Words, Words, Words

May 8, 2000

I exercised an unusual amount of restraint as far as buying books went in the weeks before Lunacon, because I expected I'd buy a bunch of books there. I surprised myself by buying only one. Then I held off buying books until the Hugo nomination list came out. By that time the list of books I wanted to buy was pretty big. (I do keep an actual list, by the way. It started out as a way of cutting back on my impulse buying, by shopping only once a month.) I made the further mistake of browsing through Amazon.com's reviews and links, which led me to a bunch more books that I decided I really really wanted. Which meant that after two months of restraint I ended up not only with several very heavy loads of books, but also a interesting snapshot of the kinds of books I like to read. (If you're not interested, go away. The rest of this entry will be really really dull.)

The first set of books was A Common Reader. I wanted an Angela Thirkell novel, compared their prices to Amazon's, and ended up buying half a dozen. (Saves on shipping, you know. I can be very economical that way.) Thirkell was an author of romantic comedies in the 1930's through the '50's, not one of the High Masters (like Austen and...umm, was there another one?), but pleasant, readable, and often funny. Her works are very good-natured (there are no villains, only bores, and nobody truly dreadful) and she's quite good at portraying young people in the stage between adolescence and knowing what they want to do next. A good sort of book to read when you're out of sorts with books, and therefore it's worthwhile to have at least one unread one available at all times.

Since I'm incapable of browsing without buying something on impulse, I bought two other books from A Common Reader. The first was Words For the Taking by Neal Bowers, a memoir by a poet talking about how he searched for a person who plagiarized several of his poems. It sounded interesting, but the author didn't really have enough material for a book, and his efforts at padding were unsuccessful enough for me to bog down halfway through the book. The second was The Strange Story of Adolph Beck, a true crime book about a 19th century con man who swindled lonely woman, compiled from official documents of the time. Haven't read it yet.

My Amazon.com order was much larger and I won't get to all of the books tonight. First, I bought two books to reread--Gateway by Frederik Pohl and Telzey Amberdon by James H. Schmitz. The latter is the first in a four-volume series collecting all of Schmitz's Hub stories and includes at least one story that has never been reprinted before, and two that are hard to find. These are fun stories, and they're a good value, with about two novel-lengths of material printed in each volume. If you haven't read The Demon Breed keep an eye out for the fourth volume. That is one of my favorite s.f. action novels of all time, with the protagonist defeating a superior alien foe through a combination of intelligence, bluff, and hidden resources. It's kind of like what an Eric Frank Russell novel would be if his aliens weren't stupid.

The Prize Game by Donald A. Petrie is a slim volume filled with interesting and unfamiliar information about prize law, the practice where naval vessels or privateers could capture an enemy ship, sell it and its contents at auction, and distribute the proceeds to the crew. Examples are drawn from both Britain and America; one case deals with a blockade during the U.S. Civil War. I was pleased to find out in another chapter how much a typical early 19th century British whale ship's cargo would be worth after a successful voyage. I need that information (or, more precisely, how much a common sailor's share would be) for a story I've been mulling over for ten years. I don't know if I'll ever get around to writing it, but if I do, at least I'll know I got that detail right.

I enjoyed William Goldman's book Adventures in the Screen Trade, so I picked up another of his books, The Season. I also got Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death Revisited, an updated version of a classic book on the funeral industry.

I bought Anatomy of a Constitutional Law Case by Alan Westin, about Truman's seizure of the steel mills in 1952, because it sounded interesting. Readers of Terry McGarry's newsgroup know that I can get worked up about abstract issues of constitutional law, so this just plain sounded fun. White Slaves, African Masters, about the Barbary Coast slavers, is another book that ties into one of my interests. Not many people know that Miguel de Cervantes was a slave for several years (and tried to escape twice) before being ransomed. He was a pretty incredible person, judging from what I know about him, and one of these days I have got to get around to finding a good full-length biography. In the meantime, this is the kind of book I want to keep handy in case I ever wake up in the middle of the night with a question about the Barbary pirates. (I do things like that. Once I woke up with a question about the Scottish kelp industry--and five minutes later, I found the answer. The only solution I can think of is to have lots and lots of bookshelves.)

More books in my next entry.

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