Monday, April 25, 2016

#Readathon Recap

Before I get into my recap, please mark your calendars for the next Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon, which is scheduled for October 22, 2016.

Okay, now on to my recap of Saturday's Readathon.

I signed up to be a cheerleader and was placed on #TeamOwl. As I was falling asleep Friday night it hit me that I had an owl who could be my mascot. The owl has lived on my bookshelf since Halloween. For some reason I didn't want to pack "him" away with the other Halloween decorations and now I know why. I used to refer to "him" as "her," but since the artist Prince died earlier in the week and my owl is purple with big expressive eyes, I named him Prince as a tribute.

Prince and I started the day off shortly after 8 am EST with Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man, which I purchased back in March at The Mysterious Bookshop in NYC and saved to read during Readathon.

Shortly after breakfast I spilled a cup of coffee all over myself, but luckily no books were harmed. (Sorry, no pictures available.) After that I did some more reading and some cheering before taking my first walk on the treadmill.

Me on the treadmill. Photo credit: Laura Thoma 😘
Last year I felt like such crap the day after Readathon. Sure, I was short on sleep and had a snack-hangover, but my body hadn't moved much for those 24 hours. This time I vowed to take walks on the treadmill throughout the day. I like to walk outside, but there are no sidewalks where I live and walking on the road while paying attention is dicey enough, let alone trying to walk and read on these roads.  Anyway, I planned on walking for half hour increments. I ended up walking a total of two hours. I felt much better the day after and the walking probably gave my brain more oxygen during the reading.

In addition to snacks I also bought a pre-made lunch the day before so I'd have some real food in my belly. Prince had me tweet a reminder to our fellow readers:

The afternoon and early evening were filled with more reading, more cheering, and a quick run out for dinner.

The second book I started was Hover by Anne A. Wilson. It's about a woman pilot in the Navy. Wilson is a Naval Academy grad who served nine years in the Navy, so the details ring true. And the attitudes towards women are right on (sad to say not much has changed since I served in the Marines in the 80s). Hover is suspense with some romance. I'd seen it before at the bookstore and when I was at R.J. Julia's last week fore book group I read the first couple pages and got hooked. It seemed like it would be a good Readathon book and I was right. Can't wait to finish it tonight.

I knew I wouldn't pull an all-nighter. For one, I'm just not able to do that anymore and two, I had a commitment on Sunday that I wanted to be alive for.

By 1:30 am EST this is how I was looking behind the scenes:


But this is the public picture that I posted on Instagram:



My End of Event Survey:

Which hour was most daunting for you? The hour after I finished my first book. I tend to not start a new novel on the same day I finish one, because I like to give a book some time to percolate in my brain (and soul, if it was THAT good, if you know what I mean). So I had to take some time and walk and flip through books before deciding what to read next.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man both by Dashiell Hammett -- they are short, have great pacing and fantastic characters, not to mention they really seem to capture the time period. I also recommend The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. OMG, so good. Just read it if you haven't already. Also try a shorter novel from Willa Cather or Edith Wharton.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season? I think its pretty darn near perfect. People have to make it their own experience, though, and not sit back and expect the party to come to them. It's like life--you get out of it what you put into it. Being a cheerleader is a great way to up your involvement.

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Taking the focus off blogs and putting it more on social media seemed to make it easier to "visit with" more people. I didn't even write a kick-off post this year, which may just be indicative of something in the air.

 How many books did you read? 1.5 I'm a proud slow reader and for me Readathon day is more about clearing my schedule and relishing having a whole date dedicated to reading and connecting with other readers (and guilt free snacking).  

What were the names of the books you read? The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett and part of Hover by Anne A. Wilson (which I'll finish tonight).  

Which book did you enjoy most? They're both so different. The Thin Man is classic noir and very butch whereas Hover is about a woman helicopter pilot in the Navy trying to deal with her grief over losing her brother, so it's like comparing apples and oranges. Or apples and fiddleheads.

Which did you enjoy least? N/A this time around.  

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? I definitely will in October, if my travel schedule allows.

What role would you be likely to take next time? Cheerleader for sure. Will have to see how my schedule shapes up before I take on any responsibilities.


