1408, Part Deux

First thing to remember: the short story is not the screenplay.

The short story is not bad, but it's not the same.

King's story was creepy in its own way, and it deserved to be made into a movie. I actually can envision a story written just on the entries of Mike's minirecorder. However, I would have preferred that to the skipping between what was on the tape and what the lead character experienced — at least the way King wrote it.

I also preferred the way the movie ended to the story's ending. (Tip number two: don't watch the alternate endings on the DVD. There's a reason they weren't chosen as the final ending.)

The movie, however, included more about the lead character, a writer whose own tortured soul was mixed with the unrelenting evil of the hotel room. The movie wasn't perfect: it could have been a little shorter, and the hotel room scene went beyond the point of exhausting to making me wish it was just over, for the love of Pete (and not in a good way). Having said that, I wouldn't really opt to change much.

I am thrilled that the producers chose the actors they did for the movie. King's descriptions do not jive with the actors, but I preferred the actors to those described in the story.

If I had to choose only one, watch the movie and skip the story. You lose nothing by seeing only the movie, which captured the good parts of the story. And if you are going to do both, watch the movie first.

Banned Book Week Update: Scary!

In honor of 2007 Banned Book Week, I read Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

And boy, were they scary! Some of them were remixes of urban legends, which should be old news and schmaltzy. Au contraire. They were very well-edited, and I made the mistake of reading them when I was alone. I returned the book to the library the next day so it wouldn't scare me. (Had it not been a library book, I'd have put it in the freezer.) The cover of the book alone should have been a warning.....

I have been on a scary story kick lately.

I am reading Heart-Shaped Box, a chapter a night, aloud with David. Scary from the first chapter, people. Lois warned me, so I was prepared and got myself a reading buddy. My advice: don't read it alone. David and I are 11 chapters in, so I'll let you know how it evolves.

I can recommend The Nature of Monsters, a book about an apothecary in 1700s England who wanted to prove maternal imprinting on unborn children. The story is very much a period piece, and it's creepy enough around the edges that when the creepiness works itself into the center of the story, it's shocking and intense. If you are a fan of Britannia, absolutely read this book — but it's definitely a library read. Unless you're a huge fan of Britain, as I am, you might not want to keep this one (and even I am not sure I'd keep it had I not purchased it).

I also read Benefits, a feminist science fiction book that is scary in its own right. Click here to read the review.

I plan to read the short story "1408" from Everything's Eventual, a Stephen King short story collection. I have stopped reading recent King works because I find his work very "insider," as though if I was a true fan I'd know the story without having to read it (Lisey's Story) or gory beyond belief from the first page (The Cell). However, after seeing the movie "1408," I have every intention of finding out how true the fantastic screenplay is to the short story. The movie is vintage King: smart, intense, a little over-the-top but in a way that brings the audience along rather than drown the poor souls. I'll let you know what I think about the story.

Finally, I have another novel in my book stack that sounds creepy: Mistress of the Art of Death.

However, I might have to take a break from the creepy and read something lighter. Any suggestions? Leave a comment on this blog!


A Northern Light — Review by Carole

I'm in a book club with my sisters-in-law, and we met this week along with my teenage daughter (after all, it was her book). We discussed Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light. Described as a young adult novel (I had actually bought it for my daughter who told me to read it), we all agreed that it wasn't exclusively for a young adult audience. Barbara said it best: "I'm glad there are great books like this out there for young women to read." We all enjoyed reading the book, and the discussion about it was lively.

Set in 1906, the story revolves around an event that happened in real life. The same murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy is the backdrop of the action in this story. The main character, Mattie, is a young girl who knows something about the death of a young woman that no one else knows. She has to decide what to do about it and what to do about her life.

The characters that Donnelly develops read as if they are real people. They have good points and bad. Mattie makes mistakes, gets angry, feels overwhelmed, and often doesn't know what to do.

We talked about how the time and place of this story were also compelling. A simpler time, but also a harder time to get by in life. Yet, people had time to care for their neighbors, accept their foibles, and feel empathy for their problems. We don't know our neighbors in many instances today. We agreed that today people rely on public services to take the place of caring for our neighbors, and we wondered what we've lost as a society because of that.

