How to bind an inside-out book

After looking at David Merritt’s little hand-bound recycled books I started trying various ways to make my own. Tollbooth Press books have ranged from xeroxed and stapled booklets to printed perfect-bound books to hand-sewn books with stiff textured Tibetan lokti tree paper covers and transparent inner leaves. This year I’ve made all Tollbooth’s books with recycled book covers in my experiments with cheap, no-fuss bookbinding.

I will explain below at length how to recycle and re-bind a book. But here’s the short version: Rip the cover off an old book, turn it inside out, and staple the new book inside it. It’s very easy!

You will need some hardback books that deserve a merciful end. Self-help books from 1982, old business textbooks, third-rate airport novels, and tattered, foxed library discard reference books are excellent candidates for recycling. I get mine from the ends of garage sales, from the free shelves in my marina’s laundry room, from books being thrown out at Noisebridge, and from the free box outside Red Hill Books in Bernal Heights. As I often liberate books into the world by putting them into cafes and other free shelves, the net effect is more and better books in the free book ecosystem. It freaks some people out to think of destroying a book. But if you go to the dump or recycling center, you’ll find dumpsters filling up every day. How much better to give an unwanted book new life!

Anyway, to start binding a book, you must first cut up the old one.

cutting up a book

Here’s the much more detailed how-to.

Take off the dust jacket if there is one, and open the book. Take a look at the hinge. You need to cut through the thick end paper which anchors the block of the book — its pages — to the boards, hinge, and spine, which form the book cover. The hinge will be hard to cut through, as it is probably backed with some of the net or mull that goes over the book’s spine, which you’ll see as a sort of cheesecloth fabric or little bits of threads. The trick here is to cut the block of paper out of the covers without cutting through the spine. If the book is tightly bound, it will help to widen and try to tear the endpaper’s connection to the boards.

the inside of a book's spine

Now you have the boards and spine and hinge as the sort of shell or husk, separate from the block of pages. Tear the end papers off the block and tear out or clip anything else interesting in the book. You might want to use them later for new endpapers or decoration.

Turn the book cover inside out. Work on the spine to make it flexible, by creasing it in all its parts in its new direction. I like for the new book’s spine to be rounded and flexible, not pointy and cracked. The papery inside bits of the inside-out spine may tear and flake off. That’s okay. The entire aesthetic of the book can be messy.

You will need to make your own block of paper now. For a blank book, this is super easy. Get some paper and trim it to a size to fit inside the inside-out book cover. The paper should fit fairly snugly up into the new inside-out spine. You may want the edges of the paper to be perfectly trim with the book, or to protrude outside it like lacy petticoats peeking out of a dress, but in the traditional way to bind a book you’d trim the pages to be shorter than the covers all around, so that they fit inside without showing. It’s up to you. Trim the paper, and then staple the left edge together in two or three places, with about a 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch margin. If your book is thick, you can use a heavy-duty stapler. A normal stapler binds about 20 – 25 sheets of paper. If you don’t have a heavy duty stapler, then staple around 20 pages together, then lay the next 20 pages on top and staple again in a slightly different place in the margin. Repeat as necessary and stagger the vertical placement of your stapler. Now you have a book block!

If you have your own text to bind, you’ll need to lay it out nicely. The most important things in your layout are the margins. You need the text to fit on the page, and it’s especially nice to plan for a wide inside margin so that the text doesn’t unreadably run into the binding of the book. Since you will have a fairly random assortment of book cover sizes, it’s hard to make your layout precise. But there are two standard sizes I encounter. The bigger size is 9 1/4 x 6 1/4. The medium size is 8 1/2 x 5 3/4. The very large, very small covers and the ones wider than they are tall, it’s best to save for blank books or one-off projects. If you lay out your books for the big and medium standard sizes, with generous margins, that will work well. Trim the pages to the size you need, book by book, with scissors, exacto knife, or a paper cutter. Or take them to a copy shop and ask for them to trim a giant block of pages all at once. This is usually inexpensive.

Tall, thin children’s books or coffee table art book covers make great drawing pad blank books for kids. You can make one in a minute or two before you go on a trip or to anywhere you might need to entertain some children and keep them quiet. I’ve spent hours drawing and telling stories with various children in blank books.

To make really nice feeling books, buy special paper. I love to go to Kelly Paper and browse around. Check your local paper store and its shelves of discontinued paper if you’re looking for a discount – you can get a $30 ream of paper for $5 if you’re lucky. Bond is smooth and the most basic bond paper is what you usually put into a printer or copier. Laid paper has some texture to it with ribbed lines. Wove is smooth, but has more of a square weave pattern than bond. Vellum is usually smooth too but has a bit of translucency. Linen basically looks how it sounds – like fine cloth you might use for sheets, with some tooth (finger-detectable rough texture) to it. I like linen or laid in a hand-bound book, and think that vellum makes great semi-transparent title pages or fly leaves.

