50 Books has a link to a clever BBC animation on the life of Charles Dickens. It’s a nifty little biography that will make you smile. Take a look; it’s shorter than all those massive books you’d have to read in order to cull this much good information.
I don’t have the patience with books that I had when I was younger and had a lifetime of reading stretching so far ahead of me that I didn’t feel that I was wasting my time by finishing a book that I really wasn’t enjoying. These days I’m willing to test drive a book for something around 50 pages. If it doesn’t grab me in 50 pages, I’m willing to bet that it never will. And sometimes it’s a book that I had really high hopes for that turns out to be one of the ones that I toss aside unfinished.
Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time falls into that category. I’ve read Marge Piercy before; I love time travel novels. So what could go wrong? The only reason that I stayed with the book for just over 80 pages is that I respect Percy’s writing skills but, even with that respect in the equation, I finally decided that this book was a waste of time for me. The combination of depressing characters on both ends of the time spectrum and the boring future described by Piercy was just too much too wade through any longer. Woman on the Edge of Time is a 1976 novel and the writing style felt dated to me. That feeling was probably enhanced by the fact that I was reading a 1988 paperback copy of the book (the exact book cover shown here, in fact) and, for a while, that’s what I kept telling myself.
If you follow my link over to Amazon.com, you will find some glowing reviews for this book, so maybe it’s just me. But life is short and it’s getting shorter every day. So this morning I started a replacement book, Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, and I can’t wait to talk about what a great first novel that one is.
This is Charles Dickinson’s first venture into the time travel genre, and he has succeeded in creating a charming adventure with somewhat of a jarring surprise ending. One day Josh Winkler, living happily with his 15-year old daughter and doctor wife, accidentally manages to project himself back in time about 15 minutes. That’s enough to shake him up but his wife really doesn’t believe his story. Things take a more disturbing turn for everyone when a young girl from 1908 turns up at the same spot that Winkler first lost his grip on time.
From this point forward the adventure is on and it eventually culminates in Winkler’s own daughter finding herself in an orphanage in 1918 just before the flu epidemic hits the United States long and hard. Using old newspapers and library microfilm, Winkler is able to track both his daughter and the young lady who suddenly appeared in his life from 1908. After he finds his daughter’s death notice in a November 1918 newspaper, the race is on to get her back into the present before the date of her death.
The novel is a page-turner and as I got down to the last few pages I started to wonder how in the world Dickinson was going to tie everything together in the few pages left to him. That led to my one problem with the book. The ending is so abrupt, leaving me with so many questions, that I actually found myself wondering if some pages had been lost from the end of the book. The way that the story ended leaves A Shortcut in Time crying for a sequel. Whether or not Dickinson intends to give us one someday is not something I’ve heard one way or the other.
Time travel fans should not miss this one…just be prepared for the sudden stop that the rollercoaster makes at the end.
Rated at: 4.0
Sterling Publishing in New York recognized the disparity between the number of new titles for teenage girls and that for teenage boys and decided to do something about it. I don’t have any boys of my own in the 11-15 age group so I can’t give an opinion on the gap that Sterling Publishing says is out there, but I do know that I see what seems like countless new titles for girls in that age group and not nearly so many aimed at the boys. So, to me, the question becomes one of those “chicken and egg” types…do teenage boys not read because they don’t want to or because there’s nothing new and flashy enough to get their attention (Harry Potter and company aside, of course).
Getting some boys to curl up with a good book often isn’t easy, with so many social, athletic and high-tech distractions vying for leisure-time attention.
So this past summer, Sterling Publishing in New York, in collaboration with books packager Flying Point Press of Boston, introduced its Sterling Point imprint with eight books, all nonfiction, aimed at a share of the market they say “has been notoriously difficult to reach” – boys between 11 and 15.
This is an especially important age for young readers. “Studies indicate that kids determine whether they are readers or not by the time they are 11 or 12,” says Frances Gilbert, editor in chief of Sterling’s children’s division. “But if you put a really good book in front of a kid, he’ll be reading.”
