He Died a Rounder at Twenty-One

While searching for things I could delete from my iPhone’s internal storage tonight, I found this video of Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice that I shot up in Columbus, Ohio, on July 21 at the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer festival there.  It’s one of the few videos I’ve ever recorded on an iPhone and I think it came out OK…not quite video camera quality, but not all that far off it.

I love Junior’s voice and have long thought that this song that he first recorded in 2010 is one of the best things he’s ever done.

…memories, great memories.

Movies for Readers: In Dubious Battle

inbattlebookThis is the official trailer for the soon to be released film version of John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle.  The movie stars Robert Duvall, James Franco, Selena Gomez, Bryan Cranston, and Ed Harris, among others.  It, of course, recounts Steinbeck’s tale of a violent clash between California fruit-pickers and orchard owners sometime during the 1930s.  In Dubious Battle is scheduled to make its world premier at the Venice Film Festival on September 3.  This is very much a James Franco project, as the actor not only stars in the film, but is its director and one of its producers.  Interestingly, the film was largely shot in Atlanta and Bostwick, Georgia, and in Yakima, Washington.

 

London’s Books in the Nick Program Is a Winner

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Special Constable Steve Whitmore, Father of Books in the Nick

Here’s another of those stories I like so much about readers and their readiness to share books and their love of reading with others.  This one comes from The Guardian and tells of a London Police project called “Books in the Nick.”  This one is pretty cool…free books for young people in the custody of the London police who asks for one.  It all started this way:

Books in the Nick was dreamed up by Metropolitan police special constable Steve Whitmore, after he arrested an 18-year-old on suspicion of assault and possession of drugs earlier this year. The teenager asked Whitmore if he could borrow a book to read while he was in custody, but the special constable could not find anything that would have been of interest to the young man.

The range and type of books available didn’t appeal to him, so I offered him my own book, The Catcher in the Rye, and told him to keep it,” said Whitmore. “The look on his face was amazing, his attitude and hostility towards me completely changed and it created common ground for us to talk about. He said he’d never been given a book before to own, and that really moved me.”

[…]

The aim of this scheme is to provide easy-to-read books that are familiar, tangible and can be kept,” said Whitmore. “Our core belief is that to pass on a good read is a transaction of worth.

[…]

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, agreed, calling the scheme “a fantastic idea”.

I particularly like that people can take the books away with them,” said Crook. “It underlines the importance of books and perhaps prisons could learn from this scene to make sure that there are books in a cell as soon as someone is received into prison. A handful of books on the first night might just make all the difference to reducing distress.

The scheme focuses  on the teens, and children even younger, who are being detained in any of London’s forty-three “custody suites.”

(Click on the Guardian link for the complete article and on the “Books in the Nick” link to do directly to the Give a Book charity that is supporting the program.)

Gene Wilder Dead at 83

Gene Wilder starred in a bad movie on occasion, but he never failed to crack me up somewhere along the way.  The Frisco Kid, in which he played a rabbi from Poland who finds himself in bad company in the old West is a case in point.  It’s not the greatest movie in the world, but Wilder’s performance was worth the price of admission.

This is the theater trailer for that 1979 movie.

Rest in peace, Gene Wilder.  You were a good one.

Mr. Mercedes

002f1b1d_mediumI am almost certainly in the minority, but I have long felt that it is time for Stephen King to concentrate his writing on genres other than horror. In many ways, his short stories and novellas are more satisfying than his horror novels (Is it just me, or has horror finally run its course?) because they encompass a broader variety of genres. Mr. King, I believe, proved my point with his 2014 novel Mr. Mercedes, a genuine crime fiction novel that won the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

On a recent road trip of more than 3,000 miles I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook version of Mr. Mercedes as read by Will Patton. Patton used every bit of his acting ability to bring the various characters alive and to make them distinctive in the listener’s mind – to a degree that few audiobook narrators are capable of achieving. So, if you don’t have time to read the novel, but can listen during your day, I highly recommend that you do so.

