Flaubert, Sand and A Sentimental Education


Frederick expected that he would have felt spasms of joy; but the passions grow pale when we find ourselves in an altered situation; and, as he no longer saw Madame Arnoux in the environment wherein he had known her, she seemed to him to have lost some of her fascination; to have degenerated in some way that he could not comprehend—in fact, not to be the same. He was astonished at the serenity of his own heart.

  • Flaubert, A Sentimental Education


Despite its towering reputation as one of the greatest books ever written, I didn’t get along with A Sentimental Education when I tried reading it roughly a decade ago. The story of a thoughtful young man -Frédéric Moreau – living through the revolution of 1848 and founding of the Second French Empire grated on me, Frédéric’s musings romantic, often over the top.

While I have a high threshold for much Victorian sentimental writing, I found this book barely readable. It’s possible I read it at the wrong time, that whatever was happening in my life made it difficult to settle in properly and pay due attention. Should I give it another try? I wouldn’t have considered it until, perusing the most recent issue of the Literary Review, I stumbled upon a mention of a new book about this novel, as well as Flaubert’s relationship with writer George Sand.

The book argues for the importance of Flaubert’s book, its place in the literary canon, and the relationship between these two authors. My experience with George Sand has been more limited than with Flaubert; I’ve read only her Indiana. I admit I found it less than riveting. I knew of her friendship – and correspondence – with Flaubert, even owned a volume of their letters, but got no further than that.


Basic Books – 27 April 2017


I hadn’t realized Flaubert considered  A Sentimental Education his monumental achievement, nor that it was a critical flop on publication. I’ve read and re-read Madame Bovary, a story I vastly prefer to his exploration of the French philosophical and political climate during one of the most tumultuous times in its history. To be honest, that interests me very little; it’s Emma Bovary who moves me.

There’s some high-flown language in Madame Bovary, as well, but its storyline and characters make for more conventional fiction. If I can’t engage in the story, I can’t engage with the book. Nevertheless, Peter Brooks’ book caught my eye. It promises to challenge my belief about A Sentimental Education, arguing why it is, in fact, an important book.

A lifetime student of literature, I’m bothered I haven’t developed an appreciation of Flaubert’s masterpiece. I know I’m missing something. Added to that, Brooks’ book promises deeper study about the personal relationship between Flaubert and Sand. Even if I don’t have a lot of background reading their work, I know their reputations. I love reading about the inter-connectedness of great writers, how each influences the other.

It’s unlikely I’ll re-read A Sentimental Education anytime soon. Still, it’s good knowing if I should find myself hankering to try the French classic again, there’s a literary expert who’ll hold my hand.


Book buying in Scotland thus far

You may want to cover your ears if you don’t already know this: I sold off hundreds of my books before I came to Scotland, keeping only two or three dozen. Even for a temporary move, ownership of that sheer volume of books was problematic. I had nowhere to store them.

My daughter was moving, starting adult life in her first apartment, so I struck a bargain: get these to a bookstore, sell them, and that money’s yours. She took a few for herself, but within a few weeks everything else was gone. I’m glad she took all my vintage Penguins, that she appreciated them. I recommended a few classics I think everyone should read, and there were a few other odd volumes she found intriguing.

My personal library is decimated. I was numbed to that a while, but now that the anesthetic’s worn off it’s a little painful. I can’t say I’m rebuilding my library via purchases in Scotland, because I can only buy a very limited number if I’m going to carry or ship them back to the States. Rather, it’s a pacifier while I’m here – place holders on a small bookshelf so I can turn over in bed and see books sitting there. And when I’m gone, they’ll be mementos, my souvenirs from the time I spent here.

Boswell & Johnson, History of Scotland, and Muriel Spark – Scottish author

On the positive side, those Vintage Penguins I love so much are in good supply here in the UK. I’m picking up a few for half the price of buying them back home, then having them shipped to me in the States.

