Friday, December 9, 2011

Trending into Maine

Feeling somewhat at sea (more than two weeks now since I've been in Maine), I went to the library and reviewed the 974.1 section of nonfiction. Not too much I hadn't already read, or decided not to read, except for an old copy of a book called Trending into Maine. Just the thing to soothe anxiety, I thought, taking it down from the shelf, and noting with further anticipation that it was written by Kenneth Roberts, one of those few authors whose books last from boyhood on, published in 1938 by Little, Brown, my old company, and illustrated in color by N.C. Wyeth, father of Andrew. Very promising.

At least it started off well. Chapter 1, "A Pretty Good State," is a paean to Maine's people and landscapes that routed the anxiety and roused the blood. Here's a quote: "My provincialism is so pronounced that I freely admit that I have never seen any other part of the United States that seems to me as desirable a place to live; but I know at least a hundred spots in Maine where I am eager to have a home."

Sorry to say, Mr. Roberts, that I don't have too much to say about the book past page 15. It devolves into long quotations from letters about dead Mainers, strange pronouncements that Maine food like baked beans and hash and fish chowder is infinitely better than the fare in New York and Paris restaurants, lists of boats built, lengthy exploits of war, endless sea stories, a chapter on Benedict Arnold's expedition to Quebec that Roberts told much better in his novels, quotidian chapters on hunting and fishing, and someone's else's memoir about a Maine country character. Oh, and the Wyeth illustrations were tepid and corny. The final chapter, "Vacationland and Real Maine," was better (except for numerous and weird lists of road signs seen in various sections) and its last few pages on Aroostook County was good again- a return to Robert's feelings, not facts, about the state.

So I've discovered a good cure for place-sickness. Read a bad book about the place you love, and it will curb your enthusiasm for a while, perhaps just long enough for you to return. Read a good book about it, and you'll only feel worse.

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