Reading ‘The Shining’ at 19 and 49

the shining-newMy friend Mamie and I have embarked on a shared read of The Shining. I wanted to re-read it prior to starting the new sequel, Doctor Sleep, because it’s been so long since I read it. So far I have gotten to Chapter 20, which is about a third of the way through. I had forgotten how much stuff happens before the really really bad stuff happens, but that’s Stephen King for you. He builds the suspense with a plethora of quotidian detail and just a few hints of what’s to come, so that when the shit hits the fan you are totally invested in the characters and the situation.

I first read The Shining back in the mid-1980s. I was working part-time at the local newspaper as a sports stringer. Part of my job was hanging out in the office at night to take phone calls from coaches reporting their game results and box scores. The office was closed, of course, so I was alone in the building and usually didn’t bother turning on any extra lights other than the ones that burned all night and were more than adequate to see and read by.

I was 19, maybe 20 years old. I was already head-over-heels in love with newspapers and journalism, and I loved being alone in the building, where I could snoop around in the advertising department’s clip art library, play with the waxer (for page pasteup, not legs and eyebrows) and the old Linotype headline writer, and look at the pictures everyone kept on their desk. (Yes, I was a weird kid who grew up into a weird young adult and then … well, you can guess the rest.)

I would usually be there until about 11 p.m. or midnight, and there was lots of waiting time between coaches’ phone calls. I always brought along whatever book I was reading at the time. I locked the doors while I was there alone even though this was a small town (about 9,000 people) and there was little chance of anything bad happening. I was never afraid to be there by myself. Except…

Except the night I brought along The Shining. It isn’t particularly scary at first, as you know if you’ve read it. I mean, now we know what to expect from a Stephen King book so even when you’re reading the opening chapters of Under the Dome or 11/22/63  you are already mentally on edge for the horror to start, but back then I hadn’t read much of his stuff (there really wasn’t much of his stuff yet to read) so I didn’t know that.

The night I’m thinking of, I had gotten to the chapter I just finished reading tonight, Chapter 19, when young Danny has an encounter in a hotel hallway with a fire extinguisher. I won’t say more, but if you’ve read it I know you remember. I sat there at my desk in the newsroom of that empty, quiet-but-not-silent building, and reading every paragraph of that chapter was an agony of terror and anticipation. I kept forgetting to breathe and then gasping more air into my lungs. When the phone rang, I yelped out loud.

As I started re-reading The Shining this past Monday, I mentally prepared myself not to be disappointed because it was unlikely the book would affect me the same way now. Not only am I older and have more experience of the world, I already know what happens in the end. I told myself it would still be interesting to re-read from a more analytical perspective, to see how King’s writing has developed over the years and how he structured the story, etc etc etc.

Well, forget all that. Chapter 19 scared the bejesus out of me at 49 just as surely as it did at 19. I could scarcely stand reading to the end of the chapter and when I finally got there, I had to put the book down and do something else. I will not be reading any more in this book tonight, or any night after dark. We can analyze and theorize and intellectualize all we want about books and writing. Stephen King still scares the pants off me, and I hope he always will.


Writers Feel an Amazon-Hachette Spat |

This David Streitfeld article in the New York Times has been the subject of lots of chatter in the literary corners of the Web. People who are already wary of the immense power granted to Amazon by virtue of the fact that it sells roughly one-third of all books sold. The idea of a bookseller sabotaging one publisher’s books to force that publisher to agree to more favorable wholesale terms is disturbing on several levels:

  • Nobody like a bully, and Amazon appears to be taking advantage of its massive popularity to hold authors and readers hostage in a money grab.
  • Shoppers expect that if a product is available, they will be able to buy it. The idea that a seller would choose not to sell an available product to customers who want it seems nonsensical and could erode trust in online shopping (of course, there are people who would see that as a plus, not a negative).
  • Most readers have little idea of who published the book they are seeking. The average book shopper will likely not realize that the same book listed as out of stock at Amazon is probably available immediately at another site.
  • The people who are being most hurt are the authors, whose books are no longer readily available at the world’s largest bookseller. Fewer sales equals fewer royalties and fewer chances for emerging authors to build the elusive word-of-mouth that can spell the difference between a book’s success and its failure.

