Volume 13, Issue 26 ~ June 30 - July 6, - 2005
 
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Bay Weekly Summer Guide
Roll Up Your Sleeves and Tear into a Good Book
 
Bay Weekly writers recommend tales of best sentence and most solace for your summer pilgrimages
 
Geoffrey Chaucer filled his own prescription for what makes a good story, packing The Canterbury Tales with “tales of best sentence and most solace.” His 14th century wisdom has stood the test of time. We 21st century readers still love stories that entertain (that’s solace) and instruct (that’s sentence, which changes meaning when you put the accent on the second syllable).

His pilgrims shortened their horseback journey to Canterbury Cathedral — where St. Thomas a Becket, whom they traveled to honor, had been beheaded at his own altar for nonconforming thought — by listening to stories each told in turn. They traveled in April, inspired by the same itch we feel when the weather warms, to refresh our spirits by seeing new places, hearing new tales and rereading old cherished ones.

Like them and you, Bay Weekly’s writers are “longing to go on pilgrimage,” so we’re packing our book bags with tales you, too, might enjoy.

—Sandra Oilvetti Martin

K.M. Bennett — born in Philadelphia; sails and lives in Annapolis, enjoys spinning words, tops and fibers.
Especially in the summer, I always have a small flock of books to follow me in my wanderings. This mix always includes a novel or mystery, some poetry, an illustrated book and a couple of do-it-yourself non-fiction books.

This year’s novel is the soon-to-arrive-cannot-wait-any-longer Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. To fill the wait, I am re-reading Laura Ingall’s Little House … series. Full of factual history tempered by a child’s remembrances of growing up as a homesteader in the 1800s, it is both captivating and informative.

I have two books of poetry for quiet times: Pablo Neruda’s The Sea and The Bells; Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. Listen to these excerpts:

And from a silence like a woman’s hair, a silence of seaweed, a sunken song … (Neruda)

Captain Cat, the retired blind seacaptain, asleep in his bunk in the seashelled, ship-inbottled, shipshape best cabin of Schooner House dreams … (Thomas)

I also plan to sail through a newly acquired 1941 edition of Boatowner’s Sheet Anchor: A Practical Guide to Fitting out, Upkeep and Alteration of the Small Yacht. It’s a nice book about fiddling with boats.

Finally, I carry a copy of Petersen’s Guide to the Atlantic Seashore, a lovely guide to figuring out what you’ve found and finding what to look for next.
 
Mick Blackistone — award-winning author of books about the Bay for children and adults.

For light reading I’m totally hooked on John Sandford’s “prey” novels and what Detective Lucas Davenport will do to solve a murder. To get to know the players one should start with the first “prey” novel and move on to the next. I also enjoy James Patterson and Sandra Brown … and for really light reading ol’ Nicholas Sparks.

For more mind-provoking thought I recommend Howard Ernst’s Chesapeake Bay Blues — will the Bay ever improve? — and Stephen Ambrose’s biography of Meriwether Lewis, Undaunted Courage.

I also like mixing my reading to include books on Native American spirituality or culture, including Fools Crow and Neither Wolf Nor Dog: great reading! While I don’t have time or the inclination to get into much heavy reading during the summer, these books are enjoyable, educational and very interesting. Enjoy whatever you read and don’t forget to wear sunscreen.
Mick Blackistone — award-winning author of books about the Bay for children and adults.

For light reading I’m totally hooked on John Sandford’s “prey” novels and what Detective Lucas Davenport will do to solve a murder. To get to know the players one should start with the first “prey” novel and move on to the next. I also enjoy James Patterson and Sandra Brown … and for really light reading ol’ Nicholas Sparks.

For more mind-provoking thought I recommend Howard Ernst’s Chesapeake Bay Blues — will the Bay ever improve? — and Stephen Ambrose’s biography of Meriwether Lewis, Undaunted Courage.