It’ll take a while, but I’d like to build up this part of my library. I’m starting here, picking and choosing which I’m willing to carry home and/or ship to myself just before I leave.

Mental note: buy these a editions a little more heavily. They’re not nearly as easy to find at home.

A few Vintage Penguins bought so far

I’ll probably over-buy, but if I do I can leave the excess with Chris. Good rule of thumb: only stay with friends who are book lovers.

Slight amendment: only be friends with book lovers.

Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing I sold my books. They’re a huge part of my life, but everything could use a good weeding now and then. I can’t focus on the volumes I’m not likely to find again – better off thinking about the ones I’ll buy from here on.

Once I’m home, I’d bet good money a lot of the books I sold will still be sitting on the shelves of the bookstore that bought them. Obscure as my taste is, I doubt many will move.

I’m sure you see where I’m going here. I’m a plane ticket and trip to Ikea away from having some of those books sitting prettily on shelves again, so when I turn over in bed in my new apartment in the States, there they’ll be.

On the Reading of Books About Books



James Archer - "The Picnic" - detail

James Archer – “The Picnic” – detail

When I’m not reading books, I’m reading books about books. Ditto books about or featuring librarians, the history of books and reading, book making (not as in gambling, only because I don’t have the money because I spend it on books), book art, book cover art, paper making, and anything even remotely connected to the subject of books. Single-minded much?

Why yes. Yes, I am.

And because this is a post about books, I’ll leave notebooks and pens and Post Its and fountain pens and other paper products out of it, showing admirable restraint. Though, when I’m not reading or reading about or writing about books, I’m dreaming of stationery…


Stationery, about which I am not talking.

Stationery, about which I am not talking.


According to Goodreads, the books I’ve listed at the bottom of this post are the top 10 most popular books about books (the list goes on pages and pages, have a look). The majority are popular books, crossing into the mainstream becoming the go-to titles you see everywhere, yet it’s still surprising they’re popular because we’re constantly told no one reads anymore.

If that’s the case, why are books about books popular at all?

I thought as much.




Beyond this, there are hundreds of titles too esoteric for the loud world of popular books. I know, because I collect them and never see them beyond reviews in highly literary periodicals, or by happening upon them while browsing Amazon, or in my bookshelves. There are books about favorite books of writers both popular and literary, books about peripheral topics like the history of the circulating library and popular bestsellers, books that are lists of books so you can add more books to your reading list. Actually, they’re all that.

It’s a shame I don’t have my books in this sub-genre listed anywhere, otherwise I’d be able to pass titles along to other obsessives. Mental note: update my Goodreads library.


Recent Book News published in The New York Times


As soon as I catch sight of a forthcoming title of a book about books I run to Amazon. If it’s not yet published, it either gets pre-ordered or I throw it on my Wish List – as in I wish I had the money to buy it. Inevitably, I break down and my Buy it Now finger sends it careening out the door of Amazon’s warehouse and onto my credit card, though occasionally titles slip through and I miss them altogether.

Even the best of us.

Half Price Books is another incredible source for serendipitous finds of these little lost lambs. Born with the fore-knowledge they ‘ll wind up remaindered, books about books are destined for used/re-sell bookstores. Bad for the publishers, but very good for me.

Online, there’s also Hamilton Books. Have a look: their range is phenomenal, mostly for difficult to find books. If you’re a total nerd like me, your specialty genre is probably there. Shipping is $ 3.50 per order, 40 cents per item.



And like the dope-fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful supply of his deadly balm I never venture far without a sufficiency of reading matter. Books are so necessary to me that when in a railway train I have become aware that fellow-travellers have come away without a single one I have been seized with a veritable dismay. – W. Somerset Maugham


If you’re outside the U.S, and don’t have access to a HPB, I hope you have the equivalent because my dear God above. Most used bookstores peddle excess copies of Patterson and Sparks and Mitch Albom in indecent numbers; HPB has those, but also obscure works by major authors, beautiful editions and imports you’d never find elsewhere, especially not at these prices.

