A LIBRARY LESSON – RICH PASCHALL

A Reading from the Book of Harry Potter by Harold, an organized man

All morning it sat on the table calling to him in a fantastical sort of way and Harold did his best to ignore it. It wasn’t really “calling” of course, but Harold could not get “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” out of his mind. It was the library copy that kept stealing his attention and he was tempted to head out to the library a bit early to resume the tale. He knew leaving early was unacceptable to his schedule, so the story of the boy wizard would just have to wait until early afternoon.

He picked up the copy on Tuesday and after reading a little of the book, brought it home so he would have it for the next library day. Now that Thursday had come around, he could not help himself but feel a little anxious to resume what he had always considered a children’s book. Most of Harold’s library time had been dedicated to technical manuals and other works of non-fiction but some impulse pushed Harold off course and now he was reading a fantasy. He hoped his library visit would only be filled with adventures of wizards found on the pages of the J.K. Rowling novel and nothing more.

When the appointed hour came and Harold was satisfied that everything was organized and properly put away, he grabbed the library book and headed for his car. Before he got in, he shot a quick glance down the street in search of his neighbor, Bill, another assassin of his time schedule. The street was absent of people as the Florida heat and humidity were on the rise.

Harold was fortunate to find a spot very close to the front entrance of the town library. He was pleased with his good fortune as he hurried through the heat and into the comfort of cool temperatures and rooms full of books. There were some empty tables and chairs as well as a few oversized comfortable chairs alongside small tables. Convinced he would be relaxed at one of the tables, Harold went and picked out a seat. Relaxed was not actually a term that fit Harold, nevertheless that is how he would see most of his choices.

His library card was acting as his bookmark and Harold found the next chapter, “The Journey From Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.” Everything he read up to this point must have just been background material. Now he thought the real adventure was about to begin. He had barely read one page when he felt the presence of someone at the table, sitting directly across from him. He looked up to see who it might be, only to discover a small boy.

The boy smiled at Harold before our well-organized man and lord of the library realized it was the same boy who sat down by him just two days earlier. “I am trying to read, young man,” Harold said to the little one. The boy just nodded with a quizzical look attached to his face. “Well, do you mind?” Harold added and the boy just shook his head.

“Shhhhhhh!” The librarian rebuked Harold for talking. He was now left with nothing to say as the little boy stared at the picture of Harry Potter flying on a broom as shown on the front cover of the book, and Harold stared at him. “What now?” he thought. The little one wasn’t actually do anything and he certainly was quiet so Harold thought he would just continue despite the intrusive stares of the child.

Harry_Potter_british_booksThe small drama was not unnoticed by the librarian’s assistant who sought to be helpful. She came over to the Harold and whispered, “You and your little one can go into the children’s reading room, if you like. I can get the key and open the door for you.” Off to one side was a room of children’s books and toys.  The wall that faced the librarian’s desk was glass on the top half so everyone could see in. It had been used for a variety of activities until there were budget cutbacks and no one left on staff to monitor the room. Now it was usually locked along with Grumpy Bird, Mrs. Frisby, Puss in Boots and Winnie the Pooh, not to mention an illustrated copy of Harry Potter himself.

The assistant was off to the front desk before Harold could object and returned in a flash. She took Harold under the arm in order to help the old-timer up and said in a hushed tone, “Follow me,” just as if they were going to sneak down to a secret chamber. A stunned Harold was led to the children’s room with the little one skipping along behind. Once inside the assistant declared, “Now you boys can talk all you want. The room is very sound proof.  Mrs. Craig designed it and used to come each week to read to the children. She had a stroke, you know.”

Harold just shook his head like he knew Mrs. Craig. In truth, he knew no one at the library. “There are plenty of books here you can read to the little guy if you don’t want to read him that one,” the assistant said. “If you like reading out loud, maybe you could fill in for Mrs. Craig for a few months.”

“NO!” Harold declared in a tone that startled the young woman.  “I mean, I just don’t have anytime for that sort of thing.”

“Oh, I see,” she replied and left the two guys standing in the center of the reading room.

“Hi,” the boy finally spoke, “my name is Harry,” and stuck out his small hand so that Harold would shake it.  “Harold,” the time master replied, which the little one found amusing.

“Can you read that book to me?” little Harry asked.  Harold looked back at him in a panic as if he had just seen a three-headed dog.

RICHARD BEN SAPIR – THE FAR ARENA

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

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I recently bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.

A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.

gladiators2The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from all the books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not pretty.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books is challenging. If you can buy or borrow one, it’s a must-read, even if science fiction is not normally your favorite genre.

It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I recommend you read it if you can. You can find copies around occasionally and although he was not a prolific writer, he wrote a few other novels, all of which are very good and have unique stories.

Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a great, gripping story too.

Happy hunting and hopefully, happy reading!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER — SCRIPT? CHARACTERS? PLOT?

Matters of Taste – When was the last time a movie, a book, or a television show left you cold despite all your friends (and/or all the critics) raving about it? What was it that made you go against the critical consensus?


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You mean … other people don’t make their own decision about how they feel after reading a book, seeing a movie or watching a television show?

Because I thought that was what we were supposed to do. You know. Think for ourselves. If not, what’s that big grey lump in the middle of our skull good for anyhow?

