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- The Offbeat Almanac – May 2021 — 1 comment
Jul 11 2017
The recent deluge of superhero movies has resulted in a marked increase in superhero books and comics. Superman, The Justice League, Wonder Woman, and the Avengers are all slated to have new movies in the next couple of years. In this vein, I decided to look at superhero books for young children.
Good Morning, Superman, Be a Star, Wonder Woman, and Bedtime for Batman are a trilogy of books written by Michael Dahl designed to encourage kids in basic tasks such as brushing their teeth, bathing, and putting away their toys.
Good Morning, Superman starts the series by introducing the early morning routine. A little boy leaps out of bed beginning his morning routine: potty, getting dressed, breakfast, and finally, tooth brushing. Presented alongside are depictions of Clark Kent/Superman going through his routine. Beginning his day as Clark Kent, flying over the city as Superman, fighting bad guys, facing Lex Luthor armed with Kryptonite (a nice touch alongside the little boys kryptonite colored toothpaste) and finally, ending his day knowing he helped keep peace within the city.
Be a Star, Wonder Woman goes further into the school routine and tackles more complex behaviors such as conquering fears, sharing with others, and learning to write. As with Good Morning, Superman, each of the child’s tasks is shown alongside Wonder Woman performing a similar superhero task. Where Good Morning, Superman encourages young readers with everyday tasks, Be A Star Wonder Woman helps kids with more abstract concepts such as courage, treating others fairly, and working as a team.
Bedtime for Batman follows the same concept, juxtaposing the activities of the little boy getting ready for bed and Batman protecting Gotham. As the little boy begins his nightly activities (wearing Batman pajamas of course), Batman is watching over the city by apprehending criminals such as Harley Quinn, Penguin, and the Joker. The nightly bath is described as cleaning up the daily grime while toothbrushing is depicted as brushing aside his fears. Even the topic of potty training is tackled in such a way that young children will relate.
Good Morning Superman, Be A Star, Wonder Woman, and Bedtime for Batman make a wonderful trilogy for toddlers and beginning readers. The text is simple, with an easy to follow storyline, and illustrations that play off each other nicely. Parents will likely find that any or all of these books become a nightly staple in their child’s bedtime routine but will also be granted the enjoyment of introducing a new generation to these superheroes.
Mar 31 2017
April 1: Of course we all know today as April Fools Day, but did you know it is also Edible Book Day? No joke! Personally, I prefer a more figurative approach to my book devouring but hey, if literal is your thing, then today is your day! Though might I suggest you try a hearty bowl of alphabet soup instead?
April 2: It’s National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day! Celebrate today by cracking open a fresh jar of your favorite peanut butter and making yourself a sandwich! Think of all the childhood memories you’ll be reliving. Or if you’re like me and can’t have peanuts, use your favorite peanut butter substitute. Just make sure you cut off the crusts!
April 3: Today is Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day! I think the celebratory method is pretty self explanatory. Your boss might try to argue with you, but you can simply show them this article and explain that it’s a recognized national holiday. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find something else soon….
April 4: I’m not sure any of us are going to want to observe today as it is World Rat Day. I know some folks thing rats are an under appreciated animal but I have to admit, I’m not really one of them. Nevertheless, if you are a rat lover, then today is your day. Just don’t be too cheesy about it!
April 5: Today we observe one of my favorite holidays with Deep Dish Pizza Day! Who can resist a thick, crunchy, and fluffy crust topped with gooey mozzarella and pepperoni? Celebrate today by supporting your favorite pizza place! Order a half a dozen larges – after all you don’t want to be caught unawares if there’s a sudden pizza shortage!
April 6: It’s Teflon Day! Don’t worry, it’s only one day and I don’t believe this holiday will really stick.
April 7: Laundry piling up? Dishwasher not loaded? Living room still not vacuumed? Don’t stress as today is National No Housework Day! Put your feet up and relax a little. All the chores will still be there tomorrow. (at which point maybe you can get someone else to do it for you!)
April 8: Let the little kid in you roam free as today is Take Your Parents to the Playground Day! Admittedly, if you’re like me and you’re in your 40’s with parents in their 80’s, this might look a little odd but are you really going to let that stop you? I hear that merry go round calling your name! Hopefully you won’t barf this time….
April 9: I don’t want to alarm you but, today is National Chicken Little Awareness Day! Don’t worry, I checked, the sky is still there.
April 10: Today is National Sibling Day! (Is not!) (Is too!) (Is not!) (Is too!) (Moooom!)
April 11: It’s National Be Kind to Lawyers Day! No really, you have to be nice to them today or they’ll sue.
April 12: Today is one of my favorite holidays with Drop Everything and Read Day! When your boss or spouse or significant other starts hassling you about spending the entire day reading, send them here. These holidays are important after all!
April 13: Today is Scrabble Day! Be zealous, exultant, and exuberant in your celebrations!
April 14: It’s Dictionary Day! Use the day to brush up on some of those words you didn’t think of during Scrabble Day yesterday.
April 15: Bet you can’t figure out what holiday today is! Circus Day? (Well, OK, yeah) Alien Appreciation Day? (Nope!) Give up? It’s Take a Wild Guess Day! (See what I did there?)
