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Sunday, March 24, 2024

I Never Trust an East Wind

Strange sky on Sunday morning

The weather forecast for Sunday morning was for a couple hours of rain or snow, but the east wind was a monkey wrench thrown in that prediction. No way we would have rain, with air as cold as it was, the little no-name creek frozen to silence again except for the miniature waterfall section. Sunrise had no warmth to it, either. Were those grey clouds in the north moving our way? No, they seemed at a standstill, sun and wind pouring between two completely different sets of clouds. But then, an east wind always makes for strange weather.


Now it’s spring break. – Not for me, but for many. Northport School is closed. New Bohemian CafĂ© is closed all week, too, as are Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern, 9 Bean Rows, and heaven knows how many other purveyors of food and coffee, so those of us staying behind in Leelanau will have to be resourceful to get through the remainder of March. Don’t we always, though? One way or another….


Several people have asked if I found it worthwhile to have the bookstore open all winter. Since it wasn’t my first bookstore winter, I knew what to expect, and that did not involve crowds of book buyers carrying out piles of treasures! A few bibliophiles now and then were grateful, however, to find the shop open, and several large inventory intakes kept me busy pricing and shelving and rearranging whole subject areas, which means I’ll be well stocked when “the season” arrives.

Young people on left, classics on right

Older children's books, YA, and school readers

Then, too, I’ve been keeping my weeks and days short: Wed.-Sat., 11-3. It only makes sense. Projects at home, not to mention work and play with Sunny Juliet (mostly play), are more important than looking out at empty downtown streets until 5 p.m.

Now, though, Northport is moving toward establishing a “social district,” which is apparently (and I didn’t know this before) a term for official sanction to take alcoholic beverages from restaurants and bars out onto the sidewalk and into the parks. I haven’t taken a position pro or con on the plan and won’t be taking one, as younger generations are driving now. They’re putting in a lot of time and energy, and it’s their turn, while my business and I are Old School and will never be anything different, so I’ll just watch and report from the sidelines. 

And a week from now it will be time for me to post my “Books Read” for the month of March. Will I finish that very philosophical nonfiction book in time to include it, or will I continue to be pulled off-task by one novel after another, currently The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason. And will the piano tuner ever reach Burma? I’m beginning to wonder, and the only way to find out is to keep reading. (Juleen, I know you've already read the book, but don't tell me what happens!) Sunny Juliet had a bath this morning, so we will be spending the day indoors, and I should have time for quite a bit of reading, letting that strange east wind do what and as it will.

What a clean dog girl!

Closing note about one of those projects at home: A metal frame table with wood surface has been my “desk” in the office but in a few weeks will be put into service as a seedling nursery, and I’ll move desk work to the actual desk. The table, covered with Con-Tact paper in the past, seemed ready and willing to give up that covering, so with putty knife and fingers I started stripping it down. 

Looking a little shabby

Stripping it down....

Then the table’s identity suddenly came clear to me: It was the table from the houseboat! David’s homemade houseboat, moored for years on the Leland River, just upstream from the Riverside Inn. I got out photos, and yes, there it was. 

The same table

Houseboat and rowing skiff on the Leland River

So now even those discolored rings revealed on the surface are dear to me. Recover it? Paint it? don't think so. Like Harlan and Anna Hubbard, continuing their "shantyboat life" on the banks of the Ohio in their new house, I will keep my past close going into the future, whatever the future brings.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024


Donald Lystra's latest book, Searching for Van Gogh, is a great read, combining a coming-of-age story with a road trip adventure to the top of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Don't miss this one.


According to Hemingway, "The writer's job is to tell the truth." He also said, "All you have to do is write one true sentence." Lystra is obviously a Hemingway devotee, as evidenced not only by his writing style, but also by his relentless efforts to create characters that are true to life, as well as situations and story lines that ring true. He did it in his award-winning debut novel, Season of Water and Ice, continued in his story collection, Something That Feels Like Truth, and the commitment is evident in his latest book, Searching for Van Gogh. And it works, as I was immediately drawn into his tale of Nathan and Audrey, as unlikely a pair as Lenny and George or, more recently, Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo (names familiar to readers and moviegoers). 


