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October 2014

The Big Book Drop - 471!

6a00d8345295c269e201b8d0667084970c-200wiSaturday's Big Book Drop - an effort to get books for the great people at English PEN and Give a Book - gathered in a whopping 471 books. That's a lot of readers hauling a lot of carrier bags on a warm September day! (More here.)

Two dozen raffle prizes all went off to new homes as well. Thanks to publishers Newcon Press, Hodder & Stoughton, authors Lauren O'Farrell, Rebecca Levene, James Dawson, Frank Westworth and Lavie Tidhar, and the many, many folks that donated cool books from their personal collections. 

Plus, a big thank you to our friends at English PEN and our glamorous and vociferous partners at The Book Smugglers.

And the biggest thank you of all: everyone who came out and donated books. You're awesome.

New Releases: Kirsty Logan's The Rental Heart and Adam Roberts' Bête

Beauty and the beast! The lady or the tiger! Kirsty Logan's The Rental Heart and Adam Roberts' Bête - two thought-provoking books about well... you'll see.

The Rental HeartKirsty Logan's The Rental Heart (2014) is a slim volume that packs a whale of a punch. Although the collection's 20 stories are all (to generalise wildly) on the theme of 'love', it captures a huge variety of emotional nuance: from heartbreak to resentment to loneliness to pure, unwatered desire.

Logan's style is deceptively ephemeral - the stories are often phrased like fairytales or delivered like children's stories, but they're neither: they're meaty, visceral and, on most occasions, utterly ruthless. Virtually all are genre-inflected: Logan captures twenty worlds where relationships are unbounded by the 'rules' - physical or otherwise.

One of my personal favourites include "Underskirts", the story of a beautiful countess who hand-picks peasant girls to become her lovers. Told from a dozen different points of view, the tale is alternately horrifying and uplifting - is the countess the saviour or the villainess of the piece? The story spirals in closer and closer, with every perspective adding something new to the mix.

Another, "The Broken West", is less ambiguously forlorn. Two brothers search for their missing father - in the most heart-breaking of ways. Their own lives degenerate into a haze of self-destructive sex and alcohol, as their (impossible) quest takes its toll. As with "Underskirts", "The Broken West" describes the lingering impact of a single person's actions - a domino effect of broken lives. 

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"A Delightfully Imaginative Journey"

Review by Anne T. Eaton, The New York Times (March 13, 1938):

This is one of the most freshly original and delightfully imaginative books for children that have appeared in many a long day. Like "Alice in Wonderland," it comes from Oxford University, where the author is Professor of Anglo-Saxon, and like Lewis Carroll's story, it was written for children that the author knew (in this case his own four children) and then inevitably found a larger audience....

The tale is packed with valuable hints for the dragon killer and adventurer in Faerie. Plenty of scaly monsters have been slain in legend and folktale, but never for modern readers has so complete a guide to dragon ways been provided. Here, too, are set down clearly the distinguishing characteristics of dwarves, goblins, trolls and elves. The account of the journey is so explicit that we can readily follow the progress of the expedition. In this we are aided by the admirable maps provided by the author, which in their detail and imaginative consistency, suggest Bernard Sleigh's "Mappe of Fairyland."

The songs of the dwarves and elves are real poetry, and since the author is fortunate enough to be able to make his own drawings, the illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the test. Boys and girls from 8 years on have already given "The Hobbit" an enthusiastic welcome, but this is a book with no age limits. All those, young or old, who love a fine adventurous tale, beautifully told, will take "The Hobbit" to their hearts.

The Hobbit
Or, There and Back Again
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Illustrations by the Author
310 pp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. $2.50

Friday Five: 5 Amazing Avengers Guest Performances

Over its eight years and six seasons, The Avengers acted like a repertory company for British character actors. Many faces that would become more famous got early exposure in the series, while multiple jobbing actors put in multiple jobbing performances over the years. It’s almost impossible to narrow to only five truly noteworthy appearances, but to refine the search, here are five that stand out for sheer “WTF?” impact.

P_wyngardePeter Wyngarde - A Touch of Brimstone

Wyngarde put in two memorable appearances in The Avengers, one in each of Diana Rigg’s seasons, but glossing over the pretty horrible Epic leaves us his turn as The Honourable John Cleverley Cartney, grand master of The Hellfire Club. Notorious as the episode the US banned, Brimstone is full of memorable visuals and clever dialogue, and a great deal of its charm and sinister conviction comes from Wyngarde’s performance as the bored nobleman out to spice things up a bit.

Why he’s on the list: Peter Wyngarde went on to star in two different series as the novelist Jason King, all flamboyance, frilly shirts and flared nostrils. So let’s put it all together: he’s part of an underground S&M club for society’s elite called The Hellfire Club. He’s called Wyngarde, and his best-known role was as a heavily moustachioed velvet smoking jacket-wearing bloke called Jason who dressed a much-loved heroine in black leather fetish gear…


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'The library of Dr Dee' by William Younger Fletcher (1902)

Bsl_dr_dee_mirror_channel_624x351Dr. John Dee, 'that perfect astronomer, curious astrologer and serious geometrician,' as he is styled by Lilly, was born in London on the 13th of July 1527. He was the son of Rowland Dee, who, according to Wood, was a wealthy vintner, but who is described by Strype as Gentleman Sewer to Henry VIII.

In his Compendious Rehearsal Dee informs us that he possessed a very fine collection of books, 'printed and anciently written, bound and unbound, in all near 4000, the fourth part of which were written books. The value of all which books, by the estimation of men skilful in the arts, whereof the books did and do intreat, and that in divers languages, was well worth 2000 lib.'; and he adds that he 'spent 40 years in divers places beyond the seas, and in England in getting these books together.' He specially mentions 'that four written books, one in Greek, two in French, and one in High Dutch cost 533 lib.'

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Underground Reading: The Dead Letter and I Could Go On Singing

John D. MacDonald's I Could Go On Singing and Metta Victoria Victor's The Dead Letter - two books of... interest. And occasional flashes of quality.

I could go on singingAlthough John D. MacDonald's I Could Go On Singing (1963) is packed with personal significance, it is hard to make a case for it as a particularly interesting book in the greater scheme of things. One of JDM's rarest books, I Could Go On Singing is hard to find precisely because of its mediocrity. It was published as a movie tie-in (no shame in that, I suppose), and after the movie (a Garland vehicle) didn't do well, JDM encouraged the book's disappearance.* It has not, as far as I know, ever been reprinted. (I believe JDM did the same with Weep for Me, which, again, is sort of perplexingly average.)**

The prime mover of I Could Go On Singing is the chanteuse Jenny Crawford - a popular singer and actress, at the very height of her career. Jenny's sharp - and professional - but also, as we quickly learn, filled with a sort of ennui. Despite her success and her popularity, there's something missing from her life. As we quickly learn, that something may be her (gasp!) illegitimate child - the result of a torrid affair with a British doctor over a decade ago. When Jenny reroutes her tour to visit London for the first time ever, her management team suspects that Jenny's having belated mothering instincts. And this sort of scandal could wreck the good ship Crawford.

Enter her ex-boyfriend, Jason Brown, a typically MacDonaldian sort of male - rumpled-but-handsome, cynical-but-sensitive, making tough decisions about career and love. Jason is recruited by the movie studio with Jenny under contract: they need her to behave, lest her next film go from "a shower of Oscars" to a disgraceful failure. Jason reluctantly flies out to London and renews his acquaintance with Jenny.

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