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Category Archives: What I’m Reading

Here’s a Bucket List Anyone Can Afford

Image Courtesy of Irish Welcome Tours' Flickr Stream

Image Courtesy of Irish Welcome Tours’ Flickr Stream

Is there anybody alive who hasn’t heard of Bucket Lists, as in the bucket that shall be kicked by every one of us? I thought not. Between out-of-the-way places to visit or rare experiences to arrange, it can be very expensive to get out of this world. You may have no money left for that genuine Viking funeral you wanted. Pity.

Have no fear. Here’s a list anyone can afford, and you needn’t wait until you’re middle-aged to start. I call it the Bucket Book List. All you need is a library, a library card and a list of classic books you wish to read before meeting your Maker. Heck, they don’t even really need to be classics. Just books you’ve always wanted to read. They can be fiction or non-fiction or poetry. Read a cookbook if you’d like. And if you MUST, you can buy them if you wish.

Actually, I prefer buying. Books make wonderful companions and look marvelous in bookcases or just stacked up on a desk or the floor. And they’re a whole lot less expensive than airfare to Borneo. Or Chicago for that matter. But it’s more than the money. It’s like time-travel. Exploring the greatest stories and ideas from human history. Ideas and stories that get deep inside your mind and into your very soul. Ideas that shaped civilizations. Stories that escorted you into dreams. And still can.

I’m working on my Bucket Book list now. I am 60 after all. The Bible says I have about ten more years to go. I’m hoping for more. Whatever the actual number is, it’s past time to get going. There’s so much to read. I like both fiction and non-fiction so I’ll need two lists to start. Well, three actually. I like so-called “children’s” books. So I’ll need adult fiction, children’s fiction and non-fiction. Should I sub-divide things any further? I probably will.

For now, in fiction, I’m looking at the Divine Comedy by Dante, Paradise Lost by John  Milton, The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, of course. Oh, and don’t forget Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In non-fiction I’ve got Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization (not all 10 volumes, though), Churchill’s The History of the English Speaking Peoples and Abraham Lincoln by Carl Sandburg. I will also be putting together a list of American classics as well as children’s classics. I’ve got some work ahead of me.

So what do you think out there? Does this sound like a good idea? Let me know what you think. Tell me what books you’d put on your list. Or give me a few additions for my own. I’ll keep you posted as I develop this further.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Uncategorized, What I'm Reading

 

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A New Year

But I’m not promising anything. I mean, a few months back I wrote here that I was going to be more regular about posting reviews, especially about young people’s books. I really meant it too. But everyone knows how to make God laugh, right? Just tell Him your plans. Sure enough, after my promise to write more, life threw me two hard, inside sliders followed by a slow, rainbow curve on the outside corner. Whiff-City, folks!

So why haven’t I been writing? Can’t really say in this forum. Personal family-type stuff.

I haven’t stopped reading though. Reading is one of the few things that has kept me somewhat sane the past few months. I did finish Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series of books. My opinion? Read the first two books and leave the other three. It’s not that they’re awful really. They just don’t match the quality of the first two. Cooper tries to introduce all sorts of Celtic legend and myth in too short of a time period and it gets rather confusing, especially in the last book, “Silver on the Tree.” For a series finale, it lacks that certain punch I was hoping for. Stick with the first two.

I’m currently reading Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” at the request of an old friend. Halfway in and still interested in spite of the Ye Olde English language used at the time. I’ll let you know how it finishes, though I won’t promise you when.

Well, that’s about all for now. I have a few other thoughts and ideas rattling about in my skull but those will have to wait for another post. Hopefully that won’t be too far away. In the meantime, watch out for those slow curves!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2015 in Book Review, Uncategorized, What I'm Reading

 

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The Dark is Rising

The Dark is Rising is the second novel in Susan Cooper’s five book The Dark is Rising sequence. After the almost leisurely adventure in Over

This is the second book of a five book sequence.

This is the second book of a five book sequence.

Sea, Under Stone, Ms Cooper kicks the conflict between the Light and the Dark into high gear in this book.

Instead of a seaside village in Cornwall, this tale begins in the English countryside at the home of a large family, the Stantons. A real large family. Mom, Dad, seven boys and three girls. The story centers on the youngest, Will, who is about to turn eleven, three days before Christmas. But he won’t just be turning eleven. He will be coming of age, so to speak, as an Old One. Actually, Will is the last of the Old Ones.

