Tag Archives: #einstein

On Non-fiction books

My favorite book on the mind

I think my obsession with non fiction began with biographies and histories but has since grown since I have matured. When I was younger I would go to the library to find biographies on the people that I was learning about in school. I believe this little habit came from the fact that my parents always took us to historical sites as kids so I grew up always loving to learn about people and places in depth. I also always got a book when we’d visit places so a good amount of my biographies came from visiting important places. For example, when we visited Ford’s Theater when I was 12 I got a biography of Lincoln. Or upon visiting Civil War battle sites (something my father was particularly fond of doing) I’d get a book that traced the battle from its causes to its outcomes. I loved these books. I was a history nerd in school because of them. When I was a senior in high school I took the AP history class and was the only person to pass the AP exam. (In a side note, the kid that grew up to become a history teacher did not pass. We were not friendly and I took great delight in rubbing his nose in it. HA!) My love of biographies eventually led to other things as well.

When I was in high school I broke my collar bone and had to spend my gym period doing other things. Being the “library girl” had its advantages at this point because instead of writing essays on gym related topics (what in god’s name could THAT have entailed?) I was given permission to “help” the librarians. Instead, I was able to sit in the library and read as much as I liked. It was then that I stumbled upon my great love for science books. I was reading a biography on the greatest scientist to ever live- Einstein! At the end it had a listing of further reading books that included Einstein’s book on relativity. I gobbled it up. I was hooked for life. It was exactly what I was looking for at that time in my life. Real, concrete discussions on the way that the whole damn universe works. Not the bullshit explanations that my catholic upbringing had fed to me for so many years. From the universe I moved to my current obsession which is far more complicated than the universe- the mind. If you have a similar interest do find it in your power to pick up anything written by Steven Pinker. The book you see above The Stuff of Thought is the first I read and still my favorite. I stumbled upon it by accident while I was wasting time in my university bookstore in between classes. I have read most of his other works as well bu this one stays as one of my favorite books of all time.

How do you feel about non-fiction? Do you stick to fiction? Do you stick to one genre in particular? If you read non-fiction, what topic interests you the most? Why did you pick up non-fiction?

See you later, see you soon.

84, CHARING CROSS ROAD and Strangers

Penguin 1990

“I personally can’t think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book” (pg.54) 

I love books. So books on books are just like having hot fudge poured over chocolate ice cream. It is so satisfying. This is a short book – a mere 97 pages- so it takes just a few minutes to devour. But it will leave both bookseller as well as booklover satiated for days. I found myself daydreaming about having a relationship like this with some far off fellow book devotee while at the bookshop today. I imagined what it would be like to find the letters in the mail and begin searching for a book for many months, even years at one point. We do have a box of requests from people at the shop but it does not cultivate quite the relationship that Helene created with Mark’s and Co. Booksellers. Occasionally, I sift through the box and make a few phone calls. Those may yield a sale if I am lucky. Normally I just wind up returning the books to the shelf and ripping up the card. However, those rare occasions when I phone someone who has been looking for a book for a very long time and explain that I have located a copy are so much fun. We have a small connection for those brief moments when I am the bearer of wonderful news. There is usually disbelief followed by giddy laughter and a promise to stop by soon. Then, when I am lucky, I will see the person when they make it to the shop and we will be giddy again. I love it. It makes my job so enjoyable. I could relate to the staff as they wrote to Helene individually throughout the years. You love to get beautiful books into the hands of people that will treasure them. Certainly, Helene is one of those kind.

As a bookseller I am a bibliophile- obviously! You have to love books to do a proper job of selling books to people. It is just a requirement, end of story. So Helene’s constant search for books is so familiar. I sift through stacks of books every day at Bogart’s but there are still many holes in my collection. On many of my days off, I scour other used bookshops or consignment shops for the missing books from my shelves. I am now contemplating with which shop I will begin a long, romantic relationship sustained by intermittent letters requesting books. It seems like the dream situation for any serious reader. Also, I hereby encourage anyone to begin one with Bogart’s. Our address is 210 N. High St. Millville, NJ 08332. Seriously. Do it. We would all be so excited and honored to search out books for someone. 

