The Bookseller's blog

Sigurd Olsen Writing Awards

braiding sweetgrass cover image This year we have had the distinct honor and pleasure of serving on the juries which determined the winning books in both the adult and children’s categories. The winners have just been announced. In the adult category, the prize goes to Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Dr. Kimmerer has her PhD in plant ecology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is currently Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at SUNY. She beautifully blends the indigenous wisdom of her Native American roots with the rigor of her scientific knowledge to create a work of rare grace and inspiration. Braiding Sweetgrass weaves its way toward her central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.

place for turtles cover image


The children’s award goes to A Place for Turtles written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Higgins Bond. This book simply and beautifully introduces young readers to ways human action or inaction can have a direct impact on the creatures that share our world, and opens children’s minds to a wide range of interrelated ecological issues.

What Is the Group Reading?

 Winter scene with bookHi Everyone! It's Winter in Bayfield and we're reading! The AIB General Book Group got off to a great start for its third season.  We chose to meet again at Big Water Coffee Roasters across the street from the bookstore -- the second Wednesday of each month from 3:00 to 5:00 pm around the big table, all comers welcome.  We had enthusiastic participation and some great book choices.  The first book we read was The Lighthouse Road, Minnesota author Peter Geye's second novel.  It is the story of a young immigrant woman settling into life in Duluth in the 1890's still shocked at finding herself stranded in a new country alone and adrift.  Our group loved the book appreciating the authentic historical details, the exquisite language and the nuanced characters and relationships.  It's been a real pleasure to share this special book with our customers.

Our next Book Group choice, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, inspired a fascinating discussion about memory.  Everyone in the group liked the book and was glad we read it, less for any specific memory techniques than for the author’s examination of the history, science and sociology of memory and of memory’s evolving role in human interaction from the time before writing when memory was the only way to pass along information to the present where devices are being researched and developed to fully externalize memory, making internal memory theoretically completely unnecessary.   Yikes!  There are also some really simple techniques in the book which render some practical situations that call for memory a lot easier.  For example, all those bookstore customers who visit us frequently but often with long absences between visits.   I am always so glad to see them and mortified that I cannot remember their names!

One very important thing of which I was reminded from reading Moonwalking  is that, if we don’t take simple affirmative steps to place information likes names and faces into our long term memory, it will not simply happen automatically.  Period.  It’s a question of basic science, not declining mental capacity.  And, in this day when I depend on my “smart” phone for all those names, numbers and addresses that I used to know, unfortunately I guarantee that my phone is a lot smarter than I am!  So, I am designing my memory palace and images as I write!

How Much of "History" Is Fiction?

At the March meeting of our AIB Book Group, we discussed Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff.  While many of us found good reasons to read this book, virtually everyone agreed that it was poorly written and surprisingly so since the author had won a Pulitzer Prize for an earlier biography and Cleopatra, itself, was named a New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year. But, it just wasn’t a compelling read. It kept wandering away from the main subject and the writing was scattered and disjointed. It was almost as if the author had taken all her note cards, thrown them in the air and then pieced them together wherever they happened to fall. We had to keep rereading paragraphs and even sentences just to follow the thought thread. Personally, I have never seen a book that used so many dashes to offset ideas and factoids that sometimes were completely unrelated to the sentence in which the offset appeared. Others felt the same way about the footnotes.

Having said all this about the style and structure, the research is impressive and the content itself is fairly interesting. As one reader noted, Cleopatra’s family makes the Sopranos look like the Waltons. It is also very interesting to note how little has changed about politics in 2000 years. But, most importantly, Schiff offers a very interesting and completely different perspective on Cleopatra than we have seen before. Her main premise is that the popular image of Cleopatra to date has been based on “facts” gleaned from people who either were her enemies or who lived centuries later and really had no idea what had happened, yet in both cases presented their stories with great apparent knowledge and certainty. The fact is there are very few facts about her. Most of the stories are manufactured and yet have been accepted as history. Today, all many people know about her is from the Hollywood movie featuring Elizabeth Taylor, and maybe from a session or two of class in elementary school history. This is unfortunate since she is one of the most powerful, important and intriguing figures in ancient history. What Schiff’s book does is invite us to look with an open mind, not just at Cleopatra, but at many other figures in history that have been described by authors, scholars and theologians, and ask how much of this “history” is fiction and how much is fact? This should seem obvious but it’s really not. It is extraordinary how much we accept as truth if it’s just stated confidently and eruditely enough. What Schiff herself says is that “[mostly] I have restored context.” There are no reliable sources so she couldn’t do much more than that. We just wish she had done it in a more organized and reader-friendly way.