Among Amazon’s tactics against Hachette, some of which it has been employing for months, are charging more for its books and suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author. If customers for some reason persist and buy a Hachette book anyway, Amazon is saying it will take weeks to deliver it.

Ultimately, Streitfeld says, the tactic may backfire on Amazon:

If Amazon needs to improve its bottom line, it is a dangerous game to make things harder for its customers.

(via New York Times)

Reading Shakespeare with a little help from my friends

Sonnets-Titelblatt 1609

Sonnets-Titelblatt 1609 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am three reviews behind on books I’ve read. I’ve got another book that I am trying to wrap up before it’s due back at the library later this week (only 300-some pages to go!). I have a freelance editing project that needs to be done sometime this month. So of course I’m not going to do any of those things right now. No, right now I’m going to tell you a bit instead about one of the most fun books-related things I’ve ever done: participating in a tutored read of Shakespeare’s The Sonnets.

A tutored read is an invention of the smart folks in the 75-Book Challenge over at LibraryThing, my favorite place to catalog my books, track my reading and talk to other folks who love books and reading as much as I do. The idea was born last year when one of the group members proclaimed she had never read a Jane Austen novel, never intended to, and couldn’t stand reading books written in the 19th century in general.

Well! It didn’t take long for someone else, who has a deep love and appreciation for 19th century literature, to offer to provide moral and logistical support for a read of Austen’s Emma. The details were worked out as they went along, but it generally consists of the tutee reading a chapter (or however much of the book as they like) and then posting all of the questions that occurred to them as they read. The questions might relate to plot points, unfamiliar or archaic vocabulary, or the social/cultural context of the book’s time period. Other group members are welcome to follow along and occasionally chime in with a comment here and there, but the primary posting is done by the tutee and the tutor, at a pace that works for the tutee.

That first tutored read of Emma turned out to be such a hit that it was decided to make this a feature of the 75-Book Challenge group. A combination of wiki and group threads helps match folks with expertise in particular areas (time periods, or authors, or genres) with prospective tutees. I knew that I wanted to participate in some way, and finally hit on the idea of asking for help reading Shakespeare’s sonnets, which I’ve had a copy of for years and never cracked open. It wasn’t long before another group member offered to be my tutor, and we were off!

The sonnets seem to be a particularly good choice for a tutored read. They are pre-segmented pieces of writing, so we’ve hit on the pattern of posting and commenting on one sonnet more or less every day. They are in the public domain and short, so I can post the entire sonnet at the beginning of my post each day, followed by my thoughts about what I think the sonnet might mean, or asking any questions about imagery, vocabulary, or (especially!) what my tutor calls “pretzeled syntax,” a particular favorite of Mr. Shakespeare. I never took any poetry appreciation courses in high school or college, and I’ve always felt intimidated by trying to read serious poetry, so the support has been great in helping to grow my confidence and really appreciate the text.

I don’t think the tutor and tutee have to have similar senses of humor, but in my case one of the most appealing things about my sonnet reading is the rapport I’ve developed with Cynara, the tutor who has made me laugh and say “Ah-ha!” in nearly equal measure. Our thread has gotten downright silly at times, and it’s all helped to make the sonnets seem very accessible and fun instead of boring and impenetrable.

If you’d like to take a peek at what I’ve been up to, you can follow along with the first thread (which covers Sonnets 1-24) over on LibraryThing. You don’t have to sign up for anything in order to read the posts, but if you like what you see and would like to comment, signing up is as easy as choosing a screen name and a password (offering up your email is optional, so you can be just as anonymous as you want to be). If you stop by, please let me know you’re there, so I can say ‘hi’!

Challenge: Mixing It Up 2012

Logo for reading challenge is a set of nested mixing bowls with a wooden spoon balanced across the top.

