Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Amazon grows even bigger

Amazon has been busy, busy lately. While other large booksellers like Borders and Barnes & Noble are struggling, Amazon is on buying spree.

Amazon is buying AbeBooks, which specializes in used and hard-to-find books. Amazon is planning on keeping AbeBooks as a stand-alone unit. Prior purchases include and Audible.

I hope they leave AbeBooks alone. I think competition in the marketplace is a good thing and think AbeBooks is a great resource for out-of-print books.

The ecommerce giant also bought social networking site, Shelfari. I’m not too familiar with this site but I think they’re behind the facebook application that lets you share a visible bookshelf. (For what its worth my favorite book social media/community site is Good Reads,

The pressures on Barnes & Noble and Borders, which is just getting its Web site off the ground and for Amazon to successfully juggle all its various offerings/applications.

Amazon acquires book community Shelfari - to Buy Social Network for Book Lovers -

Amazon Buys Social Network For Book Lovers -

Amazon plans to have AbeBooks continue as a standalone -

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mad Lib Novels

The Financial Times has a fascinating story on computer software programs that can help you write a novel. Aspiring writers can get suggestions on plot or character names and a suggested structure to follow. If you think about it many genres do have a structure that can be followed. For instance, in a traditional romance novel, couple meets, there’s usually some kind of misunderstanding/ obstacle that gets in their way, hi jinxes and problems ensue, misunderstanding/ obstacle overcome/solved, true love realized.

However, I wonder how accurately a computer software program can replicate creativity. There’s a difference between a paint by numbers and a Monet.

Click Lit -

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In Revere, In Those Days - Roland Merullo

The library book club’s most recent pick, In Revere, In Those Days was another book that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own.

I was glad that I did. I don’t want to give away anything. In a nutshell, follows Anthony Benedetto growing up in Revere, Mass. I thought this was a good hearted novel, that was almost free of wrinkles. (There were a few, but not enough to disrupt the flow.)

Tonio experiences a lot of tragedy in his life, but with the love and support of his large, close knit Italian family he’s able to overcome it. This was a goodhearted novel full of beautifully written scenes and vibrant characters.

Tonio’s closest relationships are with his grandparents and his Uncle Peter. Each of them, in their own unique way, shelters Tonio and helps him thrive. I particularly liked his grandmother.

“So are you happy here?” she asked when we were climbing the small rise to the dirt road that ran past the gym.

“Three out of every four days,” I said. It was a line I borrowed frommy grandmother, who believed the secret to happiness was to expect some disappointment, sorrow, and pain, not to resist it too strenuously, to think of it as the fourth day.”

Despite some hiccups, In Revere, In Those Days was a hit.

After several enjoyable books, I’m at a loss what to read next. Too many choices!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Waltham Public Library goes high tech

My local library is embracing the brave new world of technology. Waltham Public Library has been blogging for quite awhile. There are three blogs: general blog, library book blog and suggestions blog.

They’re also twittering now. If you want to follow them, the twitter handle is walthamlibrary.

For those unfamiliar with this concept, twiiter is a microblogging system that people use to send out notes or updates.

I think it’s pretty cool that the library is doing this. It’s a great way to engage young people who are social media savvy. My only complaint is that they don’t have that many tweets up yet.

There are a lot of ways to disseminate information these days and more people are turning to new social media tools like twitter to share information. By spreading the net wide, hopefully the library can garner even more attention and lure more visits.

Waltham public library:

It’s great to see more libraries embracing technology to become more mainstream. One of my favorite book blogs is the Seattle Public Library’s Shelf Talk,

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Prosecutors

I read about The Prosecutors in a roundup on narrative fiction. Similar to books like Courtroom 302 and No Matter How Loud I Shout, Gary Delsohn spent a year taking an insider’s look at the justice system.

In this instance, he spends a year in the Sacramento’s District Attorney’s Office. In that year, prosecutors will try several men who were involved in a robbery where a young man was shot and killed. They’ll deal with a man who hung his girlfriend on video tape, an immigrant who murders his wife, two-year old son and several other members of his family.

Overall, it was a pretty interesting fly on the wall account of what it’s like to prosecute. It was often grim due to the nature of the crimes the DA’s office dealt with.

However, I felt like at times the book lacked the overall depth of Courtroom 302 and No Matter How Loud I Shout, which both included extensive research and placed the issues in greater context. However, I realize that The Prosecutors seemed like it was envisioned as an inside look at justice along the lines of a non-fiction Law & Order.


I may have been overly ambitious with the number of books that I brought on vacation, but I did manage to finish two books that I’ve been reading for awhile – Harbor and Deafening.

Deafening was one of the books I picked for the ORBIS TERRARUM Challenge – Canada. The main character in the book, Grania, loses her hearing as a child after she has Scarlet Fever. The first part of the book focuses on her grandmother Mamo’s devotion to teaching her to read lips and speak. She’s eventually sent to a school for deaf children. Grania later falls in love with Jim, who goes off to fight in World War I. The novel alternates between Jim’s experiences as a medic and Grania back at home.

I can’t remember enjoying a novel as much as I did Deafening. There wasn’t a false note in it. I also found it interesting reading about World War I from a Canadian perspective.

My grandfather was born in 1901 and lived in Kemptville, Ontario. I remember him talking about the great flu epidemic, which Itani writes about. My grandfather had the flu – many died of it. When he was recovering, there was an armistice parade and someone moved his bed, so he could watch the parade out the window.

I found it interesting how the language in the book changed as Grania grew older. It was also fascinating how she interacted with the hearing world and saw things that others didn’t because her heightened attention to detail.

In on scene she tells her brother-in-law the way she sees the people in their town:

“Mr. McClelland, the baker, has a stern face and a pucker at the side of his mouth. He holds his wife’s hand in the summer. They sit on the stoop at the side of their house on Main Street, and he doesn’t looks stern at all when he’s with her…”

This a rare book where the characters and story linger. The type of book that I want to buy multiple copies of to urgently press in friends’ hands and say ‘You must read this.”

AUTHOR PROFILE: Frances Itani,

Friday, August 1, 2008

Harbor -- Lorraine Adams

Ah the magic of T-Mobile Hot Spots, not free... but INTERNET! I finished reading Harbor by Lorraine Adams on my first day of vacation. The library book group read this last year and I wish I had read it with them. It's definitely a book that I'd like to hear other people's thoughts on.
Aziz smuggles aboard a tanker and illegally enters the country. He's fleeing his home in Algeria, where he was a solider. I was a little unclear on this part, but he apparently was a double agent in the Army.
He falls in with Rafik, someone he knows from Algeria. His brother legally immigrates and they are also joined by several fellow Algerians who also snuck into the US on tankers.

The novel follows Aziz as he struggles to fit in, his flashbacks to his time in the Army – a brutal, terrifying experience. While Rafik is clearly involved in illegal activities – credit card fraud, identity theft, smuggling – Aziz and his friend Ghazia are not. Yet, they end up getting caught in the net when Rafik and his friend Kamal come under suspicion.

This novel raises several troubling questions:

How can we effectively combat terrorism, if we don’t understand the language and culture?

How much do we know about other cultures/ places like Algeria?

Can we even accurately identify the real terrorists versus people desperately looking for a better life and trying to stay hidden from scrutiny.

To what extent has involvement by the US and other countries like France created atmospheres of chaos, violence and ultimately resentment/ hatred against Western and US governments?

The nature of good and evil?

Clearly, Aziz is conflicted about the things he did in the Army. However, he did those things to survive.

Overall, a fascinating but at the same time unsettling book.

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