Monday, December 21, 2009

A Christmas Story

Kevin Coolidge



Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot BB gun with a compass in the stock. I think everyone should have a Red Ryder BB gun. They are very good. I do not want a basketball. I don’t think a basketball is a very good Christmas present. I will leave you a peanut butter sandwich, and a beer, and a carrot for Rudolph.

Kevin

p.s. I will not shoot my eye out!

It was November of 1983, and it was the end of a long day of Christmas shopping with my family. We decided to see a low budget film called A Christmas Story which was playing in theaters. I remember laughing and thinking fondly of my own blue steel beauty. Yes, I too had a Red Ryder BB gun. This movie, however, is not just about Christmas and BB guns, but gives a wacky, affectionate portrayal of childhood. The movie did brief, modest business, and then moved to home video where it has become a cherished holiday classic.

I was thrilled to find out that the film is drawn from short stories by Jean Shepherd, including material from his books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories. Shepherd used material drawn from four of the fifteen autobiographical essays and wove it into the narrative of the film.

Jean Shepherd was an American satirist and radio personality. He wrote a series of humorous short stories about growing up in Indiana and its steel towns. Many of these were first told by him on his radio programs and then published in magazines. He also wrote and narrated many works, the most famous being A Christmas Story where he provides the voice of the adult Ralph Parker and also has a cameo role playing a man in line at the department store waiting for Santa Claus.

In A Christmas Story, Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time." The plot revolves around Ralphie’s quest to own the Red Ryder BB gun, and the obstacle to his desire, that every adult fears he will shoot his eye out.

Several subplots are blended into the body of the film based on other short stories written by Shepherd. There’s young Ralphie Parker’s disappointing discovery that his decoder ring is really a device to promote Ovaltine™; the savagery of Ralphie’s duel in the snow with neighborhood bullies; his parents pitched battle over the fate of a lascivious leg lamp; and the climactic moment when the voracious hounds from next door steal the Christmas turkey. These vignettes that comprise A Christmas Story have been collected in a single edition published by Broadway Books. Together these short stories become a record of Americana, a piece of America that no longer quite exists, except in our memories and laugher each Christmas.

A Christmas Story? Or Miracle on 34th St? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net. Miss a past column? Visit the blog of Christmas past at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Ho Ho Hobo, check out Hobo’s new Christmas bulb, painted by local artist Mary Wise. Read about Hobo’s wonderful life in “Hobo Finds A Home”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hobo gets a tattoo



Stop me if this sounds familiar: big, muscled guy with tattoos, who can come across as a little intimidating until you know him, ends up having the biggest heart for homeless, neglected and/or abused animals. At first, he and his family adopt dogs that they find wandering alongside the road. He imagines he’ll never really be a cat person, but once that first stray cat finds its way into his home, he’s in love, and begins to do more serious work with animal protection and advocacy associations.

Surprisingly enough, I’m not talking about my partner Kevin Coolidge, his childhood dogs Kirby and Hoover, or Hobo. Or, at any rate, I’m not just talking about them. For the purposes of a BOOK review, I was actually referring to a touching new book about Rescue, Ink. The eponymously-titled Rescue, Ink recently released by Viking Publishing, was penned by Denise Flam with a great deal of input from the ten-man New York City animal rescue group. This core group of guys has a lot in common – most are big guys, with at least a couple of tattoos, interested in classic cars and motorcycles, who grew up rough and aren’t easily intimidated. Their “daytime” jobs span the gambit from managing the family catering business to retired police chief to personal trainer to bar bouncer. What they brings them together, though, is a deep love for animals, and an intense dedication to changing the lives of those who are neglected or abused.

The cover photo on the book – all ten guys, eighty tattoos, dogs, kittens, and turtles among them – is worth the proverbial thousand words, but, thankfully, that’s only the beginning of the fascinating stories here. This book, which could have just been a publicity stunt in the wrong hands, instead flows with individual stories about different rescue cases that wonderfully showcase who these men are, what their mission is, and how they have gone about implementing it. Here are the stories of the cat rescued from sixty feet up a tree; the help given to the family whose cat population had ballooned to over 150 in the house; the rescues of “bait” dogs, mostly Rottweilers and Pit Bulls, who are miraculously rehabilitated; the delivery of new dog houses to shelter big dogs left in their yards, under the elements; the ‘undercover’ work at a slaughterhouse in the Pocono area; and many more.

Though the men of Rescue Ink have been adopting individual animals throughout most of their own lives, and now facilitate the adoption of individual animals, their mission is as big as their hearts, and bigger than the largest member of the group, “Big Ant. (Anthony)”, who weighs in at 320 pounds and whose tattooed arms are bigger than most people’s thighs. These men also confront abusers, offer help to overwhelmed rescuers and pet owners, build doghouses and better dog runs, maintain feral cat colonies, give talks at community centers and schools, and work with the larger network of animal rescue societies across the nation.

I could recap the specific stories of this book, but that would take away from your experience with it. I invite you to dig in to the personal stories of Big Ant, who had to learn to walk again, or Joe Panz, whose scars – five bullet holes, knife wounds, and burns – bear silent but powerful testament to the way he grew up, or Des, who joined a gang young to survive his neighborhood. All these men have powerful stories of their own, and yet, the focus of this book is on the incredible work they do. Gentle giants, every one, with attitude to spare. They’re not afraid to knock on a door in a bad neighborhood in New York City, and tell a guy to his face that he’s abusing his dog; then offer to take the dog, whom they treat with only gentleness, love and respect. This is the powerful combination that Rescue Ink offers.

Hobo gives his two thumbs up to Rescue Ink, the SPCA, Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries, and Animal Rescue Societies everywhere for the work they do. Special thanks to the people who adopted the two abandoned kittens out of the bookstore this weekend. Jeers to the idiot who dropped them off in a cardboard box in the middle of the night. Hobo would like to remind everyone to stop by the Second Chance Animal table at the BookFest this weekend, AND make sure you spay/neuter your pets!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Making the Most of Your Deer

Kevin Coolidge

Clear, cold--more than a little frosty, a good morning to hunt, and it just got better. A nice eight point cautiously makes his way along the edge of the woods. All the fatigue from the long hours of waiting washes away in a rush of adrenalin. I raise my rifle for the killing shot. I squeeze the trigger and the buck crumples. Silence fills the air. The hunt is over, but the hunting experience has just begun.

You got up a 4AM, had your wife call in sick for you, braved the cold, spent hours lying in wait, saw a twelve point while taking a leak, missed an easy shot, but finally you bagged that whitetail. Now what? Now is when you wish you had picked up Making the Most of Your Deer written by Dennis Walrod and published by Stackpole books.

Dennis is an experienced deer hunter who has written for a number of outdoor magazines, including Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and Gray’s Sporting Journal. In these tough economic times, you want to get the most bang for your buck, and this book will show you how.

Dennis starts with the basics of field dressing and getting your deer out of the woods. First, make sure the deer is dead. There’s more than one hunting story about a “dead” deer springing to life on an unsuspecting hunter. If you approach a deer, and the eyes are closed, that is almost a sure sign that the deer is still alive. Shoot again aiming for the heart or the base of the neck, then unload your gun and get that deer tagged.

Field dressing can appear very complicated to a beginner, but there is more margin of error than many veteran hunters will lead you to believe, and it’s really no more difficult than changing a tire, and even a botched field dressing job will leave the venison in better condition than if the deer was left unattended. You want the carcass to cool as quickly as possible. Dennis covers four basic methods from the involved “ream-and-tie” to the “quick and dirty”, usually performed when the sun is going down, and you are still a long way from the road.

Yep, you have to get the deer back to camp, and there are several methods. The most conventional is to grab it by the antlers and start walking. Sounds easy, but it isn’t, especially if it’s doe season, and the way back is almost always uphill. You can bet on it, and don’t pull the deer backwards; you’ll just end up deeper in the woods. You did remember to bring rope?

You have the deer home, and you’ve decided to save some money and butcher the deer yourself, but it’s a little intimidating. A commercial butcher has an array of cleavers, chopping blocks, and band saws. But venison butchering can be done with far fewer tools than butchering domestic animals. Often using the same five inch blade you used for field dressing and skinning. Native Americans were able to butcher a deer with no more than a sharpened rock. Do you really need an electric knife? Dennis goes on to cover why home butchering can be the better choice for you, what tools you will find the most useful, as well as aging meat for tenderness and preserving the meat.

The meat is my personal favorite part of the deer, and Dennis includes some great venison recipes as well as information on making sausage, and some useful information on how to improve the flavor of venison. He also goes on to cover a wide range of topics including salting and tanning hides, basic leathercraft, soapmaking, trophy mounting, and whitetail deer handicraft—such as fishing lures, and that deer leg lamp that uncle Earl has in his workshop.

The hunting experience doesn’t have to end with the moment of the kill. Native Americans utilized the entire deer, from the meat for eating, to the tendons and intestines for bowstrings, and even the ribs were used to add rigidity to baskets. Such complete use may no longer be practical, but if modern hunters acknowledge the responsibility to use a deer to the fullest value, we increase not only the value of the deer, but of ourselves…

Meat hunter? Or Trophy hunter? Drop me an email at frommyshelf@epix.net Missed a past column? The buck stops at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com where all our past columns are archived. Hobo loves playing little lion, but he delegates the real hunting to Velvet, the outside cat. Catch his book “Hobo Finds A Home” for more details about Hobo. Can’t get enough Hobo? Download the new “Hobo” ringtone, available now…

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hachiko Waits

by Kevin Coolidge



"Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends." - Alexander Pope

The faint smell of cherry blossoms floats through the air, as I sit on a wooden bench near the tracks. I'm growing impatient. Where is that train? I glance at my watch. It's almost three o'clock. I look up and see the statue of the faithful dog Hachikō, [and I remember the story of this loyal companion.]

