A Summer Reading List for an Island Writer
It looks like I’ve got some assigned reading this summer.
With my own book about the simple and the complicated life of Matinicus due out in less than a month, I’ve had a few interesting comments regarding the other current books which tell the stories of the coast of Maine.
“Oh, is your book like That Lobster Book?”
“Is living there really like on Bennett’s Island?”
“You must know Linda Greenlaw.”
I’d better get busy.
Actually, I have no idea what’s in That Lobster Book, either of them, as I haven’t been through all the recent additions to the Accepted Canon of Maine Science and Literature, much to my disgrace. I shall endeavor to rectify the situation.
Recently, I read “The Lobster Coast.” Writer Colin Woodard begins his historical journey by grounding us in the real world of Trap Day on Monhegan. Reading his account made me think of my friends the Boyntons of that island. My own Monhegan awareness has nothing to do with scenery or fairy houses or summer vacations and absolutely nothing to do with art. I wouldn’t know Jamie Wyeth if I tripped over him. Our daughter has a friend who grew up on Monhegan (year-round, I mean). Both of their dads are involved in their respective island power companies. I think of Monhegan as a community as small as ours, only with different sources of stomach acid; overwhelming crowds of improperly-shod summer visitors and a few prima-donna wannabe-sophisticates who don’t even paint that good, as opposed to junk cars, Saturday-night fights, and the manipulations of small-town machine politicians and schoolyard bullies. (Oh, excuse me, sorry, I meant “hard-working, salt-of-the-earth islanders.” ) In the pleasantly raucous dining hall of the boarding school which both island daughters attended, we’d sit together, the Monhegan and Matinicus parents, evidencing neither country-club pedigree nor doctoral degree, both common to that place, and I assume we stuck out like sore thumbs for our work boots and our broken fingernails and our idle chatter about kilowatthours. The girls put up with us somehow.
Monhegan, America, is the only place I know of where electricity sometimes costs more than it does here.
I believe Monhegan is the only community to observe anything like Trap Day. There is a misconception around, among some of those who tend to jump to conclusions, that Trap Day is an “island thing” everywhere. No. It is part of what makes Monhegan special.
(Sorry, you guys; I hope that wasn’t too syrupy. Plenty of other writers do syrupy. The world doesn’t need another one.)
Anyway, I do hope to meet Colin Woodard before long, which could happen as he and I contribute to several of the same publications. He writes serious stuff while I more or less just watch the idiots jump up and down, so I figure he sort of out-ranks me, but that’s OK.
I also hope to meet Trevor Corson. This week, I’m reading “The Secret Life of Lobsters.” My husband went to boot camp in 1969 with the Cranberry Isles lobsterman for whom Corson worked as he did his research. Trevor Corson’s bio in the back of the book indicates that he graduated summa cum laude from Princeton. Holy moley — talk about being out-ranked.
Suddenly, I have an increased interest in the writers’ biographies, in the back-stories and the “acknowledgements” pages, and a renewed sympathy for authors who must endure the especially weird ways of the promotional people. Evidently when “Secret Life” was published, marine science, carefully detailed history, and the day-to-day reality of life in Maine weren’t interesting enough; the press had to make a lot of sophomoric remarks about lobster sexuality. Wink, wink. Spare me.
Not long ago I read “The Cure for Everything is Salt Water.” I have met Mary South, briefly; her parents are friends of mine. In the book South quits her job, buys an old workboat, learns to run it, and takes off up the coast. Everybody likes a “quit the tedious rut and follow your dream” story. Publishers seem to like writers prefacing their adventure with “I actually do not know anything about this subject.” You see that more and more nowadays. This perplexes me to no end. At any rate, much of the world South knows, such as the Hamptons and the NYC of the Sufficient Paycheck (an entirely different city than the NYC of the Shut Off for Non-Payment, more familiar) are as foreign to me as Outer Mongolia, but the occasional references to her childhood and her family’s time spent living in Ireland remind me of the stories her mother used to tell as we drank wine when I was a newlywed on Matinicus and she was a mostly full-time poet.
I keep trying to start “Stern Men” but am having some recurring trouble. I think my problem has to do with the fact that it is fiction — fiction about our real world. That just feels odd. Elizabeth Gilbert has been on Matinicus, but if I met her, I didn’t know it. Her best-selling “Eat, Pray, Love” wasn’t about Maine, of course, but was about just dropping everything and taking a trip, about doing something crazy just because you’ve always wanted to; at least the “Eat” part was (and that was, to my mind, the fun part). I heard that Gilbert made the statement somewhere that she at one point considered dropping everything and moving to Matinicus. There are a few basic problems with doing that. Elizabeth: if you come back, we should talk. You can cook the pasta.
I just bought “Seaworthy” by Linda Greenlaw at full price, hardback — not something I would ordinarily do, being a used book lover, a library member, and a cheapskate, but of late I feel it is the right thing. We’d all better support each other, if not financially, at least in spirit. I have read and enjoyed most of Linda’s stuff but still haven’t read “The Lobster Chronicles.” Better get on it. Come to think of it, I haven’t read “Fisherman’s Bend” either (there’s that fiction thing again). I have never had the chance to talk to Linda; every time I’ve been on Isle au Haut I think she’s been out fishing. That’s the real world.
I must read some of Elisabeth Ogilvie’s Criehaven stories as well. Sorry — Bennett’s Island. I met Elisabeth Ogilvie at least once in the mid-1980s. She used to lug her huge manual typewriters into Rockland Business Machines to be cleaned out in the parts washer, back when we sold actual typewriter ribbon and people repaired things. Somehow, I got through adolescence without ever having read her novels. That was purely by accident, and can still be remedied.
Now — where to begin?