Wednesday, October 31, 2007


The Gashlycrumb Tinies, by Edward Gorey. Is there anything better for Halloween?

Also, other creepy bits...

In the New York Observer, there's a new theory on how Edgar Allan Poe died. It was a brain tumor.

KNBC, out of Los Angeles, has compiled 15 famously freaky ghost pictures.

And, if you want to sit down with a fun book this evening, might I suggest Eric Nuzum's informative and charming The Dead Travel Fast? It's a cultural history of vampires.

Or, if that's not something you can sink your teeth into (HA!) the Washington Post highlights books that'll scare the bejesus out of you.

P.S. A hunter, traipsing through the Allegheny National Forest, found Bigfoot.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Harper Lee Honored

The Guardian has noted this morning that Harper Lee, reclusive author of one of my all-time favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by George Bush. It is America's highest award.

Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by George Bush. Whether or not one of the world's most publicity-shy literary stars will relish being given America's highest - and very public - award remains to be seen.

Some interesting To Kill a Mockingbird tidbits mentioned in the story:

- The book is taught in more than 70% of schools in the United States.

- Last year the book topped a World Book Day poll conducted by the UK's Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), in which librarians around the country were asked, "Which book should every adult read before they die?"

I've read time and time again and learn something more about the book, and about myself, each time I read it. The climactic scene, where Scout is wearing the pork costume, still reverberates inside me every time I read it, or watch it in the movie, or watch it on stage, which I did recently at Seattle's Intiman Theatre. And then, Scout meeting Boo? Ah, it's hard not to get misty over that.

Anyway, congratulations Harper Lee! Who knows if she'll actually go to accept the award (she's really reclusive), but it's nice that she's been honored.

The Cover Art of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds"

318 of them, from 1899 to the present.

First Radiohead. Now Paste.

Taking a page from Radiohead, where the group is selling their new album, In Rainbows, directly to fans, asking said fans (which are legion) to pay whatever they want for the album (downloading the album for free has been, of course, quite popular), Paste Magazine is doing the same thing. Want a year's subscription to Paste, a monthly music and entertainment mag that offers CDs with the magazines they print, for, say, a buck? Cool. Thirty bucks? Fine. Whatever you want to pay is fine with them. It's fine with us, too.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Will Newspapers Survive?

The death knell for newspapers has been ringing time and time again these past few years as more and more people get their news via other sources, i.e. television/radio/internet (or is it that newspapers have been declining because of the newspaper business itself?). Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby has written a piece on the life, and possible death, of newspapers.

There's some interesting little tidbits within the report (by the way, Editor and Publisher also has a story about falling newspaper circulations)...

"The first newspaper published in the colonies - Publick Occurrences - appeared in Boston on Sept. 25, 1690, and was promptly suppressed by the government, which denounced its 'sundry doubtful and uncertain reports.'"

The percentage of Americans who read a paper every day has fallen from around 70 percent in 1972 to 35 percent today.

Industrywide, newspaper circulation has been dropping for 20 years.

I still love reading the paper. Sure, I could get the same information on the internet, but there's something about holding those ink-smudged pages, something about unfolding all that information, looking for the sports page, the arts and entertainment section, the latest Get Fuzzy comic strip, that still means something to me. Of course, I have to wash my hands afterwards, but small price to pay to learn about what's happening locally, state-wide, nationally and internationally, all the while learning what price per pound Bosc pears are the coming week at Safeway.

The Oliver Sacks Round-Up

The imminent Oliver Sacks has a new book out, Musicophilia, and so there's oodles of interest in all things Sacks lately...

NPR has an excerpt and an interview.

Time Out New York interviews him, too.

Also, the New York Times reviews his latest, written by Anthony Gottlieb.

He's also profiled in Seed Magazine.

Musicophilia is also discussed on Sacks' own website.

As for me, I haven't read it yet though I plan to once my wife gets done reading it. Come on, Marie. Read faster.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Quote of the Week

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
- Robert Heinlein (1907 - 1988)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Wild and Crazy Guy is a Busy Busy Man

Steve Martin, one of my heroes, has a couple of books coming out...

Born Standing Up is an autobiography where he talks about the comic's life. The New Yorker has an audio excerpt.