Older books about books – those out of copyright – can be found in Kindle editions, often for free. Some are delicious little beauties it’s unlikely you’d have heard of, both long form and short pieces in story collections. Coming across those makes my stomach flip.

Now that I’ve broached the topic, I should be a good egg and list these somewhere, shouldn’t I.

Meanwhile, enjoy this from Goodreads:


10 Most Popular Books About Books

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak (own, haven’t read – I KNOW)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin – (read)

The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield – (review copy, read)

The Eyre Affair (# 1 Thursday Next) – Jasper Fforde – (own, read)

84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff – (own, read and read)

Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – (own, read, chose for Community-Wide Read for my library, read again)

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman (own, read)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer (own review copy, haven’t read)

The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett (own, read)

Inkheart (Inheart #1) – Cornelia Funke (own, read)


Julian Barnes – A Life with Books

Julian BarnesA Life with Books. Jonathan Cape/Random House, 2012. 27 pp.

[Personal copy.]


Novelist, essayist, Booker Prize winner and all around genius writer Julian Barnes published this tiny essay for charity. I found out about it and was able to buy a copy from 'cross the pond.

It's about what a little book weevil Barnes is, how he's been collecting since he was a very young man and all his trials and tribulations thereof and forthwith. It's adorable and darling finding out he's as book mad as all that, especially his admitting he looked through some of his older brother's books avidly, because there were nude drawings in the texts of Ancient Roman works!

Julian Barnes?

Yes, pets, Julian Barnes.


"Over the next decade or so – from the late Sixties to the late Seventies – I became a furious book-hunter, driving to the market towns and cathedral cities of England in my Morris Traveller and loading it with books bought at a rate which far exceeded any possible reading speed."


That sounds vaguely familiar…


"I bought with a hunger which I recognise, looking back, was a kind of neediness: well, bibliomania is a known condition."


Yes, yes it is!

And on he goes, for 27 pages of pure bliss. If you live in the UK it's only £ 1.99. For us in the Colonies, unfortunately, all the king's taxes of course make it much higher – $ 7.00 or so, I seem to recall pp but don't quote me on that. Mayhaps we should dump a bit more tea in the harbor, lads…

It's just such a joy. A complete and utter joy. Grab hold of one while you can.






Hodge Podge of Books


Busy reading for review and even a bit for optional review. I always manage to squeeze in a little of both. That's what they call "life balance." Others may insist this is actually keeping your house clean, exercising, running errands and reading. But I'm not others. Work and pleasure; pleasure and work. And the occasional meal and bit of sleep.

Here's my current "balance:"


Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Release Date: October 2, 2012

[Review copy from publisher.]


PenumbraA gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore

"The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore."

I'm afraid you'll have to hang out 'til sometime in Septemberish for more, as well as an interview with author Robin Sloan .


There Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry

Penguin Books, (reprint edition, 1999)

[My personal copy, signed by the man himself.]

EneasmccnultyMe? Reading Sebastian Barry? I know, how unusual.  I've just heard such great things about him. Partly here on my blog but he seems to have caught on quite well in other places, too.

I've been in contact with Mr. Barry again and also reading every bit of interview material I can lay hands on; what I've learned about the man could almost write his autobiography. I'm not sure what he hasn't been asked, ad nauseum, which makes the fact I may have landed an interview with the great man (yes!) an incredibly intimidating experience – though, of course, that's not the only reason it ties my stomach in knots.

As an interviewer, you want to inform your readers about some of the basics but as an interviewer who's read what others have asked, I want to delve into uncharted waters, digging out questions that surprise him. In this case it's so terribly difficult, since so many have gotten there before me. So, if I do get the chance to query Mr. Barry don't expect the same old stuff. For that you can check out the dozens of previous interrogaters.

