Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Name:
Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Melons!

Okay, I admit it. I've sunk to a new all time low. Now I know what some of you are probably thinking, but nooooo, you'd be wrong. Those are not the type of melons that I'm talking about. The kind of melons I'm going to discuss are far, far stranger. This story will prove what many others have known all along -- I have little or no will power when it comes to books.

I was in the Strand Bookstore the other day and while scanning the shelves, my eyes fixed on a rather thin but attractive spine that proclaimed MELONS. The full title is actually MELONS FOR THE PASSIONATE GROWER by Amy Goldman (Artisan, 2002). Page after seductive page is filled with beautifully photographed images of .... melons! Have you ever seen a Colorado Striped Tarahumara? Unfortunately there is no source to obtain seeds for this melon but if you've got the urge to try your hand, this book promises "practical advice on growing, pollinating, picking, and preparing an extraordinary harvest." There are 100 different melons listed here with seed sources for most of them.

In my defense, how could I resist a book that had this quote on the front cover : " I am a lover of melons. I eat watermelons, cantaloupes, Persians, honeydews, and hand melons in season. After perusing this fascinating book I want to grow and eat every melon on earth -- just to savor the flavors and see the diverse colors and textures...."
Martha Stewart

She might have a little wait but I'm going to try my hand at these next spring.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Spy-Fi

Well, it's time once again for the Friends of Old Time Radio Convention, and as usual I haven't really been listening to any old time radio shows .... until now of course. The week before the convention had me searching for shows that I want to listen to, but of course can't find. This year I'm listening to one of my favorite shows, The Lives of Harry Lime (The Third Man). I'm not really a big spy series fan but I can never get tired of Orson Welles' portrayal of Harry Lime.

Similarly, I'm not a big fan of the espionage field, either fiction or nonfiction. You could count the spy books I own on one hand. Somewhere I have a copy of Herbert O. Yardley's The American Black Chamber (Bobbs-Merrill, 1931), a book about cryptography that my father had. I recently purchased Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage 2nd Edition (Random House Reference, 2004), by Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen. Despite the fact that this is mostly real life spy stuff with very little attention paid to spies in books or movies, the encyclopedia sucker that I am couldn't resist it.

When I was seriously collecting films, I occasionally would get a call from Danny Biederman who was always looking for spy material. I knew he was a diehard fan but I was still surprised to come across a book he has just written: The Incredible World of Spi-Fi (Chronicle Books, 2004) is a very attractive (and at $19.95 attractively priced) book that is subtitled: Wild and Crazy Spy Gadgets, Props, and Artifacts From TV and the Movies.

I can't possibly describe this better than the flap copy: The ultimate in espionage eye candy, The Incredible World of Spi-Fi captures four decades of our favorite spies and their impressive cache of gadgets. Danny Biederman, creator of the legendary Spi-Fi Archives, has collected over 4,000 rare pieces -- salvaging them from the darkest, dustiest corners of old Hollywood soundstages and studio back lots. So thorough is his collection that the CIA visited the archive and invited Biederman to display a portion of his massive collection at CIA headquarters.

Incredible!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Duh SOX!

It isn't until October (if at all) that my thoughts turn to baseball. This year though, with my beloved Red Sox in contention, I faithfully watched most of their clashes with the dreaded Yankees. With a payroll that bloated, the Yankees should be able to just stare you into submission, and when they defy all odds and stumble, well, there's just not many experiences in life that are quite that satisfying. At a fifteen million dollar salary, Kevin Brown delivered each of his winning games at a cost of $1,500,000. Contrast that with the Sox' Curt Schilling, who, notebook in hand, is the consummate professional, bringing a supernatural air to the position. It isn't too hard to imagine him in the off season in some fantastic laboratory huddled behind an array of bubbling beakers, test tubes and retorts, inventing something even more fantastic than Flubber. The Yankee pitchers in comparison would have a hard time with a three ingredient recipe!

