Book Reviewed: They Called Us Enemy, written by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott. Illustrated by Harmony Becker.

Genre: autobiographical graphic novel

Published By: Top Shelf Productions in 2019 ($19.99 for the traditional paperback; $25 for the expanded hardcover edition)

Nearly everyone who has been around a television knows who George Takei is—he played the famous character known as Hikaru Sulu, found on the USS Enterprise in the famed hit sci fi classic Star Trek. Even those who might’ve missed the series will undoubtedly have seen the actor online, with millions of followers on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere. The son of Japanese immigrants and himself a native-born US citizen, Takei has formed himself as a strong role model for younger generations, as well as a loud and beaming voice for political causes. Yet while he’s most well-known for his acting and social media engagements, George Takei has also proven to be an inciteful and subtle comics writer—the book They Called Us Enemy is evidence of that fact.

You’ve no doubt heard Takei give his Ted Talk about his family’s experience with the Japanese internment camps; you probably heard him discuss parts of it in talk show interviews. But here we have the full story as one man could tell it (with the collaborative help of his fellow artists, as listed above), and it is a beautiful, gut-wrenching story indeed. Juxtaposing the events of his years in the camps along with his own career highlights, Takei goes on at length about his own troubled optimism concerning the democratic ideals of a country that has failed his own family. This optimism was in its own way shared by his father, Takekuma Takei, a man whose own ability to speak English and Japanese in equal fluency led him to become the block manager of the camp, thereby using this small position to better help his fellow detainees. These were first, second, and third generation Japanese Americans, many of them born in the United States and who had no allegiance to the country from whom came the attack on Pearl Harbor—and yet here they all were, house in one of several camps across the country by orders of Franklin D. Roosevelt and popularized by politicians such as Fletcher Bownan and Earl Warren. George Takei was only a child when this was going on, hardly able to comprehend the full scope of this horror—how can children such as he be made to pay for the sins of those who came from countless thousands of miles away, whose only connection to him was a shared ethnic background?

No doubt the United States was put in a strange and unique position upon entering World War 2, and our country’s leaders had to make decisions which would seem impossible to us today. In this matter they clearly made the wrong decision, and for several years at least they continued to double-and triple down on that mistake. When the time came to call upon young men for service the US decided that they may need to lessen their racial divide in order to supply more bodies to the frontline, but they had to continue piling on the insult with a loyalty pledge and questionnaire, asking those of Japanese ancestry to revoke their heritage and swear complete allegiance to the country that had imprisoned them without having ever committed a crime. For people like George’s father, a man who had been born in Japan but raised in the US, this posed a far greater insult, for the same country asking him for his service had been the one that had denied him citizenship. Between that and the pressure to swear off his ancestral home, Takekuma Takei was essentially being asked to become a man without a country. What kind of thing is that to ask of someone, especially one who is made to suffer such indignities—along with his own immediate family?

And yet George’s father still upheld the striking ripe-hot optimism in the ideals of American democracy, emphatically passing them along to his son in many frank discussions over the years after their family’s release. Only one other man in history can I think of who placed such strong faith in the institutions of democracy, and George himself walked with that man in one of many demonstrations that were held across the various places in the country. I am of course talking about the Reverend Martine Luther King, Jr.

The comparison between the treatment of the Japanese and African American communities was just one of many eye-opening aspects of this brilliant graphic novel. I myself would like to think I love my country, but that love also comes with a great shame for my country’s sins. We must not forget that while we are a great country we are also an imperfect one; we must forever stand against these atrocities, so that they may never happen again.

George Takei is known for many things, his iconic roles over his decades-long career being one of them. But I would venture to say that this story is perhaps his crowning achievement, if for no other reason than for the fact that he has made me see the need for a better, more unified America. Thank you, Mr. Takei, and may you Live Long and Prosper.


Book Reviewed: MEG, Special Anniversary Edition, by Steve Alten

Genre: science fiction thriller; shark terror

Published By: Originally by Doubleday 1997; republished in a revised/expanded edition by Rebel Press ($24.95 in hardcover; $16 in trade paperback)

You hate to say it, but sometimes the movie is much better than the book (even if you did like the book).

