In Praise of eBooks

One of the things about doing a bit of a retrospective of where you’ve been in the last year is that you occasionally realize things that sort of slid by you when you were actually experiencing them.

While compiling my list of top 10 recommendations of books I read in 2016 , I did a count of how many book titles I actually read last year.  Turns out since I keep a reading history – you can do this too in your online library account:

cardinal-screenthat I read 100 books, averaging about one every 3 or 4 days.

This surprised me, as 2016 may have been one of my biggest years ever for reading that many titles.  I may have surpassed that during the summers when I was 10-12, but I’ve generally found less time for reading as a working adult, a husband, and a father of a young child. So how in the world did I read that many books?  I believe it was the fact that 80 of the 100 books I read were in the form of an eBook.

Now please know from the start that I am in no way denigrating the “true book” experience – I too am a bibliophile, as one might expect from a librarian. I love the physical properties of a book: the tactile sensation of turning the pages, the smell of an older volume.  I probably have more volumes of books in my home than the average — it reminds me of the joke I used to tell: “What do you get when a professor marries a librarian? 15 bookcases full of books.”

Nevertheless, in the world I live in now I never could have reached 100 titles read in one year were it not for eBooks.  Here’s how it happened…

I do have a Kindle, but I must confess that a dedicated eReader has not been the primary platform for me and eBooks.  No, the device I read eBooks on is my smartphone.

To make this work, it took several different factors – one was the Overdrive app.

“OverDrive Media Console is a proprietary, freeware application developed by OverDrive, Inc. for use with its digital distribution services for libraries, schools, and retailers. The application enables users to access audiobooks, eBooks, periodicals, and videos borrowed from libraries and schools—or purchased from booksellers—on [various]devices…” — Wikipedia

This handy application (available in the Apple and Android universes, as well as others) is fairly easy to download, and, as stated above, free!

The second factor is the fact that by far the majority of US public libraries have chosen the Overdrive app to allow access to their eBook collections. You DID know that almost all public libraries have eBook collections, right?  Sometimes I wonder when I read about people touting various “for profit” paywall sources for eBooks – I’ve paid for less than six eBooks total.  I read library-sourced eBooks almost exclusively. Why not?  Who wouldn’t want free?

So big factor one and big factor two = FREE!

One of the nice things about the Overdrive app is the ability to download the book you want, instead of streaming.  Once it’s downloaded (and you have the choice of a download version compatible with Kindles or a more general standard called ePub) you don’t need an internet connection to read the book (which also saves on battery power for your device, not to mention data used from your phone’s service plan).  You can also choose the font size, the screen brightness, etc.  This makes it easy to read on the beach, in the car (while someone else is driving, of course), or even at night with a black screen / white letters that’s easy on your night vision.  Then it is quite convenient to pick up your device and read while you wait at the doctor’s office (instead of reading the year-old Sports Illustrated or the even older Better Homes and Gardens), while you are in a long line at the Post Office during the holiday mailing season, while you are waiting at your child’s basketball practice, or even in front of the fireplace on a rainy night instead of picking up a physical book.  When you put all of that spare/possibly wasted time together, you too can read 100 books a year.

SO…if you have a portable device like a tablet, phablet, or smartphone, start by making sure your library card is updated and ready to go.  You can do that by accessing your library account online:   the “My Account” button in the upper right hand corner of this webpage – http://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/home

(Or of course coming into a Fontana Regional Library branch in person, or calling your local branch…)

Once you know your account is “good to go,” travel to either the iTunes App store for Apple products: [https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/overdrive-library-ebooks-and-audiobooks/id366869252?mt=8];

Or for Android devices, go to the Google Play store: [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.overdrive.mobile.android.mediaconsole&hl=en].

Download the app and open it – it will guide you through the initial set-up.  Basically, it will ask you to identify your library and enter your library information and library barcode.  Once you do that, be sure and mark that you want your device to remember the information, unless you enjoy keying in the 14-digit barcode repeatedly.

At that point, your device is ready to browse and search for eBooks you might enjoy.  When you find a title (and the library has best sellers and a wide selection) you are interested in, just ask to Borrow that title – you can then have the eBook for 7 to 21 days (depending on the title – you can even choose the borrowing period for some titles!) and you start reading just by “flipping” screens on your device, just like turning pages on a physical book.  You can bookmark your place in the eBook (make sure you learn how to do this at the start) and then pop in to your reading choice during all the “spare corners” of your life.  Before you know it, you are reading like a house afire!

We can help you get started on reading eBooks here @ your FRL library – we have several people able to offer free device help as you need it.  Just ask!  Happy e-reading!

Rollicking Reads from 2016

It is the time of year for retrospectives.  And rather than recap celebrity deaths (Prince, Bowie, Mariah Carey’s career), I thought I’d pick a handful of materials I’ve checked out from the library that gave me hours of enjoyment this past year of 2016. They were not all published in 2016, but 2016 was the year I read them for the first time.

Overall, I’ve read 80 eBooks this past year, and about 20 additional books in print.  From those 100  I’ll select 10 things to recommend, all available from Fontana Regional Library or the NC Cardinal state system that FRL belongs to.

One explanation about my selections: I like science fiction and fantasy genres, but also like thriller and adventure novels, good comedies, and even some mysteries; when reading non-fiction I like histories, biographies, and memoirs.  So you will see “all of the above” in the ten titles/series I’ve chosen.  I’ll start with a memoir…about a movie, made about a book, that was written about a fictional book.

1.As you wish: inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (2014)

A memoir by the actor who played Westley in the now-classic movie The Princess Bride.  Hilarious and heart-warming, behind the scenes stories of how the movie came together, from the screenwriter (who also wrote the original book) to Billy Crystal to Andre the giant.

2.The Brilliance series by Marcus Sakey

3 titles: Brilliance (2013),  A Better World (2014), Written in Fire (2016)

An edge of tomorrow science-fiction thriller-adventure, about the social problems that occur when a percentage of the world’s children start manifesting savant-style gifts (like lightning calculation, but also mind-reading, pattern recognition, fantastic reflexes, etc.). It’s the story (somewhat similar to the story line of Blade Runner), about a special agent who hunts down the “Brilliants” who have broken the law.  And he and his youngest daughter are also Brilliants…

3.The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

3 titles: The Invisible Library (2016), The Masked City (2016), The Burning Page (2017)

This fantasy series contains the tales of an alternate reality wherein many alternate realities can be traveled to, and the Invisible Library where the librarians attempt to collect all the versions of various books by travelling to the multi-verses involved.  Each alternate has a varying degree of Law vs. Chaos – Law based realities are like ours, with science and technology, whereas Chaos realities have fairies, dragons, magic, etc.  The realities are on a spectrum, so many of them have a mix. One of the first places the first book goes is a steampunk world with a Sherlock Holmes surrogate vs. vampires.

