A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
My wife is a voracious reader and I have to work hard to keep her in books. I love the bargain book sales at Barnes and Noble and at Daedalus Books. Here are my latest finds from Barnes and Noble. Maybe you'll see something you'd like to read.
The Curmudgeonly Professor has been a lifetime fan of belonging to book clubs. The enticements of the ads were just too great to resist. "$389 worth of books for $9.99," and such. Ignore the fact that to fall into temptation here will make you an indentured member of book club bondage until you buy the required number of books, which may cost $25-$30 apiece. Also often overlooked is the fact that, each month, or every two or three weeks, you will get a mailer which you MUST return by designated date or you will get an expensive book you don't want. Which means, at the least, you must mark it REFUSED and make a special trip to the post office for your slovenly and careless inattention. You would think the book clubs would send these mailers out only monthly, but, clever marketers that they are, they often speed it up to every three weeks, or even a bit more often, just to antagonize you all the more.
Now, dear reader, you may ask, what is so difficult about either returning the mailer as soon as it is sent with the boxes "do not send" marked off, or doing it in a flash on the internet? Book clubs, of course, count on you being stupid and lazy and not sending back the "do not send" card and then taking their chances on how many of said unwanted books will be kept by book club members anyway because it is a pain in various areas to have to make a trip to the US Postal Service, wait in line a half hour, and deposit said book in return mail.
Over the years, I did acquire a lot of very good books for not very much money from book clubs. My first fascination was with the History Book Club, then Book of the Month Club. History Book Club is still my favorite. Problem is, discount book prices and ebooks diminish the incentive to join and stay active in book clubs. Typically, if you cancel your membership, or if you die by attrition and they cut you off for your sinful and slothful inattention to your responsibilities as a member, you will receive, even within the month, pleas to "please return, we want our valued members back, here is an offer too good to be true, etc., etc., etc." Well, this last round, I let things go too far. I stopped sending back cards and checking them off on the internet. The book clubs stopped sending me unwanted books. They stopped sending me mailers. They sent me absolutely zero heartfelt pleas, as a longstanding valued member, to return to the fold.
My son Jim, a distinguished attorney with multitudinous high level responsibilities, has been forbidden by my daughter-in-law to join a book club, ever, ever again. Apparently he has a hard time registering that dire message, because, last I heard, he had books on the kitchen counter that must be returned to the post office.
Despite ereaders and my Kindle, when I want to read a serious book, one possibly worth keeping, I still want a hardcover book. I have zillions of hardcover books which my children will have to argue over who gets what at my demise. It just registered on me the other day that I hadn't had a communication from a book club solicitation for some time. I wonder what their current offers are? I wonder how many hundreds of dollars worth of books I can get for $20? I wonder if my name is on a black list of people who never, never, never will be allowed to join a book club again?
Maybe I will try joining again one of these days. Or maybe the penalties and threats from my spouse will prevent me from doing so. We'll wait and see.
I love Daedalus Books. They have an endless supply of wonderful titles by outstanding authors at sale prices, often $3.98 for a great hardback. Take that, Kindle, for your $9.99 and $13.99 costs. Admittedly, we have to haul the Daedalus books around, and the Kindle books are off in the cloud somewhere above Australia or maybe Iceland and we just have to take it on faith that the cloud will deliver it when we want to read it. This order started off by my showing my wife the Daedalus catalogue and asked her if she wanted to pick out a couple of mysteries, since she reads voluminous quantites of mysteries as well as other books. After she found three, I studied the catalogue and decided I needed to augment the order just a tad. So I ordered the two books on the end for myself plus an extra four mysteries for my wife. I also ordered season 1 of Downton Abbey, since we are, regrettably, nearing the end of watching 22 episodes of the fantastic Foyle's War, a Christmas gift from son Jim. Oh, and then I ordered four great calendars, originally very pricey, for $2.98 apiece. No matter that the year is about 1/4 over, these calendars were a great bargain. This book order was sort of like being sent to the grocery store for a loaf of bread and coming home with $42.95 worth of absolute necessities, occasioned by pure impulse buying and by the notion that one never knows what one needs until one sees what one needs and then one buys it. You can find Daedalus books either at daedalusbooks.com or salebooks.com. I highly recommend them as a great bookseller of great books, CDs, and DVDs.