Of the pair, seventeen year-old Nathan is the innocent, a whiz in mathematics and electricity, newly on his own in 1963, living in a rooming house and working in an auto plant in Grand Rapids while pursuing a new interest, trying to paint like Van Gogh. Audrey is a few years older, living in a rundown hotel and working a drugstore lunch counter, and, on the side, offering guided tours of the city's downtown and "companionship" to lonely businessmen from out-of-town. The two meet when Nathan is painting on the bank of the Grand River, and Audrey, watching from the street, offers him advice on "color theory." She reveals her own dream of being a furniture designer, and how, although she's unable to afford the Kendall School of Design, she sits in the hallway outside classroom doors there and listens in. 


There are, however, darker sides to both their stories. In Nathan's case it is an uneasy relationship with his stern father and the recent, mysterious death of his older brother, Gary, on a firing range at an Upper Peninsula Army camp where he was stationed. Gary, we learn was "different" -- a highly sensitive and very talented pianist, forced into the Army by their father to “make a man” out of him.

With Audrey, it's a little darker. Nathan gradually learns she'd had a child out of wedlock and was estranged from her parents. (There's more to it, but I don't do spoilers.) There are a couple of road trips, a short, nearly disastrous one to Newaygo, Audrey's hometown, and a much longer one to the top of the U.P., to the Army post where Gary died. Both trips contribute to Nathan's 'education,' sexually and emotionally, but the longer one is especially meaningful, as it takes place concurrently with the national shock and tragedy of the assassination of President Kennedy.


As was true of Danny, the teenage protagonist of Lystra's first book, Nathan is a true innocent, trying earnestly to learn the ways of the world without hurting anyone along the way. There is a scene, in which Nathan has an encounter with a prostitute in a cheap hotel, that immediately calls to mind a similar situation with Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and of the two characters, although Nathan is a couple years older, he seems even more innocent than Holden. Yeah, almost that hesitant, that fearful of crossing that line from childhood to the adult world.


In the end, Nathan does cross that line, and there is a sadness in all that he learns, but he keeps on with his painting, even knowing that –


... I'd never find Van Gogh's passion, but it - that failure - didn't seem to matter. The world as it existed was enough. For me and for that time it was enough. I didn't need to change it to make it interesting or to find out what was true.


A deliberate carefulness, a delicacy even, characterizes Lystra's writing, even as it incorporates the twin influences of Hemingway and Salinger. I'm not sure how he does it, but it works to the -nth degree, and in the process, he does the writer's job – he tells the truth, one true sentence at a time. 


This is fine writing of the highest caliber and has my very highest recommendation.


- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, Booklover


Reader and writer Tim Bazzett lives in Reed City and frequently reviews of some of the many books he reads. Thanks, Tim!


Customers, I will let you know as soon as I have this title in stock, which should be soon!

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Morning Is Breaking More Gently

This morning I heard robins near the house. Pretty-pretty-pretty, they seem to boast proudly. Sparrows trill in the popple grove, crows call raucously from a distance, the heart-lifting sound of a sandhill crane comes from far overhead, and the woods rings with sounds of the busy cleanup crew, woodpeckers in dead and dying trees. 

Spring’s arrival varies from year to year and can be quite teasing with its advances and retreats. We may yet have another blizzard. But if we do have a big snow in April, as I used to tell the Artist, “It will be a spring blizzard!” And sooner or later the seasonal page will be turned for good, and there will be only memories with which to answer the inevitable Up North spring question, “How was your winter?”

Mornings are easier and more pleasant with less cold wind and more birdsong as Sunny Juliet with her nose, I with my eyes, both of us with our ears explore a morning world that never grows stale. No two mornings –no two moments! -- are ever identical.