The book’s main character, retired police detective Bill Hodges is not a happy man. He misses the job badly, and now spends his days watching what the various television networks have the gall to call daytime entertainment. Throw in a handy bottle of booze and his old service revolver, and the life he lives now may be more dangerous than the one he led when on the force. But then a letter arrives and puts the sparkle back into the man’s eyes.

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Stephen King

The letter, Hodges is certain, comes from a man he was unable to catch before his retirement, perpetrator of one of the worst crimes he investigated during his entire career. The man, who calls himself “Mr. Mercedes,” drove a stolen car into a line of desperate jobseekers early one morning, killing eight of them and permanently injuring and maiming several others. Now he has turned up to taunt Hodges and remind him of what a failure he was as a cop – oh, and by the way, maybe he should just kill himself in remorse.

Hodges, deciding to keep the letter to himself rather than turn it over to his old partners, enlists the help of the black teen down the street who, in addition to maintaining Hodges’s meager lawn, turns out to be a competent computer whiz. The owner of the stolen car, whom the locals and police blame for the crime because she supposedly left her Mercedes unlocked the morning it was stolen, has already killed herself out of despair and guilt. It is when this woman’s sister hires Hodges to look into the circumstances of her death that things begin to get complicated – and disturbing. Mr. Mercedes, believed to be in his twenties, is proving to be one of the most devious killers imaginable.

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Will Patton

King has filled Mr. Mercedes with twists and turns that will make you dizzy, as well as with some of the most memorable characters in any of his recent work. Before it is over, Mr. Mercedes will be running from the most unusual trio of crime fighters most readers will have ever encountered.

Bottom Line: Mr. Mercedes won the 2015 Edgar for good reason – and Will Patton does a beautiful job of presenting the audiobook version.

Chasseurs de Livres (Book Hunters)

14117939_10206656186714877_7733226860950093015_nNow this online search game, I like…a lot.  I’ve not been particularly amused by the spectacle of teens and even adults wandering aimlessly in search of all those Poke-creatures which only exist in the minds of those silly enough to want to capture them.  I, in fact, find these big game hunters irritating when they wander in bunches in public areas disturbing everyone else in the area with their lack of manners.  But it appears that someone in Belgium has come up with a way to make lemonade from that lemon of a game app also known as Pokemon Go.

According to The Times of India, a Belgian primary school headmaster has started a Facebook Group  that already has some 40,000 people there searching for books – books that actually exist in the real world.  Imagine that, Pokemon Go fanatics.

While with Pokemon Go , players use a mobile device’s GPS and camera to track virtual creatures around town, Aveline Gregoire’s version is played through a Facebook group called “Chasseurs de livres” (“Book hunters”).

Players post pictures and hints about where they have hidden a book and others go to hunt them down. Once someone has finished reading a book, they “release” it back into the wild.”

[…]

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One Successful Book Hunter

The Detournay family from the town of Baudour in southern Belgium said the game was now part of their morning walks. They found one book and left four others for people to find.

 “My daugther said it’s like hunting for easter eggs, only with books,” Jessica Detournay said.”
This is a great idea that teachers and book lovers all over the world should embrace.  I am under no illusion that an app similar to this Belgian Facebook Group would ever rival something as inane as Pokemon Go, but wouldn’t it be great to see people in your town excited about finding free books on its streets?

Saving “The Homesman” from the Garbage Truck

2822481It’s confession time.  I have what my wife would call an embarrassing bad habit (don’t tell her)…if I spot a stack of books sitting curbside on garbage pickup day in any neighborhood I happen to be driving through, I STOP.  And I do it immediately without a second thought as to what the folks who live there might think about it.

Every so often it pays off with a nice find – as it did today when I walked away with a really nice first edition copy of Glendon Swarthout’s great western, The Homesman.  Swarthout wrote this one in 1988 but, good as it is, he was pretty much still only known for his great 1975 novel The Shootist.  It didn’t hurt, obviously, that The Shootist was turned into a 1976 movie starring John Wayne.

The_Homesman_posterNow, with the recent success of the film version of The Homesman (starring Tommy Lee Jones, Hillary Swank, Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, and James Spader), the novel is finally receiving its due.  And I love the idea that today I rescued this one from a painful death in some Houston landfill.

