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To the New Owners: A Martha's Vineyard Memoir

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In the 1970s, Madeleine Blais’ in-laws purchased a vacation house on Martha’s Vineyard for the exorbitant sum of $80,000. 2.2 miles down a poorly marked, one lane dirt road, the house was better termed a shack—it had no electricity, no modern plumbing, the roof leaked, and mice had invaded the walls. It was perfect. Sitting on Tisbury Great Pond—well-stocked with oysters a In the 1970s, Madeleine Blais’ in-laws purchased a vacation house on Martha’s Vineyard for the exorbitant sum of $80,000. 2.2 miles down a poorly marked, one lane dirt road, the house was better termed a shack—it had no electricity, no modern plumbing, the roof leaked, and mice had invaded the walls. It was perfect. Sitting on Tisbury Great Pond—well-stocked with oysters and crab for foraged dinners—the house faced the ocean and the sky, and though it was eventually replaced by a sturdier structure, the ethos remained the same: no heat, no TV, and no telephone. Instead, there were countless hours at the beach, meals cooked and savored with friends, nights talking under the stars, until at last, the house was sold in 2014. To the New Owners is Madeleine Blais’ charming, evocative memoir of this house, and of the Vineyard itself—from the history of the island and its famous visitors to the ferry, the pie shops, the quirky charms and customs, and the abundant natural beauty. But more than that, this is an elegy for a special place. Many of us have one place that anchors our most powerful memories. For Blais, it was the Vineyard house—a retreat and a dependable pleasure that also measured changes in her family. As children were born and grew up, as loved ones aged and passed away, the house was a constant. And now, the house lives on in the hearts of those who cherished it.


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In the 1970s, Madeleine Blais’ in-laws purchased a vacation house on Martha’s Vineyard for the exorbitant sum of $80,000. 2.2 miles down a poorly marked, one lane dirt road, the house was better termed a shack—it had no electricity, no modern plumbing, the roof leaked, and mice had invaded the walls. It was perfect. Sitting on Tisbury Great Pond—well-stocked with oysters a In the 1970s, Madeleine Blais’ in-laws purchased a vacation house on Martha’s Vineyard for the exorbitant sum of $80,000. 2.2 miles down a poorly marked, one lane dirt road, the house was better termed a shack—it had no electricity, no modern plumbing, the roof leaked, and mice had invaded the walls. It was perfect. Sitting on Tisbury Great Pond—well-stocked with oysters and crab for foraged dinners—the house faced the ocean and the sky, and though it was eventually replaced by a sturdier structure, the ethos remained the same: no heat, no TV, and no telephone. Instead, there were countless hours at the beach, meals cooked and savored with friends, nights talking under the stars, until at last, the house was sold in 2014. To the New Owners is Madeleine Blais’ charming, evocative memoir of this house, and of the Vineyard itself—from the history of the island and its famous visitors to the ferry, the pie shops, the quirky charms and customs, and the abundant natural beauty. But more than that, this is an elegy for a special place. Many of us have one place that anchors our most powerful memories. For Blais, it was the Vineyard house—a retreat and a dependable pleasure that also measured changes in her family. As children were born and grew up, as loved ones aged and passed away, the house was a constant. And now, the house lives on in the hearts of those who cherished it.

30 review for To the New Owners: A Martha's Vineyard Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    John

