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Friday, August 31, 2007

Borders Chain Still Losing Money

It's not nearly as easy as it seems for the large bookstore chains to make money. Barnes & Noble has been producing a smaller profit than its shareholders would like to see and Borders continues to disappoint its own by reporting another loss in its latest quarterly results.
Harry Potter helped, but even without the boy wizard, sales grew at Borders Group Inc. bookstores worldwide in the second quarter, reversing a year-long trend of declines at the company's U.S. stores.

It still wasn't enough to swing the Ann Arbor-based bookseller to a profit.

Hampered by a charge relating to settlement of a California lawsuit and costs from its new strategic plan, Borders lost $25.1 million, or 43 cents a share, in the quarter ended Aug. 4. Analysts expected a 34-cent loss.

Without the one-time expenses, Borders would have lost $15.3 million. Its 2006 second quarter loss was $18.4 million.

"We fully realize we have a lot of hard work yet to do,'' Borders chief executive George Jones said Wednesday during a conference call with investors and analysts.
...
Borders now has 20 million people signed up for its Borders Rewards customer loyalty program and continues to sign new subscribers up at a rate of 150,000 per week since April, when major changes to the program were announced.

"Results were far from impressive, but for the first time in several quarters, (Borders) is not redefining the low end of its earnings potential with a quarterly report,'' Goldman Sachs analysts advised investors in a note Wednesday. "Sales results are encouraging, and losses are roughly in line with expectations.''
News like this helps me to understand why Barnes & Noble has decided to stock the O.J. Simpson garbage on its shelves despite announcing earlier that it would not do so. Times are not all that great for the two big chains.

Barnes & Noble Decides to Carry Simpson Book in Stores

News comes today that the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain has decided to go ahead and add the O.J. Simpson trash-book to the shelves of its stores across the country. After all, you can't argue with a public that has sunk to the level of wanting to read this kind of garbage when there's money to be made, can you?
Barnes & Noble, the world's largest book retailer, has decided to sell O.J. Simpson's book "If I Did It" in its stores, reversing an earlier decision to offer the controversial title only on the Web.

"Our customers are asking for it. We have been monitoring pre-orders and decided we had enough" to put the book on retail shelves, company spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said on Thursday.
...
The book is set for a September 14 release, and 150,000 copies will be printed, up from a previously planned 125,000 copies, according to a Beaufort spokeswoman.

Keating said Barnes & Noble originally believed demand would not be high enough to put the book in stores. But online pre-orders have risen more than expected and the book has been on the top 100 list at barnesandnoble.com.
I really wish I didn't feel that this was the Barnes & Noble plan all along. Take the highroad and then succumb to customer demand. That's a nice bit of public relations strategy if I've ever seen one.

Previous posts on this topic:

Have We Lost Our Minds

No O.J. Simpson Book in Barnes & Noble Stores

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don't Look Back

Don't Look Back, the first of Norwegian author Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer novels to appear in the U.S., is a realistic police procedural that reminds the reader that identifying a murderer as often as not comes down to luck and sheer chance as it does to good detective work. Fossum sets her story in the kind of small town neighborhood where everyone believes that he knows everything about all of his neighbors. But, of course, that is never the case, and this psychological suspense novel is filled with well-developed characters who are living whole lives that are unsuspected by those living just a few feet from them.

When Sejer and his partner were called to the village to investigate the disappearance of a little girl, he was realistic enough to expect the worst. What he did not expect, however, was that the mystery of what happened to this child would lead him to the body of one of the little girl's teenage neighbors, Annie Holland, a beautiful and well-liked 15-year old athlete admired by everyone who knew her.

The delicate, almost protective, way that Annie's nude body was left at the scene of her murder convinced Sejer that sex had nothing to do with the reason that she was killed. He sensed that her killer was someone who knew her well and, through repeated conversations with the townspeople, he pushed and poked at them in a patient effort to piece together the last few months of Annie's life in a way that would make it easier to identify the person who had wanted her dead. In the process, Sejer hoped that he would either piece together enough of Annie's story to allow him to make an arrest or that the killer would do something foolish because of all the pressure that he was applying to the townspeople. It was only a question of which would happen first.

Don't Look Back offers numerous insights into contemporary Norwegian society and proves again what an excellent writer of psychological suspense Karin Fossum is. Fans of writers like Ruth Rendell and John Harvey would do themselves a favor by adding her Inspector Sejer series to their list of "must reads."

Rated at: 4.0

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

With a Little Help from His Friends




David Halberstam was putting the finishing touches on his final book, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, when he died in a San Francisco car accident last April. That book is going to be in bookstores on September 25 and, with a little help from Halberstam's friends, his last book is going on a national book tour. Yesterday's New York Times offers the details.




The command post is a set of Manhattan publishing offices, and the foot soldiers include Joan Didion, Seymour Hersh, Bob Woodward, Anna Quindlen, Alex Kotlowitz, Paul Hendrickson, Samantha Power and Bill Walton. They are going on David Halberstam’s book tour for him.
...
The unusual promotional push will stretch from New York to La Jolla, Calif., Washington to Chicago, Milwaukee to Nashville.

At each engagement Mr. Halberstam’s “surrogates,” as Mr. Woodward calls them, will pay tribute to him, a best-selling author of books like “The Best and the Brightest” and “Summer of ’49,” by offering personal reminiscences and readings. It took Mr. Halberstam 10 years to do the reporting and to write the book, which he called, in a term familiar to librarians and football fans, a “bookend” to his Pulitzer Prize-winning work on Vietnam.
...
The idea for the tour was Hyperion’s, said Mr. Halberstam’s widow, Jean. “Then someone reminded me that when Tony Lukas died just after ‘Big Trouble’ came out, David organized a number of writers to represent it in bookstores in the Boston area,” she said. “David’s friends, who are writers, are well aware that getting attention for a book is hard, no matter how well your last one did. They said, ‘Whatever I can do — I’ll fly to wherever.’ He would have felt amazed and humbled, and that’s not necessarily a word used to describe him.”
David Halberstam was a fine writer. I particularly enjoyed his books on baseball history but I found all of his non-fiction and history books to be some of the most accessible that I've ever read. This book tour is a wonderful tribute to a man who seems to have been loved and respected by his fellow writers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Have We Lost Our Minds?

I just checked the Barnes & Noble Hourly Top 100 list and I see that OJ Simpson's how-to-butcher-your-wife-and-any-others-in-the-area manual has moved up to number three on the list of best sellers despite not even having been released yet. That says a lot about the world we live in today, and none of what it says is good.

I think that the book might have been destined to be largely ignored by the reading public at one point. But all of that changed as soon as Oprah Winfrey decided that it would be good for her own ratings to do a show about the book. Nothing is more guaranteed to sell a few million books like a mention on that show, even one as trash filled as this one. And nothing is more likely to gain Oprah a few more ratings points (as if she really needs them) than a show highlighted by the Browns and Goldmans fighting about the man who murdered their daughter and son. Throw in all the cable "news" channels that are ready to jump on the bandwagon and it will soon be "All OJ, All the Time" when you turn on a television set. I just can't wait.
Pre-orders for the O.J. Simpson book “If I Did It” on the Barnes & Noble Web site are higher than the chain expected, but its decision not to carry the book in its stores still stands.
...
Due in the fall via Beaufort Books, the tome features Simpson'’s hypothetical account of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Interest in the book has been fueled by last week’s announcement that Oprah Winfrey would feature Denise Brown, Nicole Brown Simpson's sister; and Goldman's parents, Fred and Kim Goldman on a show scheduled to air Sept. 13.
What is wrong with us?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Heaven's Prisoners

James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series now numbers 16 novels and is my all-time favorite detective series. I love the way that Robicheaux has changed over the years and how the 16 books can be so effectively read as one long story.

