Friday, December 18, 2015

Aren't Fans of Books Also Fans of Bookshelves?

If you're looking for some interesting bookshelf designs, I've been scouring the Internet for ideas. I think sometimes lovers of books are as much in love with bookshelves as they are with books. Here are a few websites with some intriguing photos you may enjoy.

From Rank Nepal:
A couple built along stairways, which seem useful, and a couple that are simply design intensive that look fun but seem less than useful.

From Bookshelves on Pinterest:
Some gorgeous shelves full of books plus some very artistic shelves full of design that happen to be perfect for shelving books.

From Bored Panda:
Lots of very creative solutions that are both pleasing to the eye and easy to use, and some accommodate the reader.

From Life Hack:
These are all design-intensive, less about utility and more about looks.

From Corner Bookshelves on Pinterest:
A lot of these are kind of cozy corners for reading.

And there are lots more if you just search "Bookshelves" on Google Images.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Best Boy: A Sunday Well Spent Reading

Book Review: Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

I thought it was going to be a long read. I breezed through it on a Sunday. I thought it was going to be an informative read. It was insightful but a tough read for its frankness. If you know anyone who is autistic and wondered what it's like to have autism, this is a good book to give you hints.

Best Boy is the story by award-winning author Eli Gottlieb about Todd Aaron, who lives in a group facility for those who have developmental disabilities. His disability is that he has autism, and the story, written in the first person, provides details in the narrative style of what it's like to have autism: How someone with autism feels, thinks, reacts, and exists in a world dominated by people who don't understand - and often don't care - how autism affects them.

Todd's mother was very loving and protective. She tried to find facilities for Todd for the day when she could no longer care for him. And then she died. His father had died before her, leaving Todd's younger brother to look after Todd's interests. But living 700 miles away, he doesn't make it over very often to see Todd. That leaves it to the staff to look after Todd. The community is mixture of interesting characters, including Todd's roommate, who doesn't like Todd and is out to prove that Todd is a slacker, and when Todd maps out a plan to run away for home, his roommate tries to turn him in. There is a love interest, too, and a young woman who is taken advantage of by a new staff member who is also paired with Todd and who coerces Todd into keeping the details a secret. Best of all, there is a staff advocate who helps Todd through the rough times and keeps him out of trouble, especially at a critical moment in the story.

Best Boy is a good, quick read, dramatic and well paced. But what I enjoyed most about it was its remarkable descriptions of what it is like to have autism. Autism is a scale of effects, no two people necessarily having the same symptoms, but if you know someone with autism you will likely recognize many of the effects. Todd speaks of rocking back and forth when excited or upset, and feeling a jolt when antagonized, for instance. But he also details what's going on in his mind - how he sees the world and how he reads people, and how that forms his decisions and how he reacts to situations. Todd also talks about his medications and how they make him feel.

I don't know where Gottlieb got his information about the effects of autism - he has written about the topic before - but from those I know who have autism, it seems spot on.

In some ways, Best Boy was a depressing read. But in other ways, it was a very revealing read and for the character Todd, it ends well. I borrowed the book from my local library to learn more about autism and felt it was a Sunday well spent reading.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Dust & Grooves: Record Collectors and Their Amazing Lairs

Book Review: Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting by Eilon Paz

My brother-in-law, John, has been collecting LP's -- thirty-three and a third or long-playing vinyl albums. When last I heard, he had over 300 albums, mostly Elvis Presley and '50's and '60's rock and roll music from his teen days. When I saw Dust & Grooves on the new-books shelf at the local library the other day, it made me think of John's collection.

Dust & Grooves started out as a blog by Eilon Paz, a collector himself and a photographer. When he realized the photographs of collections he had amassed and the collectors he had met, the idea crystallized to write a book. And this amazing tabletop size book emerged.

What you will find here is not your typical result of intensive interviews, although there are some longer pieces farther into the book. But what is amazing are the photos of collectors' record habitats. If you're an avid reader, imagine a tabletop book on book collectors that shows collectors' book nooks and libraries teeming with books. Imagine the characters you would meet behind the collectors. That's what Dust & Grooves exposes, only for vinyl record collectors. And they're as diverse as you might imagine.

I'm taking this book to Thanksgiving dinner so John can look it over because I think he would appreciate seeing his kindred spirits and their lairs. John keeps his hundreds of records neatly filed in a cupboard by his console record player. In this book, you will find that other collectors keep theirs in piles and heaps and stacks and shelves and along walls and in cubby holes. John will be amazed, I'm sure. I just hope it doesn't inspire him to let loose his neat stacks into loose piles.

If you're at all interested in music and the re-emerging vinyl record market, you should look through Dust & Grooves. There is probably a collector in your area, and you might well find that collector an interesting conversant. This book might well help you start a conversation and let you know what you're in for before you begin.

Dust & Grooves is a fun romp through the world of collecting, through the world of record collectors and their amazing lairs. It's fun just to browse. And if you're into music, it's fun just to imagine what you might do with your own collection. Would your collection look like any of these?

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Martian: Post-Movie Symposium You Will Want to Watch

Video Recommendation: Adam Savage, Astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Andy Weir Talk 'The Martian'

I reviewed the book, The Martian, and I reviewed the movie, The Martian, and I liked them both. Adam Savage of Discovery Channel's MythBusters is a huge fan of both and after viewing the movie he invited author Andy Weir and Astronaut Chris Hadfield for a public symposium, which has now been posted on YouTube.

If you liked either or both, you will enjoy this discussion of the movie, the public response, some of the inside story of book and movie, how Weir's life has been affected by response to the book and movie's success, and from Commander Hadfield, his perspective on the science of the story and space travel, today and in the future.

Around the time I became enthralled with the story, someone suggested calling anyone who visited Mars a Martian. And I thought that was preposterous. A Martian, I thought, should be someone who was born there or who lived there permanently. But Commander Hadfield has a great explanation of why it makes perfect sense from a psychological perspective that someone who visits Mars would become a Martian.

