Breaking Bad By the Books

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Admit it. You’re as much of a junkie as the meth addicts on the show. Yes, I’m talking about Breaking Bad, the AMC show that’s dominating the awards, ratings, and media coverage as it enters its final season. If you need to get up to date, here’s a great video summary.

I don’t even know how I got into this series, since the premise—high school chemistry teacher turns cancer patient turns meth-cooking drug lord—doesn’t sound like my cup of tea at all. But my husband started playing it in the background while I was trying to read, and somewhere into the first season Walt, the chemist gone wrong in the name of his family, threw what looked like a bag of meth at a Tuco, the sociopathic Mexican drug kingpin, uttered the line “You got one part of that wrong. “That is not meth,” and blew out the windows of a building with his homemade explosive. I was suddenly compelled by the character development, and the next thing I knew my book had been left in the dust and I was watching Breaking Bad Netflix marathons late into the night.

With the end of the series dangerously close, I can safely say the obsessed fans will be left wanting more. Since we’re not going to get our fix from television much longer, it seems like a good time to compile an appropriate reading list....Read More

(Our store journal keeps you posted on books we're excited about, our literary musings, and other reading-related rambles. Remember, you can sign up to receive our posts by email.)

The More Bard the Better

As part of our ongoing effort to bring you the most current reporting from the world of literature, Message in a Bottle shares with you today a story about the latest work from one of today’s hottest writers. We’re talking, of course, about that up-and-coming poet and playwright William Shakespeare. What’s new about this very old author? A professor at the University of Texas is attesting that Shakespeare contributed a few hundred lines of verse to Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. According to this researcher, awkward expressions in these lines are the result of typesetting errors, mistakes that perfectly match those that other compositors made from known samples of Shakespeare’s handwriting.

Fairly abstruse stuff that might not stand up to scrutiny alone, but the study supports earlier claims. Those were based on language analysis of the kind that revealed the author of the anonymously published Primary Colors (and is also regularly used to detect student plagiarism). Together, it’s enough evidence to convince the Royal Shakespeare Company. They’ve added The Spanish Tragedy to their forthcoming anthology Collaborative Plays, which contains what we might call the Outer Canon, those dramatic works that orbit around the core Shakespearean planets....Read More

Let's Talk Shop

On a recent trip to Bainbridge Island, my family wandered into Eagle Harbor Book Company on Winslow Way. If you haven’t been to that indie bookstore, I highly recommend a Sunday morning excursion. If you’re coming from Seattle you get the pleasure of a lovely ferry ride (particularly great in the summer), a stroll along the charming town of Winslow, perhaps brunch, and the experience of a homey, impeccable book buying experience.

I couldn’t help but notice the qualities Island Books shares with Eagle Harbor, like the welcoming staff counter, the children’s section tucked magically in the back, and the prominent display of shelf talkers highlighting the booksellers’ unique tastes. Whenever I visit another bookstore, I note the aspects I like and ponder how we could do better. I enjoyed the extensive staff pick shelf and vacation-like atmosphere.

The recent hubbub about Obama endorsing Amazon, Jeff Bezos purchasing The Washington Post, and William Lynch’s departure from Barnes & Noble has inspired renewed rumblings about the value of independent booksellers. I’ve read countless soapbox statements about the importance of indies and physical books and I’ve spouted my own self-righteous monologues about the subject on this very blog. I’ll try not to regurgitate anymore of what you’ve already heard, but more than the latest news, my experience shopping at Eagle Harbor Book Company brought the subject back to the forefront of my mind....Read More

First Line Friday Returns

"Now, what I want is, Facts." Well, you’re not going to get them. Not here, not today. Instead we’re offering fiction, and plenty of it. The first lines of it, anyway. Yes, it’s another episode of First Line Friday, in which we share some of the best pick-up lines in literature. The one that opens this paragraph is by Charles Dickens, by the way, spoken by the serious-minded and aptly named character Thomas Gradgrind.

Then there’s this, from Pete Dexter’s novel Spooner:

Spooner was born a few minutes previous to daybreak in the historic, honeysuckled little town of Millidgeville, Georgia, in a makeshift delivery room put together in the waiting area of the medical offices of Dr. Emil Woods, across the street from and approximately in the crosshairs of a cluster of Confederate artillery pieces guarding the dog-spotted front lawn of the Greene Street Sons of the Confederacy Retirement Home.

A sentence full of facts, and yet it has an impudent tone that I don’t think Sir Gradgrind would approve....Read More 

A Thought-Provoking Read: Me Before You

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Summer reading season is almost over, so as you pack your bag for your final August vacation, I have one new paperback to tuck into your suitcase: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Before I give you the description, let me preface it by saying, yes, this could have been a maudlin tearjerker, but what makes it so good is that it’s not.

Louisa is the most ordinary girl you can imagine. Uneducated and unskilled, she works as a server in a local cafe, doesn’t have hobbies, and still lives at home with her parents, sister, and nephew. Her small British town sits under the shadow of its one tourist attraction, a castle, and she’s never left. Her long-term boyfriend Patrick is a personal trainer and as boring as Louisa.

Enter Will, a former high-stakes businessman, risk-taker, and playboy whose wealthy parents own the town’s castle. After a freak accident renders Will a quadriplegic, he attempts suicide and puts his family on high alarm. They decide to hire someone to monitor him, and when Louisa loses her job at the cafe, she’s the person who enters their lives....Read More

(Our store journal keeps you posted on books we're excited about, our literary musings, and other reading-related rambles. Remember, you can sign up to receive our posts by email.)

