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.

Steaming up the Shower

Sex has become such a predictable part of novels and movies that it isn’t a matter of if the protagonists are going to get it on, it’s when are they going to get busy.   For me the burning question is, where are our sex-starved lovebirds going to get it on?   It seems no setting is too awkward and no place is off-limits.  I recently watched Jurassic World to familiarize myself with how the movie left off before seeing the next one.  Out of all the special effects, blood, gore, body parts and roaring dinosaurs, one scene struck me as ridiculous.  Towards the end, in a burning street with pterodactyls swooping around them and picking up kids to carry them off for unpleasant pterodactyl things, with dinosaurs thundering towards them while they were covered in dirt, sweat and blood, the protagonists stood atop an overturned car and shared a passionate kiss.  Really?  No matter how much I like the guy, I’m not thinking swallowing tonsils is an appropriate response to rampaging dinosaurs. Maybe that’s why Chris Pratt isn’t knocking down my door.

In staged sex scenes, everything is smooth and perfect.  The bedroom is large enough to house a family of four and their seven cats, three dogs, and parakeet. The participants’ clothes slide off and fold themselves nicely on the chair.  Candles light themselves with no outside help.  The bed is neatly made and no one trips over the comforter.  No one’s head slides between the pillows, and the female never gets her hair stuck under her back or in the male’s armpit.  No one giggles like a child over noises or says “eww.” When it’s over, everyone finds their socks.  Flawless execution, beginning to end.

What really fascinates me are the shower scenes.  Somehow our extraordinarily perfect heroes fit into a perfect shower perfectly.  Where can I find these showers?  I don’t want to have shower sex with anyone, I just want to find a shower that would fit two people in it to begin with. And who the hell has a bathroom the size of my living room? Seriously, I just want their living quarters.

Let’s compare, shall we?

Movie shower scene:

Female is in shower, hair slicked back and sexy with water.  Gentle billows of steam frame her naughty bits as the chiseled male slides back the glass door.  He lifts her effortlessly, pushing her against the wall or pushes her against the glass door for added visual fun for the viewer.  These two are obviously Yoga masters.  They kiss passionately, the deed is done, and suddenly they are having coffee in the kitchen while wearing bathrobes.

Reality:

Female is in the shower with mud mask on her face, shaving her legs while her hair is lathered.  Male pulls aside the shower curtain.  Female protests about the puddles of water now all over the floor.  Male diligently adjusts shower curtain.  He turns to female and attempts to lift her smoothly, but her skin is slippery so…not so much.  They both pretend they meant to stand at the awkward angle in which they now find themselves.  Male reaches around female to lower the temperature of the water.  Female turns it back up.  Both struggle to stay under the spray so no one is left out, shivering in the cold.  Kissing ensues, followed by spitting mouthfuls of water out as sexily as they can.  They turn in the space, about as large as a kitchen cabinet (if you lived in a studio apartment, that is), to find an angle where they can fulfill their shower fantasy.  Bottles of shampoo go flying off shelves, and the shower-caddy is knocked to the floor.  Female ignores it because bending over to pick it up is…not sexy.  She is covertly trying to wipe shampoo from her now burning eyes. Feet are placed in shallow corners of the tub in a vain attempt to balance.  What transpires next depends on the height differences of our heroes, but it probably isn’t pretty.  Afterwards, male plops down in front of TV to watch football while female straightens the bathroom and mops water off the floor.

Couch sex isn’t pretty, either.  Somehow in movies they find couches that are seven feet long and six feet wide.  Our heroes will never know the frustration of sliding pillows, or the victory of finding a Dorito between the cushions.  They won’t hit their shins on the coffee table or knock over the lamp, or know the special joy of a dog trying to get on the couch, too.

Let’s face it, real sex isn’t necessarily pretty.  I honestly don’t want the perfection of movie sex, because the laughter is part of what makes it so enjoyable.  Our heroes never seem to make the mistakes that make sex so fun.

But damn, I would love to have their houses.

