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review 2018-03-31 17:03
F Scott Fitzgerald's letters - a side not seen in his fiction.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters: A New Collection Edited and Annotated by Matthew J. Bruccoli - F. Scott Fitzgerald,Matthew J. Bruccoli

I have a whole new appreciation for F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing now, having read his doubts, worries, exacting notes to his publisher, concerns that nobody would "get" it. This man who seems so sure of himself in all of his novels is a worrier, scared, desperate to be a good writer (even after his early success.) In short, he's very human.


I reread Gatsby while reading this correspondence, and given his personal financial worries, apologies to those he owed money to, etc, I have a different take on it now than I did before - partly influenced also by my advancing age and events of the last decade or so. I wonder if Fitzgerald - great American novelist - didn't wonder, from time to time, if the American Dream was a crock? Dunno - just a thought.


It was exciting to hear him introducing other great writers (Hemingway, for instance) to literary agents and critics. He was genuinely in awe of other writers. His letter to Willa Cather and his words about her in letters to others show he was truly a fan - you can tell from the deferential tone. And while he may have been less than level-headed from moment to moment, or way too far in his cups, he was funny, personable and interesting always.


Sadly we're limited to the letters saved. This means that a bunch written to Zelda aren't included, since she didn't save her letters from him. (No remarks on that, Ella!) I've always sort of loved Zelda, but it's clear from these letters that so did F. Scott Fitzgerald, or at least he repeated it to everyone he wrote.


These are worth reading if you're nosy like me.

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review 2018-03-25 22:47
500 Great Books By Women - We should update this one!
500 Great Books By Women - Erica Bauermeister,Holly Smith,Jesse Larsen

A nice little resource. Sadly it was only published once, so it's way out of date and ends with a few books published in 1993.


Divided by theme, there are blurbs from a panel of contributors (all female) about 500 books: everything from Autobiography/memoir to oral histories, novels and nonfiction.


There are cross-referenced indices and lists at the beginning of every theme. Included are lists of books by women of color living in the US and a "list of some books about lesbian and gay people." Clearly time has not been kind to this particular listing, and that's the issue. The areas covered are way too broad, the 1990s overrepresented and marginalized people are just barely creeping into consciousness in 1993-94.


I truly wish someone would update this particular reference, but until then it's handy for finding books and authors I may otherwise have missed.

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review 2018-02-25 17:18
Fun, Funny and Added tons to my TBR
Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult - Bruce Handy

A big thanks to Reading For The Heck Of It for letting me know about this fun book about books! 


It took me forever to read it because I kept stopping to read children's books, and I have a long list of others -- from 17th century children's books to Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction  and other recent adult topics to read in future.


I learned a lot and laughed a lot throughout this book. Bruce Handy never fails to toss in a comment that reminds us we're reading here and now in the 21st century. Whether it's an aside about the normality of walking home alone in the 1960s or a quip, "She's lucky there were no Mommy Blogs in nineteenth century Germany," we're in on the laughs and we learn or are reminded of quite a bit about being a child and the wonderous world of reading as one.


In chapter after chapter, we go from the most beloved and/or commonly read to the obscure and often wonderful finds. It's clear that a lot of research went into this book (a ton of visits to libraries housing out-of-print books for children that I'm glad to know about and equally glad he visited rather than me.) From the Brothers Grimm in the original language to Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss and even Disney - not really books. We go from the earliest baby picture books to separation anxiety to educational books to dealing with mortality and many other topics - all with a child's eye.


I will certainly be buying a copy of this one for myself if only to annoy people by reading the huge amount of hilarious highlighting I did in the library's digital copy.

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review 2018-01-23 04:41
Christmas Through the Decades by Robert Brenner
Christmas Through the Decades - Robert Brenner

My verdict is in: Despite the similarity of star ratings, Christmas Through the Decades is the better of his Christmas collecting books I've read.

In Christmas Past Brenner would not often make it clear what exactly were the differences between a style of ornament manufactured in Germany vs Japan, or more often, how they changed over the decades. To be clear, he still doesn't spell it out clearly, but this book is furnished with more (and (mostly) better) photographs and everything is divided by decade. A reader can decide for themselves about a particular ornament by going through the chapters themselves and looking at the images.

A problem is that the text is absurdly small and at least one paragraph is cut off in mid sentence never to be completed (about wax ornaments of the 1950s). The organization by time means that side by side comparisons can't be made on the same page, and his descriptions can still seem to contradict each other. Some of the text is directly lifted from Christmas Past (and likely, though I haven't read it Christmas Revisited), but the photographs are a boon for up and coming collectors such as myself who've had a hard time finding accurate sources. Brenner has done a great job with his research, and though other discoveries may have been made this may be the best general guide available to collectors (at least in the secondary market).

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review 2018-01-14 22:03
Christmas Past by Robert Brenner
Christmas Past: A Collectors' Guide to Its History and Decorations - Robert Brenner

I have to admit something to you all: I'm crazy about Christmas. I don't have a tree up all year or sing carols or anything, but as soon as Thanksgiving is over, IT'S ON! The Christmas albums come out, the lights get put up and our collection of ornaments get hung on the trees.*

My husband and I have family ornaments ranging from a few fragile German pieces from just after WWI to mid-century Shiny Brites to a piece of purple foil glued on cardstock marked 'MyLes' in pencil.** We also like finding eclectic antique and vintage ornaments in cotton or paper or glass. The problem is that while we've picked up a thing or two, we never had a comprehensive reference on how to identify or date ornaments. As 'crackers' as we are about the ornaments, there's a real limit to how much we'll spend on a piece of fragile glass or a disintegrating candy container. So we hunt for bargains that aren't going to be researched and labeled. That's where Robert Brenner and his books come in.

This Christmas we received three of his books on the history of ornaments. This one is his earliest and is a valuable reference tool, but it does suffer from some issues. The book is divided into sections based on the materials an ornament is made of - dough, cloth, metal, paper, wax, cotton, glass, composition and plastics - with some grey areas addressed. Oh, and lighting. The book is furnished with some excellent photos of early ornaments of most types discussed.

A big revelation was how many ornaments and styles kept on for decades after we thought they would have fallen out of fashion. We were aware of many modern reproductions, but certain styles of ornaments we thought were exclusively Victorian it turns out were made well up into the early 1930s - these include the large wire wrapped glass figurals and the abstract tinsel ornaments made built around tissue-thin glass spheres. "Feather trees", artificial trees made of wire and wrapped in dyed goose feathers, and the miniature ornaments to match, were also made right up until WWII. Brenner offers some advice on what to look for: a rule of thumb is that more elaborate construction and "true" lifelike colors in glass and paper indicate an earlier date. But there are exceptions. And, while there are hundreds of color images in the book, Brenner rarely, if ever, puts examples side by side. For example, if Japanese honeycomb tissue ornaments were 'less dense' then their German counterparts what does that mean exactly if there isn't a single picture of a German or a Japanese item?

The book is a great place to start, and there is a later edition of this book (still twenty years old...), but I'm hoping the others provide some more concrete examples and insight. I'm hoping to be a little more educated next time we come across promising ornaments.

*We had two. Maybe a third next year. Only one is real though! Does that make it better?

**I've always disliked arts and crafts, so I tended to phone it in even then.

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