This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Bookmarks of My Life

            This past weekend I read a mystery novel, as usual, but it was a Kindle book on my iPad so I didn’t need a bookmark. If I had been reading a book of the dead-tree variety, however, it’s good to know that I would have had a wide range of bookmarks to choose from. Boy, would it have been a wide range.
            A lot of readers, I know, don’t bother with formal bookmarks. They use grocery receipts, business cards, dollar bills — whatever is at hand. I’ve heard stories of people buying a book at a secondhand bookstore and finding, when they opened it, a large bill inside that had been used as a bookmark. You don’t get that on Kindle.
            I, on the other hand, belong to the group of people who collect bookmarks and who look at them as part and parcel of their reading history. Toward that end, I recently took an inventory of my bookmark collection.

Memories of Bookstores Past

            The great majority of my bookmarks come from bookstores that give them away as advertising when a customer buys a book. As might be expected, I have a ton of bookmarks from the local bookstores where I regularly shop. That includes Bookshop Santa Cruz, the recently closed Crossroads Books in Watsonville, and River House Books in Carmel.
            A few of my bookmarks aren’t from bookstores at all. I have one my sister sent me for a literary magazine that published one of her poems and another from some sort of online organization that claims to connect writers and independent bookstores. And I have a bookmark from Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola, where I have never bought or read a book, but have purchased far more breakfast treats than are probably good for me.
            And I have a few bookmarks from stores I’ve visited in the past that no longer exist. There’s one from The Book Keeper in West Yellowstone MT (which I last visited in 1989) Toyon Books in Healdsburg CA, Phileas Fogg’s Travel Books in Palo Alto, and Borders, which failed to outlast the local bookstores that were so terrified of it.

Ah, The Places I’ve Been!

            I even have a couple of bookmarks from stores I’ve never been to, including City Lights in San Francisco and Stinson Beach Books, just north of the City. Those turned up in secondhand books I bought elsewhere. Not as good a find as a $20 bill, but a find nevertheless.
            Of the bookmarks that reflect my travels (and purchases), I come across the following: Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Bart’s Books in Ojai CA, Point Reyes Books, The Book Den in Santa Barbara, Gallery Books in Mendocino Twice Told Books in Guerneville CA, and Upper Case Books in Snohomish WA.
            And I’m sure if I did a thorough search of the house, I could come up with a dozen more.
            Finally, there’s a special class of bookmarks: the two I paid for. One was purchased at the Oxford University bookstore in 1990 and shows an image of the college, with no additional information. The other was bought at a stationery store in Venice in 2009. Not bad souvenirs, when you come to think of it. They cost almost nothing and last a really long time if only you can manage to avoid losing them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Subaru Accuracy

            No author ever sets out to make a mistake, and no author ever writes a perfect book. That’s the case with fiction and nonfiction books, both of which I’ve written. A book is simply too big a project to be bug-free.
            In a work of nonfiction, many mistakes are indisputable. The author spells someone’s name wrong or gets a date wrong. The author’s interpretations of the facts can also be wrong, but these are subject to endless debate and need not concern us at the moment.
            The question of accuracy in fiction similarly involves considerable ambiguity and openness to interpretation. The author wants to get details right, obviously, but if she has a certain type of pistol ejecting its shell casings when that type of pistol in fact doesn’t, how important is the mistake? I’d argue (and some would argue otherwise) that as long as she’s not writing a forensic-investigation novel and plays fair with the reader about the clue of the shell casings, it’s a pretty minor error.

The Intentional ‘Mistake’

            Fiction being fiction, authors are free to imagine things that don’t exist. Suppose a mystery writer was setting a story in a clearly identified national park, using many of its real elements as part of the tale. Then suppose said author gave said park a fictitious old lodge that the real park doesn’t have, in order to provide a place for suspects, victims and more ambiguous characters to mingle. Would that be a mistake?
            Of course not. It’s fiction, and as long as the author acknowledges that it was done intentionally for the sake of the story, where’s the harm? The important thing in a piece of fiction is that the imaginary world is true to itself and in the larger sense reflective of the real world in some way.
            I got to thinking along these lines last week, as I was working on my fourth mystery novel. I’ve gotten into the habit of showing the new book to Linda piece by piece as I write it. She often catches typos and raises points about characters and facts. It’s very helpful, really.