Some thought it was a more innocent time, but others thought that the harsh realities of life and the daily struggles to care for one's family left little innocence.

Throughout the story, Mattie is torn between keeping promises that she's made and doing what she knows is right for her. The reader is right there with her as she deals with the attentions of a handsome boy, helps her best friend through the delivery of her twins, nurses her family through a life-threatening illnes, and becomes aware of other possibilities for her future.

Donnelly stays true to her young narrator throughout the book--the decisions that Mattie makes are quite believable. She makes hard decisions in ways that a young person would. She wraps things up to the best of her ability, but she knows that many things are left unfinished, and that she can't fix everything.

A Northern Light is a memorable read with strong characters that stay with you. I actually read the book several months before choosing it for book club. I had every intention of re-reading it so it would be fresh in my mind for our discussion, but I didn't get the chance. A quick refresher from my daughter on the names brought it all back to me, and I found that the characters were still there in my mind. I can honestly say that is not the case for all books I read.

What Do Couples Like to Read?

Following a recent book discussion (excerpted below), I wrote about what chick lit is, and conversely, what it isn't. Then I proceeded to talk about what books/authors that Steve and I both enjoy reading. The list isn't long. My question is "What Do Couples Like to Read?" My friend, Todd, went home and discussed it with his wife, and he wrote:

"My wife and I talked about what books we both enjoyed, and we came up with James Michener and Thomas Harris.

Otherwise she sticks with her Agatha Christies and various mysteries from the library, and I stick with history and some science fiction."

I have not seen this discussed anywhere else, and I'm curious to see if the answers we get will provide us with new possibilities. Give us your list of authors/books by clicking on the Post a Comment link at the end of this post.

Excerpt from The Last Templar:

"Once we shifted the discussion away from The Last Templar, we got into discussing what is and what is not “Chick Lit.” Because the guys have said that they don’t want to read any of it, Chris and I really wanted their perspective on what is chick lit. We read a variety of subjects and feel that much of the books are not chick lit, so we needed some guidelines.

Here is what we learned about chick lit and what guys don’t want to read about:

• Books that are about relationships and that focus on feelings
• Books that are recommended by Oprah Winfrey
• Books that require handkerchiefs and/or Kleenex
• Books with NO action, suspense, or mystery

If I’ve left anything out, I know the guys will set me straight.

Since our discussion, I’ve looked over some of our books from 2007 (Chris and I are compiling our lists of books read this year), and I realize that some are definitely chick lit: The No Angel series and any of the many Mr. Darcy spin-offs of Pride and Prejudice. I fully acknowledge those as chick lit (they are fabulous, by the way).

Others, though, baffle me. Where do books like Life of Pi, The Reader, and For One More Day, for example, fit in and might they have a place in our discussions? I think many books could fit the criteria above, and the guys still wouldn’t want to read them.

Steve and I have been married a long time, and we have always had books he likes, books I like, and a slim list of those we both read. I would say that even the slim list only exists because of occasions where I cross over into “Guy Buys” (note: new phrase I’ve coined as counterpart to Chick Lit). Ken Follett, Nelson DeMille, Leon Uris, and Stephen J. Cannell are authors Steve and I both enjoy, and I can think of a handful that Steve has enjoyed that I’ve recommended, such as Lamb, but the slim list has stayed pretty slim all of these years. Not a complaint, just an observation.

What books/authors do other couples like to read?"


The Daughter of Time — Review by Carole

Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time held many surprises for me. You may be thinking, "Well, Carole, that's because it's a mystery" and you would be partly right, but this was an interesting read for many reasons.

My first surprise was learning about Tey to begin with. Chris gave me the book, saying that she read it in college and remembers liking it. I was immediately intrigued by the title (more about that in a minute). I confessed to never having heard of Tey; when I read the foreword by Robert Barnard, a fellow mystery writer, I learned that Tey, back in the day, rivalled Agatha Christie in popularity. Tey died relatively young at 55, so she didn't have the time to create her legacy and firmly secure her place in the genre. She remains in print, however, and several of her novels have been made into films. See the news story about her under Bookish News.

