Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Dangerous Book

Kevin Coolidge

‘Twas the night before Christmas and Santa’s a wreck. It seems Ho, Ho, Ho is out. It’s just not politically correct. Is it just me, or are we as a society just too damn worried about offending everybody and anyone? Too afraid of being sued or losing our job over a joke? Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but I remember a time when I didn’t have to apologize for being who I am. I believe that’s why I find The Dangerous Book for Boys, by the brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden, so appealing. It doesn’t ask a boy to be sorry for being a boy. Boys are drawn to the thrill of danger, climbing trees and arm wrestling, taking things apart and learning how they work. It’s part of growing up, or at least it used to be…

The Dangerous Book for Boys is a guidebook aimed at boys “from eight to eighty.” The book covers about eighty topics, including how to build a tree house, make a bow and arrow, or skip a stone. Also included is crucial information on historical battles, legendary explorers, the Golden Age of Piracy, Navajo code breakers of WW2, and even some points on grammar, and poems and books every boy should read.

I found it impossible to open the book and not find a topic of interest. Did you know you could tell direction with a watch with two hands? Just hold the watch horizontally (in the northern hemisphere) Point the hour hand at the sun. Bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12 to give you a north-south line. This is much more convenient than the old moss on the north side of the tree adage. What do you do if the tree has moss all the way around? Walk in circles?

The Dangerous Book for Boys is the ideal gift for a father and son, or mother and daughter, or uncle or aunt…Because I knew more than one girl growing up who ran around with skinned-up knees and played on the monkey bars. There’s something for everyone who wants to enjoy being wild, creative, and adventurous. You can learn about how to hunt and skin a rabbit, cloud formations, and fishing as well as, indoor activities-such as paper airplanes, coin tricks, and playing poker. So, put up the iPod and grab your Swiss Army Knife, a compass, a flashlight, and some Band-Aids. Because adventure awaits!

It was Alexander Pope who said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing.” and some reviewers have criticized the book, saying it encourages young readers to injure themselves, but I believe our “playstation culture” of being sedentary is much more dangerous. Boys will be boys, and boys grow up to be men. “They need to fall off things occasionally," Iggulden says, "or . . . they'll take worse risks on their own. If we do away with challenging playgrounds and cancel school trips for fear of being sued, we don't end up with safer boys--we end up with them walking on train tracks." Me? I’m going outside to climb a tree. Better a broken bone, than a broken spirit…

Dangerous Boy, or Daring Girl? Drop me an email at Read a book about a Courageous Cat. “Hobo Finds A Home”, about a barn cat who wanted more out of life. Soon to be translated into Mandarin Chinese! Miss a column? Check it out at

Thursday, December 13, 2007

'Twas The Night Before Xmas

Kevin Coolidge

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, ribbons were scattered, and I don’t know where the cat hid the Scotch tape. I love matching the right gift for the right person, but I hate wrapping presents. It’s so frustrating. I never seem to be able to cover the entire package. No matter how huge a sheet of paper I start with. You know, now that I think about it, there’s no mention in the Bible of the Three Wise Men wrapping the gold, frankincense, or the myrrh. I must therefore conclude that the very first Christmas presents were not wrapped. I knew they were called wise men for a reason, but I’m not going to debate theology. I’m going to stick with what I know best and help you choose the right book for the right person:

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore: I love lamb with a little mint jelly, and if you have a sense of humor, you will love this saga of the “missing years” of Joshua ,as told by his childhood friend Biff. Moore has an irreverent sense of humor that made me laugh so hard, I got kicked out of bed. At the same time, I came away with new sense of Jesus as a human being. The fact that Jesus became human to redeem the world is at the core of the Christian faith. Is this book blasphemy? Surely to some, but I found it a light-hearted satire of the life of Christ. A great book for Christians, Jews, and Buddhists with a sense of humor, and heaven help those who don’t.

Of A Predatory Heart by Joe Parry: Joe Parry, a Vietnam vet and an outdoor writer, has written for the Pennsylvania Game News, Field and Stream, Fins and Feathers, Turkey Magazine, Sports Afield, Readers Digest, Northwest Outdoors, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, to name just a few. His stories on hunting, fishing, and the outdoor lifestyle run from snort-milk-through-your nose funny, to bringing a tear to a seasoned woodsman’s eye. It’s a memoir of a lifelong outdoorsman; starting from his return from the Vietnam War, with tales ranging from archery hunting, fly fishing, introducing children to woodcraft, and the bond that forms between generations through appreciation of the woodlands. If your woodsman loved Don Knaus’s book Of Woods and Wild Things, he’ll want this in his stocking.

World War Z by Max Brooks: From the author of The Zombie Survival Guide comes this gem chronicling the fictional “Zombie World War”. This is the best book I’ve read all year. It charts a war against the undead from global pandemic to worldwide panic and the armed struggle to reclaim the planet. World War Z is a collection of accounts, each revealing an aspect of the larger plot and a personal tale. The viewpoint is not strictly the American, but focuses on the global nature of the struggle. Brooks manages to address such issues as environmentalism, the war on terror and international health care, and it’s entertaining. This isn’t just a great zombie book, but a great book. Great for horror, science fiction fans, or the lover of post-apocalyptic scenarios.

The Bucktail series by Bill Robertson and David Rimer: Of all the unusual combat units of the Civil War, none was more colorful than the Pennsylvania Bucktails. The trials and tribulations of the Bucktails have been captured in an easy and fun-to-read series for children and adults. William P. Robertson is himself a Civil War buff and re-enactor, and his enthusiasm and technical expertise shows through his writing and photographs. Robertson does most of his own photography and there are several great photos of fellow re-enactors, which bring the books and time period to life. Great for children 9 to 12 years of age, and Civil War buffs.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman: The realm of heroes and villains gets an irradiated dose of angst and realism in this quirky debut novel. It’s classic superhero fare with giant robots, mystical relics, and snazzy form-fitting outfits. Every comic book cliché is affectionately embraced, and then smashed to pieces. What makes this different is the intimate look into the psyche of both the heroes and the villains, because even Metahumans are people--people who worry about shopping lists, relationships, and their latest endorsements. Great for diehard superhero fans, or those we used to read comics.

Power to the People: Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American by Pavel Tsatsouline: If I could recommend just one book on strength training, this would be it. Beautiful in its simplicity, this book gives the basics of strength from just getting stronger for carrying that bag of groceries to becoming a burly, Russian Bear. For the experienced and hard-core gym rat, check the Russian Kettlebell Challenge, also by Pavel. Don’t know what a kettlebell is? Let me show you, comrade, and for the ladies there is From Russia with Tough Love. Great for the longtime player of the iron game, or those ready to begin the journey.

Books make for some of the best gifts. With books, we can travel, learn a foreign language, begin juggling, craft stonewalls, and learn to love and laugh at ourselves. Plus, they are easier to wrap than frankincense. Now, if I can just find the damn tape…

Bags or Bows? Can I get this gift-wrapped? Comments? Questions? Myrrh? Email me at Be sure to check out the cat’s new book available NOW! It’s “Hobo Finds A Home” about a cute, barn cat that leaves the farm, has big adventures, and finds a new home. Written by Hobo and illustrated by Susan Gage. It’s available at, Amazon, B&N, or your hometown bookstore. Be sure to catch Hobo on the Oprah show!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hobo's Twelve Days Of Christmas

Kevin Coolidge

Ho, Ho, Ho, Hobo! It’s that time of year when humans drag trees into the house, scamper around like giant vermin, and worry about buying the perfect gift. I really don’t see what the fuss is all about. Books are the perfect gift. They don’t contain lead, authors don’t go on strike, and there are few skills as important as being able to read. So, if you can’t count on the big guy in red to do your shopping. Here are some suggestions. Me? I’m going to climb into that tree and knock around a few ornaments, after my catnap.

Ahoy There, Little Polar Bear! by Hans de Beer: Ich liebe kleiner eisbar. Now where is that umlaut when you need one? I love the little polar bear series by Hans de Beer. Originally only available in German, but now available in English from North-South Books--in this adventure, Lars gets swept up by fishing nets and leaves the Artic. He’s helped back by a friendly ship’s cat, which is probably why this one is my favorite, but they’re all fun.

Moose Eggs by Susan Williams Beckhorn: I first was introduced to Susan’s writing through Wind Rider. A great story for children in the 9 to 12 year range, it’s about the domestication of the horse, and the girl who first accomplishes the feat. In her latest book, Susan creates a new fable, how the moose came to have flat antlers. The book is beautifully illustrated for the younger child, and terrific for the inquisitive mind that asks “Why?”

Hello, Calico! by Karma Wilson: I love her books about big, lovable Bear, especially Bear Snores On, and Bear Wants More! In her latest book, she introduces us to a cute, little calico kitten. This is a great, entertaining board book with nice rhyming prose, and I love the butterflies.

The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! by Steve Martin: He’s one crazy and wild guy and he can write too. Steve has written several novels, but this is his first children’s book. Alphabet books are pretty standard and can be a little boring, but add the witty mind of Martin, along with clever New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, and you get more than just apples and zebras.

Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: This is the literary debut of actress Julianne Moore. It’s about a little redheaded girl who learns she’s different, just like everybody. Lively illustrations with energetic pose makes this a promising beginning. The title comes from a childhood nickname of Julianne, who is herself a redhead.

One Winter’s Day by M. Christiana Butler and illustrated by Tina Macnaughton: Poor hedgehog’s nest blows away in a snowstorm. He bundles up and goes to his friend badger’s house for shelter, but he encounters woodland creatures that are colder than him. He then gives away all his warm clothes. This book has a heartwarming ending as well as illustrations containing felt-like fabric that gives the book a nice tactile feel. Sure to make you feel warm and fuzzy.

