Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much – Review

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The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Age: Adult

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is a true story about a Bay Area local who stole over $100,000 worth of rare books, and a book seller turned “bibliodick” set out to find and arrest him, and the journalist who wants to tell both sides of the story. Bartlett interviews rare book sellers, John Gilkey (the man who loved books too much) and Ken Sanders (the bibliodick). Along the way, we are given brief history of other bibliomaniacs over the centuries. Gilkey had a very unique motive as well as a cleverly designed way to gather the books for his collection. As Bartlett put it:

Gilkey, who dreamed of being admired for his collection, was caught in a trap of his own making. As much as he wanted to show off his acquisitions, the very act would result in his losing them.

Gilkey reminded me a lot of a scene from The Great Gatsby, the library scene. Gatsby had thrown one his lush and wild parties, and Nick Carraway wandered away exploring the house. He wound up in the library, where a drunken man informed him that all of the books on the self were uncut, meaning unread. It was all a great show of wealth and knowledge. Which is what Gilkey wanted, to show off his knowledge, to elevate his status above the one to which he was born. I didn’t really get a sense for his love of books as a physical element, over his love for acquiring the books and his sneaky ways of going about it.

I really liked Bartlett’s writing style. It had a casual pace, enough well placed tangents and I enjoyed her own doubts and confessions throughout the course of her interviews with Gilkey and her own investigations into the story. I know that as much as I love books, I love the stories within the books more than the books themselves. My bookshelves are much barer than people would expect, but that’s because a majority of the books I read I check out from the library or borrow from a friend. I have an aversion to buying books, mostly because I think they are over priced and I don’t want to spend money on something I might potentially dislike.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Riverhead Books, 2009
ISBN 9781954488917
274 pages


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The man who loved books too much : the true story of a thief, a detective, and a world of literary obsession

The Know It All – Review

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The Know It All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs

Age: Adult

A.J. Jacobs set out on a mission, a direct and simple, however tedious and time-consuming. His mission was to read the entire 11th Edition of the 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica from volume A to volume Z. The book I hold in my hands is in turn a summary of the EB as well as a mini memoir and look into Jacob’s life during the course of his quest. The books is laid out in A to Z format, starting with a-ak and ending with Zywiec, filled with stories of his present life; his struggles to have a child with his wife Julie, his endless competition with his dad, brother in law Eric and basically the world of Mensans, to match wits and skills, his meeting with Alex Trebek as well as his audition and segment on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He also dates his book with rants and commentary on President Bush and the soon to be war in Iraq, which many of today’s readers will probably just skim through.

I found that Jacob’s stories really took the book to a new level. I would have found it arrogant and boring otherwise. Jacob’s is a smart man, surrounded by smart people. This is something he makes sure to tell us with nearly every entry in the book, particularly concerning his brother in law Eric. Jacob’s has a sarcastic wit, which shines through in some of his entry summaries. I found myself laughing outloud and sharing interesting facts with anyone who would listen to me. These are some of my favorites.

Cassanova The famous 18th-century lothario ended his life as a librarian. Librarians could use that to sex up their image.

Divorce The easiest divorce around: Pueblo Indian women leave their husband’s moccasins on the doorstep and — that’s all — they’re divorced. Simple as that. No lawyers, no fault, no socks, just shoes.

Kama An Indian angel who shoots love-producing flower arrows. His bow is of sugarcane, his bowstring a row of bees. I have to say, Kama, with his fancy bow and arrow makes our Cupid look kind of second-rate in comparison. Cupid just flies around in a diaper shooting regular  old love arrows. It is odd though that two cultures have these love archers. Does this say something profound about the human mind? Maybe about violence and love? The man Britannica raises these questions in my mind by doesn’t answer them.

Riot You only need three rambunctious people to legally qualify as a riot. That’s all. So Julie, our kid and I could hold our very own riot.

