Category: Book Blog Posts

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!
Follow them on twitter: @scottishtomes
Email them at

The Institute—Stephen King

Looking for “A little indie bookstore with a big personality.“?
Visit the River Dog Book Co. online!
Follow them on twitter:

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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#8: New York—A Booklover’s Dream Pt. 1

#8: New York—A Booklover’s Dream Pt. 1

Hello fellow booklovers! Just returned from a fantastic trip to NYC for the New Yorker Festival and a tour of independent bookstores. I didn’t want to give any part of this trip short shrift, so I decided to make this a two-part post.

Check out my new section, “Bookbits”, for news about highlights and happenings at bookstores as I come across them. As always, thanks for reading!


The excitement builds!

On Saturday, October 12, we had the extreme pleasure of seeing Michael Chabon interviewed by Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor of The New Yorker.

Chabon has written some of my favorite books, many of which I’ve re-read several times. He was witty, engaging, candid and offered a great glimpse behind the thought processes of his writing. The books covered in the interview included:

  • Wonder Boys (made into a great film in 2000 starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.).
  • Telegraph Avenue
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Pulitzer Prize Winner, 2001)
  • Moonglow

One of the highlights of the talk was the discussion of “Moonglow”, which takes as its subject the popularity and authenticity of memoirs. “Moonglow” purports to be a family story, in which a novelist called Michael Chabon visits his dying grandfather and listens as a heavy dose of painkillers “brings its soft hammer to bear on his habit of silence”.

In the book, Chabon states that liberties have been taken “with due abandon”; facts have been warped to fit “the truth as I prefer to understand it”. As Chabon’s book incorporates other events from the life of its protagonist – his childhood obsession with a glamorous bearded lady; his marriage to a French concentration-camp survivor tormented by terrifying visions of a creature called the Skinless Horse – it becomes clear that this story about the writer and his family is far more novel than memoir.

As opposed to “A Million Little Pieces”, Chabon said, “I could have put the word memoir on it,” Chabon continues. “I could have left the word novel off the title page. Not included the author’s note. Taken away all the cues and clues and reminders to the reader that this is a work of fiction, and just put the book out.” I think this is why “Moonglow” is such a tantalizing read.

Toward the end of the interview, he also revealed to my surprise that he is now the showrunner of the newest Star Trek series, “Star Trek: Picard”.

Star Trek has been an important part of my way of thinking about the world, the future, human nature, storytelling and myself since I was ten years old,” said Chabon, “I come to work every day in a state of joy and awe at having been entrusted with the character and the world of Jean-Luc Picard, with this vibrant strand of the rich, intricate and complex tapestry that is Trek.”

From Deadline

Although Patrick Stewart had vowed never to play a ship’s captain again, he agreed to reprise his role as Jean-Luc Picard, this time 20 years after the events covered in Star Trek: Nemesis.

This isn’t the first time that Chabon has crossed over from his successful novel-writing life into the role of screenwriter and teleplay writer. He’s worked on projects like Spider-Man 2, John Carter, and the upcoming Netflix television series Unbelievable, which he worked on with his wife and fellow writer Ayelet Waldman.


So far, I’ve only read two books by Orlean, “The Orchid Thief” and her most recent, “The Library Book”. However, those two books were so mesmerizing, carefully researched and well-written that I knew I had to get tickets for her talk. And she did not disappoint! She spoke about many aspects of “The Library Book” and then took questions; I asked a question about the book’s design, which is so striking that it has been asked about previously in other talks:

“One interesting question from the crowd prompted Orlean to discuss the thought process behind the beautiful red and deckle-edged book. “I didn’t want a dust jacket. I didn’t want anything between you [the reader] and the book,” Orlean said. With a classic sort of design with a textured red cover and gold lettering and icon detail on the cover and spine, there’s no doubt the book is a beautiful story wrapped up in a beautiful object. The endpapers are a fun nod to libraries, too, with a printed image of a circulation card and a few Easter egg names on it. It’s absolutely a design to be proud of.”

Orlean spoke about how she first learned about the Los Angeles Public Library fire. The fire was disastrous: it reached two thousand degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. The story of the reclamation efforts alone is worth reading!

She detailed her extensive (and years long) research into its aftermath to showcase the large, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. The book delves into the evolution of libraries; brings each department of the library to vivid life; studies arson and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago. She also spoke very thoughfully about attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; she could not bring herself to do it at first. Then her husband brought home a copy of  “Fahrenheit 451” which she eventually does burn and is stunned and saddened by how quickly a book can catch fire and disappear.


