Sunday, July 31, 2011

July - This Month in Reading

July was a fun reading month for me, for a few reasons.

First, a seriously exciting thing occurred:

I am still in disbelief over this! I have to thank Bunnitaz so much for hosting such a fun challenge. I can't get used to not having to put the books I read into the classes and adding up my score regularly. Although Hufflepuff, the house I got sorted into, didn't score the most points overall (Slytherin strikes again! :) ), I am really happy that I could win this for my house and see Hufflepuff get some well deserved glory. I do hope Bunnitaz does this challenge again next year, as I will do whatever I can to give Slytherin a run for its money in terms of getting points!

Second, my reading in July consisted of books entirely devoted to the theme of one of my favorite performers, Nat M. Wills. I had big plans to read a ton of books, but the reality of daily life intervened, and I only managed to read 14 books, which is a much smaller number than I expected, and one of the smaller numbers for books that I have read in a month so far this year. Oh well. The good news is that I still have plenty of books to read if I decide to do this theme again next year, which might be a fun tradition to start. As I have whined before, I am not a fan of the heat of summer, so having a fun reading theme helps July go by quickly.

Third, I managed to hit 100 books read in 2011 halfway through July - whew! This number includes books of all kinds, too - fiction and nonfiction, graphic novels, books read entirely on the computer through, but mostly paper ("analog" - ?) books. Hitting this number means I have officially met the requirements of the 100+ Book Challenge, which is a good thing since I haven't managed to complete any other challenges (except, of course, the Hogwarts Challenge, which ended June 30).

So speaking of these other challenges, for August I really need to try to read at least one book for each of the other challenges I signed up for this year so far. In fact, I think I will list them all in this post and then keep track to make myself accountable. I am also seriously banning myself from the library. I meant to do that in June but wasn't able to, but I really do have WAY too many books piling up and this can't continue. In August I must devote myself to reading all of these books that are patiently waiting their turn. Also, I have to catch up with the War and Peace One Chapter a Day Challenge, I managed to get behind and I have to catch up so I can finish on schedule.

How was your reading in July?

READING CHALLENGES FOR 2011 - 1 book for each!

The Forgotten Treasures Challenge - read a book for this as of 8/28/2011
The Buck Stops Here Challenge  - managed to read more than 1 book for this as of 8/18/11
War and Peace One Chapter a Day (catch up)
Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge
The Color Coded Reading Challenge
GLBT Reading Challenge - read a book for this as of 8/7/2011
Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge - read a book for this as of 8/28/2011
The TBR Pile Challenge - read a book for this as of 8/28/2011

Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America - Todd DePastino

I ran across this book while Googling Nat Wills, as he's featured in the book because of the nature of his "Happy Tramp" character. In an embarrassing admission, I actually got this book as a 2010 Christmas gift from my husband but hadn't managed to read it until now, when I managed to sneak it in just under the wire for my July theme. I thought this book was an interesting overview of how society has viewed people who don't have permanent housing, whether they are called tramps, bums, hobos, or "the homeless," even if it was a wee bit tainted by the "ivory tower" attitude commonly held by academics, who often seem to have no understanding of the "real world" outside of their insulated jobs on college/university campuses. Still, it was an interesting read and had some good Nat Wills source materials I can seek out for my continuing research.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday/Literary Blog Hop

Hi everybody, welcome or welcome back! Happy Friday hopping!

Book Blogger Hop

Here's this week's Book Blogger Hop question:

“Highlight one book you have received this week (for review, from the library, purchased at the store, etc.) that you can’t wait to dig into!”

I have to confess I didn't get a book yet this week, but I have one coming in the mail that I will probably get today or tomorrow, so I'll use that. It's The Damned Busters: To Hell and Back, Book 1 (Hell to Pay) by Matthew Hughes. I bought it for a friend for her birthday a few weeks ago after I saw it in the store and thought it sounded funny and interesting, so I ended up buying myself a copy that got backordered but is on its way from the late Borders (cue sad sigh here). It looks like a lot of fun so I am anxiously awaiting its arrival!