This video is full of very interesting perspectives. Certainly from Hadfield as an astronaut, sharing stories of his experiences as an astronaut in training and in space. And from Weir in writing the story and getting it published, as well as his amazing experiences since the book became a phenomenon. And from Adam Savage, who is no slouch in science and a collector of science fiction memorabilia.

This video lasts just short of an hour, but it's well worth the time to sit back and enjoy a conversation between three well-informed space enthusiasts. Especially if you love science or science fiction.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Red Shirts: Light-Hearted Poke at Sci-Fi and a Fun Read

Book Review: Red Shirts by John Scalzi

Imagine, if you will, a universe in which fictional characters brought to life on the television screen live real lives some time in the future, and their real lives are affected by the plot lines of the fiction written in the television series. That's a rough paraphrase of the theme behind Red Shirts (2012), a science fiction novel posited by screen writer John Scalzi, based on the Star Trek universe.

In the Star Trek universe, characters who wear red shirts (uniforms) are usually the expendable characters, usually are the first ones to be seriously injured or killed. And so it is in this story. In fact, this is element is key to the story.

Only, the main characters in this story don't inhabit the Star Trek universe per se, they inhabit a ripoff universe of Star Trek that was never as well developed nor as well written as Star Trek, just adopted liberally from its basic premise.

In their real life universe, the main characters serve aboard Intrepid, the flag ship of their version of the Federation (not called the Federation, of course), and Intrepid has an unusually high incidence of deaths. Furthermore, the deaths occur not among all levels of service but of the lowest ranking service members - the red shirts. The mid-level service members get injured a lot but survive, often treated by miracle cures and are ready to serve in the next away mission in amazingly short times. And this comes to the attention of new red shirts who arrive to replace the dead crew members.

I won't get into all the details because that would involve spoilers. But the new red shirts do their due diligence and do their best to solve this great mystery. And John Scalzi explores both the concept and its solution in  brilliant and amusing ways.

Part of the fun of reading Red Shirts is being in on the inside joke of the demise of red shirts as a long time fan of Star Trek. That has always been a curious tick of the show, the tendency of those wearing a red shirt to not survive the episode. So reading the story is like playing out the fantasy of taking this idea to its fullest extent.

Scalzi is a great and imaginative writer. His characters have fulsome dimensions and the dialogue is real and sensible. His narrative and pacing is impeccable. That all comes from his experience as a screenwriter for Stargate: Universe.

As much as I enjoyed the whole read, my favorite bit comes at the very end of the story (before what amounts to the epilogue), the end of Chapter 23 and the entirety of Chapter 24 (before Coda I, Coda II, and Coda III). It's a fun tongue-in-cheek, pulling-your-leg wink after a long, fun read:
And that's just what he did, until the day six months later when a system failure caused the Intrepid to plow into a small asteroid, vaporizing the ship and killing everyone on board instantly. 
No, no, I'm just fucking with you. They all lived happily ever after. Seriously.
Seriously, if you're into science fiction and Star Trek, give this book a read. It's an entertaining, light-hearted take on the genre and an fascinating exploration of the idea of red shirts and their role in the series.

(By the way, I don't consider the quoted material a spoiler, because it doesn't spoil the ending of the story or its outcome in any way. It's just a great example of Scalzi's writing style and the fun of the book.)


Friday, October 09, 2015

The Vega Adventures: A Reading That Will Raise Your Spirits


Vega is a large, weighty sailing vessel with an undersized motor. It’s 125 years old, specially built by Norwegian craftsmen to haul bulky loads like cement across the North Sea. But in 2004 Shane and Meggi Granger took her on a different kind of mission that has become what Shane calls in his amazing new novel, The Vega Adventures.


The story briefly takes you through Vega’s amazing history – why she was built and by whom, how she evolved, and how she lived out her latter work years eventually dragging for glacial stones off the North Sea floor before being bought and then abandoned by a forlorn seafarer.

Then the Grangers restored Vega and took her on their own amazing sea adventure across the Indian Ocean, which begins the book with a life-and-death struggle in a horrific hurricane. They lose the rudder and all control, only just managing to survive as they finally make safe harbor in the Seychelles, where they make repairs and then set off again, destination Malaysia.

Finally basking in warm sunny Malaysia, the Grangers are enjoying some time on land and figuring out how to refit Vega's interior accommodations, when the infamous tsunami of December 26, 2004, hits, generated by a 9.3 earthquake off the shores of Sumatra. The first hints come as swirling currents, but then the waves arrive lifting boats and docks out to sea and sending everyone into a panic. But what they and their boating neighbors go through is nothing compared to what others in more remote places have suffered, the death toll reaching into the hundreds of thousands. That story leads to the Grangers’ real adventure.

Their sailing vessel perfect for hauling large volumes, the Grangers agree to take 22 tons of badly needed food and medical supplies to the victims of the tsunami. When they see the horrific damage and helpless victims among the island nations where they deliver supplies, it creates a new vision for their lives. The Grangers refit Vega not just for leisure sailing of the high seas, but they begin using it to bring the basic necessities of life to the most remote villages in the Indian Ocean, people shut off from the world who have no access to doctors or medicine, schools or school supplies, even farm implements or seeds. Their mission in life will be to use Vega to bring life to the islands.

The Vega Adventures is the true life story of a couple and their small crew facing the dangers of life on the sea making year-long voyages to raise medical supplies, midwife kits, education packages, soccer (football) balls, backpacks full of school supplies, sewing kits, farm implements, vegetable seeds, and more, and then deliver them to tiny isolated villages on remote islands. Interspersed in the lively narrative are interesting side tales about sailing and sailing experiences, individuals on the islands and their experiences, and the sights, sounds, smells, and feels the Grangers experienced during their voyages.

Shane Granger is the author and his easy-going, humorous narrative style brings the story to life. I’ll warn you that the publisher did no proofreading, so occasional errors may jump out at you, but I promise you that the story is worth the read. And Shane tells me he is looking at another publishing run with corrections.

