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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Crazy Week Ahead–

Open today (Tuesday), despite appearances

Not to say that last week wasn’t crazy, too. For one thing, I made a large purchase of books, only three carloads of which have found their way to Waukazoo Street as yet (due to everything else going on in June and July), which meant I was nearly buried in boxes of books, and boxes surround me yet today. There is an entire new subject area, American Lakes and Rivers. And the Civil War, American presidents, and nature & country living sections have all been rearranged with “new” (some very old) titles.


Sorry if you missed her, but I do have signed copies available.

Saturday, of course—as you know if you regularly read Books in Northport—was guest author Bonnie Jo Campbell’s signing of her most recent novel, The Waters. She also signed a few copies of Once Upon a River, chatted with customers, and braved the rain after three hours to return to Kalamazoo. We had a great time, and you can see more pictures here


Later that evening my former Arizona hiking partner, a neighbor in the ghost town where the Artist and I spent several happy winters, arrived with her dog, and the four of us (2 women, 2 dogs) spent that evening and all day Sunday and then Monday morning pursuing fun. Fun in the yard, fun in the woods, fun on the beach! There’s no fun like dog fun!

So last week, what with moving books and getting ready for Bonnie in the shop and Therese at home, I was too tired at night for ambitious reading and went to bed four or five nights straight with Shaun Bythell’s Confessions of a Bookseller, a re-reading experience obviously tailored to my preoccupations. Then for two nights, after Therese and I and the dogs (after my exciting afternoon at the bookstore) were caught in a downpour on Saturday evening and came home drenched, and the following day, first at Houdek Dunes and then Good Harbor, hiked a total of six (6) miles with our dogs, I read the first sentence of a Prix Goncourt novel over and over again before turning out the light in defeat, too drowsy to retain that sentence’s sense and proceed normally to the next. Last night and this morning I finally did better with a book my neighbor loaned me, an adventure set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula….


Today (Tuesday) I’m back in the shop on Waukazoo Street, open despite the forbidding appearance of scaffolding in front of the door. Painters are doing some repair to the façade, as well as painting, but there is access to Dog Ears Books through Red Mullein, my neighbor just to the south in the same building. And if you haven’t checked out Red Mullein yet, you should do that, too. It’s like nothing else in northern Michigan, I promise. 


This week, though! Ah, complicated: 


      Wednesday: I have a late morning appointment so won’t be in until noon at the earliest.


      Thursday: CLOSED for personal reasons.


      Friday & Saturday: Normal hours, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


My next post will introduce July book news, of which there is plenty, much of it thanks to Friends of the Leelanau Township Library. Preview hint: their annual book sale is Saturday, July 6, but there's more in July, so stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, I have many projects of my own, at work and at home.

Sunny Juliet is my sidewalk supervisor on this project.


Saturday, June 22, 2024

"How did the book signing go?"


Bookseller and author, together again, 2024


How could it be anything but fun with author Bonnie Jo Campbell? Her visit felt like a party without cake. (Why didn’t I have cake?) Lots of stories and laughter and mutual appreciation.

Yes, that is author Don Lystra with Bonnie Jo.

Bonnie visited with me and my customer-friends for almost three hours, not only signing her new novel, The Waters (and a few copies of her earlier Once Upon a River) but adding her own donkey stamp with special archival ink. When one person’s jacket design commanded attention because of its perfect connection to the rattlesnake in Bonnie’s novel, we had an impromptu photo shoot focused on the jacket. A few first-time visitors to the bookstore fell into the author’s charmed circle, also, while she was there. All in all, a lively time.

Deb's jacket, Bonnie's book

Bonnie models the jacket

Cameron from Colorado became an instant new fan of BJC.

Although my visiting author had managed to snag a parking spot directly in front of the bookstore, it was raining so hard when she left that rising waters had brought on a flood. Intrepid river woman that she is, Bonnie removed shoes and socks to wade to the driver’s side of her car. "My" authors are such good sports!

