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December 2008

Scott Sigler's Contagious New Year's Resolutions

Nothing says "the holidays" like a new book about a mysterious pathogen that turns ordinary people into raging killers, "psychopaths driven by a terrifying, alien agenda." Yes, that's right, it's Contagious, the latest from Scott Sigler, the monstrously successful podcaster and novelist.

Contagious_2

As the contagion spreads, a small team of unpredictable individuals is assembled to fight against the ravages of the ever-mutating, ever-adapting threat. But this team has its own problems. For example, former football player Perry Dawsey is emotionally scarred and possibly violent due to his encounters with the pathogen. But that doesn't mean he couldn't stop fighting intelligent disease long enough to give Sigler a list of his New Year's resolutions:

#1: I will stop killing my friends (but that doesn't mean I have to stop killing complete strangers).

#2: Poultry shears will be left in the kitchen, and only used on poultry.

#3: Just because there are voices in my head doesn't mean I have to do what they say--I am the captain of my own ship.

#4: I promise myself to get some flippin' therapy already.

Sigler's Contagious has just been released on an unsuspecting populace. As Publishers Weekly warns, "this page-turner builds inexorably to an explosive ending." We recommend you make a New Year's resolution to pick it up and vaccinate yourself immediately. And, if you're already Contagious, you might as well admit to being Infected, too.

David Michael Slater's Mysterious Book of Nonsense

David Michael Slater seems to know exactly what kids want, whether he's doing books for younger readers or somewhat older, as with his recently released The Book of Nonsense, aimed at children ages ten and up. The book is already a finalist on the Association of Booksellers for Children's Best Books 2008 list and a 2009 Cybil Award Nominee. Slater's previous books have been alternate selections of the Children's Book-of-the-Month and Mom's Choice Award winners He's also working on a film called Mocha Cola High with Right Angle Pictures.

As for The Book of Nonsense, it revolves around a book, naturally--an ancient weathered book that enters the lives of Daphna and Dexter. It seems to be nothing but pages and pages of nonsense, but soon bizarre events begin to occur, seemingly influenced by the book. Their father suddenly is distant. An old man who took their father to a hypnotist suddenly seems suspicious. Meanwhile, Daphna and Dexter have a thirteenth birthday coming up. Together, they'll have to figure out the secrets behind the Book of Nonsense before it destroys their lives.

As the Portland Tribune wrote, this series is "fraught with suspense, hidden clues, bizarre twists and an ancient book full of utter nonsense...Slater understands that the secret to capturing the interest of teens is to engage their curiosity and intelligence by hooking them with a blend of unusual references, mysterious clues and a dark, suspenseful plot packed with action."

There's also a nice website for the book. If you're looking for something well-written and engaging for your kids, this is a great new series to check out.

Book_of_nonsense

Ranking the Classics: Week Two of the 60 in 60, with Swift in the Lead

When I'm not blogging for Omnivoracious, I'm primarily a fiction writer and anthology editor. This year, with an incredibly busy schedule, I decided to more or less go offline for six months to finish my latest novel, Finch. No personal blogging at my Ecstatic Days site, just guest bloggers. For my return, I thought it might be nice to give myself a little challenge, so I wrote to my friend Colin Brush at Penguin Books UK and said, "If you'll send me the 60 books in your Great Ideas series, I'll review one a day for 60 days." These beautifully designed little books are usually abridgments of longer works. Authors include the likes of Edward Gibbon, Karl Marx, and Virginia Woolf.

       Tubamazon_2       Socialamazon       Hatingamazon

Brush replied that he liked the idea and sent me the books. So for the past two weeks I've started in on what has been called by at least one friend "foolish" and by another "the endeavor of a madman." Penguin's own blog questioned my sanity. Yet, I have persevered to the end of the second week, and my 60 in 60 audacity has been rewarded by attention from, among others, the Guardian (as book site of the week) and the Harvard University Press, which urged its readers to emulate my craziness.

Every Saturday, then, I will report back to Omnivoracious readers on the prior week's reading, ranking each book I've read and turning a spotlight on the best. You can read the entire series of reviews on a special thread of my blog.

This week was a tough one, in terms of selecting a favorite. I liked pretty much everything I read. But Swift and Paine won out, one for his convoluted and hilarious satire and the other for his straightforward prose and precision.

Continue reading "Ranking the Classics: Week Two of the 60 in 60, with Swift in the Lead" »

Graphic Novel Fridays: My Favorite X-Man

There is no shortage of cool in the X-Men roster. Wolverine is always cool, Cyclops is unflappable under pressure, and Emma Frost is cool with an evil twist. (I’ll refrain from the obligatory Iceman joke here.)

But in my opinion, Longshot has always been the The Fonz of the crew. Created in 1985, his look was entirely a product of the times: black leather jacket and matching pants, androgynous features, and of course a mullet. Yes, my favorite X-Man sported a mullet. In fact, I thought mullets were so cool that I may have worn one as well, although there are no pictures to support this statement.

