The Rewatcher (aka: Again and Again and Again)

Since Twitter told me that today is #NationalBookLoversDay, I totally thought I would write a post about books. That makes sense, especially since I’ve read about five books per day since I was three years old. I could pretty much write your ears off about books.

But then I started thinking about how much I enjoy it when a book I’ve loved has been turned into a movie or TV series. It is a kind of magic to see the artistic interpretation of a beloved story, to watch it all unfold on the screen. Sometimes, the story becomes unrecognizable (*ahem* Ella Enchanted/A Little Princess/The Stepford Wives *ahem*). But sometimes, the result is just as wonderful — and occasionally better — than the book (The Lord of the Rings / Harry Potter 1-4 / Game of Thrones).

Then my thoughts took yet another twist. As I contemplated favorite titles of books and movies and TV shows, something important occurred to me. Here we are, living in the age of endless movies and TV shows at our fingertips. Just press a few keys, and you can stream one of thousands of titles. You never have to watch the same show twice! It is rather fitting for today’s disposable culture. Watched that series already? Move onto the next one. Tired of your stuff? Replace it all. Tired of your family, your friends? Toss them out, get new ones.

It is quite possibly my least favorite thing about modern American culture.

I am not fond of the disposable lifestyle, preferring, instead, to own few quality possessions, which I try to take care of. I rarely choose to dispose of friends or family, either, unless their presence in my life is harmful. People are too precious to be thrown away or forgotten.

My fondness for permanence spills over into my film and TV show selections, as well. Though I occasionally enjoy finding new series to binge on, or fun new movies to watch, I am, and have always been, a rewatcher. What’s a rewatcher? Someone who watches the same films and movies again and again and again, because she adores them and can’t get enough.

I have watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at least twice. Every episode of Friends at least three times. Every episode of Alias, The Office, Smallville at least twice. I latch onto the characters, await familiar scenes with anticipation, laugh yet again at their antics and cringe at their follies. And films? I can recite every line of The Goonies and Back to the Future. I have fallen in love with Noah and Allie’s romance again and again. I have memorized the charades of Will and Viola in Shakespeare in Love. And my favorite film of all time? I have watched Pride and Prejudice once every single year since it was released in 2005.

One might think that rewatching might lead to boredom. But not for me. Each time I watch, I learn something new about my favorite characters. I see a gleam in his eye that wasn’t there before, or hear a tone in her voice that changes the meaning of that scene. I find new things to appreciate — the camera angles, and how they added to the tension. The way the sunlight cast the perfect light and shadows to add to the mood. The timing. The costumes. The way the score consisted of the same song, played over and over, and yet, it works beautifully.

I find new reasons why this film, this character, became my favorite.

Books are the same way. I guess you might also call me an avid re-reader, too. Brave New World. The Harry Potter books. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Hunger Games. There will always be room for more books in my repertoire, and more films or TV shows on my screen. But every so often, the newness gets old. And I must return time and time again to the arms of the stories I treasure most.

Advertisements

Letters I Will Never Send (aka: Life in the Desert)

2017 Goals

Well, I did it. On the very last day of 2017, I have managed to accomplished the one and only tangible goal I set for the year. What was that goal, you ask? It was to read 55 books. Yay, me!

I know. Big whoop.

That is exactly how I feel about meeting my goal. Meh. Whatevs. Had I failed, had I only managed to read 54 books, or even 40 — gasp — would it have made any difference? No, not at all. 55 was just some random number I came up with in order to participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It was fun, I guess, to see if I could do it, but also kind of pointless. Who cares whether I read 55 books? What matters more is whether I read anything of value, anything noteworthy, anything lasting.

Reflections & Lessons Learned

I didn’t set any other goals during 2017. Most of my life was about maintenance. Maintain my consistent good efforts in my career. Maintain my weight. Maintain my regular fitness routine. Maintain my family and home.

