Tag Archives: books

Gleodileg* Jolabokaflod!

This year, my family celebrated Christmas on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. We approach the holidays “creatively” and have previously celebrated Christmas at times ranging from Black Friday to The Day Itself. Thanksgiving and Christmas were combined about 15 years ago, when it became clear that gathering TWICE was simply impossible.

A designated “game master” defines our gift giving arrangement. This year my niece organized a combination of “Secret Santa” and “Jolabokoflod”. Jola…what?

Here’s an explanation of this popular new holiday tradition

This is how it worked for us. Each of us sent a (private!) message to the game master, listing:

  • a book we wanted
  • a favorite genre or author
  • a pet peeve (I nixed historical fantasy fiction)
  • OR our willingness to let Santa choose

SOMEBODY heard that in Iceland on December 24, families exchange books and spend the evening reading and drinking chocolate, or possibly eating chocolates. So we also submitted our chocolate preferences – dark or milky, soft or chewy, favorite brand… Turns out caramel sea salt/dark chocolate is the winner. Ghirardelli was the most popular brand. Seventeen family members participated.

Here’s the outcome:

We didn’t photograph the chocolate. Use your imagination!

*In case you are wondering, I used GoogleTranslate to approximate “merry” or “happy”. I wish you a Gleodileg Jolabokaflod! You can pronounce it any way you like.

I already finished reading my gift book. Stay tuned for a review!

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“Used and Rare – Travels in the Book World” by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

This cheerful little “book about books” was published in 1997. It’s a reminder how much has changed in 20 years. The Goldstones didn’t carry cell phones and rarely used the internet. Out of curiosity, I checked on their ages. Yes, just about my age…

I wonder if the Goldstones are undergoing the “stuff crisis” (aka DOWNSIZING) that has gripped me and so many of my friends. The “stuff” in question includes books. Many books! I feel that my relationship to the printed word has changed radically.

  • I use Kindle and recorded books
  • I patronize the public library
  • I’m trying very hard NOT to buy books
  • I’m trying to GET RID OF books constructively

So in some ways, its hard to sympathize with these somewhat compulsive book buyers.

A number of bookstores and dealers are mentioned by name in this book. I wonder how many are still alive, or still operating. I am pleased to say that Brattle Books in Boston (mentioned several times) is still going strong!

I was very interested in learning what books the Goldstones really loved to read. Maybe I need to take another look at Dickens. I seem to have missed John Dos Pasos entirely. Unfortunately, there’s no index in this book. I will have to skim through it again if I want to follow up on their literary tastes.

“The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession ” by Allison Hoover Bartlett

This is a book about obsession! What is it about BOOKS? Many of us love them, but we’re able to control our larcenous impulses in bookstores and libraries. Allison Bartlett interviewed John Charles Gilkey, who repeatedly employed credit card fraud to get the rare books he craved. She also writes about Ken Sanders, a bookseller who organizes security for a national booksellers association. He deplores the low priority the police establishment puts on recovery of stolen volumes.

One problem a reporter like Bartlett encounters is that, if you really find out how a thief operates, you are in danger of becoming complicit in the crimes!

Gilkey was caught in 2003 and served 18 months in San Quintin prison. Wikipedia says he was arrested again in 2010, for stealing antique maps. I wonder where he is now?

Literary Flu

The highest compliment I can give a book is to say it gave me a case of “literary flu”. You know the ailment, right? You start reading a book, and its time to go to work, but you just don’t feel good. Something aches… or twitches. Getting dressed just seems like too much effort. You might be coming down with something! YOU don’t want to be the bad guy who brings Chicken flu or whatever to the office… Better stay home!

So you make tea, call out sick and nestle up with that book… And somehow, next day, you’re fine!

What books have had this kind of impact on me? Cold Mountain by Charles Frasier. Anathem by Neal Stephenson. A good friend succumbed to Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies. And the last book in the Harry Potter series.

I’m reading such a book right now. Watch for details in a few days! And leave a comment if you want to recommend a book that gave you a case of LITERARY FLU!

