Monthly Archives: December 2009

Issue of December 27, 2009

Our last issue of 2009 is filled with memories. Memories of the season in nineteenth-century bookmarks, memories of a twentieth-century sports rivalry that is still unmatched, memories of significant pain that provide a comfort and a hope. We wish you a happy and healthy new year.

When David Mitchell received a book about Auschwitz, he felt that reading it prior to Thanksgiving would give him a particular reason to be grateful that he was “born during the relative safety and security of the post-war years.” Little did he know that once read, the book would open far more to him than the horror, terrible as that was. And as he worked his way through the events that followed the reading he came to the conclusion that suffering and the memory of it provides, in its own way, a “comfort, and a hope, for our future” in Life Out of Death.

Laine Farley takes the holiday season back more than 100 years with bookmarks from the late nineteenth century. They have a “distinctive look in terms of their subject matter and . . .  fonts,” she says, and that helped her to date other anonymous bookmarks of the same period. What she also found was plants we today associate with Christmas was not always the same back then, in the era of fascination with the natural world in Christmas Bookmarks Circa 1880.

Legendary rivalries span all types of work but perhaps there are none more worthy of being a legend than the one that took place between 1969 and 1978. Pitted against each other, two colleges and two coaches—Ohio State University’s Woody Hayes and the University of Michigan’s Bo Schembechler—waged war on the football field. A new book on that infamous rivalry has Pete Croatto praising its character, storytelling, and the larger ideas that came of the competition in Coaching at the Edge of the World.

Lauren Roberts has the sense that the rapidly approaching 2010 is going to be different for her. But she’s not counting on being “lucky” as much as she is planning to be lucky with her choices in Moving Ahead.

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How to Win Editors’ Hearts

I’ve mentioned before that one of my most important jobs here at BiblioBuffet is to hire the best writers and then get out of their way. It’s a clichéd phrase, but it’s also a truth that Nicki and I live by. All the writers choose their own topics, subjects, books to review; they offer their own opinions and they do it in their own way. All we require is that whatever they say they say it well.

We are proud of our contributors who do say it well. And one of the reasons for that—aside from their honed and practiced talent—is that freedom we offer them because we firmly believe that if a writer writes about her or his passion then the writing is going to be passionate. It can’t be anything less.

That point was driven home to me yesterday when I received an e-mail from Pete Croatto who writes “The Athletic Supporter,” a column centered on sports. In his introductory essay, Pete described himself as “someone who loves sports books and collects them.” But Pete is more than someone who parks himself in a sports book; he is the type of person who while breathing it in analyzes it, debates it, draws ideas from it, revels in it. And if I didn’t know that before, I knew it when I read his e-mail in which he declined to review an offered sports book that dealt with steroid use by athletes. “Thanks for understanding,” he wrote. “I want to review stuff that excites me, and the whole PED/baseball nonsense leaves me sad. There’s so much lying and hypocrisy involved that I’ve become exhausted plowing through it all.”

What sent my heart soaring, however, was his high compliment to the editorial team (Managing Editor Nicki Leone and me):

The one thing I love about writing for you and Nicki is that I have complete and absolute freedom to write on anything relevant to sports literature, no matter how far afield it might be. There’s more to being a book lover than just reviewing the latest titles—it seeps into my everyday life, and I relish the chance to get into that with readers. You and Nicki understand that the site is built on passion, and that goes beyond a standard review template. Don’t get me wrong: I love reviewing books, but at BiblioBuffet I feel like a kid in a candy store.

Again, Lauren, I can’t thank you enough for giving me the freedom and the vehicle to publish my zealotry.

With writers like that, how can I not be in love with them?


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Merry Christmas to All!

I know the title is not PC so if you celebrate another type of holiday feel free to substitute your own title. But for me, it’s Christmas. Always has been, always will be. I love, love, love this time of year, though I admit living on the central California coast it’s not as exciting as it could be. I am filled with envy at Book Maven and want to know where she lives. Because it is my dream to live in a place with a scene like that.

I assure you that the Los Angeles smog has not drifted north far enough to have gotten to my brain. I have always loved cold and rain and fog and snow. I thrive in winter, rejoice in cold, come alive at the sight and smell and sound and feel of the white season. No doubt there are a number of you who would trade places with me in a second. Santa Barbara is known as the “Nice” of the United States, but you know what? I am not enthralled with it.