We have our final meeting of the 2011/2012 season on Tuesday, April 3 at 3:00pm at Big Water Cafe & Coffee Roasters at which we will discuss Half-Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls and make our tentative plans for the next season which will begin in November. Our central figure in Half-Broke Horses does not individually have the historical significance of Cleopatra but she certainly represents an important cadre of women in history who in their own personal ways blazed the trail for the rest of us. I really look forward to talking about this book with our group. Remember, anyone is welcome, even if you haven't read the book and want to come just to sit in.

What are you reading?

Well, the nine of us who got together the other day for Apostle Islands Booksellers General Book Group had a very lively discuCleopatra book cover imagession based on our reading of Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs definitely would not have been nominated by our group as Boss, Father, Husband or Son (or really anything human) of the Year, but there was general acknowledgement of his creative genius and extraordinary marketing skills, and a recognition of his profound effect on world culture. 

Our conversation largely wound around what are the true costs and benefits of the non-stop technological revolution that we have experienced over the past half-century (epitomized by Steve Jobs), and its ever-increasing pace, in terms of human/labor capital and working conditions, civility and sensitivity in human interaction, environmental waste and/or savings and so on. How have these innovations helped our lives? How have they hurt them? How can we help our children to use technology as a useful tool and not let it overwhelm their lives or substitute for direct interaction with their environment (nature, friends, family) and our broader society? How do you effectively balance access to virtually unlimited information with making quiet time to plumb the depths of your own intuition or reaching out for other direct human resources close to you like your grandparents, teachers, or just perusing a real book or encyclopedia all of which provide a different experience than electronic research? Do the new skills and tools we are all learning and using come at the expense of old skills like handwritten notes and leisurely telephone conversations or not? Lots of questions and food for thought, not so many answers but some good ideas were shared. In case anyone hasn’t seen it, we have a new book in the store that plays off this theme of the modern “connected” family – ­Goodnight, iPad – a Parody for the Next Generation, which parodies Good Night Moon and guides you throughout your house at bedtime turning off all your devices! 

What are you all reading out there? Any great books that you want to share? For our next Book Club meeting, we are switching gears entirely and reading Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, and for the April meeting, which will be the last one until next Fall, we chose Half-Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls. If you have read any of these titles let us know what you think and you can be a part of the conversation from afar.

Bayfield Businesses Featured in Lake Superior Magazine

We'd like to thank Lake Superior Magazine for featuring Apostle Islands Booksellers and several other Bayfield businesses who are working to stay open throughout the quieter months of the year. If you'd like to see the article, check out this link:

Please stop by the store to see the magazine in person. We have plenty of copies in stock.

It's Snowing!

I love the snow!  Big, dry flakes, billowy confetti clouds, and everything in between.  Sometimes floating and slowly swirling, sometimes blowing and frenzied, gentling all sounds, coating the leafless trees and shrubs and the dry brown fields, turning all in to a wonderland of light and sparkle.  And of course opening the door to endless outdoor winter activities! 

bayfield creek with snow When Theron and I moved to Bayfield from Northern California, my family and friends worried about me.  Theron had grown up in Wisconsin.  They were assured he knew what he was getting.  I had attended law school here but waaaay down South in Madison.  Not the Northwoods.  They asked me if I knew that temps plunged well below zero, that it got really dark and that it snowed over 8’ in the winter?  I said, absolutely!  I can’t wait!  And so the first few years, it did, and we loved it.  This year, it didn’t or at least it hasn’t.  But, as of today, we’re finally getting our first real taste and it’s delicious! 

But, snow or no snow, we kept on reading.   Tsar Peter and King Charles XII concluded their final climactic battle in their longstanding and brutal war, and I needed to put Peter the Great aside for a bit to concentrate on our January and February AIB Book Club selections -- The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  When I first read The Sense of an Ending I really didn’t think I got it.  Barnes’ novel had won the 2011 Man Booker prize and was critically acclaimed but, as often happens, I didn’t see what the critics saw.  Not until I read it again.  It is a short book and I highly recommend reading it twice.  I might even read it a third time.  I have already read many paragraphs repeatedly.  There is a lot in this book that unfolds differently and more deeply with each pass through it.  

Our group met on January 3 to discuss it.   I think I can safely say that all of the 11 or 12 folks that attended liked it very much, many as much as I did and most didn’t even have to read it twice!  We had a very interesting discussion that, like the book, morphed and deepened each time we revisited a certain event or scenario in the book.  Book Club has been a really fun for me.  It’s a great way for an eclectic bunch of us to get together to share different perspectives and gain insight on subjects that we might not normally even think to discuss with others.

