Great Expectations

C. S. Lewis once said, “We read to know that we are not alone.”  Once in awhile I read something and know he was right.  I started a book today, and reading the very first paragraph was one of those moments.  I haven’t even read enough of the book to know what it’s really about or if I’ll like it, but these few sentences resonated with me.

So here’s the paragraph:

“It was a long drive and Eve cried most of the way home, because the big day hadn’t gone the way she’d hoped, not that big days ever did.  Birthdays, holidays, weddings, graduations, funerals — they were all too loaded with expectations, and the important people in her life rarely acted the way they were supposed to.  Most of them didn’t even seem to be working from the same script as she was, though maybe that said more about the important people in her life than it did about big days in general.”  (Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta)

Do you find yourself nodding and agreeing?  I know I did.  Although I have to add that it also says more about the false expectations I often have than about the big days in general. 

We have these movie and television, magazine and Norman Rockwell images of holidays that are perfect.  You know the ones.  The whole family – several generations of them – gathered for Thanksgiving, dressed perfectly, every hair in place, make up done, everyone smiling – and Dad is getting ready to carve a great big Thanksgiving turkey.  Or maybe it’s Christmas morning with the whole family gathered around the beautifully decorated and ideally shaped tree as someone is opening the perfect present.  It’s the sunny day family picnic in July, everyone smiling and filling a pew on Easter Sunday, or the lovely hug as a thank you for the best birthday present ever. 

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What you don’t see is the kitchen mess from cooking, the kids shoving and pushing, the person who opens the present you so carefully bought and wrapped saying, “Oh. Thanks.”  You don’t see everyone on their phones, watching the television, or taking off and leaving that mess in the kitchen. 

Sometimes I have a vision of how ordinary days should go when gathered with family or with friends.  And sometimes those days don’t quite go the way I hoped.  When we build up expectations, we just set ourselves up to be disappointed.  If it happened last Monday or this Wednesday, you can be sure it has happened on the big days.   And it will continue to happen.

I allow myself to build up my expectations.  I see those glossy pictures in the magazines, I watch too many Hallmark movies, and I want to be part of the Waltons.  Maybe as summer wanes and we move into fall, I would do well to keep myself away from these unrealistic tableaus and keep my expectations real.  I wonder where all those pretty people and perfect families live…or if there they are indeed just fictional characters I made up.

Stories Color Our Lives, Learning, and Links to Others


Human beings love stories.  We are entertained by them.  We learn from them.  We pass on faith, culture, history, and character through them.  Story telling is as old as mankind.  The earliest forms of history were oral traditions passed from one generation to the next.  We see story telling in the ancient hieroglyphics as people yearned for a way to put down their ideas and experiences to remember them, as a record for posterity, for others to see and read and know.   

Modern humans love stories no less than our ancestors did.  Certainly we have different avenues for sharing them.  From way back, people bought books.  Eventually they shared those books through libraries.  And today we have e-books.  From Sophocles to Lin-Manuel Miranda the theater has told stories of kings and heroes, of lovers, murderers, and political leaders, of salesmen, conmen, and immigrants in Washington Heights. Screenshot 2017-07-15 22.42.10 We have stories in songs.  You know about the Piano Man who tells us “John at the bar is a friend of mine.  He gets me my drinks for free and he’s quick with a joke or a light up your smoke but there’s someplace that he’d rather be.”  And Harry Chapin told us the whole life story of a father and son within the lyrics of “Cat’s in the Cradle.”  We hear the story of a people even in the lyrics of a song.  Look at the snippets, lines and words that Jennifer Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda sing in “Love Make the World Go Round” which tells a story:

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Jesus taught the way humans learn easiest and best.  He taught in stories, in parables.  He taught the value of being a neighbor as he wove the tale of the Good Samaritan.  He taught of the love God has for his people in the Parable of the Lost Sheep,the value of forgiveness in the story of the two debtors, the value of living right in the Parable of the Sower, and about forgiveness and redemption in the story of the Prodigal Son.

Some of the lessons and teachers I remember most used story to make things come alive.  Mr. Horpel taught us of the all-too human people and brought history alive for me by having us find the lives behind the dates and accomplishments of the founding fathers of our country.  Mrs. Sampson told us stories that made us think beyond the pages of the literature we were reading.  She had us question and reason and make a case.  She had the audacity to tell teenagers how she maintained the Jewish sabbath and followed the rules agains work.  She did no work and used no machines during the sabbath.  This meant no cooking, no driving, no turning on lights, no answering doorbells, and (oh the horror) not answering the phone!  She taught us debate and argumentation as we tried futilely to convince her of the error of her ways. 

I have always loved stories from my earliest memories.  I was a television junkie at an early age.  I camped out on Saturday morning with a dozen or so stuffed animals lined up on the sofa to keep me company as Johnny Weissmuller flew from vine to vine, as the cartoon heroes of my day were chased by and then foiled their enemies.  On a good Screenshot 2017-07-15 22.34.37Saturday, I could slip past my mother’s notice to take to the air with Sky King and hisniece Penny as they solved crimes.  And I went to movies.  Every Saturday that there was a new movie at the Coyle or the State theater that looked interesting, there I was. 

Books?  I know you wonder what about my books.  Surprisingly, given my love of them now, books played a small part in my childhood.  I remember only one in my home.  It was an anthology – old, brittle, disintegrating, and browned with age – that lived in our attic.  Given its condition I was discouraged from handling it but I loved every chance I got to get my hands on it.  I have no idea what the book was, why Mom kept it, or what happened to it.  But it was the first book I loved.  I spent a little time in our tiny public library where you were allowed two books each time you visited.  But it wasn’t until we moved to a new city and I knew no one that I found the stories in books that I grew to love.  In the new library, I could have all the books I could carry! 

Having stories shared with me was a joy.  But eventually I learned the joy of sharing stories.  My drama class in high school put me on the other end of the equation.  We could share stories with our audience, delight them, entertain them, inform them.  I went on to major in drama in college (with majors in English and education as safety nets).  I never sought to work in theater, but took my “show” into the classroom.  Unfortunately, drama was the first of the arts to disappear from public education.  So it was a good thing I had that English background. 

It is odd to me that it is only in retrospect that I realize how vital a role story telling played in my classroom.  As I taught concepts of grammar, logic, literary criticism, and speech, I used story to make my point.  I told of former students, neighbors, classmates, friends, and family.  I told self-deprecating stories under the philosophy of “if you can’t be a good example, at least be a terrible warning.” 