Until we meet again....

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Catching Up -- Partway, At Least

Foreground: coreopsis. Background: Duck Lake.

When someone the other day told me she follows my blog, besides being surprised I was also chagrined to realize how far I’ve been falling behind on posting. It’s been almost two weeks. Yikes! That is not because nothing is happening! (Far from it. Quite the opposite.) Lots more news soon, but for now, here are a few notes from Northport and nearby.



First, the Blossoms

Old Dog Ears Books home, 1997-????

Coreopsis (opening image) are going crazy right now in Leelanau County. There is a corner down by Duck Lake (south of Leland, where M-22 meets M-204) that is almost solid gold, while in Northport, brilliant red poppies (immediately above) in front of Porcupine (once the home of Dog Ears Books, back in the late 1990s), on the corner of Mill and Nagonaba, are still vivid though beginning to fade. Spiderwort, on the other hand, will go on and on and on, something I really appreciate about spiderwort, along with the sculptural quality its leaves add to a vase of flowers, either wildflowers or blooms from the garden. There is more spiderwort in my old corner garden on the Nagonaba side, right next to this welcoming bench in front of Sally Coohon’s shop, Dolls and More (her building another of the many homes of Dog Ears Books over the years).


Other Northport News


Here on Waukazoo Street, our building is having a modest makeover. Fresh paint! Very nice! Deborah Ebbers, Studio and Gallery; Dog Ears Books; Red Mullein – all with a newly spiffed-up exterior as we head into the heart of summer.

Former Tribune, now Big Dipper

Ice cream! Northport will not be without ice cream this summer, as that wonderful Kevin Murphy (Kevin and Amy have New Bohemian Café on Waukazoo and the Omena Country Store in Omena) has teamed up with one of his café baristas to open the Big Dipper. Perfect name, isn’t it? Hard and soft ice cream, many brands and flavors. 

New restaurant, Faro, on SE corner of Waukazoo and Nagonaba


Meanwhile the folks who used to be in that building where you’ll get your ice cream this summer, the Tribune gang, have moved down to the corner of Waukazoo and Nagonaba and are serving meals as Faro. 


And did we mention (probably not yet) that Northport is celebrating its 175th birthday this summer? 


Today, For Me


Forty-four years ago, June 18, 1980, the Artist and I were married by a magistrate in the old downtown courthouse in Kalamazoo. I picked wildflowers in the early morning for our late morning civil ceremony. Our children were our witnesses. Afterward, a dear friend took us all out to lunch, and following lunch we, the newlyweds, went home to change into old clothes and work in the yard. You see, we had had our “honeymoon” trip to the U.P. long before (never mind how long), and working outdoors together on that lovely June day felt just fine – on a day very like today, with flowers blooming and sun shining…. 

Kalamazoo, June 18, 1980

All the Artist ever wanted to do was to make a living with his paintings, but we also fantasized for years about having a bookshop in a little town. Living in the country was another dream. Leelanau County? Could any of it ever come true? Years later, we made it all happen.



Reminder: Author Visit on Saturday


Bonnie Jo Campbell will be at Dog Ears Books this coming Saturday, June 22, signing her latest novel, The Watersbeginning at 1 p.m. We are fortunate that Bonnie found time in her busy schedule to come to Northport – her third visit to my bookstore! – so please come and make her welcome and buy a copy of her book. A few of you have already bought the book from me, so by all means bring it with you on Saturday, and she will sign it. If you have any pictures of donkeys, bring those along, too. Bonnie has donkeys, and they loom large in her legend (as Ringo said so memorably of his drums).

BJC at home as Lady Liberty! Isn't this the coolest?


Bonnie Jo Campbell, a master of rural noir, returns with the fierce, mesmerizing novel THE WATERS, a story about exceptional women and the soul of a small town.

