How To Book Club

Book Ckub

I was recently invited and agreed to join a book club. My initial reaction was unfavorable. For one thing, inviting someone who talks about books for a living and who writes his own as an avocation to join your book club is a little like asking a member of the Cavaliers to play on your rec league basketball team or asking your priest to join your bible study group. Also, I knew that the proclaimed purpose of many clubs fails to accurately reflect the activities in which they engage when gathered. For example, some card clubs rarely play cards and many of the customers in gentlemen’s clubs are hardly gentlemen. Similarly, in many book clubs, the actual discussion of the book under study is not even secondary but tertiary in importance to the food and the general conversation. In the end, I joined and I’m glad I did. Thus far, t has worked out splendidly.

As an author who has spoken at a number of book club gatherings and, now, as a member of one of my own, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions for those wishing to establish a “books first” book club.

1. Membership – The membership should be limited to 5 – 10 individuals. The small number allows for each reader to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful and thorough manner. Secondly, the members do not need to be close friends. In fact, I think it works better when the majority of members are more acquaintances than friends. The lack of familiarity helps to maintain focus on the book under study rather than the news from one another’s lives.  Thirdly, the membership should represent a diverse cross section of society that brings a wide array of belief and value systems to the discussion table. Therefore, members of different age, ethnic, racial, religious, and political groups should be represented, and most importantly, there should be a gender balance. My own book club miserably fails to live up to this suggestion. Perhaps, over time we will be able to address it.

2. Meeting Frequency – The club should convene every other month. For many, largely because of other time demands, reading a book a month can be onerous, especially if the book under study is lengthy. The two-month period should allow everyone ample time to finish the book, and it also keeps the experience of book club fresh and something to be looked forward to rather than a responsibility to be endured.

3. Refreshments – Keep food and drink to a bare minimum; otherwise, it will become a source of stress and competition, and it may shift the focus of the gathering to the food rather than the book. In addition, the eating becomes a time hog that greatly reduces the time that remains to discuss the book. Most importantly, it takes the stress of pleasing and impressing everyone’s palette off of the host’s shoulders. It’s tough enough to choose a book that will satisfy the diverse reading tastes of the membership and much more difficult to plan a menu to satisfy their culinary tastes.

4. Time Parameters – Begin a couple hours after mealtime. This allows members to eat at home and to make heavy refreshments unnecessary (see above). Set a three-hour time limit. Even if the conversation isn’t completed, that’s okay. It’s not necessary to solve every question the book may raise; there’s nothing wrong with leaving more to chew on. It might even inspire a re-reading and even deeper appreciation/understanding of the book.

5. Facilitator – There should be a facilitator to initiate and further discussion. If the group is leaderless, the discourse will meander, and side discussions will be initiated and fracture the group. The facilitator could be the same person each meeting, or the position could rotate in whatever manner the group sees fit.

6. Book Choice – The most important factor in constructing a  successful book club experience is the selection of reading material. Firstly, the concern should not be to please every member. Part of being in a book club is the experience of reading material you would never have chosen for yourself. If you are not excited by this proposition, you probably don’t belong in a serious book club. Secondly, limit the selections to literary novels. Nonfiction books and popular novels are written almost entirely literally. What you read is exactly what you get. Once it’s established what actually happens in the book, there is nothing left to discuss. With nonfiction and page turners, there is little to no room for personal interpretations to be introduced and bandied about – and that is the fun part and the primary reason why book clubs exist.

In the end, I believe anything that motivates folks to read is a good thing, and any manifestation of a book club is a fundamentally good enterprise rather books, food, or simple fellowship dominates the time. My suggestions as outlined above are primarily for those serious readers who want the book experience to remain at the center of conversation and for the discussion to be as stimulating and, sometimes, even life-changing as possible.


Writing Advice

I regularly receive requests for advice on writing as a career from friends, family members, former students, and even mere acquaintances. This entry is an open letter to all those so interested.

Dear Aspiring Writers:

It’s great to hear about your interest in pursuing writing as a career. If you’re really a writer, by now you know that writing fiction is not something you do because you want to; you do it because you have to. It is both your blessing and your curse.