Her detective is Scotland Yard's Grant, and in The Daughter of Time he lies convelescing in a hospital after a criminal-pursuing chase ends badly. Bored beyond belief and depressed by his forced inactivity, Grant is aided by his actress friend who brings him many photos to pore over from the British Museum, courtesy of a researcher friend of hers. Grant finds himself drawn to one in particular, so much so that he temporarily forgets his own misery.

The face that captivates his attention is that of Richard III, the "monster" who had his nephews killed to ensure that he would wear the crown of England. Or did he? Tey proceeds to skillfully weave a tale of historical intrigue while Grant uses his deductive reasoning to pull apart what is real and true from what has become accepted as such. Tey presents a revolving door of characters to interact with Grant as he puzzles through what he knows, what he learns in books, what he dismisses out of hand because it is secondhand knowledge, and what those around him know and think.

The second surprise for me was how Tey was able to present a relatively brief novel while also providing a great deal of English history in a captivating manner. She presumes the reader knows very little about it, and she explains in detail who has claims to the throne, who is stirring up trouble, and what is at stake for England at the time. Not dull in the least, The Daughter of Time takes us on a journey through English history without ever once leaving Grant's hospital room.

The book surprises with its logical approach to an emotional time in history and its revelations that people are inclined to believe what they want to believe, even when facts tell them they are wrong.

Lastly, I was surprised by the title. The Daughter of Time caught my attention right away, but the page just before the foreword has the complete quote: "Truth is the Daughter of Time." Isn't that a wonderful line? In the book, it is attributed as an old proverb, but when I searched online, I found that is attributed to Francis Bacon. The Bacon quote is fleshed out a bit more: "Truth is the Daughter of Time, Not of Authority."

I recommend reading this little book. I'm off to track down some more of Josephine Tey's mysteries. I want to see what other surprises she has in store for me.



On Friday, when author J.K. Rowling was asked about Albus Dumbledore's passion, she said, "I always thought of him as gay."

I wish I hadn't read that. I have no intention of reading any other news articles about it.

The information about Dumbledore's sexuality does not provide me essential insight into the character that hasn't already been revealed. I have read some of the fan sites, so I know people have invested much in these characters. So have I.

Personally, I absolutely loved Dumbledore, and his character brought me more tears and rewards throughout the series than any other single character.
(Hermione comes in a close second.) Dumbledore's monologue at the end of Book 5 brought me to my figurative knees with his honesty and affection for the boy wizard. Don't get me wrong, I loved Harry, too, and every Weasley on the planet (including Percy, even as a git), but, for me, Dumbledore was the heart of the wizarding world.

That is why I think speculating about Dumbledore's sexuality seems to me very lewd and unnecessary. It would be like writing sex scenes between Harry and Ginny: I know they're married and I know they have three children. I know where babies come from in both the Muggle and wizarding worlds. I don't need those kinds of details.

Now there will be much reading into the character with this new information, apparent in a headline I read tonight pondering the "true" relationship between Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald.

The character of Dumbledore did not change for me with this revelation — though, I have to admit, any of my own imagined untold back story between him and Minerva McGonnegal is officially dead now. Note the use of the word untold. I don't need to know everything. By being told everything about every character, especially something so personal in nature, I am robbed of my own participation in the story and of my own imagination regarding the characters. I wonder how many other fans are lamenting the invasion into their realm.

Carole, what do you think?

I wonder if this is a glimpse of what we will be in for regarding the Harry Potter encyclopedia that Rowling has alluded to. She said she is taking some time off from Harry Potter, but that she has so much more back stories on the characters that she plans to develop an HP reference book, if you will.

I never really got that vibe about Dumbledore in any of the books, but then students should never really be put in a position where they are considering their teachers' sexual orientation, should they? In the sense that Dumbledore was the headmaster of Hogwarts and the character that taught us, the readers, so much about the wizarding world, do anyone of us need to be considering this?

Just as you are now left with your Dumbledore-McGonegall illusions in tatters, I wouldn't want to find out the Weasleys stayed married merely for the sake of the children, instead of the true loving marriage I envision. I don't want to find out that Hagrid has battled a mead addiction since adolescence. If Lily Potter slept around before she married James, spare me.

In other words, I would implore Rowling to consider her readers' imaginations and to allow some room for their mental images to flourish.


