A bit of a time away …

I’ve had a bit of a time away — not far – just down on the central coast of California.

Husband and I went to Paso Robles where the hills were green…

and there were lambs in the fields

wildflowers in bloom

trees in blossom

and wine to be sampled – as Paso was celebrating its ZinFest or Zinfandel Festival.

A good time was had by all.   I read two books while down there, which when added to my backlog of Book Barmy posts means I must get busy.  Lots of books to tell you about…soon.

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For the love of Bookshops ~Part Deux

Had to share this – a tribute to bookstores in film.

Click on the books to read article and see video.

Homage to Bookstores and Libraries Everywhere

For the Love of Bookshops

Just as I am drawn to books about books, I also can’t pass up a book about bookshops. 

Like most bibliophiles, I am physically unable to walk past a bookstore of any sort.  Even when traveling, where the books are in another language, where there’s nothing I can comprehend, I still have to wander into the bookshops.  Just to look around and breathe the smell of books.  (Husband is the same way with hardware stores – and yes, I tolerantly tag along.  But, between you and me, how many drill bits can one guy use?  Whoops, better not go there, looking around at the results of my own book addiction habit)

A friend brought The Bookshop Book back from a trip to the U.K. and passed it on to me as a Christmas gift.  This sexy British publication has been sitting next to my reading chair even since, enticing me –whispering in my ear.  So the other night I finally succumbed.

Jen Campbell is a British poet, author and book reviewer, who has a wonderful video blog on YouTube where she talks about her favorite books. 

I’ve become rather addicted to seeing my favorite book bloggers on their video blogs  (Vlogs).  Simon has done the same here.  Don’t hold your breath, Book Barmy will stay as is.  The world is not ready for videos with my mug yacking on about books.  Nor am I, I’d have to fix my crazy hair, do something involving makeup and don a video worthy shirt.

But I digress – back to The Bookshop Book, how could I resist its siren call after reading this from the book’s front flap?:

Every bookshop has a story.

We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books. We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops.

Meet Sarah and her Book Barge sailing across the sea to France. Meet Sebastien, in Mongolia, who sells books to herders of the Altai mountains. Meet the bookshop in Canada that’s invented the world’s first antiquarian book vending machine.

​And that’s just the beginning.

From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole).

The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops profiling the famous, such as Shakespeare and Company in Paris and Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, but also some smaller, lesser know shops around the world. 

Ms. Campbell also profiles many of  the bookshop owners, whom prove to be a wonderfully diverse and quirky lot — many of whom I would love to share a cup of tea and a chat.  Authors talk about their favorite bookstores and there’s little snippets of interesting bookish facts. 

It was most encouraging to learn that, in this digital age, bookshops around the world continue to survive and in many cases, thrive. 

This book had me at hello.


Ms. Campbell is also the author of these two fun books:

These books have a special place in my heart as I work/volunteer at the wonderful Readers Bookstore.  Working in the store proves to be one of my favorite things, largely because of the customers who come in searching for their next book.  Often they have a book in mind, but can’t remember the title or even the author, but try and describe it based on what they do know about the book.  “It’s about a man who lived with elephants for a year”…or,  “you know it’s on the bestseller list, about a crocodile?” 

It’s always a challenge and a delightful victory to finally figure out what book they mean.

Ms. Campbell also worked at in a bookshop for many years and turned these often bazaar conversations into two very funny, quickly readable, books.

Both Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores books celebrate not only bookstores, but the underpaid yet dedicated booksellers who lovingly help the myriad of colorful characters who walk through their doors everyday.

I will now quote from the books, but this is only a small taste of the very fun you’ll have reading these cheerful books:

 ~~~~~~~~~~~

CUSTOMER: Did Charles Dickens ever write anything fun?

~~~~~~~~~~~~

CUSTOMER: Doesn’t it bother you, being surrounded by books all day? I think I’d be paranoid they were all going to jump off the shelves and kill me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

CUSTOMER: Do you have a copy of Jane Eyre?

BOOKSELLER: Actually, I just sold that this morning, sorry!

CUSTOMER: Oh. Have you read it?

BOOKSELLER: Yes, it’s one of my favourite books.

CUSTOMER: Oh, great (sits down beside bookseller). Could you tell me all about it? I have to write an essay on it by tomorrow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

CUSTOMER: Hi, I just wanted to ask: did Anne Frank ever write a sequel?

~~~~~~~~~~~~

CUSTOMER: (an elderly woman) I can’t believe everybody’s reading this Fifty Shades book
BOOKSELLER: I know. I take it it isn’t your cup of tea, then?
CUSTOMER: Oh, no dear; been there, done that – no need to read about it!

~~~~~~~~~~~

CUSTOMER:  I read a book in the sixties. I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~

CUSTOMER: (holding up a book): What’s this? The Secret Garden? Well, it’s not so secret now, is it, since they bloody well wrote a book about it!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

(I’ve been getting versions of this question a great deal lately…)

CUSTOMER: I really don’t like the planet today – can you recommend a book set far, far away?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(with this, I happen to agree…)

CUSTOMER:  It makes me sad that grown up books don’t have pictures in them. You’re brought up with them when you’re younger, and then suddenly they’re all taken away

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(and a personal favorite…)

MOTHER: If you want to buy a book you’ll have to use your own money. I’ve bought you enough books already!
DAUGHTER: But I’ve read all those books!
MOTHER: Well then, you should learn to read slower!


