Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Oysterville: Twixt Hamlet and Tref?

Monday, June 8th, 2020

“The Summer of the Danes”

I’m re-reading Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael Chronicles — or at least the few that we have on our shelves left over from our bookstore days.  As it happens, we are also watching the old Masterpiece Theater Cadfael series right now.  The books are infinitely better.

It’s our first viewing of the TV series and, in some ways,  it might as well be my first reading of the books.  It’s been at least 30 years since I’ve picked one up and I’ve forgotten most of the plots — but not the characters and certainly not the twelfth century world of Brother Cadfael.

The series is “okay,” but the books are glorious.  It’s the  liberal usage of medieval vocabulary and the cadence of the language that make all the difference.    English author Ellis Peters (nom de plume of Edith Mary Pargeter, 1913 – 1995) was a master of both.  Her published works cover many categories, especially history and historical fiction, and she was also honored for her translations of Czech classics.  I don’t know how her expertise with the Czech language might have related to her ear for medieval English, but somehow it must.

The Brother Cadfael Series

Currently I’m reading The Summer of the Danes and from the get-go I am enthralled.  Right away, on the first page of Chapter One, my eye was caught by this phrase:  …and the laity from the princes of North Wales down to the humblest cottagers in the trefs of Arfon.  Trefs??  What in the world is a tref?  A valley, perhaps?  Or in medieval-speak, maybe a dale?

So, I looked it up.  Said Merriam-Webster:  a group or area acting as a single community as regards cattle and plowing, constituting a taxable unit, and consisting typically of nine houses, one plow, one oven, one churn, one cat, one cock, and one herdsman.

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael

OMG!  Not a landform at all!  And now I know that Oysterville is somewhere between a hamlet (100 to 150 people) and a tref!  In the definition of tref, of course, is the implication that those nine households do a lot of sharing.  I’m not sure that we could find that many people here willing to share an oven and never mind the plow or churn or cat.  The cock, of course is long gone.  We’ll have to find one for sale (or barter?) — perhaps in the nearby hamlet of Nahcotta.

 

Leave It To Maggie!

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

The Perfect Answer to Current Conditions!

Yesterday I received “A Special Message from Maggie.”  Maybe you did, too, if you are lucky enough to be on Maggie Stuckey’s mailing list.  And, if you are even luckier and count Maggie as your friend, her message will delight you but not surprise you in the least!

She begins her message this way:  There has never been a better time to plant a vegetable garden.  It’s the Maggiest sentence ever!  At once it underlines her concern for our present situation — the pandemic and consequent sheltering — and combines two of her passions– food and gardening.  Right off the bat:  Maggie, the quintessential nurturer!

Her message concerns her 2002 book (with Rose Marie Nichols McGee), Bountiful Container, which can help get even the neophyte gardener started on “a small garden plot or a few containers jam-packed with veggies.”  Apparently, the book is unavailable right now and Maggie is offering to fill the void from her own private stash.

Maggie’s Other “Must Have” Book!

You, too, can get a personalized, autographed copy directly from Maggie. To find out how, go to: http://maggiestuckey.com/maggie-stuckey-author/the-bountiful-container/ I don’t know how many she has on hand, but my suggestion is: get ’em while they last!

In our house, the spin-off to Maggie’s book offer has been a serious discussion about having a cement patio poure in the area we jokingly refer to as “the kitchen garden” in order to make it wheelchair friendly.  A few containers out there at the proper height for Nyel would go a long way to satisfying his gardening itch.  The project is under serious investigation, thanks to our friend Maggie-the-Nurturer!

P is for… Pleased as Punch!

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

Yesterday at our weekly Community Historians gathering, the class was devoted to the early history of Pacific County government.  It’s a topic that we’ve only touched upon lightly over the years — almost “in passing” you might say.  So, last fall when we were planning the sessions for 2020 (our 8th year!), I suggested that we devote one of our 2020 sessions to the beginnings of our county.

