Category: Chatter

Go here to read librarian Nancy Pearl's most recent feature on NPR talking about good books to read. She's so well-read and so articulate and so enthusiastic, my to-read pile gets longer just listening to her.


And you can follow her on Twitter.


And, glory of glories, she has a blog. And it's got an RSS feed. If, you know, you were into that kind of thing.


She even has her own action figure.


With Nancy on the case, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to be sitting around whining that they don't have anything to read. Yes, you do! Or you do if you listen to Nancy.

# Permanent link to Book lust. You know you’ve got it. So does Nancy Pearl.

Senator Ted Stevens (1923-2010)

It was 1972 and Ted Stevens was coming to the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus to campaign for US Senator. At that time there was some act before Congress involving HUD that had much to do with Alaska. I was a reporter for the Polar Star, the UAF student newspaper, that semester, and my editor…

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You’ve all heard the story, how someone challenged Ernest Hemingway to write a story in six words, and how he came back with “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

quiteIt is only fitting in this Twittering age that Smith Magazine, an online magazine devoted to storytelling in all its forms, would invite readers to contribute their own six-word memoirs to the website. They were inundated with submissions, and it was only inevitable that these would eventually be collected in book form, called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Famous & Obscure Writers.

Paging through it, I discover that tequila is a recurring meme: “Which comes first: tequila or accident?” And “Tequila. Amnesia. Coincidence? I think not.” And “Full of tequila and bad ideas.”

Some memoirs are flavored with wry resignation. “Never really finished anything, except cake.” “I’m just here for the beer.” And “We were our own Springer episode.”

Some exhibit a fairly high level of self-preservation, not a trait you would expect from someone signing their real name to an Internet website: “It’s pretty high. You go first.”

Some speak to me directly: “Many risky mistakes, very few regrets.” Some don’t speak to me at all: “Not a good Christian, but trying.”

Some are poignant: “Followed rules, not dreams. Never again.” And “Born with glaucoma…fading to black…”

Some despair: “Became my mother. Please shoot me.” And some rejoice: “Afraid of everything. Did it anyway.”

Some are just plain spooky: “He knew her bruises would fade.”

And some made me laugh out loud. “Editor. Get it?” Yes.

There are of course now Six Word Memoirs for Teens ("Met online; love before first sight."), Six Words on the Green Life ("The meek shall inherit the garbage."), and Six Words for America ("For every bomb, build a school."). Smith Magazine's invitation to contribute your own six-word memoir on the magazine's website still stands.

Myself, I recommend you buy your own copy of the first book and put it where I did: In the bathroom next to the toilet.

# Permanent link to “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Good Summer Reads

If I scribbled fast enough while we were on the air, these are all the titles and authors of the books that were mentioned on Coffee Table on KBBI this morning. If I forgot any, or if you want to recommend your own great summer read, post them in the comments below. Alaska books: The…

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"...the detective particularly popular in times of unrest, anxiety and uncertainty, when society can be faced with problems which no money, political theories or good intentions seem able to solve or alleviate," she writes. "The classical detective story can work in any age provided murder is regarded as an act which necessitates the discovery of the perpetrator and the cleansing of society of its stain...I see the detective story becoming more firmly rooted in the reality and the uncertainties of the twenty-first century, while still providing that central certainty that even the most intractable problems will in the end be subject to reason."

# Permanent link to P.D. James on the Crime Fiction Case

This month sees the return of P.F. Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey series in the fifth novel, A Murder of Crows, and hooray for that! Here is the introduction I wrote for the second novel in the series, oh so long ago now...


The scene is the nebulous and ever-changing border between Scotland and England in 1592, the thirty-fourth year of the reign of Good Queen Bess, five years after the Spanish Armada, fifty-one years after Henry VIII beheaded his fifth queen. Reivers with a high disregard for the allegiance or for that matter the nationality of their victims roved freely back and forth across this border during this time, pillaging, plundering, assaulting and killing as they went.

