books

Bruce’s Brain

Born to Run by Bruce SpringsteenI can’t possibly judge the reaction to Born to Run of a person who doesn’t consider Bruce Springsteen to be their personal, artistic, and political hero. But someone who does will react by doubling down on their devotion, thanks to his memoir’s deep introspection and focus on art, ideas, responsibility, friendships, and family. Anyone looking for a debauched rock n’ roll tell-all needs to find another book and another performer to write it.

Bruce and his work have always managed to find a place in my life to nest into and from which to inspire, motivate, and support me despite how I change over the years. Now, as I’ve found a new passion for mental health and helping others to achieve it, in steps Bruce devoting many pages of his autobiography to intimately recounting his history of mental illness. Mental illness fueled his self-examination that outputted into his lyrics; his obsession with perfection that made his best records THE best records; and his need for acceptance and escape that drove him to three-hour concerts. In short, mental illness made Bruce Bruce. It also nearly unmade him more than once, and he lays out his struggle with his brain not as a triumph over tragedy but merely as an upfront description of facing one of the troubles with being human. Whether he intends to or not, he scrapes away the stigma and opens a door to help for any readers unwilling or unable to do so themselves. My hero.

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Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 1 – Books

According to my Goodreads page, I finished 30 books in 2016, which proves that even in today’s era of bite-size, high speed information intake, I still love nothing more than telling people how many books I’ve read. Here are the top five (from any year).

Watership Down by Richard AdamsWatership Down
by Richard Adams
I’ve always said that Watership Down is one of my favorite novels, but it’s been so many years since I first read it that I worried going back to it I’d find it hadn’t kept up with me. It has. This is a true all-ages book.

I realize now that as a child one reason Watership Down was so important to me is that it guided me into grown-up ideas–most notably that life involves shocking change and loss and requires bravery to face them–but at age 41, if I were reading it without preconceptions, I can’t imagine I’d label it a children’s story. That’s because its themes have only become more essential to me as I’ve aged. I’m able to more deeply plumb them, and Adams’s book matured with me to help me examine how bravery intertwines with the concepts that are most important to me now: compassion, responsibility, modeling behavior. Being a grown-up.

That aside, Watership Down is epic fantasy the way it should be written, with a rich world, thrilling set pieces, and memorable characters (Hazel is still one of my favorite heroes in all of literature). As a writer, I envy Adams’s acute originality in conceiving a rabbit adventure within the bounds of scientific reality and the rigor he employed to pull it of. As a guy who wishes he had a metal band, I would definitely name it Hazel-Rah.

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Turn Your Children Into Werewolves: A Halloween Book Hunt

NOTE: I originally wrote this post for Halloween 2011, but turning your children into werewolves is a useful lifehack every year.

Meet The Werewolf by Georgess McHargueSomething I watched recently reminded me of a book that I loved when I was in grade school. Possibly it was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. (I mean possibly that movie was the thing I watched, not that I loved the Booker-Prize-winning novelization. Though obviously I did.) The book was about werewolves. Nonfiction. A sort of guide, as if werewolves were an actual rare species worthy of study, like secretary birds or Kardashians. This was a book for children. In particular I remembered a section with detailed instructions about turning oneself into a werewolf. Oneself being a child. And I’d found this book in my elementary school’s library.

Remembering that, it struck me as beyond belief that a school library in the early Eighties would’ve happily loaned a fourth-grader a step-by-step guide to the black arts. Nowadays such a scandal would likely result in the firing of all the teachers and administrators, the closing of the building, filling it with burning sage, and then reopening it as a charter school based on the educational power of complimentary pamphlets. But I was certain I’d read the book, and I even had a vague recollection of the ceremony it contained. Had it been snuck onto the library shelves by some miscreant, Helloween-listening teens? If so, why’d it have a circulation card? It seemed like the book had to have been an honest-to-goodness, corporately published library holding. So I set out to figure out what it was and track down a copy, preferably one bound in human flesh.

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I Read All 3000 Pages of Ian Fleming’s Groovy 007 Oeuvre

NOTE: This post originally appeared on September 13, 2013. I’m republishing it today for Ian Fleming’s 108th birthday.

Ian FlemingIn May of 2012, I finished a five-month stint of watching all the James Bond movies in order. When I was done, I somehow found myself no less unemployed than when I’d started, so I opted to rectify that the only way I knew how: by reading in order all of Ian Fleming’s 007 books — 12 novels and two short-story collections. It took me over a year, a rate of about one book per month.

I’d read two of Fleming’s stories before — Casino Royale 12 or 13 years ago, and Goldfinger when I was a teenager, from which for some reason I’ve always remembered the sentence, “Bond felt the skin-crawling tickle at the groin that dates from one’s first game of hide and seek in the dark.” — long enough ago that I didn’t know what to expect in terms of quality, theme, character, or anything else.

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I Make Web Sites for Writers and Artists. Here’s a New One.

Henry BialHere’s another web site I designed and built, this one for the author and performance-studies powerhouse Henry Bial. A professor of theater and the director of the School of Arts at the University of Kansas, Henry’s latest book is Playing God, a history of the Bible on the Broadway stage. According to his new blog, you can get a copy for 30% off when you buy it from the University of Michigan Press using the promo code UMBIAL16.

I spent a long time as a Very Qualified Internet Professional, and now I enjoy making custom sites for artists, writers, and other creative types who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to have them — like this one for the great crime writer Jason Miller. (Not to mention the home for my radio show Special Relativity.) If you’re one of those people and would like me to help make your web dreams come true, email me.

Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 2 – Books

I don’t like to call myself an intellectual, but in 2015 I easily read more books than I watched episodes of Tiny House Hunters. Here are some of the most interesting of them, from any year.

22693282Down Don’t Bother Me
by Jason Miller
Full disclosure: I designed and built Jason Miller’s web site, but that doesn’t have anything to do with why his book’s on this list. I have plenty of friends and clients whose work I don’t pretend to like. Down Don’t Bother Me is on here because it’s as enjoyable a crime novel as you’re going to find this year, by an author with a true voice and an equally true sense of place. One hopes that Slim can manage to find trouble all over rural southern Illinois the way Miss Marple managed to find corpses littering rural England so we can have more of these books.



557743Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945
by Leo Marks
This is the book I was reading on a bus in Brooklyn in 2001 the morning I saw a plane fly into the World Trade Center. A decade and a half later, I finally finished it, in a year when we again need what it offers: a testament to the necessity of intelligence and creativity when faced with dire situations that seem as if they need them the least, and to the necessity of determined compassion when it’s hardest to give.

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