Sneaking a Peek

My mother stumbled upon this young adult series called The Rule of 3 by Eric Walters. It’s an apocalyptic story beginning with a global electrical and digital blackout.  I read the first book last year.  It was good and really action packed. It had me on edge, and while it’s a gripping tale, it’s hard to read at times. It gives a very realistic portrayal of how evil and terrible people can be when civilization’s modern conveniences cease to exist.

Thus, while I liked the first book, I took my sweet time getting to the second book.  A few weeks ago, I felt up to the challenge and dove in to the second.  Both characteristics of the first book: action and the cruelty of people were ever present and in many ways were amplified.

I tore through it, but I knew that I would need another break before taking on the final book.  Then the ending happened.

Just as a heads up, this is sort of spoiler part.  I won’t name names, but someone dies.  I couldn’t believe it.  Or rather I didn’t want to believe it.  But it was one of those maybe he didn’t die deaths, the only way to find out is to read the next book.

However, I wasn’t ready to read the next book.  I had finished the second book at work.  I was upset to be left on a cliff.  When I got home that night, I committed one of the ultimate sins.

I looked.

I had to know.  I flipped it open and saw [character name] said.  I leapt for joy.  I don’t know how death was cheated, so I have that to look forward to, and to see if everybody including that character survives all the way through to the end.

I know there will be people that judge me for looking.  I’m pretty sure my husband did, but on this particular event I’m taking the Harry Burns attitude from When Harry Met Sally. He reads the end in all the books first just in case he dies before he finishes it.

So that’s my excuse.  I can happily go about my life until I’m ready to take on the final phase of this series knowing a bit of happy news.

Okay, admit it how many of you have done this?


The Commute

It’s 6:58 in the morning.  The sky is a violet gray as the morning light begins to dawn. Bright orange streaks hover at the horizon.  There is stark white snow on the still, bare branches of the trees in the park.  It is a peaceful scene.

I stand admiring the view at my usual stop.  I hear the squeal of breaks as the bus clamors to a halt.

I board with the other morning commuters and make my way to the back of the bus.  I choose a seat, facing the rising sun.  It’s nice to see something so beautiful on an ordinary day.

I pull out my book and turn to my red paper-clip.  As a bookmark, paper-clips may not be pretty, but they are functional.

I’m on the Vegas strip.  I’m looking out a hotel window at the brilliant lights.  I’m anxiously waiting for the phone to ring.  I’ve changed from my red evening gown into my normal uniform: a starched white button-down shirt and black pants.

This will be over soon.  As which point there will most likely be an ethics committee hearing but sometimes you have to work on the edge in order to win.  That’s what Vegas is all about.

The phone rings. It’s not the sharp trill one would expect. It sounds like the ring of a phone in a quiet receptionist suite. It is unnervingly calm.

I feel a jolt and look up.  The bus has stopped outside my office building.  I move my red paper clip and quickly close my book as I scramble to exit the bus.

It’s been a half-hour since I got on.  Traffic must have been moving well.  I hadn’t noticed.  And in that time, I travelled to two places simultaneously.

I look down the street.  The sun is up. It is looming above the lake, and I realize that it is going to be an extraordinary day.


The Great and Powerful…Meh

My mother and aunt stumbled upon a used bookshop that has a fun section called Blind Date with a Book.  All the books were wrapped in white paper with a brief and catchy description of said book.  This is all you have to go on when selecting your “date.”

The idea struck their fancy, so they purchased “a date.” My aunt’s turn out to be The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.  It’s a great book but neither one of them had read it.  My mother’s turned out to be Naked Once More by Elizabeth Peters.  When my mother started reading it, she seemed a bit…“meh.”

In fact, she seemed pretty “meh” about the whole experience. However, she liked it enough to put it in my pile to take back with me when I visited for Christmas.  Naturally, this response didn’t lead me to be super excited about it, but about a while ago I had finished The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and needed a new book.  I was feeling a bit indecisive, so I grabbed a few off the shelf and threw them on the couch and asked my husband to pick for me. He glanced through the titles and saw the word “naked” and immediately grinned and said, “I pick this one!”  I laughed and agreed that it would be my next read.

So, on my way home from work the next day, I started Naked Once More, and I found it really interesting.  I would not describe my feeling as “meh.”  And I wondered if my mom’s lackluster reaction had lowered my expectations and thus it easily exceed them?

