Category: Book Blog Posts

Reading As an Escape from Social Distancing

Reading As an Escape from Social Distancing

Since I left my job almost a year ago, and much more so during the last couple of months of social isolation, I’ve had a lot more time to read during unfortunate circumstances. It’s an escape, a solace, a welcome distraction—as it has been throughout my life.

To support the many wonderful independent bookstores struggling to get by (particularly, but not only, in Atlanta and Athens) I have amassed a “to be read” inventory that is going to last me a very long time! The shelf pics below do not include all books purchased since the coronavirus; only the ones I have not yet read, with one exception: I have started Gore Vidal’s “Burr”, seen below in the picture on the right.

This is my second time reading “Burr”; I was inspired to do so by seeing “Hamilton” in NY during better times. Although it’s a work of historical fiction, Vidal did his homework and it’s great to hear the story of those years from Burr’s point of view as narrated by Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, who works for him as a law clerk. I especially loved the parts told by Burr in the first person, as Schuyler “transcribes” them for his own story about Burr.

In this post I review some of the books I’ve read and thankfully, moved from my “tbr” shelf to their proper place in the library; the unread books are on the shelves closest to the window:

In Berkeley, CA? Visit Sleepy Cat Books!
Follow them on twitter: @SleepyCatBooks
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The Magician’s Assistant—Ann Patchett

I’d like to start out with “The Magician’s Assistant” by Ann Patchett. I’ve been enchanted by Patchett’s work since I read “Bel Canto”, and this book is no less gripping.

Sabine had been assistant to L.A. magician Parsifal for 22 years when they finally married. She knew he was homosexual; both had mourned the death of his gentle Vietnamese lover, Phan. What she didn’t know until Parsifal’s sudden death only a short time later was that Parsifal’s real name was Guy Fetters, that had he lied when he claimed to have no living relatives and that he has a mother and two sisters in Alliance, Neb.

Publishers Weekly

As events unfold, what I thought the book would be about changes dramatically to another type of story that is in turn gut-wrenching, poignant, sharply observational and ultimately redemptive. If you’ve never read Patchett, this would be a great book to start with.

In Kona, HI? Visit Kona Bay Books
Follow them on twitter: @BooksKona
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Bloody Murder-From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History—Julian Symons

I’m a lifelong mystery buff, so I was pretty excited when I found this book. Published in 1972, Symons traces the history of the genre; I understand there have been several revised versions but I believe this is an unrevised edition. In addition to the historical aspect of the book, Symons offers his unvarnished opinions of many famous, and some obscure, mystery and detective fiction authors. I can’t say I agreed with all of his assessments, but the book is intermittently fascinating for fans of mystery/detective writing. (I have to admit that since I am unfamiliar with many of the early European authors of this genre, the book was a little dry for me in places. It’s hard to relate to a critique of an author whose name and books you’ve never heard of).

In Savannah, GA? Visit The Book Lady Bookstore!
Follow them on twitter: @bookladybkstore

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Treachery at Sharpnose Point—Jeremy Seal

Frankly, this book was quite a letdown. I’m an avid fan of shipwreck/disaster/maritime histories, which is why this title caught my eye. However, the author having failed to find any evidence of his theories regarding the “treachery”, resorts to detailing his (mostly unsuccessful) research efforts for about a third of the book. Another third is pure conjectural fiction about personalities and dialogue aboard the ship prior to the shipwreck. The remaining third is not uninteresting, but contrary to the subtitle, no mysteries were “unraveled”. I just can’t recommend it.

In Louisville, KY? Visit Carmichael’s Bookstore!
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The Diary of a Bookseller—Shaun Bythell

This book was a sheer pleasure from beginning to end. Let’s just say that I have many of the qualities of, and enjoy the company of, curmudgeons. I married one. The dictionary definition of this word is “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.”. I consider this to be a vicious libel! Curmudgeons are DELIGHTFUL IF they also possess a dry and wicked sense of humor, and Mr. Bythell has this in spades. His piercing and witty observations about running a bookstore and dealing with the general public are just delightful, and when, not if, I visit Wigtown I will certainly pay hommage.

