New release, “The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt”

Received an interesting new release in the mail the other day, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston. From the publisher:

“Pulling from her own extraordinary collection of vintage ephemera and memorabilia, [Preston] creates the first ever scrapbook novel, transporting us back to the vibrant, burgeoning bohemian culture of the 1920s… We see an enticing array of flapper-era postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus, and other memorabilia featured on each and every page.”

Video book trailer:
Frankie Pratt

Sample pages here.

Looks interesting. It reminds me, in a slightly less mysterious vein, of Nick Bantock’s wonderful Griffin & Sabine books. Hopefully it can live up to that promise.

New release: Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again

There’s no doubt in my mind: I’m buying this book.

From NPR:

Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty has come to the rescue of America’s befuddled masses.

Fogarty is the grammar guru behind the weekly Grammar Girl podcasts, which offer tips and lessons on proper English usage. Her latest book, 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, is a gentle guide for those of us who can’t seem to remember the difference between disinterested and uninterested.

Read or listen here.

Book review: The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier

Review of: The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
272 pages; Pantheon, Feb. 1, 2011.

Kevin Brockmeier’s latest novel is a work of speculative imagination, depicting a gritty modern world where pain is illuminated by life. No one can hide their hurts, physical or emotional: they glow for everyone to see.

The language is lovely and the images sometimes shocking with possibility. I confess, though, I found the theme depressing to the point of difficulty. To be fair, perhaps it’s a testament to just how powerful the story Brockmeier crafted was. Grief laid bare, the physical manifestation of stress on the body, and the unforgiving nature of fate was, at times, while some readers might find the insight gained by these to be inspiring, I found it almost too much to contemplate. Either way, though, it was a powerful novel and worth attention.

Book Review: Gryphon by Charles Baxter

Review of: Gryphon: New and Selected Stories, by Charles Baxter
416 pages. Pantheon; releases Jan. 11, 2011.

I love short stories. There is something paradoxically satisfying about a good short story, the way it uses far less words than its larger cousins to say just as much, if not more. Charles Baxter’s collection of short stories — some previously published, others new — Gryphon is immensely satisfying in just that way.

My favorite story in this collection was “Fenstad’s Mother”; something about Clara Fenstad reminded me of my own mother, though they were nothing alike on the surface. I think it was her fierceness, her strength and her intelligence. And yet the story ends with Fenstad having to care for his mother, with Clara weak and sick in bed. There seemed to be a recurring theme in these stories, at least to me, of people moving into decline, whether it was parents or sons and daughters doing the declining.

There was an underlying otherworldliness to all of the stories in this volume. In “The Cures for Love”, Kit talks about her ex-lover and says, “the sex they had together invoked the old gods, just invited them right in, until, boom, there they were. She wondered over the way the spirit-gods, the ones she lonesomely believed in, descended over them and surrounded them and briefly made them feel like gods themselves.” I actually had an overwhelming sense of the old gods permeating many of these stories. The Fat Genie, Edward Augenblick, Billy Bell, Earl Lampson. Possibly I’m extrapolating, but I kept thinking of the characters in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, who would slip in and out of the lives of mere mortals often without ever being recognized.

How does an author know when a short story should end? Part of the joy of reading Baxter’s excellent short story was that, while there was an entire world left unsaid each time, they all ended at the precisely right moment, leaving you exactly where you felt you belonged.

Dearest Girl of Mine: Letters home from Kenneth Boulton Thurstone, World War I Soldier, edited by Toniann Scime

Exciting news, at least for me: my book is now available!

This book was the last project I completed in my time at Amherst Museum, and it means a great deal to me. Transcribed from a truly priceless set of letters and photographs, Dearest Girl of Mine tells one soldier’s story, not just of life during wartime but also of the longing he felt for his soon-to-be wife, Harriet Jackson. You can’t help but fall a little in love with Ken and Harriet yourself, reading the letters. Creating this book was a labor of love and a fascinating endeavor for me, and aside from that, I have to tell you, it’s a great read. 🙂

Dearest Girl of Mine: Letters home from Kenneth Boulton Thurstone, World War I Soldier
Edited by Toniann Scime

278 pages; copyright 2010.

Kenneth Boulton Thurstone served with the 315th Ammunition Train of the 90th Division of the U.S. Army in World War I. A native of Buffalo who later resided in Amherst, NY, Ken wrote wonderfully detailed letters home from overseas. His descriptions of the life of a young soldier, of a young man in the early part of the twentieth century, are an invaluable resource for historians and researchers. Within these pages, however, there is also a love story, as most of Ken’s missives are written to his fiancée Harriet Jackson. His lovely words of devotion, his charming turns of phrase, and the longing to be reunited with his “dearest girl” gives every line a special and romantic poetry.

