Category Archives: book review

Mickey the Reader

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I like to think that I am different than other readers, that the quirky, insane way I practice reading makes me somehow unique and individual.  But if you have read very much of my goofy little blog, you probably realize already that I am a deeply deluded idiot most of the time.  So let me explain a little about how I go about reading.

  1.  I am basically guilty of reading anything and everything I can get my hands on.  And the stupid internet puts an infinite variety in your hands.  Some of it is toxic and probably will kill me… or land me in jail.  (Does the NSA really care about what Mickey is reading?)
  2. Here is an example of my internet reading this morning;  Diane Ravitch’s Education Blog , An Article from British NaturismRachel Poli’s Article about Fantasy Writing, and Naked Carly Art’s post about creating a painting.  My browser history portrays me at times as some kind of communist brainiac pornography-loving terrorist painter or something.  I hope the NSA is using telepaths to investigate me, because the reasons I look at a lot of this stuff is important.  It is a good thing I don’t write mystery novels so they would be upset down in the NSA break room about my searching out creative ways to kill people.
  3. Besides being Eclectic  with a capital “E”, I am also obsessive.  My daily reading project now is Garrison Keillor’s novel, Lake Wobegon Days.

I only spend about an hour a day reading this novel, but I am totally immersed in it.  I am living inside that book, remembering the characters as real people and talking to them like old friends.  I tried to read that book before and couldn’t make progress because I like so much to listen to Keillor tell stories on A Prairie Home Companion on the radio and it just wasn’t the same entirely in print.  When he tells a story, he pauses a lot.  In fact, that moment when he stops to let you reflect on what he just said is critical to the humor because you have to stop and savor the delicious irony of the scene.  His pauses are funnier than the words.  Man, if he just stood there and didn’t talk at all, you would probably die laughing from it.  So, in order to get into the book, I had to read it with Garrison’s voice in my head, pausing frequently the way he does.  Now the stories of Clarence Bunsen and Pastor Inqvist break me up all over again.  I will soon acquire and read everything he has ever written.  I truly love Garrison Keillor.

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So there is a description of how strange a practicing reader I am.  Think about how you read.  Is the NSA watching you too?  Do you ever read two books at the same time?  Do you read everything and anything in front of you?  If you are self-reflective at all, even if you are not pathological about it the way Mickey is, you may well decide that as strange as my reading habits are, they are probably normal compared to yours.

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David Mitchell is Genius!

Yes, David Mitchell is a very smart man… a very smart English man.  (That isn’t to say that his genius is any less genius than an American Genius.  Just that he is a genius who also happens to be English)

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And I, of course, don’t mean this David Mitchell either, though this David Mitchell is also a genius and also from England.  I have to tell you, though I have always loved British humor, this particular tongue of silver fascinates me enough to make me binge on hoards of old episodes of “Would I Lie to You?” from the BBC on YouTube.  He’s a quick-wit, Brit-wit, smooth-talking  bit-wit who can make you laugh even when he’s playing a thick-wit… which he is certainly not.

Anyway, that is the wrong English genius David Mitchell.

I mean the other English genius David Mitchell.  The one who wrote Cloud Atlas.  Also the one who wrote The Bone Clocks.  And, of course, the one whose book Black Swan Green which I just finished reading early this morning.

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Yes, I mean this David Mitchell.  The absolute genius writer who creates exactly the kind of books that I long to read.

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Now, this post should probably be more of a traditional book report than it is.  This book I just read is swimmingly, swannishly excellent in a David-Mitchell-is-GENIUS! sort of way.  It is about an English boy from Malvern, England undergoing the trials and tribulations of his thirteenth year of life.  The boy is a stutterer and secretly a poet.  The girl he pines for is the girlfriend of his greatest enemy, the boy who relentlessly bullies and taunts him.  One even suspects that this portrait of a Margaret Thatcher-era boyhood written in exquisitely horrible detail might be based on the author’s own boyhood somehow, so vivid is its detailing.

But this is already too cacked-up to be a proper book report just because of the two David-Mitchell-English-genius thing.  If you really want that sort of book review, read it elsewhere, or read the danged book yourself.  This report is more of a vow of fealty.  I must now turn my hoarding disorder sufferer’s exacting zeal on the matter of reading everything this living author writes.  I did the same thing to both Michael Crichton and Terry Pratchett because they are geniuses too.  But they are both now no longer living and writing new books, at least, not unless there is new meaning to the term ghost writing that I don’t know anything about.  So now it is David Mitchell’s turn to be the object of my intense fan-boy love of good writing.