In Wigtown, Scotland? Visit Wigtown Bookshop!
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The Dream of Scipio—Iain Pears

I first read Iain Pears in 1997, when “The Instance of the Fingerpost” was published. Although I very much enjoyed it, I did not catch up with a Pears book again until this year, when I found “The Dream of Scipio” at Normal Books in Athens, GA. The book goes back and forth in time between three narratives, set in the fifth, fourteenth, and twentieth centuries, all revolving around an ancient text and each with a love story at its center. Although the novel has a complex structure, it is so ingeniously crafted that it is a delight to read. I love this quote from Kirkus Reviews:

This imposingly intricate novel begins slowly, makes heavy demands on the reader, and rises to a stunningly dramatic crescendo. Pears has leapt to a new level, creating a novel of ideas even more suspenseful and revelatory than his justly acclaimed mysteries.

In Sidmouth, UK? Visit Winstone Books!
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Gutenberg’s Apprentice—Alix Christie

Marvelous example of how good historical fiction can be when the author combines impeccable research and knowledge with great writing. Told from the point of view of the real-life apprentice, Peter Schoeffer, the novel’s story begins with a frame narrative that follows the deaths of both Johanns: Gutenberg himself and Johann Fust, Gutenberg’s partner and financier, and Shoeffer’s foster father. Unwillingly apprenticed to Gutenberg, Peter is torn between the loving labor of script and the mechanical allure of print.

The real hero of “Gutenberg’s Apprentice” is the press itself, this horrifying, beautiful machine capable of throwing out “a boundless net of shining letters.” Near the middle of Christie’s novel, Gutenberg and Fust hit on the momentous idea of printing the Latin Bible in its entirety. As Peter prepares the initial type, he summons those “words that brought a new world into being,” the opening verse of Genesis: “Peter set them flush against a nothingness; hard against a nonexistent margin he arranged them, floating like the world itself in the great void.”

It’s a beautiful image, rendering the printing press as a medium of ethereal transcendence that depends, nevertheless, on those gnarly chunks of metal poured and etched in the workshop over months and years of sweaty toil.

Bruce Holsinger, Washington Post, 12/12/14

FIN Part One

In future posts, I will discuss more of the books I’ve read so far this year, and as always, highlight some of the great independent bookstores around the world.

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Reading as an Escape from Reality

Reading as an Escape from Reality

I’ve been very negligent about new posts; what does a blog count for among millions of others at this time? But I know from those I follow, and those who follow me on twitter, that reading can be a comfort, a distraction, and an escape from the a world that seems to be irrevocably changing while we sit inside and hope for better times. I do what I can to support the independent bookstores and other local small businesses that I love and hope that they make it through this intact.

As for me, I’m well aware that socially isolating, sitting inside, and reading is an indescribable luxury. There are no words sufficient, no reward great enough, for the people who keep our lifelines going while putting their own lives at risk for low pay and long hours. Our health workers on the front lines, along with policemen, firemen and others who help to keep us safe. The people who keep the supplies moving and those who come in at risk and little reward to sell them to us. The teachers and librarians who labor to continue delivering words of wisdom to us and our children virtually while coping with their own personal struggles.

I thank you all, I salute you, I wish you all well, and most of all, I hope that the world remembers all of your efforts when this passes. Not just with words of thanks, but with better working conditions, higher pay, and comprehensive health coverage. It’s something we should ALL be working for because it’s the right thing to do and long overdue.

OK thereby ends my homily. My reading escapes in the past month:

The Mirror & the Light—Hilary Mantel

By happenstance, I had pre-purchased a special UK edition of this book earlier this year, and it arrived about a month ago. I started it immediately.

UK Edition

I have read reviews criticizing the book as “overly long” or “padded”; I could not disagree more! The closer I got to the end, the longer I wished the book were. I think it was a magnificent conclusion to the Cromwell trilogy. As soon as it was over I wanted to start all over agin with “Wolf Hall”, but I can’t find it on my shelves; there is an open slot to the left of “Bring Up the Bodies” that I can’t account for.

Wolf Hall Mystery: Unsolved

Did I Iend it to someone or leave it on a trip? No matter; it gives me a good excuse to support a local indie by re-purchasing it.

A Cappella Books, Atlanta, GA
Open for online orders only.
Follow @acappellabooks on Twitter
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The Magician’s Assistant—Anne Patchett

This book started out with a story that I thought would be the focus of the entirety and then shifted in a way I didn’t expect. I love Patchett’s writing style and loved this book as much as “Bel Canto” (which I also highly recommend).

Paperback edition

Characters so achingly human and vulnerable caught in a world that they struggle to understand; in other words the perfect book to read during this time. I found this book at:

Normal Books, Athens, GA
(706) 850-6225
Follow them on Instagram.

