A book that won’t let me go

This month our book club read the dystopian masterpiece by Japanese born/British citizen Kazuo Ishiguro “Never Let me Go”. It, along with his first two novels  “An Artist of the Floating World” and “A Pale View of Hills” have been on my “must read” list for literally years (since its release in 2005.) I love the depth and breadth of his literary imagination and wanted to know all he had to offer, but like so many other things that I knew I would not only enjoy but would also be good for me, like learning to ride abike, or really swim laps, or grow my own organic vegetables, or make a seven-day backpacking trip, I never seemed to get around to it until outside forces motivated me.

I had even owned the book. The lovely green paperback kept migrating to my “read it now” shelf, but then some new shiny author would draw me into their back list with their tantalizing prose and I would forget the love affair I had with Ishiguru’s telling. Eventually I lent it to someone who had seen the movie and it disappeared into that place books without nameplates in them always seem to go. You know that place of not remembering exactly who it is lent it to, and them not remembering where they borrowed it from either. In all fairness I have two books like that on my shelf, books I know I did not purchase but do not know from whom they came.

Having “Never Let me Go” selected for August was the impetus to repurchase and finally read this literary sci-fi coming of age story. Told in the first person by one of the students of an unusual private school which was created as an ethical question as much as an answer, this book covers everything from disenfranchisement based on birth (particularly pertinent in the face of current class wars) to the meaning of mortality. In the stories climax I was reminded of the current “morality” wars as well, when those who deemed themselves worthy to ascertain the presence or absence of souls in other life forms or revealed to be the most soulless and self-serving.

This novel truly won’t let me go, my mind keeps returning to the story and its author and how he elegantly tells in the fictional lives of three young students all the horror and redemption humanity is capable of committing.

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954, his family moved to England when he was 6 years old. The cultural questions of both homes are reflected in this novel. One’s family could not be from Nagasaki in the 1950’s and not be gravely aware of how ethics are forgotten in the pursuit of  “greater good”; and England in the 1960’s was suffering the culmination of the Post-war class crisis as well as a wholesale abandonment of religion. Much was being made of  the “winds of change” freeing women, empowering the poor, allowing the working classes to get their own piece of the pie. The “Work hard, do what you are told and you will be aptly rewarded ” ethos began to crumble under a new bottom line, and then its inspired social programs all fell apart as violent student protests and numerous race riots turned the tide again, reimposing stringent class lines  based now more on new money than old blood. In this century, the use of sweatshop labour in non-English countries to let western consumers “have it all”; the destruction and raping of natural resources in third world countries so growth can continuously be supported are easily analogous to the organs being cut from the “donors” until they complete.

In the tradition of other great authors of fictional social commentary such as Swift, Twain or Orwell, Ishiguro uses an engaging story to (hopefully) awaken the reader to look at life and their own choices just a little differently. As for me, I will get to his other books sooner now, and probably reread his later ones as well.

I am glad that another “meant to” has become an “I have.” I do swim and bike now, ate my first “homegrown in Arizona” organic vegetables this summer, have new seedlings ready to plant and will begin backpack daytrips as soon as it cools down a bit here.  As this book reminds me, we all “complete,” so I will continue to carpe my diem, and as I run and bike and dig in the soil today I know bits of this book will come floating back to my consciousness again with some new resonance, for this is truly a book that will “Never Let me Go.”

 

Where everyone knows your name.

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from your worries, sure would help alot

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same, you wanna go..”

I may have a bit of Cliff Claven in me as I am known to spew out random factoids,  and I have a bit of Norms love of quips and his singlemindedness, but lucky for me, my happy place is not a bar and my solace is not a beer.  It was a sunny, muggy Sunday that needed a breath of cool fresh air, and I had some presents for July birthdays and an anniversary waiting at the special order counter,  so of course I made my way with my roommate to my own version of Cheers yesterday, a local bookstore.

Now my metaphorical barstool is parked at “Changing Hands” in Tempe, AZ (http://www.changinghands.com/) where I am afraid I spend as much money though less time than Cliff or Norm did. Changing Hands has everything a Sunday afternoon could want old books, new books, red books, blue books; the gift section has quippy bumper stickers and smell-tastic scents of candles, incense and wholesome body products, eclectic magazines of every ilk and racks of cards and all this bounty shares space with Wildflower Breads bistro where I and my newest conquest can get to know each other one chapter at a time over tea and crumpets or soup and salad, and the people there know my name. My “Cheers” is Changing Hands, so I sing it highest praises, but any small bookstore worth its salt can become everything promised in that famous 80’s theme song. Bonus points if they also buy back used book buddies and give credit to meet new print potentials like Changing Hands.

