Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute, 1960

I didn’t realize this was Shute’s last book; it’s one of the best, with a decent plot and wonderful descriptions of machining. Epigraph: “An engineer is a man who can do for five bob what any bloody fool can do for a quid.” Keith Stewart, miniature machinist, goes on a quest to retrieve a legacy for his niece, and one of the main ways he wins people over is by showing them a tiny working four-cycle engine he’s designed and built. In my favorite scene he makes a set of metal eggs to comfort his grieving niece:

“We could do a silvery egg in steel, or a yellow egg if we heated a steel egg a bit, or a blue egg if we heated a steel egg quite a lot, or a grey egg if we case-hardened it. Or we could make a coppery-colored egg if we made it out of copper.”

Shute’s characters often sound incredibly stupid and dull when they talk—instead of using narrative license to improve dialogue, he makes it as bald and dopey as possible. Keith’s wife, Katie, although by her actions revealed as nurturing and sensible, comes across as intellectually limited. The novel is also marred by Shute’s unconscious racism and anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, he’s kind to his characters and his readers–somebody on the Nevil Shute site pointed out that in his later books there are no enemies, or even unhelpful people—all the conflict is situational. It’s a feel-good read with a very satisfactory ending.

Re-read — third or fourth, probably first read in the mid-80s to early 90s. I came to Shute not by way of On the Beach (his most famous book, not one of my favorites) or even A Town Like Alice (made into a popular TV miniseries, and is one of my favorites) but through my dad’s love for Round the Bend, which I first read as a teenager.


For almost a year I wrestled with the horrible Blogger/FTP-to-my-own-server “001 Connection timed out” issue off and on (the wrestling was off and on; the problem was continuous). Clearly something changed overnight and the Blogger people were no help, but I do think I got myself all mixed around and MAYBE at some point it was related to my archives path… at any rate I have SFTP working as of yesterday and I’m not looking back. (I even went to the trouble of installing WordPress but have to merge the three blogs, or at least the two active ones, plus having to publish everything to Blogspot, including all the many posts I had in draft at that point, was the final hump I didn’t muster the energy to get over. And I like Blogger’s interface very much. It’s unfortunate that it’s the worst of both worlds, as I mentioned here.)

At any rate, I didn’t do the book blog thing for a long time and have just caught up with bare-bones listings (probably quite a few things fell between the cracks as well). Part of it was doing reviews for The Bridge (Binghamton’s independent media quarterly, which doesn’t have a web presence yet, alas), which killed a lot of my motivation to do it on my own. Writing briefly for Blogcritics did that too, unfortunately. But I guess it’s worth continuing for my own sake. I’ve thought about reserving “real” reviews for just some new-to-me books, and quirkier notes for re-reads… we’ll see. Right now I’m on a Nevil Shute kick and only one behind!

everything else up until now

Adams, Richard:
The Girl in a Swing, 1980 – One of my all-time favorites. A+
Maia, 1984 – ditto, although in some ways too self-indulgent. A+

Binchy, Maeve
The Copper Beech, 1992 – B+
The Lilac Bus: Stories, 1992 (originally two novels, 1982 and 1984) – A-. The first Binchy I ever read and still one of my favorites.

Blyton, Enid – Third Year at Malory Towers, 1948 – C+

Card, Orson Scott:
The Folk of the Fringe, 1989 – B-
Lost Boys, 1992 – A-

Collins, Wilkie – The Moonstone, 1868 – B. Funny and well-written, but I had forgotten how unbelievable the plot is.

Cross, Amanda, In the Last Analysis, 1964 – B.

Curtis, Christopher Paul – Bucking the Sarge, 2004. The ending isn’t very satisfactory, but Curtis is still one of the best new writers for kids out there. B+

Delafield, E. M. – The Diary of a Provincial Lady, 1931 – A

DiCamillo, Kate – The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – 2006. B+

Durrell, Gerald – The Bafut Beagles, 1954 – B+. I idolized Durrell as a child, but some of his attitudes are a little hard to take now.

Eager, Edward:
Half Magic – 1954 – A
Knight’s Castle – 1956 – A
Magic By the Lake – 1957 – A-
Seven-Day Magic – 1962 – A-

Enss, Chris – Hearts West : True Stories of Mail Order Brides on the Frontier – 2005. Slight, but interesting because of the primary source letters and advertisements included. B-

Finney, Jack
Assault on a Queen, 1959 – B-. My least favorite Finney; grim and devoid of his usual quirkiness. I think I’ll get rid of it.
Forgotten News: The Crime of the Century and Other Lost Stories, 1983 – B+

Gorey, Edward
Amphigorey – 1972
Amphigorey II – 1975
Like nothing else, but don’t have nearly the appeal to me now they did when I was a teenager.

Grove, Andrew S. – One on One With Andy Grove: How to Manage Your Boss, Yourself and Your Coworkers, 1987 – B+. Lots of decent common sense.