And while we're talking about The New Yorker, famed New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast has teamed up with Martin with his first children's book, The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z. NPR has the story of the story complete with audio excerpts.


Jon's Haiku Poetry on Portland Fiction


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

D.B. Cooper - An American Legend

I've always been fascinated, not obsessed, but extremely intrigued by the story of fabled hijacker D.B. Cooper. For those who may not know who D.B. Cooper is, he was a man who, around Thanksgiving 1971, hijacked a plane going to Seattle from Portland. Once he got to Seattle he asked for lots of money and enough fuel to fly to Mexico City. The authorities did what he asked, gassing up the plane and giving him a satchel of $200,000. The plane then left Seattle on a dark rainy night heading south. Soon after he jumped out of the plane near the Mount Saint Helens area never to be heard from again. They never found his body (if he died) and the authorities don't think he ever spend the money (if he lived). Quite simply, he vanished.

I wrote a play about the hijacking. It's a comedy - "D.B. Cooper's Christmas Spectacular." I haven't staged it yet but hope to sometime. After learning of my interest in all things D.B. Cooper my friend told me that his father-in-law was the man who furnished D.B. Cooper with the parachute he jumped out of the plane with. Small world.

Smaller world in that the REAL D.B. Cooper was, quite possibly, Kenneth Christiansen, a guy who lived in Bonney Lake near where I live. He died of cancer in 1994. New York Magazine has an extensive article entitled "Unmasking D.B. Cooper" and about how the case might finally be solved. Local reaction comes by way of the Tacoma News Tribune.

Do I want the case solved or do I like the mystery of it? A little of both, I suppose. Like the assassination of John Kennedy, of all the theories and theorists out there, you'd think one has to be right. It's just the figuring out that's the hard part.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

History Magazine No Longer History

There's some good news, via the New York Post, that one of my favorite magazines, American Heritage, is coming back. I started pitching stories to them in earnest right when they folded. So, well, those ideas didn't pan out. Hopefully now I'll be able to get some of my work in there. We'll see and I'll let you know if something comes of it.

Powell's Original Essays

Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon (honestly the best bookstore in the country) has a great website. I just stumbled upon their Original Essays Series where great writers write great little essays about writing, etc. Ann Patchett, author of the amazing Bel Canto has an essay about setting in her novels. Richard Russo, who wrote the tremendous Empire Falls, has an essay entitled "Redefining Laziness." There's essays by Maryanne Wolf, Brock Clarke, and more. So get a hot cup of coffee my friends, have a seat, and read some great little bits on a great site.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dear New Yorker: I Was Robbed!

Each week I enter the New Yorker Caption Contest. I was robbed this last time! Check out the Cartoon Caption Contest #117. Me and Elizabeth Ruelas of New York, New York have something in common because her caption was my caption too. Perhaps she put her caption in before I did. Perhaps it's a random drawing of similar captions. Perhaps I shouldn't feel so bad - at least I know that my caption is worthy of the New Yorker, but daggum it (is daggum one word? Two?), I got so close. Daggum it.

The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk

Damn Interesting takes a look at the life and times of Alexander Selkirk. The man, and his trials and tribulations, inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write his famed work Robinson Crusoe.

Welcome to Monday!

Start your work week off with a guffaw. Check out The Comics Curmudgeon, where he highlights daily comics and then brutally criticizes them. Good times!

Quote of the Week

Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?
- Henry Ward Beecher (1813 - 1887)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Favorite Websites

I had an earlier post where I mentioned my Top Ten Favorite Blogs. I then thought to myself, can I distill all my favorite websites into a Top Ten List? There are quite a few pages I frequent and read religiously and plenty more I skim over for brief interludes of edification. That said...

