Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Jeeves, Pooh, “The Boys” and me

Monday, October 19th, 2020

Don’t get me wrong.  I am delighted that Timberland Library is up and running and even more delighted that they are being mindful to the max — not allowing us inside, quarantining books, double-checking our card numbers. But, when the wait for a book turns into weeks rather than days, I have to revert to our home library which at this point in the Time of Sheltering is getting to be Old News.

Nevertheless, last night, in a bit of desperation, I grabbed a P.G. Wodehouse book — Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves and found it was “just the t.” as Bertie Wooster might say.  Like A.A. Milne’s Pooh books and G.M. Ford’s Leo Waterman series with its improbable cast of wino operatives known as “The Boys,” Jeeves and Bertie never cease to amuse and amaze — no matter how many re-reads they get.

As peculiar as it seems, all these authors ring the same bell for me.  They take a look at human character through an unfamiliar lens and remind me that whatever my own problems are, they are pretty puny (and boring) in the great scheme of things.  And even better right now, they encourage me to look at our own lives in their current situation as a bizarre and improbable story.  I can’t help but wonder if it were in book form, who would claim authorship.  It certainly wouldn’t be my choice for bedtime reading.

 

The Best Book EVER!

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Front Cover

I stayed up until the midnight hour (late for me) last night reading the Author’s Notes and Acknowledgements at the end of Daniel Silva’s latest book, The Order. The protagonist, who Silva admits shares many of his own traits, is legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon and the setting is, for the second time in the series, the Vatican City.

Of the 21 books Gabriel Allon books, I consider it the best yet.  Making such a judgement is not done lightly.  This book is not only topical, but combines current, historical and fictitious information into a seamless whole — a thriller/espionage book that will leave you with questions (and even some answers) that you had never before considered.

Back Cover

I plan to read it again and would have begun it this morning except that it is Nyel’s turn.  I hope he powers through it so I can re-read it and get it back to the library before our two weeks are up!  Meanwhile, I  will order a few of the dozens of books that Silva “consulted” while writing The Order — beginning with Pontius Pilot by Ann Wroe.  I can’t think of a better opportunity, during this Sheltering Time, to being learning more about a topic I’ve always “taken for granted.”

Meanwhile, if you haven’t read The Order, I highly recommend it.  But, if you haven’t read any of the Gabriel Allon series, I suggest you hold off on this one until you have read the first twenty… in order!

 

Aw shucks! I missed it!

Monday, October 5th, 2020

Banned

I guess I’ve been so occupied with other affronts to the thinking public that I entirely missed Banned Book Week which was September 27th – October 3rd this year.  Promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International, and celebrating the freedom to read,  the last week in September has marked this observance since 1982.

Apparently, anyone can nominate a botok for banning, but this is most often done by parents or librarians.  (Say what?  Presumably they are not members of the American Librarry Association.  Go figure.)

The process for banning a book seems all too easy.
First: Someone files a complaint with the library regarding a certain book. Within their complaint, they must specify what they found offensive or why they are filing the complaint.
Second:  A committee or board reviews the challenged book to determine if the claim is substantial or unfounded.
Third:  Depending on the verdict of the committee or board, the book is either banned or removed from the library, or is left on the shelves.

The “battle of the book” can escalate to an actual court room where a judge will decide the book’s fate. If one party disagrees with this decision, they can fight to get the verdict overturned in a higher court of law. This fight can potentially escalate all the way up to the Supreme Court, where they will issue a final verdict that cannot be challenged again.
The list of the ten most frequently banned books includes:
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Banned

I am happy to say that I have read all of these books, some of them many times over.  Not only that, but I highly recommend all of them and to anyone who is old enought to read them with understanding and to sustain their interest throughout.  I don’t believe you can put parameters on the ability to think and to reason.

Plus, of course, it amuses me to think that, for many of us, knowing that a book has been “banned” is the ultimate challenge to read it!

 

 

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Betwixt and Between

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

So, now that the library is open, we are back to the waiting game.  Only worse.  The books that were on hold for us in March are again making their way through the list of waiting patrons, but the books we were reading to tide us over are long since finished and returned.  So, I’m still reading from our bookshelves here in Oysterville.

