Mary's Library

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Library Books

Six Books That Are Going Back to the Library Unread

One cannot read everything. Only recently has this truth been revealed to me. Among the books I’m not going to read, at least not soon, are the following, which are going back to the library today unread.

By Sparkle Hayter (her real name)
Fiction 1994
Sarah was reading one of Hayter’s books and it sounded amusing. This one is a close call, but ocre. Hayter will be on my Borrow Again list.

By Denene Millner and Nick Chiles
Fiction 2003
I read an op-ed piece by Chiles and liked his “voice.” Another for the Borrow Again list.

By Dana Stabenow
Mystery 2004
One of the Kate Shugak series, which takes place in Alaska. Sandy recommended it. I read the first chapter or two and it does look good, but ocre.

By Peter Spiegelman
Mystery 2003
A debut novel. I try to read at least a dozen first novels every year and to buy a couple of the really good new ones. This one didn't make the cut.

By Jeffrey Cohen
Mystery 2002
The first book in the Aaron Tucker series. It didn’t grab me.

By Robert B Parker
Mystery 1975
I’m reading the Spenser mysteries and this is the next one on my list. But there isn’t time to get to it before it’s due so I’m going to pass on it this time. Borrow Again list.

And Three That Aren’t

The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland

By Karl E Meyer
Mike told me last week about this history of Central Asia, so I requested it from the library. It’s great. Thanks, Mike.

America in the King Years 1965-68
By Taylor Branch
I have read the two previous volumes in this three-volume history of the Civil Rights Movement: PARTING THE WATERS 1954-63 (1988) and PILLAR OF FIRE 1963-65 (1998). Every American should read Branch’s monumental work.

By Jonathan Harr
This much-acclaimed book is about Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, which disappeared nearly 200 years ago. A young graduate student stumbled across a clue to its whereabouts and this book is the story of her discovery and the search that ensued. It reads like a novel. A very good novel.

Monday, January 30, 2006

What I'm Reading

By Kermit Roosevelt
A legal thriller that takes place in a white-shoe K Street firm. I’ve read only 27 of its 370 pages, so although it is well written so far I’m not ready to pronounce. It’s unusual in having a bibliography. I don’t read many legal thrillers but I doubt most of them go to the trouble of listing sources. The title that captured my attention was PIN STRIPES AND PEARLS (Scribner, 2003), by Judith Hope. Because Roosevelt’s book is due at the library tomorrow I moved it to the top of my list but it is in grave danger of abandonment.

By Charles Dickens
Masterpiece Theater is broadcasting the new production of this, my favorite Dickens novel, so I picked it up and started reading it again. Good decision. It’s delightful.

By Louisa May Alcott
Sheer pleasure. See post of 26 Jan 2006, “Louisa May Alcott.”

By Anthony Trollope
Flawless. See post of 17 Jan 2006, “Reading List Details.”

By Erle Stanley Gardner
This was the first Perry Mason mystery, wherein the major characters were introduced. I was surprised to find how much they changed over the years. By the time Gardner was writing CASE OF THE CAUTIOUS COQUETTE (1949) or even THE CASE OF THE LAME CANARY (1937), Perry, Della, and Paul had changed size, shape, age, and sartorial style. By the time of THE CASE OF THE CARELESS CUPID (1968) Gardner had been influenced by Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, and William Hopper, who played Perry, Della, and Paul in the Perry Mason television show, which ran from 1957 through 1966.

Little known fact: When Raymond Burr had to miss several episodes in 1963 because of health problems, Bette Davis filled in as a lawyer friend of Perry's who was handling his caseload while Perry was in Europe.

& Find Out How Type Works

By Erick Spiekermann and E M Ginger
2nd ed, Adobe Press (2002.)
See post of 20 Jan 2006, “Type.”

By Kim Wilson
I’m getting near the end and am now reading only a paragraph a day. See post of 17 Jan 2006, “Reading List Details.”

The Early Years
By Tim Hilton
I haven’t picked it up all week. Must try harder. See post of 17 Jan 2006, “Reading List Details.”

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Best Sellers of the Past

The #2 best selling book in the US in the year 1900 was Mary Cholmondeley’s RED POTTAGE, published in England in 1899. A minor sensation at the time, the book is a satire on middle class hypocrisy. It features Hester, a novelist, and her friend, Rachel.

Hester is forced to live with her narrow-minded clergyman brother, who in disgust with her work throws the manuscript of her most recent and best novel into the fire. She is nearly undone by this vandalism, but pulls herself together to assist her friend, Rachel, who has had the misfortune to fall in love with Hugh Scarlett.