This YouTube clip is the trailer for the 1996 movie made from the second book in the series, Heaven's Prisoners (published in 1988).

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pat Shroeder Is an Idiot

There's been quite a bit of talk on book blogs in the last few days about the Associated Press-Ipsos poll that showed that at least one in four Americans did not read even one book last year. Tragic as that is, the way that Pat Shroeder, president of the American Association of Publishers, decided to spin one other item in the poll is even more embarrassing. Shroeder works for a publishing group and one would assume that a big part of her job is to promote books and reading. But Shroeder, an ex-congresswoman from Colorado decided that getting a dig in at her former political opponents was more important than doing the job for which she is paid.

Because one part of the poll seemed to indicate that liberals read more books than conservatives, Shroeder reverted to the type of petty political attack she was well known for before her congressional exit. Debra J. Saunders makes clear in her San Francisco Chronicle column today that Pat Shroeder is either a fool or a liar. You decide which it is.
(Shroeder) proclaimed, "The Karl Roves of the world have built a generation that just wants a couple of slogans: 'No, don't raise my taxes, no new taxes.' It's pretty hard to write a book saying, 'No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes,' on every page."

She also told AP that liberals "can't say anything in less than paragraphs. We really want the whole picture, want to peel the onion."
...
Silly me, I looked into the poll - which liberals have hailed as proof of their intellectual superiority - and there's not a lot there in "the whole picture." The poll found that among people polled who read at least one book in the last year, liberals read nine books and conservatives read eight.

When I called Michael Gross, associate vice president of Ipsos public affairs, to find out more about the Ipsos poll, he told me the one-book difference "is within the margin of error, it's not a statistically significant difference."

The poll also found that moderates who said they read at least one book a year, on average, read five books a year. By Schroeder's lights, moderates must be really simple-minded sloganeers.

As a conservative, I am not proud to read that 34 percent of conservatives - as opposed to 22 percent of liberals and moderates - said they had read a book within the last year.

Then again, because the poll did not ask people if they read newspapers or magazines, Gross noted, "I don't think it says anything about people's general level of information."
...
Which makes one wonder: Why did Schroeder, who is supposed to champion books, choose to alienate one-third of the American public, those who self-identify as conservatives? She adds new meaning to the phrase "peeling the onion."

In her rush to brand the right as bunch of illiterates, Schroeder had the poor sense to go after an avid reader, Karl Rove, who has been winning a heated competition with President Bush as to which of the two can read the most books. Rove recently told Rush Limbaugh that he beat Bush last year. The Score: Rove, 110 books; Bush, 94.
As the poll really shows, a person's political beliefs have very little impact on the number of books he reads per given year. People either read or they don't read. Karl Rove has not personally killed off a whole generation of conservative readers. In my estimation, Pat Shroeder is just another in a long line of fools who has decided to let personal vindictiveness get in the way of doing the job for which she is paid. I hope that that the American Association of Publishers cares enough about their group to muzzle the woman before she does them any more damage.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking

It is not unusual for first novels to be of the "coming of age" variety. But seldom has anyone come of age the way that Miranda Donnal, the main character in Aoibheann Sweeney's first novel, manages to do it. Miranda, an only child, was taken to live on an isolated island about a mile off the coast of Maine when she was only two years old, and because her mother died not long after the family's arrival, she spent her formative years on the island with only her father and Mr. Blackwell, the family caretaker, as company.

Miranda's father isolated himself with his books and his lifetime project of producing a new translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses and was not much of a father to Miranda, preferring to leave her to her own devices as long as she was always home for dinner and available to type up his latest pages of translation. Luckily for Miranda, Mr. Blackwell did have some paternal instincts and he came to love the child in a protective way that her father could never equal. It was Mr. Blackwell who made sure that Miranda was enrolled in school and who was there to take her by boat to the mainland every morning until she was old enough to handle the trip alone. And it was Mr. Blackwell who educated Miranda in the ways of life on the island during all the years when her father seldom seemed to think about her.

Despite this unusual upbringing, Miranda felt protective of her father and seemed to understand why he was incapable of expressing or showing his love for her. So when he surprised her after her high school graduation by arranging a job for her in New York City with his friends at the cultural institute he helped to found there before leaving for his new life in Maine, she exchanged her tiny island for a much larger one. And she found more there than she expected to find.

She found her father.

Clue by clue, she pieced together the life her father lived in New York and came to realize that he was nothing like the man she had imagined him to be all of her life. And, at the same time, she learned as much about herself. She found friends and she found lovers in New York City. Her problem was to decide which were which, and when she finally did that, she was ready to begin the rest of her life.

Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking, is a frank presentation of how life sometimes surprises us just when we think we have it all figured out. Sweeney places the reader in this unusual world in a way that makes it understandable and to seem almost normal, a remarkable achievement.

Rated at: 3.5

Friday, August 24, 2007

Specific Gravity

I picked up a copy of the 2007 Atlantic Monthly "Special Fiction Issue" last night because it contains new short stories from John Updike and Tobias Wolff and a feature written by Ann Patchett on the controversy about her work at Clemson University. But the issue also contains short stories from four other authors with whom I'm not particularly familiar and I started my magazine reading with the one by Marjorie Kemper called "Specific Gravity."

"Specific Gravity," although it is only seven magazine pages long, managed to immerse me completely into the lives and personalities of three priests who finished the seminary together "about 200 years ago." Father Grady, Father Tim's confessor, who has struggled to keep his vows of celibacy over the years, now finds both his patience and his faith tested by his assignment to minister to gang members in the projects. Father Barry, a passionate pro-life advocate, has become well known enough to have his own television show and only seems happy when he is front of an audience as passionate about the subject as he is.

But at the heart of the story is Father Tim, a good man with few financial skills who has managed to accumulate so much personal debt in his attempts to help his elderly parishioners and their families that he has bill collectors hounding and threatening him at all hours of the day and night. Facing personal bankruptcy and humiliation for himself and his beloved Church, Father Tim has to decide just exactly what he is willing to do to earn the money that he needs to save himself.

Marjorie Kemper has given me as much to think about in seven pages as some writers are able to leave me with in a 300-page novel. This is a remarkable story and it reminds me again just how good short fiction can be and how much emotion a skillful writer can pack into just a few pages.

Kemper has already won an O. Henry Prize for one of her stories (2003) and her second novel, Between the Devil and the Mississippi, has just been completed.

Barnes & Noble Apologizes

The Dallas television station that broke the story about a Barnes & Noble bookstore there that deliberately destroyed approximately 800 perfectly good books rather than donating them to local charities reports today that Barnes & Noble management has apologized for the action.
"They were clearly wrong," said Barnes & Noble Regional Director Stephanie Horblit. "I am here to apologize and to assure the community it will not happen again in Dallas."

