Posts tagged ‘Books’

My son is nine.  About a week ago, he discovered reading.  Not that he didn’t know HOW to read, just that he would not choose to spend his time reading for pleasure.  There was always something more important, more entertaining, more exciting to do than read.  And then, he found The Book.  We all have one.  That one Book that made us stop, pause where we were, what we were doing, and sit down to read.  The Book that took us to another land or another world.  The Book that taught us how to let our imaginations roam free in a world described on paper but created in our own minds.  The Book that will ALWAYS be better than the movie.  The Book that we may return to time and again, not because we have forgotten what happens within the pages, but because we remember the sheer joy we felt the first time we entered that realm.  The Book is different for each of us, but the results are the same.  It is that one Book that turns us into Readers.

For my son, it is a book that takes place within the Minecraft realm.  The characters are all taken from the game, but the adventure they go on is an original story created by the author.  He took a couple of days to read the first one in the series, and then blew through the next two in a day each.  And he shows no signs of slowing down.  Luckily for both of us, there are several more books in this series, and a couple of other series by the same author.  He will not run out of things to read.  But watching him become absorbed into the world of his imagination began to stir some nostalgic feelings in me.  I remembered those days of bumping into things and people in my own house because I would be trying to walk and read at the same time.  Nights spent under the covers with a flashlight, WAY past bedtime, because I just wanted to read “one more chapter“.

One wall of our living room is lined with bookshelves, our own little home Library.  It is about 15 feet long, 8 feet high, and packed with books.  Some are kids books, no more than 32 pages, where every character seems to be a talking animal that figures out a way to solve the problem they are confronted with, usually with the help of their friends or a kind adult or parent.  Others are textbooks from my and my husband’s college years.  Most are novels, biographies, and other “adult” books that we have picked up over the years, read maybe once or twice, and then they have found a permanent home on the shelf.  But one end of the shelf is devoted solely to my Book Collection.  Books that have been handed down or given to me by parents, grandparents, or other relatives.  These are books that have been part of the fabric of my life for as long as I can remember.  The Nancy Drew books I was given as a child when my mother signed me up for a “Book of the Month” club.  The Cherry Ames books that were my mother’s (along with the other, missing volumes I have acquired thanks to ebay).  The small, slim, red volumes of Shakespeare’s love plays – “Romeo & Juliet” and “Antony & Cleopatra” – that my great-grandparents (teachers, both) gave to one another as tokens of their affection.  Books that were published long before I, my mother, or (in some cases) even my grandmother were born.  Some of these books I have read over and over again.  Some I have never opened, and never will, but can’t seem to part with.  Some are in such fragile, delicate condition, that I keep the book, but if I want to read it I find an electronic version I can download to a tablet.  But, in all of them, I have found friendship, solace, comfort, adventure, wisdom, joy, fear, longing, and happiness.

I stood in front of this shelf today, just perusing the titles.  Seeing books I hadn’t thought about in a while brought a smile to my face.  Each title evoked images in my mind of setting, characters, or action.  Nancy trapped in the back of the moving van.  Plato, standing in his robes between marble columns, dispensing wisdom for the ages.  Sherlock working out the intricacies of a mystery while playing the violin.  Jo corralling a herd of boys, trying to instill in them the lessons and values that will make them Little Men.  Lincoln, in a distinctively un-presidential tent, within earshot of the battlefield, struggling over whether the choices he is making are the right ones.  Wynken, Blynken, and Nod sailing in their wooden shoe.  And Dorian, standing tall, looking as young and handsome as ever, while the portrait in the attic evolves into a contorted, grotesque version of its former image.

All of these books have helped to fashion who I am today, and I am grateful for them.  I could spend hours talking about books, but right now, I have to go – Cherry is about to board the train for nursing school.

A long time ago, the first cave people sat around the fire after dinner and grunted at one another, and drew pictures on the walls with the ashes from the fire.  Thus was born “Home Entertainment”.  Stories told and retold in the oral tradition were eventually written down, and books were added to the mix. Granted, along the way, people got up and demonstrated the stories by repeating the actions, creating Theater, but that quickly moved out of the home and into the public arena.  However, the idea of theater at home was so appealing, that once Radios were introduced, the Radio Drama  became a mainstay of Home Entertainment.  Television added pictures to the sounds, and improvements in sound technology brought us to the Home Theater System of today.  Technophiles are not happy with just a run-of-the-mill Home Theater Surround Sound System.  They also need game consoles (yes, consoles, plural, because one is just never enough).  Which leads me to my living room.

