4 Books a Month? Why Not!

If you followed my Reading Challenge in 2016, you might have noticed I got a little frazzled at times. Some of the topics were challenging for me, especially “Read a book that intimidates you.” There were only twelve categories, and I normally read more than one book per month, so I’m not sure why I had such a tough time.

Nevertheless, I wanted to do it again this year. I toyed with the idea of making up my own categories, like “Read a book of a genre you normally don’t read.” But I decided to do away with silly labels and genres, and instead concentrate on numbers.

I’ve pledged to read four books per month for the rest of 2017. Notice I didn’t say “a book a week.” That would be close to impossible when the books are in the 600- 1300 page range! (And two of my January picks were!) Fortunately, the other two were easy to consume in a couple of days. Here’s what I read this month…

January Reads:

Book 1: It, by Stephen King

it

 

I first read this in the 1980s or ‘90s. When I heard that the movie is being remade, my interest in the book was renewed. Clocking in at 1473 pages, the story flies back and forth between 1957 and 1985. Something bad happened to seven friends (Ben, Bill, Stan, Eddie, Richie, and Beverly) in Derry, Maine, the summer they were eleven years old. A lot of kids died that year, including Bill’s younger brother, Georgie. Most of the dead kids washed up in sewers about town. Only the children know what’s going on, because… well, adults can’t see the evil clown, Pennywise, who’s been murdering young ones for centuries.

Somehow, , in spite of being dubbed “The Losers Club,” the kids survive. Not only to they move on to (mostly) very successful careers in adulthood, they ALL… FORGET… EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED that awful summer!!! Until… IT starts happening again. Children in Derry are turning up dead. Mike Hanlon, the only one of the bunch to have stayed in Derry, phones the others one by one and reminds them of a promise they made, sealed in blood. That if IT ever started happening again, they’d return to Derry and kill IT properly this time, even if it meant losing their own lives. Only then, do the unspeakable horrors of that awful summer slowly come back to them. For one of the old friends, the terror of those memories cause him to promptly end his life in a grisly fashion, rather than go back and face IT.

From the get-go, it is clear that Pennywise is NOT happy to see the return of the old gang of ‘57, as he plays upon their deepest-set fears to create monsters and delusions that will either drive them crazy… or kill them.

For the record, Stephen King says he is afraid of clowns.

 

Book 2: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

 

fault

This 2012  Young Adult novel was both a critical hit and a best-seller among its teenage target audience. I read this book when I was oh, shall we say, old enough to be the parent of a teenager. It kind of just fell into my hands. I work in a bookstore, and often our customers place special orders that get set aside until they pick them up. Well, I spotted The Fault in Our Stars on the shelf and figured it’d be a light, easy read to pass the evening. After all, it was just a kids’ love story, right?

WRONG! The main characters, Hazel and Augustus, meet in a cancer support group. Not exactly typical. Hazel is fighting cancer that has spread to her lungs, while Augustus is a cancer survivor and amputee. (He was a basketball player before he lost his leg.)

I’ll avoid giving any spoilers away for the five or ten people who may not have read the book yet. Suffice to say, after reading half the book in one evening, I was concerned enough about the characters to check it out of the library to finish it. An important part of the plot centers around Hazel’s obsession with a book called An Imperial Affliction. Its main character, Anna, was a young girl with cancer, just like Hazel herself. It torments her that the book ends abruptly, without a clue of what happened to Anna. The author, the reclusive Peter Van Houten hasn’t written anything since and lives in Amsterdam.

Knowing how much it would mean to her to meet Van Houten and get some answers, Augustus arranges a surprise trip for them to Amsterdam. However, when they arrive at the authors house… Things. Do. Not. Go. Well. Van Houten is a mean, abrasive, verbally abusive alcoholic. Hazel and Augustus flee the house in shock.

I won’t tell you what happens after that. I won’t reveal if anyone dies. I will say that Van Houten does try to redeem himself…. Or at least he explains himself, sort of. But after that fateful trip, nothing is ever really the same for Hazel and Augustus. I highly recommend this book for readers of ALL ages.

Book 3: Call Me Anna, by Patty Duke

anna

I’ve never had much interest in Patty Duke as an actress. Her show where she played “identical cousins” was before my time, and I’m not sure I saw any of her movies, other than “The Miracle Worker.” But at the end of 2016, I was reading an article about celebrities who’d passed away that year, and I hadn’t realized she’d died. I vaguely remembered hearing that she’d had a hard life and had struggled with mental illness, so I decided to find out more about this interesting lady.

