Monday, December 27, 2010

Days Of Vengeance

Kevin Coolidge

“Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance, of justice.” ~Samuel Johnson

It’s cold. Bitter cold, hard to believe anyone would be out in this weather. Hard to believe a young girl could leave home and go off in the winter to avenge her father’s death, but Mattie Ross always was a bull-headed gal. It may seem strange now. You don’t see it everyday, but Mattie hired herself the meanest, toughest U.S. Marshal to bring the coward Tom Chaney to justice. She aimed to see him pay for his crime. She aimed to see him dance at the end of a noose….

True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen when her father is shot down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and is robbed of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash. She leaves home to avenge her father’s blood, with one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, and pursues the killer into Indian Territory, which is present day Oklahoma. .

True Grit by Charles Portis first appeared as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post, and then was re-issued as a novel in 1968, and became the basis for two movies – the 1969 Western classic starring John Wayne, and the soon to be released version directed by the Coen brothers.

Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn is an aging, overweight, brutal man who “likes to pull a cork”, but “fear don’t enter into his thinking” and has true grit. Mattie, with a cash incentive, is able to persuade him to take on the job, and as part of the bargain, she must go along.

Before this odd, mismatched pair can take the trail, a Texas Ranger by the name of La Boeuf enters town. He too is tracking Chaney who is wanted for killing a senator in Texas. La Boeuf wants to take Chaney alive and back to Texas, where a big cash award and glory awaits, but Mattie wants to see him hang for his crimes in Arkansas.

Rooster and La Boeuf join forces in the hunt, even though they don’t care much for each other. They decide it’d be safer for the girl to stay in town, and they leave without Mattie, but she proves to be tenacious and resourceful, and shows that she too has true grit.

I found True Grit to be a stark, simple narrative that must be one of the most under appreciated novels in American Literature. I don’t know why I waited this long to read it. I’m not sure if it’s because the Western genre is often underestimated by the critics, or if I didn’t read the book because I watched the movie starring John Wayne, but I haven’t read anything that captures the American voice better since I read Huckleberry Finn. I’m now very much looking forward to the new film, which is suppose to follow the novel more than the first film, and book or movie…You’ll not soon forget Rooster or Mattie…

Revenge--the best way to get even? Or best to forgive? Drop me an email at Miss a past column? Turn the other cheek at and catch up. Hobo the cat says the best revenge is living well. Check out his new self-help book “Hobo Helps Himself” to find out how you to can live the good life.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Kevin Coolidge

Ho, ho, oh, I just want this holiday season to be over. My back aches. My cheeks are numb from smiling, and this red suit makes my butt look fat – and still the kids keep coming and coming. This used to be a good gig, but what started as a three-week seasonal avocation has turned into a two-month grind. It starts the day after Halloween with its sugar-laden latex up to New Year's Day with its remorse and resolutions. The hours are exhausting and you wouldn’t believe the pressure. I have to answer to the mall, the parents, and that damn photographer, and don't forget the controlling boss, the kid. I’m supposed to be a cross between a birthday clown and God, and it's a lot to carry on my red velvet shoulders. Kids have always been tough customers. But it used to be "What does Mrs. Klaus do?” Now it’s “what direction is the stock market going?” I sure could use a shot, a smoke, and a chuckle, and here are some of the books I’m reading on my break…

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris: If you are dreading the holiday season, then this hilarious book filled with sarcasm and cynicism is for you. My favorite was the SantaLand Diaries, where David works as one of Santa’s elves at Macy’s. If you’ve worked in retail, you’ll appreciate these bitter Santa’s helpers…

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies!: A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols by Michael P. Spradlin: Few things cannot be improved with the addition of animated carrion, and with such soon-to-be classics such as--"I Saw Mommy Chewing Santa Claus" and "Deck the Halls with Parts of Wally"--Christmas caroling is fun again. So buy it, barricade the door, and prepare for the hordes of rotting carolers...

The Zombie Night before Christmas by H. Parker Kelley: ‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a zombie was stirring… This illustrated book finds Santa attempting to turn back a full-out, flesh-devouring zombie attack. Sure, this book might make Clement Moore roll over in his grave, but that's why you leave milk, cookies, and some shotgun shells out for old Saint Nick....

Drinking with Dickens by Cedric Dickens: Written by the great-grandson of Charles Dickens, he shares his forebear's taste for "enlivening fluids". All drinks mentioned in the famous novels are included, 69 in all. Also included is the origins of various drinks as well as their social significance to Victorian England, and the contents of Dickens’ wine cellar when he passed away. I guess he passed on the figgy pudding and went straight to the "Dog's Nose" punch. Nothing like the hair of the dog that bit you....

Well, my benny is over. It’s time to drag my red velvet butt out there and finish my shift. I think I'll see if the cute elf in wrapping wants to get naughty and save Santa the trip...

Neat? Or on the rocks? Drop me an email at and let me know. Miss a past column? For undiluted content, unwrap and unwind at Looking for a stocking stuffer? Ho, Ho, Hobo, don’t forget about the cat who wrote a book, “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat who wanted more than what life offered him.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Favorite Things, Part II: More of More for Less, or 5 Books for Under $10

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …. What else would my true love give me, but books? Books are one of the best gifts around, because there’s a book for every budget, every age, every interest. A book provides hours of entertainment, creates great memories, doesn’t require batteries or a charger, and usually makes no noise. Continuing our holiday tradition, here are five more great book-gift ideas that won’t cost you five gold rings:

As introduced in last week’s column, Karen Katz’s board books are a big hit with any families who have wee ones. Though any book by Katz makes a wonderful gift – Hobo says, “with a name like that, what do you expect?” – the sweetest new Katz book for Christmas may well be Nutcracker: Twinkle Toes. Each page of this little book offers a different little dancer from the Land of Sweets, including traditional favorites such as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Dewdrop Fairy. The cover alone is worth the $8.99 suggested cover price, with a little girl, shown curtsying in a red and green peppermint striped skirt overlaid with a real piece of sparkling fabric as the outer tutu. This book, with its bright colors, touch-and-feel textures, and introduction to the original wonder of the Nutcracker story, is sure to send any little dancer over the moon.

To balance out the sugary goodness of Nutcracker, let us suggest a new holiday comedy book, hot off the press this November 2010, entitled Sketchy Santas: A Lighter Look at the Darker Side of St. Nick. In the tradition of cute photo funny books such as I Can Has Cheezburger or Bad Cats, this book, too, began life as a website, where Will Zweigart, an award-winning PR and marketing professional started collecting photos of awkward Santa moments. The book brings together examples of sketchy department-store Santas: some with ugly masks, cheap beards, or weird makeup; Santas looking drunk, grouchy, juvenile, or a bit too jolly; and the screaming, badly-dressed, body-fluid covered children and pets who grace the photo-with-Santa Christmas cards. These may not be your Hallmark moments, but they are hilarious. At a suggested retail cover price of $10, this ho-ha-huh? collection will have you racing to page through old family albums in search of all the priceless sketchy Santas in your own history. Hobo remembers having his photo taken with Santa for Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries just a couple of years ago…. It was all going just fine until that Doberman showed up…..

Speaking of puppies and Christmas (Hobo says: “do we have to?”), a cherished favorite Golden Book puppy is not only available again in his original format, but he is also is joined by a special edition for Christmas! Leaping lords, it’s the Poky Little Puppy! Not only can you have the classic for just $3.99, you can also add The Poky Little Puppy’s First Christmas for the same low price. While it may be a little unbelievable that a puppy could befriend a spice kitty, Christmas is the time of miracles!

For fans of Rosemary Wells’ Max and Ruby, a funny pair of bunny siblings whose book and TV adventures are charming preschoolers across the country, there’s a new edition of Max & Ruby’s Christmas Tree, this one in a large, squishy-covered board book. Another great sibling story by Rosemary Wells, entitled Morris’ Disappearing Bag, is perfect for slightly older children. The setting is Christmas morning, with illustrations that show rabbit siblings who look to be close cousins of Max and Ruby, but this cute story is perfect for families any time of the year. Morris, the youngest sibling, is firmly told by his older brother and his older sister that he is NOT allowed to play with their new Christmas presents – a chemistry set, roller skates – because he is too little and he will hurt himself or break them. When Morris finds one last present under the tree, addressed to him, he discovers a magic disappearing bag; suddenly, everyone is willing to trade time with their toys.

Wouldn’t you rather trade around books with other people in your posse, or will you hoard all your electronic playthings for yourself? Give the gift that definitely keeps on giving – reading and books – and make sure bookstores and libraries don’t become ghosts of Christmases past.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Favorite Things: Five Favorites for Under $10!!

