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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Estella's Revenge | April

Readers, writers, and bibliomanes of all sorts should click over and enjoy the new issue of Estella's Revenge. The theme for April is "mysteries." Be sure to check out our column, From the Bookshop....

Friday, March 30, 2007

Book Thirteen

The first novel we have read that was written by Jane Austen is the thirteenth novel we have read this year.

We were slow to sort out who was who, when characters had the same last names, and relations by marriage are referred to as blood. Even once this was fairly sorted out in our mind, we had to pause at the start of each letter and think who exactly is writing to whom?

The epistolary novel is a form that is rather pleasing to us. We often marvel at how much story can be conveyed, and here we felt Ms. Austen did a good job. She is clearly in control of this story, evidenced first by her selection of letters--not all of the correspondence is shown--and her conclusion at the end. Despite the letters that are not included, the events are still easy to follow, showing a skillful composition of the others. What we did not learn--and perhaps we simply missed this information somewhere in our reading--is what happened in Lady Susan's past. If we understand, she has lost her husband and seduced another woman's husband. When characters allude to what happened, though, we do not recall any details being given. The good thing is this does not leave anything out of the story for us. What is interesting and important is not what happens, but how characters react and respond. Ms. Austen has done this, to her great credit.

The letters tend to sound similar in tone and style; if each character had a more distinctive voice, the novel may have been improved. We required an eclaircissement to understand the word eclaircissement. Never heard of the word before, and it seemed to come in this story completely out of left field.

Lady Susan began as sympathetic for us. Through all she remains strong, and never a victim. By the end, when her plots and cabals have been revealed, we feel no malice toward her, but the initial sympathy has bled away. She remains a most interesting character. The novel does not stand like a rock in the middle of nowhere, but gives us one adventure in the life of Lady Susan, and we are convinced that there are many others. Had Ms. Austen lived in these times, we are sure her publishers would have begged for a sequel, and even a prequel.

The novel reminded us of Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses. Obviously the form is the same, but the way Lady Susan plotted and tricked and used her wiles to influence and control others is, in a more subdued manner, exactly what the Marquise de Merteuil does. These two characters are absolutely fascinating, and it is a wonder to witness their talents in action, and try to understand how they are able to wield such power over others.

We were not looking forward to reading this, yet were pleasantly surprised, and enjoyed it.
We give it four (out of five) pipefuls.
[this review is cross-posted in a slightly different form at Slaves of Golconda]

Book Ten

We skipped over describing the tenth book we read so our thoughts would not come out before this month's meeting of the Literary Salon. Now that it has been fully discussed, we will catch up on Mitch Albom's For One More Day.

If you have read any of his other books, you know what to expect: a bittersweet tug at the heartstrings and an enhanced appreciation for living. Again, this is explicitly noted as based on true events, which seems superfluous, for what author's writing isn't?

A failed son, father, and baseball player decides it is time to kill himself. To no one's surprise, he also fails at suicide. But in his post-trauma delirium his dead mother returns, and they get to spend one more day together. He tags along as she meets three people, each one revealing to our failure something he had never known about his mother. Interspersed between these scenes are recollections of childhood, letters from his mother, times his mother stood up for him, and times he failed to stand up for her. He comes to understand that he chased after the love of a father who withheld it, and took for granted the love of a mother who gave it freely. He returns to life and with his newly acquired perspective is able to reconcile with his daughter and redeem himself.

This is the second book to be discussed at the Salon, and it is many times better than the Nora Roberts book. Mr. Albom writes well, controls his point-of-view, and uses excellent details to provide his story with verisimilitude unmatched by Ms. Roberts, discounting her elements of fantasy. He fully supports his premise that there is no love as pure as a mother's. We come away with a few vague possibilities as to the meaning of his statement that every family is a ghost story, but ultimately are left to wonder precisely what is meant.

