Books in General

Light Blogging Today

19 November 2018

Posts will be fewer in number today, but return to the usual frequency tomorrow.

All is well at Casa PG.

Which books best examine the nature of loneliness?

17 November 2018

From The Guardian:

Q: Which books best examine the nature of loneliness?
Thomas Edwards, 21, third year student of international relations at Exeter University

Alex Clark, critic, writer and broadcaster, writes:
You might argue that the vast majority of novels study loneliness in one form or another, given that they spring from an attempt to explore an individual consciousness and its relation with the outside world.

Perhaps the most celebrated is Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which, although it frequently portrays its narrator’s interactions with family, friends and lovers, is essentially concerned with the complexities of managing the unruly desires and pains of selfhood. And isolation, too, haunts such classic novels as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, in the person of the shellshocked first world war veteran Septimus Smith, and the existential agonies of Albert Camus’s antiheroes.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Do Horror and Crime Go Together?

16 November 2018

From Crime Reads:

Only a couple of decades ago, American crime author Bill Crider, writing in the Mystery Readers’ Journal, described cross-genre writing as “something it’s OK to do in the privacy of your own home, but you wouldn’t want the neighbors to know about it.” He meant it as a joke, acknowledging a prejudice that was already dying, but he was old enough to have lived through an era when straddling genres was a risky strategy—something that made it harder to market a writer’s work, and therefore justified leaving said writer in the desolate limbo of the slush pile.

Today, all genres are promiscuous, and none more so than the mystery thriller. Crider himself wrote a number of mysteries set in the old west, which is how we know he was joking with that comment. Elsewhere, historical mysteries (Roman, medieval, ancient Egyptian, Byzantine, Regency, Victorian et al.) have become an industry in themselves. Mysteries have happily swapped DNA with science fiction, horror, comedy, romance and (of course) literary fiction. And the Harry Potter novels, which rank very high among the bestselling fiction titles of all time, are mystery novels every bit as much as they are fantasies.

But some crossovers are an easier fit than others. There’s a good reason why historical mysteries have been so very successful and so very ubiquitous. The historical setting provides a whole range of real-world events to be used as enthralling backdrop. It allows writers to re-invent the role of detective, giving their protagonists a background in surgery, herbalism, psychology, the priesthood or the civil service that turns out to be unexpectedly useful in solving crimes. And by rolling back technology it makes room for mysteries that would be solved in a second if the detective had access to modern methods. So the historical detective very quickly became a genre staple. William of Baskerville led the charge, in Umberto Eco’s wonderful The Name of the Rose, but he was soon joined by Marcus Didius Falco, Judge Dee, Brother Cadfael and a small army of lesser luminaries.

. . . .

And when horror is paired with mystery, it sometimes seems as though the two genre strands are pulling in precisely opposite directions.

For readers of mystery, a large part of the pleasure they derive from a story comes from the moment or moments when the mystery is explained and a solution presents itself. This means there’s an implicit bargain between writer and reader: the reader suspends disbelief and engages with the story, while the writer guarantees that an explanation will eventually be given, using information already made available and staying within the rules that have been established.

Link to the rest a Crime Reads

Local crime fiction author Scott Pratt dies in diving accident

15 November 2018

From the Johnson City Press:

Local author, former journalist and former lawyer Scott Pratt died Sunday, apparently in a diving accident in Bonaire, and just five months after his wife, a well-known dance instructor, died after a long battle with cancer.

. . . .

Pratt, 61, [started] his book-writing career in 2008 after working as an attorney. Prior to that, Pratt was a newspaper journalist who covered the court system for the Johnson City Press in the 1980s and later worked for the Kingsport Times News. He married Kristy Hodge, who was the daughter of the Tom Hodge, the Press’ late opinion page editor.

. . . .

He went to law school but later became a full-time writer and published a series of crime fiction — some based on crimes in East Tennessee — and his main character, Joe Dillard, was an attorney going through many of the same challenges and situations Pratt had faced.

. . . .

“I’m not often at a loss for words, but I think about Scott’s life and the challenges he faced … most particularly I think about his faithfulness to Kristy for 10, 12 years (as she battled cancer),” said attorney Jim Bowman, a long-time friend of Pratt.

Pratt’s books were extremely successful as he had sold more than 3 million books, according to his website,

In October, Pratt announced a new book, “The Sins of the Mother”, written in collaboration with a Johnson City Police Department detective, Mark Stout. The book was released last week.

