The 2015 Reading Challenge

I saw this posted by a friend on Facebook and decided I would participate.

50 books to be read in 2015.

Well, to be exact, 52 (one of the assignments is for a trilogy).

2015 book challenge

I see this as a way to stretch out my literary abilities, push myself out of my comfort zone and read more than I have in a long time. Some of the books I’ll be reading I already own (such as Eight Men Out, The Day of the Jackal and Gorky Park). Others will be tougher to find, such as a book set in my hometown of Beeville, Texas (The Republic by Jeff Essary). Essary’s book I may have to buy online if I can’t find it in a library. If I can’t find any set in Beeville, I’ll have to see if my other two hometowns (Alvin, Texas and Colby, Kansas) have any books set there. Otherwise, there’s a book set in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where my family lived for a while in 1974.

Among the books to read are a book with more than 500 pages (I’ve chosen Dune), a book with a one-word title (Candide by Voltaire) and a book that scares me (The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh).

And for a banned book, I have chosen Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. I thought about getting a book from “Banned Books Week,” but I decided instead to focus on a book that has been banned rather than challenged or had a parent express concern over their child reading it. I know from my Russian teachers that Pasternak’s masterpiece was indeed banned in the former Soviet Union.

For a book that made me cry, no book really has, but one has made me very sad, even angry. It’s a book about a group of men who get punished for taking drastic measures, due in part to being grossly underpaid in their job.

The book? (See below)

8 men out

As I work through the books, I’ll blog about them and write what it was like. Some will read quickly, including the assignment of the book that can be finished in one day, and others will take time. Some may even be tough to find. I see this as an adventure, since I’ll encounter new authors and books I wouldn’t normally read.

Should be quite an adventure.

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Travel writing, something I’d LOVE to do someday

Something I’d love to do someday is travel around the world for a year or two and chronicle my experiences. Among the many places I’d love to go: Germany, England, Scotland, Russia, Israel, Greece, China, Mexico, Argentina. Among the places here in America: the Grand Canyon, the Devil’s Tower, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles (even though I’ve already been there a few times), New England and The Four Corners.

I imagine one way to do it is to go out, observe, talk, write and then put your adventures into 300-500 word blog postings.

That does pose one question: travel writing also is an easy way of saying, “I’m not home.” Does one travel write when one is done traveling…?

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A funny story from the newsroom…when a visitor won’t quit talking

At one newspaper several years ago, I had a visitor show up to discuss with me a story idea. When they summarized, I figured it would be a two-minute conversation.

I was horribly wrong.

They spent 15 minutes talking about their story, basically repeating the same information over and over.

I’d taken some notes and began to smile while thinking of an escape hatch. I didn’t have to use the restroom, and it was nowhere near time for a lunch break.

A few moments later the publisher told me, “Richard, you have a call on Line 2.”

I excused myself, and the visitor left. Once I sat at my desk I picked up the phone and said, “This is Richard.”

My publisher answered. “Nobody. I just figured you needed an escape route.”

Richard Zowie lives in the Texas Hill Country and is a reporter for the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post. The views expressed in this blog posting do not necessarily reflect those of the Standard newspaper staff, editor or publisher. Post comments here or e-mail them to

Reading the Sunny Randall series

So far, I have read three books in Robert B. Parker’s Sunny Randall series: Family Honor, Perish Twice and Shrink Wrap. Prior to this, I finished the Jesse Stone series.

I liked the Jesse Stone character because, despite his flaws that glare more than sunshine on Mercury, he was an intuitive man who knew how to get things done and knew how to deal with people. Sunny Randall is more talkative and doesn’t struggle with alcohol the way Jesse does, but she knows how to piece things together. Perhaps it’s Woman’s Intuition, or perhaps it’s just great writing.

When reading the Randall series, you know three things will happen: she will have a deep conversation with her ex-husband, Richie, her friend Spike will insult a customer at his restaurant and he will also manhandle someone who tries to harm Sunny. Spike is a bear of a man, flamboyantly gay and very unpredictable. It makes for very fun reading.

I am currently taking a break from the SR series while I return to science fiction. I’m re-reading Mercury by Ben Bova (which might explain my above analogy) and I also would like to read a sci-fi novel titled Sunborn, which deals with the exploration of Pluto.

Happy reading!

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What is the future of journalism?

A certain newspaper closed down a few months ago. Besides a major lack of local reporting (the lifeblood of just about every newspaper, since residents want to know what’s going on in their area), one fatal blow to this paper was its publisher’s refusal to get a website.

Not only did they not web-publish, but they also had NO website.

I found it flabbergasting, especially since when I began in journalism in 2000, even then the newspaper (the Kelly Observer) was already publishing online. These days, you have to at least have a website. Otherwise, people think you are as ancient as a vinyl album. Once you have a website, figure out if and how online publishing can work.

One newspaper I’ve seen back home in Texas has a three-part subscription plan: 1) Print newspaper only; 2) Print and online newspaper and 3) Online newspaper only. #1 is for the old-school types who prefer a printed newspaper and don’t like online news. The second is for those who like both and the third is for either those who prefer online news only or for those who live far away and can only access fresh editions online.

Furthermore, the newspaper has this policy: if you don’t have an online subscription, you can read only the first paragraph. Once you buy an online subscription, you are issued a user name and password and can then read whatever part of the newspaper you want.

