Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Another Missing Bit of Childhood

Friday, February 15th, 2019

On this very date, February 15th, in 1903, the first Teddy bear went on sale.  Little did toy store owner and inventor Morris Michtom realize that he was creating a childhood institution.  He had asked and received permission from President Theodore Roosevelt to use his nickname, Teddy, and had then sewn up a couple of stuffed bears and placed them in his store window.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I don’t believe I ever had a toy bear and I’m not at all sure that my son Charlie did, either.  Certainly, there was never a bear that had a place in our lives like Christopher Robin’s Pooh Bear.  I think that “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” was about the extent of my early bear connection.

I do remember shopping for a little Steiff bear for Charlie when we were in Germany in 1958.  He was two and, somehow, I thought he needed a stuffed bear.  But, even then, they were way too expensive for our meager budget.  The stuffed animal that became his favorite was a dog that we got in Italy.

We had gone into a big department store in Rome, specifically to look for a cuddly stuffed animal.  The salesclerk showed us a big, floppy dog, larger than Charlie.  I kept saying (and motioning with my hands) “smaller” and by inches we were shown smaller and smaller versions of the same stuffed dog.  Each dog was accompanied by the word “piccolo” and by gestures which we soon understood to mean “small.”  And, so it was that Charlie acquired Piccolo Doggie who was, as Goldilocks would have said, “just right” size-wise, and was Charlie’s boon companion for years.

During those years, Charlie and I were also introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh in a book given to Charlie by his Great-Grandmother Little, as I recall.  Later, I enjoyed my own second childhood over and over again by reading those Milne books to my first graders.  Wise old Pooh helped many-a-child of my acquaintance over a rough spot – but he wasn’t technically a Teddy bear and he didn’t come along in time for me to enjoy him during my own childhood.

If I were to examine my character critically, I’d probably come up with a flaw or two that I could credit to the lack of childhood Teddy Bear bonding.  Right up there with that electric train I never got!  Oh well…

Books, Bookstores, and Travel Dreams

Friday, February 8th, 2019

Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores

Last week as Sue and Bill left our Friday Night Gathering, Sue said, “Don’t forget to open the box.  You’ll love it!   It might be the next trip you take!”  I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about and as soon as the last guest had left…

Inside the box was a book.  A most unusual book, indeed.  Its cover opened the wrong way ’round, it was at once a book of paintings and of the written word, and all about a subject near and dear to our hearts – bookstores!  The title: Footnotes*from the World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein, Foreword by Garrison Keillor, *True Tales and Last Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers and Book Lovers.

You may ‘know’ Bob Eckstein as a New Yorker cartoonist or as author of The Illustrated History of the Snowman. You may even know this book which was published by Clarkson Potter in 2016 and landed immediately on the NYT best seller list.  Garrison Keillor needs no introduction.

Unusual Cover Arrangement

Nyel and I spent the next few afternoons sitting side-by-side on the couch, taking turns reading aloud each double-page spread on the 75 bookstores included in this delightful book.  We had not been to all that many – Powell’s in Portland and Elliott Bay in Seattle, of course.  Shakespeare and Company in Paris, Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, and (maybe) the Brattle Book Shop in Boston.

Moe’s in Berkeley and City Lights in San Francisco were old stomping grounds for me and since Nyel has never been to either, that might be our first trip.  How right Sue was!  Each page just calls out. “Come visit!  Come browse!”  And, too, it made me think of favorite bookstores not included – places I hadn’t thought of in years like Foyles in London and Blackwell’s in Oxford.  Time to re-visit those, too.

Plus, the “footnotes” were such fun.  For the Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans (weren’t we there?):  “Anne Rice once arrived at a book signing at the shop by means of a jazz funeral procession in an antique hearse pulled by mules.  She emerged in the bookstore from inside the closed coffin.”

Powell’s – A familiar Favorite

Or in the footnotes about Richard Booth’s Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. “Throughout Hay-on-Wye, there are honesty boxes to leave payment for books available on the al fresco bookcases.”  And Anthony Tao of The Bookworm in China:  “During his campaign, President Obama phoned in and fielded question over the speakers from a packed Bookworm bookstore.”

When we owned The Bookvendor in Long Beach we used to say that giving a book is giving a present that can be opened again and again.  This particular book, however, gives you the pleasure of planning journey after journey with entire bookstores to visit along the way there and back again!  What could be more pleasurable? Great idea, Sue!

Just in Case

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

Adelaide’s at the Taylor Hotel by Jean Stamper

A note on my calendar for today says, “Adelaide’s 1:00 – 2:30” – a reminder to myself to grab some copies of my latest book and head for Ocean Park this afternoon.  When I was there for a caffè mocha the other day, Proprietor Colleen Kelly mentioned that they were having a little “do” this afternoon and I asked her if she’d like me to stop by to sign books… just in case.

Now, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m not sure what kind of an event she has planned.  I think she said Bette Lu Krause would be there with her tee shirts and maybe there’s going to be live music but I’m not sure what else is going on. My impression is that local vendors who have products at Adelaide’s have been invited to be there to ‘meet and greet’ in honor of the season.  Whatever is happening, I’m taking my signing pen along… just in case.

Colleen Kelly with Hank Doodle

Colleen carries a good many of my books.  She’s all about representing local authors and artisans and, speaking for myself, I find she does a terrific job.  More than once, I’ve been in the shop having a coffee and she or one of her wonderful baristas has come over to me and quietly asked if I’d mind signing a book for someone.  I never get over that little puff of excitement I feel when I am introduced to an unsuspecting customer in really-o, truly-o “meet the author” fashion!  I should probably remember to take my pen with me to Adelaide’s all the time… just in case.

Whatever Colleen has planned for this afternoon, I’m sure it will feel warm and welcoming and all about community.  That’s the way Adelaide’s is.  That’s the way Colleen is.  Between the Full Circle at the Ocean Park approach and Adelaide’s at the Taylor Hotel, I think Colleen has served the community for more than forty years.  She knows everybody, never seems to forget a name, makes sure that folks who ‘need’ to know one another get an introduction, and makes even first-time visitors feel like they belong there.  As I say, I’m not sure what will be happening this afternoon, but you’d better come by… just in case!

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.”