A high percentage of current pop culture movies and television annoy or bore us. The last one to leave us saying “Huh?” Was Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). It began with an explosion. It barely paused at any point during the next 136 minutes for dialog, character development, plot, or anything else. It ended with a really big explosion. At one point in the viewing, Garry left. He came back 20 minutes later. He said later he didn’t feel he’d missed anything. He didn’t because nothing had happened except a few more things blew up.

It got great reviews.

We are fans of the franchise. With the exception of Thor, which I thought was too dumb and poorly acted even for a late night stupid fix, I’ve enjoyed watching the superheroes of my childhood come to life and save the world. I don’t expect great art, just a modestly coherent story, handsome guys and beautiful women in spandex, and special effects.

However, I anticipate a plot. It doesn’t have to be anything special, but nothing is too little. I require dialog. In short, a script.

Explosions are not enough to carry a movie for more than two hours. If the production company is going to shell out all that money for big name stars, not to mention special effects, how about throwing a few bucks at a scriptwriter? Writers work cheap. Give it a shot, Hollywood.

I don’t care what any reviewer says. I never did. Or for that matter, what friends and family say. If they feel spending a lot of money to watch things blow up is a worthwhile trade, okay with me. In this household, I expect more. Require more.

I should add you’d never get away with that in a book. A book with no story? No character development?  Even if the plot and characters are lame, they nonetheless need to be there. Without them, it isn’t a book and won’t make the big time. Not yet, anyway. And aren’t we glad for that, at least!

THE WITCH PROMISES GREAT BEST-SELLERS

A BOOKISH CHOICE – A literary-minded witch offers you a choice. With a flick of her wand, you can become an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades (phooey on that!) or a popular author whose books give pleasure to millions (definitely). Which do you choose? (Is this a serious question?)


Was I ever young enough to think money doesn’t matter? If I ever said anything that silly, I apologize. To anyone to whom I may have expressed such arrant nonsense, I must have been on drugs. They warned us about the brown acid.

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You can always write some (or many) good books if you have a publisher and an audience. If your books sell well, you don’t have to write drivel. There’s nothing to prevent you from being a best-selling author and a fine writer. I can think of a bunch of authors who succeed at both.

Great writing does not exclude popularity. Exceptional books will find their audience if they get a reasonable shot at it … which means, any exposure at all.

Go with the best-selling choice. It’s a win-win.


And Mr. Huberman, you need a course in spelling and grammar. I don’t wish to insult you, but please, take the time to proofread your posts before publishing. You are writing for writers. We notice.

WALDO AND MAGIC, INC., ROBERT HEINLEIN

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.

AN UNBLOCKED BRAIN

Writer’s Block Party - When was the last time you experienced writer’s block? What do you think brought it about — and how did you dig your way out of it?


I suppose this is where my fellow writers heap scorn on my head, but truth sometimes hurts.

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I have never had writer’s block. I have had days, weeks, where I didn’t feel like writing because I was sick, tired, on vacation, wanted to read a book or watch television. But never have I been unable to write unless I was physically ill. I always can write something — and considering my advancing years, I figure it’s unlikely I’m going to dry up.

I’ve had times when I wasn’t happy with what I wrote, needed to rewrite it. I’ve had periods where I wrote and it was a dead-end, destined for the trash bin.

But not be able to write at all? Stare at a blank page? Never happened. Maybe the problem for some writers is a too narrow focus. Deciding in advance what they should be writing, so if they can’t write that specific thing, they don’t write at all.

I will write, even when it seems off track. Inevitably, my odd brain will wind around to put me on track. Or I’ll discover what seemed to be a completely wrong direction was the right path. That’s where I should be after all.

When I write fiction, my characters tell me where to go. They are always right. It’s exactly when characters start making decisions on their own — often to my surprise and delight — that I know what I’m working on has begun to click.

If I can’t write, you can assume I’m too sick to sit up or someone wrenched the keyboard from my clawed hands. Or I’m on a big, shiny boat sailing the Caribbean and having way too much fun to sit down and write. I wish that would happen more often!

I have never understood writer’s block and I would certainly never turn it into a party, unless each writer brings his or her own food and drinks. Okay, I’ll make a dish too, but everyone else has to bring something. Hungry writers can eat you out of house and home!

THE FIRST DAY

September 1951. I am probably the youngest kid in the class. I’m only four, but somehow, here I am. I’m certainly the smallest. Everyone seems so big. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. The school looks huge. Monstrous. Many years later, when I come back to visit, it will be tiny, a miniature school. Even the steps are half the height of normal.

But I don’t know about stairs yet because kindergarten is on the ground floor. They don’t want the little kids getting run down by bigger ones.

There were no air conditioners when I went there. We just sweated.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling, which is very high. To open or close them, Mrs. O’Rourke has to use an enormous hook-on-a-pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like we have at home. Our windows open by turning a crank; anyone, even I, can open them.

The teacher is kind of old. She’s got frizzy grey hair. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever, or at least not that I can remember. And anyway, I don’t have a blanket because my mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and a shoe box.

Worse yet, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some. The ones everyone can use are broken and colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know what I was supposed to bring. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out about all this stuff.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It give Mrs. O’Rourke time to write things in her book.

It’s a long day. I have almost a mile to walk home. Mommy doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s only that it’s all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this stuff?

By the time I know the answer, it won’t matter any more. School has become the ordinary stuff of life and why no longer applies.


Memoir Madness – Weekly Writing Challenge