I’m used to reading the age-of-sail Napoleon-era war-at-sea novels like the Thomas Kydd series by Julian Stockwin, and Shane Granger gives every bit of accurate detail in this story that Stockwin provides in his novels. What’s different here is that the war is between humans and nature, and there’s more about peace and the beneficence of the human spirit than of war itself. The reading will raise your spirits.

The other thing I love about Granger’s The Vega Adventures is the short chapters, which breaks the story into nice little sets. That makes it a breezy read, helped along by Granger's friendly, jaunty tone. And it also makes it easier to keep your place in the book! Enjoy.

Correction: Shane Granger tells me, "I should mention we work in Indonesia with the small islands there and not the Indian Ocean. Small detail."

(The Vega Adventures also available at Barnes and Noble, Alibris.com, and Powell's Books. )

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Martian (Movie): Great Sci-Fi Consumed in the Right Order

Movie Review: The Martian directed by Ridley Scott

The reason I loved the book The Martian was because it was great science fiction.

There are, of course, different kinds of science fiction. There's fantasy (e.g., Lord of the Rings), and there's what I call monster fiction (e.g., Alien), there's speculative fiction (e.g., 2012), and then there's hard core science fiction, where actual science forms the core of the plot. The Martian is a perfect example of the latter.

The book carried it off with perfection, but the movie had a difficult time carrying it off and fitting everything within almost two and a half hours of cinema. Perhaps that was its greatest weakness, trying to do so much with what amounts to so little time.

No mistake, there is science in the film. But some of it gets lost, like the radiation core that is key to warming the rover and saving energy as Watney drives it the thousands of kilometers to Schiaparelli Crater in the hope of being rescued. Watney digs it up and then you see it sitting in the rover, and at one point Watney alludes to how cold the rover is when he's saving energy, but the film never connects the dots to presence of the core.

Through the two and a half hours of the movie, while the time seemed to zoom by, the plot seemed to plod along. I think the problem is that I read the book first.

Because the book covers so many disasters and Watney's science-based fixes, and writer Andy Weir does it with such efficiency, the pace of the story breezes along. The story is suspenseful and fascinating. There is more of Watney's humor present in the book, as well. But the movie spends more time alternating between Watney's time on Mars, NASA's deliberations and preparations on Earth, and the Hermes crew time. All that slows the pace of the story in the film.

If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend you wait to read the book until after you have seen the film.

Thinking about The Martian as a movie, it is highly entertaining. The story holds up and you are treated to some science as aspects of the story line. If you haven't already read the book, you won't know what you're missing and you can enjoy the movie much better. The cast is wonderful and Matt Damon is perfect as Watney - when I found out some time into reading the book that Damon was being cast as Watney, it was apparent from reading Watney's lines that Damon.s sense of humor fits the character.

If you haven't seen The Martian in theaters yet, go see it. Then read the book. They're great science fiction best consumed in that order.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Road Not Taken: Interesting Idea but a Tough Read

Book Review: The Road Not Taken by David Orr

This is a new exploration of the well known and beloved poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken. Its subtitle well explains the new road this book takes: "Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong."

To explain his topic, Orr breaks the book down into four chapters: The Poet, The Poem, The Choice, and The Chooser. Then there's an epilogue: The Crossroads.

Orr's thesis is really about the road that Frost took in presenting the poem to the world and the road the world took in understanding the poem. But what the world doesn't understand is, what we all thought we understood about the poem may be all wrong.

SPOILER: If you don't want to know what we get wrong, skip this paragraph and go onto the next. What Orr learned from correspondence between Frost and a critic-become-friend is that the poem The Road Not Taken wasn't meant to be about choices not taken or making bold choices. Frost originally wrote the poem as a joke for this friend who was always lamenting during nature walks that he wondered what they had missed by not going by a different path. Later on, Frost positioned the poem differently.

That said, reading all this was a long, hard slog for me. The book does a good job of presenting Orr's case, but it is written in the tone of poetic critique. It was like taking a poetry course in school. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting or hoping for in the book, but I didn't find it in Orr's The Road Not Taken, as interesting as his basic idea is.

If you're looking for a good poetry read, I'm not sure this book is for you. But if you're looking for an interesting take on one of America's most beloved poems, and a different perspective on one of America's most admired poets, then Orr's The Road Not Taken may just be your book.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Armchair Astronomer: Stunning Images and a Wealth of Detail

Book Recommendation: The Armchair Astronomer - Vol 1 (Nebulae)

Interested in astronomy? Like gorgeous images of beautiful objects from the cosmos? Then take a look at The Armchair Astronomer - Volume 1 (Nebulae) by Brian Ventrudo and Terry Hancock.

Terry Hancock is a renowned astrophotographer who regularly posts his stunning images on our local astronomy Facebook page of astronomical objects like nebulae, planets, and galaxies. His photos are crisp and colorful and show the amazing beauty of the universe in which we live. This first volume features his images of nebulae.

His partner in publishing is Brian Ventrudo, a professional astronomer who has mastered a career in writing and teaching about astronomy. So while you'll enjoy Terry Hancock's superb astrophotography, you will also benefit from Brian Ventrudo's vast knowledge about the incredible objects in our skies. See them and learn about them!

The Armchair Astronomer is available in ebook format. Learn more about the book, its topics, and where to download a copy at a great introductory price at Cosmic Pursuits (Ventrudo's website). Includes a couple of sample pages.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fake Fruit Factory: Well Written Humor

Book Recommendation: Fake Fruit Factory by Patrick Wensink

I have to admit right off the bat that I haven't finished the book - I tried, but the publisher sent me a pdf file of the book (instead of a paper version) and my ebook reader made it so difficult to read, I couldn't finish it. But I am prepared to say that of what I did finish, the characters were interesting, the setting was fascinating, and the plot was engaging - it's well written.

That said, I haven't read enough to do an honest review.

