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Entries in Books (42)

Monday
Apr262004

What To Do with Dust Jackets?

Okay, you may know that I love books — reading them and collecting favorites. I'm by no means a high-end collector (no money for that), rather, I collect books I have enjoyed and either want to re-read or lend to others.

Over the years I've wondered what to do with the dust jackets that come with hardcover books. I'm not sure if I ought to throw them out or keep them. Dust jackets drive me nuts when reading hardcovers, so my gut says "toss 'em!" However, it's possible that a dust jacket could increase the price of the book, should I sell or I might love the graphic design.

What to do with dust jackets? Legendary book designer Jan Tschichold didn't understand why readers insisted on keeping dust jackets. He pointed out in The Form of the Book, that dust jackets were designed as "wrappers" meant to sell the book then tossed out after the purchase.

So, I have Jan on my side... but should I really toss the dust jacket? Sometimes I have no problem with this, if the dust jacket isn't that attractive or is damaged. However, sometimes these graphic wrappers really do make the book — especially for books like Gibson's Pattern Recognition or Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I love these and other dust jacket designs, but dislike dealing with them while reading.

My practical solution has been to keep dust jackets I like, but park them on the shelf when it's time to read the book. That way, I can hang onto the wrappers I like, but won't have to deal with slippery covers when reading.

Any suggestions you can share? Are you a dust jacket collector or do you toss them away like candy bar wrappers? Is there a protocol for dealing with dust jackets I should be aware of? Inquiring minds want to know. :-)

Thursday
Apr152004

Meeting Paul Theroux

Paul TherouxTonight I feel very fortunate, as I met Paul Theroux, one of my very favorite authors. I'd read about his appearance in the Milwaukee Journal on Sunday and resolved to go see and hear him. This would be the first author appearance and book signing event I've ever attended, so I was very excited.

I was encouraged to go by my friend Andy, who recently met Carrie Fisher in London at a book signing event. He had his copy of her latest book signed there, and he shared his enthusiam for book events with me afterward. I guess his enthusiasm was infectous. :-)

So, on Thursday evening, my wife Gail and I headed off to the east side of town, to Harry W. Schwartz's bookshop in Shorewood. At 6:40 p.m., we walked in the door, to find the café seating area at the front of the store, completely full of chairs and people in them. I would need to do a little reconnaissance to locate a spot.

But first, I visited the register to pick up the copy of Dark Star Safari I had pre-ordered online. As I paid for my new book, the announcer mentioned that Paul was delayed — which might afford me time to locate a seat — if there was one to be had.

I left Gail to wander the store, while I found my way between the bookshelves, looking for a seat. I was fortunate to find a spot just behind the main area between other guests, with a nice view of the podium.

I estimated about 100 - 120 people in attendance, seated all around the bookshop on folding chairs or on the floor. The less fortunate stood wherever they could find a spot with a view or in the worst case, within earshot.

At 7:10 the event began, with an introduction by a Schwartz staffer. Paul stepped to the podium in a black turtleneck, burgundy corduroy pants and black rimmed glasses. I was surprised by his accent — a blend between a Bostonian and a Londoner. He sounded like a smart, yet friendly guy.

Theroux began by mentioning his happiness in seeing so many readers in attendance. This was followed by a bit of humorous Literary Trivia. Theroux asked the crowd about various imaginary places mentioned in books. Some were very obscure, and those who answered correctly, were given points.

Paul has a reputation as a cranky, cantankerous traveller with reviewers, so he addressed this straightaway. He contended that he really wasn't grouchy at all, but much more Hobbit-like, always spreading cheer. "I'm an optimist" he said. "Grouches are pessimists who prefer staying at home on the couch rather than traveling. After all, if you have a great time traveling, with no challenges, there's nothing much to write about."

Next, he announced that there would be no reading of his new book — that we were all capable of reading it ourselves. Instead, he offered us commentary and his own list of what travel writing is and is not:

• Having a miserable time during travel, lets you really see yourself. You can often see what is sometimes overlooked in your comfortable daily life.

• Location is not as important as observing. Where you go has nothing to do with good travel writing. Henry David Thoreaux went only a few miles from home to write about Walden pond.

• Travel writing is about leaving things behind: phones, computers and the rest of it — it's an opportunity to un-hitch from life and possessions.

• The best travel writing happens when you're alone. Being alone forces you to make friends, to learn the language. It also offers you a chance to take an inner journey.

• It can be good to do something you love while traveling — giving away whatever you can offer. As an example, Paul mentioned a dentist he crossed paths with, who carried novocain and a pliers, pulling teeth as he wandered across Africa.