Into this scene of mayhem and murder gallops Sir Robert Carey, the central figure (and real historical figure) of the mystery novels by P.F. Chisholm, including A Famine of Horses, A Season of Knives, A Surfeit of Guns and A Plague of Angels. Sir Robert is the Deputy Warden of the West March, and his duty is to enforce the peace on the Border. Since everyone on the English side is first cousin once removed to everyone on the Scottish side, it is frequently difficult to tell his men which way to shoot.

Sir Robert is as delightful a character as any who ever thrust and parried his way into the pages of a work of fiction, in this century or out of it. He is handsome, intelligent, charming, capable, as quick with a laugh as he is with a sword. He puts the buckle into swash. He puts the court into courtier; in fact, his nickname is the Courtier.

The ensemble surrounding him is equally engaging. There is Sergeant Henry Dodd, Sir Robert’s second-in-command, who does “his best to look honest but thick.” There is Lord Scrope, Sir Robert’s brother-in law and feckless superior, who sits “hunched like a heron in his carved chair.” There is Philadelphia, Sir Robert’s sister, “a pleasing small creature with black ringlets making ciphers on her white skin.” And there is the Lady Elizabeth Widdrington, Sir Robert’s love and the wife of another man, who is “hard put to it to keep her mind on her prayers: Philadelphia’s brother would keep marching into her thoughts.”

There is hand-to-hilt combat with villains rejoicing in names like Jock of the Peartree, and brushes with royalty in the appearance of King James of Scotland, who’s a little in love with Sir Robert himself. And who can blame him? Sir Robert is imminently lovable, and these four books are a rollicking, roistering revelation of a time long gone, recaptured for us in vivid and intense detail in this series.

The series in order:

A Famine of Horses
A Season of Knives
A Surfeit of Guns
A Plague of Angels

and this month

A Murder of Crows. I was lucky enough to score an ARC and I liked it so much I did a thing I hardly ever do, I blurbed it, thusly:

Sir Robert Carey is back at last in this fifth novel in PF Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey series, with the redoubtable Sergeant Henry Dodd matching wits with Sir Robert's mother, the darling and deadly Lady Hunsdon. Well worth the wait.

Chisholm Herself, aka Patricia Finney, will appear live! and in person! this weekend at the Poisoned Pen Conference in Scottsdale. I'll be there, too, checked in to the swanky Arizona Biltmore Hotel at the bargain basement conference price of $89 a night. Lots of fun will be had therein, including a panel on Georgette Heyer that no GH fan will want to miss. Come on down!

# Permanent link to PF Chisholm’s A Murder of Crows

This time I’m taking to the high seas. What child of the primordial soup doesn’t like their stories salty?

shadowIn the fall of 1991, deep wreck diver John Chatterton found a German U-boat under 230 feet of water off the New Jersey coast where no U-boat had ever been recorded sunk.  According to all the history books, it simply couldn’t be there. It took Chatterton and fellow diver Richie Kohler six years, multiple dives to recover artifacts, exhaustive record searches through the National Archives and the Naval Historical Center, multiple trips to Germany, the solicitation of an endless anecdotal history from other divers, U-boat crew members, their relatives and U-boat historians, and above all a mutual devouring obsession to solve this enigma at the heart of Robert Kurson’s Shadow Divers. But that’s just the plot on which hang the other, even more gripping stories, the ones about the price of friendship, the testing of character, the insanity of war, the writing of history, the human love for mysteries and the equally human need to solve them, and through it all an over-the-shoulder look into the claustrophobic and sometimes fatal world of deep wreck diving.