And it’s no accident that in one of my first blog posts I shared Pat Conroy’s “Great Teacher Theory” since I lived by that advice.  And I shared the stories of others.  Of course I assigned and recommended books all the time.  But more importantly, I read aloud to my high school juniors.  I read the stories and poems we discussed in class.  I read essays and magazine articles.  I read picture books – lots of them.  And I read books – entire books – aloud.  Screenshot 2017-07-15 22.34.26We cried at the loss of Morrie Schwartz as Mitch Albom recounted his days with his college professor in Tuesdays With Morrie.  We giggled and grew outraged for Melinda in Speak. We empathized with George and Lennie as their best laid plans fell apart in Of Mice and Men. 

At the end of school years, my students told me that their favorite stories were those I read aloud to them.  As I think back to those days I realize that those were my favorites as well.

How could it be that it wasn’t until after I retired from teaching and took a part-time job in a library that I became aware of how much I loved and thrived on sharing stories?  About four years ago Mary Alice Spiegel and Megan Leeds told me “You can do it!” and “Don’t worry.  It’s fun” and shoved me into a two-year-old’s story time.  Megan had planned it so all I had to do was show up and jump in.  And they were right.  Fun! 

Not long after that, I inherited a Picture Book Story Time of 4-6-year-olds.  What a blast!  I was having a ball and getting paid to tell stories, sing songs, and make preschoolers laugh.  Eventually I added a Baby and Me time for under twos.  And I loved that too! 

I’ve joked at times.  Do you know what the difference is between those preschoolers and my high schoolers?  Height.  But in some ways it wasn’t such a joke.  We all love stories, and as C. S. Lewis once said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity.  Last week an old friend from before I was a teacher or a mom contacted me and asked me to be the story teller on the Steam Into History Story Time Train.  This session was different than any I had ever done because the “children” ranged in age from about eight weeks to eighty years.  We read stories and they loved The Book With No Pictures and I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More. Some were reunited with and others introduced to Elephant and Piggy.  Young and old alike made train noises and played along with “Baby Shark.”  Sure there were a few of those kids who were of the age where they couldn’t do motions to silly songs, but I watched their eyes.  They still loved stories. 

Now that I’ve realized at this ripe old age that I need to be able to tell stories, that I want to read and entertain, that watching the faces of people being transported through story needs to be part of my life…  Well, I have a hole to fill.  I need to find a way to make this more a part of my life.  I thrive on it, and if I can take the word of my little boys I called George, of Stella, of Laila and Charlie, of Ruthie, of Kian and others, I think I’m pretty good at it.  Want me to read you a story, stop by any time!


What I Wish I Had Learned

There are lessons that everyone learns early in life.  Some of us are taught things that we shouldn’t ever have to learn.  Death and dying, bullying, cruelty, pain, and harm.  I don’t need to expound on those. 

Then there is the teaching that is positive and beneficial for an individual, the family, the community, and the world.  People who love us and mean well give us instruction that digs deep into our souls and become part of who we are.  Wash your hands before you eat.  Flush and then wash your hands.  Say please and thank you.  Do unto others as you want them to do to you.  Robert Fulghum wrote about these things in Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, and John McCutcheon took some of those wonderful ideas and set them to music.  And the world would be wonderful if everyone adhered to these things all the time

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Click on the picture to hear John sing!

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But there are also things that those same loving people teach us that do more harm than good.  They are some seemingly benign exhortations that we really shouldn’t learn. Some of these are so wide-spread that they have become adages in our language.  Things like

  • Don’t rock the boat.
  • What will the neighbors say.
  • We don’t talk about ___________.
  • Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.

Instead of these things, we need to teach our children some things that will make them stronger and more able to make decisions for themselves, that will protect them from the demands of peer pressure, gossip and bullies, that will let them know that they can be individuals.  I have been mulling this over, and here are some things I wish I had been taught early in my life.  Had I had these ideas as a fundamental part of who I am, life would have been quite different for me.  

Imagine what the impact would have been if you had these people whispering this one piece of wisdom in your ear or imbuing a plethora of ideas into your core being.  I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to retrain my thinking.  As you think of what you are saying to the young people in your life, remember first the words of Frederick Douglass (as long as I’m relying so much on quotes here), “It’s easier to build strong children than repair broken men.”

  1. “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.  Dr. Phil
  2. “You alone are enough.  You have nothing to prove to anybody.  Maya Angelou”
  3. “Is fat really the worst thing a human can be?  Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel?  Not to me.”  J. K. Rowling
  4. “Intense love does not measure, it just gives.”  Mother Teresa
  5. “Find out who you are and be that person.  That’s what your soul was put on this earth to be.  Find that truth, live that truth, and everything else will come.”  Ellen DeGeneres
  6. “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”  Maya Angelou
  7. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts.”  Winston Churchill
  8. “Let your greatness bloom.” Nelson Mandela
  9. “I follow three rules:  Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.” Lou Holtz
  10. “Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way.”  Barbara Bush
  11. “It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority.  It’s necessary.”  Mandy Hale
  12. “Always be the Leading Lady of your own life.” Audrey Hepburn
  13. “Leadership is not about popularity, it is about doing what is right.” Laura Bush
  14. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  Desmond Tutu
  15. “The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others on how you demand to be treated.  Don’t settle for anything other than respect.”  Dr. Phil
  16. “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”  Audrey Hepburn
  17. “If you don’t have enemies, you don’t have character.”  Paul Newman
  18. “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.”  Robert Brault
  19. “A public opinion pole is not substitute for thought.”  Warren Buffett
  20. “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”  Winston Churchill
  21. “There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as if everything is a miracle.”  Albert Einstein
  22. “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.  Mother Teresa
  23. “If your success is not on your own terms, it it looks good to the world. but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.  Anna Quindlen
  24. “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”  Steve Jobs
  25. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”  Steve Jobs
  26. “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me.  Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.”  Steve Jobs
  27. “My favorite things in life don’t cost money.  It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”  Steve Jobs
  28. “God does not demand that I be successful.  God demands that I be faithful.  When facing God, results are not important.  Faithfulness is important.”  Mother Teresa
  29. “If you’re bored with life – you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things – you don’t have enough goals.” Lou Holtz
  30. “I can’t believe that God put us on this earth to be ordinary.” Lou Holtz
  31. “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson Mandela
  32. “We can change the world.  It is in your hands to make a difference.” Nelson Mandela
  33. “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” Nelson Mandela
  34. “I will not be abused.  I will not be misused, not willingly.  But I will be of use.  Anybody who is not of use is useless.”  Maya Angelou
  35. “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.  Maya Angelou
  36. “It’s true.  I can do anything and do it well because God loves me.” Maya Angelou
  37. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”  Maya Angelou
  38. “The question is not how to survive, but how to thrive with passion, compassion, humor and style.”  Maya Angelou
  39. “We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”  Maya Angelou
  40. “If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”  Maya Angelou

Do You Have Any Idea How Much You Don’t Know?


