Sunday, September 3, 2017

Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir (Capote) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, With the Lost Photographs of David Attie, Truman Capote (2015)

With an afterword by Eli Attie.

The 800s shelf: Literature, which includes plays, poems and essays. I saw that it was about Brooklyn and then I flipped through and saw the pictures, and I had to check this one out.

First off, I've never read anything by Truman Capote, nor was anything ever assigned to be read. I remember a copy of In Cold Blood sitting on my bookshelf when I was a kid, but I didn't pick it up.

Second, the Afterword was actually the most fascinating part of the book. If you pick up this book, you might want to read it first. Or you can save it for last, and it will change your opinion of the entire book.

From the Introduction, I learned when this essay was originally written and where it was published. From Attie's addendum, I discovered that this Memoir was published as a book in 2002 without the photos. The photography of David Attie, someone you've probably never heard of, were still "lost" at that time.

Eli Attie is David's son and was researching the work his father had done. It turned out that Capote could be credited with launching the elder Attie's career. David even found photos of Capote along with many taken in a walk around Brooklyn Heights in the late 50s (1958, according to the text).

The collected photos (I'll let you read the story) were set to be a book on their own, but as these things go, the set was combined with a second edition of Brooklyn. Both works benefit from this.

Capote had a flair for writing (I guess I'm speaking the obvious to many) which I guess fits what I know of his personality from TV and movie appearances (not to mention impressions by people like Rich Little). However, anyone who walks around Brooklyn Heights and the area down by the Brooklyn Bridge will recognize some of the buildings and streets and structures in these photos. And if you were around there back in, say, the 70s or 80s, you might recognize even more. It's a walk down memory lane to see these places along with the people.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number 813 C

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Luck Archive (Menjivar) -- Summer Reading Challenge

The Luck Archive: Exploring Belief, Superstition, and Tradition, Mark Menjivar (2015)

The 300s shelf: Social Sciences, which I already did, but I saw another book that looked interesting.

In brief, the author was interested in stories about things, objects, and rituals that people believe are lucky or will bring luck. He even visited stores that had some kind of luck in the title. Many of those stories, along with pictures, are gathered in this one volume. He doesn't try to validate the stories, nor disparage them. More of a simple celebration of the things people do to make luck go their way. (Or to make bad luck just go away.)

A quick little read. I saw it on the shelf, and I thought it might be interesting. It was, but not overly memorable. Nothing much to make a note of.

For fun, here are some of the other options I had, which seemed to have a lot to do with Vampires and Zombies. The English Folk Tales book is one I might revisit later. There was also a book on "Social Q's" as well as a wedding planner (could you imagine me reading that on a train?), as well as some on topics I didn't care to read entire books about.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number 398.41 M

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Remember the Alamo (Rattle and Vale) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Remember the Alamo: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About American History With All the Boring Bits Taken Out, Alison Rattle and Allison Vale(2009)

My summer reading challenge took me to the 900s, which is History and Biography. I went for something short and easy to read. In fact, in researching this book to put on this blog (I already returned it to the library), I discovered another version of it with a shorter title about "Bite-Sized pieces".

Rattle and Vale (who spell their first names differently, so I can't call them "the two Al(l)isons") present snapshots of American history from the Pilgrims to Watergate, all in one-page snippets. Obviously, some topics require more pages to tell the complete story, but it's easy to break things like the Revolution into separate topics and events.

Likewise, one-page biographies of important people are included and inserted into the otherwise chronological narrative at the time it would most sense. Placing Thomas Jefferson's biography, for example, at either the point of his birth or his death would be silly and not relevant to the timeline.

If you just want a primer which the basics, this isn't bad. But it's obviously a starting point if you want to learn more about anything. Also, just reading their take on the first Thanksgiving had me wondering how much I could trust their "slant" with the rest of the book. For the record, the Pilgrims, a group that came over to these shores for religious freedom and who, according to this text, believed that the Church of England hadn't broken far enough away from Roman Catholicism, held their first Thanksgiving to give thanks to God, not to the Indians for helping them through the harsh winter. Now, the authors are the historians here and they could argue the point with me if they wanted to, but God doesn't even get a mention.

