Monthly Archives: March 2007

The Snarking of the hunt

That’s “hunt” as in the hunt for a literary agent to represent your work and advocate for you with editors, and “snark” as in Miss Snark, whose site should be a bookmarked daily stop for any writer trying to make headway in the publishing business.

There’s plenty of discouraging information out there about the odds against finding an agent, and then finding a publisher. So I’m happy to see Miss Snark debunking one oft-heard factoid about the impossibility of finding an agent through over-the-transform queries. The ones that go into the slush pile, which is mined only with great reluctance.

Well, here’s good news: agents see that slush pile as a potential gold mine, and they go prospecting in it regularly. but you don’t have to take my word for it:

Fully half my clients came over the transom (not literally, although there was that one girl . . . Penelope? Perspephone? Phaidra? . . . one of those) and when I started up, more like 85%.

One of the smartest most successful agents I have had the privilege of guzzling sake with says “there’s gold in that there pile” and refuses to even use the word “slush”. I look at her sales record and I pay attention to what she says.

Every time I talk to Kristin Nelson, another very smart VERY savvy agent, she talks about how she reads her submissions and finds people there . . . I’ve found more clients via the transom then I have from contests, and conferences.

The only source that comes close to the transom is referrals. Publishers or editors or clients who gave my name to people who write well provided me about half my client list right now.

Of the last five books I sold, three were from transom clients, two from referral.

I scored my first agent through an over-the-transom query. It was, if I may so say, a thoroughly professional query tailored to the agency specifications as listed in Jeff Herman’s guide. You don’t need me to tell you the guidelines: any bookstore with a halfway decent reference section has plenty of guidebooks for writers. If you don’t know them, start today as your first step on the long, difficult path to becoming a published writer.

But you may need me to remind you that these specifications are meant to be taken seriously. You don’t like writing synopses? You think including the first fifty pages won’t give an adequate representation of the book? It doesn’t matter. Get yourself to do it.

Because the guidelines are meant to remove barriers, not create them. This is how the agent wants to see things. If you follow the format, the agent then moves directly to your work. If you don’t, the agent thinks “pisher” or something worse and your work goes unread.

You’re too smart to let that happen. So do your homework and make your query presentable.

And take heart. The work will be read.

Brain music

Laurence Musgrove admits he’s one of those writers who needs a soundtrack for his mental labors:

My preferences for writing of course are situational, just like they should be for any good rhetorician. As I’m writing this essay, I’m listening to Ethiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974 by musician-arranger Mulatu Astatqe. My daughter sent it to me last year, and I ripped it immediately into my playlists. Other writing favorites in jazz include Consummation by the Thad Jones & Mel Lewis Orchestra, passed on to me by my neighbor Bill, Lionel Hampton’s Mostly Ballads and Mostly Blues, and some other favorites from the early 70’s: Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert, and The Colours of Chlöe by Eberhard Weber.

Here at my desk with the tangle of wires running from the scanner, printer, PDA cradle, and leftover Gateway 2000 speakers, I start off the day usually with something to get the blood moving, like Los Pregoneros Del Puerto and their traditional music of Veracruz, Paco de Lucia’s Anthologia Vol. 1, or that dobro-infused live double play by Alison Krauss and Union Station.

Or if I’m particularly stressed out and need to write and relax, I click on Union or Devotion by Rasa, R. Carlos Nakai’s Cycles. Vol. 2, or Clannad’s Landmarks.

But if I’m just chugging along during the day, I go to the old faithfuls: the soundtrack from Ken Burns’ Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Stones in the Road, Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, some Puccini or Neil Young’s Comes a Time.

Given the slice and dice randomized nature of iTunes and Napster, I realize that speaking of music in terms of albums is very old school, but the extended play of the 50 to 60 minute tune after tune fits my writing rhythm pretty well. Once a playlist is over, I know it’s time to take a break, push away from my desk, stand up and lean back to stretch out my stiff back, wander out into the hallway of that other world, or walk downstairs and check my campus mailbox to see what junk I can toss into the recycling bins nearby.