Christmas is over, and, for the first time in a long time, we did not have a mega-media Christmas. Past Christmases have included the Playstation 2 (granted, that was a while ago), the DVD player, the XBox 360, the Wii, the Blu-Ray player, and the second XBox 360. This past December we added the 3D Blu-Ray player and the active shutter glasses, although since we got that mid-December, my husband is not counting this as Christmas gifts.  (He did use the money that was allocated for my Christmas presents to buy said player & glasses, so maybe they really belong to me . . . ) Add to the above-listed assortment the Media Center PC my husband built about a year ago, and we have so much entertainment coming out of our ears that we have no idea what to do with it all or what to watch next. Do we play XBox? Watch shows on the DVR? Play 3D movies? Stream Netflix on any of the many compatible devices? Pick up the toys and go bowling in the living room? Or train our tigers? Or maybe we should just snuggle up on the couch with the PC and our favorite vampires and theoretical physicists. . . .

I decided this year that I was going to go “old school”. I bought books. Not Nooks or Kindles or iPads, Books. The kind with pages made of paper that you have to manually turn. Those things that give that distinct old-world smell to used bookshops tucked away in England. Books. Ironically, a lot of this seems related to my new “job” as a volunteer at our local library. I started a few months ago and realized how much I missed reading. There is a lot to be said for being able to curl up in a comfy chair with a book and have the author weave a story with vivid descriptions of people and places and have your mind construct those for your based solely on the words in front of you. Anyway, I had made a killing late in the fall when our local Borders closed, and I had tucked away much of that stash to be given as gifts later. Then I took advantage of the bonus offers emailed to me by Barnes & Noble and the free shipping they offered all season long for B & N members. The end result is a dearth of shelf space in our living room, where once again books are competing with discs.

I think this is a good problem to have. So much of our society (and especially the younger generations) have grown  so accustomed to the instant gratification that technology provides, that many people have forgotten the joy that reading can bring. Yes, it takes much longer for the story to play out in a book than it does on the movie screen (and who would sit through 30 minutes of watching Lisbeth doing research for her job?), but delayed gratification has a lot of merit. It teaches us that things don’t always come fast or easy or cheap. Sometimes, just sometimes, the greater joy can be found in those things that take effort and cost and sacrifice. We have so much more appreciation for something we have worked for than for those things that are just handed to us or that we only have to push a button to get . . .

I hope all of you find some delayed gratification this year!

Things are tough all over.  Any day of the week one can pick up any newspaper or turn on any local or national news program and it won’t take very long to find a story that focuses on the economy.  Often one can find several stories.  Regardless of the source, every town, borough, hamlet, village, city and burg is doing its utmost to provide services to the population in a (hopefully) fiscally responsible manner.  Many time hard choices must be made, and not all of them are popular.  A friend alerted me to one such situation in a small town in England.

Stony Stratford is what we would call a suburb.  It is part of the larger city of Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, similar to how Oak Park is “in” Chicago, but is still its own town.  The Milton Keynes city council has been trying to figure out ways to cut the budget and save millions of British Pounds over the next several years.  In December, a proposal was put forth that included shuttering the local library in Stony Stratford.  Now, as Stony is part of the larger local community, residents would certainly be able to visit other libraries in the vicinity, but that was not good enough for the town.  In the span of just over a week, residents swarmed the library and checked out every single book.  Over 16,000 of them.  The citizens wanted to show the council how vital libraries are to the community, so in a planned protest, the citizenry methodically checked out over 300 books per hour until the shelves were empty.  People checked out as many books as they were allowed, and continued to spread the message: “Go to the library and take out the maximum of books on your card (15).”  Postings appeared on the local government website and a “Save Stony Stratford Library” Facebook page has been stood up, with (as of this writing) over 700 people “liking” the page.

