Friday, May 29, 2009

Escape from Hell!

Astute readers may have noticed, on my sidebar, a link to the Retail Hell blog. When I reformatted this blog, I lost everything. All my links, my TBRs and vanquished TBRs, everything. Most of the links I put back up don't belong to anyone I actually know IRL (except for the one to Aaron's blog). Retail Hell is no exception, but I stumbled across it about a year and a half ago, and it's become part of my daily rounds. I worked a shitty retail job for about a year, and did retail in the summers during college. It's pretty much exactly like it's depicted there: people come in, strew stuff all over the place, ask questions like "Are these 50% off?" while standing under a 5 ft by 5 ft 50% off sign, argue with you over three cents, and generally act in ways that make you despair for humanity.

But one of my favorite retail slaves has made it out. One of the three brains behind the blog, known as Freddy (the blog has a horror-movie theme) has a book coming out in August! You can read more about it on his site here. I told him I'll definitely read it and post about it. But even though I don't know him IRL, I'm very excited for him. In a week where I haven't even seen any jobs to apply to, it's inspiring to see someone else's dream come true. I hope it sells a million copies, Freddie!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Finally Stopped Being Lazy

I've had a pile of books to sell on Amazon for a couple of months now. Today, I finally got off my ass and listed them. Lest anyone read too much into things, it's not really a financial move on my part. I'll only get about $50 if they all sell, assuming I keep the prices the way they are right now.

Mostly, it's about clearing out. Getting rid of books, like Mick Foley's second autobiography, that were part of a passing phase. Or ones, like Charity Girl and Blue Water, that I didn't really care for much. So (shameless self-promotion here) if you're in a buying mood, search for LibraryDiva76 to see what I have for sale.

Can't Poke Out Your Mind's Eye

It's that time of the week again!

Unread May 28, 2009
Filed under: Wordpress — --Deb @ 1:45 am

In the perfect follow-up to last week’s question, as suggested by C in DC:

Is there a book that you wish you could “unread”? One that you disliked so thoroughly you wish you could just forget that you ever read it?

This is an incident I'd (thankfully) almost forgotten about, but there was absolutely a case where I read something I wished I'd never even heard of for a few weeks later. It wasn't because I hated the book. It was because it terrified me.

Die-hard horror fans are going to laugh their asses of when I name the book. It was Gerald's Game by Stephen King. Generally considered to be one of his tamer books, I guess...but it wasn't to me.

I read it shortly after it came out, the summer between high school and college. And it turned me back into a little kid who thought there were monsters in the closet. I averaged about four hours of sleep a night that summer because I was seeing the freaky killer guy standing in every single shadow in my bedroom. I feel a little embarassed, thinking back on it now. But at the time, I was terrified of that guy! I kept remembering that the main character of the story kept thinking he was a delusion brought on by lack of food and water, and by panic and fear. But he turned out to be real. Maybe that suspicious shadow behind my door...?

I still steer clear of most Stephen King stuff. I think I could probably handle it now. Patricia Cornwell's Jack the Ripper: Case Closed was much more disturbing in the amount of graphic detail it contained. Sophie was also pretty creepy and disturbing. I enjoy Edgar Allen Poe and H.P Lovecraft. And what frightened me most about the films Cloverfield and The Happening was the amount of money I wasted on seeing them, and the 4+ hours of my life that I won't get back.

But I avoid Stephen King to this day, although I really liked the movie versions of Carrie and The Shining. I won't pick up one of his books. Just in case.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sigh...back to the library with you!

I feel a bit embarassed about giving up on Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald. It's only 120 pages long, for fuck's sake. I was halfway through it when I decided to stop lying to myself about my intention to finish it and pulled the bookmark out. But I just couldn't get into it.

I'm not sure why. It was set during World War II at the BBC. It was meant to be part historical fiction, part office drama/comedy. I like reading about workplaces, too, but this one didn't do it for me. It was too episodic, seesawing back and forth between upper management and a cadre of very young women hired primarily to drink with and listen to the problems of one of the members of senior management. It could have been good, but...ever start a job where there are tons of people, tons of drama, tons of work, and nothing's explained to you and no one really bothers to interact with you at all? Reading the book was a bit like that.

