Archive for July, 2006

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How’s this for a story? An author writes a book about Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene marrying and having children…

No, not THAT author. This is another author completely, and her name is Kathleen McGowan. Her book The Expected One was self-published last year but sold only 2,500 copies. Now it’s been picked up by Simon & Schuster and will be printed in 25 countries.

So what makes this so controversial? It’s just another Da Vinci Code knock-off, right? Well, yes and no. Not only has the author written another religious mystery on the same theme as Brown’s book, but she also claims to be a direct descendent of the union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. No, really!

How exactly does she know this? Well, that’s when things get a bit weird. She has visions, you see, and Mary Magdalene has told her so. Nothing odd about that, now, is there? Her family and friends believe her, and this is what her editor at Touchstone/Simon & Schuster has to say:

” Todd says she has no problem believing McGowan’s claim that she descends from a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. “Yes, I believe her. Her passion and her mission are so strong, how can she not be?” ”

Oh, of course! How can she not be… If she says so.

Well, this book landed on my doorstep a few days ago, courtesy of Simon & Schuster. As it did arrive from the GREAT BEYOND I’m assuming I’m one of the CHOSEN. How can I not be? If I say so.

I will be reading this one, out of sheer curiosity, and I’ll let you know my honest opinion on it. You can be sure of that. Publisher’s Weekly pronounced it mind-numbingly dull, but some other sources have praised it. I’ll know soon enough.

In the meantime, here’s an interesting USA Today article on the subject of McGowan and her book.

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Author Kathleen McGowan, true descendant or consummate fake?

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Canine Side-Trip Redux!

Posted: July 27, 2006 in Current Reading

Alright, I finished Marley & Me, and now I know what the fuss was about…

It’s a very sweet tale about one of the most rambunctious, undisciplined dogs you’re ever likely to encounter. Grogan’s style is very funny, though occasionally sappy, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that being a dog owner myself. Sometimes there’s just no way around waxing sappy when talking about your pets.

It has at least a three hankie finish, I’ll warn you of that now. Dog lovers be prepared! But it does end on a high note, lest you think it’s a downer. Though it’s sad, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The verdict is a thumb’s up for Marley & Me, for a lighter sort of summer read that animal lovers especially should love.

And here’s to you, Marley, and all other dogs with indomitable spirit.

Now who’s waxing sappy?

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A Canine Side-Trip

Posted: July 27, 2006 in Current Reading

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What’s all the fuss about this particular Labrador Retriever? Marley & Me keeps topping the weekly library lists reporting most popular non-fiction books, and the wait to get it via interlibrary loan took WEEKS and WEEKS….

What’s that about?

I’m taking a reading break from pretty much everything else in order to quickly read Marley & Me. Not generally one to follow trends, I just had to find out what’s keeping this book on top week after week. Plus, the book was recommended to me by someone with very trusted reading taste. That’s very often a determining factor for me. Reviews are all well and good, but the word of a trusted friend is vastly more influential.

I’m about halfway through and I’m thoroughly charmed by Grogan’s style, and by his pooch, as well. What a goofy, endearing dog! I can identify with some of it, though on a smaller scale, as I own a Jack Russell Terrier. Taffy could give Marley a run for his money on the issue of quirky behavior. What a nutbag!

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The book’s not just about the dog. It’s also about Grogan, his wife and their subsequent children. They adopt Marley as newlyweds, as a sort of nurturing test before they determine if they’ll be good parents. So far one child has come along, and he’s just as crazy about this big Lab as his parents.

Shouldn’t take me too long to finish the book, and it’s a nice side trip.

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From _The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop_:

“It’s not as if I don’t have anything to read; there’s a tower of perfectly good unread books next to my bed, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I’ve been meaning to reread. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as yet unknown. I no longer try to analyze this hunger; I capitulated long ago to the book lust that’s afflicted me most of my life. I know enough about the course of the disease to know I’ll discover something soon.”

This quote could have come from my own autobiography, were I ever to feel compelled to write one. How comforting to know I’m not the only book addict on this earth, even in this age of reality TV when the average attention span is all of three seconds long.

As someone who reads books about books compulsively, I’m always on the lookout for anything new in this genre. Often I’m disappointed by either lightweight content or lack of a really interesting style, but in the case of this book that wasn’t a problem.

This is a book that’s both charming in style and very rich in content, something that’s all too rare. Books like this need champions to proclaim their glory to the world. They’re little books, from the standpoint of having to battle the heavy-hitting bestsellers, but huge books if you are anywhere near as enamored by books as Lewis Buzbee. And, if you were attracted enough to look this one up on Amazon, I can only trust you ARE enamored and I hope you’ll not just read this one but comment on it wherever you can. This book deserves as wide an audience as it can get, but it’s largely by word of mouth that so many small press books achieve that. So, give it a read and proclaim it to all the world!

Don’t make me beg…

As countless other readers will likely find, I identified with so many aspects of this book, from the author’s musing on the My Weekly Reader book orders from his grade school days through his various bookstore jobs. His wonderful sidetrips into the history of the book itself made fascinating reading, adding so much to what could have been a fine stand alone memoir of book lust and bookselling. Absolutely wonderful stuff, and a must for all the book-obsessed.

Now comes my big decision, whether to hoard this book all to myself or set it free to delight my other bookloving friends. Though I’m torn, I think I will send it on. It pains me, but as Buzbee put it, “Reading is a solitary act, but one that demands connection to the world…”

So, humbly, I send my copy of this book forth into the wide world, with the full knowledge that another copy of this book is only a One Click finger twitch away.

Bohumil Hrabal

Posted: July 25, 2006 in An Author You May Not Know

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From Too Loud a Solitude :

“If I knew how to write, I’d write a book about the greatest of man’s joys and sorrows. It is by and from books that I’ve learned that the heavens are not humane, neither the heavens nor any man with a head on his shoulders – it’s not that men don’t wish to be humane, it just goes against common sense.”

