Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Using Kindle as a Tool for Learning Another Language

I have struggled with learning Spanish, mostly on my own, for a number of years. I know there is no substitute for immersion for really learning to speak another language fluently, but lacking the time and money to do so, I have tried a number of things.

I started with a set of cassettes from a Diplomatic course that wasn't particularly helpful except for learning pronunciation by mimicry. Then I tried a wonderful course by The in-house and personal lessons by phone were too expensive, though, so I purchased the first 3 levels of the Spanish Power self-study CDs and lesson books. Their system of learning is excellent for attaining a basic vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and verb conjugation. I quickly learned that I needed to work on my verbal skills, so I signed up for some reasonably priced night classes at a local language academy. It was a big help and a lot of fun, but unfortunately the academy went out of business. So now I am back on my own, although I occasionally find a Spanish Meetup group that is helpful in practicing conversional skills.

Self-study of Spanish grammar and other learning books got very boring and not very motivating. I bought a few dual language books where you have Spanish on one side of a page and English on the other. Such books are hard to find and are usually geared toward grade school learners. I bought a few young adult books in Spanish as well, however, looking up unknown vocabulary was time consuming and tedious.

Then I purchased a Kindle, mainly because of its ability to do on-the-spot word translations. This has kept me interested for sure. I can now find books in Spanish that I enjoy and are at the adult reading level. My latest Kindle is the Paperwhite which goes a step further. You can translate a word or a phrase. Often you will find that a single translated word does not seem to fit the context of the sentence. In such cases, you can highlight and translate the whole sentence surrounding the word and get a better understanding. With the help of people who are multilingual that contribute to the Google Translate engine, the translations are getting better and better. Reading Spanish books on the Kindle has definitely proved invaluable in increasing and fermenting my vocabulary.

I still hope one day that I can travel to a country where I can immerse myself and speak Spanish every day, but until then, reading in Spanish every day on my Kindle is enough for me.

UPDATE: Language translations also work beautifully on the Kindle Fire tablet

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Sculptures

Recently I came across a web site with wonderful book art; very original. Jodi Harvey-Brown definitely has a talent for bringing a story to life, literally out of the pages of a book. To quote Jodi from her web site (
"I have always loved art, and I have always loved to read.  Books pull you into a new world, while art lets you see it.  It made sense to me that these two mediums should come together.  The books that we love to read should be made to come to life.  Characters, that we care so much for, should come out of the pages to show us their stories.  What we see in our imaginations as we read should be there for the world to see.  My book sculptures are my way of making stories come alive. "
Check out her gallery of book sculptures.  Here are some of my favorites - of course the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn creation tops my list:

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

Little Red Riding Hood

Pandora's Box

Treasure Island

Jodi sells her creations on Esty.  She will create a drawing or sculpture from your personal experience of a book as well. The best of luck to you Jodi.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hardcover versus Paperback versus Audio Book versus eBook

There are some who say that audio books and eBooks will eventually replace hardcover and paperback books. It is true that in 2011, eBooks outsold, for the first time, all other formats in the categories of adult fiction and children’s/young adult titles according to the Association of American Publishers. Audio books have gained momentum as well. But in 2013, the sale of eBooks had a lower increase than expected. Paper books still outsold eBooks in all categories combined (557 million hardcovers versus 457 eBooks). People who love to read seem to want to have all book mediums available to them.

Aside from the numbers, book publishers won’t be forgoing hardcover books any time soon. They know that seeing a new book with eye-catching art work in a brick and mortar store is still a viable way to get the consumer’s attention.

Regarding paperback books, their role has changed from the publisher’s perspective. They used to be targeted toward consumers looking for a cheaper alternative to the hardcover book. Today however, the cheaper alternative is the eBook. So now the paperback is used to re-launch a book with a new cover in order take another shot at grabbing the consumer’s attention.

