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October 2009

The pleasures and sorrows of Alain de Botton.

I have always rather enjoyed books by Alain de Botton. I really enjoyed Status Anxiety, although I'm hard-pressed to remember anything about it, now that I think of it, and I also liked The Art of Travel. Truth be told, though, I think I enjoy his subjects and the formats of his books more than I actually enjoy his style; Status Anxiety was about how we all try to keep up with each other in what we own and the affluence we project; it also included a number of photographs which served to break up de Botton's sometimes dense text.

Work The same goes for his most recent book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I read it over the last weekend and found it quite enjoyable, although once again the inclusion of photographs really helped it along. In the book he examines a number of different professions, but he doesn't so much investigate them as he ruminates on them, and sometimes from afar.* (In a chapter seemingly about transmission engineering, electricity, and the structure and construction of electric line pylons, he describes the work from the somewhat removed vantage point of walking along a trail of pylons across southeast England with a pylon installer and enthusiast, describing less the actual process of pylon installation than the willingness of human beings to ignore such fundamentally basic and important structures in their lives and surroundings.)

I don't know that this is an author I'd like to have a conversation with (he seems a bit prickly sometimes**) and sometimes I did get the feeling he's in love with the sound of his own voice, as when he describes his experiences at an aviation conference:

"At the stand of the world's second-largest engine manufacturer, I spent some minutes observing an unusually attractive young saleswoman with shoulder-length chestnut hair, dressed in a beige suit, who was biting the nail of her left index finger and crossing her slender legs whilst leaning against a large fan blade. She was not the first of her type I had seen that day, but something about her appearance left me thoughtful. I had until then believed that the vendors' frequent and deliberate reliance on feminine appeal was merely a vulgar stratagem intended to win over airline executives, through an implicit suggestion that a purchase might bring them closer to intimacy with a sales agent. Now I began to see the matter differently: it seemed obvious that no order, however lucrative, would actually render these women available to buyers, so their presence on the stands took on a more poignant and commercially effective dimension. Their real function was to serve as a reminder of the unavailability of beauty to an overwhelmingly male, middle-aged and harried-looking base of customers..."

I just don't know about all that. And it seemed to take a long time for de Botton to say. But overall? The subject matter and the photographs still won the day; the chapter on accountancy was a wonder to behold, and I simply love all books about work, the way only someone who really tries to avoid work at all costs can.

*Except for his chapter on tuna fishing, which is alarmingly in-depth. If you like tuna (and by this I mean, like having it in a sandwich) and you want to keep on liking tuna, I would suggest not reading the tuna chapter.

**Although I was a bit tickled that he told a reviewer who gave this book a less than sparkling review "I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make." There he was able to get something said with remarkable economy of words! Reviewers of course have the right to actually review books, and authors have the right to respond, so his prickliness doesn't really bother me here.


He's American, all right...

...as he seems to be becoming less funny and less enjoyably weird by the minute.

Ferguson I was totally pumped to see Craig Ferguson's new memoir, American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot, on bookstore shelves.* I love his accent (of course), I enjoyed his movie Saving Grace, I loved his completely weird novel Between the Bridge and the River, and I've always found him a somewhat surreal and enjoyable talk show host (particularly when he's interviewing other Scots).

But this memoir? Yawn. It's not only that it's a fairly typical show business memoir (he was enthralled by the U.S. the first time he visited, as a teenager; he had a tough rise to stardom; he is a recovering alcoholic), it's that there's very little that sparkles in the telling of it. I know. It is churlish of me to expect to be entertained by a man's struggle with the demons of fame desired and fame achieved, not to mention alcoholism.** But he is an entertainer, so I can't feel my expectations were completely unseemly. Here's a fairly typical passage:

"As I dozed on the farty rattly airplane on the way home, I thought about my short conversation with the president.***

We had been talking about Scotland; he had visited for a while when he was younger and expressed a sort of puzzled awe at the amount of drinking that was done there, hinting that he had taken part in a farily major way. We talked a little bit about the dangers of booze. I've been sober for seventeen years and, according to rumor, he himself a little longer than that.

