The Rear View Mirror

Any blogger worth their salt knows to evaluate what (s)he writes about and knows to give potential readers something that interests them. The trick, of course, is to, well, trick them into digging deeper that they’ve gone before, making them think in new ways about their interests. I call that looking in the rear view mirror.


We’ve reviewed fewer books this year than in previous years, a trend that might continue. I won’t review pap, even though such work is high on everyone’s list. I will review books ranging from the occult to the historical, but only those that represent thinking in new ways. I don’t mind if the subject matter is all wet, as long as it presumes to have readers THINK.

If you’re a writer, I’ll do what I can to steer you away from bad technique, wandering astray, boring the reader in you. I’m not a fan of MFA program grads, but as long as these writers have something to say, I’m all in. While I don’t go about my writing and reading habits in a way that lies counter to the conventional, I’m always on the lookout for innovation, but innovation that informs and doesn’t annoy.

So if you’ve been a bit irked at the subtle changes in this blog, please hang in there. Life these days is all about change – just look back at the books reviewed here. You’ll see that change in what’s being written. I plan to change with the times, and I’ll do my best not to steer you wrong.

the one-2 copy

Oh, and by the way, I have a poetry book (cover above) coming out in February. I read some poetry and review even less, but that may change as well. Poets are the true visionaries – listen to them, read them. Stay ahead of the game.


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Kid Lit, My Friend, Kid Lit


How do you read?


What I mean is – and I mean this indirectly – what do you intend to get out of what you read?

That’s a pretty general question, Bob.

All right, I’m still not being clear enough. Do you read to get the gist of the story? Do you read to understand the characters and their conflicts? Do you read contextually, i.e., do you read to understand the story and characters in light of their historical and social settings?

Yeah, all that.

Okay, that makes you an exceptional reader. So let me ask you this: How quickly do you read?

You mean do I buy a book, run home and start reading?

You know I don’t mean that. How long do you dwell on each page?

I don’t know…Jeez, Bob, you going to put a stopwatch on me, or what?

No. What I’m getting at is: Do you enjoy the act of reading? Do you savor the writer’s word choices? Do you ponder his/her choice of metaphors? Can you slip into the writer’s written voice like a new bathrobe? Do you look for and celebrate the irony there? The subtlest humor and satiric bits and pieces?

Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes the book bores the shit out of me, and so I scan it. Can’t wait to get through with it, you know?

I do indeed. I try to allude to all these things when I write a review; I try to lead the ones who read my reviews into reading the book, and I try to tell them what they can expect from reading it.

I get where you’re coming from, Bob. You’re going to try something new in your reviews, aren’t you? And you depend on your formula to get you through the weeds.

(Notice how, suddenly, the questioner becomes the questioned?)

I get that, Bob. You’re as regular as an alarm clock when it comes to putting that formula into practice. So what’s up?


Kid lit, my friend. Kid lit.

Books for tykes, you mean.


So why is that a challenge?

Vocabulary, for one thing. An eight-year old’s vocabulary is roughly half an adult’s. And then there’s the degree of complexity a child’s mind can handle.

So, Bob, you think a kid’s mind isn’t as well developed as an adult’s?

Well, it’s been proven. That’s why they go to school. To improve their ability to think and communicate what they think.

It’s not to learn a trade? To get a good paying job?

Now you’re getting into politics, and we both know where that ends up. Certain people scratch around in the dust long enough and greedily enough, and they end up with money. Piles of it. They become addicted to money. Can’t get enough of it. So they tweak society into training mindless automatons to do their bidding. Give them just enough mental training to have them function as human machines.

Like that old song? “A mind that’s weak and a back that’s strong?”

Exactly. You become dangerous if your mind becomes over-educated.

Is that what you want, Bob, over-educated people who cause trouble?

In a way. But what I’d say is I want people who can think for themselves – and for society as a whole. To move us all forward.

Really, Bob? Really? And how do you propose to do that?


Get them reading. Challenge their minds that way.

And how do you get your so-called automatons to read?

Kid lit, my friend. Kid lit. Get the kids reading, and they’ll never stop.


End of scene. See you next week.

To Read Or Listen, That’s The Question



This week, when a technician stopped by to install a security gizmo for me, he quickly made note of my book collection and bemoaned the fact that as a newlywed he hardly had time to read any more. But, he added, I listen to audiobooks now when I’m on the road.

So I offered him a free copy of an audiobook for my story collection, Sam’s Place, and he gobbled it up. (NOTE: I still have a few free audiobook copies of that book, so if you want a copy, let me know. It’s the complete book, not a teaser.)

But as this article makes clear, there are no clear cut advantages to either print or audio books. For myself, I think reading a book, whether print or digital, requires a bit more participation by the reader than audio, but that’s a close call.

Let me know what you think.


Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

The Yin and Yang of Writing, Publication, and Readership

If you’re a writer out there, or a practitioner of any art form, for that matter, what does success mean to you? And before we go any further, let me ask you to read this article.


Another recent article, this one on writing, argues that publication is only a means to an end. But what is that end? It’s your readership. I believe this to be true. How many of you writers out there seek publication beyond friends, neighbors, readers of a similar perspective as yours, or from your geographical locale? Each step outward in developing a readership is valuable, so why are you content to sell to your own insular group? To people of your particular mini-culture? Or are you brave enough to take your writing to the larger audience out there, the one that doesn’t know a thing about where you-or your characters-are from, or why you and your writing matter?

But then there’s the writing itself. Is your writing compelling enough to Europeans, say, of maybe to a Japanese reading public, to have them want to read you and slaver after your next book-and the next?