The novel begins with a melodramatic scene in which Lord Newhaven, having discovered that Scarlett is having an affair with his wife, presents the man with two straws. He who draws the shorter will commit suicide within the year. Scarlett draws, and finds himself with the short straw.

Will he have the courage to kill himself? If he fails to do so what will Newhaven do? You can see why this plot would ruffle a lot of ostrich feathers in 1900.

The title is taken from the quotation: "After the red pottage comes the exceeding bitter cry," a reference to Jacob and Esau in Genesis. Cholmondeley is pronounced "CHUM-lee."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

How To Read a Book

Mortimer Adler wrote HOW TO READ A BOOK in 1940. I found a copy in the library when I was in high school and it has been a favorite ever since. I’ve worn out a few copies over the years and given away not a few more. Every eighth grader should have it in his or her library.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Bab al-Qasr Gate

The Seattle librarian, Nancy Pearl, has a formula for how deeply you should delve when you’re evaluating a book. Subtract your age from 100. The result is the number of pages that you need to read before deciding the book is or isn’t worthwhile.

Using that formula I’ve perused some of the NY Times’ “10 Best Books of 2005.” One of them is THE ASSASSINS’ GATE: America in Iraq (2005), by George Packer.

Packer’s book is not a diatribe. That makes it superior to well over half of the books being written about the Iraq War. The author attempts to be fair. He points out that “it might be years or even decades before the wisdom of the war can finally be judged.”

On the other hand, this book was chosen as among “the best” by the NY Times, which guarantees it isn’t going to be in favor of much that the Bush Administration has done. As expected, Packer is more readily persuaded by the arguments against our invasion of Iraq than those in favor of it. That said, the author’s is a rational voice in this often irrational argument.

On 30 October 2005, in his NY Times review, Fareed Zakaria, quoting from the book said, “The story of America in Iraq is one of abstract ideas and concrete realities. ‘Between them,’ Packer says, ‘lies a distance even greater than the 8,000 miles from Washington to Baghdad.’” The disastrous tactics and resulting chaos in the early days of our presence in Iraq demonstrate this disjunction. Whatever the validity of the decision to invade Iraq, the actual invasion was inadequately planned and poorly carried out.

Packer, although it’s clear he doesn’t like them, presents clearly the history and rationale of the pro-war voices in the Bush administration. He has read a great deal and talked to many people on both sides of the issue. He has been to Iraq and talked to both Iraqis and Americans there. He describes dispassionately the disturbing early days of the war. He thought carefully about all this before he began to write. His writing is readable. He is often persuasive. If you are going to read a book about the war, this is the book to choose.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Louisa May Alcott

The other day Sandy, our letter carrier, delivered the latest Library of America volume, Louisa May Alcott’s trilogy, LITTLE WOMEN (1868), LITTLE MEN (1871), and JO’S BOYS (1886.) I’m very fond of Alcott's work and LITTLE WOMEN is one of those books I read almost yearly. It never loses its charm for me. I can’t recall ever meeting a woman who didn’t love these stories. Many of us have made the pilgrimage to Concord to visit Orchard House, where the Alcotts lived from 1858 until 1877.

We’ve learned a lot about Alcott in recent years. She wrote sensational fiction under a pseudonym, for one thing. And she was ill for much of her adult life after being treated for typhoid with calomel, which contained a great deal of mercury. She met most of the literary figures of England, and of course she grew up being dandled on Emerson’s knee and was a friend of Thoreau, whose cabin at Walden Pond her father helped to build.

Her father reminds me of Skimpole in Dickens’ BLEAK HOUSE (1852.) Bronson Alcott never could figure out how to go about supporting a family. He was always the first to sign up for obviously doomed business prospects. He did at one time have a fairly prosperous school in Boston, but in 1837 he published a book containing a frank discussion of pregnancy, which led to a scandal, and the relatives of Emerson, Melville, Hawthorne, and John Quincy Adams withdrew their children from his Temple School, as did most of the other parents, and Bronson went bust once more.

He started up again with a small class in his parlor, but when he admitted an African American girl most of the other parents pulled their children out of his class and that school, too, failed. The man was clearly ahead of his time and you can’t help admiring his courage – at one point the family took in a fugitive slave. But when his utopian community, Fruitlands, failed he seems to have given up and the family lived on the mother’s inheritance and Louisa May’s work as a domestic, governess, laundress, and seamstress. His daughter’s writing helped.

An 1868, at the age of 35, Louisa May wrote LITTLE WOMEN, which was an immediate success. She was able to support her family, send her sister abroad to study, and to keep everyone comfortable until she died in 1888, two days after her father.

Alcott wrote some other books that I loved when I was young:

EIGHT COUSINS (1874) and its sequel ROSE IN BLOOM (1876)

You can read these books on line at
excepting EIGHT COUSINS, which is at .

