Snuggle Up With A Good Book

Last week I made another visit to the Scrap Exchange, Durham’s Disneyland for crafters and thrift shop junkies.

I struck gold.

In their huge book section, I picked up a green hardcover book that had the telltale color, texture, size, and aroma of an old school library book.  It still had the little pocket pasted onto the inside of the back cover.  And, tucked into that pocket was the original card.

The book originally came from Tom’s River High School.  Coincidentally, Tom’s River is very close to where my mom grew up.  The first time it was checked out, it was due November 20, 1962.  The last time it was returned to the high school library was January 8, 1979.   

The book is Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Her Betsy series was one of the written joys of my life.  I read and reread these books whenever I felt lonely; and for a kid in a military family, it was more often than you might think.

The books go from early readers to Betsy’s marriage and the beginnings of WWI.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib were my closest friends, and B’s family was my second family, always there for a singalong and an onion sandwich at Sunday night lunch. 

To honor the books that I loved so much, I thought that I’d tell you about my all-time favorite books; the ones that I stayed up late reading and the ones, like Betsy, that I’d pull off the shelf when I needed its comfort.

Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly.  Written in 1942, it’s the story of Angie Morrow, a sixteen-year-old girl living in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.  I read it in the sixth grade, and it set me up for all kinds of disappointment when I was going through my own 17th summer.

Hey, not all of us can be willowy, self-possessed, blond cheerleaders.  I adore the book and whole mood and energy I get when I read it.

Chesapeake, by James Michener.  I read this in the 9th grade on a two-week class trip to Mexico.  It was my first Michener. I love all of his books, but this multi-generational novel about families on the Eastern shore of Virginia is my flannel pajamas, cozy Michener.

This is my own copy.

The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus, and Hotel New Hampshire, all by John Irving.  In one page of this author’s work, he can make you cry, laugh, and want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.

His work is easy to read, but hard to digest.  All of his characters seem like real people, full of quirks, nobility, and faults.  I have never read a book with odder, yet more believable characters. 

John Irving

John Irving will challenge you and your whole world.

Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.  This is the nonfiction account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer, HH Holmes, who used it as his personal hunting ground.  Larson writes history that reads like fiction.  I read everything he writes, and not only because reading nonfiction makes me feel smart.

During this apocalypse that is our lives, I’ve been reading lots of thrillers; it makes me appreciate that at least I’m not being stalked by a crazed killer, and I love a good twist.  Recently I read, Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris.

It’s astonishing.

So, if I may suggest, Gentle Reader, put down the remote and pick up a book.  You can take a trip without a mask that will change you forever.

Thanks for your time.

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Book ‘em, Danno

About twenty Christmas’ ago I was working in a Waldenbooks at the mall.  A grandmother, her children, and her approximately ten-year-old grandchild came in told me they were looking for a book as a gift to a family friend.

I got a rough idea of what they needed and showed them the correct area.

Then I turned to the little girl and said to her, “Let me take you to the kids’ area, and you can look around while the grownups shop.”With a keening howl that sounded like it was violently flayed from her very soul, she responded, “But I haaaate booooks!”

In response to that, Gentle Reader; I had nothing.

At first, it was kind of funny. In retrospect it was one of the saddest moments I’ve ever experienced.  In this child’s entire life, no one, not family member nor teacher had helped her discover how magical books could be.

With a book, a child will never lack for entertainment or friends.  They can learn in the least painful, most enjoyable way possible.  Reading grows imaginations and shrinks ignorance. I believe that not exposing a child to books and encouraging them to read is a form of child abuse.  It will handicap them for life.

If there’s a child in your life, buy them lots of books.  If you have funds but no children to buy for, donate books to homeless shelters, hospitals, or become Johnny Bookyseed and leave books in random places where children will find them.  Put a little post-it note on the cover telling kids that their found book now belongs to them.And, if children’s literature is terra incognita for you, I have some reading level-based suggestions.

Birth-3: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw.  It is biologically impossible to read this book without choking up, so bring a hanky.

