Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Books Into Movies

What on earth are they waiting for??

10 BOOKS THAT SHOULD BE TURNED INTO MOVIES - immediately, if not sooner:

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Agent Zigzag by Ben MacIntyre

Blackout by Connie Willis

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

The City and the City by China Mieville

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

The Dreyfus Affair by Peter Lefcourt

Do you agree? Disagree? What books would you like to see turned into movies?

Let's make a deal, if I win the Super-Duper-Gadzooky-Gazillion Dollar Lottery, I'll option one of these books just to get the ball rolling. How's that sound?

Note: I know His Majesty's Dragon was optioned by Peter Jackson, but I haven't heard anything further. And The Dreyfus Affair has been optioned several times but nothing's come of that either. Don't you think that instead of just re-hashing old tv shows into films, Hollywood would pay more attention to the wonderful books that are positively languishing, waiting to be adapted to the screen? I know that not every good book makes a good movie, that's been proven, but my feeling is that most of the time, it's not the book's fault.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Not for Kids Only

A fellow blogger, the very charming and book savvy Wallace over at Unputdownables posted recently about one of her favorite books (and mine), The Library, a splendid picture book by Sarah Stewart and David Small. Stewart is the author, Small (her husband) is the illustrator. This is a book I will eventually be reading to my granddaughter, but I admit I've owned it for years and reread it all the time. Just for myself. For my own enjoyment. Yes, the secret is out: there are adults who enjoy picture book reading. Who knew there were others? Just when you think you might be the only one, along comes another person and soon, I expect, there will be a bunch of us. Oh wait, I mustn't forget my Colorado friend, Jean. (She'd never forgive me if I left her out of this.) She's a school librarian who LOVES to read picture books too. Now there are three of us.

I'm posting today about a few picture books I own and love. Why do I love them? Why should a sophisticated (ahem!) older woman read and enjoy picture books? Why not?There are only two kinds of books: good books and bad books - or so I've always believed. The rest is just window dressing. To paraphrase Maurice Sendak: I don't set out to write books for children. I set out to write books.

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
The Library by Sarah Stewart and David Small
The story of Miss Elizabeth Brown who...
Entered the world
Dropping straight down from the sky.
Elizabeth Brown entered the world
Skinny, nearsighted, and shy.

Elizabeth discovers books very early on and the rest, as they say, is history. The little redhead's
life story is told in Sarah Stewart's delightful rhyming text, enhanced by the wonderfully detailed watercolor illustrations of the well-known artist, David Small. They turn Elizabeth into a person any reader would understand and wished they had met.

The book is dedicated thusly: To the memory of the real Mary Elizabeth Brown, Librarian, Reader, Friend 1920-1991

A Story For Bear by Dennis Haseley and Jim LaMarche
This is a beautifully illustrated tale of a bear who finds a letter in the woods and over time, curious to know more, discovers a summer visitor, a young woman reading in front of her cabin. Unafraid, she reads to him as the bear comes back during the summer to hear more and more of her stories. This is a book that, unaccountably, always brings a tear to my eye. It is the bittersweet charm of the artwork that does it. This is a brilliantly conceived story about a touching and unlikely friendship. The pastel illustrations by Jim LaMarche are unforgettable.

Puss In Boots by Charles Perrault, translated by Malcolm Arther and gorgeously illustrated in paintings by the incomperable Fred Marcellino. I mean, no more, really needs to be said. Marcellino is a master of 'realism' equalled only, perhaps, by Roberto Innocenti. (More about Innocenti, next.) The paintings appear to be done in pastel and pencil, in a totally different style than Jim LaMarche (above) who has a freer hand, but Marcellino's work is just as charming. The detail is amazing. (At first, I thought the illustrations were oil paintings.) The story is set in the 1700s, so there is plenty of opportunity for period detailed costumes, hairdos, carriages and castles. A gorgeous book.

An aside: There was a Puss In Boots doll that went on sale at the same time as the book years ago and I, of course, couldn't resist. There's a picture of my doll above . The doll stands on one of my kitchen shelves. I'm not really a doll collector at all, but I do own this one and a Ramona Quimby doll that I love. She sits on a teapot in my kitchen. What is this with kitchens and dolls? Who knows?

The Last Resort by poet and storyteller, J. Patrick Lewis, illustrations by the one and only, multi-award winning Roberto Innocenti. Very little to say about Innocenti. He is, simply put, a genius. See if you don't agree once you look into the world he's created in this amazing book.