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Problem of Money and Time

I read a lot of novels written in the 18th and 19th century and in many of them the problem arises of the relative value of a currency then and now. There are tables and algorithms that purport to translate say 1850s pounds into present-day dollars. But that’s only the beginning.

For example, before the invention of the cotton gin, picking the seeds out of cotton bolls was the devil of a job. So cotton was much more expensive in the early 1800s, when Jane Austen was writing PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1813), than it is now. Eli Whitney’s 1793 invention was soon to result in a dramatic decrease in the cost of cotton, but in Jane Austen’s day those wispy muslin dresses girls wore cost more than you’d expect. Silk was cheaper.

In fact, until the 20th century clothes were much more expensive than they are today. So when you are figuring out how far the income would have gone that Mr Bennet was going to be able to leave to his family when he died you have to take this sort of value change into consideration. Rent was cheap, food was cheap, clothing was off the charts.

John Steele Gordon addressed this problem years ago in the column he writes for American Heritage Magazine called “The Business of America.” In the May/June 1989 issue, Gordon tells of the 1917 sale of a Fifth Avenue mansion to Cartiers for $1.2 million. Instead of taking the money, the owner exchanged his house for a “two-strand Oriental pearl necklace.” The house and the necklace, in other words, were of equal value in 1917. But by 1989 their relative value had changed considerably.

Guess who came out ahead in this deal, when viewed from 70 years later. At the time Gordon was writing, the mansion, now Cartier’s New York City store, was valued at about $20,000,000. That was 16 years ago and as we all know the cost of Manhattan real estate has increased a bit since then. Meanwhile, the necklace, the whereabouts of which is unknown, was worth about $200,000. In other words, in 1989 the mansion was worth at least a hundred times as much as the pearls. You see the problem.

The article can be found here:

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Great Good Place

Near the corner of 14th and Grand, here on the South Hill in Spokane, there is a yarn store par excellence. It’s called A Grand Yarn and it is my great good place, my third place.

These terms are taken from a 1989 book by Ray Oldenburg, THE GREAT GOOD PLACE: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You through the Day. From the blurb: “The ‘third place’ is a place where people can gather, put aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation.”

I read that book when it was published and found it interesting in an abstract sort of way. I had plenty of friends at the time and the now-defunct Gilpin House Book Store in Alexandria, Virginia, was my third place. (I found Wilhelm there, in current nonfiction.) I’ve since decided Oldenburg's book says something profound about our lives today.

When I decided to move to Spokane I knew eight people here. That soon grew to nine when our friends Eric and Louisa had a baby. Brady is one of my 10 favorite people at the moment, but he’s not really into doing lunch or shopping at Nordstrom. I had to have a plan.

I didn’t realize how easy it is to meet people, get to know them, and become friends here in Spokane. But easy as it is, you do need a place to start, and my place is AGY. I signed up for a couple of knitting classes that I didn’t think I needed (turned out I learned a lot from Pat’s sock class and Gerda’s sweater class), and I met and got to know a lot of sharp, funny, talented people.

Since Oldenburg’s book was written, Starbuck’s and other coffee shops have proliferated and have become for many people their third place. But as great good places go, you can’t beat your local yarn store. If you live within 50 miles of 14th and Grand, A Grand Yarn is your “local.”

Want to learn to knit? Here are a couple of books that will get you started. But you will learn more quickly and easily if you sign up for a class at your yarn store.
THE KNITTING EXPERIENCE. Book 1, The Knit Stitch : Inspiration and Instruction (2002), By Sally Melville. Melville has added two books to this series, Book 2, The Purl Stitch and Book 3, Color. The stylish hats, scarves, and sweaters in The Knit Stitch are easy to make and most need a minimum of finishing.
STITCH’N BITCH: The Knitter’s Handbook (2003), by Debbie Stoller. This book is aimed at the younger knitter but appeals to everybody. It's packed with information and it has directions for some easy and beautiful scarves and sweaters, not to mention a bikini and a cat bed.

The term “a great good place” is, I assume, inspired by a short story of that name by Henry James, published in 1900. I don’t recommend it. Like much of late James it’s pretty obscure. Read "Daisy Miller" instead.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Foreign Affairs sent me a coffee mug the other day. I’m not sure what their motivation was, but maybe they figured I’d take it into the office and others, seeing that someone as clever and knowledgeable as I subscribes, would decide that they should, too. There are a couple of serious errors in that reasoning, starting with my degree of savvy. And the only ones who will see me drinking from it are Wilhelm, Miss Darcy, and Miss Woodhouse. Foreign Affairs isn’t going to get any new subscribers in that bunch. But Foreign Affairs it would seem has jumped on the word-of-mouth advertising bandwagon.

