Category Archives: good books

Quarantine Follies

We have been isolated and quarantined for 12 days now, and the world around us continues to get weirder and weirder. The dog killed a squirrel in the yard two days ago. We are running out of bread and meat and potatoes thanks to hoarders, and we may need to find alternatives to toilet paper. But as long as we have love, not unlike the dog and cat in the illustration above, we will be alright.

One has to wonder, though, what they are using all that toilet paper for, those hoarders who are apparently eating it in massive quantities to give them more fiber in their diet.

Or, maybe, they know something about the virus that we don’t. Maybe it causes loose bowels and the toilet-paper-consuming condition of Montezuma’s Revenge.

Or maybe there are lots of toilet-paper mummies now roaming the nights looking for pretty girls who resemble dead Egyptian princesses?

Oh, NO!!!!

But with the virus lurking out there, waiting to pounce on me and my weak, diabetes-ravaged immune system, there are some good things about being home-bound and fortified with solitude. For one thing, the girl who had to go see the nurse during that last substitute-teaching job I had did not turn out to have Coronavirus. In fact, it is now past the date by more than two weeks that I would’ve come down with the type of flu she did test positive for. So I don’t have that either.

This is not the girl with the virus. This is a random picture from Twitter.

Since the four of us are basically confined to our rooms for the majority of the day, it is a great time for reading in the nude. I benefit from that because I have psoriasis in places that itch less if kept dry, naked, and in front of the fan, but aren’t exactly safe for public places. And I don’t even have to offend my family with my naked self to do it. I am also pretty sure you are grateful that I didn’t use my own picture to illustrate this goofy notion.

… And by that I mean, of course, a picture of me reading naked.

We have done things together as a family too. Making masked visits to the grocery store or Walmart only to find there is still no toilet paper is one. Using up the gingerbread house kit that didn’t get used at Christmas is another.

And, of course, eating the gingerbread house was also something we did together. The Princess and Number Two Son both ate lion’s shares in order to save me from being weak and eating too much of it myself with my miserable diabetes. I say, “miserable diabetes” not because it is out of control and making me ill or susceptible to comas, but because I get to eat less of things like gingerbread houses, and that makes me miserable.

But the evil, moron, criminal president says that too much quarantine time will make us kill ourselves. So, he intends to end our time in isolation by Easter. We have to go out of the house, spend more money that could end up in his pockets, and get back to work to make the economy stronger so he can be re-elected on a strong economy. Even if we have to sacrifice our lives to the virus to do it. After all, what’s more important? Staying alive longer? Or helping an evil, moron, criminal president get re-elected?

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Filed under angry rant, being alone, compassion, family, feeling sorry for myself, gingerbread, good books, goofy thoughts, humor, Paffooney

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night…

The title is taken directly from the poet Dylan Thomas. He was thinking about the death of his father. But, even though my father cannot last much longer either, it is my own mortality that has been weighing heavily on my mind.

I have been thinking a lot about death of late. I am now three years farther along into my retirement than I believed I would be when I retired in 2014. I honestly believed I would not live beyond 2017 with my six incurable diseases. Especially when Banco Americo sued me over medical bills and won, forcing me into bankruptcy, and leaving me to be unable to pay for insulin for my diabetes or mental health services for family members who needed them as a matter of life or death.

So, I suppose I can be forgiven for reading a lot of life-or-death stories lately, especially the kind that don’t have a happy ending.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 post-apocalyptic novel, ripped a good half to three quarters of my soul out. It is about two characters making their way along a road after some unnamed disaster has blasted away most of life on Earth, and that which is left is dying. There is no miracle nor any life-saving solution at the end of the novel. The only grace the reader is allowed is that the character who dies at the end lived for as long as was possible motivated only by love, and by dying, allowed the beloved other character to live beyond him. It is a hard, terrible story to read. But it achieves its goal. It touches your hopeless heart in ways only an award-winning novel can.

The book I just finished reading was a story I originally had to read for an Iowa State University class on Existentialism in Literature. The Nobel-Prize-winning author, Albert Camus’s book, The Stranger, is no easier to read than The Road. In fact, it may be even more depressing and dark than the first novel I mentioned. The main character lives as a stranger in a meaningless world and basically is sentenced to death by a jury because he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. The story devastates your compassionate heart and shakes your belief in a benevolent God. And I read it the first time long before I was an atheist who believes in a different form of god. The story is itself cruel. But in the long view, it grants you a certain melancholy sort of peace that can only be had by coming to terms with your place in all of existence.

