Upcoming Author Talk. John William Davis to discuss Rainy Street Stories: Reflections on Secret Wars, Espionage, and Terrorism.

On February 12, 2015, at 5:30, the Salmon Library will be hosting author John William Davis at a book talk about his own Rainy Street Stories: Reflections on Secret Wars, Espionage, and Terrorism. Come out to listen to his anecdotes, ask him questions, and enjoy some light refreshments. The talk will be in Library room 111.

Rainy Street Stories Event

From the publisher’s [Red Bike Publishing] website:

Rainy Street Stories is a composition of powerful reflections on today’s espionage, terrorism, and secret wars. These stories, essays, and poems by John Davis, a retired intelligence officer, take place from Europe, to Asia, and back to the Americas. He lived overseas for many years, where he served as a soldier, civil servant, and gifted linguist. Davis writes with a thoughtful, compassionate, and fair assessment of his lifetime lived during wars and conflicts which were his generation’s legacy from World War II. He recounts mysterious, sometimes strangely suggestive, even curiously puzzling tales. Each will cause the reader to think.

You can read reviews of the book from The SOHO Journal and from The Journal of Strategic Security. In SOHO’s review, D. Clark MacPherson writes:

Davis’s Rainy Street Stories does not gloss over lines with the novelist’s adroitness as does LeCarre, nor does he appear to draw upon the wealth of knowledge that Nigel West, the “Godfather of Intelligence,” draws upon as the acknowledged historian of the Intelligence field. Instead, the reader is drawn into a collaboration with Davis in understanding the moral dilemma and making the difficult philosophical decisions about how we proceed from here. Davis enables the reader to travel with him by using short essays and poems that evoke the feelings and experiences of fear, betrayal, pain and death that are intrinsic and inescapable elements of the secret and not-so-secret wars.

Those with questions can contact Dr. Belinda Ong at ongb@uah.edu or by phone at 256.824.6432.

Those who wish to buy a copy of the book can do so through Amazon, through Barnes and Noble, or [if they prefer to find a local brick-and-mortar that carries it], can search through IndieBound.

In the Stacks: A. J. Baime’s Arsenal of Democracy

A. J. Baime’s 2014 book The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War is a work of historical non-fiction, highlighting one specific aspect of the development of the US military industrial complex during the second World War: the efforts by the Ford Motor Company to build B-24 Liberator bombers.

Arsenal of Democracy bookjacket

SPOILER ALERT:  Ford Motor Company provides the setting for Baime’s book, starting off with the story of Ford as an early leader in automobile production, and efforts under new management (Edsel Ford, son of founder Henry) to expand into the burgeoning aviation market – efforts which were initially unsuccessful.  A central tenet of this book is the importance of military airpower during World War II and in the pre-war years (and the need to increase production for military aircraft); the author hails heavy bombers – specifically, the B-24 Liberator – as the key to winning the war.  Thus, the war provides Edsel with an opportunity to try again.  In the early years of the war, Edsel & his team propose a plan to construct B-24s by applying assembly-line manufacturing processes, and they set the audacious goal of turning out one bomber per hour.  Their efforts (including the construction of the mammoth new Willow Run factory in Michigan) reveal the naiveté of the initial goal, and the challenges of both meeting that goal & overcoming the doubts of other people.


It may sound trite, but this book has something for almost everyone.  This is not a traditional military history, although there is an engaging description of Operation Tidal Wave, to bomb the oil fields in Ploesti.  (If you expect this to be the same as Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, you may be disappointed.  Perhaps a better comparison is to Michael Beschloss’ The Conquerors, which provides perspective on the wartime presidents Roosevelt & Truman.) This is not a work of historical drama, although the book depicts the complex relationship between automotive icon Henry Ford and his only son Edsel.  This is not a history of the civil rights movement or of labor relations, although the book paints a picture of the growing industrialization of Detroit, tells of the influx of transplanted workers from rural America, and describes the painful (and sometimes bloody) multi-sided labor conflicts at the Ford factories.  It tells a story set during wartime – and the war cannot be ignored.  The appearance of several unexpected cast members (thugs of questionable authority, suspected Nazi sympathizers, and even Charles Lindbergh) all serve to keep the reader engaged.  Scholars will appreciate the comprehensive endnotes and index.