One of the first things I noticed about Spokane when we moved here last summer was the extreme importance of word-of-mouth in the business community here. We needed to have some electrical work done on the old house we had just bought as it still had some “knob and tube” wiring (whatever that is.) So we asked around.

Our incomparable realtor, Vickie Munch, of Windermere Spokane (whom we found by word of mouth), recommended The Brothers Electric, who do not advertise, who are not in the phone book, and who did an excellent job.

It turns out The Brothers Electric are at the cutting edge of marketing. Today’s NY Times has a story by Julie Bosman called “Advertising is Obsolete. Everyone Says So.” It’s a report on an advertising association conference called “Word-of-Mouth Basic Training.” Apparently viral and buzz advertising are now the way to go.

The thing to do if you want to spread the word about your product or service is to find “influencers” and “promoters,” an idea that comes from Malcom Gladwell’s best-seller, THE TIPPING POINT: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. You need “people who have large social networks and are good communicators.” Like realtors. Or bloggers.

I have heard that the “decision cycle” on which new movies depend for their success or failure is now about 5 minutes. When a new movie opens, teenaged early adopters go to the first showing. About five minutes into the movie they have decided whether they like it or not. Within 10 minutes they have phoned 10 of their friends to tell them it’s awesome. Or, to the horror of the movie makers who put $40,000,000 million into their film, to tell them to fugedaboudit. The power of word-of-mouth. Scary, isn’t it.

Want to take advantage of some word-of-mouth marketing of books about word-of-mouth marketing? Go to The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing: How to Trigger Exponential Sales Through Runaway Word of Mouth (2001) by George Silverman at and click on one of the titles under “Customers who viewed this book also viewed . . ..” Or click on one of the lists of books Amazon’s customers have compiled.

Here are a few books about word-of-mouth advertising. (Why do business books have such long subtitles?):
BUZZMARKETING: Getting People to Talk About Your Stuff (2005), by Mark Hughes
VIRAL MARKETING: Getting Your Customer To Do Your Marketing For You (2002), by Russell Goldsmith
GRAPEVINE: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing (2005), by David Balter and John Butman
UNLEASHING THE IDEAVIRUS: Stop Marketing at People! Turn Your Ideas into Epidemics by Helping Your Customers Do the Marketing for You (2001), by Seth Godin
THE ANATOMY OF BUZZ: How To Create Word-of-Mouth Advertising (2002) by Emanuel Rosen

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Economics -- The Sprightly Science

I’ve noticed that economics isn’t dismal any more. There have been a few recent books by economists that are so amusing and well written that they have made the best seller list. And some that didn't quite make it there are equally worth your time.

Wilhelm asked Santa for FREAKONOMICS: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner (2005.) Of all the books and toys around here Christmas morning, Levitt and Dubner’s book was the most popular. Herr W read the entire thing in less than 24 hours. The only other present that was nearly as popular was Matt Gaffney’s SIP AND SOLVE: Hard Crosswords. (The less said about my new video game the better.)

The financial writer for the New Yorker, James Surowiecki, whose columns are usually pretty lively, by the way, has written an intriguing book, THE WISDOM OF CROWDS: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations (2004.) I’m not convinced Surowiecki is right about this issue, but that isn’t interfering with my enjoyment of the book. You might want to counter it, however, by reading EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS, by Charles MacKay (1841.)

David M Cutler, who was on President Bill Clinton’s health care task force (for what that’s worth) and who advised presidential candidate Bill Bradley, makes some genuinely useful suggestions for positive change in our health care system in YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE: Strong Medicine for America’s Health Care System (2004.)

Thomas L Friedman is an economist whose work I admire greatly. You don’t get any better common sense analysis or entertaining reading than in his NY Times columns and his best-selling books, which are:
THE WORLD IS FLAT: A Brief History of the 21st Century (2005)
LONGITUDES AND ATTITUDES: Exploring the World after September 11 (2002)

And so we come to the luminous books of John Steele Gordon, every one of which is worth reading for the information in it and for the pure enjoyment of it.
THE SCARLET WOMAN OF WALL STREET: Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Erie Railway Wars, and the Birth of Wall Street (1988) The scarlet woman is the Erie Railroad.
THE GREAT GAME: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power, 1653-2000 (1999) Ever wonder why the American Stock Exchange is called "the curb?"
AN EMPIRE OF WEALTH: The Epic History of American Economic Power(2004)
HAMILTON’S BLESSING: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt (1997) Who would believe a book about the national debt could be so readable.
A THREAD ACROSS THE OCEAN: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable (2002) Financing this project was almost as impossible as figuring out how to lay the cable.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tea Is in Fashion

Nobody loves tea as I do. Not even Samuel Johnson, who purportedly drank 50 cups during an evening in the drawing room of his patroness, Mrs Thrale. But as the Snickers commercial points out, some things are satisfying only if you ingest them.

