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 Reviews, Poetry and Terry Pratchett

Everyone except authors enjoys wit in a book review.  A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, “[The author] tries to fill this quart-size romance with a pint-size plot.” And authors need to be careful what they title their novels. Joseph Heller’s We Bombed in New Haven was judged by Saturday Review to be “a dud of the first magnitude.”  Library Journal said of John Gardner’s The Wreckage of Agathon, “Wreckage is appropriate . . . more hysterical than historical.” Personally, I’d avoid using the word “boring,” not only in the title but anywhere in the book.
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Coleridge defined poetry as “the best words in the best order.”  Billy Collins, a U.S. and New York State Poet Laureate, knows how to pick words up and lay them down so that readers “get” it.  His latest collection, Aimless Love, is available at the library. In a poem titled “Envoy,” he urges “this little book” to “stay out as late as you like / don’t bother to call or write / and talk to as many strangers as you can.”
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Terry Pratchett, whose humorous fantasy has entertained millions for decades, has a new book out – nonfiction this time – A Slip of the Keyboard, also available at our wonderful library. But you may want to buy your own copy, so that you can highlight such perfect observations as this:  “There was a pond; the fish probably had to get out to turn around.”  And this:  “I make no apology for having enjoyed [science fiction].  We live in a science fiction world; two miles down there you’d fry and two miles up there you’d gasp for breath, and there is a small but significant chance that in the next thousand years a large comet or asteroid will smack into the planet.  Finding this out when you’re thirteen or so is a bit of an eye-opener.  It puts acne in its place for a start.”
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*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in May/June 2015