A HUGE thank you to Andi and Heather and all the other organizers and volunteers for making this event happen! It's one of my favorite days of the year.

If you haven't participated in this Readathon yet I strongly encourage you to! If you did participate this time around, what was your favorite part?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Library Visit: Westbrook Public Library, Westbrook, CT

I've driven past both the old Westbrook Library and the road to the new library many times in the two years we've lived on the shoreline, but this week was the first time I stopped in to check it out. I'm so glad I did. The building is well-lit due to its generous windows and also has an open atmosphere with cozy nooks here-and-there in which to read. It's only 20-40 minutes from my house, depending on whether I take I-95 or Route 1 (aka Boston Post Road).

Westbrook Public Library
61 Goodspeed Drive
Westbrook, CT 06498

First, here's a picture of the old library, which served the town from 1905-1977. It is on the town green and now houses the Westbrook Historical Society.

The library moved east of the town green, to Goodspeed Drive, in 1977. Pictured here is the current library, which opened in September 2008.
A welcoming entrance.
The new arrivals area is one of my favorite sections.
Work tables divide the two rows of stacks.
Looking back toward circulation. Next to those four windows at the back of this photo is a lovely display case filed Art Carney's personal mementos and ephemera. The actor and his family lived in Westbrook. I don't know why I didn't take any pictures of it.
On the bulletin board. If the ocean rises even 10 feet the heart of Westbrook will be gone.
A peek into the stacks.
Sunny reading area with a nautical theme.
Fabulous quilt and wave-like bench.
Cather on the shelf.
The Art Carney Media Center. Audiobooks, VHS, DVDs.
Looking into the children's section.
Computer station for kids.
I image this place is crawling with kids when school's out.
A bit of natural decoration on the picture book endcaps.
Information and celebratory photos liven up this work area.
Libraries and globes, together forever. Love the fishy background.
Walking out of the kids section. The circulation desk is just passed the wall, to the right.
I saved the best for last: behold, an ACTIVE card catalog.
There's also one in the adult section. Upon checking out I asked the librarian if it was actively used and she very enthusiastically said YES and that it is UP-TO-DATE. I was thrilled to hear this. Yes, I love computer databases, but there's nothing like going to a card catalog and seeing what's available in that library's collections. The librarian called over the director and I chatted about card catalogs with him, too. He told me the adult card catalog is also up-to-date and that it came in very handy in the aftermath of the last hurricane.

I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to the Westbrook Public Library. These visits of mine are not complete tours as I try to avoid taking pictures of patrons. To see a list of all the libraries I've visited (or, at least those I've written posts about), please visit my #LibraryLove page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New Book on Mark Twain's World Tour: Chasing the Last Laugh by Richard Zacks

In 1893, even though he was the highest paid writer in America and married to an heiress, Mark Twain--Samuel Clemens--was on the brink of financial ruin. This book tells the story of how the already famous writer got out of financial trouble and grew his persona to mega rock star proportions.

One of the big take-aways from this book is that Mark Twain was one hard working writer. He may not have had much business sense, but as a writer and student of human nature he was always observing, pondering, and making notes in his journal.

When it came to writing or telling a story, he would change the details to create a more dramatic story, if necessary, such as in the case of a shuffleboard tournament aboard ship which Twain actually won, but in the telling of it he has another player win to better fit his storyline. He also "stole" stories, such as one from his friend Bram Stoker about a christening. It is impressive that Twain also worked on creating multiple performances so that if he were performing three nights in one city, people would hear fresh material each night. His seemingly simple stories were actually painstakingly constructed works of art.