April 16: Today is an eggselent holiday with Eggs Benedict Day! Coincidentally (or perhaps not so) it is also Easter. Why not put your leftover Easter eggs to good use and make some Eggs Benedict out of them?
April 17: Today is Blah Blah Blah Day! Which I suspect is the noise you hear in your head as you’re reading this column….
April 18: It’s Velociraptor Awareness Day, today! Trust me, if I were to ever encounter a velociraptor you can be assured that I would be VERY aware of it!
April 19: We’ve celebrated this one in the past but I feel it is worth commemorating again: it’s National Wear Your Pajamas To Work Day! Put on your favorite footies or your Wonder Woman sleeper and head to the office! I’m sure your boss will understand. After all, you and HR are old friends by now!
April 20: Today is Lima Bean Respect Day. Let’s be honest, do any of us really think Lima beans deserve any respect? Eat a green cupcake instead. You’ll enjoy it more.
April 21: Is Tuna Rights Day! Honestly, I think there’s something fishy about this holiday, but I cod be wrong. I don’t wish tuna any eel will, however, so if it’s rights they want, it’s rights they shall have!
April 22: It’s National Day of Puppetry! Even if you have to pull a few strings to do so, I’m certain you can find a way to celebrate today! If not, I’m sure someone would be willing to lend you a hand!
April 23: Today is English Language Day. It also happens to to be Talk Like Shakespeare Day! Celebrate by throwing out words like “forsooth” and “verfily” into your conversation. Would the Bard steer you wrong?
April 24: Get ready to ham it up as it’s National Pigs in a Blanket Day! First mentioned in 1957 in Betty Crocker’s Cooking for Kids, this fun little pastry is also known as devils on horseback. Somehow that just doesn’t sound quite as appetizing!
April 25: It’s International Marconi Day! Named after Guglielmo Marconi, the 1st Marquis of Marconi, who was the first person to send a wireless transmission across the Atlantic, International Marconi Day is a virtual gathering of radio aficionados who broadcast around the world using the same radio technology Marconi used. Celebrate like it’s 1901 and join the festivities by tuning in! Or you can just pretend you know what you’re talking about and wish everyone you see today Happy Marconi Day. Your choice.
April 26: Today is a sedimental holiday for some. In fact, on a scale of 0 to 9.5 I’d say it’s a pretty solid 7 for most. Celebrations may leave you quaking in your boots, but don’t be shaken, I know you’ll be back on solid footing soon. It’s National Richter Scale Day!
April 27: – — -.. .- -.– / .. … / — — .-. … . / -.-. — -.. . / -.. .- -.– # / -.. .- … …. / — ..-. ..-. / .- -. -.. / -.-. . .-.. . -… .-. .- – . / .- -.-. -.-. — .-. -.. .. -. –. .-.. -.– #
April 28: Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s simply National Superhero Day. Wear a cape and celebrate your favorite superhero today! Unless your favorite is Wolverine in which case the whole Edward Scissorhands thing could get awkward when trying to greet your co-workers. On second thought, celebrate on the down low today. After all, you don’t want to give away your secret identity, do you?
April 29: Today is Viral Video Day! Whether you’re enthralled by the Ninja Cat or you’re angry at being Rick-Rolled, today is your day! Sit back, relax, and YouTube all your favorite viral videos. Just be careful and don’t let Charlie bite your finger ’cause ain’t nobody got time for that!
April 30: Uh… What’s up, Doc? It’s duck season! No, it’s rabbit season! Actually, it’s Bugs Bunny Day! Queue up “What’s Opera, Doc?” or “The Rabbit of Seville” and relax! Hopefully Elmer Fudd won’t find you, but if he does, just drop an ACME anvil on his head and continue your day. Don’t worry, he’ll recover in time for his honeymoon with Bugs!
Feb 28 2017
With the recent resurgence of Marvel’s Thor movies, Norse mythology has become a renewed interest for many.
Neil Gaiman has held a fascination for Norse myths and legends for most of his life. As a young boy he read a comic about the Norse god Thor. Throughout his writing for most of his career, the theme of Norse mythology has been interwoven. His comic Sandman uses Odin, Thor, and Loki in recurring roles and features several locations mentioned in Norse legend. His novel American Gods also takes many elements of Norse mythology and places them in the present day.
In his latest book Norse Mythology, Gaiman goes to the core of the myths and tries to present them in an easily understandable, modernized manner.
Gaiman opens with the Nordic creation myth. The myth states that before the beginning there were two worlds: the mist world and the fire world. The mist world was called Niflheim and lay to the north. The fire world lay to the south and was called Muspell.
The mist world was “colder than cold” while everything on the fire world glowed and burned. “Muspell was light where Niflheim was gray,” Gaiman writes, and covered in “molten lava where the mist world was frozen.”
Between these two worlds was an empty and formless void called Gunnungagap. Rivers from the mist world flowed into the void, eventually forming giant glaciers. The glaciers in the north the glaciers were covered in fog and ice, but the embers and sparks from Muspell melted the ice in the south. Eventually, life in the form of a person appeared in the waters and called itself Ymir who became the ancestor of all giants. Out of the ice also came a cow named Audhumla who licked Buri, the ancestor of the gods, out of blocks of ice.
Ymir, who was neither male nor female, gave birth in it’s sleep to male and female giants one of whom married Buri. Buri had a son called Bor who in turn had three sons: Odin, Vili, and Ve.