Comfort Food: Final Account—Peter Robinson

When I need the distraction of reading combined with the joy of eating still-warm brownies, I turn to my vast library of British mysteries. This week’s choice is by one of my favorites, Peter Robinson. He’s an English-Canadian crime writer who is best known for his crime novels set in Yorkshire featuring Detective Alan Banks. I recommend reading them in order, since the lives of Banks, his family, his colleagues and friends continue throughout the series and undergo some significant life changes. Click here for a great list of the books in order.

Current read:

I also strongly recommend the associated TV series based on the books. DCI Banks first ran in the UK, was very well cast, and can be enjoyed without ever having read any of the books. It is available currently on streaming services.

Next Up: The Dream of Scipio—Iain Pears

This will be the first book of Pears that I’ve read since the marvelous “An Instance of the Fingerpost”. It was also purchased at Normal Books in Athens.

In Closing:

I hope that you all find the same comfort in books that I do, and I wish fervently for your well-being, health and safety, and the same for your loved ones. Read in joy and love.

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A Nostalgic Trip Down (Atlanta) Highway

A Nostalgic Trip Down (Atlanta) Highway

First Stop: Avid Bookshop

On Saturday, I took a very rewarding road trip to Athens, GA, home to my alma mater and two wonderful independent bookstores. I came home with two large bags (reusable of course) FILLED with great books and a lot of old memories!

Avid has a beautifully curated collection of books and gifts; what a lovely place to visit!

Avid Bookstore on is on South Lumpkin St. From their website:

Avid Bookshop is a fiercely independent, community-focused bookselling business with two shops in Athens, Georgia. In fall 2018, Avid Bookshop was chosen as the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year. Founded by Janet Geddis, Avid has been named by Flagpole readers as Athens’ Favorite Local Business for seven years in a row! As the country has become more fraught, Avid booksellers have become more outspoken about standing up for human rights, equality, and the freedom to read. We are a safe space and are proud to serve those here in Athens, Georgia and our website customers nationwide. 

In 2017, Avid was named a top-five finalist in Publishers Weekly‘s Bookstore of the Year competition, and Janet was named an Ambassador for Athensmade, a local group with the mission of “amplifying brands, attracting talent.”
Who could disagree with this?
Very welcoming place, no?
Great card selection
Good for kids as well.

I was tempted by so many books there, but I couldn’t buy every book in the store (don’t think I wasn’t tempted). I brought home the books pictured below and a great sticker!

The Henning Mankell book, “The Rock Blaster”, has never before been released in English. It explores the reflections of a working class man who has struggled against the constraints of his station for his entire life. Having read all of his other available books, I was quite excited at this find.

I also couldn’t resist a very nice T-shirt!

I’m sure A.R. Moxon (aka @JuliusGoat on Twitter) would be happy to see his book featured!

The old bookstore sign
Helpful art in the restroom

Follow Avid Books on Twitter and Instagram, and check out their podcasts.

Half-Shepherd Market and Cheese Shop

I don’t know about you, but book shopping makes me VERY hungry. At the recommendation of one of the lovely young women behind the counter at Avid, we went to the Half-Shepherd Market & Cheese Shop on Prince Ave., known for their great sandwiches (specializing in grilled cheese), their well-stocked wine and cheese selection, and other gourmet items.

Conveniently, right next to Half-Shepherd is Normal Books, with a large selection of new and used books. I had a great conversation with the owner about authors, the Athens music scene, and book life in general. If you should find yourself in Athens, do NOT miss this wonderful store! Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

My purchases are pictured below; I don’t usually buy nine books from one store, but this place is irresistable! I was particularly glad to see a book by Per Wahlöö; I’d never read anything by him individually, only the series of Martin Beck mysteries that he wrote with Maj Sjöwall.

The owner was also kind enough to gift us with a copy of “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South” by John T. Edge.

From the author’s website:

Beginning with the pivotal role of cooks in the civil rights movement, noted authority John T. Edge narrates the region’s journey from a hive of racism to a hotbed of American immigration. In the process, he traces how the food of working class Southerners has become a signature of American cuisine.

Restaurants were battlegrounds during the civil rights movement. Access to food and ownership of traditions were key contentions on the long and fitful march toward racial equality. The Potlikker Papers begins in 1955 as black cooks and maids fuelled the Montgomery bus boycott and it concludes in 2015 as a newer South came into focus, enriched by the arrival of immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, and many points in between.

Of course, I couldn’t leave without seeing the place where I spent so much of my college life; the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The building is in the same complex as the auditorium that used to be the campus movie theater (now located in the new student center) and the Psychology Building, which (legend has it) has an architectural window design that is meant to look like a punch card. What do you think?

