Is there something wrong with me?

Feeling like I’m from another planet is something I’ve experienced repeatedly ever since I was a kid. Especially when I see people upset about something and I can’t understand what it is they’re upset about. I’ll spend more time than I probably should analyzing whatever it is to try and figure out what the issue is and I always end up confused.

Take, for example, the reaction to a new cover for Roald Dahl’s classic kid’s book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Penguin Books is re-releasing the title as part of their Penguin Modern Classics range of books aimed at adults — it being one of the first kids books to be released in that line — and as such they came up with a new cover that they felt “highlights the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life”. 

It didn’t go over well with fans of the book. On Penguin’s Facebook page the reaction was mostly negative with several folks saying they won’t be buying it. So what has everyone’s panties in a bunch? Here’s the cover:

charliechoc

So, yeah, it’s pretty creepy looking and I’m not entirely sure how it represents what the book is about, but I’m not sure it deserves comments like this:

I’m not sure why adults need a different cover anyway, but who was it who decided that “adult” meant “inappropriately sexualized”?

Inappropriately sexualized? Really? The kid looks a little China doll zombie-ish, but I don’t see anything particularly sexualized about it. OK, there’s a bit of a JonBenét Ramsey vibe to her, I’ll give you that.

OMG It looks like a cover of Lolita, and it’s the cover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory??NONONONONO

Again, not seeing it. If anything it looks like a badly cropped shot of a couple of mannequins from a 1950’s J.C. Penney sale ad.

The inescapable, sexualised, subtext of this cover really does need to be reconsidered by the publishers. I struggle to understand how the executive decision was reached to choose this image. Bad mistake Penguin.

Again with claims that it’s sexualized. Is it the hair? The feather boa? What is it that’s saying SEX to these people?

This looks more like a cover for Valley of the Dahls.

OK, that one was funny.

Clearly a lot of people are seeing something in this cover that I am not. As someone who literally does judge books by their covers I completely agree that it’s a bad choice, but mainly because it doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. It turns out, according to the BBC, there’s a good reason for that:

The image is taken from a French magazine shoot by the photographers Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, for a 2008 fashion article entitled Mommie Dearest.

Yeah, I can see that. It definitely looks like something from Mommie Dearest, which is a completely different sort of story than Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.

So I’m left to ponder: Is there something wrong with me that I’m not outraged by this supposedly hyper-sexualized image of a zombie girl?

Creeped out a bit? Sure. She’s got a death stare on her that’d fit in any horror movie. Not seeing the “sexy” in it though.

Don’t tell me what to read.

funny-Jack-Nicholson-careRuth Graham over at Slate thinks it’s shameful that adults are reading fiction aimed at kids:

Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books.

As The Fault in Our Stars barrels into theaters this weekend virtually guaranteed to become a blockbuster, it can be hard to remember that once upon a time, an adult might have felt embarrassed to be caught reading the novel that inspired it. Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.

I have two words for Ms. Graham: Fuck you.

I don’t read a lot of fiction because — and this is something I’ve said many times in the past — I’m very picky about what I read and I have the bad habit of judging books by their covers. The vast majority of my personal library is composed of non-fiction books, usually of a scientific bent. There are, however, authors whose books I will buy without even asking what they’re about simply because I’ve enjoyed their work in the past. Some of them are “young adult” authors such as J.K. Rowling. I don’t care if they’re not aimed at my demographic, I only care if I’m entertained by them. It’s the same reason I often go see “kids movies” like How To Train Your Dragon or Toy Story or Kung Fu Panda even though my own kid is now 23 years old.

Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this. I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.

Again, fuck you. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve never completely grown up, but I’m of the opinion that if someone is enjoying what they’re reading then we should probably be happy they’re reading at all. My wife reads all manner of vampire and werewolf stories from authors I’ve never heard of that to me all look like the same story over and over again, but she’s happy reading them. Meanwhile, I tend to buy every book Neil Gaiman puts out regardless of whether it’s aimed at kids, young adults, or adults. I don’t understand the popularity of shows like American Idol, but I’m not going to begrudge someone’s enjoyment of it. Especially when I occasionally tune in to watch a kid’s show like Adventure Time.

