Friday, May 29, 2009

Twilight Zone graphic novels

It's hard to find a modern-day television series that continually offers intelligent scripts and thoughtful commentaries on society and history. Due to its creativity, imagination, and daring, the original Twilight Zone has always been one of my all-time favorite television series. It never scared me; it always intrigued me, and it always made me think, be it about injury, beauty, regret, global warming, fear, or the very essence and meaning of life.

Bloomsbury and Walker Books now bring The Twilight Zone to a new generation, thanks to their line of graphic novels based on the classic episodes. Most of these new adaptations have stuck to the original scripts.

However, something gets lost in translation, and I think it's because of the medium. There are different mediums and different formats for different stories and different people. Though I like graphic novels, they don't have sound. Thus, though Mark Kneece has adapted the original scripts, these new books lack the amazing narration previously provided by Rod Serling. I miss his voice while I turn the pages. I miss real movement and sound: the turn of a head, the whistle of a train, the rustle of wings, the laugh of a villain. I miss seeing a character's face crumble upon hearing or realizing what's happened, hearing the crunch of glass(es) and the final crescendo of music. Yes, some of those things may be conveyed on a page, but not all of them, not in the same way. Graphic novels provide a different kind of movement, from panel to panel, page to page. Graphic novels have benefits TV and film do not, and vice-versa. I just think the other dimensions - the dimension of sight (in this case, movement), the dimension of sound - on the TV show intensify the experience of The Twilight Zone.

The new books are full-color, with art created by students and faculty members of The Savannah College of Art and Design that will surely catch your eye. These bright palettes of color are another notable change from the originals. Though the 1983 film and various remakes of the TV series were shot in color, the original TZ was shot in black and white. Were these wholly new stories, I probably wouldn't think so much about this, but because I know the original series so well, those episodes are burned into my brain. I cherish well-shot black and white films and series, those which are stark and intense, with shadow and substance. If the rumored Leonardo DiCaprio-produced Twilight Zone film ever comes to fruition, perhaps they'll make it in black and white.

Hopefully, these new graphic novels based on episodes of The Twilight Zone will encourage kids to watch the classic television series, and to read the original short stories that inspired so many of those episodes. Maybe these new readers will create graphic novels or short stories of their own. Maybe they'll draw up storyboards and film these stories, beginning their own thoughtful and haunting anthologies.

So far, four Twilight Zone graphic novels are available:
- The After Hours
- Walking Distance
- The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
- The Odyssey of Flight 33

...and more are planned:
- The Midnight Sun (coming out in June)
- Deaths-Head Revisited (coming out in June)
- The Big Tall Wish (fall 2009)
- Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? (fall 2009)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Book Fair for Boys is still cranking along

An unexpected late post that is bringing the Book Fair a bit more attention has persuaded us to keep things alive through the week. Please read my earlier post on our project to help the teen boys held in the LA County juvenile justice system. And for everyone who has bought a book so far - thank you so very very much. (And yep Catch-22 is still on the list!)

Behind the cut, read what many contributors have already sent.

These are not all the books purchased - some folks have bought books without letting us know but we thank you all the same! Also, some purchases seemed to have been made concurrently, so we have a few duplicates. Not to worry - this will work out just fine as the guys like to read books at the same time (so they can talk about them) and also some guys read much slower than others. Now on to the list!

Nancy bought Something Wicked This Way Comes (Essential October reading)

Jessica from LA bought Sleeper Code, Sleeper Agenda and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Leila from Maine bought On Writing (totally indispensable in my book), Acceleration and It's Kind of a Funny Story

Becker from CO bought The Wednesday Wars, Geography Club (one of the best books ever I think) and Wide Awake

Seth from NY State bought Seabiscuit, The Visual Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs (that's about as good as it gets as far as I'm concerned), The Schwa Was Here, Shakespeare Bats Cleanup and Romiette and Julio

Kris from Georgia bought The Things They Carried (this book changed my life) and Runaways Vol. 1

Charlotte from New England bought Holes and My Family and Other Animals (funniest book ever!)

E Luper bought Seabiscuit (this blew my mind when I read it) and Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie

Maureen Frank from LA bought Something Wicked This Way Comes, Riding Rockets (astronauts rule!!), Satchel Paige & Rio Grande Stories

Michael from NY bought Candy

Heather bought Fallen Angels, Autobiography of My Dead Brother (Go Walter Dean Myers!) and Bud, Not Buddy

Brenda from Seattle bought Into the Wild and Hatchet (Gary Paulsen rules)

Michael & Katharine in Austin, TX bought Laika (I defy you to read this book without crying - it's amazing history), Runaways Vol. 1 and Jurassic Park

Scott & Michelle from Kansas bought Looking for Alaska (yea John Green!), Life of Pi, Ranger's Apprentice and Fast Food Nation (the boys who read this will never eat MacDonald's again...)

Jen Robinson (the awesome Jen Robinson!) in CA bought The Giver, Silverfin: James Bond #1, Heat (if you know Jen, it makes perfect sense that she bought a baseball book) and Notes From the Midnight Driver

Elisabeth bought Tyrell, Tears of a Tiger and its two sequels (how cool is that - they weren't even on the list!), Forged by Fire and Darkness Before Dawn

"A Shared Meal" from Shanghai, China bought A Rose That Grew From Concrete (because poetry is cool)

Nephele from Pasadena bought The Alchemist and King Dork (maybe we need to add "Catcher in the Rye to the list now..... :)

Julie from Seattle bought A Long Way Gone

Loree from Massachusetts (the fabulous Loree Griffin Burns actually - author of Tracking Trash whose book would have been on the list if it was out in tpb!) bought the Field Guide to Birds in CA, Snake Scientist and Once a Wolf

Jamison, also in Massachusetts, bought The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman for everyone!

Kelly in Tucson, AZ bought graphic bios for both Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson, two great Americans we all should know about

Kerry in FL bought Gregor the Overlander, Gorilla Doctors, Ultimate Spider-man (whoo-hoo!), Zombie Haiku, Looking for Life in the Universe and Beginning Chess (Is this the most eclectic group of books from the list or what?)

Christine bought Ysabel which won a ton of awards and was one of my favorite reads last year. Plus Guy Gavriel Kay is a baseball fan - go Red Sox!

Heidi bought Octavian Nothing Vol. 1 (whoa....)

Julie from VA bought The Sledding Hill (Chris Crutcher rules!) and Schooled

Kimberly from S. Dakota bought Fahrenheit 451 and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Ray and Harry - pretty good reading combo!)

Laura from NY bought the Dark is Rising set (go Susan Cooper!), Sunrise Over Fallujah, Neverwhere, Just So Stories (Kipling!), and It

Catie In CA bought Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban, Coraline, The Hot Zone, Peak, Lonely Werewolf Girl (LOVED this - wicked cool werewolf wars!), Inside Out, Always Running and Pride of Baghdad (can't read this one without crying at the end.......)

Cheryl from San Jose also got Prisoner of Azkaban (we are buying so fast we are overwhelming the system at Powells, I think) and Feed!

Sarah from Austin, TX bought Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (clearly we are all big HP fans...)

Janet bought Kon Tiki (as we know Kristopher's post a few months ago, this is a book that will change your life forever) The Right Stuff, Dogs I Have Met and From Baghdad With Love

Blacklin bought Something Wicked This Way Comes (and Bradbury love keeps going)

Janet from the UK bought From Baghdad With Love, Throne of Jade (go Naomi Novik!), Hitchiker's Guide to the Universe and the Marvel Comics Illus Last of the Mohicans (This is exactly how I learned the classics...)

