Monday, December 17, 2012

Unusual things found in books: Part three

It seems rather appropriate.

Last week, while browsing through some old books at Plaza Books, my favorite used bookstore in Las Vegas, I came across a postcard that someone had left behind as a bookmark.

Call it synchronicity for this particular card to be found at this time, just a week before Christmas Eve.

I asked for permission to take the card home to scan, a request graciously granted.

It's a bit difficult to see  but the date on the postcard is 12-22-15 and the cost of the stamp? A mere one-cent!

I'll use this post to wish everyone a peaceful, Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

This blog isn't dead

This blog isn't dead. It's just in hibernation, sort of.

I've read several articles lately that focus on whether or not blogging is dead. It's almost as if there's a bandwagon someone built, one that a lot of writers are jumping on. The folks agree that blogging is not dead; it's just fading away. I disagree. I think it's dying for those people who have discovered it's too hard to write anything useful, creative, interesting, or fun on a regular basis.It's dying for many people who have no focus and in some cases, limited time. It's probably true for people who have little to post except pictures of grandkids, sunsets, and self-promotion. (You can get all that on social media sites.)

It's probably true for many companies that do not employ freelance bloggers or full-time writers to maintain a blog.

 But blogging offers so much more than a person can get out of a 140-character post or a social media comment. It's great for offering detailed perspectives, for instruction, for a reader how-to, for making someone laugh, or to invite debate and comment. It's a good place to present and defend an opinion. It's a good start for a company or an individual to promote something without taking on the expense of a website.

None of those things is dead.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Acting, interacting, social networking .... aaarggg

I don't know about the rest of you but I have trouble keeping up with everything internet. There's the posting and commenting on facebook; the tweeting, retweeting and readtweeting on twitter; the confusing and blankness of googleplus; the kindle boards; the blogger sites;  linkedin; the ____ (You fill in the blank.)

Add to that email accounts and the mobile apps by the way.

How do you manage all that and still have a life, one that doesn't involve a keyboard or a screen?

I know I can't.

I have solved the problem for myself. It's not the best solution but it will have to work for now.

I log on to my facebook account daily and scroll through, reading the pertinent (family and friends) posts, comment if I think it will add something, then log off.  I check both my email accounts, my amazon seller account, my local newspaper headlines and then I either go off to my part time job or begin to putter around the house ... you know, doing the dirty word (chores).

Once a week I check in with twitter. That's on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, I read the posts of blogs I follow.Thursdays I check out the kindle boards.

I compose my weekly column for on Friday nights and email it immediately since it's due on Saturday.

I've limited my blog posts to those moments that inspire me. 

Let me ask again: How do you manage your social networking and interacting and still have a life?  

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Write what you know. Is that good advice?

I was working on an article tonight and had to do some research to verify some information. Suddenly a phrase popped into my thoughts.

Write what you know.

I'd heard that advice in high school; heard it again in college; heard it once or twice during my graduate studies; read it on the web.

Now I'm wondering, should I be writing about this particular subject?

"Wait a minute," this voice in my head said. "If you write only about what you know, why do you need an imagination?"

Think about it.

Did Lewis Carroll know about what it was like to fall down a rabbit hole?

Did Clement Clarke Moore actually have to meet Santa Claus to describe him so endearingly? 

How many vampires did Bram Stoker run into before he created Dracula?

How much science fiction and fantasy would we enjoy if we had to know everything about other worlds?

See where I'm going with this?

Now, if I have a character who is undergoing a surgical procedure, I would have to do a lot of research to get the procedures accurately on the page. I still wouldn't know how to perform them but I'd could write about them.

I guess if you're writing a memoir, it's best to know what you write, or at least write about what you THINK you know.

So to all those people who told me, who told you, I say go ahead, fall down a rabbit hole before you pen your version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but make sure you're female because otherwise ...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Who needs a proofreader?

Who needs a proofreader?

When I read blogs and forums about self publishing I find numerous suggestions that authors either hire a proofreader or go over their manuscripts thoroughly again and again.

