Get it While It’s Hot

I guess I saw this moment coming, I just didn’t realize it would arrive so quickly.

My children are splitting up their inheritance and I’m not dead yet.

As begins most of my plights, I was going along, minding my own business, cleaning stuff. This is my happy place and people should respect it. By people, I mean the quasi-adult humans that I spent many hours and several body parts birthing in a hospital and the rest of my life cleaning up behind. We are hosting actual adults this summer and naturally, this means my feather duster is putting in some overtime.

I cleaned out my bookcase.

Here’s how that looked in my mind: These treasures came from a used book shop for a quarter each. They are ratty because they were loved but no one reads them anymore. I shall return them to the shelves from whence they came and rejoice some stranger’s heart.

Here’s how that looked to my kids: These treasures came from Mom’s bookshelf and they are spun from pure gold. They are ratty because I accidentally left them in the tree fort/floor of my car/washing machine. I shall rescue these irreplaceable tomes and anything else not nailed down before my mother’s dementia progresses to the point where she can’t remember that I wanted that!

Now. As I descend from a long line of women who kept stuff around just for the pleasure of dusting it, I am not emotionally bound to any one item. If it delights the heart of my children, by all means take it now. They can dust it for me and decide whether I get visitation rights.

But. In the back of my aged mind I hear warning bells. Don’t confuse the real things with the fake. I’m not talking about diamonds. I’m discussing relationships. Things are replaceable. Books are dime a dozen. You only have one Mom and her shelf life isn’t quite the same.

Well, depending on who you ask, I suppose.

You may have noticed, no one is ever pronounced “dead” at a funeral. Lots of interesting phrases though – the latest trend being “celebration of life” – because who wants to be a Debbie Downer when someone exits their current house full of loot, never to return?

Most religions subscribe to a “Me, Act 1” and “Me, Act 2” version. There’s a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. It’s uncomfortable to discuss the turning point. No one likes to dwell on that little detail. But you’re not dead.

Buddhists would have me doing re-runs until Netflix is obsolete. Not so exciting, but steady work.

Hindus would put me in a mini-series (starring Angelina Jolie).

But if this life is a one-off, he who dies with the most toys wins. Of course, if you’re the lucky dead dude, you yourself won’t know you won, but everyone left standing around will, and as that’s the whole point, it’s a win-win. That would be cause for celebration, certainly.

They will put my ashes in an urn or my photo in a frame, and set me on the shelf with the books they rescued and dust us all the same. I’m okay with that, because I read a Book that says dead is dead and dust is dust and if I am interested in an Act 2 I should bring it up with the Big Guy and make resurrection arrangements.

Meanwhile, allow me to suggest an excellent book: The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein.

No, you can’t have it. Yet.

I am merely suggesting that if we’re going to go around putting PostIt notes under the big-screen TV and the InstantPot, there had better also be a modicum of manners.

I’m not dead. Yet.

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.”
Ecc 9:5

The Bottomless Bookshelf

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

C. S. Lewis

Behind every writer is an epic bookshelf. This one is a collaboration between me and you, my lovely readers.

Originally published in September, 2016, the following “recommended booklist” is a work in progress: This is a continuously updated page. For an explanation, visit this post…and this one.

I have not read them all but I have read most. Please add your favorites to the comment box below and they will be stirred into the mix as we go. I will attempt to list them by genre and then by author, and if you leave your two cents of an opinion with your book, I will put that in too. Eventually, I will add links, etc to make the page more interactive.

Thanks for visiting. Don’t let your tea get cold. Happy reading.

Fiction, Chick Lit/Romance

  • Alcott, Louisa May: yes, girlfriend, warm my heart
  • Allende, Isabel: “magical realism”? Zorro is awesome
  • Austen, Jane: P&P forever! Team Darcy
  • Bronte, Charlotte: Jane Eyre, great book, heroine needs to pull it together already
  • Chevalier, Tracy: Girl With a Pearl Earring
  • Evanovich, Janet: all numbered Stephanie Plum books
  • Golden, Arthur: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Griffin, Emily: I’ve enjoyed a few
  • Jackson, Helen Hunt: Ramona
  • Kinsella, Sophie: the Shopaholic Series
  • Meyer, Stephanie: I know, I know…don’t judge. Team Edward though
  • Mitchell, Margaret: Gone With the Wind
  • Penman, Sharon Kay: historical, medieval England and France
  • Ripley, Alexandra: Scarlett. Because we want to know if he gave a damn
  • Rowling, JK: she’s my hero
  • Tolkien, JRR: because of course