When I was a longhaired college kid, I had Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Marvin Gaye, Cat Stevens, and Joni Mitchell in pretty much constant rotation on my scratchy stereo, one skewered vinyl dropping down on the next until it was time to flip the stack over again. In those days, I was listening for lyrics and rhyme as much as anything, thinking I was a writer in the company of writers who also happen to play music. These days I’m listening for melody and rhythm as much as anything, thinking I’m a writer in the company of musicians who also happen to keep me writing.

I’m interested in this subject — for one thing, I expect that the responses of other writers would be as idiosyncratic as the writers themselves.

Personally, I like music in the background while I write, but it can’t be vocal music. There’ll be an occasional exception when I need to jump-start my pulse rate, but even then I’ll avoid a full-length record and play something like Husker Du’s clamorous “Eight Miles High” ep disc. Otherwise, no songs — voices singing interesting lyrics distract me from the voice I’m trying to amplify on the page. Even lieder or songs in other languages are too distracting.

Very often I listen to jazz or orchestral music. Musgrove mentions Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert, which has been a favorite of mine for over a quarter-century (is it hip again to like Jarrett? I’ve lost track), but equally good for writing is the muscular group improvisation on The Survivors’ Suite. Very often I go for one of the Charles Mingus holy trinity: Pithecanthropus Erectus, The Clown or The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. The astonishingly intense playing on “Mode D/E/F”really lends itself to tricky concentration, oddly enough.

There are shifts that have me wondering if I’m looking for novelty or I’m subconsciously picking music to match an unrecognized creative need. For a long stretch I listened only to solid blocks of composers whose works were varied enough to offer plenty of variety. Duke Ellington, for instance: I’d start with the tense, combative trio playing on Money Jungle, shift to the full orchestra on The Far East Suite (an unjustly neglected item in Duke’s later catalogue, if you ask me), go to the solo disc The Pianist, then return to the orchestra for And His Mother Called Him Bill, the unchallengeable masterpiece.

Musgrove is absolutely right about album-length music. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I grew up in the heyday of the 40-minute vinyl album, and that still forms the framework for my listening habits. Lou Reed once likened the old vinyl records to two-act plays — one of the shrewdest things he’s ever said. I love the way the format encouraged groups to think about pacing and drama, using the expected break in time to flip over the disc to set the stage for the next part of the program. To pick a completely random example, think of the way The Beatles used the between-side breaks on the White Album to set up interesting transitions: the freaky intensity of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” leading to the Victorian parlor piano of “Martha My Dear,” the dreamy beauty of “Julia” giving way to the raucous “Birthday,” the spooky dying fall of “Long, Long, Long” banished by the bluesy, plain-spoken “Revolution 1.”

The huge empty bins created by the CD format don’t impose that kind of creative pacing. In a funny way, digital music formats and ripping individual tunes onto iPods and PCs has brought music back to the pre-LP era, when forty-five singles ruled the roost. Everything new is old again.

I’m Lord Voldemort, fly me

My, my, the lead actors in the Harry Potter film franchise have certainly been doing their best to raise the public’s awareness during the run-up to the publication of the last tale of Potter.

First we had Daniel Radcliffe, Harry himself, doing nude scenes in a West End production of the play Equus. Then we had Hermione and Ron Weasley demanding more money or else they’d put down their wands. And only now do I learn that Lord Voldemort was inducted into the Mile-High Club by a Qantas flight attendant during a flight out of Darwin. I knew business class carried a lot of perks, but really now . . .

The professor and the president

Ya gotta love an essay that opens with a great anecdote like this:

In 1998, a friend of mine, Robert Pinsky, who at the time was serving as the poet laureate of the United States, invited me to a poetry evening at the Clinton White House, one of a series of black-tie events organized to mark the coming millennium. On this occasion the President gave an amusing introductory speech in which he recalled that his first encounter with poetry came in junior high school when his teacher made him memorize certain passages from Macbeth. This was, Clinton remarked wryly, not the most auspicious beginning for a life in politics.

