I write short (for the mostpart) but I read long. This has been true all my reading life, especially for fiction series.
Completed Fiction Series
As a pre-teen I devoured the Cherry Ames nurse books by Helen Wells, following her career from student nurse onwards. Ditto the Ruth Fielding books, set in the 1920s and written by a group of people collectively using the pseudonym of Alice B. Emerson. Both involved adventure, sometimes mysteries, and young women who stepped outsides society’s rules and boundaries.
As an adult, my first fiction series addiction was The Poldark Sagaby Winston Graham. In this instance, I was so taken with the story line as depicted on PBS Masterpiece Theatre that I read all eleven books, and liked the books even better. I’ve read the Poldark family saga more than once. That’s the way it is with a good read. Early on, I was so taken with the character of Demelza Poldark that for a time port wine was my alcohol of choice.
Once upon a time, my escapist reading was the Nero Wolfe mysteries (Rex Stout), but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. The same detective, the same sidekick, and the same chef, but really nothing to link the books together. Each puzzle is different and, once solved, presents no temptation to reread.
I put the Lord Peter Wimsey fiction series somewhere in between. Dorothy L. Sayers has more of a through-line, and characters other than Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey DSO are more prominent. He solves mysteries for pleasure and is a perfect example of the British gentleman detective. I have actually reread her series because her writing is excellent, offering more than just the solution to the crime.
I watched the BBC/PBS adaptations. In my opinion, neither Ian Carmichael nor Edward Petherbridge was the right choice for Lord Peter, though many fans hold very strong views favoring one or the other. It should have been Fred Astaire!
Unlike many, I was never taken with Dame Agatha Christie. Although her detectives are appealingly quirky, the solutions to the crimes (in my opinion) too often involve “alligator over the transom” elements. I.e., they depend too much on sudden, serendipitous revelations, or information known only to the detective, such that the reader couldn’t possibly have figured it out.
I greatly enjoyed the first two books in Jean M. Auel’sEarth’s Children series. Fiction series set in prehistoric times was quite novel to me, and she seemed well grounded in actual anthropology and biology. But after Clan of the Cave Bear and Valley of Horses, it went downhill for me. After that, the books weren’t as novel and they needed a good editor. It’s a 6-book series I never finished.
Ongoing Fiction Series
By the time I read Outlander, the first several books in the series were already in print. Action/adventure, romance, time-travel, and a touch of the supernatural… I’d never read anything like it.
Weaving details from earlier books into major elements in later ones
And let’s not forget the gripping storyline, spanning wars, continents, and generations.
I’ve read the spin-off Lord John books and collections of short stories. What I have not done is watch the TV series. I would grump about all that’s been left out!
I preordered book nine, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, and it’s been on my shelf and on my kindle since November. At some level I am resisting reading it, for I don’t want the series to end. According to Gabaldon, the series is expected to be ten volumes.
Fiona Quinn has written several interconnected fiction series in The World of Iniquus. They feature separate but related action/adventure/romance plots and characters. She has created strong, knowledgeable, capable women, and I always learn things.
Another local writer I enjoy is Mary Burton. She, too, has written several fiction series, some interconnected and some stand-alone.
I’ve read a lot of L. T. Ryan, though his books tend to be more brutal than my usual fare.
Last but not least, I’ll mention Children of the Gods by I. T. Lucas. Per the Amazon blurb, “Twilight meets Ancient Aliens with the sizzle of Fifty Shades.” The writing isn’t on a par with Gabaldon, but it’s generally good and the series currently includes 62 books!
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first of the Harry Potter books. I have the complete set, but I haven’t yet read the books or watched the movies.
Please note: these writers are not to be confused with the following
Abercrombie had expressed an opinion with which poet Ezra Pound violently disagreed. “Dear Mr. Abercrombie,” wrote Pound. “Stupidity carried beyond a certain point becomes a public menace. I hereby challenge you to a duel, to be fought at the earliest moment that is suited to your convenience….”
Abercrombie was distressed by the challenge, knowing of Pound’s skill at fencing. He was relieved to remember that as the one challenged, he had the choice of weapons. “May I suggest,” he replied, “that we bombard each other with unsold copies of our own books.”
Pound, having far more “weapons” than Abercrombie immediately withdrew the challenge.
She once attended a party with Somerset Maugham, where the guests challenged each other to complete nursery rhymes. Maugham gave Parker the lines: “Higgledy piggledy, my white hen/ She lays eggs for gentlemen.”
Parker completed it with, “You cannot persuade her with gun or lariat/ To come across for the proletariate.”
(My personal favorite Parker quip is her response when asked to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence. She said, “You can lead a horticulture but you cannot make her think.”)
Faulkner was on a shooting expedition with director Howard Hawks and actor Clark Gable. In the course of conversation, Gable asked Faulkner to name the five best authors of the day.
Faulkner said, “Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, and myself.”
“Oh,” said Gable (maliciously?), “do you write for a living?”