What else aren't they telling me? Well, quite a lot, actually, because this is the "Cliff's Notes" version of history. And, oddly, I would have expected a little more about the Alamo, considering the title.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number 973R.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Bradys and the Girl Smuggler (Doughty)

The Bradys and the Girl Smuggler; or, Working for the Custom House, Francis W. Doughty (1900)

Note: This novel appeared inside the collection 8 Dime Novels.

Back around the turn of the 20th century, there was a series of dime novels named Secret Service about agents who do a lot more than just protect the President. This series featured an agent known as "Old King Brady" who was joined by a sidekick/apprentice who shared his surname even though they were not related. The latter became known as "Young Brady". The stories featured the byline "A New York Detective", which was Francis W. Doughty.

The Bradys had a knack for solving problems when no one else could. At least that's what I figured was the reputation that they had. The novel I read was number 79 in the series.

The story opens in the port of New York in lower Manhattan, an area I've been familiar with since I was a child, but that was long, long after. (Two world wars and then some!) Still, it's amusing when I read the street names as they pursue a suspect that I can make a mental map of the route.

The Custom House of the story has to do with declaring valuables being brought into the country when getting off a steam ship so taxes can be paid on them. Someone has been smuggling diamonds into the country right under the noses of the Custom House agents, and no one seems to know how it is being done. The Bradys are called in to take the case.

The villain of the piece is named La Croix and his French accent is sometimes difficult to work out. ("Eet es deef-e-cult!") He's tricky and won't stop short of trying to kill the agents (bold move for a smuggler -- that's ups the game somewhat). It does become a family affair, as you can tell from the titular "Girl Smuggler".

The story takes them up to Canada and back again, riding trains because that's the fastest method of transportation and communicating through telegrams to places where the other person should be and may go to because that's just the way it was.

With nothing else to compare this story to, I can't say if it's a great example of a dime novel, but I did enjoy it (other than the phonetic accent). Would I read more? If I could download another story in a format that was easier to read, maybe.

One of the interesting things about the book was that it seemed to be reproduced in the manner that it was originally published, complete with the splash page (shown in the photo above). The novelty of that will wear off after a while, particularly with older eyes viewing it.

I don't believe that I'll plan on reading the first 78 to catch up to wear I am.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

8 Dime Novels (Bleiler, ed)

8 Dime Novels, E. F. Bleiler, editor (1974)

I don't remember the circumstances that got me thinking about old "dime novels" a few months ago. It couldn't been because of seeing a roleplaying game online or something similar. I searched both the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries for information on dime novels, and one of the hits I got was for 8 Dime Novels, edited by and with an introduction written by E. F. Bleiler. Collected in 1974, the stories are much, much older.

I'm not sure when "dime novels" ended and "pulp magazines" began or if the two are somewhat synonymous.

My biggest problem with this book was that it was a big book. Larger in size that a regular magazine, but hardcover. Not something that was easily portable, so I couldn't read it on the train. And not the kind of thing I want to hold onto and catch the lamp light right before bed. Basically, I had to find a comfortable place outside to read, close to home. As a result, I didn't read much of it despite how long I kept it.

Bleiler's introductory essay was interesting and gave me some more background on dime novels and suggestions for others to read. It went into why those 8 were chosen though I suppose a case could've been made for many others. Some of these novels, think "comic books with only words and no pictures", went on for a hundred or more issues. I don't know how many even survive, let alone were read for consideration.

In the end, I read the essay and the first story. I probably would have skipped to the Buffalo Bill story after than, had I more time.

It's not likely that I get this book again, unless I can find an ebook version of it. On the other hand, I've found an entire library of Buffalo Bill stories online that are free to read.

Still I enjoyed that this was available. It's a piece of history. That said, reading books more than a century old, particularly those that are cheaply made, can be a little challenging when you're used to today's pacing and writing style. (I'm saying this as a guy who likes science fiction but had trouble getting into both Dracula and Frankenstein for the first few chapters.)