Some of the first eight, as well as future books in the series, were originally Landmark Books, a series of more than 100 nonfiction titles published by Random House between 1950 and 1970. Hill, 57, was an avid young reader of Landmark Books and still has some in his personal collection. The Sterling Point editions feature new looks, including covers, maps and, in some cases, updated text and even titles.
Eight additional volumes are planned for this spring, including one brand-new book, the first-person account of a bomber pilot who was captured during World War II; and biographies of two adventurous women, Amelia Earhart and Sacagawea.
Hill notes that one of the series’ goals was to find worthy heroes besides “music stars and athletes” for kids to admire.
I suspect that many children decide that they are “readers” a lot earlier than eleven years of age, but I’m all for grabbing the rest of them while they are teens. Reading, and doing it well, is one of the keys to their future and we need to do everything that we can as a society to make sure that youngsters grab that key on their way to adulthood. Bravo, Sterling Publishing.
Jerome Weeks, over at book/daddy has in interesting post today about how much better certain books are, or would have been, with maps included to put all of their geography into context for the reader.
We’re required to go to a computer or dig out a globe because the publisher wouldn’t provide a map?
Which is, of course, the real matter here: the stinginess of publishers. They would have to pay Rand-McNally for the right to reprint a map or hire a cartographer to draft a new one. And then there’s the extra cost of printing it.
Thus, when a color map is clearly what’s called for, readers find a smudgy, black-and-white one. When two maps are needed, we get only one. And if we get both, they’re crudely done.
Read the whole thing over a book/daddy…you can thank me later.
Officer Down won a 2006 Edgar award for “Best First Novel by an American Author.” But, while the book has its moments, I found myself expecting more from it based on the award and all the good things that I heard about it beforehand.
Samantha Mack, a Chicago cop, finds herself battling many of her fellow policemen at her duty precinct, including those closest to her, as she slowly realizes just how dirty the group really is. Eventually she realizes that her very life is in danger and that she cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys.
Mack has plenty of personal problems that complicate the danger that she is in, and writer Theresa Schwegel does a good job of building a personal history and a believable personality for Mack. Unfortunately, Mack has so many personal flaws that, at times, it is almost difficult to root for her…having sex in the front seat of a Jaguar with a man with whom she had a fender-bender just so he won’t go to the police about the accident is where her lack of personal character crossed the line for me. She always seems more than willing to use her physical charms as just another weapon, and, since this wasn’t some campy James Bond novel, it made her much less of a sympathetic character to me. Schwegel was shooting for “gritty” when she wrote this one, and she succeeded according to the Edgar award people. But I’m not so sure.
I’m going to take a look at Schwegel’s second novel, Probable Cause, but it appears that its plot is very similar to that of Officer Down, the story of another Chicago rookie cop being set up (this one is male) to take the fall for a murder. He has to prove his innocence while fighting a new batch of crooked Chicago cops. I hope that Theresa Schwegel is not a one-trick pony, and I’m surprised that her two novels have such similar themes.
Rated at: 3.0
Norman Mailer, who has always been a legend in his own mind, is starting to receive the predictable negative reviews for his latest effort, a fictionalized biography of Adolph Hitler titled The Castle in the Forest.
Randy Boyagoda, writing today in The Globe and Mail, has produced my favorite book review quote concerning Mailer and the new book:
This is a Norman Mailer book, which means it’s grandly ambitious, another wild swing at the fences, another long, loud, foul ball.
In other words, for you non-baseball fans out there, it’s yet another near miss from Mr. Mailer, just a long, loud strike two.
Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors and, in fact, I’ve collected over 70 of her books now, most of them in hard cover, several of them signed, and I’m generally reading in and out of one of her short story collections most of the time. So this list of her favorites was especially interesting to me.
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
- The poems of Emily Dickinson
- The stories of Franz Kafka
- The Red and the Black by Stendhal
- The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
- Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Oates is noted for her rather dark view of the threatening world that women inhabit and the suddenness with which situations can turn ugly for them, so some of these titles are not surprising.
