Monthly Archives: April 2011

Issue of April 24, 2011

In this week’s issue, we have some fabulous reading for you so come on in! Have a seat and enjoy our fine selection of biblio-cuisine.

Can poetry and physics have anything in common except the first letter of their name? Gillian Polack’s intended review of a new book took an unusual turn and the book found itself the star of a classroom, a blog, and fascinating discussions in The Quantum Poet Experience.

“Do we really need to know that . . . ?” is a question that writers, themselves sometimes subjects of biographies or proposed biographies sometimes ask. Carl Rollyson explores this question, drawing in biographers and their subjects as well as readers in his quest for the answer in Why Biography Matters.

An “improbable search” to find “the fastest pitcher of all time” might have resulted in pages of dull statistics. But a popular book, newly released in paperback is, says Pete Croatto, is written so well, with “pure joy and awe,” that it makes for one amazing read in You Shall Know Their Velocity.

There is no doubt but that the books we choose affect us. How depends on the book and on the experience and mindset we bring to it. Lauren Roberts fell in love with a cover, bought the book, and in the foreword found some intense thoughts for this holiday in Easter and The Jungle.

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Issue of April 17, 2011

Warm weather has arrived at our homes. If it has at yours too, you may be out in the garden, planting tomatoes, taking a dip in the pool, or reading under a shady tree. If so, we have some very good books to recommend and good reading all around.

A complex novel weaves itself around a single character and a national dish is, Nicki Leone says, “the not too subtle metaphor for the country that envelopes the story” in The World in a Bowl.

One of the newest entrants into the world of online book reviews is the Washington Independent Review of Books. This new site is already garnering major attention for the quality of its staff and its writing. What makes it so good and for readers such worthy reading? Lauren Roberts interviewed the founder who views himself as less in charge and more behind the vision in Literary Capital.

Growing up in a hotel is a radical departure from most people’s experiences, but for the few who do it’s a rarified, and unusual, world. Lindsay Champion reviews a memoir from one of those former kids and finds, as several of us on BiblioBuffet already have, a re-creation of “the opulence of one of Times Square’s finest hotels, and . . . a key to the back entrance. . . . with elaborate French dinners and a front-row seat to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” in A Childhood at the Taft Hotel.

What does the collapse of Border’s mean for writers? An author who’s done hundreds of readings and talks on three continents, Lev Raphael considers the question along with the business and performance side of being a writer today in Crossing Borders.

April is Poetry Month, an excellent time to revisit or to visit for the first time poetry’s world. While books of poetry are likely the smallest-selling of all, and the least read, poetry is really a beautiful thing. Lauren Roberts revisits some of her favorite places and poems and invites you along in A Fairer House than Prose.

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Literary Undergarments

Editing should be like undergarments that do their job without showing up. You don’t need to see them nor should you see them, at least in public, but good ones are always there doing their job in a comfortable, unobtrusive manner. It’s when those undergarments become outwear that they cease to be effective supporters and instead displace the rightful outfit.

However often they are worn in public, there’s something that’s not at its best when these undies turn into outies. A variation of the same idea can be said about editing. Editing should be like good undergarments, best appreciated when undetected.

I’ve experienced a variety of editors—some rude, some effective, some kind, some a combination that taught me a lot. And I’ve learned something from all of them. But the greatest learning experience was also the worst experience  I ever had. It happened with the owner-editor was at the newspaper where I wrote reviews for nearly three years. The editor was a terrible joke. With the exception of two staff writers, he went through personnel at the speed of light. I could quickly tell where anyone was on his radar depending on what office and/or desk they were on when I went in once a week to pick up my mail.

Because I worked on a freelance basis, I wasn’t subject to that. But he did attempt control of my column through the editorial ropes he dangled. We had disagreements, but two incidents made a lasting impression on me. In the first he changed a short, snappy column title to one that publicly and brutally mocked the subject of the piece because of his political differences with the man. I was appalled especially because he had to squeeze the title into the space where the original one had been. Second, he rewrote the final paragraph in another column (while keeping the same word count) so the ending reflected his extreme views rather than the inclusive one I had written. I was livid in both cases not because I didn’t want to be edited but because in the first case he used my words to take a cheap shot at someone  he hated, thus making me look like a nasty person, and in the second he again used my words to promote his rabid political beliefs. It was his belief that he, not me, should “write me” when it suited him. I was so outraged that in each case it required much calming by friends to prevent me walking out the door. But I vowed that were I ever in a position of editorial trust and responsibility, that I would act in the most honorable and respectful manner of which I was capable. I would never repeat his actions.

Those two episodes, more than any other, became the editorial spine of BiblioBuffet. I determined that courteous communication and respectful editing would be the soul of our site, and I am extremely fortunate in that Nicki Leone also feels the same. We carefully select our writers, and then we trust them. The editing process has to honor that, and it does as can be seen in Nicki’s recent comments:

I liked your enthusiasm and your contemplative tone when you were talking about both books, it was a good fit for the subject matter and the angle you took to discuss it.