So, I admit it. I have been obsessing about the end of life far too much. The current pandemic that has us all on the ropes in the boxing match of life has brought me to grips with the fact that, even though the end of life is far closer to now than its beginning, living life is what still matters. I have been spending my shut-in days writing novels about life and love and laughter. I have also been talking to relatives by phone and connecting with people through social media, all of which can be done without risk of viral infection. Well… maybe a computer virus.

But I am alive now. And I am living in every manner I can still manage. For now. Because I can. And because it is the right thing to do.

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Filed under book reports, book review, good books, Paffooney, philosophy

Directions to Be Worried About

The question came up on Twitter. “What things aren’t safe to write about in a Young Adult novel?”

I have personally never questioned myself about that before. The writer asking for input was writing something science-fiction-y about a telepath using telepathy to torture someone. He was apparently worried that a younger audience would be traumatized by that.

Really? Anyone who can ask that has never spent much time talking to young readers.

I base my answer on over thirty years of trying to get kids to read things of literary quality. My very first year of teaching a male student stood up when the literature books were passed out and announced, “I don’t do literature!”

“Really, Ernie? You are going to lay that challenge before me?”

We slogged through The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that year, using and reusing 20 paperback copies of the novel purchased with my own money. Ernie maybe didn’t like it. But he did literature.

And I went on a thirty-four year quest to find out what literature kids really would do and what literature kids really needed to do.

Aquaman saves Aqualad from a shark of evilness.

Here’s a tiny bit of wisdom from Mickey’s small brain and comparatively large experience; Kids are not traumatized by literature in any form. Kids are traumatized by life. They need literature to cope with trauma.

Kids want to read about things that they fear. A book like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card has some graphic violence in it and a war against faceless aliens, but it does an excellent job of teaching how to empathize as well as fight against bullies, and it helps them grapple with the notion that the enemy is never clearly the thing that you thought it was to begin with.

Kids want to read the truth about subjects like love and sex. They are not looking for pornography in YA novels. They get that elsewhere and know a lot more about it than I do. They want to think about what is right and how you deal with things like teen pregnancy, abortion, matters of consent vs. rape and molestation. Judy Blume started being objectively honest with kids about topics like puberty and sex back in the 60’s with books like Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. and Iggie’s House.

If you are writing for young adults, middle grade and high school kids, even kids 5th Grade and below who are high-level readers, it is more important to worry about writing well and writing honestly than it is to worry about whether they can handle the topics and trauma that you wish to present. Write from the heart and write well.

I can honestly say I know these things I have said are true about young readers from having read to them, read with them, and even taught them to read. As an author, my opinion is worth diddly-squoot since I have hardly sold any books, and no kids I know have read them (except for two of my nieces, both of whom are pretty weird and nerdy just like me.)

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, education, empathy, good books, horror writing, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing, writing humor, writing teacher

Celebrity Endorsements

I need to figure out marketing if I am ever going to make a dent as an author.  So I got together $11.75 and hired two stuffed celebrities to endorse my books.  Fozzy comes from Goodwill for $4.75, while $7.00 on E-Bay netted me Alf.

20181003_095450Okay, I guess it’s a start.  Maybe not a great start, but a start.20181003_095647

Yeah, maybe Alf needs an attitude adjustment… with a brick.

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Okay, money poorly spent… but it is a good idea.  I need somebody who doesn’t have sawdust in their heads.  How much do you suppose Angelina Jolie charges per endorsement?   Yeah, I’m pretty sure it would be too much for my budget.  Maybe I could get Bette Davis.  She’d be cheap.  But how persuasive are dead people?

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Filed under foolishness, good books, humor, Paffooney, photo paffoonies

In Praise of Louis L’Amour

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This man was my Grandpa Aldrich’s favorite author.  Grandpa had ridden the range in the Dakotas in the 1920’s and early 30’s.  He was basically an Iowa farmer for his whole life, but he rode horseback on the plains just long enough to become addicted vicariously to the life L’Amour so vividly describes in his many western novels.

Grandpa read every Louis L’Amour book the Rowan library had.  He read a few more besides.  And I have no idea how many he read twice, three times, or more.  For the last decade of his life, he did very little sleeping, being used to two hours of actual sleep a night, and spending the rest of the time reading westerns while he rested.

This reading addiction is not only one that I understand, but share.  I, too, love the westerns, the heroes, the manly and poetic prose, and the sheer story-telling ability of Louis L’Amour.  I have not yet read every single book he wrote while he was alive.  But I am working on it.

Recently I reread the book The Daybreakers, a critical cog in the story-cycle of the Sackett family.  Here is my review from Goodreads of the third time I read this book.

