A Gift For Every Man

Still shopping? If that hard to shop for person on your list is a guy, a dad or granddad, maybe I can help. Please do not say at any point during the reading of this post, "but, he doesn't read; and there's no way he would write in a journal."

Buy him a good book and a journal. Because...

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson

I firmly believe every man will read something, or at least look at the pictures. Here's one that will be a sure-fire winner. It's a wonderful story about a father, a son and a baseball bat. It's only 70 pages long. It's called "A Drive Into The Gap". Click here to check it out, watch a short video about the book and even order it.

While you're at the Fieldnotes site, peruse their selection of journals and order your guy a pack.

If your home library doesn't already have a copy of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird, get them before they're banned in our new version of America. Don't worry that he might think these are books for kids. Because...

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”   ― C.S. Lewis

Next, bundle up your gift of book and journal and put them under the tree. If when he opens his gift this Christmastime, he looks at it like he hasn't seen a book since seventh grade. Tell him that you read a blog where some wise-old man said that reading will enhance mental capacity, youthfulness, and virility.

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines
what you will be when you can’t help it.”
   ― Oscar Wilde

If he needs some help with what to do with his new journal, send him to this post at The Art of Manliness. He won't be able to resist visiting a site called "the art of manliness".




Read It Again

I'VE TRIED BUT I JUST CAN'T DO IT; NOT YET ANYWAY. I have a friend who challenged me to choose six books. Here’s how the challenge went down: If you had to choose six books to be the only books you would have on your shelf to read from now on, what would they be?

Comme l’on serait savant si l’on connaissait bien seulement cinq ou sìx livres.
— Flaubert

Translated: “What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half a dozen books.”

Obviously the Bible would be first. Not because I’m holy or anything, but because it has everything in one book: mystery, intrigue, poetry, philosophy, love story, history, science, etc.

“You can’t choose the Bible. In fact, let’s narrow it down to novels, literary fiction.”

Even as a kid I loved to read and be read to. When I think about this challenge of picking just six books, I think, “Why?” But kids prove that stories can be read again and again and again and again. In fact, I can hear my Grand-Girls now: “Read it again, Pops.” 

karlee and pops

karlee and pops

Growing up, once I began reading beyond picture books, my list-of-six would have included: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Call of the Wild, Treasure Island and City High Five.

But then, the Call of the Cool came in early adolescence. And you couldn’t be caught reading or admitting you really liked reading. You would be pummelled with your copy of Red Badge Of Courage. And then there were those books that teachers insisted we read…

Nothing ruins a book faster than a teacher who insists it is important.
— Alex Miller Jr.

Some teachers I trusted. Some teachers would make you read a certain book (by assignment and threat). Some teachers would make you want to read a certain book (by there obvious love for the story).

Why is it important to have six books (or whatever number) that you could and will read again and again? Because one of the things that makes a great story a great story is that you can hear it over again, and it is fresh and compelling each time. And then there’s this, from The New York Review of Books:

The ideal here, it seems, is total knowledge of the book, total and simultaneous awareness of all its contents, total recall. Knowledge, wisdom even, lies in depth, not extension. The book, at once complex and endlessly available for revisits, allows the mind to achieve an act of prodigious control. Rather than submitting ourselves to a stream of information, in thrall to each precarious moment of a single reading, we can gradually come to possess, indeed to memorize, the work outside time.

As I said at the start, I can’t quite whittle the list to six; yet. But I do have it to eight. Oh, as you read my list, don’t judge me. I’m not in seventh grade anymore, your judgement doesn’t matter to me, but I would love to hear your opinions and your list. I’ve shared my emerging list with a few people. Some of have questioned whether some of these qualify as “classics”. That’s not one of the criteria. Remember, this is about books you could read again and again.

Specifically, I’ve been critized for having Catcher in the Rye on my list. It is, in fact, a book I read about once a year, and have for years. One said: “Jane Eyre! Isn’t that a chick book?” I hit him over the head with my copy. And if you’re familiar with Jane Eyre you know it (the book, not Jane herself) is large and packs a wallop.

So, [drum roll] here’s the list, not necessarily in any order:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

What's on your list?

All Along The Watchtower

The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south pass through; so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land. 
A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease. 
Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it. 
My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me. 
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield. 
For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
— Isaiah 21:1-6 KJV

According to Amazon.com, the book I pre-ordered months ago is set to be on my doorstep July 14, 2015. I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. The anticipation is higher than in the days leading up to a new season of Downton Abbey.