The myth goes on to explain how Odin, Vili, and Ve grew into men, eventually creating other worlds and making people who Odin breathed life into – making him the all-father.
Further into Norse Mythology, Gaiman introduces the reader to other characters such us Sif (Thor’s wife) and Loki (Thor’s brother). Many of the myths center around Loki causing trouble and Thor cleaning up his mess. For instance, in The Treasures of the Gods, Sif wakes up with hair missing. Thor immediately assumes that Loki is responsible because “…when something goes wrong, the first thing I was always think is it is Loki’s fault. It saves a lot of time.”
When confronted, Loki admits to being responsible and says that he did it because he was drunk and it was funny. What follows is a long and amusing tale of Loki nearly losing his head, accidentally getting Thor his hammer, and eventually, Sif regaining her hair.
Norse Mythology is like reading about your favorite dysfunctional family. They are constantly at odds with each other but underneath is a tangible fondness. Fans whose only previous exposure to Odin’s sons and the rest of the Norse gods is through the Marvel movies will find the same vexatious Loki and the same kind but slightly dense Thor.
Gaiman strips away overly complicated or flowery language and re-tells the myths in a straight forward easy to follow manner. Well known for his characterization talents, Gaiman brings the ancient gods to life and allows the reader to believe, even if only for a moment, that the old myths are real.
Devoted fans of Gaiman will find familiar characters and themes in Norse Mythology. American Gods features both Odin and Loki disguised as Mr. Wednesday and Mr. World respectively. Thor is mentioned in passing but does not feature in the main plot.
Odin, Thor, and Loki are also featured in Odd and the Frost Giants in which a young boy encounters an eagle, a bear, and a fox who turn out to be the ancient gods in disguise.
In addition, Gaiman’s comic Sandman: Seasons of Mists also features Thor, Odin, and Loki as well as a number of other characters drawn from different cultures including ancient Japanese and Egyptian mythology.
First time readers will likely enjoy Norse Mythology as it presents the stories with humor and makes them accessible to readers of different ages. While there is some mention of sex, violence, and general mayhem, Norse Mythology is still appropriate for middle school age and older children. Young children would likely find Odd and the Frost Giants a better introduction to Norse mythology, though both books are a good starting point for both adults and children.
Other works readers may want to investigate include Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, or D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths (previously titled Norse Gods and Giants). While Trigger Warning does not center around any specific mythology or culture, it retains a fairy tale feel and many of the stories could easily be adaptations of cultural legends. Trigger Warning and Norse Mythology also share the same conversational tone that is so quintessential to Gaiman’s work.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths is aimed at young children and will be a welcome addition to fans of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Filled with full page color illustrations, D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths overlaps significantly with Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Both tell of the theft of Thor’s hammer, the story of Balder, and the Norse creation story. Adults who grew up on D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths will find nostalgic pleasure in D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths and may enjoy sharing it with their own children.
Other books readers may enjoy include Rick Riordan’s new series Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. Though less faithful to the original mythology, Riordan manages to create a world of adventure and excitement that will intrigue readers of all ages.
At just over 300 pages Norse Mythology is an easy afternoon read that will leave readers eager to learn more of Nordic culture and myths.
Jan 17 2017
Carrie Fisher is best known for her role in the Star Wars franchise as the iconic Princess Leia. Many of us who are now adults spent long hours of our childhood pretending to be characters in the Star Wars universe. Whether we were the snarky Princess escaping the clutches of the evil Lord Vader, the equally snarky and jaded smuggler Han Solo, or even the wise and stoic Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars left an indelible mark on our formative years. (Except for the prequels – those don’t actually exist)
What fewer people realize though is that in addition to being an accomplished actress, Fisher was also a prolific author. Given the impact of Star Wars on my own childhood, and the recent revelation of Fisher’s affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of the original movie, I was excited to acquire a copy of Fisher’s The Princess Diarist. Soon after came the news of Fisher’s sudden death, making her most recent book her final book.
Fisher opens her memoir with a recap of highlights from 1976, the year she began filming A New Hope. A number of things happened in 1976, Fisher notes. Apple was founded, Interview with a Vampire was first published, and U2 was formed. It was also a year of significant world events including Jimmy Carter beating Gerald Ford in the Presidential election and Son of Sam killing his first victim. Finally, it was the prelude to the year in which Fisher feels her life radically changed forever.
Before auditioning for Star Wars, Fisher played a minor role in Shampoo. Having grown up in a Hollywood household as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher comments that at the time the last thing she thought she wanted to do was go into show business. Nevertheless, she auditioned for Shampoo on a lark, thinking at 17, that it would be exciting to be wanted by Warren Beatty “in any capacity at all.” She got the role and went back to living at home, hoping that perhaps she would be able to soon move out now that she was “hip”.
Two years later, having dropped out of high school and bored with college, Fisher auditioned for Star Wars while home on Christmas break.
George Lucas and Brian De Palma held joint auditions for Carrie and Star Wars. Fisher auditioned for both – originally hoping for Carrie over Star Wars because she thought “Carrie in Carrie would be a casting coup.”
DePalma primarily led the auditions as Lucas sat mostly mute, simply observing. After stumbling through the seemingly inane questions of “I see you were in Shampoo, how was it working with Warren Beatty?” and revealing that she would drop out of college if given either role, Fisher was convinced she had bombed the audition. Much to her amazement, however, her agent called her a couple of weeks later with the news that she had been cast.