• Travel writing is a process of leaving home and then returning. And opportunity to leave daily life behind and then see it with fresh eyes upon your return.

• Travel on the ground is best for interesting tales. Difficulty in travel leads to discovery. Going across frontiers on the ground is more engaging than simply flying over borders in a plane. Often the most difficult means of travel offer the most interesting experiences.

• The difference between a tourist and a traveller is clear: a tourist is bound by the return home — they must get back for work on Monday and fit everything within a narrow timeframe. Their time is limited.

On the other hand, a traveller can afford patience. There is no hurry to return, so exploration is the primary goal. Patience provides opportunities for observation and experiences a tourist would miss.

• Each person has a different perspective when they write about their travels. Two people on the same trip will write completely different stories. This is a good thing — we should each embrace our own travel stories.

Theroux ended with a question and answer session and then this quote:

"Fiction gives us the chance that life denies us"

A very interesting idea, don't you think? Maybe it's time for me to write some fiction? :-)

Once the talk had finished, those wanting books signed were called up, starting with the letter 'I' written on slips of paper. These were given to us at the start of the night, to help manage the signing. Why did they begin with I rather than A? I have no idea. I was a J.

After some browsing with Gail, we jumped into line, and chatted with a few other Theroux fans waiting to have books signed. The gentleman behind me had a hardcover edition of The Great Railway Bazaar from '75, and woman behind him had a hardcover edition of Kingdom by the Sea. Ahead of us, a few people literally carried stacks of his books...I had just one book — that was enough.

The line moved quickly, and before I knew it, I was standing at the table, greeting Paul Theroux. I was happy about this and also a bit dazed, realizing that indeed this was the man whose writing I sincerely love to read.

Paul offered a warm hello, so I thanked him for all of his work and how I enjoyed reading it. I shared how I'd stumbled on a book of his fiction at the library (The London Embassy), which led to the discovery of the Mosquito Coast, and finally to his travel writings — the most enjoyable of all. He seemed very pleased to hear this as he signed my copy of Dark Star Safari.

Gail stepped in after our first exchange, to mentioned my travel writing. Yep, my wife was bragging about her husband's travel writing to the very king of the genre! It was freaky and wonderful at the same time. Hearing about my own travel writing seemed to please Paul even more.

I responded to her comment with, "Yes, I do keep travelogues of my trips, for myself. They help me remember my travels much more clearly." He encouraged me to continue writing and reading, shook my hand one final time, and wished me a good evening.

Quite the evening, I must say. I was impressed with Paul Theroux in person — he certainly seems like a nice, likable guy. His talk was funny and entertaining, and I have a new Theroux travelogue to read, signed by the author.

Yes, Thursday was a great day, indeed. :-)

Monday
Apr052004

Paul Theroux Coming to Milwaukee

Dark Star SafariSunday night, a headline in the arts & entertainment section of our local paper that caught my eye: "Theroux on a long journey of discovery." I thought "hey, could that be Paul Theroux, the travel writer?" Well, sure enough, it was about him — he's coming to Milwaukee on April 15th, just 10 days from now. Cool!

In case you're wondering why this is such great news, Paul Theroux, happens to be one of my favorite authors. I've written about his work previously, if you're curious to see a more detailed review. I especially enjoy Theroux's style of travel writing, for his vivid descriptions of places and people, his troubles (which would be tempting to hide) and his funny, often brutal honesty.

I find his writing draws me into the story, making me feel as though I'm along for the ride. Theroux is often self-critical too, which provides an authenticity, because this is also the kind if travel information that's tempting to hide.

I've not yet read every Theroux travel book — specifically Happy Isles of Oceania and his latest, Dark Star Safari : Overland from Cairo to Cape Town. However, I have read many of his travel books, including The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, Riding the Iron Rooster, Pillars of Hercules, The Kingdom by the Sea and Fresh Air Fiend. Each one was unique, yet follows the same Theroux style I enjoy.

It would be interesting to meet Paul at this book signing, assuming it's not a packed house at Harry W. Schwartz Books. It'd be great fun to have his latest book signed and maybe talk for a few minutes with Theroux about his work. Should I ask his advice for an aspiring writer? I'd like to. We'll see how much time I have for that. I'm planning to attend the free event, so I'll be sure to report back on the 16th how things go.

Anyway, this is probably only interesting to me, but hey, it was a chance to promote Theroux's writing, which is in my opinion, very good reading. Hopefully this post will encourage a few readers to check out one of Theroux's books at the library, or at the bookstore. If you like travel, I think you'll really enjoy Theroux's work.