4.Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor

8 novels, plus novellas: https://www.goodreads.com/series/109102-the-chronicles-of-st-mary-s

In this fast-paced science-fiction series, St. Mary’s is an historical institute where historians study history via time travel.  A secret to all but their sponsoring Thirsk University, these tales tell of a the madcap adventures of the historian Madeline Maxwell, as she bounces with her colleagues from the fall of Troy to the Gates of Thermopylae to encounters with Isaac Newton and dodo birds.

5.Night School by Lee Child (2016)

Like all the Jack Reacher books written by Child, this one can be read as a standalone work, and not in any particular order.  Some of the Reacher books are “contemporary” and others are set back in Reacher’s past, while he was still in the Army.  This is a “past” title detailing how Reacher and a select team of both FBI and CIA agents undertake a secret mission to stop terrorists before they strike.  The appeal of the Reacher novels lies in the Jack Reacher character himself, as his unique brain and his indomitable physical gifts combine to thwart evil wherever he encounters it. In total, there are 21 books as of Night School.

6.Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

2 titles: Six of Crows (2015), Crooked Kingdom (2016)

This fantasy duology is set in a steampunk world with some magic, and is sort of a fantasy version of Ocean’s Eleven. A group of six misfit but highly competent mercenary/criminals set out to infiltrate an un-breachable fortress and liberate the prisoner held there. There are lots of plot twists, with the leader Kaz usually (but not always) one step ahead of his opponents.

7.Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley

8 published novels and one novella : https://www.goodreads.com/series/46160-flavia-de-luce

A mystery series set shortly after WW2, whose heroine Flavia is only 11 (in the first book), but possessed of a mind like Sherlock Holmes, a rather morbid interest in chemistry (specializing in poisons), and the youngest of a very interesting English noble family.  Most of the books are set in the environs of the decaying mansion and grounds of the de Luce estate, but one of the books sees Flavia off to Canada.  The series has ongoing themes, and is not really designed for standalone reading, but it can be done that way without undue difficulty.

8.The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson

3 novels and one novella: https://www.goodreads.com/series/93010-reckoners

An Earth where there are no super-heroes, only super-villains (the Epics), opposed by an extraordinary band of non-superpowered human rebels known as the Reckoners. Their goal – somehow defeating the Epics and restoring their world. Their only hope is to exploit the secret weakness of each super-villain.

9.Ex-heroes series by Peter Clines

5 titles: https://www.goodreads.com/series/67447-ex-heroes

{from the author’s website} In the days after civilization fell to the zombie hordes, a small team of heroes—including St. George, Zzzap, Cerberus, and Stealth—does everything they can to protect human survivors. Each day is a desperate battle against overwhelming odds as the heroes fight to keep the undead at bay, provide enough food and supplies for the living, and lay down their lives for those they’ve sworn to protect. But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the shadows of the ruin that lies everywhere…and they may be the most terrifying threat of all.

10.The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

[from the publishers webpage] “The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.”

*****

As you can see, I discovered some wonderful series last year, as well as individual books, that kept me up too late, made me laugh out loud, and grabbed my imagination.  I hope you find something here that you will likewise enjoy!

[disclaimer: with series I am just linking to the first title in the series for you to get started, but I either list the existing books in the series or provide a link so they can be read in order]

Reading Series – a professional’s guide

Probably the first series I ever encountered was one my three older sisters had “bequeathed” to the family collection – it was the Trixie Belden mystery series.

As I read the single book in the series that we had on our bookshelves, I quickly became aware of (and somewhat annoyed at) the fact that the title in question was NOT the first book in the series.  In the book, references were made to events and characters from the previous novels. Starting the series in the “middle,” so to speak was certainly not ideal.

And that brings us to a fundamental feature of reading a series of novels – depending on the series, it can end up being virtually just one long story.  Many readers consider it vital that they start the series at the beginning.  It’s easy to see why that could be important – in a highly complex series, the plot development, character development, timeline and essential story being told are dependent on a linear progression of comprehension.  Imagine starting The Lord of the Rings trilogy at the second book: who are these people/creatures?  Why is the ring important? Where in space and time is the action taking place?  All these are set up in the first book.

Almost as important as starting at the beginning is having access to the conclusion of the series, or perhaps better stated as having access to the entire series.  Again, using one of the most popular titles as an example, imagine not having access to the final book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The second book concludes with a “cliffhanger” ending, and the reader is drawn inexorably on to the next/final piece of the story.  The term “cliffhanger” literally means a story (whether a movie, radio drama or book series) where “each installment ends in suspense in order to interest the [audience] in the next installment.” (From dictionary.com)  Of course, it comes from an installment of the story ending with the protagonist hanging from a cliff, and the audience does not know what is going to happen.

As story-consumers, we all want to know what’s going to happen next.  If the story in a book series compels the reader, we are eager to follow the series to its conclusion.  And that introduces another “downside” to becoming addicted to a series – if the series is ongoing, then the reader must wait for the next piece of the story to be produced.

I remember getting the first book in a series once for Christmas.  At the time, the series had four volumes.  Originally planned as a six-book series, I anticipated getting “hooked” on the story, but since the volumes had been getting published roughly a year apart, I did not foresee much difficulty in procuring the remaining volumes.  That book was The Eye of the World, and the series was the best-selling Wheel of Time series.  Well, that book series eventually ran to 14 volumes, and the author died after volume 11.  As you can imagine, distress by the fans was not insignificant.  Luckily for the readers, (if not the author), the author Robert Jordan died from a condition where death was foreseen (although expectations were for four years and he only survived about 18 months).  Therefore, he dictated and completed an outline for how the series was to be finished, and his wife/editor picked an excellent writer to complete the series.

This is not just an isolated example; right now, the highly popular book series A Song of Fire and Ice (on which the Game of Thrones television series is based) is uncompleted.  Originally planned to be a trilogy, it has expanded in the author’s vision to be a seven-book series, of which only five are complete.  The last book was published almost five and a half years ago.  Because of situations like this, some readers will not start a series unless they know that it has been completed.

