Reading Comprehension

My favorite book club recently banned “Grammar Nazis.” This is a good thing. I’m sure you’ve all heard this lovely term. Grammar Nazis are people who need to be (and demand that others be) grammatically correct all the time. Man, life is not grammatically correct. It’s okay to make mistakes. Not to mention, being a Grammar Nazi online is incredibly classist and ableist. But this upturn in book club etiquette got me thinking.

I’ve belonged to many book clubs in my life. And while some entertain a friendlier crowd than others, for some reason, every club has its own snob or multiples thereof.

Before we move on, I feel like I need to address that, yes, I realize this is such a first-world problem as to be silly. And if you wish to devote your time to something else, I get that. You can just stop reading here and move along. But if you’re on the same petty first-world page as me, you’re probably pretty annoyed by book snobs too.

In addition to the arduous duties required of the average Grammar Nazi, these book snobs (I call them book snobs, by the way) are all hyper-focused on defining what it means to be a real book.

According to the book snobs, real books tangible. TANGIBLE, I tell you. Audiobooks and eBooks are off the table. They aren’t real. What does that even mean anyway? Are they imaginary? Do I only imagine that I’m reading on my Kindle or that I’m listening to the to-die-for-voice of Hugh Fraser reading Agatha Christie? Was it all a dream? Pretty good dream if I do say so.

I think this whole distinction between the real and the imaginary is pretty interesting if we’re getting all postmodern theoretical about it. But I don’t think that’s what they’re getting at. Which is a shame really, because that would be a great conversation.

And this is not to say that everyone should value printed books and eBooks the same way. Your preferences are your preferences. And you have a right to have them, obviously. Go you! But you don’t have a right to put down other people for having a different favorite reading preference.

So, it’s okay if you prefer holding a tangible book of paper and string and glue and ink. It’s a beautiful experience, turning the page. Believe me, I know.  But don’t be a snob about it.

Another book snobbish thing to do is genre-shaming.

I think a cozy mystery novel sounds nice. Like hot tea on a cold night. The book snob will say “god no, that’s not a real book.” And in my head, I hear them go on to say something along the lines of “I would never taint my cultivated reading palate with the likes of such filth.” Okay, yeah, so I have may made up that last bit, BUT… their actual comments aren’t far off.

On one snobbish encounter, I felt personally attacked that someone had the audacity to claim that Agatha Christie penned cozy mysteries (with all the rude connotations of a book snob behind it). If you think intricate murder mysteries written by the Queen of Crime are cozy, you might want to consider re-evaluating a few things. And what’s so wrong about a cozy mystery anyway? They’re well… cozy.

The list goes on. To the book snob, romance novels, manga, and graphic novels are all not books. That’s right. Not. Books. Maybe these book snobs have been reading too much George Orwell for their own good. Or maybe they stepped directly out of 1984 with their notebooks. Except of course, they could never be bothered to read such things. Cause, you know. Book snobs.

Oh, hey, while we’re at it, let’s talk reading goals!  Who doesn’t love some good goalsetting? What I find fascinating are the people who also keep minute details recorded on excel sheets alongside meticulously written diaries of the 10,541 books they’ve read so far this year and to top it off, they share these in our groups  to show off open a discussion.

These are the same people who forget what they’ve read. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a book club member say, “I got halfway through that book and realized I’d read it already!” I’d be able to afford more books.  Which I guess, is why they keep diaries full of plot notes for the 500 books they read last month.  I know I’ve said this before, but if you can get halfway through a book before you remember that you’ve already read it, maybe you’re working through your TBR pile a little TOO quickly.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but this one person just said yesterday that they’ve read 345 books so far this year (500+ pages each… apparently that distinction was important) and that she reads at least one book, and strives for two, every day, never fails. I mean, good on her, but who has that kind of time!?  And seriously, no wonder they might forget what books they’ve read. How can you retain the experience when you’re cranking them out like that?

