30 June 2004

Collected Miscellany - What Kind of Book Person are You?

1) What is your favorite type of bookstore?
A. A large chain that is well lit, stuffed full of books, and has a café.
B. A dark, rather dusty, used bookstore full of mysterious and vaguely organized books.
C. A local independent bookstore that has books by local authors and coffee.
Hon, a bookstore is a bookstore is a bookstore. All of the above. Not to mention the online stores--but they just don't have that appeal, especially the delicious scent of bookprint...

2) What would excite you more?
A. A brand new book by your favorite author.
B. Finding a classic you've been wanting to read.
C. Receiving a free book from a friend in the mail.
Ooooh, I'm greedy; I want all three.

3) What's your favorite format?
A. Novel
B. Short story
C. Poetry
Novel, followed by short story. Certain poems are cool, though.

4) Favorite format, part II.
A. Contemporary fiction.
B. Classic novels.
C. Genre (mystery, espionage, etc.)
Genre, mostly, although I have many favorite classic novels. Contemporary fiction in general leaves me cold, like the old "Oprah's bookshelf" material.

5) Favorite format, part III (none of the above) Fiction or non?
A. Almost entirely fiction.
B. Almost entirely non-fiction.
C. A mix of both.
C. Although I probably have more fiction--but you haven't seen my collection of history and Christmas books. :-)

6) Does the design and condition of the book matter?
A. Yes, I love a well designed book and keep mine in mint condition.
B. No, the words are what matter.
C. Yes and no, I appreciate good design and treat my books with respect but I am not obsessive about it.
Hmn. Is this how I keep my books or how I purchase my books? I'm afraid I've gotten enough gravy stains and berry spots on my books, simply because I'm obsessive enough to be reading even when I eat. As for buying them, if I want it bad enough, I'll pretty much take anything. Some of my St. Nicholas volumes were in horrendous shape. I've glued, taped, and patched. Heck, I once wanted an out-of-print book so badly I paid someone to photocopy it for me.

7) On average how many books do you read a month?
A. I am lucky to read one.
B. I am dedicated. I read 4 or 5.
C. I am a fiend. I read 10 or more!
Ah, a simple question. C!

8) Do you prefer to own or borrow?
A. There is a particular joy in owning a book. I have a large library.
B. Why spend money when you can read it for free? I use the public library.
C. Different tools for different jobs. I do both.
I borrow books from the library all the time. Some I just want to read but not to keep. Some I have read and then ended up buying (or going to buy--Sudden Sea isn't out in paperback until August). I'd rather own most of them; it's a bit hard to hit the library at two in the morning.

9) Where do you get (the majority) your book news?
A. Newspapers.
B. Magazines.
D. Blogs.
Sheesh, almost always A, B, and C recommend bestsellers. I tend to loathe bestsellers. I think I've read about a few interesting books on blogs. More likely it's a newsgroup or a search on Amazon.com.

10) Are books a professional obsession?
A. Yes, I work in the field (writer, reviewer, publisher, teacher, etc.).
B. No, I do it for fun.
C. Kinda, I write the occasional review but have a regular job outside of books.
Sadly, B. I'd love to do something I love for a living, especially working with words. I hate numbers. Numbers are God's way of punishing us for our sins.

19 June 2004

Remarkable Twinning

"Way back when," from 1911 to 1938, Lucy Fitch Perkins wrote a series of books that were beloved by youngsters--the "Twins" books. The protagonists, as one might guess from that description, were twin children, always a boy and a girl except in one volume. I remember Dana's Bookstore in Providence having some copies of the book, alas lost in their fire.

Recently, eight of the books have been transferred to e-book form and posted online, so I had the opportunity to read them. I also found the Twins' Homepage, which gives synopses of most of the books. I was quite interested by the description of Perkins' flouting the conventions of the time by making the girl character in almost all of the books just as ambitious and adventurous as her brother--while still keeping her feminine "values" as was required at the time.

The books about the younger twins are mostly nice little travelogues that contain details of child life in that society. The Dutch Twins (age 4), The Eskimo Twins (age 5), and The Japanese Twins (age 5) fall into this category. The adventures are very simple but fascinating, talking about traditions that had not yet been diluted by the influence of movies, radio, television and the internet.

As the children get older, the adventures get a bit more complicated as well. The Swiss Twins, age 9, and The Spartan Twins, age 10, both embark on journies which hold a little danger; the former are caught in an earthquake and have to get their sheep home by themselves, the latter overhear a plot to discredit a well-known man and are kidnapped when this is found out and must get away to warn the potential victim.

Two of the stories, The French Twins and The Belgian Twins, take place during World War I. The description of life in those societies, therefore, is interrupted by artillery and separation, even death. The scene in the former book, where the cathedral of Rheims is bombed by the Germans and the soldiers inside are killed, is very strong for a novel written for children.

My favorite of the eight books, however, is The Scotch Twins, a corking adventure story about Jean and Jock, who live with their father in a "wee hoosie" on the land of the laird. The twins and their friend Alan discover that a poacher is on the laird's property and set a trap for him, have adventures in a boat and in a secret cave--all like a jolly Enid Blyton or Swallows and Amazons type tale. Jean not only participates in all the boys' adventures but can keep house for her widowed father "as good as Mother." Plus there's quite a surprise at the end.

You can find the books at Project Gutenberg and also at Blackmask.com.

05 June 2004

Real Life is Scary Enough

I don't read horror novels as a rule. I understand Mercedes Lackey's three Diane Tregarde novels were considered "horror," but I just gulped at a couple of the graphic parts and went on. Otherwise I don't enjoy the "cut-and-slit-and-bleed" school of novel writing. Besides, real life can be much worse:

I just finished reading Stewart O'Nan's The Circus Fire, which is darned enough horrifying for me. It's the true story of July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, when the "big top" caught fire at the matinee performance of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The tent was waterproofed with a combination of paraffin and gasoline and became an inferno in minutes. People crowded out the exits, including having to cross cages at two exits blocked by animal ramps. Some people just walked out, frightened but unharmed. But most were caught in a maelstrom of terrified people escaping the pitch-hot flames. Some were heroes, some trampled others in their efforts to get out. Some died there, some were buried under others and survived although badly burned.

O'Nan has taken the text of depositions, talked to survivors, combed the newspapers of the day, and come up with a book so vivid you feel as if you are there. Especially vivid--and horrifying--is the description of the melee in the tent, the smell of burnt flesh, and the descriptions of the dead and wounded. The book also covers the recovery of several badly burned children and the investigation into the cause of the fire, which was never determined.

At all times it was so graphic I had to just put it down for a while several times and go do something else. But it was a good read.