The House of Daniel

House_of_DanielHarry Turtledove is one of the masters of the alternate history genre, no doubt about it. Among his alternate history titles are two long-running series known as The World War Saga and The Colonization Series, plus stand-alone titles like The Guns of the South, a weird rewriting of American Civil War history. All have been highly successful for Mr. Turtledove. This time around the author turns his attention to 1929, shortly after the “Big Bubble popped,” a time when jobs are so scarce that men find it difficult to feed their families, much less provide for any of life’s little extras. Times are so tough that some men are voluntarily becoming vampires or zombie-workers in an attempt to leave the harsh reality of their old lives behind forever.

Jack Spivey, the narrator of The House of Daniel, is the only son of Enid, Oklahoma’s, town drunk and, while he is not desperate enough yet to become a zombie or a vampire, he is not above taking jobs as an enforcer for Big Stu, the thug who pretty much runs Enid as his own little kingdom. Jack also picks up a few extra dollars playing semipro baseball for the Enid Eagles, a team that plays against similar teams located within a hundred or so miles of Enid. On one road trip to Ponca City Jack’s life would change forever.

When Jack knocks on the Ponca City boardinghouse door he’s been directed to, he expects a man called Mitch Carstairs to open it. Unfortunately for Mitch, his brother refuses to pay Big Stu the money he owes – and Big Stu believes that pounding on Mitch might encourage his brother to pay up. But when the door opens, Jack is looking into the eyes of one of the most beautiful women he’s ever seen – and her name is Mitch Carstairs. Even though he knows that Big Stu will want his hide for not beating her, Jack warns the beautiful Mitch to flee Ponca City first thing in the morning. But now there is no way he can return to his life in Enid.

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Harry Turtledove

Jack’s luck, though, is soon to change. He stays behind when the rest of the Enid Eagles leave for home and decides to take in an afternoon baseball game between the barnstorming House of Daniel team and a local nine. By the end of the game, the House of Daniel is in desperate need of a centerfielder to take the place of the one severely injured during the game. The next thing Jack knows he is on the House of Daniel bus, the centerfield job is his, and Big Stu is in the bus’s rearview mirror. Of course, Big Stu is not going to give up that easily, and the chase is on.

All of this happens within the book’s first forty pages. The rest of the book is a baseball barnstorming tour of Oklahoma, Texas, and the American West of the Depression Era. And it’s fun – until it becomes so repetitive that it’s not fun and the reader begins to have as much trouble remembering which game was which as Jack says those on the team have in keeping games straight in their own minds.

The House of Daniel, while it is based upon a fun premise, would probably have been more effective if held to a novella-length book, but it’s still an enjoyable journey into one of Harry Turtledove’s strange worlds.

Confusion, Anger, Complacency, and Grumpiness: The Four Stages of Life

65a39aef9a535c759746c556d51444341587343I’m not much into horror fiction these days, probably because so much of what I see on network news broadcasts horrifies me just about as much as anyone needs to be horrified.  But I decided to try a John Connolly novel for the first time – which turned out to be, I think, book number 14 in his Parker series, not a great place to start – and I’m finding it quite well written and informative.  Connolly even makes me laugh sometimes, the last thing I expect from a horror novel.

One of the way-off-to-the-side characters in the book is a small college professor called Ian Williamson who, when observing his school’s current crop of students, made the observation that the youth of that era (sixties and seventies) had been looking for reasons to be angry, which was perfectly understandable because the young were supposed to be angry. Now the youth were just looking for reasons to feel offended, and that wasn’t the same thing at all.  Dead on.

But it is what the fictitious prof went on to say that hit even closer to home: “The four ages of man…were confusion, anger, complacency, and grumpiness, but it was important to embrace them in the right order.”

I know very well that I’m well into the “grumpiness” stage now, and looking back, I think I went through the four stages in the right order.  I guess that’s a good thing, but it’s kind of a downer to be reminded again today that I’m in the final stage now.  That happens a lot lately.