    As someone with a strong, longtime Nantucket connection I was interested in learning more about that "other" island. On that score, both have become difficult to recognize as the same island from the mid-20th century. The author's story is her own, and it's well-written; however, it does come across as One Percent name-dropping at times. Book is strongest when it sticks to Vineyard life overall. On a petty note, but I'll say it anyway, she seems to have had a chip on her shoulder regarding her f As someone with a strong, longtime Nantucket connection I was interested in learning more about that "other" island. On that score, both have become difficult to recognize as the same island from the mid-20th century. The author's story is her own, and it's well-written; however, it does come across as One Percent name-dropping at times. Book is strongest when it sticks to Vineyard life overall. On a petty note, but I'll say it anyway, she seems to have had a chip on her shoulder regarding her family background and her husband's. Three stars as I ended up skimming through a few chapters. Your mileage may vary, so I could see another star from some folks.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    For the past five years, I’ve been traveling to Martha’s Vineyard for Viable Paradise Workshop, so I’ve had the opportunity to explore a place that hitherto I’d only heard about. My expectation as I’d first stepped off the ferry had been of a sort of island Beverly Hills. What you actually see are tiny coast-hugging towns, each with its own personality. The mansions of the super-rich do exist, but are largely hidden, a few glimpsed across wetlands as you drive or bike the island’s perimeter. Inst For the past five years, I’ve been traveling to Martha’s Vineyard for Viable Paradise Workshop, so I’ve had the opportunity to explore a place that hitherto I’d only heard about. My expectation as I’d first stepped off the ferry had been of a sort of island Beverly Hills. What you actually see are tiny coast-hugging towns, each with its own personality. The mansions of the super-rich do exist, but are largely hidden, a few glimpsed across wetlands as you drive or bike the island’s perimeter. Instead, what the non-billionaire visitor gets is a wonderful experience, which is richly described in this beautifully, even tenderly written memorial. It is loosely organized around the summers the author’s extended family spent on the island. Her parents-in-law bought a summer home decades ago when their family was young, a falling-down shack on one of the many ponds. The author, brought there for the first time, was warned that it was a shack, but she (from a large family in a small town, and not raised to wealth) assumed that this was typical rich folk deprecation, and packed for upscale vacation. She said: I had experienced student-style poverty and had recently practiced the prim economies of someone fresh to the workforce paying back student loans. It was then that I got an inkling of how some people delight in deprivation, even court it. The idea of a certain kind of cheerful self-abnegation in gorgeous settings was new to me, the notion that patched elbows, fraying hems, and chipped dishes throw perfect vistas into relief and also the notion that the less your summer setting resembled the heavy baggage of your winter setting, the better. In other words, the shack really was a shack. But a shack in a glorious setting. Eventually the shack was later upgraded, but it was still very much a summer home: indoor toilets and electricity eventually added, and a deck that was never quite free of splinters. Not exactly luxury, and yet the sum of their experience was exponentially more precious than mere expensive impedimenta: waking each day to wonderful weather, with the prospect of a long day of fun stretching ahead, surrounded by those you love most. This book includes memorials about rich and famous people as well as family, but it is not about being rich and famous. It’s about family, and togetherness, time and appreciation, eccentricity and laughter—and sometimes sudden sorrow, and how one copes. Using the log that summer guests had to write in at the end of each summer (that included family members, even the kids), the author swoops back and forth across time, veering between describing the glorious fun her family had each summer, and taking the reader on a vividly described tour of the island over the years. Many of the idiosyncratic places she describes are still there, others are gone—as she acknowledges. I think Jane Austen said this, but if she did not, as Miss Pith, she should have: Everything happens at parties. I looked around that night and realized that at certain signal moments the people you gather and the place where they assemble can be in and of itself a work of art, as real as any painting in a museum. The built-in vanishing act underscored the power of the moment.” “The greatest heartache about getting old,” Lydia once wrote, “is wanting so much, yearning, to be around and to see and be with the next generation, with their talents and passions and possibilities and graduations and passages and achievements and joys and knowing you can’t or won’t be there.” The book falters a bit somewhere in the middle, when a number of famous guests are described: the author doesn’t quite find that balance between not enough (quotations from the summer guest log, and a précis of who each person was) and too much (mostly a journalistic summary of notable achievements in the wider world outside the island) but that segment is brief enough. She brings the book back around to family, and the narrative settles once again into an emotionally textured, vivid testament, coming at last to the end that everyone knew had to be. There is overall a strong sense of the passage of time: the book was written after the author lost those beloved in-laws (one of them Lydia Katzenbach, the Lydia of the magnificent parties quoted above)—wife of a man quite well known in government circles. After they passed away, and the newer generation had all grown up and moved on to adult lives, it was decided that the time had come to sell the house and property. Inevitably the new owners were putting up a McMansion, but that happens. It was time to let go. But memory stays, especially when written up in loving detail as exampled here. Copy provided by NetGalley

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I wanted to like this book more than I did. George Howe Colt's "The Big House" and Henry Beston's "The Outermost House" have probably set impossible standards in memoirs about seaside houses; in comparison, "To the New Owners" comes off as oddly dry and mostly fluff. I'm not sure why. Certainly the author has loads of raw material to work with: an old family house on a pond in Martha's Vineyard; a large, highly accomplished family (her father-in-law was attorney general under Johnson); decades o I wanted to like this book more than I did. George Howe Colt's "The Big House" and Henry Beston's "The Outermost House" have probably set impossible standards in memoirs about seaside houses; in comparison, "To the New Owners" comes off as oddly dry and mostly fluff. I'm not sure why. Certainly the author has loads of raw material to work with: an old family house on a pond in Martha's Vineyard; a large, highly accomplished family (her father-in-law was attorney general under Johnson); decades of summer visits with equally accomplished friends. Ironically, perhaps it is the presence of all these high-profile people that sinks the book; the name-dropping quickly becomes tedious. At one point I turned it into a game and started to count all the famous people she mentions; I stopped at 85 (Vernon Jordan, Carly Simon, Jim Belushi, Katharine "Kay" Graham, the Obamas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Princess Margaret, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, all the Kennedys in excruciating detail, etc.). At one point the author's family must reluctantly turn down a dinner invitation that includes the Kissingers. A quote from one of the author's family's "logs" or guest books: “We’ve had delightful visits and fun with the Clintons at Kay Graham’s, Jackie Onassis at her beach, and old friends at our house and around the island.” One quickly gets the point: this is where the rich, the powerful, and the well-published go to play and associate with each other. Which leads me to the other major problem I had with "To the New Owners": the percentage of the book that is made up of quoted materials. Blais includes nearly entire chapters of entries from the cottage guest books in the mistaken belief that because they're written by such witty luminaries as Phil Caputo and a friend who writes for Consumer Reports we too will find them endlessly fascinating. This is one of those techniques where a little goes a long way. I eventually found myself skimming most of these. She also includes what appears to be an entire college application essay from one youthful visitor and pages of Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddick defense statement, as well as long excerpts from published articles from various sources. The result feels like one of those research papers one writes in high school when one doesn't have a lot of original things to say. And that's too bad, because this book comes most alive when Blais describes her family and their more prosaic summer rituals in her own words. That's when she touches on the universal experience of summers past, families and friends, and the places that bring them together for a time. Her prose is that of a journalist, straightforward and short on the sort of descriptive transcendence found in the two books mentioned above, but it gets the job done. One reason it may be unfair to compare "To the New Owners" with Colt's "The Big House" is the length of time the authors spent each year at their summer houses; rather than spending entire summers at the beach house as Colt did, Blais and her family went to Martha's Vineyard for only two weeks each year. This is certainly no criticism of Blais; few among us could manage more. But while two-week holidays scattered across the years provide snapshots of summer, they cannot capture the full arc of a season or provide the depth of knowledge of a place that more comprehensive stays do. At least that's the case here. In the end, that's what I came away with: a few snapshots of a witty, privileged family at play. There are worse ways to while away a few afternoons, but I had hoped for more.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    Twee* If this were a SNL parody of the privileged classes it would funny, sadly it's not. In fact I felt like Gatsby or at least F. Scott Fitzgerald could pop in from East Egg any minute. As a sociological study it might be interesting- it goes a long way toward explaining the rise of Donald Trump. Twee* If this were a SNL parody of the privileged classes it would funny, sadly it's not. In fact I felt like Gatsby or at least F. Scott Fitzgerald could pop in from East Egg any minute. As a sociological study it might be interesting- it goes a long way toward explaining the rise of Donald Trump.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Nice memoir of summers spent at a family house on Martha's Vineyard, and finally having to sell it. Nice memoir of summers spent at a family house on Martha's Vineyard, and finally having to sell it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Katharine

