The Bottomless Bookshelf

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

C. S. Lewis

Originally published in September, 2016, the following “recommended booklist” was a collaboration in progress until I created my Facebook Group, “Jolie Tunnell’s Earlybirds“. I wanted to set up a place where we could, together, create an interactive, ongoing list of favorites to share and a one-click way to pursue the books online.

Please come over and join the party! I check it every day and add fun things all week long.

If Facebook is not your jam, please add your favorite titles to the comment box below, with your opinion if you like.

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

The Imperiled Ocean Winner!

The Imperiled Ocean by ocean journalist Laura Trethewey is a deeply reported work of narrative journalism that follows people as they head out to sea. What they discover holds inspiring and dire implications for the life of the ocean — and for all of us back on land. Battles are fought, fortunes made, lives lost, and the ocean approaches an uncertain future.

Congratulations to Missy from Illinois, the winner of Laura’s freshly minted and personally autographed book! These smart and thought-provoking stories are worth sitting down and thoroughly ingesting. Here is an excerpt from her piece, Cleaning the Coast.

Thank you, Laura, for an exploration of the earth’s last wild frontier, and the opportunity to get to know it – and you – better.

A worn piece of plastic drifted on the ocean over a thousand miles from civilization. A sailboat approached with a 30-year-old woman on board. She leaned out over the gunwale to pick the plastic from the surface. Except she couldn’t: long, dangling seaweed roped the plastic to the water. She reeled up the weed, hand over hand; it stretched deeper and deeper into the depths. Down below, she saw fish darting between the fronds.

As Chloé Dubois sailed farther into a slowly spinning gyre of plastic in the largest ocean on Earth, she experienced this scene again and again. It was 2015, and Chloé and her team at the nonprofit Ocean Legacy had sailed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to collect microplastic samples for The Ocean Cleanup, another plastic-pollution nonprofit.

Using samples collected by 37 boats, Chloé’s included, that trawled a 3.5-million-square-kilometer swath of the Pacific, Ocean Cleanup hoped to create the first high-resolution map of ocean plastic. Chloé remembers hauling up the water-sampling trawler and peeking in at its contents on deck, and discovering all manner of marine stowaways in the detritus. How did you get here? she wondered as she picked up a tiny crab clinging to a bottle cap in the middle of the formidable ocean. Drifting by the boat, she saw buoys covered with gooseneck barnacles. Ocean-knotted islands of rope that hid masses of organisms.

“On the news, there’s this plastic island in the middle of the ocean that’s the size of Texas, and that’s pretty much what people know unless they go out there and experience it for themselves,” she said. Instead of a floating island of waste, as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so often portrayed, she encountered more of a drifting slurry. The pollution came in all shapes and stages of degradation, from microscopic particles and fibers, to toothbrushes, bottles and great tangles of fishing nets and lines.

She witnessed, too, how nature worked with the plastic intruders. In the ocean, bacteria and algae quickly glom onto any floating feature they can find, drawn to the nutrients that collect there. More and larger animals, like barnacles and tubeworms, follow suit, fastening themselves to the marine debris. How productive of the ocean to use the plastic to build tiny ecosystems out on a vast desert of salt water, where so little life thrives in comparison to coastal waters.

The Garbage Patch was not a dead zone at all, she realized, but a world teeming with life.

Since she was 17 years old, Chloé has been involved in the environmental movement. In her early twenties, she began collecting plastic from beaches and she’s now cleaned shorelines across Mexico, Alaska, Costa Rica, Panama, and Canada. When she was 29, she co-founded the nonprofit Ocean Legacy, and she has become obsessed with cleaning plastic from the environment. She knows the names, acronyms, and resin codes of the plastic pantheon like they’re her children.

For a moment, Chloé hesitated before destroying the little crab’s home, this plastic piece of garbage that it had found and colonized and survived on against all the odds. Rationally, she knew that the crab’s plastic bottle cap was on its way to becoming a toxic pill. Plastic is a master at teasing out toxins from the ocean, sucking floating chemicals from the water column and condensing them into ever more hazardous forms. Industrial metals, pesticides, fertilizers, plastic softeners, and flame retardants can dissolve in water or be hydrophobic, meaning they want out of the water fast. Plastic already contains some of the chemical contaminants found in water, and that makes certain types of plastic naturally attractive hosts to wayward chemicals. A smaller animal might then ingest that poisoned plastic item, covered in slimy nutrients and pollutants, like PCBs, that have been banned on land for decades but are still drifting out in the ocean. A larger animal will then eat this animal, and up the food chain the plastic goes, magnifying its toxicity as it jumps to each new animal.

Chloé knew all this. She had seen the damage firsthand, yet destroying an animal’s home still gave her pause.

Then she plunged her hands in and removed all the plastic she could find, no matter how much life clung to it. The team built a home for displaced crabs in a glass tank on deck.

When they had sailed outside the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Chloé dove off the boat and into the sea. When she climbed back on board, tiny pellets of plastic covered her skin. After a month and a half sailing across the Pacific, her sailboat returned to land with 154 water samples hauled up from across the ocean. Every single one contained plastic.