In truth, the book seems a little advanced for very young readers and appears more attuned to the reading experience of the older or adult reader. There are references in the text to Zane Grey, Hans Christian Anderson, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, George Simenon, Emily Dickinson and even, the actor Peter Lorre, among others, plus a kind of visual puzzle at the end to match up authors and characters who appear in the story. It's all about an artist who wakes up one day and finds his imagination has left him. So he sets out on a journey to find it.

The illustrations of that journey and the eventual, imaginative destination are luxuriously detailed in what appears to be watercolor. This is a book for anyone who loves books: reader, writer or artist.

Santa Calls
Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo
The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs
All three of these books were written and illustrated by another incomparable, William Joyce. The irrepressible Joyce has a totally different illustration style and attitude than the previous
artists mentioned. He draws his inspiration from graphics and films done in the 1930s and 40s, even down to the details of clothing worn by the characters. (This is one my favorite things about these particular books.)
Santa Calls is done in a kind of Wizard of Oz style and I can't help thinking of the movie whenever I read Joyce's book. This is the story of Arthur Atchison Aimesworth who along with his little sister Esther, lives in Abilene, Texas with his aunt and uncle who run a Wild West Show and Animal Phantasmagoria. What happens when Art, Esther and Art's best friend Spaulding Littlefeets, a young Comanche brave, set off for Toyland and the North Pole at the request of Santa who has sent them a flying machine, is a complete and total delight, most especially if you are familiar with fantasy movies of the 30s and 40s. (Kids, of course, will enjoy this even without that knowledge.)

The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs
The moody illustrations in this book, to my eye, are more in tune with the 1950s. The story concerns a little old lady and a beautiful garden. When she becomes ill and shows no sign of improving, a mysterious 'long lost toy' in the garden calls the Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs into action to fight off the Spider Queen and her nasty minions and save the day, the garden and the life of the little old lady.

Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo. We're back in what looks like the 1940s. The Lazardo family of Pimlico Hills (along with their bodyguard Jumbu) take a trip every year before the start of baseball season. Travel is adventure. Adventure makes you homesick, and baseball makes everything A-OK, explained Dr. Lazardo.

While in Africa...Scotty Lazardo wandered away from camp and came back with a dinosaur. "Can we keep him?" pleaded Scotty's sisters, Zelda and Velma. "I don't see why not," said Dr. Lazardo.

When the family heads back to N.Y. and home, the dinosaur, named Bob by the children, somehow becomes involved in the opening game of the Pimlico Pirates baseball season and what happens next makes for a funny, richly realized adventure that should make anyone with spirit feel young again. The Lazardo family are the kind of people everyone should know. Besides that, I think William Joyce is one of those people who never grew up (a trait which is very useful for an artist) and it shows in his books. They are simply wonderful tales of adventure for anyone with any hint of imagination.

Night Driving by John Coy, illustrated by Peter McCarty.
This touching, low-key beautifully envisioned story is done in quiet black, gray and white pencil illustrations that evoke the 1940s, early 50's. The scenes pictured take place during a night slowly turning into dawn, as a father and son drive along a two lane highway to a camp in the mountains. That's it. What they see on their drive and their stops along the way make up the gist of this gentle story

Detective LaRue Letters from the Investigation by Mark Teague
Detective Ike LaRue is a dog beautifully conceived by illustrator Teague, a perfectly drawn terrier, a dog to rival any other dog ever drawn, in my opinion. LaRue is on the case when canary burglars strike in Snort City. Already in jail, suspected of having done away with Mrs. Hibbins' cats, LaRue escapes in order to prove his innocence and catch the canary burglars. The story is cleverly told in a series of letters to LaRue's...uh, owner, Mrs. LaRue who is away on vacation, as well as in newspaper articles and headlines. Some of the illustrations are black and white with tone, some in color. They have the depth of acrylic or oil paints, can't tell which. All I can say is that Mark Teague is one of the best illustrators working today and the best illustrator, not only of dogs, but of hilarious cats as well. He captures Mrs. Hibbins' cats' disgruntled faces perfectly.
This is a book for readers who like short, quirky, funny mysteries with great pictures.

So, have I convinced you yet to come over to our side?

Of course there are more books in my little collection, but this is a nice sampling I think.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Good News!

Hi everyone, I've just found out that I've won the artist Catherine Nolin's Beautiful August Giveway - a print of one of her gorgeous paintings. I can't believe my luck. I never have good luck winning anything. This is such amazing news for me. Thank you again and again, Catherine. You know how much I love and admire your paintings.

