Looking for a book with Jewish content for the teenager in your life? Chances are most of the books you'll find are about the Holocaust. From The Diary of Anne Frank to Sarah's Key to The Book Thief there's endless titles for the teenage (and adult) to choose from. Holocaust stories, despite the horror, make gripping tales of survival. But isn't it all too much? All these Holocaust books can overwhelm a reader. Is there nothing else in Jewish history or culture worth reading about, other than the Holocaust? What about the other centuries of Jewish history, ripe for historical fiction? What about the myriad of stories about contemporary Jewish teens? Where are those books? Well, if you're like me and you've had it with Holocaust tales, here are my top ten Jewish books (in no particular order) for teens and young adults, and the young at heart.
This is a coming-of-age story of Rachel, a girl growing up in a Hasidic town. I love a story about a girl who fights against the grain to wear a bathing suit without a cover-up and secretly reads romance novels. Readers will cheer for Rachel's resistance and independence.
Seventeen year-old Hava Aaronson, an Orthodox Jewish girl, goes to Hollywood for the summer to star on a fictional television show, The Goldbergs. Roth's quirky humorous tale of a girl's first experience away from her Orthodox Jewish world explores questions of faith, God and orthodoxy.
This is a powerful story of abuse in the Chasidic community of Borough Park. When Gittel learns of the abuse her friend suffers by members of her friend's family, she starts to questions everything she was taught to believe. There aren't a lot of books about abuse in the Jewish world and this is a powerfully haunting story.
No list of books for Jewish teens would be complete without this classic. I devoured all of Blume, but re-read Margaret's story with its bust-increasing chants and relationship with God multiple times. A must-read for every puberty-anxious pre-teen.
This was my favourite book as a teenager. It's the story of a Chassidic boy who is a gifted artist and is forced to choose between religion and art. As a teen, all of my knowledge of American history came from Potok's works of fiction. This one exposed me to the plight of post World War Two Jews in the Soviet Union.
Okay so this isn't really a book about a Jewish teenager, but it does take place in Israel and as far as I'm concerned, every teen, (especially every Jewish teen) should read this book about a Palestinian shepherd girl's loss of land to an encroaching Israeli army. It's strong stuff.
This book is exactly what the title proclaims, one woman's memoir of her escape from Orthodoxy, with very scandalous details. While I always suspected a Hasidic lifestyle wasn't for me, after reading Feldman's book, I bristled with feminist rage at the imprisonment of women within the Satmar Hasidic world.
May 12th is Mother's Day in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and upwards of 70 other countries. But not in the UK where Mother's Day happened almost two months ago in early March - catching me off guard, as it has in many previous years. I've lived in the USA for twenty years but grew up in England, where my parents still live and, despite my best intentions, more years than I'm willing to admit I'm wrong footed by Mother's Day - not least because "Mothering Sunday", as it is traditionally known, is a movable feast, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent, which can be anytime from early March to early April.
You'll find more about the history of Mother's Day in the USA and Mothering Sunday in Britain below, but first whether you're a mother, have a mother, or are just on the hunt for your next great read, here are a few book suggestions to inspire:
"Greene gives the best description I've ever read about what international adoption feels like from the inside, about the agonies of making the decision and choosing a child, and about the ambiguities involved in taking a child out of grim circumstances in the third world and trying to integrate him into an American family by means of Legos and water balloons." - Jennifer G Wilder, BookBrowse
Introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay, and her 10 children fed and clothed, with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and 1960s. Graced with a rare appreciation for life's inherent hilarity, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for fun and profit. From her frenetic supermarket shopping spree -- worth $3,000 today -- to her clever entries worthy of Erma Bombeck, Dorothy Parker, and Ogden Nash, the story of this irrepressible woman whose talents reached far beyond her formidable verbal skills is told in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit will triumph over the poverty of circumstance.
By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg's memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents--and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.
Uhlberg's first language was American Sign Language, the first sign he learned: "I love you." But his second language was spoken English - and no sooner did he learn it than he was called upon to act as his father's ears and mouth in the stores and streets of the neighborhood beyond their silent apartment in Brooklyn.