A passage in Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime spoke to me.  There is truth here.  It also got me thinking about what we know, what we think we know, and what we don’t even know that we don’t know!

“In Germany, no child finishes high school without learning about the Holocaust. Not just the facts of it but the how and the why and the gravity of it – what it means. As a result, Germans grow up appropriately aware and apologetic. British schools treat colonialism the same way, to an extent. Their children are taught the history of the Empire with a kind of disclaimer hanging over the whole thing. ‘Well, that was shameful, now wasn’t it?’

In South Africa, the atrocities of apartheid have never been taught that way. We weren’t taught judgment or shame. We were taught history the way it’s taught in America. In America, the history of racism is taught like this: “There was slavery and then there was Jim Crow and then there was Martin Luther King Jr. and now it’s done.” It was the same for us. “Apartheid was bad. Nelson Mandela was freed. Let’s move on.” Facts, but not many, and never the emotional or moral dimension. It was as if the teachers, many of whom were white, had been given a mandate. “Whatever you do, don’t make the kids angry.” (183)

There is so much that we don’t know. No matter who you are, what kind of grades you had in school, how long ago you graduated, or how many degrees you have, there is more you can learn. There is a great, wide world of knowledge that is out there, and much of it is not just a mytery. Often it is a case of we don’t know what we don’t know. Unfortunately many people don’t realize how little they know and believe themselves to be omnicient. This happens for multiple reasons.

Let’s face it. Too many people went through school on the social or athletic program only. They did enough to barely get by on a test, got someone else to do their homework, cheated, plagiarized, or did whatever they could to stay eligible to participate in their extra-curricular activities. Eventually they get a diploma and go out into the world seemingly with an education. They are, however, woefully unprepared to make good decisions and have a shallow or non-existent basis for what they believe to be true.  By lacking exposure to ideas and “the other,” they fear what is different.

Other people become experts because they learned something once and have stuck to it. They are completely sure of what they know so there is no need to keep learning. The problem is, of course, that the world of knowledge moves on. Once upon a time, people were sure that the sun revolved around the earth, that the world was flat, and that man would never fly. When I was in school, I learned all of the elements on the periodic table. I was greatly suprised years later when I saw a periodic table and it seemed to have doubled in size. I hadn’t read any chemistry since I was a junior in high school, and since I didn’t keep up, I was left behind. I knew the periodic table and had the accurate information at that moment in time but was ignorant of so many changes.

Sometimes the reason people don’t know is because they never had correct or adequate information to begin with. I see this as a greater problem in our world today. We heard it on a television program or a radio talk show. It must be true. Especially if that news outlet happens to feed into our already held biases. We read it online. It must be true. Even very intelligent, educated people will often forward or repost something without knowing the source. Legitimate news sources now say “according to sources” which means that they haven’t done their due diligence in fact checking. And some outlets, who would like us to believe that they are reporting the truth, will knowingly mislead through omissions and sometimes outright lies. Shows that are supposedly news programs lack facts and impartiality and are really full of opinion, bias, and an agenda they are trying to sell. If we don’t do our due diligence in learning the sources and not accepting everything that we hear or read, we will be ignorant…and sometimes very loud and opinionated in our ignorance.

The school district where I taught had a mission statement about preparing our students to become lifelong learners. Not only was it a lofty goal, it was an essential one we should all aspire to. The amount of knowledge known to mankind is astronomical. Someone said that an average Sunday issue of the New York Times had more information that most Englishmen in the 1600s would have been exposed to in their lifetimes. I don’t know if this is true. What I do know is that there is more to learn than I could possibly hope to learn in a lifetime, but I’m going to keep trying to take in as much as I can.

I read a wide variety of articles, books, and web pages.  I read fiction and nonfiction from around the world and a wide varieity of authors.  I try very hard to look at the sources to make sure that what I am reading comes from someone who actually knows something about the topic. If I am going to read about science and climate change, I am going to look at the credentials of the writer and the publication. I am going to analyze what I read and compare it to other things that I have read.

Likewise, if I am going to learn about a culture, it is best to find someone who has lived in it to be my authority. In order to understand the life of a young man growing up in South Africa under apartheid and the time following its fall, I turn to Trevor Noah. To find what it is like to live in the United States as a Native American (even though I know his arguement with this term, it seemed best here) I will turn to Sherman Alexie. If I wany to understand what it is to be Black, Muslim, Hispanic in America today, who do I look to? To those who are experiencing it. But I still need to look at it knowing that they bring only one perspective and will have their own biases.  So I read more, listen more, experience more.

I care. I want to keep learning and to find truth. I want to understand. I remember the words of Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hae, it is indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it is indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it is indifference.”  Before we judge, let us make sure we know and understand.  Before we repeat the sins of the past, let us make sure we know our history.  As the old saying goes, if we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it.  Before we accept old science, let’s look at the research, look at the facts, and learn as much as possible.




(There’s nonfiction below.  Remember that we can also learn from fiction)

Alexie, Sherman – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Anaya, Rudolfo – Bless Me, Ultima
Cisneros, Sandra – The House on Mango Street
Conroy, Pat – The Water is Wide
Curtis, Christopher Paul – The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963
Erdrich, Louise – The Round House
Ford, Jami – Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Freedman, Russell – Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Grimes, Nikki – Garvey’s Choice
Guterson, David – Snow Falling on Cedars
Haley, Alex – Roots: The Saga of an American Family
Hoffman, Beth – Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Hosseini, Khaled – The Kite Runner – A Thousand Splendid Suns
House, Silas – Same Sun Here
Hurston, Zora Neale – Their Eyes Were Watching God
Kidd, Sue Monk – The Secret Life of Bees
Kingsolver, Barbara – The Bean Trees
Lee, Harper – To Kill a Mockingbird
Marshall, Catherine – Christy
Mitchell, Margaret – Gone With the Wind
Morrison, Toni – Beloved – The Bluest Eye
Palacio, R. J. – Wonder
Schumer, Fern Chapman – Is It Night or Day?
Steinbeck, John – The Grapes of Wrath
Stockett, Kathryn – The Help
Stone, Tanya Lee – Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles,
America’s First Black Paratroopers
Stowe, Harriet Beecher – Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Styron, William – Sophie’s Choice
Twain, Mark – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Uhry, Alfred – Driving Miss Daisy
Walker, Alice – The Color Purple
Wilson, August – Fences
Wright, Richard – Native Son