Helping him in this endeavor is the one character from the first book to appear here; Merriman Lyon, AKA Great-Uncle Merry to Barney, Jane and Simon. If you’ve read the first book, you know Merriman is far from ordinary, and he makes no pretense of being some distant relative or family friend here. Will gets to know him as he really is, an Old One of exceptional power. Indeed, Merriman is a wizard of Gandalf-like stature, sharing many of the Tolkien character’s mannerisms, habits and speaking patterns. It’s hard not to think that Ms Cooper patterned Merriman on Gandalf. But, of course, he is not. He is the appearance of perhaps the most famous wizard of western lore: Merlin. Cooper never comes right out and tells us this, though she came close at the end of Over Sea, Under Stone.

Will’s becoming an Old One involves a large amount of learning and, naturally, a quest. The quest here is for a set of six signs of power that must be brought together, or “joined.” The signs are circles quartered by a cross and are made of wood, bronze, iron, water, fire and stone, respectively. Oh, and not all of them are present in Will’s own time. The Dark must prevent Will from gathering these signs, for they have the power to stop the Dark from ascending to dominate the world.

The plot in The Dark is Rising moves forward briskly, with nicely placed twists and turns. Along the way, Cooper exposes young minds to some important ideas, including the notion that humans are free to choose between good and evil, the nature of time and history, and the cleverness of the Dark in using people’s good emotions to accomplish evil. Even better, in this book the author sets loose the forces of magic to wonderful effect. Unlike some modern fantasy authors, Ms Cooper has respect for the magic and doesn’t use it as a sideshow. It is integral to the story she is telling. And it’s a good thing that Merriman and Will have some powerful magic available to them because in The Dark is Rising, the forces of the Dark are immensely more ominous and threatening than in the first book. In fact, as book races to its finish the sense of evil’s relentlessness is conveyed very effectively.

While this book is a good read on its own, it’s clear that Ms Cooper is still putting things in place for the rest of the series. I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes with it. Next up, Greenwitch.

__________

Here are some reasons I consider this one of the “good stories:”

          – Positive depiction of a large family and its interactions.

          – Accurate portrayal of Anglican church service. Church shown as positive aspect of family life.

          – Examines serious and important ideas about life, including free will, and the nature of good and evil.

          – Imparts a sense of wonder about the world.

          – Shows the virtues of hope and faith in the face of dire circumstances.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Book Review, Children's Books, What I'm Reading

 

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Was Lost, But Now . . .

OK. I haven’t been writing much lately. Actually, I haven’t been writing anything lately. At least not here. I’ve written a couple of articles for my

This is the second book of a five book sequence.

This is the second book of a five book sequence.

church’s monthly bulletin, but that’s about it. Why? To be honest, I don’t really know. I guess you could call it a dry spell. I’ve been told writers get those periodically. Of course, I’m being generous considering myself a writer.

At any rate, I’ve felt a need for some new direction or purpose in this blog. That last quote I posted back in May has been rolling around in my mind. We definitely need to be more aware of what we put in our heads, especially the stories we consume. Naturally, I’m referring to the books we read, but I could just as well mean the stories we watch on TV or at the movies. The key word is “stories.” We need, all of us, to be telling ourselves better stories. And if this is true for us adults, it is even more critical that we make sure our children are hearing and seeing good stories.

Part of what has brought this into sharper focus for me is a new fantasy series I’ve started reading. It’s called “The Dark is Rising” sequence, by Susan Cooper. There are five books in the sequence; “Over Sea, Under Stone,” “The Dark is Rising,” “Greenwitch,” “The Grey King,” and “Silver on the Tree.” What makes this series of particular interest is the author and her background. You can read a nice article and interview with Ms. Cooper here, but let me just give you an appetizer. She went to Oxford where she attended lectures by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Then she worked at The Sunday Times of London where her editor was another author you may have heard of: Ian Fleming. Yes, she has the qualifications.

She also has the right story. But I’ll let Great-Uncle Merry explain that to you:

“You remember the fairy stories you were told when you were very small – ‘once upon a time . . . ‘ Why do you think they always began like that?”

Jane said, . . . “Because perhaps they were true once, but nobody could remember when.”

Great-Uncle Merry turned his head and smiled at her.

