The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

May 3, 2010 at 12:48 am (JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Ruiz revisits the world of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books first introduced in Shadow of the Wind and presents us with a strangely philosophical mystery of life, death, love, and literature.  Uniquely captivating from start to finish, the story unravels in such a way that in the end, like the narrator, I was still wondering who exactly had died and who had survived.  I highly recommend The Angel’s Game (and The Shadow of the Wind) to any book lover.

Buy Books Here

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All About JARS

April 28, 2010 at 12:03 am (JARS)

I could spend all day describing my book club, how there’s no deadlines, how we like to pair things up in fiction and nonfiction, how its laid back and fun, and educational but not in a boring way.  I could tell you to click on my avatar to the right over there until I’m blue in the face (it used to take you directly to the JARS site, now just go here:, but you don’t really get it until you see what we’ve already done.  So here’s our “Been There Done That” list.

First Set Ever:
Arlington Park – Rachel Cusk (general fiction)
Seduction of Place – Joseph Rykwert (urban studies/ architecture)

Our Fall/Winter in France
Hermit in Paris – Italo Calvino (traveling memoir)
Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky (general fiction)

A Bit of Steinbeck
East of Eden – John Steinbeck (general fiction)
Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters – John Steinbeck (journals/letters/lit.crit.)

A Coffee Break

Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East (history/sociology)

French Pressed: A Coffeehouse Mystery – Cleo Coyle (fiction/mystery) Cancel


Time Was Soft There – Jeremy Mercer (traveling memoir/bookstores)

City of Dreaming Books – Walter Moers (young adult/fantasy)

A Summer in Egypt

The Search for Nefertiti – Dr. Joann Fletcher (archeology/egyptology)—Dr-Joann-Fletcher

Nefertiti – Michelle Moran (historical fiction)

And a lot more…

CancelSome Time in the Baroque

*Choose your own Baroque history piece*

Hunger’s Brides – Paul Anderson (historical fiction)

Architecture, Humanity and Life

On Art and Life – John Ruskin (essays)

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand (fiction/literature)

Fall in With the Knights Templar

Celts and Druids

Darwin in the Spring

Партии в России

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Rosalind Miles’ Guenevere

April 21, 2010 at 12:23 am (JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country:
The First of the Guenevere Novels by Rosalind Miles

Though racier than I would have liked, Rosalind Miles portrays the Arthurian Romance of Guenevere, Arthur, and Lancelot exactly how I should think someone going for historical and religious accuracy should. Miles captures the thoughts and rituals of the pagans well and interweaves the young Christian societies the way they must have seemed to the Druids of the time. This first chapter of Guenevere’s life shows the gradual change from pagan feminism to the changing views of the times that brought women to more submissive roles, as she is caught between a husband trying to be a Christian King and an upbringing where royalty was passed down through the female line with sexual freedoms to boot. Can’t wait to read the second and third parts.

Click Here to Purchase

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A Russian Study

April 14, 2010 at 12:27 am (JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Have I invited my fellow bloggers and blog-readers to my Russian study?

Welcome to the Russian Study! We hope that everyone interested in Russia, its culture and history, and its literature, will enjoy perusing through and adding to this discussion. Feel free to add your own books to the list or read along with the ones already here below…

* Crime and Punishment – Dosoyevsky (fiction)

* Anna Karenina – Tolstoy (fiction)

* War and Peace – Tolstoy (fiction)

* The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzheinitsyn – Volkov (literary criticism, history)

* The Axe and the Icon – Billington (history)

* The Vision Unfulfilled – Thompson (history)

* Fathers and Sons – Turgenev (fiction)

* The Captain’s Daughter & Other Stories – Pushkin (fiction)

* One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Solzhenitsyn’s (fiction)

* Sofia Petrovna – Lydia Chukovskaya (fiction)

* I think some Robert Alexander historical fiction titles would do well at the end. One is called Rasputin’s Daughter, but he has many.