Here are some David Mitchell books that I now must stalk and make my own;

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And hopefully, there are many more yet to come.

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Books That Make You Hurt

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Yes, I read this book.  Yes, it scared the poop out of me.  Yes, it made me cry.  This is a uniquely horrific horror story that is so realistic that you know that it has actually happened in real life somewhere, sometime.  Only the names of the characters would be different.

I have a deep abiding respect for Richard Peck as a writer.  He earned that with his books A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago.  Those books made me laugh so hard it blew chocolate milk out of my nose.  And, yes, I was drinking chocolate milk at the time.  They are so realistic because the people in those stories are real people.  I know those people personally.  Of course, they have different names in real life.

But Are You In the House Alone? is a very different book from those other two masterpieces.  It tears your heart out and eats your liver because it is a first person narrative in the voice of a high school girl being stalked by a sexual predator.  Everything that happens to Gail in the high school, at home, and at the house where she babysits is hyper-real with horror movie levels of attention to detail.  I don’t wish to be a spoiler for this well-written book, but the narrator does not die in the book and it definitely does not have a happy ending.  For anyone who has the amount of empathy I do, and in many ways becomes the narrator-character by reading, reading a book like this can physically hurt.  A teacher like me has lived through horrible things like this happening to students before, it even happened to me as a boy, and it adds the slings and arrows of those things being re-lived as you read.

This is not the only book that has ever done this sort of damage to my heart strings.  I remember the pain from the conclusion of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.  You root for Little Nell and boo Daniel Quilp.  But the bad guy wins.  No happy ending can linger in the harp-strings of your memory-feeling song as long as a tragic outcome does.  I was there with Scout in that ridiculous costume in the dark when Bob Ewell was attacking her brother Jem in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  That story was filled with wise and laughable things, but the stark horror of that climactic moment nearly wiped all the good feelings away, if not for the heroics of ghostly Boo Radley whose timely intervention brings it all back before the novel ends.  It horrifies me to admit it, but I was there, too, in the moment when the boys all turn on Simon on the beach with their sharpened sticks in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  They mistook him for the monster.  I still haven’t fully recovered from that reading trauma.

The thing about books that hurt to read which makes it essential that I never try to avoid them, is that they can add more depth and resonance to your soul than any light and fluffy piece ever could.  Life is much more like Lord of the Flies than it is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  I am sadder but wiser for having read Are You In the House Alone?  I am recommending it to other readers like me who don’t so much live to read as they read in order to live.  Not because it is easy and good to read, but because it is hard and essential to read.  It will hurt you.  But it will leave you like it leaves its narrator, damaged, but both alive and purely resolved to carry on.

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Unfinished Business

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This oil painting is called “The Unfinished Stag”

You never quite reach the end of the list of things you ought to do.  Some lazy days it is hard to even write the words you desperately need to write.  I have unfinished business in this life.  Not just the need to finish bankruptcy paperwork and finish my transition to poor retired English teacher on a fixed income.  Not just the never ending yard work and home maintenance and repair, some of which involves fines from the city for not completing.  I still have pictures to paint, cartoons to draw, and stories to tell.  That last part of me is probably the most important unfinished business, because it represents the legacy I will leave behind.  I know I am only a nobody novelist who has some mediocre art talent.  But it is the immortal part of me never-the-less.

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This is an unfinished illustration that ties into my vast pile of unfinished science fiction dreams.

I did just finish a book.  I reread Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

Here’s my Goodreads Review;  Five Stars

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Fiction as great art doesn’t get any more magical and soul-restoring than this book, perhaps the best that Mitch Albom ever wrote, and that’s saying a lot. The last line of this book is worth all the reading you’ve ever done in your life. You must read this book BEFORE you meet your five.

But you read to the end of a book like this, and you realize, you will never be truly finished with it.  For as long as you live you will be drawn back to it, remembering the story, remembering the feelings it evoked, the chances you will have to recommend it to others, and the way it informs the way you live your own life.  There is no way to ever finish a book like that… or like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, or Lord of the Flies by William Golding, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  I could do a whole book about books I will never be finished with.

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This too is an unfinished painting.  The black at the bottom was supposed to be something else, but I left it black and liked it that way. at least until I cropped it and cut the Dust Man’s legs off at the knees.

