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George R.R. Martin admits that he’ll never finish A Game of Thrones

First of all, a part of me can’t believe that famous author George R.R. Martin is still alive. That might sound harsh, but he doesn’t look like a healthy guy. I know several health conscious people, and none of them want to follow the George R.R. Martin regimen.

I suggested on this blog way back in 2012 that George R.R. Martin might not finish the Game of Thrones book series, also known as A Song of Ice and Fire. Back then, nobody noticed because nobody read my blog. Statistically, nobody reads my blog now, but at least now I occasionally get a comment when I say something controversial.

Even though I thought George R.R. Martin might not finish the series, I believed in 2012 that he would at least finish the next book The Winds of Winter. I thought Martin’s problem with completing A Song of Ice and Fire was going to be wrapping everything up in two or three more books. I thought he was writing himself into an infinite series that would require too many books for his life span.

Back in 2012, I would have been surprised to find out that George R.R. Martin was still alive in 2022. Even back in 2012, George R.R. Martin looked rather unhealthy. I’ve lost friends and family that looked healthier than George R.R. Martin in 2012. Last year, a good friend of mine died. He was a fan of A Song of Fire and Ice and was pissed that the series never got finished.

His final words were, “I can’t believe that George R.R. Martin outlived me, that bastard.”

I admit, those probably weren’t his final words. I wasn’t there in my friend’s final moments. But I’m pretty sure he had that thought at some point. He was pissed that he never had the chance to read The Winds of Winter.

The reason I’m writing about this topic on my blog is because last week Martin made some remark that he was “weary” of his fans asking him about The Winds of Winter. According to Martin, he has a bunch of other projects that he’s working on first and that fleshing out his fantasy world of Westeros is more important than than the one story of A Song of Ice and Fire.

To be fair, George R.R. Martin didn’t say the exact words “I’ll never finish writing A Song of Ice and Fire,” but I know that’s what he meant. Why else would he be tired of answering questions about it? If he were going to finish the series, he’d probably be encouraged by the questions.

At this point, I don’t care if he finishes A Song of Ice and Fire. Yeah, I must care a little if I’m writing a blog post, but you don’t have to care about something to write about it. I think the topic is interesting, but I don’t care anymore if he doesn’t finish the series. I might still read the remaining books if they ever come out (which they won’t), but I won’t miss them if they’re never completed (which they won’t be).

I admit, I cared about five years ago. I had stated several times that I wouldn’t start reading A Song of Ice and Fire until he’d finished the series, but then I broke down and, one by one, I read the books. My opinion of the books was pretty much the same as everybody else’s opinion, and my opinion of the HBO television series is pretty much the same as everybody else’s, so I won’t get into what I think about them.

Some fans are so desperate for a literary conclusion to A Song of Ice and Fire that they want Martin to have some other author finish the series, like Brandon Sanderson did with Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I think James Patterson would be a good choice. He could have the remaining books out by next month. Yeah, they’d have one-page chapters with cheesy dialogue, but at this point nobody cares about writing quality anymore. Nothing could be worse than Season 8.

I take that back. A lot of things could be a lot worse than Season 8, but you know what I mean.

And to be clear, I don’t want George R.R. Martin to die. I’m just surprised he hasn’t. I mean, c’mon! Look at the picture!

How to Avoid a Femme Fatale: Past All Dishonor by James M. Cain

Whenever a woman asks me to murder someone, I say no and I bail out of the relationship. It’s a simple rule. I guess some guys have a tough time with it, though.

You see, I don’t have a problem with takin’ a tumble with a hot married dame here or there, but when she starts crying about how horrible her husband is and he doesn’t deserve to live, I say thank you for the afternoon and I get out of town.

Even if you think morality is relative, murdering for a woman is a bad idea. If some broad had me murder for her, what’s she gonna do in a few months when she gets bored with me? I’m paranoid enough without some ‘grieving’ hot widow who just cashed out on a life insurance policy putting my life out for sale.

So when I bought this copy of Past All Dishonor by James M. Cain for $3.00 at a used book store, I thought, here we go, another guy who murders for a bad girl. The femme fatales in James M. Cain novels are usually married women, like in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, so I was a little surprised that this book was a little different. Not better. Just different.

I’ll give the bad girl in Past All Dishonor some credit. She didn’t get the poor schmuck protagonist to murder for her. He did that on his own. In fact, I don’t think the bad girl in Past All Dishonor did anything all that bad until the end of the novel. Yeah, she was a prostitute, but she was open about it. She didn’t mislead the schmuck. But then he goes and murders a rich guy who’s going to marry the prostitute he’s in love with. She didn’t ask him to do it. He just did it.

