STILL STANDING

Object Lesson – Sherlock Holmes had his pipe. Dorothy had her red shoes. Batman had his Batmobile. If we asked your friends what object they most immediately associate with you, what would they answer?


Interesting subject.

Depending on when they became a friend. Some of my earliest friends … like my cousins … see me as that weird, overly intellectual kid with buck teeth and frizzy hair. They would think of me with my nose always in a book — and they’d be right.

The local little girls with whom I grew up would probably remember the piano — and the books. If I wasn’t playing Chopin or Beethoven, I had my head in a book.

indian corn kitchen windowThen, we get to college. I was first a music major and the people I met then think of me as a musician — and remember the piano. But a couple of years later, I found the radio station. That group is likely to think of me as the other half of my first husband, who was a very popular guy and the Fearless Manager of the radio station.

Then, I was off to Israel. A confusing time, but call me a deck of cards. We played bridge obsessively, often until the sun rose. And the bread baking too. And the computers, which were just beginning enter my life. Israel was the bridge between old and new me.

Back to the USA and add some stuff: the omnipresent briefcase because I was always working. A computer. And most important, Garry. Then, after a while, hospitals because for the past 12 years I’ve been in and out of them. Still there are the computers and bless his heart, Garry.

Throughout this entire time, you would always finds lots of animals — cats, dogs birds — children. And cameras.

Life changes. We change. Our technology and tools evolve. But there is an essential “us-ness” that stays, forming a core which makes us who we are. I hope that’s mostly what people who really know me recognize.

I’m not my computer, my blog, my books, my collections, or my husband. I’m just someone struggling down the lumpy road of life, hoping to get through it still on my own feet. Getting to the end still standing would be an achievement.

A TUESDAY FANTASY WITH HAROLD – RICH PASCHALL

The Wizarding World of Harold, a neat and mostly organized man


Harold needed to get back on track. He would not let A Tuesday Mystery throw him behind his perfectly planned schedule. He finished dressing by selecting socks from the mystifying sock drawer, then hurried to the kitchen where coffee had been waiting an hour for his arrival. He poured a cup, set it on the table and opened the porch door to collect the newspaper.

“Where is it?” Harold wondered. Was this another schedule attack? He looked around. The paper was leaning against the house behind a shrub. “I will have to talk to that paper boy about his accuracy,” he thought as he trotted back to the kitchen.

During Harold’s working years, his schedule had been periodically disrupted. Machines broke down, employees took leave, got sick. Materials ran short. And then there were meetings, inevitably unproductive, more obstacles in Harold’s path. If these events had taught Harold anything, it was time lost could be regained if you stayed your course and focused on your goals.

Harold left home more or less on time. A small personal triumph. A hot, humid Florida morning greeted him. The heat was not part of Harold’s plan. When he had moved south for pleasant year-round weather, tropical heat wasn’t what he had in mind.

With the car’s air conditioner on high, Harold headed for the library. He parked and entered the foyer of the modest library. He paused to think about his next book. He pulled a paper from his pocket, a list of the books in the library which might interest him. He had read most of what the small library had to offer about engineering or design, so it was probably time to move to another genre.

Maybe history next. There were great books about World War II he wanted to read. Duty by Bob Greene, The Greatest Generation Speaks by Tom Brokaw were on top of Harold’s list. But which book today?

As he approached the history racks, he noticed a young man reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He could tell by his face he was absorbed by the story.

harry-potter

“I wonder what’s the big deal with those books,” Harold thought to himself. He guessed he was one of the few people who had neither seen any movies nor read any books about the boy wizard.

Harold was aware of the phenomenon, of course, but the idea of spending time on something so frivolous didn’t fit into his idea of a well-ordered life. He could not imagine devoting hours to stories about a magical boy who could fly on a broom.

“Excuse me sir,” Harold said impulsively. “Where are the Harry Potter books?” The man just pointed. In a most un-Harold fashion, he went to the shelf and started scanning the titles.

When he spotted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harold froze. He knew it was the first book of the series. Should he take the book? Just to see what the fuss was about of course. Harold wasn’t sure he could let himself read a book not on his list — a children’s fantasy at that. Caught on the horns of a dilemma, Harold stood there, temporarily paralyzed.

After an internal debate, Harold pulled the book from the shelf and went to the table where the young man had been seated. He sat in a different seat, lest the man come back and want his chair. He opened the well-thumbed book and began reading — and was immediately drawn into Harry Potter’s world.

A few minutes later, a boy of perhaps eight took the empty seat. As Harold read, the youngster just stared at the picture of Harry Potter on the cover. It made Harold uncomfortable. He was awkward with children, never knowing what to say. So he asked a question instead.

