Summer reading…my list

images.jpegLast week I mentioned that I’ve been doing more reading than writing, and though I should probably feel guilty, I really don’t. I guess it’s because I don’t always have much to say, but I always have the desire to read. And so my mornings usually are given over to reading in the peace and quiet of the cottage on Magician Lake.

Although I enjoy fiction, my tastes have really turned more toward non-fiction, specifically biographies and history. I like to keep a pattern of alternating between the various types, following a biography with a good thriller or mystery.

So far this summer, these are the books and authors I’ve finished and enjoyed, in one way or another:

  1. Stealing America-(Dinesh D’Souza) – An intriguing work that explains a lot of things about the current state of the Democrat Party.
  2. The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball-(Charles Fountain) – For baseball fans who enjoy the history of the game, and for a White Sox fan such as I, this is a wonderful book that provides so much background of the circumstances that helped create the most notorious scandal in the history of Major League Baseball, the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
  3. Sycamore Row-(John Grisham) – Another fine legal tale from Grisham that is a sequel to his first successful novel A Time to Kill. The main character, Jake Brigance, is once again caught up in a very strange case that keeps one turning the pages to see how the whole thing will turn out.
  4. The Edisons of Fort Myers: Discoveries of the Heart-(Tom Smoot) – I bought this book on our trip to Fort Myers, Florida, where we visited the Edison-Ford Estate in March. It was a fascinating work that explained how Edison came to Fort Myers in the first place and his love of the community, making this his winter home for many years.
  5. Papa: Hemingway in Key West-(James McLendon) – This is another book I picked up on our recent Florida trip, specifically in Key West. Hemingway’s life and times in Key West and how the “Papa” myth grew is explained in this nice little book. Makes one want to dash on down for a cold drink at Sloppy Joe’s!
  6. Night-(Elie Wiesel) – This very small—but extremely powerful—book has rested on my home bookshelves for quite a long time, with my having every intention to sit down and read it. Ironically, when I packed this in with the other books to take up to the cottage, I had no idea that the author would pass away shortly thereafter. This is Elie Wiesel’s recounting of the horror that came to his family and other Jews during the tragic Hitler years, before any kind of help in the form of liberation eventually materialized. It is the story of perseverance in the face of hopelessness and inhumanity. Rest in peace, Elie Wiesel! Your story shall not be forgotten, nor any of those people who suffered.
  7. Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty-(Charles Leerhsen) – Another biography and baseball book about one of the game’s greatest players, yet historically misunderstood. The book enlightened me as to the misconceptions I have always held about Ty Cobb, who was cast as a racist and overall mean person on and off the field. Leerhsen provides clear evidence that just the opposite was actually the true picture of Cobb.
  8. The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindberg, and the Epic Age of Flight-(Winston Groom) – The author has interwoven the stories of these three Americans who showed uncommon courage and never backed down from the challenges they faced in the world of aviation. It seems as though when faced with daunting adversity, each of these Americans ratcheted up his inner fortitude and met the challenges head on.

images-2.jpegThere are still several weeks remaining, and I do plan to devote much of that time to my writing. But there are still more books to read and enjoy as well.

What's next to read?

Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training-(Charles Fountain) Yep, another baseball book, but what can I say? There’s always room for books about baseball in the good, old summertime! Can’t wait to get to it.  🙂

What are some of your favorite summer reads this year?

Book clubs & “comfort zones”

ONE GOOD THING…

It’s time for the weekly  post of a new feature I’ve chosen to title “One Good Thing.” Each weekend, I’ll post something about what has been good to—or for—me during the week. 

I love to read fiction, particularly mysteries full of suspense and intrigue. Of course, I have my favorite popular authors of that genre. Lee Child, John Sandford, and Stephen King come to mind immediately.

Yes, most of their books are formulaic and predictable, but there always seems to be something more within the context of the stories. For example, Stephen King usually has some surprises wrapped in and around his tales of horror, and I find those tales fun and enjoyable to read. Escapism at its best!

