Remind me to give myself the Firefly Medal for this!

I had occasion the other day to review titles of Newbery medal and honor books, and it occurred to me that maybe the winning titles reflected either some observation about kids and their dreams and desires, or an ideal that the Newbery committee wished kids could attain. So I decided to count the instances of certain key words in the titles and I came up with the ideal Newbery child.

The Newbery kid owns or at least has access to a horse. There were six titles with horses in them. Cats and dogs tied for second with five mentions each (unless you take the title of Wanda Gág's 1929 opus, Millions of Cats, literally, in which case cats win paws down). Bunnies (or rabbits), bears, goats, and scorpions all tied farther down with two mentions apiece. I confess I'm a little disturbed by the scorpions.

The Newbery kid prefers nighttime illumination to come from the moon (four mentions) rather than the stars (three mentions). One might naturally conclude, therefore, that nocturnal adventures are to be preferred over diurnal ones, but the word "night" shows up only once, while there are four mentions of "day". No mention of the sun, however.

The Newbery kid prefers to hang out in the mountains (eight mentions). If the mountains are unavailable, the next best choice in geographical features is the island (six mentions). I suppose an island with a mountain on it would be perfect. There were a few less desirable locations that got one mention each: the fens, a volcano (but who'd want to live there?), and the devil's cave (but ditto?).

The Newbery kid loves rivers more than any other body of water. Rivers got five mentions, the ocean (or sea) got three, and lakes, two.

Many cities, from Paris to Birmingham, from Vancouver to Athens, are mentioned in Newbery book titles, but our ideal kid prefers New York over them all.

The Newbery kid prefers trees (five mentions) to any other plant material, and blue (four mentions) is the favorite color.

Ships (including sailboats) are the best method of transporting a Newbery kid. Other modes of transportation (roller skates, dragonwings, 21 balloons) sound intriguing, but are not very practical when one considers that our model child will most likely be living near a river (or possibly on an island). And don't forget, the kid also has access to a horse (or millions of cats).

A Newbery kid's favorite season is summer and favorite holiday is Christmas.

A Newbery kid's preferred occupation is either princess (three mentions) or king (again, three mentions). The third-most popular occupation is doctor (two mentions).

A Newbery kid's favorite food? Either strawberries, apples, maize (corn), soup, or waffles. And he or she prefers to drink out of a goblet. Or a cauldron, for those with larger appetites.

A Newbery kid's best weapon is a gun (either a musket, a matchlock gun, or a rifle), but the sword comes in second.
The Newbery kid likes to live (or at least hang out) in a house (four mentions). The next favorite dwelling is a bridge (two mentions), or such diverse places as the circus, a castle (good choice for the princess or king), a tomb (handy if you choose scorpions for a pet), an inn, or a graveyard.

The Newbery kid has a number of choices when it comes to making a fashion statement. Options include a dress, moccasins, pigtails, a crown, and a cross of lead.

Well, being a Newbery kid sounds pretty good to me. I wouldn't mind living in a tree-shaded house near a river with a horse (and a cat or a dog) to keep me company, a strawberry patch in the garden, and a boat to take me to town (or to the mainland). I wouldn't mind being a princess, as long as I was a deposed one, because I don't want the responsibility. I would enjoy watching the moon rise above the mountains during a perpetual summer. And I'd love a pair of moccasins.


A forty-two-inch flat-screen TV fell on her. She was killed instantly.

I read an article recently that talked about a trend where people are removing all the bookshelves from their living room or family room and replacing them with bars, cabinets, closets, and flat screen tvs. It's happening because people have all their books on an e-reader so they don't need the shelf space anymore.

At first I was a bit dismayed by this trend. Wild thoughts went through my head, like, first of all, it should be obvious that there's room for both bookshelves and flat screen tvs, or cd cabinets or whatever. Why do you think rooms have four walls? And, fourth of all, a wine refrigerator?! (My second and third thoughts of all will not be shared in this space.)

It reminds me of a really stupid e-reader ad I saw. This girl is reading a book and this guy is reading a Kindle or something. She says something to the effect that she prefers to read "real" books because she can read them in daylight. Then the guy says that the e-reader screen is such that it can be read in daylight, too. And he shows her. Then she says something else lame, and he counters it with something lamer. Then she says she can turn down the page of her book to mark her place, and he shows her how he can mark his place on his e-reader. Then she says "Yeah, but you don't get the physical pleasure of turning down the page." Then she pretends to make a big deal about dog-earing her book.

