Friday, July 30, 2010

Why Not Give Away E-Book Readers?

So Amazon has announced a new, slimmed down version of the Kindle selling for only $139 and the company is taking pre-orders now for delivery at the end of August.  This is the cheapest Kindle to-date and it will further accelerate the e-book reader price war that's been brewing for the last few weeks.  This is all good news for those in the market for these devices, of course, and it will be interesting to see where prices bottom out.

But this has me wondering if e-book makers such as Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Noble and Borders aren't using the wrong business model.  After all, the real revenue stream, and the most profit, for these companies will come from selling e-books to those who own one of their devices.  Each of these companies has an online bookstore from which new e-books can be downloaded to the readers, and the expectation is that those who have readers will need an endless supply of reading material.  Makes sense.

So why don't the Big Four makers mark the readers down to something like $50 a pop?  Get those readers into the hands of readers and then sell the heck out of e-books to them.  Lock them in to your device and then aggressively market your continuing service to them.  Heck, why not use the safety razor business model and send coupons out to targeted readers offering them free devices?  How better to gain instant market share and ensure long term profits?

Of course, this will not work for the makers of the more generic readers not supported by their own online bookstores.  But, I suspect, even these manufacturers would find a way to make more money if the overall e-book market expanded by a factor of ten or more.

In the meantime, I'm watching with interest to see how all this shakes out.  I suspect there will be more losers than winners if things keep going the way they are.  Is anyone brave enough to try my suggestion?  I sincerely doubt it, but wouldn't it be fun if one or two of them decided to give it a shot?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Best of 2010, Update 23

It's already been almost three weeks since my last update,so here goes.

To be considered this time are four novels and three nonfiction titles: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Seth Grahame-Smith), Shadow of the Swords (Kamran Pasha), Blockade Billy (Stephen King), Ordinary Thunderstorms (William Boyd), War (Sebastian Junger), That's No Mob, That's My Mom (Michael Graham) and Me of Little Faith (Lewis Black).

So, after due consideration, this is what the fiction list looks like after 56 fiction books read:

1. Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese (novel)
2. Matterhorn - Karl Marlantes (Vietnam War novel)
3. The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim (novel)
4. Shadow of the Swords - Kamran Pasha (novel about the Third Crusade)
5. Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier (historical fiction)
6. Drood - Dan Simmons (historical fiction)
7. The Secret Speech - Tom Rob Smith (historical thriller)
8. Far Cry - John Harvey (police procedural)
9. Home, Away - Jeff Gillenkirk (baseball novel)
10. Whiter Than Snow - Sandra Dallas (historical fiction)

And the nonfiction list from a total of 18 read changes a bit:
1. Lies My Mother Never Told Me - Kaylie Jones (memoir)
2. War - Sebastian Junger (about the daily lives of our soldiers in Afghanistan)
3. Man of Constant Sorrow - Ralph Stanley & Eddie Dean (biography)
4. Losing My Cool - Thomas Chatterton Williams (memoir)
5. Jane's Fame - Claire Harman (on the evolution of Jane Austen's reputation)
6. The Opposite Field - Jesse Katz - (memoir)
7. The Tennis Partner - Abraham Verghese (1998 memoir)
8. Game Change - John Heilemann & Mark Halperin (political nonfiction)
9. Damp Squid - Jeremy Butterfield (on the evolution of the English language)
10. Unfinished Business - Lee Kravitz (memoir)
It is obviously getting tougher to crack the list because only two of the seven new ones made it this time: Shadow of the Swords, at number 4 on the fiction list and War at number two on the nonfiction one. Both books earned high spots on the list and will probably still be there at the end of the year.

That makes these the best 20 books of the 74 I've read so far this year, with another five months to go.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

To start, I have to admit that the judgment I made of what Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  would be like prior to reading it was totally wrong. The whole concept of morphing a Jane Austen novel into a blood-soaked zombie farce seemed silly and beyond merit. I was certain that it would be a complete waste of time for any reader over the age of 15. I was wrong, but let me qualify that. I experienced Pride and Prejudice and Zombies via its audio version  and, largely because of the superb performance of Katherine Kellgren, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, even to the point of laughing out loud several times. On the one hand, I still doubt that reading a printed version of the book would even come close to matching the fun of the audio book. On the other, I can honestly say that this is my favorite audio book to this point of 2010.

England has been beset by zombies for more than five decades and, in order to protect his family, a man like Mr. Bennett does what he has to do. Bennett, a man with five daughters but not a single son, makes the most of having numbers in his favor by sending the girls to China for training in the “deadly arts.” Upon their return, the ladies become Hertfordshire’s primary defenders against the “unmentionables” that plague the countryside.

But despite the great joy the girls take in personally disposing of hundreds of zombies, they and their mother believe that their lives cannot be considered complete unless they make a good match as early into their twenties as possible (if not at an even younger age). Mrs. Bennett’s sole purpose in life seems to be placing her daughters into situations from which they can attract the most suitable young men in the region. So, while the daughters are busily chopping off heads and limbs, pulling still beating hearts from the bodies of sparring ninjas, and setting zombies afire, Mrs. Bennett eagerly welcomes young bachelors into her home in hopes of snaring a new son-in-law or two for the family.

Admirers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will already be familiar with the Bennett family, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, Charlotte, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, among others. Now, Seth Grahame-Smith tells the rest of their story. And what a story, it is.

Katherine Kellgren’s presentation of the novel mimics the style of whichever author’s work she is reading. When she reads the words of Jane Austen, characters speak in a voice and tone that will be very familiar to fans of movies made from the Austen novels. The words of Grahame-Smith require an added edge and vigor but Kellgren presents them in a way that sounds perfectly natural to Miss Jane’s version of the girls. Throw in Elizabeth’s wholehearted adoption of the warrior code and its requirement that one’s honor must be defended at all cost, and the new Elizabeth Bennett is, if different, more fun than ever. Call me weird, but the idea of Elizabeth Bennett yanking the heart from an opposing warrior’s chest and eating it during a tea party makes me laugh.