I’m a huge fan of Mark Twain, but I’ve never read any of his classic stories. I have read a lot of his essays and talks and magazine articles. I’m a fan of his in spite of not having read the things he’s most famous for. The other night I realized I had a book containing a collection of his stories that included Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I have no idea where I got it, probably a gift from someone who knows I’m a Mark Twain fan, but there it was and for the first time I opened it up and starting reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Interestingly enough, in the preface to the story Mark Twain had this to say:

Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.

I wonder what Ms. Graham would have to say about that? Tom Sawyer is considered a literary classic and yet Twain says he aimed it at children. Should I be embarrassed to be reading it now that I’m 46 years old? I know some who might argue I should be embarrassed that I’m haven’t read it sooner.

Perhaps I’m not very sophisticated about the entertainment I consume. If so, then so be it. I often dismiss “serious” movies because they don’t have enough explosions for me to spend the money to see them in theaters. I generally don’t give a shit which ones win “Best Movie” at the Oscars because it’s often stuff that bores me to tears. I don’t pay attention to the New York Time’s Best Seller lists. And my musical tastes are often off-kilter to what’s popular.

I’m not ashamed by any of that. I don’t see why others should be about what they’re into. And anyone who thinks I, or anyone else, is worthy of being looked down on because I’m not into the same shit they are can go fuck themselves.

SEB Review: “Lovely Assistant”


Back at the tail end of March I was contacted by Geoph Essex about a novel he had written that he wanted me to read. It was titled Lovely Assistant with a subtitle of Magic, Mystery, Mayhem, and the lighter side of Death. I’m only just getting around to writing a review now because 1) it’s pretty damned big at 489 pages and 2) I tend to read in fits and starts.

So here’s the short version: I love it and I think you should all go buy it and read it and enjoy it.

The longer review is harder to do because it’s the sort of story that’s best gone into without knowing a lot about it. It doesn’t help that trying to describe it is like trying to describe what yellow tastes like or what green sounds like. Here’s the general description of the book from Amazon’s listing for it:

Jenny Ng missed her last appointment, was hit by a car, and was hired by a magician on the same day. And those aren’t even remotely the strangest things that happened to her this summer. Jenny’s a typical New Yorker, too jaded too early, struggling to get by in the big city. Of course, the typical New Yorker rarely has to deal with very large and sardonic horses, magic swords, severed limbs, and mirror images that refuse to cooperate with all that reflecting business. But Jenny learns to cope. With the help of a clever conjurer, a few feckless friends, and enough Grim Reapers to fill out a football league, it’s up to Jenny to learn the finer points of Life and Death…and save the world while she’s at it.

It sounds really weird, which it is, but it’s also an enjoyably fun tale told with an eye for the colorful metaphor. Here’s part of the opening paragraph from Chapter 20 which contains no spoilers whatsoever, but gives you a good idea of the style of storytelling you’ll find within:

Arguments over which day any given deity may have taken a breather after a week of creative entrepreneurialism may orbit close to the center of the most divisive issues to ever plague humankind and pad the salaries of theologians, but the fact remains that Sunday is a definitive day of rest for the city of New York as whole, if not for individual New Yorkers themselves. By fiat or trend, businesses shorten their hours, subways trim their schedules, restaurants close earlier, and a colorless malaise envelopes the city, slowing things down and putting the City that Never Sleeps into the moral food coma that inevitably follows the gluttonous feast of Saturday’s nightlife. The air itself seems paler, thinner–ponderous and meaningless at the same time, like a snail trying to decide what to wear to the office Christmas party before her husband finally makes his way from the bedroom to the bathroom sixteen hours later to remind her that she neither wears clothes nor works in an office, let alone celebrates the birth of a hairless hominid who lived in a desert two thousand years earlier.

The prose reminds one of Douglas Adam’s writing, but it never comes across as an attempt at imitation of such. If the above sounds interesting to you at all then go buy this book. I’m not much of a literary expert, but I know what I like. It is often funny, frequently poignant, and damned enjoyable. The highest praise I can give it is that I was bummed when I finally reached the last period and realized there was no more to read. It’s a goddamned good book and I enjoyed it immensely. If you’re anything like me then you will too.

This made me laugh.

It’s Banned Books Week!

