Posts Tagged ‘books’

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.

I’ll be happy to sign a book for you!

Sunday, October 14th, 2018

The 2018 Cranberrian Fair is in full swing at the Cranberry Museum on Pioneer Road in Long Beach and at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum on Lake Street in Ilwaco.  Come on down!

Watch the harvest!  Buy bags of fresh cranberries!  Or a cranberry quilt.  Or a cranberry T-shirt.  Or… you name it!  If it has anything to do with the bright red berries that our Peninsula is famous for, you’ll find it at the Fair.

Plus, I’ll be signing my latest book, Washington’s Cranberry Coast from Arcadia Press.  It’s chock-full of photographs, both historic and contemporary — 176 of them, in fact!  And everything you ever wanted to know about cranberry history, production, harvesting, marketing, distribution and more…  You may even see or read about some of your nearest and dearest if they are involved in this most colorful local industry!

I look forward to seeing you, personalizing a book or two — or even more!  What could be a better gift from our very on Peninsula than some cranberry sauce (or the fresh berries for homemade) and this definitive and fascinating book!  The holidays are coming!  No time like the present for planning those stocking stuffers!  And, besides, I look foward to visiting with you!  I’ll be at the Cranberry Museum from 11 to 1 and at the Heritage Museum from 2 to 4!  Hope to see you one place or the other.

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!

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.”


Considering Revisionist History Some More

Friday, June 29th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

But… I digress.

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 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.)

Robin Cody: 1st Spring Schoolhouse Lecture

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Screenshot: Robin Cody Article, Chinook Observer Online

Sometimes, you just don’t make the cut.  Even though you meet the deadline, there’s something more crucial, more important that nudges you right out of the running.

So, it was with my news story about award-winning author Robin Cody coming to the Peninsula next week!  It didn’t get into yesterday’s paper, but it is on the online version and I’m assured it will be in next week.  And, the announcement of his talk is in Community Calendar — take a look!

Voyage of a Summer Sun

Robin lives in Estecada, Oregon — moved there from St. Helens when he was five years old and has been there more than fifty years.  Like many authors, he’s had a ‘checkered career’ — teacher, army officer, university administrator, baseball umpire, basketball referee, long-distance bicyclist, and school bus driver.  Throughout it all, he never strayed far from the Columbia River.

In 1984, he became a free-lance writer. It was while he was doing a project for the Bonneville Power Authority that he made a solo canoe voyage from the headwaters of the Columbia to its mouth.  He describes the 82-day voyage as “life-changing” and one of discovery.  The book that it spawned, Voyage of A Summer Sun, was published in 1992 by Sasquatch Press.  In 1995 it won the Oregon Book Award for literary non-fiction, and the 1996 Northwest Booksellers Association Book.

Robin was one of the first authors to do a book-signing for us at the Bookvendor in 1992, shortly after Voyage of the Summer Sun came out.  I don’t know if it was then or later that Lucille and Sam Pierce, old friends of the Codys, had us to a dinner party given in Robin’s honor.  And now, after all these years, he and Donna are coming to Oysterville to open the Spring 2018 Schoolhouse Lecture Series.  This group of talks, like last fall’s series, will be focused on the river.  I can’t imagine a more fitting person to start them off.

Oysterville Schoolhouse

Oh.  And did I say that Robin is a consummate story-teller?  Don’t miss him.  Thursday, February 1st, 10 a.m. at the Oysterville Schoolhouse.  And at 1:00 that afternoon — he will be signing three of his books at Adelaide’s!  See you both places!


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


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.

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.