Angelou, Maya – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Beah, Ishmael – A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Brown, Dee – Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the
American West
Carson, Ben – Gifted Hands
Coates, Ta-Nehisi – Between the World and Me
Douglass, Frederick – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Ellison, Ralph – Invisible Man
Engle, Margarita – Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings
Griffin, John Howard – Black Like Me
Hall, Ron – Same Kind of Different as Me
Houston, Jeanne – Farewell to Manzanar
Lewis, John Robert – March (Books 1, 2, & 3)
Mandela, Nelson – Long Walk to Freedom
McBride, James – The Color of Water
Moody, Anne – Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of a
Young Black Girl in the South
Nafisi, Azar – Reading Lolita in Tehran
Nelson, Marilyn – Carver: A Life in Poems – A Wreath for Emmett Till
Newman, Leslea – October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard
Noah, Trevor – Born a Crime
Rodriguez, Richard – Hunger of Memory
Rogers, Mary Beth – Barbara Jordan: American Hero
Hetterly, Margot Lee – Hidden Figures: The American Dream & the Untold Story of the
Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Skloot, Rebecca – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Vance, J. D. – Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Walls, Jeannette – The Glass Castle
Washington, Booker T. – Up From Slavery
Weatherford, Carole Boston – Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer
Wiesel, Elie – Night
Wilkerson, Isabel – The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great
Woodson, Jacqueline – Brown Girl Dreaming
Wright, Richard – Black Boy
Yousafzai, Malala – I Am Malala
Zinn, Howard – A People’s History of the United States

Storytellers or Oracles

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I love learning new things and about new things.  A few days ago I was watching the CBS Morning Show and was fascinated by a story about a new sound system from Dolby called Dolby Atmos.  On CBS Morning Show’s web site, the spot is entitled “New Sound Technology Enhances 3D Movie Experience.”  My mind went to a book as I was watching the segment.  No surprise there, right?  The whole sound system isn’t nearly as new as it seems.  Ray Bradbury describes this innovation in his novel Fahrenheit 451. 

I’d like you to watch the video before reading any further so that you can get the connection right away.  Just follow the link below.

Welcome back.

Science fiction is not one of my preferred genres to read, but there are sci-fi novels that I have chosen to read and loved.  They aren’t Star Trek or Star Wars novelizations.  I usually come to these at the recommendation of friends known to be thoughtful readers. There are times when our really excellent science fiction writers are oracles.  And this is what caused me to connect this story with Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

If you have never read this book, you really must.  If you haven’t read this book since it was assigned to you in a class, you really must reread it.  A number of years ago I reread this book in preparation to teach it.  My mind was blown!  I kept referring back to the copyright date.  The novel and I were born in the same year – 1953.  (Yes, I’m that old.)  What blew me away was that I could easily have been reading something written and set in the present, and we would recognize it! 

The portion of the book that I am concerned with in this writing is where the fire captain, Beatty, visits Montag and explains how the country came to have fire companies that burn books.  So I reread that part.  It is long – running from page 54 to page 62.  I started wondering how much of it should be quoted in this reflection. While mulling over this question, I began rereading other passages of the book including the Coda in the edition I have.  (My edition contains an afterword copyrighted in 1982 and a Coda copyrighted in 1979.)  In the Coda, Bradbury rails against the way text books have treated the stories they print from major authors – including the ways they wanted to expurgate his.  As he describes it, they “skin, debone, demarrow, scarify, melt, render down and destroy.  Every adjective that counted, every verb that moved, every metaphor that weighed more than a mosquito – out!  Every simile that would have made a sub-moron’s mouth twitch – gone!  Any aside that explained the two-bit philosophy of a first-rate writer – lost!”  He tells of receiving requests to publish his work with some minor changes to which he says he fired the lot, sent rejection slips to them all, and ticketed “the assembly of idiots to the far reaches of hell.” (176) 

Since I want no such ticket, I am tempted to include the entirety of those nine pages here.  Since I really don’t want to include more than is necessary, I am tempted to only quote the lines I am reflecting on.  Therefore, I have come up with a compromise.  Here’s what I will do.

    1. I will quote most of the passage at length.  I’ll be leaving out Montag’s wife fiddling with pillows.  In fact, I’m leaving out Mildred all together.  She isn’t essential my purpose. 
    2. I will put the quoted passage here with some commentary noted within it.  The commentary will be easily spotted because the font is blue, bold, and italics or it is in the form of  graphics.
    3. I will mark clearly where the passage begins and ends in red.  While I hope you read all of it, you can skim through or even skip it if you are familiar with the book and just read the commentary.  (If you don’t know the book, I hope you’ll read all of what is here.)
    4. I will then put what I have to add and some recommended reading following the passage.


“When did it all start, you ask, this job of ours [burning books], how did it come about, where, when?  Well, I’d say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War.  Even though our rule book claims it was founded earlier.  The fact is we didn’t get along well until photography came into its own.  Then – motion pictures in the early twentieth century.  Radio.  Television.  Things began to have mass….And because they had mass,, the became simpler,” said Beatty.  “Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere.  They could afford to be different.  The world was roomy.  But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths.  Double, tripe, quadruple population.  Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste pudding norm, do you follow me?”

“I think so.”

Beatty peered at the smoke pattern he had put out on the air.  “Picture it.  Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion.  Then in the twentieth century, speed up your camera.  Books cut shorter.  Condensations.  Digests.  Tabloids.  Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.” …

Screenshot 2017-05-22 15.38.26“Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume.  I exaggerate, of course.  The dictionaries were for reference.  But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a fait rumor of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors.  Do you see?  Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.” …    Screenshot 2017-05-22 15.31.23

“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually gradually neglected, finally almost ignored. [R U still RDG? LOL] Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work.  Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”…

“The zipper displaces the buttons and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour.”…

“Empty the theaters save for clowns and furnish the rooms with glass walls and pretty colors running up and down the walls like confetti or blood or sherry or sauterne.  You like baseball, don’t you, Montag?”

“Baseball’s a fine game.”…

“You like bowing, don’t you, Montag?”

“Bowling, yes.”

