Taos Library copy
books, libraries

House of Books

I can tell a lot about a community from their public library. After all it takes a significant investment to start and maintain a house of books. And public libraries, if they have the support, offer a lot more such as access to computers, DVDs and programs.

Millicent Rogers Library Fairhaven

A postcard I own of the Millicent Rogers Library.

My first experience with a library was in my hometown, thanks to my mother, who is a voracious reader. Once or twice a week we went to the Millicent Rogers Library in my hometown of Fairhaven. (A resident who got super rich from oil long ago had the library built in memory of his young daughter.) In the summer, the bookmobile stopped at the bottom of our street.

Mom got a stack of books. I did the same. When I was a teenager, I planned to read every book in the library — going through the alphabet. The plan fell through when I encountered uninteresting books in the B section.

I did learn to hypnotize my youngest sister — fodder for another post — from a book at the library, of course.

When I was a young adult, I moved around a lot. I always looked for the public library wherever we lived. I was happy when I found one, sad when I didn’t.

worthington library

Worthington Library

Worthington, a hill town in Western Massachusetts where I lived 25 years before moving to Taos, had a great library for its population of 1,200. The library was a one-room building jammed with books. The kids went to story hour. I came for my stack of books. I recall mentioning to Julia, the librarian, I liked reading Hollywood biographies and she kept ’em coming long after I lost interest. But there was a lot more to read in that little library’s stacks.

Taos Library 2Now I live in Taos, which has a rather large library. I don’t go as often as I did in Worthington, but then again I tend to buy books instead of borrow them. I do visit, as I did the other day, to scout out new authors or books from those I like that I haven’t read.

I simply show my card at the desk and agree to bring the books back before my time is up. What a concept.

ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: That’s the interior of the Taos Public Library taken from the fiction department.

Brattle Book Store mural
books, Writing

One Flew Over

Two flights between Santa Fe and Boston to visit family last week gave me the opportunity for uninterrupted reading. I often print a draft of a work in progress for the plane, but this time I decided to read what somebody else wrote.

At the recommendation of a friend I tried Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke but put it down after 150 pages or so. Yes, it won him the National Book Award but it wasn’t for me.

Mural outside Brattle Book Shop

Mural outside Brattle Book Shop

Luckily, I brought along Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I hadn’t read since I bought the book in 2001. This was my third reading actually and I wasn’t disappointed. Kesey created great characters like Randal Patrick McMurphy, who announces during his grand entrance: “Damn, what a sorry-looking outfit. You boys don’t look so crazy to me. Which one of you claims to be the craziest? Which one is the biggest loony? … Who’s the bull goose loony here?”

Then, there is Nurse Ratched, who can’t tolerate McMurphy’s boisterous and conniving ways, and Chief Bromden, who tells this story, plus the cast of characters who live and work on this ward. I rank One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest high in my top 25.

This visit continued its book theme with a visit to a public library in a Boston suburb. While in Boston proper, I stopped at three used book stores, including the Brattle Book Shop, with its mural of literary heavy-hitters overlooking its sale lot. I could have spent hours in each store but I didn’t have enough time this visit. Instead I walked the aisles and marveled at the stacks of books, like the good one by Ken Kesey I read on the plane.




Snowy road
Entertainment, Writing

House of You-Know-What

The question at work this week has been: what episode are you on? I, of course, am referring to the House of Cards on Netflix.

No one, thankfully, wants to be a spoilsport.

At the end of the second season, Frank and Claire Underwood completed their calculated ascension to the White House. I looked forward to Frank’s Shakespearean asides, his mocking expressions, his ruthless ambitions. What will Claire do in the third? Did Doug die? Where did Rachel go? Some scenes were shot in Northern New Mexico, where I live. How would they work into the story?

As most know, every episode of House of Cards for season three was released Feb. 27. Super fans had a choice: go on a gluttonous binge or ration out the shows to make them last a bit longer. I chose the latter. (After all, I have other things to do than watch TV.) So did my co-workers.

So when I asked my colleagues how far they’ve gotten in House of Cards, it’s been safe to talk plot and character, to critique the show’s progress only to that point.

I’ve done this before.

