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August 2011

On the "Inexpressible Freedom" of Skateboarding

Books for skateboarders - or their parents, who wonder, "What is skateboarding?"

Before embarking on a recent cross-country road trip - visiting skateboard parks across the US with my sons and three of their skater friends - I pulled together a few books about skateboarding, with ambitious visions of immersing myself in the history of my teen sons' adopted sport.

I didn't read a single word on the road, but now that our wacky adventure has ended (read more at our blog), I'm back into my late-summer project: to attempt to understand the sport that's  become such a big part of my family's lifestyle and has transformed my parental role into 'skate dad.'

Surprisingly little has been written about the history and culture of this fast-growing and heavily-sponsored sport, it turns out The stellar documentary 'Dogtown and Z-boys' (and a companion book of articles and photos, DogTown: The Legend of the Z-Boys) seems to have kept others from exploring similar turf. Answer is Never Still, there are a few worthy efforts, the best of which I found to be journalist/skater Jocko Weyland's lively The Answer Is Never: A Skateboarder's History of the World. Weyland retells the story of skateboarding's 1960s Southern California origins and it's 1980s rebirth. He also describes the "inexpressible freedom in the act of skating," the lack of coaches and rules, and how skating "lies at a unique junction of sport and art."

Other books about the renegade culture of skating include The Impossible: Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler, and the Fantastic History of Skateboarding, by Cole Louison, The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself, by Rodney Mullen, and Stalefish: skateboard culture from the rejects who made it, by Sean Mortimer. My research also took me through pages about skateboard artwork (The Disposable Skateboard Bible and Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art); skate shoes (Made for Skate: The Illustrated History of Skateboard Footwear); and skate photography (Full Bleed: New York City Skateboard Photography). I also skimmed two books by the most famous skateboarder of all, Tony Hawk's How Did I Get Here: The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO and Hawk: Occupation: Skateboarder.

Then there's Said Sayrafiezadeh's When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood, which was an Amazon Best of the Month pick in 2009. When Skateboards Free Though I knew the story had nothing to do with skateboarding, this book had been on my to-read list for awhile, and I was curious to learn the source of its title. Sayrafiezadeh, whose nutty socialist parents believed there was "virtue in misery, nobility in hardship," describes the day he asked his mother to buy him a green skateboard for $10.99.  Her reply: "When the revolution comes, everyone will have a skateboard, because all skateboards will be free." That promise prompted Sayrafiezadeh's dreams of an endless summer of constant skateboarding - the same "inexpressible freedom" Weyland describes - but the revolution never came.

Watch the Exclusive Michael Vey Trailer


Michael Vey isn’t your average teen: He has special abilities. When he finds others like him they set off to find out why they’re different; but doing so attracts the attention of those who want to control them. Soon, Michael and his friends are in for the fight of their life.

A highly addictive read full of twists and turns, best-selling Richard Paul Evans’ first book for younger readers (and Amazon’s Spotlight pick for Young Adults) is as electric as the characters within it. Released last week, Amazon customers are also loving Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, calling it a “fantastic read” that may just be the next Hunger Games. As one customer explains, “I loved this book... I spent every waking moment that I could reading it. I gave it to my friends and they have enjoyed it as much as I did. I just wish that the next one was coming out sooner than next year. Everybody should read it.”

Not sure yet if you want to dive in to Michael’s world? Check out this exclusive trailer and get ready for one of the best adventures in young adult lit in a while.

Media Monday

Perhaps I should call this Monday Night Media instead.



The New York Times

  • This week's Sunday Book Review cover features Class Warfare, Court TV founder Steven Brill's report card on school reform. There's also a review of a novel we mentioned last week: Amy Waldman's beautifully constructed The Submission. Thomas Mallon discusses a book that kept me reading late into the night last week. It's A First-Rate Madness, in which psychologist Nassir Ghaemi posits that it's good to be a little crazy if you want to be a great leader during difficult times. But what really caught my attention was the section on Back to School Children's Books. Being a new parent, I realize not everyone will share my sentiment. That said, there must be at least a dozen reviews of cool children's books in this section. The review that really stood out for me (even though my young son may never take notice himself) was Caitlin Flanagan's review of books based on better known classics. According to Flanagan, "One of the last places where girls can encounter the romantic stories they crave is in novels, an art form perfect for anyone who wants to spend time alone with her dreams and her imaginings. One of the reasons Twilight has become such a blockbuster is that it tells the ancient tale: the one about passion and restraint. And the reason a story like that could take flight in the popular imagination is that it began not as a movie, but as a set of novels that could be cherished, hidden from parents, whispered about and most of all hidden from the boys." I don't know if this theory is true, but I kind of hope it is.