The apology came less than a day after the investigative story ran on CBS 11.

She called the dumping of books inexcusable.

"Our policy on clearance books, that have been marked down continuously, is to try to donate as many we possibly can," Horblit said. "This store clearly was in error, and I would like to apologize to the community."
...
"That is not our policy," said Horblit. "That again is a store error that we are dealing with, and it will not happen again."

These books could have easily been donated to local schools, churches and hospitals. In fact, Barnes & Noble has a donation program with a long list of such organizations.

The company originally said the books were "not donateable." But now Barnes & Noble admits the nearly 800 books could have been donated.

The company says for now on, it will make every effort to assure that all "donateable" books reach the people who need it most.
This kind of damage control would not have been necessary if publishers and bookstores did not have the wasteful policy of destroying books this way when they prove to be unsellable even on bargain tables. Rather than filling already stressed landfills around the country with more paper, these books should be returned to the publishers for recycling or given to local recyclers for processing. Yes, I know that it is expensive to return that much paper to each publisher. But that is still preferable to publishers agreeing to let bookstores bury their mistakes in landfills that are already so full that they are stressing the environment.

The choice made by this particular Dallas bookstore manager makes me wonder just how serious Barnes & Noble is about making sure that discarded books really make their way to local charities. This manager was either too lazy to follow company policy or he knew that his management was not all that concerned that he do so. The stated policy is a good one and I hope that this is just a case of one lazy store manager taking the easy way out rather than following the company plan.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Barnes & Noble Uses Liquid Soap to Destroy Books

Here's something else to break the hearts of book lovers everywhere. I do understand that Barnes & Noble is in the book business to make money, but reading how one store manager tried to destroy some 800 books while placing them in a store dumpster just rubs me the wrong way. This sorry tale comes to you from Dallas.
Jan Lawrence was just walking by as employees of a Barnes and Noble at the Preston-Royal shopping center tossed box after box of new books into the dumpster behind the store.

Sandy Torrance was on her way to visit her mother when she stopped to see what was going on.

"I made my first dumpster dive into the bottom of the dumpster and found that they had poured gallons of concentrated soap detergent all over the books so that they couldn't be resold," said Torrance. "It's just really kind of mind boggling when you start thinking about it. I think it's deplorable."
...
Torrance and Lawrence pulled out as many books as they could out of the dumpster, cleaned them and donated them to three local agencies.

Activity Director Pearlie Rideaux started a book club for her residents at Tremont Rehab Center in Dallas. "I'm very blessed to have these books at my facility," she said.

Resident David Habash says he visits the new library all the time.

"There are things about history, World War II, the former President Bush, things about the FBI and CIA," said Habash about the books. "I just found these things very interesting."

There were also plenty of children's books found in the dumpster. They now have a home at Buckner International.
I've often wondered about the legality of removing something from a store dumpster that way. Does discarded store property still belong to the store at that point, or not? When does the store cease to hold title to something tossed out its back door this way? Anyway, I'm happy to see that these ladies "rescued" some of the books and found new homes for them. Shame on Barnes & Noble.

The link to this story also includes a video presentation of the television news report about this incident. After watching it, I am even more ticked off that a company which is struggling to make a profit and seems to be cutting the store hours of its employees could be this wasteful. Barnes & Noble stockholders might find this interesting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Indian Bride

The way that the best authors of series detective fiction can build such completely fleshed out characters over the course of their books is often the main attraction to readers. After a book or two, readers feel as if they know the recurring characters well enough to understand and predict their motivations, personalities, likes and dislikes, and the way that they all relate to each other. Finishing the latest book in the series means looking forward to the next one. That’s why it’s seldom wise for someone to begin a detective series with its most recent entry.

But that’s not a problem for readers of Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride, the fourth book in her Inspector Sejer series, because it functions well as a standalone novel with an intriguing story to tell. Fossum, who lives and works in Norway, is the author of several novels and numerous short stories but it is the translation of her Sejer series into English that is most likely to earn a name for her in this country.

Gunder Jomann, a farm implements salesman in an insulated community of just over 2,000 people, has always seemed a little slow to the people who know him. But his patience and determination have allowed him to carve out a nice life for himself in Elvestad where he lives near his married sister, the only family that he still has. At age 51, he feels that there is really only one thing missing in his life now, a wife, and he realizes that he will have to look outside Elvestad if he is ever to find one. Having become fascinated by the picture of a beautiful Indian woman in a book that his sister gave him, Gunder decides that India is the place for him to find a wife. And against all odds, he succeeds in doing exactly that.

Just as Gunder is leaving for the ninety-minute drive to the airport to pick up his new bride who has been left behind in India to prepare for her new life with him, he receives a phone call from the local hospital saying that his sister, never known for her driving skills, has been involved in a collision and is in a coma. He makes the fateful decision to go to his sister and to send a taxi to the airport to bring his wife to him rather than greeting her himself. As a result, he is never to see her again.

When Poona Bai’s badly battered body is discovered the next day in a grassy meadow on the outskirts of Elvestad, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, are called in to head the investigation into the brutal murder. The sheer brutality of the crime and the condition of the body make Sejer determined to bring the killer to justice but he soon realizes that the citizens of Elvestad live in a community in which it is simply not acceptable to help outsiders cause problems for any of its people. Sejer finds that even a murder investigation in Elvestad is going to be frustrated by the reluctance of its residents to tell what they know or suspect.

The Indian Bride offers both a fascinating mystery and a look at what life might be like in a small Norwegian village where everyone knows everyone else. Its rather unusual ending is not what most readers will expect, and I suspect that it will disappoint as many readers as it pleases, but Karin Fossum has created a new fan who now plans to read the first three books in the Sejer series and will look forward to the fifth one.

Rated at: 4.0

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No O.J. Simpson Book in Barnes & Noble Stores


According to USA Today, Barnes & Noble management has listened to its store buyers and has decided that demand for Simpson's trash-book will be so light that there is no point in stocking it in its stores across the country. The book will be available for purchase at Barnes & Noble online, however.
"Our buyers don't feel there will be enough of a demand to carry it in our stores," Barnes & Noble spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

A rival chain, Borders Group Inc., said Tuesday that it would stock If I Did It, a fictionalized account of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. But spokeswoman Ann Binkley said Borders "will not promote or market the book in any way."
...
Denise Brown, Nicole Brown Simpson's sister, has accused Goldman's father, Fred Goldman, and other family members of hypocrisy for publishing a book that he had called "disgusting and despicable" when Simpson first planned to publish it.
I suspect that Barnes & Noble management has also figured out that there is some possibility of a consumer backlash as regards this particularly disgusting book and wants no part of that.

Dozens of British Schools Send Back Free Boring Classics




From London comes word that "dozens of schools" in the U.K. have refused to accept 300-book sets of the classics that the Millennium Library Trust has provided them free of charge. Why? Because the books are too boring and unattractive to "tempt" their students.


Dozens of schools have rejected gifts of free classic books because today's pupils find them too 'difficult' to read, it has emerged.

Around 50 schools have refused to stock literary works by the likes of Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens after admitting that youngsters also find them boring.
...
...pupils are more interested in Japanese comics rather than literary greats. "Kids love action and adventure," Miss Read said. "They want books that excite them and are current. They love fantasy.