I keep my wife supplied with piles of books to read during her illness. I look for authors off the beaten path of the Costco best-seller table and take a chance on writers we have never read or heard of before. One of these writers is Louise Penny, an award winning Canadian author of the Chief Inspector Gamache Mysteries.
My wife often reads for various periods during the night when she can't sleep. She came in my den this afternoon and told me she had read something she never expected to read in a murder mystery that had touched her deeply. Then she read me the following story. The story is about a man named Finney who was a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II. He often went to the dock, as he put it, "to do his sums."
Gamache, the detective, went to the dock to talk to Finney. "I wasn't a prisoner," Finney said. "You were right, I was in a Japanese prison camp, but I wasn't a prisoner. It's not semantics, you know. It's an important distinction. Crucial." "I believe you."
Finney continues: "I saw a lot of men die there. Most men. Do you know what killed them?" Starvation, Gamache thought to say. Dysentery. Cruelty. And Finney goes on: "Despair," said Finney. "They believed themselves to be prisoners. . . But they died and I lived. Do you know why?"
Gamache replies: "You were free." Finney speaks: "I was free. . . The mind is its own place. I was never a prisoner. Not then, not now." Then Gamache asks Finney about the "sums" he does when he goes to the dock. Finney had been an accountant and knew all too well that money buys only space. And he asked Gamache "Do you know the sums that I do?" . . . "I count my blessings." . . . "Every day each of us does our sums. The question is what do we count?"
I thought my wife was through with her story, but she had one more to tell, a story of Pandora's box. Pandora was warned never to open the box, but the temptation was too great and all of the horrors escaped into the world. "But not everything escaped. Something lay curled at the very bottom of the box." . . . one thing sat and stayed. Didn't flee." "What was it? asked Bean.
"Hope." (quotes and paraphrasing from pp. 320-321).
My wife told me that when she read these unexpected sentences during her difficult night, she knew the message was for her. And when she read these thoughts to me with tears in her eyes I knew the messages were for both of us: Do our sums by counting our blessings. And Hope. And eventually we dried our eyes and felt we could continue our journey.
Thank you Louise Penny for your beautiful prose. And, by the way, the book is a wonderful detective story and I need to get the other books in the Gamache series.
This little book shows the beauty and power of the two words "Thank You" hand written on thank you cards. Not emails, not text messages, not phone calls. But messages actually written by hand on note cards and sent to the recipient. The author, John Kralik, was a struggling attorney with a world of woes and problems when he made the decision to write 365 thank yous during the coming year. The subtitle of the book is "The year a simple act of daily gratitude changed my life." By thanking friends, family, clients, doctors, dentists, people he came in contact with or that helped or crossed his path, he enriched his own life and set in motion a series of events that led to the changes in his life and the lives of the recipients of his thank you messages.
Starting off the year, with a struggling law firm, delinquent bill paying clients, a divorce, living in a substandard apartment, and facing a mountain of woes and misery, Kralik writes: "I would try to find one person to thank each day. One person to whom I would send a thank you note." (p. 17) During the year, he thanked clients for paying their bills. He thanked the Starbucks guy. He thanked people through birthday cards. He kept thanking people through the financial market crash. He kept a spreadsheet with all of his original messages.
Kralik's advice is to keep the messages on point, addressing the action or friendship briefly and explicitly, leaving all extraneous matters aside. He stresses that you should "[replace] all thank you emails with handwritten thank you notes." (p. 215)
The author discovered that recipients of his cards often saved them as keepsakes, placing them in a prominent location where they could serve as a reminder of the wonders of a simple hand-written thank you. Imagine a world in which everyone bothered to tell each other "thank you" in an indelible and permanent way for all of the good that others have done for us, and imagine the effect your cards will have on others as they follow your example.
