Tuesday, September 22, 2020

$3 Million Worth of Stolen Books Found Underground in Romania

Back in January 2017, in a heist that sounds like something out of the latest Mission Impossible movie, a gang of Romanian thieves  cut a hole in the roof of a London postal transit warehouse and "abseiled" 40 feet to the floor, dodging sensors all the way. They were after a collection of rare books being stored in that warehouse prior to shipment to a rare-books auction being held in Las Vegas. They escaped with the books, said to be worth over $3 million, the same way they came into the building. 

Now, almost four years later, the books have been recovered, and according to BBC News, thirteen people have been arrested: 

The gang is responsible for a series of high-value warehouse burglaries across the UK, London's Metropolitan police said in a statement.
Officers discovered the books underground during a search of a house in the region of Neamț, in north-eastern Romania, on Wednesday.
The find follows raids on 45 addresses across the UK, Romania and Italy in June 2019, investigators say. Thirteen people have been charged, 12 of whom have already pleaded guilty.
The hoard includes rare versions of Dante and sketches by the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, as well as the titles by Galileo and Isaac Newton dating back to the 16th and 17th Centuries.

 It's hard to believe that this kind of thing happens in the real world and not just in movies and books. Apparently, the thieves were willing to sit on the books as long as it took to figure out a way to turn them into actual cash - something that must be near impossible for books as rare and as well documented as these are. 

And now, I can't help but wonder if being stored underground in those conditions for almost four years has damaged the books despite how well they seem to be wrapped in the below photo from the Metropolitan Police. High humidity is a book-killer, and from the looks of this underground vault, damp conditions appear likely. Somewhere, an insurance company or two are breathing big sighs of relief about now.

Metropolitan Police Photo

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The World Has Gone Mad: Banning Harry Potter

In what just may be the final straw that broke this camel's back, I can now officially declare that the world has gone mad. 

According to Newsweek (remember them?), one terribly "woke" (a word I detest in this context) bookstore owner in Australia actually thinks it will make her little shop a safer place for customers if she quits selling anything written by JK Rowling. That includes, of course, the Harry Potter books as well as the books published under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym Rowling uses for her crime novels. 

So how does this make her little woke-shop a safer place for her customers and their children? Well, according to the genius that owns the Rabble Books bookstore in Perth:

"...we want to talk about JK Rowling. We are always trying to make Rabble a safer space for our community, and part of that is trying not to put books by transphobes on the shelves, when we know about them."

Despite her obvious punctuation problems, this marketing genius goes on to say that all of that regained shelf space is going to be filled with comfort reads that are guaranteed to pull the community closer together by making them feel oh-so-safe as they browse her shelves. No longer will they have to look over their shoulders and wonder if a transphobic person might be sneaking up behind them:

"What I’d love to hear is your suggested alternatives - what are some queer and trans positive fantasy books for young people and crime books for adults?"

Please excuse the sarcasm, and don't get me wrong here. I have nothing against books featuring the "queer and trans" community. That's not really the point. With rare exception, I oppose censorship, and I agree that this woman can sell whatever she wants in her shop. What upsets me in this instance is the way she's going about it. "Cancel Culture" is a horrendous tool used by stupid people, and it's time that the rest of us stop condoning its use.  

The Woke Genius, Nat Latter


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Hieroglyphics - Jill McCorkle

   “I think that those who forget being children have likely lost their souls; it’s just that simple.” 

If this quote from page 261 of Jill McCorkle’s Hieroglyphics is true, the four main characters of her new novel remain firmly attached to their souls. One of the four, Harvey, actually still is a child, and Shelley, Frank, and Lil seem to live almost as much in the past as they do in the present. 