Lisa from MA bought The Perfect Storm, Territory (wicked cool magic spin on the OK Corral), Baseball in April and Other Stories and Summerland

CC also bought The Perfect Storm (you can not have too many copies of a classic)

Kat bought Two Fisted Science (yea Jim Ottavini!), Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Life, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, HItchhiker's Guide to the Universe, Worlds to Explore, Winterdance, From Both Sides Now, Found Dogs and The Dogs Who Found me. Kat - YOU ARE OUR HERO!!!

Sherry bought Dreams From My Father (sending some Barack Obama love...)

Natalie from Northern Virginia bought Hoot and Small Steps (the sequel to the fabulous Holes)

Jessa from NH bought Make Lemonade (she was happy to find a girl's voice - we've got a few on the list, Jessa!)

Jessica in VA bought The Man in the Iron Mask (Marvel illus of course!), We Wish to Inform You...., The Photographer (sitting right here beside me right now - it is fantastic) and My Side of the Mountain

Shannon from Richardson, TX bought M is for Magic (Hmm, whose more popular, Gaiman or Bradbury?)

Miss T bought M is for Magic also (looks like that one was bought at the same time by two folks - Gaiman is surging ahead!), Al Capone Does My Shirts, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time and The Gift of Fear

Lynne from Ohio bought Once a Wolf (great nature title - very popular in my house), Code Talkers and finished off Naomi Novik's series with Black Powder War and Empire of Ivory

Chris bought American Shaolin and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (we're closing in on the complete set...)

Jenn also jumped on American Shaolin (these orders went through at the exact same time - I basically watched it happen - who knew this one would be an immediate hit?) and Hero!

Drew ordered Freak Show (wildest cover ever!), The Saints of Augustine and Rainbow Boys

Leigh from Tucson, AZ order Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (almost there...), Interworld and A Dog's Life (we seem to have a lot of dog lovers)

Sherrie from CA bought The Audacity of Hope (Obama is popular) and Among the Hidden

Heidi in TX bought The Martian Chronicles, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (preordered as the tpb is due out in July - now the HP set is complete!), Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises, Dogsong, Last of the Breed (awesome Cold War/espionage/fighter pilot/Native American coolness), the Illustrated Book of Myths and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Heidi - YOU ROCK!

Kate from Geneva, Switzerland (!) bought Airman, the Caesar Chavez biography, Ghost in the Tokaido Inn, (one of the best MG/YA mystery series out there) Good Omens, The Watsons Go to Birmingham and The Illustrated Man (more Bradbury!)

Trev from WA state bought Misfits, On the Road (Hey Kerouac!) and I Wouldn't Start From Here (my interview with the author runs next week in the Summer Blog Blast Tour)

Patty in Michigan bought Astronomy and Secrets of Sound (animal sounds that is...)

Jodie just chimed in from England with purchases of some second copies some great titles, The Legend of Colton Bryant (I reviewed this last year and adored it), Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Throne of Jade, Last of the Mohicans & From Baghdad with Love

Sara Lewis Holmes (the divine Sara - it was her post way back more than a year ago that sparked GLW in the first place!) bought some of her favs: Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (never get enough of Sherman Alexie), Son of the Mob, American Born Chinese, Hole in my Life and I am the Messenger (how did we forget to put this on the list?)

Jackie in Toronto bought Julie of the Wolves (tough Alaska girl survival story), Grayson, In Darkness, Death and The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

Starrie bought The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, Tamar (awesome WWII intrigue) and Ball Don't Lie

Benjamin bought Howard Zinn's Young People's History of the US (cause history is cool you know....)

Julie from NYC bought Redwall #1, The Afterlife, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key and Jarhead (one of the best books on the USMC ever written, according to my brother - who oughta know)

GD (freshly graduated librarian school student!) bought Firewatch (Connie Willis!!!) and Maxiumum Ride #1

Angela bought Runaways #2 (love this series) and Life As We Knew It

Jodie came back for more with Liquor (the first Rickey & G-man novel), How to Draw Cars Like a Pro, Airborn, The Bug Scientists, Mossflower & The Hungry Ocean Jodie - YOU ARE THE COOLEST!! THANKS

Trisha bought Travel Team and Cooked (a memoir that I really want to read)

Lorie Ann from WA (one of the readergirlz divas!) bought Locomotion

Mikki from Brooklyn bought The Sea Dragons (underwater dinosaur-type creatures!), Warriors #2 and A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

Midori from AZ bought The Big Sleep, As Simple As Snow and threw in Walter Mosley's Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and two Tim Cahill titles, Jaguars Ripped my Flesh and A Wolverine is Eating My Leg (ew.....)

David from New England (and a GLW regular contributor) bought Shark Trouble and Howard Zinn's People's History of the US

Holly from WA (another fabulous readergirlz diva!) bought Fat Kid Rules the World

Pinguinus from Brooklyn, who writes a great birding blog, bought Project Ultra Swan (which makes perfect sense!)

Alyssa, Jake and Gregory three teens from CA bought Ender's Game, The Eyes of the Dragon and Dateline: Troy (which is an amazing book and really brought the Greeks alive for me)

Kim from Portland, OR bought Percy Jackson #1 (we're going to have these guys addicted to like eight different series!)

Eve from East Midlands, England bought The Wee Free Men and A Hatful of Sky - more Pratchett, YEA!

Erin from Portland bought Percy Jackson #2 and #3 (so I just added #4) and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Donna from Connecticut bought If I Die in a Combat Zone

Eugene from NYC bought Coyote Road - another great Terri Windling/Ellen Datlow anthology

Melanie from Nashville, TN bought Farthing (Jo Walton is so cool!) and A River Runs Through It

GLW's own aquafortis from CA bought Deogratias (which makes perfect sense as she was the one who suggested we put it on the list!)

"qugrainne" from Milwaukee, WI bought Bad Boy (Walter Dean Myers' excellent memoir) and The Sword That Cut the Burning Grass

Steampunk vamps and undersea adventure

I'm all about cool fantasy titles over at my column in Bookslut this month; two novellas in particular stood out for me that I thought GLW readers would enjoy. If you're in the mood for alt history vamps or Sherlock Holmes with serious style, I have the books for you.

Elizabeth Bear’s new novella Seven for a Secret is a sequel to her alternate history saga, New Amsterdam. This time her vampire main character Sebastien and his companion, the sorceress detective Lady Abigail Irene, find themselves embroiled in a plot by Prussian invaders to conquer Russia -- the last strong holdout in a Europe that has been overrun and occupied. The couple has returned to London for the elderly Abigail Irene’s death but it is not comfort they find in this occupied city. The action begins early on when on a protective whim Sebastien follows a pair of teenage girls out late one night who are in danger of falling victim to loyal Brits who will not favor their Prussian military dress. There is something about the girls that strikes him as odd and as he reveals a few gathered clues to Abigai,l Irene and their friend Phoebe they realize that an attempt is being made by the Prussians to form a squad of werewolves that could be unleashed on the Russian front. Whether the girls (who are part of this) can be saved or must be sacrificed is a point of contention that is not solved until Sebastien meets with one of them and discovers her secret. He realizes that the adults are not the only ones with a plan, nor are they necessarily the most powerful ones in the plot to change the world.

While I enjoyed New Amsterdam immensely (and highly recommend it), Bear surprised me by making this very teen friendly sequel. Ruth and Adele, the teens Sebastien follows, carry their fair share of the story and are strong characters. Bear also does a great job of rewriting history here, with a dark version of 1938 that fits perfectly into might-have-been territory. (See Jenny Davidson’s The Explosionist or Jo Walton’s Farthing for other excellent alt-histories set in this period.) While the book will be most enjoyed by fans of Amsterdam, as it follows up on events there, new readers will find much to be excited about with Ruth and Adele as they face grave choices about loyalty to country, self and each other. It is clear that children are the new weapon of choice in this war but in a very unconventional matter. Bear provides plenty of political intrigue, some tension and enough mythic conversation to make readers long for a mystical library collection of their own. It’s nice to see Abigail and Sebastien still on the side of the good guys here, and even better to find a teenager who is bloody well tough enough to take on the true face of evil.