The Mistake That Wasn’t

            Looking over a recent passage, she came to a scene where I had one of the characters driving a certain type of Subaru station wagon and promptly told me Subaru didn’t make such a wagon. Trying to get it right, I had looked that up on Wikipedia beforehand and found that they did make such a wagon in the early to mid 1990s, and that since the story was set in 1997, the character could indeed have quite plausibly been driving one.
            And then I got to thinking. Suppose I hadn’t looked it up, had been wrong about the model, and the mistake had made it into the book. If someone had pointed out the mistake to me, I would have been annoyed at having made it and made a note to myself to be more careful the next time.
            If, on the other hand, someone had made the criticism that the character in question didn’t seem to be the sort of person who would drive a Subaru, I’d have been gobsmacked because I would stand accused of not being true within my fictional world.
            I raised the point with Linda a couple of days later, and she got what I was saying. She also reassured me on the point I considered important, saying of the character in my book, “She’s definitely the sort of person who’d be driving a Subaru.”
            We’re good.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

I Remember Them Well

            The death of Joe Garagiola last month, brings us closer to the end of the era of iconic baseball players. Not that Garagiola was a great player himself (though he was better than he pretended to be later on), but he belonged to the last generation of ball players who played when baseball was the national pastime and its practitioners were the princes of the sports world.
            As a member of what may be the last generation to widely and seriously collect baseball cards, I feel the passage of that time. The first ten years of my life, baseball was the American sport. Ten years later it was supplanted by football. Baseball still does well as a niche sport, but it probably will never be the national game again.
            Probably the turning point came in 1959, the year after the famous NFL championship game (no Super Bowls back then) in which Johnny Unitas led the Baltimore Colts to a comeback win over the New York Giants. That game drove the NFL forward, and it never looked back.

Growing Up In Between

            In 1959, I was nine years old and beginning to seriously follow baseball for the first time. The great players of that era, nearly all gone now, are the ones I remember fondly. Ted Williams and Stan Musial were nearing the end of their careers, as were two of my Dodger heroes, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges. Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were in their prime. It was in 1959 that Sandy Koufax struck out 18 San Francisco Giants on Aug. 31 and gave us a glimpse of what was to come.
            My father took me to Dodger games in Los Angeles, but he liked football more. Probably that had something to do with growing up in the South. In 1959 there might be one college football game on TV each Saturday and a pro game on Sunday. It was a condition today’s sports fan can barely comprehend.
            Radio broadcasts of baseball held more sway then than they do now. When the Dodgers came to Los Angeles, they were on KMPC radio the first couple of years. They then moved to KFI, a 50,000-watt clear-channel station with a signal so strong we once picked it up after dark in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and caught the tail end of Koufax’s first no-hitter.

Last Man Standing

            Think of the Hall of Famers who were stars in 1959, and you realize that few are still alive. Mays and Aaron, for sure, and Frank Robinson. Among pitchers, only Whitey Ford comes to mind, unless you count Koufax, who hadn’t really hit his stride yet.
            Whenever I see an obituary of one of the great ball players of that era, a piece of me dies along with it. Those passings are still big news because there are a lot of people who remembered seeing them play at a time when Major League Baseball was the big thing in sports. We mourn not only the players, but the primacy of the sport they played as well.
            When the Hall of Famers from the 1970s onward begin to die in significant numbers, they will no doubt get decent obituaries in The New York Times (assuming the Times is still around), but it won’t feel the same. They’ll be mourned as the superb athletes they were, but not as American icons. They played the wrong game at the wrong time for that.