Saturday, April 30, 2011


I haven't meant to ignore the ol' blog but I'm buried. With the kids running track, playing baseball, softball, home school, spring is a busy time. But I've got a stack of books to proofread (actually three), an essay to edit, interviews to conduct for newsletters, and blurry vision.

I saw where the writer Joanna Russ just passed away. Apparently she hadn't written much in recent years due to chronic back pain and chronic fatigue syndrome. These same kinds of illness have kept many writers from working and every time I see something like this, it helps me feel like what I'm going through is still real and not some subconscious excuse for a lack of productivity.

At least of my own work. And so I toil on other peoples', I make a contribution, and hopefully chip in some miniscule difference in some things that I care about. And if that's all I can do right now, then that has to be okay. If I can't get healthier, I'd at least like to get younger. I figure shooting for two moons doubles my chances of achieving one, right? (Do not insert logic here.)

Friday, April 22, 2011


I don't have a TBR (To Be Read) pile. It's more like a TBR Library. The Rick Ollerman Memorial LIbrary of Books Begging To Be Read. I once read where a fellow calculated how many books he read a year, multiplied that by the expected number of years he has left on this planet, and came up with a depressingly miniscule total.

I have not the balls to do the same thing. Rather I believe firmly and with conviction that not only will I read every book in my library, not only will I read the interesting ones multiple times, but I will add to the stacks with books every bit expecting to be read.

The ideal hospital of the future will be able to kill the pain, keep the blood circulating, and somehow flash page images into the still animated portions of my brain that can actually read. My family can surround my bed, shake their heads, and wonder just what it is I saw in all that crap.

Lately I've begun to suspect that I may have accumulated enough material to actually have enough to read before I die. Mind you, I don't want to back this up with any attempts at mathematical certainty, but common sense dictates that with at least some moderate re-reading, I could likely be set until I'm summoned home.

Doesn't seem to stop me, though. I'm waiting for Ray Kurzweil. The only bad books are the ones that haven't been flung across the room yet. The rest still have potential.

How much is too much? Clearly, I'm the wrong one to ask. The actual limit may be when I can no longer build new shelves. That day, actually, may arrive sooner than I'd like.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

High Notes

When I was a wee lad, a TV commercial bombarded our set for a period of time. It was a four or six record collection of the bulk of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons catalog. If I recall correctly, Valli had the rights to the music and against expert advice released this massive offering. My mom used to wrinkle her nose whenever they played the song bits, and say, you don't like that stuff do you? No, I assured her. But really, I did. I really did.

The music was in my mind in seventh grade when I somehow brought it up to Greg Born, who told me he had seen Frankie and the Seasons in concert. Boy, could he sing high, Greg said. Anyway, I was too young to get the record collection from the commercial, and it was years before I came across it in a record store and had to have it.

I bought my first stereo with my paper route money, an all in one number with a turntable, AM/FM radio, and an 8 track player. And two plug-in speakers. At Woolworth's in the Southdale Mall I came across a record called "Story" by the Four Seasons. It had some medieval-looking cover and some recognizable song names to me but also a few odd ones, like "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me)." I went back and forth trying to figure out if this two record set contained the same sounds I'd obsessed over since that TV commercial years before, and finally I bought it, my first record for my new stereo.

It was heaven. It really kicked off a lifelong appreciation for both Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I've seen them in concert several times, own all but one CD (the Dylan/Bachrach one), and listen to them regularly.

On my birthday last year my wife took me to see "Jersey Boys," the musical story of Frankie and the boys. Wow. As the show started with a bang and just kept going, you knew in very short order that this was something you'd remember for the rest of your life. The show is that good. The level of talent across the board was unbelievable. The show won the Tony for best musical in 2006 and has permanent shows on Broadway, in London, Australia, and Las Vegas. The touring company is out and about and you should go see this show.

I really can't imagine anyone not liking it. It ended and it broke my heart, I wanted it to go on and on and on and on. As the lights came up, I asked my wife if we could see it again. Sold out, she says. But we both want to see it again. Preferably many times.

The soundtrack album is fun. There's good music there but its magic comes from making you relive those moments in the theater. We've played it so much we haven't hardly been able to get in the car without my son yelling, Play "Sherry!" or my daughter yelling, Play "Silhouettes!" When my kids run on the treadmill they make me plug in my MP3 player and play Four Seasons albums.