This was not part of my summer library challenge. I took it out late spring. In fact, I finished it earlier in the summer than the last couple of books, but I forgot to post an entry when I was catching up.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Fire In My Hands (Soto) -- Summer Reading Challenge

A Fire In My Hands, Gary Soto, 2005

image coming

Another warm day, another trip of errands briefly interrupted by a stop in the air-conditioned library. Actually, I had time to spare, and I thought I could find something that I could possibly read in a half-hour. (No, that wasn't likely to happen in any case.)

As I walked past the 800s shelf -- Literature -- I looked for something thin that wasn't labeled Young Adult. Yeah, I failed at that as well.

But I did pick out a slim volume by Gary Soto, whom I hadn't heard of before now. Some business to take care of before I continue.

As a child I was fascinated by poetry. By the rhymes and by (although I wouldn't know it at the time) the meter. There would be poems at the start of each section of a reader (or text book?) we had way back when.

I have since fallen out of love with it, particularly in its modern incarnations. Specifically, I hate free verse. I hate random words on paper. I liked the rules, and working in the rules makes a successful poem that much more successful in my mind. When there are no rules, what is success? I read it ... and nothing. In wanting to know these rules, I took a Creative Writing class at Brooklyn College where the teacher (I don't recall if she was a Professor or not) explained the rules and then gave examples that broke all of them, without explaining how and why to break them for effect. (Shout-out to Xaverian High School English teacher John Mucciolo for explaining a bit about breaking the rules with purpose -- I believe he went on to be a principal in Ramapo, NJ.)

What I liked about Soto's collection (some of which dates back to before the 2005 publishing date): he went back to childhood memories, and some adult memories about his children. He told stories without a lot of excessive pretentious verbiage (see what I did there)?

I didn't like the free verse where lines broke sometimes in the middle of a two-word phrase, but I could read it like a story -- not so much prose, but like a guy talking to me. Such conversations can be choppy and disjointed to.

I appreciated the imagery he created without going for crazy allusions and allegory.

And since I'm from the Northeast -- Brooklyn, all my life -- and he's from the Southwest, a Central Valley Mexican, I found the change of viewpoint, scenery and all that to be a refreshing change of pace.

Also, his name to last poem is one that was commissioned by NASA before the Millennium. I didn't know this going in, so it was a happy discovery. Gotta love it.

So if you're a non-poetry person looking for a book of poetry to read, I can recommend this one.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dead Strange (Lamy) -- Summer Reading Challenge

Dead Strange: The Bizarre Truths Behind 50 World-famous Mysteries, Matt Lamy, 2012

I went back to the 000 (General References) shelf of the library and looked through the reference books and the "How To" for different software programs. It looked like I was going to have to take a "supernatural" book.

That said, I like this book. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a kid. I didn't read a lot, and part of the problem in the early grades was that there weren't books like this in my school library. It jumped from the Dr. Seuss level to 100-page novels without any in-between! (I remember discovering chapter books with my children and thinking how wonderful they were.) I remember taking out a book on magic because it interested me, but it was too dense for me to get through.

Anyway, back then, I would have loved books about supernatural stuff, and this book has 50 things in it (although a couple are kind of related). And the best part is that each section is only 2 or 3 pages long. Long enough to give you an idea about the subject. Short enough not to put you to sleep or drag on endlessly.

Using my usual standard, it reads better than a click-bait web article "The Bizarre Truths Behind 50 World-famous Mysteries!! -- (You won't believe Number 23!)". Yes, it could be a little more in-depth, but it's another young adult book meant to get them interested. It's not a college thesis.

Drawbacks? Cross-referencing would've been nice. Also, there's at least one reference to something weird without mentioning that it isn't in the book. A bibliography would've been good, as well as a "for more information..." page.

I read this while sitting in an inner tube floating on my pool on a couple of early summer mornings before the Sun got too high and too hot.

Library reading challenge. Catalogue number YA 001.94L. Young adult.

Some of the choices I had in the 000 series: