Friday, August 28, 2015

Bookstores and Browsing for Your Next Book

Book Question: What is your favorite section of the bookstore?

One thing that makes a real (brick and mortar) bookstore more fun to shop than an online store is the ability to wander around and discover things. That's a lot harder to do online.

Sometimes I go to the bookstore looking for something specific. If I've read about a book or there's a new movie coming out and I've heard about the book it's based on, for instance. Or someone has mentioned a book.

Other times I go to the bookstore to browse.

I like science fiction so I often start there. I also like biographies so often I will browse there, too.

But at my favorite bookstore, which is an independent bookseller, as soon as you walk in the door you are welcomed by the new-book table, and I always stop there first. I never know when I will discover something interesting, something I might never have thought of had I not run into it there.

Just beyond the new-book table is the best-seller shelf. It's often fun to see what most other people are reading, and that often (although not always) is a good indication of a good read. Attached to it is the new-in-fiction and new-in-nonfiction shelf, not to be confused with new-book table. The new-book table is what is hot out of the publisher, whereas the others are considered still new in the market. They're selling well enough to still be selling well, so they are also a good indication of what other readers find good reading.

Most of those are new hard-bound books. Nearby are the new paperbacks. New paperbacks can be brand new to the market but may also include hard-bound books reintroduced in the cheaper paperback versions, either the pocket size or the larger mass-market size.

Probably one of the most interesting sections to visit is the book club section. It can be a good indication of what other people are reading and talking about. If you want to know what people at work or in the neighborhood may be talking about, these books may be some of the topics. And they may be really good reads. I've found some great books this way.

Sometimes I'm already reading a book or two, so I don't need another one on the nightstand. Instead, I head to the magazine section. I often go to the bookstore with my daughter and while she is browsing the store, I peruse magazines. There are still hundreds of great magazines covering every interest, and in most bookstores you can sit down in a comfortable chair or at the coffee shoppe and read. No matter your interest, you can find something intriguing to read in a magazine - usually something you can read during a short visit.

What is your favorite section of a bookstore? How do you "browse" online?

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Too Many Books, Too Few Hours to Read?

Book Questions*: Bad Book Habits

I think most bibliophiles or book nerds can probably identify with this one: buying too many books at one time, or even, checking out too many books at once from the library.

During a recent visit to the library I saw a woman hauling a canvas shopping bag on a wheeled cart, and the bag was full of books. Now, maybe she had a family to feed with books, but that looked suspiciously to me like reading overload.

When I worked at a bookstore, one of the benefits was a 33 percent discount on all book purchases. Plus, at the end of each month we received a certificate for so much value toward the purchase of books based on how many hours we worked that month: example, $10 or $30 or so. You can imagine how many books employees bought there every month - too many.

In addition, publishers sent representatives to the bookstore to present upcoming releases who brought samples, of which we could take our pick.

I was never for want of books, and I usually had too many books and never enough time to read them all, especially when you consider that bookselling was a part-time job for me and that I spent the rest of my professional time writing, editing, and trying to run an editorial business.

Most people I know who are readers suffer from the same malady: They see far more books they want to read than they can possibly consume in a reasonable amount of time. Thousands of books are published every month! (Forbes said there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published ever year.)

Now that I'm retired and don't have the money to spend on books, I don't buy books like I used to. I occasionally put holds on library books that arrive at the same time and suffer a rushed read, but that's rare. When I do buy books, I buy ones that are special to me. And that saves a lot of shelf space.

There is something about books that encourages a kind of readers' gluttony. Do you suffer this tendency as well? What do you do about it?

*One more inspiration from "55 questions about reading."

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paper or Ebook - Which Is Better?

Book Questions: Why I prefer paper books

I have Kindle and OverDrive loaded on a tablet, and there's no doubt about it, ebooks are cheaper to buy and easier to store. But ebooks also come with a number of issues that paper books do not, which add to the reasons I prefer paper over electronic. But first, the main reasons I prefer paper.

You don't have to be old fashioned to prefer paper. I like the feel and dexterity of paper books, and anyone of any age can enjoy that. I also like the smell of paper books - the smell of the paper, the bindings, and the ink. Compare that with the smell of heated plastic and electronics. And I like the color and graphics of the covers (paperbacks) and jackets (hard cover) - yes, ebooks have "covers" but only on the first page and only when you open the book, not when your device is sitting on the shelf or table or wherever it sits unopened.