On the other hand, sometimes members will lament that they’re not reading enough or they’re falling behind in their goals. For instance, this one poor woman said sadly “I’m not reading much these days… I’ve only gotten through 32 books in the last two months.”  That’s an average of four books a week, folks. Are we supposed to feel sorry for her? What kind of goals must she have to be sad over her current reading progress? Or, is it more accurate to think that she’s humble bragging? And if so, why? Nobody cares.

Like I said, it’s great to have goals.  But when you start sharing that record as a means of lording the accomplishment over others, you start venturing into snob territory.  We get it. You read. A lot.

I’ve got news for you, just because you read a lot and have very specific ideas of what exactly makes a book a book, you’re not better than other people. You’re not better. They’re not worse. We’re all just people who like to read.

Shutting the Book on Bookstores

I have to share something devastating with you. You might want to sit down for this as you may be as shocked as I am.

The Barnes and Noble at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore has closed its doors for good. I know, right!? I can hardly imagine it. What used to be a multi-level oasis of pure happiness is now an empty building full of lost hopes and dreams.

photo credit: tripadvisor

photo credit: tripadvisor

photo credit: tripadvisor

No more new book smell. No more window shopping for little gifts and trinkets. No more reading in the aisles. No more meandering through row after row of the written word.

In experiencing this heartbreak, I wonder who else might be coping with the closure of their favorite store. Who else has lost a cherished brick and mortar place of business where they could physically purchase joy in the form of art, books, or other cultural goods?

We’re all aware that as our world shrinks down to the size of a laptop, we have become increasingly geared towards technology as online storefronts replace physical ones. Ecommerce is the big buzzword. Our lives, more and more, are lived through social media rather than tangible experiences.

So, are we, as a society, eschewing tangible books for mass-produced TikTok soundbites, YouTube beauty vlogs, and online shopping? Has Amazon finally killed the bookstore? And are we going to hold Jeff Bezos accountable?

Or can the death of the bookstore be attributed to the increasing availability and convenience of ebooks and audiobooks? Did technology like the Kindle usher in the slow demise of books as we know them?

Over the last twenty years or so, I have seen bookstore after bookstore close down. At first, it was the small, independent shops… between the big box stores and Amazon, they just didn’t stand a chance. Now, apparently, even the big chains are feeling the heat of our melting society. It’s disheartening, truly. I think of the 1998 film, You’ve Got Mail, where Meg Ryan plays a boutique bookstore owner. Her little shop struggles against the competition of the corporate Fox Books company and ultimately, her bookstore fails. Barnes and Noble is like the Fox Books of the real world. The irony that we’ve come full circle in this scenario is not lost on me.

Speaking of You’ve Got Mail.  Meg Ryan’s character falls in love with the owner of the company that ruined her beloved business. What’s that about anyway?? Even if he is Tom Hanks, I just don’t get it. It’s a good movie, but that resentment should feel more realistic. And it would read more like a tragedy than a romance.

Online shopping was already a huge business.  As we continue our lives through the pandemic, more and more people turn to Amazon and other ecommerce stores for their shopping. While some small bookstores remain afloat, will they be able to survive?

Bookstores, as you might have guessed, are one of my favorite places. They live and breathe creativity. The paper, the stories, the shelves, are all embedded into the very fabric of that magical place. It would be such a shame to know them only as a memory.

 

Life With No Regrets

I know I’ve mentioned my book club a few times, but much like my family, they offer so much material! The other day, a member asked a question that I personally had a very hard time answering. Other members were ready with a quick retort – most in the affirmative, which, once again, left me shaking my head… since you know, it’s a book group.  I know you’re frothing at the bit to hear the question, so here you go. They asked, “What books do you regret reading?” I know, right!?

I felt as though they might as well ask, “What air do you regret breathing?” I was, however, in the minority. Apparently, people regret reading quite a bit.

