relatives, imagining and mourning in advance the poor diet they might expect: nothing but rose hips and hawthorn berries. To my ear, that sounds as poetic as milk and honey, but the hawthorn berries are small, mealy, and tasteless, I find. Better to leave them for the wild things, although I do love seeing them.

Here, anyway, is a morning Continental breakfast of reading snippets, just small bites to go with morning coffee.


On Rereading


How can you be objective in the face of a book you love, which you have loved, which you have read at different times in your life? Such a book has a reading past. In rereading it, you have not always suffered in the same way—and above all you no longer hope with the same intensity in all the seasons of a life of reading. … The animus and anima quests do not yield the same riches at every age in the life of the reader. Above all the great books remain psychologically alive. You are never finished reading them.


-      Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie


(Is life too short to reread books? Are there too many people in the world [and is life too short] to hold onto old friendships? In the past two days I have reread Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River and am now embarked, once again, on her Q Road. Her characters find much more sustenance outdoors than mere hips and haws.)


On Attention


Attention is not just another [cognitive] function…. Its ontological status is of something prior to functions and even to things. The kind of attention we bring to bear on the world changes the nature of the world we attend to….


So it is … with everything with which we come into contact. A mountain that is a landmark to a navigator, a source of wealth to a prospector, a many-textured form to a painter, or to another the dwelling place of the gods, is changed by the attention given to it. There is no ‘real’ mountain which can be distinguished from these, no one way of thinking which reveals the true mountain.


Science, however purports to be uncovering such a reality. Its apparently value-free descriptions are assumed to deliver the truth about the object…. Yet this highly objective stance … is itself value-laden. It is one particular way of looking at things, a way which privileges detachment….


Attention also changes who we are…. [B]y attending to someone else performing an action, and even by thinking about them doing so … we become objectively, measurably, more like them, in how we behave, think and feel.


-      Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


(Not only the company you keep socially, but the movies you watch, the books you read, the music in your ears, etc. is continually shaping and reshaping you [I/me; we/us]. As race car drivers say, “Where your eyes go, your car goes.” Similarly, where your attention goes, your heart and mind go. Do we live increasingly in a hall of distorting mirrors? I have ordered for Dog Ears Books the new book by Naomi Klein with her investigation of that idea, so stay tuned. And by the way, the left brain, which McGilchrist calls the emissary, rejects facts incompatible with what it already "knows.")


On the Comfort of Rocks


How can I convey the comfort I find in reading geology? Rocks don’t care. They have no needs or desires of their own and cannot suffer pain or hurt feelings, and neither do they heed ours. Rocks award no prizes, mete out no punishment. They have stories of their own but do not—cannot—clamor to be heard in their own voices, and that lack of argument is restful, even when the subject of an essay is volcanic eruption. There are eruptions, yes, but no wars.


      - P. J. Grath, “What I Like Is Sometimes (But Not Always) What Others Like,” Books in Northport, Dec. 27, 2012



And there you are, here we are, already into the second half of September, with Leelanau UnCaged coming up on Saturday the 30th. Not only will my bookstore be open on Waukazoo Street, but we will have a special offering of our own that day: 





106 Waukazoo St., Northport

Saturday, September 30

(during Leelanau UnCaged)

4 p.m.

Fleda Brown

Michael Delp

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Of Two Minds

Clouds and chill do not dampen a dog's view of the world.

The grass is bright green, almost an unnatural-appearing green, so lush after recent heavy rain, but trees in the orchard, prematurely (from my perspective) shedding their leaves, had an almost wintry look recently against lowering grey skies. Not quite a contradiction, it was a scene to illustrate lack of demarcation between what we humans think of as one season and another – in this case, summer and fall. Seasons, like human emotions and states of mind, blend and interpenetrate more than they conform to any kind of calendar.


Which leads me – or, at least, I want to use it to try to lead you to think about fact and imagination, reasons and dreams, and the different ways our brains go at the work of knowing ourselves and the world. For Henri Bergson, my "main man" in philosophy (as the Artist liked to refer to him), two different ways of knowing came out as intellect/intuition. Gaston Bachelard's distinction was reason/imagination. It was psychobiologist Roger Sperry at Cal Tech whose experiments in the 1960s led to the idea that the two hemispheres of the brain specialized in different tasks, the left devoted to language, the naming of objects, and the right to visual construction of what we receive as “the world.” 

The left brain/right brain idea was grabbed up in simplistic dress by the general public, only to be rejected by science as myth and now resurrected in more nuanced form. There is more than one book on this fascinating subject, but the one I’ve been reading is The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGilchrist.

Reading is a good activity on a chilly day.

McGilchrist’s is as far as possible from a simplistic view. He stresses, for example, that mathematics (and by that we don’t mean simple bookkeeping) is creative as well as logical and that the “indirect, connotative language of poetry,” dependent on the brain’s right hemisphere, 


...underlies all forms of understanding whatsoever, science and philosophy no less than poetry and art.