And then she got turned on by it.

That was new to me. I didn’t know women got turned on by murder. I guess that’s why the murder rate in this country is so high. It’s the damn women’s fault. If women didn’t get so turned on by murder, we men wouldn’t go around killin’ each other that much.

I’m willing to be immoral for a woman, but I have my limits. I’ve lied for women in the past. I’ll do that. I’ve never murdered anybody for a woman, though. My line is somewhere in between lying and murder. I also won’t run an insurance scam for a woman. But I’ve committed a minor property damage crime for a woman. So my line is somewhere between committing a minor property damage crime and running an insurance scam.

And if I was in love with a prostitute (I know the correct form of the verb here is ‘were,’ but nobody in noir cares about subjunctive mood), I definitely wouldn’t murder for her, like the schmuck in Past All Dishonor. It would be like some no-name character murdering Richard Gere in the middle of the movie Pretty Woman. And then Julia Roberts gets turned on that the no-name character murdered Richard Gere for her. And then they decide to rob Jason Alexander. I gotta admit, that ending might have been an improvement.

Pretty Woman was a crummy movie. That’s okay. Past All Honor was kind of a crummy book. I was expecting more. Even James M. Cain can have a bad day, I guess. I don’t know what he was thinking, writing noir where the femme fatale doesn’t ask a guy to murder her husband.

Past All Dishonor does have a great mid-book summary from the schmuck’s point-of-view on page 118.-

*****

“So you were going to save the Confederacy and help the boys in gray and now you’re a goddam paid gunman in a Nevada gambling sink all dressed in black velvet like a Mexican cowboy with yellow curls over your collar and in love with a whore that’s not worth the powder it would take to blow her to hell.”

*****

Ha! It’s a little harsh, but it was good foreshadowing. Damn, I just gave away the ending.

I can see why noir didn’t last too long as a popular sub-genre. The situations are too easy to avoid. If some dame tells you to murder her husband, you say no. And if you fall in love with a prostitute who’s about to get married, let her get married. And then when she asks you later to kill her husband, you say no.

Unless she’s really hot.

Literary Gimmicks in Famous Novels: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Nobody really cares what I think about Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s considered an American classic, and my opinion isn’t going to change anybody’s mind. I’m not even sure what my opinion is anyway.

Slaughterhouse-Five was published in 1962, and my daughter had to read it in high school a couple years ago. I got a little jealous. Slaughterhouse-Five has fewer than 50,000 words. I wish I had been forced to read novels with fewer than 50,000 words when I was in in high school.

When I read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut last week, I was struck by how much the novel relies on literary gimmicks.

I’m not going to summarize Slaughterhouse-Five because you can get that anywhere. I just want to look at a few devices that Vonnegut used and then question how much these gimmicks affected the quality of the book. Since I’m using a couple literary gimmicks in my own novel, I’m analyzing the literary devices some famous authors have used in their most successful books.

Slaughterhouse-Five begins and ends with chapters written from the author’s/narrator’s point-of-view. The author/narrator explains that he’s tried to write a book about his experiences as a POW in Dresden during World War II. The author rambles a little and claims that his book would be a failure.

I’m not sure if having an author/narrator claim that the book would be a failure is a literary device/gimmick or not. It’s similar to dramatic irony; when Vonnegut wrote his book, he didn’t know his novel would be so successful. Or did he?

The bulk of Slaughterhouse-Five, the Billy Pilgrim story, is told out of order because of the Tralfamadorians, aliens with an ability to see dimensions that humans are incapable of seeing/experiencing. I admit, I prefer linear stories. I believe there’s the possibility that time isn’t linear and that I’m simply not capable of seeing it, but I don’t feel threatened by my inability to see it. I might be better off not being able to see it.

Even if I can’t see time as non-linear in reality, I can see it in fiction, and the out-of-sequence storytelling seems to work in Slaughterhouse-Five.

The phrase “And so it goes” is repeated throughout Slaughterhouse-Five and is used whenever death is mentioned. A lot of readers get annoyed at the repetition, but repetition is a common literary device when writers want to emphasize a point, so I don’t have a problem with it. And I don’t have a problem with readers who get annoyed by it either.

“And so it goes” is like a literary ear worm. Even though I first read Slaughterhouse-Five decades ago, the phrase “And so it goes” still pops up in my head whenever I hear about death. The phrase popped up in my head a lot in 2021. I guess that shows how effective of a device/gimmick it was. But it can still be annoying.