Hachikō, known in Japanese as chūken Hachikō, was an Akita dog owned by Eizaburo Ueno who was a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo in the early 1920s. Every morning, the professor would walk to Shibuya station to catch his train. The loyal Hachikō would accompany him, and every afternoon, Hachikō was at the train station just before three o’clock to greet his beloved master.

The pair continued this daily routine for only one year, until May of 1925, when the professor suffered a fatal stroke at the university. Three o’clock came. The train arrived in the station without the professor, where Hachikō waited.

The professor, of course, never returned and Hachikō was given away after his master’s death, but he would continually escape to return to his former home. Eventually, he came to realize the professor was not living there, so he would return to look for his master at the train station where he had accompanied him so many times before.

Hachikō became a daily fixture at the train station, and he attracted the attention of commuters. Many of the people, including the station master, had seen Hachikō and the professor together each day. They would bring him food to help support him through his wait. This wait continued for ten years with Hachikō appearing only in the afternoon, precisely around the time the train was due at the station. Hachikō’s vigil continued until his death in March of 1935.

A former student of the professor saw the dog at the station and learned the history of Hachikō's life. Soon after, he published a story about Hachikō's unyielding loyalty. The article ran in Tokyo’s largest newspaper, and Hachikō became a national celebrity. This is when Hachi earned the honorific kō. This honorific is sometimes used for pets, and a great Japanese pun is to name a tri-colored cat Cally, which then becomes Cally-kō, that is calico. Hachikō's faithfulness to his master’s memory impressed the people of Japan, and today, a bronze statue of Hachikō sits in his waiting spot outside the Shibuya station in Japan as a permanent reminder of his devotion and love.

Several books have been written about this ever faithful Akita. The 2004 children's book named Hachikō: The True Story of a Loyal Dog, written by Pamela S. Turner and illustrated by Yan Nascimbene for ages 4 to 8. Another children’s book, Hachiko Waits written by Lesléa Newman is a short young adult novel for ages of 9 to 12. The author creates for Hachikō a young human friend named Yasuo, who over the span of ten years helps provide the dog with food and water. He later proposes to his future wife under the bronze statue of his canine friend.

The story of Hachikō teaches us to never give up. His vigil teaches us of loyalty, devotion, and the ability to care about something other than ourselves, but above all the story of Hachikō teaches us the true meaning of friendship…

Canines? Or Felines? Drop me an email at frommyshelf@epix.net Missed a past column? Visit the pound at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and get your fix. Hobo wants you to know he is the embodiment of Semper Feline. He will always be faithful, especially once he wins that Pulitzer. All Hobo the cat has to do is convince his friend Gypsy to nominate him…

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Small Town Monsters & "Nessie" of Wellsboro?




The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff, is everything that makes closet-novelists like me jealous, even while we’re happily lapping up the pages. What is there to Monsters that paints me green? Though several of her short stories have been published in well-known literary magazines, The Monsters of Templeton is Groff’s first novel. Right out of the gate, still in hardcover, Monsters garnered the attention of important headlines in the industry – chosen for the BookSense newsletter of the national independent bookstores’ association; voted as one of the Top 100 Books of 2008 at Amazon; lauded by newspaper columnists from The Denver Post to USA Today; featured as a “Staff Pick” at indie bookstores all across the nation.

Besides all the hoopla, which is certainly nice to receive on a debut novel, what is it about Groff’s book which makes me wish I wrote it? The story itself is not earth-shatteringly original, but Groff’s voice, and the structure of the novel, is clever, unusual, and engaging on many different levels. By turns history, romance, mystery, ghost story, family saga, the plotline makes it possible to shift through different characters’ voices and eras without confusing the reader. In Lauren Groff’s capable hands, and with protagonist Willie Upton’s determined journey into her family’s past, there is a method to the madness.

On the verge of finishing her Ph.D., Wilhemina “Willie” Upton has returned in shame to her hometown of Templeton, NY, (read “Cooperstown”) after having an affair with her dissertation advisor, and finding herself pregnant. She decides she’ll hide out with her hippie-turned-Baptist mother in the one place to which she’d sworn she’d never come back. Though proud of their heritage – being descendants of the founding father and the famous writer hometown son (read “James Fenimore Cooper”) – Vivienne always wanted more for Willie than her own lot. Now, Viv drops a bombshell in a confession of her own: Willie’s father was not some random man at a San Francisco commune, but is a prominent man in Templeton. Vivienne refuses to tell Willie who he is; Willie must figure this out for herself, with only the clue that her biological father was also a descendant of the founding Temple family, albeit through an illegitimate and secret link.

Just who are the “monsters” of Templeton? The day that Willie arrives home, the body of the lake monster who had only been a legend, surfaces on Lake Glimmerglass. The discovery of “Glimmy” thrusts the town into the spotlight, exponentially increasing the number of visitors over the usual baseball museum crowd. Discovering monsters, however, one needs to go below the surface, and not just of the lake. Reading through old journals, letters, novels and documents she finds at the historical museum and in her own family’s attic, Willie unearths murderers, adulterers, Virginia Woolf imitators, and antics galore. And while the reading of these histories amuses us, it touches a nerve, too. These are the secrets of small towns. This is the heart of the monster, and we recognize it. Like Willie, we must decide if we will claim it for our own.

This same story, by a different author, could easily be maudlin, weighty, and overblown. Instead, the narrative is infused with warmth. Ultimately, it is obvious how much Groff loves her characters, these people both historical and fictional, and how much she loves both her hometown of Cooperstown and her fictional village of Templeton.

I’d love to write a novel about Wellsboro, with such lovely prose, such sympathetic characters, who the reader ends up loving in all their glorious, lumpy, imperfect humanity. We need a novel where we dance in and out of our history, of settlers and writers gone before us, of local legends and unquiet ghosts. Lauren Groff found the right recipe for such a concoction. We need a cookbook of our own.

Hobo wants to dance to the music of the Endless Mountains, discover a “Nessie” of his own in Lake Nessmuk, and bring a spotlight to his hometown. Read Hobo’s first story of his home, in “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book set here. Check out other reflections on local discoveries at Hobo’s blog, http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Armageddon

Kevin Coolidge

Day by Day Armageddon

Screw Armageddon, this is Hell.—unknown survivor

September 29th
All Laurel Health System flu clinics have been canceled until further notice. What the? I can’t even turn on the TV without hearing some scary swine flu story. Ok, I get it. Flu shots are good; the flu is bad. But the “must have” accessory of the season, the flu shot, isn’t to be had anywhere. I’m assured that production is being ramped up. There is nothing to worry about…

October 23rd
I get a call from the Don Gill Elementary School. My nephew is running a fever and my sister can’t be reached. I pick him up and I find out that many children have become ill. Yes, this is a little unusual, but there is nothing to worry about…

October 25th
President Obama declares the swine flu outbreak a national emergency. We are assured that this is not a response to new developments. Illness is more prevalent than ever and production delays mount, but there is nothing to worry about…

October 27th
The hospital has canceled the local Halloween festivities. LHS is restricting anyone under the age of 19 from entering facilities. This is for the safety of the patients and employees. There is nothing to worry about…

October 28th
I begin reading Day by Day Armageddon written by J.L Bourne and published by Pocket Books. This apocalyptic, zombie novel is written in first person format as a journal. The narrator is an unnamed US Naval officer who starts the diary as a New Year’s resolution. As the days progress, It appears something is happening in China. News sources report a mysterious disease sweeping the Middle Kingdom.

The highly contagious influenza quickly spreads around the globe, and our chronicler is stranded in his home while on leave. He decides to remain barricaded in his home, improving his defenses, buying more ammo and stocking up on MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)while society quickly crumbles around him.

The government’s precautionary measures fail to contain the plague, and politicians and the remnants of the military retreat to hidden bunkers, leaving the civilian population to fend for themselves. Our protagonist teams up with his only surviving neighbor, and they trek the landscape, searching for a zombie-free zone. Along the way, our heroes encounter hordes of undead, rampaging rednecks, and realistic survival situations.

The author, J.L. Bourne, is an active duty naval officer, and his use of military jargon, accurate descriptions of weapons, as well as realistic survival strategies add a keen edge to the tale that many zombie stories ignore. In many ways, this book is as much an insightful look into the psyche of a skilled survivor, as it is a post-apocalyptic thriller. I did see, however, some lack of dramatic tension, as the characters were so well prepared for almost every scenario. I found the journal format a clever storytelling device, but the first person format does make it harder to give depth to the supporting characters. I also appreciated the addition of crossed off words, as well as coffee rings that gave this zombie survival journal verisimilitude and an authentic bite…

October 31st
It’s time to finish up my book review column and turn on the porch light. It’s Halloween night and soon children dressed as ghosts and ghouls will be banging on my door begging for treats. Here comes a group shambling along now. Wow, I swear the costumes get more realistic every year. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was the dead crawling from the grave, but it’s Halloween and there’s nothing to worry about…

Ghosts? Ghouls? Or brain-chomping zombies? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net Miss a past column? Visit the crypt at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and get your fill. Looking for a story with a happy ending? Check out “Hobo Finds a Home,” a children’s book soon to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. All Hobo had to do was promise to write a sequel…

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Eventful request



I HAVE NO IDEA WHY THIS SAYS "WAPWALLOPEN" BUT IF YOU CLICK ON "DEMAND IT", IT DOES TAKE YOU TO EVENTFUL FOR WELLSBORO!!! :)



Demand Rachel Caine in Wellsboro, PA (16901)!
Rachel Caine in Wellsboro, PA (16901) - Learn more about this Eventful Demand

View all Wellsboro, PA (16901) events on Eventful


I HAVE NO IDEA WHY THIS SAYS "WAPWALLOPEN" BUT IF YOU CLICK ON "DEMAND IT", IT DOES TAKE YOU TO EVENTFUL FOR WELLSBORO!!! :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Everyone Loves A Cake Wreck

Kevin Coolidge

A big, cold glass of milk and a slice of my Grandma’s lemon Bundt cake – nothing says sweet memories like quality baked goods, but not all cakes turn out quite so well. Some cakes are ugly, silly, or unintentionally funny. Now you can have your cake and laugh at it too with Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates, creator of CakeWrecks.com.

