Tag Archives: book review

Logging 2013

The practice of keeping a (public or private) log on the Web gave us the term “blog” and “blogging.” Once considered a pretentious and indulgent luxury, most people on the Web either have an active blog or 1 or more blogs they’ve started and abandoned.

January is always a heavy month for new blog posts, but most bloggers, like me, lose steam quickly. At the very least, I will be blogging, at a minimum, the title of every book I read in 2013, and when time permits, I’ll give a review. I’ll also rate these books, using the following criteria:

10 – Any book that suggests itself for likely inclusion in my year-end best books posting. I’ll make 2 lists: One that only includes books I’ve completed or read significant parts of. Frankly, if I like a book, though, I’ll finish it; and a second list that includes books I’ve not read but that have gleaned substantial praise from respected critics or readers, including you, and that I can endorse from that second-hand perspective.

9 – A well done book that was fun for me to read and that I will recommend to select customers, but that I couldn’t honestly elevate to the status of a great book. For example, Tim Dorsey’s best work will usually garner a 9 from me. If you see me give a genre thriller a 9, you probably will want to read it, provided that genre is one you enjoy. And even the least of John Grisham’s legal thrillers will earn an …

8 – A fine book worth spending your money on, especially if the topic or genre is one you have an interest in.

7 – There won’t be many books I’ll read that won’t earn at least a 7 from me. I have access to a lot of advance material and can choose wisely. My time, especially when it is time spent on your behalf evaluating books, is too limited to read something I don’t think will at least be a 7 on this scale.

4 through 6 – A mistake has been made on my part if I read and rate these books. I’m just not going to read Alexander McCall Smith and I probably won’t be reading Jodi Picoult. So I won’t rate and review them. I will, however share with you what others are saying about them simply because it is news that is useful to you. And I know that many of you would naturally have either of those authors rated more highly. I invite you to submit your reviews, even in the form of a brief paragraph. We’ll attribute it to you by name or by your alias, if you choose.

1 through 3 – Warning you away from these books. Examples? I could probably give you Fifty Shades of examples.

A word to the wise: Because of my job, I have access to many books well before they are available to you.
Why? First because the publisher or author is eager to have me buy and promote that book.
Second, because they hope that I will review/blog about it and develop a loyal and viral following.
So, enjoy these blog posts while planning your future reading. I'll always give you the expected release date.


Lexicon by Max BarryBook #1 of 2013

Title: Lexicon: A Novel

Author: Max Barry Publisher: Penguin Press Release date: June 18, 2013

Barry’s editors are with the flagship imprint of Penguin Group USA, which has been in the news regarding a proposed merger with Random House. I’m not convinced that’s a good thing, but I do know that Penguin Press only releases a few titles each season and Max Barry’s book is one of them.

My history with Barry extends only back to 2010’s Machine Man, but that was such a wild ride that I quickly snatched this new one out of the advance reader box. I’m glad I did.

Lexicon plays to all my pleasure points. Through the ages, some individuals have held sway over the opinions and actions of thousands and even millions. How do they do it? What natural advantages do they have that others do not? How do they develop those skills.

At school, of course. The tony school just outside Washington, D.C. called “The Academy” winnows the best candidates in order to train them to be “Poets.” Poets have, to put it mildly, a way with words. Graduates assume the names of dead poets, but their society is far less transparent than you would think. Tom (T.S.) Eliot is a “top gun,” especially when it comes to recruiting new adherents. Charlotte Brontè manages the Academy. But Emily Ruff is like no other student before her. Rebellious, inquisitive, and romantic, Emily doesn’t quite fit into the plans the Poets have for her.

When she is kicked out of school for her part in one of the more shocking literary tragedies you’ll ever read, she is exiled to the remotest part of the continent of Australia in hopes that she can develop the discipline to return and graduate. But Emily has other plans. Until she runs into a man immune to persuasion.

The plot is not linear. Emily’s story is told in flashback, while the main narrative races from deadly conflict to apocalyptic climax.

