My Favorite Recipe Book: The Circle of Useful Knowledge

books

I want to share one of my favorite little books with you today.   Although it is a book of only 255 pages, The Circle of Useful Knowledge contains much of the practical knowledge to be had in the year 1893 when it was published.  I’ve spent several hours wandering around inside this book since receiving it as a gift in 2007, and have even been a little tempted to test some of the suggested remedies for their effectiveness.

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 Kinsley’s “receipt”for getting rid of bed-bugs:

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.

Judging from the marks he made in the book’s Table of Contents, the original owner of this little book, one Mr. Peter R. Fairweather of Toledo, Ohio, seems to have been particularly interested in the sections on “Shaving Soap,” “Shaving Cream,” and “How to Make Red or Gray Hair Glossy Black.” Nothing like a little DIY knowledge for the well-groomed man of the 1890s, after all.

There are recipes for dozens of health ailments, some of them rather ambitious, I suspect, like the ones to cure deafness, lockjaw, consumption, squinting eyes, and gonorrhea.  I know you’re wondering about that deafness cure, so here it is:

Obtain pure pickerel oil and apply 4 drops morning and evening to the ear.  Great care should be taken to obtain oil that is perfectly pure.

I have to assume that his might help to clear the ear canals of built up wax, so maybe the cure really did work.

Ever the optimist, the author says that his book will save money for: “lumber manufacturers, lumber dealers, millmen, carpenters, builders, carriage makers, ship builders, cabinet makers, ship brokers, ship carpenters, railroad conductors, engineers, machinists, freight agents, teachers, students, architects, accountants, farmers, housekeepers, stock-raisers, packers, doctors, clerks, gardeners, liquor dealers, druggists, photographers, artists, bakers, confectioners, flour dealers, hairdressers, ink makers, whitewashers, soap makers, bankers, barbers, printers, gilders, painters, shoemakers, clothiers, dry goods dealers, brewers, grocers, hotel keepers, iron workers, plasterers, masons, marble cutters, and many others.”

That should should be the vast majority of people alive in 1893, I suppose, so  I hope the man made a lot of money from The Circle of Useful Knowledge.  At $2.50 a copy in 1893 dollars, this little recipe book was quite an investment.

Book Chase 2016 Fiction Top 10

2016 has been a good year for fiction and short story collections, and I’ve made the most of it by reading almost 100 fiction titles this year.  It probably helped that I attended three different book festivals around the state in the past several months (San Antonio, Kingwood, and the state festival in Austin) because festivals often bunch three or four authors into single sessions, ensuring that attendees are exposed to writers and books of which they may have otherwise never heard.

2016 Fiction Top Ten

cd73c-51ikroqj35l-_sx327_bo1252c204252c203252c200_1.  A Friend of Mr. Lincoln – Stephen Harrigan – Abraham Lincoln is one of the best-known presidents in the history of the United States, so most people are familiar with the story of his life.  They know about the poverty of Lincoln’s boyhood, the prodigious strength he developed as a teen, his debate skills, his presidency during the Civil War, and his tragic end.  The most common gap in most peoples’ Lincoln biography is the time during which he was a young lawyer and aspiring Whig politician – the 1830s and 1840s.  Stephen Harrigan’s novel, A Friend of Mr. Lincoln spans precisely this period of the young Lincoln’s life.  Harrigan recreates a well-meaning, but flawed, young Lincoln in the process of deciding what kind of man he wanted to be.

258174932.  News of the World – Paulette Jiles – What could possibly be more intriguing a main character in a book about Reconstruction Era Texas than a seventy-year-old retired Army captain who makes his living  traveling the vast state as a “professional reader” of newspapers? Perhaps a ten-year-old girl who has spent the last four years of her life as a captive of the band of Kiowa who butchered her parents and little sister in front of her would do it. And then, if you have these two characters cross paths, as Paulette Jiles does in News of the World, you have the makings of one of the most remarkable plots of the year.

57b53afc9d427-image3.  I Will Send Rain – Rae Meadows – It has not rained on the Bell farm in almost three months. Samuel Bell, his wife Annie, and their two children have never seen a drought like this one, but unlike some of their neighbors who have already abandoned their own farms, the Bells are determined to hang on until the rains return. Samuel and Annie tell themselves that it cannot possibly last much longer – but both know that if next year’s growing season is anything like this year’s they will end up dead broke and homeless.  And that’s when things really go bad.

louise_erdrich-larose_cover-harpercollins4.  LaRose – Louise Erdrich – It is difficult to imagine anything more devastating to a man than accidentally killing his best friend’s only son, but Landreaux Iron does just that when the little boy somehow manages to get between Landreaux and the elk at which he has just taken a shot. But according to Ojibwe tribal custom there is a way for the Iron family to recompense Dusty Ravich’s parents for their loss: all the Irons have to do is give LaRose, their youngest son and Dusty’s best friend, to Pete and Nola Ravich to raise as their own.  And that’s what they do.

0385542364-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_5.  The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead – From what I understand, there is some controversy about Colson Whitehead’s decision to fashion his novel about the Underground Railroad into a one that fits firmly into the alternate history genre rather than to write a more traditional piece of historical fiction on the subject. Frankly, that is precisely what drew me to the book in the first place. I have found that novels of alternate history, as opposed to more traditional historical fiction, often reveal the more essential truths about motivations, emotions, and what was really happening behind the scenes. Whitehead’s novel is no exception.  He artfully uses the alternate history genre to hammer home the harsh realities of one of the most brutal experiences in human history: slavery. In the process, he spares no one, be they black, or be they white.

winters_undergroundairlines_hc6.  Underground Airlines – Ben H. Winters – Underground Airlines is set in the present day but Winters alerts readers early on with the insertion of a striking United States map that things are just a little bit twisted in this version of the present day world. Three things about this map are very, very different from the one that is so familiar people around the world: Texas, one of the most recognizable state-shapes on the map, is labeled as “Republic of Texas (Disputed); there is a color-coded legend identifying “Slave States” and “Free States;” and four states are clearly shaded in as slave-holding states. The four slave states are Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Carolina (the Carolinas having merged into one state) and, for obvious reasons, the rest of the country refers to them as the “Hard Four.”