“Can I do something for you, son?” The boy shook his head. “Perhaps I could help you find a book to read?” Harold would have continued, but the boy gave him a sad look and sat quiet and unmoving.

Harold returned to the book, but even while he read, he could feel the boy’s eyes on him. It made him so uneasy, he soon got up to leave. It was earlier than he had planned.

He had found the Potter story so engrossing he decided against all logic to take it home. He checked it out at the desk, then went to his car.

“This certainly has been a strange Tuesday,” Harold declared to no one in particular. The mysterious lost egg had equally mysteriously reappeared. Now he had impulsively taken a book from the library which was not on his reading list and was not the kind of book Harold would ever read.

At that thought, something made Harold look back toward the library. The boy who had been staring at Harold was now standing on the sidewalk watching Harold leave.

Unbidden, Harold thought, “I hope that little guy has a decent home to go to.” When he got to his sweltering car, Harold looked back again. Something wasn’t right though he couldn’t figure out what.

The boy was gone.

ARE WE LIVING IN THE SAME WORLD?

Terminal Time

You’re at the airport, your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices is working. How do you pass the time?


netflix for books

I don’t believe it. You genuinely don’t know what to do without electronic gadgets? You are lost without your cell phone or tablet? Really? You’re not kidding me?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. Because me, I would simply reach into my carry-on and pick out a book. If none of the books I’ve packed appealed to me, I’d take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them, in case you haven’t noticed) and buy something to read. A newspaper (yes, they still print them). Maybe a couple of magazines. Or — a book!

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

FOOTNOTE: I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone). I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. And I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says. My camera WILL work, no matter where I am!

 

VISITING MOCKINGBIRD’S WORLD WHILE WAITING FOR A FEW GREAT BOOKS

Recently, we watched To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) on Blu-ray. I bought it months ago and planned to watch it, but hadn’t gotten to it. After we settled in, we remembered why we love it.

It’s a great movie, a wonderful story. Brilliant acting. Gregory Peck in the defining role he chose for himself. In many way, he was Atticus Finch.

A rare movie in which all pieces fit. It never hits a false note. It takes its time. It’s about justice and injustice, racism, the legal system. It’s also about family and love, relationships, coming of age and learning the world is a bigger, better and worse place than you imagined.

Front CoverCoincidentally, my granddaughter was assigned to read the book. She thinks it’s boring, and though I don’t agree with her, I understand her world is far removed from the world of Mockingbird … so far she can’t relate to it. She’s coming into adulthood in a world where the President is Black, where her white grandma is married to a brown man and no one finds anything odd about this.

She’s part of the generation in which everything has been instant. You don’t have to read books to do research. You just Google it. There’s no time for books that move slowly in an unhurried world. Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more often than they drove. Food grew in gardens.

The world was segregated and separated by class, religion, ethnicity. Compared to the world in Mockingbird, our sleepy little town is a metropolitan hub. Kaity cannot relate to that other world and has no patience for it. I understand why she feels the way she does, but I wish it were different.

I’ve read dozens or books during the past year, probably three-quarters of them for review … and the majority were awful.

These books would be considered “serious literature.” Serious seems to have become synonymous with boring, which is totally wrong.These books don’t seem to contain special meaning or lessons. Nothing happens except everyone is unhappy and as the books go on, they become unhappier.

Most are written well, if by “well” you mean good grammar and properly constructed sentences. They offer slices of lives we are glad we don’t live. Missing are plots, action, or any reason I — or you — would want to read them. The authors appear to be trying to do what Harper Lee did … recreate a world, a time, a place. But Harper Lee also had a story to tell. Things happened, events occurred. There were bad people, but good people, too. The story includes ugliness, but also characters worthy of admiration. Atticus Finch is a great man, a fighter for truth and justice. The world is a better place because he is in it.to-kill-a-mockingbird2_9855

The new authors don’t get it. They have forgotten a book is more than description. It needs to tell a story, to involve readers, to draw them in. If my granddaughter is finding To Kill A Mockingbird dull, it’s hard to imagine her enjoying any of these new books. They may describe a world she recognizes, but they are unlikely to lure her into wanting to partake of them.

It’s no wonder that the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers and so on. We have lost touch with the entertainment function of serious literature. If a book makes us think, teaches us, provides moral guidance, delves into serious issues, it should also make us laugh and cry, take us out of our ordinary lives. The magic of any good book is that it lets us become part of other lives and see the world through their eyes.

Call me old-fashioned, but I have my standards. I don’t read books that don’t meet them.

