Thursday, February 25, 2021

Another Book Post: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery/Horror Anthologies

Last week I wrote about the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, but there were some other books, released around the same time, that were also important to me, and which had a lot in common with the Three Investigators books. These also had Alfred Hitchcock's name on them and his likeness on the cover (and in some of the internal illustrations), though Hitchcock actually had nothing to do with them; many of them were edited by Robert Arthur, creator of the Three Investigators and author of the first nine books in the series; and they were published by Random House for the young reading audience.

Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful (and several others, including Sinister Spies, Daring Detectives, and Monster Museum--all with Alfred Hitchcock's before the title proper) weren't novels, they were short story collections, and included stories by many of the greats of the mystery and horror fields, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Manly Wade Wellman, and many others. As I've already said, many of them were edited by Robert Arthur ("The editor [presumably a reference to Hitchcock] gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Robert Arthur in the preparation of this volume" says Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery at the beginning of the copyright section, though Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful acknowledges Muriel Fuller), and Arthur often included a story of his own in the Table of Contents--and his stories were very good; Random House also published an excellent collections of Arthur's stories(Mystery and More Mystery, which has no mention of Alfred Hitchcock on it, but is otherwise much like the above mentioned anthologies).

These are really great books, and I'm glad I had them when I was a kid--though, honestly, the cover (actually more the back cover than the front) of Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery (which I got as a birthday or Christmas present when I was about eight; I got the whole book as a present, I mean, not just the cover) scared the bejeebers out of me when I was young. Many of the stories are great, but so are the illustrations.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Three Investigators: Another Book Post

These are the books that made me fall in love with reading and books, forty-five years ago.

When I say that, I mean that these are literally the books--these actual copies--that I started reading in 1975, thanks to my cousin Sharon (who, I am very sorry to say, is no longer here with us for me to thank for starting me off in this direction), and which I collected and read and re-read voraciously for several years, and which I've had as an important part of my personal library for nearly half a century.

The series--Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators--was created by Robert Arthur in 1964; he wrote the first nine books, and also the eleventh, and when he died in 1969, the series was continued by various other writers for almost two decades more, ultimately reaching forty-three volumes. (It's actually a little more complicated than that, but that's enough of an explanation for this post.) Alfred Hitchcock didn't really have anything to do with the series, he just allowed his name and likeness to be used in the books. The Hitchcock introductions to the books were in truth written by the books' authors, and when Hitchcock died in 1980, the series switched from the real (but no longer living) Hitchcock to the fictional mystery novelist Hector Sebastian. Gradually, all of the original series was revised and republished to feature Sebastian instead of Hitchcock.

The first sixteen books included great illustrations by Harry Kane; those illustrations are an important part of what made me love the books. I'm still disappointed that more novels don't feature illustrations every thirty or forty pages to show you what everything looks like. (Frankly, The Brothers Karamazov could do with a few. If it had some illustrations, maybe I could actually finish the darn thing. Or at least get past page 75. But I digress…)

I've re-read these books--especially the ones by Robert Arthur--a number of times over the years. They hold up pretty well. Nothing's as mind-blowing as being an eight-year-old and discovering them for the first time, but they're still pretty fun.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Anxiety Dreams

In Cynthia Rylant's wonderful picture book MOTOR MOUSE--illustrated by Arthur Howard, whose work on Rylant's Mister Putter and Tabby series I love--Motor Mouse has a pocket watch that tells, not only the time and if it's sunny or rainy, but also whether you are dreaming or you are experiencing something that is really happening.

I need such a watch.

Last night I had an anxiety dream, one of those ultra-realistic ones that you think is reality, about my old job in the corporate world. In this dream I had a Big and Important project due very soon, but not only had I not started the project, I felt totally unqualified to do it at all--and powerless (in that dream-like way of being literally unable to do something) to tell my bosses--who were busy telling me how important the project was, and how they just knew that I would do a great job--that I couldn't do it and hadn't even started. It would have been a great comfort to me to have been able to whip out my pocket watch and see the little hand pointing to "dreaming," instead of thinking it was really happening and waking up at 5:15 a.m. in a panic.

