Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Book that Changed My Life

People talk about books that changed their lives.  There is one which had a profound impact on mine, whether you agree philosophically (or politically) or not.  That book was Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. In that book I saw reflected my mother's experience as a widow trying to raise three kids in the 1950s. At times, there were those who tried to take advantage of her because she was a woman.

A case in point:  Not long after my father died in 1954, we moved back to Jacksonville, Florida, where her mother and sister lived.  A couple years later, Mom bought an electric lawnmower from Sears, Roebuck & Co. (as the firm used to be called; now it's just Sears).  When the mower broke down, she took it to Sears for repairs, and told the service manager that she was to be called with an estimate (a provision which is now in law) before any work would be done.  Days later, she received a call from Sears saying the mower had been repaired and the repairs cost a fat sum of money for a widow in 1956 making maybe $65 a week take-home.

Mom informed the caller that she had left explicit instructions that she be called with an estimate before any work was done.  The caller smugly informed her that "Mr. Packard" had authorized the repairs.  My mother firmly informed the caller that she was a widow and the only "Mr. Packard" in the house was a 12-year-old boy who had definitely not taken any calls from Sears.  After the dust settled, Mom got the mower back without paying one cent.

Don't believe things like that happened?  Take it from me, they did.  And much worse.

When I was 12 I had already had an experience with male-dominated society which left me angry.  In 8th grade civics class, the teacher brought in a right-wing speaker who spouted off about how women should, basically, be barefoot, pregnant, and always married.  He castigated widowed and divorced women who did not immediately remarry, and it was more than I could take, and apparently more than one other girl whose mother was also a widow could take.  We both protested loudly, stating in no uncertain terms what we thought of this fool.  It probably is a wonder we did not get sent to the office and assigned detention for our speaking out, but perhaps that is exactly what the teacher had wanted.  I do remember that he was standing there smiling.  Perhaps this had been a lesson in the American right to protest and speak one's mind.

So at 14 I read Betty Friedan's book, and was changed.  Even at times, my mother had bought into the "mystique," discouraging me from wanting to do anything other than the usual "girl" things for the 1950s and early 1960s -- home, teaching, nursing, or secretarial work.  But I had wanted to be a newspaper reporter, a writer.  I had wanted to play in the band (which other girls did do).  And I had wanted to join the Navy, following my father's example, a thought which horrified my mother and my brother and brought immediate censure.  Amid all the discouragement, I found in Friedan the encouragement that I could do what I wanted to do, that I had the right to self-determination, something we take for granted (most of us) for our daughters these days.

Did it make me a man-hating feminazi?  Not by a long shot.  I am happily married to a great guy, and have had a number of male friends as well (it IS possible, contrary to what some people who can't think beyond their gonads may say).  I like men.  It is ideology -- of whatever stripe -- I can't stand.  What the book taught me was to see people as PEOPLE, that women and men, for the most part, just want more than anything else to live the life they feel most comfortable and happy in.  There is not a thing wrong with that, and I think it is every individual's God-given right.

So I went on to do a lot of things in my life, many of them "girl" things.  I actually did become a nurse, and I enjoyed it and found satisfaction in it.  Unfortunately, I also foud stress in it, especially when we had three deaths in our own family within a short span of time, and I had to stop.  I married and had two children, delighting in them and taking seriously my Mom role (including instilling in my daughters that they had the right to determine their own lives).  On the other hand, I did join the military.  I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, with the support and to the great delight of my husband, and I enjoyed that, too, rising from Yeoman Third Class to Lieutenant (junior grade).  And I am finally, in fulfillment of my childhood dream, a writer, with two books under my belt and working on what I hope will become the third.

What books changed your lives?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Tale of the Peripatetic Book

Probably my favorite book is Thomas P. F. Hoving's King of the Confessors, the story of his pursuit of the Bury St. Edmunds Cross, a beautiful and inspiring object which was known but which had been hidden for nearly eight centuries before Hoving got wind of its emergence, through the agency of a character worthy of a James Bond novel, Ante Topic Mimara Matutin.  The book is engagingly written by Hoving, who is obviously passionate about art, about the cross, and about his work.

I originally bought the book in paperback not long after it came out in 1981, and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I have reread the story a couple times since.  I lent the paperback to my friend Amanda, who lived in Crown Point, Indiana, at the time, and who was taking art lessons at the Chicago Arboretum.  She read the book and enjoyed it thoroughly, and talked it up to her classmates and her instructor.  They borrowed the book, and as Amanda told me later, by the time the book got to the instructor, it was in such rough condition that he had to do a restoration on it.  I was eagerly looking forward to seeing the restoration and getting my esteemed and beloved book back home.  Amanda, however, felt that I deserved better, and replaced the poor, well-traveled, and eagerly-devoured paperback with a hardback copy.  The delight of the hardback is the photographs of details from the cross.