First and foremost, I want a story. I want a plot and I want something to happen. I don’t want to just hear what people are thinking. I want them to also do something. I want to meet characters who develop and grow. I can cope with bad guys, but I need heroes too. I am glad to learn, I’m glad to be enlightened, but I want to be absorbed and entertained. Otherwise, it isn’t a novel: it’s a textbook or maybe a sermon.

I bet there are great authors out there writing terrific books who can’t get them published. For anyone who has tried to get a book published, you know what a battle it is. Manuscripts are submitted electronically and screened  by software looking for keywords. If you can’t write a proposal containing the right buzzwords, your manuscript will never be read by a human being. Using software to judge literature is probably why so many of these books are so dreadful. Human beings should judge literature, not computers. Computers don’t read. People read. More people should read than do.

75-BookStory HPCR-1

Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee … none of them would get their books read much less published today. Unless we want all our literature to consist of science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and mysteries — if we want any other kind of literature worth reading — it’s time to take a few chances and publish books that people will enjoy. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I grew up reading all kinds of books.

I miss books that take place on this planet, in this world, in my lifetime and don’t necessarily involve magic, time travel, cops, serial killers, courts, vampires, or terrorists. Surely there are stories about our world worth publishing.

Publish more interesting books and I bet there will be more interested readers.

ADVICE FOR BABY BLOGGERS

I’ve gained a slew of new followers recently. If I can, I check out all the my followers. I go look at their websites, if there is one … or even a profile. It’s because I’m trying to get a handle on who’s who, figure out what made them click the “Follow” button.

Sometimes it’s easy. It’s a fellow photographer or writer. Maybe we’ve had a passing encounter via his or her website. Or they have an interest in what I write about, are my generation, love the same movies or share a passion for history. Or the same taste in books.

Quite a few are probably spammers hoping to gain entry to my site. I can block them from commenting, but I can’t block them from following. Anyone can follow whoever they want. I wish it were otherwise.

96-KKCheer-3a

A bunch of them are from countries whose language I don’t speak, often whose alphabet I can’t read. I think some of them are photographers and come for the pictures, but I can’t always tell for sure.

And then there are the baby bloggers. Not merely new to blogging, but … well … children. Teenagers as young as 12 or 13 years old. Girls who aspire to a career in fashion (why in the world do they follow me? I’m the most unfashionable person I know!) and some who want to be writers or photographers. Many who aren’t sure what they want, but have discovered blogging. They follow me, hoping I’ll follow in return and help them build a following of their own. I get that.

If blogging had been an option when I was that age, I’d have been doing it. For a creative kid, blogging is a godsend. So much better than a diary, which was my best option.

It’s hard to get a blog off the ground. There are weeks, months — even years — before it begins to come together. So when these kids ask me if I’ll follow them or imply as much, I’ll at least give their site a read, a “like,” a comment and maybe some encouragement. I’m already following more blogs than I have time to read. I’m loathe to add more, though now and then I do add one anyway.

Some of these baby bloggers are surprisingly good. Their observations are astute and sensitive, their photographs show a fine eye for composition. Others — not so much. Some need to learn the rudiments of composition and basics like focusing, cropping. Many more need to learn the difference between writing and texting.

young shooter

For all you youngsters who want to be writers, I would like to offer you some unsolicited advice:

  • Use real words, not internet abbreviations or hacker slang
  • Check your spelling
  • Write sentences and paragraphs
  • Leave some white space on the page. All text and graphics makes me claustrophobic
  • Punctuation is not optional. Discover how exciting commas and periods can be
  • Do not end every sentence with one or more exclamation points!!! Really, just don’t!!! If you do that all the time, it makes you sound hysterical!!!
  • Use emoticons sparingly :-)
  • Contractions require apostrophes. It’s don’t, not dont, can’t, not cant.

If you want adults to read your posts — anyone older than your texting pals — you will have to write in a way older folks can understand. It’s not just the words you use.

It’s also subject matter. I’m mildly interested in what’s going on with your generation,  but makeup and gossip don’t hold much appeal for me. If you are going to write about things that only interest your high school friends, your only followers will be the kids who attend your school. Maybe that’s enough for you. But if you want a wider audience, find topics that interest a broader audience.

Most importantly, make sure that you write in a real language, not text-speak. Please.

