Reader's Exchange

February 2010 - Posts

When less really is more

Recent experience emphasizes that, while insufficient preparation for a meeting is risky, over-preparation is a similarly poor strategy. One should particularly avoid hauling in a pile of evidence to document one's overkill.

Atmospheric mountainsI meant well.  Everyone else at the discussion of upcoming adult book club titles offered an excellent book recommendation; I had an entire concept:  Why not capitalize  on the "Scandinavian Invasion"?  Stieg Larsson's books (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and the upcoming The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest) have made a big splash with American readers.  Our library shelves are all set to supply lots of other fine mysteries from Icelandic, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian authors.  So, to prove just how abundant the selection is, I plunked down a generous stack representing Amaldur Indridason, Henning Mankell, Kjell Eriksson, Ake Edwardson, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbo, and others onto the conference table.

Thus, when a consensus (to avoid moody or potentially depressing titles in this round) quickly formed, my leaning tower of brooding black-and-gray covered volumes looked decidedly out of step.

I do agree that balancing recent serious books with upcoming lighter-toned ones makes sense; book groups thrive on variety.  And you can bet that I reshelved those wonderful Scandinavian mysteries post-haste.  Now you know where to find them whenever you crave something similar to Larsson's well-received editions.

Lightning bolts and sirens and snakes: oh, my!

Driving to work yesterday, I caught an NPR review of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.  When a respected film critic disapproves as that one did, I can proceed in one of two ways:  relegate the selection to "Netflix but not big screen" status--possibly even the dreaded "don't bother" category--or view that judgment as a challenge to buy a ticket and prove him wrong. 

Lightning Thief certainly delivers an appealing premise.  Based on Rick Riordan's popular series of children's books, the movie chronicles a young demigod's dealings with a host of figures from classical mythology, including Medusa (Uma Thurman) and Chiron (Pierce Brosnan). 

Greek shipIn the grownup book world, few classical scenarios offer greater scope for godly intervention (interference) than Homer's Odyssey.  Everyone can relate to some aspect of Odysseus' situation, be it his supreme ill luck in attracting divine attention or his list of true yet unbelievable excuses for returning several years late ("Honest, honey, it was Calypso's fault.")  If you're a fan, look for this modern update in the library catalog: Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey.  Kirkus Reviews calls this creation of New York Public Library's Young Lions Award finalist Mason a "paean to the power or storytelling".

Another "coming soon to the library" selection:  Ioanna Karystiani's Swell.  Described by Library Journal as "a retelling of The Odyssey for the cell-phone age", Swell (since translated into English) won the National Award for Best Greek Novel of 2007.  Literary fiction fans will want to monitor our online catalog in a few weeks to request this tale of an aging sea captain who's been at sea for twelve years and cagily reports that "the sea won't give me back".  Talk about classic excuses!

Good news: no recalls for reading acceleration

I'm living on the edge these days.  And I'm not referring to the 2009 Toyota that awaits me in the library parking lot.  The book bag on the front seat bulging with selections from five different reading discussions--that's what triggers my panic attacks.cartoon car


  • Yesterday, for example, I showed up right on time for the 1:00 Baca Center book discussion on George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara, hoping that the pages of the book weren't somehow smoking from the laserlike intensity that propelled me through the final thirty pages during my 12:00 lunch hour. That was a close one.
  • Another group I attend chose Rembrandt's Jews for their meeting later this month; it's more of a challenge for interlibrary loan than I'd expected. My husband and I both need that copy, so the book's last-minute arrival will likely instigate a marital share/read/who-has-it-now routine rivaling anything ever scripted on I Love Lucy.
  • Thanks to some speedy readers ahead of me in the queue for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, my turn came up several days in advance of next week's Round Rock New Neighbors group meeting at Barnes and Noble. I'll return the favor and check the volume back in promptly.
  • A library colleague and I challenge each other to read work-related nonfiction titles, and we're finishing up Paco Underhill's Call of the Mall and Why We Buy before our discussion date next week.
  • I'm familiar with W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe (it inspired the movie Field of Dreams) but need to re-enjoy it before the library's adult book club discussion on March 2.

To complicate matters, I'm compelled to indulge in non-discussion books, probably to sustain the illusion of being in control.  Though currently engrossed in Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves, I had reluctantly bypassed it for several weeks in favor of assigned reading.  Swan Thieves is wonderful, and I regret not giving in and picking it up sooner.  Here's just one reason why: the book is an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) intended to be perused and remarked upon prior to publication. 

What sort of infraction does one commit by reading an ARC when the final version is now available?  Will be a citation be involved, or does a subtle shift in the space-time continuum occur?  I'm reminded of Steven Wright's announcement that "I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and nearly went back in time."

Are cupcakes on the food pyramid?

My colleague had the new display of cookery books and food writing well under way this morning.  At some point, two different labels suggested themselves:  "Just Desserts" or "Getting Your Just desserts".  I concurred that "Just Desserts" was the less risky option.  What if someone who loves sweets and is perfectly cognizant of their dismal calorie-to-vitamin ratio reads the sign and takes offense?  He or she might view the phrase as implying that dessert fanciers will get what they have coming (e.g., weight gain and guilt) if they follow through with the lusciously illustrated titles on offer.

Surely we all recognize the morality factor associated with food: you're an admirable human being if you choose whole grains and count fat grams but frivolous and self-indulgent if you veer toward pies and frosting.  (Those of us who both relish whole grains and mentally count fat grams in the layer cake we're ecstatically consuming belong in a special category.)  Because food is elemental for us, we have to discuss it; we just require less controversial and more entertaining outlets for our obsession.

Available from RRPLMystery authors figured this out long ago and have successfully marketed hundreds of volumes featuring caterers (Diane Mott Davidson), herbalists (Susan Whittig Albert), Pennsylvania Dutch recipes (Tamar Myers)--even a White House chef (Julie Hyzy), along with many other culinary connections.  Entering this popular field must be a daunting venture, necessitating not only literary imagination but also a fresh angle and an eye on culture and trends.

Enter Sandra Balzo and Cleo Coyle.  Observers of contemporary caffeine- and latte-driven society, they've authored clever coffeehouse mysteries.  Beginning in 2003, Coyle has produced eight titles, including Espresso Shot, French Pressed, and Holiday Grind.  The next installment--Roast Mortem--is due out in August.  Sandra Balzo's Maggie Thorsen series debuted in 2004 with Uncommon Grounds, followed by Grounds for Murder; Bean There, Done That; and Brewed, Crude, and Tattooed

You could also watch for an upcoming bakery treat to accompany your beverage mysteries.  A reviewer of Jenn McKinlay's Sprinkle With Murder deemed it a "tasty concoction".  Combining popular themes--cupcakes and the Big Wedding (think Bridezillas or Say Yes to the Dress)--McKinlay's story is set in a specialized bakery, Fairy Tale Cupcakes.  I could tell you more, but it's after 5:00 and I need to go home and bake something.