Alternate history detective Professor Langdon St. Ives returns in Subterranean Press’s The Ebb Tide, a steampunk adventure that includes one wicked cool submarine, a lost (and recently recovered) map, mysterious bad guys with guns and a final confrontation in Morecambe Bay “with its dangerous tides and vast quicksand pits.” St. Ives continues to be his brilliant deductive self although this time around more of the action is focused on stalwart sidekick (and faithful biographer) Jack Owlesby, who affords himself quite admirably in several dangerous situations above water and below.

Together with old friends and new, St. Ives and Owlesby are on the hunt for the suspected alien device from the Yorkshire Dales Meteor, which was lost in Morecambe Bay years before while under the care of Bill “Cuttle” Kraken who created a map of his intended route across the bay before succumbing to its treacherous tides. Just what the device is capable of no one knows but recovering it before the evil Ignacio Narbondo (otherwise known as “Frosticos”) is imperative. When the map is found, Ives is quickly on Kraken’s trail and along with Owlesby, a talented street urchin, and others who support him in his current days of banishment from the Explorers Club, the race is on to beat Frosticos. The discovery of a shipyard below the River Thames keeps things moving while introducing several of the mechanical devices that steampunk fans will enjoy. Everything leads to a confrontation with dastardly villains, one of whom gets his just deserts. All’s well that ends well (mostly) as Owlesby is victorious and the device -- whatever its origins might be -- is revealed at last.

Author James Blaylock keeps the action moving, the pithy comments flowing and the dire circumstances just this side of believable as St. Ives maneuvers his way around his arch enemy. Accompanied by J.K. Potter’s always stellar illustrations, The Ebb Tide is one of the better fantasy adventure characters I have come across in ages. Modern teens will love St. Ives but the inclusion of talented teen Finn Conrad (former circus acrobat of course) will keep them particularly riveted. There is nothing not to like about this novella and a lot to recommend it. Be sure to check out Blaylock’s other St. Ives adventures as well. (And don’t miss his afterword to the The Ebb Tide, a delightful combination of fact and fiction as the author ruminates on writing his story.)

[cross posted from Bookslut]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Sixth Sense vs. Turn of the Screw

You’ve seen The Sixth Sense, right?

And you remember the super secret shocker ending, right? Now imagine this. What if the movie had ended before the secret was revealed? And you and your pals walk out saying, “That was some weird stuff, but what the heck happened?”

Later a Taco Bell, you go, “Wait a minute! What if the kid saw…”

And your buddy goes, “But the kid didn’t see…”

And you go: “But maybe he did, but he didn’t realize …”

And so on.

Well, that’s what happened 100 years before The Sixth Sense with Henry James and his whacked out ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw.” He freaked people out and forgot to calm them down by turning the lights on at the end of the story. The secret stays secret.

If you’ve thought about tackling a "classic," this one isn’t a bad place to start. For one thing it’s short. For another it’s a page turner. Some of the sentences made my brain glaze over, but there's plenty of straightforward stuff to get you through.

And then there’s the big secret for you to chew over for a while.

The upshot is that a na├»ve, young lady lands her first job as a governess. “Go to my creepy country estate,” says her new boss, “and take care of a couple of orphans. It pays great, but there’s just one rule: don’t bug me -- no matter what happens.”

Things do happen, of course. AND things have happened in the past, which the boss failed to mention. Such as the untimely death of the previous governess. (You saw that coming, right?)

Then it’s all ghosts and creepy kids and who is lying to whom and more ghosts until suddenly - BAM - the story is over before the big secret comes out. IF there was a big secret. Maybe the big secret is that there wasn’t a big secret.

When you’re done with the story, you can go online and read the many, many theories about just what happened. These are often called “literary criticism,” but they’re really just seriously geeked-out Taco Bell conversations.

Where we stand on books for boys

The books are still arriving at InsideOut Writers for the Book Fair for Boys. We are going to give the project a week for the dust to settle and then we'll share how many books arrived, how the library is being set up (there are so many books we might have books in more than one location as there are three juvenile detention centers in LA County) and what the boys think. Keep in mind though, as awesome as the response has been we are still looking at about 300 books for 2,500 boys. This is just the beginning of our commitment to this project and we look forward to what comes next.

[Post pic of Eve's house as she opens books - read more, including some of the messages from folks who donated books, in her latest entry.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For Surfers

Saw this in a recent issue of Booklist and couldn't resist passing along the review to you. Sounds like perfect summer reading if you live on the coast (which, incidentally, is where I grew up).
Fierce Heart: The Story of Makaha and the Soul of Hawaiian Surfing by Stuart Holmes Coleman:

Dude! Hang ten! Don’t wipe out! Such phrases, both quaint and common, have their genesis on the sylvan shores of the Hawaiian islands, home to the ancient and modern sport of surfing. And nowhere has the taming of the waves been more revered or refined than in the tiny, isolated village of Makaha on Oahu’s wild western coast. Led by the aptly named Buffalo Keaulana, a ragtag group of rebels and outlaws, loners and drifters, natives and haoles found solace and sought glory there through the study and mastery of towering walls of water. Inspiring and inspired by the gentle songs of Makaha’s giant Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole, this renegade village came to embody the peace and power of the ocean. Coleman richly pays homage to the legendary pioneers who elevated surfing from an island pastime to an international competition and shares stories of the great generosity, unwavering courage, and audacious vitality of the surfers who epitomize the deep cultural resonance of the Hawaiian spirit.

Monster Maker by Nicholas Fisk

Matt finds himself working his dream job - assistant to a special effects artist - but after being injured during a fight, he finds himself wondering if the creatures from the workshop have come to life.

One of the shelves in my bedroom is devoted to the books I loved as a kid. Last month I talked about one such "classic," and my May entry is devoted to another.

Back in 1979, I was ::cough, cough:: years old. I would go to my local library on the weekends like a devoted soul attends church or synagogue. Imagine my delight when I found a brand new book, protected by that crinkly cellophane jacket. Monster Maker (back then I never looked at author names, but the fellow who wrote the book was Nicholas Fisk). It had an exciting cover, featuring all sorts of monsters. And that brings me to another childhood love: monster movies, especially the Japanese men-in-rubber-suits sort of flicks. Godzilla was my muse.

I devoured the book in the car with as much relish as a dragon chomps on hapless princesses.

British 14 year-old Matt lands a job with his idol, a famous monster maker, Chancey Balogh, who builds mechanical creatures for Hollywood. Balogh is working on his magnum opus, a fire-breathing beast named Ultragorgon. This monstrosity is so life-like that Matt finds Ultragorgon haunting his dreams.

Life for Matt grows worse when the school bullies begin harassing him. The bullies (who come from impoverished households) discover Matt carrying several pound notes, money given to him by Chancy, and start nicknaming him "Moneybags Matt." Soon, Matt finds himself fighting the bullies and, without knowing it, suffers from a concussion.

Here the book takes a surreal turn. He starts seeing out of the corner of his eye the creatures from the workshop. Had Chancey's genius brought the monsters to life? But when he tells the girl he likes, even Chancey, no one believes him.

Matt's fascination with Ultragorgon becomes an obsession. And when the bullies plan to rob and vandalize the workshop, things take a frightening turn.

What I found so endearing about this book was that, as a kid, I found imagination so powerful that it could make the distinction between reality and fantasy blur. I wondered, while turning the pages, did the monsters come alive because of Matt's concussion or his yearning for them to be more than metal and plastic creations.

Fisk's work seems to have faded from too many shelves, a tragedy. The world needs more makers of monsters. And stories.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bonechiller by Graham McNamee

It's the middle of the night and freezing, because this is Canada in December, and Danny is on his way home when he senses something following him. Something big and fast and soundless as it runs, something unlike anything Danny has ever seen before, that catches him as he nears home.