Now library closures are nothing new.  Do a Google news search on “library closures budget cuts” and you will get results dating back over 15 years and beyond.  Stories appear from all over the United States about local municipalities and state governments slashing monies allocated for libraries.  Libraries are often considered “non-essential” or “non-mandated” services.  It’s not like a town could close the fire department or the police department, but a library . . ..  During portions of my childhood, my mom was a single parent, struggling to make ends meet.  While there was always money to put food on the table and keep the roof over our heads, there was almost never money for extras like books, but we never went without.  At least once a week, Mom would pack us into the car and take us to the library.  We would spend an hour or two looking for books and reading books.  We would always come home with a stack of new titles that we would devour through the week.  By the time I was in grade school, I am sure I had read almost every children’s book in our local library.  As I got a little older, I was allowed to ride my bike to the library and would do so often.  When I was in college, I spent time in the library not only for research and study, but also just as a place to go for some quiet personal time.

The point is, lots of different people use libraries for lots of different reasons at different times during their lives.  Children can learn to read and hone their reading skills without bankrupting their parents, given the cost of children’s literature.  Students can do research and find titles for reading assignments.  Current and past newspapers and magazines are available in print or in a digitized version.  People who have no means to do so at home can use public computers to access the internet, apply for jobs, and find information to help put them in a position to better themselves or their situations.  Some local libraries loan DVDs, CDs, and even e-books.  Libraries are not only integral to the community, one could argue that they are essential – maybe not important in the same way as the police or fire departments, but just as important in their contribution to the community.

The people of Stony Stratford have voiced their opposition to the elimination of their library.  Make sure the same thing does not happen to you.  When tax increase referendums come up on the ballot to give more money to your local library, vote YES.  Find out what volunteer opportunities are available, then go and make yourself available.  Take someone with no transportation to the library.  Spend quality time with your child during the Story Hour.  Make so much use of your local libraries that the politicians who want to close them in order to save money will not have any way to support their positions.  And when you hear of libraries being threatened with shuttering for budget reasons, get angry and get active.  Our libraries are much too integral to be pushed aside.

* Based on a true story.

Once upon a time, somewhere in Middle America, lived a woman named Mary.  Mary was a wife and mother, with a loving husband and three intelligent and polite children.  She loved to do special things for her family, especially on holidays.  Every year, she would try to get those one-of-a-kind special presents that she knew her family would love.  As the variety of things available on the internet began to grow, she would occasionally look on different web sites to compare prices or see what choices were out there, but for the most part she would do her shopping locally.  She liked to be able to see the thing she was purchasing, feel it, and make a decision based upon all the lovely intangibles that come with shopping in person.  Every once in a while she would buy something online, but usually it was only when she had already seen the thing in a store and could be assured of what she was buying.  The deciding factor always seemed to be cost – if it was significantly cheaper online, then she would get it there.

Last year at Christmas time, she made what she thought was a simple purchase.  She went to a well-known, popular online retailer called “Nile”.  Everyone shopped at because they carried just about everything, from books to toys to movies to clothing – anything a person could want could be had at Nile.  She figured it was safe making a purchase at Nile, since they were so well-respected and were known for their exceptional customer service.  She didn’t even mind submitting the personal information requested, like her email address.  She knew they would need a certain amount of information in order to ship her purchases.

Mary was looking for a very specific item – a book – based upon a TV series her husband liked to watch.  The show was on one of the cable channels and was all about a former spy who had been fired from his job.  Each week the spy would help a hapless victim get deserved justice, using only his amazing spy skills and the help of two friends – his on-again-off-again pyromaniac girlfriend and a retired spy friend who used to work for a competitor spy agency.  Mary’s husband, John, really liked this show and watched every episode.  John had even bought the first two seasons of the show on DVD so that he could watch it again with cast commentaries and behind-the-scenes features.  Well, when Mary discovered that someone had written a short novel based upon show detailing yet another case of unofficial justice, she knew that John would enjoy reading the book (and she was right).

Several months passed, and Mary did not give any thought to having purchased the book from Nile until the day she opened her email and found a new message from  The message read as follows (this text taken verbatim from Mary’s email):

As someone who has purchased or rated Burn Notice: The Fix by Tod Goldberg, you might like to know that Curious George A Winter’s Nap (CGTV Reader) (Curious George Early Readers) will be released on August 9, 2010.  You can pre-order yours by following the link below.

