Tag Archives: Books

Blogging and Reading In General

I’m sparing you a book review of the latest book I completed (although it was, by the way, “Helen Keller In Love”.  A fictionalized account of a real episode in her life which didn’t work out.)

Let’s start with blogging.  I do it because it’s fun and for no other reason.  Good thing, since I’m not expecting my invitation to join the Huffington Post anytime soon.  But there are fascinating aspects.

For instance, WordPress allows you to go to your “dashboard”, which gives you a kind of snapshot of how many people viewed your blog, which one it was, and, most fascinating to me, where they’re from.  It’s not personal info, so there is no privacy issue, it’s just stats.

So for example, today, I’ve only had 18 views, but the countries they come from are, in order, the U.S., the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, and Germany.  Yesterday it was, in order, the U.S., United Arab Emirates, Germany, and Nigeria.  Pause for double-take.  The UAE?  Where the heck did that come from?  And that’s not the first time.  Ditto Nigeria–but that isn’t the first time either.

So here’s my question:  Why? 🙂  And also, who are these people?  Some of them might be spammers.  No offense, but I’m a little leery of Nigeria.  Some of them probably did a search and found my blog on Google (which you can block if you wish).  Some of them are friends who never comment.  So I really can’t tell you who these people are.  It’s as much of a mystery to me as it is to you, about why you would want to read my blog unless you just like me and do it out of loyalty.

Reading.  I get my recommendations for books I should read from many sources.  Recommendations from friends.  The Book Page (a free publication you can get at the library).   Chiefly, from NPR which often has interviews with authors, and more recently from Amazon.com.  Amazon does a quite amazing (I guess that’s a pun) job.  They send me an email every day, which normally would be supremely annoying.  But they are so good at it that I usually at least look.

But sometimes I go through a sort of wandering through the desert period, when all the recommendations I get leave me feeling lukewarm.  When that happens, I cruise the library.  The old standard.  And it never fails me.  I love the library.

Speaking of libraries, before Helen Keller In Love (a cruising the library selection), I finished “Dewey:  The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World”, recommended by Fakecousin.  It was sweet, and didn’t hurt that it took place in Iowa so I could relate.

At present, I’m reading “Run With The Horsemen”, although I just started, and I adore it.  Not far enough into it to recommend it, but it already doesn’t have to convince me. It’s full of “Southern-isms”, which is almost like a second language.  You kind of have to be from around here to grasp it fully.

In the first few pages, the little boy describes an incident with his grandfather’s favorite mule, “Pet”.  Very descriptive name.  Mules really, really, fit their reputations of being stubborn.  And Pet, having been spoiled rotten, was worse than most.  She was a master manipulator.  Don’t try to get her to work the cotton fields.  One of the characters says, Pet has a certain number of steps she plans to take each day, and she counts carefully to make sure she doesn’t take an extra one.  They would have sold her, except for Grandfather “would have been to bury”.  I laughed out loud at that.  I was hooked from then on.

The writer is Ferrol Sams, who has been compared to Mark Twain, rightfully so I’d say.




Visiting the B-29

My little book club, for April, is reading “Unbroken”, by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote “Seabiscuit”.   I can’t really say enough good things about Hillenbrand.  She writes meticulously researched historical accounts, and yet she writes in such a way that, as the cliche goes, it’s like reading fiction.  And when you know her personal history (she has CFIDS), her accomplishments with these two books alone are monumental.

Unbroken is the story of a guy named Louis Zamperini, who was a huge track star in the 1930’s, who ran in the 1936 Olympics in Munich.  Then WWII happened.  Then he and his mates in the Army Air Corps were forced to fly in a plane they called the Green Hornet, a B-24 which was barely airworthy.  (To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, they went with the planes they had, rather than with the planes they wish they had.)  They crashed into the Pacific.  Only three of the crew survived, and one of them didn’t last.  After 46 (or 47) days, they are “rescued” by the Japanese.  Zamperini spends three years in a Japanese POW camp on the Japanese mainland.

Enter the B-29.  This plane was only developed in 1944, and when they started fire-bombing the Japanese mainland, the prisoners could see them flying over from camp.  It gave them the hope they needed.  They said to themselves, I think it’s almost over.  I think we are going to win. And of course, it was two B-29’s which dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So by a complete coincidence, the only B-29 that can still fly (“Fifi”) was in Tallahassee last week.  I knew I had to go see it.

I read about it in the newspaper, which really gave you no details.  So I had to call the airport.  Where exactly is the plane located?  Are you allowed to take pictures?  (I would think yes, the technology is so outdated that if the Chinese don’t have it already, they are dumber than we think. On the other hand, B-29’s ended WWII, so it would not be a bad technology to have.)  The person at the airport who took my call said the plane was in the General Aviation area, but as for pictures, she didn’t know, and gave me another number to call.  (How funny is that?  It’s not my department.)

