15. ‘Homer’s Odyssey’ by Gwen Cooper

The other night I was frantically looking at my shelves and trying to decide on my next book. My wife kindly suggested that I should read some of her books to review. Of course I immediately complained. “How can I do that? I have too many of my own books to read!” I’m sure my eyes were bulging and my head was spinning like a top. When I pulled away from my books and looked at my wife I could see that I hurt her feelings. I realized at that moment an essential truth that had been the proverbial thorn in an otherwise blissful marriage. While reading has always been an essential part of my life, it was always something that I did privately. Since my wife and I have different tastes in books, there has always been “my shelves” and “her shelves” My sweet and beautiful wife wants to connect with me on every level. Why should the subject of books be any different? One of the reasons I started this little blog was so I could share my love of books with others. Doesn’t it make sense that I share that specific love with the most important person of all?

That’s when I made a monumental decision. I rushed into the bedroom and selected a handful of my wife’s books. My plan is to read and review some of her favorites in between my own books. By doing this, I hope to bring us even closer together through having a discussion on books that have impacted her life. In addition, this will open my eyes to even more new authors. I chose Homer’s Odyssey first due to our shared love of all beings feline. This was a great tribute to a most extraordinary cat who teaches both the power of love and the importance of never accepting limitations.

HOMER
While reading this book, my wife and I worked to bond with our newest cat Zephyr.

Due to an eye infection that would have ended his life, Homer’s eyes had to be surgically removed. Unwanted and alone, his veterinarian searched desperately for someone to adopt him. She found a taker in Gwen Cooper, a young Miami resident who already had two cats. It was love at first sight, and Homer found a mother who would care for him for the rest of his life. Little did Gwen know just how large an impact Homer would have on her own life.

“Nobody can tell you what your potential is.”

Despite being blind, Gwen quickly discovered that Homer was a cat destined for extraordinary things. Showing no fear, the little cat not only acclimated to his surroundings but loved exploring the world around him. Labeled a daredevil, Homer would climb large bookcases with ease and showed an extraordinary ability to catch flies with lightening fast reflexes. When a man broke into Gwen’s apartment late one night, Homer showed the intruder true bravery and managed to chase him away. His capacity for love knew no limits either. Homer relished every morning with its prospects of further possibilities. He loved every moment of his life, and his enthusiasm touched everyone he met.  This blind wonder cat could win anyone over, including Gwen’s future husband who was not originally a lover of the feline species. Several moments of Homer’s Odyssey will definitely warm the coldest of hearts. However, the book has a few tragic moments too.

Shortly after making the difficult decision to relocate to New York, one of the greatest tragedies that has faced mankind happened. On September 11, 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell from a terrorist attack. For several days, Gwen was separated from her cats not knowing if they were still alive. I think only a pet lover can truly appreciate the lengths Gwen was willing to take in order to get back to her family.

Reading the story of Homer brought to mind the special cat that we lost two years ago. My wife was a child when her family adopted Bishop. Like Gwen’s husband, I didn’t consider myself a cat lover either. Bishop quickly won me over, and I knew I would do anything in the world for the special soul. Losing her was one of the most difficult tragedies my wife and I had to endure. Although other cats have followed, Bishop will hold a special place with us forever. Like Homer, she was a daredevil that had lots of adventures and used up every moment of her nine lives. One life can truly make a difference to someone else, even if that one life isn’t human.

Sadly, Homer is no longer with us. If you would like to learn more about his life or this author, go to this website that talks about his life in addition to some great information on living with a blind cat. Homer was a being who lived his life to the fullest and knew the importance of connecting to others, both cats and human beings. Always appreciate the ones you love because time really does move with the speed of a blind wonder cat.

“Homer taught me that building my life around someone other than myself, making myself responsible for someone else’s life, is one of the most rewarding differences between being a kid and being an adult.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

14. ‘The Crane Wife’ by Patrick Ness

Earlier this year I wrote about how much I loved A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This was my first time reading one of his adult novels, and I discovered it to be an enjoyable read that blends the right amount of fantasy with reality. This is a story based on an old Japanese folktale. Ness takes this ancient myth from the East and relocates into present-day London. I love stories that modernize classic fairy tales and myths. While The Crane Wife is not without flaws, I did enjoy it immensely with its lessons on human greed, the ability to forgive, and the power of storytelling.

NESS
Finished this in the middle of some stressful transitions with my work

George Duncan is a lonely middle-aged owner of a print shop in London who in his spare time makes art from cuttings of old books. One night he is awoken by a mysterious sound and finds a giant crane in his backyard. After saving its life from an arrow wound, the bird flies off into the night sky. The event was so surreal that George questions if it actually even happened. The next morning a beautiful and exotic woman named Kumiko walks into the print shop. George is not only struck by her beauty but also by her own artwork, cuttings made from various types of feathers. The two begin working together by combining their respective hobbies into beautiful pieces of art that have the whole community buzzing. As George falls deeply in love with Kumiko with each passing day, he struggles to truly know her as she keeps most of her life a mystery.

