On Nero Wolfe and Others

On Nero Wolfe and Others

We are celebrating our 12th anniversary in business, as mentioned in the previous entry, and thus are entering Year 13. Cross your fingers.

When our Former Owner stepped away from active management of the bookstore, he wondered what to do with the extra free time. He doesn’t fish; he doesn’t golf; he doesn’t gamble. Why, he barely breathes! But he does read.

So one project he chose was to reread, in the order of publication, all of the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. As originally published in book form, this consists of 45 separate volumes. The task is almost over: one and one-half books to go.

Mysteries seem to lend themselves to extended series. Other long-running series that we have read in full are the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald (20 titles) and the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters (21 titles).

Some authors are still at it. We read the first half of so of the Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton (22 titles with W is for Wasted due out on September 10.) We’ve also read a few from the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich (19 numbered titles with Takedown 20 due out on November 19, 2013, plus four so-called “Between the Numbers” titles such as Visions of Sugar Plums).

Of course, there are longer-running series written for children (e.g., Nancy
Drew), but our impression is that most of them are written by multiple authors using a “house” name or continuing under the name of the original author. We’ve guessing the same is true of long-running Western or men’s adventure series such as the Trailsman or Executioner series. It’s a different matter when a single author has devoted much of his career to a single character.

What other single-author long-running series (20 or more titles) with one main character can you think of? Have you read all of the titles in the series? We’d like to know

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Grumpy Old Man?

The Former Owner of Book Bank Used books wonders if he has become a Grumpy Old Man.

He has considered some folks of a certain age as being prone to certain characteristic activities in lieu of having a useful life: activities such as continual muttering of the phrases “in my day” and “good old days”, constant and continual complaints about trivial lapses in services or products, pointless prolonged testimony at myriad city government meetings, shouting at the neighborhood kids playing in front of his house, and so on. Oh yes, also writing Letters to the Editor. Which brings us to the book-related part of this blog entry,

Recently the Former Owner’s attention was captured by two items concerning bookselling in consecutive issues of the free weekly Alexandria Gazette-Packet newspaper. The Former Owner is a faithful reader of that newspaper because (1) it’s free, and (2) he enjoys looking at pictures in the real estate ads of houses he cannot afford. Indeed, the principal content of the Gazette Packet appears to be such ads and pictures. The newspaper does have news articles on local matters, however, and columns, and Letters to the Editor.

It was a Letter to the Editor, and an apparently unrelated item in the subsequent issue, that sparked the Former Editor to write his first-ever Letter to the Editor. To-wit:

“To the Editor:

“I would like to comment on a letter in the May 9 issue (“A City’s Priorities” from [John Doe]). I agree strongly with Mr. [Doe]’s point that funding Alexandria’s libraries needs to receive high priority in Alexandria’s budgets, but I take issue with his statement that “Alexandria is a community where no bookseller can survive.” Book Bank Used Books, which I opened in May 2001, continues to thrive at 1510 King Street. I invite Mr. [Doe] and all Alexandria booklovers to join us at our 12th anniversary sale beginning on May 18.

“Book Bank is not the only surviving bookstore in Alexandria. Across the street from Book Bank our friends at Hooray for Books sell new books, primarily for children. I also note Pauline Books and Media on King Street, and our fellow used booksellers at Already Read Used Books on Duke Street just outside Old Town.

“Old Town has lost the independent bookseller Olsson’s but that was not peculiar to Alexandria; all Olsson’s locations closed throughout the metropolitan area. For those who miss the former Books-a-Million location in Old Town, Alexandria still has a chain bookseller in the Barnes & Noble in Potomac Yard.

“Thriving libraries and bookstores are both vital to Alexandria, and I hope that the city continues to have both.

/s/
[Former Owner of Book Bank]”

So, was othering to send this letter a sign of impending Grumpy Old Manhood? Or a necessary reaction on behalf of all embattled book-lovers everywhere? Something in-between? What do you think?