Reading her morning newspaper

I’ll keep this short today. One bookish thing on my mind is the idea of a ‘page-turner.’ You know, a book you can’t stop reading until the end. It strikes me now (and I have not taken time to develop this thought) that page-turners are of at least two different sorts. Some are consumables: That kind of page-turner is like a deep tub of popcorn at a movie theatre, a near-mindless reading binge. Such books serve a purpose in our lives. They provide a day’s distraction and relief. Tomorrow we will be ready to face our own life situations again. 

The second kind of page-turner is a life-changer, or at least a mind- or heart-changer, as well as a page-turner. We find ourselves totally immersed in a new world, seeing life through freshly opened eyes. Even familiar elements encountered in such a book evoke a new surge of love from us. We can’t stop reading because we are spellbound, enchanted.


Those in the second group are likely to burrow into our lives for good, as precious as old friends of whom we never tire. At least, that’s how I see things this morning on the eve of the Ides of March. How about you? And what's going on in your neck of the woods?

Will there be more? Stay tuned!

For what I learned in a very, very important new film, tap here. For a comforting soup, winter or summer, tap here. Thank you for sharing links with anything you find worth sharing.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

If You Know Me, This Is Not News

Old school, Empire, Michigan


“Old School”


Yes, I am “Old School,” as the phrase is used nowadays – as an adjective for someone who clings to old ways rather than leaping (blindly, I would say) into every new technology that comes along and leaving the tried-and-true behind. Recently a friend told me about a family whose expensive home is completely “paperless,” and I was, frankly, appalled. Family members read books and magazines but don’t keep them when they have finished reading. Out they go!


My first thought was, how terrible that would be for babysitters! 

I was remembering a family I babysat for regularly in my old home neighborhood, a young couple who had only two printed items in their home, the current TV Guide and a tattered Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog. The parents stayed out late when they went out, there was only one child, and the parents paid well, but the barrenness of their home environment made the hours heavy going. These days, though, I suppose babysitters are simply glued to their phones after the children go to sleep. It’s a different world….

Three letters went out in the mail to friends this morning.


Someone who is “Old School” writes letters on paper, buys stamps for the envelopes, and trusts to the United States Postal Service to deliver. (Thank you, Benjamin Franklin and USPS!) One day last week I hit the jackpot and found four letters from friends waiting in my post office box. Jackpot!!! Letter-writing is not about immediate gratification but about taking time, “spending time” with absent friends, anticipation, and so much more. Follow this link to Leelanau Letter Writers and see if you might want to join a slow movement.

Well-used and well-loved road atlases from my home shelves --

A road taken....

Someone who is “Old School” loves maps – maps on paper! Yes, everyone can access maps on their phones and, in newer model cars, on screens built into the dashboard, but when you zoom in for detail, you lose the big picture, and I want both at once! I also want to make notes on the pages. A 2015 atlas is not “outdated” for me; it is redolent of trips taken and sights seen, possible roads as well as those remembered, because dreaming over maps is also another form of armchair travel. There are places I have never been, except through books and movies and maps. 


The ivy isn't plastic, either.

Writing checks is really “Old School,” and I make no apology for paying my bills with checks. How many companies do I want to have access to my bank account to grab what they say I owe? How large a balance do I want on my credit card to pay off every month? Fewer and fewer people bring either cash or checks to my bookstore, and I’ve adjusted to the changing times in that regard (there’s no staying in business without adaptation to change), but I prefer to pay my own business expenses and home bills by check. When told by another business a few days ago that they have “no way to process checks,” I was more than a little annoyed by that flimsy excuse. They had no problem “processing” the cash I handed over, and the “process” is the same: check or cash, deposit it in your business account! I have not stayed in business for over three decades by passing bad checks and do not care for the implied – though carefully disguised – insinuation. 


Home library bookshelves reflected on glass of photograph

Finally, being “Old School” means loving books!!! Printed books, bound books, books on paper – the descendants of the 4th century Greek Codex Sinaiticus. Handier than scrolls, much lighter in weight than stone tablets, books properly bound and cared for can outlast the civilizations that produce them. Take a look at the Florentine Codex, a 12-volume work on the Nahua culture in Mexico, before and during colonization by Spain, with a general explanation of what constitutes a codex. A proud tradition of literacy.