    I spent the summer after college in 1967 living with 2 friends in Oak Bluffs and working as a waitress. It's hard to read this book and learn what the island has become. I was disappointed in the book. Instead of history and geography it is filled with boldface names and nostalgia. I spent the summer after college in 1967 living with 2 friends in Oak Bluffs and working as a waitress. It's hard to read this book and learn what the island has become. I was disappointed in the book. Instead of history and geography it is filled with boldface names and nostalgia.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mimi

    Madeleine's in-laws bought a run down cottage for $80,000 in the 1970's on Martha's Vineyard. In 2014 the cottage was sold after her aging father-in-law passed away. This is a compilation of summer memories spent with family and friends on Martha's Vineyard. The original cottage they bought was so rickety it was replaced soon after the purchase but the new structure still had no heat or TV or telephone - but it did face the ocean. Many hours were spent on the beach along with fishing, reading, b Madeleine's in-laws bought a run down cottage for $80,000 in the 1970's on Martha's Vineyard. In 2014 the cottage was sold after her aging father-in-law passed away. This is a compilation of summer memories spent with family and friends on Martha's Vineyard. The original cottage they bought was so rickety it was replaced soon after the purchase but the new structure still had no heat or TV or telephone - but it did face the ocean. Many hours were spent on the beach along with fishing, reading, biking, hiking and talking. After the property was sold, the new owners knocked it down and built a 5,000 square foot year-round home with 5 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms and a 12' x 42' swimming pool. In her memoir, Blais laments the loss of the casual summer places in favor of the large monstrosities being built instead. I agree with her. I even see that here in Ottawa County, OH. Modest summer cottages are being torn down and replaced with huge homes that block the Lake Erie view and stress the infrastructure of the area. I continue to look back at a simpler, peaceful summer time existence. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Enchanted Prose

