Library School


Time and Again by Jack Finney

Finney, J. (1970). Time and again. New York: Simon and Schuster.

 

If anyone has seen the old Christopher Reeve movie Somewhere in Time , this is the book the movie was based on. Actually I should say it is the book that inspired the movie for they are quite different. As often is the case, I found the book to be much better.

The general idea is that there is an attempt to go back in time using hypnosis. In the movie, the character that makes the time travel attempt is based in Chicago and goes back to 1912 to the Grand Hotel to meet a woman. In the book, Time and Again, the character who goes back is an advertising artist in New York City and he is scooped up as part of a secret government project to attempt this time travel. He goes back to New York City in January of 1882 using the famous Dakota as a basis for going back in time. Unlike the Christopher Reeve character of the movie, the character in the book, Simon Morely, is not going back for a woman—he has other objectives. However, a woman in the past does come into the picture as an important character. I will not spoil the ending of the book for you but like the rest of the story, it is quite different from the movie.

This is such a wonderful book, especially for anyone who has lived or spent a great deal of time in NYC. Simon takes great pains when he goes back to 1882 to describe the differences in great detail. Since he is an artist, he also includes pictures of scenes from New York in the past. It is quite amazing to think of old New York where the tallest buildings are the spires and towers of the churches. Now those same churches are buried in a sea of skyscrapers. We see old NYC through the eyes of Simon as he describes things which excite or terrify him—people riding through central park in sleighs, the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty in Madison Square before it was assembled in the harbor, a horrible fire which burned down the World Building on January 31st 1882, etc. These are amazing events and fascinating views of a now bustling, overcrowded island city—who would have thought that in 1882 the area up by The Dakota was farmland!

Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls, et. al.

 

I have been continuing to read The no. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. I will not continue to summarize them individually but will just mention again what a wonderful series it is. Pick up one and read it, and then if you also enjoyed it you will find yourself going back and finding the beginning one and reading through the whole series. Enjoy them for they are wonderful pieces of work.

The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge

by Vernor Vinge

 

Vinge, V. (2001). The collected stories of Vernor Vinge. New York: Tor.

 

Vernor Vinge is the author of Rainbow’s End, the futuristic science fiction story featuring a university library quite prominently. This is his annotated collection of short stories including “Fast Times at Fairmont High” which seems to be the jumping off point for Rainbow’s End.

The annotations are wonderful as Vinge describes the time period in which he wrote it or other aspects which he liked or is now somewhat embarrassed about. This collection includes his first work as well as one (Fast Times) not previously published. One of the issues science fiction writers must deal with if they write over a long period of time is when what they predicted in earlier stories doesn’t come true. Vinge mentions this before one of his older stories. He predicted the power of computers in the future but completely missed the idea of personal computers and still had “tapes” being inserted into computers. This is one of the hardest things for futuristic science fiction – when a writer writes something in 1965 about action taking place in 2005 they are making all sorts of guesses and predictions. When 2005 comes around everyone can now look at their work and see how far off they were. You know we STILL don’t have flying cars!

This really is a wonderful collection that features a variety of stories—earth or similar planet bound ones, specifically alien ones, future earthlings on other planets, etc. The fact that the stories were written over a long period of time also makes this collection very interesting to read.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith

 

Smith, A. M. (2005). The no. 1 ladies’ detective agency. New York: Pantheon.

This is Smith’s first in the series by the same title. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency takes place in Botswana and features the excellent Mma Precious Ramotswe. She inherits money from the sale of her father’s cattle when he is dying and he encourages her to open a business for herself. He was thinking more along the lines of a butchers or bottle store, but Mma Ramotswe opens up the first detective agency run by a woman in Botswana. She is quite successful since she uses her natural intelligence and understanding of how people work to solve the cases brought to her.

She uncovers a long lost daddy who is not really the daddy, confirms the reason for the disappearance of a husband, returns a stolen car, finds a lost boy, and solves many other cases in this first book. We also get a bit of background on Mma Ramotswe’s life and her own family.

I actually read Tea Time for the Traditionally Built first and then went back to read this book. This series is wonderful because you can read the books out of order and still enjoy them and not feel you are missing lots of important information. Again, this is a wonderful series that is perfect for summer reading.

Fun Home: A family tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel, A. (2006). Fun home: A family tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

 

Bechdel is a comic writer and illustrator known for her wonderful Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip. This was picked up by numerous newspapers in the comic strip format but was also complied and published in small book format.