Luckily, I haven't succumbed to the lure of sports books. I've got only a handful, and the only baseball one I could immediately lay my hands on is Red Sox vs Yankees: The Great Rivalry by Harvey and Frederic J. Frommer. Some of the books are tempting though and I just hope that whatever vulnerability I have to buy any of them disappears when the Series ends. Don't get me started!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Vanishing Books!

If you read Nicholson Baker's wonderful Double Fold, you know that books are disappearing from libraries at an alarming rate. I had only thought that we were talking about large libraries, but noooooo, as it turns out they're disappearing from my little local town library as well. As I was leaving the library last week, I noticed a sign on the door: BOOK SALE. Unable to resist, I found my way back to the reference room where the sale books were located. I was shocked to find a copy of zen master Alan Watts' biography In My Own Way (Pantheon Books, 1972) in the discard pile. Almost as shocking was Robert Taylor's Fred Allen: His Life and Wit, a choice 1989 biography of the radio funnyman. Surely this was a mistake. These are not the type of books one normally finds in a library book sale. They really should be back on the shelves.

I also found a copy of Barry Eisler's Hard Rain (Putnam, 2003), the second book in the well received series about Japan based freelance hit man, John Rain. His first book, Rain Fall, was a Publisher's Weekly Best Novel of 2002, a book about which James Ellroy said: "a hypnotically hip resurrection of the hit-man thriller. It's got it all: dazzling plot, deft characterization, beaucoup originality." Surely somebody would be looking for this book and would be disappointed not to find it.

I also found Ellery Queen's Book of First Appearances (The Dial Press, 1982), a collection of the first story appearances by twenty-five famous names in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Why would you discard a book like this?

How about Louis L'Amour's Education of a Wandering Man (Bantam Books, 1989)?
At first I thought these books were probably being discarded because of lack of space. When I went to the place where the Zen and Buddhism books were shelved, I was sad to find that a zen book that I really wanted was GONE! (having evidently been discarded earlier when I wasn't looking). Since the shelf was only half full, and they weren't adding many books of this nature, the space consideration didn't seem to make sense. I finally concluded that maybe it was the fact that these books hadn't been checked out lately that doomed them. The last due date on the L'Amour bio was 2/1/99, the Watts book was 4/24/00, and the Fred Allen was 9/21/98.

Whatever the reason for their deaccessioning, I was glad to get them. The price: 25 cents each or 6 for a dollar. Good books for sixteen and two-thirds cents a pop. Unbelievable!!!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Google Whack, Anyone?

If you already think you're wasting too much time on the computer, don't read any further. It could be dangerous to your sanity. If, however, you like to be on the cutting edge of everything, and consider yourself an adventurous soul, google whacking might be just the thing for you. Don't be afraid -- step in a little bit closer while I try to explain.

Forget about jigsaw puzzles, trivial pursuit, or any of those passe games that were once the way to while away your time and, maybe, just maybe, help you stave off the potential ravages of Alzheimers. Google Whacking has all of the positive attributes of gaming, but, admittedly, it does have one big negative -- it is hopelessly addictive and might just drive you crazy (to say nothing of getting you in trouble at work).

It all started for me when I noticed a book in the library that at first glance offended my sense of design. It was a garish blue and white color with some red and yellow letters that resembled neon graffiti spray. On a predominately blue background (like a blue screen) a ginger-bearded young man was riding a computer mouse as if it were a bucking bronco. The title of the book was Dave Gorman's Google Whack! Adventure (The Overlook Press, 2004) and it looked like some sort of novel shaped gaming manual. To tell you the truth it kind of repulsed me and I'm still not really sure why I picked it up. But pick it up I did, and, well, life hasn't been quite the same ever since.

You see Dave Gorman is some mad Brit, actually a stand-up comedian if he's telling the truth. This crazy adventure started for him when he got a seemingly innocent e-mail that said: "Did you know that you're a googlewhack?" Of course he didn't, but being the adventurous and daring soul that he obviously is, he got sucked into this dangerous diversion that has the potential to be just as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or, well, even book collecting.

