Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Note on the New Harper Lee Book

Like everyone else on the planet (in this, I'm pretty sure I am not exaggerating), I was excited to hear about the forthcoming sequel to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman, amazed that it should be unearthed after all this time.

According to Deadline the story, which was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, centers around an adult Jean Louise (Scout) Finch:
"Go Set A Watchman is set during the mid-1950s and features many of the characters from To Kill A Mockingbird some 20 years later, according to Penguin Random House. Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood."
That it should be found so quickly on the heals of her sister-cum-lawyer's death only niggled at the edges of my conscience a little. And that Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007, is mostly blind, somewhat deaf, and described by her new lawyer as "forgetful" should, after 60 years, finally say yes to publishing a second title when her life-long anthem has been that "some people only have one book in them," appears to be of little concern when measured with the excitement of a second Harper Lee book. I wonder if we're not doing ourselves and Ms. Lee a disservice or, at the very least, not honoring the life long wishes of this woman. Of course, at this juncture, the argument is an academic one. The cat's out of the bag. The book has been "found." It exists. It will be published.

Principles aside, I, like millions of other people, will be queueing up to read this historic book. Because I'm curious. Because, like many, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time. Because I want more Scout Finch and more Harper Lee... And that's what publishers Harper (in the U.S.) and Random House (in the U.K.) are counting on, considering their slated first run is 2 million copies.

Maybe that's where I stop though. It would be easy to jump on the review bandwagon as many are like to do. Instead, I imagine that I will greedily steal this book away to some corner of my house, and read it with the sense of guilt I had as a child, when I was doing something I knew I shouldn't. 

And, if I enjoy it even half as much as To Kill a Mockingbird, then I have been given a gift. If I don't, well, maybe there was a reason that, for 60 years, Alice and Nell Lee fought to keep the book out of the publisher's hands. One thing is for certain, it will have a coveted place on my bookshelf and it will be treasured for what it is - a part of our cultural history.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hits and Misses

Life's been busy, and seems to only be getting busier as we head toward the holidays. Tracy and I are fully settled into the new house and loving it, although I still have some books stacked on the floor awaiting more shelves. (First world problems, right?)

For the most part, it's been a good book week. I ordered a couple of signed editions and they arrived yesterday. Both are Neil Gaiman books:

Hansel & Gretel, illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti (Toon Books / McNally Jackson. October 28, 2014)

I wasn't fast enough to get the Deluxe edition, with the die-cut cover, which sold out almost immediately. At the time of this post, there were about 40 copies of both the standard and deluxe editions listed over on, none of which state that they are signed, however.

Stardust (Easton Press)

No mention of "limited edition" on this one, nor was there an edition number. Still, it's a signed edition & Easton Press provided a lovely letter of authenticity.

I also visited the used bookstore and found a couple of hits (and a couple of misses).

I went in thinking I could find a few Christmas presents for the fam (which I did do). I also found a few books for little ol' me.

The Hits:

Shadow of the Giant, Orson Scott Card (Tor, 2005)
Signed (inscribed) First/First.

In this part of the country it's not too hard to find signed copies of Orson Scott Card titles, but it's still a little exciting when I come across one in the bookstore.

Family of Honor, Robert B. Parker (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1999)
Signed First/First.

The Misses:

"A" is for Alibi, Sue Grafton (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982)
Stated First Edition, price clipped

... and a BCE (book club edition).

It's always a bit harder to tell with older titles if they're book club editions. Not all titles displayed prices on their dust jackets or ISBN numbers on their covers. Unfortunately, that's not the case with this title. First printings should display a price of $16.95 on the inner flap. (The price got bumped up to $18.95 by the third printing), and both a large and a small ISBN on the back cover.
Rainbow's End, Martha Grimes (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)
Stated First Edition, price clipped

... and another BCE.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Morning's Reading List

As usually happens on a Sunday morning, I've lolled about in comfy clothes (if-not-quite-pajamas) drinking coffee and reading through the slew of publisher's emails (looking at potential ARCs, reading lists, and award winners/runners up).