Goodreads

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The Daybreakers 
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Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 01, 2018  ·  edit
it was amazing


This book is as much a hero’s journey as Star Wars. In some ways it is more complex. And in many ways it is a better story.
Louis L’Amour is a master storyteller. He created the narrator hero, Tyrel Sackett, as a young Luke Skywalker. His natural Force abilities are those qualities which make him a competent Westerner and a powerful gunfighter. His brother Orrin Sackett takes the Han Solo role from rogue pilot to New Mexico Sheriff and eventual congressman. Jonathan Pritts is the evil Emperor. He wants to take over the Mexican land grant belonging to the Alvarado family (Princess Leiah’s family on Alderaan). (Drusilla Alvarado is the Princess Leiah character). Ironically, Tom Sunday is a reverse Darth Vader. He befriends Tye, teaches him to read and how to be a good cattleman. And then he later turns on the Sackett family because of a wrong he feels from Orrin. The confrontation between Tye and his dark-side father figure is inevitable.
The writer abilities I see in the author deserve a much more detailed analysis than I can write here, but I loved this great American novel and strongly recommend it.

We have lost Louis L’Amour.  He will never write another book.  Which gives me a chance to read everything he wrote.  But he writes so well, and is such an important part of American literature, that is only the smallest of consolations.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, artists I admire, book reports, book review, cowboys, good books

Hearts in Atlantis (a book review)

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I finished reading this marvelous book over this dreary sunshiny weekend.  And I am totally surprised by how much I loved it.

This marvelous book, Hearts in Atlantis, is a book by Stephen King, whom I have always considered a dreary sunshiny popular writing hack.  I have learned by it, how wrong I have been all along about this author.  He is now established in my mind as a serious literary giant  (as opposed to a comic literary giant like Kurt Vonnegut or Terry Pratchett).  He deals with the emotions of fear, loss, angst, and regret, and so falls too easily into the horror writer category.  I misjudged him for so many years because I read Carrie, his first success, and Firestarter… well, I tried to read Firestarter and only got 40 pages in when it was due back at the library… and… I mean, I never fail to finish a book I have chosen to read.  And then I did.  But both of those books showed me a writer who was trying too hard, following some road map of novel writing borrowed from some other writer he admired.  And it all becomes formulaic and trite, sometimes even boring.  He is mimicking someone else’s voice.  I filed him in the “authors who are hack writers” drawer next to R.L. Stine.

But this book proved me totally wrong.  I had to take King out and put him in a different drawer.  It starts out as a typical Stephen King monster story with a first section with a young boy as the protagonist and introducing us to the monstrous “low men in yellow coats”.  But it is a total trick to draw us in.  And it is even a very good monster story.  Like H.P. Lovecraft he has learned the lesson that a good monster story is not about the monster.  And showing us the monster directly is something that should only be done very briefly, at just the right moment in the plot.  Like the works of David Mitchell, this section connects you to threads from King’s other books, especially the Dark Tower series, which I must now read in the very near future.  Stephen King has learned through practice to write like a master.

But the theme doesn’t really start to score ultimate literature points until he tricks us along into part two.  The hearts in the title is actually the card game.  It is a card game that takes over the lives of college boys in a dormitory in the 1960’s.  They play it for money and it takes over their lives to the point that they flunk out of school at a time when that means they will be drafted and sent to Vietnam.  And the characters that are immune to the pull of the hearts game (also a metaphor for the second protagonist’s love life) fall victim to the urge to take on the government and protest the war.  Hence the “sinking of Atlantis” metaphor means the loss of innocence, and the devastation that comes from making choices when you are young that will haunt you forever.

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The post-war section of the book is filled with hubris, regret, lost love and stoic determination that is barely rewarded for only two characters in the entire plot.  I won’t of course, say anything that is a plot spoiler.  This is a horror story, and it is not my place to reveal the truth about the monster.  I can only tell you that this story is a devastating read for those of us old enough to remember.  And it is a fine work of dreary sunshiny fiction that frightens us with its truthfulness.

 

 

 

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Filed under book reports, book review, good books, horror writing, metaphor, monsters, NOVEL WRITING, reading, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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Some books come along telling a story that has to be taken seriously in ways that don’t make sense in any normal way.  The Alchemist is one of those books.

What is an alchemist, after all?

An alchemist uses the medieval forms of the art of chemistry to transmute things, one thing becoming another thing.

Coelho in this book is himself an alchemist of ideas.  He uses this book to transmute one idea into another until he digs deep enough into the pile of ideas to finally transmute words into wisdom.

There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, and I can actually share some of it here without spoiling the story.

