Even the Dead

Even the Dead is the seventh of Benjamin Black’s Quirke books, a series that began in 2006 with Christine Falls (published in the U.S. in 2007), the book that first introduced the Dublin pathologist to the world.  And, as befits a man whose life is the subject of six previous crime novels, Quirke is a man with a past, and it is a rather complicated past, at that.  But because Even the Dead is my introduction to Quirke, I’ve had to piece that past together as best I can from what the one book reveals.
I gather that Quirke is a man with a drinking problem bad enough to impress even those who set their drinking standards by the norms of Dublin’s drinkers.  But he has an even bigger problem than that one because a severe beating he endured several years earlier has come back to haunt him.  In recent months, hallucinations, problems staying in the moment, and other concentration difficulties have made it impossible for him to do his job.  Quirke’s personal life is nothing to write home about either.  Quirke is a widower who, in his immediate grief at the loss of his wife, asked his half-brother to adopt and raise his new daughter, Phoebe, as his own child.  And now, all these years later (the books are set in the early-to-mid 1950s), even though Phoebe knows the truth about her parentage, Quirke’s relationship with his daughter is more one of uncle-niece than father-daughter. 
Author Benjamin Black
Simply put, Quirke is not a happy man, and after a brain specialist tells him that his latest setbacks are the result of too much sitting around, combined with “nervous tension,” he is a frustrated man as well as an unhappy one.  So when invited to give his opinion on the head injury found on the corpse of a young man who burned to death inside his sports car after slamming it into a tree, Quirke jumps at the chance to get back in the game.  Now, convinced that the young man’s death is neither an accident nor a suicide, Quirke and his longtime friend Inspector Hackett want to know who killed him and why they did it. 
Even the Dead is an intensely atmospheric look at a city, and a country, still very much under the thumb of the Catholic Church of its day.  1950s Dublin, at least as Benjamin Black portrays it, is a city whose most powerful figure is the Archbishop, a man everyone else with any pretense of power strives to keep happy.  The church controls more than the souls of Dublin’s people, it controls everything about their daily lives.  And the man calling the shots for the church shows them little mercy.  A lot of dirty money is being made by a lot of dirty people.
Now Quirke and Hackett need to find a way to stop them.

(And now I need to go back and read the first six Quirke books because Quirke is a man I want to know more about.)

Spring Has Sprung in Texas

Minute Maid Stadium, Houston, TX (click on photo for larger version)


Spring in February…that’s what I’ve enjoyed this weekend.  And I’ve been able to enjoy it in my favorite of all ways: by sitting at a major league ballpark and watching some of the best college baseball teams in the country go at each other.

I was at Minute Maid Stadium for 12 hours yesterday and watched three games (it takes about 45 minutes between games to get the field back into pristine shape for the next game).  And today it will be pretty much the same schedule with three more games and who knows how many hours.  If this first game is any indication, these guys are out of pitching and the games will be high-scoring ones (at the  moment, Arkansas is leading Texas Tech 10-6 in the 8th inning of the first game of the day).  

I have managed to get some reading in before heading out to the park – and I’m among a handful of people I’ve spotted reading books during inning changes and between games…so it’s been the best of both worlds this weekend.

Now back to the game…

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air is part autobiography and part memoir, but most of all it is a talented doctor’s farewell to a world that is surely less than it would have been were he still a part of it.  I should note, too, that the last part of the book is his wife’s memoir because, after Kalanithi’s surprisingly quick death, she wrote the book’s final pages.
By the time Paul Kalanithi began his medical studies, he had already earned advanced degrees in literature and philosophy.  Still, he was only 37 years old and on the verge of what promised to be a brilliant medical career when he died of the lung cancer that had been discovered just twenty-two months earlier.   Looking back to the precise moment a nurse “poked her head” into his hospital room to tell him that the doctor would be in to see him soon, Kalanithi marked the beginning of his end with these words, “And with that, the future I had imagined, the one about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.”
Stunned by the realization that his life would be nothing like he had imagined it would be, Kalanithi had to decide what to do with the time he had left, however long that might be.  He realized that his life expectancy was now probably more accurately gauged in months rather than in years, but before he could make lifestyle decisions he had to adapt to the unfamiliar role of patient.  That Kalanithi was a doctor was both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, he probably knew as much about the nature of his cancer as the doctors treating him, so was able to offer treatment suggestions of his own.  On the other, his clear understanding of the odds against him perhaps made it more difficult for him to deal with the fear, depression, and anger in part created by that knowledge.
Doctor and Author Paul Kalanithi