Here's a link to see Catherine Nolin's brilliant artwork.

Ticket To Ride by Ed Gorman

A couple of thoughts before I begin: I don't like, in my reviews, to give too many actual details about the story, don't like to give too much away. Don't feel it's necessary. This is one reason why some reviews online turn me off. I don't even like to read many details on a book's backcover or flaps. I mean, especially in a mystery. Leave it a mystery - know what I mean? Give me an idea and let it go at that. This is my take on reviewing and what you'll get from me. Oh, and another thing, I will never review a book I truly dislike. I'm just not cut out that way. (In truth I rarely if ever finish books I don't like, so how could I review them honestly?) I also will not review every book I read. Life's too short. Just wanted to make my policy clear before we go too much further.

For whatever reason, I like books set in the 50's and 60's. (I like MAD MEN, too. I worked in a place in the early sixties populated by 'mad men' types, so much so, the series makes me laugh inappropriately sometimes.) Maybe because I was a kid during those years, well, kid into young adult anyway, references to the manners, music and food make me smile. Not that I wish it would all come back, but it's nice to remember - some of it. Of course it all depends on the particular writer and story.

Prolific author Ed Gorman's Sam McCain series is set just then. McCain is a mid-western, small town nebbish trying to get along, a nice enough short guy (he will often tell you about the heartbreak of height) looking to find romance, help his parents (his elderly father is in failing health) and, oh yeah, when he gets the chance: put a few murderers in jail. A not too successful lawyer and investigator (almost by default), McCain works for Judge Esme Anne Whitney, aka Her Most Sacred Excellency, a mover and shaker in the town of Black River Falls, Ohio, where she is high muckymuck and Sam a mere schlep.

The often funny but nasty prejudices of small town society are very well delineated by author Gorman, especially in the interchanges between Sam and the judge and Sam and the intellectually challenged (laughably so) sheriff, Cliffie Sykes. There is a cast of characters, some recurring, some not, who, by turns help to make Sam's life a heaven or hell. There are many laugh out loud moments, and some not so much. Each book is a good balance of drama and comedy (especially in Sam's wisecracks and observations of small town life), underscored by dark undercurrents swirling beneath the surface.

The series is ten books old now, each title bearing the name of a song from that era. Beginning with the first book: The Day the Music Died which takes place during the aftermath of the death, in a plane crash, of rock music icon Buddy Holly. Some of the other titles are: Wake Up Little Susie, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (some of us believe this is the greatest rock and roll song ever written), Save the Last Dance For Me, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, well, you get the idea. I've read them all and can recommend them, some more highly than others. But on the whole, this is a terrific series, probably not as well known as it should be. Gorman has the knack for making small town particularities come to life in a very humorous way.

There are two kinds of relationships that get the most attention in Black River Falls. Divorces and the dissolution of business partnerships. The first is always juicier, because most of the time there is an extra lover involved. You get to scorn somebody and feel morally superior. That's hard to beat.

Business partner break-ups rarely involve sex, but they do sometimes involve extralegal activities such as fraud and embezzlement. Even without breasts and trysts being mentioned, such nefarious business practices can get pretty interesting. Three years ago, two men who owned the same bar got into a fight after hours, and one killed the other with a tire iron. That's not as good as the high-school teacher who impregnated one of his students her senior year, but it'll do on a slow night.

I've just finished the very latest Sam McCain book, Ticket to Ride. This one takes place in 1965, so time has been marching on in McCain's world. The Vietnam War is at its height. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones rule the airwaves, boys in long hair are the bete noire of every school administration. Sam's number has not been called yet, but it's in the mix. He and some of his friends are members of a war protest group, reviled by most of the town. Things get out of hand one evening when at a planned protest, Lou Bennett, a well-to-do man whose son was killed fighting in Vietnam the year before, grabs the mike and throws the non-violent rally into chaos.

When later that night Bennett is murdered, the suspected killer seems all too obvious - the guy who'd fought with Bennett at the rally, onstage for all to see. A couple of more murders follow as McCain is once more caught up in the search for a killer, all the time trying to retain his honor and his sense of who he is. McCain grows on you from book to book and you find yourself hoping for the best for him.

These murderous slices of quirky small town life (always told in the first person, my favorite point of view) are not-to-be-missed. Not even if you have no real idea what life was like back then.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Special Reading Place

When you're at home - where do you read? Do you have a special spot or just flop down anywhere? Is the book the thing? Does comfort count? I know, I know - duh! Are you fussy? Do you need certain things at hand? A cup of tea? Coffee? A water bottle? Glass of wine? A sandwich? A cookie? A sleeping cat? A dog snoring gently near by? Music? None of the above?

