Bookstore Review: C Mac Neill Bookdealer

Bookstore Review: C Mac Neill Bookdealer

Bookstores are one of the most beloved things to a reader. However everyone has their preferences: small independent bookstore, online bookseller, big box store, used bookstore, ect. My personal preference is used bookstores where I can get books often for less than five dollars a piece and sometimes find a great collectible.

My favorite used bookstore is C Mac Neill Bookdealer in Berkley, MI. This small bookstore is owned and operated by one man, but has many gems and is always an enjoyable browse. The fact that I live close to it only makes it better.

Entering the bookstore from the street entrance, a bookshelf begins immediately to my right. On the left an old printing press surrounding by stacks of books, old magazines, periodicals, and encyclopedias sits in the window. There is no sign telling the name of the store, just one neon sign reading “BOOKS” and another saying “OPEN.” I always start by walking straight to the back of the store, where there is an additional entrance from the parking lot, but more importantly where the horror section is. On the way, I pass the counter with a small clear space for checking out, and for the owner to sit tapping at his computer (I assume he is writing a novel, but I’ve yet to ask). An old parlor looking sofa is just past the counter with books enclosing it. These are books people have sold to the store, but have yet to be priced or shelved. However, it you see one you want, he is happy to sell. On the couch is normally an older small dog. Unless it gets up to greet you, you may not even notice it. The dog is incredibly friendly, so it you have a fear of dogs, no worries. It mostly ignores the people in the shop and stays cozy on the couch. Like many used bookstores, C Mac Neill Bookdealer is full to the brim with books, and has the cluttered, cramped, wonderful feeling of any used bookstore.

The selection is generally very good. The horror section is on the small side, and splits a floor to ceiling shelf with westerns. There is a large collection of old scifi, but it is a little difficult to get to (the couch and doggo sitting in front of it). My go to section, general literature, is well stocked and has a variety of books more recently published and old copies and editions of books. There is also a small youth section and poetry section. All this is in the main store row. Walking deeper into the rows, there is a large selection of nonfiction with anything from religion to cook books and from war to engineering. In my many trips there I have yet to notice a specific biography or memoir section, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those are included in other areas of the nonfiction rows. Finally, one row of shelves is dedicated to mysteries, many of the popular authors are included here like, Grisham, Patterson, and Clark.

Once I’ve browsed and selected my books, the owner is always extremely pleasant during check out. Everything is done with cash, as far as I can tell, but he is happy to round up or down to the nearest dollar, or give exact change. As the name of the store suggests, it is a bookdealer and the owner will also buy books and pay in cash. He is willing to help his customers if needed, but seems to like your typical introvert, who will just as happily ignore you until he is needed. Personally, that is the type of customer service I want in a used bookstore. Let me do my thing, unless I need help reaching something (which there are stools available for).

Overall C. Mac Neill Bookdealer is a traditional used bookstore in every sense. Quiet, crammed, hidden gems just waiting on every shelf. If you like used bookstores, you will like this one. Personally, I have never left empty handed, and always enjoy my peaceful trips there. If you are ever in Southeastern, MI, C Mac Neill Bookdealer is a great stop, just make sure you plan an afternoon visit Tuesday through Saturday, as the store has limited hours. I am sure you will find a good deal, or be able to barter for an even better one.

-M.R. Gavin


What is Literary Criticism?

Literary criticism sounds like a big, convoluted, academic, scholarly way to look at literature (short stories, novels, poems, even nonfiction).  Some people feel utilizing literary criticism and discussing text will ruin the enjoyment of it. In my opinion both of these ideas are false. The first is false for a simple reason: everyone uses literary criticism; it is how a reader responds to a text, how a reader looks at it and what they get out of, and it is often based on their life experiences. So while you may not use the term “literary criticism” how you perceive and react to a text is a form of “literary criticism.” The second statement is false because while we read to enjoy a story, discussing stories opens a reader’s mind to a multitude of new things. Sharing allows readers to grow their understanding of a text and to get greater enjoyment out of it overall. Sometimes in school a text is discussed to the point of it having no life left, but a good teacher knows when to move on, and how to guide a discussion.

