Category Archives: E-Books

Letters I Missed

How did this happen? How could I have missed this fantastic collection of letters about cricket? In my quest to understand just why letters are so important a mode of communication, surely letters to the editors of the Daily Telegraph on the subject of cricket would have provided some insight. photo-171 Last night I discovered on a friend’s coffee table during a dinner party Not in My Day, Sir: Cricket Letters to The Daily Telegraph, edited by Martin Smith. What a discovery it was!

Having now perused the collection, I can say with certainty that the letters included prove one of the main points I make in my book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: that letters show just how much we care. A letter writer takes the time to gather his/her thoughts; places them in a meaningful and cohesive order; puts them down on paper (the effort required to find just the right sort of paper offers more proof of the importance of the thoughts to be shared), then places the letter into an envelope (effort to find the envelope, ditto) and affixes a stamp (ditto); prints out the correct address on the envelope (ditto, again) and then ventures out to the mailbox and commits the letter to the great, wide world without any chance of recalling it or deleting it. All those actions and efforts demonstrate just how much the letter writer cares about what he or she is writing.

And let me tell you: these cricket letter writers do care. There is the writer who protests “over-fifties” complaining about what batsmen and bowlers wear on the field: “When will they realise that cricket is about winning? Personally, I wouldn’t care if Mike Atherton took to the field with a W.G. Grace-size beard, wearing a dressing-gown and goggles, with a fag hanging out of the corner of his mouth and swearing like a trooper if it meant a winning English team.” I may not know who W.G. Grace is but the sentiment – and the care – comes across loud and clear. Then there are the long missives about scoring (I will never understand how points are accumulated in cricket) and the notes about the food on offer (no better over there than the hot dog and nacho stands we find here) and the carefully penned diatribes about issues utterly beyond my ken (can someone tell me what the lbw law is?) but there is no lack of comprehension when it comes to the just how much that letter writer cares about the game of cricket.

I can say without reservation, having read through the letters in Not In My Day, Sir: cricket lovers care a lot about cricket. In fact, I am sure the Daily Telegraph has boatloads of letters on cricket just waiting for editing into another (and another and another) collection. Until then, get your hands on these, then sit back and enjoy the efforts (heart and soul, anger and love, fear and sadness) that went into the writing. The letters that we take the time to write are proof of just how much we care.

Forgotten Books, Recovered Treasure

Pacing through the website of Forgotten Books, an online library with hundreds of thousands of titles, is like walking through the aisles of a favorite bookstore. I “open” one book, skim through, and alight upon certain lines that make my decision for me (yes, I want to read this book!) and that decision leads me to another turn down another aisle, and then another, and another, choosing and perusing books all along the way. Just like in a real and wonderful bookstore, Forgotten Books provides the adventure of opening doors (books! books!) that lead to greater and greater adventure, and more discoveries – and more books. If ever there were a source for fulfilling a bibliophile’s wildest desires, short of actually having feet planted in the world’s largest bookstore and hands reaching for volume after volume, Forgotten Books is it. It is the largest online library in the world, and offers free access to much of its website (and access to all of it at reasonable prices).

I went online to Forgotten Books in search of interesting letters – I am addicted to letters, as well as books – and a one-word search for “letters” led me within seconds to such interesting books as Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft by Sir Walter Scott, first published in 1830, and then onto Letters to My Son, written by William Gibson and published in 1917, and then, leaving letters behind I plunged into The Rosicrucians, Their Rites and Mysteries, by Hargrave Jennings, first published in 1907 and finally, to Travels in the Old World, by the Reverend J.M. Rowl, a marvel published in 1922.

Are you kidding me? Am I in heaven? Book heaven? I had sat down to my computer and my searching with a headache, head cold, and a fever. I rose up light as air and floating on sunshine. Okay, by bedtime I was back in a feverish state, shivering under blankets and hot water bottles, but at least I had plenty of reading material to keep me company. I had my downloaded forgotten but now recovere books, all of them found during my online treasure hunt. Was I looking for the Reverend Rowl? No, of course not. But how lucky I was to find him.