Right now, it’s Life In A Medieval Castle by Joseph & Frances Gies (1974) complete with many photographs and diagrams showing towers and guardhouses, baileys and barbicans and all that good stuff.  Probably my dad’s.  I’m interested in the construction methods and designs only because I’ve visited many of the castles and/or ruins that are described.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke
By Kjetilbjørnsrud, CC

What interests me more are the stories of those who lived in those castles.  Take John Marshal who, in the chronicles of 12th century England won mention as “a limb of hell and the root of all evil.”  Among his other ‘accomplishments:’ during a battle he hid out in the bell tower of a burning church and, despite the lead of the tower roof melting and a drop splashing on his face and putting out an eye, he refused to surrender.

Later, having made good his escape, he was prevailed upon to hand over his young son William to the king as a hostage against a possible act of treachery during a truce.  John went ahead, committed the treachery and when King Stephen threatened to hang young William unless John surrendered his castle, John cooly replied that he did not care if his son were hanged, since he had “the anvils and hammer with which to forge still better sons.”  Yikes!

Magna Carta, 1215

Luckily (probably for us all), young William’s “cheerful innocence” as he was led to the hanging grounds won the King’s heart and the child was spared.  He grew up with his father’s “soldierly prowess but without his rascally character” to become one of the most distinguished of all the lords of Chepstow Castle and the most renowned knight of his time.  According to the authors, “He served King Richard and then King John for many years and played a leading — perhaps the leading — role in negotiating the Magna Carta.”  And I’m only on page 36!

It’s always nice to know how really difficult periods of time turned out.  We can only hope that we are still around to see how our own siege is resolved.  Who will be the William Marshal of our time?

 

Hooray for Timberland Library!

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

I am SO glad the library is open once more.  Finally, we are beginning to receive books that we’ve had on order since before its closure in March.  Right off the bat we were notified that Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley had come in.  I took no time in going to collect it and found the new pick-up system slick as a whistle.

As for the book — the jury is out, but I’m only seven chapters in.  It came highly recommended by the same friend who sent me Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens — a book that went racing to the top of my all-time favorites.  Right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and 84 Charing Cross Road .  For starters.

So far, though, Sweetness at the Bottom… is a little dark for my tastes.  It centers on an eleven-year-old girl who, so far, I don’t find very believable or engaging but perhaps she will grow on me.  She certainly has been a hit with other readers; this is the first in the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series which now numbers ten, or possibly eleven, volumes.  As I say, my personal jury is out.

With the library closed these last months,  I’ve bought a few books, though I’ve tried not to.  One thing this house doesn’t need is more books!  And, I find that once I have a book, it is really difficult to let it go — even when giving it to a good friend.  On the plus side of that reluctance, however,  I’ve revisited some old friends lately.  I highly recommend the Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series by Sharan Newman.  Like the Brother Cadfael Chronicles by Edith Pargeter, the LeVendeur stories take place in the 12th century, but in France rather than in England.  If you delve in, do read them in order…

Oysterville: Twixt Hamlet and Tref?

Monday, June 8th, 2020

“The Summer of the Danes”

I’m re-reading Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael Chronicles — or at least the few that we have on our shelves left over from our bookstore days.  As it happens, we are also watching the old Masterpiece Theater Cadfael series right now.  The books are infinitely better.

It’s our first viewing of the TV series and, in some ways,  it might as well be my first reading of the books.  It’s been at least 30 years since I’ve picked one up and I’ve forgotten most of the plots — but not the characters and certainly not the twelfth century world of Brother Cadfael.

The series is “okay,” but the books are glorious.  It’s the  liberal usage of medieval vocabulary and the cadence of the language that make all the difference.    English author Ellis Peters (nom de plume of Edith Mary Pargeter, 1913 – 1995) was a master of both.  Her published works cover many categories, especially history and historical fiction, and she was also honored for her translations of Czech classics.  I don’t know how her expertise with the Czech language might have related to her ear for medieval English, but somehow it must.

