Long Story Short: Reading Suggestions

Reading a good book is as comforting for me as my mother’s chicken and dumplings – and that’s a statement.

Ironically, anything offering calm and stress relief would have been good additions to my life over the past few months, but I’ve been so far out of my comfort zone that sitting and reading has been a challenge. Now that I have a “real” job again and some sense of normalcy has resumed in my life, I’ve found myself gobbling up good books right and left. Right now I find myself appreciating reading as the perfect escape mechanism – and the titles I’ve been reading lately reflect that tendency.

No matter how over exposed Dan Brown and his books may be, I’ve enjoyed them. His latest book, The Lost Symbol, was released Sept. 18. Read the book to learn the significance of the date. While the nature of the story follows along with The Da Vinci Code, the Washington, D.C. setting is fun.

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has made my heart sing for years. Her latest book, An Echo in the Bone, was released last week. If you’ve enjoyed the epic, slightly bizarre tales, you’ll be happy to know that she picks up right where she left off.

The Help by Katherine Stockett is an uplifting first novel, garnering much acclaim. Set in Jackson, Miss., in the 1960’s, the novel explores the relationship between families and the people who worked for them.

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) sits on the more serious side of my bookshelf. Written by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aaronson, the tome tackles self-rationalization even the best intentioned among us use to cope with terrible behavior. The book’s message has the power to change lives.

2666 by the late, great Robert Bolano, is the grizzly telling of the hundreds of unsolved murders of women along the border of Juarez, near El Paso, Texas. I lived on that border during the time chronicled, but don’t take my word for the value of this book — Time magazine named the book the best book of 2008.

Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Political suspense, adventure, romance. How can you go wrong?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Fantastic read and deserving of all the praise it’s garnered.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. My friend, Drew Zeigler, manager of Lafayette’s Barnes and Noble, describes it as, “Harry Potter meets the Chronicles of Narnia in a blender of subversion.”

The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle, is all about middle-class values, xenophobia and illegal immigration.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fir,e by Stieg Larsson, are two of my all-time favorites, but not for the faint of heart.

Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant, tells the tale of the secret lives of nuns for historical fiction lovers out there.

Ravens, by George Dawes Green, is a new thriller. It’s a dark comedy set in Georgia. Brace yourself. It’s nightmarish.

LSS: Music is an influence at any decibel level

Long ago, when Stacy Shaw invited me to go with her to the Peter Frampton concert, I wanted to go.

I mean, I really wanted to go.

I had no idea who Peter Frampton was, but I had heard about concerts. According to my cousins, strange things happened at music concerts — and my cousins knew things. They told how loud the concerts were. They told me your ears hurt when you left. They told me people passed funny-smelling cigarettes down rows, and everyone was expected to join in.

It was 1976. We were 12.

I had lived a sheltered life and couldn’t imagine any of it. I wasn’t planning or wanting to participate in any shenanigans, but I didn’t want to be left out. The whole event was an opportunity for an information gathering expedition. A chance to unlock mysteries. All I knew was that I was wanted to go to the concert.

I didn’t.

My mother not permitting me to go played a role in whatever it is that happens between 12-year-old girls and their mothers. Looking back, I’m sure it was an easy decision for her, but at the time I was certain my mother didn’t know or understand whatever it was my cousins were talking about. (And I think I was right.)

Back then, I never admitted that I had no idea who Peter Frampton was.

Our whole class talked about the approaching concert for weeks. Everyone kept saying, “He makes his guitar talk — or sing.” And I would nod my head in agreement.

When the big day finally came, Stacy and our friends went. Somehow, they all got to go backstage and met Peter and his band.

I heard about it for years.

Every time I’ve gone to a bona fide concert since, I’ve thought of the night I didn’t go see Peter Frampton.

Last week, I accompanied my 12-year-old daughter to what I believe will be the last music concert I ever attend. (Trust me when I tell you that I gladly embrace however old it is that that sentiment makes me sound or feel.)

While Taylor Swift put on a great show, there was a long while when all I could do was sit and wish I had brought some earplugs. My ears went through several phases — shock, pain and finally numb.

As I sat there beside my daughter who sang every word to every Taylor Swift song, I was happy to share the moment. Taylor Swift’s country-crooning-girl-power-it’s-OK-not-to-fit-in-there-is-life-after-junior-high messages are a far cry from the Peter Frampton scene of 1976.

There’s much ado about the difficulties of growing up today — and, certainly, those challenges are very real. After all, every generation has its tests.

Even still, and I mean nothing against Peter Frampton. But, given the choice between the two influences of then versus now for my daughter and her friends — I’m thinking, regardless of the decibel levels involved, I’m going with Taylor Swift.

Long Story Short: All about The Blue Goose

These days my dad drives a fancy, air-conditioned, Sirius radioed, plush vehicle that is difficult to call a truck.