So it was that class members gathered around tables in “the little conference room” at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum yesterday for a read-aloud experience using my 2004 book, K is for Kidnapping the County Seat – The A-B-Cs of Early Government in Pacific County, Washington.  I think there were eighteen of us but (of course!) I didn’t think to take a picture which might have corroborated that impression.

It took about an hour and a half to read through the book, each of us reading a page in turn.  I had provided sticky-notes for people to use for marking pages or points they’d like to discuss afterwards — so we wouldn’t get sidetracked during the reading.

From my viewpoint it went very well.  We spent the rest of our time (about twenty minutes) discussing points that people had “marked” —  in particular, specifics about early Donation Land Claims, the  changes in the distribution of our population over the years, and how improvements in transportation have affected the location of the county seat.

I came home feeling  elated — not just because I thought the class session was successful.  Far, far beyond that!  I felt totally gratified that I had witnessed, first-hand, this book being read (and enjoyed!) by a group of adults interested in our local history.  That was my intent in writing it, but in retrospect I have realized that I should never have packaged it as an A-B-C book.

As I explained to yesterday’s class,  from the get-go, my A-B-C series were written specifically for adults who want a basic overview of a subject. Whether it be O is for Oysters or C is for Papa Train or any of the other nine titles in the series, these books were NOT written for children.  A glance at the concepts and vocabulary should be the first clue.  They were written for people who want some factual information about our history — whether it be an industry or an event — but who don’t have time or inclination to read a more definitive treatment.

Nevertheless, I have been unable to convince booksellers or the buying public that A-B-Cs can mean “nuts and bolts” about a subject… that A-B-C books are not necessarily meant for Kindergartners.  Maybe if I had named the series something like “Information for Dummies” they’d have had a better reception among my target audience.  You know what they say about hindsight…

P.S.  Lest you think I’m name-calling potential readers, I want to point out that a very successful series on basic information about a variety of subjects had “Dummies” in the title.  Hence my reference.

I can put it down but… do I really want to?

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was recommended to me by several people after I expressed delight with Where the Crawdads Sing.  I wonder why.  What did they see in this book that reminded them of the other one?  And why don’t I see it?

It’s not that I dislike the book.  Quite the contrary.  But I don’t see much similarity between it and Where the Crawdads Sing.  I am finding Book Woman scary and depressing on just about every level.  But super informative.  And not that I don’t love the concept of women on horseback delivering books to those who would otherwise have no opportunities to read or to learn or to expand their horizons.

But this book covers so much more — extreme poverty, terrifying prejudice, and ignorance of unimaginable proportions.  It’s a horrifying story made more so by it’s proximity to truth.  Mind you, I’ve not finished the book yet, and I may find that it redeems itself, but so far…

And yet… I cannot return it to the library unfinished.  It seems that with each turn of the page there is a new reveal. Like this:

Nester Rylie’s been reading it, and she told me in passing last year, she ain’t rubbed groundhog brains on her babies’ sore teeth or needed to use the hen innards on the gums of her teething ones since.  An after she’d read about a good paste recipe that cured thrush, Nester said, none of her nine young’uns ain’t ever had to drink water from a stranger’s shoe again to get the healing.

More than anything, I wonder what my friends saw in the one book that reminded them of the other.  And I wondered what I am missing.  Come to think of it, though, that’s the best part about expanding our horizons — no two of us end up in exactly the same place,

I’m not sure I’m recommending this book.  But maybe…

Once Again… The Last To Know!

Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Now Available in Hardcover

Rodney Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect” came to mind yesterday, but in somewhat altered form.  The voice in my head said, “Why am I always the last to know?” Last or not, though, the news absolutely delighted me.  Five of my six books published through Arcadia Publishing are now available through Amazon in hardcover!!  Who’d a thunk it!

