A Portrait of My Father, the Reader, in Books

John Kobler, Capone
My dad read the newspaper everyday. The San Francisco Chronicle and The Pacifica Tribune. He always had one book he was reading. But he worked full time and likes to build things so he did not have too much time to read. Since he retired, his reading has increased exponentially. I wish I would have thought to chronicle the books he’s read before now.

While my dad loves reading, he does not believe that he needs to keep the book after reading it. In his mind, once he has read the book it has served its purpose and is now just taking up space. While I do not agree with him, I see the value and respect his opinion. Ideally one would read a book and remember everything about it, never needing to look at it again. Alas, my memory is poor and so I keep my books. My dad oftentimes gives his books to a relative, friend, or donates them. So these are just the books we had in the house when I decided to start documenting his books.

He likes to read non-fiction. Maybe 1% of his books are fiction. Whenever father’s day, Christmas, or his birthday come around I go to the bookstore and spend close to an hour searching for the right books. He loves history, biography, cultural affairs, and crime novels. Our interests are similar: most books I buy him I would like to read but choose not to only out of lack of time. And what’s great is he always is excited about the books I’ve bought him.

Poor Dad, he made a bookcase for himself that ended up in my old room; which I slowly started to take over even though I no longer live there.

While we never read books side by side on vacation or at home, he always promoted my love for reading. I knew that he considered reading a luxury and that it was a wonderful thing to have the time to read.


Note: some books that are missing are his many books on the Vietnam War. He was drafted when he was 18 and was a mechanic on planes. Those books he tends to give to his brother after reading them.

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Reading and Rereading the Same Books as a Child

My mother always understood that the key to education and doing well in school was reading; she read to me every night. She took me to the library for reading time and we would check out the same books over and over. We had stacks of library books next to the couch. And when we went on vacation, she packed a bag full of books, and she would read to me while my dad drove the truck. I had some favorites that have stuck with me through the years. I remember when Brownie and Puff knocked over cans of paint and made new colors. I remember crawling under the living room table to read the tales of Peter Rabbit. I don’t really remember us buying many of these books; they just seemed to magically appear. When I was older, my parents would take me to the bookstore. My dad would always tell me to pick out a book. While waiting in line, he would always ask, did you see another one? Go get it!

I tortured my poor mother, making her read and reread my favorite books, two of which I cannot find. They were dinosaur books, with horribly long names and my mom would try to skip a page but I knew she was skipping and I would wail, “MOM, you’re SKIPPING a page!!!!” Poor Mom would lick her lips, flip back the page, and resume reading.

Discovering Ramona Quimby was like finding a kindred spirit. She was quirky, weird, and curious. She emptied an entire tube of toothpaste in the sink. Her mother scooped it into a jar and made Ramona use that toothpaste while the rest of the family used a brand new tube. I often think of her when I brush my teeth.

I had a little Disco record player and I would play my records and read along over and over. Over and over. That was even better, because there were sound effects and music.

Looking over these books I realize that I liked mysteries from a young age. The Berenstain Bears and the case of the missing pumpkin! Freaky Francie was a detective. The Great Brain series always featured mysteries and con games.

And the comics! Oh I had stacks and stacks of those. We used to buy them at the flea market. I was interested in Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Dennis the Menace, and eventually Archie and much later, Star Wars. Whenever we would go to the bookstore I would flip through a huge Mickey Mouse comic book. It was so big and so expensive (maybe $40) that I never asked for it. But of course my parents noticed me gravitate towards the book and one Christmas I received it. I read and reread that book. It is one of my most treasured items.

I cannot imagine who I would be if my parents would not have encouraged and indulged my love of reading. The incredible thing is that my mother gets easily distracted and has a hard time finishing a book. She always regretted not having the concentration to read so much. My father, when he worked full time, read some but not nearly as much as now that he is retired. So both of them went out of their comfort zone to instill what they considered the most important skill their child could have, an insatiable appetite for reading.

Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse, comic

Books that are not shown here are the books about Frances the Badger. Those ones we checked out over and over from the library. Bread and Jam for Frances, Bedtime for Frances, A Baby Sister for Frances, A Birthday for Frances, Best Friends for Frances.

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My Book Addiction—revealed to the dollar

books, books

Last year’s holiday season I decided to buy all of my friends used books. I love giving presents but sometimes it can make someone feel awkward for not giving you a gift. But a second-hand book takes out all the guilt. They are less than a drink and oftentimes less than, or the same price as a cup of coffee. I started to track how much money I spent on books for gifts. Then I realized it would be fun to see how much money I spent on books in a year. I often times look at my bookcases and wonder how much I have spent. When a friend suggests we get a manicure, I always think, but I could get a book with that money. No judgement on women who pay to get their nails done; from what I understand it is often about indulging one’s self. For me, buying a book is a much greater indulgence and seeing a new book on my shelf makes me so much happier than looking at professionally painted nails.

