Monday, July 27, 2015

The Dog Days of Summer

Nothing beats the dog days of summer, right?  Out of respect for me and all the members of my tribe on this important time of year, You-Know-Who has turned over the keys to the computer with no struggle.  I have a vague memory of an ankle nip, and perhaps a snarl or two, but that might have happened at another time.  

YKW has had her big nose stuck in another book.  Does that surprise you?  Sure, she sits outside to read, but spends more time swatting at things than turning pages.  And she is constantly and annoyingly calling my name.  Geeze Louise.  I have scents to diagnose and neighbors to visit.  This is my time of year - the "dog days" - she needs to let me celebrate.

Anywho (I heard someone use that expression on the TV last week) YKW has had the good sense to read a Chet and Bernie book during these fabulous days of all things dog.  This one is called The Sound and the Furry.  Apparently that means something to her and maybe to you.  The furry part speaks to me since most of the members of my nation are.  We've talked about this before.  Bernie is a D-list PI.  Without Chet riding shotgun in their topless car, crimes would not be solved.  

This crime takes place in the bayou where there are lots of great smells for Chet to track.  He loves the salt water and what else?  Oh, the shrimp.  Yeah. the shrimp.  So, there is fight between two families going all the way back to something called a civil war.  The humans have the same trouble I have. They can't always remember why they are fighting. The worst people in each family are the vicious, boat gunning grannies who do all sorts of finger waving when they speed past each other on the water.  One of fighting families is in law enforcement, just like me and Bernie, except they wear uniforms and Bernie says they are crooked.  I have seen crooked trees, never crooked people, but I will trust Bernie on this one and hope that if we meet them they do not topple over on me.  Shrimp.  Stolen.  Thousands.  Lost income.  Better watch out.  Those words pop up in all the conversations we have, but just when Bernie gets to the interesting parts, I see a Cheeto under a desk to rescue or catch a whiff of beef jerky.  It must be found.  So, read this book along with us if you want a tail wagging good time.  Tail wagging.  That's a trick I have been trying to teach YKW.  It's a losing battle. Oh, and if you don't already have a dog in your home, what are you waiting for?

YKW thanks you for stopping by.
With licks and wags from your friend
GB the Dog
aka Mrs. George Burns

Monday, July 20, 2015

Watchman and Writers

Yesterday I read this book.  Today I mourn the loss of Scout and Atticus.  Today I am angry at the publishing company that clearly saw a money grab, taking advantage of a respected writer and all the readers who were and continue to be charmed and informed by To Kill a Mockingbird.

I will not go into the details of my disgrunteledness since there are plenty of people who will read and respect this work. I will not tarnish it further with my opinions.  My watchman has been set.

Instead, how about a few words about “Writers I Have Known”?  Oops – gotta confess that this topic was inspired by “Watchman” when a character articulated something I have never been able to.  Simply put (and I paraphrase here) some people “write”, others are “writers”. Makes sense to me.   I write.  I string words together and say things.  I end my ideas with a . giving little thought to the continuity of what I offer. My consciousness is raised every time I learn that someone has read one of my posts and I for a while I try to do better.

  Writers toil.  They hover over each word until, when joined together, those words form sentences – paragraphs – impact.  They concern themselves with an overall body of work that will bear their names and influence, inspire, provoke...

Writers are my rock stars, my movie idols, my brushes with fame, and for the most part, those brushes have been much more than I ever expected.  Mike Perry, Tom Maltman, Sally Goldenbaum, T Greenwood, Steve Head are just a few of the writers I have had the good fortune of working with over the years. They are keenly and sincerely aware of how important their readers are, and never fail to acknowledge that.  Their relationship with me always begins selflessly with what they can do for me, what they can do to promote reading, literacy, libraries and independent bookstores. 

You know what else? They answer emails from readers, respond to readers’ Facebook posts and Skype with book discussion groups.  Just last month Tom Maltman Skyped with a Manitowoc group.  Of course there are others who always begin the discussion with what I can do for them.  Where will I place their book in the store?  When will I feature it on my blog or on Facebook?  And they do it with aggression.  Oh well...they are the minority.

