Lake & Island Notes                                        June 2014

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Featured Title

The Keillor Reader 

by Garrison Keillor

“Aunt Flo would sit down by my mother and she’d give us the dirt that the local paper couldn’t report. We enjoyed hearing these things. We were good Christian people and we believed in forgiveness but meanwhile we liked to know exactly what it was we were forgiving them for.” That’s a dose of vintage Garrison Keillor! This paragon of “Minnesota Nice” captivates us again with his folksy descriptions of people (maybe us!) facing the hardships and boredoms of everyday life in these parts. Some of it is just odd-ball stuff like the boy’s failed attempt to scatter his grandmother’s remains by putting them inside a hollowed-out bowling ball and then dropping them from a great height via para sail. But, it’s all funny – or, at least, amusing!

Featured Title

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book

by Diane Muldrow

One of our all-time favorite childhood books was The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Lowrey. It is a story of enormous moral consequence involving misbehavior, prevarication and, finally, the loss of dessert. That is one of the real-life situations covered in the 70-plus-year-old (published, perhaps not coincidentally, in the year of our birth) Little Golden Books series. Muldrow, the series' long-time editor, takes the life lessons embedded in the stories and, in a nostalgic and uplifting way, brings them up-to-date as a self-help text. Hokey? Maybe. But the illustrations are worth the $9.99 and the walk down Memory Lane.

Featured Title

Natchez Burning
by Greg Iles

It has been five years since we have seen a new Greg Iles book. At almost 800 pages this novel, with Penn Cage and his family as the central characters, provides an intense and gripping racial history of the American South from the early 1960’s to 2005. This book is the first of a trilogy and Iles spins a complicated tale leaving the reader breathless and hungry, wondering what will happen in the next book. An Oscar Wilde quote from the book sums things up really well; “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
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We don’t like to pile on Amazon (well, maybe!). Steven Colbert and others are doing just fine with that, but there is little appreciable effect and apparently little to be done to deal with Amazon’s stranglehold on the book business. While its strategies arguably are anti-competitive, the Department of Justice seems to have little appetite for the fight. Meanwhile, Amazon’s predatory business practices are leaving authors, publishers and independent bookstores like ours a Hobson’s choice: surrender or die. The world of books will be forever altered and diminished.

From time to time words or phrases come along that those of us of a “certain age” simply cannot grasp (or “grok” as Robert Heinlein coined the term for “intuitive understanding” in Stranger in a Strange Land). One of those pesky things over the past couple of years has been “steampunk." We’ve let it slide, but since we carry the genre we’d better go there.
As best we can discern, “steampunk” originated as a sub-genre of science fiction that featured steam-powered machinery in a 19th century Western industrialized setting. It has since morphed and incorporated elements from fantasy, horror and other branches of speculative fiction. The term “steampunk” first appeared in 1987 but has since been applied to works published from the Victorian era forward.
Good introductions to “steampunk” include Kelly Link and Gavin Grant’s Steampunk!, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s Steampunk, Steampunk II and Steampunk III, and The Steampunk Bible also by Jeff Vandermeer. Writers and books that have been incorporated into the genre go back to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Modern authors would include Phillip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt, and China Mieville. And there’s a lot in between.
Well, as we reach the middle of June the ice is finally off the lake! We went last week to Rocky, Otter and South Twin Islands and encountered sizable icebergs along the way. It still feels warm outside at 60 degrees! But, the mosquitos! The mosquitos! Their numbers are waning now, but they were a plague in early June. The temperature is up, too, and we are well on our way to a beautiful summer!

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What we're reading...


by Jeff Vandermeer

Speaking of steampunk, we have recently read and enjoyed Annihilation, the initial volume of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. Four scientists are seeking to discover the nature of a creeping dystopia which is spreading from the borders of the so-called “Area X." They are only the latest expedition to undertake this task. The earlier expeditions fell victim to a variety of horrors ranging from suicide and homicide to deprogramming and madness. The characters are a little thin, but that’s not really the point. The story holds its own.
Code Talker
by Chester Nez

Chester Nez died last week at age 93. He was the last of the Navajo “code talkers” who stumped the Japanese code breakers in the Pacific Theater during WWII. They created the only unbroken code in modern warfare. Chester Nez was not his real name. Ironically, that was a name given to him at “Indian School” at Fort Defiance where he was punished for using his native language. “All those years, telling you not to speak Navajo, and then to turn around and ask us for help with that same language,” he told USA Today in 2002, “It still kind of bothers me.”  It’s a fascinating and compelling story. One of the best to come out of WWII.
The Orenda
by Joseph Boyden

This is Canadian author Joseph Boyden's third novel, and it is written with a sense of artful savage beauty. Boyden’s compassion for all his characters invites us to acknowledge the wholeness of the life force that Native Canadians call “the orenda”: a unity encompassing cruelty and kindness, ignorance and understanding, inevitable sorrow and joy the more precious for the knowledge of “where we all must journey” in the end.

This amazing journey is told through the eyes of three main characters: the Wendat warrior Bird; Snow Falls, the Iroquois girl he takes as his daughter after killing her family; and Christophe, one of the Jesuit priests derisively termed “crows” by the natives “for the way they hop around and peck at dead or dying things.” Epidemic, drought, crop blight, Western muskets and Catholic missions fatally interact to provoke the novel’s violent climax. This is not an easy or fast read, but you will hang on to every perfectly placed word as you travel on this emotional and tragic journey.

Final Thoughts...

About a year ago we told you about a new publication - Aqueous Magazine - a literary, visual and performing arts magazine for the Lake Superior region. In today's world of e-reading, Facebooking and Tweeting, creating a printed literary magazine is a challenging venture. According to an article in Mother Jones, the vast majority of literary publications print fewer than 1500 copies and rarely last longer than four volumes. Aqueous Magazine, is now celebrating their first birthday on June 21st. This is also the release date of their fifth volume. And, they are printing 1250 copies of this volume due to higher demand! Clearly our region has proven there is a demand for quality writing and art on the printed page.

Aqueous Magazine is a non-profit organization. They are always looking for local and regional artists to submit their work. This publication is not possible without the submissions of poets, writers, photographers, painters and alike. We are proud to be one of their supporters and "outposts."  You can pick up a FREE copy of Aqueous Magazine at Apostle Islands Booksellers when you're in town. If you'd like to receive your own copies in the mail, you can subscribe! We'd like to encourage you to check out their website or Facebook page and learn more about Aqueous Magazine and how you can submit, subscribe, and support this wonderful project.

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