Regardless of the book’s premise or overall concept, I know what I’m going to get when, without hesitation, I place an order with Barnes & Noble for the newest release by Child, Sandford, or King.

I also enjoy non-fiction, and I have favorite authors within that genre, too. Homer Hickam and Bill Bryson come to mind quickly. Again, I never hesitate when it comes to buying something new from each of these two wonderful writers. Perhaps it’s because, like Child, Sandford, and King, they’ve a proven track record.

“Comfort Zone”

Whatever it is, it’s a very pleasant and cozy “comfort zone” in which I find myself happily ensconced. But what happens when I am “forced” out of that comfort zone?

Why should that ever happen, you ask? Book Clubs.

I belong to two of them. One is a small group of men from our church who get together the first Saturday morning of each month from October through May. Most of the books are non-fiction, although we’ve hit upon some good fiction from time to time. (The Art of Racing in the Rain,  An Officer and a Spy, All the Light We Cannot See)IMG_1350.jpg

We meet for an hour, and it’s something to which I look forward to. We drink hot coffee, nibble on muffins or other treats one of us brings in, and chat about various things that tie-in with the book we’re all supposed to have read. The fellowship is rewarding, and it’s good to talk about various books and how they relate to our own lives.

The other book club is made up of friends from our former city. Unlike the men’s group, this one consists of fifteen to twenty folks, all with distinct interests and passions. We don’t meet as often as my men’s group—usually every couple of months—but our discussions are lively and, at times, fiery.

Using a “blind” draw or a pick-a-number, we choose our titles from an ongoing list of books suggested by the group. This has always seemed fair, although some of the book choices have been less than fun to read.

On the other hand, there have been books that I would probably never have chosen without it being the one “next up” for discussion at the next gathering, and those have turned out to be fascinating, good, and enlightening. All because I was forced out of that reading “comfort zone.”

My favorite titles these groups have discussed include the following:

  • The Warmth of Other Suns
  • Enrique’s Journey
  •  One Summer America: 1927
  • The Greater Journey
  • The Big Burn
  •  Deep Down Dark
  •  The Wright Brothers
  •  An Officer and a Spy

Of course, there are others, and I won’t dwell on those titles which I didn’t care for. After all, this feature is for finding the good and positive!

Suffice it to say, being in a book club (or two!) is a wonderful thing. Believe it or not, it’s good to get out of that reading “comfort zone” every now and then and explore new genres. Sometimes it’s all worth the trip!

And that’s one good thing…

Seeing the light…

OK, it’s back to focusing on writing, rather than on reading! That said, it’s hard to put down a book that is wonderfully written, holds our attention, and is the subject of our friends’ book club meeting on New Year’s Eve very soon.

And that’s where IMG_1350I’ve been during most of my “empty” moments these past few weeks, immersed in Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, All the Light We Cannot See. And though this post is not going to be a review of the book, let me simply say that the writing is beautiful, portraying the people and places inside the story in a very special light.

The story traces the lives of a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a young German boy, Werner, whose lives are forever altered because of World War II. In reading every page, I couldn’t help but wonder, what might have been for these two young people. Then I realized that for all who lived during this cataclysmic time, the same could be said. Human kindness is too often smothered in the throes of war, yet we see it still existing in Werner throughout. I loved the book and recommend it as a holiday gift to someone or to oneself.

Now, I’m awaiting the arrival of Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy, which I need to read for our men’s book club at church the second Saturday of the new year. I suspect that the busy times are keeping things moving at a snail’s pace, and it will get here when it gets here! Ordered from Barnes & Noble over a week ago, it should have been here—under “normal” circumstances—so I’m getting edgy, to say the least.

In the meantime, while Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack from Charlie Brown’s Christmas plays in my earbuds, I have my Scrivener opened up to write this, as well as my novel. It is beckoning me to get back to work on it! My goal is to have it rewritten, edited, and published by spring. Whenever I think the story is not really worth spending any more time on (it’s been a few years now), I wake in the night, thinking of the characters and places where the whole thing takes place! Call me wacky, but maybe that’s a sign that I shouldn’t abandon the story just yet. And so, I shall persist on this stop-and-go journey of telling a tale.