Whatever he was, Paul Kalanithi was no quitter.  Neurosurgery was part of his self-identity, and with a little help from his colleagues, he was able to return to the operating room for several more months, months during which he became better and better at what he did.  He was also able to witness the birth of his only child, a little girl who taught him how to love in a whole new way.  Dr. Kalanithi, knowing that his life would be a short one, decided not to waste a moment of it – and that is his lesson for the rest of us, for all of life is shorter than we imagine it to be while in the process of living it. 

Just twenty-two months after learning of his illness, Paul Kalanithi’s journey was over, a journey described by his wife as “one of transformation – from one passionate vocation to another, from husband to father, and finally, of course, from life to death, the ultimate transformation that awaits us all.”

Paul Kalanithi’s was a life well lived.

Review Copy provided by publisher

John Green’s Crash Courses on Literature…Take a Look

In another case of “better late than never,” I stumbled upon John Green’s “Crash Courses on Literature” a couple of days ago (sadly, it appears that John has not added new courses to the 24 on YouTube since some time in 2014).  I’ve only watched a couple of them, but I can tell you that even if you already know a good bit about what John is speaking on, the mini-lessons are fun to watch.  Dang…wonder why he gave up on them.

Anyway, here’s an example that will also lead you to the rest of the Crash Course videos.  This is one of two lessons on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

Mobile Liberary

I don’t know where to start with this one, so I may as well just say it right up front: Mobile Library is one of the more disappointing novels I’ve read in a while.  Perhaps that’s because it came so highly recommended from a fellow reader whose judgment I trust.  Or maybe it’s because the novel reminds me so much of eating cotton candy at a roadside carnival – all sugar and air, with nothing (including its main characters) of any real substance in the recipe.
The novel’s plot, although it is executed in a manner more suitable to a YA novel than to one aimed at adults, is one with potential.  Consider the characters: a boy constantly bullied at school and his more physically imposing friend who vows to protect him by transforming himself into a cyborg; the bullied boy’s abusive father; the little girl (probably a Down’s Syndrome child) the boy meets one day; the little girl’s mother who so appreciates the boy befriending her daughter that she vows to protect him from his father no matter what that costs her; the young man who falls in love with the woman; that young man’s vindictive and crazed elderly father; and, finally, the young policeman charged with the task of rounding them all up.
Author David Whitehouse

It is no accident that this cast is reminiscent of characters from a fairy tale.  Unfortunately, that resemblance is primarily because they have about as much emotional depth as characters found in a Brothers Grimm tale.  The only ones of them that even approached feeling real in print are the young mother and her beautiful little girl.  The rest of them are better suited to a comic book setting.

I do think that, maybe with the exception of a bit of strong language, Mobile Library would be a good read for middle school students – and certainly that the language in it is not so offensive that it could not be read by high school students looking for a modern morality tale. 

One final thought: Mobile Library is set in England and Scotland, and David Whitehouse is a British author.  However, the author presents his story in so generic a fashion that readers hoping to be immersed in a British setting are likely to be disappointed.  Cotton candy, neither the real thing, nor its literary version, much appeal to me these days.

Teaching to the Test in High Schools Is Creating a Generation That Cannot Read a Book…Period.

And then you have idiots like this one who boasts of his ignorance.

I do try to discuss positive news and articles here on Book Chase, I really do.  But, unfortunately, not everything happening in Book World is of a positive nature – as is clearly pointed out in this article by the University of Houston’s Robert Zaretsky.  The article, entitled “Taught to pass tests, they don’t know how to read books,” has a lot to say about the state of education in this country and what the unintended consequences of “No Child Left Behind” are – and none of it, believe me, is encouraging.

 conversations with my brother-in-law, a bright and dedicated Houston-based high school English teacher, long ago revealed: Forced to teach to the test, he can no longer encourage students to reach for the texts as sources of wisdom and wonder.

