Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Q&A: Cleaning up your act

Q: What’s the best way to clean the covers of a book?

A: When I worked at a retail bookstore, we always used
Goo Gone. It’s an orange-based cleaner that easily removes sticker glue, dirt, grime, sticky residue, and many other markings. However, it can’t fix bends, scrapes, curls, tears, or other physical damage. And never use it on inside pages, because it may soak into the paper and leave a stain.

Whatever you do, don’t use regular household cleaners, which can damage a book cover. And don’t apply any cleaner directly to the cover – apply it to a soft cloth and then wipe the cover with the treated rag, then dry with an unexposed part of the cloth.

Before treating the cover with any kind of cleaner, including Goo Gone, try wiping the cover with a slightly dampened soft cloth first. It may take away the grime without having to apply anything at all.

I've said a couple of times here to use a soft cloth. Lest you think I'm just trying to be fashionable, keep in mind that rough textures can wear the cloth on a hard cover and the edges of paperback covers. Soft cotton works great.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Q&A: To pre-read or not to pre-read

Q: When should you read a book that a movie is based upon – before seeing the movie or after?

A: There is no right answer to this question. That’s because different people read books and see movies differently. The outcomes are rarely the same. So the real answer is, it's up to you. But here is my "professional" take on it:

I tried reading a book before seeing the movie and I was disappointed in the movie. Because the book can cover more and get more deeply involved in point of view and character development, not to mention the movie not always matching the book, I found myself criticizing the movie more and catching errors or discovering missing pieces of the story instead of simply enjoying the movie.

My best experience has come from seeing the movie and then reading the book. In that way, I get to enjoy the movie for its own sake, and then I read the book to either get more background or to see how the two were different. I’ve never felt disappointed in either version this way.

I bought the book The Constant Gardener in anticipation of seeing the movie first and then reading the book. But the movie didn’t stay in theaters very long and I didn’t get a chance to see it. Yet, I didn’t want to read the book first, so I waited for the movie to come out on DVD. It took much longer than I thought it would and the book languished on the shelf. The movie recently arrived at my favorite video store and I rented it – now I look forward to reading the book. The problem with my seeing the movie first is that I have had to wait to enjoy this great story. So it cuts both ways.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Q&A: Saving grace for saving your place

Q: What’s the best way to save my place in a book?

A: Let’s start with the way not to save your place – folding over the corner of the page. It’s called a "dog ear," and it’s not good to do to a book just as it's not good to do to a dog. In addition, it reduces the value of the book.

I’m happy to say there are many better ways to save your place:

  1. There’s the really inexpensive way – shove a piece of paper between the pages. It can be any piece of scrap lying around the room, or it can be a flyer, handout, or envelope. Just keep it thin and free of grease, oil, or ink that could taint the page.
  2. Sometimes the bookstore will give you a paper bookmark, often in the form of an ad with store location, phone number, Web address, and hours. It will save your place as easily as any other method.
  3. Bookstores also usually sell more ornate bookmarks made of varying materials like metal, paper, plastic. The best ones are laminated (to avoid tainting a page and to keep it nice looking). Metal will hold up nicely, but they can be thick (which could bend or curve pages) and they sometimes are made to attach, which will mark or damage the page. Some also will stick to the page, which could leave a smudge or other taint mark.
  4. Ornate bookends make nice gifts and will usually serve the reader for some time. They’re available in lots of different styles, enough really to suit any reader’s personality or interest. Consider giving one for a birthday, anniversary, Easter, Christmas, Hanukkah, summer vacation, or at the same time you give that person a book.

More page-savers to avoid
I would also avoid using paper clips, alligator clips, page markers, or anything else not specifically designed for use in a book or that otherwise marks up a page.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Book Review: Lamb by Christopher Moore

I first ran into author Christopher Moore reading Lamb, the imaginative and often irreverent story of Christ’s youth as narrated by his childhood best-bud, Biff.

I must say I have since been disappointed by some of his other works. In particular, The Stupidest Angel and Fluke. Moore is a great writer. I like his style and tone. His characters are always interesting, and his prose is vivid enough that you can really see the scenes as the stories progress. However, Moore is supposed to be a humor writer – yet there isn’t much humor in these other two books. They’re good stories, but I guess I set myself up hoping the other works would match what Moore had accomplished in Lamb. (Moreover, I can’t figure out why Moore titled the one work The Stupidest Angel – the angel, who appears in Lamb as well, actually has a minor role in this story. I call it The Strangest Title!)

So let me tell you why I liked Lamb. I first picked it up because I’ve always been curious about the early life of Jesus the Christ. I read the cover hype and was enthralled with the idea of Jesus Christ having a childhood best friend and wondered what he would have made of the savior of the world. I read a few passages from the book and was immediately hooked into the story.

