Cocooning

This was a cocooning sort of day. Chilly. Dark. Heavy clouds. Rainy morning. Misty afternoon. A good day to stay inside, huddle under the covers, and read.

So I did.

The end.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Ill-Conceived Stories

There have been a whole slew woman characters over the years who were amateur detectives. In many of them, the amateur was smarter than the whole police force put together, and she managed to find out the truth while they were still bumbling along. In others, the amateur had a cop boyfriend or a reporter or someone who could feed her information while she made fools of them all. Some put a twist on the story, and make the woman character the detective — private or otherwise — and she still finds out the truth before the professionals with all their equipment and resources.

I’ve recently come across still another version of this same archetype, a variation on the cop boyfriend theme. In this version, the amateur and the cop are not in a relationship but are merely best friends. (Even though it’s obvious to everyone but them that they really are in a relationship, just haven’t gotten to the sex part yet.) What makes this version so appalling is that the girlfriend, whether an ex-cop or merely a know-it-all, is allowed to accompany the cop on his investigations, as if she were her partner, and no one has any complaints about this — not the other cops, the police higherups, or the victims. They all just go along with that. Despite the ridiculousness of this, and the ridiculousness of the girlfriend showing up the cop, the worst is that the cop is a doofus and lets the girlfriend tell him how to do his job and even does her bidding when she sends him on assignments. For example, in once case, the amateur tells the cop, “I’ll go talk to the guy. You go find out what the woman has to say.”

How did these books get published? I suppose stories like this made sense before women became street cops and detectives, but it doesn’t make sense that such inane novels would be published now.

Luckily, not all books are as poorly conceived and written. There are plenty out there for me to choose from.

Even luckier, at this time of year, I don’t need to hunker down with a good book quite as often as I do in the winter.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

An Egregious Error

In a book I read the other day, a 1929 speakeasy waitress (a flapper) was trying to solve the mystery of why a patron had been murdered. She went into a hardware store that one of the suspects owned, and started out her investigation by innocuously asking to see a Black and Decker electric drill.

That stopped me cold. It’s hard on me as a reader when anachronistic elements show up in a novel; it takes me out of the story, and makes me wonder what the author was thinking.

The worst example of such a literary crime was in a best-selling (or so she claimed) novel by a self-published writer who wrote racy regency romances. That’s so not my thing (though I did enjoy the books by Georgette Heyer, who has been credited as the creator of the modern regency romance genre). Still, at the behest of my publisher, I took a look at the books to see what the big deal was, and just about the first thing in the first chapter was a breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup. What? How could anyone have made such a ridiculous error?

Maple syrup wasn’t served on pancakes until after the regency era, and who knows if it would have arrived in England by then, and even more doubtful if it was used on pancakes. In addition, although pancakes have been around for hundreds perhaps thousands of years, they were not a common breakfast food in regency England. But I will give the author the benefit of the doubt since I can’t for sure say that rich people wouldn’t have eaten pancakes with maple syrup back then.

Also, although chocolate was known and favored during those times and served in the morning, it was in the form of a hot chocolate drink. Chocolate chips, however, were not invented until a hundred and fifty years later. Created in 1938, chocolate chips were called “morsels” until sometime in the 1940s when “chocolate chips” became the more common term, though “morsels” is still used by the first company who sold them.

Needless to say, I never read more than the first few pages of that book.

The flapper book turned out not to contain this sort of error. In fact, Black and Decker was in business in 1929; it had been founded in 1910. And they were selling an electric hand-held drill by 1917.

I had no idea that electric tools went back so far! It makes sense, though, that power tools would have been one of the first uses of electricity after lighting since electric tools make work so much easier.

As for the flapper book — after time out to research Black and Decker and power tools, I went back and finished the story. Apparently, it wasn’t that great because I can’t remember a thing about the story, but at least it didn’t suffer from an egregious error like the chocolate-chips-in-the-regency-era novel.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Traveling Books

Although you might think this post concerns books about traveling, it’s actually about books that travel. I’d never given much thought to how far books travel, and probably never would have if it weren’t for the confluence of two events. First, my friend who returned to Thailand to be with his ailing wife, took my book Bob, The Right Hand of God with him, which, according to him, makes me an international author. Sounds good, doesn’t it, being an international author? More accurately, it makes the book itself an international book because the author — me — is definitely not international since I’ve never been out of the USA. But my book is now out of the country, having gone by way of car, plane, bus, and perhaps even train, so that makes it a traveling book.

