Never Leave Home Without One

BOOKS

Have  you missed me being here the last couple of weeks? (Please say yes.) Truth is, I have been reading! One of my New Year’s goals is to make a big dent in the stack of books I want to read. What that really means for me is: turn off some mindless television program and stimulate my brain.

I made great strides in January, reading four books. Two of them were pretty short, but still. Then I decided I should read The Goldfinch, which my younger son, Phillip, gave me for Christmas. This best-selling novel is over 700 pages long, not an easy read, and I am not a fast reader. It’s been rather like slogging through ankle-deep sand and, just before I give up, finding a small oasis of interesting plot to encourage me onward.

I stopped midway through The Goldfinch to read the Beebe/Goff Library Book Club choice for February, Finding Jake, by Bryan Reardon. This turned out to be a worthwhile decision. I became quickly engrossed in the gripping plot and the character development. Which brings me to the point of saying how much I enjoy the Book Club experience. It’s great fun to discuss with others a book you have all read.

In fact, after potty training, reading is the best thing I ever learned. Mastering the ability to translate print into words opened countless doors. From that point on, boredom was unknown. Sunday afternoons flew by, spent in the Alps with Heidi or solving a mystery with Nancy Drew.

Reaching the third or fourth grade level made me eligible for a special treat. I could read to my grandfather. Papa lost his eyesight at the age of 65. He liked to keep abreast of the local news and enjoyed The Reader’s Digest for its variety of stories from around the world. So, every evening, a different family member volunteered to bring the written word to him. At last my turn had come.

I sat on the footstool in front of his chair, the daily newspaper in hand. I read a headline to him and he determined if he wanted to hear the article. If it was a go, I dipped into the story with gusto. When I came across a word I didn’t know, I spelled it out. He told me how to pronounce the word and the story continued. Papa was a good sport about it, but I wonder now how he got any sense of what I read. This regular practice served several purposes. It improved my reading-aloud skills and gave me one-on-one time with my grandparent, doing a good deed while I learned about current events.

Good literature from Alcott to Yerby filled my high school years. As a young housewife, books became my reward. Clean the living room and peruse one chapter. Finish the ironing and take a break for fifteen minutes. Harper Lee, Norah Lofts, Grace Metalious, and Mignon Eberhart made my world richer and wider.

Waiting rooms provide an appropriate place and the coveted time to skim the latest book in my queue. What? My car is ready so soon? The doctor will see me now? My motto is: A book — never leave home without one.

I lose myself and I find myself between the pages of a good book.

Reading Aloud

Henry's Awful MistakeLast Wednesday was National Read Aloud Day.  I’m sorry I missed it. March 4 in Arkansas was the day of 40 inches of rain followed by a sno-nami. Like many others I let my focus on the weather make me forget more important things — like reading aloud.

I honed my read-aloud skills when I was a child reading the newspaper to my grandfather, who was blind. I still read out loud — scripts when I’m learning lines, poetry often, a story or essay as I edit or critique.

In the past, I frequently read aloud to my children and grandchildren. And to other children — in Sunday School, Kindergarten, Day Care, Mothers Day Out, Vacation Bible School. In her day, Miss Dot did a killer circle time.

I really enjoy read-aloud picture books, especially when there is an audience of 2-4 year olds to listen. Recently I came across several I had kept through the years. Goodnight Moon and Poky Little Puppy and another that might not be as familiar.

Henry’s Awful Mistake by Robert Quackenbush was published in 1981 by Parents Magazine Press and I don’t remember where I bought it sometime in the 90s. But it’s a wonderful read-aloud book. Henry is a duck who sees an ant in his kitchen while he is preparing supper. He doesn’t want to spray around the food, so he takes after the ant with a frying pan. He proceeds to destroy his house trying to get the little insect. The drawings are delightful, each picture featuring a tiny ant hiding somewhere for the child to find.

I was interested to see this book listed on Amazon, both new and used. It had 27 reviews: 20 positive and the others criticizing mostly the condition of the book they received.

