Monday, April 30, 2012

Reading A to Z: Z is for Zinn

I once saw Howard Zinn in person. I was in Boston, sitting up in the balcony during an Eddie Vedder solo concert. He started talking about how Zinn was a good friend of his and very influential in his life. He then pointed him out to the crowd. Zinn was directly in my line of sight, but sitting in the second row on the floor.

A few months later, I received an email from a site where I was doing book reviews, offering up one of Howard Zinn's books for review. There was also the opportunity to set up an interview with the man. I was ecstatic. I was chosen to receive the book and started thinking of how I would start my conversation with the man. I felt several steps closer to my favorite singer. Two weeks after I received my copy in the mail, Howard Zinn died.

I was crushed.

I have paged through portions of it. Howard Zinn rightly believed that the youth of today were being given only a portion of the real stories of historical events, such as oppression. He spent a lot of time writing full histories, to better educate Americans. His book A People's History of the United States was being rereleased and used on blog tours in honor of the documentary The People Speak being released in 2010. Zinn died in January before he could see the public reaction to his most current work.

Reading A to Z: Y is for Yarn

When telling a good story, someone is said to be spinning a yarn. I found a collection of books that actually feature yarn through the stories. They are written by bestselling author Debbie Macomber. The Blossom Street Series revolves around a woman named Lydia, who is now cancer-free and runs A Good Yarn. The knitting shop holds knitting classes, which is how Lydia meets some other women who will forever touch her life. Throughout the series, these women cope with love and loss, birth and death and forge friendships that will last a lifetime. People come in and out of the series, each one leaving an indelible mark on the others.

I have only read one book in the series, Back on Blossom Street, back when I was doing book reviews for another website. It was an easy read that I think I completed in one afternoon. I loved the book and have always been meaning to read more of them.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Reading A to Z: X is for Xenophobes Guides

The Xenophobe's Guides are a series of books that are supposed to be a humorous way to learn about different nations and cultures. The short books are available both in print and as e-books and cover a multitude of countries across the world.

They are filled with all kinds of random trivia, which for a collector of useless facts, such as myself, is absolutely perfect. Some of the trivia is actually commentary on common beliefs found in each culture. A lot of the commentary is tongue-in-cheek and meant to entertain, not belittle or demean.

I have never read one of these, but they do look quite entertaining.

Visit the official website here.

Reading A to Z: W is for Wilde

I honestly hadn't yet read any Oscar Wilde prior to watching the movie The Importance of Being Earnest, starring Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Rupert Everett. But I fell madly in love with that movie and have seen it dozens of times since. So, I picked up a used copy of the play. I was happy to see that the movie closely followed it. I laughed out loud while reading it, almost as much as I did while watching it.

I have also read most of The Picture of Dorian Gray. That horror novel is about a man whose painted portrait ages while he does not is a classic and intriguing read. One of these days I may actually finish it.

The man penned numerous books, plays and poems that shared his wit. I hope to read more of them soon.

Reading A to Z: V is for Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is probably one of my all-time favorite authors. I first had to read him in high school. And no, it wasn't Slaughterhouse Five. In fact, I didn't read that until I was almost 30 years old. We read Breakfast of Champions and Cat's Cradle in a philosophy class that I took my senior year. On my own, I decided to check out more of his books.

One of my favorites is Player Piano. It was his first novel. It is about technology and automation taking over industry and replacing people as workers and the effects of it all. It was written nearly 60 years ago. When you read it, you cannot help but to notice some of the parallels beginning to form in today's society.

I am also really partial to Mother Night for some reason. Howard Campbell is a playwright who ends up becoming a Nazi propagandist. He has no idea what kind of information it is that he sends out on the radio. Eventually he is caught and arrested for being a spy. Later he moves to New York City where eventually he is found out again. White supremacists want him to join their efforts. Instead, he turns himself in to the Israelis and undergoes trial. It's interesting and I have read it a few times. This is also the only Vonnegut book that was in my parents' house the day that Kurt died. I was home visiting for Spring Break that week. I was also spending my week in Hospice with my great uncle who died a few days later. I think that experience is another reason this book has stuck with me.

One of the other things that draws me to Vonnegut's work is the familiarity of his settings. He grew up in Indiana, so many stories take place there. I grew up in Ohio and had family in Indiana. Other books take place in Upstate New York, where I currently live. Vonnegut even spent some time teaching at Ithaca College. You can feel his presence when you visit bookstores down there. Here in Rochester, we have an old cemetery called Mt. Hope Cemetery. Many famous people are buried here, including Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. A slightly lesser-known famous person is Edward R. Crone, Jr. He was an old friend of Vonnegut's and the inspiration for the character of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five. The Man and I went on a pilgrimage one day to locate this gravestone.

Photo copyright Andrea Coventry

To know that my favorite author had stood in this very spot to pay homage to his beloved friend was an awe-inspiring thing. You could almost feel his presence there. I had chills.

