Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

A Wonderfully Humbling Experience

Friday, April 9th, 2021

Dr. Robert Michael Pyle, American lepidopterist, writer, teacher, and founder of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

We received an invitation from Bob Pyle yesterday to “attend” the PEN America annual literary awards “at a gala ceremony to be announced live in NYC and sent out virtually to everywhere that people love books,” said Bob.  In a “normal” year we, like so many others, would never have had this opporutunity.  But, yesterday at 4:00 PDT, there we were.  OMG!  It was wonderful and totally disconcerting at the same time!

Not only had I read NONE of the books nor seen any of the plays,  I was totally ignorant regarding the authors, the playwrights, and, in some cases, even the genres — except, of course, for dear Bob and his many books.  It was hugely humbling and incredibly enlightening all at the same time.

You can check it all out by watching yesterday’s ceremony, yourself.  Just go to 2021 PEN Awards Youtube.  You’ll see what I mean… or maybe not.  Maybe you’ve read the books and know the authors.  If so, don’t tell me.  I am slowly coming to grips (AGAIN!) with the fact that I am so NOT well read and so NOT intellectual and so NOT well-informed.

Bob was nominated for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award For The Art of the Essay — “For a seasoned writer whose collection of essays is an expansion on their corpus of work and preserves the distinguished art form of the essay.”  He was among the five finalists vying for the $15,000 prize and the priceless prestige that goes with such an award.  Although I’ve not yet read Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays, I am fairly confident that I have read several of the sixteen collected essays in this new (September 2020) book.  That Bob was a finalist did not surprise me in the least.  He is not only an expert in his field, but has won numerous other literary awards over the years.  I find that reading anything Bob writes is not only a delight but is likely to expand my horizons in unexpected ways.

Nominated for the 2021 Pen America Award for PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award For The Art of the Essay

But, I have to admit that my confidence in Bob’s ability to win wavered just a bit when actor Kara Young, host of the awards ceremony, pointed out in her opening remarks:  “We stand in solidarity with all those who are threatened by anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Trans hatred.”  I just couldn’t help the errant thought that Dr. Robert Michael Pyle is (sorry, Bob!) “an old white guy.”  Did he have a chance in this year of women and people of color?  As it turned out, it was Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Had I Known: Collected Essays, who won the “Art of the Essay” category.

Disappointed doesn’t half describe my feelings.  However, I was bursting my buttons with pleasure and pride at knowing Bob, and so glad for this virtual stretch into the world of literature.  My must-read-list has expanded exponentially.  I wonder how many of those winning authors’ books I can read before the 2022 PEN America Awards roll around.  I doubt that I’ll be lucky enough to attend the ceremony next time — much less know one of the finalists!  Thanks for inviting us, Bob! We loved “being there!”

 

 

Books, covers, and what you can tell…

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

The “Sequel” is Coming

So… the publisher has sent the book cover for my approval and, thus far, I’m having a love/hate reaction.  I love how it looks — the Oysterville Church, gorgeous as always, and with a rather ominous background that seems ghostly, indeed.  But I hate the implications with the picture situtated, as it is, right below the title: Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula.

Perhaps I’m being super-sensitive, but the insinuation (at least to me) is that the church, itself, is haunted. It is not. Never has been.  Nor has there ever been an idle rumor to that effect.  But, sure as shooting, if the book wears that cover, the “reports” will begin and before you know it the TV cameras and the ghost-busters will arrive…  Or, that is my fear.

I expressed my concerns to my editor who, I hasten to say, has been great!  She is in consultation with the cover designer to see what can be done.  I thought it might be easier to change the title than to find a different, more suitable photograph but she said that it’s too late.  It’s been “finalized and logged for their retailers” which I guess means the word about the book is being circulated as we speak.

Stay tuned for Book Launch information!

Maybe that old adage “You can’t tell a book by it’s cover” will hold true and people will realize that there are no stories in this one about the church being haunted.  On the other hand, perhaps the article by Corinne A. Kratz of Emory University in the May 1994 Cultural Anthropology journal is right.  In “Telling/Selling A Book By It’s Cover” she wrote:  “… a cover is a marketing device, an aesthetic prduction, and a representation that may relate to the book’s content. What picture can help sell a thousand books?”

Or maybe my concerns are for nothing.  Maybe I should just be content with the thought that the reading public has more sense than we credit them with.  Maybe…

Reading The Shelves

Wednesday, March 31st, 2021

The Willapa Country — 4th from rt.

Nyel is good at it.  I’m not.  It probably hearkens back to the years that he worked in the library at the University of Washington — in the sixties when he was working on his undergraduate degree.  Reading the shelves is a skill necessary to library and bookstore workers — especially when there are “open stacks” where patrons and customers can browse at will.  No matter how careful folks are, there is plenty of room for a mis-shelved book and you know the old library expression — a misplaced book is a lost book.