51zfuwbbuvl-_sy346_7.  Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves – The novel, set in 1920s rural Alabama, tells of an electricity visionary whose dream of electrifying the family farm his wife inherited inadvertently destroys two families, one of them his own.  The novel is filled with haunting characters that suffer greatly because of the actions of one man. None of them is perfect – far from it – but they need each other if they are to survive what has happened to them. The ultimate question they all have to answer now is how willing they are to forgive Roscoe Martin – and themselves – for what happened.

13935024_1222720154425432_2923937362586033090_n8.  Fields Where They Lay – Timothy Hallinan – As Fields Where They Lay opens, Christmas is just days away and Junior’s worst nightmare has come true.  He is spending all of his normal waking hours – and many others he would much prefer to be asleep – inside the Shopping Mall from Hell. The mall has already lost all its anchor stores, much of its third floor is locked up tight, and most of the businesses still able to keep the doors open are just hoping to hang on long enough to bank a few Christmas sales dollars before calling it quits in January. Even worse, Junior has been forced to listen to the same recording of a “The Little Drummer Boy” so many times that he has to look in a mirror every so often to see if his ears are bleeding.

56a71-cover88521-medium9.  The Jealous Kind – James Lee Burke – Thanks to a combination of selective memory, old movies and television shows, and iconic musical memories, we tend to think of the 1950s as a simpler, safer time that went by too quickly.  That’s as true for those of us who actually lived through the decade as it is for those of who simply wish they had.  I  doubt, however, that Hackberry Holland’s grandson, Aaron Holland Broussard, would agree.  Aaron, the latest addition to James Lee Burke’s Holland family tree series (and the main character and narrator of The Jealous Kind), sees the decade differently from the vantage point of his Houston neighborhood.

0804141290-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_10.  Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood – Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed is the fourth book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series that began in October 2015. Crown Publishing has invited a group of notable novelists each to retell one of Shakespeare’s classic plays as a Shakespeare-inspired novel in their own style, and Atwood’s Hag-Seed is based upon Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Atwood has cleverly insured that even those readers unfamiliar with The Tempest will recognize the connections between Shakespeare’s plot and her own modernized version of it by making her main character a formerly successful theater director who now spends his time teaching a literacy class at a local prison. Felix, that director, has his class perform one of Shakespeare’s plays each year as a way of encouraging them to read and study on their own – and this year they are doing The Tempest.

(So there you have it, the Book Chase Fiction Top 10 for 2016.  I do reserve the right to modify the list if one of the 2016 books I will be reading between now and the end of the year knocks me off my feet with its sheer awesomeness – but that is unlikely to happen.)

On the End-of-Year Increase to Publishing House Efficiency

It’s always hard for me in December to read at anything even close to the pace that I maintain during the rest of the year, and this year it’s been even more difficult than normal.  In addition to the usual time-killing aspects of the Christmas season (shopping, wrapping gifts, dealing with heavier-than-normal traffic, longer lines at the grocery, etc.), my granddaughter’s high school’s football team went five rounds into the Texas high school football playoffs before being eliminated yesterday in a semifinal game.  Because it’s her fourth and final year on the school drill team, that means that, with the exception of two nearby games, we have driven several hundred miles in the last five weekends getting to and from various stadiums around the state.

But just when I was starting to feel like I was catching up on promised reviews, the mail (both snail and electronic) has gone a little crazy.  Every one of the books pictured below got to me days quicker than they would have earlier this year; it’s as if publisher reps are clearing the decks to get a fresh start in 2017.  This is what arrived during the last four or five days:

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The Five Books That Arrived Via UPS

Then there were the two that came to me by email (and I apologize for the photos):

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Rather Be the Devil (as it appears on my Amazon Fire)

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Ray and Joan on the same Amazon Fire

I’m about to finish up Catherine Dunn’s The Years That Followed (the third book in that first picture), and can’t wait to get started on one or two of the others.  It sort of feels like Christmas around here.

Texas Book Festival Pictures and Sessions – Part III

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Adam Haslett on left; Mitchell Jackson on right

The second session I attended on Sunday featured authors Adam Haslett and Mitchell Jackson, each of whom spoke about and read from his latest work. In Haslett’s case that is his new novel Imagine Me Gone, and for Jackson it’s a nonfiction piece about an elderly uncle of his who “tutored” Jackson about the world of dealing drugs when the author was still in high school. Jackson also spoke about a novel of his own titled The Residue Years.

9780316261357_custom-a54f117fcf41de5d3273b29542ae135621110135-s400-c85In one sense, the two novels are very different: Haslett’s is about a middle class white family struggling with the mental illnesses of two of its members, and Jackson’s is about a lower class black family with a history of drug dealing and prison sentences. But in another sense, in addition to being autobiographical, the two books share a common theme, and this is why Haslett and Jackson were paired together for a session that can be titled “Inheritance: On family history and inheritance in fiction.”

In addition to Imagine Me Gone, a novel that took five years to complete, Adam Haslett is also the author of one other novel, Union Atlantic (winner of the Lambda Literary Award and a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize), and the Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. Mitchell Jackson’s The Residue Years (winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence) is his only novel, but he is also the author of Oversoul, an e-book collection of short stories and essays.