I’d almost forgotten that it was Banned Books Week. The folks at the American Library Association’s annual event drawing awareness to attempts to ban books from various libraries:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

After the jump is their list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.

Continue reading

SEB Reviews: “God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.” by Penn Jillette.

[amazon_image id=”145161036X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales[/amazon_image]
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Written by: Penn Jillette
Price:
Rating: 4/5

Let me say right up front that I’m a long-time fan of Penn & Teller as a magic act and Penn and Teller separately as skeptics and atheists. So when I was asked by the folks at Simon & Schuster if I would like an advanced copy of Penn’s new book I accepted it without question.

Sitting down to read it I didn’t really have a good clue as to what it would be about beyond what small promotional bits were on the cover. One of which says the following:

Not only can the man rant, he can write. From the larger, louder half of the world-famous magic duo Penn & Teller comes a scathingly funny reinterpretation of The Ten Commandments. They are The Penn Commandments, and they reveal one outrageous and opinionated atheist’s experience in the world. In this rollicking yet honest account of a godless existence, Penn takes readers on a roller coaster of exploration and flips conventional religious wisdom on its ear to reveal that doubt, skepticism, and wonder — all signs of a general feeling of disbelief — are to be celebrated and cherished, rather than suppressed. And he tells some pretty damn funny stories along the way. From performing blockbuster shows on the Vegas Strip to the adventures of fatherhood, from an on-going dialogue with proselytizers of the Christian Right to the joys of sex while scuba diving, Jillette’s self-created Decalogue invites his reader on a journey of discovery that is equal parts wise and wisecracking.

That set up a base expectation for a book filled with arguments for Penn’s alternatives to the Ten Commandments, but that’s not quite how it plays out. Each chapter opens with one of the commandments followed by a small blurb about or related to it and then “One Atheist’s Suggestion” as an alternative. Immediately after that Penn presents us with a few stories from his life that are at least somewhat related to the suggestion he provided at the start of the chapter. These are not necessarily presented as arguments for or against his suggestions or the commandments themselves and how some of them tie in with the particular chapter isn’t always clear, or at least it wasn’t to me. In fact, the majority of arguments in favor of atheism in the book took place in the introduction and the afterword.  Needless to say, this was a little confusing at first.

But that’s not to say that it’s a bad book, because it’s a great book so long as you don’t let the ad copy set up expectations that the book doesn’t seem to aspire to. What the book really seems to me to be is a look into the thinking and philosophy of the man named Penn Jillette. Being a fan I’ve learned various things about him over the years, but it was the very broad and vague kind of knowledge that you have of any celebrity that you pay much attention to. I wouldn’t dare claim to know him in any depth and certainly not the way I know close friends. This book, however, helped turn him from just a celebrity I know some stuff about into more of a real person that I could hang out with if we happened to bump into each other someplace. And not just hang out in a oh-my-I’m-a-big-fan kind of way, but as a couple of guys just hanging out and shooting the shit about whatever topic was at hand.

A good example is his anecdote on why he doesn’t participate in the Santa Claus myth with his kids found in Chapter 5. He starts off admitting that he and his wife lie to their children all the time about everything from the operating hours of Disneyland (it’s always closed except when they were already planning on taking the kids there) to the fact that what they tell the kids is ice cream is really frozen yogurt, but they won’t lie to them about Santa Claus. The anecdote is long and it strikes off onto a couple of tangents and never really gets around to explaining the why of their decision not to participate in the myth. What it does do is get into the day his mother died and how Penn lied to his parents to keep his father out of a nursing home and the rituals they’ve developed as an alternative to Christmas as a result of those events that really brings into focus Penn Jillette’s humanity. If you aren’t a bit choked up at the end of that story then you probably don’t have a heart.

In the end I feel I have at least a slightly better understanding of both his political and religious outlook as well as just what sort of person he is. Not every anecdote is successful — I’m not entirely sure I needed to read about the time he accidentally fried his cock in a ex-girlfriend’s hair dryer — but most of them are at least amusing if not always enlightening. If you weren’t an atheist before reading the book there’s nothing in it that’ll result in you suddenly deciding to abandon your God-belief, but you will have an insight into how at least one atheist lives his life. If you’re a fan then it’s pretty much a must-read if for no other reason than to read about some of the crazy shit he’s done over the years. Like the time he tried to get the TSA to arrest him by dropping his trousers during a pat down or the time on Politically Incorrect that he made some hard-core conservative Christian lady look like a maniac on national TV by quietly uttering a stunningly blasphemous phrase to her during a commercial break.

