Monday, May 21, 2012

Truth on the bookshelf

Took this picture at a regional Barnes & Noble store over the weekend. As a long-time Archie Comics reader (quit snickering) this mirrors my own opinion.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Blast of Bradbury Past

I often check out Internet TV before I fall asleep, but the other night I stumbled across a show from 1963 that woke me right up. The show was “Story of a Writer,” a half-hour episode starring famed author Ray Bradbury. 

This slice of history was better than cupcakes in bed, because not only did it feature a peek at Bradbury in his prime, it’s also a fascinating look at the successful writing life 50 years ago. First, the Bradbury fun.  The episode tried very hard to make Bradbury seem normal, right down to performing magic tricks for the kids. That veneer starts to curl up at the edges when he admits a fear of automobiles, and when he brings his latest short story to his critique group. I have to admit, though, the other man in the group must have had balls of titanium to sit there and tell Bradbury his story was too downbeat, and the death stare Bradbury shot him could have Force-choked Vader himself.

To me, the other star of the show was simply the history.  If Gollum had been a bookworm instead of a jewelry fanatic, he would have wet himself over Bradbury’s home office, packed with books and file cabinets in a dimly lit basement.  The basement has that isolated writerly feel which comes from the pre-Internet years of hoarding research materials and not worrying how the place would look on Skype video chat. It made me remember how the writing business was when I first started sending out poems as a teen in the 1980s, all paper and folders and months or years of waiting. I admit I felt a slight touch of nostalgia when I think back to how much things have changed. Only for a few seconds, though, until I check my e-mail or complete an article assignment without ever having printed out a single page.

Throughout the show, Bradbury worked on a short story called “Dial Double Zero,” ultimately ignoring his critique partners and sending the story off via snail mail to his agent. Yes, he had an agent for short stories, one of two agents for his work. Ah, the magical Sixties. We also get a peek at his other office in Beverly Hills, which looks far less like a twisted Hobbit’s lair than his home office. Perhaps my favorite part, though, is when Bradbury answers questions from young writers during a lecture. Bradbury talks to them about passion and dedication, but what’s the one question every one of them wants answered? How much money they can expect to rake in from writing.

Some things never change.

The episode, “Story of a Writer” by David L. Wolper, can be viewed and downloaded at the Internet Archive. If you’re a writer or a science fiction fan, grab it and enjoy the time warp.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book Review: Stacey Graham and The Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide

Knock, knock, Boo's there? It's THE GIRLS' GHOST HUNTING GUIDE, a fun and informative book from Stacey Graham. While this book is mainly aimed at kids, I truly enjoyed it, especially the stories about the history of Spiritualism and mediums. (I had no idea that medium D.D. Home performed his otherworldly talents for such people as Napoleon III and one of my favorite poets of all time, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

Graham also features profiles of modern-day ghost hunters and mediums, plus urban legends, ghost stories, ghost-hunting checklists, quizzes and activities. Ever wonder how to use a pendulum or find spirits with dowsing rods? Plan ghostly parties with games, movie suggestions and nifty recipes? It's all in there.

If this had been around when I was a kid, it would have received a place of honor on the bookshelf next to all my Nancy Drew books. I would have also been less scared and more informed when I had my own experiences with the paranormal. If you have adventurous children, boys or girls, get this book for them, or you can just get it for yourself, put on your comfy PJs and feel like a giggly 11-year-old again.

THE GIRLS' GHOST HUNTING GUIDE by Stacey Graham is published by Sourcebooks and available in paperback and PDF.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Review: Taft 2012 by Jason Heller

Ever wonder how historic politicians measure up to today’s electoral circus? TAFT 2012: A NOVEL by Jason Heller (Quirk Books) tackles that question with an entertaining plot twist, bringing back William Howard Taft from 1913 and plunging him into the bizarreness of 2012. Taft has to navigate social waters he never imagined, from television studio audiences to the proper way of escaping from an impromptu and ill-advised New Year’s Eve celebration underneath a strange woman.

Taft’s journey through a world he never wanted to see is intriguing and reveals much about how politics have changed through the years, and how much they haven’t changed at all. Heller’s side bits of talking heads on television and social media commentary is so spot on, I had to put the book down occasionally. The political fighting in-book gave me the same twitch it does in real life, so kudos to the author for authenticity. He casts a light on the constant, ever-hungry media and its role in politics.

I also liked Taft’s relationship with Irene; to me, that felt more like the heart of the book than his relationships with descendants. I did think the main issue of artificial food was featured too much throughout the book. I love a good running joke as much as anyone, and I understand that issue was used to avoid any of the lightning rod issues that get so many people’s knickers in knots today, but it could have used a lighter touch.

I also wanted to know more about how Taft got here. I was expecting some scientific or mystical group who found a way to boot him from their own century, not that he just fell asleep and nobody noticed some giant dude on the White House grounds for 100 years. While the Rip van Winkle device keeps the reader focused on the politics, a richer plot could have been immensely entertaining as well.

Overall, this is a great book to read in an election year, especially since this year is packed with posturing and never-ending debates. It also makes you wonder how many other historical figures would deftly defend themselves against a plugged-in populace and rabid media if given the chance.

TAFT 2012: A NOVEL by Jason Heller is available in any format you like, including paperback, Kindle and Nook.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Never Too Old for Catwoman

The stereotype of girls never going into comic book stores has always irked me a bit. I’ve shopped in those stores for twenty years, and I remember seeing other females in there, too. Part of my cynical brain says, “Hey, when people say that, they’re making a derogatory comment and inferring that “hot” girls are never in there, not normal chicks who just want the latest issue of Groo or Batman.”