At first, the only proof Danny has that something out of the ordinary happened are a small blue mark on his hand where he was bitten and the giant footprints he finds in the snow the next morning. The prints are at least twice the size of Danny's feet, complete with claw marks, but Danny's brainy pal Howie is sure they're fake. Then the creature attacks Howie.

As Howie begins to piece together the clues that tell of a long pattern of missing teens, all bitten by a strange creature, then lured into the cold winter night, never to be seen again, he and Danny start to feel the effects of the bite. One of their classmates, Ray, fell ill with some sort of infection and ran away from the hospital where doctors were trying to treat him. Danny and Howie are sure Ray was the creature's first victim this winter. Will they be able to avoid Ray's fate?

Bonechiller by Graham McNamee reads almost like an episode of Supernatural, circa Season 1, but without Sam and Dean. (And not written by a guy named Chuck.) This isn't blood-and-guts horror, but a gradually-building supernatural thriller. McNamee deftly conveys his characters' dread and their determination to escape the creature, while also leaving the reader wondering how Danny and Howie can manage such a thing.

Danny's first-person narration is merely serviceable and I do wish the pacing had been better, because after the initial attack on Danny, not much happened for about the next 60 pages. But once the story got going, I forgot about about these complaints. Instead, I would swear that the air around me got cooler and the breeze stronger as I read deeper into the book. While the creature is physically terrifying, McNamee uses a less-is-more approach when it comes to its physical appearance. True, he does describe the way it looks and how it frightens Danny, but the main focus is on the creature's psychological effect on Danny and Howie: the way it relentlessly chases them and invades their dreams, and their knowledge, based on what they have learned of its previous victims, that they have less than two weeks to find a way to survive.

[cross-posted at The YA YA YAs]

Friday, May 22, 2009

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Jamie was stealing iPods for Fat Larkin by hitting joggers over the head with a pointy alarm clock. ("I mostly went for mom types or fat people because they were the easiest to knock unconscious. I'm still small for my age.") Fat Larkin rewarded Jamie with a nice one: color, 80GB, and--most importantly--loaded with a bunch of punk rock, like Dropkick Murphys, the Dead Kennedys, and Minor Threat. Fat Larkin somehow knew that Jamie was into punk, started calling him "Punkzilla," and pretty soon everyone in Portland was calling him that, too.

Fourteen-year-old Punkzilla/Zilla/Jamie has found himself in some tenuous circumstances, after running away from military school, going off medication for his ADD, ending up in Portland ("PORTLAND, OREGON, NOT PORTLAND, MAINE"), falling in with the likes of Fat Larkin, trying meth for his first time, and finally, hastily, boarding a Greyhound bus when he finds out that his older brother in Memphis is dying.

Punkzilla--the book, and to some extent the character--is a little hard core, recommended for ages 14 and up. It's a collection of letters, mostly from Zilla to his brother, but also a few written back to him. Steer clear if you're uncomfortable reading about some intermittent (but never gratuitous) sex, drugs, and violence. ("I've gotten off here and there but I'm basically talking about hand jobs. I don't mean to be weird P but in your letter you said how you wanted the truth about stuff even if it's ugly and trust me it's going to get a little ugly. Uglier than my skittery penmanship if skittery is even a word.")

But despite the grittiness, Punkzilla still manages to be awfully funny at times, and always real and raw and surprisingly hopeful, as young Zilla navigates some pretty bewildering situations--some of them specific to the sketchiness of being a runaway on the road, and some faced by every restive boy on the brink of becoming a man.

The book was written by Adam Rapp, one of NYC's most exciting younger playwrights, so it's not too surprising that the character Zilla is so believable and appealing. Rapp's gift for drama is also clearly what makes the book itself such a page-turner, with the backstory revealed out of order, in bits and pieces from the letters in Zilla's worn spiral notebook.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Deadline offers readers a scenario that's been done a lot in teen lit and in film. Main character finds out he has a terminal illness and has only a short time left. He decides to make the most of whatever time he's got, and learns more about what it means to live fully than most people who get to stick around for a whole lot longer. This is the deal for high school senior, Ben Wolf. A routine cross country physical turns up the worst possible news: a terminal blood disease. Ben makes the choice to keep the diagnosis to himself, partly because he's sure it will send his mentally-ill mother over the edge, and partly because he doesn't want to go through his last year known purely as "that guy who is going to die." He'd rather pass the days he's got making the football time, driving his hardass conservative civics teacher crazy, and winning the heart of Dallas Suzuki, the girl he's always wanted.

While Chris Crutcher may be working with a theme that's been done many times, Deadline never feels like a book you've read so many times before. You might be surprised by how funny a book this is. Ben meets his fate with as much humor as anyone possibly could. There are laughs in this book, lots of them, which is not something I had anticipated. Now I've read a lot of "teen girl with terminal illness" stories, and most of them didn't make me laugh. Trained by said teen girl books, at first, I couldn't get my head around Ben's reaction to his situation. How did he not break down? Where were the tears, the anger, the shaking of fists, the curses? How could he just go to school and do regular teenage guy things? Well... because he had too many other things he wanted to do, and why waste time?

Deadline is a book that asks the question, "What would you do?" It made me think. It touched on issues that teens should have opinions about: racism, child abuse, mental illness, and the education system. I liked this book a great deal because it moved beyond the typical "young life cut tragically short" story. I liked it in spite of the fact that I knew before I started reading that the main character was going to die, and also in spite of the fact that there were very long football scenes written with a whole lot of sports lingo that made me feel like I was reading a book in Latin. Another reason to congratulate Crutcher is that Ben does not reach the temptingly simple conclusion that Life is Beautiful. Instead, he recognizes that "Planet Earth is a tough town," and his one wish for those he leaves behind is to risk. Reading Deadline will require tissues, don't get me wrong, but you'll put it down feeling like you've read more about living than dying.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Among the men in Alpha Company, Rat had a reputation for exaggeration and overstatement, a compulsion to rev up the facts, and for most of us it was normal procedure to discount sixty to seventy percent of anything he had to say. If Rat told you for example, that he'd slept with four girls one night, you could figure it was about a girl and a half. It wasn't a question of deceit. Just the opposite: he wanted to heat up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt. For Rat Kiley, I think, facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you'd find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute and then multiplying by maybe. ~ Tim O'Brien, "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong"

Here's what's I know for sure: Tim O'Brien was an infantryman in Vietnam. Twenty years later, he wrote a collection of loosely connected short stories, The Things They Carried. He dedicated it to "the men of Alpha Company," listing several people, including Rat Kiley, who later appear as characters in the stories themselves.

After that, nothing's certain. The book moves across a no man's land between the truth and lies, the swampy place where war stories come from.

Rat makes up--probably--a story about a soldier who has his girlfriend choppered into Vietnam from the States. Another grunt wonders about a man he killed, imagining an entire life for him, right up until the night their paths met on a narrow clay path. One story is about a soldier named Norman Bowker, home from the war and haunted by an incident where his cowardice caused another soldier to die. Next, O'Brien writes what seems like a non-fiction essay about Norman, saying he was a real guy but didn't freeze up or let anybody die. "That part of the story was my own," he confesses. Then he tells another story detailing the same incident, but this time, O'Brien himself is the coward.

If it weren't for the tinge of terror and desperation that hangs over every page, all this might come off as coy metafiction or simple bullshit. (Personally, I don't think there's much difference between the two, but that's for another post.) Instead, O'Brien and his characters struggle to explain things they don't have words for, the sort of massive truths that facts alone can't describe.

