21 July 2008

Unexpected Find

The last time we were in Book Nook, James picked up a copy of L. Neil Smith's The Nagasaki Vector; he had all the "Win" Bear/North American Confederacy books at one time, but about half of them disappeared in the course of three moves. I said impatiently "Well, why haven't you looked for them online?" and clicked around on Amazon.com and found a bit worn but acceptable copy of The Probability Broach, which arrived Saturday and which he's been reading ever since.

Happily, we also found another in the series, a later publication (2001), which he didn't even know about, The American Zone. That arrived in today's mail and there was a gleam in his eye about having found a new book in a series he already loved...so understandable to me after finding Verney's Samson's Hoard and Frost's Fireworks for Windy Foot, not to mention L'Engle's last novel. It's like finding a long-lost family member.

17 July 2008

A Book Meme

I found this on Dani's book blog; she got it from Stefanie, who picked it up here and there:

Do you remember how you developed a love of reading?
Unlike many chronic readers, I didn't know how to read before I started school. Someone told my mom it was bad to teach children to read early. But I always had some Little Golden Books and small paper-covered picture books, like the story of the little girl bathing who kept losing the soap. Once I started to read my mom bought me what she could afford: Whitman books. These 29¢ volumes came in different varieties: classics, television-based novels, and series books. Once I began to read, nothing could keep me from it.

What are some books you loved as a child?
Animal books: Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, Call of the Wild, The Green Poodles, the Windy Foot books, Anne H. White's books (Story of Serapina, Junket, A Dog Called Scholar), the Silver Chief books, and anything Albert Payson Terhune wrote about collies. Oh, how I wanted to write like APT, with his wonderful words! Also some of the Danny Dunn and Miss Pickerel books, Donna Parker, and the Lassie TV-tie in novels.

What is your favorite genre?
I don't know if I have a favorite genre, although when I read fiction I usually read "cozy" type mysteries. Really, I read anything that interests me.

Do you have a favorite novel?
This is like asking Olivia Walton which of the seven kids was her favorite. :-) I can list some favorites: Red Sky at Morning, Addie Pray, Little Women and Eight Cousins, Murder Must Advertise, The Secret Garden, Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, Wyoming Summer, Have Spacesuit Will Travel and several other Heinlein juveniles, A Wrinkle in Time, Huckleberry Finn, Airport, Up the Down Staircase, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, QB VII, Cheaper by the Dozen, Life is a Banquet, Understood Betsy, A Christmas Carol, National Velvet, To Kill a Mockingbird, Dear Enemy, 84 Charing Cross Road, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Johnny Tremain, Christmas After All, the Harry Potter books, Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow books, just about anything written by Madeleine L'Engle and James Thurber...oh, yeah, and Albert Payson Terhune...and I'd better quit now.

Where do you usually read?
I think it would be easier to list where I don't read, like in the shower or in front of the stove or when I'm driving.

When do you usually read?
Any time I'm not doing anything else, including during what Frank Gilbreth always called "unavoidable delays."

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?
Yes. It's usually inevitable since I see something else I want to read while I'm reading something else I picked up while I was reading something else.

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?
I don't think so, although when I am reading nonfiction I will often jump from the book to the Internet or to the encyclopedia or to one of my other reference books to check a fact or read further on something I have just read.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out from the library?
I buy most of them, usually new. Our library doesn't carry many of the mysteries I like to read, or obscure books. When I can't find it at a bookstore, Amazon is my friend, or especially Amazon Marketplace and that most evil of websites, www.bookfinder.com.

Do you keep most of the books you buy?
I'd say I keep most of them. I'll keep them if I like them.

If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them?
I don't have children, but I often buy books for my friends' children...not to mention for my friends. :-) I don't remember anything particular I've shared with the kids. I have bought friends series that I liked, like the Nick O'Donohoe "Crossroads" books for my best friend.

What are you reading now?
A book about adolescence as a culture before the 1940s designation of "teenager," Teenage by Jon Savage.

Do you keep a To Be Read List?
I keep a few books on my Wish List on Amazon, but my "To Be Read List" is actually a big bookcase stuffed with books near my bed.

What’s next?
Wow, not sure. Maybe I'll actually finish The Gun Seller or Death at La Fenice or the fifth volume of About Time or maybe I'll start something new. Maybe I'll buy Victoria Finlay's Jewels, which I'm wild to read after her Color. Or maybe I'll pick up a St. Nicholas, which I haven't done in a while.

What books would you like to re-read?
Er...all the ones up there listed as my favorites. No Ordinary Time. Swing.

Who are your favorite authors?
Madeleine L'Engle. Gladys Taber. James Thurber. Louisa May Alcott. David McCullough.

