Tag Archives: Books

The Play’s The Thing

My future daughter-in-law is visiting while she and my son make wedding plans and try to find an apartment. In between their running to and from appointments, she finds time to do her Shakespeare homework for school. She showed me her five-pound Complete Shakespeare that she lugged out with her from Michigan and I pulled out my beat up five-pound copy to compare. Mine has definitely seen better days.

Makes me think back to my young days when I first saw Romeo and Juliet, the Zeffirelli version. I was twelve. My friends and I sat through multiple showings because we were trying to see Romeo’s butt when he got out of bed. I was scandalized that he would really be naked under those sheets. But unlike my friends, that movie ushered me into a lifelong love of Shakespeare. I bought the paperback version of Romeo and Juliet and quoted the balcony scene for weeks. After that, I read all the comedies and several of the histories. I’ve never been a big fan of the tragedies, with one exception. Hamlet is my all time favorite play, with Cyrano de Bergerac a close second, even if it’s not one of the Bard’s.

Hamlet is perfect. He’s the perfect character and the play is perfect in construction. When my son was in middle school, he wanted to enter a school talent contest. He was thinking of quoting a poem, but I upped the ante and pulled out Hamlet’s soliloquy. Once we worked our way through it so he understood what was going on, he tore it up on stage. He said it better than anyone I’ve heard, and yes that’s Mom talking, but also a true Hamlet fan talking. I’ll pass on discussing my own lame version of Ophelia that I played at a Shakespeare festival. The poor girl suffered enough.

There’s just something wonderful about the wit and language of these plays, and sonnets. I find a lot of performances insufferably cute or horribly pretentious. So much so that I’m afraid to spend the money to see them. Best really to sit quietly and read them while the scenes play out in your head, try as you might to think of someone else besides Gweneth Paltrow playing Portia or Helena.

Shakespeare was the Michelangelo of wordsmithing. I almost wish he had also written prose. His language sweeps from coarse to sublime effortlessly. If novels more popular in his time, he would have, no doubt, written classics, though I suppose that he had a real love for the stage. It’s just amazing that the greatness of his writing continues to carry on. Just goes to show that excellence lives long after mediocre is forgotten.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

 I’m probably a little slow about this, but I finally saw Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole last night. (There’s something to be said for being patient and cheap.) I didn’t think the movie was bad, but not great.

I had some issues with it though. Why did the guardians live so far away while Soren’s family could have been with them? At the end of the movie, Soren’s parents show up as if they knew what he’d been up to and it didn’t seem to be a big deal for them to get to the guardian place. Then there’s the old guy who did the training. I have to think that every first grader would see the Star Wars storyline of the young warrior being trained by the gristled veteran who encourages him to trust his “gizzard”. The kids must have been shouting at the screen, “Hey! That’s what Luke had to do to take down the Death Star!” Nothing new there, just a repackage.

And what’s with those names? Soren is the only name that I understood. All the other names sounded like the owls burping. It probably worked better in the book, but I’m sorry, for a movie, it just didn’t work at all. In fact, I have to think that the book is a much better experience  than the movie. It probably explains a lot more of what we were supposed to understand. Like, what was all the metal bit magic about? It was bad, I get that, but there was no explanation of what it was. And how does an owl fly through a fire storm with getting singed AT ALL? Oh yeah, he trusted his gizzard.

Yes, yes I know that it was PG rated and the first graders aren’t poking at it like I am, but I like the idea of giving kids excellence, not just entertainment. An entertaining story will keep them interested until the next one starts. An excellent story will stay with them forever. As adults, they will think back to that experience and remember how it effected them.

What did I like about the movie? The animation was spectacular. I don’t know how they do it, but animation seems to get better and better all the time. The ocean waves and fire and lightness of the feathers was entirely realistic. I loved how good it looked. CG is amazing.

I’ll probably pass on the next Owls of Ga’Hoole movie, because it looks like it was set up for a sequel, but I wouldn’t mind reading the book.

Me and Bilbo, We’re Like This!

I know, I know, Bilbo and I! I’m trying to make a point here. Bilbo is one of my favorite book characters. Obviously I’m not a romance reader. I don’t go for the tall, dark, and handsome, sweep me off my feet kind of guy. I’m more for a cozy fresh-baked bread, pot of tea, and jam kind of guy.

