Reading Process

Reading while not paying attention.

I'm having a very odd autumn. I'm reading a lot, but I can't say I'm enjoying a whole lot of what I'm reading, or paying too much attention to it. I feel like I'm skimming a lot of books, and my feeling while reading them is, "yeah yeah, been there, done that."

IrbyTake Samantha Irby's essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Irby blogs at bitches gotta eat, and I've been seeing her book (and its eye-catching cover) get a lot of attention. I did read the whole thing (it's a quick read) and laughed in parts, but after a while I thought, yeah, okay, LOL, I don't mind all the caps, but I GET IT NOW SO THAT'S ENOUGH KTHANKS. I will give her this: she'll tell you anything, and I like memoirists who do that. Take this scene, when she tries to spread her father's cremains in Nashville, on a trip with her girlfriend:

"As the better part of the cremains shook loose from where they had settled, a huge gust of wind came from the east. OF FUCKING COURSE.

Mavis's face was like Munch's Scream painting, all horrified wide eyes and open mouth, as I turned toward her with my dead father's charred bones and fingernails splattered across my face and crackling between my teeth. It was like coming home from a day at the beach, except replace 'sand' with 'gritty Sam Irby [her father] penis and entrails' lining my nostrils and in between my toes." (p. 183.)

And then there was the very different Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm, by Sarah Menkedick. This is a memoir about a woman who spent most of her life traveling, until she settled down on her parents' land in Ohio and became pregnant with her first child. Normally I eat that sort of thing up with a spoon (being interested in both farms and pregnancy) but this one didn't do much for me, even as I kept reading it:

"In my twenties, I flung myself into the world. I leapfrogged across continents, hungering for experience and proof of my own wildness. I taught English to recalcitrant teenagers on Reunion Island, picked grapes in France, witnessed a revolution in Mexico. To be aware was to be outside, under Mongolian skies and in bantam seaside bars, far-flung places where every conversation and scent prickled with exceptionality." (p. 4.)

The writing is fine and the subject is fine but while I was reading all I could think was "blah blah blah you travel it's all very exotic and now you're going to have a baby and connect with the Earth uh huh..."

I know. I'm a terrible person. You're really not going to like this next story.

BookshopLast week I also read a lovely light little novel titled How to Find Love in a Bookshop, by Veronica Henry. It's a nice little chick lit-ish romance, it's set in a bookshop, it's further set in Great Britain, and it's got several love stories that get happy resolutions. All of those things should have meant I should have been purring with happiness as I read it. And yet I wasn't. In fact part of me was distinctly thinking, as I said to Mr. CR, "Oh brother, go live your happy little love lives, bleah." Part of it was jealousy that the main character owned a bookshop and made it a profitable concern by the end of the book. I'm very jealous of that.

So there you have it. Don't send any cheerful, nice, gentle, earth-mothery, or lovey books my way this autumn. I won't be fair to them.

Officially off the reading rails.

The other day I tried to pick up my holds at the library and was stopped at the self-checkout when it informed me that I had 100 items checked out and couldn't take any more. This was a problem, as I still had three holds to check out.

So I moseyed to the checkout desk (what's odd was that I almost NEVER use self-checkout; I loathe and despise self-help machines, but I was just ducking in by myself and thought, well, I can try self-check this one time--see how that worked out for me?) and they very nicely let me take out the three additional books. Yay for human workers! Our machine overlords clearly were not going to override the system for me, but the librarians did.

Wild krattsBut the point is: 103 items (plus a few on Mr. CR's card). And my house looks it. There are picture books, kids' sports books, novels, adult nonfiction books, and DVDs on every single surface around here. Ever since my eye has felt a little better I have just been pounding through any kind of reading material I can find. Add to that the two little boys demanding I order and pick up more books and DVDs for them ("Mom! More basketball books! Mom! More car books! Mom! Wild Kratts DVDs, STAT!"), and the fact that I'm taking Spanish language lessons and am now checking out Spanish CDs and kids' books, and it all adds up to one full library card.

Of course the obvious answer is to get CRjr his own card, but frankly, I don't have the energy to monitor two cards' worth of materials. So we will just have to streamline a bit.

What's also weird in this reading bacchanalia is that I don't really have one book I want to review today. In the past week I've skimmed a book on Dr. Who (Dr. Who the Doctor: His Life and Times), two books on reading lists and suggestions (Book Lust and The Novel Cure), a book on race that I really don't want to talk about because it's just too depressing and I can't figure out a way to talk about it without someone yelling at me for something, because that is how we don't talk about race in this country (The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America), a frothy romance (The Royal We), and listened to several intro Spanish CDs ("Hola. Que tal?" "Hello. What's happening?"). Oh, and did I mention I'm binging on British TV? Have you seen this series Line of Duty? It is UNBELIEVABLE.

Okay. I will try to be more focused next week. Really.

A tale of two nonfiction books: We Took to the Woods, and She Took to the Woods.

When my sister read Louise Dickinson Rich's classic We Took to the Woods, she really, really liked it. So I kept thinking, I have to read that book.*

And so I did. And it was okay. Rich is a lively writer, no doubt about it. It's a memoir about how she lived with her husband (and eventually her son, and then her daughter) in a completely isolated spot in Maine. Each chapter takes as its heading one of the many questions she'd been asked over the years: "But how do you make a living?" "Don't you ever get bored?" You get the idea. So here's how she starts out:

"During most of my adolescence--specifically, between the time when I gave up wanting to be a brakeman on a freight train and the time when I definitely decided to become an English teacher--I said, when asked what I was going to do with my life, that I was going to live alone in a cabin in the Maine woods and write. It seemed to me that this was a romantic notion, and I was insufferably smug over my own originality. Of course, I found out later that everybody is at one time or another going to do something of the sort. It's part of being young. The only difference in my case is that, grown to womanhood, I seem to be living in a cabin in the Maine woods, and I seem to be writing." p. 13.

See? Lively. And here's how she describes where she and her husband, Ralph, live:

"Middle Dam is quite a community. There is the dam itself, a part of the system for water control on the Androscoggin, with the dam-keeper and his family. Renny and Alice Miller and their three children, in year-round residence. Then in summer the hotel is open. We only call it a hotel; it's really a fishing camp. In winter it is closed, but there is a caretaker, Larry Parsons, who stays in with his wife, Al, and a hired man or two. So the permanent population of Middle Dam hovers at around nine, and that is comparative congestion. We get our mail and supplies through Middle, and it is the point of departure for The Outside, so its importance is all out of proportion to its population." (p. 16.)