Country singer Dolly Parton created the Imagination Library in Sevier County, Tennessee to provide free books to children in the county from birth through the age of five when they start school. The concept for the program came from the fact that children who are not around books before they start school find it very difficult to ever catch up with those children who were lucky enough to have books in their lives from the beginning.
Linebaugh Library director Laurel Best said Imagination Library and the state of Tennessee’s Books from Birth program matches funds with Rutherford Books from Birth to provide monthly books to about 6,278 preschool children in the county who registered. Projections show some 13,000 children under age 5 live in Rutherford County.
Best and former County Mayor Nancy Allen discussed the idea of the program in the county. Hunter and Linette McFarlin led the drive to raise matching funds to launch the reading program last February.
Hunter McFarlin said his mother read to him, making school easy for him. Linette read to their children from the womb. They are now accelerated students. “We got involved because we are convinced this can transform our culture and our society by putting books in the hands of the children before they get to school,” McFarlin said.
Kindergarten and first-grade teachers know students who are not around books before school never catch up.
“It’s our mission and Dolly Parton’s mission to make sure that books reach children before they get to school,” McFarlin said.
Originally, Books from Birth received start-up funds from Nissan, other organizations and Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce members. For the program to continue, it needs funding.
“Our critical need right now is money,” Best said.
It always does eventually come down to “money.” This program is serving the state of Tennessee well and it would be a shame to see it disappear because of a lack of funding from the state and counties to keep it going. Hopefully, corporate funds and private donations will take up some of the slack if government funds can’t completely cover the program but, with so much tax money being wasted by government agencies at all levels, it would not seem to difficult for the necessary funds to be earmarked for a worthy program like this one. With any luck, this program will spread to the other 49 states. What better investment than our children?
Folks over at So Many Books have been discussing just how many books they are juggling at any given time…how many books, and what types, they are generally reading. It seems that most dedicated readers, at least the ones reporting in there, read several books at a time and have no problem keeping them all straight until they are completed.
There are definite advantages to reading several books at the same time, not the least being that the reader almost certainly always has something in progress that fits his particular mood of the moment, making it possible to avoid those frustrating dry spells when nothing strikes him as worth the effort. “Reader’s block” can be as frustrating as its more famous cousin, “writer’s block,” if more easily solved, and though I don’t think that I want to juggle a dozen books at a time like some are doing, I was surprised to see that I’m reading more books right now than I realized.
Officer Down by Theresa Schwegel, a debut novel that earned Schwegel an Edgar award and introduces a tough Chicago cop by the name of Samantha Mack (Smack).
Charles Dickinson’s A Shortcut in Time, one that I’m re-reading because I enjoyed it so much the first time around. Dickinson is one of my favorite writers but his output is limited and I find myself re-reading his novels just to stay in touch with why I so much love his work.
What They’ll Never Tell You About the Music Business by Peter Thall, a book that details the business aspects of today’s music world and is a great help to me in another part of my world.
The Assignation by Joyce Carol Oates, a slim volume of her short stories. I always seem to be working on a collection of her short stories and just started this one a couple of days ago.
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. I’ve neglected the classics so far this year but I’ve been re-reading this one for a while now.
Getting a Life by Jacqueline Blix and David Heitmiller, a book that shows how a fast-paced life of chasing the dollar can be exchanged, over time, for a more leisurely paced life that reflects one’s true values.
102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, eye-witness accounts of what went on inside the Twin Towers before they collapsed on September 11, 2001. I’ve been reading this one in small doses for at least six months because I find it to be so sad and hard to take.
I was a surprised to see seven books “in progress” right now but since I keep one book in the car, one or two in my briefcase, one in the bathroom, a couple of them in the bedroom and a couple on my desk at home, I can see how it happened.
I suppose that I’ve been a fan of the Wizard of Oz books ever since those flying monkeys scared the bejeesus out of me when I was about six years old. I’ve probably seen the movie ten times since then and the monkey scenes are still my favorites. But I’ll never be obsessed with L. Frank Baum (or with any other author, come to that) the way that Mark Shapiro is obsessed with him. Shapiro seems to be a compulsive type of guy who really gets into his collections and now he’s wondering how to share his L.Frank Baum collection with the rest of us.