In our personal, four-generational library , the story is  the same.  Or worse.  For one thing, we don’t have a card catalog or inventory of the books in this house.  I don’t even have an idea of how many there are.  Three thousand?  Four thousand?  More?  Of the 12 (or 14, depending upon how you count) rooms in the house, 6 contain serious book shelves and 3 others have books tucked in the nooks and crannies.  When I’m looking for a specific title or author, I call on Nyel.  Even from his wheelchair, he can manage far better than I.

East Room- SW Corner

But just happening upon a book is another matter. As in, I didn’t know I was looking for The Willapa Country: History Report until I ran cross it this very morning on a shelf in our East Room.  It looks to be brand new, never opened.  Yet it was published by the Raymond Herald & Advertiser, Raymond, Wa in 1965!  Has it been in this house all those years?  Why did it just hop out at me now?

I’m so happy to make its acquaintence, though, despite the timing.  I could have used it bigtime when researching the article I turned in to the Observer  just a few days ago — the second one in my “Doctoring in Early Pacific County” series.  In this compact little book is fantastic historic information about the medical communities in the Raymond Valley, Tokeland, and Brooklyn areas — places for which even minimal information was hard to come by.

I was relieved, however, to find (after a quick perusal) that the information I did come up with was accurate and representational.  Yay!  But you can bet that the fabulous facts, figures, and statistics about all manner of North County history contained in this tidy little book, edited by Virginia “Ginny” Olsen (1913-1981) will show up in future articles.  It is a treasure trove and, even more interestingly, was updated and corrected  by Virginia, herself, ten years after it was published.  Those corrections were published in the Spring 1981 issue of the Sou’wester magazine.  I can scarcely believe that the original book has been right on our bookshelves all this time!

Ramona Quimby, Age… 74 ??

Saturday, March 27th, 2021

It’s not so hard for me to realize that beloved author Beverly Cleary has died.  After all, she was almost 105 and, as my friends and I frequently observe these days, it’s not as though any of us will live forever.  Besides, truth to tell, I wasn’t aware that Mrs. Cleary was still living in Carmel Valley, California right where she was the last time I “checked” — which was probably the last time one of my classes wrote her some fan mail after we had read one of her books.   Maybe in the 1980s.

Like Mrs. Cleary’s beloved Klickitat Street characters, she seems a part of my own, personal, literary lexicon.  She, herself, has been a larger-than-life personage in my mind since I first “met” her in the 1950s.  Perhaps she has never seemed quite real.   No… the hard part is to realize that, in non-fiction time,  Cleary’s beloved Klickitat Street characters (visually immortalized by illustrator Louis Darling) would be in their seventies and eighties now!  Thank goodness fictional children — especially those who have become real in the minds of millions of readers — remain young forever.

Thus far, her books have sold more than 91 million copies and I have no doubt that many of the readers feel a kinship with her characters and with Mrs. Cleary, herself, just as I do.  Klickitat Street, of course, is in Portland and, like the “Henry Huggins Neighborhood,” has probably been visited by many of Cleary’s fans — like us.  Years ago, we went to admire the statues (by artist Lee Hunt) of her characters — Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, and his friend Ramona — in The Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children, at Grant Park.    I recently learned that there is also a map of Henry Huggins’s Klickitat Street neighborhood on the lobby wall of the Multnomah County Librarry, Hollywood Branch.  We sprobably should have checked that out beforehand.

I imagine there will be a resurgence of visitors now with the news of Mrs. Cleary’s death.  And, I suspect, there will be an uptick in readership of her wonderful books. She wrote 30 books for children and young adults.  In 1981, she won the National Book Award  for Ramona and Her Mother  and, in 1984, the Newberry Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. For her enormous contribution to American literature throughout her lifetime, author Cleary was awarded with the National Medal of Arts as well as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal by the  American Library Association.

But, mostly, Beverly Cleary won the hearts of generations of children and adults with her books about Henry Huggins and his friends.  I’m pretty sure they’ll “live” forever!

Authors and Food and Recipes, Oh My!

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

We are deep into the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series by Robert Crais.  Set in current-day Los Angeles, the plots deal with all manner of current-day cultural problems, the protagonists are tough yet quirky, and there is a huge dollop of humor in each book.  Plus, there is a sizeable food component throughout.  I almost have it in mind to write to Mr. Crais and ask if he has considered doing an Elvis Cole (or Joe Pike, for the vegetarian readers) cookbook.

Probably a cheeky thought.  But I do feel that I have one of those six-degrees-of-separation relationships with Robert Crais.  In 2009, Nyel and I surprised Charlie with a visit to the final production of “Fuggetaboudit” — a play by his writing partner, the late Gordon Bressack,in which Charlie had a leading role.

