Monday, September 3, 2012

The Great Northern Express by Howard WHO?

It's been a short week and a holiday weekend and while Don pattered happily away in the kitchen baking citrone limone and banana bread, I lolly gagged on the couch with Howard Frank Mosher. And who, you might ask, is that? Well even Howard refers to himself, in that self deprecating manor of folks who don't feel the almighty need to prove themselves to anyone, as "Howard Who."

Referred to as a "regional writer," Howard Mosher actually has an impressive array of novels to his credit, as well as several films made from his books which are all situated in New England, specifically northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.  But I eschewed all that and went right for the memoir. I love memoirs by writers and Mr. Mosher's was a delight from beginning to lovely end. The title? The Great Northern Express; A Writer's Journey Home.

Written like an updated episode of Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, Mr. Mosher tells of hitting the road in his old beater Chevy, odometer bearing down on 250,000 miles, for a grueling cross country book tour that will take him to every major independent book seller in the United States. Perhaps in a different vehicle, that sounds like something I'd love to do myself. You know how it is when you get lost in a bookstore? Like dying and going to heaven, right?

And for Mr. Mosher, who had just finished treatment for prostate cancer and was getting that eerie sense of his own mortality, the trip was the perfect antidote and the fulfillment of a promise made long ago to his beloved uncle Reggie from whom he learned the joy and the gift of storytelling. Rather than conversing with a pet, a la Steinbeck, Frank has long, philosophical discussions with various phantom guests who frequent his "catbird" seat.
Writers and other colorful characters, but mostly his uncle Reg, join him on the trek through the south, out west and up to the pristine fishing waters of Washington and Montana, before heading back through Chi town, Philly and New York, to his wife Phillis who has kept her worries to herself and her support on maximum overdrive.

Interspersed with humorous tales of his book talks and the unique book stores where often the only audience is the staff or the homeless folk who come in out of the weather for a nap, are tales of the young, idealistic couple, Frank and Phillis Mosher, when they first arrived in northern Vermont as young teachers just out of college and just married.
 Having been born and raised in New England, I can vouch for the fact that his descriptions of small town America, the school kids, the principal who tapped the stash of booze in the desk drawer a tad too often, the wildly eccentric neighbors, and the life long friendships, are right on the money!

Frank Mosher's memoir is a paean to a way of life seldom recognized any more and is a welcome change from all the dysfunctional family narratives that I seem to be drawn to. He proudly yells kudos to teachers and librarians and throws flowers to all of those wonderful, independent book store owners who manage to keep the doors open even as Amazon and Costco chip away at their bottom lines, by cultivating the personal touch like author events with the likes of Howard Who. A wonderful read!


Lisa May said...

I had to say, "Howard who?" - but I will be looking for this book - thanks!

Sallyb said...

Hi Lisa, Thanks for reading and commenting. I see that you enjoyed Calling Invisible Women. One of my favorites of this year.