I think I feel a new reading obsession coming on.

Bohumil Hrabal was a Czech writer who wrote with “an extremely expressive, highly visual style.” I’m not sure where I found the recommendation, but someone somewhere told me I should have a go at his Too Loud a Solitude. Luckily, I was able to track this one down via interlibrary loan as frankly book purchases lately have been just a bit out of control (mea culpa), and the bills for the next school year arrived recently.

So, to whomever recommended Hrabal, THANK YOU.

Too Loud a Solitude is about a man named Hanta whose job is to compact trash. He’s been doing this particular job for 35 years, and though it may see a completely mindless, even menial job, the glimmering light is that part of the trash he compacts contains books. From this trash he extracts all sorts of volumes, bringing them home to add to the already huge piles of books in his home. He has books piled everywhere, even on a sagging shelf over his bed. Hanta is enchanted by books:

“But just as a beautiful fish will occasionally sparkle in the waters of a polluted river that runs through a stretch of factories, so in the flow of old paper the spine of a rare book will occasionally shine forth, and if for a moment I turn away, dazzled, I always turn back in time to rescue it, and after wiping it off on my apron, opening it wide, and breathing in its print, I glue my eyes to the text and read out the first sentence like a Homeric prophecy; then I place it carefully among my other splendid finds in a small crate lined with the holy cards someone once dropped into my cellar by mistake with a load of prayer books, and then comes my ritual, my mass: not only do I read every one of those books, I take each and put it in a bale, because I have a need to garnish my bales, give them my stamp…”

Though Hanta’s boss thinks him an idiot, it very quickly becomes apparent he’s anything but that.

“I have a physical sense of myself as a bale of compacted books, the seat of a tiny pilot light of karma, like the flame in a gas refrigerator, an eternal flame I feed daily with the oil of my thoughts, which come from what I unwittingly read during work in the books I am now taking home in my briefcase. So I walk home like a burning house, like a burning stable, the light of life pouring out of the fire, fire pouring out of the dying wood, hostile sorrow lingering under the ashes.”

This is a beautifully written little book. I recommend it very highly.

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Pardon me while I rant again about this writer, but she’s really exceptional and I just love her books. The downside is she’s written only nine, and I’ve already read four of them. The upside is she’s been producing bestselling novels in Europe at the rate of one per year, so assuming she continues that pattern I should be able to survive that awful feeling of withdrawal once you’ve finished all the books by an author you admire.

The Stranger Next Door by Amelie Nothomb

First off, must correct a grievous error I keep making. Amelie Nothomb is NOT FRENCH! She was born to Belgian parents while living in Japan. She speaks French, it’s true, along with at least a couple of other languages, but she’s actually Belgian if one takes her parentage into account.

Alright, that’s out of the way and I feel better… Just please excuse if you find this error here, or anywhere, in future.

Here’s a link for an article about Amelie Nothomb published just today in the Independent. What an intriguing person she is. Intriguing in an eccentric/bordering on neurotic sort of way, just this side of nutty, that is. She seems to have a certain Holly Golightly character, mais non? No wonder she writes the way she does, and long may she continue.

This latest Nothomb read is probably my favorite so far. I’m not sure how she did it, but she managed to make this tale of incredibly obnoxious neighbors positively chilling. It’s not Stephen King chilling, but still it manages to really give one a turn. It will make you look at your neighbors in an entirely different way, at the very least.

I think this Amazon review captures it well:

From Library Journal

A retired high school teacher and his wife buy a house in the country that appeals to them as the house for their golden years. They have been deeply in love since early childhood and look on each other not only as spouse but as each other’s child and parent, heart and soul. This should-be idyllic scene is rent by the oppressor, in this darkly comic case an obese, irascible, grimly taciturn neighbor who appears at their door daily for a two-hour “visit.” Husband and wife try a variety of coping strategies as the infernal visitations accumulate: gallantry, absurdity, rudeness. All is recounted with a straightforward grace that provides readers with a front-row seat at this black comedy of modern manners. This is the first of the young and already prolific author’s books to appear in the United States. Readers will eagerly anticipate more.?Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The book has a sort of Kafkaesque feel, or a surreal quality that’s both menacing and entirely ridiculous, at the same time. You ask yourself why this couple doesn’t just eject the man, but they do make an effort only to be foiled time after time, mostly by their own sense of moral decency. It’s really a fascinating psychological portrait, and I’d recommend this most highly of all Nothomb’s works I’ve read so far. Putting it simply: very good stuff!

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Unlike the name Nancy Pearl, Tim Coates may not be a name that rings any bells. But for anyone very interested in the fate of public libraries it may be a name to add to your inventory.

Here’s a bit from his bio:

” Tim Coates is a former bookseller who has become a well-known advocate for improvements in public-library service. He was the first U.K. bookseller to open an all-night bookstore with a cafe, sofas, and the comfortable style we now associate with bookstores around the world. In his current work, he strives to bring the same customer orientation to libraries.

Since 1999 Tim has pursued library improvement at the local and countrywide level by urging improved book ranges, longer hours, and more welcoming buildings. He is the author of “Who’s in Charge? Responsibility for the Public Library Service,” a report which is used now in many countries to assess public-library services, and he is working on a training guide for library managers as well as an updated edition of his “Who’s in Charge” report. He is a consultant who provides guidance to local councils and to departments of government. ”

I’d recommend swinging past his blog if you have any interest at all in the plight of public libraries in the UK. You never know, some of it could actually be applicable to libraries here in the States, too. He writes extensively on a broad range of topics, knows lots of people and is very interesting in his own right. Check him out if you get a chance.