Category Archives: Reading

Harry Potter Memories, Volume 1

75580517I stood outside on a warm July night as the clock closed in toward midnight, surrounded by a group of people just as rabid as I was to get the final installment in a series that had captivated us for so long. It was a bittersweet few minutes because I knew when I finally had that book in my mitts that would be it; there would be no more firsts when it came to Harry Potter. And I knew that when I had finally gotten to the last page and read that last sentence, that last word, it would be finished. I would have no more books to look forward to. I knew I would have to savor it in a way I had savored very few things in my life to that point. That was okay by me.

The group outside of Barnes & Noble that cloudless night were varied, from the black-wearing goths, to the bowtie nerds, to the casually chic, to, well, me. I was the only tall black guy wearing glasses in the bunch, but I didn’t stand out because we all stood out. We were standing outside of a book store at midnight, in 2007, after the point when physical books were supposed to be obsolete, desperate to get our hands on the same thing, like crackheads needing that pipe.

That brought us together, but it separated us too, because we all read in different ways. Some of us take our time and absorb every single word, sometimes going back and re-reading entire sections when we feel we’ve missed or want to clarify something. Others skim read, a process I call “getting the gist,” and they fly through each book with ease, but they don’t get each subtle nuance the way the absorbed readers do. For the skim readers their ultimate goal is to get to the end of the book as quickly as possible, whatever it takes.

Some of those skim readers were in front of me in line that night, as we all had to take numbers according to when we arrived at the store. I got there at quarter of 12 so I was in the 20’s, and I knew my wait to get my hands on the coveted book would be infinitely longer than the people in front of me who loudly declared they would finish the book in the parking lot, that they wouldn’t budge until they were on that last page. Then the floodgates opened, they called the first group of ticket holders, and it had begun.

The lucky ones who had those first tickets disappeared inside the golden gates, and in a matter of minutes they were back with their copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in hand. A few of them opened the book up straightaway and skipped to the last page, to see how it all ended. It was in those moments that I sincerely wished that magic was real, that each page’s words would only appear after the previous page had been read. But no such luck, so I merely hoped they would keep whatever happened to themselves.

Then my number was called and I was gone, inside the store at quarter after midnight. A man in a suit stood next to a large table that was completely filled with copies of the book. He handed one to the woman in front of me, who I swear did a dance before hustling up to the register. Then it was my turn, and he handed me my own copy, the book I knew I would treasure until the end of my days. I followed the woman to the register, desperate to give her my hard-earned money in exchange for an experience that would certainly be as magical as the words in the book themselves.

I emerged into the parking lot again, and even though there were still legions of fans out there milling around I didn’t see any of them. My eyes were locked onto the artwork on the front of the book gripped tightly in my hands. I didn’t see any way that I would get sleep that night, but I wasn’t staying in the parking lot. My car materialized out of the fog of my obsession, I clicked it unlocked, and I tossed the book onto the passenger side seat. It would have to wait until the next day, on the way to Massachusetts.

When I would read until I couldn’t read any more. Because it was Harry Potter. Because it was the final book. And it was time.


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Why I Love Stephanie Plum

stephanie_plum_-_sarah_shahi_5She is so clueless sometimes it’s amazing to me that she keeps surviving, and that thing where she’s in lust with two guys at the same time, what’s up with that? I mean, seriously, make up your mind already. It’s been 21 books and counting. The tension should be long gone, or the two of them should have beaten each others’ brains out several times during the course of those 21 books. Of course she should also be dead multiple times, but somehow she keeps luckily escaping, like a cat with its proverbial 9 lives.

Her name is Stephanie Plum, and she is so ridiculous sometimes that I can’t help but laugh out loud whenever she actually does catch someone who has skipped out on bail and needs to be rebonded. She’s been shot at enough times by bad guys, by good guys, and by random guys who weren’t really shooting at her, but near her. She’s been held prisoner, trapped in seemingly hopeless situations, and has an endless rotation of people she’s known forever who constantly judge her for not settling down, one of which is her own mother, who seems a little too caricature for my tastes.

And then there’s her Grandma. God bless that woman, but she’s an absolute mess. It’s no wonder where Stephanie gets her issues from, but that being said, Grandma is also the source of the spunk that makes Stephanie so delightful as a character in the first place. But the hamster, yeah, the hamster must go. If I have to hear about Rex’s soup can one more time I’m going to start putting my fingers in my ears and making faces at the book. Honestly. He’s outlived his usefulness as a tertiary character, and he needs to make his way to “fun on the farm.”