You now have a block and a cover (inside-out). Hold the block tightly inside the cover and staple the hinge with the book facing up. A line of three staples down the book’s spine is probably enough. Flip the book over. Did the staples go all the way through? If so make sure the points of the staples are not protruding too sharply – fold them over with a screwdriver or a butter knife. If the staples didn’t make it all the way through the block and back cover, then put in another three staples from the back side.

Note that the spine has a hinge and, before the stiff boards start, an indentation called the gutter. You can staple close to the boards, right in the gutter, but I like to staple just a bit behind the gutter so the book cover lies nice and flat.

You can also wedge the book block tightly or more loosely into the spine before stapling. A tight fit works well for thin books but for thicker books, leave some room for the spine to curve and lie flat when the book is open. Here you can see a detail of the stapled inside-out spine of the new book. The torn edges of the original endpaper and bits of mull stick out in a pleasing feathery way. The

detail of edge of inside-out book

You may want some front matter on the inside cover of the book rather than bound into the pages. Right now I’m gluing printed paper into the front inside cover with the name of the press, an ISBN, and the date of publication. I think that standard stickers would work well for this, better than glue, with a blank spot for the month and year to be stamped or written in.

inside front cover of a book

For some books, I glue fancy endpapers from the book cover’s inside to the first (blank) page of the text block. This can look really nice but is a bit laborious. It is important to use nice, archival-quality, acid-free glue if you’re going to do this, or the book will yellow and rot in a few years.

For the front cover, you can print labels and glue them, handwrite, use stickers, or print with rubber stamps and ink. You can custom order rubber stamps with a title from most office supply stores, very cheaply. I’m copying David Merritt here, in part, by using alphabet block rubber stamps for the front cover. But the title of the poem here was too long to stamp out, so it’s a printed label.

front cover of an inside-out book

My alphabet rubber stamps were about $15 at an art supply store that had a scrapbooking section. They came in a neat metal box with a small ink pad. You can also get them at craft and sewing stores or order them online in various fonts. The metal box doesn’t absorb the extra ink from the stamps, so I’m going to look for a wooden box or a thin wooden shim to put under the stamps. While I don’t mind getting inky in the process of bookbinding, the metal box is out of control! The box is super handy, though. I keep an exacto knife in it for help in cutting up book covers. I’ve also thought it might be interesting to modify a small, thin briefcase or some cigar boxes to hold alphabet stamps neatly like a printer’s type drawer.

Here are some examples of experiments with flyleaf paper in books with a single poem.

Thin, stiff, translucent striped paper:

Rumpled, hand-torn yellow legal paper:

Flyleaf of rumpled yellow legal paper with a coffee mug stain:


Finally, here is an afternoon’s book binding result. I can do a batch of about 10 or 15 books from start to finish in a couple of hours. I generally give them away to people but am not above taking a dollar or five from people who want to donate.


Once I print out some texts and put them in folders, the whole “small press” is portable. The folders of papers, extra end papers and blank sheets, stapler(s), glue, scissors, exacto knife, rubber stamps, and ripped-off book covers, all fit neatly into a backpack. At home, I have a saddle-stitch stapler and a heavy-duty stapler for big projects. For the portable press-in-a-backpack, a tiny stapler works fine.

Enjoy your bookbinding projects! I hope you create marvelous and satisfying books!

Small press in a box

I met David Merritt at in Wellington, New Zealand earlier this year. He had a table in the exhibitor’s hall on Open Day and was making tiny books there with his son. He was carrying around Landrover Farm Press in his suitcase. His idea is that publishers should carry their means of production with them in a box. I got instantly very excited! I’ve been making xerox zines since 1986 and carried that forward over the years to many small press poetry books and journals as well as riot grrl zines.

fabulous poet

David was taking the poems (previously printed or xeroxed), cutting them out at the table, stapling them into inside-out hardback book covers, pasting a label for his press on the inside cover, and then stamping the book titles on the front cover with alphabet block rubber stamps while chatting with his customers. Here is his “press in a box”:

david merritt's means of production

Most people were buying a tiny book called “Geek Prayers”. I bought one for 5 bucks.

outside front cover of geek prayers

The poem itself made me think of Len Andersen’s “Beep“, a parody of Howl which I put up on the web a few years ago with his permission. Like Beep, it attempts to include computers, technology, and the experience and culture of the Internet into poetic experience, but unlike Beep it pushes into the territory of embodying that culture. All it needs is a web site where you can print and construct your own version…

As I looked over my hastily constructed Geek Prayers book, the cleverness of its design struck me.

