Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

And what would he say now, 100 years later?

Friday, May 6th, 2022

E.B. White

E.B. White wrote a lot of books.  Books for children.  Books for adults.  Books for writers wanting to improve their skills.  My favorite — and probably yours, too — is Charlotte’s Web.

By all accounts, White was a shy man and writing didn’t always come easily to him.  According to one report, from September 1922 to June 1923, (he was 23/24) he was a cub reporter for The Seattle Times. On one occasion, when White was stuck writing a story, a Times editor said, “Just say the words.” He was fired from the Times and later wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before a stint in Alaska on a fireboat.

In 1924, after a few years “out west” White returned to New York City. When The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White submitted manuscripts to it and received offers to become a staff writer.  However, it took months to convince him to come to a meeting at the office and additional weeks to convince him to work on the premises. Eventually, he agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.

His contemporary, James Thurber, said of him:  Most of us, out of a politeness made up of faint curiosity and profound resignation, go out to meet the smiling stranger with a gesture of surrender and a fixed grin, but White has always taken to the fire escape. He has avoided the Man in the Reception Room as he has avoided the interviewer, the photographer, the microphone, the rostrum, the literary tea, and the Stork Club. His life is his own. He is the only writer of prominence I know of who could walk through the Algonquin lobby or between the tables at Jack and Charlie’s and be recognized only by his friends.

Although I will never forget Wilbur or Fern or Templeton, I did lose sight of the fact that Mr. White had spent time in the Northwest.  It was running across the following poem that prompted today’s blog:

Our Own History

Long ago
Things were slow
Down by Elliott Bay.
Cougar tracks
One room shacks
‘Neath the forest lay.
Minus fears
thought they’d start a town:
Lumber mills
Homes on hills
Street cars up and down.
Things went right
Over night
Sprang a heap big city,
Trade was good
Fish and wood
Added to the kitty.
Here we are
Gates ajar
Ships upon the way;
Mighty well
Just to dwell
Down by Elliott Bay.
    E.B. White, 1922

What goes around, comes around.

Sunday, May 1st, 2022

My grandmother, Helen Richardson at 18– the year before she married Harry Espy in 1897

At our Friday Night gathering, the conversation drifted around to language and how our use of it is changing.  We lamented that the kids of today who aren’t learning cursive will never get to read the love letters of their grandparents.

“WHAT???  WOULD YOU WANT THEM TO?” came from Fred.  And, since I have no grandchildren, I couldn’t answer with complete honesty.  I could only say that I learned a lot about the 1890s by reading the letters my own grandparents exchanged during their courtship in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I think Fred would find them pretty tame!

We then segued into a discussion about the breakdown of vocabulary — using letters to represent words, like BTW and WTF and a host of other increasingly used shortcuts to writing (and speaking.)  But, I’m here to tell you that P.G. Wodehouse was using similar “shorthand” in his books written in the 1920s and ’30s and I don’t see that our vocabulary has suffered unduly in the last hundred years.  In fact, it has no doubt expanded the possibilities.

From Wikipedia:  Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (/wodhaos/WOOD-howss;;  15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. His creations include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster  and his sagacious valet, Jeeves…

I am just re-reading Wodehouse’s 1934 novel, The Code of the Woosters and came upon these (somewhat subtle) examples of the Wodehouse minimalism:

I spoke with satirical bitterness, and I should have thought that anyone could have seen that satirical bitterness was what I was speaking with, but she Merely looked at me with admiration and approval.
“You are clever, Bertie.  That’s exactly it.  Of course, you needn’t wear a mask”

“You don’t think it would help me throw myself into the part?” I said, with sb., as before.

So there you have it!  I can’t really think that Wodehouse limited our expansion of English language.  But that’s just IMHO.