Having read this title, then jumping straight into The Man Who Loved Books Too Much put the value of books and education in an odd perspective for me. Both men want to showcase books to elevate their social status, John Gilkey with rare books and Jacobs with the entire set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Gilkey equated success and personal value with the number of books one owns. Jacobs’, a man of higher financial and social standing, placed more value on the education garnered from books, as opposed to the mere collection of books in his home.Its a very subtle nuance between the two men, but it definitely reflects the culture of reading and its influence on the culture of defining success and wealth.

Some of the entries are as short as one sentences, other span multiple pages. Although you would be tempted to skip to certain letters to read summaries on certain words, I would suggest reading the book from start to finish because that is how Jacob’s designed his narrative. Reading this book did spark some ideas of me reading through an encyclopedia. But I gave up on that option once I picked up the A volume from the library. Its a thick volume with much too tiny font and thin pages. I do admire Jacob’s ability to read through all 28+ volumes in such a short span of time, although I didn’t see how it really worked to his benefit since he started the book as a successful and well-to-do journalist for Maxim and Entertainment Weekly. It did highlight something that was drilled into my head during my Library Sciences classes in college. Knowledge and literacy leads to successful careers and advancement in life. The people that educate themselves are those that were raised in an already intellectual atmosphere and know the value of education. In a sense, its the rich getting richer while the poor remain poor all because no one explained the value of literacy and determination of improving one’s intellect.

The Know It All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
by A.J. Jacobs
Simon & Schuster, 2004
ISBN 0743250605
370 pages


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The know-it-all : [one man's humble quest to become the smartest person in the world]


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Is there a bookworm out there who has never made the statement; “I will read every single book in my public library”?

I made that statement in 9th grade. I walked into the library, bright eyed and full of enthusiasm to start reading. I left home with the very first book on the shelves from the adult fiction, nonfiction, teen fiction, and children’s fiction sections.

I made myself comfy on my bed, the books stacked to my right and a plate of cookies stacked to my left. I picked up the first book, the adult nonfiction and turned the pages to see what I had blindly picked up (I didn’t check the titles on any of the books, nor read any synopsis).

Turns out, the first and last book on my “read through the library” experience was about a famed scientist out in boonies in Texas who claimed to have been abducted by aliens, written in immense detail.

I regret having given up my reading quest because of some nutty guy who probably just had a really graphic dream. Maybe that’s why I started working as a librarian, to constantly remind myself that I need to read every single book in the building.

If I were to start again, would I narrow it down to just Adult fiction and nonfiction? I think nonfiction would be more fun, more challenging to say the least.

Sometimes I think it would a lot of fun to participate in all those one year challenges; A Year Without Made in China, The Happiness Project, Up for Renewal, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. But instead of spending a year trying to be healthy, or a year not buying products from China, I would only invest a month or two.

What would be awesome, is if I can compile 12 different topics and delegate one for each month of the year. Write up all my experiences in a separate blog and then turn that blog into a book and turn that book into a movie.

Or maybe I’ll just keep staring longingly at the library shelves, endlessly plotting towards a better self-education.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – Review

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From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Age: 9+

Claudia wanted to do more than just run away. She wanted to prove a point to her parents about the injustices at their home. So, she decided to not run away from something, but to run towards something, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. With her younger, and more frugal, brother in tow, Claudia and Jaime find themselves caught up in the middle of one of the greatest mysteries to ever enter through the museum doors.

E.L. Konigsburg is one of my favorites children’s authors, and I’m sad to say I never discovered her work until my Children’s Literature class in college when I read A View From Saturday. In this Newberry Medal Award winning title, Claudia is an incredibly smart and talented girl, saving her allowances and planning for her great runaway for weeks before recruiting her younger brother Jaime to join her. Unhappy with the distribution of house chores, Claudia decided to leave the home for a little while, to send her parents a message. Once at the museum they embark on a treasure hunt to find out the truth behind a new statue, Angel, that came full of fanfare and fame to the museum during their stay.

Although it wasn’t as fantastic as A View From Saturday, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was enjoyable. It followed a steady pace as the narrator, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler tolde story of the two children in letters to her lawyer. I loved the arguements between Claudia and Jaime, they felt very honest and very true to the types of arguements kids get into. Since the book was written in 1967 it was pretty fun to see what the worth of a dollar was, versus now. This book lends itself well to many discussions between parents and children.

