Thursday, March 31, 2011

TV Guide

We've been cable-TV free for a month or so now, and in addition to saving $85 a month to see not a damned thing I'd actually choose, I've discovered a number of equally significant benefits. First and foremost, watching Netflix on demand movies and shows, there are no commercials. Big deal, you say, but when a third of a network or cable show is made of commercials, that's a huge amount of time to recover.

If you watch three hours of cable/network TV, you're actually getting only two hours of show. With Netflix you get all three. How is this not a fantastic development?

Secondly, it comes a step closer to a la carte programming, the idea that a cable subscriber can choose which set of channels they actually get in their subscription. Cable companies say people don't want it, but in Giant Corporation-ese, that means they don't want to upgrade their equipment in order to make that happen.

But now I can see British television shows (like BBC America), documentaries (The Documentary Channel), independent films (the Indie channel) etc. No, you don't get all the programming available on those channels, but you get to choose, and what you choose won't have commercials. The math works for me.

When I was a kid in Illinois I used to watch Creature Feature on some local television channel. Every Saturday they'd show some classic monster or science fiction movie. I always thought that the largely disappointing SciFi channel (now SyFy) would have done a great thing had they done a Friday Night Monster Movie kind of thing. Not their Megashark vs. Superoctopus crap, but The Creature from the Black Lagoon or Attack of the 50-foot Woman or Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. How cool would that be?

Now, thanks to the magic of Netflix and Roku, my six year old son knows about giant radiation-spawned ants in Them and who the hell Klaatu is from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Springing the kids from the clutches of the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon has been wonderful. I'd much rather them watch Steve McQueen run away from the blob than the next Hannah Montana or Wizards of Waverley place installments.

That's my quick cable cutting update. I still miss baseball, and if MLB ever decides to charge you for a subscription and leave off the commercials (you bastards), I'm there. Otherwise, if I never see another commercial again I will be a happy guy.

Now back to season 2 of Wire in the Blood. Damn, that's good stuff...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


First off, I used a word as the title of this post that I don't know, and what's more, that I didn't look up first. It just sounds like the right word and while that's never enough, who knows, I might be lucky. If I end up looking like an ignoramus, well, I haven't looked up that word, either. But enough of reveling in my own laziness.

I was once invited to join a book group by the esteemed author Diane Vogt. We would select crime fiction of some sort and meet regularly to discuss the book. I ended up dropping out after some months because some of the participants didn't leave a comfortable amount of room for dissenting opinion.

Anyway, during this time the notion that I wholeheartedly endorse authors as opposed to titles seemed to crystallize. As I've written about before, there are far too many writers who can write well, or better yet, craft fine books, but for whatever reason don't.

So I can recommend so-and-so's (see, I'm getting away from naming names) first two books, or such-and-such's first three books, but then things seem to start sliding in the wrong direction. Yes, I got grief for this in the book group, but that's been over for years and I really need to let it go.

There are very few authors who've never let me down. Lawrence Block is one, with some books being okay and others wonderful, and some that I like but have to get past that annoying street urchin in the Scudder books. His burglar books have never done it for me, but I don't despise them, either. They're just not to my taste.

Donald Westlake is superb, and his alter-ego, Richard Stark, is sublime. His Parker series is the single best crime fiction series there has ever been. If you don't believe me, pick one up and see if you can put it down whenever you like. They're a crime fiction reader's crack.

James Lee Burke writes such terribly beautiful prose that it's incomprehensible to me when I read that some people think he tends to wax a bit purple. No, he doesn't, but I can see why you say that. Even when he was in that period where he wrote the same book over and over, his work was mesmerizing. And when he was able to get more creative again, there was no happier day on my bookshelves.

Dick Francis maybe had a book or two out of forty that was a bit flat, but only a bit. And even though he wrote about different characters who were really the same character with a different name and job, his books are just so damned pleasurable that it doesn't really matter.

I find Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series to be highly readable, too. You have to look past the fact that Stone never did a whole lot of actual work, he'd investigate the crime but someone always steps forward and gives him the information he needs to solve it. He's no Sherlock Holmes but the characterization in the books is so strong they're easily addictive.

I like Domenic Stansberry a lot, even though some of his stuff has some fairly obvious contrivances. In Manifesto for the Dead, for instance, the fictionalized Jim Thompson has his plans revealed by his inappropriately loud-mouthed wife in front of the very people conspiring to frame her husband. You can't read it without feeling the clumsiness, but otherwise the book, like all of Stansberry's work, reminds me more of a modern day Hammett than anyone I can think of. And not just because he writes of San Francisco.