But for the first 12 years of my life, he drove a truck that was old before I was born. Everyone I knew called my dad’s truck by name, The Blue Goose.

The Blue Goose was not a fancy ride.

The springs came through the seats. You had to straddle them just so to avoid injury. The dents were too many to number. The windows never fully closed.

By the time I was 12, there was nothing cool about pulling up somewhere, hanging on for dear life in the passenger seat of a 1949 banged-up GMC pick-up truck.

But my dad loved that truck.

When I was in kindergarten, I didn’t mind The Blue Goose. That year, my mom went to college early every morning. My dad got me ready for school – which explains the Orphan Annie, scraggly pigtail, mismatched look I sported. We lived in a small rented house in what we called,  “the country.” Every morning, my dad and I would load up in The Blue Goose and sing all the way to kindergarten.

We sang the same song – over and over.

Oh, let the sunshine in.

Face it with a grin.

Smilers never lose, and frowners never win.

Open up your heart, and let the sun shine in.

We sang loud, and we sang proud.

During that year of early morning rides in The Blue Goose, I had no idea my father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

When I do the math and realize my dad was 27 at that time, I marvel that life for our family worked as well as it did. It was 1968. Driving down the highway in The Blue Goose with his four-year-old daughter was a long way from Woodstock.

Even still, our family grew, and The Blue Goose was there for every milestone.

Seven years later, one Saturday morning, our family puttered around the house. To no surprise, the 24-year-old vehicle required a bit of maintenance. My dad worked on it all that morning. When he finished, he closed the hood and walked to the storage room.

My six-year-old brother was left sitting on the giant, curvy, chalky hood amidst my father’s tools.

I was riding my bike nearby when I heard the series of strange sounding whacks.

I saw my father running back to see what the commotion was.

My brother continued sitting on the truck’s hood, holding my father’s hammer.

“Robin, what are you doing?” my dad yelled fiercely.

My brother twisted around, away from the windshield of the truck, to answer.

“Killing flies,” he said calmly.

And there, we could all see the results of my brother’s efforts — five near-perfect starburst fractures in The Blue Goose’s windshield. Those blows were the last of many The Blue Goose endured.

We got a new truck shortly thereafter.

Sadly, The Blue Goose hasn’t been seen since.

Bless that truck.

Long Story Short: Hear my prayer

Last week, a good friend and Catholic priest advised me to turn to St. Joseph in my search for a job.

“St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers,” my friend, the Rev. Brian Kaskie, said. “I’ll say a prayer for you, but go get yourself a St. Joseph, and write your prayer down. He’ll take care of you.”

I am not one to miss an opportunity for a blessing.

I dutifully went to the Catholic bookstore and bought a small St. Joseph statue. I followed my grade-school-friend-turned-priest’s instructions and said a prayer. What could it hurt?

A few days later, I wished my husband good luck as he walked out the door to a job interview. Even though he worked in corporate America for decades, he hasn’t been on many job interviews. I wanted him to do well and feel good. He left, and I sat back down to work. I turned to the table behind me to pick up some papers. Accidentally, I bumped the table and sent poor St. Joseph flying.

Even before he hit the floor, I was panic-stricken.


I looked on one side of the table and saw the statuette’s body. On the other side of the table, I found his head.

This could not be good.

Frantically (and miraculously), I found Elmer’s glue in my cupboard. By my calculations, if I quickly re-attached St. Joseph’s head, maybe I could have the saint in one piece before my husband made it to his interview.

The problem was the glue wouldn’t hold the head up straight.

In my frenzied state, I tried to figure out what I could use to hold the head in place while the glue did its work?

Eureka, I have found it. Duct tape would work perfectly.

Very carefully, I glued the saint’s head back to his body and held it in place with the duct tape. Then, I said a prayer.

I had done what I could do. The next morning, I removed the duct tape and found St. Joseph looking kindly — his head leaning ever-so-slightly to the left. I deemed the surgery “The Baptist Procedure,” (honoring John the Baptist in his ill-fated demise).

I recounted the experience to a group of friends (who all happened to be Catholic) later that evening and was met with some resistance on my choice of saints.

“You should pray to St. Jude,” a friend said. “He’s the patron saint of lost causes.”

“I’m not quite to the lost-cause status,” I replied.

“St. Theresa de Avila is a good one to lean on, as well,” another sent over the Internet later that night. “One of her prayers: All things are passing. Patience obtains all things.”

I decided to do more research. Turns out, St. Cajetan (Cayetano) is the patron saint of the unemployed.

Cajetan? Theresa de Avila? Jude? Joseph?

As I mentioned, I don’t turn away prayers and blessings.

Besides, I have faith that they all end up in the same place anyway.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears on Sundays. She can be reached at jan@janrisher.com.