Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Welcome to my Zibbet shop!

Look, I'm going to be truly honest here... Etsy is a great source of graphic design customers and I love each and every one of you. But the site admin's are infants and not much is getting done in the way of designer support. So why not expand?

What is that saying.. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."

Thanks for looking and if you've tried it, please comment or convo/email me.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Packing for Paradise: What to Bring?

Now, moving from the ridiculous to the sublime: I mentioned last week that we were due to engage the question of the Desert Island Test in class, as a way of backing into a discussion of criteria of worth. Students submitted a variety of choices. Among the first to be discussed were a pair of pictorial designers par excellence: Alphonse Mucha, the Czech master of Art Nouveau, and his American admirer and imitator, J.C. Leyendecker.

The arguments offered in defense of these choices were aesthetic: these works offer formal pleasure, or the intellectual stimulation afforded by the well-made thing. It was also suggested, if less forcefully, that formal pleasure entails an emotional experience, by definition.

By contrast, another student submitted the example of Banksy, the British street artist who responds to social conditions with grafittish gestures. Here the argument was based on social relevance and currency, in addition to the skill and visual power of the work. It was observed that acutely social work–like up-to-the-minute popular music, stirring via the thrill of now, exactly now!–might well lose its force on a desert island. The solitude of such a setting might well argue against relevance as typically understood. Even so, to formal pleasure we may add social relevance as a criterion of record.

One student, who did not attend the session, had offered Hokusai as an exemplar. Another, pinch-hitting, stepped in to argue that a View of Mt. Fuji offered formal pleasure as well as spiritual value.

We looked at Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, offered by another student as an unlikely item to get in a suitcase, but nonetheless desirable if transportation could be managed. Discussion of the sculpture (among the small number who had been its presence, at the Borghese Palace in Rome) focused on the transcendent power of the object, which I can well vouch for. A totally astonishing thing; breathtaking. Bernini–an artist and architect of fantastic skill and range–raised the question of ambition. Perhaps the most nourishing works (or sets of them attributed to a single creator, as per the coffee table book) were likely to be those of high ambition.

Finally Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes" received a vote for the sense of recognition his work creates in the viewer. That is, the evocation of "universal" childhood experiences warms the heart and creates a connection between artist and audience member. In addition, this image shows Watterson engaging the history of his own medium, by quoting Thomas Nast. Such signalling of self-awareness, known as intertextuality, is often cited as a marker of big-time art.

When you write them all down, the criteria established in our discussion were:

formal pleasure
social relevance
spiritual value
creative ambition
human resonance

These criteria give us a good start toward establishing a critical method for engaging and evaluating works, projects, careers, even schools and eras.


Does this summary correctly record your sense of our discussion?

Is there a missing criterion, one we didn't come across or recognize?

Emotional power is not explicitly included in these criteria. Is it implicit within others?

Think of an unambiguously important figure. Does s/he embody a value that isn't listed?

Please provide your thoughts in the comment section. And stay tuned for an opportunity to apply these criteria in another post...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Goofy Nut Mugs for the Camera

Here's some breaking news of dubious import. Following my snarky assessment of college sports mascots in St. Louis Magazine (scroll down a bit) I got a call from Fox 2 News in St. Louis. Would I be willing to appear on Tuesday's morning show to discuss my views on guys in foam rubber suits? On what grounds do you say no to such a request, given the goofiness you have already committed to print? Exactly.

I go on at 9:10. Go figure.

Friday, March 26, 2010

To Be Continued: Sequels and Second Books in Series

The only thing more satisfying that finishing a good book is being able to immediately pick up its sequel. It’s often historical fiction and science fiction that come in multiple volumes; the possibilities for elaborating on the events of the past and future are, after all, endless. Whether it’s a stirring sequel or the second in a deliciously lengthy series, book two has a big responsibility—introduce new plot twists and characters while simultaneously maintaining what readers loved about the first book and building on its momentum. The books that come before these have been reviewed in other book lists so you can go back and read them before diving into their worthy second halves.

Darcy and Elizabeth: Days and Nights at Pemberley by Linda Berdoll, (sequel to Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues), 2006, Sourcebooks (Historical Fiction/ Romance)

For Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, it’s a classic love story: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes... well, that’s where Jane Austen leaves off in her beloved masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. But many Austen fans are not willing to let it end there, not by far. Many writers have resurrected the escapes of the Bennet sisters, but few have dared to write a 400-plus page action-packed continuation complete with steamy sex scenes—and then do it all over again. In Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, Austen’s hero and heroine embark on their greatest adventure: marriage. In the sequel, Darcy and Elizabeth, the title couple is basking in the delight of newborn twins. Then Lady Catherine de Bourgh and wicked Wickham rear their interfering heads, the romantic trials and tribulations of sisters and sisters-in-law Lydia, Jane, and Georgiana take on new urgencies, and marital bliss is temporarily disrupted—though there’s still plenty of time for the occasion bedroom romp. Author Linda Berdoll good-naturedly infuses her Elizabeth and Darcy with so much personality that the novels stand on their own and are as enjoyable for romance and historical fiction fans as they are for Austen buffs. Bawdy, witty, epic in scope and tongue-in-cheek in tone, Berdoll’s Austen knock-offs are all in good fun. (Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife is reviewed in the July 2009 booklist “More Jane! For the Jane Austen Purist.”)

A Monstrous Regiment of Women: Novels of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Mystery, Book 2 by Laurie R. King, 1995, St. Martin’s Press (Historical Fiction/ Mystery)

Author Laurie R. King’s richly detailed, character-driven, literary mysteries are based on another classic series: the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. In the first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, King focuses on a new protagonist, a gawky fifteen-year-old orphan girl who literally trips over the legendary detective one day in 1915 while he’s studying bees and her nose is buried in a book. The unlikely duo forges an unbreakable bond; the bookish girl, Mary Russell, proves the ideal intellectual match for the supposedly retired Holmes and eventually becomes his partner in detection and deduction. The second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, features an all-grown-up Russell forging an identity of her own as a theology scholar at Oxford in 1921. Russell meets a charismatic religious mystic named Margery Childe and is both attracted to Margery’s distinct brand of feminism and skeptical of her church’s true purpose—especially when the deaths of several wealthy young women are linked to Margery’s “New Temple of God.” It is Russell’s wit and intelligence that drives the story, though Holmes’ strong presence is always in the background. And the only thing more intriguing than the mystery’s solution is the evolving relationship between the great detective and his former apprentice—not to mention the vim and vigor of King’s writing. And there’s more where that came from. Holmes and Russell solve eight more mysteries together, with a new book due in April 2010. (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is reviewed in the February 2010 booklist “The Nine Lives of Sherlock Holmes.”)