Everyone remembers the film versions of Psycho, The Godfather, and The Shawshank Redemption; fewer people realize that these stories were initially introduced to us via the printed word. None of these original books were bad—in the case of Psycho I can’t recommend the novel highly enough. But Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is a national treasure, albeit a dark and disturbed one. In terms of great shark stories, I can bet you on odds 100 to 1 that most people quoting Jaws will be quoting from the grand blockbuster movie as opposed to Peter Benchley’s masterpiece. Which of course brings me to another blockbuster shark story, this one originated from the mind of Steve Alten.

Any of you who’re reading this and remembers August of 2018 will probably remember a certain high-action adrenaline rush down at the cineplex, featuring a chiseled Jason Statham at the helm. I am of course talking about The Meg, the epitome of giant shark movie that put Jaws to shame. Featuring a gigantic Megalodon and tons of bite-sized action, the flick was pure B-movie perfection. I’d watched this movie in the theater with my parents, and from the first scene I was hooked. I just had to have more of the story.

More of the story came at the hands of Steve Alten, who wrote the original novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. The first in a series of novels to feature this prehistoric breed of shark, the version I read was revised and expanded, released in 2015 along with a prequel story that gives the main character Jonas Taylor’s backstory with the shark. These novels, six so far and with another in the works, are Alten’s literary legacy—but they aren’t his only product. The author of novels featuring the Loch Ness Monster, alien conspiracy, and even the Mayan doomsday clock, Steve Alten has been a busy, busy bee.

I’ve read a few of Alten’s books now, including The Loch and Undisclosed (both well worth your attention if you’re looking for a purely entertaining beach read). After indulging in meaty tomes such as Dubliners and Moby Dick, a cheap beach read is a nice change of pace. A nice fun story, not high art but gets the job done. That’s what Meg is.

I do have a few quibbles with the book, sexist depictions of the few leading women characters being one. Maggie Taylor, Jonas Taylor’s soon-to-be ex-wife, is depicted as conniving, cheating, and opportunistic; Terry Tanaka is rash, given easily to emotion, and ultimately given to her festering love for the leading man. When you consider the long history of B-movies and beach reading these sort of casual caricatures of full people are commonplace. I don’t bash a book for following that history, but I do point out that we could have more heroic women characters in our light reading. Alten did a lot better with this in his novel The Loch; as an author he definitely improved as time wore on. But I can’t ignore the fact that his first novel had its faults.

The film version treated its women characters much better. Maggie, Jonas’ ex-wife, was noble and smart, and Terry was a solid mother and a brilliant scientific mind. I for one was thankful for this, and seeing as Alten himself expressed strong approval for the film I would venture to say he was pleased with the character portrayals as well. If you go and read the book, I do recommend that you follow it up with the movie—you may be surprised with the differences you find.

Oh, and while we’re on it, be sure to check out the Adopt-An-Author program. This is Steve Alten’s nonprofit, set up to encourage and inspire a love of reading in high school students. I’m just passing along information, as I do.


I don’t know about you, but every so often I need to shake things up in my solitary, literary life. The days get a little too long, and the weeks and months go by slower and with more aggravation than the seven-year itch. Sometimes the latest read off the old to-be-read pile leaves you exhausted, and the stack of paperback grows and grows while leaving you evermore intimidated. When those times come it can be best to hit a secondary pleasure to the art of reading: talking with your friends about books and their magic.

It is with that mindset that I decided to reach out to one of my newest friends I made this year, a man who inspired me to take on my own blogging journey through reading. That man is Bob Trube, and he hosts an online community that is simply named “Bob on Books”. Join us as we embark on our bookish conversation.

Why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience Bob? Tell us a little about who you are, and if you care to say so, what was the first book you read?

I’m a lifelong Ohioan (home of many great authors). I grew up in Youngstown and have lived in Toledo and Cleveland before landing in Columbus where my wife and I have lived the last 30 years. I grew up in a home valuing both the love of learning and of God, great preparation for a career in collegiate ministry. First book that I can remember is the Dick and Jane series we used to learn to read. My mom was a reader, and as soon as I could read, I started reading some of the children’s adventures in our shelves like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Black Beauty.

