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I finished a book [1] but I will not rest on my laurels. I immediately went to the shelves where dwell the ‘read me” tomes.  Thanks to Tsundoku, there are plenty to choose from and they vary in style and content. I do not stick with one genera of writing, but bounce around. I just finished reading a non-fiction ‘science’ book and prior to this one it was “Spoon River anthology”, which is fiction/poetry. So, what to read next? I can sense all the books on the bookshelf sitting up in anticipation, wanting me to pick them. “Read me!” they all seem to shout, each pointing out its charms. “I’ve been waiting the longest!” “I’m the newest!” and “I’m a guaranteed laugh!”

Summer time and the reading is easy. What I like to read in the summer are ‘light reads’, preferring to postpone the more lofty tomes to long winter nights. [2] Fiction is preferable to non-fiction and ‘fun’ reads trump ‘should’ reads. The other day I started – and quickly stopped – ‘The Last of the Mohicans’. It was full-up with wordy circumstantial sentences and not suitable for reading poolside. [3] This was also true at last night’s stab at the latest translation of ‘The Poetic Eddas’ (oh the pain). A few people at work have given me copies of things written by contemporary authors; these maybe worth a look-see. They have the advantage I haven’t the foggiest what they are about and I should know after a few chapters if it is a TGR (thumping good read) or off it goes to Bookman’s, the local used book store exchange.

One book on the to-read shelf is a novel by Salman Rushdie. I can’t recall which one it is, maybe the one that got him into hot water? He’s known to be clever so this next- choice possibility is likely ‘quality’ compared to the rubbish novels next to it. His book is a thick one, so it doesn’t look to like a rush job. Summer reads are usually short, easily consumed, and quickly forgotten – like my men. Yes, the more I think about it, Mr. Rushdie’s brilliant book may have to wait until later this year.

I might choose ‘The Anthropocene’ by John Green. It is Mr. Green’s latest, and has the advantage it is a series of essays, so I can read one, fall asleep, and not need to remember the plot and characters. On the downside his reflections are recondite and often depressing – not the best thing for summer reading.

Slogging my way through more of Mr. Prachett’s forty-plus books in his ‘The Discworld series” might work. They fulfill the criteria for something light, fun, and mindless – like my men, but I read so many in the spring time it feels wrong for summer to be similar.

There is always the option to jilt the unread and rereading some old favorites or return to a series. For some time I’ve been meaning to read/reread ‘Tales of the City’, which I got only halfway through. I would have to start over from the beginning, so that would be no quick project.

Stinko. All the books on the shelf are serious, lengthy, thoughtful tomes – not the sort for summer. It’s like going to the food panty looking for something to gnosh, only to find only healthy stuff when what you really wanted was a bag of nasty chips. I may have to buy something new. Talk about Tsundoku ! Just don’t tell Someone, or I may have to reenact – again -the iconic Flip Wilson sketch ‘The devil made me buy this dress”.

[1] “The book of the moon”. It was an encyclopedia of everything about the moon, from facts of science to superstitions. The chapter of Moon gods/goddesses was quite lengthy; the moon is quite crowded.

[2] Science fiction is the exception. Sci-fi novels are my winter reads although paradoxically they are read on winter holiday in the bright warm weather of PV or Palm Springs.

[3] Mr. Cooper writes fiction as if it were a painful duty.

I love reading and my favorite is English Literature. Acolytes of English Lit tend to be a bit balmy on the subject. Think of ‘Doctor Who fans’ as book-nerds. They adore it and cannot fathom why everyone else isn’t as crackers as they are about it.

In high school I had an English Literature named Mr. Harchick. He really loved the topic and he nurtured the novices like myself whom he sensed had ‘the calling’.  When the class ended he gave me a list of his favorite ‘great books’, Mr. H’s TGRs (thumping good reads).*

I’ve kept this list all these decades in an accordion file labelled ‘Precious Papers’. I found it the other day. Last year’s book resolution was to read 20 books and thanks to the covid19 situation I read 45. 2021’s book resolution is to complete ‘The Harchick list’:

I am pleased as Punch to discover since high school, on my own, I’ve read most of them: 13 of 19 to be exact. I’m certain I can read six novels in one year. Presently I am slogging through Anna Karenina** and I do not see it ending any time soon. 

