The Books of 2014

Another year and another reading challenge have passed, and while I didn’t spend as much time between the covers of books as I would have liked, I’m happy to say I made my goal.

Of the 40 books I read, 16 were consumed via unabridged audiobook. I say that counts due to the insane amount of time I spend in the car getting to work and back again. And I can honestly say that there is something lovely about a well-done audiobook. For instance, I might never have gotten through the entirety of Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child in hardback form. The thing is an absolute doorstop! But the narrator of the audiobook did a lovely job presenting quotes from Julia’s letters and books in that familiar, loopy voice, which made me feel like I was getting it from the horse’s mouth. (On a related note: I’m currently listening to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury on audiobook, and it’s a totally different experience than reading it in print. The lyrical element of his prose really comes through when you hear it!)

So, of the books I consumed in 2014, here are my top ten. Rather than do a straight list, I thought I’d create some categories and let you decide for yourself which, if any, you might like to peruse!

Best Fiction: Joyland by Stephen King

King really tells a great story. Joyland is just that. With its well-drawn characters and interesting plot, it carried me along and kept me in the car a lot longer than I should have been some days. He injects just enough horror to give this book zing without overpowering the narrative he established (a la Revival). Highly recommended.

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Best Non-Fiction: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

I love learning about history–especially things that I knew little to nothing about before I started reading. There were so many amazing people that made the Chicago World’s Fair possible, and it brought about so many inventions and innovations that it’s beyond belief. Did you know it spawned the Pledge of Allegiance? That it made the Ferris Wheel possible? Plus, you get a little history on one of America’s first serial killers in this gem. A fun read!

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Best Christian Work: Yawning At Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck

I read a lot…and I mean A LOT of Christian books for my job. With many of them, I scan a few chapters to see if the author might be a good fit for the magazine. Others I disregard outright because the material is trite, totally overdone, or terribly pedantic. Drew Dyck’s work is none of those. He takes a topic that has been discussed before (the awesome majesty of God) and makes readers consider it from an entirely different point of view.

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Most Overrated: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Okay, I may be the only person who read this book and didn’t enjoy much of it at all. I liked several of the characters (especially Hobie) and the emphasis on Dutch masterpieces like The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritus. But much of the book felt ponderous to me, too full of itself and overburdened by melodrama. Characters like Boris felt more stock than unique, and while it was a solid book, I hardly felt it was worth the effusive praise heaped on it by many critics.

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Most Underrated: The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game by Edward Achorn

There are a lot of books about baseball. Player bios, books about certain franchises, books about the history of the game, statistical reference books, instruction manuals, the list goes on and on. This one is very niche; it tells the story of the 1883 pennant fight between the St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia Athletics and the many colorful men who helped create the game we all know and love. If you like baseball, read it. If you like history books, read it. If you like biographies, well…you know what to do.

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Most Surprising: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Someone recommended this book to me a long time ago, and I never got around to reading it until I found a copy of it on audiobook in my local library. It’s a fun read to be sure, a quirky blend of literary nerdiness, wit, and surreal science fiction. Essentially, people can walk into copies of their favorite books and interact with the characters, but if you enter the original text, be careful! You can actually change the plot! Think The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy meets a fun whodunnit.

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One I’d Recommend to Others: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

We all know Robert Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling…and that this woman can write! Seriously, anyone who can create an entire magical universe like Harry Potter and then turn around and write a pretty amazing character study (A Casual Vacancy) as well as a piece of hard-boiled detective fiction like this one is an author who’s worth reading. The first in this series (The Cuckoo’s Calling) was also a great read.

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One I’d Beg Others Not to Read: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Thank goodness I only paid $1.99 for this on Kindle. The cover is great and the idea is solid, but I don’t have many nice things to say beyond that. The rules of the magical universe are left largely unexplained, the characters are very one-dimensional, and the plot is uneven. It was a good idea poorly executed, which is a real shame. A good editor could really have made something of this.