You are the brain-force behind “Bob on Books,” which as of this writing has amassed a following that is right at the tens of thousands. What inspired you to go into writing and blogging about books?

It was a way to remember what I’d read! I began with Goodreads and discovered that friends appreciated the reviews. One colleague said half-jokingly that I read so he didn’t have to. I think what it came down to was that I could describe and give my take on a 100,000-word book in 700 or so words—just enough to help others decide whether they wanted to buy the book. With that discovery, I started the Bob on Books blog back in 2013. Along the way, I’ve discovered the satisfaction of connecting others with a book that they find diverting or enriching. I’ve always enjoyed connecting people with good books, and this is a way to reach a wider audience.

Do you have any specific genres you tend to stick to when reading and reviewing, or do you prefer to keep things open and cast a wide net? Is there any particular topic or genre that you haven’t explored yet but are aching to jump into in the near future?

If you look at my blog, it will be apparent that I read deeply in the area of religion and theology. That connects with my work. The organization I work in is a delightful learning community, and if nothing else, I enjoy sharing the stuff I’m reading with them. Turns out that while that’s a narrow interest, there is a wide audience when you are on the web. But I also enjoy reading widely—biography, history, science and environmental writing, and a variety of genres in fiction—science fiction and fantasy, mystery and crime fiction, literary classics, espionage. My son has introduced me to graphic fiction and I hope to read more in that area. I’d like to work more poetry into my reading. You have been encouraging me in the area of horror and suspense fiction and that might be an area I explore this year.

What is it about the online book community that appeals to you? Do you think that online communities make for a better platform than the in-person meeting? Or are there an even number of pros and cons to online and in person?

I launched the Facebook version of Bob on Books a couple years ago. At first I thought of it as another channel to promote the blog. The delightful surprise for me has been to watch the interaction among people around their reading interests. People talk about books that I’ve never heard of that others love learning about. That’s allowed for a much bigger conversation. It’s been a place where very different people have been able to meet around their love of reading and delight in books, particularly around our “Question of the Day.”

The downside is that is tougher to talk online about controversial questions (or even books) around our contemporary political issues and we’ve had to limit that. Too quickly, these discussions can degenerate into cliched responses, and sometimes stray from discussions of ideas to attacking persons or each other. I shut that down, particularly because others get notifications on posts with a lot of traffic and may not want to hear it. Sadly, people forget that they don’t have to say everything they think or respond to every post! The same things can happen in person, but with friends who have established a level of trust and mutual esteem, who can separate their ideas from their identities, it’s possible to go hammer and tongs at an idea, and enjoy a beer together afterwards.

Besides writing regular book reviews you also write a regular column entitled “Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown.” Would you like to share what inspired you to write this particular column?

It came out of one of those icebreakers in a meeting. The question was “what question would tell me something about you that I might not think to ask?” My response was, “what was it like to grow up in working class Youngstown?” This was long before J.D. Vance and my wife and I (we both grew up in working class neighborhoods in Youngstown) had talked about how rich our growing up experiences were—the values, the food, the things we did, the steel mills and labor jobs, the ethnic communities, as well as the love of the arts and beauty that people who worked under harsh conditions sustained. I followed up that post with a blog post about the question and then a colleague asked how I would answer. I wrote another about Youngstown, and then a second about food (a big part of working-class life) and posted it in several Youngstown Facebook groups and it just took off from there. The Youngstown I grew up in was a great good place before it became a struggling Rust Belt city. I hope in some ways the memories of what we were, which came through a lot of hard work, might be inspiration for what the city might become.

What would you say has been the biggest drawback to our current situation as it relates to book-buying and reading (I’m talking about the COVID health scare, as well as the ongoing shutdown)? Would you say there is an upside to our current situation?

I am concerned about what will happen to the small, indie booksellers. Many people don’t feel safe with in-person shopping and are limited to online ordering. What you miss is the serendipity of browsing and spotting something you weren’t looking for. I don’t think online browsing can ever quite duplicate that. But I’ve tried to support my favorite brick and mortar booksellers during this time, and I’ve been impressed with the service I’ve received. In every instance the books have been better packaged, arrived promptly and did not cost much more than that big online seller. I grew up in a neighborhood of small businesses in walking distance of my home. Nearly all are gone now. Supporting local bookstores and other good small businesses makes the places we live good places. I want them to be there after the pandemic.