At the start of filming, Fisher recalls trying to remain under the radar so that nobody would notice that she had not lost the 10 pounds that were part of her casting contract. She muses that the now famous Princess Leia hairdo may have been used in part to keep her face from looking too big.
Fisher then dives into what she dubs “Carrison”: i.e. her three month long affair with Harrison Ford. Fisher starts by stating that she had spent so long not talking about the affair that it was hard to know where to begin talking about it now and in fact her thoughts on it are somewhat reticent and disjointed.
The affair began, she reveals, in the back of a taxi on the same night Ford rescued her from some crew members who had purposefully set about to get her drunk as a prank. They had intense and frequent sex on the weekends while studiously ignoring each other during the week.
Although Fisher admits she entered into the movie with the idea of having an affair with a crew member or cast mate, she was surprised that it became Ford given that he was married at the time, and she had intense feelings of guilt over that issue.
Fisher writes with a style that is conversational but rambling. She begins passages on one thought, finds another thought in the middle, and finally, ends on yet a third thought. While her recollections are humorous, I found her style to be rather labyrinthine and as a result frequently re-read passages in an effort to keep track.
A vast portion of the middle of the book contains transcriptions of the diaries Fisher kept during her time filming the movie. In these, she reveals a deeply insecure young woman who was extremely conflicted about her relationship with Ford. In one entry, she laments her penchant for inaccessible men noting previous experimentation with gay men and then men whom she knew would treat her poorly. In another, she notes that she thinks Ford is boring which he tries to make look deliberate as if he is “the strong silent type.” Eventually, towards the end, she admits that she is falling for him hard and muses that things might have gone better for her if she had fallen for Mark Hamill instead.
At first reading, these entries seemed like the melodramatic over the top lamentations of a teenager. Then, thinking about it, I realized that is exactly what they were as Fisher was not quite 20 during filming. She may have been finally telling the story as a 60 year old, but the feelings and thoughts were still that of her 19 year old self. Given that, it was easier to understand her perspective and even smile a little bit at the heightened drama.
While the book starts off slowly, it improves as Fisher eventually figures out what she wants to say and actually says it.
Fans of Fisher’s previous works such as Postcards from the Edge or Wishful Drinking will likely enjoy The Princess Diarist. Fisher employs the same conversational tone in each and reveals much of her struggles with poor self-image and becoming permanently tied to the role of Princess Leia at such a young age.
Some readers may be put off by her snarky and sarcastic descriptions of fan interactions, while others may cringe good naturedly and recognize a bit of themselves at fan conventions or autograph signings.
Overall, The Princess Diarist is a quick and somewhat enjoyable read with several moments which will evoke feelings of poignancy in light of Fisher’s now posthumous telling.
Oct 25 2016
Halloween is on us again, and as in previous years, I thought I would do a Halloween themed review of books for kids, middle schoolers, and teens.
I recently discovered a series of classic horror literature converted to graphic novel format. These include Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven & Other Tales.
Muted colors pervade Frankenstein, emphasizing the themes of loss and loneliness from the original text. Characters are drawn with a perspective that creates a feeling of viewing from a distance or being separated from the events of the story. Frankenstein’s monster, were it not for his stitches and hallow face, could almost pass for a regular man.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde also utilizes color to emphasize theme but, in contrast to the monochromatic tones of Frankenstein, the illustrator makes heavy use of red, brown, green, and even pink. Perspectives are closer with less depth of field, highlighting themes of chaos and madness. Mr. Hyde is portrayed with deformed, almost caricature witch-like features. In addition his face is marked with sores indicating disease such as smallpox or similar.
The Raven & Other Tales makes strong use of bright almost neon colors. In one section of the book, each page is overlaid with a different bright color such as purple, turquoise, or red. The reader is given a sense that the narrator is experiencing hallucinatory sensations.
While Dracula uses similar color schemes as Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the drawings are less detailed or refined. In some places, sketches take on almost a satirical expression while in others there is detailed use of shadow and shading. These may have been deliberate choices to highlight certain aspects of the story line.
Retaining the dialogue of the original text, these classics have been carefully illustrated to retain the feel and theme of the original. The graphic novel format may appeal to teens interested in exploring the original text in a more accessible or familiar format. This introduction to the stories may further inspire teens to delve into the original novels.
Ghosts, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, centers around the story of Catrina (Cat) and her family. Her sister Maya has cystic fibrosis, so the family has moved to the coast of Northern California in an effort to improve Maya’s health.
BahÍa de la Luna is different from other places in that the old missions and constant fog provide the perfect conditions for ghostly visitors. The entire town is obsessed with ghosts and as such Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is an especially grand affair. Maya is delighted by this revelation. Cat, however, desperately wishes it would all disappear.
As with Dracula and the other classics, the graphic novel format makes the story more accessible to younger readers or to kids who might not otherwise read a 200 plus page book.
The inclusion of the cystic fibrosis story line is presented in a positive yet realistic manner. Cat knows that her sister’s lifespan is likely to be cut short due to her condition, and as such she is protective of her even as she finds her annoying. The novel does not shy away from the subject of death but addresses it with a frank yet sensitive tone. Maya’s illness has made her determined to live as full a life as possible, and feeds her obsession with the town’s ghost culture. Cat, on the other hand, struggles with the idea that her sister might not always be around and as such, retreats more into herself and tries to reject the ghost stories.
