25 February 2009

Laughs for Language Fans

If you are a fan, like I am, of books like Anguished English and its sequels by Richard Lederer, Jerry Robinson's Flubs and Fluffs, or other books or collections where signs, letters, school papers, and other written items with amusing grammatical errors are featured, you may enjoy English As She is Wrote, a collection of flubs and fluffs published in 1883!

12 February 2009

Books Only Multiply

So I went to the library on my lunch hour, intending to return Degrees of Separation and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town (previously mentioned). Instead of driving to the closest library (Sibley, a tiny bit of a library crammed next to a car financing company), I went to the central library downtown. In her blog, Dani Torres has mentioned the Phryne Fisher mystery novels and I was intrigued. The Cobb County Library system has three of these Kerry Greenwood-authored novels, two of them at the central library (of course, as luck has it, none of the three being the first one), which explains my attendance.

The central library always has a little cart out of mystery books and in scanning it I found an delicious-looking book: The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Murder Case by George Baxt. According to the back cover Baxt has also written something called The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case, which sounds equally delicious. I suppose I will find out if it's actually true after my read of Fred and Ginger. I checked the card catalog—now a misnomer since all the books are listed on computer instead—to see if the library had any other Baxt books, but apparently the Fred and Ginger book is so new it's not even on the computer, never mind Bill and Myrna. :-)

So I sallied forth into the stacks to fetch Phryne (#9 and #12; she's a British ex-pat living in Australia during the 1920s) and of course came back via the Christmas books, and found myself smack-dab next to the linguistics books, so I also picked up two William Safire "On Language" volumes I don't remember reading, Quoth the Maven and Spread the Word. Yum...nice fat books about word usage!

As I departed the library I debated also taking out Ballet Shoes (I've never read any Streatfeild and the television production piqued my interest), but dismissed it for now. I wish Cobb County had more than one Beany Malone book! If I want to read the others I will have to get them through interlibrary loan, darnit.

A sign at checkout said "Try our new self-checkout," so I did! Just like the grocery store (although it helps when you scan the library's barcode, not the book's...LOL).

Trading Places

Remember Disney's Freaky Friday, about a teenage girl and her mother who switch bodies after they wish they could be each other (thinking that the other's life is easy), filmed originally in 1977 and remade twice since then? All had their genesis in the 1972 Mary Rodgers novel, which was followed by a sequel where the brother in the story switches places with his dad.

Would you be surprised to know that the notion of a parent changing places with a child via some sort of magical wish/talisman is not a new idea? The original concept was published as long ago as 1882: Vice Versa, the tale of a stuffy British businessman who changes place with his boarding-school bound son, can be read here. (Note: it was updated in the 1980s for American television, with Fred Savage in the boy's role.)

10 February 2009

Books Read Since January 19

• Moving Targets, and Other Tales of Valdemar, edited by Mercedes Lackey
This is the fourth collection of short stories taking place in the Valdemar/Velgarth universe created by Lackey back in the 1980s starting with Arrows of the Queen. Sadly, every story in this anthology is interesting except for Lackey's humorous titular offering. There's nothing wrong with humor in the Valdemar universe; it's been done before—but a Herald's story that is a spoof on Scooby-Doo? With the four young people (and their version of a van) accompanied by a kyree (usually telepathic catlike wolf-creature) who speaks like Scooby? ::sigh:: I would have loved a humorous story from Lackey, but not this one. Worth buying for the other stories, however.

• Sojourn (Time Rovers, Book 1), Jana G. Oliver
In the future, time travel is possible and tourists and researchers embark on time travel vacations with the help of an escort: a time rover who places them in the past and then returns to extract them. Jacynda is a rover sadly in need of some off-time (she's starting to have hallucinations, a side effect from crossing too many timelines in quick succession) who is sent back to Victorian England right before Jack the Ripper strikes the first time to bring back a missing tourist. But he's vanished, and in the course of her search Cynda becomes involved with two gentlemen of the period who have a rather unusual secret. If you are fond of fact-based fantasy, this one's a real page turner, with enjoyable characters. There are two sequels, Virtual Evil and Madman's Dance.

• Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town, John E. Miller
This is a slim but interesting volume about the town of DeSmet, where the Ingalls family finally set down roots, basically a biography of the place where Laura Ingalls became an adult and was married. If you are a LIW fan, you may be interested to know more about her eventual hometown.