Okay, not only does the ad make people who prefer physical books look stupid, it uses a strawman argument. A book lover would be appalled at what she did. If she's going to go about moronically dog-earing books, then she shouldn't be allowed to handle them anyway. Someone should give her an e-reader already and put a stop to her defacing of books.

Then I remembered something I read recently in Shelf Awareness, a quote from Penguin CEO John Makinson: "There is a growing distinction between the book reader and the book owner. The book reader just wants the experience of reading the book, and that person is a natural digital consumer: Instead of a disposable mass market book, they buy a digital book. The book owner wants to give, share and shelve books. They love the experience. As we add value to the physical product, particularly the trade paperback and hardcover, the consumer will pay a little more for the better experience."

Except for wanting to replace "book owner" with "book lover", I agree with that statement. But to be clear, I personally have nothing against e-readers. I think they're fine for book readers. I think they're even fine for book owners/lovers to use on occasion as a supplement or for convenience. I also personally have nothing against people who drywall over their built-in bookcases. In fact, I think it's for the best. Working in a bookstore that depends solely on donations for its stock, I've seen the difference in treatment of books from book readers and book owners. When a book owner's collection comes into our store (because the owner has moved or, sadly, passed away), it is cause for rejoicing. The books are in very good condition and the selection is varied and interesting. When a book reader's collection comes into our store, there are times - more than you'd think - when we find that a huge part of it must be thrown out. I've seen box after box of books stinking and warped with cat piss, books with mouse droppings all over them, books inhabited by spiders and earwigs and silverfish, books coated with animal fur and dust and (once) dried grass cuttings, books with missing pages, moldy pages, scribbled-on pages, torn pages, chewed up pages. I'd much rather deal with a book owner's books than a book reader's.

So, yeah, I'm keeping my built-in bookshelves, and my shelves for cds and dvds, and one of these days I'm even going to get a flat screen tv. And they'll all be in the same room!


Don't get too conventional all at once, will you?

The Gaslight Gathering (official website here), held last weekend, was San Diego's first dedicated steampunk convention ever. As someone who easily developed an interest in steampunk culture (I think because of my interest in Victorian literature, films based on stories by Jules Verne, and goggles), I decided to participate.

First of all, it was an interesting visual experience. It was fascinating to see the different interpretations of the steampunk aesthetic:

Lots of people had rayguns of varying shapes and sizes

A Victorian/steampunk ghostbuster

Handy for yardwork or for defending yourself against zombies

Old West steampunk (which reminds me,
Cowboys and Aliens
is coming out this summer!)


A steampunk mobile communication device - right now he's texting

The wire from the gadget on his wrist connects to the telegraph key in back

Fun with electricity!

Another dangerous-looking appendage

Zombie butler

More wings: he made these retractable wings from cds and twist-ties

My favorite outfit: the steampunk sock monkey!

There was entertainment . . .

. . . including a concert and a dance, which I did not go to, a magic show, some belly dancers, a guy riding around on a velocipede, and demonstrations of (low voltage) electricity.

There were also various informative panels and author discussions. I went to a few of the panels, but mostly I was interested in the authors. I listened to their discussions and discovered some new suggestions to add to my list of steampunk books. I haven't read any of them yet, so I don't know how they are, but they do have high recommendations, and in the case of Anno Dracula, there's the proof of longevity: it's been around since 1992 or something, and just received a new printing.

Leanna Renee Hieber, who writes what she calls Gaslamp, as opposed to Steampunk

There are three books so far in her series about a group of Victorian ghostbusters

Dru Pagliassotti, author of several books, only one of which is steampunk

Her only steampunk book (so far); unfortunately, Clockwork Heart
is out of print, so you have to get it from a used book seller (which I did)

Kim Newman, who has written several Dracula books

This is, as I recall, the only one set in the Victorian
period and so qualifies as steampunk.

Kaja Foglio, co-writer and illustrator of the Girl Genius graphic
was also at the Gaslight Gathering. I failed to get
her photo, but here's one I took at WonderCon last month.

She and her husband, Phil, have written a book based on the
graphic novels. Although I got no photo, I did have
enough sense to get her to sign my copy.

I had a good time and plan to go again. I'm thinking I might even check out the steampunk convention in Seattle, which is considered by many to be the American capital of Steampunk. We shall see.


Bad zombies! Shoo! Go away!

In my efforts to immerse myself (well, not immerse, really, more like sprinkle) in steampunk culture, and to find out if it's really as amazing as it appears to be, I've been trying a few different approaches. A little over a year ago, I selected a number of steampunk books to read, both classic and more recent titles. I also decided to attend a steampunk convention this past weekend, The Gaslight Gathering (San Diego's first dedicated steampunk convention, by the way).