This week's question:

Let's step away from books for a second and get personal. What T-Shirt slogan best describes you?

My response: This is a funny question! I of course have a 2-part answer. If I am not already reading a book, the answer would be a shirt that says

"I'd rather be reading"

Now if I were already reading and wearing a t-shirt, it would most likely say

"I want to procrastinate more, but I keep putting it off" 

I had fun looking at funny shirts for this response, there are so many out there.

I'll be updating this post as more hops and follows get posted today!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

United States of Americana - Kurt B. Reighley

The subtitle of this book is Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties & Handmade Bitters: A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement. As the lengthy title suggests, it's a book that talks about the growing back-to-our-roots/basics movement that's happening, including people becoming more interested in creating items through sewing, knitting, and other handcrafts; people rediscovering the joys of growing your own food and even canning/pickling/preserving it; people searching out the music and clothing styles of 100 years ago in order to rediscover our past, etc. It was a really good overview that included lots of good practical information and tips, as well as references, so that a reader could go out and experience some of the things quite easily. I have been really wanting to make things with my hands, I enjoy a local bar that has burlesque shows, and I've always been interested in things from the early 20th century, so this book was right up my alley as they say. Highly recommended.

I first heard of this book through one of the people featured in it, Michael W. Haar (aka Mike the Barber), who is indeed a barber specializing in straight-razor shaving as well as a DJ specializing in music from the early 20th century, including of course Nat M. Wills. I don't know him personally, but I do listen to his weekly radio show on East Village Radio, which is broadcast over the internet every Friday morning from 8 to 10 am Eastern time (GMT -5 for those overseas) whenever I can. The shows are also archived, so you can listen to them whenever you like here. I have been able to hear so many amazing records through this show, and I have found lots of artists that I really love now thanks to Mike. He gives lots of good information about the artists he plays too, and he did a birthday tribute to Nat a couple weeks ago that you can listen to here (click on the "Listen" link next to the show for July 8, 2011) over the internet.

Another DJ who does a similar show is Mac of WFMU, who broadcasts on Tuesday nights from 8 - 9 pm Eastern time and has archives here. Mac also did a birthday tribute to Nat this year, with special guest Trav S.D., the author of No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book that Made Vaudeville Famous, a great history of vaudeville that I wanted to reread for this month's theme but I have officially run out of time. The only flaw in this book is that Trav neglected to mention Nat at all, but he made up for it in spades by writing the fascinating and comprehensive liner notes to the Archeophone Records CD of Nat's collected works. But back to Mac - Like Mike, Mac spins 78 rpm records of music, and he has lots of fun special guests on his show. You can even download an awesome ringtone at his page. Both shows are a fun introduction to music that is too often neglected and forgotten but is still entertaining today.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday/Literary Blog Hop

Another Friday means fun blog hopping! Welcome to my blog!

Book Blogger Hop

This week's Book Blogger Hop question:

What’s the ONE GENRE that you wish you could get into, but just can’t?

My response: sci-fi/fantasy. When I was younger I had no trouble reading books in this genre, but as I have gotten older these books just don't appeal to me. I started finding that many sci-fi/fantasy books just have poor, clunky writing or they are written in a pseudo-intellectual style that is pretentious at best and unreadable at worst, and I don't have patience for it. There are a lot of authors that I wouldn't mind trying to read but the genre prevents me. Maybe I'll challenge myself to read some of these books next year (assuming I can get rid of the to be read pile this year)!

This week's question:

Name 3 authors that you would love to sit down and spend an hour or a meal with just talking about either their books or get advice on writing from?

My response: this is hard, but at least I am able to choose multiple authors, usually I just have multiple answers to a question asking for one response!

1. M.T. Anderson. He does a lot of research, it seems, and creates vivid characters. I'd love to hear about how he does both.

2. Haruki Murakami. I love the way he makes the ordinary merge with the strange, and I'd like to delve into the symbolism.

3. Christopher Buehlman. His writing is stunningly beautiful. I would love to talk with him about his writing process and learn about how he chooses just the right words, and how he self-edits.