As for the actual book I'm currently reading, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, like the rest of his novels, is based on family history and the period of The Troubles in Ireland. Eneas, after having serve in World War I, joins "the British-led police force, the Royal Irish Constabulatory." That doesn't sound exceptional until you think about the time period. The Irish uprising is ripping the country apart in a brother-against-brother virtual civil war with England and amongst themselves. The Irish for the Republic have turned into a mafia. Anyone perceived as having helped support the English, no matter how inadvertantly, is – with few exceptions - slaughtered, cut down wherever they're found. And if a man tries to leave Ireland he's followed, to the ends of the earth, and executed, "justice" exacted for the love of country.

Eneas himself falls into the trap, having been witness to things beyond his control. Simply by being where he was and also refusing to participate in more violence, he's forced to flee, leaving behind his family and his beloved, Vivienne. Not that he doesn't fight for his right to stay. He's defiant and bold, leaving it 'ti lthe last minute before he sees there is really no recourse but to submit.

I could find a passage of unsurpassed beauty on any page, so I randomly turned to this expression of the ache for home:


"He sees the little bathing places of south Dublin, Sandycove, the Baths, the Forty Foot, places he barely knows, maybe visited the once in the old days when his mother would bring him to the capital… But his chest heaves with love, with peace, with pure need. It's the tobacco, the opium, of returning home. There might be angels standing on the rocky shores throwing out one after another bright ropes with grappling hooks to dig into and find purchase on his heart. One after another the arms rise like fishermen in the ancient like fishermen in the ancient days. Shortly he goes down riveted by his love, with the bolts of this love fastened into his skin…"



Other books in progress:

Fifty Shames of Earl Grey: A Parody by Fanny Merkin (a.k.a. Andrew Shaffer)

Be on the lookout for short review/author interview coming soon.


The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America by Martin Amis

Yes, my country takes a few slams but it's also clear there are a few compliments behind some of the blather. Amis amuses me no end; I can take the digs. In fact, I've made a few myself. If you read this, keep in mind he's married to an American and now lives in this country.


The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This must be one of the biggest books of the summer. I'm around 1/3 of the way in and finding the blurbs are overblown. I'm not sure what it is about some books, why writers and reviewers rally around them when they're nothing special, then ignore little gems that pass right under the radar. I'm so frustrated; it's so unjust.


A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Wonderful, wonderful so far.


The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (Nonfiction)

Got this ARC at Booktopia, Oxford, MS.:

"Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. The ones they choose range from classic to popular, from fantastic to spiritual, and we hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions.

A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives."

I'm in the midst of trying to connect with Will Schwalbe, to interview him but the book won't be published 'til October so that won't run for a couple of months or so.



In addition, still re-reading Pride and Prejudice – as my Guardian Top 1,000 Novels List read – as well as plugging away, slowly, at Ulysses. But this weekend won't see much reading getting done; my brother and his wife are coming a-visiting, which also means I need to get off this computer and "balance" my life by cleaning the place.

'Til next time.

A Preponderance of Pondering: or, Curiouser and Curiouser.

No time to pursue this week, but once I'm home from Booktopia with fellow blogger Bibliosue expect me to run off at the keyboard about this brilliant article from The Atlantic:




It's from 2001, and I've probably read it before, actually, but it's particularly striking now because the issue of literary/genre fiction continues to be debated – which is a good thing. It's given me much to ponder. It will probably resonate with lots of you, as well, unless you're unlike me and have waking moments in which you are not thinking about books. Or Sebastian Barry. Or books by Sebastian Barry. (SEE: Barry, Sebastian)

It's led me to wonder if a massive book blogger pow wow (I have NA genes, so don't EVEN think of going PC on me) isn't in order, a cross-blogular examination of what IS and IS NOT considered LITERARY, as well as how one determines QUALITY in BOOKS (perhaps a few HOURS spend on random CAPitalization would not be amiss, EITHER) . But this week I'm making like the White Rabbit so there's no time to go into any depth, especially on a subject as complex as this.