The wrap-up at the end is kind of flat. One person in the Salon was mostly unmoved by the book, and wouldn't recommend it, although he would recommend The Five People You Meet in Heaven. If you fight with your mother and don't care to see her ever, you might not appreciate the sentiments in this book. If you get along well with your mother, and if you have already lost a beloved parent, you may find yourself having to pause every few chapters to wipe away the tears. For One More Day is a book that seems to do exactly what the author wanted, no more and no less. If one wants a break from A la recherche du temps perdu, this book can easily be enjoyed in one sitting, with little intellectual strain.

We give it three (out of five) pipefuls.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Book Twelve

The twelfth book we have read is the 2000 translation of Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes, the original 1963 novel that inspired the classic movie starring Charlton Heston.

The book begins with a couple out for a leisure cruise through space, and they come upon a message in a bottle. The manuscript inside is what constitutes the story, and most of the novel. The manuscript has been written by Ulysse Merou, a journalist in the year 2500. He is part of a three-man mission to Alpha Orionis, three hundred light years away from Earth. While the astronauts age two years during their voyage, Earth ages three and a half centuries. In the solar system of their destination, they land on a planet with attributes much like Earth's, which they dub Soror.

If you have never seen the movie, or the remake, the basic premise is that on Soror apes are the "kings of creation," with all of our modern civilization and culture, while humans are speechless animals running around naked in the forest and kept in zoos for amusement. Merou is at pains to prove he is intelligent, and gradually develops a savior complex. At the same time, some chimp scientists are trying to shine light on their civilization's shrouded emergence.

Merou and his spacemates first encounter only humans. Mr. Boulle does a fine job of describing the animalisms of these humanoids, Merou noting they watched as if from "a sort of void, an absence of expression, reminding me of a wretched mad girl I had once known."
Whenever we had discussed, during the voyage, our eventual encounter with living beings, we saw in our mind's eye monstrous, misshapen creatures of a physical aspect very different from ours, but we always implicitly imagined the presence in them of a mind. On the planet Soror reality appeared to be quite the reverse: we had to do with inhabitants resembling us in every way from the physical point of view but who appeared to be completely devoid of the power of reason. This indeed was the meaning of the expression I had found so disturbing in Nova and that I now saw in all the others: a lack of conscious thought; the absence of intelligence.
When the apes appear, their humanisms exactly replicate our own behaviors today.

The novel has a decidedly different tone, and follows a different path, than the movie. Though Merou is initially hunted, in the way men today hunt deer or fox, there is not really a violent antagonism between him and the apes as there is in the movie. Some oppose him, but when he presents his case at the annual biological conference of apes, he achieves the status of a diplomatic emissary, and he is eventually permitted to assist the chimp scientists in their research. He never loses his capacity for speech--precluding one of the movie's best scenes--though there is an initial language barrier between Ape and French that he must overcome. He learns the truth of much ape prehistory by means of an experiment run by the chimps on a human, a sort of electrically induced hypnosis. This leads him to consider the possibility apes had overtaken a human civilization, in a particularly interesting passage that considers imitation in the place of evolution:
Of what is our literature made? Masterpieces? Again, no. But once an original book has been written--and no more than one or two appear in a century--men of letters imitate it, in other words, they copy it so that hundreds of thousands of books are published on exactly the same theme, with slightly different titles and modified phraseology. This should be able to be achieved by apes, who are essentially imitators....
Only when Merou fathers a child is he considered dangerous. He is able to escape the monkey planet by deception with his female companion and their son, and return to Earth. This conclusion also precludes the most powerful scene in the movie, though it does provide the book with a final twist.

The novel contains the basic elements of both the original movie and one of its sequels. It is a quick read, and fits comfortably into the science fiction genre. What kind of impact must it have had when first published? Was the subject shocking? Were the surprises telegraphed? Given our foreknowledge of the movie, we cannot say, and this presented us with the greatest difficulty in enjoying the novel (though well-written within its conventions) and appreciating it for itself.