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One That Should Be Turned Into A Movie: Dr. Sleep by Stephen King

Yeah, King made the list twice. So what? 🙂 This is the sequel to The Shining, which I had to re-read before embarking on this book. It was fun to see how Danny and the other characters turned out, to see what kind of gifts the kid really had and how he put them to good use. It was a great read on its own, but when you pair it with the first work, everything comes full circle rather nicely. A little strange (it is King after all), but the booga-booga factor on this one is great. Super creepy in all the right ways. And it would translate into a great film with the right director and cast. 

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One I Wish I’d Written: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Apparently everyone and their drunk uncle has read this book, but I just now got around to it. And let me tell you, I am never going to complain about my life again. You want to talk about challenges, pain, suffering, and trials? Louis Zamperini experienced them all and came through it all. The man hit bottom, met Christ, and crawled out of a PTSD-induced hole I can’t even imagine, and become a true servant of God. And now his life is ours to learn from. I wish I could have met him in person before he passed.

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Okay folks, there you have it. Ten books I read this year and thought I’d pass on. Tell me what books you loved this year and if you think I’d enjoy them. I’m always looking for something new and — if you’ll pardon the pun — novel to read.

Lost In Translation

Ever wonder what the Psalms sounded like? Me, too. Hence, this piece was created for the October issue of In Touch magazine.

If you like this piece, I highly suggest you visit our homepage to read articles by writers much, much, much more talented than I. Better still, get a free subscription to our magazine and it shows up in your mailbox like clockwork, all shiny and whatnot.

 

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this piece. Why not share them with me in the comments section below?! (I’m so serious that I used an interrobang, people! For real.)

Music to My Ears

Last week, my writing group discussed how long we’d been working at the craft, what got us started, and what keeps us going. The stories ranged from silly to serious, but there were a few things we all shared. For example, we all love reading and do so voraciously. We also started penning stories, poems, and essays at a very young age. Each one of fell in love with words, and there were moments and people who helped us discover just how winsome they truly are.

I think the same is true of other creative efforts like dance, art, music, cooking, and design. We each have a certain amount of natural talent in one or more of these areas, and it can always be developed through disciplined practice and the help of experts.

I wish my first grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, had thought about this fact. One week, she gave our class an assignment: draw a character and write a story featuring him/her. I’m sad to say I don’t have the original drawing, so I tried to re-create it using the crude art supplies in my office. Ladies and gents, I give you Miranda…

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First off, I apologize for the uber creepy Jack Nicholson Joker lips, but it did the best I could. I remember her story was a simple one. She was ten years old (the age I so desperately wanted to be at the time because it had two numbers in it instead of one). She had curly brown hair and green eyes. She was a singer who loved animals and the color purple. I believe she rescued a fluffy gray and white kitten and gave it to a lonely old lady named Mrs. Kimberly who lived down the street. Yeah, she was pretty boss.

Well, when it came to drawing her, I was a little perplexed. I was the kid who liked to paint a picture with words rather than shapes and colors. But the assignment required both parts, so I–ever the diligent student–set out to complete the second part.

When we’d finished our work, we sat around Mrs. Davis in a circle, and she held our drawings up for everyone to see. She asked us questions about them, especially what we saw and liked. Finally, it was my turn, and she held up my drawing of Miranda. I held by breath, wondering what everyone would say about my magnum opus. But all she said was, “What’s wrong with this picture, class?”

Wrong? What’s wrong?  I asked myself. What could possibly be wrong with it?

My classmates threw in suggestions until Mrs. Davis finally gave up and answered her own question, “It’s wrong because she doesn’t have any ears.” Everyone snickered, and she moved on to the next victim.

I wanted to defend my artistic choice, to scream, “Of course she has ears, you ninny! They’re under her hair!” But I didn’t because I was mortified.

When I saw the assignment the next day, I saw a huge red “B” etched in one corner and the same assessment scribbled in another. For an entire week, the drawing was pinned to the bulletin board at the front of our classroom—mocking me. And I think that was the moment I gave up any and all thoughts of trying my hand at art.

