Friday, November 30, 2007

NYTimes: Top Ten of 2007

The New York Times Book Review has announced its top 10 books for 2007. Luckily, one of the few fiction books I read for pleasure this year is on the list: Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. I didn't read it for bragging rights, but since I have the opportunity...why not? I also happened to think that it was a terrific book--especially for those that experienced the boom/bust cycle of the 90's first hand.

BTW: Notice how the page edges in the NY Times illustration are inscribed with the article's headline? This graphic technique seemed a little familiar to me. Then I remembered that Martha Stewart Magazine did something similar in its "Good Things" section earlier this year.

Although the techniques are alike, I love how different they are in execution. The NYTimes version is brainy and hurried looking, while the Martha Stewart version is pretty and so meticulously crafted. Good examples, I think, of how graphics can reinforce a publication's editorial voice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Memoriam: Mary Rea

Today I learned that Mary Rea, one of the first and most loyal members of the Readers Roundtable, passed away last week on Thanksgiving Day. Her unique insights and sly humor will be sadly missed.

Her obituary was printed on Tuesday, November 27 in The Daily Review, and her online guest book will remain up until December 27.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

NYTimes: 100 Notable Books of the Year

The New York Times has published its list of 100 Notable Books of 2007 on its website. (The print version will be included in the Holiday Book Issue of December 3, 2007.) This is another good gift guide for book lovers. I also use it to help me find titles for our Reader's Roundtable book discussions.

Gift guide for library (& book) lovers

Do you have someone on your Christmas gift list who loves books and libraries? Or looking for some goodies to add to your own Santa wishlist? Here's a handy list of websites that sell book and library-related gifts sure to delight any bookworm.

Gift Guide for Library Lovers

This purse was made from a book cover. You can find this purse and others like it on

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Newsweek: Books aren't dead

Steven Levy (one of my favorite technology writers) has written a superb cover article in this week’s Newsweek. Ostensibly, it’s about Amazon’s new e-book device the Kindle, but mostly it’s about how book authors, book readers and the book format itself are evolving in this digital age.

It’s an easy, but provocative read, filled with fun facts and fascinating information about books and reading. For me, it was a totally ludic reading** experience.

The Future of Reading

"Technology," computer pioneer Alan Kay once said, "is anything that was invented after you were born." So it's not surprising, when making mental lists of the most whiz-bangy technological creations in our lives, that we may overlook an object that is superbly designed, wickedly functional, infinitely useful and beloved more passionately than any gadget in a Best Buy: the book. It is a more reliable storage device than a hard disk drive, and it sports a killer user interface. (No instruction manual or "For Dummies" guide needed.) And, it is instant-on and requires no batteries. Many people think it is so perfect an invention that it can't be improved upon, and react with indignation at any implication to the contrary.

"The book," says Jeff Bezos, 43, the CEO of Internet commerce giant, "just turns out to be an incredible device." (Link to full article.)
** In 1988 Victor Nell coined the term “ludic reading” for the “trance-like state that heavy readers enter when consuming books for pleasure.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NYTimes: Publishers Woo Book Groups

According to this New York Times article (11/19/07), publishers are realizing the marketing potential of book clubs.
Publishers Seek to Mine book Circles

In early June, at Book Club Expo, a gathering of reading group members and book lovers, the author Khaled Hosseini opened the first session with heartfelt thanks to the attendees.

“He said that ‘The Kite Runner’ wasn’t being read until book groups got hold of it,” recalled Ann Kent, who put together the event, which was held in San Jose, Calif. “He acknowledged their power in putting his book on the best-seller list and keeping it on the best-seller list. It was pretty profound.”

Profound or not, the message had resonance. Increasingly, authors and publishers are tipping their hats to the power of 8 or 10 or 12 women (and usually they are women) sitting around a dining room table, dissecting their particular book of the month, then spreading the word to their friends. (Link to full article.)

NOTE: Below I've listed two of the web resources mentioned in the article in case you want to check them out. When I get the chance, I'll also add them to the blog's list of book links.

AuthorBuzz is a marketing service that puts authors directly in touch with readers, reading groups, booksellers and librarians allowing them to offer excerpts, phone chats or visits with reading groups, material for newsletters, info about contests and freebies, mentions of new reviews — anything and everything authors want to buzz directly to the people who buy, read and sell their books.
Sign up for any of the email book clubs and every day you'll get a 5-minute sample from a book. By the end of the week, you'll have read 2-3 chapters. If it's a book you've just gotta finish, visit the library or your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. Have fun.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Maltese Falcon Returns

As you may recall, one of the original falcon statues used in the movie The Maltese Falcon was stolen from the San Francisco restaurant John's Grill earlier this year. Well, according to an article on, the falcon, albeit a new & improved version, has returned to its roost.
Maltese Falcon rules roost at John's Grill

The bird is back and it's bigger than ever.

Nine months after someone snatched a replica of the Maltese Falcon from its perch on the second floor of San Francisco landmark John's Grill, owner John Konstin and 90 bird and mystery lovers welcomed a new replica of the fowl made famous by Dashiell Hammett's 1930 novel and Humphrey Bogart's 1941 film noir classic.

"The falcon's going back upstairs, but this time it's going to be bolted down, locked in its case with security cameras, the whole thing," said Konstin, who kept a nervous eye on the new bird throughout the Friday afternoon unveiling. (Link to full article.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

National Book Award Winners

The 2007 National Book Award Winners were announced today, November 15. The winning titles with publisher descriptions are listed below. Click on any title to see if it's available at the library.

I've not read any of these books yet, but have read quite a number of terrific reviews about the fiction winner Tree of Smoke. Maybe a good read for the Roundtable once it comes out in paperback.

Fiction Winner
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

This is the story of Skip Sands—spy-in-training, engaged in Psychological Operations against the Vietcong—and the disasters that befall him thanks to his famous uncle, a war hero known in intelligence circles simply as the Colonel. This is also the story of the Houston brothers, Bill and James, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war in which the line between disinformation and delusion has blurred away. In its vision of human folly, and its gritty, sympathetic portraits of men and women desperate for an end to their loneliness, whether in sex or death or by the grace of God, this is a story like nothing in our literature.

** According to an article, Denis Johnson is a resident playwright for the San Francisco theater group Campo Santo.

Non-Fiction Winner
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner
For the last sixty years, the CIA has managed to maintain a formidable reputation in spite of its terrible record, burying its blunders in top-secret archives. Its mission was to know the world. When it did not succeed, it set out to change the world. Its failures have handed us, in the words of President Eisenhower, “a legacy of ashes.”

Now Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tim Weiner offers the first definitive history of the CIA—and everything is on the record. LEGACY OF ASHES is based on more than 50,000 documents, primarily from the archives of the CIA itself, and hundreds of interviews with CIA veterans, including ten Directors of Central Intelligence. It takes the CIA from its creation after World War II, through its battles in the cold war and the war on terror, to its near-collapse after 9/ll.

Poetry Winner
Time and Materials by Robert Hass
(On Order. You can place a hold.)
The poems in Robert Hass's new collection—his first to appear in a decade—are grounded in the beauty and energy of the physical world, and in the bafflement of the present moment in American culture. This work is breathtakingly immediate, stylistically varied, redemptive, and wise.

His familiar landscapes are here—San Francisco, the Northern California coast, the Sierra high country—in addition to some of his oft-explored themes: art; the natural world; the nature of desire; the violence of history; the power and limits of language; and, as in his other books, domestic life and the conversation between men and women. New themes emerge as well, perhaps: the essence of memory and of time.