I have already completed Crime and Punishment, below is my official review:

Good book, well written, yet I could have gone my whole life without having read it and not felt like I missed out much. The final confession felt like the final moment in Moby Dick when the whale actually shows – all I could think was: “its about time.” Its on Bauer’s list of books to read before you die, which I plan to use as curriculum for my kid when I home school, but I’m not sure that I’ll make them read this, unless they are utterly captivated by it and want to – especially with Tolstoy next on the list. I was hoping to be more captivated myself.

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The Girl from the Fiction Department

April 8, 2010 at 9:53 pm (JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

A Portrait of Sonia Orwell by Hilary Spurling

This was a lovely piece of literary history documenting not just the life of Sonia Orwell, a famous and well-known editor on her own as well as the second wife of George Orwell, but that of many of the literary giants she befriended. The book is short, easy, and a fascinating glimpse into the hearts of so many European authors and artists for anyone who enjoys well-written literature and the bohemian lifestyle in which many of them lived.

I was baffled and surprised by Sonia’s many love affairs, saddened and elated by Sonia and George’s short-lived union, and angered by the notion that other biographers have so readily misunderstood her. I found Sonia interesting and bold, yet I also found myself so relieved to have not lived her life. She truly must have been someone to behold, respect, and possibly hate at some moments – though I think I might have liked her most of the time.

I loved that Sonia’s biography was so linked to her role in Orwell’s writing the character of Julia in 1984, the girl from the fiction department. Its such a quick and concise biography that manages to branch out and cover personalities of so many of those of Orwell’s time, I believe if I were a high school English teacher I would either require the reading of The Girl from the Fiction Department directly after assigning 1984 (or at least offering it up as an extra credit assignment).

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Origins and Thoughts, and Original Thoughts

January 19, 2010 at 5:44 am (JARS, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

My thoughts on Irving Stone’s The Origin so far… (I’m on Book Ten)

Irving Stone presents a very cheerful, almost carefree, narrative of Darwin’s life. Friendships are dwelt upon, discoveries are glorified, and opposition breezed over. Even the death of Charles and Emma’s third child is skipped over with a mere page and a half of detail.

Despite being an enjoyable novel, its astonishing how much humanity is lacking in the description – it has the feel of a 1950’s family sitcom, Leave It to Beaver meets the Darwin family in Victorian England.

I like Irving Stone’s version of things, however. It gives a detailed time line of publications and events. Its a good source to use as an introduction to the study of evolution: names, dates, and important essays, journals and other writings are handed to you chronologically on a silver platter so that you can jot them down and do additional research afterward.

The book is quite clever, actually, sidestepping every controversy and smiling noncommittally.

“They established a routine in which everyone fitted harmoniously,” (from book nine: the Whole Life) seems to be the theme of the book, rather than the development of the theory of evolution. It is full of lines like: “The Manuscript on Volcanic Islands moved along felicitously.” Even through his many illnesses and the death of his two daughters, Charles Darwin seems to have led a very charmed life.

I discussed all this with a member the physical JARS book club, and she pointed out something important that I failed to notice: this is exactly the way a man of the Victorian Age would want his biography written. The Victorian era was a time when the upper class mastered the art of smiling and pretending everything was fine, introducing what my friend described as “that very British attitude of ‘Get Over It and Move On.’ ”

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JARS… a book club

December 17, 2009 at 10:20 pm (JARS)

JARS… a book club…
January 2010: Darwin!
The Origins of Species – Charles Darwin – science/evolution
The Origins – Irving Stone – historical fiction

Already read by JARS:

Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco – general fiction                                             The Templars – Piers Paul Read – history/ religion/ secret societies

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand – general fiction/literature
On Art and Life – John Ruskin – essays

City of Dreaming Books – Walter Moers – young adult/fantasy
Time Was Soft There – Jeremy Mercer – traveling memoir/bookstores

French Pressed: A Coffeehouse Mystery – Cleo Coyle – mystery
Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East – Ralph S. Hattox – history/sociology

Nefertiti – Michelle Moran – historical fiction
The Search for Nefertiti – Joanne Fletcher – archeology/egyptology

