Tag Archives: Scott

Reading In The Wake Of Dragon Fire

I wrote and published this post before staggering into work this morning on 3 – 4 hours 2 hours of sleep.  Why so sleep deprived, you ask? I attended the midnight showing of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Thursday night into Friday morning!  Hey, if Bilbo can free Thorin’s Company from Mirkwood, I can surely handle a work day on just four hours of sleep, right?

I’ve written here in the past about Tolkien resources, so today I thought I might try a different angle, and suggest some  other authors whose work might conjure the same spirit as the esteemed linguist, if not the exact character.

Sword-of-Shannara-cover The Sword Of Shannara by Terry Brooks — When I was a kid spoiling for something more after finishing The Return Of The King, I tried reading Tolkien’s Silmarillion.  After realizing reading this was akin to reading the Bible, I pulled the ripcord and began looking elsewhere.  That’s when I found Mr. Brooks’ work.  Not sure if the Brothers Hildebrandt covers did it for me, or something else drew me in, but I jumped in feet first and never looked back.  This definitely filled the void left by finishing The Lord Of The Rings.

Lord-Fouls-Bane-cover Lord Foul’s Bane (Book I of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever) by Stephen R. Donaldson — If I hear another pundit on NPR refer to George R. R. Martin as the “American Tolkien” I will likely utter something unprintable and shut off the radio until the next pledge drive ends.  Besides sharing twin “R’s” in their initials, the only other thing Martin and Tolkien share in common are rabid fan bases.  Yes, they both build amazing worlds, but the similarities end there.  Donaldson’s incredible Covenant saga begins with Lord Foul’s Bane, and for me hails much more closely to Tolkien’s epic style than Martin’s Westeros tales.  This does not mean I don’t love Martin, but I do not accept the constant and (IMHO) erroneous comparisons to Tolkien.

Tigana-cover Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay — I did not know about Mr. Kay until a good friend and mentor turned me onto his stuff.  Tigana represents a brilliant and accessible introduction to this Canadian author’s work.  In some ways more nuanced than Tolkien, the villains in Tigana possess certain human qualities that make them real and complicated.  In this way Mr. Kay’s work resembles George R. R. Martin.  He can take a character you utterly hate in one chapter and slowly transform him or her into a sympathetic and even likable one.  Perhaps more important to Tolkien fans, Mr. Kay possesses a unique talent for world building.  His fantastic places feel real and grounded.

That ought to be enough to get anyone started on Tolkien read-alikes.  Feel free to offer your own titles in the comments section!

–Scott

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Turkey Bowls Cement Link Between Football & Thanksgiving

Nobody plays baseball on Thanksgiving morning.  Seriously, I really believe that one of the ways American football usurped baseball as America’s pastime sport ties directly into the thousands of “Turkey Bowls” held on Thanksgiving morning around the country.  The phenomenon has taken root in the American consciousness, even creeping into children’s poetry, as seen in Jack Prelutsky’s excellent collection, It’s Thanksgiving.  In this book of twelve poems for my favorite holiday Mr. Prelutsky includes one entitled “Daddy’s Football Game.” Phil Bidner’s Turkey Bowl provides another excellent look at Thanksgiving day football from a nine year old boy’s perspective.

As a teenager, and even in my early 20’s, I played in my share of Turkey Bowl games.  Ours occurred at Transverse Park in the Mt. Oliver section of Pittsburgh. Jay Price conjures these sort of nostalgic images with his book, Thanksgiving 1959 : When One Corner Of New York City Was Still Part Of Small-Town America, And High School Football Was The Last Thing Guys Did For Love.  While the title is really long, Mr. Price’s nifty little book manages to get at the heart of what Turkey Bowl football games really mean.  Sometimes they involve neighborhood friends getting together, but often whole families play in these games, which by the end of November can be cold and muddy affairs, making older Pittsburgh homes and their basement “mill showers” ideal for dealing with a dirty crew of Turkey Bowl veterans.

No one can deny the power of television to change minds and shape public opinion.  That’s why the National Football League’s decision to hold and later broadcast two Thanksgiving day games every year turned into marketing genius.  You can find the history of all of the NFL’s “Turkey Bowl” tilts here.  The Detroit Lions became regular Thanksgiving hosts starting in 1950, and the Dallas Cowboys joined them as regular hosts starting in 1966.  Of course, now the NFL has added a third regular Turkey Day game, this time with a rotating host team.  You can find further insights into NFL history in The NFL Century : The Complete Story Of The National Football League, 1920-2000.

Like soccer, one of the magical things about American football is that you really only need a ball, an expanse of grass, and a few willing participants to hold a game.  No fancy equipment needed.  In my halcyon days we played murderous games of tackle football with no protective equipment.  People are smarter now, and many Turkey Bowls have become strictly touch football affairs–no tackling.  After all, who wants to eat Thanksgiving dinner with a broken drumstick?

