Saturday, October 30, 2010

Demons, Devils, and Hellish Creatures

Having read John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things (rating: 9/10) and enjoying it, I looked forward to reading his latest novel, The Gates.  Unfortunately, a hundred pages into the book, I'm giving up.

In both books the main character is a young boy.  In The Book of Lost Things he's a 12-year old whose mother has died, and only has his books and his imagination for company.  When the story took serious turns, I thought of the book as something for adults.  On the other hand, there were many whimsical moments when I questioned that.  The theme - the transition from childhood innocence to adulthood - is certainly a serious one, and one most adults can identify with.

But in The Gates, the main character, Samuel Johnson, is a precocious 11-year old who accidentally witnesses his neighbors raising the Devil.  At the same time, with the unknowing help of the Large Hadron Collider, a portal between our world and Hell begins to open.  I know from the back cover of the book that Samuel will play a role in vanquishing Satan and his minions.  But the story is entirely too whimsical for me.  Demons with silly names, silly roles, and identity crises.  Humor, frequently in the form of lengthy footnotes to explain things to the reader, who is assumed to be young.  I think Connolly missed a chance to teach us something, as he taught us in The Book of Lost Things. And while Halloween costumes that make devils out of children can be cute, the concept of Hell is not one to be treated quite so lightly, I believe.  It seems to me that religion in the past placed too much emphasis on Hell and eternal damnation, and nowadays places too little.

As a scientist, I grow tired of seeing scientists stereotyped in fiction as feckless, irresponsible, hungry for power and at the same time prone to making Big Mistakes.  Perhaps Connolly's next novel will be better.  This one I'm getting rid of.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dracula on Steroids

I'm a card-carrying member of the market segment of readers that likes the feel and smell and overall experience of reading a book made out of cellulose products more than the experience of reading a book made out of electrons.  But books made out of electrons appear to be catching on more and more, if you can believe the statistics.

I look at the bookshelves in my home office and bemoan how I've run out of room for new additions.  I hope my wife doesn't notice the Compulsion to Buy Books has led me to having to lay some books horizontally across the tops of others in order to get them "shelved."  I don't even want to think what she'd say if I started taking over the guest room for my office and let my current office become a library.

But e-books?  Sure, they don't take up room.  But if I don't see them lying around, I might forget about them and not read them.  They don't feel right, look right, smell right.  I can't trade them in at Half Price Books when I'm finished with them.

But what e-book publishers are starting to do with book design is pulling me in.  If a publisher can give me an experience with an e-book that I can't get with an ordinary book, I might just give it a try.  That's what I did with Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition (PadWorX Digital Media), named the iTunes App of the Week this past week.  Here we have a novel written in 1897, a novel I'd not ordinarily read because of its antiquated style, but through e-book magic has been made interactive, with music, sound effects, objects that move on the screen.  Letters and papers have to be moved with a finger swipe in order to read the letters beneath.  Tip the iPad and the rosary necklace hanging across the top of the book in an early chapter tips, following gravity.  PadWorX has taken an old book and made it fun!  This is Bram Stoker's book on steroids - a perfect piece of entertainment for Halloween, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  For a preview, see this YouTube video.

New to Hope

In Kendra Lacy's latest book, New to Hope, we have the privilege of someone describing for us the beginning of a unique and personal process.  Not only describing it, but taking us along as they begin their journey.

Kendra shares with us how her life has changed in the past year.  These changes were triggered when she finally found the right spiritual home.  She knew that it was the right place, she says, when she discovered a Narnia-themed library.  What happened to Kendra is hard for anyone but her to put in words.  It was not a conversion - she was already a Christian.  It was not an awakening - she was already awake, just not in the right place quite yet.  Perhaps we could think of the christening of a ship and watching it head for the horizon. It took just the right set of circumstances for Kendra's spiritual ship to leave the dock and head out to sea, her sails billowing with joy, like Narnia's Dawn Treader.

I encourage you to read Kendra's book and discover what all this means.  And if you want to follow her journey, follow her blog at  And, if you're in the Melbourne, Florida area on a Sunday morning, stop in at Hope Episcopal Church.  You'll be welcomed with a big hug, I'm sure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Wonder of It All

When I was a young boy my classmates at school knew what I was going to be when I grew up before I knew.  When it was my turn to tell the class, they answered for me: "Scientist!  He's going to be a scientist!"  They reached this conclusion, I believe, by the following logic.  (1) I could read better than anyone else in the class.  (2)  Therefore I must be smart.  (3) The smartest people turn out to be scientists.  (4) Therefore he's going to turn out to be a scientist.  While their logic had some errors, their conclusion turned out to be correct.  I did become a scientist.

