Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Prank by Adam Black

I am re-publishing this blog post...for some reason (as yet unknown technical difficulties) this blog post got deleted (?). Too strange. I need to figure out what that's about.

This post was originally published on November 29, 2011.

This was too excellent of a book to let this blog post go. So here it is. I apologize if it's a repeat for you. Thanks for understanding.

Have you heard about this book?


The story begins, and the town of Gill Falls, Missouri is flooding. Six-year-old Melissa Nevis is in a boat by herself, being carried by the floodwaters towards the falls. This child is in danger. This story must be told.

And so it is, told in the way that news stories are told these days, through Facebook posts, news articles, breaking news bulletins, fan pages, commentary, open letters, and interviews, etc. Reading this feels like following a real news story online.

We, as news/entertainment consumers, have learned to pay attention to information differently than we used to. We skim and scan, focusing our attention on stories or threads or posts that interest us and skipping the rest.

In addition, the news media is no longer as concerned about making sure that the facts are correct or that they are reporting accurately. “News” is now more a race to see who can reveal the story first and make the most people pay attention to their story the fastest.

Black believes that these phenomena have ramifications for how we think, how we process information, as well as how truth is presented and accepted.

Black briefly presents this in a foreword, and brilliantly illustrates it in THE PRANK. I was drawn in by the author’s premise, and following the story of Melissa Nevis was entertaining (because isn’t that what news is?), penetrating and perceptive.

The author wrote this story as if it were a breaking online news story (A Child is in Danger! What is going to happen? Here is the latest on Melissa Nevis!), and he expects that readers will read it as they would an actual online news story, skimming, sometimes skipping, reading the posts and threads and information that interest us in the moment.

As I read, there was some skimming - not much skipping - I was eager to find out what happened next in the Melissa Nevis saga. At the same time I found myself considering questions raised by his premise and the story itself...

How does reading this way inform how we perceive the world? If we gather information in this way, and if the news media races to produce information without making sure their information is correct, how do we, how can we, know what the truth is? And, of course, what’s happening with Melissa Nevis?!

This book would be a great book for a book group. It raises questions about the news and truth and how we - individually and collectively - perceive and react to what we see online.

Is this perhaps malignant phenomena of this digital age in which we live? Discuss.

I have been telling everybody about this book. I've ordered copies into the bookstore where I work and will have it featured in the store. This is a book worth reading.

Note: I find it at least a little bit ironic that I am telling you about this book in a blog...one of the media highlighted in the book. Not that blogs are intrinsically malignant, it's just another example of how we gather information. How many of you reading this right now cherry-pick your way through blogs? My guess? We all do.

Many thanks to Artless Dodges Press who sent me a copy to read and review. You can order this book by clicking on the book cover, which helps support the blog as well as this new and promising author. Thanks for checking out the blog!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Long story short..." (?)

I am a Bookcrosser, and have been a part of Bookcrossing since 2002. The Bookcrossing premise is simple...the idea is that most of us have too many books that we're never going to read again. Why not pass those books along to other people who might be interested in them, but do so anonymously, and in a sort of random, serendipitous way.

Here's how it works. Through Bookcrossing, as a (free!) member, you register a book. The book will be given an ID number. That number needs to be in the book (usually on the inside front cover). Then you can "release" the book, leaving it - strategically or randomly - out in the world somewhere, at a coffee shop, on a park bench, or, as I have done (as you'll see), in a mall. Someone else will (hopefully!) pick it up, journal it, read it, and pass it along to further the book on its Bookcrossing journey. The great thing about it is that when the book gets journalled, you get the notification and can follow it on its journey.

Anyway. I released a book at Pioneer Place mall over two years ago (Simon Winchester's, THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA, in case you were wondering), and it never got journalled. This does sometimes happen. But then sometimes, we get lucky. I got this journal entry the other day about that very same Simon Winchester book...