 

If they prove too wordy I may cheat and do some of them via Audiobooks.*** These sorts of tomes are in public domain so there are free versions at Librovox although the readers can be hit-and-miss. I will not read all six in a row but interpolate them between lighter reads and some rubbish-types. 

I am curious to know from Spo-fans:

 

1. Are you fond of English Literature?

2. How many books from ‘The Harchick List’ have you read?

3. Do you read ‘real books” or do you hear them on audio? 

 

*I do not remember if he gave everyone the list or just the ones he sensed would appreciate it. Mr. Harchick was not one to suffer fools gladly, or cast pearls before swine and that included impudent sophomores. 

**It ends badly. 

***’Sons and Lovers’ especially. 

 

My twelve-part series ends with this book; I’ve saved this one for last.

#12 -Endangered Pleasures

Why: It transformed me from a reader into a writer. 

 

Barbara Holland is another author I discovered through the “A common reader” book catalog. “Endangered pleasures” is a collection of whimsical essays about those things of life worth cherishing: bare feet, dawdling over the newspaper, idle summer vacations, and happy hour.  I loved her whimsical humor and spot-on jabs from the get-go. When I first read this book I thought ‘Gee I would write like this if I was a writer.” 

The notion I could write something let along think myself a ‘writer’ was almost heretical. I am a reader; I read things. I don’t write. One did one or the other. Besides to be an author one probably has to go to some sort of writing school and get a license to practice. All the same I wanted to write something, anything. 

That year a friend extolled me to write a blog. He had one and he thought I should try it. What on earth could I write about I wondered? He didn’t know but he implored me to just start and get it going. My long time itch to write was about to be scratched. I don’t know what possessed me but before I tried this I wrote to Ms. Holland. I suppose I wanted her blessing. Here is the email: 

Dear Ms. Holland,

I have never written an ’email fan letter’ before. I suspect you get many so I will keep it brief. I enjoy your essays and writings. If I could write, I would want to write like you do. I don’t mean in the same style, but in the same response; to evoke smiles and thought in my readers.

Keep up your work!

Regards,

Urspo

To my amazement she wrote back: 

Thank you, thank you! Hey, write it!  

B. Holland. 


I started writing this blog.That was in 2006 and here I am.  

I feel fulfilled from writing. It is not my livelihood it is my life. I read now not just as a reader but as a ‘writer’. Who knew one can wear both hat? I am eternally grateful to Ms. Holland (sadly now deceased) who encouraged me take this step in the evolution of my reading process.

So ends the series “Books that have changed my life”. I hope you enjoyed it. Maybe you learned about some authors and books to try. I hope so.

I will end with the last page from this book, which is ironically about the endangered pleasure of reading books:

The rooms along the corridor [Barbara Holland’s memory] are reserved for books, and only certain books at that. And, like our songs, they are portable and permanent. Let the house burn to the ground, let friends, family, hair, and teeth desert us, let us be chained to the dripping wall of the dungeon in utter darkness, and still the door will open when we name it.

I expect this to be the last satisfaction for me when I’m blind and bedridden. I shall whisper “The Sword of the Stone” and the door will open on Merlin the magician and his owl, Archimedes, perched on his shoulder. 

Except for an occasional alcohol rub, I suppose this will be my last earthly pleasure. I hope there’ll be doors enough to see me out. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll simply disappear and find myself not in hell or here but on The Grand Trunk Road, wearing Kim’s dusty rags and merrily stealing sweetmeats for my lama. 

#11 – I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore

Why: gay literature exists and it can be legitimate.

