TIME AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK: 11/22/63, STEPHEN KING

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is about a lot more than time travel, the Kennedy Assassination or any single thing. It’s about life, loss, change and human relationships. What makes it so brilliant is that all of these elements are bundled together into a book that will make you laugh, cry, and think. If you are of a certain age, it will also make you remember.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is so good it took my breath away. I’m not a Stephen King fan per se, though I have liked several of his books and stories. I never have a problem with his writing. He’s a great writer, but I don’t always like his subject matter. Horror is not among my favorite genres.

11-22-63 king

This is not horror. Although small sections of the book touch on it, it merely grazes the outer edge of familiar King territory. 11/22/63 is science fiction. It is as good a book on time travel as I’ve ever read. Considering that I have read everything about time travel I could find, that’s a big statement.

Stephen King does the genre proud. Beyond that, this book is beautiful. It is not merely well-written. It is eloquent, poetic, lyrical. My husband, is not a King fan — except for his stories about baseball and the Red Sox — was dubious when I handed him the book and said “Read it. You’ll love it, I promise!”

Typically, he makes faces and argues with me, but this time, he read the book. Once he began, he couldn’t put it down. He read portions of it out loud because he felt they were perfect and like poetry, deserved to be read aloud.

The story is rich and complex in the telling. A writer determines to go back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His attempt and travels in time produce many repercussions both for him personally and for our world. The “Butterfly Effect” has never been better illustrated.

Whether or not you usually like Stephen King’s books, if you are a science fiction and/or time travel fan, you owe yourself a trip through this wonderful book. King’s version of time travel is history-centric, omitting the technical details. I’m fine with this approach. He uses the classical dodge via the tried-and-true “hole in the time-space continuum” ploy. It lets him move his characters without explaining how it works. King does it well and makes it an interesting part of the journey.

Many of us feel this is the best book King has written, bar none. Granted that this is a subjective statement, but I guarantee if you read this book, you will not be disappointed.

This is a master story-teller at the peak of his abilities. Stephen King gives us emotion, poetry, depth, beauty, intelligence and does it without taking any short cuts through the complexities he creates. It’s an amazing book.

If you like science fiction reader, history, or are just looking for an exceptionally well-written book, you should read 11/22/63. It’s too good to miss.

11/22/63 is available from Amazon right now for just $2.99. It includes a 13-minute film, written and narrated by Stephen King and enhanced with historic footage from CBS News, that will take you back—as King’s novel does—to Kennedy era America.

HAROLD AND THE TINY WIZARD

A Library Lesson, Part 2, Richard Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Imagine Harold, Master of Time Manipulation, Lord of the Library and Sultan of the Schedule, being knocked off course by a tiny Harry Potter wannabe, but there he was.  The assistant librarian left him standing in the middle of the Children’s Library with a pint-sized wizard in training, hoping to hear the exploits of a “real” boy wizard, Harry Potter.  Harold did not know how to handle the situation.

When Harold retired from his job as a mechanical engineer at a large Midwestern manufacturing facility, he foresaw days of peaceful plans with little interference from other humans.  People would be worked into the schedule as time allowed.  But his retirement proved difficult to control and plans were more like wishes than regular schedules.  Harold, however, was not easily dissuaded from keeping his schedule in tact.

“Can you read that story?” the little boy named after Harry Potter asked.

“Well, of course I can read it,” Harold answered.  “I am sure you can read it too.”  The little boy shook his head.  “A few of the words might be difficult, but the librarian or your parents can help you with those words.”  The boy shook his head again.

“I can’t read,” the boy said.  He looked at Harold with sad eyes that would have melted anyone without the strong constitution of the Midwest planner.

“I am sure a boy your size can read just fine,” Harold declared.  The little one shook his head some more.  “What is this word?” Harold said pointing to the word “Harry” on the cover of the book.

“Harry,” declared little Harry.

“And this word,” Harold said as he pointed toward “Potter.”