Movies for Readers: The Light Between Oceans

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The Light Between Oceans is an Australian novel published in that country early in 2012 and in the United States in August of that same year.  USA Today called it a novel “tough to shake off” and it was an Amazon Book of the Month upon its release.  The novel was also very popular with book clubs, and had to be one of the most successful debut novels of 2012.

The movie version of The Light Between Oceans is scheduled to be released in the U.S. this September 2 and in the U.K. on November 4.  It stars Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander as the Australian couple living in an isolated lighthouse who decide to keep the baby girl who washes up on the beach one day not long after the sudden death of their own baby daughter.  I haven’t read this one – I was a bit put off at the time by all the hype – but it looks like a real tearjerker and a beautiful film.

 

All the Time in the World

1627794018.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_All the Time in the World, Caroline Angell’s debut novel, gets right to the defining point of the story. The book begins this way:

The day she died was not beautiful. There have been a few world disasters in my lifetime, generation-defining events, and the ones I remember most clearly were marked with the hideous irony of a perfect blue sky. But the day Gretchen McLean died was miserable and drizzly, with periods of nasty.

Charlotte, the book’s narrator, is a uniquely talented composer/song writer (and yes, Charlotte seems to think there is a difference between the two terms) who has taken a break from that world to be the all-day babysitter of a wealthy couple’s two little boys. The “Gretchen McLean” referenced in the quote above is the boys’ mother – and when she is suddenly snatched from the picture, Charlotte realizes that she has been promoted to the second most important figure in the lives of the two boys. If she abandons them now by returning to her own life, the only world they have ever known will end forever. Charlotte knows in her heart that losing both mother-figures in their lives at once will be more than the boys can cope with, so she signs on for the duration.

But, frankly, Charlotte is not ready to return to the competitive world of music and musicians anyway, so the decision is not something she much agonized over. It is only when her old life begins to intrude on her caregiver life that she begins to question her decision to become Matt and George’s surrogate mother. By then, though, it is too late – way too late.

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Caroline Angell

Angell’s novel is really a study in grief and the various methods that friends and family use to cope with the sudden death of someone they loved dearly and miss tremendously. Gretchen McLean was only in her mid-thirties when she died, so the initial reaction, straight across the board, was more one of shock than anything else. Some are able to get past the shock quickly, others not. Some feel guilty, and whether it is “survivor’s guilt” or whether it is regret for something left unsaid, they feel that guilt intensely. Some are angry that she is gone, maybe even a little bit angry with Gretchen herself for not being more careful on the New York streets. And some, especially her husband, just miss her so intensely that they bury themselves in work. Charlotte, though, mostly feels trapped in a life she did not ask for and now cannot escape.

All the Time in the World is filled with well-developed characters for Charlotte to bounce her own emotions off of, some who worry about her, some who are a little jealous and wary of her new “relationship” with the boys’ father, some who cannot understand why she allows her life to be stolen from her this way, and some who dislike her intensely.

One criticism: Angell’s use of flashbacks to various points in time prior to Gretchen’s death is effective at first – but flashbacks every six or eight pages for over three hundred pages become a little wearying and tend to be more a distraction than anything else. This is a relatively small criticism, but it did affect the enthusiasm with which I returned to the book between reading sessions with it.

Bottom Line: All the Time in the World is an effective debut novel and Caroline Angell is a writer I will look forward to reading again. And that’s what counts, really.

Top 15 Read/Collected Authors on LibraryThing

Do you guys use LibraryThing?

340x_mixedbag72310_01LibraryThing was the first of the big online book sites that I discovered, and I was almost immediately hooked on it because of how easy it made it for me to keep up with my personal library.  And I’m pretty loyal to the site to this day, preferring it over GoodReads (which I do use) and newer sites that I don’t much fool with.  Every few years I remember that the site does some terrific data-mining, too, and that always generates an interesting list or two for Book Chase.