After getting that cryptic e-mail, Gorman did the absolutely worst thing he could have -- he sent an e-mail asking, "What the hell is a googlewhack?" Obviously this is a question you are now asking so without further ado, I'll point you in the right direction. Googlewhacking is a brain teaser that is played on the Google search engine (www.google.com). The bare bones of this idea is to pick two "real words" (they must appear in www.dictionary.com). Your goal is to get a search that results in only one hit, that is, only one website that contains the two words you've chosen. An example given in the book is "coelacanth sharpener." Since I have two books (temporarily unavailable for research purposes) in my library about the coelacanth (a fish hitherto thought to be extinct), I responded to the coelacanth reference and began trying to find my own googlewhack using coelacanth as one of the words. The results were nothing like what I expected though.

Since the coelacanth is a fish, it's quite natural that you'd get quite a few hits using those two words and you do get a respectable 14,500. I tried coelacanth sushi and got 190 hits. I thought I had a good one with coelacanth phlegm but still found there are 30 websites where these two words appear. I got down to 20 with coelacanth malted, and thought I had a winner with coelacanth spitoon which returned only one hit. When I went to www.googlewhack.com to authenticate my googlewhack, I quickly found that something was wrong. There was only one website that mentioned those two words but that website made the same spelling error that I had. Spitoon should be spelled spittoon and coelacanth spittoon yields a frustratingly close seven hits. Now I was getting desperate and wracked my brain and finally came up with what I thought would be a sure winner, but coelacanth pierogi produced two hits. Many more frustrating tries ensued before out of sheer desperation, I used a word that should not be uttered in proper coelacanth circles. Sorry ladies but the word is tampon. I was pretty damn confident that coelacanth tampon would do the trick but unbelievably it yielded a perverse nine hits. I won't tell you how many more I went through before I found a combination with only one result, but I will tell you the words coelacanth stevedore only come up with one result. I am however by now so shellshocked that I don't want to "authenticate" it, preferring instead to think that I have won one small battle. In truth it wasn't quite as hard as I made it out to be, but it is a hell of a lot of fun, as is Gorman's book which I'll mention again later when I finish it.

So, without further ado, gentleman (and ladies), start your search engine! P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I don't own any Google stock.


Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Man in Black

I was never really a big fan of Johnny Cash but I'm more than making up for it now. When I bought a Super Audio CD player, one of the discs that I bought was Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Now of course I've got to purchase Michael Streissguth's companion book, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece (Da Capo, 2004), a very thorough look at the making of this classic album. I could shelve it next to the other two Johnny Cash books that I bought recently -- Cash An American Man by Bill Miller, and Cash by the Editors of Rolling Stone -- but I'll probably park it next to two other volumes that it is similar to -- A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album by Ashley Kahn, and The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His Masterpiece by Eric Nisenson. All three books have very detailed text sections and extensive photos and set a very high standard for books of this type. Also on the Cash front is a lengthy article in the October 2004 Vanity Fair about Cash's unlikely relationship with Rick Rubin, co-founder of Def Jam records. David Camp's article called "American Communion," looks at their decade long collaboration which resulted in some memorable music at the end of a long and productive career. Oh and I even found yet another Cash book lurking in the stacks -- the Michael Streissguth edited Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Reader, a collection of thirty-two articles and essays about the man in black.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Kung Fu

One of the selling points of DVDs is their ability to add a seemingly endless assortment of extras to the presentation of the original production. In truth, most of the highly touted extras don't bear an initial watching much less multiple viewings. Such is fortunately not the case with Kung Fu though. I bought the first season of KUNG FU on DVD as soon as it was released, and of course it's been sitting unopened ever since. It had a Made in Taiwan sticker on it, and I began to think that was the equivalent of disappearing ink, so I finally cracked it open today and watched the 90 minute pilot that started the series. Though I had seen it before I was immediately struck by how novel it was and the fact that it was really a wonderful piece of writing. In the documentary "From Grasshopper To Caine," the writers Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander told how they came up with the idea, and, against all odds, managed to sell the project. The best part is when producer Jerry Thorpe tells of a scene where David Carradine has to leap off a cliff. Before he asked Carradine to do the jump, Thorpe did the jump himself. In the documentary, Carradine remembers how he had this excited expression on his face when he fell but Thorpe had the most placid and serene expression on his, and this is documented in mid-fall still photos. Thorpe was also responsible for the brilliant photographic style of the series.