I still remember how much I liked The Bookshop, though I read it ages ago. I won't give up entirely on this author, but I didn't care for this book. I'm going to motivate myself to go return it, as it's due tomorrow.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sad to Have Finished It

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Sometimes, you get a book that's so engrossing that you never want it to end. As the number of pages dwindles, you find excuses to prolong your read. But eventually, it must end. Such was the case with The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I had a stack of library books to read, but this one (loaned to me by my sister) seemed to keep pulling at me until I gave in. And once I was in, I was in. I was still feeling the scars from my last brush with a trendy, popular novel. But I can see why everyone likes this one so much.

This is the dark, mysterious tale of author Vida Winter and bookshop assistant Margaret Lea. Margaret leads an extremely quiet life. She lives alone, over the shop that her father has managed all her life. It's not an ordinary bookshop -- it deals in rare, expensive books. The clientele are few and far between. Margaret doesn't even have a pet. Then one day, she receives a letter from popular author Vida Winter, inviting her to write her biography.

Vida Winter is also a recluse. She is a master storyteller and prolific, best-selling author. Over the years, she's given hundreds of interviews about her life. None of them have been the truth. But she's aging, and dying. It's time to tell the truth, and Margaret has been chosen on the strength of an essay about twin brothers and diarists.

The story has a dreamy, Gothic quality throughout. The characters, both present and past, seem to live quite outside the world, alone with their obsessions, preoccupations -- and their books. Entombed within vast estates, their dramas play out behind closed doors while the world spins by them unknowing. It's an easy book to get lost in. It's also suspenseful, and full of striking characters. The half-deaf, half-blind aging housekeeper. The sadomasochistic brother obsessed by and grieving over his beautiful sister. The gardener, serving not the estate or a family of his own, but the topiaries nourished by generations of his forbears. And, at the heart of the story, Adeline and Emmeline, the strange, feral twins.

For obvious reasons, I can't say too much about the rest of the book. I highly reccomend you pick it up and find out for yourself. It's one of the most engaging books I've read in a while.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Like a Re-virgin

A Second First Time? May 21, 2009

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?

(Interestingly, I thought that I had thought this one up myself, but when I started scrolling through the Suggestions, found that Rebecca had suggested almost exactly this question a couple months ago. So, we both get credit!)

I love this question! My sister struck up a conversation with Phillip Pullman on this topic, when she had the chance to meet him in New York prior to the release of the film version of The Golden Compass. She wanted to read a Dickens novel for the first time, I'm guessing The Old Curiousity Shop specifically. (That's one of her favorites).

But as for me? It's interesting, some books change over time and others don't. I remember that much was made of this before the last Harry Potter book came out -- that you'd never be able to read them again without knowing where it was all going. It made me wonder what the initial reaction was to other famous works. I imagined the stunned silence in the Globe Theater when Romeo and Juliet failed to work it out after all, for example. And I enjoy imagining the first audience's reaction to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, when the chorus came out. So perfect! So obvious! Why hadn't everyone been doing it, all along?

I guess the books I'd enjoy re-reading for the first time are more humble, though, and primarily suspense-driven. Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, also known as Ten Little Indians is still creepy and suspenseful even though I've known all of its secrets for nearly fifteen years, but when I re-read it, it doesn't haunt my dreams or keep me up nights anymore. In fact, the last time I read it was when I had trouble falling asleep one night. I read it cover to cover, and dropped off almost immediately.

The Secret History, by Donna Tarrt, is another one that has a different dimension when you don't know exactly where it's going. You know from the first page that they murder their classmate and friend, Bunny. You don't exactly know what the consequences will be, or what led them to it. All of Jasper Fforde's books are incredibly clever and witty. I haven't re-read any of them, but they may seem slightly less so, now that I know all the jokes.

But most of my books seem to get better with each read. Every time I re-read On the Road, I notice something new. The Great Gatsby never fails to stir emotion. Nobody's Fool is still funny. And Confederates in the Attic remains a fascinating and thought-provoking ride.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Like Hamlet, With Dogs

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Well, I finished all 566 pages of that sucker. Edgar Sawtelle is ready to go back to the library. I feel obliged to warn readers that this post contains spoilers, although the book jacket should come with a similar warning.