'It's a long way from where I've been to standing here talking to the president,' I told him.

'It's a long way from where I could've ended up to being the president,' he replied.

'Only in America,' he chuckled.

We clinked our glasses of sparkling water.

'Damn straight, Mr. President,' I said.

And I believe it." (p. 7.)

All in all? It hurts me to say it, but give this one a miss.

*I was also pumped to see him wearing a kilt on the cover; I still think he's a cutie and hey, he's got nice legs.

**After all, Russell Brand's My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up, covered much the same territory, and still managed to be entertaining.

***Ferguson hosted the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in 2008; the president to whom he was speaking was George W. Bush.


Book Menage: True Crime

I didn't hear too many dissenting comments, so I'm assuming everyone's still amenable to a Book Menage discussion of Stacy Horn's The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad, paired with a Rick Geary graphic novel of historic true crime? I think the one I'd like to suggest is Geary's The Borden Tragedy.

So, please do read these two books, and feel free to email any questions you'd like to discuss during the Menage to me at realstory@tds.net. We'll start the discussion on Monday, November 30, and continue it during that week. Remember, anyone who comments during the Menage is automatically entered into a drawing to win the two books of the next Menage, so invite your friends; the more the merrier!


October 24.*

Well, you know that every October I have to re-read and talk about Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. My reading it this year was even better than usual because I had my very own copy, given to me by Mr. CR last Christmas with a card that said, "Now you have your very own copy!"

Why do I have to read it every fall? Well, because:

Bradbury "So it was on this night that blew warm, then cool, as they let the wind take them downtown at eight o'clock. They felt the wings on their fingers and elbows flying, then, suddenly plunged in new sweeps of air, the clear autumn river flung them headlong where they must go.

Up steps, three, six, nine, twelve! Slap! Their palms hit the library door.

Jim and Will grinned at each other. It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust." (p. 13.)

I love autumn, and Bradbury's book is like experiencing an especially intense prototypical autumn. Every year I re-read it, and every year I find something new in it, and every year something in it soothes me like you can only be soothed when you know what it is to be up at three a.m. with worry or sickness (and most adults know what that is) and need something both completely removed from your surroundings and something which gives you the strength to accept your surroundings.

This year what particularly struck me was remembering that this book stands as one of my greatest readers' advisory triumphs and one of my biggest failures. I gave it to my sister and now it is one of our literary touchstones ("it reminds me of that part in Something Wicked this Way Comes..."); we both thought our Dad, who always liked Arthurian legends and myths and fiction, would really take to it, and so passed it along. He hated it. Hated it from the very start. He just brought it up to me the other day as the weirdest book he's ever started, and what was I thinking giving it to him? So that just makes me laugh. Now, I know my Dad about as well as one reader can know another, and I still am capable of misfiring on what he'll love or hate (he recently read and loved the religious allegory The Shack, which I had no time for). So, all you readers' advisors out there? Give yourself a break if you can't always find readers books they love. Books are bigger than we can always define, and know, and really, so are readers. So don't be so hard on yourself.

*"One year Halloween came on October 24, three hours after midnight."


It's Book Menage time!

Okay. Enough talk of vacations. Time to get back into the swing of things, and what better way to do that than with a November Book Menage?

If you've not joined us for any previous Menages, the concept is pretty simple. Our Menages are the swinging threesomes of the book club world; we read two books (two books + one reader = one wild and crazy threesome) and then we discuss them here over the course of a week. I thought now might be a good time to schedule one; perhaps we can squeeze it in before everyones' schedules go haywire with the holidays.