Here are a few gemstones of wisdom from the Alchemist’s treasure chest;

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting…” (p.13)

“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.” (p.17)

“All things are one.  And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  (p.24)

“And when he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish.    And they had understood each other perfectly well.  There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought.” (p.45)

All of these quotes from the book, as you can see, come from the first third of the book.  There are many more treasures to be found in this book.  I should not share them with you here.  Just as the main character of the story learns, you have to do the work for yourself.  But this book is not only an enjoyable read, but a map for how you can execute your own journey towards your “Personal Legend”.  In fact, you may find that the book tells you not only how to go about making a dream come true, but, if you are already on that journey successfully, it tells you what things you are already doing right.

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Filed under book reports, book review, commentary, good books, magic, strange and wonderful ideas about life, wisdom, wizards

Where I’d Like to Be (a book by Frances O’Roark Dowell)

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This book made me cry. And that is not unusual, even though I am a 60-year-old man. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens made me cry. At the end, not during the funny parts. But this was a book about a lonely eleven-year-old girl trying to make friends. Why should that make me cry?
But it is also a bittersweet tale of memorable child characters who have nowhere left to turn but each other, and their imaginations. The poetic sting of it can make a grown man cry. You should read it. You will understand then.

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Filed under art criticism, book reports, book review, characters, compassion, empathy, good books, humor, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Holy Bagumba!

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I have just finished reading a wonderful book.  It is a young adult novel bordering on being a children’s book.  It won the 2014 Newbery Medal for best work of children’s literature.  But it is a book of so many dimensions that it totally defies categories.  Librarians with butterfly nets who want to pin this book down on their library shelves will be pointlessly waving their nets at it like they believe it’s a butterfly, but it will soar away from them like an eagle.

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Flora & Ulysses (the Illuminated Adventures) is a combination book of many different things.  G. K. Cambell’s cartoony paffoonies add to and amplify the story to the point that sometimes it becomes a graphic novel.

Flora herself is a comic-book lover and follower of the adventures of a comic-book superhero named Incandesto.  Ulysses the squirrel is run over by a rogue vacuum cleaner and the accident graces him with super powers (the ability to fly and throw cats and write poetry).  And Flora rescues and befriends this newly minted superhero and sets him on a path that pits him against the only super-villain available, Flora’s own mother.

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At certain points, through metaphor, elegance, and supreme focus, the story itself becomes poetry.  But, of course, when the poem ends with a line about the squirrel being hungry, it becomes humorous poetry, simply by the juxtaposition of the sublime with the ridiculous.

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As a writer, Kate DiCamillo is a master of everything I want to be.  She is as much a masterful story-teller as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, or William Faulkner.  But many people will be put off by the fact that she is a children’s author.  They will ignore her stories because how could a children’s author affect their lives in any way?  But if you are a reader who can think and feel about things in a book, she will make you laugh and make you cry and make you not afraid to die… for love of a good book.

Let me also suggest a few of her other wonderful, wonderful books;

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Filed under book reports, book review, commentary, good books, humor, metaphor, poetry, reading

Tom Sawyer Abroad (Book Review)

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Yep, I read about being an “erronort” traveling in a balloon while sitting in a parking lot in my car.

Believe it or not, I read this entire 100+year-old book in my car while waiting for my daughter and my son in school parking lots.  What a perfectly ironic way to read a soaring imaginary adventure written by Mark Twain and mostly forgotten about by the American reading public.

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My copy of this old book is a 1965 edition published for school libraries of a book written in 1894.  It tells the story of how Tom and Huck and Jim steal a ride on a balloon at a town fair from a somewhat mentally unhinged professor of aeronautical science.  The balloon, which has space-age travel capabilities due to the professor’s insane genius, takes them on an accidental voyage to Africa.

Of course, the insane professor intends to kill them all, because that’s what insane geniuses do after they prove how genius-y they really are.  But as he tries to throw Tom into the Atlantic, he only manages to plunge himself through the sky and down to an unseen fate.  The result being a great adventure for the three friends in the sands of the Sahara.  They face man-eating lions, mummy-making sandstorms, and a chance to land on the head of the Sphinx.

The entire purpose of this book is to demonstrate Twain’s ability to be a satirical stretcher of the truth, telling jokes and lies through the unreliable narrator’s voice of Huck Finn.

Here is a quoted passage from the book to fill up this review with words and maybe explain just a bit what Twain is really doing with this book;

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Notice how I doubled my word count there without typing any of the words myself?  Isn’t the modern age wonderful?

But there you have it.  This book is about escaping every-day newspaper worries.  In a time of Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, global warming, and renewed threats of thermonuclear boo-boos with Russia, this proved to be the perfect book to float away with on an imaginary balloon to Africa.  And the book ends in a flash when Aunt Polly back in Hannibal wants Tom back in time for breakfast.  I really needed to read this book when I picked it up to read it.

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Filed under book reports, book review, foolishness, good books, humor, imagination, Mark Twain, old books, strange and wonderful ideas about life