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Spotlight: Winston Churchill

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”  Winston S. Churchill

I’ve always been a history lover and I’ve read a lot about the period surrounding World War II.  Maybe because of this, I have been fascinated by Winston Churchill.  One of the events I was to attend this month was a book signing and lecture by Erik Larson, who wrote The Splendid and the Vile:  A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz (New York: Crown Publishing, 2020, ISBN: 978-0-385-34871-3).  Even though the event was cancelled, I still received a copy of the book, which I have read and highly recommend.  The seemingly insurmountable hardships England endured during the war and their grit and determination to survive and conquer keep coming to my mind in light of current events surrounding this deadly virus we are now facing. This biography covers the first year of Churchill being Prime Minister, 1940-1941, beginning just before England entered the War. Larson shares insights of Churchill and his family, key government officials from Churchill’s trusted circle, German and American officials, as well as the ordinary British citizen.  He does an amazing job of presenting facts without being boring or dry.

If you enjoy Larson’s book, I recommend going straight to the source.  The six-volume set The Second World War, was written by Sir Winston S. Churchill and published by Houghton Mifflin Company.  (Pictured in the title box above.) This set contains:  Vol. 1: The Gathering Storm (c1948); Vol. 2: Their Finest Hour (c1949); Vol. 3: The Grand Alliance (c1950); Vol. 4: The Hinge of Fate (c1950); Vol. 5: Closing the Ring (c1951); and Vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy (c1953).

If you’re looking for a fictional read related to Churchill, may I also recommend The Maggie Hope Mystery Series by Susan Elia MacNeal.  The first in this superb series is Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (New York: Bantam, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-553-59361-7).   This book also begins when England enters World War II and now has nine titles in the collection, which follows the life of Maggie Hope, secretary turned spy.  If you’d like more information on this series, click here.

Additional novels dealing with life during the Blitz that I recommend are:  Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson (New York: William Morrow, 2017, ISBN: 978-0-06-238985-5); Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearse (New York: Scribner, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-5011-7006-6); and The Light Over London by Julia Kelly (New York: Gallery Books, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-5011-9641-6).

If you’re interested in reading a novel written from the perspective of Churchill’s wife, you won’t want to miss reading Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict (New York: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-4926-6690-5).  Clementine was every bit as strong in character as her husband.

Would you like to see some of this history in person?  If you’re planning a trip to London, you may want to visit the Churchill War Rooms, located underground in Westminster.  This is where Churchill and his cabinet worked during the War.  For more information, click here.

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Book Finds: What’s Your Book Buying Philosophy?

I’ve read several articles lately on “tsundoku,” the Japanese word that is used to describe a person who buys or owns more books than they can read.  I freely admit that I am a practitioner of buying more than I can read.  I currently have several hundred books in my TBR piles.  In fact, I bought two book carts to store the books I have yet to read (still not enough space).  I usually have every intention of reading the books that I buy, it’s just that I keep discovering new authors and new books that interest me.  If only I could read faster! 

There are those rare instances, though, when I purchase a book knowing full well I won’t read it. There is just something appealing about the book, and I feel I must have it.  For instance, many years ago I purchased Great Truths by Great Authors:  A Dictionary of Aids to Reflection, Quotations of Maxims, Metaphors, Counsels, Cautions, Aphorisms, Proverbs, &c. &c.  (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co. 1853).  I will be completely honest and say I do not care so much about the quotations in this book.  I’m not sure what made me pick it up in the first place as the outside of the book is in rough shape and the spine is cracked.  For some reason, though, I did pick it up and noticed that someone had taken notes in the book.  And had used it to press flowers.  It was well worn, and it spoke to me as a book that someone in the past had cared for a great deal.  So, I bought it and have had it in my collection for at least 20 years now. 

