One Voice

… because one voice, armed with the truth, can help begin to heal the world.

Great books aren’t just for boys or girls

My younger sister is a great thinker and a real activist. She sent me an article she wrote for The Horn Book in which she argued very effectively that we ought to stop dividing children’s books into books for boys and books for girls.

Thinking back to my own childhood, when I read several hundred books a year, I remember that boys were pushed toward Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys while girls were given Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins. That’s probably oversimplifying it — I never read much of any of those series — but I read a ton of baseball books and most of the science fiction written by Robert Heinlein.

A lot of those books came from the Carnegie Library in my mother’s home town. I usually spent several weeks visiting my grandparents every summer, and I would check out five or six books every other day. But there were a few books — rare ones — that I would read over and over again as the years went by.

They weren’t the so-called iconic books of my generation. I never read any Tolkien, and books like “On the Road” left me cold. I did read “The Catcher in the Rye” a couple of times, but I never thought it really spoke to me. Holden Caulfield was half a generation ahead of me.

There was one book, though, that sort of came out of nowhere for me. My dad was born in New York City and grew up in Brooklyn. Starting when I was 7 or 8 years old, we spent time with our grandparents in Brooklyn nearly every summer. I never made it to Ebbets Field, but I saw so many other fascinating things about America’s favorite city-within-a-city.

I don’t know how old I was the first time I read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” The book had been published in 1943, and the story it told occurred more than a generation before that. I don’t think it was the first book I ever read with a female protagonist, but it was certainly one of the first ones that really resonated with me.

It was such a beautiful story, so completely American. Francie Nolan lived in grinding poverty in the years just before World War I, but loved her life and believed that it would get better.

She was the granddaughter of immigrants from Austria and Ireland, with a hard-working mother and a charming, alcoholic father who worked — when he worked at all — as a singing waiter. She essentially had nothing, but she loved so many things about her life and didn’t feel like anyone owed her anything.

The amazing thing about the story — and I downloaded it onto my Nook to see if it was as I remembered — is that while yes, Francie is a girl, there isn’t anything “girly” about the story at all. She is first and foremost a person, an individual about whom we care deeply.

Second, she is completely and totally an American of the period in which she lived. She isn’t some phony Horatio Alger story. She doesn’t go from rags to riches; she survives her childhood and is headed off to college. It’s pretty apparent she has a chance at a good life.

What more can anyone ask of a real story?





posted by Mike in American Dream,books,Family,memories and have No Comments

Best to avoid the regrets you’ll remember later

I was listening to George Strait’s “I Can Still Make Cheyenne,” a song that fills me with sadness, particularly one line.

“I’m sorry it’s come down to this, there’s so much about you that I’m gonna miss …”

Strait’s song is the story of the end of a marriage, of a wife telling her husband not to come home from the road because she has found someone new. But that wasn’t the way I was thinking about it. I was thinking of my mother, who lost her husband of nearly 52 years when my dad died, and of all the things about him she misses. And I was thinking — hopefully at least a little prematurely — of how I would feel if something happened to Nicole.

The love of my life

Nicole and I have been together for more than 18 years, and we have had some brutally difficult times, about 80 percent of which I would say are my fault.

She might say 90. Just kidding.

Probably the biggest bone of contention is that I seem to need a lot of time to myself. I can sit and listen to music, or watch DVDs, or surf the Internet, for hours by myself and not get bored.

She’s happier when we do a lot of things together.

But I’ve come to a conclusion the last couple of days, with a little bit of help from George Strait. There is going to come a time when one of us will die and the other one will have to go on alone. If I’m the one who survives, I know I’m going to feel exactly the way the cowboy in Strait’s song does.

“There’s so much about you that I’m going to miss.”

One of the things that makes my wife happiest is when she is in bed, preparing to go to sleep, and I read to her. Sometimes I go along with it cheerfully, but there are times — maybe I’m tired or a little irritable — when I am not as gracious.

But when she’s no longer with me, I know I will regret every one of those times.

It’s like that old saying, that on your deathbed, no one ever regrets not spending more time at the office. They do regret not finding more time for their family.

I know I love this woman as much as I am capable of loving anyone, and I really want to try and show it more consistently.

Read more?

Sure, my pleasure.

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Without newspapers, what will happen to us?

My wife and I started watching “Lou Grant” on DVD the other night, and after we finished the first episode, Nicole asked me what seemed like an odd question.

“Doesn’t it make you feel sad?”

She was referring to the fact that I had been a journalist for nearly 30 years before my career ended abruptly nearly three years ago. I said no, that I had come to terms with what had happened, but in the last couple of days, I have realized there actually was some there there, unlike with the city of Oakland.

I have been sad about the newspaper business, but not because my own career ended when it did. I really have come to terms with that. But what I’m having quite a few sad thoughts about is that it doesn’t seem to be just my career that went away. I’m beginning to think that newspapers really are starting to die out.

It's later than you think.

I’ve been re-reading “Late Edition,” a book on the subject by one of my favorite writers. Bob Greene was one of the top columnists in the country for more than 30 years, and he tells the story of his first job as a copy boy at the Columbus Citizen-Journal, a paper that died in 1985. One of the first and most fascinating facts that he points out is that in 1950, newspapers had 123 percent penetration into American households. More than one newspaper per household; quite a few families got both a morning and an evening paper.

As of 2004, that number was down to 49 percent and I’m sure it’s even lower now.

Newspapers are dying, and the worst thing about it is that the people running them are doing their damnedest to kill them off even faster. Instead of fighting back with better quality, they’re surrendering to the Internet, to podcasts, to Twitter and everything else, dumbing down their product to where people can legitimately ask why bother.

