Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

The Fun Next Door

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Published in 1939 by Houghton Mifflin Company

When the equipment rolled into town the other day and stopped at the house next door, I couldn’t help wishing that the Oysterville School was still up and running.  The activity that the huge machinery promised would have been the best recess entertainment ever, and the view from the playground across the street would have been just about perfect.

As it is, there has been no regular school in session here since 1957.  That’s when our School District No. 1 consolidated with Ocean Park, Long Beach, and Ilwaco to become part of the Ocean Beach School District.  Gradually, the student population dwindled until there were no longer school-aged children in the village.  But… if there were, they’d love the activity at the Hampson House next door!

Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne

The hub-bub immediately reminded me of a story I used to read to my son Charlie and, also, to the primary-aged children I taught – Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.by Virginia Lee Burton.  Mike bragged that his steam shovel, his beloved Mary Anne, could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week.  They get one last chance to prove it by digging a cellar for the new town hall.

They begin at sunrise, and first to come to watch is a little boy.  Work continues as the sun makes its inexorable way across the sky and the crowd gathers.  Gradually, the whole town is watching as Mary Anne and Mike complete the job just as the sun is setting.  Unhappily, though, Mike has not left a way for Mary Anne to exit the new basement.  It is the little boy who suggests the happily-ever-after solution to the problem.

Well… we don’t have a little boy in town to watch and we don’t have a crowd of villagers, either.  I think there could have been a dozen of us in town yesterday – all busy with our own lives and some of us not even clear about the reason for the activity.  “A new septic system?” one neighbor asked.  “No, I think it’s for the foundation of a new addition,” someone else said.  As for us, we are content to take a “time will tell” attitude.

On a Quest in Oysterville

Saturday, October 27th, 2018

No one could possibly mistake Nyel for a Hobbit.  Although he is shy (as are Hobbits) and is capable of great courage and amazing feats under the proper circumstances (as are hobbits), there the similarities end.  He’s not short and stubby.  He has a very respectable beard (which most Hobbits cannot grow) and his feet are neither covered with brown, curly hair nor do they have leathery soles.   He is not fond of beer, does not smoke a pipe, and I’m not sure if he is adept at throwing stones.

No.  Nyel is not a Hobbit.  Certainly, he is not Frodo Baggins.  But he is on a quest for a ring.  His wedding ring.  All of a sudden yesterday, it went missing.  “I was drying my hands after washing them at the kitchen sink and I noticed that it was gone,” he told me.  I was surprised at how upset he was and, also, suddenly aware of how thin he’s become – thin enough so that his ring could fall right off.

First off, I reached down into the garbage disposal and felt all around.  A few bits and pieces of a lettuce core (I think) but that was all.  We aren’t turning it on until we find the ring.  We retraced his steps (actually, his wheelchair tracks) in the carpet.  I looked under all the furniture.  I stripped the bed.  And Nyel called the Ocean Beach Clinic where he’d had an appointment yesterday morning.  I looked in the car and outside in front of the porch where the EMTs had transferred Nyel from wheelchair to car and back again.  All to no avail.

I woke up this morning wondering if a metal detector would work inside the house.  My almost-cuzzins Judy and Ed were here twice during the summer with Ed’s “retirement toy” but he confined his searches to our yard.  I think I’ll call and ask them what they think the possibilities would be of  coming to Oysterville for a wedding-ring-hunt.

Failing that, I think his Christmas gift will be a no-brainer – but only if Holly McCone can do a curbside fitting.  Meanwhile… we are on the quest.  And, if you happen to find a plain gold band with the well-worn initials NLS-SML-09-13-87 inside it, please give a holler.  As far as we know, it has no special powers, but there’s no use risking the fate of Gollum by hanging onto it.

Considering the Dark Side

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

One of the best parts (or maybe the only best part) of being confined to quarters is the opportunity to catch up on our reading.  Both Nyel and I are mystery readers and, for the most part, we like the same authors.  Over the years, we have built a repertoire of favorites, most of whom write a series rather than stand-alone books.  Typically, each author has a new book out every year or so and when you have eight or ten “favorites” it’s sometimes hard to keep up.