Apparently Livy Clemens, Twain's wife, had much to do with the success of Twain's onstage storytelling (and perhaps his written work, too). While he was creating content for the tour Livy suggested that instead of telling joke after joke, he add a longer, more serious and emotionally charged story. This blending of pathos and humor is the roller-coaster ride that audiences the world over love.
From the publisher: Richard Zacks, drawing extensively on unpublished material in notebooks and letters from Berkeley’s ongoing Mark Twain Project, chronicles a poignant chapter in the author’s life—one that began in foolishness and bad choices but culminated in humor, hard-won wisdom, and ultimate triumph.
This is an enjoyable read. It's well-written, has a good pace, and packs in a ton of information: the circumstances that landed Twain in serious financial straights and how he managed, along with his wife and good friend H.H. Rogers, to climb out of debt, detail about his friendships & relationships, what it was like to travel in the late 19th century, and even physical ailments such as the carbuncle the great writer had on his leg that was so big and/or painful that he couldn't wear pants for weeks. Physical ailments do impact the creative process. (All hail antibiotics. While they have been over-prescribed in recent years, I think I prefer life with rather than life without antibiotics.)

If you're interested in Twain and have never read anything about him, this is a fascinating place to start. And if you're in the Hartford, CT area Zacks is giving a talk at the Mark Twain House & Museum on Thursday, April 21, at 7pm. Check out his tour schedule here.

Title: Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour
Author: Richard Zacks (author of Island of Vice, An Underground Education, History Laid Bare, The Pirate Hunter, and The Pirate Coast)
Publisher: Doubleday, released April 19, 2016
Source: bound galley advance reader copy

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Joy & Horror of Trashy Literature

One of the helpful things about writing a book blog is that you can sometimes trace back when a particular book came into your life. That is, if you take the time to document such things, which I'd like to get better at.

Anyway, I had the right place, but not the right time for when EDGE #44: The Blind Side by George G. Gilman came into my life. I was right that it was from the Blackstone Memorial Library tent sale in Branford, CT, but it wasn't 2015, it was 2014. How time flies. [Here's that post.]

I read a bunch of the EDGE Series when I was in junior high/high school, most of which were acquired at either of the two bookstores that once graced the North Riverside Mall in suburban Chicago.

George G. Gilman is a pen name for British author Terry Harknett (born 1936). According to Wikipedia Mr. Harknett has written over 200 novels, at least 10 series, and used 10 additional pen names: Joseph Hedges, William M. James, Charles R. Pike, Thomas H. Stone, Frank Chandler, Jane Harman, Alex Peters, William Pine, William Terry, James Russell, and David Ford.

Apparently Harknett wasn't western sounding enough, but George G. Gilman is. You can hear the twang of cowboy alliteration. Maybe even imagine The Triple G Ranch.

The EDGE Series is violent, sexist, and racist. EDGE himself is referred to by the narrator as "the half-breed." He's half Swedish and half Mexican. Edge has a strong sense of justice and high morals, plus he likes animals and treats them well. I imagine his kindness to animals it what kept me reading back then. But what probably kept me coming back for more, as a tween/early teen was, I'm certain, the sex.  The Blind Side includes a gang rape by four cowpokes of a nymphomaniac who likes to dominate men, so you get the sense that she would have liked it if 1) she'd been in charge of the situation and 2) they hadn't beaten her. Spoiler alert: she gets her revenge but dies in the end (as such women must).

Come to think of it,
Edge looks a little like my beloved high school English teacher,
Mr. Antus. And Waylon Jennings.
The violence, sexism, racism, and rape are all horrific, but what surprised me is how bad the writing is! Here's an example:
"Likewise, the almost doll-like perfection of her oval shaped face with its blue eyes, snub nose, rosebud lips and milk white, flawless skin--in a frame of rich-growing, smoothly waved, honey-colored hair that swung to within a half inch of brushing her shoulders--had an undeniable sensuality that had to be lurking covertly just beneath the veneer of girlish innocence that was the first impression implied by her face" (12-13).
Or this scene where the nymphomaniac presents her naked body to Edge beside the campfire. He says to her:
"If that's the case, best you cover yourself up and go back to bed. On account of I've seen women got bigger nipples than you've got tits. And as for that beaver, I figure a mouse--" (44).
It's pulp fiction and Mr. Harknett nails it, so I'm not making fun of his writing, rather just pointing out the style. Obviously, someone who has published over 200 novels knows his audience. However, there were a ton of incomplete sentences and typos, too. It makes me wonder if there was any editing at all.

