Home : Ex Libris : 1 February 1999

ex libris reviews

1 February 1999

No, so long as Carruthers wasn't completely incoherent, it was better to stay here, find the bishop's bird stump, and then go back and be able to tell Lady Schrapnell, yes, it had been in the cathedral during the raid, and then get some sleep.
Connie Willis


In This Issue:
The Worst That Can Happen

"C'mon, what's the worst that can happen?"

Hold that thought; I'd like to say a few words about our new look before addressing it.

When I transformed Will & Jane's Book Page into ex libris reviews in August of 1997, I elected to use one of HTML's latest features: frames. Frames allow the HTML author to decouple the website boilerplate from the actual page content. For example, frames allowed me to maintain a single index file of Authors by Name yet still have that index available no matter which Author page the reader was browsing. Also, frames were a fairly new feature, and one I hadn't tried yet; ex libris is a labor of love, and I like to learn new things.

The overall result was pretty nifty; the site became easier to browse, but also easier to maintain. In the ensuing 18 months, though, a couple of things have happened. First, I now maintain the site with the help of a wonderful tool called Expand. It allows me to define special non-HTML markup commands unique to this site, which are then expanded into regular HTML before publication. As a result, it's now quite trivial to put any boilerplate text or links I like into every single page, without having to edit them by hand. Second, the e-mail I get indicates that most of my readers find the site by means of a web search on a particular author, and hence find the author's page first.

The "frames" approach assumes that the reader always comes to the site from the top. The lower level pages are not designed to stand on their own; in particular, they have no links back to the main page. As a result, I can only assume that many of the visitors to this site have been able to see only a small part of it!

Hence the new look. I have renounced the Dark Side of the Web, gotten rid of the frames, and added appropriate boilerplate to every single page. It is now clear to the casual visitor to an author's page in the ex libris archives that the page is part of a larger whole; more, it will be obvious how to navigate around the site regardless of how one enters it.

In conclusion, I'd like to say a few more nice words about the Expand tool. Despite the considerable changes to the look-and-feel of this site, I did not need to edit a single author's page or ex libris issue page. All I changed were the rules that govern how those pages are expanded into HTML. It took me the better part of a day to make all of the changes, but now they are done; I won't need to touch the rules again unless I decide to change the look of the site again. By comparison, making all of the same changes in pure HTML would have taken just as long, if not longer, been more error-prone, and would need to be done over and over with each month's issue.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled introduction...

While reading this month's books I became aware that several of the authors devised their plots by asking "What's the worst that can happen?" -- and then writing about it. It's a dangerous question to ask, for even the experienced author can write themselves into a corner, as Edgar Allen Poe did with his unfinished Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. The author who approaches it with care, however, can find it leading their plot in delightful, complicated, even byzantine directions. Connie Willis and George MacDonald Fraser use it for comedic purposes; in high comedy there are many fates worth than death, and the skillful author can pile one upon another in extremely disconcerting ways. The question must be approached cautiously by the purveyor of drama, however, as the stakes are higher and the worst that can happen may be very bad indeed. In his Honor Harrington novels, David Weber shows how to parley successive answers to the question into a series of bestselling novels.

In Times to Come

Books on the soon-to-be-read stack include novels by Anthony Powell and C.J. Cherryh.

-- Will Duquette

Books to Read Aloud

by Will Duquette

Alas! Alack! This month, Jane and I have been reading through the draft of my novel, looking for problems, and it has taken far longer than I had at first hoped. We've both had colds, so that when I was willing to read it aloud Jane was unwilling to listen, and vice versa; and, of course, we both know perfectly well how it ends, so there's no suspense. With luck, next month will be better.

Electronic Books:
Charles Dickens

I'm still working my way through Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, which I highly recommend. I'll have more to say next month.

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

The Discworld Companion
By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs

This is an absurd book, suitable only for die-hard Pratchett fans (of which number I must count myself, I suppose). It's an encyclopedia of all things relating to the Discworld, a place whose name must be familiar to any long-time reader of these pages. I found it to be a pleasant tour down memory lane, but not in any way essential.