I need to warn you that very few people are able to make their living writing fiction. The vast majority of us, me included, write as an avocation, not a vocation. Fiction writing is an incredibly competitive field full of very talented people all striving to earn the same few available spaces on bookstore shelves. The earning potential is nowhere near as plentiful as most people believe, and there are no benefits (at least of the medical/retirement kind). Again, I’d suggest that if you are going to write, do so because it brings you joy or because it provides some kind of therapeutic benefit or opens up imagined worlds better than your own lived-in one. If you are ever lucky enough to profit financially from your writing, consider yourself blessed, and do something fun with the money. You will have earned it.

 As for seeking copyright, that’s an unnecessary step, a waste of time, and sometimes part of a scam. There are many unscrupulous scavengers out there seeking to take advantage of people’s dreams. This is especially true in the publishing world. Once you write it, your work is protected under copyright law without any formal registration.

 As for self-publishing, I’ve done it both ways. My first book was published by Random House in the traditional way; whereas, for several reasons, I self-published my second book. I much prefer the former to the latter. Traditional publishing is very difficult to break into, actually nearly impossible, but it allows the writer to concentrate solely on writing rather than all of the behind-the-scenes necessities of publishing: cover art, typesetting, editing, marketing, etc. If you do choose to self-publish, know that it is very unlikely that it will ever appear on a bookstore shelf. Also know that the typical self-published book sells somewhere between 50 – 150 copies, mostly to supportive or guilt-stricken friends and family, and the vast majority of self-published books do not make money. I’ve been much more fortunate. However, remember I had already built a platform and an audience through traditional publishing. Whatever you do, if you do self-publish, hire a qualified editor (not a friend or family member) to aggressively edit your work. If you don’t, chances are that you will be embarrassed by the product you present to the public, and that is never a good thing.

 Finally, you should know that the vast majority of what I’ve written will never be published. I have written at least five full-length novels that have never been read by anyone but me and that will never exist anywhere except on my hard drive. Those novels represent thousands of hours of time spent at my computer and rummaging around my own head. That’s time that I wasn’t playing with my kids, working around the house, or romancing my wife. Point being: writing is sacrifice, both for the writer and his/her family.

 If none of this has discouraged you, then write on! You truly are a writer.

 Good Luck and Always Love,


Kiss Me! I Really Am Irish!

Due to a DNA search and some genealogy research by relatives on my mother’s side, I recently learned that a significant portion of my genetic makeup and ancestral roots can be traced to Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland. This discovery was a sort of epiphany for me. It finally made sense of my lifelong affinity to Irish culture, history, music, and literature. One of my wedding groomsmen and lifelong friend Frank O’Farrell hails from Dublin. Until now, however, I never understood this attraction, and I always felt like a poser in the company of the genuine Irish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m equally proud of my German roots, but I never felt a strong connection to my Teutonic ancestors.

So in honor of this revelation, I’m going to recommend some of my all-time favorite Irish writers and musicians for you to check out in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Favorite Irish Writers/Poets: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Frank Delaney, Colm Toibin, Patrick Taylor, Colum McCann, and Michael Farrell, who is an ancestor of my friend Frank mentioned above. His novel “Thy Tears Might Cease” is an overlooked masterpiece. I wrote a review of it here. Check out my review, and if you can find it, the novel: This doesn’t include the number of great Irish-American authors. In addition two of my favorite works of historical fiction are about Irish history but from non-Irish authors: Leon Uris’s “Trinity” trilogy and Edward Rutherford’s “The Princes of Ireland” and “The Rebels of Ireland.”

As for Irish or Gaelic-inspired music/musicians, I love the old standbys like, The Irish Rovers and The Dubliners. I also enjoy more contemporary artists, including Young Dubliners, U2, The Corrs, Glen Hansard, Carbon Leaf, Great Big Sea, The Dropkick Murphys, and Flogging Molly. Of course, my favorite musician of all-time Bruce Springsteen is of Irish descent.

I’m sure you could add many other writers and musicians to this list; Ireland is truly one of the world’s greatest generators of artists of all sorts. I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments section. happy St. Patty’s Day everyone! I leave you with Springsteen’s “This American Land.”