This is a lease book at the UAH Salmon Library, and the UAH copy can be found with the call number HD 9710 .U54 B35 2014 in the coffeeshop reading area of the first floor.  You can see more information on the Goodreads page for the Arsenal of Democracy. That page has reviews and links to buy a copy if you want.


Spotted a book that should be in a future In the Stacks feature? Just tell us at doug.bolden@uah.edu and/or ron.schwertfeger@uah.edu, and we’ll look into it. Questions about this book or any of the others we have?  You can also email us (or the reference desk at erefq@uah.edu).

In the Stacks: Edogawa Ranpo’s Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Our In the Stacks this time is similar to our last in that it is a collection of mystery stories written in tribute to another writer, but while Solar Pons is largely a Sherlockian pastiche that took off on a life of his own, Edogawa Ranpo’s collection of somewhat Poe inspired stories, Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination, is a classic of psychological mystery.

Ranpo, born Hirai Tarō, took his pen name in tribute to Poe (as you say Edogawa Ranpo, note that it is a phonetic play on Edgar Allan Poe) and some of his stories definitely fit into Poe’s elements of gothic sensibilities, psychological underpinnings, and a sense of puzzle and play. Ranpo, though, largely avoids the floridness that was one of Poe’s greatest strengths and weaknesses, making him quite readable while retaining the thrilling energy of old estates and city streets and people who sneak around in the night [how much this is owed to James B. Harris, the translator, is unknown to me but fans of the original language version can feel free to comment below].

Tales of Mystery and the Imagination Cover

Notable stories in Japanese Tales include

  • “The Human Chair”, about a man who hides out in a fancy chair feels – note, this is exactly as it sounds – and listens in [and eventually falls in love] with the people who sit on him;
  • “The Psychological Test”, about a Raskolnikov-wannabe who is overcome partially by his own sense of superiority; and
  • “Two Crippled Men”, about a man who has dealt with a fear of his sleep walking and the horrors he had done, not knowing that other forces might be at play.

Most of these are about the psychology of the crime more than the crime itself. A couple, “Hell of Mirrors” and “The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture”, are actually closer to weird fiction more than mystery, but make for some nice spice in the mix.

Our copy is up on the third floor, north side, with the call number, PL826 .D6 J3 1956. It is the sixth printing of the 1956 Tuttle edition. You can see more information on the Goodreads page for Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination. That link has reviews and some edition notes and links to buy a copy if you want.

As a note, his pen name is most often romanized as Ranpo, now, but earlier romanizations (including the one on the cover of the book, though not the book’s record) is Rampo, with an “m”.

Spotted a book in our stacks that you think is worthy of being brought up in a future In the Stacks feature? Just let me know at doug.bolden@uah.edu and I’ll look into it. Questions about this book or any of the others we have, then email me or the reference desk at erefq@uah.edu.

Copyweird: The Case of the Heterogeneous Copyright Status

Sherlock Holmes is an iconic character undergoing a bit of a resurgence as of late, with shows like Sherlock and Elementary bringing him into the modern era and a recent pair of blockbuster movies bringing him into the popcorn flick flair. There have been great new editions of the original canon, including impressive annotated editions, and fair-sized run of books introducing new stories with various twists—often a mash-up with a famous historical or literary personage or a bit of horror. There have been audioplays* and stage plays. There have been discussions about whether or not House counts as fully Sherlockian. All in all, not a bad time to be a Baker Street Irregular.

