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  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.


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!]

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:

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
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.

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?


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.

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.


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.




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.

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.



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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!




A Guide To Reading

Did anyone ever teach you how to read? Not the actual art of deciphering words on a page, but as in what books you should read when and things like that? Well, this isn’t that kind of guide. This is more of a tips and tricks sort of thing. I think many of us aren’t honest about our reading habits. We think we have to finish a book once we’ve cracked the cover. We think we have to read a book just because someone said we needed to. And we certainly will never admit to not having even tried reading Moby Dick or War and Peace.

I will admit it. I have never read Moby Dick or War and Peace. See? That wasn’t so hard. And I suspect my poll numbers didn’t really drop much with that revelation. Reading makes us put on airs and masks, just like many other things in life do. We all want people to think we just read classics and critically acclaimed award winners, but the bestseller lists tell a different story.

woman reading book
Reading: it’s not new.

Look, I know that many of you don’t need me to tell how to conduct your reading business, but I have learned a thing or two in my day, and maybe someone out there will benefit from this wisdom. Or better yet, someone out there will find a new book they like. For those who at the end find this to have been a waste of time, I recommend you try a good book instead next time.

Try popular books and series

Maybe that seems too obvious?  A good way to find something new for you to read is simply see what is popular. I have done that with several series, with mixed results.

Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money (Stephanie Plum series). I loved this book, and liked the next dozen or so well enough. The lack of resolution of the love triangle and repetitive plot elements means I haven’t read the last few, but overall a success for me.

Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (Robert Langdon series). Read this during my first visit to Franklin (where I now reside), but that is neither here nor there. I liked it okay, but haven’t gotten around to reading anymore of his.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind (Left Behind series). I thought the concept was really intriguing, but for me the writing itself fell short. I made it into the third book before giving up.

Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Millennium series). I enjoyed this trilogy. Could have used a little tighter editing perhaps, but with Larsson having passed away I understand the difficulties there. I haven’t read the new one, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz yet. Someone let me know if it is worth a go.

Give up on books (and admit failure)

If you aren’t enjoying the book you are reading, then stop reading it. I think this is a skill we have to learn, the ability to put aside a book (or series) you have started. If you must know how it turns out, skip to the end or find a summary online.

There are all sorts of reasons not to like books. You might not like the writing style, or the genre, or the content, or whatever. That is okay. I was reading a fantasy series some years ago, an epic six book thing. I do not recall who the author was off the top of my head, but that isn’t important. The thing was that I was three books in and wasn’t having any fun. The hero was kind of a jerk, and then actually switched sides, making it hard to root for him. What I realized it was missing was comic relief. That series was desperate for humor.

So own up to it, especially if it is a classic or something recommended to you. If you came up to me in the library and said “put one of your favorite books in my hand” I might give you, say, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Perhaps once you were reading it you might say to yourself “ye gods, what dreck. There are like 80 ways I don’t like this book.” If that were the case, then you should stop reading it and come back and ask for something else. I would not be offended.

Yeah, this one isn’t a keeper.

Come to terms with not reading everything

This is a big one. No one can read all the books (although I do know someone who read 300 in a single year). And most of us haven’t read all of the books everyone is “supposed” to read. You know, those books on the required reading lists you get in school. Spoiler alert: those lists change over time.

Time for an experiment. I just now did a Google search for books everyone should read, and this was the first result. Only 30 books on there, so give me a moment to count how many I have read. Processing your results…15! I’ve read exactly half. Interesting list, with a mix of genres and newer and older books. Some that I haven’t read: Little Women (maybe wrong demographic here, although I did just read Jane Eyre a couple years back), The Book Thief (newer book I haven’t gotten around to yet), A Tale of Two Cities (I haven’t read any Dickens ever), and The Color Purple (which I started years and years ago but couldn’t get into).

Classics for a reason

I am mildly fascinated with what qualifies a book to be considered a classic. This is a topic that many people more learned than me have tackled. The point here is that a lot of these books are considered classics for a reason. Hmm, that sounds like a future blog post in and of itself. You might find it worthwhile to give some of the ones you haven’t read a shot. Or to revisit ones you read before, like in school, and didn’t care for back then.

I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in 10th grade, and it didn’t make much of an impression on me. I read it again maybe 15 years later and was like, oh, this is probably the best book ever. On a side note, for a book that is about pretty common things, it has an unusual quality that sets it apart. I have on more than one occasion had a patron clamoring for something like it, only to disappoint them with the news that there is nothing else like it.

