The Shortlist

Today the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced, and I have to say I have mixed feelings, mostly because I was really rooting for a title that didn’t make the list, “The Marlowe Papers” by Ros Barber. Oh well, regardless of my wishes the six titles that did make the list are all strong contenders to win the prize and seem to have pleased the majority of the critics that pontificate on these types of things.


I’ve read three of them, “May We Be Forgiven” by A. M. Homes, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple, and “Bring up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel. Of the three I enjoyed Maria Semple’s book the most because of its humor, and I would love to see something funny win a book prize for a change, but Homes’ book too was terrific with its dark humor and rich story, but I have a feeling Mantel might actually win again.

I don’t want to be mean but I kind of hope she doesn’t win, because even though it was a well written book, I had a devil of time getting through the darn thing, and I LOVE Tudor history. Oh well, good thing I’m not a judge, huh?

I plan on reading the other three titles before the prize is awarded on June 5th, so my opinion might change but I doubt it, and if you haven’t had a chance to read “The Marlowe Papers”,  I highly recommend you give it a go!  It’s a great story, written entirely in verse, about Christopher Marlowe and the truth surrounding his ‘death’, his role as a spy, and that casper milquetoast, Shakespeare.

World Book Night 2013 is almost here!

WBNI am getting pretty stoked about April 23rd 2013, because this year I get to participate in World Book Night! This is the second time that we here in the US get to join our brethren across the pond to giveaway books and pass along our love of reading one paperback at a time. According to their website, last year over a half a million books were distributed in over 5,800 hundred places to light or non-readers.  That’s a lot of pulp, huh?  There are 21 titles and I will be passing out my first choice, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier.

girl with pearl earring

Since I’m new to this I’m still not a 100% sure where I’m distributing my 20 copies. I don’t want to give them all to one organization, and I don’t know how confident I would be standing in a shopping mall, or street corner accosting people with a book, but I have a few ideas swirling around in my noggin and maybe some of my readers could give me a suggestion or two?

I have been thinking about a woman’s shelter near my town, maybe a hospital or a retirement home. But I would like to get this book into a few younger hands as well, so maybe I do go to a shopping area or a coffee shop? I believe I still have some pondering to do!

I’m excited for the experience and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

World Book Night 2013

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013

women's prize for fiction

This is one of my favorite book awards of the year! Formerly known as the Orange Prize for Fiction this international, women’s only literary prize always seems to have several books on the longlist that I have not only read, but that I’ve actually enjoyed and usually has one or two titles that I haven’t heard of but want to pounce on ASAP!

The Longlist for 2013, of the newly titled Women’s Prize for Fiction, was just announced with 20 pretty diverse novels, including Gillian Flynn’s mystery thriller, “Gone Girl”, the controversial “How Should a Person Be?” (is it really a novel since it’s part memoir?) by Sheila Heti, the ever present “Bring up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel, and my personal favorite, “Where’d you go Bernadette?” by Maria Semple.
There are 8 Brits on the list and 7 Americans, so it’s not as as diverse in nationalities as it is in content, 6 first time authors (Bonnie Nadzam, Ros Barber, Shani Boianjiu, Francesca Segal and M L Steadman) and 2 previous winners (Barbara Kingsolver and Zadie Smith).
You can visit the Women’s Prize for Fiction website and get the complete list along with a brief synopsis and author bio.
I think the book I’m most excited to read is “The Marlowe Papers” completely written in verse and in the words of Christopher Marlowe, it sounds truly unique and fascinating. Of course I also want to read a few others! I hope I can get these all read before the short list is announced on April 16th!

“Wool” gathering

I am a reader that usually shies away, okay more like runs away, from a book that everyone is raving about (especially an Oprah pick!), so I don’t think I will ever be reading that mommy porn book that everyone seems to be reading, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t applaud the book and it’s author, E.L. James, for doing something incredible, making us all much more aware of self-published fiction.

It’s truly astounded how James’ trilogy racked up so many sales in such a short period of time. I read somewhere that it sold 25 million copies in four months, compared to Stieg Larsson’s equally infamous publishing sensation, which sold 20 million copies in 4 years! That’s a lot of books!

Even though I’ve heard that these particular novels are not the most well written books of all time, they have certainly struck a chord with readers around the world and brought to everyone’s attention how the internet and self-publishing have increased the amount of available material for us, the lovers of the written word. Readers win, I like that!

What’s great is that somehow readers are ferreting out these stories, giving them a wider readership which in turn gets a publishers attention. It’s a kind of backwards process but it seems to be working!

I honestly wasn’t even aware, until this past year, how many self-published e-books there are for sale on Amazon, and for a very small price too! I’ve read maybe a half a dozen of them and I have to say they were all pretty darn good. There are probably more punctuation and grammatical errors than from a book that’s been looked over by an editor, but if you can ignore that and just enjoy the story I think you will be in for a treat.Wool

The newest self-publishing phenomenon is, “Wool” by Hugh Howey, an american author, who spent his lunch hours at his day job writing fiction. He self published these stories on Amazon and in the fall of 2011 found himself at the top of the Amazon science fiction best-selling list with, “Wool”, a 50 page novella.  With his readers demanding more, he continued to add installments to the “Wool” series, and it is now selling as a 5 part omnibus on the site. The phenomenon continues to grow with the series being optioned by Ridley Scott for a potential movie, and the publication of a hardback version by Random House coming out in England in January 2013 and an American publication sometime later in the year.