Last but not least I couldn’t resist a visit to the “house” (i.e. uninsulated, wobbly shack) I lived in during my junior and senior years. Amazingly, it’s still there, and looks like it’s still worth the $70 monthly rent I paid (with two other rooommates). Fun fact: I lived either in an apartment or a dorm until I was 20, so this is the first place where I ever used a lawnmower!

Well, that closes out my Athens journal. Next post: A continuation of “Is There a Doctor in the Library?”, Part II.

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Is There a Doctor in the Library?

Is There a Doctor in the Library?

For reasons that DEFY EXPLANATION, I recently took stock of the books in my library about medicine, health and science. These include biographies, histories, case studies, scientific studies, and related topics. I was somewhat surprised when the total count reached 25!

I can trace my initial interest in these topics to Dr. Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” first published in the US in 1998. I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Sacks speak that year in the now-defunct Borders Bookstore in Atlanta.

I now own ten books by Dr. Sacks, including the above, but I’ve already covered his books in a previous blog post, #5 The Marvelous Dr. Sacks. Suffice it to say I can strongly recommend ANY of his books, but do not miss the book pictured above, “Awakenings”, “Uncle Tungsten” (more of an autobiography), and “Musicophilia”.

So, moving on to the other books in La Biblioteca de Algonquin. One interesting thing I noted is that of the other 15 books, I have one book each by 15 different authors. I’ve divided the books into two blogs; the first and longest being medical histories. Enjoy!


“The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle” by Eric Lax

I just finished this book a week ago; it was not only fascinating, but an excellent corrective to the commonly held belief that Dr. Alexander Fleming not only discovered penicillin, but was also responsible for its development, production and usage as a medical breakthrough of historic proportions.

The many critical contributions of other scientists, including the above-mentioned Dr. Florey, are highlighted in this wonderfully researched and well-written book. The long, convoluted path to researching penicillin’s effects, discovering how to produce it in sufficient quantities, and using it to cure formerly deadly infections and diseases is beautifully explained.

“The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy” by Bill Hayes

Another great example of a book with an illuminating story not as well known as it should be. From The New Yorker: “The book coincides with the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of “Gray’s Anatomy’s” first publication…

…”Fascinated by the fact that little was known about the famous book’s genesis, Hayes combed through nineteenth-century letters and medical-school records, learning that, besides Henry Gray, the brilliant scholar and surgeon who wrote the text, another anatomist was crucial to the book’s popularity: Henry Vandyke Carter, who provided its painstaking drawings. Hayes moves nimbly between the dour streets of Victorian London, where Gray and Carter trained at St. George’s Hospital, and the sunnier classrooms of a West Coast university filled with athletic physical therapists in training, where he enrolls in anatomy classes and discovers that “when done well, dissection is very pleasing aesthetically.” Follow Bill Hayes (also a wonderful photographer) on Twitter at @BillHayesNYC.

“The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration” by Richard Barnett

This book is an excellent companion to “The Anatomist”.

From Will Self in The Guardian: “The strange, symbiotic relationship between medicine and social oppression is here given full-colour form: not only by anatomical illustrations of paupers’ and criminals’ corpses, but also by what – were they not so disfigured – would be regarded as straightforward portraits of the leprous and the syphilitic, the tubercular and the cancerous … Richard Barnett’s superbly erudite and lucid accompanying text would really suffice in itself as an introduction to the history of western medical science.” (Italics mine). Follow Richard Barnett on Twitter at @doctorbarnett.

“The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine” by Dr. Lindsay Fitzharris

Dr. Lister lives on in modern times in the name of the ubiquitous mouthwash, Listerine. However, his contributions to saving the lives of surgical patients, whose survival percentage was very low due to infection, cannot be overstated. Dr. Fitzharris’ book is a great read! This book was the winner of the PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, the Staff Pick on NPR’s best books of 2017, and was listed in the New York Times‘ “10 New Books We Recommend This Week”. She has a great twitter account, @DrLindseyFitz AND, (fun fact) her husband, Adrian Teal, is a magnificent caricaturist who you can follow at @TealCartoons.

In The Butchering Art, Dr. Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters—no place for the squeamish—and surgeons, who, working before anesthesia, were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than patients’ afflictions, and the were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the riddle and change the course of history. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

“The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History” by John M. Barry

This book could not be more timely given the current news about the coronavirus, or as it’s now known, COVID-19. I enjoyed it a great deal and think that it’s ripe for a re-read just about now!