When I told my sister that I was reading it, she asked if that wasn't the one that was supposed to be like Hamlet with dogs. I'd say that's an excellent brief description of the book. But there's nothing brief about this one.

To dive right in: Edgar Sawtelle...well, there are two Edgar Sawtelles, but the protagonist of the book is a mute boy (but not deaf) whose family raises their very own breed of dog in rural Wisconsin. The original Hamlet struck me as an outgoing sort before his family tragedies, with a girlfriend and several close male friends. Edgar Sawtelle, in contrast, was an island. At one point, we're told that he had the ability to make friends, but for the most part, he stayed close to home. Close to his lifelong dog companion Almondine and his parents, Trudy (get it?) and Edgar Sr. Edgar's world is turned on its ear when Edgar's long-lost brother Claude (now do you get it?) returns to the fold.

When Shakespeare's Hamlet opens, the murder and the wedding have already taken place. I'd always wondered how things got to that point. Why did Gertrude jump at the chance to marry Claudius? Was it just to preserve her status and the kingdom, or did she actually care for him? What were things like between Claudius and Hamlet Sr. growing up? Was it easy for Claudius to kill him? Did Claudius's reaction at the play stem from fear of being caught, or genuine remorse? Wroblewski had a chance to play with all that a bit in this book. He chose not to. We get fits and starts of it: that Claude and Edgar never got along, that Claude used to drink and minister to fighting dogs...that's about it. That portion of the book is rather dreamy...and long.

Hamlet is always accused of being indecisive. But I always felt his inaction is perfectly understandable given the circumstances. He had knowledge of a crime that would blow his family and kingdom apart without any hope of proof. What the hell do you do in a situation like that? Young Edgar has it even worse, for at least other people saw the ghost of Hamlet Sr., even if they weren't privy to the accusatory conversation. Edgar was the sole witness to his father's return. Like Hamlet, he decides that an oblique accusation, unintelligible to anyone who wasn't guilty, is the way to go. The chips fall from there, just as they did in Shakespeare's version. And I'd remind anyone expecting a rather heartwarming tale about dogs how the original Hamlet ended.

Overall, I didn't care for this one much. My copy of the play of Hamlet weighs in at around 300 pages and includes several critical essays. This book was 566 pages long, and very, very slow moving at times. Since Hamlet is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, I knew what was going to happen throughout. Unlike some other books I've read recently where the ending was a foregone conclusion, there wasn't enough for me in the journey to keep me from tapping my foot.

The best parts of the book are the parts about the care, training and raising of the Sawtelle dogs. We get just a few pages through the eyes of faithful Almondine, Young Edgar's best friend and keeper since birth. Most of the main characters from Hamlet have a counterpart here. Almondine appears in the role of arguably the most tragic and sympathetic figure, Ophelia. It's hard not to feel sorry for either character as you watch their worlds unravel around them and their charmed lives turn overnight into something hellish. Almondine is actually one of the stronger characters in the book. Everyone else is hard to get a sense of. I felt particularly that Trudy's actions didn't fit her character: the strong, independent trainer of dogs and survivor of multiple foster homes and miscarriages crawling in bed with her late husband's brother? siding with him over her own son? unable to step in and stop the inevitable ending of things?

I'm always a little surprised when I don't like something that's so critically acclaimed. The back of the book has blurbs from a lot of well-respected authors, and one of my favorites, Richard Russo, was actually mentioned in the acknowlegements. He liked this book and I didn't? I guess that's the shape of things. Even setting him aside, this book (as I said in a previous post) has been absolutely everywhere this year. It was one of Oprah's selections. You can buy it at stores where the next most serious literary work in their inventory contains 397 ways to please your man. It's a book club favorite. But it's not one of mine. As always, though, I welcome dissenting opinions in the comments.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Self-Control, or Lack Thereof

It's that time of the week again!

Mariel suggested this week’s question

Book Gluttony! Are your eyes bigger than your book belly? Do you have a habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them? Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up with yourself? Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books when you have run out of things to read?