Now, you might be thinking of those heavy books, the ones that stick with you for life. And I mean emotionally weighty—not those insanely thick, must-have-on-you-at-all-times textbooks we got in school. I mean the ones that you carry in your heart. The ones that put you in a bad way if you think too much about them. The ones where you learn about the harsh realities of the real world.

The ones where the dog dies.

Even though these books don’t make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, they have value. They teach us something. Maybe we learned about the atrocities of WWII; the holocaust, the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japanese concentration camps in America. As horrific as it is to accept, we learned something about humanity in all this history.

Or maybe the heavy book taking up space in your heart is fiction. Maybe the main character, the little girl you were rooting for, the girl burdened with unimaginable pain and sadness, the girl who shows compassion and strength, the girl who feels so real, dies at the end of the book. And you are heartbroken. And you are so moved by this, you are sobbing and letting tears run down your face and onto the pages. Reading can transport us into worlds where we are free to feel and express our emotions — good and bad.

How can you regret anything that makes you feel? Makes you learn. Makes you open your mind. Makes you grow.

Now you might think, “Well, what about a book you hated? One that was just bad.” Ahhh, but that wasn’t the question. This was a question of regrets. Bad writing is bad writing, but even then, regret reading? I don’t think so.

Reading, no matter what it might be, helps us to engage critically with ideas. Reading informs us in so many ways—not just by presenting facts like those heavy textbooks from a soon-to-be bygone era. It helps us to practice forming our own opinions. It gives us the gift of expanding our language, our imaginations, and even our aspirations.

No matter what the book is about, who it is written by, or what genre it falls in, reading a book is like taking a walk. By the end, you’re somewhere else. And even if we didn’t enjoy the journey, we saw something new.

So, instead of having an answer in my book club discussion, I only had another question: Can you really regret reading a book?

Bookaholics Anonymous

I love books. I think I’ve mentioned it before. There’s just something about the smell of dusty pages that takes me instantly to other worlds, other universes, fantasy realms. I’m not a book snob though, I’m just as happy with e-books, audiobooks, second-hand paperbacks; hell, I’d be happy to have someone else read to me as I sit back with a glass of wine. To say my house is filled with books is an understatement. I look at it as having a living, growing library rather than hoarding though. Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me! It helps me get through the day.

So yes, hello everyone, this is my first time at Bookaholics Anonymous and I am a book hoarder. No, I don’t have books cluttering up my hallways (well, maybe just a few), but I do have a lot of books. A LOT of books.

Also, just so we’re clear, I will never stop loving books. You know that guy that thought his wife was a hat and he fell in love with the hat?  I fell in love with books, a long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away). As Cat Stevens said, “The first cut is the deepest” and I’m ninety-nine percent sure he was talking about a paper cut.

Seriously though, I think everyone is secretly in love with books anyway. I mean, think about it: you go to your local nightclub, everyone’s talking about “picking up” getting “checked out.” Deep down inside, we all love books so much we want to be books. We use the same lingo in a place where we get shhhhed as the place where we say, “Shhhhhiiiit, I’m soooo wasted!” Coincidence? I think not.

Books are good people. No, no, no, wait, wait, wait … I meant, “books are good, people,” not “books are good citizens.” That would just be crazy talk. See the importance of commas, kids?

So, the other day.  I’m in the library, my temple, my place of refuge, my sanctuary where all my friends hang out. Yup, they’re all there. All my BFFs, sitting patiently on their shelves waiting to be picked up, Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations. And I pick up this book by Alex Kava called Before Evil.

If you haven’t read Alex Kava’s Maggie O’Dell series, just what the hell are you waiting for?? Needless to say, I checked it out.

So anyway, I’m reading this book, and I see that the editor or proof-reader or perhaps both didn’t do as good a job as they really should have. Let’s just say there were some mistakes.  Mistakes even Microsoft Word’s menacing paper clip would have jumped on.

The sad thing is, this is becoming more common, even with well-known authors who have decent publishing houses behind them. And you know what? It’s not such a big deal for me. When I come across a mistake, I simply correct it in my head and move on. I’ll repeat, in my head.