My head's stuck on the topic of packing: specifically, what clothing one needs for three days in the Deep South and how many books one needs to pack for two overnight train trips; minus what one buys while there; times hours spent conscious; minus trips to the bathroom and time wasted eating, looking out the window, noticing my environment, surreptitiously kicking obnoxious children, sounding an air horn in the ears of obnoxious children every time they nod off and conversing.

Sad news all around – I don't think I'll bring my laptop along, though the urge to live blog does pull strongly. Seeing as I often come  home with lighter loads than I leave – due to my unfortunate tendency to "hide things away" in hotel rooms, for purposes of "safety," then forget to find them again – I think it may be best I leave my poor pet at home. And, while I can blog from my Kindle it's unwieldy and frustrating. Something tells me by the time Suzanne and I make it back to the hotel at night we'll be half-dead, anyway, and while it could be fun to read a blog post written while I'm falling asleep I can see potential drawbacks to that as well. Like the lack of a sane reason for doing so.*

I may be able to hop past again before I'm off on our Wild Ride but if I do not please be safe while I'm gone. And, for the love of all that's holy, STAY INSIDE WITH THE AIR CONDITIONING BLASTING.

God bless us, everyone.


*I am in no way advocating the abuse of alcohol but it has crossed my mind live blogging while intermittently drinking shots of alcohol, over a set period of time, could produce truly entertaining reading. If by "entertaining" one means "humiliating" and "potentially fired from one's place of employment." Not to mention "evicted from one's home."

**This blogging methodology is otherwise known as "Ernest Hemingway."

Post-Easter reading blitz and domestic disasters


Hope you all had a lovely Easter. Sorry I had nothing of note to post. It's difficult keeping our heads above water right now, what with my father-in-law battling cancer, our water heater breaking and leaking all over the basement floor and our upstairs bathtub deciding to join the party and drip into our living room.

Re: the water heater, that's been replaced and so far all's well (save the bill). The bathroom has been completely ripped out (it needed it, anyway, as the decor was decidely 70s modern – Far out!) and it's down to bare walls and plywood flooring. The potential, the potential, yes that's already going through my head. Eighteen years of looking at that dog vomit yellow were eighteen years too many but other, more crucial projects kept getting in the way. 

The family room needs painting as well but may just have to hold out a while longer since the kitchen is in more serious need, what with the scratches on the sliding door trim, courtest of a certain two dogs, who shall remain nameless. Then there are the marks on the wall, which happen to match up perfectly with the tops of the kitchen chairs. Sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes.

Right now it's that sort of seafoam green I associate with Martha Stewart (in fact, it's from her line of paints) and goes beautifully with the cabinets (birch), countertops (dark granite) and appliances (stainless). It was all the rage in the early 2000s, before Martha was sent up river for insider training. Whatever I choose will probably lean toward pastel again. Maybe a blue? An updated yellow? The mind boggles.

Since we probably aren't going on vacation this year, between worry over leaving the area too long and the need to conserve money since my daughter's starting college this fall (scream here), I'm thinking about taking a week's worth of vacation to repaint the kitchen. What larks, Pip! And what a wonderful way to spend my time off.

I'm sort of a slob when it comes to painting. I lack the crucial "painting along the top of the wall/below the ceiling" gene.  I can do walls, around woodwork and other things. But that ceiling line… I have shaky hands naturally, probably related to the fact my fight or flight sensor is set to Code Red.  Every, single time I paint I get a ceiling line that looks like an EKG report without a single flatline.

But ne'er mind all that. Let's shift to what I'm reading, which is becoming completely out of control again, SURPRISE.

First, Anne Tyler's latest The Beginner's Goodbye. I'm not a Tyler fan and I've felt inadequate about it a long time. Yet, nearly every time she comes out with a new book I'm all over it. Such is my utter determination to like something she's written, dammit!

In the case of her latest, so far it's actually not so bad. Not great, but, as some critics are wont to say, "readable." A more back-handed compliment's hard to find but I guess they mean it well.