The letters were donated to Amherst Museum in 1974, at the time of Kenneth’s death, by his son, Granger. Rediscovered over 25 years later within the collection and transcribed and annotated, the text of the letters is accompanied by photographs and images of artifacts from Ken’s donation, all currently held by the museum.

Dearest Girl of Mine is currently available for $15.95 at: (use code REMARKABLEYEAR305 for 20% any order)

and in limited quantities at the Amherst Museum Country Store.

“Demented and sad, but social” no more — why being a math whiz makes you sexy

I was captain of the math team in our high school. Along with my math genius friends (you know who you are), we would travel to local math meets, sitting in rows of desks and eagerly solving complicated problems. At the end of every year we’d go out for pizza. Kinda like Brian’s physics club:

Claire: So academic clubs aren’t the same as other kinds of clubs.
Bender: Ah… but to dorks like him, they are. What do you guys do in your club?
Brian: Well, in physics we… we talk about physics, properties of physics.
Bender: So it’s sorta social, demented and sad, but social. Right?
Brian: Yeah, well, I guess you could consider it a social situation. I mean there are other children in my club and uh, at the end of the year we have, um, you know, a big banquet, at the, uh, at the Hilton.
Bender: You load up, you party.
Brian: Uhh, no, actually, we dress up.
(The Breakfast Club, 1985)

I’m not going to try to tell you that our math team was super cool, though, honestly, deep down somewhere I think we were, in our own geeky way. But let’s face it, math gets a bad rap. It’s hardly ever portrayed as sleek, sexy or suave to be able to do complicated algebra in your head; you don’t see a lot of Hollywood movies with the dashing math-whiz male lead. But that might be changing. There’s something new going on in math, and especially math for girls. At

Despite decades of debate on the topic, the lopsided gender ratio in related professions persists. Average math scores in the U.S. are now the same for boys and girls, but boys still predominate in the upper reaches of math-whizdom, and girls are more likely to say they’re bad at it even if they’re doing fine. In the past few years, however, one line of math books seems to have hit on a wildly successful formula: convincing girls that solving equations will help them be popular and sexy.

Danica McKellar — best known for playing Winnie Cooper, Kevin Arnold’s love interest, on “The Wonder Years” (yes, really) — has found a second career writing about math. Her books have all reached the New York Times bestseller list: Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss and the just-out Hot X: Algebra Exposed which is exponentially more engaging and entertaining than any math book has a right to be.

A quote from the author:

Let’s remove that idea that you have to choose. You can be fun and flirty and really, really smart, because you know you don’t have to dumb yourself down. Dumbing yourself down only has to do with mimicking this one particular form of what the media tells us is attractive. And the stereotype that you have to be dumb to avoid intimidating men is really, really insulting to guys as well.

Wise words!

Book review: True Prep

Review of: True Prep – It’s a Whole New Old World
Knopf; 256 pages
Publication date: September 7, 2010

“True Prep looks at how the old guard of natural-fiber-loving, dog-worshipping, G&T-soaked preppies adapts to the new order of the Internet, cell phones, rehab, political correctness, reality TV and . . . polar fleece.” (from the publisher)

High school in the 80s wasn’t one big Molly Ringwald movie, but it wasn’t all bad. John Hughes, v-necked sweaters and safety-pinned jeans… Depeche Mode and The Violent Femmes. My secret love of Janet Jackson. My not-secret love of the guy who played Jake in 16 Candles. And, I distinctly remember snickering over The Official Preppy Handbook, back in the day. Sure, it was over the top, and even though I may have decided my preppy name should be “Muffy”, it was about as far from the poor, inner-city lifestyle of my teens as you could get. But a young preppy girl can always dream, yes? That’s why I was tickled mauve to hear about the publication of True Prep: It’s A Whole New Old World, a “sequel” by The Preppy Handbook’s authors, Lisa Birnbach (and if that’s not the most perfect, preppiest name, I don’t know what is) and Chip Kidd.

To put it simply, if you were a fan of the original TOPH, then True Prep isn’t going to disappoint. The same tongue in cheek humor, the same scathing tone, the same consistent self-absorption. There’s a wonderful A to Z section on famous preps and what put them in the “Pantheon” and an equally charming timeline that closes out the book (“What Happened in the Last Thirty Years”). Fashion for preps hasn’t changed much, and neither have the rules about money, good schools, vacations and mating. Birnbach’s follow-up revisits all of our favorite prep tidbits and adds in new ones such as how to handle Daddy’s new wife and where it is socially acceptable to answer a cell phone. Light in tone and meant for pure enjoyment, I suspect True Prep will mostly appeal to those who are old enough (shudder) to remember the first handbook for preppiness.