The last boss I had — not so coincidentally the worst one — loved to blather on about how we weren’t in the newspaper business, we were in the communication business and it didn’t matter how we communicated as long as we reached people and made money doing so.

What a maroon.

You’ve got that right, voice in my head. A few years ago, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a pretty fair newspaper in its time, went to Web only publishing in an effort to stay in business. Of course, the P-I cut its staff of reporters, photographers and editors from 166 to 30. Think they’re still covering Seattle? Probably not so well.

It would be easy to say the problem is just part of a bigger one, that people don’t read as much as they used to. That’s maybe the scariest thing of all. Reading books is one of the best indicators of whether someone is intelligent or capable of critical thinking. Show me somebody who doesn’t read and I’ll show you someone who has to prove to me they’re intelligent.

I literally cannot imagine life without reading.

I have a 13-year-old nephew who has a pretty fine brain in his head, and I was definitely pleased — and not at all surprised — when his mother told me he reads something like a book a day.

There is hope as long as there are kids like him.

Of course, by the time he’s grown up, books may be harder and harder to find, because there are a lot fewer people like him than there are people who see reading as some sort of chore.

Of course, there have always been a lot of those people.

We just never used to celebrate them.

posted by Mike in books,Ranting,Uncategorized and have No Comments

A book in a Nook might really cook

I have been wanting to get an e-book reader ever since my daughter Pauline showed me her Kindle last year.

I actually had one of the earliest readers, the Sony Rocket Reader, back in early 2001. My friend Mick Curran and I were getting a book published by Mighty Words, one of the first of the e-book ventures. We each made about $2,000 on “The Woman in the Box,” but the site didn’t succeed and I think much of its content eventually wound up way back in the storage sites of Barnes & Noble.

You may recall the fuss at the time. Stephen King published a novella — I think it was called “Riding the Bullet” — for e-books. The story eventually wound up in one of his collections, and e-books sort of went into hiatus for a while.

Now there are three competing models — Amazon has the Kindle, Sony has its own model and Barnes & Noble has the Nook.

I decided my trip to Texas would be a pretty good time to get one. Since I’m going to be away for two months, I’ll have lots of time to read.

I got a Nook, and they even gave me “Pride & Prejudice,” “Little Women” and “Dracula” for free.

That’s a pretty good start, and most of the best-sellers go for about half the price they do in hard-cover. They’re about the same cost as a paperback edition, although they take up less space.

Reading has always been one of the truly great joys of my life, and there are few ways in which my children have made me happier than the fact that they both love to read.

My little granddaughter Maddie loves books too.

She’s got good genes from her mother and her grandmother.

As I read some books on my Nook, I’ll let you know what the experience is like.

I’m looking forward to it. Then again, I seem to be looking forward to a lot these days.

It’s really a nice feeling.

posted by Mike in books,Happiness,Hobbies and have No Comments

New authors always a pleasure to find

If there’s a great pleasure that a lot of people never get to enjoy these days, it’s discovering a new author.

Harlan Coben

Since many people don’t read for fun anymore, they never have happen what happened to me twice last month. When I was flying back and forth to Atlanta, I found myself looking for books to read on the plane. Since then I have been devouring Harlan Coben’s books about sports agent/detective Myron Bolitar and Michael Connolly’s books about LAPD detective Harry Bosch.

I’m actually surprised I never got around to either of them before this, but I’m enjoying the heck out of both. This was especially important to me because of the recent death of an author I have been reading for the last 35 years. Losing Robert B. Parker and the Spenser novels will leave a major void in my reading, but I’ll fill it with Coben and Connolly for now.

One thing I’ve found as a lifelong reader is that there are always new authors, not to mention old ones I just don’t know.

Reading really is wonderful.

posted by Mike in books and have No Comments

World a little gloomier without Parker

I lost a dear friend today, even though he and I never met.

Anyone who loves to read will know what I mean when I tell you I was saddened by the death of author Robert B. Parker in Boston at age 77. First off, I had no idea he was that old. I discovered Parker’s books 35 years ago when I read his first Spenser novel; little did I know the writer was already 42.

Robert B. Parker

I bought the first couple of Spenser novels through a membership in the Mystery Guild, and I purchased the next five or six when they came out in paperback form.

Eventually, though, Spenser and his adventures meant so much to me that I couldn’t wait for the paperback editions. I started buying them in hardback and I never stopped. I read the last one, “The Professional,” only a few months ago.

I’ve read most of his other novels, although his other two detective series, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, weren’t as compelling to me.

What I’ll always remember about Parker was that he was a true romantic. His novel “Hope and Glory,” which was not a detective novel but a story of a young man defined by love, is one that has stayed with me.

Spenser (we never did learn his first name) was a detective in the tradition of Philip Marlowe, tough on the surface but with a big heart underneath. He respected the law, but was willing to break it for what he often considered a greater justice, and he was honest to a fault. The novels were the basis of a television series — “Spenser for Hire” — that lasted three seasons in the ’80s, but Robert Urich was never Spenser to me. I seem to recall reading an interview once in which Parker compared Spenser to Robert Mitchum, but that might just be my faulty memory.

I could go into a lot more detail, but I won’t.

I’ll just say that there are a handful of authors whose work I eagerly await, and Parker was pretty close to the top of that list.

My life will be a little less enjoyable without any more Spenser novels to read.

Well done, Dr. Parker. May you rest in peace.

posted by Mike in books,writing and have No Comments
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