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


Take this book. It’s free. And here’s why

Refuse to be Afraid - printLet me get to the point right away and then circle back: If you want a free, unabridged copy of the best book I’ve written so far, click here.

Eight years ago I was plugging away on my blog, much like today, and noticed I was writing several recurring themes that seemed to resonate with my small but enthusiastic audience of readers: It’s a scary world out there, and a lot of people, from politicians to advertisers and even my chosen field of news media, seemed to be in the business of trying to scare people to death and offering a bogus remedy – maybe a magic pill or some other product, or voting somebody out of office or passing another law – and it usually involved spending money or further reducing the amount of liberty that common folks are allowed. Continue reading →

I have been dying of thirst in the ocean for lack of strange wine


Strange Wine girl

Harlan Ellison died the other day, and the world grew more dull. I, of course, never met the man, but when I encountered his words I never failed to learn something, to be entertained, and/or to gain some insight into the human condition.

Oh, enough of that – the man was a hero to anyone who loves to see bullshit called out, grabbed by the throat and humiliated.

And he was, as the blurb on the cover to his collection Strange Wine, asserted, someone who “just could be the best short story writer alive today.” At least until Thursday. Continue reading →

All the wondrous stories

all the wondrous stories (6193)

I love the smell, the feel, the secrets of old paper. Yellowing pages attract me like moth to light – they are a time machine – a glimpse into another era, the significance of the words and images transformed and enhanced by what has come into the world since – a snapshot of a moment filled with promise that we now know whether it was fulfilled.

I love holding old stuff, admiring the work done with old tools I can barely fathom let alone understand how the raw materials became this.

“There are only three stories,” someone said, or was it fewer, or more?

Google The Great and Powerful yields:

“Every story is either The Iliad or The Odyssey.” Perhaps I need to read those again.

A Mr. Booker told the New York Times once that there are seven basic plots. 1. Overcoming the Monster; 2. Rags to Riches; 3. The Quest; 4. Voyage and Return; 5. Rebirth; 6. Comedy; 7. Tragedy.

Leo Tolstoy suggested there are two stories: A man goes on a journey. A stranger comes to town.

Borges said four stories: A love story between two people; a love story among three people; the struggle for power; the voyage.

I say:

There are 7 billion stories, and one: We are born, we live, we die.

Tell me a story, won’t you?