16059455Interestingly, both books begin with the end of their story. Haslett says that he actually did write his book in chronological order before turning Imagine Me Gone into a flashback novel by placing its ending at the beginning of the book – something he did, he says, in order to create a “sense of unease throughout the whole book.” The end of Jackson’s The Residue Years began life as a short story that the author decided to explore a little more deeply by turning it into a novel. It makes a certain kind of sense that he would begin with the story and use flashback to further explore the story’s characters and motivations.

(Those interested in learning more about Imagine Me Gone can do so by coming back to Book Chase on Friday for my review of the novel. I also plan to read and review Jackson’s The Residue Years as soon as my library locates a copy for me.)

On Prepping for the 2016 Texas Book Festival

tbf-2016-posterThe 2016 Texas Book Festival will be history this time next week, and I’m not at all prepared for it yet. I usually spend at least a couple of hours ahead of time preparing two separate schedules: a first-choice schedule that I will follow if everything breaks perfectly for me and a backup schedule that I can jump in and out of if sessions go longer than expected or any back-to-back sessions on the first schedule prove to be too far apart to allow me to make both of them.

As of this moment, I’ve got part of next Saturday mapped out and haven’t even looked at the Sunday sessions to see what’s on offer for the second day of the festival. I’m a little concerned that (based on what I’ve noticed about Saturday) there may be fewer outdoor sessions this year than in years past. That’s only important because it is easier to rush from one presentation tent to the next than it is to get indoors from outdoors. The indoor sessions are held inside the Texas Capitol building itself and the lines to get through all the associated security can be a little long – and timing is everything at the Texas Book Festival because no matter how many authors you see, you miss ten times that many. So many authors, so many books, so little time…can be exhausting.

Saturday is looking pretty good, though, as I’m finding that several of the authors I’ve already read in 2016 will be presenting. It appears that, with a little luck, I’ll be able to see Susan Faludi (In the Darkroom), Ottessa Moshfegh (Eileen), Virginia Reeves (Work Like Any Other), Diane Guerrero (In the Country We Love: My Family Divided), and Skip Hollandsworth (The Midnight Assassin). And that’s just from what I’ve seen of Saturday, so I’m hoping that more will turn up as I make my way through the rest of the schedule. I’ve also spotted sessions dedicated to short story writers, Kirkus Prize Finalists, the O. Henry Prize, and Tracking Terrorism, so Saturday is going to be a very full day.

Now I need to study the rest of the Saturday schedule, the Sunday schedule, and start thinking about a hotel. Last year, like every year, I drove to Austin on Friday without having located a room and ended up staying 50 miles north of the festival in a little Texas town I’d never heard of. It worked out well enough, but my house is only 150 miles from Austin, so it seemed a little crazy to drive another 200 miles over the two days I was there.

Rolling Blackouts & Graphic Nonfiction (What is that, exactly?)

This is NOT  a book review.

51m7cipixol-_sx365_bo1204203200_I just want to mention a book that caught my eye in Barnes & Noble on Sunday afternoon.  The cover of Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq gives the book such a different look that I had to pick it up.  This is one of those books whose cover image and back cover blurbs are printed directly onto the boards, not on a dust jacket covering yet another book that looks like every other book without a dust jacket.  It’s solid and heavy, coming in at 298 pages of comic book style illustrations  on relatively heavy paper.

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First Page of Rolling Blackouts

But this is not a graphic novel, a comic book, or a collection of funny cartoons.  Rather, it is something new to me: a graphic nonfiction book.  This is cartoonist Sarah Glidden’s account of the two months she spent with the people portrayed in the cartoons traveling part of the Middle East to gather personal stories from refugees created by the Iraq War.  I did buy a copy of Rolling Blackouts but it will be a few days yet before I can begin reading it.  It does appear to be a serious nonfiction book told via several hundred watercolored illustrations, and according to Glidden the dialogue (which is often edited for brevity) is taken from the digital recorder she carried with her during the trip.

I am really looking forward to the experience of reading Rolling Blackouts, and I hope some of you can tell me how long this has been going on – and maybe even recommend similar books to me.  Right now, I’m wondering if graphic nonfiction even works, and how the graphic nonfiction reading experience compares to reading a traditionally published nonfiction title.  This should be interesting.

The Earls of Leicester & Sister Sadie

I just got home from the Bloomin’ Bluegrass festival in Farmers Branch where I was treated to some really great bluegrass/country music on Friday and Saturday.  I did manage to get in a little reading and even finished the audiobook version of A Man Called Ove while driving the 230 miles each way to the festival.  I also managed to read the last chapter of The Maximum Security Book Club and about 100 pages of the new Carol Burnett memoir In Such Good Company, so despite not reading a lot of pages, I feel like I didn’t neglect my reading all that much.  I’m delusional that way, sometimes.

I want to share two bands that particularly impressed me this weekend.  They are very different from each other, and it’s the first time I’ve seen both of them live.  The first is a group called The Earls of Leicester and it’s the creation of the amazing dobro player Jerry Douglas (the guy has won 14 Grammys).  Jerry created the band to keep the song catalog of the late Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs alive and they really get into their performance – as you can see from the authentic period clothing and hats they all wear.  The band does nothing but Flatt & Scruggs music and they do it completely in character.  Shawn Camp, guitar player and lead vocalist, sounds so much like Lester Flatt that it’s downright spooky sometimes to hear him introduce a song.

The second band is an all female group called Sister Sadie.  These five superb musicians and vocalists (Dale Ann Bradley, Tina Adair, Gena Britt, Deanie Richardson, and Beth Lawrence) originally got together intending to do only one show in Nashville, but it’s turned into something much bigger than any of them ever dreamed it would.  They were nominated this year by the IBMA, in fact, for the award given to Emerging Artist of the year (but did not win).

I hope you enjoy both groups.

Book Collector Murdered in Theft of “Wind in the Willows” First Edition

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Adrian Greenwood

In one of those bizarre twists that deranged criminals throw at the civilized world every so often, one fifty-year-old lowlife in Oxford, England, has just reminded us that collecting rare children’s books can be as dangerous as collecting diamonds.