Now there is a science to buying back books that I am not privy to, its mysteries are as complicated as dating. So let it be said here and now, that I cannot predict which and what will leave a bag or box to garner credit and which will return again home to try their luck somewhere else or perhaps be left when one is taken at some coffee shop somewhere. Still some books once read just won’t be read again, and deserve to try their luck with other readers, not hoarded and neglected on the shelf just to prove someones literary prowess, and well used books and used book prices mean I can try authors I am just wondering or pick up missed backstock titles on my personal favorites.

Usually I leave Changing Hands with one or more books I had not even heard about before, maybe one I had heard about but was undecided on its purchase until one of the knowledgeable and friendly associates waxed poetic on its charms and I was compelled to make it mine, and one or two books they have ordered for me. Yesterday I (as always) had a budget and presents to purchase, and one book whose author I had heard on NPR but I could not remember the title or the guys name. That’s what else the associates at Changing Hands excel at, getting me exactly what I want, when all I remember is that it’s this big (insert appropriate hand motions), blue and recently reviewed on _______(fill in with radio or TV show). O.K.,  yesterday I actually said to the gentleman helping me (who is Changing Hands version of Woody), “Just came out in paperback,  Zone something I think, zombies?” and he took me right to the shelf.

“Unfortunately too soon for a used copy,” he said with a smile, “and you really should go to NPR and check out his interview.” I like that, they do know me there, know I am a book glutton so every book I buy used is a few more dollars to get my fries-with-that backstock paperback of a classic or a new favorite author, and they know that I love to listen to authors talk.

I have sat at Changing hands and listened to numerous authors I already loved and knew like Christopher Moore and James Owen, and met new authors I now follow rabidly like Kevin Hearne.  If you live in the East Valley or you will be visiting our area, their calendar is always chock full of delicious little goodies for all flavors and ages of readers.

All this being said, it is truly the talent at my bookstore, yes I do think of it as mine, I buy from them first if possible in all instances for print and e-books, that make my visits feel as warm and complete as an Emmy winning Cheers episode.  I started to list their names and the books   and authors with whom I now had real relationships with because of Changing Hand friends; you know the kind that’s not just a one book deal, but you keep coming back each time they publish, wanting more than they can give, the kind that keep you up late night with characters that populate your sleeping dreams and monopolize your waking hours, and five hundred words later and not nearly finished I realized I was forgetting two very important names,  because I am not the best at names, better at faces, so I deleted the specifics, but many of the books and authors have appeared or will appear in the coming weeks on this blog. But you know who you are, and I do indeed thank you. You make lives better one book at a time!

Now its time for the closing credits and another commercial or two http://changinghands.com/  and not because its related, commercials do not have to be related, but because it is the most awesome blog,  especially today 7/22/2012  http://whatever.scalzi.com/ and because two of the books I bought yesterday were his books. “Rough Guide to the Universe” is a5th anniversary present to my son and DIL who always shoot for the stars and manage to help others along the way see the stars within themselves (and who happen to own a really nice telescope) and I also left with yet another copy of “Old Man’s War,” I always give mine away it seems, because I,  like the staff at Changing Hands, share the joy found in a perfect first sentence followed by an even better story line and always want to share it.

If you don’t live local, they ship and sell e-books, but better yet find the local place you can make yours at http://www.indiebound.org/indie-store-finder.

 

Making the mundane magical one orphan story at a time

As a reader, I appreciate short stories, brief self-contained literary nuggets make reading an entire book more time friendly. Each little orphan story lends itself to a natural stopping point, facilitating my actually closing the book so I can sleep, eat, make the plane, clean the house, or whatever I might have waiting.  When put together, these individual children create a family of ideas that embrace and entertain with the best full course novel: but like haute cuisine hors d’oeuvres, the brevity also means they are either very good or very bad.  Today I offer to your mental palette,  two amazing collections and one actual novel by the gentleman who taught me what short stories should be. None of these are new writers nor are they new books, so I shall present them in the order they appeared on my shelves.

The gentleman, and he truly was a gentle man, that set the bar for which every short story writer ever after would aim, was Ray Bradbury. His short stories in collections like “The Illustrated Man” and “Martian Chronicles”, would come into my life the following fall via a yet unmet school library, but it was the first day of summer in 1960 something. My sister and I had walked ourselves, in our brand new summer tennis shoes, library cards stuffed in cut off school pants, the familiar six city blocks to restock our entertainment.  My sister made her way to the shelf with her favorite book, “Adventure in Forgotten Valley” by Glyn Frewer, and I followed touching the spines of  dozens of well read friends, watching for something new. (I had  already read this part of the library from A-Z, and held my next two books in reading the non-fiction portion in order in my hand. I was up to the 590’s and flora and fauna.) When there it was, a new book faced out and waiting, “Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum: Twelve Shuddery Stories for Daring Young Readers.”