Another example is a book I purchased within the past year.  Birds of America (Garden City, New York: Garden City Books 1936), is a big, heavy book.  I saw it in a thrift shop and picked it up because I like birds.  The outside of the book is nothing remarkable; but I opened it and saw that there were illustrations that I enjoyed.  I made someone’s cash register sing again that day!

My most favorite acquisition of this type occurred just a few weeks ago.  I picked up a faded blue volume of The Golden Apple by Kathlyn Rhodes (London: Hutchinson & Co., undated).  I have no idea what this book is about, and I had not previously heard of this author.  The pages have all yellowed, are somewhat brittle, and the cover is well worn.  Again, for some reason, I picked up this book and flipped it open.  What did I discover?  Someone had hand painted a beautiful village scene on the inside front cover.  Oh. My. Goodness!  The book is now mine.  I would love to know the story of the previous owner of the book and also who painted this lovely picture.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read the story, but I shall treasure this book for the rest of my life.

I admit that I often judge a book by its cover.  These are but a few examples of great finds in my personal library, and they show me that I should never do that!  If I only bought by sight and not instinct, I never would have touched these books or discovered these treasures.  What about you?  Do you ever judge a book by its cover?  What is your book buying philosophy?

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Book Signing – What Happened Next?

I never thought I’d be doing a follow-up to my Book Signing blog, but a few people have asked what I do with all of those signed books.  So, because I am a storyteller like my father (as in talking about people, places, and things I’ve encountered) and because I apparently talk a lot about books (hence this website), I’ve decided to write a Part II of sorts.

Okay, what happened to those Tom Clancy novels?  Several years ago, I was weeding my collection in an attempt to make room for new acquisitions, and I decided that I would part with those books.  I took them to a local charity that has a thrift shop.  When I brought the books in, I told the woman who was accepting the donations that the books were autographed.  Since their regular hardcover books sold for $1.00 each at time, I explained that they should put the Clancy books in a separate place so that they could list them for a higher sale price.  The woman thanked me for the donation.

A few weeks later, I went into the thrift shop and what do I see?  The Clancy books are on the shelf with the $1.00 books.  I removed the books and went to the back of the store.  A different woman was working that day, so I told her the books were signed, they should be in a different place, etc.  She took the books and thanked me, and I went on my way.

Fast forward another couple of weeks … I go into the shop with my husband and daughter.  I see the Clancy books are now marked $10 each and I comment to my husband how happy I am that the shop finally took my advice.  My
daughter, who normally has no interest in books, sees them and tells me she had wanted to keep them for when she got older.  Really?  Sigh.  I took the books off the shelf once again, but this time to purchase them – and at the higher price!  I don’t feel too badly, though.  The organization is a really great one and I know the money I spent was for a good cause.
(If you missed the origin of this story, click here.)

For many years, those Clancy novels were the only signed books I had in my collection.  I did knowingly purchase a few books along the way from bookstores that were selling pre-signed books.  It wasn’t until I bought a cataloging program to catalog my books (yes, I AM a library geek, even at home) that I discovered I had more signed books I’d gotten from used bookstores, thrift shops, or library book sales.  My signed book collection also continues to grow with the help from others.   Ah, there’s nothing so wonderful as having loved ones contribute to my book hoarding, I mean collecting, habit!  My signed books have taken over the bookcase I used for my non-fiction books, and my non-fiction books have now moved into a guest bedroom.  I think I need a large she-shed, or maybe a she-barn, to turn into a library to store all of my book treasures!

I do have one book signing regret.  When I  was in high school in the 1980s, I worked at Doyens Store as a stock person and cashier.  One summer, Danielle Steel came into the store.  I knew who she was because my Mom
read her books.  We didn’t have a bookstore on the Island, but we did have a paperback rack in Doyens.   I wish
now that I had gotten Ms. Steel’s autograph for my mother.  I think she would have liked that.  Alas, I was too shy to ask.  I just stayed behind the counter rang up her purchases.