This poem is structured in separate phrases rather like the giant sentence that’s the first section of Howl. The sections can be in any order, which is pretty handy for the book binding. The last part of poem is printed and cut out separately and glued to the back cover. You could print out the double-sided pages of poem snippets on a sheet of paper, then cut them across and fold them in any order. I thought this was a very clever way of avoiding fuss in the page-collating and binding process by using randomness. It is in itself an excellent geek solution for a geek poem!

inside back cover of geek prayers

Here is the outside cover unfolded, showing how the inside endpapers of the original cover look when dissected, stapled, and stamped. Frayed bits of mull, endpaper, and the spine’s cardboard backing stick out like torn lace. One cover is stamped with a library mark and “discarded” giving a pleasant retro feel to a book that now sports its new and more meaningful rubber stamp marks. The poem has a sort of wistful history in its covers, a ghost existence underlying its new incarnation as a book. We are ephemera!

Of course David and I got to talking about publishing and poetry. As we talked he just kept giving me more books and showing me more poems, which I read instantly and which made my head explode. Most poetry leaves me a bit bored, if not completely nauseated. I get VERY EXCITED when a poem is fabulous, weird, thoughtful, unexpected, out there, or has anything at all FREE in it. As in a song, there has to be a break. A disruption between order and disorganization that exposes something. I like the arcs of big ideas, and I like supercompressed symbolist narratives, and along with it all, disruption of language and something new.

I think we babbled for a couple of hours about being our own movement, the unnamed inheritors of the Beat, just writing a ton and scattering it out into the world without any constipated fretting about copyright and Being Important. I went on an extended rant about wankery poetry scenes, stuckup expensive journals that no one reads except to figure out how to get in them and that become instant landfill, my old projects to wheatpaste poetry all over Austin — OPUS or OccuPations of Uninhabited Space (after Takver’s mobiles in Ursula Le Guin’s anarchic epic, The Dispossessed). And while I like Book Arts people I cannot really get into the idea of a book as a precious one of a kind handmade object. I like better to churn out sloppy handmade books, mass-production style, that are affordable enough for anyone to buy and read them, or that are cheap and easy enough for me to produce that I don’t mind giving them away.

At some point I wheeled away to beg the use of the organizers’ office printer, then was able to hand David a big batch of my own long ranting poems and a few translations. I talked about F.A. Nettelbeck and the tiny books he prints called “This Is Important” and how I look for the books printed by Alta in the 70s and early 80s and wrote letters with Cid Corman about bookmaking and short poems. If you haven’t seen Cid Corman’s tiny books, he did so much more than Origin (which rocks… but I love little handmade books.) We talked about short poems and long poems, form and performance and spoken word. It was really nice and unexpected to have this conversation at a technical conference!!

Here is David’s “first friday in fifteen”, which is one big 11 x 17 sheet trimmed down the long side to fit inside the cover, and folded up from the bottom so that the entire very long poem is on one page.

friday out

And here is a copy of his poem “nice things”, to show how interesting endpapers can jazz up an inside-out book:

outside of "nice things" book

The poem “nice things” is totally fucking awesome!

the single unfolded page of Nice Things

I’ll write another post about my explorations of making inside-out books over the past few months, inspired by David Merritt’s books from Landrover Farm Press, along with a step by step guide on how to do some recycled bookbinding!

Bookmania reviews, Dec. 1996

Six Records of a Floating Life, Shen Fu

A slacker from long ago….

Chinese poetry

Damn it, what was that book called… ugh! A cool book of literary criticism type rambling about Chinese poetry. Cool stuff about a poem’s “chi”.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carre

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John Le Carre (rr)

A Small Town in Germany, John Le Carre

The Book of Mars, NASA, circa 1960

Not a book to read all the way through, but the section on the possibility of life on Mars, and contamination of the Earth by virulent Martian plagues, was rich. It’s nice to know our government has some imagination…

Bookmania reviews, Nov. 1996

The Deep and Beasts, John Crowley.

The Deep haunted me by sounding awfully like it was taken from some real historical incident. Great for the moment when they come to the edge of the world… mind twisting… and Beasts is really beautiful literature. The leos are good but Reynard the genetically engineered fox-man kicks ass… I am even more reconciled to the fantasy genre than I was last month reading M. John Harrison. _Engine Summer_ is the last novella in the book, and I’m saving it for dessert some other day.

The Sea Wolf, Jack London.

More manly men doing manly things. Violent sailors beating each other to pulp and whetting their knives, in between bouts of philosophy and seal-clubbing.The philosophical conflicts are between the optimistic, upperclass, Humprhrey “Sissy” Van Weyden and the natural anarchist, Wolf Larsen. But this scary testosterone roller coaster was unfortunately cut short and a lame-ass love story creeps in. Maud Brewster was particularly interesting to me because she is robust enough to survive long journeys in open boats, but she gets exhausted whenever she exerts herself and lies down on the floor for a few minutes… sounds less like corset-induced faintness and more like… fibromyalgia! The best moment in the book for laughing hysterically is when Van Weyden, as cabin boy, comes across Wolf Larsen naked, and breathlessly describes his manly perfection. What else can you expect from someone named “Hump”?!

