Monday, June 30, 2008

June Books Bought

Here they are, all the books I purchased in June:

Mansfield Park (1814) - Jane Austen
There's a zillion editions of all of Jane Austen's novels, but this import at Daedalus Books looked pretty nice and the price was right. I haven't read any Austen in a few years, plus Vladimir Nabokov discusses the novel early in his book Lectures on Literature (which I hope to buy soon), providing even further impetus to purchase/read the book.
Trade Paperback - Price: $3.98

Foundling: Monster Blood Tattoo Book One (YA 2006) - D.M. Cornish
Mine's a British import, but the one being marketed in the U.S. is the paperback edition pictured on Amazon. My good friend Kelly mentioned this book awhile back, asking me if I'd heard anything about it. I didn't know much about it, but read the jacket at Daedalus and gave it the "first page" test and it passed. So there you have it.
Hardcover - Price: $3.98

The Outsiders (1967) - S.E. Hinton
Purchased at the Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago. I'm really excited about this one. I didn't get to see S.E. Hinton (who was one of the speakers at the book fair), but I did snag a signed copy. Sure, it's a 2006 paperback, but hey, a signed S.E. Hinton? It's a no-brainer.
Signed Trade Paperback - Price: $10.00

Birds of America: Stories (1998) - Lorrie Moore
Another Printer's Row Book Fair purchase. Just because I've heard that Moore is a great writer and haven't yet read her stories.
Trade Paperback - Price: $5.00

Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works (Library of America 1988)
Also purchased at the Printer's Row Book Fair. I was about to leave the book fair when I saw a guy that had several LOA slipcased editions for sale. This one was (1) in superb condition and was (2) Flannery O'Connor. If you know me at all, you know that I adore Flannery O'Connor and would build a monument in her honor, deep in the heart of Georgia, complete with fine carvings of peacocks in marble, with... Sorry, sometimes I get carried away. Anyway, this volume contains Wise Blood, which I only have in a beat-up paperback.
Hardcover in slipcase - Price: $15.00

unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters (NF 2008) - David Kinnaman
I picked this one up at the library a few weeks ago, read the first chapter, and knew I wanted to buy it. Christians are supposed to represent Christ in the world, but we usually do a pretty lousy job of it. Kinnaman's book researches and analyzes data from 16-29-year-olds who hold negative perceptions of Christianity based on what they see Christians doing (or not doing) in the world on a day-to-day basis.
Hardcover - Price: $12.23

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel (2008) - David Wroblewski
I was very suspicious of this book. It's received glowing reviews from just about everyone who's picked it up. In fact I couldn't find a professional review that didn't like it. It's not that I always check out the reviews before I read a book, but when a novel is about a mute boy and his dogs, red flags start popping up all over the place. So what the heck - I bought it. I'll let you know what I think.
Hardcover - Price: $15.57

Total Book Purchases for June: $65.76
Total Book Purchases for May: $42.93

Friday, June 27, 2008

Books You Might Have Missed #1

Every now and then I'll hear about a book on the Washington Post Book World podcast that I absolutely must read, even though I probably would have skimmed over the same book in the newspaper's print version. Case in point: Marilyn Yalom's new non-fiction book The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds.

Yalom originally planned a project connected with a year-long visit to her mother's grave in a Palo Alto, California, but instead ended up visiting 250 cemeteries across the country (photographed by Yalom's son Reid). That may sound like a lot, but Yalom estimates there are about 250,000 cemeteries in America. Historical connections with the past and the ways they are expressed in our burial practices drew her into the expanded project.

For instance, why do so many cemeteries look so different from one another? Immigrants into this country brought their own burial rituals and styles with them. These get played out around cemeteries all over the country. The best place, according to Yalom, for a wide variety of religions and ethnicities on display? Chicago. Jewish, Protestant and Catholic cemeteries all look slightly different, but Yalom notices marked differences even within religious groups. An Irish Catholic cemetery looks very different from a Polish Catholic cemetery. Every difference in how we mourn, even the minute ones, becomes evident in the cemetery.