According to The Independent:

“A man has been accused of stabbing to death an Oxford historian and author over a first edition copy of ‘Wind in the Willows’ worth around £50,000.

Michael Danaher, 50, is appearing at Oxford Crown Court on the charge of murdering Adrian Greenwood in the author’s own home on April 6.

Danaher compiled a “clinical” spreadsheet list containing high-profile targets for theft, robbery and ransom demands, the courtheard.

A buyer and seller of rare and valuable books, Mr Greenwood had more than 200 items for sale at the time of his death, 17 of which were worth more than £2,000.”

As noted in the article, Danaher was working from a list of what he must have considered high-value, low-risk targets – a list that included Adrian Greeenwood’s name.   Sadly, Mr. Greenwood paid the ultimate price for trying to protect his property and himself from the thief.  Danaher has, of course, denied murdering Mr. Greenwood and has offered a plea of self-defense as explanation for the man’s death at his hand.

The Daily Mail has an article on the same crime that makes it sound even more despicable than then the way it is described in The Independent:

“Oxford Crown Court was told today that Mr Greenwood may have been tortured into revealing where the rare book was kept. 

The jury heard that Danaher has admitted killing Mr Greenwood after stabbing him 33 times – with one wound being 10cms deep – but he denies murder on the grounds of self-defence.”

[…]

“Danaher planned to get money by either stealing from or robbing the targets’ homes, or by demanding a ransom by kidnapping them or their family, a jury was told.  The list featured the words ‘daughter’ and ‘sister’ next to some of the names of wealthy relatives he intended to take hostage after knocking them out with a stun gun, prosecutors said.”

The Daily Mail piece is truly chilling in the details it includes about what Danaher was up to and the lengths to which he was willing to go to steal from his victims. It also explains how the killer was identified and arrested.  Take a look because it is easy to see how many people may have suffered the same fate as Mr. Greenwood if this psychopath had not been identified so quickly.

New (Amazon) Prime Reading Service Debuts

 

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Screen Shot of New Prime Reading Page

There’s more good news today for those of us who pay our hundred bucks (or so) a year to maintain our Amazon Prime memberships.  In addition to free movies, music, two-day shipping on most Amazon purchases, video games, photo storage, and one free Kindle book a month, we now get more even free books from the new Amazon service called Prime Reading.

According to CNET.com, Prime Reading works this way:

…provides a rotating library of over a thousand books, with current titles including “The Hobbit,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Millionaire Next Door.” The free service, available only to Prime members in the US, also includes changing selections of comics, kids’ books and magazines, including National Geographic Traveler, People and Sports Illustrated.

The service is available on iOS and Android devices using the free Kindle app, as well as on any Amazon Kindle e-reader or Fire tablet.”

[…]

“Using a similar tactic, Amazon last month introduced a slimmed-down, free-for-Prime version of its paid audiobook services called Audible Channels. A full Audible membership costs $14.95 a month.

In addition to Prime Reading, Amazon will continue to provide the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. That Prime service lets people borrow one e-book a month from a much wider selection of hundreds of thousands of titles.”

(I am a very satisfied Amazon Prime member but this posting is not meant as an endorsement of Amazon Prime. It’s a simple heads-up for those who may have not have yet heard about the latest enhancements to the service.)

In a nutshell, I won’t be reading Ian McEwan’s “Nutshell” anytime soon

This cover image released by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday shows, "Nutshell," by Ian McEwan. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday via AP)Have you ever tried to force yourself to read a book for no other reason than that it was written by one of your favorite authors?  The book might actually be pretty terrible or it may be that you are just not in the mood for it at the moment – but you keep trudging through it and wondering why.  Then you notice yourself avoiding the book, finding excuses to watch a movie on Netflix or a college football game instead of reading, etc.  And you know that something is very wrong.

When that happens I know it’s time to give up on a book, and that’s where I am this morning with Ian McEwan’s new one, Nutshell.  Just listen to the plot of this book as taken directly from the inside flap of its cover:

“Trudy has betrayed her husband, John.  She’s still in the marital home – a dilapidated, priceless London town house – but John’s not there.  Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan.  But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month resident of Trudy’s womb. (highlight mine)

Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.”

You read that highlighted phrase in the description correctly.  The narrator of this book is none other than the unborn child of a woman plotting with her brother-in-law to kill her husband before the child is born.  And the baby is not happy about having his family broken apart this way even before he is born into the world.  And I assume he plans to do something about old Mr. Claude before it is too late for his old man.

I was really curious to see where McEwan was going with this one and figured if anyone could pull it off it would be someone of his talent.  But here I am nineteen pages into the book, on the first page of chapter three, and I just can’t push myself any further.  This baby is already the best educated, most brilliant narrator of any novel I’ve read in the last six months.  He knows everything about everything – and claims to have learned it all from the British talk radio shows his mother enjoys so much.  This kid is so smart that he’s a snob, one of those people who throws out little literary and historical references in just about every sentence.  Geez, I can’t stand the little brat.

Anyway, Nutshell is not destined any time soon to go on my list of the Ian McEwan books I’ve read.  I don’t know what Mr. McEwan was thinking on this one or where he is ultimately going with it.  I do know that I am in no mood to spend several hours in the company of a nine-month-old fetus that is smarter than I am.

(Oh, I should mention, too, that this is McEwan’s takeoff on Hamlet, so I’m not at all sure if this baby is going “to be” or “not to be” by the time the book ends.)

If any of you guys read this one and love it, please let me know so that I can try it again.

Man Booker Shortlist: Down to the Final Six

The 2016 Man Booker Shortlist has been announced, eliminating seven of the thirteen books on the original longlist previously announced.  I was still (slowly) working my way through the longlist, so this will serve to refocus my TBR list a bit.  Of the original thirteen, I have read three books – and two of those did not make it to the shortlist, the lone survivor being Eileen by American author Otessa Moshfegh.