In 1992 at a swap meet in Long Beach, Calif., he saw a book for sale – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. He bought it for 50 cents.
A couple of months later, he saw a magazine that listed valuable collectibles. His 50-cent book had a listed value of $10,000 (now $18,000).
Shapiro began researching Baum, a former journalist (like Shapiro), who wrote 14 Oz books between 1900 and 1919, when he died. Shapiro bought books, board games, posters, trinkets – anything related to Baum.
He retired from teaching in 2001 and devoted most of his life to finding all things Baum.
Shapiro said he uses winnings from his other passion – horse racing – to pay for memorabilia.
He says he now owns two first-edition, first-state books. (Those “first-state” books were created on the first run of the presses before corrections were made.) A mint-condition first-edition, first-state Wonderful Wizard of Oz book has a $35,000 to $45,000 price tag at AbeBooks.com and BookFinder.com.
“I’ve seen other Baum books offered for $37,000 or $39,000, and they’re not in the condition his are,” said Mark Kirchner, a hand bookbinder in Newport Beach, Calif.
“His are better.”
He wants this story to spread the word. Maybe someone from a museum will call and offer him some space. Maybe an elementary school will set up a tour.
Maybe someone will tell him what he’s supposed to do with all this stuff. Baum’s spirit, as powerful as it is, hasn’t written an ending yet.
Shapiro has put together an amazing collection, no doubt about it. Now he’s reached the point (at 60 years of age) that he’s starting to wonder what will become of the books when he’s gone. In the meantime, he wants to enjoy them by sharing them with others who will appreciate what he’s accomplished. Well done, Mr. Shapiro.
I’ve always been intrigued by books that center on time travelers and all of the complexities involved in that kind of fiction. I’m a history buff, primarily of the American Civil War period and the couple of decades before and after that tragic war, and I’ve often daydreamed about what it would be like to be able to go back in time to actually witness some of the events that I’ve read so much about. I look at those old pictures sometimes and really wish that it were possible to visit that period in American history. Anyway…that gets me to thinking sometimes about my favorite “time travel” books and how difficult it can be to find good ones amongst all of the junk that gets written in that sub-genre.
So, for those interested in that kind of reading, here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order), and I’d welcome any suggestions that you have.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife – (Audrey Niffenegger) Admittedly this is one of the tougher ones to follow and it takes some real concentration at times to keep all the timelines straight, but it is well worth the effort.
- The Time Machine – (H.G. Wells) This is the one that started it all for me. I read this book as a boy and have wished that I could find that elusive time machine ever since.
- Time and Again – (Jack Finney) Finney wrote the perfect dreamer’s time travel book because the pictures scattered throughout the book make it so easy to imagine yourself in the 1880s. This is considered to be one of the time travel classics.
- Time on My Hands – (Peter Delacorte) This is one I’m planning to re-read sometime in 2007 because I really enjoyed it the first time. It’s something unusual, a political time travel novel, which involves a traveler’s attempts to find a young Ronald Reagan and to do whatever it takes to keep him from ever entering politics. Like Finney’s Time and Again, this one includes lots of photos that are half the fun.
- Time Out of Mind – (John R. Maxim) When it snows, Jonathan Corbin finds the scene shifting to America’s Victorian period and, consequently, he feared snowstorms in New York City. This one has photos at the beginning of each new chapter but they don’t add much to the book at all.
- Till the End of Time – (Allen Appel) Time traveler Alex Balfour is faced with a dilemma: he might be able to prevent the bombing of Hiroshima. The question is should he do it or not?
- A Shortcut in Time – (Charles Dickinson) Dickinson is one of my favorite writers and I was a bit surprised to see him venture into this type of novel. But he did himself proud. This story gets more and more complicated as it goes, with people doing time travel in both directions with unexpected consequences.