Now Available in Hardcover

I learned this is a most convoluted fashion.  I’d been out yesterday morning and when I returned home Nyel said that Jim Pells had dropped off a book that he’d like to have me sign — a hardcover edition of my Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula.  “Hardcover!” (Did I raise my voice?)  “How did that happen?  Where did he get it?  Why is the author the last to know?” (Was I shouting?)  Apparently, the book was a late Christmas present to Jim sent by his daughter.

Now Available in Hardcover

It probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to anyone else, but every author knows that a hardcover edition is infinitely preferable to a paperback, for longevity alone.  But most authors, unless their books are expected to do very well, have to accept the inevitability of paper covers.  Especially books about a local area as small as ours with a limited selling potential.

Now Available in Hardcover

I called Arcadia and talked with a representative in their Customer Service Department.  “No, we don’t ever publish in hardcover,” I was told.  “But sometimes Amazon or Ingram (a wholesale book distributor) do.”  So I went online and looked up my books on Amazon…  Sure enough!  Five of my six Arcadia titles (all except Legendary Locals of the Long Beach Peninsula) are now being offered in hardcover versions.  More expensive, to be sure, but worth every extra penny in my mind.

Now Available in Hardcover

I have no idea what their criteria for going hardcover might be.  I’d like to think that it’s because those particular books are selling well, but if that’s the case, my six-month royalty checks (still in the single or low double digits) aren’t reflecting any huge stampede by the reading public.  I am thrilled nonetheless and so grateful to Jim for asking for my autograph.  Otherwise, I’m sure I’d still not know.

And, oh yes… I immediately ordered the five that are in hardback!!  They’ll be here next week!

Apples and Oranges?

Saturday, December 7th, 2019

A friend (who also happens to be a librarian) recommended a book to me based on my saying that Where The Crawdads Sing is one of the best books I’ve read —  maybe ever.  “Then you should read Educated: A Memoir,” she said.  “We have it as an audio book if you’d like.”  Perfect!  It was the day before we were going up to Seattle and a talking book might help while away the travel time.

I should have grabbed a clue, though, when she told me that she’d heard SO many great things about Where The Crawdads Sing but, try as she might, “I just can’t get into it.  One or two pages and that’s all I can do…”

Nyel and I are about halfway through Educated: A Memoir.  Though it, too, concerns a dysfunctional family and though, in each book, the story is told by the youngest daughter in the family, there the similarity ends.  Crawdads focuses on the beauty of the environment and on the ingenuity of the young narrator. Educated focuses on the cruelty and paranoia of various members of a survivalist family.  Apples and oranges!

I don’t know if we’ll finish Educated, even though we have another trip to Seattle coming up next week.  I keep hoping for some sort of redemption but I have a feeling we’ll have to slog through a lot more horrors before we get there.   These are not people I want to know.  Not in person.  Not in a book.

Call me a weenie, but I really don’t like to invest my limited ‘leisure’ hours reading or hearing about the seamy side of our world.  There’s enough of that in the news and, frankly, I think the more we dwell on it the more we perpetuate it.  I don’t want to give it any more energy that I absolutely have to.  I’m back to that old Johnny Mercer song of my childhood — You’ve got to accentuate the positive/Eliminate the negative/And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.  Yes, I think I’d much rather be a Pollyanna than a Scrooge — or whatever Pollyanna’s opposite might be.

 

The Book That Came In The Mail

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

Where The Crawdads Sing

Last week a package came in the traditional “plain brown wrapper.”  It was from Cohasset, Massachusettes — from my friend Barbara Canney.  I couldn’t imagine what it could be.

A book!   Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.  A volume well-read by Barbara and by the friends to whom she has loaned it.  She sent the book with these few words:  “Read and pass it on.”   I opened it and found, on the end paper, names — signatures, really — of people I didn’t know, whose very fingers must have turned these pages.  Curious, I began reading the prologue…

A Girl of the Limberlost

It’s been a long time since I literally could not put a book down.  Finally, I did, but only because Nyel needed help with something.  I was halfway finished before I even had the grace to email Barb and tell her “thank you.”

