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For most of my life, if I was awake, I had a book in my hand.

Riding the bus, walking to school, in the quad between classes, lounging at home, I’d have a book open, thumb in the crease, my nose buried in its leaves. Novels, anthologies, treatises, memoirs, history, science, poetry.

Anything.

Everything.

I read it.

Then, about a dozen years ago, life went off the rails. Book deals dried up. Friends and family began to die (at least ten during this period). We fostered a young woman, giving her a place to live for a year. Work became a stress factory. The economy tanked, causing the Great Recession. Then along came Trump. And then this pandemic.

In response, my reading habits changed, radically. They became constrained, limited to news articles, political analyses, and works of non-fiction. Instead of a dog-eared book, I carried my tablet with its instant-on, 24×7 access to current events and a front-row seat to our increasingly divided society.

Even so, every now and again, I would return to my fiction books, the stacks of TBR novels that inhabit every room in this house. I tried, repeatedly, to read one of them, hungry for that immersive experience, that miraculous wash of words that would sweep away reality and bathe me in the light of a different sun.

But the miracle never came. I didn’t have the patience, lacked the power to focus., and was unable to drive away the here-and-now with worlds of what-if. Book after book I picked up, opened, began, and abandoned within a few days, the only evidence of my attempt, a bookmark left somewhere in the first thirty pages.

With all this as preamble, one might wonder why, during my recent time off, I decided yet again to pick up a novel and give it a try. I mean, there I was in the last month of the most turbulent election cycle of my sixty-plus years, with a pandemic raging beyond my door, a daily gush of political scandals and turmoil filling the airwaves, and everywhere people shouting and crying and grieving and protesting. Was it hope? Obstinacy? Desperation? Whatever compelled me, it was in this moment, amid this maelstrom of chaos, that I chose to try again, and opened up a 150-year-old book.

And I read it. Cover to cover, in record time.

And then . . . I picked up another book, and read it, too.

And now, here I am, wondering what to read next.

. . .

Do yourself a favor.

Turn off the television. Put down the phone. Leave the tablet in the other room.

Pick up a book. A real book. The one you’ve been meaning to read for so long.

Take a seat near the window, where the natural light will be over your shoulder. Settle in, book in hand.

Open it up. Stick your nose in it. Smell it. Feel the pebbled surface of the printed page, the tension of the spine.

Chapter One.

Read. 

I tell you, it’s like coming home.

k

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When Jon Stewart announced his retirement from “The Daily Show,” I was very disappointed. Jon’s penchant for incisive and relevant analysis wrapped in wit and snark would be a hard mantle to take on. When he announced that Trevor Noah would take the helm in his stead, I was downright unhappy. Noah (I felt) was too young, too green, to fill that spot. The show would founder with this “kid” at the helm.

Noah quickly proved my preconceptions to be unfounded. Though he did bring a more youthful spirit to the show, he also brought a depth of understanding and a global sense of humanity that, albeit different than Stewart’s style and substance, was also an enhancement in many ways. Since those first years, Noah has only improved, and has emerged (in my opinion, at any rate) as a clear-minded observer of American society who is well worth listening to.

That said, when someone suggested I should read his autobiography, I again returned to my prejudice. “Autobiography? He’s just a kid! What could he possibly have to say?”

Silly, silly me.

Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime, focuses on his childhood, growing up in South Africa, dealing with apartheid and the effects of that heinous system’s downfall. Told with humor and candor, he shows us, through his experiences, what apartheid intended, what it accomplished, and what it left behind.

Most of us who remember a world with apartheid know that it was definitely a bad thing, a truly evil social construct designed to subjugate a majority population by a tyrannical minority. Likewise, we remember the boycotts, the riots, and the eventual jubilation when that social system was finally dismantled and cast onto the ash-heap. Like Nazism, apartheid was racial and ethnic hatred codified into law on a national level, and we do well to hold them both in similar regard.

But what did I really know about living under it? What did I really know about apartheid’s mechanisms of pressure, or about the myriad tiny rebellions performed by regular folk (of all colors) who lived there?

Nothing, really. Really. Nothing.

This book helped me with that, from Noah’s tales of his mother’s religiosity and recklessness, his father’s legally enforced distance, and the complicated interactions of the government’s often arbitrary assignments of racial class. Through these, Noah illuminates both the absurdity of the system itself and the lasting damage apartheid left in its wake.

More importantly, though, is that in this book, in its stories of an openly and unabashedly racist society, we can see magnified versions of what is currently convulsing America. Our government, our institutions, our law enforcement, and more all carry elements of what was writ large in South Africa’s apartheid, and when you see what the end-state was under that regime, it’s not difficult to see America’s slavery and Jim Crow laws nestled comfortably within it.

However—and I fear I’ve buried the lede here—this book is not a heavy treatise or polemic. Rather, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read filled with unique characters, passion, rebellion, high-jinks, bittersweet romance, danger, growth, wit, and pranks, all told by a self-described “naughty rascal” who, because he really didn’t fit into any of apartheid’s established classes, was able to flit between them, being part of all and part of none, simultaneously insider and outsider both.