The NY Times today has a story about an outfit made by costume designer Brett Cooper. Mr Cooper’s reputation is based on the costumes he created for two drag queens and a transvestite in 1994’s “Priscilla Queen of the Dessert” and a dress made from American Express credit cards, which is something I should think would be more in Martha Stewart’s line. His fellow designer for “Priscilla” wore his Gold Card creation to the Academy Awards, where she won an Oscar for – you guessed it – costume design.

This time Mr Cooper’s fashion statement is made from tea bag envelopes and boxes. He couldn't use tea bags because, as he points out, no woman needs the padding, even if it’s oolong or Darjeeling. This little tea package number is intended to attract attention to an upcoming Celestial Seasonings promotion to raise money for WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. Good for Celestial Seasonings. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women and most women don’t know that.

My friend Sarah visited the Celestial Seasonings factory a while back and brought me some Sleepytime Extra, which is what I drink when I wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep. Sarah knows I particularly like things that are labeled extra, or double, or fortified, or industrial strength. (I don’t do drugs and alcohol and we all have to get our kicks where we can.)

Apparently the highlight of the Celestial Seasonings tour is the mint room. Sarah reached for terms like brisk and bracing to describe the experience. Snappy, exhilarating, rousing, sharp, stimulating. (I think she meant painful.) Those adjectives are excellent descriptors of many teas. (Well, not painful, excepting maybe lapsang souchong, an ashtray flavored brew which appeals to those who prefer single-malt Scotch and cigars.) Also appropriate to describe tea are soothing, solacing, consoling, quenching, refreshing, warming, and restorative. There’s nothing like it. Coffee doesn’t even come close.

They’ve been telling us lately that tea is good for our hearts. (Also chocolate, but I’ll go into that at another time.) It’s also good for our minds and our spirits. It helps us to get to sleep or to stay awake. It’s cheering when we’re celebrating and assuageing when we’re sad. But I can’t say as it does much for our wardrobe.

Some books about tea from my library:
THE BOOK OF TEA (2000?) Preface by Anthony Burgess. This is an oversized “coffee" table book with lots of fine photos and illustrations, most of them in color.
THE WAY OF TEA, by Rand Castile (1971) Beautifully made, boxed, oversized.
HAVING TEA: Recipes and Table Settings (1986) by Tricia Foley.
TEATIME IN THE NORTHWEST (2001) by Sharon and Ken Foster-Lewis.
TIME FOR TEA: Travels through China and India in Search of Tea (1990) by Jason Goodwin. A history of the tea trade. A very fine book.
TEA TIME (1992) by M Dalton Smith. Miniature; it includes some recipes.
MURDER AT TEATIME (1991) by Stefanie Matteson. Third in the Charlotte Graham mystery series. It takes place in Maine.
A DECENT CUP OF TEA (1991) by Malachi McCormick. Tea and cake. An attractive small book with a decorative hand-made paper cover.
TEA LOVER’S TREASURY (1982) by James Norwood Pratt.
TEACRAFT: a Treasury of Romance, Rituals, and Recipes (1975) by Charles and Violet Schafer.
THE LONDON RITZ BOOK OF AFTERNOON TEA (1986) by Helen Simtson. Inlcudes recipes. When I had tea there a gentleman at the next table wore a dove grey morning coat and top hat and a monocle. It was Derby Day.
THE AFTERNOON TEA BOOK (1986) by Michael Smith. The proper term for a twee tea party is “afternoon tea,” not “high tea,” as one so often sees it miscalled. High tea is a working class meal; it’s supper. This incorrect usage annoys me almost as much as the use of “home” when one means “house.”
TEA WITH JANE AUSTEN (2004) by Kim Wilson. See my blog entry “Reading List Details," Tuesday, 17 January 2006.
JAPAN: The Art of the Tea Ceremony (1988) This is an informative little pamphlet I picked up at a National Gallery exhibit where I got to see an actual, if nomadic, Japanese tea house.

Then there are Laura Childs’ teashop mysteries. (I always find a way to talk about murder mysteries no matter the ostensible subject.) These are set in Charleston, South Carolina.