Obviously, any list of my favorite things will contain books. I’m a firm believer in Santa Claus, the resilience of the human spirit, chocolate as a cure, and that teaching your children to love reading is one of the best gifts you will ever bestow upon them. We’re happy to continue our tradition of reviewing inexpensive but lovely books for the holiday season. Here are five of our favorites to make your holidays merry and bright:

Where is Baby’s Christmas Present? – Karen Katz is a new powerhouse in the arena of board books, with the durable construction useful for children under 4 years old. Her oversized, simple people with their gentle, expressive faces are displayed against colorful patterned backgrounds worthy of Matisse. This new offering for Christmas 2010 adds shiny foil to the cover and lift-the-flap items on every page, as the baby – clad in red “feetie” pajamas with white snowflakes – searches everywhere for a present. Suggested retail price: $7.99

The Little Drummer Boy – a beautiful board book for the youngest child, Ezra Jack Keats’ rendition of this story comes right from the words of the beloved hymn. Readers will recognize Keats’ award-winning illustration style, a blend of collage and gouache, from longtime favorites such as A Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie, or Peter’s Chair. Keats was the first author and illustrator to bring books concerning people of color to the mainstream in American children’s literature. This fits well with his illustrations for The Little Drummer Boy, with the three kings and the drummer boy himself, of course, being people from the Middle East, the Far East, and/or Northern Africa. Suggested retail price: $6.99

Our favorite discovery in children’s books this past year is the Usborne “touchy-feely” book series, “That’s not my …”. With over twenty selections in the series, children and their families are sure to find at least one that appeals to what excites them. From tractors to frogs to teddy bears, each book goes through the litany of “that’s not my dinosaur, his tummy is too scaly” or “that’s not my pony, his mane is too fluffy” before arriving at the one the reader has been searching for all along. For more fun, each book in the series features a little mouse, who shows up on every page, following the varieties of penguins, dragons, fairies and the like, whether underwater or in the air, on the farm or at the North Pole. Searching for the mouse in every picture is another great part of the books in this series. For Christmas, we recommend That’s Not My Penguin or That’s Not My Reindeer. Suggested retail price: $8.99

Another fantastic new theme for a kids’ series is “The Night Before….” books by Natasha Wing, originally inspired by the classic Christmas poem by Clement C. Moore. These books encourage children anticipating the night before kindergarten, first grade, a visit from the tooth fairy, as well as most of the holidays of the calendar year. Each book follows the rhyme scheme and rhythm of the “Night Before Christmas” poem, taking the kids through whimsical, humorous scenes, usually with family or classroom holiday parties. Perhaps the funniest one is the one for Christmas, cleverly entitled The Night BEFORE the Night Before Christmas. Suggested retail price: ONLY $3.99!!

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we can’t forget the classic: no matter what your religious preference, every family needs a copy of The Night Before Christmas with the Clement Moore poem, accompanied by whatever illustrations make your reindeer fly. While some of these renditions can be quite fancy and expensive, our favorites in paperback include the copy illustrated by the celebrated Tasha Tudor, for $6.99; the version with the 1912 illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith, also for $6.99; and the edition from the sweet “Please Read to Me” series of children’s books (recognizable by the two reading bunnies in the corner of each cover), illustrated by Douglas Gorsline, for only $3.99.

Tune in next week for more of the best books that won’t break your bank, to celebrate the holidays and to give as gifts, or check out Hobo’s new youtube channel any time! Hobo would like to “paws” for a small commercial break for his children’s book, “Hobo Finds A Home,” available locally for under $10. Find the suggestions of Christmases past at Hobo’s book blog,

Monday, November 29, 2010


Kevin Coolidge

Let’s see—sunscreen… check…extra batteries…check…bacon in a can…check…machete…check…extra ammo…check. You may have noticed that Election Day has come and gone, and let me tell you, I’m none to happy with the results. I don’t care who has control of the House or who rules the Senate. I’m tired of the whole big, bloated mess. Before I proceed further, I have a public service announcement from my editor: To whom it may concern: Tioga Publishing, its affiliates, employees, and especially the editor does NOT knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, or advise overthrow of the United States Government by violence…

Okay, if I can continue. Where was I? Endless taxes....pork belly's time to put government on a diet! Let's vote the incumbents out you say? Have you seen the new boss? He's a lot like the old boss and that's why I picked up a copy of How to Stage a Military Coup: From Planning to Execution by David Hebditch and Ken Connor.

Eagerly, I grabbed a notebook and pen to summarize the important aspects of each chapter, but I grew more and more disappointed. This book is not entirely a guide on how to stage a military coup, as promised by the cover, but part fictional story, part historical survey of military coups, and finally the much sought after practical advice of the planning and execution of the coups. It’s a devious way to get a budding dictator to read military history.

The coup remains the single most common form of regime change throughout the world, and in some countries is much more frequent than government sanctioned elections. For example, Bolivia has experienced approximately two hundred coups--plus or minus a putsch--after gaining independence from Spain in 1825, that's an average of more than once a year.

How to Stage a Military Coup explores these violent and bloody overthrows of authority along with the social, military and political conditions in which they may prosper. Ken Connor is one of the longest serving members of the Special Air Service of the British Army. He explores coups from Nigeria to Cuba to Iraq and even Germany. Ken Connor writes from the experience of engagement with a humorous, dark cynicism that I found entertaining.

Sure, you’re planning on taking over the world, but you have to start small. Be sure to check out the ten-point checklist to see if your intended country is more likely to be ripe for the picking—tropical latitudes are looking sweet, and if public speaking is your number one fear—right behind death and burning in effigy – then you’re in luck, because a sample speech is included for the novice head of state to deliver, complete with labeled blanks such as-- "INSERT NAME OF FOUNDING FATHER OF NATION/POPULAR HERO.”

Make sure to factor in accounts of timing, media control, and government structure, and be sure your overhead bag is securely in the overhead compartment, and you can be on your way to a successful government takeover, but not the United States. Of course not, that’s just ridiculous. Have you seen the size of the U.S. military? That’s why I’m working my way through the checklist. 1. Former colony? 2. Strategically located? Hmmm, maybe Canada, a land of rich, unsoiled beauty and great beer…

The Ballot? Or The Bullet? Shoot me an email at Miss a past column? Reload at . Coming soon! Hobo goes south of the Border in “Hobo Finds A Hogar”, but first…a siesta….

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cat Tales: Writing About Reading


“Hey! That’s not work-related reading!” – a certain husband to his wife, when he found her doing logic puzzles instead of reading her book for book club or writing her book review column for this week’s newspaper.

When I was in middle school, the “gifted and talented” students were allowed, for one year only, to go to “enrichment” classes during the seventh grade’s normally-scheduled “reading” coursework. I was one of those lucky students who thought we were getting away with murder. For one period a day, I escaped those horrid “reading” textbooks – usually containing stories about some simpering kid who was more of a goody-two shoes than I was – and the dry as dirt worksheets that accompanied each assignment. I read enough exciting stuff on my own, so my teachers had miraculously agreed to let me go take “mini-courses” (one for each nine week period) in subjects such as logic, communications, creative writing, and psychology (and didn’t I feel like a big shot, with titles like that?).

It was only years later that I began to understand that I didn’t escape “reading” assignments in seventh grade, and certainly not with those mini-courses. If hard-pressed, I would have acknowledged that all my classes in the Wellsboro school system – even Ms. MacNaight’s gym classes in ninth grade, where, much to my chagrin, she gave us written tests on the rules of field hockey – required some ability to read. I just never realized how much literacy affects us until I sought my French teacher certification at Mansfield University.

In order to graduate from Mansfield University with a degree in education, every future teacher must take a class in teaching reading. Certainly, one would expect elementary school teachers to invest a great deal of time in their students’ acquisition of reading proficiency, but what about secondary teachers? Why should a high school teacher in the chemistry classroom, or the wood shop, or the culinary arts department, spend much time assessing how well their students comprehend what they read? Nevertheless, I found myself in a class entitled, “Reading in the Content Area”, sitting by people hoping to teach everything from algebra and geometry to foreign language to home economics. As someone who has always enjoyed reading as a hobby, pastime, and source of entertainment, I had never truly thought about how difficult school would be for a student who couldn’t read the instructions on a test, the homework questions for chemistry problems, or the definitions of vocabulary terms on the dreaded worksheets.

Why is it, then, that we are still so hung up on getting our school children to read books – and almost exclusively FICTION novels – for reading programs such as “AR” (Accelerated Reading) and Scholastics’ “Reading Counts”? Why shouldn’t we give equal rewards to kids who like to read articles in Car and Driver, or Fly Fisherman, magazines? What’s wrong with letting reluctant readers show their reading prowess with gourmet cookbooks, ultralight construction manuals, or logic puzzle problems?

To look at this another way, I recently had a grandmother come to the bookstore, looking for suggestions of “puzzle books” for her young granddaughter. She and her granddaughter had enjoyed doing some of grandma’s easier crossword puzzles, word searches, and “what’s different between these pictures?” logic problems from a book the grandmother owned, but the child was only able to do these because the grandmother read the words and/or explained the directions. Grandma wanted a book of these kinds of puzzles that the child could do by herself. Literacy levels, however, do come into play, even in picture puzzles, or with number-oriented puzzles, like Sudoku, so this was not an easy task.

How, then, should we encourage children to read, especially children who would prefer to play in the mud or build a Boxwood Derby car rather than curl up with Harry Potter? I propose we expand our definitions of “reading” and “literacy”, to encourage people of all ages and across all interest levels into our schools, libraries and bookstores. So, whether your favorite hobby is photography, gunsmithing, knitting, or fantasy football, before you dismiss “reading” from the list, check out all the great information that is waiting for you in the written word.

Hobo loves to curl up and read with his humans. He wanted to encourage kids to read, so he wrote a fun, easy to read story about his adventures as a stray kitten in Hobo Finds A Home – perhaps you’ve heard of it? Lately, Hobo has been reading up on military history, ballistics, quilting, Christian romance, marketing, wood carving, and werewolves. Check out his other book reviews at his blog,

Monday, November 15, 2010


by Kevin Coolidge

So many books, so little time—it’s hard choose just one. So, I didn’t. Lately, I’ve been reading young adult novels, and I’m going to share my recent favorites.

I enjoy a good zombie novel. Why? Face it. Deep down I’d love to see the world end. Wouldn’t you? Relax. It’s a natural instinct to crave chaos. Breathe in. Breathe out. Watch the empire expand; watch it crumble into dust. Grab the best parking spot. A good zombie novel lets us do that in the comfort of our home, as a writer conjectures on society’s demise, gives us some socially acceptable violence, and allows us to draw pleasure from it without breaking out the shovel or the lime.