She didn’t tell me anything about the book prior to my reading other than the title and that is was alright. (Yeah, I know she really sold me.) My mother normally isn’t a shoulder shrugger when it comes to books.  The reviews are normally glowing of greatness or raving of horribleness.  Indifferent is an unusual state of being for her and probably in a way piqued my curiosity which is why I threw it on the couch at Scott when asking him to choose.

I feel like this book is a pretty good representation of how our expectations and knowledge prior really affect our view of the story.  What’s funny is when I finished it, and I told my mother that I actually really enjoyed it she said, “Yeah, it was good wasn’t it?”  I was immediately confused. I questioned, “You liked it?”  Then she was confused, “Yeah of course I liked it.”

I wonder now if I had known her true feelings if my expectations would have been different and if I would have reacted to it differently.  I don’t purposely find fault with the books I’m recommended, but I think they get held to a certain subconscious standard that for this book I didn’t have. I spent most of the book trying to figure out what my mother thought it lacked. Obviously, we had mis-communicated, but I think that lead to some interesting results and deduction. I admit I would be interested in potentially reading more “shoulder shruggers” to see how I feel about them.

How do your expectations affect the books you read?


The Misleading Dust-Jackets of Humans

We have all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Most of us are guilty of doing just that, at least occasionally, but sometimes we also judge people by their covers. This is something we shouldn’t do, not only for moral reasons, but because what’s behind those “dust jackets” can be pretty remarkable and surprising.

Take Robin. Robin was featured on the podcast, Criminal. He ends up in prison with a steep sentence for burglary given his prior offenses. He further gets into trouble by participating in a violent prison riot resulting in seven years being added to his sentence. Thus, he finds himself in a prison cell with nothing to do until a library cart comes by. Robin decides to get a couple of books. The problem is Robin can’t really read or write. He was classified as a troublemaker in school, so instead of learning, he was given chores.

Over the course of his time in prison, Robin teaches himself to read. He realizes that books can take him anywhere, and he begins to amass a small but precious personal library. He even sends away for the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Encyclopedia.

His goal is to read it from cover to cover. As Robin reads he starts to notice a few mistakes; some of the facts are off. He knows this because, by this time, Robin has read several hundred books on almost every topic imaginable. So, he writes to the editor regarding these errors.

Somewhat to Robin’s surprise, the editor responds thanking him for his corrections. So from then on, each time Robin finds more errors, he writes the editor. As time goes by, the editor and Robin become close friends via their frequent correspondence. The editor, in turn, becomes fascinated by Robin’s journey to master and fall in love with reading.

It’s an awesome story, and I must admit it’s a bit surprising to hear a former convict who has almost no formal education using words such as “gingerly,” “dovetail,” and “hyperbole” in general conversation. Robin describes his reading in prison as his freedom. He didn’t need an escape plan; all he need was a book.

The story shows the power of books and friendship. It shows very starkly that behind some covers, there are truly amazing and unexpected stories. It’s a great reminder to give some books and people a second look despite their lack of shiny exterior.


When to Stop

When do you stop a book?  Is there ever a reasonable excuse to stop a book? Is any excuse reasonable enough to quit?

When I was younger I had the attitude that life is too short to read bad books.  However, due to this thought process, I ended up with a whole bookshelf of books that I had given up on.  One summer I decided to go back and give them another go.  I not only finished all of them, but I really liked about 98 percent of them, so then I adopted the idea: “you start it; you finish it.”

This has allowed me to read and reap the rewards of many book particularly a few of the tougher classics.  I get people not wanting to waste their time, but I find some people with this attitude are very harsh and don’t give books the chance they deserve.

In the last five-ish years, I’ve only stopped reading two books out of the approximately 200-ish books I’ve read.  One I have full intentions of revisiting when I’m in better head space for the topic.  The other disturbed me so much that I not only stopped reading it, but I hid it under my bookshelf, face down. (I had the unpleasant surprise of finding it again when I moved.  And no, I couldn’t pull a Joey and stick it in the freezer because I like ice cream too much.)

To make matters worse it was a disturbing book that was poorly written.  I felt quite justified in calling it quits.  But does it have to be this extreme to stop a book?