Watching local people write and self publish has been another treat for me.  They generously share their enthusiasm as projects grow and come to fruition.   Their joy is always tempered with humility – such a nice combination. 

My life is good – thanks to fine friends, a silly dog,  and the opportunities that come along with bookselling.  

Gotta go – there’s a book calling.  Actually, I have returned to Chet and Bernie,
The Sound and the Furry.  I think I might have already read this one.  Still fun, though.

As for the Great Hemingway Project, well, that might be a lost cause.  Every year I dream up a little scheme.  Two year ago it was writing a haiku a day for a year.  The result? Eighteen.  Pathetic.  Haiku.  Then Hemingway happened.  Little success there either. Next idea?  This I am sure I will stick to.  Each time I have plans to so something fun - dinner with friends, art show... whatever, I am going to invite Johnny Depp to join me.  How's that?   Please do not steal this idea from me.  I don't want him to have to make choices.  

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Twenty Most Hated books

A British blogger recently ran a survey asking her readers to send her a list of their most hated books along with commentary on why they chose the books they did.  From the submissions, she curated a list of 124 titles that received multiple votes, although I don't know how many votes constituted "multiple".  Right - you have already deduced that this was not a scientific survey, nor was it part of a masters thesis or doctoral dissertation.  At least I hope it wasn't. Then again, if this was a major piece of a dissertation, I'm boarding the next plane to England to work on my PhD.

Back to the subject at hand.  I have great respect for British readers who placed Fifty Shades of GreyGone Girl and Twilight. at the top of the list.  Think about it. An entire island of readers shares my opinion. 

 I was feeling rather smug until The Catcher in the Rye showed up as #4.  What the heck?  Too crude? Dialogue too common?  England doesn't have confused teens or hookers?  Readers attempted to justify their feelings about this book, but those made about as much sense as the choice itself.  Basically 0.  Nada,  Big fat goose egg.

The remainder of the list baffles as well, taking an ugly turn to include many classics and standards. First, including the four already mentioned, the blogger goes on to name the seven additional books that made her top 11 list.  11!  Who does that?  Top 10, top 50...but top 11.  Oh those Brits. They have kindly shared Shakespeare, the Beatles and Colin Firth with us so perhaps we need to look the other way when it comes to their list making skills.

The next seven (in the top 11).... 

  • The Great Gatsby - too decadent for the tea and crumpet set?
  • Eat, Pray, Love - too indulgent?  I wouldn't disagree.
  • Lovely Bones - I guess they like their crickets on grass playing fields and not on corpses.
  • Heart of Darkness - come on, Joseph Conrad? - give him another try, Beefeaters. 
  • The Awakening - maybe Kate Chopin's short stories would be less challenging
  • Catch 22 - hmmmmm
  • The DaVinci Code - no Masons in England?  Yup...denial!

As for the rest of the list, I say "Shame on you, British readers."  Look at these titles:
Wuthering Heights
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man
 Moby Dick (OK, they got that one right)
The Red Badge of Courage 
 The Life of Pi (whaaaat?????, I see you doing cartwheels, Mary S.)
 As I Lay Dying
 Casual Vacancy (by the Queen of all things Potter-isn't that akin to British blasphemy?)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime (have they not heard of the award winning play based on the book - and the young English actor who recently won a Tony for his role in the adaptation?) 
The Shack (such godless heathens).

I wonder what all those disappointed readers are doing with the books they purchased and hated?  Donating is always an option, but my experience has been that when someone hates a book, they have no belief what-so-ever that anyone else could possibly enjoy it. To spare others the pain, the books are pitched in hopes that the small gesture will rid the world on the unnecessary verbiage contained between the covers.  All will be right with the world.  And, for the trash to treasure set, there's always this option.....

Monday, July 6, 2015

Reconstructing Amelia

The reviews are, in general, miserable.  The comparisons to Gone Girl - incorrect and disconcerting.  Stylistically inconsistent.  Yet, I like it.  The first fifty or so pages had me begging for relief, or a razor blade (to slice pages) but in time, that changed.  This has all the earmarks of a first novel, and for that I will forgive the author and blame her editor.