Another example is The Catcher in the Rye, which I’ve read twice, probably about 20 years apart. I liked it the first time, and found that it totally held up the second time.

Don’t be embarrassed by what you are reading

Romance novels are enormously popular (and come in many varieties and genres), but some people are embarrassed to be seen reading them. Teens can sometimes see reading as an undesirable activity, and might not want to be seen with a book in hand. I myself find that when someone asks me what I’m reading it is never when I am enjoying something like Lord of the Flies, but always when it is a Dungeons & Dragons novel, or maybe an X-men graphic novel.

That shouldn’t make a difference, but we let it. I should certainly know better, as my mother taught me that reading was the important thing, regardless of what it was. A nice perk of reading on a tablet or other device is that no one needs to know what it is. Embarrassment can be hard to overcome, but there are tactics and techniques you can use to keep the reading train rolling.

reading on the fire escape
You can always read in private, too.

Read before you criticize

Let us be honest here. There are bad books out there. But poorly written, cliche ridden tripe can still be popular (just like with movies). We might like to bash these books, but to be fair you might want to give it a read first. This first occurred to me several libraries ago, when the branch I worked at put on a huge Harry Potter event for, IIRC, the third book (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, so 1999 I guess). There was a small but vocal group of protesters outside, and in the newspaper article about it one of theses objectors admitted to not having read any of the books.

That got me thinking, and while we can certainly rely on reviews and word of mouth to give us an idea of the quality of a book, sometimes I have decided to give a maligned book a read before offering my opinion on it. I’ll give you two examples.

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. A massively popular book (and series) that has generated a lot of discussion. I finally gave it a try, and found it to be okay. Decently written, but short on plot and action. I mean the big vampire throwdown at the end happens off page! But not a bad read, and certainly more appealing for those in certain demographics. I felt no need to read the others, especially considering the feedback I had received on them from trusted sources. Plus the whole love affair between a teenager and a 100+ year old dude icked me out a bit.

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. When this series became a big sensation a couple years ago I decided to give it a shot and judge for myself. (The fact that it started out as Twilight fanfiction is coincidental, I assure you.) I made it about two thirds of the way through the first book before giving up. The sexual content didn’t concern me much (and in fact I found it tamer than some things you see in other bestsellers), but the writing did. Holy crap is that book poorly written, at least in my opinion.

Read bad books for fun sparingly

I had to stage an intervention on my wife, who had fallen into the habit of reading bad young adult novels and talking about them on Goodreads. It is perfectly fine to read a bad book now and again, and I suspect we have all enjoyed a bad book before. but there are limits! They will bum you out and bring you down. Moderation in all things! Oh, and if you enjoy a book that others think is terrible, that is perfectly fine. Happens all the time.

That is not my bookshelf, but I have read some of the books that are on it.

Create your own book club 

My wife and I did this a few years back as a way to both read some of the books we had never gotten around to and also to be able to talk to each other about our reading more. It worked well enough for awhile. We found a recommended reading list we liked (alas, I can no longer find it online, though I have printed copies), and we would round up two copies of a book on it to read at the same time. We didn’t get too far, as we don’t always read at the same pace and things like that. But it was fun, pointed us to good books (like Atonement), and is something that is easy to do with family or friends.

We also held our First Annual Bad Book Contest, where we each submitted what we thought was one of the worst books we had ever read. I entered Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, by Philip Athans, and she chose Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick. Let me just say there were no winners, and no Second Annual Bad Book Contest. (Hush, Hush, by the way, is a fairly popular series, and was even optioned as a movie, although that project has since been cancelled. When people ask me for the book I get it for them without providing any commentary about it.)

Genre bingo

A nifty way to find new kinds of books, detailed in a previous blog post. I’ll have a follow up post once I hit bingo on one of my cards. Getting close!

Message in a bottle
Some reading should be prioritized.


Two weeks ago I started reading a paperback, and managed to lose it. I therefore needed a new book, and at my house there are plenty of options. Stacks of pages just waiting for my attentions. So, at the advice of my wife, I made a list of them and chose which one I would read at random, via a roll of the dice. Or die, actually. A single d20 did the trick. The winner was All Other Nights, by Dara Horn. I’ll let you know later how it turns out.

Blind recommendations and curated lists

This one is a bit scarier, especially if you the person you ask isn’t familiar with your reading preferences and habits. What you do is ask someone to stick a book in your hand, and that is what you read. I’ve had really good luck with it myself, but I can see how it might go bad. Alternatively, there are tons of recommended and suggested reading lists out there you can use to find books to read, especially if you are looking for books similar to ones you’ve already read. As always, your local friendly library can help with this.