I also like mixing my reading to include books on Native American spirituality or culture, including Fools Crow and Neither Wolf Nor Dog: great reading! While I don’t have time or the inclination to get into much heavy reading during the summer, these books are enjoyable, educational and very interesting. Enjoy whatever you read and don’t forget to wear sunscreen.

Janice F. Booth — reader and writer for a lifetime; teacher for 35 years.

You’ll have a tough time finding funnier, livelier summer reading than Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen.

A cross between Dave Berry and Mark Twain, Hiaasen writes a style formed over almost 30 years as a columnist for the Miami Herald. Florida’s colorful, sometimes bizarre social and political climates are the grist for his mill. In a 60 Minutes interview last April, Hiaasen summed up the inspiration for his novels’ plots and wacky characters this way:

“The Sunshine State is a paradise of scandals teeming with drifters, deadbeats and misfits drawn here by some dark primordial calling like demented trout. And you’d be surprised how many of them decide to run for public office.”

Sick Puppy, published in 1999, is witty and irreverent, full of satisfying belly laughs. You could pluck the plot from today’s news — almost: Plans for high-rise condos on a fragile, Florida barrier island. Ruthless lobbyist, fragile eco-system on the brink of extinction. Ah, but this story has hope too: a mysterious environmental Lone Ranger emerges from the Everglades to avenge injustices perpetrated on the environment. The novel opens with said avenger redressing the sins of incorrigible litterbug and lobbyist Palmer Stoat. The revenge in kind: a fetid, truckload of garbage dumped on Stoat’s red convertible.

Add to the mix some violence, some sex, lots of insolent satire. Girl gets guy; dog gets bone; frogs get to keep their island. All’s right with the world for one or two sweet moments — at least at the end of Hiaasen’ novels.

Suzanna Brugler — public affairs specialist and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, has traveled the world with the Navy, living in Japan, the southern parts of Virginia and California — and now again Annapolis.

Summer’s finally here, and though I do have a family vacation to the Outer Banks planned for July, I have yet to make good on my self-made promise to take the summer off and travel abroad. Luckily for me, Rita Golden Gelman’s travel memoir Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World is the perfect prescription to stave off my wanderlust.

A recent divorcee in her late 40s, charity volunteer and stay-at-home mom, Gelman defies convention when she follows her curiosity and instinct, leaving family, friends and worldly possessions behind to travel the globe. First in nearby Mexico, then in regions as exotic and varied as Indonesia and the Galapagos Islands, Gelman dares to realize her college-girl dreams while blossoming as an independent woman of the world.

I think it’s the authenticity of Gelman’s stories that make this travelogue satisfying. That, and her depiction of the classless, culture-connecting bond among women, which uncovers a self-knowledge as inspiring as it is revealing.

No time to travel the world this summer? Thanks to Gelman’s memoir, you needn’t go any farther than a shady corner in your back yard. That is, until next summer’s itch returns.

Steve Carr — author of Waterviews (with Marion Warren and Eric Smith) and environmental consultant as well as Bay Weekly columnist.

I first encountered Bill Bryson’s work while on vacation in Scotland. Each morning the BBC featured the author reading a chapter from Notes From a Small Island. His descriptions of British life were so uproariously funny that the people eating breakfast in our B&B were turned into cackling fools, spilling their tea and choking on their steamed tomatoes and blood pudding.

My next Bryson book was The Lost Continent, his hysterical impressions of driving around America, stopping at odd little roadside attractions and poking fun at the locals. Bryson’s book about Australia, In a Sunburned Country, will reduce you to tears as he travels the Australian outback in search of culture, chaos and cold beer. Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a blow-by-blow description of hiking the Appalachian Trail, has achieved the most critical acclaim. In true Bryson fashion, he eventually decides it’s too hard and crazy a task and goes home.

The only drawback to reading Bill Bryson is that he will compel you to laugh out loud — repeatedly. And this may make folks wonder if you aren’t insane. So you might want to make a little sign for when you are at the beach. Something like: Not Crazy, Just Reading Bill Bryson.

Allen Delaney — escaped to Southern Maryland at a young age and is often found on a boat in a reclined position either fishing or crabbing the Patuxent River.