They're haunted by images, moments when the war grows from simply ugly to outright gothic and almost beautiful. The high school sweetheart from Rat Kiley's story falls in with some Green Berets and starts wearing a necklace of tongues. The soldier O'Brien--or maybe just his fictional stand-in--let die sinks into a field of mud and human shit, folded in with the land and the war. Another soldier steps on a land mine the same moment he steps into a shaft of sunlight, so it seems like, "the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into a tree full of moss and vines and white blossoms."

These images become the leitmotifs, or reoccurring nightmares, that hold the collection together. O'Brien turns them over and over, searching for some answer, some insight into the war, something, even while admitting the whole time that, "In a true war story, if there's a moral at all, it's like the thread that makes the cloth. You can't tease it out. You can't extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there's nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe, 'Oh.'"

But O'Brien persists. He returns to these moments in his writing and in real life. One of the last stories, "Field Trip," is about him visiting Vietnam with his daughter, Kathleen, showing her the fields and little villages where his friends died, where he killed people. While O'Brien is deeply affected by returning, his daughter is bored. She only sees fields and little villages, "flat, dry, and unremarkable." O'Brien can only tell her the facts about the war, not the truth.

The Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote, "In war, truth is the first casualty," back in the fifth century B. C. His little pearl has been pulled out for every war since. But it assumes truth and lies are like oil and water, that one is entirely and eternally separate from the other. Through The Things They Carried, O'Brien suggests something more complicated. That, "For the common soldier, at least, was has the feel--the spiritual texture--of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent. There is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old rules are no longer binding, the old truths no longer true. Right spills over into wrong. Order blends into chaos, love into hate, ugliness into beauty, law into anarchy, civility into savagery. Those vapors suck you in. You can't tell where you are, or why you're there, and the only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Twitter of 1906

I don't find it surprising that with the increase in Internet traffic people find comfort, solace, and convenience in the brevity of Twitter, the "micro blogging" force currently keeping everyone tethered to their electronic devices. Who has time for a newspaper when there are blogs to summarize and excerpt the news, and who has time for blogs when there are plenty of places that will feed you headlines? Why wait until the end of the day to provide the world with an update of your daily travails when you can jot down what is happening, in real time, in short 140 character tidbits?

Instead of 175,000 francs in the coffers deposited with the tax collector at Sousse, there was nothing.

All of this reductive communication might seem unique if it wasn't for the fact that the form is over a hundred years old. Back when newspapers were the Internet people relied on for their daily information needs, there were concrete issues with filling space on the printed page. Extra space in those column inches might be filled with maxims, poetry, or simple quotes culled to give pause or entertain. These bon mots were just as often short news items that didn't require more than a few lines' explanation.

No one ever enters Yolande's house at Montaley, Meudon, through the window by night, so she screamed, and they only took her purse.

I doubt few would look at these space constraints as perfect format for the novel but back at the turn of the twentieth century Felix Feneon did just that. Hired in 1906 to provide short items for La Matin in Paris, he took news items from wire services and other sources as fodder for his inspiration. Writing up to twenty of these nouvelles daily he managed to 1220 of them in less than a year before moving on to other ventures. All but just over 150 of them are collected in Novels in Three Lines, translated and introduced by Luc Sante.

The bread in Bordeaux will not be bloodied this time; the truckers' passage provoked only a minor brawl.

Naturally, the more salacious items make for better stories, and so we find plenty of death and grief and sorrow and murder. As the modern news axiom goes: if it bleeds, it leads. But it's Feneon's ability to crystallize a story to its most basic elements, and in language that weaves a hidden complexity into the deceptive simplicity. While the stories can be read at face value, what makes them novels is what goes unsaid.
By accident or, more probably, suicide, Mme Veit and her daughter Antoinette, 9, drowned in the canal at Nancy.

What?! Children perched on his wall?! With eight rounds M. Olive, property owner in Toulon, forced them to scramble down all bloodied.

Forty gypsies, along with their camels and bears, were forced by gendarmes to leave Fontenay-aux-Roses and for that matter the Seine.

What would cause a mother and daughter to commit suicide together, or a property owner to take pot shots at children sitting on his wall? And what of that pack of gypsies and their camels and bears? Were they just passing through, hiding out, or merely bathing in the Seine? Dark, mysterious and gruesome, and with a demented twist of humor in the telling, each of Feneon's "novels" delivers on the promise that less is more. Any enterprising reader could use this collection as the basis of story seeds, a compendium of examples in summary, or as short bursts of infotainment they were created to be.

Novels in Three Lines
by Felix Feneon
translated and with an introduction by
Luc Sante
NYRB 2007

Monday, May 18, 2009

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford

Crawford has quite a debut novel in Carter Finally Gets It. This is the funniest novel I have read since, Doug MacLeod's I'm Being Stalked by a Moonshadow from over a year ago. Will Carter is entering his freshman year in high school and is trying really hard to get everything right. Carter has attention deficit disorder and occasionally stutters, though usually only around attractive girls. Like most new freshman, Carter is not certain how to act or what to expect and his lack of concentration makes it worse.

Carter's adventures throughout the school year are hilarious. Carter tries out sports, the theatre and avoiding embarrassing nicknames. He narrates the story and includes all of the gory details. Carter is really introspective and he grows greatly throughout the book. This novel is packed with jokes and witty language. Carter experiences his first girlfriend, first high school party and first time driving a humongous pickup truck. Carter's parents are also realistically drawn as they can't help worrying about their son.

Crawford writes in a clear style and yet still captures Carter's confused thoughts. While I'm sure some more superb teen fiction will be published this year, I can't imagine that this won't be among my favorites of '09. This is a brilliant debut by Brent Crawford. Fans of Jordan Sonnenblick and Chris Crutcher should enjoy this novel as well.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Greek Mythology rocks the ages!

(Note: I’ve switched with Kerry this week, who’s the usual poster for this Friday in the month. Hope I do you proud, Kerry!)

Wait! Hold up! If you read nothing else today on Guys Lit Wire, go here and read up on our book fair for needy boys, and, y’know, buy a book for a kid who doesn’t have one. Then come back all feelin’ good and stuff and read my post…

This coming Monday, May 18th, the store I work for (Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA) is hosting author Rick Riordan on his book tour for the latest Percy Jackson title, The Last Olympian. I don’t know how it is where you live, but around here, this series has been that magical “The Next Harry Potter” for awhile. It’s a great series, full of action, coming of age angst, magical beasts and beings, and, of course, save the world level heroics.

If you’re not familiar with the series, here’s the breakdown: Beginning with the first book, The Lightning Thief, the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series tells the story of Percy, a troubled kid in New York, with Dyslexia and ADD, a single mom, and endless amounts of trouble at school, in part because he always thinks his teachers are out to get him. Well, it turns out he’s right, but only because they are monsters from ancient Greek mythology in disguise. You see, Percy doesn’t know it, but he’s the son of a Greek god-you know, the Olympians-and the monsters are on the prowl to destroy any of the gods’ children, known as half-bloods.

That’s the setup, but Rick Riordan does an amazing job of building on the Greek myths, folding them into our modern setting in ways that tickle that part of your brain that, if you’re like me, was totally into mythology back in 4th or 5th grade.
However, considering how popular these books are, you probably already know about the Percy Jackson books. And, considering that The Last Olympian is the last book in this series, you’re probably left not knowing where to go for that mythology buzz you get from this series. Or maybe Riordan has piqued your interest in the Greek myths, but you don’t want to go delving into something that feels a lot like school work. What do you do now?

The question here is really, “What translations of the Greek myths aren’t written for scholars, but written for somebody who just wants the rockin’ story, the larger than life characters, and the powerful language of these tales that have been awesome enough to last thousands of years?”

There’s some interesting stuff out there. Especially on the web. One website I really like is, a place that has encyclopedic entries on lots of the gods, heroes, monsters, and minor players of Greek mythology. It even has ancient art and artifacts to give you visuals of all these legendary figures, and a searchable database of translations—from big guns like Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, to the likes of Hesiod and Apollonius of Rhodes.