Here are two books with tea in the title that I’ve borrowed from the library:
A CUP OF TEA (1997) by Amy Ephron. Fiction. In about 1913 or 14 a wealthy New York lady takes in a poor girl. Then her fiancé begins to find the girl a little too interesting. This isn’t quite literature, but it’s not a Harlequin Romance either.
MR PUTTER AND TABBY POUR THE TEA (1994) by Cynthia Rylant. The first in the Mr Putter and Tabby series of children’s books. I’m grateful to Phyllis for telling me about Mr Putter, his cat, and their friend Mrs Teaberry. I love ‘em.

And finally, for the latest medical thinking about women and heart disease:
TOTAL HEART HEALTH FOR WOMEN: A Life-Enriching Plan for Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (2006) by H Edwin Young, et al. (I haven't seen this book yet.)

Friday, January 20, 2006


Wilhelm decided to have some cards made up with his “coordinates,” as I believe they call address, phone number, and email address these days, so we stopped by Ditto’s after lunch at Laskar’s the other day. (Laskar’s has become our second favorite restaurant in Spokane, after Picabu Bistro.) Herr W chose a simple conservative typeface and white card stock.

They looked so good that I, too, wanted cards. I had mine made up in a typeface called Basque, a modest san-serif with undertones of deco and overtones of nouveau. Herr W picked them up for me today and they look great. They have elan. Now if only there were someone to give them to. I’m thinking of them more as a year’s worth of bookmarks.

I had an anxious few moments deciding on the font as the print shop had a very thick book of typefaces. It’s so difficult for those of us with no imagination to know what something will look like unless we see it before us.

This whole experience sent me to the library for a book about printing and type. Because I liked the title so much I brought home STOP STEALING SHEEP & Find Out How Type Works, by Erick Spiekermann and E M Ginger, 2nd ed, Adobe Press (2002.)

It has lots of vivid photos, examples of a gazillion fonts, and explanations of kerning and leading and all the arcana of the world of composition. The authors urge the reader to look closely at the letters on the page. I mean, really look at them – at the serifs and ascenders and decenders, at the thickness of the line in various parts of a letter, and at the way the printed letter relates to the space around it, which believe me is just as important as the letter itself.

A typewriter produces something called monospacing or letterspacing, where each letter has the same amount of lateral space whether it’s an m or an l.
This sentence is in such a letterspaced typeface, courier. Because of their flexibility computers can use a font where the space for skinny letters is less than that for fat letters, as is the case with most print set by a human compositor. This sentence is in such a typeface, called Verdana, which was designed to be particularly readable on a computer screen.

The title of the book I borrowed from the library is inspired by a comment by the famous type designer, Frederic Goudy (1865-1947.) When he was given an award for excellence in type design, he took one look at the certificate and mumbled, “Anyone who would letterspace lower case would steal sheep.” This anecdote is probably apocryphal, but it makes a great title for a book about type. And he was right about letterspacing lower case.

STOP STEALING SHEEP is one of those books that provokes strong feelings in readers. The reviewers at tend to give it either one star or five. The critics have some good points. All the best stuff is in tiny crowded red print in the margins. This in a book about how to use type and space for legibility. Go figure.

If you’re serious about learning how to use fonts to best effect, there’s another book that has just this moment been published called THINKING WITH TYPE: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, and Students, by Ellen Lupton, Princeton Architectural Press (2006.) This one gets five stars from everybody who reviews it. You can get a look inside both of these books on Amazon.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

In the Teeth of the Evidence

Laurel has reminded me of Dorothy L Sayers’ “In the Teeth of the Evidence,” which, if I had thought of it, would have made a perfect post-dental reward yesterday. I delight in Sayers and reread her often. Her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, is the very wealthy younger brother of the Duke of Denver. He collects incunabula and dabbles in detective work with the assistance of his attentive valet, Bunter, who was Lord Peter’s batman in the war. Wimsey suffers from shell shock (aka battle fatigue or post-traumatic stress disorder) and Bunter nurses him though his difficult times and dusts for fingerprints, develops photographs, and performs other CSI duties as assigned.

In STRONG POISON Lord Peter falls in love with a newspaper photo of Harriet Vane, accused of murdering her lover. She is a modern woman, one of the first graduates of the new women’s college at Oxford (obviously modeled on Somerville) and reluctant to marry Lord Peter, who after saving her from the gallows pursues her through the next few novels. When Edward Petherbridge whips off his fedora at the end of the film version of GAUDY NIGHT and kisses Harriet Walter every woman watching is breathless.

Sayers was a serious scholar whose translation of Dante is still read and whose Christian apologetics are still in print. But it is for these classic English mysteries that we love her.

I discovered Sayers on a hot summer afternoon in North Carolina. I was waiting for a friend in the common room at Duke when I spotted on the bookshelf next to me the irresistible title, THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB. I was, I think, on chapter 3 when my friend appeared, and by then I was profoundly in love with Lord Peter.