"Time, experience, and uncanny coincidence spiral through these pages....When Women Were Birds is an extraordinary echo chamber in which lessons about voice - passed along from mother, to daughter, and now to us - will reverberate differently in each inner ear." - TheSeattle Times
If you've read this book, please do join us to discuss it.
"In The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp examines her son's all-too-brief life - and her own reactions to it - fearlessly and with an honesty that will devastate and astonish not only other parents, but everyone who opens this remarkable book." - Norah Piehl, BookBrowse
"Will Schwalbe's heart-wrenching memoir is difficult to categorize. It is at once a paean to his beloved mother, a treatise on the power of reading, and a handbook on how to live - and die. With direct prose and unflinching courage in the face of sadness, Schwalbe recreates the final months of his mother's life, offering a wealth of insight into how the written word can connect lives." - Sarah Sacha Dollacker, BookBrowse
Well Loved Mystery Series
The great thing about series books is that there's always another book to give. If your recipient's new to the series, give the first book; if they're already fans, give the appropriate book in the series!
"The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision. His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswana landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such alloyed pleasure for a long time." - Anthony Daniels, The Sunday Telegraph
Published in paperback Mar 2013: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
Publishing in hardcover Nov 2013: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon View full series order
Young, feisty Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective. Such a move may not seem especially startling. But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways. Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. Little does she realze the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested.
Published in paperback Oct 2012: Elegy for Eddie
Published in hardcover Mar 2013: Leaving Everything Most Loved View full series order
Meet Inspector Gamache of the Surêté du Québec, who commands his forces--and this series--with integrity and quiet courage while solving unconventional murders in the tradition of the British whodunit.
Publishing in July 2013: The Beautiful Mystery
Publishing in hardcover Aug 2013: How The Light Gets In View full series order
Chechnya has been much in the news this past week due to the two alleged Boston bombers being ethnic Chechens. On the assumption that many of us will be a little rusty with the goings on of this small country in the Caucuses, below is BookBrowse's "beyond the book" article written for Masha Gessen's The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012).
Though it seems that the Tsarnaev brothers had not lived in Chechnya, although the older brother is thought to have visited last year, an understanding of the history of Chechnya is relevant as it explains why hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chechens currently live in countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan, as did the Tsarnaev family before coming to the USA.
While this article gives you some historic background, to get a glimpse of the humanity of the Chechen people, I strongly recommend Anthony Marra's brilliant debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which publishes on May 7.
All About Chechnya
Chechnya lies to the south of the Russian Republic and is bound by Russia on almost all sides - it shares a border with Georgia high in the Caucasus Mountains. The secession attempts following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 are just a couple of many periods of disturbance Chechnya has witnessed. The republic, whose population currently stands at around one million, has been in almost constant battle against foreign rule since at least the 15th century. In fact, the area's original conversion to Sunni Islam may have been in large part so as to receive help from the Ottoman Empire against encroachment by the Russian Empire.
The current resistance has its roots in the late 18th century when Russia expanded its territories into areas formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire and Persia (Iran) including the Caucasus Mountains. After a prolonged conflict of more than forty years, the area was formally annexed by the Russian Empire in 1859.
Since then, secession attempts have flared up pretty much every time Russia's internal politics have showed signs of weakness - including rebellions during the Russo-Turkish War in the 1870s; the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the Russian Civil War of 1917-1923.
Under Soviet rule in the 1930s, the oil-rich region of Chechnya was combined with its even smaller neighbor Ingushetia to form the autonomous republic of Checheno-Ingushetia. In 1944, in response to Chech uprisings during World War II, Stalin gave orders that the entire ethnic population of Chechnya and Inguishetia were to be forcibly relocated. Checheno-Ingushetia was dissolved, mosques and graveyards were destroyed, place names changed and vast numbers of historical Chechen texts were burned.
It is estimated that about half of ethnic Chechens died between 1944 and 1948. Checheno-Ingushetia was renamed Grozny Oblast and used to settle refugees from the Western Soviet Union. In the center of Grozny, Chechnya's capital city, the Soviets erected a statue with the inscription, "There is no people under the sun more vile and deceitful than this one."
