Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nomad Books: Edmonton's Bookstore on Two Wheels

I can't imagine there's a whole lot of profit in it, but one Edmonton couple has found a cheap way to turn their love of books and people into the city's only two-wheeled bookstore.  According to CBC News Edmonton, Yvonne and Jared Epp came up with the idea when they returned to the city after a four-year absence:
"I had been collecting and trading books for a while and then had wanted to start selling some of my own, and was thinking about how to do that without too much expense going into it," Jared said during an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
"And we thought, 'Why don't we just sell books on the trailer and kind of cruise around downtown and sell books that way?' We thought, 'Let's do it, let's see what happens.'"
Yvonne & Jared Epp
           They say the project is less about pushing a profit, and more about making personal connections.
"That's kind of our main goal, I mean it would be nice to make money from it, that would be awesome, but we're prepared not to," Yvonne said with a laugh. 
"By the time we pay for the insurance and the business license, we have a long way to go before we break even, but it's worth it." 

Kind of a cool idea, isn't it?  And who knows?  Maybe someday the Epps will have a whole fleet of little two-wheeled bookstores roaming the streets of Edmonton that will return a nice little profit to them.  Avid readers tend to be big dreamers, and I wish these guys well in pursuing theirs.

Monday, May 30, 2016

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided

Diane Guerrero is one of those actresses who so often seem to come out of nowhere to claim a recurring roll in what turns out to be an important television series (in Guerrero’s case, the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black).  But as is usually the case, nothing could be farther from the truth about Guerrero’s rise to stardom than how quickly she seems to have achieved it.  Her story is all the more remarkable because when Guerrero was just fourteen years old, she came home from school one afternoon to find that her Colombian parents, both of whom were in the country illegally, had been arrested and were being held for deportation back to Colombia.  Rather astonishingly, the fourteen-year-old American born citizen slipped through the bureaucratic cracks of immigration officials, and was forced to turn to family and friends for immediate survival.  Guerrero’s new memoir, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, tells her story.

Diane Guerrero spent her childhood in Boston along with a brother ten years older than her and their parents.  But there was a big difference between the little girl and the rest of her family: she was a natural-born United States citizen and the others (all born in Colombia) were in this country illegally.   By the afternoon on which her parents were snatched from her, her brother had already been deported, and Diane was no stranger to the possibility that the same could happen to her parents.  Still, when it finally did happen, neither Diane nor her parents were emotionally prepared for what they were about to face. 

Diane Guerrero 
Because she was such a bright and musically talented high school student, Guerrero was accepted into one of Boston’s prestigious high schools for the performing arts where she prepared herself for a stage and film career.  It was not easy, but despite setbacks and the poor personal decisions she sometimes made, Guerrero managed to maintain contact with her parents (they split after being deported) and was finally able to overcome her feelings of having been abandoned by them.  She still dreams of finding a way to return them legally to the United States, “the country they love.”

In the Country We Love puts faces and names to three of the supposedly eleven million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.  As such, it packs a strong emotional punch.  Unfortunately, the extremely one-sided pro-immigration argument presented in the book’s final twenty or so pages somewhat blunts that impact by ignoring the broader picture of an open border policy that allows almost unlimited illegal immigration into this country.  Guerrero’s approach comes across as both heavy-handed and close-minded, making it way too easy for her critics to counter her pro-immigration arguments  – and that’s a shame.    

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Annual "Worst Book I Ever Read" Award

Thankfully, it only happens to me once or twice a year - but it seldom skips a whole year.  That book comes along.  You know...the one that you force yourself to finish because you can't believe it's really as bad as it seems, or you just know the author is going to bail the whole thing out by coming up with the kind of spectacular ending that excuses everything that came before it.  And. It. Doesn't. Happen.

Well, someone seems to have inadvertently created the perfect booby prize for that kind of book.  Most book bloggers do an end-of-year statistical compilation anyway, so what better time to award the annual "Worst Book I Ever Read Award"?  

That should put a crapper...eh, capper...on the year in rather memorable fashion, especially if friends aren't important to you.  

Memorial Day 2016

Enjoy the extended weekend with friends and family, but please do take a moment to consider the true meaning of Memorial Day.

(And if you see a soldier, marine, sailor, airman, etc. out there somewhere today or tomorrow, say hello and thank them for what they are doing for all of us.  They will appreciate it, and you will be happy that you did.)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

How Tom Rachman "Mourned His Sister Through the Books She Left Behind"

Tom Rachman
A Washington Post article titled "How I Mourned My Sister Through the Books She Left Behind" caught my eye this morning - and it started me on some serious thinking about what we leave behind us upon our deaths.  What physical objects, especially books, will our survivors associate with us for the rest of their own lives...and so on?  