This audio book is great fun, and readers curious about this kind of genre mash-up will do well to start here. Whether or not they will feel compelled to venture further into the field is an open question. I do not; others might want more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

That's No Angry Mob, That's My Mom

In the interest of full disclosure, and before I begin discussing That’s No Angry Mob, That’s My Mom, I want to acknowledge that I am the veteran of two Houston tea-parties. I attended the first event out of curiosity, the second out of hope that someone in government might actually listen to what was said there. Of course, no one did.

Let’s face it. Politicians think citizens pay so little attention to what happens in our national and state capitols that they will believe anything a government spokesman tells them. These same “representatives of the people” believe, often correctly, that a little bit of spin will cover even the dumbest legislation, most vile criminal acts, and worst wastes of taxpayer money imaginable. But, at some point, politicians are no longer able to baffle the public with BS – and that is when things get ugly. When character assassination of its critics becomes the government’s weapon of choice in political debate, a tipping point has been reached.

Radio talk-show host Michael Graham has organized tea-parties in the Boston area, events attended by his mother, among others. Graham sees who attends the tea-parties (“retirees, military vets, small business owners, and suburban families”), has read the hundreds of handheld signs, and has experienced the tea-party atmosphere first hand. What he describes in That’s No Angry Mob is almost exactly what I observed for myself in Houston: a gathering in large numbers of citizens concerned that the country is being relentlessly driven toward bankruptcy and that the future of their children and grandchildren is in jeopardy.

The government’s response to all this citizen concern has been to label every single attendee of a tea-party event as a racist and/or a domestic terrorist. Even the Speaker of the House, tear in her eye and tremor in her voice, hints that she fears a deranged assassin or two will be motivated by what he or she hears at a tea-party. And, of course, the national media share the Speaker’s concerns, as well as her lack of subtlety and self-awareness.

That’s No Angry Mob, That’s My Mom offers little new information to those who have paid attention to recent current events. It does, however, offer a nice recap of the absurdity of the government’s response to the threat it feels from citizens (many of them elderly) wanting to ask questions of those who should have their best interests in mind. Graham, who is also a former stand-up comic, has a keen ear for comic timing and uses comedic one-liners throughout the book to keep it relatively light despite the intensity of the hatred directed at him (and all tea-party attendees and talk-radio listeners) by those so determined to minimize them by destroying their reputations.

Despite the way Graham uses humor in discussing the very personal attack on Americans who dare openly disagree with the administration’s policies, he makes serious, and distressing, points like this one: “And the liberals who suspect (and some who openly proclaim) that most Americans are selfish, bigoted dolts, have amplified that message. They divided America into two groups: people who support Obama and his policies on the one hand, and racist holdouts on the other.” To many tea-partiers this is the most distressing thing of all about today’s politics. Never in recent memory has the race card so often been pulled from the bottom of the deck to shut down legitimate public dissent. Is this what we have come to?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Shadow of the Swords

Few will argue the old cliché that there are “two sides to every story,” or that truth requires consideration of both sides, especially when it comes to the study of written history. The tendency of history textbooks to present only one point-of-view brings to mind the famous Winston Churchill quote, “History is written by the victors.” But the “victors,” unfortunately, tell us only what they want us to know, and the losers generally have lost their right to argue the point.

Kamran Pasha’s Shadow of the Swords is an opportunity for Western readers to look at the bloody Third Crusade of the late twelfth century through the eyes of Saladin, commander of the Muslim forces in Palestine at the time of Richard the Lionheart’s invasion of the region. Note, however, that portions of the book are written from Richard’s point-of-view, although Saladin’s character remains the most influential one throughout the book.

Most intriguingly, at the time of Richard’s quest to recover the Holy Land from the hands of the Muslim “infidels,” the relative strengths and weaknesses of the European and Muslim worlds were near opposites of what they are today. The twelfth century Muslim world was well ahead of its European counterpart in the areas of science, mathematics, medicine, government and weaponry. Despite this, Europeans generally considered Muslims to be little more than barbaric infidels with no right to occupy the Holy Land, especially the city of Jerusalem. As Saladin and his people saw it, Richard the Lionheart was the terrorist of his day, leader of an army seeking to destroy Muslim and Jew, alike, in the name of Christianity. More than 800 years later, the roles and positions of the two cultures have largely reversed.

Just three years before, Saladin had successfully rid Jerusalem of the Christian army that had controlled it for so long. Now, while Saladin continues to fight remnants of that army along the coast, Jerusalem is a peaceful city within which people of all faiths live and work in relative harmony. Saladin, a bit surprised at how quickly the Europeans have been able to place such a large army in Palestine to challenge him, realizes that he and his people are faced again with a war that might very well change the course of history. This fight, though, is as much about Saladin vs. Richard the Lionheart as it is about huge conflicting armies and religious differences.

Pasha uses a combination of historical and fictional characters to tell his story. And his fictional characters are so vividly painted, and his historical ones so well fleshed, that it can be difficult for the reader to remember which are real and which are made up. Pasha, very helpfully, explains which are which in an attachment to the end of the book that also puts much of the story into its historical context. Shadow of the Swords is eye-opening historical fiction cloaked in a love story involving Miriam, the niece of Saladin’s Jewish advisor and doctor, Maimonides. Fate gives Miriam a chance to charm both leaders and she makes the most of her opportunity, eagerly playing the spy on Saladin’s behalf. The inclusion of a fictional character like Miriam allows Pasha to create more complete personalities for Saladin and Richard so that there is a very personal aspect to their clash as the two men meet on the biggest world stage of their day.

Readers may find this one to be a little bit of a slow-starter (and some may, perhaps, even be a little put off at first by the point-of-view from which it is written). Do not, however, give up on this one too early; if you do, you are going to miss out on one heck of an adventure and a very painless history lesson.

Rated at: 5.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Books vs. Old Books

That economic times are tougher today than ever before in my lifetime (and I've been around long enough to live through some pretty tough recessions) is beyond doubt. Frankly, I don't see things getting much better for the average folks out there any time soon, either. In fact, I get the feeling that things will get worse before we finally turn the corner toward a real recovery some years up the road.

That's why what this Houston Chronicle article describes does not surprise me in the least. Some bookstores are doing pretty well, others are suffering greatly. The difference? The ones doing well are primarily selling used books; the ones doing more poorly are selling just the opposite. With new hardbacks going for close to $30, on average, and quality paperbacks selling for $15, or more, is anyone surprised?
Sales at Dallas-based Half Price Books began to rise when gasoline prices soared during the summer of 2008 and again when the recession slammed U.S. consumers that fall.