My wife has long been a thank you card practitioner, sending out our beautiful photo note cards with a short thank you message. This past troubled winter, that included thanks for food brought in, for visits in our home, for visits by telephone, for prayers offered, for rides given to treatments, for gifts. My wife sends a birthday card to each member of our family, which consists of 5 children, 19 grand children, 4 in-law spouses, and 15 great grandchildren. We hear stories about how even the youngest children are excited to get their card with the number of $ for their age. No matter how sick my wife was, she sent me to the mailbox with the card or went to the ATM for the money to send with the card.
We have found that people usually save our photo note cards, framing them and hanging them on the wall or placing them in a frame on the mantel, a reminder of the thought behind the card and of the beauty of the image that enhances the message even more.
I cannot recommend this book strongly enough or the powerful message that it contains. You will never forget Kralik's experience, and, blessedly, if you follow his example, you may find more blessings in your own life than you ever thought possible. I invite your comments and reactions to this wonderful little book.
Today my junk mail contained an enticing invitation to rejoin the History Book Club. If I rejoin, I get 5 history books for $5 plus shipping and handling which usually is several times $5 but, nonetheless, cheap for buying five books. Then, I have no obligation to ever, ever have to buy another history book from the History Book Club. What I do have an obligation to do, however, and in perpetuity until I once more cancel my membership in the History Book Club for the umpteenth time, is either to mail back the current offer card every three weeks or so or decline the current book by email. That task should be easy, you say. I first joined the History Book club in 1954 while I was a graduate student at Montana State University. I was so thrilled with the idea of buying books I wanted other than textbooks in subjects I could have cared less about to get through college. I still have two or three of those first books. During the intervening centuries, I have canceled and rejoined numerous times. The problem is, and this problem is serious, is that I rarely remember to cancel the current offer in time and I receive the book or books, along with a bill. Then I have to make a trip to the post office and mark the book return to sender. Eventually, the book clubs got sick of me and my memberships dwindled down and perished. And then they decided I was a valuable member and that they needed to make me a special offer to rejoin. Why, I don't know.
My son Jim, an attorney, is equally guilty of such egregious book club manners. His wife has ordered him not to join any more book clubs. But I think he snuck one in there somewhere because my daughter in law mentioned that she had a book on her kitchen counter that had to be returned. You would think grownup, mature, responsible people could mark the offer cards in time so that they could enjoy their 5 books for 5 bucks. The price of sending back an offer card for the current selection may be way too high. So I am still contemplating: Should I rejoin and get the books and ask my wife to send back the current offer cards? And why would History Book Club want a loser like me to rejoin anyway? Just some thoughts for today.
I must confess at the outset that I have never read Don Quixote, nor am I reading it now. I am reading a book by Alberto Manguel titled "A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader's Reflections on a Year of Books" (2004 publ by Picador). Manguel's commentaries on some of the scholarly books of foreign vintage are miles over my head but when I got to The Wind and the Willows and now to his comments on Don Quixote, I sat up and took note.
My dad is the only person I have ever known to have read Don Quixote in its entirety. A sugar beet farmer, a dairyman, and a wood craftsman, he had little time to read until he retired. Then he read with a vengeance, trying to make up for all the lost books, all the lost years, all the lost tales and missing pieces of his life. He virtually read his way through most of Dickens, and then he came to Don Quixote. I feel like I should read the book before I die just to pay tribute to Dad, although I have seen Man of LaMancha countless times, if that counts for anything.
Manguel writes this comment about reading Don Quixote at p. 128 of his Reading Diary, after reading the passage in which the Curate and Barber "decide to wall up (the books) in order to prevent further madness." Then Manguel writes:
Alone, I was almost in tears when I read the description of the old knight getting out of bed and going to look for his books, and being unable to find the room in which he kept them. That was for me the perfect nightmare: to wake up and discover that the place in which I kept my books had vanished, making me feel that I no longer was who I thought I was. Manguel quotes Gregor Samsa who thought that "in order to to continue to be Don Quixote (he) bravely accepts the explanation that an evil enchanter has spirited his library away. By assuming the fantasy, he remains faithful to his imagined self.