“That’s right. Once upon a time . . . a long time ago . . . things that happened once, perhaps, but have been talked about for so long that nobody really knows. And underneath all the bits that people have added, the magic swords and lamps, they’re all about one thing – the good hero fighting the giant, or the witch, or the wicked uncle. Good against bad. Good against evil.”

And these stories about good against evil are still the great ones, the ones that resonate inside our hearts and minds. The reason for this is pretty simple. To quote Great-Uncle Merry once again, “That struggle goes on all round us all the time, like two armies fighting.” Though today it can be more subtle than a knight battling a dragon, it is there none the less. We are stirred because these stories remind us there are still great things to fight for. This is something all of us need to remember in today’s secular world where the line between good and evil is constantly blurred by the pernicious idea of relativism. Yes, ideas can be evil too. And there are a lot of them out there these days.

Dean Koontz wrote in one of his books that one can spend a lifetime fighting bad ideas. This is so true, and it’s a battle all of us can and should take part in. As for me, I think I will wage my campaign by promoting the good stories, both the great classics and the newer ones that hit the mark. Let’s all of us start reading and hearing and seeing the good stories again. It will take a conscious effort, because it is so easy just to settle for what is put out by today’s culture and media. But it will be worth it.

I plan to start by reviewing the first book of The Dark is Rising sequence, “Over Sea, Under Stone,” by Susan Cooper. And, yes, I promise it won’t take me another three months!

 

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2014 in Children's Books, What I'm Reading, Worries

 

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Early Christmas

Christmas in the post-War United States

Christmas in the post-War United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a pleasant – and unexpected – surprise this week.

When my wife and I got home from work the other night, there was a small package sitting on our front steps. We figured it was something from Amazon we had ordered for Christmas and brought it in the house. Upon closer inspection, we saw that it wasn’t from Amazon but from Random House Publishing and it was the size and shape of a book. Surprise!

Well, actually it was, because when we opened it we found an “Advance Reader’s Edition” of Dean Koontz’ new novel, “Innocence” which was just released on the tenth of this month. It’s a beautiful, paperback copy with the same cover art found on the hardbound edition, except for the reader’s edition seal with “Not For Sale” in it. Yes, I had a big grin on my face.

I’ve been looking forward to this book for several months now. Not just because it’s a Dean Koontz book, although that’s certainly enough reason for me, but because this is supposedly something different for Mr. Koontz. Something other than a typical Dean Koontz book. I was planning on using some Christmas money to purchase it later in the month, but that won’t be necessary now.

As happy as this made me, I haven’t a clue as to why I received this in the first place. The package was addressed directly to me from Random House. There was no note attached to it, save the promotional message in the front of the book from the executive vice president of Ballantine Bantam Dell telling me of the virtues of this new novel. No help.

I only have two guesses. First, I may have won some sort of contest that I was unaware of. I’m always clicking “like” on Dean Koontz’s Facebook page and I may have entered myself without even knowing it. Second, Random House may have a marketing assistant in charge of monitoring book bloggers with tiny followings. Whatever the case, I’m extremely grateful.

My first impulse was to start reading “Innocence” that very night, however, I’m currently well into T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” so Dean will have to wait for a bit. But you can bet I’ll be cracking that cover very soon (depending on what other books I get for Christmas!) and passing along my review to all of you.

I hope all of my fellow book junkies out there get the books they want this Christmas. Whether they’re from someone they know or not!

Oh, and one final piece of info. I emailed said executive V.P. a brief thank you note for the book. You know what? She had the grace to reply. That’s what I call class, people. Random House gets a big thumbs up from this house.

Merry Christmas everyone, and blessings in the coming year!

 

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2013 in What I'm Reading

 

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Don’t Get Too Close!

http://www.exophagy.com Frankenstein (1910 film)

http://www.exophagy.com Frankenstein (1910 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry I’ve been away from the old keyboard for a bit. About two weeks ago I came down with something like a head cold on steroids. Headache, sinus pressure, a small cough and the usual “Yuck!” By the time my wife and I would get home from work in the afternoons the only thing I would be good for was the couch. It hurt to think much less actually put thoughts to paper (or screen, as the case may be!)

But even when I’m sick, there is one thing I still can do. Read. So here’s a brief recap of what I’ve been reading since the last time I put fingers to plastic.