My Top Ten Favorite Websites (in no particular order):
1) News Map. A great site, it shows you a map of the world. Click on any country and it'll give you the latest news of that country. Zoom in to a particular country, say, South Africa, and you can click on a particular city, say Capetown, and get the news of that particular city.
2) McSweeney's Internet Tendency. The most consistently funny website on the internet (though The Onion isn't too shabby on the laugh-o-meter).
3) Take a Curious Expedition. Labeled as "traveling and exhuming the extraordinary past" the site is a daily intriguing romp through history.
4) The folks at Slate know how to put together a news site. Yes they do.
5) It goes without question that Wikipedia needs to be on this list. Where else would I learn, on just one site, that the Susquehanna River is 444 miles long, that field hockey was played 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, and the horseshoe crab is a chelicerate arthropod?
6) Have you found a note on the ground and wanted to share it with others? That's what the folks at Found help you do. Each day they post (usually a very funny) note, or grocery list, or photograph found on the street, in a library book, crumpled up at a school playground, for the rest of us to enjoy. Thanks, Found.
7) Do you like trivia? I do. I've tried out for Jeopardy! twice. The college tournament I tried out for (and failed) and the regular show I tried out for as well. I passed the test, played a mock game in a hotel conference room in Portland, Oregon, but, sadly, they never called me on the show. No matter. I can still play intelligent games at QToro.
8) For whatever reason, I'm obsessed with some storks living in Europe. They're away from their nest now, but I can't help but check to see if they're home.
9) Perhaps a bit morbid, but I learn about all sorts of fascinating people via the New York Times Obituary page.
10) Truthdig drills beneath the headlines to tell you what's REALLY going on in the world.
11) Am I allowed an 11th? Please?! Cool. I give you the Nietzsche Family Circus.

These lists are kind of fun. Coming soon: Top Ten Favorite Magazines, Top Ten Favorite Novelists, Top Ten Top Ten Lists (I kid).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

College Writing Opportunities

Care to take some writing, literature, linguistic, or most any other course at M.I.T. for free? Well, my friend, now is your chance.

Ernest Withers Dies at 85

A great photographer who illustrated life in the segregated South in the 50s and 60s died recently in Memphis, Tennessee.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Favorite Blogs

Recently, PC Magazine unveiled its favorite 100 blogs of 2007. It's a good list. Of course, many of the blogs are focused on computers and technology but there's a good smattering of art and culture, science and politics within its ranks.

I won't give you my top 100. But below is a list, in no particular order, of my Top Ten favorite blogs. The list, I should note, doesn't include those blogs done by brothers-in-law, friends, coworkers, or my wife (though look at her art, it's amazing).

Caveats aside, let's move forward with my Top Ten Favorite Blogs!

1) Neatorama. A collection of neato stuff from all over this neato thing we call the internet.
2) Mustaches of the 19th Century. Reveling in the lost facial hair arts.
3) USA Today's Pop Candy. Whitney Matheson unwraps pop culture's hip and hidden treasures.
4) Large-Hearted Boy. A music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.
5) Blog of a Book Slut. The critically-acclaimed book-related site has its own groovy blog that trolls the world of books, authors, and publishing.
6) Indexed. Smart. Funny. Intelligent. Quirky. Note cards.
7) Gristmill. An environmental news blog that's not boring.
8) Three Quarks Daily. An extremely intelligent, and very entertaining, site that presents interesting items from around the web on a daily basis, in the areas of science, design, literature, current affairs, art, and anything else they deem inherently fascinating.
9) Vintage photos at Shorpy. Titling themselves "The 100-Year-Old Photo Blog" they show, well, really old, and really riveting, photos of old.
10) Post Secret. Write your secret on a postcard. Send it in. Have it posted for all to read.

I feel bad for only having 10. There are many more I frequent, from the Ugly Mailbox blog to the Modern Mechanics blog, the blogs of Wired Magazine and the one where a guy explains Marmaduke panels in 500 words or less. Perhaps I'll give a shout out to those on another post.

Until then, have fun out there!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Washington State Book Award Winners

If you're in the Seattle area, you might want to stop by the Seattle Public Library tomorrow night as they honor the winners of the 2007 Washington State Book Awards. Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, pictured above, is one of the winners. It is a picture book written by Bainbridge Island author Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by New Yorker Carin Berger. Another winner, much deserving, is Charles D'Ambrosio, whose fiction The Dead Fish Museum is just outstanding. Six of the stories in the collection first appeared in The New Yorker. Perhaps I'll be nominated for a Washington State Book Award in the future. Surprisingly, I didn't get nominated for Odd Harbor.

Monday, October 15, 2007

George Saunders' "Ask the Optimist"

A funny short story from George Saunders' latest collection, The Braindead Megaphone, has been adapted for the screen... with puppets.