I also had unwritten, less-defined social goals. Go out of my way to talk more with people at my workplace. Attend one or two meetup events per month in order to get to know other people, and maybe try a few new social things. The idea was to break out of this social desert I’ve been existing in for the past 6-7 years. Maybe even make a friend or two.

But then I did something really stupid. Something that took an incredible amount of courage to try, but was still stupid. I gave dating a try. After all, I had been divorced for a few years. I’m still fairly young and attractive, a great person, and fairly interesting, so why not?

Unfortunately, it went too well. I spent the summer dating the man of my dreams. He was ideal for me, in every possible way. We had so much in common and got along beautifully. We were even compatible in bed — something I had assumed would not happen in my lifetime. But Mr. Right did not feel that I was right for him, and he moved on. I can’t blame him for that. He has every right to seek the woman who is right for him.

And that was the end of the dating experiment. Because after you’ve met your ideal partner, well, there’s nowhere else to go but downhill, into Settlesville. I already spent 17 years being unhappily married to someone I had settled for. I have zero interest in repeating that history.

What did I learn from that failure? I learned that I can’t handle losing friends. Because that is what he had become to me. Strip away the romantic stuff, the kissing and flirting and sex, which I can live happily without, and we had developed such a good friendship. And then…nothing. Another abandoned friendship. The inevitable fate of every single close friendship I have ever formed. And as usual, not my decision.

The pain of losing a close friend is the sharpest, most intense pain I have ever experienced. It hurts worse than natural childbirth. It is harder than divorce. It is as deep as grief. The only solution that makes sense to me, the only way to keep it from happening yet again, is to never form close friendships with anyone ever again. Not in a romantic or platonic sense. The end result, the rejection and abandonment, is far too high a price to pay.

Luckily, I have had many years to practice being my own good friend. I’m pretty good company, I must say. I’m interesting, and kind, and funny, and I have great taste in food, music, and movies. Not to mention books. This year, I plan to take myself out on more solo hikes, to a concert or two, and maybe, just maybe to a live sporting event. All activities that I have been avoiding, saving up to do when I finally have a person or two to share my life with. Well, no more. I have waited long enough.

I still very much miss the people I once called my good friends. I think about them often. I still miss Mr. Right, too. I write to him weekly — letters about my life, wondering about his, sharing jokes I know he’d laugh at, all the things I wish I could share with him. Letters I will never send. Letters I pretend he’ll read, because the only way I know how to cope with the leaving is to pretend that they have all stayed in my life. That they are still my friends. That they still care.

2018 Goals

I have no idea what my goals are. I have no current actual, tangible goals. I have ideas, like traveling with my kids, volunteering in my community, writing stories, and paying off debts I inherited in the divorce. There’s also the usual maintenance stuff. But until I have written these down along with a clear objective and a timeline, I hesitate to call them goals.

I have no more relationship goals or dreams of any kind.

Hey, I know! Maybe this year, I’ll set a goal of reading 75 books. Why not? I have the free time. And just think of all of those books waiting to be read. And if I fail? Well, then I end the year with a few less literary notches on my belt. No pain, no big loss. I’ll drink to that — Cheers!

Where’s the Story? (aka: A Flash Flood of Flash Fiction)

First, let me make one thing clear. Not all flashes are bad. Some flashes are even good, in fact. Flash drives, for instance, help us to protect our sensitive data. The Flash, I’ve been told, is a pretty fast superhero. And let’s not forget my favorite flash of all: Flash Beagle.

 

But some kinds of flashes earn a thumbs-down. These are brief, destructive flashes that appear, unwanted, leaving destruction in their wake. Flash floods. Hot flashes. Flashes of lightning. And now, the latest trend to takeover the blogosphere: Flash Fiction.

No, I am not a big fan of flash fiction.

What I am a fan of is fiction. Well-written fiction. Convincing fiction that has all of the requisite elements for a good story. An interesting beginning. Compelling characters. An actual plot, climax, resolution. And, of course, a satisfying ending.