Yeah, well…point taken. I was never in that category, but I’m now in a new rare group: forty-something women who go out in public to buy comics. I get a variety of stares when I do this, from the quizzical to the pitiful. Because so many comic book stores have come and gone in my time (I counted six different locations in the last fifteen years or so) I buy my comics now at the local Hastings. They have a decent selection, a nice back-issue collection, and they actually stock more than one copy of Previews. They also have the book side, so I figured I would see more women my age indulging in comics.

Eh, not so much. Yesterday I had the latest Wonder Woman and a copy of Non-Sport Update in my hands as I perused all the new “John Carter of Mars” spin-offs when I saw her: she was about my age, maybe a few years older. She was between the Captain America aprons and the first rack of back issues when we locked gazes; I smiled in recognition of a fellow comics fan. She gave me a once-over as if she were preparing to describe me to police later, and rushed off to herd her daughter away from the stoner t-shirt section. The John Wayne commemorative cup she clutched in a death grip should have been a clue, I guess.

The thing is, comic books have been around for a long time, and some people don’t see them as just a distraction for the kids. They’re part of a satisfying life for fans, and those fans will get older. More of them these days are women. Passers-by may think being a comic fan or a D&D fan or a anime fan is creepy after a certain age, but we still feel sixteen on the inside. So if you see a middle-aged, goofy-looking woman slowly browsing comics, remember this: I’m not after your kids. I just want the latest issue of Catwoman.

Photo credit: Flickr/ShellyS

Friday, February 3, 2012

First Friday AW Review: A Life Gone Awry: My Story of the Elan School by Wayne Kernochan

I’ve done a lot of book reviews, but I’ve never read a nonfiction book more painful and eye-opening than Wayne Kernochan’s book. His memories are laid down bare, and the narrative is a staccato, matter-of-fact voice, almost like an old-fashioned light-bulb interrogation in a faded police movie.

The abuse he describes during his years at the Elan school is shocking and sad. I can’t imagine anyone benefiting from beatings, emotional abuse and humiliation, let alone an entire facility thinking this program would be a good idea for teenagers with emotional problems. The description is powerful, and occasionally it literally is blow-by-blow as teens are beaten for hours or forced to fight with each other.

His recollections paint a vivid picture of inmates in charge of the asylum, ramping up the violence through control and frustration. There’s no mention of licensed therapists or other professionals intervening, which should be a chilling thought to any parent.

Even with the epilogue mentioning that the school finally closed in 2011, there doesn’t seem to be a happy ending here, and one would imagine that most of the kids processed through this facility suffer from PTSD at the least. Kernochan himself mentions that he went on to prison afterward.

As for the book’s style, I was a bit lost in the beginning, but that may have been the author’s choice to simulate his own innocence going into Elan. His personal history is mentioned later in the book, but I think it could be even more effective interspersed between the memories of Elan, showing his life before, during and even afterward. All together, it’s a young life torn asunder by ignorance and aggression, recorded for history’s sake by one brave survivor.

A LIFE GONE AWRY: MY STORY OF THE ELAN SCHOOL by Wayne Kernochan is available through Amazon in Kindle format.

Friday, January 6, 2012

First Friday AW Review: From Weakling to Warrior by Jennifer Greenleaf and The Pantry Cleaner by Mysti Reutlinger

It’s a new year and a new beginning to AW First Fridays! Because it’s still resolution season, I’ve picked two nonfiction books to review: From Weakling to Warrior: A Bodybuilding Book by Jennifer Greenleaf, and The Pantry Cleaner: Chemical Free Cleaning by Mysti Reutlinger.

One focuses on fulfilling a dream for yourself and the other focuses on doing something healthy for your family.

I’ll admit it: I don’t know much about bodybuilding. But Greenleaf’s book is perfect for the novice bodybuilder, and includes checklists and instructions on nutrition, exercise, and maintenance. Much of the content is common sense, especially if you’ve been up and down the weight loss path like me. Eat the right things, cut out the junk, and remember above all else to warm up and stay flexible. I also learned that how warm you keep your house can affect your bodybuilding efforts, and proper form in your training is the key to everything. I was impressed at how the author underscores the importance of gathering all the information before making a decision to bodybuild, from the cost of supplements and trainers to how much time and organization will be involved in maintaining those impressive pecs. If you’re thinking about bodybuilding or know someone who wants to do it, get this book for them.

The Pantry Cleaner: Chemical Free Cleaning is an eye-opening book about the products you use every day, and how you get the same or better results with a few time-honored classics. Most cleaners have ingredients that not even a Harry Potter spell-caster could pronounce, and side effects including nausea, skin irritation and even impaired body organs. Reutlinger has included the Material Safety Data Sheets so you can see just how toxic some chemicals can be. Fortunately, the basic cleaning supply list is short and sweet, including ingredients you may already have, from olive oil to baking soda. I’ve used many of these ingredients and techniques myself, and they do work well. The diluted vinegar and newspaper approach for glass cleaning is effective, although I’ll add something so you can learn from my mistake: never do this to a car. Yeah. Not good.

I highly recommend The Pantry Cleaner for anyone committed to living a greener or less toxic life, and I hope that she’ll come out with a sequel soon.

Both books are available at in paperback and Kindle formats.