Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

The Summer Itch

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

I’m crediting our recent spate of warm, sunny weather for our urge to get on the road!  Or maybe it’s the fault of our friends Fred and Vicki who recently began an entirely new lifestyle and are on their “maiden voyage” with their new-to-them-fifth-wheeler.  Or, perhaps, it’s because the Dorrances are off to Dartmouth for his 55th class reunion.  Or because more than one friend has said they are “outta here” over the Fourth.

But most likely, it’s because Nyel feels so much better than he has in several years and we’ve got the summer itch – the direct opposite of the winter itch (defined as a common name for the skin symptom of generalized itching in the winter. It is primarily caused by dry skin and is most common in the elderly.)  No, the summer itch has nothing to do with dry skin or with being elderly.  Quite the opposite.  It has to do with getting on the road and having an unexpected adventure or two!

The Nickle Plated Beauty by Patricia Beatty

But before I leave the winter itch subject – this is the first I’ve ever heard of the ‘elderly’ connection.  I’ve always associated winter itch with tales of youngsters being sewn into their winter long johns and, around here anyway, the inevitability of a drenching on the way to school.  In The Nickel-Plated Beauty, her book about the Kimball family of Ocean Park, Patricia Beatty described the cause perfectly: …but no matter how we walked, sideways or backwards or forwards, the water ran down our necks into our long underwear and made us itch.

Nope.  The summer itch I’m speaking of is a good thing.  Not a skin condition, but a set of mind.  It’s all about hitting the road, exploring new territory, making new friends or, perhaps, revisiting special places and people of the past.  And, as always, one of the best parts is the planning…

What’s your preference — tube or gun?

Friday, June 1st, 2018

If there’s one thing most locals have strong opinions about, it’s razor clams.  We either love them or hate them and that goes for digging them, cooking them, eating them – everything except cleaning them.  I’ve never heard anyone express great joy about that, but even so, there are opinions about which method is best, often depending upon how they’ll be served.  And when.

Right now, of course, it’s between seasons. No clamming during the summer months.  Not like the ‘olden days’ when our forebears said, “tide’s out, table’s set” and came home with as many as they needed and could dig on a tide.  Nowadays there are regulations.  And consequences if the rules are broken.  But clam digging is still the sport of choice here at the beach.  So, now that we can’t be out digging, I suggest we all do a little reading and maybe a bit of lobbying, as well.

First, I urge you to read Razor Clams, Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest by David Berger.  Long ago I met David when he was one of the Espy Writers in Residence here in Oysterville.  I don’t think I had any idea of his passion for razor clams and all of the history, accoutrements, mythology, and scientific information that accompany them.  Nor did I have any idea of the innumerable ways to eat them (clams with snap peas in champagne vinaigrette???) or how it is, exactly, that a clam can sometimes out-dig a grown man with a gun!

“Clamming in the Good Old Days” (Espy Family Collection.)

Speaking of which, the author also takes up that clam gun issue.  Which do you think that particular moniker applies to – the shovel or the tube?  The results of David’s research into the history of clamming implements may surprise you.  And the statistics he reveals about numbers of clams under the sand and clam digger trips to the beach will blow you away.  Plus, you’ll learn more about the dreaded domoic acid problem and NIX disease, about the Fisheries Commission and Indian treaties and… just about anything you’d like to learn about razor clamming and its attendant rules and rituals.  To say nothing of a dozen and a half mouth-watering, tried-and-true recipes.

But… one of the best parts about this book is that it lays the foundation for David Berger’s idea to make the razor clam the State Clam of Washington.  As David points out: Washington has a state tree, a state amphibian, a state vegetable, and a state endemic mammal.  It does not have a state clam…  (western hemlock, Pacific chorus frog, Walla Walla sweet onion, and Olympic marmot, respectively, in case you are wondering.)  For more information on this worthy project, go to David’s website projectrazorclam.org to learn about the Bill (HB3001) that has been recently introduced in the Washington State Legislature.

Clam Station (Dobby Wiegardt Collection)

Considering that the razor clam is only found only on the west coast of North America and that, from Oregon to Alaska, our Washington beaches are the world’s epicenter for recreational clamming for the simple reason that… well, read the book and learn!  Indeed – for us who live within a mile or two of this genuine buried treasure – the book is a must.  (And did I mention that, before you’ve read very far, you’ll run into a couple of people you are likely to know – a little extra serendipity for your summer reading enjoyment.)

Whys, Wherefores, and What the F***s!

