26 July 2018

Classics Club Spin #18

This is my first Classics Club Spin, and I'm excited! Each Clubber has a personal list of 50-100 classic books that we have chosen to be our challenge list. For the Spin we pick 20 of those titles and put them into a numbered list. On August 1 the Club moderators will pick a number from 1 to 20 and we have to read that book on our list by the end of August and report back to the Club.

So here's my list. Quite a few novellas, as I have set up a personal challenge called Short Reads Short Reviews (SRSR). Most of these are sitting in my collection somewhere, as reading what I already own is a major theme for me.
  1. Chinua Achebe, "Things Fall Apart" 1958
  2. John Barth, "Giles Goat-Boy" 1966
  3. May Barton, "Elizabeth Gaskell" 1848
  4. Joseph Bédier, "The Romance of Tristan & Iseult" 1900
  5. Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, "The Rover and Other Works" <1689
  6. Daniel Defoe, "A Journal of the Plague Year" 1722
  7. Honoré de Balzac, "Eugénie Grandet" 1833
  8. Olivia de Havilland, "Every Frenchman Has One" 1961
  9. Antoine de Saint Exupéry, "The Little Prince" 1943
  10. Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities" 1859
  11. Nikolai Gogol, "Dead Souls" 1842
  12. Henry James, "Daisy Miller" 1879
  13. James Joyce, "Dubliners" 1914
  14. Herman Melville, "Billy Budd and other Tales" ~1891
  15. I. E. Rövaag, "Giants in the Earth" 1925
  16. Anthony Trollope, "The Vicar of Bullhampton" 1870
  17. Edith Wharton, "The Glimpses of the Moon" 1922
  18. Edith Wharton, "The Reef" 1912
  19. Voltaire, "Candide" 1759
  20. Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own" 1929

Spin On!

UPDATE: The spin is #9, so I'm reading Antoine de Saint Exupéry's "The Little Prince". I guess it's about time I read this popular classic, everyone else seems to have!

23 July 2018

Short Reads Short Reviews #2: The Bookshop

The Bookshop
Penelope Fitzgerald
Houghton Mifflin, 1997 (originally published 1978)
117 pages

This novella may be short, but it paints a clear picture of the main character, Florence Green, and the little seaside town of Hardborough, England, where she lives. A widow, Florence decides to open a bookshop in that depressing backwater, which in 1959 has no fish and chips shop, no launderette, and films are shown only once a fortnight. The place seems full of dour people living dour lives. Early in the book, Mr. Raven the marshman* talks to her about the people of Hardborough, saying "They've lost the wish for anything of a rarity."


Excellent vignettes show life in a small town, as applicable to small towns everywhere as to those in England. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing at all times. Gossip is rampant, and often malicious. And the moneyed class always gets their way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this little book and its quirky characters, who acted in unexpected ways and said odd things. It has a gentle self-deprecating humor running through it, a gentleness and humor shared by Florence herself. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1978, edged out by Iris Murdoch's "The Sea, The Sea".

* marshman: Employed by landowners to tend marshland and the animals grazing there

19 July 2018

Short Reads Short Reviews #1: The First Five Pages

The First Five Pages
Noah Lukeman
Simon & Schuster, 2000
208 pages (197 pages plus an index)

For my first Short Reads Short Reviews book, I chose a nonfiction title about writing and publishing a novel. Noah Lukeman is a literary agent who has read many, many manuscripts and has decided to help authors make their books more publishable.


It is not about how to write a novel but about the pitfalls an author can fall into because of carelessness, laziness, or ignorance, or maybe hubris. His introduction states:

There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing. This, simply, is the focus of this book: to learn how to identify and avoid bad writing.

There are three sections containing a total of 19 chapters, each discussing one type of bad writing -- giving examples, solutions, and often clever exercises to perform on your own text. Preliminary Problems has five chapters on very basic mistakes that will likely get your manuscript rejected out of hand by most agents or editors. Grimy pages, improper formatting, and poor use of adverbs, adjectives, similes, and metaphors are marks of an amateur. The five chapters on Dialogue discuss topics such as melodramatic or humdrum dialogue between characters. The largest section, The Bigger Picture, talks about everything else, from viewpoint to showing versus telling to tone, focus and setting.

