TO READ OR NOT TO READ, by ELLIN CURLEY

I recently read an article in the New York Times about the efficacy of ‘bribing’ children to get them to read. The article was “The Right Way To Bribe Kids To Read”, by KJ Dell’Antonia and ran on Sunday, July 24, 2016. The article cited a study that showed that bribery does work. However it also showed that the kind of bribe determined the longevity of the positive result.

The study found that monetary or other material bribes worked only as long as the rewards continued. Once the money stopped rolling in, so did the reading. So parents have to find another kind of bribe to foster enthusiasm about reading in order to form lasting reading habits. The most effective form of bribe used in the study was the promise of one on one time with a parent. This time could be spent reading together or just talking about what the child had read.

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This reminded me of one of my finest parenting moments, which I would like to share with you. When my daughter was 13, she was obsessed with reading a series of books below her reading level, called “The Babysitters’ Club.” Neither I nor the teachers at her school felt this was a serious problem. She was reading and loving it and that was enough for the school and for me.

However, her father (my ex-husband) was adamant that we “make” her read more adult books. He favored the classics, like Dickens and Jane Austen. I had hated these books when I was 13 so I did not agree that this was the way to go with our daughter. He also favored the banning of TV and other ‘punishments’ as the means of ‘motivation’. I obviously was against this approach as well.

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My solution to this sticky family problem was brilliant, if I do say so myself! I conceded to my ex the goal of getting our daughter to read age appropriate books. BUT, I would be the one to determine the method used to accomplish this goal.

My daughter loved movies. So I proposed that she find books that had been made into movies. She would both read the book and watch the movie. We would then talk about how the two versions differed, which was more ‘successful’ and why. And how well the book translated to the screen. The first book she choose was Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes” – a movie she had already seen and loved. She loved the book too. Without parental prompting, immediately read every book Fannie Flagg wrote. She took her library of Flagg’s books to sleepover camp with her and traded them with her camp friends for other books. She was off and running as a life-long, voracious reader.

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My daughter is 31 now and is still an avid reader. She reads all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction, covering a wide range of subjects. She particularly loves history and historical fiction. I feel that my creative solution to her reading ‘problem’ years ago allowed her intellectual curiosity to develop freely. I firmly believe that we could have destroyed that curiosity and squashed her love of reading had we mishandled that situation when she was 13.

I guess the moral of this story is that you have to nurture and encourage your children’s interest in reading. Making reading a chore or something to do for Mom and Dad is apparently not the right approach. You have to make reading something exciting that they can share with you and with their friends. You can always ‘make’ your child read. The trick is to create an adult who loves reading and learning and passes this love down to their kids.

BELLWETHER – BY CONNIE WILLIS

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

I read Bellwether again. I finished it last night. Each time I read it — this is the 5th or 6th time — I learn something new. It is one of those books that doesn’t get old. Always funny, always wise. And always worth the effort and time.

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 discernible 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, other sheep do. The flock will follow her — mindlessly, blindly — over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know they are 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 very few will 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 still doesn’t make sense. When you add in a few critical bellwethers, it 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.

WHY I WRITE WHILE YOU PLAY GOLF

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. For me, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I strangle on words never used. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how. They want me to tell them how. That they asked the question makes me reasonably sure they aren’t writers.

If you are a writer, you write. You will write and will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

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I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a reading primer. It was as if a switch had been thrown in my brain. Words felt like home.

Writing was (is) exactly the same as speaking, but takes longer. I have never minded spending the extra time. I love crafting sentences until they are just right. I love that I can go back and fix written words, that unlike words you say, you can take them back.

Raison d’être? I write because I’m a writer. Writing is how I express myself, how I interact with the world. It’s my window, my doorway, my handshake, my dreams.

If you are going to be a writer, you probably already know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand the techniques you need to build a plot and create books that publishers will buy — but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it — and most of us know it pretty young.

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Writers have words. They collect in your mind, waiting to be written. We have heads full of words, sentences, pronouns, adjectives, and dependent clauses.

My advice to everyone who aspires to be a writer is to write. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Whatever medium works for you. Blogging, novels, short stories, poetry. Whatever. I’d also advise you to not talk about your work until you’ve done a significant amount of writing. I can’t count the number of great ideas left on barroom floors, talked away until there was nothing left but a vague memory and a lot of empty wine glasses. Save your words to a better purpose.