Living Inside An M.C. Escher Painting Or…

Monday, April 18th, 2022

Escher Staircase

Sometimes I feel that I am living inside a vortex — a strange whirlpool of force like the one in Oregon where “The House of Mystery” has been attracting visitors since the 1930s.  Or maybe our old house is actually an M.C. Escher lithograph or woodcut.  Especially our dining room.  And if you have ever been here, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Partly, it’s that the floor slants rather sharply to the northwest.  It’s not a problem with the floor joists or with the foundation.  Not exactly.  We’ve had our underpinnings checked and rechecked.  It’s that our foundation, once as firm as could be, is built on the shifting sands of this Peninsula sandspit we call home.  Drop a pencil on the south side of the dining room and it travels neatly toward the north side of the kitchen — sometimes stopped by the threshold between the two rooms, sometimes not, depending upon the shape of the implement and the momentum it picks up enroute.

House Of Mystery in Gold Hill, Oregon

Today we had a new vortex experience.  The  Cranberry Museum had ordered 18 of my Arcadia Oysterville books and I brought them from the storage area into the dining room and stacked them on the table.  Two piles of nine books each.  But one pile was clearly an entire book higher than the other.

I recounted.  Nine books in each pile.  So I left them there until my Business Manager (that would be Nyel) had time to write up an invoice.  As he wheeled his chair by the table, he said to me: “You’ve only got 17 books there.”  And a discussion ensued, culminating in several countings and re-stackings.  No matter how we divided the eighteen, the stacks were never even in height.  Period.

Optical Illusion?

We considered that the paper used for some of the books (in a different print run?) might be of a thinner quality.  But… no.  Or that pages had been inadvertently left out of some books.  No again.  It was the Vortex Effect, pure and simple.  Even though the table looked level and even though we put the stacks in different spots on said table, two piles of an equal number of books was never the same height.  Vortex, I tell you.

And no wonder I am often half a bubble off!  Or more.

Coming Soon! May 2nd, to be exact!

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

This is “almost-but-not-quite” the final version of the cover. (What do you think has changed?)

According to the Arcadia Publishing website, my newest book with them makes its debut on May 2nd, two weeks from this coming Monday.  WOOT! WOOT!  Look for it beginning that day on the shelves at your local book stores!

The book is called The Ghostly Tales of the Long Beach Peninsula and is part of Arcadia’s new “Spooky America” series for middle-school readers.   These particular tales were adapted from stories in my 2014 book in Arcadia’s Haunted America series — a bit less explanatory background and history, perhaps, and just a tad bit scarier than the originals.  “That’s what middle-schoolers want,” the editor told me.

I had no doubt that such was the case, but just to be sure, I checked with Gabi and Dani Wachsmuth, two of Tucker and Carol’s grandchildren.  “Yes!  Spookier!  Creepier!” they concurred.  Being the stickler that I am for telling stories the way I heard them and without gratuitous embellishment, made the writing a bit of a challenge.  I’m sure my young consultants will let me know how I did!

There once was a Pacific House in Oysterville (shown here in 1870) but, as far as is known, there was never an “Oysterville House.”

Meanwhile, I see on the Arcadia Publishing website that this is what they are saying about the book:  Ghost stories from the Long Beach Peninsula have never been so creepy, fun, and full of mystery! The haunted history of Pacific County comes to life—even when the main players are dead. Visit the Oysterville House to catch a glimpse of the wandering spirits who still call it home. Or step foot into Sprague’s Hole, but be careful or you’ll end up trapped for eternity, too. Dive into this spooky chapter book for suspenseful tales of bumps in the night, paranormal investigations, and the unexplained; just be sure to keep the light on.

I wrote the editor and asked if they might tone down that “come-on” a bit.  Just what is the “Oysterville House” that readers are being invited to visit??  (I surely hope it’s not mine or anyone else’s here in our little village.)  And suggesting that they “step foot” into Sprague’s Hole (which fortunately doesn’t exist anymore) seems a bit beyond responsible.  The editor’s response was that the blurb has actually been “out there” for quite a while and, besides, readers are being “invited” into the story — not into the actual places in the book.  Yes, I get that.  But will the readers??  SIGH!