As far as reading, for many of us, it has been a good time to whittle down that TBR pile. Others are struggling and beating themselves up for not reading more. I think it has to do with the emotions of this COVID thing—anxiety, exasperation, and for some, depression. It’s real. It’s not something to be ashamed of. Finding a good counselor to talk with could be a real step of growth that brings something positive out of this hard time. Upsides? The chance to binge a new series. All kinds of creative podcasts and video with authors who can’t do book tours. Time to organize our books, and in some cases to weed some out.

One final question: What is your favorite book of all time?

Hands down, for me it is Lord of the Rings. Tolkien creates a world, a mythology, languages. I also think so many of us identify as hobbits—small fry beside the great heroes, happy to lead a quiet life, and yet longing for more. Tolkien suggests that adventure, and risk are at the heart of a life well lived, and that it is not only the quest but who is with you on the quest that makes it all worth it.

Thank you so much for talking with me today Bob. For those of you who would like to know more about our guest, his website can be found here.

Thank you, James. It has been a rich time thinking about your questions!


Book Reviewed: THE OUTSIDERS, by S. E. Hinton

Genre: Young Adult Novel

Published By: Originally by Viking Press, 1967; republished by Speak (of Penguin publishing) in 2003 and 2006 ($10.99 for paperback)

For my next review here at James’ Online Book Club I wanted to move on in a different direction from The Disaster Artist. Don’t get me wrong, for I loved that book and I will always love that book (and the film version was alright, though it clearly sanitized and glossed over much of the story). I will probably read and review other books that are similar to that one—in fact I know I will, for I have a couple of memoirs currently waiting on top of my To Be Read pile. But I wanted to shake things up a bit, and I wanted to at least lay down the groundwork of my intended purpose of the Book Club by reviewing as many books as possible, from a litany of different genres. With that in mind I went back to my shelf and picked up a short book, a classic in YA literature that I first read in the eighth grade. This book left a big impression on me when I first read it, and now I look upon the book with new eyes and a feeling of a long lost love come back to talk with me.

I’m of course talking about S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

Now before I go into talking about this book, I should warn the reader about the potential spoilers up ahead. I would feel bad about discussing important scenes and plot points, but seeing as how the book was published in the late sixties I feel like I’m safe in revealing such details. If you are truly worried about spoilers, I suggest you go and read the book before coming back and combing through my essay.

 Alright then, now on with The Outsider, whose story concerns a first-person narration by a 14-year-old “Greaser” named Ponyboy Curtis. Yes, that is his legal name, given to him by his parents; as of the opening chapter of the book, both of his parents are dead and he lives with his older brothers Sodapop and Darry. They are the poor kids, the grungy hoods living on the wrong side of the tracks in an unnamed town that’s obviously a fictionalized version of the author’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. As the story opens Ponyboy is walking away from the movie theater, wishing that he looked like the film star Paul Newman, when a group of rich teens—known as ‘Socs’, shortened from the word social. As he is beaten Ponyboy can’t help but think of his friend Johnny, who had a short while before received a far worse beating in a nearby park. More about Johnny will be discussed later.

Just as soon as the beating commences it is stopped by Darry and Soda, and then shortly after we are introduced to the rest of the gang, including Dally and Johnny, two young men with their own baggage and violent backgrounds who suffer accordingly. Each of them has their own beef with the Socs, but more importantly they are fighting against a social climate that just refuses to stop reminding them they will forever and always be less than dirt, simply because of that name placed on them: Greaser.

Ponyboy in particular finds himself in a tough spot, for he’s not like the others. He’s sensitive and intelligent, having cut ahead in school and taking high school classes even though he’s only middle school age. He loves to read and draw, and he loves to day dream about the sunset. Whereas for the other Greasers there is nothing higher than a rumble or a nightly petty crime, Ponyboy can feel a yearning in his heart—a yearning for something more, something deeper than what is presented to him in the here and now.