The Last Templar—Book Discussion Summary by Carole

The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury was the first book that Chris and I read with the men in our lives for the express purpose of getting together and discussing it. David and Steve joined the discussion enthusiastically, and we were all quite animated in our corner booth at a local Mexican restaurant. Apparently, we were so lively that another customer came up to us and apologized for interrupting, but she couldn’t help overhear what we were talking about. We thought we were going to be fussed at for being too loud, but instead she wanted to know more.

“I heard ‘escaped through a drainpipe’, ‘templar knights’, ‘psycho killer’, and ‘machine guns’, and I wondered if you were all talking about the same book.” We admitted that we were indeed talking about just one book.

She asked if we liked it. We all responded in unison with “NO!”

The Last Templar does have all of the elements detailed above. Set in present day, a high-profile robbery of a piece of Templar machinery turns into a massacre as four horsemen in Templar clothing ride right into the New York museum open fire on the glittering crowd gathered for the exhibit. The hunt is then on for what was stolen and who is responsible.

One witness to this is Tess, a single-mom archaeologist who is “mesmeric” in her beauty, or so says Raymond Khoury through his male lead, Reilly, a veteran FBI agent. One of the most irritating female characters I have encountered in some time (although David argued convincingly that it is hard to say who was more annoying—Tess or Reilly), Tess repeatedly makes the most inane, dangerous, and irresponsible decisions. Reilly, on the other hand, seems so enamored of her that he continually overlooks and/or forgives the offenses. Just to mention a plot spoiler here: she leaves him while he is under fire from unseen bad guys, releases the bad guy they have in custody, and takes Reilly’s car to escape with the bad guy. Reilly’s reaction to this incredibly blatant statement of what-I-want-is-more-important-to-me-than-anything-even-your-life is (once he escapes) is to follow her because he really senses that she needs his help. Puh-leese! David and Steve were unanimous in their views that they would have survived if only to kill her when next they met.

Khoury also writes dialogue for women very poorly; in fact, his treatment of his female characters was lamentable. The characters are drawn and introduced to the readers a certain way, but then their actions do not ring true based on what Khoury has told us about them.

We all agreed that the most compelling parts of the book were the flashbacks to the templar knights and their actions that led to the present day situation. The characters were compelling and the history was fascinating, but Khoury gives us too little of this. And the back-and-forth between history and present day was too erratic — the book would have benefited from a more even treatment of the two.

Steve also felt strongly that Khoury was just one of many authors who have done their best to fly in the face of Christianity and tear down its fundamental beliefs. Chris made the point that Reilly, the book’s character of faith, so quickly abandons his beliefs at the first true test that the reader becomes discouraged for him. Tess professes more agnostic beliefs but her later actions show her to be all over the place in terms of what she believes and why.

Chris has a loathing for any and all reviews that claim that a book is another Da Vinci Code. This book was touted as such by other reviewers, but we all agreed that it certainly wasn't.

Once we shifted the discussion away from The Last Templar, we got into discussing what is and what is not “Chick Lit.” Because the guys have said that they don’t want to read any of it, Chris and I really wanted their perspective on what is chick lit. We read a variety of subjects and feel that much of the books are not chick lit, so we needed some guidelines.

Here is what we learned about chick lit and what guys don’t want to read about:

• Books that are about relationships and that focus on feelings
• Books that are recommended by Oprah Winfrey
• Books that require handkerchiefs and/or Kleenex
• Books with NO action, suspense, or mystery

If I’ve left anything out, I know the guys will set me straight.

Since our discussion, I’ve looked over some of our books from 2007 (Chris and I are compiling our lists of books read this year), and I realize that some are definitely chick lit: The No Angel series and any of the many Mr. Darcy spin-offs of Pride and Prejudice. I fully acknowledge those as chick lit (they are fabulous, by the way).

Others, though, baffle me. Where do books like Life of Pi, The Reader, and For One More Day, for example, fit in and might they have a place in our discussions? I think many books could fit the criteria above, and the guys still wouldn’t want to read them. Steve and I have been married a long time, and we have always had books he likes, books I like, and a slim list of those we both read. I would say that even the slim list only exists because of occasions where I cross over into “Guy Buys” (note: new phrase I’ve coined as counterpart to Chick Lit). Ken Follett, Nelson DeMille, and Stephen J. Cannell are authors Steve and I both enjoy, and I can think of a handful that Steve has enjoyed that I’ve recommended, such as Lamb, but the slim list has stayed pretty slim all of these years. Not a complaint, just an observation.