Yalom also examines differences in historical periods and practices. Colonial graveyards make specific references to the status of women based on family (wife, mother, daughter, etc.), but not men. Yet in recent decades, you see women's gravestones identifying their work, voluntary organizations, etc. All of this gets you thinking about what other aspects of cemeteries Yalom covers. I wonder how much she talks about the graves of children or criminals. (Does she mention pets? I don't know.) I haven't even picked up the book yet, but I can imagine the photos alone are worth the price of the book. Very interesting stuff. If anyone buys it (or even thumbs through it), let me know.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This is Not Your Father's Bass Clarinet

If you're somewhat bored with your current choices in music, you've got to check this out. I don't think I can improve on this description from The Clarinet:

Becoming a fan of Edmund Welles is a process: first there is shock, followed by confusion, interest, and eventually infatuation. Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet...defies expectations and shatters preconceived ideas of chamber music, invoking images of heavy metal and medieval occultism. This could be the musical child of Led Zeppelin, Spinal Tap, and David Lynch, in the form of a bass clarinet quartet.

I know, I know, you can't get past the photo. Well, click on some of their audio clips, close your eyes and experience something really unique. (If you want more, go here.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Escape from the Deep (NF 2008) - Alex Kershaw

In October, 1944, the U.S. Navy submarine Tang was on her fifth Pacific patrol led by Commander Richard O'Kane, a man whose hatred for the enemy was impossible to miss or ignore. He had, after all, sunk over 100,000 tons of Japanese vessels in his previous patrols and was always on the lookout for more. That October, O'Kane indeed found more, but at a great cost.

On October 24, the U.S.S. Tang found herself in the Formosa Strait surrounded by a convoy of Japanese vessels. Although O'Kane torpedoed some of the ships, one of the Tang's torpedoes misfired and struck itself, sending the sub and it's 87-man crew to the bottom of the South China Sea.

But the story's just beginning. Kershaw's gripping account, gathered mainly from the survivors themselves, takes the reader from the frantic moments when the crew realized their fate to the successful escape of a handful of the sailors to their rescue by a Japanese ship to a Japanese torture camp and beyond.

Escape from the Deep never lets up, not for a second. I was hooked from the first paragraph and felt like I never got a good breath until I'd finished the book. Even the person who absolutely hates history in any form will find the book hard to put down. Yes, it's an exciting page-turner and good history, but Escape from the Deep also leaves the reader with thoughts and questions that last beyond the initial excitement of the story: the nature and rules of war, the human capacity for inflicting suffering, concepts of forgiveness, revenge, brotherhood, understanding and survival. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 20, 2008

NOW We're Talking!

Gasoline prices got you depressed? Ruined your vacation plans? Well, forget all about that. What you need is the Bibliochaise, a literal reading chair produced and sold by an Italian company called Nobody & Co. (Go to the upper right for Products, then find Bibliochaise. Click on the chair and cushion to change colors.)

How cool is this? Of course, nowhere on the site does it mention the price. (Never a good sign.) But it looks pretty tempting, huh? Although I think it should probably have a beverage holder somewhere. Maybe you could have a matching end table with a few _____________________________ novels (pick your least favorite author) stacked up with a hole drilled through large enough to house a can or bottle. (Just an idea, Nobody & Co, just in case you're reading.)

In case you're curious, the chair holds about 16 feet of books. (You can also buy a Bibliofootstool that holds a few.) I'd probably put a little bit of everything in mine: short story collections, a few classics, current books, maybe a few reference books. Ah, the possibilities! So what books would you put in your Bibliochaise?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sorry, We're Closed

As many of you know, I've been selling used books online (mostly on Amazon, but some on eBay also) for four years, but as of today, I've shut the business down. With all the library hours I'm getting, plus writing, plus stuff going on at church, I just don't have time anymore. Plus sales had been dropping for some time now. There comes a point at in any business (especially if you're the only employee) where it all but takes over your life. Mine was getting close to that.