Last time we had discussed this, consensus was that we might want to tackle both some true crime and a graphic novel; the titles in consideration were Stacy Horn's The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad, and any historical true crime graphic novel by Rick Geary. Does this still seem like a good plan? If so, please consider suggesting a Rick Geary you'd like to read, or I'll pick one of several options. I also have to go through the comments from the last Menage and pick a winner, who will receive the two books we'll be reading free of charge.

So? Please discuss in the comments. How about we settle on titles sometime next week, and plan to start the Menage the week of Monday, November 30? That way we can get through the Thanksgiving holiday and enjoy a good discussion before the true nuttiness of the Christmas holiday season starts. Good plan?


The Great British Adventure: Giving up the ghost.

All right, I think I am starting to accept that my vacation is over, and I may not ever get back to Great Britain, no matter how hard I close my eyes and wish it. Tomorrow? Back to regularly scheduled book programming, I promise. But there's just one last thing:*

England1

I don't know how well you can read it, but this is what the sign says: "84 Charing Cross Road. The booksellers Marks & Co were on this site which became world renowned through the book by Helene Hanff."

This tribute is still there, sandwiched between two unremarkable shops (I think one was a restaurant; the girl inside seemed to wonder why we seemed to be taking pictures of her through the window) and just across from a Subway sandwich shop, and high up on the side of the building. Thank goodness for that; some yobs had seen fit to plaster some stickers or advertisements on the wall below it, which did not, in my opinion, fit in with the sacredness of the site. But I shut my eyes and pictured London in the 1950s, and later, when Helene herself visited the shop, and it made me very, very happy.


And:

England2












Anyone who's ever watched a Jane Austen adaptation with scenes of Bath might recognize the above gorgeous building as the Royal Crescent, in Bath, which is on the west coast of England, and which is perhaps the most beautiful place I've ever seen. We recognize this is not the most artful shot (my favorite is the two people napping in the middle) but our camera was dying and people trying to snap photos in a hurry can't be too artsy. If you can't tell, I am literally incandescently happy. I'm so sorry that, by all accounts, Jane herself was very unhappy while she lived in Bath, but I would guess that other family and health issues had her down, and I can understand that.

My favorite photos were the many Mr. CR and I snapped of ourselves (you know the kind; big heads in the foreground corner, tourist sites in the background) but as Mr. CR is only slightly more reclusive than J.D. Salinger, I'd best not include any of those.

*Many thanks to Lynne for her suggestion of IrfanView, the photo editing software that worked like a charm! 


The Great British Adventure: Books and Brits

Just because we didn't do much reading in Great Britain didn't mean we were wholly divorced from the written word.

For one thing, the first night we were there was the night they announced the winner of the Booker Prize, which was an event that was not only televised but which featured authors wearing sparkly dresses and tuxes. It was awesome; the whole show was very similar to the Oscars and featured rampant speculation beforehand about who would win. The newspaper we bought that day was The Guardian, so we also had a handy "Digested Reads" guide to all the contenders. I have never been a big fan of any Booker Prize-winning novels, but I must admit that evening dress and a televised event seems the proper approach to giving books awards, and we should do it more here.

I was also struck at the number of huge posters advertising a number of new books, in the Underground and throughout the city (particularly in London)--I saw Eoin Colfer's new addition to Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, And Another Thing, advertised so often that I just had to have it.* Do books get these big posters in big American cities, too? Would someone who lives in a big city enlighten me on this?

Last but not least, while we were in London one of their biggest newspapers, The Evening Standard, forged a new path by making itself free. Evidently for years it was sold by hawkers in the street, at 50p** a pop, but now those same hawkers were just handing it out. There was a lot of commentary on the news about whether or not the strategy would work, which is a story I'm going to try and follow, as I'm curious about it.

All in all it was a surprisingly word-driven vacation, which I appreciated almost as much as the beautiful scenery and cultural and historical sites. Tomorrow: Some manner of picture, I promise. They're on my laptop, but figuring out how to resize them is still beyond me. I have been dragged into the digital camera age kicking and screaming, and I can only learn one new thing a day (at most).

