Category Archives: books
There are a handful of television programs I keep in my Netflix queue, even after I have watched every episode, because I can go back and watch them again and see something different. Many shows are disposable, but then there are series like The Twilight Zone that endure despite repeated viewings. The reason is quite simple: there are lessons that can be learned, and in many cases must be learned. Rod Serling was a masterful storyteller, and his work on The Twilight Zone will be revered as long as the series is available for new generations. Author Mark Dawidziak writes, “The Twilight Zone not only was a series with a strong social conscience, it was television that believed there was intelligent life on the other side of the television screen.”
Dawidziak offers up fifty lessons gleaned from The Twilight Zone in Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone, including simplistic yet important lessons like “follow your passion” and “nobody said life was fair,” to it’s-better-to-learn-from-others-mistakes lessons such as “read every contract…carefully” and “the grass is always greener…or so you think.” Dawidziak writes, “Lurking in almost every episode of The Twilight Zone is at least one guiding rule, one life lessons, one stirring reminder of a basic right or wrong taught to us as children. There are lessons for individuals. There are lessons for our society. There are lessons for our planet.”
It would be impossible to pick out the best lessons presented by Dawidziak, just as it is a daunting task to rank episodes of The Twilight Zone itself. But consider, if you will, lesson twenty: “If life gives you another chance, make the most of it,” utilizing the episodes, “Third from the Sun” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.” A new venture may be just what you need to turn your rut of a life into a joyous existence.
In addition to Dawidziak’s fifty lessons, which are gleaned from about one hundred episodes, the author also concedes the page to guest lessons. These guest lessons come from such esteemed individuals as Jack Klugman and James Best, who both appeared in multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone, Mel Brooks, Robert Redford, Mick Garris, Carol Burnett, and Dick Van Dyke.
Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone is a fun way to revisit the timeless works of Serling and other Twilight Zone writers, highly recommended for fans of the iconic television series.
Dissatisfied with telling her creative students to “just write,” author Scarlett Thomas attempted to teach the deeper topics of literary theory to help them write better. She began lecturing on these deeper topics, and over time discovered that she had enough material for a book on writing. Monkeys With Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories is an excellent look at both the theory and practice of storytelling.
Thomas begins by examining a variety of literary works as well as Hollywood storylines, from Plato to Aristotle, Pride and Prejudice to Great Expectations, The Matrix to Toy Story. After reviewing numerous examples, Thomas summarizes the eight basic plots found in literature before launching into the “practice” portion of her book. She introduces the concept of using matrices in planning a novel, including categories that utilize what you know, what you think, and where you live, among others. She includes a blank matrix with further questions that the aspiring novelist can use to develop their own characters and worlds.
After discussing the value of the matrix, Thomas delves into styles of narration and the choices beyond first and third person, characterization and the importance of loving all your characters, and the value of writing good sentences, an area I continue to struggle with in my own writing. In the final chapter of the “practice” section, the author encourages the reader to become an author, to write a novel, to actually put into practice what they have just read. She offers a number of tips on note taking and brainstorming, drafting, and even offers a checklist of questions to ask yourself about your work.
Perhaps the most interesting and important question is this: “If the only copy of my novel was stranded on the top of a mountain, would I go up to rescue it?” The depth of that questions hits hard, but if you have poured your heart and soul into your creation, how could you possibly answer, “No”?
For those who cannot shake the desire to write, Monkeys With Typewriters might just give you the motivation, encouragement, and guidance you need to start tapping those keys.
Hammer is the legendary British film company that dominated the horror genre for decades. In The Hammer Vault, author Marcus Hearn recaps many of the films produced by Hammer with scant notes about the release, controversies, and images of promotional posters, stills, and props from the movies. He begins in 1954 with The Quartermass Xperiment, and concludes with 2014’s The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.
Most films are covered in two pages, while a handful only receive one page. It is certainly interesting to see the various images, such as annotated script pages, newsletters, and press passes to advance screenings, but two or three paragraphs about the films leave the reader wanting more.
The Hammer Vault is 12.9 inches by 10.1 inches and 184 pages long. It is an enjoyable overview of the company’s history, but is by no means exhaustive. The real value of this books is in the images rather than the text.
Originally published in 2010, The Art of Hammer is a visual guide to the history of Hammer Films’ releases dating back to the 1950s. The artwork is stunning, at times risqué, and along with the films, often caused controversy upon release. The artwork on the front (pictured above) comes from Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, the 1972 movie starring Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein/Dr. Carl Victor and David Prowse as the Creature/Herr Schneider. The book also comes with a jacket featuring artwork from Dracula A.D. 1972 starring Christopher Lee. The 200-page book is large at 10.3 by 13.1 inches, heavy and sturdy.