I follow Patrick on Facebook and he's funny and fun and a great writer. I like an author who is willing to engage his fans online, and Patrick is that and more. And the proof of his writing ability comes out in his social media postings. So I feel safe in recommending him.

But so you have a chance to learn more about the book before making a purchase, here's an excellent article in Lit Reactor discussing this new book, just released: "A Conversation with Patrick Wensick About His New Novel, 'Fake Fruit Factory'.

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Weather Experiment: A Splendid and Illuminating Read

Book Review: The Weather Experiment by Peter Moore

We are all used to watching the weather report on the TV. We may hear the forecast on the radio, see the daily temperature readings in the newspaper, see the current temperature and weather conditions on our computer screen. Our cars often feature an outside temperature readout and banks and stores often show the outside temperature. Today, the current weather and future forecasts are everywhere - but it wasn't always so.

The Weather Experiment tells the story of how the science of weather forecasting came to be. It's subtitle is "The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future."

The Weather Experiment by Peter Moore
Photo: Amazon.com

Even today weather forecasters don't always get the details right. But back in the mid-1700s they had hardly begun to understand what caused the wind to blow, the clouds to rise, lightning to strike, and storms to hit with fury. Until the early 1800s, the civilized world still thought the atmosphere extended between the Earth and the Moon - the territory of the meteors, and thus the root of the word meteorology.

Driven by loss of life at sea in the age of the great sailing vessels when storms would rise without warning and loss of property on land when climate would change drastically without reason, a group of determined men began searching for an answer. It took decades of developing accurate instruments, taking readings, and exploring the world to gather a larger and larger pool of information to begin to figure out the weather. Many risked their lives to discover the secrets of the atmosphere and develop what would become the science of meteorology.

As controversial as global warming and climate change are today, so was meteorology then. This story involves great drama, both for the men who devoted their lives to gathering the data behind meteorology and those who ignored it to their peril. Both today and back then, climatology and meteorology are a science devoted to gathering data and then trying to make sense of it. This book is about those men of science who sought to bring order to an often chaotic world, knowing the cost in lives and property without it and knowing there must be an answer.

In between the detailed historical tales of these men and their lives and the times in which they lived are interspersed short chapters of the most eloquent descriptions of weather phenomena. You learn some amazing things about everyday observations like rainbows, clouds, the cycle of moisture in the atmosphere to form dew on plants or fog in the air, and more.

It's a splendid and illuminating read.

The Weather Experiment makes a good read for anyone interested in science, a student needing a science project, someone interested in science biographies (there are multiple biographies in this book), or the person simply who wonders about the wonder that is the weather.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Weather Experiment. I am a science reader among other topics and this filled this niche nicely.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Lucy: A Series of Pastiche Pieces and More

Film Review: Lucy (science fiction, 2014)

I'm in between reading two books so I thought that today I would review a film: Lucy, described in Wikipedia as an "English-language French science fiction film." My wife loved it and insisted that I watch it, because I love a good science fiction film. While there were parts that were interesting, in whole I would say - meh!

Also according to the Wikipedia article, writer and director Luc Besson "stated that he intended for the first part of Lucy to be like Léon: The Professional (which he also wrote and directed), the second part to be like Inception and the third part to be like 2001: A Space Odyssey." Therein lies part of the problem.

A film needs to be presented as a whole, not a series of pastiche pieces. And it needs to be its own whole, not an apparent homage to another - or a series of other - films.

Furthermore, the film was shot in Taipei, Paris, and New York City, but often it was hard to tell where you were. And the breadth of locations were important to the story line.

What the film did well was set you up for the supposed science behind the plot.

Morgan Freedman plays the world's foremost expert on the human mind who explains the capacity of the brain and how little of most humans use. That sets the audience up for the experiences the protagonist Lucy, played by Scarlett Johansson, is about to go through when, as an innocent forced to act as a drug mule, she is accidentally exposed to an overdose of an experimental mind altering drug.

Parts of the film are cinematically stunning. Some of the imaging is imaginative. Some of the plot is interesting. But the farther you go into to film, the less science-based the conjecture becomes and the more far-fetched and plodding the plot becomes.

The "science" suggested is that the average human uses only 10 percent of his or her brain. The idea pursued is that Lucy's brain is building on itself and as it does so, she is able to use a larger and larger percentage of itself. But as the process goes on she needs more and more of the drug to keep the process going. As she uses more of her brain, her powers become greater so that she can manipulate her environment. For example, the drug lords who forced her into becoming a mule are after her to get the extra supplies of the drug, and she uses her mind to physically restrain them. She moves traffic, shifts through locations around the world, even time travels backward to meet the original primate Lucy. And all of that I had a hard time believing.
By the way, the idea that humans use only 10 percent of their brains is a myth. Here's a good article on the science behind Lucy.
In addition, in a couple of places the film showed Lucy zipping through computer screens. It doesn't matter how fast your mind works, computers and the Internet with today's connections only work so fast. That was totally unbelievable.

The other hard part for me is the selection of Amr Waked as Pierre Del Rio, the Parisian police officer who she commandeers to help her but whose help she ultimately doesn't need. He also becomes a love interest for her, although through her drug-altered experiences she first seems to have heightened emotions and then seems to lose all emotional connection. Not only does his character seem unnecessary to the plot, but as an actor his physical appearance is more like a gangster than a hero. That's more a casting call I suppose.

I don't like to write a review that is entirely negative, and there were things that I liked about the film.

For instance, Scarlett Johansson was exceptional as Lucy and Morgan Freeman was brilliant as Professor Samuel Norman. The exposition on brain science and brain capacity were well handled. And the scene where Lucy was about to be captured by the Taiwanese mobsters interspersed with scenes of African lions converging on an antelope for the kill were interesting (although not a convention carried out through the film, so they stood out as odd in the character of the film).

