What a wonderful place we live! Long Island now has a new outlet for books, sort of like a “Little Free Library.” In this case it’s a pink painted refrigerator, called “Brenda’s Book Box.” Located at 604 Fern Ave., this little library was lovingly made by Brenda’s husband Dave.
Brenda’s mission is to encourage reading and exchanging of books:
➢ FEEL FREE TO TAKE A BOOK
➢ LEAVE A BOOK (GOOD CONDITION)
➢ WHEN YOU’VE FINISHED BOOK – PLEASE PASS ON OR RETURN IT BACK TO “BRENDA’S BOOK BOX” FOR THE NEXT READER
➢ I’D BE HAPPY TO PICK UP ANY BOOKS IN GOOD CONDITION AT YOUR HOME/COTTAGE – MY # IS 207-650-5354
So, next time you are out for a walk, be sure to bring a book to swap… at Brenda’s Book Box!
This month I celebrate 10 years of writing blogs for the Long Island Community Library – it’s been a joy and a privilege, and allows me an opportunity to blog about subjects near and dear to my heart, including our island library, books, and reading.
The posts are a variety – some just share information, and some are more thoughtful and original. We love having guest bloggers, such as when Lorinda Valls wrote about a trip to Monroeville, Alabama, home of Harper Lee, and Nancy Jordan wrote about the theme of “death of a husband” in literature.
At one point I began an annual blog in January about favorite or notable books that I enjoyed reading in the previous year. An occasional series I started was about authors on the bay, including Dr. Chuck Radis and Kim MacIsaac on Peaks Island, Stephen English and Anne Weber on Great Diamond Island, and our own Charlie Adams.
Various topics caught my interest over the past 10 years, such as books about coffee and tea, and books about Scotland, Ireland, Australia, The West, and Daphne DuMaurier’s Cornwall. Other topics related to literature included books and films about game wardens, pandemics, gardening, world religion, cats, poetry, bicycling, travel, knitting, pilgrimages, war, autism, food (memoirs), mobile librarians, orphans, booksellers, and porches. Even “Famous men’s wives and lovers in literature” found its way into the blog. I explored topics related to books: Little Free Libraries, book clubs in Portland, Maine authors and poets (Ben Ames Williams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Blanco, E.B. White), seed libraries, Goodreads, and a few blogs about accessing books during Covid, when we were sadly without our usual access to favorite libraries and bookstores.
I wrote about island libraries in Casco Bay (Chebeague, Cliff, Peaks, the Diamond Islands) and beyond (Matinicus). I wrote about libraries in Portland that can be walked to from the ferry, and libraries I encountered on my vacations, including in the Adirondacks and Nova Scotia. I profiled our own library’s programs, including our major fundraiser: Art and Soul.
I was able to highlight our exhibits in the small meeting room case, including exhibits about rocks, birds, Long Islanders (publication of the Long Island Civic Association), the history of our island library, the history of photography, Portland pottery, record albums, the Bunny Hop, Anne Kilham cards, Beanie babies, first ladies, fans and valentines, cookbooks, and plates of barns. At Christmas we often had special holiday exhibits about cookie cutters, snowmen, Santa’s Village, Christmas ornaments and decorations, Advent calendars, a ceramic nativity set, often highlighting items made by or collected by islanders.
Some of my more esoteric topics include “Which is better, the book or the movie?,” revisiting classic books, and common themes in books.
Curt Murley set up the WordPress site for blogging in May of 2012, and contributed the first blog about the library used books table – a few days later was my first blog about films that take place in Paris. I’m not exactly sure how it came about that I volunteered to write the blogs. I seem to recall Maggie Carle, in our library board meeting when we first talked about writing blogs for the library website, saying how difficult it is to keep blogs going – so I’m very pleased that I’ve been inspired to write about something every month for the past ten years. Many thanks to the faithful few who actually read these blogs – I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!
My bucket list includes a visit to Matinicus Island. Some people think Long Island is the wild frontier, but of all the populated Maine islands, Matinicus seems like the one that is especially on the edge of civilization.
A recent article in the Bangor Daily News, more about banned books than about the library, brought to light this small island’s tiny library. It was picked up by the Smithsonian magazine, NBC news, NPR, Portland Press Herald. One of the best articles is by author Eva Murray, on the Maine Boats website.