Metafiction is an elastic concept covering a wide range of fiction but in essence boils down to stories in which the book blurs the line between reality and fiction by drawing attention to itself in some shape or form. To boil it down even further, you could say that it is fiction about fiction.
William H. Gass is attributed with establishing the term metafiction in a 1970 essay titled "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction". Commenting on American fiction of the 1960s, he pointed out that a new description was needed for the emerging genre of experimental texts that openly broke with the tradition of literary realism still dominant in post-WWII American literature.
Some metafiction is like nesting dolls. For example, stories about readers reading books such as Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian (2005). Or writers writing books, such as Andrea Levy's The Long Song (2010), in which a woman is writing a book about Miss July, a slave. That woman turns out to be Miss July herself and she periodically comments on her experience of writing the story with her son looking over her shoulder as editor. Or the story might contain partial or complete stories within them such as David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.
Books where the reader of the story can influence how the story develops are also considered to be metafiction. Children's picture books, where readers feel they influence the action, provide a rich vein of examples, such as Kenn Nesbitt's More Bears! In fact, there's likely a good case to make that the fast growing wealth of ebooks for children where the reader influences the course of the book by interacting with it are, in essence, examples of metafiction.
In recognition of National Poetry Month (celebrated in April in the USA, UK and Canada), here are a dozen of the best poetry resources the web has to offer.
But first, who reads poetry these days?
Back in 2005 the USA based National Opinion Research Center (NORC) conducted a survey, on behalf of The Poetry Foundation. It found that over a third of men and almost two-thirds of women who read for pleasure are poetry users. The rather awkward term "poetry users" is how the survey describes those who either listen to or read poetry, or both.
These numbers sounds pretty impressive, but keep in mind that the survey was just of those who already read for pleasure - and we readers are, sadly, already a subset of the general population. When you look at the population of the USA as a whole, according to a 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, just three out of twenty adults read or listen to poetry.
Before the poets among us retire to write depressing haiku about the state of poetry, perhaps you'll take heart in the fact that 99% of "non poetry users" in the NORC survey said that they come across poetry in their daily lives - on public transport, at ceremonies, in newspapers and so forth - and about two-thirds had read/listened to these poems and liked them. In short, when poetry sneaks up on people, they enjoy it!
Personally, I love the serendipity of coming across poetry, but rarely do I seek it out, and if I do it's mostly to revisit old favorites. As for reviews of poetry, frankly, most of the time they leave me cold as my attitude to the form is succinctly summed up by that well known Joan Didion quote: "Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about it is its power." It's as if poetry reviewers belong to a private club that I'm not privy to; keeping me at arm's length talking about technical terms I don't understand and, frankly, don't particularly want to.
With all this said, I had serious doubts about writing a blog about poetry websites when there are so many better qualified than I to do so; but then it occurred to me that perhaps I did have a perspective to offer precisely because I am not a poetry insider. So here, with the invaluable input of some of BookBrowse's reviewers who are poetry aficionados, are a dozen poetry websites that have something to offer even the least poetic among us.
General Poetry Sites Poetryfoundation.org. The Poetry Foundation has a huge selection of poems supported by substantial biographical info. I particularly enjoyed browsing poems by geographical region. It's the sort of site that you could dip in for a couple of minutes or a couple of days.
Poemhunter.com. Whether you're looking for themed quotes, the lyrics to an almost forgotten song, to revisit a favorite poem or discover new poets, this vast resource of over 800,000 poems and 80,000 poets will deliver the goods. You can sign up to receive the poem of the day by email and, once you create your free account, catalog your favorite poems for future reference.
Poets.org is affiliated with the Academy of American Poets. At first glance, it seems a little less welcoming than the two sites mentioned already, but when I started digging in its resources are great, not least the very cool regional map of the USA, including bios of key poets, poetry events, poetry-friendly bookstores, and poetry history. The Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month so, unsurprisingly, they're also a great resource for that as well.
Poetrysociety.org is the website of The Poetry Society of America - the oldest poetry organization in the USA founded in 1910. It's a membership organization so not a lot for a casual visitor such as me, but if I was somebody who just lived and breathed poetry, and particularly if I was a high schooler who felt that no one else in the world cared for poetry the way I do, I think I would find many free articles and interviews to inspire me.