Naturally, this is a personal preference, but sometimes I feel a little lost.  I don’t want to waste time reading bad books, but I also don’t want to miss the treasures that sometimes you have to work at i.e. Crime and Punishment.

I guess in the end, my reading ideals are a bit like my running ideals: perseverance and endurance. I will most likely stick to my extreme measures because on the whole I do normally feel rewarded in some way for a finishing a book, even if I didn’t particularly care for it. It’s like going on tough runs.  I don’t like when I’m doing it, but when I get done I’m glad that I did. I understand that this is a strange concept to some. It’s even weird to me when I’m slogging through books such as Lord of the Flies. I will in those times contemplate the questions that I have posed and wonder if I’m silly to keep such strict measures.

I will probably come to the same conclusion as I have here that sometimes great rewards take a little extra work and understanding.

Where do you stand on this issue?  Has your stance changed over time? Have you ever restarted a book you stopped? Did you like it in the end?


The Choice

I stand in my living room, clad in my bright, pink fuzzy bathrobe and fur-lined slippers. I hold my coffee close to my face and let the seductive steam curl towards my nostrils.

I gently bit my lip as I stare at the shelf in front of me and ponder the various tantalizing specimens.  I wonder: Where should I take a trip to? Who do I want to follow?  What do I want to learn? What mysteries do I want to solve?  Or what discoveries do I want to make? Do I want to think?  Or do I want to float in fluffy clouds?

I step up to the shelf and run my finger down the row.  There are a few that are calling for me. I set my coffee on the top shelf and pull out the two that are waving frantically. I look at the first taking in the scent, the feel, the weight. I then pick through the second and make the same notes as the first.

There is something about the first one.  It has a strong pull.  It feels like the next thing I need to experience. I feel ready for its journey. I place my second choice back in its place.  There will come a day, but for now…

I pick up my selection and my coffee.  I wander towards my favorite couch corner.  I sink into the cushion, kick off my slippers and curl my legs up under me. I open it…

And begin to read.


A Recommended Dud

How do you tell a friend or family member that the book they excitedly recommended and adored is…well… a dud?

This is a difficult question to answer.  I know that they didn’t write it. I know that people have difference of opinions, but when someone is so excited about something, and they are excited for you to also be excited… How do you let them down gently?

This is like trying to answer: how do you slowly let air out of a tied balloon? Seriously, have you attempted to untie an inflated balloon…it’s not easy.  It really borders on impossible.

So, does the above question. Yes, you could lie, but that’s wrong too.  The best I’ve come up with is when asked what I thought of said dud. I default to, “It wasn’t what I expected.” This is a nice vague statement that could lead in either direction.  And it’s a true statement given the fact that I expected to love it and be just as excited as the recommender and found that I was not.  I normally follow this phrase with asking what they liked most.

I find that people latch on to some interesting things in stories that I gloss over or they downplay things that I really noticed.  For instance, I loved the book The Little Paris Bookshop. My aunt didn’t finish reading it because the main character leaves a stray cat behind (and she loves cats, so this is blasphemous to her).  When she told me this, my first thought was, “There was a cat?”

The point is if you can find out what the person loved about said book, it might at least make you understand why they are so stoked about it.  You might even agree that a certain aspect of the book was good.  My mother was recommended a book that had a dud ending.  This didn’t seem to bother the person that recommended it, but it’s what made it a dud for my mom.

Unfortunately, this scant advice probably won’t completely save you from bursting their bubble of anticipation and excitement.  But maybe you can learn to look at something in a new way and honestly so can they. Just try to leave your super harsh critical tone and language at home.  There is no reason to shred a book in front of someone who told you it was good.  It can make them feel as if they have inferior book taste. And well it’s, frankly, rude and unnecessary.

But don’t let a difference of opinions get in the way of friendship or recommending books to each other, even if you start to realize you don’t have the same taste.  It could lead to some great and lively discussions. One of my best bookish friends and I tend to have very different book tastes.  She loves Margaret Atwood, and I’m the opposite of a fan. She vainly attempts to sway me, and I rib her for her fawning love. But we still recommend books to each other and have acquired an understanding of what makes the other tick in books. She has still recommended awesome books and certainly stretched my book horizons.

A recommended dud can lead to beautiful friendships. Happy reading!!