The Los Angeles Times

  • The LA Times reviews the latest from Baltimore's own best selling mystery writer, Laura Lippman. David L. Ulin describes the book as occupying "the unlikely middle ground between thriller and coming-of-age saga." He goes on to say, "Loss of control is a theme in The Most Dangerous Thing, as it is in many of Lippman's novels, which balance plot and social observation, offering mysteries that comment on the world. That has to do with Lippman's background; a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, she is acute on the shifting social landscapes of her hometown and especially on the fate of newspapers, which come up as a subtext in her work." I recently learned that the new Senior Editor for Amazon Books, Neal Thompson, used to work with Lippman at the Sun.




  • NPR Books also reviews A First-Rate Madness, but there were two other reviews this weekend that caught my eye. The first is a book from earlier in the summer, and one I wasn't aware of. It's called Decoding Air Travel, and in it Nicholas Kralev, a former foreign correspondent for the Financial Times who's visited 82 countries and traveled nearly 2 million miles, tells us the secrets of the airline industry and how to get the travel you want at the price you want. The other wasn't so much a review as a round-up of great food memoirs. Excuse me for writing this, but I ate them up.


The New Yorker

  • Right now, there are a number of movies out that are based on best-selling books. The New Yorker's David Denby reports on one of the best-selling of them all, The Help, and his review might surprise some people. He opens by saying, “The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling 2009 novel, is, in some ways, crude and obvious, but it opens up a broad new swath of experience on the screen, and parts of it are so moving and well acted that any objections to what’s second-rate seem to matter less as the movie goes on. This is the kind of heartfelt liberal picture that Robert Mulligan (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) or Martin Ritt (“Sounder”) would have made forty or fifty years ago." Thanks for the assist, Mr. Denby.




The Guardian

  • As I was reading this new interview, I somehow also stumbled upon this older interview in The Guardian, and through them both I learned that Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Egan has considered writing epic verse, that she is writing a historical novel about women shipbuilders in Brooklyn, and that she was crazy about a British band of yore.






Ephemeral Firmament

  • Finally, Tom Nissley, the original proprietor of this blog (as well as Old Media Mondays) has some truly eye catching photos of his monumental book collection here.


Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury.

Make it Sting: How to Write Betrayal

Writersdontcry Et tu, Brute?

Adultery. Treason. Sacrilege. Fratricide. There’s a form of betrayal for every occasion. Villains can betray villains who can betray heroes who can betray heroes or villains in turn. Individuals can betray other individuals who can betray groups who can betray other groups or individuals themselves. Hell, half of all science fiction is about the betrayal of man by machine, or man by man for machine—or sometimes even machine by man.

Betrayals are by definition horrifying and fascinating, even in fiction, because you cannot have betrayal without first having trust. Without first developing a meaningful relationship between the characters you intend to have betray each other, your clever plot twist is just common cruelty.

So to write a meaningful betrayal, you must first develop a strong relationship between characters people care about. Then, you must select the right flaw to bring it all crashing down. There are a number of good, solid flaws to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Temptation, particularly for power. The classic, most biblical of betrayals. Boromir betrays the fellowship out of temptation in The Lord of the Rings, Edmond betrays his siblings for Turkish delight in The Chronicles of Narnia—and in both cases this selfishness is seen as the primary downfall of man. Characters who betray out of temptation can be good men who feel the ends justify the means, weak characters who feel the present so much more strongly than the future, or simply characters so wounded that no matter what is offered to them, it will never satisfy their desires.