We give it three (out of five) pipefuls.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Library as Autobiography

A bookshop functions not just as a controlled environment from which books may be sold. Some shops also offer events with local authors, or host book clubs or writing groups. In some one may find a place to snack, or sip coffee, while relaxing with a good book. In this way and others bookshops serve as meeting places, and by their very nature inspire discussion of all things. Because a bookshop is also a storehouse of ideas old and new, a place to think and research and explore possibilities.

So in thought we sat, browsing an issue of the defunct Biblio magazine, where we encountered a quote from Richard Le Gallienne: "The catalogue of a man's library is a form of autobiography." This brought to mind a recent post from Litlove about the way a blog and the words a writer uses reveals much of her personality, in spite of a refrain from writing anything personal. This brought to mind a post from Doppelganger about books a man gave her that made her swear never to go on another date with him ever again. At the intersection of these three items sprouted the idea of LibraryThing as dating service.

Long ago, when the computer was still just a grain of sand lying oceans away from the rest of the world, our grandfather had a small notebook in which he carefully recorded details about every book he owned: bibliographic information, when he purchased it, how much it cost, when he read it, where it could be found on the shelf. Though his notebook served as a catalogue of his collection, it also formed his literary autobiography and a cultural history from his lifetime. How we wish we had that notebook today; how we wish we had kept track of our own book acquisitions in the same manner.

LibraryThing takes the idea of our grandfather's notebook online, as a digital database for individual users. The data from each book must still be recorded manually, but the digital nature allows the information to be instantly manipulated in ways that would have taken countless hours with the notebook. A keystroke can now display a book collection from every conceivable angle. We own seventeen copies of Parnassus on Wheels. Why do we own so many titles by Scott Fitzgerald and have read only one, five times? Here is our French literature period. With what else were we occupied the year we read so few books? We must be on the lookout to upgrade our Robert Anton Wilson titles from paperback to hardback. Why do we own more non-fiction than fiction books, but have read more fiction than non-fiction?

The true power in LibraryThing is the connection with others. Now we can see who else owns Endurance, and what else they have beside it on their shelf--a virtual tour of the personal collection of any other user. This insight, then, gives us a sort of autobiography of each person. We can take heart in the fact that more people own The Count of Monte Cristo than do The Da Vinci Code. We can cast aspersions on any person who owns The Bridges of Madison County. Someone who owns Jude the Obscure, on the other hand, might be someone we'd like to talk to. To go even further, the woman whose books are a 96% match of our own might be a perfect candidate for our shortlist of backup spouses.

So what autobiographical information might one have gleaned from this? That we are pretentious? That we are foolish? That we are solitary? That tragedy makes us happy? That we are old-fashioned? That we are always planning for the future? That we buy more books than we could ever possibly read? That Doppelganger places on our shortlist?

Last year we won a year's subscription to LibraryThing. We proceeded to enter about seven books to our online catalogue. Maybe we haven't found the time to add any more. Maybe it is too labor-intensive, as the books must be brought to the site of the computer. Probably we haven't identified a function of the database that would truly be useful to us right now. It is a great idea, a wonderful tool, and full of possibilities. Future additions will likely make LibraryThing even more functional. This old-fashioned book-fancier will probably just make the effort from now on to record his new acquisitions in a little lined notebook.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Book Eleven

We have a grand To Be Read pile of books, and a wish list on a major book-selling website, and of course plenty of space to add books we don't know we want until we actually see them. One of the interesting things about such piles and lists is that during the interval between deciding we want a certain book and actually reading the book we might well forget our initial interest in the book.

The eleventh book we have read is an Oxford World Classic by Charlotte Dacre titled Zofloya, or The Moor. At some point we read something that mentioned this book, and either the subject or the summary or the recommendation drew our interest. The book was added to our wish list, and received last Christmas. Now coming to read it, we have forgotten precisely why we wanted to read it in the first place. Well, in general, who wouldn't be interested in reading a tale of lust, betrayal, and multiple murder set in Venice in the last days of the fifteenth century? Beyond this, though, what did we want to read it for?