Granted, I never would have been naturally gifted at it. You can tell that I have no eye for proportion or form. Unlike my friend Jeff Gregory, whose doodles are works of brillance, I could never labor over something made of acrylic, pencil, or charcoal and make it beautiful. But I always wonder if Mrs. Davis’ appraisal of my drawing forever altered some part of me that was willing to take a risk with something new, something that I wasn’t necessarily skilled at but could have gotten better with over time. Horses were only things I ever practiced drawing from that point on because, like all girls, I was obsessed with them. I doodled in notebooks, but I showed what I’d drawn to no one. And no matter how much I tried, they never got better than this…

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My writing, however, fared far better. Granted, I’m still far from perfect (and famous…and rich…and critically acclaimed), but I enjoy scribbling words on paper as much now as I did at the tender age of seven. More so, in fact. And while I know this mostly due to my own desire, I can’t help but think Mrs. Davis played a role in it as well.

She caught me staring at that scarlet B one day in class. She said nothing at the time, but before I left for home that afternoon, she pulled me aside and admitted, “Your story was very well done, Jamie. I liked Miranda.”

It was the first compliment for my writing I’d received from someone who was not related to me. I suddenly discovered something very interesting on one of my shoes and mumbled, “Thank you” in reply. I was embarrassed, but it wasn’t just because of the praise. All I could think was that I wished she had given it sooner.

Why? Well, that’s the what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story.”

The day my drawing met with criticism and laughter, I did something I’d regretted ever since. I went back to the art corner to sharpen my pencil using the silver hand crank unit we all remember so well. When I went to wedge my good old number two in the slot, I realized I’d also carried a blue crayon back there with me. Camouflaged by a half wall stacks of paper, and jars of tempura paint, I had a “wonderful, awful idea.”

Image from avclub.com

In a moment of impish inspiration, I decided I would show her the extent of my ire by sharpening it too. Yeah, I went there.

I gummed up the works of that machine with my aqua-tinted rage and felt somewhat justified for having done so. But when we left for music class, I saw her carrying the sharpener to the bathroom and felt triumphant for another 2.7 seconds until I realized she’d spend most of her planning period cleaning up the mess. Then I felt putrid about it. And the compliment she gave me only made it worse.

I learned several valuable lessons from the entire experience, the most important of which is this: Words matter. Kind ones are worth the time it takes to say them. Unkind ones wound. They can change someone’s opinion about an issue or a moment in time or even make a person love or hate herself. They can inspire people to greatness or leave them defeated before they begin. Words are powerful in a way few things will ever be, and they’re ours for the using. So that means we should always use them well.

How about you all? Is there a talent you always wanted to explore but didn’t? A person you’d like to thank for encouraging you to pursue one? What do you think about words, both kind and cruel? Give me your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sight To See

For the March issue of In Touch Magazine, I take a closer look at the elements of the crucifixion and what we miss when we don’t study them intentionally.

If you’re interested in receiving a free subscription to the magazine, visit this page. You can also read the entire magazine online each month by visiting intouch.org/magazine.

 

Return on Investment

My piece in the November issue of In Touch Magazine is a profile piece I’ve been eagerly anticipating sharing with our readers. Ralph Doudera’s story was fascinating to me the first time I heard it, and I knew I had to write it down. To me, it is a great example of true thankfulness, and I’m humbled it was included in this month’s issue.

Remember, a subscription to our magazine is free and can be gotten if you visit our online store and give us some basic information. Also, you can read the article when it’s posted on line here on November 1. God never stops amazing me with His goodness and willingness to protect us from everything that means to do us harm….including ourselves.

This is what the spread looks like. Please pardon my poor image stitching. 🙂

 

 

 

 

For the Record

I have come to terms with the fact my grandfather will forget my name one day. Already, he struggles to find it as he gropes through the jumbled memories in his brain, sifting for it the same way we once did for sharks’ teeth on Jupiter Beach. Sometimes, he calls me “James,” the moniker I share with my great uncle and great grandfather, probably because he’s known it longer. It’s engraved more deeply into the gray grooves of his brain, and the disease gaining ground there will have a harder time eroding it. I like to imagine James is a stubborn root that refuses to be pulled out or a well-supplied soldier at the beginning of a lengthy siege. James is a fighter, and its defeat will be a Pyrrhic victory at best.

To salvage as much of him as she can, my grandmother, who I’ve always called Nonnie, asks Papaw our names at least thirty times a day, beginning at breakfast.

