Saturday, October 31, 2009

Farewell October

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Dia de los Muertos

A day to honor our ancestors and remember the lives of our loved ones; and perhaps to have a bit of fun.

Happy Halloween. Hope all the spiders and goblins you encounter today are friendly!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Forty Percent Off One Item at Borders

A 40% off coupon code for one item at Borders, via The Bargainist. Good until 11/02.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Book from Harriet Reisen: Louisa May Alcott Biography

Harriet Reisen wrote a new biography about Louisa Mae Alcott. Alcott, of course, was the author of Little Women, as well as many other works. Yesterday, Reisen appeared on NPR's Diane Rehm show to discuss both the book and the documentary of Alcott that will be broadcast on PBS in December. Check out this podcast of the Diane Rehm show here: Harriet Reisen: Louisa May Alcott (Henry Holt)

Based upon what Reisen said during the program, Alcott's life sounds very interesting. Louisa Mae Alcott lived from 1832 to 1888. In additional to being a commercially successful author, Alcott was a feminist, abolitionist, a nurse during the Civil War, and occasionally smoked hashish. This is a life story I want to read.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On the Web Today: Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Stephen Breyer

Watch a webcast today at 1:30 p.m. central time (11:30 a.m. in Arizona): A one-hour discussion between Justice Scalia and Justice Breyer on constitutional and statutory interpretation in an event sponsored by the University of Arizona William H. Rehnquist Center, PBS and Arizona Attorney magazine. The program is online at:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Should you spend your money on Malcolm Gladwell's new book "What the Dog Saw" ?

In The Guardian Ian Sample reviews Malcolm Gladwell's book What the Dog Saw. If you are considering purchasing the book note that, according to Sample, all of the book's content is currently available for free on Gladwell's website.

Sample writes:
There is nothing new in this new book, but that is clear from the start. What is less clear is that all the pieces are available free of charge from Gladwell's own website. If you like, you can go there and read the original New Yorker articles, complete with beautiful layouts and cartoons.

. . .

Gladwell's publisher no doubt paid a lot of money to repackage his free stories and sell them on for a tidy profit. It is a scenario that has the makings of a Gladwellian dilemma. Why buy the book if the content is free? And what does that say about me? Is the feeling of being mugged by the publisher trumped by the virtue of convenience? The book is beautiful and brings together the writing that made Gladwell the extraordinary figure he is today. That alone is worth paying something for, but if you want to avoid mental anguish it might be safer to buy it for someone else.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Up-Date: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series

The new book in the Hitchhiker's Guide series, mentioned here last week, gets a good review in The Guardian. However, Amazon customer reviewers have given it only 2-1/2 stars.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From NYT Paper Cuts: Author Josh Bazell

Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell, is one of the best books I've read in 2009. It is now available in paperback. Recently Bazell was featured in a Paper Cuts regular feature in which authors list music that they enjoy.

Blurbs on Book Jackets: Are they helpful?

Observation after book browsing:

  • To Authors and Publishers: It is guaranteed that I will not buy your book if there is a blurb on the cover from a Fox "news" anchor.
  • To Fellow Readers: My time and money were not wasted on a book that was endorsed by a Fox "news" anchor thanks to a book jacket blurb!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Photo Contest

Photo District News (PDN) and Kodak are sponsoring Best Friends: The Ultimate Animal Photo Contest. A portion of each $12 entry fee will go to raising money to help endangered and mistreated animals. Online submissions from amateur photographers are being accepted until December 22. Check out the details at

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is one of six nominees in the National Book Foundation contest for the Best of the National Book Awards Fiction. Details about the contest are posted here. On Monday, October 19, there will be a panel discussion about the book at Barnes & Noble 150 East 86th Street, Upper East Side. I voted for The Invisible Man in the NBF contest.

Thinking about Ellison's book brought to mind a very fun read from some years ago, Memoirs of an Invisible Man by Harry F. Saint. (The book was made into a not-so-good movie, but never mind that.) Memoirs of an Invisible Man - the book - is an entertaining story about a NYC securities analyst who suddenly becomes invisible. This sudden invisibility makes the analyst, Nick Halloway, of great interest to the CIA. Nick tries to avoid capture by those coppers, and live life in the city as an invisible guy, in this clever story. If you haven't read it, check it out.

As far as I can tell, there are no further books from Harry Saint. I do find it interesting, however, that his protagonist is named Nick Halloway, and I'm currently reading a book by Nick Harkaway, "The Gone-Away World". The things that happen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Book from the NYT's Gail Collins

NYT op-ed columnist - arguably the paper's best op-ed columnist - Gail Collins has a new book out: When Everything Changed. The book looks at how the lives of women in America have changed since enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Also of interest: At the London Review of Books a look at The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

(Via NPR)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Series: New Book in the Works

Douglas Adams, author of the very fun "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series, died in 2001. BBC News reports that a new author, Eoin Colfer, has been hired to write a sixth book for the series.