Humor

  • Barry, Dave: the man’s hysterical
  • Bombeck, Erma: the lady’s hysterical
  • Bryson, Bill: A Walk in the Woods
  • Larson, Gary: The Far Side cartoons
  • Lawson, Jenny: Furiously Happy
  • McManus, Patrick: backwoods humor
  • Twain, Mark: every single thing he ever wrote
  • Watterson, Bill: Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, must read

You Thought These Were Kid Books: Wrong

  • Bagnold, Enid: National Velvet
  • Barry, Dave & Pearson, Ridley: Peter and the Starcatchers series
  • Burnett, Frances Hodgson: Secret Garden, A Little Princess
  • Burnford, Shelia: The Incredible Journey
  • Carroll, Lewis: Through the Looking Glass
  • Farley, Walter: Black Stallion series
  • Goldman, William: The Princess Bride in book form knocks my socks off
  • L’Engle, Madeline: her books are actually multi-level
  • Lovelace, Maud Hart: Heaven to Betsy series
  • MacLachlan, Patricia: Sarah Plain and Tall series
  • Milne, AA: The House at Pooh Corner, etc.
  • Montgomery, LM: Anne of Green Gables series
  • O’Brien, Robert: Mrs Frisby & the Rats of NIMH
  • O’Dell, Scott: Island of the Blue Dolphins, Zia
  • Sidney, Margaret: Five Little Peppers & How They Grew
  • Sewell, Anna: Black Beauty
  • Spyri, Johanna: Heidi
  • Suess, Dr: UCSD dedicated to this guy
  • White, EB: Charlotte’s Web, Trumpet of the Swan
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls: Litte House on the Prairie series
  • Williams, Margery: The Velveteen Rabbit, be real
  • Wyss, Johann: The Swiss Family Robinson

Great Literature

  • Cooper, James: The Last of the Mohicans. You. Will. Cry.
  • Dickens, Charles: all of him, A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite
  • Dumas, Alexander: this series blows me away every time
  • Homer: The Odyssey
  • Hugo, Victor: The Hunchback of Notre Dame sadness
  • Kipling, Rudyard: he who makes India look like an exotic flower
  • Melville, Herman: Moby Dick, I even liked the chapters on whales
  • Scott, Sir Walter: Ivanhoe YES YES YES
  • Steinbeck, John: Of Mice and Men
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis: Jekyll/Hyde, Treasure Island, Kidnapped
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Mystery, Drama, Horror, Tense Fiction

  • Caine, Hall: The Bondman
  • Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness
  • Courtenay, Bryce: The Power of One
  • Doyle, Arthur Conan: Holmes is a master
  • King, Stephen: excellent formula writer, hard to critique his predictability when it made him rich…
  • Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein, original in claymation
  • Stoker, Bram: yep, the original Dracula was pretty good

Poetry

  • Silverstien, Shel: Where the Sidewalk Ends, etc. The Giving Tree is epic.

Philosophy, Psychology, Business

  • Adam, Grant: Originals, how non-conformists move the world
  • Blanchard, Kenneth: The One Minute Manager
  • Brown, Brene: Daring Greatly, Rising Strong
  • Canfield, Jack: Chicken Soup for the Soul series, there’s almost too many of them
  • Carlson, Richard: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
  • Carnegie, Dale: How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • Covey, Stephen: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Duhig, Charles: The Power of Habit
  • Gilbert, Elizabeth: Eat, Pray, Love (good), Big Magic (meh)
  • Hatmaker, Jen: For the Love
  • Klein, Gary: Seeing What Others Don’t
  • Johnson, Spencer: Who Moved my Cheese?
  • Og, Mandino: The Greatest Salesman in the World
  • Rubin, Gretchen: Better Than Before
  • Tharp, Twyla: The Creative Habit
  • White, Kate: I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This (for Gutsy Girls)

Nonfiction Adventure

  • Corbett, Jim: Man-Eaters of Kumaon
  • Dineson, Isak & Blixon, Karen: Out of Africa
  • Gibson, William: The Miracle Worker
  • Herriot, James: All Creatures Great & Small series
  • Hillenbrand, Laura: Seabiscuit
  • London, Jack: all his wild and snowy stories
  • Mortenson, Greg: Three Cups of Tea
  • Thomas, Lowell Jackson: With Lawrence in Arabia
  • Washington, Booker T: Up From Slavery

Midlife Crisis

And now back to our regular programming…

Sorry guys. I took last week off, much against my will, and nearly did it again this week.