In a strange way, it reminds me of a book I found in the children’s corner of the library in this very house.  A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter.  I must have been eleven or twelve and it put into words the things I had begun to discover for myself out in the woods and on the tideflats here on the Peninsula.  Things about myself, really, and how I fit in to the greater world.

Years later when I wanted to re-read it, the Hayward librarian said it was no longer in their system.  “It’s been banned, you know,” she whispered.  When I finally got a copy and re-read it, I realized that some might call it “racist” — a part of the book that had gone right by me all those years before.  And it passed me by again.  It wasn’t the part of the book that spoke to me — the Limberlost part.  (And, I’m delighted to say I haven’t been able to find any reference to that banning online.  Was it only at the Hayward library that it had been taken off the shelves?)

A Sand County Almanac

Too, the book Barbara sent reminds me a bit of A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.  In fact,  Leopold’s book is actually mentioned in Where The Crawdads Sing!  Wow!  Leopold’s book, like the others, came at a time in my life when I needed to be reminded of the world beyond my own narrow scope — the natural world that I loved and bumped up against but where, only once in a while, did I feel my place within it instead of the other way around.

Thank you, my dear friend Barbara, for knowing what would send my soul singing once again!

 

 

I

Already, I am torn…

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Welcome to Oysterville! (The real-life one.)

Last night, I began reading Susan Wiggs’ hot-off-the-press novel, The Oysterville Sewing Circle, and though I’ve read only 14 of its 362 pages, I am already finding it hard to keep focused.  It’s not that the book is poorly written.  Not at all.  Wiggs is an accomplished wordsmith and, in fact, is almost overly adverbed and adjectived for my taste.  I’m sure her plot development is strong and the romantic content intriguing.  (In fact, the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket say so.)

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton)

No.  It’s not the technical aspects of the novel that are a turn-off to me.  It’s the content.  I’m really not one for “romances” or “women’s fiction stories” as Wiggs’ books are often described.  I’ve never read any of her books, though she’s written well over thirty.  Yet, the very title of this book compels my attention.  After all,  there really was an Oysterville sewing circle.  My grandmother, my mother, various aunts and cousins — to say nothing of my great-grandfather’s third wife, Aunt Kate — all belonged to it.

“So,” thought I when the book arrived, “I’ll give it a try.”  By page two my very strong can’t-continue gene was kicking in.    And then on page three my own family’s name popped out at me.  Mr. Espy, the owner of the shop, used to claim he was part vampire, manning the register every night for decades.  Every hackle I possess was suddenly on full alert.  It’s not that Espy is a particularly unusual name.  It’s just that Espy and Oysterville in real life — at least for the last 165 years — have been practically synonymous.  And here was my family name in a story involving a town with the same name as the one my Great-Grandfather Espy co-founded!

The Espy Plot – Oysterville Cemetery

In the very front of the book there is the usual disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

I don’t think the names “Oysterville,” “Oysterville Sewing Circle.” and “Espy” used in the same novel are exactly “products of the author’s imagination” or are “entirely coincidental.” Though I’m tempted to put aside the book as another one of life’s wastes of money, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll meet a Sydney Stevens if I continue on.  Perhaps I’ll just wait and let one of my friends tell me ‘the rest of the story’ — someone who enjoys Susan Wiggs and her romance novels.  Meanwhile, I’m heading to the Oysterville Cemetery to see if there is any grave-spinning going on in the Espy plot.

The Oysterville Sewing Circle – The Reality

Saturday, August 17th, 2019

The Oysterville Sewing Bee, 1907

My phone messages and Facebook messages — even my email messages — have been full of the news of a brand new book by Susan Wiggs called “The Oysterville Sewing Circle – A Novel.”  People want to know what I know about it (nothing), if I’ve read it (not yet), and if it’s based on our Oysterville (not that I know of.)

However, what I THINK I know is that there is no longer another Oysterville — at least not in the United States.  There is an Osterville ( ‘y’) in Massachusetts (on Cape Cod) and there used to be an Oysterville, Oregon until it fell in.  Now there’s just us, at least as far as I know.

