Miscellaneous Meanderings while Waiting for the Dryer to Finish.

I knew I should’ve banked one of the posts I wrote this weekend to post today, but I felt energetic enough that I didn’t need to.

Cut to the end of a good, but energy-tapping day, and I have two posts that I tried to push out and got a good paragraph done on each before abandoning both for now and nothing to post. I’m hoping I can get one of those done tomorrow, but I’m not sure I can count on it. Bah.

Nevertheless, it was a good day for being a Reader, if not a Blogger. I was hoping I’d finish Matthew Dick’s Twenty-one Truths About Love this evening. I clearly estimated poorly—I finished it before work.

Barely. I apparently was so into the ending that I turned off the alarm that’s supposed to keep me from being so into a book that I get to work late without noticing I’d done so. I still made it into the office on time, but without any cushion. It was just that good.

Probably wouldn’t have worked out too well, “Sorry I’m late, boss. I was in the parking lot getting misty-eyed over a novel.”

The downside of finishing a book 9 hours earlier than you’d expected is, of course, I had nothing to read the rest of the day (2 breaks and lunch). I downloaded an ARC onto my phone and got through the day without having to actually talk to people during my downtime. But it did mess up my plans (moved up reading that ARC by 2 weeks), So once again, I’ve put off reading Hacked by Duncan MacMaster for the 43rd time (or so) since it came out in August. And then there’s the joy of reading on a tiny screen…but that a whine for another day.

So I tell all that for no real reason, just something to say that doesn’t take a lot of editing. But I got an important lesson/reminder from this—there are books out there that are so good you won’t notice your phone making a loud and obnoxious sound, chosen specifically so that you have to pay attention to it, and those’re what I’m supposed to be focusing on—the rest of the stuff around my reading/blogging isn’t.

Hopefully you’re reading something about as good—just be sure to get to work on time.

Classically Cool—Let’s Talk Classics!

Last week, Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub posted Classically Cool- Let’s Talk Classics!, and it got me a-thinkin’, what Classics would I mention as faves?

Dickens doesn’t do anything for me, ditto for the overwhelming amount of Shakespeare I’ve read, Hawthorne makes me angry, I don’t get Melville’s appeal (but I also kind of do…I just don’t want to put in the effort)…but by and large “The Classics” (aka the Canon) are Classics for a reason (not because some nameless, faceless group of (now-)Dead, White Males exercised hegemonic powers to impose their tastes, either).

Still, there are some favorites:

Starting with The Oresteia (for chronology’s sake), this is the only existing example we have of a Greek dramatic trilogy. This series showing the fall-out of the Trojan War for Agamemnon and his family/kingdom and is pretty impressive.

Call me silly, but Beowulf has always really worked for me. I don’t know how to rank the various translations, I’ve read a handful and don’t think I ever knew a single translator’s name. I’ve meant to try the Haney translation since it came out, but haven’t gotten to it yet—the same goes for Tolkein’s. From about the same time (a little later, I believe, but I’m not going to check because if I start researching this post, it’ll never get finished) is The Dream of the Rood, a handly evangelistic tool (one of the better written ones) in Old English.

Moving ahead a couple of centuries (I’ll pick up the pace, don’t worry, the post won’t be that long) and we get Gawain and the Green Knight, which is fun, exciting and teaches a great lesson. Similarly, we have that poet’s Pearl, Patience, and Purity. I don’t remember much about the latter two, beyond that I liked them, but the Pearl—a tale of a father mourning a dead child and being comforted/challenged in a dream to devotion—is one of the more moving works I can remember ever reading.

I want to throw in Tom Jones (technically, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling) by Henry Fielding here, but I’ve never actually completed it. Which says more about my patience and how distracted I can get than the book—which is an impressive work. I’ve gotta get around to actually finishing it at some point.

I can’t remember the titles for most of the Robert Burns poems I’ve read—”A Red, Red Rose” and “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785” (one of the best titles in history) are the exceptions—but most of them were pretty good. And I’m not a poetry guy.

Skipping a few centuries and we get to Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. If all you know is the story from movies, you’re in for a treat when you actually read this thing. I’ve read it a few times, and each time, I’m caught off-guard at how fast-moving it really is, how entertaining and exciting it can be. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel compelled at this point to mention that the book about Dumas’ father, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss is a must-read for any fan of Dumas.