However, the previous reader of this Before Evil book didn’t settle for simply correcting the mistakes in their head and moving on. Oh no. They had taken it upon themselves to correct all the grammar and editorial mistakes with a pencil. In the book.

Now some book lovers might rejoice, and others would shake their head at the idea of writing in a book … a library book of all things. I know that textbooks bear the brunt of a student’s study habits, and that’s all good.  But there are serious moral questions to be asked here. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, making corrections in a book? Should we all be literary vigilantes? We have guerrilla gardening, guerrilla knitting, why not guerrilla editing?

How to play: walk into any library, pick up any book and start correcting. Done. Easy-peasy, right? Congratulations, you’re a guerrilla editor! Better than being a gorilla (I’m told they can’t read, but I think they can and they’re just faking).

Is it bad to write in a library book? It’s not your property after all. It belongs to everyone. Is this person doing a service or a disservice to the readers who come after them?

In this case it was in pencil. So, it could be erased should the librarians choose to do so. But still, maybe someone doesn’t want those editing marks? Maybe for some it will prove distracting? Maybe the mistakes were deliberate and intended as some kind of post-modernist subversive statement? I mean, really, who are we to say?

Maybe the editor was having a tough day when Before Evil came across their desk. Maybe this veteran book editor, normally perfection itself when it comes to editing, was having a flashback to their previous workplace where they were bullied for not knowing the difference between an Oxford comma and you know, that other one, and they see an editing mark and completely flip out… they start tearing up books left and right, jumping on tables, and shouting at the top of their lungs: “You can’t shhhh me, I’m the gingerbook lady!” All to say that maybe, just maybe, they were having an off day in the proofreading department.

More importantly, how much of a grammar nazi do you have to be to do something like this?

But it gets worse … there I was looking at these marks, when I saw that the self-appointed editor had made a contentious decision. In one paragraph, they had crossed out the word “shrubs” and scribbled in “scrubs.”  But here’s the thing … the original word choice from the author was arguably right as the character was in fact making their way through some trees at the time. A person doesn’t dive into some scrubs unless they’re in a hospital and desperately need to get suitably dressed in a hurry to get to their own surgery.

Now there’s a book idea. Forget Before Evil.

Before Surgery.

Anyway, there I was, thinking: do I change the change? Do I edit the edit?

But then, what is the literary world coming to? If people are allowed to make edits all willy-nilly, however they want, will all editing of future novels be outsourced to the readers? What is this anyway, I suddenly asked myself? Wikipedia?

For the Love of Books

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I just moved. If you haven’t been paying attention, no worries, I barely pay attention myself.  However, this latest move really brought home (ha! Pun!) a harsh truth. I have too many books.  Although, really, are there ever too many books?  The movers who carted my stuff from the old place to the new place might say yes. They might even add in some colorful sentence enhancers.

After my last move, I downsized quite a bit and no longer have the “houseful of stuff” I’ve had in the past. I’ve narrowed down my possessions considerably. Still, it doesn’t seem to have made moving any easier. You see, I had only two different categories of boxes for the movers to sort through: fragile and books. The fragile items include a teacup collection, a vintage/antique plate collection, and other such sentimental possessions. I’d have to say though, the books won. You know, if we’re keeping count. Which I suppose we are.

I loathe giving up a book. In the past, I have donated a select few to a nursing home and a preschool. But in general, if I like a book enough to buy it, I like it enough to keep it.  So here I am, surrounded by books and fragile things. Not sure what that says about my state of being, but there you go.

If I’m honest, there’s really something comforting about being surrounded by books and if you’re an avid reader, I’m sure you can relate. I guess it’s why I love libraries and bookstores, and my own “not quite to the hoarding point” collection. I’ve always dreamed of having a library the likes of which are scene in Beauty and the Beast.  There’s just something about mountains of books that feels like home.