This morning we have a list of Sherlockian calibre mysteries from Simon & Schuster as well as a few titles coming out in January from HarperCollins:

First, the list of fictional sleuths that Simon & Schuster says passes literary muster:

  1. A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton
  2. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  3. Queen of the Flowers, Kerry Greenwood
  4. The Black Echo, Michael Connelly
  5. One for the Money, Janet Evanovich
What strikes me most about the list is that each of these stories, while fun, is terribly predictable. Don't get me wrong, I love nice light reading (I also appreciate the machinations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). I loved Agatha Christie as a child, because she was formulaic and I could follow the plot easily, even when she introduced unknowns in the form of a "plot twist." 

I know lots of people who are fans of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, but I'm really not one of them. The stories and writing are perfectly fine, but neither tends to hook me. Again, formulaic.

I like Michael Connelly's later books. The Black Echo just didn't challenge my brain in the way that Doyle's writing did -- of course, that could be the difference between reading Doyle as a teenager and Connelly as an adult.

And, in all honesty, I've never paid much attention to Greenwood. Perhaps because of the style of book cover or the time period in which the stories take place - I've always lumped her in with Jacqueline Winspear, whose writing I've never really enjoyed. (not really fair of me, I know, but it is what it is).

That said, the collectibility factor for four of the five titles cannot be denied:
  1. A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton: first editions list in the $2,000 to $7,000 range (signed) and up to $1,000 (unsigned). In fact, all early titles of her alphabet series are highly collectible. I remember, when I worked at the library we had a first edition (with library marks and all) and it was stolen shortly after one of the interns realized (and commented publicly on) how valuable it was. 
  2. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie. First editions of this title are a bit rare, as it was published in 1934. But the Crime Club published editions every 10 years or so, so you may find publication dates from the 1940s and 50s. Of course any first editions you find of Christie's work will be collectible - We're talking anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 for signed copies, easily. Unsigned titles (first editions) still garner values in the $1,000-$5,000 range depending on the condition. There's a nice collection of titles for sale over at
  3. Queen of the Flowers, Kerry Greenwood: First published as a paperback, first editions of this title aren't all that valuable. Other titles, however,  are listing over at AbeBooks in the $100 - $200 range.
  4. The Black Echo, Michael Connelly: The true first edition (Headline, London, 1992) of this title is quite rare. It had a small initial run. Unsigned copies are listing for $2,000 to $3,000. The first US edition (Little, Brown, New York, 1992) lists for up to $1,000.
  5. One for the Money, Janet Evanovich: Signed first editions (Scribner, New York, 1994) list from $200 to $700. Unsigned first editions list from $80 to $180.

And from HarperCollins, some upcoming titles that may be good reads, if not collectible:

Debut Fiction:

God Loves Haiti, Dimitri Elias Léger

A native of Haiti, Dimitry Elias Léger makes his remarkable debut with this story of romance, politics, and religion that traces the fates of three lovers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and the challenges they face readjusting to life after an earthquake devastates their city.

Lots of positive reviews from other authors, including Junot Diaz and Gary Schteyngart.


The Teenage Brain, Frances Jensen

“In The Teenage Brain, neurologist Frances Jensen has brilliantly translated academic science and clinical studies into easily understandable chapters to highlight the many changes in connections and plasticity of the brain. The book is a ‘must read’ for parents, teachers, school nurses, and many others who live with or interact with teens...a new framework for readers to approach parenting or teaching with more science and more evidence-based, practical advice.” 
           — S. Jean Emans, MD. Chief, Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital; Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School


Driving the King, Ravi Howard

The war is over, the soldiers are returning, and Nat King Cole is back in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for a rare performance. His childhood friend, Nat Weary, plans to propose to his sweetheart, and the singer will honor their moment with a special song. While the world has changed, segregated Jim Crow Montgomery remains the same. When a white man attacks Cole with a pipe, Weary leaps from the audience to defend him—an act that will lead to a ten-year prison sentence.

"An indelible portrait of prejudice and promise, friendship and loyalty, Driving the King by Ravi Howard is a daring look at race and class in pre-Civil Rights America, played out in the lives of two remarkable men: Nat King Cole and his driver, Nat Weary."

The story is told from Weary's POV.

One Amazon reviewer compares it to James McBride's The Good Lord Bird.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bone Clocks, Afterworlds, and other literary adventures...

Thanks to the move and spending all of our free time fixing up the house, we have not visited a bookstore in over TWO months. Unimaginable, I know, but true.

That streak was broken this weekend when, needing a break (like you do), we followed the path of least resistance to the Barnes & Noble, where I managed to do a little damage to my pocketbook.