“Sweet Love Remembered” by Dennis Carter

Saturday, February 5th, 2022

Dust Jacket – Front

I am here to tell you that there is absolutely nothing better than getting a surprise in the mail!  And what a wonderful surprise was in the package that arrived for Nyel and me today!  It’s not that we didn’t know it was coming…  It’s just that we had no a idea how fabulous it would be!!

First, I have to say that Dennis Carter, the author, is the man who has stolen our good friend Linda away from us.  Until several years ago, she lived in Seattle, often vacationed here in Oysterville, and we saw her every few months.  AT LEAST.  Then she met Dennis, traveled hither and thither with him (while we could still travel safely) and for the past two years has lived with him in San Diego.

We have met Dennis twice — once at Linda’s 70th birthday extravaganza at Richmond Beach Saltwater Park in 2018 and this past summer for a socially distanced visit in our South Garden.  Neither time did I know that her handsome partner was writing a book — “A Memoir” — nor did I know he was the third child of eight, that he was a career navy man, that he grew up in Prosser WA, and is just three months younger than Nyel.

Dust Jacket – Back

As I flipped through the book, making its acquaintance, I was delighted to see many colored photos of his growing-up years, his children and grandchildren and, toward the end, apicture of Dennis and Linda taken during recent sheltering days.  So many familiar names and places and concerns jumped out at me — the Limeliters,  the Vietnam War, the trials of a single parent of teenagers.  And all told with the frankness and humor of a long-time friend.

I “think” the book is self-published and, if so, it’s about the best of that genre that I’ve seen.  I’m eager to find out more about the production aspect.   But mostly, I hope that the book serves as an example to all of us — write it down!  It’s not only your history, it’s our history and is best told through the eyes of those who lived it.  Thanks, Dennis Carter!

In A Plain Brown Wrapper

Thursday, January 27th, 2022

brood by Jackie polzin Doubleday 2021

The package came in the mail a few days ago — totally unexpected and totally intriguing.  My high school journalism friend Betty Cooper (who married Bob LeFevre, the most handsome “older man” — well he had graduated by the time Betty and I had a class together — that I’d ever met.)   After she graduated (she was a year or maybe two ahead of me) I didn’t see her again until she and Bob celebrated their 50th — maybe 20 years ago or so!  Wow!  Since then we keep up mostly via the internet.

And here came a package from her!  A book!  brood is the title with a lower case ‘b’ and I could tell it was about chickens even before I read the note: Hi Sydney: This book was given to me.  I’ve read and enjoyed it and decided to pass it along to you because it is about, well, chickens!  Well, sort of…  She went on to say that I should pass it on or keep it I don’t need to have it returned.

It was a quick read and one of the strangest books I’ve read in a long time.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  The author seems to know a lot about chickens — and not much at all.  I think she has a good sense of humor — or maybe none whatsoever.  She speaks of her husband as a total stranger — but then I guess we all do, sometimes.  (But, hopefully, not in writing.)  And I can’t decide if I liked the book, want to read another by her, or maybe I should write Betty and ask her what in the world she was thinking.

jackie polzin

I thought it was interesting that all the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket were by women and not at all surprising that they were all positive.  (After all, that’s why there were chosen to go there, eh?)  The one closest to descriptive, at least for me, was by Lynn Steger Strong, author of Want: “A book about caretaking, about trauma and loss, about keeping others and one’s self alive, with sentences so confident and exact they continually took my breath away…”  Well, I don’t know about that last part.

The author’s picture does make me think that there is a serious generation gap between us and being caught in the chasm might account for my lack of empathy.  But, she looks perky and fun — probably accounting for my thought that she might be writing humorously and I’m missing it.  She also uses no capital letters in her name.  Probably another age disparity thing.

I don’t actually recommend this book.  But if you do read it, tell me what you think.  I might even read it again to get a better handle on what I think.

Some Things Don’t Change

Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

The First of the Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series

It wasn’t just the unwelcome homecoming they had received that bothered her.  That was certainly upsetting… It was more everything around them.  The whole world was unsettled.  People were leaving for an expedition to the Holy Land knowing no more than they should face the east, relying on faith to get them there and back safely.  Others were turning completely from all they had been taught, believing instead in new gods invented by deluded fools.  Starvation threatened all around them from the barren fields and ignorant preachers were there to addle the minds of those already weakened by hunger.  Bands of ruffians were attacking…  The order of the universe had been rearranged.  Perhaps these are the end times, she thought.