THUMBS DOWN ON KINDLE FIRE HDX – THUMBS UP ON PAPERWHITE

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They were supposed to be pretty much the same as the Fire HD, but with better graphics, battery and sound. A few other perks like really great support and cameras front and back. Gadget junky that I am, I resisted until December, but my Fire was slowing down. Probably from all the stuff I was doing on it. Mind you, it never stopped working but it didn’t work quite as fast or smoothly as it had. When Amazon dropped the price by $50 before Christmas, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest. Nice.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new, improved interface for email and the calendar is better too. I know the audio and video were technically better, but they weren’t noticeably different to me. The audio and video on the Fire HD are great and if the HDX is a little better, it’s not a big difference.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I loved my Kindle Fire HD. I figured I would love the new one even more. And I did. For a day. Maybe two. That was when I realized the battery was draining phenomenally fast. At one point, I was on the phone with Kindle support complaining about the battery — and it was dropping at about 1% every two or three minutes. She said video uses up a lot of battery and I said I’d been able to watch movies on the Fire HD, but at this rate wouldn’t make it through a movie on the HDX without plugging it in.

In about 40 minutes, it dropped more than 50%. I plugged it in before it went flat. It also drained while it was not in use — sleeping — at approximately 5% per hour. Reading — not using audio or video — drained it at 15% per hour. As the battery hit less than 20%, it became unresponsive. Customer support suggested I let it drain all the way and recharge it. Which I did.

No improvement. Part of the problem is you can’t turn off apps except by forcing a stop. This is an awkward process which merely slows (but doesn’t stop) the battery from draining while the device sleeps. If you are using the HDX, it chews through the battery at warp speed. You can actually see it drop.

Back at customer service, she suggested I return it and try a different unit. I had an itchy feeling in my brain the problem was NOT my unit, but a design issue. I’d been reading reviews. Too many people complaining of battery problems to be just a coincidence. I noticed the reviews before I bought but couldn’t believe Amazon would knowingly market a seriously flawed product. The Fire HD didn’t get weeks from its battery as does a plain vanilla Kindle, but it gets a solid 12 hours. That’s twelve hours of actual use. On the HDX, you’d be lucky to get 4 hours of simple reading. Nonetheless, after being assured I could return it if I didn’t like it, I agreed to try another one. A couple of days later, the new HDX arrived.

The second HDX was worse than the first. Not only did it eat its battery, but it took forever to connect to WiFi — and sometimes wouldn’t connect at all — a problem I hadn’t had on the first unit. In a house with 9 working computers, I knew it wasn’t my WiFi. It was the device. The connectivity problem persisted even when plugged in. And even when it found the WiFi, it would rarely open a website, even Amazon. This pushed me over the edge. I’m not eager to return things. I hang on to all kinds of things with which I’m not entirely satisfied, but I couldn’t afford to do it this time. I need a working Kindle.

Maybe I could have lived with the awful battery performance, but not with the useless browser too. After less than a week, I called Amazon and said “That’s it, I’m done.” In the meantime, in a fit of totally unwarranted optimism, I had given my Fire HD to my daughter-in-law and couldn’t bring myself to ask for it back. I wouldn’t have gotten it anyhow because she really likes it.

Which left me without a Kindle. Not good.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I bought the Paperwhite — the model with WiFi, not 3G. It arrived yesterday. I set it up late in the afternoon. It went live as soon as I plugged it in. At blinding speed it connected, displaying all my books and documents sorted into categories I’d created on my original Kindle. The Paperwhite reminded me why I fell in love with Kindles.

It’s a great reader. It has a just a few bells and no whistles. It’s light, small, easy-to-use. It has a touch screen, virtual keyboard and its own light, but retains many things I loved about the older Kindles, mainly that it’s a wonderful device on which to read a book. Paperwhite is a dedicated reader, not a tablet. Flat, non-reflective surface — easy on the eyes. Adjustable fonts and lighting that won’t wake your spouse. It weighs almost nothing, even with a cover.

I settled in to read last night. For the first time in a long while, I could focus on a book. The Fire HD was a fine tablet, but it was forever teasing me away from reading to play a game, hear a tune, or watch a movie — things I can do on my laptop.

Perhaps this is what I should have bought in the first place. I cannot recommend the Kindle Fire HDX, but hey, if you want a reader? The Paperwhite is fantastic.

BEST BOOK EVER ON TIME TRAVEL AND THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION: 11/22/63, STEPHEN KING

Don’t let the headline fool you. It’s about a lot more than either time travel, the Kennedy Assassination or any other 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 and cry and think. And remember.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is so good it took my breath away. I’m not a Stephen King fan all the time, although several of his books and stories are among my favorite works of American fiction. I never have a problem with his writing. It goes from good to amazing, but his usual genre (horror) is not among my favorites.

11-22-63 king

This book is not horror. Although small sections of the book touch on it, they merely graze the edge of familiar King territory. He never dives into it. This is science fiction, as good an example of science fiction time travel as I’ve ever read and I’ve read pretty much every book in the genre. To say I’m a time travel junkie would not overstate it.

