Thursday, December 13, 2012

One of My Literary Superheroes; At the Moment, the Literary Superhero

After I finished Loser by Jerry Spinelli last Sunday, and read all the way through his The Library Card on the same day, I embarked on a few book selections that left me feeling blah by yesterday.

Monday brought Dogfight: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse by Calvin Trillin, normally a very funny writer to me, and I read most of it, but couldn't finish it. Not because of him, but because the nation has just finished enduring this presidential campaign. Trillin is great at verse that can make you laugh and, of course, nod in recognition at what has always been so obvious but has never been dissected like he does it, but I think this will be funnier with proper distance, like maybe a year and a half from now. That's not to say I'll finish it then, since books are constantly hunting me down, but it'll work better later.

On Tuesday, I read The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus, a wonderfully droll reporter who profiles what it takes for bees to make honey, and those that help bees do what they've always done best: The beekeepers, especially John Miller, the man of the title, who outshines Nordhaus many times by his comments and e-mails to her. In a way, it's an Abbott & Costello act between the two. Seemingly effortless. After I bought that tall jar of orange blossom honey at the Williams-Sonoma outlet store at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas in Primm, a book about honey came to mind, but not the title, and I set about tracking it down with a few word combinations in Google that I thought would get me it. I found that it was called Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey--The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World by Holley Bishop, which I put on hold at the library and now have here at home to read whenever I feel like it, which is not yet. On that same website, I found out about this book and liked what I learned, about how bees produce honey, about the queen bee, about the (mostly) trials of the industry and what beekeepers must go through to maintain a wisp of a profit to barely keep themselves going. It was an adventure into honey, and Nordhaus clearly had fun with the topic, but I learned something and that was it. I didn't feel a spark within me turn into crackling electricity, which is what I hope a book, any book, will do.

Yesterday was a tossup. Around Boulder City by Cheryl Ferrence is valuable only for the photos of life in Boulder City and at Hoover Dam in the late 1930s on. But her writing is embarassing, reading more like a 5th grader's book report, with clipped sentences and a sense of wanting to rush through it to go do something else, even though she's part of the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association. Obviously it was created as an update after 2000's Boulder City Nevada by Mimi Garat Rodden, which was also published by Arcadia Publishing. Rodden is a much better, more enthusiastic writer, not feeling the need to artifically play up Boulder City, which doesn't need it since there's so much there that's always interesting to explore and find something that you personally like about it.

I read Flying Blind, Flying Safe by Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation in my early teens, and her outraged views of the sheer incompetence and complacency and collusion of the Federal Aviation Administration (this was in 1996; I don't know if the FAA has changed for the better or what new policies may be in place to improve the Agency's standing) made me want to work for the National Transportation Safety Board because it seemed to me that the NTSB was more serious about looking into airplane accidents and coming up with strongly-worded suggestions and measures to make sure they don't happen again or as often.

Those years have passed, of course, but I wanted to read it again today to see if my views have changed, not about the FAA, but if I felt the same way about the NTSB as I did back then. And I do. I even went to the NTSB website after I finished reading the book to see what positions were available, namely something writing-related, since that's where I am now in my life. The only positions available required education that would take me years to get and I don't want to sit in a classroom anyway. Plus, none of what they were looking for really interests me. Not to mention that those positions are located in Washington, D.C., and I'm not moving yet again. I'm happy where I am.

I appreciate what I've read over these past three days, what I've learned anew, what I've reunited with, but still no spark. No electricity. Perhaps the best remedy is to get off library books for a while, even though I have nearly 10 to pick up on Sunday (or possibly Saturday, since the dogs are being groomed at a place directly across from the library and they only take an hour, so it makes no sense going back home), mostly Steampunk novels that interest me. I want to get back into all that.

