Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I Like Books: Paper and Hardback

You can be a Nook or Kindle fan, and tell me that the portability of having an e-reader while you travel is absolutely superb. You can tell me that Tom Clancey’s books are too bulky to tote around. You can tell me that printed books will become dinosaurs of the reading world. And I’ll believe you.

But I will also be the first one to admit that I love printed books. I love to feel a book, to open it, to browse through its pages. I like to flip it and read the back cover blurb. I like the smell of paper. I enjoy the touch of a slick, smooth-bound book and the texture of a cloth-bound one. I like to hear the thump of a book as it closes.

During the summer when I was a child, I couldn’t wait for the local Book Mobile to wind its way through the back country roads and deliver books for farm kids to enjoy. It was a treat. There was nothing better than reading a good book outdoors surrounded by sweet-smelling clover and cool breezes.

As an adult, it was fun to watch my two sons learn the pleasures of reading. They shuttled Judy Blume books, Choose Your Own Adventure, and Encyclopedia Brown books to restaurants, on trips, and in book bags back and forth to school. They passed them to friends and reread them when they made their journey back to our bookshelves. I hope that we never quit printing children’s and young adult books. It’s a sheer joy to sees a child’s face hidden between the pages of paper, instead of pressed to an electronic screen where a touch of a button can erase the image and words in a split second.

I have a friend who says the one disadvantage of e-readers is that you no longer can see what other people are reading—at the beach, the pool, in airports and other public places. She told me she used to enjoy checking out what strangers had selected, comparing it to her reading list, and many times, striking up a mutual conversation.

Why do I like paper and hardbacks? You can leave these books anywhere you please—beside your bed or near your favorite chair. When you’re finished reading them, you can abandon them for others to enjoy in airports, doctor’s offices and places where people gather. You can give them to organizations for resale, put them in reading rooms of condo units or hospitals, or store them on a shelf at a camp or cottage for a rainy day.

You can pass that exceptional book on to a friend, neighbor, or a disgruntled traveler sitting beside you. Ask anyone in the military, serving in remote areas, how much a book can help to relieve boredom and offer comfort. My neighbor and I swap books on a regular basis. It gives us time to chat with each other, and both of us pre-screen the “good reads” for each other, not wasting time on those we know the other person won’t enjoy.   

Someday, many years from now when everything is in cyberspace, I hope there are a few favorite books, gems of the printing press, lying in dusty attics for our great grandchildren to open and say, “Oh my goodness! Here’s an original. . .[add you favorite author’s name here.]”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Autumn in Pennsylvania

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came -
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.
~George Cooper, "October's Party"

The PA Central Mountain woodlands are adorned in exquisite finery for autumn's extravaganza this year. Like eager debutantes, the maples have donned gowns of crimson, gold and orange while the birch trees have stepped out in shades of yellows and light browns. As they stand beside their partners, the pine, hemlock, and spruce—proud protective escorts in shades of green—accentuate the flaming colors of the gowns.

Shhh! There is music in the woodlands. Listen to a band of bugling elk, the chatter of squirrels, the trilling of song sparrows in the bushes, and the rowdy cries of the crows. Watch as a warm autumn breeze ruffles the couples’ clothing and they bow and sway, dancing to these forest tunes. If you pause and wait patiently, the dancers will throw handfuls of leaves skyward like rainbow confetti, and they’ll swirl upward into the air and flutter softly earthward.

The magical extravaganza will continue for the next few weeks. Then like tired attendees of any event, the couples will end the occasion with a toast to the passing season. Everyone will head home to rest. The kaleidoscope of colors will dull and fade as the weary debutantes shed their apparel and toss them onto the forest floor in brittle heaps, which rustle under the feet of curious passersby.

But rest, even beneath white blankets of winter, is not endless. April has a duty to dress the woodlands again in delicate shades of lime green, just in time for the annual spring festival to begin.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I Like Short Stories

Why do I like the short story? Even though it’s one of the most demanding writing forms because of its concentrated plot and characterization, it’s also one of the most personal and fun forms of writing.

Short stories allow the reader to meet a new character or characters, experience a situation, setting and conflict in a limited amount of words and reading time. Short stories allow the reader to get a glimpse into someone else’s world and often finish the entire encounter in one sitting. And if the story is an emotional, humorous or suspenseful one, the reader gets to cry, chuckle or cringe as an added bonus. What can be more fun than that?
Our lives are filled with short stories. Everyday we tell or hear a short story.  It can be a long harrowing story steeped with conflict or a short slice of life that depicts the everyday life of ordinary people. There’s the caring next -door neighbor who goes to the aid of a sick friend across town and gets a speeding ticket on the way home. Or the irksome elderly man in the check-out aisle (ahead of you, of course) who argues with the weary cashier over his expired coupons--and who finally decides to abandon half his items while the line grows longer and longer. . .and longer.

The difference between being a short story teller and a short story writer is just simply having the ability to put your story into a permanent written format that has a beginning, middle and end.

Many ideas for writing a short story start with an incident. It can be something you read, something you heard, something you’ve seen or something you’ve experienced. It can be a “What if” moment when you’re daydreaming. Obviously, every incident must be expanded into a story idea and encompass a few basic fundamentals of short story writing like plot and problem, setting, characters, time and theme. And like any fiction, characters and conflict drive the story in the short story.  

Unlike novels, short stories can be created in reasonable time frames that range from short shorts of 500 words to novelettes of 10,000. If I had to make a list of my favorite short story writers, the Grimm Brothers, Alice Munro, Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London would be on it. Who are your favorites?