ON NOT BEING A CULTURE SNOB

I read a post about how dreadful (yet gripping) romance novels can be. It’s true. They are the potato chips of the literary world. Bet you can’t consume just one! Even if you don’t like them (and mostly, I don’t, much), they grab you and won’t let you go, even though you know in advance exactly what is going to happen, pretty much from the opening page.

That’s not the point of these books. If as a girl, you read the back of cereal boxes, romance novels are the next step up. I’m not sure what the literary equivalent is for guys, but I’m sure there is one.

netflix for books

As the former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I can tell you our research showed readers of romance novels to be far better educated than average readers. Many have advanced degrees in the sciences. They read romance novels exactly because they are mindless pulp. They aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down. If life gets in the way, they can just forget them without regret.

I read each 3-book volume, one per month. It contained three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would like, people don’t necessarily read books because they are good. Me? I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where the book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it.

Why? Too depressing, too intense, too serious, too ugly, too educational. Too real. I read for the same reasons I watch TV and movies. To be entertained. I am not seeking enlightenment. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many books. Enough genres, themes, and styles for anyone. Everyone. An infinity of literature so no matter what your taste –low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too. Snobs take the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s fine. Since I love reading about vampires and witches, I’d be a hypocrite to act like your taste is somehow inferior to mine.

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for serious literature. Tastes change with the years. Mine has changed more than most. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I am happy to escape from reality.

Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise in every way that counted — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in his books. I believe for him, there was.

ALL TECHNOLOGY IS MAGIC — WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

CLARKE’S THREE LAWS OF PREDICTION

NASA's own time machine

NASA’s own time machine

Formulated by the British author Arthur C. Clarke, these three laws — especially the last one — are accepted as science fiction “fact.”

Clarke’s three laws are so ubiquitous in the literature, they are (with Asimov’s laws of robotry), the basis of many stories by a wide spectrum of authors in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

For your enlightenment:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Murphy’s Corollary to Clarke’s Law: Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

TO RIDE FREE WITH THE WIND

Fourth Wall – You get to spend a day inside your favorite movie. Tell us which one it is — and what happens to you while you’re there.


NO ANIMAL IS HARMED OR HURT. NOTHING BAD HAPPENS TO ANY ANIMAL DURING THIS MOVIE (OR IN ANY OF THE BOOKS, EITHER). IT’S ALL GOOD, ALL HAPPY ENDINGS. PHEW!


I grew up yearning for a horse and devoured any book about them. My favorites books were the Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. I probably read the book so many times its cover fell apart.

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All through my childhood, Walter Farley wrote a steady stream of new Black Stallion books  – and I read every one of them. About his colts and fillies. About Alec Ramsey, who grew from a teenage boy to a man in the course of the series. Of Henry Daily, the old horse trainer whose career is revived by his accidental encounter with Alec and The Black. Many stories, as the years went on, were about the racing stable Alex and Henry build in upstate New York for which The Black was the founding stud. To this day, I know more about horses and horse racing than most people … because Walter Farley told me all about it in book after book.

Throughout my young years, I wished they would make The Black Stallion into a movie. I wanted to see The Black, to see Alec ride him. To see him come from behind and become the greatest horse to ever run on a track. I was bewitched by horses and was convinced I would need nothing else in this life if I had a horse.

bucephalus

Oddly, the great Secretariat’s real accomplishments — winning the Triple Crown in 1973 — remarkably mirrored those of the fictional Black. Watching Secretariat’s career — in the real world — made up for never having seen The Black race.

I never got a horse. Gradually real life overtook my fantasy life. College, work, husband, baby, home, friends replaced dreams of riding bareback on the greatest stallion of them all.

But the magic wasn’t over me because in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola made the movie I’d yearned for since childhood. He based the movie, The Black Stallion, on the first of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, the one he wrote in 1941. In making the movie, they changed the story some. This would have made me crazy as a kid, but by the time I saw the movie — in an old theater in Jerusalem, Israel — I was a 30-year-old mother living overseas and able to cope with relatively minor digressions from the original tale.

Last night, Turner Classic Movies showed The Black Stallion. Again. I’ve seen it before, obviously. Many times. Every time I see it, it is seeing it for the first time as I am swept away to a desert island for the adventure of a lifetime. Even if you aren’t a great horse lover, the score and the cinematography are so extraordinary, the movie is like a dream. They set the story in its original time period, the early 1940s which helps augment the dreamlike effect.

