The Ten Greatest Books of All Time

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So here they are (drumroll please) according to TIME magazine, the ten greatest books of all time: They were compiled from many lists and are noted in the book The Top Ten by J. Peder Zane (Norton 352 pages)

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
Middlemarch by George Eliot

Oh my… one more thing to make us all feel inferior. How many have I read you ask? Hmmm… let’s see. Hamlet, Huckleberry Finn, and Lolita. I have tried several times to get through The Great Gatsby (I totally do not understand the attraction or the critical love of this novel) and Anna Karenina (couldn’t get into it). I remember carrying around War and Peace in High School to impress a boy (Anyone remember what happened to Pat Hogan, Adamson High School class of 72?), and to be quite honest I’ve never even heard of In Search of Lost Time. I think I saw the movie of Madam Bovary, if that counts.

I think everyone should have their own list of, if not the “greatest” or even their “favorite”, at least “Some Books I Love”. So here are five of mine, because you’re not really interested in ten.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith -The story of Francie Nolan, who grew up in Brooklyn at the turn of the (last) century. I have read this book at least a dozen times, probably more. I used to read it once a year. When I first read it I was Francie’s age on the opening page – ten – and when I last read it, last year, I was probably as old as the oldest person in the novel. I get something new from it every time I read it. My daughter and I read it together when she was 12 or so, but I don’t think she loved it like I did. I have suggested it to everyone who has ever asked me for a reading club suggestion.

Gone With the Wind , Margaret Mitchell. Pat Conroy recently wrote a fabulous essay about GWTW in his memoir “My Reading Life”. Everything he says applies, so just read it and remember that I wish I had said it.

Land Below the Wind by Agnes Newton Keith. What – you’ve never heard of it? Of course you haven’t – it’s the best book that no one has read in fifty years. It is the story of Keith’s life in Borneo between the two world wars and it is fabulous. The only reason you may have heard of Keith at all is because she also wrote “Three Came Home” about her time in captivity under the Japanese during WWII. It was published in 1947 and became a national bestseller. The movie was made three years later and was quite controversial, but certainly doesn’t seem so today. Its portrayals of the horrors of war are quite tame by today’s standards. Land Below the Wind and Three Came Home were followed by Bare Feet in the Palace. I own and love all three of these books. She was a brave, courageous and witty woman way ahead of her time.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Does anyone not love this book? I have (no exaggeration) worn out four or five paperback copies of this novel. Each time the pages start falling out so I just throw them away as I read them. I always have a copy of it in the car because you never know when you’re going to get stuck in traffic. I can pick it up at any spot and just fall in. I love the miniseries too, which is strange. Usually I love the book and hate the movie. While we’re talking about books and movies, when I first read Jaws, I loved the name of the sheriff, Martin Brody. I decided on an airplane flying home from an ill-fated sojourn in LasVegas that if I ever had a son I would name him Brody. I did, but he is quick to tell you that I named him from the book not the movie. (Only real readers get that joke)

I actually have a love-hate relationship with Larry McMurtry. I love the dramas – “Horseman, Pass By” (later made into the movie “Hud) and “The Last Picture Show” (same movie title) and of course “Lonesome Dove” but I hate the comedies. “Texasville”, which purported to follow the characters created in “Last Picture Show” really ticked me off. It was as if McMurtry was so contemptuous of those of us who loved his novels and characters that he had to belittle them.

“Slammerkin” by Emma Donaghue, lately famous for “The Room”. This is NOT everyone’s cup of tea. It is about a young woman in 18th Century England who, after being thrown out of her home becomes a prostitute and gets her comeuppance. Fully fleshed out (no pun intended), I love Mary Saunders and her tawdry world.

So there you have them. Notice I didn’t call them the “greatest” anything – so you don’t have to feel inferior because you didn’t read them. To read more about Time’s list go to : http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1578073,00.html#ixzz1WGtpXZkz

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Ins and Outs

As the seasons, so go our lives.

Here in Texas we had a brutally cold winter followed by a miserably hot summer. When we’re cold we yearn for the warm, and when we’re hot we dream of fresh, cool breezes.

A couple of years ago I had more work than I could say grace over. it seemed like I just got out of the car in one city and then it was time to move on to the next. I think I complained a lot at that time about “never having time to breathe” – something like that.

Now I spend my time talking about not having enough work. I know it’s not just me; I think we are programmed as a race to always want more, always look to the next thing.