Literary Blog Hop

This week's prompt:

Discuss Bibliotherapy. Do you believe literature can be a viable form of therapy? Is literary writing more or less therapeutic than pop lit or nonfiction?

Like any form of therapy, I think bibliotherapy can be useful to someone who is open to it. I agree that reading about someone who is in a similar situation can be helpful and can make a reader feel less alone in the world. Books can also be a way to cope with strong emotions by channeling them; a person who is grieving a loss might be able to release pent-up emotions through reading a book that made them cry, for example. Books can also provide an escape from a dull or unpleasant life, or provide a vicarious sense of accomplishment in a life that has ongoing drama or struggles, for example, reading a mystery that has a clear solution at the end could be comforting to someone who is dealing with open-ended questions or problems that have no apparent solution.

I am not sure if literary writing is more therapeutic, but I think bad writing shouldn't be read by anyone. I would always rather see people reading good writing than poor writing. However, forcing someone to read a book just because it's deemed "literary" won't help them at all if it's something they can't connect with, be inspired by, etc. I think if someone is able to feel better by reading books they enjoy, and that's providing a therapeutic value, that's better than making things worse by possibly frustrating or boring them. However, a gentle nod toward well written books of the type they might like is always a good thing. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Forbidden Apple - Kat Long

I stumbled on this book at the library when I was getting another book for this month's theme, and it seemed interesting and it had a little to do with the theme, so I figured I'd check it out. The book's subtitle is A Century of Sex & Sin in New York City and it is just that - a good, solid overview of "adult entertainment" in New York City for the past 100+ years. My first exposure to Times Square was back before the recent "cleanup" and I have to say that although of course it was seedy and dirty and all that, having seen it again a few years ago, I felt like I was in a random shopping mall in Podunk Junction, and I kind of missed the sleaze; at least it was particular to the city (as someone quoted in the book also points out). In any case, this book gave a good high-level summary of the constant battles being fought over what is legally permissible, what should be protected as a human right, etc. A nice surprise was the inclusion of gay culture, and it was fascinating to read about gay culture in the late 1800s.

Oh, and lest anyone think I was picking on Poisoned Pen Press in my last review, I found a fair amount of typos in this book too, unfortunately. And it's not just small publishing companies, either - I find typos of all sorts in all kinds of books from all kinds of companies.

So now to link the book to the theme: Nat Wills spent a good portion of his performing career based in New York City, and as a performer he would have at least been aware of some of the more salacious aspects of city life. Also, stage performances in general and vaudeville in particular were often mixed up with prostitution and lewd behavior, even if that link was only in some people's minds. At its height, vaudeville was family entertainment, and burlesque dancing was a separate entity that was geared for adults, but as vaudeville declined in popularity I think it often became conflated with burlesque and got a more sleazy reputation that hadn't previously been deserved.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rogue - Frederick Ramsay

Another entertaining Ike Schwartz mystery. I like how the author takes his story around and about a little, so that as a reader the story is unpredictable. I'm not in law enforcement, but from watching shows like Forensic Files that summarize real investigations, it seems that that is very true to life in an investigation - there are a lot of twists and turns, and some dead ends, before the case gets solved. I also like how Mr. Ramsay sometimes inserts an amusing fictional story within the story, and I enjoyed the short story included in this book. I really like the character of Ike Schwartz so I was really happy to be able to read this book through NetGalley, although now I am all caught up on the series and I'll have to wait impatiently for the next installment. Luckily Mr. Ramsay seems very prolific so I hope I won't have to wait too long.

One thing I have to mention again is the lack of proofreading. Poisoned Pen Press, the publishing company, has a really cool logo that I just noticed for the first time on The Eye of the Virgin, and they are obviously dedicated to publishing good authors, so I am hoping that the NetGalley version was an uncorrected proof and that most of these errors got caught before publication. I have worked as a proofreader before and it can be a very hard and thankless job, and it's something a lot of smaller publishing companies don't think they can afford, but the pervasive typos really bug me so I hope they can fix the issue. The typos (missing quotation marks, misplaced commas, incorrect words such as "watched" for "watch," etc.) mar an otherwise very entertaining series that I have really come to love since I discovered it earlier this year.

