Thursday, July 31, 2008

Biblionovel Review: Death of a Bore by M.C. Beaton

Beaton, M.C., "Death of a Bore", (NY: Mysterious Press, 2005).

Gangly, flaming-locked Hamish Macbeth is the constable of a small Highland Scottish village and resists promotion to big city detective work. In this novel he solves the murder of the narcissistic, boring writer who alleges to teach the village residents how to write, but prefers to just talk about himself. The villagers, full of eccentricities and self-esteem, will have none of it, however, and insist that he review their literary efforts. One by one, he curtly dismisses their prose, introducing any number of infuriated, possibly homicidal, suspects.

Before the murder, Constable Macbeth takes it upon himself to chat up the insufferable one, and let him know that noone will likely sign up for the writing classes as they are scheduled for the same night as a popular television show, but Heppel gleefully lets him know that the registration is going quite well and further tweaks him by presenting him with a copy of his "Tammerty Biscuit Award"-winning memoir, inscribed "To Hamish Macbeth. His first introduction to literature. John Heppel". I thought that Macbeth had been acting more like a town gossip than police officer in this visit, but after that obnoxious gesture, I was rooting for him all the way. Heppel further irks the township by his constant fake tan and makeup-wearing antics in front of the local television news cameras and the stage is now set for his untimely demise.

M.C. Beaton, the nom de plume for historical romance writer Marion Chesney, deftly describes each of the many characters in this book, including an admirable canine, and makes them quite memorable, whether through their dress, speech, or inner thoughts. I had read one of Beaton's books in her other mystery series featuring curmudgeonly retiree Agatha Raisin and didn't feel compelled to read all of the others, but now I have a delightful bit of catching up to do with the previous 20 (!) Hamish Macbeth books.

These are light, humorous mysteries and are perfect summer reading. Recommended for Anglophiles, dog lovers, cozy mystery readers and the biblionovel contingent.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Literary Libations

When one first thinks of writers and alcohol, it is hard-drinking Ernest Hemingway's weary visage that pops into view. Poor Hemingway, tormented by mental demons in an unfortunate era of shock treatment therapy, certainly drank in the same driven way he hunted, fished, attended bullfights and bar fights. His Havana days were spent well marinated in a variety of rum drinks, according to the entertaining and intriguingly-illustrated "Tropical Bar Book: Drinks and Stories", by Charles Schumann (NY: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1989).

Papa Hemingway apparently had certain drinks that he would only order at specific bars: Mojitos at the Bodeguita del Medio (lime juice, sugar, mint, crushed ice, white rum & soda water), and Daiquiris at La Floridita (crushed ice, lime and grapefruit juice, maraschino and white rum); the Daiquiris often ordered as doubles, hence the nickname "Papa Dobles".

Other tropical tipplers of literary note included the British ex pats that hung out at the Writers Bar in the Raffles Hotel at the turn of the century century Singapore, including Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad and Noel Coward. The Singapore Sling was invented at the Writers Bar, and according to the Tropical Bar Book, started out as a concoction of grenadine, gin, lemon juice and water. Present day recipes for the classic cocktail are significantly pinker and sweeter and include three liqueurs, gin, two juices and a dash of bitters. It does seem hard to imagine Kipling cozying up to the bar and slurping up one of these pastel potions through a pineapple and cherry garnished straw.

The Tropical Bar Book
features other snippets of author’s writings and drinking habits, including Graham Greene, Jane Bowles, and Malcolm Lowry, as well as an extensive collection of rum, tequila and other cocktail recipes, many of the author’s own devising. The topic of writers and their alcoholic fuels intrigues me so you can look for more Book Trout posts on this subject as future installments.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

1940s Book Rental Jacket

It was the era of the book rental library during the 1940s. We often see books come into the shop bearing the stamps and desecrations of the rental librarian. The poor dust jackets arrive with lots of sticky black residue along the margins from old-fashioned jacket protectors, ripped-out flyleaves and multiple bold stampings of rental library addresses and announcements of daily overdue fines all over the endpapers.

Not so with this natty arrival. This copy of John Hersey's "A Bell for Adano", though shaken from many readings, is sporting a rather smart jacket protector featuring a pipe-smoking, elegantly-attired gent. Our man peers far-sightedly at his novel, imagining romance, swashbuckling adventure, historical journeys and intrigue on the high seas. A dashing jacket and one that I think I will hang on to for my museum of interesting books.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The How To Section in the Bookshop

One of the bookstore ideas Dan and I kicked around when planning for our open shop was to specialize in How To books, those books that explain how to fix things, renovate buildings, plant gardens, learn how to play a harmonica, etc. We were basing this rather limited business scheme on ourselves. We have many linear shelf feet of books about historic home repair, furniture refinishing, plumbing, gardening, and way too many cookbooks, and we figured everyone out there was just like us.

In our home library, I count no less than six books on how to make rustic Adirondack furniture, seven on how to make your own fishing lures and equipment and a staggering number of back-to-the-land type books which, if all projects contained in these pages were implemented, would turn our 2-acre "estate" in a checkerboard of mini-garden plots and wind turbine engines. While Dan and I would need several lifetimes to read them all and build the strip canoes, the handmade paper journals, the artisan cheeses and the double-dug garden plots of our dreams, it is precisely the lure of these fantasies that keeps them on our shelves. They represent the things we want to do with the luxury of time and occasionally, woefully all too occasionally, they are opened like presents and a project actually gets explored.

One of the best series of How To books, and a wonderful shelf full of dreams it is, is the 12-volume Foxfire series published in the 1970s and much sought after by our bookstore customers and by ourselves, naturally. The original editions of the later books in the series are scarcer and very difficult to find, particularly Volume 5, which contains chapters on blacksmithing and flintlock rifles. The series is still in-print and can be purchased at the non-profit Foxfire website. Part Appalachian folklore, part country living bible, this series was originally written by Georgia high school students and makes for interesting reading, even if you have no intention of ever starting a quilt or handling a snake.

After the success of the Foxfire books, Pamela Wood captured New England folkways in her book, The Salt Book: Lobstering, Sea Moss Pudding, Stone Walls, Rum Running, Maple Syrup, Snowshoes, and Other Yankee Doings (NY: Anchor Press, 1977), which is also a great country living resource. A second Salt book followed in 1980, which covered more maritime pursuits.

Also highly recommended in the How To section are the three Tightwad Gazette books written and engagingly illustrated by Amy Dacyczyn (Villard Books, 1990s). Dacyczyn consolidated a compendium of frugal living advice, recipes, how-to instructions and philosophical essays in these books, suited for any lifestyle, and particularly relevant in these hard economic times.

I did want to point out that specializing in How-To books, while not necessarily a practical idea for an open shop, can work quite successfully as an online business. Witness our bookseller colleague Charmaine Taylor's great site, Dirt Cheap Building.
Charmaine stocks new and used books, DVDs and other materials on alternative, economical home building, and she generously offers many links to free articles and sites on these topics as well. You'll learn a lot about straw bale homes, papercrete, cordwood building and many other really cool, low-cost building techniques. Check it out.

Here's to having loads more free time to pore over our How To bookshelves....