Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The value in a book collection

What books do you collect, thinking maybe one day to discover their value or sell them at a high price? I know; I do too. Unless you really know your books, however, chances are you're wasting bookshelf space. You may make money on the genuine item, but most rare book dealers will tell you they're the exception, not the rule. I keep some books out of nostalgia—for instance, various editions of "A Christmas Carol"—and that's as good a reason as any. There's also a shelf of 19th and early 20th-century novels from my grandparents' house, probably with little value to anyone else. But I like them.
Some people, not so many these days though, like the look of old books around the house, and collect them for that reason. They're fun for others to browse, so if you have the room, go for it.  
Would-be collectors may search for the publication date of an old book when they come across a valuable-looking specimen in a thrift shop or bookstore. Maybe they buy it for a few dollars, thinking they've perhaps found a priceless edition of Dickens or Melville. Don't count on it. You can end up a hoarder that way. I suggest buying books that truly appeal to you as a reader, out of love, not greed.
A book's value depends greatly on its condition, content, scarcity and author. Is it a first edition? So much the better. There has to be customer demand for it, as well. And, remember: Not all valuable books are old. You really have to find out what's in demand. To familiarize yourself with what goes into a book's value, stop in at a rare book dealer, such as Brattle Book Shop in Boston. Ken Gloss presides over the store's collection of rare and unusual books. Gloss often speaks at libraries and clubs across the region—I saw him in Lancaster's Thayer Memorial Library last year—to better inform the public about what makes a book valuable. He also looks over the books his listeners bring in. Most aren't worth much, but once in awhile there's a good result. Similar antiquarian book stores are scattered about the region.
For a current listing of individual book dealers, check the Southern New England Antiquarian Booksellers, which maintains a listing of its members, many of whom are in this area and deal in special interests areas; often they operate out of their homes. Members of SNEAB hold an annual book sale is April 17 in Lexington.
Most libraries try to vet the books donated to them for resale, in the hope of not selling a rare book for $2. They may use online services, or set up a connection to a collector. But since there really aren't enough volunteers at most libraries to research book value, the good books sometimes go right through to the book sale piles—and your chance to pick up a winner.
Some booksellers maintain web sites to help you determine if your books are worth anything ( is one such site).
Money, anyone?
I'm just weird enough to wish that I had the funds and time to visit bookstores all over the country. What fun that would be—were it not for writing groups, grandchildren and volunteer obligations. But here at home you can be a bookstore fan as well. I always find peace with a cup of coffee and a book. Here's a chance to win a gift card AND a $3,000 contribution to your favorite book store. Indie publisher www.landmark/ is conducting a "recommend your bookstore sweepstakes." Frankly, it's easier to locate the sweepstakes by doing a Google search for sourcebooks. The contest closes on Friday, Feb. 19. Their site also offers an annual review of book choices for the year, which may interest clubs hoping to preview what's coming up.
In a similar vein, www.readinggroupchoices is offering a gift certificate for books to readers who nominate their favorite recent books. What the heck? Give it a try.
Book group meetings:
The Short Story Reading Group at Clinton's Bigelow Library meets at 10 a.m. the first and third Saturday of each month. Up for February are stories by Anton Chekov. Visitors and prospective members are welcome to come listen.
Two book groups at Gale Free Library in Holden meet monthly. The Contemporary Book Group meets on the first Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Up next: "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson on Feb. 2 and "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng on March 1. The Classics Book Group meets on the last Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Slated are "Tender is the Night" by F. Scott Fitzgerald on Feb. 25, and Richard Wright's "Native Son" on March 31.
Readers at Haston Library, North Brookfield, have scheduled Adam Johnson's "The Orphan Master's Son" on Feb. 23.
The book club at Crawford Memorial Library in Dudley will discuss Christina Baker Kline's "Orphan Train" at 6 p.m., Feb. 4. Up for March: Actor Tony Danza's autobiography: "I'd like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High."
Thayer Memorial Library, Lancaster, will discuss Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" in its Evening Adult Book Group, at 6:30 p.m., Feb. 23.
The Worcester-based audio book group, Speaking Volumes, has slated Scott Anderson's "Lawrence in Arabia" for 8 p.m., Feb. 2 and Kate Atkisson's "Life After Life" for March 3. Call 508-752-0557 for details.
Northborough Library's Friday Morning Book Group will discuss Simon Winchester's nonfiction book, "The Men Who United the States" at 10 a.m., Feb. 12.
Boylston Public Library readers will discuss Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See" at a 1 p.m., Feb. 3 meeting. The March 2 meeting will focus on "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely. For information, contact Lynn Clermont at (508)869-2371 or
"Me Without You" by JoJo Moyes is the Feb. 8 choice for the Women's Issues Book Group. Meeting is at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Books to give, or get, for holidays.