Drawn out, inconsequential narratives opening the book violated the first lesson presented in all Creative Writing 101 courses - "Show, don't tell".  And, in time, that began to happen.  The author allowed characters to speak; she let them reveal themselves through believable dialogue along with some internal commentary.  Her characters are sharply defined and she gives us enough reason to suspect each one that I wanted to read to the end.

What's more, the outcome is logical.  Sure, the plot is predicated upon secrets and the frightening, underground life that some teens live.  But as Amelia's pained life unfolds, it is easy to see how the pieces fit together.  Amelia jumps from atop a fancy pants private school building.  Or does she?  That become the issue at hand, that and the fact that her mom, a professional, single mom, is riddled with guilt over her parenting skills.  My strongest gripe with the book is just that - why is the working single mom so often villainized? 

As I consider the book as a whole, I think readers' negative  perceptions are caused not by the book itself, but by the marketing.  It is not a second Gone Girl and for that I am grateful.  The only similarly is that  they are both suspenseful.  Also, Reconstructing Amelia  has been marketed to adults, when it really is more suited to a young adult audience.  Books written for the YA set seldom satisfy adult reading needs in the same way that a book like The Road would - YA novels are simply substantively lighter.  Nothing wrong with that but so often these days publishers attempt to cross market books and that just doesn't work.

Here's my snarky thought for the day : Hey, all you people who had to film the fireworks with your smatphones or tablets - I hope you enjoy watching the blurry substandard amazing light show that you could have seen live had you put your devices down.  Wow.  It seems that devices have taken control of us. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 22, 2015 in Boo! Hiss!

By all accounts, today is June 22.  My calendar says so and my computer agrees.  Flipping through channels this morning I found that the good people at the Today Show and Good Morning America are also under the impression that this is June 22.  The weather doesn't support that, but we're getting used to crazy weather in June in these parts.  

But on June 22nd (and perhaps even before that) school supplies are showing up on store shelves!  That's insane.  I bet even the most dedicated teachers are crying  "Foul.  This isn't funny.  STOP".  Being one season ahead of real time is something I have never gotten a good grip on. Last year I cringed when employees started displaying Christmas books on the 4th of July and Easter books on January 1st. OK - perhaps their efforts weren't that premature, but it still seemed awkward to me.  

Last week ARCs (advance reader copy) of new books started rolling in, and it looks like creepy is in. Yup, publishers are already promoting what they hope will be big, scary books for Halloween. There are too many to share with you, and far too many to have read over the weekend.  Besides that, "Three coins in a Fountain" was on Sunday afternoon right in the middle of my planned reading time.  No contest.  Dorothy Maguire and Louis Jordan won.  But, from the pile, I picked out a couple and will share the back of the book blurbs with you.

Second Souls by Christopher Moore - lovable...oddball....classic bender....I'm a fan and will read this book soon.
In San Francisco the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing - and you know that can't be good -...buckle in for a weird and wild ride 

Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day...first chapter got me hooked and I might read the entire novel at some point.
Juliet Townsend is used to losing.  Back in high school she lost every track team race to her best friend.  Then one night, Maddy checks in (to the motel where Juliet works).  By the next morning, Juliet is no longer jealous of Maddy - she's the chief suspect in her murder.

The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler...I've started this twice and walked away twice.  The reviews are mixed, no middle of the road, either glowing or down right nasty.  I'll give it one more try but the whole mermaid business doesn't work for me. (Lizzer, let me know what you think of this book)
Books matter to Simon Watson, a young librarian who finds himself increasingly drawn to the one that has arrived on his doorstep.  It seems to be some kind of journal from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700's who reports many strange and magical things - including the drowning death of a circus mermaid.

Conversion by Katherine of my favorite plays to teach my high school kids was Arthur Miller's The Crucible an allegory about the McCarthy era veiled as the Salem witch trials.  Might be fun to read this fresh twist.
First the Queen Bee starts having loud, uncontrollable tics in the middle of class.  More students and stranger symptoms follow...the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts as school officials, angry partents and the board of health scramble to find something, or someone to blame. But Colleen Rowley, who has been reading The Crucible for extra credit comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuriess ago...

There you have it, a jump start to your October reading.  In between books, you can work on your Halloween costume and stock up on trick or treat candy.  After all, it's already June 22nd.

Me?  I'm getting out the shovel, salt, and having the oil changed in the snow blower.

Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Let the Spirit Move You

This is the Maplewood Hotel, a popular gathering spot for tourists in Lily Dale.  A caption beneath the same picture in the book reads in part  "A sign in the lobby warns against conducting seances and circles in public rooms, but the side parlor is sometimes used for such.  Tales of roaming spirits, bumps in the night, and furniture inexplicably moved are common as tourists testify each morning about their night's adventures."

As promised here's more about Lily Dale, the tiny, New York settlement  whose inhabitants are known for communing with spirits. Christine Wicker's book is sometimes silly but never boring. Wicker, seventeen year religions editor for the Dallas Morning News is among the first reporters granted access to one of the world's oldest spiritualist community. She approached this investigative assignment with professional open-mindedness and lots of personal skepticism.  Previous assignments covering what she dubbed the "God beat" found her talking with a voodoo priestess in Cuba who communed with the Virgin Mary. She interviewed a man walking across America dragging a wooden cross behind him because Jesus told him to. She even pulled an all-nighter in Garland, Texas with a Taiwanese cult waiting for God to come on the television and announce the end of the word.  Eventually, her penchant for chasing the weird led her to Lily Dale.

Wicker set some goals for her visit, one of them being to discover if the mediums that gather each summer and attract thousands of seekers are just skilled performers or humans with some sort of super power to connect and perhaps to heal. She pulls back the curtain and unlike those visitors to Oz, finds a complex, intriguing and life changing cast of characters.  

One of the first people Wicker meets is Dr. Pat Naulty, an English professor at a community college. Years earlier, Pat had left - some would say abandoned - her husband and two sons to go to college. She was dying a slow, emotional death in Indiana and needed to enrich her life. Her connection to those she left remained fragile and distant, but when her phone rang early one morning and she heard her ex-husband's voice her mind automatically  flashed to her sixteen-year-old son." "John's dead isn't he?" she asked.  He was.  He had taken his own life.  Nautly went to Lily Dale at the invitation of a friend, and only for a rest and not to seek answers.  

In addition to Naulty's story (the ending of which I will not reveal) Wicker follows two other visitors to the Dale: a newly bereaved widow, and a happily married wife whose first visit to Lily Dale brings an ominous warning. 

This spiritualist movement dates back to the 1800's and the little Victorian village has attracted the likes of Sinclare Lewis, Harry Houdini and Susan B. Anthony. Yup, I'd love to take a road trip and nose around. Am I a believer? Nope. Not one bit, but neither was Christine Wicker.

Lily Dale has a detailed website  Seriously, I didn't fully understand the magnitude of this movement until I went to their website.  My goodness.  This is an organized group with a serious schedule of events along with all you need to stay busy for a lengthy visit.  There are cafes, gift shops, hiking trails and even a bookstore all focusing on the beliefs of these spiritualists.  Check it out.  You decide if this is just a merry amusement park for those who enjoy dwelling on the edge of creepiness, a concerted effort to prey on those in emotional turmoil, or a place where spirits co-exist with those who know how to harness their energy.

Wishing you stable furniture, friendly spirits, and gentle bumps in the  night.....

Monday, June 8, 2015

Odds and Ends

No long, chatty post today.  It's moving fixtures around the store because I want to day.  Gives me great appreciated for physical laborers.

I did read a bit this weekend - a lot, actually.  fFirst-  a short play called Trapped which is a take off of Death Trap- a play within a play.  Adding this new, third layer makes it a play within a play within a play, I guess.  I want to direct this short piece someday soon.

The title UnCatholic Conduct calledmy name.  Rating: Awful.  Make that Awful -.  Luckily it came in a box of books that had been damaged by the carrier so I will be getting a credit for this book which I will finish despite the awfulness.  Gotta find out who's killing those Catholic School kids in a private school in England.

I just got started on Lily Dale, a big departure from my normal reading.  I remember seeing a segment on TV about this secretive community in New York where psychics gather and  are sought out  by those hoping to contact dead loved ones.  Although this sounds like a new age commune, it's not.  Lilly Dale has been around for decades, and until recently, the inhabitants resisted publicity.  Not sure why that has changed.  .