EDGE #44: The Blind Side
George G. Gilman
Pinnacle Books, 1983
Cover art by Bruce Minney
Original price: $2.50
Source: bought it used at library sale

This book came out in 1983 and by then I was experiencing some action of my own (wink, wink), so I had probably moved on from the series by then. This trip down memory lane was interesting, but, like many things from the past, some things are left better remembered than revisited. That said, I probably couldn't resist picking up another number in this series if I come across it.

Have your re-visited a series from your past? What was it like?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Birthday Book Haul

Thanks, Dove, I am.

I turned 50 in March and to celebrate my wife took me to NYC for a bookish celebration.

We stayed at the Library Hotel, hung out at the New York Public Library, and saw my current favorite Broadway musical, Something Rotten, for the second time.

View of the library from our hotel room.

I also hit both The Strand and The Mysterious Bookshop for the first time on my big day.

First, The Strand. Laura walked me down from Midtown, where the Library Hotel is located, to The Strand, which is in the East Village. She did some shopping of her own and left me to spend as many hours as I needed. We're both readers but our approach to reading and book buying is very different. When I told her I was going to limit myself to buying five books (one for each decade, I reasoned) she laughed and told me to have the books shipped home. My inner book beast imagined the UPS truck pulling up to our house loaded with nothing but boxes of books for me. I shook the image, glanced around at various sections, and then decided to focus in on three priorities: literature, mystery, and lit crit.

Here's my haul from The Strand:

~ Books About Books & Reading ~

  • Reading on Location: Great Books Set in Top Travel Destinations (2011) by Luisa Moncada and Scala Quin. This one will help broaden my reading horizons. Books, both fiction and nonfiction, listed by continent, then country, and in some cases further breakdowns offered. From the UK and it's nice to find a book where the US doesn't dominate (25 out of 253 pages of content are focused on it). Imagine I'll write a review of this one eventually.
  • How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (1940) by Mortimer J. Adler -- I read this book when I was in my 20s during a winter break in Germany. I remember reading it on train trips and couldn't tell you the first thing about its content. It pops into my mind every-now-and-then as a book I'd like to revisit.
  • Reading Style: A Life In Sentences (2014) by Jenny Davidson. I tend to focus on character and social issues when I read. Thought it would be an interesting change of pace to pay more attention to what's going on at the sentence level.
  • The Greatest Books You'll Never Read: Unpublished Masterpiece by The World's Greatest Writers (2015) by Bernard Richards. This book is like crack. It covers manuscripts from the Middle Ages to the present and is full of fascinating tidbits, colorful pictures, and photos. A real pleasure to flip through. I look forward to sitting down with this one.
~ Books About Writing ~

  • Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish: A Guidebook for the Journey (2015) by Joseph Bates.
  • A Writer's Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice (2015) by Jordan Rosenfeld
Both of these Writer's Digest Books were on a display table and I'm a sucker for writing books. And the covers: a knapsack on one and a tree on a hill on the other. How could I resist?

~ Women Writers ~

  • Doing Literary Business: American Women Writers in the Nineteenth Century (1990) by Susan Coultrap-McQuinn. I owned a copy of this book once upon a time and never read the whole thing. Don't know if I loaned it and never got it back or lost it. Happy to have it back in my library.
  • A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx (2009) by Elaine Showalter. I'm familiar with Showalter's work and like the chronological approach this book takes, "the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to the present." I studied pre-twentieth century women writers in grad school and am looking forward to revisiting those writers while learning more about twentieth century writers.
~ Male Writers ~

  • Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) -- translated by Peter Wortsman. I've heard of von Kleist primarily as someone who influenced Thomas Mann and Kafka, but have never read him.
  • The Chosen (1967) by Chaim Potok -- one of my wife's favorite novels, which I have been meaning to read for 15 years now. We saw a recent production of the play adaptation in Hartford and I wanted to read it prior to that but didn't. This is the year, for sure.
~ Mystery & Crime ~

