FINDING YOUR INNER MOOSE: IDA LECLAIR’S GUIDE TO LIVIN’ THE GOOD LIFE by Susan Poulin, September 2012, Islandport Press, 256 pages, paperback, $16.95.
Ida LeClair isn’t a real person, but she is a true character. And as a recently minted “Certified Maine Life Guide,” she offers practical ways to live a healthier and happier life in “Finding Your Inner Moose: Ida LeClair’s Guide to Livin’ the Good Life,” which first hit bookstores in late September.
On the other hand, Maine native Susan Poulin, the actual author of the humorous self-help book, is a real person. She lives in Eliot with her husband and collaborator, Gordon Carlisle, and is best known for her theatrical work.
In a sense, Ida is Poulin’s alter ego, but that’s not all there is to it.
Ida was initially meant for the stage. Poulin created the character in 1996 after competing in a Yankee Yarns Contest in Keene, N.H.
“I was the only woman in the finals of that contest, and I was thinking this really doesn’t reflect a large part of Maine, the part I grew up in,” said Poulin, who grew up in Jackman and Westbrook and studied theater at the University of Southern Maine.
In creating Ida, Poulin sought to pay tribute to the strong Maine women she knew while growing up, the women who taught her humor and good old-fashioned common sense.
Ida lives in Mahoosic Mills, a fictional small town in western Maine, with her husband, Charlie, and little dog, Scamp. When she’s not busy writing blog posts, she works as a cashier at the A&P grocery and moonlights doing books for Smitty’s Hardware and Mahoosic Mills Mainely Maine store.
Poulin’s first performance as Ida was in 1997. Since then, the character, with her Maine accent and Franco-American background, has developed five stage shows.
“The humor comes not from [Ida’s] frugality, but maybe more her life observations,” Poulin said. “And because I come from a theater background, I’m very interested as a writer, and a performer and storyteller, in relationships and community. Mahoosic Mills fascinates me. I wanted to show that Maine is more than just a coast. It’s a big state with lots of different regions.”
For the past three and a half years, Ida — well, Poulin technically — has been a blogger, and she hasn’t gone a week without posting. An Ida book just seemed the natural next step, though it’s completely separate material from the blog.
In “Finding Your Inner Moose: Ida LeClair’s Guide to Livin’ the Good Life,” each chapter focuses on a simple aspect of life, though the titles might need some deciphering. The chapter entitled “How Many Points in Cabbage Soup?” could have been called “Diet and Exercise.” And the section “Feng Shui-ing the Double-Wide” is all about creating a comfortable home. And “What Did I Do Wrong to Deserve This Turkey Gobbler Neck?” is clearly about aging gracefully.
“[Ida] doesn’t believe you should be working at your life all the time, but she really thinks you should be living your life,” Poulin said. “There’s a whole chapter on ‘fun’ in the book.”
A lot of Ida’s fun comes from frequent adventures with her friends Celeste, Rita, Betty, Dot and Shirley. They call themselves “The Women Who Run with the Moose” (it’s a long story), hence the name of the book, “Finding Your Inner Moose.”
“You know what would make me really happy?” said Poulin. “If you take away one good, practical thing for your life and a few chuckles along the way.”
Poulin is traveling throughout the state to perform as Ida and conduct book signings. To see the schedule, view Ida’s blog, order a book and learn about Poulin, visit idaswebsite.com.
THE BARNS OF MAINE: OUR HISTORY, OUR STORIES by Don Perkins, September 2012, The History Press, 192 pages, paperback, $21.99.
Don Perkins, a lifelong resident of Cumberland County, is a self-described “barnologist.” In other words, he notices barns wherever he goes, and his curiosity about these massive aging structures have led him to learn heaps about their construction and history.
“The Barns of Maine: Our History, Our Stories” is his exploration into these iconic and important buildings, many of which still exist in Maine. The history he covers spans from the early English-style structures erected before the Civil War to the people who restore old barns today. And he kindly describes architecture in laymen’s terms, pointing out the functionality of a door here and a window there. But what Perkins is truly interested in are the individual stories Maine barns contain, many of which he shares in this engaging book. For information, visit ourbarns.com.
THE UPSIDE OF ORDINARY by Susan Lubner, August 2012, Holiday House, 128 pages, $16.95.
Eleven-year-old Jermaine Davidson of Maine is headed to Hollywood. And she has decided that reality television is her first step toward stardom. While filming her family and friends, she quickly realizes that she needs to stage events to stir up the degree of drama and humor she watches on TV. And her tactics actually seem to be working, but at what cost?
This debut novel by Susan Lubner of Southborough, Mass., written for preteens, takes a lighthearted look at the dangers of being overly ambitious and self-centered, while also exploring the unrealistic aspects of reality TV and the upsides of living in a “boring” family.
ISLAND SCHOOL HOUSE: ONE ROOM FOR ALL by Eva Murray, September 2012, Tilbury House, 304 pages, paperback, $20.
