Archive for June, 2006

Phew, that’s annoying. Three times I’ve typed in long-winded posts, and three times they’ve disappeared POOF! into thin air.

SERENITY NOW!

(Note to self: find SAVE button.)

Anyway, have you been following the news about Harry Potter # 7? JK Rowling’s reportedly done writing this last installment, and the gossip is not one but TWO main characters will die… More disturbingly than that, she’s hinting one of them may be (prepare yourselves) HARRY…

CLICK HERE FOR MORE DISH

I will admit I had a hard time with the loss of Dumbledore in Book 6. I’m still hoping he’ll make like Lazarus and pop back up again, somehow, in Book 7, but I’m in the minority as to people who believe that could happen.

But hope springs infernal.

In other news, there’s a new book-themed game! Shockingly, I’ve already ordered one for myself:

CLICK HERE!

The premise of the game is that each player will write an authentic-sounding first sentence for a particular work of literature, after being given the title and a brief description. The moderator will then read the real sentence along with the fake ones, and the objective is to choose the real first sentence. It took me about five minutes to decide this game was an absolute necessity.

Weirdly, though, the game was developed by actress Daryl Hannah, who impressed herself on my memory for her portrayal as a mermaid in _Splash!_ I can’t think of her without recalling her weird dolphin-like noises, yet I’ve just bought something literature-related from her.

Not sure it gets stranger than that, though it’s also true Kate Moss (the coke-snorting supermodel who can fit between the pickets of a fence with room to spare) has also signed a deal to write her autobiography. Bizarro world.

What may be most shocking of all, though, is the price of the game, yet these specialty games never do come cheap. That statement, accompanied with a gesure of resignation, will be my response when the credit card bill comes in next month. It may not get me anywhere, but I firmly believe it’s important to have a plan.

(I’m taking all reasonable suggestions on how to claim a purchase from SimplyFun as a “household expense,” by the way.)

My family won’t indulge me in playing this game with me, I can already tell you that. This is the same family that won’t make eye contact with me when I pull out the Trivial Pursuit game. They’re oddly put off by my penchant for gleefully (they call it “maniacally,” but I protest their usage of that word) jumping on all the brown wedge questions (literature, in case there was any doubt), and worse by my tendency to not only get the answers right but to do so in a rather “condescending manner.”

I may grant them the use of “condescending.”

Ah, well. There’s still room in the corner of the game closet where Booktastic sits, gathering dust. Maybe someday (she said, with a hopeful look out of the corner of her eye).

And that is all I have to say about that for today. I’m not recreating this for a FIFTH time!

P.S.: If you’re reading this it means I did, indeed, find the SAVE button.

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Snow Books (UK) very kindly sent me a review copy of Sarah Bryant’s lushly gothic novel set at an antebellum home in Louisiana, and despite the size of it (459 pp.) I positively flew through the book.

The book begins with twin sisters Eve and Elizabeth switching identities so that one may marry the man she loves. Having traded identities so often in childhood, with nary a suspicion from their parents, they figure switching for a mere bridegroom will be no problem at all. With lightning flashing and thunder rumbling in the background, they complete the exchange of the wedding dress and the sisters’ identifying necklaces.

A generation later Eleanor Rose, the daughter/niece of Eve and Elizabeth, is plagued by recurrent nightmares about her mother and aunt. In all her dreams both women are in dire peril at the hands of a mysterious man, and both call desperately for her help. Strangely, it’s her aunt Eve who seems to be appealing to her most desperately in her dreams, a fact she can’t quite reconcile. Why is it her aunt Eve and not her mother?

Eleanor, raised by her grandfather, is an indulged and privileged child who’s also a prodigy on the piano. Her grandfather takes her to music concerts where she hears the greats play. At one of these concerts she sees Alexander Trevozhov perform. She’s immediately smitten.
On the death of her grandfather Eleanor learns she’s inherited the family’s land and home in Louisiana, so leaves Boston with her companion, Mary, to live on the estate. As soon as she arrives she gets a chill. The place itself is beautiful but menacing, in a way she can’t quite understand. Bryant’s writing here is lush and lovely:

“Over the years of disuse, the rampant foliage had nearly swallowed the house. Bougainvillea, ivy and kudzu hung in swaying curtains from the roof, tangling with honeysuckle and roses climbing from below. … Beautiful as the house was – or rather, would be, with some care – I felt repulsion at that first sight of it.”

