Just Say No to Pron

I get enough spam comments now that I don’t usually read them before deleting them, but one caught my eye the other day. It was an advertisement for a “pron” site. I know that spam is typically full of misspellings and typos, but “pron?” They couldn’t even spell that one word right?

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Two Books, Two People

I finished two books recently that belong together, so I must review them together.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, Grade: A-

Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets by Jessica A. Fox, Grade: B+

I became interested in these books because of the setting (a bookshop in Scotland) and the real-life story going on in and around it. In Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets, Fox visits a Scottish bookshop, falls in love with owner (Shaun Bythell, called Euan in the book), and moves in with him. In The Diary of a Bookseller, Bythell writes about his daily life selling books and occasionally mentions his girlfriend (Jessica Fox, called Anna in the book). I will try to keep in mind that these are real people as I review the books, but I still have to be honest.

I read The Diary of a Bookseller first. This book encompasses one year from Bythell’s life, a record of the notable customers who came into the shop, his expeditions to buy new stock, and his relationships with his friends, family, and wacky employees. I thought it was funny and informative, which is why I gave it an A-level grade.

As for the downsides, a few bits didn’t ring quite true, and his descriptions of people occasionally came across as mean (to me, anyway). I felt that the author always kept a careful distance, and I was sort of puzzled by the way Anna came and went without much reaction from him. Though the brief epilogue and the sprinkling of quotes from George Orwell’s “Bookshop Memories” helped give the book some unity, still it seemed to need something more to hold it together and to soften the abrupt ending. Those are all minor points, though. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the book trade, particularly anyone who secretly (or not so secretly) harbors a fantasy of owning their own bookshop someday. A bookshop is most certainly a labor of love and not anything close to a goldmine. Good to know.

Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets began with a list of three things you need to know about rockets. Those things were interesting, but I honestly have not taken the effort to ponder how they relate metaphorically to the story of Fox’s adventures in Scotland. The reason for that is simple: I did not love the book, and I was relieved to reach the end.

There were times when it was excellent, and it began well enough. It started with a Jewish-American woman, originally from the Boston area but living in LA, having a vision of a bookstore in Scotland. She decided to go to Scotland for a longish vacation.  She managed to get herself invited to stay with the owner of The Bookshop, a used bookstore in Wigtown, Scotland and to attend the annual Wigtown Book Festival. Scotland was wonderful. The people of Wigtown were wonderful. The books were (and presumably continue to be) wonderful.

By the time she returned to LA, she’d fallen for Euan, and he’d fallen for her, and soon she returned to live with him on a longer-term basis. And it was all grand for a while, but it was not long before she felt something missing. She’d given up everything to be there, and he’d given up nothing but some space in his life, and he seemed uncomfortable with even that much. She was persistently unsure of how he felt about her, and for most of the book, I wanted to scream at her, “He’s just not that into you!” I guess I had started to think of them as real people, and I had become disappointed in both of them: her for throwing herself headlong into a relationship and putting it ahead of her own needs, and him for being so stereotypically British in his “dithering” and lack of overt emotional response.

Isn’t that terrible of me? But that’s the thing about reading a story that you know is at least partly true. It’s possible to start to think of the people in the story as real. But though these people might actually exist, you see them through the lens of someone else’s mind, not your own eyes, so they must be treated always as fictional characters. You cannot tell a fictional character what they ought to do. A character is always going to do exactly what he or she must do, and that’s the way it has to be. So I’ve forgiven Jessica/Anna and Shaun/Euan for not quite giving me the “real-life Scottish fairy tale” that the subtitle of this book promised me. It’s not their fault.

I also thought the story faltered in other ways, but rather than pick it apart, I’m going to tell you what I really liked. Every chapter started with a quote from another book, along with the location in Euan’s shop where that book might be found. She picked some intriguing quotes, and in this way she did a better job of selling his books than he did. So thanks, Jessica. I want to go on a reading binge right now.