TBG is about a new widower who, in his great sorrow, is trying to get his life back in order after the loss of his wife. I know from reading the blurb he's going to start seeing his late wife everywhere, so that's no spoiler. Guess I haven't gotten that far quite yet, though I'm just over the mid-point. Anytime Tyler's ready to let that start happening is fine with me.

The book's character-driven and to my surprise I haven't found any of them irritatingly quirky, the word so often used to describe Ms. Tyler's characters. The husband's a bit wacky but I suppose that's to be allowed, considering his current situation. But one complaint I have is this same character acts and speaks so much older than he is. I keep forgetting he's a 30-something, from the way he speaks in general and about himself, even if he does has a disability. I felt vindicated when I located this from Ron Charles, saying the same basic thing in his own review:

"Nothing about him suggests we’re in the company of a 35-year-old in the early 21st century; he seems dustier than the 60-year-old in “Noah’s Compass.” “That tickled me no end,” he tells us when he hears Dorothy talking. Confronted by an angry colleague, he exclaims, “Goodness.” Seeing his dead wife standing in the street, he says, “Dorothy, my dear one. My only, only Dorothy.” "

The novel's occasionally quite funny and tells a story of universal appeal but beyond that it's really quite superficial. I'd classify it a "beach read," or at the least a summer or book group. I'll probably forget it as soon as I close the cover. As entertainment it's not a total waste of time. It does that quite well.

As Ron Charles said later in his review:

"Even die-hard fans of Tyler’s work should probably let this one float by."

Err… I'm not a fan to begin with. That's not very good news, now, is it.





Next, a very strange, shorter novel called Spurious by Lars Iyer. The whole thing's a sort  of dramatic monologue between the unnamed narrator and W., a man never at a loss for words. If you aren't into dark, philosophical sorts of  books run away from this one very quickly. I'm around halfway and wonder if I should continue on or just drop it. Though I tend to lean toward darker books, for some reason this one's making me feel slightly uncomfortable and squirmy. It isn't bad. Not at all. It's funny and reads very quickly but it gives me a sort of Russian Novel Depression Disorder. (RNDD):

 "Idiocy, that's what we have in common. Our friendship is founded upon our limitations, we agree, and doesn't travel far from them.

We're full of joy, W. says as we walk back from the supermarket, that's what saves us. Why do we find our failings so amusing? But it does save us, we agree on that; it's our gift to the world. We are content with very little: look at us, with a frozen chicken in a bag, and some herbs and spices, walking home in the sun. The gift of laughter, I say – 'The gift of idiocy,' says W."

 From Steven Poole from Guardian.uk:

"It is near to the end of days, shortly before the appearance of a "stupid Messiah". Two British men, employed somehow in academia, muse on their lack of success and incapacity for real thought while drinking too much gin. "We are Brod and Brod, we agree, and neither of us is Kafka." Sometimes they travel to a conference, and drink too much there instead. One of the friends insults the other with spectacular, relentless cruelty. The insultee also has to deal with a damp problem in his flat that gradually assumes apocalyptic proportions of sweating metaphor."

This is a very well-written book by an assured writer. It's just that I'm a depressive to begin with and nothing here makes me feel any better. Not that it should but, at the least, I'd like there to be a reason for all the downer, dark comedy and not just show-offy "look how smart I am" quips.

Maybe, as one commenter replied to Poole's review:

 "…not something that Americans generally appreciated. A lot of the American reviews seem to have missed the point!"

 I can't comment back to him either way, since comments on the post have already been closed, drat it. It's true we in the States often don't get British humoUr and vice versa I assume. I tend to adore it, that dry sort of wit, and in fact it's my own style. But even I run up against a wall now and then. Maybe I've done that here?

I'll give it another go before I throw my hands up in despair.


Quickies – In Progress:


Sister by Lupton:

Compelling, if a bit over-written at times.

Marriage Plot by Eugenides:

Late night, pre-sleep Kindle read. Funny, funny and more funny.

This Burns My Heart by Park:

Free Review Book for bookgroup moderation at BookBrowse.com.