My light summer reading always leads to weight gain. One reason is that I enjoy perusing Chesapeake Bay Cooking by John Shields as much as I do preparing some of the local dishes. In this book are recipes from Baltimore to St. Mary’s County and regions up and down the Bay. Unlike most cookbooks, his weaves tales of local folks, notorious crab feasts and recollections of days gone by in among the tempting recipes. Even if you don’t enjoy cooking, the vignettes will have you turning the pages. 

Being a D.C. native, I’m learning some of its past by reading Home on the Canal by Elizabeth Kytle. The book is about George Washington’s dream of inexpensive transport of coal and goods from the hills and farms of Maryland straight to the foot of the Capitol building, all done by water and locks.

Kytle chronicles the hardships of the C&O Canal builders, the dangers of pulling barges and whether horses were better than mules for towing. Photographs and interviews with a former canal lockkeeper are interspersed throughout this reminder that there was once a slower, albeit dangerous, pace of life. 
M.L. Faunce — award-winning Bay Weekly columnist.

Part of the packing ritual for my summer trip to Maine is filling a large canvas boat tote with stacks of unread Gourmet magazines still in the plastic mailing wrappers; and Book Worlds, The Washington Post’s Sunday book review section. Topping the pile are a few books, usually on Maine and Maryland, objects of my affection.

I have on tap for this summer’s reading The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson, which promises to be both scintillating and astonishing. As in Jaws, you can’t believe what goes on in the deep, watery boudoirs on the floor of the Maine coast. Another is The Lobster Chronicles, by Linda Greenlaw, who you might recall was the captain who made safe harbor in The Perfect Storm. Her first book was The Hungry Ocean. Now after 17 years at sea as a swordboat captain, Greenlaw has returned home to her tiny island and the quiet life as a lobsterman. But as all voyages in the crossroads in life, it’s not that simple, and that’s where great stories really begin.
 
I’ll take both with melted butter, please.

In my tote will also be books that I read and reread: Bay Country: Reflections on the Chesapeake by Tom Horton and the classic Beautiful Swimmers by William Warner.

Food for thought and the summer plate.

Nancy Hoffmann — a Naval Academy graduate, works as an attorney when she’s not farming.

On the horse farm, summer is the time to pull out the old wire fencing and replace it with posts and boards. In the pasty heat, I work until dark, surrounded by prickly vines and more bugs than I care to think about.

Inside, the ceiling fan whirs, the dogs sleep and atop my stack of books is Spending by Mary Gordon, which I read every year.

What happens when a female painter bemoans the lack of male muse to support female artists — and a man in the audience volunteers for the job? Read Spending to find out.

Next in the stack sits The Bowl is Already Broken, by Mary Kay Zuravleff. Years ago, I read her first novel, The Frequency of Souls, about a quirky scientist who believes that radio waves carry messages from the dead. I ran to the store when I heard of Zuravleff’s new book. It’s set in the Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C., and follows the adventures of the offbeat acting director, who hopes her legacy will be more than the museum’s closure.

A painter’s studio, a museum and a laboratory are wonderful places to hide from the horseflies and poison ivy.

J. Alex Knoll — Bay Weekly cofounder and general manager.
 
Over the years, my reading habits  — perhaps as your own — have evolved: as a child I tore through pages in search of adventure; as a student I delved the mysteries of the classics; as a young journalist I obsessed over news.

For escape, though, it was always fiction. One summer after my undergraduate work Herman Hess hooked me — not a good pairing. Another summer it was Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle’s entire works, and any other writer’s attempt to resurrect the world’s greatest detective. And a few years ago, with the first Lord of the Rings movies, I returned to Middle Earth, a favorite childhood escape.

I still read to escape; who doesn’t? But anymore, I escape with stories of real people in real places, long dead or alive and kicking, rich or poor, famous or unknown.

For easy summer reading I may pick up one of the several On the Road with Charles  Kuralt books. From his days on CBS Sunday Morning, Kuralt was a great story-teller, a great journalist, who focused on the everyman and the everywoman, proving that all of us have great stories to tell.

