Dusty shelves and forgotten names

Long ago, when I was a perilously bored 12 year old living in Indiana, a gentleman of my acquaintance gave me a gift that was, at the time, more precious than rubies: a cardboard box of books. Later, my father would give me another box with books more tailored to my tastes, but at this point I was so desperate for books to read that anything would do.

By coincidence, you see, the junior high students were shoved into the high school that year while the junior high was remodeled and thus I had no access to a school library. I didn’t have a library card at the town library yet, either, so the books were the only new reading material that I’d gotten my hands on in months. I spent many hours sifting through the volumes, reading things I’d never have read otherwise from Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and various paperbacks that had apparently been in someone’s yard sale. It was a treasure and I’ve given that fellow a lot of mental goodwill over the years just thanks to that gift.

The ironic thing is that I barely remember any of them now. 

If you want a humbling sort of experience for anyone who has ever sought fame and glory in the writing world, just look up the names of those books from just twenty-eight years ago. You may find a review or two of them on Goodreads, someone might have a battered copy at Abe Books or Amazon, but by and large they’re forgotten, overlooked, and pretty much doomed to remain that way forever. There’s a flood of new books released every year, so it’s not like anyone’s going to go look through thrillers and romances and historical fiction novels from the 80’s for their next big thing. Somewhere on a shelf, those books are decomposing, if they all haven’t been shunted to trash heaps and Goodwills and dusty attics already.

It’s probably less of an issue for writers of science fiction and fantasy, since the fandom has always been relatively small and the big “hits” tend to stick around for longer since they have less competition from newer stuff, but the same still holds true. Go into any used book store– you’ll see a few books still hanging on from the 80’s and 90’s, a rare handful of decrepit paperbacks from earlier years, but the main stock-in-trade is more recent stuff.

And the older stuff is pretty shabby in light of modern works, anyway. I’m reading through “Lord Valentine’s Castle” by Robert Silverberg, the first of his Majipoor books. In 1981, it was a Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel and a Locus Award Nominee for Best Fantasy Novel. Because it’s on those lists, in part, it still gets some attention, as well as because it’s the first book of that famous series. But still, on Goodreads, it has only 15 reviews from this entire year. 

In comparison, Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind” (which isn’t from this year, but is pretty recent and pretty comparable, having gotten even less notice in its publishing year in the science fiction and fantasy community, and it’s also the first book in a series)– it’s gotten 15 reviews in just six days. Obviously, newer fresher stuff is going to draw the reader. Old dusty paperbacks with rather dated hairstyles on the cover? Not so much. (I won’t mention the pants. They’re too awful.) I’m having a hard time staying engaged with Lord Valentine, simply because I’ve read so many fantasy novels that this one seems to telegraph all its moves in advance. No real surprises and the entire thing seems dated and a bit clunky. It’s hard to stay on top these days– the current trend is multi-layered novels that are more mysterious and complicated than any Cold War spy novel ever dreamed of being. A simple fantasy book from the 80’s just can’t hold a candle to their complexity.

Most of those older books have this problem. Leaving aside the true classics of literature, which are classics BECAUSE they’re timeless, there just isn’t much to recommend in older popular novels. I may have adored Mrs. Pollifax and John Le Carre, but kids these days don’t even know there WAS a Cold War. My sixteen year old expressed surprise that anybody would think Russia could ever be an important enemy for us. I wanted to weep.

History makes no impression upon the current days unless it’s taught and insisted upon and re-iterated. Books are the same way. Those books from the Reader’s Digest series barely have left a smidgen of themselves in my mind. I remember a book about John Adams and the wooing of his wife. Barely. I know there was one about a woman vet and her husband struggling to make it in the country. Some vague memories of thrillers and romances, but it’s almost impossible to remember any details at all, or if I read some of those later on. I glutted myself on so much Dick Francis and Ken Follett and Phyllis Whitney that it’s hard to recall where I read them first. 

I recently took my entire Shannara paperback set to the used book store to trade in for something else. My kids thought it was boring, and I couldn’t be bothered re-reading them so much later. They were amusing enough, at the time, but they just don’t hold up to close inspection these days. 

Sadly, that seems to be true of almost every author. Even the “big names” should be humble. There are a few things that stand the test of time, but very few. Of all the science fiction and fantasy authors out there, only JRR Tolkien seems to have transcended genre and history to really make a place for himself in the annals of literature. Even the greats of sci-fi’s early days will someday fade to obscurity– be honest, besides Ray Bradbury and George Orwell and freaking Jules Verne, who REALLY wrote something that will last through the ages?

