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Ode to a Book: The Bibliophile Defends the Printed Page, Sort Of

The world is changing. In the last hundred years we’ve moved from the industrial age to the technological age. And now our technology upgrades so rapidly gadgets are obsolete almost as soon as they hit the market–a smaller, faster, cheaper version out as soon as you get the original. It leaves me wondering if there are any remaining constants, any traditions that transcend generations and gadgets.

Mostly, I don’t mind the techno-encroachment and the convenience it brings. But there is one place where the rapid demise of tradition makes me wince–the bookstore.

E-readers are exploding onto the market. These sleek tablet computers let you travel with an entire library, but take up no more space than a single book. They allow you to purchase new reading material anywhere you can find a wifi connection. E-readers and digital books are the wave of the future and I understand their  practicality and appeal, but I’m reluctant to give up the joy of cracking the binding and smelling the paper of a traditional printed book.

More than a feeling.

I grew up loving books, largely because I’m a night person. Like a lot of little kids, I didn’t want to go to bed. I was absolutely certain fascinating, exciting things happened as soon as I closed my eyes. So, I tried to push back my bedtime with bedtime stories. Maybe you did that too, begging your mom or dad for another book before going to sleep, one more story while they held you close and read words you could recite by heart, and all the while you’re rubbing your eyes and fighting off sleep.

Now that I have a niece, I’m rediscovering that same cozy, bedtime-story feeling. Baby Girl, now a toddler, loves her books. Once, I carried her too close to the bookshelf and she tried to launch all 21 pounds of herself at the shelf like a flying squirrel. When she wants a book, she’s gotta have her book–now. Her current favorite is Heads, written and illustrated by Matthew Van Fleet. It’s a book for babies and toddlers, complete with thick, easy to turn pages, different textures for her to touch, and tabs that she can push or pull to see the images on the page move.

Since Baby Girl started walking she doesn’t like sitting still or being held, there’s just too much for her to see and do. But sometimes, for book time, she puts that aside to sit on a lap, be cuddled, and turn pages. And in that moment I get to share something with that 21st century digital kid that I did when I was her age.

When I was little my favorite picture book was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz. I loved that book and I still do. There’s something strangely comforting in knowing that bad days can happen to anyone, even in Australia. In college, I wrote a column in the school paper about my distress over losing my copy of Alexander. Not long after reading that, a friend found me a replacement copy at a garage sale. This book is slightly battered and dog-eared with a bluish splotch on the cover that could either be fossilized gum or paint, I’m not sure. And yet, I like it even better for knowing it was read, and that sticky, little fingers turned the pages while someone read the familiar words aloud.

Bibliophile unplugged.

Packing for a trip requires at least three different power cords and chargers nowadays. I can’t tell you how tired I get of making sure to plug in, well, everything. It’s almost nice to have at least one thing that I know will work no matter how long ago I put it down and that makes a printed paperback more relaxing for me. And, as an ever-so-slightly clutzy person, I like knowing that if a book slides off my bed or gets bumped off a table or falls in the bathtub (that happened with my copy of The Great Brain), I can still read it.

Tradition.

And, it isn’t just the joy of the books themselves, it’s also the traditions I have with them. Browsing used bookstores is a habit that ranks just slightly below a compulsion for me. Armed with a list of the authors and books I’m looking for, I hunt the aisles. It’s like being in a Humane Society for books, all of them sitting there just waiting for a good home. While I know it’s easier to get a digital versions of some of the books I’m looking for, there isn’t that same thrill of the hunt involved with pointing, clicking, and downloading.

Viva la resistance!

My nostalgic love of traditional books has also taken on a slight air of resistance. I don’t like the idea of buying something but not really owning it. Can you resell your e-book after you read it? Share it with a friend? See, I can’t help think that e-books are being promoted by publishers who want to take a chunk out of the used-book market by creating single-use books. Sure an e-book is cheaper than a regular book, but since it can’t be resold everyone who wants to read it has to buy it. You can’t simply finish a book, tell someone you liked it, and then hand your book to the person. With ebooks, you either have to surrender your e-reader to the person for as long as it takes them to read the book, or, and more likely, that person has to buy a copy of the book you’re recommending. The second option is probably what publishers are aiming for, and it functions more like a book lease rather than an outright purchase.

Ode to a disappearing dream.

As a writer I’ve dreamed of having a book-signing. Now, I have to wonder if that’s going to be a dream lost to digital books. How would you even have a book-signing for an e-book? Writing is something of an undervalued skill. Since it is something nearly everyone can do it doesn’t garner a lot of respect. The idea of eventually having people gather to hear me read from my book and then sign copies of it for them helps keep me going. That I might have missed a window that was open for oh, the last few thousand years, is irksome.

