Category Archives: Reading

A Words Look: Hamlet, 4.5

I received a daily quote from my Shakespeare app which is usually the first thing I see on my phone in the morning and often the last things I see in the evening on my iPad. There are worse ways to start and finish a day than with The Bard.

“Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. ”                                      -Ophelia, Hamlet, 4.5

Reading and contemplating on this quote by Ophelia from Hamlet, I wonder if this is the perfect description of who we are as a nation. The United States of America is struggling with itself right now in 2017. We are a nation that has entered into its adolescent years. We’ve survived infancy, Independence and setting up a tremendous framework, called the Constitution, and struggled through our terrible two’s during the American Civil War. Now that we are firmly in the adolescent period, we are struggling internally as a middle school or early high school kid might do. We may think we know  100% more than 99% of everyone else, especially the adults/parents and we often fly off the handle emotionally and physically.

We are firmly in the adolescent period and we are struggling internally as a middle school or early high school kid might do. We may think we know 100% more than 99% of everyone else, especially the adults and parents. With a lack of disregard for the opinions and viewpoints of others, we continue to sludge through the muck, making mistakes, and moving further to opposite ends of the spectrum.

Things may seem crazy now, but we will work through this. We will grow as a nation into the fine young adult stage and maybe figure out a thing or two about ourselves as a nation along the way. The opposing forces in the U.S. currently driving at breakneck speeds away from each other will eventually realize it’s time to turn around and address each other because nobody likes running full speed into a wall.

Have hope America! As we mature as a nation, we may actually find out “what we may be”.

Thanks, Bill Shakespeare! You would have been a great American.

Boom! Boys are reading influencers!

Great news from the 2017 Digital Book World Conference via Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson in their January bonus issue of The Hot Sheet.

According to Nielsen Book Research director, Jo Henry, boys ages 9-12 have grabbed an increased market share of the juvenile book market! Boys are influencing more book purchases so (hopefully) we can infer boys are reading more. That is fantastic news!

Several very interesting points from Jo Henry’s presentation were highlighted in The Hot Sheet about this current upward development in the boy reader.

  • This trend shows up when comparing 2010 to 2016 figures, with an increase in books being bought for boys aged 9 to 12.

  • What books are being bought for boys? Fantasy and adventure.

  • Authors represented in this realm include J.K. Rowling, of course, as well as Rick Riordan, Suzanne Collins, R.L. Stine, James Dashner, and Kathryn Lasky.

  • Interestingly, 64 percent of these books aren’t being bought for boys as gifts; in many cases, they’re being asked for by the boys and offered by their parents.

  • The main discovery method of these books by boys is in-person, usually through spotting a store display or TV ad.

                                                     (Source The Hot Sheet, January 2017)

Boy readers, I applaud you! You are awesome. You are readers, despite what we are continually fed about your lack of desire to read. Keep it up. Keep seeing books or hearing about books you are interested in and asking for them. Your action in regard to finding the reading material you like is impressive. It gives me hope.

Reading builds empathy. Empathy builds great human beings. Great human beings build great societies.

Boy readers, keep searching for books that interest you. Keep struggling until you find your fit. It is out there. Don’t give up. Ask your librarian, your friends, or your teachers for recommendations. Check out http://www.guysread.com or send me a message if you are struggling to find your reading niche. Find your place in the world of literature. You are never bored with a book around.

But most importantly, keep reading, boys!

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Eastman Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Words Look: The Call To Wisdom

Fun fact about me: I’m an Old Testament kind of a guy. Recently, I ran across an impressive Bible quote in the Refusal of the Call chapter from Joseph Campbell’s THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. The intensity of the Old Testament language may be what draws me to the OT. Also, the stories! Man alive, there are so many great stories in the Bible. Even if you don’t read the Bible from a religious foundation, the stories are well worth your time.

Well anyway, here is the passage from Proverbs on The Call of Wisdom. It truly fits the form of classic Old Testament.

Proverbs 1:20-33
The Call of Wisdom
20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

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A Words Look: Gun by Uncle Tupelo

Although picking a favorite song by Uncle Tupelo is like picking one of your own children over the others, I have to say Gun, from the 1991 album, Still Feel Gone, sits slightly higher than the rest of their fantastic musical library. This song just rocks it. And that “Crawling back to you…” verse just rips a hole in your soul. Plus, it was written as a collaboration between the original members and perhaps a sign of the more harmonious days of the band.

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I was sad and a little pissed off when Uncle Tupelo called it quits after their masterpiece 1993 album, Anodyne. Then you understand when you listen to Anodyne and hear the tension between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. You see the split in the songwriting and the sound of the songs. That tension was probably what made Anodyne so special. Almost beyond the realm of belief, Anodyne was recorded in two weeks and each song only took one take. Jay Farrar’s title song is beautiful and sad and haunting. I still listen to Anodyne from start to finish at least once a month. It is that good.