I may have to try reading Don Quixote, although some have likened the task to slogging through an endless and hopeless plowed field, just to say that I did it. I also ought to read The Wind in The Willows, a book which we had various copies of around the house when the kids were little, but I guess I thought I was too old to read it. Apparently none of us is too old to read The Wind in the Willows. (Q: none is, or none are, grammarians)
Many months ago I bought my wife a first-generation Kindle ereader and gave it to her for a present, thinking that she would like it better than the nice Singer sewing machine I gave her decades ago and which still resides in pristine splendor in the downstairs bedroom just in case a ripped seam needs stitched. My wife read one book on the Kindle, grousing about the Kindle as she went along, and put it aside. I didn't pay any attention to it, even though first adopters always pay through the nose for new technology and then I totally forgot about it. My wife preferred turning pages and seeing rows and rows of books she had finished reading in the book shelves.
Lately, I dug out the Kindle, turned it on, and discovered, miracle of miracles, there are tons and libraries and more tons of free books for Kindle. After paying several hundred dollars for the Kindle, I wasn't too excited about paying $9.99 for most new titles, especially those currently-popular authors whose breathless prose shows up on the Costco paperback table in a few months for $4.38 or thereabouts. But when I discovered that Amazon and some publishers put some new titles on as freebies, some times for a few hours, some times for a few days before cranking up the price to $9.99, I was hooked. Plus several ebooks exist that tell you how to find free stuff, not just from Amazon, but from everywhere else as well. I haven't done so yet, but when you can get the complete works of various classical authors for one buck, you definitely save hauling 75 pounds of books around in your backpack.
So I downloaded over three dozen freebies, which if I would have paid for them, would have cost me nearly $400. Being an economist, I prefer a marginal cost of zero or even one cent to a marginal cost of $9.99. In this way, I can pay for my Kindle and not feel like I stupidly got myself ripped off. Of course, the new generation of Kindles is a refined and improved generation, but mine works fine for now and, besides, I have to "pay for it." So far I have whizzed through four espionage novels. I watch daily with an eagle eye to see which new titles Amazon will dish out on the freebie list. I find the Kindle extremely easy to read after I took the book cover off and quit fighting it. And I find I can read infinitely more quickly by not fussing around with pages. Of course, I will still buy books that I truly want to mark up, write in, annotate, and leave on my bookshelves to impress people with how erudite I am or to irritate them if they think my choices are way, way, too liberal. But I may get to where I haul only a handful of books back and forth between Salt Lake City and St. George UT, and that would be a blessing. Got to check and see if any new freebies worth downloading today and finish reading Conspiracy in Kiev after reading Midnight in Madrid.
My trip to Costco the other day did bear some fruit as I stumbled onto the paperback titled Nothing to Lose by Lee Child. The last few years, I sort of got over my penchant for reading every new paperback in sight, plus everything else. Blogging takes up a lot of time, plus photos, plus editing every photo, plus watching Matlock, plus going to Kohl's Department Store, plus taking out the trash. So you can see I have been a busy man.
However, once I read the front and back cover reviews, I decided to give Lee Child and Jack Reacher a try. The reviews include words and phrases like the following:"The coolest continuing series character now on offer" (Stephen King); "Electrifying . . . utterly addictive" (NY Times); Explosive (People); "Colossal. Earthshaking. Stupendous" (NY Times). So you can see that for Costco's discount price of $5.59, finding something that measures up to all of these accolades and is colossal, earthshaking, stupendous, electrifying, and addictive would definitely be worth trying.
I am only about half through, in one sitting, and so far the book measures up to the hype. Most book reviews are "Number #1" or Stupendous, or Fantastic, but many books are actually not that well written, or are boring, or repetitious, or have reviews written by fellow authors in the same genre, or by a book reviewer in the Lightning Flats Daily Gazette. Child is a smooth writer, hooks you on page one, and keeps the tension continually rising. Moreover, the book thus far is free from potty language, an attribute apparently deemed essential by most writers any more. He does seem to have a fetish for describing each coffee cup in detail that the protagonist uses when he drinks coffee. Other than that, I'll probably finish the book by l:00 a.m. tomorrow morning and then go buy some others in this series. Much more interesting than talk shows.
