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#4 – To the Lighthouse

Why: I learned it was OK to stop reading a book that bores me.

I still wonder what on earth possessed me in my youth to believe once I started reading something I was obliged to finish it. Then my relationship with books reads (pun intended) was like a co-dependent relationship. Soon into a book that was promised as good I would realize it was not holding my interest and/or I didn’t like it. I would blame myself for this failure: I was not reading it properly or giving it enough time. I would slog through on with the hopes things would get better but it seldom did. I read in piecemeal, picking it up from time to time not out of interest but obligation. When the book was finally done there was a sigh of relief.  It was over.

Oh the pain.

When I lived in Chicago I attended a book club. Once a year the members put together the list of the books to read in the upcoming year. Somebody proposed we read “To the lighthouse”. I don’t remember the reason(s). Perhaps we were curious what it was about. The novel often appears on ‘best of literature’ lists. Maybe it was a favorite of one of the members who felt we must must MUST read it.* So we did.

Almost immediately I was bewildered and bored by its contents. It was an assignment, so I kept going. I was a third into it when I began to crack up. I felt like a child being obliged to finish a plate of vegetables lectured as good for him but tasting utterly odious. I stopped. I had a pang of guilt to do so but mostly there was relief. I dreaded the ostracism I was going to get at the next meeting. Before I confessed my shameful shortcoming some of the members spoke first saying it was dull and boring – one admitted she had stopped it too.  We then discussed what went wrong with the book.*

Since then I have started and stopped lots of books and short stories. I try to give them a chance, but I don’t go further if it doesn’t float my boat. There are too many books to read to waste time on the ‘should’ books least of all the boring ones.

I might someday try to reread “To the lighthouse”; sometimes with age and circumstances a book changes and lo! the boring book becomes readable.  I like it when that happens.

More likely I will move on. I have a shelf-full of new books waiting my attention. Those tomes better beware! I don’t pussy-foot around anymore with boring books.

*This is common phenomena with book lovers. Everyone has a favorite book they feel should be read by all. The lender is often puzzled or crestfallen when the lendee does not feel likewise. Sometimes there is savagery; the acolyte of the tome feels personally insulted that you do not like it. I have done this myself. I once recommended to a therapist that he read “The Phantom Tollbooth” one of my all-time favorite books. He did and told me he found it uninteresting. I fired him soon afterwards on the grounds he and I were not a good match.

**I don’t recall anyone actually liked it, including the one who recommended it. Happily there was no shooting.

# 3 – The Left Hand of Darkness

Why: I realized science fiction can be great literature. 

My mother read Harlequin romance novels; she literally read them by the sackful. I often wondered why my mother so sophisticated in her other tastes wasted time reading such rubbish but my panache for science fiction then wasn’t any better. The sci-fi I remember reading as a boy was silly or absurd. They were jolly good fun but I wouldn’t put them on the same figurative shelf as ‘great literature”. Indeed I was a bit embarrassed to reveal to others I was reading such.  Later in college I attended a small senior level course on ‘great literature”. The reading list was the following:

The Iliad

The Odyssey

Don Quixote 

Huckleberry Finn

Watership Down

and 

The Left hand of darkness. 

I’m not joking. 

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote science fiction but she was first and foremost a novelist. Early in her career she was told not to waste time writing science fiction as no one would take her or her work seriously. The Left Hand of Darkness is science-fiction but it is first and foremost fiction and very good fiction at that*  The novel gets us asking questions about who we are and what consequences come from dividing people into masculine or feminine – and what does society do with the ones who don’t fit well into custom and convention. Have you ever ate cheap and quick ethnic cuisine only to taste later in life ‘properly made’ and realize how good it can be?  After tasting the well-made stuff you want more of the same. That is how I felt about sci-fi after reading TLHOD. 