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende (sequel to Daughter of Fortune), 2001, HarperCollins (Historical Fiction/ Literary Fiction)

Set in nineteenth century Chile and San Francisco, Portrait in Sepia introduces Aurora del Valle, granddaughter of Eliza Sommers, who, in author Isabel Allende’s previous novel Daughter of Fortune, ran away from her adopted family in Chile to follow her handsome young lover to the Californian Gold Rush. Eliza found happiness and independence instead with Chinese healer Tao Chi’en; now her granddaughter is looking for some of the same. Aurora unfolds the story of her life, from her birth when her beautiful mother Lynn died, to her adoption by her redoubtable paternal grandmother Paulina, to her hastily-arranged marriage to the black sheep of a wealthy South American family. There’s also the love triangle between Aurora’s mother, her opium-addict father Matias del Valle, and Matias’ passionately devoted cousin Severo. In fact, the del Valle family is filled with eccentric and charismatic members, and they all play a part in Aurora’s life. Spanning nearly fifty years of American and Chilean history between 1862 and 1910, this is epic, historical storytelling at its finest. The fact that Portrait in Sepia has deep ties to Allende’s other stories makes the novel’s intricate layers all the more compelling. (Daughter of Fortune is reviewed in the January 2010 booklist “Long Lost Literary Love.”)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson (sequel to The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party), 2008, Candlewick Press (Historical Fiction/ Teen Fiction)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is a novel in two volumes that explores the American Revolution from a new point-of-view: that of an African American boy. When the founding fathers declared independence from British rule, they did so in the name of freedom from oppression. This is certainly something of a hypocrisy when you consider that the grand notion of freedom did not extend to the large population of African slaves who also called America their home. Octavian is a young boy living in Boston on the eve of the revolution. Raised in near-isolation by a strange group of philosophers and scientists, Octavian receives a classical education of the finest order—and then uncovers a devastating truth. In Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves, Octavian, his fancy schooling exposed as a cruel charade, is desperately searching for a real independence. He casts his lot with the British army, whose promise of emancipation has a vague ring of truth to it, and joins the rag-tag members of the Royal Ethiopian Regiment. There’s still an ocean of misguided loyalties, betrayals, abuse, and violence standing between Octavian and the freedom he longs for, but author M.T. Anderson presents us with a young hero whose pride and determination result in an elegantly philosophical version of a history we all think we know. (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is reviewed in the December 2009 booklist “Untold Histories.”)

Curse of the Pharaohs: Amelia Peabody Mysteries, Book 2 by Elizabeth Peters, 1981, Dodd and Mead (Historical Fiction/ Mystery)

Amelia Peabody is not your conventional prim and proper Victorian lady. She’s a gentlewoman, yes, and she’s quite well-mannered, but she’s also opinionated, indomitable, and when she wants something, damn near unstoppable. In her first adventure, Crocodile on the Sandbank, Amelia comes into an inheritance, travels to exotic Egypt, saves a damsel in distress, tackles a seemingly reanimated mummy, and meets her match in an irascible archeologist named Radcliffe Emerson. In Curse of the Pharaohs, which takes place a few years later, our heroine has gone from prickly spinster to devoted wife of dashing Emerson and mother of precocious son Ramses. But Amelia has lost none of her spirited independence; when life in dear old England begins to grow dull, she jumps at the chance to go back to her beloved Egypt—even if it is at the behest of stuffy Lady Baskerville. Sir Baskerville has met a mysterious death at his archeological site and his assistant has disappeared. While Emerson indulges in his passion for digging up ancient tombs, Amelia plunges into the murder investigation. It’s no easy task, given then number of suspects (who include an America millionaire, a German hieroglyphics expert, and a British photographer), but no one is up to the challenge like the unflappable Amelia Peabody Emerson. Author Elizabeth Peters’ mystery is clever and the historical details add spice, but the real charm is fabulously feisty Amelia, who will swoop off the page with her trusty umbrella and march straight into the hearts of her readers. (Crocodile on the Sandbank is reviewed in the November 2009 booklist “Adventure and Mystery in the Victorian Age.”)

Lost in a Good Book: Thursday Next Novels, Book 2 by Jasper Fforde, 2002, Viking Books (Fantasy/ Science Fiction/ Humor)

In author Jasper Fforde’s first installation in his best-selling Thursday Next Series, The Eyre Affair, no-nonsense Thursday Next lives in an alternate England where cloned dodo birds are the pet of choice, time traveler is common (though no one knows exactly how it works), and people and characters can move in and out of books. After saving Jane Eyre from a mastermind criminal in book one, Thursday—whose new husband, Landen, has been unfortunately eradicated from time by mega-conglomerate Goliath Inc.—is ready to get back to work. Leaving her position as a literary detective for Special-Ops, Thursday jumps into the world of books and joins Jurisfiction, the department that polices the fictional world. Thursday is paired with Miss Havisham (yep, that Miss Havisham, from Charles’ Dickens’ Great Expectations) and set on the case of the Goliath Corporation, who won’t restore Landen until Thursday returns company partner Jack Schitt, presently imprisoned in an Edgar Allan Poe poem (and Poe is very dangerous fictional territory). Assisted by her real-world partner Bowden Cable, her time-traveling father, her meddling mother, and the Cheshire Cat, Thursday also has to authenticate a new Shakespeare play, master the art of traveling through fiction, and save the world from a mysterious oozing pink sludge that threatens to engulf the entire planet. Literary allusions, puns, wordplay, and sheer fun abound in this bookish adventure that is also comedy, science fiction, alternative history, and hardboiled mystery. Few writers are as efficient in the art of genre-blending as Jasper Fforde, and few series are as witty, wild, or wickedly clever. (The Eyre Affair is reviewed in the July 2009 booklist “Sci Fi Meets the Classics.”)

The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking, Book 2 by Patrick Ness, 2009, Candlewick Press (Science Fiction/ Teen Fiction)

Book one of the author Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy is called The Knife of Never Letting Go, and it’s a hard-hitting, gripping, whopper of a dystopian tale. Thirteen-year-old Todd Hewitt has grown up on “new earth,” in a colony that fled the turmoil of our planet for a back-to-basics, simple way of life. But life on this new planet has a strange side effect: men can hear each other’s thoughts, and the result is world of terrifying chaos and pandemonium. In Prentisstown, Todd was taught that this strange phenomenon was a virus that killed the womenfolk. But when Todd stumbles across the last thing he ever expected—a girl who can’t hear what he thinks—everything he knows is about to change. In book one, Todd and the girl, Viola, flee to a city that they believe is a safe haven. But by the time they arrive, their supposed refuge has already been taken over by the vile, sadistic mayor of Todd’s hometown. After this cliffhanger ending, things go from bad to worse in book two, The Ask and the Answer. Todd and Viola, fearing all the while for each other’s lives, are separated. Todd is forced into the “Ask,” Mayor Prentiss’ oppressive regime, and Viola winds up in the care of the “Answer,” a rebel group hell-bent on stopping Prentiss. Both sides are determined to use whatever means necessary, and the result is always violent. There are no easy answers for Todd and Viola, who grow more desperate and disillusioned with the turn of each page. Still, these are two of the most determined kids in recent science fiction literature, and the reader is just as unlikely to give up hope as Todd as Viola. Provocative and un-put-down-able, readers will want the third volume (Monsters of Men, due spring 2010) close at hand. (The Knife of Never Letting Go is reviewed in the October 2009 booklist “Welcome to Dystopia.”)