Ponyboy has two struggles battling against him over the course of the novel. The first is the ongoing conflict between the Greasers and the Socs, that just continues escalating to the point of supreme violence. The other is more familial, and it involves his love-hate relationship with his brother Darry. The older brother had to give up his college ambition in order to care for Ponyboy and Sodapop, and with their mom and dad gone he’s had to step up and take on the parental role as head of the house and disciplinarian. Both problems are given equal time, as they weigh equally on Ponyboy’s mind.

The novel takes its turn when Ponyboy and Johnny find themselves on the run after a run-in with the Socs ends with Johnny knifing someone in self-defense. They hide out in an abandoned church, where they read from Gone with the Wind and discuss the poetry of Robert Frost. The phrase “Nothing Gold Can Stay” gets passed around a lot. Suddenly a fire threatens a group of school children and the two boys become heroes, but Johnny lands in the hospital with severe injuries. Between this and the upcoming rumble against the Socs, there is almost too much for young Ponyboy to carry on his mind.

I dare not reveal much more of the plot, in case new readers come about to take up the book and enjoy it. But I can’t help but keep talking about this book, for it is just so good.

Hinton has written other novels besides this one, including Tex and Rumble Fish (also involving street gangs). But she will always be known for The Outsiders, a book that was turned into the Francis Ford Coppola movie in 1983 (starring Ralph Macchio). And even though the book has been repeatedly challenged in schools for its depiction of violence as well as for light language, the book is still passed around from student to student with high praise in word of mouth. I remember begging my dad to read it after I finished it the first time in middle school; reading it again I find myself wanting to demand that my old man put down his Louis L’Amour paperback and pick this one up instead. I’ll probably have to tell him through blinding tears; this book would make the toughest street kid want to cry.

All I can tell you is that this was a great novel, and well worth the price of admission. Go on to your local Barnes & Noble, or even your public library, and grab yourself a copy. I promise you won’t regret it.


Book Reviewed: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Genre: Pop Culture, Memoir, Film Studies

Published By: Simon & Shuster, 2013 ($25.99 in hardcover, $16 in paperback)

So here we come to my first book review on James’ Online Book Club, and believe me when I say that this book was certainly one of the strangest books I’ve ever read (in the best way possible). A gift horse with a toothy grin, as well as a forked path going multiple directions, this book was a work of nonfiction but read like a novel that Ken Kesey would have written. It’s also a book I’ve read multiple times; its subject is a film I’ve watched no less than seven times, and was itself adapted into a film starring James and Dave Franco.

That book is The Disaster Artist, and it was written by Greg Sestero (along with Tom Bissell). It is a chronicling of the making of The Room, probably the oddest cult movie to come out of any decade, much less the earlier 2000’s. But it’s so much more than that—this is the story of two friends, two souls who couldn’t be more different, and how one’s ambition serves to color the other’s dreams. Here’s the story of that book, and oh, what a story Mark!

The book, whose full title is The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, is hard to categorize, at least for this reviewer. I actually sought to place the book on the shelf at home after I finished reading it for the first time, but I came to a bit of a problem with this. Where in the world does it go? The back cover lists the genre as Pop Culture/Memoir, but the jacket copy says that it also reads like a novel. So is it a piece of reportage? Is it an autobiography? Or did Greg seek to channel Capote and bring the nonfiction novel to the Hollywood scene? Plus one of its subjects is the making of a film, so the book would just as easily fit with my film books and screenplays as it would among my general nonfiction collection. At the end of the day I shelved it along with my other memoirs and autobiographies, and I left it at that.

But we’re not here to talk about how I organize my personal library back home. We are here to talk about Greg’s story, and it’s a story of a dream that quickly turns into a nightmare…and then comes back around and finds for itself sort of happy ending (with a major caveat). I will be discussing that story at length, as well as going over my thoughts of the film adaptation. It is my hope to dissect the book in as thorough a fashion as possible, and while I will attempt to be as free of spoilers as possible I still can’t help but go over major points brought out in the book. Also there’s the fact that the book has been around since 2013; the movie based on the book came out at the end of 2018. There’s been plenty of time for people reading this to have already the book, so I cannot be completely blamed for any spoilers that come (he said mostly in jest).

