Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Forget Spring Cleaning, it's time for Spring Reading

My Cheesy Readers know I've been discussing rereads lately, and many might remember that I try to reread Watership Down or its sequel every other year. But recently due to some posts on GoodReads, I realized there is another spring classic I need to reread. I haven't read it in nearly (cough) years, so I figure it's about time.

I'm speaking, of course, of the childhood classic "The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame. It has all our old friends  - Mole, and Rat, and Mr. Badger, and the unforgettable... Mr. Toad. This English tale, which has never gone of out print, has sparked the imagination of millions of children, a United States president (Teddy Roosevelt), and even the rock band Pink Floyd, who named their first album after Chapter Seven - "Piper at the Gates of Dawn."

The story is that Grahame wrote this book from stories he told his grandson, and he fell in love with these characters and their adventures as much as the world did. In fact, on the page prior to the first chapter, Grahame leaves us all a little message: "I love these little people, be kind to them."

These stories and these little people whisk us readers back to a time when we found magic in our imagination, surrounded ourselves with it, and pretended these characters were as real as the people around us. We found refuge in their simple friendships and all wished we were a part of their little group. As an adult now, it's time to revisit that world, recapture those moments, and remember we can make the world a better place by being kind to those around us.

Until Next Time...
Wayfarerly Yours,
Michael

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Brought to You by the Letter "B"

There are certain businesses and certain aspects within business that fascinate me, publishing obviously being one of them. And when it comes to genre fiction, I'm really curious how all the numbers play out - sort of a good way to measure what we are reading. The problem is, some of these numbers are difficult to locate and quantify.

But I did find these numbers from 2012 on PBS/POV the other day that were compiled based on findings by The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Romance Writers of America, so I thought I'd share:
"In 2012, the romance genre took the largest share of the consumer book market worldwide,12.9% ($1.358 billion), beating out religion/inspirational ($759 million), mystery ($682 million), science fiction/fantasy ($559 million) and classic literary fiction ($445 million). According to the popular genre magazine RT Book Reviews (formerly known as Romantic Times), the average romance reader today spends about $100 monthly reading anywhere from 10 to 40 books a month."
Um.... WOW!
$1.358 BILLION!

Granted, I thought Romance was actually a larger percentage of overall book purchases, but still, that dollar figure begins with a "B" and that's simply amazing. And remember, folks, we're just talking about genre specific fiction here. We're not talking about Tell-Alls, memoirs, political, history, and a whole host of non-fiction or mainstream literature titles. This is all genre fiction. And then there's the average per person per month: $100 per month for 10 to 40 books.

Now I'm a slow reader, but I read constantly. If I read 40 books in one year, I consider that a decent year, and if I buy ten books in one month, that's a major spending spree, then I have to make efforts to reel in my binge impulse buying. I simply can't imagine being a romance reader and maintaining that sort of momentum. But millions of women do. (In fact, my maternal grandmother did. Did I ever tell you that story? If not, perhaps one day I will.)

In the meantime, I think it's time to step away from numbers for a while before my head explodes.

Until Next Time...
Romantically Yours,
Michael 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Transcendence or Magic Realism

In the Cheesy Household, Football is a religion. When Football season starts, everything else is practically put on hold. And we have our shrines. Full sized flags, backyard banners, garden gnomes, t-shirts, hoodies, collared golf shirts, sweatpants, stocking caps, scarves, videos, cute stuffed animals, and of course, authentic jerseys. We each have our own teams (Seahawks Forever!! The Boss is partial to the Ravens), and we support one another even if they go head to head. But make no mistake - this is a Football household to our very bones.

We do accept the existence of other less important sports though. For instance, The Boss and I have been spotted at a hockey game or two, and if someone throws us free baseball tickets, we head out to the ballpark for peanuts and beer.

And despite my love of the pigskin game, from a reader perspective, I must acknowledge there are no novels like baseball novels. A good baseball novel can make me wish I was more passionate about that sport. A good baseball novel transcends the sport itself and offers a wonderful philosophical perspective on life.

