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Owner of Martha

I have a new human at my house. Very small, strange cry. Not much reading going on there but Martha keeps me informed when we visit. I like the great big book My Struggle, Book Six by Karl Ove Knausgaard. It’s impressive. Martha doesn’t want it to end so she is savoring it. People say to her “how many pages is that” and she says “you count PAGES?” We think there will never be enough pages to My Struggle. Knausgaard is our favorite.

A Horse Walks into a Bar… Actually it’s a man.The bar is in a city in Israel. A comic has invited him to see his show and clearly knew him in the past and wants this visitor’s reflections on what he hears in the routine. Being polite he attends, but only gradually recalls the child this comic was in his past. The dissembling comic both gives a classic if desperate performance, trying to keep his audience laughing and simultaneously telling the story of his heart wrenching childhood. This magnificent novel by David Grossman weaves all elements together masterfully, creating a tragic, tender narrative that though at times harrowing is finally redemptive. One of the best novels of the past several years. I’m so good at understanding my grandperson Martha that I just channel her word for word. Woof and happy Spring digging.

I am an older dog now and am allowed in Martha's house with a leash tied to my humans. I absorb the books Martha has read as they dance or plod through her brain and sit in the room like birds or leaves I see outside. LaRose by Louise Erdrich caught my attention. First of all it lit up her brain more brightly than something on a screen and the whole last part had her heart flowing feeling and her eyes flowing tears and her voice flowing sounds so that I figure that is the book readers should read above the rest! I understand this author's dog leans on legs as I do so all the more reason, I say.

Humans don't seem to like death. Dogs can see things they can't like orange cats who died a few years ago and hang around when I'm doggy blogging. This year Martha has read a number of books about death or dying and it's a good thing because people don't talk about it. A really good, young doctor wrote about his dying, a woman wrote about the death industry. That book was funny and interesting and Carolyn's cat Margaret probably knows about that one now cause Carolyn liked the book too. Martha's and my favorite is Iceberg by Coutts. A young mother, artist, musician wrote a memoir as her British art critic husband went through the process of dying. They had a little child too. This woman tells the truth about the whole thing but in language only a visual artist and musician could find. It's riveting; not your average book. So stop being afraid and dive in because everyone dies and you don't know what all lies on the other side. I know some of it but I can't explain it. Read these authors who can really tell a story. Yay books.

Now that I have figured out a way to "read" you'd think I could work my way out of my architect human's fence fortifications in the back yard. I am having trouble and that's why I was drawn to Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, Book IV. Poor Karl Ove, in his late teens, felt like me in that back yard with only squirrels for company.

Knausgaard takes real life and then words and fashions a cathedral of a reading experience. I'm not sure what a cathedral is but I am in awe how this man tells a story and I can't look away. In this book it seems sometimes people are fenced in by their own sense of themselves along with all the other messy things in life. I'm not going to tell you what happens to this young writer and teacher but let's just say my neighbors know where Remington the dog lives so I know about breaking free and I love this book!

By the way, reading My Struggle, Book One and not the other books is like going to the best restaurant of your life, finding something that sounds wonderful on the menu and then taking one bite. That would be crazy. Have I been to a restaurant? I've been tied outside plenty of them so I know what I'm talking about.

Martha, my grandhuman has been a satisfied bookseller lately. True I tend to stay in our cozy car when I am near Martha but her enthusiasm for Karl Ove Knausgaard swirls out from the house at least as far as the Honda Fit. She read Book IV of My Struggle in advanced publication copy and after the tension of the long narrative of young adult years, she was jubilant at the finish. To amplify her delight Jeffrey Eugenides wrote a glowing review for the cover of the New York Times Book Review that Martha thought was one of the best reviews she has read of Knausgaard's books. She is a bit smug that she was promoting this fine writer from the get-go.

