The Ink Penn: All About Books by Kathy Manos Penn

Kathy Penn        Lord Banjo   The Ink Penn

Kathy Manos Penn is an author and columnist. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. For more information, visit kathymanospenn.com,  follow Kathy on Facebook, or write her at inkpenn119@gmail.com. Find her books locally in the Hallmark Shops on Mansell Road and at the Forum.

08/19/18 Which children’s books do you remember?

Seeing a Facebook post about best loved Golden Books took me on a trip down memory lane as I recalled my favorite childhood books.  High on that list was ”The Poky Little Puppy,” and a bit of research revealed that it ranks as the top-selling children’s book of all time. When I tried to call to mind other Golden Books I loved, “The Three Little Kittens” was the only additional one that popped up.

Never fear, I recall plenty of other books I enjoyed. I have fond memories of Mom taking me to the library, I think on Saturdays. “Angus and the Ducks” is one of the books I checked out repeatedly. It’s the story of a little black terrier who discovers ducks one day when he sneaks out of his house. As an adult, I thought of that book every time I saw a friend’s dog run into the lake to chase the ducks.

I have forgotten plenty of books from my early years, but I had a delightful experience surfing Amazon. It took seeing the covers to make me remember my favorites. If my memory of the covers is that vivid, I know I must have read those books over and over.  When I clicked on Angus, I was rewarded with the cover of “Make Way for Ducklings,” triggering another happy memory.

The “Curious George” series was another favorite, one that has stood the test of time.  This summer I spent the day with my high school friend Beth as she made my dog a royal purple robe—you know about Lord Banjo and his robe, right? I had to laugh when I discovered she’d been making party favors for her grandson’s Curious George birthday party just the week before.

I still have my three Dr. Seuss books. They came in the mail as part of the Beginner Books series by Random House, which also included non-Suess books: “Stop that Ball,” “Cowboy Andy,” and “The King’s Wish.”

Another book I could remember even without seeing the cover was “The Five Chinese Brothers.”  Before locating it on Amazon, I thought to myself that in this age of heightened sensitivity, it had probably been banned.  I couldn’t readily remember the story, but the description, “a dramatic retelling of an old Chinese tale,” makes it seem harmless enough.

Trigger warning! The childhood book that has indeed been banned from some libraries is “Little Black Sambo,” originally published in 1899. Because the title and illustrations in the original are considered offensive, it was reworked in later tellings. The title and the setting change, but the story remains the same: “[A little boy] encounters four hungry tigers and surrenders his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so they will not eat him. The tigers are vain, and each thinks he is better dressed than the others. They chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of melted butter; [the boy] then recovers his clothes, and his mother makes pancakes of the butter.”

To end on an uncontroversial note, I also spied “The Story of Ferdinand,” a book that’s now been made into an animated movie.  What wonderful childhood memories.

07/13/18 Meet a few of my Favorite Female Authors

Truly, there are too many to name, so I’ve narrowed the list to favorite female authors of mysteries set in Great Britain—my favorite genre and locale. Interestingly, several of these authors aren’t Brits. As you consider reading some of these mysteries, I strongly recommend you start with the first in a series to enjoy the character development.

I think of P.D. James as the British matriarch of this group. Best known for her fourteen novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh, New Scotland Yard commander and poet, James also wrote non-fiction, short stories, and stand-alone novels before her death at age 94. First was “Cover Her Face” in 1962. As much character studies as they are mysteries, I enjoy her novels not only for the whodunit aspect but also for the personalities of the main characters. Critics list “A Certain Justice, “Devices and Desires,” and “A Taste for Death” as her best works.

Equally enjoyable are the novels of Elizabeth George, an American who lives in Washington State. Her twenty novel series began with “A Great Deliverance” in 1988. The main character Thomas Lynley, a New Scotland Yard Inspector, is a nobleman uncomfortable with his title. As does P.D. James, George reveals more and more about her protagonist and his colleagues as the series progresses. I only recently finished her 19th Lynley mystery. The fact that it runs 576 pages may give you an idea of the complexity of her writing.

I stumbled across a Deborah Crombie book years ago in a used bookstore. Author of the Duncan Kincaid / Gemma James series, Crombie is a Texan, though she did spend some time in Great Britain. Since 1993, she’s written seventeen in this series. Not quite as complex as the James and George mysteries, her books are still far from light reading. “A Share in Death,” written in 1993 was her debut and won the Macavity award for Best First Novel.