This passage is from Sharan Newman’s book, To Wear The White Cloak, the seventh of the ten books in her Catherine LeVendeur Mystery series.  Although the author is still writing and is from Oregon, these books are not about the here and now.  The delusion, the starvation, the bands of ruffians she speaks about are integral to twelfth century Paris  — so far off in time and distance from our own lives, and yet… with so many similarities.

The Seventh of Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series

I’ve read all ten books in the series which were published between 1993 and 2004 and am now re-reading them — not in any order but just as I rediscover them on my bookshelves.  Granted, they are fiction but I do factor in the fact that Sharan Newman is a medieval historian and author. She took her Master’s degree in Medieval Literature at Michigan State University and then did her doctoral work at the University of California at Santa Barbara in Medieval Studies, specializing in twelfth-century France. She is a member of the Medieval Academy and the Medieval Association of the Pacific.  And mostly, I count that she chose not to teach in the traditional sense, but to write novels set in the middle ages.  She gets high marks from me for that choice! What better way to pass on her knowledge!

As I read. I am at once struck by how far we’ve come in some areas and by how little we’ve gained in others.  I wonder if we humans actually have the capacity to interact with one another successfully over the long term.  Have we made strides in that arena over the last thousand years?  And yet, the books are not depressing.  If you have yet to discover them, I recommend you start with the first one, Death Comes In Epiphany.  I can almost guarantee that you’ll find it a learning experience and a delight!

1,000 Years of Slogging through Poland

Monday, November 29th, 2021

James Albert Michener 1907 – 1997

James A. Michener’s Poland is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read — 556 pages of unrelenting war and oppression, occasionally lightened by marvelous descriptions of classical music and art.  I’m now within 125 pages of the end but with almost every paragraph,  I need to put the book aside for a while.  I have to take deep breaths before I go on.  It is 1943,  Poland is under Nazi occupation and its citizens are being systematically eliminated so that the country can be re-populated with Germans.

Michener describes the holocaust extermination methods — the shootings, the hangings, the torture methods, the death camps, the gas chambers — in excruciating detail.  It will probably take me quite a while to finish the book given my need to set it aside now and again.  Published in 1983, Michener appears to have drawn heavily from information disclosed during the thirteen Nuremberg Trials, 1945 -1949.

I have to confess that my knowledge of Poland and its history is, or at least has been, extremely limited.  That it is a country in Eastern Europe, that the names are hard to pronounce, that Pope John Paul II was not only the first Polish pope but the first non-Italian Pope in 400 years — are about the extent of it.  Otherwise, the sum total of my understanding is confined to the great admiration I had for two Polish men I taught with in Hayward, California — Stan Laird, a 5th grade teacher, and Paul Gowack, a speech therapist, and to the music of Chopin, especially as played by my father’s favorite composer/pianist, Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

This is the third (and most difficult) Michener book I have read.  I loved Hawaii; I liked The Source so much that I read it twice.  With each, I vowed to read all (is there still time?)  of Michener’s  forty-some books, most of which are long, fictional family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating detailed history. Many of his works were bestsellers and were chosen by the Book of the Month Club; he was known for the meticulous research that went into his books.  He won  he Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948 for Tales of the South Pacific (1947), his first book, published when he was 40.  Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted it as the hit Broadway musical “South Pacific” which premiered on Broadway in New York City in 1949.

There are other Michener books I think I’d enjoy more than this one, but I must say that Poland has been an eye-opener.  I only wish that my friends Stan and Paul were still around to talk with me about it and, you can be sure that I am slogging through this last hundred pages with the two of them and their families much in my thoughts.




