Friday, February 27, 2015

Comfort Reads

We all have our comfort foods; those foods we turn to when we need and seek comfort; those that make us feel warm inside and forget all the external crap making our lives hell.

Well, I recently saw an article about how people unwind after a stressful day at work, and one woman says she comes home, picks up her much-loved and much-worn copy of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and randomly begins reading until she is fully relaxed and ready to take on home life with a stress-free mind.
"Whether I begin reading about an epic battle or the mechanics of whaling ships, I am transported elsewhere."
I like that. I want that. I even like that it's Moby Dick that this woman turns to for comfort -  the same novel that many high school and college students tried to avoid reading. It has become a litmus test among readers, broken into two camps: Those Who Love It and Those Who Don't. 

I have that Comfort Read to a certain degree. Reading in general does that for me, but I'm always reading new books, trying-to-catch-up books that require my attentiveness as a new story is revealed to me. Or else I'll read poetry. Sometimes new, sometimes familiar, always light-hearted.

But I got to thinking about it some. I've reread a lot of books, many times. The four primary books of the Lord of the Rings immediately comes to mind. Each year I reread one, creating a cycle whereby every four years I've gone through another round. But I don't just randomly pick it up and start reading, I have a strict schedule. I then I wondered, "Maybe I should just start randomly reading them." But then, knowing me, I'd sit around for fifteen minutes and internally debate which one to pick up. So it's probably best I just keep doing what I'm doing with that set of books (NOTE: for the curious, this year is a reread of Fellowship, which is probably my favorite of the four for simply nostalgic reasons. But then again, that's not accurate either. I have some sort of unique nostalgic attachment to each one of them for different reasons. Maybe that's why I enjoy reading them over and over - each one fulfills some unnamed emotional joy).

Then I realized, once again, The Surprise in my reading stack. Dune. Yep, the same book I've blogged about before. The same book I own four copies of. The same one that I still have the very first copy I bought and reread so many times that a rubberband holds its pages together. I haven't even made it completely through the whole series (especially and including the ones written after Frank Herbert's death), because I always return to that original and reread it instead of moving off to the post-Frank era.
So if I had pick that one comfort book, from the evidence of my past reading habit, I'd have to say Dune is the one.

(Note: and of course now, I suddenly want to reread it again, despite the two-foot high stack I swore I'd read before rereading or starting another series of books). 
(Another damn Note: I also now have that compulsion to start in on Fellowship. After all, like Dune, I own multiple copies of that series as well - at least three that I can see from this chair.)
(Geez, yet another damn Note: Guess what other American classic book I'd love to find the time to reread? OH! The Lament of the Voracious Reader!)


Until Next Time...
Mobyly Yours,
Michael

Friday, February 13, 2015

Blog of List of Almanacs (Jeopardy Geeks Unite)

One time at the home of Grandma Cheese, I discovered a couple of slightly out of date almanacs and a "Book of Lists" from the 1970s. I found a chair, plopped down, and combed through them, fascinated by all the lists, facts, figures, etc. She let me take them home, where Mom and Pop Cheese and I had fun laughing at some of the outdated information. Eventually they bought me an updated almanac and we played games like "Alive or Dead" and "Guess the Celebrity Age." Ever since those days, I've always had an almanac in the house, it may be a year or two old before I replace it, but it's always recent enough to remain useful. Even in these days of the internet and Wikipedia and countless other fact-based websites, a good ol' paperback almanac is a great book to thumb open and read some random factoid.

Some random thought hit me the other day to list movies that have almanacs in them. After only a few moments of thought, I came up with three, but I figure there has to be more.

Back to the Future Part II (1989) - The retrieval of a sports almanac from Biff/Griff (Thomas F. Wilson) is the plot point of the movie.

White Men Can't Jump (1992) - Who can forget Gloria (Rosie Perez) constantly reading a tattered copy of a world almanac and asking her boyfriend Billy (Woody Harrelson) to quiz her from it, all to prepare for her shot on the game show Jeopardy.

The Bucket List (2007) - In one of the opening scenes a young mechanic quizzes Carter (Morgan Freeman) from an almanac, in which Carter not only knows the answers, but is able to provide the correct answer when the almanac is wrong.

In the tradition of "The Book of List...." send me more if you can think any so I can compile a more exhaustive list. Almanacs have been a part of American history since before America was born, they've been the behind-the-bar bible bartenders have consulted to settle debates between patrons, and the Farmer's Almanac has been the daily planner for generations of farmers that there is no way these wonderful books haven't appeared in more movies.

Keep one around the house, have fun with it, make notes in the margin, dog-ear those pages, show it much love. You'll thank yourself.