The Willow Pattern
By Robert van Gulik

With this volume I have now read all of van Gulik's tales of the chinese detective Judge Dee; this one is as good as any. It is one of only two books in the series that take place after Judge Dee's elevation to high office in the Imperial City, and thus is of particular interest. The plot concerns a number of murders involving the oldest families in the city, and takes place against a backdrop of plague and death. The Imperial Court has fled, and Dee is the man in charge.

A Grave Talent
To Play the Fool
With Child
By Laurie R. King

Last month I read several of King's delightful "Mary Russell" books and enjoyed them thorougly, so this month I elected to try her other series. I bought the first book, read it, and promptly went and bought the others.

Kate Martinelli is a homicide detective with the San Francisco Police Department. She's had a hard life; in order to keep her balance and withstand the stresses of her career, she has always kept her home life (shared with her lover, Lee) completely separate from her work life. This is not a situation that can last indefinitely. The series, then, is more than just a sequence of murder investigations; as with Lawrence Block's "Matthew Scudder" novels, it is also the continuing story of the growth and healing of the protagonist.

I found these books to be well worth reading, as well written as (though not as enjoyable as) King's "Mary Russell" books. The Russell books have a lighter, wittier touch; these are far more serious, and I sometimes felt that King's efforts to move the reader were a little heavy-handed.

The Moor
By Laurie R. King

Toward the end of the month I discovered, to my delight, that King's fourth "Mary Russel" novel was out in paperback. I bought it immediately, and read it as quickly. The "Moor" of the title is not Othello, nor any of his kin, as I first guessed, but rather the boggy wasteland of Dartmoor in Devonshire, England, home of Dartmoor Prison. Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts will also be familiar with Dartmoor as the site of Baskerville hall and the range of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes and his partner Mary Russell return to Dartmoor at the behest of an aging village priest named Sabine Baring-Gould.

One of the conceits of this series (as with Elizabeth Peters' "Amelia Peabody" series) is that the volumes are not novels, but rather memoirs written by the protagonist, and edited for publication by the author of record. As such, the presumption is that all of the characters are real people--and many real people appear as characters. Just as Amelia Peabody rubs elbows with Howard Carter, discoverer of Tut's Tomb, so Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes rub elbows with Arthur Conan Doyle (they rather despise him) and other notables, of whom Sabine Baring-Gould was not the least. Gould was the author of many novels, histories, monographs, and other books, on almost every topic, including his beloved Dartmoor. He collected folksongs, and wrote hymns; the current Episcopal Church hymnal has no less than four hymns which he either wrote or translated, including the well-known "Onward Christian Soldiers". (I did not know this until I read King's book, but I verified it the following Sunday.)

In any event, the spectral hound has been seen again, in company with a spectral coach, and a tin-miner has been found dead. Gould calls in his old friend Holmes to crack the case.

I enjoyed it as much as I did King's previous books, and I recommend it.

Fortress in the Eye of Time
Fortress of Eagles
By C.J. Cherryh

Although I very much like Cherryh's science fiction, I have generally disliked her fantasy, and it was with a few qualms that I purchased Fortress in the Eye of Time when it came out in paperback a year or so ago. The opening chapters did nothing to reassure me; one of Cherryh's standard plot devices is the gifted but hopelessly naive protagonist, who spends a large portion of the book being harassed by his enemies (who want to bring him down) and also by his friends (who want to prevent him from shooting himself in the foot yet again) before finally getting a clue. I've seen the pattern often enough to be tired of it, and so was rather worried; it was a second strike against the book.

I need not have worried, for the book was outstanding. When the sequel, Fortress of Eagles, came out in paperback I snapped it up immediately. Alas, the next book, Fortress of Owls, is only out in hardback at the moment; I await it eagerly.

If Rider at the Gate was Cherryh's gritty answer to Anne McCaffrey's dragon's, these books are her answer to one of Andre Norton's standard devices: the character with magic power that they do not understand and do not know how to control. In Norton's books, the protagonist is feared/dreaded/revered for their power, which only comes out when they are in great danger. Typically their attackers end up dead, while they remain no wiser...until the climax of the book, at any rate.