Every little once in a while…

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

I’m sure it happens to other people, but maybe not in quite the same way as it happens to writers.  Every once in a while, I run across something that I wish I had said or, more to the point, written.  Not often, and usually nothing of great moment.  In fact, frequently it’s something a bit off-beat or humorous.  Take today, for instance…

I was sorting through boxes (and boxes!) of newspaper clippings, getting rid of duplicates and trying to categorize them by broad subject matter — a mind-numbing sort of task that in no way lends itself to more than cursory skimming.  But when I ran across something about oysters that my uncle had saved from the University Week, a University of Washington publication, I took a better look.  The article, “Oh those oysters!” by Sandra Hines was a review of a book called Heaven On The Half Shell by David G. Gordon, Nancy Blanton, and Terry Y. Nosho.  Both article and book were written in 2001.  As I skimmed, this bulleted paragraph jumped out at me:

The Sorting Game

Oyster biology:  By some standards, an oyster leads a dream life.  It doesn’t have to hunt for food, but simply waits for the tide to bring the next serving.  Breakfast in bed never ends.  Snug in a subtidal channel or secure on a soggy mudflat, an oyster can feed at its leisure, filtering up eight gallons of food-rich salt water per hour.”

“Breakfast in bed never ends.”  I LOVE that!  I immediately flashed on my own book, O is for Oysters written in 1998 and had a momentary flash of writer’s envy.  The entire paragraph, but most especially that one sentence, would have fit right in with the bits of humor I used to intersperse the sometimes rather dry (go figure!) oyster facts.

And if I couldn’t have come up with such a gem on my own, I’d have given full credit as I did with several of the following:

Said one oyster to another
In tones of pure delight,
“I will meet you in the kitchen,
And we’ll both get stewed tonight.”
C.J. Espy (Uncle Cecil)

Q.  What do you get when you X-ray an oyster?
A.  Basic black and pearls.

Oh me, Oh my, What shall I do”
Asked the oyster of its mother.
Yesterday I was just a girl but
Since I slept, I am her brother.

There’s no sense in your complaining
I haven’t the time to bother;
You’re not the only changeling here
Since I have just become your father.
Florence M. Pratt

And my all-time favorite:
I do not roister with an oyster
I like my bed dry.
An oyster moister.
Willard R. Espy (Wede)




Rule #1: Always check between the covers!

Monday, October 11th, 2021


We all know the adage, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.”  We know that to mean, literally, that a book might have the dullest cover ever and be a true cliff-hanger.  But, more likely we apply the adage metaphorically.  Like, even though that woman looks as cold and aloof as an Ice Maiden, she is totally warm and approachable, belying her looks.

But… the other day Karla Nelson of Time Enough Books called me with an entirely new take on that old saying.  “Sydney,” she said, “I didn’t know you were writing ghost stories about the indigenous people of West Virginia!  And under a pseudonym, too!”

“Huh?” was my totally uncomprehending response.


Apparently, a customer had taken a copy of Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula off the shelf to have a look and, when she opened it, found that the title page said:  “Early Native Americans in West Virginia – The Fort Ancient Culture” by Darla Spencer – History Press © 2016.   There followed 158 pages of illustrated text material, presumably interesting information about the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric native settlements in West Virginia between about AD 1000 and AD 1650 to 1700.  The bibliography, acknowledgements, and foreword are scholarly and impressive.  This is definitely not a book of ghost stories about the Long Beach Peninsula!

In the end (and after checking carefully), the customer bought both of my ghost books, correct innards intact.  Karla removed the “West Virginia edition” from the shelf and gave it to me so I could take a look.  I still can’t imagine how such a mistake happened.  With the number of titles that History Press has in print (4260  according to their website today), it stands to reason that their printing and binding facilities are fully automated.  How could

So how do the innards of one book end up with a cover from a completely different book?  And how many of those mismatches were produced?  Are they “out there” somewhere confounding people from WV to WA?  And if any of them do sell and they are not returned, who gets the royalty for the sale?  I really think Darla and I should split the entire net profit –none of this eight percent (about 50 cents per book) nonsense.  I really don’t think History Press earned their 92% this time around.  Do you?