I remember it now as destiny, that the first story I opened to, while waiting for my sister to pick her other three books, was “October Country” by Ray Bradbury. I asked the librarian what “whole books” she had by this man Bradbury, maybe hoping for more of the Elliot family (which would not make its way into any reader’s hands until 50 years later in “From Dust Returned”) That day I went home with my two books on zoological identification and evolution of the mammal, Hitchcock’s Monster Museum, and Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” brought over from the Young Adult area of the library (cuz they did that for me,  I was kind of an unusual kid.)

I read books now the same way I did then, from first printed word to final printed word. This is from Mr. Bradbury’s introduction, “if your boy is a poet, horse manure can only mean flowers to him; which is, of course what horse manure has always been about.” I knew in that sentence I had a friend who understood me better even than my sister, who knew my heart in a way few have since, and for the first time in a very alien universe I was not alone.  That morning Bradbury’s prose broke a spider web on my face and I knew this summer would be different. I am much older and have reread this, as well as his better known books, dozens of times, and every time some new phrase or nuance reaches out and embraces all the real parts of me.

If you have never read “Dandelion Wine”, there is no more perfect time than summer, to meet Douglas Spaulding and John Huff and Grandma and even the Junkman, and if it is your first time you will not need to wait a lifetime as I did to return again to Greene Town, Illinois as “Farewell Summer” was released in 2004.

I have always had a certain passion for things fantastical and found that drugstore paperback shelves could offer me, if often less powerful prose at least more prolific hits, than the local library in this genre. It was here I first met the next gentleman friend of my imagination, Mr. Peter S. Beagle.  His “Last Unicorn” was a better quality read than the usual paperback fare I would read for hours behind the rack, I used my saved pop bottle and milk money to buy it.  He was not as easy to find as Bradbury, and although I found him in an occasional anthology (I particularly remember werewolves in Terry Carr’s New Worlds’s of Fantasy #3) and managed to carry a collection of his works with me when most everything else I owned was lost, I had never met the man.

That is until this year at Phoenix Comicon, I asked him which of his books he had there to sell he would recommend, and so I am now a proud owner of a signed “The Line Between.” I just finished reading it for the second time, and am slightly ashamed as a previous “cricket” to not have adequate words for the range of this man’s talent. Although the gem to most Beagle readers will be “Two Hearts” the not disappointing return to the world of the” Last Unicorn,” my favorite is the final entry, “A Dance for Emilia” which made me both laugh harder and cry harder the second time.  If you have any doubts about why you should read this collection, let’s just say I am mentioning this man’s short stories in a review sandwiched between Ray Bradbury and Charles de Lint.

Charles de Lint introduced me and many others to a new kind of fantasy where faery magic happened not in some far green country but the dark edges of our own dreams and city street corners. I did not meet his books until I was a writer myself, and an adult who was still pretty busy hiding her “geek” reads behind the more acceptable classics and feminist tomes.  It was in fact women writers,  Terry Windling and Ellen Kushner who deserve an entire blog of their own, who helped me find him in a place they like to call Bordertown.  De Lint’s “Waif and Strays” is the third book I recommend for a perfect summer read. For established fans of Charles the collected orphaned stories are literary visits to Tamson House, Newford and Bordertown. For those not yet fans, there is Tamson House, Newford and Bordertown; three places you will visit in your own dreams that will forever alter how you see through your waking eyes as well.

That ability to invade sleeping dreams and change waking reality are the connecting threads in these three books. Find them, read them, and then go visit the authors pages and thank them. Even if for Bradbury it is posthumously, I believe somewhere a particle of him will know he’s made another set of eyes see flowers instead of manure, and maybe a cat will dance for you.

http://www.raybradbury.com/

https://www.facebook.com/petersbeagle

https://www.facebook.com/charles.delint.

 

 

Places to visit without leaving the comfort of your air conditioning.

My day started busy and is definitely going the stay that way so today’s blog is just a brief itinerary of some other blogs to travel to today while mine is being boring and neglected.

First off is http://jentheredonethat.com/. I used to be young and beautiful, not so much in person anymore, but I still get to experience youthful travel and foodie adventures vicariously through following this blog.  Check her out.

For all my Geek friends who, like me, will not be at San Diego Comicon this week-end, I give you these sites. Meet five of my favorite Con guests  (I have at least a dozen, some just aren’t blogging much right now due to other obligations) up close and personal (I mean the internet is personal, right, we are really all friends?) , and there are no long lines.

http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/

http://cmpriest.livejournal.com/

http://www.kevinhearne.com/

http://ginikoch.com/

And finally here are two sites to visit if you want to be inspired by others courage and maybe do some good today.

http://razzzberries.blogspot.com/  Go back a few and read forward to be amazed at this woman’s courage and plucky determination to make rainbows and lemonade.  Feeling grateful for your own health? Express your gratitude to the universe by donating a few dollars. As someone who has dealt with life altering illness professionally and personally, I tell you thank-you in advance.

http://www.welcome.to/desertcry If the small forgotten creatures of the world are more your thing than humans, or if maybe you want to do two good things today, go cruise around this sight a wee bit and learn about the furry things with whom we share the Arizona desert and then paypal  a small donation for some four legged patient’s food and/or medicine.