Stephen King does the genre proud. Beyond that, this book is beautiful. It is not merely well-written. It is eloquent, poetic, lyrical. I do not say this lightly. My husband, who is usually not a King fan — with the exception of 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 listened and read the book. Once he began, he couldn’t put it down. He read portions of it out loud because he felt they were so perfect they deserved to be read aloud, like poetry.

The plot is simple to describe, though enormously 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, if you are a reader of science fiction and/or time travel, you owe yourself a trip through this wonderful book. Like many authors, King dodges the technical issues of time travel via the tried-and-true “hole in the time-space continuum” ploy to move his characters to a particular time and place. King does it well and makes it an interesting part of the journey.

Many, if not most readers apparently agree that this is the best book King has written in many long years, perhaps the best since “The Stand” and in my opinion, better. 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 with emotion, poetry, depth, beauty, intelligence and finally, without taking any cheap or easy ways out of the complexities he creates. An amazing book. If you are any kind of science fiction reader, it’s a must-read. And if you’re a history buff, it’s interesting alternate history.

Image

Daily Prompt: Bookworms in a Bookish Home

Photographers, artists, poets: show us BOOKS. And here are books. Audio books. Hardcover books. Paperbacks. Kindles. Books for everyone in a home full of books.

Daily Prompt: Off the edge and the ledge

What keeps me off the edge and the ledge? Not one thing, but a set, human, creative … and furry.

There’s photography, more important with each passing day. My creative outlet, the visual side of me. I discovered it when painting  become too much of a hassle with 4 cats, a toddler and no studio. I loved not only shooting. I loved working the darkroom, the magic of the shadow show. Choosing the perfect paper. Trimming and mounting prints. I even liked the smell of the chemicals.

Then life happened. I fell back on writing, ever been with me. For decades, I did no more than take an occasional snapshot.

In the 1990s, suddenly there were digital cameras. I bought the first Sony digital. The Mavica. It used floppy disks. Remember? Big clunky cameras. By today’s standards, primitive. I liked the easy availability of disks. The quality, for its time, wasn’t bad. They were solid. Sturdy. Rocks amidst fragile flowers. I gave the second of them to a doctor who liked the Mavica to record images of patients in the office. Computers still used those plastic not-so-floppy disks. Now, I suppose not. We don’t even have a disk reader in our computers and I have long since thrown away the old disks.

Cameras

Then came a leap in technology. Every day, the pixel count, the lens quality went up while prices went down.

Now  I have digital cameras up the wazoo and no doubt will have more. I’m deep in lust for the latest greatest. My world is digital. Bet yours is too. How did we survive all those years without digital, without WiFi? How primitive.

Photographs are how I show my world to the world when words aren’t enough or are too much. I keep a camera in my purse, another on my desk. To handle emergencies, when I suddenly need to take a picture.

You’d be surprised how often such emergencies arise. Without warning, I absolutely must take a picture from the deck, of the garden, of a doll, bear or window decoration. I grab the nearest camera and go create.

Then, there is writing. It’s like breathing. I write because I can’t imagine not writing. Always, from when first I understood words I have written. I hear words in my head before they go through my fingers into a keyboard.

Other components to sanity. My friend Cherrie. The fur kids. I think they sense when I need them. Maybe they don’t know what it is they sense, but they sense something. And I love them. My amazing husband, though his passionate devotion to the Red Sox is sometimes troubling. I believe he’s angry with me, but the ominous glower and frowning countenance is aimed at his team.This is what we call “a guy thing.”

Movies. Silly games.

75-MyBooks-NK-05

Books. Reading. More books. Audiobooks. Kindle, hardbound and paperback. The smell of printer’s ink when I open a new hardbound book. The soft crack as the spine gives way. How delicious is a new book. I caress it. Sniff it. Look at it, feel it. I send it love. It’s alive, a world to explore.

Take everything but books and the people I love. I’ll get through.

Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr — Review by Garry Armstrong

It’s been more than a week since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved. Why?

Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.

Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz...

I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance  to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.

As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.

It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.

It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.

A happy slave to books

Half a dozen times during every month of the year, I see the sun rise and hear the birds sing the morning in. It’s not insomnia. I am in the thrall of a good book and I just can’t stop reading. I’ve been a book junkie since I was a very young child and its an addiction I have no interest in breaking. It has been my inspiration and my refuge, my world away from reality, my alternate universe of choice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s my all time favorite drug. It’s not illegal, although it has cost me a lot of sleep and a fair bit of money.

I read. Constantly. I read on my Kindle, I listen to audiobooks. I read regular books. I often read several books at the same time: an audiobook by day, a print or Kindle edition at night in the delicious comfort of my bed.

