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Craig's Book Club
Book Reviews

Non-fiction reviewed with a discerning eye.

Books for Writers now have their own page.

Allen Ahearn and Patricia Ahearn, Book Collecting 2000: A Comprehensive Guide

Book Collecting 2000: A Comprehensive Guide, unfortunately, is mostly a price list and is therefore much overpriced -- as well as being mistitled "comprehensive."

The first 100 pages or so are filled with wonderful information on the basics of book collecting. However, after that, all you have left is a price list of first books of collectable authors (which is only going to be useful for a short time as rare book prices are constantly in flux).

The Ahearns know their stuff, but the publisher should put out a separate (cheaper) volume with just the beginner's information for those of us who don't want the price list.

Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare

I find Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare quite helpful when being introduced to an unfamiliar Shakespearean play. The plot summaries, character descriptions, and surrounding histories--liberally sprinkled with explanatory quotes--are of great use in placing me in the correct frame of mind. I would recommend this to anyone looking to acquaint themselves with Shakespeare's works--especially the lesser-known plays--but are feeling daunted by what is perceived as high-brow content. Simply put, this book makes Shakespeare more approachable.

Asimov writes as if he were speaking directly to the reader. This not only makes the book easy to read, but lends a feeling of comfort to the experience. One feels as if a friend has taken their time out to give a helping hand.

Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare makes me much more comfortable giving the extra effort that it takes, given the time--and sometimes language--barrier. Without it, it is doubtful I would have introduced myself to the minor plays, some of which I have come to like better than the more popular ones. (Also see The Essential Shakespeare Handbook and, for more Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible.)

K.T. Berger, Zen Driving

It's astonishing to find such timeliness in a book first published a dozen years ago. Zen Driving should be handed out in drivers' education courses across the country.

The premise is simple: stay aware of your surroundings, don't let expectations distract you, and just enjoy the ride. Stop thinking about driving and just drive.

That's sound advice in all aspects of life.

Marshall Brain (editor), How Much Does the Earth Weigh?: And 101 Other Fascinating Questions and Answers from the Award-Winning Team at Howstuffworks.com

Your interest in How Much Does the Earth Weigh? will depend upon how curious you are about the world around you. The people at How Stuff Works have returned with another tome of difficult questions answered in an approachable way. (The only caveat is that the explanation does not always answer all parts of the question.)

It includes descriptions of how Caller ID works, how much "all the money in the world" is, as well as the immortal "Why is the sky blue," ending on the ambitious titular question.

How Much Does the Earth Weigh? is an ideal bedside (or lav-side) book and if you are interested in trivia or how the world works, I recommend it without reservation. (And, yes, Marshall Brain is his real name.)

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

I had never heard of Barbara Ehrenreich before I read Nickel and Dimed, but I'll certainly never forget her now.

This is an amazingly insightful work of underground journalism. Ehrenreich actually worked in the serving professions she writes about, and although she could always leave if she wanted to, this informs her book with insight that can only come from living it.

Nickel and Dimed touched me and riveted me. Her words are clear; full of meaning and emotion. Her observations on the necessity (or lack thereof) of management in retail are especially incisive.

Ehrenreich shines a necessary spotlight on the lives of the less-privileged. After reading this, hopefully you will be just a bit more patient with your waitress (and possibly a better tipper).

Lawrence Goldstone and Nancy Goldstone, Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Book Tales

The third of the Goldstones' collecting books (after Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World and Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore) is just as charming and whimsical -- and educational -- as the first two. The Goldstones are a delightful couple with a warm writing style that is easy to read and keeps you coming back.

Apart from the title of the book, which seems to have no relation to its contents, I have only one complaint: the central story of the New England forger goes on for too long. I was kept interested throughout, but I felt that it could have ended sooner.

Other than that, Warmly Inscribed is a terrific, quick read, and if you are fans of books and collecting you will not be disappointed.

Peter Mayle, French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew

As a fan of the author's Provence books, I picked up French Lessons as an audiobook for a long road trip. I was not disappointed. Mayle's writing is still as funny and educational as before. His "research" for this book takes him (and others) all over France, sampling the country's best cuisine--helped appreciably by the famous Michelin Red Guide.

Mayle's long descriptions of escargot and wine-tastings are never boring, and Simon Jones lends the perfect voice to this reading. He has an excellent grasp of the French tongue and the foreign words blend with the English with no slips. This was also a comfortably familiar voice to travel with, as Jones played Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series I liked so much as a child.

French Lessons is a terrific audiobook to travel with--or, I expect, to stay at home with. A warning, however. Be prepared to salivate at the descriptions of the wonderful French food. If traveling, you may have to pull over to the nearest French restaurant to sample their fare. The greatest compliment I can pay this book is to say that my only complaint was that it was too short.

So, sit back, tie a bib round your neck and tuck in to Peter Mayle's latest offering.

Allan Metcalf, Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success

Want to make your mark on the world? Coin a new word. Just follow the rules set down by Allan Metcalf in Predicting New Words and you'll be well on your way. Along the way, he discusses the origins of newish words and phrases like "notebook PC" and "weapons-grade" signifying anything of as well as tried and true ones like "OK" and "moonlighting," examining them and coming to conclusions about what makes a word gain universal acceptance.

Predicting New Words is a fun read for those who are interested in words and their history (as well as their future). Metcalf's prose style is simple and easy to read and his transitions are smooth, making each dissection blend into the next. He goes into what is likely to make a word accepted and discusses how some words simply ache to be coined because they keep cropping up in separate instances over time by people who were unaware that anyone else had ever used the word before.

In the back of the book is an appendix listing the Words of the Year as chosen by the American Dialect Society, along with descriptions as to what makes them special. Words like "Y2K," the "e-" prefix regarding the Internet, "9-11" as signifying the events of September 11, 2002; all of these have been chosen as Words of the Year for their prevalence and usefulness.

Metcalf also proposes some words that are floating around now and puts them to the test using his "FUDGE factor" to decide whether they will be around in 40 years. All in all, Predicting New Words in an insightful and engrossing read, and I recommend it to anyone who gets a kick out of words.

Laura Miller (editor), et al, The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors

Just first, as a warning, I would like to state that The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors is not meant to be all-inclusive. It states clearly in the introduction that if no contributors expressed interest in a particular author, he or she was left out (with one notable exception).

Having said that, The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors is a terrific reference for finding new authors or find new books by loved authors. Names I've seen in the bookstore/library, but were hesitant to try from lack of knowledge of their works are now newly elucidated. Cross-referencing gives additional help in finding authors similar to those you like (as well as those you don't like).

Plus, the caricatures are fun.

Jane Resnick, Loving Tea

Tea 101

Loving Tea is an excellent compendium on the history and differing types of tea. I didn't know that all tea comes from the same species of plant (Camellia sinesis), and that the main differences depend on the conditions and location in which the plants are grown.

Resnick does repeat herself (simply a case of poor editing), but all the information here is interesting, especially to tea drinkers. There is also a section on various cultures' tea ceremonies and how to create your own; as well as several recipes for tea snacks.

    Other choices on other pages
  • Horror: The 100 Best Books -- A list chosen by horror authors of their favorite horror novels.
  • ...more to come...