I still read schlocky sci-fi space-age shooter-ups but I prefer the good stuff no rubbish. Thanks to Ms. LeGuin and her masterpiece I learned good literature exists in the many genres ‘outside the classics”.

 

 

*The plot: a representative (cis-male) from The Ecumenical league of planets is sent to a planet to get them to join them. The inhabits of Gethan are unique as they are the only sapient humanoids in the universe who are sexless most of the time. Once a month they enter into a sexual cycle called ‘kemmer’ in which they become physically male or female. A person can be a mother of children and the father of others. The book explores gender roles and what it is like for the protagonist to experience a society that does not see one as male or female but merely as a person. It is a TGR and I recommend it. 

# 2 – Shakespeare’s Dog 

Why: book buying/reading can be a marvelous discovery.

At the start of my venture into reading I bought only ‘safe’ books. These tomes were unlikely to waste time or money.  I knew more or less before a purchase what the contents were and I would probably enjoy them. It’s like walking into 31 Flavors and ordering the safe familiar vanilla rather than trying “The Flavor of the Month’. After all what if I got a book and didn’t like it? Horrible isn’t it? 

Near The Shakespeare Festival located in Stratford, Ontario stood an old-fashioned locally- owned bookstore. Oh! How I miss these sort of bookstores!  One time I went in without remembering  to bring my prepared list of reading wants. My mind went blank; I couldn’t remember a single one of them. I could have just walked out but I always buy something to help keep the place going. On the table among the scholarly books about was “Shakespeare’s dog”. I figured it had to be a history of The Bard as told through the eyes a fictional pooch. 

Here’s the first paragraph of this alleged scholarly history book: 

“That spongy, water-licking Wolfsleach was on down on the grass doing sport with Marr, and when he saw me romping towards him with choppers flaring, he whirled in gummy pain and gave Marr a great kick in her hind parts that sent her spinning over on all-fours, whimpering her sorrows at pleasures abated and leaking drool from her yellow mouth. Agh, you wench, I thought, you thrush-throated, humping dog; oh the devil take you! So I tagged her one on the fly, a quick bit that tozed gristle and fur, and kept going. Blech and blah, woof and roar – oh, you mangy suffers with pigs’ feet for brains, here humping away to heart’s content – and in my yard! There goes dignity, as the barrel-eyed Two Foots would say. Well, you’ll taste the poison of my fangs, you’ll get Hooker’s comeuppance and what-for. You’ll have my claw stud where dogger was. Woof-woof and arf-arf, damn you all. “

Patience above! This isn’t what I thought the book would be! I continued to read and I could not put the book down. It was one of those rare ‘laugh out loud’ reads. William and his faithful hound Hooker have all sorts of shenanigans and marital ructions pocked with ersatz-Elizabethan expletives.*  What a surprise! What a delight!

‘Shakespeare’s Dog’ introduced me to taking chances with books. An unknown book picked up in a bargain book store or taking down from Grandfather’s bookshelf might be the literary equivalent of hitting the jackpot. This daring approach is how I was discovered Leon Rooke, James Thurber, and Robertson Davies to name a few. You never know until you try – at least for a few pages.

 

*Old Lurker: this is the book where I got the expression “Sooner I’d eat rats at Tewkesbury!”.

I listen to a lot of podcasts of which many of them are about literature. A lot of them seem to be doing the same theme: “books that change my life”. Usually this involves the podcast host interviewing some author or great celebrity who lauds a book that moved them to become an author themself or a different sort of person. Once in a while I learn of a book that sounds worthwhile to read myself; there is no excitement like hearing of a good book.

I thought to copycat by posting once a week or so twelve books that made an impact in my life.  They are not necessarily ‘great books’ nor do I think everyone should read them (although many are TGRs (thumping good reads); I will point these out when they arise).  They are the books that changed me in some way and not always for the better. Perhaps you have a similar list of books; I would love to hear about them.

In no particular order here it goes. Let’s see if the Spo-fans like this. 