BEWARE THE DANGERS OF STEPPING UNHEEDINGLY INTO A BOOK SERIES!

On the other hand, there are few reading experiences more potentially rewarding than a long, dense, well-told story.  A reader literally does not want the series to end!

Currently, I find myself following several ongoing series.  Here are some still open-ended series that I eagerly anticipate the publishing of each new installment:

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

The original name for the first title was Semiautomagic, and describes this blend of urban fantasy with noir detective story.

A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin [see earlier link]

The series that is the basis of the very popular HBO series Game of Thrones [see earlier link]; this series takes almost every fantasy trope and stands it on its head.  Compelling reading.

The Necromancer Series by Lish McBride

This is a YA series with a good-hearted hero who unknowingly is heir to dark necromantic powers.

The Checquy Files by Daniel O’Malley

The first book starts with the heroine having no memory, but awakening surrounded by dead bodies.  It gets even more intriguing after that.

The Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Superheroes in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies!  ‘Nuff said.

And here are five series that are completely finished that I’ve enjoyed:

The Lord of the Rings by J. R.R. Tolkien

This is the ultimate high fantasy series.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

A children’s series with surprising depth, it tells the story of an alternate world of talking animals.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson) [see earlier link]

This fourteen title high fantasy series is not for lightweights, but it is a richly developed world, has a multitude of interesting characters, and the long story’s destination is ultimately worth the journey.

The Baroque Series by Neal Stephenson

3 historical fiction novels (with cliffhanger endings) set in the period from the mid-1600s to the early 1700s – they span the globe, and while the main protagonists are fictional, they interact with real historical characters while telling an incredible tale of the real-life wonders that took place around the world during this time period when science was in its infancy.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This series tells the story of a young wizard through seven titles, each covering a year of his schooling while he and his friends deal with dark and deadly adversaries. {And our library has the titles in Spanish too!}

Finally, there are series where each title is essentially “stand-alone” – if you are hooked by the setting and/or the protagonist, but want to feel free to “dip in and out” with no linear plotlines, I can recommend these:

The Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the first two books do have a “one story” theme, with the first book ending in a cliffhanger of sorts, but the rest are pretty much stand-alone).

A child of noble English lineage is orphaned in the deepest jungle of Africa and raised by apes.

The Reacher series by Lee Child

A lone wolf former military policeman drifts across the US righting wrongs and solving mysteries.

[The Fontana Regional Library system has some or all of the titles mentioned in each of these series!]

On Janisse Ray, Environment, and History’s Knack for Repeating Itself

I have recently revisited Georgia-born author Janisse Ray’s work of nonfiction titled Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodThe book’s innards are in the title as Ray alternates chapters where she recounts her  childhood memories with contrasting subject matter of the unique ecology of southern Georgia’s coastal plain otherwise known as the longleaf pine wiregrass ecosystem. Janisse Ray focuses her narrative on the connection she’s had with nature since she was a child growing up on her father’s junkyard in the small town of Baxley, Georgia. Janisse Ray’s childhood respect and love for the flatlands and rivers of south Georgia is what propelled her to become an environmental activist later in her life. She fought to save the Altamaha River as well as Moody Swamp of the Moody Forest Preserve. All of her works, poetry and nonfiction, deal with the ecological reality that is facing, has faced, or will face Georgia.

Ray’s understanding of humans, nature, and their effects on each other is well-present and striking in her childhood memories as well as in her accounts of the natural and human history of Georgia. She explains the detrimental consequences that followed after the industrial logging boom following the Civil War. The longleaf pines of the wiregrass ecosystem were logged nearly to extinction. To date, there is only a fraction of a percent of old-growth longleaf pine forests left in Georgia. Janisse Ray grew up right in the middle of the Southern Coastal Plain of Georgia in a mostly rural Appling County. She sometimes calls it ugly–because it is. It always has been, in a way. Georgia’s ugliness is attributed to its past: slavery, racism, environmental degradation, poverty, etc. Janisse Ray’s Georgia is a far cry from tall columns and extravagant plantations and gatherings–her Georgia is dilapidated, rusty, worn, cluttered, but still wild, beautiful, vast, and full of possibility.

Areas of Georgia, much like Ray’s hometown of Baxley, have time and time again acted as battlegrounds where people in power with interest in land and resources clash with resisting landowners and citizens. This situation played out when Europeans and members of the Creek nation were in contact with each other. The Creek people participated in the trade economy that began in Georgia when the James Oglethorpe and his colonists began to move in. Whitetail deerskin was one of the main commodities traded by the Creek. Toward the beginning of the 19th century, the whitetail deer population had been vastly over-hunted, the United States were pushing for the Creek to adopt a rancher/planter lifestyle to which many of them resisted, and ultimately, a civil war broke out that ended with a treaty signed over to Andrew Jackson (and also his namesake) that ended in the Creek ceding 22 million acres–much of which was in southern Georgia. Ultimately, the dispossessed Creek were rounded up and forcibly removed to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi.

The ghosts of Georgia will never forget the dark legacy that has plagued Georgia since before it was Georgia. When I was a student at Valdosta State University, a new battle was coming to fruition in the form of coal and biomass plants–projects that many were opposed to, many were open to, and many were utterly unaware. A land ripe with resources, possessing a significant number of people living below the poverty line and minorities, is the first place that is considered for energy projects that pose a risk to the drinking water, delicate ecosystems, and many other socio-economical aspects. Why? It’s called environmental racism. Environmental racism is a term that refers to the type of discrimination that occurs when low-income or minority communities are targeted for energy projects that pose a risk to their health and environment. This is playing out thousands of miles away over the Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed pipeline is meeting resistance because it will go through sacred land, disrupt and destroy cultural resources, pollute drinking water, and more.

The Colonial Pipeline is yet another pipeline that has made the headlines recently when there was a massive leak in Alabama–causing gas shortages and water and land contamination. The Colonial Pipeline snakes through states like Alabama, Georgia, and other southeastern states and all the way up to the northeast. The state of Georgia has also made headlines for fighting off yet another pipeline called the Palmetto Pipeline that would go all the way down the Georgia coast. Community members of Savannah, Brunswick, Augusta, and other surrounding communities successfully but temporarily were able to halt construction on this project because of their environmental concerns. A judge ruled in favor of a temporary moratorium on petroleum corporations using eminent domain as a means to take land for pipeline projects. But this is not where is ends. There is yet another pipeline going through Georgia.

