Friday, August 29, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

Just in time for the long holiday weekend, there's a nice little piece in the Washington Post about one's favorite gift books. I've actually never thought about such a qualification before, so I'll need some time before I include my own favorite gift books.

One that I know will be there, however, is John Irving's The World According to Garp. If you read my other recent post about favorite books, you know that I hold that tale dear to my heart. But how I first discovered the book is a different story. I don't know if I'd seen the movie or not. But a high school friend and I exchanged items: she got my tape of Pink Floyd's Umma Gumma, and I took home Garp. I don't think it was meant to be a permanent exchange (though I eventually bought the Umma Gumma CD to replace what had been passed along), so I read the book right away despite having the usual array of high school classes.

I loved the characters, and I eventually rented the VHS (way back in the 1980s and even into the 1990s, there were things called video tapes, kids...) of the movie and fell in love with that too.

Anyway, I'll need to think about favorite gift books. But while I do, I invite you all to share your favorites. You don't need to share five; any number will do. Just say what it is and, if you'd like, why you love it. Or email it to if you'd prefer to stay anonymous online.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vote for Your Favorite Books!

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is looking for a few good readers.

Specifically, they're asking readers to vote for their favorite page-turners, in anticipation of the Decatur book festival. From what I can tell, they don't care whether you live in Atlanta or Atlantis, so if you love books and have an opinion, I think you should feel free to let them know what you think are the best.

Personally, I think they'll have a lot of readers from their local area voting too, since the AJC used to have a highly regarded literary section and the city has traditionally been among the most literate in the country. (Props to you, Atlanta! And this from a Mets fan.)

And if you'd care to share your favorites here on the Elephant's Bookshelf, I'd love to know what you're reading. You'll find mine below very soon.

[Added later in day]
Ok, here's my list of favorites, though I honestly have too many favorites to limit to just five. These are the five that come most quickly to mind.

1) The World According to Garp – John Irving
2) The Lord of the Rings trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien
3) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
4) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
5) Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

Other books I would keep on the proverbial desert island:
Cat's Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Franny & Zooey – J.D. Salinger
The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
The Lust of the Eyes – Matt Sinclair
Practical Demonkeeping – Christopher Moore

{Yes, I tucked my own unpublished novel in there. Why not? It's my island!}

Friday, August 15, 2008

Save the Local Bookstore

In his regular column for the Century Foundation, Peter Osnos provides commentary about several different topics as the foundation's senior fellow for media. Recently, he opined on a fire that devastated a bookstore in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, on Martha's Vineyard called the Bunch of Grapes. Let me rephrase that, he wasn't giving his opinion on the fire, he was lamenting the loss of yet another beloved bookstore — and offering his thoughts on ways to upgrade stores and avoid further losses.

While the Bunch of Grapes will likely be rebuilt, bookstores — even the megastores like Borders — are particularly vulnerable to the whims of the marketplace. Osnos has conducted a study of bookstores and offered his strategies. In a nutshell, it comes down to this: Customer service. People like it, and they expect it.

As Osnos explains, booksellers in stores tend to wait until the book is actually in hand before they accept cash or credit cards. So, if a book is out of stock, the store is out of luck. "Customers should never leave the store, having asked for something, without buying it, unless, of course, it can’t be found anywhere," he writes. But people willingly click their code into the Amazon Website and wait for their books to arrive.

Taking that one step further, Osnos recommends that each bookstore upgrade their Website so people can buy things online.

Good advice. So too, his final paragraph: "What these ideas have in common is the notion of a bookstore as less a repository of goods on hand than a showroom of what’s possible. The cozy familiarity of a good bookstore and the role these stores play as community assets are cherished by readers. Updated concepts of service and supply will reinforce those facts rather than diminish them. And in the meantime, for those great booksellers who cannot overcome their troubles, we will mourn your passing."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Dark and Stormy Contest

This is always a funny story that causes me to wince. If you've not heard of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, check out their Website. They have a good sense of humor.

For those who don't know already, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton wrote what is widely regarded as the WORST opening sentence to a novel in the English language. It's not simply bad that it starts "It was a dark and stormy night," but the opening pales in comparsion to what follows:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Anyway, this year's "honorees" for the worst opening sentence of includes this wondershot: "Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped 'Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.' "

I wonder if the Washington writer who won also submitted his purple prose to the bad sex writing contest. If you go there, wear protection.

I realize these people are purposely writing this poorly, but it still makes me ill.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Danica McKellar Offers a Swift Kick in the Math

Danica McKellar is at it again, with a new book on math for girls called Kiss My Math. This time, the actress and math major helps girls cope with pre-algebra.

I suspect McKellar's pleased to have seen that girls are closing the gap with boys when it comes to math, but she's also smart enough to know that it's not enough for girls to be as good at math as boys. They both need to be able to apply this knowledge to their futures. Math and science are crucial to American success in the future. Say what you will about kids today or how "my kids are doing fine." We need to encourage all kids to do their best in math and science, because even the most basic jobs these days tend to incorporate technological skills.

Pre-algebra is necessary, as is geometry, algebra, statistics, and even a healthy dose of trigonometry won't kill kids. Personally, I loved calculus. But we can't expect everything to change right away.