Predator’s Gold: The Hungry City Chronicles, Book 2 by Philip Reeve, 2004, Eos Books (Science Fiction/ Teen Fiction) 

The Hungry City Chronicles is a dystopian series for young adults—a popular trend these days, and as author Philip Reeve so aptly demonstrates, it’s for good reason. Book one, Mortal Engines, introduces an earth devastated by untold climate and political disasters that set the world’s cities in motion—literally. Traction-cities on wheels now roam the globe, pursuing smaller towns to devour and use for resources. Tom Natsworthy is an apprentice historian London and Hester Shaw is the brutally scarred rogue assassin who sneaks onto London to kill Tom’s idol, the adventurer Valentine. But Tom stops Hester, and both are flung out of London and forced to survive in the bleak hunting grounds of Europe. Still, the unlikely duo forges a deep connection, especially when an ancient weapon is unearthed and put to use by London’s corrupt officials. In Predator’s Gold, Tom and Hester have stopped London in its tracks and set out on a romantic life together in an airship, far away from the hungry cities far below. But an idyllic existence is not meant to be—the Green Storm, a fanatic branch of the Anti-Tractionist League that has sworn to rid the world of its hungry cities, believes Hester and Tom had something to do with the death of their beloved leader. The couple seeks refuge on the city of Anchorage, a lovely but stricken city that has lost most of residents to a strange plague and is making a desperate bid for a fresh start on the “Dead Continent” of America. When Anchorage’s young and lovely leader takes a fancy to Tom and Hester’s jealousy gets the better of her, a devastating chain of events is set off involving all manner of betrayals, thievery, torture, daring rescues, and desperate hopes. With a grand scope, fresh plot twists, and suspense galore, the second volume in author Philip Reeve’s futuristic series packs an action-packed punch that will leave readers hungry for more—like books three and four, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain. (Mortal Engines is reviewed in the February 2010 booklist “Booklist Additions: Welcome to Dystopia.”)

Hot Badger Action (And More!)

About a month ago I got a call from Jeanette Cooperman, a reporter for St. Louis Magazine, asking whether I would be able to write a few thoughts about the relative effectiveness of college sports mascots, with particular emphasis on local schools: the Saint Louis University Billikens and Missouri Tigers. (The University of Missouri-St. Louis has unveiled a new mascot, the Triton, which occasioned the miniature feature she had in mind.)

GT readers know, I have given some thought and ink to these matters, particularly in the department of American Indians: on Chief Wahoo, The Cleveland Stereotypes; on cartoon Indians in Dick Tracy and Walt Disney shorts, Wahoo, Yellowpony, and Graphic Indians; on the desultory relationship between Wahoo and Herbie the Husker, Indian Summer Roundup. Jeanette's inquiry afforded an opportunity to have a little open-ended fun. The April issue of the mag is out, which includes a slightly edited version of the email I sent back, below:

You can't even talk about this subject without acknowledging how silly it is. What is a college mascot, but a poor soul in a hot suit will lousy visibility? A sadistic concept, at heart. That said, the characters themselves bear discussion. They cover a lot of ground, from the utterly goofy (e.g., Ohio State's buckeye, a personified nut) to the comparatively documentary (the University of West Virginia's mountaineer, an actual bearded guy with a deerskin costume, not a suit at all).

From my perspective, I think there are clear rules. Number one, foam rubber humans are out. For example, Herbie the Husker (Nebraska) is unbelievably creepy. Humans just don't work. They're not absurd, and they're not funny. Number two, good mascots tend to have the same qualities as effective cartoon characters. They come with clear personalities and emotional confidence. They're mad, or at least cross, and determined. (Oregon actually cheats on this count, having brazenly stolen Donald Duck–complete with name and sailor suit, recolored yellow and green–from Walt Disney.)

Aside: turns out there was a deal between Oregon and Walt. Details here.

My two rules work against our local examples, especially the Billiken. Is he human? Strictly speaking I guess he's an elf, a miniature humanoid. I'll give him a pass on the first rule, but what about the second? Can you identify his emotional attitude?

Look at that meandering mouth, the blank yet slightly cross-eyed gaze. Doesn't he look like he's trying to pass a sobriety test? Does he have any hope whatsoever of intimidating an opponent? Of course not–he's trying to touch his nose! On the positive side, he's got enviable sneakers, and his italicized SLU seems slightly aggressive.

Truman the Tiger vaguely resembles Tony the (Cornflakes) Tiger, but without the cool geometry. His nose goes too bicycle-horn, and worse, his eyes are vacant–black ovals centered within white ones. Zero emotion. He's not hapless, in the manner of poor Billiken, but he's not authoritative either. The whiskers are a plus. Is it really possible that his black stripes are spray-painted on? A yellow cat with graffiti? I know times are tough, but it might be time to up the budget the teeniest bit. (The logotype for the Missouri tiger is a different story. Scowly-looking, fast, menacing. Alas, won't work as a suit.)

My favorite mascots go one of two ways–ridiculous, or truly pissed. In the first category, I suggest Bucky the Badger, of the University of Wisconsin, an excellently weird creature. (See top). He's got a cubist head, beady eyes, proportions like Simon from Alvin and the Chipmunks, and an outfit like he works in an ice cream shop. If you're playing Wisconsin, what do you possibly make of this giant skinny rodent, this love child of Picasso, Baskin and Robbins? How do you keep your head in the game? Bucky brings it.

Angry mascots are common enough, but among my favorites is Big Red, the Razorback from the University of Arkansas. He seems very upset. A snarling, charging hog, Big Red looks like a southern cousin to the KSHE pig (himself a mascot, of an altogether different sort.) On the down side? Snoozeable name for the character.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Of Judgment & Serpents

(Note: I had hoped to post this around noon today, but did not finish in time. Second installment to come...)

Coming up on two years ago I made passing mention in this space of desert islands and what one might take to such places. I was preparing to buckle down for what turned out to be an important episode of work in the desert of Southeastern Utah. What would I take with me as nourishment? Brief entries on the subject here and here.

The question has returned, in a more pointed way. I’ll explain why.

I’ve made mention of the seminar I am teaching this semester, Readings in Postwar American Visual Culture 1945-1965. In fact, a little over a month ago I posted some Norman Rockwell images for the class alongside an introductory discussion of Greenberg’s Avant-Garde and Kitsch. (For GT background, see Avante-Garde and Twitch, here.) The purpose of that session was to grapple with that essay as well as Toward a Newer Laocoön, in some ways the more relevant text for coming to grips with the aesthetic claims of modernism.