That’s why I loved Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. It’s fifteen years since “First Night” and Benny needs to join the work force—or he’ll lose his food ration. He’s not really interested in taking on the family business, zombie hunting. He expects a boring job of destroying zombies for cash. What he discovers is a job that will teach him what it really means to be human.

Rot & Ruin is about more than just the brains, but the heart as well. Benny’s brother Tom is a first class bounty hunter who prefers to be called a “closure specialist”. A zombie may be a shambling, rotting meat puppet, but it was once someone’s loved one, and would you want just anyone to mulch mom? Just because you’re a zombie doesn’t mean you are a monster, and sometimes the most terrible monsters of all are human.

Fear of the unknown. It’s our deepest fear. It’s why we fear death, because no matter what you claim to believe, no matter what you want to believe, you just don’t know. It’s why the necromancer in Hold me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride is such a terrifying adversary. Meet Sam, just your average college dropout rocking the fast-food career. Enter Douglas, a powerful and vicious necromancer. Douglas recognizes Sam as a fellow necromancer—which is news to Sam—and he’s not happy to have competition.

Now Sam’s pal is an animated head, a werewolf wants to devour him, the necromancer wants him neutralized, and a cop has a “few” questions to ask. All Sam has to do is stay alive, figure out how to use his mysterious, latent powers, and save himself and his friends without being consumed by power.

It’s been said that a writer must suffer for his craft, but anyone who’s attended the public school system and the torment that is middle school has all the requirements needed. Undersized weaklings share the hallways with taller, meaner kids who need to shave twice a day. Being a kid can really stink, and no one knows this better than Greg Heffley. Diary of a Wimpy Kid takes place in the first year of middle school. There’s the terror of the school play, the prestige of safety patrol, the ebb and flow of popularity, and the sibling rivalry of being the middle child. The author and illustrator Jeff Kinney introduces an unlikely hero that children of any age can identify with.

Choosing not to choose is a choice, but sometimes one just isn’t enough for the true bibliophile. Winter is approaching, the nights are longer, and next adventure--or three-- awaits…

Sepulchral? Or School? Drop me an email at and let me know. Miss us? Check the crypt for those columns we’ve put to rest at Hobo has learned his lesson. He used to be a hobo, but now he’s just a bum. Read about his past life in “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a kitten’s adventures.

Flannery O'Connor Goes to Wisconsin: A Northern Gothic, or A Good Woman is Hard to Find

One of Americans’ all-time favorite series about the settlers on the frontier remains the Little House on the Prairie, based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and remembrances. Although hardships exist both in the Little House books and TV series, the abiding feeling is one of sweetness of this simple life. Without a doubt, this time period is romanticized in our literature, our movies, our imaginations and even our “history” books. The starting premise, then, of Robert Goolrick’s novel, A Reliable Wife, is familiar: in 1907, widower Ralph Truitt, a wealthy businessman in an isolated settlement of Wisconsin, places an ad in a Chicago newspaper, asking for a woman to come be his wife. He offers perhaps not a life of love, but one of comfort and respect. The woman he chooses is Catherine Land, who, in answer to Truitt’s ad, describes herself as “a simple, honest woman.” In further letters, she sends a photo of a plain, serious-looking woman, telling him of her life alongside her missionary father, who has recently died.

Certainly, this premise has been used in other historical novels, since it was a common enough occurrence for the times. Indeed, a series of books by Christian romance author Janette Oke, beginning with Love Comes Softly, were such huge hits that they spawned several movies, and still continue to be solid bestsellers, more than twenty years after their first publication. Following in Oke’s footsteps, entire careers of Christian romance authors have been built on this theme and era, bringing couples together across the prairies and mountains, as rough and beautiful lands are settled and civilized.

Perhaps Goolrick’s shockingly different approach to what has become a rather pedestrian plot is the reason the critics and the independent bookstores alike have focused on this new novel. Goolrick’s style of writing, and the twisted plot he fashions, is anything but ordinary. Described by more than one reviewer as a “Northern Gothic”, A Reliable Wife evokes Faulkner’s disturbing family dramas of the deep South. His style compares to that of Cormac McCarthy’s writing in The Road. Ultimately, Goolrick’s wording in this novel is as stark and flintlike as the harsh Wisconsin landscape he describes. This author holds no punches. In those long winters, in the raw landscape, as a result of the bleak life of endless work, he reminds the reader frequently that people went raving mad. After too many winters where they buried too many children, where they worked their fingers to the bone and still barely survived, they killed themselves, their families, other townspeople. They gave up. Against the constant reminder of this brutal environment, Goolrick brings his main characters into play. This is no sweet Christian romance. This is a chess board, with lonely, desperate people who believe they have little to lose.

Why would a reader choose to stay with a story like this? For much of the book, it is simply the reader’s anxious curiosity which will drive him on to read through uncomfortable erotic scenes; grim descriptions of poverty, insanity, depravity and hopelessness; interactions with characters he isn’t sure he likes. Goolrick’s talent is revealed in the subtle but insistent undertow of curiosity the reader feels, because, ultimately, the reader wants to know: what will happen to Ralph Truitt, at the hands of his “reliable wife”? From the beginning, the reader knows Catherine Land is playing a role. She is neither simple nor honest. She has come with plans of her own – to marry, placate, and eventually kill Truitt, slowly but surely, with poison. Ralph Truitt has plans for his future family, which will use his new wife to draw his estranged son home. The author has other plans for his characters, though, where even amidst such depravity, loss, confusion, and pain, there may be a glimpse of grace, the slightest possibility of hope.

Ultimately, readers will be glad they read A Reliable Wife even if they don’t particularly like it: Goolrick’s writing is accomplished; his technique and plot structure, talented and clever. Though they may want to give up as the pace sags a bit in the middle, the end is incredibly satisfying, making it more than worth any discomfort along the way. A Reliable Wife may be more literary, historical crime novel than moral tale. Nevertheless, the author obviously struggles with deeper issues, and the realization that not everyone can saved, but even the most destitute may be forgiven. Perhaps Goolrick’s books have more in common with those Christian writers than would first appear.

Hobo was in hiding, but now he’s back and immortalized in a lovely butternut wood. He wants you to believe he was out tramping on the prairie, but really he was sleeping the summer away. He hopes you will forgive a writer’s (and a cat’s) depraved ways. Email Hobo your thoughts on sin and sloth, fiction and forgiveness at

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Walk Like An Egyptian! Rick Riordan & the Red Pyramid

All the school kids so sick of books ….
When the buzzer rings (oh way oh)
They’re walkin’ like an Egyptian…

--“Walk Like An Egyptian”, performed by The Bangles, lyrics by Liam Sternberg

Well, folks, summer vacation is here! [Well, it was when I first wrote this!!] The kids always think they’re so sick of school, but the first time they say they complain they’re bored, tell them to walk like an Egyptian, right into their local bookstore.

If you and your kids are fans of the Rick Riordan series that relayed the adventures of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, then you’re in luck! (If you don’t know about Percy Jackson, or the Lightning Thief, or this great young adult series weaving new, contemporary fun out of Greek and Roman mythology, then check out past reviews in our blog, from earlier this year.) Alas, the Percy Jackson series is finished, but bestselling author and former history teacher Riordan has gifted us a brand new series, focusing on Egyptian mythology, beginning with the book The Red Pyramid.

Riordan’s newest venture, “The Kane Chronicles”, gives brother and sister team, Carter and Sadie Kane, the chance to tell their story of how the world of ancient Egypt exploded from ancient history to modern reality during their vacation. Their father, brilliant Egyptologist Dr. Julius Kane, takes them to visit the Rosetta Stone fragment housed at the British Museum in London. Ever since their mother’s death several years ago, the two siblings have lived separately – Sadie, with her grandparents, in London; Carter, traveling with his father, doing research, going on digs, and being homeschooled along the way. When the two Carter men come visit Sadie, Dr. Kane enigmatically promises to “set things right,” then disappears in a huge explosion at the Museum. Before they can gather their wits or mourn their father, Sadie and Carter are whisked away by strange relatives, traveling through time-and-space warps with an ancient Egyptian boat, protected by a cat and a crocodile, befriended by a baboon, attacked by mythological creatures, and charged with saving the world.

Some of the devices Riordan uses in The Red Pyramid follow the same plotline as his “Olympians” series, making the book at times a little formulaic, although there are some wonderful additions to the Kane Chronicles which promise to hook an even wider audience. First of all, the story is told from alternating perspectives, with chapters switching back and forth between Carter, the older brother, a young black man who has traveled with his famous father but longs for a permanent home; and Sadie, younger sister, fairer-skinned like her mother, little Brit smart-aleck ‘tween, longing for time with her father and for world-traveling adventures like her brother. I really enjoyed the modern truths about mixed-race families, both the normalcy of it alongside the reality of people’s deep-seeded reactions. I was also extremely pleased to have the story from both brother and sister, a narrative which should draw in the children who grew up on the Magic Tree House series.

Since I know little about Egyptian history, culture, or mythology, I decided to bone up a little by studying Linda Honan’s guide, Spend the Day in Ancient Egypt. Written predominantly for use with 8 to 12 year old children, perhaps as a curriculum guide, Honan’s book describes a typical day in ancient Egypt, following a fictitious but probable family, including mother, father, son, daughter, and the family cat. This wonderful book gives little pieces of history, explanations for customs and beliefs, information about clothing and food (including recipes!), typical names, lessons on basic hieroglyphics, games and activities, the geography and weather of the region, and more. I learned more history, culture and geography from this little book than I would have learned in a summer school session devoted to Egypt! Perhaps my favorite part was learning how to play Senet, the world’s oldest board game….. but don’t tell Hobo the game was my favorite. He’s still convinced I read this book to learn how cats ruled ancient Egypt, with some help from their assistants, the Pharoahs.