Another favorite I remember is The Broken Vase, circa 1965. Alas, I left my copy at a church where I worked in the 70s. But this book is also listed on Amazon and I fed my sentimentality by ordering a used copy. I should receive it next week. I’m sorry I have forgotten the name of the writer and it was not visible on the website.

This is a story about a little girl who throws a temper tantrum and breaks her mother’s favorite vase. Her mother yells, “You did that on purpose!” and the little girl has to admit to herself that yes, she did do it on purpose. There is reconciliation and a happy ending. It’s a wonderful story of feelings —  anger, repentance, forgiveness and, as I said, reconciliation.

Don’t wait for this National Day to roll around again. Open a book and listen to the sound of your voice as you read.

 

Serendipity in the Media Closet

Peak : A novel by Roland SmithAn early duty for me this morning (at the Education Cooperative where I work) was to make 12 copies of a dvd to distribute at a workshop tomorrow. No problem. We have a machine that will very quickly copy three discs at a time.  I inserted the original and three blanks into the machine and pushed the button marked “copy” and waited.  And waited. Finally, I received a “failed” message, which by then was superfluous.

Long story short, eventually I was able to get the machine to copy one disc at a time.  Slowly. The time required to copy each dvd was 2 minutes, 10 seconds. And I needed to copy 12, so you do the math. Never mind, I will. That’s 28 minutes. Not only that, but I must babysit the machine, inserting a clean disc when the used one popped out. Did I mention this little machine is in the media storage room that used to be a bank vault?

I started the process and looked around for something to do. On a shelf above was an assortment of books teachers can check out.  I picked a Young Adult novel, read the first page, and returned it to the bin. I chose another —  Peak, by Roland Smith.

Two paragraphs and I was totally hooked. I love this voice!  I’m telling you readers who are writers: This Is The Way It Is Supposed to Be. By the time I had read for 28 minutes, I had to sign out the book and take it home with me.

I’m not in the habit of reviewing a book I haven’t finished reading, but I must say what promise this book already holds after only 26 pages (I’m not a fast reader). I have learned a lot about Peak (the 14 year old protagonist). His story begins in the middle of an adventure, which he gets in trouble for, and now he is embarking on a completely new lifestyle. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Roland Smith is a prolific writer of children’s books, picture books to Young Adult. In 2012 I reviewed The Captain’s Dog, the story of Lewis and Clark Expedition from the dog’s POV.  You can find out more about Roland Smith him and his books here.

 

Reading in 2013

Every January I blog about the books I have read the previous year. I am not a speedy reader. I savor and enjoy the books I read … which ends up being only two or so a month. I read for pleasure but I also notice how the writer constructs the plot and puts the words together.

My goals for 2013 were to read four classics and six “new” writers. I reached both of those goals. The four classics I read were Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne and Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Though I have seen several film versions of Pride and Prejudice, some more than once, I had never read it. I re-read The Velveteen Rabbit and Gifts from the Sea. I had read them both many years ago, but found new truths in each of them. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas (which I reviewed onApril 14) may not be considered a classic yet, but if not it should be and will be one day, I predict.

I read five life stories: The Sacred Acre by Mark Tabb, the bio of a high school football coach murdered in a school shooting; A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard, the young woman who was kidnapped and held captive for more than 18 years; Home by Julie Andrews, the story of her younger years; Self Portrait by Gene Tierney, who suffered from undiagnosed bi-polar disorder; and This Time Together by Carol Burnett (reviewed on August 12).

The three young adult novels I read this year are: P.S. Longer Letter Later by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin, Heart of a Shepherd by Roseanne Parry, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid – The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney. As I have said before, for a quick read and a clean, strong story you can usually find a YA novel that you’ll like.

I love reading poetry, usually during my morning quiet time. This year I spent some pleasant moments with a flea market treasure A Book of Living Poems compiled by William R. Bowlin, copyright 1934. During this time I also read three devotional or inspirational books: The Book Lover’s Devotional, an anthology of devotional thoughts using lessons learned from various novels; The Jane Austen Devotional by Thomas Nelson; and Some Folks Feel the Rain Others Just Get Wet by James W. Moore.