Far more demanding but well worth the effort is David McCullough’s John Adams biography, easily meriting all the hype at its release a couple years ago. After several weeks I had to put this 650-page beast down a couple months ago only two-thirds finished. I had fallen behind on my favorite magazines (American Heritage, Discover, This Old House and numerous cooking periodicals, all good summer fodder). Plus I had Bill Lambrecht’s Big Muddy Blues hot off the press.

Living through the birth of the nation with this Founding Father is fascinating and enlightening. Adams and his colleagues were some of the greatest minds of their time, certainly within the fledgling United States of America. As McCullough demonstrates in detailed prose, these men, Adams especially, achieved the impossible. Reading of their achievement and sharing their wisdom more than 200 years later only reinforces how great they remain.

For local history, pick up Tom Waldron’s Pride of the Sea, the tragic tale of Pride of Baltimore, which in 1986 sank in a freak squall in the Bermuda Triangle, killing four and leaving eight others adrift in the sea fighting for their lives. Waldron sails back some 20 years to introduce us to the ship’s crew, and he plies deeper historical waters, too, detailing the short life of the original Baltimore Clipper ships. Built to outrun the British blockades during the War of 1812, these boats sacrificed safety for speed. More than 150 years passed before another Clipper was built, and Pride proved to be an all-too-accurate replica, complete with the original’s un-seaworthiness.
Bill Lambrecht — author (Dinner at the New Gene Cafe; Big Muddy Blues); Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Bay Weekly cofounder and editorial analyst.

Villains outed and justice done: That’s satisfying in a book and even better in real life.

That’s why the old-time muckraking journalism of Andrew Schneider and David McCumber is so valuable, and why we’re fortunate that it has been turned into a book, An Air That Kills, about the crimes of a Maryland corporation against a tiny mining town in Montana.

W.R. Grace and Co. and seven of its present or former executives were indicted in February for knowingly endangering the health of the people of Libby, Mt., and engaging in cover-ups.

The indictments wouldn’t have occurred without the dogged reporting of Schneider, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who now works for the Baltimore Sun and lives along Chesapeake Bay. In his stories, he linked Libby’s vermiculite mine pollution with the deaths of more than 200 people, stirring the federal government into belated action. McCumber is managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where Schneider worked when he did the original reporting.

An Air That Kills is an engrossing saga about what can happen to good people in the name of corporate profits when government shirks its duties. It is brilliantly written with memorable characters and uniquely satisfying — especially the strong potential that justice will win out in the end.
Sonia Linebaugh — charter New Bay Times writer and staffer, is freelance writer, artist and teacher, whose first book, At the Feet of Mother Meera, was published last year.

Summer calls me to the upstairs porch for a look at life along Chesapeake Bay. The far view reveals the gray, blue, green, sparkling white, muddy-brown moods of the water, while the near view is a constant reminder of contemporary life: telephone, cable and electrical wires — too many wires. It suits my own mood — both elated by the water’s beauty and worried for its health. My summer books reflect the same: sparkling vistas and hard realities.

Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows is an old favorite. Beautifully written and illustrated by at least 45 artists over its 95-year history, the story opens on the river bank, home to the big-hearted friends Mole, Water Rat, Badger — and Mr. Toad, the self-centered rascal they try to reform.

Big Muddy Blues by Bay Weekly’s Bill Lambrecht is my other summer reading. I’ve already peeked far enough into the book’s pages to be assured that the realities of the Missouri River’s peril are matched by great stories of its character and those of the humans who’ve matched wits with it for the last two centuries.

A shady porch, a glass of wine, the sounds of the water, a few good books — and a few unsightly wires. A well-balanced life.

Sandra Olivetti Martin — Bay Weekly cofounder and editor; spare-time book editor, always longs to go on pilgrimage.

