Monday, October 27, 2008

What kind of a reader are you?

If you aren’t overly fond of the book you’re reading, do you continue to the end anyway? Or do you quickly put it down – without a single twinge of guilt – and pick up another?

Only recently did it occur to me that there might be various schools of thought* on how to react following the realization that a book isn’t as good as expected.

The revelation came while listening to Joe Hill, author of the best-selling “Heart-Shaped Box” and the new “20th Century Ghosts,” who told readers at my local independent bookstore that he nearly always reads a book to the end – even if he doesn’t like it that much. His wife, however, quickly decides whether a book is for her and throws it aside if it’s not.

In my house, it’s my husband who begins and rejects books so quickly that I’m never sure what he’s reading. I usually keep plugging along unless the writing is beyond wretched or the plot is so convoluted that I’d rather poke myself in the eye than try to figure it out.

After listening to Joe Hill**, I wonder if how we pursue our reading is merely habit or something deeper, like a personality trait that someone should be studying. (I'm sure hoping it's not one of those things that requires therapy, though.)

I hadn’t thought much about it before, but I believe I keep reading because I’m afraid I’ll miss something good that might be still to come. Or maybe I just want to give my fellow writers the benefit of the doubt that they’ll eventually enlighten and/or entertain me.

After all, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to write a book and get it published. If a book makes it to the store shelves, it must have some redeeming value, right? Unfortunately, I’m often disappointed in my quest to find it. Aren't you?

I recently learned that 411,000 new book titles were sold in America last year. That’s an average of 1,126 new books published every single day. Those numbers alone should be enough to convince us a) we can’t read every new book and b) odds are not all of them are great – and maybe a whole lot aren’t even good. How to find the best ones is a topic for another day, however.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to try to train myself to quickly put down bad books and only keep reading the really good ones. Life’s just too short to read mediocre books. Don’t you agree?

After posting this blog, I received e-mails from people who say that if they're not sure they like a book, they read the ending and then decide whether to go back and read the entire thing. But why read the book if you already know how it ends? I suppose some of us enjoy the journey while others focus on finishing. And I suspect there are as many ways to read a book as there are to write one. Maybe that's what helps make reading so satisfying to so many people.

(**Joe Hill, by the way, uses the inside blank covers of the book he’s reading to make his own scorecards of Red Sox games. Like his father, Stephen King, he is a Sox fan and also brings along the book he’s currently reading to enjoy during breaks in the game.)

Monday, October 20, 2008


This is a view of the USS New Hampshire nuclear submarine moving up the Piscataqua River to the site where it will be officially commissioned into the US Navy later this week. It carries more than 100 sailors committed to serving and protecting our country. Many are in their late teens and early 20s.

As I watched the sub make its way to the nation’s oldest shipyard, guided by tugboats and accompanied by a welcoming flotilla of local watercraft, I was reminded once again that there are young people still willing to risk everything for the greater good.

It gives me such hope for America.

I am now of a generation that often shakes its head over “young people today” and worries they lack direction and a willingness to commit to something bigger than themselves. There are days when I fear our nation has become so cynical that we have given up; that we are paralyzed by disillusion.

These sailors are proof that I am wrong.

So, too, are the young people who tiptoed through our house at 6 a.m. yesterday. For the past week, Annie from Wisconsin and Tommy from Maryland have been sleeping here for a few hours each night, departing early in the morning and often returning around 1 a.m.

They arrived at our door with their own towels, bedding and sturdy shoes, prepared to sleep on a stranger’s floor, if necessary, so they could pound the pavement in support of their beliefs. In their mid-20s, they’ve taken leaves of absence to work for the grassroots group “Progressive Future,” which is trying to get out the vote for candidates who support health care, education and the environment.

They came to New Hampshire because it was considered a “swing state” with four precious electoral college votes. When I asked if they might be able to cut back a little on their insane schedule, they told me there was too much at stake on Nov. 4.

Yesterday they were up early because Tommy was being shipped out to Denver. “Gotta go where the fight is,” he said in the thank you note he left behind. I suspect that somewhere else in this country, young people with opposite beliefs also were preparing to leave for Colorado. It's become a key battleground state for nine electoral votes while NH appears to be leaning toward Obama.

As the election gets closer, more Tommys and Annies will be pouring into states that could ultimately decide the next administration of our country. They will be from all walks of life and support candidates across the political spectrum – Republicans, Democrats, Independents, etc. And most of these campaign workers will be young.

Commitment. Standing up for what you believe in. Supporting a cause. Yes, young people still do that – in service to their country, in election campaigns and in a thousand other ways.

Whatever your political beliefs, doesn’t it make you proud to be an American?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fear in black and white

I ate lunch last weekend at Mabel’s Lobster Claw, a classic seafood restaurant in beautiful Kennebunkport, Maine, that's within walking distance of the Bush Maine estate. Former President Bush had dined there two nights earlier and ordered his favorite swordfish. The waitress told us he tips at 20 percent and is showing his age at 84.

She also told us she’s afraid to vote for Barack Obama because she fears he’ll be assassinated. I tried to remind her that white presidents get assassinated, too, and unfortunately there have been far too many attempts on the lives of all of our presidents.

I also asked her: “Should we elect our president based on fear?” (This was, of course, before Wall Street’s worst week in history.)

Although I believe her fear of assassination for the first black president of the United States is shared by many in this country, I wonder: is that fear just another shade of racial prejudice?