Thursday
Feb052004

Eastern Standard Tribe

Eastern Standard TribeWell, Cory Doctorow has done it again! He's just released a new novel, Eastern Standard Tribe this week. I really enjoy Cory's work because it's funny, smart and aimed at tech folks like me, without speaking over my head or using goofy tech that's wildly unbelievable.

By goofy tech I mean the stuff in many feature films and books that drives me nutty. You know, things such as completely unbelievable computer interfaces and utterly foolish devices. Somehow Cory is able to take the technology we have here and now and make a believable projection into the future. I mean, the stuff Cory dreams up may be wild, but I always find myself believing it could exist at some point.

Maybe Cory's ability to portray tech stuff that doesn't yet exist (but might) convincingly, is related to the fact that he spends his days dealing with real tech stuff at Boing Boing (his weblog) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He seems to take what happens in his own world, both failures and possibilities and extrapolates them into what might be. Cory does this way more clearly than a writer who's maybe faking it because they're over their head, or are just being a bit too utopian for their own good. Whatever the case, it's nice (and sometimes scary) to read about the future and actually feel like this could happen.

I've only just installed and read a few pages in the iSilo version to my Tungsten E, but it's right on track for Cory's enjoyable writing style. You can of course buy the physical book, but Cory puts heavy attention on electronic distribution of his new book in open, Digital Rights Management-free formats for download. For Palm users, there is both an iSilo and Palm Reader edition of Eastern Standard Tribe for free download, and for others, plain text, HTML and PDF versions are also available.

If you don't know Cory Doctorow's work, then by jove ol' chap, check it out! You can start with any of his books, though currently my fave is Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, about the future of Disneyland run by self-forming ad-hoc groups who backup their brains and live for peer approval (Whuffie). His second release was a compilation of short stories called A Place So Foreign and 8 More. Great stuff!

And once you've read his books, share them with others. Give away his links, mention them in emails and on your weblogs, beam copies of his books to other PDA users... you get the idea. Cory's intent with this freely distributed approach to books relies on his fans spreading the love around so I say, lets accommodate him! Our participation in this experiment could mean even better things to come for authors, book distributers and readers! :-)

Monday
Feb022004

The Idea Journal

As you may have noticed, I've been on a journalling and Moleskine kick. Well, while the iron is hot, I thought it might be interesting to share more details about my latest addition, the Idea Journal:

Idea Journal

As mentioned in another post, this book is quite different from my first two journals. I began with a personal journal late in 2003, where I could write out daily thoughts in a stream of consciousness fashion, without worrying about editing or perfection. Whatever is on my mind goes here, whether a page, half page or multiple pages.

My sketch journal is specifically for sketches of observed objects, or of objects that might be on my mind. I suppose this could be categorized as a "traditional" sketchbook, since there is very little writing and lots of sketches -- purely art stuff.

I began to think about what I might be missing in my journaling experience and realized there was a gap between my personal journal and my sketch journal. What if I had ideas that came to me during an average day? Do I put them in the personal thought journal or sketchbook? Ideas and concepts could go in both, but would be even better in a dedicated place.

So, after selling my old Sony Clie, I took $10 and bought a second Moleskine with gridded pages (graph paper) and designated this the "Idea Journal". This is the place where ideas for projects (or whatever) would go, with a blend of sketches and writing on each page. So far I've entered four ideas: a bathroom towel rack, ideas for color-coded Moleskine journal covers, ideas for presenting my Travelogues on the web and an idea for a toy control board for Nathan (full of switches and buttons).

I've started carrying the Idea Journal around with me all the time, because I realize that ideas can come at any moment. I want to be prepared to capture these ideas right away, and a pocket-sized notebook works perfectly for this.

As for the grid pages, I felt this would offer structure for sketches and writing if needed. I also I enjoy sketching on grid pages for some odd reason (always have). Lastly, the paper edges of the journal display grids on the pages, which helps me quickly identify the Idea Journal when stacked on top of my plain-edged Sketchbook.

I've been pleased with the gridded paper stock, especially when using a Pilot G2 gel pen. It's a very smooth surface, yet withstands the gel ink without bleed through. I'm still not completely used to the way the G2 cartridges write, since they don't always release ink as immediately and consistently as my old Sheaffer fountain pen. Still, I'm adapting. :-)

I do hope this focus on journaling has helped others try journaling themselves, whether on paper with a pen, on a Palm with a stylus or on a computer with a keyboard... whatever suits your needs best.

In the end, this is all about processing through your thoughts and opening up your creativity. Who knows what might be in there! I just know that journaling and sketching has helped me immensely, so I hope it might just help you too.

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