If you're thinking about getting rich selling used books on the Internet, I'm here to tell you, its not that easy. First of all, there are tons of people out there selling. If you don't believe me, just go to any Friends of the Library Book Sale and see how many people are using scanners to check how much a book is selling for on Amazon. Go to thrift stores when they're putting books out. Some places just dump a shopping cart full of books into the book room and run to escape the feeding frenzy. It really is brutal.

When I started selling online, a book I read estimated that 50,000 people were selling on Amazon alone. And that was four years ago. Competition is rabid and if you don't keep up, you'll be stuck with a houseful of books you can't unload.

But you can also make some pretty good money if you know what you're doing and know where to get books cheap. If you're good, you don't even need the scanner. I see people all the time whipping out their scanners checking every single book in a thrift store. Those people waste a lot of time because they don't know what they're looking for. I didn't buy winners every time, but I had a pretty good sense of what to buy and what not to buy.

There were a lot of headaches, but it was also a lot of fun, especially the hunt. You really never know what you'll find. I came across several signed first editions, several collectible books and some books so rare I've never been able to find any information on them anywhere.

And I've found some weird things in weird places. While walking my dog, I once found a military book on treating injuries during battle. I found it in a doggie poopie station. (Nothing else was in there; I checked.) Got $50 for it.

People always ask if I've ever found money inside a book. Yes. I once found $220 dollars in cash inside a book.

I've found bookmarks, airplane boarding passes, candy wrappers, library slips, greeting cards and photos. I even found one photo of a dead woman in a casket.

The oldest book I ever found was an Arthur Conan Doyle book printed in 1895, which really isn't that old.

The most I ever got for a single book was $365 for an extremely technical book on (I believe) particle acceleration.

One of the more interesting titles I've run across is Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas Spanning 50,000 Years by Phyllis Siefker. (I never sold it, but plan to read it one day.)

The books I've seen the most (and are completely worthless for reselling): A Civil Action, What to Expect When You're Expecting, The Firm.

Mostly it was a lot of fun, but I'm glad it's over. Real glad.

Monday, June 16, 2008

It's a Busy Monday, So Here You Go...

It may not look like much of an innovation right now, but check out the new hydrogen car from Honda.

However, in the case of The Fall, looks may be everything. Take a look at the stunning trailer. Plus any movie that uses the second movement from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony has to have some redeeming value.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Twilight Zone Graphic Novels

For all you old-school kids who remember the original series, Walker Books for Young Readers is coming out with graphic novel editions of The Twilight Zone. Two of the original first season episodes, Walking Distance and The After Hours go on sale September 16, 2008. Another Zone classic, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, will be released on December 23, 2008, just in time to make it to your stocking. I really hope these turn out to be good productions. I'm not familiar with the artist Dove McHargue and it's hard to tell much from the covers, but at $9.95 each, I'm guessing the inside pages will be in B&W. Anyway, I think it's pretty cool to see the Zone in a new incarnation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Living with Books: The Biography of Andy Wolverton

Okay, I admit it. I take great, voyeuristic pleasure in looking at the way other people display their books. (Sick, I know.) I guess that's why Living with Books by Alan Powers is such a treasure.

I love everything about the book: the photos, the ideas it gives you for creative storage solutions and even diagrams. (Although I've been told by Cindy that there's no way I'm allowed to build the staircase bookshelves on page 51.) This may not be a book you'll want to purchase (but then again, maybe it is), but it's lots of fun to look at. See if your local library has it. Get some ideas, go nuts. Just save enough room on those stairs so you can walk.

New Kid in Town...or on the desk, anyway

Ah, the first post from our new 20" 2.66GHz, 320GB hard drive iMac! So far everything is absolutely wonderful! More later after lots of exploration.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal by Mal Peet

You hear a lot these days that YA books are flying off the shelves and they are, but what a lot of people fail to realize is that a huge number of adults are reading YA. Apparently many grownups have become frustrated with adult fiction and just want "a good story," something that keeps the pages turning and wraps up nicely at the end. That's not to say that it has to be simple. It can be well-written, intellectually and emotionally satisfying, challenging, creative, descriptive, effective, powerful and still appeal to both YAs and adults. Tamar is one of those novels.