I’ve read part one and really enjoyed it, and it did leave me wanting to read more, so I’ve downloaded the omnibus as well!  I’ve just recently listened to a podcast featuring Howey, and he is of course pleased and amazed with his recent success, and has been able to quit his day job!

He also said that his other self-published stories are now selling like hotcakes, and that if he had gone the traditional publishing route his own success story would be much different. Howey said he never spent his time and energy sending out manuscripts to publishers and networking, he instead put all of his efforts into creating, and as a result he already has a lot of material on the internet for readers to buy without going through the usual slow process of conventional publishing.

So with publishers being cautious about spending money these days on an unknown name, the internet seems to be helping them find the next sensation without having to do much of the work. And for those of us, like myself, who are just learning to embrace the e-reader I guess we have to give credit where credit is due and thank them for giving us some new voices that might otherwise have been lost!

Here is the link to the Guardian Books Podcast if your interesting in listening.

Downton Abbey actor ~ handsome, talented and a writer!

There is a fan frenzy currently going on in America and it’s focus is on “Downton Abbey”. I’m not sure why this particular drama has caused such a stir when for years we have been the lucky recipients of so many other great British dramas, comedies and detective series on our PBS and BBC America stations but it has.

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I really enjoyed the first season because it put me in mind of two of my favorite shows, “Gosford Park”, another Julian Fellowes creation, and “Manor House”, a kind of Edwardian, “Upstairs Downstairs” reality show, but the two subsequent seasons just seem  too “soapy” and the writing has fallen way off. Of course that hasn’t stopped me from watching it mind you!

Today I learned something new about one of the most popular characters/actors on the show, Matthew Crawley/Dan Stevens.  Apparently the 28 year is not only a talented actor but is a gifted writer as well. He studied English Literature at Cambridge and has recently started a literary magazine called, The Junket. This article on the NBC news website talks about Stevens’ decision to start this quarterly magazine to help him get over his procrastination and get down to writing regularly.  He and four of his Cambridge friends originally were writing a blog, but decided this literary magazine venture would force them to be a bit more proactive and not dilly dally so much (this is my phrase not his!).

Matthew Crawley

The first edition came out in October and apparently they have been overwhelmed with submissions, due greatly in part to Stevens’ growing popularity. He was even appointed to the panel of judges for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and has signed up for next year’s judging as well. As the article pointed out, he has added “a large dose of glamour to the award”. 

I already liked him for his portrayal of Matthew Crawley, but I’ve gained even more respect for him because of his love of literature. No wonder he is so much smarter than Lord Granville, this explains a lot!

The Schoolmaster’s Assistant aka a new (old) smelly book!

Even though I am a semi-hoarder (okay a card carrying hoarder) of old smelly books, I just can’t stop visiting the websites of my favorite sellers who fuel this addiction! So, a few months ago I stumbled upon, bid and bought this little beauty,

‘The Schoolmaster’s Assistant, being a Compendium of Arithmetic both Practical and Theoretical’ ~ 1797 by Rev. Thomas Dilworth

This book is not pristine by any means, but it is very interesting and very old. I did a little research, and it turns out that this was a very popular math book in Great Britain and America during the mid to late 18th century.  It was apparently brought to Boston by English Schoolmasters and used before, during, and after the Revolutionary War.

Rev. Thomas Dilworth was an English cleric and schoolmaster who not only authored this mathematics book, but was also the author of a popular literacy textbook, “A New Guide to the English Tongue”, that was known to be used and owned by Noah Webster as well as Abraham Lincoln.

After this book’s preface, which is really a letter to the schoolmasters who will teach from this book, there is an essay written by Dilworth entitled, ‘On the Education of Youth, and Essay’. It is humbly dedicated to the consideration of parents.  In this letter he writes about the importance of an education and then he lists some specific instructions (or as he says, some particulars) to the parents about their responsibility in making sure the education given to their children by the schoolmasters has not gone to waste. I am not a teacher, but I’m sure that modern-day educators would totally agree with Dilworth’s “particulars” today!

I will paraphrase (a lot) but here is what he says about education and parents:

1. Constant attendance at school is necessary for a good education.
2. Parent’s should not let their commands go counter to the masters.
3. Parent’s should be aware of their own children’s defects and not expect more out of them than they are capable of mastering.
4. Children should be aware of the scandal in telling a lie.
5. Injustice against their fellow classmates is not allowed.
6. Immoderate anger and a desire for revenge should not be tolerated at home or school.
7. Don’t believe everything your child says about what’s happening at school.
8. They must get used to the little hardships at school to improve their learning.
9. Children aren’t always taught the same friendship, peace and harmony at home that they are taught at school.

