Summer reading & “Race Weekend” on the horizon…

So far in the two weeks that I’ve been up here at my summer place of exile, in the land of southwest Michigan, I’ve read a number of fun and interesting pieces of writing. And though I should be devoting more time at this point to doing my own writing and working on my next project, I have found the reading life much more beneficial at this point. I know, as in summers past, I’ll get the writing juices flowing about this time next week. And there’s a good reason for this. But first, my thoughts about what I’ve managed to read up here on the shores of Magician Lake.

Philip Caputo
Philip Caputo (Photo credit: Airstream Life)

I began my summer reading with Philip Caputo’s delightful book The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean. It’s an easy and pleasurable read, mainly because I love stories of folks who have “hit the road,” and it is one that makes one wish to pack up and join up with Caputo and his wife and their two English setters as they roll along, mile after mile, in their pickup truck with a vintage Airstream in tow.

Of course there is much more than a simple reporting of the various places they pass through. More important, there are the people whose lives, for one reason or another, are forged in the towns—dying or thriving—where they live in today’s America. It’s this very thing that is the force behind Caputo’s purpose of making the long trip in the first place. As he travels along, the question, what holds us all together, surfaces at every turn, in a light and humorous voice every mile of the trip. It’s a wonderful read!

My other is A Study in Sherlock, a collection of short stories based on the Sherlock Holmes Canon, and I found each story therein to be well written and equally as fun to read as Caputo’s book.

Being a longtime Holmes fan, I enjoyed the offerings of featured writers such as Lee Child, Jerry

English: Sherlock Holmes (r) and Dr. John B. W...
English: Sherlock Holmes (r) and Dr. John B. Watson. Illustration by Sidney Paget from the Sherlock Holmes story The Greek Interpreter.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margolin, S.J. Rozan, and Dana Stabenow, to name a few whose work makes up the contents of the book. I was familiar with Lee Child from his Jack Reacher books, but most of the others were new to me. I must say, that their stories in this collection have whetted my appetite to read more by each of them. I suppose that’s how we increase our reading wealth.

Now, as for my own writing efforts to finally get kickstarted next week is simple: Our cottage is busy with our two grandkids for a few days, followed by our annual NASCAR “Race Weekend”  beginning this coming Thursday.

For many years, several relatives and friends gather here for a multi-day party leading up to our trek over to Michigan International Speedway very early Sunday morning for the race. We’ll return that night and everyone will filter out for their homes in Illinois, Ohio, and various other points on the map on Monday. After a brief recovery period, I’ll be ready to get my writing routine in full gear when it will be just me during the weekdays.

And so this will probably be the last post until that time. I’m sure I’ll have some cogent points to make about “Race Weekend,” so come on back next week. It’s sure to be worth the effort. Until then…CortlandWriter

The grandstands for Michigan International Spe...
The grandstands for Michigan International Speedway in Michigan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Ole Rolvaag, Silas Marner, and other memories from reading classes…

Not long ago, I wrote about some of my favorite short stories, particularly ones that are oh, so good to read during

The Bookshelf of Sherlock Holmes
The Bookshelf of Sherlock Holmes (Photo credit: bcostin)

this wonderful time of the year—October into November. Of course, there will always be selections of Poe’s best works on my lists and the canon of Sherlock Holmes’ stories so faithfully given to us by Dr. Watson, via the talents of Arthur Conan Doyle. But any list would also have to include many from my school days—those stories I was assigned to read in English reading classes from grade school on up.

Like any young person, I had no idea at the time just how much of an impact many of the assigned reading experiences would have on my life. Writing now, eons later, I can reflect and truly appreciate just how good it was to be “forced” to delve into stories—short & novels—and I would love to turn back time just a bit to re-read many of them in that youthful time frame and, perhaps, glean even more “stuff” from them.

Some of my most wonderful memories stem from my discovery of many a story and author I read for a class assignment. And I really believe that my eventually becoming an English teacher was inspired by the wealth of literature I had the pleasure to experience with each passing year growing up. Granted, I was not enthralled with everything I was expected to read, but there are certain ones that are still with me, all these many years later.

For example, the name of Ole Rolvaag evokes fun memories as an 8th grader, reading excerpts of Rolvaag’s classic Giants in the Earth, which was about Norwegian pioneers trying to make a new life for themselves in the Dakotas in the 1870s. I became caught up in the will and the drive of those determined pioneers. Plus, I would never forget the author’s unique name, one that rolls off the tongue.

Cover of "Silas Marner (Signet Classics)&...
Cover of Silas Marner (Signet Classics)

Later, in high school, I read George Eliot’s Silas Marner, a book that has not been taught in many years, which is a shame in my opinion. The book, which is about a reclusive weaver in the 19th Century, is a beautiful tale of hope and redemption and human goodness, and the author makes some swipes at organized religion throughout. I found the book better and better the farther I got into it. Of course, having an enthusiastic and passionate teacher, who brought the story into our lives and helped us understand the marvelous characters that populate the book, made it all the more worthwhile and inspirational. Because I remember gaining a greater appreciation and love of literature through the efforts and passion of that teacher, I cannot help but believe that my desire to become an English teacher myself had a big “push” from that wonderful literature class in the summer of 1966.