I’m all in on the Mixing It Up Challenge 2012, hosted by the charming Ellie at Musings of a Bookshop Girl. Ellie has defined 16 genre categories for her challenge, ranging from Classics to Contemporary Fiction to Graphic Novels (gulp!). I’m excited about the idea of stretching my reading beyond the types of books I’m comfortable reading, so I’m choosing to try to complete all 16 (Ellie calls this the “All the Trimmings and a Cherry on Top” level).

Here are the categories, and some ideas I have for books that would fit each one. Please add any suggestions in the comments!


Ideas: Any of the Charles Dickens I have on the shelf (Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, etc.), any of the F. Scott Fitzgerald on the shelf (Tender Is the Night or This Side of Paradise, perhaps), Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, any of the Leatherstocking books by James Fenimore Cooper.


Ideas: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Lincoln by David Donald, Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson by Don Van Natta Jr.

Cookery, Food, and Wine

Ideas: Feasting on Asphalt by Alton Brown, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom by Julia Child.


Ideas: Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 by Pauline Maier, Austerity Britain by David Kynaston, A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in America’s Civil War by Amanda Foreman.

Modern Fiction

Ideas: All Is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Change, Home by Marilynne Robinson, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

Graphic Novels and Manga

Ideas: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, or … I need help with this category! I have never read a graphic novel in my life.

Crime and Mystery

Ideas: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason, Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson (Jackson Brodie series), The Quiet Game by Greg Iles.


Ideas: Just After Sunset by Stephen King, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. There must be other good stuff that I’m missing here …


Ideas: I have none! Suggestions gratefully accepted, if not actually demanded.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Ideas: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. This isn’t a category I read a lot of. Suggestions, please!


Ideas: Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson. I feel like I should be able to think of other possibilities but I am drawing a complete blank right now. What do you think?

Poetry and Drama

Ideas: The Complete Sonnets by William Shakespeare, or … another category I desperately need help with! I like the idea of poetry …

Journalism and Humor

Ideas: Idiot America by Charles Pierce, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller. I’m sure there are other great choices in this category as well.

Science and Natural History

Ideas: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. Another category that isn’t in my wheelhouse, so to speak.

Children’s and Young Adult

Ideas: Yet another category I need some help with. Too bad I read The Hunger Games trilogy last year! Update: Unwind by Nick Shusterman has been suggested by my friend T-Jaye.

Social Sciences and Philosophy

Ideas: Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings. Any other great ideas?

So, that’s where I’m at right now. I’ll post reviews of each category finalist as I go, and I’ll update this post with any good suggestions that you might have for me. Happy reading!

I’ve become a mooch — BookMooch, that is

A couple of months ago, I joined BookMooch, a Web site whose motto is “Give books away. Get books you want.” Members of the free service list their unwanted books for others to “mooch” for free. Mailing out claimed books from your inventory earns you points that you can use to “mooch” free books from other users. The only costs are for postage.

BookMooch logoAt the time I joined BookMooch, my intention was to pare down my library of approximately 1,200 books. (When I moved/downsized into my current 1-bedroom apartment in 2002, I had to choose whether to get rid of the books or the bed. Now my “bedroom” walls are lined with 7 bookcases and I sleep on the (very comfy) couch.) I have happily sent off 19 books to mooching readers all over the world (Germany, England, Scotland, Finland, Australia, Korea) and the U.S.

Unfortunately, all those BookMooch points were burning a hole in my Web browser, and I have mooched back 16 books (you can see a mosaic of covers of my recent Mooches over there on the left). To say that this defeats my original purpose is to belabor the obvious, so let’s just agree between ourselves never to mention it, OK? Thanks!

On the plus side, all those new books (new to me, that is) give me a fresh source for material for this here web log. So if you’re looking for ideas for what to read next, stay tuned for some fresh looks at books. See? I’m doing it for you! First up: Firehouse by David Halberstam.

New hope for library delinquents like me

I have this … problem. I don’t always (OK, hardly ever) remember to return my library books on time, even though I have always finished reading them. This is one of those weird brain-freeze things, where the books will be sitting in a tote bag right next to the front door, and I will walk right past it on my way out. I can’t explain it, though the same thing used to happen with rented movies back when I still rented movies. And those babies cost serious money to return late.