I, Remington, have now been allowed into my grandhumans' house. Over the holidays, the time of snow, inside trees, and hovering angels, I was allowed into the house with the cats who only peeked at me occasionally. You can bet I barked loudly. In the house one sees the books and can tune in to them and Martha's brain. What I picked up from her was a strong message titled "Penelope Fitzgerald". Martha read some book by this woman called The Blue Flower and then much to her surprise there appeared a new biography of the author Penelope Fitzgerald called Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life. The author is Hermione Lee who has written about other lives as well. Martha is gung-ho about this woman and her life so I am recommending them. I got a Christmas present too that makes me pick out plastic cups and lick the peanut butter out of them. It keeps me busy. Hugs and kisses, Remington

I, Remington, know much more about Martha's favorite books because Frank her orange cat died and now he can be right inside Martha's and my heads. This is what I hear:

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard is so good she can't find the words to express it. Others greater than herself use words like "genius", "up til 2 every night", "celestial passages"; all refer to "honesty". Find out for yourself why this is not a memoir even though the material is his life. Martha's new life mission is to sell these books (3 volumes translated from the Norwegian, 3 to go.) Martha wishes there were more. Even I can see she's crazed about these books.

Other not to be missed favorites: The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, An Unnecessary Womanby Rabin Alameddine and The Marshmallow Test, Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel. Why? Come to our cozy store and examine them to find out, then buy them from us and keep the treasure that is Birchbark Books thriving.

It's cozy for dogs too. I've been there.

Since I last barked about books, an Austrian woman stopped my humans and exclaimed that they were so fortunate to have a Stabyhoun dog. This comment surprised my humans because they thought I was a mutt with elements of border collie in me. Sure enough, though my ears are a bit short, I am a Stabyhoun. Which means "stand by me", which is why, Martha concluded, I sit on her foot and lean against her leg. Long story short, I don't think I need Frank the orange cat to figure out about books. As I leaned against Martha's leg, I stared at a pile of recently read books of hers and picked up that she had wept after finishing two of them especially. One was Updike by Adam Begley. Martha says it reads like a novel, is a balanced reflection of Updike and reminds the reader what an exceptionally great writer he was. The other tear-jerker (not really) was The Bees, a novel by Laline Paull, populated entirely by bee characters. It reflects thorough research about hive life and is a dramatic, compelling story. Martha says humans can't live without bees so we better start appreciating them and this book will help. I say snap them with your jaws.

Remington here with the help of Frank the orange cat. Frank says that Martha's "crunchy treat" recent read is And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. Frank says those are the books Martha inhales almost without chewing. Her recent "really fresh organic raw chicken" pick is In Times of Fading Lightby Eugen Ruge from Greywolf Press, award winner from Germany. Frank says that's a book Martha really likes. Her "roasted organic chicken with lemon and garlic pick" is News from Spainby Joan Wickersham. Frank says that's a book that lights up her brain in a special way when she reads it and she relishes it. I say give me a marrow bone any day and Frank should stick with straight reporting.

I was sitting on the ground before the snow and I could feel a lot going on under me! I remember Spring is like that. I haven't been on Martha's patio, where I usually learn about the reading inside, because it is so cold there. I know books Martha loves because she gives them to my humans (her son and his partner). She gave them a shiny black and pink book called The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn. Frank, my helper in this job and an always shedding orange cat, says that Martha seemed to like the book because, like all the stuff going on under ground, some writers get at all that's going on under ground in the people in the books. Frank reports she also laughed out loud while reading the book and cried after the fourth book in the series of novels.

Franks says Martha seemed to almost crawl into her books by Colm Toibin, The Master and Brooklyn, for a similar reason. It was like she was crawling inside the characters during her cold winter reads. Colm Toibin also wrote The Testament of Mary which Martha is going to read even though Toibin's representation of Mary "seems absurd" to her (Frank's phrase). She is sure Mary was not your average mother.

Frank says Martha's latest book is the most fun to observe through her thought pictures while he curls up next to her. It's called The Ordinary Acrobat and it's a memoir and history of the circus going way, way back and up to now. It takes place in Paris at a school for circus skills. Circuses are really a big art in the rest of the world and here now too. The whole story is colorful and active and really interesting according to Frank's interpretation of what Martha pictures. Knowing how many books Martha reads and how she will stop reading for a new, "better" one, this circus book is a real winner.