Besson does carry out the imagination of Inception and the broad speculation of 2001: A Space Odyssey as he supposes how the mind can force its will on world and how the advancement in human ability can achieve greater aims. He also twists the world visually and even manages to invert 2001's visual primate interplay by having the modern-day Lucy physically meet and touch fingertips with humanity's mother Lucy. Those were both interesting and appealing.

However, I can't say that they overcome the other shortfalls of the film for me.

We caught the film on one of the cable on-demand channels. So we didn't waste a lot of money at the theater or on a night out. But still, it was an evening of television wasted for me.

My wife liked it. Perhaps you will like, too.



Friday, August 28, 2015

Bookstores and Browsing for Your Next Book

Book Question: What is your favorite section of the bookstore?

One thing that makes a real (brick and mortar) bookstore more fun to shop than an online store is the ability to wander around and discover things. That's a lot harder to do online.

Sometimes I go to the bookstore looking for something specific. If I've read about a book or there's a new movie coming out and I've heard about the book it's based on, for instance. Or someone has mentioned a book.

Other times I go to the bookstore to browse.

I like science fiction so I often start there. I also like biographies so often I will browse there, too.

But at my favorite bookstore, which is an independent bookseller, as soon as you walk in the door you are welcomed by the new-book table, and I always stop there first. I never know when I will discover something interesting, something I might never have thought of had I not run into it there.

Just beyond the new-book table is the best-seller shelf. It's often fun to see what most other people are reading, and that often (although not always) is a good indication of a good read. Attached to it is the new-in-fiction and new-in-nonfiction shelf, not to be confused with new-book table. The new-book table is what is hot out of the publisher, whereas the others are considered still new in the market. They're selling well enough to still be selling well, so they are also a good indication of what other readers find good reading.

Most of those are new hard-bound books. Nearby are the new paperbacks. New paperbacks can be brand new to the market but may also include hard-bound books reintroduced in the cheaper paperback versions, either the pocket size or the larger mass-market size.

Probably one of the most interesting sections to visit is the book club section. It can be a good indication of what other people are reading and talking about. If you want to know what people at work or in the neighborhood may be talking about, these books may be some of the topics. And they may be really good reads. I've found some great books this way.

Sometimes I'm already reading a book or two, so I don't need another one on the nightstand. Instead, I head to the magazine section. I often go to the bookstore with my daughter and while she is browsing the store, I peruse magazines. There are still hundreds of great magazines covering every interest, and in most bookstores you can sit down in a comfortable chair or at the coffee shoppe and read. No matter your interest, you can find something intriguing to read in a magazine - usually something you can read during a short visit.

What is your favorite section of a bookstore? How do you "browse" online?

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Too Many Books, Too Few Hours to Read?

Book Questions*: Bad Book Habits

I think most bibliophiles or book nerds can probably identify with this one: buying too many books at one time, or even, checking out too many books at once from the library.

During a recent visit to the library I saw a woman hauling a canvas shopping bag on a wheeled cart, and the bag was full of books. Now, maybe she had a family to feed with books, but that looked suspiciously to me like reading overload.

When I worked at a bookstore, one of the benefits was a 33 percent discount on all book purchases. Plus, at the end of each month we received a certificate for so much value toward the purchase of books based on how many hours we worked that month: example, $10 or $30 or so. You can imagine how many books employees bought there every month - too many.

In addition, publishers sent representatives to the bookstore to present upcoming releases who brought samples, of which we could take our pick.

I was never for want of books, and I usually had too many books and never enough time to read them all, especially when you consider that bookselling was a part-time job for me and that I spent the rest of my professional time writing, editing, and trying to run an editorial business.

Most people I know who are readers suffer from the same malady: They see far more books they want to read than they can possibly consume in a reasonable amount of time. Thousands of books are published every month! (Forbes said there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published ever year.)

Now that I'm retired and don't have the money to spend on books, I don't buy books like I used to. I occasionally put holds on library books that arrive at the same time and suffer a rushed read, but that's rare. When I do buy books, I buy ones that are special to me. And that saves a lot of shelf space.

There is something about books that encourages a kind of readers' gluttony. Do you suffer this tendency as well? What do you do about it?

*One more inspiration from "55 questions about reading."

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paper or Ebook - Which Is Better?

Book Questions: Why I prefer paper books

I have Kindle and OverDrive loaded on a tablet, and there's no doubt about it, ebooks are cheaper to buy and easier to store. But ebooks also come with a number of issues that paper books do not, which add to the reasons I prefer paper over electronic. But first, the main reasons I prefer paper.

You don't have to be old fashioned to prefer paper. I like the feel and dexterity of paper books, and anyone of any age can enjoy that. I also like the smell of paper books - the smell of the paper, the bindings, and the ink. Compare that with the smell of heated plastic and electronics. And I like the color and graphics of the covers (paperbacks) and jackets (hard cover) - yes, ebooks have "covers" but only on the first page and only when you open the book, not when your device is sitting on the shelf or table or wherever it sits unopened.

In addition, paper books have weight or heft, and flipping through the pages is easy - in fact, flipping back and forth through pages without getting lost is much easier in paper than in electronic versions. If you are doing research, it's much easier to bookmark pages and easily find where you've left the bookmarks than in an electronic version.

I also like browsing my collection of books on my bookshelf and quickly pulling a book off the shelf, unlike trying to find one hidden in an electronic archive. Somehow, the electronic versions also lack substance - they're just a flat, featureless front page.

Now to the problems with ebooks.

Although you can adjust the dimness of ebooks or even reverse the black and white screen, I find ebooks uncomfortable to read, especially at night. That's because the screen is lighted from behind rather than by reflecting from an absorbing surface like paper. It's harsh on the eyes and has been implicated in cases of insomnia.

Also, if you've ever accidentally touched the wrong part of the screen when trying to turn the page, you can get sent to footnotes or far back into the book, unsure where you left off - that never happens with a paper book. When it happens with an ebook, it can also throw off the pagination.