If you say Douglas Adams, you’ll be slapped with a salmon.

Enjoy what little tastes you get of glory and fame, then. How long until this current generation is tilled under in a landfill and young minds are filling themselves with the latest fizzy goodness?

If you look at the list of “fantasy and science fiction” on Goodreads and look at the top 10, you’ll think it’s already happened. Long live . . . YA fiction? Sigh. I guess.



Unfinished business

So I’ve been tracking what books I’ve read on Goodreads for several years now. I don’t usually count cookbooks or decorating books, and I almost never add in the many picture books that I read to the boys. Mostly I stick to listing the novels and adult nonfiction that I read.

I’ve managed to read more than 50 books a year now for three years running– 79 in 2012, 114 in 2013. I’m up to 62 books so far this year, although I’m falling behind on my goal of 120. Having a baby put a definite crimp in my style. 

The problem I’ve discovered, however, is that I have also managed to rack up an impressive number of books that I’ve begun reading and never finished. I’ve got 62 books on my “currently reading” list. Oops. 

Some of them I had to return to the library too soon, some of them irritated me beyond reason and got tossed in a corner, and many of them just didn’t hold my interest with other, more delightful books in the room. 

I’m determined, however, to clean that list up. So I’ve decided that I’m not going to go pick up any more “new” books for the stack until I’ve cleaned out my “currently reading” list. I may just delete some of them, the ones that were truly terrible, but the books that simply got overlooked and ignored need to be re-assessed and I need to decide if I’m going to finish them or abandon them for good.

It just looks like carelessness that I haven’t finished reading so many of my choices. I’d like to be able to whittle it down to just the books that I have out from the library on any given week and not a long sad list of my failures. 

So that’s my project for the next few months– attack that list. Deal with the books on it. Find the enjoyable ones and finally let go of the rest. It’s not the entirety of life, of course, but a side project I can pursue while everything else goes on. Some of those books ARE good books, I just couldn’t get into them at the time for whatever reason. It’s not a smear on a great book that you tried to read it at the wrong time. I don’t want to leave that mess sitting there, so it’s time to fix it.

Wish me luck.


The Long War

You could say that all of life is in a war with entropy. Things break, living organisms die, the sun is slowly dying, and ice cream always melts too fast. 

We had a lovely example of that fact this week. Remember how I said my summer had been boring? Well, my Suburban decided that entropy would win this week and burnt up my 4×4 transfer case. My son was stranded at the high school and I was stranded with the truck for over an hour each, we had to tow it home behind our little Malibu (complete with more entropy in the way of snapping ropes!), and my lovely truck is now up on jacks until we can scrape together the parts to fix it.

Yeah, that wasn’t boring or anything. Thankfully my stepson is loaning me his car for the week and our oldest daughter is loaning us some extra cash for parts. Entropy is expensive.

My biggest battle, however, is usually with my autistic daughter, Indy.

You see, she’s severely autistic. And she’s got her own ideas about how things SHOULD be. And when things aren’t like she thinks they should be, she gets upset. Nervous. Frantic. Sometimes to the point of freaking out in aggressive displays of rage, sometimes to the point of hysterical crying. You have to feel sorry for her, because for HER, the need to control her universe is overwhelming. Change is more than unsettling, it’s horrible for her. I understand– I’ve battled anxiety since childhood. She simply MUST order her universe in a way that makes sense to her.

The problem is, what she thinks is Right, Proper, Appropriate, and Perfect is . . . pretty screwy.

She thinks dishes should be dirty. To the point where she will take clean dishes down, stack dirty dishes between them, and replace all of them in the cabinet. She’ll seed a dishwasher full of clean dishes with strategically-placed dirty ones. She’ll take dirty plates out of the dishwasher and return them to the china cabinet. You don’t even want to imagine what the silverware looks like after she’s been mixing in dirty spoons and knives and forks.

Books, dvds, and cds all belong in special places. If they don’t belong in Any Bag that Has a Zipper, they usually belong on the floor. In certain spots. Usually in someone else’s bedroom or in a much-travelled pathway, like the route from the dining room to the kitchen. Quite often, about three feet away from my bedroom dresser, right where her father walks when he gets out of bed. Or possibly stashed inside our medicine chest. One Harry Potter book belongs on the banister rail near the bongo drums. A baby’s FIsher Price moving gears toy, sans gears, belongs right inside her sister’s doorway. 