I found my first Sally Spencer book at a library sale and was immediately hooked. The twenty DCI Woodend mysteries take place in the 60’s. Until I did a bit of research, I had no idea that Spencer was a pen name for Alan Rustage. Technically then, the Spencer series doesn’t qualify for my list of favorite female authors, but I’ve made the executive decision to include him. He too is a Brit.

Though his/her books are typically shorter than those by the previous three authors, the plots and the characters will pull you in. The third book “Death of a Cave Dweller” is my favorite because it takes place in Liverpool music clubs during the time the Beatles would have been there. Monica Paniatowski, one of Woodend’s proteges, goes on to have her own ten book series, but I haven’t yet gotten around to reading those.

I’ve written about Jacqueline Winspear before, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention her again. Winspear is a British transplant who now lives in California. Her first book “Maisie Dobbs” covers the years immediately before and after WWI, and the thirteen subsequent Maisie Dobbs books run up to the 1940’s just after Great Britain has declared war. I credit her series with teaching me about the extended impact of WWI on Great Britain. The anguish of the survivors and those who lost loved ones in the first war is vivid and all the more poignant as WWII looms.

My first-ever trip to England is fast approaching, and I’ve already loaded my Kindle with novels set in London, the Cotswolds, Oxford, and Devon. Suggestions are welcome!

                          Upcoming Book Signings with Lord Banjo
             July 21/ 10 am – 2 pm at Scottsdale Farms in Milton, GA
             July 22/ noon – 2 pm at Amy’s Hallmark at the Forum
             July 28/ 1 – 3 pm Posman’s Books at Ponce City Market

 

07/04/18 Lewis Grizzard: Thanks for the memories

I wrote this piece on Lewis Grizzard as a blog in 2016, and it still makes me smile.

 I hadn’t thought of Lewis Grizzard in quite some time; that is until I read an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article titled, “Remembering Lewis Grizzard on his 70th birthday.”  It’s hard to imagine that this popular columnist who died at age 47 would have been 70 this year and harder still to imagine him as a 70-year-old.

 I can somehow see him, though, as a modern version of Mark Twain, the Hal Holbrook version.  As that thought popped into my head, I was googling Lewis Grizzard only to learn that there is a similar one-man show dedicated to him and that the Los Angeles Times had, in fact, called him “A Mark Twain for our generation.”

 Further googling revealed that he originated the saying, “Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”  It seems I’ve heard that quote all my life, but I never knew it was his. Married four times, the last time just a few days before he died, he also famously said, “Instead of getting married again, I'm going to find a woman I don't like and give her a house.” 

 Before he was a columnist, he was the youngest sports editor of the Journal at the age of 23 and later executive sports editor at the Chicago Sun-Times for three years before returning to the AJC as a sports columnist.  His years as the humor/lifestyle columnist are the ones most of us remember.

 How he also managed to write 18 books is beyond me.  Just seeing some of the titles again makes me laugh:

 

Raised in Moreland, Georgia and a graduate of the University of Georgia, he often referenced his childhood and his love of the Georgia Bulldogs in his columns. Did he exaggerate?  Well, yes, as do most good comics. On making the New York Times Bestseller list, he said, “I am the only person from Moreland, Georgia who ever made the New York Times Bestseller List...I am the only person in Moreland, Georgia who ever HEARD of the New York Times Bestseller List..." 

 His popular writing led to standup comedy and speaking engagements, and you can find recordings on YouTube and DVD.   He appeared on the Johnny Carson show and even played a Sugarbaker brother on “Designing Women.” I listened to a snippet or two on YouTube and wished I’d heard him when he was still with us.  The good news, though, is that the books are still here. I may have to add a few to my reading list.

 Upcoming Book Signings with Lord Banjo

July 21/ 10 am2 pm at Scottsdale Farms in Milton, GA

July 22/ noon – 2 pm at Amy’s Hallmark at the Forum

July 28/ 1 – 3 pm Posman’s Books at Ponce City Market 

 

06/22/18: Who Likes a Good Mystery?

If I were asked to confine my reading to only one genre, I’d be forced to choose mystery. I read other genres but return again and again to mysteries. Possibly my all-time favorite mystery writer is Robert B. Parker.