Stories merge into real life in the wordy Martin-Lambrecht household, where Lambrecht and I are partners in marriage, newspapering and books. At least in the latter, he’s senior partner, for so far the books evolve from research he’s done investigating the tangle of politics and environmental effects as a national political reporter. But books begin and end because we egg each other on, could-we, should-we, let’s style. As he travels the world, researches, organizes and writes, I put order into the chapters and song into the sentences. One way or another, we live each word of the books under his byline.

For the last few years, we’ve been living Big Muddy Blues: True Tales and Twisted Politics along Lewis and Clark’s Missouri River — and we still can’t put it down. Now that the book has a life of its own, 325 pages inside a shiny dust jacket, it’s taking us on tour. We’re heading west — Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana — to return the book to the people and places it’s about. We’ll be reading it again, along with a volume or two of Gary Moulton’s wonderful Nebraska edition of the journals of Lewis and Clark.

Read Big Muddy as an armchair adventure, and you’ll see what 200 years has done to the great 2,500-mile-long river along which young America pushed its future west. Better yet, join us on road and river and see for yourself — in real time and in book time.
Helena Mann-Melnitchenko — has a degree in French literature and is an eclectic reader of American, English, French, Russian and Ukrainian books.

Anyone who lives or vacations along Chesapeake Bay will love Tom Horton’s An Island out of Time. He writes poetically — with a discerning eye for the beauty of the Bay and a good ear for idiom — about Smith Island and the struggle of watermen to preserve their way of life.

But when the humidity climbs above 90 percent and you want a change of pace, the Sahara Desert and a bright star will transport you far, far away. Both young and old will enjoy Antoine St. Exupery’s The Little Prince. I taught it each spring in my French classes for almost a decade and have never been bored by it. Deceptively simple, its subject is what’s important in life: love, friendship and caring for one’s little star.

For light reading on Atlantic beaches, when surf, sand and sun make concentration difficult, I love to unravel mysteries. I have been reading them ever since my father gave me Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was 11. My two contemporary favorites are Ruth Rendell, an English writer who writes psychological mysteries, and a Baltimore writer, Martha Grimes, who sets her mysteries in England. Both authors are prolific, so there’s plenty of choice. Rendell’s The Master of the Moor and Grimes’ Help the Poor Struggler are good places to start. 

Do you worry that you will not be amused by a writer who’s been dead for 153 years? Think again. Nicolai Gogol’s The Nose and The Overcoat have a delicious sense of the absurd and enough depth to satisfy your intellect.

What am I going to be reading this summer? Marina Lewytcka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is a literary sensation in England. It is not about tractors or in Ukrainian. It’s waiting for me at the Annapolis Barnes & Noble as I head for the Eastern Shore and Smith Island.

Marnie Morris — Bay Weekly’s Calvert County sales manager, manages to read through motherhood, marriage and a house full of dogs.

Early evening comes with the sun still above the horizon, kids playing in yards and dogs barking through fences. I curl my legs under me on my couch with the steady hum of a fan in the window. Summer is here and so is my stack of books.

I’ve discovered Amazon.com and used books for pennies. I love coming home from work and having a book in the mailbox. I have thus far ordered all of Kaye Gibbons’ novels, having fallen in love with the childlike simplicity of her words in a work called Sights Unseen. Others may have already introduced themselves to her writing in Ellen Foster, an Oprah Winfrey Book Club Selection. I am preparing to open my third Gibbons, Divining Women. When I peered in and read the first page, again the words flowed, instantly reaching a place in my heart.

I have just finished a haunting book, What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt. It’s also a used book, purchased at Second Look Books in Prince Frederick. I have never gotten so far into the psyche of a book’s character as I did in this author’s tale of four friends whose lives intertwined through marriage, childbirth, loss and betrayal. I am still shuddering.

Passed down to me from a friend was One Thousand White Women, written by Jim Fergus about what might have happened if the chief of the Cheyennne Nation had received the 1,000 white women he requested of Ulysses S. Grant as the chief attemped to integrate into the white man’s culture. The contrast between the domesticated and uncivilized through the eyes of women stood out so abruptly for me.

