Category Archives: reading and writing

My Kindle, My Friend

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Yesterday, disaster struck.

Not real disaster. Not earthquake or cancer or fire or savage attack by rabid chimpanzees. Just the kind of disaster that occurs when you’re rich and safe and well cared for and ever-so-slightly spoiled.

The disaster was this: I broke my Kindle.

One minute, I was holding it carelessly in one hand, clicking through the pages of Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Wives and Daughters” in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, and the next minute, it had slipped through my fingers and was bobbling end over end through the air, no doubt helped along in speed and trajectory by my clumsy efforts to catch it. It came down, hard, on its face, making an alarming cracking sound against the arm of my chair. Heart in my throat, I turned it over and saw this:

Oh, no.

Oh, NO.

Oh, NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! (It took me a moment to realize I was actually moaning out loud and not just in my head. People around the waiting room were shifting surreptitiously to other chairs, as far away from the crazy woman as they could get.)

By the time Paul came out of the doctor’s office, I had made it through denial, anger, and bargaining, and was just revving up a good depression.  I refused to move on to acceptance.  I needed my Kindle.  I had saved up some of my Mad Money (if you don’t know, that’s like an allowance for grown-ups), and I demanded that we stop by Best Buy right that minute, on the way home, to replace my beloved and demised e-reader. But, like a reasonable person, Paul convinced me to wait and call Amazon customer service to see if they could get me a deal on a refurbished Kindle that wouldn’t cost so much.

As soon as we walked through the door at home, I was on the phone with an Amazon customer representative. I told her the whole sad story, pausing for her exclamations of sympathy, leaving out nothing (except maybe the moaning).

“I’m sorry you’re having a problem with your Kindle. We’ll get a replacement out to you right away,” she chirped cheerfully.

I blinked, stunned. “Excuse me, what?”

“We’ll send you out a new Kindle, free of charge. It should be there in two business days. All you have to do is mail your broken one back to us with the pre-paid shipping label I’m emailing to you now.”

I may have cried a little. I may also have thanked her no fewer than eight times, effusively, until she abruptly thought of somewhere else she should be and summarily ended the call.

How awesome is Amazon?

So… I’m anticipating the arrival of my 2nd Kindle and thinking about how quickly I have come to take for granted my e-reader’s constant presence at my side. I’ve reached for it several times today before remembering its temporary absence. Thanks to Amazon, though, all my purchases will be automatically synced to my second device, no fuss, no muss (thank you, cloud!), and I will once more have instant access to what is quickly becoming an extensive library. An extensive library that only weighs 9 ounces. (*Squee!*)

Which brings me to the second reason for writing this post (the first being to sing the praises of Amazon customer service): to share with you a list of some of my favorite FREE Amazon Kindle books. There are hundreds and hundreds of absolutely free books available for the Kindle. Many of them are so old that they have passed into public domain–most of the classics of literature fall into this category. Others are teaser offers by authors and publishers hoping to draw you into a series or get you hooked on a particular writer. I’m discovering new freebies all the time, but here are some of the best ones I’ve found so far:

1. All the Jane Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Bliss. No matter how many times I’ve read them, my soul breathes a sigh of delight every time I slip back into Regency England for another lark with “the girls”.

2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. My parents gifted me with a giant hardback collection of Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a preteen, and I read through them in a week. They were like literary potato chips. I kept wanting just one more.

3. Little Women.  Which March girl are you?  I’d like to be a Beth, but I rather think I’m a Jo/Amy hybrid of some sort.  Read this for a sweet taste of sisterhood and family felicity that warms you through and through.

4. Wives and Daughters. Elizabeth Gaskell is an often overlooked author of the same ilk as Jane Austen. I also recommend her North and South (and the beautiful BBC adaptations of both novels!)

5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Once more down the rabbit hole, into the topsy-turvy world of Wonderland.  For just a dollar or two more, you can get a version that includes the original illustrations, which this one, sadly, doesn’t.

6. The Fairy Books.  Assembled by Andrew Lang at the turn of the 20th century, these collections of fairy tales from all over the world are enchanting!  Be sure to pick up all the colors: Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Pink, Grey, Violet, Crimson, Brown, Orange, Olive, Lilac.

7.  Jane Eyre.  Charlotte Brontë’s magnum opus is bursting with all the romance, nobility of heart, and hope-filled redemption that is sadly lacking in the reprehensible characters and darker storyline of her sister’s Wuthering Heights (Sorry, Emily–not a fan.)  Jane is good, and sweet-natured, and more open of spirit than we might expect after reading of her harsh childhood.  Mr. Rochester is flawed, but not fatally, and somehow we grow to love him as Jane does.  Read this.  And sometime before or after, treat yourself to the delicious BBC film starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson.