Top on my list was (of course) David Mitchell's Bone Clocks (which I sat down and started reading before we ever left the store). Although, I have to say, I had a hard time finding a copy that wasn't mangled. All but a couple of books had pages that were folded, torn, or just out of shape - like they used that title as a doorstop. Which might explain why they were hidden in the back of a display (that, or someone there really doesn't like David Mitchell).

Next was Tana French's new title, The Secret Place (although I have yet to read her last book, so it goes in the 'To be read at a later date' pile).

Scott Westerfeld is on the top of my YA list with his latest, Afterworlds.

And then, I'm a little embarrassed to say, I bought the new John Twelve Hawks book, Spark. His writing is very reminiscent of Dan Brown's, not stellar, but there's something wonderfully escapist about his stories - sort of like going to see a Die Hard movie. The action is unrealistic, but MAN is it entertaining (you know, if you like that sort of thing, which clearly I do).

Now, of course, the problem is finding space on the bookshelves.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This Week's Geocentric Reading List

The folks over at Brooklyn Magazine are at it once again. A couple of weeks ago they came up with a Literary Map of Brooklyn to give readers the best understanding of the neighborhoods that make up that borough. Now they've turned their literary spotlight to the states:
...we had seen other maps pairing books with states, but those maps tend to signify the fame level of the books rather than their literary merit; they also tend to be dominated by white men, most of them dead. And Margaret Mitchell. 
We wanted to come up with a list that was more than just a general reflection of a place, but rather paid attention to the specifics, even at the risk of the exclusion of the whole. No one book, after all, can completely capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state.
You can visit their Website for the full list of 53 books (yes, 53, New York got divided into State and City with NYC getting it's own title) - none of which, they say, are Gone with the Wind (thank you very much).

Some titles are are more evident than others (Into the Wild / Alaska, Lonesome Dove / Texas, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas / Nevada, The Descendants / Hawaii). Others, I can't help but think there might have been a better choice out there somewhere in the literary sphere (is Stephen King's Carrie really representative of Maine, or Truman Capote's In Cold Blood / Kansas - both well written, don't get me wrong), but those are personal preferences, and honestly, I've not read enough to be able to identify better titles. I just can't help but think they might be out there.

If you're looking for a themed reading list, this is a good one that will keep you busy for the next year (or two).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fall, Small Presses, and Limited Editions

Hi all,

The move went well (Tracy and I bought a house last month) and the unpacking seems endless, but books are starting to find their way back to their shelves (albeit slowly). And as they do, it feels more and more like home. North Carolina weather is slowly giving way to fall and our new yard has plenty of trees to enjoy once the colors begin to change. Lots of trees also means lots of birds, which our cat is truly loving.

The fall semester is half way over. Midterms next week and then fall break, when I hope to regroup and start blogging more regularly (but first I have to get through 40 college papers written from the perspective of 19 year old geniuses - something we all claimed to be at one point).

At any rate, to tide you over, I thought I would point you to some of the small press offerings of late:

Enders Game, Orson Scott Card (Centipede Press)
Limited to 300 copies
Signed by Card, Brandon Mull (preface), & David Ho (illustrator)
Cloth bound in slipcase: $295

The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Centipede Press)
Limited to 300 copies
Signed by Kiernan, Elizabeth Hand (introduction), Matthew Jaffe (illustrator), Michael Zulli (illustrator)
Cloth bound, ribbon marker, slip-cased: $250

Max Ernst, Artist Portfolio (Centipede Press)
Ships in November
Currently no information, so keep your eyes peeled.

A Mountain Walked, S.T. Joshi ed. (Centipede Press)
Limited to 500 copies
Signed by 20 contributors
Cloth binding, ribbon marker, slip-cased: Sold Out

Keep your eyes on the secondary market (like Abebooks) for this one.

Interworld, Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves (Subterranean Press)
Limited to 500 copies
Lettered edition of 26 copies: Sold Out
hardback (cloth) binding: $60

There's no publishing date yet (most likely late 2014/early 2015). They're also publishing the sequel The Silver Dream.

Appointment on Sunset, Tim Powers (Charnel House)
Limited to 250 copies
Hand bound in handmade indigo paper: $150

This is a small text at 48 pages.
Charnel House also offers a lettered edition for $800

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