September 30, 2012
When I find myself restless I often turn to my bookshelves seeking a “tried and true” book, that is, one I have read before, sometimes many times, and loved rather than a new one. Such was the case last week. I ended up with what is invariably a rollicking read: Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery. Having seen the film numerous times I’ve noticed I tend to have both a video and a prose feast going on in my head, a kind of stereo rendition of the events of the story.
This time, though, I became curious about the real story behind the fiction. I sat down before the computer and googled “Edward Pierce” and “train robbery.” I started with the Wikipedia link and was surprised to see how liberal Crichton had been with the truth, primarily the characters. Fiction it may have been but I had felt that I somehow “knew” Pierce, the brains of the gang, and here it was very different.
Two or three links down I found that the real story is the subject of another book, a brand new one issued less than a month ago by a UK publisher. The First Great Train Robbery is written by David C. Hanrahan, a former teacher and author of a number of books on British history as well as a former historical consultant for the BBC, and it differs considerably from the novelized version. The book is on its way to me, and I will be reviewing it soon.
Serendipity is defined by the Oxford American Dictionary as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” I’ve found it comes not only in the type of surprise above but through my everyday reading as well. Because it tends to span newspapers, magazines, and books I enjoy putting things together from these various sources. If you were to look through my library you would come across more than a few books with clipped articles from newspapers (especially the New York Times), magazine pages, and even bits of ephemera, each of which relates in some way to the book. For example, I have a red maple leaf tucked in Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, an article from the Times on the trove of ancient fossils on England’s Channel Coast between pages 84 and 85 of A Short History of Nearly Everything, a write up of General De Gaulle’s life shortly after he died in The Day of the Jackal, an artistic rendering of a pig in Animal Farm, the ticket I used to see Brian Dennehy in the title role in Death of a Salesman, a bookmark in the shape of a cigarette in Tobacco Road, numerous updates on the various space programs in my oversized astronomy picture books—and so many of those that a few of those books are beginning to sport slight bulges. (I didn’t remember most of these before checking my books just before writing this. That’s the special thing about doing this; I forget and the later discover is just a delight.) It’s not that I set out to find specific items but rather that they tend to find me. The latest issue of Smithsonian magazine has several articles—“Secrets of American History,” “The Adventures of the Real Tom Sawyer,” “The Photographs that Prevents World War III,” “The Ellsberg Files” “The Code Thief”—which will end up tucked into my books.
One thing you will not find though is book reviews. My interest lies in expanding and updating my knowledge about the book’s subject or related issues, not in saving what was said about the book by a critic. Nor do I have anything I printed out from online. I have a strong preference for the “feel” of the original article: the newsprint or the slick magazine page with its formatting. These little bits of ephemera, hidden away and often forgotten, create serendipitous moments when I discover them again. I can tell exactly where they came from (if not when for I do not date them) by their look. I remember cutting them out, but rereading them is where the real joy is. Not only am I returning to a “tried and true” book but a memory as well. What could be more settling to a restless spirit than that?
Upcoming Book Festivals and Fairs:
A lot of festivals this coming week and weekend; there’s even a month-long one so please check these out and if you can, attend and have a great time!
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Site: Various cities throughout the state
Festival: Utah Humanities Book Festival
Date: October 1-31
This festival is a bit unusual in that it has events all through the month and all over the state. The link above will take you to a page where you click on your area and it displays the list of events and their particular locations. The variety of author readings, talks, presentations, and signings is enormous. Regardless of your interest you’ll find something here.
Location: Missoula, Montana
Site: Various venues in downtown
Festival: Montana Festival of the Book
Date: October 4-6
More than seventy authors will be presented over the two days and three nights of this festival in a series of readings, panels, exhibits, demonstrations, signings, workshops, entertainments, receptions, and other special events all of which are free and open to the public. Among them are a theatre production of My Antonia, the Readers’ and Writers’ Reception, the Gala Reading, the Poetry Slam, and the Humanities Heroes Reception. There will also be exhibitors as well as events that feature music and literature featuring an album release and performance, and a new song cycle based on the novel Heartsong of Charging Elk.
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Site: Marriott Renaissance
Date: October 4-7
For mystery fans, Boucheron is the literary event of the year and this year’s host is Cleveland. Four days of special events, authors, fans, and fun will come together here all drawn by the lure of the mystery. Guests of honor this year include Elizabeth George, Robin Cook, Mary Higgins Clark, Les Roberts, Doris Ann Norris, and John Connollly. In addition to the authors, attendees will find the more than a dozen dealers in the Book Room, the Shamus Awards Banquet, a special panel of authors on Saturday for luncheon, an evening with the authors, a live and a silent auction, and a night of go-kart racing.