For me, having my own home library is essential to feeling at home at all. Besides books, I also have many physical albums of photographs. Although more modern people (more modern than I will ever be) are content to store their “books” and “photographs” in a “cloud,” make no mistake about it: A cloud isn’t some physical warehouse in the sky; it’s just someone else’s bigger computer somewhere else, and that’s not good enough for me. I want to know that my photographs will be in my albums every time I open the covers, just as I want to know that the books in my home library will contain the same words, in the same order, every time I open to see and read those pages. No one is going to hack into some distant computer and alter my favorite histories, novels, essays, or poetry books!


(I don’t want “virtual nature,” either. I want nature, the real thing. What is the point of living on earth if we have to live as if we’re on a space station?) 


As I say, if you know me, none of this is news to you, and if we’ve never met you might guess at some of it because, after all, I have been a bookseller, with an open shop, i.e., a “bricks & mortar” location for over 30 years. Are independent bookstores all disappearing? The people who think so are not regular bookstore customers. Does nobody read any more? The people who ask the question are not readers. 

Other questions people ask: “Where do you get all your books?” and “Have you read every book in here?” The answer to the second question is no. As for the first question, there is no single answer. Some books I buy, some are donated to me, some are brought in by customers for trade credit. I don’t have time to spend running around to auctions and garage sales, but occasionally I’ll be invited to take a look at a private library and make an offer – or simply take off their hands as many books as I think I can use. In the past few weeks, I had a chance to look at three different collections that needed to be downsized or dismantled. Classics, being classics, are always in demand; in a village on the Great Lakes with a maritime history and a beautiful modern marina, boating books are always important for my collection; and philosophy, while hardly a bestselling section, is one of my personal specialties, so I was happy to fill gaps that had appeared on those shelves. 

Aviation had to move over in the bookcase with military history ...

to make room for more boating books, with more in the way.

Philosophy got a complete reorganization ...

from A to Z.



Now, before anyone takes me to task for my old-fashioned ways, let me say that I understand perfectly well that as we age, there can be problems with eyesight or even trouble with hands, either making the holding and reading of physical books difficult -- or maybe you just want to listen to a book while on your stationary bicycle --- so this “Old School” bookseller has jumped on a modern bandwagon with for your listening pleasure. Your audiobooks won’t cost you any more on than you would pay the online behemoth, you can choose an independent bookstore to support, and naturally I will be happy to have you choose Dog Ears Books. Thank you!!!

Old school, Maple City, Michigan

Friday, March 1, 2024

Feast of St. David; February Books


Omena Bay: blue sky, blue water

It was a gorgeous morning! The only problem was, for me, that there were no daffodils to be had, for love nor money, anywhere in northern Leelanau County! You see, March 1 is the Feast Day of St. David, patron saint of Wales. (In Welsh, the Hebrew name David becomes Dafydd; either way, ‘beloved’ is the meaning of the name. Dafydd ap Llywelyn was Prince of Wales from 1240 to 1246, others claiming the title through the years.) And as a day to remember the saint canonized in 1120, and also to honor Wales, the feast day is marked with bright yellow daffodils and green leeks. 

Leeks were twice the price they should have been, but I bought them.

So I'll make do with images of daffodils from old posts, for today I am remembering my late husband, the Artist, David Grath, and also my late friend Annie Pritchard, who was Welsh to the core, both still beloved by many in their absence. 


Books Read in February 2024

20. Wallace, David Rains. The Turquoise Dragon (fiction). A mystery, the story naturally begins with the discovery of a dead body, and from there complications sprout and multiply. Descriptions of hiking (not for pleasure) in California mountains had me picturing every step, but after all the suspense and hair-raising situations, escalating as the number of pages left diminished, I have to say I was disappointed in the way the book ended – or, rather, stopped. I inspected the binding thoroughly, thinking that final pages must have been left out or removed by a previous reader, but no, apparently not. Many loose ends. Rats! Authors! Denouement, please!*

21. Shoemaker, Jan. Slow Learner: Essays (nonfiction). I met the author when she visited my bookstore with her previous book of essays, Flesh and Stones: Field Notes from a Finite World, and was very happy to receive this new volume in the mail. I devoured it much faster than I should have, always saying to myself at the end of one essay, “Just one more.” Shoemaker writes beautifully of life in her corner of the world, which of course connects to all other corners in one way or another.