To start, there’s the soothing smell of an old book. Hell, even brand-new books have a comforting aroma. I’m willing to bet that you know exactly what I’m talking about. Next, there’s the satisfaction to be found in a page flip. As you progress further and further into a tale and flip a page, a feeling of accomplishment that’s almost addicting always follows. I’m not even going to get into the sheer excitement of delving deeper and deeper into a good story and the need – the absolute need – to find out how it ends … I mean, that would probably be showing a bit too much of my “crazy.”

To say I owe a lot to books is probably also showing a bit too much of my “crazy.” Doesn’t make it any less true though. I’m able to look back and see every book, every story, every adventure, and connect it to the time in my life when I first read it. When I need to reconnect to that time in my life or that feeling, I re-read certain books. Some books are just “comfort food” for my soul. Others take me on an adventure or thrill me with the ghosties that I love so much.

Heaven for me would be my own little kingdom of books, books, and more books. Nerdy? Yes, but it’s my thing. We all need to find that thing in life that brings us joy and, for me, that’s books.

Libraries, am I right?

Okay, so I know that I said I was off my book kick, but well, to put it bluntly, I lied. Although to my credit, this is more about libraries than books. Yeah, yeah, fine, I know. It’s about books.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time at the local library. Shocking, I know. The same can be said for when my kids were young readers. Quite honestly, nothing has changed. Walking into a library is heaven for me. It brings a sense of tranquility and excitement, if that makes sense. I do it as often as possible.

I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who don’t even own a library card. I mean, WTF? It’s free for goodness sake … free knowledge, free entertainment, free escapism. The question shouldn’t be, why do you need a library card, but rather, why don’t you have a library card?

They call the internet the information superhighway … well, the libraries had this down pat long before the internet was thought into existence. I’ve always thought that the idea that you could walk into an information storehouse and take as many books as you want home – for free – was just too good to be true. From self-betterment to the opportunity to explore new and exciting worlds, libraries are valuable.

In what might seem like an unrelated statement (but trust me, it’s not), if you’ve never seen 1994’s, The Pagemaster, I highly recommend it. Yes, I know you’re all adults. So what? It’s an awesome movie. I first watched it with my son and it soon became a favorite for us both, and then my daughter as well, when she came along. It brought to life, literally, the books we already loved so much.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve been known to watch it just a *cough cough* time or two in recent years.

The Pagemaster is focused around a ten-year old boy named Richard. Young Richard bases his perception of life on statistics and figures and risk assessment, resulting in a fear of… well, just about everything. Upon getting caught in a storm, Richard takes shelter in a library to wait out the nasty weather. A fantastical adventure ensues as Richard encounters the Pagemaster, three books – horror, adventure, and fantasy – who seemingly come to life (horror, bless his heart, is my favorite … I know, typical, right?), and various fictional characters from beloved classics. To avoid spoiling the entire movie (I will reiterate that I highly recommend you watch it yourself), Richard gains a new sense of confidence and fearlessness by the end of his adventures.

It would be easy to say that The Pagemaster is a metaphor for the way books offer excitement, adventure, and a new perspective on life that we can carry with us forever, because it’s true. But it’s more than that. Books let us explore worlds that we never knew existed while helping us to be more present in our own. They quite literally feed our imagination to keep our sense of wonder alive, and this movie captures it all. An homage to libraries everywhere, The Pagemaster captures the importance of books and the impact they can have on young minds (though old minds could benefit from a book or two as well!).

So, while it might seem a little odd to recommend a movie in order to encourage reading… that’s exactly what I’m doing. I mean, let’s face it, today, now more than ever, we need books (and the libraries that safeguard them) and all they have to offer.

Books, Books, and More Books

I know, I know, enough with the books already, right? Oh, who am I kidding. I love books. Will always love books. And speaking of books, I need more bookshelves because my personal library is ever-growing. Yes, I buy books. I own books. I will also readily admit that I rarely clean out my collection, preferring to keep what I have forever. I. Love. Books.