Some readers objected to the depictions of the Dia de los Muertos celebrations claiming Telgemeier appropriated a culture that is not her own and that she presented the holiday as more of a “Mexican Halloween” than a day during which families honor and pray for those who have gone before.
Ghosts is not as scary as the title implies, but since the Dia de los Muertos holiday has come to be celebrated starting on Halloween Day it is an appropriate book for the time of year. Children of Hispanic descent will likely enjoy a book which depicts characters who look like them and who have cultural similarities.
Peanut Butter and Brains written by Joe McGee and illustrated by Charles Santoso introduces the reader to Quirkville, a town overrun with zombies. Reginald is a young zombie who is different from the other zombies in that instead of craving brains, he desperately wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The residents of Quirkville are understandably frightened of the zombies. After all, nobody wants to get their brains eaten. In addition, the other zombies are confused by and skeptical of Reginald. How can a zombie not be interested in brains they wonder? Then one day, Reginald sees a little girl at the bus stop with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her hands.
Peanut Butter and Brains is a great book for beginning readers. Santoso’s illustrations nicely complement the story line without being too frightening for small children. The theme of standing out from the other zombies emphasizes the positive aspects of being unique.
Parents will be amused by Reginald’s eagerness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and may in fact see their own picky eater within the plot lines.
Peanut Butter and Brains will delight kids and will not bore parents quite as quickly as a constant diet of peanut butter and jelly might.
I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehraupt and Scott Magoon presents Theodore a monster who lives in a quiet cave. Occasionally various animals wander by the cave and each time, Theodore wonders if he should eat them, but each time decides that he is not hungry. Eventually, a little boy comes to the cave. Theodore is getting hungry. Should he eat the little boy?
I Will Not Eat You is a delightful book about little boys, dragons, and unusual friendships. Illustrations are presented in large images with broad strokes and bright colors. Young children will be eager to see whether or not Theodore eats the little boy, and parents will audibly laugh at the somewhat dark twist at the end.
I Will Not Eat You is a perfect addition to the collection of Halloween themed books and will likely become a favorite among young kids and parents.
Jul 12 2016
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day is a comedic auto-biography. Well known within the blogging/vlogging community, Day is also something of a minority, as she is a prominent female gamer. In addition, she has gained acclaim for her web series The Guild and is noted for her accessibility within the fan community. As part of this, Day launched Geek and Sundry, a fan-oriented community in 2012.
Day begins her book by introducing herself to those who “have no idea who the hell I am.” She recalls an incident during which she stopped at Build-A-Bear. Having some time to kill, she is soon recognized by a few girls from the Hot Topic next door. As they clamor to get pictures, a mother who is also shopping there asks “Are you an actress?” Day explains she is also a producer and writer and then realizing she is rambling says “Yes, I’m an actress.”
What follows is a surreal moment in which neither the mother, her daughter, or the sales clerk recognize her, raising the defensive ire of the “Hot Topics” as Day has dubbed them.
Extracting herself from the situation as gracefully as possible, Day heads to tour the Virgin Galactic hangar as part of a social media invite. Such is the surrealness of her life, she reflects.
Based on those two factors, Day makes the assumption that the reader is either extremely excited to read her book (“OMG! FELICIA DAY WROTE A BOOK!”) or extremely confused (“Who the hell is this chick?”) For those in the former category, she thanks you. For those in the latter category she hopes you will stick around.
The first chapter, “Why I’m Weird”, details Day’s eccentric childhood. Having attended regular schools for kindergarten and first grade, Day is sent to a conservative Lutheran school for second grade. Her parents were not religious, but the school was the best in their Alabama community. Day reflect that she enjoyed the school except for having to attend chapel everyday.
Due to a chapel illustration involving the burning of money, Day is soon pulled out of the Lutheran school and placed into a school that practices “unschooling.” Day states that she does not remember much about that place except that they quickly closed, having embezzled the parents’ money.
Soon Day’s father is transferred from Huntsville to Biloxi at which point it is decided that Day and her brother Ryon will be home-schooled. This goes well for about a week until any semblance of structure in their lives gradually ebbs.
Having just moved and not being on any official government lists, there is no one to supervise their schooling. Art becomes something along the lines of “Can the doodles in the margins of my geometry chapter count as art?” “Sure!”, and history becomes driving around the state visiting all the Civil War sites. The one constant in their education is that they are expected to read constantly.
Eventually Day’s father becomes concerned, and Day and her brother are signed up for an extensive array of lessons. Ballet, jazz, martial arts, watercoloring, etc. If it was available and fit into their schedule, Day and her brother were signed up for it. Eventually Day makes her way to the end of her education and, during the writing of her book, realizes she has two college degrees but no high school diploma.
Having done some acting and modeling as a child, Day decides to return to Los Angeles after college to pursue an acting career. Two months after moving, Day wraps up her first real acting stint and is cut a check for 90 dollars which bounces. On follow up, Day finds out that the production company had shut down and disappeared. She never got paid. She does, however, decide to frame the check as a funny story to tell on Actors Studio after she is successful.