After the speeches, I joined the line of people waiting to shake the President’s hand. When my turn came, a strange impulse came over me. This was a moment when rumors of the Lewinsky affair were circulating, but before the whole thing had blown up into the grotesque national circus that it soon became. “Mr. President,” I said, sticking out my hand, “don’t you think that Macbeth is a great play about an immensely ambitious man who feels compelled to do things that he knows are politically and morally disastrous?” Clinton looked at me for a moment, still holding my hand, and said, “I think Macbeth is a great play about someone whose immense ambition has an ethically inadequate object.”

I was astonished by the aptness, as well as the quickness, of this comment, so perceptively in touch with Macbeth’s anguished brooding about the impulses that are driving him to seize power by murdering Scotland’s legitimate ruler. When I recovered my equilibrium, I asked the President if he still remembered the lines he had memorized years before. Of course, he replied, and then, with the rest of the guests still patiently waiting to shake his hand, he began to recite one of Macbeth’s great soliloquies:

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly. If th’ assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success: that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all, here,
But here upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions which, being taught, return
To plague th’inventor.

There the most powerful man in the world—as we are fond of calling our leader—broke off with a laugh, leaving me to conjure up the rest of the speech that ends with Macbeth’s own bafflement over the fact that his immense ambition has “an ethically inadequate object”:

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on th’other….


I left the White House that evening with the thought that Bill Clinton had missed his true vocation, which was, of course, to be an English professor. But the profession he actually chose makes it all the more appropriate to consider whether it is possible to discover in Shakespeare an “ethically adequate object” for human ambition.

Personally, I think the Macbeth soliloquy is better suited to Newt Gingrich, who spent his House speakership trying to teach Clinton “bloody instructions” that ended up losing the GOP setas in the House and, of course, losing Gingrich the speakership.

I’ve been searching in vain on Roger Ebert’s site for his account of an invitation to the White House screening room, where he spent a hugely entertaining evening learning that Bill Clinton is an exceptionally knowledgeable and astute film buff. (If anyone out there on the Internets finds it, please sendme the link!) Like Stephen Greenblatt, Ebert concluded that there was a lot more to Clinton than meets the eye.

O, to have had a tape recorder going during that visit!

Hello Dali!

Even if you can’t make it out to London for the show, it’s worth your while to read my fave rave art critic, Robert Hughes, on surrealism and Salvador Dali.

The taxing business of writing

As a writer, you have extra possibilities open to you at tax time — possibilities and responsibilities. Lynn Viehl at Paperback Writer has some good advice on getting your head squared away so you’re always thinking in terms of business-related deductions.

Every now and then I fantasize about a 60 Minutes segment that aired way back in the 1980s about Ireland’s policy of exempting writers, musicians, sculptors and painters from paying income tax. The star witness in the segment was Frederick Forsyth, who was just coming off a run of international bestsellers that started with The Day of the Jackal, and he looked pretty damned smug about the whole thing.

If, like me, you prefer Forsyth’s initial batch of thrillers to the later, inferior works, you might want to lay the blame for that, along with so many other things, at the feet of the taxman. I once heard a story about the author getting into hot water with the Ireland tax authorities when the gap between his books grew a little too wide. Rather than lose his tax-exempt status, Forsyth resumed cranking out books. If the story is true, then whatever Forsyth gained in income he lost in inspiration.

Of course, none of this beefing has gotten me anywhere closer to getting my own taxes done.

Doubts and intuitions

Because I never pass up a chance to sing the praises of the unjustly neglected Herman Melville and the unfairly maligned masterpiece Moby-Dick, I note with approval this posting from Andrew Sullivan, who reads this passage from Moby-Dick and sees “a reminder of what prose can be at its best.” Yep:

And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster, to behold him solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea; his vast, mild head overhung by a canopy of vapor, engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, and that vapor – as you will sometimes see it – glorified by a rainbow, as if Heaven itself had put its seal upon his thoughts. For d’ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.