The pantry is a particularly bad sore spot– she has certain places for every food item, and insists that the Windex and bird seed and Mean Green all belong on the food shelves. The Nesquik has to teeter in constant danger of falling off the middle shelf. The apples belong on the floor, apparently. EVerything must be mixed up with no sorting into “soups” and “tomato products” and “pastas” and “cereals.” 

Some of her personal rules are simply irritating– her habit of moving one of our water storage bottles just six inches out from the wall, say. Not all three of them, just the third. Don’t ask me why. And it probably won’t kill anyone that she insists the sunflower-painted biscotti jar has to be on the right side of the stove, not the left (which is where I like it.) 

Some of her rules are actively dangerous, like her placing things next to the top of the stairs, or throwing all the shoes off the shoe rack, right next to the bottom of the stairs and the front door. She decided the springs off the broken trampoline belonged in our neighbor’s yard and accidentally conked his daughter on the head with one. Everything belongs over the back fence, apparently, so this is a fairly common risk we’re running. We’ve given up on keeping sports equipment outside, or gardening tools. We kind of hope she’ll throw the dog over next and save us the trouble of rehoming him . . . ahem. Anyway.

Some of her rules of order are just personally offensive to me. I don’t want $8 worth of chocolate powder to get spilled all through the laundry room when someone inevitably knocks it off the darn shelf. I hate having to dig behind the ice cream cones and the olive oil and the egg noodles to find a can of beans. And here’s the bad part– whenever I clean things up, pick things up, sort things, or throw away things, she is unable to stop herself from undoing it.

It’s infuriating at times. She’ll take empty bottles out of the garbage can and replace them on shelves. She’ll throw clean laundry back on the floor in piles. She immediately returns everything in the pantry back to its “ideal” location– HER ideal location– within minutes of me sorting everything. She’ll take rotten FOOD out of the garbage can and put it back into the refrigerator. Because, you know, that cream cheese belongs on that shelf, even if it is black and gray and green with various mounds of mold.

Sometimes, I have to let her win. She’ll get too upset, or I’ll just simply be too tired or too injured to battle her entropy. Sometimes it’s just easier to let it go, let her insist that the Better Homes and Gardens from last month belongs on the floor next to the couch. Sure, it’s a pain to step around things and find Robert Munsch books and Disney dvds next to the Immodium and Tums, but it’s far far easier than putting them back, over and over, pointlessly it seems.

But I don’t want to live in chaos and entropy all the time. I want to be able to find the tomato paste without a five minute hunt. I want to walk down the hall and not worry I’ll slip on our 1st grade religious education book, which she thinks belongs at the top of the stairs. I’d freaking LOVE not to have to open my purse before every trip and remove the inevitable bottle of hydrogen peroxide that she stashes inside every day.

So I keep battling against the mess. I know I can’t win. But I have to fight the good fight. It may please her, somewhere in her mysterious little heart, to strip the sheets and pillowcase off her bed and then wipe her food-covered hands on the mattress and pillow, but there are certain standards one must uphold, if only to keep the adult protective services from thinking we’re TRYING to make her live in squalor.

This is the long war, and every day finds us fighting the same battles, over and over. 

I don’t know which of us is more irritated by the other. I know she’s more stubborn than I am, simply because the war is a huge part of her day. I have to cram time for it in between a million other things. She has all day to reorder the house.

Neither one of us is winning, I suspect. Tonight she became very upset because she’d somehow misplaced her “Stuart Little” dvd. It’s so scratched that it barely plays, mostly due to her tossing it down on surfaces not ideal for dvd preservation. But she really wanted that movie. She’s been playing it on a loop all week. She simply could not go to bed without that dvd.

My oldest son and daughter helped me look around for it, to no avail. Finally, around 1am, I remembered that my 5 year old had picked up the dvds and games from the gameroom floor– sure enough, the disc had fallen to the bottom shelf, upside down. 

Indy was ecstatic when I gave it to her and ran off to her room with a fairly cheerful thank-you. I went to take a bath and feed the baby. An hour later, I went to check on her, figuing she’d be asleep listening to the menu over and over.

She wasn’t asleep– I could hear her echolalia through the door. And the sound of . . . Cartoon Network? Yep. Commercials for the nighttime shows, which I largely hate.

Stuart Little was sitting on the couch table. Exactly where she wanted it.



Summer’s almost gone

I told myself at the beginning of the summer that just enduring it would be “enough.”

It’s hard, even so, to see the school year approaching without feeling disappointed in our pretty boring summer.