(And if you're thinking, "But in the dream, the watch would have said 'really happening'"--No, if the watch really worked, it would have to say "dreaming" if I was dreaming. The watch is greater than any anxiety dream.) (Except that, yes, the watch is not real and anxiety dreams are. Dangit!)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Animal Stories: Another Book Post

I love animal stories—the children's literature kind—so I'm going to write a little bit about them.

Children's picture books are filled with animal stories; I suspect that talking, clothes-wearing furry creatures outnumber talking, clothes-wearing human beings in the picture books at most libraries and bookstores. Many of these books are great, but what I'm thinking about here are longer, more prose-heavy books—chapter books and novels. Among those, there are at least three kinds of animal stories (and probably a lot more than that):

1. Completely realistic (and sometimes even true) stories about people and animals, where the people behave like people and the animals behave like animals: The Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka, Old Yeller, Sounder, Gentle Ben, and that one about the racoon, the name of which I can't remember now, and many more. The animals are essential to these stories, but it is really the people who are center stage.

2. Somewhat realistic but mostly fantastical stories about people and animals, where the people behave like people and the animals behave like animals, except for when people aren't around, at which time the animals behave like animals who are fully sentient and can speak English: Charlotte's Web is the best example of this, and also one of the most wonderful books ever written, and also the only example of this kind of book I can think of right now. In Charlotte's Web, the animals don't wear clothes or drive cars or hold down jobs, but they do, when the people aren't around, talk to each other and plot to save Wilbur's life. The sheep and the geese and the pigs and the rat and even the spider—especially the spider—all speak the same language, and remember too that Fern (the human little girl) can understand them, though her mother doesn't pay any attention when Fern tries to tell her about it. The people are essential to these stories (or at least to Charlotte's Web), but it is really the animals who are center stage.

(Charlotte's Web is a great book. If you haven't read it, go read it right now.)

3. Entirely fantastical stories in which people—human beings, that is—don't play an especially large part, and animals are mostly or completely anthropomorphized and talk to each other (even among very different species) and wear cloths and have jobs and houses and use dishes and teacups and cutlery and are all, apparently, for some reason about the same size. This is my favorite category, and the one into which perhaps my favorite novel, The Wind in the Willows, fits. I would also include A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories (published in Winnie-The-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner) in this category; yes, I know, it's made clear in the first book that the stories of Pooh, Piglet, Owl, et al., are stories the Father is telling his Son about the Son's stuffed animals, but that frame isn't consistently applied, and in fact is pretty much abandoned in the second book. So mostly Pooh and his friends are anthropomorphic animals rather than stuffed ones, and Christopher Robin, while occasionally being called upon to Save the Day, is not the central character. The animals are very much center stage. The Wind in the Willows includes only a couple of human characters, who are minor characters; they are barely on the stage at all.

Last year, my favorite of the new books I read (admittedly a fairly short list) was a new category 3 animal story: Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake. I really loved this book. One reviewer described it as a sort of cross between "Frog and Toad" and "The Odd Couple," and that seems pretty fair, though I think there's just as much The Wind in the Willows as Frog and Toad Are Friends in Skunk and Badger.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Another Book Post

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One

This picture shows three different editions of the same book; they are all mine and I took them down from the shelf to take this picture, but none of them is the actual copy I owned and read and loved as a teenager, back around 1985 or so (however, the copy I had was the same as the smallest one shown here, the Avon paperback). And man, did I love this book! It has some fantastic stories in it, including all of the early stars of SF: Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, of course, but also Simak, Sturgeon, Leiber, Bester, Boucher, and many others. There are twenty-six stories in all, one of which was adapted into a famous episode of "The Twilight Zone" (Jerome Bixby’s "It’s a GOOD Life"), and two of which were made into "Star Trek" episodes ("Arena" by Frederic Brown and "The Little Black Bag" by C.M. Kornbluth). (However, as I’ve said before, the mark of a great story or book is not whether somebody made it into a TV show or movie, which most of the time just results in a mediocre or bad TV show or movie anyway, but whether it’s enjoyable to read as a story or book. But that "Twilight Zone" episode is pretty great.)