Until Next Time...
Listly Yours,
Michael

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ugh, Another One


Okay, I've mentioned before that since I'm a subscriber, the cover doesn't have to convince me to buy the magazine. But seriously, I like fantasy art, and by slapping a mailing label in the middle of the cover just seems shameful to me.
 
The catch is - this publication didn't always do this.
 
 Just a few issues back the mailing label was always on the bottom. Granted, that's still covering the art, but at least it's not in the center (translation: focal point) of a piece of artwork. Whoever you choose to feature the work of each issue puts a lot of time and effort into creating that piece, and on the most part, usually doesn't get paid too much for the effort. The artist reads the featured story and tailors the art to that. Let us subscribers enjoy it.
So seriously, gang, if it's feasible, can you at least entertain the notion of placing the mailing label somewhere else on the cover. (I'd suggest the back, but would tick off whatever advertiser bought the space, so I'll settle for a more inconspicuous spot on the bottom.
 
Until Next Time...
Labelly Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Word of the Moment VI (brought to you by the letter "E")

The mystery genre has some of the best and worst writers of genre fiction. Throughout the last one hundred years, some of the best and most iconic writers of our time have written some classics mystery novels that still resonate today. Other writers have also made a living as contemporary novelist as well, crafting great stories even the harshest of critics enjoyed (the recently deceased P.D. James comes immediately to mind).

But because mystery readers tend to read voraciously, the publishing industry pushes out as many mystery novels per year as they feasibly can, which means a lot of crime and mystery authors who have the writing skills of the average fourth grader are getting published as well (and too many of these authors come to mind).

What all this means is that you can still increase your vocabulary reading mysteries, for instance, this post's Word of the Moment was found in the short story True Enough: Bolt's Last Case by B.K. Stevens published in the December issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine:

     emeritus - retired or honorably discharged from active professional duty but retaining the title of one's office or position.

It should be no surprise that I found this word in a story about a detective working one last case before he retires.

So now you know. Be sure to use this word every time you get the chance, it'll impress your friends, or else make them look at you oddly.

Until Next Time...
Honorably Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

You "Down" Readers, You

I manage to read a lot. Nearly half of what I read each year is short fiction published in those pulp sized digests I mentioned here before, and many of those digest also publish book and movie reviews. I even attempt to complete those puzzles in the back of the mystery pulps. Needless to say, I sometimes get behind. For instance I'm just now reading the movie review section from the July/August 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction where Kathi Maio reviews Divergent.

Her opinion of the movie wasn't what caught my attention, though, it was something she pointed out that you would think would have been obvious to me, especially considering the theme of my blog.

Maio pointed out that the trend in young adult literature and the movie adaption of those books is to market those works to the young adult crowd in the hopes that they'll catch on with adults who are open to the idea of "reading down." Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, and (unfortunately) Twilight are all examples of the books and movies appealing to more than just young adults. This works best in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres where the boundaries of the age factor is much less defined than in adult literature or mainstream fiction.

She makes the point, though, that just a generation or two ago, the reverse trend was true. For example, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, even though it had a teen protagonist was marketed as an adult novel in the hopes that young readers would "read up" to it. There were fewer genre works aimed at teens and once past the basic fairy tales and mythology books, teens would read adult marketed literature and genre novels.

Like any good writer, she summed up in a few sentences a thought I've been wrestling with for months. So now it's time to take these observations and keep them in mind as we continue to study trends in book buying and reading habits. It'll make us better readers.

Until Next Time...
Boundarly Yours,
Michael

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Motoko Kusanagi is Japanese

The thought never occurred to me, but I suppose it should have. Tor.com has published a story that a live action adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s classic anime movie Ghost in the Shell is in the works. For those who don't remember their cyber-punk history, Ghost in the Shell is the animated movie that inspired the 1999 Wachowskis brothers' blockbuster movie The Matrix, and pumped a little more life into a sub-genre of science fiction that had experienced slowing sales the previous few years. The movie, which was an extension of the print anime begun in 1989, dealt with the theme of artificial intelligence, the definition of life, and the concept of a soul.

What does surprise me is the casting. Scarlett Johansson will be portraying Motoko Kusanagi,  a Japanese cyborg cyber-crime fighter. Yeah, that Scarlett Johansson.

I guess the fact that the protagonist is Japanese and that Hollywood has decided to cast a non-Asian actress shouldn't surprise me, especially considering that movie execs would rather invest in big names than worry about something like "story-accuracy," but still...seriously? Ms. Johansson is a fine actress, and I have nothing against her or her acting ability - doesn't mean she's right for the role and it doesn't mean I have to like the decision to include her.

At this point, according to the article, the project has yet to be fully approved and funded (insert sigh of relief here), but attaching Scarlett's name to the effort may increase its chances of making it to the screen one day.