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Chinook Observer Publication, 2006

As most (but, surprisingly, not all) of my readers know, I am a writer.  I have seventeen books in print, several now out of print, and several ‘in the works’ and not yet published.  I write about the history of our little corner of the world – southwest Washington.  It’s a subject of limited interest (silly ‘them’!) but near and dear to the hearts of a chosen few. Publishers aren’t likely to do a heavy-duty marketing campaign when books about the Peninsula or Pacific County come out, so sales aren’t necessarily brisk unless the author, herself, beats the drums.

Some years (seven!) back, I began this blog with that very fact in mind. I wanted to raise my profile in order to sell books.  Pure and simple.  I’m not sure of a way to make a direct correlation in that regard.  Probably I’ve sold more books than I would have otherwise.  But many more things – mostly positive – have happened because of the blog and, though I think of stopping now and then, I doubt that I will anytime soon.  Writing each morning has become a daily habit right up there with breathing… or so it seems when, for some reason, I am forced to post late in the day.  Or, god forbid as happened once, the next day!

My writing has improved because of my blog.  My fan base has expanded.  I’ve made new friends and have been able to assist many people (actually, folks from all over the world!) in answering questions about their ancestors or relatives or people and places from the past. Who’d a thunk that our tiny spot on the map would garner such interest?

Not all responses to my blog are positive, of course.  I’ve had my share of hate-mail (or, more accurately, hate-comments), most of which I leave posted on my blogsite in the belief that they say more about the writer than they do about me.  One of the strangest responses was not too long ago, when I blogged about an experience at a local service facility – a somewhat humorous blog (thought I) – and received not one but two letters (to my P.O. Box!) from the PR person of that facility calling me to task and explaining why they did what they did.  The letters addressed “my recent complaint.”  Say what???

Introducing Mrs. Crouch

Don’t get me wrong.  I love responses to my blog.  There is a place for comments directly below each day’s entry, though I’m the first to say that the WordPress publishing platform does not make that an easy option to utilize.  Many people comment through FaceBook or email me directly.  Often, I write back.  Once in a rare while, I get a request for a book.  Yay!!!  If that idea intrigues you (Christmas is coming!), I commend you to this link for a list of my books:  http://sydneyofoysterville.com/books2/ Click on any of the books listed for details about content, price, where available.  And… Merry Christmas!

On the Near Edge of Morning

Monday, December 11th, 2017

I finished the most recent Louise Penny book at four o’clock this morning.  It’s a book that has been by my bedside for weeks.  Months, really.  It has traveled with me to at least three hospitals and to doctors’ appointments too numerous to remember.  To make matters worse, it’s a library book and I owe fines on it that must be the equivalent of two or three more hard copies for their shelves.

I feel guilty about that, which is probably fitting because the book is about conscience – among other things.  It is Ms. Penny’s thirteenth book in her series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and the villagers of Three Pines in Quebec – a village that does not exist but that is so compelling that five of us from the Peninsula went in search of it a year ago last September.  We did not expect to find it, of course, but we made many wonderful discoveries directly related to the author and her bestselling series.  (Ask any one of us, though, and we’ll probably give you pretty exact directions so you can do your own looking!)

Usually, I race right through Louise Penny’s books, gobbling up every delectable detail and nuance.  This one… not so much.  Glass Houses was equally well written, the characters as finely drawn, with the plot bordering on reality.  Perhaps that was the trouble.  I found the book ‘dark’ in the ominous sense without much relief, comic or otherwise.  I’d pick it up, read a few pages, and then have to put it down for a while.  Usually, for a long while.

Because our lives have been so fractured lately, I’ve not yet had a chance to talk to any of the other Three Pines Trekkers about Glass Houses.  I wonder if they found it difficult, as well.  Or was it just a matter of timing – an intersection of events in my own life that made it the wrong choice just then (and then and then and then…)?  Still… I recommend it highly but, as always, with the caveat that, if you are new to Louise Penny, read the books in order and from the beginning.  When you finish the thirteenth, tell me what you think.

Meanwhile, I’ve already begun another book – one that Leigh gave us when she visited Nyel at the UW Medical Center. It’s The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith.  It, too, is full of old friends from “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” and, interestingly, it’s also the thirteenth of the series.  It was copyrighted in 2011, so I doubt if it’s the most recent.  And, in fact, I’m not even sure that I haven’t already read it.  The only sure thing is that it will be the polar opposite of the book I just finished – nothing dark about Mr. Smith’s stories.  Actually, when reading his books I sometimes feel there’s no there there.  Just what I should have been reading all these past weeks and months!