[…]

My students’ encounter with Balzac is not exceptional in my recent teaching experience. Nor is it exceptional, from what colleagues tell me, in their classrooms. It is becoming the rule that students cannot, quite literally, read books from the literary canon. Not because they still hadn’t bought a copy — though this was the case for a few of them — or because the print was too small, but because they did not know how to read a book.  (emphasis mine)

[…]

My brother-in-law’s colleagues teach to the test, telling themselves that it is a job well done when their school performs well. Likewise, when I look at my syllabi and admire the classic works I’ve included, I pat myself on the back. After all, I’ve done my bit for the Great Conversation, of going out there and winning this one for the Gipper of Great Books. But have I? There are, inevitably, students who will come to treasure these books. No less inevitably, however, most of their peers will remain spectators to the act of reading. Thanks to bullet points and Spark Notes, they will know the names of the players, but will not have the slightest idea of what it means to be on the field and play the game. 

If it has not already happened, we are certainly well on our way to creating a whole generation (or two) that can no longer properly read a book because it’s members have learned to get by with summaries, Cliff Notes-like pamphlets, three-minute reviews on YouTube,  and movies that play so free and easy with book plots that they only distort the author’s real intent and story.  Teaching incoming freshmen to read a book should not be the responsibility of our universities.  But in great part due to good intentions gone bad, our high school teachers (if they are to keep their own jobs) are forced to “teach the test” well enough that their students can regurgitate what they hear in the classroom.  The students learn “facts,” they do not learn how to read and appreciate an actual, you know…book.

I’m not feeling very positive today.

For easy reference, here’s the link to the whole article.   Do read it.  I guarantee you that it is even more depressing than the snippets of it I’ve posted here.

 

River Road

Carol Goodman’s River Road gets off to a quick start when Nan Lewis, who teaches creative writing at a small college in upstate New York, crashes into a deer on her way home from the end-of-semester party at which she has just learned that tenure is being denied her.  By the time Nan realizes what has just happened, the deer, having scrambled off into the nearby trees, is nowhere to be seen.  Early the next morning when a police sergeant bangs on her front door to tell her that the body of one of her students, victim of a hit and run driver, has been found on River Road, Nan learns that her she has some serious explaining to do.
Because of the obvious damage to her car and where police found it, Nan is the obvious suspect in the young woman’s death.  The woman’s body was found in almost the exact spot where, just a few years earlier, a driver coming around the same blind curve on River Road struck and killed Nan’s little girl.  Now many of the same people who had helped her deal with the loss of her only child then are accusing her of letting one of her students die all alone in a ditch by the side of the road. 
Something in Nan died alongside her daughter.  Her husband’s reaction to their little girl’s death had been to walk away from the marriage that produced the child.  Nan herself simply turned to alcohol to deaden her own grief, and now she is known as a woman with a “drinking problem,” a problem bad enough to leave her unsure about what she saw on River Road the night she hit the unlucky deer.  She knows she did not strike Leia Dawson – but she cannot make enough sense of her dreamlike memories of the previous evening to prove her innocence to those who question her responsibility for the woman’s death.  Nan Lewis is the most unreliable of narrators, and author Carol Goodman puts that characteristic to good use throughout River Road.
Author Carol Gooman
Nan, having already lost the only child she ever expects to have, now has no job and no friends.  With nothing left to lose, she begins to ask questions of her own – and the ugliness of what she learns stuns her.  The more she learns about her colleagues and students, and the secrets they are hiding, Nan wonders how she could have ever been so blind.  Now, if she can only manage to keep herself alive long enough to do it, she is determined to identify the real killer and salvage what little of reputation she has left.  