Both events drove more traffic to Half Price Books' 110 stores as Americans latched on to thriftier habits, said Kathy Doyle Thomas, the chain's executive vice president.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Half Price Books racked up a 5 percent jump in same-store sales, which compare year-over-year revenue at stores open at least a year. Same-store sales at its 11 stores in the Houston area were up 5.6 percent.

The story doesn't read as well at Barnes & Noble and Borders Group, as consumers shift to buying books online or reading digital books on electronic devices such as Amazon's Kindle.

Borders has had layoffs and recently launched an e-bookstore to compete with Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader.
I generally read at least 125 books a year, and there is no way I can afford to buy that many new books. So, at least 20 years ago, I settled into a plan to buy used books as reading copies and hardbacks for those books I want to give a permanent place on my bookshelves. (That does mean I often buy the same title, in different versions, two times.) The used books, including paperbacks, are often used in trades or as resales that get me a few more unread books.

I still, though, do shop for new hardbacks even though I cringe a little when I pay for them. I bought Mark Twain's Other Woman by Laura Skandera Trombley the other day, a book about the woman who played a key role in Twain's life during his last decade (after the death of his wife). The book sold for $27.95 and I purposely bought it from one of Houston's independent bookstores. Add sales tax and I paid $30.25 for the thing because I want it for my permanent collection and I try to buy from indies when I'm reasonably close to one.

I suspect that books sales are in trouble and that library usage will increase at about the same pace that bookstore sales decline. Sadly, this is all happening just when local governments everywhere are slashing their library budgets.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blockade Billy

No one can read Stephen King’s new novella, Blockade Billy, and doubt the man's passion for the game of baseball. The story is set in the spring of 1957, when most professional ballplayers still made so little money they had to work elsewhere during the off season just to make ends meet. This was the day before big television contracts, free agency, and stadiums that can cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. It was a simpler, though in many ways, rougher time. Ballplayers were of a cruder cut, too, than the average college-educated sophisticate so common to the game today.

When the Titans lose both their catchers to injuries just prior to opening day of the 1957 season, the team desperately turns to its Iowa farm team for a temporary fix, a catcher that can get them by for the two or three weeks it will take to trade for an experienced backstop. Billy Blakely, as it would turn out, is destined to be much more than a temporary fix. The kid can hit and, just as importantly, he blocks the plate so well that he is soon being called “Blockade Billy” by fans and sportswriters alike.

But this is a Stephen King story - and there is more to “Blockade Billy” than meets the eye. The team’s third base coach, George “Granny” Grantham remembers when he first became suspicious about Billy and the way he played the game, and now, more than 50 years later, he welcomes interviewer Stephen King to the old folks’ home in which he is living out his final years. Granny loves to talk, but seldom does anyone want to listen. Now is his chance to talk about all the games and statistics that disappeared from the record books forever, and talk he does.

Granny Grantham’s narration is what makes Blockade Billy work as well as it does. Granny’s attitude, irreverent way of speaking, and memories are just what one would expect of an old baseball coach chomping at the bit to get his story told before it is too late. He probably enjoys telling his story even more than interviewer King enjoys hearing it.

A longish short story entitled, “Morality,” concludes the book. Readers and movie fans will already be familiar with the theme of this one: a young wife is offered a large amount of money by an older man to do something that is terribly wrong. The money will buy enough time for her husband to quit his job and finish the book he has been struggling with for years. Will she do it? Will she be caught? Will her marriage survive the transaction? And, no, it is not about sex (as it was in the Robert Redford movie of similar theme). King studies the psychological implications of the situation and how the relationship between husband and wife changes from the moment the offer is first presented to them. This is an interesting concept, but it produces a rather run-of-the-mill short story.

Bottom Line: There is nothing particularly earthshaking in Blockade Billy. Hardcore baseball fans will probably enjoy the baseball story because of its atmosphere and old time baseball stories but “Morality” falls a bit flat.

Rated at: 2.5

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Comments Announcement

I have been putting this off for a long time, but the increase in the amount of spam that regularly appears in Book Chase comments is forcing me to make a change. From tonight onward, I am going to approve each comment before it appears in the comments section here. Blogger's software makes that whole process relatively painless, so I expect legitimate comments to be posted within an hour or two of when they are made (except those that show up in the wee hours of the morning, of course).

One commenter posts something in Japanese under at least half of the posts I make. I have no idea what that person is saying, but I suspect he is trying to sell something despite the fact that he does not post a specific link. Even if I am wrong, I can't take a chance by leaving something up that I can't read. I've been threatened by one semi-celebrity already about a comment that an enemy of his made from the U.K. I don't want that irritation, so comments in a foreign language will not be approved.

I'm sorry to have to do it this way - but the choice is not mine. Thanks for understanding.

LA Cuts Library Hours by Two Full Days

The fast-crumbling California economy has caused the city of Los Angeles to make a sad decision concerning its public library system. As of now, patrons of all 73 of the city's libraries will have to get their business done from Tuesday through Saturday. Can't make it on those days because you have to work, go to school or take care of other obligations? Not our problem, says the city of LA.

From the South Los Angeles Report:
"Children can’t wait," she said. "A six-year-old whose parents can no longer take him to the public library because of the shortened hours may lose his reading skills over the summer. He’ll have to start all over again in the fall. And by the time he’s nine, he may have fallen so far behind that he will never catch up. That’s a tragedy, and one that the public library can help avert."

More than 15 libraries no longer have children’s librarians, and more have no teen specialists, she said.
The closures could also impact adults, including those who are disadvantaged or out of work. "We, the public, whether we have lots of money or we have no money, we have no resources to use," said librarian Verdel Flores. "The library is the great equalizer – it’s the great democracy-maker. Anybody can go in there and every service is free. You can learn English there, you can learn to type there, you can send out a resume, you can create a resume. The library is for everyone." Besides the closures, budget cuts also resulted in the layoffs of more than 100 library workers, librarian Mark Siegel said, resulting in newly-built libraries lying vacant.
This is just sad. Considering all the waste and graft involved in government spending (and why should anyone believe California would be different), it is a terrible shame to see library users abused this way. Surely, the mayor can find the money to keep library doors open by cutting a bit of the useless fat in his budget. Come on, guys. You can do better than this.