Other newspapers, such as the Flint Journal and the San Antonio Express-News, make their news available to anyone who accesses their sites without a subscription. I don’t know how well or if this works. I do know the Journal has in recent years past been doing a lot of layoffs; maybe there’s a connection, and maybe not.

I read a lot of online news and also access news through my cell phone. But, I must admit, I really like sitting, relaxing and reading the print edition. Besides news, sports, entertainment and comics (my current favorite is Luann), I also like to do the puzzles in the comics section.

I’m 40. In 50 years I will be 90. I don’t know if I will still be alive, but I do feel print newspapers will definitely be dead. Fortunately, for all the old-school types who prefer print news, they will probably be deceased also.

Richard Zowie is a journalist, columnist, blogger and fiction writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to

A trio of haiku about my favorite planet

Yes, I live on earth, but I have long been fascinated with Pluto. It’s in frigid darkness, far from the sun in the solar system’s outer reaches. Here’s a set of three haiku I wrote recently about Pluto. (The bold line is the first line of each haiku)…

Small, white moving blip

Against endless field of stars

Found 1930.

Then, blip was bigger

1978 bump

Was found on the blip.

No longer “planet”

We shall learn of its secrets

Three summers from now.

pluto latest

What astronomers believe Pluto looks like, from three looks at its surface…

Richard Zowie is a writer who thinks the decision to demote Pluto to planetoid was subjective and stupid. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at

Journaling versus Facebook, Twitter

One thing I  have noticed about Facebook and Twitter is both can be used for detailed, meandering ventures into TMI Land.

TMI, of course, stands for “too much information”.

One person who was in and out of a short marriage (and is currently getting divorced), posted Facebook messages openly to his wife asking her to reconcile, then, posted updates of himself at a bar getting drunk and giving up. This continued a few times, making me think their stormy, brief marriage probably needed the help of Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer.

Some seem to think Twitter is the ideal place to post the mundane aspects about their life. Ashton Kutcher is said to once have posted about “heading to the grocery store to get fixins for salad”. It’s a good thing I wasn’t operating heavy machinery when I read that.

Myself, I use both for political views and obscure thoughts and connecting with friends. As for my personal life, that goes into my journal, where it belongs. Sure, journals can get opened, but once something is posted online, chances are it’s there for good. I prefer to save my venting for journals, just because often it’s enough to just get it written down and out of your system.

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Reading Edgar Allan Poe and other classic literature

In my junior year of high school, I took Honors English. During that year and during half of my senior year when I was also in Honors English, I read many stories and authors that, due to my short attention span, I was not able to really absorb what I read. Among those stories and novels: The Great Gatsby, A Separate Peace, Beowulf, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Villette. I have since been preparing to gear up to re-read these stories.

Interestingly enough, I enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird and even Great Expectations. I also read, for a book report, George Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter and enjoyed that one also.

And, so, last night, I read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Fall of the House of Usher.

After I bore down, I surprised myself and finished reading it in about two hours.

I find Poe’s autobiography very fascinating, but his writing style is definitely a complicated acquired taste. For me, it’s a lesson in strengthening my reading skills to understand and appreciate classic literature.

Poe’s style is to occasionally throw in French and Latin terms (such as Edmund Morris did in an annoying frequency in his authorized biography of President Ronald Reagan). He also uses words I’ve never heard of, perhaps words that were commonly used at the time but have fallen into disuse among modern English readers.

As for Usher, here’s what I understood: a man rides to a bleak, ominous mansion and spends time with an old friend whom he’s not seen in many years. What we learn of the Ushers suggests to me that incest has taken place within the family. The old friend’s sister dies and is buried in the wall. But, as the two men read stories and encounter one about a woman buried alive, they realize that the sister has also been buried alive.

And then, as the storyteller leaves the mansion, it collapses.

Yes, I will definitely have to re-read this again someday. While, admittedly, Poe’s writing style is far from my favorite, I suspect it’s the first step towards one of my biggest goals in life: becoming a well-read person.

Richard Zowie is a writer who believes a day should not go by without exercising his fingers on his keyboard. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at

Caffeine and the writer

This past week, I finished my newspaper assignments at about midnight. That gave me about four hours of sleep before getting up for my second job at the gas station.

Fellow 40-year-olds remember that commercial jingle, “Thank goodness for Chef Boyardee.” Well, for me, thank goodness for caffeine.

When staying up late getting deadlines or other writing done, it’s always a good idea to have a full gallon of ice-cold tea and a couple of two-liter bottles of diet soda.

In the past, I’ve finished assignments and had maybe half an hour of sleep before going to the newspaper. Thankfully, these days, that has not been the case lately.

One college friend mentioned that his wife gets up around 3 a.m. and spends a few hours writing in the nice quiet time she has while their six kids are still asleep. I wonder if she indulges in caffeine or if she has some other sort of mechanism.

When it comes to caffeine, I prefer iced tea. Diet Coke or a decent store brand is second. Coffee can be nice, I suppose, except that I’m not a huge coffee drinker. Unless I’m trying hard to stay warm during the winter, I’m not a big fan of warm or hot beverages.

 Richard Zowie is a writer who believes a day should not go by without exercising his fingers on his keyboard. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at