Wait! Maybe that’s why I love bears so much…

The Mitten by Jan Brett.  This was a favorite of mine as a child.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Early Readers: Dr. Seuss was the master of helping kids learn to read.  You can’t go wrong with anything by him.The Sesame Street Dictionary by Linda Heyward.  This is a terrific tool for learning to read.  All the words are charmingly illustrated.  Kids will spend hours teaching themselves to read by accident.

First chapter books: Billy and Blaze books by C.W. Anderson, stories of a boy and his horse.It’s crazy old school, but the Bobbsey Twins, by Laura Lee Hope.

Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA), from George Washington to Wilma Rudolph (various authors), reading one of these always made me want to know more.Experienced Child readers: The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald: From the point of view of his little brother, the Brain’s an adolescent confidence man living in the late 1880’s.

For horse crazy kids, any book by Marguerite Henry.  Also, the My Friend Flicka trilogy by Mary O’Hara.

And Elizabeth Enright’s series about the Melendy family beginning with The Saturdays.The Betsy series, by Maud Hart Lovelace span all reading levels.  They start with Betsy as a very young girl told in a simple picture book, and progress in age and level until Betsy is a married woman.  She’s one of my most treasured childhood friends.A childhood deprived of books is a tragedy.  To help instill the love of the printed word is a huge, heroic act that will forever change a child’s life.To become a hero, Hercules had to kill a bunch of stuff, clean the stables of 1000 cows, and steal fashion accessories from an Amazonian princess.

Lucky you.

All you have to do is buy a book.Thanks for your time.

Let’s Book It

Petey had a doctor’s appointment the other day.  We were waiting in the exam room, and I was reading a library book.  When the doctor walked in, she noticed my book, and said, “I love seeing people reading an actual, physical book.”And, that’s the point of the piece this week: old school books.

It all starts with where you get them.  I am operating under the assumption that you have a library card and are a frequent visitor.  If not, please don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.  Just go, right now, I beg you, and get yourself a card.

Bookstores, both new and used.  If you don’t already patronize them, I strongly encourage finding a few independent booksellers of both types and making them your first resource.

The Kid and I discovered Scuppernong Books in Greensboro recently.  They.Have.A.Bar.

Booksellers love to talk to readers.  And, they’re experts at recommending books you’ll like, based on the kinds of things you’ve read.

My favorite job (except for writing) was bookseller.  I worked for my friend, Bosco.  Bosco was a former English teacher and had a slightly dented sense of humor, just like me.  We laughed for the better part of each day.  But what I appreciate most was he elevated my reading.

Durham’s iconic bookseller.

Since learning to read, I’ve been the kind of reader that got nervous if there was nothing on deck for when I finished my current book.  But Bosco introduced me to better writers, which maybe, in turn, made me a better writer.

So, to honor my book Yoda, Bosco, I’d like to recommend a few books that are a little more challenging than Danielle Steele or James Patterson, but still really entertaining.A Confederacy of Dunces, by James Kennedy Toole.  The story of the book’s publication is almost as compelling as the plot of the novel itself.  Eleven years before the book was published, the author committed suicide in part because of his inability to interest any publishers in his life’s work.  After his death his mother found a copy of the manuscript and made it her mission to introduce her son’s book to the world.  It was finally published by LSU Press in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize.The story is about Ignatius Jacques Reilly, a clueless babe in the woods, and his misadventures in his home of New Orleans.  It’s funny, and touching, and the easiest Pulitzer winner you’ll ever read.

The great Nick Offerman played Ignatius on stage.  Straight-up genius casting.

A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving.  It’s the story of an unusual young man who’s convinced he was born for a special purpose, and every step of his life is in furtherance of his mission.  I love this book because Irving is a genius of character construction.  No matter in what position characters find themselves, it’s believable, because they are believable.  A movie, Simon Burch was made that is loosely based on Owen Meany.  Don’t be tempted, it’s dreadful.

