Before you throw that old book into the trash …

classic trash

Click this link to discover an article that should be required reading for everyone who loves literature.

It’s also for everyone who asks to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because Huck uses the “N-word” to describe his friend Jim, for everyone who refuses to enjoy old movies or read any book more than 10 minutes old because the ancient artist’s point of view is abhorrent seen through our modern eyes.

It’s as if we imagine an old book to be a time machine that brings the writer to us. We buy a book and take it home, and the writer appears before us, asking to be admitted into our company. If we find that the writer’s views are ethnocentric or sexist or racist, we reject the application, and we bar his or her entry into the present.

As the student had put it, I don’t want anyone like that in my house.

I think we’d all be better readers if we realized that it isn’t the writer who’s the time traveler. It’s the reader. When we pick up an old novel, we’re not bringing the novelist into our world and deciding whether he or she is enlightened enough to belong here; we’re journeying into the novelist’s world and taking a look around.

The difference in perspective, the clarification of who exactly is doing the traveling, might lead to a different kind of reading experience.

Please, for your own sake, read the article.


Autumn of Liberty


For many years I wanted to be Paul Harvey when I grew up. I may grow up one of these days.

Paul Harvey was the last and greatest of the great radio news commentators. In a world of radio news blocks defined in seconds, he maintained a 15-minute weekday newscast into the 21st century.

“Paul Harvey News & Comment” encouraged, enlightened and entertained millions every day for decades.

I’m reading a book I found in a used bookstore many years ago, a book that’s out of print … partly because it was published in 1954 and many of its references were familiar in 1954 and not so much now.

And partly because 65 years later, many of its references are all too familiar.

It’s called Autumn of Liberty. By Paul Harvey. Continue reading →

‘Or, The Whale’


One of the highlights of my reading adventure last year was when I pulled my old college textbook The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne off the shelf, where it had waited 43 years, and rediscovered the magic of those old words from 1850.

Is this the year I revisit these old words from 1851? I have taken the first step of pulling it off the shelf. (I refer to “the” shelf, as if it waited there in the same place all this time. Actually the shelf in this room is only the latest of a series of shelves, books and bags where my old books have waited to be rediscovered.)

Receiving Sam Weller’s biography The Bradbury Chronicles for Christmas, I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s grappling with Melville’s whale after being tapped to write the screenplay of the 1956 film adaptation. That piqued my interest as much as seeing the bulky old beast on the shelf for years.

Two things have caught my eye immediately.

First, I don’t recall ever noticing that there is a hyphen in “Moby-Dick.”

Second, Melville’s dedication: “In Token of my admiration for his genius, This book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.”

Well. Anyone who recognizes the genius of Mr. Hawthorne is worth my attention, don’t you think?

And so the grand old epic has been placed in my pile of books to read. Maybe not today – I confess that The Scarlet Letter waited in that pile for a few months or so – but soon.

W.B.’s Book Report: A year of voracious reading


The increasing convenience of audiobooks and career choices that put me behind the wheel of a vehicle for long periods are partly responsible for my reading 84 (!) books during 2018.

Since I started tracking my reading in 1994, I had averaged as many as one book a week only once, in 2012 when I read a short book on Dec. 31 so I could hit 52 books for that year. But my trusty iPhone and the Overdrive app (thanks Wisconsin Public Library Consortium) pushed me to 66 books in 2017 and this year’s total. My Kindle also got a good workout, and I even perused an even dozen good old dead-tree editions.

The list for 2018 includes 12 by Craig Johnson, nine by Michael Connelly (21 in 2017), eight by J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith, all six Lunar Chronicles books by Marissa Meyer, and 10 books about the writer’s craft, especially late in the year – which may give you a hint about my thoughts for 2019. Continue reading →

5 thoughts that probably make me an old fogie

audio-technica+ I’m listening to 50- and 60-year-old LPs this morning and reflecting on how if you take good care of the discs and have the proper playback equipment, the technology still works. Much of the technology that was supposed to “replace” records is now obsolete; I transferred some of these albums to CD and digital files but it’s easier to access the original records than to keep moving those files to newer and newer devices.

+ I’m always puzzled when people say that paperless technology is better for the environment because it saves trees. The thing is: Trees and paper are renewable resources. Have you noticed how hard it is to recycle electronics?