Superficially, Cherryh's Tristen fits Norton's model, as well as Cherryh's own model of the gifted naif. Tristen is not your normal human being; rather, he is the construct of a dying wizard, created to protect the world against the wizard's great enemy. At the wizard's death he sent out into the world with a minimum of skills and a book he cannot read, to make his way as best he can.

Fortress in the Eye of Time succeeds for two reasons. The first is Tristen himself. While naive, he is no fool, and he is possessed of many skills he does not become aware of until he needs them. Thus, the book is in part about Tristen discovering who he is--and he is indeed interesting. The second reason is Cherryh's skillful rendering of the political situation, which would make interesting reading even without Tristen thrown in to gum up the works. All-in-all, Fortress in the Eye of Time ranks as one of the best works of high fantasy in years.

Fortress of Eagles is equally well-written, and suffers only from second-volume-of-the-trilogy disorder. Often enough, the first volume of a trilogy end with a resounding climax; the second is generally slower paced, setting things up for the third volume. I'm eager to see what Fortress of Owls has in store.

Black Ajax
By George MacDonald Fraser

This is Fraser's most recent historical novel, and it is, as always, excellently written and researched, and rooted firmly in real happenings. It takes place in the first part of the nineteenth century. Boxing was amazingly popular in England in those days, and was regarded as being the quintessentially English sport. While not strictly legal (matches were often broken up as breaches of the peace), it was nevertheless followed by all classes of society, from the Prince on down. Black Ajax is about English boxing, and is largely the true story of one Tom Molyneaux, a freed slave from the United States who comes to England to make a name for himself as a boxer. The story is told as a series of interviews: it is as though Fraser went back in time, and met personally with a dozen or so individuals, all of whom figured largely in Molyneaux's life. The interviewees are generally real people as well, though Fraser puts words in their mouths; indeed, the descriptions of Molyneaux's best known fights come straight from actual reports of the day. (Fans of Fraser's "Flashman Papers" will be pleased to note that Harry Flashman's father figures largely, though fictitiously, throughout.) All in all, it is a fascinating look at a part of 19th century English life that is generally ignored.

The Candlemass Road
By George MacDonald Fraser

In addition to his novels, Fraser is also the author of The Steel Bonnets, the authoritative history of life on the Anglo-Scottish border in the century before King James united the thrones of England and Scotland. It was a terrible place, a den of horse-thieves, cattle-rustlers, and extortionists, where no one's life was safe and where the authorities like as not had ties of kinship and obligation with the outlaws. In short, the border was a place where the worst that could happen generally did. It is an excellent book, and I recommend it.

Sometime later, he wrote The Candlemass Road, a short novel about a cross-border raid and its bloody aftermath. It is a work of fiction in the sense that only one of the characters has any historical existence; at the same time, it concerns horrifying events which were almost too commonplace to mention in the records of that day. The Candlemass Road isn't one of Fraser's best books, but it does shine an interesting light on the period, and as such is a worthwhile companion to The Steel Bonnets.

To Say Nothing Of The Dog
By Connie Willis

It's hard to describe this book. It's a romp, a farce, a historical novel, a comedy of manners, and a serious work of science fiction to boot. Let's start with the science fiction: at some point early in the 21st century, scientists at Oxford discovered the secret of time travel. Funding was easily acquired; time travel had many interesting applications, and all of the big corporations wanted a piece of it. Then the other shoe dropped: none of the applications worked. Retrieve interesting artifacts? You can't bring anything back from the past--at least, not anything of any historical importance. Videotape great moments in history? You can't get near them, in time or space. Step forward a year or so, check the stock prices, return home and make a killing? You can't go forward from your own time. What can you do? You can go back to non-critical times and places, and observe, and talk to people, and so forth. All you can bring back are your observations. Commercially useless, but of great value to one class of people: historians. By the time our story begins, several decades after the discovery of time travel, historians are the only people using it; indeed, the word "historian" has replaced the term "time traveller" among those who use the technology. The time travel department is poorly funded, for all of the corporations lost interest.