As it turned out, Charlie had been invited to a graduation party that night for the daughter of his building contractor, Gene.  He gave Gene a call, asked if could bring along two old folks from Oysterville, and we spent a fabulous evening at a huge outdoor barbecue with a hundred or so of Gene’s family and friends.  We felt like we’d known everyone for years and during a long discussion with Gene, himself, (when it came out that I was a writer) he told us that he had done a lot of work for a local writer of detective novels — “a guy named Robert Crais.”

So, you see?  Armed with that much background material, maybe I could write Mr. Crais and suggest that he do a cookbook along the lines of “The Nero Wolfe Cookbook” by Rex Stout.  And perhaps I could urge him to do it soon — before everyone else is trying to reconstruct the dishes referred to throughout his stories.  That’s what happened to the non-existent Spenser Cookbook that Robert Parker spoke of but never managed to write.  Just sayin’.

So… how to begin?  “Dear Mr. Crais, We almost know each other…”

Right There On My Bookshelf!

Friday, March 19th, 2021

Literally!  The books were on my bookshelf and I couldn’t find them.  I put them there on purpose so they wouldn’t get thrown out with the debris of Christmas Morning After… and forgot all about them.  Embarrassing.  Especially when they are books from your kids!

But… found them I did and have been binge-reading ever since.  First, Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop.  The first Willa Cather book I’ve read.  I will read more!  It put me so much in mind of my friend the late Corina Santistevan of Taos.  She is the only person I know who was made a State Treasure by her Governor.  Her family came to Taos from Spain in the 16th Century.  She was an educator and a historian and the strongest, most gentle wise woman I’ve ever known.  I wonder if she knew Willa Cather.

Corina Santistevan (1919-2016)

And today I finished reading Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars.  It’s the second book I’ve read about the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.  I notice that  there are sites online comparing this book with The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michelle Richardson.  How foolish.  Each is fabulous and each should be read.  But to compare them?  Why?

One more Christmas book awaits — The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  Set in 1939 Nazi Germany.  Reviews describe this as a young-adult novel with Death as the story-teller.  It’s long — 552 pages not counting the notes.  It’ll take me a while…

Strange bedmates? Maybe not…

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny

On Tuesday, this headline from the New York Times caught Nyel’s eye on his Google feed: “Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny to Write Political Thriller.”  Wow!  Our all-time-favorite  mystery writer and the woman who shoulda-coulda-woulda, been our first-ever woman prez!  It’s a writing duo I’d never have imagined but, as I read the article, their collaboration makes perfect sense.

According to Times reporter Alexandra Alter’s story: “When it was suggested my friend Hillary and I write a political thriller together, I could not say yes fast enough,” Penny said in a statement. “Before we started, we talked about her time as secretary of state. What was her worst nightmare? ‘State of Terror’ is the answer.”

Implied in the article is that Clinton and Penny have been friends for a long time.  On the other hand, Alter writes:   In her memoir,  “What Happened,” the former presidential candidate wrote that she read Penny’s books after losing the election in 2016, a time when thrillers were sources of comfort along with yogic breathing and chardonnay.  But a “long-time” friendship may be relative. And, besides, friends don’t necessarily read one another’s books in a timely manner.  (Penny’s first book in the Gamache series was published in 2005.)

Sydney at “Three Pines” – 2016

State of Terror is due out in October.  I can’t wait!  Nor can I quite imagine a book authored (even partially) by Louise Penny without mention of Armand Gamache and his family or the wonderful characters of the imaginary village, Three Pines.  I’m trying to keep an open mind…

When Past Meets Present

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Stanford Magazine, March 2021 Issue

The caller identified herself by her maiden name, Marilyn Tower, and the bells rang ever so softly.  Yes… Stanford, 1953-1954; freshmen women’s dorm, Roble Hall; in the room across from mine.  I don’t remember ever having a prolonged conversation with her that year or ever running across her during the next three, though she was an English major and I a journalism major.  You’d think we’d have had some classes together.  And… maybe we did.  In all the years since, I’ve seen her only once — at our 50th class reunion in 2007 — the only one I ever went to.

At Roble, I had been assigned a single room, much to my disappointment.  As a single child, I had looked forward to having roommates… Marilyn, also without siblings, had been assigned the middle room of a three-room suite across the hall.  I remember being envious.  As it turned out, one of her roommates, Sandy Peters, became my best friend and, eventually we married brothers making our children cousins.  Sandy and I went together (with our present-day spouses) to our 50th — a first for her as well.