Don’t get me started on the abysmal movie choice to cast Katherine Heigl (I don’t even care if I spell her name correctly) as this quintessential Jersey girl. The accent is all off. The looks are all off. And the feeling is all off. If they had to start a movie franchise based on this clueless heroine at least get an unknown actual Jersey girl to play the role. It would only be fitting to play it that way, and not to sully the name of Ms. Plum with an actress who doesn’t fit the bill. At all. Better yet, just leave the movie count at 1 and keep my girl Stephanie pinned to the pages of her books instead of gallivanting on the big screen.

For the record, I think she should just ditch Morelli and just go ahead and get Ranger out of her system. She needs to just jump for it and see how far it goes. We all know it’s not heading to marriage, but maybe if she goes as far as she can she’ll get some perspective on it, and perhaps the sexual tension between the two can dissipate. It’s the only thing keeping her from committing to someone else (Morelli) and finally giving her mother the grandchildren she so desires.

Nevertheless, I love Stephanie Plum. She’s feisty, and because she’s clueless she gets into some purely hilarious situations. I find myself laughing out loud at her antics, especially when she goes on the road with her stereotypical black sidekick (and former ho — lest we forget), Lula. The two of them always seem to leave the skip by him/herself long enough for him/her to slip out the back door (there’s always a back door) and deprive them of their body receipt, and therefore their much-needed money.

Oh, and if I had the money I would buy Stephanie Plum a bullet-proof, reinforced titanium alloy car so she can get from Point A to Point B without getting it blown up, set on fire, or stripped (I mean, even I know that if you park on Stark Street you will return to a stripped car, and I’ve never even been on Stark Street). Look alive, Plum! Or maybe I wouldn’t even buy her a car because she’s likely to find some other way of getting it destroyed, and then I’m out the money and she’s still driving Big Blue.

Yeah, I love Stephanie Plum despite all the drama she creates and that springs up around her, because she puts up with a lot and somehow still comes through in the end, like any good heroine does. But she doesn’t stay clean throughout. She’s often roughed up, her clothes sullied, her apartment blown up, or any combination of variables that keep her heart rate high. It’s this high state of action that keeps drawing me back to her, the girl from the ‘Burb who likes donuts way too much and never has anything in her fridge.

Because, yeah, that’s who she is, and I wouldn’t change a thing.


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Short Shrift

short_stories_195010-25q3ffzShort stories have gotten short shrift in recent years for some reason. The beauty of the short story is that it can introduce you to characters, tell a story, and resolve itself in the course of a few thousand words as opposed to over 100,000 like a novel does. And unlike a poem, short stories aren’t written in subjective verse, and thus are easier to understand. Yet, how many of us can name a current short story writer who isn’t also a writer of longer works?

For comparison, look at someone like Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, he wrote poetry as well, but he was famous in his time for such works as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Black Cat,” which are all short stories. Indeed, he never wrote a full-length novel, and yet he’s seen as one of the premier writers not just of his time but of all time. Another example is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous writer of the Sherlock Holmes series of short tales. His tales have spawned a slew of movies and television shows that have been wildly popular as well.

But name me someone in the 20th or 21st centuries who is renowned as a short story writer in his/her own right. The odds are that you can’t, or maybe you’re one of the few faithful readers of short fiction. Time was when we would go to the library and get out a magazine where there would be short stories, or a condensed book that had several novellas/short stories in it. Then in school we would read stories like “The Monkey’s Paw,” and we would be fascinated by it. But even that was written ages ago, in an age long before this modern world.

John_Grisham_Ford_County(2)I remember when John Grisham released his book, Ford County, and how I was looking forward to it with such excitement and anticipation, because it was a collection of short stories instead of his standard novels. You see, I have something to admit. I absolutely adore short fiction (even short short fiction), and I don’t care who knows it. I love the nuance of the genre, how a good short story writer can weave the tale in such a way that it’s both intensely detailed and succinct in ways that novels could never capture.

Another one of my favorite authors — Bentley Little — also came out with a book of short tales, entitled The Collection, after many of his fans specifically asked him to do just that. You see, he was a short story writer first, and had many of his short stories published in various magazines and journals. Eventually someone saw his work and signed him to write novels, but he always remembered his roots. And the short stories he weaves are phenomenal.