This time it is through south Georgia.

The very same south Georgia that was ceded by the Creeks. The very same south Georgia that was purged of most of its majestic longleaf pines and many of the creatures that were dependent upon it. The Sabal pipeline construction has begun on the land adjacent to the land my family has owned and tended since around the Revolutionary war. The family who owns the property adjacent to ours was given thousands of dollars to allow the pipeline to go through their land that is cow pasture, forest, ponds and streams, and more. If they were to resist the offer from the contractors, the land would be eventually taken as eminent domain. The Sierra Club has recently filed a lawsuit against the Sabal pipeline as it will go through several state parks, wetlands and watersheds, and act as a major threat to the quality of drinking water–most of which is in an aquifer beneath a layer of very porous limestone. As if a pipeline’s risk to water isn’t enough–limestone is a very absorbent material that will allow any leakages to readily seep into the water table.

It’s times like this that I turn to figures like Janisse Ray. In her writing, she laments the bygone days when huge, majestic longleaf pines stood like “batallions coming out of the mist,” and the many species that dwindled alongside their giant pines–their keepers. She does not, however, leave the reader with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. She stresses the importance of family–no matter how dysfunctional. She focuses on the importance of activism and education when environmental and social issues arise. She does not ignore the fact that many conservation efforts are alive and well in all corners of this earth, and there is always a reason to hope and dream and fight for what is dear. She reminds us that nature and her creatures, including humans, are resilient and ever-changing.

Roald Dahl Day

Days and dates are declared for various purposes all the time.  Of course, there are the big holidays but there are other often lesser known dates of importance that come about.  One such date was September 13th.  What was special about that day you ask?  It was Roald Dahl Day.  It would have been his 100th birthday.  I was inspired on September 13th when the New York City Public Library celebrated Roald Dahl Day.  A performance of some of the members of the Broadway cast sharing the story of Matilda popped up on my Facebook feed. This is the livestream of their performance:

https://www.facebook.com/nypl/videos/10154535140582351/



As I watched these talented performers, I began to think about the stories I had experienced by this gifted storyteller.

So, who was Roald Dahl?  He was a British author born in the United Kingdom in 1916 and died in 1990.  You can read more about his life and works at http://www.biography.com/people/roald-dahl-9264648

http://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl/roald-dahl-100
Marking 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl – the world’s number one storyteller.

Still not sure who this might be?  Here are some character names you might recognize – Willy Wonka, Charlie, James, Matilda, Sophie, Mr. Fox, and my all-time favorite the BFG.  You may be more familiar with the film versions of his stories which include James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and most recently The BFGMatilda was also made into a musical and there are junior musicals for James and the Giant Peach and Willy Wonka.

I remember being a young undergrad at WCU and taking Children’s Literature.  That was my first experience with Roald Dahl.  I am not sure they had Roald Dahl in my school library when I was growing up.  The very first book I ever read by Mr. Dahl was The BFG.  What a story!  I have not seen the movie yet, but I hope it can compare to what I pictured in my mind as I read about the witching hour, Sophie being whisked away to Giant Country, and the descriptions of the giants.  I can say that the many times I have used this story in a classroom setting over the years I truly learned the magic of captivating children with a fascinating story.

http://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl/roald-dahl-100

Mr. Dahl not only created memorable characters with an action packed story, he also gave a way to address, ummmm, let’s say certain body functions that can cause a ruckus in a group of youngsters.  You see, for the BFG burping was an atrocity but whizpopping was glorious.  Read the quote below and I am thinking you can infer what whizpopping might be.

“A whizzpopper!” cried the BFG, beaming at her. “Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping if forbidden among human beans?”

Did you notice that he calls us “human beans” instead of human beings?

The BFG has many memorable characteristics, but one that stands out is how he speaks.  He tends to get things mixed up.  He tells Sophie,

“Words,” he said, “is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.”

Talk about tongue twisters!  I always had to practice a little for this read aloud.

He makes sure Sophie understands he can mix things up a bit when he tells her,

“What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announced rather grandly.”

I wonder if this is how some politicians rationalize their spoken words?

dahl-2

A slightly lesser known work by Roald Dahl is The Twits.  It is much shorter than the 200 or so pages of The BFG and would likely be a nice choice for a middle elementary student with its 76 pages.   Although, the lesson in this quick read could work wonders for some tweens and teens I know.

Mr. & Mrs. Twit are definitely an odd pair.  They are beyond nasty physically, mentally, and emotionally.  They spend their time trying to find ways to be mean to each other and those around them.  Now, Mr. Twit does drink beer.  The first time I read this book I could not imagine using it with a group of children.  So, I changed beer to root beer when I read it aloud.  Children would figure this out when they read the book on their own and bring it to me and point at the word “beer”.  I would reply with something like how could I have read it aloud saying the word beer without causing a ruckus.  I explained it was more important to focus on the lessons built into the story rather than Mr. Twit’s drinking preferences.  I love the lessons in this story!  It shows that it does matter how you treat others.  The Golden Rule really does apply.

Mr. Dahl left us with some pretty amazing stories!  Check one out at a library near you!

Thank you, Roald Dahl, for introducing me to dream catching, snozzcumbers, frobscottle, Roly-Poly birds, hug tight sticky glue, and the shrinks.  Your writing has forever left an impression on me.

You’ll like this one!

 

If you get a reputation as a “reader,” it won’t be long before folks you know start asking you about books.  “Read any good books lately?”  “What are you reading now?” “I need a good book recommendation – what do you suggest?”

You’ll hear that even more often if you happen to be a librarian or work in a library. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that, I’d have more money than you.

People like all sorts of books.  As discussed earlier, the most popular books in libraries usually fall into the genre fiction areas.  (Mysteries, thrillers, romances, etc.)  When asked the question about a good book to recommend, I could ask “What types of books do you usually enjoy?”  If the questioner was someone like my friend Stephen, and I knew he liked history, I could say, “Have you read 1491?”

If it was someone like Chris, I might say, “Try Ghostman – it’s a quirky, well-written thriller.”

But I do have a “go-to” title, that so far has been remarkably well-received by almost everyone I’ve ever recommended it to.  Like mysteries?  Like romance?  Like history? Like books that have a story within a story? Or for my library colleagues, “Do you like stories featuring libraries?”

sotw

There are some other things to like about this book.  The first thing is that it was originally written in Spanish. Not too many people (besides Westley Roberts) have known many Spaniards, but Carlos Ruiz Zafón is one worth getting to know. Besides the author, the translator is also outstanding, and her work on translating this title to English is amazing. Her name is Lucia Graves, and she is the daughter of Robert Graves.