From the Boston Globe: “John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza,” a sobering account of the 1918 flu epidemic, compelling and timely.The 1918 pandemic took a staggering toll — worldwide, 50 million to 100 million lives; in the United States, 675,000. More people died from mid-September to early December in 1918 than have died of AIDS in its 24-year scourge, Barry notes. When the flu struck in 1918, it was killing, Barry writes, “in some new and awful way.” As an internal Red Cross report put it, the flu spread “a fear and panic . . . akin to the terror of the Middle Ages regarding the Black Plague.” Barry’s descriptions of the disease’s ravages are gruesome.” Follow John M. Barry on Twitter at @johnmbarry.

“The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York” by Deborah Blum

A fascinating Jazz Age tale of chemistry and detection, poison and murder, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten era.

In early twentieth-century New York, poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Science had no place in the Tammany Hall-controlled coroner’s office, and corruption ran rampant. However, with the appointment of chief medical examiner Charles Norris in 1918, the poison game changed forever. Together with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, the duo set the justice system on fire with their trailblazing scientific detective work, triumphing over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice. Follow Deborah Blum on Twitter at @deborahblum.

In 2014, PBS’s “American Experience” released a film based on The Poisoner’s Handbook. Here is the link.

“The Great Mortality: An Intimate HIstory of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time” by John Kelly

From Publishers Weekly:”Drawing on recent research as well as firsthand accounts, veteran author Kelly (Three on the Edge, etc.) describes how infected rats, brought by Genoese trading ships returning from the East and docked in Sicily, carried fleas that spread the disease when they bit humans. Two types of plague seem to have predominated: bubonic plague, characterized by swollen lymph nodes and the bubo, a type of boil; and pneumonic plague, characterized by lung infection and spitting blood. Those stricken with plague died quickly…

…Survivors often attempted to flee, but the plague was so widespread that there was virtually no escape from infection. Kelly recounts the varied reactions to the plague. The citizens of Venice, for example, forged a civic response to the crisis, while Avignon fell apart. The author details the emergence of Flagellants, unruly gangs who believed the plague was a punishment from God and roamed the countryside flogging themselves as a penance. Rounding up and burning Jews, whom they blamed for the plague, the Flagellants also sparked widespread anti-Semitism. This is an excellent overview, accessible and engrossing.” Follow John Kelly on Twitter at @JohnKelly_NS.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

What a riveting page turner this was; my favorite kind of history that reads like a thriller! Describing London as both a city and culture experiencing explosive growth, Johnson builds the story around physician John Snow. In the face of a horrifying epidemic, Snow posited the then radical theory that cholera was spread through contaminated water rather than through miasma, or smells in the air. Against considerable resistance from the medical and bureaucratic establishment, Snow persisted and, with hard work and groundbreaking research, helped to bring about a fundamental change in our understanding of disease and its spread.

Johnson weaves in overlapping ideas about the growth of civilization, the organization of cities, and evolution to thrilling effect. From Snow’s discovery of patient zero to Johnson’s compelling argument for and celebration of cities, this makes for an illuminating and satisfying read. Follow Steven Johnson on Twitter at @stevenbjohnson.

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

I’ve read this book twice, and will come back to it again, I’m sure. In the meantime, I will also be making plans to visit the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, PA; it sounds fascinating! “America’s finest museum of medical history, the Mütter Museum displays its beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments in a 19th-century “cabinet museum” setting. The museum helps the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body and to appreciate the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.”

From NPR Books: “With clinical precision, Aptowicz lays bare the facts of Mütter’s colorful, tumultuous life. But those are only the bones of the book. Through anecdotes, rich context and an unabashed artistic license on par with Erik Larson’s novelized historical accounts like The Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck, she injects Dr. Mütter’s Marvels with warmth and wit.

In particular, the doctor’s borderline fetishization of grotesque medical curios — which would come to rest in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, still standing and attracting tens of thousands of visitors annually — comes across as both a quirk and a virtue, the result of his fascination with how the human body can be not only healed, but re-sculpted. His work in plastic surgery underscores a larger point that Aptowicz reveals masterfully: Vanity and wanting to be accepted in society are two very different things, then and now.” Follow Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz on Twitter at @coaptowicz.