    Saying goodbye to the greatest of memories at Tisbury Great Pond (West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, 1970s to 2014): Whatever you think of today’s “summering” Martha’s Vineyard – when the population on the island swells from 16,000 to over 100,000 – whether you’ve been one of those visitors or aware of luminaries who are – you’ll find the old Vineyard nostalgically, lovingly memorialized here. To the New Owners is a love letter to the “kind of childhood people used to have before they were born,” r Saying goodbye to the greatest of memories at Tisbury Great Pond (West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, 1970s to 2014): Whatever you think of today’s “summering” Martha’s Vineyard – when the population on the island swells from 16,000 to over 100,000 – whether you’ve been one of those visitors or aware of luminaries who are – you’ll find the old Vineyard nostalgically, lovingly memorialized here. To the New Owners is a love letter to the “kind of childhood people used to have before they were born,” reflects non-fiction author Madeleine Blais, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalism professor. No surprise then that she writes with a reporter’s eye for details and the lyricism and pathos of a novelist. Paying “tribute to what is best about summer, its power to lull, its essential sleepiness,” full of gratitude for thirty-some years of incomparable summertime memories, Blais’ memoir is also a eulogy mourning the “end of an era.” “How can you pack a view?” the wistful memoirist asks. How can you whittle down a lifetime’s worth of memories? So many interesting, heartwarming, campy anecdotes about so many people, family and friends, in under 300 pages. Yet she does, and the result is a reader’s delight. That’s not to say everything was rosy, as Blais points out: the island’s social problems, unpredictable New England weather and other nature foes, lack of creature comforts. First and foremost though is being a “trooper” not a “princess” to abide by the mantra of Blais’ summertime “shack” – not hers but owned by her illustrious in-laws – that “everyone’s job was to have a good time.” To “err on the side of having fun” is something this large, good-natured, appreciative bunch knows how to do quite well. Infectious, if only we were one of the fortunate invited for a stay by the benevolent owners, Nicholas and Lydia Katzenbach. If you’re of the baby boomer age, the Katzenbach name will at the very least ring a bell. As it should. Nick Katzenbach, one of David Halberstam’s “best and the brightest,” is etched in the legacy of the civil rights movement. As Deputy Attorney General under the Kennedy administration, he was the government’s face in the segregation standoffs at the Universities of Alabama and Mississippi. Under the Johnson administration, Nicholas Katzenbach essentially wrote the Voting Rights Act. He also defended the legality of the Vietnam War, which led to a public rebuke in the Vineyard Gazette, from which the author often quotes, a stark contrast to the island’s “respect for privacy.” The beautiful island is a beautiful hideaway for that very reason. Of all the famous people on the island, this humble man who had the “means to create this haven,” and “the heart to share it,” is a favorite. So, while one of the ways the author characterizes perceptions of the Vineyard culture is “stuck up” – it would be impossible to write an authentic narrative about all the comings-and-goings at this cherished summer retreat and on the island without mentioning some of the notables, which the author does – please don’t form the wrong impression about these spirited souls whose spirit is charmingly laid down here. For all their celebrity, actually because of it, they seem like some of the most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet. Who doesn’t admire a couple who found doing the dishes together “romantic”? Equally smitten with her mother-in-law and her “bohemian outrageousness, the author admits Lydia was a “formidable” force who “intimidated” her. Everything from “regal to renegade,” she was independent-minded, not a trophy political wife. She became a psychoanalyst after the couple left Washington; former patients stayed in touch. Although the author and her mother-in-law came from entirely different backgrounds, they shared a desire for a “large, less claustrophobic, less rule-ridden world.” Precisely what you’ll find at Thumb Point. Depicted as the “slow rhythm of a place that lives off the land and sea,” this summer “house loved with an extravagant love” sits like a big thumb on 5.5 secluded acres overlooking a sublime tidal pond barely separated from the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, several times a year the thin strip of beach and barrier is “cut,” flooding a Great Pond with saline ocean waters ecologically favorable to shellfish. A stunning vista: “The world was in layers – the blue gray of the pond, the beige lip of sand in the distance, the different blue of the ocean, and yet another blue for the sky – an orgy of horizons, interrupted now and then by white birds, white foam, and white clouds.” Who wouldn’t be forlorn when Lydia decided to sell the property due to her declining health, two years after the death of her husband? With grace and enormous gratitude, Blais thanks her father-in-law for having the vision to purchase the property in the ‘70s for $80,000, sold in 2014 for $3 million, yet priceless to those who became “lighter” there, “less burdened.” She muses on how the new owners could possibly understand what the sale meant to them? The letting go, physically and emotionally. Gone was the spontaneous, timeworn, and beloved. Grazed down to make room for a conspicuous glass behemoth with a planned-for lap pool and faux meaning. Mourning not just “for selfish reasons but for the passing of time.” Which makes the memoir an ode to all of us who miss “simpler, younger times, and moments of great kid enthusiasm.” Blais attributes her detailed recollections over decades to eight nautical logbooks published by A.G.A. Correa & Son of Maine. Initially, these were intended to be guest journals, but “thanks to the logs the muddle of time was less muddled.” Many vacationers were writerly types, so many entries are witty and poignant. A sampling will give you a sense of that, and how blessed everyone felt after sojourning by Tisbury Great Pond: “There may be other places in the world that are as beautiful, but I doubt there are any that are more beautiful.” “If this is a dream I hope to never wake up.” “I can think of no other place I’d rather go out and not catch fish.” “There’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.” No doubt the logs refreshed and enriched the author’s remembrances, but it seems doubtful she forgot socializing with Katherine Graham, also legendary for her dinner parties, or the warmth of friendship with frequent guests, Philip Caputo, also a Pulitzer-Prize winner, and his wife Leslie Ware, Consumer Reports editor who gave top-rated annual assessments like her final one: “best beach house ever, RIP, Thumb Point.” Sure sounds like it was! A place with “beauty and quiet and melody” marvelously in tune with this fun-loving, zany crew with a zest for life. They love children, dogs, fishing, crabbing, clambakes, storytelling, board games, trivia contests, Humphrey’s pies, Mad Martha’s ice cream, Black Dog Bakery’s treats, seafood markets, dream auctions, dreams … If you’ve visited the island, you can attest to its memorability. The author evokes the island’s six towns, each with unique character, as fresh and flavorful as if your visit was yesterday. Similarly, the beach house is also a unique character. Complete with a range of emotions humans experience: joie de vivre, love, playfulness, wishful thinking, devotion, attachment, heartache. Now it’s our turn to say thanks to Madeleine Blais for allowing us to bear “witness to all the beauty mingled with goodwill and hope.” A treat as tasty as the island’s fabled sweet treats. Lorraine (EnchantedProse.com)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steve Peifer