*The blurb on the back didn't hurt either: "The storm had now definitely abated, and what thunder there was now grumbled over more distant hills, like a man saying 'and another thing' twenty minutes after admitting he's lost the argument."

**"p" as short for "pence." I refuse to go back to "cents" because "p" is so much shorter and sounds cooler. That's just my 2p.


The Great British Adventure: Vacation Reading

I did not do a lot of reading on this vacation.

Which only makes sense, really. I read for a living, and reading is my only hobby, so to take a true vacation, it only follows that I set reading aside just a little bit. But not completely. Although I am a terrible airport/airplane reader (I'm usually busy begging God for a safe trip, and no missed connections, which takes up more time than you'd think, or I'm looking out airport windows, because I find airports nearly as fascinating as subways), I did read an Agatha Christie on the eight-hour flight to London (it was Hallowe'en Party, which I thought was season-appropriate), and Agatha did not fail to take my mind off more mundane matters like my mother's concerns that our luggage would be lost, we would be mugged in London, and we would come home with a strange uncurable European type of H1N1.*

While in London and Edinburgh, I read hardly anything at all aside from my guidebooks and newspapers. After a full day of flying to London, we took the subway to King's Cross Station and hopped on a 5-hour train to Edinburgh, at which point we'd been up for many consecutive hours. We took turns passing out on the train, or looking at the scenery, so reading didn't really occur to me. We also tried to buy a different newspaper each day, and I enjoyed reading them all, although I can't say that the page 3 girl in The Sun did a whole lot for me. (Mr. CR pleaded innocence of the page 3 girls when he bought The Sun, and we'll let him think I believe him.)

Other than that I was kept fairly busy reading tourist signs and the informative plaques in museums (we went to tons of them: the National Gallery in Edinburgh, and the British Museum, National Gallery, and National Portrait Gallery in London--all awesome). Although, at a certain point in museums I give up reading and just look at the pictures, and that point came fairly early for me each time as our trip was also an exhausting one and just keeping on my feet was keeping me quite occupied much of the time. At one point I noticed that Mr. CR, god love him, was taking pictures of signs (like the one at Calton Hill, in Edinburgh) so he could read them later. That rather settled any doubts about him being the one for me. His interest in the written word is a glory to behold (although that doesn't stop me from teasing him about his need to read every sign he comes across).

Our way home was largely uneventful, although we were delayed on the last leg of our journey out of O'Hare, and a downsized plane meant there was some tension about who would get bumped from the flight, but luckily it wasn't us. To distract myself there I read George R. R. Martin's fantasy novel A Game of Thrones (the first in a series I've been wanting to read for a while) and Mr. CR plowed through Glen Cook's fantasy novels The Books of the South.

Tomorrow: Maybe a picture, if I can figure out how to transfer them from our new camera to my computer. Should be an adventure.

*My mother could have had a truly brilliant career in worst case scenario planning.


Back to the workaday.

I apologize for the dearth of posting over the past couple of weeks, pleading deadlines, but I was not completely honest with you. The deadline in question was actually an Oct. 5 departure date for a long-awaited vacation to Great Britain.

If this revelation makes you dislike me, I can't blame you. Our trip to London and Edinburgh was wonderful, and worthy of all sorts of envy. All I have to say in my defense is that Mr. CR hadn't had any time off work for three years, and I had a rather rough year last year with health issues, so we decided to splash out. If you've never been there, I would highly, highly recommend it. The beauty and glory of the London Underground alone is worth the plane trip. (But then again, I have a love for subways bordering on the fanatical. Perhaps because I am the master of subways; when in them, I am very good--not infallible, but very good--at finding my way around and where I have to go. It's a nice change from aboveground, where I'm perpetually lost and couldn't find west or east to save my life.)

More in the coming week about what we saw, what we read, and how badly we are re-adjusting to normal workaday life.