Frank and Lil, after spending most of their adult lives in Boston, have retired to North Carolina where Frank has become preoccupied with getting inside his boyhood home for one final look at the place he so vividly remembers. He particularly wonders whether the old Mason jar full of boyhood trinkets he left behind all those years ago might still be hidden away where he saw it last. Lil, his wife, has equally vivid childhood memories of her own, especially the ones so eerily similar to her husband’s. Shelley, whose own childhood was more troubled than she wants to admit even to herself, and her son Harvey are renting Frank’s old family home – and Shelley has no intention of letting Frank inside the rundown old place for a last look. 

Hieroglyphics is not the kind of book that hits the ground running and maintains a quick pace for the next 300 pages. That kind of book is easy for the reader to get into. Instead, McCorkle sets her hook here in a very gradual manner by building the depth of her main characters layer by layer until the reader learns to see them as the real flesh and bone people they are. By the end of Hieroglyphics, it is obvious that all four have something in common. Each, even six-year-old Harvey, is emotionally scarred by something that happened to one, or both, of their parents. 

Memories, though, are funny things, especially those held by older people involving their childhood experiences. Frank and Lil have vivid memories of those days, but they do not stop to think that the memories, even hazy as they are becoming, were originally filtered through the eyes of a child. Shelley has a past she so badly wants to keep hidden that she creates an alternate family history for her two sons. And little Harvey becomes the near-perfect reflection of all of his mother’s insecurities and fears. 

Bottom Line: Hieroglyphics is a literary novel for readers who enjoy memorably complex characters who are doing the best they can simply to get from one day to the next. Bit-by-bit, as their inner lives are revealed, it all starts to make sense – and it becomes impossible not to root for each of them to get past what has so emotionally scarred them. This one demands a little patience, but that patience is well-rewarded in the end.

Jill McCorkle

(Review Copy provided by Publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Who Doesn't Love Books on Books? Here Are 60 Suggestions for You


Anyone who spends time blogging about books and/or reading the dozens and dozens of excellent book-blogs out there, also loves reading about actual books. And we are very lucky that there are so many of them out there: books about books, about bookstores, about booksellers, about bookmobiles, about libraries, about collecting books, about caring for books, and even about "how to read" a book. You name a book-topic, and it's probably out there somewhere.

I had several hours this afternoon during which I had to do the kind of busywork that allows a person to just let their mind wander...so I did. At some point I got to wondering how many book-related books I've read, so I decided to look into that when I got home. Below, is a listing of the ones I could identify (the year listed is the year I read the book, not the year it was published):

  • The Bookshop of Yesterdays - Amy Meyerson - 2019
  • A Novel Bookstore - Lawrence Cross - 2012
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robert Sloan - 2013
  • Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore - Matthew Sullivan - 2019
  • The Yellow-Lighted Bookstore - Lewis Buzbee - 2008
  • The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald - 2019
  • The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted - Robert Hillman - 2019
  • Paris by the Book - Liam Callanan - 2019
  • Book Case - Stephen Greenleaf - 1992
  • The Bookman's Tale - Charlie Lovett - 2013
  • The Bookworm - Mitch Silver - 2019
  • The Bookseller - Cynthia Swanson - 2016
  • The Book of Speculation - Erika Swyler - 2015
  • The Book Thief - Markus Zusak - 2006
  • Booked to Die - John Dunning - 1995
  • The Bookman's Wake - John Dunning - 1996
  • The Bookman's Last Fling - John Dunning - 2008
  • The Camel Bookmobile - Marsha Hamilton - 2007
  • First Impressions - Charlie Lovett - 2014
  • The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon -2012
  • The Prisoner of Heaven - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - 2014
  • The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett - 2017
These 22 are all novels, with most of them being mysteries. I think the 34 that follow below are all nonfiction:
  • The Thieves of Book Row - Travis McDade - 2013
  • Books - Larry McMurtry - 2009
  • So Many Books, So Little Time - Sara Nelson - 2007
  • The Library Book - Susan Orlean - 2019
  • A Passion for Books - Harold Rabinowitz, Rob Kaplan - 2002
  • The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New - Margot Rosenberg, B. Mancowitz - 2008
  • The End of Your Life Book Club - Will Schwalbe - 2012
  • The Clothing of Books - Jhumpa Lahiri - 2018
  • Book Lust to Go - Nancy Pearl - 2010
  • Modern Book Collecting - Robert A. Wilson - 1988
  • So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance - Gabriel Zaid - 2017
  • How to Read a Book - Adler and VanDoren - 1986
  • The Man Who Loved Books too Much - Allison Hoover Bartlett - 2009
  • The Maximum Security Book Club - Mikita Brottman - 2016
  • Book Finds - Ian C. Ellis - 2000
  • Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books - Paul Collins - 2003
  • Among the Gently Mad - Nicholas A. Basbanes - 2005
  • Slightly Chipped - Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone - 2001
  • Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore - Suzanne Strempek Shea - 2008
  • A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict - John Baxter - 2006
  • My Reading Life - Pat Conroy - 2010
  • The Art of Memoir - Mary Karr - 2015
  • The Fiction Writer's Handbook - Shelly Lowenkoph - 2011
  • Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading - Nina Sankovitch - 2015
  • Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading - Maureen Corrigan - 2007
  • A Year of Reading - Michael Dirda - 2016
  • How to Read Literature Like a Professor - Thomas C. Foster - 2019
  • Reading with Patrick - Michelle Kuo - 2017
  • A History of Reading - Alberto Manguel - 1999
  • The Year of Reading Dangerously - Andy Miller - 2015
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi - 2004
  • The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared - Alice Ozma, Jim Brozina - 2011
  • How Reading Changed My Life - Anna Quindlen - 2007
  • How Literature Works - John Sutherland - 2011

