… in which I finally meet Bella and the vampires


Part of me seems to identify as a tween, it seems. I have read and adored the Harry Potter series (twice!), the Hunger Games novels and the Lunar Chronicles. Almost to dare myself, this week I sampled the first book of perhaps the tweeniest series of them all: Twilight, the story of how 17-year-old Bella met and fell in love with her soulmate, century-old teenager Edward the vampire.

I must say I enjoyed the ride even while being appalled by it. This is what captured the imaginations of young America? Continue reading “… in which I finally meet Bella and the vampires”


Shazam! It’s Captain Marvel

captain marvels

One of my favorite all-time comic book superheroes flourished in the decade before I was born. A spunky orphan boy who was the world’s youngest radio newscaster met a wizard named Shazam who gave the boy the power to switch places with the awesome Captain Marvel simply by saying the wizard’s name, which was an acronym that stood for the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Continue reading “Shazam! It’s Captain Marvel”

Books like grenades

books like grenades

What is more dangerous than a room full of books? Books, stacked in pules and lined in rows, each with a purpose and a reason, waiting to be lifted up and hurled like a grenade into what once was someone’s unconscious subconscious. Books, dragging her kicking and screaming into consciousness. Beware the book: It will reach from one mind into another and detonate previously unknown insights and concepts.

“Weaponizing books?” he sniffed. “Child’s play. You can weaponize anything if you put your mind to it. Give me a fluffy puppy and I’ll soften a millions of you up for the kill – although I don’t need to kill you, I just need you to go away and leave me to my evil games. Did I say evil? My heavens. No one is intentionally evil; we all are the heroes of our own internal stories, aren’t we?”

The gleam in his eye was unmistakable: Cold and evil.

A whole new life

Tuk-tuk, Sumatra, Indonesia - March 13, 2015: Bookshelves on str

“Lord! he said. “When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or the broom hustler, people would run to the gate when I came by – just waiting for my stuff. And here I go with everlasting salvation – yes, ma’am, salvation for their little, stunted minds – and it’s hard to make ’em see it. That’s what makes it worth while – I’m doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It’s a new field, but by the bones of Whitman it’s worth while. That’s what this country needs – more books!”

— Roger Mifflin from Parnassus on Wheels (1916) by Christopher Morley, talking about his rolling horse-drawn bookstore.

“A real book, I mean” – even in 1916 there were books and then there were real books.

Feed a man a book and blah blah blah – but offer him a book and you give him a time bomb that may sit on a shelf for weeks, months, years, a century, waiting to make a brain explode with images, adventures and the most dangerous incendiary of all: ideas.

Photo © Aliaksandr Mazurkevich | Dreamstime.com

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 “Autumn of Liberty”

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