So what is it about a messed-up cake that people find so appealing? I think it’s because everyone has a cake story to tell. Maybe it’s that Little Pony cake that your mom made, but the dog ate, or it’s that day-glow, frosted dragon cake that gave you Technicolor poo for three days. These little slices of flawed confections make us feel more connected to each other, and remind us not to take life too seriously.

So how does the author define a “cake wreck”? Here is Jen’s working definition: “A cake wreck is any professionally-made cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate—you name it. A wreck is not necessarily a poorly made cake; it’s simply one I find funny, for any number of reasons.”

That’s right: it’s Jen’s call, and if you don’t like it, that’s how the cookie crumbles. But some wrecks are a matter of opinion, and not always the fault of the decorator. Though what occasion would call for naked babies with Mohawks riding carrots is beyond even my wild imagination. The baker may have done a sweet sculpture, but it can still be a wreck. So, grab a fork, turn the page and let’s sample.

Cake Wrecks is divided into several slices. There are the literal LOLs (that’s laughing out loud in text talk). Some wrecks make you wonder what exactly the customer ordered. Not these. There’s the famous email forward photo of “Best Wishes Suzanne Under Neat that We will Miss You”. Another favorite is the all too literal “What do you want on your cake?” and the answer, boldly spelled on said cake -- “NOTHING.” If I got anything from this book, other than a belly full of laughter, it’s never to phone in an order and always “neatly” write down your desired inscription.

Jen Yates gives further cake lessons: now I see that picking up the cake only thirty minutes before the event is never a good idea, and that brown icing has a dramatically good chance of looking like fecal matter. As Yates points out, maybe it’s the texture, maybe it’s that fancy, swirly little twist that bakers use, but for me, it does make that low carb diet more appealing than ever. I think I’ll skip desert.

We’ve all made mistakes, turned right when it should have been left, wore stripes with plaid, and asked a cake decorator to write the word “birthday” on a cake, with those pesky numbers: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th—they all have different endings. Who can keep track of them all? It’s easier to just slap a “th” on them all.

There are also photos of wedding wrecks that fresh flowers can’t fix, holiday horrors of demented Santas, and the beyond bizarre, those creations that frighten, disturb, or just make you go “huh?” A veiled pony as a birthday cake, really? A cake wreck can remind us that life is still sweet, even if your butterfly cake looks more like an alien autopsy. After all, nothing is ever a total loss if it can make you smile. It’s the icing on the cake. So have a Hafpfy birfay! Got ‘ny milk???

Home made? Or bakery bought? Drop me an email at frommyshelf@epix.net. Miss a past column? Have your cake and eat it too at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Hobo knows how sweet it is, that’s why he wrote his memoir “Hobo Finds a Home” a children’s book about a cat who found a home. Now available wherever quality baked goods are sold.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Tasty Memoir




I realize that it’s no longer en vogue to be a Francophile; these days, France is more likely to be the punchline for a joke about military history or about culture snobs than it is to be the focus of an article singing her praises. I, however, will always have a big mushy spot in my heart for the French language, as well as for the food, film, art, poetry, travel…. Okay, I know; you get the point. After the intensity of The Laramie Project, I needed something sweet and light to read. Quelle bonne chance for me, I picked up My Life in France. Published in 2006, this lovely memoir was written near the end of Julia’s life, with the help of her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme (husband Paul’s twin brother was Alex’s grandfather).

Julia Child’s memoir is different from most contemporary memoirs in several ways. First of all, unlike many books published by celebrity personalities, this memoir is truly the reflecting-back-on a long, interesting and celebrated life, in sharp contrast to the narcissistic, voyeuristic “memoirs” of people in their thirties or forties which Hollywood pushes to the bestseller list now. To be honest, I could care less about Jon & Kate or Tori Spelling, and if I really need to know about their lives thus far, magazine articles in People or Entertainment Weekly usually suffice.

That criticism of Hollywood being noted, it is important to recognize it was television that brought Julia Child to America’s attention – first, with the introduction of her cooking show, “The French Chef”, in 1963; and then again, with the film, Julie & Julia, just this past August, 2009. As much as I am often leery of the way a film adaptation may ruin a great book, I’m also grateful to have wonderful books brought to national attention again by the promotion of a film version. Such is the case with Julia Child. I never saw Child on TV; my family, as far as I can remember, did not own a copy of any of her cookbooks, although my dad does have an old copy of Larousse Gastronomique floating around the house, which he occasionally gets down and looks through longingly. The re-introduction of Julia Child to my generation, especially through all the hoopla for this film, was a gift to me, since it encouraged me to pick up a memoir I might otherwise have ignored.

Another tremendous difference between Child’s memoir and so many others which regularly populate bestseller lists and book club choices is Child’s upbeat perspective. Although I really appreciate memoir, a basic fact of the genre – of solid storytelling in general – is that conflict and strife make for interesting reading. Remember that plot structure diagram from English class? Sure, that diagram was mostly to teach us about fiction, but fiction imitates life, and life is certainly full of difficulties. Memoirs don’t need to invent problems for their characters; the problems are part of these people’s true stories.

What continued to strike me as I read My Life in France is the uplifting tone: it’s not as if she and Paul didn’t have problems or stress or sadness, because they did. During their early time in France, especially, they had very little money (a middle-level diplomatic position in France in the late 1940s did NOT pay much). Their apartment had no hot water in the kitchen, no central heating, and bad wiring. Paul Child’s job was full of stressors, as he tried to organize, staff and work out of an office that had few resources, in a France trying to recover from the ravages of World War II. Nevertheless, Julia and Paul were happy, believing that “marriage and advancing age agreed” with them, affirming that they were “giddy about Paris.” Paul Child continued to credit his wife for “his new outlook on life. ‘I am less sour now than I used to be,’ he admitted. ‘It’s because of you, Julie.’” Even in her nineties, as she recalled her life to Alex Prud’homme, it is obvious that the phrase joie de vivre was invented to describe Julia Child. It is marvelous to read the thoughts of someone who loved life so much, when many memoirs are either heartbreaking or insipid.

In the land of the 5-minute lunch instead of the five-course dinner, in the time of the Blackberry instead of blackberry wine sauce, can we still enjoy “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”? Well, I haven’t had had a used copy at the bookstore, of either volume, for months, and ordering a used copy online costs just as much as a new one – if not a great deal more, especially if you want an older edition. I guess I know what to get my dad for Christmas, though; Julia Child embarked on her cookbook in order to bring French food to those who moon over Larousse Gastronomique. “Bon appétit”, America.

Pommes frites or French fries? Hobo doesn’t eat frogs, but he does appreciate his gourmet food as much as the next fat cat. He’ll have you know his book has traveled to France at least twice now! He’s not a culture snob, though; he’s just a wandering Hobo who found a home. Follow Hobo’s home and kitchen tips at his weekly blog at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com or share yours with him at frommyshelf@epix.net.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How Low Can You Go?






How Low Can You Go?
By Sam Droke-Dickinson, of Aaron’s Books, in Lititz, PA
Modified with permission by Kasey Cox, of From My Shelf, in Wellsboro


By now, you've probably heard of the book price war that is happening online... it's now a three-way battle to the bottom, with Target joining the fray today.

The truth is, the price war is really over a very small number of hardback books. These mega-conglomorates are hoping you'll visit their site for a discounted hardback novel & stay to buy a bunch of Chinese-made junk. (No offense to the Chinese.) They aren't including the trade paperbacks that our book clubs love, the Golden Books we all remember, the histories, mysteries, or spiritual living books that we stock just for you.

So why shop with us, knowing you can get a few books for so much less somewhere else (less than we can even buy the book wholesale from the publisher)?

Here's my top 10 of why NOT to fall for the "go low" trick ....

1) When you buy from us, we've actually read many of the books on our shelves, and for the ones we really like, you've seen them on our blog or reviewed in the Wellsboro Gazette.

2) We know that JD Robb is really Nora Roberts, who herself owns a B&B and indie bookstore.

3) We can pronounce Jodi Picoult's name.

4) If you want something to go along with your ultra cheap bestseller, we can make a recommendation suited to you, and not what some computer "bot" thinks you may like based on your previous keyword search.

5) You don't have to walk (physically or virturtally) through the tire and diaper sections to see our books.

6) You can actually pick up the book, and read a few pages to test it out before buying. And you can browse books in all the other sections that interest you.

7) Will they greet your children by name and remember they like Geronimo Stilton or have read all the Junie B's? We will!

8) We don't require you to search by author or title... you can browse any section and find that unexpected book that makes you smile, cry, or laugh out loud.

9) Our customer service is easy to reach... you just call out "Kasey" or "Kevin" from any section of the store and we're there to help you.

10) When you "buy local", your money stays local. How does your community benefit when you buy from Amazon? How much support do they provide your local library? Do they buy car insurance from a local firm? Do they order their materials from a local printer? Do they offer meeting space for local groups or a train table for your kids in the play room? NOPE, NADA, NOTHING... not one dime or one second of time goes back to the community when you shop the mega-marts online!

