Island literary life exhibited a new, deeper vibrancy in 2012. In addition to the emergence of new talent and gems from established authors, the community’s literary fabric was strengthened in some important ways.
First, Edgartown Books has put on fresh sail under new ownership while retaining the indefatigable Susan Mercier’s hand at the tiller.
Second, Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven enhanced its reputation as a shopping destination. Owner Dawn Braasch made a gutsy decision to leave a recently rebuilt store to move across the street to the former Bowl and Board space on Main Street. The move has paid off.
The single-floor layout with a central sale and info desk has allowed the remarkably literary staff to strut its stuff. They inform and help readers searching for good reads. The national chains could learn something here though, thankfully, they probably won’t.
Next, Vineyard Stories, Jan’s Pogue’s little-publisher-that-could, spent a few years chugging up Survival Mountain. Vineyard Stories made it to the top and Ms. Pogue is able now to see other markets and other genre.
Would we have had the opportunity to enjoy “Home Bird,” Laura Wainwright’s graceful and inspiring collection of essays this year, without a home-based publisher? What a treat this summer to see her books featured in the windows of off-Island bookstores. A successful publishing house on Martha’s Vineyard. Imagine that.
The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has picked up the literary pace as both a platform for authors and retailer of Island authors and their books. On the subject of booksellers, it seems to me that Cronig’s Markets, Healthy Additions, and Alley’s General Store are showing up more often on authors’ lists of outlets.
Island libraries are also offering creative new ways for residents to interact with books and their authors. Betty Burton (Vineyard Haven) and Jennifer Tseng (West Tisbury) and Oak Bluffs newbie Mikaela Wolfe have offered particularly creative programming this year. West Tisbury librarian Beth Kramer, for example, cleverly partnered with State Road Restaurant and The Granary Gallery to stage fundraising author dinners.
Kudos to this newspaper, which has provided a niche for the literary life with the debut this year of Islanders Read.
All of this activity and ingenuity flies in the face of Chicken Little, who has been roostering the death of publishing and independent book selling for a decade. What we are seeing is that if you market your business well, you win.
A stronger consortium of booksellers, publishers, authors, and schools is developing. What that means is additional literacy resources for the community: many more books and programs for schools that build thoughtful and important relationships between young readers and books. And that’s important because educators on and off Island fret about the effect that texts and tweets as primary communication media will have on the next generation’s ability to comprehend and assess the value of written material they will face in life — u no wht im sayin?
My best reads of 2012
The annual Best Reads is based on books I’ve actually read and reviewed. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other great reads, but I haven’t read them. Call Island bookstores or your library for availability.
Wicked good books by residents and authors with Island ties include these faves:
“Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War,” by Tony Horwitz. Sure, Mr. Horwitz is a heavyweight, but who knew we could be riveted by his historical rendering of well-meaning but wacky John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on the cusp of the Civil War?
“Rules of Civility,” by Amor Towles. Loved this book, a first novel about New York in the 1930s by a longtime West Chopper. Buy the book, get him to sign it. This guy is going to be big.
“The Dog Who Danced,” by Susan Wilson. You’ve met her at Cumby’s, now meet a longtime author who’s found her sweet spot with dog-themed novels that are about life and people as much as they are about dogs. This is her second dog book. A third is on the way.
“The Lion and the Journalist,” by Chip Bishop. Mr. Bishop offers a terrific view of Teddy Roosevelt, seen through the eyes of Joseph Bucklin Bishop, his great-uncle. A different look at Teddy and his times.
“Dangerous Waters: Adventure on the Titanic” by Greg Mone. OK. This is really a young adult novel. I didn’t realize that until halfway through. Terrific read, great information. If you hated the movie as much as I did, this will be a welcomed antidote. Buy it for your tween and read it yourself.
“Where Horses Fly” by Jacqui Boulter, illustrations by Sabrina Kuchta. It’s a kid’s book and a first effort that worked beautifully. The plot blends The Flying Horses in Oak Bluffs, a young girl, loss, and the life of the spirit to help us understand how to get through when bad things happen to good people.
“Dorothy West’s Paradise: A Biography of Class and Color” by Cherene Sherrard Johnson. Ms. Sherrard Johnson gives us a look at the building of a thriving African-American community here, in place two generations before Bull Connor and other knuckle-draggers were brought to task in the South.
“Island Apart” by Steven Raichlen. Mr. Raichlen is a foodie author and TV personality who’s written a first novel set on Chappaquiddick. A pretty good plot featuring appropriately zany Chappy personalities and a ton of information on food prep using stuff that grows on Chappy. You’ll get a good yarn, some great information, and recipes. Can’t beat that with a stick.
“The Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Water and 50 Years of Football Rivalry” by James Sullivan. Given the miraculous Vineyarders’ win over Nantucket last month, this one’s a no-brainer. Mr. Sullivan did the research both on the football rivalry between the Island and Nantucket and he also looked at real life on both islands. This one belongs in your favorite linebacker’s gift pack.
“Sword: Harpooning Swordfish off the New England Coast, and its Demise” by Jack Lynch. The list this year includes five books with the Island as a character. This is longtime fishing guy Jack Lynch’s well-researched novel about harpooning swordfish for a living back in the day. The Larsen’s are mentioned. Dan Larsen read it and said it was true, and as you know, Danny throws compliments around like they were manhole covers, so “Sword” is a good bet.
“An Unholy Mission” by Judith Campbell. The Rev. Judy Campbell was our UU minister here for several years. She also writes a sleuth series starring The Rev. Olympia Brown, who works at piety but is willing to take action. Funky premise that works.
“Fall From Grace” by Richard North Patterson. Patterson’s a thriller pro and this one’s set on the Island with the requisite dead man and a cast of uniquely Island-ish characters including his CIA agent son looking for answers. Mr. Patterson pays attention to Island life and people. The plot involves situations and an outcome that could only happen here.
I don’t know why I’m including “Bad Habit” by Jerry Allen. He needs an editor like he needs oxygen, but he tells a good story and he beats up on the annoying faction of the McMansion set in this book, about yacht racing for big stakes on the Island.
I could go on. I read some wonderful poetry by Ann Lees, some compelling offerings from Dukes County House of Correction inmates. We are lucky readers on this Island.