Friday, April 28, 2017

Thumbs Down, Thumbs Up

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Since Netflix has gone to a thumbs up/thumbs down rating system, I thought that just for fun I might do the same to score two recent books. 

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Thumbs Down 
The Alpine Advocate by Mary Daheim - I so wanted to love this book and was hoping to discover a new mystery series. The main character Emma Lord is editor/owner of the Alpine Advocate, the weekly newspaper of Alpine, a small town in the Pacific Northwest. I thought this would be entertaining as I too once wrote for a small town weekly, albeit many years ago. (The word 'typewriter' comes to mind...)

Unfortunately, 25 pages in and I have already lost track of who the townsfolk are and what they do. All I know is that one of them is going to be killed and I assume Emma Lord is going to solve the murder. The author has somewhat ambitiously introduced way too many characters (none of them very intriguing) and I am already bored with them. I keep thinking maybe the plan is to kill off the whole town! One can only hope.

If you can offer a thumbs up rating for this series, I would love to know about it. Perhaps the mysteries get better.

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Thumbs Up 
Unbecoming Habits by Tim Heald - I bought this as an ebook (for a whole $2) because it takes place in a monastery and I have a fondness for monasteries. The main character, Simon Bognor, is a special investigator for the British Board of Trade. This is the first in a series featuring this not-very-dashing detective. He is a bit sluggish and isn't much use in the field, but for some reason he is sent to investigate the murder of Brother Luke who was found dead in the abbey's potato patch. Strangled. Turns out Brother Luke, aka Collingdale, was actually a spy/plant from the Board of Trade and was looking into something to do with the abbey's bees and honey exports. 

It is quite witty. Because of my many retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani, I am familiar with the rhythms of monastery days so I am enjoying mooching about with the friars and Mr. Bognor.

Mr. Heald died this past November. He was a journalist and biographer of royalty in addition to writing his mystery tales. He has another protagonist, Dr. Tudor Cornwall, head of the Criminal Studies department at the University of Wessex. My library does carry the three books in this last series so I am hoping to give them a try. 

What thumbs up, thumbs down books would you like to rate?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Let it Go by Peter Walsh

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Usually around the beginning of the year I like to read a de-cluttering book to inspire me to do a bit of weeding out. This year I did one better. On Monday night I attended a presentation by Peter Walsh, author of many books on organization and getting rid of stuff. He is also host of the television show Clean Sweep

With his soft Australian accent, I found him to be very engaging. He was energetic, had a great sense of humor, and was totally charming. He wandered from the stage to the audience and gave out hugs to some of the (mostly) women attending. I felt sort of like I was sitting in the audience of an Oprah show. 

I liked him.  

Here's the short version of his presentation. 

Basically there are two types of stuff we hold on to:

I-might-need-this-someday clutter - "There is nothing wrong with this 'thing' and I paid good money for it and it might come in handy one day."


Memory clutter - "If I let this go I am going to lose or dishonor the memory of the person, place, or achievement from the past that it represents."

I am guilty of both. 

It's with good reason, he says, that we use language such as drowning, suffocating, and can't breathe when we talk about the stuff cluttering our spaces. And our lives.

"It's not about the stuff," he says, "it's about the life you wish to live. So try this: when you leave here and arrive home, before you unlock the door to your house, think about what you want FROM your house. Use that list as the standard for your stuff. If it helps you create what you want from your space, keep it. If not, let it go."

I took his advice and when I got home I stopped for a few moments before I put my key in the lock. I thought about seven years ago when I completely changed every surface in my small house. The floors, the paint colors, the entire bathroom, knocked out a wall to connect two rooms, had a fireplace built, and designed storage. I got rid of unwanted furniture, books, lamps, wall art, etc., etc., etc. I dreamed of sleek and uncluttered and serene. I wanted a contemporary, curated haven. And I had it...then.

But, when I opened the door to my house Monday night, I saw piles of books with a few magazines thrown in for good measure; a desk with a clear work space the size of a handkerchief; an old laptop stored in the box that the new one came in; a tote bag full of receipts, brochures, maps, and other paper memorabilia from past travels (I swear I am going to put them in a scrapbook some day!); and three magazine holders storing past years' tax returns and backup information sitting on the floor in front of a bookcase. 

And that is just what I could see. I won't even go into what I knew was behind closed doors and stashed away in drawers. 

Besides being motivated to acknowledge how much is in my home that is not contributing to 'curated and uncluttered', I had this insight as to the tote bag full of 'memory clutter' from my travels: I keep it because it is evidence that I have (or eventually, had) a LIFE. Mr. Walsh would tell me I need to honor and respect those items. Either pull out the 'treasures' and preserve them in some way that honors them or throw the whole bag away. Clean sweep.