I agree. But even with numerous readings, a manuscript can still have errors.

One of the (supposed) advantages of having a manuscript published by one of the major houses is the availability of professional editors and proofreaders.

But even that doesn't ensure a perfectly clean product. And if you think a little mistake will go unnoticed, think again. Case in point is a copy of Cold Case by Stephen White, which I picked up and read recently. It was a used copy, a hardbound published by Dutton.

Whomever owned the book before me didn't just notice errors he or she highlighted them and wrote above the highlighting. On page 181, for example, the sentence read in part, "...the local corner is an M.D." The reader corrected it with the word coroner.

On the very next page, a sentence read, "A second perimeter of yellow crime-scene tape blocked any closer access to the body."

At this point, I assumed there was a body but there wasn't. And, later, the body was discovered far away from the scene.

On page 189, the sentence read, "You're the psychologist--people wanting vengeance tend be your angry people, right?"

Except for the error referring to a non-existent body, it's easy to see how errors can slip by. And overall, the mistakes don't interfere with the plot or the writer's skill ...  Little errors, yes, but wouldn't it have been shocking if the invisible body showed up later -- alive and well?

Little errors, yes, but not unnoticed.
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

More unusual things found in books

I've found uncounted number of items used as bookmarks. In a recent post, I write about one of the more unusual, a marriage license.  Maybe it was an unhappy union? If so, I wonder if I'll ever find the certificate of divorce anytime soon.

A week or so ago, I was riffling through another book when a bookmark fell out.

Now, I'm not old enough to remember when hosiery sold for a buck a pair and I sure didn't know what Service Weight meant. Of course, I had to look it up. 

After stumbling over google's search results -- and finding a lot of information about service weight in regard to plumbing, I finally found a rather unusual site (But then, isn't the web full of unusual sites?) that explained it.h

Apparently, service weight refers to the fabric, which is 60 and 70 deniers. Hmmm. What, then, is a denier? Back to the google board which sent me to wikipedia where I discovered a denier is a unit of linear mass density of fibers.

The postcard, which was addressed and featured a printed stamp, was a sales pitch from a Philadelphia store, Bryans Ladies Shoes and Hosiery.

Certainly not as unusual (interesting) as the marriage license but more educational,

Saturday, August 4, 2012

No free books

I know. Current wisdom advises indie writers to offer readers free copies of their eBooks. The purpose, I suppose, is to introduce readers to the writers in hopes that the style, plotting, characters and all the factors that make for a good novel, will entice readers to buy the writer's next book.

I guess this is sort of similar to going to a used book store or a thrift shop and picking up a book by an unknown writer. The difference is, in the beginning, what that less expensive tome came off the press, somebody paid for it.

It didn't start off being free.

So, why should an eBook start off being free?

Anybody can get a taste of a writer's work because books available for your kindle (or kindle for the PC) can be previewed. You get a set number of pages from the beginning of a book just by pressing a button. If that's not enough copy for decision making then I don't know what is.

I think the first question an author should ask is "How much is my book worth?" If the answer is zero, nada, nothing, if all that hard work was just to have a name under a title, then my advice is to keep the darned thing on your hard drive. If it's free, that's exactly what it's worth.

I think the only free copies that should be out there are the classics, the out-of-copyright works, especially those that are required reading for school kids.

Writers have a tough enough go at making money.

I know this is harsh thinking but the electronic reader isn't going to go away. People are still going to download books. Granted, with the current economy, readers are likely going to be very choosy about what they purchase.

My take? Get rid of the free eBook. Get out there and promote yourself and your work. Don't know how? Check out the eBooks written specifically for you.

I recommend Robert Kroese's $2.99 work (shown at left).  It's not the best but it's better than some of the others I've looked at.

You'd have to do it if you had a major publisher putting your stuff on paper and in stores.

Oh, and by the way, I was going to try the John Locke book but I downloaded a preview of one of Locke's Donavan Creed novels before deciding whether or not to purchase one or more.And, when I read the reviews of the book, I opted for this one,

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Unusual things found in books

I do quite a bit of reading, which means I buy a lot of books -- new books and used books, hardcover and paperbacks. (eBooks too, but they don't apply to this post.) When I come across them, I also pick up books for a couple of neighbors who don't drive and therefore don't have access to treasure hunts.