“Tell me your daughters’ names again,” she says as she places his morning pills on the napkin next to his plate.

“Sherry and Jamie,” he proudly replies, knowing both are right.

“Jamie’s your granddaughter,” she replies, washing down the lump of misery in her throat with a drink of scalding coffee. “Anita’s your other daughter. Now, tell me your grandsons’ names….”

When she can’t bear to listen, she has him write down our names on a sheet of paper over and over again, like he’s a child being punished after school, forced to scratch out, “I will not forget my homework” one hundred times on the board. His handwriting, never prize worthy, is nearly illegible now, and his brain can’t process letters the same way it once did. There are times when “Sherry” is written “sHErrY” and my name is spelled five different ways. Some days, the names won’t come at all, and his pencil tip breaks under the pressure of his frustration.

There are also times when I’m Amy, Cammie, and Tammy to him, too, and the fact that they rhyme only cracks my heart instead of breaking it outright. It’s close enough to tell me I’m still in there somewhere, like an old photograph just beginning to get grainy and fuzzy around the edges.

“That’s okay, Papaw,” I tell him as we sit out by the pool one Saturday. “It’s in the ballpark.”

The word triggers something in his brain, lashing two memories together like lifeboats in a storm, and he looks at me with such clarity I almost forget that dementia, unlike amnesia, isn’t something you recover from.

“Do you remember going to Busch Stadium?” he asks, smiling broadly.

I can only bite my lip and nod. “What do you remember, Papaw?” I ask. And he tells me his recollections of that afternoon.

***

I remember it well. I couldn’t have been more than seven the first time he led me through the massive gates at the ballpark with one of my tiny hands in his. In the other sweaty fist, I carried a new St. Louis Cardinals pennant that soon snapped in half because I shook it to pieces in my excitement. While the rest of my family went off to buy hot dogs, Cokes, and pretzels, Papaw and I joined the river of people flowing through the stadium and fought our way through to buy a scorecard.

“If you want to understand the game, you have to have one of these, baby girl,” he said. “It helps you see and remember what happened.”

We reached our seats and, while we waited for everyone to join us, Papaw pulled a pen out of his front shirt pocket and began filling out the lineups. He started with “Smith,” the most common of names, but I knew who it was. Ozzie Smith, A.K.A. “The Wizard of Oz,” was the lead-off man and had long been my favorite player because he always did a back flip the first time he took the field and was so fast that he made seemingly impossible plays look simple. Ozzie didn’t field so much as dance, anticipating the ball’s every movement when it left the batter’s box.

“You put ‘one’ here where it says ‘number,’ and ‘Smith’ under ‘name,’” Papaw said, slowly writing the information on the card and letting me see it. “Then you have to put in their position. Smith is a shortstop, so he’s number….”

I counted the positions on my finger. One was the pitcher, two was the catcher, but I always struggled to remember if the shortstop was five or six. I was about to give up when he reminded me.

“Smith starts with an S just like…”

“Six!” I shouted happily. “He’s position number six.”

For me, most of the game passed in a whir of color and excitement. I was often distracted by the organ music, the box of Cracker Jacks I munched on, or the people around us, but I checked in with Papaw periodically to see how the innings looked on that scorecard. Each player had twelve perfect boxes in line behind his name, and the diamond in the center of each held the results of each at bat. A darkened line with “1B” written to the side meant a single while that same line paired with “WP” or “BB” meant the man reached on a wild pitch or a walk. “K” facing right meant a man struck out swinging while a reversed one meant he stood there and took the final one of an at bat. I learned how to mark a stolen base, a fly out, and even a homerun, and what could have been an impenetrable mess of data made sense because my grandfather served as my very own Rosetta Stone.

There was something appealing about the scorecard to me, and I found myself more drawn to it as the innings passed. I liked the way it told the story of a game in only a few lines and letters, as terse and beautiful as a haiku. When the bottom of the ninth came around, Papaw asked me if I wanted to help, and I eagerly crawled into his lap and took the pen from his hand. Comfortably perched on his knees, I watched and carefully marked down the combination of plays that produced the Cardinals’ winning run (single, sacrifice fly, stolen base, and double) and left the crowd screaming with excitement. The moment, unlike my crooked and wobbly lines, was perfect.