There's a fellow named Jack Kelly who reminds me of Stansberry and a bit more of James M. Cain then Hammett whose books used to be difficult to cull because of the broad search results from his not terribly distinctive name. His five books are all excellent and I wish he'd either write more, or make it easier for me to find them if he has.

So there, there are a number of contemporary writers whose work I can recommend, at least in large chunks. If we look at Irish crime fiction, I can give you a bunch more: Adrian McKinty, Declan Hughes, Declan Burke, Ken Bruen, Alan Glynn, Stuart Neville, and more. But that's for another time.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

(No matter what, DON'T) Follow That Dream

I've been swamped this past week, and I haven't been feeling well, so not much writing of any sort has been accomplished. I've been wanting to write something about Irish crime fiction for a long time, but enough people have been doing that I'm only going to look like a bandwagon jumper, but so be it. There are a few other things as well, all requiring more time and energy to do them justice than I've been able to generate. But the worm will turn, I hope.

With time and chronic illness, I find that I look back more and more on all the things I've done in my life that make me absolutely cringe. There are far too many. But I've always thought than when you break up with your girlfriend, no matter how bad your relationship has been, there was at least some good spread around in there. And over time, for whatever reason, you tend to forget the bad and remember that good. Perhaps that's why so many men pine after lost relationships and do the classic breakup regret, I can change thing, only to eventually recover their pride and self esteem and only then actually let go.

I'm finding I'm looking at past life inversely to that, I'm remembering the bad and forgetting the good. This is probably no way to be, and I wonder why that is. Rather than look back with satisfaction at anything I may have accomplished, any positive difference I may have made in anyone's life, I seem to focus on my mistakes and feel bad about them.

Lately I've been thinking about how things could have been worse.

At some point as a strapping young man, I found I enjoyed musicals like "Singing in the Rain" and "My Fair Lady." This may not sound like the past time of a strapping young man, but bear with me. There is a positive energy to those movies, part of it from the wonderful songs, part of it from the charisma of a Gene Kelly or an Audrey Hepburn (or the brilliant Stanley Holloway, who played Eliza's dad). I know some people don't like musicals at all, they feel that the spontaneous breaking out into song is too much to swallow.

But would that really be so bad? Granted, breaking out into a full 112 piece orchestra-backed production number with bystanders and pedestrians joining in with perfectly timed choreography might be a tad cumbersome, but what about if it were much simpler?

At another point, I discovered Elvis movies. Yes, there were the serious ones like Jailhouse Rock and King Creole and those are fine and show a young Elvis who really could have been a fine and appealing actor, but it was the silly ones that were just sort of goofy fun. And when Elvis broke into song, it was often just himself and a guitar, or just a simple band, or, if he was playing a musician in the film, his onscreen back up band.

Elvis made this work. He could be walking with a pretty girl in the moonlight, pluck a flower from a passing bush, gently tuck it into the girl's hair, and start singing. Why can't this work, I always thought. It looks good in the movies. I'm sure I gave this way too much thought.

So when I look back at the things I've done or the ways I've behaved or the decisions I've made that make me shrivel in horror at their images in the mirror of time, it occurs to me, it could have been worse. It could have always been worse. I could have actually but my silverware down, taken the hand of whichever unfortunate girl I happened to have brought with me, walked through a restaurant and started singing. It probably would have been an Elvis song from one of his goofy movies, like "Wooden Heart" maybe.

And lord knows what would have happened then. Probably nothing good. I'm sure the notion had occurred to me more times than is healthy but thank whomever may be up wherever, I never pulled the trigger. Oh my god. If I'm feeling bad about not doing this when I should have done that, doing this when I shouldn't have done that, imagine how I'd be feeling if you could throw in a dollop of failed and spontaneous Elvis impersonation? This would certainly be from the pre-"Thank you very much" rhinestoned jumpsuit days, when Elvis still had the cool, but it wouldn't have mattered.