But back to Longshot. On a team comprised of unique characters, Longshot is still an anomaly. For starters, he is not a mutant, but an alien. Hailing from the “Mojoverse,” a twisted dimension obsessed with celebrity and voyeurism, Longshot sought the help of the X-Men to lead a rebellion against grotesque overlords called The Spineless Ones. Suffice to say, as far as X-character backstories go, his tops the Weird List.

Longshot does not have flashy powers. No blades pop out his knuckles, no laser beams shoot from his eyes, and he cannot fly or teleport. Longshot’s powers are based on luck. When he acts with pure motives, fortune favors the mullet. Twenty years ago, comics had begun their descent into “dark and gritty” storytelling. With Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Punisher rising in popularity, Longshot was once again the anomaly: a bright, happy and pure of heart hero who got all the girls. After discovering Longshot in the inexplicably now-out-of-print Inferno storyline, I searched the backissue bins for more Longshot-centered issues (there were few). In another year or so, he left the X-Men (after capturing the heart of teammate Dazzler), and would later appear sparingly whenever a writer came aboard with a taste for the strange.

Lately, though, Longshot fans have had much to celebrate. Believed dead for several years, he turned up in the Quantum Leap-inspired Exiles series. From there, Longshot appeared in the Marvel Universe mega event, Secret Invasion, and joined X-Factor, where he is now a regular team member.

To celebrate this resurgence in popularity, Marvel has rereleased the long out of print first appearance of Longshot. Created by Ann Nocenti and living legend artist Arthur Adams (who made his name on this series), this six issue miniseries is dusted off and given the Marvel Premiere Hardcover treatment. The B-list hero finally gets his due with plenty of bonus features, including a sketch gallery, original layouts and pencils, thumbnail sketches, and the Longshot bible (a breakdown of the character, his powers, etc.). The cult classic storyline never looked so good—the colors are vibrant and carefully attuned to Adams’ detailed designs—and I am happy to replace my well-read and muddy-colored trade paperback. B-list fans will note that both She-Hulk and Doctor Strange make appearances in the collection long before they were en vogue (your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is also featured).

More bizarre but great Longshot stories can be found in the black & white newsprint collections, Essential Uncanny X-Men Vol. 7 & 8 (the latter reprints almost all of the aforementioned Inferno storyline). Longshot is proof of the cyclical nature of comics, but I hope we’re all lucky enough that he doesn’t portend a return to superhero mullets.

Final Holiday Advice: Killer Clowns and Eggnog (Guest Blogger: Lemony Snicket)

006157428701_mzzzzzzz_ We may be on the third night of Hanukkah, but for Lemony Snicket, our guest advice columnist this holiday season, the "oil" has now "run out." It's been only a mild irritant to cede our space to him every Tuesday in December, and we've been pleased to see so many questions submitted in the spirit of the season and of Snicketry. Whether your gift-giving deadline is December 25 or the eighth day of the more ancient winter holiday, we urge you to consider Mr. Snicket's recent picture-book collaboration with Brett Helquist, The Lump of Coal (aren't there many people on your list you've long wanted to give such a thing to?), or his previous heartwarming holiday tale, The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming, or, yes, those thirteen deliciously miserable stories that first brought him to our attention, the Series of Unfortunate Events.

Thanks to Mr. Snicket and his various intrepid intermediaries for their help in bringing his wisdom to us all month, and to our Omni readers for asking the questions we've all had on our minds. Unhappy holidays to you all.

Dear Mr. Snicket: Is it really a wonderful life?
With all due respect,
--Michael Sixteen

Dear Michael: There are only two novels by the name of It I can name offhand. One is by the British novelist Elinor Glyn, and it describes various decadent goings-on in the aristocracy, particularly an unbridled sexuality fueled by bohemian philosophy and jazz. The other is by Stephen King, and if memory serves is about a killer clown. In my opinion, one of these Its is a wonderful life and the other is not.

Dear Mr. Snicket: Having written so much about beautiful young women in misfortune, I hope you can help me. For the past few months, my life and job have become a nightmare. Strange people with cameras and microphones have started following me everywhere. When I was considered for a promotion, people accused me of wanting to murder my colleague. And on a family outing to a turkey farm, a lovely photograph of me was spoiled by a turkey being slaughtered in the background. Life under these circumstances has become unbearable. What shall I do, Lemony Snicket?
With all due respect,
--Sarah from Alaska

Dear Sarah: Though we do not always receive the fates we deserve, it never hurts to examine one’s recent actions to see if we have received our just deserts, a phrase which here means "circumstances which are the direct consequences of our actions." Have you announced yourself as a capable, qualified candidate for this promotion you are seeking, only to have revealed yourself to be so inarticulate that others suspect you of utter dimwittedness? Have you dishonestly insinuated terrible things about other candidates for the job? Have you attached yourself to individuals and organizations who proclaim honesty and integrity but have revealed themselves, in recent history, to be contemptuous of the very principles they espouse, leading to a flagrant disregard for one's fellow man and woman? If so, change your life. If not, move away from Alaska. You may be mistaken for someone who ought to change their life.

