JOYFULLY ADDICTED

Times being as crazy as they are, we have needed to find escape. When I was younger, this would have been books and more books. Then, more books on top of that.

My eyes are not happy reading text these days. Maybe its the millions of hours I spent reading throughout my life. Maybe it’s too many hours in front of computer monitors. Or maybe I’m just moving along with the years. I continue to read, mostly via audiobooks. I still read text when I can’t get an audio version of a book, or it’s short enough to not bring on eye strain. And there are books that don’t do well as audio, especially when you need reference materials, maps, and other support documents.

While I’m immersed in audiobooks, Garry puts on headphones and enjoys all the television shows he likes, but I don’t. We get to be together, yet separate. It might not work for everyone, but it works well for us.

When I’m done with my book of the day, we move into whatever current shows we’re watching. Not very many of them. We tried to count them the other day and discovered it might add up to a dozen, including shows that are not currently on the air, but will be in whatever their next season is.

A few months ago, I signed up for Acorn TV. They were just starting out and were doing a ton of advertising. We had gotten pretty far along watching “MidSomer Murders” on Netflix. When I saw that Acorn had several more years of the show available — and they had Poirot and Marple and “Murdoch Mysteries” and a lot more of them than any of the other channels, I bought a full year for $50. Now, I wish I’d bought two years.

We watched the entire series of “MidSomer Murders,” and then got one more year with another still to come. We watched all of Poirot and Marple, moved through “Murdoch.” We followed with “Foyle’s War,” which was brilliant, possibly one of the best shows we’ve ever watched. “George Gently” was next and that was great. After that we wandered a bit, finally landing in Australia.

“Crownies” and “Janet King” which were different stages of the same story and many of the same actors. Both were really good, but as do all things, we ran out of shows. Especially because we find it difficult to stop watching after we start. Still, we could stop watching … until we stumbled into “A Place to Call Home.”

I was reluctant to suggest it because Garry has a deep and abiding passion for murder mysteries. If there isn’t at least one or two corpses per show, he usually feels cheated. The star of this show — Marta Dusseldorp — was also the star in “Crownies” and “Janet King,” so I thought he might like it despite an absence of murders and crime-solving.

Within one show, we were hooked. The only reason we stop watching is because it is so late, we have to go to bed. How in the world did we get utterly addicted to an Australian melodrama?

It turns out that addiction to “A Place to Call Home” (known locally as APTCH), is a well-known phenomenon in Australia. People can barely hold themselves together until the next show comes out. We have been lucky enough to be able to fully binge on a thoroughly bingeable show. For the entire time we are watching, we forget completely about politics. We aren’t worrying about the state of the nation or what trauma our government has in store for us. We get to live in the moment, even if it’s just until we run out of shows.

There will be more shows. I’m sure of it. We have the whole British Empire of television to watch.

HOW HARRY POTTER CHANGED THE WORLD

Read! by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


In an introduction to the 8th movie, celebrated author of the seven Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, talked about the 13 year adventure from the time the first Harry Potter book was published until the time the 8th movie was finished. In case you did not know, the 7th book was long and made into two movies. They probably should have made books five and six into two movies each, but I digress.

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The really remarkable thing about the series was not that it made eight movies, turned Daniel Radcliffe into one of the richest people in England and Rowling into a Billionaire. It is not that Radcliffe and his costars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, are now the most famous wizards of all time, or even that a wonderful theme park was opened in Florida to celebrate the worldwide phenomenon. The remarkable thing is that it got generations of people to read. They were not reading because they were assigned these books. They were all reading because they wanted to do it.

The movie adventures came as a result of a global desire to read about Harry Potter.  It was not just hitting the New York Times bestseller list. It was rocketing through the roof.  Books were flying off the shelves like Harry in a game of Quidditch. If you don’t know that reference, than you missed out on something most of the world knows.

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finally published, almost exactly ten years after the first book was published, I wisely put a copy in reserve so I would not have to stand in line for the midnight release or miss out on getting a copy.

When I went to pick up my copy the following day I said to the clerk, “It must have been crazy here last night with all the kids screaming and pushing their way through.”

“The kids were not the problem,” she told me, “It was all the 20-year-olds pushing and shouting.”

It was the earliest generations of little wizards that were standing in line. Just imagine, some of them had waited half of their lives to find out what happened to the “Chosen One.” Many stayed up all night, not playing video games, but reading.

Yes, people all over the world were reading about Harry Potter, the boy wizard.