As for this month's theme, well, this is another book that isn't too related, but I am determined to make it so, so here goes. In this book, it's not a spoiler to say that Ike was married before and his wife was killed, or that Ike's current love interest is in mortal danger in this book. Nat Wills was married four times, and his first two wives died young and rather suddenly. All of his wives were fellow performers. His first wife died at age 30, of an unspecified medical condition she had apparently had for some time, and his second wife died suddenly at age 29 of heart disease. He even mentioned this in an interview given when he was married to his third wife, saying he had been lucky in his career but not in his marriages, as his previous wives had died young. He later caused a scandal by apparently cheating on wife #3 with wife #4, which caused an alimony battle, but that's another blog entry.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Eye of the Virgin - Frederick Ramsay

OK, this is another book that has next to nothing to do with the July theme of Nat Wills, but I had to hurry up and read it so I could read a NetGalley version of the latest Ike Schwartz mystery (I was one behind), so I'm shoehorning it in. The only real link is that the book takes place in Virginia, where Nat Wills was apparently born and spent the very early years of his life. His mother and younger brother Clarence (who died young) are also buried in a small town just south of Richmond, so he must have family members still in the area, even if they are only distantly related. His father's first wife, who died youngish also, is buried next to Nat's mother, but his father doesn't appear to have been buried there - or if he was, it must not have been near his wives. Yet another puzzle to wonder about.

Actually another "link" is that there is a character named Louis, and Nat's real name was Louis. This makes me wonder at why so many performers back then used fake names. I know that some changed their names to sound more generic and less ethnic, but in Nat's case, why would he have only changed his first name? I can also understand why performers in these days of the Internet might use a fake name, to keep a distance from a "real life" and a celebrity/public eye life, but at the turn of the century there were no databases, records were not centralized and kept the same way in different places, there was no paparazzi capturing your every move, and no cell phone cameras so people can upload anything to a worldwide audience in seconds. In 1900, a person could move to a new town and change their name and no one would be able to prove they were really Jack Spratt from East Podunk Junction or whatever. Unless someone invents a time machine and I go back and ask Mr. Wills about the name change (among other things, I have a long list), I guess I'll never know for sure, but it is interesting to speculate.

Back to the book, it turns out Frederick Ramsay is also a painter who paints religious icons. He painted the icon that is used for the cover of the book, which is really cool, and I assumed it was an antique icon.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Voice of the City - Robert W. Snyder

The subtitle to this book is Vaudeville and Popular Culture in New York, and it was just that - a good overview of vaudeville in New York City. He does take my pal Nat Wills to task for one of his routines, which I agree is very offensive by today's standards, but Wills was by no means the only performer who did such material at the time, when it was (sadly) common. I enjoyed the book and it was a quick read with lots of information, extensive notes, and a good bibliography for further reading/research.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Vaudevillians - Bill Smith

This book was originally published in 1976, and the author compiled some interviews with former vaudeville stars who were still living at that time. It's interesting to read their first-person accounts of their lives in show business. I was surprised at how many of them had been in vaudeville during Nat Wills' lifetime - some of them must have been very old when they gave these interviews! About half of the people interviewed I had heard of (Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, John Bubbles, George Burns, Jack Haley, Lou Holtz, George Jessel, Rose Marie, Rudy Vallee) and the other half didn't seem at all familiar to me.

One thing that many of the interviewees brought up was the lack of opportunity for people to break into show business these days. Of course this book is now 40+ years old but it still seems true. In vaudeville days, there was a need for lots of acts, to fill the spots on theater bills. A typical vaudeville show would have about 8 acts, and these changed all the time to make sure the audience kept coming back for more. So a theatrical agent needed to have lots of acts, and a wide variety of acts - singers, dancers, musicians, comedians, random novelty acts - to keep up with the demand. Nowadays it's hard to become successful because there aren't as many places to get work as an entertainer. I guess that's why some of the talent-based reality competition shows have become popular - people who have a talent can get an opportunity to become successful through the show. It's too bad that we don't have big variety shows any more though, it would be nice to be able to see a lot of different types of entertainment in one place.