Now Mary was a smart woman, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not figure out what these two books could possibly have in common, other than the fact that they were books.  It’s not like her toddler son had read the novel or her husband would enjoy reading Curious George as much as he had the novel.  In the end, she came to the conclusion that’s targeted marketing program had just gone haywire.  She shared her observations with John.  Once John quit laughing, he suggested she write about it.

So she did.

The moral to the story is “If you shop online, remember – personal service really isn’t personal.”

I recently attended a production of “The King & I,” mounted by one of our local theater companies.  While seeing the play, I found myself thinking, “This makes me want to go home and watch the movie.”  Not that the play was bad – on the contrary – I thought the theater company had done an outstanding job.  I think it lies more in the storytelling approach – same story, different format.  Not necessarily better, just different.

It is kind of like books vs. movies.  Reading a particular book for the first time is wonderful.  You soak up the story, internalize it and envision it for yourself.  If you want Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise to be the hero in your personal mental version, so be it.  When Hollywood decides to make a movie out of your beloved story, and you find out that Jim Carrey is playing the lead, it puts a damper on your mental version.  And then there are the omissions.  There has never been a movie made from a book that includes every single aspect of the book, unless you include some of the recent movies made from children’s literature.  It is hard to leave anything out of an hour-and-a-half long movie that is based upon a 32-page children’s story.  No, I am talking about the Gone With the Winds, the Hunt For Red Octobers or any of the Harry Potters or the Twilights.  Any time you read a book, and then later go see the movie, you walk out of the movie with a list of things excluded from the story, whether it is additional characters, side- or sub-plots, or any other such details that the filmmakers omitted for time purposes.  It is impossible to take any book that falls into the 400 – 800 page category and winnow it down to 90 minutes and include everything.  Something has got to give, and when details are left out, we take it to heart.

The same is true when you make the film vs. live theater comparison.  Live theater is wonderful.  It has evolved from the ancient times when, rather than being a form of entertainment, it was a way to communicate the latest news or stories to the masses.  It became a form of storytelling in the oral tradition, recounting heroic or tragic battles, and continued to evolve to the creative storytelling format it is today – a combination of new and old stories, along with pieces that explore the human condition and, without making judgments, leave it to us to decide what is good or bad, right or wrong.  I love live theater, and will continue to do so until my dying day, but movies do have some advantages.  Movies can tell the same story that plays do, but they can do it with close-ups and vastly more orchestrated scores.  It is one thing to watch Anna and the King waltzing around the stage in my local theater.  They seem to be having a lot of fun.  It is quite another to see Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr dancing away, only to be followed by those close-ups, where the sexual tension is palpable.  You feel it dripping in the air, and you want to shout out from your couch, “Go ahead and kiss her, already!”  Of course, they never will, but there it is.  Movies also have the advantage when it comes to location.  During a theater production, it is easy to imagine the Maine woods and the old road where the berries  grow, but On Golden Pond, the movie, showed us the lake, the woods, and the frightening confusion felt by Norman when he went looking for those berries.  In a movie, you can bounce from the south of France to Rio de Janero to the North Pole, if you choose.  In theater, you can only suggest those locations.  The rest must be left to the audience’s imaginations.  And when you come right down to it, imagination is the key point.

In books and live theater, your own imagination is part of the storytelling.  You might have a few illustrations or references to point you in a direction, but the rest of the pictures are all in your head.  The set designer can place a screen door upstage, and the dialog will tell you the lake is just outside the door and down the hill, but your imagination tells you what the lake looks like, how big it is, and what the shoreline looks like on the other side.  It is precisely that inclusiveness that draws us to books and live theater.  Watching a movie is passive. We sit, we watch, maybe eat a snack.  Books and theater are active.  The pleasure that comes from reading is not scanning and interpreting the words on the page.  It is the mental image conjured by those words.  It is the texture and smell of the paper.  Sometimes it is even the margin notes left from the last time we read the book.  Seeing a play is interactive.  The actors perform and the audience laughs, or cries, or applauds, or gasps, and the actors feed upon that collective energy and use it to give us even more in the next moment.  It is a symbiotic relationship.  We actively participate when we read or attend live theater.  Art can be defined as “The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful.”  And it is this arrangements in our own heads that make books and theater Art.