** According to an article, Robert Hass is a U.C. Berkeley professor and served as a U.S. poet laureate. On a personal note, Hass has written some of my all-time favorite poems. Here's one I love for it's humor and emotional punch:
Forty Something
She says to him, musing, 'If you ever leave me, and marry a younger woman and have another baby, I'll put a knife in your heart.' They are in bed, so she climbs onto his chest, and looks directly down into his eyes. 'You understand? Your heart.'

Young People's Literature Winner
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (On Order. You can place a hold.)

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

The March book is in

Copies of The Thirteenth Tale, the book for the March 2008 book discussion, have arrived. Now, the Main Library is stocked with all three books for the January to March meetings. You can register for any or all of these meetings at the Information/Reference Desk. It's only $10 per meeting and you'll get a free copy of the book.

Jan '08 - Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Feb '08 - Philadelphia Fire
Mar '08 - Thirteenth Tale

Friday, November 9, 2007

NYTimes Article: Gaelic Slang

Today's New York Times (11/9) has a swell (sóúil) article about American slang words that evolved out of Irish Gaelic.
Humdinger of a Project: Tracing Slang to Ireland

Growing up Irish in Queens and on Long Island, Daniel Cassidy was nicknamed Glom.

“I used to ask my mother, ‘Why Glom?’ and she’d say, ‘Because you’re always grabbing, always taking things,’” he said, imitating his mother’s accent and limited patience, shaped by a lifetime in Irish neighborhoods in New York City.

It was not exactly an etymological explanation, and Mr. Cassidy’s curiosity about the working-class Irish vernacular he grew up with kept growing. Some years back, leafing through a pocket Gaelic dictionary, he began looking for phonetic equivalents of the terms, which English dictionaries described as having “unknown origin.”

“Glom” seemed to come from the Irish word “glam,” meaning to grab or to snatch.
Link to article.

Flash Fiction

The book blog titled "The story as one-liner" in today's Guardian newspaper talks about a literary form that's new to me: Flash Fiction. It's basically a very, very short story of 2,000 words or less...sometimes much, much less. Here's a example pulled from the article.
Untitled by Ernest Hemingway
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Flash fiction is nothing new, but in this age of distraction, it's becoming more popular. What differentiates it from poetry or even a joke isn't always clear to me:
My Father by Mike Topp
My father was a snowman.
He got depressed and blew his brains out with a hair dryer.
Obviously, it takes some skill to write effective Flash Fiction. If you want to learn more about it, checkout the Wikipedia entry, which also has several links to websites and articles.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

February Discussion Book

After being on backorder for several weeks, the book for the February discussion, Philadephia Fire, has finally arrived. You can pick up a copy at the Main Library's reference desk if you want to read ahead.

I also ordered the March book, The Thirteenth Tale. That should be in by next week.

I'll also bring both titles to the January meeting as usual.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Book Discussion: Slaughterhouse-Five

Readers Roundtable will be meeting tomorrow, Saturday November 3 at 2:00 p.m. to discuss Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughter-House Five.

Elizabeth has been doing a bit of research on the firebombing of Dresden and kindly forwarded me this message with some fascinating weblinks.
Kurt Vonnegut may be the best known writer to survive the firebombing of Dresden, but as you would expect, he is not the only one.

For the last year or so, I have been working my way through the diaries of Victor Klemperer, who escaped deportation by the Nazis and survived the firebombing of Dresden (rather, he survived because of the firebombing of Dresden).

I am only as far as the summer of 1943 in my reading of the diaries, but here’s a link to an article in Der Spiegel which excerpts from his diary.

About the time I started rereading Slaughterhouse Five, I found an online gallery of old photos and drawings of pre-war Dresden, but I failed to bookmark the page, and now I can’t find it again. I wanted to get some mental picture of the city that looked like “Oz” to Vonnegut. I’ll keep looking, and if I find it, I’ll send you the link.


PS: During the Hitler years, in addition to his diaries, Victor Klemperer produce a study of the language of the Third Reich and how the National Socialists changed the German language, redefining old words and creating new ones for propaganda purposes (similar to “Newspeak” in 1984).