I’ve talked before about the readers in my book clubs who seem to think that reading is a competition. In this week’s meeting, one woman announced she had read 30 books during the month of April. That’s one a day. Who has that kind of time?? I know, I know, I keep harping on the whole “how many books did you read” thing, having regaled you with other such stories recently… but come on!

These are the members who joined for the sole purpose of showing off their Evelyn Wood Speed Reading ability! No matter what book you bring up, they’ve read it. I mean, of course they have. They’ve seen the movie, and trust us, the book was better. Okay, well, they have a point there.

But you know what these voracious readers won’t do?  Re-read. “There are too many new books out there to read, why would I waste my time on re-reading?”  Ummm… I don’t know Karen, for starters, maybe you’ll catch little details you may have missed the first time during your speed-reading session. I’m no speed reader, but I, and many like me, reread books just for the purpose of enjoying a beloved story all over again, delighting in the subtle plot points we may not have noticed before, or for whatever reason, didn’t “click” in our heads during the first read. It’s like watching a movie more than once and catching the joke or the witty dialogue or the especially meaningful glance that you missed during the first viewing.

Not to mention that some books just get better with age. Maybe upon a second or third read, the story will hold greater meaning – or be interpreted completely differently – because as we age, so does our insight. Re-reading allows us to tap into that maturing mindset to see things differently than we did before.

For me, my most dog-eared books are what I call my “comfort reads.” They are books I’ve read too many times to count just because they bring me joy (as much as Stephen King can bring joy), I love the characters more than a person should ever love fictional characters (I’m looking at you Poirot and Mr. Darcy), or because the story means something to me. And you know what? I’m not ashamed. Re-reading is cool.

So, as I close out my book rants for a while, what are my words to you? Read the book you’ve already read. And then read it again. Drink it in, enjoy it. You won’t regret it. Trust me on this.

Read my Mind

Now you all know that I enjoy a special kind of torture, euphemistically called book clubs. I also love books of all kinds, including manga and young adult books.  I love books.  All books.

I’m seeing a trend now from my fellow “book lovers.” Apparently, there are rules, or at the least, guidelines. Who knew? For one, audiobooks aren’t considered books. Another that came up recently shocked me… and that’s really hard to do: Agatha Christie and her fellow funny, cozy mystery writers are scorned, much like sitcoms in television and McDonald’s to food critics.  In fact, these cozy, rainy night comfort-food mysteries aren’t just scorned, they aren’t counted as books at all.  They are sort of like a cheeseburger to a salad; empty calories for when you’re too lazy to read a real book. The fast food of literature, if you will.

Oh, there’s more.

Books are to be pristine, according to this new breed of book lover.  We’re not supposed to dog ear books (“oh my god, what are you, a monster?” they exclaim).

recently posted in one of my book clubs … to a resounding consensus

If a book they’ve ordered from Amazon has a slightly bent or nicked edge, they return it for a perfect specimen and complain about the seller. Now, you might say, sure, sure, I just bought a new book, I want it to be perfection itself. Yeah, well, they do the same thing for the used books they purchase. I wonder if these people went to college?  If they did, did they make notes on margins in their textbooks? Highlight sections?  Did they purchase *gasp* used books with both of those things (and worse)?  I’m amazed they survived.

If you read a lot, you quickly learn that used book sellers are your friend. The new breed of book lovers will lower themselves to buy used books, but they have extremely high expectations.  Much higher than my own requirements, which are simple: must have all pages and some semblance of a binding.

The new book lovers consider reading as a serious competition. One woman said she had just finished her 60th book for the year, and it was February. You think I’m joking. I’m not. I believe in setting goals, but good grief. Did you even read a word of any of them? If I asked you to write a sixth-grade book report on one, could you? I doubt it. This isn’t just a fast reader, this is an accomplished skimmer. She definitely counts Cliff Notes as books.

