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,