–Scott

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Quest For Mars Continues

Today in 1971 the Mariner 9 became the first space vehicle to orbit another planet–Mars.   With India’s recent pursuit of its own  mission to the red planet, the allure of Mars remains a fixed point on humanity’s collective horizon.  As you might imagine, plenty of ink has been spilled over Mars exploration.  We’ll take a moment on this auspicious day in the history of space exploration to highlight a few items from our own collection.

Red-Rover-cover Red Rover : Inside The Story Of Robotic Space Exploration, From Genesis To The Mars Rover Curiosity by Roger Wiens.  As the chance for a manned mission to Mars within the next decade or more grows less and less likely, this book focuses on the history and future of the next best option, robotic proxies.  Equipped with state of the art tech that delivers the next best thing to actually being there, robotic astronauts look to be the future of space exploration.

Mission-to-mars-cover Mission to Mars : My Vision For Space Exploration by Buzz Aldrin.  When he’s not punching out dweebs who question whether he actually walked on the moon, Buzz Aldrin still thinks about space and planetary exploration. Aldrin’s bold vision sees humans on Mars by 2035, and if the political will existed to enact his ideas, it just might happen.

destination-mars-cover Destination Mars : New Explorations Of The Red Planet by Rod Pyle.  This amazing collection of Mars exploration history, interviews, and facts also features a survey of current projects from NASA, the European Space Agency, and private industry.  This insider account of space exploration to Mars will provide excellent and accessible background for folks interested in Mars exploration.

case-for-mars-cover The Case For Mars : The Plan To Settle The Red Planet And Why We Must by Robert Zubrin.  Aerospace engineer Zubrin makes a strong case for the colonization of Mars, and challenges NASA’s assertion of such a mission’s crippling costs.  Mr. Zubrin’s argument relies heavily on the use of the red planet’s existing resources to provide the vital elements for support of any settlement on Mars.

And how about a DVD to round things off?

Five-years-on-mars-cover Five Years On Mars from National Geographic.  This DVD comes from the Naked Science television program and the team from National Geographic, and includes images and video from Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Finally, a bit of music to listen to while reading and thinking about Mars:

Orbserver-cover The Orbserver In The Star House by the Orb. Nobody does spaced-out ambient quite like the Orb, and the music from this 2012 release will provide a spacey backdrop to any activity.

On anniversaries like this one, the Red Planet beckons.  Will we heed its call?

–Scott

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Chills Abound With Horror Favorites

Since we’re two days out from Halloween, I thought it might be fun to talk up some of my personal favorite books of horror and ghost stories.

Books_BloodClive Barker (1952 – ) remains a modern master of horror and fantasy.  Mr. Barker blends modern themes, esoteric strangeness, and a dash of gore into a potent, fear-induing mixture that will keep you up at night.  While the general public might know him best for films like Hellraiser, I would point folks to his Books Of Blood for some truly chilling reading.

Casting_runes_covMontague Rhodes James (1862 – 1936) innovated the concept of the English ghost story by using antiquarian protagonists and narrators, and then placing them in situations where their seemingly mundane lives strayed into the worlds of the strange and the supernatural.  If you have to grab one M. R. James collection, go for Casting The Runes And Other Ghost Stories.  This copy features a wonderful intro from Michael Chabon.  I would argue that M. R. James helped set the stage for the next name on this short list of luminaries.

cthulhuH. P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) simply must be included on any list of horror writers that I assemble.  His creation of the Cthulhu Mythos inspired generations of horror writers and film makers. While his career abruptly ended as the result of a tragic suicide, his influence continues to this day.  The Call Of Cthulhu And Other Weird Stories will serve as an excellent introduction to anyone seeking the essential flavor of Mr. Lovecraft’s remarkable body of work.

Salem_lotKing, Stephen (1947- ) has earned mention from me before on this blog.  His work inhabits a special place in the collective minds of most horror fans.  While Mr. King’s long career and diligent work habits have graced his fans with plenty to choose from when it comes to horror favorites, Salem’s Lot stands as my personal number one.

So there you have my own short list of favorites.  Now let’s read about some of yours in the comments section!

–Scott

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The Pirates Make The World Series!

Old_Buc_Logo Well, not quite.  On this date in 1903, the Pittsburgh Pirates played the Boston Americans in the first ever World Series game.  This game occurred 110 years ago today.  Is it more than coincidence that today also marks the Pirates’ return to the playoffs after a twenty-one year absence?  Think of it for a moment: more than two decades wandering in MLB’s wilderness of losing and mediocrity.  Now the Bucs are back, and win or lose today, this season represents a monumental step forward for a team long left for dead by the national media and all but the most loyal fans.  So on this day I think it fitting that we at Eleventh Stack celebrate the Bucs with a few of our favorite baseball related titles.  Hey, it’s what we do here, right?