Before proceeding, an aside I cannot resist: the Laocoön of Greenberg’s title is a reference to an 18th century essay by the German critic Lessing, which itself makes reference to a mythological tale of woe, memorably captured in a Hellenistic sculpture which has been projected in every single art history class to ever address Greek statuary. (Shown at the top of this post.) Laocoön, a local priest, smells a rat when the Trojan horse is wheeled into place. He suspects it’s hollow, and hurls a spear to confirm the fact. Athena, sponsor of the Greeks, wants no part of this fellow. Before the skeptical Trojan can open his mouth, sea serpents leap from the foam and slither over to strangle the man and his two sons on the spot. Not, one might think, a subject for marble. A tour de force, a spasm of energy chipped into being. Lives at the Vatican. And for present purposes, serves as the straight man to....

...this still from a Mr. Peabody short on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Mr. Peabody is a time-traveling professorial dog with a pet boy, Sherman. Beneath the banner of “Improbable History” check out Mr. Peabody as Laocoön, easily handling the snake. The statue seems to be labeled “a coon” unless you know the title, the beginning of which bends around the base away from us. Pretty doggone smart, and funny, too.

Aside finis.

Our discussion on the appointed day fell flat. That Greenberg and other full-throated modernists would have rejected popular works should surprise no one, and in fact did not. In preparation for that session, I wrote:

Greenberg argues that images like these are examples of “ersatz culture, pictures offered up to those who [are] insensible to the values of genuine culture.” True? False? What’s the difference between genuine culture and other culture? If you have answer to that question, how would you apply it to the stuff referred to as “underground” music versus what you hear on mainstream radio?

I had expected to hear something adamant from enthusiasts and connoisseurs in some other area. But adamance did not make an appearance. Quite the contrary. To my students, the partisanship of the modernists seemed harsh, impossibly exclusive.

Is there no dimension of culture, your culture (I asked the students) for which you think right and wrong positions can be defined? The answer to this question assumed a technical form: that is, the five-paragraph essay is held to be the right way to compose one’s thoughts; strict page limits for screenplays are wisely observed. These answers (which fascinated me) do not hinge on values or arguments, but on consensus-oriented markers for qualitative acceptance. Recipes for “good writing” come sans moral or even vitally cultural content. Who'd start a fistfight over the five-paragraph essay?

Contemporary college students have been educated in a postmodern climate of bland but mandatory tolerance. Judgment is an extremely discomfiting word. Emotional perspectivism–feeling as a prequalification for analysis–has helped to devalue and discredit the act of judgment itself. I make this observation as someone who has argued against bogus judgments of quality that really mask categorical differences. I am neither a fetishist of judgment per se, nor a fundamentalist cloaked in aesthetic garb. Hardly!

That said, the analytical entropy of perfect tolerance does us no favors. (By us, I mean we who are producers of cultural products.) We may find ourselves adrift in shallow seas.

So: as a way of backing into to questions of judgment, somewhat on the fly I asked the class to compose a desert island packing list, to consist of the following: the visual output (say in a coffee table book, for practicality’s sake) of two artists, designers, illustrators, or cartoonists; the collected works of one writer (the anthologized so-and-so) or a single giant work of literature (e.g., the Bible, which someone ultimately chose, for non-religious purposes); and the discography of a single composer, performer or group. (I did not think to add film to the list, though I guess you could argue for it in the first category and I would probably yield).

I asked for these lists before the next class. As it happened, we had research presentations and a certain amount of historical material to work our way through, so we did not get to the discussion of these lists, which will be the material for today’s class. I will make a report, and also engage the group in a comment thread in this space for those who want to participate. The lists themselves are rather striking, and beg discussion. It promises to be a lively afternoon.

Meanwhile, I invite reader response. What would you pack in your suitcase?

"Happy Easter" PIF

Hey friends! Latest PIF for Easter is here...


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Booklist Additions: The Classics Never Die


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith, 2010, Quirk Classics (Humor/ Horror/ Historical Fiction)

What’s it really mean to be a classic, anyway? Any old thing that has stood the test of time is probably the standard definition. And yet any work that is beloved enough to have inspired a plethora of prequels, sequels, spin-offs and mash-ups must hold an extra special place in our hearts. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is doubtless one such treasured work of literature, and the gentle authoress of yore is currently having a rather unusual bout of success by being joined at the hip with all manner of monsters. Last year’s bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith kicked off the trend; since then Mr. Darcy has become a vampire a couple times over ( Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and Vampire Darcy's Desire) and even Jane herself has been revealed as bloodthirsty member of the undead (Jane Bites Back). Another Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, got the monster treatment when and Sea Monsters was added to its title, and that brings us to the newly-released Dawn of the Dreadfuls, which may very well hold the unique title of being literature’s only prequel to a monster mash-up of a classic.

In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Bennet sisters are sword-wielding warriors who have trained with martial arts masters in the East and are renowned at home for their skill at dispatching the zombies that roam the English countryside. Other than that minor deviation, the story remains the same as Jane Austen wrote it so long ago—Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy misjudge each other until they’re head-over-heels in love. But before Elizabeth and her sisters were zombie-killing experts, they were proper young ladies who spent their time reading and sewing and dancing and trying to land husbands. And this is where Dawn of the Dreadfuls begins, with Elizabeth Bennet a mere sweet sixteen years old and peace and quiet reign over England—but not for long. As soon as the first zombie rears its decomposing head, Mrs. Bennet starts squealing, Lydia and Kitty cease giggling, and Mr. Bennet resurrects the swords that he fought with in the “The Troubles” long ago so he can turn his daughters into killers. Mr. Bennet doesn’t know why the zombie curse has returned after an absence of so many years, and frankly, he doesn’t care—and neither does the Bennet girls’ new martial arts master, Mr. Hawksworth. If the Bennet sisters want to survive, they need to learn how to kick some serious zombie ass. There is one man who does care about the why and the how of the zombie plague—but the scientific methods of the charming, bumbling Dr. Keckilpenny are as puzzling as Master Hawksworth’s occasional lapses in his otherwise strict observance of the warrior code. Both men have taken a liking to Elizabeth, who is proving to be a surprisingly skilled combatant. And Elizabeth herself doesn’t know if the passion building within her is for one of these gentlemen—or if it’s a bloodlust that can only be satisfied by complete devotion to the warrior way of life. As Lizzy chooses between the socially acceptable life as a gentlewoman and the thrill of the hunt, zombie mayhem splatters across the pages in all its gory glory.

Author Steve Hockensmith, best known for his award-winning Holmes on the Range series featuring a couple of quirky cowboys who idolize Sherlock Holmes, is in high form as he sets loose hoards of brain-thirsty zombies on beloved literary figures. Despite the plethora of monster mash-ups available on bookshelves (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer and the up-and-coming Jane Slayre, for example), Dawn of the Dreadfuls is is exactly the sort of violently bloody comedy of manners that fans of Jane Austen zombie mash-ups love best.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Let's play catch up!