What would Slaughterhouse-Five be like without the literary gimmicks? If I had more time (or if I cared enough), I’d take the Billy Pilgrim bulk of the book, chop up all the non-linear scenes, and then place them in a proper linear timeline. Then I’d chop out all the “And so it goes.” And I’d leave out the author-narrator sections at the beginning and end. And then I’d read the book and see if how much the gimmicks improved the novel.

I’m not saying a gimmick-free Slaughterhouse-Five would suck, but it probably would have been pretty bland. It probably wouldn’t be considered an American literary classic. I think Billy Pilgrim would have been less of a compelling character without the time traveling. Plus, I like the aliens. Without the aliens, you can’t have the time-traveling. Without the aliens and time traveling, Slaughterhouse-Five becomes just another book about a veteran with PTSD.

Now I’m curious how much Kurt Vonnegut relied on literary gimmicks in his other novels. I’ve read Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions, but I don’t remember anything about them, so I can’t make the call. Maybe I’ll read them again to find out.

Or better yet, maybe somebody else can tell me. What do you think? Would Slaughterhouse-Five be the same without the gimmicks. Did Kurt Vonnegut rely too much on gimmicks when he wrote Slaughterhouse-Five? Did Kurt Vonnegut’s literary gimmicks hide his mediocre (or outright bad) writing?

1950s Guide To Advertising- The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard

This 1962 paperback copy of The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard has a colorful cover. I have to admit that I fell for the manipulation, the contrast of colors with the series of questions. I don’t like falling for tricks, even if this particular trick only cost me $1.00 at the used book store.

Originally published in 1957, The Hidden Persuaders is reputed to be one of the first books to expose the techniques behind television advertising. The persuasion techniques (and the effects/consequences) might be well known today, so maybe that makes the book feel outdated, but the attitudes of the time period can be just as interesting as the advertising techniques that are explained.

For example, I keep forgetting that not so long ago cigarette smoking was considered cool. I’m pretty sure people knew that smoking wasn’t good for them back in 1957, but this book doesn’t acknowledge it, and advertisers back in the 1950s weren’t going to either.

But cigarette smoking sure made people look cool. At least that’s what we were told, even in the 1970s when I was a kid. Even as several family members were dying of lung cancer caused from cigarettes, I was told that smoking made you look cool.

I don’t know. If advertisers are willing to ignore the health risks of cigarettes, they are probably willing to ignore anything.

Anyway, The Hidden Persuaders refers to the consequences of smoking one time as a “cancer scare,” and that was it. From the advertisers’ point-of-view, all that mattered was getting more men and women to buy cigarettes. And it was great when advertisers could get kids to sing cigarette jingles. Even back in the 1950s, branding was everything. If not everything, branding was a lot.

The author of The Hidden Persuaders refers to kids as ‘moppets’ and more frequently as ‘future consumers.’ From the advertisers’ point of view, it was important to get these future consumers aware of their brands as early as possible. Also, I kind of like the term ‘moppets.’ That word could make a comeback.

“Get off my lawn, you moppets!”

Yeah, I could bring that back.

“Get off my lawn, you future consumers!”

That doesn’t work as well.

Those ‘moppets’ from the 1950s are today’s Boomers, the generation that gets a lot of blame for the United States’s debt and over-consuming. These moppets were the first generation exposed to massive television advertising designed to make them ‘future consumers.’ The author of The Hidden Persuaders doesn’t use the term Boomers, but that’s who the ‘future consumers’ are.

If it’s any consolation to the younger generations today that blame Boomers for everything, those Boomers will soon be ‘former consumers.’

Almost as bad as cigarettes is fashion. Before the 1950s, men’s clothing was seen as a static business because men would go long periods of time between buying new clothes, and frankly that’s the way it should have stayed. But then television advertisers came along and ruined everything. The fashion industry encouraged women to put pressure on men to spend more money on clothes.

Men’s fashion… pffft! You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff that my wife has tried to make me wear.

This might be one of those times when the pre-1950s had it right. I still like wearing the same clothes repeatedly until they’re faded and falling apart. Life is a lot simpler when you choose not to think about the stupid stuff like fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to those ‘simpler’ times. I like air conditioning. I like the internet. I just like wearing the same stuff over and over too.

Hidden persuasion is nothing new. Before television, there was radio, Before that was newspapers. Before that was old fashioned rhetoric combined with misinformation. The combination of effective rhetoric and misinformation has always motivated people to do crazy stuff.