This is Bechdel’s autobiography which is done in her classic comic strip style of art. Those who appreciated her characters will enjoy seeing her represent her family.  Being a graphic novel, this is a very quick read, but a good one. She describes growing up in the house her father is constantly restoring. He is a high school English teacher, and a third generation funeral home director, but loves restoring houses. Bechdel examines the relationship she had with her father who turned out to be a closeted gay man who was having affairs with his students. She doesn’t find this out until after she has left for college and has come out to her parents. She never gets the opportunity to talk with her father directly about this commonality between them as he is killed (run over by truck) shortly after.

Fun Home is a wonderful look at family dynamics and a peek inside a home which, like that of most of us, is functional and yet has dysfunctional moments and skeletons in the closets. This is a REAL family, not a perfect or perfectly awful TV family or fictional family. I think most people can relate to her story even if it is different from their own.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye

 

Faye, L. (2009). Dust and shadow. New York: Simon & Schuster.

 

This is a wonderful first novel by Lyndsay Faye, a New York City writer and actress. It is one of many mimicries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories—but it is a particularly good one. Faye has done her research and does a superb job of imitating the language style of the Holmes cannon. This is a tale in which the great detective both succeeds and fails and is one which is recorded by Watson, but not “published”.

Here the great Sherlock Holmes matches wits with none other than Jack the Ripper!! This is an intriguing idea for if Holmes were real, he surely would have at least had something to say about the Ripper case which took place in 1887. It is a tale which should delight both Holmes fans and those fascinated with the Ripper case.

Many authors have written about Jack the Ripper; some like Patricia Cornwell give the history as well as their thoughts (along with evidence) of who the Ripper was. Faye has imbibed all the history and research and used it to construct a marvelous work of fiction. Think CSI or Criminal Minds, before such sciences were really invented.

This is a fun story with plenty of action and a somewhat happy ending. Unlike the actual Ripper case, the perpetrator in the novel is unmasked, but only to a few. The rest of the world is left unknowing… to them, as to us, the murders just stop.

Six Days of the Condor by  James Grady

Grady, J. (1974). Six days of the condor. New York: Norton.

This is the book that the movie Three Days of the Condor was based on (1975 Sydney Pollack directed, with: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow, etc.). I admit I saw the movie first and then wanted to read the book. The book is usually better, but more of that later.

The plot of Six Days of the Condor goes something like this:

Our hero, Ronald Malcolm (code name Condor), works for the CIA as a literary researcher. He works for an obscure sub-department reading literature (fiction, spy novels, mysteries, crime novels, etc.) looking for possible leaks or ideas. If a plot in a book is too close to an actual event the department reports it and the author may be investigated. One of Malcolm’s coworkers (Heidegger) discovers some discrepancies in the books (financial/ shipping rather than literature). Seven cases of books were shipped to a receiving station in Washington State, but only 5 cases were shipped to their department. Heidegger bypasses the head of their little branch and sends an inquiry/ alert message to the parent department in the CIA. Unfortunately for everyone, the wrong people get this message and Heidegger is killed at home and a hit team is sent to the literary researchers and kills everyone in the office. Fortunately for Malcolm, he is out of the office getting lunch for the group when they are hit. He comes back to the carnage and goes on the run trying to survive.

He calls the CIA panic line and identifies himself as Condor. They arrange to pick him up and send two people to meet him. One is someone he knows by sight who works for the CIA at the main Langley office but who is not a field officer. The other is a field officer, Weatherby, not known to Condor. The meeting is arranged but when it takes place Weatherby shoots at him (he is part of a rogue group within the CIA who are trying to wipe out the literary research branch because of what Heidegger discovered). Condor fires back and escapes but Weatherby then kills Condor’s friend who is there for the meeting. Now Condor has no idea whom to trust and is on the run trying to survive.

This is a classic cold war era spy novel except it takes place domestically and really only involves CIA agents (no other countries are involved). I won’t spoil the ending for you but I have mixed feelings about whether I prefer the movie ending or the book ending. The book is definitely better, but in some ways I like the movie ending better. Without giving away too much, there are two main “bad guys”: the high up CIA person and a rogue internationally known hit man. In the movie one is killed and the other ends up helping Condor, while in the book the other is killed and the one who lives doesn’t help at all but is just “caught”. I prefer the movie scenario in the end but the book is better in general. So, take your pick read one then watch the other or vice versa.

Next Page »