On weekend I scour garage sales, thrift shops and used bookstores to satisfy my passion. I always find something interesting; sometimes I find more than words on a page.

People leave the oddest things behind as (I assume) bookmarks. I've found ordinary items such as dollar bills, bits of paper towels, paper clips, stuff like that. Sometimes, though, what's left behind is more personal and unusual.

Today, for example, I picked up a book titled You were Born for This by Bruce Wilkinson. This find looked unread and seemed the perfect choice for a neighbor who is quite a bit more religious than I. (She has a collection of Marianne Williamson works so I thought this would be a nice addition to her library.)

I almost always flip through a book before I buy it but today I was in a hurry (I had frozen food in the car.) so I bought it for its appearance.

When I got home, I riffled through the pages and noticed a piece of folded paper near the middle. It was a little tattered where a seal had been impressed, but the identity was perfectly clear.

A certified abstract of marriage for the groom and bride, married in September, 1998 in Clark County, Nevada.

Now, what should I do about this? Toss it? Frame it? Try to find the owner?

Better still (or in addition to whatever I decide to do) I suddenly found myself plotting a novel based on the find.

Hmmm. Maybe I should read Wilkinson's book -- it's about everyday miracles.
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Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Artist's Way -- Masochism

Last week I picked up a copy of Julia Cameron's 1992 book, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.

I read this book when it first came out but never followed any of the author's advice ... or at least I don't think I followed any of the author's advice. (I'll know more about that subject as I read it again.)

As I read, a particular passage hit home.

Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse. This happens in any number of ways: beginning work is measured against the masterworks of other artists; beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends. In short, the fledgling artist behaves with well-practiced masochism. Masochism is an art form long ago mastered, perfected during the years of self-reproach; this habit is the self-hating bludgeon with which a shadow artist can beat himself right back into the shadows.
 Since I've been having a problem with the ending of my almost-finished manuscript, I realize what the author mentions here is part of the dilemma. As I begin to wrap up all the loose ends, I start to think about my first two eBooks and begin to doubt their value. I think: "I know they don't measure up to the work of more successful writers." I start to chastise myself for even trying to write this kind of stuff. 

I am, in Cameron's words, a masochist.

I don't think I'm unique.Am I? Do you go suffer artistic masochism? Do any of today's top-selling authors go through artistic masochism?

Guess I'll be reading the entire book again, this time with more attention to detail.
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Friday, June 1, 2012

My blogging mantra

When I first decided not to force myself to blog like a maniac I wasn't sure how much time would pass between posts. It didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now.

When I debuted this project I found myself clinging to the blogger's mantra: Post daily; post often. It was fun -- to start -- but as soon as it started to feel like a real job. You know, that nine-to-five drag we all experience.

Little Fella
I had to rethink the entire idea behind blogging -- my blogging in particular.. It occurred to me that this isn't about producing copy; it's about expressing thoughts, ideas, opinions, and information. It's also about putting things into perspective, not. the need to get every thought, idea, opinion or tidbit of information onto the web quickly.

Intermittent posting attests to a busy life. There's writing, hiking, reading, attending to social networking, emailing, eating out, visiting friends (in person or by phone), walking the dog, mowing the lawn, paying bills, shopping, and myriad other daily events (including trying to buy a house).

Intermittent posting also attests to an evaluation of what's being said. For example, I'm sure the world doesn't care that I have a new (unwelcome) roommate, a mouse I've dubbed Little Fella. (Okay, that might be a tweet, just for fun.) (Note to self: If it looked like Mickey, we'd have another store altogether.) So, why bother?

So, when blogging fits into the schedule, when there's something that meets my criteria ...
when the muse hits, I'll post.  
That's my blogging mantra. 

