Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Garrison Keillor at UWM

May 6, 2014

Last night, A.J. and I attended a “book reading of sorts” at the UWM Ballroom. Garrison Keillor, the famed host of A Prairie Home Companion, is touring America promoting his new book, The Keillor Reader. He didn’t actually read from his book, however. What he did was much better. He entertained the audience for an a hour and half or more with quaint anecdotes, stories of his life, advice for the future, and even a couple of songs (with audience participation). He followed that up with another half hour of questions from the audience and at least another couple of hours signing his books. And in all that time, I didn’t see him sit down once.

While signing books, he spent several minutes with each individual, talking with them and making them feel special and unique. I don’t believe that I have ever met a more humble, down-to-earth celebrity. He was generous with his time and attention to everyone in the room.

Back in March, 2012, Kristi, Erin, and I got to see A Prairie Home Companion at the Milwaukee Theatre when it was touring. I thoroughly enjoyed myself that night and would recommend seeing that show to anyone. But I have to admit that I had an even better time last night. Mr. Keillor walked through the audience the entire time that he presented and you felt like you really got to know him.

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Nancy Drew and her BIGGEST CASE EVER

May 1, 2014

Nancy and Ned

You see that attractive couple right there? That is Nancy Drew and her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Okay, it isn’t really Nancy and Ned. It is local actors, Madison Penzkover and A.J. Magoon, playing Nancy and Ned in the Wirt cast of the upcoming First Stage production of Nancy Drew and her BIGGEST CASE EVER. That’s right folks, those creative geniuses at First Stage have written an original Nancy Drew mystery by combining the dialogue and plot points from three of her original stories; The Bungalow Mystery, The Quest for the Missing Map, and Mystery at the Ski Jump.

This awesome show opens tomorrow night, Friday, May 2nd at 7 PM with the Wirt cast. First Stage double casts the child actors for all of it’s shows and the two casts (Wirt and Benson) are named for one of the ghost writers for the Nancy Drew Mysteries, Mildred Wirt Benson. The show runs through Sunday, June 1st at 3:30 PM with public performances on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. This is going to be a spectacular show full of mystery, intrigue, and the occasional ski chase.

Those that would like to see the incomparable A.J. Magoon in the role of Ned Nickerson should plan to attend one of the following Wirt cast public performance:
Friday, May 2nd – 7 PM
Saturday, May 3rd – 1 and 3:30 PM
Sunday, May 4th – 1 and 3:30 PM
Saturday, May 10th – 7 PM
Saturday, May 17th – 7 PM
Sunday, May 18th – 1 and 3:30 PM
Sunday, June 1st – 1 and 3:30 PM (Benson Cast performances)

eBooks, Kindles, and BookLending.com

October 2, 2011

For the record, I absolutely love to read books and I am a huge gadget nerd. Long before we had iPads, iPhones, or Kindles, I was the proud owner of not one but two separate Microsoft Windows Pocket PC devices. The first one, purchased in 2000, was a Philips Nino 500 and the second one was a Compaq iPaq H4150, which I continued to use until about a year ago. These were similar to an iPhone in that you could store contacts, email, calendar items, as well as load applications to perform other tasks. The difference was that you had to dock them to your computer to keep them up-to-date.

One of the first applications that I loaded on my Philips Nino was an eBook reader from Peanut Press (which was later renamed eReader and then subsequently bought by Fictionwise). Many people asked how I could read a book on such a small screen but the convenience of always having one or more books with me to read was the important thing for me. Over the next 10 years, I purchased over 22 different books for the eReader application. I know that I could have picked those books up from the library for free but I was willing to pay to have them in electronic form.

About a year ago, my work laptop was replaced with an iPad. I downloaded the free Kindle app and switched over to reading my eBooks on the iPad. A few months ago, I upgraded my cellphone to an iPhone and now I can read my Kindle books on either device. I love the Kindle app and I love that can switch between the devices and pick up where I left off on either device. What I don’t love, however, is the cost of having to buy the books. When I first started reading eBooks the selection was limited but I could get many books for about $5 a piece. I realize that Kindle books are cheaper than their paper and ink counterparts but they are about double that.

Two new services have come into being recently that have solved my eBook buying problems. The first is OverDrive. OverDrive is a digital distribution platform for eBooks and audiobooks. The local public libraries (and school libraries) use OverDrive to allow you to borrow the Kindle version of book for up to two weeks. The only drawback to OverDrive is that the local libraries don’t have very many digital copies of popular books. You can put an eBook on hold via OverDrive and check it out when it becomes available but that can sometimes take weeks. I’ve found that if I keep several books in my on-hold queue at a time, one is usually coming available about the time I am finishing up the last book.

The other solution to the purchasing problem is that Amazon is now allowing you to loan your already purchased Kindle books to another Kindle user for a two week period. When I saw this, I thought that this was really cool but I don’t know many other Kindle users or what books they have. That’s where BookLending.com comes in. You can create a profile on that site and list the books that you have available to lend and the ones that you would like to borrow. The site matches you up with other Kindle users that have or need your books. Its only shortcoming is that there aren’t a lot of users yet so the selection of books to exchange is still quite limited.

All in all, both of these services are really helping to keep my eBook buying expenses down. I’m still going to purchase eBooks from time to time. But now I’m going to purchase the ones that I really want to keep.

Audio Books

March 15, 2011

A couple years after Kristi and I were married, we lived in suburban Detroit. As we were young and in an adjacent state to Wisconsin, we were expected to come home to Wisconsin on many weekends throughout the year. The shortest trip to either family was at least 8 hours long. There is only so much that you can talk about during extended car trips. We needed to find something to take our minds off the long, monotonous drives. At that time, we discovered that you could rent “books on tape” (yes… they were on cassette tapes back then) from Cracker Barrel restaurants across the country. You could pick them up at one restaurant and return them at another in less than a week for only $2. Let me tell you, nothing makes the time fly like a Sue Grafton detective story or a Lawrence Block mystery.