I’m addicted to books and not just a single genre. I read straight history, with a particular passion for the 14th century, perhaps because it seems to have been the turning point of western civilization, the rise of central government, the creation of free peasantry and what we now call the middle class.

There was the Black Death, the schism the created two popes … one in Avignon and the other in Rome … which for the Christian world was calamitous. There was endless war, brigands who roamed the countryside, burning, raping, despoiling and destroying what pitiful remnants of communities that survived other simultaneous catastrophes. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were effectively depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops … and famine followed. The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that strangely comforting.

I read thrillers and mysteries and police procedurals. I read courtroom dramas … lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and trials. Then, when the world is more  real than I am willing to bear, I read science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in places that could never be, in futures that might be, and vicariously pursue magic and sorcery. Books are my escape. Take away everything else, but leave the books so if I cannot physically fly away, I can escape in spirit.

Ever since I got my first Kindle, I feel like I’ve been given ultimate freedom. I’ve spent my live traveling with trunks full of books. Now, I can bring a whole library with me to the dentist’s waiting room. And since I got my amazing Bamboosa Lap Log, I have achieved electronic reading Heaven.

SnapIt-82

I am, for the moment, discovering new favorite authors. All of my previous favorite writers seem to be in that never-never land between the last book and th next in the series. Since they are still creating and waiting has never been something at which I excel, I put these months to good use and seek out more authors to feed my hunger for books, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore. In case you are looking for something to read, here’s an updated bunch of my favorite authors and books. Please feel free to tell me about your favorites because they may very well become mine, too! It’s through readers’ suggestions that I’ve discovered most of the authors I love best. I count on you!

Bamboosa with closed Kindle HD in its hard case.

Bamboosa Lap Log with closed Kindle HD in a hard case.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history, though by no means the only history author I love. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin are rapidly overtaking her, however … especially Ms. Goodwin who writes very serious history, but also some wonderful memories of growing up in Boston with the Red Sox. I always have a special place in my heart for local kids who made good!

Don’t miss the Hollows Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison. I think it’s the finest of the all urban fantasy series. If you haven’t discovered Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series — a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case — dive in. Check our The Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne.

Lap Log with Kindle HD (7") open and on.

Lap Log with Kindle HD (7″) open and on.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. Her humorous short stories and novels, from Bellwether to All Seated On the Ground are among the funniest, smartest books and stories I’ve ever read.

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

In the sometimes grim and gory world of fantasy, take a look at Ben Aaronovitch‘s Peter Grant series, Richard Kadrey whose Sandman Slim keeps me fascinated and also awake at night. Mike Carey’s Felix Castor in a world filled with the dead and demons.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book.

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series was one of the significant influences on my life,. Angelique lived a life she chose and never accepted defeat. Her story piques my interest in history and she also inspired me to a personal courage I might not have found without her. The English language versions of the books are long out of print (though you can occasionally find them on Ebay and book search sites) but recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and maybe some other languages too, but sadly, not English.

75-BookStory HPCR-1

I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose world I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas Adams. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fforde writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

There are so many way to keep yourself up at night … and I recommend them all. Books are still, page for page, the best entertainment of all because no one can do special effects like you can with your own brain.

-

Video

Happily Reading Myself to Death

75-bedsideMedia-HP-1Half a dozen times during the past few months, I’ve seen the sun rise and heard the birds wake and sing the morning in.

I have sometimes gotten up very early to see the sunrise and take pictures. More typically, the reason is both more mundane and more reflective of who I am. It is the thing I do that is most “me.” I am awake into the early hours because I am in the grip of a good book and can’t put it down.

Cover of "Song of the Beast"

I’m addicted to books.

Although I go through phases where I read a lot of one genre, I move through many genres over the course of time. I have spent years reading history, indulging my enthusiasm for the middle ages and especially that weirdest of times,  the 14th century. Perhaps I am specifically fascinated by this period because it was a fulcrum of civilization, the emergence of central government, a free peasantry and what became the middle class. There was the Black Death, the schism when two popes reigned, one in Avignon, the other in Rome: a calamity for the Christian world. There was endless war, brigands roaming throughout the European countryside, burning, raping, despoiling.  Destroying what sad remnants of communities had  survived the other catastrophes of those years. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were entirely depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops. Famine followed.

The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that oddly comforting, though I can’t imagine why.

I read thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals and courtroom dramas. I read about lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and prisons. Then, when I need to escape, I turn to science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in other worlds, other realities that could never be, in futures that may yet be as I pursue magic and sorcery.