PS: In case you're looking for a humane way to catch a mouse, check out this unique approach.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Which books to take to your deserted island

As soon as I have time I will blog about the last meeting of the Las Vegas Bookmans Guild. April’s topic of discussion was created by Ann DeVere of Plaza Books: Name five nonfiction books you’d want to have with you on a deserted island.

Some of the selections were practical, some funny, some unusual and some personal.

Sadly, several members of the guild were unable to attend the dinner meeting. I’m hoping they’ll email their choices so I can include them, if not in the upcoming post, at least on an addendum.

How about you? Which five nonfiction books would you want with you if you were doomed to spend a long time on a deserted island?
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

That last of The Great Gatsby (I hope)

The cover of the first edition of The Great Ga...
Image via Wikipedia
Last post brought a phone comment from a friend pointing to a hilarious look at The Great Gatsby.

Wish I had access to this when forced to read Fitzgerald in high school!
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Friday, March 9, 2012

The Great American Novel

I can't ever remember yearning to write the "Great American Novel."

In high school, my English teacher, who often came to class with a massive hangover, was a  taskmaster -- not a hard taskmaster, just a normal, run-of-the-mill instructor who expected his students to excel. He required students to write one theme a week (due on Mondays) at least two pages long, memorize poetry, read at least one book a month (and do an oral and written review alternately), read Shakespeare, and spell like a pro. (He also tried to get the class to memorize the Old English version of Beowulf, which was a miserable failure for everyone and a big disappointment to him.)

He was a little crazy, especially on those hangover days, but most of us were diligent students, and we complied. (That's what we did back then.)

Other than Shakespeare, we had few required reading lists. However, one of the must-read books was The Great Gatsby. According to this teacher, F. Scott Fitzgerald had penned THE Great American Novel when he wrote Gatsby.


I read it.

I hated it!

Let me clarify that because hate is a strong word.

These characters, I thought, were boring. Some rich dude filled with angst over a lost love; a rich woman (the former love) who seemed empty headed; a guy cheating on his wife (Gatsby's former love) and who probably beats her (He does smack his mistress.); and a narrator, a presumably sharp young kid (He seemed dull to me.) who leaves the Midwest and heads to New York where he's supposed to be looking for a job but instead, hangs around boozy, boring,unhappy people.
In my review, I mentioned that I didn't like any of these people, to which I was told:

"You're not supposed to like them."

Well! Who would have guessed.

We teenagers had enough angst!

To me the book was like those soap operas my grandmother watched every day, and if that's what the Great American Novel was supposed to be like, I never wanted to write it!

I'm sure I never will write the Great American Novel. I just like to write, so I do.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rejected manuscripts, query letters, resumes: A response

Note: Vin Suprynowicz is the critically acclaimed author of several works as well as a nationally syndicated columnist. (I read him on the Las Vegas Review-Journal website.)

When Vin tried to leave a comment pursuant to my post about whether it’s okay to query more than one literary agent at a time, Blogger rejected it as too long. “AFTER I GET DONE, your robot tells me I've exceeded the 4,076 character limit,” he wrote in an email. “Is that 600 words? I write 1,200 words while I'm waiting for the teakettle toboil.”

To this introduction I add that Vin said what I wish I’d have been astute and brave enough to write.

  The old model, pretty dysfunctional for half a century anyway, is collapsing before our eyes.
The unspoken assumptions are: 1) I need a big-time New York publisher because only that person/outfit has the money and expertise to publish my book in attractive, professional form, get it professionally reviewed and get it into bookstores. Therefore, 2) Because hardly any publishers will still look at an unsolicited manuscript, I need a New York literary agent to open the gates to one of those publishers.

But read the final page of Richard Russell's 2006 "Book collector's Price Guide." He reports the effect of the calcification of publishing into the hands of a few green-eyeshade houses is "to freeze the state of literature and writing in general, keeping it within the bounds of the type of writing that has a 'winning track record.'" As a result, "Books published in the last decade in the United States will, over time, become worthless and fit only for the dollar bins. ..."