"The books for nowadays are Manga, the Japanese comic books that you read from back to front."

The librarian went on to say that the classics were "unattractive". She said: "I think they are unappealing to youngsters and you've got to fit them into your school bag."

Another school, which rejected the free 'Everyman's Library' books, wrote: "The paper jackets are ugly and unattractive and the binding is dull and boring.

"What is needed is the familiar paperback format with attractive jacket and abridged versions."

Another school complained: "The books are so unattractive they are unlikely to tempt any pupil."
...
Mr Campbell, who has raised £9million to pay for the books, told the Guardian yesterday: "It never occurred to me that anyone would turn this offer down.

"I didn't expect most school pupils to want to read Homer or Virgil, but I thought that there was more than a reasonable chance that quite a few could be coaxed to read (Gabriel Garcia) Marquez, Primo Levi, (Ernest) Hemingway, (Evelyn) Waugh or even Chinua Achebe."

He added: "Where I have less sympathy is where librarians or teachers have clearly thrown in the towel and don't believe anyone in the school can be inspired to read beyond the bare syllabus minimum.

"I can't believe that one would have had a refusal of such a gift in any other country in Europe, certainly not in Eastern Europe. These books are the DNA of our civilisation. They should be available to everyone as they grow up."

However, not all the responses were negative. One school librarian wrote: "We are a low-achieving high school, but we're improving. I would never have been able to find the money in my meagre budget to buy copies of these classics."
The students in schools where the books have been rejected are very obviously being ill served by their school librarians and I have to wonder why those librarians are not sacked for displaying such a high level of stupidity and shaming their schools this way. It appears that "dumbing down" is becoming as much a problem in the U.K. as it has become in America. If students are not challenged they will do as little as it takes to get by, and that's the fault of poor teachers and school administrators like these who themselves seem to have become cultural illiterates. Shame on the lot of them.

Monday, August 20, 2007

O.J. Simpson's Blood Money

Everything about O.J. Simpson repulses and disgusts me. I can't stand to even glance at a picture of him and the sound of his voice has me running to turn off the television or radio as quickly as I can get to them. So I was both gratified and relieved when it turned out that his attempt to turn the blood of his victims into cold cash by "writing" a book called If I Did It had been crushed by a backlash of public outrage. But now the family of one of Simpson's victims is determined to see the book published and, despite my complete sympathy for what the family has suffered at the hands of Simpson, I believe that they are making a terrible mistake.
The saga of “If I Did It” has been nothing but bizarre. For one, it was ghostwritten by Pablo F. Fenjves, a neighbor of Nicole Brown Simpson who testified for the prosecution in Mr. Simpson’s 1995 trial about hearing the “plaintive wail” of Mrs. Simpson’s dog on the night of the killings.

And while the book was initially a money-making vehicle for Mr. Simpson, the driving force behind its revival is Mr. Goldman’s father, Fred, who vehemently opposed its publication when Mr. Simpson stood to profit. Last month, Mr. Goldman won the rights to the book in bankruptcy court, giving him the opportunity to take an asset from Mr. Simpson to help satisfy the $38 million (with accrued interest) wrongful-death civil judgment he won against Mr. Simpson but has failed to collect for the last 11 years, despite his relentless efforts.

The Goldman family is declining interview requests until publication of the book, expected by late September. But Peter T. Haven, a lawyer for Fred Goldman, said that his client was trying to both meet a need for some justice by collecting profits from Mr. Simpson’s work and to use Mr. Simpson’s own words as undisputed evidence of his culpability.
...
Mr. Kampmann (publisher) said the Goldmans’ involvement with the book “changed the moral landscape” for him and, coupled with the already high public awareness, could make it a best seller. He said the new book would include an extra 14,000 words in a foreword by the Goldman family and commentary by other contributors, in addition to Mr. Simpson’s 60,000-word manuscript.

Despite the proclamation of such high-minded goals, the book, a hardcover that will retail for $24.95, remains an object of revulsion, one that mainstream publishers spurned. One of Nicole Brown’s sisters, Denise, took Mr. Kampmann to task on the “Today” show on Wednesday, and has started a petition on her Web site soliciting public opposition to this second publishing attempt.

In an interview, Ms. Brown said she was all for the Goldman family taking Mr. Simpson “for every penny he’s worth,” but said this was not the way to do it.
I can understand why Fred Goldman wants to hit O.J. Simpson in the wallet. After all, money, sex and golf are the only things that Simpson seems to care about, and without money he might have a problem with the other two loves of his life. But since Goldman had already successfully blocked the publication of this book, Simpson's finances will not be impacted by publishing it now and taking the proceeds away from him. The damage to Simpson had already been done.

As much as I have tried to put myself in Fred Goldman's shoes, I simply cannot understand how he can stand to put blood money earned on the horrible death suffered by his son into his own pockets. Revenge is one thing, and if I were him I would do everything in my legal power to hurt O.J. Simpson, but this is not really accomplishing that. This is one book that I will stay as far from as I possibly can. I refuse to play this game.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Water's Lovely

Ruth Rendell, perhaps best known for her twenty-one Chief Inspector Wexford novels, is also a master of psychological suspense as she has shown time after time with stand alone novels written in her own name or as Barbara Vine. The Water's Lovely, another of those suspense filled novels, is a worthy addition to a body of work that now numbers almost seventy volumes of novels, novellas, short stories and non-fiction.

Ismay Sealand has lived with a terrible secret for twelve years and she knows that, if she is to continue to protect her sister, there is no one with whom she can ever share what she knows about the day that Guy, her stepfather, drowned in his bath. Since that day, when she was fifteen years old and Heather was only thirteen, she has believed that Heather killed their step-father in order to protect Ismay from his sexual advances. The sisters have never spoken of that day but, now that their mother has gone mad and must be kept sedated at all times by her own caretaker sister, Ismay finds herself more and more compelled to finally have the conversation with Heather that will confirm, one way or the other, the suspicions that she has carried for so many years.

But as reluctant as Ismay is about forcing the conversation to actually happen, things would have remained unlikely to ever change if not for the men who entered the sisters' lives, two men who could barely tolerate each other and who would forever change the relationship between the women. The Water's Lovely is a story of relationships and loyalties, one that compares the strength of blood relations and family ties to that of sexual attraction and the security of marriage. Ismay and Heather have to decide which pull is strongest and just how much compromise they are willing to make in order not to lose the men in their lives.

Rendell has created a world filled with interesting people who directly or indirectly impact the lives of the women living in the Sealand household, vividly flawed characters who are struggling to find their own happiness and who share all of the weaknesses that we recognize so well in ourselves and those around us. This is not a fast paced thriller that leaves the reader exhausted at its end. The Water's Lovely is much more than that. It is the work of a master suspense writer with the skill to build that suspense slowly, layer by layer, sucking the reader into a situation that he wonders how he would have handled if confronted with similar circumstances. It is the kind of story that stays with its reader long after its covers are closed for the last time.