When I was studying to be a teacher, I had a mentor teacher who knew I enjoyed short stories so she bought me a collection of Best Short Stories (of whatever year it was) as a goodbye present. I devoured those short stories, even though there were over 30 of them in one volume. Some were good, some were bad, and some were in-between, but none of them was boring. They kept my interest, for one reason or another, all the way through the book. Since then I have begun collecting those volumes, and now I have over 10 of them from different years. Their spines are worn from my reading and re-reading them almost religiously.

You’ve probably guessed it by now, too. Even though I have two of my novels published, my first love was the short story. In fact, I’ve written over 100 short stories already in my life, each one as special as the next, every one like one of my children. Just the ability to write about these characters who have lives before they meet me and lives after is magical. I imagine I’m just a photographer taking a snapshot of a moment in their lives, and they become my friends for that small moment. Even if I don’t like them as people, I at least get to know them, and I enjoy the learning experience.

So, why are short stories getting short shrift these days? I think too many people don’t want succinct tales, especially in this age where the serial novel is king. We want more, not less, from our reading experience. We want to get a character and follow them over the course of several really big novels instead of over the course of well-written short stories. Holmes wouldn’t last in this world, I’m afraid. Or maybe we should just try and revive the short story, resuscitate it like we did the ’80s. It could happen, and if it does, I’ll just say, “I told you so.”

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Checked Out

requiemI just realized not just that I read a lot of series books, but that there are also a plethora of series books out there, more so than it seems like there were back in the day. We’ve come a long way from Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. I even recall reading the massive horde of Star Trek books that were out there once upon a time. It was even interesting to read the ones by the same author, or to compare the different authors’ styles of that series.

So, last week I was reading the second book in the Divergent series, and this week it’s on to the third (and final) book in the Delirium series. Requiem has been out for a little while now, but I was caught up reading a bunch of other stuff. In fact, it’s been so long since I read Pandemonium that I had to go and read a synopsis of that book to re-familiarize myself with the fringe characters and the plot at the end of that book. Ah, the glory of series reading!

Here’s what I have Checked Out this week:

  1. Requiem, by Lauren Oliver. After I got caught up on the series again I realized once again why I liked it in the first place. Society is breaking down, which makes sense since the society is based on this “cure” that will stop people from falling in love, because they say that love is a delirium that makes people do stupid things. Well, duh! I’m really interested to see how this one winds up.
  2. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. This one is strange, but it still has my attention enough that I renewed it from the library. Ooh, that would make a good entry. Renewed. Anyway, this store is a magic portal to another dimension, or something like that. Okay, so I’ll admit I’m slightly confused. I may just start this one over from the beginning again.
  3. The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. This book club selection reads like just what it is, a book club selection. It is literary without being too stuffy, so I’m enjoying it. I just hope others in the group appreciate it as much as I have been so far.
  4. Running Blind, by Lee Child. This is the fourth book in the Jack Reacher series (see, another series book!) and I happen to be reading them in order, but I just got this one and I’m excited to get started on it. I think I may finish Requiem first, though, and get that series finished.
  5. Psychos: A White Girl Problems Book, by Babe Walker. I might be about to check this one back in. It’s the second book in a series, but I haven’t read the first one yet, and I thought it wouldn’t be a problem, but this is not a standalone book. I’m getting quite a bit confused as I read along, so I might just return it until I’ve read the first one. I’m going to read a few more chapters and then make the decision.

There was this biography of Johnny Carson that I picked up last week from the local library that I really want to read, but it’s a “new” book and I just don’t have the time to read it right now so I sent it back. I put it in my phone’s list app, however, where it joined 10 other books that I need to get back to when I find the time to read them. Also on the list of books I need to get to pronto is the final one in another series, The One, by Kiera Cass. I was enchanted by the other two, so I look forward to when it finally comes in through the library.

Happy reading to you!

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Why I Like Jack Reacher

jack-reacher-boxed-set-6-books-I’ll admit it. I’m a fan of Jack Reacher. It took me ages to pick up the first book and give it a thorough reading, but that was two weeks ago and I’m already more than halfway through the third one in the series. That’s what I do with series that I like, I’ve discovered. It’s how I plowed through 16 tomes of Stephanie Plum misadventures in less than three months. I guess I just like to play catch up.