Over the years, we have continued to listen to books as a family in the car on long car trips and even on the shorter trips around town. In more recent years, Kristi has checked out many children’s stories on CD at the local library. I don’t even want to guess how many books our family has listened to over the years but we sure have experienced some wonderful literature.

Six years ago, I switched to job that has a half hour commute one way… and that is on a good day. Around that same time, I signed up for an Audible account as well. Audible allows you to purchase audio books and download them to MP3 players and other electronic devices. While I don’t listen to audio books on every trip to and from work, I will usually listen to one or two books a month depending on their length and my mood. Lately, I have begun to listen to some of the classics; books that have been around for generations that I have not had the opportunity or drive to sit down and read. I have made my way through The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, Ivanhoe and The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, and several Agatha Christie mysteries. And yesterday I finished The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

Although I love to physically read books and I usually am working on one book or another, I am convinced that I probably wouldn’t have ever experienced these classics pieces of literature in their written form. I’ve always wanted to read them but given their dubious status as school reading list books, I have always passed them by. I am so glad that someone else can read them to me and help me to forget the craziness of rush-hour traffic at the same time.

Shakespeare’s Plays

August 5, 2010

About a month ago, Kristi sent me a link to the Shakespeare In a Year Facebook group which in turn took me to the Shakespeare In a Year blog. The woman writing the blog has challenged herself to read all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays and a couple of his poems in one year. Sounds a little like Julie and Julia to me but Shakespeare isn’t around to criticize her work like Julia Child did… but I digress. When I first looked at the blog, I thought I like to read plays, I could do this too. And besides, at the time I was only a month behind, I could probably catch up and be able to discuss the plays with the blogger. After thinking it over for a couple of days, I came to my senses and realized that I definitely do not have the time to read that much Shakespeare in such a short time and actually understand any of it.

I did, however, think that reading all of his plays sounded like an interesting challenge and something I could do over time. So, starting this week, I have begun an undertaking to read all 38 of Shakespeare’s play. When I finish one, I will start the next. It will be interesting to see how long it actually takes. While at the Bristol Renaissance Faire on Sunday, I purchased a copy of an anthology that contains five of Shakespeare’s comedies. As A.J. and I had just seen this play performed in July, I have decided to begin with Much Ado About Nothing. It doesn’t hurt that it was also the first play in the book. And, surprisingly, I have made it through all of Act I already.

Milwaukee’s Live Theater

April 14, 2009

Milwaukee's Live Theater

Last week, I received a book that I had pre-ordered back in January. It’s called Milwaukee’s Live Theater and it is by local author, Jonathan West. The book is a photo compilation and is part of the Images of America series. Jonathan is a local actor, director, author, and now the Managing Director of Sunset Playhouse. I was first introduced to Jonathan’s writing via his blogging for MKE magazine almost two years ago. When that magazine went out of business, he moved his blog to its own site, Artsy Schmartsy. Jonathan is a vocal proponent of the arts in Milwaukee. So, it was no surprise when he was chosen to head up the compilation of photographs that describe the history of live theatre in Milwaukee.

I haven’t completely finished the book yet but I love what I have read so far. I am learning so much about the history of theatre in our area. While I enjoy looking at all of the pictures, the narrative that accompanies the photos is very well done and informative. I have to admit, the first thing I did after getting the book was to page through it to see if it contained pictures of anyone I knew personally. I was pleasantly surprised that I could identify at least two people that I have worked with in a show. If you are a live theatre enthusiast in the Milwaukee area, you should pick up a copy.

We Finished Harry Potter

August 25, 2007

On Thursday night, A.J. and I finished the last three chapters and the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I was actually misting up during certain parts of those chapters and through a lot of the epilogue. I don’t know why but the names mentioned in the epilogue made me almost tear up. I’m such a wuss. It took us just under a month to finish the book. We would read one or two chapters before bed on the nights when I wasn’t at rehearsal.

This was, by far, my favorite Harry Potter book. There was action and excitement in almost every chapter. I enjoyed the first three books. They were excellent kids’ books. The next three book hovered somewhere between kids’ book and adult book. But they weren’t really that good as either. I think this last book is an excellent adult book.

On the whole, I have enjoyed the entire series. J. K. Rowling really developed the characters well throughout the series. That is probably why the end of the last book affected me the way that it did. I am almost a sad that the series is over. I want to read about more adventures Harry, Ron, and Hermione along with Neville, Luna, and Ginny. I want to see the relationship between Harry and Ginny grow. I want to know what job Harry gets. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to use my imagination.

The Deathly Hallows

July 24, 2007

A.J. and I started to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Saturday. Back in 2002, when Kristi and I would still read to A.J. before bed, I started reading the Harry Potter series to him before bed. Even though he could probably chew through this book in about a day and half by himself, he still lets me read each new book of the series to him in the evenings after work. Because of that, we end up only getting through a chapter or two each day. So far, we have made to chapter 6 or 7. At this rate, it will take about 2 to 3 weeks to complete.

I have to say this book is phenomenal so far. I was a really big fan of the first three books. After that, the writing style changed. In books 4 thru 6, things that used to be describe in a sentence or two took several paragraphs to cover. It was like reading a screenplay. This last book is very detailed too but everything so exciting that you don’t notice. When I used to read to A.J., I would make sure each character’s voice sounded different and I tried to read dramatically. This book has me on the edge of my seat. I am tending to read it really fast and sometimes I stutter through lines. I am not doing a very good job with voices at all. A.J. is so engrossed in the book that he doesn’t mind that I am messing up. I can only assume that the book will continue excite right through to the end.