But if you want to read gripping tales of legendary heroes, you have to be selective in your pick of translations. The best bang-for-your-buck, most widely-available, gripping read of a translation is Robert Fagles’ rendering of Homer. The two volumes- the Iliad and the Odyssey, are filled with readable, strong prose that moves quick like verse but avoids the sometimes obtuse way that verse can be translated. The Iliad is the book about the final years of the Greek’s siege of Troy, centering on that greatest of Greek warriors, Achilles. This is what that movie Troy was based on. But for me, the Odyssey is the better of the tales. It follows Odysseus, who spent ten years after the war trying to get home. Here’s what I love about the Odyssey: it’s hero, Odysseus? He’s not what you think when you think of heroes-he’s a devious bastard. Herakles was strong and Orpheus was lyrical, Achilles was the powerful warrior and Oedipus the lordly king. But Odysseus was nothing but a guy using all his wits, sacrificing whatever was in his way (including his own men at times) to get back home.

So, other translations of other books? When it comes to old standbys, everybody’s got their personal favorites. Robert Fitzgerald produced translations of Homer, as well as Sophocles. That's the guy who wrote the Oedipus plays. You may know of Oedipus. He’s like those athletes whose careers peak at 23—as a young man Oedipus defeated the fearsome Sphinx in a battle of wits by answering her riddle. He also defeated a king, married the queen, and ended up ruling the city of Thebes. Only, later the land falls under a curse, and he finds out it’s because that king he defeated? It was his dad. So… he married his mother and brought a curse on his people. The saga only gets more gruesome and brutal from there. It’s awesome for tragedy!

The Fitzgerald translation I like, however, is Virgil’s Aeneid. That’s the one where Aeneas, a general at the battle of Troy, leaves in defeat, only to journey, much like Odysseus, through many travails before landing on what is now Rome, thus beginning what will eventually become the Roman Empire. I’m not as big on Virgil, however. I just don’t find it as entertaining a saga as the Odyssey.

Actually, my favorite, most entertaining classic book is Ovid’s The Metamorphoses. Why? Well, first off, it’s like a catalog of almost all the Greek myths. It’s got everything, from the ridiculous (Odysseus and Ajax argue over Achilles’ armor, in which both heroes agree that Odysseus is a silver-tongued con man) to the sublime (Polyphemous the cyclops attempts to woo a beautiful young river goddess, only to lose to a young prince, who he then takes vengeance upon by eating the lad—I mean, you can’t make this stuff up!) to the tragic (the tale of Cadmus and his children is heartbreaking). But the other reason I like Ovid is that he doesn’t hold any false reverence for these tales, the gods, or their offspring. He portrays the gods as the lusty, petty deities they are. The heroes are shortsighted, and at times doofus-y, if I can coin a term.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still lots of fascinating heroics and awesome tales of battle and intrigue, but it feels much more real because the characters have as many foibles as the rest of us. A recent translation by poet Charles Martin gets lots of love, but something about it was just too light for my taste. I prefer my old Horace Gregory translation. It’s a bit more muscular and punchy, which, in this case, I like.

Okay, if you’ve stuck it out this far, let me lay another one on you-not a classic, but a modern tweaking of ancient myth, much in the same vein as the Riordan books. Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hercules is awesome. It’s awesome in the way that every comic I loved as a teenager was awesome, and it’s awesome in the way I now get geeky over references to Greek mythology. Just a pure pleasure of a superhero comic, something I’m finding harder and harder to find nowadays-but that’s a topic for another post.

Suffice it to say, if you like good-old four-color two-fisted comics, this one is hard to beat. Hercules punches his way through any problem, and there’s lots of rollicking good fun in there, as he faces off against his half-brother Ares, his stepmother Hera, still holding a grudge 3000 years later, Amazons, alien pantheons of gods… Just great, great stuff.

Titles Listed:
Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series

Robert Fagles’ translations of Homer’s Illiad and the Odyssey (in one volume, although you can get them separately)

Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid

Horace Gregory’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (this link is to both an out-of-print and current edition because the old edition is a solid book and will hold up over time. I’ve found that, while cheap, Signet editions published in the last decade completely fall apart. It’s like they use post-it glue)

Incredible Hercules, by Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak (multiple volumes here. Start with the World War Hulk book, it’s the first volume)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Ching of the Tao and its Te

Oh, geez, I'm on vacation, and I forgot to bring a book to the beach so I could review it. I left it at the library. So as I packed, I grabbed a couple, thinking I'd decide when I got here which to review. My choices were The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems, by Billy Collins, and Lao-Tzu: Te-Tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-Wang-Tui Texts.

I have to go with Lao-Tzu. My apologies to the wonderful Billy Collins.

Lao-Tzu's book is usually titled Tao Te Ching, roughly translated as The classic (ching) of the Way (Tao) and its Virtue (Te).

Manuscripts found in 1973, more than five centuries older than any others then known, reverse the order of the topics. Translator Robert Henricks presents them here that way, addressing virtue first, then Tao.

The Tao Te Ching has been called a cybernetic holy book. Cybernetics is the science of communication and control in animals and machines (Some plants have recently been discovered to communicate chemically, so it may be time to expand the science.). It developed around the end of World War 2.

Here is the first chapter of the Tao half of the book:

"As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way;
As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousand things;
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Therefore, those constantly without desires, by this means will perceive its subtlety.

Those constantly with desires, by this means will see only that which they yearn for and seek.

These two together emerge;
They have different names yet they're called the same;
That which is even more profound than the profound --
The gateway of all subtleties."

I recommend comparing as many translations as you can find, because there is always something lost in translation. D. C. Lau has done a couple, one before the Ma-wang-tui manuscripts were discovered, and one after. They are both among my favorite versions. I am currently reading a Spanish translation (El Tao Para Todos), hoping to improve my Spanish, and to gain further insight into Chinese wisdom. If you don't like Chinese wisdom, might I recommend The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Putting our money where our mouth is - the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys

In the very beginning GLW started with a mission to bring great books to the attention of teenage boys. We had read the data on boys reading less, heard stories from all over the internet of boys saying they just couldn't find good books to read and as reviewers many of us had ample evidence that more books are published aimed at teenage girls rather than boys. Our goal was to look both at new books and old and write about books we thought boys might like but could have missed. As our group of bloggers is so big (more than two dozen) and so eclectic, we aimed to write about all kinds of books for all kinds of boys and on that front, based on response to that blog, I think we are doing a pretty good job.

But in the grand scheme of things, we just don't think that's enough.

We are moving today into the second phase of GLW, where we put our money where our mouth is and physically act on getting books into the hands of boys that otherwise have none. Today we start the first two week Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys to help the teens incarcerated in the LA County Juvenile Justice System. They have no books - at all - and they need them; they need them desperately.

Time magazine had an article on the juvenile justice system in March which discussed not only recent scandals in juvenile court but also how little attention is being given to recidivism. Here's a bit:
"Many advocates and academics argue that juveniles are not being given enough of a chance to turn their lives around after committing minor offenses. And officials at both the state and federal levels seem to be getting the message. Last summer, after reviewing a large swath of research literature, the Department of Justice concluded that "to best achieve reduction in recidivism, the overall number of juvenile offenders transferred to the criminal-justice system should be minimized." That came three years after the U.S. stopped executing minors, following a Supreme Court decision, Roper v. Simmons, that was largely based on new brain research showing that the full development of the frontal lobe, where rational judgments are made, does not occur until the early- to mid-20s. At the state level, Missouri is leading the country by phasing out its large juvenile-detention institutions in favor of smaller facilities, closer to kids' homes, that offer more specialized services, like mental-health and drug counseling and education. In the process, the state claims to have reduced recidivism rates for juvenile offenders to 10%, compared with a national rate of 40% to 50%. "We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem of juvenile crime," says Shay Bilchik, director of Georgetown University's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, who served as Clinton's point person on juvenile issues at the Justice Department."

