Long Nights Are For Good Maine Books
The long, dark, cold, snowy winter provides a wonderful opportunity to read, by firelight if you prefer, gas lights if you are nostalgic, and bright electric lights if you are my age and can’t see the pages anymore.
I’m adjusting to my first pair of progressive lenses and the small focal point for reading is tough – a good excuse to read more until I get the hang of it. I already borrow more books from Mount Vernon’s Dr. Shaw library than any other patron – partly because, as chair of the trustees, I have a key to the library!
Quite often I’ll be curled up in front of the fire with a good mystery written by an author no longer with us, including my all-time favorite John McDonald. Someone at Second Read bookstore in Rockland likes the same old authors I do and I mine their shelves for new old books whenever Linda and I visit that bustling town. Ian McBain is another favorite mystery writer as is Ross McDonald.
If you love nature, every book by Bernd Heinrich should be on your shelf. My personal favorite is Winter World, Bernd’s fascinating explanation of how our favorite critters survive the winter. This award-winning professor of biology at the University of Vermont spends much of his time at camp in western Maine.
One of my many obsessions is bird watching, so I have been delighted by a new book, Birds of Eastern North America by Paul Sterry and Brian Small (Princeton University Press, 2009). Sent to me to review, I was immediately captivated by the stunning photographs. I’m a visual person, and a bird book that includes great photographs really helps me identify birds. This one’s a keeper.
A companion book Birds of Western North America was equally compelling, partly because it covers my new favorite birding destination, Texas. It will be in my backpack when we hit the Rio Grande Valley next spring.
Not long ago I read Life List by Olivia Gentile. It is the story of Phoebe Snetsinger, the world’s most successful birder, and offers a troubling look into the obsession of birding. Perhaps it will help keep my birding at an acceptable level.
As a sportsman, my library contains a whole lot of books about hunting and fishing. I wouldn’t be surprised if every hunter and angler has published or at least written a book, written a published or unpublished magazine article, tried to publish a photograph, or at least scribbled some notes on favorite times afield. It’s an affliction.
My favorite outdoor writers include Maine’s own James Babb, a colleague at The Maine Sportsman who went on to fame if not fortune as an editor of Gray’s Sporting Journal. Jim’s amazing vocabulary, amply demonstrated in his three books, makes me envious.
Anglers will recognize the name Robert Traver, a Judge and mystery writer whose Trout Madness and Trout Magic books are classics, just like his famous Anatomy of a Murder.
If you like angling as well as mysteries, it’s hard to beat William Tapley. I’d only read Tapley’s fishing books until a sister-in-law gave me a Tapley mystery last Christmas. I’m hooked. His new book, Dark Tiger, is very good.
For hunting stories, Maine’s Tom Hennessey, long-time columnist and illustrator for the Bangor Daily News, is at the top of the game, and Gene Hill is a personal favorite, especially his book of upland bird hunting stories.
Some very famous writers of fiction, like Thomas McGuane, also wrote compelling books on hunting and fishing. McGuane’s The Longest Silence, A Life in Fishing, is wonderful.
I like to live in the past, so many of my favorite authors or their subjects are long gone.
Edmund Ware Smith (no relation but I wish he was), authored fictional and true stories in a series of books published mostly in the 1950s, including well-known stories about the “one eyed poacher.”
But it is Smith’s story, The Saga of Third Chain Cabin, that is his finest, bringing tears to my eyes every time I read it. You can find it in his book, A Treasury of the Maine Woods.
William Krohn’s book about Manly Hardy presents a captivating look at one of Maine’s outstanding fur-buyers, hunters, and naturalists, published by The Maine Folklife Center. Hardy lived from 1832 to 1920 and traveled all over the North Woods year after year. One year he and his hunting buddies shot more than eighty moose near my camp on Sourdahunk Lake. Now that got my attention!
If, like me, you enjoy reading about the old days, Edward Ives’s account of Maine’s most famous poacher will interest you. George Magoon and the Down East Game War was published by the University of Illinois Press as part of their series for the American Folklore Society.
One of Maine’s best writers is not from Maine. Franklin Burroughs is a South Carolina native who taught at Bowdoin College. He’s an adopted son and master storyteller with a strong Maine voice. I loved his book Billy Watson’s Crocker Sack, a sack full of stories including a memorable moose hunt.
Burrough’s most recent book, Confluence: Merrymeeting Bay, published by Tilbury House in Gardiner, is simply astonishing, a must-read for everyone who appreciates the mighty Kennebec River.
Which brings me to my all-time favorite Maine author, long-time newspaper columnist William Clark. Bill’s newspaper column, Some Logrolling, appeared for many years in Maine’s Gannett newspapers. He was a strong voice for rural Maine, a gifted writer who captured the essence of our state.
But it was Bill’s fiction that captured my heart. His Tales of Cedar River is a masterpiece of stories about characters right out of every Maine village. Bill wrote several books about Cedar River, finishing up with Sing Peace to Cedar River, a book I treasure (partly because he autographed it to me shortly before he died).
Former Gannet newspaper editor and columnist Jim Brunelle delivered a wonderful eulogy at Bill’s funeral. Bill deserved every word. And for you, dear reader, every word Bill wrote will brighten a snowy day this winter at your house.
For me, I’m sliding Maine guide Randy Spencer’s new book, Where Cool Rivers Flow, off the shelf and into my lap. What are you reading tonight?