Sunday, October 17, 2010


About a month ago NPR had an article by author and critic Lev Grossman
about T.H. White's great Arthurian novel, The Once and Future King.
It caused me to list my top five favorite Arthurian novels. I have to admit
I cheated a bit as I counted Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy as a single

So here are my picks:

The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart
Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw

I recall once reading something somewhere that there have been more
novels written about Arthur and the Matter of Britain than any other
subject. I'm not sure how accurate that is but I do know that I've read
every one that I've seen since I was a kid. Stewart's books are still my
favorites to this day with Sutcliff's a close second.  MZB thought it was
the best Arthurian novel she'd ever read. Mists of Avalon is Bradley's
masterwork and White's book is simply magical. Hawk of May by
Bradshaw is a fresh look at some of the Welsh elements of the legend
especially the story of Gawaine(Gwalchmai) and Morgaine Le Fay.
What all of these books have in common besides the subject is great
characterization and writing.

Bradshaw's book is probably the least known of all of these. Luckily,
it's once more available in a large paperback edition, so you can buy a
copy and see for yourself how it stacks up against your favorite Arthurian

By the way, what are your favorites?


Saturday, July 17, 2010


Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Except for
your favorite book series, which as we all know must go on forever.

I was thinking about this the other day when I finished "The Silver
Mage"  the fifteenth and last book in Katharine Kerr's Deverry
series. On the one hand, I'll miss visiting her wonderfully detailed
world and it's characters. On the other end, it should be the
author's choice as to how and when they stop writing about their
creations. And I'd rather have all the threads of a series brought         
to a satisfying conclusion by its creator than to have them keep on 
writing it because it's profitable. That's when writing becomes an
industry, not a craft, and I think it's pretty easy to spot when a
writer reaches that point, because there's a certain spark missing
from their writing.

Of course there's the other sort of ending for a series, the one
where its creator suddenly dies without having brought things
to that satisfying conclusion I mentioned in the last paragraph.
An example that comes to mind is Robert Jordan and his
"Wheel of Time" series which just seemed to roll on and on
right up to his passing. His fans worried that it would never be
completed. Luckily, Jordan's widow and estate had his notes
and outlines for the last three books and selected another
fantasy writer, Brandon Sanderson, to write them and bring
the series to a close.

There's some discussion if there is anyone who could continue
Robert Parker's Spenser or Jesse Stone series. I have to
confess I'm of two minds again about this. I am a big Spenser
fan and the thought of no more new novels with Spenser and
Hawk and Susan saddens me. But could anyone else write 
dialogue like Parker with the same wit and flair? I don't know.
Ironically, Parker himself completed "Poodle Springs", an
unfinished novel of the late Raymond Chandler.

And then there's the series that have become family traditions.
Anne McCaffrey's son Todd now writes novels set in his mother's
Pern universe, and Clive Cussler's son has begun co-authoring the
Dirk Pitt series.

So, what series are you a fan of that you will miss when they come to
their end, untimely or not?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


One of the things I've just started to work on with my book collection
is cataloging them using the Goodreads application on Facebook.
Back when my sister gave me her old AppleII GS, the first thing I
did with it was to do a book catalog and print it out on the dot-
matrix computer. I just liked the idea of having that list of books
I owned down on paper. Yeah, geeky, I know.

Goodreads works well. Besides putting together my list with it I
can display my library on my blogs which might generate comments
from people who've read the same books that I have.But rating my
books sometimes gives me pause. It's like trying to decide which
child is your favorite. I realize that those just keeping track of books
they've read can give a book they don't like 1 or even no stars, but
these are books I own, and why would anyone keep a book they
hate? So I end up rating my books with mostly 4 or 5 stars.

Another task I need to get around to is the actual organizing of the
books. While I may not put them in perfect alphabetical order (but
I really should, considering I work in a bookstore), I should at least

group all the books by an author together. Over the years I've gotten
in the habit of shelving the hardcovers and paperbacks separately.
So there's that to do as well. And it will make the cataloging easier.

I don't know how long this will take but it'll keep me out of trouble!

Friday, July 2, 2010


That would be whether I should give in and buy an ebook reader.

As my geneablog readers and Facebook friends might recall, I've
been very skeptical of ebooks. I love printed books, the feel of the
page, the art on the cover, the slow deliberate act of turning a page
to read.I've spent many hours in my life reading sitting inside or out.
I can't imagine a world where there are no printed books available
in libraries or bookstores, although there are those who assure us
that day is not far in the future.

