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Making my slow way through Ellen Kushner's Riverside trilogy. Intriguing. Her men are primarily beautiful, passionate, envious, loving and vulnerable, while her women are primarily intelligent, powerful and unemotional. I've been trying to think of another author who so successfully switches the gender stereotypes. Forget "successfully," I can't think of an author who does this at all. It's addictive.

Coralie Bickford-Smith

Coralie Bickford-Smith is my new favorite thing, and not just because she has the world's second-greatest name.


She designs these incredible covers for Penguin Classics, and I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but I think it's okay if you already love it and own it in a beat-to-shit library sale copy.



Someday when I am stupid-rich I will hire her to recover all my books like this. I can't wait to see what she does with the Richelle Meads.




Interstellar Pig by William Sleator

I read this book in third grade and it made a big impression; re-reading it today, I found it held up well. Interstellar Pig tells the story of a teenager on summer vacation who gets caught up in an intergalactic board game that proves to have dire consequences IT IS INTERESTING (don't even want to pause for a period in case I've already lost you) because the author spends the book playing around with subtle (and delicious) language mishaps on behalf of the alien characters. Also, the female alien is way hot, which even as a seven year old interested me strangely. If this is not enough, the imagery is tops: "A fat orange sun was sinking behind the island trees, and restless scribbles of gold danced over the dark water." But the best part is the way the teenager gets absorbed into the game while he plays it, not literally but mentally. We've all been there. (If it wasn't Doom, it was Super Mario 3 or D&D. Don't deny.)

I know the cover is queasy-making, but this is a good book to give to the kid in your life, or to your inner kid.



I'm reading Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise. It is delightful, but what I would like to draw your attention towards is her inadvertently hilarious use of baby-talk. She's trying to replicate the accents of a British toddler who is discussing (with his uncle) the prospect of having a toy boat in his bath. Observe.

"Listen, would you like a speed-boat?"
"What's peed-boat?"
"A boat that will run in the water [...]."
"Will it float in my barf?"
"Yes, of course. [...]"
"Could I have it in my barf wiv' me?"
"Certainly, if Mummy says so."
"I'd like a boat in my barf."
"You shall have one, old man."

The OED tells me that "barf" did not come into use until 1966, and this book was written in 1933, so this was merely a fortuitous accident.

I am loving this book, for that and many other reasons. I will probably have it in my barf with me tonight.

The Magician's Book

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The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller


If you like the Chronicles of Narnia, read this book. Miller, one of the co-founders of Salon.com, writes about Narnia with the love and exasperated tone that we all have, we who loved these books as children and worked out their subtext later on.

The first two-thirds of The Magician's Book are simply splendid. It gives you the pleasure of talking over all your favorite -- and least favorite -- passages from the book, with the added bonus of learning bits and pieces about C.S. Lewis' life which may have directly led to those passages. (A fascinating life, too: for the first long while, she makes him out to be a kindly, bright old bachelor, not unlike Mr. Tumnus, but after that she starts referencing all sorts of things outside this characterization: frequent bawdy, beery evenings; a writing group called the Inklings which included Tolkien; a touch of the English disease, and so on.)

The last third of the book disintegrates into a rather passionate defense of Lewis' work versus Tolkien's. (Tolkien did not approve of Narnia.) This is all very well, but I don't especially care about Tolkien's life or opinions, especially when Lewis was such an interesting figure on his own. And there was plenty of Narnia left unexplored: I want to know what in Lewis' life inspired Puzzle, Puddleglum, Shift, and so on.

However, she does a marvelous job of identifying just why I loved these books so much growing up. For one thing, the children in the books are nearly always treated as adults while in Narnia. The decisions they make are important, life-or-death choices, and when confronted with conflict, they are expected to behave every bit as morally and bravely as adults. This is part of why The Last Battle always felt like such a disappointment. At the very end, you see the Pevensie parents waving to their children far off in the distance. And of course, you recognize that this is necessary: Heaven isn't Heaven if you're separated from your family forever. But at the same time it means a final and definite end to any real adult adventures for the children. Peter cannot possibly be High King over his father.