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Currently reading…

“I enjoy books. No room is fit for occupation without a lining of books. They contain the condensed experience of humanity. To live fully, one has to read widely. I do not intend tp face a man-eating lion in the African veldt, fall from an aircraft into the Arabian Sea, soar through outer space or march with the legions of Rome against Gaul or Carthage, yet books can take me to these places, to these predicaments. In a book, Salome can seduce me, I can fall in love with Marie Duplessis, have my own Lady of the Camellias, a private Monroe or Cleopatra. In a book I can rob a bank, spy on the enemy, kill a man.’

Quoted from “A Very Private Gentleman” by Martin Booth (later republished under the title “The American” as a tie-in with the 2010 George Clooney movie of that title.) Our current read.

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Bibliomania

If you own more books than you can possibly ever read, and you still prowl used bookstores and garage sales to add to your treasures, and you remain unsatisfied, you may have Bibliomania.

Bibliomania is the title of Gustave Flaubert’s first published story. It’s a tale about a Spanish monk willing to kill to add a coveted book to his collection. Bibliomania is also the title of a more modern treatment of this theme, a delightful animated short you can view at http://www.vimeo.com/36884524. We recommend it.

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Natitude!

It took a long time for it to sink in—just how good the Washington Nationals team was this year.

Major League Baseball in Washington, DC, has been a study in futility. No playoffs since 1933, only three winning seasons after 1945, no team at all 1972-2004, worst record in baseball as recently as 2009. The original Senators (1901-1960, also known as the Nationals), the replacement “expansion” Senators (1961-1971, still affectionately often called the “Nats”), and the more recent team transplanted from Montreal and called the Nationals once again (2005-present), had a common characteristic: they were usually bad. It took all-time greater pitcher Walter Johnson, one of the five original members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, to propel Washington to a World Series win. Once. In 1924.

To make this book-related: consider the 1954 novel by Douglas Wallop titled The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. The perennial losers (Senators) managed to beat the perrenial winners (Yankees) for the American League championship. How? Their star player sold his soul to the Devil. Not gonna happen otherwise. (FYI, the novel was adapted into the 1955 Broadway musical Damn Yankees.)

But this year was different. Team with the winningest pitcher in the Major Leagues? Washington Nationals. Team with the most wins in the Major Leagues? Washington Nationals. Team with the best 19-year old player? Washington Nationals? Earliest team to clinch a Division Championship? Washington Nationals. Team just one strike away (twice) from going to the National League Championships? Washington.

And then the dream ended, for a while.

Now it’s taken a while to sink in again—just how good the Washington Nationals were this year.

We’ve got Natitude!

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Oldies AND Goodies

From time to time in our store we post a “literary trivia” question to entertain and challenge customers. Here’s one from the past: What is the all-time best-selling children’s picture book in the U.S.?

According to a study published in Publisher’s Weekly magazine ten years ago, five of the top ten titles are from the Little Golden Books series. Almost all of us are familiar with this series from our childhood or from parenting days. They continue to sell steadily in our store.

Included in the top ten are Golden Book titles Scuffy the Tugboat, Saggy Baggy Elephant, Pat the Bunny, Tootle and, at number 1, The Poky Little Puppy!

It’s interesting how the tastes of children, or at least their personal book-buyers (parents), remain consistent. The highest-ranking picture books published after the 1950s were titles from Dr. Seuss (later books) and Shel Silverstein. Of course, they may have moved up in the rankings over the past decade. The highest-ranking non-Golden Book was The Tale of Peter Rabbit from 1902.

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E-books: Health Effects Known?

Of course, e-books and e-book readers don’t cause cancer, as cell phones were once rumored to do. They don’t cause hepatitis, either. Or elephantiasis. Or shin splints. We wouldn’t suggest such things. But we do recognize the law of unintended consequences.

We could start an Internet rumor that e-readers are suspected of contributing to high blood pressure, or dandruff, or smelly feet. These issues have not been studied. It would be wrong to start such rumors. But can we be sure?

Try Googling “health effects of e-readers”. See if high blood pressure, or dandruff, or smelly feet, don’t come up in the results (now) . Just saying!

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