East of Eden – John Steinbeck – fiction/literature
Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters – John Steinbeck – journals/letters/lit.crit

Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky – general ficiton
Hermit in Paris – Italo Calvino – memoir

Arlington Park – Rachel Cusk – general fiction
The Seduction of Place: The History and Future of the City – Joseph Rykwert – Urban Studies/Architecture

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Libraries, Librarians, Bookshops, and Booksellers…

November 24, 2009 at 4:00 am (JARS) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

from The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

“I was a librarian when I met him. That much is important. I had my library, which I loved and despised. All librarians, deep down, loathe their buildings. Something is always wrong – the counter is too high, the shelves too narrow, the delivery entrance too far from the offices. The hallway echoes. The light from the windows bleaches the books. In short, libraries are constructed by architects, not librarians. Do not trust an architect: he will always try to talk you into an atrium.

“Space is the chief problem. Books are a bad family – there are those you love, and those you are indifferent to; idiots and mad cousins who you would banish except others enjoy their company; wrongheaded but fascinating eccentric and dreamy geniuses; orphaned grandchildren; and endless brothers-in-law simply taking up space who you wish you could send straight to hell. Except you can’t, for the most part. You must house them and make them comfortable and worry about them when they go on trips and there is never enough room.

“My library was no exception.”

George Orwell‘s Bookshop Memories

When I worked in a second-hand bookshop — so easily pictured, if you don’t work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios — the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews were commonest of all.

Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For example, the dear old lady who ‘wants a book for an invalid’ (a very common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the title or the author’s name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old breadcrusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of paying. In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to return. But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs. They used to talk in a grandiose manner about themselves and tell the most ingenious stories to explain how they had happened to come out of doors without any money — stories which, in many cases, I am sure they themselves believed. In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money. In the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away without paying for them; merely to order them was enough — it gave them, I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money.

Like most second-hand bookshops we had various sidelines. We sold second-hand typewriters, for instance, and also stamps — used stamps, I mean. Stamp-collectors are a strange, silent, fish-like breed, of all ages, but only of the male sex; women, apparently, fail to see the peculiar charm of gumming bits of coloured paper into albums. We also sold sixpenny horoscopes compiled by somebody who claimed to have foretold the Japanese earthquake. They were in sealed envelopes and I never opened one of them myself, but the people who bought them often came back and told us how ‘true’ their horoscopes had been. (Doubtless any horoscope seems ‘true’ if it tells you that you are highly attractive to the opposite sex and your worst fault is generosity.) We did a good deal of business in children’s books, chiefly ‘remainders’. Modern books for children are rather horrible things, especially when you see them in the mass. Personally I would sooner give a child a copy of Petrenius Arbiter than Peter Pan, but even Barrie seems manly and wholesome compared with some of his later imitators. At Christmas time we spent a feverish ten days struggling with Christmas cards and calendars, which are tiresome things to sell but good business while the season lasts. It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come round with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: ‘2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits’.

But our principal sideline was a lending library — the usual ‘twopenny no-deposit’ library of five or six hundred volumes, all fiction. How the book thieves must love those libraries! It is the easiest crime in the world to borrow a book at one shop for twopence, remove the label and sell it at another shop for a shilling. Nevertheless booksellers generally find that it pays them better to have a certain number of books stolen (we used to lose about a dozen a month) than to frighten customers away by demanding a deposit.

Our shop stood exactly on the frontier between Hampstead and Camden Town, and we were frequented by all types from baronets to bus-conductors. Probably our library subscribers were a fair cross-section of London’s reading public. It is therefore worth noting that of all the authors in our library the one who ‘went out’ the best was — Priestley? Hemingway? Walpole? Wodehouse? No, Ethel M. Dell, with Warwick Deeping a good second and Jeffrey Farnol, I should say, third. Dell’s novels, of course, are read solely by women, but by women of all kinds and ages and not, as one might expect, merely by wistful spinsters and the fat wives of tobacconists. It is not true that men don’t read novels, but it is true that there are whole branches of fiction that they avoid. Roughly speaking, what one might call the average novel — the ordinary, good-bad, Galsworthy-and-water stuff which is the norm of the English novel — seems to exist only for women. Men read either the novels it is possible to respect, or detective stories. But their consumption of detective stories is terrific. One of our subscribers to my knowledge read four or five detective stories every week for over a year, besides others which he got from another library. What chiefly surprised me was that he never read the same book twice. Apparently the whole of that frightful torrent of trash (the pages read every year would, I calculated, cover nearly three quarters of an acre) was stored for ever in his memory. He took no notice of titles or author’s names, but he could tell by merely glancing into a book whether be had ‘had it already’.