The book chronicles Greg’s growing relationship with the mysterious Tommy Wiseau, a man whose origins, age, and seemingly endless wealth were all as carefully guarded as the secrets housed behind White House doors. This perfect “odd couple” builds a sort of symbiotic life that is totally dependent on each other, and it is that combined life that is the crux of the whole book.

The story opens on Greg, who was at the time 19 and seeking validation for his dream of becoming an actor, as he decides to take a class somewhere in San Francisco. It is in that class where he first sees Tommy get on stage and proceed to put on this butchered, completely out there Shakespearean sonnet whilst sitting on a foldout chair facing backwards. Everybody in that class was completely gob smacked by this strange man—never before has there been such an unorthodox performer. He was marked by a number of things: his hair, long and a shade of black that can only come from a bottle; his voice, characterized by an accent no one can place; a square and slightly misshapen face not unlike one of Lon Chaney’s characters.

As far as beginning actors go, this guy was off the wall. Greg knew that he just had to do a scene with Tommy. That night after class he went up and introduced himself.

From that meeting a friendship blossoms between the two. Greg, not yet in his twenties and fighting continually with his mother over the stifling of his dreams, finds himself fascinated by Tommy’s shyly extroverted persona. They eventually take a nighttime drive up to the spot where James Dean died in a horrific car accident; it is on this trip where Tommy makes the offer for Greg to live in his Hollywood apartment and make actual steps toward becoming an actor. Greg is blown away by such an offer.

Over time the cracks begin to crumble. Greg finds himself unable to reconcile things; Tommy, meanwhile, remains hidden behind a shifting wall of secrets and lies. In time the elder Tommy shows increasing signs of paranoia, self-delusion and jealousy; by the time we get to the part where Tommy writes his first script and prepares to make his own movie, Greg is ready to find his own place and move on with his own life. It isn’t until Greg digs deeper into the mysteries that he begins to soften on the conflicting feelings he has concerning his friend. By this point he is plugged completely into Tommy’s Planet, and he has no choice but to join in on the production of Tommy’s opus, The Room.

The book alternates between this troubled friendship and the tumultuous production of The Room, and each chapter has for its heading a line from the film. The structure itself is interesting, but the way that Greg filters the story through two classic films is just as interesting. We regularly see quotes from Sunset Boulevard, which seems to mirror The Disaster Artist in its cynical breakdown of the Hollywood dream; the words of Tom Ripley go on to haunt the reader (Greg sees The Talented Mr. Ripley as an analogy for his own friendship to Tommy; showing the film to Tommy has the side effect of inspiring Tommy to make his own movie).

It is the chapters discussing the production of The Room that’s difficult to read in places, and that is in large part due to the actions of Tommy Wiseau. Yes, it is quite funny to read about a man who will spend millions of dollars buying digital and traditional film equipment (standard practice is to rent the equipment), only to turn around and skimp out on wardrobe and set design costs); but then there are scenes depicting acts which aren’t anywhere near as endearing or funny. Tommy exhibited controlling and manipulating behavior before in his friendship to Greg, but on set he pushes these traits to the extreme. Between hurling homophobic insults at a young DP who quits in the middle of production (he’s the second DP to quit production), and the almost predatory way in which Tommy swoops in on Juliette Daniel during the filming of their love scenes, I was left feeling really unsettled in places. Whereas in the regular sections of the book I was still sort of rooting for Tommy, I found myself wanting to kick him in the shins in frustration at other times; I could feel that Greg had wanted to do something like that as well, or maybe even something worse.

Normal people don’t act like this. Normal people don’t want to act like this. But Tommy does, and as much as he wants to be accepted he refuses to be any different. In a way it’s admirable to see someone stick to their guns; on the other hand, society benefits from a bit of compromise.

And what makes it even more unsettling is the fact that I realize that Tommy can be better than what he is. He doesn’t have to suffer at the hands of his own worst impulses—Tommy can lean into the better part of his idiosyncrasies, and become a cult figure for the best reasons. In a way Tommy represents all of us, in that he shows us that unconditional belief in one’s own farfetched dreams can be as much a curse as it is a gift.

The Room came out in 2003. The production cost somewhere between 6 and 10 million dollars; it went on to gross $1,800 during its initial two-week run. And yet somehow through word of mouth people started trickling in to see this weird thing, this earnest attempt at making a drama that instead turned into a screwy comedy. Nearly two decades later and we have a cult phenomenon. As Tommy would say, “Only in America.”