Monday, July 19, 2010


For a long time, I have been fascinated by the breed of reporter/writer so willing to put everything on the line in order to experience warfare alongside American soldiers. It is only from these brave and talented men and women that the rest of us get a decent picture of what is really happening out there and what our young soldiers are enduring for months on end. Sebastian Junger is one of the best of the breed. I am already a fan of Junger’s The Perfect Storm and A Death in Belmont, both of which are excellently written, but I do believe that War is his best effort yet.

Sebastian Junger spent more than fifteen months of 2007-2008 on the front lines in Afghanistan with a platoon of the 173rd Airborne brigade. Admittedly, Junger was able to take breaks from the combat zone in the Korengal Valley more frequently than the men of Battle Company but, when he was there, he faced the same dangers, and lived under the same rudimentary conditions, as the professional soldiers around him. Junger went out on foot patrols, experienced enemy ambushes and sniper fire, and came close to dying when the Hummer he was riding in became the target of a roadside bomb. Consequently, he experienced the same emotions and trauma experienced by the men he came to know and understand so well.

This is not a political book; Junger does not present or argue the reasons the United States has been involved in this war in Afghanistan for so many years. According to Junger, the men of Battle Company do not seem to care much one way or the other about the politics that placed them in the Korengal Valley. It is his observation, in fact, that behind-the-lines support personnel are generally more gung ho about the war than those taking fire on the front lines. The men of Battle Company waste no time worrying about the rightness or wrongness of their fight.

Junger and his photographer, Tim Hetherington, shot something over 150 hours of video in Afghanistan, video Junger mined for exact quotes and a better understanding of what he lived through in real-life speed. His combat reportage, as would be expected, is excellent, capturing the tenseness of U.S. troops who must often expose themselves via foot patrols in order to make the enemy show himself long enough for air support and heavy weapons to be used against him. As Junger points out, however, the natural terrain of the Korengal Valley offsets many of the advantages one would expect a modern army to have over the few hundred Taliban fighters it faces. Snipers, roadside bombs, the ability of the enemy to blend in with the civilian population, and having to contend with so much high ground, often force these modern soldiers to revert to old school infantry tactics.

War becomes especially interesting when Junger explores how the experience affects those on the front lines. The author explains how these young men handle their fear, how and why each of them is so willing to die for any other man in the platoon, and why so many of them wonder if they will be able to handle the boredom of the real world again after having experienced the rush of combat for so long. For the young men of Battle Company, the courage to fight comes more from love for their fellow soldier than from any sense of patriotism. No one wants to be the one to make a mistake that will cost another man his life, and all are willing to risk their own lives to save the lives of others.

Amazingly, many of these young men “fall in love” with combat and miss it during the lulls between contact with the enemy. Some of them, in their boredom, even wish for their operating base to be attacked - and they shout in glee when it happens again. Despite the friends they lose, for some of them, war becomes a game in which they get to shoot amazing weapons and blow up things. Sadly, it is only when they return home that many of these men will pay a heavy price for what they have experienced.

Rated at: 5.0

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Library Opening Draws Hundreds

There is still hope in this crazy old world.

It seems that "hundreds of people" flocked to the brand new Walnut Creek, CA, library that opened for business yesterday and it seems to have been well worth their wait. has the details:
After being under construction for two years, hundreds of people on Saturday came to the opening of the 40,000-square-foot, $39.9 million library in Civic Park.

After a short reception, at which Mayor Sue Rainey officially declared the library open, people flooded the three main entrances and filled each nook and corner of the place. Especially popular was the 5,000-square-foot children's section. Storytime began about 10 minutes after the doors opened and youngsters quickly settled on the multicolored carpet.


The two-story, sleekly designed building — with a curving roof and tree branches etched into an indoor glass wall — incorporates images of nature. The curving-line design on the floor and tables simulates the flow of the city's creeks.

Rainey said the library is the most beautiful in the state and she thanked the community for helping to make it happen. She acknowledged that the library has caused controversy; some residents think it's too big and cost too much. But when people experience the library they'll understand it has been worth the time, cost and effort, she said.


But for all the bells and whistles — including 94 public computers and a 65-inch television screen for video game playing in the teen section — many on Saturday quickly found a book and a good place to sit and began reading.
Imagine that. Even with all the new library gizmos, people still managed to find and enjoy the actual books.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Choosing What to Read from First Sentences

I made a nice haul at the library this morning and I've been flipping through the books and wondering what I was thinking when I grabbed so many at one time. I've decided to read the first sentence of each of them and choose my next book or two strictly on how those sentences strike me.

Here goes:

"After the show, they went back to the hotel room, and to bed, for the seventeenth time in three weeks." - Memory by Donald E. Westlake (his "final never-before-published novel")

"It was chillier than she expected that morning, and a stiff wind shuddered through the apple blossoms- penetrating even to the desk in the Lodge at Rodmell, where she preferred to write." - The White Garden by Stephanie Barron (a novel about Virginia Woolf)

"In December of 2008, the editors of Webster's New World Dictionary and Thesaurus chose the verb "overshare" as their word of the year." - The Peep Diaries by Hal Niedzviecki ("How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors")

"What is an Obama zombie?" - Obama Zombies by Jason Mattera ("How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation')

"He was Little John at home, Gator John on wheels, John Jude on his birth certificate, Goofy-Foot John, or simply da kine to those in da know." - American Taliban by Pearl Abraham (a novel)

"After crossing the Merrimack River, I turned onto Route 1A, continuing south through the picturesque towns of Massachusetts' North Shore." - Dogtown by Elyssa East ("Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town")

"Meet Patricia Graham - wife, grandmother, office manager, churchgoer, community volunteer. And in her spare time, rightwing domestic terrorist." - That's No Angry Mob, That's My Mom by Michael Graham ("Team Obama's Assault on Tea-Party, Talk-Radio Americans")

"Tom the Handyman is wading in the snow outside my window in boots a burglar might wear." - The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn (novel)

"Oscar Morales was fed up. It was holiday time in his hometown of Barranquilla, Columbia, just after the 2008 new year." - The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick ("The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World")

"William Blakely? Oh my God, you mean Blockade Billy." - Blockade Billy by Stephen King (baseball-based novella that includes a 50-page short story called "Morality")

"I'm talking about torture." - Letters to My Torturer by Houshang Asadi ("Love, Revolution, and Imprisonment in Iran")

So, based on only the information I've presented, do I have any recommendations? I've already admitted to myself that it is extremely unlikely that I will read all 11 of these titles before the library demands I return them. I'm not sure what got into me this morning, but I found something interesting just about every place I looked on the shelves. At other times, I find nothing...just wish there was something in between.