That said, you are going to see a lot of red commenting and edits, especially in the first part of the column. Don’t be scared off! On the whole your piece was very smooth, so there are only a few places where I made edits for tense agreement or for subject clarification, things like that. You can accept or revise those as you see fit.

What you are reaching for, I think, is  . . . If I’ve got that right, then that’s a great way to lead into the piece, and to connect for the reader why . . . these books connected for you, so that is what you should be emphasizing.

The other thing you will notice in the comments is repeated notes to “be concrete, be specific.” You sometimes fall into abstract language, . . . Writing about abstract things like “truths” has to be done with care and always is more effective when done with concrete examples. Jesus knew this—hence all of his parables. . . .

Your thoughts?

The e-mail was longer and detailed, but the gist of it can be seen here. Nicki’s editing is clear and she pinpoints what she sees as problems and offers ideas for the writer to fix them. But at no time does she “take over,” and overwrite the writer. Which is as it should be, and as BiblioBuffet is. So when you read the writers of your choice you get those writers dressed in their best with their literary undergarments unseen.

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Issue of April 10, 2011

It may be tax season—at least the last desperate gasp of it—but that doesn’t mean that your reading should fall before the 1040. On the contrary, what could be better than a fine book or excellent essay to take you into a world you deserve to be in. Well, we have all that and more for you in our newest issue. Please join us.

Pete Croatto takes a break from sports reviewing this week to reminisce about his years spent as a bookseller in Borders and what the likely loss of the chain means for readers and for buying books. (Hint: Not much.) Still, there is Personal Sadness, Professional Irrelevance.

Two bookmarks made of ivory and with scrimshaw art upon them are the focus of this week’s historical journey by Lauren Roberts, who shares the history of the art and her feelings about the bookmarks themselves in Carving Out Bookmarks.

What actually is steampunk? And how and why did it develop as a genre? Gillian Polack explores not only the history of it but how it polarizes the science fiction/fantasy community of readers as she takes us on a tour of two of its books in On Steampunk.

What happens when a biographer, in order to understand his subject, obtains information at the cost of not using it? Carl Rollyson explores the role of sources and their acknowledgements in biographies in The Cosmos of the Biographer.

With Tax Day 2011 looming, Lauren Roberts began to wonder if there were books of fiction that featured taxes (or more accurately, tax preparers, accountants, or IRS agents). It turns out there are, and a couple of interesting discoveries were made along the way. If you are sweating your paperwork this week, perhaps you’ll find some relief in Taxing Reading.

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Awards and Rewards

It is with a great deal of pride that I share the news that our down-under contributor Gillian Polack, the woman who wowed the editorial team with a wacky query letter and has continued to make life fun ever since, has been short listed for the SF “Ditmar” Award!

This is a *big* deal. The Ditmars recognize excellence in the fields of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror by Australian writers. The reading public votes—this creates the shortlist—and the awards are given out the Australian National Convention.

Gillian’s book is Baggage, the collection she edited for Eneit Press. Thirteen stories, many with a science fiction or fantasy theme, explore the idea of “Australian-ness,” or as Gillian phrased it, “this anthology is not about the culture we usually think of as Australian. Our boundaries may not be what we think they are. Death is at least as important as mateship. The shape of the city frames our lives as much as the colours of the outback. Australian cultural baggage is complex and it’s dark. It’s inspirational”. And it has an excellent chance of winning Best Collected Work.

This is not Gillian’s first time up for the award. Her novel, Life Through Cellophane was short listed last year, and she ended up winning, along with her “loyal band of cooks” the Best Achievement category for the Conflux banquet. Not quite the same thing as Best Novel but an achievement nonetheless, especially given that food is often one of the stars of such an evening. And one of which she is certifiably proud. (That’s the reward.)

Gillian, congratulations! Making it  to the short list is a stunning success. May it continue.

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Issue of April 3, 2011

If April showers bring May flowers, what kind of books blossom during the rainy month? It’s a very diverse group of books if BiblioBuffet’s contributors are any indication. Check out what we have this week—and all through the month.

Nicki Leone made a promise to herself to spend one year with William Shakespeare, “watching, reading and re-discovering his plays” and to write about each play as she did so. Her journey has not quite turned out the way she thought it would, and in fact she found to her surprise that disappointment was a part of some of the plays, a discovery she shares in On Not Finding Shakespeare Funny.

From where does true happiness derive? What does it take to find it for oneself? Lindsay Champion delves into one of those rare “great” memoirs that both illuminates and answers (at least for the memoirist) the question he fought to discover and understand in Get Happy.

All readers have ways of describing their book-filled homes that feel familiar to the rest of us, some amusing, others a bit shameful, a few even judgmental. Kerry McHugh admits to being the latter, but also offers up her shelves (and tables and window ledges) for a self-inflicted critique and finds that, like most others, Books Do Furnish My Home.

A search for information about a bookmark’s history proved frustrating for Lauren Roberts when little was found. But one good thing came out of it—a book long on the bookshelf yet unread that turned out to be a fascinating slice of American culture: The Books in the Stores.


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