Cover of "To Say Nothing of the Dog"

In an ironic turn, I’m giving Jane Austen another chance. I hated her books in school, but felt that 40 years having passed, it might be time to try one more time and so I find myself in the middle of “Pride and Prejudice.” I will never be a Jane Austen fan, but I am recognizing much of the wit that eluded me when I was younger and although it isn’t my favorite fiction, I can see where it might be someone else’s.

It is indeed the ultimate drug for me. Take away everything else, but leave me books so that if I cannot fly away in body, I can escape in spirit.

I am, for the moment, between favorite authors. All of my favorite writers are in the process of creating their next books, though some are finished and publication dates are set … in the future … and waiting has never been something at which I excel. Now is my time to search for new writers, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore.

I thought I’d make a short list for you of some of my favorite authors and a few of my favorite books. I encourage you to make suggestions for books I might like. I’m always looking for new authors and genres.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. I am also a very big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin and cannot recommend her books too highly: they are wonderful. Her tome on Lincoln, Team of Rivals which became at least in part the basis of Spielberg’s Lincoln, or her equally brilliant work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt No Ordinary Time are masterpieces.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...

The entire Hollows series by Kim Harrison for the finest of the urban fantasy genre. Her most recent book, Ever After is the best yet … and they are all marvelous.

Don’t miss Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid series. Great in print, on Kindle and as an audiobook. And you can get an autographed copy. It’s a series that has been getting better with each new book and I’m expecting great things.

Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series … a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case. His most recent book, Cold Days was better than ever and is taking the story in deliciously creepy directions.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. She has also written some of the most hilarious science fiction stories I’ve ever read including All Seated on the Ground, Bellwether, and a bunch of others.

Unlike most readers, I read her more serious ambitious books first and was surprised to discover she was best known for her lighter, humorous fiction. Both are wonderful and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I should mention that some of her older books are only available on Kindle and/or audio.

Dave Robicheaux Series

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book. If you want to start with one of her few books that isn’t part of a series, may I recommend Song of the Beast. Hint: I hope you like dragons!

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series is has been one of the most significant influences on my life, not only literary, but personally.  Angelique lived the life she chose and never accepted defeat. She gave me an interest in history that I carry with me to this day, and she also inspired me to a personal courage I doubt I’d have otherwise found. The English language versions of the books are long out of print, but the recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and a possibly other languages. You can get more information through the Friends of Angelique.

96-ColdDays-2

I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose worlds I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fford writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

Daily Prompt: Morton’s Fork – Hobson may have a choice, but I don’t

I'm part of Post A Day 2012

75-MyBook

The question posed is as follows:

If you had to choose between being able to write a blog (but not read others’) and being able to read others’ blogs (but not write your own), which would you pick? Why?

For me, the answer is a no-brainer. I would write. Why? Because I am a writer. If I could not write, something in me would die. When asked “what are you,” I never immediately think I’m a wife, mother, grandmother or even that I’m a woman. I automatically and instantly respond that “I’m a writer.”

Being a writer is so much a part of my identity that if I am not that, then I am not sure what I am. Writing was my profession, but I was a writer before I earned my living writing. I have been out of the job market for more than a decade and I am still a writer.

Unlike other professions … and probably this is true of the arts in general, not just writing … what you do is more than how you earn your living. It’s a drive, an instinct, the way you synthesize your world and experiences. It stays with you as long as you breathe, long after the paychecks stop coming and often, even though the paychecks never started coming.

Writing is so deeply embedded in who I am that I cannot imagine not needing to write.  I think only death will stop me … and depending on how that works out, maybe not even that. If there’s an afterlife, I’ll be blogging about it.

Reading blogs is wonderfully inspirational for me and I would miss it greatly  … but there are books, newspapers, all other literary and news inputs. Writing can’t be replaced. There in no substitute for it. Nothing else could fill that space.

75-WhatWritersReadHP

  • “The 12-Foot Teepee (Book Review)”. Anti Essays. 5 Dec. 2012: NOTE: This is a review of my novel. It is supposed to be free and available, but the site on which it is posted (Anti Essays) says that due to technical difficulties, none of the free essays on the site are accessible without paying them money. Do NOT pay them money. Read what you can without payment (which is most of the essay, fortunately) and then forget it. They call it a technical problem. I call it fraud.
  • Daily Prompt: Hobson’s Choice (writinglikeastoner.wordpress.com)
  • Daily Prompt: Hobson’s Choice (burningfireshutinmybones.wordpress.com)
  • Why read blogs? (bottledworder.wordpress.com)

 

“VERY INSPIRING BLOGGER AWARD” – An honor and a privilege …

Very Inspiring Blogger award

First of all, thank you to Bette Stevens of  4WRITERSANDREADERS who has honored me with the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

This means a lot to me. As I go about my daily life, paying bills, figuring out how we’re going to get through another month that contains more bills than money, as I watch my family struggle and grope toward solutions … and nobody is the interested in anything I might have to say on the matter … I ponder how the people who know us best are the most likely to ignore us.