And yes, I’ve employed a tactic of reading all the reviews for each book after I’ve read the book. I’ve never really done that before, and it’s an interesting exercise, I’ve found, because people are so wide-ranging in their feelings about the character, about the series, and about each individual book. Apparently Reacher himself, as written, is just such a polarizing figure, and attacking Lee Child’s writing believability is en vogue as well.

Having read all of the reviews for the first two books, absorbed all of the information from other readers, and compared it to my own reading, what changed about my own view of the character? Absolutely nothing. In fact, I laughed at both the people who say Jack Reacher is a fully realized character, and at the people who say he’s as flat as a pancake. I chuckled when I saw someone claim the books were formulaic and boring, as well as at the guy who hailed the books as “perfectly written.”

Because, no, the books aren’t perfectly written, but neither are they so vapid as to make them unreadable. They’re pop fiction, right? Take a lot of action, a bit of sex, and a little Sherlock Holmes, and you’ve got pretty much every Jack Reacher novel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Child is not the second coming of Faulkner, nor should he be. There’s a place in the market for his type of fiction as well as whatever else is being trotted out there as well.

If you’re not familiar with Jack Reacher, I can sum him up in six easy points…

  1. He’s ex-military police
  2. He’s smart about the obscure stuff and stupid about the obvious stuff
  3. Apparently girls drop their panties when he’s around
  4. He’s a HUGE, yeti-type dude
  5. He’s the classic drifter who enjoys living “off the grid”
  6. He falls into most of his adventures by coincidence (um yeah)

That there (#6) is one of the biggest issues those who hate the books have with the plots. Most of the time some incredible coincidence leads him into the adventure, and yet somehow it is also connected to him in some way. Apparently even though he’s spent nearly his entire life in the military, either as a brat, or as an officer, he somehow still found time to make impressions on a cadre of diverse individuals throughout the length and breadth of a country he hasn’t spent much time in.

But I’m a fan, because I like the action. I can suspend my belief enough to go along with the coincidences, to avert my gaze when he has sex with yet another bombshell, and to follow him into impossible situations that he gets out of in creative ways that may or may not actually work in real life. But, see, Reacher doesn’t live in real life. He lives in a series of books, so he can do those things, and I follow him through every single one of them without blinking an eye.

Oh, and the movie, don’t even get me started on the debate surrounding that one!


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jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-callingLet me start at the end and work my way backwards, which is pretty much what happens in a detective thriller, at least a classic one anyway. Someone is dead, and the detective is hired to trace the story back to its origin. Why is that person dead? What was the motive, be it suicide or homicide? Then, the story ends when the detective susses out the true cause of death, the motivation that would surely be the beginning if it were most other sub-genres of fiction. That’s what happens when the detective genre works well, which it does for J.K. Rowling (pseudonym Robert Galbraith), in the beginning of her new Cormoran Strike series.

First, I’ll admit that I knew it was Rowling when I first read the novel, and of course that changed the way I approached it had I thought it was simply a new writer named Robert Galbraith. That being said, I had recently tried reading Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy and it was not the page turner I had expected from her, even without the famous Mr. Potter in the narrative. So, my recent history suggested that I should be more open-minded about this book, to not expect a Harry Potter, but also not to expect anything like Vacancy. Otherwise, why would she have chosen a pseudonym?

The story is simple enough. A supermodel’s adoptive brother hires private detective Cormoran Strike to figure out what really happened to his sister when she sailed to her death out of a high-rise window. The police had ruled it a suicide, but the tale just didn’t ring true to the brother, so he sees Strike. What I loved about the story from the beginning was its vivid descriptions that didn’t linger but that simply explained and then moved on. That’s what I’ve come to expect from Rowling, and she returns to form from the very start of this one.

Strike is in the mold of such rumpled detectives as TV’s Columbo, not stylish like Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and I think that suits him. He has a bright mind, and the rumpled facade causes others not to take him or his mind seriously, so he can really delve into the situation at hand, which in this case is a supermodel’s supposed suicide. Needless to say, he uncovers layers to the case that give him pause, in the end realizing a conspiracy of unfathomable depth. Of course this puts him in personal danger and he must figure out the true depth of things before anything befalls him or his associate/secretary Robin.