Here’s a list of the most collected authors on LibraryThing:

  1. J.K. Rowling (538,736 books)
  2. Stephen King (439,451)
  3. Terry Pratchett (357,175)
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien (277,606)
  5. C.S. Lewis (262,454)
  6. Neil Gaiman (239,419)
  7. William Shakespeare (230,089)
  8. Nora Roberts (228,413)
  9. Agatha Christie (210,102)
  10. James Patterson (191,880)
  11. Jane Austen (177,294)
  12. Isaac Asimov (170,736)
  13. Stephenie Myer (166,507)
  14. Charles Dickens (166,114)
  15. John Grisham (154,814)

I normally stop with Top 10 lists, but there was no way I was going to end my list with James Patterson’s name (it’s bad enough that it’s there at all).  Seeing Jane Austen, Isaac Asimov, and Charles Dickens show up helps ease the pain of seeing Nora Roberts and Patterson. It’s kind of a mixed bag of a list, really, with some classic authors who are well respected, some authors who will be all but forgotten in 100 years, and a couple (already named) who have no business on this list even today.

LaRose: A Novel

louise_erdrich-larose_cover-harpercollinsIt is difficult to imagine anything more devastating to a man than accidentally killing his best friend’s only son, but Landreaux Iron did just that when the little boy somehow managed to get between Landreaux and the elk at which he had just taken a shot. But according to Ojibwe tribal custom there was a way for the Iron family to recompense Dusty Ravich’s parents for his loss: all they have to do is give LaRose, their own son and Dusty’s best friend, to Pete and Nola Ravich to raise as their own. So they do.

Not that it was easy, and not that it was a decision that could stick forever.

The mothers of the two boys are half-sisters who hardly speak to each other despite the closeness of their sons and husbands. Nola, Dusty’s mother, has one other child, a daughter who is entering her prime teen-brat years. LaRose’s mother, Emmiline, on the other hand, has four other children, including the one they took in as a boy. The question now is whether either of the two families will be able to survive the loss of their sons.

LaRose is a novel about forgiveness and how far it can be stretched before reaching its breaking point, and Erdrich tells her story beautifully. As the months go by, and the gifting of LaRose to Dusty’s family becomes more one of sharing the boy, the two families grow closer than ever before – especially the children. Emmiline’s daughters take the slightly younger Maggie Ravich under their wings and do their best to keep her from going astray. Pete and Landreaux (the fathers) manage to rekindle a friendship of sorts, and even if it is not as strong a friendship as it had been before the accident, they seem to be moving it in that direction. And if Nola and Emmiline (the mothers) find it difficult to communicate or to be around each other, well that’s nothing new, is it?

erdrichBut there’s always a fly in the ointment, and in this case it’s a fly with a deadly grudge against Landreaux Iron going back all the way to childhood. Romeo (the fly) still walks with an obvious limp resulting from a childhood fall he blames on Landreaux, and he is determined to make Landreaux finally suffer as much as he has. The man may be a drunkard and a pill-popper, but when it comes to deviousness, Romeo is rather brilliant, and when he convinces Pete that Landreaux is hiding the truth about what really happened on the morning Dusty was killed, it appears that everything the two families have achieved together is going to be destroyed.

All of this, as usual in a Louise Erdrich novel, takes place on or around a Native American reservation that seems to be almost a separate world unto itself despite the changes brought about by modern times. Erdrich surrounds her central characters with a supporting cast of characters that is equally compelling and memorable. This especially includes the original “LaRose,” an Indian girl who was bought by a brutal mountain man, and whose story is told in a recurring sequence of flashbacks throughout the novel. (Each generation of Emmiline’s family has had a “LaRose” in it ever since, and her young son carries the name for his generation.).

Louise Erdrich won the 2015 National Book Award for The Round House, but LaRose just may be every bit the equal of that very fine novel. This is one not to be missed.

69 Ways to Read 100+ Books a Year

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This is a “golden oldie” from way back on November 15, 2011.  The post started out as “54 Ways to Read 50 Books a Year” and, with some input from a few fellow book bloggers, it grew into “62 Ways to Read More Than 50 Books a Year.”  It was fun for me sit down at the keyboard and just let it rip, but it was even more fun to see the responses I got.

