A Busy Book Week in Bibliophilopolis

Or at least it could be. Lots of stuff going on in town. We’ll see how much I actually get to do.

(1) Tomorrow, author Majie Alford Failey is discussing her book, We Never Danced Cheek to Cheek: The Young Kurt Vonnegut in Indianapolis and Beyond, at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington. I stopped by Bookmama’s last week as their “Shared Pages” book club was discussing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, one of my favorite short stories. At that time, I learned of this week’s event and bought a copy of the book. It’s only 150 pages or so, and I’ve already started it.

(2) Wednesday, the “Great Books” reading group is meeting at the Nora Library to discuss Sinclair Lewis’s classic book, Main Street. I’ve always wanted to read this and have downloaded to my Nook reader and gotten started, but I doubt I’ll be able to finish by then. I need to get to one of their meetings soon, though, as I asked to be included in their emails long ago but have yet to show up for anything. 🙂

(3) Thursday (Part I) The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club, in honor of Banned Books Week, is reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I completed my reading of this classic just yesterday and plan to attend this meeting for sure, barring unforeseen crises at the office (this is the club that meets in the middle of the day on a weekday; many of its members are retired).

(4) Thursday (Part II) My book club, The Indy Reading Coalition, meets to discuss Rex Stout’s Some Buried Caesar. I just read this short book last year, and don’t know if I’ll re-read just review to re-familiarize myself with whodunit. I can’t miss e meeting, though; my attendance record of about 58 out of 60 meetings is something I take pride in. 🙂

Do you ever have weeks this filled with book-related ‘events?’ I think is is a first for me…

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September Reading

Okay, so it’s already the morning of the eighth and I’m a little bit late with this monthly post. As a result, I’ve already finished two books this month. One I had already read about two thirds of (We Make a Life by What We Give by Richard Gunderman) but it still counts as a September book. I hope to write a post dedicated to this book soon. The second is Chris Edwards’ Spiritual Snake Oil: Fads and Fallacies in Pop Culture. The author lives in central Indiana and gave a brief talk and book-signing at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library last week. This book – as you might guess by the title – shines a critical light on much of the pseudoscience in today’s world. More on this one later as well.

Enough of what I’ve finished already. What do I still have to go? Well I have a couple required reads as usual. One, for my personal book club, is Rex Stout’s Mystery Some Buried Caesar. This will actually be a re-read for me as I read it when it was the chosen book for Indianapolis’s “One City, One Book” program awhile back. I even went to a discussion about it at Bookmama’s Bookstore. It’s short and I know I can blast through it in a couple days when the time draws near. Stout is also an Indiana native (although he grew up in Kansas, I believe).

The second “required read” is for The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. The club is switching things up in September by NOT reading a Vonnegut novel this time. Instead, in honor of Banned Books Week, we are reading the frequently banned or censored classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This book happens to be one of those classics which I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read. That is about to change. 🙂

A semi-required read would by Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, which I’m about 75% done with at this point. Is a six-hundred pager, though, and I originally started reading it since it is the September pick for the “Critical Mass Book Club” at the Carmel Public Library (where I went last month for the Flannery O’Connor discussion). While I’m not officially affiliated with that group, I was impressed with its size and vibe when I visited.

I have another book that I’ve already started that I’d like to wrap up this month too. That’s Christopher DiCarlo’s How to Becone a Really Good Pain in the Ass. Another author and voice of the skeptical movement, he visited Indianapolis recently on his book tour. This book will doubtless be similar to the Spiritual Snake Oil book I’ve already finished, but it is a little heftier and more of a guide to logical and critical thinking rather than a debunking of specific fads & pseudoscience, etc.

A couple other wild card reads might be For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway and The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham, both classic which I’ve been wanting to read for some time.

Well, that’s it for me (isn’t that enough!?). What are YOU reading in September…?

The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg by Mark Twain

“…the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.”

(written 4/2/11) On Saturday, March 26th, I drew the King of Hearts for my “Deal Me In” Short Story Reading Project for 2011.  Hearts is the suit where the short stories are supposed favorites of mine that I’d like to read again.  I’ve mentioned before that in the indexes of the various short story anthologies that I own, I usually asterisk those stories that I find particularly good.  This was the first story in a book I bought in the Spring of 1995, “A Treasury of North American Fiction – A Collection From Harper’s Magazine”

I had this story asterisked and marked that I read it on 3/31/1995 – almost exactly 16 years ago.  I can’t remember a dang thing about it today.  Maybe I will remember something when I start reading, but for now I am consumed with questions like, “What could a man do to corrupt a whole town?, Why would a man do this.  What kind of town is Hadleyburg?  Did he corrupt it on purpose?  Well, I guess it’s time to find out – I’ll continue this post after I’ve read the story….

