Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Tower Treasure, by Franklin W. Dixon

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Our perspectives on the outside world shift as we grow older and, for those first fifteen years or so, bigger. Our memories fail to adjust accordingly. Think about it: have you ever gone back to your elementary school (or even your high school) and sworn that it used to be... well, not so tiny?

Remember when you had a babysitter and you thought she/he was the very pinnacle of womanhood/manliness? Think about that now that you know she/he was all of fourteen years old at the time.

Pull out your favorite childhood VHS and reminisce about how you would watch it for hours. Then find a VCR, dust it off, find a place in town that will actually repair it, and then watch that tape. Yeah, it's all of twenty five minutes long.

That's kind of what rereading the first Hardy Boys book, The Tower Treasure, was like for me. Even as a young reader, I could whip through one of those adventures in about two hours... but now, that seems like an hour longer than necessary. I remember the mysteries being truly mystifying. I remember being terrified of the hobo who locks Frank and Joe in an old, rotten water tower -- like, I couldn't go to sleep after reading about his dirty, cackling face disappearing behind the trap door.

Now? Not quite so frightening.

Revisiting a childhood favorite is a good lesson in relativity, though. I feel like I see all the time some instance of an adult coaxing a kid by saying, "Oh, come on, it's not too far" or "Oh, come on, it's not too scary" or "Oh, come on, it's not too tall." The adults aren't lying -- the challenge in question is neither too far nor too scary nor too tall.

To the adult, at least.

We may not be able to fully sympathize with folks of another culture or gender. But everyone is a kid at least once. Perhaps we could all benefit from occasional reminders of what intrigued or overwhelmed or otherwise affected us in our own smaller days, so we can better comprehend how our smaller counterparts are interacting with their worlds.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

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The first good reason for my finally reading Jane Eyre is the richer understanding lent to this webcomic (full props and credit to Hark! A Vagrant):

The second good reason is for getting over this stigma that Charlotte Brontë and other authors like her (see: Jane Austen) produce pure chick-lit. Yes, women seem to love this story type more than men do; honestly, I think this difference stems more from our manly prejudices than from any qualities inherent in the works.

Why shouldn't men like to read a good love story? Especially when that story is not mere mush and sentiment, but chock-a-block full of subversion, spooky attic noises, and near-death wanderings, its romance element nearly takes a backseat. (I say nearly, for Jane Eyre is a wholly different kind of story without the love interests.)

Actually, these romance stories--when well done!--are among the most intriguing. We know these two characters are perfect for each other; we know they ought to get together and get on with the down-and-dirty already; and we really really believe they will. How is it that the protagonists' inevitable pairing is stretched so thin that we demote it from knowledge to belief? How is it that, despite our knowing (or thinking we know) precisely how the story is going to end, in the generalities if not in the specifics, we keep reading, enthralled, our certainties tempered and our knowledge doubted?

Pulling off those questions is a remarkable enough feat for any storyteller. And readers, male and female alike, appreciate when an author does it well. We men, though we might not like to admit it, fall in love as often and as powerfully and as capably as our counterparts. We have the same doubts and anxieties about romance, and the same exultation and exuberance. So why should we not partake of the same literature with the same enthusiasm?

Give romance a shot, men. You couldn't start with a much better example than Jane Eyre.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Podcast of "In the Haus of Broken Toys"

To coincide with the launch of A Thoroughly Good Blue, podcasts.ie have recorded several of the anthology's contributors reading their pieces and are now releasing them (for free!) to the public.

Already my reading of "In the Haus of Broken Toys" seems to be well-received, and it just launched on Friday. So follow the link to get the podcast for your very own (for free!). It's also available on iTunes (for free). And then please feel welcome to let me know in the blog comments what you think of the reading.

Did I mention that it's for free?

If you like what you hear, and you want to read more, remember that the ebook of A Thoroughly Good Blue is available on Amazon for a steal of a price.

Thank you, Microphone readers, for your support!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Needful Things, by Stephen King

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I've finally taken the plunge and read my first Stephen King book -- which is my disclaimer way of saying that, for all I know, what I'm about to write may be no-duh to longtime King readers. It's what struck me after reading Needful Things, though, so I'll say it anyway. (And before anyone rides me on a rail for being King-ignorant [Kingorant?], I've got Misery on my shelf to read soon.)

This book is (so I'm told) not King's most horrific writing, nor his most frightening, though I would call it frightful. What struck me so deeply was not the fact that the Devil comes to town as a well-groomed shopkeeper looking to con some people out of their souls, but that the town goes to hell on the highway of their own paving. Human greed and pride rule the day here, and while the people of Castle Rock may push their vices to the extreme, they act in ultimately human ways -- ways in which, under the right circumstances, you and I might well behave.

King could have actually made the story more frightful by backing off on the shopkeeper's control over human characters. Throughout the novel and up to right near the end, his powers of mental persuasion and delusion remain evident and only grow more powerful. I had the very real sense that the townspeople were being played -- not merely manipulated, but moved around the board like stiff, non-living chess pieces by an all-powerful hand. Persuasion is not the name if the game so much as domination. Yes, human desire for physical possessions (and the attendant jealousy and greed that fester like aggravated cold sores) courses through all the characters -- but we don't need the subordinating hand of a demonic salesman to induce magnificent and irrational destructive behavior. You don't even have to wait for Black Friday to observe how covetous normal people can be. Even your run-of-the-mill advertisements recognize this covetousness and employ incredible amounts of psychological influence on the human mind when it comes to triggering "need" rather than mere "want"; basically, what the impish shopkeeper in this book does to his customers, people themselves do to others anyway.

Yes, a satanic proprietor can exacerbate the worst of our qualities. The traits are already there, though. The frightful part of Needful Things is not that the Devil has ridden into town; it's what we're capable of doing with a little nudging. And all I have to do is look around my own reality to see that perhaps, in some ways, King overestimates just how much evil influence we might actually need to jump off the deep end.