Now, as this rainy morning comes awake here in northern Illinois, I realize that Christmas is creeping ever closer. All of the Christmas cards/letters went out yesterday, the gifts are wrapped and ready for the attack of the grandsons, and the house—inside and out—is adorned with very nice lights and decorations.

I’m not sure how many posts I’ll be able to get in before the end of 2015, so I will take this time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year! In our very troubled times, I hope the goodness that lies within people will be the guiding light to achieve peace and well-being. As the wise men found their way to the simple stable one dark night long ago, may our journeys also be meaningful and full of hope.

Rain on the roof & cottage life…

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The “ancient one” Still standing after all these years!

Well, here we are. Once again, I’m going to break away from my summer hiatus and post this while I have a fairly decent Internet connection.

Mid-July is here, and the first really hot, sticky weather is scheduled to pay us a visit. Can’t complain, though, since I’ve been donning a sweatshirt most mornings and afternoons around here since Opening Weekend in late May. Plus, the nights have been those we consider “good sleeping” ones.

It rained all night, and there’s nothing as soothing as the steady rain on the cottage roof, knowing that all windows and porch blinds are secured and the futon is covered with Visqueen. The summer rain is another magical reason for spending time in this ancient structure. When there’s no driving wind coming across the lake from the southwest, the all-night rains are relaxing and comforting. Such was last night’s.

Novel Progress…

I have been very busy up here in my self-imposed “exile” doing much thinking about how I’m going to rescue my novel but haven’t made the strides I’d hoped to by this point. Perhaps it’s not meant to be, but I won’t give up on it. It stays on my mind, even when I sit down to attempt to write something else in the meantime. Must be a subliminal message in there trying to tell me something. We shall see.

Summer Reading…

Even if the writing isn’t moving swimmingly along, my summer reading is! Within the past weeks I’ve read Fierce Patriot, the story of the many-sided life of William Tecumseh Sherman; The Boys in the Boat, a wonderful true story of determination and victory against all odds; Dr. Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to his classic The Shining; David McCullough’s newest, The Wright Brothers. Next up in the reading department is a revisit to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I read a million years ago and forgot just how terrific it is. I’ll follow that with her “latest” offering, Go Set a Watchman.

President George W. Bush awards the Presidenti...
President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee during a ceremony Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, in the East Room. “To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced the character of our country for the better. It’s been a gift to the entire world. As a model of good writing and humane sensibility, this book will be read and studied forever,” said the President about Harper Lee’s work. White House photo by Eric Draper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s nice to know that when the writing–or the inspiration for writing–is lacking or going nowhere, I have those friends waiting on my shelf here in the cottage and I can lose myself within their pages.

By my next post, perhaps I’ll have some good things to say about my efforts to accomplish some writing and make some inroads into baling my novel out of the tarn in which it currently languishes! I’m thinking that the only way to do so will be to take the premise that is there and start over with a fresh re-write and finally put my mind at ease. Glad my income isn’t dependent upon producing a book on any sort of schedule!

Now, back to practical things around here. My son’s family arrives this evening for the weekend, so I need to do some basic cottage tidying-up and make the bed in the back bedroom upstairs. With the warm weather predicted, it’s sure to be a couple of days of playing in the lake.

I’ll go home Sunday afternoon for a dentist appointment on Monday morning, take care of yard work, and then make a two-day trip to Ohio to see my mom. By week’s end, I’ll be back up here in “exile,” back to the task of making my novel something decent.

National Register of Historic Places listings ...
National Register of Historic Places listings in Ottawa County, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s hoping your weekend and days ahead are all good. Until next time…

April in the wings, an elusive ending, and Deep Down Dark…

IMG_0817Roused from my work on my novel, I just realized that the blustery month of March is just about finished, which means that the annual guessing game as to what kind of weather we’ll be having around these parts is soon to begin. Will we be able to have morning coffee on the deck before much longer? This is critical, you know!