Poetry180. The Library of Congress's Poetry 180 site encourages schools to share a poem with their students every day. I found Poetry 180 a soothing place to visit precisely because it is limited to just 180 short poems, thoughtfully chosen by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
Poetseers.org. Poetseers is created and maintained by followers of the spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). Here you'll find poetry by religion/belief. There's a particularly intriguing section titled poet seers where you'll find a select gathering of poets that "inspire and illuminate humanity to look beyond the mundane and to gain a glimpse of the Beyond." Here you'll find Shakespeare, Milton and William Blake rubbing shoulders with Dante, Confucius and Buddha. Those who notice a lack of female representation in the seers category (just the one) will find female poets elsewhere, such as Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich in the Christian section.
Unlike small children, many would say that poetry should be heard, not seen. Here are three sites that provide a wealth of audio readings:
Readers and viewers seem endlessly fascinated by the English country-house genre. From classic and award-winning novels such as The Remains of the Day,
Howards End, or Mansfield Park, to the mysteries of Agatha Christie and P.D. James, to television epics such as Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, they offer both the writer and the reader a concentrated glimpse into a rarefied social milieu, one that often prompts both romantic intensity and social commentary. Although many of these works are historical in nature, they nevertheless seem relevant to contemporary society, especially when (as in The Uninvited Guests) the author obliquely or explicitly comments on historical behavior and attitudes through a modern lens.
What is the attraction of the country house as a setting for fiction, whether on page or screen? According to Blake Morrison, writing in The Guardian, "what draws them to a country house setting is the space it offers for everything to happen under one roof; the house of fiction has many rooms, but country house fiction has more rooms than most." It also, Morrison goes on, offers writers a defined canvas on which to explore issues that have resurfaced in British literature for centuries: these include the definition of "Englishness," the fascination of illicit sex, the idea of rightful ownership, and the cheek-by-jowl coexistence of very different social classes.
With so much focus on the Vatican at the moment, this seems a good time to take a spin through the world of Pope related books. But with so many to choose from, and of greatly varying quality, where to start? To help sift the wheat from the chaff, I turned to our Facebook friends (yes, I know technically they're fans but I prefer to think of them as friends), and posted the following question:
"I'm looking for books to recommend about the Papacy - both fiction and nonfiction. If you know of a "best in class" book about Popes past or present, or about the Vatican/Catholic Church in general, please do post. Thank you!"
Below are some of their recommendations:
History & Biography
The Pope Who Quit by Jon M Sweeney: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvationby Jon M. Sweeney (2012)
With seemingly prescient timing, Sweeney's biography tells the life story, as far as is known, of Pope Celestine V who reigned for six months in 1294 and was the only Pope to abdicate the papacy until Pope Benedict. The future Pope Celestine was born Pietro of Morrone, a hermit who founded the monastic order of the Hermits of St Damiano, later known as the Celestines. Apparently, he made the tactical error of sending a letter of apocalyptic foreboding to the College of Cardinals who had failed to elect a Pope for two years. Unfortunately, for Pietro, the dean of the College of Cardinals was so inspired by his letter that he nominated him as the next pope. Six months later, having not even reached Rome, Pope Celestine V abdicated. Read an excerpt on the publisher's website
Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich (2011)
British historian Norwich has written and presented about 30 TV documentaries and is the author of a number of history books covering a diverse range of topics from Byzantium to Norman Sicily. In 2011 he published Absolute Monarchs which, in the introduction, he describes as "a straightforward single-volume history" of the world's "most astonishing social, political, and spiritual institution ever created." According to the reviewer for the LA Times, Norwich lives up to his claim with a history book that is mostly free of opinion and commentary written in an "unstuffy and sometimes witty writing style". Read an excerpt on the publisher's website
Pope Benedict XVI - Servant of the Truth by Peter Seewald (2006)
The book jacket blurb for this "lavishly illustrated" coffee-table book asks: Do you know the real Pope Benedict? Journalist Peter Seewald does. After writing an unfair attack on Cardinal Ratzinger, he was urged by Catholic readers to meet with the man he was maligning. He did so - and the result was two book-length interviews, Salt of the Earth and God and the World. Seewald also returned to his Catholic faith, saying that Ratzinger was the one who "taught me what it meant to swim against the stream." This book, written mainly by Seewald, describes the paths of Joseph Ratzinger's life from his birthplace in Bavaria all the way to being the first German Pope in 482 years." Look inside the book at Amazon
Those who enjoy this book might be interested in the two books that the former Cardinal Ratzinger wrote while Pope: The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God and Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration.