I think bookshelves and reading, and writing for and editing an online publication are made for quiet nights at home. Wool blankets and flannel sheets, feet encased in warm socks, an oversized New Yorker cartoon sweatshirt for a nightshirt, cats draped on me, and a book in my lap could not be bested even by the ocean air and crash of the waves at high tide.

So I think this multi-generational (second on one side, fourth on the other) California native will be getting out of the state in 2010. At least I am going to try my darndest. And if I succeed the picture I show next year at this time might very well be my own yard.


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Issue of December 20, 2009

This week’s issue is unusual in that you’ll find the contributors have written all over the map. From somber to thoughtful, hilarious to poignant, each review or essay or story offers a thoughtful, take on the issues of family, relationships, self-perception and holiday expectations.

With Christmas rapidly approaching, the time for shopping is coming to a close. Lauren Roberts’s list of links to literary gifts, the final in her 2009 series, draws to a close with more shopping suggestions (though you’d better hurry), in Shopping—the Final Week.

Nicki Leone recently found herself facing a startling and disturbing reminder of the worst terrorist incident in our country when, while listening to a playlist on her new iPod, her own voice came at her with “an earlier, younger and grieving version” of herself trying to talk about books in the aftermath of 9/11 in Voice from the Past . . . My Own.

Mark Bastable returns to BiblioBuffet with a hilarious short story designed to put the snark in your Christmas and a smile on your face in Granny Vents. You tell us whether you want this granny in your life.

Lindsay Champion’s most recently read memoir had an unusual aspect: it wasn’t written by the memoirist but by her daughter because the subject was not only unable to read or write but died eight years before the book was published. And though the daughter’s eyes and experiences may have overlaid her mother’s perceptions, the lesson taken away by both writer and reviewer is that strengths are to be shared and the rest . . . well, the rest may not much matter. Read about it in My Mother’s Story.

Dystopian novels are becoming an increasingly popular subgenre in the young adult market where adults are also often seeking them out. They’re not new—books like Brave New World and Animal Farm also fit the description—but these new books offer the opportunity to simultaneously wallow in the terribleness of today’s world and feel uplifted by the idea that it, painful as it is, can be better than the novel’s world. Or so says Lauren Baratz-Logsted in Ah, Dystopia! (And don’t forget: you have the opportunity to win a copy of each of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s first four books in her Sisters 8 series. These are for readers ages 6-10.)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all!

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Bookmarks Make Me Blush

Not actually. What is making me blush today is the article by columnist Robert Gray in today’s Shelf Awareness, the e-newsletter for the book trade. “Collecting Bookmarks” is the resultof his recent column about his discovery on bookmarks in which he talked about how a short story he had read led him on a curious journey though his own library:

There are few objects in a reader’s life that are more ubiquitous yet personal than the common bookmark. This realization was reinforced last week as I read Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s story, “The Bookmark,” from his wonderful collection, Memories of the Future (translated by Joanne Turnbull for NYRB Classics).

The story, he says, inspired him, and he talks about finding several “old friends” that reminded him of “voyages we had taken together.”

Hidden in an old, broken down Modern Library edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden was a bookmark from the Hartford Bookshop, Rutland, Vt. Although the bookmark reassured me that the shop was “est. 1835,” the sad truth is that the Hartford did not make it beyond the 1970s.

A 17-year-old copy of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient preserved a black bookmark from Vintage International promoting Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières by linking it back to back with the Booker Prize winner. I must have kept it because I was a handselling fool for both books.

He also asked his readers to “journey round your shelves and see what ancient bookmark treasures are hidden there. So I did. Then I told him how the discovery of a clump of golden brown hair (male) had been in a old book I had picked up, The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac, had been the start of my collection of bookmarks. I shared what bookmarks were my favorites and why. I talked about why I began to collect them. Then I forgot about our conversation. Until today.

Robert, thank you! We may have just converted a few people because I’ve already had three requests for BiblioBuffet bookmarks. My day has certainly been made brighter!


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‘Tis the Season to Shop

But I hate to shop. I truly do. I loathe even the idea of getting in my car, driving downtown, finding a parking space, and then wandering walkways and aisles, while my feet hurt and my patience ebbs, looking at stuff—just stuff—in hopes of finding something that isn’t really what I need at all.