(I suspect that all the guys will choose the first one on the list...)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Me of Little Faith

In Me of Little Faith, comedian and social critic Lewis Black searches for humor in organized religion – and he finds plenty. Black is an equal opportunity offender and by the end of the book he has given the reader his take on every major religion in the world – although he treads lightly when it comes to Islam.

In the tiny piece titled “Islam. All I’m saying is, I got nothing to say,” he states “I’ll get back to you later, when things have settled down.” He does follow this short piece with one called “When Bobby Goes Boom,” in which he skewers “religious suicide bombers” and another called “The Suicide Bomber’s Prayer” that is written in the voice of a Muslim bomber (although Black jokingly substitutes “Holy One” for “Allah”), but Black’s refusal to treat Islam in the same brash manner he treats every other religion weakens the impact of the book – and seems out of character for someone like Lewis Black who has an image of not fearing any backlash his comedy might create.

Black has particular fun with the multi-millionaire televangelists out there that still manage to scam their way to riches. He revisits the heydays of Jim and Tammy Baker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart and others, and finds much humor in the personal failings and absurdities of each of them. Swaggart is obviously Black’s pick of the litter (he admits to having been fascinated by the man’s television shows), and he devotes several pages to explaining the great success of the ministry (basically, “he’s used-car salesman sexy”).

One of the funniest parts of the book is Black’s take on athletes who use entire post-game interviews to thank Jesus for their success on the playing field. He wonders why, if God gets all the credit for carrying the successful athlete, the day’s losers don’t say something like, “Yeah, we were in the game…until Jesus made me fumble. He hates our team. Jesus hates us.” You know, I’ve often wondered the same thing.

Me of Little Faith is really about Lewis Black, how he was raised as a non-practicing Jew, what religious experiences he has had over the years, and what he believes today. It is a comic-biography, if you will, and it is sharp and funny in places, but a bit uneven. Black made the mistake of ending the book with a 38-page play he co-wrote in 1981, a play that he admits was largely panned by the critics who bothered to see it. He did not understand then why it was not more of a success and he still doesn’t seem to get it. Simply put, it is not funny – and its inclusion in Me of Little Faith is a mistake, especially so near the very end of the book where it seems to drag down all the really funny stuff that preceded it.

Rated at: 2.5

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Didn't Stephenie Meyer Think of This?

From the Wall Street Journal:
For $75,000, you can buy a piece of Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar.

Luxury publisher Kraken Opus mixed in a pint of Mr. Tendulkar's blood with paper pulp to create the signature page for a book celebrating the renowned batsman's career. The 10 limited-edition copies, which comes out in February, cost $75,000 each and have already sold out.
If you find this a bit much, or if you want to hear about other luxury books being sold to a bunch of what I perceive to be very gullible people with too much money in their hands, see the rest of the article. We live in a weird old world, people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Running Dark

One would expect that when ultramarathoner Emma Caldridge is blown off her feet by a car bomb near the halfway point of South Africa’s Comrades race, she would call it a day. Emma, feeling the ill effects of the run even before the bomb blast, is too stunned by the explosion to protest when a stranger injects her with a mysterious drug via the EpiPen in his hand. All she knows for sure is that the drug immediately has her back on her feet, her race injuries are quickly healing, and she cannot wait to get on down the road. From this point, the plot of Running Dark moves as quickly toward the finish line as Emma does.

Running Dark is Jamie Freveletti’s second novel featuring Emma Caldridge and Cameron Sumner and much of what happened in the first book, Running from the Devil, has an impact on character relationships in Running Dark. Most importantly, Cameron Sumner saved Emma’s life during a hostage situation in the first book, and in this one, she is determined to return the favor.

For much of the book, Freveletti aptly juggles three separate, and exciting, plotlines. The first involves Emma’s efforts to identify the performance enhancing drug she was injected with, and to make her way to a cruise ship off the coast of Somalia where Cameron Sumner is desperately hoping to hold off the Somali pirates trying to take it. The second plotline focuses on the cruise ship itself and Cameron’s efforts to organize the crew and passengers in a way that gives them at least a fighting chance against the pirates. Cameron has smuggled a sniper’s rifle on board the ship but, with the exception of a supersonic noise generator, that is about the only real weapon he has. The third plotline follows the efforts of Darkview Security’s Edward Banner and Carol Strohmeyer to fight off the efforts of the mysterious “Vulture” and a ruthless Senator who want to shut the company down.

Each of the plotlines is interesting but the most suspenseful one involves Emma’s determination to get to the ill fated cruise ship. Once she finally gets to the region, the support organized by Darkview starts to break down and she is forced to think on the run if she is to survive the ordeal, much less actually board a cruise ship already under the watchful eye of a big shot Somali pirate. Freveletti closes the book with a frantic fight to the finish between thirty or so pirates and a handful of people trying to create weapons from what they can find on the ship.

Running Dark is filled with impressive, and likable, characters, and readers will want to follow them into their next adventure. I do wish that their first book backstory had been told in more detail, but that is a small quibble.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Border Songs Now in Paperback

One of my favorite books from last year was Jim Lynch's Border Songs. It hardly seems like a full year has gone by since I read it but today is the day that Border Songs hits the bookstores in paperback.

This is what I had to say about the book in June 2009.