Furthermore, different ebook readers can operate differently, and different authors and publishers use different ereaders, so it can be challenging to use all the different readers. Again, you don't have that problem with paper books.

Then there's battery life - ever have a paper book need recharging just when you got to the most exciting part of the story?

And there's that initial cost of buying the Kindle, Nook, or tablet!

In their defense, ebooks save space, Amazon Prime offers free books monthly for Kindle owners and Barnes and Noble offers free books for the Nook, library downloads are quick and easy and save on late fees, and ebooks save trees from slaughter.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Do Books Ever Start on the Same Page Number?

Book Questions: Who decides on what page number books start?

Have you noticed that books often start on random-seeming page numbers?

My favorite historical fiction author is Julian Stockwin. In Victory, he begins chapter 1 on page 9, which is nine printed pages in from the front of the book. Chapter 1 of Pasha, his most recent age-of-sail book, begins on page 15, which again is fifteen pages from the front of the book. His paperback version of Seaflower begins chapter 1 on page 1, even though there are printed pages beforehand. In the uncorrected advanced proof of Stockwin's Tyger, to be released in October, chapter 1 starts out on page 1, even though there are printed pages beforehand - I have no idea how the final printed version of the book will paginate.

It's not without precedent. My paperback version of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird begins the story in chapter 1 on page 3, with man printed pages beforehand. Mitch Album's best seller Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) begins the story on page 1. Yann Martel's Life of Pi begins on page 3.

My favorite humor author, Christopher Moore, begins such stories as LambFluke, and The Stupedist Angel on page 1, as would I expect him to do in his new novel out August 25, Secondhand Souls. "I always start with 1. It's how I roll," he says.

However, there are book style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, that recommend that the first page of text be page 1 (except for excessive front matter like forewards, which they prefer lower case roman numbers).

So who gets to make the decision about which page number starts the book? "Book layout is down to the designer chosen by the publisher," says Stockwin, whose books publish around the world. "Generally the meat of a book will begin on page 1 but this can vary, depending on house style of a particular publisher."

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 17, 2015

How Do You Mark Your Place in a Book?

Book Care: Marking Your Place Without Spoiling Your Book

I don't revere books, but I do respect and enjoy them and I take care to preserve mine. So when I read books I do as little as possible that might despoil them.

When I read a book, I use a paper bookmark - either an actual bookmark from a bookstore or a thin piece of clean paper. Note that if the paper isn't clean, whatever is on the paper can soak into the paper, despoiling it. And if any non-standard bookmark is too thick, it can warp or bend the paper. Metal bookmarks may look fun, but clips will deform the paper. (See my Gift Ideas on the sidebar for bookmark ideas.)

Someone once brought me a gift from Hawaii, a miniature surfboard that is meant to be a bookmark. It was made of wood and it was stained. But it hadn't been varnished and the wood smelled of the stain. The bookmark also wasn't flat, so while it was a thoughtful gift I couldn't use it because it wasn't flat enough and the residual smell of the stain would have transferred to the papers.

I definitely don't use paper clips, which will deform the paper, and as you work your way through the book it will leave an ugly mess out of the pages. I never bend the corners, a technique which has a similar effect.

To remember where on the page I left off, I position the bookmark over the paragraph where I will begin reading again. That means the bookmark may dangle out of the top of the book, the side, or the bottom. Most bookmarks have printing on them, and I pick a side that represents the side of the book where I left off. It's very easy picking up where I left off reading that way.

And the way I treat a book is the same whether it's my book or one I've borrowed from a friend, or a book from the library. The better we all treat books the longer they will last for everyone. A Facebook friend built a small box outside her home that serves as a lending library into which she places her own books, a great way to share her love of books with her neighbors or anyone else who passes by her home.

(Photo: Roberta King.)

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

One Book You've Read More Than Once

Book Questions*: One Book You've Read More Than Once

I've never been one to re-read books much. I keep a collection of books that I most love from having read them, and a few of them I have re-read.

  • Certain Sherlock Holmes books and the Holmes doppelganger Solar Pons, for instance. 
  • A book or two that I had a hard time getting through the first time or few, like Isaac Asimov's Foundation.
  • Some science fiction by Larry Niven before I outgrew him.

But the books that I can earnestly say that I have re-read several times because they are beautiful and imaginative and soulful and breathtaking are the books by J.R.R. Tolkein, in particular, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I've re-read The Hobbit a couple of times, but I don't find it as thrilling as The Lord of the Rings, even though it was the precursor and the build up to The Lord of the Rings.

The late actor Christopher Lee, who played the white sorcerer Sauroman in the Peter Jackson film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, re-read the trilogy yearly.

There are books that I am considering re-reading one day soon. I have a hard time re-reading because I don't like to revisit territory I have already covered, unless they are considerably well written. These are what I am thinking of devoting my fall and winter to re-reading this year:
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Life of Pi
  • Thomas Kydd series (all 16 books!)
  • Horatio Hornblower series (all 11 books!}
But then, I also want to leave some room in my free time for new books.

*Inspired by "Ten Questions About Books."

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Story of Kullervo: Tolkein Book Rediscovered!

Book News: The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkein
Rediscovered Book to Be Published

Exciting news for Tolkein fans: A newly rediscovered book by J.R.R. Tolkein will be published soon called The Story of Kullervo.  According to The Reading Room, the international version will be released in October 2015 but the U.S. version won't be released until next spring. When I looked it up on Amazon's UK website, it said the laydown date is August 27.

Among the details given by The Reading Room, it says, "The new story takes place in the same universe as The Silmarillion and, therefore, the entire Lord of the Rings saga."

Amazon.co.uk lists the hard cover book at £11.89, with shipping and handling to the U.S. at just under £7.00. At today's conversion rate, that comes out to just under $29.00.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

My Favorite Childhood Book

Book Questions*: Favorite Childhood Book

I didn't read much as a child - most books were read to me: by my mother or by teachers at a very young age. I remember going to the town library and seeing books that I thought might interest me, but I don't remember actually taking out any.

