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Kiosk books are starting a new chapter in their shelf lives

For those of us who love them, some books are all but impossible to dispose of … um, part with … no, say farewell to … hmm, how do I finish this sentence without ending with a preposition?

OK, so I cheated.

One option that has popped up in some neighborhoods is small book-swap kiosks that contain titles your friends and neighbors wish to share. A brief inventory of two such kiosks revealed what you’d pretty much expect — mysteries and thrillers, romance novels and self-help guides — and some titles that could stretch the diversity of your reading habits.

There was “Out On A Limb,” the autobiography of actress Shirley MacLaine, well known for her belief in the multiple lives she’s lived; “The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner,” about a young vampire in the Twilight Saga vein; and “Looking For A Miracle,” about a paralyzed woman struggling to cope with the expectations of her Amish community.

Also offered up were a copy of “As You Like It,” a travel guide for Virginia, historical non-fiction looks at Napoleon and the Restoration and, of course, “Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder: The Magical Fruit” — the cover for which depicts a young boy playing soccer using an ingenious gas-propulsion technique.

This got me to thinking (always a bad idea) as to which books I’d leave inside to share.

“Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (C.S. Lewis) — My grandmother had this painting of a country road, fences on either side, with apple trees as a canopy. As a kid, I used to imagine what awaited just out of view. “Dawn Treader,” the third (and, to my mind, the best) in Lewis’ Narnia series starts with a similar inviting image and launches into an epic adventure. It also includes one of the series's great subsidiary characters — the insufferable, and perfectly named, Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

“How I Came West, And Why I Stayed” (Alison Baker) — I’m a sucker for short stories, particularly those where the everyday world is seen from an off-kilter perspective. Baker’s best-known title is “Loving Wanda Beaver,” but “How I Came West” grabs you from the title story … when a woman walks into a saloon looking for cheerleaders: “… if one listens carefully on a snowy crystalline night, one may hear their faint and distant call: ‘Give me an A.’”

“Louisiana Power & Light” (John Dufresne) — If Baker’s stories are off-kilter, then Dufresne’s family saga is upside-down and inside-out. “There’s bad water in the gene pool of the Fontanas,” he warns us right from the start, so when sole-surviving Billy Wayne tries to follow his religious calling, you know things aren’t going to end well. Still, you don’t stop reading.

“Song” (Brigit Pegeen Kelly) — The late prize-winning poet produced just three full collections and four chapbooks, but her imagery and emotional depth stays with anyone who ever reads her work. Nowhere is this more clear than in the title poem of this collection; it’s a haunting mini-drama of pace and sounds … with the “Song” in question an image you’ll not soon forget.

“On Writing” (Stephen King) — If you’re one of those who have put King into a box labeled “Not Worth My Time,” then I’m not sure we can be friends. But even if you have little use for the freight-master’s oeuvre, you’re missing out if you don’t take in this humanizing, intimate effort … which is part autobiography and part advice guide for those who want to stop ending sentences with prepositions.

“Foul Matter” / “The Way Of All Fish” (Martha Grimes) — If I were to choose a single mystery, it would be “Trust Me On This,” Donald E. Westlake’s comic romp through the world of tabloid journalism. But I couldn’t resist picking these two Grimes novels, which create a surprising guffaw-inducing depiction of backstabbing and ulterior motives in the book-publishing business (with heroic hit men, to boot).

“How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” (Pierre Bayard) — Whether in a classroom or at a dinner party, we’ve all been there: Trapped in a conversation about a book we haven’t read, a movie we haven’t seen, or a song we’ve never heard. This subversive how-to guide delves into the best ways to escape such jams. At least, I think it does … I own it, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it.

Of course, since we're just putting books in a hypothetical kiosk, they won't be available to choose from ... aaarrrggghhh!

— Mail Tribune copy editor Robert Galvin came West with half as many books as he has now. Reach him at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.

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