So here we have two main problems writers face:

  • Is your writing good enough to attract readers from more or less alien cultures? Do your characters and your story display some thread common to readers in Poland and South Africa that will pull them in?
  • And how do you, daring writer, go about reaching these “exotic” readers? The article above recommends finding ways to plant your books in cities such as New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, that have a cross pollination of cultures, where readers aren’t so insular. The article argues that MFA programs do that, as does developing a relationship with a known writer, publicist, etc. who has those connections.

The problem is-and here the issue is having a growing readership at your disposal-that there are ways to develop your writing to be read world-wide. But those avenues don’t in all likelihood open you to a wider audience. Many teachers are writers themselves, and as I’ve found, not a few are jealous of their own audience, unwilling to share that audience with someone they might view as a competitor.

But the problem has a “Part B,” and this is my constant complaint about MFA programs, writing conferences, seminars, and the like. They may offer the brass ring of reader-laden connections, but, particularly MFA programs, they don’t offer legitimate ways to develop you as a writer. For instance, let’s talk agents: One agent may read part of your manuscript and, based on his/her connections, like/dislike certain things. Another agent may react in an opposite way.

This, then, is the state of writing, publishing, and reading these days. But so that this not be considered a rant, I’m seeing good writing in abundance these days. So there must be ways to bridge the above implacable forces.

How? Sorry, but I don’t have an answer for you. That’s because every manuscript from every writer is likely unique in style, vision, and impact on readers. Thus each must be developed and managed uniquely in a book industry that has little interest in such a unique approach.

A Few More Thoughts on Reading and Writing

I thought before I return to book reviews I would try to sum up the past couple of posts, albeit in a rather circuitous fashion, by asking this question:

Why do you read?

I ask this because books – or their electronic counterparts – have a lot of competition in this the early twenty-first century. You can watch TV. Movies. You can go to poetry slams and hear verse recited and, often, acted out. You can listen to audio books on those long commutes. And on an on.


So what do you require in order to read? First you have to carve out some time, maybe an hour during late afternoon, or in bed, just before going to sleep. Then you have to have a reading preference: Mystery? Suspense? A book of essays? Celebrity biography? Literary fiction? Romance novels? Young adult books? Self help? Spiritual?

And finally there’s what you hope to gain from reading a given book. In other words, with last page turned, are you glad you read it? Are you disappointed? Are your preconceived notions of the subject matter challenged? Are you entertained?

Maybe these questions are overwhelming, so let me use my own reading habits as an example.

I read fiction, love it, in fact. I love the author’s wordplay, the well-turned phrases. I love to experience far away places and people, whether these places and people are fictional or real.

I like to challenge my cultural predispositions, and so I’ll occasionally turn to history, to biographies, even at times to modern pop culture.

But why do that? It might seem I’m making work of reading books, but that’s not the way I see my own reading impulses. it’s hard to have a perspective on the cultural framework you live within – sort of like not being able to see the forest for the trees. If, as Robert Frost might have put it, I’m to be comfortable in my harness, shouldn’t I have an unvarnished perspective on my culture? Shouldn’t I learn what it takes to settle comfortably into my proper place in family, community, society, without misconceptions and delusions?

Books can do that. And you don’t have to read the most high minded literary works in order to keep you turning pages, to have you reach eagerly for another book when the one in your hand is done. Books inform, they inspire, they entertain. If you want these things in your live, indeed, NEED them, then read!


Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

The Imperfect Novel

I thought it might be time to devote a couple of posts to some of the things that make for a great read, whether you’re a writer or reader — or both. I’ve made such comments in previous posts, but they may sometimes get lost in a post reader’s rush to see whether I liked the book or not, or whether the post reader would like to try a given book on for size.

Now, don’t get me wrong here — I almost never post on a book I’ve read that shows a lack of skill in writing — or the promise of such skill. I love virtually every book I post on here; but it’s the responsibility of critique to point out those aspects of a book that seem to be lacking as well as those that take my breath away. Doing so is not to disparage, but to offer another mind, another set of eyes, to a book and its author in order to improve on what’s been done there.

It’s my contention that a perfect novel has never been written, and my bet is it never will. Okay, so what’s the use in writing one if this is true? Writers, in portraying life by way of story, despite the greatest of skill sets, can only write to an audience, and that audience will vary in its reaction to what’s been written. This may sound like something of a tautology, or saying the same thing twice, each in defense of the other, but the issue here is that the novel isn’t completely the province of the author. It’s a negotiation of sorts between writer and reader.

Example: Does the average genre reader love Faulkner? Certainly not. Faulkner’s plot is there, but not in a way that will engage readers simply desiring escape, entertainment. Do literary theory geeks find stimulation in Faulkner? You bet. Theirs is to decipher Faulkner’s elliptical references to story line happenstances and making sense of his odd characters, not (necessarily) in the overall panorama of a Faulkner novel.

I’m sure you get the point, but once again what’s important here is this: what makes a great read?

I’ll give you some grist for that mill in the next post.

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It’s Important, and We Should Listen To The Growing Complaints



The readers of this blog know by now that I have problems with certain aspects of the American version of postmodern literature – one of my plaints is given here. Philip Roth, among other, less luminous beings in the writer/reader firmament, has given up on fiction. Why? Because many of the most talented young writers have used fiction as a mirror for their own personalities, not for story.

There are tons of stories out there that should – MUST – be told. While we do live in an age of personalities, and while it’s impossible to keep today’s writers’ personalities out of their writing, the story is – and always will be – the thing.



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