“Yes,” replied Faulkner, “and what do you do?”
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961, by suicide), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954
Faulkner said that Hemingway had no courage, that “he has never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary.”
When Hemingway heard that, he said, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
(In case you hadn’t realized it, perceiving a piece of writing as writing is a matter of personal taste.)
As a lawyer, Lincoln discouraged unnecessary litigation. When a man came to him to bring suit for $2.50 against an impoverished debtor, Lincoln tried to dissuade the man. But the man was determined to get revenged would not be talked out of it. Lincoln charged $10 for his service, gave half to the defendant who admitted the debt and paid the plaintiff $2.50.
(The plaintiff was reported to be entirely satisfied. What might a writer make of a character with more money than compassion?)
L. T. Ryan burst onto the publishing scene in 2012 with the first two books in the best selling Jack Noble series (now numbering 16). With his skills in marketing and technology, he was able to self-publish successfully through Amazon books. Ryan’s writing skills landed him spots on the best-seller lists for Amazon and USA Today.
The following year was even more productive. Ryan published nine more books in 2013, including five volumes in the Jack Noble series. Because he was able to control every step of the publication process, Ryan was able to ensure that all of his works are made available simultaneously in audiobook, eBook, and Kindle format as well as in print.
The Depth of Darkness is my focus here because it is a great example of good and (in my opinion) bad writing—and thus could serve as a writing lesson to us all!
RELAX: No spoiler alerts needed here. Indeed, I hope you will read L.T. Ryan’s works and let me know what you think.
“L.T.” Ryan has lived in various points in the Appalachians, including Georgia and Virginia, with his wife, three daughters, and one slightly psychologically unbalanced, but lovable dog. He enjoys writing fast paced suspense thrillers. When not staring out the window while pretending to write, he enjoys reading, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and spending time with the ladies in his life.
There’s a lot of it.
His plot here is complicated, with lots of threads that weave together in a believable pattern at the end. It revolves around two elementary school children kidnapped from the playground during recess.
His characters are interesting, well-drawn, and consistent, including the relatively minor ones (for example, Mitch Tanner’s mother).
The two children, a really smart white girl and a black boy who suffers from asthma are best friends, perhaps initially based on both being outcasts. This cross-racial friendship is taken for granted/not a focal point for anyone, which I like. In addition, they are caring and protective of each other.
He avoids the stereotypes of the clingy, dependent female.
By and large, Ryan has created realistic children (even though occasionally the kidnapped girl seems resourceful beyond eight years old).
The interpersonal relationships appeal to me.
I like the balance between Tanner (who tends to be hot-headed and impulsive) and his partner, Sam (who supports Tanner while also providing a voice of reason/practicality.
Tanner and his pre-school daughter have a close, loving relationship—which is fresher than such a relationship between a father and a young son.
The sex scenes are handled well. I like that the sex is left to the reader’s imagination rather than being explicit to the point of causing one to wonder, “Could two people really do that?”
Although the issues described below distracted me from the reading experience, I greatly enjoyed the book. In fact, I liked The Depth of Darkness so much that I read the entire Mitch Tanner series!
The specific one I noticed most was using “at” unnecessarily, as in, “Where are you at?” If it were only one character, it could be a character note. When multiple characters say it, it’s an author note.
The other thing that made me grimace was telling things implicit in the action. For example, when Tanner took his sunglasses off his head and dropped them in front of his eyes “to keep the sun out of his eyes.” Sunglasses blocking bright sunlight is assumed. A reason to don sunglasses only needs to be mentioned when it’s something else, like hiding the emotion that might be revealed.
Other examples would be unlocking the door and then opening it, or describing how he kicked the door open, then reversed the action to kick it shut again.
Mitch Tanner sweats—copiously and often. The reader gets many descriptions of how and with what he wipes the sweat from his brow. Also described often is the following relief of a blast of AC or cool air from the open refrigerator.
Tanner drinks beer and eats pizza so often one would think they are two of the basic food groups. So, okay. But everyone else seems to pick-up, order, make, or have pizza on hand, too. Why not cold chicken or leftover tuna salad sometimes?
Work calls in the night all seem to come at 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning.
I recommend L. T. Ryan, because of the “good” stuff mentioned above. Also, I’m a series junkie, and he has a lot of those out there. AND, I didn’t notice the “bad” stuff cited above in all his books (for example, the Rachel Hatch series).
In 2013, Ryan was a (relatively) inexperienced writer, and one would expect improvement with experience.
Bottom line: Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth reading, so keep at it.
I blogged about beach reads (i.e., anything read at the beach) in 2016, 2018, and 2019. I was in the Rocky Mountains in 2017, and we all know what didn’t happen in 2020. But here’s this year’s take on what people actually read at the beach. These 16 people are ages 12 to 90, and 8 are female. FYI, some raved about their reads; no one said, “Don’t bother.”