#1 – Hurricanes and Twisters.

Why: it introduced me to science. 

Back in elementary school there was some sort of book order club which allowed us to buy books. The class would get the catalog and we would check the books we wanted and a few weeks later a large cardboard box appeared in class and the teacher would open it at the end of the day in great ceremony and distribute our orders. This had all the anticipation and delight of Santa Clause opening his sack to give out our long-coveted Christmas prizes. I have a vague memory of recent asking the teacher about thunderstorms and tornados: where do they come from and how do they work. Teacher said I should order this book and find out. I was bewildered because books up until then all had stories and fairy tales in them. I didn’t know one could ‘read’ science. I purchased the book along with some others but the rest are lost to memory. I was mesmerized by this junior science book. Unlike all the ones I had read until then this book I could read in chapters and reread for reference. I thought then if there was a book about weather there might be others about rocks and oceans and animals and dinosaurs – and so there were !  The library was chock-full of them!

“Hurricane and twisters” made me long to be a scientist – and I did. I still read books with scientific themes. Sometimes when on holiday someone looks at my book and asks me if I am a teacher implying who else would read a book on science. I smile and explain and remember “Hurricane and Twisters” which started my lifelong  lust to learn how things work. 

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One of my greatest childhood joys were trips to my grandparent’s house and going up to the third floor what constituted an attic/storage space. At the top of the stairs was a large pile of Boy’s life magazines and Walt Disney Comic books. There were my uncle’s back when he was a boy and involved in The Boy Scouts.  These were from the 50s. It was the late 60s and early 70s when I read them but I thought them ancient.  I read The Boy’s Life magazines solely for the comic series. They had titles like “Space Conquerors” and “Kam of the Ancient Ones”. I would spend hours up in the attic reading and rereading them.

The Walt Disney comics were mostly about the adventures of Donald Duck and his three nephews and their rich great uncle Scrooge McDuck.* There were other relations like Grandma Goose and Gladstone Gander – whatever happened them I wonder?

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This is a photo of one of the BL magazines I read and still possess. They were sooo 50s filled with lots of manly scouting things for white boys to emulate. It’s all nifty.

In my youth I also enjoyed newspaper comics. Each afternoon I would eagerly await the arrival of The Detroit News and directly go to the comic section to get caught up on my favorites.  I was quite judgmental about them; I had a keen eye – and opinion – on the quality of a comic’s drawing, plot, and humor. I became upset when one of my favorites suddenly dropped out of circulation. I was equally bummed when some comics kept going.**

Speaking of comics I’ve had an interest in reading – or is that rereading? – “Little Abner”. As a boy I didn’t understand what it was about. It seemed to be drawn well so it got high marks for that. ‘Lil Abner’ seemed odd and without a point.  Someone tells me the man who drew this long time comic strip was a nawful man and the cartoon was similarly odious. I want to see if this is so. I looked it up on line last night: I have decades of reading to do if I am to succeed with such. Mr. Abner may have to wait his turn as I first reread The Walt Disney Comics I brought back from Michigan.

I fantasize about waking up on a Saturday morning to see it pouring rain all day thus canceling all activities and allowing me to sit in a chair, a pot of tea to my left and a stack of comics to my right.  As it never rains here this set up never happens. If I am going to return to the likes of Pee Wee Harris and Unca Donald I better book them.

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*Back in the 50s Mickey Mouse was a secondary character, almost an afterthought; he was  hardly the ‘star’ he is today. I wonder when/why Donald and Mickey changed status?

**The worse example of this was “The Family Circus”. For Spo-fans unfamiliar with this maudlin comic, it is a one frame/one line comic with the same set up: one of the little tykes says something in the ‘aw, ain’t that cute” category. This never changed; I found it boring as hell. I hear tell it continues and remains quite popular. I see it as a sign of the general lack of taste in American mentality.