19 November, 2011
Ok well, long story short- My friend found this book at Pioneer Place mall in Portland, Or. USA in January 2009. She left the book at my apartment in Vancouver, WA when she returned home to California. The book sat in the corner of my closet, obscured by the detritus of my existence. I rediscovered the book as I was packing to move out of that apartment in September 2011 in preparation for my upcoming deployment to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. "What an awesome place that would be to leave this book!" I exclaimed. I took the book with me to Antarctica, intending to find a good spot at McMurdo to leave the book. Unfortunately before this ever happened, I was horribly injured in a freak accident involving several Kiwi Army soldiers, one large weddel seal, a tri-wall container of medical waste and one entire pallet of Speight's Old Dark on the sea ice about two and a half miles off the shore of Ross Island, following the Great McMurdo Halloween Party of 2011. There may have been a violation or twelve of the Antarctic Treaty so the details of this incident will have to remain a mystery, for obvious reasons. Anyway I was medevac'd out of Antarctica before I ever had a chance to deposit the book and now here I sit, on my last night in Christchurch, New Zealand, at the public internet kiosk of The Legendary Elms Hotel, typing madly late into the night and reviewing MRI images of my mangled musculoskeletal system and suddenly the realization washes over me like the lava that any day will be begin to flow from the majestic summit of Mount Erebus, which looms over the population of McMurdo Station like the ever present blade of that great proverbial guillotine. "Holy shit!" I exclaim, "I still have that fucking book." That's right, I hand carried the damn thing all the way to Fucking Antarctica and failed to leave it behind, then I spent another week in New Zealand and never once even thought about the damn book, and now only 9 hours before I board a flight for that miserable filth hole, Los Angeles, CA where a team of highly skilled surgeons will begin the work of refurbishing my rotten corpse, I deposit the book here, on the cheap wooden veneer that lines the desk on which resides the bacteria ridden keyboard on which I type. There are others in this hotel right now who are heading the other way, down to The Ice, to that vast expanse of frozen mystery from which I just came and to which I wish I was accompanying them. I see them wandering the halls of this very hotel, wandering the streets of this very city, drinking it's beer and marveling at it's lovely Botanical Garden. I see them wide eyed in anticipation of the adventure ahead of them, the adventure which, for me, was cut short, my blood staining the ice of the Ross Sea. My hope is that one of these great explorers, the bearers of the same mad wanderlust that brought me to the bottom of the world will find this book and do with it as I had intended. I will return to my beloved Terra Incognita next year. Healed, rested and wide eyed as ever in anticipation of the new adventure that will lay ahead. And when I return, if I find this book again, inhabiting that frozen land that warms my heart like no other place, maybe then I'll get around to reading the damn thing, I'm sure it's very good.

I think this is the mother of all journal entries, at least that I've received. It's been awfully fun...AND, the best thing about it is that I met my partner at a Bookcrossing gathering over six years ago.

You can check out Bookcrossing at the home page here:

And you can look at my Bookcrossing page here:

You can keep your eyes out for finding a Bookcrossing book...you never know when you may find one!

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Friday, November 18, 2011

A Book in Spanish...is an Insult?

One of my favorite customers came in yesterday. She's a little challenging to deal with due to having some health issues that make it hard for her to speak clearly. When she calls, it's hard to understand her, though she's cheerful and pleasant to deal with. Here is the blog post about an interaction I had with her...


Yesterday when she came in I greeted her warmly. She smiled and seemed glad to see me as well.

Then she noticed the book I had next to my register. We are doing a holiday book drive for a local elementary school and they specifically requested bilingual books. I had La Telerana de Carlota (CHARLOTTE'S WEB in Spanish) on a plexi display easel.


"That's an insult, is what that is," she said, her smile now gone. "Unbelievable. Why would they DO that? I wonder what he would have thought about seeing his book in Spanish," she said, pointing at the author's name.

"Maybe he would have been glad that more kids could read his story," I said. She didn't seem to hear me.

"There's no benefit to being English any more." She shook her head. "It's an insult."

I finished her transaction and thanked her for shopping with us.