His first mystery, written in 1973, was “The Godwulf Manuscript.” Thus began the Spenser series, which stretched to 41.5 books before Parker’s death in 2010.  Why 41.5?  Because his long-time editor finished “Silent Night,” the book Parker was working on when he died at his typewriter. Since then, Ace Atkins has continued the series.

Spenser is a Boston PI, who introduces himself as “Spenser, with an S, like the poet.” It’s not many hard-boiled PIs who are familiar with a sixteenth-century poet.  As an English major, I smiled each time I read his intro.  I think of Spenser as a renaissance man: a well-read gourmet cook who’s tough enough to handily wrestle bad guys. As the series progresses, the regular characters include Hawk, Susan Silverman—the girlfriend--and Pearl, the wonder dog.

Parker’s pithy writing style and Spenser’s way with words hooked me. I envied Spenser’s ability to come up with a fast, witty retort to anything thrown his way, and wished I could be as quick with a response to a snarky insult or question. I don’t know about you, but my responses always come to mind much later as “I should have said …”

In the 80s, I enjoyed the television series, “Spenser: for Hire” starring Robert Urich and years later the TV movies starring Joe Mantegna. My recommendation? Check out the books and then hit the films.

Parker didn’t stop with Spenser.  He went on to develop several other memorable characters, though they didn’t star in quite as many books.  First up was Jesse Stone in “Night Passage,” set in Paradise, Massachusetts, a small coastal town not far from Boston. Jesse is a flawed Los Angeles transplant who loses his job on the LA police force and is hired to be Police Chief in Paradise. I not only fell in love with the books but also the TV movies starring Tom Selleck.  What’s not to love about Tom Selleck? Parker wrote nine Jesse Stone novels, and upon his death, others continued the series.

Then, there’s Sunny Randall, who first appeared in 2000 in “Family Honor.” For me, the fact that Parker wrote only six of these books was a huge disappointment. Sunny quits the police force to become a PI, possibly because her ex-husband comes from a mob family. She has the same way with words that Spenser has plus a dog she shares with her ex.

Parker wrote the first book for Helen Hunt, who was a fan of his other books, and there was a movie deal in the works. I’m sad to say the deal never came to fruition.

If you’re not a mystery fan, you may be interested in Parker’s Western series about Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, lawmen in a mining/ranching town. My husband got hooked on those, and the first book, “Appaloosa,” was made into a 2008 movie starring Ed Harris with Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger, and Jeremy Irons.  Once again, another author picked up the series.

The fact that the Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch series were all continued by other authors and also wound up as TV shows or movies makes a statement about Parker’s popularity. All this reminiscing makes me want to run right out and pick up another Parker book.  What about you?

 06/06/18: Addicted to Books

Does that describe you?  How do you become aware of interesting books?  Do you get emails from Amazon or Barnes & Noble because they are tracking your reading habits?  Do you rely on recommendations from friends? Have you ever tried BookBub

 I do all of these things and more. I regularly read book reviews in the Saturday Wall Street Journal and the local Sunday paper and keep a running list of titles.  I like to read a series from the beginning, so when I read a review, I research the author to find the titles and sequence of earlier books. That’s how I stumbled across Anne Zouroudi’s Seven Deadly Sins series.  The second book was reviewed in the WSJ, and I located the first one on sale at Barnes & Noble.  These books are a bonus for me because they’re not only mysteries but also set in Greece--you may have guessed from my name that I’m Greek.

 For an author I find intriguing, I first try to find their books at the library. If I can’t find them there, I look online to see if used or eBook versions of earlier selections are available.   I’ve also discovered that when Amazon notifies me that a paperback is being issued, I can find the hardback version used, often for a penny, in the Amazon marketplace.  Yes, I pay $3.99 to have it shipped, but it’s still a steal.  I guess it’s a bit of a treasure hunt, and I do consider good books treasures.

 Writing this makes me realize that I’ve set my price point for books at about $5. If I don’t find them online for that price, then I look at library sales and on the sale tables at bookstores.  There are so many good books out there that I don’t have to read one as soon as I hear about it.  I can enjoy the hunt for a bit.  I will eventually pay more money if the book is part of a series I know and l love like Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books.  I rarely find her books on sale, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one at a library sale. 

 When I google books to learn more about them, I either visit the author’s website or GoodReads.  I finally joined GoodReads, and that gives me an online spot where I track the books I want to read.  I try to transfer all the book titles I’ve written on scraps of paper to my Want to Read list there. And, of course, GoodReads has become another source of book recommendations. My other source for mystery suggestions only is SYKM, Stop You’re Killing Me.  I look forward to their emails and have discovered quite a few new authors and mystery series through their recommendations.