Since Hobo wants to continue his “vacation” from writing the column for the Gazette, Kasey and Kevin are stepping up to do it again. In the meantime, Hobo will be studying up on the ways cats were honored in ancient Egypt – just don’t pierce his ears! The Bangles or bangles & bling? Tell us what you think at Want to go back and read past columns, like the earlier ones on Rick Riordan? Check out our blog at

Monday, November 1, 2010

Curiosity is the Cat's Saving Grace

Drilling for natural gas and oil. The protection of state forests and parks. Fathers who are in the National Guard as part-time soldiers, called up to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. The worries of families left behind. The hope of maybe, one day, seeing an elusive animal in the wild land nearby – the panther, the puma, the cougar.

When I picked up Carl Hiaasen’s newest young adult novel, Scat, I had no idea the storyline would be so relevant to our current experiences in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. I just wanted to read Scat because I’ve enjoyed Hiaasen’s other books – those mysteries written for adults, and the eco-adventures more recently penned for the younger crowd.

Hiaasen is a great summer read, as his crazy cast of characters faces off over environmental issues, political scandals, and corporate greed-driven lies. The fodder for Hiaasen’s fiction comes straight from the headlines he helped write in his many years as investigative journalist for the Miami Herald. Hiaasen joined the writing team at the Miami Herald when he was 23 years old, first as a staff reporter, then later on their award-winning investigative team. As his novels became best-sellers, he decided to cut back to writing a weekly column for the Herald, but he likes to joke in interviews and on his personal website about how he has “pissed off just about everybody in South Florida, including his bosses,” most of whom he has outlasted at the Herald.

This aspect of his professional life shows up in several of his novels, including Tourist Season, Skin Tight, and Basket Case, which feature slightly washed-up, burned-out and otherwise cynical retired investigative journalists who have gotten involved, usually against their will, in cleaning up the dirt in some local Floridian scandal. As Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes commented after an interview with Hiaasen, “Whether he's writing fiction or journalism, Carl Hiaasen's main character is always Florida.” When I picked up Scat to enjoy for a little summer reading, I expected a book about kids helping get to the bottom of an environmental scandal in their area of Florida, the same structure Hiaasen used in his first two books for young adults – Hoot, which won a Newbery Honor Award and was made into a movie; and Flush – my personal favorite.

Certainly, Scat is standard Hiaasen fare, but I was so pleased and surprised to find how the elements of this Hiaasen novel, in particular, dovetail the experiences many kids in this area are having right now. Every day, our children are hearing about gas drilling, oil companies, corporate greed, protecting the environment, state game lands, fathers and friends’ fathers in the National Guard, or off on a tour of duty in the Middle East. Furthermore, although Scat follows the saga of the endangered Florida panther, this panther is a relative of the cougar, the mountain lion that folks around here love to talk about. It was so easy for me to put myself in the shoes of Nick, the main character in Scat, and his mom, and his best friend, Marta.

Although Nick and Marta and their classmates find their teacher Mrs. Starch more than a little strange, Nick is glad for her yearly field trip to the Everglades, for he desperately hopes to get a glimpse of the majestic, elusive, powerful Florida panther. When Mrs. Starch disappears after the field trip, most kids at the Truman School rejoice, but Nick and Marta grow suspicious. And, in Hiaasen’s world, curiosity doesn’t usually kill the cat. In fact, in this story, curiosity may be the cat’s saving grace.

Curious scat or serious scandal? Email your thoughts to Hobo at Miss a past column? Track them down at Hobo’s book blog, For another great book with a yellow cat on the cover, check out Hobo’s book, Hobo Finds A Home, free in every box of Hobo breakfast cereal.

Monday, September 27, 2010

the books in Bill Davis's estate

Concering the books for sale from the estate of William "Bill" Davis, Jr., of Wellsboro, PA:


Even for those of you who knew Bill, the extent of his achievements and influence in the world of 20th century firearms and ballistics engineering may come as a surprise. Close friends and family say that he was more than modest, he was also discreet, especially concerning various government projects he worked on.

A beautiful, page-long "In Memoriam" column in the September 2010 edition of "American Rifleman" celebrates the longtime ballistics editor for the magazine, naming Davis, among other accolades, as "one of the most brilliant and accomplished ballisticians and firearms engineers of the 20th century," whose "knowledge was not merely theoretical" but instead "practical and applied frequently."*

In addition to writing over 50 feature articles for "American Rifleman" over the years, Davis published the book "Handloading", in 1981, with the NRA, as well as acting as a main writer for the Encyclopedia Britannica's section on Ammunitions.

His professional contributions are, quite literally, too numerous to list here. I do feel compelled to mention one of the projects Davis was instrumental in: identifying and resolving many of the early problems with the M16 which particularly plagued our troops in Vietnam.

After working as an ordnance engineer for the military at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the Frankfurt Arsenal and the Rock Island Arsenal at various points in his career, Davis retired from government work to set up his own consulting firm. The Tioga Engineering Company was founded by Bill Davis in 1972, right here in Wellsboro, and for the next three decades, Davis acted as firearm and ballistics consultant, expert witness and self-employed engineer. People from all over the world consulted him for his expertise on a daily basis.

The collection of books that Davis has left behind attest to the wide range of his accomplishments, the depth of his expertise, and the tremendous esteem accorded to Bill from experts around the world. Many of his books are first editions, are inscribed to him by the authors with warm personal greetings, or were given to him as gifts by the founders and CEOs of large firearms companies. We hope that Davis's books will find new homes with people who will truly appreciate his legacy.

-- Kasey Cox, manager
From My Shelf bookstore
Wellsboro, PA
September 12, 2010

*"In Memoriam", American Rifleman, September 2010, pg. 34, by Mark A Keefe, IV, Editor in Chief

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Walk on the Nightside

If you’re looking for a little sci-fi adventure with a liberal dose of the fantastic, disguised as a pulp-fiction detective novel, take a walk on the Nightside. Simon R. Green, veteran author of other books of fantasy adventure, introduces a new series with Something from the Nightside. The Nightside is a horrible, intriguing place, where beings from all different worlds come to satisfy any and every secret desire or twisted appetite. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere will recognize the idea of a secret, hidden London, a parallel darker heart which lives beats deep below the bright London streets. The Nightside is simultaneously broader and darker, encompassing many more planes of existence and much more depravity and violence than Gaiman’s whimsical Neverwhere.

For his tales from the Nightside, Green has created an interesting protagonist, a paranormal detective named John Taylor, who was actually born and raised in the Nightside, whose name alone makes most of the population of the Nightside either steer well clear of him or target him for murder, for reasons even Taylor does not completely understand. He has a powerful “gift” – not unusual for residents of the Nightside – thanks to his mother, whom he doesn’t remember. She left him and his father after revealing that she wasn’t human. Green makes it very obvious that the mysteries of John Taylor’s mother will add more to the plot later (bold font intended; cue loud, ominous, melodramatic music).

In the meantime, John has left the Nightside when he felt he could no longer outrun all the powers that wished to kill him. When Something from the Nightside opens, John has been living in regular, modern-day London for five years, barely scratching out a living as a private detective. The narrative begins with the stereotypical film noir, hard-boiled detective scene – dingy, small office; rainy city night; bills that need paid; the knock on the door by a rich, pretty dame with attitude who immediately begins verbally sparring with the rough-looking P.I. with enough blasé attitude to match her feisty one. The clichéd Raymond-Chandler-esque phrasing is pretty heavy-handed here, but read on, and give the book a chance, because this new client leads Taylor back into the Nightside – a journey filled with nods to worlds as varied as the Cthulhu mythos to the Twilight Zone, but an unique creation completely belonging to Green.

Taylor’s first foray back to the Nightside after his – er, sabbatical – brings him into contact with such quirky, dangerous characters as Shotgun Suzie, an assassin who lives to kill; Razor Eddie, a cold-blooded killer who, upon his death, asked to be resurrected so he could use his death-skills to murder the truly evil; and other folks known only by a label, such as the Collector, whose singular goal is to collect the most unusual, most rare, most sought-after items from any time or place in history, and who will do anything to get these items. John Taylor’s gift is that he really is a “private” eye – his third eye is so powerful, he can find anything in the Nightside. Nothing is hidden from the supernatural spotlight in his head – unless the Authorities who govern the Nightside, or something else equally powerful, has hidden it. Like the teenage daughter of his new client, who came to the Nightside, and seems to have vanished.

These books are a quick, fun read – what one critic called “brain candy, hard-boiled” – but they offer something that feels at once familiar and original. While the descriptions can get a bit repetitive, I often got the sense that Green was playing with the genres he was mixing like a mad scientist in his lab, laughing as he made a parody of the very ingredients he was using. Ultimately, Green’s writing is not his real strength, but his complete lack of fear with experimenting makes the stories quite compelling. The reader, like the inhabitants of and visitors to the Nightside, never knows what will turn up around the next corner, or on the next page. Having enjoyed the first book, I soon picked up the second book in the series, Agents of Light and Darkness, where I found the plot a little stronger, the writing a little smoother, and the characters given some added dimension. Remember, the point of the Nightside is that there’s something here for everyone ….

Paranormal investigator? Or Third eye blind? Email me at Missing column? Investigate at Hobo goes hard-boiled in his new detective novel, “Hobo Gets A Clue”, dames, cats, and murder…

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Hate Writing

Kevin Coolidge

“There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

I hate writing. I love having written, and I’m in good company. Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker—all have been credited with this widely quoted line. I happily credit them all because I understand. I stare at the blank screen. I write an opening paragraph, but I change my topic, and now it doesn’t fit. I delete it. I wish I had not. I start over. I hate writing.