Knights Castle, Edward Eager

Excellent E.Nesbit-ish book of kids being magically whisked away to the land of Ivanhoe, castles, sieges, and giants. I liked how Eliza was described as being like an insane battle goddess, and she was completely unruffled by having hacked several knights to pieces, while her brother was grossed out by it.

Ancient Egyptian Construction and Architecture, Somers Clark & R. Engelbach.

A really, really boring book. Analysis of the patterns made by copper chisels on blocks of stone, 3000 years ago. It had beautiful illustrations of obelisks, pyramids, quarries, and Egyptian boats. As I chipped away at a frozen block of hash browns that evening, I was imagining that I was in a limestone quarry with a bunch of sweaty men in white sarongs. What can I say– boring books add to my rich fantasy life.

Hellcats of the Sea.

WWII propaganda about submarines and sonar detection of mine fields in the Sea of Japan. Written by some Navy guy who backed sonar when it was a new and unproven technology.

Brave Men, Ernie Pyle.

More WWII propaganda. Pyle was apparently a well known war correspondant. Endless, emotional stories of hanging out in the trenches with Joe Blow of Cleveland, Ohio, who owns a filling station back home and has only seen his infant daughter once while he is on leave. The invasion of Sicily was the most interesting bit. It seemed very impressively organized…I liked the description of quickly repairing blown-up bridges.

The Mark of Conte, Sonia Levitin. (rr)

A classic! Conte Mark exploits a computer error, bureaucratic sluggishness, and teacher stupidity to get double the credit for his high school classes. The book that inspired me to graduate early from high school.

The Secret Language, Ursula Nordstrom. (rr)

Two boarding school girls become best friends. Their oddly different temperaments go well together… Martha is bold and tomboyish, Victoria is shy and imaginative. Leebossa! Or, lee-lee-leebossa!

The Complete Jack the Ripper.

Complete with gruesome photos. Why, why, why do I read books like this. Why did I ever read that Hannibal Lecter book? I knew it would give me the creeping heebie-jeebies late at night. Well, same with this. Don’t read it! Yuck!!!

Bookmania reviews, Oct 1996

The Mummy!, Jane Webb Loudon

“In the year 2126, England enjoyed peace and tranquility under the absolute dominion of a female sovereign.” Not such a surprising first sentence for a science fiction novel, until you realize that Webb wrote _The Mummy!_ in 1827. Her vision of technological progress knocks me out: everything is steam powered, women wear big hats with fantastic, lit-up neon tubes instead of ostrich feathers, weather control increases crop productivity, passengers on trans-continental aerial balloon flights sleep on comfy air mattresses. But for some wacky reason, women still can’t vote!

Space of Her Own, edited by Shawna McCarthy (Asimov series, 1983)

Excellent collection of science fiction short stories by women. All excellent. The one that struck me most was “Belling Martha” by Leigh Kennedy. Gritty post-disaster, widespread cannibalism, outside of the walled city of Austin, Texas. Martha is sort of a feral teenager (if she is even supposed to be that old- it wasn’t clear). Breaks all the usual conventions of this genre- epecially as the teenage boy babbles on to Martha about his visionary belief in technology, and she is just looking at his arm muscles and thinking how MEATY they are. Yum!

Farrier’s Lane, Anne Perry.

Another mystery novel. Unremarkable, except that it holds up the usual good quality of Perry’s stories and characters.

The Best of C.L. (Catharine) Moore

Lurid, Lovecraft-ish science fiction with a sexy horror twist. Trashy and fun…. Midwest Henry was just another tough geek, haunting the dingy streets of the net. Little did she know, before she cracked the spine of this book, of the unspeakable pleasures and torments that lurked within, the nameless being that would thirst to drag her soul into the black depths of a vortex of madness from a dimension too terrible for any human to bear!

Other Nature, Stephanie A. Smith

More post disaster science fiction. Builds slowly & becomes almost unbearably intense. It’s bleak, and there are interesting gender-related tensions, but not dystopian… What I mean is, the pressures of decaying civilization don’t divide people along gender lines as in books like _The Gate to Women’s Country_, or _Walk to the End of the World_. Instead it is closer to Von Scyoc.. the fear of mutant children underlies everything. I have a longer review of this book which I’m posting on the Fem. SF pages soon. A book worth buying in hardback; gorgeous writing, hard to sum up in a paragraph.