Enter the farce. It seems that wealthy heiress Lady Schrapnell has decided to build a replica of Coventry Cathedral, an exact duplicate of the cathedral destroyed by the Luftwaffe during World War II. It must be exactly the same in every detail. The Time Travel Department offers their services in return for research funding; Lady Schrapnell gives the money, and just about takes over. In particular, it is vitally important to Lady Schrapnell that it be determined whether the "bishop's bird stump" was in the cathedral when it was bombed, and if not, what happened to it. (I won't explain what the "bishop's bird stump" is; Willis takes too much delight in keeping the reader in the dark, and I'd hate to spoil it.)

Now it's time for the historical novel and the comedy of manners. Ned Henry, seriously time-lagged and entirely unfit for service thanks to far too many time-drops on Lady Schrapnell's behalf, is sent to the one place where he might be able to rest peacefully for a few weeks without Lady Schrapnell disturbing him: victorian England. He just has one little job to do while he was there. It seems that one of his colleagues brought something forward with her, which you're not supposed to be able to do. It's a time anomaly, and potentially dangerous, so someone has to return the object. Unfortunately, he was too time-lagged to pay good attention when they briefed him....

And here's where my comments in the introduction come in: what's the worst than can happen? In how many ways can Murphy's Law interfere with Ned Henry and the performance of his duty? The answer: pretty much all of them.

It's a frenetic book, an absurd book, and, I suspect, a remarkably well-researched book, and for the most part I liked it once I realized that it was supposed to a farce and that all of the horrible, horrible happenings would have happy endings of one sort or another. (Before I realized that, it was just too painful.) Willis wrote a related book--different characters, but, I think, the same time-travel department, called Doomsday Book, which I simply couldn't get through. I suspect that if I tried it again, recognizing the dry sense of humor, I'd probably enjoy it rather more. Alas, I've disposed of my copy.

On Basilisk Station
The Honor of the Queen
The Short Victorious War
Field of Dishonor
Flag in Exile
Honor Among Enemies
In Enemy Hands
By David Weber

These seven books, together with Echoes of Honor which is just out in hardback, comprise David Weber's "Honor Harrington" series. I wrote extensively about the first five in the September and October 1997 issues, so I won't go into great detail about them this time; instead, I'll briefly describe the series to date, and then discuss the sixth and seventh books.

The Star Kingdom of Manticore is small as star nations go, but very wealthy due its control of important trade routes. As a result, it has quite a good, modern navy. It needs it, for the People's Republic of Haven is starting to expand in the direction of Manticore, and war is inevitable.

The series works on two levels. On one level, these are space war stories par excellence. Weber was inspired by C.S. Forester's tales of Horatio Hornblower. He plays all sorts of games with physics so that fleet actions similar to those Hornblower participated in make sense in the context of outer space. Every engagement is described in painstaking detail; Weber clearly spent a considerable amount of time working out the implications of how space fleets and individual ships would join battle. I have only two complaints about the series at this level: the battle descriptions grow somewhat tedious over time, and he tends to neglect the third dimension. That is to say, while he pays lip service to the notion that spaceships move in three dimensions, rather than on a two-dimensional surface, he still tends to describe battles in two-dimensions. All that said, I don't believe I've read a better description of space warfare.

On the second, more personal level, the books are the story of Honor Harrington, a rising young Captain in the Royal Manticoran Navy.

Honor, quite frankly, is super-human. She is an outstanding strategist and tactician, and an outstanding leader. Her people would quite literally die for her, or more likely follow her to hell and back. She is utterly courageous, and never fails to do her duty as she sees it. She is, in fact, One Who Can Cope With Anything. That's not to see that she can't be injured, taken aback, knocked down both literally and figuratively; she can. But she bounces back, injuries and all, and proceeds to do what she must do, regardless of the consequences.