His latest book is Let It Go. He was signing copies after the presentation but I didn't buy it so as not to add to more book clutter. So I can't really recommend it although I am sure it is useful. My library does have one of his others - an ebook - which I now have on reserve. 

A few other points:

Find a charity, any charity, to donate to. Don't worry about finding the right one or a good home for the stuff you want to get rid of.

Find the treasures and treat them with honor and respect.

Set a limit on how much space you allow shoes, or kitchen implements, or hobby supplies to occupy. (I tried this with books and had settled on three well-curated bookcases. Now they are jammed full and books have taken over the tops of tables, my desk, and even a footstool.)

Stop using the word 'later' as in 'I will put it away later.' Don't put things down, put them away.

There are two times in life - Now and Too Late.

That last one might stop you in your tracks. It did me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

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I don't read much fiction but when I see that an author I am curious about has written a collection of essays, I like to give them a try. So I picked up Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith. She is a prize-winning writer of quite a few short stories, five novels, and a smattering of non-fiction pieces. 

I have not read any of her work, but I have seen the film adaption of her novel White Teeth. Although, now, I am not quite sure how I came to watch it. 

Ms. Smith writes in the forward to this book of essays, all of which appear to be quite long, that it is compiled of pieces written at particular times for different editors. So we have thoughts on Katherine Hepburn (an idol of Ms. Smith's), a look at George Eliot and Middlemarch, a recollection of Smith family Christmases, and her diary of a brief trip to Liberia. One called That Crafty Feeling contains her guidelines on the writing craft. (I might start with that one...)

The essays are broken into sections of Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling, and Remembering. I suppose just to give the disparate pieces some sort of structure at least.

I gleaned the above just by flipping through the book's pages and reading bits here and there. I got the book yesterday and haven't read even one of the pieces, so I hope I have a lot to look forward to.

If you have any thoughts on Ms. Smith and her work, I would be happy to hear them. 


In other news:
I don't usually provide links to online stories but there were two this week that I thought might interest you.

One concerns a daring $2.5 million rare book heist near Heathrow Airport that took place in January (but I am just now discovering it) and what impact it might have. The disturbing speculation is that the antiquarian books will be cut up for their maps, illustrations, and engravings as the books themselves would be difficult for the thieves to sell. Horrors!

Here: Book Heist

The other is a fascinating piece by Icelandic author Ragan Jonasson on translating Agatha Christie. Over the years he has translated 14 of her mysteries and become a mystery writer himself in the process. I really must look up the two-word clue mentioned in Lord Edgeware Dies. Mr. Jonasson states in the article that it took him ten years to settle on a suitable translation of it. 

Here: Agatha Christie

Friday, April 7, 2017

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman


I love a scavenger hunt. Unfortunately, I have only ever been on one. It was for adults. We divided into teams and were provided with a list of objects to find in the neighborhood. There were no clues or puzzles - just a straight up list (although there also may have been a glass or two of wine involved). 

Anyway, it was great fun which is why Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman immediately appealed to me. I am only a couple of chapters into the story of Emily and her friend James who become caught up in a mystery of puzzles and clues and books. 

What's not to like?

Emily's family has just moved to San Francisco -- her parents have set out on a mission to live in all 50 states. She has never lived in one place long enough to develop any deep friendships and has sought solace in books. Book Scavenger, an online site, connects people and books. Books are hidden and clues are posted on the site. Emily has been participating for years - hiding books, finding books, and earning points. Oh, and reading along the way.

It turns out that the very day the family arrives in San Francisco, the creator of Book Scavenger, Garrison Griswold, is on his way to an event to announce an exciting new game when he is attacked and ends up in the hospital in a coma. 

Emily, who is 12 and was hoping to meet Mr. Griswold, is heartbroken, afraid there will be no more Book Scavenger hunts. But things begin to look up when she makes the acquaintance of James who lives in her building and who also loves ciphers and secret codes. Emily introduces James to the online adventure and the chase is on.

Not only is this a tale about books and friendship, the reader also gets a guided tour of San Francisco and learns a bit of literary history. Emily's father is a fan of the Beat Generation authors and there is a visit to City Lights bookstore. Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold-Bug plays a prominent part in the story as well.

As it turns out, there is actually a Book Scavenger website and books are hidden and found and recorded on the site just like in the book. There is a listing for one hidden here in Louisville, but it is dated from last August so I am not sure that it will still be around. I have solved the clue and will check out the location and report back if I find it.

The game is afoot.