Thursday, June 14, 2018

Don't Look Now

Don't Look Now: Stories by Daphne Du Maurier

Look what came across the donation table!  I grabbed it up (it will go back later) and had a lot of fun reading this collection of creepy stories.

"Don't Look Now" is the first story and takes place in Venice.  It is weird, the ending is completely not what I expected, and I got a fun kick out of it.

OK, probably everybody knew that Du Maurier wrote the original story for "The Birds."  I did not, and I didn't even really look at the title, so I got partway through and had a revelation all of a sudden.  This story is a good deal scarier than the movie, so pick it up sometime.

There are ghost stories, alternate universe stories, and creepy murder mysteries.  I particularly liked "The Blue Lenses," which could have been a Twilight Zone episode, and the final story, "Monte Verita," would have made a movie once upon a time.

A very worthwhile collection for those who like this sort of nicely creepy thing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Enquire Within -- Summer Book 2

The Pocket Enquire Within: A Guide to the Niceties and Necessities of Victorian Domestic Life, ed.

by George Armstrong

Once upon a time, in 1856, a general book of knowledge, mostly domestic, was published under the delightful title Enquire Within Upon Everything.  It continued in print for over a hundred years and over a hundred editions!  My mom gave me this "pocket" version, containing the most interesting and entertaining parts of the original 1856 edition, for Christmas.  It's a fun book to dip into!

Chapters deal with such topics as housekeeping, home remedies, family life, and entertaining.  And wow, I learned a lot!  The Enquire Within people were very big on leeches, for example.  My first clue was a piece on "how often to change the water in which leeches are kept," which as you'll note, implies that keeping leeches is not unusual.  The medical section then has lots of information on leeches, including how to use them (be careful when applying them to the gums, as they are apt to creep down the throat), care for them, and even use a leech to make a barometer.

There were other topics besides leeches, though.  The editors consider flour to be a better burn remedy than butter, and explain exactly why (actually, it doesn't sound too unreasonable for 1856).   There are quite a few recipes, some of which sound pretty good, though I don't know how to tell if I have a "clear oven" or a "slack oven."  And there's a whole section on spelling, grammar, and diction for those wishing to study it.

They advise everyone to learn to swim, and give a good method for getting started -- walk out until you're up to your chest, then turn around and throw an egg into an area where you'll have to dive for it.  I'm pretty impressed; 50 years later, even the Fabian E. Nesbit obviously considered swimming to be mainly for boys.  There is also good advice for floating instead of drowning, though our usual dead-man's float doesn't seem to have been invented yet.

I must say, the ingredients often sound enchanting.  Remedies call for flowers of sulphur, wine of colchicum, and all sorts of lovely things.  Whatever Muscovy glass is, I would like some.

It's a practical book, aimed at the middle classes but with an eye to working-class people as well (though if you need to write a letter to the Queen, you can).  It's just a perfect example of the Victorian spirit of morality and practicality mixed with as much sentimental poetry as possible.  Personally I don't mind the moralizing; I can always use a reminder to yield not the golden bracelet of Principle while I live.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Detroit -- Summer Book 1

Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff

I've been meaning to read this for years, and it turned out better than I anticipated!  I hardly put it down for the day it took me to read it.  I originally heard of the book from my non-fiction loving buddy Maphead, who routinely supplies me with titles to put on that ever-growing TBR list.

Charlie LeDuff, journalist, decided to come home to Detroit in hopes of raising his daughter closer to family while simultaneously telling the world about the disintegration of Motor City.  He combines Detroit history with current politics and his own experiences to tell a story of corruption, decline, and loss of hope.  The book was published in 2013, just as Detroit was filing bankruptcy, and it seems that things might possibly be looking up a little bit these days -- let's hope so.

LeDuff keeps public servants, especially firefighters, at the center of his narrative.  Arson is both entertainment and income for some people, and Detroit firefighters are kept constantly busy putting out blazes in abandoned houses, for which they have to use equipment that is falling apart.  When LeDuff followed the paper trails of expenditures for firefighters, he found that millions of tax dollars were simply disappearing into fictional projects.