A Review (sort of) of TO DAD, FROM KELLY

With all apologies to my Buckeye friends, I grew up in a Notre Dame household, so having no strong Ohio State allegiances, when my oldest brother, Kevin, enrolled at the University of Michigan, I instantaneously became a Wolverine fan. It was the 1975 football season. Rob Lytle was the star tailback for the Maize and Blue, and Don Dufek was the All-American defensive back. In the countless games of football with my brothers, cousins, and friends played in the side lot on the corner of Fifth and Marlboro, I often imagined myself to be Lytle and Dufek making plays in the Big House.

I actually met Rob Lytle in 1989. He was helping out his old high school football coach at Fremont Ross Pete Moore by working as Moore’s assistant at Port Clinton High School. At the time, I was an assistant at Sandusky St. Mary’s, and we were playing against the Redskins at True-Lay Stadium. Someone introduced me to Lytle before the game. I shook his hand, but I was too shy or too starstruck to speak. I mean, Rob Lytle was third in the Heisman voting in 1976 and had played several injury-riddled seasons for the Denver Broncos. I used to play with his football card for God’s sake, and now I was shaking my boyhood hero’s hand?! I never crossed paths with Rob Lytle again, but I remember following his son’s, Kelly, football and track career at Ross. After Kelly graduated, I don’t remember thinking about the Lytles again until I read that Rob had died much too young at the age of 56. It sucked the wind from me like landing belly first on a football.

One thing I’ve learned, however, is that life has a funny way of circling back upon itself. This past Saturday, I had coffee with Kelly Lytle. We met to talk writing, for Kelly recently published his first book, a memoir titled TO DAD, FROM KELLY, that I’d read and thoroughly enjoyed. After finishing the book, I felt compelled to contact Kelly. For one reason, in a chapter titled “Accomplice,” Kelly shares that his father suffered multiple concussions and strongly relied on painkillers to alleviate the pain from the too-many-to-count injuries that resulted from his years in the game that he loved. This is just one area in which Kelly’s book intersects with my novel GOODNESS FALLS. Both of our books question whether the benefits gained from playing the game of football are commensurate to the price the sport exacts. Another reason I felt it necessary to contact Kelly was to, in a strange way, repay Rob Lytle for the joy he brought to me while I watched him play football for the Wolverines with as much grit as any player I’d ever witnessed. At the time, I didn’t realize just how much he was sacrificing in terms of his health and longevity to bring me and others that joy.

When I first entered the world of publishing, I had no one to mentor me, no one to warn me of the pitfalls waiting for a first time author, and no one to point me towards profitable uses of my time and energies. I figured that if I could be that person for Rob’s son, maybe I could make up some of that debt I owed him. It was another reason I felt compelled to touch base with him. What I learned in a two-hour conversation, however, is that Kelly, a Princeton grad and an accomplished professional, doesn’t need me. He’s smart, passionate, driven to succeed, and a living testimony to his parents’ successful raising of a strong and independent young man. In the end, I’m sure I walked out of that coffee shop with more gained than I gave.

It would be a huge mistake to think of TO DAD, FROM KELLY as a football book. In fact, it is hardly that at all. Rather, it is a book about family, growing up in a small town, perspective, living with passion, and most importantly, embracing life and confronting grief. There is literally at least one chapter in this book for everyone. It continually strikes universal chords that resonate with poignant truths and warm nostalgia. Readers will hear the voices of their own parents, coaches, teachers echoed in Rob’s raising of his son, and they will recognize many of the selfsame lessons they were taught as children and teenagers. As it provides invaluable insight into the male psyche at various stages of maturation, TO DAD, FROM KELLY should be of especial interest to moms, wives, and girlfriends in their never ending attempt to understand the motivations and behaviors of the men in their lives.