On an island in the Great Massasauga Swamp-an area known as "The Waters" to the residents of nearby Whiteheart, Michigan-herbalist Hermine "Herself" Zook has healed the local women of their ailments for generations. As stubborn as her tonics are powerful, Herself inspires reverence and fear in the people of Whiteheart, and even in her own three daughters. The youngest, beautiful and inscrutable Rose Thorn, has left her own daughter, eleven-year-old Dorothy "Donkey" Zook, to grow up wild. Donkey spends her days searching for truths in the lush landscape and in her math books, waiting for her wayward mother and longing for a father, unaware that family secrets, passionate love, and violent men will flood through the swamp and upend her idyllic childhood. With a "ruthless and precise eye for the details of the physical world" (New York Times Book Review), Bonnie Jo Campbell presents an elegant antidote to the dark side of masculinity, celebrating the resilience of nature and the brutality and sweetness of rural life.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim Fellow, and the recipient of the AWP's Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction and a Pushcart Prize, lives outside Kalamazoo, Michigan, with donkeys. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

May: One for the Books

Ground painted with sweeps of hawkweed --

May disappeared much too fast, as my "Books Read 2024" continued from #79 through #96. One book I re-read for the umpteenth time (The Haunted Bookshop), several were very short, and The Past Recaptured I re-read off and on starting in the beginning of the winter, only reaching the last page, finally -- reluctantly! -- a few days ago. If I had to select only one book to recommend from my May reading list, it would have to be Committing Journalism (comment following the title in the list will tell you why), but there are other worthwhile books here, also, so take a look and see if anything moves you.


Images today are from a drive I took (with Sunny) on Sunday down through Benzie County and over the border into Manistee County, soaking up the scenery.

Not in Europe, so, not a castle in ruins....

Morley, Christopher. The Haunted Bookshop (fiction). See this post for details.


Banks, Russell. Foregone (fiction). A famous Canadian documentary filmmaker is dying and wants to talk honestly about his early life, on film, for the first time. He feels he owes that honesty to his wife but can only lie to her unless a camera is there as witness. Fife (the man’s name) drifts between past and present, attended by his wife, his nurse, and the film crew headed by one of his former students. At the end I found myself if he had imagined all of it as he died. You tell me.


Lahey, Anita. The Last Goldfish: A True Tale of Friendship (nonfiction). What makes a friendship special when you’re young, and what makes it last? How do you stand by your best friend from 9th grade to age 22 when you realize she really is dying? How do you balance honesty with positivity? And when she’s gone, how do you go on without her?


Malamud, Bernard. Dubin’s Lives (fiction). The protagonist is a biographer and often referred to as “the biographer” rather than by name. Does he investigate the lives of others rather than living his own? Harsh focus on marriage (separate from “love”), but most disappointing to me was the lack of anything that might be called a climax or an epiphany. I’ve complained before about novelists who slam the door after their novel’s climax, giving us no denouement, but in this novel Malamud jumps straight from a meandering story line to a brief dénouement, leaving a tangle of unsatisfying loose ends.


Brodsky, Joseph. Watermark (nonfiction). A slender volume that is not exactly essays or memoir but certainly not a novel, Watermark defies classification. That a poet would write poetic prose is no surprise, and the sentences are beautiful; however, I advise not trying to make sense of every subject-verb statement. Better simply to let yourself drift sybaritically in Brodsky’s impressions of Venice, rocked by its watery waves.


Toews, Miriam. All My Puny Sorrows (fiction). I laughed out loud several times while reading the first chapter of this Canadian novel of two Mennonite sisters. Sisters in the backseat of the car, parents up front, long trip: a recipe for hilarity. Then a suicide attempt by the older sister, now a concert pianist, in the second chapter. Not so funny. But I stuck with it and am glad I did – not just for the laughs that reprised in the last few pages, either. “Life is a strange old ‘possum,” as someone I used to know used to say. But there’s also love.