“And golf?”

“Golf is a fine game.”


“A fine game.”

“Billiards, pool? Football?”

“Fine games, all of them.”

“More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don’t have to think, eh? Organize and organize and super organize super-super sports. More cartoons in books.  More Screenshot 2017-05-22 15.39.23pictures.  The mind drinks less and less.  Impatience.  Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, nowhere.  The gasoline refugee.  Towns turn into motels, people in nomadic surges from place to place, following the moon tides, living tonight in the room where you step this noon and I the night before.”…

“Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we?  Bigger the population, the more minorities.  Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico.  The people in this book, this play, this TV series are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere.  The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!  All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean.  Authors, fun of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters.  The did.  Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca.  Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater.  No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said.  But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive.  And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course.  There you have it, Montag.  It didn’t come from the Government down.  There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no!  Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.  Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessionals, or trade journals.”  

“Yes, but what about the firemen, then?” asked Montag.

“Ah,” Beatty leaned forward in the faint mist of smoke from his pipe.  “What more easily explained and natural?  With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.  [45’s campaign aggressively sought the votes of the uneducated – and cast dispersions on those with degrees] You always dread the unfamiliar.  Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him.  And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? [Didn’t bully or beat up anyone?  Have you ever used/heard the terms “brown-noser,” or “teacher’s pet”?  Remember when “nerd” and “geek” were used to describe the smart kids?  (Now that some segments took it over and claimed it with pride, does it still have the same impact? ) After 30+ years in the classroom, I know the opposing pressures children have.  Their parents want A’s on the report card but their friends encourage mediocrity.  I also know that schools and parents often value athletic ability over academic.] Of course it was.  We must all be alike.  Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.  Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.  So!  A book is a loaded gun in the house next door.  Burn it.  Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?  Me?  I won’t stomach them for a minute.  And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world…there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes.  They were given a the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior:  official censors, judges, and executors.  That’s you, Montag, and that’s me.”…  [Political Correctness run amok!  As our society tries harder and harder to offend no one, everyone becomes more and more offended by everything.  Many seem to try to find a reason to be offended!  The other day I read a post where someone was attacking Mike Pence for something he quoted.   They didn’t have a problem with the person who originally said it.  And their argument against his use of it was so far out there that I couldn’t even see the connection between his use of the quote and their offense!  Maybe they had an agenda and couldn’t find enough fodder that day?]

Screenshot 2017-05-22 15.40.43            Screenshot 2017-05-22 15.40.57

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred.  Ask yourself.  What do we want in this country, above all?  People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life?  I want to be happy, people say.  Well, aren’t they?  Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun?  That’s all we live for, isn’t it?  For pleasure, for titillation?  And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”…

“Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it.  White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Burn it.  Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs?  The cigarette people are weeping?  Burn the book.  Serenity, Montag.  Peace, Montag.  Take your fight outside.  Better yet, into the incinerator.  Funerals are unhappy and pagan?  Eliminate them, too.  Five minutes after a person is dead he’s on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country.  Ten minutes after death a man’s a speck of black dust.  Let’s not quibble over individuals with memories.  Forget them.  Burn all, burn everything.  Fire is bright and fire is clean…

“There was a girl next door,” [Montag] said, slowly.  “She’s gone now, I think dead.  I can’t even remember her face.  But she was different.  How – how did she happen?”

Beatty smiled, “Here or there, that’s bound to occur.  Clarisse McClellan?  We’ve a record on her family.  We’ve watched them carefully.  Heredity and environment are funny things.  You can’t rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years.  The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school.  That’s why we’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle.  We had some false alarms on the McClellans, when they lived in Chicago.  Never found a book.  Uncle had a mixed record; antisocial.  The girl?  She was a time bomb.  The family had been feed her subconscious, I’m sure, from what I saw of her school record.  She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why.  That can be embarrassing.  You ask why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it.  The poor girl’s better off dead.”

“Yes, dead.”

“Luckily, queer ones like her don’t happen often.  We know how to nip most of them in the bud, early.  You can’t build a house without nails and wood.  If you don’t want a house built, hid the nails and wood.  If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. [As people more and more select their news sources to bolster their held biases, we are reduced to never hearing an opposing view.  But even scarier is way the current administration labels any story that it disagrees with as “false news” and when called out on their lies then labels them as “alternative facts.” And the scariest trend here is the recurring threats from the administration to not allow media access, their excluding press sources that don’t follow in lock-step with their ideas and words, their edicts to government departments ruling which news source is the only one allowed within the offices, and their inclusion of foreign (Russian) press while excluding American press.]

Screenshot 2017-05-22 16.07.46 Screenshot 2017-05-22 16.09.48

Let him forget there is such a thing as war.  If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it.  Peace, Montag.  Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year.  Cram them full of noncumbustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.  [You know, the kind that can be evaluated on a multiple-choice, standardized test.] Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving.  And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.  Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with.  That way lies melancholy.  Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely.  I know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it.  So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your daredevils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex.  If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, sting me with the theremin, loudly.  I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration.  But I don’t care.  I just like solid entertainment.”… [Remember our opening video?  I also had tucked into my copy of Fahrenheit 451 a Q&A page from Parade Magazine dated March 28, 1999.  The question:  “Why do directors drown out dialogue with music and deafening sound effects? Answer:  “Since Hollywood now gets much of its profits from foreign audiences whose language isn’t English, young directors are making films where dialogue is considered less important than action and loud is equated with exciting.  What’s more, the new digital formats offer six channels of audio, so ‘sound editors are encouraged to push myriad effects,’ says the chief sound engineer at one studio. ‘When they mix everything together, it becomes a loud mess.’ And it drowns out the dialogue coming from the center speaker.”]

This exchange with Beatty brought a memory to Montag of something Clarisse had talked to him about.  He remembers her saying,  “No front porches.  My uncle says that there used to be front porches.  And people sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn’t want to talk.  Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over.  My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn’t look well.  But my uncles says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn’t want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong kind of social life.  People talked too much. [I remember sitting on the porch swing, the glider, the rocker on many front porches.  I love them.  I also remember from my childhood the women who lived next door and directly across the street from her sitting out on their porches and having conversations late into the evening – without either leaving her own porch!    Today we keep “in touch” with old friends through Facebook instead of visiting or even giving them a call to chat.  And do we call family and friends today?  No!  Why call when you can text? Sure there is no nuanced conversation, no real vitally interesting give and take, but it’s so convenient.  I know.  I’m guilty.]  And they had time to think.  So they ran off with the porches.  And the gardens, too.  Not many gardens any more to sit around in. And look at the furniture.  No rocking chairs any more. They’re too comfortable. Get people up and running around…”  [Can we say “Pokemon Go”?]