One of my new favorite authors of late has been Jay Gilbertson of the Madeline Island series, comprised of Moon Over Madeline Island, Back to Madeline Island, and Full Moon Over Madeline Island, the last of which just came out and which he self-published through Amazon's CreateSpace. Each novel is populated by the dynamic duo, Eve and Ruby, women to admire and worship for their strength, their good humor, their determination to live their lives on their terms. Madeline Island is real, located in Lake Superior, near Bayfield, Wisconsin. Gilbertson, being a native of Wisconsin, has a unique perspective he brings to his novels, as well as delightful characterizations that were enough to make me eventually buy the first two Madeline Island novels before the third one was available to order. I occasionally thought about those first two novels, but when I learned of the third novel coming out, I remembered how much fun I had reading them, how touched I was by many of the situations, and how badly I wanted to revisit these wonderful women. I highly doubt I'll be disappointed with Full Moon over Madeline Island, and while it has already become a playmate of the other two novels by dint of being stacked on top of them, it will certainly rejoin them after I'm done.

The one thing I vow to do every Sunday after I've picked up my latest spate of holds from the library is to not put another book on hold until I've finished one of the books I've checked out. If it's a series like Decker/Lazarus by Faye Kellerman, I read the current installment and then decide if I want the next one, which, lately, I do. That works well for series, and I try to apply the same movement to my other books. It doesn't work though because there's always another book that pops into my head, or one of my interests that I must read more about, such as presidential history. In fact, after I pick up the many Steampunk novels that will be on hold for me by the end of the week, I want to get back into presidential history and figure out what I want to read next, besides the reference book The Presidency A to Z, which I haven't dipped back into since the end of October, but which I've been able to renew over and over. There's no risk of it gathering dust since there are other books of my own on top of it and The Supreme Court A to Z.

A little bit of pressure develops when I put books on hold for the following weekend. I sometimes feel like I have to read the amount that's sitting on the hold shelves for me to pick up so it matches, so I don't feel like I lose out on anything. Some weekends I get lucky. Last week, I tore through 11 books, five I actually read and six I gave up on, and had to find only four books to bring back that I wasn't likely to read any time soon. This week may produce less books, but it depends because books I'm interested in at that moment sometimes don't interest me as much as the week goes on and I don't feel great regret in giving them up.

I know that reading books should be a continual pleasure and not a rush job. They are always a pleasure to me. Even with that bit of pressure, it doesn't affect how I feel when I'm reading. And yet, I was reticent about starting Full Moon over Madeline Island because again, I don't want to feel like I'm losing out on any other titles when I go to pick up the books waiting for me on Sunday (or Saturday). But I do need a break. I ned to go back to an author that has never let me down, who brings me so deep into Madeline Island that I never feel like I'm reading chapters. I feel like I'm actually there. I have many literary superheroes like that, and yet again, for the past two weeks, I've been tempted to reread, for the umpteenth time, The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty, even though I checked out his Art in America and The Dropper from the library and have yet to read them, even though I really liked Traveler, evidenced by Randall Pound becoming one of my heroes. But soon. Soon. Maybe after Full Moon over Madeline Island, I'll read what else McLarty has to offer, before I dash back to The Memory of Running.

In this way, Jay Gilbertson is one of my literary superheroes, and certainly the literary superhero at the moment because not only do I have the pleasure of experiencing a new chapter of the liveliness of Madeline Island, but through his works, he reminds me that it's good to go back to what you love, to what you hold close to you, to what becomes dog-eared because you've read it so much. That's what books are supposed to be. They're supposed to be that inviting, to remind you of what you loved so much about them the first time and offer up new insights every other time. Gilbertson's novels do that for me. So does Steffan Piper's Greyhound. So does Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. So does John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. So does Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt. So does Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. So does A.M. Homes's This Book Will Save Your Life. So do so many others that, if I listed them all, they would be the same length as this post, probably longer.

But right now, the man with the cape is Gilbertson. I'm ready for the realization of the hope of more time on Madeline Island. I'm ready for my break. My library books can wait.

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