Nyel is in charge of book-ordering from the library and usually gets us on the list for new books as soon as they show up on Timberland’s lending list.  Knowing that others are waiting, we try to read the new titles as soon as we get them — sort of in whoever-is-finished-with-their-current-book- first- has -dibs order.

Sometimes two books by two authors arrive at once and it’s a tossup as to who gets which book.  That happened last week and we are both very much engrossed during our free moments.  “How’s your book?” we ask one another periodically.  Usually, it’s an encouraging but non-definitive answer.  We don’t want to give anything away.  But, yesterday, we actually discussed plots.  Just a little.

“I’m sorry to say that [author’s name] seems to have gone to the dark side in this book,” I replied to Nyel’s question.  I was closing my book for the third or fourth time in only a few minutes.  “A teenage girl.  A cutter.” Was all I told him.  But it was enough to prompt this reply about the book he was reading:  “Probably not as bad as cutting off people’s faces and sewing them to soccer balls.”

SAY WHAT!  Yes, those things really happen. And, I’ll admit that one thing I like about both of these particular authors is that they bring current reality into their fictitious stories.  But, for me, there is a line.  I’m not sure what that line is exactly but I think that both of these authors have crossed it for me.  I think I can manage to finish the book I’m reading but I won’t tackle Nyel’s.  I’m way too sensitive.  (Read: squeamish.)

I’m not advocating isolation from the facts about the dark side of humanity, mind you.  I just don’t want to read about them for pleasure.  And it’s not that I want all my mysteries to harken back to my childhood and Nancy Drew.  Or even to be English cozies in the manner of Agatha Christy.  Not at all.  I don’t remember that Dick Francis or Tony Hillerman or Dorothy Sayers ever resorted to what I can only call “shock-value” tactics in their books.  Yet their plots held my attention, their characters were engaging, and their subject matter often topical.  Or maybe I had a thicker skin back then.  So to speak.

Nuggets of Naked Truth

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

I find little bits of “truth” in unlikely places.  Actually, maybe they should be categorized as “facts” rather than truths.  Take this small passage for instance:  … and a pair of denim trousers with a dreaded elastic waist.  It was perhaps the worst thing about growing old, the pouch she was forced to lug around all day, like her memories of Kim.

It jumped out at me from the middle of Daniel Silva’s latest book, The Other Woman and I find it a most delightful description of my own elderly figure, though I have not yet succumbed to the dreaded elastic waistbands.  This is Silva’s twenty-first book centering on Israeli spy-master Gabriel Allon.  The books are classified as fiction, of course, but they include (maybe more than) nuggets of truth.

Author Daniel Silva, 2013

In this one, there is an entire chapter devoted to Kim Philby and his double-agent cohorts known after-the-fact as “The Cambridge Five.” I remember Philby’s defection to the USSR in 1963 as one of the big shockers after World War II.  I’ve not finished the book yet and so I’m not quite sure how I feel about this real-life character being so central to Silva’s plot.

Actually, this is not a new ploy by Silva.  He often weaves fiction and fantasy together but, until this book, my own knowledge about the world of espionage is too sketchy to be able to discern the differences.  I just know that I usually come away from his books feeling like things in our part of the world are probably under control… barely.

Kim Philby (1912-1988)

This book is right up to date as is typical of Silva.  As the Kirkus review says:   Although he doesn’t name the current American leader, he does mention “a presidential tryst with an adult film star” as well as that president’s strange fondness for Vladimir Putin. Silva depicts a world in which communist true believers are dying out while far-right populists around the world look to the New Russia as a triumph of hard-line nationalism. The alliances that have sustained Western democracies are fraying, and Europe is preparing for a future in which the United States is no longer a reliable friend, nor a superpower.

I don’t know how I’ll feel 200 pages hence.  (Did I say it’s a long book?  478 pages.)  But I do know that Daniel Silva often cuts to the chase.  I mean, really…  the pouch she was forced to lug around all day!  That man does have a way with words!

Or is that an oxymoron?