I am known in the Dorthy L Sayers Society as The Bellona Club.

If anyone reading this has not found his way to the Lord Peter Wimsey series, do not delay. Begin reading now. Start with WHOSE BODY? and CLOUDS OF WITNESS. STRONG POISON, FIVE RED HERRINGS, GAUDY NIGHT, and BUSMAN’S HONEYMOON are best read in that order. Here is the list of titles.

WHOSE BODY? (1923)
LORD PETER VIEWS THE BODY (1928) Short stories
HANGMAN’S HOLIDAY (1933) Short stories
THE NINE TAILORS (1934) The tailors are bells. This is a treatise on change ringing.
GAUDY NIGHT (1935) Alumni weekend at Cambridge.
IN THE TEETH OF THE EVIDENCE (1939) Short stories

And then we have two controversial books. Left unfinished when Sayers died, they have been completed by Jill Paton Walsh. Some readers are pleased with the result and think Walsh has done a bang up job. Others are dismissive. I figure any Sayers is better than none.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Visit to the Dentist

Today I visited the dentist. As I was being fitted for my new crowns I thought about the book I was going to reward myself with when I got home. I always promise myself a reward when I go to the dentist so that I have something delightful to think about while in the dental chair.

The obvious choice today was a murder mystery. No, no, it isn’t that. I harbor no homicidal intentions regarding my dentist. I love my dentist. She’s a terrific dentist and her office runs like clockwork. I was there early, they took me 15 minutes early, my half hour appointment took 20 minutes, nothing they did hurt in the least, and I was out of there and on my way home to my promised reward almost before my scheduled appointment time. Certainly before I had time to decide what that reward was going to be.

No, a mystery was an obvious choice because I don’t have a murder mystery on my list of active reading. (I also do a certain amount of inactive reading, which I’ll explain later.) A dental mystery would be perfect.

I discovered there aren’t a lot of mysteries in which dentistry plays a major role. There’s the movie, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” where the main character’s pal gamely allows a dentist to pull a perfectly good tooth in order to help the hero spy on the bad guys. But that’s a movie, and the book from which the title was taken, by G K Chesterton, is related to the film in that respect only.

So I looked up dentists -- fiction in the library catalog. And there I found a couple of possible candidates. FALLS THE SHADOW (2005), by William Lashner, is the latest in a series about a Philadelphia defense attorney named Victor Carl, who in this book takes his aching tooth to “a charismatic and enigmatic” dentist named Dr Bob, who changes his life. The book sounds like it has possibilities.

The other pertinent books I found in the Fairfax County Public Library catalog are by Dennis Asen and are DEADLY IMPRESSION (1996) and ROOT OF DECEPTION (1998.) The protagonist is a forensic dentist (guess what Asen’s day job is) who works with a police detective to “drill and grill” in order to solve mysteries. It looks like Asen wrote only the two books.

I had gathered all this information before it dawned on me that if I were going to reward myself any time today it wasn’t going to be with any of these books since they are in a distant branch of the Spokane Library (Lasher) or would have to be ordered from (Asen.) I went ahead and ordered the Asen books (which set me back about $7) and requested the first of the Lashner series from the library. The first book in the series isn’t about a dentist, but I have to read these things in the proper order. I’m a serial reader (which is something like a serial murderer only less violent.) I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve had a chance to look at the books.

This left me with the problem of the immediate reward. So I fell back on Erle and I’m now on page 17 of THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS (1933.)

Here are the books in the William Lashner series, only the last of which deals with a dentist.

VERITAS (1997)
PAST DUE (2004)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Reading List Details

The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance

By Mariana Gosnell
New York : Knopf, 2005
June, from my on-line Trollope Group is reading this and as she and I seem to have an affinity for the same sorts of books, I decided to give it a try. I started reading this last night as I watched the snowflakes fall. Seemed apt. It looks good – I especially like the photos. Now June has told me about two other books entitled ICE, and one of them is an Ed McBain mystery. Who could resist?

By Anthony Trollope
My book data base says I read this in September of 1991 and listened to it on Books on Tape in May of 1984. Unfortunately, my data base has a few holes. I first read the book as a sophomore at Bridgewater in a course on the Victorian novel. It was, along with THE WARDEN, what introduced me to Trollope. I’ve re-read it numerous times since that exciting long ago week when I had my nose in it during every spare moment and stayed up all night to finish it.

I bought the DVD of the TV series based on those two books just before moving from Virginia to Spokane in August of last year, but didn’t have a chance to watch it before the TV and its peripherals were disassembled. And now? I can’t find it. I can put my hands on some 100 videos and DVDs, but not the one I want most. (Downside of having the moving company do your packing for you.)