Bringing books home

Finally, a word of caution. I used to bring home all sorts of stray books, thinking I would get around to reading them. I eventually learned to be more discerning with the strays I picked up (or bought at the used bookstore), as some of the books languished unread for years, and others I would try to force my way through under the misguided notion that I “had” to read it.

You don’t want to be the one who chose…poorly. On a related note, you have to learn to let books go. Unless you have an actual home library

Home library
(Which I don’t)

you probably find yourself short on shelf space. Instead of trying to cram yet another bookshelf in maybe you need to lighten the load on the shelves you already have. Acknowledge that some of those books you will never read, or, something I was guilty of, that you won’t ever get around to re-reading them. Keep the ones you will read, and the ones you truly love, and the ones you use for reference, and the ones you just like having on your shelf. I bet you’ll still find plenty to take to the used book store, on put out in the garage sale, or perhaps donate to the library (which will then probably give them to the library’s used book store).

Well, that wraps up this meandering essay. Let me know what things you have learned during your reading escapades!

What Are You Reading: Genre Poll

As a lead in for next week’s Genre Bingo post, I am doing a poll about what genres we all read. If you don’t see one that you read, you can write it in at the bottom. You can also choose more than one. This poll will remain open for one week, so get voting!

Tell a Fairy Tale

By Amy

Do you believe in magic? My daughter does (she’s 5)! She loves stories about fairies and mermaids. She still asks me sometimes, “Mom, when will I get my fairy wings so I can fly?”

My daughter's magical princess
My daughter’s magical princess

Her grandmother bought her a “magic wand” for Christmas. She waved it in the air and said some magic words. “I think it’s broken…” she said when she was unable to achieve the desired results. It didn’t really seem to phase her though, and she still bounds around the house waving her wand. It’s her preferred method of cleaning.

Part of me struggles with the impulse to get all scientific with her, “realistic” if you will. But magic is such a special thing for children. Her wonder and amazement with fairy tales amaze me. It inspires me to be more creative every day.

“Tell a Fairy Tale Day” is today!

It is celebrated every February 26th.

For children, fairy tales help to spark imagination and creativity, relay morals and, historically, act as cautionary tales.  From an excerpt from Neil Gaiman’s lecture “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming,” he states :

“If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.”

Walther Firle - The Fairy Tale
Walther Firle – The Fairy Tale

Fairy tales are so important because they capture children’s imaginations at such a crucial time in their development. Not only do fairy tales stimulate imagination and creativity, they also get children to enjoy reading! Research from the Institute of Education at the University of London suggests that “children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers.” The research also suggests that reading for pleasure is more important for a child’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education. Reading for pleasure positively impacts achievement in mathematics as well as vocabulary, spelling, and reading comprehension.

Imagination is also important for children’s development. Studies suggest that imagination develops problem solving skills, increases the capacity to understand events that aren’t directly experienced (such as learning about history, other cultures, and developing empathy), develops abstract thinking skills (thinking symbolically), and builds self-confidence.

Albert Einstein was once asked how we could make our children intelligent. He reportedly replied,

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

So to celebrate today, stop by your library and pick up a fairy tale, pull one off the shelf at home, load one up on your eReader– and don’t wait til next February to read another!

Culture Club

By Amy

Despite how badly I want to make all the jokes, you won’t find any Boy George here! And I’m not just saying that to make you cry!

Italy Display

The Culture Club is a new program at Macon County Public Library. Parents of the some of the littlest library patrons mentioned that it would be great to have a group where kids could learn about the world and all the people in it. Culture Club was started at Macon County Public Library because YOU requested it!

Culture Club’s first destination was Italy: land of pizza and leaning
towers right? Eh… maybe just a little, but there’s so much more! Culture Club discussed not only Italy’s rich culinary history, but also delved into Italian art (children were able to see italian pottery and Murano glass in person!), architecture, language, history, and even economics.

Reading about Italy
Can’t catch a plane to Italy? Travel via book!

The group took a virtual tour of Pisa, Venice, Rome, and Pompeii.
Participants were treated to gelato, spaghetti, italian cookies, and more! Along with the presentation and good food, there were also several book recommendations for children wanting to do more exploring on their own and a crafts project where children constructed their own Leaning Tower of Pisa!