And so I have so much unfinished business to take care of, I really didn’t come up with a good idea for this essay.  So what will I write about today?  I guess I will just have to leave it… unfinished.

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Another Danged Good Book I Read

Little Altars Everywhere 
by Rebecca Wells (Goodreads Author)

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Michael Beyer‘s review

Aug 04, 2017


Rebecca Wells is a writing chameleon, a shape-changer like blessed few other writers can manage. She creates the world of Thornton, Louisiana by story-telling through the eyes of eight different characters. Each voice is distinct and exquisitely crafted with a unique and individual personality. And yet, the plot is in no way fractured by the various viewpoints of the action. It is the story of all the love, violence, anger, resentment, ugliness, and beauty that takes a family of six from 1963 to 1991, from childhood to adulthood, from ignorance and pain, to grudging maturity and acceptance.
I can’t begin to recount the story without spoiling it for you. It is the story of Siddalee Walker and her family as they grow up on Pecan Grove cotton plantation. And it is a marvelous kaleidoscopic picture of the difficulties and complexities of living life and learning wisdom the way they used to do in Louisiana. Wells makes me laugh and makes me cry going back and forth between emotions in the space of a few pages. You know, the way brilliant authors usually do. I recommend you read this book. I loved it, and if you love reading too, you will not be disappointed.
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The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto (a book review)

 

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The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto: A Novel
by Mitch Albom (Goodreads Author)

Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 23, 2017

 

It was amazing!

This book is a miracle. It makes words into music and fills your imagination with some of the most beautiful guitar music ever played. It introduces you not only to a very convincing portrait of a fictional musician and Rock and Roll icon, but a vast array of very real musicians and show people who agreed to be used as a part of the story, approved the sections about them, and even helped Mitch Albom to compose it. These include notable music makers like Lyle Lovett, Darlene Love, Tony Bennett, Paul Stanley, and Burt Bacharach. The story itself transcends its fictional form, giving us a look at a musical history whose scope goes from the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s to Woodstock, and on to the present day. It even gives us glimpses into the distant musical past, framing the story with the song Lágrima by the classical guitarist Francisco Tárrega. And all this music the book fills your mind with is actually performed only in your imagination and memory. Albom proves again with this book how his mastery of language makes him an absolute master story-teller.

 

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And now, here is me trying to make sense out of a reading experience that made my figurative heart grow wings and soar into the clouds in ways brought forth only by the strains of a sweet, classical Spanish guitar.

Stories like this one make a unique music in the mind, and though it is all fiction, occurring silently in the theater of your mind, you hear the music in your heart.  This story elicited the music of Rodrigo’s Adagio throughout, a piece I know intimately.  I myself have never written a musical book the way this fiction book was written.  But I know now that I have to try.  Poetry becomes song lyrics, right?  There is a connection between a good archetypal story about life and love and laughter, and the bittersweet strains of music on a Spanish guitar.

I truly and utterly fell in love with this beautiful book.  Mitch Albom is a genius… for a Detroit Tigers baseball fan.  And I would not risk telling you anything that might spoil such a beautiful story.  All I can say is, don’t read it… listen to it as you would a piece of beautiful music.  Listen to it and love it.

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Raising Steam… a book by Terry Pratchett

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Raising Steam 
by Terry Pratchett

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Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 12, 2017  
Iwas amazing!


Terry Pratchett is always a good choice if you like laughs, thrills, and satire. Raising Steam does not disappoint. It uses familiar characters like Moist Von Lipwig from Going Postal and Commander Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork city watch along with new characters like the engineer Dick Simnel and the goblin Of The Twilight The Darkness (Yes, they like you to use the whole name).

The plot centers around the introduction of steam-powered railroads to the Discworld (the fantasy-world satire series that made Pratchett both a famous best-selling author, and a knight) and a schism between the dwarves who love the old ways of the deep, dark mines and the dwarves who love the new ways of living above ground in the light.

The usual mix of plot complications and themes of science versus magic are thrown about like fireballs to keep the story interesting, and one dark and foggy night aboard the train on a rickety bridge with the deposed king of the dwarves on board headed back to his kingdom sums up the sheer magic of Terry Pratchett’s gift for story-telling.

I recommend this book with six thumbs up… except I wasn’t supposed to reveal the existence of my extra arms.

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