That's that. Gotta get my tool belt on. Time to start spittin' and cussin' as I shove shelves around.  (No, that's not a comment on tough, physical workers.  It's what I do when I exert myself which makes most people in my life happy I have chosen an  exertion free occupation).

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Hold Still

Funny how things fall into place every once in while.  Hold Still has been featured on bookseller publications and websites for months, touted as "visionary", "visceral", "pitch-perfect - the list of accolades runs long.  Still other critics have described it as "gothic", "disturbing", "stark", "hell on wheels".  Those polarized comments alone would ordinarily have drawn me to read this book, but for some reason, I kept passing it by.  

Then an abrupt announcement moved this book to the top of my list. You see, I learned that my friend Julie's cancer has progressed to a critical stage.  Julie, along with her life long companion and artist collaborator, Johnie, have brought much attention to the reality of Wisconsin life through their nationally recognized photography.  You might remember the big splash over a whimsical little pink book about Manitowoc's own aluminum Christmas trees, Season's Gleamings.  That was their book but it certainly isn't the only contribution they have made to the arts community.

Like Julie, Sally Mann is a photographer and this book is all that the critics say it is.  Mann grew up in the south and her well connected parents played host to any number of famous writers, artists and philosophers. Her world was filled with unconventional thinkers. Abstraction, ambiguity, impulsiveness and experimentation were the norm for her.  Somehow she managed to marry into a family that brought untold drama to her adult life.

In this book, which is accompanied by photographs, she tell her stories, unfrosted and unashamed.  She put into words many things I never could.  Julie frequently sends me a postcard from one of her collections, and although I connected to them, I could not identify why.  Mann's book helped me do that.  

The big story about Sally Mann was caused by the pictures she took of her kids.  Nude pictures.  To Mann, they were a natural expression of the tenderness of childhood.  Not everyone felt that way and great debates and legal discussion arose when the pictures were publicly exhibited.  I will admit I found many of them uncomfortable, but it's mainly because her son and daughter look angry in the photos she chose to include in this book.  Angry little kids - that is uncomfortable and I can't help but wonder why they seem so sullen.

This book is a memoir and as such, I accept what the author says as truth.  If this were fiction, I'd be shaking my head page after page wondering why a novelist with obvious control over structure and style would choose melodrama as her genre.  Thick book - fascinating page turner.

Julies little postcards are all tacked to a b-board in a corner of my basement where, from time to time, I commit art.  It's my own private installation of her work.  I will spend some time there tonight, in my corner, sending her strength and and wishes for bravery. Glitter on, my friend. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mike Perry is Back

Life is suddenly full of drama for low-key Harley Jackson: A woman in a big red pickup has stolen his bachelor's heart, a Hummer-driving predatory developer is threatening to pave the last vestiges of his family farm, and inside his barn is a calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ.

Harley's best friend, Billy, a giant of a man who shares his trailer house with a herd of cats and tries to pass off country music lyrics as philosophy, urges him to avoid the woman, fight the developer, and get rich off the calf. But Harley takes the opposite tack, hoping to avoid what his devout, dearly departed mother would have called "a scene."


Then the secret gets out--right through the barn door, and Harley's "miracle" goes viral. Within hours pilgrims, grifters, and the media have descended on his quiet patch of Swivel, Wisconsin, looking for a glimpse (and a percentage) of the calf. Does Harley hide the famous, possibly holy calf and risk a riot, or give the people what they want-and raise enough money to keep his land-and, just possibly, win the woman and her big red pickup truck?

Harley goes all in, cutting a deal with a major Hollywood agent that transforms his little farm into an international spiritual theme park-think Lourdes, only with cheese curds and t-shirts. Soon, Harley has lots of money . . . and more trouble than he ever dreamed.

Funny, I can hear Mike's voice in my head as I read this fictional tale of the eccentric residents living in and around Boomler.  Funny how so many of them resemble the "real" characters he honors in his essay collections.  Methinks that for Mike, the line between fact and fiction is about as fluid as cow muck in a pasture after a driving rain.  Gotta love this guy and all the folks in his real and imagined lives.  

What am I reading?  Today I switch over to script reading for a little Hypothetical project a few friends have been tossing around.  We'll see....

Thanks for stopping by.