Detroit has always run on graft and backdoor dealing.  A strong system can withstand a certain amount of cheating, but as far as I can tell, there's a tipping point beyond which a society can no longer function properly.  Detroit passed that long ago, and also lost the industries that supported it.  (A person much more knowledgeable than I am might be able to compare with Chicago, which has a lot of corruption but still manages to function, if not very well, because it still has a lot of wealth and more diverse industries.)  The jobs disappeared and were not replaced, unless you count various forms of crime.

LeDuff also talks a lot about Detroit and race, which I knew virtually nothing about.  I knew that Detroit has a very large black population, of course, and I had rather had the impression that the factories there had fueled a rise in the black middle class, but I was not correct.  LeDuff explains that Detroit replicated a lot of segregationist rules, restricting black people to the lowest of jobs and to particular (very overcrowded) neighborhoods.  There was also a lot of rioting that I didn't know about.  So I learned a lot there.

Some years ago I read a book about global poverty that showed that a single-industry country is too precarious for survival.  Diversifying is the key to prosperity; if you only have one thing, most people will still be poor and that one thing will be fought over.  Diamond mines are a classic example, but I think Detroit qualifies too.  It was pretty much a single-industry city, and now that's just about gone.  There was nothing to fall back on.

This is a gripping story, and one I knew almost nothing about.  It's also -- as you might expect -- a very gritty book.  It could hardly be otherwise. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Bulgarian Literature Month, or, Jean writes a guest post

June is Bulgarian Literature Month!  Thomas of My Two Stotinki has hosted events in June before, and this year he is hosting an entire month of posts at the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, which is an organization literature in libraries!  I've been following them for quite some time, so when Thomas put out a call for people to review Bulgarian books, I was both excited and very intimidated.  I took a deep breath and volunteered to read and review Everything Happens As It Does.

Take a look and read the other articles too!  There's a lot of neat stuff happening over there this month.

My post went live over a week ago, but I've been overwhelmed with the end of school.  It turns out that getting a freshman and a senior through finals (and graduated!) is way more work than I was expecting, and WAY more work than homeschooling them.  Massive final projects, frazzled nerves (theirs and mine), and endless ceremonies and gatherings took over my life.  But look, now I've got a high school graduate!

I've been missing my blog and my reading time, so I'll try to get a few posts up before I go out of town in a couple of days.  I'll have plenty of reading time in the car, I hope!  We'll have four adults driving, which is luxury.  (And two of them are much better long-distance drivers than I am; I get sleepy.)  The rest of my family will be home; I'm going to LA with my parents and brother.  I have not been to LA in a very long time.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Book Blog Expo Day 4: Blogging Advice

It's the last day of Book Blog Expo, hosted by Donna at Girl Who Reads!

Day 4 - June 2 - Blogging Advice. Do you have tips to share or need help with some aspect of your blogging? Today is the day to give and ask! This is a time for the blogging community to shine by helping one another out.

Well, I have very little advice to give.  The way I do blogging is not really designed to bring in the numbers!  I figure, if I start thinking of it as a job -- thinking in terms of audience and what my focus ought to be -- it won't be fun any more and I won't want to do it.  So I just do what I like.

What I would like help with is the design.  I like my fairly minimalist setup, but I would love to have a custom image/template like a lot of people do, and the person that was recommended to me seems to have stopped doing it, to my great sadness.  So if you have any recommendations for a not-too-expensive designer, let me know!

I'd also like to know the secret behind never hitting a blogging slump and always finding time to blog in no matter how off-the-rails life gets, but I suspect that those are Mysteries of the Universe that will never be solved.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Book Blog Expo Day 3: Anticipated Books

I found this Book Blog Expo hosted by Donna, which is happening instead of Armchair BEA.  It looked like fun so I hopped on board.

Day 3 - June 1 - Most Anticipated Books & Giveaway Day. Tells us all about the books you are most looking forward to this year (share even if your most anticipated book of the year has already come out). And since we are talking about anticipated books, what more anticipated than winning a great prize? If you are doing a giveaway, please include it in this day's post.