The same edition as mine, but this one’s way more shiny and pretty.  Keep walking past the open windows.

I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe.  Tom Wolfe has the unique ability to make me angry but keep me coming back for his next one.  Charlotte Simmons is the novel that resulted from deep, lengthy, talked about research into Duke’s basketball program.  It’s also fascinating, and hard to put down.  The ending as written would have been a happy ending written by any other author.  Filtered through Wolfe’s lens, it becomes a tragedy.  The book also gave the world the terms, Sarc 1, 2, and 3. If you’re on vacation, stuck in a car, or hiding from the heat, pick up a book that you might not normally try—maybe one of these.  And if it stinks, go talk to a bookseller.  Preferably one of the independent persuasion.  Or, go to the library; they’re cool, and librarians adore talking books, too.

I know she’s carrying a clutch and not a real book.  But the pic is just so damn gorgeous…

Thanks for your time.

Coming Attractions

There are so many choices it practically induces entertainment induced paralysis.The old school options of cable and satellite have stations numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  With internet options, those numbers increase to the millions.

And that’s not even counting sites like Youboob, with countless hours of classic television uploaded by producers and fans alike.

To take some of the angst from the process, it helps to have a guide with helpful descriptions of the quality programming available.  Here’s a small sampling of such a guide.

Classic Shows:Gilligan’s Island: The castaways are finally rescued and return to civilization.  Having been declared dead, the Howells are no longer millionaires.  Ginger finds Hollywood has moved on and roles have dried up.  No one wants to hire the captain of the Minnow and the skipper becomes a derelict who haunts the waterfront, looking for odd jobs.  The professor and Mary Ann move to Colorado and open a marijuana dispensary.  Gilligan parlays his fifteen minutes into a successful long-running reality show and eventually marries a Kardashian.Happy Days: Milwaukee is shocked when Mrs. C and The Fonz reveal their secret love and run off to Hawaii to open a shark-jumping school.  Richie moves to a small town in North Carolina and becomes sheriff.  Ralph and Potsie become Uber drivers, and Mr. C eventually finds love again with Pinky Tuscadero.

Gun Smoke: Marshal Dillion has a professional crisis when he realizes that Miss Kitty may run a saloon downstairs, but upstairs is Dodge City’s most successful house of ill repute and he’s never realized it.  Matt leaves town and becomes an itinerant preacher leaving Festus to take over as marshal.

New Offerings:

What’s for dinner?: A new competition show where a working mom has 20 minutes to make dinner for a ravenous family of five with only eight items in the pantry and three in the fridge.  The moms will battle the clock, the varied tastes of the family, and Pizza Hut on speed dial.  The prize for the winner is to do it all over again the next day

Howe Two: Watch the glamorous life of Benjamin Howe II, the best-selling author of dozens of instruction manuals and owner’s guides.  Along with spunky assistant Cissy, he solves cases of missing warranties, sock devouring dryers and dull lawn mower blades.  Our plucky team is overseen by Ben’s no-nonsense editor, “Ink” Rogers, who’s also dating Ben’s eccentric mother, Ann Howe.

The Royal Court: Join the gorgeous, seductive crew staffing the food court at King’s Mall in Sacramento.  Hollywood’s hottest young actors and actresses will discover love, life and heartbreak among the hot dogs, pretzels, and soft serve in this drama set in the fanciest mall in California’s capital city.Ruff Planet: An exciting new science fiction show about life on a planet run by intelligent canines.  Emperor Sparky attempts to rule while dealing with battling litters and their power hungry mothers.  Will palace intrigue bring down the monarchy from within?  Or will a rebel band of mixed breeds and their feline allies bring about the fall of the government?

This is only a very small sampling of the myriad of video diversion available today.  If you started watching right now and never took your eyes off the screen, it would take thousands of years to see everything, and dozens of new productions are released every day.

Thinking of everything I’m missing at this very moment is enough to make my head spin.  But, I think I’ve got it figured out.  I’m going outside, and gonna sit under a tree with a book.Thanks for your time.