In my lifetime, I was fortunate to watch Rob Lytle play football and to benefit from his example of toughness, hard work, and dedication to his teams and to the sport he loved. Through Kelly’s recollections, I’ve learned that Rob fully embodied the nickname of his Fremont Ross Little Giants. It’s an oxymoron that captures Rob’s own ironic sense of failure – which Kelly so tenderly shares – and that despite his achievements, he was “little,” just a man like the rest of us; however, Rob Lytle – even if he didn’t quite appreciate it or was too humble to admit it – was truly a “Giant” worthy of my adulation and his son’s undying love and devotion so touchingly shared in TO DAD, FROM KELLY.

Order your copy of TO DAD, FROM KELLY:

Order your copy of GOODNESS FALLS:

Shame in My Hometown: The Cosby Show Goes On

I love my hometown of Sandusky, Ohio. In fact, recently seconded what we Sanduskians have long known when it named Sandusky “The Best Place to Live Cheaply” in the United States. Today, however, I am ashamed that this Friday our city’s theater plans to host the beleaguered Bill Cosby. The State Theater’s web page explains, “While we are aware of the allegations reported in the press, we are only in a position to judge him based on his career as an entertainer and humanitarian.” The theater has staked its own cowardly position despite the cancellation of Cosby’s scheduled appearance by seven other theaters in six other states who have boldly accepted the burden of doing the right thing even if it means suffering a financial loss. I am equally ashamed that thus far there has been little local public outcry to Cosby’s appearance, and it appears he will slip into town on Friday, do his thing, pocket his cash, and slip out of town with his seemingly Teflon-coated conscience unscathed by local voices of condemnation.

The most galling part of the State Theater’s vacuous explanation is its claim that “we are only in a position to judge him based on his career as an entertainer and humanitarian.” What about the public testimony of more than twenty women with strikingly similar accounts of Cosby’s sexual impositions against them? Should not their voices be heard, considered, and fairly judged? Just this week in The Huffington Post, Cindra Ladd, the wife of the accomplished film producer Alan Ladd and a successful executive and philanthropist in her own right, shared her account of Cosby’s alleged sexual assault against her person. Ladd’s waking nightmare followed the near-identical script as reported by so many others. According to Ladd, Cosby used his celebrity to ingratiate himself to the then 21 year-old. He supplied her with an unidentified drug. She later woke up naked having been sexually assaulted. Is it logical that so many women with no connection to one another and with so little to gain could have conspired to concoct such consistently similar stories? If so, for what purpose? Granted in criminal court, the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty. Such a standard, however, never has and never will exist in the court of public opinion, which is, sadly but most likely, the only court in which Cosby will ever be judged. In said court, only the staunchest of his supporters would deny that the evidence against Cosby is overwhelming.

Giving voice to many of Cosby’s most loyal fans and apologists, attorney, Martin Singer, has said that the allegations “have escalated far past the point of absurdity.” He oafishly added, it is “completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years.” I suggest, however, that Ladd’s explanation of her own delay in coming forward is the perfect rebuttal to Singer’s apparently limited understanding of the mindset of the victims of sexual assault. Ladd wrote, “Those who suffer from these types of assaults know the prison of shame, bewilderment and disbelief. Like so many victims, my way of coping was to shove the memory into the back of my mind. I only revealed nine years ago what happened that night to my husband of nearly 30 years after another woman went public with similar allegations and sued Cosby. I always thought I was the only one.” As Singer surely knows but conveniently chooses to ignore, Ladd’s prolonged silence is far from “illogical” and perfectly consistent with the behavior of many victims of sexual assault.

It’s a lame cop out, State Theater, to claim that you or I or anyone else isn’t in a position to judge this man or to believe his accusers. Despite your long and distinguished service to the community, you have brought shame to my hometown. I guess, State Theater, you have a specious right to host this man and to take your blood money, and I suppose the people of Sandusky have a right to watch him perform and to pretend they aren’t in the company of evil, but I too have a right: the right to condemn your support of Cosby and your callous repudiation of his alleged victims. I also have the right to speak freely and to stand with these brave women who have stepped out from the shadows of their undeserved and unnecessary shame to share their horror stories and to confront the monster who preyed upon them.

Ty Roth is the author of So Shelly and Goodness Falls. Both are available in all formats through your favorite online bookstore. Visit my web page at for direct links to Amazon, B & N, BAM, Indie Bound, and Kobo.