Morris’s Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells: Rosemary is a beloved illustrator and author and is better known for the classic Noisy Nora. In this Christmas tale, Morris receives a disappointing Christmas gift. His older siblings go off to play, but not with Morris. He then discovers a forgotten gift, a gift of magic. Perhaps the best gift is really imagination.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss:“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason." Dr. Seuss's delightfully skewed rhymes and names are as enjoyable as ever, this is a true Christmas classic, and I love the animated version voiced by Boris Karloff. I can’t wait to slice off a piece of that roast beast.

Like any good children’s book, these books aren’t just for children, but for the children in all of us. Yep, my shopping is done for the year. All that’s left is to leave Santa his tuna and a bowl of warm milk. I can’t wait to see what Santa leaves in my stocking on Christmas morning....

Questions, Comments? Hey, I’m a cat. Forward the email to Kevin at Be sure to check out my new book available NOW! It’s “Hobo Finds A Home” about a cute, barn cat that leaves the farm, has big adventures, and finds a new home. Written by me, Hobo and illustrated by Susan Gage. It’s available at, Amazon, B&N, or your hometown bookstore

Friday, November 23, 2007

Peace, Comfort & Joy

Kasey Cox

No, I haven’t been spending too much time looking at holiday greeting cards. Although I did start putting up Christmas lights in the windows last night, I’m not in a hurry to begin the busy-ness of the holidays. In times (thankfully) past, I have not been well during November and December. The stress, the travel, the added hustle & bustle, and the encroaching darkness have often made this time of year more difficult than joyful.

So, what have I been doing these past couple of weeks to ease my way into the holidays? After my work is done for the day, I climb into bed, snuggle down with Hobo, turn out the lights, and listen to Elizabeth Gilbert tell me her story. I have indulged and soothed myself with the audio version of the best-selling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love.”

It’s unusual nowadays to find an audio book that is read by the actual author of the book. The trend now is to have award-winning actors give us their voiced versions, of everything from Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” (delectably delivered by Alan Rickman) to Dr. Seuss favorites like “Horton Hears a Who” (served with a smile by Dustin Hoffman). And there’s no denying, these audios are treats. However, no one knows the “voice” of a story better than the one who wrote it in the first place – especially when it is a collection of stories from her own life.

So we come to Liz Gilbert’s travellogue/collection of essays/memoir. Liz found herself, as she approached her 35th birthday, with a seemingly perfect life. Her books had twice been finalists for such prestigious awards as the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Award. Gilbert and her husband had just purchased a beautiful house. Her family and friends kept waiting for her to announce a pregnancy. Nevertheless, after a kind of mid-life crisis on her part, combined with problems in their marriage, Gilbert found herself dealing with a nasty divorce, life-threatening depression, and huge financial woes.

In the introduction to the rest of her tale, Gilbert recounts this time in her life with sensitivity, rueful insight, and aplomb. She refuses to drag her husband over the coals, gracefully declining to give the kind of lurid personal details we find all-too-often in contemporary memoirs. Elizabeth Gilbert tastefully explains how, in writing this book, she chose to keep the story of the disintegration of her marriage discrete, since it involves another human being, one whom she had deeply loved. Gilbert’s writing about herself – her thoughts, her idiosyncracies, her faults, her bodily functions – is open and humorous, but I really respect how her story is not told at others’ expense.

At the end of her bottoming out, Liz Gilbert did what so many of us fantasize about, but in reality, are too frightened to do. She, too, was terrified. But she left anyway. To heal, to learn, to explore, to find herself – Elizabeth Gilbert sold her stuff, quit her job, and moved away for a year. She decided to live for 3 or 4 months in each of these countries – Italy, India, and Indonesia. In each place, she hoped to dedicate herself to an aspect of health, in a place in the world that was well-known for that particular piece. In Italy, she nurtured herself with pleasure, eating and walking and looking at beautiful things. Next, she went to India, to practice devotion, discipline, and spirituality in the ashram of the yoga master who mentored her. Lastly, she went to Bali, in Indonesia, to find balance. Along with balance, she found love again.

Listening to Liz Gilbert tell me pieces of her story every night as I relax toward sleep, I shared in the comfort of feeding oneself well -and feeding oneself in many ways; of partaking in silence and calming one’s spirit; and of striving for balance and purpose in life. What better way to usher in this season?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Little Women's Dreaming Glasses

Kasey Cox

I have always had extremely vivid dreams. While asleep, I have been known to shout out loud to people in my life who are hard-of-hearing; speak French; throw punches; laugh; and carry on lengthy one-sided conversations. Throughout these dramas, I am treated to Technicolor images playing on the back of my eyelids.

At one point in my life, a friend suggested I talk with a psychologist who was well-known for her expertise in deciphering dreams. To be honest, I was pretty skeptical. It sounded like either fortune-telling, or a waste of my time, or perhaps both. Talking with this woman, however, turned out to be incredibly helpful. She did not tell me about myself, my life, or my dreams: instead, as the best guides do, she gave me the tools to find my own insights.

Surely, this is what our best writers and most influential teachers have done for us, as well. When people write a good story, or help us to interpret those stories, they are offering us a new set of glasses to try on – a set of glasses through which we may catch a different way of looking at ourselves and our world. These glasses, whether they are labeled “Marxist”, “Christian”, “Feminist”, “Jungian”, or what-have-you, may give us deeper insight into parts of our own personality, or they may give us a view of a part of the world we’ve never even considered.

In the case of the above-mentioned psychologist, she suggested I look at each object or person in my dream and see it as a representation of …ME. So, the ugly couch is me; the thunderstorm in the background is me; the broken teapot is me, as is the table it is sitting on …. This may not help me understand every aspect of my dreams, nor every dream I have, but it is a great starting point. I have also found this to be true in my personal reading. Even if the purpose of reading a certain book is to learn about something completely foreign to you, it helps to get a foothold by finding a familiar aspect, something to which you can relate.

Recently, I started reading Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. This lovely little book is, unfortunately, one of many of the “classics” that I have never read. Despite the fact that I love to read, I do find “The Canon” (capitals completely intentional) rather daunting. I was surprised, then, to find myself wholly sucked in to what could be criticized as a overly simple, moralizing story, written too long ago to be relevant, in words which may now seem stilted. What could Jo, Amy, Beth, and Meg have to say to a modern woman, more than 130 years later? Why, as I devour the pages of their story, do I feel such love and sympathy for them?

And then, I realize, in the clarity of thought that often comes as I put down a book for the night and just before sleep takes me, that these characters are … ME. Scholars and historians who have studied the life and writings of Louisa May Alcott attest to the autobiographical aspects of “Little Women”, and how Louisa created the character of “Jo” to represent herself. As I am reading, I sympathize with Jo – her stubbornness, her tomboyish ways, her fierce loyalty to her sisters and her family, her writing, her bossiness. So, at first, I say, “I am Jo.” But then I realize I relate to Beth, too, especially as members of her family protect her, with her perhaps overly sensitive heart, and her health problems. And – admit it, ladies, even the toughest among us – who doesn’t want, in some corner of her soul, to be “petted” and admired at times, like the little princess Amy wants to be; or to be the nurturer, older sister, eventual wife and mother, Meg. And, hey, guys, who knew that “Little Women” might be a better guide to understanding the females in your life than anything contemporary pop psychologists are writing?

And so, with the help of this classic, I have touched base with parts of myself I haven’t acknowledged in a while. The way symbols and themes and people may show up in your dreams, though you haven’t consciously thought of them for a long time. This is why the great stories truly last.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Hobo Finds A Home"

Dear Friends, Family, Colleagues and fellow readers ---

Once upon a time, Hobo was a barn cat. He didn't want to be a barn cat. He wanted to see the world and have his own adventures. So he ran away. It was a lot of fun at first. But after a while, he got lonely. He followed Kevin home, and eventually, Hobo adopted Kevin. Now he runs a house, writes a book review column for the Wellsboro Gazette, and works part-time for "from my shelf books" in Wellsboro.

Hobo's story has just been published by Booklocker!!! You can see photos of the book, Hobo's bio and some of the illustrations at and at Barnes and Nobles online. The title of the book is "Hobo Finds A Home". It is a little expensive online, so we are offering a great deal on preorders.

If you would like to preorder with us, "Hobo Finds A Home" will be $11.99 + tax. If you'd like it shipped to you, add $2.99 for shipping for 1 to 4 copies, $4.00 for 5 or more copies. You can send checks to from my shelf books, 7 East Ave., Suite 101, Wellsboro PA 16901

I hope you'll excuse my bragging, but I am so proud of Kevin and of our friend Susan Gage, who illustrated. I have had the privelege of watching "Hobo" evolve over the last year, and it has been fantastic. I'm sure you'll agree that the end result is a beautiful, funny, and charming book, and a great gift.



Thursday, November 15, 2007

Weapons of Modest Destruction

Kevin Coolidge

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Two lawyers, a bear, and a duck walk into a bar… Wait, the legal department has just handed me a memo. It seems that jokes about lawyers are out. Lawyers don’t think they’re funny, and no one else thinks they’re jokes. I’m also required to write the following before getting to the meat of the column:

Misuse of the weapons featured in this column could result in serious injury or death. The author, publisher, and distributor of this column disclaims any liability from damage or injuries of any nature that a reader or user of the information may incur. Moreover, it is the reader’s responsibility to comply with all local, state, and federal laws and regulations pertaining to possession, carrying, and/or use of said weapons. This column is for academic study only.