The book is Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. It is a manuscript reportedly written years ago, even before To Kill A Mockingbird, but unpublished until now. I’ve tried not to read too much of the advance speculation about the book, wanting to savor it on my own. But, I do know that it is written in the voice of Scout (probably my all-time favorite literary character) from the story To Kill A Mockingbird (probably my all-time favorite literary work).

If you haven’t read the book, maybe you’ve seen the movie. If not, stop what you’re doing and read it and watch it now. It may be more timely and important today than the day Ms. Lee wrote it.

Speaking of the South, moral dilemmas, justice, judgements, history, politics, traditions, and the like; you know how the adults in the Charlie Brown TV specials talk? Well, I was listening to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” song the other day, you know the one that starts:

Southern man
better keep your head
Don’t forget
what your good book said

For years I had listened to the song and heard this arrangement: Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Verse.

Today I heard it differently. I think it goes (and Neil, if I’m mistaken, give me a call and let’s talk it through):
Chorus, Verse, Verse in a Charlie Brown adult voice
Chorus, Verse, Verse in a Charlie Brown adult voice

I don’t know what the Charlie Brown adult voice is saying, but I’m imagining it is answering Neil’s question at the end of each verse: “How long, how long?”

[DISCLAIMER: It’s not actually a Charlie Brown adult voice. It’s actually a Neil Young guitar solo. But I’m confident he’s playing it as if to say something. But what?]

Maybe the voice is saying… “A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth… Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it… Go, set a watchman!”

Back to Monroeville, Alabama, home of the very reclusive Harper Lee. Big celebrations are planned in town for the release of this new (old) book. Apparently Ms. Lee who lives in an assisted living center in Monroeville is sort of cranky and not expected to make any public appearance whatsoever. 

“Charming second-hand anecdotes about Lee circulate through the town. A HarperCollins employee told the story of how Lee was given a mock-up of the forthcoming book’s cover earlier this year. ‘She (Ms. Lee) looked at it and said, “There should be no comma after the word ‘Go’.” It was then pointed out to her by one of the editors that in the King James Version of Isaiah 21:6 there is a comma.” Lee responded, ‘That’s the Lord’s Book. This is my book. And there is no comma.’ 

“In To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout remarks of a tea party: ‘Ladies in bunches always filled me with vague apprehension and a firm desire to be elsewhere,’ — and the feeling in town is a little like that tea party, according to local Crissy Nettles, ‘Everyone from here who has ever met Miss Lee is sure she won’t be in the public eye.’” (LA Times)

I’m wondering if, in this new book, Scout and Neil Young might meet, maybe in a coffee shop in Monroeville. Neil would say, “Scout, you’re a Watchperson, aren’t you?” And Scout would reply, “I hope so Neil. Atticus certainly was. I hope both of us are.”

By the way, and speaking of coffee shops, there’s a great little place I know of that would be the perfect setting to meet and talk about these two Harper Lee books, once we’ve all read them. Let me know if you would be interested in that.



On The "To Read" List for 2014

A list? I don't have a list. But then as I thought about it: I do have a list, of sorts, a least a partial one.

Another question that comes up: how do you decide what to read? Sometimes I'll hear or read a review on NPR or in The New Yorker, which I read every week. Also, for several years now, I've included some of the books that are on the list of the Reader's Guild of the International Arts Movement.

And then there are some people I know I can trust for a recommendation, like: My sons Corey and Kyle, Rob Carmack, Kara Wynn, Alissa Wilkinson, Andrea Gandy, Amy Merrill, Kevin Roose. Most of these people you can find on goodreads.com.

I try to include some fiction, non-fiction, some history, some poetry, some humor and a classic or two. I'm always looking for good recommendations, so let me know if you have one for the list.

Here's what I have so far:

  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • The Moth (Book) Stories from the Public Radio program
  • Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
  • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  • The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • Hopkins: Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter
  • This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

I've finished the first two on the list: The Goldfinch and The Moth. The Goldfinch is nearly 800 pages and at 750 pages in, I still wasn't sure where the story was headed. Several times I got weary of the pages of pages of character development and subplots, but hang in there. The time will come when you will be grateful for it. It is worth the trip.

The Moth is a collection of stories that are typically spoken stories at Moth events. You can find out all about it at www.themoth.org. My son Corey gave me this book for Christmas. If you love telling and hearing stories, as I do, you will really appreciate this book and The Moth project.

Please, let me know what you're reading.