Continue reading "Make it Sting: How to Write Betrayal" »

Graphic Novel Friday: Conan Returns to the Big Screen

What is best in life? More Conan, of course.

I returned from vacation just in time to catch another comic-related property hit the big screen. This time it’s Conan the Barbarian, a film that carries plenty of fan expectations and baggage from the popular 1982 film of the same name (starring one Arnold Schwartzenegger).

Robert E. Howard’s bloodthirsty hero with a goofy haircut has a long history in comics, and any conversation involving the loincloth-sporting warrior begins with the Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith issues. In 1970, the award-winning and sought-after illustrator Windsor-Smith was still an unknown, and it was his work on these very comics that cemented his name in fandom. Roy Thomas’ scripts leaned heavily on Howard’s stories, helping the original writer’s property increase in popularity as the sword and sorcery genre in comics also saw a rise in fan awareness and demand. Publisher Dark Horse released two handsome hardcover archival editions that collected Windsor-Smith’s entire run; a few purists bristled at the presentation of the original colors, but these books are the best place to start with the Cimmerian, full of action, exclamatory dialogue, and Windsor-Smith’s intricate, name-making art.

The barbarian endures, and new comics continue to chronicle the swath he cuts across the Hyborian Age. I contacted Dark Horse Comics to talk all things Conan, and they suggested two recent trade collections before heading into the theater. The Frost-Giant’s Daughter adapts Howard’s story of the same name, where Conan ventures beyond his homeland and encounters creatures of magic and legend. The adaptation comes courtesy of comics writer Kurt Busiek, whose Astro City is a fan favorite. He fills the book with plenty of narration, although it’s not as prevalent as Roy Thomas’ turn on the book. There is still plenty of purple dialogue (“Crom, woman!” “Lead me into a trap and I’ll pile the heads of your kinsmen at your feet!”) for fans of exclamation points. Cary Nord and Thomas Yeates are credited with the art, and they follow in the footsteps of Frank Frazetta with vampy damsels and vixens and a Conan whose emotional range extends from a glower to a beserker rage. It’s a fun read and retains the feel not only of the comics that precede it but of Howard’s prose as well.

Born on the Battlefield, however, is where movie-goers will want to start, and it's especially notable because Busiek based this collection on the “work and letters of Conan creator Robert E. Howard.” Conan’s origins remained mostly a mystery under Howard’s pen, but Busiek pieced together clues and hints to arrive at what Ed Brubaker calls “the definitive origin of Conan” in his introduction to the book. Readers will see Conan’s birth, Conan as a child (with similarities to a training scene glimpsed in the new film’s trailer), and then Conan as a leader of men in the battle of Venarium. Greg Ruth’s artwork has a sketchier, rustic, and realistic look to it--and there is plenty of bloodshed and gore, especially when Conan and company arrive at the battlefield.

Fans of the films, comics, and novels will want to seek out Conan the Phenomenon, which is an oversized, full-colored hardcover with plenty of visuals and text that examine everything from Frazetta’s influence on the character to Arnold’s incarnation. It includes a foreword by genre writer Michael Moorcock, and the production values are impressive enough to crush your enemies. Hopefully the film will escape the lamentations of critics, while the fans’ memory of this latest cinematic portrayal will not be a bitter tree.


Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll on "Life Lessons..."

  I caught up with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll earlier this week, just before he spoke to a packed house at the University Book Store about Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion, just released in paperback.


  As the author of a book about a high school football team (Hurricane Season, which features a running back named Joe McKnight, who went on to play for Carroll at USC), I'm a believer in the power of sports stories to inspire. Coach Carroll told me how his own life was shaped by a book written by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. "I turned my whole approach around based on a moment that I had reading his book," Carroll told me.


IMG_0985  In Win Forever, co-written with Yogi Roth, Carroll describes how he bounced back from getting fired by the New England Patriots in 2000 and, motivated by Wooden's book, for the first time in his career began listing the tenets of his coaching philosophy, honing his vision, and devising ways to implement it all again on the football field. He was soon hired by USC, where he spent nine years and won two national championships before taking over the Seahawks in 2009.


  He decided to write his own book because he believes the world of football - and of all sports - to be "one of the great classrooms."


