The first review of my new book was a pisser. The cat peed on and tore up my newspaper columns, spread around the floor during the review and selection process for the book, perhaps his commentary on the content. I’m hoping readers enjoy it more than he did.
The book, titled “A Life Lived Outdoors,” and published by Islandport Press in Yarmouth, is now available on its website and from other sources. Working with the professional team at Islandport was a wonderful experience, although publishing a book is a lot more work than I anticipated.
The book contains about 60 of my favorite columns that appeared in this space, with a few from other publications and a couple written especially for the book.
When Doug Rooks, the first of my more than a dozen editors, hired me 23 years ago to write a weekly column for the Kennebec Journal, he said he didn’t care what I wrote about as long as I stirred up people. Turns out I’ve got a natural talent for that.
While many of the issues are perennial, the technology of writing this column has changed dramatically. At the start, I wrote the column on a yellow legal pad, typed it on an electric typewriter, then drove to Augusta to deliver it to the paper, where someone retyped it.
These days I bang it out on my laptop and whip it to the paper via email. I don’t really understand how that works, but it sure makes writing a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.
After writing an estimated 850,000 words, it was surprisingly easy to pick my favorites. Even though the column appears on the editorial page, and I did and do pontificate about politics and weighty issues on a regular basis, it’s the columns about home, camp, family, faith, rural Maine life, and hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities that seemed to resonate with readers. That’s what you get in the book. No political columns.
You also will notice that many of the columns focus on one thing: me. Linda presented me with a T-shirt at Christmas a couple of years ago that lists my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com, on the front, and says on the back: “It’s all about ME.” Some folks think that stands for Maine. Friends know differently.
I write in the first person, using far more “I”s than my writing professors at the University of Maine ever would have allowed. Well, I’ve used “I” 10 times so far just in this column! My KJ/Sentinel editors gave up long ago trying to get me to stop.
Readers have asked how I could come up with something to write about once a week for 23 years. I always respond, “Don’t you read the newspaper? Every day there is something that aggravates me!”
In truth, the opportunity to write about the people and places I care about has been a very special privilege. These days I wouldn’t write about politics at all, if I could get away with it.
Lots of things have changed at our newspapers over these last 23 years. The paper is thinner — as is my column. At the start, I often wrote 1,000 to 1,200 words. Today it’s 750 maximum. We also have fewer readers — at least of the printed version — and much of the effort these days goes into online publishing.
I have to say that over the years, while technology changed constantly and challenges mounted to maintain readers, I’ve always appreciated the interest in and support for my columns that were — to put it mildly — not typical for the editorial page. All but one of my editors seemed to understand that readers really enjoy the nonpolitical columns about home, camp, family and life lived outside.
For the past three years, I’ve been writing book reviews, posted on my website and other places. It is going to be really humbling to have the tables turned, as reviewers tackle my book.
One thing I did not anticipate about publishing a book is that there’s still a lot of work after the book becomes available to the public. Islandport is scheduling me for speaking engagements throughout the state, at libraries, book stores and events. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to have fun, talk with a lot of great Mainers and maybe get some more stories to tell you.
Islandport Press will host an open house celebration of the book, for family and friends from 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 15, at Augusta’s Senator Inn. I would be thrilled if you stopped by.