Ooh, bait and switch, tricky.

Novelist The other day I read Steve Hely's new novel How I Became a Famous Novelist. The title of this one interested me, of course, and it had been recommended to me by someone I trust,* so I thought, I'll give it a try. And then I experienced a rather specialized situation: I loved it, absolutely loved it, for the first 310 pages. And then...I read the ending. And was completely underwhelmed. Downright disappointed might be a more accurate description, actually.

Has this ever happened to you? It doesn't happen to me very often, I'll admit; typically, if I dislike a book for the first 50 pages or chapter or so, I'm going to keep on disliking it, and often if I'm loving a book at page 100, I'll still be loving it on its last page. (Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It had me at the very first line, and never gave me up; ditto with Salinger's Franny and Zooey, not to mention Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.)

Hely's novel has a great premise. Pete Tarslaw, a hollow shell of his former self since being dumped by his college girlfriend Polly, hears that she is getting married, and decides that he wants to become a rich and famous novelist by the time he has to attend her wedding (and can therefore rub her face in it, but you know, subtly so). So what does any logical young man do? He scours the bestseller lists, makes a list of characteristics that define successful novels, and then throws all those characteristics together in a book of his own. And the listing of the bestsellers and their titles is really the funniest thing in this book. I don't know who this Hely is but he's got the bestseller stereotypes down. These are a few of the novels he's going to try and emulate:

"Mindstretch, by Pamela McLaughlin. Trang Martinez suspects her Pilates instructor may also be a vicious serial killer.

The Balthazar Tablet, by Tim Drew. The murder of a cardinal leads a Yale professor and an underwear model to the Middle East, where they uncover clues to a conspiracy kept hidden by the Shriners.

A Whiff of Gingham and Pecorino, by Jennifer Austin-Meyers. On a hilltop villa in Sicily, an American divorcee finds new love with a local cheesemaker involved in a blood feud.

Cumin: The Spice that Saved the World, by Arthur Grunberg. How a rarely used seasoning occupies a central place in Western history."

Now, those are pretty clever parodies of today's bestselling fiction titles. And this novel, overall, is quite clever. I'm not going to tell you how it ends, because I think I'm still recommending it. In fact, I demand that you read this book so we can talk about the ending. I think it fell prey to a little--gasp--sentimentality, and I am not a fan of sentimentality. But if anyone else has read it or is going to read it, let me know what you thought.

*Hi, Katharine! (I still liked this one overall, and am very glad I read it, so thank you!)


What do you suppose I like about it?

A word about the post title today: A long time ago I read a book by humorist Jean Kerr, who wrote books in the 1950s and whom, for some reason, I find hilarious and totally love (she's best known for her bestseller Please Don't Eat the Daisies). One of the things I remember about that book is the line drawings; in one, Jean and her husband are looking at a huge monstrosity of an ugly old house they're thinking about buying, and the caption is, "What do you suppose we like about it?" I think of that line frequently, when I like something but I have no idea why (which happens surprisingly often).

I know. My brain is filled with things like captions from books published in the 1950s. Is it any wonder I can't remember how to do simple math, family members' birthdays, and gifts my mother-in-law gave me last Christmas*?

Beg So here's today's review that isn't really a review: I picked up Michael Greenberg's memoir Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life, and read it through in about two nights. For most of the book, all I could think was, I don't know if I like this. But then I couldn't put it down. It's meant to be the memoir of Greenberg's life spent as a writer--and I do mean as a WRITER--it's the only thing he really ever wanted to do and he set about doing it no matter what it took, even when it took selling cosmetics on the street in the Bronx and driving a cab. For most of the book, I can't even say I liked Greenberg all that much--but yet I really did enjoy this one, in a weird sort of way.

So what do you suppose I liked about it? Read it and let me know, wouldja?