It wasn't until I was in junior high school that I started a membership in a science fiction book club and ordered books, but even then I didn't finish reading any of them. Several times I tried to get through Foundation by Isaac Asimov, but I didn't make it through a full read-through until adulthood.

Then in high school, in my junior year, I finally made a breakthrough. At the high school library I found The Bedford Incident by Mark Rascovich, a speculative-fiction thriller so exciting that I couldn't put it down, and I finished reading my first book. In it, a reporter is allowed aboard a U.S. submarine hunter during a training exercise at sea that is drawn into an increasingly dangerous nuclear showdown with a Soviet submarine, and there is no escape for the reporter and no turning back for the crew of the destroyer or the submarine.

That remains my favorite childhood book, although it arrived late in my "childhood." I will forever remember it for awakening my love for books and reading.

When did you first start reading, and what was your favorite childhood book?

*Inspired by "55 questions about reading"

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Go Set a Watchman: Begs to Be Read

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee


I have read all kinds of missives from people on social media and news site comment sections at how horrified they were that one of the main characters from Harper Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird had changed so drastically in Go Set a Watchman. Many were refusing to read the new novel published this summer. A few who had bought it were returning it to bookstores.


Let me set the record straight, having just finished reading it: Atticus Finch hasn’t changed. Scout has grown up and her world view has changed. So have we grown up and so have our world views.


Go Set a Watchman takes place several years after the close of To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout - her real name is Jean Louise Finch - has grown up, gone to college, and moved from Maycomb, Alabama, to New York City. As Go Set a Watchman opens, Jean Louise is returning to Maycomb to visit her ailing father, Atticus.


In growing up and moving to New York City, Jean Louis has outgrown her Southern roots. She’s really no longer Scout. And so, she rarely revisits her former home town. When she does visit she finds herself traipsing through old familiar territory with misty memory only to be disappointed at how much the town has changed in her absence.


What she seeks in comfort are the parts of Maycomb that always seemed stable to her: Her wise and god-like father Atticus, her stubborn and change-resistant aunt Alexandra, her strange but comforting uncle Jake, and the boy across the street who was her best friend and became her constant pursuer Hank. Yet in the end Jean Louise discovers even they aren’t who she thought they were.


Recoiled by what she thought she knew growing up, Jean Louise rebels on one hot summer afternoon. She confronts and condemns them all and is ready to leave Maycomb and all its residents forever.


Yet it’s those on whom she relied most in her life who come to her rescue and she finally finds solace and grace.


Many have condemned this book - many without ever having opened a page or read a single word - for being racist. They express dismay at Harper Lee for using language they deem deeply disturbing. But before you accept their condemnation, consider this: Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. Both were written before the Civil Rights Movement made its strides in the 1960s but as troubles were brewing in the Deep South and resentment against Blacks and Civil Rights groups was high.


The character Atticus Finch would have been about the age of my grandfather, who was born around 1900. Jean Louise and Hank would have been about the age of my parents, who were born around 1925. My grandparents and my mother lived in South Carolina for a time, and there it was common to call Blacks negroes and colored and other terms that most of us today wouldn’t consider calling anyone. That’s what my grandparents often called Blacks, stunned that it was considered the wrong thing. This book reflects that culture.


Moreover, I can recall during my youth my grandparents and my parents saying many of the things I read in Go Set a Watchman, even living here in Michigan. Until the urban legends of those misconceptions about Blacks were cleared up, people continued to believe them. Today, those misconceptions are dispelled among most but not all Americans, and they explain a lot about the cultural wars we are experiencing today.


The fact that Go Set a Watchmen sat for decades unpublished means it is a cultural artifact that doesn’t necessarily reflect on Harper Lee today nor necessarily on the South as a whole today. But publishing the book now exposes us to it and allows us to read it and breath it and address it. And it educates a new generation to a point of view many of us may have missed over the intervening years.


But let me get back to a central truth I think many will have missed by not reading this book. And that is that Atticus Finch is not a changed man. He is the same character from To Kill a Mockingbird, but he is being seen through the prism of a grown child who is finally coming of age. And maybe this is really the point of the novel. This book is about the coming of age of Scout.


And if you loved Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, I think you will also love Jean Louise in Go Set a Watchmen. In the same way, if you loved Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, you will by the end of the novel love him just as much in Go Set a Watchman

For all these reasons, it begs to be read.

© 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Tyger: Much to Treasure in the 16th Novel in the Kydd Series

Book Review: Tyger by Julian Stockwin
an uncorrected advance proof copy


We are at sea again. Transported back to 1807 European waters under the command of Sir Thomas Kydd, captain of the captured-French frigate L’Aurore, we return to the comradeship of friends with names like Bowden, Stirk, and Dowd. All memorable characters that weave like threads through past Kydd novels.

But L’Aurore is no longer seaworthy and we have to give her up to the dry docks, and all our friends are set adrift.

There is hope of command of a new heavy frigate being freshly built, but instead Captain Kydd is given command of another frigate, Tyger, sequestered offshore because she has recently been the victim of a mutiny. It’s Kydd’s duty to bring this dangerous crew back into fighting shape under service of king and country, and thus is set the conflict underlying our keen adventures in this high-seas age-of-sail tale. We are at sea again at Kydd's side, his only comrades.

In this well researched, excellently detailed new novel, we wrestle with a restless crew, board sneaky merchant ships for prize money, battle enemy frigates that out number and out gun us, explore uncertain Arctic waters as winter sets in, and then there is the ambitious Napoleon to consider.

Impeded by England’s naval triumph at Trafalgar, Napoleon has moved east on land to conquer most of Europe. The crew of Tyger is sent to the Baltic to aid Prussia in its desperate final hours under siege by the French and their allies. Oh, that bastard Napoleon and his unrelenting French forces! 