So of course I've been busy, busy, busy! Finishing up my business logo class and planning my next educational foray. I have just purchased Adobe Illustrator so expectations are high and graphics are being designed! This is my latest idea that was spawned by the fabulous logo I made for J.Edwards Images.

Creating these swirly birds is really fun! I also plan on doing some paisley and other shapes soon.

Thanks for looking/reading!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ancient Dudes, Then and Now

So much to blog about. Spring Break is over, back from New York; had a great time with my sons Danny and Andrew gooning around the city, which is a pedestrian place par excellence. Saw my niece Grace too, and we had a big hot pot feast in Chinatown, the four of us. If I can stay focused enough, I'll devote a little time to detailing the relevant itinerary and the associated insights. I am always nourished by the Met and by MoMA, although the latter post-renovation often seems a lot like a shopping mall with status. Cafes underfoot and within earshot seemingly everywhere, scads of people shooting pictures of themselves next to famous paintings, etc. But I had a few genuine glimpses of what moved my younger self, back in the day when I lived in that giant grey vertical burgh and sold jewelry at Sak's Fifth Avenue...another time.

Meanwhile lots to report on the teaching and rummaging front–a big day recently in a particularly good antique shop downstate, good pickings in postwar publications, especially–and distinguished drawing by former students and the like. More soon on that front, especially from Toby in Texas. But in the meantime, I had a blast in NY when I spoke as forewarned at the Parsons School of Design, which turned out to resemble nothing so much as a Washington University Communication Design alumni event, to my utter delight. One of the best parts of teaching, to encounter people you knew as doubtful, halting beginners that you very well knew would have something to show for themselves before long. There they are, employed, growing, acquiring the gumshoe gravitas of Brooklynish-Manhattanite trudging through early career stops. (Same for other locales, too.) It was really a treat, and genuinely touching, that so many came out for my modest little chat. We had a big time at a pizza place, shouting over a giant table. Our waitress was unamused, though I thought we were decent enough. We didn't buy any wine. That might have been it.

Anyway I did a little drawing at the Met. Six or seven years ago at the Vatican Museum in Rome I saw quite a striking rack of classical busts all lined up like tchochkes, but way bigger and heavier. It made quite an impression on me, and I've often wished I'd had a sketchbook and drawn those guys then and there. It lives on as an image in my head. Last week at the Met we passed through the Visible Storage area in the American Wing looking for the Sargents (the painting galleries are still closed in the giant renovation of same, now partially complete) and came across a rows of stacked busts, similar to my memory of the Vatican. I resolved to draw them, and this time I did have a sketchbook, having brought one to doodle through centuries. Andrew shot the sketch with his digital camera, which I subsequently fortified with some color shapes in Photoshop to enable projection. Ben Katchor, by whom I was introduced at Parsons (genuinely flattering, though just doing his job, really) was suspicious of the color and called me out on it. "What is that inhumanly flat color doing there?" he asked.

I did a little work on the page when I got back, as I liked the potential of the image. The revised worked up version appears at the top of the post.

More soon, I hope...

Friday, March 19, 2010

How to Like Poetry


Poetry is hard. We know we’re supposed to like poetry and be moved by its verses, but it can be a lot of work to understand. Poetry starts out fun, with the nonsensical delights of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and Roald Dahl. But once we’ve got the basics down, things get serious pretty fast—heavies like Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, and even Shakespeare get thrown into the mix, and all those metaphors and rhyming couplets and iambic pentameters get tricky. Still, poetry is among the most creative forms of expression. Rules of rhythm and rhyme are made to be broken and—believe it or not—poetry has always had a wicked sense of humor. From revisiting classic poets to illustrated poetry editions to the newest trend of novels in verse, here are some books that just might convince you to give poetry one more try.

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, 2001, HarperCollins (Children’s Poetry/ Children’s Fiction)


Love That Dog is a poetry book about a boy who doesn’t like poetry. But his grade school class is doing a poetry unit, so the boy—young Jack—has to play along. He’s charmingly stubborn; if he has to write poems, he’s going to write poems about not liking poetry: “September 13/ I don’t want to/ because boys/ don’t write poetry./ Girls do.” Still, Jack has a knack for this, and soon he’s filling his notebook—which doubles as our slim novel—with intimate little verses about the whys and wherefores of poetry, and, eventually, his own versions of poems by famous writers (William Carlos Williams and Walter Dean Myers especially) that his gently persuasive teacher reads to the class. As the months of the school year go by, Jack’s poems get brighter and better. Soon, Jack’s own story begins to emerge from between the lines, the story of Jack and his beloved old dog, a dog named Sky with “his tongue all limp/ and his chin/ between/ his paws.” The story of a boy and his dog is hard to resist, but it’s thanks to author Sharon Creech’s wonderfully genuine voice that it’s the poetry that makes her story truly timeless.

Good Poems edited by Garrison Keillor, 2002, Viking Press (Poetry/ Anthologies) 


Garrison Keillor, nationally loved writer, has charmed millions of listeners with his daily poetry readings on public radio’s A Writer’s Almanac. Keillor’s criterion for a good poem is deliciously simple, especially for those of us who don’t really like poetry—or who don’t think we do. A good poem, says Keillor, is one that demonstrates “stickiness, memorability… You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan.” He likes poems that tell a story or paint a vivid picture, something simple and subtle but effective nevertheless, and he has collected those poems here in a collection titled simply Good Poems. There are poems that ode to aspects of the everyday like rock and roll (in “Ooly Pop a Cow” by David Huddle), food (in “Song to Onions’ by Roy Blount, Jr. and “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos William), even poo (in “The Excrement Poem” by Maxine Kumin. There are poems that offer insight into relationships between lovers (in “Venetian Air” by Thomas Moore), families (in “I Stop Writing the Poem” by Tess Gallagher), and animals (in “Walking the Dog” by Howard Nemerov). There are poems about snow (“Lester Tells of Wanda and the Big Snow” by Paul Zimmer), poems about the color yellow (“The Yellow Slicker” by Stuart Dischell), and poems about language (“The Possessive Case” by Lisel Mueller). And through it all, through all three hundred and fifty poems, there is the good-humored spirit of bringing the poems that people can appreciate to the people who will appreciate them. Thank you, Garrison Keillor.

The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse edited by D.B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee, 2003, New York Review Book Classics, originally published 1930 (Poetry Classics/ Anthologies)


It’s a comfort to know that even the best poets can sometimes go terribly, horribly, hilariously wrong. And that’s a thought that has been comforting readers for seventy years, ever since two gentlemen named D.B Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee collected a bunch of poems they deemed bad in an anthology bearing the name The Stuffed Owl. An attempt to write a poem, it seems, becomes the great equalizer. When Lord Byron mucks his way through an overly sentimental poem about the shedding of tears on graves, or when William Wordsworth tries to get away with a rhyme like “That is a work of waste and ruin:/ Consider, Charles, what you are doing,” we simply cannot help shaking our heads in disbelief, rolling our eyes in mock despair, and turning the page for more. The Stuffed Owl’s subject index another is a magnificent work of folly: The reader, merely by consulting the index and flipping back through the pages, may be exposed to topics as varied as “Bagpipes, their silence regretted” (page 5), “Hats, unfashionable in heaven” (page 216), and “Oysters, reason why they cannot be crossed in love” (page 108). The tongue-in-cheek tone, the mischievous delight in the missteps of others, and the playful spirit in which these poems are presented does indeed prove that as moving as it is when verse goes right, there is much amusement to be gained when poetry goes gleefully wrong.

Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry for Your… Brains by Ryan Mecum, 2008, How Books (Poetry/ Horror/ Humor/ Illustrated Novels)


You wouldn’t guess that poetry would be able to jump on the trendy zombie literarature bandwagon, but sure enough, you can read The Zombie Survival Guide, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Zombie Haiku too. This blood-splattered volume of verse is even more notable for adopting the highly treasured haiku structure consisting of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. This is actually a journal of poems found during the early days of the zombie plague. Not much is known about the author, except that he once was a poet, and now he’s eating brains. Yet he managed to chronicle his change from artist to icky after being attacked by an undead mob and taking shelter in an airport restroom—until he got hungry for, well, brains. Now, as zombies roam the streets moaning and groaning, our infected poet records thoughts like “Reanimation/ Would be much more difficult/ Inside a coffin” and “My dad used to say/ ‘Always finish what you start’/ So I eat her hair.” It gets a little gory, especially when combined with realistic zombie photos taped to the torn and bloodied pages, but author Ryan Mecum always keeps his quirky premise wickedly funny and bitingly smart. Mecum’s website at goes a step further to feature zombified verses by famous poets; Shakespeare, for example, writes: “To bite through the skull/ Or bang it against the wall?/ That is the question.” Who knew the walking dead could be so poetic?

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, 2008, Harper Books (Poetry/ Fiction/ Fantasy) 


Novels in verse: A reader gets all the drama, suspense, mystery and humor of a prose book, but it’s told in free verse poetry. Free verse is a poetic style that avoids any strict repeating rhymes or patterns and concentrates instead on a natural rhythm. It’s still poetry—pay attention to the line breaks and flow of the words—but its fluid structure makes it ideal for telling a longer narrative story. And, in the case of Sharp Teeth, what a story it is. Anthony Silvo is a lonely, luckless dogcatcher in Los Angeles. The packs of dogs that roam the streets are actually rival gangs of werewolves. Lark, a shark-like lawyer when in human form, is a pack leader with a revenge plan against a traitor to the pack. A strange small man with a very large partner is involved in the drug trade and bridge tournaments. Detective Peabody is on the trail of a series of lycanthrope-related murders. And a beautiful, mysterious, nameless werewolf-woman is sweeping hapless Anthony the dogcatcher deeper into the whole mess. The lives of these men, women, and beasts are filled with violence, abuse, and betrayal. That means that rare moments of truth, trust, and romance are all the more heartbreaking—but make no mistake, they still have a wicked bite to them. Told in an epic poetic voice that is bloody and beautiful, author Toby Barlow’s debut novel is an intricate, intriguing look at the supernaturally seedy side of city life.

New Found Land: Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery by Allan Wolf, 2004, Candlewick Press (Teen Poetry/ Historical Fiction) 


Poetry, especially in its novel-in-verse form, is surprisingly well-suited to historical fiction. Poetry has a distinctive voice, and history is best told from the points of view of many. In New Found Land: Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery, fourteen characters tell the tale of the cross-country journey undertaken by Captains Lewis and Clark in 1804. The goal was to follow the rivers from the east to west, to find the legendary Northwest Passage that would lead from coast to coast, and to map the lands in between. The fourteen unique voices in New Found Land include the members of the Corps of Discovery—the poetic name given to the expedition team—and other historical figures: Sacajawea, the Native American guide; President Thomas Jefferson; Clark’s slave, York; sundry adventurers, alcoholics, hunters, guides, and gentlemen; and even a Newfoundland dog owned by Captain Lewis who is named Seaman but calls himself Oolum. Diverse personalities, motives, notions of freedom, goals, triumphs, and tragedies merge seamlessly with historical fact as each character narrates an episode, experience, or thought in insightful free verse entries. Chatty teenager George Shannon adds humor on one page, Sacajawea’s longing comes pouring across the next, and through it all author Allan Wolf conveys the immense scope of this mammoth undertaking and how it changed the lives of all involved. It will come close to doing the same for its readers, who are destined to be swept away by the drama, history, and yes, the poetry, of New Found Land.

Visions in Poetry series edited by Tara Walker, published by KCP Press, 2004-2008 (Poetry Classics/ Illustrated Books)

  • Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Stèphane Jorisch, 2004
  • The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Murray Kimber, 2005
  • The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, illustrated by Geneviève Côté, 2005
  • Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse, 2006
  • The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Ryan Pierce, 2006
  • The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, illustrated by Stèphane Jorisch, 2007
  • My Letter to the World by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, 2008
The Visions in Poetry series is, quite simply, delightful. With seven trim little books, the team at KCP Press has created one of the loveliest collections of poetry that you’re likely to find on bookshelves anywhere. Each volume is a single poem, a famous, beloved, classic poem illustrated by a noted artist in a fresh, original style. The Highwayman, a romantic early 20th-century poem about a dashing robber and the landlord’s “black-eyed daughter,” is re-imagined as a stylized motorcycle adventure through the charcoal-black streets of New York City. The charmingly nonsensical tale about the union of The Owl and the Pussycat is given a surreal, dreamy quality by pages of delicately inked pencil and watercolor illustrations; artist Stèphane Jorisch ups the ante on the irresistibly weird “borogroves” and “mome raths” of the Jabberwocky as well. Mighty Casey is every inch the tragic hero when he takes up that baseball bat in the dusky sandlot of Ernest L. Thayer’s ode to baseball bravery Casey at the Bat. And when the likes of Emily Dickinson, Geneviève Côté, Edgar Allan Poe, and other friends join the club, it becomes almost impossible to imagine simply reading these poems as black words on a white page ever again. The matching of artist to poet is spot-on and the result is a stunning little collection of the prettiest poetry you’ve ever read.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pay it Forward = Pay it Forward

Proving once again there are some really nice people out there in the world if you open yourself up to them. I offer PIF's, (pay it forward freebies), in my shop all the time and not once did I expect to get a wonderful shout out like this!

Thanks so much to Around The World for sharing my PIF!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In other news...