So below are all my indulgences. Some were bought as gifts for friends and family. Some were bought for me by my parents (they always generously indulged, encouraged, and groomed my reading habits). Some were gifts from friends. And the majority of them I have bought. Full price, on sale, discounted, and second hand. My book collecting really took a major upturn when I discovered (years ago) that second hand shops sold books.

And so I present my book expenses for the first six months of 2014. I have not bought a new purse or jacket in over three years; I have perfectly good ones: why waste money on another one when I can buy more books? Please hear the self-deprecation in that last sentence.

Book #   Date          Book title        Author         Price//With Tax

36_6.14.14     Last Call by Daniel Okrent (for Dad) $18//$19.57
35_6.14.14    Subversives by Seth Rosenfeld (for Dad) $24//$26.1
34_6.9.14     Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott $16//$17.4
33_6.9.14      Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno $6.99//$7.6
32_6.10.14    Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins $26//no tax
31_5.27.14     Earth Afire (gift from parents) by Orson Scott Card $8.99//$9.77
30_5.18.14    The Shadow of the Wind (for Colin) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon $1.99//no tax
29_5.13.14    The Elegance of the Hedgehog (for Franky) by Muriel Barbery $1.49//$1.62
28_5.10.14    In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson $1.99//no tax
27_5.10.14    Inferno by Dan Brown $3.29//no tax
26_5.10.14    Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climate (for Maureen) Tom Robbins  $1.99//no tax
25_5.3.14      The Sleeper and the Spindle (for me) by Neil Gaiman $18//$19.57
24_5.3.14      The Sleeper and the Spindle (for Tzuen) by Neil Gaiman $18//$19.57
23_4.28.14    The Satanic Verses (1st ed, HC) by Salman Rushdie $3.29//no tax
22_4.27.14     A Curse on Dostoevsky by Atiq Rahimi $14.95//$16.25
21_4.27.14     Ready Player One by Ernest Cline $14//$15.22
20_4.19.14     The Queen of the South by Arturo Perez-Reverte  $1.99//no tax
19_4.13.14      How Soon is Never? (for Jessica) by Marc Spitz $1.99//no tax
18_4.13.14      The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling $3.29//no tax
17_3.30.14      Cheri and the Last of Cheri by Colette $1.99//no tax
16_3.30.14      Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1st ed, HC) by Salman Rushdie $3.29//no tax
15_3.23.14      The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton $1.50//$1.63
14_3.23.14      Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh $2//$2.17
13_3.23.14     Rant by Chuck Palahniuk $1.75//$1.92
12_3.23.14     The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales $1.75//
11_3.15.14     Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (for Charlie)Robert M. Pirsig $1.99//no tax
10_3.1.14      The Ground Beneath Her Feet (for Erin) by Salman Rushdie $1.64//no tax
9_2.19.14      Bury Me Standing by  Isabel Fonseca $1.99//no tax
8_2.19.14      The Worst Intentions by Alessandro Piperno $1.99//no tax
7_2.8.14        Weird But True! National Geographic for kids* $7.95//$8.66//4.33
6_2.8.14        Prince of the Elves* by Kazu Kibuishi $12.99//$14.15//7.13
5_2.8.14       Last Council* by  Kazu Kibuishi $12.99//$14.15//7.13
4_1.21.14       I am Charlotte Simmons (for Aunt Eva) by Tom Wolfe $1.99
3_1.11.14       The Seville Communion (for Sada) by Arturo Perez-Reverte .50//no tax
2_1.3.14        White Teeth by Zadie Smith $1.99//no tax
1_1.3.14         Born Standing Up by Steve Martin $1.99//no tax

$243.91 for 36 books over 6 months. That’s roughly $40 a month. Not bad. Not bad at all.

*bought for Ari’s eighth birthday and split with Randy Maupin



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ready for a new binge book? Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is ready for you

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, Gib

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is addicting. It is the book that you flake on friends for. It is the book you stay up late until your eyes are burning and you fall asleep sitting up with your cat on your lap. It is the book you ignore phone calls for. And it is certainly the book you sink into and forget all else. My friends Tzuen and Gib insisted I read it. They had both bought it the same day and had already finished reading it by the time I saw them (two days later). They sat on the couch next to each other reading their separate copies of the book.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, Gib

In the future everyone spends their time in an alternate online reality, called the OASIS. People spend more awake time in the OASIS then they do in reality. People work and attend school in the OASIS. People spend money for non-existent items that allow their avatars to do more things (clothing, space ships, weapons, magic items) but only in virtual world. The creator of the OASIS was a huge video game nerd who grew up in the eighties and was forever nostalgic for eighties culture. He created games and worlds in homage to the decade; his final will and testament, which was spliced with scenes from Heathers and John Hughes’ movies, stated that he had placed puzzles within the OASIS and whoever solves them will inherit his fortune and control the OASIS. A private company realizes the monetary gains to be had by whoever controls the OASIS so they hire people to explore the virtual reality full time. They have a seemingly endless budget and people sign contracts that they will hand over the control of the OASIS to the company.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, Gib