As for the “Sewing Circle” part of the title — we did, indeed, have a sewing circle here.   The women of Oysterville, calling themselves “The Sewing Circle,” or sometimes “The Sewing Bee,” met on an irregular basis in one another’s homes to work on the mending, darning, or other needs of the hosting household.  Female visitors in the village were included at the get-togethers.  Each session concluded with refreshments provided by the hostess.

Oysterville Women’s Club, 1932

In the mid- 1920s, they organized themselves more formally, founding the Oysterville Women’s Club and electing Mrs. Stoner as the first president.  They continued to meet weekly or bi-weekly and, while they spent some of each meeting on sewing projects, their endeavors by then included fund-raising for school equipment and acting as guardians of community needs.  During both world wars they worked on many projects for the Red Cross including knitting socks for soldiers and gathering sphagnum moss for bandages.  Sometime in the 1940s, they regrouped, included the men of the village, and called themselves the Oysterville Improvement Club.  The present-day Oysterville Community Club which meets in the schoolhouse is the present-day configuration.

“The Oysterville Sewing Circle – A Novel”

Two photographs of the Oysterville Sewing Circle are displayed at the schoolhouse — one taken in 1907 and one in 1932.  My grandmother is in each of them along with several other relatives as well as neighbors I remember from my childhood.  I wonder what they would think of the new book called “The Oysterville Sewing Circle — A Novel.”

And, as for that — the blurb on Amazon.com says, “Stitched together with love, this is a story just waiting for your favorite reading chair. With her signature style and skill, Susan Wiggs delivers an intricate patchwork of old wounds and new beginnings, romance and the healing power of friendship, wrapped in a lovely little community that’s hiding a few secrets of its own.”

Could it be our Oysterville?  I guess we’ll have to read the book to find out.

 

 

 

 

It was “Happy Birthday to Nyel!”

Monday, August 5th, 2019

Oysterville Regatta 2017 – Photo by Mark Petersen

One way or another, we salvaged most of Nyel’s birthday weekend.  We made it home from Portland in time for the second and third heats (races?) of the Regatta.  Afterwards, we got Nyel into his wheelchair and wheeled him down the middle of Territory Road with half of Oysterville and the Regatta Dinner guests walking along behind us.  “The only way to travel!” Nyel said.  In my mind  seventy six trombones led the big parade.  Only appropriate for his 76th birthday!

At Lena’s, we were greeted by Tucker and Carole’s son, Charlie, who managed to wheel Nyel over gravel and lawn and rough spots to seat him at the head of the nearest table.  Soon, the table filled with friends who filled us in on the first race and proceeded to treat us both like visiting royalty! People brought us food and beverages and there was even a surprise chocolate cake (a four-layer CostCo special, I think) and the whole crowd sang Happy Birthday to Nyel.

Regatta Pinata Grandkids 2018

A dinner highlight was Tucker singing three (count ’em! Three!) Regatta songs this year.  My favorite and the one I think should become THE official regatta song — was to the tune of “Where have all the flowers gone?”  Here is the truncated version which you can probably figure out:  Where have all the lasers gone… gone to summers every one; where summers… gone to memories;  where memories… gone to stories; where stories, gone to grandkids; where grandkids… gone to lasers every one.

On Sunday our long-time friend “Tricky” came down from Bainbridge and the three of us hooked up with Noel at the Bridgewater in Astoria for Nyel’s birthday dinner.  Lotsa sharing of “geriatric war stories” and even more reminiscing about the “olden days” of forty or fifty years ago.  It was lovely to catch up with one another  though we missed Noel’s wife, Patty, who was back east at a school reunion.

At home, there were presents — all food related, including a new slow cooker (his old one died) from son Charlie plus a hefty book called  Crock Pot – The Original Slow Cooker Recipe Collection.  Nyel’s comment:
“A great birthday and a real improvement over spending the day in the hospital.”  Amen to that!