I don't believe the other kids knew that I had my first microscope and my first chemistry set before I was nine years old.  But they might've known about my "How-and-Why Wonder Books" if I brought one of them to school.  I got some of them from school book fairs, and some at the local shopping center in Levittown (later Willingboro), New Jersey.  I remember books on rocks, and coins, and dinosaurs, and stars.  No doubt reading these books sparked my curiosity and instilled a sense of wonder that would guide me as I grew up.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Bugs Bunny

"The Bugs Bunny Show" aired on ABC from October 1960 to September 1962, Tuesdays from 7:30 to 8:00 PM.  This was something we looked forward to every week when my sister and I were little.  We'd watch 30 minutes of cartoons and then it was bedtime.  The only thing that came close was Saturday morning cartoons.  (If Saturday morning now was like it was back then, I'd still be glued to the TV set.)

A great reference for Warner Bros. cartoons is Jerry Beck's and Will Friedwald's book, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons.  This text lists and describes every cartoon Warner Bros. produced, including year of production, characters, artists and animators, plot and gags, and connections to other cartoon.  I used this book to make a list of every Bugs Bunny cartoon ever produced ("theatrical cartoons" only).  Assuming I counted correctly (!), I have seen 133 out of 167 cartoons.  Maybe seeing the remaining 34 should be an addition to my bucket list!

What did I learn from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons?  I think primarily watching these cartoons shaped my appreciation for humor.  But there were other things.  To expect fairness, but not be surprised if it wasn't forthcoming.  That indignation over unfairness is appropriate.  That retaliation and vengeance - the kind that doesn't cause real harm, only "pretend harm" - is one response to unfairness, but that this can backfire!

The censorship of Warner Bros. cartoons that I've seen in recent years is something that I find offensive.  I did not learn to fire guns at people by watching Elmer Fudd fire his gun at Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck.  I did not learn that wounds in real life - even severe wounds - can heal themselves in the few seconds that it takes for a scene to change in a cartoon.  Just as I did not acquire a warped view of violence, I did not acquire a warped view of race and culture, despite the many depictions of races and cultures that are offensive to people in this day and age.

Thank you, Bugs, for being an important part of my life.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Of Kings and Legends

If you search on "King Arthur" on Amazon's website, you'll get almost six thousand results.  Of those, T. H. White's The Once and Future King (rating: 9/10) is very popular.  Why would there be so many books about this legendary king?  There is something about Arthur and Camelot and the Knights of the Round table that thrills and inspires  us.  Of course, many movies have been made telling this story as well.  When I was young, everyone had seen the Disney movie, "The Sword in the Stone."  Watching that movie told us that exciting things can happen to you, even if you're only a child.  My favorite cinema-d'Arthur is "First Knight."

I've just finished reading a very interesting book, which is actually the first in a trilogy.  Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy's The Forever King (rating: 9/10) is a very original cross-genre fantasy/thriller that brings the legend of Arthur and Merlin and the Holy Grail into the present.  (I'd read and enjoyed Grandmaster (rating: 9/10) by the same authors.)  My willing suspension of disbelief may have been stretched a bit by thinking the protagonist, a ten-year old boy, could be capable of the thoughts and actions portrayed, but it was still fun to read.

One thing I hate with trilogies is when they come out over the span of a few years and I have to try to remember what happened in the earlier volumes.  Fortunately this trilogy has been out for several years and I can move on to the second book right away, The Broken Sword, and the final volume, The Third Magic.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kendra Lacy wins award for "Drachen"

Kendra Lacy has won an Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 18th Annual Self-Published Book competition for her young adult fantasy novel, Drachen.  Her book will be promoted in the March/April 2011 issue of Writer's Digest.  Way to go, Kendra!

Shudders from "Shutter Island"

While traveling recently I finished reading Dennis LeHane's Shutter Island.  I was intrigued by the trailers for the movie (which I've not yet seen).  U.S. Marshals arrive on an island which is home to a high-security mental institute for the criminally insane; their task, to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients/inmates.  Suspense, mystery, creepiness, a dark gothic setting, and a healthy dose of insanity make for a story whose conclusion caught me completely by surprise.  Always fun when you don't see it coming!  And just enough to make you think, and you leave you feeling slightly "disturbed."  I highly recommend this book - if you haven't already seen the movie.

LOST Knowledge

When I was a boy I was always excited when a new book from the Weekly Reader Book Club would come in the mail.  Now, far from boyhood, I still get excited when a book comes in the mail.  My wife will pick up the mail and tell me, "You've got a present!"  And that's what it feels like.  Nine times out of ten it will be something from Amazon or an Amazon reseller, but sometimes it will be something off of eBay.  The anticipation is such that I can't resist following the shipment using the tracking number Amazon gives me.

Now I have something else to look forward to: The LOST Encyclopedia, by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry.  I don't watch much TV, but once my friends got me interested in LOST, I was hooked.  The combination of mystery, personal stories, survival, philosophy, and even science fiction was irresistible.  My wife and I rented all the old episodes we missed and had marathon LOST-watching sessions each week, catching up as quickly as we could.  And then we stayed with it to the end.  (Although my wife started to lose interest in the last season or two.)  I knew that someone would come out with the definitive "canon" that would tie all the loose ends together for me, and show me things I missed or didn't recognize at the time.

I can hardly wait!  Better go track the package and see where it is now ...