But lately, I've been tempted.

One factor is my new apartment. I had to downsize my library
when I moved here, and I don't have the room to buy all the books
that have come out since the move that I'd like to buy. I eliminated
most of my history books, and as much as I love the sf, fantasy, and
mystery genres, I miss having books at hand about ancient history or
the middle ages. I could use the ebook reader to purchase those books
and books by new writers. However I'd still buy printed books by my
favorite authors.

Another factor is affordability. The prices have become to drop, and
there's an ereader out there on the horizon for $119.95. Some of them
come preloaded with one hundred classics.

A third factor is that some of them can have documents loaded onto
them. I could bore my co-workers with my family tree, blogposts,
poetry, and stories. "Here, see? That's the post I wrote about my
ancestors who....".

Of course there would be a limit. No Kindles or Nooks. They are,
after all, the competition.

So there's the question, and there's the arguments for making the
plunge into being an ebook reader owner.

I'm still deciding.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


A little earlier today I posted an entry over in "West in New England"
about my visit this afternoon to the Abington Public Library. That post
was mostly about the layout of the building, getting my library card,and
exploring the history section there with an eye towards my genealogy

Now I want to talk about something else.

In my younger days I'd visit the three nearby Boston branch libraries
near me with my newspaper delivery bag because there were so many
books I wanted to take out I needed something to carry them home in
(and the bag made it easier to start reading a book as I walked home).

As I got older, there was that high I'd get out of haunting the college
library racks and the bookstores in Harvard Square and finding a book
that made me go "wow!" before I borrowed or bought it. I got the same
rush out of finding a book as the kids after me did out of discovering a
hot video game. I was the proverbial "kid in the candy shop". And of
course, I've been working in a bookstore for most of the last twenty
one years.

You know what they say about working in a candy shop?

Don't get me wrong, I love being a bookseller, and I am dang good
at it, but the "wow" moments are lessened when you see the same
titles on a daily basis. And needless to say, I don't have the time to
browse the shelves when I'm working, which is why I used to like
sorting the incoming stock. I had the chance to get a quick look at
everything that came into the store. 

But today, wandering the stacks of Abington Town Library, I had
several "wow" moments:
Will Durant's eleven volume "The Story of Civilization" .
Winston Churchill's six volume "History of the Second World War"
Francis Parkman's books on the French and  English in North America
William Prescott's "Conquest of Peru"
Samuel Eliot Morison's books on Plymouth and the Bay Colony
Best of all, a whole slew of the Edward Rowe Snow books I read as
a kid fifty years ago!

I think I need a newspaper delivery bag again.

Friday, June 25, 2010


The thing about books is that they aren't just novels or histories or
whatever the subject is to me. Many of them have specific memories
attached to them when I look at the covers, of where I was when I
first read or purchased them. The one that comes first to mind is the
battered copy of "King Arthur and His Knights"  my folks bought
for me at the Stop&Shop on Gallivan Blvd in Boston when I was
eight years old. I've written about it before over on my genealogy
blog. It's the oldest book in my collection and it brings back the
memory of those years in Dorchester and the trips to the libraries.
But there's others, paperbacks that in most cases I bought thirty or
forty years ago, that have sentiment attached to them.

A copy of "Conan the Conqueror" with its Frank Frazetta cover was
purchased at a corner bookstore in Somerville during a holiday visit
to my aunt's parents. I look at that and think of the lasagna served
after the turkey dinner and of the poker games played by the women
and kids after the meal. We used uncooked beans for money. That  
book was published by Lancer Books, long out of business.

The edition I have of Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" is the third copy I've
had but it's the same cover as the one I carried through three years of
Latin at Abington High School.

There's the copy of Andre Norton's "Web of the Witch World" that
I bought in the shop in Brockton when I was taking the bus from
Bridgewater after classes to my weekend part-time job in Quincy. It's
one of a number of her books I bought at that used book store while
in college.

The summers I spent as a camp counselor down on Cape Cod are
represented by some classic series: E.E. Smith's "Skylark of Space"
and "Lensman" books from the 1920s and Edgar Rice Burroughs'
"John Carter" books. I bought them in a store on Main Street in
Hyannis called "Leilania's".  Camp was where I first read Tolkien,
and tucked away in my upper dresser drawer is a copy of the Ace
edition of "The Two Towers" which was the edition I first read,
borrowed from one of my fellow counselors. I bought my copy
years later at a science fiction convention.