The other thing The Last Battle robs us of is the limitless horizon of new stories. Miller talked to other authors and readers about their experiences with Narnia, and Neil Gaiman - who is quoted extensively, and has some rather wonderful things to say -- points out that Narnia is a landscape in which one senses all sorts of stories happening just out of sight. From the day when Lucy first arrives in Narnia and Mr. Tumnus spends hours telling her all about the exciting things that happened in Narnia's past, the reader senses a whole world of adventures waiting to be had. But once the characters all go to Heaven, there can be no more conflict, no more wrestling with good and evil, no more story. The new, vibrant, bigger version of Narnia is curiously flat.

Reading this book was very much like having a long, cozy chat with a fellow fan, and Miller's prose is clear, funny, moving and thoughtful. Check it out, but only if you're prepared to re-read the Chronicles afterward with newly appreciative eyes.

Five Red Herrings

Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers


AUGH. I love Lord Peter Wimsey, but this plot was much too complicated, plus about half the book was written in Sayers' poor attempt at Scottish dialect, plus for some reason I could not keep any of the six suspects straight in my mind, plus it was BORING. Every time it started to pick up a little, she'd immediately throw four policemen in a room and make them have a ponderous discussion about train schedules. The real mystery is how this book ever got published.

"Aye," said Macpherson, excitedly, "but dinna ye see it explains naething at a'? It disna fit the description o'the man in the grey suit that tuk the bicycle tae Ayr. Nor it disna explain Betty's tale to Bunter, nor the muffled-up man escapin' fra Gowan's hoose at deid o'nicht, nor the rabbity-faced fellow in the train fra Castle-Douglas tae Euston. An' hoo aboot yon man that came knockin' on Campbell's door o'Monday midnicht?"

It's my own fault for finishing the damn thing, I suppose.

Whose Body?


Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

I just finished my first Dorothy L. Sayers book, the first of her many mysteries starring an eccentric crime-solving aristocrat and his manservant-by-day, expert-photog-by-night valet. Imagine if Wooster and Jeeves went around solving mysteries, except Wooster was only pretending to be an ass, and there you have Lord Peter Wimsey and his butler, Bunter.

Quite apart from the quirky dialogue, puzzling plot and endearingly open-hearted discussions between Lord Peter and his policeman friend, this book is worth reading because the main character is a book hound. All through the novel he's sending his butler off to auctions to pick up rare editions for him, and Sayers thoughtfully includes footnotes for the reader which give details about the books requested, and whether Lord Peter was able to acquire them or not. As a book lover myself, I cannot express how satisfying I found this.

Pick this up if you've finished all the Miss Marple books and you're still hankering for a head-scratcher to eat up an afternoon.

Sale report

I bought only 20 books today (last year I bought twice that on opening day). There are fewer options this year, and very few boxes of books stuffed under the tables. We only spotted a couple of book sharks, and people were only rude and tense in the sci-fi/fantasy section. (There tend to be a lot more blank, menacing stares and blatant poaching in that section on any day.)

Anyhow, I am happy with my smaller haul. My best find of the day: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers. Mystery lovers will know this as the first of her Lord Peter Wimsey books, but when I first saw it I thought it might be a hysterically inappropriate children's story.

I also found The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, a literary analysis of the Narnia books, The More Than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide (for $1!), and an L.M. Montgomery book I've never seen before which doesn't even appear to be about a wistful orphan. Score!

A thousand foam-covered typewriters

Last night I dreamed I'd been bitten by a rabid monkey. At the end of the dream, I had to lock myself in a room full of the little bastards in order to be eaten alive, thus preventing myself from becoming a rabid danger to those around me (and neatly disposing of my body -- eco-conscious!). I had this dream over and over: each time it ended with me running into the monkey room, turning the lock (to prevent my friends from rescuing me), and slooowly turning around to face the roomful of desperate, foamy little monkey heads.

I relate this here because I have not had such a gruesome, interesting death in a dream for some time, and I woke up feeling rather proud of it.

Also because there is nothing quite like being utterly certain that you are about to be devoured alive by rabid monkeys, only to open your eyes and discover that you get to go to the book sale instead.

Less than 24 hours away...