***

Why can’t our memories be like that? I ask myself as I listen to him talk, furious that the outcome of an inconsequential game can be recorded forever while my grandfather’s memories wash away like sand pulled into time’s dark sea. Maybe it’s because the game is a two-dimensional thing, a mass of data—nothing more runs and outs—while humans are flesh and bone. A baseball scorecard is a simple retelling of facts in the correct order. There’s no need to record a player’s motivation, his thoughts during a given at bat, or even how he felt watching a third strike whiz past or legging a single into a double. But life is made up of so many things that cannot be quantified or accurately described. The only accurate record of it lives on in memory. Beautiful. Complete. Vulnerable.

No matter how many pictures we take or how many journals we fill with our thoughts, we can never capture the essence of what matters in our lives or why. It breaks my heart to think I can never explain to anyone how much I love the crinkles that collect around my husband’s eyes when he smiles or why no broccoli casserole in the world will ever taste as good as my mother’s. I can’t tell anyone exactly what it felt like to become the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree or to stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower at night with the twinkling lights of Paris laid out beneath me like gemstones on black velvet. Those precious things, if I lose them, are gone forever. After all, no one saw, tasted, or felt what I did in those moments—and even if they had, their memories would be uniquely theirs. Not mine.

***

“…but I couldn’t even keep a scorecard anymore,” Papaw says, his voice pulling me away from the painful thoughts in my head.

“What?” I ask him to repeat, embarrassed for having tuned him out, even for a second.

“I remember teaching you how to keep a scorecard that day,” he repeats. His voice is patient, the way it used to be. “But I doubt I remember how.”

Phrases like “I doubt I could…” are dementia-speak, convenient euphemisms for truths too brutal to face. We both know he could no more keep the system of lines and letters straight in his befuddled brain than I could when I was seven. He wouldn’t even know where to begin.

But I do. I know because he taught me how. The memory of learning it from him is in my head, and I’ve reinforced it by keeping dozens of scorecards since that Elysian afternoon. What is lost to him forever is not lost to me yet. The memory of it is safe for now.

“Hold on just a sec,” I tell him and dash indoors.

Thanks to the Internet, it takes less than a minute to print out a blank scorecard. It’s not the same as the full color ones at the ballpark, those edged with player stats and ads for beer or car dealerships, but it’ll do. I come back out to where he sits, staring at the pool’s placid and glossy surface. Like him, it’s no longer rushing from one place to another, compelled by the irresistible force of gravity to seek lower elevations or by heat and cold to take on other forms. It strikes me then that both of them have reached a place of stillness and will, over time, evaporate away. And there is little I can do about either.

But, for a moment, I see Papaw kneeling by the side of our pool in Arkansas, still wearing his work clothes. His tie is flipped up over his shoulder, and his bright plastic Wal-Mart nametag, the one that reads “Boyce—General Manager” flaps wildly in the summer breeze. In his hand, he holds a bright green garden hose that is happily burbling and spewing a stream of clear water into the pool.

“Whatcha’ doing, B?” I ask him.

“Filling up the pool, baby girl. You and your brother sloshed half the water out of it playing today,” he replies, laughing to tell me he’s not the least bit angry about it. He promises me we’ll swim later and play Marco Polo until it gets dark and we have to watch out for bats drawn down by deep end’s bright light.

I know he’s the same man I knew then, but he’s somehow smaller now. Dimmer. Like a lamp whose oil is running low. I know his lost memories aren’t as easy to replace as those gallons of water once were, but I tell myself refilling him temporarily is well worth the effort.

With my laptop under my arm, I walk toward my grandfather, waving the scorecard as excitedly as I once did that poor, doomed pennant. He smiles. And for a moment, he is so much like his old self that my soul is flooded by a pleasure too sweet to describe. It’s a gossamer thing, as pale and delicate as cotton candy, and I savor it until my jaws clench and my eyes water.

It’s 3:30, and on one network or another, a game will start in less than thirty minutes. That’s just enough time to look up the rosters and put each player’s name, number, and position down for the record.