Highland Knife Fighting by Christopher Scott Thompson: This book traces the historical roots of the dirk and provides step-by-step instructions and photos to show how the Highlanders used the knife. Also included are exercises and drills, including the advanced quick draw drill. Remember, there can be only one…

Tomahawks, Traditional to Tactical by David Grant: Soldiers and woodsmen have armed themselves with the tomahawk. Its design is simple and extremely effective at both close range and throwing ranges. It doubles as a field tool, is durable, easily repaired, and available without a permit or license. The book includes an instructive chapter on choosing the best tomahawk for your needs. You say you have an axe to grind???

The Sling, for Sport and Survival by Cliff Savage: The sling is the ultimate lightweight weapon. It is silent, compact, inexpensive, and ammunition is free. This handy book shows how to make and use slings, and is great for survivalists and weapon enthusiasts. Now, I wonder what Goliath is doing today???

Blowguns, the Breath of Death by Michael D. Janich: The blowgun may be the perfect weapon, capable of delivering a variety of projectiles accurately and silently in an inexpensive package. This book includes how to make your own, where to acquire modern blowguns and projectiles; how to shoot a blowgun; how to maintain and store your blowgun. And everyone said I was just full of hot air???

Bowie And Big-Knife Fighting System by Dwight C. McLemore: This well-known fighting arts instructor, bladesman, and Bowie aficionado provides insight into Jim Bowie, the Bowie knife, and the fighting systems associated historically with both. Contains great illustrations and practical training drills. I say walk softly and carry a large knife…

The New Bullwhip Book by Andrew Conway: Ever want to run away and join the circus? This book introduces you to whip basics, parts of the whip, the different types available, as well as the three basic cracks, and step-by-step instructions on how to master them. I say whip it. Whip it good...

Flashlight Fighting by Phil Elmore: A simple flashlight can be a potent weapon if wielded properly, and it’s still legal to own one. You might think you are in trouble if the only weapon in a self-defense scenario is a flashlight, but a short length of rigid material can target soft body parts, joints, and other vital areas. Martial artist Phil Elmore shows how to choose a suitable flashlight, deploy it quickly, and use it to disable an attacker who thought you were unarmed. Better be sure those batteries are ever ready…

From the dawn of humanity, weapons and tools have been a crucial part of human development. A weapon is a tool used to injure, incapacitate or even kill, but it is just that, a tool. Tools shape both our physical and mental worlds. The knife is the most ancient weapon in our arsenal, and a versatile tool. Extend it, and it’s a sword, extend and curve the blade, and it’s a sickle. Tools help feed us, shelter us, defend us and assure our survival. Mankind has always relied upon his wits, the opposable thumb, and the mastery of tools. Mmmm, perhaps our greatest tool is really knowledge…

Comments, questions, what’s your favorite melee weapon? Drop me an email at Miss a column? All past columns available at Be sure to check out the cat’s book “Hobo Finds A Home” Available soon!! Hobo not included, does include autograph. His book is now available at and will soon be available on Amazon, B&N and From My Shelf Books in Wellsboro!!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Heed the Call

Kevin Coolidge

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear…”
H.P. Lovecraft

A quiet, little hamlet that might be set down anywhere in New England, and call itself at home, but located in the rolling hills of north-central Pennsylvania. The man who rented me this house was accommodating enough, but there was something--reptilian about him, for lack of a better word. In fact, he brings to mind the word batrachian [you know, frog-like; no, not Bactrian, that’s a two-humped camel] In fact, the whole town seems kind of cold-blooded. I don’t mean unfriendly, just something just not quite human. I mean, it’s a quaint town, and if they did a little creative marketing and were a little more hospitable, I’m sure they’d have a nice tourism industry. But the odd, shambling gait and furtive nature of the residents doesn’t do much for sales, and it makes my skin crawl…

No author makes me more likely to nail shut the cellar door than H.P. Lovecraft. Never heard of him? Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1890. He spent his life in genteel poverty, living on small, dwindling inheritances and earning a pittance for his writing. He mostly wrote short stories, set in his native New England, for the pulp magazines of the ‘20s and ‘30s, especially Weird Tales.

One of the best known and studied American horror writers of the early 20th century, his influence is still felt seventy years after his death, though his readership was limited in his lifetime. His reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now commonly regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th Century, exerting widespread and indirect influence, and frequently compared to Edgar Allan Poe in his writing style.

Lovecraft’s works are generally classified as horror, though there are science fiction and fantastical elements, a sort of weird, cosmic fiction. His better known stories came to form what is now know as the “Cthulhu Mythos”, a series of loosely interconnected tales featuring a pantheon of hideous entities, as well as the famed Necronomicon, a grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore. The stories with creepy atomsphere and dark, lurking fears, created a mythology that challenged the tradtional values of Judeochristian society and made humanity’s role in the universe meaningless.

Lovecraft was an atheist and his purpose of the creation of the Mythos was to act as a background element to his stories, as well as taking advantage of mankind’s greatest fear, fear of the unknown. Much of Lovecraft's work was directly inspired by his nightmares.
The Mythos usually takes place in fictional New England towns and is centered on the Great Old Ones, a fearsome assortment of ancient, powerful deities who plunged to Earth vast eons ago and once ruled the Earth. They are presently in a death-like slumber, waiting silently beneath sea, sand, and snow, waiting to be released into the world again. The most well-known of these beings is Cthulhu, who currently lies "dead, but dreaming" in the submerged city of R’lyeh somewhere in the Southeast Pacific Ocean. One day, "when the stars are right", R'lyeh will rise from beneath the sea, and Cthulhu will awaken and wreak havoc on the earth.

The essence of the Mythos is that humanity and our role in the universe is utterly insignificant. Our seeming dominance is illusory. We are powerless and doomed. Mankind’s only blessing is that we do not realize what lies dormant, unknown and lurking between the stars. As Lovecraft famously begins his short story, The Call of Cthulhu, "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."

Now and then, individuals can, by accident or carelessness, catch a glimpse of, or even confront, the ancient extraterrestrial entities which the mythology centers around, usually with fatal consequences. Lovecraft’s protagonists are scholars, investigators, and every day people who desperately cling to shreds of sanity as their creeping dread transforms into shivering madness. Because of the limits of the human mind, these deities appear so overwhelming that they can often drive a person insane. They are portrayed as neither good or evil. These are concepts invented by our species as a way to explain inexplicable intentions and actions.

Lovecraft’s name is now synonymous with horror fiction. He has influenced fiction authors worldwide, and Lovecraftian elements may be found in novels, movies, music, comic books, graphic novels and cartoons. Many modern horror writers — such as Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Neil Gaiman — have cited Lovecraft as one of their primary influences. Several authors have continued to expand and write in the Mythos, including Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, and Robert Bloch, author of Psycho.

Ahh, it’s a cold autumnal night. A good night to dive into the black sea of infinity that is the Cthulhu Mythos. I’m just going to sink under the covers and enjoy a tale of cosmic horror. What is all that noise downstairs? Hobo must be reading the paper. No, it sounds like he’s coming up the stairs. He sure makes a lot of noise for cat. Now he’s rattling the door. Must be wanting treats. Oh, that can’t be Hobo. This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all……

Comments, questions, what’s your favorite mythos? email me at Miss a week? All past columns available at Check out “Hobo Finds A Home”, not a myth, but the true story of Hobo, as written by Hobo, illustrated by Susan m. Gage.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cryptozoology 101

Kevin Coolidge

Seconds, little pieces of forever, crawling towards 5pm and quitting time--I’m drained of essence, slaving in a cubicle, no window, no outlet, no wind in my face, just an organized version of Hell, but with paperwork. My boss keeps yelling at me to think outside the box, but I’m crammed into a container that someone forget to punch holes in to let me breathe. I’m tired of watching the clock. I’m tired of asking permission to go to the bathroom. I’m tired of working for the man. It’s time to carve out my own niche. It’s time to do something for me. I’m going to be a cryptozoologist.

Cryptozoology is the search for animals believed to exist, but for which conclusive evidence is missing. The field also includes the search for known animals believed to be extinct. The scientist or explorer who discovers a new species gets the privilege of naming it. At last, I can see my 15 minutes coming, and it’s covered with scales and fur. But first, I need to bone up on cryptids, the hypothetical creatures involved...

Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark: the first encyclopedia of its kind contains nearly two hundred entries. This book provides definitive descriptions and many never-before-published drawings and photographs from eyewitnesses' detailed accounts. You want to be sure you snag Bigfoot, and not your hairy next-door neighbor.

The Field Guide to Lake Monsters and Sea Serpents by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe: Water covers two thirds of Earth’s surface, that’s a lot of exploring. From the serpentine “Champ” of Lake Champlain to the venerable “Nessie” of Loch Ness, extraordinary and unexplained creatures of the deep have been reported in sightings throughout the centuries. Comes with an in-depth taxonomy system. Now, let me tell you about the one that got away.

Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America by Scott Francis: Tired of bird watching? This book is limited to North American monsters such as The Jersey Devil, The Loveland Frogman and Tioga County’s very own Squonk. Within these pages you'll find detailed pen-and-ink drawings, helpful quick-reference boxes for quick identification of key monster traits, a glossary of crytozoology terms, a remedial course in common monster knowledge, useful appendices, case studies, and more. Decoder ring not included.

The Monster Hunter’s Handbook by Ibrahin S. Amin: Looking for tougher prey? This book tells you how to hunt the creatures of lore, such as the Minotaur or Hellhounds--includes a useful section on legendary weapons like Excalibur and Mjolnir. Beware of hunting monsters, lest you become a monster. Gotta love that Nietzsche.

A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, And Other Subversive Spirits by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack: Every culture has its demons and they aren’t always cloven-hoofed. From the Tommyknockers of North American mountain mines to Japan’s fox like Kitsune to India’s Rakshasas, this book melds folklore and mythology to give an even handed view of the world’s demons. I guess we really do live in a global society.