Watterson and Schulz

In the Wall Street Journal, "Calvin and Hobbes" creator Bill Watterson reviews the much-talked about biography of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz. Written by David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography is a 655 page tome. Waterson says, in part, "Mr. Michaelis has done an extraordinary amount of digging and has written a perceptive and compelling account of Schulz's life." The Schulz family, by the way, isn't pleased.

My grandmother lived near the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. I remember walking through the exhibits hoping to see the man himself (I didn't). My sister even more so because she, to this day, has a Snoopy collection. I was never fond of Snoopy myself (though I did like my sister's Snoopy Sno-Cone machine when I was younger). Snoopy tried to hard to be the life of the party. I always appreciated Schroeder, a true artist who didn't have time for those that didn't appreciate his genius.

Oh, don't forget to take the quiz "Which Peanuts Character Are You?"

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Quote of the Week

I can't believe it! Reading and writing actually paid off!
- Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair This Weekend

If you're in the Seattle area and you have any interest in books I suggest you head down to the Seattle Center for the annual Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair on Saturday and/or Sunday. It's nirvana for bibliophiles. It's even more nirvana-ish if you have oodles of money to spend. If you're looking for William Faulkner's hand-written letters, rare works by Charles Bukowski, a lithotint of Chateaux Valle de la Loire, unique old books on Hawaiian flora, whatever your interest you'll find a fascinating tome at the fair.

I've purchased several books at the fair in years past including works by John Steinbeck, Edward Gorey, T.C. Boyle, Ernest Hemingway, and Jack London. Being somewhat lean in the finances department, I could only buy what I could but simply seeing what's offered is a real treat. That said, go. You won't be disappointed.

If you don't know much about collecting antiquarian books but are eager to learn, I'd start here. If you already have an interest in first editions and have money to burn you can visit online my favorite rare book shop in America, Bauman Rare Books. Or, if you're in Seattle, stop by Pioneer Square's exquisite Wessel and Lieberman Booksellers.

Oh, and one other thing. If you have an old book and are curious as to what it's worth, check out It'll give you some idea on if you're sitting on a book that could pay your kids' college education.

T.C. Boyle Short Stories

October is a good month for fans of T.C. Boyle's fiction. Get pumped because

a) His short story "Sin Dolor" is published in the October 15th issue of The New Yorker.

b) His short story "Admiral" is published in the October issue of Harper's Magazine.

For those with a little more time on their hands for reading this weekend, might I suggest his novels Drop City or my wife's favorite of his, Riven Rock?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Remembering the Hollywood Ten

Truthdig sheds light on the Hollywood Blacklist on its 60th anniversary. It was in November 1947 that ten writers and directors from Hollywood were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the House Committee of Un-American Activities. More information about the "Red Scare" can be found here.

I've always been interested in the blacklist because of one of those ten, Dalton Trumbo, who is one of my favorite writers. Blacklisted, he simply couldn't work because he was tied to the Communist party. Well, in fact, he did work, under pseudonyms. He won an Oscar for 1956's The Brave One, writing under the name Robert Rich. It wasn't until 1960, when he received writing credit for Exodus, then soon after, for Spartacus, that the blacklist as a whole began to crumble away.

Trumbo, by the way, also wrote arguably the best war novel ever written. Read his Johnny Got His Gun and you'll never think about war the same way again.

The End of the World, Comic Book Style

I have a soft spot for vintage comic books. I don't know what it is. The artwork? The story? The kitsch value? I'm not sure. I just know that I like it and Again with the Comics has a focus on all the bad things that can happen to our planet with Infinite Crises!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Essay in the November Issue of Twins Magazine

In the November issue of Twins Magazine, a publication you can find at most Barnes & Noble stores, I have a humorous essay about growing up with triplet brothers. There's six of us kids in all. There's Liz (a teacher), Mark (a teacher), the triplets (Jim [artist], Don [minister], Lance [school counselor]) and then little ol' me. Six kids growing up together in a small rambler of a house in West Olympia. Good times, my friend, good times. Naturally, as siblings do, we bothered the hell out of one another. Luckily, I had my own room. The triplets? They shared a room through high school.