If you could design your own ideal reading place, how would it look? Where would it be? Inside or out? Front porch or back? Sofa, chair or bed? If a chair, what kind? If a sofa, what kind? Does it matter? Yeah, it does to me. When you get to a certrain age, your bones do protest very much.

I tend to read at the kitchen table (see post below), though occasionally because I have a slobby gene, this results in a spattered book and more laundry for me. My second reading place is the white wicker sofa-chair you see above in my living room. Occasionally I read in bed or on the porch. But wherever I read, my dog Rocky is nearby, usually snoring softly. If you've never heard a chihuahua snore, you don't know what cute is. I like 'cute'. It is not distracting at all.

(Painting at the very top of this post is the work of fabulous artist, Deborah DeWit Marchant.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reading While Eating, Pasta

Experienced readers know the foods they shouldn't eat while reading. Don't have to tell you what they are. Here's a hint: spaghetti with thick sauce = disaster. Have you ever brought a book home from the library only to find the middle pages stained with greasy, bright orange smears of sauce? I know, say no more.

This is not going to be a treatise on foods you should or should not eat while reading (although that might be a good idea for a post later on - I'm always looking for topics), I'm just looking to tie in my pasta recipe which has been requested by a few friends, and my blog.

Here's my take on pasta salad: It's easy to eat, you only have to make it about once every three or so days, and it rarely splatters your book pages. You can fork this salad without looking, keeping your eyes focused on the printed page as you go and something interesting is bound to turn up in your mouth. And,best of all, you don't have to stop to deal with a knife. ,

I rarely measure with exact accuracy so I'll use handful and about and leave it up to your own cook's instincts to know what I mean. Paula Deen I am not. Also, this is a vegetarian salad (well, except for the bacon bits which I almost always forget) but I suppose you could add chopped chicken or turkey if you were so inclined.


One box of Rotini Pasta. (Any brand.)

Salt and pepper to taste.

One red pepper, roughly or finely chopped - up to you.

One green pepper, roughly or finely chopped - up to you.
(Obviously you could use a yellow or orange pepper as well. Whatever is on sale is fine. I like a nice mix of colors.)

One bunch of scallions, chopped. Use some of the green too. You could also use a smallish onion instead, if you like.

Half a pound (more or less - I usually like more, but then I'm an olive freak) of pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped. I wouldn't use jarred olives. Though I suppose those green jarred olives stuffed with pimentos would be all right. Wouldn't taste the same though.

About six or more of those sweet red peppers you find at most olive bars. I don't know what they're called, maybe tomato peppers? Anyway, they look like cherry tomatoes but they're mostly hollow except for a few seeds. I love them. Chop these nicely.

A handful of fresh flat leafed parsley, chopped roughly or fine. I love parsley so I don't mind a rough chop, I eat it either way.

About a cup of cubed cheese - cubed small. I like herb and garlic flavored white cheddar, but it's up to you. (Cabot makes a good one.) I suppose you could use tofu if you were so inclined.

About 1 1/2 oz. (more or less, depending on taste) of ready-to-use julienne cut sun dried tomatoes. You could julienne any size dried tomato of course, but why bother? No need to soak them at all, they'll soften in the salad.

A handful or two of any small bite-size veggie. I used frozen corn kernels yesterday. Just whacked them in the micro then left them to cool, but you could use peas or any chopped vegetable you like.

Bacon bits. I like to make my own, can't stand the store bought kind - they go wimpy. But I usually forget this ingredient and the salad turns out great anyway. So, it's up to you.

Salad dressing. I use about half of a smallish bottle of Ken's Tableside Caesar dressing. But of course, you could make your own or use diet dressing.

Two tablespoons or less of mayonnaise. I suppose if you were on a diet, you could use two tablespoons of plain low fat yogurt and it would be all right. Maybe I'll try that one of these days.


Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. (Firm to the bite.)

Immediately rinse under cold water to cool down the pasta and stop the cooking. Set aside to cool to room temperature if you have the patience.

Meanwhile, chop the rest of the ingredients. (Or you could do this while the pasta is cooking.)

Mix everything (except the bacon bits) together in a big bowl, tasting and adding as you go along. It's always easier to add than take away.

Toss several times to make sure of a nice mix. Top with more parsley and the bacon bits if you have them.

Refrigerate for two hours or overnight.