“All stories begin before they start and never, ever finish”

As with all great stories, the lives of these characters began long before the opening page and continue long after the book is closed. By the time we meet him, George is quite lonely despite having had numerous girlfriends. Women seem to always have the same complaint about George, that he is too nice, too giving. As he falls deeper and deeper for Kumiko, he becomes obsessed with learning more about her. All of his efforts typically lead to failure, as he never feels he truly has her throughout the story.

The art of storytelling is a powerful device used in this novel. There is also a ‘tale within the tale’ method used here. Throughout the book, Kumiko shares some of the folktale she is telling with her cuttings. This story involves a beautiful crane and a volcano that both loves her and wants to consume her. As the main story continues, the fantasy tale begins to become an increasingly important part of events. I really liked how different events are told in different ways until it gets to the point where that doesn’t matter. Only the outcome itself is pertinent, rather than the how of it. Truth becomes more a matter of perception.

Ness is a fellow anglophile, so of course I applaud the setting in London. Although George was born in America, he has spent more than half of his life in England. This leads to some rather humorous moments involving culture clashes between the two sides of the pond. The funnier moments have a very British comedic feel to them, which as anyone who has watched comedies from the UK knows is a very different type of humor. Ness does not shy away from uncomfortable social situations, as evidenced by scenes with George’s daughter Amanda.

“The inability of people to see themselves clearly. To see what they are actually like, not what they fear they are like or what they wish to be like, but what they actually are. Why is what you are never enough for you?”

Amanda is a young single mother who struggles to hold on to social relationships for any length of time. She often feels like a bull in the china shop of social interactions. Her best friend and boss Rachel is always cruel to her. I disliked the character of Rachel very much, particularly after a certain secret about her is revealed. Amanda is very outspoken which leads to the walls that arise with friendships. Although some of the scenes with her are the funniest in the book, they are also some of the saddest. When a chance encounter with Kumiko occurs along with a special gift, Amanda begins to reflect differently on herself.

Kumiko serves as an interesting mirror for both George and his daughter. Through her involvement in their lives, they begin to develop some insights into themselves. I thought the conversation between Kumiko and Amanda during the party was a powerful one that helped point out a common flaw in human beings. Personal contentment is a challenge. We often focus in our deficits rather than our strengths. Kumiko serves as an interesting mirror for both George and his daughter. Through her involvement in their lives, they begin to develop some insights into themselves. They learn the meaning of forgiveness.

There is a sense of closure as George finds a different way to express his art and to keep Kumiko’s story alive. The book ends, but the story continues. I hope an illustrated version of The Crane Wife is released someday. Patrick Ness has once again taken a story born from myth and transformed it into something both old and new.

“There were as many truths-overlapping, stewed together-as there were tellers. The truth mattered less than the story’s life. A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew. 

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

The Literary Road So Far

As I was scanning my bookshelves this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on how my choices in reading have changed over the years. Perhaps the word “evolved” is a better description as “changed” implies that I simply swapped out one type of reading material for another. If you were to visit my home (please give advance warning), you would find just about every genre lining every shelf and stuffed in every open space. However, this wasn’t always the case. I thought this topic would make for an interesting blog, not only for my readers but for myself as well.

 ryan reynolds book books elizabeth banks gtkm GIF
I wish I organized my books as neatly as this.

Early Years

In junior high, I was introduced to several of the popular horror writers. My best friend at the time shared books with me by authors like Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, and the incomparable Stephen King. I devoured books by King like there was no tomorrow and still remember reading under the covers when I should have been asleep. Whenever I took my first trip to a real grownup bookstore, I bought a boxed set of three King novels-Misery, It, and The Eyes of the Dragon. It was amazing to find this writer who was known as a horror master create such a powerful work of fantasy. My obsessions turned towards his epic series The Dark Tower, and the fantasy genre became a huge part of my life. My mother, in her wisdom, bought me my first classic, a young adult version of A Tale of Two Cities. However, at that time I was more into Lumley’s monstrous vampires and stories of gunslingers from another world. It would be a few more years before I would come to appreciate all that Mr. Dickens had to offer.

 stephen king GIF
Thank you Stephen King for starting me on this journey.