- The Door into Summer – (Robert A. Heinlein) This is one of those science fiction classics that I read as a kid…what more could you ask; it has suspended animation, time travel, revenge…
- If I Never Get Back – (Darryl Brock) This one has two of my favorite things in it: baseball and time travel, a story about a man who finds himself back in 1869 where he manages to become a player on the Cincinnati Red Stockings and, among other things, he invents the bunt, ballpark hot dogs and the scoreboard.
- Replay – (Ken Grimwood) A man and woman die in 1988 and wake up in 1963 in their 18-year old bodies with all of their memories intact. They get a chance to relive their lives and to do it right this time…but will they?
This little book (weighing in at only 84 pages) contains four essays and several different lists-of-ten-books that explain how and when Anna Quindlen became a reader and what a major impact her reading has had on her life. In one of the essays, Quindlen shares her memories of the excitement she felt when she first figured out that each letter of the alphabet actually represents a sound, each little group of letters, a word, and all of them together tell a new story. Most avid readers will be reminded of their own excitement at finally “cracking the code” and becoming independent readers. The other essays recount things like the evolution of her reading list, the impact that watching her parents react to books with both laughter and tears had on her, and the future of books.
This is a book for book lovers because they will instinctively understand exactly what Quindlen is telling them and they will love her for saying it so lovingly and so strongly. Read this book.
Rated at: 4.5
I know this story shouldn’t have put a smile on my face, but…how often do you hear of anyone stealing a bunch of books? At least these U.K. burglars realized that books have some monetary value and that there is a market for them on the “street.”
Thousands of Harry Potter books written for Comic Relief which had been due to be recycled have been stolen.
Two pallets containing 3,000 copies were taken from The Recycling Company at Port Talbot’s docks.
Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch Through the Ages were written by JK Rowling to raise funds for the BBC Red Nose Day charity appeal.
They were contained in red-coloured plastic satchels which police believe may now be offered for sale.
I wish U.S. burglars had this much class.
Why is it that so many people are allowed to drive without having enough insurance to cover the victims of their bad driving? In this age of computers I can’t imagine why it is so difficult to link insurance policies in state databases to car registrations and driver’s license information. What follows (From the Bastrop Daily Enterprise in Bastrop, LA) is a case of one uninsured person being allowed to do injury to a whole town and its children.
A year ago, a car plowed through the front of the Dunbar Branch of the Morehouse Parish Library.
Remodeling the building only took a few months, but replacing the books destroyed in the accident is a task far from complete.
The library has an empty feeling to it, and indeed many of the bookshelves stand starkly empty. Many of the books the library has left are in tatters. It’s enough to make branch manager April Jones shake her head in sadness. The building may be whole again, but its collections are not.
Unfortunately, replacing the books is likely to take a long time. Head librarian Mary Hodgkins said it will take two to three years to get the shelves at Dunbar full again. The library board received no insurance money from the accident, as the driver was uninsured and the deductible on the library’s own policy was $50,000– the amount it took to repair the building.
The library board only has a $50,000 annual budget for books, and that must be divided between all the branches in the system.
The library once had an extensive children’s section, but that section was hit the hardest by the accident. Jones said that where she once had nine shelves chock full of books, she now has only two shelves that are mostly empty. A small bookshelf against the front wall holds what few new books the library has received since the accident.
“All the books you see, that’s what I salvaged,” Jones said, pointing to the sparsely filled bookshelves. “I picked through what I could, and this is what’s left.”
Here’s hoping that the people of Morehouse Parish find a few “book angels” who will help them get things back in order ahead of schedule.
This cleverly crafted novel from Jim Crace is one of the most unusual books I’ve read in recent months. In short order, the two main characters are dead and the book begins to twist and turn around the event of their death from several directions until their whole story is finally pieced together.
Crace looks at death from many angles but is very short on sentimentality or in offering any hope of an afterlife. Instead, we watch the two bodies decay (in considerable detail) and get scavenged by birds and insects while we are taken back into their lives to obtain a clear understanding of how and why they ended up where they did. The reader is given this history of their relationship through a complicated weaving back and forth from their early days, to their final days, and finally to the discovery of their dead bodies.
