WORLD-SHARING, WEEK 36

Do you prefer reading coffee table books (picture), biographies, fiction, non-fiction, educational?

Aww, c’mon. I read everything, including the back of cereal boxes. I guess science fiction and fantasy are my top two this decade, but history is a very close runner-up. With thrillers and biographies hanging in there too.

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I read all the time, pretty much. If I’m not writing or shooting or processing, I’m reading.

What is your biggest fear or phobia? (no photos please)

Spiders.

I have a couple of really creepy photos, if you change your mind!

What is your favorite cheese?

You keep asking hard questions. Well my favorite changes. Bleu cheese is a favorite, but right now it’s sharp parmesan. Sometimes, it’s Jarlsberg. Sharp cheddar is a perennial and almost a staple. Cheese — kind of a moving target!

What is your favorite month of the year?

October.

The Canal, mid October 2012 - Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

 

CEE’S SHARE YOUR WORLD WEEK 36

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.

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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.

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.

I LOVE YOU, AUDIBLE.COM

I joined Audible.com in 2002.

I had a long commute and I’d been buying audiobooks for a few years from Books On Tape and Recorded Books.

Books On Tape had recently announced they were discontinuing non-institutional services. Bummer. Recorded Books didn’t have much of a selection and were expensive.

Audible was a relatively new concept. Downloading was slow, but the price was good. For $16.95, I could have two books a month. I would own them, but wouldn’t have to store them. They were digital files and would be stored in my library on Audible’s server.

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Twelve years later, I have close to a thousand books in my Audible library. A few have disappeared. They may be there somewhere, but the search engine can’t find them and I don’t remember what they were. It doesn’t matter. There are so many.

A few years ago, Amazon bought Audible. For once, I was unperturbed by the acquisition. Amazon and I have had a great relationship since Amazon was an online bookstore selling real books. Kindles and e-books didn’t exist. The closest thing to an e-book was a PDF file.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Audible is bigger and better. Higher quality audio files, many more books. Famous actors and brilliant narrators. Almost every book from any publisher has an audio version. You can buy twinned Kindle and Audible books that synchronize. That’s overkill for me, but I often own both versions because listening and reading are different experiences. I listen, then read, then listen again. My eyes are increasingly reluctant to focus on print, so I listen more, read less. Audible has become primary and reading is now an alternative to listening.

Times change. I’ve changed.

Late the other night, already tucked in bed, I decided to select this month’s audiobooks. I still have the original plan I subscribed to. New subscribers pay more, but I’m “grandfathered.” The only thing I don’t have that newer plans include are “rollover” credits. I have to use my credits within the month or lose them. Technically, anyhow. The only time I didn’t use them — I didn’t forget, but I was in the hospital — they gave the credits back and threw in a couple of extra because I’d been sick.

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This month, I wanted two books, both not yet released. Pre-orders. The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey, Book Six in the Sandman Slim series, to be released on August 26th. And The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison, the 13th and final book in The Hollows series, to be released September 9th. I ordered the books using this month’s credits. Except when I completed the order, I had a credit left. I figured that meant they would charge the book to my credit card on delivery. I cancelled the order and redid it. Same thing happened.

It was 1:30 in the morning, but I knew I could call Audible and get this fixed. Unlike other customer service, I like calling Audible. Even before they become part of the Amazon family, they were friendly folks who wanted to make you happy.

A nice lady answered. I explained what happened. She said: “Let’s make this simple. I’ll just put the Kim Harrison book in your library. You keep the extra credit. Have a nice night. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I double-checked: “You mean, I actually have an extra credit?”

“Yes, you do. I put The Witch With No Name into your library. When it’s released, you will automatically receive it. You can use your other credit for whatever you like.” Indeed, the book was already in my library. I ordered another book.

I was smiling. How often do you smile after talking to customer service?

I love you, Audible.com. 

ON MY SHELF – JAMES LEE BURKE

Off the Shelf - Take a look at your bookcase. If you had enough free time, which book would be the first one you’d like to reread? Why?


A few days ago, I finished “Wayfaring Stranger,” the latest, greatest book by James Lee Burke, one of my top five favorite authors. It was a good read. Maybe a great read. It made me hunger for more of that special JLB magic.

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So there I am, looking through my bookshelves and I realize I have every hardcover edition of the past 20 years of James Lee Burke, many of them signed by the hand of the Master.

I’d like to reread at least a few of them, maybe start the Dave Robicheaux series from the beginning. Read them in hardcover and paper and sniff the ink, feel the binding give just  a little. It would be a trip back to when books had heft, a feel, a scent. I sometimes miss that. I love my Kindle and my audiobooks, but sometimes … I miss the smell of printer’s ink.

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.