I know that no matter what the format, print or digital, stories will still be told. And the story should be the important thing, not the medium. But books and I have spent a lot of good times together over the years and, judging from the state of my over-stuffed bookshelves, we’ll be spending a lot of time together for a while to come.

Who knows, the printed page, like vinyl records and horn-rimmed glasses, could become the new retro. I think I’ll crack a binding or two and try to start a trend. Lower the needle on my turntable on your way out.

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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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Comfort Food for the Bibliophile

I’m staring down a perfect storm of blah this February. Not only did my football team have a lousy season, but their divisional rival is in the Super Bowl. It’s one of the snowiest winters I have ever seen, with drifts that just keep growing—so I promise myself that I won’t leave the house until May. I can’t keep that promise, but the fact that I make it at all is a sign of how fed up I’m getting with winter. Oh, and, not to be left out of the gloom storm, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. That holiday stung me badly two years ago when I was dumped a mere 12 days before Valentine’s Day and left with nothing but my broken heart and the non-refundable ticket that I had purchased so I could see the guy who had dumped me…for Valentine’s Day.

So, with all the doldrums and blah-ness going on, I have decided this is an excellent time to ignore reality and read a good book.

For me, a good mystery is like comfort food, it hits the spot and satisfies my craving. Sometimes I want to branch out and read mysteries by authors I haven’t read before, but when I want a book that won’t disappoint, I turn to books by my tried and true authors. And, I can guarantee myself books by my favorite authors because I stockpile them for just such an occasion. For authors I really like, I try to avoid being completely caught up on their series so that when I need a good mystery by a particular author I don’t have to wait a couple months for his or her next book to come out.

In honor of my comfort food theme, I’ll list books with a food selection. Seems to me that if you need some deep winter comfort, then you might as well go all out.

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander. This fourth book (five in the series) in Alexander’s series of mysteries featuring Lady Emily, takes place in Constantinople during the Victorian age of the British Empire. In the three books prior to this one, Lady Emily has had to content herself to solve murders as a meddling amateur, but now, accompanied by her new husband, she’s an official agent of the British Empire. Her investigations promise to lead her into the lavish world of the Sultan’s harem and extreme danger. Who says the Victorian’s didn’t know how to have a good time? Alexander has become one of my favorites because she manages to make me feel like I learned something new and interesting about Victorian culture without it feeling like a lecture and without sacrificing good storytelling to do so. Snacking suggestion: I think this jaunt to the Orient calls for tea, Turkish delight, and baklava.

Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill. Dr. Siri Paiboun is once again raising some geriatric hell in Cotterill’s fifth book (seven books in the series) about Laos’ National Coroner. It’s the 1970s, disco is taking the rest of the world by storm, while in Laos the new communist government is trying to keep things under control—but they probably don’t know that their National Coroner, Siri, is conducting an exorcism on a possessed pogo stick and preparing for his wedding. It would likely only embarrass the young communist government to find out that their National Coroner is the reincarnation of a powerful Hmong shaman. What I like about this series is that, for as hokey as the idea might seem that this coroner, a man of science, becomes the reincarnation of a powerful shaman and talks to the dead to help solve their mysteries, Cotterill somehow makes it work. He writes about the country of Laos and its people with humor and compassion as they adjust to changes in their government and world. Snacking suggestion: Although not a Laotian dish, Laos is just across the river from Thailand, so I’m craving pad Thai and spring rolls—maybe some iced coffee too.

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall. India’s portly sleuth, Vish Puri returns in Hall’s second book (two in the series). Vish Puri (“Chubby” to his friends and family), is India’s Most Private Investigator, a man who spends most of his days vetting potential spouses for wealthy Indian families, but every so often a unique case comes along that taxes Puri and his team of peculiarly-named professionals. I like how Hall’s protagonist bemoans the erosion of traditional India and Indian values at the hands of modern society and technology, all while he uses modern society and technology to solve his cases and try to uphold traditional Indian values. And, Hall writes as if he genuinely loves India, you can feel the heavy, humid air of the monsoon, smell the saffron, and see the vivid colors of the countryside in his writing. Snacking suggestion: In honor of Chubby, I think samosas and a mango lassi are in order.

Well, you know how I’m going to ride out the winter doldrums and why I’m going to have to spend a lot of time on the treadmill and doing Pilates, samosas will sneak up on you. If you have a favorite author and food pairing to share, I’d love to hear it. One can never have too many good books. Happy hibernating!