1. The value of a dollar, the concept of inflation

2. The different formats of art; paintings, sculpture, etc.

3. How to read a map and travel by public transportation

4. Sibling rivarly and loyalties.  

I think the concept is really fun, I mean, what booknerd didn’t want to spend the night at a library at some point in their lives? I felt that the ending wrapped up to neatly and didn’t satisfy me. I felt like Claudia and Jaime gave in too easily and the resolution wasn’t as great as the buid-up and the mystery. The language is a bit outdated since the book is over 30 years old, but I think this will still be a fun book for younger kids. The book is a two-time Newberry Award Medal winner and has also been turned into two motion pictures.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E.L. Konigsburg
Simon & Schuster, 1967
ISBN 0689853548
182 pages


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The Janus Gate – Review

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The Janus Gate by Douglas Rees

Age: 13 +

The Janus Gate is part of the Art Encounters Series by Watson-Guptill publications. This title features John Singer Sargent and his particularly haunting painting, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. Using this picture as the basis of the story, Rees takes us through a psychological horror story of demons, dolls and lunacies surrounding the four sisters and their neurotic and unhinged mother. While their father is away on a business trip to Boston, Sargent is commissioned to paint a portrait of the daughters Boit and one very ugly doll named Papau. What Sargent paints is a mystery that some comes to life, engulfing him and the girls, unless he can find a way to break the spell.

This is the painting:

Creepy right?

When Sargent first met the family on Varnishing Day in 1880, the daughters were full of life, laughter and happiness. Based on the picture, you’d think I was lying. During the time between Varnishing Day and the day Sargent met with the Boits to start painting the girls, they had changed, grew darker and more inward. Florence would only speak in rhymes, while Jane would act-out in fits of brattiness. Mary and Julia, the youngest Boits, remained silent, stubborn and scared.

The book is just the right amount of creepy for the age group. Its neither too simple nor too complex, my only wish is that the book was longer so that Rees could flesh out the characters and the evil in the story a little more. I loved the connection to art, and bringing art and artists to life. I think both younger kids and teens will enjoy this supernatural gothic tale, and it works as a good springboard for future readers of the Libba Bray title, A Great and Terrible Beauty as well as Tracey Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The Janus Gate: An Encounter with John Singer Sargent
by Douglas Rees
Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006
ISBN 0823004066
162 pages


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The Janus gate : an encounter with John Singer Sargent

Once Upon a More Enlightened Time – Review

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Once Upon a More Enlightened Time by James Finn Garner

Age: 16 +

Once Upon a More Enlightened Time is a humorous spin on some of our more beloved fairy tales and children’s stories. This volume, the sequel to Garner’s ever popular Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, covers 9 stories, including; the story of the Princess (with multiple personality disorder) and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty with a very philosophical Prince Charming, the speedy Tortoise and the Hare, and even Beatrix Potter’s City Mouse and the Country Mouse and more.

Each story is given a modern twist, staying on the politically correct spectrum, which makes more some funny statements and descriptions. Each story is about 5 -6 pages and are very quick reads. These two books came out when I was in high school, this one published in 1995. It was a huge hit at my school. It was an easy way for us to poke fun at our childhood while feeling more adult and educated at the same time. High school is that middle state where you are too old for traditional fairy tales, but too young to really understand the value, consequences and overall effect of the type of themes Garner discusses in the stories. We laughed, because the thought of Sleeping Beauty waking up to a Prince Charming who would rather meditate than kiss her is ironic, because  Hansel and Gretel turn into Wiccan tree huggers after being ditched by their dad in the middle of the forest. The country mouse falls in love with the big city living, after spending 2 hours looking for parking, getting mugged and finding out that he is indeed homosexual.

Although the book and the stories are incredibly short, it did start to feel a little repetitive for me. I think this is one of books where you have to read the stories over a span of time. I was able to finish the book on my lunch break, but didn’t enjoy it towards the end as much as I had in the beginning.

Once Upon a More Enlightened Time
by James Finn Garner
Macmillan, 1995
ISBN 0028604199
84 pages


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