Here, in the order people wrote them down, with writers’ comments where noted
And this doesn’t even include the 7 books bought the last afternoon before leaving!
And some people don’t choose what they’ll be reading at the beach. Work demands, school demands, parenting demands… Does reading the newspaper count as pleasure reading or required reading?
Student papers to grade
Reports for work, if the internet connection cooperates
Legal something-or-other for an upcoming court appearance
Coursework for Continuing Education requirements
Comparing textbooks for homeschooling
Manuscripts to edit
And there you have it folks: 16 people, 25 books (and other reading materials)—plus turtle viewing, boogie-boarding, brewery touring, thrift shopping, sewing, story telling, cooking, euchre, dancing, cribbage, Mexican Train Dominoes, hair, makeup, nails…
Bottom Line: Yep, lots to do at the beach—but don’t leave home without at least one good read!
Most medical professionals agree that a reading habit is much healthier than a cocaine habit or a heroin habit (the ones that don’t are the same dentists who don’t suggest brushing your teeth). For one thing, reading is good for your physical and mental health. You probably know at least some of these benefits of reading every day, but just to review briefly:
Improves brain connectivity
Readers are more able to empathize with others
Aids sleep readiness (if it’s a physical book)
Lowers blood pressure
Lowers heart rate
Helps reduce depression
Reduces cognitive decline with aging
So, everyone should read, and it should start at an early age. According to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, parents should start reading to/with their children from infancy through elementary school years.
Builds warm, happy associations with books
Increases the likelihood that kids will enjoy reading in the future
Reading at home boosts school performance later on
Builds good communication skills
Physically strengthens the human brain
Builds attention span
What Should You Be Reading?
Whatever you can get your hands on! Even before they know how to read, children will learn reading habits such as which way to hold a book and finding familiar pictures or letters on a page. It’s important to expose kids to books both above and within their current reading ability, in a wide variety of genres.
If you want some guidance on what is age-appropriate for children, you can get advice on-line and/or in actual books. Each grade level in school typically requires students to pass reading skill tests before passing to the next level. Libraries are an excellent resource for book suggestions for children of any age or reading ability.
Every child learns differently and at a different pace. Whether in real life or in your writing, it is entirely too easy to limit children by expected levels or shame a child for not conforming to expectations.
Types of Readers
When it comes to reading habits, to each his or her own. To use a biology analogy, the “family” of readers includes numerous “genera.” In some instances, there are even “species.”
Just about every reader belongs to more than one species to a greater or lesser degree. Many people adjust their reading habits as circumstances allow, changing when children are born or a job change requires a different commuting style.
High Need-for-Achievement Readers
These readers read almost exclusively within their professional area, e.g., mathematics journals or business publications or medical research papers, etc. These readers may or may not enjoy their reading, but they read nonetheless. Some professions, such as teachers and paramedics, require continual study and testing to maintain up-to-date certifications to practice.
If you start a book, you finish that book, no matter what. Anything else feels like failure. For more information about the difference between obsessive compulsive disorder and quirky fixations, check out this post I wrote about the character possibilities of each.
Although this group includes those who read (and study) the Bible, it also includes anyone whose goal is spiritual enlightenment and growth. Many Muslims read and recite the entire Qur’an during Ramadan every year as a form of meditation. Writings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh are widely read by people of many faiths.
These readers want someone to talk with about their reads—which can be more or less academic. Depending on how books are chosen, they are likely to end up reading things they would never have chosen for themselves, which can be good—or not so much. Book groups often have a specific focus, such as current fiction, or botany books, i.e., anything from the genre preferences.
Much like a book group, except it’s whatever one’s bridge buddies, neighbors, family members, et al. are reading, recommending, and/or lending. Depending on the interests of friends, this can lead to a very eclectic reading list. Reading what friends recommend or enjoy can strengthen social bonds by encouraging discussion of books read in common.
These readers are up-to-the-minute at the water-cooler and/or cocktail hour. They often operate on the presumption that if it appeals to enough people to be a bestseller, a book will appeal to themselves as well. The traditional gold standard here is The New York Times. The Times tracks the following categories:
Combined print & e-book
Paperback trade fiction
Combined print & e-book
Note: These bestsellers divisions take account of readers’ format preferences and allow for combining with one’s genre preferences.
These people know what they like and stick to it: a genre is characterized by similarities of form, style, or subject matter. Accordingly, pretty much any category of book is a genre—and I’m probably missing some here, but you get the idea:
Often read more than one book a day, limited to a specific genre, sometimes a limited number of preferred authors. Genre Junkies tend to prefer genres in which a plethora of books are available. A fan of books about Arctic Circle Siberian reptile varieties is likely to run out of material much more quickly than a fan of paranormal dystopian romance fantasy books.
Exactly what it sounds like. These people often skip meals and sleep when a book is particularly hard to put down. Accomplished binge readers may even learn to walk, dress, cook, and feed the dog without putting down the book in their hand.
