Friday, May 31, 2013

The Books of Summer


Carolyn J. Rose

Recently I read Pecos Valley Diamond, a mystery set 90 years ago in southern New Mexico and told from the point of view of a nineteen-year-old young woman. The character’s voice and the gentle tone of the book took me back to the summers of my early teens when I had hours to myself, when I could stretch out in the shade of a maple and sink into a story. Within moments I would be in another place, another age, with real people or fictional characters. All of them were braver, smarter, and had more interesting lives than I did, but they all seemed willing to share their experiences, to confide their thoughts.

I had the ability back then to set reality aside, to let the words wash over me, to submerge as if into a warm lake. I would go so deep that all sound was muffled, even my mother’s call to dinner or my father’s shout that my chores hadn’t been completed. Sometimes I wouldn’t note the chill of evening, a rising wind, or the first drops of rain.

I read accounts of exploration and travel to far lands—Kon Tiki and Aku-Aku. I read the “traditional” books for girls—Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie and the adventures of Nancy Drew. I read tales of the detecting Hardy boys and the westerns my father enjoyed—stories by Zane Grey and Max Brand and Louis L’Amour. I read the books I found on my grandmother’s shelves, classics by Hawthorne, Melville, and Cooper. I read The Egg and I, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

I didn’t always understand the themes and deeper meanings, but I connected with the characters, the settings, and the feel of those books. I lived inside the covers until I read the final words. Often, I read the books again the next summer.

Now I tend to read with one eye on the clock—Is it time to check that pie, meet that friend, turn out the light and go to sleep?—and one ear on the sounds of my surroundings—the dogs, the washer, the mail truck. Most of the books I read are as “busy” as I am, but Pecos Valley Diamond lulled my multi-tasking mind.

Was that due to Alice Duncan’s skill at creating her world, her characters, and the tone of her story? Or was that due to my unconscious desire to revisit and reclaim the reading experience of my youth while walking the sun-blistered roads of fictional Rosedale, New Mexico?

Even the most skillful writer can’t capture a reader who doesn’t want to be caught, so my conclusion is that it was a bit of both and Alice Duncan and I met each other halfway.

Comments? I love comments, especially about your reading experiences and the books of your summers.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Internet Never Forgets

Carolyn J. Rose

It doesn’t seem fair.
I struggle to remember names and dates and places.

 The Internet never forgets. In fact, not only does its vast memory hold correct information, but it has room for erroneous information as well.

I lose addresses and scraps of paper on which I’ve jotted the titles of books I intend to read, chores I need to complete, and phone calls that should be made.

The Internet keeps everything.

I have to winnow out clothes and books and reorganize closets and shelves to make room for new acquisitions. The Internet just adds another shelf, another closet, another room, another warehouse.

And once something is stored on the Internet, good luck tossing it out or altering it.

I’ve authored books now out of print and no longer available, but apparently the Internet isn’t convinced of that. I have profiles I can’t seem to change on social media sites I no longer belong to. My father died in 2003, but I’ve found a place on the Internet where he’s listed as being in his 90s and living in a house sold years ago.

I find that weird and even painful. But I also find it oddly comforting.

I’ve started to think of the Internet as a scrapbook that’s been in the family for decades. The tape has yellowed and the glue no longer sticks. Pictures and notes have come loose, been stuffed behind others, or crammed into a rubber-banded stack at the back of the book. It’s all there. You just have to know where to look.

As I get older and begin to forget more little things and my mind starts to wander and betray me, I’m cheered by the thought that the Internet has my back. I’ll be okay. As long as I can find my password.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

42 Defines Courage and Entertains

Mike Nettleton

Many people equate courage with violence. Certainly brave soldiers who face danger on the battlefield or police officers who pursue bad guys with deadly weapons and keep them from causing harm to other human beings deserve the label “courageous.”
But there are many shades of courage. As the film 42 demonstrates, sometimes courage involves not acting, not lashing out at those of small, cruel minds, not defending yourself against verbal, psychological and even physical abuse. Such was the courage of an African-American athlete named Jackie Robinson.

We’ve known the story forever, of course. It’s taught in high school history classes now. We read that Jackie Robinson, a three-sport star at UCLA was picked by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey to break the color barrier-that he was showered with racial epithets and faced discrimination and thousands of threats. We were taught that finally, his talent, determination and charisma helped the next generation of African-American players fully integrate baseball. What 42 does is bring the emotional toll Jackie Robinson submerged just to survive, up to the surface, where we can experience it with him.
Make no mistake about it, 42 depicts post-war America at it’s very ugliest, and, in some ways, most noble. You find yourself repulsed by the raw bigotry Robinson endured on a daily basis, yet uplifted by his struggle to maintain control, to prove himself a more evolved human being than his tormentors.


42 may be my movie-of-the year, pending whatever else comes along. Not only will it entertain you, but it provides a perspective on how far we’ve come and how far we have left to travel in our quest to judge our fellow human beings by their character and actions and not by some superficial factor like skin color, political affiliation or sexuality.
One of the points the movie makes so well is that attitudes and prejudices are learned behaviors—passed from father and mother to son and daughter. I hope families will see this film together and use it as a jumping off point for a conversation about compassion and understanding.
The visual details created by the filmmakers are striking, including a CGI generated version of historic Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. The acting crackles with energy, with Chadwick Boseman as the enigmatic Robinson, Nicole Beharie as his equally courageous wife Rachel and Harrison Ford, exhibiting impressive character-acting chops as Branch Rickey. Also outstanding are Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher and Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese. A personal side note; I loves seeing Max Gail, of Barney Miller fame in a short turn as Burt Wooton, the fill-in Dodger manager for Jackie’s first season.
As a certified clumsy person I’d like to offer all five of my thumbs way-up for 42.