Featured

Literary Round Up

If you recall, last week I mentioned the fact that I am the type of reader who gets stuck into a book and needs a few days to linger in the world described. I have trouble letting go of the characters and their stories. Often I will think about which parts of the book spoke to me and why. Was this just entertainment, or is there a bigger message going on? For the record, this applies to both fiction and non-fiction.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you a few of the books I have read over the past few months.. You will notice that most of these selections aren’t very recent. As much as I like to go to the bookstore and peruse the new releases, more often than not I find myself buying from the marked down bargain bins, or picking up something used from the neighborhood charity stores. It doesn’t matter to me how old a book may be, if it’s good, it’s good and I will happily invest my time reading away. So here, in no particular order, are a few selections that have kept me turning pages recently.

ABOUT A BOY-Nick Hornby
I have enjoyed a few of the movies made from Hornby’s work, but never actually read any of his novels. Since this is one of the movies I hadn’t seen, I snatched this one up earlier this year. I enjoyed it a lot.

This is a coming of age story about not only a teenage boy, but also a slacker adult who acts like a boy. I found it to be both funny and sweet, also just British enough to please the Anglophile in me, but not so British that it made for a difficult read. I would definitely recommend this, and I will seek out more in the future.

AND IN THE END: THE LAST DAYS OF THE BEATLES-Ken McNabb
With the release of Peter Jackson’s mammoth “Get Back” documentary last year, pretty much everybody was talking about The Beatles. While the film covers the period just before the band split up, this book takes us to the bitter end and fills in some of the gaps in the movie narrative. The book is meticulously researched, and gives multiple points of view from interviews done both at the time and later on. While there is naturally a little bit of author speculation here and there, I can’t imagine a better chronicle of the band’s last year. It isn’t a happy story, but it is a human one and quite interesting for any Beatles fan.

DELIVERANCE-James Dickey
Yes, that “Deliverance”. Yes, that scene is in it. No, nobody says “squeal like a pig” in the book.

This one was released in 1970, but the prose feels a little earlier than that, like an early 60’s style of writing, maybe. This book was a little bit frustrating for me, but it was interesting enough to keep me reading. I am often more concerned with the story than the prose, and I think that sometimes too much detail can get in the way and slow things down. That happens more than once in this book, from descriptions of the countryside to the scene where our main character is climbing up a gorge on his own. More than once I wanted to just skip ahead a few pages and get to the good parts. It almost felt as though much of the book was padded out to make a full length novel out of what should have been a short story, or anovella at most. Still, the storytelling is good and the stakes are high, so it is an entertaining read overall. I’m not entirely sure who got deliverance though, and from what. Perhaps I’m not supposed to?

THE STORYTELLER: TALES OF LIFE AND MUSIC-Dave Grohl
This should appeal not only to fans of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, but also to anyone who has ever dreamed of being a rock star. Dave Grohl is one of the luckiest guys out there, and he knows it. His success story is one of hard work and dumb luck, and it makes for a very fun read. Some of his stories are genuinely funny, others touching. The book feels like a conversation with a friend over a few drinks, which is a welcome change from the “serious” rock journalism tone that many books have. Grohl almost makes you feel like you were there with him. It was highly entertaining and I hope he writes another one soon.

THE KEPT-James Scott
“The Kept” is a gothic western revenge story set in upstate New York, in the winter of 1897. It is a bleak, haunting work that deals with violence, deceit, the meaning of family, long kept secrets, obsessions, and the cost of all of those things. This book doesn’t let up much once it gets going, and I was always eager to read the next chapter and find out what would happen in the end, even if I knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant. The story may be a bit far fetched in places, and I’m not sure what I think about the way it ended (I understand why Scott used that ending, I’m just not sure I liked it), but these complaints are minor. This is a depressing read, but one I highly recommend.

Okay, before somebody decides to comment, yes, I agree, it is similar to “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy in some places. That book was clearly a strong influence on this one, but I think that “The Kept” is definitely stands on its own when compared side by side.