The longlist included five titles from British authors, five from American authors, two from Canadian authors, and one from South African author J.M. Coetzee.  The shortlist is made up of two British authors, two Canadians, and two Americans (and that makes me wonder if that was not the plan all along).

The Man Booker Shortlist:

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Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction

(US) Described by the publisher, Macmillan, this way: “A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.”

 

51llns0kdfl(UK) From the book’s dust jacket we learn this about Hot Milk, “Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant–their very last chance–in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.”

Hot Milk is Levy’s seventh novel. She is also the author of short story collections and numerous plays.

5100SFEA6aL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_(UK) The book’s self-description: “A brutal triple murder. Dark and deadly deeds in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 lead to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae landed the savage blows, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he insane? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the inevitability of the gallows at Inverness.Will he swing for his wicked acts?

 

41ZUYGNM4bL._SY346_(US)  The Los Angeles Times describes Eileen like this: “The novel fixates on solitude and isolation, alcoholism and child abuse, the icy gray New England suburbia of her town, “X-Ville,” and the even grayer ambience of Moorehead, the boys’ juvenile detention center where Eileen works. She lives alone with her retired-cop alcoholic father since the death of her mother, and her relationship with him seems limited to buying him bottles of alcohol and avoiding him altogether.  Her work life seems also unbearable, other than brief minutes when her fantasy life takes her to her crush, a security guard named Randy, who most likely doesn’t know she exists.”

41M7cxoDK7L(Canada)  The Telegraph review of All That Man Is opens this way: “David Szalay’s fourth novel tells the stories of nine male protagonists at various stages of their lives. “It’s important to feel part of something larger,” says one and, from the students of the first chapter, through the middle-aged drifters at the book’s centre, to the retiree with whom it ends, Szalay’s 21st-century men feel their lives lack meaning. Most are British but there are Belgians and Danes too, so these are timely meditations on how this country sees Europe, how Europe sees us and how we see ourselves.”

Booker_Thien-xlarge_trans++QbFiyxT4AaTcAHNa4wzsULNgOPWIo1ukKD3uSzd43XQ(Canada)  From the book’s publisher: “The Shanghai episode is one thread of a family history picked up by the novel’s heroine, Marie, a math professor living in present-day Vancouver. As the novel opens, Marie is thinking back to her father’s death by suicide in China. At that time, a family friend arrives in Vancouver. She tells stories that stretch back to the Japanese invasion; tales of her grandmother, Big Mother Knife, and her great aunt Swirl and the wars and political campaigns that led to separations, homelessness and death. These accounts slowly unravel the mystery of Marie’s father. She also reads fragments of The Book of Records, a largely improvised novel that reflects the haphazard construct of history.”

I have a copy of Hot Milk and I’ll see if I can find copies of the other four I haven’t read.  For some strange reason, it always seems easier for me to find novels by British authors here in Houston than it is for me to find the work of Canadian writers.

American authors only became eligible for the prize in 2014 when the competition was opened up to any novel published in the U.K. that was first written in English.  While I do think it’s kind of fun to see how Americans do in the competition, part of me wishes that the change had not been made because I always depend on the Man Booker lists to alert me to some of the better British and Canadian books of which I otherwise would never have heard.

 

On Judging a Book by Its Cover

I think it’s time to modify the old saying about judging a book by its cover.  For me, it should read, “You can’t always judge a book by its cover.”

When it comes to books, perhaps the most important bookstore marketing tool out there for them (other than a mega-selling author’s name in big letters splashed on the cover in red) is the image that appears on the front of the book’s dust jacket.  That’s what grabs the attention of the casual book-browser who just happens to be strolling through a bookstore on a Sunday afternoon.  If that picture or illustration is powerful enough to stop the browser in his tracks, then the book has a pretty decent chance of going home with him.

That leaves me wondering why publishers don’t put a more consistent effort into producing the kind of jackets that refuse to let you walk past them without at least picking them up to get a better look?  Take a look at these examples from a handful of the books I’ve read this year.  The first six are ones that I would not pass by without a second look:

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Each of them make me wonder what kind of tale is inside those covers.

These, on the other hand, would never get that (or any other) kind of reaction from me:

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Two of the six books in the first group are among my favorite reads to this point of 2016, and three from the second group are among my biggest disappointments of the year.  I would have ended up reading all twelve of the books anyway because none of them came from bookstores; they were either library books or review copies that came directly from publishers.  But if all twelve had depended on me discovering them in my local bookstore, the bottom six would have been in big trouble.

So, can you judge a book by its cover – or not?

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.

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.

My Used-Book Bookstore Addiction Is as Healthy as Ever

I have no room on my bookshelves anymore to be adding books to my collection.  In fact, I probably have almost as many books hidden away on closet shelves as I have on the shelves in my study by now – and I have close to 900 on these shelves (most of them hardbacks or ARCs).  And that’s not counting the 100…or 150…or 200 e-books that are hidden away in that great cloud in the sky which give me no pride of ownership whatsoever.

So why do I still look forward to browsing the shelves of used book stores in search of things I never even knew existed before I spot them there?  (I suspect that if you’re reading this, I don’t need to tell you the answer to that one.)  Now I am trying to live by the “one book in – one book out rule” and failing miserably – even though it gives me pleasure to drop a load of books off at an assisted living facility or hospital.  It’s just that the choices are getting to be more and more difficult every month.

Anyway, I’ve been to the local Half Price Books twice this week and walked away with four books, none of which appear to have ever been opened, much less read, and that means I need to slap four others in the giveaway box. (Those of you who have kept up with my horror at the Twitter personality exhibited by author Joyce Carol Oates will realize that this box contains a number of Oates volumes since I am in the process of ridding my home of over 100 of her books.)