In Viriconium, M. John Harrison

Vivid mythic characters and even more vivid sense of place, of the streets and cafes and apartments of the city of Viriconium. Incredibly compact and beautiful writing. I am saying beautiful, but really the scenes that stick with me are the most grotesque. This goes on the Golden Bookshelf of fantasy literature…

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Another fun mystery novel. Heavier on the obviously autobiographical feminist introspection than any of her other books I’ve read so far. She, Lord Peter, and the rest of the characters, are more fleshed out, more real. Coincidentally, I recently read Sayers’ translation of The Song of Roland.

Have His Carcass, Five Red Herrings, Strange Poison, all by Dorothy L. Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey is completely uninteresting, until the later books when Harriet Vane appears. They’re good mysteries, but the timetables and alibis, especially in Five Red Herrings, made my eyes water with their hideous complexity.

Desert Peach series Donna Barr

The fictional and goofy adventures of Pfirsch, Rommel’s queer younger brother. Interesting to find a comic book that makes you sympathize with Nazi soldiers. We so very automatically think Nazi=bad guy, but when you think about it, your average soldier in the desert was miserable and clueless like any other soldier… I don’t know how accurate Barr’s research is but she seems to know what she’s talking about. The ways that the British and German soldiers interact in these stories remind me of Bruce Catton’s descriptions of Union and Confederate soldiers, calling unofficial truces and fishing from opposite sides of the same stream.

Immigrant Song, Colleen Doran

Another graphic novel. Has promise of interesting things to come, but so far, it seems like a standard “telepathic kids who escape from evil scientists” story. In short, good but not Fabulous.

The Sandman series Neil Gaiman

Fabulous graphic novels/comic books. I should put some links here….

Charlegmagne and His World, Friedrich Heer

Unremarkable history book, with lots of pictures of nifty Carolingian artifacts.

Souls, Joanna Russ rr

A somewhat disturbing science fiction novella: the story of Radegunde, prioress of a medieval nunnery, and a Viking invasion.

Collected Short Fiction of Ngaio Marsh

Techniques of Criminal Investigation

A dry and boring textbook. Good sections on interrogations, playing good cop / bad cop, how to investigate burglaries, explosions, and homocide. Why am I reading this? Because I got it for free, because I’m twisted, because it might be useful for writing mystery stories or playing detective characters in role-playing games, I guess.

Bookmania reviews, Sept. 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Medieval People, Eileen Power

A classic of history; Power reconstructs the lives of several actual people, obscure peasants, a prioress of an abbey, Marco Polo. She is remarkable mainly for writing about the lives of medieval women.

The Female Man, Joanna Russ.

Mind-blowingly good feminist classic. Multiple identities and timelines. Janet, from the feminist utopia; Alice/Jael, violent, greedy, power-hungry spy; Jeannie, insecure, confused, manipulative femme from the timeline where the 1940’s go on forever; Joanna, sarcastic english professor from the present.

Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England 450-1500,
Henrietta Leyser

Just what the title says. I got some cool story ideas out of it. Leyser argues, from analyzing grave goods, that there was a tradition of “noble” women priestesses/healers in prehistoric England, and this tradition continued to the Christian era, with women from the nobility becoming high ranking nuns or prioresses. I didn’t know before that a lot of the illuminated manuscripts, from famous scriptoriums, were done by nuns.

The Hyde Park Headsman, Callendar Square (rr), Anne Perry.

More fun mystery novels, with Inspector Thomas Pitt, Charlotte Pitt and assorted female relatives, friends, and a scullery maid, as theintrepid detectives. Perry’s mysteries stand out for their cool characters- the people have very restrained yet intense analytical discussions of each others’ characters and of ethical issues; very thoughtfully done.

Lying, Sissela Bok. rr

Charlemagne, Harold Lamb

The life of Charlemagne, romanticized for a younger audience. On the historical fiction end, but gives a vivid impression of life among the barbarous Franks, and the slow awakening of ambition in the young king.

Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars, Margaret Wertheim

Moomintroll Midwinter, Moominsummer Madness, Comet in Moominland
and every other possible Moomin book. Tove Jannsson.

I had a cold, and these were comforting! The one that stands out in my mind is the one where the Moomin family and Little My go to the lighthouse.
As Moominmama watches her husband cast about for projects to bolster his ego, and endures uncomfortable living conditions, bad food, dead rosebushes, and loneliness, you begin to realize this book is much more adult than the others. When she began painting idyllic scenes on the lighthouse walls, and then stepped into the painting, I got shivers.