    I’ve read enough reviews that I shared the same trepidation that many others had: this would be a book by the 1% angry that time had not stood still. And to be fair, when the Pulitzer Prize winning author keeps trying to play her I’m just folks card, me thought the lady doth protest too much. But surprisingly, the book came alive when it celebrated memories and love of summer and water and beauty. It makes it easy to understand how you could fall in love with a property, and the wonders of return I’ve read enough reviews that I shared the same trepidation that many others had: this would be a book by the 1% angry that time had not stood still. And to be fair, when the Pulitzer Prize winning author keeps trying to play her I’m just folks card, me thought the lady doth protest too much. But surprisingly, the book came alive when it celebrated memories and love of summer and water and beauty. It makes it easy to understand how you could fall in love with a property, and the wonders of returning to the same place every summer will make you regret that you didn’t think of that when you were younger. The rules didn’t apply to this book. I’m sure the publisher was thrilled about chapters devoted to famous friends, but I thought the booked dragged in those chapters. There was something about the breathless worship of rich famous friends made me long to read more of the writing diaries that were kept for generations and all required to write in them. What an amazing idea and it’s the best part of the book. She is a great writer and it’s good, but good in the frustrating way the home run hitter keeps hitting doubles. For most, you would be thrilled with a double. With this author, you saw the potential for a grand slam, and a double ultimately is kind of a disappointment.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I don't think you need to dig too deeply to understand we are defined by geography. Here where I live in coastal Massachusetts, the Atlantic Ocean is filled with bounty...sometimes; the narrow, winding paths carved inland by the Pilgrims are challenging to today's drivers and commuters finding their way to jobs in the city; the rocky, sandy soil tests farmers and gardeners. Madeleine Blais' memoir about her in-laws' summer cottage on Martha's Vineyard, which sold in 2014, more than fifty years af I don't think you need to dig too deeply to understand we are defined by geography. Here where I live in coastal Massachusetts, the Atlantic Ocean is filled with bounty...sometimes; the narrow, winding paths carved inland by the Pilgrims are challenging to today's drivers and commuters finding their way to jobs in the city; the rocky, sandy soil tests farmers and gardeners. Madeleine Blais' memoir about her in-laws' summer cottage on Martha's Vineyard, which sold in 2014, more than fifty years after they purchased it, raises the questions: Does the place define you? Which comes first: the place, or the way the place makes you feel like yourself? Individual chapters share personal stories. What drew Madeleine Blais to her husband, John Katzenbach, now a successful author: "We were both readers." The comparisons between the two families "are easy to document in broad, reductive strokes: they are before the 'Mayflower,' mine is before the potato famine." Her in-laws, Lydia King Phelps Stokes and husband, Nicholas Katzenbach, were important, accomplished, accessible people. Lydia trained to be a psychoanalyst later in life. Katzenbach was the US Attorney General to President Lyndon Johnson and then, under secretary of state. History will long remember him for his part in a sentinel moment in the civil rights struggle, captured in a photograph as he stared down Governor George Wallace, vehemently opposed to integration, who was blocking the door to the University of Alabama in 1963. Her love for Lydia, her respect for Nick is imbedded throughout the memoir. Every year Lydia gave something up she did not like or thought was unnecessary such as making excuses, always being the one who initiated conversations, hosting dinner parties with more than 10 people in attendance, attending "resume funerals." One of my favorite parts of the memoir was Lydia and Nick's response to why their marriage lasted as long as it did. "She said the reason was he made her life possible. He said it was the one thing he never needed a reason for." I loved Blais' wry humor: "If you wish, you can spend your time on the island engaged in varsity socializing..." Things in the cottage, like the power, sometimes worked, and often, didn't. No internet service, no television, spotty cell service brought guests back to a simpler time, which they relished. I loved her observations, those insights that caught me by surprise and reflected their universality: "I...realized that at certain signal moments the people you gather and the place where they assembled can be in and of itself a work of art, as real as any painting in a museum." Her musings about friends who vanished from our lives resonated with me: "Where did friendship flee? Did it hide its head amid the cloud of stars above or did it go to some creepy warehouse for lost connections between people?" I have wondered about this. How did it happen? How could I lose touch with someone with whom I was so close at one time, sharing so much? Why wasn't it important enough to fight for it? The memoir chronicles famous people who have summered on Martha's Vineyard for years and whose privacy residents have always respected. I once saw William Styron in a clothing store there and after making meaningful eye contact, walked on. The chapter, "What Kay Graham Brought to the Table," provided wonderful anecdotes about Katharine Graham, Kay, Mrs. Graham, the publisher of the "Washington Post," a formidable presence, well-connected, courageous woman who raised four children as a single parent. Her memoir, "Personal History," raised the question to Blais about the difference between memoir and autobiography. Her conclusion is that autobiographies "tend to encompass the full span of life and are usually written by people who occupy some kind of public space. Memoirs are written by less obviously eminent sorts." Then there are the log books kept by all who visited the cottage each summer. "Words are indelible." The log books were ordered every year, titled in advance, with beautiful paper and professionally bound, which helped them to remember the small details and big themes. "The muddle of time was less muddled." Blais writes about the events that changed the profile of the island forever: Ted Kennedy's accident in 1969, the release of "Jaws" in 1975, and the series of presidential visits, beginning with Clinton in 1973. She weaves moments, small details into a larger story in some chapters only to come back to a sentinel detail later. The elderly Ward Chamberlin unexpectedly speaking at her father-in-law's memorial service was one such example. He recalled the summer of 1939, three young men bicycling through Normandy and Brittany, not knowing what was ahead. "History was breathing down their necks but they did not know it." I loved this book. At first, I read it slowly, one or two chapters at a time, because I am intrigued by what defines a "memoir," but then I was caught up with a place I, too, have loved since childhood, a place stamped by my own memories, history, and yes, now marked by the rich and famous. The author's sister-in-law, Anne, writing in the log book, in the final days, summarizes perhaps what we all love about a special place. "My connection with Martha's Vineyard is my point of balance - here the scale of life, worries, love, happiness doesn't move...Thank you for showing me how to love a place, how place stands in for those you love and how it makes you who you are." "An era is over and you feel a certain grief not just for our own selfish reasons but for the passing of time."