By the end of the story, when we reach the world premiere of the film, we come to the grand realization moment for Greg. He sees Tommy sitting there, soaking in on all the contradictory glory that is his vision, and he pours over everything he’s had to deal with up to this point: in that moment all the trouble that occurred between them just melted away, and he was left with nothing but the love and admiration that was there at the beginning of their friendship.

I could go on and on about this book, just like I could go on and on about the film adaptation starring The Franco Brothers (the film was charmingly watchable, but barely scratched the surface of the story, and what was with James’ stiff imitation of Tommy’s accent?). My parents seem not to understand my obsession with this story, and maybe they are correct to assume that I suffer from a mild case of myopia. All I can say is I enjoyed this book, and I will continue to enjoy this book in future readings. I cannot recommend it highly enough, even though I have trouble finding the right place to put it on my shelf. I will tell others about this book as well, just like I’m telling you—I’ll preach up and down Guerrero Street about the merits of the book. And if you want to know the significance of that particular address, well, I suggest you go to your local library or bookstore and pick up a copy to find out for yourself.

On Reading: Stephen King

It should seem kind of strange to some people that I’d be starting off talking about one of the biggest names in popular literature. The man who had once described his books as the equivalent of McDonald’s, the man who has written more than 60 books and who continues to scare the metaphorical crap out of everyone enters into the bookish conversation circuit with a sort of mixed fanfare. There are those who love him (literally millions of those who love him), but those who hate the man will decry their hatred with pure 180-proof venom.

Or does anyone not remember the way Harold Bloom went off when the King of Horror received a special medal at the National Book Awards?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am of course talking about Stephen King, the talent behind such works as Carrie, The Stand, Mr. Mercedes and The Dark Tower. With award-winning movies based on his work and a fanbase that most tenured professors would die for, Ole King is a force to be reckoned with. And with several of his books nearing ever closer to the 1,000-page mark (and a couple even surpassing that) King will give a few forests a run for their money as well.

I’m sitting off to myself as I write this, holed up in the corner down at the Central Library (a part of the Chesterfield County Public Library system); I’ve been inching ever closer to the end of the massive book known as It. We all know what It is—we saw the miniseries from 1990, and we remember the way that Tim Curry both lulled and repelled us with his eerie performance. And of course 2017 and 2019 brought us the new films adapted from the book; some new young hotshot actor by the name of Bill Skarsgård took on the mantle and wore the blood-on-white face paint. I started reading the book two weeks ago, and I’m still just over the halfway mark—one of the things It is famous for is its sheer size: the novel stands at 1,200 pages of pure heft. Adding to the mix are all the weird little diverting trails the book takes, the backstories and the meandering character arcs that made you really care for Eddie and Bev, Ben and Ritchie, and especially Stuttering Bill. It’s a long ride, and for a horror novel It’s a slow burn, but here’s the thing: I can’t bring myself to put It down.

Stephen King is a writer I’ve been reading since before I could remember. I was reading King in middle school; I used to get in trouble in my senior English class because I would read The Dead Zone instead of 1984. I wrote college papers on the Bachman books; I’d give paperback copies of ’Salem’s Lot to members of my dad’s church (yes, I am a pastor’s son). Yes, I became somewhat evangelical for the cause—I was performing a one-man revival for the sake of the King Cause (and no, this is not meant to be taken as sacrilege; I am merely using hyperbolic analogies in order to illustrate just how into this guy’s writing I was).

In a way Stephen King was my favorite author for a time. I loved other writers with a similar intensity—Ray Bradbury and Daniel Keyes were two writers who made me want to become a writer back in middle school, and for that alone they remain cherished friends. But It was King who gave me one solid read after another, whose books nearly always required me to finish them (even when they were bad, and Dreamcatcher is just one overly bloated example of a bad one). With so many books carrying the ole SK moniker to choose from, how could I go wrong in picking him up? The odds were ever in my favor; for the longest time I remained a devoted constant reader.