A Study in Scarlet, Holmes's First Appearance

But what happens when you try to release a series of stories inspired by the canon, and you find out that the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate wants you to pay a licensing fee for said collection? The vast majority of the canon—a total of 56 stories and 4 novels—is in public domain, and this includes many of the key stories (e.g., Hound of the Baskervilles, “The Final Problem”, “The Case of the Empty House”, “A Scandal in Bohemia”). However, the very last handful of stories, from The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes are still in copyright, at least in the US (not in the UK, Canada, or Australia). Here’s the question: do the iconic earlier [and public domain] stories which established the character allow you to access it for new material, or do the final [and often considered poorer] stories still hold the character under copyright?

It is not exactly an easy answer. On one hand, a collection of pastiche stories seems like it would be responding to the canon as a whole. Whether or not “The Three Gables” is a good Holmes story, it is a Holmes story written by the original author. On the other hand, copyright when it comes to a character can get complicated. Especially when the person trying to expand the Holmes canon, Leslie Klinger, has an itemized list of key Holmes ideas and from which public domain stories they originate. To wit, as long as they do not use elements unique to the in-copyright stories, then Klinger feels the works are in response only to the canon that does exist in the public domain.

Does Holmes exist as two canons? What’s your gut-take? How about an informed one?

And, presuming you can’t be bothered too much about copyright weirdnesses, here is a post about 10 Interesting Facts about Sherlock Holmes and another with 10 More Interesting Facts about Sherlock Holmes. Those should give you something to munch on.

* Including, interestingly, one where the voice of Holmes is preformed by Nicholas Briggs, the man who does the voice of the Daleks on Doctor Who, which is a cross-canon delight if I have ever heard one.

In the Stacks: August Derleth’s Sherlock Holmes Pastiche/Tribute – The Chronicles of Solar Pons

If you have heard of August Derleth, you probably have heard of him in context with his work publishing the works of Howard Philips Lovecraft. In fact, whether you find Derleth’s take on the Lovecraftian canon to be interesting—by way of adding in a more stabilized structure, adding certain elemental flavors—or tedious—by way of converting Lovecraft’s generalized cosmic dread into what comes down to a family struggle between something like good and something like evil—if you have played any games or read any books with words like “Lovecraft” or “Cthulhu” or “Call of…” in the title, you owe a bit of thanks to Derleth’s work.

But it is not just Lovecraft that Derleth pastiched and updated. At the age of 19, Derleth contacted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about if there were to be any more Sherlock Holmes stories and (possibly, some sources vary) whether he (Derleth) could continue them, if not. Whatever the exact question asked, Doyle said “No” and Derleth took Holmes under his wing and changed a few things. Like carefully chosen names to completely hide that he was riffing on Holmes canon.

You ready for these deep-hidden names? How about Solar Pons instead of Sherlock Holmes, or Dr. Lyndon Parker instead of Dr. John Watson? The two of them are not at 221b Baker Street, but 7b Praed Street. My favorite is Bancroft Pons as the older brother, rather than Mycroft Holmes. Clevery clever Derleth.

Charles Prepolec wrote a short article called The Great Pretender: Solar Pons that fills in some gaps. Stuff like some people prefer Pons to Holmes, since Pons is a little less burdened by life and a little more boisterous. And that after Derleth’s death, another writer, Basil Cooper, has continued the adventures of Solar Pons (making the Pontine stories, as they call, out-number the Holmesian originals, though pastiche versus pastiche might even it out). And there is a Praed Street Irregulars to act as fan club, much like the Baker Street Irregulars do for Holmes.

Curious to dive in and try some of the Pons stories? Luckily, since they can be kind of expensive and hard to track down, we have one of the books here in our stacks: The Chronicles of Solar Pons. Published in 1973 posthumously (Derleth died in 1971), this are some of the last things written by Derleth. They are possibly not the greatest of the stories, but there is a bit of enjoyment in seeing this alternate Holmes set in a slightly different time, with a slightly different take on the world (a take that is actually closer to many portrayals of Holmes in TV shows and movies, since many scriptwriters like to dial up his action elements and dial down some of his more onerous bits like cocaine abuse and such).