Maybe it’s depressing or annoying that people can be so easily manipulated, but at least we can say no to advertisers. Despite the constant bombardment of advertising, I still buy new clothes only once every five years. But… Arrrgh… I still fall for colorful book covers!

More questions!!!

SPOILER on the cover! High Lonesome by Louis L’Amour

High Lonesome by Louis L’Amour is kind of a forgettable book. I read it a few days ago, and I’ve already forgotten the characters’ names. I’ll always remember the book cover, though, because it gave away about 80% of the book in one sentence:

“He threw away $60,000 in gold to fight for a girl the Apaches wanted.”

When I saw the teaser on the cover, I thought maybe High Lonesome would center around that fight with the Apaches. Instead, the fight takes place in the final 20 pages of the short novel.

Half of the book is about the main character planning to steal that $60,000 in gold from a bank while also falling in love with a young woman traveling to California with her father. Because of the cover, I knew that the main character would successfully rob the bank and then give up the money to save the girl and her father. That covered 80% of the book. The only question I had was which of the minor characters would get killed in the fight with the Apaches.

I was off by only one character. All the main character’s sidekicks got killed. I really thought the girl’s father would get killed too. I wasn’t hoping he would get killed. The old cus grew on me. I was glad he didn’t get killed, even though that made me wrong about something.

The father was supposed to be a smart old man, but his poor decision to travel alone with his daughter got a lot of minor characters (and Apaches) killed. Maybe the father should have been one of the characters who got killed. He was fair game. He wasn’t even mentioned on that SPOILER book cover.

I only spent $2.00 on this pocket book, so I’m not too upset about the SPOILER on the cover. If I had spent $5.00 or more, then I might have gotten ticked off.

I haven’t seen many sentences that give away 80% of a book. Yeah, the book was only 150 pages long, but still. It takes talent to give away 120 pages in 14 words. When I need to edit my book, I think I’ll hire the guy who wrote that sentence. Right now my work in progress is around 60,000 words. He could probably cut it to 20. Not 20,000 words. Just… 20.

High Lonesome was originally published in 1962, and this was a 1971 copy. Back then, “SPOILER’ wasn’t a word. Nobody ‘SPOILED’ a movie or a book. Somebody might give away the ending, but then the guy who gave away the ending would get ostracized or beat up or bullied.

Back in the 1970s, it was seen as okay to bully kids who gave away the endings to movies. All those adults who now complain about having been bullied as kids leave out the part where they gave away the endings to movies. I’m not saying it was good to bully kids who gave away the endings. I’m just saying it’s what happened. And most kids stopped giving away the endings to movies.

The title High Lonesome reminds me of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Lonesome Dove was over 700 pages and won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1986. High Lonesome came out 25 years earlier and was 150 pages. Both book titles refer to places that characters didn’t stay in very long in the book. Lonesome Dove was the tiny settlement that the characters left at the beginning of the book and then returned to at the end. High Lonesome was where the final big gun battle with the Apaches took place, and then everybody left. I guess that’s why they called both places Lonesome.

High Lonesome author Louis L’Amour wrote at least 100 books, most of them westerns. I’ve only read a couple of his books, but I wonder at what point he started writing the same book over and over again. Most genre authors do that to some extent. Even the greatest authors have a limited number of stories to tell. The best ones have maybe five or six good stories, and they keep rotating the stories so that readers don’t notice. That’s okay. Those authors have pretty good stories. Fans don’t mind seeing the same stories, as long as the names and details are slightly different.

A lot of the details in High Lonesome are vague. It takes place somewhere near Mexico. I think most westerns have to be near Mexico because outlaws always need a place to escape to. No western outlaws want to escape to Canada. Even the outlaws in Montana and North Dakota want to escape to Mexico. If I ever write a western, it will be about an outlaw in North Dakota who robs a bank and then tries to escape to Mexico. I guess there was too much law and order in Canada. Or maybe it was too cold. Or maybe the women weren’t as nice.

I might buy and read another Louis L’Amour western if I see one for $2.00. But I’m not going to read the cover first. I’m not falling for that trick again.

Should I read this book…? The Sound of Music by Maria Augusta Trapp

I had two questions when I discovered this beat up copy of The Sound of Music by Maria Augusta Trapp in my closet.

The Sound of Music was a book?”

And…

“Why the heck do I have a beat up copy of The Sound of Music in my closet?”

