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Amazon to Deliver Guilty Pleasure

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“YOUR BOOK HAS SHIPPED” reads the email slug.

Sounds of the Hallelujah Chorus echo in my ears!

I’ve been denying myself the pleasure of new books since I began my quest to read 75 books this year. Heck, I’ve got 75 books easy that I’ve just been meaning to get to hanging around the house, why spend the money? I’ve been thrifty. I’ve been satisfied. I’ve loved the experience of looking at my shelves and seeing actually-read books living there. I’m up to 58 books since January 1 and I’ve got another three books rotating through my car, purse and bedside right now.

I got me a serious case of Book Love.

But something about a crisp new book waiting for me on my front porch; it’s like hoarding a silken piece of chocolate just for me and savoring it at the end of a stressful day.

Just seeing it waiting for me next to the mailbox when I drive up my street – shivers. Anticipating opening the package and being the first person ever to open the book to the title page – good bumps. Knowing its MINE – priceless.

My excuse for an Amazon purchase is that I get to go see the author in October; I actually get to have dinner with him one night and then see him lecture twice the next day. I am eager to meet Mark Kurlansky, author of about 20 books – both fiction and non-fiction October 9 at the Robert Laxalt Distinguished Writer Program on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. (You can come too! Click here.)

The invitation brought me to this dilemma – what to order with so many books to choose from. Should I go with Birdseye, his latest? It’s a story of the enigmatic founder and creative mind that brought us the wonder of frozen food. Or, The Basque History of the World, the book that perhaps brought him to the attention of UNR because of Professor Robert Laxalt’s Basque heritage? How about Hank Greenburg: the Hero Who didn’t Want to be One? My husband would undoubtedly want to read that – but this book is for ME! Ha, ha, ha!

I get to meet this guy!

It’s between two others – how to choose? Flip-a-coin? Pick a number between one and two? I know! Get one as a gift and keep one, but read the present before the gift-ee gets it! Is that wrong? It is? Shoot! Well, I’m doing it anyway, damn convention.

So ye Amazon Man will be dropping to my doorstep soon, Salt: A World History AND 1968: The Year That Rocked the World.

Oh, I hope, I hope I love them both.

Paging My Addiction

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The blank stare.

A lengthy pause in my sentence.

Abrupt obtuse references.

A little off the game.

These are the main symptoms. I’ve a case of ROD. I feel an intervention is around my corner and friends and relations will be uttering phrases such as:

“We’re worried about you.” “You’re actions have negatively affected you in the following ways….” Their eyes will show a set manner of “Carefrontation” instead of “Confrontation.” They’ll slyly look at crib notes for their set of observations.

Oh, Oscar Wilde, don’t desert me now!

The Children

“I’ve noticed that last Tuesday and Thursday you brought one to the dinner table.”

“The couch has missed you and I’ve noticed you stopped watching the Olympics with us.”

“You forgot to sign my permission slip, even after you read the page over and over.”

The Co-worker

“Last Monday you were late coming in and your press releases had the tone of historical fiction.”

The Mother

“You used to call me more. Why won’t you call?”

The Pastor

“I’ve observed you reading the hymn book during my sermons.”

The Husband

I’m like a ball-player that bats two hundred and thirty and knows he’s no better.

“I am concerned that our conversations sound a lot like Ernest Hemingway.”

Oh this will ensue:

“What’s the matter, darling?”

“Nothing. Nothing’s the matter.”

“Yes there is.”

“No nothing. Really nothing.”

“I know there is.”

“Tell me, darling. You can tell me.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Tell me.”

“I don’t want to. I’m afraid I’ll make you unhappy or worry you.”

“No it won’t.”

“You’re sure? It doesn’t worry me but I’m afraid to worry you.”

“It won’t if it doesn’t worry you.”

“I don’t want to tell.”

“Tell it.”

“Do I have to?”

“Yes.”

“Your reading.”

“It’s become a problem.”

“We won’t fight.”

“We mustn’t.”

“Because there’s only us two and in the world there’s all the rest of them. If anything comes between us we’re gone and then they have us.”

So I admit it I’ve got a problem, but my addiction can hardly be helped. It’s hardwired in from age 4 and the positive effects far outweigh the negative. Don’t you think?

ROD – Reading Overdose Disorder – All the cool kids have it. Mine’s just been diagnosed.

(art credit: modern drunkard magazine)

Breaking for Heartache

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A sharp intake of breath, then lungs full, but not a cry – yet.

“Oh no. My baby.”

A parent recognizes the cry of her child. The tired cry. The hungry cry. The frustrated, sister took my toy cry. The “Owie!” cry.

But this cry – different. Never before heard, but I knew.

I pulled the car over and asked Madeleine, then 8, “Baby, has it happened, are you at the end? Oh dear.”

