Tuesday, May 12, 2015

That Damn Eyre (Words of the Moment IX)

I made it through years of public school followed by years of college and university work without ever having been assigned or read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Not that this is any sort of anomaly, but apparently it is slightly unusual, especially considering my major and especially considering many of the classes I took, i.e., classics English literature, Victorian literature, Old and Middle English literature, etc.

But once I got older, questions and references would come up from time to time in which the speaker or author assumed I had read Charlotte's signature novel. In fact, it reached a point where I knew the novel so well that I didn't see a need to read it.

Then one day at lunch a few years ago, inspiration hit and I wrote a poem about being pursued by Jane Eyre and the ongoing efforts to avoid her. It contained a few cuss words, a few inappropriate references, but it was all done in fun. I read it at a few poetry readings where it was well received, I polished it a little, and eventually had it published. During that time I broke down, gave in, and actually tried to read the novel - twice. Both times I made it about halfway through, lost interest, and abandoned it.

So last week, I'm looking up other words in the dictionary and browsing through other pages when my eye caught the word eyre. Yes, eyre. It's an actual word. A noun, no less.
    • eyre - A journey in circuit of certain itinerant judges called justices in eyre (or in itinere).
The word is now obsolete, but...it was used primarily in England until the 20th century. Which makes me curious about where Bronte got the idea to name her title character. Is there some sort of symbolic joke here? Maybe a reference in the text I haven't encountered? Was it in common use at the time? Or had its eventual decline from the language begun at that point? If so, did the average reader still "get" it?

You know what that means, don't you? Yep, more homework, but more importantly, it'll soon be time for me to make a third attempt, maybe this time read a little more attentively.

Looks like Jane may win this battle yet.

Until Next Time...
Eyrely Yours,
Michael

Monday, May 4, 2015

Words of the Moment VIII

Cheesy Readers, you may remember my last "Words" post where I pointed out that George R.R. Martin had fallen inexplicately in love with the word "worth" and used it every few pages in the fifth book of his Song of Ice and Fire series when in the previous four books I couldn't recall a single use of it. Well, he's at it again, this time with the word nonce.

A brand new word to me, and one I know he didn't use until these last one hundred pages of A Dance of Dragons, because the first time I stumbled across it I thought it was a typo. Like the word "worth" he's used it multiple time now all within a few pages of each other like he's suddenly being paid per use. Its meaning was easy to derive from the context, but because I'm a word geek, I had to look it up anyway.
nonce - for the time being, for the immediate time
For the morbidly curious out there, it is derived from the Middle English phrase "for the nones" before it was shortened to "nonse," and then eventually becoming "nonce" in more modern forms. There are also references that it also derived from a similar phrase "then anes" and "to then anes for the one purpose." You might also find it used as nonce word, which means a word that is coined for a one time purpose or occasion.

Our second word for this post is moue. I'm not sure where I encountered, but it was pretty obvious from the second I ran across it, it was of French origin.
moue - pouting grimace
It's pronounced just like that universal cow vocalization "moo." The funny thing about this word is its plural, moues, which is pronounced the same was as the singular form "moo."

So there you go. Further proof that you can expand your vocabulary through popular genre fiction.

Until Next Time...
Moue Mouesly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why Stephen King?

I've added a new page to my website concerning why I put a lot of stock into Stephen King.

As I say on that page, just by mentioning his name, I'll turn a lot of people away --- I'm fine with that.

I don't read his books because I think he's "the best ever" or has any special talent other than the ability to tell a good tale.

But I do want to mention his non-fiction here, because he has spent of lot of time and written a lot of words that parallel many of the points I try to make with this blog and the sibling website.

Also, over the next few months, I will be rereading portions of Danse Macabre and the forewards and afterwards of many of his books, and then discussing them here. Some things I'll agree with, others I'll disagree with, but either way, it'll provide a jumping off point for discussion, and maybe even enlighten all of us.

So here's your homework assignment: If you get a chance, jump out to my website to the page "Why Stephen King?" and read that short little essay on it. Also, take the time to read Danse Macabre and any of the extra stuff that he frequently puts in the front or back of his books (he usually does that with short story collections), then you'll be all prepared for the discussions to come.

Until Next Time,
Kingly Yours,
Michael

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Little Free Libraries

Maybe you've seen one of these in your community, or maybe you've only seen them on the internet, but Little Free Libraries are popping up everywhere and have become quite famous throughout this country and a country or two overseas.  They're little boxes mounted on a tree, set up in someone's front yard, or some other public place - a place where people can come up and either take any book they want or leave a few.

At a park near my home where The Boss and I can be found frequently has one such box, and I check it regularly. I've taken books, I've left books. The other day I took two paperbacks to donate, and inside discovered a little treasure. Before scrolling down to see the answer, look real hard at the pic and see if you can spot it.