Here is where I have to confess that I am really bad at reading brand-new books.  I do look forward to some!  But most of my anticipated reads are books that are already on my shelf; I just need to get to them.

Here are three 2018 books I'm looking forward to.  One of these things is not like the other:

The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt -- I just love these guys.  I'll listen to Greg talk anytime, and I did meet him almost 4 years ago in a free speech panel discussion at Berkeley that had to be experienced to be believed.  (One woman was angry that the panelists didn't agree with her that a particular person should be fired for his views, and wore a paper mask for the rest of the hour.  The woman next to me said that she was so happy to see that the panel agreed with her about the greatness of the heckler's veto, at which point I think they just wanted to wail in despair.  It was quite the experience.)

Angels in the Mist, by Ryan Southwick -- a little out of my usual roundhouse, it's a novel about...PTSD and vampires!

Hate: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship, by Nadine Strossen -- A timely title that I can't wait to get my teeth into.

Here are three books I'm just looking forward to reading as soon as I can:

The Palm-Wine Drinkard, by Amos Tutola -- an early and classic Nigerian novel!

The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse -- in theory, I'm excited to read this novel.  In fact, I am petrified of the thing.

Black Renaissance: The St. Orpheus Breviary, vol II, by Miklos Szentkuthy -- this book looks so strange, and the cover is so great, that I really want to read it.  It's another I'm scared of.

You'll note (or more probably you won't) that only one of these books is on my 20 Books of Summer list, even though five of them are in my possession (though I didn't even order Black Renaissance until after I'd made the list so that doesn't count).  Who knows why?  Life is a mystery.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Blog Expo, Day 2: Bookstores

At the last possible moment, I found out about the Book Blog Expo event, hosted by Donna at Girl Who Reads.  Looks like fun so I'm joining in!

Day 2 - May 31 - Favorite Section in the Bookstore. Do you head straight to the new releases or bargain rack? Do you spend hours perusing the mysteries or perhaps you can't drag yourself out of the young adult section? Or is there something unique about your local indie bookshop that makes it a must stop every time you pass it? Whether you shop in a brick and mortar or an online bookstore, what is your favorite section? Consider discussing the genre itself or providing a list of favorite (or recent) finds.

Who says I spend all my time at the bookstore?  I spend all my time at the LIBRARY.   Libraries are full of books I can take home for free!  That said, I certainly like bookstores too, and I am always happy to pop into the local (very large and wonderful) used bookstore to have a look around.  I can also spend a happy evening browsing at Barnes & Noble with my husband.

I have lots of favorite sections in my library (the one I work in).  P is the home of literature, and I'm always poking around in there for more novels, from the Slavic works in PG to the Germanic novels in PT.  TT has books about sewing and embroidery -- fancy ones I can't afford to buy myself, though some of the fanciest end up in the art books.  G is for geography, so the travel books are there, and folklore goes in G too.  Z is where books about books live!  D - F is history.  All of those are favorite spots.  As a former co-worker once said to me, "Everything is better in the stacks." 

And of course, a work day is not complete without a perusal of the New Books shelf, even though nothing may have shown up there from one day to the next.  The cart of returned books also needs checking, in case anyone has been reading anything good.

When I go to the used bookstore, it's a little different.  I check the tail end of the mysteries section in case there is anything by an author I collect, and I look through the SF for old paperbacks with fun covers.  I also like to look at the history section, especially for Lakeside Press editions, which are for some reason fairly common at that store.  Sometimes I grin at the shelf where someone marked "Bad Wolf" in pen a few years ago, and I enjoy walking on the creaky wood floors.  The building is kind of historic and there are some neat stories associated with it.

That's a couple of my favorite book places.  I could talk about the local public library, or all sorts of other places too.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Book Blog Expo, Day 1: Intro and Networking

Hey, I just discovered this event: the Book Blog Expo, hosted by Donna at Girl Who Reads.  It's instead of BEA.  Looks like fun, so I'll just start in...

Day 1 - May 30 - Introductions & How to Network. Since networking starts with an introduction, we will roll these topics into 1 post. Gives us the 411 on you - who, what, where, when, why and how. Who are you, What do you blog, Where do you blog (also share where to find you on social media), When did you start blogging, Why do you blog, How do you go about your blogging and being involved in the book community (how do you network).