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Cozy in Scotland

The Cracked Spine: A Scottish Bookshop Mystery by Paige Shelton

Grade: B

I’ve been bingeing on books about bookshops. You wouldn’t think there would be that many, but there are. This particular one is a cozy mystery about a woman named Delaney, who gets laid off from her job at a museum in Wichita, and then answers a wanted ad looking for “a bold adventurer who would love to travel the world from a comfortable and safe spot behind a desk that has seen the likes of kings and queens….” The only catch is that the job is in Edinburgh. Delaney is interested, though. After a telephone interview with the bookshop owner, a wealthy Scotsman named Edwin McAlister, she decides to take the job, and without much ado she moves herself to Scotland.

What Delaney does not mention to her new boss is that she has a special skill. It’s something like an eidetic memory that only works for dialogue from the books she has read. She hears the characters’ voices in her head, and she can even find books that have gotten lost on the shelves by following the sound of the characters talking. Intriguing.

She arrives in Scotland and everyone she meets, from the cab driver to her new coworkers, is extraordinarily nice and potentially interesting. Two characters have matching, partially-concealed tattoos that could have special meaning. Located at the back of the bookshop is a mysterious warehouse full of things that are probably antique and worth a bundle. Why else why would they be in a warehouse that is locked with a special blue key that must be turned three times to open the door? Her boss probably acquires such things when he’s at the secret auctions that only he and a very select group of rich people are invited to.

But Delaney’s special skill for hearing book characters disappears somewhere in the middle of the story without her ever having really used it, and no explanation is given for its disappearance. We never find out any more about the tattoos. She hardly goes into the warehouse, so we never find out what’s in it. She attends only one auction with her boss, and the only purpose it seems to serve is to introduce three characters who ultimately have little to do with the mystery (the murder of her boss’s sister).

So, the story had a lot of potential, but it didn’t live up to the potential. The author has apparently written five books for this series so far, and it’s possible that the sequels are better. I would consider reading another just to see, because cozy mysteries are such quick reading, but I would not go out of my way to find one.

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How to Water a Captis

Dear Kids,

A few months ago, you each got cactus plants. One of you wrote down instructions for watering it.

How to Water a Captis: Get a teespoon fild wif waoter and waoter him once evree mounth.

I know it’s silly, but I love that you thought it was a “captis” instead of a “cactus.” When you were younger, you both made similarly adorable mistakes all the time. Now that you’re older, your endearing little mistakes are disappearing by the day as you perfect their understanding of the language. You are growing up and growing beyond your need for us.

But I still occasionally find notes like this one, and then I have to decide whether to throw it away or keep it. I cannot possibly keep everything that I think is cute. Neither is it enough to simply toss the note into a box. Unless I do something now to feature the item and put it in its proper context, then it will become just another piece of paper in a box of dusty, old papers, and I might not even remember why I thought it was so cute.

So that’s why I’m featuring the note in this letter to you. I think it’s wonderful that you wrote the instructions down. Often you’re absent-minded and cannot remember something as simple as washing your faces in the morning, and you don’t really want to, either. But at other times, you are so very serious and want to be responsible, and this note shows that. Plus, I love the written word, and I’m happy to see you become writers, too, even if your magnum opus is just a description of how to take care of a captis.



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Four More Times

The kids went to the dentist for a check-up earlier this week. The dentist gave my husband some shocking news: Marshall has only four baby teeth left. Now the Tooth Fairy is sad, because she will only be able to visit Marshall four more times. 🙁

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Mess Maker

Today was a house-cleaning day. The kids’ room was particularly messy. I asked them to help me clean it. They did help, I’m happy to say, but apparently they thought the work was too hard. “I’m dying,” wailed poor Marshall as he put some of his things into a bag. “I’m not built for cleaning. I’m built for making a mess!”

There’s some truth in that. Children are very good at making messes!

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Palindrome Days

Last night, as I was writing in my journal, I realized something special about the date (8/17/18). It’s a palindrome (81718). My next thought was that palindromic dates must occur all the time, so no big deal.