I read the whole thing, but I was feeling a bit uncomfortable because I was thinking I didn't enjoy it as much as my sister did. For one thing, anyone who enjoys sidewalks and walking a few blocks down the road to the coffee shop to get a treat (and I do enjoy both those things, very much) can't really get too excited about a book where part of the chief attraction is the loneliness and wildness of the landscape. For another, I read it in January, when we were all ill with The Never-Ending Cold**, and I just don't think I could give it the attention that I should have.

But then I heard from my sister that there was also a biography about Rich available, called She Took to the Woods, and I thought, okay, let's do it. And THAT I loved. Here's how that book's author describes Rich's fateful meeting with her husband-to-be, for whom she would literally leave civilization:

"Meanwhile, on the Carry Road, Louise was finding it hard to put one foot in front of the other. With every step, she became increasingly convinced that she had just met her destiny [Ralph Rich] and was walking away from it. She felt bereft, almost frantic. Her intuition said, 'Drop the canoe and run back.' Her intellect said, 'Don't be impulsive; you know it gets you in trouble.' What to do? What to do! Just ahead, Alice's enthusiastic impressions about the encounter, the locale, and the host began to peter out. She cocked her head at Louise: 'Gosh, you're awfully quiet all of a sudden.'" (p. 29.)

What I really loved about reading these two books was how they were both good examples of their nonfiction genres (memoir/humor and biography) and how they gave completely different pictures of the same story. I don't think Rich made things up in her memoir; I think she presented them in a very specific way. For instance: at their isolated home in Maine, the Riches had a hired man/jack of all trades named Gareth. Now, the way Louise talked about him, I assumed he was some old bachelor dude that just lived with them. And then you read the biography and find out that Gareth had a family of his own, who lived elsewhere, including a grown daughter who often helped Louise look after her children.

So between the two books I had a great reading experience, not only enjoying the books themselves, but enjoying the truth that for every nonfiction story, there are at least as many truths as there are people telling the story. Awesome.

*I almost always read the books my sister talks about. Even when we disagree in our tastes it makes for great discussions. She is one of the very few people in my life with whom I always want to talk more, not less.

**Even capping it doesn't do it justice. Holy cow, was January a miserable month this year. Ye gods, THE NEVER-ENDING HORRIFYING COLD. People who don't think reading is a physical activity should try reading (and enjoying reading) while sick. It's not easy. But I try anyway.

A quick word about the Christian Science Monitor.

Are you reading the Christian Science Monitor?

So yeah, I know newspapers are dead, etc. I used to get our local newspaper, first because I really liked reading a newspaper, at least on Sundays.* As the paper got progressively thinner and crappier, pretty soon I really was just getting it for the grocery store coupons. Now my mom hooks me up with those, so I was able to drop my subscription. I did feel a little bad about that, but you know what? Sadly, I cannot afford to support all the dying industries I used to enjoy.

But in my daily reading of Internet headlines in my work for the Reader's Advisor Online blog, I often come across headlines that I find personally interesting. And those headlines are almost exclusively from the Christian Science Monitor. I find that it typically offers quite balanced, well-written, and very wide-ranging news stories. These are the last three links I clicked on:

"A 'rape glut' on TV: How TV Viewers Can Respond" (I clicked on this because I just read Diana Gabaldon's bestselling novel Outlander and was totally grossed out, and now it's been made into a TV series, and was listed in this article)

"Has Apple's CEO Put a Price Tag on Privacy?"


"How to Make Your Laptop Last Longer"

And that's an entirely typical sample. They also offer book news and book recommendations from readers, great recipes, and a lot of personal finance articles (these, I find, are usually ridiculously simplistic, but they're still somewhat fun to read).

The Monitor used to be published daily in print (I know, because I used to check it in and put it out at the public library, and I never ever bothered to read it, which I still can't believe), and now they publish weekly. God help me, I've often thought of subscribing, and only knowing that I have way too many other things sitting around here going unread has stopped me.

So what does it mean that it's the "Christian Science" Monitor? Well, it was founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, who was the founder of the Christian Science religion, and to this day it includes a "religious" article (I come across these often and they're not religious in an unctuous way, so they even do that well) in every daily web edition, but it is not really a religious paper. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about its founding:

"The Monitor's inception was, in part, a response by Eddy to the journalism of her day, which relentlessly covered the sensations and scandals surrounding her new religion with varying degrees of accuracy...

Eddy declared that the Monitor's mission should be "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind."

And here's how Wikipedia further describes it: "The paper has been known for avoiding sensationalism, producing a "distinctive brand of nonhysterical journalism"."

Yeah, I can get behind that. Give the Monitor a try.

*Although I freely admit I didn't actually read the news in the newspaper. I read the comics, the lifestyle section (with book reviews, if any), the classifieds, and maybe the local, in that order. I never even read the ads (in fact, I used to just strip them out and toss them, until my roommate said, "Could you save the ads? They're really the only part of the paper I read," which I thought was such a great line, and made me love her all the more).

I do not understand the appeal of David Shields at all.

Over the last few years a nonfiction author's name I have seen a lot is "David Shields." When I come across his name or his titles, which often appear on many end-of-year "Best" lists, they always sound vaguely interesting. Like his book The Thing about Life Is that One Day You'll Be Dead. Intriguing, right? Also: Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Even more intriguing, sometimes, is the jacket copy on these books. Here's how Reality Hunger is described:

"With this landmark book, David Shields fast-forwards the discussion of the central artistic issues of our time. Who owns ideas? How clear is the distinction between fiction and nonfiction? Has the velocity of digital culture rendered traditional modes obsolete? Exploring these and related questions, Shields orchestrates a chorus of voices, past and present, to reframe debates about the veracity of memoir and the relevance of the novel. He argues that our culture is obsessed with “reality,” precisely because we experience hardly any, and urgently calls for new forms that embody and convey the fractured nature of contemporary experience."

If you overlook that "landmark book" stuff, what you have there is a book that it seems like I would be interested in reading. So I checked it out, and then I tried for weeks to get past the first few pages. I couldn't do it. Same problem with another of his titles, How Literature Saved My Life. (Yet another title you'd think I would eat up with a spoon.) But I persist in trying to understand this author's appeal, or even, just being able to finish one of his books.