See what you think:

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My friends probably think  I’m weird, that I don’t have a life.  I’m pretty sure they would say that about anyone who averages 125 books read per year, though, so I don’t take it personally.  Consider, too, that 125 books is a relatively low count when compared to the 250, 300, or 1,000 books that are read every year by some people I’ve met on the Internet (I suppose that means some people are just exceptionally weird).  And, honestly, if you push me hard enough, I’ll tell you how weird I think people are who don’t read more than five or six books a year…or (shudder) even none.

Now let me tell you about my other life – the one that happens when I’m not reading – the one that takes up most of my time.  I work slightly more than forty hours per week (no longer true, thankfully) on the job that pays for the books on my shelves.  I am an avid sports fan   who attends professional and amateur sporting events on a regular basis.  I have three very active grandchildren whom I help cart around all over town to their own activities, activities that often have me in the viewing audience: dance classes and recitals, pee wee league football games, little league baseball games, and the like…and I’m still happily married to the woman who loves to help me decide how we are going to spend our spare time.

So how does anyone read a large number of books per year?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  These tips are guaranteed to up your reading count.  Pick the ones you feel comfortable with, and let me know if they work for you or not.  If you want to add to the list, please let me know and I’ll credit you guys with numbers 62 forward.

  1. Read during your lunch hour, something especially easy to do if you eat at your desk each day
  2. Read the first thing every morning – get up 15 minutes early and begin your day by reading a few pages
  3. Turn off the television set – or, better yet, don’t turn it on (See number 4, below)
  4. Use your DVR to record the television you really want to see – quit channel surfing your evenings away
  5. Don’t get lost inside Facebook or Twitter for hours and hours of your precious spare time – it’s easy to catch up when you log back in
  6. Read while brushing your teeth – especially easy if you use an electric toothbrush with a built in timer
  7. Read when stuck in lines at banks, government offices, etc.
  8. Read while stuck behind long lines of traffic at slow stop lights
  9. Listen to recorded books while commuting
  10. Stay excited and informed about new books being published
  11. Browse bookstores and grab whatever catches your eye – first impressions are important
  12. Find two or three authors whose work you love – and read everything they’ve written
  13. Change your reading pattern/rut – alternate fiction with nonfiction, biographies with travel books, etc.
  14. Have reading apps on your smart phone – use them when you are trapped in a boring place all alone
  15. Set reading goals and speak of them publicly
  16. Keep a running list of what you read
  17. Join a book club
  18. Visit your local library regularly, especially the “new books section”
  19. Read the classics from your favorite genre – books by the early masters of scifi, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.
  20. Read from a list of winners and nominees: Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Man Booker
  21. Read translated novels and painlessly learn what makes other cultures tick
  22. Specialize in authors from particular countries or geographical regions
  23. Read local authors
  24. Re-read books that excited you as a young reader
  25. Read the classics – guaranteed to be better than you remember them from high school or college
  26. Find a bookstore specializing in what you enjoy reading most
  27. Find a reading buddy or two whose taste and recommendations you can trust
  28. Be a reading mentor to a child or young adult
  29. Use your credit card points to add to your book budget – the Barnes & Noble credit card is perfect for book lovers
  30. Read lots of book blogs, both individual and corporately sponsored ones
  31. Become aware of your activities that do nothing but pointlessly kill time; pick up a book instead
  32. When watching television alone, read during those endless commercial breaks
  33. Always have more than one book in progress
  34. Always know what your next book is going to be
  35. Trade books with friends and family members
  36. Buy used books to stretch your book budget
  37. Become a book collector specializing in an author, genre, publisher, decade, etc.
  38. Attend book signings at local bookstores
  39. Attend public readings at local colleges and universities
  40. Volunteer to read to struggling readers at local elementary schools
  41. Volunteer to read to the elderly with failing eyesight
  42. Read books about books – about bookstores, collectors, fakers, mysteries, libraries
  43. Attend state book festivals – they draw large numbers of authors to one site
  44. Treasure hunt in used book bookstores
  45. Watch movies made from books and compare the two versions (books always win)
  46. Collect signed books
  47. Read debut novels from fresh voices
  48. Participate in web-based book exchanges
  49. Browse the shelves of friends and relatives; you might learn something new about them and yourself
  50. Shop at Friends of the Library book sales
  51. Always carry a spare book in your car – you never know when you’re going to need it
  52. Keep an e-book reader in your coat pocket
  53. Take advantage of all the free, or very cheap, e-book offers out there
  54. Read on your monitor screen when all else fails
  55. Read while your small children are napping (courtesy of Jeanne)
  56. Read while nursing your baby (courtesy of Jeanne)
  57. Add valuable reading hours to your week by using public transportation for commuting (courtesy of Ted)
  58. Download audio books to your iPod and listen to them while working out or doing chores around the house (courtesy of Sally)
  59. Keep book of favorite quotes found while reading (courtesy of Susan Sanders)
  60. Read while fishing (courtesy of Susan Sanders)
  61. Read while monitoring kids in bath (courtesy of Susan Sanders)
  62. Read books mentioned in other books you are reading (courtesy of Santosh)
  63. Start a book blog (courtesy of guiltless reader)
  64. Start reviewing books on GoodReads, LibraryThing, BookLikes, etc. (courtesy of guiltless reader)
  65. Join reading challenges (courtesy of guiltless reader)
  66. Read while blow-drying your hair (courtesy of Karen Em K)
  67. Read while soaking in the tub (courtesy of Karen Em K)
  68. Start a “Whoops, I forgot my book” bookshelf at work (courtesy of Karen Em K)
  69. Listen to Recorded Books while showering (courtesy of Karen Em K)