In a lending library you see people’s real tastes, not their pretended ones, and one thing that strikes you is how completely the ‘classical’ English novelists have dropped out of favour. It is simply useless to put Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Trollope, etc. into the ordinary lending library; nobody takes them out. At the mere sight of a nineteenth-century novel people say, ‘Oh, but that’s old!’ and shy away immediately. Yet it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are ‘always meaning to’ read, and, like the Bible, he is widely known at second hand. People know by hearsay that Bill Sikes was a burglar and that Mr Micawber had a bald head, just as they know by hearsay that Moses was found in a basket of bulrushes and saw the ‘back parts’ of the Lord. Another thing that is very noticeable is the growing unpopularity of American books. And another — the publishers get into a stew about this every two or three years — is the unpopularity of short stories. The kind of person who asks the librarian to choose a book for him nearly always starts by saying ‘I don’t want short stories’, or ‘I do not desire little stories’, as a German customer of ours used to put it. If you ask them why, they sometimes explain that it is too much fag to get used to a new set of characters with every story; they like to ‘get into’ a novel which demands no further thought after the first chapter. I believe, though, that the writers are more to blame here than the readers. Most modern short stories, English and American, are utterly lifeless and worthless, far more so than most novels. The short stories which are stories are popular enough, vide D. H. Lawrence, whose short stories are as popular as his novels.

Would I like to be a bookseller de métier? On the whole — in spite of my employer’s kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop — no.

Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital, any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop. Unless one goes in for ‘rare’ books it is not a difficult trade to learn, and you start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of books. (Most booksellers don’t. You can get their measure by having a look at the trade papers where they advertise their wants. If you don’t see an ad. for Boswell’s Decline and Fall you are pretty sure to see one for The Mill on the Floss by T. S. Eliot.) Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long — I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy-hour week, apart from constant expeditions out of hours to buy books — and it is an unhealthy life. As a rule a bookshop is horribly cold in winter, because if it is too warm the windows get misted over, and a bookseller lives on his windows. And books give off more and nastier dust than any other class of objects yet invented, and the top of a book is the place where every bluebottle prefers to die.

But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro. There was a time when I really did love books — loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies’ magazines of the sixties. For casual reading — in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch — there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl’s Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can’t borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.



Electra Dietz
Here Lies the Librarian
After years of service
Tried and True
Heaven Stamped her
-Richard Peck

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JARS… a book club

November 21, 2009 at 3:37 am (JARS)

JARS… a book club…

Fall 2009 Reading: The Knight’s Templar!
Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco (fiction)
The Templars – Piers Paul Read (history/religion/secret societies/ occult)
Already read by JARS:

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand – general fiction/literature
On Art and Life – John Ruskin – essays

City of Dreaming Books – Walter Moers – young adult/fantasy
Time Was Soft There – Jeremy Mercer – traveling memoir/bookstores

French Pressed: A Coffeehouse Mystery – Cleo Coyle – mystery
Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East
 – Ralph S. Hattox – history/sociology

Nefertiti – Michelle Moran – historical fiction
The Search for Nefertiti – Joanne Fletcher – archeology/egyptology

East of Eden – John Steinbeck – fiction/literature
Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters – John Steinbeck – journals/letters/lit.crit

Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky – general ficiton
Hermit in Paris – Italo Calvino – memoir

Arlington Park – Rachel Cusk – general fiction
The Seduction of Place: The History and Future of the City – Joseph Rykwert – Urban Studies/Architecture

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