Not all plastic is a problem. Much of it helps us and is integrated into every step of human life from birth to death. As I write this, I tap away on computer keys made of plastic, scroll through webpages on a mouse made of plastic, and peer through glasses rimmed with plastic. It’s the cheap, omnipresent plastic that lasts hundreds of years but is built to throw away the second after we use it that’s a big problem, perhaps one of the biggest for the ocean.

For almost as long as industrial plastic production has existed, we’ve known that plastic was going in the ocean. In the 1970s, a team of researchers sampling water in the sluggish Sargasso Sea reported that tiny plastic fragments were floating on the surface. During a 1997 yacht race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, a sailing scientist named Charles Moore passed through a remote stretch of Pacific Ocean and found himself surrounded by plastic debris in all directions. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it was later called, grabbed the world’s attention.

Suddenly there was a tangible place where all our waste was going, just outside the limits of our imagination.

The sea is a vast, deep, mutable force that covers 71 percent of the Earth. Plastic is small, ubiquitous, and breaks into ever-smaller pieces. When these two meet, they marry: a horrible collision between the synthetic and the natural.

A trawl sample collected from the Great Pacific Gyre by Ocean Legacy.

Given enough time, the ocean has the ability to spread plastic to the most remote reaches of the planet. Today, plastic is drifting in the waters off Antarctica. Plastic comes down in rain. Plastic fibers pass through the filter-feeding valves of oysters. Not long ago, Japan’s Deep-sea Debris Database reported finding a fully intact plastic bag in the Mariana Trench, the deepest underwater trough in the world.

We still don’t know exactly how much plastic is going into the ocean. One study, published in Science in February 2015, conservatively estimates that eight million metric tons of plastic is entering the ocean each year from municipal solid waste streams on land. That is 200 times higher than what had last been calculated in 1975 based on plastic pollution entering the ocean from maritime activities, and more than 2,000 times higher than what had been estimated from floating debris samples.

In that 2015 study in Science, environmental engineer Jenna Jemback and her co-authors argue that barring any major changes, plastic going into the ocean will multiply by a factor of 10 in 2025. That’s 80 million metric tons of plastic dumped in the ocean each year.

Despite the startling numbers of waste already in the ocean, our love of plastic endures. Plastic production is growing and expanding right along with plastic demand. By 2030, our need for plastic is expected to double.

The financial guru Warren Buffett once compared a stock market crash to the tide going out: you find out who’s been swimming naked all along. During the 2008 financial crisis, we discovered that big banks can fail. For centuries, we’ve believed the same of the ocean: that it was simply too big to fail. But an encroaching movement of threats, such as a warming ocean, overfishing, and pollution, could change that in the not-too-distant future.

If we could see beneath the surface, what would we find at the bottom of the sea? Perhaps millions of tons of plastic lying undisturbed, except for the bottom-dwellers that nibble at the nutrients collecting on it. Perhaps this evidence of the world’s waste will eventually become a layer of sediment pressed between rock layers: the Plastic Era, a fitting symbol of human-made change, baked into the Earth’s crust.

Author Giveaway, The Imperiled Ocean

Laura Trethewey sits across the folding table from me on bright San Diego Tuesday mornings, but we’re not supposed to talk to each other. The writing room is pretty much like sitting in detention and being forced to write a three page essay on dust bunnies before the bell rings. We swing between frantic typing and staring in frozen silence at our screens – or out the window – and this is what we do for fun.

It works.

All of us writers come and go in anonymity here unless we make it a point to step out for a ten minute break. On one of these jaunts between our laptops and the coffee place down the way, I discovered that Laura was working on nonfiction essays about the ocean. And she’s been working on them for a while. When you meet other writers, it’s polite to ask about their projects, but I’ve found that sometimes the best stories are the writers themselves. Laura’s been on a lot of travels and adventures, and writing them down for magazines and newspapers has recently culminated in her first book, The Imperiled Ocean. Congratulations, Laura!

Laura is a native Canuck who has also lived in Scotland but now lives here. Because, San Diego. You can read all about her on her website, but her projects, like this video, which she wrote, researched, and produced, will give you an idea of her passion for all things ocean.

Hubby and I attended her book launch last month. We sat in the cozy downtown bookstore, listening to her broad perspective on the relationship between people and the ocean. “I’m very curious,” she said, “about the ways that people view and use the water. I’m used to thinking about traveling over water, by boat for example, but I hope this book helps people think about the ocean from many other angles.” As these amazing essays cover topics from refugees to plastic pollution to Hollywood, I’d say Laura did just that.

On a life raft in the Mediterranean, a teenager from Ghana wonders whether he will reach Europe alive, and if he does, whether he will be allowed to stay. In the North Atlantic, a young chef disappears from a cruise ship, leaving a mystery for his friends and family to solve. A water-squatting community battles eviction from a harbor in a Pacific Northwest town, raising the question of who owns the water. In this exploration of the earth’s last wild frontier, I follow seven true stories of the ocean undergoing tremendous change as it faces an uncertain future.

To win an awesome autographed copy of her new book, enter a comment in the box below. Entries will be accepted through Sunday the 26th at midnight and the winner will be announced next week on the 28th! Addresses accepted from anywhere in the world that a book can be mailed.

Laura Trethewey reporting from the Dogpatch, an off-grid boating community fighting eviction from the harbor of Ladysmith, British Columbia.

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

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?