Well, the good news is that I did make it all the way through his new book, I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. The bad news is, I still don't understand why this guy is a bestselling nonfiction author. Perhaps the quickest way to show you how I felt about this book would be to suggest some alternate titles for it that occurred to me while I was reading it:

"Two D-Bags Have the World's Most Boring Conversation"*

"Two Guys Find Yet Another Way to Avoid Housework and Family Obligations While They Take a Four-Day Vacation Together"

"We'll Bill This As an Art Vs. Life Conversation, But Really What We Have Here Is Four Days' Worth of Not Very Interesting Male Digressions"

"People Will Obviously Buy Anything with David Shields's Name On It, So Here You Go"

So what is it about? Literally, author David Shields and his former writing student Caleb Powell, one a bestselling author in his fifties, and the other a house-husband and father of three in his forties, take four days to hang out in a friend's cabin together and discuss "everything they can think of in the name of exploring and debating their central question (life and/or art?)." I really did read the whole thing, because at some point I expected them to actually get at something remotely resembling a debate about "life and/or art," but honestly, they never did. They discussed:

Their teacher/student dynamic; their wives and whether or not said wives read and like their work; the "x-factor" each of them need to enjoy stories or TV programs; sports; Powell's interest in violence and true crime and the nature of suffering; at one point they actually include a several-page transcript of the movie "My Dinner with Andre"; Caleb's experience with a transvestite in Samoa and his desire to explore that experience in fiction; a wide variety of authors (although they manage to take all the fun out of that, even, with David saying things like "It's crucial to me that these books rotate outward toward a metaphor"); how many kids they each have; capitalism; their mothers; Caleb's drinking; and then back to their teacher/student dynamic. So, okay, the conversation is wide-ranging. But nowhere does it actually take on the flesh-and-blood feel to me of a real conversation. It certainly didn't answer (or really even raise, in my opinion) the question of "art vs. life."**

A long time ago I went to a church service with my mother-in-law when their regular pastor was on vacation, and they had this little eighteen-year-old boy who was a counselor at the religious summer camp down the road in to give the homily. I don't remember what he talked about, but I do remember it was borderline annoying and I mainly wanted to pat the clueless little dear on the head, and tell him to get down from the podium so my mother-in-law, a woman then in her late fifties, could get up there and tell us a few things about how life actually is. This book gave me that exact same feeling. I think all of us should get four-day vacations wherein we just chew the fat with someone and then publish the results. I'm pretty sure 90% of those efforts would be accidentally more interesting than this one.***

And please note: this book has been adapted into a film by James Franco. God help us.

*I am aware that this is not very nice. I apologize. I can be nice, or I can be honest about how this book made me feel, but I can't be both.

**Other reviewers would disagree with me.

***Except not this book. Evidently two guys talking and annoying the crap out of me is a new mini-genre of nonfiction.

Genre, you've WON.

One of my freelance gigs is helping to write the Reader's Advisor Online blog, which is published by ABC-CLIO as a great, free service. We post at least twice a week: once, on Sundays, with our "Run Down," which is a list of reading, author, movie adaptation, and book-related news stories and headlines (as well as professional development tips), and on Thursdays, with the "New, Noteworthy, and No-Brainer" list, designed to help library staff be aware of new books coming out.

Anyway, in my work for that blog, every day I routinely scan 500-800 online headlines, most of them having to do with books and cultural news. So, although I don't actually spend a lot of free time perusing the Internet, scanning those headlines tends to give me a picture of what's happening online from week to week. And one of the most common types of stories I come across is what I call the "Woe is Me, I'm a Genre Author/Reader/Promoter/Fan, and I Just Don't Get Any Respect!" story. Here's an example:

Trashy Books on NPR

This one's actually pretty benign; it's about Sarah Wendell, the blogger behind Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and her interview at NPR, where she says this: "Romance readers are so often subjected to shaming, we’re not actually ashamed of the books that we read but we’re told we ought to be … even by the people at the checkout counter at the bookstore."

Really? You're telling me everyone who works in bookstores isn't just glad that anyone is still buying SOMETHING at bookstores? Even romance?

But I digress. Usually when I see this type of story, romance/chick lit/women's fiction/mainstream fiction-author (or, if you prefer, just plain "author") Jennifer Weiner seems somehow to be involved. The latest story of this type was this one:

Jonathan Franzen Is Still Mad at Jennifer Weiner, Modernity

Weiner and Franzen have a long-running feud that isn't so much played out against one another as it is in a million hashed and re-hashed print and online stories.* The basic gist is this: Weiner thinks Franzen gets all the respect because he's a guy and a "literary fiction" author, and she further thinks that review sources should pay more attention to the types of books that people actually read**.


These articles make me NUTS. And not because I hate genre or anything. I don't. I happen to read a lot of genre (and watch it too--I'm currently addicted to Firefly and am starting to think Joss Whedon might be the best writer of genre ever--discuss), and Mr. CR has bookcases full of it.*** What makes me nuts about these articles is the picture they paint of the poor, outcast genre authors, who don't get the respect or reviews that "literary" authors get. Which is bullshit, first off. Genre books may not be over-represented in such hallowed literary halls as the New York Times review section or literary magazines, but they OWN the world of literary blogs. Let me ask you this: You know a whole lot of great blogs for literary fiction or nonfiction? No? How about blogs about genre fiction? Um, if you can't think of any of those, here's a handy list of a ton of them.

So, even if the blogosphere isn't enough proof for you, let me just point out that a ton of other review sources, like magazines and newspapers like USA Today, also review a lot of genre fiction. And have you ever gotten a look at ANY bestseller lists, even those published by the New York Times? They contain almost ALL GENRE TITLES. And have you seen this article, about the highest-paid authors from 2013? I don't even need to take a count--all fifteen authors on that list are genre authors (except perhaps for Bill O'Reilly, although I would argue what he writes is genre nonfiction--Simplistic History/Politics for Nutjobs genre nonfiction). And here's the Forbes list of highest-paid authors. Also all genre authors, unless you don't consider Gillian Flynn and John Green to be genre authors. Maybe not John Green, but I would definitely consider Flynn to be a "thriller" author.

