- The Best of Henry Kuttner—Tuesday, September 27th, 2016
While I have been a fan of Lewis Carroll for slightly longer than I’ve been a fan of Henry Kuttner (or Lewis Padgett, as I knew him—and his wife and co-author, C. L. Moore—when), my blog isn’t named only after Lewis Carroll’s nonsense rhyme from Through the Looking Glass. It’s also inspired by Kuttner’s most famous short story, about an educational toy that taught too much.
Kuttner, in a Douglas Adams-like twist, surreptitiously purloined Carroll’s poem and turned Carroll into the one doing the copying—it’s amazing what you can do with time travel.
I probably read the story first in the amazing Science Fiction Hall of Fame collection edited by Robert Silverberg. Unless you are extremely well read in early science fiction, that collection is strongly recommended. It contains some of the best and most influential short stories of pre-Nebula years of science fiction, from 1929 to 1964. Besides being an education in great science fiction, it will give you a great idea of who from that era you will enjoy reading further.
I, unfortunately, didn’t see much Kuttner afterward; he died in 1958 so that by the time I started reading science fiction his books were too old-hat to show up in the local supermarket, my only source of books outside the library—which itself had only a handful of science fiction books.
Thanks to used bookstores, I’ve since managed to pick up most of the Ballantine/Del Rey best of collections from the seventies, and recently found The Best of Henry Kuttner. The collection starts with Mimsy Were the Borogoves, and then moves on.
Mimsy Were the Borogoves is still brilliant forty years later. My blog does it little justice.
The book has an introduction by Ray Bradbury, five years younger than Kuttner; Bradbury claims Kuttner gave him the advice that got him writing: “shut up”. That is, stop wasting your stories talking about them, and start writing them down. Bradbury says he was 17 at the time, so Kuttner would have been about 22. I’d have to say after reading Kuttner’s stories that there’s likely an influence one way or the other, or both, between the authors. There is a family resemblance in the sort of whimsy they use, at least in their short stories.
While the book is a “best of Henry Kuttner”, at least ten of the seventeen stories were originally published either under a pseudonym used by both Kuttner and Moore—such as the Lewis Padgett pseudonym they used for Mimsy—or under joint authorship with each other.
- San Diego: 5th Avenue Books and Bluestocking Books—Tuesday, August 16th, 2016
If you’re in San Diego and you love books, you shouldn’t miss the 3800 block of Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest. Since the closing of all but one bookstore on Adams Avenue, this has become book central for San Diego. While it still existed, the San Diego Book Festival moved from Adams Avenue to this block.
Alas, the book festival is no more, as far as I can tell. But these two great bookstores still face each other across the street. If this is your first time there, you’ll likely spend a good part of your day, if not your entire day, in this area.
Bluestocking Books is the smaller of the two. In the front, next to the long checkout counter, is a fine collection of cookbooks. On the right, children’s and humor books set up centrally to draw the attention of kids. Elsewhere, they have a well-curated collection of history, sociology, and counter-culture. And in the back a very nice collection of science fiction/fantasy and classics of literature.
They’re very friendly; if you need something and you’ll be in the area for a while, they will happily order it.
Across the street, Fifth Avenue Books1 is large, spacious, and well-organized, and they also have a very good selection of science fiction, fiction, and history, as well as cookbooks and art and quite a bit more. They run a bit more expensive than I normally like, but that’s mainly because they know what they have. I found two Jack Vance books I wanted to read on my latest visit. Eyes of the Overlord for six bucks and The Dying Earth for five. I ended up getting the latter, because it had a cooler cover and was a buck cheaper.
I’ve also picked up a whole bunch of Lovecraft here in their backroom, and several nonfiction books in the front shelves.
- Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave—Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
In the beginning of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave, he writes about growing up as a slave and not really having a family:
I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.
Douglass didn’t know his own birthday: slavers deliberately tore out of their slaves any sense of history or future by splitting up families.
And also by encouraging living in the moment rather than planning for the future. One of his masters said so explicitly:
He told me, if I would be happy, I must lay out no plans for the future, and taught me to depend solely upon him for happiness.