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Reference Books

One of my go-to places when researching local history is the two-volume set of books, History of Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington that sit on one corner of our library mantle.  They were published by the Northwest History Company of Portland, Oregon, in 1889 and, together, weigh 19 pounds.  Not that you can learn about the past by the pound, mind you, but they are certainly impressive, beginning with their size!  They belonged to my great-grandfather R.H. Espy.

One of the reasons for my frequent visitations to these tomes is their abundance of illustrations.  Beautiful lithographs, mostly of people but, also, of notable places, can be found every few pages.  Unfortunately, they are not indexed nor is the artist credited.  Looking for the likeness of a specific person requires a page-by-page search – a time-consuming operation which I usually undertake as a last resort.

Fabric Swatch

During a recent perusal for information about an early resident of Washington Territory, I ran across a swatch of fabric tucked between the pages of Volume II.  A scarlet and white checked pattern, perhaps from a woman’s dress or skirt. My first thought was of my great-grandmother Julia’s wedding dress.  Her wedding photograph, of course, is in black and white but, for whatever reason, I’ve always thought that the color was red.

Somehow, it made sense to me that she might have saved a bit of the fabric.  They were married in 1870 and, in the thrifty was of our pioneer forebears, it is likely that she saved any left-over fabric or even remade her wedding dress for her own use or for one of the children.  I know for a fact (well… as factual as family lore can be) that after nineteen-year-old Julia had said “yes” to Mr. Espy’s marriage proposal, she finished out her teaching contract at the Oysterville School and went home to Salem “to sew up the family” for her impending wedding.  That was her responsibility as the eldest of Delos Jefferson’s eight children.  (Her mother, Matilda, “remained unbalanced” after the loss of two young daughters to diphtheria within two days of one another.)

Julia Jefferson Espy on her wedding day, 1870

Julia’s wedding photograph shows her in a checked dress – probably made for the occasion but, possibly, simply her best dress which was the still customary attire for many brides in those days.  (Dressing brides in a special gown of white did not become de rigueur until sometime after the Civil War here in America; in the American West practicality overrode fashion for some years after that.)

But, when I checked the fabric against the photograph, I realized that the pattern was much smaller and more delicate than young Julia’s wedding dress.  And, then, in one of those déjà vu moments, I remembered that I had “discovered” this fabric swatch once before and replaced it for someone else to find someday.  In all, I prefer to think of this “re-discovery” as a sort of oxymoron rather than a failing of my aging mind.  Or… is it possible to really discover the same thing twice?

It’s On! The 2018 Cranberry Harvest!

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Corralling Cranberries at a CranMac Bog

“Isn’t it earlier than usual this year?” I asked Malcolm McPhail.  We were standing on one of the CranMac dike roads looking out at the bogs – some of which had already been harvested and one, in the distance, flooded and waiting for the beaters to come “after lunch,” he said.  “We’re harvesting some new varieties this year,” he told us.  “They color up more quickly and Ocean Spray wants them before they get too dark.”

I guess I might have had more questions about that had I not recently written a book about cranberries on the Washington Coast for the Pacific Coast Association Research Foundation.  Getting just the right color is an important factor for members of the Ocean Spray Cooperative.  Berries are green at first and begin sizing and turning color in July and August.  Due to the cool nights near the coast, the berries get much redder and darker than in any other region.  West coast fruit is prized for its dark color and is often mixed with berries from other areas to make juice darker. This dark color, however, is less desirable for making sweetened dried cranberries since the finished product looks too much like raisins, I wrote.

Seen on the Peninsula

After we left the Malcolm and Ardell’s bogs, we drove by the Ocean Spray Plant.  There wasn’t a lot of activity just then but there were piles of huge totes stacked up and at the ready.  From another chapter in the book: Harvested berries from the Long Beach Peninsula and from northern Oregon are hauled to Ocean Spray’s Long Beach Receiving Station.  They arrive in dump trucks or in trailers loaded with totes. At the receiving station, berries are moved along a conveyor belt as leaves and weeds are removed with brushes and blowers. The berries are washed and then bounced to remove bad berries.  When the process is complete, they are loaded into totes and taken by semi-trucks to freezers in Forest Grove, Oregon to await processing.

