Sunday, November 28, 2010

Books by the Yard?

I've mentioned Half Price Books in many of my posts.  They have a well-established network of used bookstores and it's hard for me to stay away from them.  But one thing they advertise that just hits me wrong is "books by the yard."  Half Price says that "Books by the Yard is a unique product that Half Price Books offers to designers, retailers and individuals across the United States."

Basically, you can buy three linear feet of books to make it look like your display, your model home, or your real home includes real books.  The object is to fool someone.  I don't have a problem with books as a way to dress up a home, make an office look intellectual, whatever.  But a collection of books could and should be obtained by buying books that one reads or peruses or at the very least, flips through.  Buying a bunch of books that you have no interest in ever reading, books that serve no other purpose than to fool others into thinking you read, or like books?  That's just wrong.

The statistic I heard the other day was that 80% of the population reads less than two books a month.  At that rate, if you bought everything you read and saved it, it would take you a year or more to accumulate three linear feet of books.  Better start reading now so when you do need three feet of books you've got them!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Doc Savage and G.I. Joe

Last night I watched "G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA" on Netflix.  The idea of pulling a team together comprised of individuals who each contribute some unique skill to the team is certainly not new.  Look at the X-Men.  Or "The A-Team."  Look at the Justice League of America.  But go a little further back, to the days of the "pulps."  One of the popular adventure series was "Doc Savage".

I started reading the Bantam paperback editions of Doc Savage stories when I was in high school and saw some of my friends reading them.  Doc Savage was a crime-fighting hero who had no superpowers, no mask or cape.  Just (!) a genius intellect, a physique to put Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame, a code of honor and justice, and the ability to pull together the right team. 
I have tried - periodically - to go back and read some of the old Doc Savage stories, but alas, they don't hold the same allure they did when I was a younger man.  But I learned early on there's nothing you can't do if you have the right people to work with.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Henges, Hill Forts, and Barrows

My "bucket list" includes seeing Stonehenge.  Someday I'd like to witness the mystery of this site firsthand, ponder how and why it was constructed, appreciate its antiquity.

I just finished reading Prehistoric Britain from the Air (rating: 9/10).  The many aerial photographs in this book include not only Stonehenge but dozens of other sites in the British Isles.  I had no idea that so many prehistoric sites still stood.  The ones in England are much more accessible than those in Scotland and Wales, so I was also surprised to see much less security around these sites than what I would expect if they stood in North America.

I was reminded that Francis Pryor's Seahenge: A Quest for Life and Death in Bronze Age Britain is sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read.  The photographs of hill forts brought to mind the battle scenes in Bernard Cornwell's series, The Saxon Tales ... and the most recent volume in that series, The Burning Land, also sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.  The photographs of barrows made me think of the fear the hobbits felt when they encountered the barrow-wights in Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring.  I was also reminded of the Moesgard Museum, a collection of early Scandinavian history (including Vikings) in Aarhus, Denmark, which I visited many years ago.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pulp Fiction

Many years ago - long before I was born - maybe even going back to the 1800s (I can't remember, that really was before I was born) - Procter & Gamble began giving each of its employees a holiday basket at Christmas time.  I believe I heard the first ones included a turkey.  By the turn of the century (20th to 21st), the tradition had changed somewhat.  Each employee received a large box containing ham, or sausage, and fruit, as well as various P&G products for use around the home.

In 1958, West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company (later known as Westvaco, and then MeadWestvaco) began giving their employees a slip-cased hardcover edition of a classic piece of literature.  The first book was Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  In the Foreword, it says "We are papermakers, whose pride in the historical evolution of both our industry and printing, is matched only by our interest in those present-day techniques which have enabled us to bring you this example of classic literature in a form which is authentically 1820 yet typically 1958."  Bradbury Thompson, a famous graphic designer, designed each book in the series.  Some designs were more intriguing than others.  The Red Badge of Courage, for example, has simulated bullet holes in the cover.  The story of the Lewis & Clark expedition includes a DVD.  By the time Westvaco stopped printing these gift books - the 50th book, a retrospective of the series which was distributed in 2008, was the last - the common slipcase had morphed into ornate boxes, CDs of music were often included, and booklets often provided ancillary information.