Not like this is unusual or rare. It probably wasn’t a new concept when it found its way into the gospels.

Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown: John 4:44. 

I guess it’s not especially surprising if we are taken more seriously by virtual strangers than we are at home, in the bosom of our family. Or at least in the bosom of mine.

It is the great gift of blogging that we can give our best to anyone willing to read our posts. In the semi-anonymity of our cyber lives, we offer everyone the things we love, the things that excite and fascinate us … as well as what we’ve learned, knowledge painfully learned … and hope someone will benefit. I’m sure I’m not the only one who began blogging as a way of sharing with a larger community. Maybe someone can benefit from our mistakes and avoid the missteps that have cost us dearly. Perhaps we’ll make someone laugh, open a window on something beautiful, inspire someone to read a book, take a picture, watch a movie or just think about something they’d otherwise never consider. A single idea, an unexpected image or concept can change a life and a changed life can change the world. We hope. And so, we share.

Inspiration is strange, unpredictable. A book I’m reading, a TV show, blogs, current events, sunlight filtering through leaves, watching snowflakes drift by my window, knowing my car is stuck at the bottom of the driveway until the snow melts. Being grateful we shopped yesterday and didn’t put it off another day. Glad I have a computer and a high-speed connection so I can remain part of the world when just a few decades ago, our age and my disabilities would have condemned me to isolation.

Being told that I’m an inspiration is an inspiration. It means someone hears me. I’m infinitely grateful. It’s a validation and a reward. We all need that, at least sometimes. It keeps us going when so often if feels like we are shouting into an empty space.Guy Williams as Zorro

All of you in my blogging community inspire me. I read your stories. Your pictures make me think about new ways to capture my world. I marvel at the complex lives we’ve lives, the obstacles we overcome, the problems we deal with every day, how strong we are and how amazing it is that we find reasons to rejoice despite hard times and harder choices.

The rules of this award are:

  • Display the award logo on your blog
  • Link back to the person who nominated you.
  • Tell us at least seven things about yourself that you would like to share.
  • Nominate other bloggers for this award and link to them. I am not going to set a specific number. I know how difficult it can be to keep coming up with dozens of new nominees and rather than burden you all with the requirement to find in a single batch quite so many bloggers to whom you have not already passed on a variety of awards, I will suggest that as you find worthy blogs that you would like to honor, that you pass the honor to them and allow them to also pass the honor along as they find honor worthy recipients.
  • Notify your chosen bloggers of their nomination and the award’s requirements.

Seven things about myself are:

  1. I am a born researcher. If something catches my interest, I will keep digging at it until I feel I’ve learned everything I can about it, whether it’s breeds of dogs, building tepees, or medieval history.
  2. My hair started to turn gray when I was 20 and was almost completely great by the time I was 30.
  3. I’ve always had a lot of dogs, cats, ferrets, parrots and occasionally even stranger critters in my world, but love them though I do, I never got to own a horse.
  4. I have a “thing” for masked men and had a massive crush on Zorro when I was a teenage girl.
  5. When I gave up on Zorro, I fell even more passionately in love with Marlon Brando.
    Marlon Brando in a screenshot from the trailer...
  6. My first car was a 1977 Ford Pinto in British Racing Green. I thought it was very hot.
  7. I used to be able to recite the entire family tree of the British Royal Family from Willy the Conqueror to Queen Liz II.  I thought it was quite an achievement, but no one was impressed but me.

My nominees (the envelope please):

Chiquero: Nothing But An Induced Epidemic

A barbaric YAWP across the Web:  A tale of life, love and laughter; sometimes poignant, sometimes funny but always meaningful.

THE WORD ON THE .NET ~ Writer T. James’ Exploration of Words, on the Internet.

Sunday Night Blog:  A WordPress.com site by Rich Paschall

Cowbelly Pet Photography: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Woofs

Top Secret Writers

I know a couple of you are repeat awardees. It is not my fault that I like your stuff. If you would stop inspiring me, writing so well that I feel obliged to improve my work, making me think, laugh, and want to take better pictures, I’d stop giving you awards.

For my friends to whom I’ve already give several awards (you know who you are!) and who live in fear of getting another, well, you will be hearing from me. Don’t think I’ve forgotten you. Just because I skipped you this time doesn’t mean I’m not gonna getcha on the next wave! I’ve got a lot of awards to pass along, so you all know who you are. Start collecting nominees … you will need them!