But, after thinking about it for a bit, I came to the conclusion that palindromic dates must be fairly rare. Even if you’re willing to use different date formats (say, using two or four digits for the year, and/or putting a zero in front of a single-digit month or day), there aren’t very many palindromic dates in the average year. For example, I could think of only one for 1996 (6/9/96).

This year, by contrast, has several palindrome days (8/1/18, plus all the dates from 8/10/18 through 8/19/18), and one of them is even a palindrome twice over (8/10/18 and 8/10/2018).  So enjoy today and tomorrow, the last palindrome days for the year. And don’t forget to celebrate next year in September, when we will get another nice stretch of them.

P.S. I am willing to use different formats for the date if it will produce interesting numbers, so I’m also looking forward to 02/02/2020.

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From the Library

My husband kindly stopped by the library and picked up the books I had ordered. They are…

  1. Wit’s End by Karen Joy Fowler: I didn’t love The Jane Austen Book Club, which is probably Fowler’s best known work, so I’m not sure if this book is a good choice for me. I think I picked it because I was looking for a different book called Wit’s End and this one came up in the search results, and I said to myself, “What the heck. Why not?” Perhaps I should have looked at the reviews first (they are not good!). Oh, well. I’ll give it a few chapters and see how it goes.
  2. I is an Other by James Geary: The subtitle of this book is The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. That sounds right up my alley, and it should be a good companion for some of the other language-related books I’ve been dipping into lately. Geary has also written a book called Wit’s End, which backs up my guess for why I picked the Fowler book.
  3. The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers: This book kept coming up on my radar, so I decided to finally take a look at it. I like the title, which is obviously a play on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The book is physically quite heavy. It’s a dense 638 pages, and that makes me a little leery. Long books are often poorly edited books. According to the jacket flap, it’s a “double love story” that somehow relates to molecular biology. This book was a bestseller of 1991, and it has generally good reviews, but it seems to be a “love it or hate it” kind of book. Apparently, if you love it, you’ll find yourself using words like “awe” to describe your feelings about it afterward. If you don’t love it, then you probably won’t even finish it.

I’m in no mood to read bad books right now. The nice thing about ordering these books from the library is that I have no investment in them. It’s actually in my best interests to return them as soon as possible to guarantee that I don’t pay any overdue fines on them. So, they better win me over quickly or they’re going straight back to the library!

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Not the Same

Today I am reminded about how we cannot judge other people’s situations and experiences by our own. Yesterday morning I slathered the kids with sunscreen, as usual, and sent them on their merry way to day camp. The weather was dismal and rainy here for most of the day, and in the afternoon a thunderstorm ripped through and knocked our power out. There was so little light coming through the window, I couldn’t even work until the power came back on. I thought to myself that the kids probably were being kept indoors, and that it was a shame they were getting so little benefit from their coating of sunscreen.

This morning I mentioned that thought to my husband, and he said, “What are you talking about? It was sunny all day. I felt like I was getting a sunburn.” He had been on the same side of town as the kids. It hadn’t rained at all over there. Apparently he had been surprised by how wet the ground was here when he returned home.

Same town, same day. Different weather, different experience.

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Decisions, Decisions

I am always hearing about books that I might like. Of the ones I hear about, only a fraction still seem good after shopping for them online and reading the reviews. That’s a good thing, though. I’d never find time to read them all.

What I do about the ones that still sound good is almost entirely arbitrary. Sometimes I buy them new. Sometimes I buy them used. Sometimes I request them from the library. But more often I put them onto a shopping or reading list.

I have at least five lists (two at Amazon, one on my blog, one in my online library account, and another in my Inspiration Notebook). I rarely end up reading the books that go onto these lists. That’s sad, too, but there’s just not enough time to read every book that sounds interesting.

I wish I had a better means of deciding which ones I ought to own and which ones aren’t even worth the time to read.

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