So...what's the worst that can happen? When you've got a character who can cope with anything, your only hope for a long-running series is to space out the challenges, and not make them too difficult too soon. Each challenge needs to be a little more difficult than the one before, but not so difficult that the following challenge is hard to devise. I can tell that Weber is beginning to have trouble with this, as I shall now relate.

I bought Honor Among Enemies at the same time as the first five, but didn't read it. Up to that point, Weber had done a sterling job of making each book complete unto itself, with a nice resounding conclusion and Honor safe at home (at least in theory). At that time, In Enemy Hands was just out in hardback, and the two titles made me nervous: Honor Among Enemies; In Enemy Hands; it didn't take a genius to see that Weber was getting Honor into too big a hole for one book. So I put Honor Among Enemies aside until In Enemy Hands came out in paperback, and then reread the whole series to date.

On the one hand, I was mistaken about Honor Among Enemies; it doesn't end with Honor in enemy hands, but with the typical bang-up ending. It's rather different than the earlier books, and I quite enjoyed it; I'd rate it one of his better books. Pleased to see that the drive for bigger, nastier challenges hadn't driven Weber into multi-book plots, I began In Enemy Hands with a lighter heart. It's good, too, but Alas! Alack! here the disease sets in in earnest. I shall have to wait until Echoes of Honor comes out in paperback to find out how the story ends. The rest of you--give In Enemy Hands a miss until then.

Hit Man
By Lawrence Block

Block's latest book is a novel--or, rather, a sequence of related short stories--about a hit man named Keller. It's a darkly humorous book, more about Keller's life off-duty than about how he kills people. Killing people is simple, he says. He never meant to kill people for a living, it just worked out that way.

If casual, cold-blooded (though not terribly graphic) violence offends you, skip this one; Keller does manage to go through quite a number of victims by the end of the book. For all that, though, it was an entertaining read, and I recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed Block's other books.

Flashman at the Charge
Flashman in the Great Game
By George MacDonald Fraser

Harry Flashman is the star rogue of Fraser's popular "Flashman Papers", a series of historical novels taking place in the 19th century, and taking the form of Harry Flashman's memoirs.

Harry Flashman is a British soldier and war hero; in the course of his adventures he gets to pretty much every major battle of every war of the period, including many the average reader has never heard of. He is also a bully, a bounder, a cad, a scoundrel, a philanderer, a coward, and a beloved and much decorated war hero, widely regarded as the most dashing and courageous thing on two legs. I realize that these attributes appear to be somewhat in conflict, but in fact they are not. The negative attributes are what Flashman is; the positive ones are how he takes care to be perceived by those who matter. And Flashman meets many people who matter; practically all of them in fact. Like Laurie King's Mary Russell and Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody, Harry Flashman is a fictional character walking through the pages of history. Unlike King and Peters, however, Fraser is an historian and he is writing historical novels rather than mysteries. The spotlight is only partially on Flashman's dastardly deeds; the background gets its fair share of the attention.

These two books concern Flashman's activities in the middle years of the century. In Flashman at the Charge he is sent to the Crimea as a staff colonel and "galloper" for General Raglan; while there, much against his will, he participates in what have become known as the Thin Red Line, the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Taken prisoner by the Russians, he and a fellow officer manage to escape with news of a Russian plan to invade and conquer India. Recaptured, he is rescued by a Central Asian prince named Yakub Beg; again, much against his will, he helps Yakub Beg destroy several boats containing the gunpowder and ammunition for the Russian invasion, thus averting the threat. Subsequently, in Flashman in the Great Game, he is chased all over India during the Sepoy Mutiny. At that time, British India was ruled by the British East India Company with aid of company-raised army units. Most of the soldiers in the Company's army were locals, known as Sepoys. One day during the 1850's, for a variety of reasons to involved to go into here, native troops all over India rose up against their English overlords, killing men, women, and children alike. There were bloody atrocities and reprisals on both sides before the rebellion was put down, and Flashman was in the thick of things throughout, largely due to his inability to get clear.