One Bookworm’s “Rotten Apples”

Okay, it’s been forever since I did a book blog, but I swear I have a good excuse. I’m working to fill two roles at work (Content/Copy Editor and Managing Editor of the magazine), buying a house, and joining The Southern Order of Storytellers. Add health concerns and family issues into the mix, and I’ve been one heckabusy gal!

However, this one sounded like a fun (and comparatively short) book blog, so here we go. The lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish want to know our shameful little secrets, our private penchants, and our otherwise bizarre bibliophilic behaviors. So, ladies and gents, I give you my Top Ten Bookish Confessions!

1. I sometimes fall asleep while reading in the bathtub and drop my book in the water—This has happened more times than I care to admit (though never with my Kindle thank goodness!) The most memorable victims were my first copy of Dracula, a friend’s copy of Black Beauty (which I replaced), and Moby Dick (which I found deliciously ironic.)

2. Until the fourth book, I scoffed at the Harry Potter series—However, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, I was in college studying to be an English teacher. I was taking a class in middle school literature and recognized I would have to know something about what my future students were reading. So I checked out the first book from the library and fell promptly in love. So much so, in fact, that I picked up my copy of book seven at midnight wearing my house colors! Ravenclaw rocks!!!

3. I sometimes skip words when I’m reading really exciting scenes just to see what happens—Granted, I always force myself to go back once I recognize that I’m doing it, but it’s still sad to find yourself skimming glorious words. I remember gliding over a certain chapter in The Scarlet Pimpernel just to see if Marguerite would make it to Sir Percy Blakeney in time.

4. I’ve always wanted to name a kid “Atticus”—No lie! I’ve admire the noble protagonist of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird so much that I’ve almost thought about about adopting a boy just to name him Nathaniel Atticus Hughes. The first name, naturally, is borrowed from another great love of my life, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

5. I utterly loathe James Joyce’s Ulysses—I can’t remember if I’ve ever admitted this before, but it’s true. I’m a confirmed connoussuer of literature who loves obscure books and chose to read Anna Karenina at the beach one summer, but I’m at a loss when it comes to why this book qualified as “The Best Book of All Time” in some circles.

6. I sometimes judge books by their covers—At times, when I don’t have a particular book in mind to read (which is rare), I actually roam the hallways of a bookstore just looking at covers. If it looks interesting or does something novel (HA! Pun!), I read the back matter. If that’s worth the cost, I usually buy and read it. That’s how I discovered books like Knick Knack Paddy Whack by Ardal O’Hanlon and Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter.

7. I get high on “old book smell”—When I travel home to Jacksonville, I try my darndest to stop in and shop at Chamblin Book Mine. The place is a gloriously messy place, a group of buildings and rooms cobbled together and stuffed to the rafters with used, new, and rare books. It’s a beautiful fire hazard I’d take pride in going up in like some nerdy Viking. I’ve gone in there and lost hours at a time as I search through stacks looking for books to fill the shopping bags I just traded in. Seriously, if I had just a little less dignity, I’d roll on the floor like a dog does when he finds something he likes.

8. I buy books I know I will likely never read—There’s something about empty bookshelves that unnerves me. I want them filled with colorful spines galore, titles that just beg people to take them off the shelves and give them a go. Also, I like it when people come into the house and remark about how many books I have. I guess it’s the same way a hunter feels about putting the heads of his kills on the wall over the mantelpiece.

9. I firmly believe the movie is NEVER better than the book—Let me put it to you this way, I was the ONLY person who walked out of the Jim Caviezel version, for lack of a better term, spittin’ mad. Everyone else loved it, and all I could think about was how the ending ruined the overall theme of revenge and made it too “neat.”

10. I once tricked my students into turning on one another like rabid dogs to get them to read literatureNothing was off limits when I was in the classroom. If it would get “non-readers” to open the book, I was game. To get them interested in The Crucible, I set up a scenario where one half of the class was going to get in trouble for something the other half did. They flipped on each other like mid-level mobsters. I also once filled a cauldron with hot water and dry ice and impersonated a witch to teach Macbeth and made my students write papers entirely in Newspeak to prove that language matters. It was doubleplusgood.