I’m not taking vacation, so summer’s priceless books are taking me away.

P.S. I’m seeking a Beautiful Swimmers equivalent for horseshoe crabs. Any ideas? marnie@bayweekly.com.

Erica Naone — graduated in May from the St. John’s College Great Books Program, where she won the senior essay prize for her essay on non-Euclidean geometry. She has a taste for long road trips, odd jobs and all types of printed matter.

This time last year, I’d have said St. John’s College was ruining my summer by requiring Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace — the literary equivalent of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Holding the 1,455-page Signet Classics edition, I feared roadside collapse.

Instead, lugging it up the East Coast, I discovered a book big enough for all my summer wandering and yearning. Last summer, I lived two lives instead of one.

If you are brave, and if you want to do a great thing in your life, this is the book for you. No other book has such richness, so thick I had to match it with my own blood and joy.

That said, not all summers are for great undertakings. Myself, I plan to catch up on what I haven’t read at St. John’s. I’ll reread Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown and Avis’ True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, two childhood favorites. My weird thrills will be Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti, about the man who stole Einstein’s brain, and short stories by science fiction master Philip K. Dick. Finally, I’ll have my favorite magazine, Rosebud, which won my heart in 2002 with the story, “Bob the Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland.”

Audrey Y. Scharmen — award-winning Bay Weekly columnist and portrait artist.

This summer when I trek to the seaside I’ll pack a bag of old favorites: Tried and true feel-good books. Beach lite. After a winter spent wading in and out of war news and John Toland’s two-volume bio Hitler, I am ready to wallow in serenity.

There will be Ted Hughes’ Flowers and Insects and a collection of W. S. Merwin’s poetry. I will sample again Sandra Cisnero’s classic House on Mango Street and select passages from Kuki Gallmann’s poignant memoir I Dreamed of Africa. Her stunning images of that continent are superb. I’ll leave room for a recent novel by Ellen Gilchrist, whose new title has slipped my mind but is certain to lead me to some beach bookstore. The clever tales of her southern roots are always a great read. Perhaps I’ll tuck in Kate Moses’ Wintering, a touching portrait of Sylvia Plath’s last days.
 
From sand and sea I’ll return, sated and sedated with such as Hughes’ lush phrases: “hooligan baby starlings” and “cauldrons of daffodils boiling gently” and a poppy as “a hot-eyed Mafia Queen … at the trim garden’s edge.”

Scott Sowers — a freelance writer, he currently resides in the Maritime Republic of Eastport.

The books in my summer reading bag are the same books that were in my winter reading bag. I’m hoping the lazy dog days or whatever they’re called will put me back on the reading stick.
           
First up, a golden oldie from the self-help section called A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield. Spurning materialism, Kornfield goes to the Far East and studies mysticism. He learns much but discovers he’s no Buddha. He returns to America, but his old life isn’t friendly to monkdom. The book provides guidance about staying spiritual in our over-stimulated lives.
           
I’m drawn to black-and-white photography, which partially explains why Peter Dexter’s Train has been under an end table since December. There’s an evocative photo on the cover and it won a National Book Award. Oh, and the plot has something to do with golf. Perfect.
           
Finally, The Big Year by Mark Odmascik. This one garnered rave reviews and flies through a subject matter that I find fascinating for reasons I can’t even explain: birds. Three guys take a year off to go bird watching and something happens. Sounds like a day at the beach. Maybe a week. Maybe two weeks …

Alice Snively — sailor, journalist and grandmother, lives with her husband aboard the 43-foot Columbia Cherokee II.

How can there be a food book that isn’t a cookbook that’s worth reading over and over? Well, I have it, and it is truly one of the funniest, tears-down-your-cheeks books I’ve ever owned. This is not a girl book; it’s an everybody book.