And now I’ve just finished Steve Jobs.   Wow.  I’m really glad I read it.  I used to work in that environment and even with some of the people in the book, but I don’t think that was relevant to my appreciation of the incredible story it tells of a man and how the birth and development of a technological revolution led to a societal revolution that has altered our world dramatically and forever. 

Winter Travels from the Comfort of My Easy Chair

Peter the Great cover imageSomething I love so much about books is how I am able, without leaving my favorite chair by the woodstove, to go anywhere in the world (or even out of this world), to any time and culture in history (or in the future) and dive right into it.  Just by curling up, opening the cover and turning the page.  Today, the setting is late 17th and early 18th century Russia, the author Robert Massie, the book Peter the Great.  As many of you know, Robert Massie is one of the world's leading experts and most prolific writers on the Romanov period in Russian history.  His latest book, Catherine the Great, was just released only a few weeks ago, and is already moving to the top of the national bestseller lists.  I was all set to read it and my brother said, no! You have to read Peter the Great first.  It will be a tremendous gift to yourself, one of the best books you will ever read.  Massie did win the Pulitzer Prize for it so I agreed.  What is another 900 pages?  I am so glad I did!  What an excellent book, so compelling, you don't even know you're not right there with them in Moscow during the internecine battles and struggles for power, in the dark, low-ceilinged rooms of the Kremlin and the monasteries where the women were secreted, in battles for the Steppe and the Black Sea with the Turks and the Tatars, during the creation of the Russian navy and the building of St. Petersburg, in Louis IV's Versailles (Except when Kia bites my foot because I am ignoring her!).  Another world, another time, the literary magic of yet another great author.  I have such gratitude for them.  On to Catherine next!

Bringing myself to the present, I am really looking forward to Bayfield's Holiday Shopping Night this Thursday, December 15, from 4-7PM.  Apostle Islands Booksellers will be welcoming Bayfield watercolor artist, Francie Austin Miller, who will be demonstrating her craft at the store.  I hope you will all come out and support our local businesses.  We want so much to be here for you so we really appreciate when you support that outcome by shopping locally!  Even if your local purchases are only a part of your holiday shopping, every bit counts and is valuable to sustaining our local businesses and all the people who work in them.  And, as an added benefit,  many local businesses are contributing a portion of their evening's sales to the Bayfield Area Food Pantry, something I know we all support.

A celebration of Spring and Earth Day!

April 20th and it’s snowing! We woke up last Saturday and found three more inches of the stuff covering everything. That, after it seemed that we had done with that for another season. It melted away again and then we arose to a new dusting today. Is there no end to it? Yes, there will be, and then we will await with joy those first flakes of the coming winter.

Spring brings with it a renewed sense of the fecundity of nature and the cycles of its plants and critters. Deer are grazing outside of our dinner windows. Two wolves – powerful, sleek, and proud paused outside of our breakfast windows and sent our miniature husky running for cover. The eagles at our cabin have been on their nest since at least February 27th when we greeted them back for their 6th season at the top of our white pine. Juncos are back – males only so far – but can the females be far behind?

greenfire film imageWe are celebrating Aldo Leopold this spring with our co-sponsorship of the area premiers of the new movie of his life – a benefit for the Bayfield Regional Conversancy. Green Fire, a full-length, high-definition documentary, is a film which traces how he shaped and influenced the modern conservation movement and reveals the true, deep meaning of his land ethic. The showing last Saturday at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland was a great success. Next Thursday, April 28th at 7:00pm Green Fire will be shown at StageNorth in Washburn. We will offer for sale an excellent collection of books by and about Also Leopold and share the profits with the Bayfield Regional Conservancy.

Tomorrow, April 22nd, is Earth Day! Inspired by the likes of Aldo Leopold and founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970, this year’s iteration aspires to the theme of “A Billion Acts of Green.”  The goal is to generate a billion acts of environmental service and advocacy in anticipation of Rio +20 marking the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and  Development and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. Let’s all do our part!

Endings and Beginnings

It reached 55 degrees yesterday and, after a long string of zero and sub-zero temperatures, our fingers are sufficiently thawed to make an entry in these notes. Not that the cold weather was unpleasant, mind you. The air and light were crisp and clear. The snow (and there is a lot of it!) was light and dry like talcum powder. Tires had good traction on packed snow. Fires burned reassuringly.  Everything hot tasted especially good. But, the hot tub froze solid notwithstanding the stock tank heater which worked most of the winter.