Giving a gift book is a risk if you don't know someone's reading taste. A gift card is always an answer to this quandary, but if you can find out ahead of time, through a friend, spouse or quick browse in their house, so much the better. Here are a few new books I'd consider a good gift:


These days, World War II-era books are practically a genre by themselves. That time frame is the setting for Sara Gruen's latest, "At the Water's Edge," a very readable novel about a young woman dragged across the Atlantic to Scotland, only to discover her marriage is a sham and no one can—or will—help her escape from the threats she faces. The flavor of Scotland and small village life is rich throughout the book, spiced with a bit of romance and fantasy—in the form of a search for the elusive Loch Ness Monster. Gruen is the author of "Water for Elephants."
For the young man in your life—especially if he's still in the rebel and revel stages, the 20s, 30s, 40s, dare I include 50s?—Chuck Palahniuk is a can't-go-wrong choice. His latest is "Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread." He means it. For original voices and blunt thinking, Palahniuk ("Fight Club," "Choked") has earned a mighty reputation.
One of the most popular club reads lately, Lauren Groff's "Fates and Furies" is the story of a quarter century of marriage, told from "his," then "her," point of view. You just know they aren't going to match. This one must be prompting raging reveals during club meetings. More than that, however, it's the story of how a marriage is kept intact through the good days, and those "other" times.
Gregory Maguire of Concord is author of the legendary "Wicked" series, as well as several other seminal, magical versions of storybook tales like Cinderella ("Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister") and Snow White ("Mirror, Mirror"). He has released another unique retelling. "After Alice," his take on "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," was published the last week of October.


Maybe you have an eclectic friend, who is interested in many subject areas, listens faithfully to National Public Radio, is old enough to appreciate the good stuff in life and enjoys good writing. Here's a nice choice: Roger Angell's "This Old Man: All in Pieces." Angell is a baseball fiend and a fiercely good thinker and writer. His work, published frequently in The New Yorker (so you know it's first rate) consists here of a series of profiles, essays and interviews ranging across a broad subject area (Derek Jeter and Vladimir Nabokov? Really.) And guess, guess, guess his step-father? The famous E.B. White, himself a grammar and writing guru ("The Elements of Style").
"Gumption," by entertainer/humorous philosopher Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation"), is a collection of earthy, amusing essays about people he considers fighters or changemakers with gumption. I started out reading about Yoko Ono, who changed John Lennon's life (and the Beatles'), then stayed to read about Willie Nelson and Ben Franklin.

Willie Nelson, whose recent Library of Congress award ceremony included a musical reminder about what this country represents to immigrants, has released "It's a Long Story." Strictly for fans of the man—a hero to many for his courageous stance in favor of marijuana when it wasn't popular to do so—this book is direct. I enjoyed Willie's plain-spoken style and revelations.
I haven't read it yet, but "Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill" has me intrigued. Surely, someone who strategized with her husband amid the insane pressures of World War II has to have experienced a lot. Churchill played a role in both World Wars I and II and the book captures these situations, as witnessed in the family. I look forward to reading Sonia Purnell's biography. Purnell is said to be honest as well about Mrs. Churchill's maternal inadequacies.
We all hear about Mark Twain's youthful and mid-age writings, his Tom Sawyers, his witty essays. For the writer or Twain buff, I suggest two Twain-related books, both by the author: "How to Tell a Story and Other Essays," about writing, and Volume 3 of his "Autobiography of Mark Twain." This volume, the final in a series released in 2010 and onward,  deals with crises in his later years, but also includes much about the writing life—"a procession of episodes and experiences which seem large when they happen, but which diminish to trivialities as soon as we get perspective upon them." Not so his own legend.