Of course, there are so many more examples of the literature that influenced my life in one way or another, and it will be fun, from time to time, to write about those. For now, though, I will let my mind travel along with those Norwegian pioneers as well as paying a visit to Raveloe, where Silas Marner still tries to find his spot in that world and to clear his name. These are wonderful memories for a sunny and chilly late-October morning….CortlandWriter


Who’s Your Favorite All-time Author?

Asking who my all-time favorite authors are would be like asking me to number the stars. But for this post, I’ll start small and give my reasons why.

First, there was Clair Bee,  former coach, who wrote the Chip Hilton series of which I could never get enough. These stories all had a basic lesson and goodness at their core. I would skip school, feigning illness to stay home, to follow Chip and his friends through another adventure. Writing as a 61-year-old today, I often wonder what ever became of Chip, Speed, Taps, Biggie, Soapy, and Jimmy LuChung as they grew older, even though they were only fictional creations of a good writer.

At the same time in my life, there was the “conglomerate” of authors writing as  Franklin W. Dixon which produced the Hardy Boys series. Predictable and simple as they were, I loved them and imagined myself writing stories for young people some day. I loved the stilted language and decorum of the period in which the books were written. Frank or Joe were always “ejaculating,” and not the way that word has come to mean, either.

Then came Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who introduced me to  Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson  one cold winter while I was bedridden with a leg infection for several days. I had joined the Doubleday Book Club, where the fabulous deal included several books for something like 99 cents when agreeing to purchase a certain number of books within a year’s time. I thought that was a pretty neat thing! And so it was that the mysteries and adventures of the world’s most famous detective and his trusty companion came into my life and have remained forever. The game is always afoot!

Later on, in high school, I discovered Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes, two Brits who wrote stories of intrigue and adventure. Campbell’s Kingdom still ranks right up there as a very favorite by Innes, and I re-read it just last year. MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare sit proudly on my shelves today along with When Eight Bells Toll.

I would include Mark Twain for giving me Tom and Huck and all of their adventures along that great river and the shady and seedy characters along the way. Life on the Mississippi is another favorite. I don’t much care for the later, jaded and cynical works, but I’m forever indebted to the humorous and fun Twain. His short stories, such as “Roughing It”  were fun to read in class.

I have come to love Dickens for more than his standard “Scrooge” at Christmas time as well. I particularly love his characters and their many colorful and unique names: Murdstone, Heap, et al. I love reading about the dark underbelly of London and the wretched folks who move about in the fog and back alleys of the 19th Century. David Copperfield and Great Expectations remain my favorites.

So who would you say were your favorite authors–then and now? Drop me a line and tell me who and why.

Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton, and Quality Teachers

A bookshelf full of dreams and all sorts of magic!

Hardy Boys on a bookshelf

Ever since junior high school, I’ve had a dream of being a writer and writing the kinds of books I loved to read. I so enjoyed my reading classes then, being introduced to authors I’d continue to enjoy for the rest of my life: Twain, Poe, O. Henry, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many, many others. Of course, my love of reading was enhanced all the more when I discovered the Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton, and even Nancy Drew back in the 6th grade! I would eagerly await the next book in the series and lose myself gloriously in each one. Often was the time I’d feign illness to stay home from school for the sole purpose of keeping up with the exploits of the Hardys, Chip Hilton and friends, or Holmes and Watson out and about in the fog shrouded streets of London.

And I had some wonderful, encouraging reading teachers during these early years who showed me it was cool to read and talk about characters in stories and look at how the stories were put together, what made them work, and what the writer had in mind in writing in the first place. Very early on, these guiding lessons helped me look at most stories and books with an eager and hungry eye. At the same time, I was developing my own interests in writing stories of my own.

Off and on for many years, I would always say that someday I’d write my own book. One year, back in the 80s, I completed a course through the Institute of Children’s Literature, which I found to be very rewarding and worthwhile. It was the first time I’d ever had professional folks read and critique my fiction. (I still have those stories, by the way.) Real-life responsibilities and time constraints always seemed to be in the way of my realizing my dream of being a writer. My retirement in 2007 from 35 years of teaching language arts and reading to junior high kids, finally provided me with the perfect opportunity to do that which I’d long ago desired: Write that book!

During the summer of 2000, I began what would be my odyssey, culminating in the publication of my first book ten years later. I started the novel during lulls in the summer school classes I was teaching and continued writing at various times at our cottage up in Michigan. The process was nothing but starts and stops time and time again. For a period of time, I even forgot about the whole thing completely.

A chance comment by my daughter a few summers ago led me to the completion of the great, unfinished manuscript. She simply asked me what ever happened to that story I’d started and had shared with her once. She told me I should finish it because she’d enjoyed what she’d read of it the one time I’d showed it to her in its incomplete state. Her words were all the motivation I needed. Thus, I was able to finish the book, which I named Black Wolf Lodge, and published it in late 2010. Fittingly, the book is dedicated to my wonderful daughter Laura.

I am now at work on my next book, as well as keeping two blogs going and simply loving it! Life’s definitely good, and somewhere, back there in the early 60s, are those great reading and English teachers who sparked me to read and write and appreciate the good written word. Thanks to them…

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