And now I am off to drive an hour and half in the heat listening to my favorite tunes (thank you Apple for the Ipod) cause I am blessed enough to have  veteran’s medical coverage. (And, no, I wasn’t being sarcastic, I really am grateful for medical care I can afford, and someday when lifetime caps and pre-existing conditions are not part of the insurance business, I will find me closer care. In the meant time, I deeply appreciate what I have.)

Namaste.

Tomorrow maybe some more vegan recipes. Those seem to be reader favorites.

 

The Agony and the Ecstasy: or a patriotic review of “Redshirts” and “Sacre Bleu” written by a white girl.

I have read every book that John Scalzi and Christopher Moore have ever published, and own many in hardcover (not all were ever released that way).  Part of these author’s charm for me may be my egotistic pleasure in discovering and acknowledging the genius of both before they were popular.  I discovered Scalzi with his shareware “Agent to the Stars,” and one of my few life regrets is not being in a financial position to purchase the Subterranean Press edition in 2005. I look forward to someday meeting him, hearing him speak and getting him to sign one of his “Rough Guides” at PHX Comicon.  Christopher Moore entered my life through possibly an ARC of Practical Demonkeeping in the early 90’s (based on who published that review), the details are fuzzy but I’m sure Moore has a Wiki entry if  the dates matter to you, I just know it was between 1989 and 1993. Moore’s love of Vonnegut, yet distinct style and voice made me giddy, and his humor made me guffaw. Both Moore and Scalzi have been read and recommended repeatedly.  Recently I read both authors latest releases in hardcover, “Red Shirts” and “Sacre Bleu” and being a patriotic American, knew combining them in a review would make a perfect July entry.

I took it so personally  when Moore’s 2009 “Fool” was an unpalatable read that I did not pre-order “Sacre Bleu” in April, and would have waited for the paperback release except my book club chose it for June’s selection.  I bought it, I read it, it was agony to finish. The premise of a female “blue” Muse being the source of much that is great and tragic associated with visual arts (mostly painting) was lovingly arranged in a well researched, and Vonnegut worthy, mishmash of surrealistic facts and believable fictions associated with Paris and Impressionism. I really wanted to like this book, just like I really wanted to like “Fool”. I own and hang Impressionist Art posters and prints on my walls. I performed Shakespeare. I preach the genius of Christopher Moore to unsuspecting strangers in bookstores. Unfortunately I didn’t.  It was truly more flat beige than inspiring blue. I did not laugh out loud a single time.  Still 11 out of 13 of his books are so funny that they are embarrassing to read in public, they are books I will gladly read again and still give as presents. This is not really what I would call a bad record for an author guy, all in all. If you don’t know who he is check him out here. http://www.chrismoore.com/, he is well worth your time to read.

Where the “Bleu” left me cold, Scalzi’s “Redshirts” made me sizzle. I bought it release day, read it all by that night, and then re-read it again. I subsequently purchased the Audible version, read by Wil Wheaton it is as if it were written for his voice.  I can’t tell you much more about the plot than the cover precis as I don’t believe in spoilers, but the book is manna to Trekkies sandwiched between layers of meta-magic, and is just plain quantum fun to those less familiar with the source of the pop-culture concept of the Redshirt.  It is so funny it is painful. It even blipped onto the NYT bestseller list where both authors have done a bit of time, although not enough to reduce them to literary punditry like John Grisham or Danielle Steel. But his best writing is not even this book, it his blog, which I have also followed faithfully through many of my own online incarnations. So here is that link, http://whatever.scalzi.com/.

And now I promise, I will not mention either book again. Unless maybe I run into you someday in a bookstore and you are handling the latest grey lit clone and I’ll will be forced to ask you, “Have you ever read this guy, unlike the book in your hand, this guy is really good.”

P.S. Comments are always welcome.

 

The meme that returned from the grave…..*ominous music*

This Meme is borrowed from the blog of Gini Koch (http://ginikoch.blogspot.com/) an author whose work I stalk in her too few pseudonymic incarnations.  Back when she was a newly published author I got to share a bit of whole grain bread, organic peanut butter and ginger marmalade with her as well as talk about her novel “Touched By An Alien”.  I like all kinds of reading material just like I love all kinds of food. Her Kat books, if they were a food, would be Krispy Kreme Donuts.  This meme was my first entry when I ran away to this new blog space. I am including both answers

1. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Why?