Link to the rest at the Johnson City Press and thanks to Darren, who says, “he’s been my Grisham. I’ve devoured his series of two different legal characters,” for the tip.

Kindle Romance Bestsellers

14 November 2018

Kindle Romance Bestsellers

How I Learned To Embrace My DNF Pile

14 November 2018

From Book Riot:

Until recently, not finishing a book was a foreign concept, a sign of weakness, a readerly sin. Giving up was not an option. The immense guilt I felt for even entertaining the idea of abandoning a book made the notion of a DNF (did not finish) pile impossible.

That all changed last fall. I woke up in the wee hours of a November night with the worst headache I’d ever had. My husband rushed me to the ER where we found out I had a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. Long story short, I had brain surgery and have spent the past year recovering.

I am incredibly lucky. I can walk, talk, and do almost everything I could before the surgery, but when your brain gets poked and prodded, there’s bound to be a few things that change physically and mentally. For me, one of the biggest changes has been my ability to stay focused while reading. It takes a lot more energy to concentrate for long stretches of time, and I often have to backtrack and reread because I can’t remember what I’ve just read.

I used to pride myself on reading at least three books a week. Now I’m glad if I get through one, and that one book better be spectacular if I’m going to spend so much time with it.

In the early days of my recovery while I was still in the hospital, I picked up Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, and I couldn’t get through it. I kept reading the same lines over and over and none of them stuck. I wondered if I should force myself to keep going.

. . . .

Annihilation wasn’t a bad book. It just wasn’t for me at the moment. I latched on to the idea that my time on this earth is limited and I shouldn’t spend it feeling frustrated and miserable. I closed Annihilation and made it the first book in my DNF pile.

I felt incredibly liberated and have since added a bunch more books to the pile. I want those of you with DNF guilt to experience this freeing feeling as well, so I’ve developed a list of reasons why it’s okay to abandon books you’re not enjoying. Let that DNF pile grow!

. . . .

Life is too short to read bad books (or books that just aren’t for you)!

Life is too short to be doing anything that makes you grumpy during your free time. Let go of the “I shoulds” and embrace the “I wants.”

. . . .

By sticking with a book you don’t like, you’re missing out on your next best read.

Who knows? Maybe the next book you pick up will be your favorite of the year. There’s no way you’ll know if you keep slogging through that book you’re only reading because you want to sound smart at dinner parties.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG has a few charming bits of OCD floating around in his life, but he hasn’t ever felt bad about not finishing a book.

Perhaps because, during his childhood, almost all books came from the library and almost all books went back to the library before their due dates, so no DNF’s were hanging around prompting PG to think about them.

However, he was a voracious consumer of books, read quickly (two weeks until the book goes back to the library!!) and was happy to consume almost any book he opened.

Before Envelopes, People Protected Messages With Letterlocking

12 November 2018

Having to do with writing more than books, but PG found this fascinating.

From Atlas Obscura:

Around 2 a.m. on February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots penned a letter to her brother-in-law, King Henri III of France. It would be her last. Six hours later, she was beheaded for treason by order of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England. The letter has since become one of Scotland’s most beloved artifacts, the handwritten pages offering a poignant glimpse of a monarch grappling with her impending execution.

But it’s not the words that fascinate Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson conservator at MIT Libraries. For more than a decade, Dambrogio has been studying “letterlocking,” the various systems of folds, slits, and wax seals that protected written communication before the invention of the mass-produced envelope. To guard her final missive from prying eyes, the queen used a “butterfly lock”—one of hundreds of techniques catalogued by Dambrogio, collaborator Daniel Starza Smith, and their research team in a fast-growing dictionary of letterlocking.

. . . .

Mary was not the only person of note to lock her letters: Fellow practitioners include Galileo, Machiavelli, Marie Antoinette, the Boston philanthropist Isabella Gardner, and the artist Albrecht Dürer. “Everyone was doing it,” notes Smith, a lecturer in the department of English at King’s College London. “It is something that underlies the history of communication for hundreds of years, and it’s kind of mind-blowing.”

To seal a modern-day envelope (on the off chance you’re sealing an envelope at all), it takes a lick or two, at most. Not so for Mary or for Machiavelli. In those days, letters were folded in such a way that they served as their own envelope. Depending on your desired level of security, you might opt for the simple, triangular fold and tuck; if you were particularly ambitious, you might attempt the dagger-trap, a heavily booby-trapped technique disguised as another, less secure, type of lock.

. . . .