+ No doubt, going digital saves space. These days you can pack hundreds if not thousands of books into a device the size of a cellphone. But you need the device. I have read books and newspapers that are 150 years old and more; what guarantee do we have that today’s paperless materials will be accessible in 2168?

+ I don’t think there is a more joyous bit of old-time country music, or bluegrass or Americana or whatever you want to call it, than Side 4 of Will The Circle Be Unbroken.

+ When I was a teenager, we listened to Top 40 music on the radio and often could often hear soul, country, big band, jazz, rock, old-time pop, Christian, and oldies music back-to-back within the same half-hour – I was specifically thinking of hit songs by James Brown, Glen Campbell, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Chuck Mangione, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Sister Janet Mead and Jerry Lee Lewis as I typed those words. I think we are for the worse that those diverse genres have been segregated into their own radio stations or playlists.

UPDATE: I had a sixth thought.

+ Our landline still has better fidelity and reliability. The only advantage our cellphones have is portability.

10 authors to celebrate on National Author’s Day

author's day

I see by my desk calendar that today (Nov. 1) is Author’s Day. I see by my search engine that National Author’s Day is a thing: “Every year on Nov. 1, millions of people celebrate authors and the books that they write on National Author’s Day. After her grandmother’s death in 1968, Sue Cole promoted the observance of National Author’s Day.”

I wonder if that’s why Nov. 1 is the beginning of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, where thousands of writers and wannabe writers commit to writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November – but putting NaNoWriMo into my search engine would take me down another internet rabbit hole, and I’m trying to write here.

Author’s Day coincides with the day after I finished reading the 70th book of my year. I have never read 70 books in a year before; I read 66 books in 2017 and 52 in 2011. These are the only years, since I started keeping track in 1994, that I’ve averaged as much as a book a week. Some years I read as few as 10 books, which for a wordsmith is a ghastly confession.

Having a day job that puts me in a car for 90 minutes or more three days a week has helped me expand my “reading,” as has the evolution of audiobooks from a fumble of cassettes and then CDs to a simple download into a cellphone. The majority of those 70 books have been delivered to my ears instead of my eyes, by narrators who breathe an extra dimension into the words.

So, for National Author’s Day, let me share some of the authors I’ve been sharing my car and my easy chair with this year. Continue reading →

W.B.’s Book Report: Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package


After the news of Steve Ditko’s death, I went in search of his later works, after having drifted away from comic books in general during the 1990s or so. I landed, more or less at random, on a 1999 collection called Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package, which presents a group of short stories on some of Ditko’s most familiar themes – good, evil, choices, irony …

Some of the stories are OK, some are meh, and the same with the art. I have seen Ditko’s work look much more compelling, and I have seen it look much less. That’s not the point I took away. Continue reading →

The elegant storyteller


The second time through Harry Potter and The Sorceror’s Stone, eight years after my first experience with J.K. Rowling’s magnificent prose and Jim Dale’s equally magnificent narration, it’s still clear what a marvelous storyteller Rowling is, full of whimsy and love and imagination. And knowing how the story develops, from finishing the seven books and reliving them through eight films, it’s interesting to note how many seeds are dropped here and there that will bear fruit in later books.

The world can never have too much whimsy, says I, nor too much love or too much imagination. The world needs more like the three friends Harry, Hermione and Ron, who have the courage to step up and take action when the authorities are too blind to a problem or too corrupt to do anything.

The heroes of the Potter universe do not accept the world at face value — they do not do as they’re told when something is obviously wrong. It’s a good thing to stand for what’s right, especially when the evil is not so easy to see.

I waited too long to ask the library to hold a copy of the second Potter book, and so it will be a few weeks before I can explore the Chamber of Secrets again, so in the meantime I took a friend’s advice and checked out the first book by Rowling’s detective story-writing alter ego Robert Galbraith. Seven or eight chapters into The Cuckoo’s Calling, I am as enchanted as I was by Harry. Just as she brought whimsy and love and imagination to her tales of wizards and witches, she brings a literary elegance to the hard-boiled detective novel — and yes, perhaps a bit of whimsy.

J.K. Rowling is the greatest author of our era.

Photo ©2015 Mary McCartney