Rated at: 4.0

Saturday, August 18, 2007

You Never Know Whom You Might Meet in a Bookstore

Shopping in a bookstore demands a certain level of concentration and the ability to tune out the distractions created by your fellow shoppers. I like to lose myself in at least a couple of pages of any book that I'm considering for purchase and, if I can't find a nearby chair, I'll stand in place for however long it takes me to decide if a book is coming home with me or not. Once while browsing in London's Foyles Bookshop I even stood shoulder to shoulder with actor Michael Caine for at least five minutes before I glanced over and recognized exactly who was starting to crowd me.

But the experience that this Arizona bookstore customer had is one that really defies the odds. According to Forbes.com, it was a case of victim and thief meeting for the second time at the same bookstore.

A woman whose purse was stolen and the thief who took it inadvertently stood next to each other at a Prescott bookstore - she to complain about the unauthorized use of her credit card, he to get some cash.

The 59-year-old victim went to Hastings Books and Music on Tuesday to tell the store that someone had stolen her purse and used her credit card to buy $200 in DVDs.

Minutes later, while the woman was standing there, a man came up to the counter and tried to return eight DVDs in exchange for cash. The two didn't recognize each other, and the woman even politely made room for the man when he walked up.
I have a feeling that the thief, who obviously suffers from a stupidity problem, was the more surprised of the two. The good news is that police arrived quickly enough to catch up with the jerk as he tried to make his escape. No, you really never know just whom you might meet in a bookstore.

Friday, August 17, 2007

'A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow': An American Hitchhiking Odyssey

Tim Brookes had his life changed forever in 1973 when, as a young Oxford student, he met an American girl from Iowa who personified all of the traits that he saw as the best that America had to offer. So infatuated was he with the girl and what she represented to him, that he came to New York City that summer with $90 worth of traveler’s checks and the determination to hitchhike across the country and back to an Ontario tobacco farm where he had a summer job waiting. Almost as an afterthought, Brookes applied for a position at the University of Vermont and, against all odds, was eventually offered a position at the university that he still held in 1998 when he decided to relive his 1973 hitchhiking adventure.

Twenty-five years after that first trip, Brookes found that he was not exactly living the dream that he saw for himself back in 1973. He looked in the mirror and saw a twice-divorced middle-aged man who had been working hard for more than a decade to be a good husband and father in his third try at marriage. He was “trudging grimly through the valley of the shadow of debt,” had a mortgage and credit card debt, was paying child support, and was working 50-60 hours every week just to stay even. In other words, he was living an existence that typifies the one that most of us know only too well.

Brookes, even in the days prior to September 11, 2001, had the feeling that America had changed in ways that directly impacted the nature of its citizens in a negative way. So, with financial backing from National Geographic magazine, he devised a plan to judge for himself how much Americans had changed in the last twenty-five years. (The magazine also provided a photographer who traveled sometimes ahead of Brookes and sometimes behind him, although very few of his photographs are actually used in the book.)

Brookes did make it all the way to the West Coast and back to his Vermont home, just as he had planned to do. And along the way, he was pleasantly surprised to find that the abundance of kindness from strangers that he had encountered on his first trip was not a thing of the past. The book, in fact, is filled with stories of people who go out of their way to help Brookes just when he most needed the kind of help they had to offer.

But A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow is not quite the adventure that I expected to read when I first picked it up because, for his second trip across the U.S. as a hitchhiker, Brookes makes so many concessions to his age and financial backing that the trip more resembles a controlled experiment than it does a trip left to chance. He travels with a cell phone by which he can almost always contact his photographer to meet him when he has the urge to cover ground more quickly for a day or two. And he has enough cash or credit this time to pamper himself with a motel when his body demands a break or to ride the bus when spots the right connections.

Despite that type of thing (and Brookes, to his credit, makes the concessions an integral part of his story), I did enjoy learning about the people and places that Brookes came to know while crossing the country. And, frankly, being of a similar age, I can sympathize with the knee problems that he described and am impressed that he had the courage to tackle the trip at all.

Rated at: 3.0

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Revenge of the Bloodthirsty Lesbians"

I'm sort of impressed with the way that current authors have reached the level of celebrity that gets them mentioned in the "entertainment" sections of newspapers these days. I say "sort of" because I'm not real sure that I want to read about my favorite writers while having to dodge the latest tripe on Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.

But from the Times of London comes word of a feud between two of the best crime fiction writers in the business today, one of them a personal favorite of mine, Ian Rankin.
There is no mystery to solve: Ian Rankin did it, in an interview, with the word “lesbian”.

Britain’s bestselling crime writer found himself condemned as “offensive” by a leading female rival yesterday after suggesting that women authors, and gay ones in particular, are more bloodthirsty than men. The acclaimed writer of the Inspector Rebus novels said in an interview last year: “The people writing the most graphic novels today are women. They are mostly lesbians as well, which I find interesting.”

Speaking to an audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Val McDermid quoted the remark almost word for word, attributing it to “a very prominent Scottish male writer”. She then dismissed it as “arrant rubbish”.
...
“I’ll tell you what pisses me off more than almost anything: when people say, ‘As a woman, how do you feel about writing on violence?’ Have you ever heard a male crime writer being asked, ‘As a man, how do you feel about writing about violence?’

“There’s a profound disassociation, it seems to me; as if somehow it’s wrong for us to be writing about violence against women, as though somehow we need permission to write about violence against women.”
...
Rankin defended himself at the festival yesterday, saying that his original comments had been intended as part of a broader discussion about the younger generation of crime fiction writers. “It’s not just about lesbians. It seems to me that to get into the Top Ten it helps, if you are a woman, if you write quite violent books. It helps if you are a man if you don’t.”
...
Some women crime writers have argued that what they produce is less gratuitous than the violence in books by men because it tends to emphasise the consequences of abuse and killing. Others suggest that the visceral style of so many female crime writers stems from their greater awareness of the threat of sexual violence.
The article contains some graphic descriptions of recent novels written by women crime writers. In fact, they are so graphic that I avoided quoting the descriptions, so see the article to judge for yourself the kind of thing that Rankin was describing.

There have been some great literary feuds in the last few decades, of course, and they are always interesting to follow because of the way that they expose the minds of those involved. This particular feud appears to be far from over although Rankin doesn't really seem to be all that interested in it.

Stephen King Mistaken for Vandal


No one can say that Stephen King has lost his sense of humor or the love of pulling a good prank. A bookstore owner in the Australian Outback got a glimpse of the man and his personality recently.


Stephen King, the bestselling author, was mistaken for a vandal in the Australian Outback while secretly signing copies of his own thrillers in a book shop, according to local media reports.

A customer at the Dymocks store in remote Alice Springs raised the alarm after noticing a man walk in off the street and begin writing in several books, manager Bev Ellis told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"As the owner of a bookshop, when you see someone writing in one of your books you get a bit toey [touchy]," Ms Ellis said.

"So we immediately ran to the books and lo-and-behold here was the signature in several books.

"We sort of spun around on our heels, [saying] 'where did he go, where did he go'?"

Ms Ellis said she found the American horror writer standing in the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket across the road in the small desert town and went over to introduce herself.
Gotta love it...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Is Listening to a Book Cheating?

