Mimsy: Books

The Year in Books: 2020—Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Despite the opening quote1, the year started out deceptively wonderful on the book front. I went to Miami with a friend in February. I didn’t buy any books, but I did get out to Key West and saw Hemingway’s library and typewriter. And I admired the cemetery marker for local Key West author Jane Louise Newhagen.

Then, in March, I went to Raleigh. I didn’t know at the time, but the only new bookstores I would visit in 2020 would be those bookstores in Raleigh at the beginning of the year, and a junk store in Michigan toward the end of the year.

Happily, both were fruitful.

In Raleigh I picked up the second of Chaim Potok’s Asher Lev books. And finally fulfilled a programming urge that’s been on the back of my mind for over a decade: I picked up Exploring Expect and ran through the tutorial on the Expect scripting language. I also found a really nice Richard Feynman book I hadn’t known existed, the book version of his famous Cornell lectures—which I also hadn’t known existed. After reading the book, I watched the movie.

I also found a couple of DC Heroes adventures, one of which I ran to great fun at the North Texas RPG Convention.

Then, on Friday, March 13, while I was in the air returning home, the whole country started to shutdown. That was it for all the great book sales for the rest of the year.

In August as Texas began to open up I decided to get out of the house and go on my I-35 book drive again. I visited the Book Cellar in Temple, Brazos Books and Golden’s Book Exchange in Waco, and McWha Bookstore in Belton. I’ve been to all of these bookstores before, and always enjoy the visit.

Smashwords Post-Christmas Sale—Saturday, December 26th, 2020

From now through the rest of the year, you can get the Astounding Scripts e-book and the Dream of Poor Bazin ebook from Smashwords at 75% off as part of their end-of-year sale. Use discount code SEY75.

If, like me, your best memories of Christmas morning are building things with your new toys, then 42 Astounding Scripts will awaken your Spirit of Christmas Code. It’s filled with command-line programming toys for your Macintosh, from creating ASCII art using your own photographs, to creating great music or even playing your music files backward.

If, on the other hand, your best memories are of losing yourself in a grand, swashbuckling adventure, The Dream of Poor Bazin is just what the Dumas ordered. Join young, provincial journalist Stephen Price Blair as he learns the trade in Washington, DC and exposes conspiracy, hate, and murder in the land beyond the Potomac.

While the discount code (SEY75) is specifically for Smashwords, both of these books are also available in print, and, most likely, your favorite ebookstore wherever it is.

Release: The Dream of Poor Bazin—Saturday, August 15th, 2020
Dream of Poor Bazin cover

“All tides carry their own riptide,” Stephen writes, “and the wave of populist hate that won this Pyrrhic victory is already rolling back.”

It will never be said of Stephen Price Blair that he spilled any ink with half a heart.

What if the Three Musketeers were journalists in Washington, DC? What if journalists were swashbuckling, swaggering, hard-drinking warriors of truth?

The Dream of Poor Bazin is the story behind one of the greatest political intrigues in history. Maybe you read about it, or rather, what they let you read about it, probably as some minor item buried under the back page corrections among the dry-cleaning ads. What happened in DC during the administration of President Bill Lewis was so incredible that to this day the facts have been suppressed in a massive effort to save political careers from disaster.

Item: Young journalist Stephen Price Blair, up from Charlottesville, engages the three greatest reporters of his age in a barroom brawl within hours of his arrival in DC.

Item: A mysterious elder statesman absconds with Stephen’s letter of introduction to White House Press Secretary Bobby Trevor, leading Stephen on a wild chase throughout the beltway.

Item: Which young journalist with the eye of the President organized the controversial Salons4All symposium series at the Washington Post? Was it the same cub reporter whose landlord was escorted out of his seedy U Street apartment in handcuffs by the United States Postal Inspection Service?

Item: What band of intrepid journos located the missing Warren Fries briefcase—right under the noses of the United States Postal Inspection Service?

Item: If you’re a fan of Dumas’s great adventure or of Waugh’s satirical Scoop, you’ll love The Dream of Poor Bazin.

The Dream of Poor Bazin is the story of Stephen Price Blair’s first beats on the road to the White House Press Corps, all the sweeter for being his first, and all the wilder for being true.

Friends of the New Braunfels Public Library Annual Book Sale—Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Like most library sales, it could be better organized. But also like most of these sales, it’s a bit of a free-for-all with people crowding around open tables. Even an organized table will become unorganized after an hour or so of book fiends pawing through it.

There wasn’t a whole lot of older science fiction/fantasy here, but there was a decent range of other books, as you can see from the list of what I picked up—far more than I planned to buy.