On holidays, they were expected to spend their time in celebration—mainly, getting drunk. While some of them spent their holiday time building up their living quarters or putting away meat in hunting,
By far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as playing ball, wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whisky; and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters. A slave who would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them. He was regarded as one who rejected the favor of his master. It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas…
Slaves, when questioned, reported themselves happy—in just the way that Natan Sharansky reported in The Case for Democracy about people under dictatorships:
It is partly in consequence of such facts, that slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The slave-holders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family. If they have any thing to say of their masters, it is generally in their masters’ favor, especially when speaking to an untried man.
The comparisons they make in their lives tends to be between what they know; there is little concept of what could be under freedom.
- St. Louis: Patten Books—Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
Patten Books is an unassuming storefront on Manchester; you might pass it while going to the mall or heading home from the office. Don’t.
The first time I went here, I walked out with a huge stack of old-school books from my rambling want-list. The second time I went here, I was on the way back from the Greater St. Louis Book Fair. The fair was pretty cool, but I had not found anything on my list. Feeling guilty adding so many books to my shelf without being able to check anything off, I stopped by Patten’s afterward and picked up Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld.
I knew I could count on them to have something on my list.
Looking at the list of books I’ve purchased here, they are all fantasy and science fiction, and Patten does have a great selection of SF&F. But they aren’t lacking in general fiction either, nor in non-fiction. If you only go to one bookstore in St. Louis, I’d have to recommend Patten Books. They have a great selection and great prices, and are just a nice, quiet, relaxing place to browse books.
10202 Manchester Road
St. Louis, MO
April 29, 2016
The Eyes of the Overworld Jack Vance $3.50 mass market paperback
March 24, 2015
The Best of Fredric Brown Fredric Brown $3.00 mass market paperback Hiero’s Journey Sterling E. Lanier $3.00 mass market paperback The Warrior of World’s End Lin Carter $3.00 mass market paperback The Broken Sword Poul Anderson $3.00 mass market paperback The Shadow People Margaret St. Clair $3.00 mass market paperback The High Crusade Poul Anderson $3.00 mass market paperback
- Broken but Unbowed—Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
This is a short and clearly heartfelt book. The first half is a sometimes touching, sometimes humorous account of his life from the freak accident that paralyzed him to winning the governorship of Texas. This part of the book is less about him than it is about his family, his friends, and his colleagues, who provided him the help and inspiration he needed to move forward.
He talks about how his priorities changed from the moment of the accident. In the very beginning of the book, lying under the tree, he began to realize, through the pain, that he could not move his legs or feet.
This, I realized, must be paralysis. My injury could be really bad.
… I remembered watching a movie with my wife a year earlier about a man who had been paralyzed by an accident. At the time, I told my wife that if that ever happened to me, just put me to death.
Faced with the actuality, however, he chose to focus not on what he couldn’t do, but on what he could.
The second half of the book is a heartfelt appeal for the slate of constitutional amendments he’s proposed, Restoring the Rule of Law, with States Leading the Way. Whether you agree with them or not, it’s going to be hard to argue that he doesn’t have a deep respect for the constitution and what it stands for after reading these chapters.
He believes that these amendments must come from outside the federal government because “It’s simply the nature of the system to perpetuate the system.”
He talks heavily about how federal solutions to economic problems, because of regulatory capture, often exacerbate the very problem they were meant to solve. For example,
Dodd-Frank was intended to prevent banks from being too big to fail, and, hence, avoid the necessity of government bailouts. Instead, the high cost and heavy hand by which the regulations are imposed are leading to the opposite result: eliminating banks that are too small to succeed [under the greater regulatory burden].
Dodd-Frank has had the very predictable effect of increasing regulatory costs. Because of this, it privileges larger banks over smaller banks. Larger banks have more lawyers and bureaucrats to manage greater regulatory costs.
This is, according to Abbott, exactly to be expected. It’s simply the nature of the system to perpetuate the system.
The slate of amendments Abbott proposes are designed specifically to throw a wrench into the system, to make it work better for smaller, local businesses than for larger, national and multinational ones. By moving the levers of power closer to the people, the people can more easily access them.
It makes a lot of sense.
- J. K. Rowling’s retroactive racism—Tuesday, June 14th, 2016
It is usually a bad idea for a writer to get into an argument with their readers en masse. In their zeal to defend their work, they have a tendency to argue too much, and reveal more than we wanted to know.