I haven't read a ton of baseball novels, but of those I've read, the author W.P. Kinsella has delivered the best. Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy cross the boundaries of mainstream literature and enter into the realm of magic realism. (For those who do not know, Mr. Costner's movie Field of Dreams was based on Shoeless Joe).  The Natural is a famous Robert Redford movie to many, but among avid readers, the novel by Bernard Malamud is just as deserving of praise.

One thing to remember about baseball novels and why they transcend the genre and appeal to a wide range of readers, even those who don't follow the game, is because baseball novels are always about more than just baseball - they are about the human spirit that can be found deep within each of us, that untapped magic we can touch if only we believe in ourselves.  

There are a ton more baseball novels out there - more than enough to keep your average baseball fan busy during the winter months waiting for the start of Spring Training (which by the starts this week and is the inspiration for this blog entry). So while I wait for 54 days for the NFL draft to begin, I'll read a baseball novel or two, and maybe catch a random game while visiting the local bar for a draft beer.

Until Next Time...
Trasnscendingly Yours,
Michael

p.s. And what baseball blog entry would be complete without a reference to the #1 Rule in Baseball:  http://youtu.be/6M8szlSa-8o


Monday, March 2, 2015

Avoid Cliches Like The Plague IV (Not Really Cliches)

As I continue this never ending struggle to eradicate clichés from our language, it was recently brought to my attention that little quirky sayings that aren't necessarily clichés can be just as annoying. So I thought I put a few of those out here.

"To make a long story short..." --- This is one The Boss pointed out to me. I hadn't noticed quite how much people use it, but once I became aware of it, I was amazed at the number of people who use it. But in the spirit of full-disclosure, she pointed out that *I* was the one who over used. When telling stories, I tend to get a bit long-winded. Once I realize that I'm going long, I say, "To make a long story short..." at which point The Boss usually mumbles something like, "Too late" before her eyes glaze over.

"Reach out..." --- People use this phrase instead of the word "contact." I have no idea why. An argument can be made that there is a subtle difference, but honestly, the small difference is usually negated by its overuse. All I can say is, everyone... stop it.

"Shore up" --- What does this mean? It's been used so much in so many different situations, that it's pretty much lost any clear definition. Sometimes people use it instead of "correct" but even then my advice is to use a more accurate description and drop this overused, vague word from your vocabulary.

There are more phrases, and every few months on business or speaking websites, various authors will post a list of their top ten, usually compiled by talking to various employment experts and motivational speakers. You know, the same people who use words like "synergy" and value-add."

Until Next Time...
Utilizely Yours,
Michael

Friday, February 27, 2015

Comfort Reads

We all have our comfort foods; those foods we turn to when we need and seek comfort; those that make us feel warm inside and forget all the external crap making our lives hell.

Well, I recently saw an article about how people unwind after a stressful day at work, and one woman says she comes home, picks up her much-loved and much-worn copy of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and randomly begins reading until she is fully relaxed and ready to take on home life with a stress-free mind.
"Whether I begin reading about an epic battle or the mechanics of whaling ships, I am transported elsewhere."
I like that. I want that. I even like that it's Moby Dick that this woman turns to for comfort -  the same novel that many high school and college students tried to avoid reading. It has become a litmus test among readers, broken into two camps: Those Who Love It and Those Who Don't. 

I have that Comfort Read to a certain degree. Reading in general does that for me, but I'm always reading new books, trying-to-catch-up books that require my attentiveness as a new story is revealed to me. Or else I'll read poetry. Sometimes new, sometimes familiar, always light-hearted.

But I got to thinking about it some. I've reread a lot of books, many times. The four primary books of the Lord of the Rings immediately comes to mind. Each year I reread one, creating a cycle whereby every four years I've gone through another round. But I don't just randomly pick it up and start reading, I have a strict schedule. I then I wondered, "Maybe I should just start randomly reading them." But then, knowing me, I'd sit around for fifteen minutes and internally debate which one to pick up. So it's probably best I just keep doing what I'm doing with that set of books (NOTE: for the curious, this year is a reread of Fellowship, which is probably my favorite of the four for simply nostalgic reasons. But then again, that's not accurate either. I have some sort of unique nostalgic attachment to each one of them for different reasons. Maybe that's why I enjoy reading them over and over - each one fulfills some unnamed emotional joy).