Yep, the calendar says that it’s officially spring, but we in northern Illinois know better than to put much stock in April’s arrival ushering in warm days full of blooming flowers and trees and lawns magically greening up. Instead, we can be sure that heavy jackets and hats will be necessary at times, which makes it rather difficult to become inspired to get out there and spread the first treatment of weed-n-feed or tend to the cluttered garage. But I’m steeling myself to get my spring tasks completed despite what Mother Nature will throw at us.

But, hark! April is waiting in the wings to give us at least an illusion that we’re through with the brunt of winter’s wrath and that those shorts-and-tee shirt-days are on the way. How soon, though, is the real question. The common saying around here is that the one thing that is predictable about spring weather is that it is quite unpredictable!

Now, I’ve done enough harping about the weather, so I’ll let it go and get back to work on that elusive conclusion to Birchwood’s Secret (originally titled Sandbar’s Secret). I’m resigned to the fact that a massive rewrite is in order for the conclusion to develop. And so it goes…

* * *

Unknown-1My writing struggles aside, I’ve also been reading a very stirring non-fiction book about the thirty-three Chilean miners who were trapped in a copper mine over 2,000 feet below ground in 2010. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2014) is one of those books that is good—yet challenging—for a claustrophobic such as I to read. Knowing that the outcome is a good one makes it a bit easier, yet author Héctor Tobar has created a good deal of nerve-racking tension throughout as he brings to light the stories of these unfortunate brave Chilean miners and their families. I recommend that one not read this book prior to going to bed, although it’s hard to put down.

How about you? Is there a book you’ve read that you’ve enjoyed, but yet made you squirm a bit?

2014 disappearing…Books to read on the road ahead

file7691266266638Happy New Year, one and all! This being my final post of 2014, I could go on and on about the wonderful things that happened to me in this year that is about to disappear into the past, but I’ll concentrate, instead, on one of my most favorite topics: Books.

My list of things to read in the coming new year has grown exponentially, thanks to some wonderful Christmas gifts left under our tree. And though I should probably get back to my writing and re-focusing my attention to finishing my current work in progress, a novel titled Sandbar’s Secret, I can’t wait to plunge headfirst into those nice-looking tomes that sit waiting on my “to be read” shelf of my bookcase. I’ll get to the writing, I’m confident!

Before I get into mentioning those upcoming reads, I want to say a word or two about the book I’m about to finish reading for a men’s bookclub this coming Saturday morning. Bill Bryson has been an author I’ve enjoyed, and his One Summer, America 1927 has been a very pleasurable experience. In typical Bryson fashion, he seems to bring out the unique “oddities” that often go unnoticed as history unwinds. At the heart of the book is the Lindbergh flight and the basic birth of aviation it brought about in 1927.

But that’s not all that made an impact on America and the world that summer. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig performed brilliantly as The New York Yankees fielded what is considered the greatest baseball team ever, and that was enjoyable to read about. The convicted anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, were executed for their deeds, and Al Capone was nearing the end of his “rule” in the underworld. Movies were swiftly moving away from silent ones into “talkies,” and TV was under development. And that’s merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg of all the neat stuff that Bryson has included in his terrific book! As such, I anticipate a wonderful discussion amongst the gentlemen this Saturday morning, while we enjoy hot coffee and nibble on delicious cranberry muffins.

Now, on to my upcoming reading itinerary:

  1. 41 A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush
  2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  3. Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell
  4. Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

I realize that some of these books are not new, particularly the Kinsella book which is the one that the movie Field of Dreams was based on, but they’re “new” to me, and I am eager to get into them all! Of course, there’s another book club gathering approaching in a few weeks where we’re going to discuss Dan Brown’s Inferno. I finished that a couple of weeks ago and can take it or leave it. Enough of Dante’s works, already!

Now, as my new year is on the cusp and arriving sooner than later, and my books to read sit patiently for my attention, I wish you all the happiest of things to come in the year ahead. I had the pleasure to make several blogging friends during the course of 2014, and I look forward to continuing those relationships. As we all move forward, may our days be merry and bright as we travel on down those many roads!DSCN5476