He's right. The shelves and tables are now full of ill-written derivative potboilers, shoddily bound. Anything new and refreshing tends to come from "outside the system," often in small press runs, 500 copies run off as a lark by some science fiction club or a socialist bookstore in the Haight or the Minnesota chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars.

Agents are told to "Go find me someone who can write just like ..." James Patterson, John Grisham, Alice Walker, whoever. They don't expect to find these people in the slush pile. You'd be FAR more likely to attract an agent's attention if you said you could prove you'd had a homosexual affair with Mitt Romney, "but I can barely write a grocery list; can you find me a ghost writer?"

THAT they know how to pitch.

And they pretend to serve at the altar of "literature"?

I once had a New York agent (actually signed a contract, the works) who's since written a book about "how to write a best-seller." All he ever did was ask me with great urgency whether I could "crank out a fictionalized biography of David Bowie in six weeks." By the time I got him an outline, five weeks later, he'd moved on to some other scheme, based on a different lunch with some other impresario.

The "rule" against multiple inquiries is for the convenience of agents and publishers, who pretend they're still a gentleman's club editing Scott Fitzgerald with pencils and sleeve garters and rubber cement, and thus further pretend to be outraged over the implication that they should get in a quick bid for your services, rather than watching you grovel at their feet for a month or two before moving on to woo their equally unattainable cousin in the next block. They act as though they're Scarlett O'Hara and you've just announced you intend to propose to the 40 prettiest girls in town, announcing you'll marry the first one who says "Yes." 

It's not a courtship; it's a business. (If it's a courtship, send flowers and ask if they prefer the missionary position.)

Why send out what amount to 40 form letters, a month apart over three years, when you can mail them all the same week?

Either way, 3 to 7 percent will reject you with a form letter, the rest will never reply at all. And I say this as someone who's made my living exclusively as a writer for 40 years, all of my books printed at professional binderies, all produced with private investment capital, with not a penny of the proceeds owed to any German banker pretending to be a publisher nor to any Sarah Lawrence graduate pretending to be a "literary agent."

The Internet is destroying their distribution monopoly; the rest of their haughty house of cards will collapse soon.

The expensive collectibles of tomorrow, Mr. Russell concludes, will be unusual, innovative books "subsidy published" in small press runs today ... the same way Poe subsidized the first printing of "Tamerlaine," the same way John Grisham subsidized the first publication of "A Time to Kill" by Wynwood Press in 1989.(Current value of a nice single copy: $4,000.)

And today's academics and "publishing professionals," far from being on the lookout for the new and the good, will reject it out of hand, Russell concludes, realizing that "a 'new' novel makes their years of knowledge, study and expertise obsolete."
-- V.S. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Who killed the bookstore?

Panoramic view of Plaza Books in Las Vegas (Photo by Patrick Morgan)

Jill Olsen, of the Antiquarian Book Lounge, posted a link on her facebook page that piqued my interest. Written by Jeremy Paul, dean of the School of Law at University of Connecticut, the article asked the same question as the title of this post: Who killed the bookstore, "After which he inserted a colon and added, "After all, it was you and me."

The theme of the article focused on the fact that as consumers we failed to support bookstores by searching for cheaper prices, thus supplanting a lifestyle that combines consumption and philanthropy.

It's the first part of that statement I found annoying and incorrect. To hell with lifestyle; if I can find a book I want at a cheaper price at Walmart, I'm using the extra money to buy another book! So, no, I did not kill the bookstore; I actually saved money, contributed to the economy, supported the print industry (now referred to as pBooks), and gave myself hours of entertainment and information.

Meanwhile, I also posted a comment on Dean Paul's blog: "Maybe Barnes and Noble and Borders killed the bookstore!"

BTW, I'm getting a little tired of the media blitz about the death of the bookstore and hoping someone more creative and innovative than I will stop rehashing this story and find solutions to saving an institution I think is worth saving.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mid-century books that stand the test of time

I belong to a local group of booksellers called The Las Vegas Bookmans Guild. 
It’s a loosely-knit group of people who own used, out-of-print and collectible bookstores and willingly share their uncounted years of experience with fans (like me).

