Picks & Pans: In Which I Learn There Are No Terrible Books on My Shelves

I’ve always enjoyed Picks & Pans, the short, saucy reviews in Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and other smart magazines.

So why not have my own Picks & Pans section?  This is it, people!  I don’t have any pans today, because I’m not out to murder books.  And, face it, I have good taste. There are no bad books on my shelves.

Bask in the recommendations!

Golden Age Bibliomysteries, edited by Otto Penzler. This anthology of short stories and novellas is a bookworm’s recreational drug.  There are stolen manuscripts, murders at the public library, and other crimes of bibliomania. In Anthony Boucher’s “QL 696.CN,” a librarian with ‘the soul of a cataloguer” is murdered while typing a seemingly innocuous list of books. In Lawrence G. Blochman’s “Death Walks in Marble Halls,” the librarian Phil Manning rushes to the scene  of the murder of H. H. Dorwin, a library trustee; he is determined to protect his innocent friend, Betty Vale, a ballet dancer and possible suspect who had an appointment to meet Dorwin at the library.  There is e a ven story by Lilian de Torres featuring Boswell and Samuel Johnson as detectives.

Something Happened Yesterday, by Beryl Bainbridge.  Many of us read Beryl Bainbridge’s novels, but did you know she was a columnist for the Evening Standard  in the late eighties and nineties?  Something Happened Yesterday, a charming collection of her columns, is a hodgepodge of witty, sometimes poignant, slices-of-life.  She writes about her exhilaration when she is persuaded to be the fortune-teller at the annual neighborhood carnival (her hunches are so spot-on that she oversteps boundaries);  she gently satirizes a university literary festival (an old woman wants help with a story that so far is three sentences long); and is horrified when her neighbor’s builder knocks down the party wall at the end of her garden (the council told her to pull herself together and she regrets “wasting several months agonizing over [the] wall.” ) This collection is perfect for reading on the bus or when you sneak out for a smoke at your mother-in-law’s Sunday brunch. I’m not a smoker, but Beryl was.  Cheers!

Julie Schumacher’s The English ExperienceIn this witty academic satire, James Fitger, chair of the English department at Payne University, is bullied by the Provost into escorting a group of students to England in January for the “Experience: Abroad” program.  The students are a varied bunch:  Wyatt Franklin packed only shorts and flip flops because he thought he’d signed up to go to the Cayman Islands; identical twins Andromeda and Cassiopeia Wagner-Hall are witty art students who hand in multi-media  projects in lieu of essays; Felicity Babinec has never been away from her cat Mrs. Gray ;  and on the first day the students finish their itinerary early and send him  texts saying they are tired of the British Museum (they’ve been there 55 minutes ) and would he pay for two or three cabs for them? But the group bonds with Fitger when he rebels against a tour guide.

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