I shared the Bangor Daily News article with some of my fellow LICL board members, and we thought that the Matinicus Library’s experience mirrored ours, almost 35 years ago, when we started up our island library. (See our blog post about our own humble beginnings)
The Matinicus Island Library was founded in 2016, beginning its life in an 8×10 foot shed. In 2020 they added an adjoining shed. They now have a children’s room. The library is run solely by volunteers, like the Long Island Community Library. As Eva Murray says, “Matinicus is neither stylish nor convenient as a tourist destination,” which makes it all the more appealing. Hopefully they will someday welcome this fellow islander (and librarian) to their beloved island library.
This month, in honor of Irish-American Heritage Month, we welcome Anne Weber of Great Diamond Island back to our blog post. Anne recently published her first novel, A Pencil in His Pocket, about her great grand uncle, John Mulvany, who immigrated from Ireland in 1851 and ultimately became a well known artist of the American west.
Anne kindly responded to my questions about her new book, as well as her personal connection.
How exactly are you related to John Mulvany? (which of his siblings do you descend from?) John Mulvany is my great grand uncle. His half sister, Alice O’Brien, is my great grandmother
How did you balance the few known facts about John with the fictional aspect of telling a good story? The facts became the foundation for the story, i.e. I knew John worked on the Erie Canal as a tow boy, but not how he ended up there, what boat he worked on, who he met, etc. So after researching the Canal for this time period, I used what I learned to write the story so John could learn what would make him the man he became – deeply connected to Irish freedom and an artist. The same thing holds for how John came to America in 1851. Despite all my research, I could not find a record of his entering this country legally. So I created the Duffy family and Eamon O’Rielly.
Where did you find good historical resources of information about John Mulvany, as well as general history, such as about his home in Ireland, his family, his immigration to America, and his time on the canal? In 1985, I began with a genealogy search which connected me with contemporary cousins in Ireland. In 1987, I was invited to visit Moynalty, Ireland where the Mulvany family still lives. The cousins have been invaluable to uncovering verifiable information. And then, of course, came the stories. I visited the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY for a first hand look; I spend hours reading. The internet might give me direction but the libraries were/are the best place to get the books to verify. Roy Finch’s The Story of the New York State Canals, Richard Garrity’s Canal Boatman, My Life on Upstate Waterways,and Lionel Wyld’sBoaters and Broomsticks were very helpful.
You are an artist – how does your work relate to the artwork of John Mulvany? (how is it similar, how is it different?) What do you admire most about his work, from an artists’ point of view? My art work is a different style and genre. John Mulvany was a man of his time; portraits and history painting. He created three dimensional objects using light and dark. I use the temperature of color to create space; warm and cool colors. As I’ve learned what it takes to sustain a career in the arts, I really appreciate his persistence and dedication. He sketched a picture of a newsboy selling papers two weeks before his death. That picture is lost.
What do you think John would think of your book? If you could sit down in a conversation with him what are some of the big questions you would ask him? I hope he would think the book was a good effort. I would ask him where he stored his paintings at the end of his life; what arrangements he made for “Anarchists”, and his Civil War paintings. What did happen the last night of his life? What were his regrets? Why did he switch subject matter – from Western to Irish. “Preliminary Trial of a Horse Thief” and “Custer’s Last Rally” had made his reputation and then he turned to Irish themes; i.e. “The Battle of Aughrim” which was found in a flea market, sold on eBay in 2010 for over $200,000.
This month we bring you Kim MacIsaac’s new book: Peaks Island past and present. This beautiful book is the result of several decades of research about the history of her beloved island. Kim kindly answered some of my questions about her book:
It sounds like your family has been on the island for several generations – can you tell us briefly how they came to Peaks Island?
My maternal great-grandmother’s family came from Nova Scotia around 1880 – some to Portland and others to Natick, MA. The Portland branch of the family acquired a cottage on Peaks. Mom and Grammy grew up here summers. My dad’s parents emigrated from Italy in 1911. Some people from their village were already in Portland. By 1916 they had bought several plots of land and a house on Peaks. So my parents met on Peaks. Dad was born on the island & mom became a year-round resident when they married.
How long did it take for this book to be published? Tell us a little about the path to publication.
I have been researching Peaks Island’s history for decades – I’m still researching today. There is always something new to discover. The book is an expansion of my master’s thesis about tourism on Peaks. Being locked down due to Covid gave me plenty of time to work on the book. I started writing in earnest in fall of 2020 and completed the manuscript in late winter of 2021. I only included a fraction of my research – it took a long time to decide what to include. I signed on with Maine Authors Publishing in spring 2021. Publication was scheduled for late summer/early fall 2021 but it was delayed several times because of the broken supply chain. The publisher had trouble resupplying the paper & book cloth that I chose. The books finally arrived a few days after Christmas.