6625119The Lineup: The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives seems to have made hardly a blip since it was published in November 2009.  I say that based on the fact that it has only 18 reviews on Amazon.com, a site on which even the shabbiest of self-published books can generate 50 or so “reviews.”  This is a compilation of a bunch of the best contemporary crime fiction writers in the business revealing exactly how they came up with their most famous series lead character. I couldn’t resist this one because it includes some of my favorite characters: Jack Taylor (Ken Bruen), Hieronymus Bosh (Michael Connelly), Charlie Resnick (John Harvey), Spenser (Robert B. Parker), and John Rebus (Ian Rankin).  And there are several other authors in the book whose series I have read in and out of for years.

 

1430246Perhaps the biggest find this week was a pristine copy of Reporting Vietnam: Part Two published by the remarkable Library of America people.  I’ve been putting together a collection of Library of America books for several years now (this being my 89th LOA book), but I guarantee you that I have never paid as little as $3.00 for one of their books before (they retail for $30-$35 on average).  I snagged this one from the back corner of the store that usually features two or three shelves of “clearance books.” Half Price Books kindly includes the date on its price stickers that the books were placed on the shelves and I see that this one had been in the store for over three years.  It’s a beautiful first edition copy printed in 1998, and I’m looking forward to dipping into it soon.  It includes newspaper and magazine pieces by the likes of Peter Arnett, Sydney H. Schanberg, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Buckley, Doris Kearns, Stewart Alsop, Seymour Hersh, and James Michener. As a bonus, it includes in its entirety one of my favorite books to come out of this war, Michael Herr’s Dispatches.  I’m still floored by my good luck on finding this one for three bucks.

lost-lightSomehow or another (and I’m happy about it) there are still a few of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books that I haven’t read – and because Connelly’ books are published in such huge numbers it is still pretty easy to find nice hard copy editions of the ones I’ve skipped for six or seven bucks a pop.  I did that with Lost Light, this week and have placed it at the bottom of my TBR stack for now…with no idea when it will finally surface again to be read.  This one was first published in 2003, and features Harry working a cold case under contract to the LAPD after he’s officially retired from the department.  And hey, the best part is that it’s a signed copy dedicated to some “Angela” out there in the world who decided to let Half Price books rip her off (she was lucky, really lucky to get a dollar for the book from these guys).  Thanks, Angela.  I’m happy you junked the book, and thanks, too, to Half Price books for not noticing that the book contains one of Connelly’s rather quirky looking signatures.

319XwLWExXL._BO1,204,203,200_And then there’s Literary Houston, published by TCU Press in 2010 (this is the most expensive book I bought this week at all of $10).  I’m always on the lookout for fiction or nonfiction books that feature Houston to some degree or another, but have been disappointed that they are harder to find than I’d like them to be despite the unusual history of what is now the fourth largest city in the U.S.  It includes pieces by what the editor, David Theis, calls “passers-through” such as Norman Mailer, H.L. Mencken, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frederick Law Olmsted.  But Houston has also sired a number of “important writers” who are also represented in the book: Donald Barthelme, Vassar Miller, and Rick Bass, among them.  And then there are the writers who have spent a considerable amount of time in and around Houston: Larry McMurtry, Philip Lopate, Mary Gaitskill, Rosellen Brown, and Edward Hirsch – all are represented here.  A quick glance through the Table of Contents also shows contributions from people like Walter Cronkite, Robert A. Caro, Stephen Harrigan, O. Henry, Max Apple, and more than a score of others. This looks like something I’ll be dipping into and out of for several years to come.

OK…now which four Joyce Carol Oates books are going to the assisted living facility?  Hmmm…

The 2016 Man Booker Longlist – in Detail

The 2016 Man Booker Longlist has been announced and it encompasses quite a variety of authors and novels. According to the press release, the Longlist is also known as the Man Booker “Dozen” even though there are actually thirteen books on the list.  And, as usual, I have read almost nothing on the list, the exception being Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.  I always do my best to rectify that problem before the winner of the prize is announced, however, and hope to do so again this year.

The list includes five titles from British authors, five from American authors, two from Canadian authors, and one from South African author J.M. Coetzee.  The list:

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Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction

(US) Described by the publisher, Macmillan, this way: “A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.”

 

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(South Africa) This is Coetzee’s thirteenth novel and is a sequel to 2013’s The Childhood of Jesus.  According to publisher Harvill Secker, “Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town, Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, with the guidance of the three sisters who own the farm where Simón and Inés work, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky.”

 

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(UK) This is Kennedy’s eighth novel, and this is part of what The Guardian has to say about her prize-nominated book: “Serious Sweet interweaves the stories of two deeply troubled protagonists. Fifty-nine-year-old senior civil servant Jon Sigurdsson is isolated both personally and professionally: at home he’s emotionally reeling from his divorce, while at work he’s on the brink of detonating his career with a breach of government secrets. To counteract his loneliness, he offers a letter-writing service to single women, which brings him into the orbit of Meg Williams, a 45-year-old recovering alcoholic and bankrupt accountant who now works in an animal sanctuary.”

 

51LLNs0KDFL(UK) From the book’s dust jacket we learn this about Hot Milk, “Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant–their very last chance–in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.”

Hot Milk is Levy’s seventh novel. She is also the author of short story collections and numerous plays.

 

5100SFEA6aL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_(UK) The book’s self-description: “A brutal triple murder. Dark and deadly deeds in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 lead to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae landed the savage blows, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he insane? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the inevitability of the gallows at Inverness.Will he swing for his wicked acts?

Burnet is from Scotland, and this is his second novel.

 

61KkclptBAL._SY346_(UK) A website exclusively promoting the book describes it this way: “In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Patrick Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?”