Hunting the American Werewolf by Linda S. Godfrey: He’s out there… a malevolent beast with the head of a wolf—walking upright like a man! Don’t believe it? How do you explain dozens of verified sightings throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and nationwide? The author takes on weird creatures too bizarre to be real—and too well documented to be mere fairy-tales. Think I’ll be loading up the shotgun with some silver pellets.

Three Men Hunting Monsters: Six Weeks in Pursuit of Werewolves, Lake Monsters, Giant Cats, Ghostly Devil Dogs, and Ape-Men by Nick Redfern: A delightful travelogue with three English blokes who drink a lot of beer and investigate such entities as The Man Monkey of Ratan and the Big Gray Man. No exotic locales here with stinging insects, infectious diseases or restless natives. This takes place entirely in Great Britain. Road trip anyone?

Yes, there be dragons here and the map is not the territory. We may live on islands of ignorance adrift in oceans of chaos and we fear to voyage far from shore. Unknown creatures await, not urban legends like alligators in the sewers of New York, or aliens crashing in the desert at Roswell, or that social security can be saved. Beyond the known lands of humanity lie dragons, demons, and monsters both real and mythical. I will set sail for the edge of the world, the edge of reason. Seeking knowledge, seeking the unknown, seeking the truth. There are dragons alive in the world today, and I will find them…

Comments, questions, is the cryptid you know better than the cryptid you don’t? Email me at All past columns available online Hey, check out the cat’s new book “Hobo Finds A Home” No cryptids, does contain cows, illustrated by Susan Gage, written by Hobo.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Of Conspiracy, Respect, Poetry, and the Last Hurrah!

Kasey Cox

Before the popularization of the Internet, before the phenomenon of The X-files, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was Andy Winiarczyk, of “The Last Hurrah Bookshop”. Nearly twenty years ago, Andy Winiarczyk (pronounced “Win - AR – zik”) began amassing books and selling them to interested customers via mail-order. The books now fill the Williamsport location he calls home and store, and many of his customers find him by Internet and national reputation.
Andy’s collection focuses mainly on American history and politics from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Specifically, Andy’s customers come to him – from all over the country – for books, media, and information on assassinations, the Kennedy family, the history of the American Intelligence community, conspiracy theories, Cuba, and organized crime.

If you google Winiarczyk or “The Last Hurrah”, you will see that many people meet Andy at conferences on the JFK assassination, in Dallas or Washington, D.C.; or on Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis; or RFK in Los Angeles. He regularly has a booth at these conferences, where he is known as a fantastic resource for the sheer amount of books that have been published on these subjects, the historical era surrounding them, and the people involved. The presenters at the conferences may show excerpts from a new documentary on the members of the Warren Commission, or read from a paper discussing the community of Cuban exiles in the U.S. in the early 1960’s. Andy himself has spoken on the reasons the JFK assassination continues to have such a hold on the American mind, and why it was such a turning point in the way Americans looked at their country.

What do these people have in common? Not as much as you’d think. As Andy tells me in his often quite poetic manner, his clientele are “not the kingdom of the lonely and the paranoid”. They include historians, college professors, forensic scientists, authors, filmmakers, journalists, librarians, and genealogists. He does regular business with retired members of various intelligence agencies, and has helped provide books for the library that the FBI maintains. The people who seek Andy as a resource – whether they are professional scholars or folks who work at the grocery store and read history passionately in their spare time – share what Andy calls “a fever at the core”.

So what’s the difference between Andy’s colleagues and our local Pennsylvania Bucktail re-enactors? Certainly, both have a passion for history. Andy and I mull this question a little, and he suggests it has to do with the point in time when “current events” become “history”. Other factors are how people feel about the government, and how much they trust the sources of the stories they are given. We talk also of the “history in both directions” of the events of the 1960’s. Andy speaks knowledgeably on the roots of the CIA, (the Office of Strategic Service, formed during WWII), and the books coming in now about 9/11.

For my own curiosity, I ask Andy the question every bookseller and bibliophile wants to know: what are you reading now? “The books I most recently finished and enjoyed were two Gary Trudeau books about the injured folks coming home from Iraq,” [“The Long Road Home” and “The War Within: One More Step at a Time”] he answers. “I found them thought-provoking and respectful.” I would say the same of Andy Winiarcyzk.

Contact info, location for “The Last Hurrah”

Andrew “Andy” Winiarczyk, proprietor
937 Memorial Ave
Williamsport, PA 17701
Phone/FAX: (570) 321-1150

Info on Kasey Cox, journalist extraordinaire (ha, ha!!), fledging writer for “Mtn Home”
Co-owner of “from my shelf books”, 87 Main St, Wellsboro, PA 16901
Phone: (570) 724-5793 email:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Star, A Star, Dancing in the Night....

Kasey Cox

Celebrated author Madeleine L’Engle died this past Thursday, September 6, 2007. Her books touched children and adults across many generations, an achievement recognized by the many awards she received, including the 1963 Newbery for “A Wrinkle in Time”. Guides to children’s literature laud her as one of the most important contributors to the genre in this century (St. James Guide to Children’s Writers; New York Times Book Review). Beyond juvenile fiction, however, L’Engle’s body of work encompassed poetry, plays, memoir, Christian apologetics, prayer guides, science fiction and fantasy, historical fiction and more. She published 60 books during her lifetime.

When someone important dies, eulogies are written, proclaiming how “a bright star has gone out.” While the analogy of a star is more than fitting for Madeleine L’Engle, describing her death as the extinguishing of her light would be to miss the entire point.
In her writing – fiction and nonfiction, for children or for adults – L’Engle professed a fervent belief in the powerful impact one event or one life can have. An enormous part of her writing is dedicated to the ripple effect each event, each life can have on others, flowing out into an exponentially larger web of connections. This was a keystone of her faith, and shows up as a theme and a plot device throughout her writing.

Indeed, her life, her writing, her faith, and her imagination have created a legacy that shines on. I am one of those touched by her, my life significantly changed by just a few of her words. And with that change, I become living testimony to the connections in which she believed. There is a scene from one of her books in “The Wrinkle in Time” series that both radically altered my thinking and cemented beliefs I already had.

In the second book from her Time Quintet, titled “A Wind in the Door”, Meg Murry has been transported inside her little brother Charles Wallace’s cells. The mitochondria inside his cells are sick, and the fight to save him becomes the central action of this adventure. In a wonderful combination of symbolism and science fiction, Meg must convince tiny parts of the mitochondria to advance to the next stage of their growth. They must move from their lives as free-moving, mouse- or tadpole-like creatures to “deepen” into their adult form as kelp-like trees. Imagine convincing a caterpillar that it must create the cocoon that will transform it into a butterfly. Through breathtaking, sensitive, imaginative storytelling, L’Engle shows the reader how it is only through choosing to take root in your home that one truly grows and experiences a life of deeper purpose.

And so it is after my years of free movement throughout the country, in and out of many adventures, I have come to put down roots in my hometown. I do believe that being an adult means making definite choices that may, at first, seem limiting – (“after I take these vows, I’ll wake up next to this same woman for the rest of my life?”) – but in reality give us a home in which we truly blossom. I wear a tree pendant on a chain around my neck to remind myself how we can really only feel free when we have a foundation on which to build, roots that go deep, so limbs can reach for the sky. Thanks, Madeleine.

Water, Water ... Everywhere?

Kasey Cox

Author Lee Welles set herself a daunting task with her second book, “Gaia Girls: Way of Water.” Her first book in the series, “Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth”, won the National Outdoor Book Award and the iParenting Media Award, garnered critical acclaim, and brought her invitations for book signings at schools, libraries, and fairs across the country. That’s a hard act to follow, even for a seasoned author, but “Enter the Earth” was Welles’ first book.

Furthermore, in writing “Enter the Earth”, Lee drew from her own experiences, growing up on a farm in upstate New York. In “Way of Water”, the main character, Miho, is an American-Japanese girl who has spent her entire life traveling to Pacific Ocean ports with her whale-observing parents, while the book itself mostly takes place in Japan, where Miho must go to live when the sea claims the lives of her parents. In choosing this premise and this setting for her second story in this series, Welles breaks one of the oldest guidelines for writers – “Write what you know.”

The large focus on Japan works for Welles, though, in part because Miho has never before been to Japan. Though her mother was Japanese, and she knows a little of Japanese language and culture, Miho’s culture shock and her feelings of being an outsider with much to learn helps the reader identify with Miho, and gives the book a much deeper ring of truth than if Welles had tried to write Japan from an inside perspective. And, as the author confesses in her blog at, she had to do “massive amounts of research.” As Miho adjusts to the sudden, difficult changes in her life, I found her a believable, fully-developed character with whom I could easily sympathize – a heroine, in fact, who bravely deals with the death of her parents, the move to a new country and culture, and the fantastical experience of meeting a talking otter!

With the Gaia Girls series, the fantastic blends quite well into the normal experiences in the lives of the girls around whom each book centers. I am reminded of the Narnia series, or of Philip Pullman’s “Golden Compass”, where children encounter creatures and ideas beyond the scope of everyday reality. The characters respond at first with surprise, shock, disbelief, curiosity – as most of us would. Then, because children are better are adapting and using their imaginations, they accept the new creatures as comrades or foes and step forward into the quest. In this case, the quest is a very real and laudable one: to save the Earth from the damage we humans are doing. And thus is born a new kind of fantasy book for kids, a new kind of super-hero, presented in a creative and fun way, but with very practical, concrete applications.

Lee Welles’ Gaia Girls are “eco-heroines”, advocates and activists for caring for the Earth, and therefore, caring for ourselves. The message is one of environmentalism and stewardship without being too preachy. The scientific explanations, the political message is not too heavy-handed, and the storylines are exciting in and of themselves. I continued reading because I wanted to know what happens to Miho, and along the way I thought more about the amount of earth that is covered by water, the mind-boggling amount of life that inhabits our oceans, and our place in these things.