But the real reason I wanted to post about this has to do with my experience there.  First of all, it was a glorious day.  Blue skies and big puffy, fluffy, cumulous clouds that looked like gigantic marshmallows.  Everybody there was excited for their own reasons, everyone had to make a special effort to come.  The atmosphere was very festive.  Like a rock star, Fifi had a big entourage with her, and they tirelessly answered questions over and over.  They loved their plane.

So what could go wrong? Ha!  This is what can go wrong:  get a bunch of humans together who don’t know each other.

So while we were patiently waiting in line, a bunch of little kids peeked in.  You had to enter via the bomb doors, and with the bomb doors open, they came close to the ground and blocked the view into the cockpit.  I had to peek myself.  I was intimidated by seeing people in front of me have to duck under the bomb doors.  I said to the tall guy in front of me, I’m not sure I can do this.  I could get claustrophobic.  He said, in that case, I’m glad I’m in front of you instead of behind you.  But it turns out it was only a brief duck.  I could deal with that.  Entourage Guy overheard me and said, Good thing the back of the plane is not open for viewing, because to get there, you have to crawl down a tube.  I said, for all I care, it could be open, I would just not be going there in this lifetime.

But when Tall Guy, who was next line to enter the plane, “allowed” the little kids to peek, Entourage Guy scolded him for it.  As if it was Tall Guy’s job to control the line.  I said, he isn’t letting them in, he’s just letting them look.  There’s not enough room for us to even get on the plane.  But Entourage Guy would not let it go. A kerfuffle developed.  Tall Guy seemed to feel he was being disrespected.  Entourage Guy thought his authority was being challenged.

Are we having fun yet?

Ahem, said the woman behind me, mildly.  It appears that in order to get on this plane, we’ll have to fight World War II again first.

After ducking under the bomb door, the next hurdle was climbing a ladder into the cockpit.  And this ladder’s steps consisted of round iron bars.  I was like…Oh no.  I’ve come this far, but I don’t know if I can do this. My choices were to turn back or climb.  I so wanted to see the inside of this plane–my choice was Climb.  When I do stuff like this, it’s not that I’m likely to fall, it’s more that I’m afraid of falling.  Which makes me more likely to fall.

So I get to the next to last step on the ladder and try to hoist myself into the cockpit, and I can’t do it.  Now what?  But there ahead of me is Tall Guy. He says, No, no, no.  Don’t try to do it that way.  Go ahead and stand on the last step of the ladder, and put your right hand on this bar to your right, and if you don’t mind me touching you, I will help you.

The moral to this story is that when you interact with people you don’t know, you come across some astonishing examples of stupidity.   But I would say that equally often, you come across astonishing examples of good.  Good that derives not from your having deserved it, or done anything to earn it, but just from them being that kind of person.

Blogging Absenteeism

Nice to see you again. It’s been a while.
One of the things that’s been happening involves Facebook. Facebook is notorious for fixing what ain’t broke, and this week they forced a change to their “Groups” format. Without going into all the ins and outs of how Facebook works, here’s the bottom line: You can create a Group on Facebook. A small number of my friends and I created a book club. It’s been working beautifully for a year. The best thing about it was there was an area called “Discussions”, as opposed to the regular communication posts. You could start a topic, which we used to isolate whatever particular book we were reading that month.
So when Facebook “reorganized”, they eliminated “Discussions”. That was the whole focus of the group, really.
We tried to figure out how we could make it work, but everyone was unhappy. So I (foolishly) suggested we create a blog for our book club. We could isolate our topics (one post=one book)and we could still preserve our privacy to whatever extent we wished.
So to make this long story shorter, I’ve been creating a blog on WordPress for the book club. If this process were videoed, it would look like Laurel and Hardy’s “Who’s On First?”
It’s been almost exactly three years since this blog was created, and that didn’t happen without extreme, extreme coaching by spencercourt. (Thank you, spencercourt! I owe you!)
So now I was going to try to start a new one? There is soooo much I had forgotten. Plus I was going to try to create one where there are multiple contributors, (we’re very egalitarian in our book club), and I had no idea how to do that.
I find that WordPress is very clear about its instructions. It does not assume that you understand a damn thing, and avoids computer speak. I find this refreshing. Still, there is a fair amount of slogging through stuff that has to occur.
Plus there are varying levels of comfort amoung the few members regarding security and the Internet in general.
But nevertheless, success at last! It needs work, but it’s going!
By the way, our book club book for August is Nevil Shute’s “A Town Like Alice”.

