I'm pretty proud of myself -- I've actually read two or three entire books in the last couple of months.
And they weren't just collections of "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoons. Go me!
Some of my friends and family and I have a running joke about me never reading a book. You'd think an editor would be an avid reader, right? Well, after reading and editing news stories all day, when I get home I usually just want to let the TV entertain me.
But I do love to read, and have as long as I can remember.
My favorite books as a child were "The Poky Little Puppy" and "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel." My parents were always avid readers -- of books and newspapers, too -- and so my three sisters and I grew up reading a lot, too.
I loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, and I remember reading the tales of the Bobbsey Twins. Later, my dad got me started reading Louis L'Amour westerns, and I discovered other tales of the West from other authors, so I've devoured many a novel in my day.
It was not uncommon to find all three of my sisters and me in our family room as teens on summer days, each sacked out in a chair and all far, far away via whatever story we were reading.
But in more recent years, I just don't read often. Still, my mom and at least one of my sisters are big readers, and Mom brought a book to my attention a while ago, "Avalanche" by Patrick McManus. Now I'm hooked on this author's tales of Idaho Sheriff Bo Tully.
His writing style is fun and sometimes I laugh out loud at little tidbits throughout these mystery novels. I definitely recommend his books.
I think about the joy of reading when I read things in the paper like people's arrests for drugs. Odd jump, I know -- but hear me out.
People use drugs, at least in part, to escape. I was having dinner with a friend in Houston one evening, and we were talking about people my age -- in my 30s then -- who still smoke pot, for example. I mentioned that I suppose they just want an escape.
"When I want to escape," she said, "I just read a good book."
Isn't that the truth? There's nothing like getting immersed in a story, getting to know the characters, and finding yourself lost and practically transported to another place and time while reading.
Most of my nieces and nephews are big readers. My niece Olivia, in particular, just devours one novel after another. Of course, she often reads via her iPod, but she checks out all kinds of books from the local library.
I love libraries. Every book is an escape. The nonfiction is full of treasures, too -- I love history. Local public libraries are so important -- anyone can use them, so you don't have to have a lot of money to be well-read and/or educate yourself on various topics. Or just read for fun.
So I've accompanied Sheriff Bo Tully on some adventures lately and been blissfully far, far away from all the hateful politics, depressing news and conflict among my fellow man. I don't need drugs to escape.
Beyond books, sign me up anytime for some good music to cheer me up and get my mind off the weight of what's happening in the world.
I have made music CDs many times for my nieces and nephews (yes, I purchased the songs, of course) ranging from Ray Stevens to silly songs from the 1960s or 1970s to Smash Mouth or other fun stuff. I even made them Christmas CDs, and some of them still listen to them every year.
My nephew Cooper, 15, recently texted me to ask if I'd make him a Green Day CD with a certain song on it. Of course I agreed. Now, don't tell Coop, but he could easily buy the CD himself and have it. I'll purchase and download the tunes and just put them on a disc for him.
But it was just so neat that he asked me; of course I couldn't refuse. Aunt Penny is a pushover most of the time.
How often do we all escape via music?
I listened almost exclusively to country music as a youth: Merle Haggard, George Strait, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Statler Brothers, etc. And maybe you remember Dave & Sugar, the Kendalls ("Heaven's Just a Sin Away") and Janie Fricke, to name a few.
I once met Kitty Wells ("It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels"), the queen of country music: She is the first woman to have a No. 1 song on the country charts. She was as sweet as can be ... I can still remember, as a young reporter, standing outside her tour bus on the Cumberland County Fairgrounds and interviewing her.
Country music will always be my first love. And sure, I listened to the Beatles and Elvis Presley, for example, but I used to mostly ignore other genres.
Luckily, I've since branched out and I enjoy almost all types of music from artists ranging from Pink to R.E.M. to Guns 'N Roses, etc. Some of my favorites are Tim McGraw (the duet album with his wife, Faith Hill, is excellent), the Indigo Girls, Nanci Griffith and the Dixie Chicks.
Isn't it amazing where music can take us? It's especially strong when transporting us back to good memories. I hear the song "Can't Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon, and it's like I'm back in high school again.
Sometimes the juxtaposition is comical, though. Every time I hear "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard, I'm mentally taken to a little room on the nursing home floor of Shelby Memorial Hospital circa 1988 and a little old lady on a commode.
Yep. One of the nurses with whom I worked would turn on MTV in the middle of the night, often while we had this sweet lady named Grace on the commode. The nurse liked the music, Grace didn't seem to mind, and I got, um, exposed to some tunes other than country music while standing by with the toilet paper.
You never know where music will take you, huh?
So if you're frustrated with President Potty Mouth, or sick of hearing about politics and natural disasters and other depressing stuff, never fear. You don't have to ring up your local meth dealer on the phone or email your travel agent to spend a lot of money getting away from it all.
Just pick up a good book or turn on some catchy tunes. You'll feel better before you know it.
And if that doesn't work, give me a call and I'll let you borrow one of my "Calvin and Hobbes" books.
That kid cracks me up.