Last blog post, I got all quibbley about Paul Theroux’s NYT list of books for a traveler to read before visiting Boston, even though I have mostly been a pass-through Boston traveler on my way to Maine. So to answer last post’s wondering, yes, maybe books can furnish a place, but capturing the sense of that place requires something more. But what is that more?
For ideas of books to list that have a sense of Maine’s magic, I looked at the NYT list of books for a first time visitor to Maine, developed by Lily King, who is new to me, and sent by Roseledge Books veteran, Margaretta, who is not. [Thanks, M.]
- “Night of the Living Rez,” Morgan Talty
- “When We Were the Kennedys,” Monica Wood
- “Olive Kitteridge,” Elizabeth Strout
- “One Man’s Meat” and “Charlotte’s Web,” E.B. White
- “Call Me American,” Abdi Nor Iftin
- “Landslide,” Susan Conley
- “Empire Falls,” Richard Russo
- “More Than You Know,” Beth Gutcheon
- “Salem’s Lot,” “Bag of Bones” and “On Writing,” Stephen King
- “The Beans of Egypt, Maine,” Carolyn Chute
- “The Maine Woods,” Henry David Thoreau
- “Temple Stream” and “Writing Life Stories,” Bill Roorbach
- “The Sea Trilogy,” Rachel Carson
- “Finding Freedom” and “The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine: A Cookbook,” Erin French
- “Evening,” Susan Minot
- “One Morning in Maine” and “Blueberries for Sal,” Robert McCloskey
- “Miss Rumphius,” Barbara Cooney
- “Welcome Home or Someplace Like It,” Charlotte Agell
- “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel,” Alexander Chee
- “Curious Attractions” and “And Then Something Happened,” Debra Spark.
Like Margaretta, I’ve read or heard of some, but not others. I learned that my heart is with coastal Maine, that I am getting old and opinionated, and that this list lacks the sense of place that comes from the ‘then’ that gives meaning to the ‘now.’ So, I decided to try making a list.
I and Roseledge Books spent 35 years on the coast of Maine, so I know something about books and Maine and readers in Maine, but not which book will give them what they need to know to be part of Maine’s magic. It’s a tricky match. I used to suggest that visitors to Maine should read Robert Mcloskey,s ‘One Morning in Maine’, and, if you thought nothing happened, Maine may not be for you. Maine’s magic is elusive.
So, what is the ‘more’ that a sense of that place requires. .
Sometimes a picture says it better than a whole book. And if copying the picture is out of bounds, maybe the headline will do. For example, this NYT article about a Maine gathering is perfect.
One Morning in Maine,
225 People Went to the Library
Robert McCloskey’s daughter, Sarah, now a grown-up Sal, read her father’s book,, ‘Blueberries for Sal’. New and old friends crowded into the Library of a Coastal village to see the author’s very accurate drawings for his books and be part of the event. It was pure ME, but maybe you had to be there, or look at the NYT article and remember.
I wasn’t there for the McCloskey gathering, but I was in the crowded meeting room of the East Wind Inn on a hot July afternoon when an author came to talk about the papers of Dorothea Lange and Sarah Orne Jewett, but after about ten minutes of heroic effort trying to discuss DL, she ended up mediating a huge and wonderful disagreement about where SOJ had landed and lived when she came to Tenants Harbor, and if she described those piers and paths in her classic book, ‘Country of the Pointed Firs.’ Everyone there had a dog-eared edition of COPF open and ready for citing Some had historical or town maps. And Roseledge Books had its best sales ever –to that day Pure ME, pure then and now, pure fun. I wish I had a picture. Fortunately, my mind’s eye gets better [well, more interesting] with Irish age.
I have a special place in my heart for Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs, not because it’s a riveting tale, classics rarely are, but because the book led me to Tenants Harbor and Roseledge summers, and, thereby, illustrates, again, how the past always matters. then leads to now, and sometimes wrong ends up right.
[My SOJ story… I knew from a stone on Monhegan that Orne was a variant of the family name Horn behind HORN HILL. So when my weakening right side said no more to the rocky trails I loved, I flailed about for an alternative, until a MN Health Department colleague from Maine left his latest issue of DownEast Magazine on my desk. I paged through the mostly pictures and ads and spotted a 4 line ad ‘EAST WIND INN, Country of the Pointed Firs, Tenants Harbor, Maine, Phone: (207) 372-6366.’ Totally misconstruing the situation, I figured there might be a tie between HORN of Monhegan and ORNE in a Tenants Harbor ad. So if I loved Monhegan, as I did and do, then…. I immediately wrote for reservations and was on my way to summers in Roseledge.]
And, saving the best for last….
Heather Cox Richardson is a 4th generation Mainer, and historian who, in her daily ‘Letters from an American’, sums up how the ‘then’ informs the ‘now’ of current events. I read her missives faithfully, but especially like the Sunday pictures with her captions and what they say about a sense of place. Here is a great example.
‘When I was a child, I loved a painting my mother had of a scene also captured in a framed photograph she owned, faded by then into grays. The painting was not great art, but it was made up of the blues and browns and greens I have always loved, and the water and mountains spoke to me. Mother always told me the picture was painted by a friend of her father’s— he died when I was a baby— and it was an image of one of their favorite fishing spots, although she had no idea where it was. Mother gave that painting to me, and I have always had it up in one place or another, so Buddy knows it, too.
A few weekends ago when we stood at this spot at the end of Jordan Pond, we said almost at the same time: “It’s that painting.”
Very cool to stand in the same spot my grandfather’s friend painted in what can’t have been later than the 1930s, and see the same thing he saw. The past is really not that far away. But what really struck me seeing this view was the inverse of that observation. For my grandfather’s nameless and long-gone fishing buddy, who certainly never knew that the painting he made for his friend would continue to speak to someone a hundred years later, the future wasn’t that far away either.’
To be continued, mostly because I had fun and want to keep on thinking about a sense of place, [and my liking best those murder mysteries that have it], how ‘then’ in ‘now’ does or can fit outside of Maine, and which books work as examples.
Oh, and I’m working on poems of 50 words or fewer, only one of which can be entered in King County’s public poetry contest. Here is one of my potential entries, pertinent because of my picture with myrtle above.
The top of my head is round and bald, like tonsured monks of old.
Theirs were perfect, mine is not, with wiggles and bumps, I’m told.
I’ll learn from the monks, who with the nuns, will one day coed-mix,
And I’ll be ever ready, as their new day ABBETRIX.
Millie’s review, ‘What?’