Two writers’ books on my reading list are A Broom of One’s Own by Nancy Peacock and Wretched Writing by Ross Petras and Katherine Petras.

To finish off this list of 23 books I read in 2013 are 5 novels: TheFriday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs; The Homecoming by Dan Walsh; Angel Song by Sheila Walsh and Katherine Cushman;The Summons by John Grisham (reviewed June 30); An Israeli Love Story by Zola Levitt.

I read several new-to-me writers but the most excellent were (of course) Jane Austen, John Boyne, Jeff Kinney, and Nancy Peacock.
I have not set any particular reading goals for 2014, just a plan to continue to lose myself for a while each day in one of the many books still resting on my shelves.

This Time Together by Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett and I are the same age. Well, she’s a few months older, having had her birthday recently and mine is not until October.

I have always admired Carol for her creativity and humor. Her comedy shows and specials brought me many hours of pleasure. During the Seventies, Saturday night television was filled from 7:00 to 10:00 with shows that today are classics. All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and The Carol Burnett Show. This was “must see TV” twenty years before an ad man created that slogan (and on a different network).  The Carol Burnett Show, a variety show that featured musical numbers, dance routines and comedy sketches, ran for 11 seasons and won 25 Emmy awards.

The other shows in that historic line up were sold into syndication and can still be seen on cable channels. Carol Burnett and her husband, Joe Hamilton, owned the rights to her show and they chose to package it into DVD collections to sell. For Mothers Day I received a set of DVDs of skits from Carol’s shows and a copy of her book, This Time Together.

Her first book, One More Time, written in 1985, covered the more personal side of her story. This Time Together is really a memoir of her show biz life, the amazing people she met, worked with or just happened to run into.

I like her style of writing, she has a real knack for telling a story in an interesting way, no meandering or digressions that memoirs often fall prey to.  What comes through is that she is just as spontaneous and funny (and self-depreciating)  in real life as she was on stage. And totally able to laugh at herself as she told of meeting James Stewart and later Cary Grant, her childhood heroes, and being tongue-tied and klutzy because she was so star-struck. Or the time she scared off a mugger in New York City by giving the Tarzan yell long and loud.

The sub-title on the book cover is “Laughter and Reflection” and that’s what it is. Carol takes us along on her rise to stardom on Broadway and television and it’s a wonderful ride. It’s a delightful book and I highly recommend it.

The DVDs are good, too.

Three Critiques – Some good, some not so much

The primary forms of entertainment for me are theater, reading, watching movies.  And this was a week for all three.

Friday night I saw Honk, the Center on the Square KidStage (sponsored by Land O Frost) summer production. This is a musical adaptation of the story of the Ugly Duckling.  After a month of theater workshop, the kids (grades K-12) were able to show their stuff in a professional-looking performance.  KidStage Kids were the actors and singers and with help they worked on lighting, staging, make-up and costumes.  The result was fantastic. The energy fairly radiated from the stage and if there was a fumble or missed cue, I never saw it.  Five stars for this great show by a bunch of talented young folks.

Land O Frost KidStage is an ongoing program at Center on the Square with classes twice a week during the school year as well as the summer workshop. For more information about KidStage go to www.centeronthesquare.com.

I finished reading John Grisham’s The Summons. I don’t read a lot of Grisham, but found this novel at Goodwill. It looked brand new and it’s shorter than most of his books so I took a shot.  I’ve seen most of his movies and usually enjoy them. While I did finish reading the book, which says something, I’ll have to rate The Summons meh.”

My latest Netflix movie was Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley.  I was expecting a lightweight chick-flick and was pleasantly surprised by a movie that was both amusing and poignant. Steve Carell is so much better an actor than he gets a chance to be in Office Space. And Kiera Knightley always hold up her end of the deal. I recommend this movie. IMDb.com gives it a score of 6.7 (out of 10). I might rate it a little higher … but that works for me.