Black Stallion Beach.jpg

I want to be on that island with The Black. To ride him along the edge of the ocean, free from everything but the sun, the wind, the sand beneath my horse’s pounding hoofs. I would give a lot for just one day to live that dream.

As a movie, The Black Stallion is stunning. It’s a paean to horses, nature, and overcoming adversity. You don’t have to be a kid. It also contains the least dialogue of any movie since the talkies took over Hollywood. Director Carroll Ballard tells the story with luscious cinematography combined with a breathtaking soundtrack … music fusing with images to wrench your heart.

If you love animals and especially horses, this is a movie you must see. If you have seen it, see it again. Let it sweep you away to that island and a world out of time.

WANDERING SENIOR WITH BOOK

Verbal Confirmation – To be, to have, to think, to move — which of these verbs is the one you feel most connected to? Or is there another verb that characterizes you better?


Confused. That would be my verb-du-jour. Except it’s not a verb. Maybe I am not a verb at all. Maybe I’m a noun or — heaven forbid — an adverb or an adjective! Horrors!

Take last night.

I recently read Gretchen Archer’s most recent book. It has not yet been released. Due out October 24th. Double Strike (A Davis Way Crime Caper Book 3) is really great … definitely the best yet and I loved the first two books, so I really adored this most recent one.

I haven’t reviewed it yet because it’s a bit early. I don’t like to review unreleased books longer than a week before they become available. I want people to be able to actually buy the book, not have to wait a month or two before it’s ready to be downloaded or ordered.

I’d been keeping the book on the end table next my recliner. This is where I spend most of my waking time. I have a laptop here, Garry sits next to me (he has his own laptop). And there’s the big TV, a good little CD player in case we want music. Robby the Robot in case we need entertainment … and usually a bouquet of  flowers because my husband is a peach.

I decided to put Double Strike in the bookcase in the office where I have all Gretchen’s other books and mementos.

I picked up the book. I fully intended to take it to the bookcase until I realized another book was missing … one I was planning to take with me and read on vacation next week. It wasn’t where I thought it should be, so I went to the office, thinking maybe I left it on my desk, or in the other office — might I have put in the bookcase? How about the bedroom, with the miscellaneous books and CDs I’m planning to listen to or read?

This other book — Savior by Martha Kennedy — was in none of these places and I started to panic. What could I have done with it? The older I get, the more absent-minded I become. I kept looking until I realized I was looking right at it. I had put it — because Martha and I share a passion for Robby the Robot — right next to Robby on the coffee table. Logical, in a non-linear way.

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That was when I realized I had no idea where I’d put Gretchen’s book. I’d had it in hand when I got up because my initial mission was to put it in a safer place, but I’d gotten distracted looking for Martha’s book … and obviously had put it down somewhere.

Where did I leave it? I had been in 5 different rooms and the hallway. I started in the living room, went to my office. Then down the hall to Garry’s office, where we have the big bookcases. From there, I went to our bedroom — with a quick side trip to the bathroom. I had stopped, made the bed, decided to change into my big tee-shirt because it was late and I was tired of elastic.

I then went back to the living room and watched some TV with Garry. The newest NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans (I think that’s going to be a keeper) and The Black List (another favorite). We record everything because zapping the commercials is so satisfying.

Now, it was bedtime. I gathered up my Kindle, my cup of juice, my bag of medications and a protein bar. Down the hall to the bedroom. Which was when I realized I had no idea where I put Double Strike. I retraced my steps to the best of my ability, but couldn’t find it anywhere. I knew it had to be in the house because I hadn’t left the house. I had put it down somewhere en route to somewhere else.

Eventually I found it. It was on the keyboard of the electric organ. Under Garry’s copy of Malkin’s movie references. I don’t want to think about how it got there. I picked it up, gave it a little kiss because I was so very glad to see it, then took it to the bookcase. Where, after rearranging a few things to make room for it, it has finally gone to live where I originally meant to put it.

You ask me about verbs? Verbs? Moi?

Color me befuddled. Confused. Is there a verb for that? As in … to be or not to be?