This same woman belongs to the group of book lovers who buy a book and, halfway through, realize they had read it before.  My fellow book club members make comments admitting to this foible frequently. So frequently, it’s almost funny.  How on earth do you not know you’ve read a book by the end of page five? Reading is supposed to be an enjoyable hobby, an escape from life sometimes, not a marathon of forgotten tomes. Visits to the library must be very interesting with this woman.  She probably roams the aisles loudly exclaiming, “Read it.  Read it. Oh, wait! Nope. Read it.”  I know I read a book just from looking at its cover or reading the insert. Maybe this is because I actually read the words of each book I choose.  I dog-ear like a psycho, and the covers are bent enough to cause this new breed of new book lovers to have strokes.

I agree that library books and borrowed books should be handled with care, just as you would when you borrow anything from someone. If it’s not yours, you handle it carefully.

However, my own books?  They’re well-worn. They’re read. They’re loved. And I remember every single one.

There is a place in my heart for all bookies, lovers of the written word, collectors of all kinds. I’m just too old-school to participate in competitions.

Which, by the way, I would win, hands down, lady.

Animal Tales

Oh my gosh, guys.  Did you see “A Dog’s Purpose?”  Wasn’t it great?

Well, I wouldn’t know.  I refuse to watch it.  I hate any story where the dog dies, so why would I see a movie where the dog dies fifteen times?  I heard there is a sequel out now, “The Dog Dies Twenty More Times.”

“Marley and Me” traumatized me for life.  I refuse to watch “War Horse,” and several scenes in “White Fang” haunt me to this day.  Black Beauty still makes me cry, and yes, I remember Bambi’s mother (“Man is in the forest,” bang).  In fact, Disney is famous for jerking animal lovers around. Disney isn’t alone in toying with my animal softened heart, though.

Those that know me realize that I love horror movies.  I know all of the rules in horror movies:

  • Never run up the stairs to escape the killer
  • The dog or cat gets it first
  • The more annoying the character, the longer he lives, but, the more horrible his death will be when it finally does happen
  • The dog or cat gets it first
  • Women can’t run in the woods without falling down a hill
  • The dog or cat gets it first
  • The non-virgin woman with matching undies always dies
  • The dog or cat gets it first

Come on, I’m not alone here.  Here is the plot of every horror movie ever written:

The happy family unpacks the car for a week in a waterfront cabin in the woods. They open the door to the station wagon and two adorable, bright eyed kids bounce out with any variety of toys from doll to teddy bear. Happy, panting, tail-wagging dog follows them out of the car, usually a yellow lab or golden retriever.  His cuteness factor will play a part in the events to come.

Day one passes with camera angles hinting at a crazed killer in the woods. The dog runs out for his night time pee, and the audience inhales as he runs to the woods, barking.  Not this time, though; dog runs back to the house unharmed.  Audience visibly relaxes and lets out a collective sigh.

At some point the next day, the dog will disappear.  Sometimes he runs away, and an off camera “yelp” tells us he has met the crazed killer.  Other times, he is found in little bitty puppy bits and pieces.  The cuter and more obedient he is, the worse his ending is.

I have missed endings to good horror movies because I get too pissed to watch any more from the minute I see the dog in the beginning of the movie. Don’t judge me, Mr. or Ms. “choked up at a Hallmark commercial.” The whole idea behind books and movies is to bring us in, get us emotionally invested in the character(s), to make us CARE.

Members of my book club show little sympathy for the “animal-affected” – those of us who are bothered by abuse to animals or “when the dog dies,” in stories. We’re constantly reminded by the better than thou folks that it’s “just a fictional dog” and we’re advised to “suck it up already.”  Of course, these same people snort into boxes of Kleenex over the death of a human character (I’m looking at you Cedric Diggory, Fred Weasley, and Sirius Black!) and are inconsolably upset when the plot takes a sad turn.

