Archive for February, 2008
Synopsis: This short, swashbuckling novel is the most recent work by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon. It is set in the Caucasus Mountains in the 10th century and is the story of two unlikely Jewish friends: a pale, skinny, black-clad Frankish physician named Zelikman; and a giant of a man and former soldier from Absynnia named Amram. ( I can’t help but picture Tom Petty and Michael Clark Duncan in these roles.) Zelikman and Amram are ‘gentlemen of the road’, a polite way of saying con artists, horse thieves, mercenaries and drifters. Their adventure begins when they encounter Filaq, the adolescent and unpleasant son of the recently murdered Bek of Khazaria. Prince Filaq is determined to return home to avenge his family’s death, and Amram & Zelikman begrudgingly join him in his losing cause. Swordplay, rescues, deception and daring feats ensue.
My thoughts: First, a disclaimer - I’m an unabashed Chabon fan, so perhaps I’m not the most unbiased reviewer around. That being said, I found this book to be completely delightful. It’s a classic, swashbuckling adventure story - think of Arabian Nights or H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines - but with the added twist of Chabon’s rapier wit and just a touch of Jewish angst. To immerse you in the idea of a classic adventure, Chabon employs a slightly anachronistic, highly stylized way of writing. Even the chapter titles reflect this prose style: “On anxieties arising from the impermissibility, however unreasonable, of an elephant’s rounding out a prayer quorum” or “On the melancholy duty of soldiers to contend with messes left by kings”. The style takes a little getting to used to at first, but it genuinely adds to the story. This latest foray into a highly stylized genre novel seems to be Chabon’s latest thing which began with his crime noir The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and now continues with an adventure story. If you like Chabon’s previous works, this one is a must read.
Red Flags: There is some sword-fighting type violence, some implied sex and many highly stylized insults usually referring to one’s lack of manhood or the lack of virtue of one’s ancestors.
Read-alikes: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard, The Last Cavalier by Alexander Dumas, Indiana Jones novels (various authors).
February 26th, 2008
Back in the Genealogy section we have a set of file cabinets that are called Vertical Files in Librarian-speak. Vertical files used to be a staple of every library. It was where the Reference Librarian would file newspaper or magazine clippings for quick reference. There may have been a file on what gifts to give on a particular wedding anniversary (paper for first, silver for twenty-fifth, etc.) a file on labor statistics, or a file about a particular event like a tornado. Nowadays, much of that information is available at a click of a mouse on the internet or one of our online databases.
There’s one thing, however, that isn’t available on the internet and that’s the information found in our Martinsville & Morgan County files. This stuff is fascinating! Local newspaper clippings from decades past cover not only the big events, but all of the weird and wonderful little stories as well. For example, did you know that 11 year old Larry Adkins of Martinsville was the state Bubble Gum Blowing Champion in 1947? He received $100 and a new bike for his efforts. I wonder where Larry is now? By my calculations he should be about 72 years old. You can read the full story of Larry’s triumph in the “Unusual Features” file.
Even better, did you know Mr. Kleen was from Martinsville? His real name is Ernest Bemis, by the way. The accompanying article only talks about his boxing and professional wrestling career, but he’s the spitting image of Mr. Clean of cleaning fame. The question is, who came first? Mr. Kleen or Mr. Clean? Did he style himself after a recognizable product logo, or did the Proctor & Gamble folks use him as their model? According to P&G, Mr. Clean was introduced in 1958 and ‘while many models have portrayed him for us, we [P&G] don’t have a record of their names.’ This photo of Ernest Bemis was published in 1969, eleven years after the introduction of the iconic advertising figure, but our Mr. Kleen had been a professional wrestler since 1952 after winning the Mr. Indiana physique contest and a successful four year career as a professional boxer. The most impressive part of this article? It gives Mr. Kleen’s statistics - arms-22″, neck 22.5″, chest 56.5″ and able to clean-and-jerk 715 pounds among other accomplishments. You can read more about Mr. Kleen in the ‘Personalities’ file.
There are tons of gems in the vertical file - the horse who suffocated when he became stuck in the window of the car, the man who patented a device to watch drive-in movies in the daytime and the silent film star who became a Morgan County housewife. I invite you to come and spend a day with the wild and wonderful history found here, if you dare.
February 19th, 2008
Happy 100 to me!
I just added Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth to my LibraryThing catalog and saw that it was my one hundredth book! Happy meaningless milestone to me! Kindred by Octavia E. Butler was the very first book I listed back in May of 2006. By my calculations that is about 5 books per month which is far too slow to read everything that I want to. (I do recommend that you check out Octavia E. Butler - she’s a fascinating author.)
The Pillars of the Earth Book Discussion
I’m not going to review POTE here because we will be discussing it at the Main Library on February 19th at 7 p.m., but I will say this: Wow. I remember reading it shortly after it first came out wayyy back in 1980 or so and recommending it to all my friends. I still think it’s terrific and will still recommend it. I haven’t always warmed up to Oprah’s book club picks, but this book has it all - romance, action, intrigue and a dash of history and architecture. There’s still time to read it before the book discussion and I have extra copies set aside for anyone who wants to participate - come the upstairs check-out desk and ask for one.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
One of the reasons that Follett’s work is so remarkable is because it has very broad appeal - I’ve known men and women, young and old who all think it’s a great book. Also, not every book can stand the test of time but Pillars does and will still be as breathtaking in another twenty-eight years as it is today. I think I’ve mentioned before that your reading tastes vary with your mood, but they can also vary according to your stages in life. A good example for me is Tom Robbins, who is most famous for his cult classic Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Twenty years ago or so, I devoured everything Robbins wrote with Jitterbug Perfume topping my list as my all-time favorite book. I thought his writing was terribly profound and deep. When I read his work today, I still marvel at his mastery of metaphors, sleight of hand similes and trippy, loopy, tap-dancing prose. But I don’t think he’s profound anymore, just a little addled from too many illegal substances in his youth.
February 5th, 2008
February 1st, 2008