Anyway, thumb through a copy next time you're at the bookstore. Chuckle a little. Hopefully my brothers will chuckle at the story, too. If not, well, we don't live in the same house anymore so they can't give me a wet willy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Humorous Haiku Published on Portland Fiction

The theme - Pride.

Comedic Inspiration Behind "Superbad"

There's a small cute story in the LA Times about how a young Judd Apatow (writer/director of "Knocked Up" and "40-Year-Old Virgin") met his comedy hero, Steve Martin. Martin's my comedy hero, too. I mean, have you SEEN The Jerk? Comic genius!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Books Are Dying? Think Again

Karen Long, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer has written a piece entitled, "In an Increasingly Electronic Age, Books Remain Relevant." Yes, a long-winded title, but a good story that gives hope to us book readers that books will be around for a long long time to come, no matter if there's iPods, laptops, and YouTube.

A factoid:
In 2006, Americans bought more than 3.1 billion books, generating $35.69 billion in sales, up 3.2 percent over 2005's total, according to the Book Industry Study Group.

The story goes on talking about the books coming this Fall and Winter that should have an impact on book publishing and, of course, readers. You can have your MySpace and your ESPN, your Facebook and YouTube. I don't need them. All I need is a few minutes of quiet and a book in my hands.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Quote of the Week

Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinions in good men is but knowledge in the making.
- John Milton (1608-1674)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Celebrity Profiles and the Dignity of Magazines

Slate has an engaging story by Ron Rosenbaum about how many magazines are slowly killing themselves and their credibility by "turning into fawning fools for access." Rosenbaum discusses a recent QQ Magazine vs. Bill/Hillary Clinton dust-up, the general lazy phenomenon of late in regards to celebrity profiling and ways magazines can get better at it.

Do You Have a Skunk Poem in You?

If so, the annual Skunks Are Cool poetry contest is upon us. My haiku didn't win last year. This year I'm going to try and write a skunk-themed villanelle.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Good-Bye, Hy-phen

According to a recent story in Reuters the hyphen is being siphoned away from the English language. That's a shame! Who doesn't appreciate a good hyphen now-and-again? Who are these ne'er-do-wells?

My three favorite markings in grammar (in no particular order)...
The emdash.
The semicolon.
The ampersand.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ever Wonder about the Reading Habits of Czechs?

Nor I. But, via the Literary Saloon, Czechs are Europe's biggest bookworms. According to a recent study Czechs spent on average 41 minutes a day with a book. Also, on the average, Czechs read 60 books per year. I wonder how this stacks up against us Americans. My guess is that we spend an average of 41 minutes a day with "Access Hollywood."

Best Science Images of 2007 Honored

You can see them at National Geographic. The image above? A CT image revealing the delicate structures underlying the human nose.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What Ails the Short Story

By Stephen King in the recent New York Times Book Review.

My favorite short story of all time? This one.

Stories Coming Soon in NW Travel Magazine

I've got a few stories coming soon in Northwest Travel Magazine that I'm excited about...

1) Vashon Island.
I wrote about my beloved home for a coming issue. It's a visit-Vashon-in-a-day-type story, highlighting some of the great places on the island that people can visit. Within the story I tried to invoke the senses since they all come alive as soon as you get off the ferry boat. There's so much wonder here (the beaches, the forests, the farmstand selling fresh eggs at the side of the road) that it was hard to cram it into their specified word count. I did, though, and hope the story turns out great. The story is photographed, by the way, by Rebecca Douglas, a friend of mine on the island who does tremendous portraits (particularly of the kids at Halloween).

2) Olympia with Children.
Olympia is where I was born and raised. I lived there until I went to college then came back a few years after before I settled up near Seattle. Now that I live away from it the more I appreciate it whenever we go back to visit my family. The story, simply, is about what one can do in Olympia with kids. There's plenty - from airplane museums to nature walks, playgrounds to tours of the Capitol Building. Me and my daughter had a blast researching the story. The story is photographed by Doug Walker, a photographer based in Olympia who, strangely enough, had my dad as a teacher at Jefferson Middle School.

3) Mima Mounds.
Within the next couple months I've got to travel down and write about the Mima Mounds, a strange geologic formation outside Olympia. With a new digital camera, I might take a stab at photographing them myself!