The group meets once a month at a predetermined restaurant to discuss various topics related to books.

Last week, before and after a food and drink (mostly iced tea, water and one glass of "grape juice") the topic of discussion focused on mid-century authors whose books survive – books that readers and collectors want to read, read again, or have available to read, books the booksellers receive requests for time and again.

Among the writers were James Thurber, Cornelia Otis Skinner, L. Frank Baum, Daphne du Maurier, and others on a list I compiled after the meeting, put in the pocket of my jeans then promptly washed! (Does the word airhead apply here?)

I’m wondering in this electronic publishing era, which authors (and their current titles) still be in demand in fifty years?

Any thoughts?

P.S. An interesting poll on goodreads lists titles chosen by readers as survivors.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rejected manuscripts, query letters, resumes

A few posts back, I posted a copy of an email from an emerging author who asked why an agent query should be so different from a resume submission.

To get a job, he noted, he would send resumes to as many contacts as possible. Why then should he be cautioned to send only one query letter at a time.

No one has answered his question as yet.

Should he obey the rule? (Who set that rule anyway?)

She he throw that caution to the proverbial wind and hit every potential agent with a query?

I don't know.

Do you?

Meanwhile, to make him feel less discouraged if and when he starts receiving rejections (or getting no responses at all), I sent him to this website.

I hope it made him smile and gave him hope.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday?

While the rest of the nation and parts of the world are watching the Super Bowl, I'm listening to the radio and writing.

Seems as if so much revolves around this once-a-year event; it's almost like New Year's Eve celebrations.

But, my New Year resolution was to pull the plug on my television!!! Too many commercials (and I get so irritated about having to pay a cable company to sell me advertising!)

Give me a DVD player, Netflix, my radio, my laptop and a couple of really good friends and I'm a happy camper.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What? Still no comments?

I tweeted about my last post only because I hoped to get some comments. That's what the post was about, after all, looking for some reasonable explanation I could pass along to another writer who's hoping to get published.

 Most of the people I follow on twitter are writers, and writers in progress so I figured at least one of that small group might have some insight, or at least some opinion.

It didn't happen. Not a single comment. Not even a spam comment!

Am I disappointed? A little. Am I discouraged? A little.

After all, I'm not looking for fans or followers and even though it would be nice if I had a legion of people who enjoy or disapprove about what I say here, that doesn't apply.

Oh well. I'll just tell the person who is waiting for an answer that's better than the one I gave that so far, my followers are a lot like agents -- they don't bother to respond.

So to hell with them. I'll look for answers myself. And when I find some, I'll gladly comment, if asked.

Which brings to mind a starting point, a link offered by Zemanta in blogger. It looks like the beginning of an interesting search.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Query letters versus resumes

Here's a copy of an email message I received from an aspiring best-selling author, a man who has written his first novel.
Tell me why applying for representation from an agent is any different from applying for a job. For a job you send out 20 or 30 resumes, and with one or more replies you complete the applications and go for the interviews. Whoever picks you first, well, usually you take the first job that comes along.

Tell me why a literary agent is any different; you send out 20 or 30 query letters and whoever comes along first you jump on it.
I know I'm naive, but what else is new.
Can anyone tell me how to answer that?

Also, I know the stock answer; but in this day and age, when snagging an agent, yet alone a publisher, is getting harder and harder, should we play by their rules?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Coming soon: Top Ten Mysteries of the Decade

A while back, I noted that I wouldn’t be posting to the blog as often. As you can see, I’ve stuck to that resolution.

I also promised a little series about the top ten books of the last decade in different genres, compiled by some of my Las Vegas (and Henderson, of course) bookseller friends. The first one covering science fiction and fantasy (prepared by Ann DeVere of Plaza Books) appeared in my Dec. 1 post.

In a few days, I’ll have the second installment featuring the top ten mysteries, compiled by the not-so-mysterious Phil Deflumer of Greyhound’s Books.

Remember, though, these are the top ten print books of the past decade. When this series is complete, I hope to reach out to the eBook world for top ten picks.