Michelle was the one black person in my sixth grade class. She and I were the two top rapacious readers.  Often we read the same things or similar stuff. One day I saw her reading something with African-Americans on the cover; it looked to be about the south after The Civil War. I asked her why she was reading it. “Because it’s about me” she replied. I thought this odd as it was about folks and times a hundred years ago; how could it be about her? Later I connected the dots and knew what she meant. Later too I learned there was literature for all sorts of folks and nationalities – except me.  There was no reads about my sort. I was about six years old when I realized I was light in the loafers (I was an early bloomer) and there were no books in the school libraries to read on the topic. This supported my dreadful assumption I was the only one in the world ‘that way’.*  Everyone else had books about them but not for queer-types. Even if there were others like myself they certainly wouldn’t be allowed to write books about it would they?

I forget when I first found and read a gay dime-novel. It was full of stereotypes having continuous shenanigans of the most graphic sort, which was the point of the read. It titillated and it sort-of assured me there were ‘books about me” but “Get thee behind me” was rubbish – worse, it was poorly written.

Mr. Mordden’s book is memorable as the first book I remember reading which was well written and about folks like myself. I didn’t identify with the setting (NYC gays in the 70s) and I had never heard of Fire Island but that was not the point.  It was comforting to read I was not alone and some of us were writers and quite good too. Later in life I befriend a few gay authors many of them well over four feet. One of them even writes murder mysteries. Fascinating! The detectives [who are gay] go about solving the who-done-its as if they were just plain folks and the gay part is hardly mentioned.**

I read Mr. Morrden’s books and then went on to read of the “Tales from the City”*** series. Since then I’ve not been one to actively seek out ‘gay literature’  – unless the writing and story is good.  Gay literature has become mainstream, just another variety in the many types of reading  I hope this is true for myself as well.

 

 

 

*Happily when I got to junior high school I found some others like myself and I was off and running as it were.

**At the end of all his novels the detectives always give each other a hug and a kiss. It’s rather sweet.

***Most of them anyway. I don’t quite remember why I didn’t continue with them. Perhaps I didn’t find them that spell-binding. I later met Mr. Maupin. He was a nice fellow, well over four feet.

 

#10 – The Phantom Tollbooth

Why: It taught me the values of reading.

I was in high school when Grandmother saw me reading a book. It was some novel assigned in English literature class. She looked at the cover and said in her opinion reading was a waste of time. I didn’t know if she meant novels or all types of reading. I was too polite to point out she spends most of every Sunday afternoon doing the NYT crossword puzzle or her many hours playing bridge seemed a waste of time to me. Mostly I was stunned. It was as if someone told me going to school was a waste of time. Reading came naturally to me as breathing. 

Children books in contrast to those for written for adults have two jobs. Not only do they entertain but they teach children about reading: how to read, how to think about what is being read, and most important of all reading is a pleasure and vital.

Mr. Juster – clever man! – has the young reader reading about a boy named Milo who, bored with everything, goes on a journey to literally find Wisdom. After Milo accomplishes this he doesn’t feel the need to return to that particular place:

“Well, I would like to make another trip, but I really don’t know when I’ll have the time. There’s just so much to do right here”

I felt the same way at the book’s conclusion; I wanted to go right out and read as much as I could. 

“The Phantom Tollbooth” is a book I’ve exalted many times on my blog. The point for today is this is the first book in which I connected the dots a book isn’t just as story but a marvelous composition, a work of art, and provides thought as well as entertainment. Do I dare say it was my Helen Keller ‘water” experience? 

I suppose if there was one book in this twelve-part series that really changed my life it is this one. ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ transformed me into a reader. 

#9 – Creation

Why: I discovered it is marvelous to reread things. 

Many books in this twelve-part series are about shifts in paradigms in my approach to reading.  Today’s entry is about rereading a book not just once but over and over on a continual basis.