I think I would like to go to a circus. I'll be happy when the circus under ground pokes up through when it finally warms up.


The tasty bone my humans gave me Sunday night at Grandma Martha's helped me endure the cold on the patio but it also helped me endure Frank's latest report on Martha's reading. He reports that she is dipping into her partially-read pile of books in preparation for the holidays when she hopes to build up her new-books-to-read pile. Frank said she tried to "gain solace" from Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight by James Attlee who, as she rifled her way through references, anecdotes and imagery, should agree with her that the marriage of science and religion is self-evident. That is, that science examines the creation and any fool who carefully witnesses the material world has to agree there is a God. The solace comes from the troubling fact that her opinions seem to be in the minority these days but with all the mystery and magic as well as science in Mr. Attlee's book, this guy in London should agree with her.

She is also enjoying Dante's Inferno: a new translation, published by Graywolf Press. She is considering another chapter or two of The Brothers Karamazov. I say look out when Martha dips into her partially-read pile. Furthermore, I think Frank is channeling Flutter the zebra finch who, when he lived, ran Martha's household and is now swooping around in spirit - you should see Frank's head, he looks like a bobble-head doll watching Flutter- making things even more high-falutin for these reports. Spring comes, Martha will be reading Julia Glass and Henning Mankell if they get in gear.

Happy Holidays, Remington

Remington's pal Frank, the orange cat, has overcome his hairball woes to report on recent reading recommended by Martha. She loved Chickadee by Louise Erdrich, our pack leader. Frank sensed Martha felt "tension, amusement, awe, interest and relief" while reading the book and looking at the pictures. She too began a relationship with a chickadee when her dear friend Flutter the zebra finch got to know one when Flutter's cage was put outside in the summer. Martha thinks more people should consult with chickadees instead of those black, shiny machines they grip constantly. Her chickadee lets her know in no uncertain terms when she should refill the feeder and freshen the birdbath.

Martha is reading Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. Frank says she is practically bopping with the L.A. street life depicted, centered around used music lp's. She seems to long to leave the street politics chapters and return to the midwives and teen boys so well depicted. Chabon "writes engagingly and keeps you wanting to know how his characters will resolve their travails." That's how Frank puts it anyway.

Martha can't wait to read Louise's The Round House.

Hi book people. In case you haven't heard from me before, I get book info from Frank, my grandhuman's orange cat. He has developed a new method of book gleaning. He puts himself between Martha and the edge of her bed at a ninety degree angle which sometimes increases her insomnia. Then, he tunes into her mental images as she reads to try to get back to sleep. Frank reports being "fascinated" to find that many of those images are of men kissing each other! Frank and I have no direct experience of such a thing but Martha has just finished reading John Irving's In One Person about a bisexual man and his early crush on a transgender woman among other things. She laughed and sighed and teared up throughout so Frank took that as a recommendation. Now she's reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller centered around the love relationship between Achilles and Patroclus his friend and assistant. It just won the Orange prize which Frank found strong praise. He says Martha seems wrapped up in the book and would recommend that one too.

I just read faces and highly recommend smelling the summer.

I'm Remington. My grandhuman is Martha at Birchbark Books. I'm going to bark books. My bark is so low and loud I am left on the patio when I visit Martha's house. I look in the window and there is a wall of books. There's a fox-colored creature in the house who sleeps with Martha and Tom so he whispers to me what Martha is reading. I'd still like to get my jaws around him (Frank). He reports she's at the very end of Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart. In the middle of the night she was under a blanket tent chewing her lip over 16 year old orphaned Portia. Bowen's delicate and fine observations mirror Portia's innocence as she faces the crushing disappointments uncovered in life with her older brother and his wife in London. Like a Shostokovich symphony, the darkly human quietly marches toward Chloe's initially sweet life of manners, threatening to shadow, then engulf her entirely like the cannons of revolution. That Frank does act high falutin. No one's heard what happens in the last pages.