So yes, you can save $10 today playing the "how low can you go" game, but did you really save enough to balance out all that your local independent bookstore does for your town/city/county? It comes down to choices, and sometimes making the choice to spend a few more dollars just feels right! And if you do buy the discount book, don't buy anything else. They are doing this to get you to fill your cart; don't fall for the trap. Get a bag of books you really want at your indie bookstore.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meet Meg

Kevin Coolidge

There is one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath.—Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael. Call me bored. Moby Dick may be considered one of the greatest novels in the English language, but do you know anyone who has actually read it? Don’t lie. Maybe you got as far as rendering blubber, maybe you actually got through the dense, muscular prose, but did you get anything out of it? It’s definitely a book that takes a solid education to appreciate all the symbolism, imagery and metaphor, and even then you’ll probably miss something. If you’re just eager for the story, read the first page and the last hundred and you’ll get a fine tale.

Would Melville even be able to find a publisher today? "Hmm, it's a good manuscript, better in many of its parts than as an integrated work. Lose the nautical terms, streamline the story, ramp up the violence and spin off those asides on whaling into a nonfiction work on the whaleship Essex – after all, the book by Owen Chase is out of print. Who's going to know?" While Herman was working on the rewrite, the editor would have published Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten.

Meg stands for Carcharodon megalodon, a giant shark that lived during prehistoric times. It was the apex predator of its time and at an estimated sixty feet and thirty tons, is the largest carnivorous fish ever known to exist. The plot is straight up pulp-fiction action, ready for the B-movie rights. Jonas Taylor is a deep sea diver working for the United States Navy on a top-secret dive seven miles down into the Mariana Trench. He comes face-to-snout with the most fearsome predator that everyone else believes to be extinct.

Rushing topside, he barely escapes with his life, while two others in the deep sea submersible aren't so lucky. Diagnosed with "aberrations of the deep" Jonas is discharged from the navy, and is determined to prove to the world that the goliath predator exists. He becomes a paleontologist and tries to prove that the megalodon is real, but is still considered a crackpot. When an opportunity to return to the trench presents itself, he takes it. But man's presence in this unexplored domain releases the demon fish from its purgatory, and now Jonas is the only one who can stop it…

Meg is no Moby Dick, but it is an adrenaline-pumping thriller that hooked me from the start with its nonstop action and graphic cover, a Tyrannosaurus Rex being torn apart. Can you scream “Jurassic Shark?” The book also grabs the attentions of students who are often reluctant to read.

The book and its sequels have become the cornerstone of the Adopt-An-Author program, a non-profit organization that encourages teens to read. Young children receive an abundance of encouragement to read, but once a student reaches high school, reading is often replaced by television, video games and a peer group that no longer thinks reading is “cool.”

The program offers fast-paced thrillers with scientific facts and research, and interaction with best-selling authors. Teachers interested can register online through www.AdoptAnAuthor.com. Registration is free. The website offers links to all the participating author's works, free curriculum materials, and interactive websites. Upon registering, each teacher will receive a free classroom poster and additional materials about the program. Students who are excited about reading, get excited about learning, and might just read a classic on their own. From hell's heart, I stab at thee. For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee. “Hmmm, did Melville write a sequel???”

A great, white whale? A whale of a great white? Or do you choose to stay close to shore? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net. Miss a past column? You can go once more into the breach at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Can’t get enough Hobo the Cat? Be sure to look for Hobo’s new calendar, now in glossy format. All Hobo, all the time, with full color photos by…who cares? It’s Hobo!!!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Reefer Madness?

Kevin Coolidge

"If this book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God's sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose."
Thomas Jefferson


If you are like most people reading this column, there's a good chance you have been under the influence of either alcohol or marijuana at some time in your life. Don't worry; I'm not going to tell anyone. Inhaling is the point, isn’t it? In fact, many experts believe it is an inherent, biological drive to alter one’s consciousness through the use of intoxicants. Drug use is universal. Every culture in history has used at least one psychoactive drug. Yes, drug-taking is so common that it appears to be a basic human activity.

According to a 2008 World Health Organization study, more than 90 percent of Americans have consumed alcohol during their lives, and almost 45 percent have used marijuana. Although both drugs are woven into the fabric of popular culture, booze and pot are portrayed in different ways. Alcohol is openly celebrated, often glamorized, aggressively marketed, and legal. Marijuana is commonly portrayed as highly addictive, causing permanent mental illness, being a dangerous “gateway” drug, and is illegal.

One book that encourages reassessing the way you think about these two drugs is Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?, written by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert. When I picked up this book, I was surprised to read a foreword written by a former chief of police. After all, regardless of how you view current marijuana laws, it is still illegal. Norm Stamper, former Chief of the Seattle Police Department, has decades of law enforcement experience, and he agrees that it’s very rare to have a night go by without an alcohol-related incident, usually several.

Stamper’s answer isn’t unique. Ask any police officer the last time he had to fight someone under the influence of marijuana alone – usually he will pause to think, and respond, “never.” Ask the same question regarding alcohol, and he will look at his watch to see how many hours ago he wrestled with “beer muscles”. Alcohol can fuel violent behavior where marijuana does not. Alcohol is a major contributing factor in crimes like homicide (not to mention vehicular manslaughter), sexual assault, and domestic violence.

The fact that marijuana does little social harm is the reason that most law reformers give as the primary reason to legalize marijuana; however, as the authors of this book demonstrate, by prohibiting marijuana, we are driving people toward a drug that far too many people abuse already, alcohol. But can marijuana be abused?

Of course, but if everything you learned about “Mary Jane” was in a high school health class or a government-sponsored pamphlet, then this book is required reading. There is ample scientific evidence contradicting many of the government’s most popular marijuana myths – such as the new "super potent" pot, and the use of cannabis leading to harder drugs.

If marijuana poses so little legitimate harm, then why does federal government spend tens of millions on campaigns designed to maintain the criminal prohibition of cannabis? Is it a moral crusade? Part of a larger cultural battle? Or does protection of corporate profits come into play? Marijuana has only been illegal since 1937. It's not a recently discovered plant. Its known use dates back to 7,000 B.C., and can be used for textiles, rope, paper and much more. In fact, you could have been jailed for not growing hemp between 1763 and 1767 in the United States, and you could even pay your taxes with hemp. I wouldn't advise trying that today.

Why marijuana is illegal is beyond the scope of Marijuana is Safer, but I delved deeper into the events that led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Hemp fiber threatened DuPont’s monopoly on the necessary chemicals for paper from trees, and patented Nylon, a synthetic fiber, the same year hemp was made illegal. Andrew Mellon, the primary financial backer of DuPont, was also the Secretary of the Treasury. He appointed Harry Anslinger, his nephew-in-law, to director of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Agency of today.

Anslinger was an ambitious man. He realized that cocaine and opiates wouldn’t be enough to build the agency. He was determined to make marijuana illegal at the federal level. He drew upon themes of violence and racism to draw national attention. Marijuana at the time was mostly used by Mexicans, and black Jazz musicians. He received additional help from William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst was the owner of a huge chain of newspapers, and had several reasons of his own to help. He was heavily invested in the timber industry to support his newspaper empire, and didn’t want to see the development of hemp paper. One acre of hemp can produce the equivalent of three acres of timber. Hearst used yellow journalism, and his known hatred of Mexicans, to spread lies about “loco weed”. Anslinger then brought his plan to Congress, even with the opposition of the American Medical Association. Do your history homework and draw your own conclusions.

Does punishing adults who make the decision to consume a less harmful substance than alcohol make legal sense? By legalizing marijuana, the authors conclude that we would not be adding another vice, but rather offering adults a safer alternative for relaxation and recreation. I personally believe it's about freedom of choice. You ask, "Why marijuana should be legalized?". I ask, "Why should marijuana be illegal?"

Beer? Bud? Or Both? You know you want to email me at frommyshelf@epix.net Miss a past column? Get your fix at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Looking for something less controversial? Check out Hobo’s book “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a stray cat who found a home. A portion of the proceeds goes to Second Chance Animal Sanctuary here in Tioga County.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Our Town, Laramie, and Wellsboro.... the history of small towns...

Kasey Cox

This past week marked eight years since the terrorist attacks our nation woke up to on September 11, 2001. Once again, I hear the words of a Tony Hoagland poem in my mind. This amazing poem, "The Change", is in Hoagland’s latest collection entitled, What Narcissism Means to Me. In it, Hoagland, as an aging white man, deals with the discomfort “his world” feels at watching a powerful, loud, darkly black-skinned young woman trounce her small, white-skinned opponent at the U.S. Open, which he openly confesses to making an analogy of a new era bumping up against the old. When our old ideas, our old stereotypes, our old comfortable categories, melt and crack before our eyes, it is difficult for us, no matter how “accepting” we believe we are. My favorite lines, the ones that give me shivers every time I read them: "There are moments when history/passes you so close/you can smell its breath,/You can reach your hand out/and touch it on its flank...."

Who among us, especially those who lived through Sept. 11th, doesn’t know what that moment feels like? I feel the same breath of history running through the pages of the play The Laramie Project. This play was a collaborative work between Moises Kaufman, the Tectonic Theater Project, and hundreds of people in Laramie, Wyoming, who agreed to be interviewed in the wake of the brutal beating and subsequent death of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, in October 1998.

Indeed, in his introduction to the play, Kaufman explains:

"There are moments in history when a particular event brings the various ideologies and beliefs prevailing in a culture into sharp focus. At these junctures, the event becomes a lightning rod of sorts, attracting and distilling the essence of these philosophies and convictions. By paying careful attention in moments like this to people’s words, one is able to hear the way these prevailing ideas affect not only individual lives but the culture at large.... The brutal murder of Matthew Shepard was ... [an] event of this kind. In its immediate aftermath, the nation launched into a dialogue that brought to the surface how we think and talk about homosexuality, sexual politics, education, class, violence, privileges and rights, and the difference between tolerance and acceptance.....”