8.  A Still Life With Murder.  This novel is #1 in the Nell Sweeney Mysteries series by P. B. Ryan.  A great pick up for mystery lovers. (H/T Angie Storms.)

9.  Einstein’s Refrigerator.  Funny and interesting stories about great names in history.  Nice for reading in waiting rooms and on public transportation–anytime you have a few minutes to fill.

10.  The Curse of the Holy Pail.  Move over, Stephanie Plum; there’s another brassy, sassy amateur detective in town!  Odelia Grey is a plus-size paralegal with a wicked sense of humor.  At least, that’s what the critics say.  You caught me!  I haven’t actually read this one.  I just downloaded it today after reading the reviews and finding that the publisher, Midnight Ink, is offering FREE downloads of this second book in the Odelia Grey series for the month of July only.  (The first book in the series, Too Big to Miss, is only $4.69.)

All right, fellow e-reader readers (that’s fun to say), what free (or inexpensive) books are you loving right now?

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One last note: My main tool for sussing out whether or not I’d like to try a book I’ve never heard of is to look at the Amazon user reviews.  They are occasionally more entertaining than the books themselves.  Here’s a line I found today in a review for a fluffy supernatural fantasy romance:

“It was ok, in a twinkie-for-dinner kind of way.  You know what I mean.”

I do know what he means.  And I’m totally going to steal his line.

Who I Am (by Katie)

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I had a conference today with Katie’s fifth grade teacher, Marci, who also happens to be a good friend of mine.  We talked for a while about the special joys and challenges of working with Katie, and then Marci gave me a sheaf of Katie’s finished work, including this poetry craft project that they did in class.  I love the array of unique items Katie used in her collage–feathers, a skeletal dinosaur, sequins, puzzle pieces–but my favorite part is the poem itself, which opens a precious window onto Katie’s world:

KatiePoem2

 

However, when it comes to her brother agreeing with her, I don’t think she should hold her breath.

Change I Can Believe In

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Be warned: given my record as a grammar stickler, what I’m about to say may shock you.

I think the time has come to rewrite the rules.

Well, not all the rules.  Just one, really.  (Okay, two, if you consider that I’ve already embraced complete anarchy on the matter of sentence fragments.)  And what, you may ask, am I rambling on about?

Just this:  I think it’s time to rid ourselves of the archaic notion that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition.

*pause for collective gasp*

After all, when it comes to the spoken word, we already have a deeply entrenched habit of doing just that.

In school: Johnny, who did you just throw that whiffle ball bat at?  If you don’t stop throwing whiffle ball bats at people, you won’t have anyone left to play with.

On the job: You other guys can pay your bills if you want to, but I know what I’m going to spend my paycheck on!

In marriage: It’s not that I don’t find chess tournaments fascinating, dear, but isn’t there anyone else you can go with?

At home: Mom, Caleb’s nose just froze solid and broke off, but he still won’t come in!

Of course, common oral usage alone is not enough to render a grammatical construction unobjectionable (see: “aight”, “nucular”, and “ain’t no never mind” for examples), but it certainly merits a deeper investigation by the grammar police.  (And while we’re on the subject, who are these grammar police, anyway?  Is this an elected office or an appointed one?  Shouldn’t we get to vote?  If my word usage is being curtailed, I need to know that the curtailer has at least a passing understanding of poetic license, the all-purpose excuse I invoke to cover my personal grammatical anomalies.)

Sure, I could rewrite my sentence to say: “At whom did you throw the whiffle ball bat, Johnny?”  And Johnny, unexpectedly gripped by the complexities of proper prepositional usage, might just halt his reign of terror long enough to query: “Huh?”  But in the end, it makes for a dreadful sentence, a sentence marked out by all the other sentences, enraged by its high-falutin’ snobbery, for metaphorical playground whiffle ball bat attacks.  To put it simply, as a grammatical companion, “whom” is a bit of a dud.

I know, I know.  Just by writing this I’m running the risk of having Strunk and White break into my home to take away my copy of Elements of Style.  Fortunately, in my thorough research of this issue (by which I mean a single Google search for the term “ending sentence with preposition”), it has come to my attention that I am not the only prepositional rebel out there.  In fact, there is a whole groundswell movement of actual grammarians who agree with me.  Some of them even went to college.

You can do what you like, of course, but as for me,  I’m going to give “whom” the wedgie he deserves and start ending my sentences with prepositions wherever I think it looks and sounds right.

Some rules are just plain silly.

Or, as Winston Churchill once said it: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

A Word on Words

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I’ve always been a reader.

As a child, I used to stay up late at night, long after goodnights had been exchanged, reading books in the dim triangle of light cast from the hallway outside my room. Finally my parents gave in to the inevitable and installed a little reading light on my bed, allowing me to spend many of the hours between dusk and dawn lost in the labyrinthine passages of my favorite fictional worlds.