Then I realized, once again, The Surprise in my reading stack. Dune. Yep, the same book I've blogged about before. The same book I own four copies of. The same one that I still have the very first copy I bought and reread so many times that a rubberband holds its pages together. I haven't even made it completely through the whole series (especially and including the ones written after Frank Herbert's death), because I always return to that original and reread it instead of moving off to the post-Frank era.
So if I had pick that one comfort book, from the evidence of my past reading habit, I'd have to say Dune is the one.

(Note: and of course now, I suddenly want to reread it again, despite the two-foot high stack I swore I'd read before rereading or starting another series of books). 
(Another damn Note: I also now have that compulsion to start in on Fellowship. After all, like Dune, I own multiple copies of that series as well - at least three that I can see from this chair.)
(Geez, yet another damn Note: Guess what other American classic book I'd love to find the time to reread? OH! The Lament of the Voracious Reader!)


Until Next Time...
Mobyly Yours,
Michael

Friday, February 13, 2015

Blog of List of Almanacs (Jeopardy Geeks Unite)

One time at the home of Grandma Cheese, I discovered a couple of slightly out of date almanacs and a "Book of Lists" from the 1970s. I found a chair, plopped down, and combed through them, fascinated by all the lists, facts, figures, etc. She let me take them home, where Mom and Pop Cheese and I had fun laughing at some of the outdated information. Eventually they bought me an updated almanac and we played games like "Alive or Dead" and "Guess the Celebrity Age." Ever since those days, I've always had an almanac in the house, it may be a year or two old before I replace it, but it's always recent enough to remain useful. Even in these days of the internet and Wikipedia and countless other fact-based websites, a good ol' paperback almanac is a great book to thumb open and read some random factoid.

Some random thought hit me the other day to list movies that have almanacs in them. After only a few moments of thought, I came up with three, but I figure there has to be more.

Back to the Future Part II (1989) - The retrieval of a sports almanac from Biff/Griff (Thomas F. Wilson) is the plot point of the movie.

White Men Can't Jump (1992) - Who can forget Gloria (Rosie Perez) constantly reading a tattered copy of a world almanac and asking her boyfriend Billy (Woody Harrelson) to quiz her from it, all to prepare for her shot on the game show Jeopardy.

The Bucket List (2007) - In one of the opening scenes a young mechanic quizzes Carter (Morgan Freeman) from an almanac, in which Carter not only knows the answers, but is able to provide the correct answer when the almanac is wrong.

In the tradition of "The Book of List...." send me more if you can think any so I can compile a more exhaustive list. Almanacs have been a part of American history since before America was born, they've been the behind-the-bar bible bartenders have consulted to settle debates between patrons, and the Farmer's Almanac has been the daily planner for generations of farmers that there is no way these wonderful books haven't appeared in more movies.

Keep one around the house, have fun with it, make notes in the margin, dog-ear those pages, show it much love. You'll thank yourself.

Until Next Time...
Listly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ugh, Another One


Okay, I've mentioned before that since I'm a subscriber, the cover doesn't have to convince me to buy the magazine. But seriously, I like fantasy art, and by slapping a mailing label in the middle of the cover just seems shameful to me.
 
The catch is - this publication didn't always do this.
 
 Just a few issues back the mailing label was always on the bottom. Granted, that's still covering the art, but at least it's not in the center (translation: focal point) of a piece of artwork. Whoever you choose to feature the work of each issue puts a lot of time and effort into creating that piece, and on the most part, usually doesn't get paid too much for the effort. The artist reads the featured story and tailors the art to that. Let us subscribers enjoy it.
So seriously, gang, if it's feasible, can you at least entertain the notion of placing the mailing label somewhere else on the cover. (I'd suggest the back, but would tick off whatever advertiser bought the space, so I'll settle for a more inconspicuous spot on the bottom.
 