This book, written in 2001 and translated to English in 2004, is a worldwide international bestseller titled The shadow of the wind.  At the heart of this story is the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books. A young boy named Daniel Sempere, whose mother has died, is taken there by his bookshop owner father shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War, but pre-WWII.  The Cemetery is a huge library of old and forgotten titles.  A few secret librarians guard the library.  Traditionally, anyone once admitted is allowed to choose one book, which can be taken from the Cemetery, but which must then become the responsibility of the initiate and guarded for their lifetime.  Daniel chooses a book by Julian Carax called The Shadow of the Wind, and becomes its guardian.

Daniel becomes enraptured reading the book, and soon sets out to find other works by Carax.  He tries to find out all he can about the author.  In his investigations, he unleashes the dark forces that have tried to bury Julian and destroy his works, including every copy of The Shadow of the Wind.

This book is full of fascinating characters and a lot of history as well.  The writing is exceptional, and the descriptions make the story come alive in your mind. The story captures the sweetness of youth and adventure, as well as the darkness humanity is capable of.  Some characters are models of loyalty and integrity, while others are monstrous and implacable.

So with some trepidation but also some confidence, I recommend The shadow of the wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  Let me know what you think!

P.S. – if you like the book, the author has written two others in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle.

Keep moving forward

Heya folks,

As both Cornelius Robinson and Walt Disney said, one  must “Keep Moving Forward!”  I’ve not done a blog before, but YOLO, to quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. So, I’m going to give it a shot.

I like to read, and I read a lot. So hopefully I’ll have enough subject material to share.  I don’t have any great themes ready yet, but I’m reminded of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen got their big break.  They had launched Microsoft, but I believe they were a bit unready when IBM came calling and asked the young software company to provide the operating system for their Personal Computer.  Microsoft had acquired an operating system called QDOS for Quick and Dirty Operating System, and that ended up being MS-DOS (the PC’s operating system) and the rest is history.  So this will start out as a QD blog, and hopefully move forward from that.

Many folks have heard of or seen True Blood, an HBO series that ran seven seasons and garnered both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.  Not me, never saw an episode.  But the creator of the books behind the series, Charlaine Harris, spoke at a conference I went to last year, so I decided to read some of her titles. Although she’s written SIX series including the one “True Blood” was based on, I picked her most recent series on which to cut my teeth (no vampire pun intended).

It started with Midnight Crossroad,Product Details

 

continued with Day ShiftProduct Details

 

and just concluded with Night Shift.Product Details

 

So what’s it about?

Characters: a friendly witch, a “good” vampire, a female assassin for hire, an internet psychic who is also the real deal, and other perhaps even more strange residents of an extremely small rural town.

Setting: Midnight, Texas – a middle of nowhere, “wide spot in the road,” “sneeze and you’ll miss it” town.  By the end of the trilogy it will become as much of a character as the macabre inhabitants.

Audience: mystery readers, supernatural aficionados, and/or folks who grew up or spent time in miniscule rural communities.

Essentially, the residents of Midnight do what they can to keep their town and themselves “off the map” despite forces almost, but not quite, beyond their control.

I’d recommend all three books of the trilogy, as there really was not a drop off in quality in my opinion.  It wraps up fairly neatly, with the multitude of mysteries and questions raised in book one almost all answered by the conclusion of the third and final title.

Check out the first book (in print, Large Print, or in eBook format) from FRL and let me know what you think!

10 More Books I Read

The books keep piling up. Most of my posts have a theme to them, such as zombies, or cats, or weddings. It is easy enough to fit books into categories. The problem are those books that don’t quite fit into these niches. This helped give birth to Random Book Day, but that isn’t until November, and I already have a bunch of books lined up. If I wait much longer to talk about them I will forget all about them and have to read them again, and I have far too many books on my to-read list already to do that.

So here you are. Ten books that altogether share only one thing in common, which is that I read them. I think I may have mentioned a couple of these before, but not in any detail. Feel free to fact check me on that.

She will fact check your fact checking.
She will fact check your fact checking.

The Children of Men, by P. D. James

I spilled coffee on this book, or, to be technical about it, my thermos leaked coffee onto the book. Which means I had to buy it and am now the owner of a well read and coffee stained former library book. At least it is a good book. And it is nothing much at all like her other books.

What would happen to society if everyone, every single woman in the world, became sterile? How would people continue to conduct their business and live out their lives? How would the government (in this case, Great Britain) handle it? And then what would happen if years later a single woman managed to get pregnant? What lengths would people, and the government, go to to protect her, or to obtain her? Dr. Theo Faron, an Oxford professor and our narrator, has to answer these questions as he is caught squarely in the middle of the story.

The story is taut and plausible. It is slightly dated, being from 1992, primarily in the changes in technology since then, but overall that only detracts a small amount from the enjoyment of this dystopian marvel. I haven’t seen the film version yet, simply because I haven’t gotten around to watching it.

Children

Whales on Stilts, by M. T. Anderson

I’m not sure where I heard about this one. Perhaps it was featured on this site. In any event, it is the first in a series of children’s novels, which is known as Juvenile Fiction in library jargon. The book (and series) stars three friends: Jasper (an inventor who has a PhD), Katie (who fights monsters), and Lily (who is just a normal girl). And by girl, I do mean girl, as the three of them are still in middle school. Their world seems much the same as ours, except for things like, oh I don’t know, an army of whales on stilts.

Their madcap adventures may seem a bit, ahem, juvenile to adults, but even if they are not for you they are a great series to point younger readers towards.

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, by Peter David

Bonus points to those who are now saying “wait, those comics were written by Joss Whedon (yes, that Joss Whedon), not by Peter David”, who is a very accomplished comic writer in his own right. Well, you are correct, to a point. Whedon wrote those comics (available from the library in graphic novel form here), but David wrote the novelization.

Yarp, it is a novelization of comic books. You don’t see that very often. In this case it is understandable, because the Gifted storyline is so good. Full of action, drama, and humor, it is a story that doesn’t really require you to have read any other X-men beforehand. The novel tells the same story. You essentially exchange the art of John Cassaday for David’s prose. The story stays the same, so the question is which format do you prefer? Because you really should read it sometime. It is that good.