Twin Killing: The Bill Mazeroski Story by John T. Bird.  You won’t find a bigger Pittsburgh sports folk hero than Bill Mazeroski.  He hit the home run against the dreaded Yankees that won the Bucs the 1960 World Series in dramatic fashion at Forbes Field.  I would argue that this feat represents the greatest walk-off hit in baseball history.

Maz And The ’60 Bucs: When Pittsburgh And Its Pirates Went All The Way by Jim O’Brien.  While Mr. Bird’s book serves as more of a true biography, legendary Pittsburgh writer Jim O’Brien’s book focuses more on the 1960 season and that immortal moment when Maz wins it all.  Mr. O’Brien knows Pittsburgh and its sports icons, and reading this book will transport you back to that magical time.

21 by Wilfred Santiago. A lot of talented folks have written about the late, great Roberto Clemente, but Wilfred Santiago’s graphic novel treatment of the Latin superstar’s early life in his native Puerto Rico, his career highlights, and his dedication to humanitarian causes feels special.  Folks who might not normally read comics or graphic novels should really check this one out, and that’s why I am placing it here.

Clemente: The Passion And Grace Of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss.  Mr. Maraniss focuses a lot of his book on Roberto Clemente’s amazing humanitarian work, including the fateful 1972, New Year’s Eve flight to Nicaragua that claimed his life when the plane he was in went down carrying supplies to victims of a recent earthquake.

Forbes Field: Essays And Memories Of The Pirates’ Historic Ballpark, 1909 – 1971.  This amazing collection celebrates the memory of Forbes Field, a park where legends played and baseball history was made.  Babe Ruth played and hit his final home run there.  Along with Maz and Clemente, so many other classic Pirates also made their baseball lives there.

Tales From The Pittsburgh Pirates Dugout : A Collection Of The Greatest Pirates Stories Ever Told by John McCollister. This amazing collection of tidbits and trivia provides a wealth of Pirates’ history in one volume.

Feel free to share your favorite Pirates titles and memories in the comments section, and let’s go Bucs!

–Scott

A day of baseball history, a day of giving. Click here to learn how you can support the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on October 3rd.

DoG2013

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Embracing A “Poly-Libris” Reading Life

book_stack  I used to be a one-book man, but of late, I have taken to reading multiple books at once.  Here’s a quick peek at what’s checked out on my CLP library card:

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  I have never read this book before, and I find its stirring environmental message to have the same deep impact on me as it did on those first readers in 1962.

Collected Poems: 1955 by Robert Graves.  I am still not quite through with this little gem.

Robert Graves: His Life And Work by Martin Seymour-Smith.  My fascination with Graves’ poetry has now bubbled over into a desire to learn more about the man’s life, so this biography fills the need nicely.

Backpacking: Essential Skills To Advanced Techniques by Victoria Steele Logue.  I’ve been doing a lot of walking and hiking in the local area of late.  Once I decide to branch out to a more serious, overnight jaunt, this book will come in very handy.

The Complete Guide To Climbing And Mountaineering by Pete Hill.   I’ve been bouldering too (an essential outdoor survival skill), and I confess to not really knowing what I am doing.  Mr.  Hill’s book provides lots of good advice on bouldering techniques.

Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert.  A friend turned me on to this local poet and I snagged our eBook copy.  His poems are at once rough and erudite, and sometimes difficult to read because of the raw emotions and memories they conjure in the mind’s eye.

So while perhaps a bit unfocused, I’ve found my new, “poly-libris” approach to the books in my life refreshing.

–Scott

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Reading Graves Again

I initially learned about writer Robert Graves through his interpretations of classic Greek myths, but I later encountered him during my undergraduate years kicking around the English department of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  I found my first (and favorite) Graves poem, “The Naked and the Nude” in a poetry class there.  The poem appeared in a collection called Perrine’s Sound And Sense: An Introduction To Poetry.  Here it is:

The Naked and the Nude

For me, the naked and the nude
(By lexicographers construed
As synonyms that should express
The same deficiency of dress
Or shelter) stand as wide apart
As love from lies, or truth from art.

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;
The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;
And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly
To hold each treasonable eye.
While draping by a showman’s trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometime nude!

Graves became famous for his strange claims of esoteric inspiration from a muse he dubbed “the White Goddess,” a beautiful, but ultimately unforgiving spirit responsible for the poet’s strange mixture of original, mythical, and historical themes.  While not so grandiose or baroque as the complex mythology created by poet William Blake, Graves’ work remains accessible to anyone possessing a love for classic mythology and ethereal verse.

While Mr. Graves also wrote plenty of short and long fiction (I, Claudius), and dabbled in many other literary areas, the best way to get a feel for his poetry would be to seek out his Collected Poems.  I am disappointed to report that CLP currently does not have the Penguin Modern Classics edition of The Complete Poems: In One Volume, but we will be addressing that soon!  Graves’ poetry provides a wonderful look into a bygone era of lyrical lines and mythical allusions, and if your ears possess the necessary acuity, you too may hear the whispers of the White Goddess when reading it.

–Scott

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