Recently, J. K. Rowling became angry at what she calls “a bunch of racists” and “idiots” who never pictured Hermione as black. If this were just a defense of a good actress, that would be fine. But in arguments such as these, the author often goes too far.
Rowling, for example, quotes her own work as having always left open the possibility that Hermione was black, tweeting the “canon” physical characteristics that prove it:
Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione 😘
Alice Vincent in the Telegraph goes on to say that:
Rowling never described Hermione’s race in the books, but only that she had “bushy brown hair and brown eyes”, as well as very large front teeth.
This is true, but not the whole truth. In the first book, Hermione didn’t just have large front teeth. She was full-on buck-toothed. Sort of resembling a chipmunk, according to the other characters in the fourth book.
So I’m guessing most readers chose not to think Hermione was black because they didn’t expect a modern writer to resort to stereotypical descriptions straight out of early comic strips. A writer who wrote those descriptions and explicitly made their character black would have come under fire for racism.
And in this case, that fire may well have been justifiable. Rowling has some serious issues with racism if she always meant Hermione to possibly be black. In The Goblet of Fire, Hermione undergoes magical alterations to remove the stereotypical racial characteristics that Rowling now says show Hermione as possibly black. First, Hermione has Madame Pomfrey shrink her teeth so that they are permanently “normal”1. Then, when going to the ball, Hermione spends hours using liberal amounts of Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion to straighten her bushy hair.
The movie doesn’t do this scene justice. In the book Hermione became practically unrecognizable because she literally changes her appearance: “she didn’t look like Hermione at all”.
She went from looking mediocre at best to stunningly beautiful.
What’s egregious is that if Rowling always meant Hermione to include the possibility of blackness, then the book also makes clear that jettisoning her blackness made Hermione beautiful.
- Denver: Capitol Hill Books and Kilgore Books—Tuesday, May 10th, 2016
I know Denver as the Mile High City mainly because of Mile High Comics, which supplied my comic book fix in the eighties when I moved back from a college town with real comic book stores to a small town with just a drug store and a grocery store. Their subscription club kept me in comics and magazines while I figured out what to do with my life, and, later, recovered from an automobile accident.
Of course, most people who think “books” and “Denver” think Tattered Cover. That’s where everyone goes when they’re in Denver. Writers and agents and bloggers rave about it. I’m not going to review it because it is definitively not a “bookstore less traveled”. It’s a fine store, especially if you’re looking for new books. But if you’re a book hound, you should know that there are more bookstores in Denver than TC.
Two that I enjoyed on a leisurely walk through downtown were Capitol Hill Books and Kilgore Books & Comics. These two bookstores are only about fourteen blocks away from each other—about a ten minute walk. And they’re only a thirty-minute walk from Tattered Cover. Both of them had great science fiction books when I was there. Out of those two bookstores, I found six of the books on my list including four of the Ballantine Best Of Science Fiction series.
I picked up The Anubis Gates, a great Tim Powers book, in Kilgore. And I picked up Advise & Consent, a weird senatorial procedural by Allen Drury that started me on an Allen Drury kick, at, appropriately enough, Capitol Hill.
- Round Rock, Texas: The Round Rock Public Library—Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Public libraries are also often, somewhat paradoxically, very good bookstores. You would think that a place that loans books for free would not be a great place to locate a bookstore, but people who love to read books also love having books, and often end up having to trade out books they once loved to make room for new books on their bookshelves. These folks make up the Friends of the Library.
The Round Rock Public Library’s Friends of the Library Book Nook is not very big, but at least by my judgment it makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. Since moving to Texas I’ve picked up eleven books there, from Andrew Breitbart and P.J. O’Rourke to Andre Norton and a Robert Heinlein.
And Martin Greenberg’s Dinosaur Fantastic collection isn’t the best science fiction I’ve read lately, but it is filled with dinosaurs! Can’t hardly go wrong with that.
They also have an entire bookshelf dedicated to a handful of high-selling authors such as Richard Patterson and Janet Evanovich.
The Book Nook appears to have a pretty good turnover rate, as, despite it’s size, I’m always finding something new.
There are two sections to the Book Nook. As you walk in the main entrance, the children’s and young adult section is directly around the corner on your left as you enter the library. The larger Book Nook is in a room up the stairs, also around the corner to your left as you leave the stairs.
The Round Rock library is currently right downtown, though they are considering moving it to the outskirts of town.