Our excellent science fiction oracles have used their words to show us a glimpse of ourselves today.  Mildred Montag is all involved with her “family” that she watches day and night on television screens that go wall to wall around the room.  I remember my grandparents and my mother talking about “their stories” and recounting what the people were doing on their soap operas as if they were friends and relatives.  Today we watch real people living their “real lives” (if you can believe them) through reality tv shows where we follow the Kardashians, the Osbournes, “average” people living on the Jersey shore, and the real housewives of various cities.  People get so wrapped up in their shows that they take the place of real friends.  We can vote instantaneously on shows like The Voice, American Idol, and America’s Got Talent.  We have interactive stories and virtual reality that is very much like what Mildred had.  When I was growing up, I couldn’t have imagined such things as virtual reality or interactive technology.  Bradbury did.  And he wrote this over sixty years ago. 

Ray Bradbury wrote a book in which he satirized society in the 1950’s.  The book was and is quite controversial prompting many to challenge and try to censor the book.  (Can we say “irony”?)  What trends was he already witnessing then?  How did he so accurately foresee the future?  In this passage alone, Bradbury describes our current house designs with nice decks and patios out back where the ideal is to have privacy from our neighbors.  He accurately captures our movies and television shows, our books, our emphasis on sports and entertainment, our desire for political correctness, our distrust of genius or even of intelligence and learning, our desire to belittle people to make ourselves seem bigger, and our distrust of things that are different.  How close are we getting to the society he has portrayed? 

It scares me to think…maybe I should just go out and see Alien: Covenant or The Fate of the Furious.

Before You Go:

If I started you thinking, you might want to look at some of the best science fiction out there.  Below is a list of 20 authors to get you started.  Some will say, but where is Tolkien, Lewis, Brooks, Jordan, Pratchett, Rowling, or Gaiman.  All truly excellent writers of fantasy novels, not science fiction.   For this post, I am only listing science fiction.  The writers here represent some of the best from days past and from current writers, those who write for adults as well as some who write for a younger group.  What they have in common is the ability to write well, create science fiction settings and characters that are believable and engrossing, and in many cases tell us something about ourselves.  Try some of these…and, as always, send me some suggestions of others to read!

  • Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; Mostly Harmless)
  • Isaac Asimov – Foundation Series
  • Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale
  • Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451  (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996. is the version I have used here for my quotes), The Martian Chronicles
  • Orson Scott CardEnder’s Game
  • Arthur C. ClarkeChildhood’s End
  • Ernest Cline Ready Player One
  • Philip K. DickDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • Cory DoctorowLittle Brother
  • Robert HeinleinStranger in a Strange Land
  • Frank Herbert – Dune
  • Aldous HuxleyBrave New World
  • Ursula LeGuinThe Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, A Wizard of Earths
  • Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time Quintet (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, A Ring of Endless Light, An Acceptable Time)
  • Lois Lowry – The Giver Series (The Giver, Gathering Blue, The Messenger, Son)
  • Cormac McCarthyThe Road
  • George Orwell!984
  • Veronica Roth – The Divergent Series (Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant)
  • Kurt Vonnegut  “Harrison Bergeron,” Slaughterhouse Five
  • Andy Weir – The Martian

Encouraging That Irresistible Sound

There is one sound that is the BEST sound in the world.  It is universal.  No matter where you are, no matter how far you travel, you will never hear a sound that produces more happiness.  No one can be a Grumpy Gus in the presence of the pure unbridled joy of a child laughing with full abandon.  If you don’t love that sound, stop reading and see someone about your problem.  Seriously.   

Here.  Click on the pictures below and see what I mean.

Screenshot 2017-05-08 20.45.00

 Screenshot 2017-05-08 20.46.04  Screenshot 2017-05-08 20.47.02

You feel happier now don’t you?  And notice that you didn’t need a translator for the videos from far off lands.  We don’t even need to know why they are laughing to join in!  Laughing babies and children, the sound of joy is the most irresistible sound – it brings a smile to everyone and makes us all happy.

When I was doing story time at the public library, I found that the best story times always had the children laughing.  They liked most of the books I selected to read to them whether they were serious or funny, but the funny ones were always their favorites.  And if I read B. J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures, the children would laugh hysterically and yell “again, again” when I had finished.  My granddaughter made me read it aloud to the gathered group during our Thanksgiving celebration. 

While children were getting their faces painted at her birthday party in December, I did story time to keep them all entertained.  They giggled as we sang and read.  When we sang “Tootie Ta” they laughed.  But reading The Book With No Pictures had the same result as always – I had to read it several times and they laughed in anticipation as well as response.  These were preschoolers, but elementary school kids have the same response!  I read the book to groups in elementary schools during visits to promote summer reading.  Same result.  Not sure if I’m exaggerating?  Watch as B. J. Novak reads the book to a group of kids who already knew the story.

Screenshot 2017-05-08 20.48.54
Click on the photo to hear B. J. Novak read the book

You probably noticed some things about Novak’s reading.  In case you didn’t, I’ll mention them because they are extremely important.  He did NOT use a sweet, calm, put-the-kid-to-sleep, sing-song voice.  I looked up some of the books on my list to see if there were youtube videos of them being read.  AAARRRRGGGG!!!!   Most of them were dreadful.  Children want life in the story.  Read like Novak does.  Be goofy, make up voices, exaggerate your facial expressions, do the noises, and (above all) throw yourself into it!  Don’t be afraid to be silly.  You will have more fun and so will the children.

A while back I promised a list of my favorite humorous picture books.  And here it is.  If you know of others that really tickle your funny bone, share them with me!  Eventually I will compose a list of funny books for older kids and even for adults.  But don’t sit around waiting for those lists.  Start here!   

While many of the videos I found on youtube were pretty bad, I did find a few worth sharing with you.  Click on any picture in this post to be linked to a video.  But remember that reading with children next to you is the best way to experience these!


