Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why I Wasn't an English Major

Do you wanna know why I wasn't an English major?

Do ya, punk? Huh?

Do ya?

You don't?

Well, Ima tell you anyhow.

One word. "Book reviews."

I hated book reviews with a passion in high school, and the first few English and/or Literature classes I took in college gave me more of the same. No, it wasn't exactly like High School book reviews, but it wasn't all that different either:

"Describe the theme in this book."

"Characterize the relationship between the protagonist and her siblings.

"Discuss the reason the author chose purple as the color of Matt's bedroom wallpaper."

"Why did the vulture land on Mrs. Winkle's veranda, and what, if anything, did it portend?"

"What did Bob mean when he said 'Ma, I killed the cat?'"


I came to writing later in life largely because in my youth I believed that, in order to be a writer, I had to start with a theme, develop an outline, have a reason for everything that happened in the story, and, when one of my characters killed a cat, there had to be some reason for it other than "I just wanted to kill the damn cat."

But I did start writing eventually, and found that I didn't need a theme, I didn't have to write an outline, and my characters can sometimes kill cats just because they're sociopathic dickwads. The characters, not the cats.

I still don't do book reviews though. Why? Because I refuse to look for themes. I will not characterize relationships. I won't try to get inside the head of the author and pretentiously assume that I might understand why he did "a" in a story rather than "b."  And if Bobby Jim kills the cat, I'm not going to look for any special reason why. I'm simply going to assume that's part of Bobby Jim's character, and that it's important to the story or the author wouldn't have written it like he did, and then I'll go on from there.

So that's why I don't do book reviews.

Except that I'm going to start doing book reviews. But I'll be doing them on my terms. There will be no discussion of themes, no pretending I actually know what I'm talking about (because I most assuredly do not), but I will tell you what I like and what I don't like and why.

I won't be doing reviews on famous writers. They have enough reviewers to keep them unhappy. I'll concentrate on not-or-almost-ready-for-prime-time-writers--many of whom will be peeps I've come across since I've involved myself in the writing world.

I'll be looking at stories that are way outside my comfort zone too--romance, fantasy, erotica and, yes, even literary. But I'll review them my way. Not Miss Webster's* way, may she Rest In Peace.

And I'm not going to do this all the time either. I'll do it to fill in from time to time in between my normal meaningless drivel. And only when I feel like it. So there.

So I'll be starting today with my first review: Dustin Time by June Kramin.

*checks watch*

Oops, sorry Bug. Out of time. Too bad it was such a short review. Maybe I might get the chance to post a little more about it next time.

And, Bug? One more thing. Please don't hurt me.

*Miss Webster was my English teacher in Middle School for two years running. She pounded a great deal of grammar into my head and some of it even stuck. She taught me that "not is always an adverb." And, Dog bless her heart, she taught me to hate outlining, even as she loved it so.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Birds of a Feather--Fathers' Day Edition

Do you remember the Mourning Dove that had her nest in a little alcove above the door to my apartment building last year? No? Well, maybe you would have if I'd bothered to post anything about it. Anyhow, that's her in the picture to the left. She had one chick and they both stayed vewy, vewy quiet, afraid as they must have been of all the screaming little kids who live in my building and are in and out of that door dozens of times during the day.

Alas, the dove decided not to join us this year. I can't say that I blame her. In addition to the mob of overly loud children in the building, there's now a pack of teenage boys. I refer to them as "The Gang of Four." Hunny simply calls them "The Hoodlums."

As a former teenage boy, I am acutely aware of how evil teenage boys can be, and it wouldn't surprise me if one or more of them decided they'd like to find out if eggs bounced or if newly hatched chicks fly when tossed into the air. Mark Twain once said, "When a boy turns thirteen, seal him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hold. When he turns sixteen, plug up the knot hole." Then, as now, that is good, practical advice.

But like I said, that Mourning Dove outsmarted the teenagers by not showing up this spring. So instead of Mourning Dove babies outside our front door, this year we had Robin babies outside our bedroom window.

I'll explain.

We'd been watching since the day an enterprising male dragged the first twig into the bushes by the side of our building. Apparently nobody told him about the kids or the hoodlums who live here, because he built that nest at eye level, way too close to the ground. But nobody touched it.

Through all the wind and rain we had this spring, that nest stayed in place, as did Momma, plopped protectively on her eggs. We never knew exactly when the eggs hatched, but one mrning I awoke to much bird screeching. I peeked out the window and saw two gaping mouths poking up out of the nest, and they were making a whole heck of a lot of noise.

The chicks grew quickly as children are wont to do, and pretty soon the first chick took off, leaving her brother behind. No, I never actually checked their respective sexes, but girls always develop before boys and I saw no reason to believe it would be any different with birds. We figured that in a day or two he'd join his sister and we'd have nothing to watch out the window any more. But the little fellow stayed. And then he stayed some more. Oh, sure, he'd venture out into the bushes occasionally, but never far from the nest. And there's no question he was too frightened to try to actually, you know, fly.

It finally hit the fan one day. As Junior inched along some branches a good foot from the nest, Dad came by with breakfast. As the sight of his father, Junior opened his beak and demanded his Happy Meal. That's when Dad snapped.

Did you ever hear a Robin swear? Well, this one did. I'm sure of it. And he swore in spite of the mouth full of worms he'd been carrying. He screamed back at Junior. Then he screamed some more. And Junior retreated further and further away from the nest until we could no longer see him in the bushes.

It was tough love, is what it was, or maybe Dad had simply had enough. But Dad kicked Junior out of the house that day. Told him to go get a job. Of that I'm certain, because we never saw that little bird again.

So let that be a lesson to all you fathers out there this Fathers' Day. There may come a time when it's past time for your kids to leave the nest. Don't be afraid to scream at them through a mouth full of worms, and don't be afraid to show them the door either. And whatever you do, once they're gone, don't forget to change the lock.
*actual pics of Momma Dove and Junior Robin*