The work of the Tectonic Theater Project, in conducting over 200 interviews in Laramie, was just as much anthropology as it was theater. I think of Temple Grandin, amazing woman, internationally-known writer, designer of cattle-handling machinery used all around the world, who is an extremely high-functioning person with Aspergers'. Her work has helped many understand better the way people with autism spectrum see the world. Grandin explains her perspective, living among people with “normal” brains, as feeling like an anthropologist from Mars. She feels she is an alien, a foreigner, and that she is constantly studying human beings to see how they act and why, so she might better blend in.

In many ways, as I work through The Laramie Project with my fellow amateur actors and anthropologists, I believe this play allows us to step outside our own era, our own culture, in this same way, for a little while, to observe ourselves. What do we believe? Why? How do we act toward one another? How do we decide on those actions? And then, once we have observed ourselves, as an anthropologist from Mars, then maybe we can step inside to examine ourselves, to see that we relate to the people in this story, as we see ourselves there. As one young woman from Laramie said at the time of the vigils held for Matthew Shepard, “And we have to mourn that... we live in a town, a state, a country where ... this happens.... people [are] trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime, I feel. Everyone needs to own this. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.”

Plays such as The Laramie Project or Our Town or The Crucible can be, and often are, read in English class. Ultimately, though, theater is meant to be experienced, watched, and participated in. I invite everyone to read this work, and then come experience it with us as Hamilton-Gibson gives all of us a chance to “reach out our hands and touch history on its flanks”, and meditate on our lives in this small town, in this era.


Hobo knows every day life is always full of drama. If this article seemed like shameless promotion of an event in town, that’s because it is. Hobo has no problem with shameless self-promotion, obviously. If you’ve got something good, then tell people about it! He does it every week in his blog, at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. If you’ve got things to promote, email Hobo at frommyshelf@epix.net to ask for his help.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lawn Boy

Kevin Coolidge

I’ve always been a natural entrepreneur. I remember my very first enterprise--such a classic. A variation of the sidewalk lemonade stand, the sweet catch was…the stock wasn’t mine. It was the weekend of our annual family reunion. Remember those? It’s when you see relatives that you won’t even see at Christmas. You eat and drink to excess, and then promise that you will get together before the next wedding or funeral, knowing that you won’t. I started off selling iced tea and lemonade for 25 cents a cup. “Hey, it was all profit, no overhead.” Sales were strong, but if you aren’t expanding, you’re history.

I decided to add beer to my inventory. It’s not a family reunion without beer. Business boomed. Until neighbor across the street called the cops, “Hey, how was I to know what a liquor license was?” I did add to my vocabulary, with juvenile delinquent and culpable deniability. I also learned one of the basic principles of economics, supply and demand.

I was young and broke and set out to do something about it, much like the main character in Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen. It’s the start of summer vacation, and our protagonist is wondering where he’s going to get enough money for an inner tube for his old ten speed bike. His life changes when his grandmother gives him an old rider mower for his twelfth birthday.

Almost as soon as soon as he figures out how to run it, he’s in business. By the second day he has eight mowing jobs, and is introduced to The Law of Increasing Product Demand versus Flat Production Capacity, better known as “fast approaching your limit”. Three lawns a day, once a week, twenty-one lawns if he worked seven days, dawn to dark with no days off. At forty dollars a yard, great money, but it would mean no summer vacation.

Then he meets Arnold, a work at home stock broker who offers to barter. He will open a stock-market account in lieu of payment for cutting grass. Arnold not only invests the money, but offers business advice. Soon Lawn Boy has a partner, fifteen employees, a lot of money invested in the stock market, and is sponsoring a boxer named Joseph Powdermilk Jr. who comes in handy when Force of Arms and its Application to Business comes into play.

Learning the workings of the free-market economy has never been more fun. This book weaves the concepts of stock, the stock market, commissions, partnerships, employees, competition and more right into the fabric of the story. If you are looking for something entertaining to begin teaching third and fourth graders about finances and business, try this engaging book. Now, couldn’t you go for an ice cold lemonade???

Lemonade? Or Lawn Care? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net. Miss a past column? Put the lever on the rabbit and go to http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com to catch up on past columns, book news and more. Want to read a children’s book about a cat that took the initiative? Read “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a cat who wanted more out of life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Great Book for the Cat Lover and a Great Outdoor Book

Do you love cats? Did you love Dewey, A Home For Dixie, Chester, Splat the Cat, Kittens First Moon? Looking for a great childrens book or book for the cat lover? Hobo Finds A Home is the book for you. Hobo was a barncat who didn't want to sleep in scratchy hay, and get stepped on by clumsy cows.Check out "Hobo Finds A Home" now available at http://www.edgecliffpress.com/eckpub.html, www.amazon.com ,
and www.barnesandnoble.com and a bookstore near you.

A portion of the royalties benefits Second Chance Animal Sanctuary in Tioga PA! Check out this great grass roots organization at www.secondchanceas.org


Hobo Finds A Home is available for wholesale at www.edgecliffpress.com also available at Ingram, and Baker & Taylor.

For an autographed copy, visit www.wellsborobookstore.com and click on publications. You will receive an autographed version by Hobo the cat with his very own paw print.

Looking for a great book for the outdoor lover? If your reader loves John Gierach, or Patrick McManus. Consider Of A Predatory Heart by Joe Parry with intoduction by Bob Bell, former editor of Pennsylvania Game News. Short stories set in the great outdoors, that will make you laugh, cry, and remember your favorite hunting dog. Available for wholesale at Ingram.Check out his blog at http://ofapredatoryheart.blogspot.com for a FREE excerpt.

This great book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your favorite bookstore. For an autographed copy visit www.wellsborobookstore.com and click on publications. Help support a Vietnam Vet and check out this book.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Now & Then with Nouwen (yes, it's a cheesy pun, but, oh well!)

Kasey Cox

I’ve noticed that almost all of my book review columns for the Gazette start with the word “I”. If I manage not to begin the first sentence with an announcement that this is definitely all from my perspective, then, invariably, I won’t get through the first paragraph without a liberal smattering of me, myself, and I all over the place. When I tried to answer an advertisement to submit my freelance writing to several up-and-coming blogs on the web, I was not only a little shocked that they would ask me to send in two writing samples that were not written in first-person, but, furthermore, that I couldn’t even find one solid example from my writing over the last two years.

Perhaps this personal, subjective style of writing points to narcissism or selfishness in my character; I have been known to enjoy talking about myself and have occasionally been accused of over-sharing. Nevertheless, it is true that writing is an inherently personal process. One of my favorite writers – indeed, arguably one of the most influential religious and spiritual writers of the past century – explained his mission in writing thus: “But aren’t my own experiences so personal that they might just as well remain hidden? Or could it be that what is most personal for me, what rings true in the depths of my own being, also has meaning for others? Ultimately, I believe that what is most personal is most universal.”

This particular quote is from the original, 1971 preface to Henri Nouwen’s book, With Open Hands, though the thought reverberates throughout his work and his life. Of course, Nouwen was not saying that we should all have or will have the same opinions, or allowing his fan Kasey Cox to misuse his quote to justify how her take on a certain book is reflective of everyone’s experience with that author at this time. Whenever I doubt, however, whether or not I should share my deeper feelings in reaction to a story I read, or tell someone how a particular book touched my life, I think of Henri Nouwen. Over and over again, both during his life, and in the legacy of fellow believers he left behind, people have cited what made Nouwen special. Biographer and theologian Ronald Rolheiser, who called Nouwen this generation’s Kierkegaard, summed up Nouwen’s gift: "By sharing his own struggles, he mentored us all, helping us to pray while not knowing how to pray, to rest while feeling restless, to be at peace while tempted, to feel safe while still anxious, to be surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, and to love while still in doubt.”

Never heard of Henri Nouwen? Then you are about to delve into a wealth of wisdom, kindness and inspirational reading, for Nouwen wrote over forty books during his life, as well as writing countless articles, facilitating hundreds of retreats, and teaching thousands of lectures. Among his most frequently-read books are The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom; Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith; The Return of the Prodigal Son; and The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Strangely enough, my favorite work of Nouwen’s, the book I have read several times already though I haven’t read many of his other works, doesn’t even crack the “top ten” Nouwen list of popularity. The book which has always been on my shortlisted list of favorite books – not just from Nouwen, but favorites from every author and genre – is the slim but powerful volume, With Open Hands.

I wish I could have met Nouwen, although, through his writing, I almost feel as though I knew him personally. Indeed, it felt like a personal loss when I learned that Nouwen died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 64, in September of 1996. He was born in 1932 in the Netherlands, and felt called to the priesthood from a young age. He was ordained in 1957, studied psychology at the Catholic University at Nijmegen, then moved to the U.S. in 1964. Consequently, he taught at the University of Notre Dame, and the divinity schools of Yale and Harvard. But though Henri was a priest and a professor, he was also a restless spirit, so he spent much of the next two decades wandering, living with the Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genessee, hosting spiritual retreats in a variety of settings and institutions, writing, living amongst the poor in South America, and eventually, settling at “L’Arche Daybreak” outside Toronto, Canada.

In keeping with Nouwen’s beliefs about relationships, the intimate and ultimate worth of every person, and the importance of compassion, “Arche” communities focus on the needs and gifts of people with disabilities as their core. Everyone who lives in at “L’Arche” helps someone with disabilities function with their daily routine. The atmosphere at Daybreak brought Nouwen out of a severe depression, allowing him to once again focus clearly on his writing, as well as his ministry to his immediate community and to the larger world. It was these “L’Arche” communities where he finally felt most at home, most centered, and where he believed his mission as giver and receiver felt ultimately fulfilled.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting Boys to Read

Kevin Coolidge

Getting Boys to Read

The more that you read,
the more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
the more places you'll go.
~ Dr. Seuss ~


Sunshine streams through my window. I’m enjoying a mug of strong, black coffee and reading the results of the latest scientific study: Experts researching on how gender affects learning have found that boys and girls are different by nature and they learn in different ways. Yes, that’s right. Boys are different than girls, and if you are going to get boys to read, you must recognize the things that make boys different.