I'll repeat that fans of the cult classic Confederacy of Dunces will almost certainly enjoy Border Songs because the main characters of the two books could be cousins. This one is fun and Jim reminded me that it was picked as one of the best books of 2009 by the Washington Post, Toronto Star and others. If you enjoy unusual novels, you should take a look at this one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Careless in Red

Careless in Red opens with the still-grieving Thomas Lynley making his way along the coast of Cornwall on foot. Lynley has been walking so long, in fact, that he could more easily pass for a vagrant or homeless person than he could for the highly respected Detective Superintendent of New Scotland Yard he used to be. Since Lynley wants no part of New Scotland Yard, or anything else regarding his former life, he prefers it that way. But, as luck would have it, he stumbles upon the body of a teenage boy who has apparently fallen from the cliff below which Lynley is walking. When it becomes clear that this is a case of murder, rather than accident, Lynley will find himself one of the early suspects in the investigation.

Detective Inspector Bea Hannaford has a murder to solve but she does not feel that she has been given the proper tools to solve the case. The local policemen assigned to help her on the case do not impress her at all, so she is determined to make the most of having a former star of New Scotland Yard on the case. Hannaford refuses to let Lynley leave the area and convinces him that, since he is there anyway, he may as well give her some help. Hannaford, though, gets more than she bargained by forcibly recruiting Thomas Lynley into the investigation and she soon realizes that he will, indeed, help investigate the murder - but only on his own terms.

Elizabeth George writes big books and this is another whopper, coming in at 623 pages. It is filled with complex side plots and back stories involving a wide array of characters all the way from a grandfather trying to raise his overly religious granddaughter to a Greek expatriate sleeping her way through Cornwall’s men (married or not, young or old) at an astonishing pace. Some of the side plots and much of the back story involve the murdered boy, Santo Kerne, a young man who had more than his share of enemies for someone so young. While some might see the multiple characters and stories as a distraction, fans of George will revel in the way she gets so deeply into the lives of such different people and will be impressed with the way she tidies everything up by the book’s end.

Longtime fans of the series are, however, likely to be somewhat disappointed that Thomas Lynley is little more than a side character in Careless in Red or that Barbara Havers does not even appear in the story until about its mid-point. Havers, though, is Havers and when she does show up, Lynley’s character seems to change for the better and the whole pace of the book seems to sharpen.

Note that the unabridged audio book version of Careless in Red is some 18 CDs in length and that total listening time is something close to 20 hours in total. This is quite a challenge unless one has an extremely long commute or, as I did, brings the book along on a road trip. Narrator John Lee, who does an excellent job on the recording, is consistent throughout and does a remarkable job on a variety of British accents.

Fans of the series will appreciate this one; newcomers, perhaps not as much. The good news is that Thomas Lynley is recovering from the tragedy he suffered in With No One as Witness and that he should be more his old self in the next book in the series.

Rated at: 4.0

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Twilight Books and Middle School Neck-Biters

Here's something from the "Just When You Think You've Seen It All" news category.

It seems that the vampire craze sweeping the middle schools of America has spawned a new way for those students to show their "affection" for one another.

The Washington Post has this little blurb about the new craziness:
So, here’s the latest vampire-related trend apparently sweeping through middle schools: Some teens are biting each other, usually on the neck, as a way to declare love or friendship.

And, of course, they are documenting the act and slapping it up on Facebook for their parents to see. CBS' Early Show reported Wednesday that the “troubling new trend among teens” is likely the result of the booming popularity of the Twilight book and movie series and HBO's True Blood.

Good, bad, or silly? I'll leave that to you to decide, but who said books were no longer relevant to young people?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Best of 2010, Update 22

I haven't done a Best of 2010 update since the night I was sitting in an Owensboro, KY, motel (June 23) waiting on a jam session to get cranked up out by the pool, so let's see what happens (obviously, I do these on the fly, folks).

Up for consideration this time are 5 novels: Taroko Gorge (Jacob Ritari), Whiter Than Snow (Sandra Dallas), Home, Away (Jeff Gillenkirk), Careless in Red (Elizabeth George) and Running Dark (Jamie Freveletti). I'm a little surprised that my nonfiction reading is down this year but, for a variety of reasons, 2010 is rapidly turning a year of novels for me.

So, after due consideration, this is what the fiction list looks like after 52 fiction books read:

1. Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese (novel)
2. Matterhorn - Karl Marlantes (Vietnam War novel)
3. The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim (novel)
4. Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier (historical fiction)
5. Drood - Dan Simmons (historical fiction)
6. The Secret Speech - Tom Rob Smith (historical thriller)
7. Far Cry - John Harvey (police procedural)
8. Home, Away - Jeff Gillenkirk (baseball novel)
9. Whiter Than Snow - Sandra Dallas (historical fiction)
10.Careless in Red - Elizabeth George (police procedural)

And the nonfiction list from a total of 15 read remains:
1. Lies My Mother Never Told Me - Kaylie Jones (memoir)
2. Man of Constant Sorrow - Ralph Stanley & Eddie Dean (biography)
3. Losing My Cool - Thomas Chatterton Williams (memoir)
4. Jane's Fame - Claire Harman (on the evolution of Jane Austen's reputation)
5. The Opposite Field - Jesse Katz - (memoir)
6. The Tennis Partner - Abraham Verghese (1998 memoir)
7. Game Change - John Heilemann & Mark Halperin (political nonfiction)
8. Damp Squid - Jeremy Butterfield (on the evolution of the English language)
9. Unfinished Business - Lee Kravitz (memoir)
10. Top of the Order - Sean Manning, Ed. (baseball essays)
Three of the five books crack the list: Home, Away at number 8, Whiter Than Snow at number 9 and Careless in Red at 10, squeezing The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, A Fair Maiden and Johnny Porno off the list for good. So these are the best 20 books of the 67 books I've read so far this year, with almost half a year to go. Now for some nonfiction...

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Taroko Gorge

Jacob Ritari’s debut novel, Taroko Gorge, offers a new take on the classic whodunit mystery. In the classic manner, Ritari has placed his murder victims and their likely killer in a self-contained setting, one from which no one is likely to have come or gone unseen. The setting is Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge, a tourist attraction within one of that island-country’s national parks. When three Japanese students (fifteen-year-old girls) who are in Taiwan on a school trip suddenly disappear, the number of suspects is rather limited – and the finger-pointing soon begins.