My writing has a roving eye and I was unfaithful to our blog.

Forgive me.

Judging from the heap of dirty tea mugs tossed in the sink, I’d say we have a problem.

This little blog is just shy of three years old. At approximately twice a week, we’re reaching 260 posts today, give or take, plus a Sister’s Retreat series I did last fall and two Ladies’ Sunday School series this year, a chick lit book, a historical fiction, and a Christian novel all in progress, (and I’m not counting emails from home or data entry at work…but I should) let’s just say I’ve made a LOT of words lately.

I have seven books spanning five genres in my “to read” pile.

I’m sure they’re all fantastic.

But I may never know.

Because at the back of everything I do, my blog is calling me.

“Write me!” it demands, “Make me brilliant and funny and heartfelt and famous!”

So, rather than sit down and write it, I moved heaven and earth and attended a local writer’s group yesterday, seeking inspiration. Of course it was fabulous to sit with other people who share my sense of pained procrastination.

I was the youngest in attendance by thirty years, but who’s counting?

“Just think,” I told myself as we shared our writing and our opinions and generally rolled around in the language of King James, “if I drag this out long enough, I can publish my first book when I’m 80!”

As usual, I’m the jack of all words and the master of none.

My blog is having a midlife crisis and I’m at my wit’s end for how to stop it.

Firstly, I sat down and scrutinized my writing and realized it was covered in commas. Covered. This is gonna take a lot of Botox. Where did all these commas come from?

Secondly, I went to coffee with a certain disciplinarian who reinforced the idea that I was fat with ideas. There are too many goodies on my plate and I want to eat them all even though I know it will hurt. I sat with an almond croissant in my mouth, nodding at his wisdom and wondering if I could market a book and magazine articles simultaneously.

Probably, yes.

Tick tock tick tock.

Nothing in my closet fits. I can’t button up my books, the blog needs regular ironing, and I can only wear the classes to church. I need to get a basic, classic, goes-with-everything project and go all Coco Chanel on the writing world.

I’m considering an Erma Bombeck transplant.

No one will know. It’ll be our little secret.

I’m ready to feel the Paris breeze beneath my laptop and walk among glamorous agents in sleek convention centers. I’m ready to jet across the country to sip champagne in New York publishing houses while rubbing elbows with famous authors.

I want to make a trophy book before I’m too old to read it.

In order to curb my imminent hysteria, I’ve taken up meditation.

You’ll find me in the library, eyes closed, inhaling the fragrance of aging paper.

Sitting somewhere between ‘Satire’ and ‘Tragedy’.

What Do Writers Read?

“The First 20 Hours, How to Learn Anything…Fast” by Josh Kaufman.

It should be titled, “The First 20 Hours, How to Discover if You Have Discipline”.

It may or may not have played into last Friday’s blog.

I love to read and I’m sad to report that I haven’t read a fiction novel in a very long time for fear of sailing off into the sunset with it, returning to reality only when I smell dinner burning and I’ve forgotten a child at school.

Because, discipline.

Instead, I find books at random and read them in tiny snatches like magazines, hoping something sticks. I have a book-stack that never seems to shrink.

My girlfriends have been trying for months to hook me up with podcasts and audiobooks and websites but that involves sitting down and holding still and, um, remembering there are such things in the world.

I finally finished Mr Kaufman’s book. He acquired six new skills over a year, devoting 20 hours to working each one out and when he reached his goal, he moved on.

The only thing I devoted 20 hours to was reading the book, looking for his secret. It was well hidden on the very last page: “If you want to acquire a new skill, you have to practice. There is no other way.”

Consistent, focused, deliberate practice. Well, why didn’t he say so in the first place?

I should have grabbed the book next to it by Gretchen Reynolds, “The First 20 Minutes”.

I’m out.

Let’s read the next book in the pile: “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown.

I enjoyed her “Daring Greatly” because it encouraged me to be braver with my blog. Her new one seems to be about the process of getting back up when you fall on your face.

Huzzah! I face plant all the time, thanks to discipline!

I’m halfway through the chapters and she blows the old “victim mentality” right out of the water with compassion and some common sense healthy attitudes.

I’m suspicious that practice and discipline are in there somewhere, but it will be messy and thoughtful with neither straight lines nor deadlines, and a lot of telling stories on herself. I love it.

Earlier this year, before I read about yoga and tellifin and websites and comedy and a curry recipe, I read Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love”.

Her front porch philosophy and her thoughts on five kids and the way she sees all kinds of sides on a coin had me laughing hysterically now and then and staring thoughtfully into space now and then, and this one has the honor of sitting on my shelf permanently for long-term use.