And, in case you wondered… Although the numbers occasionally change, as of 2017 there were 1,513 acres of Ocean Spray affiliated cranberry bogs on the Washington Coast (579 wet-picked and 924 dry-picked).  In addition, 189 acres were grown by independent growers not affiliated with Ocean Spray. “Independents” must make other arrangements for their berries.

Harvest Moon Over Willapa Bay

So, now that you are armed with a few pertinent facts – take a little drive around the Peninsula in the next few days.  You are bound to see the harvest in progress – beautiful to watch and labor intensive for the growers and their crews.  It’s the make-or-break time of year for them.  We should all be clapping and cheering!  And… is your calendar marked for October 13th and 14th at the Cranberrian Fair?  I hope you’ll let me sign a book… personalized if you like, just for you!

as things go bump all over the world…

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

P.G. Wodehouse

For nonsensical distraction in its purest form, there is nothing like P.G. Wodehouse (pronounced Woodhouse).  When I am out of page-turners to read at the midnight hour and I am wakeful for no apparent reason, I sometimes turn to Sir Pelham Grenville W’s novels or short stories to lull me back into a peaceful frame of mind.  Right now, I am re-reading Psmith Journalist (silent P).

As Wikipedia will tell you, P.G.W. was (1881-1975) a humorist known for “a unique writing style based on a combination of very formal language, references to classical literature, and contemporary club-room slang.”  Take for instance his commentary on an incidental character on page 31 of the aforementioned book: “…who from a cursory glance strikes me as an ideal candidate for a lethal chamber.”  So beautifully (and genteelly) stated, don’t you think?  And highly applicable even all these years later!

Psmith – 1909

Psmith takes the stage in four novel-length works, all of which appeared as magazine serials before being published in book form.  The character was based upon hotelier and impresario Rupert D’Oyly Carte and was, according to Wodehouse in 1970, “the only thing in my literary career which was handed to me on a silver plate with watercress around it.”  Apparently, one of his cousins, who had been at school with Carte, told P.G.W. of the latter’s monocle, studied suavity, and stateliness of speech, all of which rounded out Psmith’s distinctive qualities.

But it’s P.G.W.’s body of work concerning Jeeves and Bertie Wooster that I love most and that I daresay are best known. Certainly, Jeeves is thought of to this day as the quintessential butler and his wealthy and idle young employer, Bertie Wooster, seems to epitomize our idea of the “idle rich.” Wodehouse wrote about Jeeves and Bertie in numerous short stories and novels published over a sixty-year period – between 1915 and 1974!

In this house, we have most of the Wodehouse canon on our bookshelves – always at the ready for a midnight perusal and, whatever my choice, never failing to amuse.  After all, how can you go wrong with a man who said:  “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

 

Pondering Pooh and Other Perplexities

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

E.H. Shepherd Illustration

We seem to have bookmarked the summer by going to matinees – “The Rider” in June and “Christopher Robin” yesterday.  I loved the first one.  The second, not so much – but I’m not sure why.

First, let me say that I am a huge A.A. Milne fan.  I love the Winnie-the-Pooh books and usually have trouble accepting any animated versions of the denizens of Hundred Acre Woods.  That was not the case with this movie.  I thought the live-action character portrayals were superb – especially Pooh.  He was precisely the Pooh of my imagination.  So was the setting, or at least the Hundred Acre Woods part –  the rickety bridge, the makeshift falling-down shelters, the hand-lettered signs of childhood.

E. H. Shepherd Illustration

The movie makers got all that just right.  It was the story I found ho-hummish.  Predictable and overstated.  Disappointing.  And the human characters – especially Christopher Robin and his daughter Maddie – a bit too old.  He should have been in his twenties; she in her single digits.  Maybe then I’d have found the happy ending more acceptable.  But… maybe not.

I left the theater feeling robbed of the bittersweet longing that the books, themselves, always give me.  It’s the same feeling I get when I hear “Puff the Magic Dragon.”  For the adult me, it’s that filled-with-wistfulness for what can’t be recaptured sensation that is the magic of Pooh and of Puff.  But the tears I shed yesterday in the movie weren’t the tears that go with nostalgia.  More the tears of disappointment.  Still… you probably have to see the film for yourself.  It may speak to you differently.