I can look back and know a disaster when I see one. Saddled with regrets of things both done and undone, I can at least feel good that I had never, not once, actually done the Elvis/musical thing. It would have been too much to remember, I'd go blind from hysterical shock. Looking back at my life now I'm not sure how I could survive the embarrassment. And you should note that right now, at this very moment, there is no guitar anywhere in my house. Some things are best left alone.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Overlooked gem

Living closer to Canada than to a Barnes and Noble or Borders, and in a town with an independent store currently contracting shelf space and inventory, browsing for books isn't the mad sport around here it could be. There's a bookstore specializing in remaindered books over in North Conway, which is all the way across the state next to Maine. We live next to Vermont but even so, it's less than an hour and a half drive, and that only because the only road is a two lane twisty thing through the White Mountain National Forest.

I haven't been there in a year or so. But for a long time, and possibly still, they had a number of Hugo Wilcken's hardcover, The Execution. I bought this book when it came out in 2001 after reading an intriguing review in Publishers Weekly.

The thing is, as I started reading it, I didn't like it. I thought the writing was fairly stiff and pedestrian, not ready for prime time. But loathe as I am to stop reading any book I start, I kept going. And discovered a brilliant book that unfortunately, doesn't seem as though many people have heard of it.

Clearly the book has legs, though, with paperback versions still in print. New hardcover copies can be had for less than a buck and a half on Amazon, with used copies lower still. In the ten years of its life, it must have found some sort of audience.

When I say I didn't care for the writing in the beginning, I'm not talking about having to plow through a dense hundred-page chunk like that in Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, another slow starting but ultimately excellent book. It's just the very beginning of the book that seemed cumbersome in the writing, but very shortly, the characters assert themselves and the plot begins to take shape.

I don't like doing plot recaps as reviews, so I won't give one here. What I will say is that this book is a brilliant tale of descent, of a man losing control gradually and relentlessly, of transformation from "normal" to-- something else. There is a murder at the heart of the book, and it is in the aftermath that the interesting things happen; the crime is merely the catalyst for the personal destruction to unfold. Perhaps "unravel" would be a better word.

Every time I saw those copies in that store in North Conway, I had an impulse to buy them all, perhaps to give them to friends. If they could slot it into their X-Boxes, that might be viable, but as it is, probably not so much. The book is so good, the emotional disasters so well drawn, that I wouldn't mind looking at a chunk of shelf space with half a dozen copies keeping each other company. Someone could look at my library and ask, Why do you have so many copies of that book?, and I could say, Take one and find out.

That would be cool but not very likely. My recommendation is to pick up a copy, cheaply or otherwise, read and absorb it, and then let me know if you've felt the same sort of impact. If you're in North Conway, New Hampshire, you could make it an impulse buy (assuming they're still there). Because really, let's face it, I'd never steer you wrong.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

So there

I'm mad at Amazon. It seems if you buy a few of the least expensive books you can get, they'll arrive wonderfully packaged in an appropriately sized box, with the books shrinkwrapped to a piece of cardboard. They can't slide, they're away from the box corners so the edges can't get bumped, and they arrive as they ought.

On the other hand, should you buy more expensive books, including limited run editions, they more often then not ship them loose in a box where they slide around and collide around the inside edges of the box. I used to take this lying down except where the books were really unacceptable. One time, when this wasn't such a common occurrence, they sent me an apologetic e-mail saying that their goal is for the books you buy on Amazon to be in the kind of condition you'd find in a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

Well, they've gotten worse and they don't even bother to respond anymore. I've sent more books back in the past few months than anyone should find reasonable. Buying from them has become less of a "My books are here!" experience to a held breath and mild sense of dread.

On the other hand, Barnes & Noble, whose prices used to significantly higher than Amazon's, are now usually within a few cents. I'm moving over, going to give them a try. (The cheapest place to buy books used to be through Books-a-Million after you joined their club. But their shipping was always bad, not just sometimes, and they were flat out unacceptable.)

This is important because books are so/too expensive and a lower price means I can buy more books. Not at the expense of paying good money for books with creased spines, wrinkled pages and dust jackets, dirty smudges (fingerprints?) on the page edges, bumped corners, and whatnot.

I'll show those Amazon people. When my order numbers make their P&Ls trend downward they'll-- yeah, um, not even notice. But still. Why the hell don't they? Why don't they see that people are returning books due to poor packaging and fix the problem? A while back they added a separate feedback system just for packaging. Were they just faking concern? Because it hasn't changed anything.

Train your people. Get them to wash their hands when they handle the books. Make it a condition of their jobs packing books to do a good job packing books. I scream but no one hears.

But let's give them their due, however. We know they offer good prices on many items, not just books. In fact, I just looked at a 55 inch LCD television by Vizio. The list price on this thing is $1,699.99. The discounted Amazon price is $1,699.98. I found the TV by clicking through their "2010 Markdowns" link.