I kept other books from the college years: the four volume "Masks of
God" books by Joseph Campbell, Robert Graves' "White Goddess",
James Frazier's "The Golden Bough". The edition of LOTR with the
surreal covers that formed a triptych. I had a poster of that on my
bedroom wall. History books like Toynbee's "A Study of History"
and Frye's "Heritage of Ancient Persia" made the cut.

A two volume set of Previte-Orton's "A Cambridge History of the
Middle Ages" carries two sets of memories. It's a survivor from the
days when I'd make special trips into Harvard Square and lust after
so many books. I bought them at Wordsworth Books. Later, they
accompanied me in my old red knapsack on the long bus trip between
Boston and Denver when I attended  a World Science Fiction
Convention there. I finished Vol.1 and started Vol 2 on the way home.

Memory and sentiment couldn't save every book. One was a Lin
Carter fantasy anthology. One look at the cover and I remembered
purchasing it in some department store in Norfolk Virginia during a
vacation trip with my folks. I'd finished the books I'd brought along
and I needed something to tide me over. But the rest of the yearly
series had already been culled so this one was too. Some others
I discarded because I could buy them as part of one volume
collections. So the individual copies of the original Roger Zelazny
Amber books were replaced by a single book with all ten novels
in it.

I could go on and on. I think I've talked about this to a lesser
degree before on the genealogy blog. I've also mentioned, I think,
that I wonder if when ebooks replace all paper books, as I'm
assured they will, how they would invoke such memories for their

How about you? What books would you hold on to because of
the memories they hold for you? Leave a comment, a link if you
blog about it.

The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles, 1-10 (Chronicles of Amber)

Chronicles of the Lensmen, Volume 1 (Triplanetary, First Lensman, Galactic Patrol )

A Princess of Mars (Penguin Classics)
The Masks of God: Creative Mythology
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

CONAN THE CONQUEROR - Conan Book (9) Nine

Web of the Witch World (Witch World Series)

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I had to get rid of about 2/3 of my books recently. I was moving here
to my new apartment and there wasn't enough space for them all. It had
to be done quickly, too, since I'd already given my notice to my old
landlord. But how do you choose between a lifetime of books? Most of
them were paperbacks but there were quite a few hardcovers, because
I've been a bookseller for 21 years now and that employee discount
made buying them less expensive.And some of them were paperbacks
dating back to the 1960's. I found myself changing my decisions
several times on  the fates of particular books. Should I get rid
of all the fiction and just keep the nonfiction, or keep only
hardcovers over the paperbacks?

In the end, three things factored into whether a book stayed or
went: online availability, favorites, and memories.

Online availability came into play for the nonfiction books. Could the
information in them be accessed online. Most of these books were
history and mythology with some poetry books. While the actual
books might not be online, by and large the subjects they covered are,
so most of them went. Those I kept were favorites and have memories
attached to them. Goodbye to my old college texts! And I kept any
book that pertained to my family history.

Favorites are the authors and books I've followed for years, mainly
series in the genres: Robert Parker, Peter Tremayne and Michael Jecks
in mysteries, Jim Butcher, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, CJ Cherryh,
Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, Isaac Asimov and more. I kept the books
that I'd had autographed over the years by writers at signings in the store
or at conventions.

Finally there were the books that have memories attached to them. That
will be covered in the next post.

In the end, despite the difficulty of culling down the collection, I had the
easy part of the job. My sister and brother in law did the actual moving
of all the books, both those that stayed and those that were donated and
I thank them for all the work they did in the move.

I hope that the books that left are being enjoyed by their new owners!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010


One would think with all the posts I've written on my genealogy blog
that the last thing I'd want to do is start another blog. But there
are somethings I'd like to write about that just wouldn't fit there, such
as my thoughts about the music I listen to and the books I read. So,
here I am, starting a new blog.

Years ago, back in the pre-computer age, I kicked around the idea of
starting up a fantasy and science fiction fanzine. I thought that with a last
name of West, that the title "West of the Moon" was a natural. It
referenced both genres quite nicely.Apparently that title has been
taken already on Blogger, so I've used the longer version which is
the title of an old fairy tale.

As I said, I'll be discussing books but it won't be just fantasy and sf,
although a good chunk of it will be, in all honesty. But I also read
mysteries and history, and the occasional mainstream fiction book.
My taste in music tends towards folk, Celtic, and good old rock and
roll, so be warned there'll be no opera reviews here.

There it is, the beginning.