I hate writing so much that I thought I should write a regular column. So that I wouldn’t be alone in my misery, I convinced Kasey to suffer along with me, because she hates writing too. We do, however, love books, and Ray Bradbury, a well-known and prolific writer, gives the advice of “Write only what you love, and love what you write” and so the column was to be about books, or rather reading, or maybe it should be writing about reading. Basically, if there’s a topic we wanted to write about, there was sure to be a book about it. “We won’t ever run out of material,” I pointed out. “Why, we could write for years on the books we have already read.”

Now, we only had to get someone to buy the idea. Luckily, the editor of the Wellsboro Gazette hates writing, but loves reading. “Sure, we can give it a shot, but I’m going to need something by this afternoon.” I remember that first column, punched out on the keyboard, making sure to spell every word correctly and not use the word ‘very’ in a sentence. I finished with minutes to spare, and with a satisfied click, thumped my first deadline. It was my best column, because it was my first column.

I couldn’t write a second, or a third, or fourth years’ worth of columns until I wrote that first one. Many authors attempt a “starter” novel, to prove they can create a narrative that will actually be read. Often that first work is safely squirreled away in a dark, inaccessible spot, so that no one will be forced to say that it is merely “good,” or if they are honest, that they didn’t like it, not at all. Only with experience and effort does a writer learn to “leave out the parts that people skip.”

Rereading my past work can be overwhelming. I see lines I wished I had omitted, an awkward phrase. What was I saying here? What was I thinking? There was a better way I could have expressed that, and it will never be exactly what I wanted to say. It will never be perfect. But I also gain much satisfaction. This part almost captured exactly what I was seeking, and here I was able to say the same thing with fewer words. I’ve read that “being a good writer mostly means being a good observer and a good thinker”, and with work, zest, gusto, and a good editor—I still hate writing, but I love having written…

Reading? Writing? Or Arithmetic? Drop me an email at Miss a past column? Four years’ worth just crammed with rich, creamy chocolate chips at , grab a cold glass of milk and drink it in before the expiration date. Miss the farm? Catch “Hobo Finds a Home” a children’s book written by a cat, because when someone said mouse, Hobo heard muse…

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Midsummer's Newsletter!

From My Shelf
Newsletter: July 2010

News! : important recaps from June’s newsletter:
*If you haven’t checked out the website recently, check in for some of the new things we’ve added! Of course, there’s always something new at the “Events” calendar link, but we’ve also added new photos, links to our youtube videos, and more! Don’t forget to visit the website every once in a while, since we’re always adding new & different content for you! In fact, go bookmark us now, at

*We have added/changed our Wednesday special members’ sale! Wednesdays are now 25% off ALL children’s books, new or used, all summer long! Keep the kids reading: keep their minds sharp and your nerves intact by bringing them to the bookstore each week for high quality, great selection, reasonably-priced summer entertainment! And be sure to watch our calendar of events for a TON of great activities all summer long.

Upcoming Events at the Bookstore: (see calendar on website for details)

*Moms’ Night Out Book Club: Wednesday, July 14th, 6 to 8pm: Moms! Join the women from our local MOPS (Mothers of Pre-schoolers) for a fun evening of light book discussion & light refreshments. Participants should try to read the at least the first of the two books in Irene Hannon's "Heroes of Quantico" series, Christian romantic thrillers. We have these books for sale at the bookstore on big discount for those participating. You need not be an official member of MOPS, just a woman, preferably a mom, who needs a night out to socialize a little with some other women!

* GAME NIGHT! Friday July 16, 5 to 9pm: Open game play night, featuring the newest release of Magic the Gathering’s 2011 Core Set. Although there will be great sales on the 2011 Core Set, and we anticipate a lot of Magic players attending, this is not a strict tournament, nor is this Game Night only for experienced Magic players. Join us for great specials on games of all kinds, learn how to play something new, or revisit an old favorite. Free & open to the public, no age restrictions, although this particular night is better for ages 10 & up.

*The Mad Hatter Tea Party! Wednesday, July 21st, 6 to 9pm: hosted by the Tween/Teen Book Club at From My Shelf, open to all ages. Come celebrate Lewis Carroll's classic "Alice in Wonderland" and all its permutations. Participants are asked to re-read the original "Alice in Wonderland" or read it for the first time, so that we may discuss it over tea, Wonderland-style. Other books that may be fun to discuss include Frank Beddor's series "The Looking Glass Wars" (including ‘The Looking Glass Wars’, ‘Seeing Redd’, and ‘Archenemy’, as well as 2 graphic novels about ‘Hatter M’; and/or Melanie Benjamin's "Alice I Have Been". There are also several graphic novel adaptations and expansions of the Alice story. Copies of the poems of the "Jabberwocky" and "the Walrus and the Carpenter" would make additional interesting conversation. All of these are available at the bookstore at discounted prices for the Tea Party.

Discussion groups and games may be divided up into age-appropriate groups, depending on the books discussed and the range of ages of those who come for Tea. This Tea Party, however, has NOTHING to do with President Obama, Sarah Palin, Boston, the American Revolution, or taxes.

Wear your best Victorian garb, or go for the more sartorially-splendid Mad Hatter approach. Tea, biscuits and finger-sandwiches to be served. To buy a lovely, new, but inexpensive copy of the original "Alice" before the party, the bookstore will be selling them for $3. If you buy your book with us, admission to the tea party is free; without an "Alice"-related book purchased at From My Shelf, admission is $3.

*Author Event! Friday, July 23rd, 11am to 2pm: local author, Norman Davis, of Galeton, PA, presents his collection of nature essays, entitled “Nature Ramblings”. This anthology includes many of Norm’s previously published columns from the Potter Leader. The book, which Norm self-published through Infinity Press, has been a special labor of love for Norm, his wife, and the staff of From My Shelf, who helped Norm edit and format his paper files to the appropriate computer data necessary for the publication. The finished project is a beautiful book, full of reminders to LOOK around us in this lovely area in which we live, throughout every season. The photo gracing the front cover, as well as the pen & ink drawings beginning every season’s reflections, are Norm’s handiwork. This is the perfect book for every summer cabin, hunting camp, beach house, naturalist’s bookshelf, and hiker’s backpack.

*Author Event! Saturday, August 7th, 12 to 3pm: Terry Drake, family therapist, licensed social worker, life coach, author of “Live Happily Ever After…Now!”. Based on his professional experiences and age-old techniques such as those used in positive psychology, Ericksonian hypnosis, and the Law of Attraction, Terry has penned this book to help people learn how much control they actually have over your life, discover their beliefs and attitudes about themselves, others and the world in which we live. Terry outlines how to understand what you can control, then how to use the 9 simple steps to make changes and begin living the life you want.

August Plans:
Help with summer required reading: an evening in early August for kids & teens who would like help understanding and finishing their required reading this summer….

Two writers’ seminars: one repeat of our highly-praised seminar, introducing authors to the pros & cons of self-publishing; the other, a more in-depth look at PR & marketing strategies for authors, both self-published and more “traditionally” published writers ….

An evening to brainstorm and start gathering resources & volunteers for October’s Bookfest…

Stay tuned for more details!

Michelle’s corner:

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
The title caught my eye, ‘She’s Come Undone’. Yep, I thought to myself…I’ve felt that way before. Little did I know that this book would take me on an emotional rollercoaster and leave me sitting in a moment of silence after I read the last words. It is the story of Delores Price, who comes from a dysfunctional family, is raped at age 13 then spends the next few years insulating herself from people & feelings, by watching TV and eating. She soon finds that she is 257 pounds, cynical, angry, suicidal and feels unlovable. This is her journey to understand her life, to forgive, to let go and to love. This book touches your heart and may make you see things in your life in a whole new light. Expect to be moved!!
*Interesting note* I had a whole other article wrote up for this month, but this book would not let go of me. I know that this is not my usual kind of read. It is intensely emotional and deeply moving, but it needs to be read!So step away from your usual and give it a try!

Michelle’s picks for new releases not to miss
(These series need to be read in order)**
**June 29th – Pray For the Dawn: The Dark Days Series, book 4 by Jocelynn Drake (OOPS! Missed this last month)
**July 6th – Undead & Unfinished: Queen Betsey, book 9 by Mary Janice Davidson
**July 20th – Troublemaker: Alexander Barnaby Series, book 3 by Janet Evanovich (This is her debut graphic novel)
**July 27th - Eternal Kiss of Darkness: Night Huntress World, book 2 by Jeaniene Frost
**July 27th - Waking the Witch: Women of the Otherworld, book 11 by Kelley Armstrong
**July 27th – Wait for the Dusk: The Dark Days Series, book 5 by Jocelynn Drake
July 27th – Kiss Me If You Can: Most Eligible Bachelor, book 1 by Carly Phillips

July 27th – A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James

For those addicted to the Stephanie Bond “Body Movers” Series – On the author’s website it says that Sony pictures is interested in developing her series into a TV pilot, but until they decide, she cannot release books 7 & 8. Please hurry and make up your mind , SONY!

This just in! New releases/new inventory to celebrate!
The Fiddler in the Subway by Gene Weingarten
The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill.
Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm-Girl by Susan McCorkindale
Separation of Church & State by David Barton
Mixed Skills in Math, Grades 7-8 by Marge Lindskog
Physics for Future Presidents by Richard Muller
Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Sizzlin’ Sixteen by Janet Evanovich
Sheep in a Shop by Nancy Shaw
Take Four (Above the Line series #4) by Karen Kingsbury
Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

From My Shelf bookstore
87 Main Street
Wellsboro PA 16901
(570) 724-5793

Together, we’re building community one book at a time …..