This is an early gothic romance that follows in the footsteps of classics by Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis, and then steps beyond their boundaries to become something unexpected and shocking for its time. Never before had a woman been shown to venture so far down the "alarming paths of sin." Today, many of the main ingredients of the novel provoke little distress in us as they must have in one of our previous lives. Issues such as class and race and nature versus nurture are deftly explored in the novel, yet they did not stand out as issues to us until after we finished reading the novel, when we read the introduction. We are told that upon publication, the Library Journal dismissed Ms. Dacre as "being afflicted with the dismal malady of maggots in the brain." The novel is reported to have enraptured Percy Shelley, and Ann Williams believes Zofloya and other gothic works provide critical keys to understanding the works of Mr. Shelley, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats. Instead of being hailed as groundbreaking and influential, the novel and its author have been mostly consigned to oblivion. In her introduction, Kim Ian Michasiw writes,
A mother-hating triple murderess who dreams of sexual congress with a demon of colour has not been judged a proper model for the young reader either in the last century or in this.
For the first half of the novel, the protagonist Victoria suffers abuse at every turn. There is a digression to follow another character, and we wondered what purpose this served the novel, until everything was brought together at the end. Zofloya does not appear until about the halfway mark, at which point Victoria believes things have begun to go her way. Of course we come to realise that she is under the influence of Satan in the gorgeous guise of Zofloya. Everything she wants she gets by his evil ways, but nothing turns out as she expects. The further she treads down the paths of sin, the more she must turn to Zofloya for help. He is a consumate seducer, and by the last page the only thing Victoria thinks about and desires is giving herself completely to Zofloya. She remains ever self-absorbed and unrepentant.

We enjoyed this book. Ms. Dacre writes in an old-fashioned manner, with words and phrases that provide an appropriate literary flavor to the novel. She even employs shifts in point-of-view, but does so with control and purpose, rendering them natural and unobtrusive. The book took longer to read than we might have expected, though it was not difficult, confusing, or boring. We now suspect our initial interest in the novel was the masterful seduction of both Victoria and her mother, as already mentioned, superbly illustrated. We would recommend this to any fan of classic gothic fiction. When you put it on your wish list, just remember to note why.

We give it four (out of five) pipefuls.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Literary Salon

One of the things we have been working on at the shop is starting a book club. The impetus for this is from a friend. We had a practise run at the end of February, and are taking it to the public this month. Though space is at a premium in the shop, we should be able to sqeeze everybody in cozily.

Wednesday 28 March will be the inaugural meeting of the Illinois Valley Literary Salon. The first book to be discussed is For One More Day, the newest release from Mitch Albom, who also wrote Tuesdays With Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Though the discussion will center around the novel, one need not have read it to join. The club will meet monthly, with books chosen by vote from member nominations. Interested readers should muster at 4:45pm for introductions and refreshments. Discussion will begin promptly at 5:00pm. The complete press release can be read here.

If you are in the area and decide to come, parking directly across the street is plentiful. Members of the book club can also take advantage of a 25% discount offered on any books purchased that evening.

The Best of Booklore

There's Pippins and Cheese To Come, by Charles S. Brooks, 1917

On Buying Old Books

By some slim chance, reader, you may be the kind of person who, on a visit to a strange city, makes for a bookshop. Of course your slight temporal business may detain you in the earlier hours of the day. You sit with committees and stroke your profound chin, or you spend your talent in the market, or run to and fro and wag your tongue in persuasion. Or, if you be on a holiday, you strain yourself on the sights of the city, against being caught in an omission. The bolder features of a cathedral must be grasped to satisfy a quizzing neighbor lest he shame you later on your hearth, a building must be stuffed inside your memory, or your pilgrim feet must wear the pavement of an ancient shrine. However, these duties being done and the afternoon having not yet declined, do you not seek a bookshop to regale yourself?
Doubtless, we have met. As you have scrunched against the shelf not to block the passage, but with your head thrown back to see the titles up above, you have noticed at the corner of your eye--unless it was one of your blinder moments when you were fixed wholly on the shelf--a man in a slightly faded overcoat of mixed black and white, a man just past the nimbleness of youth, whose head is plucked of its full commodity of hair. It was myself. I admit the portrait, though modesty has curbed me short of justice.

