Favorite Books of the Past Quarter

Here are some of my favorite books from the past few months’ reading. While they may not have been published in the last few months, I’ve read them in the time period. And they stayed with me long past turning the final page. I’ve been fortunate to read many excellent books in the past months, but these are stand-outs.

Bridge of Dreams by Chaz Brenchley. A lyrical, beautiful fantasy novel.

Hell’s Belles by Jackie Kessler. Urban fantasy extraordinaire, with succubus Jezebel on the run from Hell, learning what it means to be human.

The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers. A fascinating, compelling book about myth, reincarnation, and love.

A Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky. One of the cleverest, warmest, funniest books I’ve read about the magic of love in a long time!

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields. A lovely, sensitive, thorough, and respectful (in the best possible sense) biography of this woman who insisted on running her career on her own terms, and not bowing to outside pressure.

Diaries of Lavinia Riker Davis. These diaries, edited and privately published by her family, are a wonderful portrait of this author who wrote mostly children’s books in the 1940s and 1950s.

Farewell, Coliseum Books

One of my favorite bookstores in the world, Coliseum Books, shuts its doors for good today, a victim of the obscene rents and the fact that Manhattan is turning into a theme park. One can go ahead and blame chain stores and box stores – but the determination of certain groups of developers to turn New York City into the rich and famous’s playground is, in my mind, the real key to all this.

I’ve been going to Coliseum for years – perhaps even decades – especially when it was up at 57th Street and Broadway. I loved that location – it was enormous, the sale tables were sublime, and they had the most unique assortment of just about everything you could imagine. And plenty you’d never think to look for, but was so intriguing that you’d pick it up and buy it anyway.

They moved down to 42nd Street in 2003, across from the main branch of the New York Public Library and Bryant Park (the home of the two lions, Patience and Fortitude – at the front of the library, not the Park). The Café and its staff were wonderful – there were times when I traveled in for meetings purposely an hour earlier than I needed, just in order to spend time browsing in the store, buying, drinking coffee, reading, or writing. I’ve written the first draft of many a short story in Coliseum Books Café.

I’ve also spent, literally, tens of thousands of dollars there over the years.

When they first moved to the 42nd St. location, in addition to their usual bargain tables, they had tables where the books were $1. I’d pick up anything even remotely interesting, because, how could you go wrong for a buck?

And no, I did not simply pick up one of everything (although I admit I was tempted).

I’d have to burrow through boxes of books to come up with titles from that table – but I can tell you that, over the past year, I picked up an anthology put out by Ben Bella Books on Harry Potter (and, coincidentally, I am now contributing to their new anthology on Stephanie Plum), and February House by Sherrill Tippins, about a house shared by a group of writers in Brooklyn which included Carson McCullers and the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

Their Belles Lettres section was the best I’ve ever found – there I discovered volumes of Madeleine L’Engle’s journals, and was first introduced to the writing of Alice Steinbach, and Sara Nelson’s So Many Books, So Little Time.

I picked up two of my favorite and most often read books from their tables, volumes of Dawn Powell’s letters and her biography (I paid full price for her diaries).

Whenever “the world was too much with me” — I could escape to Coliseum to browse, to find something I needed, assured of a friendly welcome and a non-judgmental staff. The more obscure something I needed was, the happier they were to find it for me. They had a wonderful selection of dictionaries from other languages – and yes, I truly would have bought the Manx volume if I could have spared the $150 at the time!

My heart breaks that the store is gone forever. Unlike the last closing, where they moved from a too-expensive space down to a more congested area, this time they are gone for good. These were booksellers who loved books – a wide variety of books, and they had the best selection I’ve ever found anywhere.

I love them, they are a part of my soul’s fiber, and I mourn the loss.

Last, First Books of the Year

I fell into a ritual a few years ago, without realizing I was doing so, and it’s grown to be something important to me.

The ritual is making a conscious choice for the last book and the first book I purchase each year.

Ideally, I’d purchase the last book on the 31st and the first on the 1st or 2nd, but that’s not always a viable option.

This year, I’m going to purchase the last book on the 29th – and the possibilities are delicious. What does the choice of book mean? Do I choose a book by someone with whom I’m acquainted, to set the stage in supporting a colleague? Do I pick a book that’s intrigued me, but I’ve never “gotten around” to buying it?

And the first book of the year – it sets the tone of the year. What do I want this year to be? Will it be a book about writing? Will it be a biography of someone I admire? Will it be a delightful novel to set the bar high for my own work?

Think about what you buy, when you buy it, and why you buy it. Creating a ritual for the first and last books of the year could turn into a mindful and happy tradition.

(Note: This post was originally published on December 28, 2006 at the Blogger Version of A Biblio Paradise).

Gift Ideas For Writers

What do you get the writer on your list? That’s always a dilemma, especially for our loved ones who have no idea what we actually do for a living.