“Potter,” the tiny wizard said.

“See,” Harold said, “you can read. What about this big word?”  Harold pointed to “Sorcerer’s” and at that the little one started to cry.

“I don’t know,” Harry whimpered, leaving Harold with the most awkward feeling.

“Well it is nothing to cry about,” Harold tried to explain.  “The bigger words will come to you.” Harry shook his head.

“I know ‘Harry’ because it is my name and ‘Potter” too, but the others make no sense.  They are all mixed up.”

“Mixed up?” Harold asked.

“Yes, it is because I am stupid,” Harry said.  “I have that thing and my mother says I am stupid.”

“What thing?” Harold wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” little Harry cried.  “Dish something!”

Harold had to think about this.  He was convinced a boy that age should be able to read, and he could not imagine what his problem might be.  My analytical mind went to work until he finally said to the boy, “Dyslexia?”

“I don’t know,” the boy shouted.  After a moment he added more quietly, “maybe.”

“I see,” Harold said, but he didn’t really see at all.  Harold had no experience with children and especially one with a special need.  So the two boys stared at one another waiting for the next comment.

Finally, Harry said, “My mother drops me here all the time and tells me to read until I get it, but I don’t get it.”  A tear rolled down Harry’s round little face.  If anything could be said of this moment in Harold’s life, it might be that Harold never felt so uncomfortable.  So Harold sat in the big chair, and Harry sat in the little chair of the underused Children’s library in the Florida town, both waiting to move on to the story of a real boy wizard.

“Well, little one, haven’t you seen the movie?”  Harold asked.  Harry nodded.

“Then you don’t need the book,” Harold said.

“But I want to know what the book says,” Harry insisted.

Children's Library LogoHarold stared at the boy a long time.  The little one had an angelic face and big eyes and a curious nature.  He could not read but  he wanted to know what was in books, and particularly “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  Actually, they both wanted to know what was in the book, but Harold could not imagine starting over.  He had already completed the opening chapters and reading out loud was so…SLOW!  After considerable thought Harold finally said, “OK, I will read to you until it is time to leave, but that’s all I can do.  I don’t think we will get very far.”

“OK,” the boy agreed and waited for the story to begin.

“Chapter One,” Harold started, “The Boy Who Lived.”  From there Harold read on until his watch sounded an alarm at 5 minutes to five.  At that he closed the book and announced “It is time for me to go.”

“Ok,” the boy said.  “Can we finish tomorrow?”

“No,” Harold said.  “I have plans tomorrow and the book is too long to finish anyway.”

“The next day?” Harry asked.

“No,” Harold insisted.  I will not be back before Tuesday.

“Ok,” Harry agreed.

This set Harold into a bit of a panic, “I mean, I am not sure about that. Maybe someone else can read to you.  I am not a good reader.  I am sure that the woman who reads books will be back soon and she can read it.”  The boy just stared, so Harry went on.  “I am never sure of my schedule and I don’t know about reading, besides I am not good at reading out loud.”

With nothing but a staring face looking up at him, Harold finally said, “We’ll see.”  At that, he got up, patted the boy on the top of the head and left the room.  When he got to the front desk, he put the book down as if to turn it in.

“Are you done with this book?” the librarian asked.

“Maybe,” a befuddled Harold replied.  “I don’t know.”  He left the book, walked down the few stairs to the entrance and out into the Florida sun.

UNDER THE DOME – SOUND AND FURY, SIGNIFYING NOTHING

Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

The popular television series on CBS, Under the Dome is based on a novel by Stephen King. It premiered on CBS network on June 24, 2013.

under-the-dome-big-jimThe series takes place in Chester’s Mill, Maine. It’s a small, thoroughly unpleasant little town that finds itself cut off by an invisible dome — a barrier — which everyone refreshingly calls “The Dome.”

The town’s citizen’s attribute sentience to the dome. The Dome knows. Which is good, because no one else in Chester’s Mill knows anything.