Reads anything and everything: blogs, poetry, nature, non-fiction, fiction, sci-fi, or whatever. An interesting book from thirty years ago is no lower on the list than the absolute latest best-seller. Eclectics are often bright, inquisitive, and frequent readers.
Some readers have multiple books going and bounce back and forth among them. The bedside book, the lunch break book, the evening book, the boring book they know they should read for some obligation but just can’t seem to make it through… I haven’t seen any formal studies on the subject, but I would imagine that ping-ponging readers would be very good at multi-tasking.
Some people have such packed schedules, they can seldom read for more than fifteen minutes at a time. A person who is able to keep track of characters and plotlines despite snatching only small doses has to have a pretty-good memory.
Generally caretakers or parents, some readers have to wait until their charges are asleep before picking up a book. Parenting and caregiving are both stressful occupations, and reading during naptime or after bedtime can provide absolutely necessary stress relief for Night Readers.
Some people use reading as a form of reward, much as others might promise themselves a piece of chocolate or pair of shoes for completing an unpleasant task. Anyone who enjoys reading could be a self-rewarder: a doctor can only read the latest sci-fi bestseller after reading the latest medical journals; a parent can only read after finishing the laundry; a binge reader has to put the book down until dinner is finished.
As a visitor to a blog about writing and reading, you are probably someone who enjoys reading on some level. However, reading is difficult and not enjoyable for many adults. Some researchers estimate that 1 in 7 adults in the US are functionally illiterate; dyslexia, disrupted schooling, dyspraxia, and many other reasons could lead to a person reaching adulthood with only enough reading skill to be able to function in society.
Besides what we read, our reading habits include when and where we read.
Transit readers: they read on planes, trains, automobiles, and subways. Very careful transit readers may be able to read while walking; audio books make this much easier.
Bed-time readers: exactly what it sounds like.
TV readers: while one’s partner/house mate/family members watch something unappealing on TV, they hang out companionably and read.
Vacation readers: weekends, holidays, and vacations, kicking back with a good book.
Not recommended because it isn’t daily.
Boredom readers: any waiting room or line that goes on forever.
Last but not least, how do we read? Today there are more options than ever. There’s no reason not to read every day! The three basic options:
Physical books: the traditional option, most researched, with best/most positive effects on health
E-books (available on devices from smart phones to tablets to computers to dedicated devices such as Kindle and Nook). Often the choice of people with vision issues (any book can be LARGE PRINT), frequent travelers (who once went abroad with a dozen books or more weighing down the luggage), and anyone who likes having a light-weight, portable library at hand.
Audio books: the choice for someone who wants to do something else simultaneously (e.g., go to sleep, knit, make dinner). Can contribute to distracted driving, so don’t do that while behind the wheel. Audio books are also indispensable for people with impaired vision.
Do other formats have the same health benefits of physical books?
A study by Beth Rogowsky at Bloomsburg University “found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously” using e-readers—and the test was limited to comprehension. It’s too complicated to get into here, but you can check it out. By and large, the effects of reading physical books daily are well-documented. E-books offer some but not all of those benefits. Audiobooks are the great unknown.
Bottom line: develop or nurture your daily reading habits. There is much evidence that it’s good for you, and no negative side effects on record.
The Lost Generation is a term sometimes used for the post-World War I generation overall, but more frequently it refers to a group of American writers who became adults during or shortly after World War I. They established their literary reputations in the 1920s and 1930s. In France, these writers were sometimes referred to as Génération du feu, the “(gun)fire generation.”
Gertrude Stein is credited for coining the term Lost Generation, but Ernest Hemingway made it widely known. According to Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964), Stein had heard it used by a garage owner in France, who dismissively referred to the younger generation as a “génération perdue.” In conversation with Hemingway, she turned that label on him and declared, “You are all a lost generation.” He used her remark as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises (1926), a novel that captures the attitudes of a hard-drinking, fast-living set of disillusioned young expatriates in postwar Paris.
The generation was “lost” in the sense that it dismissed the values of the older generation no longer relevant in the postwar world. Though the change in artistic expression took place in many creative outlets and focused in several regions, the “Lost Generation” is generally used to refer in particular to American writers living in Paris between the World Wars. Many of these authors felt an alienation from a United States that, under Pres. Warren G. Harding’s “back to normalcy” policy, seemed to these writers to be hopelessly provincial, materialistic, and emotionally barren.
The First World War was the first time in history that chemicals and machines capable of inflicting mass carnage were widely used. Instead of charges and sorties like “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” infantry soldiers in trench warfare spent weeks at a time in close quarters with the bodies of their former allies, following futile battle strategies designed for previous wars and weapons. Having seen pointless death on such a huge scale, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism, and masculinity. Some in turn became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth, unable to believe in abstract ideals.