“Doubts of all things earthly and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.” I love that. 

Thinking big

This long essay posted at 3 Quarks Daily — which is rapidly becoming my favorite Web site — starts with an extraordinary subject: Royal de Luxe, a French street theater company that specializes in telling simply, childlike stories with immense marionettes that transform whole cities into stages. The Nantes-based group does everything it can to avoid hype. Its awe-inspiring show is meant to be seen by accident and leave spectators feeling they have just stumbled through a waking dream.

Here’s the description of what it took to mount The Giant Who Fell From the Sky, part of a sprawling, multi-year epic called The Saga of the Giants:

The inaugural show, The Giant Who Fell From The Sky, was conceived for the people of Le Havre in 1993. Lying supine, his ribcage rising and falling as he exhaled white dust for his own cloudy atmosphere, the 38-foot carved wood sleeping Giant was laced Gulliver-style to the street. Baffled onlookers hesitantly prodded him, and he opened basketball-sized eyes in which blood vessels showed, taking on the look of terrible suffering nobly borne that would never leave him. To walk the city, he was hauled up into a scaffolding six stories high; red-liveried actors hanging onto ropes leapt from it to the ground, landing slowly, counter-weighting and lifting his sandaled feet. He swung his arms, he turned his head this way and that, he parted his lips and gazed down, sweeping the crowd with his eyes as he marched, looking as if he did not quite believe what he saw or the fix he was in, a haggard incredulity being one of his signature expressions. And the faces of the townspeople, from toddlers to the very old, lining the streets six or eight deep and leaning out of windows, were solemn and rapt.

Trucks figured in this — big ones — for here was serious tonnage. Apart from drivers, more than thirty liveried actors, in choreographed motion all over the scaffolding, were needed to keep the Giant groomed and on the move. One man turned a wheel the size of a helm to open and close his mouth, another hovered near his shoulder to brush dusty traces of respiration from his lips with a broom. It is one of the paradoxes of the Giants that, seeing an unbelievable thing, and seeing plainly the levers and ropes and pulleys and humans required to make it work – for none of this is ever concealed in a Royal de Luxe performance — you believe in it utterly.

The stories of the Giant, written by Courcoult, are always very simple – just a few lines long, with deep cultural resonances. To cite a feature that counts heavily with him, you could tell them to a child. Each is enacted over several days, nights included, it being of the utmost importance that the Giant abide with the town. During that entire time, the Giant is out in the open, his hair and face getting wet in the rain, sleeping by night in a chair the size of a cantilever bridge, breathing always — and dreaming.

On that first visit to Le Havre, the story goes, the Giant was frightening to the people of the town only when he dreamt; the morning after, cars were found impaled on trees, or pinned to the asphalt with a 10-foot fork, the work of his dreams. And so, on the second night a wall of light – motley thousands of battery-operated headlights mounted on a twenty by thirty foot frame — was erected to prevent his losing consciousness. Head dropping to his chest again and again in the painterly golden light, the Giant spent a wakeful night. A blonde singer, Peggy, wearing a long blue opera cape with a stiff collar, climbed out of a white limo and was lifted thirty feet onto the scaffolding to sing to him, the better to divert him from dreaming. Un bel di vedremo, sang Peggy, a few yards from his face, the anguished and sleepy longing she saw there finally making her turn away. On the morning of the third day, a hole had been torn in the wall of light, the immense scaffolding was torqued and knocked aside, flattening still more cars, and the Giant was gone.

He returned to Le Havre on two occasions between 1993 and 1998. In that time, he would lose a leg – causing middle-aged Frenchmen ordinarily nothing if not buttoned down to weep openly – acquire a son, a 20-foot black giant, on a trip to Africa, regain the leg, and, in 2000, send a crate of giraffes to Le Havre. The giraffes, a tender, tree branch-tearing mother towering delicately over the city, and her calf, all legs, were the crane-operated forerunners of the 46-ton elephant seen by more than one million people in London in 2006.