Boys' brains are wired differently from girls. They learn differently. Classrooms and libraries are quiet and orderly, the way women and girls like them. Boys need more stimuli to get their brains going — noise and color and motion. As a boy, I had trouble sitting still in class, and I never even had a male teacher until fifth grade.

As a boy, I loved to read, and I still do, but I didn’t always read what you’d call classics. Often I was steered to books my female teachers thought I should like. I loved to read, not because of the choices put before me by the school system, but in spite of those choices. Boys need to be allowed a lot of options. Boys tend to choose stories full of action, gross stuff and silly humor, because that’s what boys like. What do most boys think of many of the books that win awards? Boring.

The first way to get a boy to read is to not force him to read. Offer a well-edited selection of books after you ask his interests. The worst mistake is to assume that all boys will take to the same book. There is no one book, and that’s the challenge. Every boy is different. Let him feel like it’s his decision.

Boys tend to find nonfiction much more interesting than fiction. Growing up, I loved books on nature and animals, especially dinosaurs, as well as science fiction. I also enjoyed comic books, the predecessor to graphic novels. Boys love collecting facts on subjects that fascinate them. It may be cars, or sports, or disgusting factoids from Oh, Yikes!: History's Grossest Moments written by Joy Massoff. Using this passion is a great way to fuel the love of reading.

Boys like stories, but if your boy acts like a book is a strange object, you could try slipping in an audio book during your next car trip. Your boy may just want to stay in the car until the story is finished. Boys also like funny stories. You can get them joke books, or humorous stories. You can try the Diary of a Wimpy kid series by Jeff Kinney, a laugh-out-loud novel done in cartoons.

It’s important not to criticize the boy’s choice. Reading almost anything is better than reading nothing. It may feel that he’s choosing books that are too easy, but reading at any level is valuable practice, and success helps build confidence as well as reading skills. Don’t set unrealistic goals, but rather look for small signs of progress. Don’t expect a reluctant reader to finish a book overnight, but maybe over the next week with some gentle encouragement.

Boys will read. We just need to give them the books they want to read. If you let a boy read what he likes, he’ll be so hooked on reading that he just may read a classic, or even better, grows up to be a man who loves to read…

Fiction? Or Nonfiction? If you love to read, check out our blog for an archive of past columns, comments and more at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Looking for a great children’s book? Check out Hobo the cat’s book, “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat who wanted more out of life. Hey, if a cat can write a book, you can read one.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Inspector Maigret as a Communist Coroner

Kasey Cox

Every few months, the BookSense/IndieBound program of the ABA (a national association of independent booksellers) compiles a great newsletter of recommendations specifically for book club reading. These suggestions come from real people who read books, buy books, and talk with other people who love books – not just from spin doctors at publishing houses or corporate offices who get paid to tell you how great a book is. Long before the bookstore here in Wellsboro was even a glimmer in my eye, I loved picking up these BookSense newsletters at “indie” stores wherever my travels took me. Even now, at our monthly book club at the store, we spend almost as much time discussing the current month’s book as we do pouring over these newsletters, tasting various titles, reading recommendations out loud, taking our delicious time deciding what we might read in future months together.

Surprisingly, the book for June was a mystery (there actually aren’t a lot of those that make the recommendation list) and I didn’t choose it (I have, as regular Gazette readers may have seen of late, reacquired my taste for mysteries, especially the “cozy” mysteries which I blather on about quite often). Truth be told, upon reading the description of The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill, I was less than excited to read it. Though I do often enjoy historical fiction, I have to admit that I’m a reluctant reader of things set in Southeast Asia. This is one area where my WASP-y bias shows, but for me, even Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham are steeped in a language, culture and political climate that is too murky to understand, let alone the voices of the native writers from that part of the world. Nevertheless, I’m in a book club to push myself to try books I might not have chosen on my own, so I plunged ahead.

Opening in Vietiane, Laos in 1976, not long after we Americans took our last helicopters out of Saigon, 72-year-old Dr. Siri Paiboun has just been appointed the national coroner for the new People’s Democratic Republic of Laos. Having joined the Communist Party many years before, mostly to please his more politically-focused wife, Dr. Siri had been looking forward to retirement, and has never performed an autopsy in his entire career as a physician. Working under an inexperienced, Party-line, power-drunk magistrate, with next to nothing in the way of facilities or materials, Dr. Siri feels only a listless interest in his life. Luckily, he gets on well with his small staff, the nurse Dtui who secretly reads fashion magazines and longs to study abroad, and the former coroner’s assistant, Mr. Geung, a man with Down’s Syndrome who nonetheless has a penchant for remembering rote procedures which Dr. Siri never had a chance to learn.

Indeed, the real strength of this novel is the wonderfully alive, quirky characters with all their eccentricities, struggling to adjust to life under a new regime. Our book club really enjoyed Siri’s observation that, although he himself was “a heathen of a Communist”, most didn’t complain about life under a government which was still corrupt, and still abusive of many of the common people, since at least now the Laotians were doing it to their own people, instead of the decades of abuse at the hand of outsiders. Moments of comic relief are provided in regular conversations near the Mekhong River between Siri and his friend “Older Brother Civilai” (born just two days before Siri), who is a “big nob” in the Party yet has somehow retained his sense of irony. There’s a little romance with Auntie Lah, the breadmaker who always makes special sandwiches for Siri; intrigue with the possible murder of an important Party member’s wife; and the mystery of three Vietnamese men found weighted on the bottom of the Nam Ngum Reservoir, apparently tortured.

Inspired by the Inspector Maigret novels Siri enjoyed in Paris as a young medical student, and nudged by his lifelong experience of seeing the dead in his dreams, Siri begins to take pleasure in his job. He allows his intelligence, his curiosity, and his disdain for the bureaucratic red tape pull him deeper into investigations which many people preferred to leave open-and-shut cases. This adventure leads him to consult with Hmong shaman, a Vietnamese detective, a Laotian professor with an Australian husband and child, roughly translated French textbooks, and dead people.

What began for me as a reluctant read ended in with a thriller I couldn’t put down as I followed the nail-biting saga of the “thrice not dead” and clever Dr. Siri. In sure-handed writing, Colin Cotterill has given us a warm, wonderful cast of characters, a subtle and rich setting, and a new series to watch. In the end, I am pleased to report that I am just as excited as the rest of the book club, and the folks who wrote the newsletter reviews, to move right ahead with the following books, Thirty-Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed, and Anarchy and Old Dogs. If you’re looking for “something completely different” in the fiction genre, this is your summer read!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Baby's First Mythos

Kevin Coolidge

If you are familar with H.P. Lovecraft, you are familar with his Cthulu mythos. There's a great board book by C.J. Henderson and his wife called "Baby's First Mythos". It's a delightful spin on classic horror lore. A great gift for the Lovecraft fan, and a great baby shower gift. You know there's not anyone else that's going to show up with this. I just got 30 of these into the bookstore. This book is only printed once a year and they go fast! You can check out my half.com store at http://shops.half.ebay.com/kcool1969_W0QQ or you can stop into From My Shelf Books at 87 Main st in Wellsboro. Hurry these books won't be here long!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bad Astronomy

by Kevin Coolidge


“The Eagle has landed.” Neil Armstrong


“Houston, we have a problem.”

“Stop goofing around, Charlie, and get that rock spiked center stage, and let’s break for the day. I’m as dry as a nun’s gusset.”

It’s the summer of 2009, and the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 NOT going to the moon, or at least according to Bill Kaysing, author of We Never Went to the Moon, which details the findings of a purported NASA hoax. That’s right: the Apollo moon landings were staged in a top-secret sound stage in the Nevada desert, conveniently located near Las Vegas with easy access to air-conditioned casinos, cold beer, and exotic dancers.

I believe there’s a little conspiracy theorist living in all of us, or maybe that’s just my alien implant talking, but save your money for the slots. Let’s take a small sanity check here. It’s now well known that the Soviets were well on the way to sending men to the moon in the 1960’s. While the missions never got off the ground, the Soviets worked very hard on them, and were watching carefully when NASA broadcast the historic footage. Both governments spent billions of dollars and countless man hours on their lunar projects; national prestige was at stake for two superpowers. Do you really think Pravda would have acknowledged the truth of the moon missions if there was any doubt?

No one is more appalled that millions of people actually agree with Bill Kaysing than Philip Plait, author of Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax”. Philip Plat debunks the “moon hoax” as well other astronomy-related urban legends—such as you can make an egg stand on end only during the vernal equinox.

What manner of data could possibly convince someone that the moon still lies beyond our grasp? The answer is in the photographs themselves. If you look carefully at the images, the hoax believers say, you’ll see the lie. What lie? Thousands of photos were taken, and many of them are quite famous. Most consist of the astronauts performing their duties, and are unremarkable, except for the fact that they show space-suited humans on an alien landscape; unremarkable, unless you are looking for a dark conspiracy.

There are five basic concerns raised by the conspiracy theorists. These are: 1. There are no stars in the astronaut photos 2. The astronauts could not have survived the radiation during the trip 3. There is dust under the lunar landing. 4. The high temperature of the moon should have killed the astronauts, and 5. the play of light and shadows in the surface proves that the photos are faked.

Plait systematically dismantles every point made by the hoax believers with clear, understandable explanations. The hoax believers in many cases use simple physics and common sense to prove their point. Initially, their accusations make sense; however, common sense may not apply on the airless surface of the Moon, and the theorists tend to misunderstand basic physics. Upon closer logical inspection, their arguments fall apart. After all, do you really think that after building elaborate sets, and hiring hundreds of technicians and cameramen and spending millions on the hoax and hookers that NASA would forgot to put stars in the pictures? It is indeed 40 years of inspiration and innovation we celebrate when we acknowledge mankind’s epic journey to the Moon, a triumph of human engineering and the human spirit...