Alright friends, there we have it. Maybe one of these books will make it on to your “to be read” list soon. Maybe not. My own list still has three or four I need to get to, and it seems to grow every time I turn around. See you next week, and happy reading!

Featured

A Post About Art Which Is Trying To Say More Than It Does, But I Think You Get The Picture Anyway. Also I Use Too Many Italics. Sorry.

Okay, Netflix, we need to talk. I have an issue that needs to be resolved. Share this info with your buddies over at Hulu too.

Let me tell you about what happened last night. I was watching a movie from the 90’s that I never got the chance to see, and since it was due to leave your service today (making the argument for physical media over streaming, but that’s a discussion for another time), I was up late taking the movie in. It was one of those movies with a large cast of mostly character actors and I was curious to see who played a few of the parts. So as the credits began to roll, they disappeared into a little box at the top of my screen while an advertisement for some show I have no interest in at all filled my screen. By the time I grabbed my remote and clicked around the boxes to give the okay to watch the credits I had missed most of the cast list. So I rewound the movie to the beginning of the credits

IT HAPPENED AGAIN. I had to re-click the right box, and then try to read really fast so I could figure out where I was in the cast list and then pause the movie in order to see what I wanted to see.

My point is this: I want to watch the credits. I know it’s not your fault, Netflix, that the credits zoomed by quickly, but if I hadn’t had to mess around with the plethora of choices to click on so the credits could be watched in the first place I would have been able to read them correctly. I suppose having a watch credits option is okay, but why does it have to be difficult to do? Also, why do I only have a few seconds to decide before the next thing just automatically starts, or I go back to the menu?

It’s not just the technical aspect that annoys me here though. The fact is that the credits are part of the movie. If the film was any darn good, I need those few minutes to decompress a little, and absorb what I just watched. The credits can help do that by providing the right music to take the viewer out of the world they have just inhabited for a few hours and back into their own. Of course, many action movies and comedies have extra scenes tagged on, but you’re good about not cutting those off, aren’t you? It’s just the documentaries and dramas that don’t have extra scenes that get lopped off. That’s a shame, because these are the very movies that require some time to think about and live with, often well after the credits roll.

The same idea is true with all art forms though. How often have I attended live theater and spent the next few days thinking about it? I have attended several concerts where I can listen to nothing but the performer’s work for days after, and I keep replaying highlights from the show in my head.

Here’s a question for the book hounds I know: How can you finish a book and just pick up another one? I need to live in that world for a while. If I have invested time in reading about these characters and their lives (fictitious or not), I need a few days to shake the events out of my system and leave the fantasy slowly, and think about what I have just read, the emotions the story called up and perhaps why this work resonated the way it did. Yet I have friends who can finish one book and start a new one immediately, or the next morning.

How do they do that? More importantly, why do they do that? Are they just not present in the moment, or do they just want to have the accomplishment of reading so many books, that the art is lost on them? Or is it possible that reading on an e-reader, phone, or laptop takes away some of the physical, tangible experience that holding a book in your hands and actually turning the pages provides?

Also, how am I going to get this back on track to being about Netflix?

Anyway, I can’t do it. I can’t just move on right away. Perhaps my sense of imagination is too great, or perhaps I am just too sensitive to the stories, sights and sounds to dismiss the artistry of a piece that I relate to so well.

That’s the thing about art. Art gets inside of you, whether you want it to or not. Of course, what is and isn’t “art” can be debated ad nauseum, because what moves one person may do nothing for another. What some see as art, others see as mere entertainment and fluff. There’s nothing wrong with just wanting to be entertained mind you, but a true piece of art is something more. However, we are never all going to agree on what is or isn’t valid art, so it is up to the individual to decide.

That’s why we need the credits to roll. (Now we’re back on track.) That’s why we need to slow down when we watch, listen, or read. We are so obsessed with making sure we consume as much of what is available as possible that we don’t let it affect our lives, we don’t allow ourselves to see ourselves or others in a new light. We don’t allow ourselves to feel anything, which is a pity, because that’s what art is for.

It would be a whole lot easier to have a meaningful relationship with art if the very technologies that provide it to us with ease didn’t also get in the way.