Larger than life.
Larger than life.

Sandstorm, by James Rollins

Oh, the power of social media! Rollins himself recommended, on social media, that I should read this book. Of course that is his pen name, and maybe it wasn’t really him but an intern or publicist or the like, but it did happen. He followed me, and I replied that I guess I needed to read one of his books, and he suggested Sandstorm. And, thankfully, it turned out to be a pretty darn good book. Others must agree, since it spawned a series that numbers 12 titles to date.

This is an adventure novel, sort of an amalgamation of Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne and Lara Croft. And it works! The heroes are heroic, with ample skill sets, and are faced with challenging challenges that has the reader wondering how they will ever triumph over the bad guys. High tech mixed with a dash of other-worldliness makes for a fun read.

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It, by David M. Ewalt

I think the key part of the title is the word “people”. Dungeons & Dragons has been around in various editions for over 40 years now, and a great many people, boys and girls, men and women, have played it. That is not just rhetoric. In my days I have played with people ranging from 8-45ish, with about as many females as males. The stories I could share! But won’t, since we are here to talk about this book.

Ewalt sets out to show the evolution of the game, and more importantly highlight some of the people who have both played it and shaped it over the decades. He accomplishes this in an approachable manner. That being said, this isn’t for everyone. It is probably too specific for the general reader, although it does work well for a casual fan, or someone just wanting to learn more about what the big deal is. For hardcore players, it might be a little light. I enjoyed it, so there is that.

Street cred.
Street cred.

The Child Thief, by Gerald Brom

Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons…Brom first came to real prominence as an artist for D&D products, notably the Dark Sun line. His gothic fantasy art has since appeared in many places. I even have a signed print at home. He has also delved a bit into writing, and this book is one of the results of that.

It is a retelling of Peter Pan. A thoroughly un-Disneyfied retelling of Peter Pan. Brom creates such a dark, immersive version of Neverland that when the characters return back to New York near the end it is jarring. This is not a children’s book by any means. It also features terrific color illustrations, bringing the varied cast to vivid life. And if you want something even more dark, track down Brom’s The Plucker, a book about toys that will give you chills.

Strata, by Terry Pratchett

In my youth I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (thanks, Mom!), and got my hands on lots of great books. One of these was Strata, which I really liked, but didn’t make me read more by Pratchett, because he was still largely unknown at the time. Years and years later I finally got into his Discworld books, and belatedly realized this was the same guy. Indeed, Strata is sort of a precursor to Discworld.

The main character is a woman named Kin, who works on terraforming planets. A neat little side bit is how these workers hide out-of-place artifacts in these new worlds they are creating. Anyway, Kin gets pulled into what is essentially a hunt for buried treasure, and winds up on a flat Earth, where she encounters what seem to be actual magical creatures. Uncovering the secrets is delightful, both for her (in the end, when she is no longer in danger of being killed), and for the reader.

By the way, the book club still exists.

This image makes sense. Trust me.
This image makes sense. Trust me.

The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford

You might not have ever heard of the book, but you probably have the movie. This is another book, much like Strata above, that I read  eons ago and then rediscovered much later. The book is based off of Hasford’s experiences in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. The title refers to those troops who are nearing the end of their deployment.

There are three main sections to the novel, covering boot camp, the Tet Offensive, and finally an encounter with a sniper. The book is raw and honest. The title really comes into play at the end, giving the events an even more tragic feel.

The movie version was done by some guy named Kubrick, and is titled Full Metal Jacket. The movie is not as different from the book as one might think, considering the director, and maintains the same feel as the novel throughout. I had originally read the book before the movie was made, and then saw the movie with no idea it was based on source material I had read, so that was a fun “hey, wait a minute…” film going experience.

Under A Graveyard Sky, by John Ringo

Yeah, so, zombies. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Ringo’s books over the years, notably his Posleen series, so I was first a bit hesitant to pick up his take on zombies. Obviously I did go ahead and read it, and am glad I did. One thing that interests me with zombie books is the different approaches to them that authors take. In this case, Ringo clearly set out to create a more plausible and realistic zombie scenario, and he succeeded admirably.

This book is set in the real world, if you will, and centers around a former paratrooper named Steve and his family. Forewarned that a biological disaster was occurring, he is able to get his well-prepared family onto a boat. Not only do they survive the initial outbreak, but they eventually start leading rescue and recovery efforts. There are four books in the series, with an anthology volume on its way, so plenty of zombie mayhem is to be had.

As for the setup, these zombies are much more akin to the infected in 28 Days Later than to the more classic Romero zombies. Ringo envisioned how they could come to be, and then extrapolated that out to how they would act both short and long term, and he did it well. I also appreciated that the characters are well versed in zombie lore, even though they are fully aware that these are not actually zombies.

In the end, if you like zombie books, or perhaps even militarily themed books, you’ll like this. If not, you’ll probably want to pass.

Spoiler: none of the story actually takes place in a graveyard.
Spoiler: none of the story actually takes place in a graveyard. And wait, is that a wolf? Who chose this image?

Tigerman, by Nick Harkaway

I’m a big fan of Harkaway, and Tigerman did not disappoint. The setting is the island of Mancreu, a former British colony, and the site of an ongoing ecological anomaly disaster. Sergeant Lester Ferris is the last official British presence on the island, and he serves as a sort of unofficial police officer. Along the way he befriends a curious 12 year old called Robin, who is a big fan of comic books. This comes in handy, because when various world powers try to use Mancreu’s unique lawless status in order to do naughty things, Ferris has to become a hero to stop them.

This actually starts out innocently enough, as Robin helps him create a costume that he can use to unofficially investigate a theft. Things get out of hand, of course, in part thanks to video footage of his exploits getting onto the Internet, and Tigerman is born. This is a great rollicking adventure story, and one that asks some interesting philosophical and ethical questions as well.

Okay, well, I never know how to end these things, so I’ll just remind you to keep reading what you love to read, and every now and again try reading something else.

 

 

 

I Did It! Bingo!

It was last summer that I blogged about genre bingo, and it has taken me that long to finally get bingo myself. Believe me, I have been reading up a storm since then. I just haven’t been reading the right books, I guess. One thing I pledged to do, and obviously kept to, was to not read books specifically to fill in blank bingo spots. Some books I read did not fit any of the criteria, and in some cases they fit a space I had already filled. Despite all that I overcame and finally was able to shout BINGO! across the library. (The shouting may or may not actually have happened.)