The blurb on the front and spine of the 2005 ORB edition says, "The greatest science fiction stories of all time, chosen by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America," though "of all time" is actually limited to the thirty-five-year span of 1929 – 1964, and technically the contents only cover 1934 - 1963: 1929 was the first year the SFWA considered a published story to be eligible for inclusion and 1964 was the last (because the SFWA was founded in 1965, and immediately started handing out awards for contemporaneous stories), but nothing earlier than 1934 was voted into this collection, and nothing from 1964 made it in either.

The final story in the collection, Roger Zelazny’s "A Rose for Ecclesiastes," is pretty great. I’ve never read any of Zelazny’s novels (almost a crime on my part, I know), but I’ve read quite a few of his short stories, and this might be the best.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Reading Log

I've been thinking about books and reading a lot lately. I mean, even more than usual.

The writer whose work I've read the most of—I admit this with a little bit of embarrassment—is Piers Anthony. It's been nearly thirty years since I read anything by him, but between 1981 and 1993 I read twenty-seven of his novels. Twenty-seven! There's no other writer I've read that much of, even if it has been decades since I read him. I loved his books when I was a teenager, and I had actually more than twenty-seven of them on my shelf (obviously there were a few I never actually read); for a while, I called him my favorite writer.

As I said, there are no other authors whose work I've read that much of, but there are a few writers from whom I've read around a dozen books, and none of those are embarrassing to me: Robert A. Heinlein, Clifford D. Simak (who I also considered my favorite writer for a while when I was teenager), Madeleine L'Engle (also my favorite writer for a while; I really loved her work), Lloyd Alexander, James P. Blaylock.

And I've read more than two hundred of Ray Bradbury's short stories, but that's about the equivalent of ten Piers Anthony novels, and I haven't ready any of Bradbury's true novels (he didn't actually write that many—The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine, for example, are both related groups of short stories published under one title—and no, I haven't read Fahrenheit 451). I've read 70 or 80 of Gene Wolfe's short stories but none of his novels, and 60 or 70 of Isaac Bashevis Singer's short stories (I might even say that for the last couple of years he's been my favorite writer), but also none of his novels.

When I was nineteen my favorite writer was Bobbie Ann Mason, but that was solely on the strength of one short story collection (Shiloh and Other Stories, still, I think, a great book) and her first novel (In Country, which had just come out when I started reading her). I also really loved Lorrie Moore, but that too was based only on a couple of books. I haven't read anything by either of them since the early 1990s, though both are still writing.

These days I spend a lot more time thinking about reading than actually reading. I don't read that many novels these days (and when I do, there's a good chance I'm just reading The Wind in the Willows again), but I read lots of short stories—it's my favorite literary form, and last year I read over 200 of them, including all of Flannery O'Connor's stories, most of John Cheever's, and a number by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (many of which I wasn't crazy about, but "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is a remarkable story), Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and other "literary" writers. I also read a number fantasy, science fiction, horror, and mystery stories from various magazines and "Year's Best" collections (i.e., The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2019, Best New Horror 23, etc.). And I re-read Joe Hill's collection 20th Century Ghosts, which I think is a wonderful book. "Pop Art" is a great story; if you haven't read it, you should.

Monday, January 11, 2021

First Day of Classes, Spring Semester, 2021

First day of teaching in a classroom in 10 months.

Also, first time having my shirt tucked in in 10 months.