If you wish to see Chronicles, it is up on on our third floor, north section, with a call number of PS3507 .E69 C57.

Spotted a book in our stacks that you think is worthy of being brought up in a future In the Stacks feature? Just let me know at doug.bolden@uah.edu and I’ll look into it. Questions about this book or any of the others we have, then email me or the reference desk at erefq@uah.edu

In the Stacks: Dead Towns of Alabama

Curious about a local road trip for the summer? Interested in odd bits of lost local culture? Just curious about where some of the roads got their names? Try out W. Stuart Harris’s Dead Towns of Alabama. A encyclopedic collection of blurbs and short anecdotes about towns, settlements, and sites around the state.

The information ranges from tiny to fairly interesting, and it often fills in formative gaps for the early development of the state. The 1977 edition has a surprising lack of maps or precise locations, but it does have bits like this, about the town of Ditto’s Landing:

Situated on the north bank of the Tennessee River, this early Madison County river landing was 10 miles south of Huntsville, approximately where U.S. Highway 231 crosses the river today. John Ditto, a Pennsylvanian, was possibly the first white man to reside in what is today Madison County. He operated an Indian trading station long before the settlers came into the region. He established the first landing used by the pioneers between Chattanooga and Colbert’s Ferry.

In 1820, John Hardie operated a store at Ditto’s Landing, where he received and distributed goods for the firm of Read and White (see Mardisville). Colonel James White, who owned an ironworks and a salt firm in East Tennessee, shipped his products to Hardie by way of the river.

It goes on to say that it was later changed to Whitesburg, in honor of Colonel White.

So, maybe a hobbyist/specialist resource, but it is worth at least a browse. We have it here in the stacks as a physical book with call number F334 .H37 (this on the second floor, north section). We also have it as an ebook through our Ebsco Ebook Collection. That ebook is viewable by only one person at a time, so if it says that it is in use, try again later.

If you are curious about getting your own copy, you can order it from the University of Alabama Press, as a paperback, for $19.95. There, it is described as

This easy-to-use reference work documents the many long-vanished towns, forts, settlements, and former state capitals that were once thriving communities of Alabama.

Dead Towns of Alabama is not merely a series of obituaries for dead towns. Instead, it brings back to life 83 Indian towns, 77 fort sites, and 112 colonial, territorial, and state towns. W. Stuart Harris conjures up a wealth of fascinating images from Alabama’s rich and colorful past–images of life as the Indians lived it, of colonial life in the wilderness, of Spanish explorers and French exiles, of danger and romance, of riverboats and railroads, of plantations and gold mines, of stagecoaches and ferries. Overall, it presents a thoroughly absorbing panorama of Alabama’s early history.

Here we learn about two former capitals–St. Stephens and Cahaba–that have deteriorated to mouldering ruins now. We learn about once thriving communities–county seats, river landings and crossings, trading posts, junctions, and other settlements–that time has forgotten. Absent from most maps, these sites come alive again in Harris’s fascinating account, filled anew with the bustling activity of their former inhabitants.

First published in 1977, Dead Towns of Alabama is a unique guidebook to every region of the state. It is an invaluable resource for historians, students, tourists, and anyone interested in exploring Alabama’s interesting historical and cultural past.

Happy dead town hunting…

The joy of seeing a persistent design shine in the wild of the stacks

The other day, I was walking through our journal stacks on N1 (i.e., the northern bit of the first floor) and I spotted a delightful little oddity, which is best summed up in a picture:

Physical Review D, a persistent spine design throughout the decades

What you are looking at, there, is Physical Review D: Particles, Fields, Gravitation, and Cosmology*, published by the American Physical Society. For as long as we have original-binding print copies (about 20 years from the mid-90s through 2011**), they have persisted with the design choice of that color blue, with each issue being numbered in a bar that has been in the same persistent place so that the issue numbers cascade down.