The book is both literate and fast-paced, but it is the humaneness of its characters that will cause it to lodge in your cranium for a long, long time.

Rating: 9, with a chance of a year-end upgrade


Frank BillUPCOMING AUTHOR EVENT: We’re just thrilled to be hosting author Frank Bill on the occasion of his first novel for Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. It’s Donnybrook, and it takes place just a few miles from here. I’ve nominated it for the Indie Next List, though I’ll bet I’m not the only independent bookseller who was rocked by this book. I’ll share more on this book later, and although I read it last year, it comes out in March. Frank Bill will be doing a reading, book talk, and signing here at the store on Saturday, April 16, at 2 p.m. Put this on your calendar now. Bill is a major new talent and he’s from this area. I’m betting we’ll all be talking proudly about how we’ve met him and he’s one of ours. If interest builds like I think it will, we may have to make this a ticketed event. Frank previously authored Crimes in Southern Indiana for FSG, and we’ll have that book here, too, or you can read it now. We always have it in stock.

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How to Make a Small City Great

One of the best books of the last few years is Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy, written by New Albany’s own Dr. John R. Hale. In that book, Hale introduces his history with a compelling story. Here’s a passage, lifted from lordsofthesea.org, that served as inspiration to my first run for public office.

“I cannot tune a harp or play a lyre,” said the Athenian soldier-statesman Themistocles, “but I know how to make a small city great.” His vision set Athens on a course towards greatness when Themistocles persuaded his fellow citizens to build a fleet of 200 warships known as triremes – long galleys propelled by triple banks of oars.

Some of you may have heard that I’m running for office in the New Albany city elections this year (the Democratic Party primary is May 3.) Dr. Hale’s book was instrumental, and the relation of the story of Themistocles leadership and vision had a real effect on my decision to offer my name to the electorate.

The book is called a “thriller history” by one reviewer and I have to agree. Hale perfectly balances the story without dwelling too long on any one segment and anytime I was ready to move on to the next thing, the author was right there with me.

This is a book about a little-known and little-understood era and if you like nonfiction, you owe it to yourself to read it. I can guarantee you an autographed copy, personalized if you wish, if you order the book prior to March 7.

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Recommended: The Death of the Liberal Class

Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges offers up a “stunning” (my new favorite word – it’s an inside joke) diagnosis of the state of America today in his book, Death of the Liberal Class, a recent release from Nation Books.

Death of the Liberal ClassHedges defines “liberal class” as the press, universities, labor movement, culture, Democratic Party, and liberal religious institutions. I would posit that one remaining bulwark of the liberal class is the independent bookstore, but that’s for another day. I’ll just say that we, as an industry sub-group, are by definition liberal in the very best sense of that word.

The death he describes was not sudden – it was lingering – and its absence as an institutional check on the rapaciousness of a corporate capital regime dismantles the last protections for the weakest among us.

Publishers Weekly, in a review, said “his most interesting theses include the parallel between the current domestic climate and the fall of Weimar Germany and the conclusion that ‘Everything formed by violence is senseless and useless. It exists without a future. It leaves behind nothing but death, grief, and destruction.'”

Without a living liberal class, Hedges reports, there remains no “mechanism to make incremental reform possible. Its absence results in anger being channeled into anti-democratic ideologies that “detest … the civilities of a liberal democracy.”

With power grabs flying at us daily, now might be a good time to explore how America allowed itself to become so vulnerable to those ideologies.

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All That We Share

As promised, I’m always searching for guest reviewers and I’m very pleased to present this review by Andy Terrell, late of Destinations Booksellers and a prime mover in the local movement to educate consumers about why maintaining a vibrant, independent business community is in everyone’s self-interest.

All That We Share


All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons by Jay Walljasper

  • Commons – What we share.  Creations of both nature and society that belong to all of us equally and should be preserved and maintained for future generations.