There are currently about 50,000 incarcerated juveniles in the U.S. (About another 200,000 juveniles are incarcerated as adults.) In LA County (in 2007) there approximately 2,700 juveniles incarcerated. They are held in three jails: Central Juvenile Hall, Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall. About 300 of those kids (between the age of 12 and 18) are enrolled in voluntary classes through the InsideOut Writers Program. InsideOut is the GLW partner in the Book Fair for Boys.

From InsideOut:

"In a classroom environment free of judgment, students are encouraged to write with clarity and authenticity without worrying about sophistication or grammar. Before each session ends, students are offered the opportunity to read their work aloud. As students’ ability to express themselves grows, so does their self-confidence and motivation to improve other aspects of their lives.

Studies conducted by the Rand Corporation for the L.A. Probation Department have shown that IOW students are less violent than the general population of incarcerated youth. (This finding is not because only non-violent youth are allowed to attend the classes. In fact, the opposite is true. Probation staff often hand-pick the most violent and emotionally distressed youth to take the classes, in hopes that the environment will provide an effective outlet for expressing sadness, depression and anger.) Probation staff and the court school system teachers add that IOW helps youth express their negative feelings through writing, rather than through violence, and that IOW students are better prepared to pass high school exit exams."

IOW is committed to reducing recidivism; it is their primary objective. One of the ways to accomplish that is by getting the boys interested in other things and helping them form goals for after they leave the system. As book lovers, we at GLW believe that books can go a big way towards helping achieve the goal of keeping the boys from returning to prison. In LA County there is no library for the teens held in the juvenile system. The boys can read as many books as they want - but someone has to give them those books. According to IOW they are desperate for books on all kinds of subjects and so, that is what we at GLW are going to try and give them.

The Book Fair for Boys is built around a wish list at Powells Books. We chose Powells because the GLW crew was very determined to use an independent bookstore for this endeavor (another example of putting our money where our mouth is). Everyone gave their ideas of books that teenage boys would love and so we have a wishlist of all kinds of titles. Some of the boys in LA County are reading at the adult level, others are new readers at the picture book level; some are very interested in nonfiction while others hope for novels. What we have built at Powells is a list that is, quite simply, all things for all boys. We've got science fiction and fantasy, history, biography, graphic novels, short stories, war stories, poetry, animal stories and on and on and on. We have put together what we think is the beginning of a library that will be available for any teens using the classrooms in the LA County system. We have, we hope, given them a larger piece of the world that is waiting for them to return to.

And this is just the beginning.

GLW intends to build a longterm relationship with IOW and run book fairs on a semi annual basis. We also have invited IOW to assist the boys in submitting book reviews to our site. We hope in this way to show them that their opinions are valued and to also give them a bit of writing and publishing experience. The book reviews are a way to show that this is not a vanity project - it's a long haul endeavor that hopefully will tie Guys Lit Wire, InsideOut Writers and the boys of LA County for a long long time.

The library will grow as we return to it, and as it grows so will the power of books for boys who have never experienced how magical and transformative books can be.

Going through Powells makes the wish list a little more complicated - they do not operate with a gift registry system yet (although I understand they are working on it). This means that everyone who wants to purchase books for the fair will need to enter the mailing address individually. We hope that the fact that we are buying books from a real independent bricks and mortar store will make up for the inconvenience. Please adhere to the list - the books MUST be paperback - no exceptions. If you want to buy a Standard Used copy that would be fine and hopefully, because of the great sale and used prices at Powells, we will sellout the entire list of 125 books.

You access the Book Fair for Boys list through the main wish list page. Enter our email: From there you can survey the list on one page and after you have made your selections, here is the mailing address:

Eve Porinchak

Eve is one of the volunteer teachers for IOW and while their offices move she has graciously agreed to use her home address for the fair. Please make sure that when you are prompted by Powells, you agree that the books are being bought for the wish list - this way they will tag the books as purchased on the main list.

The Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys will run for two weeks and we invite everyone who buys a book to please comment on our site or send us an email and let us know your first name, where you are from and what you bought so we can run a list of how the Fair is going. We hope to be a sellout, but honestly any number of books will be most welcome. I am a big believer in changing the world in small steps by great masses of people and after seeing how effective Guys Lit Wire can be through the work of many bloggers, I am certain that a group effort can help the boys incarcerated in LA County in a big way. A book can be a small thing in some ways but in others, as so many of us know, it can be everything. We don't think it is enough to just talk about books we love; we want to do something more and we hope that our readers will help us help some boys that really don't know what they are missing.

Hit the wishlist, buy a book and please, let us know what you think of the Book Fair for Boys.

[Post pic at top from Time magazine; all book covers are on the Book Fair for Boys list.]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Poets' Corner, compiled by John Lithgow

Now, the term "the Poets' Corner" has a geographical meaning: it's the phrase used to describe a particular section of Westminster Abbey where a lot of poets, authors and artists are buried. You can read a bit about it at Wikipedia to get the sense of it. But it makes for a catchy title for an anthology of poetry, so I don't blame John Lithgow and/or his editors for picking it. (And yes, it's that John Lithgow, star of 3rd Rock from the Sun, bad guy in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and voice of Lord Farquaad in the Shrek movies.)

I'm not sure if you can completely make out the subtitle to this one, but the book is called The Poets' Corner: The One-and-Only Poetry Book for the Whole Family, compiled by John Lithgow (who, you will recall, is not a professor, although he played one on TV). Let me say this about the subtitle: it's balderdash. Because Caroline Kennedy's A Family of Poems, which I reviewed on my personal blog a while back is decidedly for the whole family, as are a number of other anthologies for children. And the books put together by Garrison Keillor (Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times) are pretty much as capable of being shared with the family as Lithgow's book. Just so we're clear that I take issue with the phrase "one-and-only" here. The rest of the subtitle is fine.

If you were to read the table of contents, you would think that this 280-page book contained fifty poems, one each by fifty poets (organized alphabetically by author's last name: Matthew Arnold through William Butler Yeats). And while that sounds like the premise and is, in fact, what is on the accompanying CD - 50 poems, 1 each by the poets listed in the book - it is not all that is there.

Each poet is introduced in a family-friendly, sanitized kind of way by Lithgow's prose, and then the "featured" poem is introduced. What do I mean by sanitized? Well, Lord Byron is pretty much just referred to as racy, and Lewis Carroll is described as a kindly man who regretted that children had to grow up so quickly, when most people will tell you that he enjoyed the company of little girls and regretted that they had to grow up at all (and not for Peter Pan-like reasons, I think).

After each poem, Lithgow shares his personal response to the poem, including any personal connections he has (after "Birches" by Robert Frost, he shares an anecdote about hanging from a tree by a breaking rope when he was a child, for instance. In addition, for each poet, Lithgow provides a sidebar listing five other favorite poems by the poet (with the following exceptions: he lists only 4 additional poems for Byron and Pound, and lists 6 for Coleridge, Herrick and Shakespeare; he also includes lyrics from one song by Wm. S. Gilbert, who gets nothing more at all).

In addition to the Lithgow commentary and association, for many of the 50 poets, although certainly not all, a second poem is included. Not that you'd know that from the table of contents, although for the life of me I don't understand the omission. And not that you can readily figure it out from the index because there is no index (and yes, I am a curmudgeon, perhaps, but I resent the lack of indices, which ought to include one listing poems by title, and another listing poems by their first line, in my opinion). I can understand the decision to skip an index by author name because of the way the book's organized. There's no effort at chronology here, it's alphabetized by the poet's surname after all. But that's all the more reason that the second poems should have been listed under the poets' names in the table of contents. And yes, little things like this actually bother me in real life. (For example, the table of contents tells you that William Blake's "The Tyger" (from Songs of Experience) is there, but doesn't mention that its cohort from Songs of Experience, "The Lamb", is also included. It tells you that John Keats's "To Autumn" is in the book, but not that his poem "The Belle Dame Sans Merci" is there as well.)