What, then, to read next? Many suggestions were bandied about, and we finally all agreed to read Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. Chris pointed out that the newest one of the Easy Rawlins mysteries had just been published. Steve and I had enjoyed the movie, Devil in a Blue Dress, but we didn’t know it was a series. Chris and David haven’t seen the movie or read any of the books. So, Book Discussion Number 2 is on!

Maybe our slim list will get padded a little after all. What books/authors do couples like to read?


Benefits — Review by Chris

I first read Zoe Fairbairns’ novel Benefits when I was in college, only a few years after it had been published. It was riveting, stunning and very much a snapshot of the modern 1970s feminist movement.

Since then, from time to time, I tried to find a copy of the book — which was harder than I anticipated. I finally purchased my own copy this month and was able to re-read it .

My response in the new century was mixed. The story remained as interesting as it did the first time around. However, the character development was more stilted than I remembered.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great book and worth reading. In fact, I think every woman should read it if only to understand how precious our bodies are and how little we should trust a government that wants to control them. However, readers must get ready for a static feminism (which in itself is an oxymoron).

The story itself remains compelling. In Benefits, the British government from the 1970s through the new millennium tries to “manage” its women using many of the typical tools of government: money, policy, social stigma. A few strong personalities get involved and bring about chilling changes.

First, women are encouraged to leave their schools and jobs and have children, and the government will pay the women "benefits," money taken out of the general coffers (and ultimately is a tax removed from paychecks to be given to those who do not receive paychecks). Unfortunately, the government thinks the “wrong rats” are having children and steps in again to control and encourage behavior with money and government policy. Finally, the government uses money and policy to require the implanting of permanent birth control devices, which may be removed only by the government. (To do otherwise is to risk one’s life and body, women are told.) Finally, doctors don’t have to rely on women’s bodies anymore to prevent pregnancy — with catastrophic results.

The men in the government making these decision evolve and adapt. The women, on the other hand, do not. In the real world, we can see how women have fought and evolved and kept themselves in "the game," sometimes even evolving "the game." It's not equal, and I don't know if it ever will be. Every time I get a mammogram, I think the procedure would be vastly different if men had to get them — my point being that many things would be different if men experienced them the way women did.

But back to the book. While men in this book grow, women never evolved beyond the mid-1970s. According to the author, feminists are static creatures who cannot rally around a leader, who cannot agree on a single idea, who cannot even have a meeting unless everyone agrees. The women in this tale congregate in an old abandoned high-rise they turn into a commune, and the commune and its people never change. It’s a utopian society in which individuals in massive numbers agree to live by these chaotic rules.

The egalitarian co-op sans leader was very real in my undergraduate years, and I saw it work effectively in my school's women’s studies program. The school required a department head, and while the women didn’t implement a hierarchy, they “appointed” a “leader” who would fulfill that need of the university. This was one of many ways they adapted.

The feminists in Benefits did not evolve or adapt. They continued to do the same things year after year, generation after generation. Young feminists, teenagers young enough to be the first generation’s daughters (or granddaughters, maybe) were exactly the same as their foremothers. This static behavior is unrealistic and detrimental to the cause — not to mention that the next generation always bucks, as was evident in a particular mother-daughter relationship featured in the book. Having every woman agree to a single structure, live harmoniously in a huge commune and have the next generations rise through the ranks without a single iota of change or conflict was even more eerie than the results of the government’s womb control.

I still recommend the book, and I will ask my local library to include a copy or few on the shelves. (They’ve purchased books I’ve suggested in the past, so odds are good there might be a copy for you to borrow soon.) However, some parts of it are dated — and while it might be a regular occurrence of mainstream men’s science fiction, it seems a disappointment for feminist science fiction. I hope to find other fem sci fi that goes against this grain.

Do other readers of science fiction find this a universal issue throughout the genre, where later readings of beloved science fiction stories suffer in modern light?