No one is talking about concerns that John McCain might be assassinated. Personally, I'm terrified of who would be a heartbeat away if the 72-year-old McCain were to die in office – whether it be from a fifth bout with deadly melanoma or something else. Others say this fear is a factor in their election decision, as well.

So, are we now electing presidents based on life expectancy rather than who can best solve a crippling financial crisis, get us affordable health care or end the war in Iraq? Have elections come down to voting for the person least likely to die in office? Or is it really that we can’t forget that Obama is half-black and McCain is all-white?

I wanted to believe racial prejudice isn’t part of this year’s presidential race – or a major factor in America today. But judging from a recent poll that found one-third of white Democratic voters surveyed agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, Martin Luther King’s dream of a society where people are judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin apparently is just that – still a dream.

A thought-provoking essay on white privilege is making its way around the Internet. White privilege means if you have white skin, certain doors are open that aren’t open to people of other races. For example, most of America doesn’t immediately form an opinion about a white person based solely on skin color.

Think about the concept of white privilege for a minute. John McCain cheated on his disfigured first wife after his return from Vietnam, divorced her and married a rich heiress. Would such a marital history be a campaign issue if he were a black candidate? Barack Obama has attended the same Christian church for 20 years. If he were a white candidate, would anyone allege he’s secretly a Muslim?

(No matter what your political leanings, the white privilege essay is worth reading if it makes you consider how your views of the candidates might be skewed by skin color. Click here if you want to read it.)

I have a friend who believes some Americans' views of Sarah Palin are slanted by her beauty contestant past and high heels. If she were a white man, or a black one, would we evaluate her conservative views more closely or question the fact that it took her five attempts and six years to get a four-year college degree? Is her candidacy benefiting from the privilege of being white AND the first female Republican vice presidential candidate?

No one wants to believe they're prejudiced. But maybe if we acknowledged our fears and prejudices, it would be easier to put them aside and vote based on the issues. I believe our future depends on it, don't you?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Leaving a Google footprint

There’s lots of talk about carbon footprints these days, but maybe we also ought to be thinking about our “Google” footprints – those traces of our past captured forever in cyberspace.

If you’ve ever “Googled” yourself or someone else, you've seen just how much you can learn from putting a name or a few words in the “Google search” box at Google is a terrific resource for research (especially for us writers), previewing the menu of a new restaurant, investigating your neighbors (or your children) ~ and discovering what everyone else can find out about you. (For those who’ve never tried googling, instructions are at the end.)

And while all the information on the World Wide Web isn’t always accurate, it can be interesting to see what the Internet says about you.

A search of the Web for my name, for example, finds Pat Remicks in Florida, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and the other one I’ve always known about – my mother, a former real estate agent who shared her name with her firstborn (a future subject for a blog entry or maybe therapy – but I digress).

Nearly all the citations on the 29 separate Google pages refer to me. I wonder if the other Pat Remicks are incredibly jealous or simply curious about why our name appears in entries in Japanese, Chinese, German, Russian, Italian, French, Norwegian and Danish. The reason is most are connected to the two non-fiction books I wrote with (husband) Frank Cook and the numerous web-based outlets where they can be purchased.

Our “Candidates as Caregivers” freelance article about the presidential primary candidates for AARP Bulletin also appears a few times. Most surprising was learning from a Google search that it won an award from the “Society of National Association Publications,” or SNAP. Our editor forgot to mention this, as well as another award it earned for AARP.

News articles composed before most of us knew about the Internet also turn up in odd places on the Web today. A United Press International report I wrote in 1983 is cited in the notes of the 2002 book “The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right” and also in “The National Intelligence Service – Murder and Mayhem: A historical account.” I’m too cheap to buy the books to remind myself what I wrote and you can’t expect someone who forgets where she puts her purse to remember the subject of one of hundreds of articles written 25 years ago. It must have been brilliant, though.

A 1982 article I wrote about Oil City, Louisiana, (home to the first over-water oil drilling platform) apparently is part of Southeastern Louisiana University’s “Clark Forrest Collection, Box 6.” I have no idea who Clark Forrest was, but I suspect his heirs wanted at least a tax deduction for all the boxes of newspaper clippings he probably left behind.

A 1977 photograph of my UPI softball team— “Dr. Darkness and his Night Writers”—also is on the Web for the world to see. I gave up softball, but kept Dr. Darkness. (I’m the third one in from the right and he's the scary-looking guy in front.)

Google also has captured my pithy quotes in articles about our dog running the house, education funding, the local holiday parade, elementary school discipline, an immoral bishop, and a variety of other topics. Great news for those who haven’t heard enough of my opinions, but bad news for my children and theirs, I suspect.

A word of caution: A “Google” search isn’t perfect. It reflects what’s on the imperfect Web. A search can’t always clearly differentiate between two people with the same name. The criminal history of a man who shares the name and home state as one of my relatives has caused him undeserved embarrassment. Unfortunately, he has no recourse because the court document left a “Google” footprint that may never fade.

So, if you haven’t tried “googling” yourself, you should. If you already have, did you discover anything that surprised you?

Google Instructions:
Go to You should see this series of words in the upper left corner: “Web, Images, Maps, News, Shopping, Mail, more.” The word “web” should be black. If it’s not, click on it. Then move your cursor to the blank search box. Type in your name with quotation marks around it (i.e., “Pat Remick”) and then click on the gray box below that says “Google search.” If there’s more than one person in America with your name, you may see lots of pages returned that don’t apply to you. You can try searching again and putting in your hometown next to your name in quotation marks, add a middle initial or even your profession. Give it a try. You might be surprised by what you find.