Among those at the park center to visit the spectacular gorge, are a middle-aged American reporter and his photographer, a young man who copes with the disappearance of the girls by getting drunk – and staying that way for most of the book. Other possible suspects include a busload of Japanese students, their teacher/trip guide, and employees of the park itself. When the local police, led by a tough old sergeant, arrive, however, it seems that the Americans draw most of his attention. When the girls are not found by the end of the day, the Americans, along with four of the students and their teacher, volunteer to remain in the park office overnight to help the police in the search planned for early the next morning.

Ritari tells his story through the first person accounts of several different narrators, including reporter Peter Neils, the police sergeant, the class student leader, and a student who sees one of the missing girls as her romantic rival for the potential affections of several of the boys in the class. As would be expected, based on how different the speakers are, their narratives are uneven in content and reliability. Each person knows something the others do not and most seem to have a legitimate reason for feeling guilty about the disappearance of the missing girls.

Taroko Gorge is long on atmosphere and character, especially when an unexpected storm drenches the park with a blinding rain that lasts for hours, again delaying the search for the girls. Jacob Ritari seems to know Japan and Taiwan well and, by getting inside the heads of his various characters, he reveals much about cultural differences and similarities. Interestingly, each group (Taiwanese, Japanese, and American) seems to struggle a bit with its own prejudices and inherent distrust of the other groups – but in a way, each group admires the others. Ritari does seem to struggle a bit when he tries to speak as a 15-year-old Japanese girl but, perhaps, this is more a reflection of the empty-headed character he has created than it is of the author’s writing. He certainly fares much better with the voices of the Taiwanese police sergeant, the American reporter, and the young Japanese class leader.

This is an interesting first novel and Jacob Ritari has placed himself on my map as a young writer I will be watching for more from in the future.

Rated at: 3.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Patterson first to top one million in e-book sales

Why am I not surprised? Not at all surprised, but a bit disappointed to see that e-book readers are buying the same old stuff being churned out by the book machine otherwise known as James Patterson.

I'll bet Mr. Patterson even wrote a few of the titles himself rather than slapping his name in big print atop those of the writers who did all the grunt work on his co-written titles.
Hachette Book Group said the best-selling author of "Kiss the Girls," "Along Came a Spider" and other titles in the Alex Cross series has sold a total of 1.14 million e-books.

"Things have really changed in the digital space," Patterson said in a statement.

"With more and more people reading on iPads, Kindles, and Nooks, taking time to create interesting, user-friendly, enhanced e-book editions is becoming more and more important," he said.

"And if e-books get people who might otherwise not be reading to pick up a book, then that makes me happy," he said.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Whiter Than Snow

In Whiter Than Snow, Sandra Dallas offers another look at life in Colorado’s gold mining towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when the hardiest, most adventurous (or, perhaps, most desperate) souls were willing to risk their lives for a steady job in a company town. Swandyke, near Tenmile Range, is filled with people who have come to the cold little town for a variety of reasons. Some are in hiding from creditors or the law; some just kept moving westward, failing in one move after the other, until they ended up in Colorado; and its lone black resident is here because he struck a white man and had to run for his life in the middle of the night.

Swandyke is a town in which the privacy of others is respected. Those who want to keep to themselves can do so for years. The men, many of whom are of the hard-drinking variety, work the mine; the women stay home and raise their children, teach in the town schoolhouse, or work in the local brothel. Life in Swandyke, especially in the wintertime, is tough but, by the spring of 1920, life there has become routine for most of its residents.

That will change, though, at 4:10 p.m. on April 20, 1920 when an avalanche gobbles up nine Swandyke school children as they make their way home form their little schoolhouse. Five of the avalanche victims are the children of two estranged sisters, one is the son of the mine manager, one is the only black child in the town, one is the daughter of a prostitute, and the other is being raised by his Civil War veteran grandfather.

The author remarks in the book’s very first chapter that only four of the nine children will survive. The rest of Whiter Than Snow deals with who the nine children are and how their families came to be in Swandyke, Colorado, working for the big Fourth of July mine. Dallas tells their story in a series of flashbacks and backstories involving each of the six families that have had children snatched away by the avalanche. The reader learns of the strengths, weaknesses, hopes and dreams of each parent, a group of people with very little in common other than their work at the mine and their love for their children. Suddenly, though these people have hardly interacted before, they come together in a wave of mutual support that will help the most unfortunate of them survive the five terrible losses just ahead.

As the book’s main characters are being developed, the novel is steadily building to a dramatic climax during which the reader will finally learn which children survive and which do not. The townspeople know they have less than twenty minutes to dig survivors from beneath the snow - and, one-by-one, they will bring children to the surface in their race against the clock. For five children, it is too late. If you begin this book, you will not quit reading until you find out which five.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Another Reason E-Readers Still Cannot Beat the Book

Reading via an ebook reader is an entirely different experience than reading from the printed page. I find it hard to believe that reading from a hard copy will ever be topped by reading from a plastic box. I do, however, read a number of ebooks each year, but that is primarily because the ebooks I read are books that would not have been available to me otherwise. So, it is a case of reading them electronically or not reading them at all.

Now something I've sensed about my ebook reading has been confirmed in this PC Magazine article: it takes longer to read a page on an ebook reader than it does to read the same printed page. In my case, I find myself having to re-read whole sentences, if not paragraphs, because my mind tends to wander when I'm using my Sony Reader; I seem to be more easily distracted for some reason. Also, the Sony Reader has a bad problem with glare and I sometimes struggle to find just the right angle at which to hold the thing.
It will take you longer to read a book on an iPad or Kindle compared to the printed page, according to a recent study. Dr. Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group...The study found that reading on an electronic tablet was up to 10.7 percent slower than reading a printed book. Despite the slower reading times, Nielsen found that users preferred reading books on a tablet device compared to the paper book. The PC monitor, meanwhile, was universally hated as a reading platform among all test subjects.
The article mentions the small sample size of the study, but I suspect that 24 readers is a large enough sample to prove the point that reading via an ebook reader is still a less comfortable experience than reading from a real book. The PC Magazine writer does wonder if the age of readers has anything to do with how quickly they can read from an ebook reader, and I think that is a valid question. Perhaps, younger readers, those who have grown up reading for countless hours on PCs and other devices, might be quicker e-readers than their elders - folks like me who have been slower to adapt to the new technology.