116 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022

Argosy Book Store, founded in 1925, is now in its third generation of family ownership. Their enormous stock of antiquarian and out-of-print items fills a six-floor building in midtown Manhattan and a large warehouse in Brooklyn. Luckily, they have one of those marvelous old-fashioned grille-door elevators that (just barely) fits two people, plus an operator.

At the Argosy I restricted myself to their polar history and exploration/travel sections. Polar history is an obsession of mine; I have over 200 books on the subject (this will be the subject of multiple future blog posts.). They had a marvelous selection but I was on a budget; I selected five hardcover books to be shipped home and then checked out the Maps and Drawings floor. They have artefacts from every time period, place and subject you could imagine.

Truthfully, I could have spent my entire time in New York at the Argosy but other stores were calling my name. Do NOT miss this store whenever you’re in Manhattan!

58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007

Opened in 1979 by Otto Penzler, The Mysterious Bookshop is the oldest mystery specialist book store in America. Previously located in midtown, the bookshop now calls Tribeca its home. The Mysterious specializes in mystery fiction and all its subgenres, including detective, crime, hardboiled, thrillers, espionage, and suspense.

Since I’ve been entranced with British and Scandinavian mysteries for over 30 years, this place was a treasure trove! Although I thought I already had a pretty good collection of “Nordic Noir” at home (I’ve dedicated three blog posts to the genre) I ended up buying SIX Scandinavian mystery books to add to the collection! This store is a MUST for any mystery lover and also has some great merchandise. (I’m about halfway through “Snare” and it’s hard to put down; it’s part one of a trilogy by Lilja Sigurdardóttir.)

Downtown Location: 18 West 18th St. New York NY 10011
Uptown Location: 217 West 84th St. New York NY 10024

Books of Wonder is New York City’s premier store for children’s books. Founded in 1980, the store has locations in both Chelsea and the Upper West Side. Books of Wonder features a carefully curated selection of the finest books currently available for young readers as well as vintage, old, rare, and collectible editions for collectors and those looking for long lost treasures. There is also a gallery of original children’s book art and limited edition prints. 

I came here looking for a particular childhood favorite, “Black and Blue Magic” by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and I was not disappointed. I have been re-collecting some of my favorite childhood books and this was one of the last ones to complete the collection. This is obviously a great store for parents, young adults and kids and is very welcoming and friendly.

Well, that concludes part one of “New York—A Booklover’s Dream”. I hope you enjoyed it and as always, I welcome your comments and questions. Stay tuned for part two, which will feature the following bookstores:

  • Book Culture
  • RIzzoli Books
  • Idlewild Books and Language Center

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#7: Bill Bryson: This Insatiably Curious Author Brings the LOL

#7: Bill Bryson: This Insatiably Curious Author Brings the LOL


For this post, I coined a new acronym: Reading in Bed and Laughing Out Loud. That’s what I remember best when reading my first Bryson Book, “A Walk in the Woods”. It’s a story about the time that Bryson decided to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz (a pseudonym). I was chortling so hard my hubs of course asked “so what’s so damn funny?”. I ended up reading a good part of the book aloud to him and we cackled like hyenas the whole time. After that, I knew that Bill Bryson had become another of my favorite authors.

My own Brysons

In Scottsdale, AZ? Check out Poisoned Pen
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Bryson has been a resident of Britain for most of his adult life, although he returned to the United States between 1995 and 2003. The books he has written about England are well-written, perceptive and absolutely hilarious. “Notes from a Small Island” (1995) is a great example of this. Bryson took public transportation to (almost) all corners of the island, observing and talking to people from as far afield as Exeter in the West Country to John o’ Groats at the northeastern tip of Scotland’s mainland. On his way, Bryson provides historical information on the places he visits, and expresses amazement at the heritage in Britain, stating that there were 445,000 listed historical buildings, 12,000 medieval churches, 1,500,000 acres of common land, 120,000 miles of footpaths and public rights-of-way, and 600,000 known sites of archaeological interest!

“The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain” is the sequel to “Notes From a Small Island.” Written two decades later, it provokes just as much laughter and snorting as its predecessor.

In “The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way” Bryson provides a great overview of the rich and complex history of the English language. The book discusses the Indo-European origins of English, the growing status of English as a global language, the complex etymology of English words, the dialects of English, grammar reform, prescriptive grammar, and more minor topics including swearing. Bryson is always excellent at writing in accessible and interesting ways about complex and varied subjects, and this is a top-notch example of this.

In Harbor Springs, MI? Check out Between the Covers
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My favorite Bryson book to date is “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. This is a book you CAN dip in and out of, but I’ve read it cover-to-cover, and more than once.

A quote from Bryson about the reason for the book:

“It was as if [the textbook writer] wanted to keep the good stuff secret by making all of it soberly unfathomable.”

— Bryson, on the state of science books used within his school.