From the consumer’s perspective, there are different reasons from the book publishers as to why printed books are here to stay, at least for now. Sure eBooks on your favorite mobile device are the most convenient when traveling for obvious reasons. And procuring new books downloaded to your device is a snap. Audio books are the easiest for people doing a lot of driving or for people multi-tasking during an exercise workout. But there is just something about having a book you can hold, flip through the pages and admire on a book shelf; a reminder to the journey that it took you on. Collectible books, too, will always have an appeal. That dusty leather-bound vintage book has a certain smell, a certain wonder of the places it has been, the hands that have held it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Juvenile Blue Bird

We found this bird under a tree on its back and unable to move. Setting it upright resulted in it falling over initially. After I worked its legs manually, it was able to move the right leg on its own. I moved him away from potential predators and continued monitoring it throughout the day. It wouldn't take water or crushed strawberries, but it got stronger and stronger on its own. First it was able to perch, then later hop a little. During the last perch session, it sang for me. I moved it out into the open and it flew away to the closest tree, yea!  Bye, Bye Blue Bird. I hope it makes it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mark Twain's Quick Thinking Saved Old Man Hankinson

This is an old, clipped newspaper article (newspaper unknown and date unknown) titled and sub-titled:
    Humorist, Tired of Listening to Series of Remarkable Stories, Rose to the Occasion.

Here is the content of the article:

A naval officer said at a banquet in New York:
“Some of the war stories that I hear remind me of Mark Twain.  Mark, you know, once sat in the smoking room of a steamer and listened for an hour or two to some remarkable lies.  Then he drawled:"

'"Boys, these feats of yours that you’ve been telling about recall an adventure of my own in Hannibal.  There was a fire in Hannibal one night, and old man Hankinson got caught in the fourth story of the burning house.   It looked as if he was a goner.  None of the ladders was long enough to reach him.  The crowd stared at one another with awed eyes.  Nobody could think of anything to do.  Then all of a sudden, boys, an idea occurred to me.  “Fetch me a rope!” I yelled.  Somebody fetched a rope, and with great presence of mind I flung the end of it up to the old man.  “Tie her round your waist!” I yelled.  Old man Hankinson did so and I pulled him down.’”

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Real Huck Finn??

For as long as I can recall, it has been my understanding that the real inspiration for Mark Twain’s character, Huckleberry Finn, was a childhood companion by the name of Tom Blankenship.  Yes, I have read that in an 1885 interview Twain stated that Huck Finn was not based on any one person, but was a composite of several.  However, in Mark Twain’s Autobiography Twain said, “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was.  He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.”  Tom Blankenship has long been stored in my mind as the real Huck Finn.
Recently I obtained a stack of old papers related to Mark Twain – a couple of advertising pamphlets, some clipped magazine ads, and some clipped newspaper articles.  One of the articles was titled “Huckleberry” Finn is Oregon Fisherman Now.  I read the article and was somewhat confounded.  According to this the real Huckleberry Finn was a man named B. F. Finn.  I have included a scan so that those wishing to read the article can do so.  Click on the image to enlarge it.  Then click the white X in the upper right hand corner within the black-framed area to return.

The article was clipped.  The newspaper was not identified and the date was not given.  I wanted to know more, so I began searching on the internet and came across this article apparently from the Sunday Oregonian, March 15, 1915.  It was very similar to the clipped article I have, but with some differences.  The Oregonian article states that the subject, B. F. Finn, is 90 years old.  My article says he is 92, so it may have been printed a couple of years later.  The pictures of him from the two articles are different, but it looks as though he is wearing the same clothes and carrying the same stick.

Some interesting points from the articles include:

  • B. F. Finn grew up near Samuel Clemens and remembered him well.  However he says that he and the other boyhood chums called Clemens “Charley”.  Throughout the article he refers to Clemens as “Charley”.  One of the articles states about Finn, “he tells of his boyhood days on the Missouri farm, near that of Clemmens.”  It does not say where in MissouriFlorida, Hannibal, or elsewhere.

  • B. F. Finn was not called Huckleberry when he was a boy.  That came later.  According to the articles a “Huckleberry” was someone on a boat who was charged with keeping fisticuffs to a minimum by breaking in and ending them when they erupted.  B. F. Finn held this position at some point during his riverboat days and became known as Huckleberry Finn.

  • B. F. Finn talks about the times he, Charley Clemens, and Tom Sawyer were on riverboats together.  There is no explanation given as to whether or not there is any connection to this Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer.  The matter is not addressed.