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday

Another Friday and these fun hops! Thanks for coming to my blog, I hope you enjoy your stay.

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question:

How/Where do you get your books? Do you buy them or go to the library? Is there a certain website you use like paperbackswap?

Great question! I love to read, but if I bought every book I wanted to read at full price I'd be flat broke in no time! So most of the books I read I either check out at the library or I buy used at the ongoing Library Sale, where they sell all paperbacks for 50 cents and all hardcovers for $1. I also recently discovered NetGalley and I have read a bunch of books on that site for free, which is great.

I do purchase at full price certain books though, for example, books by an author I love, or books I think I will be rereading. I have found books at the library that I loved and I have ended up buying a copy at the bookstore because I knew I'd want to reread the book. I also recently found a book on NetGalley that was so good I can't wait until it is published in September so I can run out and buy myself a copy at the bookstore (and give the book as gifts for my pals that read!).

This week's question:

What do you do when you are not reading?

You mean there are other things to do instead of read? Just kidding! I actually work full time at a job I really like, but for non-reading-related fun, I like to do puzzles, study foreign languages, and contribute to my collections of vintage items. I also like to research Nat M. Wills, this month's reading theme. I have an amazing husband and I love just hanging around with him too. 

What do you like to do? 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Selling Hope - Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

This book takes place in 1910, a peak time for vaudeville and for Nat Wills' career, and follows a small-time vaudeville troupe on part of a tour. Wills would have been very familiar with the woes of touring with a vaudeville act, although he was a big star at this time and would probably have had much nicer accommodations than the troupe in this book did. Performers still had to endure uncomfortable, long train rides, sharing the stage with animal acts who might leave behind messes, etc. The author uses many real vaudeville managers and performers in the story, most notably Buster Keaton, adding realism. There's a nice bibliography for further reading, too. A nicely written YA book that was a fast read. The cover is also really beautiful.

On a strange note, Nat Wills is mentioned in a biography of Buster Keaton, but he is mistakenly called "Harry Wills" - very odd. It's obviously meant to be Nat as the author also mentions Wills' third wife, La Belle Titcomb, a fellow vaudeville performer whom he married in 1910 after his two previous wives passed away in 1904 and 1909 respectively. Just my random factoid for the day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Birthday Nat M. Wills!

Today is the 138th anniversary of the birth of this month's reading theme topic, Nat M. Wills. He was born on this day back in 1873 in Fredericksburg, Virginia but spent much of his childhood in Washington, D.C. where he first took to the stage. Strangely, there is no record of his birth in Virginia, but records back then weren't as centralized and streamlined as they are now, and he gave Fredericksburg as his birthplace in official documents and interviews, so who knows.

You might be wondering, why do I care so much about Mr. Wills? Honestly, I don't exactly know. I think it was partially because when I first discovered his songs and enjoyed them, then went looking for information about him, I was surprised and saddened that he was all but forgotten. It doesn't hurt that it's actually kind of difficult to find information on him, making it fun to do research to solve the puzzle(s). And it's kind of amusing to think that I can probably safely say I am his biggest fan these days, ha ha.

I am still reading to my theme this month with lots more books to come, so back to the Wills-related reading!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

One-Hit Wonder - Lisa Jewell

This is one of the books I warned you about, as it's barely related to this month's Nat M. Wills theme. I picked it up on a whim at the library at the end of June and didn't manage to read it before June ended, so I rationalized it, as it's about a singer, and Nat Wills was a singer (as well as an actor and monologist). In a funny twist of fate, it turns out the last name of the main character is Wills - seriously! So there's another link (thank you, universe!). This was a serviceable novel and the writing was only semi-clunky - not a book I would rave on and on about, but not a bad one either.

Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge

How did I just now find this challenge? I am a big fan of Murakami so it would be great to participate, even though I am very late to the challenge. Because it's already July and I have a theme this month that precludes reading for this challenge, I think I will choose a lower level than I otherwise might - the Sheep Man level, with three books. I am going to try to read the books I have not read yet, but I do own many of his books so I  might end up cheating - or getting to a higher level. A link to this challenge is here.

