Random Mail Annoyance

August 19th, 2010

FD has probably mentioned this before, but it happened again — the mail included a request for a charitable donation accompanied by not only printed address labels but a nickel glued to the pleading letter.

Now, FD loves the post office and still writes actual letters and still mails in checks for bills, no on-line bill payments for FD!  But not even FD could use even a portion of the address labels that are sent with charity donation requests — FD can’t even use those that correctly spell FD’s somewhat challenging first and last names.  (Oddly enough, no charitable organization has yet sent FolioDeux any labels.)  Sending these out seems like a waste of the money the charity is trying to raise.

The “we’re sending a nickel” (or in the case of the Mt. Vernon association once, a George Washington-faced quarter) to somehow shame you into sending us a lot of money back technique is even worse.  FD assumes this works on enough people to convince the charities to continue the practice, but it seems sleezy in the extreme.  A check of the American Institute of Philanthropy’s charity rating guide confirmed what FD’s suspected:  the sending organization in this latest case was rated as “D” on an A – F scale.

Mysteries and Friends

August 14th, 2010

FD does intend to write about something other than mysteries soon.  But not today.

Today, FD is thinking about a small series of mysteries written by Kathryn Miller Haines (here’s a link to her web site with lots of information).  There are four so far.  The protagonist is a stage actress, living in New York in the 1940s.  Lots of fun period details and a fairly good homage to the “hard boiled” writing of the 1940s.

Not surprisingly for a series set in the 1940s, the protagonist, Rosie Winter, professes a love of the “pulps.” More interesting to FD is that Rosie Winter has friends.  This may sound natural, but is actually a little unusual.  Detectives often have sidekicks:  Watsons and Archies (and here’s a link to an eye-popping Nero Wolfe site) to narrate and do some of the dirty work.  But too often, and especially when the protagonist is a woman, there’s no actual friend.  Oh, sometimes there are friends who serve some plot necessity:  some one to die, some one to conveniently show up or have an essential skill.  It seems to FD that in the majority of mysteries with women protagonists, the friends are either plot specific or absent completely and the protagonists are, like so many male protagonists in mysteries, “a lonely man” as Chandler defined his heroes.  But women without friends seem unrealistic, and a woman protagonist who has only acolytes (like Nancy Drew) or a woman with a cat, or an older male friend, or her husband, but no real women friends, well, that interferes with the suspension of disbelief that is really essential to a satisfying mystery reading experience.  So it was a delight to find that Rosie Winter’s world includes female friendships.

Giving Up on a Book

August 11th, 2010

Usually, FD will finish almost any mystery.  But when one picks up a book with insufficient information, based just on the back cover blurbs, there can be mistakes.  Recently, FD abandoned an Iris Johansen book.  Many people admire her work, but FD is through with serial killers obsessed with specific detectives.  Especially those who dismember young women along the way.  Somehow, FD didn’t grasp that was what would be found in “Blood Game,” though the title should have provided a hint!

And last night, FD decided that Peter Temple’s Truth isn’t going to be finished, either.  Temple is a well-respected, prize-winning Australian author (here’s an older interview), but his style doesn’t work for how FD reads mysteries.  Temple’s novel is written primarily in dialogue, and although there is a glossary provided for non-Australians, it’s just too much work for that half-hour before the light gets turned off.  FD did notice that like many other mystery novels these days, Truth includes an Audi, in this case sighted on page 43.  It would seem that Audi has made a deal with mystery writers; sometimes it’s the detective, sometimes it’s a a victim, so far FD hasn’t seen any criminals driving Audis…

Libraries and Neglected Books

August 5th, 2010

FD was at the local library today, choosing a mystery (lately, FD only BUYS non-fiction, or the occasional hardcover by a favorite writer, but most novels and certainly mysteries, get borrowed).  Walking around the library, looking idly at the shelves, FD was reminded that it is the practice of the local library to only keep books on the shelf if they are being checked out.  That means, for instance, no copy of No Orchids for Miss Blandish even though it is a classic mystery novel (which FD still hasn’t read!), that has been made into several movies (which FD still hasn’t seen!) and should be available to all mystery buffs! (read a little about it, here)

Of course libraries exist to serve the desires of patrons, which, at least here, seem to focus on mystery series, various “best sellers” and fantasy, fantasy, fantasy.  But shouldn’t libraries also be places where you can discover books you didn’t know you wanted to read?  FD suspects that some books do get to stay on the shelves even after the public stops checking them out — as long as a librarian loves them.  How else to explain certain nineteenth-century tomes?  It shouldn’t have to be this way.  Yes, space is a consideration.  But FD’s local library would have space for more books if fewer duplicate copies of transient best sellers were kept!  Who is still reading The DaVinci Code (FD would like to say “who ever read…” but alas, FD knows that wouldn’t be true).

