Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shhh, It's A Secret

Kevin Coolidge

It's an election year, and it's the same old political bullshit, except it’s more fragrant than usual. I read that this might be the first presidential election that exceeds a billion dollars in campaign spending. A billion dollars, just what is a billion dollars? Sure, it's like a million, only with a “b”, but what is that really? And how can I get me some? Ok, I’m not running a small country or running for president, and I don’t need that much money, but I sure wish someone would let me in on the secret of success. So when I heard Oprah whispering about a secret, I thought maybe I ought to check it out.

A secret, nothing is more compelling, and I just have to know this jealously guarded information hoarded by the wealthy, happy and successful. Rhonda Byrne, New Age guru, is the author of the bestseller, The Secret. You want to know her secret? Your positive thoughts act as powerful magnets that attract wealth, health and happiness. Fleeting negative thoughts are responsible for your bad attitude, your crappy ’78 Pinto, and that overwhelming credit card balance. Yep, it’s your own damn fault that you are broke and fat, and her “secret” is gonna set you free. I don’t know who you blame if you’re ugly. She doesn’t mention that, but it’s implied that you manifested it.

Let me start you on the path to financial freedom. Save your money and don’t buy this book. I do think that the power of the mind can help us deal with the strife in our lives, but mostly through our perception. Positive thinking can help us envision succeeding, open new opportunities, and maybe even give you a great idea that can actually help put you in the seat of that cute little Porsche, but it isn’t going to pay the electric bill. The Secret is a beautiful, hardcover book with a lot of inspirational quotes from people ranging from Einstein to Beethoven, but it doesn’t amount to anything more than New Age fluff and pseudoscience. I think the real secret is getting Oprah to endorse your book.

One book I’d like to see on Oprah is Why You’re Dumb, Sick & Broke by Randy Gage. This book also reveals the secrets to obtaining wealth, health and happiness, but not in a manner that you’ve read before. Randy is blunt, outspoken and brutally honest. He tells you the truth as he sees it, and it ain’t pretty. For example: governments are corrupt by nature. Your government actually wants and needs you to be a worker drone. People whose life purpose is to “Serve God” ought to “be in a straightjacket”, and Titanic is the most evil movie ever produced. Okay, Randy uses some “shock jock” techniques to get your attention, but if you continue reading, his logic is pretty sound, and I never did trust that James Cameron.

What makes this different than most “get rich by thinking happy thoughts” books is that it’s readable. I actually enjoyed reading it. It was well written and thought provoking. Yes, a lot of his views on religion, government and mass media are going to make people angry--that’s the point. He wants to challenge your beliefs, well-buried within this book however is, the very important insight “too often, too many of us are unwilling or unable to think independently.” It’s important to be able to think critically, free yourself of negative thoughts and habits, and to think for yourself. The best innovators and able-bodied minds the human race has produced have done more than think outside the box. They refuse to acknowledge there are limitations. So, I’m going to get a pencil and poke some holes in this cardboard container. It’s getting stuffy in here. Now, visualize mailing me a five-dollar bill, care of the Wellsboro Gazette…

A fast buck? Or just out of luck? Miss a column? Visualize past columns at Hobo visualizes you buying his book “Hobo Finds A Home” about a kitten that wanted more out of life than to be stepped on by clumsy cows. See Hobo in feline form at Blossburg Library March 8th at 1pm. He’ll be reading and signing his book!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Comfort Food

Kasey Cox

My friend Lyn* and I brainstorm out loud, trying to think of an appropriate book for her thirteen year old son, Christopher*. It’s not that he doesn’t like to read. Chris LOVES to read. Chris reads so much that he got in trouble for reading his book during class instead of listening to the lecture his teacher was giving – or, rather, he would have gotten in more trouble, if his teacher didn’t think it was so great that a boy his age likes to read that much. But Lyn and I are trying to think of different books for Chris to read, because Chris only likes certain series, and mostly he just reads the same books in those series over and over and over and OVER, until, finally, a new book in that series is released. We are trying to think of something else he would like, something with the same flavor, the same sort of characters or writing style, but a new book that he hasn’t read yet and would be at least willing to try. A book that would stretch him a little bit. (*names changed to protect the not-so-innocent).

Likewise, when I meet with the book club I’m currently involved with, we try to come up with books to read that will challenge us a little. Books that most of us will enjoy reading, but, at the same time, books that most people in the group haven’t read yet. The point is to try something new, and also to find a book that has enough meat that we can discuss it. A two-hour meeting isn’t very stimulating when all we can do is look at each other and say, “Yeah, it was pretty good” and “I liked it.”