Which brings the story full round from music that captivated me in my childhood to the same music captivating my kids in theirs. My wife digs it, too, which isn't something she says a lot when discussing my musical tastes.

Go see "Jersey Boys." You'll never forget it, and you certainly won't regret it.

Friday, April 08, 2011

All This for a Dime

A large box came in the mail earlier this week. Fifteen books, bright covered, exciting, screaming to be read. They're pulp or pulp-related books and it's been a chronic daydream of mine to imagine going back in time around 1930 or so and finding a New York newsstand, filled to overflowing with dozens and dozens of pulp magazines. The Shadow, Doc Savage, the Phantom Detective, the Green Lama, the Black Bat, Operator #5, Secret Agent "X", Weird Tales, westerns, railroad stories, air stories, adventure stories, science fiction stories, and on and on and on...

Makes me breathless. Adventure House will sell you a subscription to their bi-monthly reprint series called High Adventure. For around fifty bucks a year you get wonderful pulp reprints from across the spectrum. Last issue contained a novel of a character called the Shadow, albeit a different one than the one who became famous as the longest running pulp mag (or at least the one with the most issues). The current issue has two tales of the Black Bat, a precursor to the Bat-Man, and a short story.

A number of publishers have put out reprints in standard book form through the years, some being fairly pricey. Altus Press out of Boston has been putting out beautiful versions for years, books of all stripes, and is well worth your time.

I have the first five installments of Operator #5's "Purple War" saga, which means I have to find the last eight. I will, too, because I have to find out how Jimmy Christopher wins back the country from the Central Empire. Right now I'm reading about the Cobra and how he fights crime in various countries, exacting justice by means of his cobra sting, tiny darts shot through an ordinary-looking green cigarette holder. And there's Senorita Scorpion, fighting the baron Anse Hawkman to retain control of her family's lands and mine. The Black Bat, alias the assumed-blind Tony Quinn, is trying to find out who controlled the assassin who walked into a court and poured several slugs into the head of a newly appointed judge.

Good stories, wonderful characters, and quick reading make for an addictive reading experience. That's why these stories will never go away. If you haven't read any, or haven't read any recently, there hasn't been a better opportunity in my lifetime to do so now. Go on, pick up one of these lost gems and settle in for a few hours of fine entertainment. I'll bet you want to pick up another...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Must Read List

Following the post I did on being picky about writers, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on my MUST READ BOOK LIST. This is a list that I would recommend to everyone without hesitation. This is a list of books that deserve to not only be read widely, but read repeatedly. This is a list of books that are so good that people who don't read should strap on the reading glasses and pick them up.

This is also a very short list.

In fact, it's miniscule. It's exclusive, it's rarified, it's probably lonely. But I'm afraid those are necessary traits for a list of this type.

It isn't a list of important books, or seminal books, or books that I just like a whole lot so I think you should, too. It is simply my universal list, suitable to any and all with an open mind.

After years of careful consideration, for the books really must nominate themselves, it is as follows, and in no particular order:

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It's funny, it's dramatic, it's immersive, and it's wonderful. If there is such a thing as the contemporary Great American Novel, this would be it.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. The story of one of the greatest friendships ever written, with an incredibly poignant Dr. Livingstone-esque poignancy (if I get more specific I'll spoil). If there is such a thing as the contemporary Great American Novel, this would be it.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. Zelazny was at times a poetical writer and his passion for the world's mythologies inform some of his best work. In this case, with a non-linear narrative, he gives us all the passion and drama of humanity played across an otherwordly locale, where humans have achieved aspects of Hindu deities and act every bit the petty gods, with occasional nobility, that we expect in the ancient stories.

I think you can make the worst book sound sensational and the best book sound banal, and other than including these three on the list, I haven't tried to go either way. Out of the three, Lord of Light may seem to be the most risky, but it would be a mistake to treat it so. I've read it six times and may very well read it six more.

There are a number of books that come close, but are just flawed enough to earn slightly less than the Universal label. Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White comes to mind. The origin of one of the most compelling villains ever written, Count Fosco, bogs the ending down a bit and doesn't quite live up to the first two thirds of the book.

Anyway, the list of "almosts" would be long, the titles legion, and it would contain multitudes. I would like to expand this list, though, but it's been stuck at three for so long I wonder if it ever will. So I'm picky. Sue me.