John Steinbeck’s F-Bomb and Other Random Thoughts

It’s funny sometimes how random, bookish thoughts pop into (and almost instantly out of) my head.  This has been one of those mornings:

I was reading John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle last night and noticed a fully-spelled “F-bomb” in the dialogue of one of that novel’s main characters.  That’s no big deal today, of course, but it made me wonder what kind of reaction that word must have gotten from critics and readers back in 1936 when Steinbeck wrote this one.  Surely that kind of thing could not have been common in the thirties, could it?

I see that the largest bookstore chain in Japan is trying to corner the market on what will be one of that country’s most popular books of 2015 by buying a full 90% of the book’s first printing.  That decision has effectively limited Amazon Japan to about 5,000 copies, leaving about 5,000 copies for all other booksellers.  It’s the bookstore’s attempt to fight back against Amazon, and it might very well work in a country the size of Japan if bookstores can convince publishers to play along with the plan.  But Amazon, as we all know, is the 500-pound gorilla in any room it enters, and I wonder how the company will fight this.  Should be interesting.

People in Cleveland are talking about the city councilman who has taken self-publishing to new heights by charging the city for printing somewhere between 200 and 300 copies of a book he wrote – apparently, a book largely about himself.  The guy than “donated” the books to a select group of Cleveland students as a motivational tool of sorts.  He is now being accused of doing little more than self-promoting his image as an “educator” at the expense of the city.  Big ego, but short on ethics.

I have considered Houston to be my home since 1972 when we moved here a week before my official university graduation date.  But because I’ve always lived just outside the city’s official borders, I have never set foot in one of the many libraries that make up the “Houston Public Library,” instead always using the surrounding Harris County Library system.  Well, now that we are so into the digital age, I decided to go to the nearest Houston library location to me and get myself a “city” library card.  I drove the 16 miles there and got the card yesterday morning, in fact.  The well-kept little library is located in what seems to be a mostly black neighborhood, and I was disappointed by the amount of shelf space the building houses.  The library has only a tiny fraction of the number of books contained in my local county library, and that makes me sad for the neighborhood.  Now I need to visit other Houston Library branches to see how they compare.

Well, that visit got me wondering about other major city libraries in Texas and wether they offered free (or very cheap) library cards to other Texas residents.  Houston, I think, offers a card free of charge to all Texas residents who want to go through the process of acquiring one.  Other libraries, such as those in Dallas and Austin, offer cards but charge as much as $150 per year for them.  Some, like Fort Worth, do not make their system available to anyone living outside the city limits of that system – and even make residents jump through more hoops to acquire a card than Houston does for nonresidents.  Heck, even the Philadelphia Free Library offers a library card to anyone willing to cough up $50 a year for the privilege of accessing the system.  

I’m trying to force myself to sit down and write a review of sorts of John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat…so I’m off to do that now.  I hope.

Random Thoughts at Mid-Year

Hard to believe that 2013 is already half way in the books, but in one more flip of the calendar that’s exactly where we will find ourselves.  It’s been a much busier year than I anticipated coming into it, but that’s not all bad.  

1.     I wondered what retirement would be like, not really expecting it to live up to my hopes – and, frankly, it’s somewhere between what I hoped for and the daily work grind that preceded it.  It seems that much of my free time goes toward helping out family members where I can, especially when it means they would have to take off work to get something done.  Throw in regularly scheduled tutoring hours I spend with a grandson, and I hardly know where the days go sometimes – but that’s a good thing.  

2.     I do wish I had the energy to tackle a few longterm projects that I have in mind, such as learning the finer points of French and dabbling in Spanish a bit more.  Same with taking some formal classes in subject areas like Civil War history, American and World Literature, and enjoying more road trips (music, history, and baseball related), but I’m not giving up on any of that yet.  Just need to get more settled in to the newness of all this, I think.

3.     Much of the first six retirement-months have been taken up dealing with insurance companies, Medicare sign-up, simplifying our investment strategy, and the like.  Thankfully, that’s all pretty much done now –  but what a chore it all turned out to be, and much more time-consuming and stressful than I ever imagined it could be.

4.     I see that Jane Austen is probably the frontrunner to replace Charles Darwin on the British ten pound note when the next change is made.  The Brits have been using historical figures on their banknotes for over 40 years, but only two women have managed to make the cut during that entire period – and one of those has already been retired, so I think this is a great idea.  I would guess that the tenner is probably one of the most heavily used banknotes in the country, so Ms. Austen’s face would be virtually everywhere.

5.     Here’s a rather neat site (Placing Literature) that lets you “map scenes from novels.”  With a lot of user-help, the site is slowly accumulating maps that place scenes from novels into real maps that can be used for exploring a new city – or even your own. From what I can tell, there are something like 2,000 locations mapped now, and the database will continue to grow as word gets out.  Sounds like great fun…and perfect for some of you guys, I’m willing to bet.  (Houston, fourth largest city in the U.S. has only one map entry…I need to have some fun with this thing.)

6.     As you can see from the sidebar here, in addition to book news and reviews, I often write posts on libraries, bookstores, publishers, and authors.  I admit, that some of the posts are about outrageous failings on the parts of some of those institutions, especially libraries and bookstores (but, hey, that’s half the fun).  Every so often I get some negative feedback but no one has ever denied the truth of something I’ve posted (well, at least with the exception of one Brit who wanted to sue me all the way from England because of something a commenter posted on Book Chase).  But here’s the curious bit.  In the last week, I have had five different public libraries/library systems quit following my “tweets” on Twitter.  No big deal, I know, but I have to wonder which of my posts was the one that finally pushed them over the edge.  I’ll probably never know.

7.     My goal, coming into 2013, was to read and review 135 books this year, but it doesn’t look as if I’m going to make it because I’m going to finish June with only 62 books read and 57 of them reviewed.  I think I see my problem, though.  Now that I’m not commuting to work, I’m unable to work recorded books into my daily schedule.  Even though I only “read” five of those last year (and fifteen in 2011), they are the difference between reaching my goal and not reaching it.  I’m planning to travel a bit in the second half of July, however, and might be able to make up some lost ground on the trip. 

8.  Question: if new print books do ultimately become rare (and expensive) whose fault will it be?  Are readers really rushing to convert to e-books and e-readers, or are they being pushed in that direction by publishers who see electronic reading as the most cost efficient way for them to publish?  I’ve tried e-books, and have even owned a dedicated e-reader for several years – Sony’s very first model, in fact, but I just can’t make the transition comfortably.  For some reason, I find it difficult to concentrate when reading an e-book and often have to re-read whole pages after my mind has drifted.   Maybe it’s because I’m always being tempted to check my email or twitter account…

So much for thinking.