The Giant’s last appearance anywhere was in August, 2006, in the South of France. Looking as relaxed as his watchful countenance allows, he sat barefoot on a lounge chair anchored to the river bed by the Pont du Gard. Just as it is understood that the Little Black Giant is his son, Little Girl Giant, last seen in Chile in January, when she chased down and caged a rhinoceros, is his daughter. It is rumored she will face her father in Reykjavik in the spring, and that the meeting might not be friendly.

Be sure to take some time to watch the YouTube segment from The Sultan’s Elephant, another chapter in the saga.

If you’re like me, your first thought after taking in the facts of this remarkable story will be: how can we get something this wonderful in America? And the answer, right now, is that we can’t. The only thing that made Royal de Luxe possible was a steady stream of government-generated arts funding, given without regard for whether the results would be palatable to whatever version of Jerry Falwell afflicts the French. This raises questions that the essay addresses in terms as large as the skyline-dominating puppets themselves:

Artists beset with frequent interruptions of their work, who live without medical care in poor housing and exhaust themselves with two or three dead-end jobs at a time to keep going until they are next paid to perform, may look on the French system as a Utopia greatly to be desired. Yet the same model is repugnant to anyone suspecting that money would only be wasted on cheap red wine, exorbitant rehearsals, and plain old hanging out. Everyone can agree, however, that The Saga of The Giants is no accident, and is anything but the product of social Darwinism in the arts.

The big question, then, is how, in making a policy decision for such as Royal de Luxe potentially to develop and flourish, can anyone be sure the result will not come artistically closer to synchronized swimming than to Royal de Luxe? To the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade than to The Sultan’s Elephant? One answer is found in mulling over yet another question – why we would expect public funds spent incubating the arts to produce more precise results than like amounts spent on other necessarily speculative programs in the public interest.

The terrible risk of falling short of the intended superb work is and has always been borne chiefly by artists, the very last people on earth to spare themselves or to value compromise. As the choreographer in Lorrie Moore’s short story, “Dance in America,” says, “I’ve burned up my life for a few good pieces.” But for there to be risk, the vision of the artist must be made real – air-guitarists risk nothing. And art that is real incurs real risk, including that of artistic and commercial failure. The only policy that could ever reduce that risk is the policy that, by default or by design, reduces the occurrence of art for public money; if there is no art, there is no failed or silly art. And there is no revealing – no dreaming – what an era is capable of, no discourse that can reach into the mind of the future, creating it.

The cost of nurturing Royale de Luxe from 1981, when the company did Roman Photo, its first show to tour widely and make a huge impact, through the premier in 1990 of The True History of France, its first show to make extensive use of the engineering gifts of Francois Delaroziere, who designed the 10-ton pop-up book from which asynchronous events in French history sprang, to the present, wherein the company is celebrated all over the world except in the United States, is not a figure that research into public information can produce. Starting in 1989, when the company moved from the South of France to establish a base in Nantes, the scope and ambition of its productions soared. Serious financial support from the French government and from the city of Nantes began in 1990. For the creation in 1993 of The Giant Who Fell From The Sky, Royal de Luxe was given money by the Theatre Le Volcan in Le Havre, led by Alain Milianti, one of France’s most important theatre and opera directors. Edward Taylor, who has followed for many years the evolution of Royal de Luxe, writes that this money came seemingly in the form of “carte blanche to do something,” but no figure attaches to it.

Here’s a telling figure, though. It comes from Helen Marriage of Artichoke. The cost of bringing The Sultan’s Elephant to London amounted to about one million pounds. “At one pound a head,” Marriage says, referring to the number of Londoners who experienced it, “I call that cheap.”

I do, too — certainly cheaper that funneling tax monies to Steve Forbes and Paris Hilton, or squandering billions on contracts to Republican cronies who promptly haul stakes and relocate to friendly Arab dictatorships at the first whiff of a subpoena. The Bush administration, and the Gingrichite upwelling that preceded it, has been our homegrown inverted version of Royal de Luxe: instead of filling the streets with giants to make everyone feel inspired and open to possibilities, the Bush-led Screwyou de Luxe fills them with stunted, greedy dwarfs doing everything they can to make daily life seem a little more vile.