Trevor Noah is young, by my benchmarks, but he is not green, and he has a lot to say. I, for one, look forward to reading about the next chapters of his life, and expect I will learn as much about him, about the world, about America, and about myself, as I did with Born a Crime.

k

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It’s been a tough week for us all, one way or another, and one reason is that it is now obvious that all this . . . [gestures to everything] . . . is not going to end any time soon. In addition, I took my own advice and spent much of the week listening and learning from diverse voices. I’ve been rethinking and reevaluating many long-standing notions of society and America. You might have been doing likewise, and like me, you may have found it both depressing and exhausting.

But this post isn’t about any of that.

This post is about how I’ve been taking a moment here and there to brighten these dark days with a really, really bad book.

After sharing what I previously described as “the worst piece of professionally published fiction I have ever read,” a friend loaned me a book he felt was even worse.

And boy-oh-boy was he right.

It’s a self-published work, so my stance on “Man-Gods From Beyond the Stars” remains unchanged, but while “self-published” is by no means a synonym for “crap,”—I’ve self-published a few works, myself—there is a lot of the latter contained within the former. A whole lot.

And this book, well, it is utter crap.

And it is also absolutely adorable.

Seriously, it’s just adorable. From the mistake in the dedication straight through to the formatting error on the last line, it is chock-a-block with typos, malaprops, misused homophones, and errors of grammar and punctuation. Stylistically, it’s a hot mess. Unwieldy character names abound, used in every line of dialogue and the attached, adverbially enhanced avoidance of the word “said” (e.g., “Not to worry, Gondranth. I’m a trained professional,” stated Ik’nolt greedily). It has (dis)continuity issues that make you flinch and wonder if you’ve just had a minor stroke. And there is So. Much. Telling.

But here’s the thing: it’s just so earnest, so fervent, and so . . . enthusiastic . . . that it’s impossible not to cock your head to the side and say, “Awwww, how sweet.”

I won’t mention the author or title or even the genre here, because my point is not to humiliate the pen that created this trashy treasure. This book is an obvious labor of love, a gift to friends and family, and the author isn’t trying to be famous or “strike it rich” as a bestselling novelist, and isn’t complaining about the heartlessness of the publishing industry. This author just wanted to write a book, an homage to their favorite genre, and share it with others, and I will not make them feel bad about that.

I haven’t, and I won’t read the book in its entirety—frankly, I’m not sure that’s possible—but when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by [again, gestures to everything], I will pick it up, open it to a random page, and chuckle at such fervid prose so inexpertly crafted.

We should all be that passionate about something. I’m glad this author found their dream and congratulate them on achieving the goal.

k

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As a youth, I was not “into” comic books. The reason for this was two-fold.

First, the nearest store that had a rack of comic books was a two-mile walk from my house. Now, a two-mile walk wasn’t unusual for me—I spent all summer and many school-day afternoons with friends up in the hills, trekking miles from our suburban homes—and a gaggle of us would frequently walk or ride our bikes down to that store, but once there, the primary reason came into play: as a kid, I was never given an allowance. (more…)

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More free books? More free books!

Once more, with feeling.

I’m rounding out these Quarantine eBook Giveaways with three titles.

This time, it’s Volumes 3–5 from The Fallen Cloud Saga, my alternate history set in 19th century America. This will complete your five-book set, and this Thursday thru Monday (May 07–11), they are free.

As always, you don’t need the e-reader; you just need the app. It’s available for free, for PC, Mac, and all smart phones.

Feel free to share with friends, family, enemies.

The Fallen Cloud Saga (Vols 3–5)

Click the links below to visit each book’s page and get your free copy!

The Shadow of the Storm

The Cry of the Wind

Beneath a Wounded Sky

I hope these giveaways have helped you make it through quarantine.

Stay home
Stay healthy
Save lives

k

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Free books, y’all.

Yip, I’m doing it again. To help you get through your quarantine/stay-at-home time, I’m giving away two more titles.

This time, they’re from The Fallen Cloud Saga, my alternate history set in 19th century America. It’s a five-book set, and tomorrow thru Monday (April 23–27), the first two ebooks in the series are free.

As always, you don’t need the e-reader; you just need the app. It’s available for free, for PC, Mac, and all smart phones.

Feel free to share with friends, family, enemies.

The Fallen Cloud Saga (Vols 1–2)

Click the links below to visit each book’s page and get your free copy!

The Year the Cloud Fell

The Spirit of Thunder

 

Keep checking in for updates and future titles.

Stay home
Stay healthy
Save lives

k

 

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Hear ye, hear ye.

My second ISO-book-giveaway is now underway. Just my attempt to help folks through their self-isolation. Keep it up, guys! You’re doing great!

This time you can get The Ploughman Chronicles (my high-fantasy duology—biology? Two volume!—series set in 9th c. Brittany). Today thru Sunday, they are free of charge, in Kindle e-book format.

As always, you don’t need the e-reader; you just need the app. It’s available for free, for PC, Mac, and all smart phones.

Feel free to share with friends, family, enemies.

The Ploughman Chronicles

Ploughman’s Son (PC:1)
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052PJS24

Ploughman King (PC:2)
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052PJQU8

Keep checking in for updates and future titles.

k

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