Too soon from the cave? Or too far from the stars? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net. Miss a past column? Blast off to http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and collect past samples. Have you had your own adventure with the supernatural? I’m starting a book on what’s weird in Wellsboro and the Twin Tiers. Ghosts, moon men, haints, and creepy tales, drop me an email and share your weird story.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Royal Roachman and THE FLY

I've helped local author Joe Parry put together a book of his short stories called "Of A Predatory Heart". These 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, flyfishing, introducing children to woodcraft, and the bond that forms between generations through appreciation of the woodlands.

One of my favorite stories in this collection is "The Royal Roachman". In this story, Joe teaches his hunting and fishing buddy to tie flys. This is not an easy skill for a man to acquire, when his fingers are the size of sausauges. His buddy ends up with a creation dubbed THE FLY.

One of the students here in Wellsboro PA has recently started tying his own flies and selling some of them at From My Shelf Books. He has recreated THE FLY with hilarious results. You can buy THE FLY here at From My Shelf Books for just $2.50. It's a great gag gift for your favorite fishermen, or you can get it free with the purchase of "Of A Predatory Heart" by Joe Parry. You can got to www.wellsborobookstore.com to order Joe's book, stop by, or call us...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monster Hunter International and The Flock

Kevin Coolidge

A great summer read for those who love guns, guts and monsters is "Monster Hunter International" by Larry Correia now available in mass market paperback for just $7.99, and just $5.99 for members of From My Shelf Books. There's a great story behind M.H.I. Larry started out self-publishing this novel, and it sold so well through his blog and gun store that Baen publishing took notice, and has made it available. I reviewed the book back in January of 2008 for the Wellsboro Gazette, and thought "Hey, this book deserves to be published" I've talked to Larry and he's a great guy as well as a great story teller. Congrats to Larry and I'm looking forward to more. Hmmm, I wonder how long it is before Hollywood snatches up the movie rights for this soon to be bestseller?

Speaking of movie rights, James Robert Smith, author of "The Flock" is going to see his novel spring to life on the big screen. "The Flock" is a cryptid thriller that reminds me of a faster paced "Jurassic Park". "The Flock" has gone the way of many books and has gone out of print. If the chain stores and the evil empire of Amazon don't move enough, the book can go the way of the Dodo bird, regardless of how good it is. From My Shelf has several copies, one even signed by the author, and currently there are talks about putting this out in mass market. It might be awhile, but keep checking with us, because I'll have it available as soon as it is. This is James first novel, and he's sent two more in to his agent, one on zombies and one on werewolves, and I'm excited to read these books. Hmmm, now someone needs to do zombie werewolves! A big congratulations to James. You can check out his blog at http://tilthelasthemlockdies.blogspot.com/

The All-American Road Trip

Kevin Coolidge


“Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” Jack Kerouac

I hear the whisper of pines. The road is calling. Throwing a battered suitcase into the back of my Pinto, I drive to the Pine Creek Gorge, gem of the Northeast, located just ten miles outside Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Recently the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon has been thrust into the national spotlight for receiving a “cease and desist” order from lawyers representing the Arizona State Tourist Board. The statement demands that all Tioga County Organizations and residents stop calling The Pine Creek Gorge, “The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.” Ben Dover, senior director commented, "America's Grand Canyon is in Arizona. We encourage all Americans to accept nothing less than the real thing." Hmm, I wonder if my friend Laurel has heard about the local festival held in June?
If You Must Go:
Wellsboro Are Chamber of Commerce
114 Main St
Wellsboro PA 16901

It’s summer – time for that venture known as vacation, and there's nothing more American than the love of the open road. I love not knowing what lies around the next bend. Every drive has a beginning and an end, but it's the journey that matters. Wanderlust flows through my veins. Yes, it’s time for an all-American road trip, and no boring, humdrum guidebook for me! That’s why I’m using Road Trip USA: All the Places Your Dad Never Stopped At written by Harmon Leon and published by National Lampoon Press.

Why go to Disneyland when you can get kicked out of a religious cult with free food, lots of cult-babes, and kickboxing? Why visit the Batman Returns Stunt Show at Six Flags when you can take a tour of duty in fake Iraq, complete with method actors? And why visit Hoover Dam when you can visit Louisiana where cockfighting is still legal and considered family-oriented entertainment?

Part travelogue, part diary, part investigative journalism—Road Trip USA follows the adventures of Harmon as he leaves the beaten path, finding the true diseased underbelly of America, with a sense of adventure, and complete abandonment of common sense. He goes shopping in Hilldale, Utah among a tribe of identically-dressed wives. He experiences the big “O”, that’s Lake Okeechobee, Florida, where it’s only $170 to blow away a wild boar, but it will cost you five grand if you happen to accidently shoot one of the guide’s hunting dogs.

Harmon also includes great tips on budget lodging and suggests inexpensive, creative solutions to traveling problems. There’s a section on how to turn your iron into a hotplate by placing it handle down on top of an empty tissue box, and how to stay awake once your supply of energy drinks has run dry—such as thinking of all the people who might bury you in a shallow grave if you pull over to sleep at that desolate rest area. This list includes drifters, disgruntled truckers, hooker serial killers, and of course Canadians. There are also salutes to towns with funny names—such as Intercourse, PA; Happy, TX; and Sweet Lips, TN.

So sit back and let Harmon do the driving as he takes you on a journey filled with oddities, ironies, and insanities. He’ll be your tour guide for some of the funniest and strangest destinations in the USA. Buckle up, because we have a long way to drive, but it doesn’t matter. The road is life...

Planes? Trains? Or Automobiles? Drop me an email at frommyshelf@epix.net. Miss a past column? Make http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com your destination. Have you had your own adventure with the supernatural? I’m starting a book on what’s weird in Wellsboro and the Twin Tiers. Ghosts, haints, spooks, and creepy tales, drop me an email and share your weird story.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dear Authors and other bookstore friends

We are really excited to tell you about a big event for which planning is already well under way! On Saturday, October 17th, we are co-sponsoring a large, community literacy event at the Wellsboro Fireman's Annex. We're partnering with the teachers' union and the education support staff union for the Wellsboro Area Schools to create a day completely focused on celebrating reading, literature, books, and writing.

The bookstore will host a large used book sale, featuring thousands of hardcover and softcover books and lots of fantastic deals on our overstock. Tables full of these books will take up the center part of the large space available at the Annex. There will also be a couple of tables, for a silent auction on collectible/out-of-print books, especially some of regional interest.

Then, all around the outside of the room, we'd like to have authors who are excited to spend a day talking to people about their books, their writing process, and the joy of reading. Authors will only be charged $10 for a table/space. Any profit you make from sales that day will be your own; you will be completely in charge of your own money that day. We will not ask for a commission or percentage; you will keep your own cash box and figure out your own sales tax. You won't need to pay anything additional for all the great advertising and publicity this event will provide you!

During the day, we'll have book-related games, food sales by local nonprofit and school-related organizations, a read-aloud corner where local dignitaries and area personalities will take turns reading to their audience, door prizes, live radio broadcasts with two different radio stations, and more. The teachers' unions will be holding a large "Chinese raffle", selling tickets for chances on a wide selection of donated goods and services.

The money raised will benefit the bookstore, several school organizations and clubs, area nonprofit organizations, the teachers' unions' community literacy projects, and the high school library inventory.

We plan on advertising in many local and regional newspapers, with local Chamber of Commerce newsletters and emails, via Internet media like facebook and Twitter, through the bookstore, the schools, the network we have with the ABA/NAIBA/IndieBound organizations to which we belong, on our blog and our website, on invited writers' blogs and websites, through local and regional television and radio, and much more. The more writers who come, the bigger the impact we can make and the wider the word spreads.

October is an incredibly busy time in the Wellsboro area, with hundreds of tourists coming to see the foliage, to shop the quaint New England-esque village and to enjoy the crisp, lovely outdoors.

We hope you will join us in what promises to be a wonderful event.

Please let us know as soon as possible if you are able to attend, so that we may better plan. If you have more questions about the event, or about area accomodations, don't hesitate to ask.

Look for more details, coming soon, to www.wellsborobookstore.com, http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/kcbookstore, and/or www.wellsboropa.com



Sincerely yours,

Kasey Cox and Kevin Coolidge
From My Shelf
87 Main St
Wellsboro, PA 16901
(570) 724-5793

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Free Your Neck, and the Rest Will Follow!

Kasey Cox

For nearly the past decade, the following books have been sitting on my shelf: Taking Control of TMJ: Your Total Wellness Program for Recovering from Temporomandibular Joint Pain, Whiplash, Fibromyalgia, and Related Disorders, by Robert O. Uppgaard, D.D.S.; TMJ: The Self-Help Program, by John Taddey, D.D.S.; and Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain, by Devin Starlanyl and Mary Ellen Copeland. As you may have deduced, I suffer from chronic jaw, face, neck and back pain. So, from time to time, when my neck or face is especially troubling me, I get one of these books down, begin reading about exercises and treatment options and muscle insertions, and … zzzzzzzzzz. The next thing I know, I wake up, drooling on the book, with a giant crick in my neck.

While my jaw problems may be a little more unusual, I’m certainly not alone in my complaints about neck, shoulder and back pain. As we spend more time on the computer and phone, our work days taken up by long drives and even longer lists of emails in the inbox, our collective shoulders can handle less weight. (And you thought it was just the economy weighing on you.) The truth is, chronic pain is not just an annoyance: it’s distracting, fatiguing, depressing. If only we could “fix it”, we could live happier, more productive lives, both at work and at home. Like countless advertised products in our society, many books (as well as exercise tapes, doctors, therapists, classes, supplements, and spiritual rituals) promise quick relief. I’ve tried several of them; you may have, too, to varying degrees of success. As for me, I’m still looking for longer-term solutions.