-      McGilchrist (p. 71)


It is the working together of the two hemispheres, he underlines, that allows us to put a world together at all. 

The sun returned!

Most brain scientists these days would have no quarrel with McGilchrist thus far. Where some dig in their heels and think he goes off the deep end is with his thesis that Western culture (going back to the 5th century BCE and Socrates/Plato) has lost left/right balance (except for a few brief periods) and become overly dependent on – and dominated by – the left hemisphere’s narrowly focused rationality, its impatience and inability to deal with ambiguity and to make “big picture” connections. Although both parts of the brain deal both with units and with aggregates, he writes, the right hemisphere sees individuals and unique instances in holistic, always changing context, while the left categorizes and therefore can deal only with generic objects, types, and a fixed, static world.

Doggie nose prints on the inside of the windshield I just cleaned!

McGilchrist asked himself a question previous brain scientists seem not to have asked: why would mammalian brains, even brains of birds, divide their work in the first place? His answer is that life demands of us two different kinds of attention: first, a broad, flexible, sustained vigilance to everything around us; second, a focused attention on a task at hand (e.g., capturing prey). A machine model of animal behavior is a left-brain re-presentation. All left-brain re-presentations are based on what is already known. They are good at routine. They run as if on computer programs. They are, however, bad at revising in the face of the unexpected: what doesn’t fit is rejected. If McGilchrist hadn’t wanted to make as much reference as he does to Nietzsche, he might have called his book The Sorcerer and the Apprentice. (Don't miss Mickey Mouse in that link!)


The Master and His Emissary takes its title from Nietzsche, however, McGilchrist identifying the left brain as the “emissary” that has taken over the role of the “master” right brain, and it is a dense read at almost 600 pages, 54 of them notes and a hefty 67 pages of bibliography. The index, I must say, is disappointing and could have included much more than it does. This book is fascinating reading, though, for anyone interested in how we humans perceive and think.


That’s my nonfiction reading for sunlight hours. In the dark of the morning or evening dusk, I turn to the philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Reverie and am amazed and delighted again and again. In fact, even my use of different times of day for these two books conforms to Bachelard’s idea that even words can have different psychic “weight” 

…depending on whether they belong to the language of reverie or the language of daylight life (la vie claire) – to rested language or language under surveillance – to the language of poetry or to the language hammered out by authoritarian prosodies.

I don’t think I am stretching a point at all to seeing Bachelard in this passage agreeing with McGilchrist as to how the different brain hemispheres construct a world. And when he, Bachelard, uses Jung’s animus and anima language, again McGilchrist’s brain hemisphere distinctions, rather than any gendered differences, make sense of the distinction. Projects and worries, Bachelard says, belong to the animus, while “tranquil images” from the anima … “meld together in an intimate warmth.” And thus there are also two different kinds of reading, one in animus, the other in anima.

…I am not the same man when I am reading a book of ideas where the animus is obliged to be vigilant, quite ready to criticize, quite ready to retort, as when I am reading a poet’s book where images must be received in a sort of transcendental acceptance of gifts. Ah! to return the absolute gift which is a poet’s image, our anima would have to be able to write a hymn of thanksgiving. 


The animus reads little; the anima reads a great deal.


Sometimes my animus scolds me for having read too much. 


Reading, ever reading, the sweet passion of the anima. But when, after having read everything, one sets before himself the task of making a book out of reveries, it is the animus which is in the harness. Writing a book is always a hard job. One is always tempted to limiting himself to dreaming it. 


-      Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie

And yet, I think to myself now, reflecting on these two books, on the work of the different hemispheres of the brain (my brain!), and on the expressions and statements of these two writers, I seem to sense the right and left brains, the anima and animus, in dialogue. Or is that the right brain, synthesizing facts handed to it by the left? At any rate, as I read, I take notes (left brain) and smile happily (right brain).

View without doggie nose prints --

And view without the road --

Today’s images have nothing to do with today’s text and are only included for relief from what might otherwise seem like overthinking. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

We Turned the Corner, Walking

The north wind blew for a couple of days, and Leelanau residents and visitors closed their windows against the chill night air. When the wind shifted around and came back from the south, it wasn’t any longer a summer breeze but pleasantly balmy again, as September winds and breezes can be (even with rainclouds above), and so the windows were opened again. Now along county roadsides, pinkish lavender of spotted knapweed and cornflower blue of chicory share the stage with the whites of Queen Anne’s lace umbels and white sweet clover racemes, and there are peaches and nectarines in the markets and on roadside stands.