In 2005, at the peak of what Day refers to as her “auditioning for burger commercials” career, her brother invites her to play a new game called World of Warcraft. Through the game, Day is able to connect with her brother and make new friends, but quickly becomes addicted, forgoing auditions, personal relationships, and most outside activities. Day later draws on her experiences during this time in the creation of her web series The Guild which, in turn, is the work that finally launched her career.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a fun and honest look into the early life and struggles of someone who has managed to make a career out of being socially awkward. The Guild has won several awards for online series, and in 2009 was labeled “one of the Nets best serial shows” by Rolling Stone. Geek and Sundry was launched in 2012 as part of YouTube’s 100 million dollar original channel initiative.
Day writes in an easy, conversational voice. The tone of her writing belies the fact that Day is, in fact, an intense intellectual who started college at the age of 16 and graduated in the top four percent with dual degrees in mathematics and violin performance. While her insecurities may seem off putting to some readers, Day manages to remain relatable with her comedic self-deprecation.
Readers who enjoyed Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton, or Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson should enjoy You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). All three books are written by celebrities who exude more of an Everyman persona. Each of the authors is well known for their approachability and their frequent, personal interactions with fans. All three authors have also shared intimate details their mutual struggles with anxiety and depression, allowing insight into their treatment, how these issues have impacted their careers and their creative efforts. Finally, the three authors have developed lasting personal friendships with each other. This has resulted in overlap in not only their books, but many of their professional endeavors.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a fun and quirky read accessible even to those who have never heard the name Felicia Day.
Jun 21 2016
Over the course of his career, Neil Gaiman has written a number of essays, introductions, and speeches. The View from the Cheap Seats pulls together over sixty of these pieces in one place for the first time.
For veteran fans of Gaiman, many of these writings will revisit previously seen works. For newer fans, The View from the Cheap Seats is a rare and quite interesting look into the mind of one of the greatest modern writers.
The book’s preface sets the tone the collection with Gaiman’s personal credo: a very brief summary of the basic tenants by which he lives his life and which influence his writings.
Many of Gaiman’s beliefs seem self-evident: killing or maiming others to suppress ideas doesn’t work. Neither does attempting to control the ideas or thoughts of others. Gaiman argues that ideas in and of themselves are neither good nor bad – they simply exist and members of society should be free to express those ideas no matter how vile or reprehensible they seem to others. Rather, Gaiman states, it is up to each person to counter and persuade those representing the vile and reprehensible over to their side.
From there, Gaiman jumps into a speech on the importance of libraries that he gave in 2013 for the Reading Agency, a U.K. charity whose mission is to help people become more confident readers. Gaiman admits that, as an author, he is biased towards libraries. He also gives the reader a small insight into how libraries and librarians shaped his path when he was a child. During the summer months, his parents dropped him at the library on their way to work and picked him up on their way home. There he worked his way through the card catalogue looking for books on vampires, witches, detectives, and other wonders. After he had finished with the children’s library, he began on the adult books. During this process, the librarians nurtured his love of reading by teaching him about interlibrary loans and steering him toward other books he might enjoy.
Touching on his personal credo from the opening of the book, Gaiman later talks about Charlie Hebdo and the PEN literary gala. Since six tables had pulled out of hosting tables and so Gaiman was asked if he would step in to host one. He agreed and what follows is a deeply personal and touching moment between him and his wife, Amanda Palmer. Palmer tells him he is doing the right thing and then asks “Will you wear a bullet proof vest?” Gaiman argues that security will be tight and tries to assuage her fears by assuring her a vest will not be necessary.
“But you should wear a vest anyway.” Palmer argues. “Remember, I’m pregnant, and our child will need a father more than a martyr.” In the end, Gaiman does not wear the vest, but the exchange is a startling reminder of the power of ideas and words. Comics and cartoons can viscerally offend, Gaiman argues, but that does not mean they should not be defended. In closing, he quotes the editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo “Growing up to be a citizen is to learn that some ideas, some words, some images can be shocking. Being shocked is part of democratic debate. Being shot is not.”
The View from the Cheap Seats is an odd mixture in both quality and subject matter. Some of the writings are deeply personal, giving the reader a rare and intimate view into the writer’s childhood, school life, and very early career. Gaiman shares his personal insecurities in interviewing authors he has long admired and reveals the origins of his friendships with figures such as Tori Amos, and Terry Pratchett. Included among these is a moving tribute to Douglas Adams.
Other elements of the book are as ungainly as their titles suggest, such as “A Speech to Professionals Contemplating Alternative Employment, Given at PROCON, April 1997.” As a reader and a reviewer that particular entry was a head scratcher. Even in the seemingly banal, however, Gaiman manages to shine by offering an intriguing look into the publishing industry just before the Internet exploded and changed everything.
Throughout the book are numerous personal anecdotes of people famous and otherwise with whom Gaiman has formed close relationships over the course of his career. Few though are as touching as the tribute to his wife’s late surrogate father, Anthony.