“Ceremonial Time” by John Hanson Mitchell

I don’t often read two works by the same author back to back. After reading Living at the End of Time, I wondered why John Mitchell’s earlier book Ceremonial Time (1984) was described as a “cult classic”. It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

At its most obvious, Mitchell’s description of his Native American friends and their ritual dance was intriguing and, to me, unexpected. He develops a definition of “ceremonial time” as a condition when people or things from different eras can in some fashion coincide or overlap, and discusses his experiences of this.

In more prosaic historical terms, Mitchell describes the ecological and human conditions on his chosen square mile of Massachusetts from the end of the last Ice Age to the present. Although he resists much of the contemporary change he describes (highways, shopping malls, businesses and the loss of farmland), he gradually accepts them as a small glitch in a long pattern.

It’s when Mitchell discusses “the future” that I really accepted that this book is thirty years old. Much of “the future” he spoke of has arrived. And no doubt Mitchell has adapted to the internet, cell phones and social media.

Mitchell posits several fates for his beloved neighborhood of Scratch Flats – nuclear annihilation (odd that we don’t think about that much in 2014), the asphalt apocalypse (my term, not his), tribalism with a modern twist, and the return of the Ice Age. After all, geologic history suggests that this in an interglacial era. In 1984, he had not apprehended the threat of global warming.

Would he have considered global warming if he had written in 1994? In 2004? I don’t know. When did I “pick up” on it? I often claim foreknowledge based on having watched the movie “Our Mister Sun” in 1960. I studied atmospheric chemistry in the 1970s, but that was oriented towards protecting the ozone layer and understanding photochemical smog. The climate impact of carbon dioxide was not on our agenda.

When did I BELIEVE that global warming would hit hard in my lifetime? Some time between five and ten years ago. And I am, after a fashion, both a scientist and an environmentalist.

Mitchell is an environmentalist and a story teller. He has important things to say in either idiom.

Book Source – Paul Dry Books

I don’t normally select books according to their publishers – indeed, I could rarely tell you who published a book I am reading. I met Paul Dry (of Philadelphia) a decade ago, shortly after he founded Paul Dry Books (PDB). PDB is a very small publishing firm that puts out whatever books strike Paul Dry’s fancy, at the rate of ten or a dozen per year.

Some of Dry’s selections are interesting, relatively obscure books that have gone “out of print”, a status that may be diminishing as the reach of Amazon.com and other mega-suppliers extends. Others are translations. The author list is eclectic in the extreme. The most published author is the very prolific Eva Brann, whose books are so scholarly that I have not actually finished even one of them.

I’ve fared much better with Paul Dry’s fiction selections, like His Monkey Wife and The Summer House – a Trilogy. I also enjoyed Nat Hentoff’s memoir, Boston Boy.

In a world of mega-corporations, bookstore chains, electronic publishing and giant publishing “houses”, it’s refreshing to come across a company as independent and quirky as Paul Dry Books. I’m putting several of his books onto my Christmas list and struggling with my conscience over the possibility of downloading some of his authors onto my Kindle (from Amazon).

Book Source – Recent History (Mine!)

I just recognized an important category of books for me! These are books about the “history” of my lifetime.

Insight: Just because I lived through something, that doesn’t mean I understand it in any depth. Yes, I may have memories, but they are fragmentary and I should be careful of using them as a basis for conclusions. I was a child in the fifties, a teenager and college student in the sixties, etc.

This insight was triggered by reading Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides, about the manhunt for James Earl Ray, who murdered Martin Luther King in 1968. I’ll post a review shortly, with some comments on my (personal) memories of that terrible event.

Here are some reviews in this blog that cover history I “experienced” first hand:

  • “The Eve of Destruction – How 1965 Transformed America” by James Peterson. Blog post dated June 3, 2013. Current commentators treat the sixties as some kind of joke! But serious things happened.
  • The John F Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library, in which I saw the exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, an event that scared me half to death. Blog post dated January 1, 2014
  • “War Journal – My Five Years in Iraq” by Richard Engel and “Where Men Win Glory” by Jon Krakauer (posts dated November 15 and November 21, 2013). I’m trying to understand the wars we have been (and are) fighting in the Middle East.

Now that I’ve recognized this need, I will be watching for books that explain the world I lived in, and which (for better or worse) I leave to my children.