For years I chalked up the inevitable library fines to “charitable donation.” I figured it was just my way of supporting the public library, which heaven knows can use all the help it can get. Now that I am a struggling student without a lot of (OK, any) extra cash, it’s no longer quite so cute. As a result, I was blocked from using my local library for most of the early part of this year, thanks to a whopping $11 in library fines I had racked up over the months (once you get to $2 in fines, you can’t check out any more books). Again, I’m not proud of this particular mental deficiency, but it is what it is.

About a month ago, I found out that the West Branch Public Library has a great policy: you can pay your library fines with donations to the local food pantry. In this case, 1 item = $1 fine. Now this is more like it — I have any number of perfectly serviceable food items hanging around that I could part with more easily than cash. So I rounded up 6 cans of potato-cheddar soup (I had bought a case at one of those bulk-buy stores), 2 boxes of lasagna noodles, 1 box of Rice-a-Roni, 1 can of baked beans, and 1 boxed lemon-poppy quick bread mix, and bought my way out of library jail.

Then I strolled over to the shelves, picked out 6 books from my “To Read” list, and went home …

The Obsessive Reader

That would be me, of course. After all, it’s only been 10 days since my literary dinner with Janet, and I’ve already posted 4 reviews of those books (and actually, I have 2 more finished but not posted). You might think I’ve been spending all my waking life reading, though it’s not true. I still manage to work full-time (well, 7 hours a day) between chapters. But I have been reading pretty much all the rest of the time — it’s one of the advantages of living alone, I suppose. I read on the bus to and from work (20 minute trips each way), I read during dinner, I read after dinner and before bedtime.

I’ve been like this as long as I can remember. I don’t seem to be capable of letting a book sit once I’ve started it. There’s almost nothing I would rather do than read, it’s as simple as that. Of course, there are a few things: I enjoy spending time with friends (though it happens fairly infrequently as they all are busy with their own lives), I love listening to music (and often have music on in the background while I’m reading, and always in the car), and I do watch some TV (though the Cubs’ season does not encourage prolonged exposure, and the only “appointment viewing” I have is House, currently in reruns). And I am still a regular volunteer with IRRIS (the Iowa Radio Reading Information Service) and RVAP (Rape Victim Advocacy Program).

Reading over that last paragraph, it sounds a bit sad and desperate, doesn’t it? Perhaps I am feeling a bit guilty about spending so much time lost in books. And I believe I do have a nagging feeling that there are experiences I am missing out on by choosing to allot my free time so narrowly. But unlike in my previous journalist’s life, before I returned to college, these reading binges have a limited duration. During the semester the only reading I do is what’s assigned for classes (which is not to say that it’s not interesting, engaging and enjoyable, but only that it’s not “for fun”). So I guess I will try to stop feeling so guilty about being a book addict, and enjoy the sensation all the more for knowing it’s only a temporary reprieve.

Thanks, Janet!

I had dinner with Janet last Wednesday at Saigon To Bangkok, a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant that has the hands-down best fried rice I have ever tasted — never greasy and with a fantastic hint of spiciness that raises it from “better than nothing” to “better than anything”. But I digress …

We compared our current reading lists, and I lamented that I have fallen behind this summer. Usually, summers and semester breaks are the times into which I cram as much “just for fun” reading as I can, but due to a little overdue fines issue I have not been able to avail myself of the public library lately. (This, however, is due to change, because I have discovered that the West Branch Public Library accepts canned or nonperishable food items for the food pantry in exchange for fines. It’s 1 food item = $1 in fines, which means I am just 4 jars of salsa, 4 cans of potato cheddar soup and a box of mac&cheese away from having a clean slate.)

Anyway, Janet invited me back to her house to peruse her bookshelves in search of reading material. This is roughly analogous to waving a crack pipe in front of an addict, frankly, but like the junkie I have no shame. I came away with a grocery sack full of books, which I will be writing mini-reviews on as I work my way through the bag. Stay tuned …