TL;DR: It was a quick and entertaining read and I highly recommend it.

Gather round kids! It’s Tea Party Story Time!

Here’s what passes for satire with the Tea Bagger Party crowd as written by failed Republican candidate for Washington’s third district, David Hendrick:

Pic of the cover for The Liberal Clause

They're coming to ruin your Christmas! Aiiiieeeeee!

The Liberal Clause takes place in the small town of Camas, WA where, for as long as anyone can remember, the children have been given the special responsibility of electing the Great Elf Council that serves at the North Pole. This year, however, the ballots go missing. Suspiciously, nasty ol’ Elf Peloosi discovers a box she claims are the missing ballots under a shelf in the back of a union warehouse. The elves are so glad the ballots have been recovered that they don’t bother to question the fact that there are more ballots returned than were cast! This is all reported in local newspaper, The Christmas Times, above a picture of Hendrick himself with the subtitle “Camas man’s rant goes viral”.

The elves’ relief dissipates quickly as it becomes clear something fishy is going on. After the Liberal Party of Elves takes over the Great Council Santa Claus suddenly goes missing and the elf people are told he is being replaced.

via Read The Tea Party Children’s Book About How Obama Stole Christmas. No, Really.

That’s right, it’s a Christmas story about President Obama as the evil Liberal Clause and his cabal of Socialist elves and their scheme to ruin Christmas by forcing all manner of stupid Liberal policies on everyone. Just as you’d expect, it hits on all of the Tea Partier’s favorite talking points such as Obama’s birth certificate, his use of teleprompters, being forced into evil labor unions, the bailouts, Al Gore and global climate change, Obama’s former preacher Reverend Wright, the changing of “Christmas” to “Holidays”, the campaign against obesity, and so on.

The book is filled with really bad illustrations — I especially liked the one with Obama standing next to Josef Stalin just in case anyone reading it isn’t bright enough to pick up on the Evil Commie theme he’s pushing — and the text is about as puerile as you can get. Here’s a small sample:

Shortly after these words left Sneed’s mouth, a man dressed in Santa’s suit stepped onto the stage and strutted to the mike. In front of him, a group of elves ran out holding up a TV screen with words on it. This was the first time the elves had seen a teleprompter at the North Pole. Santa Claus had always spoken from the heart.

The skinny imposter began to read.

“My fellow citizens of the North Pole,” he stated with a hint of arrogance in his voice, “I am here to pull Christmas back from the brink of destruction. My name is Barry, but you can call me Liberal Claus.”

“Are you even from the North Pole?” an elf questioned from the crowd.

Liberal Claus scowled at this elf with pure evil in his eyes. For a moment all of the elves stood in disbelief waiting for a response, but the response would never come.

In the end it comes down to one brave girl who, after finding out the truth about Liberal Clause’s evil plans from “Ox News”, rallies the other children to form a Tea Party. They defeat the the evil Liberals by unplugging Liberal Clause’s teleprompter — without which he is apparently powerless — and then dumping all the free candy they got into the local lake.

I suppose in a way it is pretty funny in a stuffed-shirt inflated sense of self-importance way, but it’s also disheartening to think that for many Tea Partiers the falsehoods presented in this story are Gospel truths. It’s also a creepy kind of child indoctrination following in the grand Christian tradition of “gettin’ ’em while they’re young.”

Though Hendrick is hardly the first TPer to put out propaganda for kids. He was beaten to the punch by the Tea Party Coloring Book:

Calling it a “wonderful book of The Tea Party for Kids,” a St. Louis-based publisher has sold “many thousands” of its Tea Party Coloring Book for Kids! The book, complete with “puzzles, mazes and connect the dots,” promises to teach kids about “Liberty, Faith, Freedom and so much more!” “We’re not really making a political statement,” publisher Wayne Bell told CBS News, though the book contains a good deal of far-right rhetoric. For example, it warns that government-run healthcare “cannot be the only choice,” and that “[w]hen taxes are too high, the high tax takes away jobs and freedom.” “In 1773 we had a Tea Party and this led to freedom from high taxes,” the book explains to kids. “Today we are having another Tea Party and this will lead to freedom from high taxes again!” (Nevermind that tax rates in 2009 were actually the lowest since 1950).