Jay Walljasper’s book, All That We Share, is a look at the possibilities of a commons-based society whereby the economy, political culture and community life revolves around the idea that so much of what we have can be shared by all instead of being privatized for profit or other types of gain.  That we can shift away from the market-based system domination of today and, instead, allowing for the same type of emphasis on social justice, environmental issues and citizen participation in our democratic process.  Walljasper makes the point that “Market-based solutions would be valuable tools in a commons-based society, as long as they do not undermine the workings of the commons itself.”

Through profiles, articles and opinion, Walljasper has brought together some of the best commons thinkers from around the world to explain what the commons mean, how a true commons-based society can be achieved and how to make the commons mean something to everyone no matter their ideology.  We hear from intellects such as Robert Reich, Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom and Robert Kennedy, Jr, activists like Kim Klein and Julie Ristau and ordinary people working every day to make a difference in their communities.

What are the commons?  You might be surprised at what that term encompasses.  Parks, streets, air and water, museums, social security, hunting and fishing, the Internet, public education, police protection and dancing.  These are just a few of the things that we share, yet we sometimes forget the importance of them.

Walljasper shows that there are so many ways that everyone can pitch in to help jump start a commons-based society.  It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, like setting furniture in a street to slow down speeding cars as was done in one city in the Netherlands.  It can be very simple…pick up trash in your neighborhood.  Organize a block party, get to know your neighbors, smile or greet people you pass on the street, spend some time on the front porch instead of on the deck in the back.  These are just a few of the very simple ways to start a commons-based society according to Walljasper.

From a history of the commons, how it has evolved and what’s being done today, Walljasper’s point seems to be this – focus on what we own, advocate to take back those commons that have been privatized and understand that not every problem in society has a market solution.  Many problems can be solved with a people solution.

Certain colleges and universities are adopting this book for introductory classes. I see that as a good sign and a portent that coming generations will demonstrate greater responsibility for their own futures. Since I intend to live in that future, this pleases me very much.

Give me your thoughts on the topic in the comments section below and have a great weekend.




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Children’s Picture Book of the Week : The Ring Bear

This week’s book pick is The Ring Bear by N.L. Sharp, a picture book for children that I’ve always considered one of my favorites and one that I love to point people to. The Nebraska Center for the Book honored it as one of the best books for children.

The Ring Bear

As a bookseller with a healthy children’s section, I know a lot of boys who are in the same position as Robert, the hero of our tale.

Robert loved bears. Real bears and stuffed bears and bears in books. Black bears and brown bears and polar bears. He even loved to eat bears. Graham cracker bears and cinnamon bears and chocolate bears. So he wasn’t surprised when his mom said he was going to be the ring bear in his Aunt Jane’s wedding.

When Robert’s told that he’ll be wearing a suit – “a black suit with a tail, a white shirt, and a red bow tie,” he’s pretty sure he has this whole wedding thing down. He’ll look like a panda bear!

The boy proceeds to rehearse, on his own, by growling at animals, eating “berries” and drinking “honey” so as to be the very best bear he could be for the ceremony.

When finally Robert learns the truth that there are no bears in weddings, a foot-stomping fit ensues. But when Aunt Jane impresses on him just how important he is to the ceremony, Robert relents, becoming what everyone said was the best ring bearer ever.

I just love the way little kids edge into the rational world. At a certain age, they pay very close attention to every word coming from an adult’s mouth, but their comprehension can be muddled by the residue of magical thinking we treasure in all our kids. I remember my niece almost cried when her grandmother told how a friend of my father’s had “got his goat.” Though Allison had never seen or heard of her grandfather’s goat, she circulated on the edge of the adult conversation with a sad look on her face. Finally, she asked, “Did he give it back?” My puzzled mother said “Give what back, honey?,” to which Allison replied “His goat!”

This would be a wonderful book if you need to prepare your child for a wedding or any kind of formal ceremony. And it’s certain that your child will never, ever be fooled about the concept of being a ring bearer.

The Ring Bear
by N.L. Sharp, illustrated by Michael T. Hassler, Jr.
Dageforde/Prairieland Press (HC) $17.99


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