Madeleine begged to read “Where the Red Fern Grows.”   “Well, are you sure?” I asked. “It’s SO good. Might be sad, though”

Unperturbed, she ordered the Wilson Rawls’ classic from the scholastic book order.

by Wilson Rawls

Voraciously she read the story of Billy, Old Dan and Little Ann – a boy and his two dogs. On the drive home from a visit with friends, it was dark. She wanted the dome light of the car on to finish. Seeing she was close to the end, I told her that the dome light disturbs the other drivers (I wanted to delay the inevitable). However, light is just a little thing to an eight-year-old.

Now at the curb on Mayberry drive – how prophetic – I hastened to her side of the car while six-year-old Marjorie asked what was it. “Is she OK?”

For this was the cry of heartbreak. The First heartbreak.

“Why mom? Dan AND Little Ann? Why?”

The truth. A book can break your heart. Oh, there’s the poorly written book, and the one with the stupid ending. The one with the evil villain – but that end is expected, it’s telegraphed throughout the narrative.

This is different. Be clear – a good book will break your heart with its unexpected beauty, the characters you’ve fallen in love with for 226 pages; these characters are good and solid and innocent. Oh. Hurt.

It can be that the story is so well written. It may also be that this heart wrencher is the mirror in which you see yourself.

A long time ago, “Laughing Boy,” a short 1930 Pulitzer Prize fiction winner by Oliver La Farge about a Native American couple in New Mexico was my Red Fern. I had no knowledge of this book, only that it was on the stack of a brother’s college books. The same thing – at the climax, I cracked open with a force of emotion. Utter meltdown.

That memory helped me sooth my girl.

What could I say? Just hold her. Let her cry.

After a while, I managed to say, “Let’s go home. We’ll read the last bits together.”

The heart can mend. Wild violets, rooster heads and mountain daisies still make us smile.

Madeleine’s fifteen now and growing in every way. Ever optimistic, she barrels into life, school, and friendships and some day it’ll be a relationship. She’s bound to have those Red Fern days; I just want to be there with her to find the wild violets, rooster heads and mountain daisies by and by.

Fifty is Nifty in My Book (list)

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I’ve just rounded on the big 5-0. Sure feels good!

No, I’m not celebrating my  age – that’s a few years off – it’s my goal of reading 75 books in one year. In seven full months I’ve read 50 books and if all goes well I should clear my New Year’s goal and perhaps then some.

In looking at the list of books that I’ve thus far got under my belt – or at least filtered into my brain – it’s quite an eclectic list. But then it would be, considering that I was challenging myself to read the many books that I’ve got in bookcases around the house that I’ve been meaning to read. Along the way, though, I picked up a couple from the used bookstore, from the new books store, through my audio book collection and from friends who have kindly given me some of their favorites.

Here how the books stack up thus far:

30 fiction

20 non-fiction

Nine of the books deal with Nevada and the West because I am admittedly a genealogy nut and several of the books on hand are those that have been given to me or purchased by me to learn more about the land my two sets of great-great grandparents emigrated to in the 1860s. Those titles include:

Comstock Women: The Making of a Mining Community Edited by Ron James and Liz Raymond; Saucer Eyes by Eulah Croson Lauckes; The Deep Blue Memory by Monique Urza (Laxalt); The Money & the Power by Sally Denton & Roger Morris; The Mountains of California by John Muir; Where Are All the Magpies? By Patty A. Melton; William Morris Stewart (various authors- Nevada Historical Society); The Ox Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark; Sun Mountain by Richard S. Wheeler.

Thirteen of the 50 I consider literary classics. Though an English major many moons ago in college, the emphasis was on writing, not literature, so these remained unread until this reading binge came on. In alpha order they are:

Candide (Voltaire)

Emma (Jane Austen)

Fairy Tales (Hans Christian Andersen)

O! Pioneers (Willa Cather)

One of Ours (Willa Cather)

Roughing It (Mark Twain)

Short Stories (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (unk)

The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton)

The Legend of Sleepy Hallow (Washington Irving)

The Odyssey (Homer)

The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriett Beacher Stowe)

OK, I admit, I did read the Odyssey back in the day, but it is very much worth the re-read.

A few spiritual ones – or at least books that explore other religions — sped on my reading bender: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, and Postville by Stephen Bloom. Bloom’s book is not actually spiritual, or religious, but is a study in Orthodox Jewish-Midwest Iowa relations. Still, educational in terms of orthodox beliefs. One other self-help book to add to the melting pot was The Majesty of Calmness by William George Jordan.

Biographies. Oh, I’ve read a few. Eight people who probably seldom if ever met – Steve Jobs (by Walter Issacson); Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (Irene Gut); Then Again (by Diane Keaton); Chronicles I (by Bob Dylan); Killing Bono: I was Bonno’s Doppelgänger (Neil McCormick) and the three bios from my Nevada list. Now, tell me, should I have Walden by Henry David Thoreau in with biographies or under classics? Maybe that one can be termed classically autobiographical. But by that standard, so then would be Roughing It, by Mark Twain.