The most interesting thing about the Flashman novels is that the events described are historical, barring Flashman's presence. Where Fraser stretches the truth, and where he tells the truth but is afraid it might not be believed, he has an endnote explaining what really happened. He is careful, of course, not to break the illusion that Flashman was really there; the notes say things like, "It is interesting that Flashman says such-and-such, because all other sources say so-and-so", or "Flashman's description agrees with other eye-witness accounts at least as well as they agree with each other." Thus, not only do you get a ripping good yarn, but a reasonably accurate history lesson at the same time.

By Steven Gould

This is a delightful wish-fulfillment kind of a book. Seventeen-year-old Davy Rice's father is a violent drunkard who beats him at the slightest provocation. On the last such occasion, before the first blow falls, Davy suddenly finds himself in the stacks at the local public library, with no knowledge of how he got there. Deciding he's better off away from home, he collects his belongings, and heads for New York City. On the way, he accepts a ride from a truck driver who then turns on him; at the last moment, he finds himself, once again, in the stacks at his local public library. The first time might have been a blackout; the second time, he'd been hundreds of miles from home. Clearly something is going on, and it develops that young Davy can teleport himself and whatever he's carrying anywhere he's ever been that he can visualize clearly. At this point, things start to look up. The rest of the book explores the nature of his gift, and the choices he makes as he puts it to use. (He scares the living daylights out of the abusive trucker, to begin with.) It's an enjoyable handling of a fun premise, and was the thing for a day spent sick in bed.

If I have a problem with Jumper, it's that it is entirely too politically correct. It's not so pronounced as in Gould's second novel, Wildside, but it's there. For example, Davy's mother left his abusive father when Davy was twelve; eventually she gets into Alanon. Davy declines to have sex with a drunken co-ed because he doesn't love her; he leaves when she tells him where the condoms are. On the other hand, sex is peachy keen with the girl he loves (marriage is never discussed). He meets the drunken co-ed again a year or so later; she's in Alcoholics Anonymous. They eventually get his father into a treatment center. At the end of the book, Davy is just about ready to go into therapy to deal with his dysfunctional childhood. Davy builds himself a home in the wilderness, but is careful to be oh-so-environmentally correct.

Now, there's very little wrong with any of this, on the face of it. As a Christian, I can take exception to the premarital sex, but frankly, if I read no books that transgressed traditional Christian views on sex before marriage, I'd read very few modern books, period. The trouble is the way it is all put together, as though in addition to telling a good story he's trying to be morally uplifting in an ethnically and religiously neutral kind of way. And the fact is, I hate to be preached at when I'm reading a novel.

Use of Weapons
By Iain M. Banks

This book is the story of a warrior called Cheradenine Zakalwe. If he lived today, he'd be working for the CIA, travelling about small South American countries, fighting their wars, killing their leaders, and such-like similar missions. As it is, he works for Special Circumstances, the most active part of the Culture's Contact section. The Culture, for those new to Banks' work, is a highly advanced spacefaring humanoid culture. Some members of the Culture would pass for normal Earth humans; others would not. Relatively few members of the Culture live on planets; most live on Orbital Habitats or on one of the Culture's many Ships. The Culture isn't precisely a government, and it isn't precisely a nation; indeed, it's hard to describe. Suffice it to say that Banks thinks big, and the sense-of-wonder isn't entirely gone from science fiction.

In any event, most of the book takes place outside of the bounds of the Culture, purely by the nature of Zakalwe's work. Zakalwe is not of the Culture; a barbarian by their standards, he was recruited at the point of death into Special Circumstances. (The Culture needs barbarians from time to time, and produces few of its own.) It is a complex book; Banks' novels are rarely linear, and require a fair amount of work by the reader. This was my second reading of it, and I must say it made considerably more sense than the first time; I was able to follow it through all of its jumps without any great confusion. On the other hand, the sense of mystery was less. Zakalwe is a man with a troubled past, and certain words from that past have acquired almost a mystical significance by the time the reader finds out what the mean. On second reading, of course, one already knows.

Use of Weapons is an outstanding book, and I recommend it highly; on the other hand, I think the casual reader would do better to read The Player of Games first.