Tough Mudders, Better Friends

Kent, Pat, Del. Danny (kneeling), Me, Doc, Marshall, and Seth

Kent, Pat, Del. Danny (kneeling), Me, Doc, Marshall, and Seth

Much of what I’ve done in my life has been done for one of two reasons: 1) to impress a girl, or 2) because my friends were doing it. The former source of motivation goes back as far as junior high and remains my prime motivator today. However, the latter dates back even further to when I was five and my cousin Sheldon thought it would be fun if we flushed my big brother’s collection of miniature statues of the presidents of the United States down the toilet. I remember explaining to my mom that it was Sheldon’s idea and her saying – as she would many more times throughout my childhood – “If Sheldon jumped in the lake, would you too?” I’m pretty sure I answered, “Yes.” My mom thought I was just egging her on and being a smart ass; however, even then I think I understood the value of jumping into lakes (or running across them) with friends.

This past weekend, I completed a Tough Mudder with the group of friends in the photograph above. If you don’t know, a Tough Mudder is a ten-mile run through and over rugged and very muddy terrain with various physically-challenging obstacles to be conquered near each mile marker. Injuries are not uncommon during this event, and in at least one tragic case, a competitor drowned. I was disappointed to learn, however, that many participants greatly reduce the difficulty of the course by simply walking from one obstacle to another or skipping some of them altogether. When anyone asked why I would enter such an event, I thought of my two primary behavioral motivations mentioned above and concluded that after twenty-seven years of marriage, my girl is more impressed by feats of laundry than feats of daring; therefore, my reason for entering the Tough Mudder was clearly because my friends were doing it, and I can’t think of a better reason.

Although I enjoy Facebook, my friends are not people I “follow;” my friends are people I DO stuff with – even when that stuff is not convenient are entirely sane. In recent years, I’ve kayaked and hiked mountains through bear country in the Adirondacks, completed numerous races including a half-Ironman, whitewater rafted a river considered one of the most treacherous in North America – twice, and ran to Put-in-Bay across three miles of ice on Lake Erie. The only adventure I’ve begged off on is when several of my buddies went skydiving – even friendship has its limits. Before we do whatever “It” is, we talk about It and, sometimes, try to talk ourselves out of It. Next, we do It, and It’s usually not as bad as we convinced ourselves It would be. Finally, we talk about It and tell the same stories over and over every time we’re together and, somehow, IT becomes even scarier and more bad ass than we built it up to be in the first place because that’s the way guys are.

Some of those guys in that picture I’ve been friends with for years, and I love them like brothers. Although, if you asked my actual brothers, they wouldn’t think that much of a benefit. A few I’ve grown closer to in recent adventures, and one I met for the first time this past weekend. Some I work with. One’s my boss. Of the other two, one is a wildlife biologist and the other is an M.D. When we’re paddling like mad, tramping over the ice, or slogging through mud, however, we’re just big boys playing like the kids we once were and forging and cementing friendships that will last our lifetimes because we did shit – sometimes scary shit – together.

Now go find some friends and go jump in the lake.

Ty is the author of SO SHELLY and GOODNESS FALLS:

SO SHELLY, On Suicide

In the wake of Robin William’s suicide, I’ve resisted to weigh in with my thoughts because, really, who cares what I think. I often feel that the need to express such thoughts are little more than creeping on the grief of others anyway. No offense. The tragedy did, however, call to my mind a passage near the end of my first novel, SO SHELLY, which I thought I might share here.

I ask you to remember that this is a work of fiction. The conversation that takes place fit the characters and the context. It does not necessarily reflect my personal thoughts on the subject, but it does present a more unorthodox and controversial perspective on the issue of suicide. At the time of the novel’s publication, I thought I’d receive some blow back for this scene, but I never really did.

The scene occurs near the end of the novel when Keats and Gordon are near to fulfilling their promise to their shared best friend, Shelly, to spread her ashes at a place beloved by her.