When DiaMedica Press recently sent me a review copy of their new book, The Neck Pain Handbook: Your Guide to Understanding and Treating Neck Pain, by Grant Cooper, M.D. and Alex Visco, M.D., I felt fairly skeptical. I’m pleased to tell you, however, that this slim but efficient volume is NOT just another snorefest, nor is it “Neck Pain for Dummies”. Both of these physicians specialize in spine and musculoskeletal medicine. In their preface, they explain how they decide to co-author this book to address the increasing number of patients coming to them with neck pain, whether occasional nuisance or debilitating presence.

In a mere 126 pages, divided into four main sections, these docs cover learning the basics about the neck – including the nattily-titled chapters “Learn to Appreciate Your Neck” and “When Good Necks Go Bad” – how to care for your neck, when it’s time to see a doctor, and various treatments available. They advocate a more conservative approach first, including waiting before getting an MRI, unless you have one or more of the “red-flag” symptoms they list, which might indicate a much more serious ailment, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or severely impinged nerves. Drs. Cooper and Visco list some of those red-flag symptoms not to scare people, but in order that the reader, too, may determine when it’s time to insist on more attention from the doctor.

Otherwise, the chapters on taking care of your neck include such keywords as posture, computer work station, stretching and strengthening exercises, Thera-Bands, movement, posture, exercise, walking, and posture. The drawings of key neck muscles and joints, as well as photos of people sitting at their desks, talking on the phone, or doing the recommended exercises are helpful. Discussions about trigger points, injections, X-rays, and the efficacy of oral medications and/or supplements add to the text without bogging the reader down in too much medical jargon.

The author’s bottom line, and conclusion to the book, gives me a lot of hope – the reminder that neck pain is usually very responsive to treatment, over time and with the correct diagnosis, AND the reminder that above all, I must respect my neck. Forget the current rude saying, “Talk to the hand.” My new mantra is “respect the neck.” Or, “free your neck, and the rest will follow.”

Hobo says he enjoys sticking his neck out for his friends, family, and fans. If you’d like to stick your nose, or your neck, into Hobo’s old business, check out his archived articles at his blog, http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Stop by the store this summer when Hobo’s around, and he’ll tell you exactly where he likes his neck scratched. Look for Hobo’s new line of fashion neckties, available at Garrison’s Men’s Shop this fall!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Surviving" Summer Reading

Kasey Cox

While the kids, parents, and teachers are counting down the last few days of school, bookstores and libraries are getting ready for the influx of questions about books for summer reading. Most kids have summer reading that they’re “supposed to” do, whether by parental encouragement or by teacher mandate. For the lucky kids, this summer reading is not a chore, because they’ve discovered the joy of the reading. For other students, reading is more difficult, but I’m a firm believer that people just need to find a story that interests them. One of the first questions I ask reluctant readers is: “What do you like? What are you most interested in?” I don’t mind if the answer is a game or a TV show, since we can still work with that. I want to know what they like about that story – because there’s the hook.

One book which reigns high on the list of hooks for reluctant readers is Gary Paulsen’s young adult novel, Hatchet. This Newbury Honor book had its 20th birthday in 2007, and at that point, it had sold over 4.5 million copies. Hatchet is the story of Brian, a teen boy whose parents have recently divorced. He’s headed to northern Canada to spend the summer with his father, a mechanical engineer working with oil companies in remote locations. For the last leg of the trip, it’s just Brian and the pilot of the little Cessna. They crash. Brian has next to nothing to use for survival, except a hatchet. It’s a great story, the kind of story many of us find ourselves caught up in, whether it’s Tom Hanks marooned in the movie Castaway, or silly old TV series like Gilligan’s Island, or more gruesome events from history like the Donner Party. We like survival stories – adrift at sea, settling the prairies, captured as a prisoner of war, crashing in the mountains.

We’re lucky, then, to have so many stories like this to read (even if the people in the stories aren’t always so lucky). History itself is filled with such stories, especially American history, as our ancestor immigrants carved out new lives in harsh, strange places. And then there are the people who like to live even closer to the edge, the mountaineers and the extreme sports enthusiasts. In searching for more stories like this, I recently found Norman Ollestad’s memoir, Crazy for the Storm. Norman’s experience at age 11 reads like a version of Paulsen’s Hatchet. The book opens with the crash scene – Norman, 11; his father, 43; Dad’s girlfriend, Sandra, 30; and the pilot of a little Cessna, crash into the San Gabriel Mountains in California during a storm. At 8,600 feet, on steep slopes of almost shear ice, Norman is the only one left uninjured. His father and the pilot are dead. Sandra is gravely injured. It’s snowing. I won’t tell you the details that Norman relays in what people are lauding as beautiful, terse, Hemingway-esque prose, chapter by chapter, as he got down the mountain. I will tell you I couldn’t put the book down. I honestly read it in one sitting, from the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon until late that night. I had to know how he did it.

Norman attributes his survival to his relationship with his father. In alternating chapters, this well-crafted memoir takes 11 year old Norman down the mountain, and relates growing up with his father who was constantly pushing him to surf, ski, play hockey, and hike remote areas almost as soon as he could walk. I have to admit, at first I was annoyed with the chapters reminiscing about younger life with Dad, living on the infamous Topanga Beach in the 1970’s, a crazy drive through Baja California. I wanted to get back to the mountain survival chapters. As I continued to read, however, I realized that young Norman’s experiences with his father – from being strapped to his father’s back as a toddler while Dad went surfing, to being ferried constantly to black diamond ski slopes for competitions – WERE part of his journey down that mountain.

So, if the kids are clamoring to see the twenty-third reincarnation of “Terminator” this week at the Arcadia, maybe you should let them go. Then you can use that as a segue to read and talk about some great books together. Challenge yourself and your family to have adventures together this summer, both on the page and in the outdoors.


Hobo likes hiking, but spelunking scares him. He’ll be helping kids survive summer reading by making some appearances at the bookstore. Watch for his schedule at his blog: http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Surf on by to see him.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Absinthe & Flamethrowers

Kevin Coolidge

“It was dangerous lunacy, but it was also the kind of thing a real connoisseur of edgework could make an argument for.” Hunter S. Thompson

“It’s a man’s world”, but I disagree. Day by day, our nation becomes more a mother’s world—safe and secure, a world more comfortable and soft around the edges, and with fewer outlets for risk. Gone is the vast, wild country. It has been replaced by shopping malls, bans on dodge ball, and government intrusion, a Nanny State.

There’s an instinctive desire for freedom and adventure. People take risks. They risk money. They risk reputation. They may even risk their very lives. All for many reasons, sometimes for no apparent reason—are such people acting illogically? According to William Gurstelle, author of Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, the answer is no.

Taking risks proves your mettle, increases your confidence, and creates self-reliance. A person who does not take risks is unlikely to make it to the top. It is true that many thrill-seeking personalities, however, have shorter-than-average life spans. Can you learn to live taking risks, without falling off the edge? Certainly, there is a middle ground, the art of living dangerously.

William defines artfully-dangerous activities as: 1. Having a short learning curve, meaning no long-term or expensive training; 2. Human focused, meaning no complex machines (no parachutes, and no aqualungs); 3. Inexpensive, as high cost can take away the human component; and 4. Involves reasonable risk, since a little danger adds spice but too much danger makes your HMO even harder to deal with.

Before I continue this column, here’s the first of several warning required by the lawyers, my editor, and your mother. Many of the activities and projects in this book include an element of risk that simply cannot be avoided. Consider yourself warned. If you do not agree, please skip to the sports section. If you do read the rest of the column, it is essential to understand that you and you alone are responsible for your choice to live dangerously.

Scared? Should you read on? I’d tell you to plunge in, but it truly depends on your tolerance for risk. William is the author of several do-it-yourself books, and he emphasizes safety. The projects are well thought-out, well-engineered and engaging, but an element of risk remains. These projects, however, aren't for everyone, but even if you decide against participating, the read will do you good. After all, you never know when you might need to know how to make black powder, rockets, fuses, and your very own flamethrower. My editor encourages you to check your local fire codes. Your mom called and said you can't BBQ without burning the chicken, and you want to build a flamethrower???

In addition to projects, several dangerous practices are described—such as drinking absinthe, driving fast, and eating fugu, or Japanese blowfish. Remember that self-portrait by Van Gogh from that 8AM Art Appreciation class in college? The one where he sliced off his ear in a fit of rage? Van Gogh was a clinically depressed, social outcast who drank a whole lot of absinthe. The author also includes information on knife throwing, bullwhips, and Bhut Jolokia, a pepper so hot it makes your typical habanero look like a bell pepper.

Should you never smoke, gamble, speed, or drink, or is it acceptable as long as your pursuits don't bother anyone else? "Living dangerously is an art, a learnable and improvable skill that, when done well, enhances life without cutting it short," writes William Gurstelle. Perhaps, danger is a rite of passage. Many great scientists, politicians, writers and inventors were skilled at living dangerously. It's becoming harder to legally make and do interesting things. There's too much fear of terrorism, too much fear of litigation, too much fear of fear. Curiosity is a powerful need that only gets satisfied at a price. The more curious a person is, the more they are willing to pay that price. The edge, there’s really no way to map it, because the only people who know where it is, are the ones who have gone over…

Dancing with the Green Fairy? Or Pyrotechnic fun? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net While you are waiting for your eyebrows to grow back, explore past columns at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com I double dog dare ya. Have you had your own adventure with the supernatural? I’m starting a book on what’s weird in Wellsboro and the Twin Tiers. Ghosts, haints, spooks, and creepy tales, drop me an email and share your weird story.