Finding Treasures
February 19, 2012

I am a sucker for good cover art and this may be one of the reasons e-readers leave me cold. I like holding a book in my hands, studying the art both up close and at a distance and, if there is embossing or folded paper as part of it, running my fingers gently over the cover. But it doesn’t take a three-dimensional look to attract me.

In re-organizing my library for the third time, I had the opportunity to handle every one of the books at least once. I found books I had forgotten I owned. Occasionally, I would look at a book and wonder where it had come from and how it had gotten onto my shelves. I remembered fond and less-than-fond reading experiences. I recalled the excitement of books I just had to purchase at the time. And I admired, fondled and opened pages of many of them, whether I had read them yet or not.

It was fun, this journey though my books, especially when it came to some of the offbeat ones. Among them because it was to that point unread was one of the odder books I own, in terms of cover art: Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons. I remembering buying this book shortly after it was published in 2005 but in spite of having picked it up a couple of times, and reading the gruesome prologue I never went further. Not because it wasn’t interesting—the description of the explosion, its impact and its weird aftermath were compelling in that terrible car accident kind of way—but because something else always seemed to interrupt my reading of it.

Not this time. I sat down and in a day and a half, interrupted only by sleep, I plowed straight through this multifaceted story of science fiction, dreams of space travel, rockets, disdain, persistence, explosives, sex, religious cults, CalTech, the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), the culture of Los Angeles and Pasadena in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the McCarthy witch hunt, and the rise of the defense industries in southern California. To say it was a page-turner would be a belittlement. Thus, I found myself drawn into a part of the history of the city wholly unknown to me but which had been part of my family’s history four generations back. I could not help but be enthralled.

So when I finished that book I wanted another that would grip me equally tightly. Fortunately, the re-re-re-organization brought another one to light that I knew, from having skimmed pages a couple of years ago, would be equally dishy: J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets—and whose cover also attracted me. Almost as much as it repelled me, and nearly as much now as when I was growing up during the 1960s. Had I been older I might well have had my own file, but maybe I did. The commune I lived in at the time, which contained politically active students like myself, was for a time watched, not particularly covertly, by government agents we assumed were the FBI. Our phone often gave signs of being tapped too. I never knew whether to be insulted—we did have freedom, right?—or flattered that we rated our own investigation.

The paperback goes on for 760 pages, an unfortunate size for a paperback because when I try to read it in bed—having come down on Saturday with a bad cold, my first time being sick in about eight years—the dang thing keeps flopping over. Plus my arms and hands are getting tired trying to keep it from flopping over. (I like to read on my side.) But I am shivering again, and my eyes and nose are watering so if you will forgive me I’ll sign out now and head back to bed. Have a good week.

Upcoming Book Festivals and Fairs:
If you are anywhere near any of these festivals you will want to show up. They look great!

Location: Natchez, Mississippi
Site: Natchez Convention Center
Festival: Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration
Date: February 23-26
“Legends, Lore, and Literature: Storytelling in the South” is the theme for this year’s festival, at which panels, talks, film screenings, an anniversary reception, a gala benefit, an awards ceremony, an oral history workshop, and more will be presented from Thursday through Sunday. Most of it is free, but tickets for the luncheon and gala benefit party can still be purchased.

Location: New York, New York
Site: John Melser Charrette School
Festival: Greenwich Village Antiquarian Book Fair
Date: February 24-26
This fundraising event brings together more than sixty-five book dealers from all over the country who will bring with them all types of antiquarian and used books plus other literary ephemera. Hours are Friday from 6:00-9:00 pm (admission is $12); Saturday from 12:00-6:00 pm (admission is $7); and Sunday from 12:00-5:00 pm (admission is $5).

Location: Lumberton, North Carolina
Site: Roberson Community College
Festival: Book ’Em North Carolina
Date: February 25
More than 75 authors including Carl Neggers and Michael Palmer, will be on hand to talk about their books and writing, engage in panel discussions, and interact with fans at this enormously enjoyable festival. There will also be special events all day for children and for writers. And it’s all free. Doors open at 9:30, and the event runs all day.

The Pub House:
Milkweed Press, a respected nonprofit publishing house that was established in 1980, specializes in what it terms “transformative literature” that “builds an engaged community around it.”  Its financial support, in addition to its book sales, also comes from donations from institutions and individuals, thus allowing it to publish books “on the basis of their literary quality and transformative potential.” What does this mean in terms of reading? The genres are fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and young readers. Within those you’ll find books like The Long-Shining Waters, a novel centered at Lake Superior that features three different women living on its shores in three different centuries. North to Katahdin: What Hikers Seek on the Trail looks at what has attracted “the American wilderness mob” from Thoreau in 1846 to today hordes or hikers to Maine’s mountain and tells their stories—hilarious, reflective, and terrifying—along with the mountains’ history, geology, mythology, and Thoreau’s fascination with it.  For young adults, The Hole in the Wall offers an escape as good as Sebby’s who finds a way to leave behind his family’s bickering through a secret cave that allows him and his twin sister to discover not only the answers to mysterious developments but to secret mining activities of an astrophysicist.

Imaging Books & Reading:
Of all the book art in all the artists’ hands in all the world, this has to be the finest. Unbelievable!

Of Interest:
25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore is a an amusing take on the bookselling life from a . . .  bookseller. They’re also good guidelines for being one of those increasingly rare customers booksellers love. So buy a book but don’t ask if the ones in the free basket are free.

Until next week, read well, read often and read on!




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