‘Creation’ is my favorite book. There, I have said it. I remember who recommended it and when and why. The novel is set in Athens at the time of Pericles. Cyrus Spitama, the grandson of Zoroaster, is dictating his memoirs to his great-nephew Democritus. He grew up in Persian Empire at the time of Cyrus the Great; he traveled and met several religious figures including The Buddha and Confucius.  Mr. Vidal does a great job combining well-researched history with a study of religion all done with rapier Gore Vidal wit.  “

“Creation” is one of those rare reads I dreaded coming to the ending knowing there would be no more. Has that every happened to you? It’s like the last day of a vacation when you have to come home. Up until this book I had the odd belief once a book was read it you moved on.* After all there were so many books yet to be read. Why would you reread something?  I know now this is nonsense. After all I’ve returned to favorite restaurants countless times only to order the same thing as I like it. I suppose I first reread ‘Creation’ less than a year after finishing it. It is such a rich book that every time I reread it I get more out of it.

Nowadays my to-do reading list always has one or two books to read again. I have a half-dozen books I revisit every 5-10 years. For example: “Oliver Twist”. The first read it (junior high school) it was something horrible almost science fiction; ten years later in my late adolescence it was almost hilarious, a sort of dark humor novel. Ten years later it was a sad read, full of pathos. The last time I read ‘Oliver Twist’ it was a disappointment, an anti-Semitic melodrama and a bit cheesy not as good as Mr. Dickens’ later works. I won’t reread again – or will I ?

I can’t tell you how many times I have read “Creation’. When I first read it, I was approximately the age of Democritus. I wonder how I will experience the book now that I am approaching the age of Cyrus. It’s time to reread it and find out.

 

What novel do you read over and over again? 

 

*There was one exception: “The Phantom Tollbooth”. I will write one this tomorrow. 

 

 

 

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# 5 – The Haunting of Hill House

Why: It taught me the best ghost stories don’t have ghosts in them.

As October is coming, I thought I would include a book about ghosts. 

The lexicon of ghost stories is full of dreck. This is curious and a disappointment. There are countless novels and short stories of horror but many fail to provide a really scary story. The bottom line: a good ghost story should give one the creeps. Often an actual ghost isn’t as scary as the sense there may be one. 

Here is the opening line of the book: 

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met nearly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

There is something creepy to Hill House but what is it exactly? Is the house truly haunted or is it all merely the figment of the imagination of the main character? *

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ certainly wasn’t the first ghost story I have ever read but it stands out as the most memorable. Reading it was a turning point for me. Afterwards when I read a ghost/horror story I want it well-written and giving me the heebie-jeebies

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is another example of a genera that can also be good literature. Shirley Jackson was a careful and excellent writer.  For thems looking for a TGR (thumping good read) this All Hallows Eve you could not do better than this.

 

 

*The 1963 film version of the book “The Haunting” does a good job with this, providing the scares while remaining aloof to an explanation. I watch the movie every October if I don’t have time to reread the book. 

I am halfway through my twelve-step series ‘Books that have changed my life”. I hope my readers are enjoying this as I am. I so enjoy and appreciate your comments with your book recommendations and to discover you enjoy reading as I do.  

 

# 5 – The new victory garden

Why:  It taught me I can do this. 

Since I was a boy I longed to to have a vegetable garden. Father would not have it. It may have been against the local laws to have one. More likely Father didn’t want his perfectly groomed suburban backyard dug up for things he argued we could buy at the grocery store.*  When I bought my house I insisted it have a yard I could turn into gardens. Then I got one – and didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t a clue really who to do it. I didn’t have experience nor did I know any gardeners to guide me. It was before the days of the internet so there were no Youtube instructional videos or websites like howtostartagarden.com. I got a book from the local Border’s book store. 

‘The new victory garden’ was my first ‘how-to-do-it” book. t was easy to read and the chapters were done on a monthly schedule on what to do. The colorful photos bedazzled me. It became my Bible. I read and reread it every year. Given practice and plenty of trial and error I grew lovely vegetables. Oh how I miss my vegetable gardens!