 If you could see my filled to the gills bookcases, I’m sure you’d agree with my husband that I could have done fine without additional sources.  He might even go so far as to call me a “book drunkard” as Lucy Maud Montgomery , author of Anne of Green Gables, dubbed herself.

“I am simply a 'book drunkard.' Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has, for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.”

 

 05/30/18: LitPick --- Students reading books and writing reviews

I discovered this program when I read Jean Gill’s “Someone to Look Up To,”  a novel written by a Great Pyrenees dog, as is my book “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch.” The difference is the dog narrator in “Someone to Look Up To” has a much more serious tale to tell than Lord Banjo does.  Lord Banjo’s fans know he is rarely serious.

I loved everything about this book and began to follow the author on Facebook. When I read she’d won a LitPick award for her book, I set out to learn more about the LitPick program. Here’s what the LitPick team has to say:

Our Team is passionate about our Student Book Review Reading and Writing program. [Our] mission is to inspire students of all ages - preteens, teens, and young adults - to read books and to become better writers.

 How do they do this?  Authors provide free copies of their books, and LitPick offers them to students to read and review—for free. Students must first apply to become LitPick student reviewers, and once they’re accepted, they can select free books to review. Students from third grade through college may apply.  By providing free books, authors have the opportunity to get book reviews. I took advantage of the program, and Lord Banjo was delighted with his reviews.

 Here’s how the cycle flows: 1) From the list of available free books, a student selects/requests a book to read and review. 2) The student writes and submits a review online including a summary of the book and his/her opinion. 3) An adult sponsor or LitPick team member with an education background evaluates the review. As needed, the adult reviewer provides writing feedback to the student. 4) When the review is accepted and posted online, the student may choose another book to review. 

 Students get to keep the books and can review an unlimited number. I find this an amazing concept whereby authors of pre-teen, teen and young adult books learn what their target audiences think, and of course, the kids get free books to read. Teachers, librarians, and parents also find out what this age group enjoys reading. 

 Teachers may sign up individual students or whole classes to be reviewers. Libraries can create book clubs and do the same.  LitPick even offers a LitPick Educator Interface to make it easier for teachers to “manage a student reading group or book club, watch each student’s progress, evaluate and provide valuable feedback to them about their book reviews, [and] approve their reviews.” All of this is available to homeschoolers too.

 LitPick has a special reviewer signup offer underway now just in time for summer vacation.  Any new student reviewer who signs up by June 15 and completes at least one review of an eBook by July 15, will receive a free 6-month subscription to review print books too. The e-book subscription is free, but the one-year subscription to review e-book and print books runs $15. What a fantastic way keep kids engaged in reading and writing over the summer. You can sign up now at https://litpick.com/student_book_reviews.

 I highly recommend you visit their website to learn how this idea grew from a father and son fourth-grade project to a Harvard student working with college friends to turn it into what it is today https://litpick.com/about-us/story. It’s a fascinating and inspirational story. 

 05/23/18: Reading in the Dark

No, I don’t mean Dancing in the Dark, though I am a Bruce Springsteen fan. I’m talking about being so addicted to reading that, as a child, you tried reading under the covers with a flashlight late at night.  Is there anyone else out there who did that?

 I have a vivid memory of doing this, using the only flashlight I had handy—one of those tiny flashlights I got at the circus.  Of course, I was supposed to be asleep, but I was such an avid reader, that there were a few nights that I tried to read past my 8:30 PM bedtime.  When I was caught, can you guess what my mom said?  I’m sure you can: “Reading in the dark will make you go blind, and then you won’t be able to read at all.”  That was threat enough to make me stop cold turkey.

 I’ve yet to overcome my childhood addiction to reading, and I’m sure there are worse things to be addicted to. I read one to two books per week, and look forward to reading more when I’m on vacation.  On some vacations--those where we bicycle all day or stay up late sipping wine and talking—I can be hard pressed to squeeze in much reading; but on trips that combine shopping, leisurely lunches, chit-chat, and an afternoon nap, I manage to read plenty.

 On one such trip, I started reading The Last Child by John Hart, and it was slow going at first, so I wasn’t tempted to read much at night.  Once I got into it, however, that changed, and two evenings I stayed up past midnight because I couldn’t put it down. That would have been fine if I’d been sleeping in, as I like to do on vacation, but since both my companions were early risers, I was up early too.  