So genre authors make the most money, and don't forget, their works tend to lend themselves more easily to film adaptation. All in all? I think it's rather unseemly of genre authors to demand that they also be allowed to take over the more "literary" review publications. It reminds me of yet another quote from the movie "Broadcast News," when William Hurt asks Albert Brooks what you do when your real life exceeds your dreams, and Brooks hisses back, "Keep it to yourself!"

You've won, genre authors. Now keep it to yourselves.

*This makes it one million and one!

**I find this kind of insulting, personally. Just because a book is read by MORE people doesn't mean it is the only readable book. As long as one (or, okay, two) person somewhere reads a book, that is a book that people "actually read."

***Which I tease him about, but still. Obviously I allow it in my house.

A little trick for "book discoverability."

All the news in bookselling and librarianship the last few years has been about "book discoverability." Not a real complicated concept; basically, how do readers discover books?

Publishers are interested in this topic because, even though they are business people, the business of books is such that you can never be sure which book is going to be the next one to explode. So they want to know how to help people discover books that they want to buy. And of course librarians want to understand the topic for a related, but less mercenary, reason: they want to help people discover books they enjoy, often based on conversations with them about books they enjoyed in the past (and why they enjoyed them). That's what we call "readers' advisory." And of course readers have a vested interest in book discoverability, because all they want to do is constantly discover books that they will love, with no stinkers in the bunch to slow them down.

I love thinking about book discoverability because I can't for the life of me figure out how to stop discovering great books. Right now there are--wait, I'll go check--97 items checked out on my library card. A lot of those are books for the CRjrs, but the vast majority are books for me. They're not all the best books, or books that I'll love, but they're all books that I really want to read, and if I would ever get time to actually read them, would probably enjoy.

But today I'd like to talk about my favorite "trick" for discovering great books, and it is simply this: get to know interesting, smart, kind people...and then ask them what they're reading.

A few weeks ago I went to a birthday gathering for a former colleague. I don't get to see him often, but when I do it's always, always, an enjoyable and educational good time. When I asked him, right before we left (I should have asked earlier; I'm always a bit dithery these days, trying to make sure two young boys are properly dressed for the outside, we have all our toys and supplies, and, oh yes, trying to keep said young boys, who are both very antsy and very fast, in my immediate vicinity until we can make our exit), what he was reading, he told me about a book titled Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience.*

So I got it from the library, and it's WONDERFUL. Exactly what the title promises. And it's a thoroughly satisfying book as BOOK--somewhat oversized, but not uncomfortable to hold; heavy, but not too heavy; and it comes with its own ribbon bookmark. It's not actually that text heavy; it's a big book because the letters are often shown in their original form, along with transcripts for easier reading. And they do indeed vary widely: from Queen Elizabeth II to President Eisenhower, including her recipe for drop scones; from a Campbell Soup company executive to Andy Warhol; from a former slave to his previous owner (which is, you've got to read it to believe it, hilarious in the best possible way); Ray Bradbury to a fan; an otherwise un-famous older woman who describes her mastectomy surgery (done in 1855, mind you, without anaesthetic) to her daughter.

A wonderful read; completely engrossing. So a hearty thank you to my friend, for recommending it. Now: get out there this weekend and talk to some good people, and for the love of all that's holy, remember to ask them what they're reading.

*And yes, I think he actually quoted the entire subtitle from memory, so you can see why I love him.

How to Be a Heroine

So here's the thing about blogging about books:

Sometimes you just don't feel like it.

Last night I was sitting there, trying to figure out what to say about Samantha Ellis's memoir How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much. And for some reason--not least because I was having one of those nights when a. I couldn't form a coherent sentence to save my life, and b. I also couldn't summarize a pretty basic nonfiction book to save my life*--I thought, you know, I read this book, and it was okay, but there really wasn't that much (for me) to say about it.

I can say this: I got this book because I am a sucker for books about reading, writing, literary characters, or really, anything "book." And I stuck with it because I almost always finish any "book about books" that I read. Ellis is a serviceable writer and seems to be a likable person; in this memoir she mixes memories of growing up in a tightly knit Iraqi Jewish expat community in London (as well as coming-of-age and love stories) with her memories of literary heroines she has known. Here she is talking about Anne of Green Gables, and Anne's love interest Gilbert Blythe:

"He has roguish hazel eyes and a teasing smile and he likes pinning girls' braids to their chairs. But when he calls Anne 'carrots' (not knowing that red hair is her greatest affliction; as great an affliction as my failure to go blonde), she cracks a slate over his gorgeous head. No amount of apologies will melt her heart. She takes a whole book to forgive him, and two more to consent to becoming more than his friend. But they do eventually marry. For me, growing up among a lot of arranged marriages, it was a revelation that you could marry a man who was also a friend--and that a man might want a woman who was his intellectual equal; in the years when they are enemies, rivalry with Gilbert spurs Anne on to work harder than ever at school, and they're always battling to be top of their class. I was already starting to feel that boys were supposed to be clever and girls were supposed to be pretty, so I found this deeply reassuring." (pp. 38-39.)

Huh. And here's the other thing about book blogging: sometimes it allows you to take a moment and appreciate something you've read. Just typing that quote made me think, you know, this wasn't my favorite book ever, but it was kind of a good little read.** Give it a try.

*A better review of the book I'm talking about can be found at The Guardian.

**And it was nice to read it during March, which is Women's History Month.

Another reading list that annoys me.

I have a complicated relationship with book lists.

On the one hand, who doesn't enjoy a good list of books? (Or should I say a list of good books?) As we continue to lose bricks-and-mortar bookstores*, book lists, which sometimes can make the task of finding and choosing interesting reading easier, will become more important as a way to narrow our reading choices.

So why am I usually more annoyed with book lists than not?

Well, for one thing, I hate book lists that are hazy in purpose. Two cases of such lazy listing are lists of "sure bet" books (books which everyone is sure to like, supposedly) and "nonfiction that reads like fiction." The former annoys me because I firmly believe that every book out there has its hater (which is usually me; the sort of innocuous, blandly positive, pollyanna-ish titles that inevitably show up on such lists are books that I usually hate) and the latter bugs me because it seems to assume that readers will only enjoy nonfiction if it provides the same reading experience as does fiction.

I know. I spend WAY too much time thinking about books and book lists. I am nerdy. We know this. Moving along.