Not only did this book transform me into the gardener I longed to be, it installed in me ‘it is possible’ – and accomplished through reading a book. I thought gardeners were born, not made. This book taught me otherwise. Prior to Mr. Thompson’s how-to-do it manual all my reads were either school assignments or entertainments – never for instruction. It was my first ‘self-help’ book, not only how to grow greens but the valuable lesson I could read a book and get things done. Who knew? 

 

 

*He is dead wrong. Many vegetables homegrown beat the stuff in the store by a country mile. My soul swooned when I first took a bite of a Brandywine tomato or a homegrown melon. There is nothing like it. Later in life I would give Father some of my excess homegrown tomatoes and fanciful-coloured bell peppers. He appreciated them.

 

# 5 – Auntie Mame

Why: I learned adults can read just for the fun of it.

Books are like food: there are many types and what we eat depends on our needs and situations. We should eat foot that is good for us but sometimes the occasion or or desires call for less than proper entrees. No thank you to the wholesome poached salmon with roasted vegetables I want the fish and chips special with extra tartar sauce please.

As a boy I had no troubles with the concept of reading as ‘fun’. There were things I had to read for school but I regularly went to the local library* to find fun things to read. I didn’t check out books to impress my friends or parents but for the joy of reading. 

I think I was in junior high school when reading became an assignment. Somewhere along the line I became vain what I was reading that it had to be ‘good’ for me.** Even if I wanted to read for fun I had no time to do so given what I had to read. There didn’t seem to be any time anymore for fun reading. 

I don’t remember when I first read “Auntie Mame” by Patrick Dennis. I must have done so after seeing “Mame” and I wanted to see how went the book. Run, don’t walk, to get yourself a copy of this marvelous book. There isn’t anything profound or lofty about Mr. Dennis’ novel, it is jolly good fun. It is a delicious dish not found in any gourmet cookbook or is served at formal dinner parties. When had I last read something without having to impress friends or oblige teachers and – more important- not caring tuppence if someone said to me aghast ‘You’re reading THAT?”.   Not since childhood anyway. 

The irony is the main theme of “Auntie Mame” is to throw off the yoke of custom and convention and stick your tongue out at the Upsons and the Babcocks and live, live, LIVE! This includes ‘fun reading’.

I still read profound and erudite books. I am presently reading ‘Anna Karenina’ *** but I am also reading book #5 in the ‘The Discworld series.  The first is a meal but the latter is a box of Tim-bits all chocolate.  

 

*A trip to the library had all the excitement of going to an amusement park. I was wild with excitement as to what I might find there. Did anyone else feel this way? 

**I loved schlocky sci-fi but I kept this a secret, reading at night so one one would know.  I felt like a vegetarian on a commune sneaking off from time to time to get me a Big Mac oh so delicious but oh the shame.  

***It ends badly. 

# 5 – The Inn at the end of the world

Why: It introduced me to one of my favorite authors and a contemporary one at that. 

 

I sorely miss the “A Common Reader” a book catalog I regularly read in the 90s. ACR was like The Scholastic book club for adults and just as exciting. The editors were crackers for books, always looking for the ones they called ‘Thumping good reads”. Nothing they recommended fell flat. An author they adored was the late Alice Thomas Ellis. I gave her novel ‘The Inn at the end of the world’ a try and I became an immediate ATE acolyte.

Alice Thomas Ellis wrote pithy humorous novels full of disagreeable persons combined with the uncanny and supernatural.  The adjectives most used when describing her writing are ‘wry’, ‘dry’, ‘acerbic’, and ‘razor-sharp’.  Her ‘Home life” series were whimsical descriptions of her daily doings and thoughts. In them she calls her children “the first son’ and ‘the second son’ and so on and her spouse is called Someone. Yes, my spouse’s name in my own writing is a homage to her. I often try to emulate her style.  

The main point of today’s entry isn’t so much to recommend this book or the author  although that would be nice as I think many of you would enjoy it  but to use this book as an example of the joy in discovering a contemporary author whose work you adore and makes you want to read everything they do. 

What is a favorite contemporary obscure author you adore? 

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