Yep, my eagle eye zoomed in on it right away, and I snatched it out of there quicker than Gollum trying to steal back The Ring.

Sure, it's ten years old. But that someone thought to donate that instead of just throwing it away made me happy. It's in super good condition, especially considering its age, and it has a few authors featured whom I'm not familiar with. (Soapbox Rant to Follow - Feel free to skip: I also noticed that ten years ago, this pulp used to put the address label on the back of the magazine instead of dead center on the front like they do now. My Cheesy Readers have read my complaints about that before - how the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction covers up the cover art of their publication. But now we know this wasn't always the case. Ten years ago it was on the back. When my subscription started it was on the bottom of the front cover, and suddenly these past few issues it's moved to dead center on the cover. It just begs the "why" questions again: Why cover up the artwork? Why not move it back to the back where it used it be? End of Soapbox Rant)


The lesson here is if you do happen to stumble upon one of these mini-libraries take one brief moment to browse the titles, maybe take a book or two, return them when you're done, or if you decide you want to keep them, donate replacements. Tell you reader friends, encourage them to do the same. Keep the movement going. You'll never know who you'll make happy with a "new" book, but it is guaranteed that you will make someone happy, and that's all that matters.

Until Next Time...
Mini-ly Yours,
Michael

Monday, April 20, 2015

Comfort Reads Redux

My Cheesy Readers may remember my post a few months ago titled Comfort Reads in which I debated which genre book qualified as My Comfort Read --- that one book or series that I've read many times, where I turn to time and time again, where I can jump in the book anywhere and find myself caught up in its story again like returning to an old friend.

I mentioned that I had thought it was The Lord of The Rings series because I reread at least one book a year, but if I thought about random reading, I always turned to Dune. So I handed the honor to Frank Herbert's classic.

Remember that conversation? Of course you do.

Well, I was watching a documentary on the making of the sets of the LOTR movies and for the segment concerning Minas Morgul, they quoted text from the chapter "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol." Later I picked up The Two Towers and started reading the chapter they referenced. Next thing I realized, I was deep into the story of the climb with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, and had read way past the part they described in the documentary. Quite an unexpected turn of events. I had just done what I said I had only previously done with Herbert's Dune. And then instances of other times this had happened came back to my memory, like the time I picked it up and relieved the death of Boromir and the splitting of the Fellowship, or the time I found myself randomly reading the confrontation at the Black Gate at Mordor. Hmmm... Maybe my previous decision was a bit hasty. 

So with that in mind, I felt compelled to log back on here and modify my previous statement. I had awarded the honor to Dune, but now I have to rescind that again --- the score is still tied, which is really the way it should be. If I'm in the mood for the fantasy genre, it's LOTR, and if I'm in the mood for science fiction, then it's Dune.

Simple enough. Now if I recall, the last I left our hapless heroes, Sam has just realized that spider venom doesn't immediately kill its victims....

Until next time...
Tie-ingly Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Words of the Moment VII (The chronicle of an Earth Hour)

Last Saturday we celebrated Earth Hour - a movement started in Australia that is now observed in dozens of countries across the globe. Once a year on a specified Saturday in March, everyone shuts out all their lights and electronics - smart phones, televisions, computers, tablets, etc.

The Boss and I decided to celebrate this year with a game of Trivial Pursuit by candlelight (later that evening we found out that a lot of people celebrate this way). But who knew a simple board game, no lights, and an hour to kill could increase one's vocabulary. So without further delay:

eponymous --- The question was simple: "What was Aerosmith's eponymous debut album?"
I should have known the answer, but the cover art from Toys in the Attic was stuck in my head, so I second guessed myself and got it wrong. The lesson here? I didn't know the definition of eponymous. If I had known that, then I wouldn't have had to try to recall my Aerosmith history. I would have known that eponymous means self-titled. In other words, even if someone who has lived their entire lives under a musical rock could have gotten that answer correct by simply knowing the definition of eponymous.

wroth - All authors get into various ruts, one of those situations where things tend to repeat themselves, be it descriptions, explanations, plots, etc. and George R.R. Martin is no exception. This time, he's in a word rut. I don't know how many times he used the word "wroth" in the first four books of his A Song of Ice and Fire series, but I do know he went on a "wroth-spree" about midway through the fifth book, because it seemed like it was popping up every two pages. All things considered, I guess a lot of characters deserve to vent a little "wroth" - they're all probably angry at George for killing off all their relatives, angry for the harsh conditions of war, angry at the betrayals and politics as people try to position themselves for the crown. Well...you get the idea. A lot of anger floating around that narrative.

So there you have it. Two words you may never use unless you play Trivial Pursuit by candlelight or decide to read George R.R. Martin, but should they be needed, you now have them at your disposal.

Until Next Time...
Unwrothily Yours,
Michael

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