Vonnegut wrote several other short stories and novels. I haven't yet read them all, but I believe I own them all. I almost don't want to finish reading them, because once they are over, there will be nothing new left to read. That makes me kind of sad in a way. So, The Man and I spend our time hunting for vintage Vonnegut books, since we can't really find any new ones. I have quite the collection, now, and love it. I almost feel like Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory. He couldn't walk past a copy of Catcher in the Rye without buying it. I have a hard time passing up vintage copies of Vonnegut's works.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Author Jane Porter's Giveaway

My Facebook friend, author Jane Porter, has a young son who just turned three years old! In honor of his birthday, she is giving away three prizes after the weekend is over. All you have to do is going to her blog post called "Happy 3rd Birthday, Mac!" and leave a comment. The winners will randomly be chosen from the comments on Monday.

What books has Jane Porter written? One of her latest publications is the book She's Gone Country, about a woman who rediscovers her independence.

Perhaps you are more familiar with Flirting With Forty, which was also made into a Lifetime movie.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reading A to Z: U is for Unwinding

Unwinding with a book is the best way to relax. I love to read. I have always had my nose stuck in a book, as long as I can remember. My parents always talked about coming upstairs to my crib and finding me holding books and magazines I had pulled off a shelf. They were always held right-side-up and I was paging them appropriately. By 18 months I could identify all of my letters (thanks to hours of watching Wheel of Fortune with my grandfather). At the age of 2 I was reading books on my own. There is a hideous picture of me in the bathroom with the lights off and trying to pull up my pants the rest of the way with one hand. The other hand was holding the book. It was easier to read with the light from the hallway than to take the time to put down the book. I could barely get my hands washed (but always did!).

If I could get paid to read all day, I would. I make very little revenue for doing my book reviews, but it is my favorite job. I get to choose what I want to read and then technically have to read in order to write my review. I have tons of books lined up, so there is always something to read. I always have my phone, which has a Kindle app on it. I always have a book or three in the car. I have some on my computer. I read them in my room, in the car (if someone else is driving) and when I am outside. Books are always with me. I don't think I can get through a day without reading. It's very rare that I can't read. When I am sick, I know it is time to go to the doctor when I can't even focus on a book. They always help me to unwind and relax.

Reading A to Z: T is for Twain

I honestly haven't read much of Mark Twain since I was in elementary school. I had to read both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and enjoyed them both. I know I own a couple of short story collections. I read The Famous Jumping Frog of Calaveras County last year. The Man has a Mark Twain obsession, so I am trying.

Mark Twain was known for his wit and humor. He was highly intelligent and had an insight into everyday life that no one else did. His stories chronicled his time and history. I'm not going to get into the debate about changing the language of his books (which is precisely how people spoke back then), just because now it is considered offensive. I will just say that I am more offended that words are being changed. I am also annoyed by more current book covers that have the boys wearing contemporary clothing.

Mark Twain also wrote his own autobiography, an antique copy of which I recently purchased for The Man. It has all kinds of fun family pictures in it. I love to read stories about real people's lives and to see their family photos. It makes them more real. There is also a Mark Twain museum about 2 hours away from where I live that I would like to visit some day, to deeper understand the writer.

Anyway, Mark Twain is a necessary stop on the reading train of classic literature. My goal is to eventually finish reading all of his short stories, as well. At the very least, I want to add to my repertoire. And impressing The Man is always a good thing, too. :-)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reading A to Z: S is for Salinger

It is tremendously cliche to say that The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is one of my favorite books, but it is the truth. I enjoyed it when I read it in high school. A few years ago, I reread it and appreciated it even more on a different level. I decided to go on from there and check out some of his other books. He only ever published three more books. Each one is entertaining, though many people may not appreciate them as much as his most famous work.

Nine Stories is a collection of just that: nine short stories. They are short stories about people who could live next door to you or even about yourself. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction is part of the Glass family series. Franny and Zooey is the other part of that series. (The singer/actress Zooey Deschanel was named after this book.) Each of these books features two separate stories within one book, chronicling the story of a man named Seymour Glass and his brother Buddy. These two books did hold my attention, but I guess I didn't get them as much as I got Catcher. Many people prefer these other books, though, and I do recommend reading them. They are on my list to revisit sometime, to see how the next experience holds up.

Reading A to Z: R is for Richard Bachman

By now most people know that Richard Bachman is really Stephen King, writing under a pseudonym. I like to think of Richard Bachman as being King's darker side. I know, Stephen King is already pretty dark. But his Bachman stories are even more twisted than anything he wrote under his real name. I love them.

Everyone has been going crazy over The Hunger Games. Yes, I loved the book, but I felt like I was reading a young adult version of The Running Man and The Long Walk while I was reading it. In The Running Man, Ben Richards is desperate for money, so he agrees to go on a reality TV show (an idea basically unheard of 20 years ago when this story was written). Millions of people are glued to their sets while he runs for his life. He is required to mail in videos, which can give away his location. Rewards are offered to viewers who provide information as to his whereabouts. He has to stay on the run for 30 days in order to win. Most people only make it 8 days.