Here are some ideas you can print out and hand to those perplexed dear ones, giving them some ideas to relieve their stress during the season. This can also give you some ideas for the other writers on your list:

Gift Cards. A couple of years ago, gift cards were all the rage; now, “style gurus” are starting to sniff and look down their recently upgraded noses at them. But a gift card is a great way to let the writer pick what he or she needs. Some great gift card sources: Staples, Borders, B&N, any bookstore that will give you a certificate, Starbucks, a high quality paper store, restaurants, Jet Blue (yes, they do have gift certificates), a music store, or the local yoga studio (if the person is into yoga. Be very careful about giving someone fitness stuff for the holidays unless you know they want it. Otherwise, the person will wonder if you think she’s fat). Note that I left Amazon off the list – since they’ve twice now held my materials hostage, wanting me to pay higher shipping costs than originally quoted, they are no longer on my list.

Mixed CDs. Do you know what kind of music your writer uses as background for writing? Mix a CD especially geared towards the writer’s interests. It’s a personal gift, and will be appreciated. My MP3 player can record directly from my CD player, so if I want to, I can add it to my play list in addition to having it at home on the machine.

Baskets of Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate, fruit, cheese, chocolate. Geared to your writer’s taste, of course. The small sizes in the gift baskets are great for noshing during marathon writing sessions.

Museum membership. Writers need to get out of the house sometimes, and a museum is a great source of inspiration. It doesn’t have to be an expensive city museum. Most towns or universities have local museums with frequently changing exhibits at a reasonable price.

Stamps. In spite of so much online submission, there are still places that only accept snail mail. And that adds up.

Bookmarks. Most writers I know use multiple books at a time, whether it’s for research or pleasure. There are never enough bookmarks around.

Socks. Some people will shudder with horror at this one, but if you’re sitting at your desk writing for long stretches, your feet can get cold. Unless you have a dog willing to sit there and be your foot warmer, socks are a safer option than the electric heater.

Soap. Because sometimes we’re so into our work, we forget to shower.

Paper. A couple of reams of paper might not seem romantic, but when you’re on deadline at 2 AM, it’s snowing outside, and you run out of paper, that spare ream is a godsend.

Ink cartridges, See above.

Photo albums. So now I have a digital camera that takes gorgeous photos. And I print them out and they sit around in boxes because I never “get around” to buying a photo album. Frames are good, too, if you know of a particular print that inspires your writer. There’s nothing better than getting stuck in the middle of a sentence and looking up to see my favorite photo or picture above my desk.

Lamps/light bulbs. The right lighting can make or break a writing session. A lamp that’s fun as well as functional is even better.

Calendars. No matter how much all this is electonicized, some days the power goes out, the battery dies, and you need to have it written down elsewhere. I have all sorts of calendars – one enormous desk blotter type will all my deadlines, the Llewellyn calendar for which I write for the astrological correspondences, the purse calendar so as things come up on the go, I write them down. I sit down every few days to make sure all three are coordinated.

Blank books. As plain or fancy as you want, writers need notebooks in all shapes and styles to jot down ideas. From purse size to sketchpad size, they’re important.

Other Books. Most writers (the good ones anyway) read incessantly. They love to receive books. A beautifully bound copy of a favorite book is always appreciated, as are books on writing and inspiration. Your local independent bookseller can help you.

Pens. A writer can never have too many pens, and it’s Murphy’s Law that whatever pen you pull out of your bag will run dry at the crucial moment.

A Day. You can make this kind of certificate. Give your favorite writer the gift of a day. You will take over all the person’s normal chores/activities, and the writer can do anything he or she wants, even if it’s not writing related. Time is such a precious commodity, and writers have to fight for it much harder than anyone else.

The best gift you can give your writer is your unwavering love and support. Writing is like living with many voices inside one’s head, walking between worlds, and juggling multiple planes of existence. Letting your writer know you love them, even if you don’t always understand them, is the best gift possible.

(Note: This entry was originally published on December 16, 2006 on the Blogger Version of A Biblio Paradise)

Bookbuyer’s Ramblings

Several weeks ago, the local Library held a “rare book sale” to benefit the library. I put the phrase in quotes, although it was not thus in the listings.

It seems that many of these books were not necessary rare as in, few copies exist in the marketplace. Rather, they were unusual. All of these books belonged to a particular individual, whose wish it was that the collection be sold as a fundraiser.

My friend J. and I rambled through the town’s main street, across the lovely village green, and into the room, where a half dozen tables were scattered, with appropriate signs such as “erotica” “$10” and “signed”. Of course, after flipping through some copies on the signed table, you have to ask, “by whom?” because it wasn’t necessarily by the author.

One of the most interesting things I discovered about this collection is that I already owned at least a third of the books offered for sale. This deceased reader/collector’s taste was as eclectic as my own.

I did end up purchasing two books (for $10 each, in case you’re counting). One was The Fiction Factory, or From Pulp Row to Quality Street, 100 Years of Publishing at Street & Smith, published in 1955. I am obsessed with juvenile series fiction from the turn of the century through the forties (okay, more like the seventies): Nancy Drew, Ruth Fielding, Vicki Barr, Beverly Gray, Judy Bolton, The Adventure Girls , etc., etc., etc. The Strathmayer Syndicate, which originated Nancy and the Hardys and the Bobbseys, Kay Tracey, etc., fascinated me endlessly. One of the best books I’ve ever read on the Syndicate is Melanie Rehak’s Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, which I’ve discussed in Ink in My Coffee, and may discuss in more depth as a “Reader’s Journal” entry.