I have a casual relationship with audio books, especially now that I don't do as much daily driving as I used to do. I would never listen to an audio book from one of my favorite authors instead of savoring the printed version of their work and non-fiction audio books are a real struggle for me because I sometimes need to read the facts contained in non-fiction several times before I really comprehend them or they sink in for good. But, on the other hand, I find that thrillers, detective fiction and spy novels are perfect for the audio book format.

Despite the fact that I finish an audio book about every three weeks, I still feel somewhat guilty about listing them as part of what I've read for the year. In fact, although there are 14 audio books included in the 100 titles that I've read so far in 2007, in the back of my mind I still only count the 86 books of which I've actually turned the pages. And don't even start about the abomination of abridged audio books. I won't touch one of those unless there is nothing else to "read" within 10 miles of me and I'm on foot.

Susan Reimer, in her Baltimore Sun piece, talks about audio books and how they seem to be splitting some reading groups wide open.
I hesitate to admit this in polite company, but if I didn't listen to books, I wouldn't read at all.

I have a daily commute that is almost an hour in each direction and for many years have spent the rest of my time driving kids hither and yon.

During that time, I bet I "read" 500 books. Books that I would not have had the time nor the inclination to read if I had had consumption or two broken legs.
...
I thought it was just my book club, but apparently there is a real schism in book groups over the issue of whether you read the book or have it read to you.

And I thought abridged was cheating.

To settle this, I went to a higher authority: Carla Hayden, executive director of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"No, it is not cheating," she said. "In fact, I think we should appreciate the fact that we have so many ways now to enjoy literature."

Any such distinction, she said, makes reading seem like a chore and a book something to be suffered through.
...
"To hear an author read it can be magical," said Hayden. "You can hear the voice the authors were hearing in their heads when they were writing those words." Certainly, there are some cognitive differences between hearing a book and reading the words in it. We experience it differently depending on which part of our brain is lighting up. But, as Hayden suggests, the pictures in your head are probably going to be the same.
For fiction, I agree that the "pictures in my head" are very similar to the ones that I would experience from reading a book rather than from listening to it. But I find that my mind wanders from an audio book to more important things, like avoiding other drivers and not running over pedestrians, for much of the time. Even when listening to them around the house while doing chores, I only come to realize that I've tuned the reader out when I suddenly begin to listen to the words again. My comprehension level is much higher for the written word than it is for the spoken word that allows so many distractions to seep in. I suspect that some readers find just the opposite to be the case and that probably explains the split of opinion regarding whether or not listening to an audio book is somehow cheating yourself of the real reading experience.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Guardians

America’s border with Mexico has always been a dangerous place for those who live along it and for those who seek to move north across it. And since the events of September 11, 2001 it has grown even more dangerous as border control agents step up their efforts to keep terrorist bombers and their weapons from entering the United States from that direction. Mexicans seeking to illegally cross the border for jobs in the United States not only have to contend with these border agents but find themselves in grave danger from Mexican drug runners and the coyotes they must pay to “escort” them into this country.

In The Guardians, Ana Castillo offers a look into the lives of four people who, though they live in New Mexico, have their feet planted firmly in both countries. Regina, widowed even before the consummation of her marriage, has settled nicely into her life as a teacher’s aide and guardian of her young nephew, Gabo, who is in New Mexico illegally. But despite Regina’s efforts to convince her brother to stay in the United States permanently, Rafa, Gabo’s father, prefers to stay only long enough to accumulate more cash that he can use to build a home in Mexico for his family.

She has grown used to him coming and going with the seasons but when he disappears on one of his return trips to New Mexico the life to which Regina and Gabo have become accustomed disappears along with him. Gabo, by now a sixteen-year old who dreams of an eventual life in the clergy, and his aunt are determined that if they cannot find their missing father and brother that they will at least find out what happened to him. In their search, the two receive friendship and help from Miguel, a divorced school teacher who works with Regina, and from el Abuelo Milton, Miguel’s nearly blind grandfather. Castillo tells her story by alternating the first-person narratives of each of her four main characters, narratives that move the story along through each character’s distinctive voice and point-of-view.

She has dedicated her book to “all working for a world without borders and all who dare to cross them” and, as that dedication would imply, she believes that Mexican citizens should be allowed to cross over into the United States at will. She believes it is their right to do so, and she succeeds in creating a sympathetic set of characters through whom she makes her point. But the irony of their story is that the greatest danger that any of them faces comes not from any government official north of the border. Instead, the real threat comes from coyotes and drug dealers living in the United States illegally themselves and from the gang bangers who threaten anyone who dares to oppose them.

The author is saying, of course, that if the borders were officially open to immigration most of those dangers would not exist. But I live in a city that suffers from an ever increasing number of serious crimes committed by illegal aliens who run back to Mexico or Central America as soon as they are identified, only to return later with a new identity. So before I began to read The Guardians I did not believe that open borders between the U.S. and Mexico are a good idea. Having now read the book, I find that Castillo has failed to convince me otherwise.

Rated at: 3.0

Monday, August 13, 2007

Finland Jumps on the Bandwagon



The practice of demanding that publishers send cash to bookstores along with the books they wish to sell seems to be rapidly spreading. Word comes from Finland that the largest bookstore chain there is adopting the Waterstone's "pay or perish" scheme.



In an attempt to maximise their profits, some bookstores have started to put price tags on their display space even in Finland, following the example set by Waterstone's, the largest bookstore chain in Britain.
...
For example, Suomalainen Kirjakauppa, the largest Finnish bookstore chain, is selling prominent display spots to publishers in the same way as it is selling them advertising space. Premium promotion spaces include for instance the reservation of a front-of-store table or a display window at each outlet. Another alternative is to buy a display stand outside a shop.
"The promotion spaces at our stores are not automatically subject to a charge. We discuss them separately with publishers", notes Director Kristiina Rantanen, who is in charge of purchasing at Suomalainen Kirjakauppa.

However, certain premium spots have definite prices. For example, the hiring of a display spot for two weeks at the bookstore’s outlet in the Kamppi shopping centre cost EUR 700 in 2006.

Other chains have not taken up similar charges as yet. However, for example the Academic Bookstore (Akateeminen Kirjakauppa), which is part of Stockmann, does not regard the idea as out of the question.

"If the publishers start to prioritize online stores as distribution channels, I see no reason why we should not set a price on our display spots.
...
Suomalainen Kirjakauppa, with its 62 outlets, is the biggest bookstore chain in Finland, and some individuals interviewed by the paper said they were afraid of potential retaliation by the retailer.

The publishers feel that the new marketing practice is part of the development pursued by bookstores in order to minimise their risks and to shift the responsibility for sales on to the publishers.
Surely, this is headed to North America if it hasn't already arrived. Does anyone know if Barnes & Noble and Borders demand cash for store displays or even for just having books added to the shelves? This may turn into a cash cow for bookstores but it is destined to limit the choice for book buyers because only the biggest and most financially healthy publishers are going to be able to come up with this kind of money. This is a real threat to the existence of those small publishers who publish more than just the mainstream fiction that can be found at my local grocery store.

So now this scheme has spread from the U.K. to Australia and Finland. Not good.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Australian Bookstore Chain Demands Money from Publishers

I love receiving discounts on books just as much as the next guy and I'm betting that most of you feel the same way. The good news about discounted books is that it makes it possible for us to buy more books than we would be able to add to our collections if we had to pay the full retail price for them. The bad news is that independent bookstores, because they can't compete with the national chains on price, have become an endangered species, and even the large chains are feeling pressure from the biggest discounter of all, Amazon.com.