I don’t remember how Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott ended up on my bookshelf (I think whatever relative took me to the bookstore said I could get something silly and trashy (in their view) if I got a Classic, too). But a few years later, I finally got around to reading it at about the same time that another kid in my class (we were High School sophomores) was reading it—both of us talked about how it was pretty good, but too much work. Until we got to a point somewhere in the middle (he got there a day before I did, I think) and something clicked—maybe we’d read enough of it that we could really get what was going on, maybe Scott got into a different gear, I’m not sure—and it became just about the most satisfying thing I’d read up to that point in my life.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is one of my favorite books, probably belonging in the Top 3. Go ahead and roll your eyes at the idea of me saying that about a romance novel, that just means you’ve misread the book. This tale about integrity, about staying true to what one holds dear, what one believes and to what is right despite everything and everyone around you is exciting, inspiring, fantastically-written, and so-memorable. And, yeah, there’s a nice love story to go along with that 🙂

Speaking of love stories, we now get to my favorite, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. I steadfastly refuse to learn anything about the actual figure, because I don’t want anything to ruin this for me. When I first read the play in junior high, I considered the best parts the lead-up to the duel in Act I, and Christian’s trying to pick a fight with Cyrano the next day. Now I know the best parts are Christian’s realization in Act IV and Cyrano’s reaction to it and then, of course, Cyrano’s death (I’m fighting the impulse to go read that now instead of finishing this post). And don’t get me started about how this play’s balcony scene leaves any other romantic balcony scene in the dust.

I can’t pass up an opportunity to praise, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s tour de force. Satire, social commentary, general goofiness and some real heart. This book has it all.

I’m not sure that Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictdionary is technically a “Classic.” But I’m counting it as one. It’s hilarious, it’s incisive, it’s a great time for those who like to subtly (and not-so-subtly) play with words. Yeah, it’s cynical—but it’s idealistic, too (as the best cynics are). If you haven’t sampled it yet, what’s wrong with you?

I feel strange dubbing anything from the Twentieth Century as a Classic, so I won’t talk much about The Old Man and the Sea, The Great Gatsby, Winesburg, Ohio or Our Town (the best way short of having a dog die to make me cry is get me to read/watch Act III). But I do feel safe mentioning To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the ground-breaking, thought-shaping, moving, inspiring, and (frequently) just plain fun look at a childhood in the south.

When I started this, I figured I’d get 4-5 paragraphs out of the idea. I guess I overshot a little. Anyway, that’s what came to mind when I read W&S’ post—maybe other works would come to mind if I did this another time, but for now, those are my favorite Classics. What about you?

D.E.A.R. Day (Drop Everything And Read)

Today is the 103rd anniversary of Beverly Cleary’s birth, and drawing inspiration from Ramona Quimby some years ago, a group of people started commemorating her birth with a focus on families reading together. Which is just a cool idea. There’s a pretty good website with details and activities here.

I don’t really know if I can get my family to come together and read as a family anymore — but I can at least encourage them all to do it on their own. But for those of you who have younger kids (or more compliant teenagers), take a half-hour today and read together.

If you’re like me, or single, or just not into spending time with your family — it’s still a decent way to spend 30 minutes.

Just Drop Everything And Read

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of DistractionThe Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

by Alan Jacobs

Hardcover, 150 pg.
Oxford University Press, USA, 2011

Read: December 21 – 25, 2015

A while back my teenage son drifted into the room where I was reading, tilting his head to catch the title of the book in my hands. It was that venerable classic How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren. “Oh man, he said, “I had to read that in school last year. Maybe I learned something about how to read a book, but after that I never wanted to read a book again.”

Oh, I hear ya, brother! I endured Adler/van Doren for a graduate-level course and thought it was one of the most pointless books I’d ever read. Now, Jacobs finds more profit in the tome than I do, but he’s clearly not a fan.

The book starts with a call to read what you want, reading based on whim, rather than thinking of it as a self-improvement program (which it is, in a way, but it doesn’t have to be followed like one). In fact, Alden, Harold Bloom, etc. turn

reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens. . . That sort of thing is not reading at all, but what C. S. Lewis once called “social and ethical hygiene.”

Instead, Jacobs calls for people to:

Read what gives you delight–at least most of the time–and so without shame. And even if you are that rare sort of person who is delighted chiefly by what some people call Great Books, don’t make them your steady intellectual diet, any more than you would eat at the most elegant of restaurants every day.