  "In the meetings and the practice sessions and the games themselves, there's an extraordinary teaching and learning environment there," he told me. "I think sports in general is an extraordinary vehicle for life lessons, and for inspiration, and motivation, and learning."


  Why? In part because "not everybody can do it and a lot of people look up to those that do, and like to live through the experiences of sport," he said. "There's a real thirst for the information that surrounds the world of sports, and football may be the best one of all. It's a great team sport … the toughness part of it and the courage that it takes, that's all part of the attraction."


  After our chat, Coach Carroll told the dozens of Seahawks fans who had come armed with cameras and footballs that the goal of his book was to teach readers what he had learned from Wooden's book: "We all have a chance to get way better at what we do." He encouraged his readers to "dig deep, and own it, because it's empowering, and the people around you will feel the power."


IMG_0970With the season about to begin, here's a list of other powerful and empowering books on football:



We also asked Jeffrey Marx ( - author of Season of Life and The Long Snapper - to offer up a list of great football books. Here, alphabetically by author, are his top five faves:

Amazon Exclusive: Children's Book Author Judy Sierra on "ZooZical"

Until I read Judy Sierra's new book, ZooZical, I'd never thought about how boring it must be for zoo animals when winter arrives and mobs of children are replaced by rain clouds. Now that I've read this delightful story I might have to trek out to to the zoo in the dead of winter just to see what those hippos are up to....  A Best Picture Book of August, ZooZical marks the return of the beloved Springfield Zoo creatures we last saw in Wild About Animals, but this time Sierra and illustrator Marc Brown take the animals out of the winter doldrums and into the spotlight. We asked author Judy Sierra to tell us a bit of the story behind her book in this exclusive guest post for Omni:

I think of my new book, ZooZical, as a little kids’ Broadway musical. The idea came to me a few years ago, after my picture book The Sleepy Little Alphabet was published. I couldn’t wait to read it aloud to the kindergarten classes at the school where my husband was principal. When the children saw the final illustration—twenty-six little letters asleep in twenty-six little beds—they burst out singing “The Alphabet Song.” What fun it would be, I thought, to write a picture book based on classic children’s songs! I knew who the cast and crew of my musical ZooZical would be: the zoo animals from Wild About Books, illustrated by Marc Brown.

    “Let’s put on a show” is an old and very productive story line. I could picture so many scenes of animals performing. But what would their motivation be? I looked out my office window at gray skies. It had been raining for weeks on end. Might the animals be seeking a cure for the midwinter doldrums? If terrible weather was getting them down, then kids and families were probably staying home, too, and life at the zoo would be bleak without humorous humans to watch. Putting on a show could cheer up the animals, and also bring visitors back to the zoo.

    I wrote ZooZical in rhymed couplets and triplets, to a Seussian beat (anapestic tetrameter, mostly). I find this meter ideal for storytelling—so perfect, in fact, that it often conjures up parts of a tale as if by magic. As I brainstormed ZooZical, two main characters—a very small hippo and a young kangaroo—hopped into the story, unannounced, as the main characters. They are clever and creative enough to come up with the idea of putting on a musical, and talented enough to play starring roles in the production. Other animals dance and sing to silly versions of old favorites like “Oh My Darling, Porcupine,” “The Seals on the Bus,” and “The Zoo Hokey Pokey.” Everyone discovers that music, creativity, friendship, and cooperation are tip-top antidotes for any sort of doldrums.

After many months of work and countless revisions, I emailed the ZooZical manuscript to my editor at Knopf, Janet Schulman, and to the marvelous Marc Brown, who gave it two thumbs and six paintbrushes up. As I write this, Marc is sketching scenes for the third picture book in this series, set at the mythical Springfield Zoo. A free play script for classroom productions of ZooZical can be found on my Website, --Judy Sierra

Percy Jackson’s Birthday Book Giveaway


How do you celebrate the birthday of a hero of a best-selling book series, who’s the demi-god son of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea? You could dye everything blue, his favorite color. Or you could get free books!

To celebrate Percy Jackson’s birthday today, August 18th, visit, after 10am Pacific time (1pm EST) and order a Rick Riordan book from this list, and get a free Percy Jackson and the Olympians paperback!