OLD ANSWER: My choice varies between flying and invisibility, although both are super powers that seem to be less useful if they aren’t coupled with hours at the gym buffing up for the punch or years at college to make sense of the overheard and over”seen” info. Today I pick invisibility as favorite.

NEW ANSWER: I have always wanted to be invisible, hence changing blog hosting sights when I suddenly hit 200 followers and started getting comments on every blog. I think I have always pursued the Rogue package, but I am done being invisible. I want powers of healing/regeneration, you know, high level cleric skills. I want to be able to heal mind, body and soul with my touch, I recognize this may make me more vulnerable to attack so if someone still has a spare invisibility cloak, I wouldn’t spurn it.

2. Who is your style icon?

OLD ANSWER: Easy peasy, except not so much….which style? Fashion? Philosophy? Lifestyle? I would say my style icon is Victor Frankl as played by Doris Day in a tribute to Katherine Hepburn about Kuan Yin.

NEW ANSWER: Wow, was my old answer pretentious and confusing (honest maybe but wow). This question always stumps me, lets just say I am working on this one, honestly I am. I am making cut and past collages in my journal as I try and figure out what I actually like again. Real people in my life whose personal style effect my own are my DIL, her mom, Ann Videan and Jennifer Morrow. All four of you not only look well put together all the time (on budgets) but help me find ways to look my best when we shop together.

3. What is your favorite quote?

OLD ANSWER: Today it is “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. ”
George Washington Carver

NEW ANSWER: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” Robert Frost

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
OLD ANSWER:I have a box of awards, published articles and even programs from conventions where I was a “noted speaker”  that speak my attributes with erudition but whose memories are faded and grey if not intangible.  On top of that  is a 10 year old picture of me with one of my  sons from a  day when I heard . “That’s  MY mom”, spoken with pride by my teen-ager when he thought I couldn’t hear and I can still smell gamer socks, cheesy puffs and mountain dew with a huge warm smile.

NEW ANSWER: “I know you did your best Mamacita, I love you.”  OK, maybe you will note a theme.  I guess my ego was flaring that day, hence my mentioning the past, but I can honestly say my sons matter more to me than perhaps is right, and I have struggled perhaps the most with that roll, so when they are kind or cruel it has more effect than a thousand strangers accolades. The other “greatest complement” I get is when a patient looks up, meets my eyes, smiles back, clearly glad I am their nurse that day.  I would rather be of true service than rich or famous. Finally a special one this year, my sister utilized her limited resources (financial and health) to come visit me and see me perform at the Faire.  Bestest complement this year!

5. What playlist/CD is in your CD Player/iPod right now?

OLD ANSWER: Its a self-made list called “Jason, no Argonauts” that begins with U2’s “If I Don’t Crazy….”, moves to some Jack Johnson with “Breakdown” then I  Concretely “Dance Along the Edge” and eclectically meander on through other semi-pop and rock music of the last two (3?)decades including some Ego Likeness, Queensryche, and Dreamtheater. This playlist is one of the three I made last year for Nanowrimo. Just before that I was listening to Stings amazing John Dowland CD.

NEW ANSWER: I so want to lie here, LOL. Ummm, so I potentially have some minor OCD tendencies, okay. Teasing may begin now. I and up to the “C”s listening to all my music in alphabetical order by artist, then song, as I figure out what I will keep on my car play Ipod and what I will use for my new running tracks, and because I like to do things in an orderly fashion.

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

OLD ANSWER:I am a crow so what do you think? Corvids are up at dawn and asleep by sunset .

NEW ANSWER: This one is pretty much unchanged. I am up at 4 when I am healthy, to meditate and run the dogs before starting my official day about 6.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?
OLD ANSWER: I am happiest when the proud Mother of both but always have a dog, cats come and go.

NEW ANSWER: Actually I have learned I am really a dog person, or pigs. My friends cats knew this before I did and have hastened my realization. They hunt me when I visit, no kidding! I love pigs, goats, horses and dogs but only as pets not as food. Dogs are what I own.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

OLD ANSWER:The name I want to legally change to as a final means of escaping into my super power of invisibility, and Ok, its my magic pirate name and if a black feather is found in your soup when I am around, I know nothing…

NEW ANSWER: Crowfae is not only my blog name its my license plate and it is short for crow faery;  to me it represents magic in the rejected and mundane. In fact I cringe a bit at the way crows are always portrayed as evil sidekicks, or portents of doom. They are a compassionate, intelligent, community oriented species with a true sense of play and THEY clean up theirs and everyone else’s garbage.  Mostly though, I just love Crows and magic.

 

Today I redid this meme to close the old circle and start a new one….and because, even though I know they are out of vogue, they are fun. Sort of an online parlor game between friends or acquaintances; I also use memes to develop characters when I write prose. I hope a few of you cut and paste your answers to this meme in my comments or on your blog (leave a link, so we can read it) as well because conversations are more fun when I get to listen as well as talk.