I was actually a little surprised when I realized it. I was preparing a blog post about the random reading habit I have developed, but had to put that aside (for now) to cover this momentous event. Of course I will talk about the books that made all this possible, but first, here is the current status of my Genre Bingo card:

Genre Bingo Complete

Okay, I know what you are going to say. That sure is a lot of spaces filled in, but it does not actually qualify as bingo. My reply is that you are correct. I have not actually obtained bingo on that card. However, you may remember that I created two separate types of bingo cards, the second being called Something New Bingo. Here is how my card for that looks:

What what!
What what!

There you have it, right across the top. Bingo! Interestingly, I have 15 spots filled in on each card. Many books I read qualified for both of them, but not all. I also like how I have three stars in each of the vertical columns for the Something New card.

HappyNewYearFromPrague (1)

A couple of minor caveats here. The “book with a red cover” I read certainly had red on it, but it was not entirely red. Probably more orange than red overall. Still satisfies the criteria in my book (pun intended), plus it is set on the “Red Planet“. The second issue is that the “book made into a movie” was technically made into a TV series. A TV series with long, movie-like episodes, so I have no qualms marking it off here. Also, several of these titles would have worked for other spots than the ones I used them in, so if I rearranged them I think I could still make it work for bingo.

Book With A Red Cover: The Martian, by Andy Weir

the-martian-coverThis was the one that finally gave me bingo. It had been sitting around the house just waiting to be read, which lead to my random approach to reading (blog post on that coming soon!) It is the story of astronaut Mark Watney, a crew member of the third manned mission to Mars. A dust storm strikes the landing site, and during their evacuation Watney is hit by debris and, quite understandably, presumed dead by his fellow astronauts. The others head back to Earth, mourning their fallen comrade.

Mark is alive, though and has to find a way to survive not only day-to-day, but until the next mission arrives. He does so with a wonderful mix of ingenuity and humor. A great example is one time when disaster once again befalls him, he solves the problem almost with regret, since he thinks his crazy backup plan would also have worked. The science in the book is strong but still very approachable. Overall, a very fun book. I have not yet seen the movie. Also, this would have worked as both a Debut Novel and a “Book Made Into A Movie”.

A Long Book (500+ pages): The Tommyknockers, by Stephen King

TommyknockersOver the last couple of years my wife and I have started to beef up our Stephen King collection. This is one thing I appreciate having a smartphone for: easy access to lists so I don’t have to try and remember which books we already own.

We have both been King fans for many moons, and I read this one before. Way before, like maybe around 1990. Okay, maybe that means it is not technically “something new”, but 25 years gives me some leeway here. Although not one of King’s strongest works, it is still Stephen King, which means it is still an excellent book.

The tale is of an insidious alien invasion. A woman in rural Maine (this is King, after all) uncovers a spaceship that crashed eons ago. The aliens within are only sort-of dead. Their physical bodies are destroyed, but they can still imprint themselves upon hapless humans, and use us to start recreating themselves. It then becomes a race to see if they can be stopped before their plans come to fruition.

A couple of hallmarks of King’s writing, besides length, are foreshadowing and showing the perspective of the villain. Many of his stories have a BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy). This may be a prototypical one, such as in The Stand or It, or one a little more unusual, such as in Misery or Cujo. In The Tommyknockers, you do get the foreshadowing, but the villains are just regular people. Admittedly ones controlled by evil aliens, but still people.

Also, I have to start taking better pictures.
Also, I have to start taking better pictures.

This may not be a book that inspires you to create online discussion forums about it, but it is a page turner. It checks in at 558 pages, which is not so bad. Not like it is Harry Potter or something. The Tommyknockers is another one made into a movie, albeit a crummy TV movie.

Debut Novel: Koko Takes A Holiday, by Kieran Shea

kokoShea’s 2014 debut is a science fiction romp about an ex-mercenary, the titular Koko, who is trying to enjoy an early retirement. Of course that does not happen, as her past comes back to haunt her. It isn’t even her own past that is really the problem, but that of a former associate.

Mayhem ensues, and she goes on the run to both escape those hunting her and to find the person who caused her this trouble. The characters are well formed, the action is tight, and the future society predicted seems plausible. The story touches on some interesting social issues, but not in a distracting or limiting way.

If this sort of story sounds like something you would like, then you will almost certainly enjoy this book. The sequel is already out, and I am looking forward to reading it.

Recommended By Someone You Know: War of the Encyclopaedists, by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite.

War of enThis book is about Seattle hipsters and their self-made art scene. Hmm, no, that’s not quite right. Let me try again. This book is about the war in Iraq, and the effects it had on people. It is about love and obsession, about how people change and how the stay the same. It is about longing and wishing and missed opportunities. It is about art and Wikipedia and how one defines the truth. It is about IEDs and hard choices and juxtapositions.

This is a book I recommend you read. I’m glad someone recommended it to me.

 

Book Made Into A Movie: A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

Game_of_thronesThe first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, it was first published in 1996. Over the next decade it, and the series, slowly gained in popularity. How popular? The fourth installment hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and HBO optioned the books for a television series. That series is simply called Game of Thrones, and has won multiple awards. It may not be a movie per se, but it is close enough for my purposes. And yes, you can get the DVDs at the library.

A Game of Thrones is a fantasy novel set in the kingdom of Westeros. The title refers to the scheming done by various persons to sit upon the Iron Throne and to rule. It is low fantasy, meaning that while magic exists in the world, it is rare and seldom a factor. Dragons are real, but are presumably extinct, and so on.

The main focus is on the Stark family, who lord over the  cold northern end of Westeros. Chock full of lively characters and brimming with relevant and interesting side plots, this is a book to be reckoned with. There are good guys to root for, bad guys to despise, and ambiguous guys to wonder about. It’s popularity is well deserved.

I had watched the show before reading the book, and I will say it is a masterful adaptation. The TV series format gave them about 10 hours to work with, instead of the two or three a movie would have provided, and they make good use of it. Most of the changes from page to screen are minor, or things that you recognize had to be changed for budgetary reasons and the like. The casting was top notch, with a special nod to Peter Dinklage. Once you see him in the role you will always read Tyrion Lannister in his voice.

I'm still celebrating.
I’m still celebrating.

There we have it, my road to bingo. It was a fun ride, or should I say fun read? I am still tracking my progress, as I hope to score Genre Bingo one of these days. And to keep things interesting, I just created a third bingo card, this one for characters. It will be fun to see how that this one goes!