Four Books in Bed with Me

Kasey Cox

The best part about reading outside of school is that you don’t have to finish a book in order to do a book report! (My apologies and sympathies to students who head back to school assignments this week.) Even in writing a book review column for our dear Gazette, I’ll admit that it’s helpful to have finished the book(s) under discussion, but not always necessary. This week is a case in point.

Most bibliophiles I know have a pile of books waiting on their nightstand, as well as a few floating around the house – next to the Lazy-Boy, in the bathroom near tub or toilet, on a counter in the kitchen. For me, this is in part a preventative measure, so I don’t have to resort to reading the cereal box while waiting for the kettle to whistle. The rest of the revolving stack is analgesic. I might need something quick and satisfying, that I can finish in the ten minutes in bed before sleep takes me; other times I’m looking for a story I can really sink my teeth into, an absorbing tale that takes me away like Calgon did in commercials of the 1980’s. Alternatively, I almost always have one or two self-improvement, informational, do-it-better kind of books around. I may never actually finish these texts, but having them nearby makes me feel productive and well-intentioned.

I have an especially interesting pile right now, four books which I truly am sampling equally from. That many at once is usually too many, but it’s such a fun combination, I’m excited to share. Caveat lector, any one of these books could easily merit a future book review all its own, or may provide a strong start but an insipid ending.

The book that’s been next to my sleeping head nearly a year is “How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It,” by Patricia Love (yes, that’s really her legal, given surname) and Steven Stosny. Yes, there are books on communication between the sexes and improving your marriage ad infinitum, ad nauseum, but I gotta tell you, this runs circles around Dr. Phil or John Gray (“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”). My only criticism is that it’s a little heavy-handed on the observation of gender differences in processing fear or shame, but my perception may be a little skewed, since I’ll let several weeks go by without picking up the book again, and then I have to re-read the first chapter.

The rest are more recent acquisitions. When I saw the previews for “Stardust”, I was intrigued by the movie, but my immediate comment to Kevin was a wish that it had been a book first. Luckily, Kevin is a Neil Gaiman fan, and so he hooked me up. I’ve waited a few weeks since the Harry Potter release, because I wanted to enjoy “Stardust” without any Deathly Hallows hangover. Now Gaiman’s book is a welcomed, much-anticipated treat. Indeed, “Stardust” is a journey into Faerie, the land that the Brits still spin stories about, but we Americans water down with tame Disney replacements. “Stardust” takes the reader into the enthralling and bewitching realm of Faerie, that place of Queen Mab, the Brothers Grimm, and Edmund Spenser’s Elizabethan epic.

A BookSense newsletter brought to my attention editor Jenni Ferrari-Adler’s new collection, “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.” I thought it would be a cookbook, but haven’t been disappointed to discover an anthology of essays about the amusing concoctions the contributors eat when they don’t need to worry about anyone else. I read one essay; I laugh; I get some great ideas for meals; I put the book down and pick up another until the next time I’m in the mood for something short and sweet.

I’m balancing “Eggplant” with a book on being careful with money, because my love of exotic foods gets me in trouble grocery shopping. A friend recommended “America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money”, and now I see why. Like books on communication for couples, there are too many books on learning to budget, often written by people trying to make a fast buck on folks who are grasping at straws to handle their finances. I love “America’s Cheapest Family” because it’s easy-to-follow, practical, and the authors live the lifestyle they describe.

Author Joan Didion, most recently celebrated for her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking”, is quoted exulting her passion for books. “When I’m near to finishing a good book,” she said, “I damn near have to sleep with it.” I grew up with a bookshelf that doubled as the headboard for my bed. Have I learned by osmosis while sleeping? With books, anything is possible.

Questions, comments, the title of the book that’s leaving wrinkles on your face at night, email Kasey at

Jazz, the Blues, and Jesus

Kasey Cox

Define the universe and give three examples.

That’s the punch line to a joke I heard in college, when we were cramming for final exams. The “funny” preamble is this: on the day of the final exam in Philosophy, the professor will hand you the dreaded blank blue book, point to the above question written on the blackboard, and say, “You have one hour.”

I have to say, I feel a little like I’m in the same position trying to write a review on Donald Miller’s book, “Blue Like Jazz”. The title is apt, but just as illusive as placing this book in a genre, or defining jazz.

Try to define jazz music. I’m a music lover, and have even done some performing in various choral groups, school bands, and in front of many a campfire. I can converse confidently about many kinds of music and music experiences, but I’m intimidated to flesh out JAZZ. Let the jazz musicians or the music professors tell you, I’ll say. Go to the experts for that one. But when Louis Armstrong was asked, his reply was, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”

There are, of course, many experiences in our lives that remain difficult to explain. Take GOD. We as a human race have written millions of books on God. The books we believe were directly inspired by God we call our sacred texts. In addition to these “God-breathed” texts, we’ve written ad infinitum attempting to define, explain, defend, and share our faith in God. “Blue Like Jazz” is one such book. C.S. Lewis wrote several books that fall under the term “apologetics”, the subsection of theology that focuses on academic or logical proof of Christianity as truth.

In many aspects, Don Miller’s books could be on the same shelf with Lewis’s apologetic texts. “Blue Like Jazz” also reads like a memoir, or an anthology of essays about Christian life in the 21st Century. The praise that comes to Miller from the literary community and folks in the Christian church liken him to a male Anne Lamott, whose books “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith” and “Grace (Eventually)” continue to touch people across many denominations.

So what does Don Miller actually say about God, faith, and himself in this book? His tone is conversational, an approach that has garnered Miller both criticism and adoration. I read some reviews that unfavorably compared Miller’s writing to “a glorified blog … meandering in [the] purpose to get to a point that never comes.” For many readers, especially younger Christians or those who have become disillusioned with puffed-up preaching, Miller’s writing is a breath of fresh air.

I had mixed feelings while reading this book, but take that with a grain of salt, because I have mixed feelings about God, faith, and myself. Also, it is important to note that Don Miller wrote “Blue Like Jazz” from the perspective of a man (which I am not), who lives in Seattle (which I don’t), mostly interacting with a college population who look at you as though you’ve sprouted an extra head if you admit that you’re a Christian. That is not the day-to-day experience of most of us who live in Wellsboro and surrounding environs, nor does that sound anything like my growing up years or my time in college. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what Don Miller had to say to ME. Yet I found myself continuing to read, occasionally laughing out loud, often brushing a tear from the corner of my eye.

That’s where JAZZ comes in. Though there are many definitions out there, most people writing on jazz agree on a few basics: jazz starts with a theme, and a strong rhythmic understructure, from which musicians improvise, playing with variations in chord structure, meter, harmonics and more, to express themselves and the mood they wish to convey. The mood can be as complex as the entire range of human emotion, and can change as quickly, as the history of jazz music has, encompassing everything from New Orleans funeral marches to swing to big band. In order to play jazz, a musician need not be classically taught – indeed, most of the earliest and greatest weren’t – but a musician must have a deep understanding of music and of the basic theme he’s building on. This can be said for Don Miller’s writing about being a Christian. At one point, he clearly states that he does not want to defend Christianity; he wants to talk about Jesus. This he does, with improvisatory, virtuosic style.

How Tea Empowers Me

Kasey Cox

Since the 2003 publication of Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” people far and wide, small town to big city, teens to senior citizens, descended of many nations, have raved about this story. This success is rare for a first novel, and it is perhaps even more unusual that a book about Afghanistan, whose author has a Middle Eastern name, would have such widespread applause in these times when – dare I say it? – such a name might be met with a more frosty reception by much of the U.S. Nevertheless, despite the odds of a sophomore publication enjoying equal success, despite Hosseini’s focus on a culture about which many Americans (myself included) have had little understanding, despite the damper that hardcover prices can place on number of sales, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” published in May of this year, is as beloved as its older brother.

Although I frequently recommend both these books, I must admit, in general, I am intimidated to read about the Middle East. The headlines and newscasts that have been coming from that part of the world over the last few years are bewildering to me. I feel depressed, overwhelmed, angry, confused, and numb in turn; but overlying all those emotions, the sense of guilt that I don’t know enough about the people of Afghanistan; the differences in religious practices between Sunni and Shia Muslims; the origin of the conflicts between Pakistan and India; and so forth. What are Americans doing, mired in these conflicts? I actually do not mean that question in a “peace-nik” kind of way, though my politics and personal philosophies probably lean more in that direction. The embarrassing truth is this: I am ignorant to the history, politics, cultural knowledge, geography, economics, and religions of this area of the world.

While Khaled Hosseini’s novels have given readers a window into the world of Afghanistan in the 1970’s, that is not necessarily the focus of his writing: ultimately, Hosseini delivers beautifully-crafted stories, with characters who struggle through difficult human situations, transcending their milieu. And so it was a nonfiction memoir-biography that has opened the way for me to understand the recent events in Afghanistan. The book that has given me a foothold here is Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin’s “Three Cups of Tea.”

Greg Mortenson was a mountaineer who, after a failed attempt to climb K2 in 1993, wandered off the wrong trail coming down the glacier. Separated from his guide and his group, weakened from rescuing another climber near the peak, he would have died if not nursed back to the health by the people in the remote, isolated village where he ended up. Touched by the generosity of these impoverished people, and horrified by the conditions under which they often lived, Mortenson promised them that he would return to help them build a school. He knew next to nothing about fundraising, politics, or running a humanitarian agency. Though his parents had been Lutheran missionaries in Africa for most of his childhood, their efforts to build a school and a teaching hospital took decades of work, in another era, in a completely different place.