The Sound of Music isn’t exactly my genre. I’ve been surrounded by The Sound of Music for most of my life. My mom had the movie soundtrack on a record when I was a kid, so I was forced to listen to the songs several times a month. My wife and daughter watch the movie at least once a year, usually when it’s on television. I’ve seen it all the way through several times (one time is too many for most men). I’ve seen bits and pieces and scenes countless times. I’ve heard the songs countless times.

The book was published in 1949 and was originally titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. That bland title wouldn’t be acceptable today. The movie creators were wise to change the title to The Sound of Music. That makes sense because the movie focuses on the music. Yeah, a couple of the relationships in the story are important, but it’s the songs that people remember. It’s the songs that I can’t get out of my head. It’s the songs that drive me… you know.

The problem with musicals in general is that most of the songs suck. I can handle characters breaking out into song at random moments. I have no issue with that. But at least sing a good song. The Sound of Music has two good songs. I won’t say what they are because that’s not the point.

And I’m not blaming musicals. When it comes to music, most albums have two good songs along with a bunch of filler. It’s tough to write a good song. A good song takes time to create. Unfortunately, artists have to rush their work to make money, so most of what they make is schlock.

I’ve never enjoyed sitting through two hours of bad music and over-exuberant singing. Some musicals have more than two good songs, but all musicals have over-exuberant singing. I’m a quiet guy. I like the occasional over-exuberant singing, but not all the time.

Again, I don’t blame the artists. I don’t even blame consumers or the economic system. I blame the Ivy League. Whenever you need a scapegoat, blame the Ivy League. I used to blame the schools, but then I realized that the Ivy League is to blame for the schools, so I blame the Ivy League for everything now.

I probably should get back to the book.

This 1969 paperback copy of The Sound of Music was DISCARDED from my former school’s library. I don’t even remember bringing this home. I hope I had permission. My former school was opened in 1996, so I’m guessing that one of the district’s older schools gave this book to our library to get things started. Everybody wins in that situation. The older school gets rid of library books that no students want to read, and the newest library gets to fill its shelves with a bunch of books no students wants to read.

If I read this book, I don’t necessarily want to picture Julie Andrews in my mind. Julie Andrews once exposed herself in a movie when I was a teenager. I don’t know what debts Julie Andrews owed that forced her to do that (maybe it was her husband’s fault; he directed the movie), but it wasn’t cool. When I was a teenager, I usually didn’t mind female celebrities going topless in a movie, but it was traumatizing when Julie Andrews did it. Being flashed by Sister Maria and Mary Poppins is like being flashed by your mom. Thankfully, my mother never flashed me.

At any rate, I was done with the movie The Sound of Music… until I found this book.

I like the idea of The Sound of Music as a novel. I don’t have to hear the songs, even though not hearing the songs defeats the purpose of a book retroactively titled The Sound of Music. Without the songs in my head, I can concentrate on the story.

I’ll give the author credit. The first few pages of The Sound of Music are well written. I could read this book if I had to. I wouldn’t have to go to Wikipedia or the old fashioned Cliffs Notes for a summary. I don’t have to read books anymore, though, so I probably won’t read this one. I don’t think I was the intended audience anyway.

Maybe I should have written more about the book version of The Sound of Music. I kind of like the book, even though I’m not going to read it. The book probably has no bad songs and no over-exuberant singing. If the characters sing in the book (I’m pretty sure they do), I can imagine quiet singing. And I’m pretty sure nobody gets flashed.

What was the deal with…? Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver was okay. That’s my book review. It was okay.

Anatomy of a Murder was a 1958 bestseller in the United States and then it was made into a really popular movie a year later. It was a supposedly the first (or one the first) courtroom legal thrillers. I wanted to like this book. I paid for it with my own money, so I had incentive to like it. If I had borrowed it from the library, I wouldn’t have cared as much, but I spent $3.00, so I care… a little bit.

Anatomy of a Murder was kind of overwritten. It felt like it had a 250 page story in a 500 page novel. It was 500 pages, and it felt like 500 pages. The first half is overwritten prose with a lot of hammy dialogue. Maybe hammy dialogue was the rage in 1958. I like hammy dialogue, but I prefer it in moderation. The second half is 250 pages of courtroom drama, and the details are exhausting, with some more hammy dialogue thrown in.

Courtroom drama details might have been a novelty in 1958, but I used to watch Law & Order (the real one) back in the 1990s. None of the stuff in Anatomy of a Murder is new anymore. Still, I can’t blame a book written in 1958 for being copied over the last 50 years. It’s good to read the source material.

