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Thoughts on “Basketful of Heads”

I’ve been a little behind on my reading, so I managed to accrue the first three issues of Joe Hill’s latest comic. How could any self-respecting horror fan pass up on something affectionately titled “Basketful of Heads.” Anyway, I finished reading the first three issues, and it’s a big “meh” in my humble opinion.

The premise is that a young woman takes possession of a mysterious axe to defend herself, yet the men whose heads get separated from their bodies remain alive and conscious. Reminds one of “The Reanimator.” And like “The Reanimator,” there is no shortage of cheesy humor tossed in. But this is essentially where the comic falls short for me. The writing and attempts at humor are weak, and no amount of four-letter words can salvage this one.

I’ve read other works from Joe Hill in the past, and I liked them, so I had high hopes for this one. But for me, it’s not doing it. I’ll have to nix this one from my pull list. Others might like this, but I suppose I am a bit of a horror snob. Oh well. Thanks for stopping by.

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Thoughts on “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Mine was busy, but nice.

I had a couple draft blog posts on stuff I read toward the end of 2019, but I wanted to hold off on those and instead write about a book that I read which was so positive and uplifting. I’m thinking we need to start go into 2020 focusing on the things that are beautiful and inspiring.

While doing some holiday shopping, I saw this book on display. I had read online that Barnes and Noble awarded it their favorite book of 2019, so I had to pick it up for myself, and I am so glad I did. The book is simple and heart-warming, filled with inspirational messages that are down-to-earth and clear enough for anyone to grasp. It is a graphic novel wonderfully illustrated with humble sketches that add to the book’s overall charm. I was able to read it in about 15 minutes (my daughter read it in 5), but the imagery and emotions lasted with me for days.

I highly recommend that you read this book, even if you are not a fan of graphic novels. It’s a special book that transcends the genre, and I’m sure you will feel happier and uplifted after you set the book down.

To entice you a little more, I figured I would include a couple short quotes, so you have a sense of what you are in for. Thanks for stopping by, and have an inspired and blessed 2020!

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Kind” said the boy.

“Often the hardest person to forgive is yourself.”

“What is the bravest thing you ever said?” asked the boy.
“Help,” said the horse.

“When the big things feel out of control… focus on what you love right under your nose.”

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Thoughts on “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond

It is very rare for me to start reading a book and not finish it. I can forge on through thick, dense texts, as evidenced by the fact that I actually read Infinite Jest. But after getting through about a third of this book, I decided it was not worth my time and energy to continue. I estimate I can probably read two or three other more interesting texts in the time it would take me to finish this.

I was very enthusiastic at the onset of this book, since the topic sounded interesting to me, basically an historical analysis of how and why specific cultures became technologically advanced more rapidly than others, leading to subjugation and in too many cases annihilation of the less technologically advanced cultures.

We all know that history has proceeded very differently for peoples from different parts of the globe. In the 13,000 years since the end of the last Ice age, some parts of the world developed literate industrial societies with metal tools, other parts developed only nonliterate farming societies, and still others retained societies of hunter-gatherers with stone tools. Those historical inequalities have cast long shadows on the modern world, because the literate societies with metal tools have conquered or exterminated the other societies. While those differences constitute the most basic fact of world history, the reasons for them remain uncertain and controversial.

(p. 13)

So while the topic sparked my interest, the problem for me with this text is one that I’ve encountered in other historical works: way too much data so that the pertinent information gets lost in a sea of superfluous facts.

Let me say that while I was an English Lit major in college, I did my minor in History, so I read my share of history books, and some told fascinating stories about how history unfolded, and how events and ideas shaped the direction of cultures and the world. But then there are those books which don’t tell a story but instead inundate you with pages and pages of data which no one could remember and really serves no purpose except as footnotes to other more engaging works. In all fairness, I believe Jared Diamond was working to tell a story through data, but there is a point of overkill for me, and he crossed that threshold.

I’m a technical writer and editor by trade, so I am painfully aware that it is important to strike a balance between facts and data, contextual information, and getting to the heart of the matter. If I’m writing a guide explaining how to generate a report, and I bury the central information within pages of supporting information which the user does not need, then the reader will disregard my text and seek information elsewhere. There is a fine art to providing key ideas with just the right amount of context.

As I was reading this book, my daughter told me that she had watched a film based upon this book in one of her history classes. Since the topic is interesting for me, as I said, I think I will see if I can stream the film, and get the two-hour abridged version.

Cheers!

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The Symbolism of the Doors in “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

This was probably my most anticipated book of 2019. A while back, I read The Night Circus by Morgenstern, which instantly became one of my favorite books and the one I most frequently recommend to people asking me for suggestions regarding books to read. I actually preordered this book so I could get it the day it was released. Now, with books that you have high expectations for, sometimes it is hard for them to meet those expectations. But while The Starless Sea is not as good as The Night Circus (a difficult book to surpass, in my opinion), it was still excellent and well worth the read.

The book is a tale rich with symbolism that traces a young man’s discovery and journey into a subterranean realm populated with stories.

Far beneath the surface of the earth, hidden from the sun and the moon, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. Stories written in books and sealed in jars and painted on walls. Odes inscribed onto skin and pressed into rose petals. Tales laid in tiles upon the floors, bits of plot worn away by passing feet. Legends carved in crystal and hung from chandeliers. Stories catalogued and cared for and revered. Old stories preserved while new stories spring up around them.

(p. 6)

This image symbolically describes the human collective unconscious, that vast repository populated with all the stories and myths that have existed or will come into being. Every writer, poet, artist, and musician seeks to tap into this reservoir of inspiration, and some, like Morgenstern here, attempt to describe it. But it can only be described symbolically, since the wellspring of artistic creativity is something that exists beyond our comprehension. But we all sense its presence, just below the surface of our psyches.

