Bittersweet Season

Memoir is flourishing these days with aspiring writers who have a story of their own life to tell – and proficient writers inspired to turn their hand to this genre. Jane Gross is a New York Times reporter. She launched and still contributes to the Times blog called The New Old Age. Her mother’s final years of failing health, starting in assisted living and ending in a nursing home, are described in a memoir titled A Bittersweet Season. It was a time of nightmarish challenge, unwelcome revelation, and unexpected reconciliation. This is a blisteringly honest book. Elderly mother, dutiful daughter and not so dutiful (or rather, differently dutiful) son didn’t go into this with warm, close relationships. And Ms. Gross made understandable mistakes with disastrous results. Fortunately for all concerned, she found an excellent nursing home. This book has a great deal of candid and vital advice for anyone in the same boat the Gross family found itself in. Recommended, although not necessarily recommended at a time in your life when it hits too close to home. It’s hard to read if your own nerves are raw. I recently heard Jane Gross speak here in Houston.  That was a tremendously effective way for her advice to connect with people who needed to hear it.

A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross, published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf in 2011.

Letters to Auntie Fori

Before Martin Gilbert trekked across the Indian Subcontinent as a young man, an Indian friend of his from Oxford University, Ashok, told Martin to look up his mother if he found himself in Delhi.  Martin turned up on her doorstep dreadfully sick with some kind of stomach bug.  Ashok’s mother welcomed him like another son and nursed him back to health.  She turned out to be a warm, energetic woman married to a cousin of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India. They stayed in touch across several decades and many travels as her husband, known to Martin as Uncle Bijju, served as Governor of several Indian regions and chair of a UN committee.

Martin made a point of visiting Auntie Fori in India when she was 90 years old.  At one point in that visit, she asked if he knew of a history of the Jewish people she could read.  Why?  It turned out that she had met Uncle Biiju in their University days in England and thus became Indian by marriage and a passionate advocate of India;  but she was born Hungarian and Jewish. This book is the answer to Auntie Fori’s question.  Martin Gilbert is the author of numerous books on Jewish themes, and his mastery of the subject shows in his simple, approachable and assured treatment of an enormous topic.  Recommended!

Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5000-year History of the Jewish People and their Faith, by Martin Gilbert.  Schocken Books 2002.

Battle on Mercury

Here’s the first science fiction book I ever read, which I found in the YA section of the public library when I was eleven and which fascinated me.  It’s Battle on Mercury by Lester del Rey writing under the odd pseudonym Erik Van Lhin.  Curious to see if it holds up to reading as an adult, I got a copy through Interlibrary Loan (from Texas A & M – way to go A & M Science Fiction collection!)  Surprise – even though it was first published in 1953, and that shows, it’s still riveting in the darned-good-yarn sort of way. The plot is fast-moving with stakes rapidly ratcheting up.  Not only that:  there’s a sense of wonder, with molten metals and energy-based life forms called wispies on a Mercury that always holds one super-heated face to the sun.  Silicon-based life forms exist in the twilight zone at the edge of the hot face.  Far into the twilight, Mercury is so cold that oxygen is frozen solid.  Cool-!  Central to the plot is the relationship between a boy named Dick – the son of an engineer in a mining colony – and the wispie that Dick named Johnny Quicksilver.  Johnny evolves from trouble-making pet to friend to savior through the agency of an old robot that Dick repaired and that the wispie, it turns out, can operate – including operating the speech circuits.  Natural interplanetary wonders, technology and invention, and unexpected meeting of minds:  that’s good SFnal stuff.

Behold the Book Fairy

Cecilia Bugbee wowed ’em at the ApolloCon Masquerade over the weekend.  Any reader, writer or editor would be charmed by a Book Fairy! On the right is CeCe’s mom (and costume designer) Bethe.

Memorable Titles

The titles of academic books can run toward a string of verbiage studded with a colon amounting to nothing memorable.  Scholars must fantasize about writing a reputable book with the perfect title:  both apt and unforgettable.  One of my favorites is Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization.  Historian Robert Darnton scored with The Great Cat Massacre, about an episode in French history.   Now here is a brand-new book with a title that may be a bit too vivid for its own good, because a title should make readers open the book, not hold it by one corner like a loaded mouse trap.  Cambridge University Press has published this work by law scholar Allan C. Hutchinson:  Is Eating People Wrong? – Great Legal Cases and How They Shaped the World.