Doubtless, we have met. It was your umbrella--which you held villainously beneath your arm--that took me in the ribs when you lighted on a set of Fuller's Worthies. You recall my sour looks, but it was because I had myself lingered on the volumes but cooled at the price. How you smoothed and fingered them! With what triumph you bore them off! I bid you--for I see you in a slippered state, eased and unbuttoned after dinner--I bid you turn the pages with a slow thumb, not to miss the slightest tang of their humor. You will of course go first, because of its broad fame, to the page on Shakespeare and Ben Jonson and their wet-combats at the Mermaid. But before the night is too far gone and while yet you can hold yourself from nodding, you will please read about Captain John Smith of Virginia and his "strange performances, the scene whereof is laid at such a distance, they are cheaper credited than confuted."

In no proper sense am I a buyer of old books. I admit a bookish quirk maybe, a love of the shelf, a weakness for morocco, especially if it is stained with age. I will, indeed, shirk a wedding for a bookshop. I'll go in "just to look about a bit, to see what the fellow has," and on an occasion I pick up a volume. But I am innocent of first editions. It is a stiff courtesy, as becomes a democrat, that I bestow on this form of primogeniture. Of course, I have nosed my way with pleasure along aristocratic shelves and flipped out volumes here and there to ask their price, but for the greater part, it is the plainer shops that engage me. If a rack of books is offered cheap before the door, with a fixed price upon a card, I come at a trot. And if a brown dust lies on them, I bow and sniff upon the rack, as though the past like an ancient fop in peruke and buckle were giving me the courtesy of its snuff box. If I take the dust in my nostrils and chance to sneeze, it is the fit and intended observance toward the manners of a former century.

I have in mind such a bookshop in Bath, England. It presents to the street no more than a decent front, but opens up behind like a swollen bottle. There are twenty rooms at least, piled together with such confusion of black passages and winding steps, that one might think that the owner himself must hold a thread when he visits the remoter rooms. Indeed, such are the obscurities and dim turnings of the place, that, were the legend of the Minotaur but English, you might fancy that the creature still lived in this labyrinth, to nip you between his toothless gums--for the beast grows old--at some darker corner. There is a story of the place, that once a raw clerk having been sent to rummage in the basement, his candle tipped off the shelf. He was left in so complete darkness that his fears overcame his judgment and for two hours he roamed and babbled among the barrels. Nor was his absence discovered until the end of the day when, as was the custom, the clerks counted noses at the door. When they found him, he bolted up the steps, nor did he cease his whimper until he had reached the comforting twilight of the outer world. He served thereafter in the shop a full two years and had a beard coming--so the story runs--before he would again venture beyond the third turning of the passage; to the stunting of his scholarship, for the deeper books lay in the farther windings.

Or it may appear credible that in ages past a jealous builder contrived the place. Having no learning himself and being at odds with those of better opportunity, he twisted the pattern of the house. Such was his evil temper, that he set the steps at a dangerous hazard in the dark, in order that scholars--whose eyes are bleared at best--might risk their legs to the end of time. Those of strict orthodoxy have even suspected the builder to have been an atheist, for they have observed what double joints and steps and turnings confuse the passage to the devouter books--the Early Fathers in particular being up a winding stair where even the soberest reader might break his neck. Be these things as they may, leather bindings in sets of "grenadier uniformity" ornament the upper and lighter rooms. Biography straggles down a hallway, with a candle needed at the farther end. A room of dingy plays--Wycherley, Congreve and their crew--looks out through an area grating. It was through even so foul an eye, that when alive, they looked upon the world. As for theology, except for the before-mentioned Fathers, it sits in general and dusty convention on the landing to the basement, its snuffy sermons, by a sad misplacement--or is there an ironical intention?--pointing the way to the eternal abyss below.