McGarey, Gladys, M.D. (nonfiction). The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor’s Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age (nonfiction). A good friend recently widowed insisted that I borrow and read this book, and now I am thinking of so many friends with whom I would also like to share it. A centenarian and medical doctor, Dr. McGarey spent much of her childhood in India with her parents and siblings. Herself the mother of six children, divorced (not her decision) after almost 50 years of marriage, she is someone with a lot of life experience, and she has distilled for us young 'uns what she has learned along the way. Someone whose advice is worth heeding.


Goodman, Allegra. The Family Markowitz (fiction). I always enjoy Goodman’s fiction, and this early novel of hers was no exception. The family dynamics and characters’ shifting emotional responses are completely familiar. Sarah is nurturing matriarch, easing the way for her husband and mother-in-law, as well as the younger generations, but the author shifts seamlessly from one character’s inner self to another’s. Masterful.

Arikawa, Hiro. The Travelling Cat Chronicles (fiction). A small novel in size of book and length of story (the cover is beautiful), largely not exclusively narrated by the cat, did not thoroughly overcome my resistance to its cuteness. Was it too cute? I was not won over, though I had hoped to be. 


Bennett, Alan. The Uncommon Reader (fiction). Absolutely charming! Late in life, the Queen of England takes up reading, much to the alarm of her staff and almost everyone else. Then she goes a step further and announces that she is going to write a book! Could anyone read this tiny book (not much over 100 pages) without laughing out loud? I could not. 


Berry, Wendell. Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer (nonfiction). If I were to write something like this, it would be WIANGTB a Dishwasher or …a Garbage Disposal or …a Self-Propelled Lawnmower or a Computerized Cash Register for My Business or Central (Or Any Other Kind of) Air Conditioning for My Home. But I do have a laptop computer, and I am keeping this list on it and writing my blog posts with it, so there you are, but I love his arguments and would never argue against his conclusion.

Closed! That made me sad.

Martin, Dannie M. & Peter Y. Sussman. Committing Journalism: The Prison Writings of Red Hog (nonfiction). If you are an American taxpayer, you should read this book. What kind of punishments do you feel are deserved, and what do you think our prisons accomplish? How much do you know about what we call the justice system, and how much do you know about incarceration? Opinions without information are worse than no opinions at all.

Arcadia Marsh -- a watery wonderland!

Wodehouse, P. G. Jeeves (fiction). One night I needed a silly, trivial, pointless book, and Jeeves fit the bill.


de Lafayette, Marie-Madeleine. The Princess of Clèves (fiction). Persevering through the confusing and tedious opening pages, at last I reached the story proper and read through to the end of this period classic of French literature. There! That’s done! I must admit it was, though somewhat turgid, suspenseful and the end surprising, and I’m glad I read it, although it’s not something I expect to re-read.

Always impressive Lake Michigan view

Hughes, Dorothy B. In a Lonely Place (fiction). From classic French to classic noir was quite a transition. The suspense in this novel is not in whodunit but in how long he will escape detection and how he will finally meet his end. Perhaps unfairly, I read it as another reason to say “No, thank you” to California. (Very subjective response, I realize.)


Proust, Marcel. The Past Recaptured (fiction). This re-reading spread itself out over many, many weeks, as I turned to Proust again and again between other bedtime books. “Eternal existence is not promised to books any more than to men,” he wrote, and yet the life of Proust’s epic work seems only to gain vitality as years go by. I used to say (thinking myself witty) that life was “too short to read Proust.” Later I realized that it too short not to read him.


Tey, Josephine. A Daughter of Time (fiction). Apprehensive when I saw family trees preceding the story, I was relieved, surprised, and delighted to find that the story itself was neither a modern nor a historical fictional murder mystery but research into history by a couple of fictional characters thrown together when one is sent to cheer the other in his hospital bed. Did Richard III of England have two nephews murdered? Was he truly a monster so often depicted? Fascinating.


McCann, Colum with Diane Foley. American Mother (nonfiction). What would you expect if a member of your family was taken hostage by terrorists? Government assistance? Rescue? Ongoing updates? Diane Foley got little if any of this, but her son’s gruesome death did not stop her from working to make the future better for others. She even met with one of her son’s kidnappers, presumably also one of his torturers. A remarkable woman.