The Lost World and Other Stories, Sir A.C. Doyle

Fabulous tale of warring scientists who travel to the depths of the Amazonian rainforest and discover the original Land of the Lost, complete with ferocious dinosaurs and a racist subtext; the noble cavemen and the brutal, hairy ape-men. Just like Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard. “The Poison Belt” should be a classic of science fiction
along with H.G.Wells stories- but no one knows about Doyle’s science fiction, overshadowed for so
long by Sherlock Holmes. *I recommend you skip the Spiritualist propaganda novella- it sucked!!!! *

Jenny: Lady Randolph Churchill, vol. 2

Can’t wait to find volume one. “Lady Randy” had hundreds of devoted admirers and lovers, including the Prince of Wales (future King Edward); she used her influence with them to help Winston. Their letters to each other are truly scary. Winston worshipped the ground she walked on, even when she scandalously married a man younger than he was. She also started a serious literary magazine- I believe she was the first woman in England to do anything like this. And she hung out with actors, like Mrs. Pat Campbell, who is famous for the quote “It doesn’t matter to society what you do in bed, as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten
the horses”.

Hunting Party, Elizabeth Moon

Tough, military Captain Sheri Tepp. . . , oops, ‘scuse me, Heris Serrano, whips a posh space yacht into shape, disciplines bratty teenagers, learns to ride to hounds with decadent 25th century aristocrats. The hunting party turns out to be the most serious kind of “blood sport”. Exciting and well written. If you groaned in pain reading Sassinak, never fear, Moon’s later books are WAY better, in fact not even to be compared. Hard SF and the cooler, feminist facets of the romance novel blend perfectly.

5 Novels by

Dashiell Hammett.

Red Harvest The bloodiest one. Practically everyone dies. An extremely groovy bad girl, who charms me by being sleazy, mercenary,
and always cursing about having runs in her stockings. Not to be missed.

The Dain Curse Undermining of sanity. Hallucinations. California religious cults. Heroine is a junkie. No one comes out of this one clean.

The Glass Key The most anti-heroic of all Hammett’s heros. All these people are despicable!

The Maltese Falcon Read it a year ago, didn’t re-read.

The Thin Man Just like in the movies, Nick and Nora Charles quaff cocktails and champagne like there’s no tomorrow. Strangely light
hearted compared to the others. “Have a drink!”

Strangers on the Train

Scary for the feeling it gives you that insanity and murder lurk just around the corner, waiting inside your soul to spring out and take over your life. . .

Bookmania reviews, August 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Western Trees. Petersen Field Guide. Also Trees.
(Golden Nature Guide) and Pacific Coast Tree Finder.

I have been poring over these
books lately, trying to identify trees in my neighborhood, although all my books are for the west coast. Eastern cottonwoods, various other poplars and aspens, ash, elm, sycamore,
maple, black locust, Alianthus, and catalpa trees are all common in Hyde Park. No oaks yet, but
on the U. of C. campus, especially noticable down Ellis, several nifty gingkos. Why this strange obsession with trees? I don’t know, but at least they sit still to be identified. Birds are too difficult.

The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister, Earle Stanley Gardner

Playback, Raymond Chandler.

Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare, Paul Conlinvaux, 1978.

Fire with Fire,

Naomi Wolf. rr

This has my vote as the coolest book of the year. It is very heartening to read Wolf’s arguments that women are the political majority (51%). Her analysis of Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas & also TV commercials, other media- hilarious & interesting. The positive trends she was predicting a few years ago are continuing.

“This is a book written for Jill Blow, not Gloria Steinem. Wolf encourages feminists to live fruitfully and responsibly in the mainstream. In a voice
remarkably free of backbiting or jargon, she speaks compassionately of the problems that women still face, encouraging women to be successful as individuals; the more economic clout and personal satisfaction you have, the more resources and energy you have to give to your cause.” – review by Barbara Strickland

Nova, Samuel Delany .

Three Plays, Turgenev

A Month in the Country was the best. Everyone in it was in constant emotional anguish. It is hard to keep all their names, nicknames, and patronymics in mind. Vera should definitely NOT have married the farmer, that’s all I can say.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare. rr

100 Selected Poems, ee cummings.

O sweet spontaneous earth

Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, Abraham Maslow. rr

The Complete Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Illustrated. rr

Vinland Sagas

Another Icelandic saga. This has the story of the discovery and settling of Greenland and Vinland. Especially memorable: Eirik the Red’s evil daughter Freydis, when the colonists are running from the Skraelings with flint tomahawks, screaming that they are all cowards, and standing off the whole tribe of attackers, even though she was in advanced state of pregnancy. She comes to a bad end, though.

More on Vikings in New World

The Ink-Dark Moon, Transl. by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani. rr

Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu.

    How invisibly
    it changes color
    in this world,
    the flower
    of the human heart.

      –Ono no Komachi

Slow Funeral, Rebecca Ore.

I recommend this book to people who don’t usually read speculative fiction. Well written, made me feel that my sense of reality and sanity were twisting a bit, just like Maude’s was when she confronted her witchy Appalachian family. Better
crossing of the line between sanity & schizophrenia than in Woman on the Edge of Time. Very moving portrait of her dying grandmother, of how people act around old & dying people, the tensions in families. I especially liked it when Maude “hears” what people are actually thinking/meaning behind their ordinary small talk.

