Bexley Book Club holds 1st chapter of year-long event

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak

Charlene Morgan, left, director of the Bexley Education Foundation, and Linda Kass, chairwoman of the Bexley Community Book Club, greet Kacey Kowars, Internet author interview show host, at the book club’s first event at the Bexley Library Oct. 14.

Can a comic be considered a great book?

Is a letter literature?

They may not stack up against the classics but, for Internet interviewer Kacey Kowars, they have led to important connections to the larger world of letters.

"If you want to be a writer, you have to read," Kowars commented during an Oct. 14 presentation on "What Makes a Good Book Great?" sponsored by the Bexley Community Book Club. "If you want to be a reader, it helps to write."

The Columbus resident spoke at the Bexley Library in the first event of a year-long calendar of activities centering on the works of Pete Hamill, who will speak in Bexley April 30. The effort is co-sponsored by the Bexley Education Foundation

Hamill is one of the 125 authors Kowars  has interviewed over the last three years, and the Internet show is the latest mile marker along a lifelong road "lined with books," as he notes on his web site.

The first came in the form of comic books featuring Superman and Archie and Jughead.

Next came adventure stories such as "Kon-Tiki" and other biographies.

While he believes it is important to read the classic canon of literature, he cautions that such heavy tomes can be pushed on readers at too young an age.

It’s more important to "develop a love of turning a page," Kowars said.

With that love affair well under way, Kowars devoured the great authors of the past, such as Dostoevsky, as well as Kurt Vonnegut and other contemporary writers, while attending Walnut Ridge High School and Ohio State University, where he studied to become a stockbroker.

While imbibing this intoxicating mix, he was also downing too many draughts of another kind, Kowars confesses on his web site. He was able to turn a new page in January, 1984, when he had his last drink.

This led to a literary awakening and a correspondence that changed his life.

After reading "The Times Are Never So Bad," by Andre Dubus, and finding his own life in the words, Kowars wrote the author a letter about how the book had touched him.

He unexpectedly received a hand-written, three-page reply that sparked a 14-year exchange that ended with the author’s death in 1999.

When, after writing three unpublished novels, he hit on the idea of the Internet show, the writer’s son, Andre Dubus III, author of "House of Sand and Fog," agreed to be the first guest on the because of the relationship Kowars had with his father.

He presented the letters he had received as a gift, which the younger Dubus called the best gift he had ever been given.

Unlike a paid critic, Kowars selects only authors and works he admires for his show.

What do those works have in common?

First, they draw the reader in from the first sentence and the first paragraph, Kowars observed, as evidenced in James Crumley’s "The Last Good Kiss," with its memorable image of a dog named Fireball Roberts.

Such sentences don’t come easy, and are re-written 20 or 30 times before the author finds the right cadence, Kowars said.

Great books have fully developed characters, Kowars continued, who act in believable ways.

"Too often writers fall into the trap of trying to shock, and have their characters act in a manner that is contradictory," Kowars said.

Powerful writing, such as the Southern-tinged stories of James Lee Burke, should stimulate the five senses, according to Kowars.

Scenes should have movement and create a picture in the mind, and the location should be like a character in the story, he offered.

He pointed out that Pete Hamill accomplishes these goals in the opening of "Snow in August," with the image of flakes falling over his native New York.

This was the break-out novel for Hamill, who had been known primarily as a journalist, said Kowars, who had the opportunity to interview the writer upon the publication of his latest work of fiction, "North River," in June.

The Bexley Community Book Club is encouraging residents to read these and other works by Hamill, such as his memoir "A Drinking Life," throughout the year.

Book fairs have been arranged with Barnes & Noble for Dec. 8 and March 15, and Kowars will return to the Bexley Library Jan. 13 to discuss Hamill’s work.

Kowars doesn’t put much stock in surveys that show few adults are reading. "I think more people read than we give credit for."

He called the Bexley effort "a revolutionary community book club concept" that will get even more people to turn pages. "It’s really going to work."

Information on the Bexley Community Book Club is available at the BEF web site www.bexleyeducationfoundation.org.

Kowars’ web site is www.kaceykowars.com, where past interviews are archived.

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