  • Buddha's Money (1998) by Martin Limon. Military mystery set in 1970s Seoul, Korea.  Limon is a 20 year veteran of the Army so I'm hoping there'll be some realistic details and action. Plus, I was hooked by the first paragraph: "Three miniskirted business girls flitted around Ernie like butterflies bothering a bear. He pulled out a packet of ginseng gum, grinned, and passed out a few sticks."
  • Murder in Memoriam (1984) by Didier Daeninckx, translated from French by Liz Heron. A fictional investigation into a coverup surrounding the real-life Paris Massacre of 1961. What started as a peaceful protest by Algerians ended in extreme violence (over 1, 000 injured, up to 300 dead).
  • Enter a Murderer (1935) and Artists in Crime (1938) by Ngaio Marsh. Prolific New Zealand mystery writer. We have our Edgar Award here in the US and in New Zealand its the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel that gets handed out annually.
  • Baghdad Central (2014) by Elliot Colla. Set in Baghdad. An Iraqi cop who deserted his post is lured back into service and investigates the disappearance of a young translator who was working for the US Army. Colla translates and teaches Arabic Literature at Georgetown. He writes on his website, "I started writing Baghdad Central in 2009 largely because I was frustrated by a lack of English-language stories, from Iraqi perspectives, about the US invasion and occupation."
  • Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (First published in 1972, this is the 1985 revised edition and there was also a third edition published in 1993) by Julian Symons. Seemed like an entertaining, thoughtful, and opinionated survey of crime fiction. It won an Edgar Award in 1972 and I know Symons is a big name in crime fiction.
  • Fiction, Crime, and Empire: Clues to Modernity and Postmodernism (1993) by Jon Thompson. Explores how crime fiction responded to the British and American experience of empire.
  • Murder & Other Acts of Literature: Twenty-Four Unforgettable and Chilling Stories by Some fo the World's Best-Loved, Most Celebrated Writers (1997) ed by Michele Slung. Stories by writers not usually associated with the mystery genre like Alice Walker, Nadine Gordimer, Isabel Allende, Anthony Trollope, and twenty others. I was intrigued by all the names.
I didn't even look at the sale carts. Next time!
I spent about four hours in The Strand and left only because it was time to head off to The Mysterious Bookshop in time to browse before they closed at 7pm. It is about a half hour walk from The Strand to The Mysterious Bookshop, which is further south, in Tribeca.

The Mysterious Bookshop

The Mysterious Bookshop might seem small at first, but if you're a mystery lover it's like a big, mouthwatering candy store.

Here's my short, but sweet stack from The Mysterious Bookshop:

  • Lemon City (2004) by Elaine Meryl Brown. I pulled this one off the sale cart out front. I was intrigued by its setting in a tight-knit black community in the foothills for the Blue Ridge mountains.
  • The Thin Man (1934) by Dashiell Hammett. This was the one novel I planned on buying at my first visit to this specialty mystery shop. Corny, perhaps, but I wanted to buy a classic there. I re-read The Maltese Falcon last year and decided it was time to read more by Hammett.
  • A Question of Identity (2012) by Susan Hill. I read The Woman in Black and thought it was okay. Simon Savage often mentions his appreciation of Susan Hill on The Readers podcast so I thought I'd try another.
  • The Swimmer (2013, paperback in English just released 2016) by Joakim Zander, translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel. I read a review of this somewhere and it kept popping up at the library and bookstores, so I bought it.
  • The Madwoman Upstairs (2016) by Catherine Lowell. I've heard good things and so-so things about this one, but something was pulling me toward it. It's a literary novel that involves a mystery related to the Brontes. 
These last two books coming up were recommendations by Ian who helped me during my visit. I asked him to recommend "the" book I should read. Silly question, I know. After asking me what kind of mysteries I enjoy he recommended three books. They were sold out of the first recommendation, which was Evie Wyld's All the Birds, Singing. The other two books he had in mind were in:
  • The Devotion of Suspect X (2005) by Keigo Higashino, translated from Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander. I read Higashino's Salvation for a Saint last year for my mystery book group and we all really enjoyed it. Ian said this novel is even better.
  • The Gone-Away World (2008) by Nick Harkaway. A bizarre, wild novel, impossible to describe, Ian said, but a fun read. Also, Harkaway is John le Carre's son.
So there you have it, the books that I bought myself on my birthday. It was a fun day, but I was pooped from all that book browsing/buying. Now it's time to read!
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