I’m also enamored of the history of the story papers, penny dreadfuls and dime novels. They are prominent in my western serial The Widow’s Chamber (which ran for two years on Keep It Coming and is being adapted into a novel), and I’m also using this fascination as the basis for another project-in-process, which I’ve dubbed The Fun Project until I’m ready to unveil it properly.

Street & Smith was a primary mover and shaker in the development of the story paper and the penny dreadful. I had to have this book – it’s necessary to my research, my obsession, and not easily available.

The second book I bought day is called In Quest of Clocks by Kenneth Ullyett, published in 1950. It discusses in depth the history of the clock and the interior workings of each clock style. To me, the most intriguing chapter is entitled “Faking and Restoration.”

Do I sense the seed of a new idea? Will I get an idea for a character who creates fake antique clocks?

Both of these books were absolutely necessary to my well being.

Early last week, after an exhausting day spent performing frustrating research in a law library, I stopped at a chain bookstore (oh, horrors) to pick up a Mother’s Day gift for my mother. While there, I grabbed two intriguing books from the bargain rack: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Meditation by Paramananda and The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk. The former will help me as I continue my involvement with 100 Days; the latter just looked like something fun and interesting that should sit on my shelf (shelves) of writing and linguistics books.

I also picked up Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary. I enjoyed his novel The Alienist enormously, and read it back to back with EL Doctrow’s The Waterworks, which was a wonderful foray into that period in the history of New York City. I was on my way out of the store and needed a book to read on my commute. Because I’m usually stressed during the commute, I want fiction rather than non-fiction, something in which I can lose myself, but not have to use too much analytical thinking. I saw Carr’s name on the cover, picked it up, saw the single word “Holyrood” on the back, and that was the deciding factor. As someone who loves Edinburgh and spends as much time there as possible, if there’s a book set there, I’ll read it.

And I’ve read it. I’ll share my thoughts on it in a “Reader’s Journal” entry on this blog.

I ordered, this week, from Strand Books, one of my favorite bookstores in the world, my friend Chaz’s book The Bridge of Dreams (available only in the US, although he is based in the UK) and Gail Godwin’s journals The Making of a Writer. I’m in search of a good and well-priced copy of The Age of Conversation, but haven’t found it yet.

This rainy weekend, needing something a bit different from my fictional forays of my WIP, I shopped my bookshelves and picked up a book called England My Adventure by Ethel Mannin, published in 1972. She’d been a published writer for 50 years by then, with a heck of a lot of books listed in the front. I like her writing and I want to track down more of her books. I felt as though I was having a conversation with her as I read the book, which is exactly the mood I sought. This book, too, will be discussed in depth as a “Reader’s Journal” entry.

According to the flap of the book, I picked it up for two quid in 2001 somewhere in the UK. For the life of me, I can’t remember which bookstore. In 2001, my only trip to the UK was to the southwest of Scotland, although we landed in London and drove up through the Lake country, doing an overnight in Keswick. I still wear the skirt I bought in Keswick, and I remember both “meeting” the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and visiting the teapot museum. I have no memory of a second hand bookshop. Was that the year we visited Wigtown, and meandered in and out of all those old bookshops? I remember buying brown yarn in one shop, and have the sweater from the trip. But I don’t remember any particular book purchase. Or was it in a shop into which I wandered in Ayr or Glasgow?

I’d have to look it up in my diary from that trip. I usually write down which books I purchase from which shop.

It’s odd, because I often remember exactly where I was standing in a shop when I make the decision to purchase a book.

Today, in between meetings, I climbed through a Revolutionary War recreation on the Village Green to get the library. The horse was not in the least bit startled when the soldiers fired their muskets. I nearly toppled one of the tent poles.

My mission – and it was a mission – was to comb through the book sale shelves and find old guidebooks as reference material for both the current WIP and other projects.

There weren’t any, as luck would have it (shopping when Mercury is Direct is never as useful as when it’s in Retrograde. Everything else is a problem for me during a Mercury Retrograde, but thrift shopping is paradise).

Instead, I bought A French Affair: A British Family at Home in Southwestern France by Michael Kenyon (who’s written something called the “Inspector Peckover mysteries”, which just sends my mind in directions it probably shouldn’t); Calendar: Humanity’s Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year by David Ewing Duncan; Had Enough? A Handbook for Fighting Back by James Carville; and a mystery by an author I know and therefore should have bought at full price in hardcover. Grand total: $5.50.

I am utterly convinced that each and every one of these books will better my life, if only for a few hours. Some will provide reasearch, some motivation, some simple enjoyment. However, it is an awful lot of books to bring in to the house in a short period of time. Especially since in March, on my birthday, I indulged myself at Sandwich’s Library Sale with 17 books (grand total $3.50).

And I’m wondering why I keep having to buy bookcases to keep the books off the floor.

(Note: This entry was originally published on May 13, 2006 at the Blogger version of A Biblio Paradise.