On the Cutting Edge?

Friday, October 27th, 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As usual, I’m a day late and a dollar short when it comes to what I am reading.  Certainly not on ‘the cutting edge’ – more the opposite, which is ‘the spine’ if you consider my cutting reference to be a knife blade.  I’m about three-quarters of the way through Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and no, I didn’t see the TV series either.

For the few folks who share my laggardly reading habits, I feel the need to point out that this might be the optimum timing for reading Atwood’s dystopian novel.  Although she wrote it back in 1986, there are so many disturbing similarities to our present socio-political situation, that it reads almost like horror fiction.  I find myself forced to take a time out now and then to think about what she has written and what I’m seeing/reading/hearing in our daily news.

I began reading the book before we left home on October 16th and brought it along with me, thinking I could finish it while hanging out with Nyel in the hospital.  As it turns out, I haven’t made much progress.  Contrary to popular opinion, there are few ‘dull’ moments here.

I’m hard pressed to keep up with my small writing obligations betwixt and between the parade of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, phlebotomists, therapists and other hospital personnel who come in to see Nyel on a regular basis.  To say nothing of accompanying Nyel on his walks up and down the halls, visiting the Heartbeat Café for lunch or dinner alternatives, and enjoying visitors who drop by.

But, little did I think that we would overstay the book’s due date.  (Oh, did I say that it’s a library book?)  Now that going home seems imminent – well, maybe tomorrow or the next day – I’m thinking I ought to get cracking.  It’s hard for me, though.  There are aspects of it that seem too close to today’s reality to be comfortable.

I can’t help but wonder what Ms. Atwood was seeing in the world of 1986 that resulted in this book.  Whatever it was, I’m pretty sure I was oblivious.  But, now?  Not so much.  In the thirty-plus years since she wrote her tale, our United States has moved a bit too close to its descriptions in the Handmaid’s memory.  Scary to the max.

A Name for the Books

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Oysterville by Willard Espy

“Oysterville!  Is that the name of your town?” asked Kelly-the-nurse in some disbelief.  Nyel conceded that it was.

“Great name!” she said.  “Sounds like it should be in a book!”

“It is,” was Nyel’s amused response.  “Lots of them.”

“Oh, really?  What kind?  Romances?  It sounds like a place for romance!”

It always surprises me when I come across someone who has never heard of Oysterville – a testimony, for sure, to my self-centered nature.  With 10,000 plus names added each year to the guest book at the Oysterville Church, it seems as though the whole world should know about Oysterville by now.  But of course, they don’t.

I suppose my surprise should be reserved for those who do know about our little village and I should be registering true amazement when someone says they’ve actually been there.  Once upon a time, most of the folks one ran into in Portland had, indeed, been to Oysterville – or at least to the Peninsula.  Now… not so much.  Newcomers in Portland have outnumbered ‘the old guard’ and our little corner is not the primary get-away attraction it once was.

“So, I guess there are a lot of restaurants in Oysterville where you can get fresh oysters,” Kelly continued.

“Not really.” said Nyel, “Not even one.”

Oysterville by Sydney Stevens

“Really!  With that name, Oysterville?  Someone’s missing a bet.  Bigtime!”

Nyel and I exchanged a brief look.  Brief, but loaded with past conversations about the one-time fabulous self-serve al fresco dining on the deck at Oysterville Sea Farms.  Not to mention the on-going, relentless legal harassment by Pacific County of our neighbor Dan Driscoll, Sea Farms’ owner.

Now, there’s a book that should be written!  Certainly not a Romance.  And not a Western or a Thriller or a Fantasy sort of book.  Not even in the Mystery or True Crime genre.  Maybe a new category altogether?  Where are Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward when we need them?

The Tree Time of Year

Friday, July 21st, 2017

On I-5

I wonder if anyone else who lives in this neck of the woods (ahem) thinks of Joyce Kilmer at this time of year.  The trees on this western edge of the state are now out in all their glory and, although his poem has gotten a very bad rap over the years, I still give him a silent nod as I look around on these green and gray and golden summer days.

I think “Trees” was the first poem (other than nursery rhymes) that I ever ‘learned by heart.’  It was Miss Hamilton in fifth grade who had us all learn it, and I remember it being a revelation in many ways.  For starters, I was surprised that Joyce could be a man’s name.  My neighbor Joyce was a freckle-faced girl and even though I, myself, was named after my great-uncle Sidney (an ‘i’ for boys, a ‘y’ for girls, I was told), I had never extended that concept to any other boy’/girl names.