In the end, I just really liked all the people as well. There are not many words exchanged but so much is revealed anyway. The fact that Helene sends gifts throughout is so sweet. She really helps these strangers though a tough time right after World War II because they were so kind to ship books to her. She felt a camaraderie from a shared love of books and they help each other for more than 2 decades. It did break my heart that they never met in person. But their connection was deeper than many people who see each other daily. Helene was just lovely. I felt I had so much in common with her. I quote a passage that I took great delight in writing “me too!” in the margins:

I wish you hadn’t been so over-courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of on the flyleaf. It’s the bookseller coming out in you all, you were afraid you’d decrease its value. You would have increased it for the present owner. (And possibly for the future owner. I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I love the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.) (pg.27)

Reading this post probably took about the same time as it does to read this tiny tome. Not really but sometimes hyperbole is necessary to make a point. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go to your nearest (preferably independently owned) neighborhood bookshop and find this book. Then, share it with others. It reminds me why I like books in the first place. They remind us that strangers just need find common ground to become friends.

If you liked this, then you may like…

Alice Calaprice

If you enjoyed reading charming letters from charming people then you should pick up Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letter to and from ChildrenThis is the second post in a row that I mention Einstein so it should come as no surprise that in high school I was enamored by him. I still think he is the most enigmatic and complex celebrity of all time. And quite a celebrity he was. You might have thought only movie stars could command the amount of attention that Einstein received in the beginning of the 20th century. The people loved him, especially the children. This book collects the most memorable of his letters throughout the years. It is wonderful if you are already interested in Einstein but it reads just as entertaining if you know nothing of the man either. Einstein was a prolific letter writer so also search out any collection of his letters if you are interested in learning more about him.

John Dunning

I’ve gushed about John Dunning quite a few times (I swear this is the last time I’m going to recommend him so write his name down now. Go ahead. I’ll give you a minute… ok? Good.) You know that I love him. If you liked the discussion of rare or antique books then you will love the Cliff Janeway series of books that start with Booked to DieIt allows you to fantasize about being a bookseller with the extra enticement of danger. Everything is well researched so it educates you on the field as well as entertains you. Fantastic series.

See you later, see you soon.

On “Someday Books”

A Rage to Live looking gigantic among other books

What exactly is a “someday book”? For the purposes of this article, it means a book that is so overwhelming in size and content that it sits on a very high shelf and waits. It is the book that has to wait for your life to slow down. It is the book that you just do not have the time in your life to commit to reading it. Sometimes it is something that has been on your To Be Read list for a long time and you finally managed to find it in a bookstore. Or, it is a suggested read from a friend or another book. Now, it just sits in your To Be Read pile, patiently.

That book for me is A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton by Mary S. Lovell. Even the title is a mouthful. It came on a recommended reading list at the end of The Bookman’s Promise by one of  my favorite mystery writers, John Dunning. I had only recently discovered Dunning at Bogart’s and was reading his books at a record pace. I read all 5 Cliff Janeway novels that are currently out in a mere handful of days. I was enthralled. In this particular adventure, he discusses at length some fictional lost diaries of Richard Burton that are so intriguing. By the end I was desperate to learn more about this fascinating historical figure. I am an avid biography reader so when I saw the title that also included his lovely wife that he was madly in love with, I knew I had to get it. Imagine my surprise when not 3 days later it was sitting on a pile of recently donated books when I opened the bookstore one morning. I nearly cried. It was fate! It was destiny! It was the biggest book I’ve ever seen that was not textbook related! So, I took my prize home and set it on the shelf. There it remains for some long distant time when I have the energy and time to devote to it.

There are many other “someday books” in my head but this one stares at me from its shelf, mocking my flighty attention. I will get to it eventually. I know I will. I have managed to get through some very dense biographies including Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe and a cultural biography on Walt Whitman by David S. Reynolds called Walt Whitman’s America. Each was intense and very long but I enjoyed them immensely. I know I will feel the same about A Rage to Live in the end but the size has intimidated me into placing it in that unknown “someday” category. What books do you add to your “someday” book list? Are they thick like mine? Or are they just too philosophically hermetic? What makes us put these books on a far off timeline? Let’s discuss!

See you later, see you soon.