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winter 2013-14 075

Recently, I read a book that is controversial despite making several of the Best Books of 2013 lists.   I put it on my best book list, too, and then I gave it away.  I am still trying to explain to myself why I consider it such a great book.  I distrusted the author so much that I had to argue with myself to buy it and read it, and yet…

It is unforgettable in so many ways.  It is difficult to say much without spoilers and I know that bookgirl is going to do a review of it eventually.  The book is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  The story grabbed me in the first pages.  There were scenes of great beauty.  The beginning pages are poignant.  

And yet, I didn’t believe the book.  Yes, even fiction should be believable.  The situations were just too much for me to swallow.  I think I stopped believing completely when Boris told Theo to check the pillow case.

So why did it make my list?  

It is the power of the story entirely, I think.  (I am still thinking and may be for many months more).  The protagonist seemed very passive to me throughout this very long book.  Yes, he does do at least six important things, but set against such a large scale setting, it is not much.  I liked Hobie who is too good to be true, but I didn’t believe in him.  Yet, that didn’t matter.  The book kept me enthralled and I turned the pages fast still hoping that Theo would change.  The point of the book at the end seemed to say that I was foolish to hope for that.  It also had some interesting thoughts about saving art through the ages and asked what is the painter saying about himself if he paints a chained bird?

Tonight, though, I want to consider more than just one book.  What is it that grabs on to me and keeps me reading?  I have talked about this before, but it has been a while.  

I am still reading Pandora’s Star by Hamilton, but after the first joke at the start of the story, I was floundering for hundreds of pages.  The book seemed so scattered.  I think that I am good, capable reader and yet it regularly lost my attention and I would say, “meh.”  I kept reading it because the author wrote four other books that I did like.  I respect him and I trust him to eventually grab on to me and pull me in.  Finally, somewhere around the middle of the three hundreds there was some action that went on for a while instead of jumping around.  I began to get a grasp on who the characters are.  Ozzie finally showed me some Silfens.  The ship, Second Chance, has a long adventure.  I am aware that something is going to happen as a result of the ship’s exploration.  I soldier on.

Some books don’t have to grab us because we are adult enough to read for information without having to be entertained.  I am reading Tuchman’s Guns of August and it is so intense and packed with information that it is taking me a long time.  This is good, not bad.  It is a non-fiction book of the highest quality.  It is well-written.  I am learning new things.  The anguish of watching with hindsight what the various men in charge of the war did is terrible.  The refusal by Joffre to believe what the Germans were doing in Belgium was criminal.  

What makes me interested in a book?

1.  One trigger for me is mentioning libraries as some books do.  I will enter the world of the library or bookstore very happily with the main characters.

Books that have libraries or bookstores that I have read:

Harry Potter by Rowling

Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman

and all of Pratchett’s stories that have our favorite librarian in Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Historian by Kostova

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Bernie Rhodenbarr Series by Lawrence Block

Cliff Janeway Series by John Dunning

   Booked to Die
   Bookman’s Wake
   Bookman’s Promise
   Sign of the Book
   Bookwoman’s Last Fling

Last week Elizaveta reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale by Satterfield which I have read and she mentioned two that were new to me which I have ordered:

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


A Winner of the Alex Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls...


The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay


Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little other than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city. Taking a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade, she knows she has found a home. But when Rosemary reads a letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville, the bookstore erupts with simmering ambitions and rivalries. Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure and evocative portrait of a young woman making a life for herself in the city.

I am also trying out The Cat in the Stacks Series by Miranda James where the protagonist works part time cataloging rare books.  Someone here has probably recommended them to me before.  I just finished #1 Murder Past Due and it was a nice cozy.  It was a bit slow, but sometimes I am grateful for that.  I will try #2 and see what I think.  I liked the cat, Diesel, a lot.

I used to read Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who books because Polly was a librarian.

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges (a short story)

The story is here:

Wiki discusses it here:

Here are two lists of books to remind you of those you love:

Book Store Owner Mysteries (& Some Publishing Mysteries, TOO!)

2.   Advice to writers is to put the protagonist into a lot of trouble and never let up.  Well, that works for me as long as the author does not cheat at the end.

I have said many times that if I travel with characters for 800 or more pages, I feel I deserve a good outcome, at least one that I have been given clues to accept.  I want the protagonist to win.  He or she has become my friend.

In John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor, I was sucked in at once and the suspense kept building as I kept worrying about the main characters.  The author excels in doing this.  Gail and Perry are in deep trouble.  Will they mess up and get others killed?  Will there be some kind of terrible betrayal?  I am on the edge of my seat.  