Impossible Things, Connie Willis.

Great science fiction short stories. Hilarious realistic details of the way people act, of the bureaucratic obstacles of life, of marriage, family, & midlife crisis. She is quite versatile- from hard to historical to psycho-social SF- I can’t wait to read her novels.

Quote for August:
If you are no true men, be at least true animals. Be unaffected, and you will, of necessity, be useful or agreeable to somebody.” — Baudelaire, Intimate Journals.

Bookmaniac reviews, July 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Daughter of the Samurai, Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, 1926.

Autobiography of a woman who grew up in Japan & moved to the U.S. to marry her brother’s business partner. If Louisa May Alcott were Japanese,
this is what she would be like. I felt dissatisfied reading this book- it was interesting, but kind of ponderously written, and towards the end I wanted to know what happened to Etsu’s two daughters, who grew up with the relative freedom of American girls, then were uprooted and taken to Japan. Their fate is unclear but probably they were married off
just like Etsu was.

Njal’s Saga, 13th cent. Iceland. rr

Another Icelandic saga, re-read. Lusty sword and axe-fighting. Evil women wearing red velvet robes marry and kill husbands, start hundred year feuds. Njal is the central figure, trying to stay outside of all the feuding, giving wise advice, but eventually he and his family are doomed. Best character in this saga is Njal’s son, Skarp-Hedin- fey, tough, and sarcastic.

Complete Poems, Emily Dickinson. rr

City of Illusions, Ursula K. LeGuin rr

Seventh Son, Orson Scott Card.

First of the Alvin Maker series. Witchery, dark religious conflict, old U.S. pioneers.
As usual centers around moral choices of strangely powerful central character and those around him. The alternate history of Pennsylvania/Ohio stuff is compelling, and you have to admire his nerve for lifting William Blake and just plunking him down into the countryside.

Incontinence. Susan Hahn, 1993.

Poems. I like her writing style- reminds me oddly of Marge Piercy and
Anne Hebert
, two of my favorite poets.

The Invisibles
Grant Morrison. Issues 13-23.

An intense comic book series. Dark conspiracy, interdimensional weirdness, outcast “superheroes” without official identities. I noticed the team of people working on this comic book had
several women, like
Jill Thompson
, but for some odd reason, I have never heard of them thru feminist comic artist circles, which perhaps tend to glorify “independent” work by women.

Voyages and Discoveries
, Richard Hakluyt. Penguin classic edition. rr

Entertaining and oddly comforting to hear people long dead whining about the inconveniences of travel. Scurvy. Fleas. Robbers. Infidels. Audiences with capricious kings. Doomed search for Northwest & Northeast passages. But in the face of it, the intrepid 16th century British merchant trudges onward, searching digilently for new markets for the stodgiest product possible- woolen cloth. The one flaw of this book: No index! For shame!

The Tempest, William Shakespeare. rr

Makes me feel like all other attempts to write English are thin and weak. I wonder if WS’s original audiences liked Caliban despite of or because of his brutishness. The actual plot isn’t at all what makes this play so thought provoking- it’s Ariel & Caliban
& Prospero. Is it just my tendency to deconstruct everything, or does the perfect, prince & princess love story of this fairly tale ring hollow, purposefully, to set of the actual tragicness of
all the other characters’ flaws, hopes, and fears?

Two Gentlemen of Verona, William Shakespeare. rr

It takes some gall to write a 2-line review of a Shakespeare play but if I’m doing it, I might as well give my real reaction to it. It’s boring! Boring boring boring!

Conference of the Birds, Farid Ud-Din Attar. rr

12th century Sufi allegorical poem. The birds
set off on a quest to find their king, the mythical Simorgh. Each bird has different excuses and problems that get in the way of their quest; they are models of different types of people. On the quest,the hoopoe bird
tells them moral fables about famous dervishes, lovers, and sheiks. My favorite is the story of Sheikh Sam’an, who was a respected religious leader; on a journey to Rome he falls in love with a Christian girl, who makes him renounce his faith. Then she laughs & spurns him. Of course eventually she falls in love with him after all and renounces HER faith. It is extremely melodramatic.

Caravan, Dorothy Gilman. rr

A good story about the adventures of Caressa in the Sahara Desert. But too far-fetched even for me, too many co-incidences and psychic power incidents. Camels. Sandstorms. Being sold into slavery. True Love. Interesting, but not as gripping as the Mrs. Pollifax books.

Ten Plays by
(A more modern translation than the ones I linked to here)

I’m only halfway through but will review my favorite one of the ten, soon. Intense. Medea,
Ion, Alcestis, Hippolytus, Andromache,
so far. Euripides has the reputation of being extremely negative about women. I find this odd since his plays have excellent female characters
who show the frustrations and dangers of their lives & who are used to express universally tragic themes.