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“Enough nostalgia!” was the title of the email from The Board of Directors Here at Spo-reflections. I am to write about something anything that doesn’t involve me as a child.*  So be it. 

In the 70s/80s after her parents died Mother took from their library twenty small red books of short stories. I don’t know why she took these tomes; I don’t recall her ever reading them. They have stayed untouched on a shelf in the guest room for thirty years until last month when I took them.  

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“The World’s 100  best short stories” and “The world’s 100 best short novels” are lofty titles. Mind! these tomes were published nearly 100 years ago in 1927. I love a short story especially if it brilliant in prose and (better yet) it ’moves me’ in some way. ** For Spo-fans fond of literature, think quickly –  what short stories would you list as ‘the world’s best’?***   I am curious to see about three matters:

1 – Do I recognize any short stories still read in the present, the ones that have stood the test of time and why is that so?

2- Do I recognize the authors but not the compositions included in the elect?

3- The authors and titles unknown to me: lost masterpieces or dated duds?

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The first volume’s table of contents suggests some of each of the three categories. I recognized right away “Luck of Roaring Camp” and “The most dangerous game” having read them myself in high school. I don’t remember ‘why’ they are good so they will be worth a reread. I recognize the names of Victor Hugo and O. Henry and Mr. Stevenson – but not these stories. The other names and titles are unfamiliar. 

I suspect I am going to encounter a lot of disappointments; I fancy keeping ‘score’ as how many are ‘good’ vs. forgettable. I have my fingers crossed I will come across a few gems.

Later: I just finished reading the first short story “The two-gun man”. Page 71indeed!  It is a simple cowboy story with a plot twist ending that is quite predictable. One wonders how this  got in among the ‘Top 100’. I hope it doesn’t portend how things are to be. After all I have 99 more to read. I will keep you posted if I find any TGRs (thumping good reads).

 

*Vikings are notoriously non-sentimental beings although they are wildly superstitious about change. They will hang on to something old and long past its prime on the grounds ‘it is custom’. One shouldn’t try to update their wardrobe especially their Mack Weldons which haven’t been undated since the Punic Wars. 

**My list of my best short stories is available upon request for thems interested.

***Please list in the comments any short stories you believe are must-read-or-perish.

I am not big fan of mystery fiction. I suppose it is because I am impatient. I have to hold myself back and not rush-read to the end to find out who was the murderer or what was the matter.  I am also not certain if I am supposed to have figured it out by the time things come together. I never guess right but then again I don’t really try.  All the same I thoroughly enjoyed the “Brother Cadfael” series and I like an Agatha Christie novel from time to time.  This is mystery #1. 

I never read any of ‘The Hardy Boys’ or ‘Nancy Drew’ series. When I was a boy I read a mystery series called “Alfred Hitchcock and the three investigators”. This is mystery #2: why did I read these and not the others.  I remember boys in the series were a trinity of a smart one, a funny one, and a sort of jock who was brought along for physical matters. I was particularly drawn to one of them (I forget which) either because I wanted to be like him or maybe I wanted something else. I believe my brothers and I had all the books although I don’t remember having ever purchased any of them. So where did they come from?  Mystery #3.

In the lockdown I am reading a lot of books. I have a fancy to reread these. The series sits in Brother #3’s library. I’ve asked him to mail me the first book and after I have (re)read it I will sent the book back to him along with a five dollar bill inside its cover to pay for postage and handling for the next book in the series and so on until I’ve read them all. Brother #3 has informed me the series is incomplete; three books are missing. Neither of us can deduce if they were lost over time or we never got them in the first place. Mystery #4.  I have looked on line and at least one I remember having and reading. 