From time to time, there are text boxes with additional information — a quote from the poet, perhaps, or a definition of a poetic form, or a link to someplace on the internet where you can hear the poet reading their own work. This is all welcome, helpful sort of stuff, I think, and I applaud the decision to include it.

What can I tell you about Lithgow's choices of poets and poems? Well, many of them are, for want of a better word, obvious, and cause me to think that Lithgow is fond of reading anthologies himself, since many of his choices are widely anthologized. Here's a sampling of what's there, most of which you've probably heard before, and many of which are in anthologies (including anthologies for children): "The Tyger" by William Blake, "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonnet 43 ("How do I love thee?") by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, "There is no Frigate like a Book" by Emily Dickinson, Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "To Autumn" by John Keats, "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear, "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe, "To a Skylark" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Emperor of Ice Cream" by Wallace Stevens, "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas, "The Red Wheelbarrow" by W.C. Williams, "I wandered lonely as a cloud" by William Wordsworth, and "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W.B. Yeats.

And yet, it's clear to me that Lithgow simply chose to feature some of his favorite poems because of the occasional unexpected choice — such as the lyrics to "The Nightmare Song" by William S. Gilbert — and because of the decisions he made regarding "what to leave in, what to leave out".* He's included Allen Ginsberg, Hart Crane, Randall Jarrell, Ben Jonson, Philip Larkin, and Andrew Marvell. Don't get me wrong, all of them are excellent poets, but they are not nearly so widely anthologized as some of the others, nor are they as esteemed as some of the poets omitted: Robert Browning, say, or Ted Hughes or Sylvia Plath (although their estates are stingy with permissions, so perhaps that was the issue), or Tennyson or Pablo Neruda.

As I mentioned near the top of the post, the book is accompanied by a CD featuring readings of 50 poems, 1 per poet. The readings are each introduced by John Lithgow, who reads several of them himself (and takes on an increasingly obvious mock-English accent in the reading of the Gilbert lyrics). But he managed to get some "friends" to assist. They are Eileen Atkins, Jodie Foster, Gary Sinise, Glenn Close, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Billy Connolly, Robert Sean Leonard, Lynn Redgrave, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, and Susan Sarandon. Let me just say that Billy Connolly's reading of "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns is spectacular, as is his version of "The Owl and the Pussycat" and, oh hell, everything else he reads. I'd probably like to listen to him read the phone book. I heart Billy Connolly and his voice. But I digress. Jodie Foster's readings are glorious, and so are Susan Sarandon's and Gary Sinise's and Morgan Freeman's and, well, if you think I'm going to list everyone, then you're close. There's an occasional track that's only so-so ("Annabel Lee" as read by Sam Waterston, for example) and the track where Kathy Bates gamely reads Gertrude Stein's "If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso" is actually quite tedious to listen to, but really, the CD is great. Only you should be warned that the CD is in MP3 format, which meant that my stereo balked at playing it, although yours might not. The computer had no such issue.

My final take on this book is that despite its maddening omissions in the table of contents and its failure to include useful indices, it's an excellent sort of anthology to pick up if you're looking for a smattering of popular poetry - and you're pretty much guaranteed to read and/or hear quite a few of the most popular poems in the English language with this book, so it's kind of a nice way to ease into the poetry waters, as it were.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mystery and the Mind

There have been several books in recent years where the main characters fall somewhere on the autism or Asperger’s Syndrome spectrum. I am definitely not a medical expert, but I did notice this trend, and hopefully these books will help give folks some insight into how the brain works, and how autism or Asperger’s affects the world-view of some people.

Many of these books are tied in with mysteries. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, and The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd all combine coming of age stories with a central mystery. Some manifestations of autism/Asperger’s are portrayed as helping the characters in solving the mysteries—dependence on routine, obsession with numbers and puzzles, and having spent much of their lives trying to figure people out. Another typical trait of autism/Asperger’s is the lack of understanding of others’ emotions—this shows up in the characters having trouble reading people’s faces and moods, being overwhelmed by sensory input, and sometimes seeming insensitive to others’ thoughts or feelings—not because they’re mean, but because they don’t have a shared understanding of emotion. The first person narration in all of these stories gives you a real sense of being in the character’s head and seeing the world through his eyes.

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin does NOT involve a mystery, but deals more with a young man trying to find his place in the world—working out relationships with his sibling, friends, parents, and girls. Jason finds an outlet for his frustrating relationships in creative writing and routine.

If you’re interested in some true stories about this topic, try these autobiographies: Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin and Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet. Dr. Grandin is a pioneer in the field of humane treatment of animals who are being raised for food, and her autism has informed how she perceives animals’ comfort and worldviews. Tammet describes growing up with a talent for numbers and languages and finding his place in the world where he can use his talents to his advantage—one of his many projects is a company that sells online language courses.

Whether you’re looking for a different world view, or one to confirm that your world-view isn’t as different as you thought, these are all excellent reads. For more information on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, try visiting the Autism Society of America.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Boldly Go

Star Trek is here, finally; or here again, I should say. The new movie, of course, re-invents the original characters and for my money, that original series is still the best. I always found that none of the other incarnations could ever capture quite the same powerful, dynamic characters or the same sense of adventure.

If you've seen all the original episodes so many times you know them by heart (I can't be the only one who did that), or if you just want to immerse yourself in the experience in a different way, grab one of the Star Trek Key Collections (by Giotti), which compile the run of Star Trek comics from the late 60's and early 70's.

As with the episodes themselves (and with any good sci-fi), these stories are loaded with interesting ideas and speculation. In "Museum at the End of Time" (Volume 2), the Enterprise is trapped in a cosmic Bermuda Triangle and must cooperate with the warlike Klingons to escape. In "the Choice" (Volume 4), Captain Kirk's double from alternate timeline forces the crew to confront questions of destiny and free will. These stories also made clever use of the fact that they had no budget constraints and could put the crew into larger, more epic situations that wouldn't have been economical for a weekly television show, like taking on an army of automated destroyers (Volume 1) or dealing with a hostage situation involving an entire miniaturized planet (Volume 3).

The art is impressively gritty and textured and the action has an impressively realistic energy. Volume 2 also features early stories by Len Wein, who went on to co-create both the Swamp Thing and Wolverine (!).

Is it a flawless Star Trek experience? That would be stretching it. Are some of the ideas loopy? Yes, particularly in Volume 1, where things like voodoo dolls make a difficult match with science fiction. Are the phasers pink? Well, yes, they are. In the early volumes, some of the figural and color art (as well as the written depiction of some of the characters) is not exactly consistent with the show. But with eight complete adventures in each volume, that's a lot of bang for your buck, and these things are a huge amount of fun.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a fresh and unusual take on the series, there's Star Tr
ek Manga: the Ultimate Edition, which runs a wide range of styles and themes. They combine the series formula with that manga mainstay, the giant robot, as the Enterprise must take on a whole slew of them in "Orphans." There's a clever (and creepy) tip of the hat to the show's continuity, when the crew encounters a technological virus which they find nearly futile to resist in "Side Effects." They hit the action/adventure vein hard when Kirk and a Klingon captain are trapped together in a collapsed mine in "Art of War" (written by Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in the Next Generation series). Of course, it wouldn't be Star Trek without some social commentary, which you get when the men and women of the crew are divided and set against each other in "'Til Death." And, they've even got a story by one of the show's original writers, David Gerrold, recalling some of the humor from his episode "the Trouble with Tribbles."

Finally, I feel obliged to tell you that there is even a Next Generation Manga, if that's your thing.