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?


Literarily Naked

A few weeks ago, I ran out of my house. It was a Friday, and I was running a tad behind schedule. I left with my current book in tow per usual. I had about 90 pages to read. The book was going quick, so I had a fleeting thought of grabbing another one. However, I couldn’t imagine getting through that much before I got home.

Alas, you can probably see where this anecdote ends. I not only finished the book, but I finished it before I even started work. I actually had ten minutes to spare before I would be on the clock. I was left with no bookish material for lunch and the commute home.

I was irked that I hadn’t grabbed another book. I tried to console myself by noting that my lunch hour would be best used writing anyway, and I did have a couple of issues of Science News that I could take on the train to occupy my time.

But I couldn’t help but feel naked. It’s the same feeling I get when I leave my phone at home. I feel weirdly vulnerable and out of sorts. As with my phone and feeling cut off from the world without it, I had no book “blankey” to wrap and protect myself in on my commute home.

The Editor, Kelsey, did have a book at work that I could take home with me, but I wasn’t ready to read that book yet. I had one already picked out at home, and I was really looking forward to it. When 5 o’clock came, I left with my science periodical for the train.

I survived the journey. I learned that there are competing theories on the genetic origins of who populated the Americas first, and that boas kill their prey through breaking blood pressure as opposed to the assumed strangulation.

I love learning new things, but not having a book within my grasp is hard for me to cope with in general. But there’s even something more difficult when I’m between books. I would always be angry to have left my book somewhere to prevent me from reading when I had time, but there is something even more unsettlingly by knowing that currently I have “no” book in the world that I am attached. It’s as if I’ve entered a black void.

Does anyone else feel naked without a book at hand? Or being between books?

Hidden Surprises

I know many of us struggle to find time to read the books that we really want to read.  We “must” read books for book group.  We have books that we need/want to review for Goodreads, our blog, etc.  We have books lent to us by friends and colleagues that we feel an obligation to hurry up and read so we can return them.

I understand that the use of the phrase “must read” sounds ominous, like we have homework. I get that we kind of do it to ourselves, but occasionally we crave to read something that strikes our fancy rather than something with a deadline. Nevertheless, out of all these books that we “must” read, we find ones that are truly surprising.  There are books we never would have picked up if someone hadn’t forcefully thrust them into our lives.

One of these reads came to me as a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law.  My husband, Scott, and I are planning a trip to England and Scotland this year, so she purchased me a book called Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary MacLeod.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t have read this book up if left to my own devices, but, finding myself in possession of it, I felt that it deserved a fair shake. After finishing Brandon Sanderson’s 1300-page tome Word of Radiance—awesome in spite of its length—I felt that I needed a change of pace. It seemed like the perfect time to give Nurse a go.

I admit that the writing style isn’t the most eloquent or masterful, but it is genuine and straightforward. I found the short, simple anecdotes charming and interesting. MacLeod’s descriptions created a great picture without being overly burdensome.

I grew up in the middle of nowhere Iowa so on certain levels I identified with the simplicity of country life MacLeod portrays.  Although, I was a bit luckier to have a few more modern convinces. If anything, it inspired me to jot down some of the crazier stories of my childhood.  Perhaps people would like to read about working in a corn maze or learning about the concept of beer chips.

Anyway, Call the Nurse turned out to be a nice read that I’m really happy my mother-in-law picked up for me.  I find I’m now more interested in exploring other memoirs. Sometimes those “must” reads turn into “glad I did” reads.

Are there any hidden treasures you’ve discovered?

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.


Book Stickage

When I was a kid my mom and I came up with the term “song stickage”. It referred to how easily songs got stuck in our heads.  “Beauty School Drop Out” from the soundtrack in Grease was so “sticky” that we skipped the song almost every time we played the CD because neither one of us wanted to sing it for the next week.

There are quite a few songs that easily lodge themselves in my brain; however, I can’t necessarily say the same about books.  Other bloggers have mentioned that they can say they’ve read a book.  They can even say they thought it was great, but they can’t remember anything about it.

I figure, at least, I’m in good company, but this can be problematic especially with book series.  I don’t generally binge read series. I need breaks in between each book.  There are a few fancy series, I really need a break from since all the books are thousand plus page tomes.  The books are great, but they can be literally and metaphorically heavy. The breaks I take can be lengthy, a year plus.  I don’t always want them to be this long, but they can be for a variety of reasons.

Then of course, when I get back to a series, I run the risk of being confused for the first third of the next book as my brain struggles to re-call what the hell happened in the last book.

However, there are some books that do stick. Given that this is rare for me, these are the books I tend to view with a bit of awe.  For instance, I read Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings approximately ten months ago, and when I began the second book just a few weeks ago, I was shock at how much I remembered of the first.

My husband listened to these books, so we talked about them, but I talk about a lot of books and don’t normally remember much.  Perhaps it’s because he constantly asked me what was happening in the book.  I would then give a brief update on all the characters, maybe this is what cemented them in my memory.  I had to constantly recall them to give a summary report over dinner? Or it could be Sanderson writing style? I honestly don’t know.

Now the trick is to remember the 1300 page of Word of Radiance until late this year or early next year, when I will read the next book in the series. My husband and I talked a lot about this book as well so perhaps I can test my theory about nightly quizzes being the key to remembering.

In the past, the books with the most stickage were books I actually didn’t like, and I wished I could forget.  This kind of bad stickage is really annoying and thus while I can give some kudos to catchy songs that get suck in my head even if they aren’t works of musical genius, I can’t say the same for books.

Does this happen to you?  Do the books you didn’t like stick around in your head while the ones you loved leave?

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.