crap i have read recently #20

little free libraryThis book review is sort of an excuse to write about something else.  There’s no spoilers to worry about this time!

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English Country House Murders (1989, edited by Thomas Godfrey):  As the title suggests this is a book full of short stories about murders that take place in English country houses.  The editor took some pains with a quirky little introduction describing the quintessential English country house murder mystery, but the list of the authors he selected as examples of the genre is more informative:  Agatha Christie, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.D. James, Ngaio Marsh, Ruth Rendell, and Dorothy Sayers, among others.  There is even a humorous version by P.G. Wodehouse.  Godfrey selected less commonly known or rarely anthologized stories from each author.  The one from Christie, for example, does not involve Poirot or Miss Marple but Mr. Harley Quin, one of her lesser known characters.   The stories are arranged more or less in chronological order of their original publication date so there is a nice sense of the evolution of this classic mystery trope.

The stories are all of a piece.  There is a house, large and gloomy, hiding the promise of tragedy in its tapestries and oak furniture.  There is a victim, often someone not terribly loved by others or someone with a secret or a treasure.  There is a gaggle of family members and visitors whose motives and alibis should perhaps not be examined too closely.  There is a detective, who may be a police inspector, a professional crime-solver, or a gifted amateur.   And always there is something about the murder most foul that doesn’t seem quite right, that requires the unique skills and insight of said detective.  The earlier stories in the collection are lovely and dark and gothic, but most nestle into that English murder mystery sweet spot that started in the early 20th century and lasted up until the end of WWII.  The later stories take place in a different world, one where the grand old country houses have been sold away and their land converted to tract housing.  Instead of landed gentry the cast of characters includes foreigners and movie stars and other sorts of newcomers.  Other than that the particulars haven’t changed.

As these things go this is a pretty good collection.  All of the stories are entertaining and some of them are excellent.  My favorite is The Doom of the Darnaways by G.K. Chesterton, an author I am not sure I have ever read before.  It is the sort of gloom-laden gothic mystery with an impossibly decomposing house and a woefully tragic family that you can actually see before your eyes as you read it.  It doesn’t hurt that the mystery is a good one and the solution is unexpected and satisfying.  Overall this is a great book to curl up on the couch with on a dark and stormy night.

Score:  Meh

And now for the real reason for this review.

I acquired this gem of a book from a Little Free Library that I came across while walking my dog.  I’ve heard of these before and the concept has always intrigued me.  It evokes thoughts of wide, tree-lined streets, neighbors who actually know each other, places without HOAs and vandals, and people cheerfully engaged in useful, pleasant activities like organic gardening, and volunteering, and watching out for each others’ children.  And, of course, arranging for a place for their friends and neighbors to trade books.  I didn’t think I lived in a neighborhood like that but it turns out I do.  I was happy to see the little library and even happier to find within it several books that I’d like to read.  I took just the English House murder book and my dog and I finished our walk wrapped in a happy glow fueled not only by a new book but by this evidence of neighborly kindness.

Little Free Libraries have been around since 2009 and began in a town in Wisconsin.   The founder put one in his yard and built a few more and gave them away.  Eventually he got a partner and the idea expanded into a serious project.  The initial goal was to establish 2,095 of these little boxes full of free books.  This was in homage to Andrew Carnegie’s support of free public libraries in the United States in the early 20th century.  There are now over 10,000 of them worldwide.  The organization formally registered as a nonprofit last year but remains, as far as I can tell, a primarily local operation staffed by volunteers.  There is, as you may imagine, a fair amount of whimsy and creativity involved in the creation of the little libraries.  Although the organization will sell you a charming premade library people are free to make their own out of whatever materials they like.  A Google image search pulls up pages of adorable little libraries that look like roosters, TARDISes, old schoolhouses, phone booths, barns, cabins, and aliens.  They are stained, painted, covered with art and quotations about books, adorned with decorative gewgaws.  Some are built in wagons for mobility and some have little benches next to them so that people can sit right down and read.   They are built sometimes of wood and sometimes of metal and sometimes of old newspaper boxes and phone booths.  Some are elaborate testaments to their steward’s artistic bent and some are very simple.  Every one of them invites you to open their door, peruse the titles, and walk away with an unexpected treasure.

I’ve been by our neighborhood LFL few times now.  Yesterday there was a stack of kids’ books in it, along with a Jane Austen book, a graphic novel about the Benders, a Stephen Ambrose book about WWII, some Anne Tyler books, a few classics (Jungle Book, War of the Worlds, Of Mice and Men), an Elmore Leonard book, and well.. just a bunch of other stuff.  That’s the beauty, you know.  I picked up a copy of A Wrinkle in Time and The Hunger Games.  I’ve a stack of books waiting to be released into the wild as soon as my BookCrossing labels arrive and I am sure they will find a happy new home via our local Little Free Library.  This whole idea is just amazing to me and I want to put one in my yard really badly.

“Take a book, leave a book.”

Score:  W00t!

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~ by gun street girl on November 15, 2013.

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