Before It Washes Up on the Beach

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 3:53 pm, Wednesday, April 29, 2009

rubber-duckieBeachcombing feels romantic and random. But actual science applies to beachcombing, as it does to nearly everything. In his new book Flotsametrics: How One Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science, oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer and maritime writer Eric Scigliano detail Ebbesmeyer’s research on currents and “gyres,” the circular patterns that objects follow in water as they travel as many as several thousand miles. Ebbesmeyer hosts “Flotsam Hour,” a program on Puget Sound’s public-radio station, KUOW-FM.

“It all began with sneakers,” we read in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “A cargo ship bound from South Korea to Los Angeles hit a storm in May 1990, losing 78,932 Nike shoes, which proved to be excellent ocean-going travelers. Using a program called the Ocean Surface Current Simulator, the author and colleague Jim Ingraham were able to predict where and when the sneakers would wash up with remarkable accuracy. They repeated the trick with 28,800 bathtub toys lost in a storm in the North Pacific in 1992.”

Ebbesmeyer has also tracked eight of the world’s notorious “garbage islands,” aka oceanic trash heaps, “which together cover an area more than twice the size of the United States. He reports on a spot in Hawaii dubbed ‘Junk Beach,’ where there is so much plastic that the ‘sand’ is now made of it.” Eeew! Talk about a crime against nature.

That’s Life

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 6:40 pm, Tuesday, April 28, 2009


leif-engerSooner or later, most books leave the hands of their original purchasers and enter the secondhand (or thirdhand, or zillionthhand) realm. Nonetheless, even though it’s inevitable, most authors find it a bit painful to imagine their books for sale at thrift shops and yard sales. Minnesota author Leif Enger told the Austin Daily Herald how it was for him:

“An old friend of mine took enormous joy in calling me on his cell phone from a garage sale in Iowa where he’d just found a hardcover copy of Peace Like a River” — his 2002 debut novel — “for 25 cents. I felt like a proverb about the insignificance of man, or a song by Kansas about blowing dirt.”

But ultimately, Enger said, “It made my day.”


RIP, Tooticky

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 5:35 pm, Saturday, March 21, 2009


tooticky-fg01-101The woman who was the inspiration for a beloved character in Finland’s famous Moomin books — because her partner was the Moomins’ creator Tove Jansson — has died at age 92, according to Finnish news site Uutiset:

“Tuulikki Pietilä, a major figure in Finnish graphic art, was most widely known for projects in collaboration with her long-time partner Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomintroll books. Her death was announced on Saturday following a private funeral. … Pietilä and Jansson ran a gallery together in Helsinki and spent their summers on a rocky island in the Pellinge archipelago near Porvoo, which they documented in a 1996 book. Pietilä’s films of the couple’s life and travels together formed the basis of several TV documentaries. The two became Finland’s most visible same-sex couple, attending events such as the 1992 Independence Day ball at the Presidential Palace.

“Pietilä is widely considered to have inspired the character Too-Ticky in the Moomin books.

“Many of their Moomin-themed dioramas and other collaborations are on display at the Tampere Art Museum’s Moominvalley gallery in the Tampere Library building — which was designed by the artist’s brother, celebrated architect Professor Reima Pietilä.

“Pietilä was awarded the Pro Finlandia medal in 1963 and the honorary title of professor in 1982.”

Half Price Goes Green

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 9:46 am, Wednesday, March 11, 2009

windpower1Half Price Books is going green. The nation’s largest family-owned discount-new and used bookstore chain announced on Monday that it is purchasing pollution-free wind energy for thirty stores and other facilities in its home state of Texas over the next three years. Planning to purchase about 11.3 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind power a year, Half Price Books has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an EPA Green Power Partner. 

By purchasing the wind power, Dallas-based Half Price will offset about 15 million pounds of carbon dioxide. That is the equivalent of planting 901,000 trees or recycling 6 million pounds of newspaper.