Wait, did I just use a blog to complain about technology? I did, didn’t I? Well, that’s kind of weird. And slightly hypocritical? Maybe?

Huh.

Anyway…so, um, yeah. See you next week.

Featured

Thinking About the New Year

Well, the Holiday Season is officially over. Another Christmas and New Year’s Eve are in the books. The decorations have all come down (well, most of them, anyway), and we’re heading into the heart of Winter. This time of year always brings me down a little bit. Partially because I love the Holidays so much and hate to see them end, but also because I am no fan of the cold, darkness, and weather conditions that Old Man Winter brings with him. Granted, this December has been unseasonably warm here in the St. Louis area, but Winter announced its arrival over the weekend and, judging from the impending forecast, intends on making up for some lost time.

I’ve often wondered why we chose January to begin the new year. I mean, obviously it had a lot to do with the harvest season and all, but it’s just interesting to me that the year begins when it does. Why now? Why not like, I don’t know, April, when things are starting to get warm and brighten up? Why doesn’t the year begin in Spring? It seems to me like it might have been better, especially 2000 plus years ago when life was extremely hard during the Winter, to finish the year during the cold period and begin fresh when nature itself does.

But then, perhaps there’s a reason why we choose to begin the New Year during these cold months. It’s a good time to stay indoors, warm ourselves with a fire, a good hearty meal, and our beverage of choice, and reflect.

We can reflect on the year that has just passed us by, both the good and the bad parts of it, from both the perspective of society at large and our from own personal feelings. What were the big successes we had this year? What could have gone better? What did we learn and, more importantly, will we ever learn?

It’s also a good time to think about the future. What concrete plans can we make for the next few months? What are our desires? What dreams can we begin to chase, and what needs to remain a dream, at least for a little while longer?

This is the proper mindset for making any “New Year’s Resolutions” that so many are fond of doing. The trouble is that most of us make a small list of resolutions half heartedly out of a feeling of obligation but we don’t take them very seriously. We may go after them for a few weeks, but then it’s right back to where we were on Dec. 31st. I think the problem is we set unrealistic goals with no real forethought of how we are going to attain them or what it would take to do so. Nor do we consider what it would actually mean to our lives if we did. Therefore we are content to make ourselves feel better for a short period of time, and then shrug it off when things don’t work out because they were “just silly resolutions” anyway.

I’ve never liked making New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s that word, “resolution”, it’s so serious and intimidating. Resolving to do something is like a promise or an oath you make to others and yourself, and it’s not something one should take lightly. Especially if you’re not going to put in the effort to make it happen. For the record, I feel the same way when a business or organization I am involved in talks about “vision casting.” I don’t like that phrase either, it makes my neck itch.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s good to think about the future. It’s good to make plans, to set goals. It’s good to want to become a better person. I’m just not so sure that being obliged to do so just because it’s January is the way to go about it.

However, since most people I know are doing the whole “New Year’s Resolutions” thing, I figured I’d go ahead and play along. Well, to an extent. I am not going to write a list of things I resolve to do in the next year. I am merely going to list a few things that would be nice to accomplish, and I will try and work in that direction. See? No pressure. No obligations. No itchy neck. Here we go.

-I would like to read more. I enjoy reading, both fiction and non-fiction, and I fully understand the importance of reading and how it enriches my life. I just don’t do it enough. It’s not due to any lack of availability. My entire family are readers and there are books everywhere in this house. Part of my problem is that I get distracted doing other things and don’t carve out the time to read like I ought to. The other problem is that when I am done reading an interesting book I need to live with it for awhile. With non-fiction books I tend to ruminate on what I have learned, be it a life lesson or just some neat little trivia. But with fiction books, I am usually reluctant to leave the world it has created for me and I want to stay with those characters I have grown to love just a little bit longer. As a result I don’t read very many books in a year, which is okay. Quality over quantity, right? But I do have room for more.

-I’d like to get my weight down a little bit. I have had an issue with my weight all my life and have never been what you’d call thin, but there’s a weight range I am comfortable with and I am currently not within it. Some of this is due to medications, but with a little more effort I can get closer to that place. I was actually doing a little better a few weeks back but I let myself go over the Holidays. Time to get back on track, methinks.