• Degrees of Separation, Sue Henry
In the newest Jessie Arnold Alaska mystery, Jessie is awaiting the first snowfall so she and her dogs can begin training again after her enforced rest after knee surgery. Unfortunately she and the team run over a dead body on their first outing. The victim turns out to be a young man whose family is well-known in a nearby town; he has a reputation for being a little wild. Then someone deliberately tries to kill state trooper Phil Becker, partner of Jessie's significant other Alex Jensen. Are the crimes related? Nature isn't cooperating, either, as a series of earthquakes rattle the area. Interesting thing about this outing: all the "strings" aren't neatly tied up at the end.

The book features a large cameo by Maxie McNabb and her dachshund Stretch, the protagonists of Henry's other mystery series. How well you tolerate this depends on your affection for these characters; I didn't mind much, but I prefer Jessie and Alex on their own.

• FDR's Splendid Deception, Hugh Gallagher
Most biographies of Franklin Roosevelt mention is polio only in brief, as a stumbling block to his political career and his road to the White House. Some note Roosevelt's efforts to cover up his being wheelchair-bound, and a couple mention his fear of fire, possibly engendered by having seen one of his aunts burn to death after a terrible accident with an alcohol lamp. I heard Gallagher speak in the documentary FDR: A Presidency Revealed and immediately found a copy of this book, which is the only volume to detail the struggle Roosevelt faced with his polio, which was not as "painless" as he always made it appear. Even if you disagree with his political decisions, it is difficult not to admire the man for coping with the daily struggle he had to put up to appear fit. Today we have associations that help the disabled to take their place in society; back then each "differently abled" person had to fight just to be treated as something other than a half-wit unable to function at all. A look at Roosevelt from "a different angle."

• Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler, Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw
This is an entertaining summary of European history through its art and politics for the casual, non-history-buff tourist who visits Europe and wonders what all those statues and paintings are all about. For people a little more well-versed, it's a fun review—unless you can't stand Steves' atrocious puns. Well-illustrated and a good guide to art galleries and sites.

• Harry: A History, Melissa Anelli
Anelli was just a high-school student when she read the first couple of Harry Potter novels. She then forgot about the series as she arrived at college, decided that journalism, not pre-med (as her parents wished) was her forté, and got back into the series. As a lark, she wrote a few reviews for a new website devoted to Harry Potter, The Leaky Cauldron. And that's what this book is all about, Anelli's introduction into Potter fandom, her growing involvement with the website, her encounters with author Rowling and others involved in Potter fandom (including a very offbeat chapter about "wizard rock"), all interspersed between the story of the buildup to the seventh and final novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even if I have no interest in wizard rock. I've read reviews of it which complain about Anelli's "name dropping," about other websites being left out of this tale of "Harry Potter fandom," and other "sour grapes" comments that sound all too familiar—they are the same sort of thing leveled at author Joan Winston after her book The Making of the Trek Conventions. For all I know Anelli is a real creep—or not. This book is labeled very clearly as "a personal memoir." It makes no claim to be the be-all end-all history of Harry Potter fandom with promises to mention every single website a lot and praise a lot of people. This is Potter from Anelli's POV and as such it is enjoyable.

• Silent in the Sanctuary, Deanna Raybourn
In the second of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, Julia is spending time recovering from the loss of her home and her husband by living in Italy with two of her many brothers, Plum and Lysander. When the three are summoned back to the family estate, ostensibly because Lysander has married a tempestuous Neapolitan girl who needs to be introduced to the family, they travel reluctantly, accompanied by the bride Violetta and a friend, Antonio. It is only when they arrive at the March family home, an old abbey, that Julia discovers that her father has also invited Nicholas Brisbane, the intelligent but reclusive "inquiry agent" who helped Julia solve the mystery of her husband's death, and whom Julia found herself attracted to. But Brisbane is now engaged, and if that little fact wasn't enough, one of the Christmas guests at the abbey is murdered. Deliciously convoluted plot involving Brisbane's fiancee, two poor relations, a gathering of Romany people on the estate, and much creeping about in dark halls, with the Wuthering Heights business between Brisbane and Julia a bit softpedaled, thankfully. If you love Victorian mysteries with unconventional characters and period detail, this one's for you.

• Country Matters, Michael Korda
In the 1980s writer Korda (nephew of the famous Hungarian director Alexander Korda) and his wife bought a weekend country house where they could relax from the tumult of life in New York City and ride their horses. The rambling old farmhouse they buy, of course, is a fixer-upper, and, in the course of repairing the house and grounds, the Kordas meet all sorts of country types, including the handyman who prunes and bulldozes the yard, neighbors in trailers, etc. A few reviews mention that Korda seems to look down on his nose at these folks, who are not the "horsy set" across the river, and he does sound a bit supercilious at times, but he also makes a good deal of fun at himself at not knowing how to cope with events that his neighbors find so easy, wryly observing how they make fun of his prolifigate spending on things like a riding arena, and of the friends who sometimes invite themselves to his "country estate" over the weekend expecting to play tennis and swim and who instead find themselves on a farm where things must be cleaned, horses must be tended, and pigs must be fed. Seems to me Korda makes almost as much fun of himself and his snooty friends. Anyway, I enjoyed it, but it is more a library book to borrow than to own.