While art can be a reflection of the mystical source of consciousness, it also has the ability to draw the audience into the realm of the mystical through the use of symbols. The door is one of those symbols, representing the transitional space between ordinary reality and the deeper realms of the subconscious.

The son of the fortune-teller knows only that the door feels important in a way he cannot quite explain, even to himself.

A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.

He traces the painted lines of the key with his fingertips, marveling at how much the key, like the sword and the bee and the doorknob, looks as though it should be three-dimensional.

The boy wonders who painted it and what it means, if it means anything. If not the door, at least the symbols. If it is a sign and not a door, or if it is both at once.

In this significant moment, if the boy turns the painted knob and opens the impossible door, everything will change.

(p. 13)

Doors to the subconscious exist not only in art, but they can manifest spontaneously anywhere in the world, instantly transporting an unsuspecting individual into the proverbial Wonderland of an altered state of consciousness.

There are numerous doors in varying locations. In bustling cities and remote forests. On islands and on mountaintops and in meadows. Some are built into buildings: libraries or museums or private residences, hidden in basements or attics or displayed like artwork in parlors. Others stand freely without the assistance of supplemental architecture. Some are used with hinge-loosening frequency and others remain undiscovered and unopened and more have simply been forgotten, but all of them lead to the same location.

(p. 61)

There is a very subtle yet extremely important warning hidden in this passage. Morgenstern writes that some doors “are used with hinge-loosening frequency.” I interpret this as a caution to those who use consciousness-expanding drugs as a portal to glimpse the hidden realms of the subconscious. Just as doors can become unhinged, the human psyche can also become unhinged when thrown open too frequently through the use of certain chemicals. While it can be difficult to seek out the undiscovered doors in remote locations, it seems a much more prudent path for those seekers of deeper knowledge.

As William Blake famously asserted in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” The Starless Sea is yet another door for us to enter into the infinite and ineffable expanse of the human creative spirit. And now the wait begins for Ms. Morgenstern’s next novel.

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“American Gods: The Moment of the Storm” by Neil Gaiman: Issue #07

People believe. It’s what people do. They conjure things, and then do not trust the conjurations. They populate the darkness with ghosts, with gods, with electrons. People imagine and people believe. And it is that belief that makes things happen.

There is a lot of truth here. Our thoughts play a tremendous part in the manifestation of our realities. When we step back and consider the fear, mistrust, anger, and cynicism of the past couple decades, should it be all that surprising that we find ourselves in the current socio-political climate?

But I for one am seeing things that give me hope and inspiration, and I am making a conscious effort to believe in the better possibilities. Because let’s face it—all possibilities exist. But the possibilities which receive the most energy are the ones most likely to actualize.

Thanks for believing.

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Lady Mechanika Vol. 3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey

I was introduced to Lady Mechanika when I picked up an issue from a Free Comic Day event. I really loved the writing and the steampunk artwork, so I made a mental note that I would read a little deeper. Anyway, I was recently at the Silicon Valley Comic Con, and there was a table there with M.M. Chen, one of the writers of Lady Mechanika. I talked with her for a bit and was ready to buy a volume and have her sign it (notice her signature on the picture). I had every intention of buying the first volume, but she suggested getting Volume 3, since she said it provides some back story and is actually a great place to start, so I took her suggestion. Hey, the writer should know, right?

The books is short, but beautifully illustrated and the story is really engaging. Lady Mechanika collaborates with a police detective, Inspector Singh, to track down a person who is kidnapping and killing homeless children. It is discovered that the killings are related to some twisted experiments that are based upon concepts from Jewish mysticism, so they consult with a Rebbe to solve the case. I have to admit, the blending of steampunk and Jewish mysticism really works well.

The investigators, with the help of the Rebbe, discover that the killer is combining blood magic with Hebrew mysticism in an attempt to create a golem. The Rebbe explains to them what a golem is.

A soulless creature, made from clay and given life by magic. The golem has no free will or intelligence. It is a mindless servant of its creator and must obey his commands. In our legends, they were created to perform laborious tasks, or to protect and defend the community. They can work tirelessly, and cannot be destroyed except by the magic with which they were created.

I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed with this book. I will definitely be getting Volume 1 in the near future.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff.

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Thoughts on “Holy Wars, Passion, and Religion” by Umberto Eco

In this essay, Eco explores fundamentalism and the need for critical and objective analysis when thinking about this complicated phenomenon. He basically argues that the problem with our approach to understanding fundamentalism is that we look at it from our own cultural perspective and not from the perspective of the society that spawned the fundamentalist movement. He also argues that understanding fundamentalism in other cultures helps us better understand fundamental movements within our own cultures.

Imagine is Muslim fundamentalists were invited to carry out research on Christian fundamentalism (I’m thinking of certain American Protestants, more fanatical than any ayatollah, who would expunge all reference to Darwin from the schoolbooks). Studying the fundamentalism of others helps us understand our own fundamentalism better. Let them come and study our concept of holy war (I could suggest a very interesting reading list, with some recent works), and perhaps they will view the concept in their own countries with a more critical eye. We Westerners have reflected on the limitations of our own way of thinking by describing la pensée sauvage.

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 244)

Our world has become very complicated, and as such, people have a general sense of being lost, as the speed of change continues to increase exponentially. This is the reason, Eco states, that we need to apply critical thinking in all areas of our lives.

But maybe it’s only a sign that in times of great disorientation (and we are living through such a time) no one knows where he stands anymore.

It is precisely in such moments of disorientation that we need to apply the tools of analysis and criticism—analysis of our own superstitions as well as those of others. I hope that these things will be discussed in the schools and not only at press conferences.

(ibid: p. 246)

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