On the edge of your seat over a thriller? Upbeat romance have you smiling? Horror movie got you looking over your shoulder? Is that tear-jerker causing real tears to well up? That’s the whole point!

As book readers and movie watchers, we’re SUPPOSED to get drawn into the story. We cry over fictional characters, laugh with fictional characters, get angry with fictional characters… why on earth wouldn’t we get upset over the death or mistreatment of a fictional animal?  Consider my tears the highest praise, story tellers and movie makers. You managed to destroy me in one “yelp” or sad scene at the vet’s office.  I know I’m not alone.

My friend was pissed that the dinosaurs didn’t win in Jurassic Park.  I’m still wrecked over Cujo, and don’t get me started about Old Yeller.  When I look for a book, I check to see if there are animals and whether those animals are in imminent danger.  If they are, I pass.

Life’s already sad enough, isn’t it? I don’t need my realm of escapism to be sad too.

Game Night

Did I die and go to heaven?  Is there a game that covers my two personal geek niches, trivia and horror, at the same time?  Well, yes, yes there is.  Here it is. One hundred years of horror! Sign. Me. Up.

You may not realize this, but 1981 was a great year for nerds.  This epic year saw the release of Trivial Pursuit (thank you Canada!), the game that allowed us to shine. Cut us some slack; chances are, if we were masters of Trivial Pursuit, we didn’t have a whole lot of outdoor sports skills available to us.  The game itself was originally released in 1979 … but it took a couple of years for it to catch on and catch on it did. It has since exploded with a litany of variations: Star Trek (lucky UK!), Baby Boomers, Lord of the Rings, Silver Screen, and even a Book Lovers edition, just to name a few.

At the peak of Trivial Pursuit’s meteoric rise – between 1983 and 1986, I was lucky to be surrounded by other nerds, and we threw intimate parties to showcase who knew the most about nothing at all.  We took this seriously, and generally divided ourselves into teams: the classic boys vs girls, with the boys excelling in the sports category while the girls swept the rest.  I think it goes without saying that alcohol was a part of these parties, but my memories are of good friends and good times.  At least I think that’s what I remember; like I just said, alcohol played a part of the gatherings.

Trust me, the apple didn’t far fall from the tree… at least in so far as gaming goes (remind me to tell you about my mother’s addiction to the original Mario Brothers sometime). Like most of us in days gone by, my family had game nights.  Today’s kids will never know the joy of bankrupting your brother in a rousing, friendship ending game of Monopoly.  My parents taught us card games like Hearts, and a quirky little game called I Blew It (back off, guys, it was just a dice game).  Then, geeks and nerds everywhere rejoiced with the release of Trivial Pursuit, and my family was right there with the best of them. We were able to showcase our knowledge of state capitals, obscure authors, foreign etiquette, and bizarre scientific facts.  Take that, jocks!

I still love Trivial Pursuit and it’s new-age ilk … I have an unrepentant addiction to the aptly named TriviaCrack.  My brain isn’t full of many useful things, but by golly, I can tell you that John Tyler was the tenth president of the United States, that the first letter on a typewriter is Q, that Yankee Stadium is the House that Ruth Built, and that amoebas can group together and form something called a slime mold.

At the same time, anyone who would be so inclined as to check my Netflix lists would think I am slightly, or mostly, unhinged by my “recommended” movies and watched list.  Goofy monsters, slashers, aliens, and ghosts; if its creepy, I’ve watched it three times. I am nothing if not a horror aficionado.

Now, Trivial Pursuit has raised the bar with a horror movie edition. Horror trivia? Be still, my heart.

I can’t recall where I am supposed to be tomorrow at four (but I know it’s someplace important), what I had for breakfast, or what I did last night, but I can sing every word to the creepy “One, two, Freddie’s coming for you” song and I just happen to know the best-selling fiction book of all time.  Hint: it’s Don Quixote. 

In a world where walking fast is an Olympic Sport, I want to find a way to make money playing Trivial Pursuit, the Horror Edition.