River Road is the story of a woman who refuses to forgive herself for the few seconds of inattention that ended in her daughter’s death – and a story about how quickly a community can turn on one of its own.  But much like The Girl on the Train, the novel relies so much on coincidence, an almost stereotypical villain, and the remarkable speed at which its heroine recovers from serious physical abuse that it loses a bit of its potential impact.  All that said, readers willing to suspend their disbelief to the right level should find this one fun.

(Review copy provided by publisher)

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My mind starts to wander every year as spring approaches, so I’m not surprised that I’ve had a hard time focusing on Book Chase this week.  I guess what did catch me by surprise is that it happened earlier this year than normal – blame it on the exceptionally warm winter we’ve had here, I suppose.  

Even with the horrible news that we’ve lost both Harper Lee and Umberto Eco in the last several days, I could not force myself to sit down and mark those losses for the record here.  I think I’m starting to feel beaten down by the kind of news cycle I see every day from the mainstream media.  Television, radio, and newspaper editors seem to believe that if a potential story is not bad news, politically divisive news, or about some half-brained, self-crowned celebrity, then we don’t need to hear about it.  After a while all that negativity wears a person down.

When that happens, I turn to books for escape, but I don’t want Book Chase to evolve into just the place where I post book reviews.  I want to talk about all things book related.  I suppose the good news is that I’m easily reaching the goals I’ve set for number of pages read each day and number of books finished per week.  And I have almost a dozen book reviews in the can that with one final editing will be ready for posting here.  

But now baseball season has started – and I love baseball at every level.  I’ve been known to pull over and watch Little League games if I drive by one of the parks and see cars in the parking lot.  I watch my grandson play 40 or 50 middle school games a year, and I support the local high school team.  I drive to College Station (90 minutes each way) to watch Texas A&M home games or down inside Loop 610 (45 minutes each way on a good day) to watch the Rice Owls play.  I make several Astros game a season.  In other words, I have it bad.  

And there are only 24 hours in a day.  As much as I love this time of year, I can’t imagine how I got it all done before I retired last May.  The lesson?  Time is precious; make the most of it.

Honky Tonk Samurai

I’ve done it again – started reading a well established crime fiction series with its most current book, well after the long histories of the main characters have been firmly planted in the minds of longtime series fans.  This time I did it with Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard books about two East Texas good old boys (one white and one black) who somehow manage to survive whatever violent mishap their collective lack of good sense gets them into.  But as it turns out, Honky Tonk Samurai is not a bad book for uninitiated Hap and Leonard fans to begin with because it reunites the boys with several colorful characters from their past – and Lansdale kindly provides a short back-story for each of them. 
Hap and Leonard haven’t exactly been getting rich working in a small town private detective agency, but when the agency owner decides to sell out so that he can become the town’s new police chief, they are left with two choices: become unemployed or find a way to buy the agency from the new cop.  Luckily for them, Hap’s girlfriend, who is unhappy with her nursing job, decides to use her savings to buy herself a career change.  Now Hap and Leonard have a new boss.
The agency’s first customer might be an old woman who can barely make it up the stairs to their office, but as soon as she opens her mouth, Hap and Leonard know that she is a fighter.  In language that shocks even Leonard at times, the old woman explains that she wants the pair to find her granddaughter, a young woman who several years earlier disappeared along with the $50,000 she stole from her grandmother.  She suggests that they begin their search at the upscale classic car dealership that her granddaughter was working at when she disappeared.
Boy, what a can-of-worms that would turn out to be. 
Author Joe R. Lansdale
Let’s just say that some car dealers sell more than cars from their showroom floor, and because they really don’t want the whole world to know about it, snoopers have to be silenced.  Before they know it, Hap and Leonard are outnumbered, outgunned, and hiding from a family of crazy hit men whose terrifyingly creative hits put them in a league all their own.  If Hap and Leonard are to survive their first case, it’s time for them to call in the troops.

One of the benefits of coming to a fictional series late in its run is that, if the book clicks, the reader ends up with a whole pile of books to add to the TBR list.  And that is exactly what’s happened to me with Honky Tonk Samurai.  I plan to spend a lot more time with Hap and Leonard…and their friends.