As a reader and writer with a background in English Language and Literature, I understand why literary criticism is misunderstood. My intention with this portion of my blog is to explore the types of literary criticism and demonstrate how many of them are already being used while reading. In my opinion, knowledge of literary criticism is simple a tool to progress your thinking, your reflection, and your discussions around what you read. That having been said, I am not an expert. In my four years of undergraduate study, I garnered the same number of books about literary criticism for three different classes. But, with my intention being exposure and to build on things we already do as readers, those experiences should not be discredited. So let’s get started.

According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, literary criticism is the “study and discussion of works of literature.” It may be considered formal, but generally it is based on the readers’ judgments and comments of the work in question. In an academic setting, this is mostly in the form of writing, and is an essential practice for those who study literature for a living, but that doesn’t mean it has to be inaccessible for the rest of us and our knowledge of it will ultimately make us better readers, conversationalists, thinkers, and humans.

The types of criticism that I am going to talk about and write each week are widely used in the scholarly world and I encourage you to find additional articles or examples of each. You might find your reflection process leans more to one type of criticism, but don’t rule the others out. Even thinking critically in a way you aren’t used to for just a moment will bring a whole new realm of questions and possibilities.  These are the primary forms of literary criticism:


  • Reader-Response Criticism
  • New Criticism
  • Structuralist and Deconstructive Criticism
  • Historical & Biographical Criticism
  • Cultural & Multicultural Criticism
  • Psychological Criticism
  • Feminist & Gender-based Criticism


While this list is not exhaustive and many of these criticisms are an umbrella under which many other criticisms fall, they represent a good start, and many readers already engage in them.

As my literary posts continue, I will go into greater detail for each of these criticism, and offer my own example. Please feel free to correct me, to share your thoughts, or to provide additional resources for the good of fellow readers.

The books that I will be referencing are listed here, and will be cited when used.

  1. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature by Wilfred L. Guerin, Earle Labor, Lee Morgan, Jeanne C. Reesman, and John R. Willingham
  2. A Short Guide to Writing About Literature by Sylvan Barnet, and William E. Cain
  3. Text and Contexts by Stephen Lynn
  4. Theory into Practice by Ann B. Dobie

Next week’s post will take a closer look at Reader-Response Criticism, questions to ask while thinking about it, and why it is a valuable form of literary criticism.

-M.R. Gavin

The Vessel

The Vessel: Write about a ship or other vehicle that can take you somewhere different from where you are now. (365 Creative Writing Prompts)

Colorful paper hangs on the walls highlighting the things I have tried to embed in my students over the course of the year.  My desk is cluttered with papers needing grading, broken pencils, and drawings given to me by my students.  While I want to feel enlightened, positive and smiling like the posters on the classroom wall, I feel far more like my desk – drowning in clutter and monotony.  

Any teacher will tell you the challenges of teaching, the  work at home, the pressure of standardized tests, the behaviors of students, but I want to tell you the secret wish of teachers – or at least of myself.  To leave.  To get up from behind the piles of grading and planning, to be staring at a room full of faces that aren’t listening, to drop the white board marker or chalk in hand and to walk out.  

Now under normal circumstances, I would never even consider doing this, despite my wish.  Students may be a pain, but I am committed to my job.  I chose it after all.  But this is not a story of normal circumstances.  This is a story  of the day things changed, of the day my wish came true and I left.

The morning started as normal, students shuffling in, grabbing a breakfast bag, talking loudly across the classroom, while I walked around and chatted with them.  After eating, we moved right along and began vocabulary.  Coincidentally, one of our words was “wanderlust.”  We discussed its meaning and where we might go.  Many of my students have never left the city.  With that their concept of the world and all its possibilities are limited.  Some said they would want to travel “downtown,” other expressed interest in New York City, Atlanta, and Disney World.  One student said he would want to travel to Japan.  

Lanae asked, “Where would you want to go?”  

The question caught me off guard, although it shouldn’t have, my students always almost ask me the same questions they are encouraged to ponder.

“Well,” I replied, “there are so many places I haven’t been or seen, I would want to travel everywhere.  All across the United States, all across the world.  There are so many things I would be interested in seeing and learning about.  It would probably make me a better teacher.”

The students considered this, and we moved on to our next word.  The day continued uneventful.  We read our novel, The World According to Humphrey, the students went to gym, and to lunch.  