And, first time teaching with a mask on...ever.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Contented Cat

I texted these pictures to Anna and Jessica this morning before I took my shower. I had to zip out to get my pocket computer/camera to capture the image (I don't normally take it into the bathroom with me), but when I returned she hadn't stirred.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Stone Mountain

We went to Stone Mountain today for the first time since the Coronavirus pandemic really took hold last March -- although Stone Mountain was also the last place we went as a family back before the Coronavirus pandemic really took hold (on March 8, 2020, to be exact). We spent all of our time today on the walkup trail or the side of the mountain adjacent to the walkup trail. I missed -- and I'm sure Jessica and Elyse did too -- being able to buy candy in that one shop in Crossroads, though I don't know if we would have been allowed into Crossroads anyway, since Stone Mountain Christmas was still going on (it was, in fact, the last day), and we didn't bother to renew our memberships last year (another casualty of the pandemic).

In any case, it was nice to be out for a while. Here are a few of the pictures I took:

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Remembering Ben Bova

Ben Bova died a few days ago.

When I was in fifth grade, my gifted class went to the Bethesda Elementary library and the librarian gave us a presentation about some books she was encouraging us to read, books that were nominated for some award that year--it was a long time ago, and I was probably only half-way paying attention anyway, so I don't remember any details, but I think it was probably the Georgia Children's Book Award for the 1977-1978 school year. What I do remember her telling us as we all sat around a table at the back of the library, half a dozen books spread out before us, was that this book--she held up one of the volumes and showed us the cover--was science fiction and it was pretty advanced stuff, but if we thought we were up to the challenge we could give it a try.

That got my interest.

So I checked it out and read it, and absolutely loved it.

It was End of Exile by Ben Bova, perhaps the first "real" science fiction novel I ever read. I mean, a couple of years earlier I had loved The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron, but this was a whole different thing.

The next year, when I got to sixth grade and learned my way around the Sweetwater Middle School library, I was amazed and delighted to discover that End of Exile was actually the third book in a trilogy! (I don't think the librarian at Bethesda mentioned this--she may not have even known it--and apparently I didn't pay enough attention to the book jacket to come away with this information on my own. And really, I was only ten years old--what did I know from trilogies?) I immediately checked out the first two books, Exiled from Earth and Flight of Exiles, and then that third book (which I hadn't even known was the third book in a series when I read it) made SO MUCH MORE SENSE!

I read the Exiles trilogy every year that I was in middle school, and have read it a few more times since, though not in about twenty years--the list I keep of all the books I read tells me that in the year 2000 I read the first book (finishing it on my birthday, in fact) but that I didn't go on to read the second and third books, and have read nothing else by him in the 23 years I've been keeping that list. I have a paperback copy of the early 80's Berkley edition that puts all three books under one cover--"His famous star flight saga now in one magnificent volume!" the cover screams. I don't think I've ever actually read the copy I have now, but I intend to keep it forever.

In my mid twenties I tried reading a couple of Bova's other novels--he published dozens of them in a career that spanned six decades, and also many short stories, and a lot of non-fiction as well--but I couldn't get through them. It's not that they were bad, but nothing could live up to that experience of being ten years old and having my mind blown by End of Exile.

So, even though I haven't read that much of Ben Bova's work, and may never read anything else by him ever again, he is one of the Very Important Authors from my childhood, and for that I will always remember him with a great fondness.

(The winner of the Georgia Children's Book Award that year, by the way, was Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers. I've never read the book, but I've seen the Disney movie--the version with Jodie Foster, not that version that was released years later--many times; I think I actually saw it in a theater when it first came out. John Astin, who was Gomez Addams on TV more than ten years earlier, plays the father. It's a decent little movie, not great, but not bad either. If you haven't seen it, you should.)

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Four Morning Poems: Two Tanka and Two Haiku

This morning, before everyone else got out of bed, I sat outside on the back deck and took these pictures and wrote these poems:

I see you up there,
Visible half of the moon,
Just over my head
And thousands of miles away--
But where is your other half?