In addition, paper books have weight or heft, and flipping through the pages is easy - in fact, flipping back and forth through pages without getting lost is much easier in paper than in electronic versions. If you are doing research, it's much easier to bookmark pages and easily find where you've left the bookmarks than in an electronic version.

I also like browsing my collection of books on my bookshelf and quickly pulling a book off the shelf, unlike trying to find one hidden in an electronic archive. Somehow, the electronic versions also lack substance - they're just a flat, featureless front page.

Now to the problems with ebooks.

Although you can adjust the dimness of ebooks or even reverse the black and white screen, I find ebooks uncomfortable to read, especially at night. That's because the screen is lighted from behind rather than by reflecting from an absorbing surface like paper. It's harsh on the eyes and has been implicated in cases of insomnia.

Also, if you've ever accidentally touched the wrong part of the screen when trying to turn the page, you can get sent to footnotes or far back into the book, unsure where you left off - that never happens with a paper book. When it happens with an ebook, it can also throw off the pagination.

Furthermore, different ebook readers can operate differently, and different authors and publishers use different ereaders, so it can be challenging to use all the different readers. Again, you don't have that problem with paper books.

Then there's battery life - ever have a paper book need recharging just when you got to the most exciting part of the story?

And there's that initial cost of buying the Kindle, Nook, or tablet!

In their defense, ebooks save space, Amazon Prime offers free books monthly for Kindle owners and Barnes and Noble offers free books for the Nook, library downloads are quick and easy and save on late fees, and ebooks save trees from slaughter.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Do Books Ever Start on the Same Page Number?

Book Questions: Who decides on what page number books start?

Have you noticed that books often start on random-seeming page numbers?

My favorite historical fiction author is Julian Stockwin. In Victory, he begins chapter 1 on page 9, which is nine printed pages in from the front of the book. Chapter 1 of Pasha, his most recent age-of-sail book, begins on page 15, which again is fifteen pages from the front of the book. His paperback version of Seaflower begins chapter 1 on page 1, even though there are printed pages beforehand. In the uncorrected advanced proof of Stockwin's Tyger, to be released in October, chapter 1 starts out on page 1, even though there are printed pages beforehand - I have no idea how the final printed version of the book will paginate.

It's not without precedent. My paperback version of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird begins the story in chapter 1 on page 3, with man printed pages beforehand. Mitch Album's best seller Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) begins the story on page 1. Yann Martel's Life of Pi begins on page 3.

My favorite humor author, Christopher Moore, begins such stories as LambFluke, and The Stupedist Angel on page 1, as would I expect him to do in his new novel out August 25, Secondhand Souls. "I always start with 1. It's how I roll," he says.

However, there are book style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, that recommend that the first page of text be page 1 (except for excessive front matter like forewards, which they prefer lower case roman numbers).

So who gets to make the decision about which page number starts the book? "Book layout is down to the designer chosen by the publisher," says Stockwin, whose books publish around the world. "Generally the meat of a book will begin on page 1 but this can vary, depending on house style of a particular publisher."

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 17, 2015

How Do You Mark Your Place in a Book?

Book Care: Marking Your Place Without Spoiling Your Book

I don't revere books, but I do respect and enjoy them and I take care to preserve mine. So when I read books I do as little as possible that might despoil them.

When I read a book, I use a paper bookmark - either an actual bookmark from a bookstore or a thin piece of clean paper. Note that if the paper isn't clean, whatever is on the paper can soak into the paper, despoiling it. And if any non-standard bookmark is too thick, it can warp or bend the paper. Metal bookmarks may look fun, but clips will deform the paper. (See my Gift Ideas on the sidebar for bookmark ideas.)

Someone once brought me a gift from Hawaii, a miniature surfboard that is meant to be a bookmark. It was made of wood and it was stained. But it hadn't been varnished and the wood smelled of the stain. The bookmark also wasn't flat, so while it was a thoughtful gift I couldn't use it because it wasn't flat enough and the residual smell of the stain would have transferred to the papers.

I definitely don't use paper clips, which will deform the paper, and as you work your way through the book it will leave an ugly mess out of the pages. I never bend the corners, a technique which has a similar effect.

To remember where on the page I left off, I position the bookmark over the paragraph where I will begin reading again. That means the bookmark may dangle out of the top of the book, the side, or the bottom. Most bookmarks have printing on them, and I pick a side that represents the side of the book where I left off. It's very easy picking up where I left off reading that way.

And the way I treat a book is the same whether it's my book or one I've borrowed from a friend, or a book from the library. The better we all treat books the longer they will last for everyone. A Facebook friend built a small box outside her home that serves as a lending library into which she places her own books, a great way to share her love of books with her neighbors or anyone else who passes by her home.