Why I Read Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult (pronounced Pe-koe, like the tea) wrote her first short story at age 5. She was published in Seventeen magazine while she was in college and was primary writer for DC Comics Wonder Woman Vol. 3.  She is probably my over-all favorite fiction writer.

As a reader, I find her books captivating – usually from the first paragraph – and gripping to the last page. As a writer, I love her voice and envy her skill at hooking her readers from the first paragraph and keeping them engrossed in the characters to the last page.

One thing that makes her stories so full of heart clutching moments is that she writes about subjects that are current and possibly on the edge of controversy.  Such as: teen suicide (The Pact); bullying and school shooting (Nineteen Minutes); Autism (House Rules); post-divorce ownership of the embryos (Sing You Home); euthanasia (Mercy); various medical ethics (My Sister’s Keeper); child abuse by a priest (Perfect Match); and stigmata, a phenomena recognized by some Christian denominations (Keeping Faith).

If you have read any of these books, you might disagree on what I named as the primary subject of the book. For instance Sing You Home (2011) deals with loss of a premature baby, how grief might alienate a couple rather than bring them together, gay relationships, evangelical Christians’ beliefs about the pre-born child.  All of Ms. Picoult’s novels incorporate many issues.

I have to admire her for the way she handles these delicate subjects, bringing out the very human feelings on both sides of a topic. Her technique of telling the story in more than one point of view lends itself to the success she has as a storyteller.

Because I am a writer, I think I am a discriminating reader. I pick up redundancies and discrepancies and see typos. This makes me a good editor/proof reader, I think, but a picky reader-for-entertainment.

I say that to say this: There is a J.P. novel I didn’t finish reading. I usually give a book 50-100 pages to draw me in and this one just didn’t make it. When I looked at the copyright date, I saw that it was written 20 years ago. It was actually her first novel –  before she honed her skills, I like to think.

Excuse the audacity in my review of a best selling writer. The point is that for the hard-working writer, our work should improve with each effort. We have all read recent novels by well-established writers who just phoned it in and relied on their name to sell the book. I don’t think Picoult has ever done this.

And that is why I read Jodi Picoult.

For a full list and reviews of Jodi Picoult novels, visit her Amazon Author’s page  here.

Why I Read Mara Leveritt

I love true crime non-fiction by investigative reporters. And, in my opinion, there’s no one better at that genre than Mara Leveritt.

I first heard her speak at a writer’s conference several years ago on the subject of vetting her 1998 book, Boys on the Tracks . (To vet: to examine carefully. In this case to make sure there was nothing in the book that could be considered slanderous.)  After the conference, I went home and raved about her so that my daughters drove to Books-a-Million (I told you it was several years ago) and bought the book for me straight away.  I can’t remember now why I didn’t buy it at the conference as is my normal practice.

I recalled the case of the teenagers from Saline County who were killed when hit by a train in a bizarre incident. I lived in Tennessee at the time and was able to read follow-ups only sporadically.  Reminded of the story, I couldn’t wait to catch up on the happenings.

Mara Leveritt is a seasoned investigative reporter, columnist and contributing editor for the Arkansas Times. She has won many awards for her work. She writes her books like a reporter should report: just the facts. Every statement made is footnoted and documented from court records or interviews with those involved.  Her absolute thoroughness and years of research are likely the reasons she has written only two books in this genre.

Much of the narrative in her book about the boys in Saline County involved not only the crime of murdering the boys, but also the corruption of people and agencies up and down the line that didn’t do their jobs in solving the case. St. Martin Press, publishers of The Boys on the Tracks, insisted on an in depth look at the supporting documentation.  During the conference, in discussing the vetting of her book, Ms. Leveritt said that she had never been sued, though “my life has been threatened.”

Her second book of this nature was The Devil’s Knot (2002, Atria), about the investigation, arrest and trial of the three young men known as the West Memphis Three. Both books were awarded the prestigious Arkansas Booker Worthen Prize.

Soon after publishing The Devil’s Knot, Mara Leveritt established a newsletter titled DK2, continuing to follow the story of the West Memphis Three, which was obviously not over just because the three were incarcerated. Contributions went to pay legal fees for the trio. Leveritt’s latest book, Justice Knot, examines events that culminated last year when the West Memphis Three were suddenly released from prison.  I plan to own and read this book.