The Brother Cadfael Series

Currently I’m reading The Summer of the Danes and from the get-go I am enthralled.  Right away, on the first page of Chapter One, my eye was caught by this phrase:  …and the laity from the princes of North Wales down to the humblest cottagers in the trefs of Arfon.  Trefs??  What in the world is a tref?  A valley, perhaps?  Or in medieval-speak, maybe a dale?

So, I looked it up.  Said Merriam-Webster:  a group or area acting as a single community as regards cattle and plowing, constituting a taxable unit, and consisting typically of nine houses, one plow, one oven, one churn, one cat, one cock, and one herdsman.

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael

OMG!  Not a landform at all!  And now I know that Oysterville is somewhere between a hamlet (100 to 150 people) and a tref!  In the definition of tref, of course, is the implication that those nine households do a lot of sharing.  I’m not sure that we could find that many people here willing to share an oven and never mind the plow or churn or cat.  The cock, of course is long gone.  We’ll have to find one for sale (or barter?) — perhaps in the nearby hamlet of Nahcotta.

 

Leave It To Maggie!

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

The Perfect Answer to Current Conditions!

Yesterday I received “A Special Message from Maggie.”  Maybe you did, too, if you are lucky enough to be on Maggie Stuckey’s mailing list.  And, if you are even luckier and count Maggie as your friend, her message will delight you but not surprise you in the least!

She begins her message this way:  There has never been a better time to plant a vegetable garden.  It’s the Maggiest sentence ever!  At once it underlines her concern for our present situation — the pandemic and consequent sheltering — and combines two of her passions– food and gardening.  Right off the bat:  Maggie, the quintessential nurturer!

Her message concerns her 2002 book (with Rose Marie Nichols McGee), Bountiful Container, which can help get even the neophyte gardener started on “a small garden plot or a few containers jam-packed with veggies.”  Apparently, the book is unavailable right now and Maggie is offering to fill the void from her own private stash.

Maggie’s Other “Must Have” Book!

You, too, can get a personalized, autographed copy directly from Maggie. To find out how, go to: http://maggiestuckey.com/maggie-stuckey-author/the-bountiful-container/ I don’t know how many she has on hand, but my suggestion is: get ’em while they last!

In our house, the spin-off to Maggie’s book offer has been a serious discussion about having a cement patio poure in the area we jokingly refer to as “the kitchen garden” in order to make it wheelchair friendly.  A few containers out there at the proper height for Nyel would go a long way to satisfying his gardening itch.  The project is under serious investigation, thanks to our friend Maggie-the-Nurturer!

P is for… Pleased as Punch!

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

Yesterday at our weekly Community Historians gathering, the class was devoted to the early history of Pacific County government.  It’s a topic that we’ve only touched upon lightly over the years — almost “in passing” you might say.  So, last fall when we were planning the sessions for 2020 (our 8th year!), I suggested that we devote one of our 2020 sessions to the beginnings of our county.

So it was that class members gathered around tables in “the little conference room” at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum yesterday for a read-aloud experience using my 2004 book, K is for Kidnapping the County Seat – The A-B-Cs of Early Government in Pacific County, Washington.  I think there were eighteen of us but (of course!) I didn’t think to take a picture which might have corroborated that impression.

It took about an hour and a half to read through the book, each of us reading a page in turn.  I had provided sticky-notes for people to use for marking pages or points they’d like to discuss afterwards — so we wouldn’t get sidetracked during the reading.

From my viewpoint it went very well.  We spent the rest of our time (about twenty minutes) discussing points that people had “marked” —  in particular, specifics about early Donation Land Claims, the  changes in the distribution of our population over the years, and how improvements in transportation have affected the location of the county seat.

I came home feeling  elated — not just because I thought the class session was successful.  Far, far beyond that!  I felt totally gratified that I had witnessed, first-hand, this book being read (and enjoyed!) by a group of adults interested in our local history.  That was my intent in writing it, but in retrospect I have realized that I should never have packaged it as an A-B-C book.

As I explained to yesterday’s class,  from the get-go, my A-B-C series were written specifically for adults who want a basic overview of a subject. Whether it be O is for Oysters or C is for Papa Train or any of the other nine titles in the series, these books were NOT written for children.  A glance at the concepts and vocabulary should be the first clue.  They were written for people who want some factual information about our history — whether it be an industry or an event — but who don’t have time or inclination to read a more definitive treatment.