When Tom Rachman's sister Emily died, he found that her "library remained like a silent repository of her, and I had to dismantle it."  And that is exactly what he would end up doing by distilling her 800-volume library into the 250 books that he believes meant the most to her during her life.  
I found books on psychology written by our parents. Books she’d started but never finished. Books with sticky notes in them — she was passionate about sticky notes. I discovered packets everywhere, in neon pink, yellow, green. Each time I found a note in a margin, it made me scour the text for why.
Many of her books I associate with her childhood bedroom in Vancouver, where she read one astonishingly thick book after another, such as the red hardcover of “War and Peace,” which bears our father’s handwriting inside: “To darling Emily, With fondest love on your 12th birthday, from Mum & Dad. x x x x”
There are books I forgot I had given, such as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in which I (at age 15) printed in pencil: “Dear Emily, happy 18th birthday, I got you this book because it is very funny, and overall ace.” 

Discoveries like these were just the beginning of what Emily's books reminded Tom of from their shared lives - memories that bound her forever closer to him than would have ever been possible without the presence of the books - and notes - she left behind.

We should all be so lucky as to have a Tom or an Emily in our own lives.  

Perhaps writers are not the only ones who gain a measure of immortality from their books.  Maybe, just maybe, those of us who read them gain the same - if we are very, very lucky people.

(To read the entire  Washington Post article, please click on the red link at the beginning of this post.)

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work

Baseball is the sport that most appeals to the dreamers among us, those who lack the talent to play the game at a high level but who have such a deeply felt love of the sport that we are willing to take just about any baseball related job that comes along.  Until recently, such dreamers were limited to jobs in the front office or to positions that could never even remotely impact what was happening down on the field.  But then along came Money Ball, and everything changed.  It hasn’t been easy, but baseball’s statistical nerds are finally in position to contribute to the game in ways that used to be impossible.

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller are two of those dreamers – and they managed to make their own dream come true by convincing the owner of a small-time professional baseball team to hand them the keys to his team for an entire season.  As Lindbergh and Miller describe them, the Sonoma Stompers, members of a four-team league known as the Pacific Association, are pretty much astride the bottom rung of the professional baseball ladder.  But that doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that the Stompers and the three teams they play over and over again are comprised of real, living and breathing baseball players – young men who grew up dominating the baseball fields of their youth, all the while believing that one day they would make it to the major leagues.  But although that hasn’t happened for any of them so far, and probably never will, they are not ready yet to call baseball a day.  And as long as they can afford to play the game for the $500 a month or so that the Stompers can offer, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller want to help them make their dreams come true.

Lindbergh and Miller are baseball writer/editors (Lindbergh for FiveThirtyEight and Miller for Baseball Prospectus) with lots of theories about how best to play the game.  They use intricately designed spreadsheets to identify players that may have slipped through the cracks of major league baseball’s comprehensive player draft system.  They dream of using a five-man infield against players who almost never hit a fly ball, and they wonder what would happen if they ask their hitters not to swing the bat any time they jump in front on a two-ball, no strike count.  They wonder why managers insist upon saving their “closers” exclusively for ninth inning save situations instead of using them in critical situations that happen an inning or two earlier when a game is so often lost.

 Now it’s time to see what happens when theory becomes reality.  The Only Rule Is It Has to Work – and there’s only one way to find out.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

600 Self-Deluded Writers Sign Open Letter Condemning a Political Candidate

One of the 600 Who Over Estimates the Power of His Opinion

According to this piece from The Guardian, some 600 American writers have signed an open letter condemning the political aspirations of Donald Trump.  Among them seem to be a few favorites of mine and a whole lot more of whom I've never heard.

But for all 600 of you, here is my open letter to you:

As I desperately look for reasons I can justify voting for either of the two most despicable candidates in recent American political history, I don't want (or need) to hear from people whose opinion is no more valid or informed than my own.  I don't give a damn what you think about politics, so keep it to yourself - and if you think your opinion is going to make me vote one way or another in any election, you are hugely over estimating your influence on the general public.  Keep writing, and I'll keep reading.  Other than that...you are irrelevant.  

Especially you, Stephen King.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chronicle of a Last Summer

In Chronicle of a Last Summer, her debut novel, Yasmine El Rashidi explores three volatile periods of Egyptian history through the eyes of a single narrator who lived with her mother in the same Cairo apartment between 1984 and 2014.   The novel is divided into distinct sections recalling the young woman’s recollections of the events of the summers of 1984, 1998, and 2014.  Unfortunately, for both the narrator and for the country of Egypt, the more things changed, the more they remained the same.