Out of the Uncle Tupelo ashes came two great bands as Farrar went his way with Son Volt and Tweedy started Wilco. Both debut albums, Trace and A.M., are fantastic records and Wilco continues to be one of my favorite bands. Jay Farrar’s song, Sultana, was the first I’d heard of the Civil War-era steamboat disaster and the song inspired me to find out more about the event, which led me to write my middle-grade historical fiction, Sultana Sinking.

Gun

Falling out the window
Tripping on a wrinkle in the rug
Falling out of love, dear
It hurt much worse when you gave up

Just don’t tell me which way I oughta run
Or what good I could do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now so don’t bother

Climbing up the ladder
Breaking my shin on the very first rung
Waking up the neighbors
It’s all right, they understand they’re just as dumb

And they don’t tell me which way I oughta run
Or what good I could do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now, so don’t bother me now, don’t bother

Crawling back to you now
I sold my guitar to the girl next door
She asked me if I knew how
I told her “I don’t think so anymore”

Don’t tell me which way I oughta run
What good could I do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now so don’t bother

Songwriters
JEFF TWEEDY, JAY FARRAR, MICHAEL HEIDORN
Published by
Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

A Halloween 2015 Words Look: Poe for Evermore

Besides Ogden Nash’s poem, The Duck, Poe’s The Raven ranks as a Mike Hays favorite. But, alas, it was too much work to memorize the whole thing for school poetry recitations, so The Duck was/is my go-to poem.

Here’s a link to the whole poem, The Raven, if you wish to read it in its entirety to celebrate the holiday. Better yet, listen to one (or all) celebrity readings of the poem at the Mental Floss link.

This post is my condensed version of Poe’s classic with only the last lines of each verse. To my untrained eye, it gives a cool, new perspective to the poem, especially when read fast.

Only this and nothing more.
Nameless here for evermore.
This it is and nothing more.
Darkness there and nothing more.
Merely this and nothing more.
’Tis the wind and nothing more!
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
With such name as “Nevermore.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Happy Halloween 2015! Forever-more.

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A Words Look: RAISING STEAM by Terry Pratchett

I will miss the writer Terry Pratchett. He was a master.

I came to the Pratchett game late. I don’t know what rock I lived under, but I did eventually see the light and find his work. The Discworld novels, the Tiffany Aching books, DEATH, Hogfather, the collaboration with Neil Gaiman, GOOD OMENS. It makes my head spin to consider the volume of outstanding art he produced.

There’s been this vision in my mind of a huge two story wall existing in some secret location which served as a Discworld storyboard. I imagine illustrations of characters, storylines, locations, and a sapient pearwood trunk—all on an octarine background floating on the back of the Great A’Tuin. Truly a piece of wall art one could spent a decade studying. Maybe someday…

Terry Pratchett died March 12, 2015 from his Alzheimer’s. His speech on his Alzheimer’s is magnificent and can be read in a past post. It is a bit depressing to think of the stories he did not get to paper. The volumes of ideas nature kept for itself and we will never see. I think a good life goal will be to read every Terry Pratchett book published. I will give it a try, I believe.

Here’s an example of Terry Pratchett’s genius. It is from his latest (and 40th) Discworld book, RAISING STEAM.

“Most of them arrived in time to see something heading out toward them, panting and steaming, with fast-spinning wheels and oscillating rods eerily appearing and disappearing in the smoke and the haze, and on top of it all, like a sort of king of smoke and fire, Dick Simnel, his face contorted with the effort of concentration. It was faintly reassuring that this something was apparently under the control of somebody human—although the more thoughtful of the onlookers might have added “So what? So’s a spoon,” and got ready to run away as the steaming, dancing, spinning, reciprocating engine cleared the barn and plunged on down the tracks laid in the field. And the bystanders, most of whom were now byrunners, and in certain instances bystampeders, fled and complained, except, of course, for every little boy of any age who followed it with eyes open wide, vowing there and then that one day he would be the captain of the terrible noxious engine, oh yes indeed. A prince of the steam! A master of the sparks! A coachman of the Thunderbolts!”

RaisingSteamCover

Bystanders to byrunners to bystampeders…

Nobody can do it like Terry Pratchett did.

Rest in peace, Sir.

You will be missed.

 

“…haunts me in my dreams.”

I am working on a middle grade historical fiction about a group of boys in the Memphis area and their adventures around the Sultana disaster. The steamship Sultana sank just north of Memphis, TN in April of 1865 on the overloaded boat carrying Union soldiers northward to home after the end of the Civil War. The tragedy resulted in the death of 1547 people–more people than died in the Titanic disaster.

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This quote is from a survivor of a Confederate prison camp and the Sultana explosion, J. Walter Elliot,  in his submission to Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, edited by Chester Berry

“I’ve seen death’s carnival in the yellow fever and the cholera-stricken city, on the ensanguined field, in hospital and prison and on the rail; I have, with wife and children clinging in terror to my knees, wrestled with the midnight cyclone; but the most horrible of all the sights and sounds of that hour. The prayers, shrieks and groans of strong men and helpless women and children are still ringing in my ears, and the remembrance makes me shudder. The sight of 2,000 ghostly, pallid faces upturned in the chilling waters of the Mississippi, as I looked down on them from the boat, is a picture that haunts me in my dreams.”

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