Monthly Archives: January 2011

Issue of January 30, 2011

Only eleven months until Christmas!

Forgive me. I am feeling silly this week and decided to give in to the urge. Seriously, what we have that’s new is an off-beat issue with things that we think will be a surprise—but fun. Have a great week.

He may be an oft-derided writer but no one can deny that John Grisham is a wealthy one because his formulaic books are read by millions. But what happens when he writes outside his usual bounds? Pete Croatto wondered if he would find something worth his reading when Grisham, a writer he had never read, transcended his usual “attractive, idealistic young lawyers” blueprint to attempt a compelling sports-based novel. Find out in The Grisham Experiment

March is Women’s History Month and Gillian Polack decided with the help of two other Australian authors to explore the assumptions that were initially questioned when women’s history courses were first being proposed in universities. She explores how, in terms of Australian historiography, the three writers use their work to point out that women are “a crucial part in our history (in fact, that it’s our history, not the history of one gender)” in On Damned Whores and Other Women.

With this, the last issue of January, 2011, Lauren Roberts ponders how her reading has gone thus far, and finds that the books, though interesting, have left her emotionally and physically wrung out. And while that might not seem a good thing, it can be when, as now, it encourages her to move from Darkness Into Light.


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Issue of January 23, 2011

Food, humor, poignancy, shame: we have some of it for you this week as BiblioBuffet’s contributors look over and comment on a wide range of books. Check it out; perhaps one or more of them is just right for you.

More than just a cookbook, more than a memoir, more than a cultural history, “it deserves to be the Great American Cookbook,” says Nicki Leone about the massive volume she reviews this week. “It is just so much fun.” What is “it”? Find out in One Big Book.

Living with Asperger’s syndrome as a child is awful. Aside from the problems it causes oneself, reactions from others whether springing from intentional cruelty or personal discomfort, often compound the difficulties. And in classrooms these reactions manifest themselves as bullying. Lindsay Champion talks about one poignant memoir whose author “systematically dismantled” his own problems by  “through acts of kindness and leadership” in The Greatest Disabler.

Where does real life leave off and fiction begin for an author? Are readers correct when they assume that all fiction is directly autobiographical? And what does autobiographical actually mean anyway? Lev Raphael explores those questions in a humorous and self-reflective essay: Writing, Reading, and Reality.

Shame-faced confessions don’t all revolve around drugs or sex. Sometimes they, as Lauren Roberts shares, involve books—or lack of them. In this week’s letter, she confesses up to her 2010 reading bombshell and the subsequent change in the first three weeks of 2011 in The Confession.


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The Dark Side of Reviewing

What happens when a book comes in and proves to be (a) badly written, (b) boring, (c) error-ridden, (d) all of the above? Often it’s just tossed aside. There are far too many fine books that will never get reviewed due to space limitations, and there’s no point in wasting needed space.

Frankly, it’s easier and better to ignore them. Our goal at BiblioBuffet is to provide you, our readers, with our honest thoughts on the books we read so that you have the information you need to make a buying decision. Books are no longer inexpensive, and you want to be sure that what you are buying is worth your spending hard-earned dollars on them.

But sometimes, as Pete Croatto once pointed out, for a reviewer “there’s nothing quite so cathartic as writing a review full of vitriol, something that gets agents nervous and fans riled up. It’s like working over a punching bag for two hours. Plus, those reviews are easy to write, rage being an easily identifiable, uncomplicated emotion.”

Pete hit the reviewer’s nail ont the head. Such writing is cathartic but it should never be malicious. In a civilized world there would not be nasty reviews. There would be critical reviews. And there would be negative reviews. But meanness really has no place in the world of reviewing. Even if a reviewer hates the book because it is poorly written, the professional reviewer is morally obligated to tackle the review with strength and grace.

One of BiblioBuffet’s reviewers, for example, is currently struggling with an upcoming review of a “bad” book. Here is a brief excerpt from our  e-mail correspondence concerning why and how:

If a work is bad enough from beginning to end, I may savage it. I start off, you see, being really angry at all the things a book could have been. All my first notes are negative. It would be dead easy to turn into a kind of Dorothy Parker. Except that’s not who I am. The anger stems from concepts or abilities that are wasted, or writers who aren’t quite educated enough to pull off their magnificent plan. This means I spend a lot of time working out what the writer was trying to achieve and who their audience is and measuring them against that, or considering their work in the light of a broader concept. I still put the worries it . . . but I will very, very seldom (and then only with outstanding reason) go apply all those negatives I thought of at first. When I read reviews that do that, I always wonder why the reviewer bothered.

I’m always honest, but I also try to be pleasant.  So there is criticism in the article, but it’s worded as pleasantly as possible—and besides, the idea is to find the right readers for the right books, not to tear careers to pieces!

As far as I am concerned, this is the perfect description of a good book review regardless of what it says about the book. Its focus is the audience of the book. There are no personal attacks, no viciousness, no anger. Because there is no need for that. The work we at BiblioBuffet do—from the reviews that our reviewers write to the brilliant editing that Nicki Leone provides—is geared to and focused toward providing insightful, thoughtful, critical reviews of books we believe are “reading worth writing about.”

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Issue of January 16, 2011

Here’s hoping all of you are having a safe, warm January!

When in the early part of the twentieth century a New Zealand writer fell in love with an Australian writer and moved her life and home to be with him, it was a love story that altered Australian literature. Together and separately, they wrote books that altered Australian literature for children, young adults, and adults. Gillian Polack shares their story and their books in Celebrating Australian Literature.

