Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pass it On

We never seem to get enough good news in our news these days. I think it has always been this way. Mr. Gugliotta shares a link to a story about how the kindness of one stranger has lead one man to return the kindness several times over.

http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/npr/221761277/how-one-man-continues-to-just-pass-it-on

Friday, September 27, 2013

Inmate and Prisoner

Mr. Gugliotta is sharing an interesting article (complete with a few embedded videos) about a former inmate and a former corrections officer. Given the attention our own prison is getting this might be a timely reminder of the lives lead a few miles from school.

http://prisontime.org/2013/09/15/a-former-inmate-and-a-former-corrections-worker-talk/

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lack of Posts

Sorry for the lack of posts. Now that school has started I think everyone has stopped reading. Or they are too busy to send in a review/suggestion. I know from past experience that people are not as willing to write a review so I suggest a simple alternative. Submit a book suggestion, or list of suggestions to share with the blog readers. According to Google stats the blog has over 1000 views already so that is encouraging.
Mr. Gugliotta submitted some interesting articles that I will add soon. While they are not books, they are worth reading and that is really what I want this blog to be about.
I will also share some interesting articles as well as magazine recommendations.
I have to admit that I do a lot of reading in small chunks like articles. I use an iPad app called Flipboard to access many great stories. I will discuss the Flipboard app in the near future as well.
I will try hard to keep the content fresh but I could always use some help. Feel free to join the call for increased literacy at CCS!

Fringe

One of my favorite TV shows is Fringe. It is no longer on the air. It was on Fox for 5 seasons and was one of the more inventive shows I have ever seen. One of the main characters is named Walter Bishop. He is the man pictured on this book cover. The actor's portrayal of Walter was critically overlooked over the 5 year run.
While shopping at an actual book store over the summer I stumbled upon this paperback and decided to give it a try. There are no new shows to watch and this is the best way to get my fix. This story is about the character when he was much younger and an event the unfolded where he and his genius best friend accidentally opened a rift in time and a serial killer moved from his world into ours. The rest of the book is focused on returning the killer to his own time and space. It is a science fiction book to be sure and there are some funny moments. I suspect this is only for fans of the show. The book is not really well written. I think the author did not do justice to the characters but it was a fun and quick read. If you are a fan of the show this is worth your time. I will pick up a few more because I liked the show so much and sometimes a quick and fun read is just what I need from time to time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Change of Heart

For quite a while I resisted the use of Kindles and other e-readers. I was a book snob like many others. I wanted the book in my hands. I liked have a pile of books to knock over for some reason. That all changed for me this past summer. The reason is comically simple. Wind.
I spent quite a bit of time reading near the end of the summer vacation. Most of the books I wrote about on this blog I read over the last few weeks of summer. And most of them I read on my iPad with the Kindle app. I picked up most of the books for under $5.00. Some I even found online for free. When I read a trilogy of books this summer the first one was electronic and the other two were hardcovers I bought on a clearance table. I read most of the books outside on my swing by a fire. I tend to swing a little hard and fast. Most people do not like to share the swing with me. Between the speed of my swinging and the constant wind we had this summer I realized that actual bound books are a pain to hold in the wind.
Sounds like a minor irritation I know but I also realized that holding open a book while sitting outside on a swing can be a bit tedious. I know this sounds like a first world problem and it probably is just that. But in terms in convenience an e-reader became much less of a hassle.
I also spent some of the summer bouncing from book to book as my mood dictated. All those moods were in one place - the iPad. I was also able to play some nice soft background music from the iPad. When I was done, I simply closed the case on the iPad and I was all cleaned up. One little device to handle it all.
Soon amazon.com will be offering Kindle downloads on most of the books I have already purchased. Some will be free and others may be as low as $1.99. When this happens in October I will probably realize there are some forgotten gems in the list of books I have purchased. I may not even have them any more. If I can put the whole collection on the iPad that would be nice. Since I am actually taking trips now I suspect I will want the soothing company of some of my favorite books even if they are not.....you know....actual paper bound books.
So there - I admit it. I turned the corner and have succumbed to the power of the e-reader. I will still by discount books because the Kindle prices can be too high sometimes but I think as time wears on I will most likely not have a pile of books to bring to school to share with you all and that may be the worst part of this switch. Imagine...all this from a simple breeze interrupting my summer reading.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