The second event concerns the book I am currently reading. It was written by a Spanish author and translated and published in the U.K. And somehow a copy of that book, printed so very far away, ended up in the local library in the ongoing book sale section. It looks like a well-read and much-loved book, so who knows what sort of roundabout journey that book made to get here. And now it’s in my hands.

This made me think of other traveling books I have known. For example, a friend sent me a trio of books about trees for a house anniversary gift, and those books also came from the U.K. Actually, they came from Amazon in Las Vegas, which is mystifying because she ordered the books from a business located in U.K. Still, since those books were published in London, they had to have traveled to Las Vegas somehow, before they ended up here.

I’ve also been an agent a couple of times for someone overseas who needed out-of-print books that were not available where he was living, and if I remember correctly, at least one of those books originated over there.

Most books don’t travel that far, at least I don’t think they do, but still, they rack up the miles going from the printer to the distributor to the seller to the buyer and then to the reader if the buyer and reader aren’t the same person. Eventually, books travel to a secondhand store and then continue their journey to another home. I ordered one such book from a used book outlet in Oklahoma, and the gift card inserted into that obviously unread book showed that it had been gifted to someone in New York. It was delivered to me in California, and then I myself brought it to Colorado.

But that was a simple journey. Some books travel in a more convoluted fashion. I heard of a woman who had donated her childhood books, then later in life found one of those very same books in a used book store far from where she grew up. She bought it, of course, because obviously it wanted to go back home to her. One can only imagine the secret life of that book — where it had traveled, who had read it, who loved it, and how it ended up back in the hands of its original owner.

A huge percentage of books don’t enjoy that kind of far-reaching journey. 77,000,000 unsold and unread books are pulped — destroyed — each year by the major publishers. (Print-on-demand, where only books that are already sold are printed, hasn’t changed things much because bookstores need the product on hand even though they return up to 40% of those books to the publisher, and up to 95% of those books are sent to landfills or recycled into paper pulp.)

But that’s too depressing to think about. I’d rather imagine the journeys books go on. It’s only fitting that they get their own journeys since so many of them take us on mental journeys and allow us flights of fancy such as this blog post.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

People Like Me

I finally finished the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. Whew! It really got tedious, all the shopping and designer clothes and idiomatic terms that were translated in footnotes.

The most bizarre thing about the books is that I would have thought they’d be used as examples of how not to write, but apparently, if a book makes money, no one cares about the lack of a plot, the lack of clearly defined major characters, the lack of any sort of character arc, the insertion of too many characters that have no point except to pound home the point that the rich, no matter the nationality, are different.

One of the many things I didn’t understand were those footnotes. Though the story was written in English, these people were not actually speaking English in their own homes among their own families, yet the author kept inserting Asian terms in the midst of what should have been Asian people talking in one of the many Asian languages. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just translate those terms as he did the rest of their dialogue and forget the footnotes. Admittedly, there were times they spoke English, and I suppose they would bestrew their English sentences with Asian terms, but I don’t feel like giving the author the benefit of the doubt, especially since he kept inserting himself in the footnotes. I had to look at the footnotes to see what the heck the characters were talking about, which was bad enough, but it was especially jarring to have all that author intervention. Anyone who knows about writing knows that the author should be invisible. A story is a conversation between the reader and the characters, and no author should ever poke his head into the conversation. It disrupts the fictive dream and takes the reader out of the story.

In this case, I don’t suppose it really mattered since there was no real story. Just a lot of rich people doing rich people things.