There are two sections: the main floor, where books are priced according to format—$2.00 for hardcovers, $1.25 for softcovers, etc.—and the stage, where somewhat more collectable books are priced individually. The most expensive and the least expensive books I acquired here came from the stage. In the cookbook section on the stage, there was a basket of free pamphlets, and I found The Gourmet Foods Cookbook there. It’s a 1955 cookbook with amazing retro artwork. Potentially some good recipes, too—Luscious Pistachio Cake, for example—but I mainly picked it up for the cover and interior art.

Next to it I found Ruth Berolzheimer’s The United States Regional Cook Book. My aunt from St. Louis has gotten me interested in Gooey Butter Cake recently, so I browsed through it looking for an early version of that. However, since its first copyright is 1939, that’s probably a bit early for it to have filtered through to national cookbooks and in fact I find nothing under either Gooey Butter Cake or Chess Cake (as Wikipedia somewhat apocryphally claims it is also sometimes called). So I put it down. But with a Michigan Dutch cookery section and a Southwest cookery section, I couldn’t resist picking it up again. Anybody for some San Diego Date Crumbles?

My haul was also a bit Mark Steyn-themed. Besides the book by him, I also found a very large collection of Jack London stories. I’ve recently become interested in reading some London after Steyn used some of London’s short stories for his Tales for Our Time audio book series. Coupled with a recent trip to Alaska, Jack London had moved to the top of my want list, and now I probably have more Jack London than I really needed. It’s a thick book.

I hadn’t really planned on picking up the recent volumes of Food & Wine’s annuals, but their recent decision to stop publishing them post-2017 caused my collector mentality to kick in. And they are, so far, great collections.

New Orleans: Beckham’s Bookshop—Wednesday, January 15th, 2020
Beckham’s Bookshop storefront

I finally made it back to New Orleans! I had some great food, saw some great sights, and managed to buy far more books than I’d planned on.

I was last in New Orleans a year before Hurricane Katrina; and the one store I worried about was Beckham’s. I remember it being a ramshackle bookstore in the French Quarter, with well-spaced piles of book lining the floors as well as the shelves—something easily wiped out by water damage, even if the actual flooding of the French Quarter was mostly news hysteria.

Beckham’s may smell a little mustier now—or it may not, I get used to the smell of mustiness in bookstores and don’t pay attention to it—but it’s still a ramshackle bookstore in the French Quarter, with well-spaced piles of books lining the floors as well as the shelves. It’s a great place to browse both in-order books and out-of-order books. There’s also a decent record store on the top floor.

That last time I was in New Orleans, I bought more at Beckham’s than just the role-playing book listed here. But this was before I’d started my database of books; I remember buying the role-playing book there vividly because I found it haphazardly located in one of those piles lining the floors. It was a memorable find. I don’t play Call of Cthulhu, but the Dreamlands are a great resource for any game. And it’s a beautiful hardcover; the cover art inside and out is phenomenal.

Whatever other books I bought there, I found in the shelves, and unlike the floors the shelves are easy to navigate. So they were less memorable finds.

This time around, I picked up a great Victor Davis Hanson book, Who Killed Homer? as well as an old-school slow-cooker cookbook from Better Homes and Gardens. I recently picked up the Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies Cook Book and it has been phenomenal. The series doesn’t look like it’s going to rival the Southern Living collection I reviewed last year, but it has potential. I won’t be collecting the series because the series includes Better Homes and Gardens topics I’m uninterested in, unrelated to food; but I will be looking at any books I see in the library from the era.

While you’re in the area, you might also check out Dauphine Street Books; it is, however, not nearly as easy to browse. The shelves are cramped and would be difficult even if the floors weren’t also filled. There are good books there, however.

The Year in Books: 2019—Wednesday, January 1st, 2020
The Bookstore at Library Square

If you find yourself in Little Rock, the Bookstore at Library Square is a great place to browse and relax.

It has been a very good year for books, and I even made a dent in my to-read pile. According to my database, I acquired 136 books this year, and according to Goodreads I read 145.

Since my to-read pile is a double-wide bookcase, I should be through it in about twenty years.

The Goodreads “year in books” is an interesting summary, but some of its categories are antiquated. In the era of ebooks, I don’t know that “shortest book read” makes a lot of sense. The shortest book I read this year was, of course, a short story. It was a very good short story, Lauren Pope’s1 fun Just Another Oppressor. Sadly, as far as I can tell it’s no longer available.