“You know, I didn’t think she had the balls to go through with it,” Gordon said as he commenced blazing the trail.
“Go through with what?” I asked, sincerely clueless.
“This!” He stopped and nodded toward the urn upraised in his hands, then spun slowly around, indicating the entire island.
“What do you mean?” I asked, as a really bad feeling began to gurgle up from the well of my ignored gut feelings.
“Killing herself.”
“You mean . . . I thought you said . . .?”
“Yeah, I knew about it. She told me her plan.”
“Wait . . . What? ‘Killing herself?’ You knew about it? And, you didn’t do anything to stop her!” I was incredulous. I was an accomplice. I was the one who passed on Shelly’s message of needing to speak with him. This was the result.
“What’d you want me to do, Keats? Sit with her 24/7?”
“Gee, I don’t know, talk her out of it, maybe?! Christ, at least tell somebody!”
“She made me promise not to. Her father would have put her in a nuthouse, which would have killed her anyway. Besides, I didn’t think she was serious. You know how she was.”
“Oh, that explains it. She made you promise not to. What? Did you pinkie swear?”
“Look. It’s what she wanted. Who was I to tell her what to do with her life anyway? If she was so unhappy that dying seemed a relief, then why should I deny her that? We have no choice in when or to what asshole parents we come into this world. At least, shouldn’t we be able to decide for ourselves when to leave it?”
“You were supposed to be her friend, you selfish prick!” I shouted as I gave him the most ineffectual shove in the history of chivalry.
“I’m selfish?” He’d grabbed my arm at the wrist and twisted until I was bent over again and, this time, in excruciating pain. “You think I should have convinced her to go on living miserably so that your feelings wouldn’t be hurt? Don’t give me that bullshit about the selfishness of suicide. What’s selfish is insisting that she continue in her misery so you won’t have to feel sad or guilty.”
“Guilty? Why should I feel guilty?”
“She told me about the poetry books, dude. What’d you think she was doing? Organizing for a garage sale?”
He released me from the submission hold and sent me reeling, as if on drunken legs, until I stumbled off the path and onto the razor sharp leaves of the now pissed-off plant growing in the sandy soil. The boom box catapulted from my hand.
“I . . . I didn’t think . . .” I said, still planted on from my ass.
“Yeah, that’s right. You didn’t think. Because, just maybe, deep down you knew what she was doing too, and you didn’t want to interfere either because in that deep down place you understood that it was what she wanted. So keep your self-righteous bullshit to yourself. I don’t need it.”

Eighteen and Life

Perhaps no one has ever captured the angst of being 18 better than when Alice Cooper sang, “I’m Eighteen and I don’t know what I want.” Not even Taylor Swift, who explored being “15” and being “22,” has had the audacity to take on Alice and “18.” A wise decision, Taylor.

As reflected by my many years teaching seniors and by my choice of main characters for my novels, I’m clearly a big fan of the age. Eighteen is a time fraught with conflicts and change and the drama they inspire. It’s an age when the typical teenager believes she knows a whole hell of a lot more than she actually does. However, only experience can teach her otherwise or, in some cases, actually validate her belief and demonstrate the often wrongheaded thinking of much-older adults. In either case, these experiences make for great storytelling.

At eighteen, a person is still more the product of her parents’, teachers’, and often church’s thinking than she is of her own. But as she goes off to college or moves away from home, she can start unpacking and sorting through all that these others have crammed into her suitcase and determining what to keep and what to discard. At eighteen, especially if she moves far away, she has the rare opportunity to free herself from whatever reputation she has acquired and re-invent herself in a place where few, if anybody, knows her name. At eighteen, life still holds more potential than disappointment. At eighteen, life is lived more urgently and love is felt more deeply than it will ever be again. There are still first experiences waiting to be had and last nights of beautiful agony to endure. The pains of life and love are greater, but their joys far sweeter. The flesh is electric. The brain is fertile, And the heart is open.

I know that many, if not most, would disagree with me, but if I could be one age forever, it would be eighteen. For my money, there’s no better age to be alive, but I’ll just have to settle for writing about it.

I Want My MTV!

The video-centric MTV that debuted in 1981 when I was still a teenager was a far cry from today’s MTV, which is dominated by reality shows and original sitcoms, dramas, documentaries, and movies. As a result, the majority of my generation has long ago turned its back on MTV programming, a choice which, I believe, is a huge mistake, especially for parents, grandparents, educators, and anyone who works closely with young people.