The first book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was issued in a print run of about 300, making it the most rare of the series.  By 2005, over 17,000 books were distributed each Christmas.  It's not unusual to see The Legend of Sleepy Hollow sell for $100-$600 on eBay (median price over $300).  I once saw a copy sell for $25 on eBay in a buy-it-now auction and kicked myself for not getting to it first.  Eventually I found a copy - sans slipcase - for which I paid about $80, and quite pleased with myself.

Today, at Half Price Books, I found a nice copy, with slipcase, for $60.  I had a coupon for 50% off, so I wound up only paying $30!  Now that's a bargain!

Friday, November 12, 2010


One of our readers (okay, okay, my dad) sent me a review, from the November 2010 issue of Christianity Today, of Bill McKibben's new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.  "Eaarth" is not a typo - it's the name McKibben suggests for a planet we know and love but perhaps don't respect enough, a planet that has changed radically and will never be the same.  A well-known environmental writer, McKibben says it's too late to expect that some of the changes civilization is talking about will actually help, but he's not ready to throw in the towel.  Instead, his solutions are perhaps in line with the "think global, act local" school of thought.

I could react to what the reviewer says are the solutions McKibben proposes, but that would be cheating.  I need to read the book first.  So I'm putting it on my "I should read this" list.  I learned from this review that McKibben - who has written on environmental themes in the past for Christianity Today - is a church-going Methodist who believes the Church at large should be leading the environmental  movement because of what Christianity teaches regarding stewardship.  Along these lines, I'm reminded of several things:
  • An article by Wendell Berry, titled "The Gift of Good Land," that appeared in Backpacker magazine in the early 1970s.  Berry was the first author I'd read who connected care for the Earth with Christian values.
  • A book I inherited from a reader (yes, yes, my father again!), titled Our Father's World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation, by Edward R. Brown.
  • The Green Bible, my newest version of the Bible.  While many versions of the Bible use red type for the words of Jesus, this version uses green type to highlight all the places in the Bible that have anything to say about creation and caring for it.
  • Another book on my shelf, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, by E. O. Wilson (rating: 7/10).  "Written in the form of an impassioned letter to a Southern Baptist pastor, The Creation demonstrates that science and religion need not be warring antagonists."  As a scientist and a Christian, that theme really resonates with me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hyperkinetically Connected

There was a time, about ten years ago, when I had a Macintosh computer, a PC, a Silicon Graphics workstation, and an Apple Newton at home, and another PC and another SGI machine at work.  I was on the grid, I was wired, I was hopping from one piece of computer technology to another like I'd had too much caffeine (maybe too much Mountain Dew), and I would tell people that I was "hyperkinetically connected."

While I've simplified my connectivity (well, maybe) over the years, life still seems frantic and a little more manic every year.  I recently heard about Crazy Busy, by Edward M. Hallowell, and decided it was something I need to read.  The book is subtitled, "Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!  Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD".  I can identify with that!  So I bought the book.  The problem is (I admit with some chagrin), I keep meaning to read it, but I've been too busy ...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tut, tut ...

Mystery writer James Patterson has written - with Martin Dugard - a retelling of Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of King Tut alongside a speculative account of King Tut's murder.  The subtitle for The Murder of King Tut is "The ultimate cold case - reopened", and an Indiana Jones-like figure is seen entering Tut's tomb with torch held aloft.

I can forgive myself for thinking this might be an exciting story.  But I was surprised to discover as I read this that there was little excitement, even though Patterson had exciting material to work with.  I've not read any of Patterson's other books, so I can't compare this with them.  But I finished the book feeling disappointed.  There just wasn't enough substance to what could have been a great story.

Voracity: example

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, is said (Christianity Today, October 2010) to be a voracious reader and collector of books.  How voracious is this man?  His personal library contains over 40,000 books.  They are arranged in rooms, by theme.  And every book has been catalogued.

Now, it's unlikely he sat down and catalogued all 40,000 at one time.  But if we allow a minute per book, he has spent 40,000 minutes cataloguing.  667 hours.  83 eight-hour days.  17 work-weeks.  In my spare time it took me months to catalog my (relatively) little library of 1200 books using Book Collector software (a very good tool).

How he manages to read and collect books while leading a seminary and writing his own books and sharing his beliefs online is hard to imagine.