Until Next Time...
Labelly Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Word of the Moment VI (brought to you by the letter "E")

The mystery genre has some of the best and worst writers of genre fiction. Throughout the last one hundred years, some of the best and most iconic writers of our time have written some classics mystery novels that still resonate today. Other writers have also made a living as contemporary novelist as well, crafting great stories even the harshest of critics enjoyed (the recently deceased P.D. James comes immediately to mind).

But because mystery readers tend to read voraciously, the publishing industry pushes out as many mystery novels per year as they feasibly can, which means a lot of crime and mystery authors who have the writing skills of the average fourth grader are getting published as well (and too many of these authors come to mind).

What all this means is that you can still increase your vocabulary reading mysteries, for instance, this post's Word of the Moment was found in the short story True Enough: Bolt's Last Case by B.K. Stevens published in the December issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine:

     emeritus - retired or honorably discharged from active professional duty but retaining the title of one's office or position.

It should be no surprise that I found this word in a story about a detective working one last case before he retires.

So now you know. Be sure to use this word every time you get the chance, it'll impress your friends, or else make them look at you oddly.

Until Next Time...
Honorably Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

You "Down" Readers, You

I manage to read a lot. Nearly half of what I read each year is short fiction published in those pulp sized digests I mentioned here before, and many of those digest also publish book and movie reviews. I even attempt to complete those puzzles in the back of the mystery pulps. Needless to say, I sometimes get behind. For instance I'm just now reading the movie review section from the July/August 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction where Kathi Maio reviews Divergent.

Her opinion of the movie wasn't what caught my attention, though, it was something she pointed out that you would think would have been obvious to me, especially considering the theme of my blog.

Maio pointed out that the trend in young adult literature and the movie adaption of those books is to market those works to the young adult crowd in the hopes that they'll catch on with adults who are open to the idea of "reading down." Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, and (unfortunately) Twilight are all examples of the books and movies appealing to more than just young adults. This works best in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres where the boundaries of the age factor is much less defined than in adult literature or mainstream fiction.

She makes the point, though, that just a generation or two ago, the reverse trend was true. For example, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, even though it had a teen protagonist was marketed as an adult novel in the hopes that young readers would "read up" to it. There were fewer genre works aimed at teens and once past the basic fairy tales and mythology books, teens would read adult marketed literature and genre novels.

Like any good writer, she summed up in a few sentences a thought I've been wrestling with for months. So now it's time to take these observations and keep them in mind as we continue to study trends in book buying and reading habits. It'll make us better readers.

Until Next Time...
Boundarly Yours,
Michael

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Motoko Kusanagi is Japanese

The thought never occurred to me, but I suppose it should have. Tor.com has published a story that a live action adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s classic anime movie Ghost in the Shell is in the works. For those who don't remember their cyber-punk history, Ghost in the Shell is the animated movie that inspired the 1999 Wachowskis brothers' blockbuster movie The Matrix, and pumped a little more life into a sub-genre of science fiction that had experienced slowing sales the previous few years. The movie, which was an extension of the print anime begun in 1989, dealt with the theme of artificial intelligence, the definition of life, and the concept of a soul.

What does surprise me is the casting. Scarlett Johansson will be portraying Motoko Kusanagi,  a Japanese cyborg cyber-crime fighter. Yeah, that Scarlett Johansson.

I guess the fact that the protagonist is Japanese and that Hollywood has decided to cast a non-Asian actress shouldn't surprise me, especially considering that movie execs would rather invest in big names than worry about something like "story-accuracy," but still...seriously? Ms. Johansson is a fine actress, and I have nothing against her or her acting ability - doesn't mean she's right for the role and it doesn't mean I have to like the decision to include her.

At this point, according to the article, the project has yet to be fully approved and funded (insert sigh of relief here), but attaching Scarlett's name to the effort may increase its chances of making it to the screen one day.

One can only hope they don't screw this one up too terribly bad.

Until Next Time...
Cyborgly Yours,
Michael