 Late night reading and childhood memories remind me of a WSJ column I once read, The Kid Who Wouldn’t Let Go of The Device.  The author tells the story of a child who was given The Device at age two and couldn’t put it down and carried it everywhere, a child whose addiction continued into adulthood, someone who panicked at the thought of being without The Device for any amount of time. The punchline? She’s writing about her own addiction to books and thinking of today’s parents who may be worried that their kids are addicted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other technologies cropping up.  

 The parallels are thought-provoking for me, as I well remember being labeled a bookworm, and not in a nice way.  My parents worried that my addiction would doom me to being shy and unpopular—something that never came to pass. Today’s parents worry about the effect all this technology is having on attention span and social skills. Who knows? Those may be unfounded worries too.

Me?  I’m happy that these days, we can all read just about anything in the dark—without a flashlight—as long as we have a tablet, a laptop, a backlit Kindle or a Smartphone.  And, hey, I’ve been known to resort to candlelight in a pinch.  After all, it was good enough for Abe Lincoln.

 05/13/18: I Spy

 Is it a game, a book, a television show?    I suspect many of you first thought of the children’s game that parents encouraged during those long family car trips of old.  Either that was popular after my childhood, or we just played other games. Truth be told, we were well occupied with reading our books on our trips up and down the East Coast to visit relatives.

 Your next thought may have been the old TV show with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby or, depending on your age, the movie with Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy.   I recall the TV show fondly along with The Man from U.N.C.L.E., another spy show with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Yes, McCallum had a career before NCIS.  The 60’s and 70’s were Cold War decades; hence the preponderance of books and shows about spies.  Even The Wild, Wild West had spies as the main characters.

 It was a book review, though, that caused the phrase I Spy to pop into my head. I was intrigued by a review of The Empire of Night, a novel by Robert Olen Butler, set during WWI.  I discovered it’s the third in a series featuring Kit Cobb as a journalist- turned-spy. I’ll soon be searching for the first book either on Amazon or at library sales. Anticipating the successful conclusion of that search made me reflect on the many authors and series I enjoyed in the 70’s and 80’s.

 Robert Ludlum was my favorite long before the Bourne Identity became a hit movie series.  I read almost all of Len DeightonJohn Le Carre, Ken Follet and Trevanian.  My all-time favorite spy novel, though, had to be Tears of Autumn written by Charles McCarry in 1975.  This review explains what I liked about it: “Spun with unsettling plausibility from the events surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and featuring secret agent Paul Christopher, it's a tour de force of action and enigma.”   For years, I recommended it to everyone I knew, and when I married 19 years ago, I found a copy for my husband. He enjoyed it as much as I did, so much so, that I bought him several other Paul Christopher books.  I, for some reason, have never read the others.

 I've occasionally thought of picking them up off our very crowded bookshelves and digging in, but somehow I always have another book to finish first.  Could that be because I’m forever buying books? Or because the McCarry books are in another room? This time when the thought crossed my mind, I followed through and read the very first in the series, The Miernik Dossier. And, though it’s rare if not unheard of for me to read a book twice, I reread the second book in the series, Tears of Autumn. Well, let me qualify that claim; there have been times I buy a book and start reading it only to find I've read it before. That’s a hazard of so much reading.

 More recently, we’ve been watching the final season of “The Americans,” the FX series about Russian spies embedded in America.  Only after the last show airs this week will I be able to return to reading about the Cold War.

 

04/30/18: Chris Bohjalian: A Prolific Writer

I am a mystery addict, but I also enjoy an engaging novel from time to time.  The works of Chris Bohjalian fall into that second category.  When I began to think about which of his novels I’d read, I was surprised that I’d read four of his twenty books.

 Three of his novels have been made into televisions movies—“Secrets of Eden,” “Past the Bleachers,” and “Midwives”—and another three are in development.

 I first discovered Bohjalian when “Double Bind” came out in 2007. I was probably hooked by the references to the “Great Gatsby” in the reviews.  “Double Bind” ranks up there as one of the most intriguing books I’ve read. The lines blur between Gatsby’s tale on Long Island and this story that takes place in Vermont. I was kept guessing until the very end, and even then I questioned what had really happened. 