The story that follows, of Mortenson’s struggles to raise the money, purchase and move the materials, develop the plans, organize and recruit help from the various layers and factions of Pakistani society, is nothing but incredible. And, in reading about “Dr. Greg” (as many of his Pakistani friends refer to him), and his journey from “failed” mountaineer to head of the humanitarian agency of “The Central Asia Institute,” I began to feel familiar with the names and locations of villages in Pakistan … the differences in Suni and Shia prayers … the impact of British Imperialism in India and how it still affects the relationship between India and Pakistan today … the names of leaders in Afghanistan over the last fifteen years. And I began to understand more about what has happened there.

I feel surprisingly empowered by “Three Cups of Tea,” and not in the way I expected. I thought I might be inspired by the mission to build schools in Pakistan, and, indeed, I was. As his co-writer proclaims in the introduction to the book, it is next to impossible to read Greg Mortenson’s story – or report on it – and not become a supporter. However, I also feel that now I can forge ahead in reading to learn more about the headlines that have too often been hopeless spin.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day of the Dead

Kevin Coolidge

He crawls from the grave, his body a feast for worms. No warmth to the eyes, the skin cold, his heart silent and still. His soul as dark and empty as the abyss, he ignores the bullet and laughs at the blade, for it cannot harm his flesh. Forever, he will walk the earth, devouring the living. Beware, for he is the undead, a zombie.

Just the other day I was watching another gruesome zombie movie, and I was thinking, “There are more zombie movies that you can shake a femur at, but there just isn’t enough quality zombie literature.” I was wrong, dead wrong…

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks: It is said, an intelligent man knows others; a wise man knows himself and that machetes don’t need reloading. Know yourself, know your weapons, and know an escape route. Everything you need to survive the hordes of the undead.

The Undead Zombie Anthology edited by D.L. Snell & Elijah Hall: This book is quite the find, with 23 stories of zombies ranging from the hilarious to the horrific. A wide range of tales from zombies in space to a hotline run by zombies-and the great thing-all these writers love zombies, and it shows. You’ll be hungry for more.

Zombie Tales Vol. 1 by Boom Studios: the undead brought to life in graphic novel format. A wide of variety of zombie stories in dramatic color, delivering chills, thrills and a dose of humanity, not for the young, or faint of heart.

World War Z by Max Brooks: From the author of The Zombie Survival Guide comes this gem chronicling the fictional “Zombie World War”. The book charts a war against the undead from global pandemic to worldwide panic and the armed struggle to reclaim the planet. World War Z is a collection of accounts, each revealing an aspect of the larger plot and a personal tale. The viewpoint is not strictly the American, but focuses of the global nature of the struggle. Brooks manages to address such issues as environmentalism, the war on terror and international health care, and it’s entertaining. Now, if politicians could only do the same. Hmm, maybe war has begun??

The Zen of Zombie: Better Living through the Undead by Scott Kenmore: Do you struggle to get out of bed in the morning and sway lifelessly across the room? Well take heart, you are not alone! The undead can teach us a lot about life. Live life the no- nonsense zombie way, be your own boss, be unstoppable, and devour the brains of those annoying people who get in your way. Not just another irritating self-help book. Isn’t it time you took charge of your life? Isn’t it time you joined the undead?

Damn Nation by Dark Horse Comics: Another zombie graphic novel with artwork by J. Alexander. Dark, grim tones show influence from such movies as 28 Days Later and the Romero films. It’s the future and the future sucks. The United States has been infested with a mysterious plague. The entire Mexican and Canadian Borders have been secured with walls and fences and barbed wire to keep the "infected" from getting out. A cure has been found in upstate New York, but with the USA out of the picture, everyone else gets to move up the food chain. Good characters and a plot driven story, as opposed to all action and gore makes, this zombie tale stand out.

Grampa’s Zombie BBQ by Kirk Scroggs: Grandpa's annual barbecue is crashed by hundreds of rotting residents from Eternal Naps cemetery. Hey, zombies are for all ages. Written for a third grade reading level, so fire up the grill and let’s cook. Bring a dish to pass.

Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie: This is well-written technical book of non-fiction covers the same material of the more popular and fictional The Serpent and the Rainbow. What if zombies are real? Dr. Wade Davis has given us the science of fact behind the mythological tales of the Haitian zombie.

Good zombie literature isn’t dead. In fact, like the best of speculative fiction it can explore current social issues. Zombies aren’t always the biggest problems. Sure, get too close and they’ll chomp your brains. But man is man’s worst enemy. Get too confident, lose your calm, and lose your head. So keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert, and remember the headshot is the only sure shot…

Comments, questions, should zombies have the right to vote? Email me at Miss a column? Past columns are available at Don’t miss the cat’s new book about a barn cat who wanted more out of life. No zombies here. Illustrated by Susan Gage, written by Hobo.

Kevin Coolidge

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Strap Yourself in For Summer Reading!

Kasey Cox

Blackberries, ipod, Xbox, blog, HD DVD, satellite TV, TiVo, 250-channels-and-nothing-on, email, websurf, mp3, txt msg, Razr phone. News bytes scroll at the bottom of the screen while the newscaster talks over top. Everyone in the family scheduled to be in a different place in the same hour. The Fantastic Four, the X-men, Heroclix, Sky High, Zoom, Spiderman, The Incredibles.

If more than half these terms apply regularly to your life … if you are the parent of a teen … if you love big summer blockbuster movies … if you’re looking for fun, exciting summer reading for a short attention span, I’ve got a reading suggestion for you! Look no further than James Patterson’s young adult trilogy, “Maximum Ride.”

Patterson, is probably best known for his thrillers, one series featuring Detective Alex Cross, and the other series known as “The Women’s Murder Club”. He also penned a romance, “Sam’s Letters to Jennifer”, which reads quite a bit like a Nicholas Sparks novel. But it was “When the Wind Blows”, published in 1998, with which he truly tried his wings (oh! Bad pun, you’ll soon see!) in more fantastical writing.

“When the Wind Blows” features young “Max”, a child who is the result of horrible, secret genetic experiments. Most of the offspring of these experiments died. A few lived, and grew wings. For those readers who could suspend their disbelief, “When the Wind Blows” brought a surprising amount of enjoyment and thrills, as well as bringing Patterson more international sales for this one book than any of his other previous novels. The sequel, “The Lake House” (2005), however, was a disappointment for many, who felt it was a lot weaker in plot, the characters less developed, the action scenes dragged out. Perhaps this sequel didn’t work because Patterson was giving all his snappy writing and emotional wallop to the newer characters he developed for the first “Maximum Ride” book, which was released almost simultaneously with “The Lake House.”

Lucky for young adult readers, Patterson took his ideas from “When the Wind Blows” and re-vamped them for “Maximum Ride”. The author explains, succinctly and carefully at the beginning of each book in this new series that, while there were “bird kids” in the two previous adult books, and one was a child named “Max” who had other genetically-altered “siblings” such as herself, these stories would be about different characters.

Here, “Max” is the nickname of “Maximum Ride”, a sixteen year-old Avian-Human hybrid who takes care of herself and five others like her, as best she can. With the help of a sympathetic lab guy, they escaped the lab two years ago, and have lived in hiding in the mountains of California. Since then, they have discovered and honed their abilities and their fighting skills. Good thing, too, because ….. you’ll have to discover for yourself.

Max’s tough-talking but obviously large-hearted narration rang true for me. I believe that most teens today – as well as their parents and teachers – will recognize and sympathize with her voice as representative of many of her non-winged contemporaries. And for folks who love exciting, cinematic fight scenes, the descriptions at first-rate, written in short, hard bursts with visual language and not a lot of blood. Plus, for kids (and adults) who are bringing a shorter attention span to summer reading, the chapters are short and the action keeps you reading.

Now that I’ve read all three books, I have to tell you I enjoyed the first book – “Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment” – the best of the three. That said, once you read the first book, you’d be hard pressed to stop there. The high-octane fight scenes, narrow escapes, and amazing revelations continue into “Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever” and finish with the just-released, final installment, “Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports.” The books are well-named and have come at the perfect time for a great summer ride!

The Curious Way We Process Words

Kasey Cox

I intended to write about Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” nearly a year ago. I had just convinced Kevin to read it, and I was surprised that he was not as taken with it as I was. I thought we should write a review in the style of Ebert & Roeper: we would both talk about the novel’s good points, and then Kevin could discuss his criticisms, while I interjected my defense. With the discussion set up this way, there would be much more space dedicated to the good stuff about the book, and therefore, I would win. (heh heh heh)

Although I’d like to claim as much credit as possible for my contributions to its success, Haddon’s unique, funny, touching first novel is the real winner here. “The Curious Incident” remains in the top 200 bestsellers at (#184 as of the writing of this review), 4 years after its original June 2003 release. That’s amazing holding power for a book, especially in the flash-in-the-pan, what’s-the-newest-fad-or-scandal environment of current American pop culture. Haddon’s book has garnered all kinds of awards, in adult and young adult categories, in both the U.K. and the U.S. In addition, the Today Show selected it for their short list of book club recommendations. And, yes, even though it’s my byline here, we’ll let Kevin get his word in edgewise: he frequently recommends this book, too.

Whether you end up loving the book or not, you’ll know from the first page how inimitably this story will be told. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” opens with fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone stating that his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is lying on the grass with a garden fork sticking out of his side. Like a miraculous, alchemical combination of Charlie Gordon in “Flowers for Algernon” and Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye”, Christopher’s style of narrating the story reveals more about his story than just the words themselves. The “I” telling the story here is a British teenaged boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Christopher has a high-functioning type of autism, which he himself clearly explains. Indeed, as narrator of the events in his neighborhood and his life, Christopher reports everything clearly and logically, but without any real emotional understanding.