The odd thing about Tamar (and possibly a selling point for adults) is that most of the book is not written from a teenage point of view. William Hyde, a former WWII British undercover operative in Holland, has apparently committed suicide in 1995, fifty years after the end of the war. Before his death, he leaves a box for his 15-year-old granddaughter Tamar (also Hyde's code name in WWII). Inside, Tamar finds maps, coded messages, photos and other seemingly unrelated objects from her grandfather's past. Slowly she begins to unravel the mystery of why her grandfather, a war hero who helped liberate Holland from the Nazis, would kill himself.

Again, most of the book is told from the point of view of either Hyde or his partner Dart (both not much older than young adults themselves) as they parachute into Holland and work undercover, trying to send messages to the Allies while avoiding detection by the Nazis. Peet does a masterful job of linking the past with the present without falling into the traps and cliches of a multitude of wartime novels. The writing is fresh, the details vivid and the characters multi-dimensional. Highly recommended for YA and adults.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Actually Glad It's Monday...

Man, what a weekend, which thankfully ended this morning at 1:00AM when Cindy and I finally made it home from Chicago. Thanks to the fiendly skies of United, we missed our 10:30 (yes, that would be AM) flight, were unable to get on any Baltimore flight, eventually got on a flight to Philadelphia (but first had to wait in line for 54 other flights to take off before ours), rented a car and drove from Philadelphia to the Baltimore airport where our luggage awaited us (from a standby flight that we'd missed). Total wasted time: 12 hours. No airports in my immediate future, thank you. And thanks, United, for laying off even more employees who probably could have gotten us (and everyone else headed to Baltimore) on our way on time.

Anyway, enough of that. Our visit with our new niece Alex was very good, as was the Printers Row Book Fair, where I picked up a few books, including a signed copy S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders.

More later after a little time in recovery.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

May Books Read

Not a bad month for reading, ten books: four YA/J-Fic, three non-fiction, two short story collections and only one novel (but it was a huge one). Although they're not included in my yearly count, I'm now also keeping up with graphic novels at the end of the post. So here we go:

The Bush Tragedy (NF 2008) - Jacob Weisberg
Believe it or not, author Jacob Weisberg (editor-in-chief of Slate) does not have an ax to grind with The Bush Tragedy, even though he freely admits the failure of the George W. Bush presidency is a foregone conclusion. He's more interested in a serious examination of Bush's motivations than in bashing the 43rd president.

Before you laugh out loud at Weisberg's comparisons between Bush and Shakespeare's Henry V, thinking that the book's title should be The Bush Comedy, read just a few pages about George W.'s competition with his father George H.W. Bush and consider the son's eagerness in trying to avoid the father's mistakes (especially during the Gulf War). Then consider how a hard-drinking, low-ambition Yale student got religion, orchestrated a campaign that landed him in Austin, and mounted an unlikely run for the White House.

What really drives Bush? The sibling rivalry with his brother Jeb? His religious convictions? Or the advice of members of his inner circle such as Dick Cheney, whom Weisberg calls the most powerful vice-president in the history of the United States?

The Bush Tragedy is a fascinating read, regardless of your political affiliation.

The Last Lecture (NF 2008) - Randy Pausch
You've probably seen Pausch on Oprah or on YouTube, and if you have, you've only seen part of the story. Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006 and has written a "last lecture" for his students at Carnegie Mellon, but more importantly for his children. This could have been a really sappy, weepy book, but it's filled with humor, courage and insight.

Sunstroke and Other Stories (2007) - Tessa Hadley
I've already discussed this book here, but I can safely say this collection was the month's most satisfying fiction experience. Highly recommended.