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery by Sam Kean

From Kirkus Reviews: “For centuries, brain injuries have been documented and analyzed as doctors attempted to comprehend how the brain functions. How is it that a man can survive a spike through his skull, and yet his peer drops dead after a seemingly minor bump? In tale after tale, best-selling author Kean…provides a fascinating, and at times gloriously gory, look at how early efforts in neurosurgery were essentially a medical guessing game…

…”Those who survived the wounds or seizures were often irrevocably changed as new personality traits emerged, giving doctors clues about how the brain altered itself in a struggle to function despite trauma. Major discoveries about how the brain works were borne from inspecting damaged brains in the context of the injured person’s symptoms. Compulsively readable, wicked scientific fun.”

I can also recommend “The Disappearing Spoon” by the same author. Follow Sam Kean on Twitter at @sam_kean.


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Pre-Palindromic Book Shopping

Pre-Palindromic Book Shopping

Many of you have read by now that today”s date is a significant, once in a lifetime palindrome. (Click here to learn more.) One of my other favorites is “Able was I ere I saw Elba”, referring of course to Napoleon. Anyway, I “pre-celebrated” the occasion by shopping at two of my favorite Atlanta independent bookstores and picked up some great titles yesterday.

I would also like to mention that I’m writing this blog at the wonderful Brash Coffee located at the Atlanta History Center. If you live in Atlanta, or are just visiting, PLEASE make the time to tour the center. If you don’t have enough time for the entire tour, at least visit the gift shop which is not just educational, but imaginative and eclectic:

Eagle Eye Books:

I picked up an order at this great bookstore located on North Decatur Road. Here are the two books I can’t WAIT to read:

I’m SO looking forward to reading “Labyrinth of Ice”, the Buddy Levy book! I have an unquenchable passion for polar history and exploration (which I could, and will someday, create 15-20 blog posts on since I own about 200 books in this genre). The Greely expedition is one of the most fascinating (and tragic) of the many Arctic tales. To say that Greely and his men suffered, to use a worn cliché, “a fate worse than death” is an understatement.

I actually own a first edition of Volume 2 of Greely’s own memoirs that I picked up so long ago that I can’t recall where I got it. I also recommend that you follow Buddy Levy on twitter.

“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel has been on my tbr list for a long time. I was fortunate enough to win a caption contest at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA a couple of weeks ago. They were generous enough to send me six galleys, one of which was St. John Mandel’s “The Glass Hotel”. I read it in about two days and it was astonishingly good! She plays with time, place and characters in the same way that my favorite authors Kate Atkinson and Jennifer Egan do. I strongly recommend you buy this book; publication date is March 24th.

Book Nook

Book Nook is my go-to store to trade in, and purchase, used books and blu-rays. I had a credit from a previous visit, plus three bags filled with trade-ins. So I dropped my bags up front to be valued, and went hunting. Here are my finds, one of which I was able to use the credit to get at no charge!

I read Iain Pears’ “An Instance of the Fingerpost” back in 1997 and found it very intriguing. From the NY Times Book Review:

If you liked Umberto Eco’s “Name of the Rose,” you should run to buy Iain Pears’ lavishly erudite historical mystery “An Instance of the Fingerpost.”

Like Eco’s story of nefarious doings at a 14th-century Italian monastery, Pears’ novel is a compendious historical pageant set among 17th-century clergymen, scholars and politicians concerned with the natural and the supernatural in roughly equal measure.

A murder is at the center of the story, or, more accurately, the several stories of Pears’ massive but unflagging book. “An Instance of the Fingerpost” is told “Rashomon” style, by four different narrators, each of whom has only a partial understanding of events and only one of whom makes telling the truth his primary purpose.

Four rather long excursions into the same basic tale could grow wearisome, but Pears’ effort never does. The author, a British journalist and the author of six previous detective stories, brilliantly exploits the stormy, conspiracy-heavy history of England after the death of Oliver Cromwell to fashion a believable portrait of 17th-century political and intellectual life as well as a whodunit of almost mesmerizing complexity.

As soon as I saw “The Dream of Scipio” by Pears on the shelf, I grabbed it at once. Interestingly, in addition to being an author, Pears is an art historian and a journalist who has worked for the BBC, Channel 4 (UK) and ZDF (Germany).

Margaret Atwood, 1981, Courtesy Tedd Church/Montreal Gazette

I am ashamed to say I have never read a Margaret Atwood novel (YES I KNOW HOW CAN I EVEN SHOW MY FACE) so I also picked up “The Blind Assassin”. It was published 20 years ago so I will read it before I get to “The Handmaid’s Tale” so I can compare her writing style from earlier in her career to the present.

