A Goofy Invention, Some Stupid Rules and a Popular Library Book

You remember Get Smart’s joke gadget, the Cone of Silence? Have you heard of a real privacy invention called the Isolator Helmet, meant to give a writer peace and quiet for working? You can buy it on-line for about $35,000. An amusing essay in the August 20th Publishers Weekly sent me in search of information about Hugo Gernsback, inventor, writer, editor, publisher, and the fellow for whom the science fiction award Hugo is named. He founded the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, and was known for questionable business practices; his writers received extremely low fees and sometimes none at all. He owned 80 patented inventions at his death in 1967, including the aforementioned helmet. It resembles a diver’s helmet, with a box at the mouth for smoking, and an oxygen tank which costs extra.  Somehow those two features don’t seem compatible. 
 
Speaking of ridiculous. . . . Can you fathom why prisons in North Carolina won’t allow inmates to read The American Heritage Dictionary or The Dog Encyclopedia?  Book censorship is common in U.S. prisons, and the outlawed titles are sometimes hard to explain. The Authors Guild reports that Books Through Bars, an organization which provides books to prison inmates, had trouble in 2017 with the New York State Department of Corrections denying delivery of books. Since the same policy barred care packages from loved ones, much public outrage led to Governor Andrew Cuomo rescinding the ruling. In Texas, 10,000 titles banned from prisons include a collection of Dave Barry’s humor, and the pop-up version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 
 
So aren’t we fortunate to be able to walk into our lovely library and check out armloads of uncensored books?  If you don’t mind waiting in line for one with more than a hundred readers ahead of you, consider putting a hold on The Library Book by Susan Orlean. (The line is shorter for the audio, e-book, or large print version.) Ms. Orlean has written a tribute to public libraries in general, and, in particular, an account of the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire, the worst American library fire ever; about 400,000 books were destroyed and 700,000 more damaged. 
 
A big thank-you to book publishers everywhere!
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*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com

Book Shelves, Bookstores, Books

Have you ever wished you had enough books and shelves you’d need a ladder to reach the topmost?  Especially one of those sliding hooked-on-a-rail ladders?  Melvil Dewey encountered his first one of those in the late nineteenth century in a Philadelphia library. He was not amused; the bronze hooks running along a pipe made “an annoying metal-on-metal sound.”  Of course, there have been accidents, librarians falling off, sometimes fatal. Surely a partner with a belaying rope would solve that problem.
 
Whether you love or hate e-books, they are no doubt here to stay.  But they are not doing as well as they once were. Sales fell 10 percent in 2017, and children’s stumbled the worst—-accounting for only 5 percent of all sales.  Somewhat surprising, even the young adult e-category was down 8 percent. Want to guess what the top-three traditionally published adult e-books last year were? (Answer below.)
 
You all know the Boulder Book Store on Pearl Street Mall. Publishers Weekly has named it 2018’s Bookstore of the Year. In business for 45 years, the store is 20,000 square feet of new books (65%), used and remaindered books (16%), and non-book sidelines (19%), totaling 100,000 items for sale.  Be glad that come January, you don’t have to count their inventory.
 
Meanwhile, Colorado’s Talking Book Library was named 2017’s best in the country by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, part of the Library of Congress. CTBL serves 7,200 patrons statewide who use audiobooks, Braille books, and large print books.
 
How to Read Poetry Like a Professor by Professor Emeritus Thomas C. Foster (808.1FOS) tackles the questions of what, how, and why poetry.  I’ve studied poetry and write it myself, so I thought I’d scan through this in order to review it here.  But I ended up reading nearly every word.  Foster’s easy, conversational style makes it, as the cover says, “a quippy and sonorous guide to verse.” If poetry doesn’t thrill you, try his How to Read Novels . . . .
 
The top-selling traditionally published adult e-books last year were 1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, 2. Origin by Dan Brown, and 3. Camino Island by John Grisham.
*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com

Dreams and Nightmares

“The covers of this book are too far apart.”  Ambrose Bierce
 
Prolific author Isaac Asimov once described a dream he’d had.  He’d died and gone to Heaven, where he confessed to the recording angel that he didn’t belong there: “I’m an atheist.”  The angel said, “We decide who qualifies. Not you.”  Asimov pondered this for a moment and then asked, “Is there a typewriter here that I can use?”  Waking, he saw significance in the dream. Heaven was the act of writing, and he had been in Heaven for more than half a century.
 