Quiet interior corner of Platte Township pleased me.

If you’ve read my two previous posts, you already know that I’m currently reading both Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (daytime) and Jerry Dennis’s A Place on the Water (bedtime), two nonfiction books that could hardly have less in common. Their commonality for me will be their presence, weeks from now, on my June list. Please, don’t let June speed by too fast! – Oh, but Bonnie Jo Campbell is coming to the bookstore on Saturday, June 22, so if Time does fly (as I'm only too sure it will), it will seem all the sooner that Bonnie arrives. And there you have another example of my philosophy of life in a nutshell: Everything is a double-edged sword. 

As I wended (yes!) my way south to make a circuit around Arcadia Marsh and then turn back north and head for home, I was somewhat dismayed at how up-to-date and full of people all the lakeside towns and beaches already were (the first weekend after busy Memorial Day) and how “fancy” so many new businesses seem to be. Even signage for parks and lookouts seemed excessive. Is it just me? Is it just being old? (Probably yes and yes would be the answers there.) It made me sad to see the Big Apple abandoned and derelict, as I remembered the last time the Artist and I stopped there for burgers and beer (the Big Apple opened in 1937, the year the Artist was born), while the ruins of an old building in Elberta seemed nothing short of charming. That sounds inconsistent, but it's the erasure of memories that troubles me. More about that another time.

Away from lakeshores, things are quieter, and I feel more at home. There are still unpaved roads, almost free of traffic -- though I noticed along the edges of one of my favorite back roads here in Leelanau those little orange flags telling me that fiber optic cable for Internet access had been laid down there, too. Is the expectation that this road will eventually be lined with houses? Heaven forbid!

Please do not disturb the shadows!

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Choosing Well

Wetlands near my home

The pond was smaller than we expected, not much larger than a baseball infield, and could be reached only by climbing over ancient fallen trees around its edges. Hidden as it was, isolated by swamps and inconvenience, it seemed never to have been fished. It seemed to be trembling with quickness. 


We maneuvered over the tangled lots until we reached open sunlight at the edge of the water. If we had slipped from the logs we balanced on we would have fallen into bottomless muck. Gray skeletons of trees stood upright around the shore, and lily pads grew in the shallows. Damsel flies hovered delicately. A trio of turtles dropped, in sequence, off a silvered log.


-      Jerry Dennis, A Place on the Water


That was the book I selected from my home library for bedtime reading on Wednesday, and I could not have made a better choice. As I read the words, I could see turtles plopping, one by one, damselflies hovering, and even hear the whine of mosquitoes (without the “inconvenience” of slapping at insects myself), and after an evening spent pushing a lawnmower and supervising dog play, I was glad of a pillow vacation before sleep. Armchair travel, you know, so why not pillow vacation? Makes sense to me. 


Bedtime is cozy time.

Thursday I was up and out early, on a mission to buy more plants, planning to come home from the bookstore later to get them into the ground and into pots. It was a pleasant day in the bookstore. Door open, genial browsers and buyers, good conversations. I put up a new blog post and took delivery of the first half of this week’s new book order, too. 


Five o’clock closing and a short stroll down to the parking lot, I was getting in my car when a text came from my sister. “Verdict in. Guilty on all counts.” 


My plans for the evening did not change. One group of Americans was all for breaking out champagne and dancing in the streets, while another was donating massively to the former president’s campaign (or so we are told) and swearing revenge, and I imagined that few, if any at all, would be changed by the verdict. Nevertheless, my dianthus needed to get into the ground … bacopa needed to be potted … tomatoes and barely emerging beans needed to be watered … and Sunny Juliet needed (in her opinion) to get outdoors and chase tennis balls and ground squirrels.