In the 70s, a guru named Ram Dass wrote “Be Here Now”, which became sort of the catch phrase for the hippie movement (of which I was a fringe member, never quite brave enough to be a real hippie). Now it seems so dated, but the sentiment is true and honorable. Centuries before, Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow – tomorrow has enough worries of its own”.

I’m committed to that today. I’m going to be here now. And then I’m going to bed. Here’s hoping for a better year for all my storyteller and ventriloquist friends who are slogging through a tough economy!

A Series of Firsts

Life is a series of firsts; your first tooth, your first steps, your first kiss, your first child. I have been thinking of this recently because my granddaughter Veronica had her first day of fifth grade and my grandson James had his first haircut.

My first grade teacher was Miss Nichols at Lewisville Elementary School, my first date was to see the Harlem Globetrotters with David Bailey, and my first car was a 62 Corvair Convertible that I wish I still owned. (Don’t we all wish we still owned that first car)

My first ventriloquism show was for my daughter Emily’s kindergarten class at Baccus Elementary. I’m sure I was awful, but the kids LOVED it, and I was hooked. A chance encounter with Dennis Lee led me to the fabulous puppetmaker Verna Finly and the start to a career.

Would I have become a ventriloquist without that chance encounter… who knows? I certainly loved it as a child. I adored Shari Lewis and Lambchop and loved Senor Wences on the Ed Sullivan Show with his sweet puppet Topo Gigio. My own Waco owes much to that little mouse, both in character and body. But me – a ventriloquist? I would never have dreamed it.

I hope that I have many more firsts in my life, through my children and grandchildren and hopefully some day even my great grandchildren. I would love to see a bunch of new faces and new schools this year for the first time. If you know of someone looking for a fun, professional, educational assembly program – send them my way!

Sibling Rivalry

No mother has ever raised her children without the spectre of sibling rivalry also raising its head. My own children bypassed some of that because of their age difference. Brody was four years older than Emily, so their ideas of attention were very different. I must say however, that each of them in their own way were a little jealous of their “mannequin American” brothers and sisters.

Emily always said that the only time she was ever popular was the day I came to her school for an assembly. On that day EVERYONE wanted to be her friend so they could ask the questions every child wants to know the answer to: “How do those puppets talk?” The answer of course is a trade secret!

And the answer to sibling rivalry, according to the experts is to treat each child differently according to their age, personality and taste. Easy to say and hard to do.

It’s hard for me to believe, but now my grandchildren are starting to interact with their puppet aunts and uncles — where did the time go? My ten year old granddaughter Veronica recently asked me how did it happen that she and Waco were in kindergarten at the same time and now he’s still in kindergarten while she has moved on to the fifth grade.

Enjoy this picture of my grandson James meeting “Uncle” Larry for the first time. And come back to my blog soon!

Each day a new day …

A new day, a new website.

People under 30 grew up with “computer” as their second language.  It was amazing to me to see my 26-year-old daughter begin the building of this website.  Her fingers fly over the keys and she clicks through screens so fast that I didn’t even know what was there before she was on to the next thing.  My ten-year-old granddaughter can do things on the computer that I can only dream of.  Those of us over 30 (some of us MUCH older) learned computer the same way we learn any foreign language – one excruciating word after another.

Having said that, let me say that I am excited about this new website and pledge to learn as much as I can to keep it up and running, new and exciting.  It’s much like tending a garden in that what grows from it is only as good as the seeds and care that are put into it.  And just let me say now that anything good on this website is probably due to Emily, and anything weird, misplaced, misaligned, misspelled or misshapen probably came from me!  Thank you my sweet baby girl for all your help.

Work has been slow this year, for me and for nearly every other entertainer I know.  Even in the best of times it is a hard way to make a living.  Hotel rooms, long drives, crowded planes, uninterested audiences and bad food are only a few challenges.  Writing new and funny material that remains topical and interesting to children is never easy, and memorizing it gets harder ever year.  (And I must say that watching children’s TV programming so that I remain “in the loop” is getting excruciating!)

And yet… I can’t image doing anything else.  Making children laugh for a living – what could be better? Each and every day I have the opportunity to do or say something that could make an actual impact in someone’s life.  One of the highpoints of my existence was meeting a young woman at a local restaurant who had seen me perform since childhood.  She threw her arms around me and said “You’re the reason I never did drugs!”

An exaggeration surely.  No doubt her parents, her friends, her church and her own sweet self had much to do with that.  And still… what a joy, what a humbling thought that I might have had some small part in that.

Yes, it’s a hard life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.