In June, Waterstone's rightly received a lot of negative publicity in the U.K. for demanding that publishers pay special fees if they wanted to see their books featured in prominent displays in Waterstone's stores. Now it appears that a similar tactic is being tried in Australia by the Angus & Robertson chain.
AUSTRALIAN publishers are outraged at a demand by Angus & Robertson that they pay to have their books stocked by the chain.

The Australian Publishers' Association said yesterday its members were angry and distressed by the demands, which range from $1500 to more than $45,000.
...
Publishers have until August 31 to pay up, or A&R will stop ordering their titles.
...
A&R general manager Dave Fenlon said: "As a commercial business, we have the right to make decisions about which suppliers we do business with. "In our negotiations with suppliers, we are the customer. Unfortunately we cannot work with every publisher in Australia, particularly if the relationship is not commercially viable for us."
It is not unusual, of course, for large retail chains to squeeze manufacturers for the lowest wholesale price that they can get. Wal-Mart is notorious for doing exactly that in the United States and some companies have been squeezed so close to selling to Wal-Mart at cost that they now refuse to supply that giant retailer.

It is unlikely to ever happen, but it would be fun to see what would happen if every publisher in Australia refused to pay these fees to Angus & Robertson and the chain suddenly found itself with empty shelves. That brings up the key question of whether book buyers are willing to pay a little more per book in order to help sustain a healthy publishing industry. I doubt that the average book customer thinks much about the link between publisher and retailer when he stands at the cash register holding the latest masterpiece from James Patterson or Danielle Steele.

But readers of book blogs are not average book customers. Do you think this kind of thing is right? Would you be willing to pay a little more per book purchase if it would help to end the spread of this practice?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Tin Roof Blowdown

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were a deadly one-two punch to the gut of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast and the aftermath of those storms has been well-documented by newspapers, magazines and non-fiction books. But James Lee Burke, with his 16th Dave Robicheaux novel, The Tin Roof Blowdown, has accomplished something that none of that writing was able to do. Burke gives his readers a sense of what it must have been like to be trapped in the chaos of New Orleans during the long hours before help reached the city, days during which civil authority largely disappeared and it was up to each individual to see to the safety and survival of himself and his family.

When Detective Dave Robicheaux's New Iberia police department was asked to take on some of the work that could not be handled by the New Orleans police he was shocked by the destruction he found there as he made his way through the city he knew so well. He came to realize that the city he loved had probably received a death blow from which it might never recover and he grieved as if he had lost a member of his family. But even worse, not long after being assigned to work a case involving the shooting of two young black looters in a wealthy New Orleans neighborhood, Robicheaux found that the chaos of New Orleans had followed him home to New Iberia.

The four looters had made the biggest score of their short and violent criminal career. But, unfortunately for them, they made it by inadvertently robbing and destroying the home of one of the most powerful mobsters in the city, a man who wanted both revenge and his property back and who had the means to accomplish both goals. Robicheaux, searching for the surviving looters while trying to identify the person who shot two of them, soon came to realize that the case was much more complicated than the one he had anticipated.

Dave Robicheaux is a man in constant battle with his own demons. He still dreams of his days in Viet Nam and of his own violent past. He is a recovering alcoholic, a disgraced ex-New Orleans cop who was eventually hired in New Iberia, and a man who has paid the price of having a wife killed by one of the criminals he was trying to bring to justice. When he finds his new wife and grown daughter threatened by men who will do anything to get their hands on what was stolen in New Orleans, Robicheaux struggles mightily to contain those demons even while knowing that he will ultimately do whatever it takes to protect those he loves.

James Lee Burke has done the near impossible. He has kept his Dave Robicheaux series as fresh as the day he started it sixteen books ago, and he has used Robicheaux and all the characters that fill those books to tell what amounts to a classic tragedy. The Tin Roof Blowdown is much more than a book for Dave Robicheaux fans, offering a glimpse into the human soul and forcing readers to wonder just what they would do if confronted with a similar version of hell. Read this book.

Rated at: 5.0

Friday, August 10, 2007

Greatest Love Story Ever

From the Guardian Unlimited website comes the results of a poll commissioned by the UKTV Drama people to "find the greatest love story." I'm not sure whether or not all the votes came from the U.K., but the results show that such a list is still pretty much dominated by the classics of that type.

The top 20

1 Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë, 1847

2 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen, 1813

3 Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare, 1597

4 Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë, 1847

5 Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell, 1936

6 The English Patient Michael Ondaatje, 1992

7 Rebecca Daphne du Maurier, 1938

8 Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak, 1957

9 Lady Chatterley's Lover DH Lawrence, 1928

10 Far from The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy, 1874

11 = My Fair Lady Alan Jay Lerner, 1956

The African Queen CS Forester, 1935

13 The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

14 Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen, 1811

15 = The Way We Were Arthur Laurents, 1972

War and Peace Leo Tolstoy, 1865

17 Frenchman's Creek Daphne du Maurier, 1942

18 Persuasion Jane Austen, 1818

19 Take a Girl Like You Kingsley Amis, 1960

20 Daniel Deronda George Eliot, 1876
Since I don't consider myself to be much of a judge of what constitutes a good "love story," I'm not going to argue with the rankings other than to say that I found the most recent of the novels to make the list, The English Patient, to be one of the "yawners" of all time, including the film version. Maybe I'm just not cut out to read "love stories."

Summer Reading Lists

I'm a bit late mentioning summer reading lists for students, but if students are the same as I was at their age, they're probably just starting to worry about the required reading about now anyway. I've noticed that both the Barnes & Noble stores that I frequent have separate tables set up to display the reading list contents of the various high schools in the area, and I find it interesting to compare the contents of the displays set up for the different schools. There is some variation even among the schools within the same districts, but the most noticeable differences come when comparing the tables at a district level.

Some lists seem still to be emphasizing the classics and other books that were on the list when I was in high school about 100 years ago. Others have moved toward being dominated by books written in the last two decades. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the inclusion of recent books is becoming more and more common.
"Most teens spend the summer doing whatever, and then cram the reading in during the last two weeks," says 2007 high school graduate Henry Qin of Boston.

Precious summer minutes spent poring over Shakespeare or Nathaniel Hawthorne may seem less than appealing to teens, but some experts say there is a slowly growing trend to infuse more modern literature into summer reading. As a result, the revered literary canon, which includes such classics as "Hamlet," "The Grapes of Wrath," and "The Scarlet Letter," may be due for a shake-up. Glance at high school summer reading lists across the United States and you are likely to find more recent authors such as Alice Sebold, Walter Dean Myers, and even Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong alongside Dickens and the Brontë sisters.

"The natural evolution of these lists is that they expand and include voices that are underrepresented," says American Library Association (ALA) president Loriene Roy. "If you don't include authors like Amy Tan or Virginia Woolfe, what does that mean? A lot of discussions have come up over the last 20 years over what one needs to know. [The question is], 'Who do you bump off?' "
...
Practical concerns such as budget and time cause administrators to resist including recent young adult literature, or literature geared toward 12- to 18-year-olds, on required lists, says Beth Yoke, executive director of Young Adult Library Services Association, which is the fastest growing division of the ALA. But Ms. Yoke says she sees a trend to include more diverse literature in required reading. "Kids want books that they can identify with," she says. They want to see an African-American character, or a Muslim character, or a strong female character."

