Friday, April 30, 2010

Thrills & Chills 2

You know...these stories are really pretty creepy. Maybe my mom was right to be worried about her 11-year old after all. I haven't quite finished the collection (4 more short stories), but almost to finish line. I think my favorite is "The Secret of the Bottle" by Gerald Kersh. It's a pretty interesting take on what could have happened in Ambrose Bierce's last days. There's also "Just a Dreamer" by Robert Arthur. What would happen if all your dreams quite literally came true? It certainly would make for some interesting times....

I also have the feeling that I've read some of these stories before in other collections: "Summer People" by Shirley Jackson and "An Invitation to the Hunt" by George Hitchcock being two of the most familiar. Didn't stop me from getting a brief case of the chills down the spine, though.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thrills & Chills

Starting on a new book (what a surprise!): This time I'm going for Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories My Mother Never Told Me [1st Edition, Dell Pocket size, 1965--another library book sale coup]. I love these little pocket size books that came out from the late 1930s to 1960s. In fact, I had great plans to scoop up a whole slew of them back in 2007. I'd been promised a "blank check" at Mason's Rare & Used Books in Lebanon as an anniversary present from my husband. We had just discovered (in the previous year) that Mr. Mason once again owned a used bookstore in Indiana. (I lived at the original Mason's when I was growing up in Wabash.) After a couple of trips to buy small amounts of books (and watching me gaze longingly at the substantial section of pocket editions), Brad told me about my present. I was lover's heaven...with visions of armloads of pocket size mysteries being carted out to the car, I couldn't wait to get to Lebanon to find......the store absolutely empty. Shelves gone....all the glorious books vanished.....I think my agonized yelps could be heard all the way back to Bloomington. I still wonder where all his stock went and whether I could get my hands on those little editions.

But, I digress...back to Hitchcock. I went through a major Hitchcock collection phase when I was in late elementary school. I read anthologies with titles such as Stories Not for the Nervous and Stories to Be Read with the Door Locked. My mom got a little worried about me and my spine-tinglers--especially when it came time for the Young Authors conference (for which all 5th & 6th graders had to make books) and I submitted a collection of short stories featuring ghosts and swamp monsters and things that go bump in the night. She didn't think that quite the thing....

So, full of nostalgia for those days of freaking my mom out more than the stories ever freaked me out...I'll be settling in with my Hitchcock tonight. With the lights on full and hoping that the scratching noise at the window is just the neighbor's cat and not whatever creepy-crawlie is featured in the latest story.

Library Book Store Rocks

I love our local library. I love it's three-times weekly book store where I can pick up gently used books and discards for very little. I love it even more when I can pick up a first-edition Golden Age mystery. Like I did today--came out of there with a nice edition of The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. I already own the book in paperback, but I couldn't resist picking up a hard copy--especially a first edition. I think it's absolutely wonderful that I can find books that I like (just gotta have) and then pay just enough to make me feel virtuous about supporting my library. Good books and good karma...can't beat that combination.

Foul Matter Take Two

 While this is, indeed, a funny book and a terrific send-up of the publishing industry, I'm still caught up in what I found to be a running theme: the past. Ned and Saul both spend a lot of time thinking about this subject. Saul says about himself, "I live in a houseful of artifacts. It's drenched in the past. I never change anything, beyond turning a desk around so that it faces a window. I want it to stay the same." Ned feels like he's lost the past--in part because he "lost" his parents when he was young. "He wished he hadn't been so careless of the past....His parents had died within a year of each other, and he was orphaned. Everyone made sure he was aware of this particular disgrace, as if he'd been careless with his parents as well as with the past and now look what had happened." Grimes makes some very good observations about how the past can haunt us or envelop us or even weigh us down...I do wish she had brought it to some kind of closure in the final chapters, though. She seemed to abandon the theme....perhaps losing it like Ned "lost" his parents.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Foul Matter

 Foul Matter
is turning out to be quite different from Martha Grimes' other books. I see the humor and satire....but what I'm really tuning into is the focus on the past. Ned Isaly, one of the primary characters, seems to me to be almost obsessed with the idea. In one scene he is contemplating the past and thinks: "The past--there was hardly anything it wasn't or couldn't be. It could aim straight as an arrow, or walk like a drunken lout, cavort, dissemble, deceive, seduce: anything to be let in." And later when he is visiting his friend, who has a legacy of several generations living in one house, they contemplate the portraits of the ancestors gazing down on them and Saul (his friend) decides that Ned has "cracked the code" of the past. But in truth--so far--neither of them have done so. One lives with the past and one dwells on the past, but neither have come to the understanding they seek.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Skewering the Publishing Industry

Having finished the Albom book, I rummaged through my "waiting to be read" piles (yes, piles with an "s") and decided on Foul Matter by Martha Grimes. The back of the book promises an "evil-minded satire of the venal, not to say murderous, practices of the New York publishing industry." That seemed just the thing for a gloomy, rainy end of the weekend. It will be interesting to see what I think of this book by Grimes. The last one I tried that did not feature Richard Jury (The End of the Pier) left me sadly disappointed. I much preferred her treatment of England to that particular American foray. Starting with an open mind....