In recent years, I've become more of a controlled book buyer, although I still have plenty of TBRs lurking. The gluttony kicks in when I'm confronted with a bunch of cheap or free books. The old Library Book Sale comes to mind. I haven't been in a number of years, but I used to leave with more than I could carry, because the books started at $1 each on the first day and went down from there. The sale lasted a week, and my family would usually go at least twice. Anything that looked even remotely interesting -- to any of us -- usually wound up in our paper shopping bags.

They changed the tradition when they moved the library building. The library had a room that was used expressly for their twice-annual sale. Books accrued there during the months between sales, as did books removed from the collection. What didn't get sold just stayed. Some of the books were there every year from the time I was in grade school until after I graduated. Several years ago, though, they built a brand-new library and got rid of all of their inventory. The new library has a perpetual book sale room, mercifully out of the sight lines of the rest of the library. I don't go out there much, and when I do, I never go in that room.

I also rescue books that others are giving away, quite frequently. I've mentioned before that my parents and sister are excellent sources of discards. At the last yard sale we held, I estimated that we had somewhere in the neighborhood of TWO HUNDRED books we were trying to get rid of. I suspect a lot of people don't amass that many in a lifetime. Naturally, I pitched in and helped my family get rid of some of their old books by taking them to my house!

For the most part, I confine my book gluttony to library trips. I always come home with at least five books. My trips are short, because it doesn't take long to locate more books than one could realistically read in three weeks. It's so hard to limit yourself, though, when there are so many good books out there.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Coming Soon, to a School Near Me!

When you're unemployed, the daily mail sucks. Whether it's an angry letter from the electric company, or what I call a "fuck-you letter" from a job I applied for ("We received your resume. Unfortunately for you, we hired someone way better than you. We feel a bit badly for rubbing your face in it, so we're going to lie to you and say we'll keep yours on file for future vacancies, which we actually don't anticipate anyway. I wouldn't wait by the phone if I were you.")

Sometimes, even the circulars kind of suck. When you get a good one, for Macy's or Raymour and Flanagan, it just reminds you of all the stuff you can't afford to buy. But today, I found something exciting in my mailbox. Tony Horwitz, one of my very favorite authors, is coming to the Nichols School (posh private high school) next weekend. It didn't say anything about a cost, so HELLS YEAH I'm going to be there. It's too bad my copy of Confederates at the Attic is in such poor shape, or I'd bring it for him to sign. But I don't even care. I'm really looking forward to seeing him. If any of you are fans and in the Buffalo area, perhaps I will see you there!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yesterday's Library Haul

Well, I hope everyone else enjoyed National Asshole Day yesterday. I didn't even know it was going on, but there were celebrants everywhere I looked. Not one, but TWO cell phone douchebags in the library. A cabbie parked in the middle of the road during rush hour. Many, many of them in World of Warcraft last night, even more so than non-players may suspect. Quite a few on the roads. Several in IHOP, despite the restaurant being virtually empty. Even in sleep, I didn't get away from them: my upstairs neighbor decided that 3:30 AM would be a fine time to rearrange the room above our bedroom. Even my cats joined in, providing an excellent wake-up call by jumping on my dresser and knocking everything off of it, one item at a time. Grrrr.

But, some good did come out of it. I mentioned the cell phone douchebags at the library. I got a decent haul despite the emotionally needy man alternating calls between business calls ("I offer musical entertainment and will be in your region next week. I'd love to get together with you and talk about the possibility of performing at your venue") and harassing some poor woman ("Me again. I just want to be assured that you're not mad at me. You promise? I thought I detected a tone towards the end of the last conversation there five minutes ago. OK, good. I'll probably call back in another five just to make triple-sure you're not mad.") I swear, I tried hard not to listen to that shit, but it was hard since he was right in the middle of the fiction section, talking loudly. (The other cell phone d-bag was describing in detail how they got the bullet out of him. Ah, the downtown branch!)