Saints and Sinners:A History of the Popes by Eamon Duffy (first published in 1997, 3rd edition published 2006)
An all encompassing history of the papacy from its beginnings nearly 2000 years ago. The third edition includes an extended final chapter covering the last years of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI. Although created as a tie-in to a six-part British television series on the history of the papacy, Kirkus Reviews opines that the "history is surprisingly dense and sophisticated." While Duffy certainly doesn't steer clear of the salacious aspects of the papacy over the centuries, he uses the evolving institution of the papacy to view two millennia of Western civilization. View a large, albeit poorly scanned, sample at Google Books
Papal Sin by Garry Wills (2000)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills offers a stinging critique of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy from the nineteenth century to five years before the death of John Paul II. Wills, a lifetime Catholic, is proficient in Greek and Latin, has degrees in Philosophy and a PhD in Classics and has been on the faculty of Northwestern University since 1980, where he is currently an Emeritus Professor of History. As Publishers Weekly says, "though his rhetoric is at times a bit sharp, and his historical formulae a bit too sweeping, Wills's passion is excusable since this is a philippic directed at the Church by one its own." Read an excerpt at BookBrowse
The Keys of This Blood: Pope John Paul II Versus Russia and the West for Control of the New World Order by Malachi Martin (1990)
Malachai Martin (1921-1999) was an Irish Catholic priest. Originally ordained as a Jesuit priest, he became Professor of Palaeontology at the Vatican's Pontifical Biblical Institute, and from 1958 also served as a theological adviser to Cardinal Augustin Bea during preparations for the Second Vatican Council. Disillusioned by reforms he renounced his vows in 1964 and moved to New York. He wrote 17 books, both fiction and nonfiction, that were frequently critical of the Catholic Church. The Keys of This Blood written just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, argues that Pope John Paul II was a geopolitican playing a "millennium end-game" against Mikhail Gorbachev and international business leaders, with the aim of establishing a new world order. As we're now more than a decade into the new millenium, this book is arguably a little dated, but a number of recent reviews on GoodReads indicate that it's still being read and recommended. Look inside the book at Amazon
Pontiff by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts (1983)
No roundup of Papal books would be complete without Pontiff, co-authored by my father-in-law, Max Morgan-Witts. Published in 1983 after over two years of extensive research, the book focuses on the period from 1978 (the year which saw the death of Pope Paul VI, the election and death 33 days later of John Paul 1, and the election of John Paul II) through to the assassination attempt of 1981, in which John Paul II survived four bullet wounds. A blockbuster in the mid-1980s in a number of countries including the USA, Pontiff was the book that opened my eyes to the joys of nonfiction at the formative age of 20, when I realized that narrative nonfiction did not equate with dry and dull but, in fact, offered the best of both worlds, a form that could have the page-turning appeal of a novel combined with the relevance of fact. Thanks Max! View a sample at Google Books
Pope Joanby Donna Woolfolk Cross (1996)
By far the most recommended Pope related book was this perennial book club favorite. Pope Joan tells the story of the brilliant and talented Joan who, in a medieval society that forbade women from learning to read or write, took her dead brother's place as an initiate at the monastery and rose to become Pope. According to an interview with the author, while the Catholic Church says that Pope Joan was an invention of Protestant reformers eager to expose papist corruption, there are over 500 contemporary manuscripts referencing Joan, and in 1276, after ordering a thorough search of the papal records, Pope John XX changed his title to John XXI in official recognition of Joan's reign as Pope John VIII. Browse an excerpt on BookBrowse
Valentine's Day is almost upon us, and what better time for a good old fashioned love story. But what to recommend?