I don't know the answer to that question. All I know is that reading from a paper and cardboard book is still a whole lot more satisfying to me than the experience I have reading from my Sony Reader - and I do not expect my opinion ever to change.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Libraries Challenge Copyright Law

I've griped a few times about the limited number of "copies" of ebooks available from my county library system. It seems that close to 90% of the books are always checked out (and that I seldom have interest in the other 10% anyway), and getting an ebook via the library's hold list seems to take forever. That's why I'm happy to see this unorthodox approach to making the supply part of the equation more equal to the demand part.

From the Wall Street Journal article:
Libraries are expanding e-book offerings with out-of-print editions, part of a broader effort to expand borrowing privileges in the Internet Age that could challenge traditional ideas about copyright.

Starting Tuesday, a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, are joining forces to create a one-stop website for checking out e-books, including access to more than a million scanned public domain books and a catalog of thousands of contemporary e-book titles available at many public libraries.

And in a first, participants including the Boston Public Library and the Marine Biological Laboratory will also contribute scans of a few hundred older books that are still in copyright, but no longer sold commercially. That part of the project could raise eyebrows, because copyright law is unclear in the digital books arena.
Only one person at a time will be allowed to check out a digital copy of an in-copyright book for two weeks. While on loan, the physical copy of the book won't be loaned, due to copyright restrictions.

The effort could face legal challenges from authors or publishers. Paul Aiken, the executive director of the Authors Guild—which challenged Google's scanning efforts—said "it is not clear what the legal basis of distributing these authors' work would be." He added: "I am not clear why it should be any different because a book is out of print. The authors' copyright doesn't diminish when a work is out of print."

Mr. Kahle said, "We're just trying to do what libraries have always done."

Having to receive prior permission from a copyright owner in order to scan a book is onerous, said Mr. Blake, of the Boston Library. "If you own a physical copy of something, you should be able to loan it out. We don't think we're going to be disturbing the market value of these items."
This is certain to be challenged, of course, but it is interesting to see libraries try something that challenges copyright law this way. The publishing world is changing so quickly that we might not recognize it ten years from now. Good, or bad, change is coming. Please read the Wall Street Journal article, linked above, to get the complete story. You might also want to take a look at the Internet Archive website to see what is already out there.

4th of July Celebration

Happy 4th, fellow Americans. As you share food and fireworks with friends and family, please take a moment to remember our soldiers, and those of our allies, the men and women who are dying every day to make this world a safer place for all of us.

On a lighter note, here's a little music from a few characters I haven't seen in a while:

Saturday, July 03, 2010

A Bad Day for Pretty

Avenging angel, Stella Hardesty, is at it again. Stella was introduced to readers in Sophie Littlefield’s debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, a novel that Stella barely survived. Now, in A Bad Day for Pretty, Stella is nearing full recovery from her injuries and is again ready to take on any man foolish enough to physically abuse his wife. The fact is, Stella has more potential business than any dedicated avenging angel can be expected to handle but she is more than willing to do what she can to help out a sister in trouble.

Stella, though, is not your typical vigilante. First, she is 50-something years old; second, she still runs the sewing machine shop she was left with when she ridded herself of her abusive husband in the first novel in the series. The resulting, and rather misleading, image allows Stella to maintain a low profile with local cops (she is even semi-romantically involved with the local sheriff as this new one begins) but, within the closed community of abused women, she is well known - and available to help.

In an unusual twist, Stella now finds herself defending, not trying to intimidate, a man. Neb Donovan, whose wife begs Stella for help, is suspected of having murdered the woman whose body is unearthed when a tornado strikes the local demolition derby track. Stella has a history with the man, having already helped him kick a vicious oxycontin habit, and she finds it hard to believe that he could have killed anyone and buried them in a concrete-filled hole. Stella takes on Neb’s case and, with the help of Chrissy Shaw (also a first novel survivor) and a cast of colorful characters, she sets out to prove his innocence.

A Bad Day for Pretty is a wild ride. It mixes hardcore vigilante justice with humor in a way that keeps the reader rooting for Stella and Chrissy despite their easy way with breaking the law - and a few arms and legs if that will get the job done. Stella’s appeal is her ability to see and accept herself for what she is. She is a woman’s advocate who understands that the justice system cannot always protect a woman from the man she lives with - that there is a point, if a woman is to survive, when justice comes from the blunt end of a baseball bat. She also recognizes that, despite what she suffered at the hands of her former husband, she is ready for a new romance - and that the clock is ticking. She is every abused woman’s idea of Superwoman, and that is pretty cool.

Rated at: 3.5

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Chris Hitchens in the Battle of His Life

I have admired Chris Hitchens from afar for a long time. Few authors give a better interview or handle their detractors more effectively than Chris, and I have had great fun watching him drive his critics to distraction. The man simply does not care what you think about him; he has something to say and you are welcome to take it or leave it. That's not his problem. Criticism just seems to roll off his back and he continues to slash away in his almost stereotypical British style. He seemed invulnerable to me - someone who would be shaking things up for many years to come.

And now Chris Hitchens is in a battle for his life. Perhaps his very lifestyle has finally caught up with him, because now he is suffering from cancer of the esophagus, a cancer that can be caused by excessive drinking or smoking, both of which Chris has been guilty of for many years. Sadly, the odds are stacked heavily against him, but if anyone can beat the odds it is Chris Hitchens.

Chris is the man Christians love to hate; he is an avowed atheist and has written about it effectively, and often. He is the man liberals love to hate because he has become an active conservative voice and he consistently destroys the liberal viewpoint in open debate. And if the comments attached to the news articles about Hitchens I have been reading on the web for the past day are any indication, now some liberals and conservative Christians are taking delight in the man's illness.

It takes something like this to remind me how little progress we, as human beings, have made in the last 2000 years. I am too disgusted with the comments to quote them here - and that would be pointless, anyway - but I suspect that, if Hitchens does bother to sample them, they will give him the strength he needs to fight his illness even harder than he would have.

You're still the man, Chris. Good luck to you, sir.