22. Horowitz, Anthony. Magpie Murders (fiction). Something light and entertaining for the weekend, I thought, and it was that, but it was also much more. A murder mystery within a murder mystery, the ‘outer’ story (as it were) is told by the editor of the author of the ‘inner’ story. Horowitz did not make things easy for himself when he concocted this tale, but his skill is equal to the challenge.

23. Westover, Tara. Educated (nonfiction). I couldn’t recall if I’d read this book before but remembered a friend raving about it. About halfway through it began to seem familiar, but by then I couldn’t stop, of course. Kept away from doctors and out of school, with no birth certificate until she was nine years old, Tara’s hunger for learning had enormous obstacles to overcome, but overcome them she did. Now with a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge, what will she do next?

24. Deloria, Vine Jr. God Is Red: A Native View of Religion (nonfiction). Basically a history of Western Christianity and comparison of that to Native American religions, the latter being place- and community-specific, the former claiming universality, this is a serious theological treatment and not a book to be skimmed. Well worth reading; highly recommended.

25. Gibbings, Robert. Coming Down the Seine (nonfiction). Any book by this Irish writer and artist is a peaceful escape from all that ails. A solo traveler, he made friends everywhere along his way, and his ways were as various as dreams. The illustrations in his books are his own and as lovely as the writings. 

26. Doyle, Brian. One Long River of Song (nonfiction). Celebratory essays on the wonder of ordinary things, the final volume from this author before his death. Surprises on every page. Sometimes you are caught sideways and laugh out loud when you least expect it.

27. Mosley, Walter. All I Did Was Shoot My Man (fiction). This is one of the author’s Leonid McGill series and, while not among my top favorite Mosley novels, engrossing enough that I couldn’t put it down as McGill seeks to make amends for past sins and finds nothing but more trouble for himself and others.

28. Theroux, Paul. Millroy the Magician (fiction). I kept hoping the narrative meander would develop an arc, but it never did. Lolita without either the sex or the insights. Desperate finale hardly seemed a conclusion. Theroux has written some wonderful books, but this isn’t one of them.*

29. Short, Wayne. This Raw Land (nonfiction). The author brought a bride to Alaska in the mid-1950s, where they began their married life fishing together for salmon. In the winter, Wayne and his brothers camped and trapped far from home base. Eventually, he and his wife and two young sons spent a winter of isolation on Murder Bay, where Wayne had taken on the job of dismantling a canning factory for the lumber to build a larger house for his growing family. Alaska became a state, and change was in the air….

30. Jance, J.A. Paradise Lost (fiction). I am a total sucker for Jance’s Sheriff Joanna Brady series, set in Cochise County, and this one will keep you guessing until the end, as a good mystery should do, but I also love it for the locales: the road to old Fort Bowie was just 8 miles from my beloved ghost town, and the Chiricahua Mountains less than 20 more down the road. Even Onion Saddle gets into the story! I felt right at home. 

31. Merrick, Leonard. A Chair on the Boulevard (fiction). Light, humorous stories featuring a host of impecunious artists (painters and writers) and artistes (performers) in Montmartre in the days before the arrival of the horseless carriage. English dialogue presented as literal word-for-word translation from French exaggerates the comedy.

32. Shaw, Irwin. Paris! Paris! (nonfiction). Wonderfully illustrated by Ronald Searle, in this book Shaw looks at Paris through his own experiences over many years, beginning with the exciting chaos of the Liberation in 1945 and through many changes in the city. Whether you know Paris or simply wish you did, this book will fill you with longing.