(Review copy provided by publisher)

Pat Conroy and Me – and You

Don’t for a minute kid yourself.  Avid readers have a personal relationship (albeit a one-sided one) with the authors they read over several decades.  Sometimes we know more about the lives of our favorites, and what makes them tick, than we do about most friends we see in the real world.  The best writers reveal themselves to us over time, layer by layer, in their work and we often see ourselves reflected in their words.  A true kinship develops, a strong bond that can last a lifetime – theirs and ours. 
For me, Pat Conroy is one of those special people even though I came to know his work only when I stumbled upon a paperback copy of The Prince of Tides in 1987.  I may have been slow coming to Pat Conroy’s fiction, but I can still remember the excitement I felt while reading that novel.  I knew – immediately – that Pat Conroy was going to be someone whose work I would read and re-read for the rest of my life.  I was so excited about the book that I did something I had never done before; I started talking to friends and relatives about it.  I even purchased 15 copies of the paperback and handed them out as little Christmas presents that year.  But the funny thing?  I’m as excited to get a new Pat Conroy novel or memoir in my hands today as I was on that day almost three decades ago.
Now I hear that Pat Conroy is fighting pancreatic cancer but promises to complete the novel he’s currently working on.  And I hurt for my literary friend and wish I could tell him how much he has meant to me for the last 28 years.  I wish I could tell him how many people around the world are rooting for him as he endures what comes next in his life.  I wish I could tell him just how much he has contributed to our understanding of human nature and the world we live in.

I wish I could tell him how much we love him.

Pat Conroy
Hey out there,
I celebrated my 70th birthday in October and realized that I’ve spent my whole writing life trying to find out who I am and I don’t believe I’ve even come close. It was in Beaufort in sight of a river’s sinuous turn, and the movements of its dolphin-proud tides that I began to discover myself and where my life began at fifteen.
I have recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. With the help of the wonderful people at M.D. Anderson I intend to fight it hard. I am grateful to all my beloved readers, my friends and my family for their prayers. I owe you a novel and I intend to deliver it.
Much love,
Pat Conroy
My publisher, Nan A. Talese, will forward mail
Pat Conroy
c/o Doubleday, 1745 Broadway, 13th floor, New York, NY 10019
DDAYPub@randomhouse.com

Lit Up: One Reporter, Three Schools, and Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives

In a world where music, books, and movies are often free – and always instantly available – do they have any real value to consumers?  When books lose their physical presence in favor of a bunch of electronic blips that can be accessed on a variety of hand-held devices, do they any longer seem real?  Do they lose their aura of timelessness and their influence on the lives of readers?  Is a culture so in thrall to its electronic technology even capable of producing serious readers anymore?

David Denby knows the importance of “reading seriously,” and feels strongly that if “literature matters less to young people than it once did, we are all in trouble.”  But how, he wonders, can an appetite for a lifetime of serious reading be created in a society so heavily dominated by technology that both provides and encouragesinstant gratification?  Denby believes that age fifteen is both a “danger spot and a sweet spot” when it comes to creating lifelong readers – you grab them then, or you risk losing them forever – so he decided to spend time in three East Coast high schools to see what was happening there for himself.
In each instance, Denby’s plan was to observe students and teachers in the classroom, reading the assigned books with the class but keeping his mouth shut during discussions – only speaking with students and teachers after or before classes.  As he puts it, he “wanted to see if readers could be born – what happens when a nonreader becomes a reader.”  Over a two-year span, Denby would spend most of his time at Beacon, a magnet high school in Manhattan, but he also visited James Hillhouse High School, an inner-city school in New Haven, and a high school in a wealthy New York suburb of Mamaroneck. 
To outsiders, it might appear that these three schools have little in common.  Hillhouse, despite its close proximity to Yale University, serves a largely at-risk population of low-income African-American students.  Beacon’s students, on the other hand, have to compete to join its student body, and the parents in Mamaroneck pay a cost rivaling that of college tuition for the privilege of having their children attend Mamaroneck High School.  But what the schools do have in common is the most important thing of all: the kind of dedicated, enthusiastic English teacher capable of making a lasting difference in the lives of their students.
Denby found teachers who challenged their students by assigning reading that was “too hard for them,” books that would force them to search for answers within themselves.  He found teachers who never gave up on a student, teachers who managed to reach even those who flippantly proclaimed their status as nonreaders out loud at the beginning of the school year.  Denby was happy (and, I believe, relieved) to find that serious readers are still being born in America’s classrooms.  The question now is how we as parents, grandparents, and educators make sure that every high school has an English teacher like Beacon’s Sean Leon and his Hillhouse and Mamaroneck counterparts.  If we want to remain a nation of “serious readers,” we have to find a way to make it happen.