Nice dedication by Ms. Campbell for the second book:

For bookshop customers, booksellers, librarians, bookworms, book-hoarders, bookworms and librocubicularists (those who like to read in bed).

You’re in for a treat with any of Ms. Campbell’s bookshop books.

 

 

And, now a fond good night to my fellow librocubicularists out there.

 

 




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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

 

The Book Barmy reading list has adapted to the past couple of months of endless rain and a bout with the flu.  I gravitated toward thrillers, wanting plot driven, hold your attention type escapism – as if I were on a long, mind-numbing plane trip

As with Dark Matter, Mr. Hawley, the author of Before the Fall is an award winning television writer, most famous for the strange but compelling series Fargo, so I hoped I was in for gripping story line.

Before the Fall bit me hard from the start and didn’t let go.

A private jet crashes minutes after departing Martha’s Vineyard.   Just two passengers survive, an artist and a 4 year old boy. With J.J., the boy in tow secured to a seat cushion, the middle-aged painter Scott Burroughs swims across the ocean to the Long Island shore.  Turns out Scott is an accomplished swimmer, inspired as a young boy witnessing Jack LaLane swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

The mystery of why the plane crashed is told by weaving together the crash investigation and the survivors aftermath with the backstories of the deceased passengers and crew members. The flight recorder reveals nothing amiss with the plane and it is decided that the crash was due sabotage.  A classic locked room mystery, but up in the air.  The mystery is unwrapped by revealing each character’s personal history and point of view.

The deceased include a financier facing federal indictment and his clueless wife; the head of a Fox-like cable news network with his wife and child; an Israeli bodyguard haunted by war;  a career pilot; a hotshot co-pilot; and a flight attendant in her own life crisis.

In the aftermath of the crash, Mr. Hawley gives center stage to Bill Cunningham the larger-than-life newscaster for the cable news network. He makes the story of the plane crash and the network’s lost leader tabloid news — by asking leading questions, ignoring the facts, assuming the worst, and using illegal means to get information.

It was fascinating to see how the news was no longer the facts of what happened, it became a “story” presented to make the headlines and grab audience numbers.  I cringed as Cunningham digs into the personal life of the hero, Scott Burroughs, using a hacker to monitor his private activities, which Cunningham then announces in his news broadcasts. 

All this a thinly veiled, yet very relevant stab at tabloid media and Fox news

Cunningham was the angry white man people invited into their living rooms to call bullshit at the world . . . who told us what we wanted to hear, which was that the reason we were losing out in life was not that we were losers, but that someone was reaching into our pockets, our companies, our country and taking what was rightfully ours.

[He appealed to] the people who had been searching their whole lives for someone to say out loud what they’d always felt in their hearts.

Just when the mystery of the downed plane seems connected to the corrupt financier, or perhaps the mysterious bodyguard — no no, it must be connected to the news network somehow– the story line shifts to the characters’ blurred boundaries and questionable pasts. The characters, are after all, just humans – fraught with guilt, frailties, and unresolved resentments.

In the end, it’s not money or power, but human vulnerabilities which drive our actions. 

 

Before the Fall reads like a film — it was a fast paced, entertaining and exciting thriller.   And what do you know?  Sony Pictures has acquired the rights to the story.

 

A digital advanced readers copy was provided by Grand Central Publishing via Netgalley.

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The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

The Portable Veblen was a National Book Award nominee, a Bailey’s prize finalist and talked about on NPR.  I found I had an advance copy — and gave it try…especially after reading the book’s publicity blurbs.

“A delightfully cockeyed love story that enfolds two splendidly dysfunctional families and a winningly persistent squirrel.”

“No matter how many novels you’ve read, it’s safe to say you’ve never read a novel like The Portable Veblen.”


The main character, Veblen Amundsen-Howda was named after Thorstein Veblen, an early twentieth century economist who despised corporations, materialism, and the consumer class  – a sort of Norwegian Henry Thoureau.

Okay, once I had that figured out, I carried on reading. 

Our Veblen is plagued by a hypochondriac, verbally abusive mother. Her father is in a mental institution. There’s a stepfather who suffers from PTS.  And Veblen herself has a bizarre obsession with squirrels.  She talks to squirrels, convinced they’re the only ones who care and understand her life situation.

A few more chapters and we discover that Veblen bites her own arm in times of stress, there’s a strangulation attempt, and the final straw — attempted humor around the abuse of a disabled child.

Had there been a fire in the fireplace I would have burned the thing* — so instead I threw The Portable Veblen on the floor in disgust.

I was forewarned that there would be family dysfunction – (see the blurbs above)… 

But these characters go beyond dysfunctional — they are nasty pieces of work and season ticket holders on the crazy train.

