Monday, August 20, 2012

Moby-Dick, Phyllis Diller, and Canadian Authors

A Few Random (Some Bookish, Some Not) Thoughts:

1.  Word has come that Phyllis Diller died at her home today, age 95.  I remember how funny, and how different, she seemed to be when she first appeared on so many of those great old television variety shows more than four decades ago.  It is hard to believe that she was 95 until you remember that she was already in her mid-forties before the general public fell in love with her brand of stand-up comedy.  She was actually 40 before, at the urging of her husband who thought she was a natural, she tried stand-up for the first time - but she still managed to achieve a level of success that most comedians would envy even today.  Phyllis, who retired in 2002, was a very special talent.

2.  Do you do much re-reading?  I would love to do more of it but I always find myself rushing, rather than relishing, a re-read and that tarnishes the whole experience for me.  There are just so many newer books (and they pile up faster and faster every year) that I want to read that I find it hard to concentrate on an older book the way I need to if I am going to enjoy it.  Too, I always go into a re-read with a little bit of fear that I am on the verge of ruining some good memories, memories that will be destroyed forever by the more adult version of myself doing the re-reading.  

I am, however, tempted to try a re-reading of Melville's Moby Dick before the end of the year.  My interest was prompted by a companion book to that classic that I received from Oxford University Press called Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick (by George Cotkin).  Cotkin, a California history professor, provides "plot points" for all 135 sections of the novel to help the reader work his way through it.  Couple this with the beautiful Library of America version of Moby-Dick that I expect to receive next week and it seems like fate that I tackle the classic again.  I had no choice about reading the novel the first time around and, as a consequence, I remember very little about it.  I am willing to bet that, with Cotkin's help, and because I want to read Moby-Dick this time, it would be a very different reading experience.

3.  GoodReads, a site I am willing to bet most of you are familiar with even if you do not have a user account there, recently announced that it has reached ten million users and a total shelved catalog of more than 360 million books.  The site is only a bit over six years old, so that is rather astounding - especially when you consider that there were only five million uses just fifteen months ago.  Do take a look at the site because if you are a book-blog reader, it is almost certain to be something you will enjoy.  If you are there already, send me a friend request ( to Sam Sattler) so that I can keep up with what is going on in your corner of the book world.

4.  I have three books lined up for John Mutford's sixth annual Canadian Book Challenge - and that's a relief.  For a while, it seemed that every Canadian book I wanted to read was just not to be found here in Houston without getting the mail system involved.  But all of a sudden I have three books in-hand, including the one I'm already about 25% of the way through: Louise Penny's new Inspector Gamache novel called The Beautiful Mystery.  I am absolutely loving that one so far and cannot wait to dive back into the remote monastery where Gamache is investigating a shocking murder.  This is my third Inspector Gamache mystery so I am already familiar with the main characters, but I think it would work well even as a standalone.

I also have a copy of Canadian author Vincent Lam's debut novel, The Headmaster's Wager that I am looking forward to reading because I really enjoyed his short story collection and know how good a writer he is.  That one was called Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures and I reviewed it way back in September 2007.  It surprises me that I read it almost exactly five years ago because I remember it very well - a true testament to both the quality of the stories and Lam's writing.

And, finally, I have a library copy of short pieces by Margaret Atwood's called Good Bones and Simple Murders.  I am not sure exactly how to categorize the pieces yet, so this should be interesting.  It seems to be a little bit of everything - lots of very short pieces housed in a rather small book.


  1. I like to think, after running the Canadian Book Challenge for 6 years, that I'm a well-read Canadian. Alas, you picked 3 books I've not read.

  2. John, that you haven't read any of these is a surprise. I am almost done with the Louise Penny mystery and it's a good one, a classic mystery involving two detectives I've come to really love. Have you read any of her books?