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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book report, part 3

This last part of reviewing my Goodreads history has to do with the classics. I was trained in English literature, so I guess that makes me biased, in the sense that I know the huge majority of modern novels will not stand the test of time, which of course has always been the case. Why read them then? If a book isn't great, why spend the time with it? Easy questions to answer: first, one is always hoping to discover the next Kent Haruf, one who will give pleasure and inspiration for a lifetime; second, one reads not just for enlightenment but for a host of other reasons. Reading can be fun, entertaining, educational, etc., but most of all it carries one into another's world and mind, both character's and author's, and this is a great tonic for daily care and struggle and pride and worry. Getting out of yourself is the key to sanity, and this is what most decent books do to some extent, and what the classics do entirely.

So I find myself re-reading. Here are titles I've re-read in the last six years, in no particular order until the end of the list.

  • One Man's Meat, E.B. White, many times now
  • several novels by Robertson Davies, for at least the fourth time
  • Thoreau's Walden, again for the nth time
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
  • Gorky Park, Martin Cruz-Smith, one of the few detective stories I'll ever re-read
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig, surprisingly fresh in places, understandably turgid in others
  • A Year in the Maine Woods, Bernd Heinrich, third time? fourth time?
  • The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett, must be approaching ten times now
  • a couple of Elisabeth Ogilvie's Bennett Island novels - time to re-read the whole series
  • Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner, still unbelievably good, need to re-read everything
  • Anthony Trollope - see below
  • all of George Eliot, Middlemarch for at least the fifth time
  • all of Jane Austen, in what must be my sixth or seventh time through

You can guess that the 19th century English novelists remain my ideal. In graduate school of course I fell in with the pantheon of white American 20th century males - Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Bellow, Roth - but only Faulkner makes me want to re-read. Whereas Eliot and Trollope (the six Barsetshire novels, the six Palliser novels, plus a few more) and Austen, especially Austen, are as alive as ever, writing for me and for the ages, the perfect combination of character and plot and wit and laugh-out-loud humor and the great themes of birth and love and death. Dear reader, they say (often literally), come along and watch me display the eternal joys and follies of humankind, and when you're done, you won't remember I was there.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Book report, part 2

Of the 640 books on my Goodreads lists for the past six years, well more than half would be classified as contemporary literary fiction. How does one sort through and choose from the thousands and thousands of such titles published in the past decade? I rely on new books by proven authors, recommendations from reviewers I trust, like Katherine Powers (our literary genes agree 95% of the time, with the exception being baseball books), and media buzz from major publishers (such titles rarely end up satisfying). I fully admit I don't keep up with "hot, new voices" in the indie press, having tried to listen many times but ending up deafened by artifice.

My list of writers whose every book I've read and whose next I eagerly await (this implies they are still living) is a short one. (I'm undoubtedly too picky.) They are: Louise Erdrich, Penelope Lively, Colum McCann, Ian McEwan, Alice Munro, Howard Norman, Edna O'Brien, and Elizabeth Strout.

The four best books I've read this year are:

Helen Dunmore's The Lie (published in 2014)
Louise Erdrich's LaRose (2016)
Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger (1987)
Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible (2017)

Notice anything about these lists? A preponderance of women, and no American men.

Not that there aren't good American male authors. On my lists are Nicholson Baker, Russell Banks, Michael Cunningham, Richard Ford, William Kennedy, and Stewart O'Nan, but their best books are behind them (IMHO).  The one American I'd put on any contemporary list of the best is Kent Haruf, but he's been dead nearly three years now (hard to believe).

Maybe it's because I've been Jonathan-ized (Lethem, Safran Foer, and above all Franzen), suffering inoculations of self-congratulatory irony, authorial intrusions, and feeble grasp of great themes, and raising permanent antibodies against same. Show-offs also abound (no names here), as if fiction needed to compete with Netflix originals and reality TV. Relax, boys, literature is not impressed with pyrotechnics. One small, quiet book by Howard Norman is worth any number of fat, indulgent,"thrilling, frenzied, dazzling" doorstops.

