Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Books as Souvenirs

While on vacation on the North Shore in early August, I indulged in a couple of books as souvenirs -- a practice I enjoy because a book after all can become a valued member of the family, whereas a knickknack is just ... a knickknack.

In a little bookshop, Drury Lane Books, in Grand Marais, I discovered a series of books by Helen Hoover about life deep in the north woods in the 1950s and '60s. A Place in the Woods tells the story of how she and her husband, both working professionals in Chicago, chose to leave their city lives and move to a primitive log cabin (suitable, if challenging, for winter) and nearby larger summer home in a stand of old-growth forest in northern Minnesota, near a lake within view of Canada. In this book, Hoover writes exquisitely about the forest fauna and flora, and she devotes considerably more detail to these subjects in other books in the series (all recently reissued by the University of Minnesota press as part of the Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Book series), including The Long-Shadowed Forest, The Gift of the Deer, and The Years of the Forest. I ordered these last three upon my return from vacation, remembering that I had an unused Amazon gift certificate left over from my birthday, and I am now enjoying The Long-Shadowed Forest. All of the books are charmingly illustrated by Adrian ("Ade" as she calls him) Hoover, Helen's husband.

Inspired by the Hoovers' back-to-the-land story, I also ordered the new second edition of We Took to the Woods, by Louise Dickinson Rich. First published in 1942 and described as a perennial bestseller, this tells a somewhat similar tale set a couple of decades earlier in the woods of Maine rather than Minnesota. Rich's book is less focused than Hoover's on detailed descriptions of wildlife, but is told with an engaging dry wit that no doubt accounts for its longstanding popularity.

The other book I bought on vacation I picked up at Northern Lights Gifts and Books near the Duluth waterfront: Serving Up the Harvest: Celebrating the goodness of fresh vegetables, by Andrea Chesman. I have plenty of cookbooks that I don't use nearly as often as I should, but I was drawn to this 500-page paperback volume by its beautiful cover and its big, friendly pages that fall open nicely. The recipes are arranged in seasonal order, taking the reader/cook from asparagus, peas and spinach through the gardening year to winter squash and pumpkins. The author also includes some notes on planting, growing and harvesting the vegetables covered in the book. I've yet to try anything from it, but a summer vegetable bread pudding and a pasta with fresh tomatoes and wilted greens both sound very appealing. I'll keep you posted.


Mary Schier said...

I forgot to mention when I saw you today that on your recommendation I read A Place in the Woods. (It's at the Northfield Library.) What a story! Given all the trouble they had the first year or so, it is amazing they stayed, but you get a sense of their resourcefulness and good humor, plus 'Ade' seemed to have quite a few skills as a carpenter/handyman. Hoover is a good writer. I may pick up some of the other books. Thanks for the recommendation.

Penelope said...

I'm glad you liked it!