Lake & Island Notes                              September 2014

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Voted Best of the Lake 2014!

Featured Title

Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson

If our daughters were still teenagers this is the book that we would give them. Writing in vivid free verse, Woodson tells the story of growing up as an African American in the 1960’s and 70’s in Ohio, South Carolina and New York. She walks a fine line between fiction and memoir and captures the best attributes of each. The characters and places are drawn in a braided poetic storyline rife with sorrow and joy. Mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, and uncle – dad remains mostly at large. Columbus, Greenville and Brooklyn. She grows into a writer. 
Her previous work has been in the young adult fiction genre and has been critically acclaimed. Among her prizes are the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, the Newbury Honor Medal, and the Caldecott Medal. We wish there were more books like this for teens and tweens. As for our daughters, now in their 40’s, we’ll give them this book anyway!

Featured Title

Subtle Bodies   

by Norman Rush

Michiku Kakutani of the New York Times refers to this book as a, "claustrophobic and totally annoying novel." If you were to read the summary of this novel about a group of college friends reuniting for the funeral of one of their own, you are likely to think of "The Big Chill." Let's just say, the movie is much better.

Ned and Nina are, for the most part, the main characters in this story. They have rushed to the Catskills upon the news of the tragic death of Ned's dear old friend, Douglas. The characters in this story are far from relatable and, if Rush was looking for black humor, he failed. This book simply is not funny. Their concerns and problems are those of people who don't have much to worry about in life. That said, Rush's writing style is strong, and the storyline (as absurd as it may be) did hold us through the end. If you are looking for a bit of the ridiculous, this just may be the book for you.

Featured Title

The Human Age
by Diane Ackerman

Our typical response to books like this, which deal with the Anthopocene and the ultimate invasive species, is to nod and cluck our tongue in solidarity with yet another doomsday essay. Ackerman, however, despite sharing our assessment of the negative effects of homo sapiens on the planet, opts for optimism. She sees human innovation as a realistic hope for confronting the growing impacts that our species is having on our air, water and earth. “Our relationship with nature has changed…radically, irreversibly, but by no means all for the bad. Our new epoch is laced with invention. Our mistakes are legion," she says, “but our talent is immeasurable.” Chapter by chapter Ackerman takes us on a mission of discovery to explore this new reality in which we have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness." But, what about the downside? She dismisses it rather too quickly for our taste. “Laced with invention…our talent is immeasurable," indeed! Two and a half billion humans still lack access to a rudimentary latrine! In any event it’s worth reading.

On the way home today we met a couple of enormous log trucks. This is not an uncommon event around here. But, this time it was logs from immediately adjacent to our little farm. When we bought, we were pleased that we were bordered by public land. We were not aware, however, that a significant portion of the Bayfield County budget derives from logging. A couple of years ago the 80-acre parcel on our north line was offered for bid. We cajoled and haggled to no avail and in August the cutover began. It’s now a wasteland! Take a look at Serena by Ron Rash (soon to be a major motion picture); or, Cut and Run: Loggin' Off the Big Woods by Mike Monte.
But, there were jobs and there was revenue. That’s the tension up here. How to balance development and economic security with the pristine beauty of our Lake Superior shoreline, forested hills and robust tourism industry? Will Gogebic Taconite slash a 22-mile open pit across the breast of the Penokee Hills? Will CFS/Waypoint carve an airport and fly-in resort in the very headwaters of Pikes Creek – a Class I trout stream? Will Reicks View Farms move their Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) with its 1000’s upon 1000’s of feedlot hogs from their fouled Iowa nest to the Town of Eileen in Bayfield County? If so, what will happen to the tourism industry which now anchors the region’s economy? And, if not, where will the offspring of working families find and hold jobs in the region? Try Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development by Herman E. Daly; Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben; or, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard.
What do Moby Dick, Leaves of Grass, Catch-22, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Beloved, Call of the Wild, To Kill a Mockingbird, Where the Wild Things Are, and Our Bodies, Ourelves have in common? Well, they were all part of the exhibit, “Books That Shaped America” created by the Library of Congress. They were also, along with many others in the exhibit, banned or challenged, at one time or another, by schools, libraries and bookstores in the United States - some as recently as 2014! Oh, and in a delicious irony, another title on the list is Fahrenheit 451.  We are celebrating Banned Books Week (September 21-27) with our own exhibit of banned books.

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Upcoming events...

William Kent Krueger Reads and Discusses 
Windigo Island

Sunday, October 12th 3:30pm
Big Water Cafe, Bayfield

Cork O'Connor is at it again. When the body of a teenage girl washes up on the shore of a malevolent place the local Ojibwe call Windigo Island, Cork’s old friend Henry Meloux asks him to investigate. Because the safety of Meloux’s family is at stake, Cork agrees. Very soon, he finds himself pursued by monsters both mythic and all too real, and the net of danger quickly widens to fall across Cork and his own family as well.

