Reading to my son, or: How I Became Mr. Brown.

BOOM BOOM BOOM, Mr. Brown is a wonder. BOOM BOOM BOOM, Mr. Brown makes thunder. – Dr. Seuss, Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?

My 10-month-old son is beginning to show an interest in books.

Since before he was born, I have stocked the bookshelf in his nursery with all of the books that I remember reading – and loving – when I myself was a child. In my excitement for future days reading to him, I got online and ordered Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Then I ordered The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Soon after that, my wife brought home the obligatory slew of Dr. Seuss books. They all sat on the shelf, spines colorful and bright, waiting for their turn as the nightly bedtime book of choice.

Except that we didn’t have my favorite Dr. Seuss book of all time. I tried to resist buying it, telling myself that we already had a fine selection of books for any developing infant mind, but my brain wouldn’t let go of the idea that we just had to have The Butter Battle Book.

So I bought that one, too.

And then I bought The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, because I remembered the over-sized cover and the large painted images. I remembered enough of the book to know that the story was beautifully sad, but not enough of it to recall that there is entirely too much text on each page to hold the attention of a baby.

I bought other books as well, and even now I have a list of children’s books that I still “need” to buy. All of the books that I loved as a child, I want to share those with my son and impress my nostalgic love for them onto him.

And yet, while I have focused on the books that will spark his future four- or five- or six-year-old imagination, he has been busy creating his own love for particular books. There are no board books that I can specifically recall being favorites of mine, but my 10-month-old son most definitely already has favorites of his own.

His mother, almost daily, reads him Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle. He laughs at each turn of the page, as mommy emphatically calls out the next creature that is “seen”. A red bird or a green frog; a blue horse or a black sheep. He sits in her lap and anticipates the next reveal by tilting his head to the right, hoping to get the earliest possible glimpse of each page.

Today, I climbed into his play area and sat down with him, centered on the foam mat lining the floor. I sat my son in my lap, and we read another Dr. Seuss classic, Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? Each page requires the engaged reader to make the silly noises – dibble dop, dibble dibble dop – that Mr. Brown is able to make, and as I formed a new voice for each one my son giggled hard enough that his hitches went silent and he gasped for breath before the turn of each page. His laughter would cause him to topple over sideways, leaving him leaning against my outstretched leg and scrambling to get upright again, before the next page – and the next sound.

He looked up at me, a big half-toothy grin, and leaned his head back into my chest. He is only 10 months old, and is still trying to figure out this whole daddy’s words are connected to the book idea, but at that moment I was happily aware that while mommy was the one that read Brown Bear, maybe it was daddy who got to be Mr. Brown.

And in my son’s mind – BOOM BOOM BOOM – Mr. Brown was a wonder.

Mr. Brown


“The Widow’s Breakfast” by Joe Hill

“The most terrible things happen to the best people. The kindest people. Most of the time it isn’t for any reason at all. It’s just stupid luck.” – Joe Hill, The Widow’s Breakfast

For a handful of years now, Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts has held a place on my bookshelf. I haven’t read all of the stories inside, but the ones that I have been lucky enough to settle into have largely been very good. Hill, the son of Stephen King, has the same knack that his father does in conjuring older days. “The Widow’s Breakfast” casually demonstrates what I am referring to, as we meet a traveling hobo who hops trains as a means of traveling across the open country and through the steep mountains.

This particular story is told from the perspective of Killian, a man who has found himself suddenly alone after the loss of a companion. As Killian goes where the trains will take him, he ends up on a track that has run out of options. The only destination is the terminating stop for the train, and Killian is fearful of the law enforcement there. He jumps from the train while it is still moving quickly, and ends up limping to a cottage that stands alone in the trees.

Killian is growing desperate. His shoes are battered, his clothes torn. Feeling completely lost, he puts himself at the mercy of the woman who lives in the cottage, and what he experiences there leaves him with a newly formed perspective on his position. He learns that maybe the final stop, both on the tracks and in life, is not as scary as the rumors have suggested.

And maybe, if we are all headed there anyway, we might as well ride the rails until the train stops, and enjoy the ride before seeing what awaits us at the end of the line.

It might not be as bad as we think.

20th Century Ghosts

“The Widow’s Breakfast” was originally published in The Clackamas Review. I read the story in 20th Century Ghosts, a short story collection by Joe Hill.

Still grinding.

It has been months since my last blog post.

In earlier years, that alone would have been reason enough for me to delete the site completely; not this time. When I started ordinaryGIANT, I did so knowing that I would be buried with school assignments, military duties, regular job obligations, and the arrival of my first child. I knew that there would be days, even weeks, where this blog went without updates. That’s okay. Eventually, I want to build this blog into a place where readers can come and interact with me, but for now simply having the framework up and waiting for me is enough.

The good news is that winter term is a day away from being over, and I will be only six courses away from graduating from Oregon State University. Despite all of the mixed advice that I have read on the subject of MFA programs, I am leaning more and more in favor of attending one. So much of being a writer is about experiencing a variety of things, developing an eye for unique details. I understand that one can accomplish that on their own, simply by living, but I believe that an MFA program – especially the one that tops my wish list, set in the Oregon Cascades where the landscape breathes inspiration for writers – would be a solid choice for where I am at with the business of arranging letters into words.

Spring break is upon us, and I hope to get some fresh reviews posted shortly. Come back soon for my thoughts on some stories from Burnt Tongues (edited primarily by Chuck Palahniuk), 20th Century Ghosts (a 2005 collection by Joe Hill), and Bark (the latest from Lorrie Moore).