Is September an exciting beginning to a new year for you, or does it signal a bittersweet, melancholy season? Opinions are divided, but I’m wondering if it can’t be both. So few things in life are cut and dried, black or white, don’t you find? The very idea of bittersweetness captures the absence of a clear-cut distinction, and I’m all for the William James’s non-static view of life: 


It is, the reader will see, the reinstatement of the vague and inarticulate to its proper place in our mental life which I am so anxious to press on the attention. (Principles of Psychology, 254) 


We don’t pass from one “state of mind” block to the next, with a sharp dividing line between them. Thoughts and feelings can be hazy, fringed at the horizon, spreading into one another. Certainly that sounds like the bittersweet feeling Susan Cain describes in her book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, about which I wrote a bit last winter.

September 2000 took us to Paris, France.

Whether you find September exciting or melancholy or maybe a bit of both or something else altogether (What else? Pray share!), summer’s end is a good time for poetry. Not that there is a bad time, but September’s apple-scented air seems to call for poetry in a special way, and I’ve been reading High Water Mark: Prose Poems, by David Shumate, rationing the pages so as not to run through the slim volume too fast – and then Fleda Brown’s Flying Through a Hole in the Storm, with its marvelous poem, “Milkweed,” in which these lines appear: 


            The stalks remain upright

in spite of their hollowness. Everything is hollow

      in a good way. Everything has finished its job

            and has moved on to the next thing.


Brown writes of milkweed’s “bliss of shedding.” Can we learn to do that? To shed blissfully? I need to think about whether or not I want to shed and if so, what....


After reaching the end of a very unsatisfying murder mystery on Saturday, I was ready for a dose of good nonfiction and turned to Rebecca Solnit, who never disappoints me. Her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking had a title that called my name. Solnit writes of pilgrimages and labyrinths and has this to say of the latter:


In such spaces as the labyrinth, we cross over; we are really traveling, even if the destination is only symbolic, and this is in an entirely different register than is thinking about traveling or looking at a picture of a place we might wish to travel to. For the real is in this context nothing more or less than what we inhabit bodily. A labyrinth is a symbolic journey or a map of the route to salvation, but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world. If the body is the register of the real, then reading with one’s feet is real [travel] in a way that reading with one’s eyes alone is not. (p. 70)


A friend of mine who is a labyrinth facilitator (guide?) would probably appreciate this book, although I suspect she would be impatient with the way the author uses ‘labyrinth’ and ‘maze’ interchangeably, but Solnit did acknowledge on the following page that “many” people distinguish mazes from labyrinths (as does my friend), the former intending to confuse, the latter having only one possible route.

On Sunday morning, the day before Labor Day, I drove down to Cedar. There are many possible routes to take from my house to Cedar and back, and the Artist and I seldom returned north on the same roads we took south. I did not on Sunday morning, either. But, as always, I missed his presence acutely on all the familiar county roads, and so these words of Solnit’s struck a chord with me:


…Just as writing allows one to read the words of someone who is absent, so roads make it possible to trace the route of the absent. Roads are a record of those who have gone before, and to follow them is to follow people who are no longer there…. (p. 72)


Solnit had in mind “shepherds, hunters, engineers,” etc., but I had in mind my own past and a shared life. We did a lot of “riding around” and “county cruising.” Far from home, too, we sought out back roads, those less traveled, where we might explore at a slower pace than people anxious to get “from Point A to Point B” (as another friend of mine likes to travel). Most of my long walks, on the other hand, not only now that he’s gone but also in the last years of my life with the Artist, were taken with a dog or a friend or friends and dogs (example: in Arizona). He and I didn’t do a lot of walking together, I was thinking, so it’s no wonder my associations are stronger on county roads.


But as the book slipped out of my hands and I began to doze (there on the porch, a sweet breeze through the open windows and the dog lying quietly on the floor nearby), memories surged back. Walking home from downtown Kalamazoo, uphill, holding hands, past old historic houses, noticing architectural details. Long-ago nighttime walks through sleepy, dark, summer Leland. On Lake Michigan beaches and along the Lake Superior shore. Wading in the Crystal River (and picking off leeches afterward). A Christmas Day walk through deep snow in Houdek Dunes, having it all to ourselves, our footsteps the first. Strolling in Paris, in Avignon, and oh-so-memorably in Blesle, that sweet medieval village! And, of course, our last long walk through the dear meadow bordering Shell Lake.

In the Yoop


Aux Crozes-Hauts -- and still alive!

An unexpected dream come true --

We had many, many memorable walks together over the years, I realize, and seeing them again in my mind, eyes closed, I re-read those happy days, my hand in his, the world sparkling around us.


In the meadow, two years ago --

September is a good month for walking, as well as for reading. 


And so, now that the season has turned the corner, I’ll be shortening up my open hours to take advantage of “locals’ summer,” adding Tuesday to Monday’s “by chance or appointment” on the schedule line: 



Dog Ears Books


September-October 2023


Monday-Tuesday: by chance or appointment

Wednesday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Sunday: Closed

Time for "Locals' Summer"