Nothing has captivated the reading public in that way since and perhaps nothing ever will again. It was the perfect mix of magic and wonder. And as Harry grew to be an adult, the stories grew to be more serious and complex. As Harry grew up, so did the reading public with him. No series had ever brought along a generation of readers from youth to adulthood merely through the pages of books.

It was the power of the books and the opinions of the followers of the boy wizard that the movies had to live up to. That is why movies five and six disappointed so many Potter fans. The books had spun the imaginations of readers into a marvelous vision of what these stories were and the movies had to cut much of the story to keep the length manageable. Reading had already painted the picture, but the movie screen did not display the scenes painted on the canvas of the mind.

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Thus book seven became movies seven and eight. There was no way to turn the long book into a two-hour and 25 minute movie. The only smart thing to do was exactly what the public was demanding. Film the entire book.

When book seven hit the shelves it sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours. It has been translated into 120 languages. I bet you did not know there were that many languages. In its first week out, not only was it number one, but the other six books were in the top 20 best sellers. Everyone was loving to read the most fascinating series ever.

What about now? What about the next generation of readers? Will there be a next generation of readers? If you read the Potter series, then you know the joy of a good book. Many of us know the joy of many good books. If I had not already run up my word count with my joy of Harry Potter, I might list some of the great reads I have encountered in life.

There is nothing like a good book. It would be highly unfortunate for future generations if they did not know that. Harry Potter proves it, not just by the sales numbers but by the reaction of the reading public to the movies. Yes, they wanted the boy wizard to come to life, but they already knew what he should look like and what was happening at all the locations in the story.

Radcliffe may have come to be the Potter we saw as we read the books, but our imaginations took us to worlds only the mind can take us. Movie makers knew by book seven, they had to try to deliver something they could not, movies that matched the stories that already played out in our minds.

Teach your children or your grandchildren or your little brother or sister to read. It is not just about learning the words, it is about engaging the mind. They will find that a good book holds more excitement and wonder than a You Tube video or X-Box game. It is better than Instagram, Snapchat, facebook live. The pictures that books generate in the mind are the best pictures of all time.

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.

FOR NEW BLOGGERS

Somewhere along the way during the past four years, I’ve gained a slew of new followers. Many of them fall into a group I call “baby bloggers.” Not only are they new to blogging, but they are new to life. They are children. Teenagers as young as 12 or 13 years old for some obscure reason actually follow me. Some are girls and boys who want to be writers or photographers– which makes a certain amount of sense. Others aren’t sure what they want, but have discovered blogging and follow me, hoping I’ll follow them back.

If blogging had existed when I was a teen, I’d have been doing it. For a creative kid, blogging is a godsend. So much better than keeping a diary which you have to hide under your mattress so your mom won’t read it, but she always finds it and reads it anyway. Or just writing stuff no one ever reads. When you blog, even if you don’t have followers, you can be pretty sure someone will read your stuff. Eventually.

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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, I try to at least give them a read, a “like,” a comment, and some encouragement. I’m already following more blogs than I have time to read, so something has to really grab me to make me sign on.

Some of these baby bloggers are surprisingly good. Others — not so much. Some young photographers need to learn the rudiments of composition and stuff like focusing the camera.

In the writing department, many youngsters need to understand there’s a difference between writing and texting. For the wannabe writers, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice:

  • Use real words, not internet abbreviations
  • Check your spelling. Spell checkers are one of the premium inventions of the past century
  • Write in sentences and paragraphs. You can break the rules, but first understand them
  • Leave white space on your pages. Too much text and graphics looks cluttered and is difficult to read
  • 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. In other words — don’t, not dont, can’t, not cant
  • Use black text on a white background (not vice-versa) if you expect anyone over 40 to read you.

If you want grownups to read your posts — by which I mean people other than your texting pals — you will have to write in a way we old people 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 I’m way past makeup and gossip. If you are going to write about things that only interest your high school friends, your only followers will be your high school friends. Fine if that’s what you want … but … if you want a broader audience, you’ll have to find other topics.

Most importantly, make sure that you write in a real language, not text-speak. Texting abbreviations are not English. They are something, but I’m not sure what.

JUDGEMENT DAY

February 1st and winter hasn’t started. The only very cold weather came and went while we were in Arizona. We should take January vacations every year.

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Since November, time has flown. One day it was Halloween, the next Thanksgiving. Then Christmas whooshed past and we were boarding a plane for Phoenix.


I spent all of November and December 2015 reviewing books.