The Culture Club’s next meeting will be December 11 at 1pm. Next stop? France! Every month, the children will nominate a new place they’d like to visit and vote on their next destination.

Italian Cookie
Yummy Italian treats!
Crafting Italy
Children had great fun creating their own version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre pendente di Pisa)

Culture Club will meet every 2nd Wednesday of the month at 1pm in the children’s program room at Macon County Public Library. Everyone is encouraged to share things they have relating to the country of the month, so bring your favorite snacks, souvenirs, pictures, etc. You can call MCPL Youth Services at 828-524-3600 for more information. À bientôt, j’espère!

It’s Random Book Day!

We just made this day up.

Silk – Alessandro Baricco

Chris – Our random books odyssey begins in Italy, with Alessandro Baricco’s Silk (translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman).  A short book, it tells the story of a Frenchman who deals in silkworms.  After a crop of worms are blighted by disease, he hazards a journey as a smuggler to Japan to seek out new ones.  Of course he finds more than he bargained for.  Silk is both whimsical (in the writing style) and deeply profound (in the ending), and is one of my all time favorites.

Italian cover.  Silk is seta in the Italian.  Use this knowledge to impress your friends.
Italian cover. Silk is seta in the Italian. Use this knowledge to impress your friends.

Once, Now, Then series – Morris Gleitzman

Christina – For all those that hate to get invested in a series because you don’t have the time, this is one for you. The books are short, about 200 pages each or less, and the story is so captivating that you’ll find it hard to put them down. Since the subject matter is the holocaust, they’re not for the faint of heart, but they’re beautifully written and well worth the heartache. I pretty much never cry over a book, but all three of these made me tear up.

Go – Chip Kidd

Christina – Graphic design is all around us, and renowned book cover artist Chip Kidd shows us the history of design and why it’s so important. He ends his fun lesson with ten projects encouraging the reader to bring out his/her inner artist (design your own logo, redesign something popular or famous, etc.). Even for those who don’t know much about art or advertising, it’s an eye-opening read, and the graphics are so cool that you’ll be wanting to show them to everyone around you.

Mad skillz on display.
Mad skillz on display.

The Paladin – C. J. Cherryh

Chris – Often fantasy novels are labeled as being either High Fantasy or Low Fantasy.  High Fantasy generally books or series that are epic in scope or are suffused with a lot of fantastical elements, while Low Fantasy ones tend to be more “realistic” and light on the magic.  The Paladin, by C. J. Cherryh, is about as Low Fantasy as you can get.  The setting is similar to a feudal China or Japan.  There is no magic to be seen.  There are no dragons or other mythical beasts to battle.  In fact, there is nothing really at all to make this book a “fantasy” novel.  Nothing that is except for the feel of it.

Lord Saukendar is an aging swordmaster exiled from the capital after a coup.  He has been living for years on a mountain with just his horse for company.  One day a peasant teen comes to his mountain demanding his help.  Saukendar is quite shocked to find that this teen who wants to learn the art of the sword so badly is actually a girl, and more shocked as the girl relentlessly brings him back to life and to the world he left, leading ultimately to a quest to right all the wrongs done to him, and to the people he once served.

Spanish edition cover.  See the dragon on it?  There are no dragons in this book.
Spanish edition cover. See the dragon on it? There are no dragons in this book.

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses – Ron Koertge

Christina – People have been messing around with fairy tales since they’ve existed. Numerous adaptations, inspirations, etc. So why read these poems offering a different look at well known fairy tales and fables?

Well, for one thing, the illustrations are subdued and intense, and the poems offer another glimpse at the well-known characters and stories, adding sympathy to established villains and questionable motives to so-called heroes and heroines.

If you’re still unsure if you should read this, take a look at the last poem, in which The Wolf finally is able to speak his mind:


Let’s get a few things straight. Only a few of us like to

dress up like grandma and trick little girls. Those who

do belong to what we call the Scarlet Underground.

It’s not their fault, so they’re tolerated if not embraced.

The rest of us are wolves through and through. We enjoy

the chase, the kill, a nap in the sun on a full stomach.

Our enemy is man with his arrogance and greed.

The woodsman in particular. Destroyer of trees.

Clearer of land. Owner of fire.

While he drops and burns and builds, we terrorize his

wife, surrounding her as she goes for water. We howl

outside his windows half of the night, and if that doesn’t

drive him away we take him out, leaving just a few

bones so the message is clear: 

This is our forest. Perfect before you came.

Perfect again when all your kind is dead.