 

 

 

 

And, my friends, child abuse is never, ever funny.

 

 

 

 

 

* When I was a little girl, there was a famous incident in which, disgusted with what he was reading, my grandfather threw the errant book across the room into the fireplace.

Had we had a fire that evening —

I Would Have Done The Same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Deborah Crombie

Did you ever have one of those evenings?   It’s already dark, it’s raining, and you’re cozy, cuddled into your favorite chair, slippers on,– hunkered down for the night.

The last thing you want to do it go out, but…you have something you really want to see, a thing you really want to do.  So back and forth you argue with yourself ~~ should I go or should I stay?

Tuesday night, my neighborhood independent bookstore was hosting a talk by Deborah Crombie. She was promoting her newest book, Garden of Lamentations, which I loved.

So I pulled myself together, put on some decent clothes, my raincoat and boots.  Made myself a travel mug of tea and ventured out in the storm.

So glad I did.

 

Ms. Crombie was very open and funny.  She’s a native Texan and she told how she unexpectedly fell in love with England – especially London, how on a trip to England, she stumbled into a place that would make a perfect setting for a mystery.  Then, in a lovely self-depreciating manner, she described how she taught herself  to write mystery novels by deconstructing her most admired British authors — P.D. James, Reginald Hill and Dorthy Sayers.

Ms. Crombie glossed over what must have been really hard work  — long hours of writing through many drafts, author tutorials, writer workshops, university courses, and endless networking — other wannabe writers throw in the towel at even half this workload.

I came away with a signed book for a fellow Crombie fan/friend and a resolution to read Dorothy Sayers and Reginald Hill– whom, somehow, I’ve never read.

A very nice evening – and to think I almost stayed home in my slippers.

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The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

I’ve been perusing seed catalogs for our four little vegetable beds.  Despite our summer fog, our little garden gives us fresh lettuce, peas, greens and herbs most of the year. Once we get our first taste of our own garden salad made from heirloom lettuces and organic herbs, we decide it’s all worth it.  Be damned the slugs, the mold from the fog, the time, effort and mostly the cost.

So, with visions of fresh peas and lettuce dancing in my head, I picked up this slim little book, sitting on my shelf for years now.    The $64 Tomato is for gardeners and wannabe gardeners alike —  and the subtitle says it all:

How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden

This is a unvarnished, honest look at what it means to maintain a garden when everything seems against you, and your dreams and plans vastly outrun the available time.  But, like all hopeful gardeners, Mr. Alexander gamely plows ahead. (pun intended, couldn’t resist — I’m here all week, tip your waitress)

I laughed my way through this quirky memoir, reading about Mr. Alexander’s 2,000 sq. foot Hudson Valley vegetable garden, a fruit tree orchard and even his attempts to recreate a Swiss-style wildflower meadow on the property. 

There’s a spooky handyman who bears a striking resemblance to  Christopher Walken, a crew of exasperating contractors, and a menagerie of groundhogs, deer, Japanese beetles and crop destroying worms. These pests, both insect and mammal, defy Mr. Alexander at every turn. They come, they see his garden, and they conquer. His efforts to eradicate those pests (and yes, eradicate means exactly what you think) involve a mean 6,000-volt electric fence (really?) and harken back to that male-favorite film Caddyshack. 

But throughout, we do see that Mr. Alexander does actually recognize the joy from his efforts:

Gardening is, by its very nature, an expression of the triumph of optimism over experience.

You gotta feel for this guy, there are the vacations that had to be planned around the harvest, the near electrocution of the tree man, the limitations of his middle-aged body, and the judgment of his wife and kids.

Mr. Alexander’s cost-benefit analysis included every cost —  from seed ordered by the pound, to the live animal traps and then amortizing it over the entire life of his garden  —  results in a staggering $64* to grow each of his prized Brandywine tomatoes. (They sound wonderful, nothing like a homegrown tomato – but yes $64 seems extraordinary.)

But as any gardener will tell you, the pleasure of growing fresh food for friends and family — well that’s priceless.


*Another reviewer (obviously an economics major) pointed out that Mr. Alexander puts the entire costs of his garden on the poor tomato.  This reviewer suggested he should have evaluated all crops at market value, taken that number and subtracted it from total expenditures, and then use the difference as a percentage of total expenditures to be applied as a markup percentage to the market value of the Brandywines equally with other crops.

In other words — don’t blame the tomato.


Mr. Alexander has also written several other books…all revealing his obsessive tendencies.  I plan on reading both of these next:

52 Loaves in which our hero attempts to recreate a perfect loaf of bread from scratch: growing, harvesting, winnowing, threshing, and milling his own wheat, and

Flirting with French:  How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart.  Mr. Alexander’s struggle to master a foreign language after age 50.

I like this guy, he’s my sort of geek, obsessive yet funny — outlandish, yet self depreciating.  I would love to chat an afternoon away with him – preferably in the garden.

So, Mr. Alexander, if you’re reading this, you have an open invitation to stop by for a cup of coffee  — or perhaps a salad  — you can bring the tomatoes.

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