Dear Mr. Snicket: Did the Baudelaire parents have a recipe for eggnog?
--Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: Indeed they did, and it is a recipe I follow every winter:

Ingredients:
One dozen eggs
Milk or heavy cream
cinnamon
nutmeg
Cognac or brandy
Meyer lemons
Cointreau
sugar cubes
A loaf of good bread

First, determine who in your party is not qualified to drink alcohol, such as people operating heavy machinery and/or children. For everyone else, place one sugar cube in each cocktail glass, and then pour two parts cognac with one part Cointreau and the juice of one Meyer lemon into a cocktail shaker with ice, shake, and pour into the cocktail glasses. Garnish with slice of Meyer lemon and serve. These are brandy sidecars, and they are delicious, particularly in the later sips, when the sugar cubes have dissolved.

In the morning, some of your guests may feel a bit groggy, and you may revive them by mixing the eggs, cream, and cinnamon in a large bowl, in which you soak the loaf of bread, cut into thick slices. Fry this bread in small batches and serve. This is French toast, and this is also delicious.

People may ask you where the eggnog is. Tell them never mind, because eggnog is atrocious.

Dear Mr. Snicket: I am a recent college graduate, and sadly I am not working in my chosen career. As an Anthropology Major there are many things I can do, such as dig up really old pots, piece together the human skeleton, work with animals, and study various cultures around the globe. I have also worked on the College newspaper, and Children's Museum, and a Pizza Parlor.

What would you suggest that I do in general, since I have no idea. What should I do to get employed, which skills are most important?

Are you looking to hire in the near future, I know the job would bring much unpleasantness, but I feel that I am a good candidate, since I have experienced much hardships while doing archaeology, such as mosquitos, scorpions, rain, heat, cold showers, and killer bees.
--Queequeg

Dear Queequeg: I suggest a career as an advice columnist. My research indicates that virtually no skill whatsoever is required.

Thanks for a Great Year

As I watch the snow come down and hope that I'll be able to fly out of Seattle tomorrow morning, I just want to mention that posting on Omnivoracious will be pretty light (at least from me) for the rest of 2008 (that includes Old Media Monday, which will be on break until January). I'll be back in the new year with, among other things, the last eight states (and one taxed-but-unrepresented federal district) in our Books of the States (Idaho's next, with a guest appearance from Anthony Doerr).

Thanks for reading all year. --Tom

Ranking the Classics: Week One of the 60 in 60, with Seneca in the Lead

When I'm not blogging for Omnivoracious, I'm primarily a fiction writer and anthology editor. This year, with an incredibly busy schedule, I decided to more or less go offline for six months to finish my latest novel, Finch. No personal blogging at my Ecstatic Days site, just guest bloggers. For my return, I thought it might be nice to give myself a little challenge, so I wrote to my friend Colin Brush at Penguin Books UK and said, "If you'll send me the 60 books in your Great Ideas series, I'll review one a day for 60 days." These beautifully designed little books are usually abridgments of longer works. Authors include the likes of Edward Gibbon, Karl Marx, and Virginia Woolf.

              Machiavelli_2         Friendship_2    

Brush replied that he liked the idea and sent me the books. This past week I started in on what has been called by at least one friend "foolish" and by another "the endeavor of a madman." Penguin's own blog questioned my sanity. Yet, I have persevered to the end of the first week, during which my 60 in 60 audacity was rewarded by attention from among others, the Guardian (as book site of the week) and the Harvard University Press, which urged its readers to emulate my craziness.

Every Saturday, then, I will report back to Omnivoracious readers on the prior week's reading, ranking each book I've read and turning a spotlight on the best. You can read the entire series of reviews on a special thread of my blog.

Continue reading "Ranking the Classics: Week One of the 60 in 60, with Seneca in the Lead" »

Graphic Novel Friday: A One-Two Punch of Best American Comics and Ivan Brunetti's Anthology of Graphic Fiction

Two series in similar formats have been vaguely mirroring each other for the past couple of years: Ivan Brunetti's An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, now in its second volume, and The Best American Comics, now in its third volume. Both anthologies collect the best of North American comics and graphic novel excerpts. Brunetti's anthology does this by sifting through the last ten to twenty years (mostly) and publishing the idiosyncratic results. The Best American Comics, with guest editor Lynda Barry and new series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, provides a snapshot of the previous year in comics.