I doubt if teachers today can be as forthright with their students’ parents as Dilworth was back in the 1700’s!

But the last few paragraphs of this essay really astounded me and made me really like Rev. Dilworth. He concluded his essay with his thoughts on the “fair sex” which I have included here in its entirety:

While I am speaking of the education of children I hope I shall be forgiven if I drop a word or two relating to the fair sex — It is a general remark that they are so unhappy as seldom to be found either to spell, write, or cypher well : and the reason is very obvious, because they do not stay at their writing schools long enough. A year’s education in -writing is, by many, thought enough for girls, and by others it is thought time enough to put them to it, when they are eighteen or twenty years of age, whereas by sad experience, both these are found to be the one too short a time, and the other too late. The first is a time too short, because, when they are taken from the writing school they generally forget what they learnt, for want of practice : and the other too late because then they are apt to look too forward, imagine all things will come of themselves without any trouble, and think they can learn a great deal in a little time ; and when they find they cannot compass their ends as soon as they would, then a very little difficulty discourages them : and hence it is that adult persons seldom improve in the first principles of learning as fast as younger ones. For a proof of this, I ap peal to every woman, whether I am just in my sentiments or not. The woman who has had a liberal education this way, knows the advantages that arise from a ready use of the pen ; and the woman who has learnt little or nothing of it, cannot but lament the want of it. Girls therefore ought tobe put to the writing school as early as boys, and continued in it as long, and then it may reasonably, be expected that both sex es should be alike ready with their pen. But for want of this, how often do we see women, when left to shift for themselves in the melancholy state of widowhood, (and what woman knows that she shall not be left in the like situation ?) obli ged to leave their business to the management of others, sometimes to their great loss, and sometimes to their utter ruin ; when, on the contrary, had they been ready at their pen, could spell well, and understand figures, they might not only have saved themselves from ruin, but perhaps have been mistresses of good fortunes. Hence then may be drawn the following, but most natural conclusion, “

A man ahead of his time it seems!

There are so many things I love about handling these great old books, the great old covers, the old timey printing, and of course the school boy graffiti!



Happy Birthday to Edgar Allan Poe

Carte de Visite of Edgar Allan Poe

The first author I can ever remember labeling as “one of my favorite authors” was Edgar Allan Poe. I had an enthusiastic 7th grade teacher that loved his worked and her love for him rubbed off on me and as a result I devoured his writings.  It also didn’t hurt that one of my favorite film actors at the time was the delightfully macabre Vincent Price.

I had three favorites among Mr. Price’s numerous film and television credits, House of Wax (1953), House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), two of which were Poe stories adapted for the screen.

They were so frightening that I can remember having to cover my eyes with my hands and peak through my fingers, while curled up in a ball on my living room sofa….and this was on a sunny Saturday afternoon!

While I read his stories and poems when I was younger, I didn’t learn too much about Poe himself until I was much older. His life was so sad and his death was fittingly mysterious and it breaks my heart that he only attained success after his life had ended.

Today you can find Poe’s work and influence everywhere. His detective C. Auguste Dupin, from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, inspired future fictional detectives including a pretty famous one, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Poe is also credited with single-handedly inventing the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery!

So today I think I will reread a few of his short stories and poems to celebrate his birthday, which luckily for all of us are available online in e-book form for free! Check out either Amazon or Project Gutenberg for a free download.

And if you liked to read a great fictionalized book about Mr. Poe may I recommend “The Pale Blue Eye” by Louis Bayard.


A Library with no books? What will they think of next?

It was only a couple of days ago that I was posting about physical books being added to hotels and today I read about a public library that will have no physical books on it’s non-existent shelves…nada, nil, none!

The Bexar County Library System in Texas, which includes the city of San Antonio, has just  authorized a project to create the first paperless public library system in the United States. That’s right paperless! The BiblioTech project (why didn’t they just call it iLibrary) is to be launched this fall with the opening of their first branch on the south side of San Antonio at a cost of $1.5 million bucks. bookless library

As the picture here shows, the resemblance is quite similar to an Apple store and according to the news release will allow its patrons access to 10,000 titles. The building will also include study and meeting rooms, as well as take home e-readers.

I’m confused on whether this is a total county-wide effort or not. In one article it led me to believe that it was system wide, but in another it said that it would be an enhancement.  Whatever it is, it is certainly unique!

Of course the checking out of e-readers and e-books is nothing new, as my own public library does that, but to have no paper copies of books seems like lunacy. Well at least to me! Besides the fact that not all publishers allow libraries to purchase their e-books, there is the matter of educating the public on reading electronically. It takes a lot more staff to teach someone how to operate technology than it does to just peruse a shelf and pick out something interesting to read. Heck at our library it’s hard to get the public to even use the automatic check out machines, they would rather wait in a long line than learn how to do it themselves. It will be very interesting to continue following this story and to see what the patrons of the Bexar County Library system think about it!

What do you think?

There’s a great little video on the My San Antonio website about the new paperless library if you’d like to take a look.