I’ve never seen the movie version of Anatomy of a Murder. I know nothing about the movie. I purposely avoided looking at the back cover of my copy because it had the cast of the movie. Now that I know who plays the main character, I’m glad I didn’t know. I don’t like visualizing Hollywood actors/actresses when I read books. It was okay when I pictured Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch while I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s almost a requirement to visualize Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. But Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is an exception.

Last year I ripped the cover off of my copy of The Shipping News because it had a picture of Kevin Spacey on it. I didn’t want to visualize Kevin Spacey. Now that I’ve read The Shipping News, I think that Kevin Spacey was miscast. I haven’t even seen the movie, but I still think he was miscast. On the other hand, I can see the actor who played the main character in Anatomy of a Murder doing a good job, but I’m glad that I didn’t visualize him.

I bought this copy of Anatomy of a Murder for $3.00 at a used book store. The book is falling apart a little bit, but I held it carefully when I read it. I didn’t throw it around. Even if I find the book a bit dull, I’m not going to beat it up like I beat up The Shipping News. My copy of The Shipping News with Kevin Spacey on the cover deserved to get beat up. I usually don’t beat up books, but that Kevin Spacey cover had it coming.

Anatomy of a Murder author Robert Traver was a former lawyer, and when former lawyers write novels, they tend to write legal thrillers. I’m a former English teacher, but I’m not writing an educational thriller. Nobody wants to read about teachers. Teacher drama isn’t as interesting as courtroom drama.

For example, there was the time a kid farted really loudly during my lecture about gerunds, and there were a bunch of accusations and counter-accusations about who dealt it and who smelt it and who denied it and who supplied it. Even though I’m all for swift justice, even I believe that the accused must get a fair hearing before the classroom tribunal before being socially ostracized.

That kind of thing is entertaining for a page or two, but you can’t sustain a novel with it. I don’t think anybody would read 500 pages of that.

Then there’s the occasional (white)teacher saves (not white) student story, but those stories are kind of sappy and they’re not my style. I don’t think any kid farted in Freedom Writers. I’ll admit, one of the characters in my novel (that I think will be finished soon) is a teacher, but teaching is more like an annoyance to him than his identifying trait.

Maybe back in 1958 Anatomy of a Murder was cutting edge courtroom drama. You have to remember that back then television was black & white with only three channels. There was no cable. There was no internet. Movie theaters had one screen. Elvis Presley was controversial because he shook his hips. You had to talk to the operator to make a phone call (maybe that was in 1938, not 1958). And the phone had to be plugged in to the wall. And the phone was just a phone.

I can’t blame Anatomy of a Murder for being cutting edge in 1958. It’s not this book’s fault that it got copied by a bunch of other legal thriller authors. Even so, 500 pages was a little long.

Ten Years of Dysfunctional Literacy

I missed my blog’s ten-year birthday celebration a few months ago. There’s been a lot of stuff going on in my life, so I haven’t been posting stuff as frequently as I normally do, and then a few months ago WordPress notified me that Dysfunctional Literacy was ten-years old at a time when I couldn’t write anything about it.

I don’t think my blog cares that I missed its birthday. I remember my wife’s birthday every year, and she remembers everybody else’s for me, so that’s all that matters. Still, ten years on one project is pretty good for me.

I haven’t been writing as much for Dysfunctional Literacy recently. I used to post stuff twice or even three times a week. Now it’s about once a week. I’m not writing less. It’s just that most of my creative energy is directed toward my book now.

Yeah, I know. Every English teacher (and former English teacher) wants to write a book. I have several different rough drafts for several different books, but each one is seriously flawed in its own way. I’ve been a little frustrated since I retired because I haven’t been able to put any of my potential book ideas together like I’ve wanted.

In the last couple months, however, I’ve been working and improving one particular book. It’s been my favorite for a while. I wrote the rough draft a few years ago but haven’t been able to fix a few issues with it until recently. Now it’s almost done, but I won’t say much more about it until the whole thing looks/sounds right.

That means Dysfunctional Literacy has been neglected a little bit. I don’t mean to neglect my own blog. Dysfunctional Literacy got me into writing again, over a decade after I’d given up at the end of the 1990s.

The quality of my writing on this blog over the last ten years has been mixed. The early posts from a decade ago are really bad, so bad that I’m tempted to delete them. On the other hand, these posts show how my writing has changed over the years.

