Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Wishes (in a bookish sort of way)

One of my fondest Christmas memories is from the winter of ’85.

It was my twelfth celebration of the holidays, and they still held that excitement that is multiplied by childhood; that almost narcotic eagerness that gradually diminishes with the coming of adulthood. I had barely managed to sleep at all that night. I was awake and ready for the festivities to begin by five in the morning. Even pretending to sleep another hour or two was no an option.

The rules for Christmas morning (I believe some people like to refer to them as ‘traditions’) had been firmly established years ago. My younger brother and I knew them well. Mom and Dad were allowed to awaken on heir own, and the unwrapping of presents would only commence when they had bathrobes on and coffee in hand. However, stockings were open game, and could be taken down as soon as we were up. They were huge four foot macramé stockings, and were always stuffed with enough toys and candy to distract us long enough for the coffee to brew.

Hell bent on Xmas booty, I snuck through the dark house and retrieved my stocking, making it to the living room and back without turning on any lights. Unfortunately, the lamp in my bedroom chose that moment to die out, and I found myself stuck in total darkness with a gigantic sock full of goodies. Determined to dig in, I stayed in the pitch black room and dug each item out of the stocking, silently identifying them by size, weight and shape.

The last item, buried at the bottom of the stocking, was also the largest. It was a hardcover book. I could feel slick dust cover and ruffle the pages, but no matter how hard I tried, my eyes would not adjust enough for me to make out the title of the book. I could venture into another room and turn on a light, but I was afraid I might accidentally wake Mom and Dad up, and it was way to early for that to be risked.

Unwilling to give up and set the book aside until later, I sat there in the darkness and waited for dawn. The minutes went by slowly. The first light of Christmas morning eventually filled my bedroom, I was finally able to make out he cover of Douglas Adams’ newest novel, So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish.

I have received countless treasured gifts throughout the years, before and since. But for some reason, my mind will always go back to the frustration, anticipation, and eventual elation of that particular morning. I don’t know why books have always held such a fascination for me. There is something about the bound page and printed word that promises experiences and emotions, thoughts and ideas, that you never suspected were in you.

That fond Christmas memory is now twenty three years old. Age and wisdom may have slightly dimmed the sparkling spectacle of wrapped gifts and bulging stockings. But books still manage to raise a simple and childish joy deep within me. Somehow, they still manage to make me believe. I hesitate to call it magic. Passion might be a better word for it.

No matter where you are, or how you choose to celebrate it, may the Holidays fill you with the same magic, or passion, that it did for me that dimly lit December day.

Merry Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


One would assume that Adam Nimoy wrote this book in an attempt to capture the audiences of two specific markets: The ‘Behind-the-Scenes Hollywood Tell-All’ and the ‘Bizarre and the Horrific Yet Somehow Humorous Memoir’. Of course, the key to writing for a specific market is to give that audience what it wants. This is where Adam’s book fails to deliver.

Behind-the-Scenes readers love to get the inside gossip behind their favorite movies and TV shows. Not only was Adam Nimoy the director of some widely popular and highly successful television programs (Ally McBeal and NYPF Blues), but as the son of the second-most recognizable cast member of the original Star Trek, he had an opportunity to give a unique perspective to the making of the most famous science-fiction show in US history. Considering the number of Star Trek memoirs available (I am Spock, Get a Life, To the Stars, From Sawdust to Stardust, Beam Me Up Scotty and Warped Factors, to name but a few), one more wouldn’t have broken the camel’s back. And considering that the Star Trek franchise simply refuses to die, it isn’t necessarily a bad horse to hitch your wagon to.

But Adam Nimoy doesn’t appear to want anything to do with that. He doesn’t exactly avoid discussing his father’s iconic role as Dr. Spock, but he only mentions it about as frequently as he would have mentioned his father’s vocation if had happened to by a plumber or taxidermist. He gives just enough of a taste to annoy any Star Trek fans who might have reasonably expected more.

It wouldn’t really appear that Adam was trying to sidestep his father’s shadow, except the place where such a familial connection should have been proudly displayed is conspicuously void of any mention. Neither the book’s title, nor it’s underwhelming cover, give any real clue as to who Adam Nimoy is. His last name is the only indication to the casual shelf browser of the most interesting thing about the author.

That list bit may seem harsh, but it is undeniably true. The ups and downs of Nimoy’s life, while well-written and somewhat entertaining, aren’t extreme enough to be terribly engrossing. Addiction to alcohol and marijuana isn’t exactly uncommon these days, and the same goes for people losing their jobs, wives, and self-esteem. That’s why most popular memoirists have survived lives that have been amazingly bizarre (Running with Scissors), side-splittingly funny (Me Talk Pretty One Day), or at least partially fictional (A Million Little Pieces). Adam’s life isn’t any of these. Maybe it would have been more along those lines if he had included more about his film and television experiences.

But maybe that is why he decided to label his book as an Anti-Memoir; because whatever you might be looking for in a memoir from a famous actor’s son, the odds are that you won’t find it here.


To say that Shaun Tan has switched gears with his newest book is an understatement. Tales from Outer Suburbia differs from The Arrival as greatly as Maus differs from Mars Needs Moms!. Tan has shifted from a silent and captivating depiction of the displacement and wonder felt by a family of immigrants, to a collection of endearing short stories about the bizarre happenings in a quaint little town. The good news is that neither the art nor storytelling has suffered from the transition. The art is rich and warm, with a slightly surreal feeling, while the stories are simple tales with deeper philosophical and moralistic meanings blended into the background. This is the kind of book that imaginative children will love, and adults who fondly remember books like Where the Sidewalk Ends will embrace.