13 July 2008

Books Read Since June 26

• Murder in Chinatown, Victoria Thompson
The latest Sarah Brandt/Frank Malloy mystery in paperback finds Sarah not trying to become involved in the case of a vanished child: a fifteen-year-old Chinese/Irish girl who disappeared after she discovered her father was planning to marry her off to a 40-ish Chinese merchant. As always, Sarah finds herself involved no matter how hard she tries to stay aloof, and the result is a tense and often disturbing story. I also found intriguing the little-known historical fact about Irish girls marrying Chinese men (since Chinese women were forbidden immigration).

• An American Album: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Harper's Magazine (anthology)
I found this massive volume on the remainder table for $5—why not? It was crammed with short stories, editorials, and nonfiction articles from Harper's from its inception in the 1850s through 2000: Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Hardy, commentary on the death of Dickens, President Clinton's impeachment, World War I and II memoirs, stories including Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" and Mark Twain's "Extracts from Adam's Diary and Eve's Diary," an examination of the Battle of Antietam and the massacre of My Lai, depressing and rather horrifying memoirs like "Users, Like Me" (very gross scene of a baby playing with broken glass while its mother gets high) and "The Rake," about children abused by their stepfather. A panorama of the American experience, both good and bad, and absorbing historical perspective all in one volume.

• Three Bags Full, Leonie Swann
Early one morning a herd of sheep, including the clever Miss Maple, head ram Sir Ritchfield, Mopple the Whale with his prodigious memory, and other members of the flock find their shepherd George dead in their field, with a spade through his chest. As humans gather, discuss George's secrets and his life, and attempt to break into his caravan, the equally puzzled sheep try to solve the mystery of who killed him. This is an offbeat, often funny and intriguing novel in which the sheep are not cartoon animals, but simply try to figure out what happened to George as if they were real sheep with sheep thought processes, overwhelmed by grazing needs, herd memory, thoughts of food, fear of the butcher, the incomprehensibility of human behavior, and their own terrors of the mysterious wolf they fear stalks them. By the time you're done, you may want a sheep of your own.

• Her Royal Spyness, Rhys Bowen
Pure romp! It's 1932, and is the tale of Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, otherwise known as "Georgie," daughter of the late Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, and 34th in line for the throne of England. Her half-brother Hamish (otherwise known as "Binky") and his wife Hilda (otherwise known as "Fig") have cut off her allowance now that she's turned twenty-one and she faces either an arranged match to Prince Siegfried of Romania, whom Georgie refers to as "Fishface," or striking out on her own, which will be difficult because as a minor royal she has no idea how to support herself. Still, on a pretense, she flees to the family townhouse in London, where she visits with her loveable grandfather in Essex (her mother was a commoner), gains support from her old school companion Belinda Warburton-Stoke, and meets equally impoverished—and devastatingly handsome—Irish peer Darcy O'Mara. Then suddenly there's the matter of the strange Frenchman who claims to have the deed to the family estate and is found dead in Georgie's bathtub... Just fun all around, with delightful characters...if the mystery's light, who cares?

• Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver
My grandfather, my dad's father, used to claim I wasn't really Italian: I didn't like pepper, or red wine, and especially gardening, since every Italian family we knew had some sort of small vegetable garden somewhere in their backyard. Dirt and sun and worms and I just never got along. However, this doesn't keep me from enjoying reading nonfiction about people who have farms, and I truly enjoyed this narrative about the author's family's effort to live for one year on a Virginia farm, only eating whatever they could grow or raise on their property or buy locally (although I still can't understand all the excitement about eating vegetables...LOL). Each chapter is highlighted by a sidebar written by Kingsolver's teenage daughter, who places a younger perspective on the family's search for self-sufficiency. There are some interesting recipes included, and some very humorous chapters about the younger daughter's chicken-raising operation and their turkey-breeding efforts.

• Re-read: The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
Books about animals were my delight as a kid, so I didn't read any of Enright's Melendy family books until I was an adult. Now I'm enjoying them, as much for the period details (the books were written, except for the last, during World War II, so scrap drives and Victory Gardens pepper the narratives) as for the adventures of the four children: Mona, almost fourteen, future actress; Rush, twelve, aspiring pianist and engineer; Miranda, known as Randy, ten, into art and dance, and six-year-old Oliver, who loves bugs, dirt, and toy soldiers, like any boy of that age at that time. In this first of four novels, the children pool their allowances so that each Saturday one of them in turn will be allowed a fantastic excursion: Randy goes to an art exhibit for the first adventure and befriends Mrs. Oliphant, an elderly widow whom previously the children thought was boring, Rush goes to the opera and finds a surprise on his way home, and Mona...oh, Mona does something shocking—at least for a thirteen-year-old in 1941! The kids are normal kids, not prigs, the adventures are fun...highly recommended for whatever age!

• Re-read: The Four-Story Mistake, Elizabeth Enright
The Melendys are moving, lock, stock and their beloved housekeeper Cuffy and handyman Willie Sloper, to a house in the country nicknamed "the Four-Story Mistake." It's an eventful year, in which Randy learns to ride a bike and makes more friends in town, Mona finds a career in radio, Rush builds a tree house and gives music lessons...and that's only a few of the things the Melendy children do in their first nine months in their new home. Simply fun from first page to last.