  • Arnold, Tedd                                          
    • Parts
    • More Parts                                          
    • Even More Parts
  • Bardhan-Quallen, Sudipta                   
    • Snoring Beauty
  • Barnett, Mac                                           
    • President Taft is Stuck in the Bath
  • Beaumont, Karen                                  
    • I Ain’t Gonna Paint No MoreScreenshot 2017-05-08 20.50.06
  • Black, Michael Ian                                
    • Cock-a-Doodle-Doo-Bop!
  • Black, Michael Ian                                
    • Naked!
  • Bromley, Nick                                      
    •  Open Very Carefully: A Book With Bite
  • Carlson, Nancy                                    
    •  Sometimes You Barf
  • Carnavas, Peter                                     
    • The Children Who Loved Books
  • Cronin, Doreen                                      
    • Click, Clack, Moo:  Cows That Type
    • Diary of a Spider
    •  Giggle, Giggle, Quack
  • Daywalt, Drew                                      Screenshot 2017-05-08 20.49.37
    • The Day the Crayons Quit
    • The Day the Crayons Came Back
    • The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
  • Degman, Lori                                      
    • Cock-a-Doodle-Oops!
  • Droyd, Ann                                          
    • If You Give a Mouse an iPhone: A Cautionary Tale
  • Duddle, Jonny                                    
    • The Pirate Cruncher
  • Emmett, Jonathan                            
    • The Santa Trap
  • Ericson, Nora                                    
    • Dill & Bizzy: An Odd Duck and a Strange Bird
  • Frazee, Marla                                  
    • The Boss Baby
    • The Bossier Baby
  • Greenberg, Nicki                              
    • The Naughtiest Reindeer
  • Hall, Michael                                        
    • Frankencrayon
  • Harris, Robie H.                                  
    • Maybe a Bear Ate It!
  • Haughton, Chris                                   
    • Shh! We Have a Plan
  • Higgins, Ryan T.                                      Screenshot 2017-05-08 21.32.59
    • Mother Bruce
    • Hotel Bruce
    • Be Quiet!
  • Hills, Tadd                                                 
    • Duck and Goose
    • Duck and Goose Go to the Beach
  • Jeffers, Oliver                                        
    •  Stuck
  • Kelley, Marty                                          
    • Fall is Not Easy
  • Kemp, Anna                                         
    • The Worst Princess
  • Klassen, Jon                                          
    • I Want My Hat Back
  • Lefebvre, Jason                                   
    • Too Much Glue
  • Lehrhaupt, Adam                                   
    • Chicken in Space
  • McDonnell, Patrick                                   
    • Perfectly Messed Up Story
  • Munsch, Robert                                      
    • The Paper Bag Princess
  • Noll, Amanda                                           
    • I Need My Monster
    • Hey, That’s MY Monster!
  • Novak, B. J.                                              
    • The Book With No Pictures
  • Offill, Jenny                                              
    • 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore
  • Parish, Peggy                                          
    •  Amelia Bedelia
  • Perl, Erica S.                                             
    • Totally Tardy Marty
  • Plant, David J.                                          
    • Hungry Roscoe
  • Plourde, Lynn                                         
    • You’re Wearing THAT to School?
  • Ransom, Jeanie Franz                            
    • The Crown Affair
  • Rosenthal, Amy Krouse                          
    • Chopsticks
    • Spoon
  • Rubin, Adam                                             
    • Dragons Love Tacos
  • Scieszka, Jon                                            
    • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs               Screenshot 2017-05-08 21.45.54
    • Battle Bunny                                     
  • Shannon, David                                     
    • A Bad Case of Stripes
  • Shea, Bob                                                  
    • Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great
  • Slobodkina, Esphyr                                
    • Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their
    • Monkey Business
  • Smath, Jerry                                                
    • But No Elephants
  • Stanley, Diane                                              
    • Saving Sweetness
  • Stone, Jon                                                     
    • The Monster at the End of This Book    Screenshot 2017-05-08 21.20.22
  • Stower, Adam                                             
    • Troll and the Oliver
  • Thomas, Jan                                                 
    • Rhyming Dust Bunnies
    • Can You Make a Scary Face?
  • Timberlake, Amy                                       
    • The Dirty Cowboy
  • Trimmer, Christian                                    
    • Simon’s New Bed
  • Tullet, Herve                                                
    • Press Here
  • Ward, Lindsay                                              
    • Rosco vs. the Baby
  • Willems, Mo                                                 
    • Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
    • Elephant & Piggie books
  • Wood, Audrey                                             
    • King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub
    • The Napping House

Come On, Girl, I’ll Catch You!

Screenshot 2017-04-29 18.31.52  Screenshot 2017-04-29 20.43.56.png

Those of you who follow my blog know that I hit a rough patch last week.  I received a lot of support and quite a few comments from fellow suffers. Their messages were both encouraging me and reflected that they were encouraged by me.  Some assumed that one particular incident or disappointment caused the bout of depression, but that wasn’t it.  I was already there when a few incidents happened that I would normally have been able to handle easily but couldn’t at this time.  Depression magnifies the bad and sometimes even makes it up.  But that’s not what I want to tell you about this week.

What I really need to tell you is that the tools that were given to me by my counselor helped.  But what helped even more were some things that many would call serendipity or coincidence.  I’m not calling them serendipitous.  I’m calling them an intervention of the divine kind!  One thing could be a coincidence, but this was a river of blessings daily as the week progressed.

(1) The first thing that happened is something I already wrote about.  Joni Eareckson Tada shared a post on her blog that spoke directly to me.  I follow her on Facebook and read her blog.  But not always.  I actually hadn’t read anything she wrote for a couple of weeks until this post.  As I have said since I was probably fifteen-years-old, Joni always has a way of making me look at things in perspective.  God has used Joni’s life to benefit many, many people in huge ways and small.  My in-person interactions with her over the years have become only a memory, but her words still reach me.

(2) The next thing that happened was in the car.  I couldn’t find a single thing on the radio that I wanted to listen to.  Since I couldn’t reach my phone or tablet, I hit the CD button to see what was in the player.  David Crowder’s voice singing “Come As You Are” filled the car and my heart.  His CD Neon Steeple has some songs that really speak to me, and I realized how much they speak to me at a time when I’m down.

(3) Then I woke up one morning and turned on the television to see Robin Roberts interviewing Mandissa.  Many people who don’t follow Christian music still recognize her songs “Overcomer” and “Stronger” which became anthems for those fighting cancer.  Mandissa talked about her struggle with clinical depression.  She had reached a place so low that she wasn’t leaving the house, taking calls, or seeing people.  Her friends staged an intervention that she credits with saving her life.  She has taken those experiences and put them in her new album, Out of the Darkness. The CD is due to be released on May 19.  I immediately pre-ordered the new CD after hearing her song on Good Morning, America.  And I was happy to see that three of the songs (“I’m Still Here,” “Unfinished,” and “Prove Me Wrong”) were available for immediate download.  She was delivering a message for me. 