If you have been keeping up w/my life, (which incidentally I'm not even doing!!! ) lol I am almost done taking a business course in logo design and I challenged myself by picking my own shop to make a logo for. Did I mention that I HATE making things for myself and I wish I'd known this beforehand. Please take a look at the final draft that I am currently using for PW Ads.
Pretty snazzy, eh? I've started making all of my own clip art and I incorporated this into my new logo. I learned a lot in my new class;

1. I don't EVER want to work in corporate America.2. People on Etsy have very different logos than people off Etsy.
3. I need to rush out and buy a different design program than Adobe Photoshop if I want a serious career in this field.
4. I need a new computer, (see above).
5. Online classes rock! It's the only way I'll ever go back to school.
What next? I'm thinking about taking a legalities class so I can waste my time spouting off copyright info. and getting angry w/people for violating other people's rights. Just kidding, I hate that cr*p! Just think this would be an interesting class and help me write my TOU's and sign over rights to other people for graphics, logos, etc. Learning is fun! Boy, never thought I'd say that☺


Damask Me

New this week in my shop, vintage patterns galore!

All of these premade banners are only $5, so get 'em while they are OOAK!

Graphic Design by Tara


Friday, March 12, 2010

I am still reeling from the honor of winning Etsy Veg Team's February challenge "All About Red".

Please visit EtsyVeg Team to read about myself and my co-winner.

Etsy Veg Team

Thanks so much to friends, customers, and teammates who made this posssible!


Number the Books


Reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. When letters and numbers combine in the form of fiction, strange and interesting things are bound to happen. A number in a book title can indicate so many things: populations of people, distance to travel, codes to break, mysteries to solve. O reading, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, 2003, Harper Books, originally published 1940 (Mystery Classics)


Ten strangers—a rich playboy, a careless doctor, an army general, an ex-police inspector, a rigidly religious old woman, a husband-and-wife servant couple, a young schoolmarm, a court judge, and a con man—are invited to an island vacation by Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen. But once they arrive on the island and the boat to the mainland departs, they find an empty house—no hosts to greet them and only each other (and they’re all strangers) for company. But there is an explanation waiting. A gramophone recording announces that the ten of them have been gathered together because each committed a crime and got away with it. Each guest is responsible for the death of someone else, and for whatever reason, their crimes could not be proved. Well, justice is about to be served. One by one, the guests start dying—poisoned, shot, bashed in the head, pushed off a cliff. Someone is on the island, picking off guests one by one, and all the ten guests have to guide them is a nursery rhyme hanging on the wall and ten little statues that disappear one by one as each guest is polished off. And Then There None, also published as Ten Little Indians, is renowned mystery author Agatha Christie’s best known, best loved, and most successfully plotted whodunit. Readers have been trying to puzzle this one out, and being knocked head-over-heels by the twist ending, for decades. Irresistibly baffling, this is one of the best countdowns in literary history. Christie (1890-1976), who wrote over sixty novels and over one-hundred short stories, had a thing for numbers in her titles. In addition to And Then There Were None/ Ten Little Indians, readers can count on more mystery in Towards Zero, One Two Buckle My Shoe, Murder in Three Acts, Third Girl, The Big Four, Five Little Pigs, The Seven Dials Mystery, and Thirteen Problems.

The Eight by Katherine Neville, 2006, Corgi Books, originally published in 1988 (Thriller/ Mystery/ Historical Fiction)


In 1790 in the secluded Algerian abbey of Montglane, two lively young girls, cousins Valentine and Mireille, are novices training to be nuns. But the country is in rebellion; the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror are in full swing, and the wide world is pressing in on the quiet abbey in the mountains. When their abbess reveals a dark secret connected with their order, the adventurous cousins do their part to help hide the nuns’ mystery from the prying hands of dangerous enemies. Nearly two hundred years later in 1973, computer whiz Catherine “Cat” Velis is traveling to Algiers on an assignment when she falls in with a quest to retrieve that same ages-old secret that Valentine and Mireille hid so long ago. What is this much sought after, highly treasured object that strangers are willing to kill for? It’s a chess set, an oversized, ornate, gold and silver, bejeweled set of kings and queens and knights and pawns, crafted by Moors, owned by Charlemagne, and possessed of a mystic force that few understand but that all recognize the power of. It’s known as the Montglane Service and everyone, from Russian chess grandmasters to secret society Freemasons to agents and assassins from the world’s most powerful nations, wants it. What part our heroines Valentine, Mireille, and Cat, whom we hear from in intertwining chapters that speak back and forth from across the ages, play in the Montglane Service’s influential and fascinating history is all part of the fun, mystery, and adventure. Chock-full of historical figures from the past (including Napoleon, Robespierre, and Catherine the Great) and filled with puzzles, codes, and clues à la The Da Vinci Code for characters and readers alike, The Eight is a fast-paced, globe-trotting, historical thriller

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont, 2007, New York Review Children’s Collection, originally published in 1950 (Children’s Classics/ Fantasy)

A clever, wicked duke lives a life so cold that the thirteen clocks in his castle are frozen permanently at ten minutes to five o’clock. He’s so mean and cold that he’s been known to feed people to his geese just for calling his gloves “mittens,” or for having names that begin with X. The only warmth in practically the whole kingdom radiates from the duke’s beautiful niece, the ever-so-sweet Princess Saralinda. Suitors have been coming for ages to bid for the Princess’s hand, but none can ever defeat the tasks the duke sets for them because—and this is why the duke is so wicked and clever—the tasks are impossible. You can’t slay the thorny Boar of Borythorn if there is no thorny Boar of Borythorn, after all. When a prince-in-disguise arrives in town, no one is willing to bet on his chances against the duke’s craftiness. But the prince has a surprising ally—a funny little fellow who calls himself the Golux, talks in riddles, and is never quite sure if the plans he’s made are based on are facts or on something he’s just made up himself. Still, the Golux claims he’s on the side of good, so the prince embarks on madcap adventure filled with old women who cry jewels, spies with names like Hark and Listen, and a miserable monster whose duty it is to snuff out evildoers who have done less evil than they should. It’s the stuff that all good fairy tales and fables are made up, but there’s something quite distinct about The 13 Clocks, and that’s its author, James Thurber (1894-1961), a noted humorist who had a wonderful way with words. Thurber’s witty story reels from poetry to prose and back again, with an occasional stop at joyous nonsense along the way. It’s a truly delightful romp through the wonders of the English language and the good old tradition of happily ever after.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, 2008, Razorbill Books (Teen Fiction/ Contemporary Fiction) 


