Grouch To Groucho

It’s been one of those mornings.

I had crazy dreams all night.  The last one, the one that woke me up in a cold sweat, involved my riding around Mackinac Island on a tour bus filled with Brownie Scouts and their Troop leaders, all of whom were glaring at me because my child and I were not in uniform.  It was especially odd because the child wasn’t my daughter, and there are no motor vehicles on Mackinac Island.

I woke from that strangeness around 4:30 with a headache so bad that my eyeballs were throbbing.  Lots of hot coffee and two hot showers later, it’s not much better; I do, however, have a vague marketing idea for hot coffee showers.

Would that not be the greatest invention of all time?

When I finally sat down at the computer, I discovered that I have forgotten how to spell.  Anything.  Anything at all, even my own name.  That’s all right, though, because I have apparently also forgotten how to type, along with a few other things that are pretty important to me as a writer.  Working on a chapter in my newest book today, I have called my main character Eric, Kenny, Brian, and George.  All perfectly nice names, but his name is Jayson.

I went back for more coffee and stood at the kitchen window, staring out at my snow-covered yard.  Only to realize, after several moments of absolutely nothing going inside my head, that the bright fluorescent curtains are missing from my son’s playhouse in my back yard, and that the yard is crisscrossed with footprints in the snow all over the place.  Someone has had a wonderful time playing out there in the past few days.

Which is odd, since my kids are with their father this week.

Honestly, I was starting to feel like Arthur Dent in the opening scene of Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, when he looks out the window at the bulldozers circling his house and all he can think of to say is, “Yellow.”

Then, just as I was really settling in to a satisfying round of whining about my headache and bad day all over Facebook, a very dear friend sent me a picture that made my day.

groucho

All righty, then.  I am choosing to be happy.

I am happy because my kids and I are healthy, and we have a cozy little house, with neighbor kids who obviously enjoy playing in my back yard.

I am happy because my new book is coming together really well and I’m having fun writing it.  As long as I can remember Jayson’s name, that is.

I am happy because the new features for my blog are coming along nicely, and I’m excited about the very talented people who have agreed to be interviewed by me.

I am happy because my blog has really been taking off lately.  It’s getting more hits every day, as well as more followers.  The “referral” part of my stats page doesn’t always tell me where they are coming from, but I’m still thrilled to see that so many people want to stop by and read what I have to say.

I am happy because my books are selling at a steady pace.  I’m nowhere near bestseller status, but I’m very content at this point to be selling one or two a day.  I’m in the process of making Have a Goode One available through more channels, and things are definitely looking up.

I am especially happy because I just found a Toblerone in my refrigerator.  I don’t remember putting it there, but I’m going to eat it and chalk it up as a gift from the Chocolate Fairy.

What’s that?  You say you don’t believe in the Chocolate Fairy?  Heresy!  She exists, all right.  With her cousins, the Cleaning Fairy, the Money Fairy, and my personal favorite, the Wine Fairy.

groucho2

The Perfect Gift

Back when my sisters and I used to draw names and exchange gifts at Christmas time, I never really cared which sister got my name.  I could always count on one sister to give something practical that I would definitely use, and I could always count on the other to give some type of apparel (with coordinating accessories) that was guaranteed to look perfect on me.  It was a win-win situation for me every year.

They were not so lucky, however.  I freely admit that I am terrible at picking out the perfect gift for others.

At any rate, the year that really stands out in my memory was the year Practical Sis showed up with two paper grocery sacks stuffed to overflowing with used paperbacks.   Some people might have preferred a nice, new bestseller with a hardcover, but she knew me well enough to know that I just wanted books, books, and more books.   She took her full spending limit to my favorite used bookstore, and basically told Darryl, the proprietor, to “fill ‘er up!”

Those bags held romance, historical, science fiction, fantasy, mystery and classics.  There were books by everyone from Dana Fuller Ross to Patricia Cornwell to David Eddings. I devoured family sagas, time-travel romances, wizard and sorcery epics, cheesy Harlequins, and steamy bodice-rippers.   I read them all.

Okay, I didn’t finish Anna Karenina.  That book has become my personal nemesis and I swear to God I am going to read it someday.

Someday.

In later years, after we stopped exchanging gifts, Practical Sis always made a point of giving books to my children as Christmas and birthday gifts.  She is an educated woman with adult children of her own, and she loves to give books that are controversial and important, like the year she gave my son Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

(For the record, I read it, loved it, recommend it.)

Books are great gifts.   When you give a book to someone, you are sharing more than a bunch of words that may or may not help that person pass a couple of hours.  You are giving the gift of adventure, enjoyment, escape, education, emotion.  You are sharing a little part of yourself by saying “Hey, this book spoke to me, and I want to know what it says to you.”

A book doesn’t have to be scholarly to be good.  If you like it, it doesn’t matter whether it’s ever been on a bestseller list or part of a school curriculum.   It doesn’t have to be educational, and it really doesn’t even have to be memorable.  It can be all those things, but sometimes a good book is just  . . . a good book.  Something you read, enjoy, and move on.

I read Harlequin romances, and I read the works of Goethe.  I’m a fan of Twain, Austen, and Vonnegut, but I welcome the opportunity to spend an evening with Debbie Macomber’s newest tale.  I enjoyed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as much as I adored Emma.    Absolutely despised Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’ll gift it to a friend if it’s what makes my friend happy.

I’ve read The Stinky Cheese Man to my kids so many times that I have memorized certain passages.    I love that book.  Sometimes, I get to laughing so much that I can’t finish.   Is it a literary masterpiece that’s going to change the world?  Absolutely not.  Is it hilarious?  Absolutely.  At least, I think so.

Maybe I’m a bad parent for letting them read books like that, along with Captain Underpants and Goosebumps.   My daughter grew up reading the works of Lurlene McDaniel with as much devotion as I had for Judy Blume and Paul Zindel at her age.  My oldest son went through a Rick Riordan phase, followed by James Patterson and others.

In this season of excess, when people are scrambling to buy the next game system or overpriced tablet, it’s easy to forget that books can be some of the greatest gifts to give.   We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday; we have people giving up on holiday meals with their loved ones so they can get a really good price on a new TV.

Why not give a book or two?

Welcome to Read Tuesday, December 9, 2014.  This is a day when authors across all genres reduce their prices or create special deals to encourage Christmas shoppers to do something a little different.  Give a book.  Give someone you love a chance to appreciate the beauty of words on a page.   Give the gift of literacy to someone who might not buy a book for himself.

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Gift a gift to yourself as well.  On Read Tuesday, find a good deal and buy yourself a book you might not try otherwise.  Try out a new author, a new genre, a new series.  Grow just a little bit.

Let’s name some names in the comments.  What books would you recommend to others?  What books have you always wanted to read but never have?  I’d love to hear from you; maybe I’ll find a new favorite book or author.

Update 12/09/2014:  Practical Sis has given me permission to add the following picture here, just to let the world know that she isn’t always quite so practical.  She is the one on the left, and I have never been so proud.

Practical sis