I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman—Review by Carole

I appreciate Nora Ephron’s sense of humor. Although my exposure to it has been limited, until now, to the movies she writes, such as When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle, she has a sensibility that I find charming.

In her book, she comments on what aging has been like for her and I think she brings to mind what all women go through to some extent or another.

While I disagree with her politics and her views on marriage, her observations on aging were wryly amusing. My sisters-in-law and I discussed this as our book club book in September. Everyone enjoyed reading it, and we had a great time chatting about it.

They laughed at me because I had employed my sticky note method. Do you know this one? You get the skinny strips of Post Its, which come in lots of fun colors, and you tab the pages and write your comments on them. For this book, I picked a sunny yellow color to match the book’s cover. Geeky? Sure. But fun? You bet!

Invaluable for book club chats—it sure beats spending what precious time you have to talk about a book thumbing through the book, mumbling, “I really like the part where she says something funny about something…wait, I’ll find it.” Only you can never find it when you want to, by the time you do, the conversation has moved on. I think my book tabs keep the conversation going, and we’ve been able to get more in depth with our chats because we can talk about specifics.

This tab method works especially well with a book that is essentially a chat between the writer and the reader. It’s like I’m contributing to her conversation. Ephron mentions how, early in her married life (her first marriage), she became imaginary friends with all of the great chefs of the day as she tackled one cooking endeavor after another. I could relate as I have been known to daydream about chatting with chefs who tell me that my touch of tarragon really did improve their recipe. I read a quote by her that reveals all you need to know on this topic, “Whenever I get married, I start buying Gourmet magazine.”

Ephron observed trends that I have spoken about at length to girlfriends—one in particular, the sprouting of nail salons in every strip shopping center in America, seemingly overnight. This usually comes up in conversation as we are sitting in one such salon getting our mani/pedis. A few short years ago they didn’t exist, and now we can’t seem to do without them. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not, but I do love how my French pedicure looks with sandals! Chris has blogged about this herself. We all seem to be conflicted by something that is purely unnecessary in our daily lives, yet so wonderful we don’t want to be without it.

In the book, Ephron also waxes philosophic about waxing and many other beauty regimen essentials. Should you have plastic surgery? What kind? Do you get injections? What kind? From her first assertion that the neck starts to go at 43 (uh oh!), I was fascinated. It’s like reading the exploits of someone who has traveled to a destination you are contemplating. I figure—Ephron has negotiated a few twists and turns on the aging road that I haven’t encountered yet, so if she can provide me a bit of a roadmap, it would be folly for me not to study it a bit.

A quick read of an afternoon, maybe longer if you take the time to use sticky notes, I Feel Bad About My Neck offers some humorous as well as touching insights into what aging is like for women today. It would be a great gift for a girlfriend turning a significant birthday, much better than a gag gift of prunes and Geritol. (Does any woman find that funny, ever? Seriously?)


Banned Book Week: September 29 - October 6

As a child, I was a voracious reader. I left the children's section of the library at a very young age (and am making up for it now by reading youth and juvenile fiction — let that be a lesson to you, young reader!).

My parents never really told me what I could read, although my dad thought I was a little young at age 7 to understand "pregnant lips" in Sonnets from the Portuguese (though I suspect it's because my questions embarrassed him). I always showed my library books to my mom, who, when I was 11, did tell me she thought I should wait until I was older to read Helter Skelter.

Because of that freedom, I cannot imagine someone else telling me what I should be allowed to read.

Public libraries are the great equalizer, giving people access to many books, periodicals — and, through them, ideas. It's not up to the library to police its readers, but up to the readers (or, in the case of young readers, their parents) to determine what they themselves will read.

In short: if you don't like it, don't read it — and don't tell me what I can read. And by banning books from the public library, "concerned citizens" are doing just that.

Intellectual freedom is not something only the wealthy may attain because they can afford to buy the books banned from the libraries. And despite arguments to the contrary, most rational people can tell the difference between Heather Has Two Mommies and Hustler magazine.