I suppose I should at least be happy that Hendricks story doesn’t end with the kids taking up arms and killing all the Liberals and then mounting their (the Liberals) stuffed heads on the wall. Actually, I’m a little surprised that’s not how it ended.

DO NOT GO GENTLY: A TRIBUTE TO HARLAN ELLISON

By K. Patrick Glover

The salient fact, the piece of information that is crucial to all that follows, no matter how much I wish otherwise: Harlan Ellison has announced that he is dying.

Let that stand alone, for a moment.

How do you begin to write a piece about something that horrifies you? Something that just makes you want to shake your head in denial and hide somewhere, perhaps in a corner, amidst a collection of favorite old books. Books like The Glass Teat, Shatterday, The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart of The World, Stalking The Nightmare and Strange Wine. What do you do when all those favorite books just remind you of the horrifying news that sent you scurrying for the corner in the first place?

Perhaps you go back, to the origins of it all. The point of discovery, the spark of inspiration, or, as we often say in mystery fiction, the precipitating incident. As such:

I was eighteen years old and spending a great deal of time hanging out in a local comic book store. Partially because I was a huge comic fan, but also because the people that hung there and worked there were very much my sort of people. It was one of the first places I had ever felt a true sense of belonging. The year was 1986.

This comic store, back in those days before the slick, chain like stores took over the business, was really a small house and it carried not just comics but gaming supplies and tons and tons of old books. I loved getting lost in the stacks of books. Science fiction novels, fantasy novels, men’s adventure books with ridiculous titles like The Executioner and The Penetrator. They all fascinated me.

On one particular day, I discovered a book called An Edge In My Voice by a writer named Harlan Ellison. It was an oversized paperback, thick and heavy, put out by a company called Starblaze Graphics. Starblaze I recognized, I had several graphic novels that they had published in my collection along with some books by Robert Asprin.

Harlan, however, was new to me. Still, the book looked intriguing and different so I picked it up and started to read segments at random. It was non-fiction, which surprised me, I think I was expecting science fiction (probably because of the section in which the store had it shelved). It was also incredibly engrossing. Harlan’s voice hit me like a freight train and I think my brain started going through evolutionary changes on the spot.

I had been toying with the idea of writing stories for several years. Even written a few, very, very bad ones. But it was holding that book in my hand, reading Harlan talk about what it takes to be a writer, about being truthful (which doesn’t always mean factual), about being fearless and about the craft itself that really sealed the deal for me. For the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I have no idea how long I really stood there reading that book, but I do recall the shop owner coming in to tell me he was closing up. I asked him to find me anything else he had by Harlan and he pulled out several paperbacks, a couple hardcovers and a small stack of science fiction magazines that all had Harlan’s name on the cover.

I took it all and went home and spent the next several days devouring all of it, some pieces over and over. His fiction was every bit as amazing as his non-fiction and even more important, it felt daring and new.

I read Repent Harlequin, Said The Ticktockman! In a paperback called All The Sounds of Fear. Actually, I read it through about four times in a single sitting. The first time laughing my ass off at the sparkling wit, the second time really appreciating the non linear structure, the third time studying the way he built a world so subtly and so completely and finally, the fourth time, when I took all the elements in together and really absorbed what has become my all time favorite piece of short form fiction.

Another piece that had a similar impact on me was found in one of the magazines, an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that featured Harlan on the cover for a story called All The Lies That Are My Life. At this point, having read through a couple of the books already, I was expecting speculative fiction (Harlan’s preferred term for what he does). Again, Harlan surprised. All The Lies is as much a piece of literary fiction as anything written by Hemmingway or Salinger. It may (or may not) contain some autobiographical detail. If it doesn’t, you feel like it does anyway because the characters are so painstakingly real and believable.