For the buying of books, it is the cheaper shops where I most often prowl. There is in London a district around Charing Cross Road where almost every shop has books for sale. There is a continuous rack along the sidewalk, each title beckoning for your attention. You recall the class of street-readers of whom Charles Lamb wrote--"poor gentry, who, not having wherewithal to buy or hire a book, filch a little learning at the open stalls." It was on some such street that these folk practiced their innocent larceny. If one shopkeeper frowned at the diligence with which they read Clarissa, they would continue her distressing adventures across the way. By a lingering progress up the street, Sir Charles Grandison might be nibbled down--by such as had the stomach--without the outlay of a single penny. As for Gibbon and the bulbous historians, though a whole perusal would outlast the summer and stretch to the colder months, yet with patience they could be got through. However, before the end was even a hasty reader whose eye was nimble on the would be blowing on his nails and pulling his tails between him and the November wind.

But the habit of reading at the open stalls was not only with the poor. You will remember that Mr. Brownlow was addicted. Really, had not the Artful Dodger stolen his pocket handkerchief as he was thus engaged upon his book, the whole history of Oliver Twist must have been quite different. And Pepys himself, Samuel Pepys, F.R.S., was guilty. "To Paul's Church Yard," he writes, "and there looked upon the second part of Hudibras, which I buy not, but borrow to read." Such parsimony is the curse of authors. To thumb a volume cheaply around a neighborhood is what keeps them in their garrets. It is a less offence to steal peanuts from a stand. Also, it is recorded in the life of Beau Nash that the persons of fashion of his time, to pass a tedious morning "did divert themselves with reading in the booksellers' shops." We may conceive Mr. Fanciful Fopling in the sleepy blink of those early hours before the pleasures of the day have made a start, inquiring between his yawns what latest novels have come down from London, or whether a new part of Pamela is offered yet. If the post be in, he will prop himself against the shelf and--unless he glaze and nod--he will read cheaply for an hour. Or my Lady Betty, having taken the waters in the pump-room and lent her ear to such gossip as is abroad so early, is now handed to her chair and goes round by Gregory's to read a bit. She is flounced to the width of the passage. Indeed, until the fashion shall abate, those more solid authors that are set up in the rear of the shop, must remain during her visits in general neglect. Though she hold herself against the shelf and tilt her hoops, it would not be possible to pass. She is absorbed in a book of the softer sort, and she flips its pages against her lap-dog's nose.

But now behold the student coming up the street! He is clad in shining black. He is thin of shank as becomes a scholar. He sags with knowledge. He hungers after wisdom. He comes opposite the bookshop. It is but coquetry that his eyes seek the window of the tobacconist. His heart, you may be sure, looks through the buttons at his back. At last he turns. He pauses on the curb. Now desire has clutched him. He jiggles his trousered shillings. He treads the gutter. He squints upon the rack. He lights upon a treasure. He plucks it forth. He is unresolved whether to buy it or to spend the extra shilling on his dinner. Now all you cooks together, to save your business, rattle your pans to rouse him! If within these ancient buildings there are onions ready peeled--quick!--throw them in the skillet that the whiff may come beneath his nose! Chance trembles and casts its vote—eenie meenie--down goes the shilling--he has bought the book. Tonight he will spread it beneath his candle. Feet may beat a snare of pleasure on the pavement, glad cries may pipe across the darkness, a fiddle may scratch its invitation--all the rumbling notes of midnight traffic will tap in vain their summons upon his window.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Welcome to Texas

A man does not live by books alone. If you can stand to be briefly sidetracked, then read on; if not, visit our dear Litlove who plumbs the intellectual depths of Jean Baudrillard. We can't even try to keep up with her there, so if that's all above your head too, stay here where we will provide the fluff.