  • Finn refers to two ships in his discussions – the Shotwell and the Gray Eagle.  The Shotwell was commanded by a Captain Hall and at one time held the record for fastest time from New Orleans to St. Louis.  Supposedly around that time Clemens was one of the pilots of the Shotwell, and Finn was the first mate.  Later, Clemens, Finn, and Sawyer went in together and bought the Gray Eagle.  Two years later, they bet Captain Hall they could beat him to St. Louis, and they did so by a wide margin.

I have done at least a minimal amount of research to see if I could verify the stories.  I found several listings of the steamboats that Clemens piloted, and none included the Shotwell or the Gray Eagle.  I found a reference to a race between a boat called the Eclipse and the Shotwell.  Twain talks about these two boats in Life on the Mississippi, Chapter 16, Racing Days (see paragraphs 4 and 12), but does not say that he was ever on either of them.

From the Steamboat Times website, which cites as a source Old times on the Mississippi:  reflections of a steamboat pilot, by George Byron Merrick, I also found that there was a well-known race of sorts between the Itasca and the Grey Eagle.  Twain was not involved.  B. F. Finn and Tom Sawyer are not mentioned.  The Grey Eagle of this race is spelled with an “e” in Grey (except for once) whereas in the articles about B. F. Finn, it is spelled with an “a”.  Still it is reasonable to think the same boat is being referenced.  The time frame of the mid-1850’s leading up to about 1860 seems to fit.

The Steamboat Times states, “Captain D. Smith Harris had, the year before, brought out the “Grey Eagle", which had been built at Cincinnati at a cost of $60,000.”  The year would have been 1855.  The newspaper article states, according to Finn, that he, Clemens, and Sawyer bought the boat for $9,000 and later were paid $12,000 for it.

So, was B. F. Finn the real Huckleberry Finn?  To me, it seems very doubtful.  I could find no mention of him by Samuel Clemens, though my search was far from exhaustive.  This is pure speculation, but the thought comes to me that B. F. Finn, being 90+ years old, could have been confused about certain facts at the time the articles were written.  He may have been a “huckleberry” on a riverboat at one time and may have been given the nickname of Huckleberry Finn.  He may have known a Charley Clemens.  Likely he had spent time on the river.  He may have been on one or more of the boats mentioned.  Samuel Clemens may have even known him or of him and the name may have influenced the name of his character, or it may have been coincidence.  It’s hard to say.

For now, with lack of further evidence, I will continue to consider Tom Blankenship to be the real Huck Finn, but I would like to know more about B. F. Finn and the life he led, particularly on the Mississippi River.

I would appreciate comments from anyone who knows anything that can shed more light on this topic.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tips on Determining the Value of Your Books - From John Dunning

The following is a reprint from the Bookscout's Corner on with permission from John Dunning.
  1. Desirability: Judging value of a book starts with the subject matter. If the book does not have anything of value to say, then no one will want it. For example many people still have in their attics old novels from the late 19th and early 20th century that may have been popular fiction at the time, but no one cares about anymore. Age alone does not make a book valuable.   
  2. Rarity. Books are subject to the same laws of supply and demand as any other goods. If there is only one copy of a book but no one is interested in purchasing it, then it will have no value. However if two or more people want that book, then the price will increase to whatever the market will bear.  
  3. Edition. Usually only the first or limited editions are collectible. However, a later edition that contains important new information may be preferred in some cases. You need to be able to properly determine which edition you have by learning to read the title and copyright pages. It is also important to have the dust jacket, with its original price intact, to properly identify the edition. Books listed below can help.
  4. Condition. A most important determinant of value. Both book and dust jacket are considered and need to be in the best possible condition. This includes no ink or crayon marks, previous owner's names, bookplates, or embossers. A book worth $500 in fine condition may be worth next to nothing if it is frayed, soiled, or broken. Also the book must be complete in all its parts including dust jacket if there was one, pictures, endpapers and title page, etc. 
  5. Signatures. An inscription or signature by the author can increase the value of a book, especially in cases where the author is known to have signed very few books. Some author's signatures are plentiful or inconsquential and will do little to raise the price of a book.  
  6. Association copies. The term "association" is applied to any book which is verifiably associated with another famous person. For example, William Faulkner might have inscribed a book to F. Scott Fitgerald, or a book might contain the bookplate of a famous collector. 
  7. Binding. The original binding is preferable to any rebinding unless the original binding was so worn as to defy restoration. A rebound book may be valuable as a work of art, and on some early books the bindings were done after the book was sold in parts, so there may be different bindings of a first edition by different bookbinders.
Here are examples of some good reference books for collectors and book dealers.
  •  "A Collectors' Guide to First Editions" by Allan and Patricia Ahearn has been replaced by "Collected Books 2002: The Guide to Values". It has a wealth of information for collectors as well as the approximate prices for thousands of collectible books.
  • A great magazine for collectors is Firsts Magazine which is published nine times a year. It has very informative articles on collectible books and authors, information on collecting, binding, condition standards, and links to many major book dealers. Click here for their website Firsts.
For books you can't find here, other sites include,,, and We don't recommend ebay unless you have researched the details of what you want before bidding. Many people sell on ebay (as well as other sites) that don't know how to properly identify edition, condition, etc.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