1. The Elephant Vanishes - Aug. 2011
2. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - Nov. 2011
3. After Dark - Dec. 2011

Challenge Completed Dec. 11, 2011

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday/Literary Blog Hop

I'm late to the party but I wanted to participate, I enjoy these!

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question - isn’t a question at all! We're supposed to promote a giveaway from the blogosphere, but it can't be our own giveaway (which is good because I don't have one, ha ha). So I chose the giveaway at Hands and Home - check it out! It ends July 16.

This week's question is a tough one:

Q. Let's step away from besties...What is the worst book that you've ever read and actually finished?

My response: I hate to complain about books too much, and if a book is too bad I sometimes quit reading and won't finish. So I'll talk about a couple books (because I just can't seem to ever choose just one response to these questions) that I may get some flak for choosing: 

The Time Traveler's Wife - I know a lot of people love this book but I am not one of them. I liked the first half of the book actually, and I thought the premise was interesting. But the second half of the book did not live up to the promise of the book at all. It became all about the main character whining and complaining and that just got on my nerves. 

New Moon - don't even ask why I read all of these books, but this one was by far the worst. At least it was a fast read. 

Anna Karenina - I didn't hate this book, but at least half of it was a real slog for me to get through. It seemed to drag on and on and on too. 

Literary Blog Hop

I just stumbled on this hop and wanted to try it out.

This week's question: What is one of your favorite literary devices? Why do you like it? Provide a definition and an awesome example.

One of my favorites has to be foreshadowing. I love it when an author subtly hints at what is coming and you realize it later on in the book. Sadly, I can't think of an example off the top of my head!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Midnight Train Home - Erika Tamar

This book is more directly related to my theme for the month, even though it's set in 1927, when vaudeville was beginning to get pushed out of popularity by "talking pictures." The book is aimed at young people and was a really fast read. I thought the author did an excellent job of showing the reality of life for some Orphan Train children of that era (another embarrassing relic of the past) and the mixed feelings of the children who were part of that practice. She also did a good job of conveying not only a vaudeville show in general, but life on the road for a middle-ranked vaudeville troupe in that era. Although he didn't live past 1917, to see vaudeville gradually fade away, Nat M. Wills spent a lot of his performing career traveling either with full-on stage productions or in vaudeville, so he would have been familiar with the haphazard accommodations, strange hours, and suspicions of local people who feared "show people" were likely to incite other people to sinful ways.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

These Happy Golden Years - Laura Ingalls Wilder

OK, this is one of the books I warned you about - it's not related to my theme directly, but it is set during the time he was a child, so it does provide background information on that time period. I'm sure there will be other books that are even more tenuous links!

Little Town on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder

This book in the Little House series has the distinction of containing an eyewitness description of an amateur minstrel show. The linked Wikipedia article will give you a good overview if you are not familiar with this embarrassing relic of the past. I saved this book for July's theme reading as Nat M. Wills supposedly spent time in a minstrel troupe (as did most of the popular performers of his day). In my research I haven't been able to confirm this; however, it is most likely true, as it was an unfortunately common form of entertainment in its day. 

Happily, this episode is short, and the rest of the book gives interesting background for the world in which little Natty Wills grew up. If you think about it, it's hard to believe that if you were young in that time, when a train or a photograph could be a novelty, you would likely live to see automobiles, airplanes, silent films, and a brutal world war, among other developments. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hoopskirts, Union Blues, and Confederate Grays - Kate Havelin

The subtitle to this book is Civil War Fashions from 1861 to 1865. It's written for kids, so the language level is simple and there are lots of photographs as illustrations. This was a good overview of the fashion of that era, and I was pleased to see that there was a chapter devoted to the innovations that came along in this era and changed the way people dressed. This book also has a good bibliography and sources notes. Overall a good read with lots of good information as an overview of the clothing of this era.

As Nat M. Wills, this month's reading theme, was born in 1873, and fashions don't necessarily change that much overnight, I figured it is entirely possible that his parents wore clothing much like that presented in this book. His father more than likely served in the Civil War, too, so the uniform information is applicable.