Mara Leveritt is an excellent journalist, writing not to convince so much as to allow all the facts to be heard so a fair opinion can be formed.

To learn more about Mara Leveritt and her books visit maraleveritt.com

Why I Read William E. Barrett

I became a fan of William E. Barrett 40 or more years ago when I belonged to the Doubleday One-Dollar Book Club. Each month I chose from selections for $1.00 or perhaps a bit more depending on the fame of the author or expected popularity of the book.

The first Barrett novel I remember reading was The Shape of Illusion, published in 1972. A young man visits an art gallery and sees a painting of Christ being led through a stone-throwing mob. He sees his own face on one of the angry men about to lob a rock at Jesus. His quest to find the artist and learn more about the magic of the painting leads him “finally to discover the most precious gift a person can receive.” (book jacket quote)

Other novels I acquired at this time were The Wine and the Music, dealing with the issue of celibacy in the priesthood, and A Woman in the House, about a young monk moving from the solitary life he has known and working through relationships he had never had before.

The Left Hand of God, published in 1951, was one of Barrett’s most popular books. When I saw the movie with Humphrey Bogart and realized it was from a Barrett novel, I promptly found it in the public library. (I reviewed The Left Hand of God, book and movie, on January 20, 2013.)

In 1962 a short story Barrett had written earlier was published by Doubleday. Lilies of the Field was an immediate success and became a motion picture before he had even agreed to sell the rights! The movie won a Best Actor Oscar for Sydney Poitier.

William E. Barrett was a devout Catholic and many of his stories are based in that doctrine. All those I have mentioned here are along this line. I find they have a depth not usually found in the Christian fiction genre of today.

Though my favorite books come from his later works, William Barrett had a long career in writing, beginning with ghost writing term papers in college and moving to pulp fiction in his early years, speeches for political candidates, action thrillers, and biographies. He died in 1986 at the age of 86.

Many of his books are still available at Amazon.com, public libraries (or their sales) and used book stores.

Fifteen Authors I Have Read and will again

In 2010, I took a facebook challenge from my granddaughter, Elizabeth (who is way ahead of me on these things), to list 15 authors whose work I enjoy.  The challenge may have said something like “Authors I have read and will read again.”  As I look now at that list I posted then, off the top of my head, I can see the influence of what I was reading at the time. Also, there are some writers I missed, or new favorites I would add and a few I would replace, if I am limited to 15.

So, today, I’m revising the old list and over the next couple of weeks, I will tell you why I enjoy these particular writers. The first list was in no particular order, this one is alphabetical.

1. Jane Austen
2. William E. Barrett
3. Dave Barry
4. E. L. Doctorow
5. Karen Kingsbury
6. Wally Lamb
7. Anne La Mott
8. Mara Leverit
9. Brett Lott
10.Max Lucado
11. Catherine Marshall
12. Donald Miller
13. Jodi Picoult
14. Anna Quindlin
15. Anita Shreve

Four were deleted from the original list and here’s the reason:

Robert Frost: I fell in love with Robert Frost’s poetry when I heard my daughters’ high school chorus perform a musical setting of “Stopping by the Woods.” It was not only beautiful notes, it enhanced the rhythm of his words. I have read his poetry with enjoyment ever since. But I decided to make this a list of prose writers.

Neil Simon: He’s one of my very favorite playwrights, but I have several and I decided not to go there.

Gary Paulsen: I have read some excellent Young Adult fiction by Gary Paulsen, Richard Peck, Ann Martin and others. I decided that’s a whole other category.

Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird is probably my favorite book and movie. But if the list limits me to “authors I have read and will read again”, alas, I don’t think Harper Lee will qualify. I blogged about Mockingbird, the book, movie, and writer about a year ago. Find it on the right, under Reading List or Writing.

So, that’s my list. Not off the top of my head but with a lot of thought. And I’ll tell you why.  Next week.