How do you separate fact from fiction? (tall tales)
Peaks history is largely an oral history. Not much documentation – the island is barely mentioned in any histories of Portland. The stories that I heard from a variety of people, some of whom didn’t know one another, seemed to remain pretty much the same as they were passed down thru the generations. Other stories seemed to be nothing but gossip – juicy things about this person or that person. It seemed best not to put them in print.
How does your research of Peaks Island history translate to your golf cart tours on the island?
My daughter started the tour business in 2003 – the information given on tour is basic general information that can be corroborated. New stuff gets incorporated & each tour guide brings in his/her experience of living on the island.
Peaks Island seems to have changed in the past few years – how do you preserve the history currently there? How do you foresee the history of Peaks Island being told in the future?
The Peaks Island Historical Society (I am the curator) is documenting current happenings on the island via photos, newspaper items, & public programs/activities that are aimed at educating people about the importance & need to preserve not just the past but also today. What happened yesterday, last week etc. is now history. The Society was formed in 2019 with that goal in mind. We have a big turn over in population so we’re hoping that the long-time residents & their families who have been here for generations will continue our efforts.
Kim’s book is available at the Long Island Community Library
According to Goodreads, last year I read 62 books! The shortest book at 112 pages was a book of poetry by Scott Cairns: “Anaphora.” The longest book was Diana Gabaldon’s first in her Scottish Highlander series, “Outlander,” at 850 pages. The average book length was 314 pages (around my ideal book length). The most popular book was Delia Owen’s “Where the crawdads sing,” which was read by at least 2,627,916 people on Goodreads. The least popular (read) book was “Sussex, Kent, and Surrey” written in 1939 by Richard Wyndam (only 19 people had that on their “shelves.”)
This year, my favorite books tended to be non-fiction. I read a lot of wonderful novels, but because I wrote about some of them in other blogs last year, or they were popular books that were raved about by many (such as Maggie O’Farrell’s lovely Hamnet), I will only highlight two fictional books that I enjoyed last year, that may not be as well known. Usually I profile 10 books, but this year are only 8. And one of my new years’ resolutions for 2022? Find more wonderful novels to share with you this time next year!
Here are some of the most delightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking books I read last year:
Dinner Party with the Saints: the People Behind the Halos/ by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker. This was a very charming book, with the supposition of a dinner party in heaven, with a variety of saints, some more familiar than others. Their interactions with each other are quite humorous. Each chapter introduces another saint into the story, and then gives historical background on them. As each saint brought a dish to the dinner party, a recipe was included. Mostly I loved the glimpse of a kind of heaven I could look forward to – a gathering of friends over food and drink, with lots of love and laughter, and special guests. Published by Paraclete Press, one of my favorite publishers.
A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith/ by Timothy Egan. This book is such a great blend of travelogue and religious history (which is sad and depressing), as well as an internal journey for the author. I also liked how at various times Egan’s son, daughter, and wife walked with him, to give an added element of interest. I had never heard of the Via Francigena before, so that was fascinating to learn more about – although I may never walk it, I can certainly walk it vicariously, through this marvelous book.
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation / by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. This was a title I just couldn’t resist. This book is a must read for anyone (like me) who cannot fathom how Christians can vote into office someone who is the antithesis of all who Christ is. Kristin Kobes Du Mez presents a fascinating history of the past 75+ years that brought us to this point in time, into a rabbit hole of the Religious Right’s support of the view of Jesus as warrior and thus the cult of masculinity, along with racism and anti-feminism. I think my jaw dropped on every page, and I was so shocked to read about people I had grown up knowing about. What makes the author so credible is that she also grew up in the same faith I did, and although she teaches at a Christian Reformed university (which I attended briefly in the early 80s), she is able to take a historical view of the phenomenon which brings us to where we are today. Definitely not a separation of church and state in our history of a country, at least in the past century. I will be contemplating all I learned in this book for many years to come.
Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch / by Erin French. Years ago Michael and I took a road trip for my birthday to the Maine towns of Union, Hope, Liberty, and Freedom (see September 2014 blog post). There’s not much to see in Freedom, but we walked around a little, and stopped by the Mill at Freedom Falls. We peeked in the windows and saw a sign for “The Lost Kitchen” and learned about this new restaurant, which was on the verge of opening up, but didn’t think much about it. Since then, though, the reputation of the restaurant has grown exponentially, and now it’s the place to be, for an ultimate culinary experience. A friend gave me Erin French’s cookbook, and when this book came out I was the first at the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association to check it out. I really loved reading this book, and found it to be a page turner – more than that, it was beautifully written. Obviously Erin French is as good of a writer as she is a cook (which it seems like she thinks of herself, more than being a chef). This is probably the most popular book on my list, especially here in Maine, but it’s worth an extra shout out – because it’s so good!
On the plain of snakes: a Mexican journey / by Paul Theroux. Paul Theroux makes my list for the second year in a row. After re-reading Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar, I bought this book for Michael for us to read together. If you’re looking for a travel book to make you want to visit Mexico, this is not it. But if you’re looking for a fascinating read to give you insight into the complex country of Mexico, you will want to read this book. Initially the book is pretty depressing, as the first part is about the border, and all its sadness and drama, but it does get better. And actually, by the end, it almost makes one want to visit Mexico, although with caution. Of course, we love “Don Pablo” and his writing, so this was a great read, although quite horrifying in parts. But Paul Theroux has so much respect for the Mexican people, and continues his relationship with them even after the book is published – by the end of the book we felt so enchanted with the country and the people, and if we ever make it back there, we’ll have a better basis for understanding the culture and history of our neighbor to the south.
Garden spells / by Sarah Addison Allen. Another serendipitous find at the Portland Public Library’s free book truck out on Congress Street. I had never heard of the author but was taken in by the cover (see, you can judge a book by its cover) and the title. I like this book so much that after it was over, I reread favorite parts of it (always a good sign). It’s totally my kind of book – quirky garden, interesting characters, good romance, food, humor, great setting, and just really lovely all the way through. I’m looking forward to reading the next book (and possibly last?) book in the “Waverly family series.”
This month brought us a lovely visit from our neighboring library, across the water – The Chebeague Island Library. Library director Chloe Dyer, and Assistant Librarian, Corie Meehan, hopped on a ferry on a late Sunday morning to pay our library and staff a visit. I (Nancy Noble) picked them up, and Paula Johnson and Nancy Jordan greeted them at the entrance to our library. We had a lovely time, showing Chloe and Corie our beautiful library, and talking with them about the history of our library, our programs, and the challenges of running a library during COVID. Our visiting librarians also had a chance to check out the crafters in the Dodwell Gallery.
Many years ago, when we were starting to get ideas for our new (to be built) library, we visited the Chebeague Island Library on a winter’s day, much like this one in December, and loved seeing their wonderful facility (see blog entry for February 2013). Martha Hamilton was the librarian at the time. Since then, Deb Bowman has been the director. Last year she retired, and Chloe was hired. I came across her name on the Maine Libraries Listserv, reached out to her, and invited her to visit our library. Most people say, “yes, sure, I would love to…” (in the summer, maybe…), but Chloe quickly set a date to come visit us. Fortunately, the weather was perfect, and after their visit to the library they had some time to explore the island, before hopping back on the ferry down the bay, back to Chebeague.
I love connecting the various islands, especially through one of our greatest island resources – the library.
I was recently introduced to a trilogy of books: Seashell Bay novels. While in the genre of romance novels, Long Islanders would be interested in reading this series that takes place on an island in Casco Bay called “Seashell Bay” (which seems like kind of an odd name for an island, but whatever).
Written by V. K. Sykes ( the husband and wife duo of Vanessa Kelly and Randy Sykes) the first book, “Meet me at the Beach” is dedicated “For Phil and Anne Kelly, who showed us the way to Seashell Bay.” In the acknowledgements, they write “Seashell Bay is a fictional place, of course. But there is certainly a Casco Bay, and it provided us with much inspiration for our series. Grateful thanks go to the residents of one small island in particular, especially Bob Stack, Liz and Robin Walker, and Harriet Davis and her two wonderful girls, Claire and Annie (thanks for finding the missing angel, Claire!).” Turns out Vanessa is the daughter of Phil Kelly and his first wife Flora. As most of you know Anne’s sister is Liz, and her niece is Harriet. So, the Davis family was Vanessa’s introduction to Long Island, and inspired her setting her trilogy on our fair island.