According to a company press release: “Half Price Books has been dedicated to environmental and literacy efforts for 36 years and supports hundreds of local, national and international programs. Each year the company sponsors the Half Pint Library Book Drive at each of its stores, donating thousands of books to hospitals and clinics throughout the United States. Half Price Books is a founding contributor to Laura Bush’s National Book Festival, a continuing supporter of the National Center for Family Literacy.”

Turning Japanese

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 12:51 pm, Tuesday, March 10, 2009

kanji-friends-31Had a lovely chat Saturday night with an author at yet another author’s book-launch party. To celebrate her fun but also incredibly informative new book Crazy fror Kanji: A Student’s Guide to the Wonderful World of Japanese Characters, Eve Kushner hosted a Kanji Festival at a Japanese restaurant in Albany, California, complete with music, games, a raffle, tea-tastings, Japanese beer, and yummy sushi. 

While there, Dibs! met Wendy Tokunaga, author of the 2007 novel Midori by Moonlight, whose heroine is a young Japanese woman newly arrived in the USA, where the russet-haired Californian she came here to marry cheats on her with his ex-girlfriend and calls off the wedding. Sad story — but funny, the way Tokunaga tells it, and sweet … in more ways than one, as Midori stays in the States and tries her hand at professional baking. A musician as well as a writer, Tokunaga grew up in San Francisco and first went to Japan after winning a Japanese songwriting contest.

Now It’s Four Guys

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 11:54 am, Monday, March 9, 2009

evisonThe Three Guys One Book blog has added … another guy. Novelist Jonathan Evison joins industry vets Dennis Haritou, Jason Chambers and Jason Rice. In their welcome-to-Jonathan post, they tell us:

“It’s exceptional to encounter a personality so strong, so open to new ideas that you become friends, even though that friend lives 3,000 miles away and you have never met him. We have to admit that from our sealed-up world back East, we don’t always know what we’re dealing with in the vast Western territory of Jonathan Evison’s mind. But that’s what we like most about him.

“The Three Guys have reviewed books and interviewed authors now for about a year. But ever since we covered All About LuluJonathan’s debut novel, we have stayed in touch with him, sharing ideas and a growing friendship. His prose, through its agility and warm-humored intelligence, has inspired us and made us better writers. So we thought, why not? We will ask him to join us and add a West Coast POV to what we do.

“The Three Guys welcome Jonathan Evison to our blog, which is now his blog also.”

Evison’s debut post skewers publishers for signing only likely crowd-pleasers. He’d rather “read and write books that only the most fearless editor would ever dare to publish, and only the most uncompromising writer would ever endeavor — at the risk of starving their family — to write. Whether you’re talking about narrative decisions or acquisitions, nothing is worse for literature than safe choices.”

Unscrupulous Book Vendors on the Loose

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 12:31 pm, Sunday, March 8, 2009

I can’t resist that headline: “Unscrupulous book vendors on the loose.” Unfortunately it’s a real headline, appearing in today’s Business Daily Africa. Academic performance and test scores have plummeted lately in Kenya, and one cause for this has been identified. “Textbook pirates” print up cheap and incomplete or outright fake versions of school textbooks — and students and schools are buying this junk, because it’s cheap and they don’t realize they’re being duped:

“In the wake of troubling reports that performance in last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examinations dropped, an influx of substandard books into schools looks set to deliver more shocks to the sector. Unscrupulous book vendors and pirates are increasingly printing books recommended by the Ministry of Education for use in secondary schools, most of which are of low quality compared to what is in the curriculum, education officials said. While this piracy is denying Kenya’s lucrative book publishing industry millions of shillings annually, educationists are raising a red flag that quality education is at stake. Education minister, Profesor Sam Ongeri, told Business Daily that quality assurance officers at the Ministry have launched investigations into the scam.’We have cases of two books which we are investigating to validate whether the contents of the books are the same as those in the approved books,’ Ongeri said.”