The argument that public funds should not be used to purchase "objectionable material" is ludicrous. I've read government budgets. Talk about obscene! Pork barrel projects alone are more objectionable than And Tango Makes Three. A close look at the content of your local government budget or capital improvements program report can shock you more than Are you There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

I'm not even keen on computer filters that prevent people from accessing Web sites. Sensitive filters prevent access to important and perfectly tame materials, kind of like the e-mail filter that "junked" my e-mail to Carole because I used the word "love." (Really.) Library computers should be in a very public place in plain sight of librarians and other library patrons — who, if someone goes somewhere inappropriate and starts watching live, er, "things you wouldn't watch in front of your grandmother," will object and the offender will be stopped.

If you think your fellow patrons will be silent, just remember: these are the same people who have tried to ban Go Ask Alice and everything Harry Potter.

The week of September 29 through October 6 is Banned Book Week, and the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom suggests people all read one or more of the books on the Top 10 Banned Books list.

I read The Chocolate War when I was a young adult, and I was amazed at its power. I also read three books that were bumped from this year's list: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men and The Catcher in the Rye.

I plan to visit my library tomorrow to check out one of the books on this year's list — or on the list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books 1990-2000. Hopefully I'll have to put the book on hold because it's been checked out already.


Fall for the Book: His Excellency: George Washington

Americans tend to overlook one of the most important leaders in American history: George Washington. As biographer Joseph J. Ellis states boldly during his Fall for the Book discussion, Washington has become “too white and too male” for modern American history.

It has not always been this way. There once was a time when people knew more than the myth of wooden teeth and Weems’ cherry tree legend. But not any more. (By the way, Ellis thinks a movie will go a long way to bringing the Father of Our Country back into the hearts and minds of Americans. Steven Spielberg, take note!)

“One of my goals as a biographer is to bring them back alive,” Ellis said. In His Excellency: George Washington, he does just that. In the book chosen as the the 2007 All Fairfax Reads book, readers learn about the man as a surveyor, a new military leader, an experienced general, the first free president of any former European colony and, finally, as an elder statesman. His discussion brought his book — and Washington — to life as only a true enthusiast could.

Ellis stated at the outset of his discussion, “I am a biographer of imperfection.” He has written biographies of some of the American Revolution’s biggest names — Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, to name but a few — and he said “their greatness, their flawed greatness,” was what made them worth studying.

However, as Emily Dickinson advised, “Tell the truth but tell it slant.” Ellis confirmed, “You don’t want to know about the read person. You want a myth. You need a myth.”

Washington helped build that myth as president, Ellis said, as the leader rode into towns in the newly formed states on his trusty steed and with his greyhound Cornwalis. “Washington was the only symbol of national unity,” Ellis noted, adding he looked much like John Wayne in the 1939 movie “Stagecoach:” tall, regal, handsome and graceful (and quite the accomplished dancer, if truth be told).

In His Excellency and in his discussion, Ellis offered the story of a life of mythological proportion. The general, which is how he was referred to for the rest of his life, was myth both during his life and after. Many of his peers considered him the greatest mind of his age.

Not that Washington revealed much. “What are the great words on the Washington Monument?” Ellis asked. Aside from “the graffiti in the stairwell,” the author noted, “there are none.” Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt all have their great words on their memorials in the District of Columbia. Washington, instead, had his wife Martha burn all of his letters at his death. In death, as in life, he was not forthcoming with what was on his mind. Instead, as Ellis noted, “You have to tease it out of him.”

Teasing it out of him is what Ellis did best. Not that Ellis necessarily liked Washington as a person — in a Fairfax County Public Library podcast, Ellis noted the general was not one of his favorite individuals. He was aloof and distant, the author said — but an admirable person. The general’s greatness, his brilliance and his love of country could not be denied — and made him a man to be respected and revered.

When eulogized, Henry Lee said Washington was “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

  • First in war: during the eight years of the Revolutionary War, Washington stayed in the camps with his troops through thick and thin.
  • First in peace: he handed over his military power after the war was won and refused offers of a monarchy, prompting King George III to remark, “If he did, he is the best man in the world.”
  • First in the hearts of his countrymen: he traveled the nation to unify it, bringing together 13 disparate colonies, and worked with other national leaders to make the new republic work.

Reading His Excellency, one grows to admire Washington, as Ellis did — and by listening to the charming and exceptionally knowledgeable author speak about this man he admired, the charm of the book and the general grew even more.