Out of whimsy I thought I would buy the three missing tomes and send them to Brother #3 in their turn and see if he notices. Patience above! My first attempt at buying these books reveals they are selling for about thirty dollars each. Mystery #5. Boomers get awfully queer about their childhood things. I think there are over forty in the series. At these prices the set could go for over a thousand dollars.  I feel obliged to complete the it so I will shell out the bucks. Oh the pain. I start with “The mystery of the green ghost” . I recall the plot is after being chased about they manage to trap and unmask the ghost to reveal it was only some a-hole adult running around in a ghost suit who curses the kids while he is dragged off by the police, shouting he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids – or is this “Scooby-do” rather? Mystery #6 – how is it I can’t keep in line which mystery series did what?  Perhaps this one isn’t so mysterious viz. age and it wasn’t Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library.  

 

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books  La Casa de Spo has three rooms in which there are books. The ‘Blue room’ has a closet in which hangs no clothes. Rather its shelves hold books – lots of books, piled high as Fafner’s hoard and as precarious as Fibber McGee’s. I don’t often go in there not so much out of fear of an avalanche but to avoid the pain of seeing such a mess. All journeys start with a step and all projects tedious start with doing something/anything. Today I decided to pull out the books I know I won’t every read again.  

I grew up with the unspoken dogma one doesn’t throw out books. At most you gave them to charities or to bookstores to sell. Otherwise you kept them ‘for later’ and to stock your shelves in a sort of bent status symbol that shows your supper-invite your reading history. I simply do not have the room for all my/our books and I certainly would not show anyone the contents of The Blue Room closet – oh the embarrassment!  I made some progress therein but not as much I had hoped.  Here’s the report.

Most of the books stayed put.

Approximately 5% were pulled but were put back by fiat of Someone who wanted them kept for someday reading.

A handful of tomes went from one closet to another. I would find something I hadn’t read in a long time. I would exclaim “Oh, that’s a good one!” and transfer it to the “to-read’ shelf situated in the master bedroom closet.**

In the end it is estimated only 5% of the Blue Room books were actually extracted. They now lay in a cardboard box in the garage for donation. 

The process elicited in me a mental list of some books I want to read. I finished the project by going online to Amazon where I bought three new books.*** True they are Kindle-types so they won’t take up space but what the hell. This is what happens when a book-lover is asked to clean out his books. Might as well ask a dragon to fork over his hoard of gold. 

It looks like I will have plenty of time in the near future to read what with the evenings and weekends freed from outside sources of entertainment. I can’t say I am saddened by this. Some of us have been practicing social distancing all our lives and now it is vogue if not mandatory. There is nothing better way to do it than with three rooms of books. 

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*The office room (room #2) has the books of worth and desire. I see them every day and it is a joy to do so. I run my fingers over them. On occasion I pull one of them down from the shelf and read choice bits – a literary tonic that always does me good.   

**The “To-read” bookshelf (room #3) is already saturated with books; it doesn’t need more. I made next to it a new shelf which I christened “The to-reread” bookshelf. Lord help me.

*** ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus: ‘Equal Rites’ by Terry Prachatt; ‘The Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in your home’ by Welcome to Night Vale. Jolly good fun !

The computers are presently up to no good. The two at work were recently updated from ancient Windows 7 to oh-so-shiny-new Windows 10 so that now I can’t find anything nor print from any printer. When I pull up Word the Phoenix computer tells me I am The House Manager not myself. My Macbook laptop’s latest update made it impossible to sign into work off-site. Worse, I cannot leave comments on Blogger.com sites.* I suppose these are temporary hiccups easily fixed by that handsome IT man. Alas he’s elusive as the Questing Beast and possibly as mythical. Someone reports his phone is also pulling some shenanigans so this hints of a conspiracy. I suspect The Nargles are behind it – or the Chinese – or it’s Obama’s fault one never knows these days.

My Kindle is working for which I am grateful. It hasn’t shown any signs of joining its brothers in up-to-no-good shenanigans. I’ve read/am reading some Thumping Good Reads without the thing shutting down on me.