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When I'm Gone

Kevin Coolidge

"Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate." Ambrose Bierce.

Never saw Joe in a tie before – or a suit, now that I think of it. Hair combed, shoes polished, pants ironed: he’s looking pretty good for a dead guy. There’s a large turnout here at the funeral home. Joe knew just about everyone, and everyone knew Joe. Give Joe a chance and he’d talk your ear off. Telling a joke to get a laugh, or telling his favorite fishing story—Joe loved fishing so much that his wife used to joke that he’d die fishing. She was right, but there’s worse ways to go. I’m sure going to miss Joe, but I wonder if I’m ever going to get back my fly-tying vice?

I knew Joe didn’t want to be buried in the cold, dark ground, but rather cremated and his ashes scattered at his favorite fishing hole. I knew it, because he told me over a cold beer on a hot summer day, but he never actually wrote it down anywhere. Death, funerals, burials, wills—these are things that you never talk about, but someday you’ll have to plan for them, for yourself, or for a loved one. It’s not an easy thing to plan for, but Death for Beginners by Karen Jones, and When I’m Gone by Kathleen Fraser, can make it a little easier.

Why think about death? Sure, deep down we know that none of us are getting out of here alive, but why dwell on it? Your mother raised you to be considerate of others, and this is really what’s it all about. Your loved ones are going to be grieving. In order to keep wrong decisions being made, money wasted, or feelings hurt, shouldn’t there be an instruction manual?

Death for Beginners is broken down into useful chapters—such as “what to do with the body”, or “So who wants or needs to know”. You don’t have to have an expensive, traditional service. It was once common to hold the viewing in the deceased’s home, and if you’d rather not buy a cemetery plot, you can leave your body to science.

How many times have you read the obituaries or read in the paper that the funeral was yesterday? There’s a chapter that will help you decide whom to tell and when. As well as advice for your obituary, how to do it—such as focusing on the life lived rather than a notice of death. Also in our digital age, don’t forget notification on Facebook and other social media website pages.

Where is your password? Your PIN numbers? The key to the back door? How is your wife going to be able to access your Paypal account? When I’m Gone is a practical fill-in record book and resource manual to give instructions to those who are left behind, not only on will, funeral arrangements, or insurance, but on the day-to-day details of your life and household—such as your landlord’s phone number, or what your post office box number is.

Death can be a long-awaited trip, or an unexpected stop, but we all have to make the journey. Shouldn’t you leave your family a practical road map? So, pack your bags, update your passport, and get one of these books for your travel guide. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? You are only going to get one chance to plan your funeral, and you know what happened the last time you let your aunt navigate...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Deadliest Men

Kevin Coolidge

“When you have to shoot, shoot!—Don’t talk.”

Loyalty, honor and courage are among the many virtues of the warrior. Heroes fascinate and fill our lives, from the epics of Homer and “The Iliad” to Hollywood’s latest man of action. These men fight for their lives, survive terrible wounds, endure pain, make incredible escapes, and triumph over overwhelming odds. But how many such men have there been, really?

The Deadliest Men: The World’s Deadliest Combatants throughout the Ages by Paul Kirchner profiles forty “battle-glad” men and four “strife-eager” women, ranging from the glory hound Alexander the Great to a backwoods conscientious objector. There are gunfighters, a poetry spouting Viking, and even a professional baseball player.

Ty Cobb led the American League in batting, had a career average of .367, and was the first player voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he also intentionally spiked players, brawled with umpires, beat up hecklers, and pistol whipped a mugger so thoroughly that he couldn’t be identified at the morgue…the meanest man who ever played baseball.

Audie Murphy was only 5 foot 5 and 112 pounds when he signed up for WW II, but became the most decorated American combat soldier of the war, winning every award for valor. His portrait on the cover of Life magazine brought him to attention of Hollywood. He played himself in To Hell and Back, but the movie minimized his actual record of kills for reasons of taste…truly an army of one.

Miyamoto Musashi was a famed swordsman. In the absence of war, dueling was the only way for a samurai to gain renown. By controlling the time and circumstances of his duels, and arriving when he chose, Musashi fought over sixty duels and became Japan’s most notorious ronin. In addition to the sword, he practiced calligraphy, sculpture, and painting, and wrote A Book of Five Rings, a book of strategy still read today…a master of the pen and the sword.

James Bowie, born in the bayou of Louisiana, grew up wrestling alligators. He invested in land with money that he made importing smuggled slaves, and he was a Southern gentlemen with a penchant for fighting. The famous American fighting knife that bears his name was conceived when his gun misfired and he swore he’d never be without a reliable weapon again. He died at the Alamo. When his mother heard of his death she said, “I’ll wager no wounds were found in his back” …So, if you’re going to bring a knife to a gunfight….

Why did these individuals fight? Honor? Self-defense? Love of adventure? Some of these characters were born to privilege and wealth, some born in poverty, some were powerful men, and some were small of stature, but the call of battle called them all, and they answered…

The Good? The Bad? Or the Ugly? Shoot me an email at Miss a previous column? Never fear; they’re all stored here at Be sure to look for Hobo’s new book on his neighborhood’s meanest cats like Krazyshanks, Henry, and Velvet...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thanks To All 2009 Bookfest Authors

Dear Authors:

We wanted to thank you again for participating last October in Wellsboro’s very first BookFest. You all helped make this new event a big success and a great launching point for the years to come. We have big plans for this year’s event, and even bigger dreams for the future, and we hope you will join us along the way.

BookFest 2010 will be held on Saturday, October 16th at the Wellsboro high school. We will have full access to the high school library, cafeteria, and gymnasium, all of which connect together at one end of the building. Both the cafeteria and the gym as individual spaces are bigger than the Wellsboro Fireman’s Annex, where BookFest was last year, so with all three spaces available to us, we will have exponentially more room, facilities, and traffic flow than last year. Since we learned so much from last year, we are excited to be able to be that much more organized in the entire layout and process of this year’s festival.

Wellsboro’s BookFest provides authors with the chance to sell their own books; market to a large, willing crowd who are all interested in books, writing, literacy, and reading; network with other authors and publishers, as well as with teachers, parents, librarians, and store owners. We expect most authors who come to BookFest to be in charge of their own cash boxes for sales: you sell your own book; you collect the money and sales tax; you keep all of your own profits. We will not take a cut of your sales. If you cannot sell your own book as a result of contractual terms, or prefer to make other arrangements with the bookstore regarding the sales of your book(s) for BookFest, please let us know.

This year we will add the chance for authors to do readings of their work or demonstrations/talks about a relevant topic, in 15 to 30 minute sessions, scheduled to take place in a section of the library, which will be away from the general roar of the crowds. Let us know if you are interested in giving one of these sessions.

Other activities and attractions for this event will include lunch foods and baked goods for sale (sponsored by student groups and/or local nonprofits); a large used book sale; a ticket-raffle for a variety of beautiful items donated by local businesses and crafters; story-time for young children; 4 to 5 hours of live radio broadcasts, including interviews with many of you authors. Our offer to you is this: we’ll bring the crowds; you sell your books!

The cost of registering this year is $30, which gets you months of pre-advertising and PR, including ads and articles on, facebook, twitter, our monthly newsletters, local newspapers (including the Wellsboro Gazette, the Potter Leader, the Elmira Star Gazette, and the Williamsport Sun Gazette), the state websites for both the PA teachers’ union and the educational support staff union, at least two local radio stations, and more. Your registration fee also provides you with a large rectangular table just for you (no sharing this year, I promise), folding chairs, bottled water, reserved parking, plastic bags for your customers, access to a “bank”, and a volunteer assistant for the day. If you donate a copy of one of your books (must be a real book, not an ARC) to the ticket-raffle, then your registration fee is $20. Please make checks payable to “From My Shelf” and mail your check (and book, if you choose) to us at: From My Shelf, 87 Main St, Wellsboro, PA 16901.

Authors (plus family or other willing assistants) can arrive Friday, and/or stay Saturday, if they like, to make a nice weekend of the event. We will gladly help authors find appropriate lodging, although in order to accommodate everyone’s needs, the sooner you make these plans, the better, since October is a very popular time of year for tourism in Wellsboro. We can help you find great deals on motel/hotel/camping/B&B’s, who may offer incentives for the authors in this event. We may also be able to find “host families” for a single author or a couple, where you might stay the night with a local family, but again we’d need to know several months in advance if you would like us to make these arrangements for you. These kinds of lodging arrangements are the modus operandi for the Endless Mountain Music Festival in August, and both musicians and locals have really enjoyed this way of meeting people and talking about common interests in the arts.

Meals will not be provided, although we will have volunteers available to you all day on Saturday, who can run to get you the food of your choice. There will also be food for sale at the high school, as a part of BookFest. As for meals for Friday, or for Saturday evening, I may be able to arrange for discounts or “prix fixe” menus for participating authors, once I know how many people would want to participate. We want to make this a wonderful experience for everyone involved, and you authors are a key part of what makes this event so special.

Please let us know if you can join us this fall, to make the second annual Wellsboro BookFest THE regional literary event of the year!

Warmly yours,

Kevin Coolidge & Kasey Cox,
The staff at From My Shelf,
Hobo the cat,
and the educators of the Wellsboro Area School District.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Forgotten Tales of Pennsylvania

Kevin Coolidge

Where are you from? It’s a question I’ve heard no matter where I’ve traveled. What do you answer? Do you tell them where you were born? Where you grew up? Where you went to college? I’ve always known where I’m from: I’m from Pennsylvania, home of Pittsburgh steel, birthplace of a nation filled with hard-working people, and site of some mighty peculiar history.