Climb aboard the soul train as it takes us on a trip to Scotland where we will visit Texas. What's an American state doing in a European country? Well, it's actually a band, and if you are from Texas (or any other American state) there is a good chance you have never heard of them.

We were lucky enough to be exposed to one of the greatest radio experiences. Before the internet offered radio on demand. Before the conglomeration of stations. Someday we will tell you a little more about this amazing independent station. For now all you need to know is that they played the likes of Texas. We enjoyed what we heard and bought the debut album. It was good, a little bluesy, and featured a pretty woman with a nice voice. We bought the second album. Before one of their concerts in support of this, they made an unscheduled appearance at a local record store. We made an unscheduled appearance there as well. There were only maybe ten people to hear two of the band members perform a couple songs acoustically. We don't recall much more than enjoying it. (We are not an autograph hound, but it would be nice today to have such a souvenir.) We bought the third album, another strong effort. We borrowed the next album, and returned it disappointed. The songs didn't catch, and the music seemed to have moved more toward the pop category than the alternative. We never heard from them again.

Enter the internet. Now, lest we stray too far from books, we can make this connection: someone posted a message in a bookstore group about some book-related clip on something called YouTube. This was new to us, living in the secluded isolation of Mad About Books International Headquarters. We clicked over to check it out, and for whatever reason, the clip didn't work for us. We searched for other clips that had to do with books. After a few minutes we began to search for music that interests us, but doesn't receive a lot of publicity: Aimee Mann, Maria McKee and Lone Justice, Danielle Brisebois, Jonatha Brooke, Texas. Lo and behold there is a plethora of video clips and concert footage, good, bad, legal and otherwise. We already knew how good these artists were; what we didn't know was what wonderful performers Texas are.

In the record store, Sharleen Spiteri (the lead singer) and the guitarist (one or other of the McSomethings) sat on stools. In videos they usually lip-synched in front of microphones, or maybe walked along a busy street, or watched water swirl around in a toilet--whatever bands do in videos. The concert footage available on YouTube opened up a whole nother country of Texas. Ms. Spiteri was a little ball of atomic energy. Two more clicks took me to eBay to find an inexpensive concert video: Paris.

First of all, Texas is profoundly popular overseas, something which has not translated to mainstream America. Okay, so they can be our little secret. Many of the songs from this concert were new to us, yet they have immediate accessibility, nice hooks, and after the first listen it seems like we had been familiar with them for years--yet they are fresh. What sounded like pop so many years ago now sounds adult, more complex and layered. Days later some of them are still playing of their own accord in our head. To offer another connection to books, for you hardcore bibliomaniacs, some books don't mean anything on the first read. We had to struggle through Wuthering Heights about four times before it all finally clicked, made sense, at which point we were left in awe. Different times in life, different states of mind can greatly influence our perception of art. Sometimes, Stefanie, one just has to keep at The Great Gatsby until the rewards abound.

In this concert, Texas performs solidly, tight with nothing flamboyant. The songs included come with more hooks than we have heard from anyone since Ms. Mann. The DVD also comes with a bonus live performance, and the videos from most of the songs. A quality production of an engaging concert, we urge music lovers to seek this out now.

But wait!

Ms. Spiteri co-writes most of the band's material. She was also a co-founder of the band, and though others have come and gone, she and her two mates maintain the original core. In this concert, and in most of the other performance clips we saw on YouTube, Ms. Spiteri is clearly the heart and soul of the group, if not the leader. She drives this concert. She pushes a somewhat passive French audience, and can't be kept down. She has a presence on stage that can't be denied, something that captivates even her bandmates. (For just a taste of her appeal, check the video for the single When We Are Together.) Now anyone can run around stage and lead the audience in handclaps above their head (witness Grandpa Jagger), but Ms. Spiteri adds talent to the mix. She plays guitar (with a wrist broken in fisticuffs with a wall), she plays piano, (she can play tamborine,) and she has a powerful voice. Now we have no technical understanding of music, so we can only guess at how to describe this: she has great range, usually sings in a low key, but moves up a few octaves without a hitch, and no matter where her notes fall or how long they last, her voice never cracks. She sounds better recorded live than on some of their releases, on which her voice is double-tracked. Her voice isn't caressingly ethereal like Heather Nova's, but smooth and silky, like a heavy licquor. Interesting to note that when she sings one can detect almost none of the Scottish accent that is so pronounced when she speaks. And did I mention she's a great performer?