A penny saved is a penny earned. I'll spend mine on books from somewhere else.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dept. of Irrational Wants

I'm busy, so I will post this.

I really want this. It's too expensive for my broken-ass self to afford but it's just so damn cool. Yes, it's a pen on a stand.

I would like to use it to right on any number of "products" (you'll get the joke in a minute) but especially this ones made according to the process pictured here.

You can find a complete list of their "products" here.

And if elephants aren't your thing, they have products derived from product of cows, horse
s and even the lovable panda bear.

So if you are a discerning person of means, I highly recommend you pick up like the coolest pen ever, and some worthy paper, and right some really boss notes and send them to your friends. They'd love to hear from you, I'm sure, even if what you're sending them is #%*^%.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

First web work in years

Because I've been working on this stuff for several days, including ALL day today, here is a link to the newsletter thingies I've done for Stark House Press. If I were able, I'd do a real post, but there's a piece of cake making eyes at me from the table next to me. If I've learned anything in my four plus decades of life it's never to argue with baked goods. Even, perhaps especially, when they come out of an Entemann's box.

If you're not intimidated and want to actually subscribe to the newsletters your own selves, you should. At some point in the future I'll put up a form rather than an e-mail link, but it works, and it's done, and I don't have to figure out anything else right now once I locate my fork.

Mmmmm, cake.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Point in time observation

The rise of the e-book is mirroring the path I was afraid it would mark. Between the two camps of "print books will wholly disappear in the near future" and "there will always be print" lies what I think should be the logical and clear road: that there is room for both. One should not have to supplant the other.

And I think in a more rational world, this would happen. However, I've been blasted on the internet for pointing out how many e-books cost more than their print versions, and many more are within a dollar, but this is so easily visible now that there shouldn't be a question to anyone who's taken issue with this notion in the past.

I read of a survey recently where the number one thing that kept readers from buying more books was... wait for it... price. Yes, I've written too many words about this in older posts so I won't retread that ground now. But if publishers are going to charge roughly what they charge for print versions of their books, then the appeal of the e-book has to change for the typical non-independently wealthy reader such as most of us.

An e-book reader is a godsend if you want to read public domain works that simply are not within reach as a physical book. The unabridged diaries of Samuel Pepys, the works of Richard Burton (no, not the actor--you knew that, right?), and more can finally be more accessible than a Project Gutenberg file on your computer. Being able to increase the font size is a marvelous thing for people with declining eyeballs.

To a lesser extent, there are a number of readers who are not bibliophiles, who merely want to read the text and not be encumbered with the disposing of the book. All well and fine.

But if e-books, with no printing, distribution, consignments, returns, and perhaps most expensively, the sponsoring of shelf and table space a publisher pays for bookstores to trip each customer as they walk into the store, why in god's name would you price the damn things so high?

My point is that the BIGGEST, most substantial benefit of e-books should be that it makes books, at least in some form, more accessible. Because without all of the physical issues, the costs should go waaaaaaaay down. And yet, they've gone up, especially when you consider the agency model which has taken away the ability of a bookstore to set the book's price.

So to circle back to the beginning of this post, publishers are mucking up the whole thing. In this environment print books aren't going anywhere, and I hope that the pricing is about at the limit of what publishers can charge.

Bring back mass market paperbacks (not the inch-taller, two-dollar more abortions), lower your hardcover costs, price e-books closer to three or five dollars (in other words, follow the lead of the writers who are making many sales and much money by self-publishing without going through a traditional house), and you will move more books.

If a library buys a book, they can keep it in service as long as they like. Thanks to recently (stupid) publishers' terms, a library can allow an e-book to be checked out one user at a time (like a physical book), but after 26 check-outs the library has to purchase it again.

There are many issues with publishing today, and there have been for years. When the day dawned where individual houses were gobbled up and merged into just a few divisions of mega-corporations, the business of books was probably doomed. Sensible e-book pricing and marketing might have helped things, but much like the government, when the people who can enact the change don't want to be affected by the change, it ain't gonna happen.

If small press publishers can keep their prices down, I see rosy futures for them. On the other hand, with fewer and fewer bookstores or outlets to move them, an internet presence is likely key.

