Another year, another stack of books to wrap and give as gifts. A book is the gift that keeps on giving: With one purchase, you can cast a vote in favor of literature, in favor of the quiet joys of the printed page, in favor of writers in garrets, in favor of independent bookstores. Remember that locally-owned bookstores are buying books for you. They're making thousands of independent decisions about what books, in the tidal wave of titles that get published every year, deserve a chance. The people who work there actually read books. If you tell them you're looking for a book about an old man who goes out for a really long fishing trip in the Gulf Stream, they'll head for the shelves, not the computer. If you tell them you want a not-too-girly story for a six year-old girl who lives in New York but loves cows and is contemplating vegetarianism, they'll probably have one for you. And if they don't, they can usually get it in the store within a day or two. Such are the wonders of independent bookstores.
Here are a few titles on my own eclectic list:
A Boy from Ireland by Marie Raphael. This young adult novel by the Redway author who wrote the acclaimed Streets of Gold tells the story of young Liam, who in 1901 leaves Ireland for New York. He struggles with prejudice and poverty on both sides of the ocean, eventually learning how to make his way in the rough-and-tumble city. I'm a sucker for anything involving the history of New York City, so I loved Raphael's vivid descriptions of the streets in those days, like this one:
"Liam saw short apartment buildings and tall ones, and he saw tumbledown shacks. Some yards had gardens; trash filled others. Buildings might crush together but suddenly open onto a vacant lot. In one of those lots, two pigs snuffled about. Tethered to a post, a goat bleated for all it was worth.
"This world was a jumble of unlike things. It seemed to Liam that some great giant, whose head touched the sky, had pitched everything out here onto the ground with one haphazard swing of his arm, not caring where any of it landed."
Raphael has written a powerful story about immigration and big city life a century ago. Older kids and young teenagers will be fascinated by this story of a boy their age in a very different time.
Two Peoples, One Place: Humboldt History, Volume One by Ray Raphael and Freeman House, is the first in a series of comprehensive new books on Humboldt history. It begins with "time immemorial" — the ancient archaeology and geology of Humboldt Bay — and explores early Native American history and the arrival of white settlers in the 19th century. The story ends in 1882; the next volume will pick up where that one left off.
This is a fascinating and incredibly well-researched account of early life in our community. Writing such a thorough local history is an enormous undertaking for the authors and for the Humboldt County Historical Society. Everyone who lives here should have a copy of this book. Buy one for your neighbors, one for your kids' teacher, one for your school library, and stash one in your guest room to satisfy your friends' curiosity about how this place came to be.