    Booked to Die - My First Collectible Book Purchase

    I didn’t read books unless I had to for school assignments, until I met Steve.  Not long after we started dating, Steve encouraged me to read a few books that he enjoyed and opened me up to a whole new world. 

    Then not long after we married, he took book appreciation to a new level.  He started learning all about first editions and what makes a book collectible. His collection grew slowly for a number of years.  Every now and then Steve would take me to a book fair where he would wade through stacks and rows of books, looking for a gem.  This was before the Internet which has made book scouting so much easier and sadly, has taken away some of the thrill of the hunt. I will never know as much as Steve when it comes to book collecting, but I remember one book fair where I made my first of only a few collectible book purchases.

    I was always overwhelmed at the book fairs. There were so many books I didn’t know where to start.  Often when I did focus on one of interest, I didn’t have enough confidence in my knowledge to commit.  But shortly before “my first purchase” book fair, Steve had recommended a book for me to read.

    It was “Booked to Die” written by John Dunning in 1992.  I loved the book!  It’s the first book of 5 following Cliff Janeway, a Denver cop who retires and becomes the owner of a rare book store. It is a murder mystery deeply entrenched in the world of book scouting. Not only is it a good page-turner, but it is also great for learning about book collecting and has some really nice quotable lines about the value of books, rare or otherwise.  I learned a lot from “Booked to Die” which I’m sure contributed to my wanting to try out my new-found courage in scouting for a collectible book.

    2 weeks after reading the book, I spotted a first edition of “Booked to Die” at a book fair in Atlanta. Since it was my first “first” find, I was nervous haggling with the bookseller, but we finally agreed on a price.  Proud of my purchase, I decided to write the author to tell him how much his book inspired me and to ask his opinion of my transaction.  To my amazement, John Dunning wrote back! His response was thoughtfully worded and typed on an old manual typewriter, what he calls “an honest machine”.

    He also included a book mark from his now-closed The Old Algonquin Bookstore. On the back of it, he handwrote Cliff Janeway references, crude drawings of a face and boll weevil, and his signature.   I cherish these mementos which I keep with my copy of “Booked to Die”.  

    I’m very grateful that Mr. Dunning took time out from his busy writing schedule to share some of his knowledge with me.  The last I heard, he still maintains his on-line bookstore (

    John Dunning has written other noteworthy books, one of which is another favorite of mine.  I still highly recommend the Cliff Janeway books, but if you get a chance, take a look at “Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime”. It’s a thriller intertwined with a wonderful history of radio in the 1940’s. 

    Thursday, January 31, 2013

    The Town of Books, Hay-on-Wye

    Anyone who loves looking at collectible books or out-of-print books would also love a trip to the town of books, Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Actually, most of the town is in Wales, but eastern parts of it do reach over into England.

    Books are a year-round feature throughout the town, but once a year for 10 days starting at the end of May, Hay-on-Wye hosts the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts. Hundreds of events take place around the tented festival village highlighting writers, poets, comedians, philosophers, musicians and much more.