Short stories can often accomplish this, if the writer is clever enough. I have read some wonderful short stories by authors great and small, who manage to weave a web of intrigue with a clear beginning, middle, and end in 5,000 words or less. But my personal preference is novels. Give me the thick, juicy, unabridged version of the story. Let me become absorbed in the story, swimming in the delicious stew of words and action. Let me escape to that other world, lose track of days as I drift through the pages. Let me fall in love with the characters as they grow, and learn, and change.

Just don’t give me flash fiction.

The premise of flash fiction is not new. Take a complete story. Now tell it in 1,000 words or less. Or try writing in Dribbles and Drabbles of less than 500 or less than 100 words. Shortest of all? Micro fiction, told in 6 word sentences. For example: Her expensive lingerie collected dust afterwards.

“Oh, how moving!” One blog reader may comment. “So thought-provoking!” Comments another. But I grit my teeth, frustrated. What is so thought-provoking? Why are we calling “stories” what we once called an opening line? Why have so many non-writers jumped on the flash fiction bandwagon, turning the world of blogging into one enormous slush pile?

Yes, flash fiction can serve as a way to strengthen one’s writing skills. And once in a blue moon, I come across some that features high quality writing. But most of the flash fiction, micro-fiction, and other Twitterature I have come across on the internet are junk. Sure, they sometimes have a stand-out character, or a beginning that makes me want to read a little more. But then…nothing. The story never builds. The characters never grow. There is a shadow of a plot, or a unique idea, but the writer, either due to laziness or lack of skill, doesn’t bother to develop it.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to pull on my Miss Snark high heels and walk all over these so-called stories. “Who is this character?” I would ask. “Why did she buy the expensive lingerie? What happened to make her stop wearing it?” In other words — WHERE’S THE STORY? Is this a kind of journal exercise? Am I supposed to take the idea and write my own damned story?

Forget it. I am so done. I shall go and stick my nose where it belongs — between the pages of a nice, long novel.

I can only hope that flash fiction blogging is nothing more than a flash in the pan.

Waiting for My Hogwarts Letter (aka: Still a Harry Potter Nerd)

Happy dance! I am such a proud mother right now. No, not because my kids had great report cards or other outstanding  achievements. I am feeling super-proud of my 9-yo son, who is more than halfway finished reading the sixth book in the Harry Potter series. Not only is he enjoying the books, but he has been happily exploring the Pottermore website and talking with his friends about the books. He and his buddies have even created their own game of wizards, complete with magic wands and spell books full of magical spells to memorize and perform on each other. Hooray!


Harry Potter Book Collection

To understand why that makes me so happy, you must know that I am a hard-core Harry Potter nerd. Or, as we like to put it, a Potterhead. Ever since I first opened the pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone years ago, I became rather smitten – no, obsessed by the mysterious and magical world of Harry Potter. It is an understatement to say that I have merely read all seven books. I have read them each at least three times, and once in Spanish. I have listened to both the Jim Dale and Stephen Fry audiobook versions at least twice, and geeked out by comparing and contrasting the narrator’s styles. (Okay, I said I was obsessed, right?). I have watched each film several (dozen) times, collected the Lego figurines, and even have a beautiful book of postage stamps, which will never, ever be pasted onto a piece of mail. HP postage stamps

And every summer, I stare out of my window, anxiously hoping that this will be the year in which an owl will arrive with my acceptance letter into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (Or some adult-school version of it).

Creds to http://sammy4586.deviantart.com/

What’s that? Still not convinced that I am a true Potterhead? Okay, well, I was also a member of the Mugglenet community for years, tried my hand at fanfic (not successfully), and yes, I sewed my own Gryffindor quidditch robes and wore them to the July 2007 midnight release party of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Even cooler, I once had the privilege of having my quidditch robes autographed by Arthur A. Levine, the American editor for the Harry Potter books.

My homemade Gryffindor quidditch robes. (I know, I weighed a lot more back then. Shh…no teasing).