In the meantime, there’s  The Neglected Books Page where one can find out about other interesting titles, that, frustratingly, may not be available immediately from one’s local library.  But one can dream, and add titles to the “someday” list…

David Mitchell

July 12th, 2010

David Mitchell is getting raves almost everywhere for his most recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. As usual, one of the best places to go to get an overview is The Complete Review (see here for its discussion and links of the reviews).  One of the most interesting discussions is in The New Yorker, where James Woods provides an overview of  Mitchell’s work so far (see here).

FD has only read Cloud Atlas (see here for The Complete Review on that novel) ,  and loved it, but was defeated when trying to read a second Mitchell novel.  Cloud Atlas may be well suited to the Internet generation; the intertwined narratives change quickly enough that even those with short attention spans should be able to enjoy the ride.  The new novel sounds like a harder sell in the age of minimal concentration, it’s long (480 pages in hard cover) and set in a time and place little known to most readers.  Undoubtedly the good review will translate to sales, but how many readers will finish the novel?

Youth, Age, and Novel-Writing

June 28th, 2010

In the June 20 edition of The New York Times Book Review (will FD ever catch up?) Sam Tanenhaus argues that the best novels are written when the authors are young.  Examples are trotted out.

“There are only three subjects for a writer:  love, money, and death” said Faulkner (and Yeats, says something similar, though he only mentions sex and death).  All of these should be of interest throughout one’s life, but perhaps the ideas of young writers on these themes have been given greater weight recently.

Tanenhaus does not discuss who decides what novels get published. There has long been a bias in publishing to take a chance on a young (cheap) writer, and many an older writer has been dropped by his/her agent and publisher, of if starting out at an older age, never gets a contract (things are slightly better in genre fiction).

Then there’s the question of who decides what is great.  Perhaps critics are just more interested in tales of young love, youthful adventure, and so on than they are with the concerns that might center the novels of an older writer.  And perhaps the young have more time to read and gravitate to those books that mirror their own concerns, stamping them with “great” well before they have read the works of older writers, on themes perhaps not so close to the heart of young readers.

Collecting in the Digital Age

June 22nd, 2010

FD was reading a several-weeks-old New York Times Book Review and saw a mention of a new book on baseball cards.  Collecting baseball cards, once nearly universal among young boys and kept up by some as they grew older, is now a dying hobby, it seems.

FD collects lots of things:  Books, post cards, cobalt glass (but only very specific items), old cinnabar-like jewelry,  pencils, small glass fish made by Lalique, and more… But this may be because FD is older than the internet.  FD suspects that when all is available virtually, perhaps not much is needed concretely.  And, perhaps collections become virtual, too (FD has a collection of “Astronomy picture of the day” pictures, in her picture folder on-line…).

Collector’s Press

June 4th, 2010

Mr. FD bought FD a fun book some months ago, The History of Mystery by Max Allen Collins, the Iowa mystery writer.  The book is one of those very large “coffee table” books, with lots of wonderful images of old pulp magazines, old paperback covers, movie posters, and so on, accompanied by some interesting text by Mr. Collins.  Indeed, FD after finishing the book, FD had a new list of old mysteries to investigate, and just finished reading one:  a “Miss Silver” mystery by Patricia Wentworth Called Through the Wall.  A British cosy from 1950, it was a quick and enjoyable read.

Alas, when FD went out to the web in search of more books by Collector’s Press, all that was found were used copies of various books, but nothing about the press itself.  It appears that this is a case of another press gone out of business.  Well, as long as there are used bookstores, all is not lost.

Lost Conclusion: Disappointment

May 24th, 2010

FD expected to be disappointed in the lost finale.  After six years, there were far too many plot points/avenues that had been put into play.  Still, the actual ending was weak, weak, weak.  FD also watched the Jimmy Kimmel show afterwards, which included three parody alternate endings.  Although the Bob Newhart “all a dream” finale was included, the more appropriate, Dallas “dream” solution to a bad season wasn’t mentioned.

FD was reminded of a nineteenth-century phenomenon, the novel The Gates Ajar by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, which offered its readers a similarly comforting vision of how happy everyone will be after death.  Phelps’ novel inspired others; there’s an interesting discussion of those novels in this essay by Elmer Suderman, “Utopia, The Kingdom of God and Heaven: Utopian, Social Gospel and Gates Ajar Fiction.”

Postcard Mystery

May 19th, 2010

There’s a lovely little piece in the May 10 issue of the New Yorker about a postcard mystery.  A British actor has been receiving anonymous postcards for several years — more than 500 so far.  Some people might find this a bit creepy, but the actor and his wife have come to enjoy the cards and their short, cryptic messages.  FD thinks this is a charming story, and a lovely idea, though not something FD has enough energy to do!