Tag Archives: independent bookstores

Mackinac Island, Michigan, Travel and Reading

Mackinac Island, Michigan, sits in on the Straits of Mackinac where the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron converge. That location made it the ideal place for Native Americans and fur traders to make their summer rendezvous to trade and it was here that John Jacob Astor made his fortune in the fur industry. Missionaries, soldiers and eventually Gilded Age tourists from Detroit and Chicago pulled ashore to enjoy this remarkable island. Today, people from around the world arrive on the island and become part of that centuries long summer tradition.

History and Tradition Come Alive

I visited Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island in summers when I was growing up so the island has a special place in my heart. I returned earlier this summer and was happy to see little has changed. I felt the same sense of anticipation as the ferry ride (about 20 minutes from either Mackinaw City or Michigan’s upper peninsula) brought the Mackinac Bridge into closer view. The island still bans cars making it very bike, buggy and pedestrian friendly.  And, the smell of the island’s trademark product, fudge, continues to greet visitors on arrival. The lovely Victorian cottages still charm and the Grand Hotel remains grander than ever.

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Mackinac Island’s historic Grand Hotel features the world’s longest porch.

While Mackinac Island offers a terrific array of places to eat, drink, pedal and kayak, it’s the history here that has always grabbed me. That’s why I always urge fellow visitors to get away from the crowds on Main Street by the ferry docks and explore the island by foot, bike or horse.  Start with the famous Fort Mackinac which offers canon blasting, rifle shooting, historic displays and a spectacular view of the island and surrounding waters. (Slightly off topic, here’s one of the crazy things I remember from visiting as a kid.  There was a grisly display in the fort back then about Dr. William Beaumont who was an army surgeon at the fort and a young voyageur who had been accidentally shot in the stomach. The stomach wound didn’t heal and Beaumont was able to view the workings of the stomach through the hole–for a very long time. The exhibit is now at the Fur Company Store and Dr.Beaumont Museum.)

1118797Somewhere in Time and Literature

For a sense of history, I also recommend reading Iola Fuller’s classic tale of Mackinac, The Loon Feather.  It’s a romantic tale of a young Native American woman and it’s ending is improbably happy, but I’m a sucker for all that. And, the book conveys quite accurately the early days of the fur trade on the island.

At The Island Bookstore on Main Street, they’re happy to share their ideas for island-related reading and much more. If they’re not too busy, it’s fun to chat with owner Mary Jane Barnwell and store manager Tamara Tomack about literature and island life. Mary Jane is among the 500 or so people who live on Mackinac Island year-round. Because the island is accessible in winter only by snowmobile or airplane, you can bet she has a few stories to tell. And she does have a several adorable books of her own for children about the island, including Grand Adventure and Goodnight Mackinac Island, a children’s vacation journal.

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At The Island Bookstore, store manager Tamara Tomack (left) and owner Mary Jane Barnwell share their love of books and tips for your Mackinac Island reading list.

Here are their suggestions if you want to read up before your island visit: Once on This Island by Gloria Whelan,  Open Wound—the Tragic Obessions of Dr. William Beaumont by Jason Karlawish, and The Living Great Lakes: Searching For The Heart of the Inland Seas by Jerry Dennis. Finally, Somewhere in Time, by Richard Matheson is a must-read for Mackinac Island visitors.  It was written about the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, but the movie version of the story with Chrisopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was filmed on Mackinac Island, mainly at the Grand Hotel.

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Book Publishing and Selling May Change But the Landscape of Literature Remains

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how e-books are totally changing the world of reading, forcing bookstores out of business, panicking print publishers, and leaving authors confused about where to get their books published.  A recent article in the Los Angeles Times urges readers to visit literary sites in New York City before they disappear. The article discusses bookstores in particular, which have been struggling for quite while, first with the rise of giant chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders (which recently bit the dust itself), then with Amazon and Internet book sales, and now with electronic books.  For example, there used to be forty-some bookstores on Book Row along Fourth Avenue in New York, a book-lover’s nirvana.

I wish I could have seen that, wandered the stacks, and talked with the owners who I imagine as eccentric, bespectacled, and just oozing knowledge about authors and what to read next.  I would have been a loyal patron. The Strand bookstore is the lone survivor of Book Row, and had moved to 12th and Broadway.  Take a look at their video. The Strand and most other bookstores seek to do things not available in the online world such as events with authors (live and in-person!), children’s activities, and other activities that make them unique.  A post on literarymanhatten.org sites the example of “another independent bookstore making the most the downfall of corporate chains. Housing Works Bookstore Café. Part Bookstore, part café, part thrift shop and part HIV/AIDS outreach program.  “Housing Works,” they say, “understands the value that creating a community can give to a bookstore.”

Birchbark Books in Minneapolis offers all sorts of community-building book/author/dinner events and the store has a special focus on Native American literature and concerns.  They’re hosting screenings of “H2Oil,” an acclaimed documentary film about the devastating effects of the Alberta Tar Sands. Marty Cobenais from the Indigenous Environmental Network will speak about the campaign to stop tar sands pipelines in the United States. Bookstore owner Louise Erdrich will be giving an introduction.   Another example, with a more light-hearted focus is Beauty and the Book in Jefferson, Texas, the world’s only combined beauty salon and bookstore.  It’s owner, Kathy Patrick, has turned turned the love and books and book clubs into an international pursuit with the many chapters of her Pulpwood Queens Book club.

Whatever huge upheavals the book business encounters, one thing won’t change—the places (real and fictional) that literature evokes. For adventurous lit-lovers, there’s nothing like visiting the places they’ve seen in their imaginations—the London of Dickens’ characters for example, the Stockholm of Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or the wide open Texas spaces of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, to name just a few.  And, I maintain there’s no better way to gain a sense of a place before you travel there than to read about it. I enjoyed seeing at good example of how reading amps up the anticipation of a trip, too, in a blog post about an upcoming trip to Spain on The Orange Barrow that features the blogger’s reading list.

So, next time I’m in New York I’ll walk by Tiffany’s with Holly Golightly, through Washington Square with Henry James or through Harlem with Langston Hughes, and rest assured that there are locales of classic literature won’t soon disappear.