Eleanor moves into one of the smaller houses on the estate, as Eden House is in such a state of disrepair. She is immediately plagued by insomnia. Already pale and wan following the sudden loss of her beloved grandfather, she becomes even more sickly looking. Not long thereafter a man arrives to rent one of the houses on the property. The man is none other than Alexander Trevozhov, arriving with is niece Natalya. Coincidence or orchestration, you may ask? Well, some things are best not revealed!

Trevozhov appears somewhat aloof and mocking at first, but soon warms to Eleanor. He reveals that he, too, has been having strange dreams and their fates seem inexplicably intertwined. He’s able to recite specifics from her dreams, a fact that leaves Eleanor baffled. Who, exactly, is this Alexander Trevozhov, and how does he know the details of the dreams that terrify her?

Eleanor begins exploring Eden House. Locked doors become unlocked, and unlocked doors are suddenly fast closed, as she wanders through the big house. Her feeling of unease mounts, despite her vain attempts to rationalize the things happening around her. A piano she originally found under a dustcover, unused for ages, begins playing a familiar piece when there’s apparently no one in the house but herself. Eleanor begins to feel she’s losing her grip. Is there truly a legacy of insanity in her family?

Enter Dorian Ducoeur, a former friend of the family who knew both Eve and Elizabeth, and things really start to heat up. Dorian, Eleanor discovers, is one of the figures from her nightmares. Alexander’s back is immediately up. He doesn’t trust this man and makes no bones about it. Who is Dorian Ducoeur, really, and what does Alexander really know? Apparently he knows more than he’s at first willing to reveal.

Telling much more would be spoiling the rest of the plot. Suffice to say there are more delightfully mysterious house rambles to come, more lush, beautifully-written descriptions of the wonderfully gothic Eden House, and even a death or two for good measure. There are also more shocking revelations, and many more layers added to the tale of Elizabeth and Eve, before all is said and done.

Heavily influenced by the gothic classic _Jane Eyre_, Sarah Bryant’s strength is in her descriptions. She imagines a nicely complex plot, but her slips into melodrama are her weakness. However, with writing so atmospheric and evocative of the steamy Deep South the reader can forgive her the occasional slip into purple prose.

On the strength of this effort I would most definitely read another book by Bryant. Despite its length _The Other Eden_ demands you read it at a gallop. There’s no slowing down as each element is revealed, peeling away the layers of the mystery and simultaneously building the suspense to nearly unbearable proportions. You won’t want to stop until the last page is turned. As a good summer read I would very highly recommend _The Other Eden_.

Ever thought about how the age of the blog will impact the future of arts and letters? Specifically, what will become of the collected letters and diaries of today’s great authors once they’re gone, considering so many of them are using online forums to blog their thoughts?

Imagine if such great diarists as Samuel Pepys and Virginia Woolf had lived in the age of the internet. How different would their collected letters and diaries be?

Pepys constructed a rather elaborate code in the writing of his diaries, a fact that indicates he knew people would puzzle over them. He probably snickered all the way to the grave, knowing how people would scratch their heads over his diaries. It worked for a long time, too, and the literary detectives were baffled a good long time. Pepys died in 1703 and the first edition of his diaries wasn’t published until 1825.

The fact of the matter is, the cheeky thing had actually tucked a key for his shorthand into some books shelved above the actual diaries themselves. Still, it took years for scholars to locate it and then puzzle out his volumes and volumes of handwritten diaries.

If Pepys were writing today would he just make up a blog pseudonym for himself (a blogonym?) and hide behind that, instead of his elaborate system of shorthand? Instead of scratching out his diary on sheets of vellum, employing his trusty quill pen, he’d type them out on his laptop.

Decidedly unromantic, if you ask me.

Virginia Woolf left behind a wealth of letters, diaries and manuscripts. If she hadn’t handwritten them we wouldn’t know about her penchant for violet ink, nor would we see her scratchings out, her little doodles along the margins, etc. If she’d typed them on her computer all we’d have to analyze would be her choice of font, use of bold and italics, and how often she failed to scan for homonym typos. Spell check would take care of all her endearing mispellings (and she did have a few of those), and all would be uniform and sanitized.

Imagine if, after she’d typed out her now famous suicide note to husband Leonard and best friend Vita Sackville-West, there’d been a delivery error. How ironic to get a Fatal Error message while sending your suicide note, eh?

What, then, will the future of the collected writings of authors be like? Instead of tracking down handwritten documents we’ll have to send in the Geek Squad to tap into their hard drives, as well as the hard drives of those with whom they corresponded. The search will be on for their Blackberries, their cell phone records and even their iPods. Handwritten documents? What are those?

While it is rather satisfying to read the blogs of today’s writers, it still gives one pause thinking what this will mean for the future. It’s a mixed blessing. We hear more from them during their lifetimes, and they’re definitely far more accessible, but once they’re gone what we’ll have left will be far less personal.

I guess we’ll have to reconcile ourselves to the inevitability of progress, but personally I think a lot of the charm will be lost in the process.

Before I came to work at a public library I considered its primary function as a storehouse for the more mainstream sorts of books I didn’t have the money to purchase, but wanted to read. The system wasn’t the ideal source for the more obscure texts I enjoyed reading, as not everyone seems as fixated on the 18th and 19th centuries as I am, but it was often surprisingly reliable for everything else.

For the obscure stuff I’ve always turned to the plethora of used booksellers on the internet, such as the huge resource Abebooks.com, or, that OTHER source I half hesitate to mention, Amazon.com. Amazon.com is THAT WHICH MUST NOT BE NAMED to small booksellers, but I can’t feel traitorous about mentioning it because you’d have to have been living under a rock for the past decade not to have heard of it before. Not exactly breaking news.

I also thought of the library as a place to escape to, when the noise levels at home made my hair stand on end. There are quiet nooks in a library, comfortable chairs, and thousands and thousands of my favorite things on earth.

Books.

The library was the place I brought my children, both to check out books on whatever their current pet interests were and also to borrow videos to keep them occupied long enough for me to do some laundry, take a shower and/or nap, or just enjoy half an hour of QUIET. A half hour trip to the library bought me, the frazzled mother of three children two years apart or less in age, a whole lot of entertainment value (and more than a little “sanity time”). They loved the library. The only downside was their penchant for checking out the same videos, over and over (and over), such as the blissfully brief period when my daughter became fixated by Pippi Longstocking. No offense against Pippi in theory, but there’s one particular video so completely horrible in sound quality (think nails on chalkboard) I still shudder at the thought of it.

So, of course, my daughter loved it.

After a while another benefit became obvious. Not only did the library save me the money of purchasing all of these books (a not insubstantial sum), but it also saved me the storage space of keeping them after I’d read them. That may not seem that consequential to many, but as a former bookseller my house at one time nearly burst at the seams with books. Now my collection is down to somewhere around 3,000 volumes (at least half of which are in storage, in boxes in the crawl space portion of my basement), which is down at least 50% from its heyday.

N.B.: Roughly half of my collection is catalogued online, at LibraryThing.com. LibraryThing is a sort of playground for those of us who like playing librarian in our spare time, I guess you’d say. If you’re looking for a great way to spend all your spare time (if eight hours a day spent cataloguing aren’t enough for you) I highly recommend it.

Recently I enjoyed a short dialogue with author Susan Hill (whose blog, by the way, is brilliant) on the subject of the role of the public library. Ms. Hill, author of such wonderfully creepy books as The Woman in Black, doesn’t actively patronize her local library. Why? Well, because she has the money to purchase the books she wants and doesn’t care to borrow them from a public institution. When I told her my role in the library consisted largely in bringing the arts to the community she assured me she applauded that high notion, but the real purpose of the library should be THE BOOKS.

I’ll grant her that. To me the library has always been mostly about the books, but having worked in the library for the past several months I’m beginning to see that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The library should revolve around its collection, no doubt, but there are more community needs out there that need to be supported, and the library is an ideal forum for that.

Did I really just say that? Me, the book woman? Alright, I did, and now I have witnesses. The library is funded by the public to serve the needs of the public. I have the tax bill to prove it, too.

Hopefully the reading public will make much use of their public libraries, but it’s those non-readers, unlikely to stop by to check out a book, we also need to snag. After all, once we get them in the door what will they see?

The BOOKS.

Maybe it can be all about the books, after all.