• The Joys of Love, Madeleine L'Engle
This formerly unpublished young adult novel recently released by L'Engle's granddaughters is the story of Elizabeth Jerrold, an orphan being raised by her straitlaced Aunt Harriet, who has been lucky enough to get an apprentice job with a small theatre group in New York for the summer. Along with helping out in the troupe's cafeteria, typing and running errands for the theatre owner, and practicing small parts with her fellow apprentices and other members of the troupe, Elizabeth, tall and coltish, has fallen head-over-heels in love with the company's Swedish director, who seems to be responding in kind. But four days in midsummer will completely change everything: the way she thinks of her fellow actors, the profession, of the actress she idolizes, and even the man she loves. I don't find this the best of L'Engle's stories, but it's a welcome addition to her body of work, and interestingly, since L'Engle has always intertwined her characters from one book to others, she mentions Ilsa Woolf, the heroine of her most difficult-to-find novel, Ilsa, in her story of Elizabeth as the woman who nurses Elizabeth's late mother through her last illness.

09 July 2008

How Can So Many Memories Fit Into One Little Book? #3

When I was a small child I drew on everything (well, except walls; despite what they show on cleaning commercials—I was certainly not allowed and wouldn't have dared do so!) and I was crazy about colors, all colors. I loved multicolor Christmas tree lights and displays, fireworks, rainbows, and the fractured lights from prisms (my favorite scene in Pollyanna is stil the one where she discovers the prism crystals on Mr. Pendergast's lamps). I had coloring books from a young age, reveled in the sublime odor of Crayola crayons (nothing quite smells like a Crayola, not any other crayon), and drooled over the 64 color box when all my mom would purchase me was the 48 box. (The 64 box had copper in it! And yet more colors! One of the first things I did when I finally got an allowance was to buy myself a 64 box of Crayolas and I would buy myself one for Christmas for years thereafter.)

I was never a watercolor fan, but preferred oil paints. Watercolors never worked for me, as I always seemed to puddle them. Yet I had a wonderful paintbox that I remember to this day. Forget the meager little eight-color or twelve-color cake plastic boxes you see for kids nowadays, with a big rough plastic handled brush. Somewhere Mom found me an English paintbox, possibly a Windsor and Newton, or perhaps a Page, with dozens of colors—I have seen a paintbox online with 32 colors and mine had more than that...possibly 64. It was in a big tin with an impressionist painting on the front, a Monet, I believe, the one of the people picnicking. When you opened it there were rows of cakes of colors, a groove for the brush (included—a fine camel-hair brush with a wooden handle), a little indentation for some water. The most fascinating thing were the color names printed in sans serif capitals under the cakes, not ordinary names like "green" and "red" and "yellow," but enchanting names like "crimson lake," "rose madder," "yellow ochre," "red ochre," "verdigris," "carmine," "ultramarine," "indigo," "cobalt blue," "Prussian blue," "lampblack," "raw sienna," "umber," "white lead," and "saffron yellow..." (Here's a smaller English children's paintbox that shows similar cakes with the wonderful color names.)

Which is why I was so delighted to find Victoria Finlay's Color. Her text brought back the wonderful painbox, the sweetish scent of the wet cakes, and the evocative names. At an early age, she also fell in love with the paintbox and the mysterious color names within, and in this volume, she travels to the places where the colors come from. She first addresses the artists and the colors they worked in and the famous Windsor and Newton paint plant. She then travels to Australia, to find the original colors: the ochres, red and yellow and black and white. Then in turn she visits the rest of the paintbox colors, before the discovery of analine dyes: charcoal and the other blacks, graphite, soot, and oak galls. Logwood for browns. White lead (which turns red with heating) and the insufficient chalks. The carmine reds made from the blood of insects: cochineal. (Did you know cochineal, the blood of white insects that live on cactus, is still used to color Cherry Coke, blush and lipstick?) Reds from cinnabar, the mercury derivative. Stradivari's mysterious orange dye, which may have lent the special sound to his violins. Indian yellow (supposedly produced with the urine of cows who have eaten only mango) and saffron (the stamens of purple crocuses) grown in Spain and Iran. The greens of malachite in China and verdigris. The heavenly ultramarine blue of Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. The dark blue of woad and indigo. And finally the violet dye that comes from murex, a shellfish (which leads us to the first of the analine dyes created by chemistry, mauve). This is an enthralling book of travels around the world, of the people Finlay meets, from Aborigal artists to deep sea divers to the pickers of the rolling fields of purple saffron crocus, and the origins of the colors. I must hunt up her book Jewels, in which she gives the same treatment to precious stones. Wonderful, wonderful book if you are "into" art, exotic travel, or just colors, colors, colors.