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday

Hi all, if this is your first time visiting my humble blog, welcome, and for those of you who have been here before, nice to see you! :)

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question:

"What keeps you reading beyond the first few pages of a book, and what makes you want to stop reading a book and put it back on the shelf?"

I have to feel some kind of connection to a book to really want to keep reading it. It can be an admiration of the writing, or something that intrigues me about the character(s), or a provocative opening that creates a question that I want to answer by reading further into the book.

The main thing that makes me want to stop reading immediately is poor writing. I have complained about bad writing on this blog before, and it absolutely makes me crazy. Poorly done, clunky writing makes reading a chore and interrupts the flow between my eyes and my brain as I read. 

This week's question:

Your favorite book/movie character just walked into the room! Who is it and what would be your first reaction? 

This is surprisingly hard to answer! I think I will choose Roy Batty from Blade Runner, as played by Rutger Hauer in the 1980s movie. If I didn't faint on first sight, I'd probably be unable to speak coherently. But if I could in fact behave normally, I'd like to ask him about all the things he has seen and discuss mortality with him. He's easy on the eyes (see for yourself below) but I think he'd be a challenging person to have a philosophical discussion with. 

A Son of Rest - Nat M. Wills

July is here, and so is my special theme for reading in July - Nat M. Wills!

Nat Wills was a popular stage star, vaudeville entertainer, and recording artist at the beginning of the 20th century. He was best known for his "tramp" persona and for performing humorous or satirical musical numbers, including parodies of popular songs of the day (that are now largely forgotten, unfortunately) - he was sort of the Weird Al Yankovic of the early 1900s. 

Wills tragically died on December 9, 1917, from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning while working on his car in a closed garage. Had he lived until the talking movie/radio era, he probably would have had a career in films and/or on radio, as his humor was verbal rather than physical in nature, often relying on puns or clever wordplay (much like the Marx Brothers), and did not translate well to silent films.

I first encountered Mr. Wills a few years ago via the internet, as his music is now considered Public Domain and can be legally downloaded for free at, among other sites. I do have to mention that a few of the songs contain material that is considered offensive today, but was not unusual for the time in which it was recorded; however most of the material is suitable for all listeners and inoffensive. I love the music and recordings from this era and I loved a certain song of his in particular, so I went a-Googling for some information on him, as I'd never heard of him, and found that there was very little information about him on the internet at all. I became a little obsessed (OK, a lot obsessed), and after much research I created his Wikipedia page (linked above), a work still in progress. Incidentally, if you have ever wondered about my icon on this site, it's a drawing of Wills from an article published in 1914. 

The book that is the subject of this post was first published in 1903. It's a collection of jokes, humorous stories, and song parodies that are of course rather dated to modern eyes, but I'm sure they were very funny in their day. The material isn't overly laden with the casually racist/anti-Semitic overtones that were unfortunately common in those days, but there are a few things that make a modern reader wince. Fortunately, that is a very small part of the material and some of it is still funny today. The title is shared by a stage production Wills starred in around the time of the book's publication, so I assume this was meant to be a tie-in to that show, although the book does not mention the show, so who knows. It is also possible that Wills didn't write all of the material in the book; many well-known vaudeville performers (including the aforementioned Marx Brothers, who are another favorite of mine) paid joke writers, and this book is probably no exception. Still, he is given the credit, so I have to go with that. 

As July is Wills' birthday month, and he is credited as the author of this book, I thought it would be interesting to have a theme for my July reading, and I've been waiting (im)patiently for July to arrive - as I am not a fan of summer, this may be the first time I have ever been that happy to see July! So all month, the books I read will all be related somehow to Nat Wills. Some of the books mention him directly; others will be books about the time period in which he lived generally, or life as a performer in that era, etc. Still others will be books that he mentioned in his recorded songs or jokes, while a few will probably be tenuous links to him at best, and I apologize in advance for that. 

As you can see, I love to ramble on about Mr. Wills, so if you happen to have any information about him (or would like more yourself), please let me know, I would love to discuss!