(4)  After hearing Mandissa’s and David Crowder’s songs, I was led to create a new playlist.  I went through the music in my iTunes and found other music that lifts me up.  It’s been playing constantly ever since.

Screenshot 2017-04-29 19.56.57(5) My daughter-in-law will sometimes share a devotion that she has read.  It doesn’t happen often, but there is always something she sees in it that reminds her of me or that she thinks I will like.  Early one morning this week, she texted me and told me to watch Joyce Meyers that day.  It isn’t a show I normally watch (I had my personal vendetta going against her words – which may or may not have really been her words.  Long story.) I was heading out to continue my volunteer training at New Hope Ministries; so I hit the record button on my DVR and went on my way.  The topic of the message was our need to slow down.  Laura recommended it because of one particular part that she thought I would really identify with.  And I did.  But at the beginning of the program, Meyers was talking about her new book 20 Ways to Make Every Day Better:  Simple, Practical Changes With Real Results.  The message that day came from the book.  And the book is turning into a blessing for me.

Screenshot 2017-04-29 19.58.19(6) I’ve been driving to York every week to attend church with Laura, Lily, and Deborah (Laura’s mom).  It’s a bit far, but it has really been worthwhile.  I have a family to attend with, the new senior pastor is a really good speaker and writer, and their programs are good.  Pastor Brian has started a new sermon series and is writing daily blog posts to go with it.  The topic?  “Get Real – The Flourishing Series.”  He began the series on April 15, but I just hooked into the blog in the last week.  It is all about happiness and flourishing in your daily life.  He’s writing to me.  (click on the picture to be linked to the blog)

In the six days since writing my post about depression while in the throes of a very deep funk (not usually a good time to do such things), these are the ways in which God has spoken to me. I read a part of Meyer’s book where she talked about starting each day having a conversation with God.  She stressed that prayer is a conversation and that a conversation involves speaking AND listening.  I stopped and I realized how many people and words had spoken truth to me this week.  I realized that I was feeling much better. 

While this bout was especially hard, it was mercifully short-lived.  I know that I’m not cured.  My constant companion will probably make itself heard again some day.  Until that time, I’m thankful for all of the “coincidences” of this week.  And I pray that, the next time depression tries to pull me down, I will remember the things that I have added to my arsenal against the dark moods this week…that I will start the music, rewatch the video of Mandissa and the one of Joyce Meyer, and reread the words of Pastor Brian. 

Until then…maybe a little bibliotherapy will do you some good too. I haven’t shared a book list for a couple weeks so today I’m sharing some of the books that have given me a great deal of food for thought, that have helped in some way, or that inspire me.  Some are religious.  Many are not.  Some are deep psychology.  Some are motivational Some are fun fiction.  There are adult books and picture books (also for adults).  There are biographies and memoirs.  And as usual, they are just in alphabetical order by author.  I hope you can find something here that can help you in your journey.  (An * indicates a book recommended by the counselor – some of which I liked better than other – or one that I’ve read recently that was extremely good.)

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  • Albom, Mitch – Tuesdays With Morrie
  • Andrews, Andy – The Boy Who Changed the World
  • The Butterfly Effect:  How Your Life Matters
  • The Noticer: Sometimes, All a Person Needs is a Little Perspective
  • The Traveler’s Gift:  Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success
  • Angelou, Maya – Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now
  • Bauermeister, Erica – The School of Essential Ingredients
  • Blanchard, Kenneth – The Generosity Factor:  Discover the Joy of Giving Your Time, Talent, and Treasure
  • Gung Ho!  Turn On the People in Any Organization
  • * Brown, Brené – Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are
  • *Rising Strong  (also check out Brené Brown on
  • Covey, Stephen The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People
  • * Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu & Douglas Abrams – The Book of Joy:  Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
  • Deedy, Carmen Agra –  14 Cows for America
  • Dungy, Tony – Quiet Strength:  The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life
  • Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat, Pray, Love
  • Gladwell, Malcolm – Outliers: The Story of Success
  • The Tipping Point:  How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
  • Hall, Ron, and Denver Moore – Same Kind of Different as Me
  • Harris, Alex – Do Hard Things:  A Teenage Rebellion Against LowExpectations
  • * Harris, Dan – 10% Happier:  How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works
  • Hunter, Zach – Be the Change:  Your Guide to Freeing Slaves andChanging the World
  • Johnson, Spencer – Who Moved My Cheese
  • Lucado, Max – Fearless:  Imagine Your Life Without Fear
  • Traveling Light:  Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Meant to Bear
  • When God Whispers Your Name
  • Lundin, Stephen – Fish:  A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results
  • Manning, Brennan – Above All:  He Took the Fall and Thought of Me
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel:  Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
  • McBride, James – The Color of Water:  A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
  • McCourt, Frank – Angela’s Ashes
  • * Meyer, Joyce – 20 Ways to Make Every Day Better:  Simple, Practical Changes With Real Results
  • * Ortberg, John – Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them
  • The Live You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People
  • Otoshi, Kathryn – One
  • Pausch, Randy – The Last Lecture
  • Pearl, Nancy – Book Lust:  Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason
  • Polacco, Patricia – Junkyard Wonders
  • Thank You Mr. Faulker
  • Quindlen, Anna – Being Perfect
  • How Reading Changed My Life
  • A Short Guide to a Happy Life
  • Reynolds, Peter – Creatrilogy  (Dot, Ish, and Sky Color)
  • Playing from the Heart
  • Rhimes, Shonda – Year of Yes:  How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and
  • Be Your Own Person
  • Robinson, Ken – The Element:  How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything Finding Your Element:  How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life (also check out Sir Ken Robinson on
  • Rosenthal, Amy Krouse – Exclamation Mark
  • * Rubin, Gretchen – The Happiness Project:  Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
  • Sheehan, Monica – Be Happy!: A Little Book for a Happy You
  • The Dandelion’s Tale
  • Smith, Michael W. –  A Simple Blessing: The Extraordinary Power of an Ordinary Life
  • * Tolle, Eckhart – A New Earth:  Awakening to Your LIfe’s Purpose
  • The Power of Now:  A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
  • Voskamp, Ann – One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
  • Walls, Jeanette – The Glass Castle
  • Wiesel, Ellie – Night
  • * Yapko, Michael – Keys to Unlocking Depression
  • Zagarenski, Pamela – The Whisper