*This last one can get a little awkward at times, like when your mother-in-law says things like, "oh, you have a 9 x 13 baking pan," and I say, "No, I don't," and she says "I gave you one last Christmas." D'oh! (I did find it in the cupboard eventually; who knew?)


World enough and time.

Is it wrong that I waste prayers* on the subject of keeping my eyesight until I die, so someday when I'm really old and retired and my children don't visit me, I can at least spend all my time reading? Because I actually have a list of authors whose entire lists I'd love to read, but who I just don't have the proper time for right now?

Susan Sontag is one of those authors. I've always found her really interesting, even though I've only read snippets of her work. I tried to read On Photography once, but it was a bit over my head. Whenever I see her novels in used bookstores, I think about trying one of those, too, but I never do. I am also fascinated by her relationship with Annie Leibovitz, which was at least partially chronicled in Leibovitz's photography collection A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 (Leibovitz's photographs of Sontag after her death from cancer in 2004--she was 71 years old--are some of the most simultaneously beautiful and saddest I've ever seen). The two also collaborated on a work published in 2000 and titled simply Women.

The book I had home this week, and which I won't get enough time to read (add it to the "retirement list") was Regarding the Pain of Others. I'm not sure where I got the idea to check it out; recently I indexed a book about World War I posters and war photography, which led me to look into broader issues of the pictorial depictions of wars, and I must have stumbed across it sometime during that (I'm guessing). This is how it begins:

"In June 1938 Virginia Woolf published Three Guineas, her brave, unwelcomed reflections on the roots of war. Written during the preceding two years, while she and most of her intimates and fellow writers were rapt by the advancing fascist insurrection in Spain, the book was couched as the very tardy reply to a letter from an eminent lawyer in London who had asked, 'How in your opinion are we to prevent war?' Woolf begins by observing tartly that a truthful dialogue between them may not be possible. For though they belong to the same class, 'the educated class,' a vast gulf separates them: the lawyer is a man and she is a woman. Men make war. Men (most men) like war, since for men there is 'some glory, some necessity, some satisfaction in fighting' that women (most women) do not feel or enjoy." (p. 4.)

That, to me, is an opening that promises a very interesting book. And I love Sontag's prose; it's crisp. She's got a way with description (I love the image of Woolf observing "tartly"), and even when her sentences require a bit of deciphering on my part**, she's expressing complex thoughts as succinctly as really is possible.

*I know it's wrong. I try to throw a few prayers at the problem of world peace at the same time to make up for my selfish personal needs.

**Think on this one a while: "The destructiveness of war--short of total destruction, which is not war but suicide--is not in itself an argument against waging war unless one thinks (as few people actually do think) that violence is always unjustifiable, that force is always and in all circumstances wrong--wrong because, as Simone Weil affirms in her sublime essay on war, 'The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,' violence turns anybody subjected to it into a thing." (p. 12.) That's a sentence I need a few days with.


Now THIS is a book on certain death.

The next time you see someone reading Randy Pausch's horrible memoir about facing his own death, The Last Lecture, nicely take it out of their hands and replace it with Miles Kington's vastly superior How Shall I Tell the Dog? and Other Final Musings.

Kington When he was told he had pancreatic cancer, British humorist and writer Kington responded the way a writer responds to everything: he wondered if he could get a book out of it. Written in the format of a series of letters to his literary agent Gill, this book finds Kington wishing he'd learned to yodel, working out his feelings about the knowledge that his dog will outlive him, and suggesting all sorts of final books that he might write. He opens by describing to Gill how he got his diagnosis:

"But they then spotted some trouble in my bile duct and decided to insert a plastic pipe to open up a small blockage. Then they decided to take out my gall bladder. When they did that, they spotted some irregularities in my liver and pancreas, and decided to take some samples, and it was after looking closely at those that they decided I had got cancer. Nosey parkers.

Cancer of the pancreas, it was. This was unfortunate, because, as a doctor friend of mine said to me, 'That's not one of the nice ones.'" (p. 9.)