Now, I wouldn’t read this book thinking it was in any way an accurate historical narrative. It’s fanciful to say the least. But Moore does provide substantative details about the people and the times. He weaves in words from scripture to suggest how Christ might have thought to use them in the final years of his life, lending a genuineness to the story, and he fits those last years into the tail of the narrative, giving it authenticity. Where the story wanders from reality is the trek Moore gives Christ in search of the three wise men from his birth to get answers about the meaning of his life (he asks his Father, who won’t say), and Christ’s supposed study of various religions from which he might have picked up some of his ides on life. Jesus (or Joshua in Aramaic) and Biff travel thousands of miles over many years through the Middle East, Asia, and India, then back to Judea just in time for the beginning of Christ’s ministry.

What I found compelling was Christ having a close friend early in his life. And I liked the occasional sarcasm Biff offers in the story and the way he sticks by his best friend even to the very difficult end. The picking up of words of scripture to pepper the story in a humorous but meaningful way also gives this story legs that get you from beginning to end and say, “Yeah, it could have happened this way.”

I highly recommend Lamb. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s a great tale. I wish I could say the same about Fluke and The Stupidest Angel – maybe I wouldn’t feel that way if I had read them first.

Reader Resources

Editorial Reviews of Lamb from Amazon.com and Publisher’s Weekly (scroll down below fold)

Other books by Christopher Moore
Christopher Moore interview on Chrismoore.com

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Book Review: Empire Falls

HBO made a riveting two-part movie of Empire Falls by Richard Russo, a great narrative. They did the book justice, following it devotedly chapter by chapter. Still, as much as I liked the movie, I liked the book best.

Richard Russo is an excellent writer, as you’ll find in Empire Falls. You’ll relate to the interesting characters, enjoy the vivid descriptions of the town and the times, and reach the end caring deeply for this man of poor means and the people he interacts with every day of his otherwise rich life.

As I said, the book is filled with rich, vivid characters. There's the main character, who has spent his life trying to leave this sleepy, dying New England town only to be pulled back time and again, ultimately to run a diner owned but restrained by the town's richest family. And then there's his recently divorced wife who just wants to be loved -- she's about to marry the town's health club owner, a bombastic, self-assured health nut who has taken an irritating liking to the main character. Let's see, there's also the town matron who keeps a tight grip on the town that is her family's empire and who takes pleasure in putting down the main character. In flashbacks, you'll also meet her timid husband who once fell in love with the main character's wife but who takes his life when the main character was a child. Paul Newman won a Golden Globe this year by playing the main character's father, a listless, irresponsible, irrepressable, but certainly lovable scallawag who is less a dad and more an occasional houseguest. There is also the main character's brother who helps him run the restaurant, his daughter who loves her father and can't stand her mother or her mother's boyfriend, the main character's mother-in-law who appreciates him far more than her selfish daughter, and a retired priest who suffers from Alzheimers and can be counted on to say what he thinks however inappropriate and leaves town with the main character's father and the parish's cash. They all breathe life to this memorable narrative that seems long until you get to the last page and wish it could go on and on.

Reading Resources
Editorial Reviews by Amazon.com and Publisher’s Weekly
(scroll down below the fold)

Other books by Richard Russo
Richard Russo interview on BookPage
● Article in
World Literature Today (scroll down)
● HBO Web pages on Empire Falls including various interviews

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Q&A: How to prevent paperback books from curling

Q: How do you keep paperback (soft cover) book covers from curling?

A: Thanks to Dennis of San Francisco for e-mailing me with this question.

Dennis says his room is often cold, but it faces the sun so it heats up periodically during the day, then gets cold again. His roommate’s room is structurally similar, but the sun doesn’t shine directly into his room, and the roommate’s books don’t curl.

My theory is that with the fluctuation in heat comes a fluctuation in humidity, which causes the paper to react differently at different times of the day. Thus, the cover stresses and curls. My recommendation is for him to shade the room during the day, especially the part of the day when the sun is the most direct and hottest. That might help modify the fluctuation in humidity.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Get a humidity gauge (or hydrometer) to measure humidity and monitor the room. If humidity is high – 60% is ideal for books – take action to reduce humidity, such as using a dehumidifier or heating the room.
  • If the rest of the house is moderately humid and books in the other rooms don’t curl, keep the doors to the bedroom open so the air can circulate, thus reducing humidity in the affected room.
  • Store books in less humid rooms (that sounds simple, but most people don’t factor humidity into deciding where to store books).
  • Shelve books tightly together. Don’t shelve them so tightly that it’s difficult to pull books from the shelves, but tightly enough to force the pages shut. Too tightly against varying sized books may warp the cover and too loosely will expose more of the paper to the air.

One more point to consider:
Paperback books generally don’t do as well with temperature and humidity fluctuations as do hardcover books. That’s because paperback books are usually made with thinner paper and often with a lesser-quality paper. If you think of your books as an investment or if you want to preserve your books for a long time, consider buying hardcover instead. They’re more costly but they should last longer with good care.

Dennis reports that the tips have helped:
You were right--the temperature changes were making the humidity fluctuate drastically. That, in conjunction with a small room and no air circulation, was the culprit. I wonder how students take care of their books in small dorm rooms? Well, I bought blinds for my window and keep my door open during the day, and close it when it gets colder at night. Now that the temperature doesn't swing as much, my books seem to be holding out.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Dennis.