Write a lot even if it’s mostly not very good. Sooner or later, you’ll find your thing. If you don’t write, it is your personal loss, but maybe it’s the world’s loss, too.

You will never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

WHO WON THE BOOK? THE WINNER OF LAST WEEK’S GIVEAWAY IS ..

vabt-highresolutionROSE LEISING, YOU WON A FREE COPY OF “OBAMA’S ODYSSEY”


The author graciously donated a copy of her book to a lucky commenter … and Rose, you are IT!

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Rose, please get in touch with me; I need your mailing address! And thank you all for participating. The author appreciates it and I appreciate it🙂

FREE COPY OF OBAMA’S ODYSSEY TO A LUCKY COMMENTER!

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WIN A FREE COPY OF OBAMA’S ODYSSEY


The author has graciously donated a copy of her book to one lucky commenter. This giveaway will run for a week, through April 27th. I’ll pick one winner at random from among everyone who comments on this post. But only on this post and multiple comments from the same person count as a single entry.

obama's odyssey amazon cover

If you are usually a lurker, it’s time to uncloak! Don’t forget to leave a comment!

I’ll announce the winner next Wednesday, April 27.

OBAMA’S ODYSSEY: THE 2008 RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House – Connie Corcoran Wilson


It wasn’t what I expected and after I started reading it, I had to revise my approach to the book. I had been expecting the author’s journey, starting in Iowa and ending with the 2008 general election. Instead, it’s a compilation of blog posts written by the author over that same time span. It covers the same time period and material … but not as expected.

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Rather than a continuous, sequential narrative, the book comprises series of snapshots. Interviews and events with candidates, wannabes, politicians, volunteers, voters, support staff, and political operatives. Connie Corcoran Wilson’s posts are witty, amusing, perceptive, and enlightening, especially when she focuses on the realities of life as a working journalist covering a presidential campaign.

I could very easily relate the long hours, the short sleep, the rapid changes of venue. The mental agility required to keep up that grueling pace for all those months. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, being a working reporter is far from glamorous.

Ms. Wilson captures the character of the people with whom she interacts with charm, humor, and grace. But there is, nonetheless, a choppy quality that is the inevitable result of a compilation of posts rather than a story. There is also a bit more repetition of subjects that is, again, the inevitable result of compiling blog entries rather than writing the story as a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Connie Wilson is a fine writer and she excels at her medium … blogging. I’m a blogger too. I “get” it. But blogging is not authoring. It’s the same church, but a different pew. Blog posts are free-standing, short subjects. You can collect them and put them in a binding to form a book-length volume of material, but it will still lack a continuous story. This lack becomes more increasingly problematic as the book progresses. The jumps between posts are sometimes a bit jarring.

The result? Despite excellent writing, the book doesn’t feel like a book. It feels like what it is: a huge collection of political blog posts. The posts are good, many excellent. A lot of perceptivity and sensitivity raises her writing well above the so-called news writing you find on the Internet … or for that matter, in much of what you’ll find in print or on television. I would have appreciated more “connective tissue” to give the book an easier-to-follow timeline and structure.

The good news? The insider views of the campaign are priceless. The people. The voters. The volunteers. The politicians and their operatives. The process itself with all its quirks. The information is timely and might help you put the current political frenzy in context.

The material and author’s insights make Obama’s Odyssey a worthwhile investment of time. It’s a good, albeit flawed, book that covers the extraordinary 2008 campaign with a rare intimacy.

TODAY’S THE DAY! ALL 5 DAVIS WAY BOOKS TO ONE LUCKY COMMENTER!

IT’S BIG GIVEAWAY DAY!

A complete set of all 5 Davis Way caper books to one lucky commenter on this post!


The author has graciously donated a complete set of all five books, including Double Knot being released today!

THE RULES

Nothing complicated or fancy. Leave a comment and make sure your comment has a name on it. Anonymous comments can’t be considered because I don’t know who you are. Check back in a few days for the results! I’ll pick one winner randomly from among everyone who comments on this post. But ONLY on this post!

If you are usually a lurker, this would be a great time to join the conversation.

To read a review of DOUBLE KNOT — published April 12th, see my review.

Condensed reviews of the four previous Davis Way novels follow.