The Independent says it is “Subtle as a harpoon in the head…”

 

51yXcEnuZBL(US)  The Guardian describes the premise of Hystopia this way: “The novel within the novel takes place in an alternative version of the 1970s, one in which John F. Kennedy was not assassinated in 1963, but instead has survived multiple attempts to kill him and has prevailed on the US public to (unconstitutionally) elect him to a third presidential term. In Hystopia, Vietnam grinds on and on at Kennedy’s command and has been stripped of all elements of geopolitical strategy or significance, however misguided or trumped up. ”

McGuire is a veteran short story writer but this is his first novel.

 

51E2pOqj77L(UK)  As described on the publisher’s website: “Timothy Buchannan buys an abandoned house on the edge of an isolated village on the coast, sight unseen. When he sees the state of it he questions the wisdom of his move, but starts to renovate the house for his wife, Lauren to join him there.

When the villagers see smoke rising from the chimney of the neglected house they are disturbed and intrigued by the presence of the incomer, intrigue that begins to verge on obsession. And the longer Timothy stays, the more deeply he becomes entangled in the unsettling experience of life in the small village.”

 

41ZUYGNM4bL._SY346_(US)  The Los Angeles Times describes Eileen like this: “The novel fixates on solitude and isolation, alcoholism and child abuse, the icy gray New England suburbia of her town, “X-Ville,” and the even grayer ambience of Moorehead, the boys’ juvenile detention center where Eileen works. She lives alone with her retired-cop alcoholic father since the death of her mother, and her relationship with him seems limited to buying him bottles of alcohol and avoiding him altogether.  Her work life seems also unbearable, other than brief minutes when her fantasy life takes her to her crush, a security guard named Randy, who most likely doesn’t know she exists.”

 

51zFuwbbUvL._SY346_(US)  The publisher describes Work Like Any Other thusly: “Roscoe T Martin set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the twentieth century: electricity. It became his training, his life’s work. But when his wife, Marie, inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe has to give up his livelihood, with great cost to his sense of self, his marriage, and his family. Realizing he might lose them all if he doesn’t do something, he begins to use his skills as an electrician to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness. Even the love of Marie and their child seem back within Roscoe’s grasp.Then a young man working for the state power company stumbles on Roscoe’s illegal lines and is electrocuted, and everything changes…”

 

41xgKh4KBKL(US)  My Name Is Lucy Barton describes itself this way: “Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.”     Book Chase Review

 

41M7cxoDK7L(Canada)  The Telegraph review of All That Man Is opens this way: “David Szalay’s fourth novel tells the stories of nine male protagonists at various stages of their lives. “It’s important to feel part of something larger,” says one and, from the students of the first chapter, through the middle-aged drifters at the book’s centre, to the retiree with whom it ends, Szalay’s 21st-century men feel their lives lack meaning. Most are British but there are Belgians and Danes too, so these are timely meditations on how this country sees Europe, how Europe sees us and how we see ourselves.”

 

Booker_Thien-xlarge_trans++QbFiyxT4AaTcAHNa4wzsULNgOPWIo1ukKD3uSzd43XQ(Canada)  From the book’s publisher: “The Shanghai episode is one thread of a family history picked up by the novel’s heroine, Marie, a math professor living in present-day Vancouver. As the novel opens, Marie is thinking back to her father’s death by suicide in China. At that time, a family friend arrives in Vancouver. She tells stories that stretch back to the Japanese invasion; tales of her grandmother, Big Mother Knife, and her great aunt Swirl and the wars and political campaigns that led to separations, homelessness and death. These accounts slowly unravel the mystery of Marie’s father. She also reads fragments of The Book of Records, a largely improvised novel that reflects the haphazard construct of history.”

So there you have it: thirteen very different novels.  It will be fun to take a closer look at some of these and to speculate on which ones will survive elimination and make it all the way to the shortlist.  Just from this brief look at the longlist nominees, I’ve already settled on a few to pull for…and to read regardless of how long they stay in contention.

New Nonfiction Book Coming from Pat Conroy in October

Pat Conroy

I have a huge smile on my face right now and I’m fidgeting in my chair.  And it’s all because I just stumbled upon some very unexpected news:

Pat Conroy, who died of pancreatic cancer this past March 4, will continue to speak to his readers and fans for a little while longer.

According to publisher Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, a new nonfiction book is coming October 25, on what would have been the eve of Pat’s 71st birthday.

The book will include letters, interviews and magazine articles, the release said. There will be tributes from Conroy’s friends and an introduction by Conroy’s widow, novelist Cassandra King.
The selections include Conroy’s thoughts on his favorite reads, exercise and the loss of friends.
Before he died in March, Conroy had also submitted fewer than 200 pages of a new novel, “Storms of Aquarius,” the release said. The book is about four friends coming of age during the Vietnam War.

And there’s more good news involving a new Pat Conroy Literary Festival, the first of which will be held in Beaufort, South Carolina, from October 20 to 23.  (The only thing I find odd about the timing of the festival is that it ends two days before the new book is to be published…and that seems a little counterproductive and frustrating to attendees.)

Please do click on this link because it includes links to a whole lot more new information (and tribute information) involving Mr. Conroy.  The man was especially beloved in his home state of South Carolina, of course, but he had admirers around the world and this news is going to be greeted with joy everywhere it is heard.

Ruth Rendell: "And now, now it’s all over."

I finished up Ruth Rendell’s final novel, Dark Corners, in near darkness this morning as another major thunderstorm cell sat over me.  We lost power (for the third time in four days as the area continues to battle major flooding) about ten this morning, so I settled in near the window offering the most light to read the final 25 pages of the book.

I was pleased to see that the final sentence of the crime novel is this one: “And now, now it’s all over.”

That sentence fits the main character’s final decision perfectly, but it also reminds readers that there will never be another new book from the brilliant Ruth Rendell…because now it really is all over for her and for her fans.