I posed the question to our Facebook followers, specifying that we weren't interested in books starring gushing regency heroines or bare chested cowboys but instead wished to seek out quieter stories that explore love and relationships. Within a couple of hours we had over 100 recommendations - far too many to include here, so we've chosen to focus just on some of the debuts, and will return to this topic again in the future:
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes received more recommendations than any other title. Published in December 2012 this three-hanky weepie is currently ranked in the high 20s in the New York Times fiction bestseller lists. To quote our reviewer, Norah Piehl, "simply reading the jacket copy of Moyes's second novel might give readers the impression that Me Before You is a traditional 'opposites attract'" kind of romance novel, the kind of story that proves that love conquers all, even in the most extreme circumstances. Although on one level that may be true, Me Before You is, in fact, so much more. It's a story about personal redemption and self-worth, about finding courage, about knowing what to hold onto and what to let go. It's also a meditation on one of the most controversial and divisive issues of our times. And, lest you think that the novel is merely an inspirational fable or a 'problem novel,' rest assured that it's also a beautifully and smartly written literary work, full of lovely phrases, complicated characters, and compelling situations."
The Promise of Stardust by debut author Prescille Sibley has only just published but is already getting attention for its literate take on a modern-day ethical dilemma wrapped around a 20-year love story. Like Me Before You, this book has book club discussion written all over it.
Debuts that Say You're Never Too Old For Love
I've loved these sorts of books since at least my 20s. Perhaps it's just me but it seems that love stories involving young protagonists have a nasty habit of segueing into tragedy; whereas, rather ironically, books with older leads do so less frequently. Here are three not to miss titles that will be familiar to many - so perhaps it's time for a reread!
Helen Simonson's 2010 debut, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, set in the idyllic English village of Edgecombe St. Mary is, to quote Elizabeth Strout, "a funny, comforting, and intelligent debut, a modern-day story of love that takes everyone - grown children, villagers, and the main participants - by surprise, as real love stories tend to do."
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012) is another book worth seeking out for those who love the quiet reveal. Although a couple of reviewers felt the tale was a little manipulative, I'm totally in agreement with The Paris Wife author Paula McClain's assessment that "there's tremendous heart in this debut novel by Rachel Joyce, as she probes questions that are as simple as they are profound: Can we begin to live again, and live truly, as ourselves, even in middle age, when all seems ruined? Can we believe in hope when hope seems to have abandoned us? I found myself laughing through tears, rooting for Harold at every step of his journey. I'm still rooting for him."
To quote Frank McCourt, Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey (2005) is "a deeply sensual, moving, thrilling novel that calls for a second and third reading, it is that rich." If that's not enough to persuade you, long time BookBrowse member Anne Marsh, who recommended it on Facebook, describes it as "the best book I think I've ever read -- and I've read WAYYY too many for a normal person!"
As the oldest of four boys, growing up amid the open spaces of Iowa, I was used to having more than my share of freedoms. Walking to school, fishing alone at night on a nearby river, and patrolling the neighborhood on my trusty Schwinn bike were all activities that I took for granted. So was watching television. My brothers and I never abused the TV privilege but we certainly enjoyed catching a college football or basketball game. My parents, who were both big readers, weren't fans of TV, and tried to limit our viewing opportunities.
When I was about eleven, one autumn day my brothers and I came from school and discovered to our horror that my father had installed a lock on our television. He said that he would unlock it for two hours every week, but that otherwise, it would remain closed for business. My brothers and I were shocked, irritated, and slighted. Arguments ensued. Ample time was spent cooling off in our rooms. Yet our parents didn't waiver.
At first we filled the holes that had been created in our entertainment landscape by spending more time outdoors. But as the weather turned nasty, we were forced to search out indoor forms of amusement. With some reluctance, we entered the world of books. Though I had always been a good reader, it wasn't until this moment that I truly discovered the joys inherent in literature. Soon I was reading two or three novels a week. A few of them were classics, but most were escapes into lands of dragons and wizards, samurai and shoguns. I began to read at all hours of day and night - while walking to the car, warming up the shower, heading out on vacation, and pretending to sleep with the covers over my head and a flashlight in my hand. I consumed books and they consumed me.