Suggested Additions to the Lists:
  • The Book on the Bookshelf - Henry Petroski - nonfiction -courtesy of Jeane
  • A History of Books - Gerald Murnane - nonfiction - courtesy of Moshe Prigan 
  • Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year Reading from Home - Susan Hill - nonfiction - courtesy of Kath
  • Jacob's Room Is Full of Books: A Year of Reading - Susan Hill - nonfiction - courtesy of Kath

(The ones in bold type are my favorites of the lot.)

I know that you guys, avid readers that you are, have probably read most of these, too. I also know that I've skipped others that don't include some variation of the word "book" in their titles, so please feel free to give me more book-books in your comments. And, I hope you find something new-to-you here that you will enjoy reading.

(This post has been, and will continue to be, added to from time to time.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The True Adventures of Gidon Lev - Julie Gray with Gidon Lev

Gidon Lev is an ordinary man who, because of the circumstances of his birth, has lived a truly extraordinary life. That he is even alive to tell us about it today, is perhaps the most amazing thing of all about him because Gidon had no business even surviving his childhood. His adventures began in 1941, when as a six-year-old child, Gidon was transported along with his mother and grandfather to Térézin, a German concentration camp some 30 miles north of Prague. He would still be there at the end of World War II, one of the ninety-two children known to have survived the experience out of the fifteen thousand children imprisoned there during the war. 

Gidon Lev is now 85 years old, and he is ready to share his story with the rest of us. 

Not only did this man survive a concentration camp where he could have so easily succumbed to disease or some German-inflicted atrocity, he survived both Israel’s Six-Day War and its War of Attrition. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He was married twice and now lives with his “life partner,” Julie Gray, a woman some thirty years younger than him who wrote The True Adventures of Gidon Lev with a mighty assist from Gidon himself. He has six children, fourteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild – with more to come. The man has certainly had his ups and downs during the last eight decades and, looking back, he’s not always proud of his behavior or the way that he treated some of those closest to him. But then, who is, really? 