What was it about King that drove me to devouring him, book by book and page by precious page? It couldn’t be the genre with which he’s most often associated—horror in both film and literature is a hit-or-miss for me, and I find myself taking a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude with the likes of Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell. I’ve yet to even read John Saul, and the novels of Shirley Jackson are (too my own shock and awe) still moldering away in my ‘to be read’ pile. Plus there are plenty of King books which aren’t strictly horror; that is to say books such as Joyland, The Colorado Kid and even the Bill Hodges books are in a whole other genre completely. The same goes for the books in the Dark Tower series—those are the work of epic fantasy, a sort of Tolkienesque world filtered through the lens of those ‘Man With No Name’ movies starring Clint Eastwood. That’s something even my dad will want to get into.

And maybe that’s what made me love his books: that sheer accessibility that comes from the everyman quality of his stories. The clear-cut, no-holds-barred approach to drawing us into the terror, not with clever plots that aren’t really clever but with characters who talk and act like people you would want to talk to. I mean, just read Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and then come back and tell me you don’t want to become the best friend of Andy Dufresne. If you can honestly tell me you don’t root for that guy from beginning to bloody end…well, then you’re just a booger, and a stint in Shawshank prison would be too good for you.

I fell away from King for a while; my last years in college pulled me this way and that, and then after I graduated I found that the weary ways of the world had brought me down into some truly devastating depths of mind and spirit. It wasn’t till I sat down and rewatched those new It movies—the ones with that punk kid named Bill donning the Dancing Clown makeup—that I began to remember that I once had a friend who helped to codify all the weird things that made my head spin from one too many bad dreams. I picked up the novel on which those new movies are based (the most recently published Scribner hardcover edition; the one with the all-white cover and the monstrous smile etched in bloody red) and I sat down to read. I’ve been reading ever since, and I feel just fine even though I have trouble going back to sleep now and then.

I may come back and talk about Stephen King now and again, but for now I tip my hat to the man who helped to reignite my love for reading. When a man can make you go back to your first love of books, and tell you about the things that go bump in the night while doing it, then that man is a true friend to have. Sure he may scare the crap out of you every now and again, but hey, that’s just the price you have to pay sometimes.

After all, you’ll do anything to be able to face your fears…won’t you?

The Site That’s a Work in Progress…

Here I am, writing this as new friends start trickling into the living room. They anxiously await my arrival; this is supposed to be a grand ole party, but where is the host?

I’ll be with you shortly, but first I must add a few spare rooms to the house. I just added the Review section, where I will be writing articles concerning various books I’m reading, as well as the On Reading wing, which is where I’ll discuss particular authors. My first On Reading piece should be up soon, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Anyway, I’ll be with you shortly. Please, drink some wine. And don’t track dirt on the sofa, I just had that thing vacuum-cleaned.

A Word Of Welcome…

Welcome to my online book club. How might you be this fine day? Come, sit a while. Bring your favorite tattered ole paperback and while me away with a story.

The name’s James, and I am a book lover. I assume you’re a book lover too; that’s why you are here isn’t it? You had a taste of what the printed page had to give you, and you wanted to relive that experience—I get it, I’ve been there a time or two. That’s what led me to set up my own little diner, in this little corner of the blogosphere. The culinary delights I’ve encountered through reading are just too savory to keep to myself.

I wanted to show you around the place for a bit before I get down to brass tacks. The last Stephen King novel I’d been reading had finished before I realized what was happening, and I couldn’t get back to the library before they closed; I needed something to do before I walked back down tomorrow and looked around for one or two of them Mathew Scudder novels that my buddy was telling me about. My mind was racing, and my legs kept pushing for me to move, and move I did—I walked my way out the door and took a leap of faith into uncharted territory.

How was I to know that I would find you here? I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

Finally, somebody with whom to share my thoughts concerning my favorite books!

Please, come. Stay a while and let us talk for a bit. I’ve so much to show you, and I just put the coffee on. There’s fresh cookies baking in the oven, and my grandfather had just built me a new bookcase on which to display my paperbacks. Feel free to browse the titles while I check on a few things. You might just find a book you’ve not read yet. You may borrow of course. No really, it’s no trouble at all.

Again, welcome. It’s so wonderful to have you. Tell me, what have you been reading lately? Anything good?