Big books: let's say, over 500 pages. They give hours of reading pleasure, sometimes minutes of meh, or worse, frustration and anger. Big books: big fun or big boredom. If it is "hafta read," all one can do is put the head down and press on. Reading a long book is a trip among sometimes enjoyable landscapes with interesting people. Lots of them.
Finding a specific title one is looking for is fun all right. The real fun starts when a book that proves engaging and worth reading is found by chance. Ah, the old serendipity effect. Here is a list of some chance finds.
Scandinavian raiders, known as Vikings, are all over movie and TV screens these days. Thor movies, a show on the History Channel, and, in general, an uptick in interest as well as a "rehabilitation" of their reputation in some circles. You can visit a "Viking" village in York, England—Jorvik, as it was known then, in the heart of the Danelaw lands. There is even a "Viking" school in Norway!
I never saw my grandfather read a book; his reading was confined to maps. He and his fishing buddies would pore over maps for places and routes for their fishing treks way up into Canada. That was my first inkling of the function of maps; Gramp always came back.
A gray day, perfect for revisiting a twitchy acquaintance: Edgar Allan Poe. Roderick Usher and family inhabit their cracked, creepy house in one of his best short stories, “The Fall of the House of Usher." The Poe story has been used by other authors since he wrote it, even made into an opera. One offers a different perspective from Roderick Usher’s doomed sister, Madeline; the other features the descendants of Madeline and Roderick, from a master of modern horror, Robert McCammon.
“The sharper your knife, the less you cry.”
Chefs dominate the cooking industry; the big ones have TV shows, cookbooks, their own magazines. Because of them, there are cooking shows for every taste and better produce in your local market. Here is a selection of notable memoirs; two of the authors uplifted home cooking in America.
First, a confession: Thomas Pynchon fans are worse than Jane Austen fans, always proselytizing in the hope of capturing new readers. I hoped the recent success of a film version of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice would bring requests for his work. They did not materialize, which is a shame, as the book is more accessible than some of his other works to the general reader and deserves a broader readership.
His reputation for weirdness, paranoia, and postmodern tricks scares some people: too much work in the reading. All because of one novel.
My booktalking buddy and I were walking past one of the big screens at the England Run branch, and it was playing a crystal-clear print of an old, old movie, made way back when moviemaking was young. It had excellent effects, too, for such an early film. "We have a picture book by the man who made this movie," said my colleague, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick."
What a big book, made of half pictures, half words! The reader is drawn into the world of Hugo Cabret, a boy who lives in the walls of a train station in Paris. He is not always alone, but he is trying to keep himself a secret. His uncle used to wind and fix the many clocks in the train station, but he disappeared. Now Hugo winds them, and works on a project of his own. He has a mechanical man, a legacy of his father, and a notebook of drawings of the works of the mechanical man. Hugo needs parts for his project, so he steals them from the grumpy old man's toy booth at the station. Hugo does not realize the grumpy old man has secrets too....