It's impossible to isolate a mystery, as there are many good ones and as many tastes in styles. I will mention Kate Morton's "The Lake House," because she is such a master of complex, layered mystery. It's well written.
Boston news celebrity Hank Phillippi Ryan has become an award-winning mystery writer. Her latest is "What You See," the story of a child abducted by her father.
Know any music lovers who read mysteries? Tess Garritsen just released "Playing with Fire," uniquely combining her musical ability (she's a violinist) with a knack for raising goose bumps on readers' arms. This story, from the creator of Rizzoli & Isles novels, follows a young Boston violinist whose family refuses to believe that her daughter becomes violent each time she plays the passionate, mysterious "Incendio Waltz," from sheet music purchased in Europe. A sub-plot revolves around a musical prodigy who falls in love during World War II—when Christian-Jewish marriage was not permitted and became grounds for incarceration. There's a review at

Science fiction
Not sure if this is sci-fi or reality, but Paolo Bacigalupi has an idea what life will be like in the Southwestern states if drought dries up all the water for good. This novel explores desperation and real possibilities.
Sci fi writers tend to produce series upon series, and I don't like to recommend that someone start in the middle. So instead, try Emma Newman's "Planetfall," a combination of science fiction mystery and an introspective look at mental illness, and "The Martian," by Andy Weir—the book behind the movie starring Matt Damon.

Marilynn Robinson is famous for insightful portraits of human spirit in the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Gilead" and in "Lila," both familiar to book clubbers. Now, she has released "The Givenness of Things," in which she defines what is still inspirational and humane in our society amid its technological and big business obsessions. It's a stirring critique, drawing attention to what we remain as humans.

I like Brandon Stanton's series of photographed tales about New Yorkers he meets on the streets, randomly profiled on his blog of the same name. Now, they're captured in a book, "Humans of New York: Stories." It's very readable and occasionally moving. Gives one a good perspective on what it's like to be human, period.
"The New Tsar" by Steven Lee Myers. Readers don't mind a downer now and then, and those with political interest will find this biography of one of the most frightening Russians since Rasputin: Vladimir Putin. The former KGB agent has built a complex system of autocracy around him as Russia's president. He'll probably be around for a long time, might as well bone up on him.

Classics—Book club suggestions:
Sterling Library's book club members sent in a few suggestions for timeless good reading, all of them good choices.
"We found that "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Great Gatsby" were tops in our group, followed by "Jamaica Inn" by Daphne Du Maurier. "Jamaica Inn" was perhaps the most surprising classic we read," said Lisa Perry. "None of us expected it to be as good as, and perhaps even better than, Du Maurier's best known work: "Rebecca." 
What are your group's suggestions for great classics—the old stuff—you've read? Send them to
Meetings in the area:
Leominster's Reading, Sharing and Laughing will meet Dec. 3, 7 p.m., at Chiabo in Fitchburg to discuss "Go Set a Watchman," Harper Lee's much-discussed early novel.
The Friday Morning Book Club in Northborough plans a discussion of Camus' "The Stranger" at its 10 a.m., Dec. 11 meeting.
Heywood Library's group, in Gardner, will meet at 4:30 p.m., Dec. 23, to view a video of "The Orphan Train," which they read about in Christina Baker Kline's book of the same name during November.
The Women's Issues Book Club will meet Dec. 14 for its annual celebration of Worcester-area women poets. The public is welcome to listen, or read, at an informal 7 p.m. gathering, being held this month at Frances Perkins Branch of Worcester Public Library, 470 West Boylston St. (Greendale). The Jan. 11 selection is "Elizabeth is Missing" by Emma Healey.
Off-Track Bookies from Lancaster is reading Jodi Picoult's "The Storyteller" for its Jan. 14 meeting, and has slated a potluck/gift exchange for its 6:30 p.m., Dec. 10 meeting, during which upcoming selections will be made.
At Haston Library, North Brookfield, readers will consider Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day" on Dec. 8.
Speaking Volumes, an audio book group ( will discuss Louise Erdrich's "The Roundhouse" during its 8 p.m., Dec. 1 meeting.
Mendon Library Book Club plans to discuss "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry," by Rachel Joyce. Meeting is at 7 p.m., Dec. 1. January's selection is Kristin Hannah's "Comfort and Joy."
In the classics vein, members of Pearl L. Crawford Memorial Library Book Club will discuss Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" at their 6 p.m. Dec. 3 meeting. Up for Jan. 7 is "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. The Group meets in Dudley.
Ann Connery Frantz is a fiction writer and co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative in Lancaster. A career-long journalist, she is also a freelance writer and editor. Send comments or questions to This column was originally published in the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette.