Trying to solve the mystery of Wellington’s murder, Christopher accepts the encouragement of his teacher to write a book about his findings. It is a book whose chapters have prime numbers only and drawings of the way people’s faces look, since Christopher is incredibly gifted with mathematics, but cannot read or interpret people’s facial expressions. Christopher’s ability to detail the words people say and the facts he discovers, juxtaposed with his inability to process what these events mean to most of the people around him, creates the bittersweet tone that touches readers so much.

But it was only after Kevin and I discussed why I liked the book so much that I discovered another truth about the power of how we process words. Yes, when I read this book, I enjoyed it. I found it charming, original, clever. But, truth be told, after I finished it, I didn’t see why the friend who had recommended it to me had raved so much. Until the audio book showed up at the Green Free Library. Hearing the story told, with the British accent, and in a curiously flat, emotionless tone, I really got it. I felt as though I understood Christopher because I could hear him. Because I am blessed with the ability to process and interpret more than words, but also the nonverbal cues in another human’s voice, the irony and the sadness inherent in Christopher’s story sunk in. Funny, too, because I don’t usually listen to audio books. Amazing and ironic that the real impact of Christopher’s differences in processing information came to me when I switched from my normal mode of processing stories.

Memorial Day secrets and honor

Kasey Cox

I have always loved Hamilton-Gibson’s short-play festival, but this spring I am especially honored to be in a play about a local couple during World War II. Rob and Pam Kathcart penned this play capturing a slice of her grandparents’ lives in 1945. To inform myself about clothing and hairstyles of the era, and to inspire my amateur thespian abilities, I have been renting movies depicting the men and women of Brokaw’s appropriately named “greatest generation.”

Nothing, however, put me more in touch with the effects of the war than the book I’ve just read – Lucinda Franks’ memoir, “My Father’s Secret War”. Franks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but she never intended to research and write a book on World War II, or the Holocaust, or post-traumatic disorder in veterans and survivors, or the activities of various international intelligence organizations. Although her book eloquently touches on all these wide-sweeping issues, the story started when “Cindy” Franks helped her aging father sort through old boxes. She found a Nazi uniform and currency from several different countries.

Tom Franks, like many men, like many soldiers, like many of his generation, was taciturn. He didn’t speak much about the war; in fact, he didn’t speak with his family about much at all, except when he angrily voiced his opinions about his young Lucinda’s radical politics during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Even after Lucinda confronted her father with the uniform, he revealed little. Tom Franks never used the word “spy” to describe himself, even as his journalist daughter, fortunately just as stubborn as her father, coaxed the stories from him.

I think of my mom’s father, Bart Davis, who never mentioned fear or pain when his grandchildren asked him to tell us about his experiences in the war. He shared “funny” stories, about being in a foxhole, peeing in his helmet, and dumping on his head when the shelling started again. But Cornelius Ryan interviewed my grandfather for his well-known book on D-Day, “The Longest Day.” In the two pages dedicated to that interview, Ryan quoted my grandfather about seeing body parts flying, about his own wounds, I remember trying to tell my “Gump” (my baby word for “grandpa” that stuck, as these nicknames do) about how proud I was that he was in this famous book. His comment, accompanied by a slight frown, was that Ryan had “only used the ‘bloody’ parts I told him about.”

Through several years of painstaking research, mailing away for obscure first-person accounts and only recently-opened archives, Lucinda Franks was able to figure out where her father had been over many months of World War II. She pieced historical data together with her father’s letters home, and used this information to quiz him into admitting his role in many covert operations. In the process, Lucinda learned why her father played his cards so close to his chest, why her parents’ marriage had failed, what memories alcohol helped her father to quell. She took her father to the Holocaust Museum to have his testimony recorded, and she helped preserve parts of history that have been silenced for more than fifty years. More importantly, she learned to love her father again. And respect him for who he was, before and after the war.

The firecrackers and bunting are in the grocery stores again; Memorial Day is just around the corner. Come see the Hamilton-Gibson plays on May 18, 19, and 20. Read a great book about World War II, and learn something new about its many faces, or revisit and appreciate again stories you already know. Talk with your parents and grandparents, the folks at the Laurels and Country Terrace. History still lives all around us, right here in Tioga County. We can still learn, not just about international events, but about ourselves.

Who Knew? Not just another Joe

Kasey Cox

Every month we receive a small box of ARCs – Advance Reader Copies. These ARCs are early copies of books soon-to-be-published, most of them as yet uncorrected, the prose still a little rough around the edges, the grammar not yet made to walk the copy editor’s strict line. The publishers send these ARCs out, hoping to garner interest, entice potential readers, line up pre-orders, and rev up the buzz for this new book.

The sad part of this story is that I hardly ever have time to do more than admire the covers, read a few of the blurbs, and gently stack the ARCs back in the box they came in, hoping at some point to get a chance to read one.

Such was the fate of an ARC we received several months ago, for a book named “Heart-Shaped Box”, by Joe Hill. The quoted accolades from other authors and well-known newspapers were impressive. The word from the publishing world was that this was the best horror novel debut in at least twenty years. Critics were already comparing Joe Hill to Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Bernard Malamud. Though the praise had me intrigued, the actual premise of the novel made a deeper impression on me. The protagonist is a washed-up rock star, Judas Coyne, who collects things with a macabre history – an actual witches’ confession from the 1600’s, a real hangman’s noose, a snuff film. When he learns about a ghost that’s for sale online, he doesn’t hesitate to buy it. And with the arrival of the ghost, all the ghosts of Jude’s past – those he has barely been able to outrun his whole life – come home to roost with him, with a vengeance.

So I put the ARC on the top of the pile, and went on with my life. I didn’t take the time to read it, and I only thought of it occasionally.

Fast forward to January 2007, when I finally learn the rest of the story behind this book – the NEWS that’s been tearing across the book world like wildfire. Joe Hill is a pen name. The talented young man is none other than Joe HILLstrom King, Stephen King’s eldest son. He kept his name under wraps, desiring to make it on his own merits.

Lucky for me, in many ways, that I didn’t read the ARC, yet had kept it in mind and in excellent condition. Ironically, I auctioned it off as a collectible in mint condition, which indeed, it is. And I promptly ordered my own copy of “Heart-Shaped Box”, which I devoured. I am not a huge fan of the horror novel, but I am a Stephen King fan. I’m picky about my horror fiction, as well as the science fiction I choose to read. The story has to grab me, thrill me, kiss me in the dark. I want to be surprised. And above all, the writer better have style as well as decent technique.

Though “Joe Hill” may cringe that it was his father’s reputation that actually compelled me to pick up this first novel, I want to declare my enthusiasm for this new writer. He definitely delivers. “Heart-Shaped Box” is an intense ride. I was hooked on the story from the beginning, and found the characters incredibly well-fleshed out. Not only did the story scare the pants off me several times, but I found myself reflecting a great deal on the way the characters were affected by their pasts, their relationships, their choices. I actually thought a lot about what a difference being loved makes in a person’s life. That’s high praise for the writing in a “horror” novel. This is not fluff, and it’s not gore.

Look for more big news on Joe Hill in the coming months, and even years. Movie rights for “Heart-Shaped Box” were immediately snapped up, and a director has already been chosen. Joe Hill’s actual first book, “20th Century Ghosts”, a collection of short stories that was not accepted for publication in the U.S., is slated for American release in October 2007. And “Hill” is still hard at work on a novel he’s been working with for the last couple of years. I, for one, can’t wait.

This book written before Virginia Tech but after Columbine

Kasey Cox

When’s the last time you stayed up all night, not looking at the clock because it didn’t matter what time it was, compelled to keep reading the book in your hands? Although I’m obviously a huge fan of books, I can honestly say I haven’t sacrificed my precious sleep time for a book in quite a while. That is, until I started reading Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, Nineteen Minutes.

Released on March 6, 2007, this is the same date on which the story opens, the date that Peter Houghton opens fire in his high school in Sterling, NH. Nineteen minutes later, ten people are dead, nineteen are wounded, and Peter has been taken into police custody. As the story unwinds from there, Picoult takes the reader back and forth in time, and allows us to see the story from the perspectives of many different characters whose lives the tragedy touches. This shifting chronology and round-robin of characters can often be confusing, dragging down the tempo of a novel, but in Picoult’s accomplished hands, this is seamless. As we follow the thoughts of Peter’s lawyer, the small town’s police chief, Peter’s mother, the local judge, and the judge’s daughter, Josie, the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, answering the question that is asked at all tragedies – why?

Although I have followed Jodi Picoult’s career for some time now – I had a chance to meet her when I lived in Vermont, and her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale, ranks among one of my favorite of all time – I have personally been disappointed by some of her novels that have gained national popularity. Picoult is known for her novels which plunge right to the heart of intense contemporary issues. Her characters, though believable and well-fleshed-out, are placed in situations where they must truly grapple with the question of how much they are willing to sacrifice for those they love. While this is an important question and makes for stories that are both thrilling and touching, I have often found Picoult’s resolutions to her stories a little too pat. For years, I believe Picoult has created beautiful, haunting novels that somehow just miss the mark. Not so with Nineteen Minutes. Here, the author is able to walk that fine line between touching, disturbing, and challenging without falling into contrived situations or melodrama. Here Picoult is tender but unflinching with all of her characters, as each explores his or her own contribution and response to the shooting. I was especially impressed with the author’s approach to Peter Houghton, filling in his life story as victim, while not excusing his guilt as shooter.

Several literary critics have asked, “Are we ready for a novel about school shootings?” It is a question that has also been asked of art, fiction, film, poetry dealing with September 11. My answer is that if the art deals as sensitively with everyone involved as Jodi Picoult’s new masterpiece does, than I give my resounding, YES.