When my sister and I were kids, we got ahold of a Nancy Drew book. I believe it was an edition of the first, The Secret of the Old Clock. Nancy then was a high school girl who was a super sleuth. She lived with her father and a housekeeper. The author is supposedly a woman named Carolyn Keene, who was really no such person, but we didn’t care. We liked a book that featured a smart girl who solved mysteries. If only we could do something like that.

Anyway my sister and I both wanted to read the book at the same time. So we came up with a system. We agreed how far ahead we could read before we passed the book to the other. We were on the honor system until we reached the end.

So once again I find myself in a similar situation.

Last night I watched the show’s finale. And unless you have, too, I’m not going to discuss what happened or say whether I liked it or not. I’m not going to spoil it for you.

POSTSCRIPT: The photo above was taken a week ago with Hank at the wheel. After what meteorologists called “a parade of storms,” we have settled back to a sunny New Mexican winter and the snow is mercifully melting.

The Magic Fish by Ezra Livingston

Writing in Two Languages

Here is my newest project: a bilingual book series in English and Spanish for young readers. Let me rephrase that. It is our new project because it is a collaboration with my friend Teresa.

First, a little bit about Teresa. She was my Spanish 101 professor and is a super-contributor, in English and Spanish, to the newspaper where I work. She is the author of several adult books in both languages. One day she commented on the dearth of good bilingual books for young readers — say in the second and third grade. Why not create one as an experiment? Why not, indeed.

The story is my creation. I’m not going to give away too much here. But the main characters are two cousins, eight and seven, who live next door to each other. (I once read girls will read stories about boys and girls; boys like to read about boys. I don’t know if it is a hard-fast rule, but it’s nice to offer characters of both genders.) The other main character is their grandfather who takes care of the cousins after school. The boy lives with his grandparents. The girl’s parents run a food wagon.

Like all of my characters, I love writing about the cousins. They are sweet and caring. Their grandfather — his inspiration is a late, great friend — is kind, wise, and a bit of a storyteller.

These stories do have a bit of magical realism. The first has a magic fish. You can see my son, Ezra’s illustration on this post. In the second, Grandpa aka Abuelo plays music people can’t resist. The third has an invisible dog, Max, thanks to Grandpa’s experiment.

The Magic Fish by Ezra Livingston

The Magic Fish by Ezra Livingston

I emailed the first to Teresa, who then recreated it in Spanish. Teresa worked so the facing Spanish page is exactly the same as what’s on the English page. We figure it would be easier for readers, whether their first language is English or Spanish.

This is my first collaboration. I am a solitary writer. But I admire Teresa’s enthusiasm and work ethic. We are partners 50/50.

Initially, we were going to publish the first story on our own as an experiment and see how it went. But after encouragement from others, we’ve decided to take the more traditional route of getting a publisher. We are planning to package the stories in three separate books.

Today, I am sending the second story to Teresa, and then I will begin the next. Who could resist an invisible dog named Max? I certainly can’t.

IMG_0303_1 12.51.28 PM

No, I Couldn’t Wait

Nearly two months ago, Nov. 30 to be exact, I sealed a draft of The Swanson Shuffle in an envelope and vowed not to open it for two months. I figured that was enough time to let this novel-in-progress steep while I did other writing projects.

I started the fourth Twin Jinn book for middle-graders and completed two solid chapters. I finished another project — my lips are sealed on that one. I worked on this website. Then, there were the holidays, and, yeah, my day job.

Jan. 30 is a week away. But I can’t wait any longer because I like this novel a lot.

The Swanson Shuffle is written in first-person, present-tense, which I feel I do well. Bia Fernandes is the person who does the telling. As I noted before, this novel is inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house. But Bia has her own experience and she handles the situation much better.

You can read an excerpt from the start in the books section of this website. The photos, taken from the Library of Congress Historic American Building Survey, are of the Taunton State Hospital in Massachusetts, where my grandfather was a patient for several years. As a child, I visited him with my family on Father’s Day. I use that experience in my book.

This is what I plan to do next. I will read The Swanson Shuffle all the way through. I promise I won’t lift a pen.

But I am curious if I carried the story all the way to the finish. Do my characters need to talk more? Was there a character I should have kept or let go? Is there enough description? Too much? What needs changing? What should stay the same?

I will find out soon enough.