That is so typical and British and perfect and funny and sad all at once. The entire book continues much like that (although some of the references are a bit too British for me to understand, but that's a small problem), until it ends, much too suddenly. Much as, Miles Kington might have said, did his life.

It's a little book, and although it is so sad, it will make you almost happy. Weird but true. Do try it sometime, and have a copy on hand to lend to anyone who tells you that you have to read Pausch's book.


Blog forecast: Less than pithy, with sporadic posting.

Please forgive me over the next couple of weeks, as posting may be sporadic at best. I'm up against some more deadlines (pre-resolution for 2010: learn some time management skills, damn it*), and lately I have been engaging in more than just a little comfort reading, including a mix of things I've already read and a few new things that I just want to soak in, rather than talk about. Ever have phases like that, where you just want to think a bit and feel a bit less talking? Mr. CR wishes I had them more often, frankly, but I'm definitely in the middle of such a phase now.

As always, do feel free to check out any literary links in the sidebar, and might I humbly suggest a few of my favorites? There's the Reader's Advisor Online, of course, chock full of reading and new title news, and edited by the incomparable Cindy Orr; author Stacy Horn's wonderful and beautiful blog, offering nearly daily photographs of the beautiful metropolis of New York City; and of course George's site of Canadian and booky goodness, Bookninja.

*This resolution should really be rephrased as "stop getting sucked into YouTube, you weak, weak, girl."


Favorite publishers.

The bigger and more efficient a business is, the less I like it. (I'm one of those snobby people who will not set foot in Wal-Mart. This is largely because I try not to set foot in any stores, not because I have so much money I can totally eschew bargain shopping. I do my bargain shopping at St. Vincent de Paul.) So it only stands to reason that I would like small, independent, quirky publishers who probably don't make a lot of money. I like Soft Skull, for instance. And I totally LOVE Paul Dry Books, which is based in Philadelphia. Why do I love Paul Dry Books? Because of books like Murray Browne's The Book Shopper: A Life in Review.

Bookshopper It's a totally fun little book memoir, by a man who seems like he's lived a quite fulfilled (if not always happy or content or untroubled) life, if not a hugely rewarding one financially. The book covers exactly the subject it promises: Browne talks about shopping for books, moving books, finding books and authors he loves, keeping or selling books, and talking about books with others--in short, all the topics that real book people can talk about for hours on end. There's nothing fancy here; in fact, his prose is delightfully straightforward and unfussy. Consider:

"For those of us who want to do a lot of perusing in a short time, the physical space of a bookstore works to our advantage. I can scan a bookshelf chock full of books in a minute or two, which I can't do on the Internet no matter how speedy my connection. If I see a book that interests me, I can pull the book from the shelf and give the table of contents, the index (if nonfiction*), and several paragraphs the quick once over, taking a special note of the author's style, which is a major selling point for me." (p. 42.)

There's nothing all that special about that paragraph, but it does indicate someone who takes his book reading and searching pretty seriously, and that's really all I need to love an author. (He offers another chapter titled "Book Lovers are Not Necessarily People Lovers," and I love him for that too.) So check this one out; I think I rank it somewhere slightly above Larry McMurtry's memoir Books and slightly below Lewis Buzbee's The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.

And do spend a little time looking at Paul Dry's catalog. Two other of their titles that I loved were Gabriel Zaid's So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance and the wonderful photography/investigative/travel book The Rocky Stories, which actually made me want to travel to Philadelphia. Have a good weekend, all.


The fine art of cover art.

Check out the covers of the majority of conservative commentator Ann Coulter's books:

Ann1

Ann2

Ann3

Ann4

She's really found her look, and she's sticking with it. I noticed that this morning when I saw that her new book is coming out at the end of this year; I knew all her covers were usually alike, but seeing them all together gave me a start. Good times. It took me right back to working in the library when the older gentlemen begged for her new titles and then started salivating when they saw the covers. Ew!