Everything that was traditionally structured or confining was stripped, allowing artists of all sorts to build new styles. Composers wrote without the usual chord progressions and cadences; they experimented with new types of ensembles or juxtaposed odd instruments. Dancers took off their pointe shoes and combined ballet with folk styles from India and South America. Women cut their hair short and loosened their corsets.
In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a big year: he published his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, his first collection of short fiction, Flappers and Philosophers and his story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” was published in The Saturday Evening Post that May.
Kate O’Connor (Lost Generation by Kate O’Connor, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK) identified three themes of Lost Generation work. I quote her here.
Decadence – Consider the lavish parties of James Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or those thrown by the characters in his Tales of the Jazz Age. Recall the aimless traveling, drinking, and parties of the circles of expatriates in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. With ideals shattered so thoroughly by the war, for many, hedonism was the result. Lost Generation writers revealed the sordid nature of the shallow, frivolous lives of the young and independently wealthy in the aftermath of the war.
Gender roles and Impotence – Faced with the destruction of the chivalric notions of warfare as a glamorous calling for a young man, a serious blow was dealt to traditional gender roles and images of masculinity. In The Sun Also Rises, the narrator, Jake, literally is impotent as a result of a war wound, and instead it is his female love Brett who acts the man, manipulating sexual partners and taking charge of their lives. Think also of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Prufrock’s inability to declare his love to the unnamed recipient.
Idealised past – Rather than face the horrors of warfare, many worked to create an idealised but unattainable image of the past, a glossy image with no bearing in reality. The best example is in Gatsby’s idealisation of Daisy, his inability to see her as she truly is, and the closing lines to the novel after all its death and disappointment: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther… And one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Kirk Curnutt, author of several books about the Lost Generation writers suggested that they were expressing mythologized versions of their own lives.
In an interview for The Hemingway Project, Curnutt said: “They were convinced they were the products of a generational breach, and they wanted to capture the experience of newness in the world around them. As such, they tended to write about alienation, unstable mores like drinking, divorce, sex, and different varieties of unconventional self-identities like gender-bending.”
Bottom line for writers: it’s been 100 years, but their work shouldn’t be lost. There’s a lot of good stuff here. Find yourself a Lost Generation writer to enjoy.
This glass-fronted secretary is full of old books—cookbooks and books on household management and helpful hints. When I open the doors, the smell of old books—so different from the smell of a library—always makes me smile.
Instructions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches, By Miss Leslie is dated 1843. This is the 17th edition (!) “with improvements and supplementary receipts.” As far as I know, it is my oldest book. I say, “As far as I know” because not all old books are dated. For example, this 64-page relic was printed in Edinburgh, sometime before 1890.
Books of this sort are my first collection, and still the most numerous. In the beginning I bought books like High-Class Cookery Made Easy by Mrs. Hart for what was on the printed page: how things used to be done. I found the recipes fascinating: instructions to “assemble the [cake] ingredients in the usual way”; lists of ingredients with no measurements. (Fanny Farmer [see below]first introduced standard measurements in 1896.)
When I open a book of great (by my amateur standards) age, I like to ponder what sorts of women might have owned and used it over the decades. This copy of Mrs. Crowen’s American Ladies’ System of Cookery cookbook is inscribed Mrs. Dr. S. S. Fitch, May 18th, 1860. It reminds me of the German practice of addressing someone as Herr Doctor Professor So-and-so. Might she be of German background?
The books printed in the 1880s and more recently are much more likely to be in good condition. Then, as now, once one made a name for oneself, more book deals followed. Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion and Miss Parloa’s New Cookbook and Marketing Guide are early examples of this.
Perhaps the best example is Fanny Merritt Farmer. She paid Little, Brown, and Company to publish her Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1896. My earliest copy is from 1904. By then, it had been copyrighted 1896, 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1903. The flyleaf of my copy says it is revised with an appendix of three hundred recipes, and an addenda of sixty recipes. (Note the modern spelling of recipe.) She is listed as the author of Chaffing-Dish Possibilities and Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent.
I have a copy of the latter, as well as What to Have for Dinner, copyrighted 1904, 1905, 1907, and 1905, respectively. The Fanny Farmer Cookbook is still popular today.
But It’s More Than Just Old Cookbooks For Me!
Over the years, I’ve replaced numerous paperbacks with older hard-copy editions of favorite books. I like the worn covers and brittle, yellowed pages.
They remind me of reading books of fairy tales and the Ruth Fielding series from the early 20th Century at my grandmother’s house. It turns out that I’m not alone. Scent carries powerful psychological meaning for people—and triggers memories that otherwise are not readily available.
Many people, perhaps most, like the smell of old books. Science tells us that as books decompose over time, they emit a smell from decaying volatile organic compounds, very similar to chocolate and coffee! This is one time I really don’t need to know why I like something, just that I do.
My most recently acquired old book, 1904, came along with my most recent obsession: Bird Neighbors!
Bottom line for writers: smell an old book and feel uplifted!
Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and avid (some might say rabid) fan of everything contributed to the world by the late, great Terry Pratchett.
Sir Terence David John Pratchett, OBE (28 April 1948 – 12th March 2015) was one of the most prolific and popular fantasy and humor authors of all time. His first story was published when he was thirteen years old, and his numerous novels, short stories, and collaborations have since been translated into 37 languages.
Despite leaving school early to work as a journalist, Sir Terry has been awarded honorary doctorates by ten universities. His work has earned him Skylark Awards, Locus Awards, the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Order of the British Empire, and knighthood from the Queen of England.
Of all the honors and recognitions he earned in his career, Sir Terry always said that the one he was most proud of was The Carnegie Medal given for his young adult novel The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents in 2001.
The panel judging the 2001 Carnegie selection was unanimous. Karen Usher, Chair of the Panel, said, “This is an outstanding work of literary excellence: a brilliant twist on the tale of the Pied Piper that is funny and irreverent, but also dark and subversive. It is a rich multi-layered story with a pacy plot and excellent characterisation. Terry Pratchett uses his trademark wit and humour to question our society’s attitudes and behaviour in a way that is totally accessible for children of 10 years and over.”
The Discworld series, with books about dragons, police, witches, trolls, the postal system, and werewolves, also contains five stories about a young witch in training. Tiffany Aching is an admirable role model for readers of any age, and she has four Locus Awards attached to her book covers.
Pratchett has other worlds less extensively mined, notably the Earth of the early 1990s. Ostensibly he writes about this for younger readers; the adult books have longer words and the juvenile fiction shorter sentences, but they are otherwise interchangeable….
Few authors speak with the same voice to children and grown-ups alike, but Terry Pratchett does. His first novel, The Carpet People, written originally for children, was recently back on the adult bestseller list. In fact, all his children’s books have been on the adult best-seller lists, which must make him unique in publishing annals.
Tiffany Aching is not a Chosen One. She has no special birthmark or secret royal lineage. No one gave her a special quest; no mysterious stranger asked her to guard a magic talisman. And that is part of what makes Tiffany Aching such a relatable character for younger readers.
She chooses to fight her battles because no one else will. She earns her place among the witches by being stubborn and paying attention. Wee Free Men, the first book starring Tiffany, discusses serious issues like the death of her grandmother and class divisions. Anyone can grow up to be a Tiffany Aching. .
Many of Sir Terry’s books for younger readers touch on this same theme of paying attention to what is happening and dealing with the problem in front of you. Masklin in Truckers and Mau in Nation are faced with tragedies and then go about finding a way to fix them simply because no one else will. In addition to being incredibly fun to read, Sir Terry’s books for younger readers present them with role models for real problem-solving.
Despite the lessons in his children’s books, Sir Terry never preached to his audience. Characters learned by making mistakes, by suffering (sometimes terrible) consequences, by finding another way to accomplish what they needed to accomplish.
In The Bromeliad, the nome Masklin has to convince an entire colony of nomes that they need to pack up and leave behind everything they’ve ever known. The entire world outside their home is a terrifying idea (that may not even be real), and the hero has to create reasonable arguments and persuade his elders that not following him will result in the death of every member of society. Despite the imminent annihilation, the series is funny to read and ultimately leaves the audience with the idea that looking beyond the horizon, listening to others, and working together might not be such a bad idea.
I have trouble reading Sir Terry’s books to my nieces because they are so good. Bedtime stories take a lot longer to finish when the orator has to keep stopping to laugh. The entire bedtime routine takes longer when the bedtime story leads to a discussion of why no one wanted to help a certain character or why people are mean when there isn’t even a reason!
As the little readers get older and learn to read the longer books, I expect many more questions I’m not really able to answer. Sir Terry discussed religion, death, prejudice, responsibility, and a million other topics I’m sure I’ll be unprepared for.
Sir Terry has provided hours of entertainment to millions of readers around the world. His work has been adapted for theater, for radio, for television and movies, and for all sort of video and board games. Most recently, Good Omens was produced as a mini-series for the BBC. And he was always happy to help other writers, funding scholarships and first novel prizes, and giving numerous interviews about writing.
He was diagnosed with Posterior Cortical Atrophy in 2007 and passed away in March of 2015. The Glorious 25th of May (a reference to the futile Treacle Mine Road Revolution in the novel Nightwatch) has been designated by fans as a day to honor Sir Terry Pratchett’s work and legacy by wearing lilacs and donating to fund Alzheimer’s research. The ripples he caused in the world are not likely to fade away any time soon.
Writers, that’s who. Rats have long been characters—sometimes major—in literature old and new. Fables from around the world feature rats/mice and the moral usually relates to survival in one form or another. In these fables, rats are often presented as clever and resourceful. Aesop’s Fables, the Fables of Bidpai, and Panchatantra all feature rats involved in moral lessons.
In some languages, rats and mice are interchangeable. When there is a distinction made, rats usually come off worse. In fiction and in popular consciousness, rats are almost always portrayed as more devious or dirty than mice.