The Long Walk is the story of a group of 100 boys who embark upon a walk. They must maintain a pace of 4 miles per hour. If you slow down, you get shot in the head. If you otherwise fail, you get shot in the head. The walk continues until only one person is left standing.

Roadwork is another one of the original Bachman books. In this one, Bart Dawes slowly goes insane as his entire life is forced to change when a road construction project is planned right through his neighborhood. He has never gotten over the death of his son from a brain tumor, and this is just too much for him.

The fourth original Bachman book was The Rage, in which a boy goes crazy and kills his teacher in a school shooting. After Columbine, Stephen King pulled this book from publication and vowed to never print it again. If you're one of the lucky ones who has an old copy, you can still read it.

Thinner was another Bachman book that was creepy and delightful. Billy Haleck is an overweight lawyer who runs over a gypsy while his wife is giving him a hand job. In retribution, one of the gypsies puts a curse on him, causing him to lose weight. At first, this seems great, but the weight loss doesn't stop. The only way to make it stop ends up being more horrifying than what is happening to him.

My favorite Richard Bachman book is the first one that was published after Stephen King was outed as being the real writer. The Regulators was published as a sort of companion novel to King's Desperation. The two stories have the same characters and the same setting, but in a parallel universe. Good guys in one are the bad guys in the other. It's necessary to read them back to back for maximum enjoyment.

Blaze was the last one published under the Bachman name. It is actually an unpublished King novel from his early days that he polished and edited. I have not yet read it, though it is on my shelf. There are rumors of more Bachman books to come at some point in the future.

Reading A to Z: Q is for Queue

My reading queue is out of control. I have always had hundreds of books. I grew up in a family that loved to read. While my grandmother preferred to go to the library, her mother had always purchased first editions. Grandma grew up during the Great Depression and believed in saving money. When I was a child, my parents had a lot of books around the house. They were always happy to purchase more of them for us. We had a tendency to read and reread our books, so it made sense to always have them at hand.

As an adult with my own house, I have always had a full room dedicated to books as my own personal library. There is nothing greater than sitting in a chair, surrounded by books.

In my current house, I set up a special bookshelf, known as my "Books to Read" shelf. What started as just a few books I found at a garage sale has turned into a sagging set of shelves, overflowing with books I want to read. I have even tried to put them in order of what I want to read, but it just ins't possible. I want to read them all. I want to ingest them all at one time. If I had the power to inhale the books like air and still enjoy them as much as reading them by myself, I would. I can't get enough.

I had always vowed I would never give in to the e-book craze. And then I got that stupid smartphone that came with a Kindle app. I was curious. I started with a couple of classic freebies. And then I discovered I could download others for free. I started to regularly check out the Top Free Bestsellers list on a weekly basis. That turned into a daily basis. Now I subscribe to the freebie websites and have discovered how to locate my own. I sometimes even post my findings on this blog. (I took a break from that this month, in order to complete the challenge.) As of the time I am writing this, I have 1870 books for children and adults in my Kindle queue. Will I ever get to them all? I have no idea. But it's fun to know they're available.

Reading A to Z: P is for Paranormal Romance

I have long been opposed to paranormal romance. I despise vampires. I do not like werewolves. Twilight seemed like one of the stupidest things ever. I couldn't even get past the first page and still feel dirty if I hold one of the books in my hands. And then I read this free installment of a vampire series called The Vampire Hunter's Daughter. I have been Facebook friends with the author for a couple of years, now, and have watched her along this voyage of writing the series. She is constantly promoting it, so I decided the first part would make a nice read while The Man was trying to choose the right pair of shoes for playing street hockey. (This can take a really long time, as he is quite picky, but I digress.)

I read the whole damn thing before he had finished trying on all of the shoes at one store. I spent a couple of bucks to buy the rest of the series. And I was hooked. And then she sent me a copy of The Birth of Jaiden. It's another vampire story, with a little implied romance thrown in there. (Full review to come in May.)

A couple of my other writing friends were constantly talking about a book called 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover. The book is written by a woman who has also written for Harelquin, so she knows how to write romance. And her sassy character Jazz, who is a witch in love lust with a vampire is hilarious. I could hardly put down my phone (on which I read Kindle books) until the book was finished. I even researched the series and have purchased the third book for 99 cents. I will end up with the rest of them, I just know it.

And then there is my Facebook friend Christie Silvers. When I was home for Spring Break, I was sick as a dog. But I was still able to read books. I was devouring one novel a day during that week. She needed some beta readers, so I volunteered. I'm now completely hooked on her Liz Baker series. I have lost many hours of sleep because of them.

How some of these truly fit under paranormal romance, I'm not sure. I haven't yet figured out how to really define the genre. All I know is I am not longer simply tossing them aside, and have found a new side to myself.

And no, I still have no interest in Twilight, thanks.

Full reviews of all of these books will be put up in May, when this challenge is over.