As per usual, every single book I'd intended to get was checked out. So I improvised and got a lot of stuff I didn't plan on. I succumbed to the second trend in a week (first was joining Facebook) and checked out The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. You might say this seems to be this year's Snow Falling on Cedars: read by every book group, sold even in places where they don't normally sell books. How this book is in and Slash's autobiography isn't, I just don't understand. But it's mine for the next six days.

Also got:

The Deal by Sabin Willett. I read another novel of his, Present Value, and surprisingly learned something about economics from a book that was actually fun to read. I bumped into it while trying to get away from the cell phone guy, who was up in the new books section near the A's.

East of the Mountains by David Guterson. I said I'd try something else by him. This one looked good.

The Bearded Lady: A Novel by Sharlee Dieguez. I'm a sucker for circus stuff.

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald. I liked The Bookstore (Bookshop?) and always meant to try another one by her.

Since Sawtelle is the longest, and due back the soonest, I started there this morning. Pretty good so far.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Shortest BTT Ever!

Well, today's question was super-easy for me:

Graphic May 7, 2009

Suggested by Vega:

Last Saturday (May 2nd) is Free Comic Book Day! In celebration of comics and graphic novels, some suggestions:

- Do you read graphic novels/comics? Why do/don’t you enjoy them?
- How would you describe the difference between “graphic novel” and “comic”? Is there a difference at all?
- Say you have a friend who’s never encountered graphic novels. Recommend some titles you consider landmark/”canonical”.

The answer to the very first question is, "NO!" I don't read graphic novels. I don't even not read them in an interesting way. I don't actively shun them. I don't avoid them because they stole my bofyriend or other such trauma. I just don't read them. For no reason at all.

I shouldn't say that. I was, for a little while, reading one. Back when we were flush with cash, my boyfriend and I used to go every week to Parkside Candy on Main for ice cream, and then walk over to the comic book store down the street. He liked looking at all that stuff and usually left with something. To entertain myself, I was reading this graphic novel in the store. I can't remember what it was called, but it was the life story of this boy who was very Christian and was abused. He had a long-distance girlfriend that he'd met at Christian camp and went to visit her, and found out she had developmentally delayed siblings and also that she was one of the cool kids at her high school. There was much, much more to it than that -- that was the beginning of the book -- but then he lost his job and I lost my job and we stopped going.

So, I guess I don't really have an opinion one way or the other on graphic novels. The best I can add to this discussion is that one time, I saw one that was pretty decent. Pretty lame, huh?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hot, Hot, Hot circa 1995!

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Travel back in time with me, fourteen years ago or so. Bill Clinton was in the Oval Office, but no one yet knew who Monica Lewinsky was. Pearl Jam and Nirvana were on the radio. Braveheart was stirring the hearts of moviegoers, while Twelve Monkeys was scaring the crap out of them. And the book everyone was toting around was Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson. It's been on my personal TBR list for a couple of years, and I finished it the other day.

Snow Falling on Cedars was not really a "traditional" TBR for me. Rather, it was in with a bunch of books my parents asked me to drop off at the library for them. The library closest to them also sells used books donated by patrons, in a separate room off the main floor, with all proceeds going to the library. My father taught social studies and my mother taught English, so I grew up with scads and scads of books in the house. They get rid of more than most people own, and I went through the boxes first to see if there was anything that interested me. Snow Falling on Cedars was one of the ones I grabbed. I knew nothing about it except that I liked the title and that, at one point, it had been one of those books everyone was reading.

I could see why almost immediately. It's set on fictional San Piedro Island, off the coast of Washington state in 1954. It starts with the murder trial of a second-generation Japanese man, accused of killing a white man. At the beginning of the novel, you get little more information than that. It slowly spirals out, back in time to before World War II, when all the principals were young and life was open. The reader slowly learns of the links between the accused and the deceased, and of the doomed teenage relationship between the wife of the accused and a white reporter, and how the war changed them all.

The fictional island had a large Japanese-American community, and the novel deftly explores the relationship between them and the whites, and how the war changed it. During the war, all of the island's Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to the Manzanar internment camp. In high school, we had to read another book on this topic called Farewell to Manzanar. Maybe it was because I was a callous 15-year-old, or maybe the book just wasn't very good, but it failed to make much of an impression on me. It could have also been something in the way it was taught, paired with a Nazi concentration camp memoir. Internment didn't sound so bad next to that.

But this book made me "get it" much better. The defendant's family had an under-the-table agreement to purchase land from their employer, and were two payments away from outright ownership when they were interred. Because law prohibited first-generation immigrants owning land at the time, the agreement was under the table. Their employer (the parents of the deceased) sold the land from under them. Also lost to the war, and to the general culture, was the teenaged romance between the defendant's wife Hatsue, and the son of the local newspaper publisher, Ishmael. Hatsue's family wanted her to marry a Japanese man, so she did. Ishmael never got over it.

The scenes where the main characters were forced out of their homes were very moving. Guterson describes an FBI visit to Hatuse's home, where much was made out of innocuous family heirlooms and dangerous but common faming implements and chemicals. He describes the hive of activity between the time the notice for relocation went out and the date of the transport: how the community worked together to round up and secure everyone's furniture, how the Japanese businessmen were selling down to the walls at cut-rate prices and trying to arrange promises from their neighbors to watch over their crops. I'd say that these portions of it are much more moving than Farewell to Manzanar, at least as far as I remember.

But lest anyone mistake it for an "issues" novel, that's only a portion of the story. There's the murder trial, the love lost, and the lush depiction of the fictional island. I was really disappointed to learn that it wasn't a real place, because in the novel, you could practically smell it: the strawberry fields, the heavy vegetation, the rain and the sea. I wanted to visit someday. The peaceful beauty of the title extends to the whole book, even in the more violent war scenes. The book is about a wide range of topics, ultimately all of them human. I'd say it deserves its reputation, and I'm curious about what else Guterson has written.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Confidence Game; or A Post About A Book

I finished a book that's due back pretty soon, and also haven't been in the mood to scan photographs, so I'll take a short break from my "New York State Photos" series to talk about Plain Heathen Mischief by Martin Clark.

Plain Heathen Mischief opens on one of the worst days of Pastor Joel King's life. He's delivering a last sermon to his congregation before he begins to serve several months in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, tasty 17-year old Christy. His wife, naturally, kicks him out of the house and serves him with divorce papers on the day of his release from jail. He heads west to live in his sister Sophie's basement and attempt to start all over, from absolute scratch.

Fate, or Edmund Brooks, intercedes. Edmund was one of Joel's few and staunchest supporters, and volunteers to drive him west to Montana upon his release, as he's going that way for "business". Turns out, Edmund's a con man. Despite his extravagant support of Joel's church, he's been scamming the system for most of his life. And he offers to cut Joel in. Joel resists temptation at first, but with an expensive divorce, a needling -- and needy -- sister and nephew, and a $5 million lawsuit from Tasty Christy looming, it's not long before he succumbs.

Anyone who collects stupid criminal stories (like I do) can spot a simple truth: it's easy to commit a crime. The challenge comes in getting away with it. Inevitably, things get rough, and Joel is a minister at heart, an intellectual who enjoys fishing and doesn't use swear words. These scenes reminded me at first of the part in Office Space where the three main characters are looking up money laundering in the dictionary.

But something about it became uncomfortable. Joel's a decent, likeable guy who's just trying to make everything work out. There's very little good in his life. His sister (in some of the weakest parts of the book) is constantly on his case, putting down his chosen vocation, riding him about the sex scandal he became embroiled in, angry that he can't contribute more around the house. And she's his closest ally. The book was trying to be both comical, and a serious examination of faith. The funny parts were pretty good, but Joel's overall situation is more sad than anything else. The parts about faith fall flat, as his sister Sophie is playing the "devil's advocate" but comes off as a two-dimensional character, existing merely to argue with him.

Still, the book was decent overall. Martin Clark made Tasty Christy a pretty intriguing character, one that I would have liked to see more of. Edmund's good, too, as a genial, religious con man. There was a good side plot about a case of domestic violence that Joel witnessed, and the story arc of Joel's attempted con was pretty good too, even with all the misery it contained. Martin Clark's got a few other books. This one wasn't perfect by any means, but good enough that I might give one of his others a try sometime.