Rats are extremely important in Chinese mythology. The rat is the first of twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac, corresponding to Sagitarius. Both are assigned the traits of creativity, hard work, generosity, and optimism.
The Year of the Rat is reputed to be one of prosperity and hard work. FYI: 2020 is a year of the rat. The rat rules daily from 11:00 p.m. till 1:00 a.m. and its season is winter.
N.B. writers: if you are inclined to write a rat fable, this might be the place to start.
Often rats are included in stories to add a touch of horror to scenes involving dungeons, torture chambers, vampires, the unknown… Authors from Edgar Allen Poe (“The Pit and the Pendulum“), to George Orwell (1984) to Stephen King (“Graveyard Shift” and “1922,” for example) have made effective use of rats. Shakespeare included rats in eight of his plays. Perhaps the epitome of horror would be The Coming of the Rats by George H. Smith (1961), suggesting the aftermath of the H-bomb.
Rats have such a horrific reputation that threats of being eaten, taken, overrun, etc., by rats are a common tool used around the world to frighten naughty children into better behavior. In Canada—Newfoundland—rat threats were second only to bear threats, and twice as frequent as big fish (in third place out of seven).
Writers consider the possibilities: “I’ve got an attic/cellar full of rats for naughty little girls and boys like you.”
As mentioned above, rats are often depicted as smart, and turn up in unexpected places. Consider this poem by Emily Dickinson:
The rat is the concisest tenant. He pays not rent— Repudiates the obligation, On schemes intent. Balking our wit To sound or circumvent, Hate cannot harm A foe so reticent. Neither decree Prohibits him, Lawful as Equilibrium.
Rats are everywhere in the world except Antarctica, where it’s too cold for them to survive outside and there are too few humans to provide for them.
In some places, especially islands, aggressive rat control policies have reclaimed the land.
Rats are one of the world’s worst invasive species.
Transported around the world on ships, rats have been credited with the extinction of untold number of small native animals and birds.
Rats often live with and near humans (commensals).
Rats carry many zoonotic pathogens, all sorts from The Black Death to foot-and-mouth disease.
Many rats in the wild live only about a year due to predation.
By and large, rat vocalizations are pitched beyond the range of human hearing.
Rats have been kept as pets at least since the late 1800s, most often brown rat species, and are no more of a health risk than cats or dogs.
Rats are omnivorous.
Rats are cannibals.
Rats as Food
The Bible forbids eating rats, and parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, consider rat meat to be diseased, unclean, and socially unacceptable. Islam, Kashrut, the Shipibo people of Peru and the Sironó people of Bolivia all have strong taboos against eating rats. However the high number of rats and/or a limited food supply have brought rats into the diets of both humans and pets worldwide.
Rat meat is part of the cuisines of Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand.
National Geographic (March 14, 2019) featured Vietnamese rat meat.
In India, rats are essential to the traditional Mishmi diet, for women are allowed to eat only fish, pork, wild birds, and rats. In the Musahar community, rats are farmed as an exotic delicacy.
Aboriginal Australians’ diet regularly included rats, as did traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.
Rice field rats were an original component of paella in Valencia (the rat later replaced by rabbit, seafood, or chicken). These rats were also eaten in the Philippines and Cambodia.
Rich people ate rat pie in England in Victorian times, and others ate rats during the World Wars when food was strictly rationed.
Alcoholic rats trapped in wine cellars in France became part of a regional delicacy – grilled rats, Bordeaux-style.
Rat stew was (and maybe still is) eaten in West Virginia.
Snakes, both wild and pets, eat rats and mice. The rats are available to snake owners both live and frozen. However, in Britain, feeding any live mammal to another animal is against the law.
When included in pet food, rats are counted as “cereals” in the ingredients list.
Rat Contributions to Science
The first rat research I know of was conducted at Clark University (Worcester, MA) in 1895. Since then, rats have been used to study disease transmission, genetics, effects of diet, cardiovascular conditions, and drug effects.
Psychologists have studied rats to further our understanding of learning, intelligence, drug abuse, ingenuity, aggressiveness, adaptability, and the effects of overcrowding (the “behavioral sink”).
Besides acting in movies, rats are good a sniffing out gunpowder residue, land mines, and tuberculosis. They also can be trained for animal-assisted therapy.
N.B. writers: consider a PI or amateur detective who has a trained rat sidekick!
The stereotypic rat: Besides the horror aspects of ratness, their image is mainly that of pest.
They infest urban areas, particularly multi-family housing. They like areas with access to food, water, and a moderate environment, such as under sinks, near garbage, in walls, cabinets, or drawers.
In rural areas, rats are a threat to both grain supplies and small birds. (Think chicks.) They live in fields, barns, cellars, basements, and attics.