Here are the questions grouped together:

1. If you could have any superpower what would it be and why?

2. Who is your style icon?

3. What is your favorite quote?

4. What is the best compliment you have ever received?

5. What playlist/CD is in your CD Player/iPod right now?

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name? (if you don’t have a blog, use your email name)

And here again is the link to Gini. http://ginikoch.com/

 

Space Pirates start your engines; A bit longer review of Alexander Outland: Space Pirate by G.J. Koch

So a few further musings about Captain Alexander Napolean Outland.  I really didn’t like him at first, but then I must explain that roguish womanizers are not on my list of favorite people in real life or on the printed page. In fact, Mr. Outland made me muse that maybe the author Ms. Koch has been to one too many geek conventions with her Alien series, hopelessly warping her perception of men into caricatures of male post-adolescent horn-dogs.  I still can’t say I really like Alexander, but his misadventures were like a big old, bag of salty Lays potato chips, I just couldn’t stop reading, and I bet neither will you.

Also, don’t be surprised if the voice you hear narrating this Outlandish adventure is a cross between the original honorable outlaw Humphrey Bogart and either Harrison Ford or Nathan Fillion.  Just as many of the great sci-fi movie icons owe their character traits to earlier hard-boiled detective novels and gritty western television heroes, recognizable bits of Hans Solo, Captain Kirk, and Captain Fancy Pants surface in this honorable space rapscallion.  The female characters in the book are predictable Gini with a tiny twist in the mechanics of the co-starring she-male but both are built to keep men thinking with their tiny brains but capable of using their own; sort of brilliant Bond girls with secrets. As in any respectable anime, dungeon crawl or comic book team we round out the main characters with a sidekick and a more-than-he-seems old man

This is not a science fiction story that wants to change anything about how the reader sees the world or treats his/her fellow life forms.  Talking at all about the actual plot in this review could detract from the rumpusy ride.  Other than the nourishment all actual reading brings to the brain by its very process, there is  absolutely nothing even remotely nutritious about this literary dish.  This latest and greatest Koch novel is all spicy snack food that is consumed quickly and leaves the reader licking the salt off their metaphorical fingers and looking for more!

http://ginikoch.com/

Take Me to Your Reader, some musing on books and snail mail

Words are a powerful thing. The right word at the right time can change things. Two of my top ten things in the whole wide world involve words, books and snail mail. First lets talk about a couple new books.

Yesterday two potential bestsellers broke shelf, “Red Shirts” by John Scalzi and “Alexander Outland” by G.J. Koch http://ginikoch.com/ both are funny and infinitely readable, chock full of  geek insider humor that will still be funny even if you don’t get the pop culture reference.  Scalzi has arrived already with “Fuzzy Nation”  (his last book for those who don’t follow his daily penning at http://whatever.scalzi.com/) hitting the NYT Hardcover list in its first week of sales. I don’t feel the need to tell you much about him or his book as so many others have said it more eloquently than I could. Let me promise you that if you can find a copy of this book, and buy it, you will need to make space to read it through to the end; because it’s that good.

Ms. Koch on the other hand is still on her way, struggling out of the cocoon of genre publishing that has nurtured and hampered many the nascent author. Her series, that began with “Touched by an Alien,” is a remarkable example of a developing voice, easily relegated by booksellers who haven’t read it to “disposable genre fiction,” the language and character development is always a little more, and each one improves a bit on the last. Her Alien series are respectable “on base”  swings of her mighty pen, but Alexander Outland is her first “out of the park” hit. Here is hoping readers take notice.

However neither of these books was the most important printed words I read yesterday, nor was it beginning my next book “Praying for Strangers,” or the brief reread of favorite passages in “Tutu: Authorized” before I had to return it to my library.  The most important thing I read yesterday came in a small envelope from Bremerton, Washington. It was simply a snail mail from my neice.

My neice is all and all a pretty remarkable woman. She thinks for herself, makes primarily good decisions, and more importantly always seems to learn from her other kind so rarely makes the the same mistake twice. I don’t actually talk to her much but I hear about her adventures, accomplishments and challenges from her mother, my sister.  I am proud to call her family. Yesterday she made me feel like she was proud to call me family as well.

Even though compassion is my highest ideal, there are only a few things I can say I truly love as evidenced by my daily choices, those are  books, family, friends, music, cooking, spirituality and snail mail, ordered by how much time I spend for each. (I am learning to love exercise, gardening, ecology and financial responsibility but those are a whole other blog topic each.) I love books. I love getting books (hence the jackpot feel of the Mother’s day Kindle Fire  and all the classics now available at my fingertips for free). I especially love to give books to people I  love, and I spend serious time selecting the books I give. I have to like the book itself, have to believe the book and message will amuse, entertain and enlighten the recipient a bit.  Years ago I made such a choice and gave my niece “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Munsch. I also love to write letters and send cards.