“I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges the audience.”  Mark Twain
 
New York pharmaceutical manufacturer Eugene Scheifflin (1827-1906) was a big fan of Shakespeare. He also loved birds. He hit upon an epic plan to introduce to the United States every type of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Starlings made a brief appearance in Henry IV. The king ordered a soldier never to mention his brother-in-law’s name again, causing the soldier to dream of buying a starling that would repeat the name over and over. “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak; Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him.”  Over a two-year period, at great expense, Scheifflin imported 100 starlings to New York.  Today there are almost as many European starlings in North America as there are people.  Starlings are estimated to cause at least $800 million in crop damage in the United States every year, bring havoc to air traffic, and carry dozens of diseases deadly to livestock and humans. Ironically, four hundred years ago Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth warned,“What’s done cannot be undone.”
 
“The older I get, the more acutely I am aware that the vast majority of what is written remains unread.”  Jhumpa Lahiri
 
Have a happy June filled with quiet moments for reading whatever you want. 
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*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in June 2018

 

Words and Numbers

Now here’s something you don’t see every day: Dictionary Stories. That’s the title of an intriguing little collection of “short fictions and other findings.” The author, Jez Burrows, was looking up “study” in a  New Oxford American Dictionary when he noticed a curiously melodramatic example sentence following the definition: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” Those few words sparked a unique idea. Dictionary example sentences (demonstrating usage of the word in a sentence) could be culled and combined into minuscule stories. The New York Times describes it as “sentences stolen from dictionaries and pasted together into tiny, delightful narratives.” Longmont Library doesn’t have this unusual book but will bring it over from Boulder if you ask nicely.

Here’s something else about dictionaries. They add new words every year. In 2018, Merriam Webster is adding 850 words and definitions, including “wordie,” which is believed to have been first used in 1982, and means what you think it means — a lover of words. Some of the new words have been coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson. You know, the man from Cosmos. He doesn’t like the word “nonfiction.” He advocates redefining “faction” to mean the opposite of “fiction,” because “nonfiction” is a negation of “fiction,” and “a word shouldn’t be referenced for what it is not.” Search his name at the Library’s web site; you’ll be amazed at how many faction books he’s written. His goal is “perfect sentence[s]” which result in “science page-turners.”

According to a recent government survey (if you can believe anything that comes from the nation’s capitol anymore), 9.4% of us between the ages of 15 and 24 read for pleasure or self-fulfillment on a typical day. The percentage increases gradually for ages 25 through 64, and then makes a big hop to 38.3% for folks 65 and older. That makes sense — we of the senior generation have more leisure hours for reading. Aging isn’t all bad!

May your May bring good books and time to read them.

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in May 2018

Several Writers and a Turtle

Sue Grafton, author of the alphabet series which began with A is for Alibi and concluded with Y is for Yesterday died in December. Adding poignancy to her passing was her missing by one letter the publication of all twenty-six mystery novels. Z is for Zero will not be finished by anyone else, says her daughter Jamie Clark. Sue was adamant that her detective , Kinsey Millhone, never be sold to movies or TV, and no ghost writer would write novels about her. Good for Sue. Think of all the authors who are no longer with us, but who are still “writing” bestsellers. For instance, Margaret Truman has a new book out, Allied in Danger.

Meanwhile, Janet Evanovich, who is alive and counting, published novel number twenty-two in her series in October (Tricky Twenty-Two). Considering the number of numbers there are, we can predict she has her work cut out for her.

And meanwhile again, prolific mystery author Lawrence Block, who edited the new fiction anthology In Sunlight or in Shadow, seems on the verge of retirement. In the book’s introduction, he says, “I’ve been [writing fiction] for 60 years. And I’ve been getting the message lately that it may be something I can’t do anymore.” In addition to novels about burglars, private eyes, and hit men, Block wrote several books about writing, many short stories, and TV and movie scripts. So although we’re sorry he needs to retire, he’s entitled.

Books by all of the aforementioned authors (even Margaret Truman) are in good supply at your friendly Longmont Library.

Okay, here’s where the turtle comes in. The first American cookbook was published in Connecticut in 1796. The author was Amelia Simmons. It contained some strange recipes, such as pan-cooked eel, and a turtle dish that instructed, “About 9 o’clock hang up your turtle by the hind fins, cut [off] the head and save the blood.” No pictures were included. Thank goodness. No, this classic is not in the Longmont Library collection, but a book about this book is United Tastes.

T.S. Eliot was right. April is the cruelest month. Especially the 15th.

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in April 2018