Not only can out of print and hard to find books be found on Forgotten Books, but images taken from many such books can also be viewed in their original state, with some 4 million images extracted from old books and available for viewing on the site. I searched for images of Wilkie Collins, and was thrilled to find his sweet old face, over and over, along with the designs imprinted on many of his first books. Searching doesn’t stop there, with images, but goes even further. There is the ability to chart the usage of every English language word throughout publishing history or to search for words or terms in the entire online selection. I could find 500,000 books related to a search term, 500,000 books – and each and every one of them available to me!

I am a stalwart fan of the printed page and I’d rather be in a bricks and mortar bookstore than just about any place on earth but this adventure – of reading books long out of print and difficult, if not impossible, to find – provides at-home access for finding books I never even knew existed. Online resources have their place – a wonderful, happy place – for fixing the addictions of book lovers everywhere. No matter where I am, or what time it is, or what state I am in (pajamas and slippers, Kleenex blotting my nose), Forgotten Books and its brethren provide a constant and beautiful feed to my need for books, all kinds and sorts of books. Addicted to books? Forgotten Books, and other online treasuries of long-gone books, will expand your universe and fulfill at least some of your desires.

2012 Books and Thanksgiving

Thank you to the authors who make my year of reading — whether it is a book a day or a book a week — a core pleasure of my life.

Pure by Andrew Miller: Set in 1785 France, Baratte, an ambitious provincial engineer, is commissioned to clear out the oldest cemetery in Paris, disposing of the bones, destroying the attendant church and filling in the holes left behind any way he can. Miller is a marvelous writer, weaving his amazing story around the framework of his characters, each one so full of heart and muscle that they seem to come alive on the page. Or maybe it is the other way round, that his amazing characters weave and dance around the framework of his plot, a plot full of wild machinations and lofty dreams and sober realities.

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton: I just could not put the book down (and this has been true of every Bolton book I’ve ever read) because of its twisting plot (offering surprises at every turn), compelling characters (including reappearances of some of my favorites from past books), fascinating setting (the colleges of Cambridge, England) and the constantly increasing undercurrent of dread and fear. The building of tension and suspense only crested in the very last paragraph, sending me into spasms of relief and then back into the book to reread the last hundred pages all over again.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: This book is a marvel and a gem. It is hilarious and heartbreaking, and it has a message: “Be brave in love and in life.” Jess Walter, himself, is brave, flinging his characters (whom he clearly loves) out in the world, through time and across continents, in and out of crazy and not-so-crazy situations, and allowing them (and us) to come to some very profound realizations about dreaming big, wanting more and taking on the world.

The Names of Things by John Colman Wood: This book tells the story of a man who journeys to Africa to find again the groups of nomads with whom he traveled years ago. As an anthropologist, he was always looking for the names of things as a way to define their meaning in the culture he studied and how such meaning connected to his own way of life. As a man now trying to deal with overwhelming sorrow, he finds that the name of a thing is only the place to start understanding the substance of experience, and that in the end, it is the substance that might sustain him, while the names twist away.

A Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny: Penny’s mysteries are wonderful, one after the other. In the latest, the heroic and kind Inspector Gamache finds himself behind the stonewalls of a monastery, soaking up the beauty of Gregorian chants and the ugliness of murder (along with rich stews, cheeses and wild blueberries dipped in dark chocolate — good food is always present in a Penny novel). Despite the abundance of gourmet treats, Penny doesn’t write feel-good, frothy novels with everything falling neatly into place by the finish; instead she creates real scenarios that expose the tolls exacted by real living, where good is not always rewarded and evil not always punished, where lives are overtaken by the tolls of abuse — and lives are lost.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: I read Wild side by side with The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, and found striking parallels in the quests of Strayed and of Kerouac. Like Strayed, Kerouac had problems with packing his gear, choosing his shoes and planning meals (and satisfying his appetite!), but found what he needed: solace in the wild. Strayed was looking for solace, but even more, for restoration: After the death of her mother, Strayed hit rock bottom and decided the only way back to her true and good self was to undertake the hiking journey of a lifetime. (Some of us read tons of books to find solace and answers, some of us take long hikes.) In making that hike, she filled the hole in her heart and restored herself to sanity and strength.