I found this a very valuable read even before I begin to write during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this November. And after November ends I certainly need to reread it as I begin to edit my manuscript. I liked its practicality, and the way it showed me an editor's view of a new manuscript from an unknown writer. If you want to write either fiction or nonfiction, maybe even poetry, you need to read this!


Mr. Lukeman has written two other books on getting published, which he has released bundled into one free edition, available from his personal website in several formats including PDF, Kindle, and iTunes. Just scroll to the bottom of the web page.

"How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success"
"How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent"

18 July 2018

SRSR: Short and Sweet

I know I haven't posted any book reviews lately, but ironically it was because I've been very busy with books! After finding the wondrous book cataloguing system, Libib, I ran wild with scanning and sorting most of my large book collection for two weeks. The downside was that this involved lifting and carrying rather heavy boxes; the upside was I slept deeply every night after all that exercise. As suspected, I did find a few duplicates, but not too many. Dups and discards were then sold to some used bookstores I patronize. So I made a few dollars to... buy more books!?!

I also participated in Tome Topple Readathon #6 for those two weeks. Happily my relatively modest goal was achieved by finishing the last 250 pages of "Evelina" and reading all 619 pages of "Grapes of Wrath". For me this challenge was a chance to knock two nice, fat books off my TBR pile, instead of wimping out and reading the 300-page ones. Challenge met!

Part of the reason for my cataloguing frenzy is that I'm planning on moving across town in a few months. With fewer heavy boxes of books to move, I am hoping things will go more smoothly. Still, there is much more to be sorted and packed away beyond my books, which will take time away from reading and reviewing.

However, I was inspired by a fellow book blogger, and I have A Plan! Last month Simon of Stuck in a Book challenged himself to read and review "25 Books in 25 Days". And he succeeded! Bravo, Simon! So I am now starting my own challenge that I am calling Short Books, Short Reviews (SRSR). During the cataloguing I put aside about 20 books that were 200 pages or less, fiction and nonfiction. I am not promising to read one every day, although that would be nice. But I am going to run through a small box of books rather quickly and practice writing reviews that are concise and to the point.

Onward and Upward!

02 July 2018

Libib: Built for Personal Collections

After many years of book buying, I was inundated with books! Boxes and boxes that didn't even all get unpacked whenever I moved. And I suspected I might be buying duplicates without realizing it. I needed help! So I did my research online and found a nearly perfect solution for my problem: Libib.

Question: Is it Libib or libib?
Answer: "We have a very strict policy on spelling: use what visually looks best. ;)   It is pronounced luh-bib."
Libib is a cloud-based cataloging system, a website and app that catalogs books, movies, music, and video games in one place. There are apps for iPhone and Android phones that use the camera to scan barcodes into the system. You can also log into your account from your phone to see what you have so you don't buy duplicates!

Click for larger image

They have two account types, Standard, which is free, and Pro, which is $9 a month or $99 a year. I have the Standard one, so I can enter 5,000 books and create 100 different libraries, which should be plenty of books for me. The Pro version has many more options and larger limits - 100,000 items, multiple administrators, a circulation system, unlimited patrons, etc. Very much aimed at professional librarians in small libraries.

You can enter books by scanning their ISBN barcodes or manually typing them in, as well as by searching for title or author. Libib takes the ISBN and creates an entry for that item, filled in with all the standard information you would expect, title, author, description, etc., all of which can be edited. Tags and notes can be attached to each item. Items can be put into groups within a library, which is useful for book series. You can review them, too, and there is a public-facing view of your Libib catalog to show the world . I'm sure there are more Libib tricks, but those are the ones I'm sure of after one week of using the system.

Without a smartphone, my solution needed a second part called bcWebCam, a free piece of software for Windows computers that lets you use your web cam for barcode reading. It's a very simplistic little one-trick pony. It scans the ISBN barcode on a book, decodes it, and sends the number to the computer as though it were keystrokes you typed in. That means you can put the cursor in any text field in Libib or a text file or any other program, and the ISBN will show up there. You can even set it to add an "Enter" keystroke at the end, to make lists or to start Libib looking for that number.

Finally I feel like I have a handle on my large book collection! I am getting them all scanned in, making decisions about discards, and organizing them by categories on my bookshelves. Now I can browse my titles and find something to read for a book challenge or readathon. Hurray!



bcWebCam  - Use your web cam for barcode reading (Windows)