Is this a good idea? I'm doubtful. But in any event, readers, bring a towel.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Read a book a day for a year? Oy.

I've been on beach vacations where I've plowed through a book each day. It's a dizzying undertaking, and the books tend to blur together, particularly mysteries. Years later I pick up books only to discover, 75 percent of the way through, that I've solved this particular murder before.

None of my reading marathons, however, can compare with that of Nina Sankovitch. Sankovitch, according to the New York Times, is reading a book a day for a year and reviewing the books at her blog. Check out the article here and the blog here.

Although I love to read, this sounds like a nightmare to me. And I've tried to imagine being an author who labored over a book for years, only to have a reader/reviewer gulp it down in less than 24 hours. I think I'd feel dismayed. My symbolism! My carefully crafted language! The subtleties!

Or maybe I'd just be glad that someone read the work.

Friday, October 9, 2009

President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

On Huffington Post, M.J. Rosenberg's considers why the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Obama today. Rosenberg wrote that the award is a tribute to the entire United States, not just the President as an individual, and that "[a]ny American who isn't proud today is . . . a Republican." Read the full post here.

It was reported in the Wall Street Journal that the President is holding a cabinet-level meeting today to discuss General Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops for Afghanistan. It might be awkward to issue an order for more soldiers after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, no?

Kindle for Christmas?

This week a woman told me that she is considering buying a Kindle . . . for her 7-year old daughter. I recommended using the library instead.

Whether e-readers are appropriate for children, even responsible ones, I'll leave those of you who are parents to decide. It does look as though e-readers may be big sellers this holiday season. If you are considering an e-reader for yourself or as a gift for someone else, check out this article from PC World.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Highly Recommended Reading: "Await Your Reply" by Dan Chaon.

If you love to read fiction, you must read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. If the book was a live performance, at the end the audience would shout, roar, and leap to their feet in applause.

Please don't read a lot of reviews and plot summaries of the book - don't read the customer reviews at Amazon because they tell too much! One of the true delights of this excellent book is simply allowing the author, Dan Chaon, to unfold the story for you. I will tell no more than the book jacket tells: "The lives of three strangers interconnect in unforeseen ways - and with unexpected consequences . . ."

Just pick-up Await Your Reply - a mystery / suspense novel which ponders the nature of identity - and read.

Up-date: NPR review of Await Your Reply

Sunday, October 4, 2009

J.K. Rowling: Witchy Woman?

Via Think Progress: J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, was reportedly rejected as a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient by the Bush Administration because her books encouraged witchcraft. This info comes from former Bush administration speechwriter Matt Latimer in his new book, Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor.

If these Bush folks thought that the Harry Potter stories encouraged witchcraft, then did they actually believe in witchcraft? Uff-da.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Snapshots: "Bones of Betrayal" by Jefferson Bass

Author Jefferson Bass is actually two people: Journalist Jon Jefferson and forensic anthropologist Bill Bass. Dr. Bass founded the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center, a.k.a. the Body Farm. Together, Bass and Jefferson have written four mysteries keyed off that facility and featuring a character named Bill Brockton, who also happens to be a forensic anthropologist. The previous books are: Bones of Betrayal is the latest book in the series, and the first that I have read. It is a contemporary murder mystery / historical fiction hybrid; at times humorous, the mystery is engaging with interesting content delivered in undemanding fiction.

In the book, Dr. Leonard Novak is found dead, frozen in the icy water of the swimming pool at his home near the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear research facility. The elderly Novak was, back in the day, a leader of the Manhattan Project, the World War II program to develop the first atomic bomb.

This is not simply a slip-and-fall at the pool, however. It turns out that Novak was killed by small but lethal chunk of radioactive material. This chunk inside Novak is so hot that it injures the team conducting Novak's autopsy. From here the mystery takes off as Bill Brockton investigates this unusual murder, trying to find the source of the radiation that killed Novak and injured his colleagues. Solving this puzzle requires him to return to the days of the Manhattan Project in Tennessee, and uncover the impact of those past events on the present day.

Oak Ridge is a real place and we know, of course, how the Manhattan Project and World War II played out. What this book adds is interesting detail about what happened in 1940s Tennessee, who were the people who worked on the Project, and what were the mores of that period. In Bones of Betray, Jefferson and Bass use the murder-mystery format to pull all of this together into a nice read.