Yoke says that it often takes at least a generation for a new young adult book to make required lists.

"If you're doing required reading in schools, you've got to buy a bazillion copies of these books and you have to have developed the lesson plans of all that supplementary material," she says by telephone. "Teachers have been teaching 'To Kill a Mockingbird' forever and a day, and they don't want to have to develop all new materials."
...
But not all novels take a generation to catapult to required summer reading lists. Some new staples in summer reading lists: "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel, "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time," by Mark Haddon, "Monster" by Walter Dean Myer, and "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold.

"Ten years ago, these reading lists didn't have new books like that," says Alleen Nilsen, Arizona State University English professor and co-author of the textbook Literature for Today's Young Adult. "These are really popular new books."

So what catapults "Life of Pi" and "The Lovely Bones" to the elusive reading list club? Both are bildungsromans, or stories of young people coming of age. Ms. Nilsen says this theme is crucial for reading list inclusion, as youth need to feel a connection to the literature.
The article includes bits of sample reading lists from high schools around the country and, for the most part, I don't have much of a quarrel with what the school systems have chosen to include. I do find it a little discouraging to see a Dan Brown book on the Old Bridge, New Jersey, list and to find a political book from Barack Obama on the Dallas list. I was also a bit surprised to see Freakonomics on the Dallas list but I can imagine how many lively discussions will grow out of that one, so I think it's a good choice. Take a look at the sample lists at the end of the article and you'll see quite a bit of diversity in the choices made by educators around the country.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Colorado Library Bandit



Library shelves, that are just as likely to be filled with the latest DVDs these days as with books, have become tempting targets for thieves who see them as easy targets. In fact, one such dimwit has just been nabbed in Colorado , but only after he managed to walk away with several thousand items that he hoped to sell at online sites such as Craiglist.





Thomas Pilaar, 33, obtained seven library cards from the Denver Public Library by using different names, CBS4 investigator Brian Maass learned.

The library says Pilaar then checked out as many as 300 items on each card, selling many of them via the Web site Craigslist.com.

A woman who recently bought books from Pilaar through Craigslist noticed the library identification stamps and alerted authorities.

"It appears his intent was to sell 2,100 (items) from the Denver Library collection," said Jackson, who estimated the losses at about $35,000.

Denver is hardly alone. Librarians from Aurora, Arapahoe County and Douglas County say they too have been victimized in recent months by Pilaar. Arapahoe County library administrators said Pilaar obtained three different library cards and checked out between 250 and 300 items.

James Larue, Douglas County's head librarian, said Pilaar checked out more than 300 items from two Douglas County libraries, mostly DVDs and pricey coffee table books. He says the library system's losses stand at $11,000.
...
"Just like any other system, it's possible to abuse it. And this guy, if he is who he claims to be, shows up at some of the libraries and developed very quickly a pattern of just not acting like an ordinary patron and checking out way too many DVDs."

The Denver District Attorney's Office is investigating the library thefts and is considering filing criminal charges against Pilaar.
What went wrong here? I can easily understand how someone could use a false identity to obtain a library card. After all, thousands of illegal aliens are wandering around this country with false Social Security cards and driver's licenses, so how hard can it be to obtain a fake library card? But don't libraries have some kind of limit in place that would prohibit a new patron from checking out 300 items at a time, especially when most of the items are DVDs? Now that almost all library systems track everything via computer systems, how could they so easily be ripped off? Why aren't there better controls in place to protect the public's investment in its libraries?

I have, at times, had as many as twelve or thirteen items checked out of the Harris County library system and I figured that I might be approaching the limit of what they would let me have out at one time. In fact, I was hoping that was the case because I find it so irritating to walk up to near-empty DVD shelves just as one patron walks away with a dozen DVDs in her hands. How many movies can one person watch in seven days?

Perhaps it's time for libraries to put some common sense limitations on just how many items one person is allowed to cart off without returning some of the loot. Hey, I'm just saying...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rats: Observation on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants

I've often heard the old saying (that Robert Sullivan discredits in Rats) that there is one rat for every living human being and that that rat is a lot closer to each of us than we really want to know. So I picked up a copy of Rats to learn a little about my guy and what makes him tick.

Rats is filled with rat-facts, facts about their physical makeup and prowess, about their habitats, mating habits, food preferences, mental abilities, and the like. But it is much more than that because Sullivan uses the book also to give a short history of New York City, from its founding to the present day, while interweaving the city's history with the history of the invading rats themselves and that of those men who have dedicated their lives to killing them.

Sullivan, off and on for one year, sat at the entrance to one New York City alley and patiently watched the rat activity there as a steady flow of food-filled garbage bags from nearby restaurants was deposited there each night. Although his access to the alley was interrupted by the mass murders at the World Trade Center, he spent so many hours observing that particular rat colony that he came to feel a certain fondness and admiration for them. In fact, when the colony was eventually targeted by NYC exterminators, he had mixed feelings about the pending doom of "his" rats.

That is not to say that Sullivan did not also come to admire the men who made their livings by helping to control the vermin that threatens the health of all big city dwellers. He participated with some of the best in the business in trapping live rats for study and his stories about what he learned while working with these people are included in some of the best chapters in the book.

But "rat facts" are what the book promises to deliver and Sullivan did not disappoint me. These are some of the things I learned:
Rats, unless they lose their food source, live in confined areas, generally staying within 65 feet of their nest.

Male rats are more venturesome than females and will go farther from the nesting area.

City rats are often larger their country cousins.

Up to one third of the world's food supply is destroyed by rats.

If they are not eating or sleeping, rats are usually having sex (up to 20 times per day, in fact).

A healthy female rat can deliver 8-10 new rats every 21 days, meaning that one rat pair can produce 15,000 descendants in one year if enough food is available.

The teeth of the brown rat are harder than aluminum, copper, lead or iron and are more comparable to the strength of steel.

Near 25% of electric cable breaks and almost 20% of phone disruptions are the result of rats chewing on the cables that they find so attractive.
Rats is not a book for the squeamish reader but, if you have any curiosity about what might be happening outside your door in the early hours of the morning, this is a book you will enjoy. I can't say that I'll feel any more sympathetic toward my personal rat if I ever run into him after reading the book, however. In fact, I'll probably run just as fast as I can because this is one case where "knowledge" does nothing to temper fear.

Rated at: 3.5

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Poll Update

My July 27 poll asking which one writer from the selected group is most likely to still be in print in 100 years turned out almost exactly the way I thought it probably would. Maybe I should have avoided placing JK Rowling in the list of choices so close to the release of Harry Potter the 7th because so many readers were still excited by the new book.

But I can't really quarrel with the results since the two that I see as most likely to survive are leading the poll at present: JK Rowling with 20 votes and Stephen King with 13. No one else is even in the race, in fact. My hunch is that both will survive to some limited degree and that if Rowling's work does, indeed, survive for the next century that the whole series will be in print.

Anyway, I had fun with the poll and I thank you for voting.