I finished the fourth book in Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series, “Lost Souls,” in which we meet the third incarnation of Victor Frankenstein, Victor Immaculate. By far the worst of the three, he is even scarier because his views are the same as certain groups of very radical environmentalists today. You might think that there couldn’t be anything funny about this book, but you’d be wrong. Koontz’s pairing of characters and the situations he places them in bring forth some of the best dialog you’ll ever read. Trust me on this. The fifth and final book in the series, ” The Dead Town,” is ready and waiting for me to finish two other books I’m now reading.

One of which is Eugene Peterson”s “Eat This Book.” My Christian friends will recognize Peterson as the author of “The Message.” Some think “The Message” is another paraphrase of the Bible but it describes itself as a “contemporary rendering of the Bible from the original languages, crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and ideas in everyday language.” Now, in “Eat This Book,” Peterson discusses the best ways to read this amazing book called the Bible. He stresses that we should try to avoid “atomizing” it, chopping it down into little factoids or proof texts for our pet positions. He spends a lot of words exploring a type of spiritual reading called “lectio divina” which has come down to us from ancient Christians. It’s a wonderful, encouraging read.

Finally, I’m reading the second in Thomas Cahill’s “The Hinges of History” series, titled “The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.” I read his first volume “How the Irish Saved Civilization” last year and was completely charmed by it. This volume is equally well-written and fascinating. Even if you’re not a person of faith, you owe much to this bunch of desert dwellers. Without their beliefs and ideas, the way we view ourselves and our world would not be possible.

Well, that’s it for now. There are plenty of other books lined up for this year as well. I need to put together some sort of reading plan, but since organization has never been one of my strong suits I won’t promise anything. But I will promise to try to be better about getting to the keyboard. Once I’m feeling better.

Better spray your screen with Lysol for now.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Authors, Book Review, History, What I'm Reading

 

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C.S. Lewis, Dean Koontz, Mad Scientists: Happy New Year!

Steel engraving (993 x 71mm) for frontispiece ...

Steel engraving (993 x 71mm) for frontispiece to the revised edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831. The novel was first published in 1818. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello again.

Yes, I’ve been away for a while. As most of you probably know, the holidays can be a hectic time. Not only was our business crazy-busy the two weeks before Christmas, but my wife and I then traveled to California after Christmas to visit my mother and some dear friends. When we arrived home this past week, our small business still demanded we run around like crazy people. Don’t get me wrong. That’s a good thing in this economy. But it kept me from being able to post until now. Which is not a good thing.

I hope and trust that you all had a wonderful holiday season and made it through safely. I also hope you all got the books you truly wanted. I did. I got copies of Eugene Peterson’s “Eat This Book,” Richard A. Burridge’s “Imitating Jesus,” and Dean Koontz’s “Frankenstein, Book Three: Dead and Alive.” That last one I tore through while we were in California. What a book!

Originally intended to be a cable television event, then a trilogy co-written by Koontz and another author, “Frankenstein” has finally been fulfilled as a five-volume series exploring and expanding the themes begun by Mary Shelley in her original novel. Why Dean Koontz agreed to co-author the first two books is somewhat of a mystery, given that he writes novels the way bunnies . . . well, you know.

Anyway, it would be a bit unfair to do a detailed review of “Dead and Alive,” given it’s the middle book in the series and I don’t want to spoil too much in case anyone out there decides to read the whole arc. I will say that it contains the usual sharply drawn characters (including the original Frankenstein’s monster as a hero this time), off-beat humor and the unnerving situations that Koontz is famous for. What he is also famous for is his exploration of important themes, in this case what happens when man tries to play God. (It’s also the theme of one of my favorite television series, “Fringe”) The fact that in today’s world we have genetic engineering going on and biotech companies patenting new bacteria lends a certain immediacy to this story.

Koontz actually dedicates the first three books, the original Frankenstein trilogy, to C.S. Lewis, opening “Dead and Alive” with a quote from Lewis’ book “The Abolition of Man”:

I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.

In his dedication, Koontz credits Lewis for realizing “that science was being politicized, that it’s primary goal was changing from knowledge to power, that it was also becoming scientism, and that in the ism is the end of humanity.” So true. Lewis was well ahead of the curve in seeing that.

Not to start off the new year on a down note, but there really are mad scientists in the world today. I can point you to some blogs and websites where they are quite active. We need to approach the future with our eyes open. And a Dean Koontz novel.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Authors, Book Review, Ideas, Quotations, What I'm Reading

 

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