Summer Re-reading

Recommending summer reading for adults isn’t too complicated. For many, a martini glass or a trenchcoated silhouette on a book cover is enough to satisfy. I’ve found, though, that it’s not so easy to keep the younger set interested while they’re on vacation. At least the ones I know best. I have two kids who love books, one of whom can actually read them. He’s an avid reader, and when school ended I was looking forward to watching him work his way through a shelf or two of the titles I’d been saving for when he was old enough. It hasn’t worked out quite as I’d imagined....Read More

Royal Reading

For once, the top story of the week was happy news. Yes, the big announcement was simply “woman has a baby," but the world has been eagerly anticipating the arrival of William and Kate’s child since their wedding in 2011. They promptly named the boy His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. The chosen name gives several nice nods to royal relatives, from the baby’s great-great-grandfather King George VI to the Queen’s middle name (Alexandra), to Prince Philip’s uncle and his grandfather, both named Louis.

Now that the newest Prince George has arrived, those of us that love a good royal story can begin to speculate on his destiny. Will he be a model of appropriateness like his parents, or a roguish bad-boy like his Uncle Harry? Will we see Diana in his likeness and personality? What kind of parents will Wills and Kate be? There are plenty of compelling questions about this particular baby, but we won’t know the bigger picture for many years. So in the meantime, why not turn to books to learn about the new baby’s predecessors? What possible scandals, love affairs, and political challenges could be in His Royal Highness’s future?...Read More

A Dance to the Music of Time: The Valley of Bones

In the early days of World War II, Jenkins is a second lieutenant helping to train troops on the home front. His superior officer is the punctilious Captain Gwatkin, and among his fellow officers are the companionable Kedward and the feckless Bithel. Their battalion is reassigned to the English-controlled north of Ireland, where Gwatkin falls head over heels for a barmaid and badly falters during an exercise. Jenkins returns briefly to England for further military education, bumping into Barnby (still chasing skirts but now in the army as a camouflage artist) and meeting a very erudite soldier, David Pennistone, on a train. With Odo Stevens, a young barracks-mate, Jenkins rides on leave to the country to visit with his pregnant wife, Isobel, and her family. Upon arrival he learns that his sister-in-law Frederica Tolland plans to marry the many-times-wed Dicky Umfraville, and that his brother-in-law Robert is about to embark for the continent with the Intelligence Corps. Stevens flirts with another Tolland sister, Priscilla, but he and Jenkins are forced to depart just as Isobel seems to begin labor (we learn later that she has given birth to a boy). The war progresses poorly for England (this is the spring of 1940, as British Expeditionary Forces are evacuating Dunkirk), and later, back in Ireland, Jenkins hears of Robert’s death. Bithel drunkenly kisses a private, but escapes serious censure when unexpected orders put the company on maneuvers. Gwatkin, distracted by having caught his barmaid with another man, again fumbles as a leader; he is shortly afterward relieved of command and replaced by Kedward. Jenkins, no standout as a field officer, is reassigned to a staff position in the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General’s office, which turns out to be occupied by none other than Widmerpool.

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It’s not getting easier to write about this series, as more and more often I want to say nothing more than “Wow, that was good." Starting off The Valley of Bones, I again had the familiar twinge of disappointment that comes from meeting new characters when what I really want is to find out what’s happened to the ones I already know. But it lasted only a moment, because by now I’ve accepted that Powell has me in good hands, and that the new faces will quickly become as compelling as the old ones.....Read More

Pen Names

imageThe big news in the book world last week centered around an author you may have heard of: J.K. Rowling. What does Rowling have in common with an author you probably don’t know, Robert Galbraith? Well, as it turns out, they’re the same person. Rowling followed in the footsteps of many famous authors, including Stephen King and Agatha Christie, by using a pseudonym to write in anonymity. Galbraith’s supposed debut novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, is suddenly on everyone’s must-read list. No one was ready for the reveal, and the scarcity of copies adds an even more lustrous allure. Those who own first editions are going to make a pretty penny if they choose to sell their books.

This isn’t the first time J.K. Rowling has changed her byline. After all, her real name is Joanne. Would we have all fallen in love with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone if we’d known immediately the author was a woman? We’ll never know, but this Robert Galbraith business is a nice role reversal. Obviously people are much more interested in reading it now that everyone knows the author is a woman—a particular one....Read More

(Our store journal keeps you posted on books we're excited about, our literary musings, and other reading-related rambles. Remember, you can sign up to receive our posts by email.)

The Four Elements

Literacy advocate and super-librarian Nancy Pearl has a theory:

It seems to me that all works of fiction and narrative nonfiction are broadly made up of four experiential elements: story, character, setting, and language. I call these “doorways,” because when we open a book, read the first few pages, and choose to go on, we enter the world of that book. And I’ve come to believe we can help readers better choose their next book by looking at the proportion of these four elements.

A book with story as its biggest doorway is one that readers describe as a page-turner, a book that they can’t put down because they desperately want to discover what happens next.

A book with character as its biggest doorway is a book in which readers feel so connected with the characters that when the book is over they feel they’ve lost someone dear to them.

Readers of novels in which setting is most prominent say things like “I felt like I was there,” or, as one man told me, “When I finished Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, I immediately made plans to go to New Mexico—I had to see for myself where it took place.”

A book in which language is the major doorway leads readers to utter sentences like “I read more slowly because I wanted to savor the language” or “I’m not even sure what the book is about, but I loved the way the author wrote.”

Simple, yet remarkably true, I’d say....Read More

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