I have a vague recollection that Marilyn and I talked at an author’s gathering at the reunion where I had been asked to sign copies of my hot-of-the-press Dear Medora. Marilyn, apparently, also remembered and was contacting me for a short interview for the Stanford Alumni Magazine.  “Very short,” she said.  “No more than a hundred words.”  She is responsible for our class’s section of “Notes” — a periodic update of who’s doing what.  She’s working on something about women writers for the June issue and wanted to know something about my books.  I was impressed that she already knew a lot — had done her homework.  And I was pleased to tell her that the sequel to my ghost book, Haunted Histories of the Long Beach Peninsula, will be coming out on June 21st.  “Maybe about the same time as the magazine,” she said.

Marilyn Tower Oliver, from her FB Page

But mostly we “caught up” with one another.  I learned that she, too, had been a teacher and that she has written for a number of years for The Los Angeles Times — not as a staff member but more as a correspondent, I think — much as I write for our Chinook Observer.  I learned that she lives in the Silver Lake area of L.A. as does my son, Charlie.  And I was able to catch her up on Sandy’s death (a year or so ago) and ask her about another mutual acquaintance from our Stanford days.

I was amazed at how much we had in common after all these years.  So many similar experiences, places, interests.  She talked about visiting me in Oysterville, once we can safely travel again.  I hope that happens.

Reading Between The Lines

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

I’ve never thought about the possibility that I am a literal thinker.  In fact, I take a bit of pride in being able to connect the dots.  To read between the lines, so to speak.  But sometimes, as in the case of When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man, the dots are just too far apart.  Or the lines are too close together.

The book, by Nick Dybek, was suggested to me by my friend Aaron Rabin.  So I should have known.  Aaron, like my former brother-in-law, the late Jim Howell,  often thinks and talks on a plane that I only fully understand when we are face-to-face.  It’s as if we float along a wave length that doesn’t need literal translation.  But the wave length disappears when we part company.

Jim, now well known for his minimalist artworks,  once hired me to write some biographical material about him and his newly developing understanding of art.  I took copious notes in our many interviews and we communicated perfectly — or so we both believed. But once I got to writing, I found my notes undecipherable.  I simply could not put into words (or even thoughts) what we had discussed so thoroughly only the day before.  I had to tell him I couldn’t follow through.

Aaron Rabin

With Aaron, it’s more a matter of the books he likes and recommends.  Actually, the first was one I told him about — To Know What Dream by Millie Sherwood, my friend Ann “Memi” Anderson’s mother.  Aaron went to great lengths to borrow the last known extant copy from Memi, herself.  Aaron loved the book — even had it rebound for her in gratitude. I appreciate the book because of Millie and Memi — but I never could “get” it.

And now: When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man.  “…it’s a fantastic PNW novel – and I couldn’t help thinking of you!” Aaron wrote.  So I borrowed the book from the library.  I’m reading it now.  I love the descriptions, the imagery.  But… so far we are not as one.  It makes me wonder…  literally.

You can’t tell a book by its… title.

Monday, January 18th, 2021

“Two Loaves” starring Shirley MacLaine was based on this book.

Spinster.  Now, there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore.  In fact, it’s a term that’s been out of fashion for my entire lifetime.  Even so, it’s the title of a book I first read in 1960 — just a year after it was published by Simon and Schuster.  It was recommended reading for one of the post-baccalaureate education classes I took in order to get my teaching credential.  It seemed, at the time, to be the most incongruous suggestion I’d ever heard from a college professor.

That’s what I thought then and what I continue to think, even now.  It’s the story (fictional) of a teacher among the Maori of New Zealand.  It’s long out of print — Timberland Library got it for me through inter-library loan from Western Oregon University in Oregon.  My memory of the book is about how, some days, the spinster fortified herself for school with a half a tumbler of brandy.

And I’ve remembered how she captured the hub-bub and enthusiasm of the infant room where she was the only teacher of 70 four-and five-year-olds.  And, for all these years, I’ve remembered her firm belief that children come to school chock-a-block full of experiences and wonder and joy and anger.  We have only to help them unlock it all and put it into context — that’s the sum total of our job as teachers;  The rest will come.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1908-1984

Well, that’s what I remember of the book.  That, plus it’s one of the most important books about teaching I’ve ever run across.  At first, I wondered why it was so strongly recommended to us fledglings… I was probably stuck on the brandy and a bit horrified by it.  Now as I re-read Spinster, I realize that it was Ms. Ashton-Warner who turned my interest toward our youngest learners and that her unconventional thoughts and methods were the underpinnings of my teaching for all those years — though not the brandy part, I hasten to add.

Seen through the broader context of today’s racism and divisiveness, it resonates even more deeply today.   It’s a must read, especially for  teachers — past, present, future.  I urge my readers to track it down and be prepared to see the world differently while you’re reading it — and maybe for the rest of your life.  Don’t confuse it with her second book, Teacher, which is also good.  But not as.