Intertwining themes of living and dying, Gaiman reveals the path of his relationship with Palmer and by extension, Anthony. Ironically, Gaiman and Palmer meet as a result of her commissioning Gaiman to write a handful of stories and poems for her album “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” During their first date, she introduces Gaiman to Anthony who proclaims that he thinks Gaiman would make a good boyfriend. Despite not yet realizing Anthony’s importance to Palmer, Gaiman is nonetheless pleased. Anthony soon becomes not simply Palmer’s close friend but a trusted confidant and counsel to Gaiman. Then, approximately six months after Gaiman and Palmer are married, Anthony is diagnosed with leukemia. In the midst of this, two other of Gaiman and Palmer’s friends die unexpectedly. Finally, the news is delivered that Anthony is in remission. Sadly, however, a post-script reveals that Anthony in fact died from leukemia in June of 2015. What is not revealed in the piece, but is of importance, is that three months later, Palmer gave birth to a son, named Anthony in honor of their dear friend.
Fans of Gaiman’s previous works will find themselves enthralled with The View from the Cheap Seats. Gaiman has long had a reputation for being open and accessible to fans. The View from the Cheap Seats, however, offers a deeper, more intimate look at Gaiman’s early life and career. One can easily imagine from his prose a serious and quiet little Neil Gaiman stuffed into the corner of his local library.
Those previously unfamiliar with Gaiman should enjoy his conversational style and dry humor. Gaiman is that rare mixture of both famous and unassuming. It is clear from his writing and the stories he relates that he is exactly as he seems: a somewhat befuddled English bloke who likes to tell stories.
May 10 2016
Having previously done a review on books made into movies, I decided this month to tackle books or book series that are currently in development of or in the midst of their first television season.
Shannara by Terry Brooks begins with the The Sword of Shannara and currently continues through The Darkling Child. Brooks’ primary work has been the Shannara series, but he is also well known for the Magic Kingdom at Landover series.
The Shannara series takes place on Earth, approximately 2000 years after a great nuclear holocaust has destroyed most of the planet. Over the years following The Great Wars, mankind evolves into four distinct races: Men, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Trolls. In addition, Elves have emerged after centuries of hiding.
The television series begins with characters and events of the second book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara. The novel introduces the reader to Wil Ohmsford, (grandson of Shea, the main character in the first novel) Wil inherits the Elfstones and through the instruction of the druid Allanon teams up with Amberle Elessedil, (granddaughter of the King of the Elves) and Eretia, a Rover (a race of humans who live as gypsies).
Together the three, accompanied by Allanon, embark on a quest to save the Elcryss, a magical tree which keeps the Demons locked away from the Four Lands.
Brooks has long been a favorite of fantasy lovers, and the Shannara series makes it clear why. Long compared to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, Shannara pulls the reader into a world that is every bit as compelling as Middle Earth without the over verbosity for which Tolkien’s work is known. Readers who enjoy the Shanarra series may also enjoy the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind or The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman has been frequently described as “Harry Potter for grown-ups.” The novel centers around Quentin Coldwater, a high school senior from Brooklyn. Quentin has long been obsessed with a series of books about a group of children who discover a Narnia-like land called Fillory. On the day of his admissions interview to Princeton, Quentin is instead evaluated for and admitted to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Here he becomes engrossed in learning magic and in the fight against a mythical enemy called “The Beast”.
There are significant changes from the books to the television series, including aging Quentin and the other characters from high school seniors to adults in their mid-20’s embarking on graduate school. In addition, in the television adaptation, more emphasis is placed on Quentin’s depression. In the opening of the television series, he is shown being released from a mental hospital. None of that occurs in the books where he is portrayed as simply being more aloof or disaffected than his peers.
The Magicians is at times a brilliant piece of parody, acknowledging and perhaps mildly poking fun at similar books such as the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia. At other times it drags slightly with the characters appearing overly negative or cynical. These issues are easily overlooked, however, against Grossman’s excellent use of dialogue and characterization.
Readers who grew up on Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia may find themselves drawn to The Magicians based on the obvious similarities, and indeed, it would be easy to dismiss The Magicians as a Harry Potter or Narnia rip off without deeper investigation, but readers will quickly realize that Grossman has created a darker, more grown-up world which acknowledges the fantasy of the other worlds but which also recognizes that being magical does not guarantee greatness.
Readers may also enjoy Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke or Soon I Will Be Invincible by Lev Grossman’s brother Austin Grossman.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman centers around the idea that the ancient stories of gods and mythological creatures are real. Since people have stopped believing in them, they have faded into obscurity having been replaced by new gods of technology, drugs, and celebrity.
The novel opens with Shadow, a convict who, days before he is due to be released on parole, receives word that his wife and his best friend have been killed in a car accident. Consumed by grief, Shadow takes a job as a bodyguard for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who appears to know a great deal about Shadow’s life without having been told. Soon they embark on a journey across America where Shadow learns the truth about all the gods, old and new.
Gaiman is an established author known for books such as Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and the acclaimed graphic novel Sandman. In addition to American Gods, Gaiman’s Sandman spin-off, Lucifer has also been made into a current Fox TV show.
Gaiman shines throughout all of his writing and American Gods is no exception. From the easily imaginable physical descriptions, to Gaiman’s solid use of dialogue, readers will be drawn into the world of American Gods and Shadow’s life. As with many of Gaiman’s previous novels, American Gods draws on the idea that ancient legends and fairy tales have a foundation in reality.
In The Ocean at the End of the Lane Gaiman created a world in which fairies co-exist with mortals. In Lucifer, Satan has become bored with ruling Hell and has instead taken up residence in Los Angeles as the owner of a piano bar. In American Gods a world is imagined in which the gods of Norse, Greek, and other cultures co-exist with mortals.