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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Help for Finding a Book I Loved

When I was little there was a book called (I'm pretty sure), THE LITTLE WITCH. I loved this book, checking it out of the library many times. In it, a little girl is a witch. She wants to be a good witch. Her mother is a bad witch. I don't know the author, don't know the name of any of the characters, and I'm not 100% sure of the title. I do remember how much I loved this book.

I would like to find this book and read it again. I have searched for this book over the years, in used bookstores, and, of course, on the internet, with no success. There are too many books, both in and out of print, with the title THE LITTLE WITCH. Disappointing, but not surprising.

Just last night I stumbled onto Abe Books. On their website, Abe Books hosts a forum called Abesleuth, where you can post about the book you're looking for and people can post if they know it! You can also purchase books directly through their site.


This is wonderful! I haven't posted my request (yet!), but shall do so soon. I'll let you know if I find this long lost favorite book.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Customers 30

A man, greyish, thinning hair, about 6"1', wearing jeans and a blue all-weather jacket, came up to the counter.

"Can I help you?" I asked.

"I'm looking for a book about Ireland," he said.

"Do you want travel/guide books about Ireland? Or more books with photos in them? Or..."

"I'd like one with photographs in them, sort of a coffee table book," he said.

"Well, let me see what we might have. There are a couple of places to look. Often in our bargain section there are books about Ireland," I said, walking toward the section. "Yes, here's one on Italy...one on Spain...I'm not seeing Ireland right here," walking towards another bay to try and find another one.

"Did you know that Ireland was named after a goddess? The goddess Eire, E-I-R-E, was who they worshiped, so the name of the country is literally from Eire's land, which became Ireland."

"Hmmm, oh, I didn't know that," I said.

"And England," he said, warming up to his subject, "comes from Anglo-land, the people were called Anglos, as in Anglo-Saxon, so the name of the country came from Anglo-land and is now today England."

"Ah," I murmured. We were now in the pictorial book section of travel..."I'm not seeing anything on Ireland here, we have a lot that is more local. We have some books on Ireland in the general travel section, but they are really guide books."

"Yes," he said. "I don't need a guide book. Do you have any calendars?"

"We do!" I said. "And I know we have some on Ireland." I start walking towards the calendars.

"And did you know that Scotland derived its name from originally being called the Picts. The king of the Picts was originally called Rex Pictorum, but then they changed it to Rex Alban, which is translated as King of Scots, so the land became known as Scotland."

"Hmm, I didn't know that," I said. "Here are two Ireland calendars, and there might be more. This is the area they'd be in."

"Oh, that's great, just great. Thank you very much," he said. "This is just what I'm looking for."

I left him to look at the calendars. About 20 minutes later he came up to the register with two calendars to purchase, one about Ireland, the other showing Landscapes of Britain.

"Here's what I found," he said. "These will be great. Now if you want to find out more about the history of names...let's see, I was just reading about it in National Geographic, and it's right here..." He picks up a copy of National Geographic from the magazine rack that is right next to my register. "Let's see, it gives a lot of background and history..." He's flipping through the magazine... "Oh, here it is, the cover story. Anyway. It's a good article. You could look at it if you want to find out more about how places got their names. Thank you for your help."

"Sure, have a good day."


A man about in his mid 70's, blue rain jacket on, walked up to the information desk with a slight limp.

"Sandwiches," he said. "There's a book called SANDWICHES. Do you have it?"

I start searching in the computer."There are quite a few books with SANDWICHES as the title, do you know anything else about it?"

"It was featured in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. And the author's name is Ron. I don't know the last name."

"Okay, hmm, I'm not getting anything with the title SANDWICHES and Ron, though there are quite a few books with SANDWICHES as the title...I'm going to search on the internet and see what might come up."

"Okay, I'm going to have to go sit down. I continue to search, using Google to search for the book, using Wall Street Journal and Sandwiches as search words. I find a book called SCANWICHES by Jon Chonko that has pictures of sandwiches, and print out an information page about the book.


I find him sitting in the children's section on a bench. "I did find a book called SCANWICHES that was featured in the Wall Street Journal, I'm wondering if this is the book you're looking for."