blueIn Blue Latitudes journalist Tony Horwitz follows in the footsteps of Captain Cook, beginning with a week working as a member of the crew on board a replica of Cook’s ship Endeavor.  I'd always thought of Cook as this stereotypical British officer, all his buttons properly polished and looking down a very long nose at all these dreadful loincloth-clad natives. In fact, Cook was born in a pigsty, was subject in his youth to a strong Quaker influence, and worked his way up from shoveling coal to captain in the British Navy.  He wrote about the aboriginal people he met with respect and admiration.  His name is now a bad word all over the Pacific, but in truth Cook was the best white man they'd ever meet. This already lively narrative is made more so by Horwitz’ travelling buddy Roger, one of the funniest, most cynical guys ever to walk through the pages of a book.

raiderDid you know the last shot fired in the Civil War was fired in the Aleutians? You would if you’d read Confederate Raider by Murray Morgan, a book about the Confederate raiding ship Shenandoah, built and commissioned to disrupt if not destroy the Union’s whaling industry in the North Pacific. Built in England, armed in the Madeira Islands, the Shenandoah travels around the Cape of Good Hope and starts sinking Yankee whaling ships from the south Atlantic on. Unbeknownst to them, the war ended in the middle of their search and destroy cruise. When they discover this they are afraid to surrender to a Union ship for fear they will be sunk out of hand, so successful has been their mission, so in an extraordinary feat of seamanship they sail south, dodging homicidal Union vessels all the way, round Cape Horn and surrender to the British back in the UK, without suffering a scratch. One of the great sea stories.

enduranceIn August 1914, Ernest Shackleton and a crew of twenty-seven set sail from England to Antarctica, their goal to cross the last uncharted continent on foot. These guys didn’t have any kind of luck but bad. First their ship gets stuck in the ice for ten months, then the ship is crushed in the ice, and then they float on the ice for another five months before taking to the small boats. And that’s just the beginning. Given up for lost, it would be 20 months before the rest of the world knew they had survived, against every imaginable force the sea could throw at them. Whenever you think you can't do whatever it is that you must, read Endurance by Alfred Lansing.

armadaNo reading list of an ocean-going library would be complete without at least one account of a sea battle, and Garrett Mattingly’s classic The Armada will put you at Sir Francis Drake’s elbow on board the Elizabeth Bonaventure when he sails into Cadiz to singe the beard of Philip of Spain. A marvelous you-are-there book, beginning with the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots and ending with Elizabeth the First’s butt sitting more firmly on the throne of England than ever before in her precarious reign. I so want someone to make a film from this book, and make it well. Colin Farrell as Drake, maybe?

farleyAnd then, of course, there is Farley Mowat’s uproarious The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float, which is worth reading for the three cardinal tenets of rum drinking in Newfoundland alone. ("The first of these is that as soon as a bottle is placed on a table it must be opened. This is done to "let the air get at it and carry off the black vapors.")

# Permanent link to High Sea Chantys

As one rabid Georgette Heyer fan to another, I'm sure you'll agree that we can't go home again to Regency England often enough. Here's a couple of time machines set on one-way, non-stop...

robinsMiss Sarah Tolerance elopes with her brother’s fencing instructor from Regency England to the continent, and when he dies returns home. Cast off by her family, she determines to make her way in the world without falling into prostitution, the usual fallback of the Fallen Woman, and instead sets herself up as an Agent of Inquiry. Setting, plot and especially character are all excellent in Point of Honor and Petty Treason by Madeleine E. Robins. Trust me, you will believe a woman can be a PI in England in 1810.

novikWhat if the Napoleonic Wars had been fought with dragons? That's Naomi Novik's thesis in Her Majesty’s Dragon and its four sequels, in which swashbuckling action mix seamlessly with serious themes like class conflict and slavery. My favorite in the series, Empire of Ivory, turns history on its head by providing Africa with a capable, charismatic leader determined to unite the continent against slavery. Imagine if that had happened in real life. Novik's 19th century British dialogue and mastery of nautical detail are absolutely convincing. A thumpin' good read. [Note: And as I post this I discover to my great joy the sixth in the series, Tongue of Serpents, comes out in July!]

# Permanent link to Madeleine Robins and Naomi Novik