Author Arrested in Prostitution Sting

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 4:00 pm, Friday, March 6, 2009

mainOuch. A popular Nashville TV personality/radio host/author has been arrested in a prostitution sting. According to The Tennesseean, 73-year-old Teddy Bart was one of nine men who responded to an Internet offer of sex-for-pay: “They were cited after agreeing to pay a female undercover officer for sexual activity.” A staple on the Nashville broadcast scene for decades, Bart is the author of A Particle of God, due out this spring and described at his web site as a “metaphysical novel,” as well as other books including The Mensh and Inside Music City USA. On the site’s “About Teddy” page, Bart writes: “I am extremely proud to have been voted Nashville’s Best Talk Show Host five years running. In 2003, my peers in the Nashville Broadcaster’s Association honored me with their Lifetime Achievement award…. When not on the air or writing, I spend my down time reading or walking the land of the farm where my wife Jana and I live in Coffee County, Tennessee.” Double ouch.

Matt Haig Brings Death to Life

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 2:16 pm, Wednesday, March 4, 2009

matt-haig-75British novelist Matt Haig has a knack for capturing death: not as, say, a writer of mysteries or thrillers or horror fiction would, but in a bitingly, achingly realistic way, in non-genre novels whose darkness takes on a million subtle colors and textures. Haig’s debut novel, The Dead Fathers Club – published in 2007 -enters the mind of a preteen boy whose father has died recently in a car crash and whose mother is moving on. Complete with a ghost and a yen for vengeance, it echoes Hamlet and made me laugh and cry until I was nearly crazy with admiration and delight. Now in Haig’s new book, The Possession of Mr. Cave, we meet a quiet widower who becomes increasingly obsessed with his fifteen-year-old daughter after the accidental death of her twin brother — his son. Drowning in grief and guilt, for he never really tried to understand the now-lost Reuben, antique dealer Terence Cave interrogates and stalks the beautiful and bereft Bryony, who edges farther and farther away from him as he becomes the dad from hell. His paranoia won’t relent, and tragedy begets tragedy. The bittersweet thing about this, and the thing Haig always captures so well, is that Terence is fully aware of what he is doing and what is happening, but unable to stop. “Out of our mistakes, out of our pain, arrives everything we love in this world,” Terence muses. “All that humans create serves solely to lessen the terror of existence. The terror that Beethoven and Keats and Van Gogh and every supreme artist has ever felt, the collective terror of a humanity that still shambles around, looking at dark and untrustworthy shadows rather than true reflections.” Fear haunts us and provokes us and prompts us, Terence points out as fear tears him quietly apart. Anyone who has ever suffered a loss, or even thought about it, will find in Matt Haig a sage, a companion and a friend.

Make Kids Read Whole Books, Expert Says

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 9:14 am, Tuesday, March 3, 2009



A noted children’s-literature advocate, author and radio host has lashed out against how literature is now being taught to primary-school kids in his native UK. The situation is similar in the US as well: Kids are not asked to tackle entire books.

Michael Rosen said that it was “absurd and pathetic” that reading assignments in schools now consist of two paragraphs of a story followed by questions. At a literary conference in London, Rosen explained that he grew incensed when his daughter brought home a worksheet from school which bore just a short extract of the Greek myth “Perseus and the Gorgon,” followed with twenty questions for her to answer. Rosen said: “That was the homework; that’s what they did on myths that term. How crazy and absurd and poverty-stricken and pathetic is that? It had nothing to do with the story.” He said that in many schools, pupils are “not reading whole books.” He added: “They are reading torn-up books that they call worksheets — a little extract which then asks children questions about facts on the worksheet.”

Sarcastically, he added: “Literacy without books: What an incredible achievement that is.”

Rosen said that after his daughter brought home the worksheet, he had gone out, bought the book and read it to her.

“What happens to the rest of the class?” Rosen fumed. “They won’t have that; instead they’re going to have these crappy little pieces of paper and twenty questions.”