Who/What/Where: I'm Jean, I'm a librarian, mom, and quilter, and I live in rural Northern California -- the part everyone forgets exists.  (This has pros and cons: it's not very crowded, which is nice, but the rest of the state likes to use our water and forgets to give us any money.)

When/Why/How: I've been blogging since 2010 and I started because I wanted to participate in reading challenges.  I didn't know anything about blogs at the time, so my friend had to help me get started.  I've been a minimalist Blogger person the whole time, and while I'd like to spiff the place up a bit, I'm pretty happy where I am as far as platform and format.  This is a fun hobby for me, and I like the freedom to write about whatever I'm reading and not worry about a large audience.  I post what and when I like, but I aim at three times a week.

I don't have a focus on this blog, but right now I'm mostly reading classics, world literature, history, and whatever else I feel like reading.

Find me on Facebook at Howling Frog Books, and Twitter @JeanLeekPing.   I am really, REALLY bad at Twitter, which is a shame for a book blogger, but I just can't deal.

Networking: I'm always up for visiting new folks and participating in fun events!  Nobody could call me a talented networker but I love my friends and finding new ones.  I'm pretty useless at readathons events, but challenges and theme months are my favorites.  I have my own event, which is more of a long-term project that will take forever: The Reading All Around the World project!  Join us; there are badges!

The Sea and Poison

The Sea and Poison, by Shusaku Endo

I'm not sure why I have this book on my TBR shelf.  I thought it was one my brother-in-law had sent me; he used to send us books from Japan and so I have several volumes of Murakami, Endo, and Oe just sitting around.  But this one is a discard from the public library and I have no idea where it came from.  I'm also wondering what happened to my copy of Silence, which I remember loaning out in a pile to a friend's daughter who was studying Japanese (she is living there now!).  But she gave them back.  So where did Silence go?

This is a really tough novel, and it's written in such a quiet, understated way that the awfulness stands out all the more.  It's the story of Suguro, a young medical intern at a wartime hospital, as well as two others who work there.  The hospital is near the city of Fukuoka, but it's far enough out that it has not yet been bombed.  Supplies and food are short, and the hospital inmates (most of them seem to have TB) are dying; it's only a question of how long they have.  Suguro is mocked for his preoccupation with one old woman's case -- what's the point?  Then he is asked to assist at secret operations for the military.  Three American prisoners are to be vivisected, nominally for research purposes.

Suguro is not forced to take part, but he agrees to.  He ends up sickened and unable to participate, but it's too late.  He is tarred with the same brush as the others.  Two other participants have written their confessions and life stories: Toda, a cynical young doctor who thinks everything is pointless but nevertheless looks for ways to act upon his resentment and exert cruelty, and Ueda, a nurse who has lost everything and lives completely alone.

Endo shows us the social pressures exerted on the three protagonists and the effects of their choices.  In this environment, it is difficult to resist evil, but when they do not, guilt becomes their permanent companion.  Suguro's life is forever tainted by his failure to refuse.

Wrenching stuff.  Be prepared when you read it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Home and Exile

Home and Exile, by Chinua Achebe

If a Chinua Achebe book you've never seen before comes across the donation table, you've got to take it home, right?  That's what I figured, anyway, and it turned out to be a quite interesting little book of three lectures that turned into essays.

The three essays have a continuous train of thought, exploring the beginnings of modern African literature.  Starting with his own young days, in which the only novels about West Africa came from an outside perspective, he goes through the first stories that became available in the 1950s, starting with  The Palm-Wine Drinkard, the initial book that opened the gates.  (This made me happy, since I have that novel sitting on my pile...though I forgot to put it in my 20 Books of Summer list and now I'm sorry.)

He dissects a few novels: Mister Johnson, by Joyce Cary, which first gave Achebe a clue that stories could have an agenda, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, and V. S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River, of which Achebe is really not a big fan. (I didn't quite know what to make of it when I read it.)

Interesting essays if you're a literary type.