Okay, okay, enough of making you jealous. 😉 I’m sure that you’re convinced now that I am a genuine Harry Potter nut. I had such high aspirations for my three kids, too. I was sure that I could pass on to each of them my love of literature, and especially for J.K. Rowling’s amazing world of fantasy. Sadly, my two oldest children are rather indifferent to Harry Potter. Sigh. Muggles. But thank goodness, at least my youngest son has discovered the joy of magic. Smart kid. No wonder the Pottermore sorting hat placed him in the house of Ravenclaw.

The Power of 3 (aka: Finding Balance for a Healthy Life)

I think that the number 3 is the key to a balanced life. I know, I know, it is an odd number, which makes it seem counterintuitive. However, I have found that my life is most fulfilling when I strike a balance of nurturing the three parts that make up my whole person: Mind, Body, and Spirit. Each part is equally essential for a balanced, healthy life. Here are some examples of ways to nurture your entire self:

Mind Body Spirit

MIND

  • Read Literature – This is different from merely reading for pleasure. Read the classics, the Great Books, the time-tested literature that will expand your mind and stretch your imagination. Don’t have time to read? Listen to an audiobook during your daily commute.
  • Learn a Foreign Language
  • Puzzles and Word Games – Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, or my personal favorite, Scrabble.
  • Learn about another culture – This world is such a huge and interesting place. Pick a country and learn all that you can about its history, its culture, and its people.
  • Take a college course – College classes are not only to advance one’s career. There are many online courses available, including free courses for anyone who is interested.  YogaBalance1

BODY

  • Commit to an exercise routine three days of each week (There’s that number 3 again).  — Stick to it.
  • Learn a new sport or physical activity. — Not a runner? Try yoga, or swimming, or an adult drop-in soccer or volleyball league.
  • Eat less meat. – You don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian to enjoy meatless meals. There are huge health benefits to cutting out meat even on an occasional basis. Try making a goal of eating a meatless lunch or dinner three days per week. This doesn’t mean you have to eat like a rabbit. Explore the internet or your local library for healthy and delicious meal ideas.
  • Move your body as much as possible. – Avoid shortcuts. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk. Skip the elevator and take the stairs. Walk in place while watching television. Just keep moving.
  • Sex – (No advice here, but some would say that regular sex nurtures the body, mind, AND spirit) Nourishing relationships feeds the spirit

SPIRIT

  • Keep a journal – More than just a record of your daily activities, a journal is a way to express your personal thoughts and ideas as you travel down the path of life. Or you can do as I do – write a blog. Just be cautious — remember that the rest of the world can read your journal, too.
  • Read what makes you happy – This is a different type of reading. Whether you enjoy reading children’s novels, humor books, or just plain smut, read what makes you smile. A little book candy every now and then is good for the spirit.
  • Give back to your community – Get involved in a community service project, plant flowers along the roadways, pick up litter in the local park, or visit with the elderly in a neighborhood care home. You may be surprised at how altruism nurtures your own spirit while improving the lives of other people.
  • Become an encourager. Smile at strangers and wish them a good day. Give your neighbors a basket of homemade muffins. Write thank you notes and send get well cards to people. Make friendly comments to other people or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, or whichever online social community you prefer.
  • Surround yourself with beauty – Display beautiful artwork in your home or office. Take time to look at other people’s beautiful photography on Flickr. Go for hikes out in nature. Listen to beautiful music that feeds your spirit.
  • Find religion – Dedicate yourself to the belief system that brings you the greatest sense of peace and belonging to something greater than yourself.
  • Develop friendships – Get together regularly to talk, laugh, and enjoy life with other people. That way, you not only nurture your own spirit, but you will also nurture the spirits of other people in your life.

