23 May 2007

Vacation notice

Another 52 Books is going into hiatus for a while. I am off to enjoy the summer.

18 May 2007

Why buy hardcovers? Or putting it another way: Why buy paperbacks?

I see these questions and variations thereof pop up regularly on the reading forums I visit on the web. Sometimes they’re posted in an attempt to start an earnest discussion about the pros and cons of each, while at other times the asker wants to convince the other forum members that one rules and the other sucks. I’m sure most book lovers know the pros and cons of each, so I’m not going to bother listing them here, but I do want to tell you about my own preferences.

I prefer to buy paperbacks when I am new to the author, I’m not sure I will want to keep the book after I have read it, all my other books in a series are paperbacks (e.g. J.D. Robb’s In Death books), or I have little money to spare on books.

I prefer hardcovers when I am going to give the book as a present, when I know I am going to want to keep and reread it, when I need to replace a paperback I have read to tatters, and when I can’t wait for the paperback. I don’t give any thought to resell value or collectability or how the books look on the shelf, but of course I appreciate all of these things, just as I do all the other advantages of hardcover books.

The biggest downside to hardcovers for me is that they are bigger and heavier than paperbacks and so are harder to stuff into a purse or hold in your hands while reading. For example, all but one of my Terry Pratchett books are hardcovers and I’m working on getting the one exception in hard covers as well, to complete the collection. This means that I can’t take them with me for lunchtime reading when I go to work because they take up too much room in my purse – especially the big three novel volumes. But it’s not a big problem because there are so many other books out there that are smaller and just as funny that I can take with me.

I do miss the days when hardcover novels were available in different sizes – for example I have old pocket size hardcover editions of Three Men in a Boat and The Three Musketeers (admittedly, the type in that one is tiny) – but nowadays it’s generally only children’s and young adult books, handbooks and novelty books that are hardbound in sizes smaller than octavo. I think it’s probably because a larger size justifies a higher price because it makes people feel they are getting more for their money.

The other big issue I have with modern hardcovers is that some of them are really perfect bound books wearing fancy clothing. I don’t mean the hardcover/paperback hybrids that have thick, sturdy bookboard covers like a hardcover but a flat, glued-on spine like a paperback, but those that at first sight look like genuine traditional hollow-back bindings, even down to the headbands. Then you open them and wonder where the thread is, or look at the spine end of the textblock and wonder why the book doesn’t seem to be put together from signatures. Then suspicion rears its ugly head and after a look-see you realise that you are holding something, which while it may be less easily damaged on the outside because it has hard covers covered with bookcloth or fake leather rather than coated paper, is not going to last the 300 years you expected it to, but will start shedding its pages at about the same time as a paperback of the same age because it is not sewn together but perfect bound, i.e. it’s a stack of single pages glued together at the spine like a paperback. No one is going to tell me that the publishers use a different and better glue for such books than that used in paperbacks. Nope, I’m afraid it’s the same wonderful stuff, the kind which, at the worst, will lose it’s grip on the pages as soon as someone tries to open the book enough to make lie flat when open, and at the best will do the same after drying out for 20 years or so.

Of course it’s all done in order to increase the profit margin by having fewer and less energy demanding steps to go through in the binding process, but I know that I personally would pay more for a sewn book than a glued one, even if it had a soft cover.

17 May 2007

Mystery author #30 Veronica Stallwood

Title: Oxford Shadows
Series detective: Kate Ivory
No. in series: 8
Year of publication: 2000
Type of mystery: Murder, partly-historical, cosy
Type of investigator: Amateur (romance writer)
Setting & time: Oxford, England

Story: Suffering from writer's block and depression following a deadly attack (presumably in a previous book in the series), romance writer Kate Ivory is being hounded by her agent to begin work on a new, preferably spicy, novel. When workmen who are fixing the floors in her boyfriend's apartment find a box of papers and other items dating back to World War 2 under the floorboards and Kate comes across the owner's name on a tombstone shortly afterwards, she becomes interested in researching the war years for a novel. Before long she is digging after more information about the owner of the box, a young boy names Chris who was billeted in the house during the last months of the war along with his sister. The house had then belonged to an aunt of Kate's boyfriend, who is reluctant to have her dig up the past in case some family skeletons should be revealed.

Review: This is a comfortable cosy mystery, while also describing the recovery of someone who has lived through serious trauma and is slowly getting over it. It does, in fact, describe what people suffering from minor depression know to be an effective remedy against the blues, namely taking up a new interest. Of course, this being a series novel about an amateur sleuth, the new hobby is not shell collecting or skydiving, but the investigation of a death that at first merely seems to be merely interesting from a historical point of view, but then appears to be a possible case of foul play.

The writing flows smoothly and while this is not a page-turner, it is an interesting story and even the knowledge of the boy's fate and the quiet despair of Kate's struggles with depression do not suffice to make it any less comfortable to read. This is probably due to the author's ability to disperse any possible gloom with comic relief and strange, funny characters.

I will definitely be reading more of Stallwood's books.

Rating: 3+ stars.

05 May 2007

Reading report for April 2007

I surpassed last year's monthly average a bit this month, with 18 books, a total of 4645 pages. Two were rereads. Most were less than 300 pages long and could be read in under 3 hours.
I have not been much interested in reading long books lately, but now I intend to try to finish the first part of the Gormenghast trilogy, which is about 400 pages of small type, by the end of the month. Another long book I have started reading is Wilkie Collins' classic novel The Woman in White, which is about 650 pages in the Oxford World's Classics edition, so I don't expect to read quite as many books this month, but just as many pages.

I have many partially read books strewn around my apartment and I think I should try to make an effort to finish some of them so I can either put them in my permanent collection or donate them back to the charity shop where I got them. I just finished one that I started reading in 2005 and feel very proud of myself, but I need to do more, so I have resolved not to start reading any more books unless they belong to the 52 authors challenge, speaking of which: I expect to review three (maybe four) new authors this month. I have already read one book by each, but as usual I want to try to read at least one more by each author.

The 'empty the shelf' challenge is nearing its end – I am reading three books from it, have discarded one and have four left unread.

Unreviewed: (I'm working on several reviews)
Simon Beckett: The Chemistry of Death
Nathaniel Benchley: The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming
Nigel Boar & Roger Blundell: The World's Greatest Ghosts
Tess Gerritsen: The Apprentice
Iris Johansen: The Search
Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters
Joe McGinniss: Going to Extremes
Lee Server: Over My Dead Body: The sensational age of the American paperback
Georges Simenon: My friend Maigret, At the 'Gai-Moulin'
Veronica Stallwood: Oxford Shadows
Paul Theroux: Riding the Iron Rooster: By train through China
Kurt Vonnegut: Deadeye Dick
C.Q. Yarbro: Bad Medicine

Robert B. Parker: The Judas Goat

02 May 2007

A romance reader bites back

I came across a wonderfully sardonic description of some of the many formulas used in modern literary fiction, written by a fan of another genre that has been much abused for being formulaic, namely romance. If you didn’t think there were any formulas behind literary fiction, think again. Here is the full article: Guidelines for Writing Literary Fiction.

I especially like the last bit:
"On completing the book, the reader should have a satisfied feeling of accomplishment. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is value. He or she will be able to say he enjoyed the book, but will probably not be able to explain why without reading a review. He or she can feel fully satisfied in recommending it to a book club."

I, of course, explore my feelings about books, and not just literary fiction, by writing reviews.

So, have you read a piece of modern literary fiction that didn’t follow any of those formulas? I know there must be some, but most of what I have read in the genre lately has included one or, usually, more of the formulas in the list.