Fetch your book, set the table with flowers for a civilized touch, serve a big helping of salad, add a glass of wine or whatever, and there you are.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

History Tidbit #2

John Buchan, author of one of the most famous and fabulous spy thrillers of all time, The 39 Steps, was born today in Perth, Scotland. Date: 1875.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Buchan!
To read more about John Buchan, click here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Read 'Em Their Rights!

Quentin Blake is a master of the kind of illustration that looks easy but is damn hard to get right. I love his work. Love this poster. Love the content - readers gotta' have rights - right? Lots of love going on here. Daniel Pennac's book, The Rights of Readers was first published in 1992 then retranslated from the French in 2008 with a forward and illustrations by Blake. Thanks to Book Browse for the info.

To read the poster, click on picture for larger view.

Embarassment of Riches

Today is a day when I wish there was a way for me to read six books at once. I always think there must be a feasible way to do this. I mean, how hard could it be? Or am I wishing for the impossible? Let's see, three propped on my left hand, three propped on my right. I could read straight across, jumping from book to book. It should only drive me moderately crazy - right?

Tell you why I'm so antsy. I got my hands on three books I've been reading about here and there - older books which somehow, I missed the first time around and now, for whatever reason, I'm suddenly in the mood to read. BUT and it's a MAJOR hurdle of a BUT, I'm already reading three other books. What to do?

The three books I'm talking about (the ones that arrived in today's mail) are: Thou Shell of Death (1936) by Nicholas Blake.(Who was really British Poet Laureate Cecil Day Lewis - the father of actor Daniel Day Lewis.) Les over at Classic Mysteries made this book, the second in the Nigel Strangeways mysteries, sound so good I'm having trouble not turning to the front page immediately and to heck with everything else.

Then there's The Message of the Mute Dog (1942) A Jane Amanda Edwards story, by Charlotte Murray Russell. Listen to this from the back page: Nazi saboteurs watch out! Spinster sleuth Jane Amanda Edwards is going to war. I mean, who could resist that?? Not me. It also quotes: Perhaps the mother of today's cozy." The Mystery Reader. Les talked up this book as well over on Classic Mysteries. And by the way these are two books I'd NEVER heard of before. Yikes! Obviously this is a one of those situations that has to be rectified immediately, if not sooner. I could be run over by a bus tomorrow.

The third book is my own discovery, Shadow of A Broken Man (1977) by George Chesbro. Read about this in They Died In Vain, Overlooked, Under appreciated and Forgotten Mystery Novels, edited by Jim Huang. It too sounds like a winner. I mean, a dwarf who's a private eye. Give me a break, of course I have to read this - especially after a rave recommendation.

Faced with such temptation - what is a sane person to do?

If you look to the left on my sidebar, you'll see I'm currently reading three other books. Can't really drop them because I'm enjoying them, besides, it wouldn't be kosher. Of course, if I wasn't liking them I'd drop them like hot potatoes.

What a dilemma!

I'm torn betwixt and between.

Stay tuned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bruno - Chief of Police by Martin Walker

I think this book, the first in a relatively new series, may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Can't remember exactly where I read the recommendation, all I know is the title was new to me, though published in 2008. Alas, I seem to be out of the loop on a lot of books lately, what with one thing and another. Well, anyway, the book sounded intriguing, went for it and made a delightful discovery.

Bruno - Chief of Police is the story of Benoit Courreges, nicknamed Bruno, the very French, very charming (though stalwart) lone police officer of the rural village of St. Denis in the historic Dordogne area of France. Bruno is a veteran of the tragedies of the Bosnian war, happy to have found his peaceful niche. Village life agrees with him - the rhythm of the countryside agrees with him.

Bruno probably kissed a hundred women and shook the hands of at least as many men each market-day morning. First this morning was Fat Jeanne, as the schoolboys called her. The French, who are more attuned to the magnificent mysteries of womanhood than most, may be the only people in the world to treasure the concept of the jolie laide, the plain or even ugly woman who is so well at ease in herself and so cheerful in her soul that she becomes lovely. Fat Jeanne was a jolie laide of some fifty years, almost perfectly spherical in shape. The old brown leather satchel in which she collected the modest fees that each stallholder paid for the privilege of selling in the market of St. Denis thumped heavily against Bruno's thigh as Jeanne, squealing with pleasure to see him, turned with surprising speed and proffered her cheeks to be kissed in ritual greeting. Then she gave him a fresh strawberry from Madame Verniet's stall, and Bruno broke away to kiss the roguish old farmer's widow on both wizened cheeks in greeting.