  11. 4 out of 5

    False

    A loving memoir of a home, a shack really, set on the island of Martha's Vineyard, part of Cape Cod, Massachusetts--my old stomping grounds. I could well identify with the changes to this area as mega money came into the picture in the past thirty years. I also knew the physical and emotional tugs of emptying out a well-loved house and it's memories. There is the infamous (now) chapter on Katherine Graham and her luncheons (which I first read in Vanity Fair.) A way of living very much in the pas A loving memoir of a home, a shack really, set on the island of Martha's Vineyard, part of Cape Cod, Massachusetts--my old stomping grounds. I could well identify with the changes to this area as mega money came into the picture in the past thirty years. I also knew the physical and emotional tugs of emptying out a well-loved house and it's memories. There is the infamous (now) chapter on Katherine Graham and her luncheons (which I first read in Vanity Fair.) A way of living very much in the past and not to be revisited. Heavy blue stationery, delivered by a butler, asking "Mrs. Graham asks if she might tempt you to luncheon." When Katherine Graham died, her children had the materials reclaimed by local workers and the house was torn down. All that remains is the two tall chimneys in the field. They didn't keep her exquisite house in Washington, D.C. either. The author's mother-in-law wrote, "The greatest heartache about growing old is wanting so much, yearning, to be around and see and be with the next generations, with their talents and passions and possibilities and graduations and passages and achievements and joys and knowing you can't or won't be there." The best memoirs, as this one is, make you pause and reflect on the passage of time.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mallory Nguyễn

    As a lover of Martha’s Vineyard (albeit, from a distance most of the time) I recognized a lot of my own feelings for the magical stretch of land flung out to meet the Atlantic in the pages of this book. However, I also found a lot of pining for exclusivity and a way of life that the author professes she has no claim to (followed by long passages of claims). Somewhere in the first few pages of the book the author says she was warned not to write the “lament of the 1%”... but she went ahead and wr As a lover of Martha’s Vineyard (albeit, from a distance most of the time) I recognized a lot of my own feelings for the magical stretch of land flung out to meet the Atlantic in the pages of this book. However, I also found a lot of pining for exclusivity and a way of life that the author professes she has no claim to (followed by long passages of claims). Somewhere in the first few pages of the book the author says she was warned not to write the “lament of the 1%”... but she went ahead and wrote it anyway. Most of this book reads like a social pedigree- lots of name dropping and elbow rubbing with of the upper crust. Long passages (it felt like nearly 1/3 of the entire book) are quotes from newspapers, other memoirs, letters, speeches, etc. (I found these irritating and almost lazy after a while), another large portion were quotes from the homes log books (these I found lovable and charming). I did look up the price of these blank log books- $124- yikes! This book seemed to focus on all the wrong elements for me. I love the short bursts of true place based love, and disliked all the fancy trappings name dropping. If you are looking for a true love letter the Martha’s Vineyard- look elsewhere.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Things people don't care about: seeing your thousand vacation photos, the status of your fantasy sports team, and why you think your child is a genius. I will add reading the guest logs of your in-laws' run down summer house on Martha's Vineyard to the list after reading this book. To be fair, the author had a difficult task of convincing the reader they should care about her family's neither historically nor architecturally significant summer beach house before it's torn down to make way for a Things people don't care about: seeing your thousand vacation photos, the status of your fantasy sports team, and why you think your child is a genius. I will add reading the guest logs of your in-laws' run down summer house on Martha's Vineyard to the list after reading this book. To be fair, the author had a difficult task of convincing the reader they should care about her family's neither historically nor architecturally significant summer beach house before it's torn down to make way for a new home and they walk away with a nice windfall from the sale of its land. The author clearly is good at her craft, but instead of exhibiting her skill and only telling stories of life summering on Martha's Vineyard and the people who make it unique, she mostly quotes liberally from the guest logs, which I found to be incredible dull. She also quotes long passages from other writings. Again, blah. For someone who prides herself on her modest upbringing, she is also prone to name dropping. Am I supposed to be impressed that she is friends with the editor of Consumer Reports? I am not. All said, I would recommend to only the most fervent Martha's Vineyard fans.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jessie Montalto