After lunch the day started to get weird.  When I picked my students up, I was angry.  Three of them had been throwing food, which is a big deal and were in a lot of trouble.  Someone else had one of their snacks stolen and we couldn’t figure out who did it.  The rest of the class was talkative, amplified by all the things that had happened at lunch.  It gave lots of fuel for conversations, arguments, and accusations.  Nonetheless, we tried to continue with our day.  While the lesson progressed I glanced out the window regularly.  What had been a beautiful spring day was becoming overcast.  Rain was almost a guarantee, meaning no outdoor recess – the highlight of the day.  There was a lot of noise in the hall.  Students, feet, grumbling.  All of the sudden the sound turned into more of a rushing of wind.  I could see the trees blowing outside, but that did not explain the blowing coming from the hallway.  The whooshing got louder.  Even my students began to notice the change.  Some anxiously looked out the windows.  Several tried to get out of their seats to look out the door.

The howling wind slowed, but a sloshing sound took over, a trickle of water started coming through the door.  I looked into the hallway, but in front of the normal brick and locker covered walls, was several feet of water and a large pirate esque boat.  I blink.  My jaw dropped.  

Edward said, “What’s going on?”  

“I don’t know,” I replied.  

I felt a pull toward the ship.  An urge to open the door and leave.  I always wanted to, didn’t I?  Was this my opportunity?  I had to take it, but I paused.  Where would it go? Why was there no announcements?  Why was there no administration in the hall?Despite my questions, the ship tugged at my body and soul, my hand tightened on the door knob.  I turned to face my class with a smile.  

“Line up silently.  We are going on a field trip.”  

I don’t know what made me line them.  Perhaps it was faith in something amazing happening.  Perhaps it was momentary insanity.  Perhaps it was the feeling of responsibility that came with being a teacher.  

The students at the front of the line could now see what made my jaw drop.  There eyes were wide with wonder and awe; some were shocked with disbelief.  But each of them trusting me.  

I said, “Something magical is happening.  I don’t know exactly what it is, but I think it is important that we embrace this opportunity.  It could be scary; it might be a little dangerous.  You must listen and follow my directions no matter what.  If you don’t want to participate, I will send you to the other second grade.”  

No one protested.  The class was quietest they had been in days.  


“Yes!” Some shouted.  

I turned the knob and pushed the door open.  It didn’t resist despite the water.  

A voice yelled from the ship, “A’HOY!  Are you looking for adventure?”  

Edward shouted back, “Are you a pirate?!”  “Come aboard and find out,” he offered.  A plank emerged from the side of the boat and stopped at our door.  I boarded and counted each student as they followed.  

The man appeared in front of us, at the wheel of the boat.  He had a white sailor’s cap and a blue pea coat.  

“You don’t look like a pirate,” sighed Edward.  

“No,” said the man, “but I can show you anything in the world on this ship.  We can sail across oceans, fly over mountains, float into space.  That must be a fair bit better than sitting in a boring classroom.  Where shall we go first?”

A myriad of answers was flown from my students, but the man looked at me.  

“We want to see everything.  How much time do we have?”  

“I can get you everyday.”  

“Then let’s get started.”  

He smiled and the wind began to howl. The student held onto the polished wood railings, the white sails billowed in the wind, and suddenly we were flying over America. Perhaps I could escape and be a good teacher at the same time.  Only time will tell.

-M.R. Gavin

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis:  Harry Potter is now an adult, struggling to relate to his middle son and working to maintain the safety of the wizarding world.  Albus Severus tries to balance being Harry Potter’s son with his house placement and friends at Hogwarts.  And  a follower of Voldemort threatens to dismantle the wizarding world again.


As it is about a year since the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, why not share my reflections on the play.  This story is a follow up to fantastic Harry Potter Series, which I and innumerable others grew up with.  It takes place in Harry’s adult life and focuses on his own child, Albus Severus.  I thoroughly enjoyed Cursed Child.  Written as a play, it is a fast paced story, but clearly written with readers in mind.  It lacks most typical stage directions, included more description of the characters’ feelings, and gave insight into the characters’ thoughts.  To be fair, this is the first play I have read written after 1990, so this could be the typical style now.  I really don’t have the background to say.