Except for a couple of introductory pages written by Marcus Hearn, the book is largely made up of images of promotional posters from around the world with brief captions identifying the film, as well as the dimensions of the original piece and the illustrator (if known). The author cautions in the introduction that The Art of Hammer is not intended to be a complete catalogue of Hammer posters, but a general overview of “examples from some of the most inventive and controversial marketing campaigns in post-war film history.”
As many of the original pieces were destroyed by theaters after they were used, a book like this serves as an inexpensive way to look into the past and see how far the art of movie posters has come, or how far it has fallen.
Characters from the Diamond: Wild Events, Crazy Antics, and Unique Tales from Early Baseball by Ronald T. Waldo (2016)
[Review by TWJ contributor Jim.]
Characters from the Diamond
by Ronald T. Waldo
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016
Baseball, at its root, is a game, it’s meant to be enjoyed and to have fun. It’s hard to remember that as the great game of baseball has turned into a business that turns many fans away. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit back and be reminded about how much fun the game of baseball can be? Fun yet played at the highest level?
In Characters from the Diamond: Wild Events, Crazy Antics, and Unique Tales from Early Baseball, you will be reminded of how much fun this game can be. Focusing on the late 19th century and early 20th century, author Ronald T. Waldo does a great job of telling funny stories about those that made the game so great. From players’ high jinx on the field, to fiery managers and hot headed umpires, you will be captivated by stories that will make you laugh and show you how the pioneers of baseball had fun playing the game.
Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family by Bret Book and Kevin Cook (2016)
Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family
by Bret Book and Kevin Cook
Crown Archetype, 2016
Being the son of a major leaguer must be daunting, with athletic expectations high. Being a third-generation ballplayer, especially when no one ever followed both their father and grandfather into the professional ranks before, the pressure had to be immense. But not for Bret Boone, who was not satisfied to have a famous last name. He wanted to prove that he belonged, and not just a feel-good story for the media.
In Home Game, Boone admits that he regrets the way he approached his big league debut. He should have given more credit to his grandfather, Ray Boone, and father, Bob Boone, both who had solid careers. Ray led the league in RBI and was an All-Star; Bob showed him up by becoming one of the greatest defensive catchers in the game and making multiple All-Star Games. Bret carried on the tradition of family excellence, leading the league in RBI like his grandfather and becoming a stalwart defensive second baseman and All-Star in his own right. And he was not alone; he was joined by his brother Aaron Boone at the top level of professional baseball.
Boone honors his heritage, showing respect to his late grandfather and his father, relating a handful of stories that were passed down to him. He tells about growing up in the Phillies clubhouse, getting batting tips from Mike Schmidt, and later, when his dad was with the Angels, playing catch with Reggie Jackson. He discusses his disappointment in being drafted so low out of high school, and in not being drafted until the fifth round after a few years at USC. He recalls his time in the minor leagues and his struggle to get to Seattle, where he butted heads with Lou Piniella at first. He also tells of the hazing he endured from Jay Buhner, and the friendship that developed as he handled it in stride.
Boone mentions the allegations made by Jose Canseco, denying that he ever took steroids and stating emphatically that their supposed conversation at second base never happened. In his denial, Boone does admit to using greenies, but says of those who claim ignorance when steroids are found in their system, “It’s your job to know what’s in your body. It’s your job to stay clean and test clean.”
There is some foul language throughout—not as much as some autobiographies contain, but it is present. Home Game: Big-League Stories from My Life in Baseball’s First Family is a good behind-the-scenes look at the game, covering three generations of All-Star baseball. Aside from the Boones, there is mention of Ted Williams, Pete Rose, Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Ken Griffey, and Barry Larkin, among others. It may be some time before we see another three-generational All-Star family, and this peek inside the family tradition of the Boones is well worth the read.
God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen
by Mitchell Nathanson
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016
One of the most polarizing players of the 1960s and 70s, Dick Allen never seemed to be happy. He had enormous talent, but he did not believe he received the respect he deserved. He faced racism, bad press, hecklers, and more during his career, and made plenty of enemies along the way. In this new biography by Mitchell Nathanson, those events are chronicled and put into historical context in the best possible way, using newspaper articles and archived interviews as the primary source for information, with newer interviews conducted to flesh things out when needed. Allen himself declined to participate in the interview process, but the quality of reporting throughout his career served to paint a portrait of the oft disgruntled star.