And what a déjà-vu I experienced in reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, a book I absolutely loved. Like Kerouac and Strayed, poor Harold has the wrong shoes on for his trek across England, but he doesn’t let pain and blisters stop him. And like Strayed, fictional Harold has a hole in his heart that needs patching up. This surprising man and his lovely story took me by the hand, and then gave my soul a good thumping (I cried buckets!) — thank you for the hike, Ms. Joyce, and I look forward to your next novel.

Friendkeeping by Julie Klam: We can all use gentle and funny reminders of how to be a good friend — and why. Klam serves up her signature wit and big heart, and inspires us all.

And for good e-books, I give thanks for: The Fulcrum Files by Mark Chisnell: Set in England just before World War II, sailor Ben Clayton, committed pacifist, finds himself involved in an international spy game involving gambling, intimidation, weapons build-up and murder. This book satisfies sailing buffs, history fans, espionage addicts, and anyone else yearning for a good, satisfying yarn; and…

No One Knows You’re Here by Rachel Howzell: Syeeda, the reporter at the heart of the novel, is a modern-day heroine, complicated and smart and tough, who discovers that a serial killer is on the loose in the back alleys of Los Angeles. Based on the Grim Sleeper killings that occurred in L.A. in the 1980s, No One Knows You’re Here is about crimes that go unnoticed (committed against the underclass) and heroes that go unsung (journalists and writers), providing not only a great book but a sharp jab in the shoulder: Are you paying attention yet? After reading this book, you most certainly will be.

Great Fun and Good Feelings in Chihuahua Karma

Chihuahua Karma by Debby Rice is a great feel-good read that made me laugh out loud, tugged at my heart-strings, and left me smiling. Available only as an E-book, Rice’s lively, incisive, and addictive writing makes buying an E-reader a good idea (alongside previously reviewed E-books like Minks Rises by Eric Almeida and The View From Here by Rachel Howzell — I’m looking forward to reading Howzell’s latest, No One Knows You’re Here, just downloaded!).

Cherry Paget is young, beautiful, and rich — but all that changes one lovely summer day, when Cherry takes a fall and ends up as a dog. The possibility of reincarnation has been entertained for centuries (as demonstrated by the quotes that begin every chapter, by everyone from Ben Franklin to Paul Gauguin to Voltaire to Leonardo da Vinci) but rarely has it been as entertaining as in Chihuahua Karma. Cherry didn’t make the best choices as a woman (she is not entirely to blame, given the advice she got from her mom: “Don’t waste all that time in law school. Take the modeling job. That underwear catalogue is a stepping stone…”) but as a dog, she matures into a caring human being, more concerned with how she can help a little girl escape the clutches of deranged adults than her previous concerns of couture and vodka and “nails manicured to the buff and shine of a newborn Porsche”. Cherry-as-dog has to battle not only living adults in her quest to help those in need but dead souls waiting for their new bodies and willing to wreak havoc until the next incarnation.

All’s well that ends well, and the passage — spiritual and physical — trip to ending well is twisted, unpredictable, and hilarious. Align yourself with Chihuahua Karma and find greater meaning in the dogs — and humans — in your life.

Life After Sleep

In Life After Sleep, a fascinating and very funny science fiction novella about an invention that allows human beings to thrive on very little sleep,  author Mark Brand explores the essence of  our innately contradictory nature: no matter how much we humans beings have, we always want more, and no matter how potentially good something is for us, we can turn that good thing into a burden of stress and expectation. Remember when we all thought email, computers, and blackberries would lessen our work load?  Instead we used technology to ratchet up our hours spent working (and wasting time: Facebook cruising, anyone?).

In Mark Brand’s future world, humans can sleep so much less than ever before.  But how do they use these extra hours?  Work takes up more and more of the daily grind, along with complaining, virtual clubbing, and hapless coupling.  Why don’t any of these characters use all their extra hours for reading?  That’s what I would do!