The Gallery of Regrettable Food is a hilarious review of post-World War II American food evolution. Author James Lileks researched cookbooks and food advertisements from the late 1940s through the ’60s. His presentation ofvintage photographs and graphics is not going to increase your appetite, but his descriptions and cultural commentary will make you laugh until you don’t care. Witness his description of a photo of some sort of cocktail party dish: “Everyone gather ’round! It’s time for pastel-tinted hairy balls with salsa verde!”

This is a great book to just pick up and randomly choose a page; but you won’t be able to read just one.
           
On a more mellow side, An Embarrassment of Mangoes is a cruising adventure story with a twist. Author Ann Vanderhoof and her husband put their professions aside, bought a 42-foot sailboat and headed south from their home in Toronto for a two-year cruise that took them to Chesapeake Bay and down to the Caribbean.
           
The twist is that the book includes recipes for foods they enjoyed along the way, and some they devised on their own. The book weaves together their experience of different peoples and cultures in a way that sets it apart from travel guides. Vanderhoof is a fine storyteller. The recipes do not dominate the book; they complement the story.
           
Food for your funnybone, your mind, and your body: good summer pastimes!

Carrie Steele — Bay Weekly staff writer and calendar editor.

Summer means indulging in novels I’ve squirreled away during the year. All I need is a quiet, shady spot outside, a cold drink and an exciting read to suspend reality and get absorbed into a great story.

My latest favorite is the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, written by Alexander McCall Smith, whose sixth book in the international series emerged like a spring butterfly this April.

Author Smith’s an Englishman, but he takes us to vibrant Botswana — no stranger to hot weather either, which makes it a great summer read — where private eye Precious Ramotswe runs her own detective agency, the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana.

Mwa Ramotswe, as she’s respectfully called in Botswana, makes it her business to know everything as she tackles local mysteries of straying spouses, missing children, sneaky teenagers. As the story unfolds, we get a hearty and refreshing serving of African culture, values and native customs as seen through her sharp yet compassionate eyes.

I judge a novel’s appeal by how much I anticipate retrieving my bookmark and diving in. This is a series that rarely needs a bookmark. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies here I come.
Margaret Tearman — a documentary filmmaker now turning to writing, spends her free time with her husband, Tom and their four dogs, restoring their 200-year-old farm in Huntingtown.
With oil companies poised to invade the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I’ve dedicated this summer to re-reading classics and one newcomer, both celebrating America’s great West. I’ve dusted off Desert Solitaire and Down The River by the grand-daddy of the western environmental movement, Edward Abbey. A master of translating his personal fury and frustration at environmental sacrilege into engagingly beautiful stories, Abbey’s words send me deep into the land of hoodoos, sandstone arches and lost canyons of Southwest Utah.
           
Also on my re-read list are two books by my favorite contemporary essayist and environmentalist, Rick Bass. The Lost Grizzlies follows a ragtag group of environmentalists and university students as they set out to prove the existence of grizzly bears deep in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain wilderness, where they were long believed to be extinct. And Winter, Bass’s gorgeous essay on his first Montana winter, will cool me on a hot August day and remind me why wilderness undisturbed by roads or machinery should be a priority in environmental policy.
           
A newcomer to my library is Bill Lambrecht’s recently published Big Muddy Blues. I expect Lambrecht’s book will stand alongside Abbey and Bass as a lesson in the importance of respecting our heritage, our land and our waterways.

Margaret Tearman — a documentary filmmaker now turning to writing, spends her free time with her husband, Tom and their four dogs, restoring their 200-year-old farm in Huntingtown.

With oil companies poised to invade the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I’ve dedicated this summer to re-reading classics and one newcomer, both celebrating America’s great West. I’ve dusted off Desert Solitaire and Down The River by the grand-daddy of the western environmental movement, Edward Abbey. A master of translating his personal fury and frustration at environmental sacrilege into engagingly beautiful stories, Abbey’s words send me deep into the land of hoodoos, sandstone arches and lost canyons of Southwest Utah.