College Years

By the time I entered college, I was quite familiar with the categories of fiction and the differences between proper “literary” fiction and not-so-proper genre fiction. I took a few classes during my undergraduate years in English Literature, and my eyes were opened to the wonders of the classics. For one of my classes, we had to select from a list a book to write a final report. Even back then I loved a challenge, so I selected Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, simply because it was the longest book on the list. I fell in love with Heller’s twisted humor and great play on words. I needed some extra electives to finish my degree so I took a class on the works of Joseph Conrad. I use the term “class” lightly because it was a self-paced class that simply involved reading three of his novels and meeting with the professor over the course of the semester to discuss. This little course would alter my life in huge ways. Joseph Conrad is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I have read both Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim countless times. I feel a sort of kindred spirit with Conrad as we both have a rebellious side to us. This author receives a lot of criticism, but that just makes me want to read him more. Through reading Joseph Conrad and his deep insights into humanity, I saw that my loves of Psychology and English Literature can be connected.

A. L. Crego loop cinemagraph book books GIF
In college, classics started opening for me

Although I started rocking the classics, this isn’t to say that I abandoned my first love. I was still hitting fantasy and horror novels with a vengeance and proudly displayed them on my shelves. It was amazing to discover that epic and magical journeys could be found on the classics shelves too! For my Humanities class, I did an oral report on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. During breaks from homework, I went to Mordor with Frodo Baggins and journeyed down the mysterious rabbit hole with young Alice. The introductions to so many great works were coming so fast, it was hard to keep up with them all!

Adult Years

Although I still act like a child sometimes, my tastes have definitely matured into adulthood. I discovered many new grown-up authors that have changed the way I look at fiction. I loved Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and discovered a new sub-genre of fiction called “magical realism.” Through authors such as Murakami, Sherman Alexie, and Kelly Link, I’ve found fiction that combines both gritty realism and elements of fantasy.

Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle changed me forever!

 

In regards to straight up fantasy, I’m still a huge fan. During my adult years, I fell in love with the Newford tales of Canadian author Charles de Lint. This led to my discovery of another genre that became a favorite: urban fantasy. The blending of real life and fantasy was so awe-inspiring and contributed to my own writing efforts. This is not to say that I gave up on the more traditional fantasy books out there. Thanks to my best friend, I became a huge fan of Terry Brooks. His fantasy worlds are epic in scope.

As I get older, my purchases in the classic section of the bookstore continue to grow. Although classic literature can be more appreciated with life experience, it can be enjoyed by any age. I was slow getting to the party, but now that I’m here, I’m never leaving! Some of my favorites authors include Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Ernest Hemingway.

2016/17

These past two years have led to some great discoveries. In 2016 and 2017, I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, The Martian by Andy Weir, and The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman. I’ve also found some great female authors too, such as The Gap of Time and Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson along with The Accidental by Ali Smith. I feel like my reading tastes are at just the right balance between contemporary and classic. For this year, I signed up to take part in a classics reading challenge. I’m also considering a longer term project to motivate me to tackle even more of the old school writers.

When I started this project, my goal was simply to keep track of the books I read and share my bookish insights with the world. I can see that this little blog of mine turned into something so much grander. By writing about the books I read, I see that I’ve evolved with my reading tastes. I’ve been transformed into an open minded-reader who is willing to spend time with old friends as well as make lots of new ones.

It is my hope that this blog serves as some type of small inspiration to all the book lovers out there.Thank you for being a part of this journey and reading my words.

The journey continues….

 

Tell me about the books that built your road. I would love to read your comments!

 

 

 

 

13. ‘Thinner’ by Richard Bachman

In my ongoing efforts to read some of the older books on my shelves, I decided to pick up Thinner by Richard Bachman. You are asking yourself, “Who is Richard Bachman?” Well, you actually know him by his real name as he is one of the most famous writers of the last few decades! Back when he was at the height of his powers and the undisputed ruler of the horror genre, Stephen King created the Bachman pen name in an attempt to publish more books than what he was allowed at the time. It also gave the master of horror the opportunity to see if he could become a success a second time around. Well at least one of these two things happened. The first four books by the mysterious recluse Richard Bachman were all very different books than what his creator Stephen King was known to write. Both Rage and Roadwork were dark realistic stories. The Long Walk and The Running Man fit in the genre of dystopian science fiction. Sadly, these books saw very modest success. Everything changed, however, with the release of the supernatural tale Thinner. 

THINNER
I’ve been on my own weight loss journey while reading this frightening little tale.

It is unsurprising that the constant readers of the world figured out the real identity of Richard Bachman. Although the previous Bachman books contained none of the usual trappings of a Stephen King work, Thinner was classic King. A supernatural tale with some truly frightening parts, it was only a matter of time before King was discovered as its architect. All the classic motifs are here. There are sentences that are broken up by italicized words. The climax of the book takes place in the great state of Maine, home to most of King’s oeuvre. There’s even a line where one the characters tells Billy he is starting to sound a little like a Stephen King novel. Maybe he wanted to get caught or at least see if he could slip that little jab in there. Once the truth was out, sales naturally skyrocketed. It was have been interesting to see how the life of King’s alter-ego would have played out had the ruse not been up. Occasionally, King still releases books under his former pseudonym. They all share one trait in common, as they are all some of the darkest body of work created by King.