Author Martin Walker (who lives in the southwest of France part of the year) seems to take pleasure in revealing the delights of small town French life where, apparently, brutal crime is something that takes place far away in another time and place.

But when a truly horrendous murder disrupts the routine of the village and captures the glare of the press and the entire country, Bruno knows that life in St. Denis may never be the same again. The victim is an elderly Arab veteran, a recipient of the Croix de Guerre and grandfather to a well liked, long established local family. At first labeled a 'hate crime' by the authorities from Paris who descend on the village, it becomes apparent to Bruno fairly soon that the hate involved may instead be an ugly remnant from a time most Frenchmen would rather forget: the dark, treacherous days of WWII.

They went back into the room that looked like a slaughterhouse and was beginning to smell like one. The firemen were clearing up the equipment and the room kept flaring with light as a gendarme took photos. Karim kept his eyes firmly away from his grandfather's corpse and pointed to the wall by the side of the fireplace. There were two nails in the wall but nothing hanging on either one.

"It's gone," Karim said, shaking his head. "That's where he kept it. He said he was saving it to give to his first grandson. The medal's gone. And the photo."

"What photo?" Bruno asked.

Author Martin Walker has fashioned a quietly paced yet gripping thriller, a roman policier which bares the heart and often secretive soul of small town village life. And in Bruno he has created an intelligent, charming, in many ways typically French, hero who may grow to equal the great Maigret in fame and acumen. If you love France, dream about France, long to visit (as I do) or have visited often and have plans to go back (lucky you), then this book is for you. It's also for you if you just like a gripping tale of vengeance and murder peppered with good food and drink.

The second in the series, The Dark Vineyard (A Mystery of the French Countryside) is already available and as I said, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

History Tidbits

Today is a daily-double day. Well, double birthday, anyway. Dorothy Parker satirical author, social critic, screenwriter, poet and sharp-eyed, smart mouth, of men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses fame, was born in West End, New Jersey. Date: 1893. She turned 70 in 1963 and quipped, "If I had any decency I'd be dead. Most of my friends are."

Science fiction great, author Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451) was also born today. In Waukegan, Ill. Date: 1920. "Librarians raised me. I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college so I went to the library three days a week for ten years." It worked for him.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Parker and Mr. Bradbury.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

More Pocket Books

This time from Rebound Designs at etsy. (Isn't etsy just the greatest place to find quirky, inventive stuff?) I especially like the Nancy Drew purses. And the designer makes paperback wallets. Custom orders too, natch. Very cool.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Forgotten Friday

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Friedrich Nietzsche

I've discovered that some book blogs use Friday as a day to remind readers of 'forgotten' books deserving of more than just a desultory look the first time around. What with so much being published all the time, so much to read and so little time to really play catch-up, it's often easy enough to overlook a good book lost in the shuffle of time. I posted earlier about some other forgotten books and listed some of my favorites then (you can check the Older Posts if you like, for They Died in Vain), but when I learned of 'Forgotten Friday' I liked the idea and thought I'd join in. I'm not sure if I have to officially notify anyone, but if I do, I'll figure it out. In the meantime, here's my 'forgotten' nominee for today, Friday, August 20th.

The Eye of the Abyss by the inimitable Marshall Browne. (Published in 2002 by Thomas Dunne Books.)

Perhaps because Browne is an Australian writer he is not as well known as he should be in this country and that's really too bad. He needs some sort of publicity machine to spread the word near and far. It's not only that his books are not well known, but he seems to disappear in between the writing of them. That simply won't do.

I am extremely fond of Browne's very well reviewed and received, Inspector Anders series: The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders (and isn't that one of the greatest titles of any book ever?), Inspector Anders and the Ship of Fools and Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta. (This last one is not available in the U.S. far as I can tell, though it was published in 2006.) This is a series set in Italy and, in my opinion, is on par with the more famous author Donna Leon's books and though only three titles in so far, I wish it were just as well known.

I'd thought Browne's brilliant novel, Eye of the Abyss, set in 1938 Germany, was a stand-alone, but it turns out that a sequel, The Iron Heart, featuring Franz Schmidt, the 'hero' of the first book, was published in 2009. I've checked around but it doesn't seem to be available here.

Anyway, let's talk about Eye of the Abyss for now and hope for the best for those other two titles. In a way, this is an odd sort of book mainly because it features a banker as the main protagonist - a profession which would hardly inspire visions of the heroic ideal. Especially since the banker in question is a meek German whose main job is to move the Third Reich's money around. But hero he does become.