Luckily, I’m finished with that particular literary non-event and will go on to a completely different book, this one about a middle-aged, middle-class woman in the sandwich generation — caught between raising young children and taking care of aging parents. I’m not sure I’ll be any more into this story than I was into the rich folk saga — both are alien situations that I can’t really identify with. But then, if I only read books about people like me (assuming, of course, there are any books about people like me), there’d be no reason to read because I know about people like me.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive? If you haven’t yet read this book, now is the time to buy since it’s on sale.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Rich People Problems

I’m just finished China Rich Girlfriend, the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, and am about to embark on the third book, Rich People Problems. To be honest, I do not care at all about the problems rich people have. I’m sure they have problems, but I’m also sure that their money keeps them from having most of the problems the rest of us have (such as not enough to pay the rent, not being able to afford child care, not being able to buy a car that doesn’t keep breaking down, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera).

The books, short on characterization and plot, are long on shopping and name dropping. I’m mostly reading the books because they were lent to me by an Asian friend who is neither crazy rich nor China rich. She was, however, born and raised in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, a resort area, the site of picturesque tea plantations, and the setting for one of the scenes in the first book.

I got bored with the shopping scenes and descriptions of insanely expensive paintings and objets d’art loosely held together by soap-opera-worthy moments, so my mind tended to wander. I found myself smiling at the vast difference between the Asians portrayed in the books — completely materialistic beings — with the Asians living in my head — Zen- and Dao-influenced folk who are spiritually inclined, love harmony, and eschew material things. (This idea came more from my study of comparative religions rather than any true knowledge of individual Asian people besides my friends.) Adding to the dichotomy, there is the difference between the Chinese in this book and the Chinese I’ve read about in other books who are forced to work in sweatshops.

I suppose the reality of Asian life spans the full gamut of practices and beliefs as it does elsewhere, but although I have been told that the mindset described in these books is accurate, it still rings false to me. But then, my grandparents moved to this country to raise their family away from their own peasant roots, so I identify with neither the peasant point of view nor the crazily rich mindset. (I mostly find my wealth in the true riches of life — plumbing, a nice place to live, enough food, friends, and all the other comforts that make so much of life today a luxury that people in previous eras could not even imagine.) It does seem, though, as if these crazy-rich Asians have much in common with any other crazy-rich nationalities, with their emphasis on generational ties, keeping the money in the family, and finding the proper mates for their children.

Another thing that made me smile as I drifted from the story was a character in this book, a trendsetter with millions of followers on the various social networks. Being what is called an “influencer,” all she has to do is show up at a restaurant (a very expensive restaurant), be seen an exclusive resort, or wear a designer outfit to have her outing comped with her only payment being a photo of herself at the venue posted online. That’s not what made me smile, though. What amused me was thinking of myself in such a situation, and understanding why the number of my followers lags slightly behind hers. Here I am, wearing old dance leggings and a no-name turtleneck, with not a jewel in sight, sitting in a house that would fit in a single room in one of her houses, walls that are bare of any artwork, and hand-me-down furniture. I was rather a gadabout yesterday, met some friends as I was walking, had tea with another friend and dinner with a different group of people. But none of those outings took place in a famous restaurant or a luxurious spa, so even if I were wearing designer clothes, and even if I did live in a designer house, there would still be no possibility of a job as an influencer. (And yet, thinking about this, I bet my day was better than that rich girl’s day. Not only was it a nice day, it was real rather than a made-up fantasy.)

Now I’m heading off to read about Rich People Problems. The good thing about it is that no matter what problems they have, I would never have to deal with, so I don’t need to waste even a second of my life on empathizing with them.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive? If you haven’t yet read this book, now is the time to buy since it’s on sale.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Crazy Rich

An Asian friend lent me her copy of Crazy Rich Asians. She really enjoyed the book, not just for the story and the humor, but because she knew many of the places in the book and had eaten much of the food, so it was personal for her.

I was looking forward to reading the book, but when I started, I realized I’d read it before. Admittedly, I don’t remember the titles of a lot of books I’ve read, so it’s not uncommon for me to get books I’ve already read, but I would have thought I’d have remembered the title. It’s certainly unique enough. But, no.

