W.B.’s Book Report: Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package

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After the news of Steve Ditko’s death, I went in search of his later works, after having drifted away from comic books in general during the 1990s or so. I landed, more or less at random, on a 1999 collection called Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package, which presents a group of short stories on some of Ditko’s most familiar themes – good, evil, choices, irony …

Some of the stories are OK, some are meh, and the same with the art. I have seen Ditko’s work look much more compelling, and I have seen it look much less. That’s not the point I took away. Continue reading →

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The elegant storyteller

jkrowling

The second time through Harry Potter and The Sorceror’s Stone, eight years after my first experience with J.K. Rowling’s magnificent prose and Jim Dale’s equally magnificent narration, it’s still clear what a marvelous storyteller Rowling is, full of whimsy and love and imagination. And knowing how the story develops, from finishing the seven books and reliving them through eight films, it’s interesting to note how many seeds are dropped here and there that will bear fruit in later books.

The world can never have too much whimsy, says I, nor too much love or too much imagination. The world needs more like the three friends Harry, Hermione and Ron, who have the courage to step up and take action when the authorities are too blind to a problem or too corrupt to do anything.

The heroes of the Potter universe do not accept the world at face value — they do not do as they’re told when something is obviously wrong. It’s a good thing to stand for what’s right, especially when the evil is not so easy to see.

I waited too long to ask the library to hold a copy of the second Potter book, and so it will be a few weeks before I can explore the Chamber of Secrets again, so in the meantime I took a friend’s advice and checked out the first book by Rowling’s detective story-writing alter ego Robert Galbraith. Seven or eight chapters into The Cuckoo’s Calling, I am as enchanted as I was by Harry. Just as she brought whimsy and love and imagination to her tales of wizards and witches, she brings a literary elegance to the hard-boiled detective novel — and yes, perhaps a bit of whimsy.

J.K. Rowling is the greatest author of our era.

Photo ©2015 Mary McCartney

 

Take this book. It’s free. And here’s why

Refuse to be Afraid - printLet me get to the point right away and then circle back: If you want a free, unabridged copy of the best book I’ve written so far, click here.

Eight years ago I was plugging away on my blog, much like today, and noticed I was writing several recurring themes that seemed to resonate with my small but enthusiastic audience of readers: It’s a scary world out there, and a lot of people, from politicians to advertisers and even my chosen field of news media, seemed to be in the business of trying to scare people to death and offering a bogus remedy – maybe a magic pill or some other product, or voting somebody out of office or passing another law – and it usually involved spending money or further reducing the amount of liberty that common folks are allowed. Continue reading →

I have been dying of thirst in the ocean for lack of strange wine

 

Strange Wine girl

Harlan Ellison died the other day, and the world grew more dull. I, of course, never met the man, but when I encountered his words I never failed to learn something, to be entertained, and/or to gain some insight into the human condition.

Oh, enough of that – the man was a hero to anyone who loves to see bullshit called out, grabbed by the throat and humiliated.

And he was, as the blurb on the cover to his collection Strange Wine, asserted, someone who “just could be the best short story writer alive today.” At least until Thursday. Continue reading →

All the wondrous stories

all the wondrous stories (6193)

I love the smell, the feel, the secrets of old paper. Yellowing pages attract me like moth to light – they are a time machine – a glimpse into another era, the significance of the words and images transformed and enhanced by what has come into the world since – a snapshot of a moment filled with promise that we now know whether it was fulfilled.

I love holding old stuff, admiring the work done with old tools I can barely fathom let alone understand how the raw materials became this.

“There are only three stories,” someone said, or was it fewer, or more?

Google The Great and Powerful yields:

“Every story is either The Iliad or The Odyssey.” Perhaps I need to read those again.

A Mr. Booker told the New York Times once that there are seven basic plots. 1. Overcoming the Monster; 2. Rags to Riches; 3. The Quest; 4. Voyage and Return; 5. Rebirth; 6. Comedy; 7. Tragedy.

Leo Tolstoy suggested there are two stories: A man goes on a journey. A stranger comes to town.

Borges said four stories: A love story between two people; a love story among three people; the struggle for power; the voyage.

I say:

There are 7 billion stories, and one: We are born, we live, we die.

Tell me a story, won’t you?

W.B.’s Book Report: Men in War

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The first book I’ve read that was recommended by Haunted Bookshop owner Roger Mifflin, Men in War by Andreas Latzko is a scream of rage and unimaginable pain, a primal scream against the inhumanity that Latzko endured as a soldier of Austria-Hungary on the River Isonzo front against Italy in 1916. If I didn’t understand what men in war have been through, now I have an inkling. The book is a powerful, life-changing experience that I must force myself to read again soon.

Men in War is a novel with six chapters, more accurately described as six short stories, linked mainly by the front and by the unrelenting despair and senselessness of the situation. This is a book that should shake the reader to the core. No wonder the Hitler regime had it burned – it exposes far too much of what the war machine is all about.

“My Comrade (A Diary),” the fourth chapter, is a bomb – a rant of common sense from a man diagnosed as mentally ill because he carries the memories of the men he has seen destroyed by war and he cannot fathom the insanity that did them such harm. It’s a clear peek behind the haunted eyes of those who have seen the same: We see that such memories cannot possibly be compartmentalized or tucked away forgotten. I would guess they can only be endured a best as one can.

Latzko wrote Men in War (Menschen im Krieg) during his rehabilitation from physical and psychic injuries sustained during his service; he served on the Isonzo front during 1916, suffering malaria and then severe shock from a heavy Italian artillery barrage. After eight months in the hospital, he moved to Davos, Switzerland, for further recuperation and rehab, where he wrote the book in 1917.

This is the book that Christopher Morley, through Mifflin, says “was so damned true that the government suppressed it.” One prays Latzko got some relief by letting the words pour out of his fingers. He does a service to humanity by sharing the inhumanity he witnessed and by letting us see and feel the damage done to his heart and soul.

Here is a link to the book at Project Gutenberg.

(Photo: © Andrew Emptage | Dreamstime.com Preserved trench network at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres on the Western Front battlefields of the first world war. Photo taken on March 10, 2010)

W.B.’s Book Report: The Haunted Bookshop

haunted bookshop kindle

It’s been a long time since I was as charmed by a reading experience as I was by Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop. Released in 1919, this book is filled (through bookseller Roger Mifflin) with Morley’s passionate hope that the lessons from the recently completed Great Was would be learned and that humanity would never turn to such senseless brutality to solve its differences again.

Seen through the lens of nearly 100 more years of history, Mifflin seems a trifle naive, especially when he puts his faith in Woodrow Wilson, who is about to embark on a peace conference, but Morley also inject elements that suggest he, too, knows that peace is an elusive goal.

The Haunted Bookshop is a wondrous ode to books and literature. a tremendous manifesto against the silliness and futility of war, and an adequate little mystery and love story. There are dozens of good suggestions for future reading and plenty of sound philosophy and observations about life, living, and what the weary world had just experienced.

I finished this book reluctantly, wanting the story to continue and wishing to have more of the loquacious Roger Mifflin – the good news is there is one previous book in Morley’s quiver about the bookseller who so loved books and peace.

Morley peppers the book with references to other 1919-era books, some familiar to me and many not, so I could spend quite a bit of time tracking them down and seeing for myself what delighted Morley/Mifflin so.

I can’t recommend The Haunted Bookshop enthusiastically enough.

Here is a link to the book at Project Gutenberg.