Can Kydd trust his crew and officers in battle and in crisis? We voyage vicariously through Kydd’s mind as he fights doubts and imagines daring solutions. We experience life at sea and death in battle. A few friends even re-emerge. Tyger becomes the Thomas Kydd tale that we have all come to admire through fifteen novels, and now in a sixteenth. There are twists and turns, failures and successes, and as always, the triumph at his darkest hour of our favorite English naval hero.

There’s no hiding that I am a huge fan of Julian Stockwin’s Thomas Kydd series. If you like heroic tales, great sea adventures, the romance of the age of the sail, and the details of historical fiction, then you will find much to treasure in Tyger, the next wonderful addition to this series.

Tyger reaches bookstores in October. Prepare to board for adventure!

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Martian: You've Got Read This Great Scifi Thriller!

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

A team of astronauts visits Mars, the third to explore the cold, dry fourth planet in our solar system. After a hefty dust storm threatens the mission, he's wounded and stranded on the planet when the rest of the team can't find him and has to leave. His new mission is to survive until the next team arrives - in four years. Using science - real science - the astronaut faces one devastating tragedy after another, relying on his wits and his diminishing resources to stay alive. Written in the voice of the astronaut, it's a personal journey written with great humor and amazing insight into the psychology of someone undergoing isolation and great danger.

This is the well written story of The Martian by Andy Weir, a journey so intriguing I had to keep reading it even when I should be writing or doing chores or sleeping. I finished it in three days, I was so engrossed in the story.

To be fair, my wife's response was, "Meh..." But we often like different kinds of science fiction. I love hard-core science fiction. She more enjoys fantasy scifi.

Andy Weir did a huge amount of research to write this compelling novel, but he is also trained in much of the science. As a result, it's extremely well crafted and its accuracy is spot on.

When Weir wrote The Martian, he first posted it by chapter online. Then fans suggested he post it as an ebook. Others asked that he print it as a paper book. All which he did for free. It became so popular he put it on Amazon, where it's now a best seller. He tried to publish it for free on Amazon but Amazon requires at least some price, so it's no longer free. But in my mind, it's well worth the low price (only $5.99 for the Kindle version).

If you're a scifi reader, and in particular if you're a fan of hard-core scifi (scifi primarily based on actual science), then this is a book for you. I hope you enjoy nearly as much as I did.

Ridley Scott, who brought us the movie Aliens, is making a movie out of The Martian, coming to theaters in October 2015. The trailer (below) looks great. It's how I first learned about the book, and doing more research I found his website and the book on Amazon and read the excerpt there, where I instantly became excited about the novel.


I've since also watched an interview of author Andy Weir by Adam Savage (MythBusters), who read The Martian in one sitting. The interview is below. I hope you'll take Savage's enthusiasm along with mine as motivation to read this great novel.


OK, enough background - now go find a copy, even if it's in your local library.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Frontier Is Worth a Preview Read

Book Recommedation: Frontier by Raymond Alvarez

The author of the very popular The Martian started posting his book a chapter at a time online. Then he received requests to make it into an ebook, and then a paper book. It's now a bestseller. A new author is taking a similar tack, and I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a similar success in time, too.

If you're a scifi fan, you need to take a look at Frontier by Raymond Alvarez. As of this writing, Alvarez has posted the first two chapters free online, inviting comment and corrections. The "Chapters" navigation link has spots for four chapters.

Here's a brief synopsis based on the introduction from Alvarez's home page.
Scientists find a mystery at the bottom of Europa’s hidden ocean, a spherical object that turns out to be an extraterrestrial spaceship with incredible technology asleep inside. A trillionaire on Earth insists on controlling the alien technology, but with the object’s powerful secrets within grasp something goes terribly wrong. It sets loose a chain of events as mankind struggles for its very survival. 
Like The Martian, Frontier is a novel based on science. Alvarez has done his research. And while his core idea is at this time a fantasy - finding alien technology - everything about Europa and getting there is based on what science tells us today. And of course, there are those who would say there is evidence that alien civilizations have visited us in the past, so maybe finding alien technology isn't so much fantasy as science awaiting discovery.

Alvarez is working on finishing the book and hopes it will become popular enough that readers will want to buy it. Now is a good time to get a free look at the first chapters and decide for yourself. And enjoy the opportunity of interacting with an author by commenting on the novel and offering suggestions. 

As a former bookseller, I can attest that writing and publishing books has changed significantly over the past ten years. Today, authors are able to take more of publishing into their own hands, and Raymond Alvarez is taking a bold step in an ever-changing and uncertain profession. But he's living the dream of actually being published, and he's taking the opportunity to do it his way. I hope you'll see what it's about and give him a chance to prove himself by reading a couple of chapters.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.


Friday, July 24, 2015

"What If?" Great Summer Reading for the Curious Reader

Book Review: What If? by Randall Munroe

Not sure this book is meant for the poolside or the beach, but it makes good light summer reading, especially if you like humor and science: What If? by Randall Munroe.




I spotted What If? on the new-books table at my local independent bookstore, and flipping through its pages it immediately intrigued me. Although I have definite likes and dislikes in books, I would describe my reading tastes as eclectic and this book hit that spot perfectly.

What If? fills the desire for a fun read. It's crammed with humor. It brings up interesting questions or scenarios, and then it answers them, using real science - which is one of my interests. And it is written and illustrated by Randall Munroe who writes and illustrates the xkcd comic website. What's not to like about that!

Munroe studied physics and math in college and went on to work on robotics at NASA before giving it all up to freelance stick-figure comics on his own popular website. He uses that acumen to answer the silly hypothetical questions the people have sent him both to interact with his readers and to inform others through this book.

I would suggest this book is a great way to introduce science to curious young  minds who might otherwise be having a tough time finding science interesting in school. Or perhaps a way to keep their minds engaged in science during the summer or during other holidays. It's not like they have to take a test or exam when it's over - it's casual reading. And no actual math is involved.

So, if you're looking for a fun read and some crazy hypothetical questions with answers to go with them, or if you just want a good laugh, consider picking up What If? by Randall Munroe.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.