Released this month: Original Sins, a novel of slavery & freedom

A new release came my way recently:

Original Sins: a novel of slavery & freedom, by Peg Kingsman (W.W. Norton). A young woman’s journey into the slave-holding South to discover the fate of a lost child. Why would a runaway Virginia slave – having built a rewarding life in the East Indies as a silk merchant – risk everything by returning to America in 1840, eighteen years after taking her freedom? Anibaddh Lyngdoh claims that she intends to introduce a new kind of silk to the floundering American silk industry. But her true reason, as her old friend Grace MacDonald Pollocke discovers, is far more personal. Grace, now a Philadelphia portrait painter, undertakes a perilous investigation that leads to the discovery of old sins and crimes, and the commission of new ones. What laws may be broken – what sins and crimes committed – in the service of a higher justice? Deceit, forgery, fraud, perjury . . . even murder?

Sounds intriguing. I’m miles behind on my reading list so I doubt, sadly, I’ll be able to get to this one any time soon. But it could be a great winter read.

The Great Typo Hunt

Jeff Deck has a new book (co-written with Benjamin D. Herson) out that’s bound to delight those of us who chortled our way through Eats, Shoots & Leaves —  The Great Typo Hunt, documenting his journey across America, fixing one typo at a time.


In November of 2007, Jeff Deck encountered a sign that would change his life. He had just returned from his five-year college reunion at Dartmouth College, embarrassed by his lack of accomplishment in life, when, walking near his apartment in Somerville, Mass., he encountered a sign that had already stopped him in his tracks multiple times: “Private Property: No Tresspassing.” The extra “s” in the sign had, as he puts it, long been “a needle of irritation” — but now something had changed: He felt the urgent need to correct it.

In the days that followed, Deck decided to give his life some purpose (at least for a few months) and, several months later, set off on a road trip around the United States in order to document our country’s many misspellings. He gave himself the mandate of correcting at least one spelling mistake every single day. Together with a rotating cast of friends, he traveled from the Northeast (“bread puding”) to Georgia (“pregnacy test”) to Wisconsin (“Milwuake Furniture”) while documenting each mistake and each correction on his blog — a mission that taught him about the breadth of America’s language problem and its citizens strongly divergent attitudes toward the English language.

I can’t help admiring Deck’s journey and the inherent nerdy perfectionism behind it. Frankly, I wish I’d been able to go along for the ride. Like Anthony Bourdain, he should contact local grammar nerds for tours of their finest offerings.

Multimedia e-books for the iPad

From The New York Times, an article highlighting new releases in e-books — but you need an iPad to read these “enriched” offerings.

Published: July 29, 2010
Like DVDs, electronic books for the iPad are now being loaded with extras, including video clips that are integrated with text.

The new multimedia books use video that is integrated with text, and they are best read — and watched — on an iPad, the tablet device that has created vast possibilities for book publishers.

The start-up company Vook pioneered the concept as a mobile application and for the Web in 2009, but with the iPad, traditional publishers are taking the multimedia book much more seriously.

“It’s a wide-open world,” said Molly Barton, the director of business development for Penguin. “You can show readers the world around the books that they’re reading.”

Simon & Schuster has taken the best-selling “Nixonland,” (click here for a video preview) first published in hardcover in 2008 in a whopping 896 pages, and scattered 27 videos throughout the e-book. One video is a new interview with Mr. Perlstein, conducted by Bob Schieffer, the chief Washington correspondent for CBS News. Most are news clips from events described in the book, including the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960 and public reaction to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Simon & Schuster is a division of the CBS Corporation.)

Each video clip, embedded in the page, starts to play with a simple tap of the iPad screen. After pausing to watch a video, the user can go back to reading the book.

Ellie Hirschhorn, the chief digital officer for Simon & Schuster, said the intent was to use the video sparingly, at points that seemed natural to the story, so that it wouldn’t overwhelm readers.

“We set out to tell stories in a multimedia way, and to take advantage of the new technical features that allow great stories to be told,” Ms. Hirschhorn said. “It is still a reading experience.”

Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette, released an “enriched” e-book version of Mr. Baldacci’s latest novel, “Deliver Us From Evil,” in April to coincide with the hardcover release. The e-book producers borrowed from the film industry and included “research photos taken by the author, deleted scenes from the manuscript, an alternate ending and other special features,” Hachette announced in March. Penguin’s edition of Mr. Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” comes with video clips from an eight-part television series based on the book.