This book led me to a couple others Hoving also wrote:  Tutankhamun: the Untold Story, his theory of how and why King Tut died at such a young age, and his delightful memoir of enlivening the public relations program of the rather stodgy Metropolitan Museum of Art, Making the Mummies Dance.  I enjoyed all three, but King of the Confessors is the best of the three.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Blatant Copying and Thoughts on a Re-hash

I am going to say flat out and first off that Bill West beat me to it.  He has a book blog, East of the Sun, West of the Moon.  In addition to being my cousin through my Packard lineage, Bill is a bookseller.  Me, I'm a reader and a writer, so my perspective will be different.  However, I had to tip my hat to Bill and confess to my imitation, which I do hope will be sincerely flattering to him.

For this first entry, I am going to ricochet off of books, or rather, one specific book and onto television, from my own Booking Hawaii Five-0: An Episode Guide and Critical History of the 1968-1980 Television Detective Series to the reworking of that series for the 21st Century, which debuted Monday night. As indicated by the book's title, the original series went off the air in 1980.  Nobody wrote anything about it, even though at the time it was the longest-running cop show in television history (later beat out by the first Law and Order series).  Since nobody else wrote a book about it, and since I was, I confess, very much a fan of the original Five-0, I wrote the book.

After submitting the book to several publishers, and receiving an equal number of rejections, I despaired of it ever being published.  However, I learned that editors and publishers keep files, and revisit them from time to time.  I had submitted it to McFarland & Company of Jefferson, North Carolina, in its turn among the publishers I pitched the book to.  What I submitted was a proposal, a standard method in non-fiction writing, in which you outline the proposed topic and content of the book, and provide two or three sample chapters.

A year after I had originally sent the proposal to McFarland, they wrote me asking to see more.  I sent them more.  They sent me a contract.  McFarland seems to have been a good choice.  They are a "traditional" publisher, which means they pay me, not the other way around (in the future, I'll discuss this phenomenon more in depth).  McFarland keeps books in print longer than the large publishing houses.  Booking Hawaii Five-0 has been in print since 1997.  For the first ten years, it was in hardback.  Then, in 2007, it came out in paperback, and is still selling a few hundred copies a year.

So I wrote the book on the series, and now the series has been reborn.  I was skeptical and a bit nervous about watching the premiere episode of the new series, having heard bits and pieces about it for the past few months.  For one thing, they were using the same character names, but with newly-engineered characters who would not jibe with the old, rather like what was done in the latest Star Trek movie, where we go back in time, relative to the events of the original series, and see Kirk, Spock, McCoy and all the rest knowing each other from Starfleet Academy on, which definitely was not consonant with what had gone before.

Hawaii Five-0, the new series, is likewise dissonant with its predecessor, which I suppose we must now saddle with the designation TOS (The Original Series) as has been done with Star Trek (1966-1969).  The "new" Steve McGarrett isn't from the mainland (Jack Lord had a pronounced New York accent), he's from Hawaii.  In the original series, it was Dan Williams who was from Hawaii; now he's from New Jersey!  Chin Ho Kelly is younger, more casual, and possibly darker of personality than the original.  And Kono Kalakaua has gone from being a burly Hawaiian man the size of an NFL linebacker to being a svelte young girl!  That was the most dissonant note of all!

There were a couple sops to us old-line fans.  When Steve McGarrett goes into his murdered father's garage, he uncovers a 1960s black Mercury, which is what the original Steve McGarrett drove for the entire 12 years of the series.  And the governor of Hawaii -- a woman this time -- is named Jameson, a salute to the old series' governor Paul Jameson, played by Richard Denning.

There are some similarities, as well.  Both incarnations of McGarrett were Naval Academy graduates.  The original Steve was a black-shoe (surface sailor) who also was in Naval Intelligence, and we get the hint that, though head of the state police agency in Hawaii, he was still an intelligence operative as well.  The new McGarrett is involved in counter-terrorist activities, and is a SEAL.  That latter fact tells us right away that he's a lot crazier than the original McGarrett ever thought of being!  Both McGarretts suffered their fathers being murdered.  The original Steve's father was run down by criminals escaping their crime when Steve was still a boy; the latest one's dad is murdered by terrorists in this opening episode, as Steve listens helplessly on the phone. 

All in all, I feel about the new Five-0 series the way I feel about the latest Star Trek movie.  It is good -- well-written, well-directed, a good story, very entertaining.  But it just isn't "real" to me, since I knew the original Five-0 as only a fan can.