With Apologies to Hornby: February 2019

Books read
Operation Trojan Horse – John A. Keel
The Riverside Reader – Joseph F. Trimmer, Maxine Hairston
Wild Delicate Sounds: 29 Wildlife Encounters – Charles Finn

Books bought/found/given
An American Harvest: How One Family Moved from Dirt-Poor Farming to a Better Life in the Early 1900s – Cardy Raper
Avengers: Ultron Unbound – Roy Thomas, Dave Ross, and others
Batman/Judge Dredd Collection – John Wagner, Simon Bisley, and others
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Comic Book Archive – Evan Dorkin
Birds of Prey, Vol. 1 – Chuck Dixon, Gary Frank, and others
Camelot 3000 – Mike W. Barr, Brian Bolland
Convergence – Jeff King, Scott Lobdell, Dan Jurgens, and others
Cyclops: Starstruck – Greg Rucka, Russell Dauterman, Carmen Carnero, and others
DC Comics: Zero Year – Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and others
Encyclopedia of Urban Legends – Jan Harold Brunvand
Excalibur Briefing: Explaining Paranormal Phenomena – Thomas E. Bearden
Hawkeye: Avenging Archer – Jim McCann, David Lopez, and others
Mysteries of the Unknown: Phantom Encounters – Editors of Time-Life Books
Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale – Skottie Young, Jake Parker
Roots – Alex Haley
Skrulls Must Die: The Complete Skrull Kill Krew – Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Steve Yeowll, and others
The Great Northern Express: A Writer’s Journey Home – Howard Frank Mosher
Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice – Laraine Herring

There were a few years back in the early 1990s when you could sit in your car and watch moose alongside Route 118 at Belvidere Pond. Vehicles would line the rural Vermont roadway in springtime, just before dusk, and the great beasts would wander out of the woods or from the swamp to do their thing.

Sometimes a cow would venture out with a young calf, leading it to some choice bark or early-blooming water vegetation. On good nights, there’d be four or five moose wandering around within a mile-and-a-half of each other. Typically, the moose would walk alongside the road, staying on the forested or swampy sides of the cars and trucks, crossing the road when they’d find a comfortably wide opening between vehicles. Once in a while, though, one would approach, and getting so close, occupants would be overwhelmed by the size of the largest member of the deer family.

Being exposed to wildlife in such a way is a wonderful thing, being in the position to observe and notice details in a way one would never learn from books. Well, not from most books, anyway.

Wild Delicate Sounds: 29 Wildlife Encounters, a collection of short essays by Charles Finn, put me in the mind of those evenings in Belvidere. Each piece is a meditation on precious time spent in the presence of the life we share this planet with. When the book was finished, I wanted more, and I was inspired to give observational writing like this a try. 

When warmer weather gets here, of course.

In the middle of January, my wife brought home The Riverside Reader from the freebie table at her job. This book is a compilation of essays and excerpts from larger narrative pieces and was used at one time in college classes. Trying to expose myself to a wider variety of writing styles and writers, I read it from cover to cover. I mostly wasn’t disappointed. There was a handful of snoozers, but they were offset by some real gems.

Alex Haley wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine shortly after Roots was released, and it’s included in Riverside. Called “My Furthest Back Person – ‘The African’”, the essay explains how Haley went about tracking down the ancestor that his family saga grew from. It left a powerful impression, and I wound up buying a copy of Roots this past week.

I also really enjoyed a piece by neurologist James H. Austin. He wrote “Four Kinds of Chance” for Saturday Review in the late 1970s, in which he discusses the different roles chance plays in creativity and human interaction. It was weirdly encouraging, and I can’t really explain why.

With regard to Riverside, I’ll finally mention “That Day at Hiroshima” by Alexander H. Leighton. Originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, the essay is about his experiences visiting Hiroshima six months after America dropped an atomic bomb there. He explores the fallout in psychological, natural, and cultural terms, and it’s both riveting and upsetting. It recalled everything I feared as a child growing up in the waning years of the Cold War.

Novel research drove some of my writing and book buying in February, with my consumption of John Keel’s fringy, weird classic, Operation Trojan Horse. He provides an interesting take on modern UFO folklore, as well as on the origins of older folktales and religion in general. I also bought another book in the Time Life Mysteries of the Unknown series. I’m trying to get a full set. The books are a nice compilation of paranormal and supernatural folklore, right in my fiction-writing wheelhouse and a lifelong interest of mine.

I was doing pretty well on the book-buying front last month. Up until the last day of February, I’d only purchased only five books, which is a real act of self control on my part. Then I made the mistake of visiting Ollie’s Bargain Outlet in Massena, NY, and that was it for me. I came out with a stack of discounted comic book collections, as well as a couple of other books. The real treasure of the day for me was finding Bill & Ted’s Excellent Comic Book Archive by Evan Dorkin. This is a hardcover, 368-page book that includes all 12 issues of the series, which Dorkin did for Marvel Comics early on in his career. I can’t wait to crack it open.

Gotta reign it in for March. More reading books. Less buying books.

But who am I kidding?

With Apologies to Hornby is a monthly look back at the books read, purchased, found, and given to me in the previous month. This feature is inspired by Nick Hornby’s Stuff I’ve Been Reading column in the The Believer magazine.

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