Of course, the sentence could have been added by a clever editor at the publishing house.  But if that is the case, I really don’t want to know.  I would much prefer to believe that it’s Ruth’s way of capping her own career.  Call it serendipity or call it premonition, it really doesn’t matter.  

I will miss Ruth Rendell. 


The Lone Star Book Festival Was a Hoot

I had an absolutely brilliant time at the Lone Star Book Festival today, and now I really wish I had been able to attend the Friday sessions as well as today’s.  The festival was so well run that no one would have guessed that it’s a first-time event for the Kingwood campus.

I already knew which of the early sessions I wanted to attend when I arrived at the school, but I left the afternoon wide open to see what surprises I might find – and I’m happy I did because the last session of the day was one I’ll never forget.  In that one, thriller writer Jon Land set a new standard for author presentations that I doubt I’ll see matched anytime soon.  He set the bar just that high.


Hipolito Acosta, Bill Crider, Stephanie Evans

First up, was a session that included the prolific Bill Crider, mystery writer Stephanie Evans, and true crime writer Hipolito Acosta.  I’m a longtime fan of Crider’s writing, especially the two westerns he wrote in the nineties, but I was relatively unfamiliar with Acosta and Evans when the session began.  Stephanie Evans, as it turns out, writes a series of mysteries set in Sugar Land, a little town just outside Houston that is home to most of the city’s professional athletes, because as she says, “a lot of people in Sugar Land need killing.”  

As it turns out, the biggest surprise of the session was Acosta who is one of the most decorated border agents in the history of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.  Acosta has turned his extraordinary memory into two true crime books already, with a third one coming soon.  The man’s personal exploits as a border agent were astounding, and he uses a first person narrative in his books.


University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne

After wandering around the Brazos Bookstore book tent, I headed over to my second session, this one featuring Jerry Coyne in a discussion of his 2015 book Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible.  This one was interesting because, frankly, it takes guts to come to East Texas to discuss a book about atheism and “what it means to think scientifically, showing that honest doubts of science are better – and more noble – than the false certainties of religion.”  Before Coyne arrived, an elderly gentleman I met in the first session promised out loud that he was going to challenge the author’s premise and “exchange” books with him after the session.  The man (and I failed to catch his name) is an ex-minister and university professor who has authored several books in his time, so I was anticipating some fireworks.  It didn’t happen because Coyne politely listened to his questions before effortlessly batting away each of his arguments.  One or two others in the audience did try to “preach” a little (as Coyne asked them not to do), but because Coyne had already previewed their arguments and his rebuttals as part of his presentation, they, too, got nowhere.  


Emily Fox Gordon, Ann McCutchen

Emily Fox Gordon, Ann McCutchen, and poet Rich Levy shared a session called “Truth Telling in Autobiographic Writing” that delved into the question of just how much a right authors have to tell someone else’s story – even if their own overlaps with those stories.  Gordon and McCutchen are essayists and memoirists, but everything they had to say about their formats applied equally to Rich Levy’s poetry.  I have to admit that I’m no fan of poetry, mainly because, for me, reading poetry is like reading a foreign language, but all five poems that Levy read appealed to me like no poetry ever has before – perhaps because his poems are so autobiographical and full of familiar situations and emotions.


John Land

My last session of the day was the biggest surprise to me because of how much fun author Jon Land made it.  Land was originally scheduled to share the session with Texas author Skip Hollandsworth (author of the brand new true crime book The Midnight Assassin) who had to cancel his participation.  Land, most recently author of seven Caitlin Strong crime thrillers, is a dynamic speaker who seems to have as much fun as his audience.  Because he was flying solo today, Land changed the focus of the session a little to present “ten reasons we all love thrillers.”  I have to tell you, if you ever get a chance to attend a Jon Land reading, jump at it.  The guy is a great impersonator, knows the history of his genre intimately, and is as familiar with every aspect of today’s pop culture as anyone out there.  That combination guarantees there will be no dull moments when Jon Land has the floor.  He is another of those guys I knew little about before today (even though 17 of his 28 novels have been bestsellers), but he’s made me very curious about his Caitlin Strong books, especially since Strong is a fifth-generation Texas Ranger – an interesting job choice for his main character from a Rhode Island yankee like Jon Land.

So that’s two book festivals in two weekends…and now that I’m spoiled, there are no more festivals in sight.  Just my luck.


Heads-Up Library Patrons – Time to Queue Up for These New Books

If you are like most avid readers, there is never enough money to buy all the books you want to read or space enough to shelve the ones you do manage to buy.  That means the best option for most of us is our nearest public library system. And if your library system is like mine, among the best tools offered is the ability to go online to place new books “on hold” for pick-up when the library finally gets them on its shelves.  I have to tell you that I can tolerate standing in an electronic line a whole lot easier than I can tolerate standing in a physical one, so this is the only way to go for me.

But what happens when you spot a book you really, really want to read only to find out that 150 or 200 people had the same idea before you twigged to the book’s existence?  Well, let’s just say that that electronic line suddenly seems like a very long one – and it is.  Sometimes, in fact, I’ve waited almost three months for my number to come to the front of the line.

In that spirit, here’s a bit of a heads-up for you listing a baker’s dozen of books being published in April (one of them is hitting paperback, but it’s one I missed in hardcover, so I’ve included it.  Take a look at these and queue up now before the line is all the way out the building:

I’m not vouching for the quality of these titles because, with only one exception I’ve not read them, but I know that these authors are all popular enough to have dozens and dozens of fans in every library across America waiting for their latest books.  So if you see something here by one of your favored authors, now’s the time to get in those lines…the sooner the better in most cases.  I’m heading to my library link in hopes of snagging a low queue number on the Mary Karr, Graham Swift, Matthew Pearl, and Dan Fesperman (The Letter Writer) titles, myself.