I've now spent an hour searching for my copy of Herbie J. Pilato's The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western but so far have yet to turn it up in the archives. I did however manage to come across my copy of David Carradine's Introduction to Chi Kung, a book that will obviously help me if I can ever find the time and the interest to read them.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

AndySez: Too BOLD!

I can probably trace my collecting obsession back to the late 50s when I started collecting coins. At that idyllic time, coin collecting was considered a worthwhile pursuit for a young child and you could walk into a bank and get a $50 bag of pennies which you could go through and they wouldn't even flinch when you came back in a day or two and wanted to swap them for some silver dollars which you would breathlessly search in hopes of finding some with that impossibly exotic Carson City mint mark. Today, if you tried this, they'd look at you like you were some pint-sized terrorist.

I even enlisted the local grocer who even in the late 50s and early 60s would have some old timers come in with the occasional Liberty head nickel or Barber dime or quarter. There was still an occasional coin from the late 1800s floating around from time to time, and this was the great appeal of coin collecting over the more staid (read boring) world of stamp collecting. Coin collecting presented a sense of adventure and possibility that stamp collecting lacked. Of course, coin collecting's allure ended when the chance of finding something interesting in circulation ended, much like the longshot of finding collectible paperbacks at flea markets today.

And so with this history, it wasn't at all surprising when I hit page 47 in the October 4, 2004 New Yorker and immediately froze. On that page was an ad for a book, Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle by David Tripp. This is the tale of the ultimate numismatic treasure hunt, a search for a coin that is so rare that only one was believed to be in circulation. In 1933, in the midst of the Depression with the economy near collapse, FDR recalled all the gold in circulation and banned private ownership of it. In the numismatic equivalent of Fahrenheit 451, untold millions of gold coins were ordered melted down and made into gold bars. To the slag heap of destruction also went nearly half a million 1933 double eagles ($20 gold pieces) that were minted but never put in circulation. As often happens with things of this nature, a few coins slipped out the back door into the world of collectors. Amazingly, the Secret Service devoted considerable time and resources to tracking down these escaped coins and were still on the job as late as 1996 when what is believed to be the last coin was tracked down. If indeed it really was the last coin. It is still a highly desirable item though because this particular coin was not melted down, but was instead sold at auction for 7.5 million dollars!

The New Yorker ad even contained a blurb from the estimable Simon Winchester and by now I needed no prompting. Even though I knew this book would probably turn up in one of the three libraries that I frequent, I still ran right out to buy a copy. My initial excitement turned to disappointment though when I cracked the book open to find it printed in that particularly irritating bold type which I consider the literary equivalent of the equally offensive orange instrument panel lights (which you can at least dim). Am I the only one who considers bold type difficult to read? I could possibly understand bold type in a book intended for a youthful market but that is not the audience for this book or for the new Bob Dylan bio, Chronicles Volume 1, which is also printed in bold type. By the way, you can read an excerpt from Illegal Tender at www.simonsays.com and it's not in bold type.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

What's In A Name?

It has occurred to me that Book Heaven might not be the best title for this blog. My first choice was Book Fiend but that was already taken, as was Book and Books. I think the title should use the word book and ideally it should come first. So far, the only variants I have come up with are:
books books books
books are my life
book nook
bookish
book blog
book life
It's pretty hard to get excited about any of them, but I've got to come up with something. If anybody has any suggestions, they would of course be appreciated.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Who Wants My Vote?