You already know that the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. You probably know that portions of Western Pennsylvania were disputed territory between the colonial British and French during the French and Indian War, but do you know about the act of cannibalism that occurred in May of 1872 at the Pennsylvania House Hotel in the city of York? Or that giant skeletons were excavated in some of the state’s ancient burial grounds, and a human skull with horns was discovered in Bradford County?

Historian Thomas White has spent countless hours pouring over books about the big events in Pennsylvania history, and along the way has stumbled across those little tidbits of history that get ignored in school. His book, Forgotten Tales of Pennsylvania, covers the strange stuff--those bizarre anecdotes, legends, and forgotten stories that I like the best.

This book contains over 160 of Pennsylvania’s lesser-known tales. There are stories of the supernatural. I wasn’t aware that Pennsylvania had such a rich history of werewolves, ranging from the werewolf of Clinton County’s recorded by Henry Shoemaker, the werewolf of Shenango valley who could run on both two and four legs, to May Paul’s werewolf admirer. There are also witches, ghosts, monsters, alien big cats and even a leprechaun credited with saving a child’s life.

There are bizarre tales of spontaneous combustion in Coudersport, raining snails in Chester County, and the spooklights of the Lackawanna Valley. I loved the story about the goldfish credited with putting out a fire in Philadelphia, and the tale of the Frenchman’s gold rumored to be buried near Coudersport makes me want to grab my shovel and go for a hike in God’s country.

There are also trivia and news stories that don’t usually make the history books. Did you know that the smallest officially-designated wilderness area in America is in Pennsylvania? Or that the original Jeep was designed and constructed by the American Bantam Car Company in Butler County? There are also accounts of circus accidents, dam disasters, a communist working for the FBI, and an exploding rattlesnake.

Most of the tales are short, to the point, and fun to read. If you enjoyed Flatlanders and Ridgerunners by Jim Glimm or The Monsters of Pennsylvania by Patty Wilson, or if you just enjoy quirky stories, then pick up a copy of Forgotten Tales of Pennsylvania, because it doesn’t really matter where you are from; it’s where you are going…

Ruled and schooled? Or satisfy your own thirst? Email me at Miss a past column? Explore the archives at and catch up on past columns, comments, and more. Pennsylvania has at least one tawny cat, and that’s Hobo, author of Hobo Finds A Home, a children’s book about Hobo’s favorite subject, Hobo…

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Rental textbooks: let us help you save money at Chegg!!

Everyone knows how expensive their college textbooks were at the start of the term. Here we are, it’s the end of the term and the bookstore wants to give you pennies on the dollar for your books. I say forget the bookstore! You can make some real dough by going to . They’ll pay you top dollar for your books, like $40 each – and no lines because it’s online. What could you do with double the money the bookstore would give you? Chegg even pays the shipping!

How about the fact I have a promo code CC128580 that gets you an extra $5 with your order?

GET lots of cash + GET more cash = A green way to sell your books

Go to, you can get your used textbooks sold now. After all, you read your books cover to cover, or at least that’s what your professor believes, so you should be smart enough to know where to sell them for the extra buck, smarty pants.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

June 2010 newsletter

From My Shelf Newsletter: June 2010

News! *If you haven’t checked out the website recently, check in at some of the new things we’ve added! Of course, there’s always something new at the “Events” calendar link, but we’ve also added new photos, links to our youtube videos, and more! Don’t forget to visit the website every once in a while, since we’re always adding new & different content for you! In fact, go bookmark us now, at

*Punch cards: once again, we’ll be putting the “punch card” on summer hiatus – we won’t be punching any cards this summer, but, if you have a full punch card, you can still redeem it for $10 off a purchase at the store any time.

*We have added/changed our Wednesday special members’ sale! Wednesdays are now 25% off ALL children’s books, new or used, all summer long! Keep the kids reading: keep their minds sharp and your nerves intact by bringing them to the bookstore each week for high quality, great selection, reasonably-priced summer entertainment! And be sure to watch our calendar of events for a TON of great activities all summer long.

*In order to accommodate everyone who wants to trade books in this summer, we’re asking all of our members to (1)PLEASE schedule an appointment to bring your books in; during the summer we really can’t deal with drop-ins. If you are coming to Wellsboro from out of town, you still need to give us a call before you come. (2)Please bring only 10 books for your trade-in. If you have more than 10 books, you can schedule another appointment for later, or you could bring us the books you feel will earn you the most credit and donate the others on elsewhere.

Thanks for your understanding! If everyone sticks to the “10 books” and definitely scheduled program, then we can do have 2 people trade-in each day and have plenty of appointments to offer. When we get swamped, we get behind, and then the program gets too bogged down to accommodate all our members!

*Hobo will soon be making regular visits to the bookstore again!! We’ll be scheduling his “appearances” from 1 to 3pm most Saturday afternoons, beginning in June! Check the store events calendar to confirm.

*New merchandise at the store! We are now carrying beverages from the Pepsi Co. company, including cold Ocean Spray juices, Lipton iced teas, regular & diet sodas, Aquafina bottled water, and Starbucks cold coffee drinks in cans. We’re also proud to announce that we are co-op’ing with our fabulous local sweets-and-snacks company, Highland Chocolates! We have the famous chocolate barks in a huge variety of flavors, as well as small molded chocolates (especially cats) and their little snack mix packages. Highland Chocolates is a nonprofit company providing employment opportunity for area folks with developmental disabilities, and their pretzel bark is regionally famous!

Upcoming Events at the Bookstore: (see calendar on website for details)
*Friday, June 4th, 6 to 9pm: Game Night! “Open” game night, meaning we’ll play whatever you want to! Bring games you like, or show up and see what some of our regulars like to play. Free and open to the public.

*Friday, June 11th, 6 to 9pm: Game Night! This game night will focus on Heroclix, a miniatures strategy game featuring heroes and villains from DC and Marvel comics. If you’ve played before, bring a couple of your favorite teams; if not, here’s your chance to learn! This game is not difficult to learn, nor is it too expensive to begin playing. Plus, on Game Nights, Woolverine Games offers many extra discounts on starter sets and booster packets. ‘Clix not your style? Bring your own game to share, and we’ll play a board or card game with you. Free and open to the public.

*Sunday, June 13th: We’re open 11am to 3pm on Sundays now …. Stop in and see us, grab a cold drink, and watch Wellsboro’s famous Pet Parade meander down Main Street about 1:30pm. (Last year, Kasey couldn’t stop laughing at the “fainting goats”. Really. They exist. And they were right here on Main St.)

*Wednesday, June 16th: Moms! Join the women from our local MOPS (Mothers of Pre-schoolers) for a fun evening of light book discussion & light refreshments. Participants should try to read the first half of Irene Hannon's "Against All Odds", a Christian romantic thriller. We have this for sale at the bookstore on big discount for those participating. You need not be an official member of MOPS, just a woman, preferably a mom, who needs a night out to socialize a little with some other women! The second and final meeting for this book club event is Wed, July 14th.

*Wednesday, June 30th: the kick-off event for our ‘tween and teen book activities for this summer! Participants should be between the ages of 11 and 18. If necessary, we can divide into two smaller groups for any given activity. Please bring $3 to cover cost of pizza or snacks. For this first event, you’re asked to read a book on the theme of survival. Possible books include Hatchet (by Gary Paulsen); Julie of the Wolves (by Jean Craighead George); Island of the Blue Dolphins (by Scott O’Dell); Shipwreck: Island, Book 1 (by Gordon Korman); Alive: the Story of the Andes Survivors (by Piers Paul Read); Crazy for the Storm (by Norman Ollestad); Adrift (by Steven Callahan); Touching the Void (Joe Simpson); Life As We Knew It (Susan Beth Pfeffer). We have all of these books available at the bookstore, specially discounted if you are planning on joining us.

Michelle’s corner:
Author Katie MacAlister

The Aisling Grey, Guardian Series
The Dark Ones Series (vampires)
The Steampunk Series
The Dragon Series (people who change into dragons)
Plus many, many mysteries, AND romance – contemporary, paranormal, and/or historical

This month was difficult for me. I knew that I wanted to write about Katie MacAlister, but I couldn't decide what series to write about, so I'm just going to say, read them all! Katie is a fun, zany, quirky, crazy author. As you can see from the above list, whatever your cup of tea is, I guarantee you great laughs & a fun ride.

Okay, I would be remiss if I did not also tell the readers out there thatI also love the women in her books. Many of them are just average-looking and some have a little extra padding around the middle. Well that just excites me, doesn't it you? To know that some sexy, dark, brooding vampire might want to suck my blood and make me his Queen of the Night or a dragonman might throw me over his shoulder and make me his love slave even with my excess pounds... well that just gives a girl hope. Now I know what you’re going to say. Vampires and dragonmen are not real, but a girl can have her dreams, right? (picture me lifting my eyebrows up and down rapidly). Thanks Katie!

Michelle's picks for new releases not to miss

May 25th - Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon
(Sorry I missed this last month, but this is the first book in a new series based on the life of Nick, a character from her Dark hunters Series)
June 29th - One Season of Sunshine by Julia London

(These series need to be read in order)

June 1st - Bullet:The Anita Blake Series by Laurell K. Hamilton
(This is the first time ever that she has released two books in one year. Her other book, 'Flirt', was just a fun story that she came up with, but this promises to get back to her main characters)

June 22nd - Sizzlin Sixteen: The Stephanie Plum Series by Janet Evanovich
June 29th - The Darkest Lie: Lords of the Underworld (Gideon's story) by Gena Showalter
June 29th - Love in the Afternoon: A Hathaways Novel by Lisa Kleypas

Books just in! New releases/new inventory to celebrate!
* “The Second Short Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella”
by Stephenie Meyer
RELEASE DATE: Saturday, June 5th
For all you “Twilight” fans, this little novella is a spin-off story about the “illegally”-created newborn vampires ravaging the city of Seattle. Perfect reading before the movie version of “Eclipse” hits theaters June 30th.