Of Books and Beauty

The only reason I’m sharing this is because I love the artwork. No witty remarks or long, drawn-out commentary. Looking at it just makes me feel good, and I wanted to hopefully pass that feeling along. Not only does it illustrate what it is like to be lost in a story — perfectly, I might add — but I think it’s beautiful as well. Of course, this is one of my favorite books, so there’s that too.  I don’t know who the artist is and would love to give them credit, however, as soon as I find out, I’ll update this entry.

Update: thanks to Angel of Anthropology, I found out this artwork is by Kylie Parker and is entitled “The Book” (photo below updated).

“The Book” by Kylie Parker

Book Nook Schnooks Unite!

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a book nook schnook.  I can definitely relate with The Shop Around the Corner, Meg Ryan’s little bookstore in “You’ve Got Mail.” There’s a coziness, a warmth that the large chains can’t give you. Don’t get me wrong. Stores like Barnes & Noble are still very nice; especially if you like fresh muffins with chocolate icing and cappuccino with your browsing, which I get often when I’m perusing the six, eight, I mean one – yes of course, just the ONE book that I’ve finally decided on.

me in a bookstore

The advent of Kindle and Amazon sounded the death knell for hundreds of small bookstores, and many large, nationally known chains. B. Dalton, Borders, Brentano’s, and Crown Books have all gone the way of the brontosaurus.

Still, there’s a place for the little neighborhood bookstores that have been able to stay open in these trying literary times, thanks to legions of Book Nook Schnooks, just like me, across America. Although not nearly as prolific as they once were, many of these smaller shops are alive and well, and even the big publishers are now paying more attention to them, helping them with pricing and marketing. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s part of the local community. It’s a meeting place for friends and neighborhood book clubs. It’s like a “Cheers” bar for book lovers. There is a growing “buy locally” movement that benefits the independent bookseller. For every $100 spent in a national chain bookstore, only $43 of it stays in the local community. Small bookstores? More than $73 stays in the neighborhood. There is also a sensory aspect to the small bookstores. When I’m in a Barnes & Noble, while resplendent and heavenly, it nonetheless smells of credit cards, name tags, industrial cleaner, and the aforementioned cappuccino (which really, they’re worth the trip if you ask me). In a small, locally owned bookshop, I smell Emily Brönte, Shakespeare, L.Frank Baum, Jack London, and Mary Shelley mixed with essence of earnestness. And not in a bad way.
  • Who wouldn’t love the small bookshop experience? Visiting one is like putting on a warm sweater on a chilly day, a cup of tea, a shelter from the storm. One never knows what will be found when turning the corner in an aisle and browsing. That’s a key word: It’s a word that is overused, yet underrated. Visiting a small store can be like visiting a vintage clothing store. “Wow!  I didn’t know I needed that, but I want it.” A pleasant surprise — in book form — lurks around every corner, just waiting to be found. Children sit on the floor, poring through picture books. Kindly Ms. Kelly is reading stories to a group of seniors.
  • The staff knows what they’re doing. They are keenly familiar with the store’s offerings. They don’t need a computer to see what’s in stock. But they know how to use one to order any book they may not have but a customer wants, and are probably just as excited as you are when it’s finally located. They love books more than you do, if that’s even possible. “Hey, if you liked X, you’re going to love Y!” Conversely, they’ll let you know if something you’re looking for isn’t your cup of tea. “No, actually, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ isn’t a graphic designer handbook.”  You can count on what a small bookshop employee tells you. It’s like the library except you get to keep your newfound treasure.
  • The “intangibles.” There is an “atmosphere” to a small store. You may find a comfortable amount of clutter, pictures drawn by local schoolchildren, and potted plants. Walking into a small bookshop, you will feel the tension in your neck and shoulders disappear, your attitude improves, and time slow down.

Yes, I am a proud Book Nook Schnook. Do yourself a favor and visit your locally owned bookseller. It’ll be good for you – and good for the neighborhood. There are more than 1600 of them still around. When you do, stop by and say “Hello!” for me. And hey, if you want to buy me a book…even better!

story-time is the best time