33. Proulx, Annie. Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis (nonfiction). As a longtime lover of “swamps” (I had no other words as a child for various types of wetlands), I felt called by this title. I was a bit afraid it might be too full of dates and numbers to be readable, but such was not the case. Proulx is a lover of wetlands herself, hence the book. A bibliography would have been helpful.

34. Herman, Mimi. The Kudzu Queen (fiction). Mystery without murder, suspense without gunfire or car chases, this book kept me up way past my bedtime. Fifteen-year-old Mathilda, called Maddie, seems an unlikely candidate for a beauty pageant, but the golden-haired, smooth-talking Kudzu King has turned her head. Where will it all end? Now, is the story 100% believable? Does it have to be? I willingly suspended disbelief. A real page-turner!

35. Dionne, Karen. The Wicked Sister (fiction). Psychological thriller suspense is not exactly my genre (I wouldn’t call this novel a murder mystery), but with a Michigan author and a story set in the U.P., I gave it a shot. As far as mystery goes, it was what a friend would call “a thin bowl of soup” (i.e, not mysterious), and there are loose ends aplenty, but the author has clearly set us up for a sequel down the road.

36. Coetzee, J.M. Waiting for the Barbarians (fiction). If you’re looking for lightweight escape reading, this is not for you, but the beautiful writing of a gradually unfolding brutal parable, which could almost be set at any time, past, present, or future, ensures that once you read this novel, you will never forget it.

37. Gibbings, Robert. Lovely Is the Lee (nonfiction). Thanks to books, we can travel back into the past and faraway visit places in their most lovely and most peaceful times. How did people live in Ireland in the mid-20th century, and what stories did they tell? The author’s illustrations add to the spell.

38. Smith, Alexander McCall. My Italian Bulldozer (fiction). A Scotsman’s plan to finish his book in the Italian countryside takes a surprising turn when no rental cars are available. Pure, gentle delight! For all who love Italy … or think they would … or simply need a break from the harsh edges of the nonfictional world.

39. McGinley, Patrick. Bogmail (fiction). A pub owner in rural Ireland murders his barman and buries him in the bog, then begins receiving blackmail letters. Which of the pub regulars is the “bogmailer”? One of the locals or the Englishman? Lyrical landscape writing, detailed Raskolnikovian account of the murderer’s increasingly unsettled state of mind – and a most unsatisfying finish, with loose ends galore, a fault shared with #20 and #28 in this list.*

40. Van Gulik, Robert. Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Dee Goong An) (fiction). Not one to be gentle with those he suspects, Judge Dee lands on the criminal every time. Illustrated. Tortures in the courtroom and grisly varieties of capital punishment but an interesting look into a different historical period and culture.

41. Yu, Charles. Interior Chinatown (fiction). What parts are real life, and how much is acting? When a dream comes true (Generic Asian Man becomes Kung Fu Hero) but fails to fulfill, what then? The author brilliantly plays off Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (nonfiction) to create a dramatic novel whose characters you’ll love. Serious and fun at the same time.

42. Whitehead, Colson. Zone One (fiction). Post-apocalyptic fiction is not usually at the top of my list, and I have never read a book about zombies before, but I couldn’t resist a novel by Colson Whitehead. What an amazing writer! I kept thinking how much David Foster Wallace would have appreciated this masterfully written book. I also wondered whether I should take it as fantasy (in which case, zombies don’t scare me, since they don’t exist) or as an allegory for our times – in which case, it is terrifying! 

43. Leon, Donna. Friends in High Places (fiction). Leon’s are not formulaic murder mysteries. Set in Venice, the stories are presented by the author as realistic episodes in Venetian life, where government is rife with corruption, the Mafia is strong, and murderers are not necessarily brought to justice. The 1960s idealism of Commissario Brunetti and his professora wife, Paola, have taken a beating over the years, but Brunetti holds to what shreds of justice he can find in his police work.

*And now, aspiring novelists and/or readers, if you missed my preceding post, in which I harp about problematic beginnings and endings of novels, you can find it here.

For today, Happy St. David's Day!

Daffodils from May 6, 2014

For David and for Annie, Jane, and Curig --