I’ll give myself credit; I was willing to experiment with my writing back then. Maybe I was too willing. Some of that early stuff is really stupid. Most of what I’ve written since 2013 has been solid, though. Flawed but solid. But 2011 and 2012? Haha! I really should delete some of that.

When I started this blog, I was teaching, but retirement potential was about six years away. I wanted creative freedom without the fear of getting fired, so I did my best to keep any connection to me off my blog. That was probably a wise move since my most frequently read posts turned out to be stuff like “Why Is **** a Bad Word?””

In my defense, I could argue that posts like “Why Is **** a Bad Word?” are educational, but maybe they’re inappropriate for a middle school teacher. You could make the case that a middle school teacher shouldn’t write stuff like “Why is **** a Bad Word?” Because of stuff like that, I never promoted or even mentioned my blog to anybody at school, not even to other English teachers. I never stood in front of my class and said, “Hey, students, do you want to read something really cool that I wrote on my blog?”

After all this time we’ve spent together, I feel a bit guilty for missing my blog’s tenth birthday. I could buy some flowers for Dysfunctional Literacy and promise never to write any more books again, but I don’t like to make promises that I can’t keep. I mean, right now I just want to write one book. That’s it. I’m not greedy. I’m not going to write a bunch of books just for the sake of writing books, but if I get an original idea for another one, I might write it, and then I’d feel like I was breaking my promise.

My writing priority for the next couple/few months is book first, blog second. I hope my blog understands. Maybe I’ll be done by April for Dysfunctional Literacy’s 11th birthday. It’s not quite as special as the 10th. But if I’m done with the writing/editing portion of the book, I can spend more creative time with the blog. All the blog wants is positive attention. Maybe by April I’ll be in a better spot to provide that.

With all that said…. HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, DYSFUNCTIONAL LITERACY!!!!!!

Five Books You Must Read Before I Die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hey, I didn’t come up with the title.

Just so you know, I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, and this isn’t meant to be a morbid post. A few months ago, I read a book called 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and at the time I thought putting 1000 books on a list like that was obnoxious.

I’ve read more than five books on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. I haven’t counted them, but I know it’s more than five, and I like the number five. If you have an internet list, five is a good number, especially if you’re going to explain each listing. 1001 is way too many for an internet list. Five is way too few for a book.

If you think my title is morbid, remember that I’m not the morbid one. I didn’t come up with the concept of reading a certain number of books before I die. That was somebody else. I even posted the book cover to prove it. I’ve never had an actual book published, so you know that’s not my name on the cover.

To make things easier for potential book readers, I made my own book list, and I think you should read these books before I die because it doesn’t do me any good if you read them after I die. If you read these books after I die, we can’t talk about these books.

I feel uncomfortable telling you that you MUST READ THESE BOOKS BEFORE I DIE. I don’t like bossing people around. Yeah, I was a teacher for 30 years, but I still didn’t enjoy bossing students around. When teaching, I tried the soft approach as much as possible. I never told the students they had to read this book before they died; I just said they had to pretend that they’ve read this book if they wanted to pass my class. I thought it was a fair policy, but some students didn’t even bother to pretend.

Anyway, I have a few guidelines for my FIVE BOOKS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

First, you have a lot of time to read these books. I don’t plan on passing away any time soon. I know things can happen unexpectedly, but I’m not writing this post out because of morbid thoughts.

Also, I’m not including literary fiction. I don’t want anything that can seem pretentious. I’ve chosen five books for their entertainment value only. Even if I thought Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy was a MUST READ BOOK, I wouldn’t include it on the list. What did Leo Tolstoy know about happy families anyway? There were no happy families in 19th century Russia. Tolstoy had no frame of reference for his first sentence in that book.

What I’m trying to say is that every book on my list is schlock, and I know it.

And don’t worry about the consequences. Nothing bad is going to happen to you if you don’t read these books. I’ll never know. When you’re on your death bed (hopefully that won’t be until decades and decades from now), you won’t regret not reading these books. It shouldn’t be on your mind in that situation. You should be happily unaware because of drugs at that point. Again, I’m not trying to be morbid.

Enough explaining! Here are FIVE BOOKS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Different Seasons by Stephen King

I don’t even like reading Stephen King books anymore, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the novellas in this collection. Two of the stories are great (though implausible) and made pretty good movies.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The dialogue is great. There is too much exposition through dialogue, but that’s true for most mysteries. It’s still very entertaining, and there isn’t any other mystery novel quite like it.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Yes, The Godfather was a book before it was a bunch of movies. I can’t believe I still have to tell people this. You could watch the first two movies instead of reading the book, but that wouldn’t be reading.