In 1984, our narrator is still a little girl basking in the attention of her family and those in the neighborhood impressed by the stature of the lifestyle her businessman father is able to provide his family.  She is a confident child, one who feels secure about her place in Egyptian society, but she is smart enough to know that she does not understand everything about the world she lives in – and that the best way to learn the truth about that world is to listen quietly to the adult conversations surrounding her.  Why, for instance, does her father remain in Geneva on business for so long, and more importantly, why does the rest of the family talk about him as if he may never return to his Cairo apartment?

By 1998, the little girl is a university film student well aware that one of the truths of Egyptian society is that some of its citizens suddenly disappear, with only the luckiest of them ever to be seen again.  But even those lucky ones come home physically and mentally scarred by the experience, mere shadows of the people they were when they went missing.  In the meantime, her own father remains “in Geneva” on business, and the narrator has to be careful that the actions of her radical cousin and uncle do not convince the government that it is time she take a “business trip” of her own.

Yasmine El Rashidi
And then it is 2014, and the narrator’s Baba (father) is back.  He will never return to the family home (a place more and more in danger of collapsing from neglect), but his return to public life gives the narrator the chance to spend time with the man she only knows through family stories and a few vague, early childhood memories of her own.  Soon enough, another “revolution” behind them, the people of Egypt are faced with the reality that only the names of those in charge change, and that life for the rest of them is something to be endured until the Egyptian political cycle completes itself again.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Safe House: A Documentary on the Decline of Public Libraries in the U.K.

Stephen Fry on U.K. Libraries
When I lived in London in the nineties, one of the things that most disappointed me was the city's public libraries.  Being a bit of an Anglophile, I probably expected way too much from a country that more or less shaped my understanding and appreciation of literature, so maybe they were not as bad as the impression they made on me then.  But when I compared them to the libraries in and around Houston, they invariably suffered in the comparison, so to me they were almost without exception disappointing. 

And now, shockingly, I see that they are probably worse today than I remember them to be when I was a regular patron at two locations back then (the libraries in Richmond and Uxbridge).  I lived in the rather upscale area of Richmond/Twickenham and worked in the more industrial area of Uxbridge, and that meant that Richmond was my week-end library and Uxbridge my lunchtime library.

All that said, this trailer publicizing a new documentary called "The Safe House" on the decline of public libraries in the U.K. leaves me rather sad.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Thursday 1:17 P.M.

At first, fans of time travel novels and short stories might not know what to make of Michael Landweber’s Thursday 1:17 P.M.  After all, the novel’s narrator/hero (a teenager whom everyone calls Duck) moves neither forward nor backward in time during the entire novel.  Duck would, in fact, be perfectly happy if he could simply figure out how to get time started again, because right now he is the only thing moving in a world in which every other living thing and machine is frozen solid at 1:17 on the worst Thursday afternoon of his life.

How bad a day is Duck having?  Well, consider this: minutes earlier, he walked away from his mother’s deathbed; his father is institutionalized; and Duck has just stepped directly into the path of the speeding car that is destined to smash him into pieces.  But suddenly the clock stops ticking, and Duck finds himself staring into the eyes of the driver who is about to crush him.  So he simply steps away from the intersection. 

Thus begins one of the strangest coming-of-age novels a reader is ever likely to encounter.  Duck will be eighteen years old tomorrow – but will tomorrow ever get here, or is Duck destined to remain forever a seventeen-year-old boy grieving the loss of his mother?

Michael Landweber
Survival proves to be surprisingly easy in a world in which everything is literally frozen in in the instant during which time stopped.  Washington D.C. grocery stores are filled with food and drink that never spoils; the temperature never varies; shelter is available everywhere Duck turns (if he can just figure out when it is time to get some sleep); and everything in the nearby shopping mall is his for the taking.  All around him, people are frozen in the act of walking, falling, fighting, or making love.  Everyone but Duck is waiting for the next tick of the clock to determine their fate.  Now what?

Ironically, it a world in which time has frozen, Duck has nothing but time on his hands, time to think about his past, time to miss his parents and his friends, and time to figure out what he would do differently if only the rest of the world would catch up with him again.  But in order to do any of these things, first he has to figure out a way to get time flowing.  Can a boy really come-of-age in a world in which he lives entirely alone, or is his situation akin to the tree that falls in the forest when no one is around to hear it hit the ground? 

You’ll have to read Thursday 1:17 P.M. to find out.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)