"No dearness of price ought to hinder a man from buying books [...] how shall the bargain be shown to be dear when an infinite good is being bought?"
-Richard de Bury, 14th c. Bishop of Durham

I found this quotation in Happy Alchemy, a collection of essays about music and the theater by the great Robertson Davies. It was one of those occasional treasures: a book whose existence you never suspected, written by a favorite author, carelessly left on a $1 cart or a bargain table. It's those moments of great discovery that make the hours of browsing worthwhile, along with the lesser (but still keen) pleasures of discovering books you'd read as a child but lost track of, or books you've long wanted to read but had not yet found.

"There is a joy known only to collectors in possessing the physical form of a book, quite apart from its contents," wrote Davies. Also, "My collection is a mirror of my mind, or a large part of it, and sometimes I think what a sorry, frivolous mess it is."

Here's to collectors everywhere and our sorry, frivolous minds. See you tomorrow.

More Entries

Riverside - November 19, 2009
Coralie Bickford-Smith - November 3, 2009
Interstellar - October 26, 2009
Barf - October 14, 2009
The Magician's Book - October 8, 2009
Five Red Herrings - October 2, 2009
Whose Body? - September 25, 2009
Sale report - September 24, 2009
A thousand foam-covered typewriters - September 24, 2009
Less than 24 hours away... - September 23, 2009
Library Sale this weekend - September 22, 2009
Kindle aflame - September 16, 2009
The bacon sandwiches of Terry Pratchett - September 15, 2009
Life goal - September 10, 2009
Picture Perfect - August 11, 2009
D - July 10, 2009
C Kris Read - June 25, 2009
B is for Book - June 17, 2009
Bringing their "A" games - June 16, 2009
On sale now! - June 13, 2009
Plans for the future - May 20, 2009
Crash Colman, found - May 19, 2009
Who is Crash Colman? Part II - May 15, 2009
Who is Crash Colman? - May 14, 2009
The joy of dunking - May 3, 2009
Literate and Literary - April 28, 2009
Book Dumb - April 17, 2009
After the road trip - April 17, 2009
LibraryThing - April 2, 2009
Today's helpful tip for writers - April 1, 2009
Passionfruit - March 31, 2009
A hint of Michele in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book - March 29, 2009
Inspiring nouns - March 27, 2009
Literally - March 26, 2009
"Should I read the Twilight series?" - March 24, 2009
Hack - March 20, 2009
Hm. - March 12, 2009
NINJA! - February 25, 2009
We write a book - February 23, 2009
Great character names in literature - February 20, 2009
Best book to read when you don't feel like reading but you have to because if you go for too many days without reading then your brain explodes, like the movie Speed but with books, kinda. - February 17, 2009
Best book for improve of grammar - February 11, 2009
Best way to make yourself feel good about making yourself feel like shit - February 10, 2009
Best book to steal from Borders - January 30, 2009
What's the anagram of Dmitri Nabokov? - November 27, 2008
Michael Ondaatje is a son of a bitch, kinda - November 16, 2008
I TOLD you we could - November 6, 2008
David Foster Wallace and Zachary Gray - November 4, 2008
As I perchance hereafter shall think meet - October 29, 2008
Book of the Week - September 29, 2008
Alien your way to Sexual Rapture - September 26, 2008
Organization tips made of awesome - September 24, 2008
Harry Potter turns ten - September 23, 2008
Book of the week - September 22, 2008
The Big Book Sale - September 18, 2008
RIP DFW - September 16, 2008
Kiss me, Rufus - August 27, 2008
Talking to the Dead - August 20, 2008
Warmly Inscribed - August 18, 2008
Book of the week - July 10, 2008
Thunderdome: Two books enter, one book leaves - July 3, 2008
Same old - July 1, 2008
Summer sales - June 30, 2008
I'm still alive - June 27, 2008
Book of the week - June 23, 2008
Book of the week - June 20, 2008
"Book Popularizer" dies. The word "popularizer," tragically, lives on. - June 12, 2008
NY Times List and the Harry Potter Theme Park - June 5, 2008
Kindle gets more titles - June 2, 2008
Don't Panic - May 28, 2008
The Wood Wife - May 20, 2008
Heroine Chic - May 15, 2008
Birthday Letters - May 11, 2008
Printer's Fair at Fort Mason - May 9, 2008
Books in the news - May 5, 2008
The Art of Letters at the Maker Faire - May 1, 2008
His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman - April 30, 2008