We are, I hope, at the tail end of a blindingly stupid debate that began in the 1980s when conservatives began using Karen Finley and Andres “Piss Christ” Serrano to attack the idea of funding the arts. I say “stupid” because there will never be any art that does not offend somebody somewhere, even if we ignore the pious outrage merchants who started the argument. I say “stupid” again because even the most expensive arts programs are a comparative drop in the bucket.

I can live with a dozen Karen Finleys (and Finley herself was actually pretty funny, the one time I saw her perform at Maxwell’s) if it raises the possibility of a homegrown Royal de Luxe or Cirque du Soleil. It’s the kind of shock and awe that makes the world a more liveable place. Someday, I hope we all get to live there.

Grumpy old men

You thought the feud between Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal was bad? That’s nothing compared to the decades-long tiff between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Harry and Jim and me

I was a little behind the curve with the Harry Potter phenomenon. It took a few years of hearing the name dropped by nieces and nephews (and their parents) before curiosity took hold and I got a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. It was right about the time Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban came out in hardcover. Since I grew up on Lloyd Alexander, Ursula K. LeGuin and T.H. White (among many others), Harry Potter’s world was quite comfortable to me, and I decided that J.K. Rowling stood tall in the company of the authors of The Black Cauldron, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Sword in the Stone.

What settled it for me was the third title, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The second Potter book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, had seemed like little more than a rewrite of the first book, but Azkaban took Rowling’s artistry to a whole new order of magnitude. I was particularly impressed by the Dementors — malignant beings that suck away all happy memories until their victim is too crippled by sadness and despair even to attempt escape. Anyone who’s visited those dark shoals could see Rowling had spent some time there herself, and come away with a brilliant metaphor for the experience, along with a highly original type of monster.

After that, the books became bigger and flabbier. I found Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire rewarding, despite the overwriting, not least because I stood online for the midnight unveiling at an East Brunswick bookstore and enjoyed the spectacle of pre-teen kids standing in line to buy a novel several hundred pages long. Always go where the hardcore fans go — it adds to the fun.

But I’m afraid I got bogged down in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — so much so that I abandoned it halfway through, and thus missed out on the truly badass wizard brawl in the Hall of Mysteries. When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out, I didn’t even bother getting a copy.

But now, as everyone except the Taliban know, Rowling is about to ring down the curtain with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I wanted to get back up to speed. Fortuntately, some friends have all the Harry Potter audiobooks, and they loaned me the massive unabridged CD version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the penultimate Potter. It’s been a double blessing: not only have I regained my affection for Rowling’s stories, I’ve also discovered Jim Dale, who is a wizard in his own right.

I’d heard that Dale’s readings of the Potter books were in a class by themselves, but it turns out that isn’t even half of it. The guy is extraordinary. If audiobook readers divide into the straight readers vs. the enactors, then Dale is the emperor of the enactors. Every charatcer in Rowling’s crowded story gets a readily identifiable voice and set of verbal ticks, and Dale never loses track of them even as he reverts to his own voice for the narrative portions of the story. Bravura stuff.

And the book itself? I liked it just fine. Rowling has clearly known where she was going right from the start, and the pitch-black climax of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is very impressive not simply for its uncompromising grimness — Rowling has always been a tough cookie — but for the wholly unforced way it shows Potter groping his way back to hope and optimism after enduring a devastating loss. I have no doubt that Rowling is going deliver the goods, big time, for the seventh and final entry in the Potter series.

For me, the only question is whether I should buy the book or the audio version. While Jim Dale reading the story from my car stereo, the daily commute will be a magic carpet ride, and the blighted Hudson County landscape will become the grounds of Hogwarts. That will be an experience worth having again.

I agree wholeheartedly that reading aloud to children is one of the greatest services a parent can provide. But Jim Dale has reminded me of something else — how much fun it is to be read to.