It's highly unlikely you'll ever find much of a political (or religious) nature here, but just this one time I can't resist. I have a very selfish request and I'm willing to trade my vote for it. I'm looking for a candidate who is willing to ban books. Not specific books, mind you -- I'm looking for someone who will outlaw the ownership of all books. You see I've tried countless attempts to stop buying books and all of them have failed. I'm firmly convinced now that only in a modified Fahrenheit 451 society would I have any success in kicking the book habit. Don't get me wrong though -- I don't want to see books burned. I think the solution would be that if you couldn't own books, you'd have to rely on libraries and they would then have a larger selection of books to choose from. After all, this is the way it was in good old Ben Franklin's time, and he didn't seem to suffer for it. Actually, if I could get any book I wanted from the library, I wouldn't feel the need to buy them. I'd even be willing to pay a hefty membership fee for the privilege but I guess I'm in the minority.

Since neither of these guys would probably be willing to ban books, I guess I'm going to have to find some other method of disqualifying one of them. Right now, I'm leaning towards eliminating Bush. It's not that I don't believe in war. Hell, I think there are some people for whom the death penalty is too good. Yes, call me barbaric but I firmly believe there are a few select people who should be tortured before they're sent on their way to terrorist heaven.

No, the real reason I'm probably going to vote for Kerry is that I don't feel any sort of kinship with Bush -- I don't think he's a book person. It's unlikely he'll ever do anything that will reflect favorably on the world of literature. I'm not even sure he reads books. It doesn't seem like he's ever read his father's book, and if he did, he scares me even more because he doesn't seem to have learned anything from it.

I never thought I'd say this, but the only guy who would make me feel safe at night is Pat Buchanan. I think he would bring to the government something that is conspicuously missing -- accountability. But that's a whole nother story, and please don't get me started on it.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Make Mine Dark

Chocolate, that is. Dark Chocolate. Although this information has been kicking around for a couple of years, it was only about two months ago when I discovered a newspaper article about the cardio-protective attributes of chocolate, more specifically dark chocolate. It seems that dark chocolate is especially rich in flavanols and is even more heart protective than red wine. Now if you told me two months ago that I would be eating chocolate every day for medicinal purposes, I would surely have laughed at you, but that's exactly what I'm now doing. Of course, before I do anything, I first do my research which in this case meant scouring the internet for more details. I found plenty of information and all of it seems to check out. One important point that can't be overlooked is that flavanols are destroyed to varying degrees in the processing of chocolate, and thus, all chocolates are not equal. It seems that the best chocolate is (surprise!) produced by an unlikely source -- the huge food conglomerate, Mars, Inc. Mars has spent years working on proprietary techniques to limit the reduction of the beneficial flavanols during the processing phase, resulting in their cocoapro trademark (see www.cocoapro for more information).

So I am now devoted to eating four-fifths of a Dove bar daily, which is about an ounce. I can't seem to bring myself to eat the whole 1.3 ounce bar yet, but I'm working on it (guilt is a tough thing to overcome). I hadn't experienced a Dove bar before and was immediately impressed with the product. It's a very narrow bar which is much thicker than a usual single serving bar, resulting in a very intense experience.

I was really surprised to discover an article in today's (10/10/04) The New York Times Magazine entitled "Eat Chocolate, Live Longer?" by Jon Gertner which told the story of the research that Mars is doing. After all that I've read, I'm sold on the idea of eating dark chocolate daily, but I still have two questions to resolve: how much should I really be eating (some study participants ate 3.5 ounces daily), and would it be better to space it out during the day? The flavanols in the chocolate apparently relax the linings in your arteries, making them more elastic and improving blood flow, but there is still a question in my mind as to how long this effect continues after the consumption of the chocolate. In any event, make it dark chocolate.