Those of you of a certain vintage will know the classic novelty song "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah". A few of you may even know who made the song popular. His name is Allan Sherman. Several years ago I was on a novelty song kick. I bought a ton of odd CDs and albums that featured novelty songs. Once of my favorites is a greatest hits CD by Sherman. I also have several actual vinyl albums by him as well. I read the liner notes to his CD and decided I had to know more about him. He wrote his own story but that book is out of print and I cannot find it at a decent price. Earlier this year Mark Cohen released "Overweight Sensation" and I grabbed it almost immediately.
I have to admit that I do not love this book but it served my purpose. I learned much about Sherman's life. The tales of his meteoric rise and fall are detailed in this book. I did not realize his impact on television and how much of a star he was when his first few albums were best sellers. His story is almost like all other celebrities. His undoing came as a result of his own excesses and behavior. But his best songs are amazingly witty. His most famous song is actually very clever if you listen to again and pay real attention to the overall tone. Many of his other hits are also very witty and show more depth than many other novelty hits of the era. The reason for this is that he wrote songs for over a decade before he hit it big. He was well known in certain circles for many years before he became a popular performer in the early 60s. He hung with Sinatra. He was a fixture on talk shows and performed for thousands in the popular venues of the time. He was a comedic force. I will not reveal why it all went away. That is for you to discover if you read this book.
So why did I say I do not love the book? Here is an except from a speaking engagement for the author:

In Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman(Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life) author Mark Cohen presents Sherman, a television producer (I've Got a Secret) turned song parodist, as a manic, bacchanalian, and hugely creative artist whose explosively funny parodies of classic songs marked a turning point in American cultural history.

This book very thoroughly describes Sherman's impact on Jewish culture and it's place in American in the 40s through the 50s and beyond. I do mean thoroughly. I suspect that for some people this is a good thing. For me it was a little too much. There were times I bypassed some of the analysis of the lyrics so I could continue the story of his life. And while I know that the level of description is important to set the stage for his career, success and implosion, I found it to be too much detail for me. This does not mean the book it not good. It is a great way to learn about the life he lived in the era in which he lived. The author put a lot of historical context in this story that I am sure will appeal to others more than me. Maybe I was just too impatient. I really wanted to get to the highlights.
All this being said, I am glad I read this book and will gladly share it. I enjoy reading biographies about people that like Sherman. This may mean I will have to dig out the novelty songs again and find a biography about someone else. Tom Lehrer? Dr. Demento? Weird Al?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

John Carter

Last summer there was a box office bomb released entitled "John Carter". It was a movie based on books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I did not see it because it was so universally loathed until this summer. To my surprise I thought it was pretty good. It it not a classic but it was very entertaining and inventive. So I decided to check out the source material for the book and learned that there is a series books about the character and the planter Mars written buy the same man who created Tarzan. The books are freely available online because they are so old and the copyright expired. I read the first in the series quickly and really enjoyed it. I judged the book based on the fact that it was written so long ago. The author could not have simply ripped off other author's ideas - he had to use his own  imagination and to that end I thought the book was great. The simple touches like the characters ability to jump far and have great strength due to the change in gravitational pull from Earth to Mars was a great touch. The monsters in the book were not really monsters and the humans did not really act all the humane. I remain pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy these books and the "simple" story telling from this author. Sometimes I find the descriptions of the battle scenes a little sparse but I can add my own imagination to those sections and maybe that is what the author intended. I admit that I know little about Burroughs, but rest assured I will learn more soon. There are many books in this series, the Tarzan stories and so much more. The first book in the series is the source material for the movie. I suspect there was a plan to make more. Maybe one day they will. I think there are more great stories to tell. Maybe it was the wrong time. Maybe it would make a better TV show so there is more time to develop the stories and characters. Regardless, if you like a little science fiction, action and a dash of romance, this book and subsequent sequels are for you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Raylan - Elmore Leonard

If you look over some of my earlier posts you will discover my fondness for the TV show "Deadwood". One of the reasons I liked the show so much was the actor Timothy Olyphant. He played the character Seth Bullock. I have since seen nearly everything he has even been in. His most recent claim to fame is the TV show "Justified" where he plays U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens. The series is based on a character created by author Elmore Leonard. I knew this name from movies like "Get Shorty" and "Out of Sight". However I had never read any of his books. A while ago I stumbled upon this book at a clearance table in a book store and gave it a try. I really liked it. Leonard writes witty dialog that is clever, acerbic and funny all at the same time. He is a no-nonsense write who does not need to dress up his prose with a lot of description yet somehow always paints a clear picture of his characters and scenes. He has written around 50 books. There are a lot of westerns and detective stories. I really like his writing style and plan on checking out more of his books. But sadly he died recently and we will no longer be able to enjoy his work. It is or loss.
In this particular book the Marshall encounters colorful characters who think they are smarter than they really are. There is a team of liver thieves (human livers), there is a hot shot female gambler, some gun play, some flirting, and so much more. If you have seen the show you will be right at home in this book. I have read that Leonard changed some of his style in these stories to match the writers on the TV show which is at times laugh out loud funny. I cannot wait to pick up more his his novels.
I will be adding this to the pile of books to borrow soon. But, as I mentioned before, I have been reading more and more on the iPad so I will not have as many books to share. But I always have a soft spot for book stores and the clearance tables so there will be more additions I am sure.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