Coffee, notebook, pen,
Birds and squirrels and a light breeze,
The deck to myself,
Everyone else still asleep--
This is a perfect morning.

Half green, half orange,
The leaves are in transition--
Beautiful changes

"Squirrel proof" it may be,
But "chipmunk proof" it is not--
Eat well, little guy!

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Halloween 1970: Fifty Years Ago


Fifty years ago I was a lion for Halloween.

FIFTY YEARS AGO! That's amazing to me. What's equally amazing is that I remember--I think, anyway--going with my mother to the Woolworth's at North DeKalb Mall and buying this costume. Or do I just remember her bringing it home to me? I'm not sure. I have a very vague memory of the yellow Volkswagen Beetle we had then ("we" I write, as if I sometimes drove it), and bringing in a shopping bag containing a box containing this costume.

And this is what Halloween costumes looked like in 1970: a plastic mask you put over your face with an elastic band, doing your best to align your eyes with the imperfectly-placed eyeholes, and a thin plastic (vinyl? I'm not sure what it was actually made of) one-piece suit that was an appropriate color for whatever you were supposed to be, that had a picture representing what you were supposed to be on the chest. Costumes like this didn't so much make you look like the thing you were supposed to be as make you look like someone wearing some kind of weird advertisement for the thing you were supposed to be.

The first picture was taken in the basement ("fellowship hall"? I'm not sure what it was actually called.) of the old Ingleside Presbyterian Church in Scottdale. Back in the 1970s, Ingleside used to have Halloween gatherings every year (though I suspect they were on a Friday or Saturday night, not necessarily on the actual date of Halloween); there's a picture I'd love to post but which I can't find, taken at Ingleside the year my brother Jeff dressed up in a fantastic Cookie Monster outfit Mom made for him.

The second picture was taken at our house in Clarkston, the living room of which apparently had a floral motif. I don't know if the Trick or Treat bag I'm holding is in an empty pre-trick-or-treating state or is full of candy. I'm not sure if I actually went trick or treating in our neighborhood or not; I have no memory of it. It's possible that the second picture above was actually taken before the first one.

Another amazing thing is thinking about how different the country, and my world, were when these pictures were taken. The Vietnam War was still going on; Nixon was still in his first term as president; the Watergate scandal was still a couple of years in the future, and the first moon landing was less than a year and a half in the past. Dad still had another week as a twenty-five-year-old, and Mom wouldn't turn twenty-five for another year. All of my grandparents were still alive, and several of my cousins had yet to be born. First grade for me was still nearly three whole years away.

(This is, for whatever it's worth, post number 700 on Planet Burdett. I hope to do many, many more.)

Monday, October 19, 2020

I am being watched

I am being watched as I sit outside and drink my coffee!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Once More to the Great Smoky Mountains

Today I took advantage of the fact that Anna's off work for her Fall Break to go out for an all-day adventure on one of my favorite drives: up U.S. 441, through north Georgia, into North Carolina, through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and on to Pigeon Forge, TN--and then back home again.

In one day.

I left this morning at about 9:20 and didn't get home until fourteen hours later*; frankly I wish I'd stopped at the NC/TN border--Newfound Gap in the GSMNP--and then headed back home. Three-hundred and eighty miles is a little too much for a one-day round trip (especially when I don't head out in the morning until over an hour after I'd intended too).

But still, I had a great time, and I took lots of pictures. Here are the ones I texted to Anna and the girls as I went:

(Tallulah Point Overlook, a place I always look forward to stopping at, has moved. I didn't see its new location.)

(The picture above and the two below show Gatlinburg from the bypass.)

(This was at that big year-round Christmas place in Pigeon Forge. Since Elyse collects cardinals, I thought she'd like it. (The picture, I mean; I didn't buy it.))

* If you compared that timeline with the time stamp on this post, you'd have to conclude that my arrival home is still in the future. I'm actually creating this post the next day, on Friday; it's actually "yesterday" I'm describing, rather than "today." Don't tell anyone.