Location: San Francisco, California
Site: Various venues throughout the city
Date: October 5-13
An astonishing 163 events with more than 850 fiction and nonfiction authors, poets and thinkers, memoirists and linguists, and mystery, romance and speculative fiction writers (with 450 of them packed into the closing night event known as the Lit Crawl) over eight days—and most of it is free! This festival is unique and it is worth seeking out. Among their special events are Off the Richter Scale which opens the festival, Words and Pictures: A Cultural Stroll Through Yerba Buena, Berkeley Ramble, the Art of Writing series, and Bagels & Bloodies “Hair of the Dog” Writing Workshops. Don’t miss this one!
Location: Collingswood, New Jersey
Site: Haddon Avenue
Festival: Collingswood Book Festival
Date: October 6
Fifty adult, young adult, and children’s authors and poets headline what they term “a big literary event with a small-town, friendly ambience.” They certainly have a lot going on over the six blocks of the main street where booksellers, storytellers, poetry readings, workshops, exhibitors, kid-friendly activities, and entertainment for all ages will be happening from There is also a “Remake Your Book” contest to see who can turn old, unwanted books into awesome art and a Young Poets Competition.
Location: Pasadena, California
Site: Pasadena Center’s Exhibit Hall A
Festival: Pasadena Antiquarian Book, Print, Photo And Paper Fair
Date: October 6-7
Sixty-seven dealers in antiquarian, rare and modern first edition books as well as prints, posters, vintage photographs, autographs, fine graphics, maps, manuscripts, and other ephemera will be here to share, talk about, and sell their wares. Admission is $8.00 with those aged 62 and above $5.00; free return privileges included. Saturday hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm and Sunday hours are 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Location: Allentown, Pennsylvania
Site: Agricultural Hall, Allentown Fairgrounds
Festival: Allentown Paper, Book & Advertising Show
Date: October 6-7
From 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday and 9:00 to 3:00 on Sunday, 170 dealers in rare and antique books, vintage postcards, pop culture memorabilia, vintage labels, and collectible magazines and newspapers will gather to share their wares with attendees. Admission cost is $7 ($6 with a printable admission coupon).
Location: Lansing, Michigan
Site: Lansing Center
Festival: Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show
Date: October 7
Around seventy dealers in collectible books and ephemera are here to share their wares with attendees. Admission is $4.50 and those aged 13 and under are admitted free of charge.
- The Silent Traveller in Paris by Chaing Yee. Published in the U.S, in 1959, this was the ninth in a well-received twelve-part series, The Silent Traveller. I’m not far in but finding it interesting.
The Pub House:
Osprey Publishing is a British house focusing on military history covering nearly the entire period of human history from ancient to modern as well as specialties in aviation and naval. Among their newest releases are Spartan Warrior 735-331 BC. Their culture used serfs and non-citizens to perform all manual labor, leaving the Spartan men free to concentrate on their training for warfare—which they did well, earning a reputation as the best-trained, perfectly-organized, and most-feared warriors of ancient world. Moving up to the seventeenth century, Pirate: The Golden Age focuses on life in what has been termed the “Golden Age of Piracy,” when these sea-bound men (and a few women) operated. How they were recruited, operated, what they looked like, and their prospects are only a few of the harsher realities behind the myths that are detailed through the use of reports, trial proceedings, courtroom testimony, letters and diaries, and archaeological evidence. And for those of a certain age, the word Vietnam can still take one’s breath away. In Tunnel Rat in Vietnam, the author details the infamous and vast tunnel complexes used by the Viet Cong. Their detection and destruction was essential to the war effort, and the story of how volunteer infantrymen became formalized units of “tunnel exploration personnel” is based on the men’s stories of their role, their training and equipment, and their tactics.
Imaging Books & Reading:
The Iliad is one of the most famous of ancient stories, printed and reprinted for new generations of readers. But how many have seen the original manuscript? Now you can, thanks to Harvard Library. Here is one fragment of one leaf from a papyrus roll consisting of forty-two partial lines of text.
Will Ashford is a man who turns discarded old books into art but not in the more common, albeit spectacular, way many do. “When I find a good candidate,” he writes, “I explore every page. Like an archeologist I hunt for the words that speak to me with new meaning. Intuitively, one word at a time, they turn into a kind of haiku or philosophical poetry that I can call my own.
“At some unpredictable point along the way, in my mind, the images start to invent themselves. Using colored vellums, graphite and or India ink to highlight or obscure my words; I create the image of that invention. Though I strive to make each document visually engaging I find it is the words that I value most.”
Until next week, read well, read often and read on!