Next: Re-reading and the classics

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book report, part 1

Herewith, a report on reading books, on the occasion of several things converging:

  • Tomorrow classes start at Owls Head Central School (what characterizes primary school better than the book report?)
  • This August marks six years for me on Goodreads (what an interesting tool for reviewing one's life)
  • We are back in Maine after a couple of difficult months (what makes one want to escape into the world of books more than overseeing the decline and death of a 16-year-old dog, and the move of an 89-year-old mother-in-law and belongings from an apartment to a care facility?)
My six-year Goodreads total is 640 titles. You might say books are my life.

Here are some stats and trends.


There are only a handful of nonfiction titles on the list, some required by membership in a book group, the others usually related to research or obeisance for my own writing. I can't write fiction so I must read it.

Mysteries (and the occasional thriller)

Is it a touch embarrassing that almost a third of my reads are mysteries? I was an English lit major after all.

At this time, mystery authors are nearly equally divided between male and female. But lately I've been reading women writers almost exclusively. The males of the species seem to trying to compete with television, with improbable plots, increasing violence, and huge cast of characters, most of whom die in gruesome ways. Here's a sentence from Michael Koryta's The Silent Hour that illustrates the problem. “According to Darius, Salvatore Bertoli had sought Cash out to warn him of Joshua Cantrell’s attempts to get information about the murder of Johnny DiPietro.” Five characters shallowly exhaled in one breath, near the end of the book. I can't remember how many of them die - probably all of them.

I do like (early) Martin Cruz-Smith, David Downing, Philip Kerr, John LeCarre, and Peter Lovesey. Authors that rise a little higher are Ian Rankin, Alan Furst, and Henning Mankell - they have strong characters and interesting settings and even some "literary" themes.

Speaking of the Scandinavians, I too had my fling - lasted a couple of years. No more - now even the women are writing like the men.

Favorite women writers, all or almost all of whose books I've read, include Ann Cleeves, Elizabeth George, P.D. James, Donna Leon, Laura Lippman, Louise Penney, Ruth Rendell, and Jacqueline Winspear. Just good characters and reasonable stories, please.

None of these are literary in the graduate school sense. In fact, I can't think of a "mystery" writer since Graham Greene who confronts the great themes of religion and politics and death and joy and angst.


More serious books....

Friday, August 25, 2017

Monumental disgrace

Yesterday Interior Secretary Zinke made some kind of draft report to 45 concerning the status of the 27 National Monuments he's been "reviewing" for the last two months. The report is maddeningly imprecise. Although the existence of none of the monuments will be challenged, some boundaries may be constricted and some rights of access expanded. One doesn't know whether to be glad or angry.

Let's assume the worst, since this administration elsewhere has so amply demonstrated its contempt for people and law. Let's assume the whole review has been driven by the current terrible feedback loops of money and politics, and by politics I mean the incessant attempt to get elected and stay elected, with ideology justifying every action, and that ideology is really just rich white men and their incessant attempts to stay rich and get richer, using individual freedoms, state rights, public access, whatever crappy phrase you want to use, to fund the politicians who in turn will provide access to the places for rich men to plunder. In the case of national monuments, it's mostly about extraction industries, with a little recreation and grazing thrown in to appease the hoodwinked locals. Let me repeat: this review is about mining.

I'm the first to admit that extraction industries have made possible the present comforts of life, and will do so for a long time. But technology is on the verge of making new mines unnecessary. Why should we desecrate in order to profiteer?

Here in Maine, I'm happy that Katahdin Woods and Waters is probably spared. Elsewhere, especially in the West, I find it a disgrace that the glories of wilderness and the health of children are subject to the greed of rich white men, that the honorable roots and traditional meanings of the very words "conservative" and "Republican" are forever traduced.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Lucas St. Clair

I had the privilege last night, at Coastal Mountains Land Trust's annual party for our major donors, to introduce Lucas St. Clair as guest speaker. Lucas is the public face in front of, and the driving force behind, the establishment of Maine's newest national preserve Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, signed into law by President Obama on August 24, 2016. A president with a somewhat different agenda is currently reviewing the monument's status for modification or even nullification of its existence.

