Picking the Bones At An Estate Sale

I just got back from an estate sale in my neighborhood. The people whose belongings were being sold were an elderly couple who lived just around the corner from me. I never met them, but I knew who they were. They both appeared to be quite old, but both were always working in their yard to keep it immaculate. They always had something blooming, no matter the season.

And now they’re gone. The gentleman passed away some time last year; I don’t know the details of his passing. The wife is still alive, but living in Texas in a “retirement community” near her daughter. I’m told she’s struggling with Alzheimer’s.

And so this weekend her family came to sell off everything that was left of their lives together, in order to get the house ready for sale. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the family, as I know that these things have to be done, but while I was looking through what was left for sale, I got very sad. Scattered around were all sorts of bits and pieces of their lives that showed what they liked and what they liked to do. The wife, for example, apparently loved to quilt. She had what appeared to be about 30 – 40 years of quilting magazines in the basement. There were numerous pieces of cross-stitch and embroidery on a table, too.

It looked like the husband had been in telecom, as there were spools of wire and loads of antiquated telephone equipment in the basement. There was also a framed award from 1980 presented to him from his employer. One thing of interest to me was a booklet produced by the Travelers insurance company for their employees in 1972, detailing their policies on reimbursement for moving and living expenses. I don’t know which of them worked in insurance.

So what did I pick for myself? I have a thing for food photography from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and there was quite a collection there. I bought an almost-complete set of the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cooking series from 1962; it’s missing the last three volumes. I also bought a 1972 edition of the standard Better Homes & Gardens cookbook (red and white checks) and a cookbook from 1974 called “Favorite Recipes of America’s Home Economics Teachers.” One non-cookbook also made it into my hands. It’s a book called “Papa Was a Preacher,” which was published in 1944. It’s a memoir of the youngest of six children of a rural minister. She wrote the book with the intention of dispelling the myth that being a minister’s child is a joyless existence. What was also neat about this book is that on the copyright page the publisher explained how “Wartime Books” were being printed in ways that conserved paper and copper for the war effort.

So why did this make me sad? I think it’s because these two people spent two lifetimes together collecting all this stuff. Now one is dead, the other can’t be far behind, and all of their things are being scattered in every direction. I know once you’re gone you can’t keep your stuff, and children don’t always want to keep the things of their parents, so I suppose selling it certainly beats throwing it away. Still… I felt sad and somewhat guilty to be picking through their lives.

Blue At The Mizzen – Finished

This morning I finished reading Blue At The Mizzen, the last complete book in the twenty-book Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. I’m a huge fan of these books: I have read the first fourteen books twice, and only once before have I given any of them fewer than five stars. This last book, unfortunately, has left me strangely cool.

As I said, this is the last complete book in the series. The author was working on a twenty-first book when he died in 2000, so while I had hoped that Mizzen would wrap things up nicely, it didn’t. I had hoped that since twenty was such a nice round number, O’Brian had ended the series there, but then later decided to pick it up again with the twenty-first novel. Sadly, Mizzen was not meant to be the final book.

There are loose ends all around, and the story of this book is certainly the weakest of the series. A great deal of it is taken up with Stephen’s wanderings and observations and the two naval battles in the story aren’t described in nearly as much detail as in previous books. Jack does receive a certain happy news on the penultimate page, but given the number of loose ends, that is little comfort.

Apart from this book not being the finale, and not being particularly strong, I am sad to have finished the series. Jack and Stephen have been with me for several years now. They feel like old friends, friends that I don’t wish to leave just yet. I will miss Stephen’s ignorance of so many things about the Navy, despite his being afloat with Jack for at least 15 years. I will miss Jack gently poking fun at Stephen with his oft-repeated, “Lord, Stephen, what a fellow you are!” I will miss Preserved Killick’s perpetual grumpiness with calls for coffee greeted with, “Which I’m bringing it this very minute!” Barrett Bonden, Awkward Davies, Tom Pullings, Sophie Aubrey, and so many other regular characters, I will miss them all.

At the request of fans, the publisher has published the unfinished twenty-first novel, under the title 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey. Will I read it? I don’t think so. As unsatisfying as this complete novel was for me, I can’t imagine an incomplete, unedited sequel would serve any better. (As I was editing this post, I stopped to read some of the reviews for 21 at Amazon. I may yet read it. We’ll see.)

I started reading the series because I had seen the movie, Master and Commander, starring Russel Crowe. Within the first five pages of the first book, Master and Commander, I was hooked. The books are full of exciting naval combat, political intrigue and tons of heart and humor. Sometimes O’Brian gets extremely technical and detailed in his descriptions of sails, spars and ropes, but you don’t need to fully understand those details to enjoy the stories. What’s so cool about this series is that each book is more like a chapter in a huge work rather than a standalone book; usually one book picks up directly after the previous one ended.

I should mention that because I saw the film first, whenever I’m reading the books I see Crowe’s Aubrey, and hear him in Crowe’s voice inside my head. My Stephen isn’t exactly like Paul Bettany‘s but he’s pretty close. I thought Crowe did a very good job of playing Aubrey, so I could have done worse for a mental image, I suppose.

I’m sure that I will reread the entire series again, probably more than once. But for now, I’ll have to content myself with other things. I’ve read some of Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower, so maybe I’ll pick up some more in that series.

Farewell, Jack and Stephen, and good sailing.

No “Pirate Sun” For Me Yet

I just got back from Borders attempting to buy Karl Schroeder’s Pirate Sun, but they don’t have it yet. Argh. I’ll be finished with The Yellow Admiral in a few days and I really wanted to dive back into Virga. Maybe the Borders near my house has it… need to check…

08/08/2008 Update: I ordered it from Amazon. They tell me it will be here around the 12th of August.

If It’s Part Of a Series, Tell Me!

I went to my local Barnes & Noble yesterday to pick up book 18 of the Aubrey–Maturin series, The Yellow Admiral. While there, I looked around just to see what else was available. I’m a sucker for great cover artwork and have bought many books based on my initial reaction of seeing the cover. And I’ve also gotten burned doing that. It happened with Every Which Way But Dead, which turned out to be the third book of a series. I went back and bought the first book, but didn’t like it, never tried the second one, and thus ended up with a pristine copy of book 3, that I’ll never use.

It happened again yesterday. I saw an excellent cover on Endgame by Kristine Smith, so I picked it up. I read the back cover and it sounded interesting. So I bought it. Later in the day, I looked it up on Amazon, just to see what people were saying about it. That’s when I found out that it’s actually the fifth book in a series. I picked the book up and read every single word on both covers and the spine and there is absolutely no indication that this book is part of a series. I’ve still got the receipt, so I’m going to take the book back and see if I can swap it for something else. There’s a chance I might swap it for the first book in the series, but more than likely I’ll go for the 19th Aubrey-Maturin book.

Note to publishers: I don’t like feeling tricked. I don’t know if this was an oversight or an attempt at deception, but it’s certainly cost you this sale, and it may have soured me against the entire series. Be honest with book buyers about when a book is part of a series. You know if it’s part of a series or not, so how about let us know before we buy. You’ll get more sales in the end.