So the latest book list to really chap my hide is the "LibraryReads" list. This new list has been widely touted in library circles--no surprise, as it is compiled by librarians. It's meant to give librarians a chance to become book "tastemakers," and to drive word-of-mouth recommendations for new books. (You can read more about the list, and how it's created, at the LibraryReads website.) So what is my problem?

Well, each month for the last three months, the list has included only one nonfiction title.** And that is not really surprising; the list (according to the site's FAQ) is compiled in a straightforward manner, with librarians nominating their favorite new books and the ten books getting the most nominations being included. And, I may be wrong about this, but I think librarians are known for preferring to read fiction over nonfiction, so it's actually a bit surprising that ANY nonfiction is represented.

And in the end, that's what I find really disappointing about these lists. You know that image that people have of librarians, that they are all middle-aged ladies with a shushing complex and knitting habits who love nothing more than a soothing cup of tea and a nice gentle read? Well, for the most part, these lists look a lot like they were chosen by readers who fit that stereotype. I'm sure they're very nice readers, and even better librarians, but they just haven't come up with anything very noteworthy in the way of book lists.

*The rise of ebooks will make book lists more important too. Browsing actual physical collections of books can be the easiest way to find something to read, but that doesn't really work when searching for ebooks.

 **And, frankly? The fiction recommendations on the list haven't been setting me on fire either.

Do librarians read nonfiction?

This is a question I have wondered about for some time. I have been thinking about it again this week after reading RickLibrarian's excellent post about the lack of nonfiction galleys and programs at the Public Library Association conference last week.

Although many librarians I have met have been enthusiastic readers of both fiction and nonfiction, I have always had the feeling that they are always slightly more interested in fiction (particularly genre fiction, in my opinion) than in nonfiction, and that they also weren't as comfortable helping patrons find recreational nonfiction reading choices. This strikes me as a shame, because helping people find good nonfiction books is a load of fun.

I have also noticed this trend in the new LibraryReads booklists, which are being heavily touted as the librarians' response to other trend-making booklists. So far I have found this list disturbingly short on nonfiction. That is very disappointing, although I salute what they're trying to do.

What say you? Do librarians need to wake up and smell the delicious nonfiction coffee?

How-to nonfiction.

I tend not to blog a lot about informational or how-to nonfiction. This is not because I don't read it, but rather because I feel that any nonfiction you find because you're primarily interested in the subject is, well, usually pretty easy to find by subject. Like anything else, this rule is subject to exceptions. I actually love getting recommendations for things like cookbooks, health books, etc., simply because there are SO MANY of them.

One of the reasons I didn't post as much this week, as a matter of fact, was because it never felt like I got enough time to read or even peruse the informational books I had going, much less the other nonfiction (and I had even less time to blog about it)! So what am I trying to learn about this month? Here's the books I've got around with bookmarks stuck in various places:

Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Dummies, Meri Raffetto

Best Food for Your Baby & Toddler, Jeannette L. Bessinger

Raising a Son, Don Elium and Jeanne Elium

Do It! Marketing: 77 Instant-Action Ideas to Boost Sales, Maximize Profits, and Crush Your Competition, by David Newman

Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook, by Camilla Saulsbury

To some extent my informational reading always reflects topics I am better at reading about than actually doing. (Just the way I used to read dating manuals because I had no idea how to get a date or go on dates.) Soon it's about the time of the year for me to check out a bunch of gardening books even though I really have no intention of gardening.

How about you. "Read" any good cookbooks lately, or learn anything particularly helpful from a nonfiction book?

The fun of a good negative review, part two.

Weirdly enough, after posting yesterday's link to a negative review of a business book, I chanced across several other items on the Internet about negative reviews in general. (Weird how that always happens. You're thinking about a topic--and all of a sudden that topic is everywhere.) I try to read whatever I can find on this subject, because certain publications' rules about only allowing "positive" book reviews have always bugged the shit out of me.* If reviews of books just don't appear, then, I always wonder, does that mean they were bad, or that they just weren't considered for review? Lame.

Anyway. I particularly liked this article about the power of saying what we don't like about books, written by Francine Prose and Zoe Heller. What do you think?

*I'll admit I sometimes enjoy writing a negative book review. Here's a couple of my favorite negative reviews from this site. I got a lot of angry comments on the Jen Lancaster one in particular. I enjoy a healthy debate so that was fun.

Thinking about Joyce Maynard.

Labor Day (P.S.)
by Joyce Maynard

Last Friday the movie Labor Day, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, was released.

I first saw the trailer for this movie about a month ago, and I thought, huh, I've always enjoyed Joyce Maynard. Maybe I'll read the novel before the movie comes out. So I did.

The story, not to put too fine a point on it, is ridiculous. A teenage boy, Henry, and his recluse mother, Adele, while out doing some necessary shopping, are abducted by a bleeding man who tells them he has a gun. They take him back to their house, ostensibly to hide out, but while he does so, over the course of the long, hot Labor Day weekend, he gains the affection of both Adele and her son (who eventually learn he has escaped from prison, where he was serving time for a crime that had extenuating circumstances). It ends both tragically and hopefully, with a betrayal that you could see coming from the introduction of a certain character.

But still? I enjoyed it.

I think the crux of the matter is that I just like Joyce Maynard. If you've never heard of her, she's probably most well-known for being one of J.D. Salinger's paramours (an experience she wrote about in her memoir At Home in the World), and for selling his letters to her at auction when, after a divorce and trying to raise three children, she needed the money. She's also a novelist, and has written a YA book (or books, I'm not certain) as well.

Be that all as it may, here's what I like about Joyce. This ridiculous story grew out of an equally (well, in my opinion) ridiculous experience in Maynard's own life, when she started exchanging letters with a prisoner who wrote her some fan mail. You can read that entire story (and I recommend it, it's interesting) here. Maynard's real-life story was not as romantic as the novel she eventually wrote, but I find the whole situation fascinating. Who on earth corresponds with a prisoner, without knowing what he's incarcerated for, when you live by yourself with three kids? And, further, who on earth takes that experience and writes a romantic, ridiculously hopeful and forgiving of human nature, novel about it?

Joyce Maynard, that's who.

At the end of the book, Henry, all grown up and with a daughter of his own, has this to say about how he comforts the baby whenever she cries: "What she will register, at least, will be the fact that she is not alone. And it has been my experience that when you do this--slow down, pay attention, follow the simple instincts of love--a person is likely to respond favorably. It is generally true of babies, and most other people too, perhaps." (p. 241.)