I read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert and it was so-so and then I read Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit” which was pretty solid, and Gary Klein’s “Seeing What Others Don’t” about the world of insight, and something that wraps up the nuts on my family tree in gold foil, “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson.

Obviously, I’m a big fan of literacy.

Today, we celebrate it with a website and a bookshelf, and probably a little Kipling on the side.

I found a website called goodreads.com that looks like fun.

So far as I can figure out, you tell it what you’ve already read and rate how much you liked it, and it recommends new books to you, from zombies to zinnias.

And then you take the list down to the library and check them out with a good old fashioned library card, right? To each her own, girlfriend, I have to fondle the pages.

Therefore, I’ve always been intrigued by something called “Little Free Library” which puts book-stacks curbside for the express purpose of book swapping. It’s a take a book/leave a book honor system that promotes reading and community. What a great idea.

As I have no carpentry skills, this weekend I’ll be building a little bookshelf right here on the blog; a place to leave your favorites for others to find…all over the world.

I’m painting it many shades of green.

What have you read this year that you really enjoyed, and why?

What was worth burning dinner for? Staying up until 2am for? Making three pots of tea for?

Stack your good reads down in the comment box.

You might want to set a timer on the oven.

Ghostwriter

Ghostwriter: a writer who authors books, manuscripts, blog posts, stories, texts, music, memoirs, political speeches, cookbooks, hip-hop lyrics, college term papers, wedding invitations, drug prescriptions, and generally anything at all – but will never get the credit for it – because you were hired by a big fat cheater cheater pumpkin eater.

Who are these cheaters you ask?

I’ll tell you who: “VC Andrews” and Wolfgang A. Mozart. Politicians and medical professionals. Comedians and comic book artists and college kids.

It means that if I’m Hillary Clinton and want to write my memoirs but I just can’t find the time because, darn it all, I’m trying to be president and stuff, then I can hire someone else to throw it together and pay them $500,000.00.

All the ghostwriter has to do is everything, and sign a teensy little anonymous contract:

“I, someone who can write with Hillary Clinton’s accent, promise to deliver a whole book on time and never, ever, ever, tell a soul about it. I won’t tell anyone what is in her closet, even the color of her socks….I will just pocket the money and disappear into the dark alley where ghosts hang out. Rich ghosts.”

Except Hillary, of course, will pocket her EIGHT MILLION DOLLAR advance royalties and “write” more books later that say “By Hillary Clinton” on the cover.

Not only have I lost my faith in humanity, but they just put the “lie” in “library”.

The last holdout for limitless paper imagination, and beacon of hope for starving wanna-be authors everywhere.

I mean, maybe I raised my eyebrows a tad when Janet Evanovich put out her twenty-first book in as many years. I want to believe the woman has it in her. That her comedy runs true and deep, and when it fumbled around in the first couple, it was her genius taking hold of the concept, and when it fumbled around in the last couple, it was her genius saying, “Kid, take a break, I’m exhausted from being witty.”

God forbid she calls in a ghostwriter when her own plots begin to wane, so that she can keep cranking out books every year and making mad money.

I mean, not that I can’t wait for “her” next book to show up. But still.

For all I know, the whole public library was filled by ten writers, tops. And they’re ventriloquists.

I really should have suspected the Nancy Drew series, now that I know what I’m looking for. Carolyn Keene does not exist except in the ghostly pens of mysterious contributors. I will miss your titian hair, Nancy.

Great Scott. Was Titian a lie too? Do you suppose he retired like a king in Cagliari at twenty and paid someone else to keep going for him?

“Just throw some red in there,” I can hear him say to his ghost-painter, “everyone will assume my style is evolving,” as he takes a swig from his cabernet, “People will believe anything.”

And so it ends, another day, lying face down on the ground of disillusionment.

How the mighty have fallen.

And as long as I’m down here, just let me know if there’s any Oscar acceptance speeches you need written.

If you have the money, I have the time.

Maybe I should drop Janet a line…

 

Passion in a Pocket Part 2

I was a civil employee early in the year 1988. I worked as a humble book-shelver in our city’s public library. It was heaven. I was there the day we closed the doors for three weeks, which is just unheard of. We then, meticulously by hand, one single book at a time, put every item in that library onto the new-fangled barcode system. It was a massive undertaking, custom-made for a detail oriented OCD person like me. It was probably the only time in history that every book was put into its proper place and stayed there. Imagine.