Lately I have been feeling a bit like maybe I shouldn’t give books anymore, and this week for the first time in years I didn’t spend Monday morning filling out cards and notes to pop in the outgoing mail. The world it seemed to me had moved on, and I was a bit of a relic to still want to give books, write letters and send cards all the time. Worse than seeming like no one cared, it seemed that I was being a bother or perhaps insensitive, that my penchant for sharing words, mine or others, was more about meeting my own needs than attending to someone else’s.

Yesterday a thank-you note came with a letter inside, I hope she won’t mind me including a brief quote since I am not using her name here, “I will always be grateful for you giving me the book The Paper Bag Princess. Your timing was spectacular and I needed the message at the time. I still LOVE that book. I still pull it out from time to time and read it. The message in that book (and the fact that someone gave it to me, which made it feel even more special), it helped me not only accept myself but be okay with enjoying who I was too.”

I started to cry when I got to that part, because those few words were exactly what I needed to hear, too. There was more to it as well. I give her credit for what beautiful waves of personal growth she made from tiny ripples my words and a gift of words started. She made her own ripple yesterday, her note helped me accept and enjoy who I am too.

I don’t make my living with words anymore, I don’t regret when I did, but I quit writing professionally because the difference I was making then was not the kind of difference I wanted to make. Words are powerful.  My business card says “Wordsmith” because Probably words are the most powerful tool in my life. I still write daily; blogs, charts, cards, letters, poems, recipes, journal entries, goals, shopping lists, etc. Sometimes I even write professionally. I read incessantly. I don’t make my living with words, but words make up my life.

Thanks to a few well placed words from my niece I will continue my snail mails and book giving. I might have anyway without her, but the fact her letter arrived on the same day I was journaling about whether I should or not, seems more than coincidental.

Words are powerful, today I choose to use mine for good.

 

 

Social Q’s and Wonderstruck, a reading blog

I finished two books this morning, this lovely holiday morning for the Judeo/Christian cultures, this very alone but not lonely spring morning.

Well, maybe a little lonely.

Well, not so much lonely as a missing the hugs, the hearts, the faces, the focus and certainly the family energy of the AZRF season. However, I am cherishing the alone time and recharging my personal battery and back-up battery that both were fully spent.(Proof that regardless of other’s opinion of my visible outsides, my insides are significantly introverted, I charge in solace only.  I love giving; food, hugs, laughter, care, etc. I find inexpressible joy in giving, but slowly I empty to the point my “self” disappears. I love, love, love being alone. In fact, when I was a child my big dream was to grow up, buy and live on an uninhabited island.)

And now for a final digression before returning to my review of the two books I just finished reading. This digression is my observation on living with a cat who just accidentally (Ha!, not likely!) unplugged my computer as I was writing. Cats are not dogs and although I do enjoy petting a purring Esme (the cat), I am a dog person. The cat is now shut in the bedroom while I finish and I express gratitude for WordPress’ automatic draft saves. Now back to the book reviews.

So I just finished reading “Social Q’s” by NYT advice columnist Philip Galanes. The book is just about everything a person familiar with his column would expect, and nothing they wouldn’t. Bits of his column are nicely collected, archived and joined with light narrative for easy reading and reference; sort of a hipster’s Emily Post anthology. Others not familiar with his style, might actually be pleasantly surprised to find a humorous guy  who knows his way around a thank-you card as well as how to manage the quirky and uncomfortable situations unique to the technology age. I can think of a lot of Christmas stockings and birthday baskets I would love to slip this book into, but just having finished Galane’s book, I instead will mind my own business.

Biggest highlight for me with his book is the graphing method of problem solving which Galanes introduces in the  “Beauty Experiments” chapter.  I have been internally devising similar graphs my whole life to assist in a plethora of baffling situations involving other people.  It works.

I am not sure if it is a cause of or a reason for my introversion, but with my augmented intuition, sensitivity to stimula and certainly speaking a different social language than most, I spend a lot of time in public situations internally interpreting. For those of you who studied a second language, being with other people for me is like being in a room full of native French speakers after studying French through high school and college; I think in one language and must speak in another, so sometimes what comes out is inadvertently funny or offensive. Which is why I read Galane’s columns and why I read the book. Maybe I am not the only one who needs this kind of help, maybe polite and kind is a language they should teach in High School, like they taught French?