Balance and Happiness in Life

I am most certainly not an expert in achieving a balanced life. In truth, I often fail in several of these ideas – especially the ones which involve other people. But just because something is difficult to do, it does not mean it is not worth trying. Perhaps striving for balance is like climbing a mountain. In order to climb, you must have a sturdy anchor, a rope, and the strength or your own body. When you put these three together, you can keep climbing; keep advancing inch by inch toward the summit.

Just Can’t Get Enough Great Books

Some books are like a light meal.  Memoirs of a Geisha, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Joy Luck Club all come to mind. They are pleasant, enjoyable to read, and just filling enough to take off the edge. Other books are like a healthy snack — tasty, good while it lasts, but not at all filling, like many young adult novels, and nearly anything by Stephen King. Of course, there is also book candy — those delicious, melt-in-your mouth reads that are thrilling every now and then, but eat too much, and you get a stomach ache. Twilight, anyone? Better yet, how about 50 Shades of Gray? (Did I actually read this? I plead the fifth!).

But I am an avid reader with a voracious appetite. For readers such as I, only one thing can feed our never-ending hunger: Great Books. What are Great Books, you ask? Well, Wikipedia’s article has a very simple definition: “The great books are those books that are believed to constitute an essential foundation in the literature of Western culture.” Philosopher Mortimer Adler goes on to define great books by these three fundamental criteria:

  • the book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times;
  • the book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit
  • the book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.

These definitions are all true, but I also believe that great books and great works of literature are the books that nourish our minds and raise within us the questions which we never dared to ask ourselves, the moral dilemmas that are common to all of humankind. Great books examine human nature, tear it open, and resurrect it in a believable and honest way. They reach beyond the superficial surface and grab our spirits until we are left shaken and stirred and inspired.

Too much? Sorry, I got a little carried away. I have been very busy lately devouring great books, both in English and Spanish. Here is a list of a few great books which I have read (or re-read) fairly recently. This is not necessarily a list of favorites, for it is very difficult to create such a list…it is far too long. But here are a few which are very much worth reading. Haven’t tried these books yet? Then grab one, and curl up in your favorite reading spot. Already read the entire list? Well then, that’s just…great.

10 Great Great Books

1. Brave New World     —    Aldous Huxley

2. Northanger Abbey  —  Jane Austen

3. A Tale of Two Cities  —  Charles Dickens

4. Animal Farm  —  George Orwell

5. The Odyssey  —  Homer 

6. Mansfield Park  —  Jane Austen

7. Twelfth Night  —  Williams Shakespeare

8. Moby Dick  —  Herman Melville

9. Atlas Shrugged  —  Ayn Rand

10. Cien Años de Soledad  —  Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Surrounded By Friends (No Kindles Allowed)

The Kindle is an impressive bit of technology. Really. I can see why so many people love it. Just download a few dozen books, and voila! An entire library in the palm of your hand. No need to surround yourself with cluttered shelves overflowing with books. Such speed! Such convenience! Such an improvement, right?

For some, yes. But not for me. You see, books are more than just clutter for me. During a lonely childhood, books were my faithful companions. Throughout a turbulent adolescence, they were a source of comfort. Whenever the world has grown too noisy, books have been there to soothe me with a gentle whisper of rustling pages and the faint smell of dust and ink.

Many people, I imagine, would prefer to sit in a stark, spotless room and read stories on the glowing screen of an e-reader. But in my daydreams, I am curled up in a soft, shabby chair, worn novel in hand, surrounded by shelves overflowing with my very best friends.

Favorite Books of All-Time

(Note: This list could change at any time, as I am always reading and discovering great new literature).

To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee

East of Eden — John Steinbeck

A Tale of Two Cities — Charles Dickens

David Copperfield — Charles Dickens

Harry Potter Series — J.K. Rowling

The Lottery (a short story) — Shirley Jackson

Brave New World — Aldous Huxley

About Love and Other Stories — Anton Chekov

Pride & Prejudice — Jane Austin

Jane Eyre — Charlotte Brontë

Inherit the Wind — Jerome Lawrence

Websites for Readers

Goodreads

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Shelfari