I wish I had had the chance to take home one of the card catalog drawers. Maybe J-K, fiction. They are a piece of history now, which makes me worry terribly about the future of paper books and libraries themselves. And my “murky future” bookstore.

How will I sell you a book that you actually have to turn the pages of?

Before that, I worked at the mall across the street from my high school at Waldenbooks. I took incoming shipments of books out of boxes in the back room and placed them out on the store shelves. No one wanted this boring part of the job, and what was their loss was my heaven. I briefly read the covers and backs as I worked, and sometimes the middles if I could get a 15 minute break.

The funny part was, that if a customer walked in and said, “My daughter is reading a series with a dog, a grapefruit and a ship in it…” I knew right away what series it was and could put my hand on it. If a customer came in with, “My mother is a Nora Roberts fanatic and it’s her birthday but she already has all the Nora Roberts in the whole world….” Then I knew which authors her mother was going to love. Studying to pass your GED? Got it right here. Need to find exactly the right toddler book involving a duck? Yup. If we didn’t have it, I could get it. We did have a computer then. Nothing like today when you tap over to Kindle.com and have instant gratification. But it felt fulfilling all the same.

So far the best book gig, hands down, has been as “Mommy”.

I read to my kids before they were even born.  I love reading aloud; I do all the voices, as Jo says in Little Women, and I have had every awesome kid’s book worth reading. Bookcases were my signature furniture decorating style.

My youngest is 13 now, and we moved houses, so almost all of our books were donated between the elementary school, the local library and the library resale shop. Out of an extensive collection, I have reduced my personal library down to about 200 that I cannot bear to part with.

Books were meant to circulate, not sit on a shelf, and we had moved on, literarily, to Dickens, Kipling, Dumas, Twain and the like. It’s not that I can’t borrow them from the library whenever I want to. It’s just comforting to know I can put my hand on one and be instantly in India or Rohan, on a whaling ship or rafting the Mighty Mississippi.

The other day, I went to the library and borrowed a stack of old friends, from Eric Carle to Amelia Bedelia.  My older, sophisticated techy kids sat down and had a heyday,  reminiscing about all the warm quilty cozy feelings of being three years old, sitting in Grampy’s lap, listening to “Three Bears. One with a light, one with a stick, one with a rope…”

Heaven.

Passion in a Pocket Part 1

In my distant and murky future I see a brilliant little jewel. It’s a vision of me owning a bookshop that also serves tea and sells pretty little frivolous trinkets. There’s definitely a kid’s corner. I can’t imagine any one bit without the other. It should have candles and flowers for sale too, and a cat who lives in it.

I might even live in it. Why would I leave?

The smell in a bookshop is amazing. I love the smell of paper. There is a very particular smell to new coloring books and another for new crayons, as there is for play dough.  However, a book smell carries nuances of possibility and anticipation and singularity that nothing else comes close to.

When I went into my son’s high tech high school “library” I almost fainted. Where were the books!? There were round couches around round tables full of electrical outlets facing huge whiteboard walls. Kids sat down, plugged in their iPads, downloaded their books, projected essays onto the walls and started reading. Treason! Heresy! And a distinct odor of ammonia.

At the moment, I volunteer in my church’s library, where people donate old worn books from great-grandparents’ shelves. Some ancient tomes have crumbling leather binding and spidery hand written notes on the flyleaf dated 1902. They were treasured keepsakes and respected writings. The scripted signatures are pieces of art in themselves. Penned with proper ink. That’s before keyboards people. And texting. It’s called penmanship and it was a sign of educated upper-class folks. They could read Latin. Can you? No, Googling is not allowed.

Books and I go way back. Not to 1902, wise guy, but back there a bit.

I grew up in a tiny house in a tiny neighborhood under the supervision of a fairly over-protective mum. The only place I was allowed to go on my own was a (yes) tiny library which sat at the top of the tiny hill of our tiny street. Librarians are always wise, are they not? Ours was a tiny lady named Pearla (I’m not making this up folks) who saw a little girl with big dreams, and put the right books into my hands.

Thank you Pearla.

I clearly remember studying and practicing ballet from a book, in our kitchen, holding onto the back of a chair. If you cannot afford ballet lessons, and you want to be the next prima ballerina, you grab a book and get going. When I finally took my first ballet lesson at the tender age of 35, it occurred to me that my dream was much more brilliant than its reality. Oh well.

But the reality would not have been attempted had not a brilliant dream preceded it. And while we wait for tomorrow’s conclusion, I’m wondering…what’s your brilliant little dream?