(written 4/3/11) Alright, I’ve just finished reading The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg.  I think I know now why I had asterisked this story before.  It wasn’t because I thought the writing particularly beautiful or pleasing, but instead was likely due to the fact that it is a nearly perfectly constructed story of non-violent revenge…

We never really learn (unless I missed it) what specific “wrong” the people of Hadleyburg had perpetrated on our title character, only being told.  He does say this about it: “I passed through your town at a certain time, and received a deep offence which I had not earned.  Any other man would have been content to kill one or two of you and call it square, but to me that would have been a trivial revenge, and inadequate; for the dead do not suffer.” How about THAT?

Now, we all know I enjoy a good story of revenge (ahem, The Cask of Amontillado…), and this one does not disappoint.  The stranger, who goes by (perhaps) the alias of Mr. Stephenson, employs a less bloody or violent method, but who is to argue that his results are less effective or more?

I do not wish to include spoilers in this post, but I will say that the corruption of this town is brought about by one of the seven deadly sins, in this case Greed.

The town of Hadleyburg has nineteen leading citizens (or families), all seemingly beyond moral reproach. Suppose, however, that one of the poorest of these families is paid a visit by a stranger, purporting to carry a bag of gold coins worth $40,000.00.  His story is that once, long ago, when in the town of Hadleyburg and down on his luck, a kind citizen had given him $20 and some words of advice which changed his life.  The stranger wants that person, whose identity he doesn’t know, to have the bag of gold coins.  The person who may claim the gold may be, he says in an accompanying letter, identified by the exact phrase of the advice given.  This is where the corruption begins…

I found the story to be somewhat tough reading – especially for Twain – but the masterful construction and execution of the plot to corrupt the town won me over and prompts me to recommend the story to you as well.

Do you have a favorite story of revenge? What do you think of Mark Twain’s writing?  Are you a fan or do you only have a passing interest?  I remember reading once that Twain, in comparing himself to other writers of the day who were recognized as great, said something like: “Their writing is like wine, mine is like water.  Fortunately for me everybody drinks water.”

For me, it’s the WORDS

News came out this past week about how, for the first time, e-books on the best seller list outsold their printed counterparts. The reason was known – and kind of obvious when one thinks about it. Many readers found a little something extra under the Christmas tree this year in the form of a Kindle or Nook (or other e-reading device). And lo, what else did Santa bring them but gift cards for Amazon.com, b&n.com, etc. Armed with these weapons in hand, what do you think these readers did? They purchased and downloaded tons of e-books, of course! Well, what would you have done in the same situation? Me too…

In my personal experience, I’ve encountered a lot of resistance (I don’t want to use the word “hostility,” but sometimes it feels that would be more appropriate) to the concept of e-reading from incredulous people who ask, “Don’t you miss the ‘feel’ of a real book in your hands?” Well, maybe sometimes I do, but I find that it’s less and less as time goes on. In fact, now that I’m primarily an e-reader, I also experience the reverse. I miss the feel of my iPad or my Nook in my hand. Or more to the point, I miss being able to quickly highlight a passage, or find a passage I’ve already highlighted, or jot down a quick note.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a distinct aesthetic pleasure (which I also experience) in holding or looking at a well-made book, and one feels a great sense of pride or accomplishment in looking at a shelf full of books that one has read. I don’t think I’ll have the same sense of pride in looking at the “my library” display on my Nook app on my iPad. I’d argue, though, that this pleasure is an entirely different thing than reading the book itself. Anyone can buy a printed edition of On the Road or East of Eden and, yes, it will look good sitting on your bookshelf, but what really makes me feel good is knowing that I have read THE WORDS in those books and that they have left their mark on me. The words (i.e., the ideas) should stand on their own regardless of the medium in which they are delivered to the reader.

I think there is a virulent strain of technophobia involved here as well. I feel that some readers who oppose the e-reading medium and e-books themselves view themselves as “martyrs,” defending the honor of a long-cherished medium (indeed, how long has the printed book held sway? Wasn’t Gutenberg a 15th century printer? And before then there were hand-printed books which, thanks to legions of lonely monks and others, were works of art as well). It’s personal to them, and I guess I can understand that. To me, though, it’s the words that shouldn’t ever change, not the medium. But that is sadly happening too. Also in the recent news..

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/45645-upcoming-newsouth-huck-finn-eliminates-the-n-word.html

I know many other book bloggers have already spoken out against this, and I won’t echo their comments here, but I feel this is clearly wrong.

How do you feel about the e-book vs. printed book issue?

Sent from my iPad