In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish
As FinnFest fades into the not-too-distant past, there are plenty of ways to reconnect with our friends and neighbors from the Nordic regions – with a book, perhaps, from Finlandia’s North Wind Books, where new books about or from members of our community are constantly arriving on the shelves.
The award-winning author, Carol Sheldon, for example, has just turned out her second book about the Keweenaw area. “Mother Lode,” her first novel, is based on stories she’d heard as a young woman about the Copper Country. This one, “Driven to Rage,” follows a divided family during the catastrophic times between Labor and Management in the mining industry. Big Annie plays an important part in the novel, as do so many of the now familiar incidents which occurred during that historical period.
Ms. Sheldon is in our area at present, making appearances from North Wind Bookstore to the Portage Library, at the Quincy Mine, to Calumet, Agassiz Park and Copper Harbor. A call to the book store for further information about her books and others focusing on the Keweenaw will provide it: 487-7217.
A breezy walk through the well stocked bookshelves will reveal a host of other publications that range from historical novels to books of poetry and children’s books.
Some are memorable trips into the past. Want to know more about the university that began as Suomi College back in 1896? Check out “Picturing the Past,” a sumptuous collection of photographs that trace the school’s rise through the tough times during WWII to an amazing growth from the days when it turned out stenographers and clergymen in just a few buildings -fronted by Old Main, still in prominent existence – to a campus spreading into the community from the Jutila Center to the McAfee Field and the planned College of Health Sciences. It’s all there, in pictures and accompanying text, handsomely created – something that any local citizen should be proud to possess.
Another large illustrated book is “Finglish,” a collection of over 200 color photographs taken by Vesa Oja, revealing the astounding results of his travels from East to West in the United States, to Alaska and Ontario, revealing the influence of Finns who settled in their areas – and made a difference by settling there. The photos are a delight, as varied as an ancient fishing boat in British Columbia; a Finn Camp in Wixom, Michigan; chopping firewood in New Hampshire; a combined bar and sauna in Biwabik, Minnesota; a variety of scenes from Brooklyn, N.Y., to more recognizable scenes in the Copper Country. And as a bonus, Oja has compiled stories behind every photo at the back of the book. It’s a treasure-fest of entertaining information.
For the kids, there’s Sherry Saarinen’s “Niina Aili’s Birthday,” a children’s story written in English with more than fifty basic Finnish words woven throughout the text. According to Ms. Saarinen, the book is designed to help preserve Finnish among English-speaking Americans, a simple storybook with a simple language, punctuated by Finnish words (listed at the beginning of the book) covering everyday situations to numbers, months and days. Nicely illustrated with clever, simple drawings and photographs.
For those who appreciate novels filled with historical tales woven through is “Various Heroes,” the story of two men who come to town as ghosts of the Upper Peninsula – the supernatural and natural; they collide in a way none of the characters, nor we, will soon forget. Written by a native of the Upper Peninsula, now living in Lake Linden, author Earl Brogan – who always had an interest in the history and ethnic heritage of our area – set about to combine them in this tale that includes the conflict between the real and supernatural worlds. “Various Heroes” begins with: “Once it was the range of the vast Killarney Mountains, the largest peaks North America has ever seen. …Over the centuries erosion, glaciers, and the effects of the vast inland sea wore down the rock until just the weathered roots of those mountains still remain. The stone sleeps under the glacial till, dreaming of the ice sheets and remembering their lullabies. This is the Keweenaw Peninsula.”
And, last but certainly not least, for music lovers there is, to appreciate, Paul Niemisto’s “Cornets & Pickaxes: Finnish Brass on the Iron Range.” To quote James P. Leary from the University of Wisconsin, “It is a rich, rare, illuminating and triumphant fanfare to the remarkable musical communities of ‘ordinary’ Finnish Americans, painstakingly yet exuberantly created from interviews, photographs, newspaper accounts, sheet music, reminiscences, and other mostly ephemeral sources that would have eluded a less dedicated and able researcher.”
A famous Irish writer once said, “We all have at least one great book to write, the story of our lives; the trick is to make it sound as interesting to others as it has been to us.” An ever lengthening line of local residents seem ready to test that statement, aided by the electronic world of publishing which now makes it simpler to accomplish; the results can be found at North Wind as well as in other local bookshops and gift stores.
Rotten Tomatoes averages: “Elysium,” B-; “Percy Jackson,” D+; “We’re the Millers,” C-