There’s of course a latent sexual tension between Strike and Robin, but it remains under the surface, unlike so many detective stories I’ve read where the P.I. is a rogueish ladies’ man who gets not only the secretary but any other woman who is even tangential to the case at hand. Oh yes, and Strike is missing a leg. While that is not really central to the story, it still affects it, however, because I sense his discomfort and embarrassment about the missing limb that keeps him somewhat humble throughout.

As for Robin, she is new to Strike’s office, but she proves herself more than adequate with her assistance. I sense the two of them will keep up their subtle tango as the series goes on, but I think the dance itself is enough to keep the energy charged without them ever becoming physical. Some of the best collaborations really exist because of that tension, and if it stretches too thin it will snap, and then their connection and the help they offer each other will be at an end.

What I love so much about The Cuckoo’s Calling is its sense of timing. It reads quickly without flying through important details. Rowling set up the pace well, and incorporates her reveals at just the right places for them. I forgot pretty fast while I was reading it that 1) it was written by the same woman who wrote Harry Potter, and 2) the characters weren’t real. That is the mark of good fiction, in my opinion, that you get so involved in the story as a reader that it blurs the line between reality and fiction.

I look forward with baited breath to the next book in the series (The Silkworm), coming this summer. I would recommend this book and series to anyone who enjoys the classic detective genre. I would leave Harry Potter expectations at the door, too, because this is a completely different kind of animal.

I give this novel FIVE stars.

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Genre Wars

bookstore_sections-550x411“What? Our book club is reading non-fiction this week? I’m skipping it until we get back to fiction. I don’t care if the book won a bunch of awards. If it really happened, I’m out.” -Nicky L.

I have several friends/acquaintances who have an aversion to non-fiction, for some reason believing like in the old days that it’s going to be sleep-inducing, as boring as watching paint dry. But I’ve found that non-fiction has changed throughout the years, so much so that those long-term fiction-only readers need to take notice. The key is finding those non-fiction books that talk about someTHING, rather than the ones that talk about someBODY.

I myself enjoy biographies and autobiographies, but only when their subjects are people I already find interesting. Case in point, I really enjoyed Decision Points because it described in detail the decisions made by former president George W. Bush, and it had really cool pictures. It wasn’t just a telling of his life story, instead being a chronicling of important events told from the “other side,” meaning from his perspective. I much prefer those kinds of stories to the ones that just go through a history of the person themselves.

Books like Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, are fascinating journeys into history in a way that defies the standard non-fiction definition. That’s because writes like Hillenbrand focus on the narrative just as much as on the facts. It’s how she tells the story just as much as it’s the fascinating story itself that sells it to readers and will make just about any hater of non-fiction reconsider. That’s the glory of any story told well, isn’t it, that it ushers its reader in and amazes that reader enough to keep interest, isn’t it? Well, non-fiction now has the power to do that just as much as fiction.

“Drama has the ability to show the true power of words, because we get to see those words walking and talking with passion and fire on stages across the world. That’s real magic.” -Theodicus

My wife, a librarian, asked me the other day to recommend a play for a book club that routinely reads novels from month to month. They want to branch out and try a play to mix things up, but they also want one that lends itself to discussion. I told her I think she should go with a play that has an accompanying visual that is available because a play was meant to be seen and not just read. When I was teaching ninth grade English and we would get to Romeo & Juliet I would always have the students act out the play for just this reason as well.

The-Glass-Menagerie-imagePlays, just like non-fiction books, get a bad rap from people who enjoy novels, but they too have changed over the years, from the dry nature of some Greek and Roman plays to the more modern plays by such masters as Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. In fact, I suggested The Glass Menagerie by Williams, and A View From the Bridge from Miller as two plays that the book club would be able to digest and discuss after both reading and watching them. These plays have complex characters that are three-dimensional, and so can be identified with by just about anybody. They also don’t have happy endings, in my opinion, so they beg the questions about “why not?”

Genre wars are interesting to watch. I know people on all ends of the spectrum, from the diehard biography-only types, to the fiction worshippers, to those who have to have a mix of reading materials and genres to feed their obsession for reading and absorbing anything they can get their hands on. But the one thing we have in common is a love of reading, and that’s a wonderful thing, whether or not we decide to branch out and check out other genres. I still find it fun, though, to try and convince others to give something else a chance.

