Kay: Whose Side Are You On?

The scene of the crime

This week I finished a subpar mystery and promptly wrote about it to fellow Lady Jilly. I spared nothing. I revealed clunky plot points, egregious characterizations, poorly constructed story arcs, and, perhaps worst of all, the irritating and unrewarding ending. Not only that, I said that had I known how the book ended, I wouldn’t have started it.

This discussion was all in the name of science, of course: I read bad books so others don’t have to.

But then the story broke about the Russian scientist stationed in Antarctica. You’ve probably read this one. Sergey Savitsky stabbed coworker Oleg Beloguzov in the heart for revealing the endings of books.

Okay, then! Continue reading

Elizabeth: Little Free Libraries

On October 18th, Todd Bol died in Minnesota at the age of 62.  You may not recognize his name, but I’ll bet you’re familiar with something he did.

Mr. Bol was the creator and founder of the Free Little Library, a global public bookcase non-profit organization.

“Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”

You’ve probably seen those Little Free Libraries scattered about.  I pass one each morning on my way to work, about a mile from my office.  According to a recent article in the New York Times, these little libraries can be found in all 50 states and in 88 countries.  There are over 75,000 officially registered Little Free Libraries; pretty amazing for something that started out as: Continue reading

Elizabeth: The Great American Read

Way back in the Dark Ages, when I graduated from High School, my English teacher gave me a copy of the book Shrinklits, by Maurice Sagoff.

“From Antigone to Lolita, from Beowulf to The Hobbit. The world’s greatest literature is summarized in Maurice Sagoff’s hilarious light verse. The result-70 intoxicating distillations of the classics everyone has been taking far too seriously for far too long.”

It was a small but very entertaining paperback that still has a spot on my bookshelves.  My favorite bit, taken from the amusing distillation of Beowulf is:

Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish.

Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.

Not only were the story distillations fun, they really gave a good feel for each of the stories and caused me to read several of them (Beowulf, I’m looking at you) that I might not have picked up otherwise. Continue reading

Elizabeth: There’ s a Word For That

The latest random subject to have caught my attention

I am a big fan of books, a fact that comes as no surprise to readers of this blog nor anyone who has ever been inside my house and seen my library – a floor-to-ceiling shelved room that technically is supposed to be an extra bedroom.  Periodically, like someone determined to lose those last annoying ten pounds, I’ve gone on a book diet, steadfastly staying away from anywhere that I might be tempted to acquire another book to add to my overflowing stash.

Just like other crash diets, my book diets are easily derailed by a pretty cover, a clever title, an innocent recommendation from a friend, or an entertaining back-cover blurb.

I’m okay with that.

When I was a kid, lack of money and opportunity meant that I’d read every book that resided on my bedroom bookshelves.  These days . . . not so much.

My library is filled with a variety of books. Continue reading

Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

When you’re feeling down, do you use fiction to restore your emotional equilibrium? I know I do.

Many of my friends, on both sides of the pond and on differing sides of the political divide, are feeling angry and/or depressed at the state of our world right now. They’re responding in a variety of ways, but the one thing they have in common is that almost all of them are finding their balance by losing themselves for an hour or two in a well-chosen and usually much-loved book.

Some people find catharsis in a story where the good guys smite the baddies and justice prevails. Sometimes I want smiting. Usually I prefer something gentler, upbeat, a fun story in a world where smarts, humor, kindness and generosity triumph.

Austen, Heyer, Pratchett and Crusie are bankers for me, but we’ve talked about them at length here, so chances are you already know whether they do it for you.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three recently-discovered favorites, in the hope that you might find them as restorative as I do.

The Kingpin of Camelot—Cassandra Gannon
A light, twisted and entertaining mash-up of well-known fairytale characters in an alternative Camelot where people are born Good or Bad. Good Folk (who are not all good) are privileged, while Bad Folk (who are not all bad) form the underclass. Following the untimely death of King Arthur, his evil regent The Scarecrow seeks to marry Queen Guinevere and claim the throne for himself. Gwen, who is Good, needs to protect her daughter, which she does by marrying Midas, the biggest, smartest, Baddest gangster in Camelot. This story has contracts, magic, humor, snark, battles, a child who is the antithesis of a plot moppet, a heroine with sweaty stable boy fantasies, a world put to rights and a fabulous Happy Ever After.

Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox—Forthright
Tsumiko, a teacher at St Midori’s School of the Heavenly Lights, unexpectedly inherits a fabulous estate, a huge fortune, and a butler. Argent is a fox in human form, a powerful trickster who is magically bound to obey Tsumiko. Argent needs Tsumiko for his own survival, but he resents and possibly hates her for it (he’s tricky, so you can’t be sure exactly what he hates). Tsumiko is the first of Argent’s owners to reject the idea that one person should be able to own another. With implacable determination she sets out to free him, uses her new-found wealth and power to build a caring and diverse community, finds a purpose in life and earns lasting love. This book is as delicious as a cup of top notch hot chocolate on a cold day. It hits all my pleasure buttons and I’m eagerly anticipating the second book in the Amaranthine Saga, Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal, which goes on sale in a week or so. Continue reading

Elizabeth: The Call of the Library

When I was growing up the library was my favorite place in the world   I spent most of my summer vacations at the local South Branch library, reading my way (alphabetically, of course) through the children’s section and, once Ms Cook the librarian decided I was old enough, on through a curated portion of the “grown-up” section.

Fast forward a few decades to when my son was little when we spent countless hours at the local library, progressing from story-time and picture books, to chapter-books and beyond.  I still have his very first library card – a bright-orange card with a signature on the back that only one who had given birth to him could decipher.  I didn’t bother getting a library card of my own at that time, since I always had his with me.  Someone perusing the library records might have wondered why a six-year old was checking out romance novels, but no one seemed to mind.

Since that time, other than a period when I was doing research at my university library a number of years ago, I haven’t set foot inside a library for longer than I can remember, unless you count my own house which does, I’ll admit, bear a striking resemblance to a library. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Notes from a Public Typewritter©

I was perusing the local bookstore the other day (which sounds better than desperately trying to come up with a blog-post idea), and Michael Gustafson’s book Notes from a Public Typewriter caught my interest.

I’m never quite sure what causes a book to jump out and catch my interest (that’s probably a post for another day), but for this book, it was a combination of the cover and the promise the title suggested.  The book was featured in an NPR Books article this past April (which I vaguely remember reading) and you can read the details here.

Basically, Michael set up the typewriter in his bookstore in Ann Arbor and let customers type away.  He initially thought maybe one customer would start a story and others would add to it over time when they passed by.  Instead what he wound up with thousands of pages of:

“Love letters, poems, quotes, sprawling meditations on life. Notes written over the top of others, single words, perfectly spaced paragraphs”

“It’s just been a wonderful sort of diary of a town,” says Michael, “happening in a bookstore.”

It’s always fascinating when something like this grows organically into something totally unexpected.  Last year I talked about  a similar type of unexpected project – the Big Ball of Paint – which was intended to be a 1000-coats-of-paint project  to see what the paint-layer cross sections would look like that evolved into a still-growing 14-foot (circumference) 2.5 ton ball of more than 25,000 layers of paint that is part tourist attraction, part collaborative project.

The ball of paint didn’t turn into a book like the typewriter notes did, but it was equally collaborative and creative.

Going back to the notes on the typewriter, although the experiment didn’t turn into the single long-story that Michael envisioned at the onset, it instead turned into a book full of stories, all told just a few words at a time.

I can’t wait to read them all.

Also, I feel a strange need to go unearth that old typewriter from the garage.  Who knows, maybe there are stories lurking there too.