Yeah, I like her. And I liked her sappy novel too. Didn't expect that one, did you?

A to Z Bookish Survey.

I often see literary quizzes and bookish memes that make the blog rounds, and I never, ever do them. And then I saw this A to Z Bookish Survey thing*, and I thought, why not do one? So here we go. And, if you want to answer any of these in the comments or post one on your blog and link back here (or to any of the blogs I credit below), please do so!

Author you’ve read the most books from: I'm guessing Agatha Christie. Nonfiction author would probably be William Langewiesche, as I read everything he produces--but in my opinion he just doesn't produce enough!

Best Sequel Ever: Don't know that it counts as a sequel, but I have to go movie here, as I don't read a lot of series or sequels. LOVED the Bond film "Casino Royale," the first with Daniel Craig.

Currently Reading: I am completely scattered lately, and have a different book in each one. Breakpoint: Why the Web Will Implode, Search Will Be Obsolete, and Everything Else You Need to Know about Technology Is in Your Brain, by Jeff Stibel. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. Jennifer Government, a novel by Max Barry.

Drink of Choice While Reading: Coffee, always coffee, or perhaps a nice Guinness, but as I get older I'm trying to work more water into the routine.

E-reader or Physical Book? Christ, I don't have the energy to figure out buying an e-reader or downloading books (particularly from the library). Physical books forever.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School: Oh, it's so predictable, but I would have killed to date Holden Caulfield. I can't imagine he would have dated me, though.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance: The Epic of Gilgamesh. I listened to it on tape and really enjoyed it, although I can't remember a thing about it.

Hidden Gem Book: The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad, by Stacy Horn. Best True Crime book ever, and a stunning example of comprehensive, fact-checked, but compassionate and very readable nonfiction writing.

Important Moment in your Reading Life: When I realized that re-reading Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It was almost the only thing that could help me deal with my brother's death.

Just Finished: Lexicon, by Max Barry.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read: I'm not a big science fiction fan. Also won't touch anything by Thomas Friedman, Jen Lancaster, or Jodi Picoult.

Longest Book You’ve Read: I shy away from long books, so I'm guessing here: maybe the novel Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin?

Major book hangover because of: I don't really understand this question. Book that gave me a headache? Book that made me throw up? Anyone have any ideas on what this one means?

Number of Bookcases You Own: Six, plus some built-ins the old guy (a cataloging librarian by trade) who owned this house before me left in the basement, which was his "bunker where he hid from his wife" (his description).

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times: Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury.

Preferred Place To Read: While traveling/airports. Even though I don't get that chance very often.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read: I don't know the exact quote, but in John Bowe's fantastic investigative book on modern-day slavery, Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, he said something to the effect that "Everyone thinks the problem is that the system is broken. The far bigger problem is that the system is working exactly the way it was set up to work." That one quote has provided years' worth of clarity for me about a wide variety of systems in our society.

Reading Regret:That I didn't do more reading in college, when I had the most time.

Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series): For the most part I never read series. I'm hoping to read all of Carol Shields's books someday, and Tracy Kidder's.

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books: Oh, frankly, it's pointless to even try. I could put together three all-time favorites every month that I read. I love so many books. Click on "Favorites" in my sidebar and you'll see what I mean.

Unapologetic Fangirl For: ALL nonfiction.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others: Just wandered through a few Forthcoming Fall 2013 title lists, and can't say anything really lit me on fire. Although evidently there's a Jeeves and Wooster novel coming out (Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, written by Sebastian Faulks, in the style of Wodehouse), and that might be fun.

Worst Bookish Habit: I read the last chapters of thrillers when I get bored of reading them from start to finish.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book: I would have to get up to answer this question, and I just don't see that happening right now. The only bookshelf I can see from here is loaded with Mr. CR's Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine back copies.

Your latest book purchase: Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, by Stacy Horn

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late): I'll admit I stayed up too late reading Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, but that was more because I wanted to be done with it than I was really enjoying it. I also stayed up too late with Rose George's fantastic The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, adult nonfiction about how everyone really does poop. Timely topic, what with CRjr tackling toilet training.

And there you have it! My first completed blog book survey.

*I saw it at Kim's Sophisticated Dorkiness site, but she got the idea from The Perpetual Page Turner.

The serendipity of finding titles, part two.

If you'll remember, yesterday I wrote about my lazy person's way of stumbling upon a wide variety of titles that I want to read in my library's catalog. The books in question were Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land (by David Mas Masumoto), and Harvesting the Bay: Fathers, Sons and the Last of the Wild Shellfishermen (by Ray Huling).

I really wanted to read it, but I didn't actually get the chance to start the Masumoto book before it had to go back to the library. Instead, for whatever reason, I picked up the second book (Harvesting the Bay) one night when I couldn't sleep. Ray Huling's investigative memoir about the shellfishermen on Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay (quahoggers) is a mix of work/job reporting and sociological history combined with personal memoir (as Huling comes from a long line of such shellfishermen). I came to think of it as "Studs Terkel meets Michael Perry."

I really liked Huling's personal insight into a job I'd never heard anything about. And a lot of what he had to say eerily echoed my own personal experience as the daughter of a farmer (another labor-intensive, singular profession):

"My father and grandfather also trained me to regret the loss of large numbers of hours to work, another dissuasion from my professional activities. One of the great attractions of quahogging is the trade-off it provides: You work hard so you don't have to work a lot. There's an adage for this: Quahoggers ain't lazy, but they don't want to work. This is something they say about themselves. It's an idea virtually unknown to the community of people outside the quahogging fold. The sentiment resides in me, but I am no quahogger, which, again, leaves me ill-prepared for the wonderful opportunities afforded me by a life of mental labor. This doesn't mean that I myself am motivated to do the right thing. I am caught between the bullraker and the world he righteously derides. If my position were grander, it would be tragic: I have all of the bullraker's scorn and none of his discipline." (p. 36.)

I really enjoyed that. I've never been very good at office or full-time professional work, and I always thought at least part of that was my upbringing on the farm. I never had any patience for meetings or any work that seemed more like "make work" than actually producing anything of value (like food).