It had been several years since I read any Stephen King, and it was fun to read this short horror novel. Billy Halleck is a lawyer who is living the good life with his wife and teenage daughter. Despite being about fifty pounds overweight, he has a genuinely happy life. His wife is constantly nagging him to lose weight, which he promises he will as he sneaks Big Macs and deserts with equal abandon. Then one night, Billy accidentally runs over an old gypsy woman (due to being distracted by his wife giving him a handjob in the car). Due to knowing the right people, Billy gets off (no pun intended) with a slap on the wrist. As he is leaving the courthouse, the woman’s father places a curse on him. the old gypsy runs one finger down Billy’s cheek and whispers one word….thinner. 

At first, Billy is pleased that he has dropped a few pounds. As the weight continues to fall off at an alarming rate, Billy becomes frightened. When the men that helped save him from a manslaughter charge succumb to curses of their own, Billy is in a race for time to track down the traveling gypsy in order to have the curse removed. King does well in building the tension slowly in this novel, despite being one of his shorter works. I also love how King can create very realistic characters. I felt some sympathy for Halleck as the accident wasn’t his fault, but he was far from being one of King’s more likable characters.  I didn’t like his wife Heidi either. Probably the best character in this story is Richard Ginelli, one of Billy’s former clients who has ties to organized crime. Despite having reservations about involving him, Billy turns to Ginelli for help in convincing the old gypsy to take the curse off him. The old gangster is more than happy to oblige and show the gypsies the American brand of curse. I was truly shocked at how events unfolded at the end of the book.

Another aspect of Thinner that I really liked was how the book explored some human themes such as guilt, revenge, and the psychological damage that comes from trauma. Halleck goes through all manner of emotions from fear to anger, and all of these come out very convincingly. King certainly can take you on a thrill ride. This is by far not even close to the best book he has written, or even the best “Bachman” book out there (The Long Walk wins that award for me). Thinner is a fun read. Just strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

“Human nature. We may be victims of the supernatural, but what we’re really dealing with is human nature.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Tracking Your Reading

Those of you that regularly follow my blog know that I track the books I read. This year started strong, but I’ve realized that I’ve hit a slow patch in accomplishing my reading goals. Lately, I’ve been asking myself whether or not tracking my reading and planning ahead are good for me.

I recently watched Ariel Bissett’s excellent video ‘Should We Always Track Our Reading’, in which she talked about keeping count of the books she reads and the pressure that book-tracking can put on us as readers. I have some thoughts on this topic.

Bissett talks about how there are things we read which cannot be tracked. My goal each year is to read at least 50 books. However, there are smaller things I read as well that don’t make the list, such as:

  • Short stories-I’ve been reading more individual short stories as a means of increasing my abilities as a writer. An isolated short story does not make the list. If I read a complete book of short stories, then I count that in my total.
  • Psychology texts-I often reference books in my profession in order to be a better therapist. I usually will just read a chapter or two that is of interest. However, I typically don’t track these.
  • Articles-I’m trying to be taken seriously as a writer and have contributed to websites dedicated to shows like Doctor Who and Arrow. I read several different articles to gain ideas and make comparisons to my own writing.

When I began this blog last year, I set an achievable goal of 50 books a year. On the one hand, this keeps me extremely motivated to read throughout the year. In addition, I’ve signed up for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge. I’ve also considered adding one or two other challenges in addition to my long term goal of reading every book from 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. After listening to Bissett talk about the anxiety of keeping track, it made me consider the possibilities that too many challenges can be a bad thing. Obviously, I want to keep my reading goals grounded in reality. I also don’t want to limit what I read as there are a lot of books that I buy that don’t belong on any list. I just want to read them because they sound interesting!

hat oldman santaclause Flying Books

This isn’t to say that there aren’t numerous rewards for keeping track. As Bissett mentions, reading has numerous rewards. I get a lot of personal satisfaction in seeing the list of books I read for a particular year. It also helps me remember something important that I was experiencing at the time. Obviously, I don’t want to stop doing that.

Is there a right way to keep your reading list organized? Dann Albright has some suggestions in his article How to Organize Your Out-of-Control Reading List Right Now. He mentions several different tools and strategies a reader can use in order to keep better track of your reading lists.

Although I have a page for listing the books I’m reading, I’ve been considering some options for additional methods of tracking. Starting with my next book, I plan to use my leather journal to keep a list of books I’m reading as well as ones I want to read. I think the journal approach will also allow me to take better notes of the books I”m reading so my blog posts turn out better.

Do you have certain methods for tracking your reading? I would love to hear your thoughts!