David Baldacci's The Whole Truth provides more than just another spine-tingling spy or espionage thriller, something that Baldacci is very, very good at writing. The story concerns the use of a perception management firm to invent truth from pure fiction and make everyone in the world believe it almost instantaneously through electronic information transmission. Baldacci writes in his Author's Note at the end of the story that the Department of Defense defines perception management in one of its manuals, and notes that many public relations firms now offer perception management as a service. Baldacci believes, however, that not many such firms do a very good job at perception management since doing so requires specializing in creating Big Lies.
Baldacci notes that PM people create facts and sell them as truth. He states that many of the techniques he writes about in his story are "standard operating procedures" for these firms.
The reason why his focus on perception management is so scary is because we have a continuing battle to know what we can believe and what has been invented out of thin air. The way we are led to think about the wars we are currently fighting, about political issues and participants, about science, about research results from experiments, about government information releases, about coverups, about lies--all of these and many more issues provide us with a cautionary tale to be careful what we believe, to be cautionary about notably biased information sources, to always, always ask "What is being left out here?" We cannot just turn into a society of cynic disbelievers, but we must use better judgment than we sometimes have used in the recent past to take off our blinders and evaluate critically the sources, the bias, the data, and the underpinnings of the information we are fed. We need reliable information and we need to be more critical of what other people want us to believe.
Lewis Buzbee has written a charming and delightful tale about love for bookstores, books, and reading for pleasure. His "memoir, a history" titled The Yellow Lighted Bookshop (St. Paul MN: Graywolf Press, 2006) is a story about ". . . the unique experience of the bookstore--the smell and touch of books, the joy of getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers."
Buzbee weaves the history of libraries and book publishing with many anecdotes and personal experiences from his life as a book seller and sales representative. As a lifelong reader and from the experience my wife and I had of operating our own bookstores, I could relate poignantly to many of the experiences Buzbee relates here.
Here are a few gems from the book:
A bookseller . . . by virtue of what he sells, predicts how people will think, and changes in the way individuals think can bring about profound and long-lasting social effects. . . Because it changes what and how we think, the bookstore has always been a quietly powerful institution. But not always to the good of the bookseller. (p. 114)
Over the next twenty years, the customers of Printers' Computer section literally helped to create the demand for home computers, supercomputers required of government and academic research, computer and video games, virtual reality, the Internet, e-mail, and all the rest of the hard-wired software that both simplifies and confounds life today. (p. 115)
In reply to the criticisms that traditional books are dead, that Americans are reading far less "literature," and fewer "traditional books" than in previous decades, and that electronic media are driving people away from books, Buzbee offers the following comments:
In 2004, American publishers produced between 135,000 and 175,000 new titles . . . or around 411 new titles every single day.
Books in Print currently lists nearly 4 million active titles and 1.5 million out-of-print titles. (pp. 128-129)
Per capita . . . the United States comes in fifth, behind the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. (p. 129)
Books are digested, Francis Bacon reminds us, but never consumed. (p. 132)
Literary culture may comprise only a fraction of our society, but its role is crucial. In the bookstore the individual can meet that culture, become part of a river of creation and imagination that has flowed without interruption for thousands of years. The bookstore is still the place where we may engage in the free and unrestricted congress of ideas. In the bookstore, we may be alone among others but we are connected to others. (p. 215).
Buzbee explains the economics of publishing, the meager rewards, typically to writers, and the economic problems of publishing and selling books. Events of this past week underscore the concerns of book people everywhere with the announcement of further consolidations, elimination of decades-old publishing imprints, and layoffs of some of the best editors in the business. For true book lovers, nothing can replace the feel, heft, smell, and uncertainty that makes turning the page one of the greatest adventures of learning imaginable. Buzbee illuminates for us the role of books and his love for reading and bookselling.
In the author's closing comments, Buzbee notes that a new book by one of his favorite authors has arrived at the bookstore and concludes: "Even though cash is tight, I know I'm going to buy it. I turn and go into the store."