Bill Murray Reads from Huckleberry Finn

This is absolutely brilliant.  For way too many years, I failed to give actor/comedian Bill Murray the credit he deserves for so thoroughly mastering his craft.  But the older the man gets, the more I appreciate him.

So you can imagine my surprise at how moving I find his characterization of the character Jim from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  This reading at a NYC Barnes & Noble bookstore happened way back in 1996, a good while before I was giving Murray credit as anything more than just another Hollywood funny man. Boy, was I wrong.

Listen to this…and stay with it, because you are going to be enthralled before you know it:

Pagan Babies

0385333927.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Elmore Leonard published novels for parts of seven decades (1953-2012) and more than twenty of his books were made into theatrical or television movies. Leonard began his career writing westerns but turned to crime fiction, the genre for which he is best known today, in the 1960s. By the time Pagan Babies was published in 2000, Leonard (who died in 2013 at age 87) had begun to slow his pace considerably but did later have great success with work that was turned into the television series Justified.

Pagan Babies exhibits many of the traits that Elmore Leonard fans have come to love over the author’s long career. It is filled with long, quirky conversations that do as much to develop the novel’s characters – and even the plot – as anything else Leonard has to say about them. As is usually the case with Leonard, the plot moves along quickly but is subject to veering to the left or right at short notice because of the sheer ineptness of some of the novel’s characters. Elmore Leonard never seemed to have a very high opinion of the average intelligence of the criminal population, and it shows again in Pagan Babies.

For reasons best kept to himself, Father Terry Dunn decides to leave his Rwanda church and return to his hometown of Detroit. That he witnessed the massacre by machete of forty-seven church members during his last Mass, and that the bodies are still inside the church weeks later, does have more than a little to do with his decision, but it does not tell the whole story. Now, despite having left Detroit five years earlier under a tax-fraud indictment, Father Dunn is willing to take his chances there. So armed with scores of pictures of Rwandan orphans and mutilated bodies, he comes home hoping to dodge the tax-fraud indictment and raise a little money for the orphans.

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Elmore Leonard

But is Terry Dunn really a priest? He certainly doesn’t convince the two main women in his life at the moment, his sister-in-law and Debbie Dewey, a woman who sometimes works for his brother. In Terry Dunn, Debbie Dewey (who has just completed a three-year sentence for aggravated assault) sees a kindred spirit. And she may just be right because Terry seems to feel the same way about her. So when Debbie explains her plan to recover the $67,000 her ex-boyfriend stole from her, the pair joins forces in a complicated scheme they hope will net each of them considerably more than that amount.