A slightly closer look at it:

Physical Review D, a persistent spine design throughout the decades

Being the sort of guy who works with design and around design, I can appreciate the rare glory that is a decades maintained design decision. I suspect this is the sort of thing that can exist more so in the world of academic publishing, where relevant regularly published content is literally the point, than in most forward-facing content, which has to invoke a sense of activity to convince people that the the same-old content is relevant (soda, for instance, keeps the same formula for years, but changes the can every year). I personally find it beautiful, and wanted to share.

I wonder if APS has a design bible they consult, a series of Pantone-complaint color sheets? I wonder who started the cascade, and if there have been design meetings about whether to change it?

A lot of book cover talk is aimed at flashy new covers and what they mean (and whether movie tie-in covers are brilliant or anathema) or how sunset-soaked acacia trees show an unfortunate trend in perceptions about Africa, but let us not forget the other side: some book covers are a process that began years ago and represent a simple permanence rather than playing to our expectations (often by feeding our own expectations and desires back to us).

Footnotes and Attributions:

* Impact Factor of 4.691. ISSN: 1550-7998 (print), 1550-2368 (online).
** Our physical range, including all the rebound volumes, goes all the way back to Volume 1 and our online coverage of the title covering the entire run.

The header is a joking reference to the Youtube video “The Expert”, about the design process and appealing to demographics [and ignoring the the expert in the room]. Did you spot the red lines drawn in transparent ink? The line-art kitten is used from http://princessentiafarms.deviantart.com/art/Free-Simple-Kitten-Lineart-289717626, with credit to PrincessentiaFarms. 

Interested in testing how fast you can read?

I’ve said it before, but the speed at which you read is often less important than the quality of what you read, the depth of your reading, and the challenge of what you read; but reading faster tends to help you to read more, which can help with those other things since the more you read, the better you tend to get at the art of reading well.

However, who among us book-lovers, librarians, and other sundry citizens of biblioville wouldn’t like a little glance into the speed of our reading? There are a number of ways to test such results, but Staples has made a quick little reading-speed test that won’t take up much of your time:

How Speed Do You Read?

That was easy! [sorry, I’m so sorry….]

Of interest to those who don’t even take the test might be the following statistics from Free-Speed-Reading.com’s What Is the Average Reading Speed of Americans?, which includes this outcome (the number is words-per-minute):

  • 3rd Grade students – 150
  • 4th Grade Students – 170
  • 8th Grade Students – 250
  • 11th Grade Students – 350
  • Average Adults – 300
  • Low Scoring College Students – 340
  • Average College Students – 450
  • High Scoring College Students – 800
  • Mid Level Executives – 340
  • High Level Executives – 575
  • College Professors – 680
  • High School Dropouts – 240

Don’t take the results too personally. As I said, reading fast is less important than reading well. And the best way to read well is to read more. The speed of your reading will increase naturally, as well.

Happy reading, Readers.

What’s a book, Precious?

When I was a wee lad in grad school (note: this was about four years ago), an argument arose with some classmates because I was reading this or that book on an Amazon Kindle (the second generation, which helps to show how many years ago four might be) and they felt that I was missing the bookness of reading. Phrases like “I only read real books” were brought up, phrases that were a bit ironic in that, to-a-person, all of the ebook detractors were huge fans of audiobooks. [We’ll leave aside that many of those classmates are now, themselves, proud owners of various e-reading devices.]

These arguments helped to highlight a somewhat theoretical question that sometimes showed up in our grad school texts: “What is a book?”The question usually meant itself more in the cataloging sense, the sense of collecting information in a way that we could detail information about the information. We have a catalog, and a shelf, and what goes on the latter and how does it fit in the former?

But in that bit of practical, extracurricular argumentation, we saw another meaning to the question: why are plastic disks [and/or digital downloads] of people reading the book more of a book than a digital representation of the text and illustrations? Is bookness only of personal preference, or can the concept “bookness” be easily delineated based on some rules?