I could spend days reminiscing about various stories, unfortunately, that’s not why we’re here, you and I.

We’re here to talk of the man.

Harlan has his fair share of detractors. You’ll find no shortage of people online who will call him all manner of unpleasant things, most of which I imagine bring a smile to the man’s face. Likewise, there’s no shortage of us that consider the man a genuine hero, a role model and just an all around incredible human being. Harlan’s probably less comfortable with that adulation then he is with the bile from the other side, but the hell with it, let him be uncomfortable.

He has been known to be a difficult man to work with, especially in Hollywood circles. (Harlan spent plenty of time in the trenches, writing both film and television and winning several awards for his work.) He has been known as a litigious man, instigating more lawsuits than one can easily imagine.

And yet, both that difficult nature and that tendency towards litigation come from an overwhelming desire for fairness and justice. He has fought, over and over, to preserve creators’ rights, tilting furiously against the giant windmills of the huge, entertainment machine. To this day, whenever I hear of a particularly obnoxious money man trying to force creative decisions on a writer, I picture Harlan sneaking up behind him, garlic and wooden stake in hand, ready to do battle for the writer and the story.

In fact, that’s how I’ll always picture Harlan, ready to do battle against the unjust and the unfair, with a smile on his lips and a story in his heart. It’s an example we should all learn from and emulate. We should all spend some time tilting at windmills.

Perhaps my strongest regret is never meeting Harlan. There were opportunities in the past. I could have made it to a convention appearance or a lecture. I let my ego get in the way of that. I wanted to wait until I was established as a writer. I wanted to speak to him, not as an equal, no, my hubris doesn’t stretch that far, but at least as a fellow professional. The new kid on the block, so to speak. It’s a chance I’ll never have, now, and it is something I will regret for a very long time indeed.

Before I go, I want to leave you with a suggestion. Harlan may be dying, but he’s not gone yet. There may be some wonderful things yet to come from the man. Or he may spend his final days enjoying a well earned rest. In either case, I would urge you, don’t send him presents. He’s a happy man, he has said so on many an occasion and he has all that he needs or desires.

Instead, if you feel compelled to do something for Harlan, perhaps a contribution to the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund). It’s an organization that fights against censorship and for the rights of comic creators. Harlan has strongly supported the CBLDF over the years (as have I) and he would, I am sure, be delighted to see an upswing in support in his name.

This piece is written for open distribution, as long as it remains unchanged. As it features a call for support of the CBLDF, anyone who wishes to repost this, anywhere, has the author’s consent, as long as the text and attribution remain untouched.

I am a hoopy frood ’cause I always know where my towel is.

Do you know what today is? Today is Towel Day:

Towel Day is an annual celebration on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On that day, fans around the universe proudly carry a towel in his honour.

I love Douglas Adams! How can I get involved?

On the 25th of May, carry a towel. Where? Everywhere!

Proudly show the world you’ve observed Towel Day and upload a picture to Flickr, tagging it with “towelday” (most interesting – latest – group) or make a YouTube video (most relevant – latest). We look forward to seeing yours!

Want to help the cause? Tweet about #towelday, blog, post in forums, share a link in Facebook, link to the site… The more we are, the merrier!

More: FAQ

I will have to dig out my copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy today and give it a read through. It’s been too long since I last visited with Arthur, Ford, and Zaphod.

Don't Panic logo

After 100 years, Mark Twain’s autobiography will finally be published.

As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Mark Twain and I already own a number of biographies and collections of his writings. One of the things he wrote that I’ve been looking forward to reading for, literally, decades is his own autobiography. The reason I haven’t read it already is because Mark Twain left instructions that it wasn’t to be published until 100 years after his death:

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.

Bist of his autobiography have appeared in other books, including some that billed themselves as being autobiographies, but more than half of the original material has never been published in book form. People who have seen the writings already, which was possible if you were willing to make the trip to the Berkeley Bancroft research library, say that Twain had a lot to say that is surprisingly vitriolic:

“He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He’s also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there.”

In other sections of the autobiography, Twain makes cruel observations about his supposed friends, acquaintances and one of his landladies.

Oh yes, I’m looking forward to that. No word yet on when to expect it to hit store shelves, but I’ll definitely be picking it up once it does.