Monday, November 23, 2015

'Playing with Fire' is Gerritsen's latest

A novel often is the best way of presenting the emotional content of historical events. By fictionalizing a tragedy, a time or a way of life, an author invests them with human drama. Loss, love, spirit are transferred to the reader's mind within the realm of history.
So it is with Tess Gerritsen's "Playing with Fire," a novel in which she weaves the story of a star-crossed World War II-era couple with a modern contemporary mystery. The two stories are linked by sheet music, the mysterious, passionate "Incendio" which violinist Julia Ansdell purchases in a Roman antique shops during a visit to Italy. She brings it home to Boston and begins to practice its odd, minor chords and lightning-quick arpeggios.
But Ansdell's 3-year-old daughter displays uncharacteristically violent behavior linked to the music. Once she has clearly identified music as the source of her child's outbursts, she finds no one will believe her. Leaving the U.S., Julia searches for the music's history, tracking the music to its roots. While this may seem improbable, it is the framework of a nice little mystery: one that will bring its protagonist into seriously threatening circumstances as she digs into a murderous history that a family no longer wants to see brought to light.
Within the sub-plot, there is a sampling of the cruel depravity German soldiers visited on Jewish prisoners during the war, drawing readers deeper into the plight of the original composer, Lorenzo's, ill-fated life. The terror that he experiences in a concentration camp becomes part of the plot but also becomes the genesis of "Incendio," as Lorenzo grapples with horror and fury as he's forced to play as loud as he can to mask the screams of dying Jews. It is horrific, and Gerritsen's straightforward recounting of the situation is riveting, as well as scarring to one's soul.
Allowing Julia to ferret out such details as she digs into a lost life is that much more arresting, and Gerritsen does it well. She also creates a murder mystery that leaves Julia in a frightening situation far from home, attempting to bring justice to the memory of the violinist-composer.
All of this is recounted skillfully—the book is not at all confusing, and Gerritsen's skillful writing makes the action both fluid and exciting.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

'The little O, the earth' blends travel essays, poetry in harmony

"The little O, the earth" is a thoughtful, introspective travel journal, harmoniously compiled as a blend of writing, art and experience into an enjoyable exploration of the world and its great art collections.
Judith Ferrara's book, titled from Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra," describes various flights of imagination through art, essay and poetry. The Worcester-based writer/artist will read from her book at 2 p.m., Nov. 8, in the Princeton Art Society, 18 Boylston Ave., Princeton, and at 7 p.m., Nov. 12, at The Street Beat, 1 Ekman St., Worcester.

The well-designed, square book she envisioned when she started succeeds in capturing the intellectual liveliness of a watchful visitor, seeking to absorb and learn from the best of the world's cultural richness. Ferrara's thoughts about art and the many places she has visited over more than a decade are candid and affecting. Readers are in Barcelona, Reykjavik and Amsterdam, Cote d'Azur, Florence and Rome, St. Petersburg, London and cities across the United States, through the eyes and mind of a woman whose goal—to visit the world's famed museums—may seem too ambitious, but seems to be well within her reach.

Don't expect a dull or overwritten collection of essays. These excerpts from her journals are rich with detail but spare in content. In them, she preserves her best sense of a place and person. There are tidbits of knowledge—like Rembrandt's bankruptcy list being used to restore his house for posterity, the misleading "two tuns of yellow" paint used in Monet's home at Giverny, and Renoir challenging himself to do better after heartbreaking exposure to the works of Titian, Veronese and Raphael—presented between her drawings, inspired by the museums and lands she saw. She briefly considers the music she relies upon as a backdrop for creative juices, the life of an artist, the love she developed for Goya's art after observing his work at The Prado in Madrid.

She writes about Worcester-born poet Elizabeth Bishop, and poet Stanley Kunitz's Worcester home, where she spent several years as a docent. She speaks of the training that goes into being a museum guide, or docent, and relates her joy at hearing a child, after staring at one of her works, solemnly pronounce, "Wow."

The book is filled with such moments, carefully folded together and crafted into a beautiful homage to art.
Her poetry relates to travels, recollecting thoughts about Van Gogh and Michelangelo alongside the realities of life for an artist, mother and writer. The assembled poems are warm, personal, and lovely; I won't single any out, because they are touching and unique. Oh, alright, I will: "No Apologies," which seems to marry the day-to-day life of mother and wife with the dreams and frustrations of creation.