Why We Write About Ourselves – and Others Read What We Write

I am hopelessly hooked on reading memoirs…memoirs of authors, actors, singers, politicians, addicts, and the most ordinary human beings in the world willing to tell me their story.  Over the last several years, I have filled shelves with my favorite memoirs, and I continue to read 15 or 20 new ones a year.  It has gotten so bad that I find myself wanting to read not just memoirs, but books about memoirs and those who write them.  

A fascinating aspect of memoirs is how often one leads directly to another.  It is often the case that the author’s family, friends, and associates are hurt, humiliated, and angered by what they read.  Either they do not remember the incidents being recounted, they remember those incidents very differently from what they read, or they never intended for anyone else to learn of them in the first place.  And what memoirist is not going to be tempted to tell the rest of us all about it?  That’s probably why one of my favorite 2015 books was Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir (reviewed last November) in which Karr shares more than writing tips and techniques, she also speaks of the reaction to her books that her mother and sister had – and how their feelings changed over time.

And now I see that Meredith Maran has a new book called Why We Write About Ourselves, and I know I won’t be able to resist anything with that title for very long – so here I go again.

The two videos shown below feature Maran’s Why We Write About Ourselves and Karr’s The Art of Memoir.  

Movies for Readers: The Revenant

I love it when a worthy book is given new life by a movie adaptation, and  that’s exactly what’s happening right now for Michael Punke’s 2002 novel, The Revenant.  I confess that I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the book, but both are on my To-Do list.

I can, however, tell you that I’ve been hearing good things about the movie since it opened several weeks ago, and that it appears to be doing quite well in theaters (and if the number of copies of the novel I’ve been seeing in bookstores lately is any indication, so is the book).  The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Forrest Goodluck…and almost zero women. 



Movies for Readers No. 17

The Japanese Lover

Despite having previously read Isabel Allende’s memoirs, The Japanese Lover is my first experience with her fiction.  I knew that Allende often uses “magical realism” in her novels, and because of my hit and miss reaction to that literary device in the past, I was reluctant to give her fiction much of a chance.  Admittedly, The Japanese Lover contains no elements of magical realism, but it so impressed me with the author’s story-telling talent that I am looking forward to reading more of her work.
The Japanese Lover is Alma Belasco’s story.  Because of her parents’ desire to keep her safe, Alma moved in 1939 to San Francisco to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle just as Poland was on the verge of being overrun by Nazi Germany.  There the little girl met Ichimei Fukuda, son of the family’s Japanese gardener, and the children almost immediately formed a bond that would tightly link them together for the rest of their lives.  Alma and Ichimei spent as much time together as possible until war again intervened in Alma’s life when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  Suddenly Ichimei and his father disappeared, and except for a few highly censored letters from Ichimei, Alma lost touch with her best friend.
Wars do end, of course, and the survivors try to begin their lives anew.  Alma and Ichimei would find their lives intersecting again and again over the next several decades but their love, passionate as it was, was forced to live in the shadows.  Interracial love affairs, much less interracial marriages, were taboo in the culture in which they lived, and that taboo was not likely to change in time to do the lovers any good. 
Author Isabel Allende
As The Japanese Lover begins, Alma is living in an extended care facility designed for those approaching the ends of their lives.  No one, including her grandson Seth, knows her whole story – and she has no intention of sharing it with anyone.  But that changes when Irina Bazili, a young woman hired to assist the elderly with their daily routines, comes into Alma’s life.  Irina has a past of her own, one so traumatic that she is finding it impossible to deal with it successfully.  And when the two women realize just how much they have in common, they reluctantly begin to share their secrets.