The first part of the book reminded me of the old regency romances, with all the gossip, the over-the-top wealth, the drive for titled or entitled parents to make suitable matches for their children, but as the book progressed, I felt suffocated by all the money, the shopping, the emphasis on trivialities, the snobbery. More than that, I could not empathize with any of the characters. Who needs that sort of wealth? Not me, that’s for sure. Not only don’t I need it, I wouldn’t want it.

The real riches (the material ones rather than the emotional or spiritual ones) are simple. A place to live with plumbing, heating and electricity. More than adequate food. Clothes to keep one covered and warm and feeling good about oneself. A car to get around. Books to read. Feet and shoes that allow one to walk and connect with the world on a fundamental basis. A computer to connect with the world on a broader basis.

I’m sure there are a few other items to add to that list, but truly, these are the riches. Does it matter if one lives in a 1,000-square-foot house or a 10,000-square-foot house? No matter how big the house, you can only be in one room at a time. The same goes for clothes. No matter how many (or how few) you have, you can only wear so many garments at one time. You can only drive one car at a time, eat only so much food. Whether the car or food or clothes are hideously expensive or cheap hand-me-downs, they serve the same function.

Not only do I have all the things one needs to be rich — at least rich compared to the past when there was no plumbing, no heating, no cars, no closet full of clothes — I feel rich.

When friends and I would talk about such things as winning the lottery, I’d mention that all I really wanted was enough money so I didn’t have to worry about money. It finally dawned on me that if that was the only reason to get richer, there was a simple solution: stop worrying about money.

So I did.

Not worrying doesn’t change the possibility of an impoverished old age, though it does keep me focused on what is important — working while I can, taking care of myself, learning to accept the vicissitudes of life. It also means stocking up on a few things when I can, for example, during my recent — and rare — visit to a big city with all the major stores, I bought some shoes, though I don’t need them quite yet.

I also think not worrying about my finances (or at least trying to not worry) helps to create an attitude of gratitude, which is important to one’s well-being, and adds to the feeling of being rich.

It’s just as well that I’m okay at not being crazy rich, very rich, or even just simply rich because it will never happen. And that, too makes me rich because from what I have read in this book about insanely rich people (Asian or not) is that being rich is hard work.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Beach Read

The term “beach read” was first used in 1990 as a way for publishers to market books to people going on vacation. These so-called “beach reads” have mass appeal, are not intellectually stimulating, are guaranteed not to ruin your summer vacation with unwanted — and unpleasant —- feelings or thoughts, and most of all, are easy to digest. Shortly after the term became popular, readers were inundated with novels sporting beach-themed covers and beach-themed stories, as if an entire generation of writers decided to take “beach read” literally.

It strikes me as strange that people would take a beach-themed beach book to the beach to read while at the beach. If one is at the beach, why read a book about the beach? Why not experience the beach at first hand? But then, I suppose, people who spend a lot of time at the beach get tired of the relentless tides and the incessant noise of the breaking waves and need something to divert their attention. It makes a sort of sense, then, to read about the beach because if you’re at the beach, you don’t want to be reading about backpacking in the mountains, otherwise it might confuse you about where you are and what you are doing.

I just finished such a beach read (out of desperation since I couldn’t get to the library), and what most intrigued me (and why I kept reading) is that, like so many of this genre, the story took place in the Outer Banks, with the ocean on one side and Pimlico Sound on the other. I knew the place because I’d been there — it was one the many locations I’d experienced during my cross-country trip.

There is something special about being able to place yourself in a book. When I was young, so many books were set in New York, so I knew New York better than any other city except my own native Denver. It helped that I had been to New York several times, so I knew the sound and the smell and the vibe of the place, but still, I knew so much more about the city than I could have known by real life experience. Oddly, although I knew Denver by experience, I never knew it literarily. Very few books were — and are — set in Denver; it has always been considered a literary backwash. A staple of my childhood, the Beanie Malone books by Lenora Mattingly Weber were a rare exception.

[Writing this made me remember a career day in high school when I was instrumental in bringing Weber (who lived in Denver) to speak to us about the writing life. Considering that I wasn’t blessed with self-esteem and wasn’t knowledgeable in the ways of the world — meaning I didn’t know how to do much of anything — you’d think I would remember how I did something so out of character rather than just recalling the end result, but I haven’t a clue how I got Weber there.]