Thus, one can expect that Brunetti will provide a kind of "classic" experience, both wide and deep, while The Best American Comics is held hostage to the quality of the comics produced during the year under review. At the same time, though, BAC has the flexibility created by using a guest editor, meaning that the definition of what constitutes a great comic will change every year.

Bac_2   

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: A One-Two Punch of Best American Comics and Ivan Brunetti's Anthology of Graphic Fiction" »

Mark Felt ("Deep Throat"), 1913-2008

The news arrived late today of the death at age 95 of Mark Felt, the former #2 man at the FBI who was revealed a few years ago to have been "Deep Throat," Bob Woodward's legendary source for his Watergate reporting. It's only fitting to link to the Washington Post obituary, co-credited to Woodward himself, although the New York Times obit is actually more enlightening. My tribute to Felt is actually more of a confession: a confession of what a complete Watergate nerd I am. (One measure of it: I'm apparently one of the few people who actually read The Secret Man, Woodward's quick-turnaround fill-in-the-blanks book about his relationship with Felt.) I've confessed it here before actually, but never to quite this extent.

Have you heard about those kids in Mississippi who were so obsessed with Raiders of the Lost Ark they spent seven years doing a shot-for-shot remake with their friends? (Want to get more meta? Scott Rudin is making a movie--scripted by Dan Clowes!--of those kids making their movie of the movie.) Well, I celebrated the unmasking of Deep Throat in 2005 by doing my own little remake: I dragged a couple of friends across D.C. and Northern Virginia to reenact some of my favorite scenes from that perfect little movie, All the President's Men. True, those kids spent seven years recreating every shot in the movie, while I just spent most of a day redoing a few stills. But they were children, which makes it all sweet and heroic, while I was a grown-up, home for my 20th high school reunion, which is closer to pathetic.

The catalyst for the whole escapade was that Woodward had finally revealed the true location of the parking garage where he met Deep Throat, which turns out to be right in downtown Rosslyn, Va., across the Potomac from D.C. So with an iconic shot of Hal Holbrooke in hand, we ventured over the Key Bridge for the photo I'll share with you today:

Atpm_holbrook

Atpm_lee

My Photoshop matching skills could use some work, but I can at least say that my friend Lee (thanks, Lee!), unlike Holbrooke,  was standing in the real garage... --Tom

P.S. What we didn't know was the actual parking spot where they met: Spot 32D, at least according to this obsessive site. But we were more interested in matching the movie still anyway, and doesn't everybody still think Deep Throat looked more like Hal Holbrooke than Mark Felt, with those funny, gigantic glasses, anyway?

The Books of the States: Now It Gets Personal

Taking up my Washington list from yesterday as a gauntlet I hadn't even realized I had thrown, State by State editor Matt Weiland sent me this note, putting my adopted home against the list he submitted a few weeks back for Minnesota:

Good list, pal. I can't resist going head-to-head... All winners selected with honor and without bias, selections based on Literary Value in general and Personal Significance in my life:

Carver WHERE I’M CALLING FROM v Lewis MAIN STREET: draw
Wolff THIS BOY’S LIFE v Fitzgerald GREAT GATSBY: Minnesota
McCarthy MEMOIRS OF A CATHOLIC GIRLHOOD v Rolvaag GIANTS IN THE EARTH: Washington
Burns BLACK HOLE v Powers COLLECTED STORIES: Washington
Larson FAR SIDE v Schulz PEANUTS: Minnesota
Herbert DUNE v Berryman DREAM SONGS: draw
Stephenson CRYPTONOMICON v Pirsig ZEN…: Washington
Hugo MAKING CERTAIN v Keillor WE ARE STILL MARRIED: Minnesota
Alexie ABSOLUTELY TRUE… v O’Brien THE THINGS…: Minnesota
Rule STRANGER v Dylan CHRONICLES: Minnesota
Bouton BALL FOUR v [no entry]: Washington

Final score: Washington 4, Minnesota 5

Victory! Not that I'm boasting...

Ah, even with that gimme at the end, what I thought was a solid Washington lineup went down hard. And the worst of it is I can't even complain about his judgments. Oh, you might get the refs to go the other way on Carver v. Lewis or Hugo v. Keillor, but that's nitpicking. My best chance would be an appeal to the board of governors arguing that Gatsby, the Great Long Island Novel, doesn't belong in Minnesota at all, which would free up one of my strongest grapplers, Toby Wolff, to fight a lesser foe.

Matt graciously suggested I try putting my list in chronological order, as his was, to see if I got better matchups, but all I'll say is, well, that made things worse (plus I got a headache trying to compare Ball Four to Giants in the Earth...). The end result is: I'm looking for somebody else to pick on, somebody my own size. Missouri, with its 11 votes, same as Washington? No way I'm taking on Mark Twain, The Wasteland, and The Corrections. Maybe Indiana... --Tom

 

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