Born Anna Marie Duke, she was renamed “Patty” at age eight by her managers, the Rosses who bluntly told her: “Anna Marie is dead.” Then they essentially took Patty away from her parents, which may have been a good thing, considering that her father was an alcoholic and her mother was unstable, due to depression. Unfortunately, the Rosses didn’t treat young Patty well either, abusing her, overworking her and eventually stealing the money she earned from her movies and TV shows.

As a result, Duke grew up to battle anxiety and depression herself. She was one of the first well-known actors to speak publically about having manic depression (now referred to as Bipolar Disorder). She remained a Mental Health advocate for the rest of her life. She was an inspiring lady.

Book 4: Helter Skelter, by Victor Bugliosi (with Curt Gentry)

me-reading

Touted as “the Best Selling True Crime Book of All Time,” this thick tome covers the sensational, horrific murders committed by Charles Manson’s appointed “Family” in 1969. I decided to read it after hearing that Manson, now 82, was on his deathbed in prison. (As of this writing, he is still alive.)

The most famous of the string of killings in California, was the mass murder that occurred on August 9, 1969 at the home of movie director Roman Polanski. Among the five dead bodies discovered on the property was that of Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant when she was slaughtered. Bugliosi was the Attorney who prosecuted Charles Manson in the Tate murders (as well as the LaBianca murders)… seven deaths in all.

Besides the extreme violence of the bloody murders themselves– one victim had been stabbed fifty-one times– it is shocking to read how the investigation was so badly bungled. The crime scene was compromised by police who recklessly stomped about the grounds, making it impossible to determine whether footprints had come from the cops’ shoes or the murderers. They also overlooked important clues that linked the Tate murders to those of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, a couple who was murdered in their home in the same shocking fashion the very next day. In both cases, words had been written on the walls in the victims’ blood. Still, the cops did not think the cases were connected!

These atrocious murders shouldn’t have happened at all, because Charles Manson should not have been a free man. In the first place. Since his teen years, he’d constantly been in and out of juvenile detention centers. His crimes included breaking into grocery stores to steal money, stealing cars and burglarizing gas stations. Later on, he made a living as a pimp. At one point, he was under FBI surveillance. So how was it that Charles was free move into an old ranch, owned by an 80-year-old blind man, with roughly a couple dozen of his “followers” and nobody batted an eye?

The fact that this wild-eyed, puny (he stood only five-foot-two) could have so much power over his followers is almost unfathomable. He convinced them (and himself, I guess) that he was Jesus Christ. He had sex with all the girls he wanted. They killed for their “Charlie.” He gave them instructions, but never did the dirty work himself.

Manson was obsessed with the Beatles’ “White Album.” He was convinced that the group had hidden messages in the lyrics relating to the ninth chapter of Revelation in the Bible.

“Helter Skelter” is the title of a track on the White Album. Manson interpreted as a call for a race war. The details are too sickening for me to write about. But if you are intrigued by abnormal psychology, true crime, and the American Justice System, this is the perfect book for you!

Bonus Book 5: (Because I never said I’d read ONLY four books a month. Besides, I found it while cleaning up under the bed.) Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

451

 

I first discovered Ray Bradbury’s writing last year, with “The Illustrated Man.” I’m normally far from a sci-fi fan, but the intertwined short stories had elements of horror, and I made it a point to grab another of his books.

Published in 1953, the story takes place at a time far in the future… the 2000s perhaps? Books have become not only obsolete, but are banned outright by the Government. Their reasoning is that they’re not needed anymore because people have shorter attention spans than they used to and they’re more interested in “new media” than books. (Wow, could Bradbury predict the future or what?) Anyway, the information in those old books is woefully outdated now; of what use are they?

Guy Montag is a fireman. Firemen aren’t the same in the future. They’re into starting fires, not putting them out. And what do they burn? Books, of course. Owning books is illegal, and any resident found in violation of the law has their house torched by the firemen.

One night, Montag is on a routine run… a woman has a stash of books in her home. But things do not go as usual. Instead of stepping away from her home, as ordered, the woman sets herself on fire. If her books are to be burned, she’ll join them in the inferno.

Montag is shocked and emotionally shaken by this event. Oh yeah, and he steals a book from her burning house. (It happens to be the Bible.) HIs boss, the intimidating Captain Beatty suspects Montag has a book and gives him a deadline to turn it over without punishment.

But it turns out that Montag has accumulating a stash of books over the years that he kept hidden, even from his wife, Mildred. She is horrified by the revelation and thinks her husband has gone crazy.

Montag realizes there is no way he can ever go back to being a fireman, and he is too stubborn to surrender his beloved books. He goes on the run to get help from perhaps the only person he can trust, who understands, who maybe… can save him.

Reminds me somewhat of a George Orwell type of book. Creepy and scarily believable..

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