Jacobs is a Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University, and author of many books and articles on books, reading, and authors. He’s one of those guys I’ve seen the name of everywhere, and associated with insight, but if push came to shove, I couldn’t tell you why. But now he’s the professor I wish I had (nothing against most of the early ’90s English department at the University of Idaho, most).

Reading on a whim doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself, read above your comfort level, or to better yourself — but you do it because it interests you, because you want to (and when you want to), rather than subjecting yourself to someone’s checklist.

After that, Jacobs moves into trying to understand how reading works, how it captures so many imaginations — and sure, he cites some studies that explain how we take black marks on paper and make them ideas in our head, at some point even the professionals have to stop and say, “it just works.” (but Jacob puts it better).

We also get discussion about the “iron-clad Law of Diminishing Returns” regarding rereading too soon (and yet, why we should reread). An interesting defense of/encouragement of fanfic. I was surprised, quite surprised, at his advocacy for e-Readers — I fully expected him to be solidly Dead Tree Edition Only, whoops — I don’t use my Kindle the way he does, but I can see where it’d work for him (or Nook, either). Why a lot of the doomsayers about the state of reading/publishing are wrong.

But mostly this is advice and guidance for the reader trying to recapture the same joy that he had before (or never had), encouragement for the active reader to keep at it, the person who still can’t get poetry, etc., etc.

I can’t resist another quotation. Towards the end of the book, he talks about the joy of finding a book by Serendipity:

serendipity is the near relation of Whim; each stands against the Plan.

Plan once appealed to me, but I have grown to be a natural worshiper of Serendipity and Whim; I can try to serve other gods, but my heart is never in it. I truly think I would rather read an indifferent book on a lark than a fine one according to schedule and plan.

Charmingly written, full of allusions (that most of us can get even without reading the works), witticisms and research — a book to entertain and edify. This one really speaks to me as a reader — it’s practically a mission statement for this blog. I expect I’ll come back to this one soon (maybe even annually). Still, for this time, I’m rating it 4-Stars, though I expect it’s a 5-Star book. I think it’s because I read it in 2-5 page spurts (one of those weeks, y’know?) after I got to page 70. Which doesn’t do the thing any favors. Towards the end of the book, Jacobs says:

All books want our attention, but not all of them want the same kind of attention.

I didn’t give this the right kind, and I’ll regret that for awhile.

If you like this blog, you’ll dig this book.


Big Thanks to Aman Mittal for pointing me to this book — I haven’t read his take on it in a couple of months, so I don’t know how much we agree, but I know his post made me look for the book.


4 Stars

Random Ruminations: Richard Russo and Looking Ahead to 2014

I’m about at the halfway point in Richard Russo’s The Bridge of Sighs and have just about decided that if I were to find myself in a Master’s program in Literature, I could very easily be content studying the minutiae of his work. I’m sure I could find enough for a few theses at least. Of course, I have no incentive to do more than come up with vague notions and theories, so I’ll have to trust that somewhere out there is an academic with a stronger drive than I and hope I run across their writing.

Besides, if I actually had the chance to do that kind of reading, researching and writing, I’d end up going with Rex Stout, Robert B. Parker or Jim Butcher.

When I finish this book, I’ll be just three books short of most of my goals for the year (10 short of the total I’d hoped to hit — still might make that, but it’s looking grim). I’ll have read all of Russo’s novels at least once; I’m one short of Hemingway’s novels (and a couple of his posthumous works, which I typically don’t do); and 1 to go in both the Stephanie Plum and Kinsey Millhone series to get up to this year’s release (I did that with Jack Reacher this week, and a couple weeks ago totally caught up on the Andy Carpenter books). I’m not sure that actually made sense — hopefully my year-end 2013 post will be clearer.

I’m pretty clueless about what I hope to accomplish in 2014 — get caught up on the Temeraire novels (an unfulfilled 2013 goal), read the rest of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith and Longmire books. But nothing of a more serious vein. Need to get to work on that — and, as always, I’m open to suggestions.

Which, by the way, is a long way of saying I’m not going to get a rant, rave, or review up today — Russo’s sapping all my attention and energy for the moment, so I could only jot down these few random thoughts.

Have a good Friday, and — always, always — thanks for reading.