Huling also had interesting things to say on the broader economic and social impact of the profession of shellfishing:

"On the national level, the proper action is so clear and obvious as to be banal: universal, single-payer health care. Sustainable food relies on people who perform hard manual labor, and the society that benefits from their suffering should do its best to alleviate it in the most direct way. Mike McGiveney wasn't kidding when he said that the cost of health care drove quahoggers off the water. The rising cost of insurance, insurance companies' pernicious attempts to deny care at every opportunity, and the willingness of health-care professionals to abet the insurance companies convinced many guys that the very communities they had helped to feed would throw them to the wolves once their bodies gave out after years of toil." (p. 265.)

As you can see from the text snippets I've provided, this is not narrative-driven writing that you just fly through. It's more along the lines of Wendell Berry writing, where you have to read a little bit and then take a break to digest it. At times it's a bit dry, a bit too technical about how quahogging works, but overall it's a fascinating, fascinating read. Consider checking it out.

The serendipity of finding titles.

The hot topic in library readers' advisory circles and bookselling for a while now has been "book discoverability."

Of course, this is nothing new. People who suggest and sell books have always talked about ways to help people who love to read books to find them. And it's always been (and always will be?) a somewhat tricky proposition, no matter what all the new social media book discoverability sites try to tell you.

So how do I most often find books? Well, for one thing, I'm very lucky that my tastes in nonfiction in particular are quite democratic. I'm promiscuous subject-wise; if I hear of a book that sounds interesting or is by an author I like, I'll most likely check it out, regardless of what its subject is (unless that subject is World War II, which I tend to avoid at all costs). So mainly what I do is a very unscientific mix of reading about books wherever I can--in magazines, on blogs, on those little tags that they have at Barnes and Noble that say "so and so who works here recommends"--and then either getting them from the library or wandering through the library catalog and seeing what else pops up around the title I was interested in.

That's right: no TBR Excel spreadsheets or lists around here. I just wander around cyberspace and anyplace else I can find books and wait for some to whack me in the face.

A case in point was this summer, when I read at Kim Ukura's excellent nonfiction blog Sophisticated Dorkiness, that she was working on a book called Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville, by Witold Rybczynski. (It's a book about urban/suburban development.) I can never remember how to spell Witold's last name, and I certainly can't pronounce it, but I do enjoy his writing, so this suggestion caught my eye.* So then I took myself off to my library catalog, and looked it up by title: last harvest. And here's my favorite thing about my library's catalog, it pulls up all the titles with those two words in them, which led me to two unrelated titles. From that search, I found two nonfiction books titled Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land (by David Mas Masumoto), and Harvesting the Bay: Fathers, Sons and the Last of the Wild Shellfishermen (by Ray Huling).

When I think back on how I find books, I realize it's actually a little shocking how much I depend upon and enjoy "book discoverability by serendipity." I also refer to it as the "lazy person's way to find books," because often when I do these loose title searches, I'll find three to five wildly unrelated nonfiction (and sometimes even fiction) books, and that keeps me busy for a while.

More later this week on actually reading these books. In the meantime: How do you "discover" the books you want to read?

*It turned out, after I'd requested and gotten the book from the library, that I thought I'd already read it (and enjoyed it, even if I couldn't remember much about it). So after all that, I didn't end up reading the original book I'd searched for.

A tale of two chick lits.

For whatever reason, I've always really enjoyed "chick lit."

For those of you not familiar with these publishing and librarian-ish subgenres, chick lit is a type of romance that typically focuses on female protagonists in their twenties and thirties, typically features a romance story plot of some kind, but also showcases a character's work, friendships, and surroundings (which, in a disproportionate amount of these books, is New York City*). This is my definition, and it's not a perfect one, but I'm using it because I think the Wikipedia page on chick lit is pretty weak. Two books widely cited as premiere examples of this genre are Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary and Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, and those two also happen to be two of my all-time favorite novels.

So every now and then I get a real jones to read some good chick lit, which is surprisingly hard to find.** I know most of the tools librarians use to help readers find books by genre and type, but for the most part I am too lazy to use them. As a general rule I just seek out authors who I know from past experience are "known" as chick lit authors, or, if I'm in a really scientific mood, I go scan my library shelves for books that "look" chick-litty. So when I brought home two chick-lit novels last month, I found one using the former method, and one using the latter.

The first one I read was Jane Green's Jemima J, which I picked out because I'd always heard a lot about Jane Green (in a good way) and I thought I should give one of hers a try. The story is: Jemima Jones is (way) overweight and helplessly in love with a man with whom she works. Eventually, thanks to the wonders of the Internet (which is new in her workplace--the novel was published in 2001), she meets a man online who lives in L.A., and who invites her to come stay. But this is after she has sent him a retouched photo of herself as a thin woman, so she resolves to lose the weight--and does. She goes to L.A., and, well...things do not turn out quite as she planned.

This novel was okay, but for the most part I really, really dislike novels and romances where the main character loses weight and all of a sudden they are completely gorgeous. Now, losing weight if you need to is always very nice, but how many people actually go from obese to stunners? Not as many as the chick lit and romance genres would sometimes have you believe. Also: it was nearly 400 pages long. Too long.

The other novel, Aurelie Sheehan's The Anxiety of Everyday Objects***, was much slimmer and stranger. It focuses on Winona Bartlett, a legal secretary with dreams of someday becoming an independent filmmaker. In this one the romance really took a backseat to the work drama at the law office where Winona works; she gets a new boss in the form of attorney Sandy Spires, who is a real go-getter (and who also happens to be blind) but who ultimately turns out not to be a good role model for Winona. I liked this one, but it was a rather strange read: it took a long time to get going, and then all of a sudden it was over with everything resolved rather too neatly, including the almost completely absent love story. There was nothing wrong with the writing, though:

"All good secretaries will eventually find truth in the hearts of men.

Winona Bartlett, Win to her friends, might not have been the world's best secretary, but her nature was such that serving, subservience, and coffee service came easily, and, in fact, she felt there was an inherent good in doing things well, and this determination more than equaled her actual interest in the long-term prospects at Grecko Mauster Crill. She practiced her secretarial role as a Zen meditation; what role she was more suited to remained a mystery, though she was now nearly thirty." (p. 3.)

It's good writing, but sometimes I couldn't tell if the book was literary fiction, or chick lit, or what. It was just a little puzzling. For the record, Mr. CR read this one too (don't ask me why; all summer he's been reading things I never would have thought he'd read) and had much the same reaction.