In Seattle

Furthermore, although I knew what a poem was, it had never occurred to me that an object such as a tree could be called one.  Same with comparing earth with a mother’s breast (and never mind those boys in the back of the room giggling and snorting into their notebooks.)  I was also quite amazed to learn that my parents and even my grandparents also knew that poem – my first realization that there might be a universal interest in and knowledge of poetry or of any other literature for that matter.

Along I-5

Later – much, much later and even to this day – I read severe criticism of Kilmer and his poem.  Of course, I read recently, “Trees” is a notoriously awful poem. It is singsongy and saccharine. Its imagery is preposterous…  Probably true, but you know what?  I don’t care.  I still recited it softly to myself — maybe more than once — yesterday as Nyel and I drove from Oysterville to Seattle to do some errands, and then from Seattle to Portland where he will be admitted to the hospital this morning.  The trees were gorgeous.  They softened our view and they lightened my thoughts.

In Prtland

I also remembered the woman from Texas who stopped in to see my mother after a trip to Alaska.  “All those trees,” she said.  “I am absolutely sick of trees.  I don’t care if I never see another tree!”  OMG!  I can’t imagine what a barren world it would be without them!  What if all the roads and streets we drove through today looked like Bay Avenue in Ocean Park?  I truly hope that some fifth-grade teachers out there are still encouraging kids to memorize “Trees.”  Maybe, just maybe, it will make a difference somewhere, someday.  We can but hope.

Just a Glimmer

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Akenfield by Ronald Blythe

The blurb on the back of the book I’m reading says, “You do not hear them talking; you hear them feeling…”  I love that!  And, it’s true.  The book is Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe.  Written in 1967 and published two years later, it is a definitive look at life in an East Anglian village at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century.

The table of contents reveals the scope of this amazing work which catches the memories of those who grew up in the era of horses, before anything in their lives was mechanized.  The Introduction covers Population and Houses, Work in the Village, and Domesday for 1936 and 1966: the Second Agricultural Revolution.  Twenty chapters follow:

1) The Survivors; 2) God; 3) The Ringing Men; 4) To be a Farmer’s Boy?; 5) Good Service; 6) The Forge; 7) The Wheelwright; 8) The Craftsmen; 9) The School; 10) The Agricultural Training Centre; 11) Officers and Gentlemen; 12) The Orchard Men; 13) Four Ladies; 14) The Young Men; 15) The Law; 16) Limitations 17) The Vet; 18) Not By Bread Alone; 19) The Northern Invaders; 20) The Hour of Death.

There are so many unexpected bits of information in the book – probably ‘useless’ information to most but, somehow, satisfying to me who would like nothing better than to step back in time for a few days to get a greater understanding of how life was here in Oysterville long ago, in my grandfather’s childhood.  “The horses were friends and loved like men,” said one of the old Akenfield farmers.  “The ploughmen talked softly to their teams all day long and you could see the horses listening.”

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

My grandfather would have understood that.  When his last horse, Countess, died in 1944, Willard began his ‘Family Man’ column (in Good Housekeeping Magazine) by quoting Papa’s letter: “It was a relief for her to be gone,” he says (Countess was past thirty), but she wanted to live and so I wanted her to. She was the last animate tie to the old ranch, when you boys were on it with me.” Her death reminds him, he says, that he is lonesome and old.

Willard went on to say that the letter made him see a herd of four-legged ghosts – the horses Empress, Fanny and Prince, Blaze and Lassy and many of the cows as well.  He remembered that when Papa got sick and had to give up the ranch, he had kept the animals that would not sell and they had died one by one.  Countess was the last and only the summer before had become so feeble that she could not pull the harrow across the garden plot so Papa had unhitched her and pulled it himself.

I think I might have read Akenfield before – maybe thirty or forty years ago.  There are phrases and, yes, feelings (as that blurb said) that I remember.  Pleasant glimmers of a book and of a past almost remembered.

“The Mighty Franks”

Friday, June 9th, 2017

With Author Michael Frank

By the time we arrived, the room was a-buzz – probably thirty-five or forty people, glasses of Perrier or wine in hand, milling around with one eye on author Michael Frank, the star of the evening.  Michael moved easily from group to group, dispensing handshakes and hugs and looking for all the world like the sophisticated host of a cosmopolitan cocktail party.  We’ve seen Michael in that role many times before — whether or not he is hosting and whether or not there’s a party.