I also picked up a blu-ray of “Gangs of New York” for $6. All in all, a great day for a bibliophile and for independent bookstores!

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So a friend (a FORMER friend; jk) reminded me today that I haven’t posted anything new since November 11th, which is both an eternity and two months ago. Shame on me but I’m also FIERCELY job hunting and then we got new cats and the holidays came up, and the earth parted and the heavens moved, and….

OR…it’s just a deadly combination of procrastination and spending time reading books instead of writing about them. So this first post is going to be about the books I read and loved at the end of last year and beginning of this year. I should note at this point that I read wicked fast and certain authors read faster than others. So, without further ado, my first recs of 2020!

Experience—Martin Amis

I remember reading a lot of my parent’s “adult” books when I was a kid, so I read Amis’ first book “The Rachel Papers” when I was decidely too young to understand it. However, it was interesting, and I’ve read Amis for a while now; “The Information” is a particular favorite. “Experience” is a memoir, and as the son of Kingsley Amis, he grew up among writers and other people of talent and has some great stories. He also touches on his own personal and professional relationships, his close friendships with Christoper Hitchens, Salman Rushdie and other fellow writers, and the disappearance of his cousin Lucy Partington at the hands of a notorious serial killer. The book is witty and searingly honest, but VERY scattershot; he leaps from subject to subject like a spooked deer. Nevertheless, highly recommended.

Interested in Scottish Books?
Visit the Scottish Bookstore online!
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Email them at

The Institute—Stephen King

Looking for “A little indie bookstore with a big personality.“?
Visit the River Dog Book Co. online!
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I need to preface this review by admitting that I have a shrine to Stephen King in my bedroom.

King Shrine

Visiting Detroit, MI?
Check out the Pages Bookshop
Follow them on twitter: @PagesontheAve

I love his writing and “The Stand” is one of my favorite books of all time. Because I’ve read so much King, I tear through his books really fast. I started “The Institute” on January 1st and finished it on the second. I liked the story and I especially liked the main character. It is somewhat disturbing since it involves experimentation on children, some of it painful. However, as usual with King, it’s gripping, suspenseful, and uses small details and idiosyncrasies to bring the story to life. Two clown feet up!

Closed Circles (Sandhamn Murders Book 2)

Wonderful Nordic mystery series by Viveca Sten, ably translated by Laura A. Wideburg. My first two blog posts were dedicated to my love for the Nordic Noir genre, and it was inevitable I would come across this author out of Sweden. Has all the qualities I love about this genre; deceptively simple writing that is nonetheless gorgeous to read, complex characters, and a great plot. What else do you need? There are seven books in the series to date, so I have five more to go and I can’t wait!

Visiting Birmingham, AL?
Check out the Thank You Bookshop
Follow them on twitter: @thankyou_bham

Content Provider: Selected Short Prose Pieces, 2011–2016—Stewart Lee

From Wikipedia: Stewart Graham Lee (born 5 April 1968) is an English stand-up comedian, writer and director. In the mid-1990s he was one half of the radio duo Lee and Herring alongside Richard Herring. His stand-up is characterised by repetition, frequent callbacks, generally deadpan delivery and a pronounced use of deconstruction, which he often self-consciously refers to on stage.

Visiting Johns Creek, GA?
Check out Johns Creek Books and Gifts
Follow them on twitter: @JohnsCreekBooks

As with Stewart’s stand-up, his writing is either an acquired taste or a “love him or hate him” kind of thing; I can’t decide. The book is an annotated collection of his Observer columns for the Guardian. Lots of commentary and meta-commentary on meta-commentary. Sometimes I think Lee is a genius and other times, “too clever by ‘arf” but you’ll like this kind of thing, if this is the kind of thing you like.

Anyway, I promise to commit to planning to think about posting more reguarly this year, and if not I permit my friends to send me into another shame spiral ONLY if accompanied by chocolate in some form or manner.

Visiting Philadelphia, PA?
Check out Quirk Books
Follow them on twitter: @quirkbooks

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BookBits Nov. 13, 2019

BookBits Nov. 13, 2019

A Cappella Books, Atlanta, GA

From their email list, guess who’s coming to the Fox Theater on November 20th?

The Mysterious Bookshop, New York City

Check out The Mysterious’ latest newsletter, replete with enough great mystery titles to keep you reading well into the upcoming holiday season. Check it out for news about upcoming signings, Crime Club selections, and more! 

Also, order new copies of “Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers: Edited by Joyce Carol Oates”.