Laexdala Saga;
13th century, Iceland. Penguin classic edition. rr

The saga builds a complex, detailed web of colorful characters; you see their histories and motives laid out over generations, until events build to the beginning of a horrendous series of feuds.

Gudrun Osvifsdaughter
is at the center of it all. Women in pre-christian Iceland had equal rights
under the law, accumulating wealth, founding families, travelling. Everyone seems terribly proud and ready to draw their noble swords and do some slaying.

Sunwaifs; Sydney Van Scyoc.

More eco-science fiction, with fascinating mythological twist. As usual in her fiction, Van Syoc features a mutant teenage girl who is obsessed with death and violence. This one, Corrie, gets to have a better ending than the one in Starmother. Outcast teenagers grow up to be gods; transgender echoes, mystical drug visions, soul-shaking encounters with
Mother Destiny, the planet itself.

Driftglass; Samuel Delany. (about 1965?)

Chaotic beauty, love, grief, complicated families, complicated sexuality. Mesmerizing short stories. I admire Delany so much I can’t sum up his writing very well. Absolutely the best.

Fourteen Byzantine Emperors; Michael Psellus. 11th century.

Gossip and scandal of the rich and famous. Psellus is great at claiming that he is about to praise an emperor, and then scathingly, sarcastically, tearing him or her down. Also amusing: he constantly praises himself, his own wisdom and breadth of learning, and eloquence. Why do all these emperors have such disgusting ailments? Also, be warned, there are lots of eyes put out and noses chopped off. Ugh.

Black Hearts in Battersea; Joan Aiken.

Will the orphans turn out to really be long lost noblity? Hmm I wonder. See Sophie save the old duke & duchess, each time using the duchess’s
humonguous embroidery project, from: burning buildings, sinking barges, deflating hot air balloons, collapsing opera boxes, and ravening wolves. Excellent and I can’t wait to read the rest in the series!

Tarka: His Life and Death in the Two Rivers; Henry Williamson. 1927.

Incredibly realistic story about an otter, from the otter’s point of view. Beautiful, entrancing descriptions of English riverside. Full of cool Devonshire dialect words. My favorite: “oolypuggers” = bulrushes.

Third Eagle; R.A. MacAvoy.

Science fiction with native american-y twist. Adventures of Wanbli, naive martial artist, going offplanet to become a movie star. MacAvoy’s books have been consistently excellent beyond much of the science fiction and fantasy I’ve read. She avoids being didactic but get a lot of cool messages across.

I, Zombie;
Doris Piserchia
writing as Curt Selby. 1982.

Piserchia’s usual tough, seven foot tall, orphan girl hero, this time dead and re-vivified to be a zombie worker on a glacial mining planet. Cool psychic frog-like aliens. Vivid descriptions of people diving into a vat of molten metal.

Quote for July:

Critic does not mean criticize. It means to open the eyes. To be the
translator of the demon of creation… transforming the seed into a substance soluble and palatable so
that the people may eat. –Patti Smith

Bookmania reviews, June 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

The Tale of Genji; Murasaki Shikibu. (Seidensticker translation- complete).

Everyone should read this. Prince Genji’s adventures in 11th century Japan. His childhood, his innumerable love affairs, and his rise to power in the court. I love the way they all glorify vague melancholy moods into a fine art. The lives of the women are fascinating. Women in Heiian court life were supposed to be learned, good poets, artists and musicians. They had nothing else to do, so they were great writers and great lovers!

Star Mother; Sydney Van Scyoc.

Funky mutated tribal people and a strict, patriarchal religious society clash, with the plucky young space cadet caught in the middle. Interesting eco-science fiction. I was sad when the blood-lust of the crazed, mud covered, mutant girl led her to her doom.

Temporary Agency; Rachel Pollock.

Fabulous “alternate world” science fiction. The world of the present,but magic and ritual works. Satisfyingly feminist. Good disgusting, violent scene in the NY Stock Exchange where all hell breaks loose.

The Lens of the World, and Belly of the Wolf; R.A. MacAvoy.

Good fantasy world. Nazhuret’s life rising from obscure orphan and wanderer to expert fighter and powerful political figure. Nicely philosophical. If you liked Gene Wolfe’s new sun books, but got annoyed at the women characters, then I’m sure
you’d like the Lens of the World series. I haven’t found the 2nd book yet but I cheated and read the last one anyway.

Stillness at Appomattox; Bruce Catton.

Melodramatic description of the end of the Civil War. Each battle is more bloody and horrible than the last. I read a few of his other books about the Civil War, and they were all quite similar, and good if you don’t mind the constant fever pitch of excitement, mud, hardship, and gore.