One can only hope they don't screw this one up too terribly bad.

Until Next Time...
Cyborgly Yours,
Michael

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy Birthday, John!!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Tolkien! Thank you for Middle Earth.

And you, too, Mr. Norman! Despite what everyone says, I still love those Gor/Counter-Earth novels - they are a perfect example of 1970s cheesy sci-fi/fantasy.

Until Next Time...
Celebratorily Yours,
Michael

Friday, January 2, 2015

Our Little Friend - the Dictionary

One of the first things aspiring writers are told is to invest in a high quality dictionary, and a large hardcover dictionary is best. When I was a reporter and a broke bachelor, I tried using a paperback dictionary, but it would disappoint me from time to time, so eventually I gave in and spent the extra money for the large, hardback. The one in this picture is one a bought a few years later at the local Barnes & Noble and became the family "go to" dictionary for many years. It's lasted for years, and despite its frequent use has remained in good condition.

Listening to a radio host the other day, she mentioned that back when she read more often, she used to keep a hardcover dictionary on her nightstand. She had bought it second-hand, and after years of use it was falling apart and she was forced to replace it. She contributed her good vocabulary and good spelling skills directly to that cherished book. Her story reminded me that my dictionary is now at least ten years old and needs replacement, especially since there are some new terms and phrases that are not in it. For instance, there is no entry for any form of social media. To my dictionary, a tweet is only something a bird does.

That got me thinking about some of the other dictionaries I have next to it on the shelf, and I thought it'd be cool to post a picture of them as well. Despite some of the good conditions of the books, all are well used and well loved.

Yes, the thesaurus is a paperback, and I should have spent money on the hardcover, but I still haven't gotten around to it yet. The Latin dictionary is paperback as well, but I only use it when I do a little root-word searches. The pocket Spanish dictionary belongs to The Boss, and From Absurd to Zeitgeist is a Writer's Digest book of literary terms.

That orange German dictionary is pretty much the best one you can buy. It only comes in a paperback version, but every German instructor I've ever had declares that dictionary plus the 501 German Verbs books are the best and most useful books any student of the language can reasonably purchase. It's hard to believe I carried those two books around in a backpack for four semesters and they stayed in such good condition.

The Rhyming Dictionary I bought because many poets both past and present recommend it, but believe it or not, a rhyming dictionary in general is a little harder to use than you'd think. Of all the dictionaries I own, that one probably gets used the least. Finding a word to rhyme with a particular word is easy, but is it the right word for the poem? Many times the answer is no.

By their very nature, owning and using these books will make you a better reader and writer, as long as you actually use them. So don't be skittish about investing a few extra bucks to get good quality ones. You won't regret it.

Until Next Time...
Referencely Yours,
Michael


 

Comic Relief

It took me a moment or two, but once I got it, I laughed out loud.


Until Next Time...
Comically Yours,
Michael

Monday, December 22, 2014

C & C Best of 2014

It's the end of the year, that time when every publication known to mankind publishes their "Best of 2014" list, be it books, movies, songs, cheese dips, etc. Which means my Cheesy Readers may be asking, "Michael, where is your list? What books made the top of your list? What science fiction movies? My God, Man, at least give us a list of your favorite block cheese!!!"

Nope. Not here.

Of course the fallacy of the above hypothetical questions is that my Cheesy Readers know better. The whole point of this blog and of my website is to read classic works of literature, read science fiction and fantasy from different decades, watch movies that everyone should know by heart, both the cinema classics and the cult classics. In other words, take it all in from a general perspective as a means of discovering what our cultural truly is and not what others tell us that it is.

Yes, I go through all those "Year's Best..." lists, and sometimes I find some truly good works, but by the time I read the list, and put that work on my ToBe Read/Watched list, it's already the end of the year. And by the time I actually watch the  movie or read the book, it's usually the summer of the next year.

For instance, Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya. I've been hearing about it all year, it's made many "Best of..." lists, it has garnered multiple positive reviews, and has a really cool title, so I bought a copy. Will I be reading it in 2014? Nope. Probably more like spring or summer 2015. True, true, I will never be able to say that I read such-and-such before it was popular, but as my Cheesy Readers know -- I don't care. I still have ten-year-old Jonathan Franzen works to catch up on (although I do highly recommend Freedom).

The same is true of video games. The hottest video games I'll sometimes buy within a week of their release will sit on my shelf until the winter rolls around, at which time, all the cool kids will have moved on to the next big release, and I'm trolling the internet for YouTube videos on how to defeat various levels of six month old titles (think Arkham City, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Halo 4, and on and on).

I still enjoy every moment of this, which is, after all, the whole point.

Until Next Time,
Bestly Yours,
Michael