And as with so many things, rats are a bigger bane for the poor, whether rural or urban. Picture this: a baby crib is set in the middle of a room, all four legs in buckets of water to try to keep rats and mice from climbing into the crib. Meanwhile, beady eyes stare from darkened corners.
Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, turtle lover, and dutiful servant of a fluffy tyrant masquerading as a dog.
By this point, most of us have seen something in our lives change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we understand (at least a bit) why things have changed. Our animal companions just see that the humans’ behaviors are suddenly different.
Despite various quarantine and lockdown orders around the world, animals dependent on humans still need care. Many zoos and animal parks house animals that cannot be released into the wild because they were born in captivity, they are still recovering from injuries, their homes have been destroyed, or other circumstances that prevent them being able to thrive. Animal shelters, zoos, rescue and rehabilitation centers, and emergency veterinarians have adjusted to provide food, socialization, attention, playtime, and everything else to keep their charges happy.
Zoos have closed to the public, but zookeepers are still reporting for work. Some keepers have temporarily moved into the zoos themselves to be closer to their charges and to avoid any chance of carrying any infections into the zoo or home to their families. They’re camping in the cafeterias and staying in veterinary isolation huts.
In Cornwall, England, four keepers at Paradise Park have moved into the original house of the family that owned the property. Other keepers rotate in and out to assist, maintaining a strict schedule so that they are not in the zoo at the same time.
Without visitors around all the time, zookeepers have more freedom to take animals to visit their friends in other areas of the parks.
Because most zoos are making do with skeleton crews, keepers don’t have as much time as they’d like to play with the animals in their care. Many animals have been taking their own tours around zoos to see each other and keep each other entertained. (That doesn’t mean that bunnies have been jumping into the lion pens to say hello.)
The tamer animals have been allowed to wander the parks freely while there are no visitors. Territorial animals like geese have taken over bridges and tried to block keepers from crossing to feed other animals. Many zookeepers report that the more social animals still follow them around during rounds, without any leads or harness.
Some animals have left the zoo altogether and gone to explore the world. Peacocks from the Bronx Zoo took a stroll through Prospect Park.
This cockatoo learned how to sing “Row row row your boat” and loves to sing along with kids who come by her enclosure. Without her backup singers, she has started humming to herself in the quiet. Zookeepers report that they can sometimes hear her start the song by herself but trail off sadly when no one joins in.
Without visitors to interact with, many animals are behaving differently. Keepers try to give each animal extra attention during feeding and rounds, but it’s hard to replace a steady stream of admirers. Some animals miss the interaction and get very excited to see anyone. Other animals feel more comfortable without an audience and venture out of hiding spaces more regularly.
Zookeepers come up with activities to keep animals entertained and socialized. Gorillas who regularly mirror gestures and pose for selfies with visitors are shown videos of people talking to them. Leopards at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY have to “hunt” for food in cardboard tubes to keep teeth and jaws strong.
Polar bear cubs at Ouwehands Zoo Rhenen in Holland didn’t have to worry about public crowds when they left the maternity den for the first time.
Snakes, alligators, stingrays, etc. haven’t shown any sign that they’ve even noticed a change. However, one zookeeper noticed that some types of fish have become very attention-seeking.
Veterinarians at the Dubai Camel Hospital in Abu Dhabi have kept their enclosures open to treat their patients. After surgery, the very large patients need plenty of space and lots of help to get over that first hump in their recovery. (Ha! I crack myself up!)
Most veterinarians are only open for emergency cases to lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19. The CDC has confirmed that two pet cats have tested positive for COVID-19, but both showed mild symptoms and are expected to make a full recovery. Updated guidelines for interacting with cats and dogs have been posted on the CDC website. Although pets cannot become infected, there is a chance that they could spread virus surviving in droplets on their fur or paws.
One of the positive side effects of this awful pandemic has been the emptying of animal shelters. All over the world, people are adopting or fostering quarantine buddies. Shelter managers warn that permanent adoption may not be the best choice for families who will not have the time and resources to continue to care for pets when lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Some shelters are offering to cover food or vet bills for adopted or fostered pets as an incentive. While we’re all stuck inside, what could be better than spending extra quality time with our favorite furry buddies? They must be loving it, too. People home all day!
Mental health experts recommend furry, feathery, or scaly companions to mitigate the feelings of loneliness and depression some people are bound to develop while self-isolating. Pets can also be a huge help to parents trying to keep children entertained while they are out of school and have no place to run off all that energy.
Depending on the intelligence and motivation of the pet you adopt or foster, they may be able to help you complete some of your work at home.
Therapy dogs who can no longer visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes are sharing their affection and calm over video.
Several localities are under extremely strict lockdown measures that residents are only allowed outside for specific errands, such as walking the dog. If walking the dog is the only opportunity you have for going outside, you might as well do it in style.
While the zoos and aquariums are closed and everyone is staying home, take a virtual trip. Many parks and zoos have installed virtual tours and live-feeds of animals. These are a few of my favorites.