The dome appears for no (apparent) reason, after which no one can leave — no matter how much we wish they would. Nor can anyone from outside enter. There’s no communication with the “outside” world except when the scriptwriters say so.

As of September 1, 2014, 23 episodes of Under the Dome have aired. Approximately 10 episodes too many.

This is a show that started out with a lot of promise. I love science fiction and ever since King wrote 11/23/1963, I’ve been inclined to cut him a lot of slack. Anyone who can write such magnificent prose deserves it.

The show became extremely popular. The producers, unwilling to put the milk cow out to pasture while she was still producing so many gallons of the white stuff decided to keep the show going. What was supposed to be a single season story with a beginning, middle, and end has become an endless melodrama. Everyone runs around like chicken little.

“The sky is falling,” and sure enough, it falls for a while. Then it stops. No harm done. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe better.big jim again

“Oh MY GOD, Big Jim is killing everyone.” Sure enough, he kills a lot of people — but most people who die in this town come back. Actors have contracts, you know. You can’t just go killing them off, so in Chester’s Mill, death is a plot point, not an end.

“OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, the plague is here! We’re running out of food! We will all starve! We’ll have to eat each other.”

The plague was (of course) averted and no, they will not run out of food, though cannibalism might liven up the story. Everyone runs around in a panic, on the verge of hysteria. There is much flailing and ranting at the dome. Its power, what it means. Never mind, it doesn’t matter.

And nothing happens. Not really. Relationships change in very tiny increments, dead people show back up with such predictability that even if someone would (please, please) shoot Big Jim — it is the only thing left to look forward to — it wouldn’t matter. He would be back in a show or two. Maybe even during the same episode.

They really should have stuck to the plan. It has become a prime time soap opera. You can miss any number of episodes, but when you tune in again, nothing has changed. Nothing ever changes. Or ever will change.

Garry is more patient than me. He still hopes something will happen. Like, they will explain what the dome is, why it’s there. They will then execute Big Jim, kill him deader than dead. After which, they will run the credits and say bye-bye.

Garry is such an optimist.

WAITING FOR A GOOD BOOK

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdRecently, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird. It was re-released in July 2014 by Audible, with a new narration by Cissy Spacek. After I settled into it, I remembered why I love it. It’s a rare story in which all the pieces fit. Some call it the perfect book. It may be.

It never hits a false note. Takes its time, tells the story at a leisurely pace. It talks about justice, injustice, racism, and the legal system. It’s about family, love, relationships and coming of age. Discovering the world is both better and worse than you imagined.

My granddaughter was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school and found it boring. I don’t agree, but I understand her problem. She lives in a world so changed from the one in which “Mockingbird” takes place, she can’t relate to it.

Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more than they drove. Food grew in gardens. The world was segregated, separated by class, religion, and ethnicity. My granddaughter can’t even imagine such a world. In her world, the President is Black and her white grandma is married to a brown man.

Everything is instant. You don’t go to a library to do research. You Google it. There’s no time for slow-moving books that depict a less frantic world.

It’s no wonder the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and so on. These books are fun. Exciting. So much of “literary fiction” is dreary. Authors seem to have forgotten that literature is also supposed to be entertaining.

I need stories that are more than a dark mirror of reality. That’s not enough. I want a good plot. I need action, stuff to happen. I don’t want to just hear what characters are thinking. I want to see them moving through their lives. I need characters who develop, grow, are changed by events. And, I need heroes. Un-ambivalent good guys for whom I can root. I welcome enlightenment and education, but I require entertainment. Lately it seems the reality-based books I’ve read have forgotten how to entertain. The people they portray are sad, depressed, trapped, miserable. Living lives so hopeless they lack even the energy of desperation.

Are our lives truly so pathetic? So grey and drab? I don’t believe so. I think it’s easier — and fashionable in current literary circles — to write that way. Easier to capture a single note than a whole range of feelings. There are plenty of sad and hopeless characters, but there are also plenty of glad and joyous ones. Winners, not just losers. Heroes and success stories.

