Shelf Life for September 2019

Books Read
The Eight Tower: On Ultraterrestrials and the Superspectrum by John A. Keel

Books Bought/Found/Given
Jerusalem, Selected Poems and Prose by William Blake
Bones on Black Spruce Mountain by David Budbill
Snowshoe Trek to Otter River by David Budbill
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers
Vermont: The State With the Storybook Past by Cora Cheney
Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Freaky Phenomena by Joel Levy
Heirs of General Practice by John McPhee
An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo
Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
Six Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol
The Spot on My Bum: Horrible Poems for Horrible Children by Gez Walsh
Poems & Sketches by E.B. White
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
Hush by Jacqueline Woodson

September threw a hard and fast curveball.

About halfway through the month, my hard drive slipped its mortal coil, taking with it quite a bit of writing that I hadn’t backed up. My grandfather’s eulogy from earlier in the summer, the fourth draft of my novel, and various outlines for future stories … there at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 18 … unretrievable at 7:15 p.m. that same day. 

Since then, I’ve been trying to rebuild and move ahead. It’s slow and frustrating, but I’m getting there. Part of that journey is getting a new Shelf Life written and posted, and here we are.

Onward and upward …

You’ll notice a healthy list of books I added to my life in September, compared to one meager book that I managed to read. Not coincidentally, it’s the book I finished the day before my hard drive went to hell.

John Keel’s The Eight Tower: On Ultraterrestrials and the Superspectrum, is a book I picked up for research, and it was alright. Some interesting concepts, but not presented in the most enthralling way. Keel comes across as cynical, grumpy, and burnt out, and his previous The Mothman Prophecies is more enjoyable by a country mile. 

Aside from a somewhat disappointing read and beginning to rebuild my digital files, September also brought one of my favorite events of the year: the Underhill Harvest Festival in Underhill, VT. It’s a fantastic event that takes over the bucolic Chittenden County town for two days, ushering in autumn. The highlight of the weekend, for me, are the two used book sales that bookend (no pun intended, really) the festivities.

On the western end of the village, there’s a big book sale in an old, red barn, with makeshift tables jam-packed with boxes and boxes of reading material. At the eastern end, there’s a different book sale under a big, yellow and white canopy, every bit as stuffed to overfull as the barn. It’s a beautiful thing.

All the books I got my hands on this month came from those two sales, and I spent all of $20.50 for them. 

The stuff I bought is a solid mix of pleasure reading and research material for future stories. 

On the research side of things, I picked up six of Donald J. Sobol’s classic Encyclopedia Brown collections. I was obsessed with that series when I was younger, and I’ve got a story idea that pays homage to it. I also got Vermont poet/author David Budbill’s young reader books, Snowshoe Trek to Otter River and Bones on Black Spruce Mountain, so I can examine his storytelling structure and approach to character building. 

Other research books include Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ classic The Power of Myth and an anecdotal collection called Freaky Phenomena. I don’t know how I’ve gone this long without Campbell’s work in my library, and I’m a real sucker for collections of weird anomalies. You’d understand if you met my family.

I also bought yet another copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is my all-time favorite book, but A Wrinkle in Time is such a close second that there’s barely room for daylight between the two. I’ve bought L’Engle’s book multiple times, and I’ve also given it away again and again. It’s a pretty solid mix of passing it on to kids who claim to hate books and adults who’ve somehow grown up without reading it. The one I got in Underhill is the edition I grew up with, with a badass, pulpy, sci-fi cover. I lurv it.

Wrinkle is on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for both 1990-1999 and 2000-2009. Another much loved book from earlier days that’s also faced challenges from the narrow-minded is From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. I enjoyed the book as a kid, but my favorite memory of Konigsburg’s story is the trip I took to Cape Cod, MA., for Thanksgiving one year with my future wife and step-daughter. On the way there, we listened to the book on CD, and it was a delight to share the time with them in that way.

Incidentally, Banned Book Week was Sept. 22-28, 2019, ending the day before I went to the book sale. I’d planned to write something each day that week to recognize banned and challenged books, but with the whole hard drive situation, it didn’t happen. So this is a nice little back door to at least acknowledge it.

One last purchase worth mentioning: The Spot on My Bum: Horrible Poems for Horrible Children by Gez Walsh. This was the weird find of the day, and my wife couldn’t roll her eyes hard enough when I showed it to her. I bought it anyway, and I’m hard at work finding ways to integrate the juvenile, ribald, poetic work into my family’s daily life.

That’s September. What did you read and/or buy for books last month? Let me know in the comments below.

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