The Warlord Chronicles: The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell

It’s a trilogy (yawn!), but it’s a real trilogy, not a fake one (if you know what I mean). The first 80 pages of The Winter King might be a little slow, but then… things pick up a little bit.

Marathon Man– by William Goldman

Most readers know William Goldman for The Princess Bride, but I’m partial to Marathon Man. It’s shorter, more fast-paced, and I prefer “Is it Safe?” over “Inconceivable!” WARNING! The Marathon Man movie is so 1970s that it hurts my eyes and ears. You’re better off reading the book.

*****

There you go. These are the FIVE BOOKS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE!!!!!!!!!!! If you want, leave a comment with your FIVE BOOKS I MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t promise that I’ll read all the books (or any of them) on your list, but I won’t think you’re morbid.

What was the deal with…? Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner

I’m a cheapskate, and last week I spent $20 on this used paperback copy of Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner.

I rarely spend $20 for a single book. I won’t spend it on a brand new hardback, even if it’s on discount. I won’t even spend $20 for a box set of multiple books. But I spent $20 for this beat up paperback copy, and I don’t regret it.

I’ve read Bloodstone three or four times throughout my life. It’s one of my favorite sword & sorcery novels. It’s only about 300 pages. It’s a self-contained novel in a series where you don’t have to read the other books to know what’s going on.

The book isn’t perfect. A couple sections in the second half feel rushed. The descriptions get a little repetitive. Even though the flaws in the writing are noticeable, they weren’t bad enough for me to stop reading.

Anyway, Bloodstone seems like a simplified version of A Game of Thrones. Two cities are manipulated into war, while the instigator gathers the forces of an ancient race to conquer the world. It’s not exactly like A Song of Ice and Fire, but there are some basic similarities.

I know George R.R. Martin has read Bloodstone. I mean, I probably can’t prove it in the courts, but I still know. Anybody who writes sword & sorcery knows Bloodstone. It came out in the 1970s, which was probably the peak for sword & sorcery sales. There’s no way George R.R. Martin didn’t read it.

I’m not saying A Game of Thrones is a Bloodstone rip-off. There are some similarities and parallel thoughts. It’s not a rip-off like The Sword of Shannarra was a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings. If anything, Bloodstone might be considered a rip-off (I use the term ‘rip off’ loosely) of The Lord of the Rings, because it involves an almost all-powerful ring that controls its possessor, but there are no dorky hobbits or elves or dwarves. It’s just humans, sorcery, monsters, and misogyny, everything you need for great sword & sorcery.

Bloodstone is way better than A Song of Ice and Fire simply because it’s done. Karl Edward Wagner actually finished the story. He didn’t get bogged down with adventures of Teres (an interesting character in Bloodstone) or the political rise of Dribek (another interesting character) before he finished the novel. Wagner just told the story and then wrote more books.

Of course, Karl Edward Wagner wrote his books in the 1970s. He didn’t have the internet to distract him every day like George R.R. Martin does now. A few fantasy geeks knew Karl Edward Wagner’s name name, but nobody would have recognized him if they saw him just hanging out at a sci-fi convention.

I still can’t believe I spent $20 on Bloodstone, though. I’m not the only sword & sorcery fan who is aware of Bloodstone. The book pricer at the used book store knew to sell it for $20 in the “Collectibles” section. Most books in that area go for $5, maybe $10. Bloodstone was the highest priced item that wasn’t locked up. According to the price sticker, Bloodstone had been on the shelf for only a few days. If I hadn’t bought it, I’m pretty sure somebody else would have soon.

I had most of Karl Edward Wagner’s books when I was a teenager, and then I sold them on eBay as a collection for a ridiculously high price a few years ago. Back then, I’d take stuff from my book collection and let them sit in a store format at extremely high prices for months at a time. It was a great strategy for cleaning out stuff that I wasn’t going to read anymore because almost everything eventually sold. I emptied out some space in the house, and we paid some bills ahead of time.

Every once in a while, though, I want to reread something that I’ve sold. The good news is that it’s easy to buy stuff back. I probably could have waited and gotten Bloodstone for a cheaper price, but I don’t know. I enjoyed reading it again. Now maybe I’ll sell it again. I think that’s the healthy way to treat books. Instead of having a bunch of old, crusty, yellowed books gathering dust in a closet, I can sell them or lend them out.

Anybody want to buy Bloodstone for $30?