His story is fascinating, no doubt, but one of the things I most enjoyed about The True Adventures of Gidon Lev is the way Gray (left) takes her readers along for the ride as she pulls the book together from her firsthand observations and Gidon’s notes and papers from his past. As each chapter unfolds, the author shares the circumstances under which it was written, the conversational editing process she led Gidon through, and his emotional reaction to whatever chapter of his life they were discussing. For me, it was hard not to feel as if I were in the room with them, a silent witness to their unique relationship and way of working so beautifully together. Too, I couldn’t help but wonder if the two of them were learning as much about each other and Gidon’s past as I was as a reader. Sometimes, even Gidon seemed a bit surprised by – and reluctant to accept – some of what they uncovered together. 

Bottom Line: The True Adventures of Gidon Lev is a firsthand account of one man’s experiences in a World War II German concentration camp. That the experience is told largely through the eyes and memories of a child, makes it even more heartbreaking a tale than it would have already been. That also leaves room for the 85-year-old Gidon Lev to learn things about himself and his experiences in the camp that he had no way of knowing – or remembering – as a little boy. Gidon Lev’s story deserves to be heard, and Julie Gray has done him and his story proud.

(Photo of Julie Gray and Gidon Lev credit to Julie Gray)

(Review Copy provided by Author or Publisher)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Shane - Jack Schaefer

For a lot of legitimate reasons western novels get as little respect as romance novels, and, in fact, I’ve several times seen westerns characterized disparagingly as “romance novels for men.” But for a lot of equally legitimate reasons, westerns and romance novels, when they are approached in a serious manner by their authors, deserve the same respect granted to their supposedly more sophisticated cousins. Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel Shane is most definitely a western that stands tall for good reason. 

Shane certainly has its share of fistfights, and even includes a memorable gunfight between two of the fastest gunslingers passing through the state of Wyoming. But it also features a young couple trying to teach their son Bob (the novel’s narrator) right from wrong to provide him with a proper moral code he can live by for the rest of his life. It features a man so conflicted by his past that he struggles to keep himself under control even when violence is the only way to protect himself and those he loves. And it even explores one of the sweetest love-triangles I’ve ever encountered in a novel. Shane may not be the perfect western novel, but it comes as close as any to meeting that standard. 

     “He rode easily, relaxed in the saddle, leaning his weight lazily into the stirrups. Yet even in this easiness was a suggestion of tension. It was the easiness of a coiled spring, of a trap set.” 

That’s the impression that Shane gave Bob when the two first set eyes on each other as Shane rides up to the Starrett farm. From that first moment, the boy senses something different about Shane, something very dangerous to anyone who might dare cross him for the wrong reason. Shane arrives just about the time that half-a-dozen small farmers are being coerced by a rich cattleman to walk away from the homesteads upon which they depend for a living. The man wants to drive large herds of cattle through the territory, but he cannot do that if he has to bypass all the fenced-off farms adjoining his own property. And after receiving a big government contract to supply as much beef as he can come up with, he will do whatever it takes to destroy the farms in his way. 

 Shane has to choose a side or ride away...he doesn’t ride away. 

Soon enough, Shane becomes a symbol of resistance to both sides of the fence dispute, something that he both regrets and accepts: 

     “In some strange fashion the feeling was abroad that Shane was a marked man. Attention was on him as a sort of symbol. By taking him on father had accepted in a way a challenge from the big ranch across the river. What had happened to Morley had been a warning and father had deliberately answered it. The long unpleasantness was sharpened now after the summer lull. The issue in our valley was plain and would in time have to be pushed to a showdown. If Shane could be driven out, there would be a break in the homestead rank, a defeat going beyond the loss of a man into the realm of prestige and morale. It could be the crack in the dam that weakens the whole structure and finally less through the flood.” 

Neither Shane, nor the Starretts, are willing to let that happen. 

Bottom Line: Shane is filled with memorable characters, heroes and villains, alike. One of the most memorable is Marian Starrett, a woman strong enough to support her husband in his fight to save their livelihood from the man who wants to steal it from them. The complicated relationship between Joe Starrett, his wife Marian, and Shane is one that Schaefer handles perfectly in this, his debut novel. Shane is so good that I can only imagine the pressure that Schaefer must have felt for the rest of his life to match it.

Jack Schaefer