Double Strike Gretchen Archer

Don’t forget to leave a comment! I’ll get back to you with the winner before the end of the week. We’ve got a lot of stuff going on this week and I will do this as soon as I can. Absolutely PROMISE.

Davis Way Caper #1 – Double Whammy 

Davis Way used to be a cop in Pine Apple, Alabama. Her name sounds like a road and the name of the town looks misspelled, but really, that’s her name and Pine Apple is indeed the town from which she hails. She used to be married. To Eddie. Twice. It didn’t work out the first time and it’s hard to figure why she married him a second time.

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After a very long search for some kind of job, she gets hired by a Biloxi casino. The terms of her employment are murky. From the get-go, Davis is sure there’s something awry with the setup but she needs the job.

It’s hard to do your job when you aren’t sure what your job is. Harder still when nobody is who or what they appear, including Davis herself. Davis gets in deeper and deeper until she is about to be swallowed by the crime she is investigating. Eventually, she extracts herself and she finds love. Her own double whammy.

Double Whammy is ambitious and well-realized featuring a strong woman character with a great back story. Plenty of action, a complex plot, lots of characters, a love story … and more. Fast-paced, lively and witty, Double Whammy leaves you wanting much more!

DAVIS WAY CAPER #2 – DOUBLE DIP

Something is rotten at the Bellissimo casino where Davis Way works security. Employees are double dipping all over the place and it’s slot tournament season. How better to catch a cheater at slots that be part of the action? Duty calls … this time for Davis to be a competitor in the tournament. Good news? She gets to wear really great clothing. Bad news? She’s working day and night until further notice. Her personal life is going down the tubes. Of course — nothing is what it seems.

double dip in bookcaseThe boss’s wife’s personal assistant is missing after bullets are fired. A mousey elderly church lady appears to be the key to a suspicious series of slot machine wins. And what does the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church have to do with all this? It’s going to take all Davis’s sleuthing skills to untangle this Gordian knot.

Complicated? Indeed. Yet the author carries it off with aplomb, style and humor.

Plots within plots, entwined with subplots and back stories. Ms. Archer juggles all the complexities while keeping track of at least a dozen characters, then ties all those dangling threads into a beautiful bow.

Nothing is left hanging by accident. At the end of the book, all that remains are tidbits designed to lure you into the next adventure.

DAVIS WAY CAPER #3 – DOUBLE STRIKE

It took me almost a week to read Double Strike. I could easily have read it in one marathon night, but I was enjoying it so much, I intentionally slowed down to make it last longer. I didn’t want to eat it in one bite, as it were.

double strike gretchen archerI didn’t think it was possible, but Gretchen Archer and her cast of characters have gotten even better — and they were already wonderful. Ms. Archer’s writing is crisp, sure-footed, smart. You can clearly hear the author’s voice, something that was a bit muffled in earlier books.

I have it on good authority the editors — this time — let her “have at it.” There are sections in Double Strike, descriptive, opinionated, and hilarious. So good I stopped and read them aloud to my husband. I don’t usually do that, but I was having a “wow” reading moment and had to share.

Ms. Archer’s descriptions of southern culture are illuminating. I doubt they will make her popular in Alabama, but it’s some of the most intelligent descriptive writing I’ve ever read. Astute, witty. Quotable.

I didn’t want Double Strike to end, but when I got to the final few chapters, I knew I could not put it down until I finished it. It was 2:30 in the morning when I finished the book … and I read the last chapter three times, just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. A fantastic, climactic finish to this story! Our intrepid Davis Way has plenty of bread crumbs to follow into her next adventure. A satisfying conclusion for readers with enough dangly bits to make us come back and read the next installment.

Author, author!!

DAVIS WAY CAPER #4 – DOUBLE MINT

I have loved everything Gretchen Archer has written, from her first book “Double Whammy,” to this latest, greatest entry into the Davis Way caper novels.

Double mint gretchen archerDavis is growing into herself. Still madcap, but in a Sherlock Holmesian way. She knows what she’s doing. She knows why she’s doing it. She sees connections between seemingly random events. How they form a pattern. The problem is getting anyone else to see.

Mysteries within mysteries call for Davis’s clever mind and remarkable ability to see what no one else can see. Will anyone else believe her? Will they “get it” before it’s too late?

Welcome to another taut mystery and hilarious romp through the world of casino gambling, mysterious bankers, and sealed vaults. Not to mention gigantic heaps of money. Or something like it.