Eugene Robinson in Tallahassee

For those of you who don’t know who Eugene Robinson is, he is a writer for the Washington Post, who was this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.  He won it for his coverage of last year’s presidential election.  (What?  It wasn’t any of my buddies from the New York Times?)  He spoke in Tallahassee on Saturday at the culmination of a month of the Big Read, a month-long event in April sponsored primarily by the National Endowment for the Arts.  The idea was, as I understand it, to encourage an entire community to read the same book and discuss it.  The book selected by the libraries in Tallahassee was Fahrenheit 451.  Which I personally did not re-read, because the library ran out of copies. 

We don’t get many Pulitzer Prize winners in these parts.  Tallahassee is the capital of Florida, but it’s a small city.  The best part?  His speech was free to attendees.  Of course, this morning Bill Clinton gave the commencement address at Florida A&M University.  As you might guess, that wasn’t free.    But that’s okay…give me Eugene Robinson over Bill Clinton any day–free or not. 

Robinson turned out to be  a rare treasure.  First of all, he can speak.  My limited experience with authors speaking goes back to my brief volunteer stint with the West Palm Beach Library.  The two authors who come to mind (both quite famous) was one who was totally unprepared and rambled, which gave the impression that we were all supposed to be just impressed that he showed up.  I don’t think that was his real intention.  I had an opportunity to speak to him personally, and he was quite interesting…he just couldn’t pull it off on stage.  The other appeared to be very uncomfortable once he was at the stage of taking questions.  I wasn’t really surprised by that.  I think of writers as people who do a lot of living in their heads. 

Robinson himself is the author of two books, one of which is Last Dance in Havana.  The other, Coal to Cream, is the one I really wanted, but the people at the library table told me their order didn’t come in in time.  So I bought Last Dance, and I doubt I will be disappointed. 

Robinson is a unique presence. He’s very tall and imposing, and has a deep voice.  He was funny.  He spoke for maybe 40 minutes and then began taking questions.  He is very outgoing and personable.  I think if he hadn’t been cut off by his “handler” he would have answered questions forever, or at least until everyone ran out of topics.  He was having fun. 

When it was my turn in line to have my book autographed, he told me a funny story about an experience he’d had the day before in Indiana.  I could have talked to him all day. 

The other nice things about the day were that the weather was spectacular, and Nick, otherwise known as eehard at WordPress, went with me.  Yes, folks, it turns out he is a real person.

Today’s Fakefamily News

Today, Fakefamily was able to spend lots of time outdoors at the picnic table, because the weather was marvelous.  Fakedog was on squirrel patrol, the Girl Cat was on lizard patrol, Fakedog II (aka, the Beast) was on street patrol–guarding against people, bicycles, and UPS trucks.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was Sunday and UPS doesn’t run.  I’m sure he believes he has successfully chased them away and expects a medal.  Finally, the Girl Dog was guarding against all the imaginary dangers the other dogs and the cat are unable to see.  She’s always on the lookout for vampire geese, the kind that fly overhead and make strange noises and cast big shadows, and at any moment may swoop down, bite you on the neck, and turn you into one of the Undead. 

Thus being thoroughly protected, I read my current book, another Nevada Barr novel…this one taking place in Glacier National Park. 

I did find time to annoy one of the bloggers on the Tallahassee Democrat, who came out of her shell long enough to tell me that she has a life, unlike me.  Really?  You don’t call sitting at the picnic table with a good book, on a wonderfully cool and sunny afternoon, surrounded by creatures you love, a life?  Not only is it a life, it’s a good life!

Robert B. Parker Marathon

This holiday weekend, I’ve been on a marathon of reading Robert B. Parker novels, which just beats all to hell watching marathons of The Twilight Zone and/or Law and Order on TV.

First, I finished up Appaloosa, the first book in what will be a trilogy.  The second book, which I reviewed on this blog, is called Resolution.   By visiting the writer’s website, I learned that Appaloosa has been turned into a movie starring Ed Harris (who also directed), Viggo Mortensen (pardon me while I pause to swoon), Jeremy Irons, and Rene Zellwegger.    It will be interesting to see who plays who, male-wise, but Rene can only be playing the character of Allie.  Notable quote from Resolution:  “Allie thinks with her twat.”  Can’t wait to see the movie now, you say?

After Appaloosa, I moved on and through the latest Spenser novel, called Now & Then.  It was great, but the issue that caught my attention was that in the beginning of the book, it notes that Parker was born in 1932.  Holy jumping six-guns!  That makes him older than…John McCain, who is himself older than Cheese Whiz.  The book Now & Then was published in 2007.  Let’s assume he wrote it the year before.  That would mean he was 74 years old when he wrote it, and the wit and intelligence in the book would be admirable in a 30-year old.  Wow.  He obviously isn’t drinking enough. 

For all of us political junkies, here’s RBP’s presidential endorsement:  “Except for John McCain, whom I admire but disagree with, I hope they all lose.”