Quietly and unobtrusively, accountant Franz Schmidt begins to see the light (there are several allusions to 'seeing' in the book but I won't spoil it by revealing the reason why) as he's drawn, in spite of himself, into a plot to throw a spanner into the Nazis' well-oiled monetary machine. Urged by the obsequious manager of the bank to 'look the other way' as all the rest of Germany is doing in the wake of the Nazi ascendancy, Schmidt at first, does just that. Soon though, he is driven to defy the edict that has ruled his life and begins to view his self-satisfaction from a different angle.

It's 'the how' of Schmidt's determined conversion (once he realizes that there are only two sides: good and evil) that grabs the imagination. Here is a man who is the epitome of the 'go along to get along' type and yet, when fate calls upon him, he delivers. It is author Browne's deft touch and perfect understanding of his own creation, that makes all this believable.

Part of this story of the blossoming of a man's soul, concerns Schmidt's perilous attempt to help a Jewish woman. She is the very self-possessed Fraulein Dressler, working in his office. When Dietrich, an officious Nazi official takes charge of the bank, the personnel files are inspected for suspected Jews. Fraulein Dressler qualifies.

Schmidt is a married man but his 'conversion' also involves his growing feelings for the woman. There is a decided erotic element to their furtive dealings as well as the spectre of heartbreaking suspense as Schmidt realizes that helping her may be beyond his capabilities.

But he aims to try and to that end, hatches a desperate plan. Meanwhile Dietrich, the Nazi official, singles Schmidt out for attention as Schmidt's appearance of imperturbability intrigues him. There is one darkly funny scene that almost defies description when Dietrich invites Schmidt for a drink and then, much to Schmidt's disbelief, tries to seduce him. (He is a middle-aged accountant for God's sake!) 

How Schmidt becomes the 'hero' of his own life is an intriguing and in some ways, terrifying, tale worth reading and remembering.


"...Science flourishes where art and free speech flourish."

I've written about this book before in an earlier post, so I won't have much to say (oh dear yes, I probably will, can't seem to help myself) about it now that I've finally finished it. Well, after all it was over 900 pages long (my reading speed seems to be slowing down in my old lady years) and I did stop to read a couple of other things in between as I often do with books the size of hippos, stop to take a break, I mean. Also, I've almost run out of superlatives to describe Neal Stephenson's endeavor.

I will say again that in my view, Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, is a brilliant book written by a master of words and ideas. His style is immediately approachable even if some of the time you might not, specifically, know what he's talking about - that would be the math equation parts and the computer-ese parts for me - though I skimmed them nicely with intent.

Basically this is the fantastic story of a band of brilliant men tied together by an era, a war and history. Their stories jump back and forth in time between WWII, Bletchley Park, the ingenious coterie of men who broke the Nazi Enigma code to help the Allies win the war, and the late 1990's when the descendants of some of these men are involved in a trust-no-one plot for control of an enormous stash of gold buried in the Phillipine jungles by the Japanese, not to mention a dash to the finish line for control of a world-wide Internet banking scheme. Phew! A large part of the story concentrates on the rudimentary beginnings of computers and includes some real life characters, i.e. the cryptanalyst and genius, Alan Turing. General Douglas MacArthur (of I will return! fame) also gets his novelized moments in the sun in the latter part of the book. Despite being caught up in the brutal horrors of war, the story often turns hilarious, mostly because of Stephenson's way with words and the personality quirks of his engaging characters. The time jumps made for a bit of confusion at first, but I soon got used to it and almost immediately became invested in the sometimes maze-like twists and turns of this incredible novel.

All I can say is, I am not a computer geek though I imagine if you are a geek and are into all that that implies you might enjoy the book a bit more than I did, but maybe not. I am not math whiz either and I still loved this book and consider it now, as Nancy Pearl, librarian extraordinaire does, one of my very favorites of all time. Thank you Nancy for recommending Neal Stephenson in your wonderful anthology, More Book Lust.