Audio Journal an alternative

Speaking Volumes, a book club for those with visual impairments, holds frequent radio meetings, and the group's schedule is available at This is a terrific way to connect a friend or parent with vision issues to a book discussion group they can enjoy. Books are available, recorded on digital cartridge by the Library of Congress, through Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library and the Worcester Talking Book Library.
Volunteers discuss the book in the studio, and listeners may call in to comment and be part of the group. Selections are made at least four months in advance, allowing listeners time to reserve copies. The number to call to take part in the program is 508-752-0557. It is also possible to listen online, at the website. For more details, the show maintains a Facebook page—simply look up Speaking Volumes. 

Speaking Volumes is broadcast the first Tuesday of each month from 8 to 9 p.m. Discussions are archived on the website for a year. The selection for Nov. 3 is "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng. The schedule into 2016 includes: Dec. 2, "The Round House," by Louise Erdrich; Feb. 2, "Lawrence in Arabia," Scott Anderson; March 1, "Life After Life," Kate Atkinson.

Classic Book recommendations
This month, Betsey Johnson of Holden reports book club members who meet at the Congregational Church there often prefer to read 19th century English writers Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, the Brontes and George Eliot, as well as American writers Willa Cather, Henry James, Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. "Can't go wrong with any of these authors," she writes. Wharton's "Summer" and James' "Washington Square" are both short and readable.

Area book clubs

Members of the "Greatest Book Club Ever" at Douglas' Simon Fairfield Public Library will discuss Stephen King's "The Shining" at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5. Public welcome. Call to reserve a copy. The library's "Book Bunch" meets at 6 p.m., Nov. 19. Also at the library, at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 13, readers will discuss Michael Tougias's "The Finest Hours" about a Nor'easter off Cape Cod that destroyed two oil tankers, and the effort to rescue their crews. There are also two young people's book clubs at the library. For details, contact the library.
Lancaster's Thayer Memorial Library Adult Book Group takes on Mark Haddon's unique and very readable novel, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" at its 6:30 p.m. Nov. 24 meeting. Check with the library to reserve a copy. The Thursday afternoon book club meets at 1 p.m., Nov. 12, to discuss "Pascali's Island" by Brian Unsworth.
Also in Lancaster, Off-Track Bookies will discuss Geraldine Brooks' "People of the Book" at a meeting Nov. 12.
"With Malice Toward None," a life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates, is the discussion focus for a 10 a.m., Nov 13 meeting of the Friday Morning Book Club, Northborough Library.
In Mendon, says Brenda Whitner, readers will discuss Jo Jo Moyes' "Me Before You," a novel about a caretaker assigned to a young man who intends to commit suicide after being paralyzed. Meeting is at 7 p.m., Nov. 3 in the town library.
Dudley book club members will meet Nov. 5, 6 p.m. in the Pearl L. Crawford Memorial Library to talk about Jeannette Walls' "Half-Broke Horses." For details, call 508-929-8021 or leave an email address at the library.
The Holden Gale Free Library's Book Club will consider "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin at a 10:30 a.m. meeting, Nov. 3, and, on Dec. 1, "A Spool of Blue Thread" by Anne Tyler. Copies are available through the library.
Bannister Book Group, Merrick Public Library, Brookfield, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 24, 7 to 8 p.m. to discuss "Kindred" by Octavia Butler, a novel about a modern black woman transported back in time to a slave plantation in the antebellum South. "Harrowing, haunting story," one reviewer said.
"The Other Wes Moore," by Wes Moore, will discussed at 6:30, Nov. 2, in the Jacob Edwards Library, Southbridge.
The NOW Women's Issues Book Group, Worcester, will meet Nov. 9 to discuss "Euphoria" by Lily King. Meeting is at 7 p.m. in Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St.
"The Remains of the Day," by Kazuo Ishiguro will be discussed at Haston Library in North Brookfield on Dec. 8. This is the combined November/December meeting
Brown Bag Book Club at Leominster Public Library has slated "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini for its Nov. 5 meeting at noon.
The Nov. 18 meeting at Fitchburg Public Library is about Cheryl Strayed's "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific West Trail." Discussions are at 1 and 6:30 pm.
"Orphan Train" by Christina Kline is the topic of a 4:30 p.m., Nov. 18 meeting in Heywood Library, Gardner.
Whately Library hosts an author visit and book discussion with Jeannine Atkins on Saturday, Nov. 14, starting at 11 a.m. Whately’s own Atkins will lead a discussion of her new book, "Little Woman in Blue."
Books will be available for purchase and signing. Library is at 202 Chestnut Plain Rd. Call 413-665-2170 for info.

Ann Connery Frantz is a freelance writer/editor who also writes fiction. Send information and ideas to