I can believe it; as I’ve said before, math and science have never been my top subjects but this book is so approachable and engaging that it encouraged my reading of other books related to those topics. From Wikipedia:

In 2004, this book won Bryson the prestigious Aventis Prize for best general science book. Bryson later donated the £10,000 prize to the Great Ormond Street Hospital children’s charity. In 2005, the book won the EU Descartes Prize for science communication. It was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for the same year.

In Greenwood, MS? Check out TurnRow Books
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In “At Home: A Short History of Private Life”, Bryson gives the reader a fascinating history of the modern home, taking us on a room-by-room tour through his own house and using each room to explore the vast history of the domestic artifacts we take for granted. As he takes us through the history of our modern comforts, Bryson demonstrates that whatever happens in the world eventually ends up in our home, in the paint, the pipes, the pillows, and every item of furniture. Bryson’s sheer prose fluency makes At Home one of the most entertaining books ever written about private life.

In Marietta, GA? Check out Book Exchange
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A book of articles edited by Bryson, “Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society” (2011) provides a thorough overview of modern scientific history. From the publisher:

Seeing Further tells the spectacular story of modern science through the lens of the international Royal Society, founded on a damp November night in London in 1660. Isaac Newton, John Locke, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking—all have been fellows. Its members have split the atom, discovered the double helix and the electron, and given us the computer and the World Wide Web. Gorgeously illustrated with photographs, documents, and treasures from the Society’s exclusive archives, Seeing Further is an unprecedented celebration of the power of ideas.

From the Guardian:

This is a book of cerebral riches, heavy with history, to be consumed at leisure. It is also beautifully illustrated. All but one of its 22 contributors wrote specially for this anthology. Richard Holmes, fresh from his scientific history The Age of Wonder, provides new material on 18th-century balloon flights. Richard Dawkins sums up the significance of Darwin’s achievement with renewed metaphorical force. The Natural History Museum paleontologist Richard Fortey highlights the importance of collections; Steve Jones raises some of the puzzles of biodiversity; the physicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford contemplates the enigma of time

In Pigtown, Baltimore? Check out Charm City Books
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One Summer: America 1927

This is an utterly captivating book. The events that occurred that summer could each, on their own, have been noteworthy. The fact that they happened around the same period of time is nothing short of miraculous!

  • Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop.
  • Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast.
  • A Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation.
  • Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record.
  • The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster.
  • Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
  • The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a reign of terror and municipal corruption.
  • The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed.
  • The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision.

Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor.

In Fells Point, Baltimore? Check out Greedy Reads
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In Summary

It’s hard for me to recommend one Bryson over another; they each have their attractions and it depends on what you like, or what you’re in the mood for. I can only say no matter which one you pick, you won’t be disappointed! For the sake of brevity, I was unable to cover the following books, but this doesn’t mean they’re not worth your valuable reading time!

  • The Lost Continent
  • Neither Here Nor There
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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#6: The Royal “We”

#6: The Royal “We”

Current Mood: Fabulous

First of all, I’d like to thank all of those who contacted me with positive feedback, or began to follow me on twitter, after my last couple of posts on Jennifer Egan, Simon Winchester, and the “Marvelous Dr. Sacks”. Special thanks to Bill Hayes and Liz Button for your words of encouragement!

Given my current mood, I think it’s a great time to talk about the non-fiction and fiction books in my library that take royal history as their subjects. It’s a pretty wide-ranging choice; here’s a shot of that shelf in my library. I also take some liberties with the term “royal”; some books can be thought of as “royal-adjacent” but this IS my blog after all!

The Royal Shelf

In Waco, TX? Check out Fabled Bookshop & Cafe
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Hilary Mantel: The Master

If you’re new to “royal” fiction, you can’t make a better start than with Hilary Mantel; she is a magnificent and captivating author. Her two books about Thomas Cromwell are part of a trilogy beginning with “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies”. Cromwell was an English lawyer and statesman who served as chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540. He was one of the strongest and most powerful proponents of the English Reformation. He helped to engineer an annulment of the king’s marriage to Queen Catherine so that Henry could lawfully marry Anne Boleyn. The third book in the trilogy is called “The Mirror and the Light”; read more about it here: Third book of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy has 2020 pub date.

You won’t see “Wolf Hall” on the shelf above because I read that as an e-book. In any case, I STRONGLY recommend you read that before “Bring Up the Bodies”. What an interesting and complex character Cromwell was! What a delicate balance he had to maintain between serving Henry VIII, finding a solution to his “great matter” (divorce from his wife) and battling the various anti-Cromwell/pro-Queen Catherine factions at court.