Teenagers are notoriously leery of adults, including their own parents. It is extraordinarily difficult for adults to gain the trust of teens and to convince them to share their thoughts, feelings, attitudes, interests, and dreams. We may not like it, for we forever want to see ourselves as young and hip, but there is a natural generation gap that exists between teenagers and adults. Once we cross that chasm from the former to the latter, there is no going back, but that does not mean that we must lose touch completely with those still on the other side. There are ways available to glimpse into the teenage mind and world of today without acting like a fool experiencing a mid-life crisis, without alienating the teens in your life through badgering, and without creeping on their social networking sites or searching their rooms. For me, one of the most effective means of gaining this valuable insight has been through watching MTV. Albeit, sometimes the viewing is painful (“The Jersey Shore” and “My Super Sweet 16” to name a couple of the most insipid); oftentimes, the programs are quite entertaining, intelligently-done, and insightful. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed and have learned much about the teenage mindset from watching such programs as “Teen Wolf,” “Wait Til Next Year,” “Skins,” and “True Life.”

It is so easy, as adults, to forget the experience of being so young yet also being expected to assume adult responsibilities and behaviors. It truly is a tough age. We forget that we were once as hypersensitive, intense, overly-dramatic, love-struck, frightened, rebellious, stubborn, “dazed and confused” as them. In fact, many of us still are. We often become unfairly judgmental of and insensitive to the ways of today’s teenagers, forgetting that we weren’t that much different.

As a writer, MTV is an invaluable source for me in terms of viewing teenagers’ fashions, language, behaviors, interests, problems etc. As a teacher, by watching MTV and occasionally alluding to shows I’ve seen there, I’m able to build a footbridge between my middle-aged world and theirs. As a parent, it provides valuable insight into the stresses and pressures faced by my kids. As a human being, it keeps me in some kind of touch with a huge segment of the population and reminds me that life is meant to be lived passionately and energetically and with a sense of wonder and of the better days that lie ahead.

BREWSTER by Mark Slouka: A Review and Recommendation

Mark Slouka’s widely-acclaimed novel BREWSTER (2013) is an engrossing read. Although I found little originality in the material, Slouka’s utilization of that material is nearly flawless. Slouka’s adeptness with detail, imagery, figurative language, characterization, and the building of suspense is exquisite and helps to bring both setting and characters to life and to establish a plot that moves along at a sprinter’s pace.

The story is set in the upstate New York town of Brewster during the tumultuous final years of the sixties. As in many small town stories featuring young adult characters, the town acts as a malevolent force that imprisons its sorry inhabitants and offers little hope of better days, especially for its children who find escape nearly impossible and remaining unbearable.

The novel tells the story of the high school years of four misfits who temporarily find something worth living for in their bonds of friendship. Readers will recognize each of the four as types they’ve encountered before. The narrator is a slightly-built, underachieving academic whose running prowess is discovered and nurtured by a world-wise coach; his best friend Ray is a Byronic street tough who possesses a surprising tenderness for his baby brother, the narrator, and the third and only female member of the group, Karen, who is the child of better-off parents and a recent move-in to Brewster. Although both the narrator and Ray fall for Karen, she only has romantic eyes for the bad boy Ray. The fourth member of the group is Frank, the devoted son of devout Catholic parents. He temporarily summons the courage to run with the more rebellious others, but ultimately, he is a conformist and adult pleaser who returns to the familiar comfort of his faith and family. As said, there is little unique or original about any of these characters; however, Slouka successfully forges emotional bonds between the characters and the reader so that the reader invests in and roots for each of them.

BREWSTER also utilizes absent, emotionally-distant, tyrannical, and even violent adults – both as teachers and as parents – with whom the main characters struggle heroically to earn validation and/or release. With these easily identifiable villains, the novel delivers a salient and powerful theme regarding the damage that such adults inflict upon the children in their charge.

Although, it is not classified as such – for reasons that escape me – BREWSTER is as fine of an example of a literary YA novel I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it to both young adult and adult readers.