3.   Another thing that grabs me is a really interesting main character and other interesting characters to back him up.  That is vital.  Create a creepy cast of losers and I am gone.  I want some escape and some hope.   I want people who care about themselves and are trying to win through the troubles that beset them.

In Sanderson’s Way of Kings, one character came close to giving up and was standing on the ledge.  Had he jumped, I would have shut the book and never read another Sanderson story.  I had invested too much in the character and I liked him. While I understood his pain, I wanted him to fight back.  He did, thank goodness.

4.   I really like beautiful, haunting settings.  Both of those drew me into books about Africa...Out of Africa by Dinesen and Cry, the Beloved Country by Paton.  It caused Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin to be on my best loved books list.

5.  When the author shares himself with me, it invites me to think about my own life.  

I just finished reading Belonging: A Memoir by Robert W. Fuller (I received this book as a gift and I enjoyed it very much).  I could recognize many things about myself as I read, and it made me think.  It was inspiring and hopeful. I agree with the author that we change so much during our lives and even, in my case, day to day.  I think it is important to change as we learn and absorb new things.  But, there is still a core “me” inside that has never changed which is curious to know things and has a love of reading.  When I try to deny time for learning or reading, I start to die inside and a voice inside me yanks me back and insists that I keep on reading despite people wondering how I find the time to do it.

I have always believed, as Robert Fuller does, in the power of questions.

Writing a memoir is very difficult.  What do you put in?  What do you leave out?  Robert does this very well.  He has fought and struggled to live a life that satisfies his desire to help others, and to model a world where there is dignity for every person.  He has touched a nerve with his other books, Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank and the sequel, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity.  People have told him their stories and he has listened.  Listening is a great strength.

He has co-authored Dignity for All: How to Create a World without Rankism.  (Not without rank…but without rank"ism”).  Modeling new ways of behaving and having mentors is the key.  Traveling as a citizen diplomat was a large part of learning that there are many people in all countries of the world that care about finding a better way to live than to fight wars.  It took a lot of courage to visit the USSR before the wall came down or to go to Somalia.

I enjoyed this glimpse of his college life:  (pg. 38)

Instead of going to classes, I was spending a lot of time flying around the country in a small plane that a friend of mine had put together from spare parts.  Students were forbidden to have cars at Oberlin, but there was no prohibition against planes.  So Tony Newcomb had built one in a barn on the edge of town.
In this interesting book, an interesting life, and a very much needed field of work in the world is explained.  

So what kinds of thing in a story grab on to you and keep you reading?  

Diaries of the Week:

Write On! Agents: A spotter's guide
by SensibleShoes

Dignity and Recognition (Part 1)
by Robert Fuller

Robert Fuller says:

The Rowan Tree chapter update:

The Rowan Tree free on Kindle:

The memoir Belonging free on Smashwords:

Belonging: A Memoir
Paperback – October 24, 2013
by Robert W. Fuller


"How did you make the leap from Physics to Dignity?" This question arises at every Robert Fuller talk. Belonging traces Fuller’s personal evolution and suggests that taking one’s questions seriously will lead to a life of meaning and purpose. Accompany Fuller as he meets with “somebodies” like Robert Oppenheimer, Indira Gandhi, Mikhail Gorbachev, David Bowie, John Denver, and President Jimmy Carter, and share in the wisdom he finds in people whom the world writes off as “nobodies.” Belonging shows how transformative quests await anyone willing to learn from somebodies and nobodies alike.”

Belonging will become free on Kindle, too, if enough people request a price match.

In the comments below melpomene1 says:

My new book is out--partly! (ebook only so far)

Happy new year--and sorry for being pretty much awol while juggling the holidays with wrapping up the new time travel. It's now out on Nook and Kindle; print edition coming soon. ... Here's the back-cover blurb:

After losing her job, her boyfriend and her best friend, Brit Colladay thinks she's hit rock bottom. Then while touring Roman ruins, she is accidentally transported to the first century. Living as a slave near Pompeii, she fakes a gift of prophecy, but when she predicts Vesuvius will erupt, her owner doesn't believe her.

Nicomachus, a Roman priest renowned for the "miracles" he engineers, knows a fraud when he sees one--but Brit's brains and beauty intrigue him, and he'd rather join forces than expose her. In exchange for sharing her tricks, she wants help escaping the upcoming eruption, but helping a slave run away could get him executed.

As time runs out, they try to forge a plan. Is the answer running, time travel or even changing history? And can they stay together, or will survival mean living apart?


FYI, there is some sex is this book, but no intense violence.

On Nook

Kindle link


NOTE: plf515 has book talk on Wednesday mornings early

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.


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