That’s my Bilbo! He’s just a regular guy, er, hobbit. He lives in snug, but clean house underground with a view of the garden. He loves to cook and write. (Me too!) There’s that smoking thing and beer that I can do without, but I appreciate his hominess. He is the ultimate homebody. He’s not a bigshot in the community, he’s just another hobbit, settled in his habits and traditions. I can identify with that.

But where did all these dwarfs come from! Who said they could walk in and make themselves at home–so many of them!  Bilbo reacts like I do when dwarfs rock the boat. I get flustered too. But there’s something in him that even he didn’t know about. Something Gandalf could see, but Bilbo would never accept if told. Something that carried him through danger and fear. He possessed courage even he didn’t know he had. And in the end, the old traditions just weren’t all that special anymore. Bilbo found out how big the world really was and sought out retirement with the elves in a place far from his old hobbit hole. There’s a journey for you.

I like to think that if Bilbo can do it, we all can. It would be nice not to face the dragon, but there are worse than dragons in our world and there are times when we have to stand up to them. The testing of courage is no easy matter, but coming out on the other side alive and well takes us to another place altogether. Then we can go home to our tea and jam, or hang out with the elves. It’s great to have choices, but you have to follow the journey to find them.

The Adoring of Mr. Darcy, meh!

I know how shocking this will sound and I clearly understand the implications of admitting it, but I’m sorry, I’m not a Darcy fan. [Bracing for worldwide snubbing to begin.] In fact, I think that Austin got it wrong. She inexplicably mixed up the couples. How this could have happened is beyond imagining. I mean, there they are, staring at you from the page, as elegantly described as any characters in history. How could you miss the connections! I’ve given this some thought because I’ve been reading this story since I was twelve, not long after Austin published it.

First of all there’s the man himself. Tall, looming, almost sinister in his avoidance of public pleasantries. The man’s a snob! What’s attractive about that? Oh yes, the money. Monstrous estate. I know how beloved he was by his housekeeper, but really, at least he could be nice away from home. And yes, he should have said something about the slimebag Wickham. I’m not saying Darcy is evil or bad, I just don’t see hero in him.

Then there’s Bingley. Now there’s a nice guy! I like him. He’s open, sweet, generous, and gracious. He eagerly agrees to host a ball suggested by a young girl just to please her. How nice is that! Bingley has the warm, outgoing personality that is both agreeable and benevolent. In fact it is his weakness. He trusts more than he should. But that is not a great fault. He trusted in his good friend, a man of wealth and influence who had never let him down before. I give him credit for that. And Bingley keeps his good nature even in the company of his wicked sister. That speaks volumes to me.

But then there’s the problem with the pairing. Now I see Elizabeth and Bingley much happier together than Jane and Bingley. Jane is much more suited to the stilted kindness of Darcy. Elizabeth is out of Darcy’s league and Jane, quiet and sweet, fits better with his restraint. Elizabeth’s playfulness will only turn into a source of irritation and resentment for Darcy, but Bingley would find reasons to have fun with Elizabeth.

There you have it. If zombies can take over Meryton, then we can recouple our antagonists and make them happier. They’ll thank me for it.

A California Girl in Mark Twain’s Court

One of the unexpected benefits for volunteering at Bookshare is book  rescue. After a book has been torn from its cover and despined in a machine that would make a French executioner tremble, is getting to keep the amputated stack of pages. The day I witnessed this carnage, I happened to see the newly released Autobiography of Mark Twain in a stack ready for destruction. After hearing me yelp at seeing it, the chief executioner promptly grabbed a sticky note and put my name on it for future rescue.

This tome is 2 1/2 inches thick. (Use your thumb and finger to approximate that right now.) It’s a big book! And it’s all lose pages, put back into its cover and held together with a rubber band. I decided the best way to manage reading it is to staple ten pages at a time and carry them where I want to read.

I haven’t even begun reading Clemens’ actual autobiography yet, that begins on page 201, yet I’m already endeared to the man all over again. I first touched by him years ago while working for a rare book dealer. I happened to come across a pamphlet that Clemens wrote about moving his family to San Francisco for the summer. The first thing he did was to search the neighborhood for kittens. When he found a litter, a paid the family for “use” of them and brought them back to romp and play on his porch. His delight at watching the kittens and the mother cat was sweet. So unlike the crusty iconoclast he was known to be.

But now I see that I actually fall into the Clemens mold. It took him from three to seven years to complete his major books. I don’t know if that was because of having to do multiple revisions or because he was easily distracted. So far, I follow both examples.