Reading through “Meet me at the Beach” is great fun for a Long Islander, trying to glimpse familiar places. In some ways Seashell Bay seems to be a bigger island, perhaps more like a Peaks Island. But there are common themes to Long Island – dances, the VFW, trying to control development, local kids leaving home to get as far away as possible from the island, local kids who choose to stay, the lobstering life, family feuds, generations of Irish American families, alcoholism, a Catholic Church, and the pros and cons of having a car ferry. I’m eager to read the other two books in the series: “See you at sunset,” and “Summer at the shore,” both of which follow the story of two of the friends of Lily, the heroine in the first novel. It’s always fun to read about your hometown, even under the guise of romance novel/beach reads.
What better way to while away a sunny afternoon that to curl up on a porch swing with a good book? For 20 years or so our porch was inaccessible, but when we renovated our house we opened up our front porch, and it’s now an extra room for us to spend time in, whether enjoying afternoon tea or coffee with friends and family, watching the birds, waving to passersby, or reading the newspaper. Even on a rainy day we can sit on our porch, and listen to the rain coming down.
In researching porches, I came across a charming book (from the Portland Public Library) called “Out on the porch: an evocation in words and pictures.” While more Southern in examples, it showcases some wonderful porches in photographs, and quotes by famous authors such as Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, and Flannery O’Connor, that appear in fiction and non-fiction.
“One afternoon I found her sitting alone upon the front porch, reading”–from Black Boy by Richard Wright.
And so, I invite you to carve out a place on your porch, and open the pages of your favorite books, to savor some quiet time to read, and enjoy fresh air and ocean breezes.
This month, as part of our occasional series about authors on Casco Bay, we introduce Dr. Chuck Radis, a resident of Peaks Island. This summer Dr. Radis presented a reading and talk about his new book: “Go by Boat: Stories of a Maine Island Doctor” at the Long Island Learning Center to an enthusiastic and engaged crowd.
To follow up on his excellent talk, I asked him a few more questions, which he graciously answered for this blog:
Which came first, your love of writing or your interest in medicine?
While in college I wrote several articles for the now defunct Maine Times. It was after my second year in college that I switched from an interest in marine biology to medicine after a chance encounter with a family practice doctor on a long bicycle trip in Baja California
Did you keep a journal or is your book based on memory?
I’ve kept an At-A-Glance Pocket counter in my shirt pocket since I began my internal medicine residency in 1982. By surreptitiously writing down memorable quotes or a few sentences during patient encounters I’ve been able to expand or recreate house calls or office visits later that day, or months later.
Amidst a busy medical career, how do you find the time to write?
I found writing a tonic for stress. The more I found time to write, the better I felt. There’s no question it helped me avoid burn-out and helped me better understand my patients. It most often occurred early in the morning before the rest of my family awakened.
How long did it take you to write your book, and what was the process of getting it published like?
The first time I thought I finished the book was in 2001. Here are 2 short essays I wrote on eventually finding an agent and getting my book published. Yes, it took a long time.
Do you have favorite authors who are physicians? (i.e., are there books out there that inspired you?) I’ve enjoyed Atul Gawande’s Better, as well as The Beautiful Cure by Daniel Davis, but the writers which have influenced me the most are James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small, and nearly everything by John McFee. McFee has had, by far, the most influence on the way I tell a story and try to expand on the lives of my characters.
What would you see as the unique needs and challenges of providing medical care on islands, especially in Maine? Besides not having lab or x-rays to assist me in diagnosis, the greatest challenge I faced was getting my patients to agree to go to Portland for testing or admission to the hospital.
How does humor play a role in your writing, and in your life? Although I’m not Jewish, I grew up with a group of very funny Jewish friends. One is a professional comedian and another is a talented magician. I was the straight man in their antics but appreciated their humorous take on nearly everything in life.
Do you have ideas for other books? My second book was accepted by Down East Books and is scheduled for release next April. It’s called Island Medicine. The Wildflower Guide to the Flowering Plants of Casco Bay (which I’ve co-written with my know-it-all brother Rick) should be out by Christmas this year. I am the editor (and primary writer) for a book on John Jenkins, Maine’s first black state senator and the former mayor of Lewiston and Auburn. It’s due out next June.
Long-term, I have plans for a book on Rheumatology and autoimmune diseases (that’s the specialty I eventually I went into after I left my island practice). It would be in the same vein as neurologist Oliver Sach’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
A copy of Dr. Radis’ book can be found at the Long Island Community Library, and we look forward to reading his future books.