To learn about Neal Stephenson, here's a link to an earlier interview done a few years ago on the eve of the trade paperback publication of Cryptonomicon. And here's a link to an interview in which Stephenson speaks of another enormous undertaking, The Baroque Trilogy. I haven't read those yet, but to be sure, they are on my tbr list once I work up my reading stamina again. This guy is a world unto himself.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fashion Iris

Since I seem to be in a magical frame of mind lately, let's talk about the wonderfully iconoclastic and influential fashion idol Iris Apfel. She is 88 and calls herself a "...geriatric starlet..." reveling in a sense of humor about herself and her brilliantly vivid, outrageous style. She has been featured in Vogue, the NY Times style pages and blown up larger than life-size in the fashion foward windows of New York's Barney's Department Store. She is the darling of the fashion intelligensia and rightly so. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute had an exhibition of her various collections, culled from her closets and she is the flamboyant object of Eric Boman's book, Rare Bird of Fashion, The Irreverent Iris Apfel. She is, in a word, amazing. (An over-used word which in this instance, applies perfectly.) Sometimes when I dress for some occasion or other, I think: what would Iris wear? I wish I had her fashion nerve. Maybe when I grow up.

To learn more about Iris Apfel, check here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Magical, Mystery Tour

These are the sorts of collectible elements that drive me crazy with design lust. If I could I would swoop down and buy just about everything in these photos and use each and every item to outfit the huge library that lives in my imagination. Anything leftover I'd use in every other room in the mythical house of my dreams. In reality I do collect these sorts of things but on a much, much smaller scale. (Don't have the room for the larger stuff or I'd probably run amok.)

The use of color here resembles some of my own color choices. Hence, I felt an instant kinship with these gorgeous accessories from Design Legacy, an exhibitor at the New York International Gift Fair at the Jacob Javits Center. The show ended today and I must thank the Habitually Chic blog for posting these photos, all by designer/blogger/photographer Heather Clawson. I actually gasped when I came across them, lost my breath. I love everything in these exhibits. Check out the rest of the photos on Heather's blog.

Now this is my idea of magical, wonderful, gorgeous, over-the-top, colorful stuff that can make a house, a studio, an office, a special place. Special to me and my tastes, I mean. I know it's not for everyone, but it is certainly for me. These are the kinds of things I would want to have around me all the time. That way I couldn't help but feel a little like Alice in Wonderland everytime I entered the house. I could live with that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dragon Tattoo Casting News, If You Care

All the news seems to be about the ripe plum casting of Daniel Craig as Michael Blomkvist in the best selling suspense trilogy by Stieg Larsson, which appears to have finalized just days ago.
Then today's news of the casting of the actress to play Lisbeth Salander (known in my head as Salamander), someone named Rooney Mara. Don't know if she's well known or not, but I've never heard of her. Which isn't saying much, I don't seem to have heard of most young actresses today. Sometimes I feel as if I'm in some sort of cultural limbo. A lot of these people look and act indivisibly to me. But that could be because as I get older I'm not seeing things too clearly anymore - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Since I seem to be in the minority in my lack of affection for the Stieg Larsson trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and The Girl Who Played With Fire, I can't claim to be overjoyed at the casting news. But I do like Daniel Craig (to me he is the ultimate James Bond), so I may see the films eventually.

My confession:

I read the first book in the Dragon trilogy, thought it was barely okay and instantly forgot it. The second book I read about half way through and stopped, completely losing interest. The third book I skimmed a bit, but just could not get into it. What is wrong with me? Not much. I just don't have the patience for a lot of this sort of thing, besides I didn't find much of it very interesting.

Though they say the Swedish films based on the books and already in release, are excellent.
(Why there's going to be a second set of films based on exactly the same material, I just don't know. Maybe they surmise that the American public hates reading sub-titles.)

I read somewhere that because of author Stieg Larsson's untimely death, these books should be really viewed as drafts with the draft's usual short-comings. But surely if this is the case, there are brilliant editors out there who could have been pressed into service. This doesn't make for a very compelling excuse for foisting bad books on the public. (Not that the public seems to have noticed.)

I'm in the very minute minority, I know and that's happened to me before. I absolutely loathed the schlock that was The DaVinci Code. But that's another story.

It's not that I'm against blockbusters. I'm just against bad blockbusters. I know there are some other readers out there who didn't like Larsson's books, but we are few and far between. Sometimes it's just easier to go with the flow.
When it comes to that part of the world, I much prefer the books I've read by Hanning Mankell and the Martin Beck books I read years ago by Maj Stowall and Per Wahloo. In fact, if I were a smart publisher, I'd re-issue the Stowall and Wahloo books in nice trade paperbacks right about now. (Just found out that Vintage is, indeed, re-issuing the books. Smart. Harper Perennial brought out trade paperbacks as well. Though when I checked Barnes and Noble and a few other sources, the books didn't show up.)
Maj Stowell is still alive at the age of 75, still writing. You can read a terrfic interview with her done by the Guardian newspaper, here. Thanks to Sarah Weinman at her blog, for the info.