    I've been spending summers on the Vineyard since I was born either for weeks or months at a time so the island is near and dear to my heart. It was very interesting to hear about another family's island traditions, experiences, and inside jokes while I reflected upon my own. Blais clearly has a profound love for and understanding of Martha's Vineyard and many of her favorite locations match my own. She beautifully captures the feeling of both mourning and joy that comes with saying goodbye to an I've been spending summers on the Vineyard since I was born either for weeks or months at a time so the island is near and dear to my heart. It was very interesting to hear about another family's island traditions, experiences, and inside jokes while I reflected upon my own. Blais clearly has a profound love for and understanding of Martha's Vineyard and many of her favorite locations match my own. She beautifully captures the feeling of both mourning and joy that comes with saying goodbye to an old friend... in this case a house, a lifestyle, a collection of memories. At times I did find the book to be a bit name-droppy, which I didn't love. I also took off a star because I wish the book had followed specific people more closely so we could have gotten to know them better. It was more so a collection of random stories, which were for the most part interesting but some lost my attention at times.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    At first I thought that this book was just another celebrity type book of who's who living on Martha's Vinyard but as I read further I realized that this book relates to anyone who has deep memories of a place called home whether it be on Main Street, America or Martha's Vinyard - we all have in common that love and memory of what we called home. She covers the mourning of selling your home, the sadness of leaving, the memories, laughter and tears along with the how dare they (the new owners) te At first I thought that this book was just another celebrity type book of who's who living on Martha's Vinyard but as I read further I realized that this book relates to anyone who has deep memories of a place called home whether it be on Main Street, America or Martha's Vinyard - we all have in common that love and memory of what we called home. She covers the mourning of selling your home, the sadness of leaving, the memories, laughter and tears along with the how dare they (the new owners) tear down and change what we dearly so loved. At first I was turned off by The Who's who but later on I grew to love her writings about Martha Graham and her in-laws- the Katzenbach's . A well written memoir of a famous island - its down to earthiness, high style and changes from backwater to presidential and celebrity playground .

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I just loved this book. Having spent time on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, and Rockport, MA, and being from the state originally, I get it. There are some areas of the country that are just so unique their specialness is unequaled. The crystal clear days of August on the Vineyard and in Cape Cod are indelibly enscrolled on our hearts. The best parts of this memoir are all the anecdotes from friends and acquaintances, over the many years of travels to the house. The characters that come and go (an I just loved this book. Having spent time on Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, and Rockport, MA, and being from the state originally, I get it. There are some areas of the country that are just so unique their specialness is unequaled. The crystal clear days of August on the Vineyard and in Cape Cod are indelibly enscrolled on our hearts. The best parts of this memoir are all the anecdotes from friends and acquaintances, over the many years of travels to the house. The characters that come and go (and that live there year-round) are lively to say the least, and the recorded logs, purchased and used for decades that allowed visitors to record their impressions of their stays just a treasure to have. An island is a world unto itself, and Madeleine has put it all on display for us to savor. Rare for me to give five stars for non-fiction, but this book deserves it. Just wonderful.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rita Anderson

    I had mixed feelings about this book. At times I thought it was a bit too heavy on name-dropping (along the lines of "see how many famous people we know and socialize with"-mainly in politics and journalism. It was also at time a bit too detail oriented about the details and the streets of Martha's Vineyard. But it also had a lovely story about a family that vacations in this house for over 50 years-stories about how families change over time, about how spending a few weeks together every summer I had mixed feelings about this book. At times I thought it was a bit too heavy on name-dropping (along the lines of "see how many famous people we know and socialize with"-mainly in politics and journalism. It was also at time a bit too detail oriented about the details and the streets of Martha's Vineyard. But it also had a lovely story about a family that vacations in this house for over 50 years-stories about how families change over time, about how spending a few weeks together every summer with nothing to do but spend time together can strengthen the relationships within a family, and about how difficult it can be to maintain a vacation home from afar. I enjoyed those stories very much, the author was at her best when telling those stories. The story about the end of the house-how the house no longer would work for the family because of children growing up and moving in other directions, and elderly family members becoming frail and eventually passing away-was particularly touching and memorable.

  18. 5 out of 5

    LeAnne

    If you are lucky enough to be second or third generation owner of a family cottage, this story resonates in the simple joy of sharing time in a meaningful place that is filled with generational stories of love and purpose. I thought we were the only ones to write in a cottage log, leave to-do lists with imminent warnings of doom, and to immortalized funny quotes from innocent conversations. Although the book is dotted with unfamiliar places and famous people, it's the rustic home that is the mai If you are lucky enough to be second or third generation owner of a family cottage, this story resonates in the simple joy of sharing time in a meaningful place that is filled with generational stories of love and purpose. I thought we were the only ones to write in a cottage log, leave to-do lists with imminent warnings of doom, and to immortalized funny quotes from innocent conversations. Although the book is dotted with unfamiliar places and famous people, it's the rustic home that is the main character. I was sad to see the humble home that was so loved go to the new owners. Well-done!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gale Woolley

    One of the most delightful books I have ever read. Never having been to Martha's Vineyard myself, the author, a gifted memoir writer, provided me with a fairly clear picture of what I might expect should I ever visit. However, my major take-away, is that we need to realize how important life experiences are, particularly with those you love. Our memories are with us forever., although the places and people in them, sadly, are not. We all need to remember that it is the journey that is the most i One of the most delightful books I have ever read. Never having been to Martha's Vineyard myself, the author, a gifted memoir writer, provided me with a fairly clear picture of what I might expect should I ever visit. However, my major take-away, is that we need to realize how important life experiences are, particularly with those you love. Our memories are with us forever., although the places and people in them, sadly, are not. We all need to remember that it is the journey that is the most important part of life; not what was achieved at the end. Madeline Blais' humor and brilliance with words is a precious gift to her readers.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    Reading this while on Martha's Vineyard felt extremely personal. Plus it was enjoyable company, with the foibles of cottages and the challenges we have chosen by making an island our spiritual home. As someone who lives down island there has always been a tragic mystery about what leads to the end of a beloved family home. The one that was beloved by generations. Blais' book helped me to understand, forgive, and look at the possible future of our cottage with new eyes. A family that I never met, Reading this while on Martha's Vineyard felt extremely personal. Plus it was enjoyable company, with the foibles of cottages and the challenges we have chosen by making an island our spiritual home. As someone who lives down island there has always been a tragic mystery about what leads to the end of a beloved family home. The one that was beloved by generations. Blais' book helped me to understand, forgive, and look at the possible future of our cottage with new eyes. A family that I never met, gathering annually on a dirt road I've probably traveled, became very dear. Thanks to Madeleine's clear-eyed writing I was able to accept and truly understand their decision.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Raidene