I also try to write reviews about books on which there is a lot to say. There has to be some catch – the subject matter fills an unusual niche, or the author chose an odd perspective on a common event. Using the main book under discussion as a way to segue into mentioning other books of similar interest or topic usually makes for some interesting things to say, as well.

But the books I want to read this time of year don’t really match any of these criteria. Just recently, I re-read an old favorite of mine, Barbara Michaels’ mystery novel, “Houses of Stone.” I have to admit to Chris* that I have already read it several times. I began to think of it again, in light of the “Antique Book Roadshow” – it’s about an old manuscript that may quite possibly be a previously undiscovered, unknown, and – most importantly to the professors and historians hot to get to it – unpublished early American gothic novel. I remembered how much I’d enjoyed this book, how well it’s written, and what a great story it is. So I read it again, and I’m pleased to report I enjoyed it just as much this time, if not more. Reading a great book again is like comfort food. Do you ever get tired of your grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, or your mom’s macaroni and cheese? Maybe if you ate them every day – a point that doesn’t seem relevant to a thirteen year old boy – but otherwise, they’re still a treat.

Admit it, how many times have you read your Louis L’Amour? Or Harry Potters? Tell Hobo all your secrets at Missed Hobo’s list of favorite books? They’re archived at

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"The Country Doctor"

Kevin Coolidge

Wrap it up. Walk it off. I don’t have time to bleed and I don’t have time to be sick. I have to go to work tomorrow. People are counting on me. I have bills to pay, and I don’t need another one. Besides, I feel fine and I hate hospitals. They are chock-full of sick people. I reckon the best way to stay healthy is to stay away from illness. Maybe if health care wasn’t a multi-billion industry instead of the service it used to be. Maybe if doctors valued my time as much as their own. Maybe if doctors actually listened to my symptoms to make a diagnosis instead of automatically reaching for the prescription pad. Maybe if they understood a little more, I’d go more often. Ok, probably not, but it would be nice for the few times I actually do go.

After reading The Country Doctor, Alive and Well, I believe that John G. Hipps, M.D., may be such a doctor. Dr. John has a commonsense attitude towards health. Yes, medicine has come a long way, or at least the technology has, but ninety percent of conditions get better by themselves, many by morning with a good night of rest. The old medical model of stop, look, and listen along, with a good dose of common sense and intuition, goes a long way and could save a lot of unnecessary medical tests and healthcare costs.

Do you remember when doctors used to make house calls? I’m too young to recall general practitioners making their country rounds, though I do remember that Doc. Murphy, the vet, often would. It was easier than taking the herd in to see him. Although he did come out to the house to make my dogs passage to the happy hunting grounds comfortable and painless. Dr. John is also a dying breed. He still does house calls.

The Country Doctor is part memoir and part health information and practical suggestions. The book starts with John’s return from the navy after World War 2. He was born in Appalachia, right here in Pennsylvania and understands its people. I hate going to the doctor and very few people look forward to office visits. There’s never enough time, and besides my Mom’s home cures and advice works pretty good most of the time. I don’t need the doc to tell me I have a scratchy throat. Dr. John understands this and takes the practical approach. He realizes that the only way some people are going to see the doctor is if he comes to them.

He has a holistic approach and realizes that not every ill can be cured with a little white pill. Sure, medications can be helpful, and the good doctor tells of some of his trips to the Dark Continent and how beneficial even over-the-counter medications can be to the African natives. He makes sure to espouse good clean eating and exercise and well as the importance of stress reduction, and the Doctor follows his own advice and is an avid jogger. Now, I don’t run anywhere I can walk, but I surely can appreciate Dr. John’s appreciation of a stroll through the countryside.

The Country Doctor definitely brings to mind the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Someone who constantly dodges doctor visits probably isn’t going to know if his cholesterol or blood pressure is too high. These problems don't always have obvious symptoms. So, I’m going to take an evening constitutional, a good night’s sleep, a hearty dose of commonsense, and then maybe I’ll think about getting around to see the doc…

What’s your favorite home remedy? Email me at Miss a column? Check up at Hobo believes in the power of touch. Stop by his book signing, March 8th at 1pm at the Blossburg Library and rub his tummy. You’ll feel much better afterwards. Hobo Promises.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Love Across History

Kasey Cox

Two small events collided in my life this past week to give me a push back to one of my favorite genres – historical fiction. While I am fully aware of the criticism that true history fans launch at this genre I love – my dad used to roll his eyes and call it “hysterical fiction” – the novels that have most touched me are those penned by contemporary authors whose writing style is as lyrical as their characterizations are intimate. There are indeed talented writers, living today, who have been able to bring the large, sweeping events of history home to the reader’s heart. For me, this impact is one of the most important purposes and gifts of story: in viewing the lives of individual people – real or imagined – with whom we can identify, we can better understand movements in history, better process philosophies or ideas that might otherwise seem too difficult or too large to swallow.