In Scarsdale, NY? Check out Bronx River Books
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“Wolf Hall” was made into a BCC series, and Mark Rylance’s performance as Oliver Cromwell was astonishing; nuanced, poignant and dryly witty.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell

In Venice, CA? Check out Small World Books
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Goodreads has a great list of Mantel’s other books.

Solo Royal Reads

I call these “solo” because each book in this section is a one-off for the author in my library, but they were all terrific reads and I’ve read many of them more than once.

“Catherine the Great”—Robert K. Massie. Great biography that helps to dispel some of the myths around this powerful Empress.

“The Illustrious Dead”—Stephen Talty: I go back and forth as to whether to keep this book in the “Royals” section, but its subject is Napolean’s disastrous invasion of Russia, and how typhus helped to destroy his army. It’s such a great combination of history and science and therefore I’m including it in this post; (I am SUCH a rulebreaker!)

“The Life and Times of Richard III”—Anthony Cheetham. Part of the Kings and Queens of England series. The rehabilitation of this long-reviled king.

“Pope Joan”—Donna Woolfolk Cross. Sweeping novel about a woman who may not have even existed. “For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die–Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter.”-Goodreads

“The Pope’s Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere”—Caroline P. Murphy. The illegitimate daughter of Pope Julius II, Felice della Rovere became one of the most powerful and accomplished women of the Italian Renaissance. Caroline Murphy vividly captures the untold story of a rare woman who moved with confidence through a world of popes and princes.

Reflected Glory”—Sally Bedell Smith. I’m taking a GREAT liberty including this here; Pamela Harriman THOUGHT she was royalty and this is a well-researched and rollicking, book about a unique woman who captivated so many powerful, rich and famous men.

In Ashland, OR? Check out Bloomsbury Books
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“The Life of Thomas More”—Peter Ackroyd. One of those great books that works as both history and biography, this book is a masterful reconstruction of the life and imagination of one of the most remarkable figures of history. Thomas More was a renowned statesman; the author of a political fantasy that  gave a name to a literary genre and a worldview (Utopia); and, most famously, a Catholic martyr and saint. Born into the professional classes, Thomas More applied his formidable intellect and well-placed connections to become the most powerful man in England, second only to the king.

If you’ve never seen the movie “A Man for All Seasons” (1966)-and you SHOULD-Paul Scofield stars as More in an Oscar-winning performance. The movie also won Best Picture, Director, and Cinematography awards.

“Sex With Kings—-500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge”
—by Eleanor Herman. Fun book to read as you might imagine.

In Boston’s North End? Check out I AM Books
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In a Class of Her Own: Philippa Gregory

As you can see from my shelf, I like Philippa Gregory a lot; she wrote some of my favorite English historical novels. She is the author of many New York Times bestsellers and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen such as The Other Boleyn Girl. Her most recent novel, The Last Tudor, is now in production for a television series.

I like Gregory because although she writes novels, her research into her subjects is detailed and meticulous. This makes for very entertaining reading that can also be instructive, although of course creative license is taken.

Complete list of Philippa Gregory’s Books

IIn Chester County, PA? Check out Wellington Square Bookshop
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Antonia Fraser

Lady Antonia Margaret Caroline Fraser, CH, DBE, FRSL is a British author of history, novels, biographies and detective fiction. She is the widow of the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Harold Pinter, and prior to his death was also known as Lady Antonia Pinter.

My library of Frasers includes “Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot”, and “The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England”.

The former is a wonderfully written history of the events of, 1605 when government authorities uncovered a secret plan to blow up the House of Parliament–and King James I along with it. A group of English Catholics, seeking to unseat the king and reintroduce Catholicism as the state religion, daringly placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a cellar under the Palace of Westminster.

The “Lives of” is more of an essential reference book. It’s a concise, accessible guide to the great dynasties of English royalty. A collection of biographical sketches that encompasses the period from the establishment of monarchical power by the early Norman kings through the reign of Elizabeth II, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England tells the stories of many monarchs and their colorful lives—some merry, some cruel, some heroic, others sinister. Antonia Fraser and a collection of distinguished contributors bring the people and events to life in this lavishly illustrated volume that is both engrossing history and an excellent reference tool.

CONFESSION: Most of the Antonia Fraser books I own are from her Jemima Shore mystery novels, which I will cover in my 350-part series on British mysteries. I’m only half-kidding about the series; I am a British mystery fanatic to say the least.

In Cold Spring, NY? Check out Split Rock Books
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Last But Very Much NOT Least

Alison Weir is a British writer of history books, and most recently historical novels about British royalty. She is one of my absolute favorites in this genre (as you can see by my shelf). Suffice it to say I’ve read eight of her books and am looking forward to reading them all.
List of Books by Alison Weir

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