Remember, though, that this is an Elmore Leonard novel and soon enough a whole cast of dimwits is going to appear just in time to gum up the works, including Mutt, perhaps the dumbest hit-man in the history of crime fiction (and my favorite character in the book).

Pagan Babies may not quite be Elmore Leonard in his prime, but it is still a damn fine crime novel. Take a look.

Orr’s Island Librarian Is Old School – So Are Her Patrons

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Orr’s Island Library

Maine’s Orr’s Island library is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the only librarian the little library has had during that period.  That’s nice, you’re probably thinking…but thirty years is not that big a deal, is it?  Well, when you consider that Joanne Rogers was already 76 years old when she took the job, you get the idea.

The 106-year-old librarian is still at it and she doesn’t intend to quit until she can’t do “everything the job entails.”  The Forecaster has the details:

“Rogers records the books that come and go on a small note card that she files in a wooden box on her desk.

Consequently, Rogers’ intimate knowledge of the library and its patrons serves both a social and an operational function. After decades of sitting at the front desk, her mind is not only a Rolodex of her readers’ tastes and preferences – she won’t hesitate to recommend a book at check-out, especially if she thinks a patron won’t like the one they’ve chosen – it is also the library’s central computer.”

[…]

“Before Rogers was librarian, she was a bookseller. She operated Jo’s Books on Bailey Island; the idea originated from a comment that she made to her late husband that he ought to build her a bookstore to contain all her books.

When her predecessor left in 1986, a representative from the library knocked on Rogers’ door one afternoon and asked if she was interested in filling the vacancy. She said yes on the spot.”

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Joanne Rogers, Orr’s Island Librarian

Joanne Rogers is 106 years old…think about that for a moment…and books have been a key component of her life.  We should all be so lucky.

 

In the Mail…this week so far

The last two mail deliveries to my Spring, TX, home have included these:

And these:

And my TBR stack continues to grow like a weed despite my best efforts to keep up.  I’m reading fast as I can and reviewing fast as I can, but I continue to fall farther behind.  I consider that a good thing…no, a wonderful thing.  He who dies with the highest TBR wins!

The Silent Shore of Memory

0875656196.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Civil War has been a popular subject of American fiction almost since the day the war ended, and it continues to be so today. What is not nearly so well documented by novelists is the period immediately following the war during which Southern states were abused and looted by those from the North who came south to “reconstruct” them into something approved by their northern brethren. “To the victor go the spoils, “ New York Senator William L. Macy (more or less) said in 1828, and hundreds, if not thousands, came south to make sure that exactly that happened.

(I understand that there were legitimate reasons and concerns requiring a Reconstruction period after the Civil War. I am referring here only to those who came down specifically to abuse and take advantage of a weakened, often helpless, Southern population.)

John C. Kerr’s The Silent Shore of Memory is one of those exceptional Civil War novels that do not end at the close of the war. It continues the story of its main character, Texas Confederate James Barnhill through the entire Reconstruction era as it was experienced in East Texas and ends, instead, on a 1915 Big Thicket bear hunt. Captain Barnhill’s war experiences would take an unusual turn when he was severely wounded while serving as a courier to an adjacent unit – a wound he survived only because of the intervention of a Gettysburg pastor who took Barnhill and two other wounded men (one Confederate, one Union) into his own home after the battle.

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John C. Kerr

In the reverend’s home, Barnhill does more than survive his wounds; he meets the fellow Confederate soldier, Robert Maxwell, who will become perhaps the best friend he has during his entire life. When Union authorities agree to parole the two men so they can return home to complete their recoveries, Barnhill brings Maxwell back to the Virginia plantation that Maxwell calls home so that the two can recover there. It is here, too, that Barnhill will meet the love of his life, Robert Maxwell’s sister, Amelia.

This, though, is only a small part of James Barnhill’s story – and what happens next to him and to his beloved state of Texas, is every bit as colorful and intriguing as what happened to him during the war. Always one to fight with all he has for something he believes in, Barnhill returns to Texas, law degree in hand, and takes on any who try to take unfair advantage of his state and its citizens throughout the Reconstruction era.

James Barnhill’s story is a big part of part of Texas’s story, and John C. Kerr tells it well.