Considering Revisionist History Some More

Friday, June 29th, 2018

I am still stewing about the name change of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award by the American Library Association.  (See yesterday’s blog:  http://sydneyofoysterville.com/2018/the-hardest-changes-of-all/).  Somehow, I expect more of the ALA.  In my mind, they are the gatekeepers of our written heritage and should not fall into the pit of revisionist history.

In the introduction to their policy manual, they state:  ALA recognizes its broad social responsibilities. The broad social responsibilities of the American Library Association are defined in terms of the contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society; support for efforts to help inform and educate the people of the United States on these problems and to encourage them to examine the many views on and the facts regarding each problem; and the willingness of ALA to take a position on current critical issues with the relationship to libraries and library service set forth in the position statement.

Obviously, their definition of “broad social responsibilities” differ from mine.  I wrote to Cheryl Heywood, Director of our Timberland Library system, and asked how “our” librarians voted on the renaming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award.  I hope she responds and tells me a little more about the decision than I could learn from the media reports.

The first inkling I ever had concerning revisionist history was in my History of Western Civilization class in my Freshman year at Stanford.  I remember being appalled to learn that many of the Roman Caesars ordered the destruction all statues and other evidence of the Caesars before them.  Wipe out the evidence and change our history was the theory.  We still subscribe to that theory, of course.  It’s part of Winston Churchill’s infamous statement, “History is written by the victors.”

When I think about how we play fast and loose with the facts, I sometimes get into what I call the Zone of Reveries.  This very morning, I fantasized that sometime in the future Americans would live in an era of No War.  And then… would we wipe out all evidence that there had ever been war?  Would we take down the Viet Nam Wall and bulldoze Arlington Cemetery?  Would those we recognize as heroes today lose their status?  And what would the American Library Association’s position be on books about war?

But… I digress.

The Hardest Changes of All

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

On our return to old stomping grounds (mine) in California last week, I found the physical changes to the landscape disorienting and somewhat distressing.  I was pretty sure, though, that given enough time I could get used to the new freeways and buildings, the new housing developments and shopping malls and the huge influx of people that are responsible for all of the above.  Growth and change, as difficult as they are to accept as we age are, after all, inevitable.

But while we were gone, I learned of another change that I don’t find quite so easy about accepting.  Two days ago, the New York Times Book Section ran an article that began:  The American Library Association is dropping Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s literature award in order to distance the honor from what it described as culturally insensitive portrayals in her books… The decision was made out of a desire to reconcile the award with the organization’s values of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect,” representatives of the association said in a statement on Monday. The award is given out by its children’s division.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

OMG!!  The award recognizes authors and illustrators whose books have created a lasting contribution to children’s literature.  It has been distributed to just 23 people over more than six decades. Wilder, herself, received the first award in 1954, three years before her death in 1957.  It was initially distributed every five years, but its frequency has steadily increased. Since 2016, it has been given annually.

The Library Association’s decision to rename the award is based on their belief that the “Little House Stories” set in the complicated context of westward expansion, are anti-Native and anti-black.  Not so argues book reviewer Dedra McDonald Birzer: “Wilder’s works lead readers of all ages to ponder important truths about American history.”

Birzer’s article, “Librarians without Chests: A Response to the ALSC’s Denigration 0f Laura Ingalls Wilder” can be found at https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/06/laura-ingalls-wilder-alsc-award-removal/ and is worth reading.  She concludes her article with this paragraph:

The rejection of the author and the rejection of her semi-autobiographical novels produce the same result: In favor of safe spaces and trigger-free zones, this country’s professional librarians seek to destroy the literary heroine that millions of American girls (and boys) identified with and aspired to emulate. In doing so, they seek to destroy us all and re-make us in their own image, based on their core values of inclusivity and responsiveness, rounded out by respect (properly placed, of course) and their version of integrity. Join me in being naughty on the inside (one of my favorite aspects of young Laura’s character) by refusing to accept the Association of Library Services to Children’s version of Laura Ingalls Wilder. We know better.