Dambrogio first encountered locked letters in 2000, in the conservation lab of the Vatican Secret Archives. Her fellowship project involved a careful study of legal and accounting records spanning the 10th to 17th centuries, all of which had survived virtually untouched. By the end of the first week, she says, “I had already started to see slits and authentication marks and really beautiful wax seals and cut-off corners and folds—folds in books, folds in books of papers, folds everywhere.”

. . . .

Both researchers are adamant, however, that there is still so much left to uncover. Many questions remain: How, for instance, did John Donne and Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster know the same letterlocking techniques? Were they passed down from a parent or from a colleague? Did certain locks imply something about the content of the letter?

There is evidence that suggests letterlocking might have been seen as a reflection of personality and taste. Smith points to [John] Donne as a particularly telling example. “He’s using five different letterlocking styles, and one of them—despite the fact that we’ve looked at nearly a million letters, a quarter of a million in detail—we’ve never seen anyone else use it,” Smith says. “So we’ve got this guy who’s known as the most inventive and witty poet of his generation, and he’s doing one of the most inventive and witty and brilliant letterlocking methods you could imagine. That is the kind of evidence you can use to say ‘Ah, so, you can actually see something of people’s personalities in the way they fold letters.’”

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Here’s how Mary, Queen of Scots letterlocked her last letter.


Remembrance is hollow without brutal honesty

11 November 2018

From The Sunday Times:

To my 19-year-old son, the First World War — which ended 100 years ago today — is as remote an event as the Congress of Berlin was to me when I was 19, Lloyd George as distant a figure as Disraeli. To my generation, the First World War was not quite history. My father’s father, John Ferguson, had joined up at the age of 17 and fought on the western front as a private in the Seaforth Highlanders. He was one of more than 6m men from the United Kingdom who served. Of that number, 722,785 did not come back alive. Just under half of all those who lost their lives were aged between 16 and 24 — a fact that never fails to startle.

John Ferguson was one of the lucky ones who survived and returned. But, like more than 1.6m other servicemen, he did not come back unscarred. He was shot through the shoulder by a German sniper. He survived a gas attack, though his lungs suffered permanent damage.

My grandfather’s most vivid recollection of the war was of a German attack. As the enemy advanced, he and his comrades fixed bayonets and prepared for the order to go over the top. At the last moment, however, the command was given to another regiment. So heavy were the casualties in the ensuing engagement that my grandfather felt sure he would have died if it had been the Seaforths’ turn.

. . . .

[My son’s] generation is not only more distant from the war than mine. It has also been exposed to a great deal of nonsense on the subject. Here are just a few examples I have encountered in recent weeks.

1) Despite the enormous sacrifices of life and treasure, the war was worth fighting. (No, as I argued in my book The Pity of War, an unprepared Britain would probably have been better off staying out, or at least delaying its intervention.)

. . . .

3) The peace failed because of American isolationism. (No, it failed because Woodrow Wilson’s belief that Europe’s borders could be redrawn on the basis of national “self-determination” was naive.)

. . . .

Let me counter with 10 points that I would like all my children to understand about what happened to their great-grandfather’s generation.

1) The war was not “for civilisation”, as claimed on John Ferguson’s Victory Medal. It was a war for predominance between the six great European empires — the British, the French and the Russian against the German, the Austrian and the Ottoman — that broke out because all their leaders miscalculated that the costs of inaction would exceed the costs of war.

. . . .

3) The Germans were not doomed to lose. If the French had collapsed in the first six months of the war — when 528,000 French soldiers were permanently incapacitated — it could have been 1870 or 1940. French resilience was one of the surprises of the war. Even so, by mid-1917 the French were finished as an attacking force. German submarines were sinking frightening numbers of the ships supplying Britain. With Russia consumed by the revolution, American investors saw a German victory as possible as late as the spring of 1918.

. . . .

8) The German army finally fell apart in the summer and autumn of 1918, after it became clear that British tenacity and American intervention made a German victory impossible, and after Bolshevik ideas began to spread westwards from the eastern front. Beginning with the Battle of Amiens (August 8-11, 1918), the Germans lost the will to fight and began to surrender in droves.

9) The war was followed not by peace but by pandemonium. The dynasties toppled: Romanovs, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, Ottomans — all gone. Their great multi-ethnic empires also disintegrated. The Saxe-Coburgs survived by renaming themselves “Windsor”, but still lost the lion’s share of Ireland. Not only in Russia but all over the world, red revolution seemed unstoppable. To cap it all, an influenza pandemic struck, killing roughly four times as many people as the war had.

Link to the rest at The Sunday Times

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