We know what Pete Croatto reviewed during late 2009 and all through 2010, at least for BiblioBuffet, but what other books did he did read cover to cover yet didn’t review? (And it wasn’t because they were bad.) Discover what those books were and why he didn’t share his thoughts on them earlier in Filling in the Gaps

People who don’t collect bookmarks often don’t understand that behind these simple and relatively small pieces of ephemera can be fascinating histories, complex characters, wrangled plots, and storylines that rival the best fiction. Laine Farley takes one bookmark that uses a common theme in early twentieth-century paper memorabilia—“languid beauties”—and finds a tale worth telling in Selling Sentiment.

There’s no question that the books we read affect our lives. Some are more memorable than others, but when a book comes along that has such a powerful effect it leaves the reader reeling from emotions then the book is worth talking about. But Lauren Roberts finds that need stifled with her latest book because the words she would use to explore her feelings are difficult and ugly. Is there a way to reconcile such feelings when one is Ripped Apart by a Book?

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The World of Words

Words are the instruments humans use to communicate. They can be funny, harsh, sad, business-like, authoritative, submissive, healing, angry, loving. I am seeing all those things in the wake of the shooting that took place in Arizona a few days ago, and I am deeply touched at many of them and very disturbed by others.

It’s been difficult to read reactions to news articles about the Congresswoman’s healing and about the funerals of those killed because for some reason I cannot understand more than a few responders feel the need to hurl nasty names and accusations in the name of bestowing blame.

It’s not news that the technology with which we run our lives offers opportunities to connect with others in ways unimagined not that many years ago. But how we choose to use that has not evolved at all. We simply have ways to spread our words wider and faster. And when societal restraints have receded, as they have, then what we say becomes that much more unrestrained.

Even before this shooting I have despaired at the trend in communication. Why, for example, do we seek the lowest common denomiator in communication, in actions, and in our leaders and role models? Do we really want to admire the worst instead of the best? Do we really want to take pride in our ability to spew hatred and blame?

I know I don’t, and I know many who don’t. But I have to admit it is very discouraging to see the hysterical pride taken by too many others in their words over this shooting.

If I could wish only one thing for 2011 it would be that those who are public figures–yes, Rush Limbaugh, you are one of those to whom I speak, and Sarah Palin–it would be that you realize the impact of your words. I am not asking you to change your views, but to change how you express them. There is nothing funny about using inflammatory words. There’s nothing heroic about them. They are simply toxic waste that attract and encourage other people’s worst to come out.

I have no doubt my words will fall on mostly deaf ears. I’m not a public figure. I have neither a political or social platform nor a television, radio show, or website with hundreds of thousands of fans. Nevertheless, I want to encourage those who will read these words to think about what they do say. And to ask their colleagues, friends, and family to do the same.

Let’s all choose our words carefully because the truth is that while sticks and stones can break our bones, and guns do kill, words create the world in which those weapons are brought to bear.

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Issue of January 9, 2011

Oh, do we have an issue for you: archaeology of the accidental kind; faeries of the real kind; books of the flying kind. Have a great week!

Sometimes the kind of discovery that can be made only in a bookstore is made in a bookstore. Nicki Leone shares that while digging through a shelf at the back of local bookstore, unearthed an “odd little book” that proved to be as big an adventure for her as it was for the women it highlighted in Field Notes by Fierce Women.

Faeries are most often deemed to be myths, but Lindsay Champion explored their possible world through a debut memoir that brought together for her happy early memories of Christmas at her grandfather’s house and the author’s journey back into her frightening childhood and the connection she was able to establish with not faeries but with the unexpected death of her father in  The Faery Queen.

Bibliophiles like having books around, but what happens when an overstuffed shelf lets you know that you simply have too many books for too few shelves? Lauren Roberts had the opportunity to explore that question and to find a solution when falling books announced the time had come to ponder The Science of Too Many and Too Few.

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Issue of January 2, 2011

Welcome to 2011! This is the year and the week that BiblioBuffet turns six years old. On January 8, 2006, we opened our doors—to resounding silence. I am laughing as I write this because I knew so little about the reality of the Internet. Sure, we had a few fans but word has passed, and our growth in the world of the online book community has been fueled by learning (as it should be) and increasing numbers of readers. Nicki Leone and I, partners in BiblioBuffet from opening day, made a strong commitment to offering some of the best online writing around. Which we believe we have kept. Change is inevitable and the beginning of our sixth year is no exception. But one thing will never change—that BiblioBuffet will always offer “writing worth reading,” and that finding “reading worth writing about” will remain our mission.

While those of us in the United States are with rare exceptions trying to keep warm, other parts of the world are trying to cool off. Gillian Polack, at home in Australia and in mid-summer, gave her heated brain free rein to provide a “make-over” to thirteen novels that she deemed ripe for some snarkiness in Middle Aged Festivities.

When he worked as a newspaper reporter, Pete Croatto had the perfect excuse to be curious, to ask any questions he wanted—and to expect answers. It was the part he loved and that he now incorporates into his freelance writing, particularly with his new occasional series, “I’m Just Curious.” In this inaugural piece, he turned to two authors of sports biographies he reviewed recently to satisfy his curiosity about . . . oh, several matters in I’m Just Curious, Part I.

It’s the time of year when gloves become essential for most outdoor activities. But gloves have been a part of human history since the beginning—and not always to protect hands from cold. Lauren Roberts explores the fascinating history of this clothing accessory, spanning gloves ranging from boxing to surgical, in Fits Like a Glove.

What is a birthday without presents? Kind of sad. So Lauren Roberts begins BiblioBuffet’s birthday celebration (as well as the New Year) with lots of them—including news, books, the beginning of book festival season, a terrific publishing house and its books, a book porn video, and a surprising discovery of a superb book blog—all to be found in A Birthday is a Wonderful Thing!


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