Thoughts about feeling like one is surviving in an alien culture brings me to the second book I finished this morning, Brian Selznick’s “Wonderstruck.” I read it again all the way from the Gregory Maguire quote to the Maurice Sendack dedication at the back. Do not be dismayed or intimidated by the size or the weight of the book, it will pull you with alacrity through its map of the marvelous. I gulped it all down the first time in one long draught, standing amazed in Changing Hands bookstore. I cannot tell you anything about this book that would not impinge on its own ability to inspire wonder except to  tell you to read it. I can tell you that it does relate well to my need to read books like Galane’s, I, like you and maybe all of us, know what it is to feel isolated and to suffer loss.  I can also tell you that the words tell one story and the pictures  tell another until it all blends  together at the end like butter and cocoa or stars and a night sky, unimaginable without the other. I shall read this book many times again.

So to summarize today’s musings both Philip Galane’s “Social Q’s” and Brian Selznick’s “Wonderstruck”  get a definite “Go Read It” rating, and Wonderstruck also gets a “Buy It” and “Give It” rating, in fact give it in a wooden box you picked up at Hobby Lobby or Goodwill with a shell or rock or flattened coin with a story of how they were found and it will be a never forgotten gift.

Now I must go actually accomplish a few errands on this lazy, lovely, alone day before returning to make my leftovers into casserole, because although I won’t see any friends this week-end, I intend to indulge my love of cooking.

Talking to myself and feeling old…sometimes I’d like to quit, nothing ever seems to fit…

I’ll give you three guesses what song I am humming…and feeling even older because I had to enter the groups name in Google to get their song lyrics instead of Eminem’s because I could only remember the first few lines not the phrase that is the title. Sheesh and am waiting for Pandora to actually play the song I named my playlist, I started that playlist because of the book I read for my morning inspiration.

All that and  I forgot to say, “Good morning, Happy first day of Spring!” Winter tried to hang on with the last few days of cold wettish weather, but today’s sunny skies say it is in fact Spring!

It will be interesting to see what spills out into cyberspace this morning as this is an exercise of writing to my timer.  Yup, I need to get a bit more discipline going in my life again.  So once again setting a timer and just writing; and since my blogs of late have all been recipes or other AZRF related topics I thought I would just do a general blog for my 30 minutes.

The book I read this morning that put me in a Carpenter’s mood, although the term “read” is inadequate for the medium I admired and absorbed, is Peter Sis’ “Conference of the Birds” and the book itself is an inspiring retelling of a favorite 13th century poem with fabric feel pages and intricate details in the art.

It was not the book itself that started my humming, I remembered the first time I read the poem, still too small to really understand the spiritual subtext, I obsessed about how the Penguins were left out of the adventure. The poem tells of a conference of all the birds and then how they fly to find their God in a high mountain to end the worlds troubles, the journey is long and they face the obstacles anyone on a spiritual quest must face and only thirty succeed in entering the mountain. At the end, they are, of course, their own answer and the god they sought is in them. I missed all the important personal growth connotations when I read the poem in grade school, and instead obsessed about the Penguins.

Penguins can’t fly, I was indignant that they got left behind not because they were afraid or wrapped up in their own agenda but because they just can’t fly. This bothered me enough to do rewrites and invent various solutions from magical increase in penguin wings to swans who carried the willing penguins in hammocks between two of them holding ends in their beaks. I did rewrites and drew art that flummoxed my elementary teachers.

“What are you drawing Miss de Biasi?”

“Two swans carrying a penguin to the mountains of God.”

“Why?”

“Because penguins can’t fly.’

After a couple of weeks they sent me to see the school counselor who asked me to draw something else, which I did, but that is another story.

So anyway, while reading Sis’ version I remembered the dilemna of my youth and how being a bit of a “penguin” among flight birds I never seemed to fit, and then that song popped into my head, and I turned on my Pandora station and turned on my timer, then just had to know the rest of the lyrics and well that leads up back to now and only five more minutes on my timer, and me having given up on the Pandora station and switched to Carpenters on my I-tunes, which being old I can work better than Pandora as I have been I-podding for five years and Pandora-ing only one.

As to the Carpenters. I believe their music and that of Carol King’s are the epitome of early seventies pop. The flavors of Jazz, Nashville, and Rock are all kind of blended up with just the right amount of sweetness and pain. If they were a 21st century food they would be a blended coffee drink, the hot, bitter shot of reality so well swathed in smooth sounds and sweet phraseology by perfect voices that it slips down easy and dessert like. If, by some chance, you are to young to have ever listened to their early albums and are in a Colbie Caillat or Jack Johnson mood try out “Tapestry” by Carol King or the 1971 self titled Carpenters or my favorite the 1972 Carpenters album “A Song for You”.

As to Sis’ take on the ancient “A Confederate of Birds”, this is a perfect gift book equal to Gibran’s “The Prophet” or   Silverstein’s “Giving Tree” for simplicity hiding the deepest truths and all packaged in a visually appealing and tactile pleasing package.

And my timer has gone off and so I must get on with my day that is neither Monday or Rainy, but I still think I might just play that one again…..