I've been very edgy today and if I said anything about England, I apologize

When you're planning a trip to England, you want to make sure you have a way to get there, so naturally you buy an airline ticket. And you want to make sure you have a place to stay, so of course you make reservations for a hotel room or flat or something. And you don't want to waste your time wandering around wondering what to do, so you make sure you have a sort of itinerary. Ticket, reservation, itinerary. They're all fine and good, but they are mere formalities. When you're planning a trip to England, what you really want to do is make sure you properly prepare your mind and your soul for the visit. Here are some suggestions:

1. Familiarize yourself with English history by reading English history:

2. Supplement your reading with some historical and biographical films. A few important selections covering the scope of English history are:

Origins of King Arthur

The naked truth about the Norman invasion
Who really defeated the Spanish Armada?

Origins of Jane Austen's plots

It's curtains for Keats

Pre-World War I English banking

English politics and labor unrest between the Wars

3. Choose the perfect book to take with you so you can have something to read on trains, on the Tube, or in the garden whilst you drink your cocoa.

4. Start using Anglicisms like 'whilst' in your speech and writing.

5. If you are going to Stratford, read up on Shakespeare.

6. If you are going to Bath, watch every Jane Austen movie or tv adaptation ever made after 1979.

7. If you are going to John Keats' house, read some of his poems (or have them recited to you).

8. If you are going to Charles Dickens' house, change your mind.

9. Every day leading up to your trip, drink hot cocoa from a Mary Poppins mug, which is so cool that it has not only Mary Poppins on it, but also Big Ben, St Paul's, and some kites.

10. And to all this you must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of your mind by extensive reading. (More about that later.)


Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn't possibly all have good taste

I was at my Library Book Group a couple of weeks ago, and somehow the conversation started out with a reference to how many books a certain member of our group reads in a year.

"Oh, she reads a lot," said one. "Tell them how many books you read in 2009."

"136," said our certain member.

You realize, don't you, that that's more than 10 books a month? And yet, contrary to form, I was not dismayed. Much. Because in her count for 2010, she will include one that I selected: To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis.

Yes, it was my turn to lead the discussion, and I chose this, one of my favorite books ever.

"What's it about?" they asked me last month when I told them my choice.

"Well, do you like books about Victorian England?" I said.

"Yes," they all responded, though a couple of them said it rather hesitantly, as if I had asked them if they enjoyed taking vitamins.

"And do you like mystery novels?"

"Yes!" they all responded again, this time with much more enthusiasm.

"So is it a Victorian mystery?" someone asked.

How to answer such a question? The book, in case you don't know, is about love and missed opportunities and chaos theory and life in a Victorian England country house and the 1940 Luftwaffe raid on Canterbury and human resilience in the face of great odds and Waterloo and early 20th century English detective novels and cats and spiritualism and time travel and pen wipers, to say nothing of the dog. But I couldn't tell them all that because they would just be confused.

"Not really," I finally said. "But if you like Victorian England and Agatha Christie, you'll like this book."

"Agatha Christie didn't write Victorian mysteries," someone pointed out.

"She wrote those Egyptian ones," someone else said.

"This isn't really a mystery," I said. "Well, it sort of is, but that's not the main point."

"Then what's it about?"

"It's kind of science fiction. Kind of."

"Agatha Christie and science fiction??"

I knew they'd be confused. I told them they just ought to read it.

And most of them did! When we met a couple of weeks ago, there were only two out of the group who hadn't finished it. One of them said she never read science fiction.

"I got about 80 pages into it and then I had to stop. All that talk about computers and the net and technology. . . I just couldn't understand it. It was too confusing. I guess I don't have the brain for it. I haven't ever even seen any of the Star Wars movies."

I guess I can relate to her lack of understanding. But I certainly can't comprehend why someone would never have seen a Star Wars movie.

The other member who didn't like it (and didn't even get as far as 80 pages) said the plot was too hectic and confusing.

But everyone else enjoyed it. They said it was funny and delightful and they couldn't put it down and they loved all the characters in the book. Stuff like that. It made me very happy to have been instrumental in introducing them to this book, because I think everyone should read it. Everyone. Even if you haven't see Star Wars.

I chose this book partly because I was excited about Connie Willis' new book, Blackout, that came out a little less than a month ago.

Gary and I went down to Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego to hear Connie Willis talk about Blackout and to get a copy signed, along with a few other books of hers we have. (She also signed my copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog.) She talked about her reasons for writing the book. Much of what she said during the signing is pretty much the same in content as a couple of guest posts she did for the Suvudu blog, and it's better to read it in her own words, so I'll link to her posts here and here.

Blackout is another time travel story, about England during the Blitz. It's actually part one of a two-book set. But they're not two separate stories, like a duology (a bilogy? What do you call a set of two books?); it's just that the story was so long it wouldn't fit into one book. Both parts are written, but part two, All Clear, won't be published till later this year. I don't mind. I'm kind of holding out on reading Blackout so that I can read both books as one, but it's getting kind of hard to put it off. Whenever I'm in the living room and I see Blackout on the shelf, I want to pick it up and start reading. Actually, I've already read the first chapter, so I'm not doing so well. But taking the time to re-read To Say Nothing of the Dog certainly helped.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is not the only book that I've felt everyone should read. But it is one of the more unusual ones that I recommend on a regular basis. And I realize that not everyone is always going to like my recommendations as much as I do.

What about your choices? Is there a book you've read that you think everyone else should read? Or is there a book that came highly recommended to you and yet you thought it was boring or awful? A lot of books my college professors recommended (or required) fell into those categories. Sometimes there's no accounting for taste. Not mine, theirs.