"Books About Tioga County

Kevin Coolidge

I love Tioga County in the autumn. The days are still warm; the nights cool, giving birth to vibrant fall colors. The hills seem almost alive, and the threat of colder weather is a promise on the wind. I anticipate the coming winter nights with a chilling North wind knocking upon the door and frost etching patterns on the windows. Curling up under a thick pile of blankets with one of my favorite local books in hand. Tioga County has enough books available to keep me reading all season long…

Pioneer Life, or Thirty Years a Hunter by Phillip Tomb: Known as the Pine Creek deer slayer of the Alleghenies, Philip Tome was a pioneer farmer who turned to deer hunting for survival. Hunting the headwaters of the Pine, Kettle, Sinnemahoning, and Allegheny Rivers, he shot with a .45 caliber Kentucky-style Flintlock rifle and practiced fire hunting, stalking, hounding, and stand hunting over salt licks. He also captured elk and hunted panthers and bears. The early beginnings of hunting conservation can be seen in Tome's changing emphasis from the kill to the outdoor experience. In addition to his reputation as a hunter, he was an interpreter for Seneca Indian Chiefs Cornplanter and Governor Blacksnake. An American classic recently reprinted by Stackpole Press.

Flatlanders and Ridgerunners by Jim Glimm: James York Glimm was born a city boy. So when he took a position at Mansfield University in the heart of the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania. He was unprepared for the weather, the animals, and getting only three television stations, two of which didn’t come in. He was ignorant, an outsider--yep, a flatlander--As he explains in the introduction to his now beloved book. Folkales from the mountains of Tioga County Pennsylvania. Recently reprinted by University of Pittsburgh Press.

Wood Hick, Pigs-Ear & Murphy by Bill Pippin: The historical story of Galeton Pennsylvania and the surrounding area. This is a great local history with some great photos of our areas logging days, Prohibition, and up until 1976. Unfortunately, this book has gone out of print and in harder to find. Copies usually start around forty dollars. If you have one, take care of it.

Of Woods and Wild Things by Don Knaus: Don’s a local guy writing about hunting and fishing and growing up in Tioga County. Though a work of fiction, there’s more than a hint of the autobiographical. The stories follow a young man through his life from novice fisherman and hunter to seasoned woodsman. There’s fishing and forests, hunting and hiking, camping and canoeing, but the stories are about more than woodcraft and the outdoors. It’s about family and friendship, memories and mentoring, youth and yearning and a rite of passage that is becoming all too uncommon in our modern society.

Birds of Pennsylvania Field Guide by Stan Tekiela: Maybe you don’t get into the woods as much as you used to, but you still love sitting by the window with that pair of binoculars you got last Christmas. There’s also a companion CD so you can learn the songs and sounds of our feathered friends.

Wellsboro’s Own Railroad by Richard L Stoving: The complete story of the railroad running through Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, from its humble beginnings as the Fall Brook Coal Company in 1859, and continuing as the Fall Brook Railway, the New York Central, Penn Central, Conrail, the Wellsboro and Corning and finally, the Tioga Central. Detailed history, plus RARE photos of FBCC steam locomotives, NYC steam and diesel, PC diesels and more.
Woodcraft and Camping by “Nessmuk”:by George W. Sears, better known as “Nessmuk”. Written at a time when woodcraft and woodlore were vital skills. This book contains instructions for roughing it, camping, hiking, fire making, cookout, shelters, and miscellaneous wood lore. This book has remained a cherished classic through four generations of readers.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod a poem by Eugene Field and illustrated by Johanna Westerman: The statue of this famous trio adorns the Green of Wellsboro.(There’s also a sister statue in Denver, Colorado)This is a great illustrated book of this classic Dutch lullaby.

Bear Hollow by Rod Cochran: It’s 1954 and times are a changing in Pennsylvania’s Steam Valley. The company town owner, a tanner and strip mine operator, learns of virgin timber and soft coal on remote Bear Mountain. Tensions grow when his rival, a forester and returning war hero, outbids him for it. Bear Mountain, however, is the domain of a renegade trapper. A half-breed squatter, the vicious former WWI scout will allow no one to log or mine "his" land. In Steam Valley live three attractive women...vying for the love of two strong, competitive men. There is much to gain, and loves and lives to lose.

Short Hikes in Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon by Chuck Dillon: Describes 44 short hikes and weekend backpacking trips. The hikes range from two to six hours, and the short backpacking trips can be completed in a weekend. Special features and topography summarize each hike. Be sure to check his other book on Potter County as well as his pictorial, Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon: A Natural & Human History.

The Bucktail series by Bill Robertson and David Rimer: Of all the unusual combat units of the Civil War; none was more colorful than the Pennsylvania Bucktails. The trials and tribulations of the Bucktails have been captured in an easy and fun- to- read series for children and adults. William P. Robertson is himself a Civil War buff and re-enactor, and his enthusiasm and technical expertise shows through his writing and photographs. Robertson does most of his own photography and there are several great photos of fellow re-enactors, which bring the books and time period to life.

So many books; so little time, and I didn’t even have room to list all the books Tioga County has to offer. Brrr...It’s time to throw another log on the fire, make a hot cup of tea and hunker down with a good book…

Kevin Coolidge

Kevin works at from my shelf books in Wellsboro PA. Check it out at Be sure to check out his cat’s new book Hobo Finds a Home-A children’s book about a barn cat, who wanted more out of life, illustrated by Susan M.Gage.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"Introduction to Planetary Defense"

Kevin Coolidge

I remember the stars. No, I remember the promise of the stars--the promise of a future antiseptic and soft around the edges. A promise shattered by the hard reality of the arrival of the Overlords. Now, my days are filled with pain and torment. I labor from dawn to dusk, scrabbling across the harsh desert, imploring the dry earth to give rise to the stark monument demanded by the Overlords to symbolize their power and prestige. I’m but a slave, and according to our masters, a slave requires nothing but work, food, and religion, but I require something more. I require hope. No, I require retribution. I grab a rock. Its rough texture fills my hands. It fills my heart. “Bless this rock, oh Lord. May it crush my enemies’ exoskeleton…”

I grew up reading and loving science fiction, and I love reading about aliens. Any story from aliens-are-hungry and coming-to-eat-us, to earth-needs-to-be-demolished-to-make-way-for-an-interstellar-superhighway, but I always found these books in the science fiction section. An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion is, just like its title says, a book discussing possible events in case an extraterrestrial invasion force one day appeared and started attacking Earth. But it's not a work of fiction.

Nope, the authors are dead serious. The authors, all highly-educated experts in their fields, decided to apply serious science to the matter of defending earth from an alien invasion. They start from the perspective of probabilities. These guys have done their homework and have done a nice breakdown of the “Drake equation”, which Cornell astronomer Frank Drake developed for estimating the number of probable civilizations in the Milky Way. They’ve done the math and according to the “experts” there’s a very good probability of at least one ET visit in the course of the average earthling’s life span.

Hmm, since mathematics isn’t my strongest subject, I’m not going to check their work. But I am familiar with Fermi’s paradox, which is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence or contact with such civilizations. You know, just where is everybody? For a great book on the subject, check out If the Universe is Teeming with Aliens…Where is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi’s Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life by Stephen Webb. It gives 50 hypotheses on why we haven’t found empirical evidence of probes, starships, or email from little green men.

Ok, so it’s a pretty big universe, and there’s at least a possibility that we aren’t alone. So what are we gonna do about it? Well, just because the authors are paranoid, doesn’t mean ET isn’t out to get ‘em. SETI(the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) is basically beaming radio signals advertising “Hey, we’re over here”. They might as well put up a neon sign that says “Eat at Joe’s”. Face it, the chance for ET being hostile is at least equal to him being benign and showering us with great technology—such as can openers that actually work.

The authors examine modern warfare and how we might possibly implement our ability to wage war against a significantly advanced alien force. They used various fancy force multipliers and simulations, to come to the conclusion that ET would kick our butt, and that in order to have any chance of survival, a reserve force (the general population) and asymmetrical war (guerrilla tactics) would need to be harnessed to have a fighting chance. These guys motto is “prepare now, survive later.” So, it may come at no surprise that they support a big military budget on such things as space lasers and powered armor. I get the impression that these PhDs just want to blow stuff up in a really big, expensive way.

There are also some attempts to examine invading motives of aliens. The human race knows only two motivators. These are 1. Desire for gain and 2. Fear of loss. Aliens may want slaves, food, or just to pick up earth chicks, but the thing to remember about aliens is well, that they’re aliens. I did find how mankind might react to an invasion an interesting section. Will we believe it? How will our beliefs and response aid or hinder the overall defense of Earth? Will religious, moral, and ethical beliefs influence the decision-making process, and what are we going to do if the aliens end up looking like demons, or cute, fluffy bunnies? For a more complete look at this fascinating subject, I recommend Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials by Michael Michaud. His analysis suggests that contact is a serious - and not necessarily pleasant - possibility....

Whatever you wish to believe, I have to give the four authors credit for some serious chutzpah (courage bordering on arrogance, roughly equivalent to “nerve”) for writing this book. The book did leave me with some thought-provoking questions, and I recall the axiom of my history teacher, “those of you who fail to learn history, will be doomed to repeat it.” It brings to mind the Native American tribes of the New World. Surely, if they had known what the white invaders had planned, they would have never granted him a green card? Hmmm…maybe the surest sign of intelligent life in the universe is that they haven’t tried to contact us…

Comments, questions, let ET phone home or hold an alien autopsy? Email me at Hey, all of our past columns can be found at check out the ones you missed. The cat wrote a book, Hobo Finds a Home: A children’s book about a barn cat who wanted more out of life. Illustrated by Susan M. Gage written by Hobo.