Nevertheless, I have been unable to convince booksellers or the buying public that A-B-Cs can mean “nuts and bolts” about a subject… that A-B-C books are not necessarily meant for Kindergartners.  Maybe if I had named the series something like “Information for Dummies” they’d have had a better reception among my target audience.  You know what they say about hindsight…

P.S.  Lest you think I’m name-calling potential readers, I want to point out that a very successful series on basic information about a variety of subjects had “Dummies” in the title.  Hence my reference.

I can put it down but… do I really want to?

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was recommended to me by several people after I expressed delight with Where the Crawdads Sing.  I wonder why.  What did they see in this book that reminded them of the other one?  And why don’t I see it?

It’s not that I dislike the book.  Quite the contrary.  But I don’t see much similarity between it and Where the Crawdads Sing.  I am finding Book Woman scary and depressing on just about every level.  But super informative.  And not that I don’t love the concept of women on horseback delivering books to those who would otherwise have no opportunities to read or to learn or to expand their horizons.

But this book covers so much more — extreme poverty, terrifying prejudice, and ignorance of unimaginable proportions.  It’s a horrifying story made more so by it’s proximity to truth.  Mind you, I’ve not finished the book yet, and I may find that it redeems itself, but so far…

And yet… I cannot return it to the library unfinished.  It seems that with each turn of the page there is a new reveal. Like this:

Nester Rylie’s been reading it, and she told me in passing last year, she ain’t rubbed groundhog brains on her babies’ sore teeth or needed to use the hen innards on the gums of her teething ones since.  An after she’d read about a good paste recipe that cured thrush, Nester said, none of her nine young’uns ain’t ever had to drink water from a stranger’s shoe again to get the healing.

More than anything, I wonder what my friends saw in the one book that reminded them of the other.  And I wondered what I am missing.  Come to think of it, though, that’s the best part about expanding our horizons — no two of us end up in exactly the same place,

I’m not sure I’m recommending this book.  But maybe…

Once Again… The Last To Know!

Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Now Available in Hardcover

Rodney Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect” came to mind yesterday, but in somewhat altered form.  The voice in my head said, “Why am I always the last to know?” Last or not, though, the news absolutely delighted me.  Five of my six books published through Arcadia Publishing are now available through Amazon in hardcover!!  Who’d a thunk it!

Now Available in Hardcover

I learned this is a most convoluted fashion.  I’d been out yesterday morning and when I returned home Nyel said that Jim Pells had dropped off a book that he’d like to have me sign — a hardcover edition of my Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula.  “Hardcover!” (Did I raise my voice?)  “How did that happen?  Where did he get it?  Why is the author the last to know?” (Was I shouting?)  Apparently, the book was a late Christmas present to Jim sent by his daughter.

Now Available in Hardcover

It probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to anyone else, but every author knows that a hardcover edition is infinitely preferable to a paperback, for longevity alone.  But most authors, unless their books are expected to do very well, have to accept the inevitability of paper covers.  Especially books about a local area as small as ours with a limited selling potential.

Now Available in Hardcover

I called Arcadia and talked with a representative in their Customer Service Department.  “No, we don’t ever publish in hardcover,” I was told.  “But sometimes Amazon or Ingram (a wholesale book distributor) do.”  So I went online and looked up my books on Amazon…  Sure enough!  Five of my six Arcadia titles (all except Legendary Locals of the Long Beach Peninsula) are now being offered in hardcover versions.  More expensive, to be sure, but worth every extra penny in my mind.

Now Available in Hardcover

I have no idea what their criteria for going hardcover might be.  I’d like to think that it’s because those particular books are selling well, but if that’s the case, my six-month royalty checks (still in the single or low double digits) aren’t reflecting any huge stampede by the reading public.  I am thrilled nonetheless and so grateful to Jim for asking for my autograph.  Otherwise, I’m sure I’d still not know.

And, oh yes… I immediately ordered the five that are in hardback!!  They’ll be here next week!