The Raven, Lawrence, KS

If you’re not already subscribing to “Quoth the Raven” you don’t know what you’re missing! Their final newsletter of the season is out now! “Three Hours in the Life of a Bookseller” is a great read, as always, from Danny Caine.

This was the fifteenth installment of Quoth The Raven: Narrative Dispatches from a Small Bookstore in the Middle of the Country. It is also the finale of QTR’s Season 1. Retail during the holidays does not leave much time or energy for newslettering. QTRwill be back in 2020 for Season 2: More Quoth, More Raven
Quoth The Raven is a production of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas. This week it’s written by store owner Danny Caine, as it is most weeks.

Down and Outbound: The Hub

Click here to subscribe to Murray Browne’s marvelous and quirky newsletter. about his trips and travails on public transport. This edition covers Part 2 of his European travels.

After spending four weeks in Europe using public transportation, trains and my own two feet to get around in Venice, Prague, Berlin and Ljubljana I pulled together random thoughts about those experiences.  In Part 1, I wrote about Italy and Prague now in Part 2, I am adding some anecdotal observations about Berlin and Ljubljana, which is the capital city of  Slovenia.

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#9: New York—A Booklover’s Dream Pt. 2

#9: New York—A Booklover’s Dream Pt. 2


For Part 1 of “New York—A Booklover’s Dream” click here.

Multiple Locations

Book Culture was founded as Labyrinth Books in 1997 by current owner Chris Doeblin and his partner at the time Cliff Simms. In the summer of 2007, Book Culture became a completely independent company when Doeblin bought out his partners. From their website:

“At Book Culture, we know that reading enriches lives, families, and communities. To us, books and publishing are cultural treasures to be kept in trust by those that recognize the value that they hold. To ensure a vibrant and diverse future for books and publishing, a multitude of independent bookstores – each selecting titles based on their own tastes and interests, and those of their local customers, is essential. We are here to offer book shops where you can browse and discover the widest range of publications in the arts and humanities that realistically be carried and we have created spaces for extensive representation of new books in areas you will not see elsewhere.

We fulfill the essential role of being an independent source for ideas and literary art. A visit to one of our stores will energize your mind and remind you of the awesome scope of positive human intellectual and literary endeavor.”

Book Culture has a wide selection of great books, and a large bookshelf filled with beautiful New York Review of Books publications. Their website is worth perusing; they have a great blog, a rich calendar of upcoming events, and lots of sales and book features. It’s just a great place to go book browsing (and buying!).

1133 Broadway at 26th Street

Rizzoli Books is probably one of the most beautiful bookstores I have ever been to! It is widely considered one of the foremost independent booksellers in America and specializes in literature, photography, architecture, interior design, culinary, and the fine and applied arts. The bookstore also stocks a selection of Italian, French and Spanish-language fiction and non-fiction literature, a unique find in New York City.

Rizzoli Bookstore also maintains satellite branches in Eataly New York Flatiron, Eataly New York Downtown, Eataly Chicago, Eataly Boston, and Eataly Los Angeles with a focus on culinary titles.

We visited Rizzoli on our last day and sadly, did not have much time to spend there. However, I have been checking out their website and I see many future purchases to come!

170 7th Avenue South, at the corner of Perry Street

Idlewild is an independent New York bookstore and language school with locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. They specialize in travel books and language classes. We visited the Manhattan location; the Brooklyn location has language classes only. The name Idlewild was taken from the original name for New York International Airport, which was renamed JFK in December 1963.

Idlewild is a charming, well-curated, beautiful store. I browsed for a long time, and ended up buying “A Cook’s Tour” by Anthony Bourdain.

McNally Jackson
Multiple locations

From their website: “McNally Jackson is an independent bookstore in New York City. We aspire to be the center of Manhattan’s literary culture: witness our events, our two floors of books, our engaged staff. Not to mention our bustling café because what, after all, is reading without coffee? Yes, we arrange our literature by nation, but we’ll be glad to help if you find yourself lost amongst the Europeans. (We sell travel guides, too.)”

I didn’t take any pictures there, but they have a great Instagram page! They also have a jam-packed calendar of events as well as “McNally Jackson @ The Shed”, a new arts-focused shop in the lobby of The Shed. The Shed is located where the High Line meets Hudson Yards, adjacent to 15 Hudson Yards and bordering the Public Square and Gardens.

The Shed @ Hudson Yards. Photography by Iwan Baan

Well, that concludes “New York—A Booklover’s Dream”. Thanks for reading and look out for my next post on…..

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