When Clay Jenson finds a package on his doorstep, he’s excited. When he opens it to find a bunch of cassette tapes, he’s curious. When he listens to them, he’s shocked—because the voice on the tapes belongs to Clay’s high school classmate Hannah Baker, and Hannah killed herself two weeks ago. As Clay listens, Hannah explains why. Clay is one of thirteen people to receive the tapes, one of thirteen people who played a part in Hannah’s decision to end her life, one of thirteen people who Hannah chose to tell about it. Clay is horrified that he is on Hannah’s list; he didn’t know her well, but he had a crush on her from afar, and he certainly never intended to do anything that might hurt her. Hannah, speaking from beyond the grave, is alternately defensive, sarcastic, desperate, and soulful as she talks about her classmates—who spread rumors about her, who believed the rumors, who acted on them, and who chose to remain silent despite the destructive chain of events that unfolds. Clay is alternately surprised, pained, and completely overwhelmed by Hannah’s haunting tale of lies and betrayals. Most of the book—author Jay Asher’s debut novel—takes places in Clay’s head as he listens to Hannah (her voice appears in italics on the page) and thinks about what she says; despite this structure, the pace is still quick and suspense-driven as Clay anxiously waits for his name to appear in Hannah’s story. The audiobook, with its dual male and female narrators, is an especially effective way to experience Thirteen Reasons Why, since the reader is listening to CDs much the same way the Clay listens to Hannah’s tapes. Theirs is an unusual dialogue, but it is one that’s highly effective and gut-wrenchingly emotional.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, 2009, Samuel French Books, originally published 1915 (Fiction Classics/ Adventure)


Richard Hannay is bored. He’s spent most of his life on the go in exotic South Africa, and dreary old London is damp and dull in comparison. But the world is on the brink of war—the year is 1914—and Hannay knows there’s adventure out there somewhere. He decides to give London one more day to deliver some excitement, and to his surprise, the good city lives up to its end of the bargain. Hannay comes home to find his upstairs neighbor, Franklin P. Scudder, in quite a pickle. Scudder is in possession of important information, state secrets about anarchists and assassins and political plots that hold the lives of thousands of people at risk. Hannay agrees to hide Scudder, who has faked his death to throw off his enemies, but a few days later a dangerous spy tracks Scudder down and murders him in Hannay’s apartment. Now Hannay is on the run with what he knows of the plot, hiding from both the political bullies who got Scudder and the police who want him for Scudder’s murder. There are codes to decipher, disguises to don, villains in aeroplanes to outmaneuver, aristocratic politicians to convince, and an important mystery hidden in the words “the thirty-nine steps.” Action-packed with thrills galore, spy fiction got off to a rousing start with The Thirty-Nine Steps (which was also made into a suspense film by the infamous Alfred Hitchcock). Lone men in possession of valuable information have been on the run ever since, from James Bond to Jason Bourne. The thriller genre owes quite a debt to John Buchan and his cocky, crafty hero Richard Hannay, and this original escapade is a true-blue blueprint for espionage adventure.

The 39 Clues, Book One: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan, 2008, Scholastic Books (Children’s Fiction/ Adventure)


The Cahills are an ancient, powerful family with branches that extend to all corners of the world and contain some—make that all—of history’s finest explorers, inventors, artists, and intellectuals. But for now, the two most important members of the Cahill family are fourteen-year-old Amy and her eleven-year-old brother Dan. They are the grandchildren of family matriarch Grace Cahill, who sets an astounding adventure in motion when, in her will, she challenges her family to follow a set of puzzling clues that lead to a powerful and influential prize. Amy and Dan, orphans with no one else to rely on, seem like the least likely relations to embark on a mysterious scavenger hunt, but they loved their grandmother and are determined to do her proud. The first clue leads the siblings on a whirlwind chase from Boston to Paris, but other Cahills are hard on their heels—ruthless brother and sister team Ian and Natalie, poisonous ex-spy Irina Spasky, sneaky alliance-making Alistair Oh, and fame-hungry Jonah Wizard. Amy and Dan have their own strengths, and they’ll more than need them as they (and the reader) decipher codes between dodging assassins and explosions—and all this in book one! The 39 Clues is a new kind of series. Readers not only read the books, they collect character cards, play at being a treasure-seeking Cahill online at, and even win prizes. Author Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson and the Olympians fame penned the first title and created the arc for the series, but a different author writes each book to keep things exciting and new. The clues continue in One False Note, The Sword Thief, Beyond the Grave, The Black Circle, In Too Deep, The Viper’s Nest, and The Emperor’s Code; two more titles are planned for a total of ten rousing, rollicking, interactive adventures.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, 2006, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, originally published 1967 (Literary Fiction/ Historical Fiction) 


Remember the name José Arcadio Buendía. It won’t be easy to forget, because Buendía founded the town of Macando and we’re about to spend one hundred glorious years following its history—and that of Buendía’s descendants, who bear portions of his name for generations and inherit in varying quantities his often-contrary personality traits of pensiveness, curiosity, impulsiveness, and rationality. There are his sons, José Arcadio and Aureliano, a playboy and a war-time general. His daughters Amaranta (biological) and Rebeca (adopted) are devoted companions until a man comes between them. There are his grandsons Arcadio, Aureliano José, and the seventeen sons (by seventeen women) of General Aureliano who are all shot between the eyes by government assassins. Great-granddaughter Remedios the Beauty is the most beautiful woman Macando has ever seen, and as such causes the deaths of several townsmen. There are members of the fourth, fifth, and even sixth generations with strange and wondrous stories of their own, but mere descriptions of the characters are not enough to convey the allure of One Hundred Years of Solitude and the spell it weaves as it explores the myriad sorrows, joys, rises, and falls of the unconquerable Buendía dynasty. Author Gabriel García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for this masterpiece and introduced the world to his brand of magical realism. He tosses tantalizing bits of fantasy and magic into his story to create a lyrical novel that has everything: tragedy, comedy, romance, war, death, and above all, the vibrancy of life.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, 2000, HarperCollins, originally published 1870 (Fiction Classics/ Science Fiction/ Adventure)

In 1866, ships crossing the oceans began to experience strange phenomena—an enormous “thing” spraying water into the air; collisions with a fast-moving underwater object. Sailors dub it “the monster,” but no one really knows what it is. Popular opinion is that some creature from the depths has decided to break the surface on a whim, and that this monster must be destroyed to protect the world’s shipping lanes. When our narrator, professor and scientist Pierre Aronnax, is invited aboard the ship that intends to pursue the strange colossal thing, the reader is plunged into an adventure the likes of which few have experienced before. The “monster” does not take kindly to being hunted, and after an encounter with it on the high seas, Aronnax, his servant Conseil, and fellow sailor Ned Land find themselves not in the belly of a giant whale, but inside a vast high-tech submarine called the Nautilus. Its captain is Nemo, a powerful, brilliant, obsessive, and very possibly mad gentleman who has abandoned the world of men for the marvels of the sea. Now that Aronnax and company have discovered the Nautilus, they’re told by that they must remain onboard as permanent guests and journey the seas with the crew and its avenging captain. Their voyage, from an exploration of the underwater city of Atlantis to an epic battle with a ferocious monster squid, is crafted with all the wondrous technologies and fantasies that author Jules Verne (1828-1905) can imagine—and make no mistake, he could imagine quite a lot. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a tall tale of the finest order, an original science fiction fantasy that combines high adventure and plunges the depths of both the sea and of the human heart. Many editions of this classic abound; of particular interest is the 2000 HarperCollins edition illustrated by Caldecott medal winning artists Leo and Diane Dillon, who convey the power of sea, squid, and submarine in all their glory and wonder.