1984 re-read:

Another Kindle read, for Classics Book Group discussion at my library.

Religion for Atheists by de Botton:

Free review book. Compelling ideas I, so far, agree with.


Reviews actively working on or just finished:


The Cove by Ron Rash for BookBrowse.com

Published 4/10/12 (today!)



(UK cover)

A Daughter's Tale: The Memoir of Winston Churchill's Youngest Child by Mary Soames

for Library Journal

Pub. 7/12


Carry on! As you were.





Photo of the Day






Last Wednesday was my birthday. In honor of that I’m posting a photo of one of the lilies in the bouquet I received.

The other part of my present was a gift card to Barnes & Noble, which I surprisingly have not yet spent. Every year my husband gives me a gift card in the amount of my age. This is the only reason I’d ever want to live to be 100. Not that that stops me from spending that amount on books already. So, perhaps this is a moot point entirely.

But hey. A gift card is a gift card…

The Library, Once More Into the Breech

We had a staff meeting this morning re: the new direction libraries are headed and what that will mean for our own library within the next 10-15 years. I expressed my trepidation regarding the ongoing fight between publishers and libraries in a previous post and the more I think about it the more I'm even more angry what I see as a knee-jerk reaction to a period of new technologies.

Department by department, we visited other area libraries to see what they've been planning and have already implemented. Universal changes included: elimination of reference books (including the Brittanica and OED), new and better displays for DVDs, CDs and magazines (organized by theme, consolidating shelving units, etc.) and adding more digital, online databases.



Cool Magazine Display

Others involve eliminating circulation staff – or, at best, severely cutting down positions – because now there are conveyor belts that take incoming books and sort them into big bins for re-shelving. Here's an example of a really large, sophisticated version, unlike any I've seen in real life:



It looks pretty cool, yes? Wonder what that costs, and how long it will take to pay for itself with the money saved by firing all those circulation clerks.

Then there are the vending machines – like the Red Box model – where patrons can check out popular books and DVDs without the necessity of involving an actual person. Books ordered from outside the library can be tucked in there, as well, for pickup by patrons who put the books on hold. Slide in your library card and POOF! There's your book.


Library Media Box Vending Machine


Coffee and snack vending areas are another popular patron request, as are more quiet places to read and study. And I'm all for that, assuming users aren't spilling coffee all over the books and computers. Especially the books…

Most of these ideas seem pretty cool to me, aside from letting go of the OED and Brittanica, on general principle. But then again, the Brittanica is ceasing print publication anyway. The set we have will be the last we can purchase. It's seldom used anyway (it's all available online) but the OED? Ouch.

What I find most disturbing is the new mentality involving book buying, which we in the library refer to as "collection development." Because the reading public clamors mostly for genre novels, and less and less for more literary books, justification for purchasing more dense, complex, heavy-hitting books is less of a priority.

Want to know the most popular library books checked out last year? Here are some 2011 figures from The Guardian (UK). This is a British list, granted, but the U.S. lists are quite similar. If libraries devote large chunks of their fiction budgets buying, say, James Patterson's books where does that leave readers of literary fiction?

And it isn't just readers. It's already nearly impossible making money as a writer, save from that slim majority who hit it big. It could be argued authors aren't in the business for money – sure, because that pays the bills – but spending a huge amount of time producing a well-written book should surely be compensated. Or am I entirely off the mark? Is there something I'm forgetting?

Ours is a disposable society. Will books follow that example? If libraries bring reading materials down to the lowest common denominator, pandering only to mass market "airport" or "supermarket books," will the rest of us need to be content reading quality books published before the decline of literature?

Maybe I'm an alarmist. I certainly hope so but I'm also on the front lines, a librarian who's hearing all this first-hand. Worst of all, the official library stance from the Powers That Be is "go along with all the changes or perish." All the fight appears to have gone out of the profession, at least from what I've seen.

Or, if it hasn't gone out, it's most definitely gone quiet.