In addition to being written in a different format, it also seems to be written for a different audience of readers, or rather the same audience who has simply matured and reached adulthood. Although parts of the story appeal to a younger audience (many scenes featuring Albus and his friend, Scorpio), the play is equally paired with more mature scenes of Harry struggling with how to be a good father and keep the wizarding world safe.  Having reached adulthood myself, this created an interesting dynamic of a child’s innocence and rebellion, parallelling the original novels, and an adult’s diplomatic sense of the world, responsibilities, and relationships.

Another interesting shift was Ron Weasley’s character.  While he was always the goofiest of the original trio, he was often emotional and jealous.  However, in adulthood his goofiness has multiplied, and his jealousy declined.  A hint of begrudging attitude from youth resurfaces during interactions with Draco Malfoy.  Even in these moment of animosity, Ron provides a needed comic relief to the adult scenes and proves to be well on his way to being the king of dad jokes.

Overall, I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  I enjoyed the emotions it brought back to me as an adult reader and the questions it provoked.  I must admit though, I hope this story is the final chapter for Harry, as anything else may feel too forced and lack the genuineness that made Harry Potter so influential to readers over the past two decades.  I leave with one final thought.  A question that has been weighing in my mind for almost a year now: Who is the cursed child?  Is it Albus or perhaps Delphi?  Could it still be Harry, or Cedric, or Scorpio?  Perhaps even Voldemort?  I think extensive arguments could be made supporting all of these characters as the cursed child, so to whom does the title refer.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.  I would love to discuss this story further with other Harry Potter fans!

-M.R. Gavin

Unrequited Love

Unrequited love: How do you feel when you love someone who does not love you back? (365 Creative Writing Prompts)

Unrequited love it the topic of many stories, novels, and poems from all periods of writing.  Fortunately, I don’t think I have ever felt that way.  The man I love has loved me for just as long; prior to that my loves were real, but also shared.  Anything prior was a childhood crush, and I honestly don’t remember those feelings – I was too busy playing and reading to care.  Below is my attempt at a description for unrequited love.

I stared at him from across the room.  Sitting with me were my girlfriends, chatting, snacking, and drinking.  They were all fortunate enough to have someone special in their lives, but I still searched for mine.  Sure, there had been flings.  A date here, an overnight guest there, but nothing lasting.  Nothing like the loves – or even one night stands – I read about or saw in the movies.  I desperately searched for a man who made my heart race every time I glanced at him, but stopped my heart every time he looked at me; for a gentleman with class, a strong man who could protect, a working man who could provide, a humble man who would support.  And of course be gorgeous.  

This was that guy.  Tall, dark, handsome, just as they say.  We worked together, but didn’t interact much.  But from our coworkers weekly happy hours, I had learned enough about him to be completely smitten.  He was the perfect combination of modest, but confident, hints of self deprecating humor, an adorable, but goofy smile.  He was well over 6 feet tall, with an athletic build, little bit of stubble on his chin, and dark hair.  

From across the room, I watched him sitting at the bar as I did every week. He and another coworker downed some beer and cheered when their team scored.  I wondered who his favorite team was; knowing that could help me start a conversation.  My friends were chuckling, I joined in too late and made it awkward.  But, my mind was elsewhere: imagining a life with him, pretending to be married, to have children, and then to grow old and gray.   

Suddenly, he turned in my direction; he looked right at me.  My heart stopped, but he wasn’t looking at me – he was looking through me.  A tall, blond bombshell with cleavage twice the amount of mine walked past me and straight to him.  Instead of an increased heart rate, my heart dropped.  I turned to look at my friend across from me – praying that it looked like I had been watching the game and returned to my conversation.  I looked at the window, saw my reflection and faded smile.  He welcomed the blonde with a passionate kiss and ordered her a  drink.  He had the most gorgeous smile and pearly white teeth.  He had no clue who I was, or that I was head over heels for him.  He had someone – someone of model proportions.  I felt myself slipping into ice cold water, everything slowing down, my head spinning.  If he only would talk to me, he would realize how perfect we could be.  He would leave the blonde for me, but I would never have the guts to go up to him.  So here I sit frozen, until the next fling and distraction comes along.

-M.R. Gavin