Why am I so excited about the promotion? The Percy Jackson books’ popularity skipped right over me at first; I was in college when they were released, so I had little time for pleasure reading. I’d heard about them, of course, but didn’t discover Rick Riordan for myself until earlier this year when my best friend sent me a copy of The Red Pyramid, the first book in the Kane Chronicles. As soon as I cracked the cover I was hooked. I love books that make me laugh out loud and bite my nails in suspense; The Red Pyramid did both, all while teaching me about Egyptian mythology. When I went looking for more Rick Riordan books, I happened to find the first book in the Heroes of Olympus series, The Lost Hero, next. I vaguely knew who Percy Jackson was, but I knew I was missing out in The Lost Hero because I didn’t know more about Percy’s story. So I read The Lightning Thief. Then I got distracted by the release of the second book in the Kane Chronicles, The Throne of Fire. Then something else came up, and suddenly four months later I haven’t gotten back to Percy Jackson.

Luckily, this is the perfect opportunity for me to pick up the rest of Percy Jackson. And even if you’re a long-time Percy fan, you probably have a few books that are so dog-eared by now that they could bear replacing. Why not do so for free, and check out Rick Riordan’s two new series at the same time? If you loved Percy Jackson, you’ll also love The Heroes of Olympus series, which continues where Percy Jackson and the Olympians left off and introduces the Roman aspects of the Greek gods. And in the Kane Chronicles (which so far includes The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire) Riordan works his magic just as well with Egyptian mythology as he does for Greek and Roman mythology.

There’s sure to be a book for everyone in this promotion-though I can’t promise that it will make the wait for the second Heroes of Olympus book, The Son of Neptune, any less excruciating.


Omni Readers: What Sci-Fi and Fantasy are You Looking Forward To?


The first half of the year has seen high-profile releases like George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons dominate the SF/fantasy news cycles. Now that we’re entering the latter stages of summer and transitioning to fall, I’m curious… Omnivoracious readers, what forthcoming science fiction and fantasy titles are you interested in reading and seeing spotlighted here? Here’s a brief list of books that have caught my eye, to get the discussion started...

Hellbent by Cherie Priest – The critically acclaimed author of modern Steampunk classics has turned to urban fantasy with a new series featuring a vampire and super-thief.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson – After the somber bell-ringing and kick-ass monastery world of Anathem, Stephenson has returned with an action-packed global adventure thriller.

The Book of Cthulhu edited by Ross Lockhart – Not enough tentacles in your diet? This anthology of reprints from the likes of Kage Baker, Joe R. Lansdale, Thomas Ligotti, Charles Stross, Gene Wolfe, Elizabeth Bear, and Caitlin R. Kiernan will satiate your taste for Lovecraftian horrors.

All Men of Genius by Lev A.C. Rosen – A promising Steampunk title inspired by Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, and featuring brilliant inventor Violet Adams. This novel was acquired by the same editor who launched Cherie Priest’s Steampunk career.

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood – Given the perception in the science fiction community that Atwood looks down on the genre, this slim volume of essays and observations may go down as well as unstable rocket fuel at a fire station. Essay titles like “Flying Rabbits,” “Burning Bushes,” and “Dire Cartographies” sound very promising, regardless.

Announcing the Customer Selected Essential Books for Young Adults List!


Back in June when we launched our editorially-curated Essential Books for Young Adults Store we asked you, our customers, to write in your favorite teen titles. Well, we’re pleased to announce that after weeks of furious nominating and data tallying, we have the final list! It was really fun to narrow down these top ten, which feature obvious crowd pleasers (The Hunger Games), other books by authors featured on the editorial list (John Green and Markus Zusak), newer releases (Divergent), and even a tried-and-true classic (To Kill a Mockingbird)! See below for the full listing:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  3. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  6. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
  7. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  8. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  9. Sabriel by Garth Nix
  10. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Is your favorite missing? Don’t worry (for too long). We’ll be reviewing this list annually so stay tuned for another chance to vote in the coming year. In the meantime, tell us what you think about these customer selections… and of course, happy reading!