One of my favorite chocolate books is Alice Medrich's bittersweet: Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate (Artisan, 2003). Though you won't find virtually any scientific information about the healthy aspects of chocolate in the book, you will find almost everything you wanted to know about chocolate, and then some. Medrich, who has also written four other books about chocolate, including Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts (which won the James Beard Cookbook of the Year award and which I am now searching for) shares her thirty years of experience with chocolate. If you only own one book about chocolate, bittersweet is the book for you.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Population 101

Don't know much about geography? Well then, what about some basic population stats? In my own case, I was quite surprised by just how little I knew. It all started when I read Philip Shishkin's article "Afghans Are Free, Market Isn't" in the October 8th Wall Street Journal. The article was about Nizar Habibi, a man charged with one of life's more difficult tasks -- trying to set and enforce price controls in the Afghan capital. What really surprised me was that the population of Kabul was quoted as "nearly three million." So I pulled out my Merriam Webster's Geographical Dictionary (the hopelessly outdated Third Edition from 1997) in which the population of Kabul is quoted as 1,424,400 (1988 figure). It's obvious that until I can update my geographical dictionary, I would have to rely on the internet for more up to date statistics. What I found was positively shocking (from www.citypopulation.de).

At 290,342,600, the population of the US looks pretty healthy. But did you know that if you added the populations of Afghanistan (28,717,200 by itself) to the populations of Iraq, Iran, Korea and Pakistan, the total easily surpasses us. Of course, that is positively dwarfed by the populations of both India and China which are each over a billion! As a minority, maybe we should heed the pages of history (I've got quite a few of those books too!) which are littered with the tales of countries and leaders who o'erleaped their ambitions. Maybe that's the global test we've been hearing about lately. Oh yeah, can anybody tell me why there hasn't been a fourth edition of the Merriam Webster Geographical Dictionary yet? Oh, and those population statistics from www.citypopulation.de? It seems they come from something called CIA -- The World Factbook 2003. The graphic on my monitor isn't all that clear but it looks like the logo on that "factbook" is that of the (gasp!) Central Intelligence Agency.

Friday, October 08, 2004

All Things Irish

Well, I'm just about two-thirds of the way through Matthew Hart's The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art (Walker & Company, 2004), an interesting book about one of the world's greatest art heists pulled off by a most unlikely criminal mastermind, a Dublin gangster named Martin Cahill (nickname: The General) who drove the Irish police crazy as they tried in vain to recover the paintings. Of course there are a lot of Irish place names mentioned so I finally got to pull out my copy of The Encyclopedia of Ireland edited by Brian Lalor (Yale University Press, 2003), a 1218 page doorstop which sits on a shelf next to The Encyclopedia of New York which sits next to The Encyclopedia of Surfing (I'll quit while I'm ahead lest you think I'm crazy but I do have a penchant for specialized encyclopedias). One need look no further than some of the familar names of Ireland's counties to be put under a spell -- Limerick, Tipperary, Wicklow, Galway, Kerry (!), Londonderry, Kilkenny, Cork, and so on. Almost makes me want to hop on a plane bound for the Emerald Isle where a week would certainly result in a self renewal. That is, of course if I wasn't so afraid of flying. Paging through the Ireland book made me think of another reference book I purchased recently -- The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford University Press, 2003), where one can find enchanting places like Christmas Common and Port Sunlight. On a similar note, I almost bought a book of California place names but hesitated just long enough so that when I came back for it a couple days later it was blessedly gone and I didn't have to try to resist it. P.S. The Irish Game has its own web site -- www.theirishgame.com

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Stop Me Before I Buy Another Book!

Although my life is already hopelessly out of control, I've decided it's high time I jumped on the blog bandwagon and gave it a shot. I initially thought of calling this "A Day in the Life" since it'll probably include some of the minutae of my day, but decided that the main thrust will probably be about my adventures in collecting, or, more specifically, my failed attempts to stop collecting. At the present moment since my biggest problem seems to be my inability to stop buying books, I even seriously thought of calling this "Stop Me Before I Kill, er ... Buy Another Book", but decided that title, although accurate, might be just a tad too unwieldly. Future posts will probably include confessions about my book buying, my latest strategy to stop buying books, and, occasionally, when I'm not moving books around, I might actually get to a review or two. Stay tuned!