Morning light

It was late when I cleaned up after an evening of gardening and settled down for the night with my dog and book. Reading of the time Gail, Jerry’s wife, had an experience of fishing euphoria reminded me of a rainy day in the Upper Peninsula, the Artist splashing happily upstream and crying out, “I get it! I get it!” I have always enjoyed casting with a fly rod, but other than that, in general, I am more like the pre-euphoric Gail: Being out on or near the water, appreciating the plant life, and watching fish I can see underwater means more to me than catching fish. One day long ago, on Wolf Lake west of Kalamazoo, I looped the end of a stringer around my toe while the Artist continued to fish. Every now and then his fish on the stringer would tug at my toe, and my consciousness joined with that of the fish, wet and wordless.

Branch of Fox River

The next morning Sunny and I were outdoors just before sunup. There had not been an overnight frost, but to be on the safe side I sprayed my baby tomato plants before the sun’s rays hit them, then went back to this spring’s ongoing brick project, hauling another half-dozen up from the buried pile to the front yard where I’m putting together a path. Preview of the project almost completed, soon I’ll remove the bricks from their temporary placement, carefully level the ground, and put down a layer of sand before replacing bricks in final configuration. 

Vegetable garden at evening


Rough draft (explanation in text)

Here's the thing: I had zero celebratory impulse when I heard the verdict. I thought what a sad day it is for our country when a former president is proven a criminal – and I say that while also believing it was a sad day when he was elected president and, before that, a sad day when the once-respectable Republican Party (my parents were Republicans) gave him the nomination. But on top of all that sadness was also the depressing awareness of deep divisions among American citizens, in families, between friends. Those who hate him see his supporters as idiots and psychopaths, while his supporters see the haters as Communists and perverts. That is not judgment but demonization.


Friday. Another day. Busy, very social day in the bookstore. Serious, appreciative customers. Then an evening of mowing grass, a job that used to take me two evenings to complete and now takes me three, even though I’m leaving more areas unmowed. Then folderol with dogs. Finally, bedtime – and an essay on Jerry Dennis’s meeting with legendary Michigan author John. Voelker, a.k.a., Robert Traver.


I was invited to ride in the fish car with Voelker…. The vehicle was the latest in a succession of fish cars, a Jeep wagon only four years old but which had already logged nearly 170,000 miles. Virtually all those miles were driven in the central Upper Peninsula. All his life Voelker was a prodigious traveler of back roads and timber trails, a trait common in the U.P., where families often spend weekends exploring the seemingly endless network of old two-tracks.


My satisfaction with this book is so deep I can barely find words for it. Look at a map of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, locate Sault Ste. Marie, and then follow the shoreline of Lake Superior west to Munishing. Drop south and follow the north shore of Lake Michigan east to the Straits of Mackinac. That is my U.P., territory the Artist and I explored off and on for years, the images as bright in my mind as are my immediate physical surroundings. 

Mackinac Bridge in the rain

But I can also imagine someone unfamiliar with Michigan, maybe someone from Maine or Vermont, reading A Place on the Waterand being transported by the sorcery of the author’s word paintings, as have often been reading of places I've never visited in person. This is what makes a perfect bedtime book, a perfect pillow vacation after a day of work and the day’s background buzzing (like a fly trapped in the window) of political events.

Make no mistake -- I do not advocate ignoring politics or failing to vote. There too it is important for us to judge and choose wisely, not only for our personal peace of mind but for the common good and the future of our country. 

P.S. Food for thought: "Ten senators said they would not do the federal jobs they were elected to do because private citizen Trump was convicted in a state court by a jury of 12 people in New York, a jury that Trump’s lawyers had agreed to. The senators attacked the rule of law and the operation of the federal government in a demonstration of support for Trump. A number of the senators involved were key players in the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”

And this: "MAGA Republicans confidently predicted yesterday that the stock market would crash if the jury found Trump guilty. Today the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained almost 600 points.”

- Heather Cox Richardson, 5/31/2024

Below: Northport on Saturday morning, first day of June 2024 --