The longest book was IBM’s Early Computers, a fascinating look at the history of digital computers through the growth of a company that could have been destroyed by them. IBM was a mechanical device company. They made typewriters, and card readers, all mechanical devices for aiding in data collection and analysis. All of them destined for the junkyard. Had IBM not completely shifted their focus, they would have gone out of business.

The most popular book was a science fiction book, Dune. I read Dune ages ago, along with Dune Messiah, but never got around to finishing the trilogy. This year I vowed to read the full three books, and did so. It is not surprising that this science fiction book is incredibly popular and remains so. It touches on just about everything that it means to be human.

The least popular book I read varies, because I read several books that “0 people also read”. What that means, of course, is that zero people read them and then notified Goodreads. Currently in that slot is Instant BASIC. It’s filled with public domain art and era-specific jokes

I continued reading a lot of late seventies/early eighties computer books this year, which meant a lot of BASIC. The very first book I finished in 2019 was 24 Tested Ready-to-Run Game Programs in BASIC.

The Year in Books: 2018—Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019
Temple Public Library sale haul 2018

This was a very nice, and small, haul from nearby Temple’s Public Library sale—plus one book from McWha Books and one from Amazon. I still have three of these to read, and am currently halfway through Kip Thorne’s book, which I fully expect to be on next year’s recommendations.

According to Goodreads, I read 133 books last year; according to my own databases, I bought 134. That’s teetering on the edge of sustainability. The latter number also includes reference books downloaded to my tablet that I don’t need to read per se, and instruction manuals that I have read but that don’t get counted on Goodreads.

Which means I am making a dent in my to-read shelf/ves, albeit slowly.

According to Goodreads, the shortest book I read was Lawrence W. Reed’s Great Myths of the Great Depression. At only twenty pages, it’s a good overview of the period as seen through the eyes of the people who lived it.

The longest book was The Essential Ellison, which, unless you want to know more about Ellison’s work, I don’t recommend. Unfortunately, when I read Ellison I tend to find his introductions more interesting than his works, and this book contains other people’s introductions, not his.

The most popular book I read this year was Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which I highly recommend, preferably before you see the movie if you haven’t yet. I saw the movie and still thoroughly enjoyed the book. The sequel, Speaker for the Dead was very different and just as enjoyable.

The least popular book, not surprisingly, is a guide to a computer that was discontinued long before Goodreads was founded. Goodreads was launched at the very end of 2006, and the Tandy 200 was a 1985-era computer1. So it’s not surprising that I needed to request an update of the bibliographic data and cover for Lien’s books.

Sydney, Nova Scotia: Ed’s Books and More—Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

Ed’s Books and More is a great unpretentious used bookstore on the main street just up from the docks in Sydney. If you’re looking for it coming up from a cruise ship you can’t miss it.

Organization is spotty; shelves are well-packed; and they have a wide variety. They have a lot of old science fiction paperbacks from the likes of Andre Norton and Leigh Bracket; a lot of biographies; and popular literary fiction.

Somewhat ironically, I found a copy of Mark Steyn’s America Alone. Ironically, because the reason I was in Sydney was for the SteynAtSea cruise, and I’d expected to pick up a copy of this book from the Steyn team. But the cruise was set up as entertainment for the guests, not as a way for Mark to hawk his wares, and so they didn’t have his books on sale there. If only they’d had a copy of Broadway Babies Say Goodnight!

None of the other books were on my list, but Ethan Canin is always a good read, the concept of Joseph Gies’s Bridges and Men seems like just the right way to cover the history of bridges, I’ve been meaning to read more Haggard, and Newspaper Row sounds like a great companion to Deadlines & Monkeyshines: The Fabled World of Chicago Journalism.

The store appears to be a bit of a local hangout. I sent an hour and a half browsing books—deciding what was worth dragging down to Boston and then across to Texas—and it seemed as though every couple of minutes someone would walk in and be greeted by name.

He was also friendly to strangers. When he added up my purchases, he rounded everything down to the nearest dollar—and then threw in the most expensive book (which wasn’t expensive at all—only $4.50 Canadian) for free. If I am ever back in Sydney, I will make sure to visit Ed’s again, and to have more Canadian cash in my wallet—and more space available in my luggage for books. It may well be that if I visit Sydney again it will be because of Ed’s.

Up to this point I had managed to restrain myself from overloading on books, mindful of the flight home. These five, three of them hardcovers, filled the remaining space in my tote bag to the top. I had to be very picky at the rest of my stops, after shopping Ed’s. If you’re a book-lover and you find yourself in Sydney, you owe yourself a stop at Ed’s.

Older posts