(Photo: Roberta King.)

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

One Book You've Read More Than Once

Book Questions*: One Book You've Read More Than Once

I've never been one to re-read books much. I keep a collection of books that I most love from having read them, and a few of them I have re-read.

  • Certain Sherlock Holmes books and the Holmes doppelganger Solar Pons, for instance. 
  • A book or two that I had a hard time getting through the first time or few, like Isaac Asimov's Foundation.
  • Some science fiction by Larry Niven before I outgrew him.

But the books that I can earnestly say that I have re-read several times because they are beautiful and imaginative and soulful and breathtaking are the books by J.R.R. Tolkein, in particular, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I've re-read The Hobbit a couple of times, but I don't find it as thrilling as The Lord of the Rings, even though it was the precursor and the build up to The Lord of the Rings.

The late actor Christopher Lee, who played the white sorcerer Sauroman in the Peter Jackson film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, re-read the trilogy yearly.

There are books that I am considering re-reading one day soon. I have a hard time re-reading because I don't like to revisit territory I have already covered, unless they are considerably well written. These are what I am thinking of devoting my fall and winter to re-reading this year:
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Life of Pi
  • Thomas Kydd series (all 16 books!)
  • Horatio Hornblower series (all 11 books!}
But then, I also want to leave some room in my free time for new books.

*Inspired by "Ten Questions About Books."

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Story of Kullervo: Tolkein Book Rediscovered!

Book News: The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkein
Rediscovered Book to Be Published

Exciting news for Tolkein fans: A newly rediscovered book by J.R.R. Tolkein will be published soon called The Story of Kullervo.  According to The Reading Room, the international version will be released in October 2015 but the U.S. version won't be released until next spring. When I looked it up on Amazon's UK website, it said the laydown date is August 27.

Among the details given by The Reading Room, it says, "The new story takes place in the same universe as The Silmarillion and, therefore, the entire Lord of the Rings saga." lists the hard cover book at £11.89, with shipping and handling to the U.S. at just under £7.00. At today's conversion rate, that comes out to just under $29.00.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

My Favorite Childhood Book

Book Questions*: Favorite Childhood Book

I didn't read much as a child - most books were read to me: by my mother or by teachers at a very young age. I remember going to the town library and seeing books that I thought might interest me, but I don't remember actually taking out any.

It wasn't until I was in junior high school that I started a membership in a science fiction book club and ordered books, but even then I didn't finish reading any of them. Several times I tried to get through Foundation by Isaac Asimov, but I didn't make it through a full read-through until adulthood.

Then in high school, in my junior year, I finally made a breakthrough. At the high school library I found The Bedford Incident by Mark Rascovich, a speculative-fiction thriller so exciting that I couldn't put it down, and I finished reading my first book. In it, a reporter is allowed aboard a U.S. submarine hunter during a training exercise at sea that is drawn into an increasingly dangerous nuclear showdown with a Soviet submarine, and there is no escape for the reporter and no turning back for the crew of the destroyer or the submarine.

That remains my favorite childhood book, although it arrived late in my "childhood." I will forever remember it for awakening my love for books and reading.

When did you first start reading, and what was your favorite childhood book?

*Inspired by "55 questions about reading"

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Go Set a Watchman: Begs to Be Read

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I have read all kinds of missives from people on social media and news site comment sections at how horrified they were that one of the main characters from Harper Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird had changed so drastically in Go Set a Watchman. Many were refusing to read the new novel published this summer. A few who had bought it were returning it to bookstores.

Let me set the record straight, having just finished reading it: Atticus Finch hasn’t changed. Scout has grown up and her world view has changed. So have we grown up and so have our world views.

Go Set a Watchman takes place several years after the close of To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout - her real name is Jean Louise Finch - has grown up, gone to college, and moved from Maycomb, Alabama, to New York City. As Go Set a Watchman opens, Jean Louise is returning to Maycomb to visit her ailing father, Atticus.

In growing up and moving to New York City, Jean Louis has outgrown her Southern roots. She’s really no longer Scout. And so, she rarely revisits her former home town. When she does visit she finds herself traipsing through old familiar territory with misty memory only to be disappointed at how much the town has changed in her absence.

What she seeks in comfort are the parts of Maycomb that always seemed stable to her: Her wise and god-like father Atticus, her stubborn and change-resistant aunt Alexandra, her strange but comforting uncle Jake, and the boy across the street who was her best friend and became her constant pursuer Hank. Yet in the end Jean Louise discovers even they aren’t who she thought they were.