Incidentally, this post was going to be about something else, but I lost my way. Fortunately, there's always tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Subscription service

The glory days of magazines may be officially over and sadly, I couldn't argue. A couple of decades ago a friend introduced me to Outside magazine and in many ways it changed parts of my life. Not only was the subject matter inherently interesting, the sheer quality of the writing was completely unexpected and absolutely blew me away. It introduced me to writers like Tim Cahill, Randy Wayne White, Mark Jenkins, Ian Frazier, and many more. Their books are still on my shelves.

Unfortunately, the magazine is no longer in my mail box. At some point, many of the same writers began writing for Men's Journal and who knows what else. So I subscribed to both magazines because, dammit, I couldn't get enough of the kind of travel reportage slash memoir slash adventure stories and for a while there, things weren't so bad. But then Outside switched editors a few times and grew more and more to look like Men's Journal. The problem was that Men's Journal was steadily growing more like People.

I don't want to see Harrison Ford on one of the magazine's covers, and then the other's a month or so later. I want to read about traveling to the source of the Blue Nile by hot air balloon, dodging natives, wild animals, and poachers with automatic rifles. I don't want to read about a celebrities air plane or his ranch in Montana. I don't want to read magazines that for a quarter of the year could be subtitled The Journal of Lance Armstrong.

In short, they took the best parts of both magazines (which in Outside's case was damn near all of it) and homogenized and pasteurized them away into dribble, more cult of celebrity rag than a chronicle of an outdoor and active lifestyle. They were real and they became phony. National Geographic Adventure was an excellent attempt at doing something that had a resemblance to the classic Outside but they up and folded before its time.

I had long ago canceled my Men's Journal magazine by not renewing. I was still holding on to my memories of Outside, though, and had a three year subscription going at the time I finally had enough. I went from devouring every issue I could find, reading parts of it multiple times, to paging through it and dropping it in the recycle bin. This was the fate of the magazine who had brought us the single most fascinating article I've ever seen in a magazine, Jon Krakauer's account of the Everest tragedy in 1996, the basis for the book Into Thin Air. It also published the story Sebastian Junger wrote that later became his bestseller, The Perfect Storm.

Because of Outside I've bought virtually all the books recounting the '96 Everest disaster, which led to many books about Everest, which led to books about climbing other peaks (such as the deadlier K2), and on and on. The travel/adventure section of my book shelves is over twenty feet long (a lot of books).

And the bastards went and changed into Good Housekeeping on me. I canceled my subscription because really, by that time it was a fairly worthless chunk of paper. I'd hoped when I sent in my cancellation that they'd wake up, fire the current editor, and bring someone in to bring the magazine back to the glory days. Oddly enough, they merely sent me a refund check.

Reading matter that is so exciting, so enthralling, so magnetic that it can permeated what you think, what you do, affect your entire lifestyle, is such a rare and wonderful thing. Indeed, what better thing can come from the printed word?

Sylvester Stallone movies. Stallone pioneered the concept of violent action in short, hour and twenty minute movies. His point was that theater owners could squeeze in an extra showing and thereby make more money. Didn't matter that the movies sucked and continue to do so to this day; it's not about art or even craft, it's about demographics. Outside followed the same path in magazine-land, they sold out to what they thought was mass market appeal at the expense of its core consumer base. So I don't go to Sylvester Stallone movies, and I no longer read Outside. One of those things makes me sad.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Abstract expressionism

I watched the Ed Harris vehicle "Pollock" on Netflix last night. The movie garnered an Oscar for Marcia Gay Harden (Best Supporting Actress) and a Best Actor nom for Harris. It's based on a biography of the abstract expressionist painter, Jackson Pollock.

The movie is, of course, much easier to understand than Pollock's art. Except when they talk about Pollock's art. Apparently Pollock managed to free the line from delineating shape, boundary or even image. Doesn't that make the line the shape? The boundary? Ultimately the image?

The movie is clearly a labor of love for Harris and it shows throughout the film. Unexpectedly fascinating is Harris painting with the techniques (including not having the brushes actually touch the canvas) and in the style of Pollock. Pollock's real art, at least to my ignorant eye, is more interesting and appealing than that in the film, but that's probably as it should be.

There is a wonderful scene (no, not the one where Pollock extinguishes a fire in a high society soiree) where Pollock's future wife, Lee Krasner (played by Harden), takes him home to her apartment. The camera is looking down a hallway and is completely stationary. There is no music in the scene. Harris/Pollock is standing in the foreground at the camera end of the hallway, with little ambient light. There is an indirect light in the bedroom at the far end of the hall and that serves to back light the characters' movements.