First of all, I went to see “Atonement”. I have to admit, I am rather scornful of most movies made from books. Films made from books seem to have an inverse relationship – the better the book, the more beautiful the writing, usually the less I like the film that comes after. There are certainly exceptions: I am relieved to report that “Atonement” is one of them. Based on Booker Prize-winning novelist Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel of the same name, “Atonement” focuses on the events of one fateful day in 1935 at an English manor house. The rest of the novel shows the consequences of that day in the lives of the central characters – two sisters who become nurses in London to help with the war effort, but for very different reasons; and a young man who grew up on their family estate, who chooses to become a soldier instead of staying in prison under false accusations. The story is just as much about these characters’ relationships as it is about the period of history in which their lives play out, and yet their fates are inexorably tied to the larger battles around them.

I came away from the film wanting to spend more time in this era, feeling touched and rendered thoughtful about the era. Coincidentally, someone asked me if Elizabeth Berg’s latest novel was out in paperback yet. Perfect timing. Berg’s book, entitled “Dream When You’re Feeling Blue”, tells the story of the Heaney family of Chicago, an Irish-Catholic family of three beautiful sisters and three younger brothers, and their lives from 1943 to 1945. It evokes making do with coffee rations, sugar rations, mystery meat, and shoe coupons to feed and clothe a family of six …. not being able to get a new bike because as much metal as possible is going toward building tanks, planes, and guns …. giving up an office job where a girl can wear pretty clothes, to take a job crouching in an airplane nose all day, tightening bolts, having hands that never come clean, putting up with catcalls from co-workers, but making better money and doggedly, intensely fixing your thoughts on the young men who will fly in this plane, young men like your boyfriend, your sister’s fiancĂ©, the young man you danced with at the USO last Saturday night …. This sympathetic novel took me to the home front of the Greatest Generation in their coming-of-age years, with chiffon dresses and big band music, but writing letters every night, not knowing if the dreaded telegram would arrive before the letter returned home stamped “undeliverable.”

Reading these two amazing books reminded me of similar books I’ve devoured. If you share my interest in historical fiction, these titles and authors will transport you to World War 2 in France, Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, and parts of Eastern Europe. These are deep, engrossing stories for you to get lost in, and perhaps learn something from. The characters will stay with you for a long time. Some were translated from lovely writing to beautiful cinematography; others either haven’t been snapped up by Hollywood yet, or shouldn’t have been. “Five Quarters of the Orange”, by Joanne Harris (author of “Chocolat”); “Resistance”, by Anita Shreve; “Charlotte Gray” by Sebastian Faulks; “The Good German”, by Joseph Kanon (in my humble opinion, don’t see the film of this – ugh!!); and “The English Patient”, by Michael Ondaatje. Though these novels are variations on a theme, each has its own mind-opening and often heartbreaking story to share.

In the summer, we often want “beach reads”, fluffier stuff for vacations by the water, lighter fare for breaks in between running the kids to the pool or working in the garden. But this time of year is the perfect time to sink into a deeper story and be transported to another era. Let the love and love lost in times past speak to you this Valentine’s Day

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Monster Hunter International

Kevin Coolidge

It’s your average, everyday Wednesday evening; I had just stopped by to pick up the latest issue of the Wellsboro Gazette. Suddenly, I found myself able to fulfill the American dream. No, not the one with the nude roller derby girls, the other “American” dream. I got to run over my boss. Understand, I felt obligated to burn hot rubber across his hairy back. No, I didn’t wake up that morning and plan on killing my boss with my Subaru. It’s really much more complicated than that. I would never have considered doing something that sounded so crazy. Heck, I work in a bookstore. My idea of danger is getting a paper cut. I didn’t want to save the world. I didn’t want to have to replace my headlight. I didn’t want my insurance rates to skyrocket. I didn’t want to know my boss was a werewolf…

It turns out that monsters are real, and that’s why I found myself devouring Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. Creatures from myth, legend, and B-movies are out there. Lurking in the shadows, seeking our destruction, or just plain hungry. Monster Hunter International is the number one agency for eradication of evil.

Our story starts with one Owen Zastava Pitt. He’s your average, everyday working stiff. He just wants to work hard, get himself a wife and 2.5 kids, and settle in the suburbs, but when his boss literally tries to bite his head off, Owen is thrust into a world that he never knew existed - a world where monsters are exist, and there is good money to be made killing them. Welcome to Monster Hunter International.