Four of my books are set in Denver, though I’d never be able to use that city as a setting for any possible books in the future because it has changed so drastically since I last lived there, not just the skyline, but the ideology and politics of the place.

Despite my having spent time at various beaches on three coasts (east, west, gulf), I wouldn’t be able to write a real beach book, either, since I only know a fraction of the mood of those places, and my ignorance would be apparent. I suppose I could create a beach in my back yard — get some sand and a kiddy pool — but that certainly wouldn’t be the same.

I guess I’ll just read about beach places and remember how it felt — how I felt — when I was there.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Restless Sleep

A friend sent me a cartoon of a woman reading in bed, with the caption: I tried everything to get to sleep last night. Well, everything except closing the book and putting it on the nightstand. Let’s not get too crazy.

I had to laugh at that because oh, it’s so true! At least some of the time, anyway. Last night was not one of those times.

I did close my book and put it on the nightstand, tired physically and tired of the tiresome story, but I still found myself too restless to sleep. My allergies were acting up, which exacerbated the touch of insomnia, but the problem was mostly external. I find that when a storm is moving in, I get restless and unable to sleep. The same thing happens with a full moon. And last night, there was both a snow storm and a full moon. I’m lucky I managed to fall asleep at all. Or maybe not. I woke up stiff and sore, so whatever sleep I did manage to get wasn’t exactly relaxing.

Fortunately, even though it’s very cold today, the clouds are moving away. And the moon is on the wane. I shouldn’t have a problem sleeping until the middle of next week when another storm hits the area.

It has been an interesting winter so far, with the middle of the week becoming very cold, warming up to a relatively nice weekend, and then dropping back into the midweek cold spell. Spring will be here in four and a half weeks, and it will be interesting to see if this same pattern holds true, though spring around here doesn’t really mean a whole lot because the last freeze doesn’t come until the beginning of May.

Still, change is in the air, but hopefully not too much change. It would be nice to get a good night’s sleep tonight. Who knows, I might even get crazy enough to close my book and put it on the nightstand earlier than usual!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Ritual Tarot

The tarot cards I am using this month are The New Dawn Ritual Tarot. The deck is based on the traditional teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It touted itself as the tarot deck of the 1990s (it was published in 1991), and was geared toward people who wanted to get back to the basics of Ceremonial Magick.

I’ve waited this long to use this particular deck because the cards never appealed to me. The cards themselves seem to be cardboard without any sort of slick coating to make them easy to shuffle and deal, which is bad enough, but the designs are also off-putting. Still, I have the cards as well as an oversize 230-page book, so I figured I should at least try to learn something from this particular tarot. So far, the only thing I’ve learned is that my original assessment holds true: these cards don’t at all appeal to me.

As for the book, it gives the history of the tarot, an account of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an examination of the principles of the Qabalah (an ancient mystical system that more or less parallels the tarot), and explains a variety of rituals and divination procedures specifically “designed for magickal work with the Tarot.”

Mostly, the book describes in great detail each card, telling us what we are seeing (though why they need to point out the red and yellow and black parts of a card when the colors are obvious even to the most disinterested person, I don’t know). The book also describes what each part of the card signifies, how the card relates to the Qabalah, what the cards significance is to the earth and the solar system. Two pages to describe a card, but when it comes to discussing the meaning of the card itself, all they can come up with is a brief phrase. In other words, that huge book says nothing more what the booklet that came with the cards says.

I suppose for those who are deep into the mystique of the tarot, all the intricacies of the card are important, and perhaps someday I will be interested enough to delve further into the cards, but for now, all I need to know is what they mean.

Today’s cards are the six of pentacles, which means “success and gain in material undertakings,” and the ten of swords, which means “ruin, defeat, disruption.” An interesting combination, right? The cards seem to negate each other, though I suppose it could also mean that I will find some sort of success today followed immediately the ruination of that success. Or . . . something.

I’m still searching for a tarot deck that speaks to me, one that I might care to learn about its intricacies beyond the few divinatory words that usually pertain to the cards, but this is not such a deck.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.