Also on my re-read list are two books by my favorite contemporary essayist and environmentalist, Rick Bass. The Lost Grizzlies follows a ragtag group of environmentalists and university students as they set out to prove the existence of grizzly bears deep in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain wilderness, where they were long believed to be extinct. And Winter, Bass’s gorgeous essay on his first Montana winter, will cool me on a hot August day and remind me why wilderness undisturbed by roads or machinery should be a priority in environmental policy.

A newcomer to my library is Bill Lambrecht’s recently published Big Muddy Blues. I expect Lambrecht’s book will stand alongside Abbey and Bass as a lesson in the importance of respecting our heritage, our land and our waterways.

Dick Wilson — a retired air traffic controller and active scuba diver, is Bay Weekly’s proofreader as well as theater and book reviewer.

This adult fantasy is a sort of Harry Potter for grownups, but Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is not a copy of anything. It stands on its own strong feet.
           
Author Susanna Clarke creates an England where the ancient art of magic has fallen into disrepute. It’s a world where “gentlemen could not do magic. … Gentlemen may study magic, but it just isn’t proper to do it.” Many want to learn magic, and many deny its existence (even in the face of plain evidence), while others look on, constrained by social convention. Such is the sad state of events that only one real magician exists in all of England. 

From this fragile beginning Clarke constructs a solid, many-layered plot in which magic regains its proper honorable place in society. Magic happens in the story all the time while mysterious persons appear, disappear and reappear without warning. But the story holds steady without disruption; when it looks like something or someone is out of place, the plot turns in a direction that brings everything back into proper focus. In many scenes, for example, characters who we thought were disposed of reappear and do something, or do nothing. The reader never knows what’s coming next, but it all fits. Abundant and playful footnotes add to the story and sustain the whimsical mood.
           
At 782 pages, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a long book, so summer readers may find it chewing into their autumn as well.

I finished reading it about a year ago and still find myself thinking about it. That’s magic.

Keeping up with the Kids in Books and at the Movies

Every so often, I find that I’ve lost touch with the younger generation. I realize that I just don’t get their music, clothes or lingo. I also don’t know what they’re watching on television, let alone what they’re reading. And I’m only 29. Since I never see a tween with a Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys or Sweet Valley High book, I assume they’ve became passé.

This summer, I’m reconnecting with my inner child and catching up on some books for a younger audience that we old folks can enjoy as well.
           
I’m at least a book and a movie behind on my Harry Potter. Young Harry Potter, a magician who was raised by Muggles, or non-wizards, goes off to a school for wizards, as the soon-to-be six-volume journey begins. The author of the bestselling novels-turned-movie moneymakers, J.K. Rowling, wrote the books for children ages nine to 12. Yet my 33-year-old friend hosts Potterfests. I’ll be at her Potterfest for HP and the Half-Blood Prince, which is scheduled for release in July.
           
Magic and the surreal are older than Harry Potter in children’s books, and one classic will make the movies this December: C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, part of his Chronicles of Narnia, a favorite to children aged four to eight. If I don’t get around to reading it, I can see the movie.
           
I thought Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events was another of Jim Carrey’s off-the-wall movies. An eight-year-old informed me otherwise. She couldn’t believe I had never read one of 11 or so books by author Lemony Snicket, chronicling exactly what the title suggests: unfortunate events. Since my young friend recommended these books for the eight-and-up age group, I’m going to borrow The Miserable Mill, The Vile Village and The Slippery Slope.
           
A friend who teaches special education is always looking for books to keep her students interested and reading. We love to swap them, but when she suggested I try a series of young-adult books about a group of girls who bond over a pair of pants, I took a pass. A few months later, I saw a preview for a movie based on the book she had suggested: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ann Brashares, author, also wrote The Second Summer of the Sisterhood and Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood. Add three more books and one movie to my growing list.
           
Finally, another oldie but goodie was turned into a popular movie several years ago after the book gained cult-like status among middle-school teachers. Holes by Louis Sachar is the story of a boy who is sentenced for a horrible deed to digging holes in the middle of nowhere with other such boys. Having already read the book, I’ll add the movie to my list.
 
Debra George Siedt a former teacher and reporter, is now a freelancing young mother.


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