Wikipedia has an abundance of information about the band. Check them out. If you are a fan of good music, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Sticky Situations

Why do publishers and retailers find it necessary to place stickers on every book? Stickers that say this book won the Most Unknown Award, or was autographed by the fact-checker, or is marked 30% off the original outrageous price, or is part of the general stock in an independent-crushing Big Box store. Sometimes there will be a sticker with a scannable bar code placed over the scannable bar code printed on the book. Move further down the retail chain and books can be found with price stickers from ticketing hand guns slapped all over, sometimes on the flyleaf as well as the cover, just in case some bored housewife tries to switch tickets. Of course, librarians with unlimited budgets have all kinds of stickers to apply to the inside and outside of every item in their collection. They also must have stock in 3M, because they like to use an abundance of tape as well, to make sure a curious ten-year-old doesn't take the dust jacket off The Borrowers and put it over Lady Chatterly's Lover, because children don't need to learn about sexual relations, they need to learn how to deal with those tiny people that live in their walls and steal their homework. When colleges buy back your $90 hardly used textbook for $5, and then offer it to a new crop of poor students the next semester for $45, they like to apply to the spine a pesky little sticker that identifies the volume as used. We might even go so far as to question Aunt Henna's need to apply her flowery feline bookplates to every volume that passes through her hands on the chance that all those Victoria Holts and Phyllis Whitneys associated with her might have a premium value for collectors. Or Uncle Randle's joy in licking and sticking his address plate on the flyleaf of all his books, so if one ever wanders away and doesn't have cab fare home, some good Samaritan can just drop it in any mail box and it will be delivered back to its worried owner.

Do you get the feeling we don't like things stuck on books?

Cliff Janeway, John Dunning's Bookman, tells us what is commonly known as lighter fluid works great at removing stickiness, dries fast, and leaves no residue or stain. He also warns that it can be soaked through the skin into the bloodstream, so if you have clogged arteries, it will slick those cells right up and get everything flowing freely again. We have a gum eraser, which works well on some types of paper, and not so well on others. Fingernails can be employed, though they can leave incriminating indentations or scuffs. The sticker disease is so widespread and debilitating that we know people who specialise in their removal, and will do that work for others at quite special prices.

The stickers printed with the book information and a scannable bar code usually cooperate when it comes time for removal. Others cling to the book like snot on a sleeve; one needs a sand blaster to get them off. Still others refuse to go without taking part of the dust jacket or leaf with them. In such a case, what is one to do, leave the offensive leech attached, or forcibly remove it and endure the stigma of a permanent scar? When one is peeling back a certain sticker slowly but surely, hope of success mounting with each second, and then suddenly the dust jacket tears: that is sticker shock.

Today we call for an end to all stickers on books, which are nothing more than the literary equivalent to grafitti. Stop the madness. Do it for the children. Peel off those stickers and send them back to the publisher or retailer: tell them to stick it. Or get your Congressman involved, asking him to do something about this terrible crime against readers. And why not demand reparations as well? A class-action lawsuit might not be out of order. Failing all that, do unto others as they have done unto you: start putting Dr. Suess "I Love Reading!" stickers on all forms of payment when purchasing any book.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The New Estella's Revenge

The e-zine Estella's Revenge, conceived, birthed, and nursed by the triptastic Andi, has been redesigned and focused on all things booky. Readers, writers, and bibliomanes of all sorts should click over and enjoy the new issue. Be sure to check out the Columns, where we have contributed a short piece From the Bookshop.