So there you have it. I've satisfied my chick lit need for a while; back to nonfiction now.

*This is not a problem, and is actually a large part of the draw, if you love New York City, which I do.

**Can anyone suggest a good blog or other resource that lists books of these type?

***Speaking of covers, I'll admit I was intrigued that this one had a blurb from Richard Russo on it.

Always gotta love a book on books.

I am a real sucker (as are most readers, I would guess) for books about books and reading. Every now and then I trip across a new one that I hadn't heard of before, and it's always a fun experience.

One for the Books
by Joe Queenan

This month's "book on books" discovery was Joe Queenan's recent One for the Books. Queenan is best known as a columnist and humorist (evidently he's written or writes for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the New York Times, and many more...thanks, author bio!) and also the writer of a very critically lauded memoir, titled Closing Time: A Memoir, about his hardscrabble youth in Philadelphia. If I sound uninformed, it's because I am--I'd always recognized Queenan's name, but I'd never read anything of his before (although I've always meant to read that memoir, since it showed up on a lot of "best of the year" lists).

In this book, Queenan not only describes his favorite books and seminal reading moments, he also muses on the print vs. digital book divide, booksellers, book culture, and the writing life. If you like a totally straightforward read, this book may not be for you: it tends to hop around a bit from topic to topic. That didn't bother me, though. I tend to read these types of books in small increments (both to savor them and to make them last longer), so a bit more disjointed organization didn't throw me. And, hilariously enough, I would imagine that if Joe and I met to talk books, we wouldn't have any books in common that we had both read or both liked. A person more unlike me in book taste it would be hard to find (unless we're looking at you, Lesbrarian): he favors modern fiction faves like Denis Johnson, Ha Jin, Italo Calvino, and a whole bunch of international writers of whom I've never heard (embarrassing, that, really). But yet? I really, really enjoyed this book. I think I enjoyed it because of the sheer number of titles Queenan lists and discusses--it's breathtaking, really. I didn't add many (any) of them to my TBR list, but it was a pleasure to read someone who is himself so well- and widely read.

And every now and then his narrative made me laugh, which I always enjoy. Take this anecdote, in which he explains how he spent a year of his life trying to read a book a day, meaning he could only read very short books. Off he took himself to the library, without his reading glasses, and just picked the littlest books off the shelf, without worrying himself too much about the content. He did enforce some standards when he got home, though:

"If I got home and discovered that I had checked out a bittersweet, life-affirming novel about a recently divorced woman who had moved to a small town in Maine or the Massif Central or the Mull of Kintyre and, after initially being shocked by the ham-fisted demeanor of the rough-hewn locals, was seduced by their canny charm, I took it right back." (p. 78.) Tee hee.

He also demonstrates, nicely, the "deal breakers" by which many readers abide (but which they don't often talk about):

"My refusal to read books about the Yankees or their slimy fans also extends to books written by supporters of the team. Thus, when I learned that Salman Rushdie had taken a shine to the Yankees, it eliminated any chance that I would ever read The Satanic Verses, no matter how good it is." (p. 123.) This makes me laugh because I am the same way, only about the subject of World War II (in fiction or non), and also because I am a slimy Yankees fan.

And of course, if you're a lover of physical books, you have to love paragraphs like this:

"Certain things are perfect the way they are and need no improvement. The sky, the Pacific Ocean, procreation, and the Goldberg Variations all fit this bill, and so do books. Books are sublime, but books are also visceral. They are physically appealing, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system. Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who like to read on the subway, or who do not want other people to see how they are amusing themselves, or who have storage and clutter issues, but they are useless for people who are engaged in an intense, lifelong love affair with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on." (p. 27.)

It's good stuff. And it will even be good whether you read it in print or digital form. Read it.

A favorite eclectic recommender.

One of my favorite blogs to check for a wide variety of reading suggestions is Rick Roche's RickLibrarian. Rick's real subject specialty is biographies: he's the author of Real Lives Revealed: A Guide to Reading Interests in Biography (Real Stories) and Read On...Biography: Reading Lists for Every Taste (Read On Series) (both published by ABC-CLIO--I know they're not cheap, but if you're a librarian, please do consider buying and using them in your collection, particularly if you're looking to beef up your nonfiction readers' advisory services*).

A book I found ages ago through Rick's site was A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery. Yes, THAT A.A. Milne--the author of Winnie-the-Pooh. And perhaps I am going about this backwards, because I haven't yet read Winnie (although we have read an Easy Reader copy of Winnie the Pooh's Easter Egg Hunt so many times that CRjr has it memorized: "'Surprise,' mumbled Eeyore, 'I found an Easter egg!'"), but a while back I was looking for any kind of pleasant, easy reading that I could just wander through for twenty minutes or so at each bedtime.

This mystery novel hit the spot for that admirably. It's pleasingly British**, for an Anglophile like me, and the mystery's not real gory or complicated (for a synopsis see Rick's review), so it made perfect escapism reading. I rather feel it's more a book to be read in a cozy warm house while it's winter outside, but it's set in the summer and it might also make for good beach reading.

My thanks, and kudos, once again go to Rick.

*I'm not remunerated in any way when Rick's books sell, but they are so awesome and helpful that I can't help putting in a plug for them here or there.

**Here's how the sleuth, Antony Gillingham, is introduced: "When at the age of twenty-one he [Antony] came into his mother's money, 400 pounds a year, old Gillingham [his father] looked up from the 'Stockbreeders' Gazette' to ask him what he was going to do.

'See the world,' said Antony.

'Well, send me a line from America, or wherever you get to.'

'Right,' said Antony.

Old Gillingham returned to his paper. Antony was a younger son, and, on the whole, not so interesting to his father as the cadets of certain other families; Champion Birket's, for instance. But, then, Champion Birket was the best Hereford bull he had ever bred.

Antony, however, had no intention of going further away than London. His idea of seeing the world was to see, not countries, but people; and to see them from as many angles as possible. There are all sorts in London if you know how to look at them. So Antony looked at them--from various strange corners; from the view-point of the valet, the newspaper reporter, the waiter, the shop-assistant. With the independence of 400 pounds a year behind him, he enjoyed it immensely." (p. 25.)

Ah, England! Inattentive parents who are more interested in animals than you but are also your source of independent income! Amateur sleuths who are simply interested in the world! What a great country.