Twenty years ago I would have said that shopping was a fabulous way to spend my free time, and I would not have been exaggerating. But over the intervening years the feeling that it was fun changed until it became something to be avoided as much as possible, farmers’ markets and occasionally bookstores excepted. Oh, and now my annual shopping spree for BiblioBuffet’s readers.

My preparation for my annual holiday shopping columns generally begins in October or early November when I create a database with columns for category (furniture, bookmarks, jewelry, etc.), company name, and link. I then google “gifts for book lovers” and “gifts for readers” among other terms. I also check shops at well-known museums and libraries. There are numerous small online shops, nonprofit organizations that help people from second- and third-world countries become financially independent by making handcrafted items, and Etsy, the online store for independent handcrafters. Then I hit as many virtual stores as I can searching out products for book lovers and readers.

When I find things I like I add them to my database. This usually results in several hundred items, which is far more than I can use. So the next step is narrowing them down. It’s not easy. How does one choose among dozens of bookmarks or hundreds (yes, hundreds) of journals?

Once I’ve narrowed down my selection—the final number of items depends on how many “holiday shopping” editor’s letters I intend to do. This year I had three (number two is up now), and those three have a combined total of 170 links.

Have you ever linked more than fifty times in a single piece? I can tell you it’s not fun. It especially not fun when you have a half-dozen (or more) in a single paragraph, and you find you that because you were tired or got distracted that you are missing one or did the same one for two different items thus throwing all the ones behind it, in that and subsequent paragraphs out of place—something you (I) may not discover until you (I) go to post the piece online. As I said, not fun.

Other than making all the links, though, I do enjoy this. Anything related to books and reading interests me even though I wouldn’t want to own most of it. (I am a minimalist, and prefer not to have my  home filled with “stuff”—other than books and bookmarks, that is.) This year, however, I found something I want very much: a shelf-sized reproduction of Edward Gorey’s stage production of Dracula.

Since I even have the shelf space for it, I think I might order it this week. It would make a lovely addition to one of the top shelves where the ever-curious cats can’t get to it. What about you? I’d be interested in hearing if any of you found some gifts through my lists, and if so what they were? Are there any changes you’d like to see me change for next year?

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Issue of December 13, 2009

What’s new on the menu at BiblioBuffet this week? Let’s say we have a nice selection of writings that range from spicy to tender. And we promise that each one of them is delicious.

In Thriller, Thriller, Burning Bright? Lev Raphael examines the kind of model  The Da Vinci Code created for subsequent thriller writers, and evaluates a NYT-besteller with Jewish themes that has clearly been conceived in the shadow of Dan Brown’s audacious megahit.

Pickling has been a part of human culinary existence almost from the beginning. Without refrigeration, spices like salt and processes like pickling were used to preserve many foods. They still are, but today they are used because we have acquired a taste for them rather than because they are needed to keep foods fresh. For most Americans, though, pickling means the pickled cucumber. In Pickling Bookmarks, Lauren Roberts explores the history of this snack and how it came to mean so much for the world of hamburgers and other foods with which it is unquestionably associated.

What is the difference between a professional sportswriter and a fan when talking about sports? After all, professional sportswriters are perceived as having one of the best jobs in the world. How could that not be but perfect for the sports fan? Pete Croatto discovered, through his extensive reading, is that it is actually the worst ways to be involved in sports for the intimate view is like viewing acne close-up. Far better to be the amateur who follows sports for fun, he says, in Keeping the Passion Alive by Keeping Away.

David Mitchell takes a look at a poignant book that reminds him that the holiday season has memories of a different kind for some people. In mid-December 1944, what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge began. For a battle to take place when none was expected was horrible; for it to become the nightmare it did is something that ought to be remembered and honored. David shares both his feelings and his gratitude for the soldiers who were part of it and through a book that honors their memory in Lest We Forget.

And in The Shopping Continues . . . (part two of three), Lauren Roberts continues her exhaustive hunt through the virtual stores in search of literary gifts. No matter what your budget, you’ll find things that any book lover and reader on your list will enjoy. Toys, clothes, jewelry, bookcases, bookmarks, bookplates, bookends, bookholders, books, stationery, journals, kitchenware, games, and more are listed and linked here.

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