Well, it was exciting at times, but not in good ways. The excitement was mainly terror at the baby’s episodes of apnea, his horrible congestion, and various permutations of “sick and unhappy” that he went through. Then both of his “younger older” brothers got a ridiculously bad virus and each spent a week living on the game room couch, sipping Gatorade and 7up and occasionally choking down Tylenol or Advil to quell the nonstop 101-102 fevers. 

That’s not the kind of excitement I personally crave, thank you.

We were able to wrestle a few nice moments out of the general malaise, but this will definitely not go down in history as our best summer. But, hey, we made it. Only four days left of band camp, my older daughter has the next four days off, school shopping is halfway done . ..  we’ve got this.

And fall is coming. Autumn with the blissful blessed relief of those cold fronts that howl down from the cold north and, for a day or two, turn Texas into something astonishingly beautiful and wild. We won’t see real relief from the heat until Halloween, but we’ll have a few days here and there that will promise that summer is not, actually, 12 months of the year here. Only 8 or so.

I’m excited about the upcoming school year. Our second grade religious education books arrived today. The phonics book and history book arrived last week. We’re still working through the 1st grade math book, so we won’t worry about affording Saxon 2 quite yet. I’m looking forward to September, when I can renew our yearly membership at our local zoo and start taking the boys there for our weekly trips. When the blistering heat starts fading and we can go make tours of the local state parks on the weekends, hiking and camping and exploring. When my autistic daughter is back in school fulltime and actually sleeps at night and isn’t home wreaking havoc all day. 

It’s going to be great. Probably filled with chaos and anxiety and stress and everything that usually accompanies us on this journey, but still great.

Bring it on.


I hate to admit it, but I need new glasses.

I really need bifocals, but that’s not going to happen. It’s too horrifying to admit that my eyes have aged along with the rest of me. But they have. . . I can’t see anything up close with my glasses on, and I can barely see distant things, either. My computer is now sporting “large” icons and text, and I silently berate people who use teeny tiny fonts for their webpages. What, is your information a secret? 

It’s annoying, because I can’t actually visit one of the bigger eyeglass shops in town (with a bigger selection of frames) as we’re boycotting them for having crappy doctors. Seriously crappy– I kept telling the main doctor and his aide for two hours that my son had a lazy eye, that my husband and daughter both have the same condition, and that he needed to have his vision evaluated due to that, only to have the doctor declaim that he didn’t see anything wrong, snap at my son for not being able to see the visual illusions on the cards, and finally snarl, at the end of the 2 hour visit, “Well he has a lazy eye. Make him do some exercises. He’ll be fine.”

The other doctor in the practice refused to believe that I was allergic to contact lenses, fitted me for a pair that caused immediate swelling and redness and pain in both eyes, and then charged me an extra $200 for the fitting because they’d already ran my insurance through as a glasses-only fitting. sigh. I still can’t wear those new lenses. It’s not just a case of dry eye, either. Dry eye doesn’t get better briefly when you glut yourself on Claritin and Benadryl, only to have your eyes puff up and turn beet red as soon as the medicine wears off. 

This is the quality of medical care one expects from the 1800s, maybe, but not 2013. So, yeah, we won’t be visiting them again.

So I need a new vision doctor, and I need new glasses, and I certainly DON’T need the new contact lenses that turn me into a bleary itchy runny-eyed mess. 

I’ll have to make the leap and find a new doctor to visit. Our doctor before all this was indicted for Medicare fraud, so he went out of business pretty quickly after that. Shame, he had a nice practice and friendly assistants. 

Getting new glasses is just one of the things I need to do for myself. My clothes wardrobe is pretty much destroyed by age and abuse– haven’t really bought myself very much besides loose t-shirts since 2010. Four years of abuse isn’t kind to leggings and dresses and such– I really don’t have anything left that’s suitable for church. Time to restock and re-imagine what I want to dress like.

Time to lose some weight, too, now that the baby is born and I’m almost past the 12 weeks it takes to get your stroke risk and heart attack risk back to normal afterwards. My blood pressure still has bad days but they’re getting less frequent. I think I can start exercising again. 

Everything will have to be re-imagined, really. How I live, how I dress, what I eat, how much I exercise, what hours I sleep, and what I do with my free time. I’m forty. Time is running out for me to do all the things I’ve dreamed of doing. 

But first, new glasses. And, a splurge that I haven’t had in decades, a pair of sunglasses, too. Prescription ones, of course, since I can’t see squat without them and the world would be a much less safe place if I tried to drive without my glasses. Cat eyes, maybe? Something in tortoiseshell? How dark can we go with those shades?

The possibilities are open before me.