At 55 degrees the world is different. The snow has turned to slush and taken on a gray pallor. There is a sluggishness and weariness in the bones – a chill. The temperature dips overnight leaving trails of ice to challenge drivers and pedestrians alike. Theron took a full-body back flop on the way down to feed the chickens and has a kidney contusion and bruised ribs to show for it. Avalanches of heavy, wet snow cascade from the roof – usually just after the last batch has been cleared. But, 55 is 55 and what a pleasure to see the dogs lying outside in the sunlight exhausted from welcoming back the squirrels from their winter rest!
It would be remiss not to confess that we didn’t entirely stay put during that frigid stretch. Demaris headed into the Santa Cruz Mountains of California and spent two weeks in her tent while attending workshops with the Tom Brown Tracking School. She worked with wood, leather and soap stone while studying the philosophical underpinnings of living with the Earth within the confines of modern society. Theron spent two weeks in Madrid in deep immersion refreshing and advancing his Spanish language. Although immersion quickly became drowning when it came to the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo and other exotic grammatical constructions. He wishes he had listened to Sister Mary Zoe sixty years ago!
Highlighting our exceedingly active Bayfield winter scene are the annual Apostle Islands Sled Dog Races through the snowfields and forests along the shores of Lake Superior. This year hundreds of dogs competed in a variety of classes up to and including the 8-dog, 80-mile feature event. Our stock of sled dog related books was quickly snapped-up – especially the children’s selection. We were pleased to have Jeff King – known as the “Winningest Musher in the World” and 4-time winner of the Alaskan Iditarod – sign our supply of his book Cold Hands, Warm Heart: Alaskan Adventures of an Iditarod Champion. Jeff also spoke at the Saturday night dinner at the pavilion between his Friday and Saturday race events.
Our staff remains deeply involved in community activities this winter especially in the dramatic arts. Kristen played the role of the Rovian propagandist, Squealer the pig, in Orwell’s Animal Farm. She is also working lights for Annie! which is now playing. Jack is ably handling the gargantuan task of Stage Manager for Annie! for which his well-honed executive skills are essential. Two of our stalwarts have moved on: Colin has journeyed west to Boise to seek his fortune and Lois has taken a position at Northland College as Director of Gift Planning. We miss them both!
Well, we have just finished our first full inventory of our collection of books as well as our small offering of maps, charts, games, puzzles and other items. We discovered this to be no mean task! Every single book and item was scanned, counted and returned to its place on the shelf. Every discrepancy was checked and rechecked. So, now the picture of our inaugural year is coming into focus and plans for the year to come are being laid. It was a good year! We have a great team! We have a great selection! We have a great customer base of local friends and neighbors as well as the very special stream of visitors who come to the Apostle Islands to enjoy this most beautiful of places.
Stay in touch! We enjoy hearing from you!           

A Very Special Solstice

There are special sounds during this Solstice time. Chief among them is the silence. The deep snow absorbs and muffles what little is broadcast in the forest. When the roads are plowed even the distant mechanized drone ceases. We think of the Ojibwe author of the Algic Researches whose name, Bae-Wa-Wa-Gee-Zhik-A-Quay, means “The Woman of the Sound Which Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky” and we listen for that rush in the diamond-studded firmament.

During the day there is that squeaky crunch as boots cross fresh, minus-zero snow under arm loads of true-split maple and oak. There is the satisfying tic-tic-tic-tic-tic as frozen 1x12 scraps are rent into one-inch sticks of kindling with the merest touch of the axe. The dogs galoomph into the snow banks. Cyrus submarines his huge black head under the snow and then heaves back to the surface in an explosion of white powder. Kia shakes her Miniature Husky head with disdain and invites more refined and elegant play with her sharp bark.
In rare occurrence the Winter Solstice this year coincided with the full lunar eclipse. Regrettably, the sky was shrouded with snow clouds and only vague hints of changing light were visible. We were interested by the fact that the last such coincidence occurred 456 years earlier just about the time that the first Europeans were moving into the Great Lakes. Same sun, same moon. Same air? Same earth? Same water? Wish we had taken better care of them!
Activity in the store is quiet, but steady. The book group has read One Thousand White Women and is moving on to The House of the Spirits and then A Death in the Family. Poetry resounds at the weekly workshop on Thursday nights. We had a wonderful event with New York Times Bestselling author Andrea Cremer (Nightshade) at Stagenorth a few nights ago. She is Ashland born and bred and has woven a sophisticated young-adult tale from her scholarship as an historian and an imagination fueled by her growing-up in these Northwoods. Next week we go classic with the Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau’s "First Friday" themed an Old Fashion Night. Never a dull moment!
On a final note, our winter hours go into effect on January 2nd. We will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm.


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