There is very little to criticize in this book as far as the writing goes; Nathanson deals with the material honestly and openly, not shying away from the negativity that always seemed to surround Allen. My primary criticism would be with the title, God Almighty Hisself. Not knowing the context, one might assume that Allen referred to himself in such a way. The quote from which the title is taken actually refers to the troublesome nature of dealing with the player, with a former manager quipping, “I believed God Almighty hisself would have trouble handling Richie Allen.” As such, the book should have been titled differently.
Overall, however, this biography of Dick Allen is an enjoyable read, shedding light on the surly superstar who often held out for more money, was frequently traded, and was dismissed all too soon by the voters for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani (2016)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two
introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani
Abrams ComicArts, 2016
Many fans of the greatest space opera contend that the best film of the series is Episode V, better known as The Empire Strikes Back. It is fitting, then, that the book chronicling Topps trading cards for the film exceeds the initial volume in quality. The creative driving force behind the design and writing of the cards, Gary Gerani, tells the process of meeting with LucasFilm executives to read the script and select images for the cards. The movie’s big reveal was kept secret from Topps at the time; Gerani recalls the first time he learned of Darth Vader’s familial relationship with Luke Skywalker was when he saw the film in Manhattan.
Initially, Gernai and Topps were told they could not use Yoda in their set, as he was a “mysterious creative element” that George Lucas and Irvin Kershner wanted to keep him a surprise for the public. Lucas eventually relented, and Yoda is prominently displayed on several cards in the series. Gerani wrote the copy for many of the cards, making up dialogue that fit with several of the characters’ personalities.
In addition to the reproductions of all three series of cards, front and back, the book also features images of sell sheets, packaging, stickers, and the 30-card set of giant photocards. Also, as in the first volume, actual promotional trading cards are also including with the hard copy purchase. In addition to that, Topps has included a code for a free pack of digital trading cards on their Star Wars Card Trader app.
Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life by Ron Darling with Daniel Paisner (2016)
Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life
by Ron Darling with Daniel Paisner
St. Martin’s Press, 2016
Imagine yourself as the starting pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series, and your team wins…what an absolute thrill that must be, right? Ron Darling experienced it in 1986, the Mets and Red Sox tied up 3-3 in the Series, and at the end of the night as he celebrated the victory with his teammates, one thought cast a shadow over the pandemonium: “Wishing like crazy I could forget how it started.”
Darling had long dreamed of this day, though in his childhood fantasies he was on the mound for Boston, not New York. His outing did not turn out the way he had pictured it; in less than four innings, he gave up six hits and three earned runs. He was pulled for Sid Fernandez, who gave way to winning pitcher Roger McDowell and closer Jesse Orosco. The team won, but Darling didn’t. Most players don’t write books about their biggest disappointments, but Darling did.
Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life recounts Darling’s preparation for the game, his pre-game ritual which had to be repeated on Monday because of the Sunday night weather cancellation, a vague death threat, notes about the batters he faced in those three and two-thirds innings, and the opposing pitcher Bruce Hurst. Darling touches very briefly on the recklessness of the team off the field, including the night in Houston he was arrested for punching an off-duty police officer outside a bar. But those are passing references; the focus of this book is on Game 7.
While the team won, Darling writes, “I’ve had thirty years to deal with the disappointment of my Game 7 performance.” Despite the victory, he believed he let the team and the city down because he could not shut down the Red Sox bats in the first few innings. He also reflects on the wasted talent of the team, believing that they should have done more, particularly Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. Considering their talent, they should have been all-time greats, and Darling writes that “the further away I am from my playing days, the more I resent how they squandered their gifts.”
The 1986 team was a special collection of players, one that will always be remembered both for their dominance and their arrogance. Darling’s recounting of the final game of the World Series is a good reminder that it didn’t always go their way, but in the end, they were able to pull off the championship.
There are certain resource materials that every writer must possess in his arsenal, including a dependable dictionary and thesaurus. Words are the building blocks of language, and a dictionary and thesaurus will assist in putting one’s thoughts together in an understandable manner. Whether one is using those words appropriately, however, is another matter. In his massive Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition, linguist Bryan Garner addresses the proper way to put words together.
In addition to more than 6,000 entries on grammar, syntax, punctuation, style, and more, Garner addresses the battle between prescriptive linguists and descriptive linguists. Prescribers are known to suggest how language should be used, while describers simply observe and report on how it is used. Garner falls more into the prescriptive camp, though he concedes there are some battles lost long ago that should not be resurrected. Garner does report on how language is used, utilizing modern tools such as Google’s ngrams to make this one of the most reliable linguistic guides ever, but he does not shy away from denouncing improper usage when needed.
As a resource, Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition is a valuable tool. Not as indispensable as a standard dictionary or thesaurus, but it is a fantastic tool that can be used to give one’s writing more accuracy.