MHI,a remarkable group of misfits that has banded together. They do more than dare to raise a candle to the darkness. They pack napalm-fed flamethrowers and lots of firepower. There’s specialized body armor, big guns with unusual ammunition, and bloodsucking fiends. You’ll also find some likable, well-developed heroes that bleed, and a full-speed action yarn that’s funny as Hades.

I picked up this first novel because it sounded like a fun, fast read, and it is. Larry is a certified weapon instructor and it shows in his writing. He knows guns and weapons and he likes to blow things up, and have a lot of fun doing it. He also loves B movies, and has a twisted sense of humor, and it all makes for a highly entertaining read. It’s not perfect. There are some rough spots, and at 452 pages, it’s a little longer than is needed. The action slows down after a great intro that grabs your attention, but quickly jumps back to the fight. If you like SF, military fiction, or horror, you’ll find yourself staying up late at night to finish, and anticipating the next novel. You aren’t going to find MHI on the New York Times bestseller list, or Oprah any time soon, but maybe she should lock and load and lighten up…

Hordes of evil, brain-chomping zombies, or a target-rich environment? Email me at Miss a column? Check out for past columns. Hunting for Hobo? Make sure to check him out at his book reading and signing at the Blossburg Library, March 8th 1PM. He’ll be reading “Hobo Finds A Home.” Come by and rub his tummy.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Love, Sex and Tractors

Kevin Coolidge

When asked to define love, I could not find my tongue. I wished to expound on its nature. To praise a woman whose beauty has launched a thousand ships, and men have fought, and bled, and gotten sepsis and scurvy over. Perhaps Ovid said it best: “Love, it is a kind of warfare.” Yup, just like a man to compare love with battle, but within the minds of men it is. We struggle with our pride, pay homage to our honor, and seek an answer in our hearts. But love isn’t an action movie. We don’t get to blow anything up or have car chases, and the only thing a man risks breaking is his heart.

Nope, men just don’t understand women. It’s not our fault. Women attend “Women School.” You don’t think it’s a coincidence that all women say the same things, demand the same things and complain about the same things? Yep, women old and young thin and fat, mothers and daughters. They’re alike because they have all attended women school. What do you think they’re doing in the ladies room? It doesn’t take five gals to go to the bathroom. It’s a class called confusing men 101.

You’d like to tilt the balance. You could grab one of those relationship books from the self-help section, but they are mostly written by women for women. Wouldn’t you like to read a book from the male perspective? If you have an easier time understanding how a carburetor works than the female brain, then you don’t have to look any farther than Roger Welsch author of Love, Sex and Tractors and the instructive follow-up Everything I Know About Women, I Learned From My Tractor. Welsch is a folklorist, humorist, and writer who has appeared on the CBS News Sunday Morning program with a segment called “Postcards from Nebraska”.

Love, sex and tractors? You betcha. When a man writes about tractor repair, he is writing about love sex and relationships, and when a man is writing about love, sex and relationships, he is writing about tractor repair. The way a guy approaches these tasks is pretty much the same. Folks, these are not books filled with hypothetical theories written by therapists with more letters behind their names than a bowl of alphabet soup, but practical advice by a guy who’s been banished to the workshop with nothing but a pillow and a pair of fluffy, bunny slippers. Roger gives real and practical spousal survival hints and explains exactly where you screwed up and how to fix it.

You might as well face it. Sooner or later, probably sooner, you are going to mess up. It really doesn’t matter what you have done wrong. Or that you have done anything wrong at all. Although, if you are a typical, red-blooded male, you have almost certainly done something wrong, and that is where the male generic apology comes in. This is one handy piece of advice that you should laminate and carry with you at all times.

Old Roger reveals the mysteries of life, love and axle grease. With his shop manual of love, he will guide you through the language of love (men and women speak a different language), finding the right woman for you (probably not at the strip club), courtship (don’t make your first date a monster truck rally), and if you are already married how to collect tractors without being thrown out by your spouse.
He offers shop techniques for when your daughter starts dating starting with, “If you pull into my driveway and honk, you’d better be delivering a package, because you’re sure not picking anything up.” And delves into the differences between the sexes:” Yes means no, no means no in all cases where no does not mean yes, and yes maybe means yes, but sometimes also no.

Course, why fix something that ain’t broken? A man knows that any engine needs proper preventative maintenance. The best way to keep a motor purring is to change the oil regular and give it tender loving care. So, take that extra minute to put the toilet seat down, and at least maybe try that thing called laundry sorting. Tractors and restoration may be easier, more gratifying, quieter and easier to get along with, but women smell nicer…

Kevin Coolidge putters around at From My Shelf Books in Wellsboro Pennsylvania. Check it out at