Not sure which is more awesomer - the cover or the title.
Not sure which is more awesomer – the cover or the title.

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

Chris – Luke nicely memorialized the great Ray Bradbury before in this blog.  My first introduction to Bradbury was The Martian Chronicles, quite a few moons ago.  A collection of stories dealing with the colonization of Mars by humanity, it explores and touches on many themes, such as racism, dystopia, nostalgia, nuclear war, exploration, obsession, censorship, and more.  As a boy having a Captain Wilder in some of the stories was thrilling.  As an adult being able to understand the nuances is satisfying.  A special treat awaits fans of Poe in the story “Usher II”.  The Martian Chronicles is a true classic by any standard.

Cover of the record on which Mr. Spock reads some of The Martian Chronicles.  Random enough for you?
Cover of the record on which Mr. Spock reads some of The Martian Chronicles. Random enough for you?

Evil Eye – Joyce Carol Oates

Christina – Keeping on with the creepy vibe, we have one of the masters of the unsettling story, Joyce Carol Oates. In Evil Eye, Oates offers up four novellas of “love gone wrong”, but it’s not all romantic love. There’s revenge, murder, obsession, and insanity, all done to perfection, and enough to leave you feeling like someone just walked over your grave.

All the World’s a Grave – John Reed and William Shakespeare

Christina – Speaking of graves (sorry), sometimes writers get creative with public domain works. In John Reed’s case, he created an entirely new Shakespearean play by mixing up characters and dialogue. He sums it up better than I ever could:

Hamlet goes to war for Juliet, the daughter of King Lear. Having captured his bride – by unnecessary bloodshed – Prince Hamlet returns home to find that his mother has murdered his father and married Macbeth. Hamlet, wounded and reeling, is sought out by the ghost of his murdered father, and commanded to seek revenge. Iago, opportunistic, further inflames the enraged prince, persuading him that Juliet is having an affair with Romeo; the prince goes mad with jealousy.

Need I say more? All I can add is that I highly recommend this to any fan of Shakespeare.

A Bridge Too Far – Cornelius Ryan

Chris – A Bridge Too Far is one of the most aptly named books you will find.  It is the true account of Operation Market Garden: the Allies plan to seize a series of bridges in Holland in World War II in an attempt to bring a quick end to the war.  The title kind of acts as a spoiler for the ending.  More Allied soldiers were killed in action during Market Garden then fell on D-Day.  Ryan’s meticulously researched book is gripping and readable.  If only all nonfiction books were written as well as this…

The book was made into a movie of the same name in 1977, directed by Richard Attenborough, and is regarded as one of the more historically accurate war movies out there.  The bad news is that it is very long, just about three hours.  The good news is the mind boggling cast, including: James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, and more.  On a side note, it was adapted for the screen by William Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride, which faithful readers of this blog will know is a favorite of ours.

The actual bridge too far in Arnhem is now named the John Frost Bridge in honor of the British commander at the battle.
The actual bridge too far in Arnhem is now named the John Frost Bridge in honor of the British commander at the battle.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – Ian Doescher

Christina – Rounding up my list is another take on Shakespeare, sort of. It’s Star Wars written as if it were a Shakespearean play.

No review can give justice to this brilliant book. Do yourself a favor and read it ASAP. In the meantime, tide yourself over with these awesome quotes:

C-3PO: A droid hath sadness, and hopes, and fears,

And each of these emotions I have felt

Since Master Luke appear’d and made me his.

(After Han shoots Greedo)

Han: [To inkeeper:] Pray, goodly Sir, forgive me for the mess.

[Aside:] And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess!

No words for this.
No words for this.
And fewer words for this one.
And fewer words for this one.

The Passion – Jeanette Winterson

Chris – Jeanette Winterson began writing sermons at the age of six.  As she grew older she moved away from evangelism (far away, but that is a different story) and matured into an award winning author.  One of those awards was for The Passion, a wonderful and mysterious book that is hard to define.  The basic story follows a soldier in Napoleon’s army who becomes enraptured with a mystifying and enigmatic Venetian woman who is looking for her heart.  Literally.  A mix of history, magical realism, and modernism makes this a unique and captivating read.

"I'm telling you stories.  Trust me."
“I’m telling you stories. Trust me.”

And if none of these random titles works for you, consider trying the blindfold method. Or ask your friendly neighborhood library staff for more suggestions.

All of the titles mentioned in this blog can be found in our catlaogue here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

(Edited 11/20/14 to fix/replace broken links and to correct typos.)