Being Dead is a book that forces contemplation on the meaning and nature of death (nature, perhaps being the key word) whether the reader is ready to do so or not. The author’s outlook is not a comforting one to most people, I suspect, but it is certainly one that most readers should consider, if only to contrast it to their own beliefs.
Rated at: 4
I want to share one of my favorite little books because, though a book of only 255 pages, it contains much of the practical knowledge to be had in 1893 when it was published. I’ve spent several hours wandering around inside this book since I received it as a gift from a friend in New York, and I expect to spend several more doing the same.
According to Charles Kinsley’s preface, “The “Circle of Useful Knowledge” is a system of useful information, and contains hundreds of valuable receipts in the various departments of human effort, which can be relied upon, as they are tried receipts and have been procured from the most reliable sources, many of which have cost the author quite a sum of money for the right to publish them. They tell how to manage a farm, how to cook, all about wines and vinegar, how to fish and tan, how drugs and chemicals are composed, how to be your own doctor and nurse, – in short, everything connected with everyday life is treated of in a concise, clear style that tells what you wish to know.”
And Mr. Kinsely wasn’t kidding. Want to know how teach a horse to follow you? How to free your hands from warts? How to cure ringworms? How to clean silk? How to salt ham? How about the best way to make boots or shoes last three years or how to get rid of mosquitoes without using smoke? It’s all there and more. Mr. Kinsley’s little book is jam-packed with hundreds of tidbits that are still interesting and useful today.
Here’s one of Kinsley’s “receipts:”
To Clear Your Dwellings from Bed-Bugs
Corrosive sublimate and the white of an egg, beat together, and laid with a feather around the crevices of the bedsteads and the sacking, is very effectual in destroying bugs in them. Tansy is also said to be very effectual in keeping them away. Strew it under the sacking bottom. Common lard, or equal quantities of lard and oil, will destroy or keep them away. The best exterminator is black hellebore pulverized. It is a deadly poison to them. Place it where the bugs will be apt to crawl.
Never fear, Mr. Kinsley is on the case. His little book is likely to have an answer for most of life’s nagging problems.
I’m one of the lucky ones, at least for the time being, whose daily commute to the office is only 15 minutes each way. For that reason, I’ve been kind of slow to take advantage of all of the Books on CD that my local library has on offer these days. Fifteen minutes really doesn’t allow me enough time to make much progress towards completing one of these “books on tape,” and I generally find myself listening to them a bit at home in the evenings just so that I can get them returned on time.
I’ve even returned three or four of the recorded books before I completed them because they were on the request list of other readers, and finished them up by reading the printed version of the book. What strikes me when I do that is just how different my experience with the printed book is from my experience with the recorded version. I have found that I have much more patience with a book if it is read by a good reader/actor than I would have with the actual book read in my own inner voice. I’m not nearly so likely to give up on a mediocre recorded book as I am to quit on a mediocre printed version of the same book.
I also feel guilty about counting recorded books as “books read” in any given year despite the fact that relatively long hours are needed to finish them. In fact, I suspect that I would read a given book considerably quicker than the time it takes me to more passively listen to it.
These are some of the recorded books that I’ve listened to this year more because of the reader than for the contents of the books themselves:
The Plot Against America – Philip Roth read by actor Ron Silver
Until I Find You – John Irving, a book that I would have never finished on my own but that was made more interesting by the talents of reader Arthur Morey.
And to really prove my point, a stinker of a book that I suffered through only because it was read by the very talented Lorraine Toussaint:
Glenn Dromgoole, who lives up in Abilene, has created in the Houston Chronicle a 10-book list of must-haves for those interested in putting together a library of books on Texas. The list includes a little of everything from perhaps the most famous novel about Texas, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, to the classic non-fiction of Texas greats John Graves and J. Frank Dobie, and even includes what has to be one of the best cookbooks ever to come out of Texas. This list is a good start…but don’t stop here because there’s plenty more where these came from…
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
- Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
- The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
- Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
- Beloved – Toni Morrison
- The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
- One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- The Stories – Grace Paley
- Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
- Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm