Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

NY: Knopf, 2008.

Scandinavian crime and mystery novels are somewhat different in style and approach from the Anglo-American versions and this first volume of a trilogy is no exception. For one thing, it progresses very slowly, especially at the beginning, and the back-stories of the principal characters are presented at very great length. But you should stick with it, because by the time you get eighty or a hundred pages in, you’ll be hooked.

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Published in: on 30 January 2011 at 7:26 am  Comments (1)  
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Schlereth, Thomas J. (ed). Material Culture Studies in America.

Nashville: American Association for State & Local History, 1982.

I’ve heard “material culture” described as the debris the past leaves behind to entice and puzzle the future. The earlier the period from which historical items have survived, of course, the more pronounced the niches in which they may be categorized. There’s plenty of Roman architecture around, but even metal weapons are rare, and textiles are almost non-existent. There are no Royal Navy frigates remaining from the Napoleonic wars. Even the early phase of the Industrial Revolution hasn’t left many relics. (If only there was a surviving steam locomotive from the 1830s!)

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Morgan, Richard K. The Steel Remains.

NY: Ballantine, 2009.

I don’t know that “fan” is the right word, given the nature of the worlds about which he writes and the sort of characters he sets in them, but I’ve developed a considerable appreciation of this author’s work. His three novels about the gray and ambivalent Takeshi Kovacs are deeply involving in a deeply cynical way. But Morgan says there will be no more Kovacs novels, so I was waiting to see what he would come up with next. It turns out his take on sword-and-sorcery fantasy is not really that much different — and that’s not a bad thing.

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Published in: on 25 January 2011 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sayers, Dorothy L. Murder Must Advertise.

NY: HarperCollins, 1961, 1933.

This is a strong contender for being the most thoroughly enjoyable of the author’s mysteries featuring amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey — and not only because of the protagonist’s detecting. The principal setting is a large London advertising agency in the early 1930s, and because Sayers herself was a successful copywriter for a period, she knows what she’s talking about.

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Published in: on 20 January 2011 at 4:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Honey, J. R. de S. Tom Brown’s Universe: The Development of the English Public School in the Nineteenth Century.

NY: Quadrangle, 1977.

I’ve been reading a lot of social history about the Victorian period lately and, from the title and the flap copy, I thought this would be an exploration of life inside the English public school — the “playing fields of Eton” to which Wellington gave credit for defeating Napoleon at Waterloo, and all that. But this isn’t that, and at least the author tells you so at the outset. (What is it, by the way, with British academic authors not wanting to reveal their actual first names?)

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Published in: on 18 January 2011 at 5:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pope, Dudley. Ramage & the Renegades.

London: Secker & Warburg, 1981.

In 1801, after eight years of war against Britain, Napoleon Bonaparte negotiated a peace — the Treaty of Amiens — by which the naïve, incompetent new administration in London (under Addington, Pitt having resigned) gave up most of what the Royal Navy had gained and began cheerfully dismantling the navy itself. And Bonaparte thereby gained time to restock his warehouses and rebuild his own forces before returning to war. Every author of a Napoleonic Wars naval series has had to deal with this interval, to decide how his protagonist will respond.

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Aresty, Esther B. The Best Behavior: The Courtesy of Good Manners — from Antiquity to the Present — as Seen through Courtesy and Etiquette Books.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1970.

That word “etiquette” brings to most people’s minds the nervous puzzlement of which fork to use with which course at a fancy dinner party. As Aresty points out, a better word for the larger subject is “courtesy” — which Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”) frequently describes as the lubricant which allows people to function in civilized society without continually coming to blows. As a lifelong reference librarian, I answered thousands of etiquette questions for patrons and developed an early interest in the subject as a sociological matter, especially for the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Published in: on 13 January 2011 at 2:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sayers, Dorothy L. Gaudy Night.

NY: HarperCollins, 1964, 1936.

When I went through library school — back when that meant deep knowledge about books, not online databases — one of the requirements was several semesters of exposure to various genres of popular fiction, since you can’t recommend to patrons what you aren’t familiar with yourself. Mostly, when it came to mystery novels and detective stories, that meant the classic authors as they were in the 1960s: Ngaio Marsh, Ross MacDonald, Margery Allingham, John Dickson Carr, Dorothy Sayers, and especially Agatha Christie. I didn’t read mysteries as a kid (science fiction was my thing) but I discovered several authors whose work I could appreciate, and I’ve found many more since. But I never could handle Agatha Christie.

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Published in: on 10 January 2011 at 8:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Warren, Mrs. [Eliza]. How I Managed My House on £200 (One Thousand Dollars) a Year.

Boston: Loring, 1866.

There was an outpouring of household management manuals and similar how-to books in the mid-19th century to cater to the burgeoning middle class in Britain, especially for those young brides, like the author, who hadn’t the slightest notion or experience of how to run a household on a limited budget. Some, like Mrs. Beeton’s book, became the canon, while others, like this one, took a more homely, less authoritative approach. Because Eliza (or “Millie,” or “Minnie” — both names appear in her reported conversations) was left a widow after some eighteen years and then became a very successful housekeeper for another widow with somewhat more income, her own experiences must have taken place in at least the 1830s — the very dawn of the Victorian era.

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Published in: on 8 January 2011 at 10:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pohl, Frederik. The World at the End of Time.

NY: Ballantine, 1990.

I’ve been a fan of Fred Pohl since The Space Merchants in 1952 and I had assumed I had read, over the years, every novel (and most short stories) he ever published — but somehow I seem to have missed this one. There are two main characters here, one human, the other very much not, but both of them extraordinarily long-lived — again, one in the normal course of things, the other as a result of screwing around with relativistic effects.

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Published in: on 5 January 2011 at 7:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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