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Old School vs. New School

timthumb.php“What more can I say? I wouldn’t be here today if the old school didn’t pave my way.”

Did you know that I can read without my glasses? I don’t do it often but it’s interesting when I do, because I have to have the book up pretty close to my face, and then I have this squint that is a thing of beauty. Generally I only do it when I’m in bed, when I either can’t reach my glasses or I’m dying to get straight to reading without worrying about locating them. Or even sometimes when I’m just trying to prove to my wife that I can read without them. She is never impressed.

It’s funny how when I use my Nook to read it’s so much easier to do it without using my glasses. That’s one thing I can definitely thank technology for. Because the screen is backlit the words seem to leap off the screen (I almost said page). I don’t even have to squint as long as the Nook is close enough to my face. It makes me look just that much cooler. At least I think so. That’s one point for reading through technology.

I find it interesting that one of the hottest debates these days among readers is the “old school” vs. “new school” argument. There is a legion of readers out there who scream SACRILEGE whenever anyone mentions reading on a device instead of opening an actual book and turning the antiqued pages. These readers use big words like TRADITION, and CONTINUITY, to prove their point while waving their large tomes in the air and waving them like they just don’t care. Bully for them.

Then there’s the complete other end of the spectrum, the people who only use devices to read anymore. You see them in the train station, at the dentist’s office, and sitting in their cars in a parking lot with the screen in front of them, be it an iPad, a Kindle Fire, a Nook HD, or any other tablet or smart phone out there. They are oftentimes so absorbed in the passages that you could wave a fire-soaked rag in front of their faces and they wouldn’t even blink. They love technology and technology loves them.

But where’s the middle ground? I know I’m firmly in that place instead of at the two extremes, and I could argue for both positions. I enjoy the flexibility of the new school, but the nostalgia of the old school. In fact, sometimes I read a book in both mediums just so I can say I did. So, what are the advantages of each? I’m glad you asked.

Pros of keeping it “old school”:

  • The smell. There’s just something about that smell of paper in the morning.
  • The physicality. Being able to flip the pages is totally underrated.
  • The bookmark. Bookmarks have their own history that electronic ones can’t match.
  • Used books. I can pick up a book for 25 cents at a book sale, or utilize something called a library.
  • The book store. Just hanging out touching books is fun.

Pros of going “new school”:

  • The variety. You can fit so many books on one device it’s almost scary.
  • The portability. Imagine you’re going on a long trip and want several books to read. One device.
  • The back-light. Oh yeah, what helps me to read without my glasses. Or in bed while my wife is asleep. Shhh.
  • Internet-ready. I love using the built-in dictionary to define odd words I had never met before.
  • e(nvironment)-friendly. Save some trees, right?

Of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to positions for each format, and there are a host of negatives associated with both as well. It’s one of the huge reasons I utilize both and I don’t feel bad for it. Which one do you feel is the best way to go, or are you like me and take advantage of both choices? That’s not even starting on audio books, which are even more interesting to discuss, depending on who’s doing the talking. Get it, doing the talking? Audio books?

Never mind.

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U2 BY U2 | A Review

PIC8It’s 1989, the final year of a decade in which you took the world by storm, going from absolutely nothing to the biggest rock ‘n roll band in the world by challenging yourselves to always be different. And you’ve achieved that lofty status with one of the best selling albums of all time, an album that doesn’t sound like anything anyone else put out in the 1980s. But you’re not satisfied to rest on those acclaimed laurels. You’re restless, and you want to create something even greater. So you head to Berlin in early 1990 and you record an even more seminal album that is as different from anything you’ve ever done as it is from anything else others are releasing at the time. Or any time, for that matter.

One of the most fascinating aspects of U2 is their adaptability, their absolute willingness to change while others are content to stagnate. It’s what makes them so unique as individuals, as a band, and as a revolution. What makes U2 By U2 so special is that it tells the story from the perspective of the band members (and of their manager, Paul McGuinness), from their earliest individual memories, to the formation of the band, through 2006. It captures the madness of trying desperately to land a record deal, the glory of their first number one record, to the fears that they would fall completely apart while trying to create what would eventually become Achtung Baby.