From - Mr. Walrath

The final book I've read this summer is called The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  I've wanted to read this book for a while since I saw the movie with my daughter several months ago.  It is the story of a ninth grade boy named Charlie.  Being new to the high school, he doesn't have any friends, and you get the idea that he didn't have many back in junior high either.  He meets two seniors named Patrick and Sam (a girl) who are step-brother and step-sister.  These two characters don't have a ton of friends either, so Charlie starts hanging around with their circle of people.  Patrick tells Charlie that he's a "wallflower" because he just hangs around, listens, doesn't say much, but understands a lot.  As the school year goes on, the characters' lives have a lot of ups and downs.  There is a huge twist at the end of the book where one of Charlie's secrets is revealed, that he didn't even remember because he repressed it as a child.
    My favorite line of the book and movie was when Charlie told his English teacher that his sister didn't break up with her boyfriend even after he hit her across the face.  The teacher said, "Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve."  
    There are many adult themes in this book.  Some of them include teen drug and alcohol abuse, teen suicide, date rape, closeted homo-sexuality, and child abuse and molestation.  In fact in five of the last ten years the book has been on the American Library Association's "10 Most Frequently Challenged Books" list.  That means that there is a large movement to have it banned from school libraries and school curricula.  So much for the first amendment!  There are lots of happy parts, but just as many sad parts.  However, once I began it, it was hard to put down.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From Mr. Walrath


A book I just finished is titled World War Z, An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.  I had seen the movie version in the theater over the summer and decided to buy the book.  The book is incredibly different from the movie.  The movie is full of adventure, gore, death, and killing as Brad Pitt's character tries to find the cause of the infestation and discover a cure for it.  This book takes place after the Zombie War and the end of civilization as we know it.  It is written as a series of interviews of many different people who had many different roles during the war in many different countries.  I was reminded of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in that Brooks creates an entire fantasy world with many unique words and scenarios.  His creativity is pretty amazing, and if the reader isn't into the interview that he or she is reading, another interview with a different character is only a few pages away.  During the war nations were forced to work together to try to save humanity, but there were still many interesting dynamics that occurred to make things interesting to the reader.
    Without giving too many things away, here are a few interesting facts about the war:  In the United States, we pretty much retreated into the Rocky Mountains for refuge as the rest of the nation was overrun.  Japan evacuated their island nation because there was nowhere they could defend without infestation.  Cuba, because of its isolation was least effected by the epidemic and became a world power after the war.  Zombies freeze during the winter months and are not a threat to humans; however, they thaw out in spring and are as nasty as ever.  Zombies are not affected by water or the ocean's depths.  There are millions of zombies walking around on the bottom of the oceans, and they periodically emerge on beaches looking for meat to eat.
    I would highly recommend this book.  It seems we're currently in a similar stage with all the zombie stories as we were a few years ago with all the vampire stories.  I wish AMC's Walking Dead was back right now!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Strain (trilogy)

I used to like vampires. One of my all-time favorite TV shows is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then Twilight took over the world. The biggest problem with Twilight is not the books and the movies. The biggest problem is that vampires turned up EVERYWHERE for a while. Such is the nature of popular culture. But there was something about this book and trilogy that caught my attention. That something is Guillermo Del Toro. One of my favorite movies is Hellboy (and the sequel). You may know him as the man who directed Pacific Rim. This was one of the big summer movies. I did not know he wrote books and I found them in a sale rack at a Barnes and Nobles store. I read the entire trilogy in just about four days. I could not put them down. He restored my faith in the vampire genre.
This story is really like a mash up of several styles. Initially the book starts like a thriller/mystery when a plane full of peope lands and then dies. The plane loses all power and sits on the runway. The CDC is called in when it is discovered that everyone on board was dead except for four people. As the investigation proceeds the CDC learns that the problem is not a disease or typical virus. Within days all the dead come back to life as vampires. Not the Dracula type. Scary and dangerous vampires who begin to take over neighborhoods, towns, cities and eventually the planet. The book then turns into a great horror book. Then it becomes a fantasy when the history is folded in. Then it becomes a science fiction book. Then it becomes a story about the power of family. Then it becomes......you get the point. This series is amazing.
There characters we well developed and you care what happens to them. When someone dies (not a spoiler) you feel bad for them and the survivors. There are some cliche moments, but they are handled so deftly that I never once felt cheated. It is not a gory book although it is very descriptive when the vampires attack.
Great books! I think it is time for me to revisit the horror genre. It was always my favorite. I have the first book on my Kindle and the others I have in hardcover. I can lend the last two but you really need the first one. Why the two formats? I bought the second two in a store and then realized they were parts two and three. I then found the first book for $1.99 on amazon.com. Total price for the trilogy? About $12.00! This is how I buy books. I like them cheap my money goes a little further.