    I wanted to love this more than I did since I've always had a strong affection for island living. The book was interesting but I didn't get the same feel I got from Susan Branch's Martha's Vineyard: Isle of Dreams or Phillip Craig's mystery series set on MV. Blais told a serviceable story, and, there is no doubt that she and her family love the island, but there was too much time spent on the well known people this family knows or has had relationships with or had visit their home or saw at the I wanted to love this more than I did since I've always had a strong affection for island living. The book was interesting but I didn't get the same feel I got from Susan Branch's Martha's Vineyard: Isle of Dreams or Phillip Craig's mystery series set on MV. Blais told a serviceable story, and, there is no doubt that she and her family love the island, but there was too much time spent on the well known people this family knows or has had relationships with or had visit their home or saw at the grocery store that the love of the Island got lost for me in the retelling.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    If you love Martha's Vineyard or have ever visited or lived there, you will enjoy this book. It is a well-written memoir by a longtime Island summer visitor. She has married into a family with a long-time shack on Tisbury Great Pond. This is a book about the traditions of families; about love of place, about simple joys, gratitude and a life well-lived. If you love Martha's Vineyard or have ever visited or lived there, you will enjoy this book. It is a well-written memoir by a longtime Island summer visitor. She has married into a family with a long-time shack on Tisbury Great Pond. This is a book about the traditions of families; about love of place, about simple joys, gratitude and a life well-lived.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    A poignant memoir of a place and a family and a time. I loved the references to all our familiar spots and the stories were touching and funny. It was a little too political and the name dropping tedious at times, but there were some great takeaways about aging and letting go that I appreciated. “Boiling the Pope” was hilarious!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    For several summers back in the 1990s we rented a house on MV, south of the airport, for a week in early June before the summer crowds descended. Thumb Point is close to the area where we were, so the author's descriptions of the setting brought back wonderful memories. I enjoyed the first few chapters and the last two chapters of the book. In between I lost interest in the name-dropping. For several summers back in the 1990s we rented a house on MV, south of the airport, for a week in early June before the summer crowds descended. Thumb Point is close to the area where we were, so the author's descriptions of the setting brought back wonderful memories. I enjoyed the first few chapters and the last two chapters of the book. In between I lost interest in the name-dropping.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I had Madeleine Blais as a journalism teacher at UMass. She was a huge personality that loved to worked with students inside and outside the department. But after reading this memoir, I'm realizing I didn't know as much as I thought I did about her. I loved getting to know her and Martha's Vineyard, which I was visiting at the time. I had Madeleine Blais as a journalism teacher at UMass. She was a huge personality that loved to worked with students inside and outside the department. But after reading this memoir, I'm realizing I didn't know as much as I thought I did about her. I loved getting to know her and Martha's Vineyard, which I was visiting at the time.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Hoffman

    Left me with a days long lump in my throat, fighting off tears. I am fortunate to spend summers on MV and even more fortunate that my children still sit with me on the beach. As I look at my youngest, off to college next week, I realize the days of their constant company will end. This book brought everything I have loved about these summers into focus. Thank you!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mary Berger-Hughes

    A wonderful memoir about what a summer house meant to so many - family, extended family and friends. Spent summer on long island beaches and the capes and islands around Boston. Miss the shore, so this was a trip back to a happy time of sunshine, sea, sand, and laughter. Salt spray was so good for the hair.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I've always wanted to go to Martha's Vineyard, not sure why, but I think it was something to do with it being a kind of literary mecca. I got a sense of what the place is like but I got more of an understanding of how beloved the place is for this family. I've always wanted to go to Martha's Vineyard, not sure why, but I think it was something to do with it being a kind of literary mecca. I got a sense of what the place is like but I got more of an understanding of how beloved the place is for this family.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Monical

    A love letter to Martha's vineyard and its inhabitants. Although its quirky and episodic, it is really well written, funny in parts, and glowing with love. It may take a little while to get into the book (it did for me) but worth sticking with it. A love letter to Martha's vineyard and its inhabitants. Although its quirky and episodic, it is really well written, funny in parts, and glowing with love. It may take a little while to get into the book (it did for me) but worth sticking with it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary C

    This was a really interesting memoir of life and times of a family summer home on Martha's Vineyard as it was being sold. I have spent just a little time on the island, never in the summer, but loved finding out historical and personal facts about it. This was a really interesting memoir of life and times of a family summer home on Martha's Vineyard as it was being sold. I have spent just a little time on the island, never in the summer, but loved finding out historical and personal facts about it.

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