Tuesday, November 19, 2013



Washington Island, Wisconsin -

[Note:  Thanks to Norman Gilliland, one of the Island Literary Festival presenters in early October, and a Wisconsin Public Radio producer and host, I'll have the opportunity to be interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Central Time."  (Sister Bay station is WHDI 91.9 FM) -     3:12 p.m.,  December 5th.   Hope you'll join me there…]

            ***                                     ***

The following review by Charlie Calkins appeared in the November 14 Island Observer:

Thordarson and Rock Island by Richard Purinton 
Washington Island, WI:   Island Bayou Press, 2013 (XXVIII and 436 pages).

Dick Purinton has done it again!  With the recent publication of his fourth major book, Thordarson and Rock Island, he has made another significant contribution to the Door County bookshelf.  And it should be noted that this work – consistent with his three previous books – is very much unlike the earlier ones in subject matter.

The title might suggest that Purinton is providing us with a traditional biography of Thordarson, a Chicago electrical industry innovator and Rock Island, Door County, recreational property owner.  Such is not the case.  The author is very careful to be explicit about his intentions:  “What appears in these pages…isn’t a biography…but rather excerpts from Thordarson’s life placed in an understandable sequence, depicted through correspondence, documents and photos.”  (p. IX)   Put another way, Purinton wants his readers to understand the relationship his subject had to this particular place (Rock Island) and the relationships Thordarson had with the many people who tried to help him transform his property into his envisioned dream. Make no mistake.  This is a formidable task.

Purinton relies very heavily on Thordarson’s own correspondence to tell his subject’s story.  The letters alone, however, would not tell much of Thordarson’s transformation of Rock Island.  It was incumbent on the writer to provide the backgrounds and transitions as he generally moves chronologically from one episode to another in Thordarson’s ownership of Rock Island.  Purinton does a masterful job in providing the reader with the background information needed to follow the meaning and understanding of Thordarson’s intent in writing his letters.  The reader comes away believing he / she does understand the flow of ideas, actions, and results.  This is paramount in following Purinton’s purpose.

A glance at the chapter headings suggests, for the most part, standard topics covered in a general chronological order.  “Rock Island Property Purchase,”  “Boathouse Construction,”  “Game Management Escalation,” and “Contemporaries in Door County” are examples.  But what about “A Magnificent Library, A Lifetime of Books”?  What does this have to do with a Rock island recreational property?  Purinton details Thordarson’s lifetime love of the printed word, especially science related books.  Over the years he amassed a spectacular collection of books, which were ultimately housed in his architecturally impressive boathouse.  This fine collection eventually formed the basis for the University of Wisconsin’s rare books collection.  The point here is that the author left little – if anything – out of the story of the man and his island.

This reviewer is impressed by authors who do the required homework (research) necessary to produce a fist-class work.  Clearly, Purinton has done this in all regards.  His bibliography is extensive and impressive.  The accompanying photographs and diagrams with informative captions are to the point and relevant, not fluff added as an afterthought or as a space filler.  In addition, pertinent documents provided help tell the story.

The reader should be forewarned:  This is not a quick nor easy read.   That observation is not intended in any way as a criticism of Purinton’s book.  Instead, it should be considered a compliment, for several reasons.  The book is very complete, and, as a result, very lengthy (436 pages of text).   The pieces of correspondence provided are numerous, many are lengthy, and some are quite detailed.  It takes time to read them and follow them.  Moreover, the author’s discussions necessary for an understanding of them are comprehensive, as are what he calls “notes”, which he uses as explanatory notes rather than formal footnotes.  And, finally, in this regard, there is a great deal of information provided about this very interesting and complex man that deserves pondering, rumination, and reflection.  This takes time for serious readers.  But, it is sure worth the time and effort.

    Charlie Calkins is a retired geography professor, a part-time Door County resident, and an inveterate collector of printed material related to the county.  In his spare time he operates the Badger Bibliophile, a business specializing in buying and selling gently used Wisconsin books and maps.  His wares are sold at several antique malls in the state, including the Old Orchard Antique Center in Egg Harbor.                                              E-mail him at wibooks@yahoo.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, have read all Richards books and have enjoyed all of them. He makes you feel you are on the island or the ferry.
What's next Richard?