While Harris stands still, the Krasner character moves along the hallway, stopping to remove her coat and hang it on a hook. She moves back and forth in the hallway, getting ready for one knows not what, while Harris stands like a statue. Eventually Krasner moves to the bedroom and takes off her blazer. Then she takes off some more. She never looks at Pollock and we have no idea how aware of her he is. At the appropriate moment, he sheds his own jacket and walks down the hall away from the camera and into the bedroom. Krasner at once moves to him and begins removing Pollock's clothes, the expected result all along. There is no music in the scene, no sound other than that of the characters walking in the hall, swishing their coats, etc. Wonderful scene.

I didn't care for most of the soundtrack. It was a bit all over the place, and almost whimsical in places where the overall tone of the movie is fey and brooding. And if you know anything about Pollock, you know how the movie is going to end, a la "The Buddy Holly Story." You spend some thought on wondering how they're going to portray what you already know is coming. Which actually is the weakest part of the movie, the climactic ending. Lacking all subtlety and surprise, blaring the upcoming event through loud, screaming dialogue does nothing to aid the climax. Instead it diminishes it greatly. If you drop a ball on my head, I'll be startled and react accordingly. If you scream at the top of your lungs, "I'M GOING TO DROP A BALL ON YOUR HEAD NOW!" it's not going to come off the same way.

There's also a point in the film where Pollock is suddenly having an affair with a hot young thing, and tells Krasner he's in love. I don't know where she came from. While the girlfriend (played by Jennifer Connelly) professes her love for Pollock several times, no time was devoted to the development of this relationship so that this comes off as very unconvincing. How do they know each other? What does she see in him? How did they come to be? "I'M GOING TO BE YOUR GIRLFRIEND AND TAKE YOU AWAY FROM YOUR WIFE!"

Overall a solid movie, most notable for the acting performances. While I'd recommend it, the soundtrack, the light portrayal of the extra-marital relationship, and most of all the presentation of the ending keep the film from being the classic it clearly is trying to be.

I'm going to go draw lines now, and see if I can do it without boundary, form, or image. I suspect I'll just sit and scratch my head and pick nits from my scalp, but we all do what we can for our art.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Not Reading My Favorite Authors

One day a few years back I went to search through the shelf for an as yet unread Dick Francis book. His titles are so short and often similar that I have little idea of whether or not I've read a particular book by checking its title. Sadly, after going through all of them, I realized that yes, I had actually read all of them. Which made me sad.

I have two of James Lee Burke's pre-Robicheaux books on the shelf, as well as his two most recent novels. I think James Lee Burke is one of the top (pick a number, any number, the lower the better) writers we have today.

Charles Dickens is an all-time favorite, but I have yet to read Bleak House and a number of others. He's one of the few writers I've read who make it feel as though they have a wire straight to your brain and what they're saying to you is more than the words that appear on the page.

The problem with reading all the books of your favorite authors is simply that you've read all the books by your favorite authors. I'm not sure what good it does to simply take up shelf space and leave unread volumes to themselves, but there's a certain anticipation, a strange appreciation to simply having them, to knowing they're there. I will read them, I'll read them all, and when I do, I know I'll feel some sort of loss, as I did when I'd inadvertently run through Dick Francis.

After his wife's death, Francis began collaborating with his son, Felix. The books are fine, clearly Dick Francis books, and I've read the first three. Now that Dick himself has left us, I'm clinging to the last remaining collaboration. I'm not sure why, or what this means, because I really do want to read it. It's just that then it will be gone.

Yes, I can always reread them, and I'm sure I will, in much the same way I've reread Len Deighton's Bernard Sampson books. It's not the same thing, though.

As to the Burke, I keep checking to see announcements for his next book, which I imagine should be out sometime in mid- or late summer. I just saw where Felix Francis has his first solo offering coming out in May. I have a feeling I'll read the first Felix before the last Dick/Felix, though.

And for Dickens? I have a complete, 12 volume hardcover set of the Oxford University Press's The Letters of Charles Dickens. If you look up how much each volume costs, you'll see how ridiculous it is to let them languish on the shelves. I do look at them often, despite the underwhelming quality of the books themselves (glued bindings on books that cost hundreds of dollars apiece? Really?), but I don't want them to reveal too much about Dickens' work before I get there myself.

So what's stopping me? One never knows. More contemplation is in order. I wonder if anyone else out there doesn't read books by their favorite authors. It sounds awfully strange when you ask that out loud...