"That's it," he says. "That's the one."

"We don't have it in the store, but I can order it for you, would you like to do that?"

"Yes, I would," he says, starting to get up.

"Do you need to stay here? I can just get your information and place the order," I said.

"No, I'm okay now. I just had to sit for a bit," he said.

He follows me back to the information desk and I get the book ordered for him.

"Thank you," he says.


A woman, late 60's, dyed short brown hair, faded lipstick, comes up to me while I'm at the register. "Do you have any Christmas mysteries?"

"We do, though but they don't have their own section, they'd be mixed in with the regular mysteries, though a few of them might be on a Christmas table or in a new release display. I can get someone to help you find some."

"Oh, that's okay. I'll come back. I was already over in the mystery section. I don't usually read mysteries, only at Christmas! I don't know what that's about, really. I don't know, maybe I just like a little murder around the holidays, you know, something scary lurking behind the Christmas tree."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cats in the Stacks

I answered the phone at the bookstore where I work...”Thanks for calling, how can I help you?”

“Hello! This is Connie Billings. And your name is?” She paused barely long enough for me to tell her my name. “This is the store right by the mall, isn’t it? Oh I love it there, I live there! I’m wondering if you can help me find a book I’m looking for?” Her voice went up at the end of each sentence.

“Sure, I can help with that.”

Almost before I finished by sentence, she started in... “Oh great! I’m reading this wonderful book and I’m wondering if there’s a second one, if it might be a series. It’s called CATS IN THE STACKS. It’s a mystery. Oh it’s wonderful! The author is Miranda James, and here’s how to spell her name, her first name is spelled M-I-R-A-N-D-A, and the last name, J-A-M-E-S. The book is CATS IN THE STACKS. There’s a picture of a coon cat on the cover. Oh, I’m really enjoying this book. I think it might be the first in a series....”

As she’s talking, I’m looking it up on the computer and find that there are indeed two books in the series.

“Yes, you’re right, there are actually two books in the CATS IN THE STACKS series, and the first one is called MURDER PAST DUE...”


“Yes! That’s the one I’m reading right now! You said that there is another book in the series? I thought that there might be! Oh this is great! Do you have the second one there?”

“The second one is called CLASSIFIED AS MURDER...”

“And does it have a picture of that cat on the cover? Oh I love that cat!”

“It does,” I said.

“So what is the second one called?” she asked, her voice still going up at the end of every sentence.

“It’s called CLASSIFIED AS MURDER. I don’t have it in the store, but I can order it for you.”


“You can? That would be wonderful! I’m reading the first one out loud to my cat and she just loves hearing about the cat in the book! Sometimes I say WOW (and her voice really goes up at the end of that word) and my cat loves that, and then I saw MEOW and she thinks I’m saying WOW but I tell her it’s MEOW, that’s M-E-O-W!” She takes a breath. “This is just great! So I can order the second book?”

“It is actually on order for the store, so I’ll get your information and we can call you when it comes in.”

“My name is Connie Billings, I’ve ordered things from you before, I live really close to your store. Oh, I’m just thrilled that there’s a second book! MY cat will be so thrilled when I read it to her! Thank you so much for your help! Have a great day!”


If you are looking for a book to read to your cat, Connie thinks that the CATS IN THE STACKS series is terrific.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Recommendations...light, short and funny

One of Therapist's co-workers is in a book group and asked for some recommendations. One of my favorite questions! Her parameters were that it be "light, fairly short, and FUNNY." Here's the list I sent...

Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors for funny and light...A WALK IN THE WOODS is his chronicle of his attempt to hike the Appalachian trail (over 2000 miles) with his buddy, neither of whom have any business being out of doors. One of my other favorites of his is his collection of essays called I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF, his observations about the U.S. after living abroad for 20 years. Some of the essays are poignant, some are laugh out loud funny, some are insightful. (non-fiction)


Christopher Moore...I love him. Some of his books are really wacky and out there (Roberto the talking fruit bat is a recurring character in a lot of his books...and that's not one of the really wacky characters), and he also has books that are 'about' something...LAMB is about Christianity...A DIRTY JOB is about death...FLUKE has environmental themes. COYOTE BLUE is one of my favorites...and yes, he is funny. Warning, he can be raunchy. (fiction)


I recently read DOMESTIC VIOLETS by Matthew Norman. It is fairly new, and is only available in paperback. It's pretty funny and fun...you can read my blog post about it here... (fiction)


In that blog post I mention Jonathan Tropper...I really like him as well...his books can also be a little raunchy, so another warning. His main characters tend to get into bad situations and make bad choices...In THE BOOK OF JOE, his main character writes a best-selling novel based his people from his hometown. He did not paint the people in his novel in a very favorable light. He never intended to return to his hometown ever again. Then his father had a stroke and he had to go back. He was did not receive a very warm welcome home. Chaos (or close to it) ensues. (fiction)


Nora Ephron, I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman is one suggested by one of my co-workers. She said it might be funny if there are women in the book group of a certain age...or it might be funnier to woman of a certain age, as it's Ephron's reflections about aging. (non-fiction)


FUNNY IN FARSI by Firoozeh Dumas... This was also recommended by one of my co-workers who liked it. She said that the author says things like, "I'm the one they call to do an author event when they can't get that guy who wrote The Kite Runner." Funny in Farsi is the author's memoir about being Iranian in America. (non-fiction)


THE BRIEF AND FRIGHTENING REIGN OF PHIL by George Saunders was suggested by another co-worker. He said it was biting and funny. I've started to read it a couple of times (and it's really short!) and couldn't get into it...it wasn't my cup of tea, but might be someone else's! (fiction)


You can't really go wrong with David Sedaris...he is often on NPR's This American Life, and hewrites about his life. One of his first was HOLIDAYS ON ICE, where he talks about one Christmas where he was a department store elf during the Christmas season. ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY and WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES are two of my favorites of his...absolutely laugh out loud funny. In WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES, he talks about his quest to quit smoking. To do so, he moves to Japan for a few months, you know, to change his routine. (non-fiction)


Sarah Vowell, another NPR veteran, has several books. My favorite of hers is her first, TAKE THE CANNOLI. They are essays with her unique take on the world. Her more recent books are about history, she's definitely done her homework about the history, and makes it more accessible, but like I said, her first is my favorite of hers. (non-fiction)


Chuck Klosterman started out as a rock music reviewer. I first read his SEX, DRUGS AND COCOA PUFFS which are essays about all sorts of things. Music, pop culture, religion...he's great. (non-fiction)


Lots of people love THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams. It is the first in a series. I read this first one, and liked it all right. It's wacky (I don't always love wacky). It is set in space...didn't do it for me, but lots of people think it's great. (fiction)


THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster is one of my all-time favorite books. Yes, it's considered a kid's book, and I think it's brilliant. Milo is bored. He comes home one day and finds a tollbooth and a little car. He starts out on a journey, accompanied by a Watch Dog, Tock. Milo discovers all sorts of things about the world and himself. It's clever and fun...this is a masterpiece. (fiction)


HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS Francois Lelord...I just saw this on the shelf yesterday and don't know much about it. I'd never heard of it. The cover has kind of 60's artwork on it. Hector is a psychiatrist. I liked how it looked and how it started. I don't know anyone who has read it. (how's that for a recommendation?) (fiction)


Lynne Truss is a British columnist. She has a collection of columns called MAKING THE CAT LAUGH which is absolutely hilarious. (non-fiction)


HAPPINESS by Will Ferguson is another fun one...in it, someone writes a self-help book that WORKS. Everyone's problems are solved after reading this book, relationships are fixed, financial problems are no more...which causes all sorts of problems, since so much of our society is built on the problems and fixing them. Ferguson is Canadian, so this book may be a bit harder to find, though it still is around. It was originally published under the title GENERICA. (fiction...Ferguson also has a few non-fiction titles, which are also good)


What would you recommend?

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