We are thrilled to be welcoming Kent back for the fifth straight year! Kent will read an excerpt or two from his latest novel. Discussion and questions will follow.

What we're reading...

Make it Stick  and The Fugitive Wife
by Peter C. Brown  

What do the latest developments in cognitive learning and the 1900 Alaska gold rush have in common? Actually, nothing other than the very gifted and multifaceted St. Paul-based author, Peter C. Brown. We encountered Brown through his latest book, Make it Stick, in which he skillfully translates into plainspoken English the compelling cognitive research and findings of Professors Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel of Washington University in St. Louis. They suggest that there is a significantly more effective way to approach learning and teaching than most of us are currently using. Always appreciative of new ways to bolster our aptitude, we intend to try it out! In the course of reviewing Make it Stick, we fortunately also stumbled across Brown’s novel, The Fugitive Wife, which tells a passionate, powerful tale of a Midwestern farm girl fleeing from personal tragedy and a stormy marriage. She joins up with prospectors bound for Nome, Alaska. Drawn in part from his own grandfather’s story as a Nome gold-rush miner, Brown masterfully creates an authentic, deeply satisfying story with high adventure, romance, harsh landscape and physical challenge. Brown's high-powered characters whose prickly exteriors, created out of the need to survive, hide affectingly yearning and haunted souls. We highly recommend both books and are very pleased to hear that a second novel is in the works. Not widely known, Peter Brown is an exceptionally talented storyteller who may yet see his name on the bestseller lists.
by John Williams

There are two very interesting questions about this book. Why is this American novel – one of the best of the 20th Century – virtually unknown in its own country? And, why is it a runaway bestseller in Europe almost 50 years after its publication? A week or so ago a young Danish couple came in and asked for Stoner. They were astonished we didn’t have it and, in fact, that we didn’t know of it. “It is wildly popular in Denmark," they said.  Needless to say it was in our next delivery and soon on our bedside table. And what a book it is! Morris Dickstein of the New York Times wrote in 2007 that Stoner, “is something rarer than a great novel — it is a perfect novel."  C.P. Snow said of it in 1973 that, “very few novels in English…have come anywhere near its level for human wisdom or as a work of art.” The story is the life of the fictional William Stoner (1891-1956). He was a dirt-poor farmer’s son who became a life-long professor of literature at the University of Missouri. Beautifully written, profoundly moving, sad and painful! It is, perhaps, the story of all of our lives. Spoiler alert: skip the Introduction.
Wine and War
by Don and Petey Kladstrup

On a recent and gorgeous summer afternoon on Madeline Island we collaborated on an authors’ presentation of this splendid little history. Our hosts, Linda and Warren Mack, brought together some eighty people to hear their friends, the Kladstrups, talk about the French wine industry during WWII. Who knew? Much as The Monuments Men (published ten years later) did with fine art, this book chronicles the Nazi lust for fine wine and the efforts of the wine growers and vintners to protect their vineyards and caves. Millions of bottles were confiscated and stashed in Germany – especially at Hitler’s Berchtesgaden – for the pleasure of the Wehrmacht. Some was the real thing, but much was mislabeled swill. Millions of bottles were also hidden behind false walls and other repositories and were never discovered by the Nazis and their Petainist collaborators. Our Madeline Island afternoon was gloriously enhanced by the service of several of the wines featured in the book – a crisp Vouvray, an elegant Bordeaux and a rich Burgundy. Petey and Don told the story with energy, style and enthusiasm! A great event!

Final Thoughts...

On Saturday, December 6th, we will be hosting another panel discussion similar to that of our event this past July with local prose authors. This time we will be featuring poets at Bates Art Bar. More details to come soon! In the meantime, take a moment to read this poem from one of the poets who we are honored to have joining us in December, Augustus "Lee" Merrill:

How the Teal Got His Crescent

No matter, love grows old and it is impossible not to form thoughts of one's early independence. The thoughts are untrue and yet they are there anyway. Among ornithologists a good way to start a fight is to speculate about the purpose of the coloration of birds. The blue-winged teal drake isn't so much more colorful than the hen, but on the side of his head is a distinctive white crescent that sets him apart. One evening the new moon burned its image there, reminding him of her and how much he had to lose.

Two teal are feeding off the feminine bank
Where the pickerel weed marks the margin of the August rice.
I know as little about her and her plain colors
As I know about my wife, my daughter,
Those women I've never known.
But him, now I know him
And how that crescent came on his face
The night he drifted out under a disappearing moon and thought
That he could do without her.


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