Well, now you know more about my book collection.  Each book holds not just a place on the shelf, but a place in my memory.  They are more than the wonderful inner story written by the author.  To me, each book represents my story of a place that I have gone, a person that I have met, or an experience that I have lived.  Thank you for allowing me to share my stories with you!

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Book Signing Tips

Book signings play an important role in the book world.  For the author, signings are a big part of book promotions. Live events help to spark interest in not just their current book, but also in their past or future books as well.  For the reader, they get to meet and speak with the person who they admire or who’s creativity they appreciate.  The reader may also discover interest in a new author or book.

I attended my very first book signing in 1991.  I was working at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI and Tom Clancy came there to give a lecture.  This was after the release of the movie The Hunt for Red October, so you can imagine the long line of people waiting to see him.  I had purchased two books for him to sign, and when I finally got up to him, I don’t think I said more than “Hello” and “Thank you”.  Mr. Clancy took the books from my hands, signed them both, and gave them back to me.  He didn’t look at me.  He didn’t say a word.  In his defense, there were A LOT of people waiting to meet him and I’m sure it was a long day for him.

One of my signed Tom Clancy novels.

After that, I avoided book signings at bookstores.  I always felt too shy to approach the authors.  What should I say?  What should I do?  So much pressure!!  I finally broke out of my shell in June 2019 and attended a book signing at my local bookstore.  I was a little nervous as I entered the bookstore.  Fortunately, I met a very nice woman who was also there for the signing. As she had attended many of these events at this particular bookstore, she graciously took me under her wing and explained to me what to do.  The author and her books were new to me.  She turned out to be so lovely, I purchased two of her novels.  I enjoyed reading both of those books and went back later to purchase three more.  That was a good promotion for her – because of that one event I ultimately purchased five of her books!  And I will probably purchase more of her books in the future.

Later, I discovered several book festivals taking place in my area, which I attended and was able to meet more authors – every one of them extremely nice and so interesting!  I very much enjoyed listening to them and learning about their book, their writing process, and what inspires them.

With Rosemary Simpson, Susan Scott Holloway, and L.A. Chandlar at book festival in October 2019.

At book signing for Felida with Lidia Bastianich in November 2019.

After attending these events and posting my pictures on social media, friends and family members began to ask me questions about book signings.  How do you find them?  What do you do there?  I’ve decided to list a few of my tips.

How to find book signing events:

  1. Visit your local bookstore or check their website for events listings.  Even if you have a certain author or book in mind, you may discover they have other authors coming to your area who may also interest you.
  2. Check events that are being held at your local library.  Many libraries will sponsor or co-sponsor author signings.
  3. Check publisher websites as they will have information on their authors.
  4. Last but not least, and my favorite source – check the author websites.  (Author websites are how I found out about several book festivals I ended up attending.)  If the author is not making an appearance near you, take a look at the bookstores they will be visiting.  Even if you cannot attend an event at their store, many bookstores are happy to have you order books from them that they will have signed and shipped to you after the event.

Now that you have found an author event you’re interested in attending, here are some tips on what to do next:

  1. RSVP. This helps the store to prepare for the signing and make sure they will have enough books on hand for the event.
  2. Check the bookstore’s policy regarding the event.  If you already own books that you would like to have signed, it has been my experience that as long as you purchase the author’s most recent release, they are fine with you bringing a book or two of your own.  This will vary from store to store, and even from one event to the next so always be sure to contact the store for approval.  Also remember that there will be other people attending the event and it may seem rude if you show up with a dozen books for the author to sign, especially if the author is only available for a short period of time.
  3. If you’d like a picture taken with the author, most stores and authors are very happy for you to do so.  Many are also happy for you to share your photos on social media.  As a common courtesy, ask beforehand just to make sure it’s okay.

    My haul of signed books from a book festival in October 2019.

2020 is shaping up to be a good signing year for me.  (I've already attended two signings.) I hope it will be for you and that you find these tips helpful!