He also found writing diaries boring. He started work on his biography dozens of times over at least forty years. Several times he thought to just write a diary and fill in around it to complete his autobiography, but gave it up after a week of writing. I so understand! Writers are supposed to journal for some reason, but I just cannot force myself to do it. I’m not sure I can find all the journals I have started over the years only to discard them or grab them other uses. Best not to try to force creative behavior I guess. If Mark Twain can get away with it, and it seemed to work out well for him, then I feel like I’m in good company. I’m not sure what else I will discover about this new paragon of mine, but I’m can’t wait to see.

Of Books and Readers and Happy Thoughts

It’s been crazy promoting a new book. It’s as much work as the writing, but it’s exciting to see people find what I wrote and like it. That’s just what it’s all about. It’s great when I find a good book. I feel as if I’ve found new friends and I feel a connection with the author. I get what he had in his mind, or I think I do. If he’s a good author then I probably did get what he meant. (Or she, I’m not trying to be sexist!) It’s even cooler being the author and having people make that connection with me. I think every writer has a little Sally Field inside of us – You liked it! You really liked it! There’s an extension of who we are that goes out to the reader and finds a place to be remembered. Even if the reader hates it, they won’t forget. I hope to be remembered fondly actually. And when that reader is a child, I am especially jazzed. Kids are so open to wonder and imagination that it’s just fun to go there with them.

So here’s to you readers! Find your books and enjoy them. We’re here for you as much as you are here for us. I may never meet you or hear from you, but if you have my books, then you have a part of me that I hope you enjoy. But feel free to let me know : )

I Heart Bookmarks

It occurred to me recently that I have books in every room of my house, except the “garage” room. I gave away nearly half my books about ten years ago and have slowly replaced them with a different set of books. My old fiction reading has morphed into non-fiction reading in just about every subject under the sun. I have stacks of cookbooks in the kitchen, dining, and living rooms. I have books in the bathroom and bedrooms—books that I have read, nearly read or plan to read. I have several books that I read concurrently. It’s a problem doing that because once I browse a bookstore and bring home something that looks too good to wait for, I immediately forget about the three half read books in various locations. It’s a challenge for non-fictions writers out there. If the book is very compelling, I’ll read it straight through and actually carry it from room to room with me.

Each new book is an invitation to learn and experience something new and wonderful, therefore, it deserves to be approached and handled with careful planning. Dust jackets must maintain their pristine sharpness. Corners are only bent back in cookbooks to flag promising recipes. But most importantly, the proper bookmark must be selected for use.

I have bookmarks from my youth that I still use. One that was perferated from a birthday card so long ago I forget when I got it. I collect them everywhere—NASA, author lectures, trade shows, and ever book store I go into. Some are homemade, some are slick, some have pithy author quotes,  cheerful pictures, and  scripture verses. The variety is essential because each book needs the appropriate bookmark to use with it. Any book on astronomy, of course, needs the NASA marker. Histories or autobiographies do well with the homemade or scripture verse markers. Very academic books need a bookstore marker. Cookbooks, however, are the most neglected. My haste to read through cookbooks usually leaves my choice of marker sadly unprepared. Sales slips, business cards or sticky notes very often find themselves permanently embedded in my cookbooks. I find that not to be a bad thing, despite my finicky need to use better markers for other books. I like finding old sales slips to remind myself where I found my treasures. Unfortunately, if I use a business card, I’ll never again remember where I got it or who it belonged to.

Bookmarks aren’t the only things I stuff into books. As a child, I would pull out large, old dusty tomes from the bookshelf and press wild flowers between wax paper. I still have some of those old children’s Bible books with flat, faded lupins pressed long ago. In my days working for a rare book dealer, I brought home fascinating things put into books and forgotten when collections were brought to the shop to be sold—religious cards, postcards, small fashion plates. Once while cataloging a Steinbeck collection, I found a postcard Steinbeck wrote to his mother about a scene he later included in one of his books. That one I did not get to keep.

 The problem is, with my chaotic reading habits, most of my best bookmarks are stuck into books I may never finish, yet I might!, until I finally succumb to the decision that if I haven’t finally read the book already, I probably never will and the bookmark may be reused elsewhere. There’s always a slight pang of regret when the marker is pulled from the pages of an undeserving book, a book that should have been better, a book that should have been read.

Bookmarks serve such a useful purpose in keeping us on track through our reading, but they also act as placeholders of memories and emotions. There’s something essentially satisfying about choosing just the right bookmark for a new, crisp book with enormous entertainment and educational value. Never throw out a good bookmark. It could be your friend for life.