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Books

 

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The Bibliophile Gets Her Gift On

It’s upon us once again, the holiday season. I feel like a bad person for the sense of dread that hits me after Thanksgiving, but sometimes the Christmas season feels a little more like a speed drill perpetrated by your least favorite gym teacher who stands on the sidelines eating a cookie while you do wind-sprints, than a season of peace and joy. Just like those wind-sprints, when time is up and the holidays are over I mostly feel exhausted rather than healthy and joyful. So, in an effort to infuse the holiday with some good ju-ju and positive vibrations, your very own Bibliophile will offer up a few book-related gift ideas in the hopes that your holidays will be a little easier.

  • Ode to the gift card. It isn’t the most creative gift out there, but gift cards have the ability to make your life much, much easier. Don’t know which book in the series your favorite booklover has read? Not sure that gloom-cookie teenager is as into the Twilight series as you are? Don’t want to make the mistake of getting your nephew a picture book when you think he might have started reading chapter books? Well, a gift card will take the guesswork out of shopping and allow the people on your list to get exactly what they want. Most major booksellers offer gift cards that can be used in stores or online. The online option is especially handy if the reader on your list has just gotten an eReader like a Kindle or a Nook.
  • eReaders, the wave of the future. I’m not going to be an early adopter for this technology (I have too many gadgets I forget to charge so I’ll stay battery free on books for a bit longer), but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it. Especially for travel, I love the idea of bringing an entire library with me without taking up extra room in my luggage, or being able to get new reading material instantly. In particular, one of my friends raves about how handy her Kindle is for reading magazines. At the moment, Kindle is still the eReader that has the best user rating, but the market is likely to continue to get more competitive.
  • Don’t forget accessories. Bookstores are full of all sorts of book accessories, even more so now with all the eReaders out there. Does your favorite reader like to read at night? Maybe a book light would be a good idea. Does she like to read in bed? She might like a lap desk. Is he always at the bookstore? Give that guy reusable shoppingbag from his favorite bookstore. Grandma can’t find her Nook at the bottom of her purse? A bright pink Nook cover would protect it and help it to stand out from the other stuff in her purse.
  • Gifts that keep on giving. Kind of the way gift cards allow the people on your list to get the gifts they want when they want them, a magazine or book club subscription will give them something to look forward to all year long.

I hope that these gift ideas have given you some inspiration and I welcome any ideas you book fiends might have for how to make shopping easier so Christmas will be full of cheer rather than antidepressants.

Coming soon—a Bibliophile list of mystery writers worth using your gift cards on.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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The Bibliophile Recommends…

Since football season has started, my life hardly seems like my own. I live and breathe Vikings football. When I take a break from the Vikings it’s to set the line-up for my fantasy football team. So, I have been remiss and have neglected to write about things other than football. My bad.

But, somehow, in between all the football stuff that I’ve been reading and writing, I have been reading Eric Clapton’s 2007 autobiography. And, it gets the Bibliophile stamp of approval.

To be perfectly honest, I was kind of afraid to read Clapton’s autobiography when it first came out because I got depressed once reading a biography on John Lennon. By the time I quit reading about Lennon I didn’t like him as much as I had when I started and I did not want to run the risk of that happening with Clapton.

I really like Eric Clapton’s music and I was afraid that if he turned out to be a total prick it would kill the music for me. However, I found a used paperback copy of his autobiography and decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

There’s a big difference between hearing about someone’s life from some random egghead who thought it would make a compelling story and hearing about that person’s life straight from that person. The book is written in such an engaging conversational tone that it almost feels like you’re hanging out at a coffee shop just talking with Eric Clapton. And, while I would feel the temptation to gloss over things that were embarrassing or times when I’m stupid, Clapton feels no such compulsion. He shares his foibles in all their badness along with his achievements. Somehow he manages to convey all this without sounding like he’s glorifying his faults (he did a whole lot of drugs) or bragging about his accomplishments—they just are.

Here are a few interesting things I learned about Clapton from this book:

  • People were already scrawling the graffiti “Clapton is god” on subway walls before he was in Cream.
  • He tried to play, and then abandoned, the violin when he was a kid.
  • Prior to being in Cream when he was in his early 20s, Clapton had already been in a fistful of bands.
  • One of his bands opened for the Beatles.
  • He was in on the Beatles recording of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.
  • John Lennon once paid him for playing a gig by giving him a few pictures—which Clapton has since lost.

If you like Eric Clapton’s music and have ever been curious about his life, I would recommend this book. While sometimes it’s hard to follow because the timeline isn’t always clear and there are so many names thrown at the reader that it can be difficult to keep track of who he’s talking about, the engaging candor with which Clapton writes and the rare glimpse into not only the life of a rock legend, by a person who lived through one of the most exciting times in rock music makes Eric Clapton’s autobiography worth reading.

Clapton:  The Autobiography

Published by Broadway Books 2007

*Hey Purplegrey, this is for you 🙂

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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The Bibliophile Presents: Reading New (To Me) Authors Part 7

It is Monday and slightly overcast. Seems like a good excuse to escape to Egypt, the location of today’s book, a historical mystery set in ancient Egypt during King Tut’s reign.

Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson. Sometimes I wish that when I was in school I had studied Egyptology and archeology instead of writing. Society in ancient Egypt was kind of like a cultural three-way between Hollywood, New York City, and Washington D.C.—there was glitter, high-society, and political backbiting all baking together in scantily clad languor under the desert sun. And Lynda S. Robinson tries to bring that vibrancy and complexity to life in Murder in the Place of Anubis. Sometimes trying to write a detective novel set in another time period can feel clumsy because in the ancient world it seems that if people were suspected of a crime they were swiftly executed just to be on the safe side. But with all the political machinations and manipulations present in Tutankhamun’s reign, an era that saw the reinstatement of all the traditional gods after Akhenaten’s one-god reign, it sort of works. In Murder in the Place of Anubis, Lord Meren, the Pharoah’s Eyes and Ears, is trying to find a murderer who has killed in a holy place. If the killer is not found quickly, the political backlash from the priests of Amun could be enough to endanger the boy king’s throne. Generally, I’m not a fan of characters in period books talking as if they were 21st century people, but despite the occasional use of modern colloquialisms, Robinson’s story manages to succeed more than fail, complete with a conclusion that makes sense. And I’m glad I like Robinson’s writing because I have another of her Egyptian mysteries just waiting to be read.

*Thanks for reading and join me again, probably sometime this week, for my highly subjective summer reading suggestions. Yes, the chance of it including anything from Oprah’s book club is fairly low because she seems to dig depressing books and I don’t.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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The Bibliophile Presents: Reading New (To Me) Authors Part 6

Today’s selection is a cautionary tale for writers and readers alike. A quasi-plausible conclusion to a mystery is not necessarily enough to save a book with weak characters. Readers will tolerate a lot when they are reading about characters that they like, but if the characters don’t hook a reader, well, it doesn’t bode well for the series’ future.

Reservations for Murder by Tim Myers. I wanted to like this book. I really did. It seemed like a cute, cozy premise for a nice, traditional cozy-style mystery. Myers protagonist, Alex Winston, runs a bed-and-breakfast place in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As far as I can tell from the story, he has two outstanding traits: 1) he works very hard to keep his inn going, 2) he’s dated just about every woman in town. In Reservations for Murder, a murder is committed at a craft fair and the sheriff cannot be trusted to follow the evidence to find the killer—clearly he needs the help of a local innkeeper to get the job done. When I finished this book I just felt kind of cold about it because the characters were just kind of rough sketches rather than people you hated or liked. And the setting, this small town that has such a pull on our sleuth that he stays there, merits almost no description from Myers. So at the end of the book, the protagonist caught a killer who honestly didn’t seem capable of killing a guy in the way she did, in a supposedly lovely town that is barely described. I just don’t see myself reading anymore books in this series.

*My next post will be the last one in this series, Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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The Bibliophile Presents: Reading New (To Me) Authors Part 4

There are some suspiciously bright spots in the sky today and I think it might be sunlight. Hard to tell, it has been awhile. Today’s book starts out with a late season snow storm in late 1890s New York City and it’s conclusion happens in a thunderstorm. Makes the book sound a bit melodramatic, and it is (just a smidge), but somehow Victoria Thompson makes it work. Probably helps that she has given the story a likable protagonist and shows that her characters are capable of growth.

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson. When I started reading Murder on Astor Place I was encouraged to see how many books there were in the series for two reasons: 1) if Thompson was a crappy writer the publisher wouldn’t keep publishing her work, and 2) if I liked the book I would have plenty of future reading material. Sarah Brandt, Thompson’s protagonist, is a midwife in late 19th century New York City. In the course of her work as a midwife she runs across a murder and meets Detective Frank Malloy. Sarah and Frank are nothing alike and can barely tolerate each other (she’s a little like a baby-delivering/sleuthing Dolly Levi and he’s a jaded Irish police officer), so, it seems likely that they will eventually fall in love in future books. But for now, they combine forces to solve a crime that takes them into the twisted heart of one of New York’s wealthiest families. Sarah, our midwife and sleuth, is in a unique position to help solve the crime because she too is from one of the wealthiest, most influential old families in New York. With a lesser writer, Sarah Brandt’s choice to forgo her family’s wealth and position for the independence of having her own career would feel contrived, but Thompson gives Sarah a back-story that helps to make Sarah’s choice feel plausible. I liked the main characters and I plan to spend a lot more time with them in the dirty, violent, and class-divided New York of the 1890s.

*Tomorrow we totally ditch the Victorian world and head to present-day Egypt with Will Adams’ book The Alexander Cipher.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle

 

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