It’s the story of Adam Clayton, the band’s bassist, who was born in England but who moved to Ireland as a young boy and eventually embraced his new country, an outcast who looked cool enough to be a bassist and so became one. The narrative also includes Larry Mullen, Jr., the quiet drummer who never quite understood why Bono had to leap off the stage on occasion. Then there’s The Edge, an accidental master of odd guitar effects that have characterized U2 from the start. And at the center of it all is the wordsmith, Bono, who only wanted to be a guitar player. Who still wants to be a guitar player.

c735ea39e40d55ec6e4a1c6f5ababfd7The book alternates between the perspectives of the members of U2 through the different creative phases of the band, in chronological order, so after introducing the family backgrounds it moves forward to how they met, the now famous note on the board at Mt. Temple, posted by Larry Mullen, Jr., and doesn’t finish until after the release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. It is incredible to hear about the poor initial concerts, the scramble to put an entire album together, the random nature of The Joshua Tree, and how the band broke America.

What makes it work is that the pictures and the words are so perfect together. There are the horrible haircuts of the October period, the crazy muscle suits of Pop, and the airplane hangar in the Beautiful Day video shoot. Then as a reader you can understand from the perspective of U2 what they were thinking when those photographs were taken, and how they honestly felt that they had the worst possible fashion sense at each stage of the journey. You know, except for Bono’s fly shades during the ZooTV period.

INTERSCOPE RECORDS U2It’s 1999, and after mixed reviews and the less than expected sales of your latest album, it’s time to dream it all up again. So you do, going back into the studio and making your most intimate record in years. It’s a record about loss, about goodbyes, and about looking back on your life, but also about looking forward to something new, to something different. And it resonates, like so much of your music has done over the years, creating a connection with your fans that cannot be denied. Then you write down that feeling, even though it cannot be contained in mere words.

What I love the most about U2 By U2 is its honesty, its soul-stripped-bare brutal honesty, even when that honesty reveals a humanity that most bands like to leave behind, even when it is the band at their most vulnerable. Because that’s when U2 is at its best, in its music, and in its creativity that encompasses so much more than just its music. It’s what makes the book compelling as more than just a companion piece to the phenomenal albums the band has produced.

I give the book FIVE stars.

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a7780e2565cfd33608b9919330180bf9Usually I try to stay away from heart-wrenching tales that will pull on the precarious thread of my emotions, but every once in a while I go into a situation knowing full well its ramifications and still do it. That’s how it was for me with Look Again, by Lisa Scottoline. She has morphed from being all about the legal drama to writing stories that have heartstrings attached to them. Save Me was probably as intense as any book I read from that perspective, and this one follows suit.

The premise is a simple one to grasp, but one that still made me gasp. Ellen Gleeson adopted a boy, and he is the light of her life. But then she sees a missing children’s flyer in her mail with a picture of a boy on it who looks remarkably similar to her son. The emotion in the book lies in the incredibly difficult decision she is then forced to make, because if the boys are indeed one and the same, if she pulls at that thread it could all come unraveled and she could lose her son. But is he really hers anyway? Could she possibly just ignore it and make it go away?

I love how Scottoline forces her heroine to honestly think about what the right thing is to do, that she doesn’t automatically just say the truth needs to be out there. She loves her son so much that she doesn’t want to lose him, and it’s a powerful pull that weighs on her. But it is a weight, and it does prove too heavy for her to measure alone. Ellen is nothing if not intent on finding the truth. It’s how she is hard-wired, so she goes on the search, knowing the dire consequences that could happen if she gets the answers she seeks. And as readers, we go on the search as well.

At times I was convinced of both scenarios, that the boys were the same, and that the boys were different. I thought that I knew which decisions would be made, but I was wrong. I thought I knew the inner workings of the people involved, but again I was mistaken. It’s curious to me that in this day and age something like this could and does realistically happen, and Scottoline does a great job of weaving a tale that gives and takes at the same time.

In the end we are left with this very raw emotional connection to the characters and a very intense understanding of their motivations and decisions, even if we don’t necessarily agree with all of them. And as has become all too familiar in Scottoline’s books of late, the answers only give us more questions. But that’s a good thing here because it forces us, just as it did to Ellen, to dig deep into our own psyches and motivations. Would we follow the same path. Why? Why not? The answers might just scare us, but they make us think like not too many books these days do.

I would recommend this book to anyone willing to challenge themselves and delve into their own fears. It is not for the faint of heart, but it’s well worth the time you will take reading it. And the ending might just surprise you.

I give the novel FIVE stars.

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