By Shirley Letwin
This is a fine book which offers lots of insight into what Trollope was doing when he created such characters as Plantagenet Palliser, his ultimate gentleman, and Phineas Finn, about whom there is much controversy as to his gentlemanly qualities. First of course one must define gentleman, which takes about half the book . . .

On the Secret Trail of Trash

By Elizabeth Royte
A favorable review in the NY Times led me to request this book from the Spokane Library. I was, as with so many books, just going to take a look at it and send it back. Two weeks later I’m still looking. The author decides she is going to inventory her trash (don’t ask) and follow it to the land fill that will be its permanent home. But first she wants to take a look at that most famous land fill of all, Fresh Kills, on Staten Island. Not easily done, she discovers.

She moves on to discuss composting (“Do I need worms?”) and the recycling of paper, metal, hazardous compounds, and plastic (Satan’s resin.) And then we come to the fun part – the NY City sewer system. Which is where I stopped reading last night. Unfortunately, as the Spokane Library reminded me in an email this morning, the book is due back in two days, and can’t be renewed.

So I looked ahead, specifically at the part about the 2002 exhibit, Cloaca, at Manhattan’s New Museum of Contemporary Art. This work of art was a thirty-three-foot-long machine whose mouth was fed twice daily with “nutritious meals donated by fancy restaurants, restaurants apparently unafraid of being associated with shit. Twenty-seven hours later, Cloaca’s back end excreted fecal matter onto a conveyer belt.” The artist, Wim Delvoye, was disgruntled because the museum had encased Cloaca in an airtight plexiglass box. “It’s a pity,” said he, “because the smell in fact is part of the piece.”

GARBAGE LAND is interesting, but not as interesting as William Rathje’s RUBBISH! The Archeology of Garbage, published in 1992. Rathje, an archeologist and anthropologist (and not incidentally, a garbologist), describes the University of Arizona Garbage Project, a series of archaeological digs in dumps across the US. This book, which came out in trade paper in 2001 and still ships within 24 hours, says, gets five stars there, it’s that good.

From School Library Journal: The authors “give a historical overview of what the human species has been doing with its refuse since hunter-gatherer times: dumping, burning, recycling, or reducing the amount of potentially discardable stuff. Subsequent sections explain how we unconsciously tell the truth about our lifestyles by what we throw away. Interesting information abounds. The last chapter urges readers to observe a "Ten Commandments" of consumption and disposal, which is based not on what "we think we know" but on what data from studies like this one reveal.” - Carolyn E. Gecan, Thomas Jefferson Sci-Tech, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Publishers Weekly: “Garbologists have determined that people waste three times more beef when the meat is in short supply than when it is plentiful; that many women use birth-control pills incorrectly; and that lower-income families consistently buy small-size, brand-name products rather than cheaper generic ones.” The authors are “Erudite and witty cultural tour guides . . .” Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

By Kim Wilson
My pal Boots gave me this for Christmas. Jane, we are told, was in charge of her family’s tea and accoutrements and made tea for the family in the morning. In those days one locked up the tea and sugar, which were costly commodities. The book is full of info about my favorite beverage and quotations by and about Jane Austen, and it’s tastefully illustrated. What a treat! Best enjoyed while sipping Stash’s double bergamot Earl Grey. I’m reading it at a rate of about a page a day. I don’t want it ever to end.

The Early Years

By Tim Hilton
And now we come to my “serious reading.” In my unending quest for understanding of the Arts and Crafts Movement and everything thereto appertaining, I bought in trade paper Hilton’s one-volume JOHN RUSKIN, containing The Early Years (1985) and The Later Years (2000.) This book is a oner, as the cruciverbalists say. It’s almost as deep as it is wide (7 ½ x 5 x 3 inches) and is just shy of 950 pages. I’m reading it at approximately the rate I’m reading TEA WITH JANE AUSTEN, but for very different reasons. It’s thick in more ways than one.

I’ve chosen to list the first part as if it were a separate book. Weight Watchers says you should set short intermediate goals instead of going for the whole thing at once. So I’ve bitten off the first 279 pages. And I’m chewing as fast as I can.

Today I'm Reading:

ICE, by Mariana Gosnell (2005)
BARCHESTER TOWERS, by Anthony Trollope (1857)
THE GENTLEMAN IN TROLLOPE, by Shirley Letwin (1982)
GARBAGE LAND: On the Secret Trail of Trash, by Elizabeth Royte (2005)
TEA WITH JANE AUSTEN, by Kim Wilson (2004)
JOHN RUSKIN: The Early Years, by Tim Hilton (1985)