Henry, Marguerite – King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian, 1948 – A-

Horne, S. Hamill – Camp Choconut : a history of the boys’ camp near Friendsville, Pennsylvania – 2005. Just a few miles from our house, so I was interested. Cool to hear about created traditions that work–“heads and heels,” “the Villa Hunt,” “the Blinded Wanderer.” B

Jansson, Tove – Moonminvalley in November – 1971 – B. No Moomins in this one, just their long shadows as Snufkin, the Hemulen, the fillyjonk and a few new characters move into the Moomin house.

Kipling, Rudyard:
The Complete Stalky & Co. – 1930 – B+. Some stories that weren’t in my Stalky as a teen. I idolized Stalky. Now a lot of it is either opaque or offensive.
The Jungle Book – 1894 – A
Kim, 1901 – A
The Second Jungle Book – 1895 – A (“Red Dog” was always one of my favorite stories; doesn’t hold up quite that well anymore…)

Lang, Andrew (editor) – The Green Fairy Book – 1892 – A. Introduced by saying “this is … probably the last of the Fairy Books of many colors.” Ha! Like comic books (and music to a certain extent), it seems that the exemplars I was exposed to at a formative age have much the strongest hold on my imagination and emotions–this, Flora Steel’s English Fairy Tales, the single-volume Grimm and selection of Hans Christian Anderson tales are THE fairy stories for me still.

LeGuin, Ursula
The Lathe of Heaven, 1971 – A+. A perfect novel.
The Telling – 2000 – A. I have bookmarks in it for quotes I wanted to repeat. Will read again within a few years.
Very Far Away From Anywhere Else – 1976 – B+

Levin, Ira – A Kiss Before Dying – 1953 – Suspense classic. B+

Libbrecht, Kenneth; photos by Patricia Rasmussen – The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty – 2003. Amazing. A

McCaffrey, Anne – Crystal Singer, 1982 – B. Wonderful descriptions of food!

Mitford, Nancy – The Blessing, 1951 – A+. Brilliant and very funny; I’ve read it many times since I was a teenager, and it never gets old.

Montgomery, Sy – The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood – 2006. B

Nabokov, Vladimir (edited by Alfred Appel Jr) – The Annotated Lolita – 1991 – Novel A+, annotations B.

Nesbit, E: (Edith):
The Book of Dragons – Watermill edition 1987 – B
The Enchanted Castle – 1907 – A+
Five Children and It – 1902 – A+
The Phoenix and the Carpet – 1904 – A+
The New Treasure Seekers – 1904 – B-
The Railway Children – ? – B+. Only now do I see the problem of this family’s toxic secret hiding…
The Story of the Amulet – c 1901, first published 1906 – A

Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories – 1994; A Treasury of Modern Fantasy – ed. Carr and Greenberg – 1981. I read every word of these so I could give them away without that sense of missing something… and now I have no memory of them whatsoever. But they have authors I’d like to be complete on, like A. Merritt and Jack Vance, so now I want to keep them… at this rate I will never shrink my collection!

Nichols, Beverley – No Man’s Street, 1954 – B. Nichols was quite a hack, so it’s not suprising that this doesn’t have as much flavor as his garden memoirs (what he really loved). Too bad, though–I was very excited to find this at an estate sale for a buck!

Parker, Richard – The House that Guilda Drew – 1963 – B. In Australia, Guilda and her family finally find a house to live in.

Peddiwell, J. Abner – The Saber-Tooth Curriculum – 1939 – Brilliant! A-

Roach, Mary – Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – 2003. Fascinating book and wonderful attitude: to want to be useful after one’s death. A-

Schulz, Charles M. – Young Pillars: The Creator of Peanuts Takes a Look At Young Church People – 1958 – C+. A curiosity I’m getting rid of now. Take Linus and stretch him to six feet tall, then give him a one-panel strip with very, very weak jokes…

Sedaris, David – Me Talk Pretty One Day – 2000. B+

Strieber, Whitley and James Kunetka
Nature’s End, 1986 – A-
War Day – 1984 – A-

Tannen, Deborah – You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation – 2006. Tannen is always wonderful. A-

Voltaire – Candide (edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent, 1963). Since the 2004 elections, I’ve been feeling like all I can do is cultivate my garden…

Hilary’s childhood collection

Proto-librarian at work: I put paper spine labels on my favorite books (how old was I? ten or eleven?), ordering them by how much I liked them, I think. Here are the ones I still have:

#2 : My Side of the Mountain by Jean George (1959)
#7: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)
#8: Stuart Little by E. B. White (1945)
#9: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
#11: Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke (1963)
#12: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967)
#13: Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (1947)
#14: Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry (1953)
#15: A Book of Bosh: Lyrics and Prose of Edward Lear, chosen by Brian Alderson (1975) – just added 11/26/2020, it must have turned up when we moved
#16: Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (1934)

I think Heritage of the Star by Sylvia Engdahl (1973) was #1. I re-bought my original edition but don’t have the same copy. Edited in 2020 to add: I do still have my copy of Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg (1967 – inscribed to me because my aunt went to a reading), which I’m quite sure was originally labeled and would have been somewhere in the first ten because I liked it better than Mixed-Up Files.