No, wait!  Not a ‘role’ at all.  It’s just Michael! To the manner born, you might say.  It doesn’t even seem surprising that his first book, a memoir, is taking the world by storm.  Yes, the world!  “The Mighty Franks” was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, just two or three weeks ago – published simultaneously in five (count ‘em five) languages!  It has received high marks from the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and on and on!

“The Mighty Franks”

Already Michael has done book talks and signings in Los Angeles and San Francisco to say nothing of a fabulous ‘book launch’ at the home of a friend in New York City.  If all the attention has turned his head, it doesn’t show a bit.  As we entered the room and he spied us across the way he gave a wonderfully surprised greeting – more hugs and exclamations (You came all the way from the beach?!!) and made sure we had something to drink and connected with his brother, Dan.  The best host ever — as always!

Then it was “show time.”  Michael was introduced, took center stage, eschewed the mic, and told us about the book.  It centers on members of his extraordinary family – some of whom Nyel and I have known almost as long as we’ve known each other.  Michael and his two brothers and his parents were all at -ceremonythe 3rd Annual Oysterville Croquet and Champagne Gala (a fund-raiser we put on in our garden for 19 consecutive years) in 1987.  At that particular event, two important things happened – Nyel and I were married in an unannounced-until-then-ceremony, and we first met the Franks. “The Mighty Franks” as it turns out — or part of them!

Elliott Bay Book Company

During the Q&A portion of the evening, someone asked Michael how he was feeling about all the attention he and his book are getting.  Michael’s response was along the lines of loving it but it’s only been two weeks so it’s too early to tell.  I made a mental note to ask him a similar question in August after some of the dust settles.  He and his immediate family (who live in NYC) will be in Seaview then for their annual family get-together.  “I’ll call you,” he said.  “I want you to come to the house for dinner.”  I didn’t say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. By then you’ll be too famous for the likes of us.”  Actually, I didn’t even think it.  I’m pretty sure Michael will always be Michael – a mighty Frank, to the manner born!

From a Loser’s Perspective

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

From Another Point of View

We’ve all given lip service (perhaps a bit smugly) to the truism that winners write the history.  I’ve never given that particular platitude much beyond a cursory thought until very recently.  I’m reading Kenneth Roberts’ Oliver Wiswell – a total eye-opener regarding our American Revolution!  Narrated in the first person by the title character, Yale undergraduate Oliver, it is the story of the little-known and profoundly misunderstood loyalist cause.  It is the story of some of my ancestors – fictionalized to be sure, but fully believable.

The book was recommended to my father by his Bostonian mother back in the 1940s.  She urged him to read it for a better understanding of our forebears – the McGees and the Woodworths and probably others – who, I always heard, “went” to Canada in 1776 or thereabouts.  It’s a long book (836 pages) and I am only about a third of the way into it, but already I fully understand that “went” was not the operable verb.  More like “driven out.”  They were loyalists – not completely satisfied with things under British rule, but committed to making changes through orderly means and the rule of law.  Not through violence.  The patriots thought differently.

Samuel Adams, Patriot or Rabble-rouser?

I don’t know about my particular loyalist ancestors but Oliver Wiswell describes what happened to others like them.  They were the unwitting victims set upon by mobs of “patriots” (or “rabble” as they were known).  Loyalist homes were ransacked, pillaged, and burned; ‘suspicious  characters,’ perhaps the owner of a printing press, were tarred and feathered.  Community leaders and their erstwhile friends, were sent packing – on foot, in the dark of night, never mind the sick or the old or infirm.  Out! Out!  Out at gunpoint.

The men I grew up to revere – Samuel Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other heroes of our Revolutionary War – take on a wholly different (and downright sinister) character.  And yet… I had ancestors on the Patriot side of things, as well.  Undoubtedly, there were family schisms.  Brothers against brothers.  Cousins against cousins.  Fathers and sons in pitched battle.  It’s a look at our beginnings that I’ve seldom considered.  I think the book should be a must for those who are concerned about the current state of things here in America.

British General William Howe, Brilliant or Inept

Though written in that detailed style of the early-to-mid-twentieth century which makes it a little slow-going, many of the attitudes and situations seem all too relevant today.  Where are we headed in this land where our leaders scoff at ethics and change the rules to allow themselves to prosper to the detriment of our planet?  How many racist killings, ICE raids and other travesties are we to endure?  And how will these chaotic times be interpreted 250 years hence?  Oliver Wiswell is slow going in places but worth the effort.  Let me know if you read it… I’d love to get your take on this fictional account of our history as seen through the eyes of the losing side.