"Plain Jane" Information on Old Children's Book Series

Master List here.

07 February 2009

Massachusetts Author

I picked up a mystery today, The Dante Club, which takes place in 1860s Boston. Someone is murdering people in ways taken from Dante's Inferno. The members of the Dante Club, and eventual sleuths, are three writers whose names you probably know: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, along with publisher James T. Fields (of Ticknor and Fields, which, among other things, published the children's magazine Our Young Folks, which was later absorbed into St. Nicholas). (For some reason, James Fields is mentioned in the 1994 movie version of Little Women as the publisher of Jo's book Little Women; the actual publisher was Brown Brothers.)

Some of the reviews say this book is rather plodding, but I'll reserve judgment until read.

Speaking of Little Women, I considered buying another, new copy of Little Women. Now, I have a perfectly serviceable copy of Little Women, the Grosset & Dunlap publication with the Louis Jambor illustrations. However, last night I noticed a hardcover version of Little Women in the literature section (rather than the children's section) of Borders, with old-style illustrations on the cover. I took it down from the shelf, noting the same illustrations in the text, and also a note at the front of the book about this particular edition.

Little Women was first published in 1868, what we now know as part one of the novel. The second half of the book was published the next year as Little Women, Part 2 (often known in England and other countries as Good Wives). In 1880, the two parts were united as one book and have been so ever since. In addition, however, this notation indicated, some changes were made. Alcott's original version had the girls and Laurie speaking less grammatically and more like children talked when Alcott wrote the book. However, when the volumes were united, Alcott went over the manuscript and corrected this dialog to fit with what publishers and educators said was better for children to read.

For example, at the opening of the book, Meg chides Jo about her tomboyish behavior and tells her she needs to start paying attention to her behavior, because she is now a young lady. In my Grosset & Dunlap (and most other) version, Jo's response is "I'm not! And if turning up my hair makes me one, I'll wear it in two tails till I'm twenty." In the original book, Jo says, "I ain't"! In the chapter where Beth is sick, Laurie asks Jo "Doesn't Meg pull fair?" [helping care for Beth]. In Alcott's original, Laurie says in the vernacular of the day, "Don't Meg pull fair?"

There are all sorts of little differences like that; I'm quite crazy about Louisa May Alcott's juveniles and may get the "original" Little Women anyway. Many of Alcott's novels went through editing after first publication and I love to read them "as written," not cleaned up.

I really want this book, too, but...oh, my, the price! I saw it today at Borders and just drooled, but even with a 30 percent off coupon...maybe when the used copies get more reasonable...

03 February 2009

Hail to the Headless Horse!

One of my favorite Disney films of all time has always been the French-set (filmed in England) story The Horse Without a Head, based on a book by Paul Berna. The film starred Vincent Winter (Disney semi-regular, appearing in Three Lives of Thomasina and Almost Angels) and Pamela Franklin (one of her two appearances for Disney, the other being A Tiger Walks), along with Jean-Pierre Aumont and British character actor Leo McKern. Winter and Franklin, along with three other child actors, play five poor French children whose only toy is a full-sized hobbyhorse (not like a rocking or spring horse) on three metal wheels, which they use as a "thrill ride" of sorts, riding it at breakneck speed down the steep hills of their town. Franklin is particularly delightful as Marion, the girl with a talent for nursing and re-homing stray dogs, who has them all trained to come to the sound of her whistle.

So you can imagine I was delighted many years ago to come upon the Scholastic printing of the book, translated from the French. Given that Disney sometimes adapts books into unrecognizable format, it was interesting to read this volume and discover that they stuck very close to the storyline for this adventure.

There are minor differences: in the movie the crime is seen being plotted (probably because the ringleader of the robbery is played by well-known actor Herbert Lom, later of the "Pink Panther" films), while in the book some of the perpetrators are figured out only at the end. In the book there are ten children, not five, and Vincent Winter's character is a combination of two boys, the head of the group, Gaby, and the part he actually plays, Fernand. In the movie Marion's grandfather is the old junkman who finds the horse for the children, while in the book he is a character not connected to Marion.

Also, Inspector Sinet in the book is a rather dour middle-aged man rather than someone like the handsome, vibrant Jean-Pierre Aumont. However, everything is "there," so to speak, so if you ever have enjoyed the Disney film, you would be well to look up a copy of the book to further capture the French character of the town and the story.