 When I went to Amazon to get a bit of info for this column, I was shocked to see the book’s average review rating was a mere 3.6 out of 5. I guess it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I couldn’t put it down. One review described the novel as evoking Fitzgerald and also channeling Hitchcock.  I think of it as literary fiction.

 I enjoyed it so much that I went on to read “Skeletons at the Feast,” a love story set in Germany during WWII. In the book, people are trying to escape from Germany and reach the Allies. The cast of characters includes an aristocratic Prussian teen, a Scottish POW, and an escapee from a train on its way to Auschwitz.  I think it was while reading this novel that I came to realize how fluid the borders were in Eastern Europe in the 1800s and 1900s.  It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be Prussian one year and German the next. Reading novels like this one makes me realize just how fortunate we are here in the US.

 Off and on through the years, I’ve read quite a few novels set in Europe during WWII, but none set in Italy until I read “Light in the Ruins.” It begins in Tuscany in 1943 with another aristocratic family.  They don’t try to leave Italy, but they do seek to escape entanglement with either side. The story moves between the war and 1955 as it reveals the story of the Rosatis. It’s as much a story of family as it is of the war.

 Bohjalian returns to modern times and Vermont in “The Sleepwalker.  I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that the sleepwalker, Annalee Ahlberg, disappears one night.  The plot describes how her disappearance and her sleepwalking play out in the family dynamics. The story kept me guessing.  Was she alive somewhere?  Had she died? 

 I suspect I’ll pick up another of his books again one day.  “Sandcastle Girls” has been on my list for a bit.  For some reason, the plot of his latest book, “Flight Attendant,” doesn’t grab me, though it’s getting rave reviews.  Perhaps I’m attracted to his books because they provide not only character studies, but also mysteries.  Whether you’re a mystery fan or a fan of well-written novels, I don’t think you can go wrong with a Bohjalian book.

04/13/18: 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

“So many books, so little time. With this in mind, the Amazon Books editors set out to compile a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. We had a few goals when we started out: We wanted the list to cover all stages of a life (which is why you'll find children's books in here), and we didn't want the list to feel like homework. Of course, no such list can be comprehensive – our lives, we hope, are long and varied – but we talked and argued and sifted and argued some more and came up with a list, our list, of favorites.”

This is not your father’s Oldsmobile--not your English teacher’s list. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as the Amazon staff debated their list, and I must admit I’ve only read 25 of their recommendations. I read quite a few in high school and as a college English major because they were required reading. I’m pretty sure The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, Great Expectations and To Kill a Mockingbird were high school reading, while Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, and Slaughterhouse Five were assigned in college. The rest were picked up for pure pleasure along the way.

I read In Cold Blood and Portnoy’s Complaint because so many folks recommended them, though I can’t say they were a pleasure. The World According to Garp, on the other hand, is an all-time favorite. I have a vivid memory of vacationing in the Bahamas, standing in the galley of our sailboat with book in hand, reading.

Little House on the Prairie books were favorites from the library. Other than Dr. Seuss, Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins and a few classics like Heidi, we didn’t purchase many books when I was little, but I still have those my Mom bought me prominently displayed on my bookshelf. Uh-oh, I’m headed down memory lane--The Five Little Peppers, Big Red, Black Beauty—and need to reel myself in.

At the other extreme in subject matter, Valley of the Dolls doesn’t strike me as a must read. It was one of those racy books I read in high school, which I’m sure I didn’t really understand back then. I’d have to agree that Donna Tartt’s Secret History was a great read, reminding me in many ways of A Separate Peace, which didn’t make the list.

I can think of plenty of books that coulda / shoulda been on the list. Amazon, in fact, invites readers to comment on the list and make suggestions via GoodReads. A quick glance at that site reveals some worthy additions—Jane Eyre, Little Women, Animal Farm, Wuthering Heights. I smiled when I saw Watership Down, which I’d completely forgotten.

Of the 25 I’ve read, I only strongly disagree with one--Gone Girl. It’s a book everyone said I had to read, but once I did, I didn’t care for it--at all. I think it was the absence of likable characters. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll put a book down and stop reading it if it doesn’t grab me, something I never did when I was younger. Gone Girl I finished only because I wanted to see what happened to the characters, no matter how loathsome.

The good news is there are plenty of enjoyable books to choose from, and if my Amazon and library sale purchases are anything to judge by, I’m making every effort to get to them all.

Kathy Manos Penn is a Georgia resident. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook and contact her at inkpenn119@gmail.com, or both.

 

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