News and reviews for book lovers 

Rosie's Book Buzz

The BuzzLeisure reading seen around the pool at The HomesteadReview: "To War With Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly 1939-1945"Reviews: "Encore Provence" by Peter Mayle and "Promise Me You Won't Tell Nobody," by Kimberly T. MatthewsReview: "Uneasy Rider" by Mike BryanReviews: Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens and Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach(Click on a book title or cover to order that book from Amazon.com)The Buzz

Still looking for vacation reading? Lyne McNeil of the Greensboro News & Record has compiled a list of some books you want to consider. Click here to read her choices.

Some books don't get the general attention they deserve. San Jose Mercury News published an essay, "The Best Books Charm Even Untargeted Readers," about a number of books that are reviewed and listed as designed for a special audience, while they could be read with pleasure and profit by all readers. The baseball book "Slouching Toward Fargo," by Neal Karlen (Spike, $23), is "really about the place of small-time pleasures in a world that worships Big Time..."

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and Henry Holt should be celebrating. Their book "A Crime in the Neighborhood," by Suzanne Berne, published in 1997 by Algonquin and in paper by Holt, ($12) has won one of England's top prizes -- the Orange Prize. Style reviewed this book very favorably when it was first published in hardback.

According to the New York Observer and the New York Times, Simon & Schuster's Pocket Books plans to publish a memoir by J.D. Salinger's daughter Margaret "The Dream Catcher" in the fall. Doreen Carvajal of the NYT quotes Judith M. Curr, president and publisher of Pocket Books, who says the book will "tell the story of a child who grew up in a way that was different from what most people experience." Like it or not, this seems to be turning out to be J.D. Salinger's year.

Leisure reading seen around the pool at The Homestead

"All Too Human," by George Stephanopolous (Little Brown, $27.95)
"Ethics for Adversaries" by Arthur Isak Applebaum (leisure reading?) (Princeton University Press, $29.95)
"We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families," by Peter Gourevitch (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $25) (being read for a book club)
"White Oleander," by Janet Fitch (Little Brown, $24)
"Along Came a Spider" by James Patterson (Warner Books, paper, $7.50)
"Pride and Prejudice," by Jane Austen (Tor Books, paper $2.99) -- a summer reading assignment)
"Flowers for Algernon," by Daniel Keyes (Bantam Books, paper, $5.99)
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," by J.K. Rowling (Arthur A. Levine Books, $17.95)
"Hot Money," by Dick Francis (Crest, paper $5.99)
"Murder on the Chesapeake," by David Osborn
"Mrs. Whaley Entertains: Advice, Opinions and 100 Recipes from a Charleston Kitchen," by Emily Whaley and William Baldwin (Algonquin Books, $17.95)

Recommended Reading

From two of our readers comes the following recommendation:

"To War With Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly 1939-1945" (Mandarin, available in England)

The Countess is now 81 years old and lives in Buckinghamshire -- or she did so in 1995 when this book was published.

Her diaries tell the story of a young British wife who followed her husband to war. She started as a military secretary and ended as secretary to a general, but because she was a member of the English aristocracy, she met many of the most famous characters involved in World War II. She traveled to Africa, the Middle East and to Europe. Whitaker was a family valet who accompanied her .

According to our friends, the book is beautifully written and tells stories of the war in an intimate way.

These same friends who were reading "To War With Whitaker" were also amused by a gift they had received: "The Complete Idiot's Guide to British Royalty," by Richard Buskin (Alpha Books, softback $18.95) The book starts with the author's theories as to why we are so fascinated with royalty, continues with chapters of the "roots of the British monarch" and ends with a chapter titled "The Party's Over: Broken Marriages, Shattered Dreams."

For those who are interested, the author has included a glossary and family trees of the monarchy.

If you have children and want them to love books be sure to look at the story in the July Family Style, "Getting Your Words' Worth" by Georgia K Hammack. You can see the story if you click here.

Critical Judgments

Style Weekly this week has reviews of two books for differing moods, "Encore Provence" by Peter Mayle and "Promise Me You Won't Tell Nobody," by Kimberly T. Matthews. Click here to read about them.

Uneasy Read

Reading the back-cover synopsis, Mike Bryan's "Uneasy Rider" (Vintage, paper, $13) seemed like a great idea for a summer book.

Bryan had set out to find "real" America. To do that, he traveled not the back roads and byways, but the big, wide interstate highways of Southwestern America.

Bryan's thesis, that "real" America, quirky and independent, is thriving on the massive interstates, shouldn't blow anyone away with shock, but it should provide a wide-open canvas for a rich, entertaining travel book.