Brand is sharp and imaginative, coming up with all kinds of new uses for technology in this future world, including the aforementioned virtual clubbing, twitter-like friendship following that starts to smell like stalking, and of  course the amazing “Beds” that allow instant REM sleep and deep rest — after just a couple hours.  Brand artfully explores what happens to the routines and rhythms of daily life in a life without (much) sleep. The trouble starts when amidst all the hoopla over less sleep and more work, the side effects of the Beds start to kick in. Life gets very interesting for the cast of characters in this wonderful new novella from Mark Brand and getting back to enough sleep won’t be easy for any of them — or us.

What is so good about this book is that with all his wild imagining for the future, Brand doesn’t forget that the basic wiring for humanity does not change.  Our need to connect, create, complain, and yes, sleep, are not only universal but eternal.


Stories in the Palm of Your Hand

The short shorts in Tessa Smith McGovern’s collection London Road: Linked Stories really are made to fit within the palm of your hand — her delightful and fresh stories are available as apps for your phone or can be converted for your e-reader. For those without the handheld devices, never fear.  The stories can also be downloaded onto your computer and read from the screen, or printed out (with color ink, if possible: the graphics are striking and integral to the stories!) for reading the old-fashioned way.

Whatever way you take in the words of McGovern, just make sure you do.  Her stories link the lives of residents in a halfway house on the outskirts of London. Based largely on McGovern’s own experiences  — her mother operated a Halfway House in Sussex — , her characters come alive through a style that is unique and lovely.  McGovern uses words both easily and luxuriously and her ability to evoke place, emotion, and possibility all within the confines of a very short story is amazing. I felt as if I personally knew each character, from Janice to Nora to Isobel to Bitty, and even Len down at the pub, and I cared about them all.

That McGovern has time to write so beautifully while also launching her electronic publishing house of eChook is astounding.  But as explained on the eChook website, once she created her own short story app for iPhone, iPad, and Androids, she realized she had become a publisher — and she ran with it!

McGovern makes a wonderful case for the short shorts app — literature for taking on the go —  offering reasons like “ten minutes of reading provides a mini-vacation in your busy, sometimes frantic day, and leaves you feeling refreshed” — absolutely!  — and “original stories and memoirs by contemporary writers expand your horizons?[gaining] insight into other people’s lives.”  Again: absolutely!

I could read the London Road: Linked Stories app easily on my phone but when I converted the app for my Kindle, there were a few problems, including the loss of all “th”s in the text, along with numbers, and the graphics lost their power.  I also read the stories on my computer — easy to do but out of sync with McGovern’s goal of providing pleasure on the go, reading everywhere and anywhere.  I will continue to follow the trajectory of e-Chook with interest, and I will read the works of Tessa Smith McGovern, in whatever form they come.

Fighting For A Clear-Eyed View

The View From Here by Rachel Howzell is a psychological thriller, a strange and twisted and yet utterly recognizable (dare I say, even familiar) exploration into how every person’s individual “view from here” is colored, even skewed, by experiences from the past, anxieties and joys of the present, and hopes for the future. We see nothing clearly and without prejudice, and when faced with an especially difficult situation, our internal programming kicks into an even higher gear, demoting our powers of reason and promoting our fears and paranoias.

Protagonist Nicole is a vulnerable and yet resourceful woman, still dealing with the tragic loss of her parents as a child when she is suddenly hit by another life blow.  Having relied more or less effectively on therapy, prescribed drugs, good friends, religion, and a loving (if too often absent) husband to get her through bad times, these aids fall short now and Nicole must figure out another way to get through the horror of loss and sorrow — or lose herself forever.

The View From Here is Gaslight turned up a notch by modern life, including current anxieties about having it all (baby, career, husband, good sex, great vacations, big screen TVs).  Whereas in the movie Gaslight, the woman can only rely on her own resources to fight off impending insanity, Nicole must free herself from the too-freely prescribed medications and proffered therapies, stripping down to the basics of who she is — only then can she beat the demons at the door (and in her house). Nicole is a character over whom I both despaired and rejoiced, finding her alternately frustrating and inspiring, but ultimately thoroughly engaging, real, and unforgettable.

The View From Here was my first Kindle-exclusive book (not available in print) and I am happy to have found it. Although reading the novel was easy on my Kindle, I would have liked an author page, usually found at the end of print books, to satisfy my curiosity over the author of this wonderful book, as well as a table of contents to allow myself a map of where the book was taking me.