The Japanese Loveralternates flashbacks and the present to tell the story of these two women, one of them old and approaching the end of her life, the other young and trying to deal with the long life she still has ahead of her.  In Alma, Ichimei, and Irina, the author has created three fully-fleshed characters, characters whose lives and experiences the reader will remember for a long time.  I plan now to explore Allende’s earlier fiction to see what I’ve been missing all these years.

Annapolis Library Springs 38 Leaks After Snow Removal

Annapolis Regional Library on a Better Day

From the “stuff happens” news category, comes the report that Annapolis Regional Library has been forced to close its doors for at least one week – perhaps more – after the crew removing snow from the roof managed to create at least 38 leaks that demand immediate attention.

The Capital Gazette provides details:

“It appears the leaks came from the 30 inches of snow on that flat roof and people trying to remove it caused more than a dozen leaks, and it got worse,” said library system spokeswoman Christine Feldman.


The library has been closed since Saturday “for the comfort and safety of our staff and patrons,” Feldman said.
As the leaks appeared last Friday, staff members quickly gathered trash cans to catch everything from drips to downpours.

[…]

The building was erected in 1965 and is due to be torn down next year as a new library is constructed. Today’s analysis should be able to determine when patches on the roof can be installed.
“We are not going to be looking to replace the entire roof of a building that is going to be torn down in a year,” Feldman said.
The best hope is for an adequate patching job to get through the next year.
“We just want to determine what we can do to get through that time in a safe and healthy environment for our staff and customers.

Please do click on the original link shown above for more detail and pictures recently taken inside and outside the library.

College Students Not Crazy About E-Textbooks

I remember about a year ago reading (and posting) about the news that e-book sales were no longer increasing on a year-to-year basis.  At that time, such sales, while not actually in decline, seemed to have reached plateau levels. Well, this year the news is that every single one of the major e-book publishers had slight declines in e-book sales when the numbers are compared to the previous year. None of the drops are significant in terms of percentage sale, but it is striking that the decline happened straight across the board to all of them without exception.

Today I ran across this article from the Los Angeles Times about a claim that fully 92% of college students prefer printed books to e-books.  That surprises me a little considering the exorbitant amount charged these days for college texts because, for the most part, e-book versions of college texts are considerably cheaper than their printed versions.  But I know from experience that printed books work much better than e-books when it comes to detailed study, highlighting, page-marking, and the like, so the survey makes sense.

The finding comes from American University linguistics professor Naomi S. Baron, author of the book “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” Baron led a team that asked 300 college students in the United States, Slovakia, Japan and Germany how they preferred to read.
Physical books were the choice of 92% of the respondents, who selected paper over an array of electronic devices.

Interestingly, this L.A. Times article is based on a book called Words Onscreen that I reviewed way back on January 20, 2015, so the claim is not a new one.

Here is my review of that book. 

The Travelers

Travel writer Will Rhodes, for all his sophistication in the ways of the world, is really a pretty clueless guy when we first meet him in Chris Pavone’s The Travelers.  Will spends many of his days sampling the finest wines and tourist resorts the world has to offer those who can afford the best.  All he has to do in return is turn his experiences into articles that his travel-magazine employer can use.  Simple enough, but one night in Argentina, after a little too much of the wine, Will finds himself in bed with a beautiful woman he could not resist despite his love for his wife of just four years.  Life is all about choices, Will Rhodes, and that was a very bad one.
Because he so greatly fears what might happen to his marriage if his secret is exposed to his wife, Will is easily forced into the world of international espionage, a world he hardly imagined even existed before his ill-fated encounter with the woman calling herself Elle.  But dangerous as the new job might turn out to be, Will tells himself that it is a win-win decision because now his wife will never learn of his sexual encounter with Elle, and at least he is working for the good guys (he hopes). 
Author Chris Pavone
Chris Pavone’s intricate and complicated plot is largely narrated through the eyes of Will Rhodes, a man who at first appears to be in way over his head.  But, as time will prove, Will is not just some dummy with social connections around the world.  Piece by piece, layer by layer, Will begins to make sense of what is happening around him, but what he uncovers often leaves him more confused than before.  It is only when he has gathered enough pieces that Will begins to understand just what a huge mess he has gotten himself into, a mess as likely to end his life as it is to end his marriage.
What makes The Travelers so much fun for (patient) readers is that they seldom know a whole lot more about why things are happening than Will Rhodes knows.  By the time  it all starts to make sense to him, readers are wholly invested in Will’s well being, and are as prepared for the thriller’s rousing climax as they hope Will Rhodes will be.  As Will himself put it, “…all of us (are) travelers, all on our way to someplace else.” 