 

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I concluded “Rome: a history in seven sackings” which covers those interesting times invaders pillaged Rome. I found myself often taking sides with the invaders as Rome was a seething cesspool of vice, corruption, and hypocrisy. On the other hand most of the invasions (~5 out of 7) were beyond horrible. It was a jolly good read.

 

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I am halfway through the first book in series called “Discworld”. This is a sort-of satire on fantasy books: think “The lord of the rings” combined with “The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” in am ‘Ariadne auf Naxus’ Strauss situation. Half of me hopes this books isn’t that good because if it is I will want to read more of them- and there are over forty books in the series. Oh the pain.

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The next read is the first book in the “Bolitho series” by Alexander Kent. It is about a young Cornish lad who in the 1770s goes to sea as midshipman and over thirty years (and thirty books) advances to the top person in the British Navy. I am enjoying this one but I don’t think I will read the other twenty-nine.
My kindle needs recharging but I’ve been reluctant to do so lest it get in touch with its counterparts and they absorb it like The Borg and it becomes as difficult as the others. If it does I have plenty of ‘dead tree’ books to read as backup. They are mercifully impervious to nefarious Windows software upgrades.

 

 

*Curiously I can still do this from the home office computer, which hasn’t had any recent upgrades. I think there is a lesson here.

The Board of Directors Here at Spo-reflections sent an ’email’ as it were in the form of a Raven messenger (as is their wont) announcing they too made some New Year resolutions. I have to watchful about this: 90% of the these grandiose half-baked proposals never materialize* thank the gods but once in while these Nordic nincompoops actually follow through on some of them. I think it was 2015 when I walked into Heorot Johnsons to discover they redecorated the hall with large wooden spikes suitable for hanging backpacks and severed heads. The mentioned message has a long list too tedious to translate here. It did prompt me however to write my own list of goals for the future:

Mr. Mozart wrote over six hundred ditties now categorized into “K” numbered 1-626. I want to say I’ve heard them all. He didn’t live long but he started early. So far I am up to K. 13. K. 1-12 sound somewhat alike but who am I to judge they were written when he was about ten years old or something. It is a sobering fact that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for nearly twenty years.

 

On a similar note (E-flat) I would like someday be able to say I have heard all of Verdi’s operas. According to DuckDuckGo Mr. Verdi wrote twenty-five of them. I count I have attended twelve. The remaining thirteen will be challenging as I don’t think some of them are done anymore, especially the earlier ones. I may have to expand this goal to ‘hearing’ all of them rather. The nine/ten symphonies of Herr Mahler are more likely accomplished. Wouldn’t you die without Mahler? I know I would.

Speaking of great composers DDG is not clear on the total number of Jethro Tull records. Mr. Anderson has a lot of ‘best of’ and ‘solo’ albums which count/don’t count in the cannon. I guess I’ve heard ~ 25% of them so there is work to be done. Someone finds it extraordinary I even know what Jethro Tull is let alone like the music. There is no accounting for taste.

 

Turning to books now….

I’ve read all of Dickens so that task is accomplished. I only read half of Mr. Maupin‘s “Tales of the city” books; these would be nice to read/reread. For science fiction/fantasy there are no lack of series from which to choose.  Mr. Robert Jordans’ “Wheel of Time” series which has twelve volumes and Mr. Terry Brooks “Shannara” series which has ten – or is it the other way around? Patience above! Mr. Piers Anthony “Xanth” series has over forty books my soul swoons at the thought of this but they are quick, light, and cheap – like my men.

 

This lofty list seems enough music and literature to last a lifetime but bibliophiles and members of the clerisy like myself are always open to suggestions. If you know of any TGRs (thumping good reads) series to recommend please tell me about them. My criteria:

  1. The entire series is available.
  2. the author is preferably dead to ascertain I can get through them all without more of them arising. 🙂

 

*One of their nefarious 2019’s resolutions was burning down the ‘Fearsome Beard’ website and taking the contents for slaves or recruits. Didn’t happen.

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