I don’t understand current criteria for publication. I don’t get it. A high percentage of the new books I read (I read a lot of just-published books for review) are dull. Many are also poorly written. I find myself wondering why this book, whatever it is, was chosen. To me, I has no merit. I don’t even review these books. I don’t like trashing books and authors, so if it’s that bad, I just skip it.

Boring to me, is the worst sin in literature. I don’t believe Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee — would be published today. I doubt they’d get a reading.

I miss books based in reality. I bet there are great manuscripts waiting, their authors yearning to be published. I hope they get to it soon. Because kids like my granddaughter need to discover how much fun books about real people can be.

NO GOALS? NOT MUCH CHANGE … SHARING, WEEK 35

Share Your World – 2014 Week 35

Have your blogging goals changed?

I never had any blogging goals except to post pictures and write stuff and hope some people outside immediate friends and family might see it. It’s easy to meet or exceed ones goals if you don’t have any. Goals.

Stats 9-1-14

I didn’t expect I would enjoy blogging as much as I do. Nor did I expect my writing and photography to be so well received. That has been a very pleasant surprise. The writing I did professionally wasn’t the sort that wins awards, gets applause, or attention. It was “bread and butter” writing. Honorable work. It didn’t save the world, but it didn’t harm it, either. And it paid well. Best of all, I got to meet great people, some of whom are still friends after many years.

community-9-1-14But blogging — it’s the first time I’ve written for myself and have an audience. A responsive audience. An encouraging, often flattering audience. People say the nicest things.

My current blogging goals? I still don’t have any. I plan to continue to do what I have done.  I hope it continues to be as much fun and as satisfying as it has been for the past two and a half years.

If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?

No need to think about this one. I want to be a flyer in the trapeze act. I want to cannonball through the air, weightless and free of gravity. But … keep the net in place, okay? Just in case.

If you could go back and talk to yourself at age 18 what advice would you give yourself?  Or if you are younger than 25 what words of wisdom would you like to tell yourself at age 45?

As I am not getting any younger (no one except Dorian Gray gets younger and it’s Dorian’s portrait, not the real him that’s aging backwards), I would tell myself to relax. Stop wasting all that time worrying. Worrying is useless — and ruins the moment. I would NOT marry the second husband — talk about a waste of time and energy. I would always carry a camera and write more just for fun. I guess I should have done better with my money. Okay, I’ll tell myself to start saving money.

What is your favorite comfort snack food?

Unchanged since the last time this came up, it’s crystallized ginger. In many and varied forms.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Charter finally fixed our bad connection at the pole on the street. After 13 years of malfunctioning, our cable is working the way it is supposed to. Imagine that!

Next week? There is a get-together with old friends in Boston. That should be a nice diversion.

BELLWETHERS AMONG US – WHERE THEY GO, WE FOLLOW

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

I read Bellwether again. Finished it the other day. Each time I read it — this is the 4th or 5th time — I learn something new.

Bellwether grabbed me from page one … from sentence one. Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years, but never entirely understood.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is a leader of sheep, an über ewe, the sheep who the flock follows. There’s no visible reason why a bellwether leads and nor any obvious reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.

What the bellwether does, the other sheep do too. The flock will follow her — mindlessly, blindly — over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know it’s following the bellwether. They just do it.

Humans have bellwethers too. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. Still we follow them. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? Some are born to lead, others to follow. A few to walk a unique path.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal skills.

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest? Why do we do so many stupid things? The answer? We’re following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them.

You should read this book. It also explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made any kind of sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history doesn’t make sense. But if you add in a few critical bellwethers, it all comes clear.

Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They just happen. We can explain them only in retrospect. That’s what historians are for, after all. To make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself. Human society is chaotic. The only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking. Highly entertaining and funny. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book. I recommend it both in print (Kindle or paper) and audio. It is a book you will read and remember.

Then read it again. There’s more to it than you will get in a single reading.