Along the way, I read a few “juvenile” books that our daughters have wanted me to check out. The Indian in the Cupboard (by Lynne Reid Banks), The Book Thief (by Marcus Zusek) and the Secret Dragon Society (by Adeline Yeri Mah).

I like my historical novels by the wheelbarrow load. So far, besides those mentioned above,  my list includes Brighton Beach Boys in the Radio Service about World War I, The Dovekeepers set in the first century in Israel, The Other Boleyn Girl occurring in 16th century England, Mary Barton set in 19th century England’s Industrial Age, and I Heard the Owl Call My Name about Canadian Native life. One further book that is actually non-fiction, but reads like a novel because it’s knitted together so well, was Manhunt, about the quest to track down John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

I threw in two Arthur Connan Doyle Sherlock Holmes books: A Study in Scarlett and The Hound of the Baskervilles. And one science fiction – the Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.

Human beings need their comedy – though these are plainly outdated,  I do enjoy PG Wodehouse and therefore read My Man Jeeves and the Adventures of Sally.

Two disappointments (and this is why I avoid a lot of best sellers) were The Mermaid’s Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (so sad, because The Secret Life of Bees was exceptional) and Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Truly insipid.

Rounding the 50 out were two books on economics that I do so highly recommend: Boomerang by Michael Lewis and Nickeled and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Do I have a favorite? I cannot choose from one of my “children,” though a couple will be relegated to the attic and some of the others may get a further review on this blog. So far, it’s been a fun and rewarding book journey. I’m proud of myself for setting this goal for 2012 and honestly looking forward to augmenting this list with oodles of titles in the next five months of the year.

Chasing Dreams, Achieving a Life With Ingenuity

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Oh, I’ve done it; you’ve done it – admit it.

All the people I’ve come across at one time have done it.

We’ve said, “How come I never became a musician? “No? Maybe we asked, “Why wasn’t I an actor?” Still not it? Perhaps we asked “Why didn’t I … play sports/study for my masters/ take dance lessons/run for political office/start that baking business/Why didn’t I write that book?”

Getting closer?

Somewhere in your journey of life you came up short, despaired that you never excelled at that one thing that you enjoy or admire or maybe you did go after that dream or you didn’t break through to achieve eminence, fame, prosperity – whatever term fits the talent or industry to the road you didn’t take.

With the Olympics upon us, the questions may center on physical success. What of the many athletes who spend “their best years” trying out and not making the team? Or never gaining the sponsorships needed to just devote every waking second to come up to the quality needed to be on the world stage? 

Chances are, you’ve wondered, “Why didn’t it all come together for me?” Have you dared to ask aloud and heard the responses?

Let’s hum together. The airwaves are full of songs that exalt this theme: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (Rolling Stones), “You Got a Fast Car” (Tracy Chapman), “Glory Days” (Bruce Springsteen) and “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (U-2).

 Killing Bono: I was Bono’s Doppelganger by Neil McCormick is an autobiographical book based on the author’s efforts to break into pop music as the front man of several bands simultaneous to Bono and U-2’s ramp up to fame in the 1980s and ‘90s. McCormick details his unbridled passion for music, living on the brink of poverty in order to live the life, rehearse, perform, lay day demo tracks, get music into the hands of agents and recording companies all while schoolmates Paul Hewson (Bono), David Evans (The Edge), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., became international rock stars.

McCormick’s treatise on fame, envy, insanity is at times painful and other times laugh-out-loud funny because of his downright honest take on his all-in lust for making it.  McCormick and brother Ivan’s bands included Frankie Corpse and the Undertakers, The Modulators, Yeah, Yeah!, and Shook Up! Frustratingly, he and his band mates falter because of bad luck or are always one step ahead or behind the industry. One mucky-muck insisted that it was Neil’s haircut that was hindering success.

 The book’s consistent theme centers on our constant compulsion to compare ourselves to others – a seductive, yet destructive way to live. It doesn’t help that frequently Neil and Ivan cross paths with the U-2 gang and the futileness of their musical mission is palpable.

Like a bear getting stung while licking trace honey from the beehive, repeatedly stung, but going back for more, McCormick takes any glimmers of faint praise to fuel his blind sojourn into pop music.

Ultimately, the on-and-off day job that helped pay for this hobby – writing – brought him recognition, fame, a lifestyle that still allows him to dabble in music. Today he is the London Telegraph’s chief rock and pop music critic. He seems to revel in his life of rubbing shoulders with musicians and writing about music from a knowledgeable point of view. Is he satisfied? Not quite. But he seems to have reconciled himself to a life that places him achingly close to that dream.

So many of us struggle with the tension between what we’re drawn to and what we’re good at that reading this book is a refreshing peek into a life of chasing dreams and then finding new ones that position us where our true talents lie.