I had more than 60 books to read in two months. Some of the books were very long. The number of hours required exceeded the number of non-sleep hours in the allotted time. It was unfair to me. Even more unfair to the books’ authors.

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I’m a fast reader, but I was defeated by the sheer weight of it. It was an “elimination” round to reduce the number of books in the finals, but even so …

All of this explains why I feel as if those months didn’t happen. I barely remember anything. I was buried. While I’m reading, I’m not in this world. I’m wherever, whenever the story is happening. It has left me feeling displaced.

The pressure of participating in projects like this is huge. In theory, I could have quit. I’m not getting paid; I never signed a contract. But I promised. I felt obligated to keep my word. Even when I felt hard done by.

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By the end of this month, I might be able to write again. Reading is supposed to inspire writing, but 60 books in as many days drained me. I’m still recovering.

It is making me rethink the meaning of “fair.” Maybe it also explains some of the more bizarre selections I’ve seen as literary “winners.”

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WAITING FOR A GOOD BOOK

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdRecently, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird. It was re-released in a year ago by Audible.com, 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.

REASONS I STOPPED FOLLOWING OR DON’T COMMENT

The Daily Prompt wants a list. I did a version of this a couple of weeks ago, but it has changed. It’s half a rerun, half a rewrite.

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I’ve had to be away from the computer a lot in the past month. My email — the daily deluge of notifications, comments, advertising, and occasionally messages from friends — is overwhelming me. I thought I’d cut back a bit. Write fewer posts. Read a bit less.

It don’t like deleting notifications without reading them, but necessity triumphed. Nonetheless, I decided to try hosting a twice a week prompt. I think maybe I underestimated how much time it would involve. I may have erred on the side of “you’re kidding, right?”

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All of this got me thinking about why I follow and comment some sites, but not others. Following are the top reasons I don’t comment and/or follow your blog:

1) You get dozens of comments. If I have to scroll past two dozen comments before I can comment, you won’t miss me, especially if all I was going to say was “Great post!”

2) You’re a photographer. I’m a photographer. I can love your pictures, but not have anything to say about them.

3) I liked your post, but I’m late to the dance. Everyone has already said everything there is to say. If I have nothing new to add, I’m won’t say anything. If you allow “Likes,” I’ll leave one.

4) I hated your post, but I like you. If I have nothing nice to say, I won’t say anything. I try not to be over-critical. And anyway, I don’t have to agree or like everything you write.

5) If you post one picture per post 12 times a day, consider putting out two posts with six pictures each. I get buried by notifications, and comments. If you post that often, you become spam. Beloved, but spam.

6) If I’ve been following you for months and you never visit my site, I’ll stop following you. It’s insulting. You don’t need to read every word I write, but if you never visit, you will lose me. I have recently unfollowed half a dozen (more?) worthy bloggers who never felt compelled to find out what I’m doing. Respect means showing interest in other people’s work.

7) You write about one topic only. All the time. It is your passion, but there are other things which matter to me. I can’t read on the same subject every day, even if I agree.

8) You’ve got a problem. Your blog is where you let your feelings be known. First, I will be sympathetic. Then I’ll try to help. Eventually, I’ll give up. You are free to complain. I’m free to not listen. At some point, you have to move on. See number 7.

9) You’ve had a “sense-of-humorectomy.” You used to be funny. Now you’re a ranter. I have a limited capacity for rage, even my own. I get mad, but I get over it. After I stop being angry, I find my drama funny. If you can’t get past your rage, I’ll get over you.

10) More than half your posts are re-blogs. I follow you because I like you. We all reblog some stuff but if re-blogs are your primary material, I’ll pass.

11) I don’t have time. Today, I can’t make your party. I apologize. The clock ran out.

12) You write about stuff in which I have no interest. A sport I never follow. Books I’ll never read. Movies I won’t watch. I’ll wait for a while to see if you will move on, but after a while, I’ll give up. Our interests have diverged.

13) Your posts are too long. You love your words and I sympathize. I love mine, too, but I have learned to cut and cut some more. I run out of steam after 1000 words. Sometimes less.

14) You don’t respond to my comments. First, I’ll stop commenting. Then, I’ll stop reading. When I remember, I’ll stop following.

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LET ME LIKE YOU

I love dialogue, but it’s a mistake to demand comments from every visitor. I think we should take our “Likes” and be glad. It means people are visiting. I don’t expect everyone to comment, though I appreciate an occasional word so I know you are there.

That’s it for today. I am going to take some Excedrin and have a second cuppa coffee.