The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy
By N.A.M. Rodger

I found this book enjoyable and maddening by turns: enjoyable for to its obvious merits, and maddening for what it isn't. The Wooden World is a snapshot of Great Britain's navy at the time of the Seven Years War, right in the middle of the 18th century. Long-time readers of ex libris will be aware of my fondness for the sea-stories of Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forester, most of which take place just at the beginning of the 19th century. Rodger's description of the Royal Navy is fascinating, detailed, scholarly, and objective, and half-a-century too early. The navy of Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower bears a strong resemblance to the one Rodger describes, but there are differences, and I have no way of knowing which are historical and which are purely literary.

Ah, well. Fans of the aforementioned stories will enjoy The Wooden World anyway, and I encourage them to look for it. It compares particularly favorably with Marcus Rediker's book Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, in which the author's political ideology and value judgements were consistently used to color the facts he was presenting. Rediker was writing of merchant seaman of the early 18th century, a topic which Rodger could hardly avoid, and I must say that Rodger covered more clearly, more objectively, and much, much more concisely than Rediker. When Rodger tells me a source is unreliable or exceptional, I believe him. When Rediker tells me anything, I wonder whether he's picking the evidence he likes. This is, no doubt, a matter of intuition; but I see no point in reading historians whom my intuition tells me are untrustworthy.

Children's Books

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
By Dr. Seuss

I'm reviewing this book more for my own sake than my boy David's; at not quite two years old, it's really too long for him to sit still through it (although he was very intrigued the first time I pulled it out). No, I'm reviewing it out of nostalgia. It's one of the books my mother read to me over and over when I was a child, and yet I had entirely forgotten what was in it until I pulled it off of the shelf and read it to Dave. Then, of course, it all came back.

It's a silly book, of course, without any kind of story, and lots of rhymes that only work because Dr. Seuss didn't mind making up words. You can rhyme anything when you don't mind making up the words. But what struck me most was not the words, but the pictures. I hadn't seen them in almost thirty years, and yet I knew them perfectly, from the thing that winks and drinks pink ink to the Zans one uses to open cans to the creature found in the park, in the dark. Oh, it was glorious.

Dave will grow into it eventually, and then I suppose I'll grow extremely tired of it; for now, though, it's a delightful trip back home.


I got this letter from the owner of a bookstore:

Hi Will,

My name is Michael Magestro and I own a small book store in Littleton, Colorado (Spirt Lake Books). Most of my sales are on the internet and I am in the process of listing two volumes of mysteries by Josephine Tey and I was wondering if it would be all right to use your name and some of your comments about Tey and her writing, from your web page, in my description. . . you were right on the money about her (and I couldn't say it any better!).

Thanks - and I will be waiting to hear from you.

I naturally gave Michael permission; you can find the listing at the Bibliofind Web Page: http://www.bibliofind.com. Search for author "Tey" and for title "The Josephine Tey Collection", and you'll get his listing. Bibliofind is a kind of clearing house for out-of-print and hard-to-find books; check it out the next time you can't find what you're looking for at one of the regular on-line book stores.

I also got the following note from a fellow named Steve:

I was looking on the net for references to Brian Daley and came across your page. It seems great although I haven't gotten into it in great depth. It is very nice to see Christians on the net, especially with pages as well done as yours seems to be. It's also nice to see someone else with a love of Brian Daley's work. I have been toying with the idea of putting together a fan/tribute site for Brian. I haven't seen any others on the net. Any thoughts you might have are welcome.

After a several more messages, Steve broke the bad news to me: Brian Daley passed away several years ago, having spent too many years writing utter dreck and not enough writing the gems he was capable of. It's a sad thing.

Have any comments? Want to recommend a book or two? Think Will's seriously missed the point and needs to be corrected? Like to correspond with one of the reviewers? Write to us and let us know what you think! You can find the e-mail addresses of most of our reviewers on our Ex Libris Staff page.

Home : Ex Libris : 1 February 1999
Copyright © 1999, by William H. Duquette. All rights reserved.
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