Recoiled by what she thought she knew growing up, Jean Louise rebels on one hot summer afternoon. She confronts and condemns them all and is ready to leave Maycomb and all its residents forever.

Yet it’s those on whom she relied most in her life who come to her rescue and she finally finds solace and grace.

Many have condemned this book - many without ever having opened a page or read a single word - for being racist. They express dismay at Harper Lee for using language they deem deeply disturbing. But before you accept their condemnation, consider this: Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. Both were written before the Civil Rights Movement made its strides in the 1960s but as troubles were brewing in the Deep South and resentment against Blacks and Civil Rights groups was high.

The character Atticus Finch would have been about the age of my grandfather, who was born around 1900. Jean Louise and Hank would have been about the age of my parents, who were born around 1925. My grandparents and my mother lived in South Carolina for a time, and there it was common to call Blacks negroes and colored and other terms that most of us today wouldn’t consider calling anyone. That’s what my grandparents often called Blacks, stunned that it was considered the wrong thing. This book reflects that culture.

Moreover, I can recall during my youth my grandparents and my parents saying many of the things I read in Go Set a Watchman, even living here in Michigan. Until the urban legends of those misconceptions about Blacks were cleared up, people continued to believe them. Today, those misconceptions are dispelled among most but not all Americans, and they explain a lot about the cultural wars we are experiencing today.

The fact that Go Set a Watchmen sat for decades unpublished means it is a cultural artifact that doesn’t necessarily reflect on Harper Lee today nor necessarily on the South as a whole today. But publishing the book now exposes us to it and allows us to read it and breath it and address it. And it educates a new generation to a point of view many of us may have missed over the intervening years.

But let me get back to a central truth I think many will have missed by not reading this book. And that is that Atticus Finch is not a changed man. He is the same character from To Kill a Mockingbird, but he is being seen through the prism of a grown child who is finally coming of age. And maybe this is really the point of the novel. This book is about the coming of age of Scout.

And if you loved Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, I think you will also love Jean Louise in Go Set a Watchmen. In the same way, if you loved Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, you will by the end of the novel love him just as much in Go Set a Watchman

For all these reasons, it begs to be read.

© 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Tyger: Much to Treasure in the 16th Novel in the Kydd Series

Book Review: Tyger by Julian Stockwin
an uncorrected advance proof copy

We are at sea again. Transported back to 1807 European waters under the command of Sir Thomas Kydd, captain of the captured-French frigate L’Aurore, we return to the comradeship of friends with names like Bowden, Stirk, and Dowd. All memorable characters that weave like threads through past Kydd novels.

But L’Aurore is no longer seaworthy and we have to give her up to the dry docks, and all our friends are set adrift.

There is hope of command of a new heavy frigate being freshly built, but instead Captain Kydd is given command of another frigate, Tyger, sequestered offshore because she has recently been the victim of a mutiny. It’s Kydd’s duty to bring this dangerous crew back into fighting shape under service of king and country, and thus is set the conflict underlying our keen adventures in this high-seas age-of-sail tale. We are at sea again at Kydd's side, his only comrades.

In this well researched, excellently detailed new novel, we wrestle with a restless crew, board sneaky merchant ships for prize money, battle enemy frigates that out number and out gun us, explore uncertain Arctic waters as winter sets in, and then there is the ambitious Napoleon to consider.

Impeded by England’s naval triumph at Trafalgar, Napoleon has moved east on land to conquer most of Europe. The crew of Tyger is sent to the Baltic to aid Prussia in its desperate final hours under siege by the French and their allies. Oh, that bastard Napoleon and his unrelenting French forces! 

Can Kydd trust his crew and officers in battle and in crisis? We voyage vicariously through Kydd’s mind as he fights doubts and imagines daring solutions. We experience life at sea and death in battle. A few friends even re-emerge. Tyger becomes the Thomas Kydd tale that we have all come to admire through fifteen novels, and now in a sixteenth. There are twists and turns, failures and successes, and as always, the triumph at his darkest hour of our favorite English naval hero.

There’s no hiding that I am a huge fan of Julian Stockwin’s Thomas Kydd series. If you like heroic tales, great sea adventures, the romance of the age of the sail, and the details of historical fiction, then you will find much to treasure in Tyger, the next wonderful addition to this series.

Tyger reaches bookstores in October. Prepare to board for adventure!

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.