First, the books.

Everyone says The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, is one of the quintessential steampunk novels, and many people count it among their favorites.

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

I, on the other hand, have yet to finish it. I've started it three times. I've quit reading it three times. Each time I do get a little further in the story, but I still quit. I wonder how many times I'll have to start it before I make it to the end. The thought fills me with dread. I think a big part of my problem with the book is that it starts out with a prostitute heroine. And not just any prostitute heroine, a prostitute heroine who became a prostitute because her father fell on hard times. Okay, I don't know if she's really the heroine, or if she's only the main point of view for the first part of the book (that I haven't been able to get past yet), but I have a huge problem with prostitute heroines of steampunk literature. One of these days I'm going to have to write a whole essay about that, but today is not that day. (And you're probably glad.)

I have, quite happily and due to a Resolution to Read More, finished a few other steampunk-themed books:

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest (my review of his book is
found here, along with a few incidental comments on why
I don't like prostitute heroines of steampunk literature)

Leviathan and Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld - I love these books!

The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann
(this is the UK limited edition, with an amazing cover)

The Affinity Bridge is the latest book I've finished, and the first in a series featuring Crown investigators Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes. Taking place in London in 1901, it includes many of the classic elements of steampunk - airships, retrofuturistic steam-powered vehicles, clockwork gadgets, and zombies (called "revenants" because the word "zombie" didn't come to mean mindless flesh-eating monster until around the 1920s); but no mention is made of goggles, which surprised me a little, nor of prostitute heroines, which was very refreshing. When I was first thinking of reading the book, I was put off by the zombies, but I am happy to report that the revenants in The Affinity Bridge are the least annoying zombies I've ever come across in film or literature (except maybe for the zombies in the 1943 film I Walked with a Zombie). Yes, they are horrible creatures who feast on human flesh (described in detail in one of the more graphic incidents in the novel), but their existence makes sense. You'll have to read the book to find out why.

The story in The Affinity Bridge is intriguing; there are a few mysteries that become intertwined, and there's plenty of action that kept me turning the pages. There are also moments of very good characterization, which I wasn't expecting because overall the writing style is rather workman-like. In the edition I read (the limited edition published by Snowbooks, pictured above), there was a considerable number of typos, some of them quite shocking, like the repetition of an entire phrase, and some odd usage choices by the author. As for the typos, I can only suggest that Snowbooks hire another proofreader. (I haven't read the US edition yet, but am curious to see if the same errors occur.)

The usage choices may be harder to correct, because some people may not consider them a problem. For instance, on p 306, the author has Sir Maurice say: "I knew we were dealing with a young man, a minor royal, but someone who would be sent to London on diplomatic duties all the same, probably due to the importance of their mother." Do you see what I'm talking about? The noun 'someone' is singular, and the pronoun 'their' is plural, although it has been used many times as a singular pronoun. I'm generally not opposed to the use of singular their/they. Writers like Jane Austen have used it. (And who am I to correct Jane Austen?) There are times when it comes in absolutely handy. For example, in the sentence "Someone has left their apple core in my shoe", it's very useful to say 'their' because we don't know if this now core-less individual is male or female. It's also useful when a speaker wishes to obscure someone's gender, for whatever reason, as in, "The author will remain unknown so that their essay can be judged on merit alone." But in the passage quoted from The Affinity Bridge, there's no reason to use singular 'their'. We know the someone in question is a young man, and a specific young man to boot, so what purpose is there in saying "their mother"? None. And there's nothing wrong and everything right with saying "due to the importance of his mother". In fact, it makes more sense that way, at least to me. But I feel I may be in a shrinking minority. (By which I mean a growing minority, because the minority is getting larger, meaning it includes fewer people. Or something.)

There was another instance of grammatical irregularity, a much more jarring one where 'that's' was used as an adjective instead of 'whose', but I can't find it now, so let that go. And then there was stuff like someone's complexion being described as "pallid and pale", which is like saying someone's laundry was "wet and damp" or someone's corpse was "dead and deceased".

Then there was this description of a gun after it had been fired: "Smoke curled in lazy curlicues from the end of the discharged barrel." "Curled in curlicues" is not as annoying as "pallid and pale", but it wants to be.

Typos and such aside, The Affinity Bridge is an entertaining book that has much to recommend it. If the writing was a little more well-crafted, stylistically speaking, I'd put it on my list of favorites. And I'm eager to read the sequel, The Osiris Ritual.

But maybe not until I take another crack at The Difference Engine.

PS More about the Gaslight Gathering anon.