On six remote Maine islands, children are still educated in one-room schools, and in the Internet era, they’re not only surviving, they’re thriving. In “Island Schoolhouse: One Room for All,” Eva Murray, who taught at Matinicus Island’s one-room school 1987-88, travels from island to island collecting stories that illustrate how these close knit communities offer their children modern education. Meet the children, the teachers and the island residents that make this possible.
Within the pages, Murray includes bits of her own story. When she moved to Matinicus Island to teach in 1987, she expected to stay a year, having been accepted into law school. Instead, she made the island her home, where she married and raised a family, and she has always been heavily involved in the island’s education system — as a volunteer art teacher, substitute teacher, school district bookkeeper and now a member of the district’s school board. Her first book, “Well Out to Sea — Year-Round on Matinicus Island,” was published by Tilbury House in 2010. For information, visit safelyouttosea.com.
MUMMA, CAN YOU HEAR ME? by Betty Elaine Williams, Oct. 1, 2012, f/64 Publishing, 192 pages, paperback, $14.95.
In an intelligent, touching memoir, Betty Williams draws from 80 years of memories that include being raised by a single mom during the Great Depression. She begins by telling about being born into poverty in Auburn, Maine, and discovering her life’s calling in an orphanage as a little girl. It was there that she began developing what would become an all-consuming passion to protect and teach children, whether working at Maine schools or traveling through the jungles of Brazil as a missionary. This honest story, written as a monologue to her mother, is about faith, family and second chances. For information, visit mummacanyouhearme.com.
THE SOPHIA SECRETS by Savitri L. Bess, September 2012, Balboa Press, 293 pages, paperback, $19.99.
In this magical novel, Anne Demaree, a 63-year-old writer, leaves behind her unhappy life in New Mexico to move to Southwest Harbor, Maine. But before she settles down on the East Coast, she takes a two-week trip to India to learn about the Hindu deity Kali, the goddess of transformation, in an effort to deal with her sudden bouts of anger. But Anne neglects to take into account that asking for Kali’s help means accepting consequences. At her new home on the rugged Maine coast, her search for meaning is nothing like she expected. Instead of peaceful healing, she’s pestered by a mysterious crone, becomes enamoured by a local resident of Cranberry Island and is driven to help a drug-troubled teen.
The author, Savitri Bess, is an active counselor, astrologer and tapestry weaver of Southwest Harbor. Recipient of National Endowment for the Arts and Fulbright Grants, Bess has spent much of her adult life in Hindu Ashrams in the U.S. and India. For information, visit spirittapestries.com.
SERMONS IN STONE: THE STONE WALLS OF NEW ENGLAND & NEW YORK by Susan Allport, illustrated by David Howell, September 2012, Countryman Press, 205 pages, paperback, $16.95.
Have you ever been walking in the Maine woods and come upon an old, crumbling stone wall? It’s not all that uncommon. In fact, that pile of rocks, covered in moss and decades of fallen leaves, almost seems to be a part of the land.
But did you know that in 1871, there were 252,539 miles of stone walls in New England and New York? That’s enough to circle the earth 10 times. Built by Yankee farmers, slaves, Native Americans, indentured servants and children, these walls are evidence of a rural community. They are often all that remain after the houses, barns and wooden fences surrender to fire and decay. These walls have stories to tell, and in “Sermons in Stone,” Susan Allport proves just how fascinating and important these stories are. For information, visit countrymanpress.com.
GREAT SPECKLED BIRD: CONFESSIONS OF A VILLAGE PREACHER by Rob McCall, September 2012, Pushcart Press, 260 pages, paperback, $18.95.
“Dear Reader, This volume is a confession of heresy, of failure, of arrogance, of blindness, of stubbornness — mine and others’. It is also a confession of faith: in people, in Nature, in the Creator, and in a very old and good way of life — village life,” writes Rev. Rob McCall of Blue Hill at the beginning of “Great Speckled Bird: Confessions of a Village Preacher.”
In the book — a compilation of stories and lessons divided by season — McCall writes of the “Old Faith that survives in small towns, tribal reserves and the hearts of spiritual people all over the globe.” The stories are both fact and fantasy, McCall writes, and he asks the reader to read with both their head and heart.
THE WHITE POCKETBOOK: MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR TWO IN BELGIUM by Walter W. Bannon, June 2012, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 194 pages, paperback, $14.95.
Maine resident Walter Bannon pored over a pile of photos and notes to piece together the remarkable story of his mother’s life during World War II in “The White Pocketbook.” Andree Laure Florin was only 14 when Nazi troops invaded her Belgian village and she was forced to live in her basement for four years. Her survival story, including her transition into American culture, speaks of a strength of spirit that can only inspire.
In the book, Bannon quotes writer Primo Levi: “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as much as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows.” Bannon wrote of his mother’s life so that her story would not be one of the many that remain untold.