Character Bingo

Since I made this I have finished a couple more books, so I can cross off Zombie, and  one other. The second book had several characters that would apply, so I can move it around as needed as I fill in more spaces. Maybe next time I really will shout Bingo! in the library.

 

Classics For A Reason: 8 Books That Stand The Test Of Time

I’ve touched on the question of what makes a book “classic” before, and it inspired me to take a more indepth look. Now, I still can’t really tell you what qualifies a book as a classic, but it is pretty interesting to look at some trends.

Finding lists of classic books is easy. They are all over the Internet, and although there’s a lot of variety, there is even more similarity. The lists I looked at in preparing this blog were mainly chosen randomly, from Google search results. Like this one, which makes the list into a quiz. Yes, I know what you are going to ask me. The answer is 19. Does that seem low to you? I refer you to this post as a defense. I’ll also point out that I excluded several titles I have read parts of, and several that I read so long ago that I do not feel they count anymore, as I wouldn’t be able to discuss them.

Old_book_bindings
These ones might be a little too classic.

So, notice anything about that list? The thing I noticed was that one part of the definition of classic they used was “old”. I think you will find that is not an anomaly. This list isn’t too different, and has the same issues, if you will. In fact, let me break that down by year for you.

1612

1719

1813 1847 (x2) 1850 1851 1852 1859 1861 1884 1886 1889 1891 1895

1902 1903 1911 1915 1918 1919 1925 1929 (x2)

1931 1932 1936 (x2) 1937 (x2) 1939 1940 1945 1946 1948 1949

1951 1952 (x2) 1954 1959 1960 1961 1987

The most recent book is almost 30 years old, and everything else is more than 50 years old. Does that mean that no classic books have been written in the last few decades? Of course not. So what is going on here? Well, I think a lot of things are. For one, some of these lists are intended to be of older books. Another thing is that it is natural for us as readers to consider the books we were told are classics to be the true list of classics. Human nature and all.

books-922321_960_720
Classics will also vary by language and country.

That being said, I do think you see change happening. Perusing high school reading lists is a good indicator of this. I suspect you’ll find that more high school and college kids these days have read The Kite Runner than have read The Scarlet Letter. Take a look at these lists from Scholastic. In the high school parts you see a great mix of older standard classics and newer books. Teachers are great innovators, and one thing they have to do is find books that students want to read, as opposed to being required to read. A big part of doing that is finding books that they can relate to.

Which leads me to the real point of this post. Which is talking about the classics that are really still classics. Books that continue to be good reads, books that hold up in modern times and that readers continue to relate to. Books that define what a classic should be.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

451-cover
35 cents is cheap for a book, but they didn’t have Harry Potter back then, either.

A book intended to be a discourse on the perils of television, it unintentionally became a masterpiece on the perils of censorship. Those lessons alone help it endure, but it is also helped by some astute predictions of modern technology, and by having a real feel of being something that isn’t that far fetched to believe could happen. It also has a couple of the traits that you will see as a recurring theme here: not so old that the language usage is an issue, and not so big that some readers will pass on it due to length.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

KillMock
The best place to brag is on the cover, apparently.

I mean duh, right? Here is a hope of mine, that in 50 years people still read it because it is a good book, and not because they relate to the racial issues that are central to it.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

LordOfTheFliesBookCover
Yawn. Not at the book, but at that cover.

I got to read this twice in school, in 8th and 12th grades, and the 12th grade teacher was incensed that we had read it as middle schoolers. Trivia time: many people believe that there is no indication in the book where the island is located, but in fact the ocean it is in is mentioned. I got the whole class bonus points in the test for pointing that out.

This is a book that works on a different level depending on your age. Teens can read it and relate directly to the characters and the action, while adults read it and comprehend the real horror of what is transpiring. Because of the remote, technology free setting, it does not suffer much from being older. An updated, modern version I bet would have the kids all have smartphones, which of course would have no signal and would soon have dead batteries, leaving them largely in the same situation as the original. Not that I am endorsing a remake, mind you.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

catcher-in-the-rye (1)
Hadn’t seen this cover before. Better than the one with the horse on it.

 

I read this one again a couple years back, and was surprised at how well it holds up. The actual details of the setting are kept in the background, and Holden’s anti-establishment leanings are still relatable. I don’t think they are as shocking as they used to be, but they are still there. And all kids can relate to rebelling.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

M aand M
It’s a cover.

The ethical and moral questions this book raises are timeless, and are completely non dependent upon the setting. Anyone who doesn’t respond to the emotion in this book maybe should go here.

1984, by George Orwell

1984signet_798
If this cover had been used all the time, a lot more teens would have wanted to read it.

Granted, most everyone reads this in high school because they have to. The overreaching, overbearing government portrayed here is a scary vision of what might be. I myself do not think that is at all likely to happen, but maybe, just maybe, that is because people watch out for it thanks to this book. It is a book that makes you compare it to the real world, and makes you question things, and while the setting may not be fresh, the ideas remain so.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

pride-and-prejudice-1946
You know I wanted to use the zombie cover.

No, I haven’t seen the newest movie version. Yet. What is more eternal than love, and the trope of girl meets boy and then things get complicated and weird never changes. It is a testament to Austen’s writing that even though approximately a gajillion authors have written similar things, it is her books that people keep going back to.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

230px-Hane_LWWCover
Please note that it says “Book 1” at the top.

Okay, let us put aside any discussion of the allegorical nature of the series, or the issue of reading order. What we have here is a textbook example of a fantasy series. One might even call it a…classic example. Technically aimed at grade school readers, they are still enjoyable by adults. Multiple generations have read them, so they are often passed down to young ones. The protagonists are mostly from the real world, but the action almost all happens in Narnia, allowing any and all readers to immerse themselves in the stories.

Ultimately what keeps these books going is the way they capture the essence of childhood, the innocence and wonder and the delight in discovery. I would bet that an awful lot of kids over the years have peered into the back of a wardrobe (or closet, or such) with bated breath.

100_Classic_Book_Collection
Yes, the Nintendo DS can be used as an ereader.

Obviously, your mileage may vary with these, and I’m sure there are plenty of other classics, whether they be new books or old, that will be read for years to come. Classics come in all shapes and sizes and definitions, but I feel like these ones are maybe more universal than others.

Oh, and I guess here at the very end I will point out one more thing that makes them classics: they are darn good books. Enjoy!