-I’d like to get outside more. You know, when it’s not cold. I need to go on longer walks. Get some more sun. See some more nature. Maybe travel more, schedule and COVID permitting.

-I’d like to focus more on my beliefs. That includes my faith, and social justice issues. Being a Christian and a Liberal is the hardest thing I do. But it shouldn’t be, since I believe that “Progressive Christianity” isn’t an oxymoron. If I begin putting faith into action, I think it could go from difficult to rewarding. I just need to do it one step at a time. Like this.

-I’d like to create more. Sure, I have this blog, but there’s more I could be doing. I have the desire and the ideas, I have just become complacent and, frankly, a little discouraged over the years. Maybe a little nervous too. Let’s face it though, I’m not getting any younger and even though I may be a little too old to set the world on fire, that’s not an excuse to not try. Connecting with people through entertainment is my favorite thing. That’s why I do this. I just need to do more, and maybe mix in some different stuff too.

Okay, that got a little more serious than I thought it would. There’s some good ideas there, though, and some nice goals to work towards. Okay, my neck did itch a little. Maybe it’s my shirt.

Anyway, see you next week.

I used to have an autographed copy of “Mouse Tails” by Arnold Lobel with a personalized doodle but lost it years ago and now I kick myself. Anyway…

Let’s talk books. More importantly, the stories and authors who made a lasting impression, grabbed a part of your mind or your heart, and never let go.

Obviously, this post is inspired by the death of Beverly Cleary. Ms. Cleary was one of the authors who opened up the world of reading for many a young person, male and female. For us Gen Xers, Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby were absolute favorites (with Fudgie and Encyclopedia Brown not far behind). Some of the material was a little bit dated even in the late ’70s/early ’80s world we lived in but the characters were one hundred percent relatable. I can only imagine that today’s kids would find the books positively antiquated. Then again, there was a Beezus and Ramona movie made back in 2010 so that surely proves the quality of the original work.

My mother was an elementary school teacher and I attended where she taught. So there were many days spent in the school waiting for her to be finished with meetings or whatever business she needed to finish up at the end of the day and I spent most of that time reading. Henry, Ribsy, Beezus, Scooter McCarthy and the crew were faithful companions. I can still call to mind how Henry acquired his dog Ribsy, the problems with Ramona and the paper route, even Henry’s struggles working the typewriter (not to mention the big sack of sad that is the “Ribsy” novel). Long story short (too late!) if you are of a certain age and Beverly Cleary’s passing didn’t bring forth some nostalgia and perhaps a little melancholy you were brought up wrong.

But that’s how it should be, isn’t it? There are certain pieces of art, be they books, movies, music, what-have-you, that are important to us because they tell our own stories just as much as they do the stories of the characters within, not to mention their creators. I can tell you autobiographically how I got from the books I read in third grade to the novels and short story collections I enjoy today. My bookshelf is filled with multiple biographies, and books by everyone form Stephen King to David Sedaris. Yet I have never lost the soft spot for those early books that started my fascination with the written word.

Today, children’s literature and Young Adult books are considered every bit as valuable and important as any other release, even if they do live on the other side of the bookshop. Not so when I was growing up. Still, it is not uncommon for kids and parents to read the same books voluntarily. “Harry Potter”. “A Series Of Unfortunate Events”. “The Hunger Games”. All once considered books for kids or young adults, now books for everyone. And there are many more. The line has blurred, and it is a good thing.

So, if there is a young person in your life, check out what they are reading. You may just like it. Then, make a suggestion to them and see if they can get into something from your past, or one of the classics. Tom is still tricking Huck into washing that fence. Ponyboy and Sodapop are still dealing with the Socs. Arthur Dent has yet to get the hang of Thursdays. The Baby Sitters Still have a club. These are worlds waiting for today’s young readers. And they have worlds they want to show you too. You just might have to start with Captain Underpants.

The wonders of reading are one of the most important gifts we can give. And perhaps, the best tribute to our literary heroes we can give.