It’s just that sometimes we don’t know where that “someplace else” is until it’s too late.

(Review Copy provided by publisher)

Austin Bookstore Offers 10% Discount to Shoppers Legally Packing Guns on Their Hips

That’s Brave New Books just below the “1904” sign. Note there’s a bank right next door.


It seems there is a bookstore (click on picture for larger view) in Austin, Texas, that is offering a 10% discount on purchases made by customers who are “open carrying” a gun while doing their bookish shopping. That is more amazing than you think…oh, not so much that it happened…but that it happened in Austin of all Texas cities. For those who don’t know Texas very well, let’s just say that when I visit Austin I sometimes wonder if San Francisco has been transported to Texas and laid atop Austin.  

News come from The Guardian that Brave New Books manager John Bush says:

 “We appreciate it when people take security and defence into their own hands. In a world where mass shootings are happening more and more, when seconds count, it’s up to we the people to protect our community.”

While I personally don’t have a huge problem with the open carrying of weapons in public places, I have to agree with the publisher representative quoted in the article as saying that the decision is less a “political statement” than it is a “marketing stunt that preaches to the converted.”  

The folks at my favorite Houston bookstore, Brazos Bookstore, had this to say about their Austin rival:

Jeremy Ellis from Houston bookshop Brazos Bookstore told Melville House that he had taken the decision to post signs restricting open carrying on 1 January. “I have always believed that bookstores are forums for all ideas, but I also understand that the free exchange of those ideas can be hindered (if not entirely obstructed) when one party in the conversation holds a deadly weapon,” said Ellis. “I would rather regulate the guns than the conversation, so we respectfully request that all our patrons leave their firearms at home or in their cars while shopping with us.”

You never know what’s going to happen next do you?  Even in bookstores.


The Most Popular Library Books in the U.K.

Richmond Library (building on the left) – My home library in England for several years


Interestingly, it appears that readers in the U.K. enjoy reading novels about crime in the U.S. as much as readers in this country enjoy reading novels about crime in the U.K.  At least that’s an easy conclusion to reach from data supplied by Public Lending Right on the “100 most borrowed books in U.K. libraries in 2014/2015.” 

 The two most borrowed books on the list are both crime fiction novels by Lee Child, and the writing robot that calls himself James Patterson has ten books of the 100 listed.  But here’s something interesting:

The really big story, though, is to be found elsewhere in the data. Four authors this year registered more than a million loans; and three of them write for children. Coming in behind Patterson were Julia Donaldson of The Gruffalo fame; Daisy Meadows, the pseudonym for the various writers who contribute to the Rainbow Magic series; and Francesca Simon, the creator of Horrid Henry. Jacqueline Wilson, ever a PLR favourite, comes in at eight. An even more telling indication of just how comprehensively children’s writers have dominated last year’s borrowing figures, though, is provided by the list of authors with the most books in the Top 100. Patterson – inevitably – tops this ranking as well, with 10; but directly behind him are Jeff Kinney, creator of the Wimpy Kid Diaries, with seven; David Walliams, with five; and Liz Pichon, the illustrator and author of the Tom Gates books, with four. By comparison, Child, John Grisham, Michael Connelly and Jo Nesbø all come limping in with a mere three.

I suspect that a list constructed for U.S. libraries would look much the same…and I’ll be keeping an eye out for one.