There are so many relevant plot lines, threads, and characters to this book. The book is especially resonant for anyone that is not part of the wealthy elite. Wade was born in the stacks—”to maximize the ground space. . . . and trailer parks across the country had quickly evolved into ‘stacks’ like this one—strange hybrids of shantytowns, squatter settlements, and refugees camps. (21) After his teen parents die, his aunt takes him in for the extra food and lodging doled out by the government. She in turn steals his food, his property, and kicks him out of the trailer. Wade is overweight because of his “bankrupt diet of government-subsidized sugar-and-starch-laden food” and being an OASIS addict who never exercises. (30) Being poor is a crime, and if you go into debt you are thrown into debtor’s prison. For Wade, without great grades for a scholarship, he has no chance of going to college, therefore his job opportunities are low. So he spends all of his time searching for the hidden clues to win the fortune.

This book appears to be a self-indulgent fun story filled with pop culture references. And then bam! without any foreshadowing, a huge dialogue about race. And then, another dialogue about being queer. And this is not a case of Beverly Hills 90201 preaching about white people understanding racism or straight people having one queer friend. This book has serious plot lines that stick with you and make you think about poverty, power, resources, global energy crisis, gender, and beauty. I will not spoil the plot for you; it would be cruel to take away your pleasure at discovering all these things. But I do promise you that this book will keep you thinking long after you finish it. And more than likely, you’ll be planning on rereading it before you finish it.



Check out Ernest Cline’s website; it is definitely the most witty and thoughtfully designed author website I have ever visited. And, he offers something no other author does, to sign your copy of his book if you send it to with him a self-addressed stamped envelope. I’m going to send my copy in for an autograph.

Note: first image is Gib with his copy of the book. Second image is Tzuen’s copy of the book on her balcony in Canada. Third image is Christina with her newly bought copy after hearing my rave reviews.

Ernest Cline. Ready Player One. Crown Publishing Group: New York, 2011.




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Maya Angelou, you will forever be missed


Maya Angelou, I know why the caged bird sings

Maya Angelou, (I realize and recognize she is Dr. Maya Angelou but I grew up reading her as Maya Angelou) died yesterday and I am truly affected by her death. I read her in high school and I quickly became obsessed with her and read everything she had written. Former President Bill Clinton nominated her as our nation’s poet laureate, and she read a poem she wrote for his inauguration. Regardless of what he does, for the rest of his life, I will always respect and admire his decision to ask Angelou to write a poem for the United States. He acknowledged how important art, and specifically, Angelou is to our country.

Angelou’s early life was not easy; abused followed by violence on her abuser. If anyone had an excuse to give up and complain, it was her. She stopped talking for years. . . But one day, she began again and spoken word has never been the same. I hear her voice in my head. Her tone, her inflections, her words, her poetry.

She taught me how to be strong. She taught me how to be honest. She was the first feminist I encountered. She changed my life. She wrote of things I knew nothing about. Segregation, mute, teen pregnancy, exotic dancing. She taught me to respect people and never look down on them.

She made me realize I was not alone. That regardless of what happens in the past, you can survive it and move forward. Things that happen to you are not your fault. Victims of circumstance feel pain, of course, but they do not deserve it.

This post may be sporatic, I keep coming back to it. I cannot seem to focus. I keep trying to write about her writing, but I don’t remember too many specifics. What I remember is how her writing made me feel. She made me feel that social activism, education, and academics are important. I was an awkward shy goth kid but I felt a kinship with Angelou and her morals. (My other primary interests at the time were Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana.) She spoke to me in a way that not many writers have.

I think her death comes as a shock because I grew up reading her when she was older. She has always looked the same to me. I imagine her in the photos from the backs of her books. She was young then, yes, but she has always had salt and pepper hair, red lipstick, flowing black clothing, and a smile.

Forgive my self-reflections because I need to reread her works. It has been a goal of mine to begin rereading them this year. The fact that this artists’s death, a writer, has deeply affected so many is astounding. It gives me hope that so many people reflect and share their experiences with her writing and words.I cried this morning. Maya Angelou was my first foray into true literature. She taught me that real writing is honest and painful. My heart hurts. Dr. Maya Angelou, I’ve always loved you and you will forever be missed by a girl who never met you. Your voice and your words will live on in generations to come. You will forever continue to inspire people to move forward, believe in themselves, and become better.

Maya Angelou, I know why the caged bird sings

my dog eared copy from high school, which is why the back cover is so scratched up.



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