We were happy to hear Lucas say that even if Interior Secretary Zinke caves in to political pressure, i.e., Trump throws a sop to Maine's sophomoric governor Paul LePage, no president has the legal right to un-establish such a monument. Congress does - and with Congress in gridlock, it's highly unlikely to pursue such an action. The courts offer a further protection.

So to KWW's 87,500 acres of forest and plain, mountains and valleys, river and ponds, moose and bear: long may you inspire!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Walk and stop

two reasons to stop on my walk:

To stare:Two large birds flew around trees, rested on branches, flew again in the woods along Bay View. From their high, soft screams I guessed they were hawks but I couldn't get a good view. If so, what were they doing in mere trees, acting like commoners? Why weren't they soaring?

To stuff: Blackberries are ripening!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book review

thanks to George Smith for his very nice review of One Man's Maine: Essays on a Love Affair.

George Smith review

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sacred and not-so-sacred hymns

Dave Morrison reading poetry on Beech Hill on Sunday afternoon. Church enough for me.

Image result for dave morrison poet

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Imagine squatting on a tightrope, holding an artichoke in both hands, peeling its leaves away, and eating the tender ends as you go. Imagine finishing the whole artichoke in about a minute. Imagine reaching over to grab another, and another, maybe 20 in all.
That was a little red squirrel last evening, sitting on a swaying tree branch and and dissecting cone after hemlock cone, with immense skill and speed.
I could barely control my crossword puzzle book when I reached to the deck railing for my G&T and a cracker or two. Nor could I manage any kind of grace or efficiency when I went over to try my own skill on a cone.
Now imagine being so perfectly evolved for a task at hand - say, writing books.

Friday, August 11, 2017



On my walk this morning, near the airport, two bald eagles soared in circles several hundred feet over runway 13-31.When a Gulfstream on its take-off screamed above us, they didn't seem to curse, or even flinch. I stood and watched, ears ringing.


Going back home along the shore, I disturbed an eagle. It took off majestically from a tall tree right in front of me, and a small, persistent tern pursued it all the way across the cove. I stood and watched, heart singing.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Clear and bright

There is no better place to be than Maine in August, especially when it's clear and bright.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

New essay published

"Barnacles" is an essay about the coast of Maine, but it is not part of my collection One Man's Maine (click on the picture next door to order). It's a brand-new piece published by the wonderful folks at Under the Sun.

Here's the link. Barnacles

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rain and fog

There is no better place to be than Maine in August, especially on a rainy, foggy day.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Reviews for One Man's Maine: Essays on a Love Affair

Here are excerpts of the great reviews that the new book is generating.

“Krosschell [understands] that the world moves; times shift; and there's a balance to be sought between society, with all its screens and buzzes, and nature. He celebrates the slow pleasures to be found scraping moss off the roof and asks the big questions about what kind of world is being left behind to younger generations.”
Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe

“A string of vignettes like perfect Maine pearls on a twist of sweet grass, Jim Krosschell’s One Man’s Maine brings us a perfect set of closely observed reflections on what it means to live in right relation with the natural world. Honest and drawn with a light touch, Jim gets us to relax and savor the sweetness of Maine’s true nature . . . and when we open our eyes, we see that he’s given us something real and true to think about.”
Tim Glidden, President of Maine Coast Heritage Trust

"One Man's Maine is really everyone's Maine. Jim's descriptions of the landscapes I fell in love with when I first moved here decades ago are an expression of my own heart.  I hope this book spawns a legion of environmental advocates that will rise up and protect this beautiful state, which so many residents and visitors treasure."
Lisa Pohlman, Executive Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine

“Jim Krosschell’s essays are an inviting and thought-provoking revelation of how Maine has pulled in and transformed the life of a man from ‘away.’“
John Rensenbrink, Prof. Emeritus Bowdoin College, Co-Founder, US Green Party and the Maine Green Party

“This is a book of essays full of observation and introspection, in the vein of E.B. White. Each piece is powerfully contemplative. There's humor, too, but what I liked best about the book is how it documents Maine: its natural beauty, literary history, irresistible allure.”
Allison Wells, Explore Maine 2017, Natural Resources Council of Maine