Book Quote: NUCLEAR JELLYFISH by Tim Dorsey

"Am I damaged?"

Serge placed a hand on his pal's shoulder. "Coleman, there are three - and only three - kinds of people in this world: Those who don't know they're damaged and blame others; those who realize they're damaged and blame others; and then people like you and me, who wear damage like comfortable pajamas."

Coleman swigged from his pint bottle. "Mine are the ones with the little feet."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Review: My Custom Van by Michael Ian Black

Michael Ian Black is recognizable from his appearances on numerous TV shows (among them Ed, The State, and Reno 911!), or as co-writer of the Simon Pegg film Run, Fat Boy, Run! Luckily, his comedic talents are not limited to film and television productions.

My Custom Van is a wonderful collection of short (yet powerful) humorous essays that amuse and delight at every page. Covering a range of bizarre topics, Black covers everything from how a chicken might describe himself on a dating service, to reasons not to buy Tundra from a door-to-door salesman, to what must go through Billy Joel’s mind as he drives to a holiday party (my personal favorite). Whether he is compiling a list of New Year resolutions or drafting a suicide note, Black is laugh-out-loud funny with an absurd sense of humor and a dry wit.

If you only buy one book this year, make sure it is McCarthy Cormac’s The Road. But if you manage to purchase two, you might want to squeeze this comedic gem onto your shopping list.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Literary Censorship in New Rochelle

Yes folks, this is the kind of thing you have to keep a lookout for. What's truly scary about this is that most of the acts of literary censorship that take place in America these days are instigated and carried out by our very own educational institutions.

Students at New Rochelle High School are going to find it difficult to complete their next assignment: comparing the film adaptation of Girl, Interrupted to the best-selling book. In the book, Kaysen recounts her confinement at a Massachusetts mental hospital in the 1960's.

Pages from the middle of the book have been torn out by the school district after having been deemed "inappropriate" by school officials due to sexual content and strong language. Removed is a scene where the rebellious Lisa (played by Angela Jolie in the movie) encourages Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) to circumvent hospital rules against sexual intercourse by engaging in oral sex instead.

"The material was of a sexual nature that we deemed inappropriate for teachers to present to their students," said English Department Chariperson Leslie Altschul, "since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing."

Book Review: The Army of the Republic by Stuart Archer Cohen

Stuart Archer Cohen’s new novel is, to say the least, polarizing. His world view and philosophical outlook inform both the message and the tone of the book. So, needless to say, some readers are not going to be pleased with what they find between the covers. But, if you can put your firm and unwavering convictions aside and allow this tale of dictatorship and dissent to speak to you, you might actually enjoy the ride.

One way in which the book will not change some minds is through the hyper-realistic settings and events. When writing a cautionary tale about modern-day events and politics, most authors will either keep the narrative grounded firmly in the real world. Some, however, will make their point by taking real events and situations and exaggerating them to an almost absurd degree. The latter, while sometimes distracting, does not necessarily discredit the message within. 1984, A Brave New World, and Atlas Shrugged are just some examples of philosophical theses successfully encapsulated in a science-fiction or fantasy shell. The Army of the Republic may seem far fetched in some spots, and may occasionally overreach in others. But those perturbed by this might be better off reading a Clancy or Grisham paperback. Deep (and sometimes radical) beliefs occasionally need to be shouted from soap boxes bigger than the real world can currently afford us.

Cohen may not be successful in converting the unconvinced with his spectacular tale of ruthless corporate oligarchs, Blackwater reminiscent death squads, and radical underground movements. But he makes his argument loud, clear, and most importantly, highly entertaining.

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Young adult novels have always had a dark side, so to speak; a sub-genre that eschews peer pressure and turbulent relationships for death, despair, and destruction. This is not a recent trend. For every Death Note you find today, you can find an equally disturbing Z for Zachariah. While much of today’s dark teen novels lean towards the supernatural, you will occasionally find one that ventures into more classical science fiction territory. Suzanne Collin’s newest YA novel, The Hunger Games, does so quite successfully. The setting is grim and oppressive, the characters are desperate and hopeless, and the specter of death hangs over every page. And every page will drag the reader eagerly to the next.

Strong and positive female leads are important in young adult novels, and The Hunger Games has the perfect hero in Katniss Everdeen. She is tough, resolute, intelligent, and able. Yet, she still struggles with the same confused feelings and emotions that young girls need to cope with, even when not fighting to the death in a government sponsored reality show/snuff film. As she struggles to survive the deadly prime-time death match she has been unfairly thrust into, she deal not only with these typical teenage dilemmas, but also greater issues concerning government, society, morality, and honor.

All of this might seem like a lot for one book to handle, but Hunger Games manages to do so without coming off too preachy or instructional. Granted, the Hunger Games themselves (which are very reminiscent of previous books like Stephen King’s Running Man, or Koushun Takami’s manga series Battle Royale), as well as the post-apocalyptic dictatorship Panem that holds the event, might not hold up under the scrutiny that hardcore science-fiction novels sometimes demand. But for a young adult science-fantasy novel like this, demanding one-hundred-percent social-political realism seems a tad unfair. What matters is that the characters and setting support the characters and subject matter, and manage to do so with the captivating suspense of any mainstream paperback thriller.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Beverly Garland dead at 82

Beverly Garland, famous actress of classic sitcom and cult B-move fame, has died at the age of 82. Among her many films, Garland starred in the Peter Graves/Lee Van Cleef sci-fi fick It Conquered the World as Cleef's wife. "It Conquered the World" is one of the films written about in MONSTER RALLY. Beverly Garland will be both missed and remembered by everyone behind the scenes at Idea Men Productions.