In school, I read while I walked down the hallway, finding the choppy waters of narrative conflict a lot easier to navigate than the shark-infested seas of junior high. Many days I missed getting off at my bus stop because I had my nose deep in a novel, years and miles and adventurous lifetimes away from the prosaic details of rural transportation in the Georgia school system.

From my lofty perch atop a pile of books, I learned how different two points of view can be. I developed a bittersweet understanding of the refining power of suffering. I traveled–not just to other people’s countries, but in other people’s heads. I stepped into whole other lives, trying them on the way a child tries on costumes.

I have had a library card as long as I can remember, and I’m a regular visitor there even now, when reading for pleasure is a treat that many adults have left behind. Though my “habit” is under control (I haven’t missed a bus stop in years), there are still times when a book sweeps me up in its whirling embrace, a tornado of beautifully turned phrases and arresting plot development, only setting me down when the last page has been turned. Those sorts of books are always over too quickly.

Occasionally, a book comes along that makes me fall in love in the first ten pages. Quite apart from the plot or the characters, it throws its net over me, and I know in an instant that, whatever happens before I reach the end, I’m going to love this book.

It’s about the words. Oh, how I delight in words! And some authors just have a way with them, as if they’re painting a masterpiece, or composing an aria. They swirl them about and fling them into the air for the sheer joy of seeing them fall across the page, a beam of light illuminating a feeling or a thought that the rest of us instantly recognize, though we couldn’t have expressed it just so in a million years of trying. A lot of writers can tell a story, but only a few can sing one like that. It’s like the difference between a plain juice glass and an intricately scrolled wine goblet. They serve the same purpose, and they’re made out of the same thing, but one of them lifts the experience into a whole other realm.

Nicholas Sparks has always struck me like that.  And Robert James Waller.  And recently I discovered Leif Enger within his delicious feast of a novel, Peace Like a River.  Now I’m reading The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, and only a few pages into it I’m getting that wonderful feeling again.

I know it’s a kind of jealousy, this intense admiration, but it’s not the kind that burns you up inside.  It’s the kind that makes you glad that the bar is set high, that there is such a thing as excellence in the world, because it gives you something to reach for, whether you touch it or not.

Meanwhile, there are the words.  What a gift.  I want to swim in them.

Lost in a Good Book

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“Oh, for a book and a cozy nook! And oh, for a quiet hour!”
–anonymous

Our town just got a brand new public library.

The ribbon cutting ceremony was Sunday, and yesterday I took Katie and Caleb to see it for the first time. It is truly beautiful.

The building’s style is hard to define, a seamless blend of modern and classic elements with a unique Northwest flavor. High ceilings and sleek architectural lines draw the eye to a soaring kinetic sculpture suspended over the spacious lobby. A whimsical set of giant, moose-shaped bookends welcome you through the front doors, and walking down the broad, sweeping staircase to the children’s section on the lower level feels like an event. The entire structure is covered in tall windows, flooding both floors with natural light and affording an amazing view of the lake and the mountains for which North Idaho is famous. Large, tiled fireplaces appear at intervals along the upper level, and here and there overstuffed chairs beckon to readers, inviting them to sink in and spend a few hours between the pages of a book.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to live in a community that believes in the importance of its library. Think of it: each and every citizen of Coeur d’Alene, whatever their age or income or background, can step through those grand doors into a world of words and pictures, of fact and fantasy, of information and imagination. They can look out at the view, use the computer, take in an art exhibit, or check out a book or a movie or a CD.

It’s not just a library; it’s a portal.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of visiting the library in the small Michigan town where we lived until I was six. It was a brick building in the main square that looked like it might have been a church at one time. What I remember most is tiptoeing down the narrow staircase to the children’s section in the basement. Someone had installed a small door at the bottom of the stairs, like a hobbit door, and every time I stepped through it, I felt like I was entering a land made just for me, where children ruled, and everything was my size. The chairs were little, the tables were little, and the shelves were short enough for me to reach every book. Someone had painted a mural across the walls, and big, fluffy rugs and soft cushions were piled up everywhere. I used to lose track of time taking book after book off the shelves and settling down in a pillow nest to read.

Going to the library was a treat then, and it’s a treat now. It was such a joy yesterday to see my children running up and down the aisles, discovering new books and clambering up into my lap to ask me to read to them. And I can’t wait to come back by myself sometime to sit in one of those cozy armchairs by the fire, maybe while the snow falls softly outside, and lose myself once again in a good book.

(*photos not mine. 1st photo is from CDA Library website, 2nd is by Family Phil, and last one is by Rocketsbrain.)