*USA Today Logic Puzzles – remember the cool ones with the grids? Finally found some! Ordered by popular request!
*Sudoku for Kids – finally found some! Ordered by popular request!
*Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern – snort-milk-through-your-nose funny!
*Physics for Future Presidents, by Richard A. Muller
*Fiddle Tunes for the Violinist
*The Tractor in the Haystack, by Scott Garvey
*a TON of gently used, hardcover Hardy Boys mysteries!
*A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, by Michael J. Fox
*The Night Before Summer Vacation, by Natasha Wing
*Rattler Tales from Northcentral Pennsylvania, by C.E. Brennan
*Forgotten Tales of Pennsylvania, by Thomas White
*Brisingr, by Christopher Paolini -- now in paperback!
*Food Not Lawns! By H. C. Flores

From My Shelf bookstore
87 Main Street
Wellsboro PA 16901
(570) 724-5793

Together, we’re building community one book at a time …..

Monday, May 17, 2010

Start a New Habit

I was just going back through emails from last year, in preparation for sending out emails regarding this year's BookFest, planned for the weekend of October 16th! I kept a folder of the many emails I had back and forth with all the local and regional authors we invited, and I have been reaping those to start on this year's invitations.

But BookFest is not the main point of this post. There will be plenty more on that later! For now, save the date -- Sat, October 16th, 2010 -- and read on, kind friend.

I found this email I wrote to an author ... a LOCAL author .... after I heard from one of our customers that this author was telling folks to go buy a bunch of reference books at Amazon. For once, I think I handled my anger and disappointment well, and expressed myself well, because as I read it over again, eight months after I wrote it, I still feel good about what I said. I feel good enough about it that I actually have the confidence (chutzpah?) to share it with you, in hopes of encouraging you, educating you, supporting you, wherever you are in this process of buying or selling or enjoying books.

Here's my letter, with names changed, because the names don't matter here.

Hi, John! Over the last two or three days, Kevin and I have started sending out invitations and advance notices of a big event we're co-sponsoring this fall. Please see the attachment with all the details about this event, which takes place at the Wellsboro Fireman's Annex on Sat, Oct. 17th, 2009. We really hope you can come, and present both your book and information about the seminars you lead.

You were on my list of several authors email today, as a group email, but I'm taking a little extra time on this email, because I needed to say something to you personally.

I just got a call from Mike Smith this morning, who attended your seminar this past Saturday. Mike has been a great customer of ours since we opened the store over three years ago. Today, he called me and asked if I could get him all of the books you'd recommended. He said you told everyone to go to Amazon to get them, and Mike wanted to know if I could get these books thru Amazon for him.

John, as a local author, and as someone who I would think would be in support of community sustainability efforts, I am shocked and saddened that you would tell a seminar full of people to go buy their books through Amazon. If Mike Smith had just gone online to purchase these books instead of calling me because he knows I'll give him a good deal, I would have lost a major sale of 6 books this morning. Who knows how many people from your seminar just went online instead of coming to us? We actually sell several of those books right here in the store ... we don't even need to special order them.

I was just having a great conversation this weekend with a few other independent booksellers and some other authors, regarding this very issue. The title of the article we were discussing was this: "the day of your book signing at your local bookstore shouldn't be the only time they ever see you!" The article went on to give some great tips about doing book signings and presentations with local businesses and organizations. One of the comments made by Sam Dickinson, of "Aaron's Books" in Lititz, was this: "You know, authors, we will work a lot harder at promoting you and your book if we know that you support us, too!"

I imagine that this referral to Amazon was an oversight on your part, a habit. But I'd really like to see you get in to a new habit. We've been here more than three years now, John. We do a ton of stuff for the community, offer great prices, and loads of free events. We donate hundreds of dollars in books and services to this community every year. What will it take to bring you around?

I hope you will accept the invitation to come to the event. We already have received enthusiastic "yes" responses from Ken Hull, Tina Howe, Bill Robertson, Romy Piccollella, Rod Cochran, Shirley Brosius, Michael Reid, Larry Kimport, Tom Smith, and several more regional authors, who write across every genre from outdoor writing to Christian devotionals to poetry to mystery.

Check your calendar, and let us know!

Thanks so much, John.

Sincerely yours,

Kasey Cox
From My Shelf

I know that the online shopping is a habit, often a habit born of convenience. But let's start a new habit. How about picking up the phone quick and calling your local store to see if they have the kind of flashlight you're looking for? I bet you'll talk to a real person, maybe even someone you know.

Or, go to your Chamber of Commerce website, or just google the local store you're looking for to see if they have a website of their own -- most of us do now, even if it's just a rudimentary one, but you might be surprised. Check our websites to see what we have, or email us, or call, or even better, just stop in! It won't take long. You will get to talk to a real person, enjoy personal customer service, look at the items you're considering buying. By doing this, you're getting what you want, making your life easier if you need to return it or ask questions about it, AND you are supporting people in your community. Local shop owners tend to shop local. They pay local taxes. They donate to local charities. Amazon won't do this for Wellsboro. LLBean is most likely not in your hometown. Neither is some faceless guy on ebay.

If you want a downtown, if you want local jobs, if you want someone who will donate to your Relay for Life team, get the LOCAL HABIT.



Thursday, May 6, 2010

Put Your Money Where Your House Is.

Kevin Coolidge

The old timer took a thoughtful draw on his pipe, and began, “I remember a quaint, quiet town and green, wooded hills. I never called ‘em mountains. That was always a sure sign of a flatlander to me. Move here, open a business and then name it something with a mountain in it. Nah, it’s the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. I love ‘em, but they’re not mountains. Then ‘progress’ arrived, and we lost the five & dime, but got one of those fluorescent filled, 24 hours a day monsters built like an oversize shoe box. As if I’d want to buy cheap Chinese crap at three in the morning. My local druggist knew my name, and I could grab a phosphate and catch up on local gossip, that was back before my sugar kicked in. Guess you can’t fight progress. You can’t fight change...”

I grew up remembering a vibrant Main Street. Many of those stores are gone, some have been replaced, some have been remodeled and some have remained lifeless lots. I’m hoping that the forthcoming Deane Center will pump new blood into Wellsboro, and that the Mansfield Downtown Development Corporation will aid in the revitalization of a downtown Mansfield even better than what I remember. Change is coming to Tioga County, but only with guidance and hard work are we going to be able to call it progress.

Anyone who cares about American main streets and the preservation of locally-owned small businesses should read The Home Town Advantage by Stacy Mitchell. Perhaps, you have mourned the loss of a locally-owned business, but accepted it as market evolution. After all, large corporations with their vast buying power and global reach offer more convenience and lower prices, and bring jobs to rural economies as well as tax revenues for local government, right?

Under closer scrutiny, however, these “truths” turn out to be far less convincing. Large chains reduce the diversity of locally-owned shops, and leave the customer at the mercy of an absentee-owned firm’s decisions on what items to stock, what prices to charge, and how long they’ll stay. When the going gets tough, many of these box stores abandon the community. More than one small town has seen this happen during the recent economic downturn. What do you do with a 120,000 square foot “ghost box”? Local officials who eagerly court giant retailers with huge tax incentives may discover that the public costs outweigh the public gains.

We live in a dynamic and ever-changing market economy, and no business is guaranteed. Retail and service aggressively compete for customers, but in the last two decades retail ownership has undergone a dramatic shift: from local independent merchants to national chains. Books, groceries, hardware, clothing and many other goods are now sold primarily through giant retail companies.

Sometimes this is the result of market forces with the new and efficient displacing the old and defunct. But just as often it is the result of large corporations being given unfair advantages. When can sell books over the internet and avoid paying state and local taxes, it gains a six percent price advantage. When Borders receive price breaks from publishers that exceed those justified by their larger book orders, it is gaining not just an unfair advantage over smaller, local stores, but is illegal under current antitrust statutes. When Wal-Mart arrives on the outskirts of town, and receives tax abatements, free roads and sewer, it is gaining an unwarranted advantage over local merchants who are, in effect, watching their taxes go to subsidize a competitor.

Small merchants care about their communities more because they are part of those communities. The taxes they pay provide services like schools and parks. Small businesses give to community causes more than their big competitors and their profits and purchases tend to circulate within and strengthen the local economy rather than flowing to corporate headquarters. In addition to Mitchell’s Home Town Advantage, the many ways that small businesses outperform their “big box” competition receive detailed coverage in Michael Shuman’s 2006 book, The Small-Mart Revolution.

The trends are discouraging, but trends are not destiny. It’s not just time to change the rules; it’s time to change the game. Local merchants still hold a share of the market for goods and services, but citizens need to act now to ensure the survival of local retail and service businesses. Many communities have begun fashioning policies that favor diverse, locally owned businesses, and The Home Town Advantage describes the tools they are using and discusses ways in which local business, in partnership with local governments, can once again become key components in a healthy and self-sustained retail sector.

Wish in one hand. Hope in the other? Or take some action? Email me at We are your hometown columnists; to reminisce over our past columns, check out Hobo’s a local kitten born right here in Tioga County. You can buy his book, “Hobo Finds A Home”, but not in Wal-Mart...