Five Myths about the Information Age

In the April 17 Chronicle of Higher Education online, Robert Darnton – Harvard’s University Librarian – calls five prevalent ideas about the Information Age a font of proverbial nonwisdom.  “The book is dead.”  But more print books are produced every year than the last.  “We have entered the information age.”  But every age is an age of information in its own way and with the media available.  “All information is now available online.” Not for researchers who spend much time in archives!  “Libraries are obsolete.” Actually libraries are seeing increasing numbers of patrons. More than simply warehousing books, libraries offer the public much-needed guidance in the wilderness of cyberspace  and give crucial help to job-seekers, since want ads have disappeared from newspapers.  (I’ve heard this from someone in the Harris County Library System:  they’ve been helping job-seekers left and right.)  “The future is digital.”  Yes, but new modes of information tend to not obliterate older ones, for example, radio did not destroy newspapers.  Darnton also wrote The Case for Books, which is a very fine book, and The Great Cat Massacre, a classic example of an academic book with a vivid title.

Non-call number

This came up when a Library patron asked where the QT’s were, because that section is not marked on our floor maps.  In point of fact it doesn’t exist!  But this book was listed in the online catalog.  There was some discussion and a quick investigation as to whether the Library of Congress call number system actually might have opened up the QT range for the blazingly new field of nano-bio-technology, but such was not the case.

Books that are good for good

SF Signal has a Mind Meld in which some of us weigh in on “Books That Are As Good Today As They Were The First Time.”   An interesting variety of books and stories are named – and some named again and again.

Book Marks

At the Circulation Desk today we had three stacks of books returned by a graduate student who set some kind of record in number and variety of bookmarks left in the books.

Included were:

  • Two gum wrappers, one silver and one green, both fortunately empty and dry.
  • Self-checkout machine receipts (no surprise) plus receipts from several other sources.
  • Post-it notes.  We do not like Post-It notes in books.  If they stick around too long they damage pages.   Beyond one or two understandably overlooked, we grumble when we have to remove Post-it Notes from books.
  • Besides intact Post-It notes of at least two sizes, there were torn pieces of yellow Post-It Notes and a solitary pink Post-It note piece.
  • A short stack of  unused Post-It notes still on their brown paper end sheet.   Great.  We can use them.
  • Bits and strips of otherwise unidentified white paper, some with scribbled notes:  “Crucial ideological value of media,” “Ford(?) and Post-(scribble) in cinema.”  Also,
  • A scrap of yellow legal pad paper.
  • A shred of newspaper (Rice Thresher.  I think.)
  • A short coil of wire.
  • An airline boarding pass (Quantas)
  • A vintage Man Ray postcard with its back side covered in page numbers and scribbled  notes.
  • An old Catalog card for a political science treatise in German,with the call number of a book about recent Ojibway cultural history jotted on the back. (When the Card Catalog was supplanted by the Online Catalog and phased out, the cards with their blank backs were repurposed as freely available jottings cards for Library patrons.)
  • A computer-printed receipt for a Standing Room Only ticket to Live Nation Presents LCD Soundsystem.  And:
  • A Fondren Library bookmark.  Imagine that.  Using a book mark for a book mark!

Sin and Syntax

 

Here’s a grammar book that is so not stuffy.  Sin and Syntax – How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale (Broadway Books 1999) is almost too self-consciously post-modern with its “sin” riff.  Each of three parts – Words, Sentences and Music – consists of a chapter in four sections:  Bones (“the grammar sermonette”), Flesh (“the lesson on writing”), Cardinal Sins (“true transgressions”)  and Carnal Pleasures (“playful, riotous, sometimes subversive pieces of writing.”)  This could be an irritating book if it weren’t written so very well and didn’t lift up such luminous examples and instances  of the written word in English.  Given the sin riff, here’s an instance one  might not have expected,  in the appendix on recommended books:

“The King James Bible. …  Its poetry works whether or not you’re a believer, and it resonates profoundly through our literary culture.  If you like this stuff, you may also want to check out The Book of Common Prayer.  For musicality, few texts beat the Prayer of Consecration…. or some of the Collects (try the First Sunday in Advent….)”

From the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, here is the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent, which is today.

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost,  now and ever. Amen.