As promised, I finished for one more day last night. A lovely, thought-provoking book. And it did make me think about all the people I'd lost and who I would want one more day with--especially if I could only choose one. I think I'd have to choose my Grandma Ingols. I'm quite sure she knew how much I (and all the grandkids) loved her, but did I really tell her? Enough? Or properly thank her? Probably not.

I'd want to tell her just how much I loved spending the night at grandma's house--even when I was a teenager. That she was the absolute best at making bacon and fried eggs for breakfast. Nobody can make the white so nice and crispy and leave the yolk soft for dipping toast like Grandma. And the toast that came out of her ancient toaster? Perfection. And that I loved helping her make home-made dumplings even though I hated when she added them to ham & beans (it was the ham & beans I hated, not the dumplings). And, as Charley puts it in the book, how she "stood up" for me when Dad was getting after me. ["Now, Phil, don't be so hard on her. She's just going through a stage."]

I'd want to tell her how wonderful she made growing up in our family. And how much I appreciate that for her family always came first. But mostly I'd just like to say, "I love you, Grandma. I really do. You're the greatest." I hope she can hear me.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Madcap Mysteries: A bit much

Well, I've finished the second of the Tilton series and made an attempt at the third. I've decided to give myself a rest from the madcap mysteries for a bit. I'm afraid that she seems to be stuck in a bit of rut. It's a bit much to swallow all the fortuitous circumstances that bring about the happy ending. Given all the bodies he stumbles over, young ladies bound and gagged in his house, his belongings that wind up in unfortunate proximity to the aforementioned bodies--it's a wonder "Bill Shakespeare" doesn't spend his life in jail. It's unfortunate that the charm has faded so fast because I really do like the character of Leonidas Witherall. I'm just having trouble believing more than six impossible things after breakfast. up on the Tilton series for a while, I have picked up Mitch Albom's for one more day. Suspending my disbelief long enough to accept Charley Benetto's one more day with his deceased mother was child's play after the mad adventures of Witherall. So far, Albom has spun a very touching and thought-provoking story. And I expect to finish the book before I drift off to sleep.

Academic Mystery Addiction

Hi, my name is Bev and I'm addicted to academic mysteries. They leap from the shelves and out of bargain bins right into my hand. I can't fight it.

Case in point: My husband dragged me to Border's this afternoon.* He was in the mood to go look for the latest books from his favorite financial gurus (favorites subject to change without notice). So, I went. While waiting for him to exhaust the possibilities of the "Manage Your Own Finances" section, I browsed the bargain bin. That was my undoing. How could I resist the first line of the back cover blurb: "A star poet at Hebrew University with a history of lechery is beaten to death in his office." I mean, really, it had to come home with me.

*I'm sure that anyone who knows me will find it hard to believe that Brad would have to drag me into any bookstore. But the fact of the matter is, I'm a used bookstore kind of girl. New, shiny stores just don't have all that much appeal for me--particularly when I know I can walk out of a used bookstore with 4-5 books for the cost of one that's new. And...I'm just not gonna find what I want in Border's or Barnes & Noble. I'm generally on the hunt for little-known Golden Age mysteries (preferably first editions). Not going to find those waiting patiently on the shelves of a place with a Starbucks cafe sitting in the corner.

A Tentative Start

Starting out in the big wide world of blogging, I plan to make this primarily a reading journal. We'll see how that goes. At the moment, I'm reading a set of four books written by Phoebe Atwood Taylor under the name of Alice Tilton. Better known for her "Codfish Sherlock," Asey Mayo, these books feature Leonidas Witherall, a former instructor at Meredith Academy. Among other things, Witherall is known for his resemblance to Shakespeare and spends most of his time being referred to as "Bill."

I have to admit a certain weakness for academic mysteries--whether academic in location/setting, by detective, or by primary victim. And I tend to collect the most unlikely-looking specimens based only on the mention of a professor or university or school or academic what-have-you in the blurb on the back. This always ensures a surprise--although the amount of pleasure involved seems to vary.

I have finished the first book (pictured here) and have started the second. So far, these are very fun books, definitely fitting into the madcap mystery genre. Ms. Taylor reveals in letters quoted in notes at the back of the first book, that she felt that it would be highly suitable for the silver screen. I can certainly imagine the first book having been filmed in the tradition of Thin Man series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. It remains to be seen whether the charm will fade if the formula is repeated in every book (central character going from one impossible situation to the next and getting out of all of them through the most incredible combination of coincidence and good luck). But for the moment I'm enjoying the ride.