The Talisman (1984) - Stephen King and Peter Straub
I read this book over 20 years ago and was captivated by it. (Back then it was the first encounter I'd had with Straub and was responsible for my reading some of his mid-80s novels like Koko and Mystery.) When I saw it on audiobook at the library (all 24 discs), I thought I'd revisit it. It's still a very good story and quite an epic, but I doubt I'll read it again or the sequel Black House.

This is What I Did: (YA 2007) - Ann Dee Ellis
Eighth grader Logan Palorey has just moved to a different part of town, which means a new school and new friends. But a new environment can't change the terrible thing Logan witnessed several weeks ago, an incident involving his best friend Zyler. Logan is tight-lipped about the whole thing. His parents want to help but don't know how, his brothers could care less and all the kids at his new school think he's a freak. All, that is, except an odd girl named Laurel who wants to change her name to Laral because she loves palindromes.

Logan's mom suggests going to see a counselor. Logan's dad suggests Boy Scouts. Logan has his own idea: trying out for the school musical Peter Pan. (After all, Laurel's in the musical.) Each of these three situations provides learning experiences for Logan, but none of them turn out to be quite what he expected.

This is What I Did: reminded me a lot of the Laurie Halse Anderson novel Speak, another book about a troubled teen who doesn't want to talk to anyone. This is What I Did: is a quicker read with more humor, but it's definitely not a "light" version of Speak for boys. It packs a real punch and a satisfying ending.

Unaccustomed Earth (2008) - Jhumpa Lahiri
It seems that everybody is on the Jhumpa Lahiri bandwagon. I mean, it's pretty big news when a literary short story collection lands at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. But I have to tell you, I'm not on the bandwagon.

Lahiri is a fine writer and often creates interesting situations between and among generations of families who have immigrated from India to America. The title story about a father visiting his Americanized daughter after the mother's death was both touching and memorable, but all of the stories follow the same themes of family, clash of cultures, etc. For me, there's just not enough at stake for the characters, not enough conflict and tension. It's not that I expect bodies to fly through windows in every story, but something has to happen. For me it mostly didn't.

Bird Lake Moon (J-Fic 2008) - Kevin Henkes
A book that might get overlooked due to a weak title and an unappealing cover. Two boys meet at a lake one summer, one dealing with the separation of his parents, the other dealing with the death of a brother. Probably best for ages 8-12.

Burger Wuss (YA 1999) - M.T. Anderson
Another exceptional work from my favorite YA writer, M.T. Anderson. Some thoughts on the book here.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (NF 2003)
How did the 2002 Oakland A's baseball team manage such an impressive record with a player payroll that's near the bottom of Major League Baseball? (And 2002 wasn't the first or last time it happened.) How does general manager Billy Beane defy conventional scouting wisdom, find players no one else wants and turn them into indispensable parts of highly functioning unit? The story itself is fascinating, yet so are the stories-within-the-story of young players who were ignored by scouting reports until Beane discovered them. If you've ever wondered just how baseball scouting, statistics and drafts work (or don't work), Moneyball is for you.

Sunrise Over Fallujah (YA 2008) - Walter Dean Myers
This one's a real toss-up for me. On the one hand, Myers has done a great job of showing teens the utter confusion and hopelessness of a war fought by soldiers caught up in the midst of something they just don't understand. But I thought the language was watered down and the characters not as fully fleshed out as they could've been.


Marvels (1994/2004) - Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross
Beautifully painted art combined with a well-thought premise: the world of Marvel Superheroes from the viewpoint of ordinary people. Some excellent moments. This hardcover anniversary edition includes an enormous amount of drafts, scripts and sketches (about half of the book's 400 pages) which had limited appeal to me. This new edition at 248 pages may be the way to go for more casual readers.

Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel (2000) – Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyke
Recommended to me by my friend Kangas, this graphic novel combines stark black and white artwork with photographs to tell the story of Eliot Ness, fresh from his victory over Al Capone, as he tackles crime in Cleveland in 1935. Things get a lot tougher when a serial killer begins decapitating and dismembering his victims throughout the city. Grim and brutal, but good storytelling.

That's it for May. Now go and read something.