And it almost does. Bryan has some great stories in the book, and he meets the kind of unique folks you'd expect to run into along the interstates that crisscross the Southwest. There's a snake-rancher, a covered-wagon traveler, and some really fascinating law-enforcement officers. He describes the hard task of running an interstate hotel with sympathy and humor, and does a great impression of John McPhee in describing what goes into designing and building new highways and interchanges. And his description of the Grand Canyon is the book's gem.

Unfortunately, there's too much filler, filler you wouldn't expect on a fast tour across a four-lane highway. Bryan can't resist the temptation to talk about himself and his family, and while interesting at times, this drags the travel narrative down.

"Uneasy Rider" is a good book on a rich subject. The interstate highways and the lives and businesses they attract are so interesting that it seems as if it would be tough to write uninterestingly about them. But at times, Bryan loses sight of his subject, and that's when the ride gets bumpy, and slows down in heavy traffic.

— Mark Stroh

In Good Company

Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens, edited by Paul Schlicke
Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, edited by Malcolm Boyd
(Oxford University Press, $45 each)

I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to reference books. Among my favorites are Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia, A Reader's Companion to American History, The Oxford English Dictionary, The Jazz Encyclopedia and, of course, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. I use all of these volumes, and many others, to look things up as I go about the business of writing and editing articles, and I usually find them to be extremely helpful. But rarely am I content to use them in a purely practical manner. The other day I was looking up a word in The Random House College Dictionary, which is fairly comprehensive yet small enough to fit on my desk. Before I found what I was looking for, however (at this point, in fact, I don't even remember what I was looking for) my eyes stopped on the word struthious. I learned that it meant "resembling or related to the ostriches or other ratite birds." It seems rather unlikely that I'll ever have an occasion to use struthious in a sentence, but it's an interesting word nevertheless, and I'm glad I came across it. On that very page, I also noted with interest entries for strumose and "St. Swithin's Day." (I'll leave it to you to discover their meanings if you're not already familiar with them.)

Obviously, this habit of mine makes me somewhat less than efficient as a researcher. But it's fun -- and relatively harmless, I suppose. In fact, I've been known to sit down with reference books even when I'm not looking for anything in particular. An aimless mental stroll through their pages, I've found, can quickly alleviate the stress associated with our goal-oriented society.

With this in mind, I was pleased the other day to come across two new specialized reference works: a Reader's Companion to Dickens and a companion to J.S. Bach, both published by Oxford University Press as part of an ongoing series. Each contains a surprising variety of entries.

Having just returned from England, I was especially interested in the volume on Dickens. A primary purpose of the book, the editor writes, is to evoke the "milieu" in which Dickens lived and worked, as well as to provide detailed information about his life, works and reputation. To that end, the book contains alphabetically arranged entries on scores of people and on places that had an impact on Dickens' life. (The entry on London alone is 15 pages.)

The book also contains entries (some are really full-blown essays) on a variety of subjects ranging from "amusements and recreation" to "crime, crime prevention and criminals." The latter entry is especially interesting given that criminals figure prominently into many of Dickens's novels. As the author of this particular entry notes, Dickens "both drew upon and helped to shape popular perceptions of these issues during his lifetime, while characters such as Bucket, Fagin, Magwitch, Merdle and Sikes continued to be stereotypes long after his death."

The remainder of the book deals directly with Dickens's work. There are entries on each of the novels along with sections on such matters as "methods of composition" "serialization" and "translations." Dozens of drawings and reproductions of original manuscript pages make each of these entries all the more interesting. Finally, the book contains a selection of maps, a Dickens family tree, a general bibliography and an alphabetized list of characters.

The volume on Bach is organized in much the same way. The various entries on people cover major figures such as Handel and Vivaldi as well as a host of obscure individuals. Some of the information struck me as a little too esoteric. Do we really need to know, for example, the name of the man who owned the coffee house where Bach's Collegium Musicum met during the winter months. (In case the suspense is killing you, I'll give you the answer. It was Gottfried Zimmermann.) On the other hand, I suppose the best reference books always provide more information than we want to know.

In any case, the real value of this volume lies in its discussions of Bach's music. A six-page essay on the Brandenburg Concertos, for instance, includes background information, an analysis of structure and scoring and a look at each concerto as an individual work.

Other entries examine musical terms, such as cadenza, both from a general perspective and in the context of Bach's work.

For the educated listener who wants to deepen his appreciation of Bach's music, this volume will indeed prove to be invaluable. The next scheduled volume in the Reader's Companion series will be devoted to Trollope. Additional volumes in both series are in the works.

— Tom Robotham

If you have read a book you liked or particularly disliked or if you have a book club you would like to tell us about e-mail us at rmail@richmond.infi.net and type BOOKS in the subject line.

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