Readers starting with American Gods should investigate Gaiman’s other works such as Coraline, Neverwhere, or Good Omens (co-authored with the late Terry Pratchett). Readers familiar with Gaiman’s work may also want to consider John Dies at the End by David Wong or The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams.
Each of these novels provides a good foundation for their TV adaptations, and readers should find something to enjoy in all of them.
Jan 26 2016
Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton is the third in the Humans of New York series. Preceded by Humans of New York and Little Humans, Humans of New York: Stories was born out of Brandon’s experiences in creating the first book.
The first book in the Humans of New York series is primarily a photographic essay. Brandon purchased his first camera six months before losing his job as a bond trader. A weekend trip to New York inspired Brandon with its vast array of eclectic and vibrant residents. Brandon’s original plan for his blog was to create a map with ten thousand photographs of New Yorkers plotted across it. Eventually, he begin adding short quotes and captions to the photos. This new format rapidly increased the site’s popularity and out of this came the first Humans of New York book.
The original book is almost entirely visual. Stories and captions are sparse, save for a simple location reveal or simple information describing the photo. This allows the photos to stand on their own giving the reader an opportunity to bring their own interpretation to the scene.
As Brandon collected photos for the first book, he found the camera served as a conduit for people to open up and tell him their stories. From this, Brandon decided the world would benefit from the sharing of these stories, so he came up with Humans of New York: Stories.
In Humans of New York: Stories the reader is treated to the same concept of the original book, but this time with the something extra. Instead of spartan captions or mere location tags, the new book is filled with accompanying text.
From small children to the most wizened of adults, no person is deemed as less or more, nor is anyone portrayed as more important than the others.
Many of the stories are whimsical such as the little girl of about three who gleefully exclaims “You’re taking my picture!” Next there is the small boy, perhaps 5 or 6 in age, who profoundly describes how he wants to build bridges in Wisconsin because he feels as if there are a lot of people in Wisconsin who don’t have bridges. The wrinkle in his plan? He’s not entirely certain where Wisconsin is. A few pages later is the Sikh boy holding his infant brother who says his favorite aspect of his younger sibling is that “he’s cute.”
Some of the stories are more inspirational in tone. There is the 20 something year old woman in a wheelchair who wants to become a diplomat in order to make life in China easier for people with disabilities. She reveals that she lived in a Chinese orphanage until she was 10 and was unable to attend school because she couldn’t walk. At the end of her story the reader discovers that she has begun with first step with an acceptance to the London School of Economics.
The book is also a study of contrasts. Across the page from the aspiring diplomat is a middle aged man who states that he served ten years in prison. When questioned why he responds “…Organized crime. Allegedly.” In the span of five short sentences, one gets the distinct impression that even though this man is currently anonymous his face will one day be plastered on the news.
In fact, in the original Humans of New York, Brandon reveals that one couple he photographed later became a national headline after a cache of explosives was discovered in their apartment.
Nothing is off limits in Humans of New York: Stories and Brandon delves into a considerable range of topics.
There are the two teenagers who don’t seem to know yet if they are friends or something more. There is the elderly couple who cannot agree whether this is their 61st or 62nd anniversary. Sandwiched in the middle of this mini-essay is the young couple whose nervousness is evident as they reveal they are on their first date.
Many of the stories are poignant reminders of the fact that circumstance and life can change practically on a dime.
This is best highlighted with a three page spread of a young man who talks about how he and his wife were at dinner soon before her due date of their first child. While enjoying their meal they received a phone call that they needed to get to the hospital quickly as Marwa’s (the soon to be mother) platelet count was low. At the hospital they are assured that things will be fine, but a a few days later the man finds himself a widower with a newborn baby. While he describes meeting her as evoking a “finally home” feeling, losing her creates an emptiness in him that he cannot imagine ever filling.
The stories continue on from cute and funny to serious and heart breaking. The common theme throughout is that our stories connect us.
In keeping with that theme, Brandon has used the visibility his blog grants him to promote and fund humanitarian causes.
Recently he travelled to Pakistan and Iran to highlight stories of residents from those countries. He also did a lengthy feature on the refugee crisis revealing harrowing tales of escape.
Through stories revealed readers of the HONY (Humans of New York) blog have helped numerous people. From refugees feeling terrorist attack, to a woman in New York who fled an abusive situation with four children and was facing eviction. Other fundraisers helped a man who lost his tractor in an accident and a Pakistani woman who also had left an abusive relationship with a young daughter and was in need of treatment for Hepatitis C. Finally, HONY raised over 2 million dollars for the Bonded Labour Liberation Front.
There are few books with which to compare Humans of New York: Stories. While there are a number of photo essay books, none touch on the human experience in the same manner.
Readers might find interest in life. love. beauty. by Keegan Allen. Like Humans of New York: Stories, Allen intersperses story and caption with his photos. life. love. beauty. however is more a personal photographic memoir as it centers around his career and the people he encounters within that setting.
Humans of New York: Stories is well deserving of its best seller status. The stories pull the reader in causing them to love, laugh, and cry. In short, Humans of New York: Stories strives to make the world a smaller, better place, and succeeds brilliantly.