Bookless Library as a search term on Google

What I got when I did a search for "Bookless Library"

The reason the question is still important, to libraries and librarians and to lovers of information in all forms and shapes, is because society sometimes likes to pretend that such rules are readily apparently. If you do a Google search for “bookless library” you’ll be many results about BiblioTech, Bexar County[, Texas]’s all digital library. It is a interesting concept to watch. It is not so alien to imagine a library doing well going digital-only. We have a lot of users that primarily use our extensive collection of digital books, articles, conferences, and so forth. I can fully appreciate that some patrons will prefer digital, not merely settle for it. Depending on the day, I am often one of those patrons, myself.

However, the news coverage is not that the library is digital, but that it is bookless, an altogether other term. In NPR’s coverage of the “Bookless Public Library” [as the headline reads], the opening paragraph includes the line: “The facility offers about 10,000 free e-books…”

In fact, as it goes down, it starts to sound a lot like any other public library. It has computer labs, and reading space, and offers stuff like children’s reading programs. It is only different in a particular way, and the way that this particular way is discussed is, you might say, in a particular way. There are no doubt some of you who feel the “bookless” appellative is richly deserved, but I feel we must return back to that grad school discussion of all those four years ago: why is, to some at least, an Amazon Kindle displaying a azw3 file not a book while an iPod playing an Audible aax file is? Or why are both of those not books when the exact same information displayed in another format – bound softcover or CD, for instance – are? Do these distinctions serve a purpose? To the library? To the library patron? To the casual, everyday person?

If you will, let us play a a quick word game. Read through this list of things and see which ones feel like “books” to you and which ones feel like “not-books”. It’s a bit a scattered and random [on purpose], but just make through it as you see fit.

Which of these are books?

Which of these do you feel are books?

Some of these feel obvious. Obviously are books or are obviously not books. But what I want you to consider is that the line will never be a clear one. For instance, why would Wikipedia be not a book while the Encyclopedia Britannica is [note: now that all encyclopedias are going more and more online, assume I’m discussing when they were big and printed bound volumes]? Why would The Diary of Anne Frank be a book, in printed form, while a teen’s online blog about suffering from depression not be? If you printed the latter out, would it transform into a book? Why would a collection of tables to solve TAN and COS and SIN be a book, but the TAN/COS/SIN functions on a calculator aren’t? Does the limits of the former grant it a particular power over the latter?

Are videogames books? How about books that include interactive content? How about interactive content that is fun? How about a game that shows you lots of text about the storyline but requires mild amounts of interacting to progressive? What about one for the old games like Zork? Or the Choose Your Own Adventure books [are they really books]? Or Fighting Fantasy, a similar sort of thing which required you to roll dice and map out your progress? Or how about the new digital remakes of Fighting Fantasy, that roll the dice the dice and automap but still, generally, require you to read all the original text?

Are radioplays, or audioplays [sometimes called full-text audio, like the sort that Big Finish make], books? Are audiobooks where different people read off the lines as the characters books? Are musical albums with definite narrative bent [like some prog rock and folk] books? Are books, like those on some e-reader devices, still books if you click the “text to speech” option? What if you use a device to read the words on the page of a physical, printed out “dead tree” book? Is it still a book if you do not engage it fully in the physical realm?

The point of none of those exercises was to force you to say “EVERYTHING’S A BOOK!!!”, but merely to say that there do seem to be some things that are books and some things that are not books, but the dividing line is unclear and murky at the best of times. And when people are making decisions about libraries with the assumption that libraries are places of books [and book-like things such as journals and maybe maps], and they are applying this definition to the budgets and the running and the governing and the biases of libraries, then what does this mean for libraries? How will this change the fabric of the future of information science, when it gets decided that one collection of information is a book, and fits in a library, and another is not and so should not be in a library?

The twenty-first century information landscape will, at least, be interesting.