Bookshelf Category

UPDATE 2015/11/04: Larry Latham's recovery was all too brief. He succumbed to cancer on November 2, 2014, at the age of 61. Before his passing, Latham wrote that he had plotted out the remainder of the story and was working with other artists to . Upon announcing his death, his widow wrote, "He was so appreciative of his readers and did not want to leave the story unfinished. I ask for your patience as I attempt to carry out his wishes and resume posting new issues in the near future with the help of many talented friends." So far, nothing has happened to that end. The lovecraftismissing.com domain has expired, so I have updated links to point to the Internet Archive, which seems to have captured the entire site.

Lovecraft is Missing, a page-a-week webcomic by Oklahoma artist and writer Larry Latham, is back in production after a hiatus due to Latham's treatment for cancer. (Latham reports that signs are encouraging, pending further tests.)

Born and raised in Oklahoma City and educated at OU, Latham spent the last quarter of the 20th century in Hollywood, producing, directing, and storyboarding Saturday morning cartoons for Hanna Barbera and Disney. His credits include Talespin, Duck Tales, Smurfs, and Super Friends. He returned to Oklahoma in 2001.

Lovecraft Is Missing tells the story of Win Battler, an aspiring young writer from a small town in 1920s Oklahoma, who goes to Providence to meet his pen pal and fellow writer of strange tales only to find that, yes, H. P. Lovecraft is missing. The search takes Battler and his companions -- tough-as-nails, resourceful Father Munsford Jackey and skeptical, cynical archivist Nan Mercy -- into a demi-monde populated by the noxious characters and eldritch horrors of Lovecraft's stories. The pages are beautifully drawn, and the plot is intriguing, as it takes the protagonists through a world where Lovecraft's writing is closer to journalism than fiction.

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The story is in the middle of the fifth book of a planned six. Unanswered questions are starting to head to a resolution. This is an excellent time to start at the beginning of the story and catch up.

The accompanying blog -- Noxious Fragments from the Pnakotic Manuscripts -- features links about Lovecraft's stories, other works of the same vintage and genre, and the cultural milieu from which they arose.

Latham, a longtime Lovecraft fan, was involved in fundraising efforts for a memorial plaque and grave marker for the author. Latham had been kicking the idea for Lovecraft Is Missing around for a long-time, first pursuing it as a CD-ROM game mystery, then optioning it for a development deal, and finally launching it as a webcomic in 2008, after he realized there was no other way to get it made in line with his creative vision.

Earlier this year, Latham wrote a series of articles on How to Create a Webcomic?. His thoughts on plot and character development would be useful to any aspiring author who wants to create a fictional world; other advice is more specific to the challenge of telling a story with pictures as well as words and the work of building an audience for a website and bringing them back on a regular basis.

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In 2009, Matthew Price of the Oklahoman interviewed Latham about his career in animation and the origins of Lovecraft Is Missing.

In 2011, Latham was interviewed by All Pulp. Would that more people in entertainment agreed with his definition of "adult":

I originally conceived it as an animated project, and it was in development for a year or so at Film Roman in L.A. My first notion was that I wanted to try and make a truly 'adult' animated series, meaning complex story and characterization rather than T and A and profanity. I wanted to do a horror show, and I am a big Lovecraft fan, but I've never much cared for Lovecraft adaptations, be they film or comic book. I wanted to express what I got out of those stories, but I really didn't want to adapt any of Lovecraft's actual stories, so I came up with my own. There were a few clichés I really wanted to stomp on, like everybody in the universe having a copy of the Necronomicon. In my story, no one, at least of the good guys, have ever even heard of it. Same with Cthulhu. The magic and mystery of these things is that they are very, very obscure.

During the all-too-brief Thanksgiving weekend, I actually did unwind a bit. We had Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house, along with my sister and her family, and we celebrated my birthday (belated) and my dad's (early). I took the 14-year-old to the Friday night late showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. The whole family watched The Sound of Music. We played a game of Clue: While everyone was getting very close to a solution, the four-year-old and I got there first: Miss Peacock, in the theater, with the dumbbell.

One of my birthday gifts was Dancing under the Red Star by Karl Tobien. It's the story of the author's mother, Margaret Werner Tobien and is told as a first-person narrative. I started reading it Thanksgiving night and finished it late Friday afternoon. It is a powerful but accessible story about life in Stalin's USSR and the experience of an American citizen who found herself a political prisoner, a resident of the gulag for 10 years.

Margaret "Maidie" Werner was born in Detroit in 1921. In 1932, her father, a committed socialist, decided to move his family of three to Gorky (Nizhni Novgorod) as part of a large group sent by the Ford Motor Company to help set up an automobile factory there. In 1938, Maidie's father was arrested as an enemy of the state, taken from his home in front of his wife and daughter, never to be seen again. Maidie and her mother survived as best they could, dealing with the privations of the war. In late 1945, Maidie herself was carried off by the NKVD, charged with espionage for Britain (because she had asked two British airmen to find out what they could about her father's fate), treason (because she had asked them to help her get out of the country), and propaganda against the state (because she told friends what life had been like in America). After months of interrogation at Gorky's prison and at Lubyanka, she was sentenced to 10 years hard labor and five years internal exile. During her time in the camps, she is assigned to a "cultural brigade" -- a troupe performing theater and dance for the prisoners of her own camp and nearby camps. Eventually, she makes her way to East Germany, escapes to the west (before the Berlin Wall), and returns to the United States, almost 30 years after she left.

The book is vivid with detail about daily life -- not only the hardships, but also the small mercies that kept hope alive and the ways prisoners found to make the best of their bleak circumstances. There are especially touching details -- Maidie's loud refusal to denounce her father in school; how people in the towns where the prison train stopped en route to the death camps would push cigarettes, candy, bread, fruit, and sausages into the ventilation slats for the prisoners; how Maidie managed to meet her mother very briefly, near the camp, in extremely unpleasant surroundings. The betrayals are striking, too. The Soviet system rewarded treachery. "Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you, and you sold me."

I was fascinated by this book, and I recommend it. It would be suitable for teens and older; while it touches on some mature subject matter, it does so in a delicate way (as you would expect from a story told by a septuagenarian lady born in the 1920s).

MORE:

Reviews on Amazon, including a detailed synopsis
Reviewed on Blogful of Books
Reviewed on Small World Reads
Reviewed on Curmudgeonalia

Since I started writing for Urban Tulsa Weekly, I've had a few photos and graphics published in the paper -- Lady Belvedere, the Statehood Centennial parade in Guthrie, PLANiTULSA workshops, along with some I took to illustrate one of my columns.

But today for the first time I got to see one of my photos in a hardbound book. It's a picture of Monkey Island at Ralph Mitchell Zoo in Independence, Kansas, and it's in a brand new coffee table book called Amazing and Unusual USA by Jeff Bahr. Bahr is co-author of Weird Virginia and a contributor to several other books in the Weird series.

I took the picture in 2007. My youngest son, then about 18 months old, and I stopped in Independence on the way north to Lawrence for my uncle's 50th birthday party. I have happy memories of the park and zoo from my childhood, and I thought my little one would enjoy looking around at the animals and the playground. We might even get to ride the train.

My wife and older two weren't able to come along, and they had the nice camera, so I took a bunch of pictures with a Kodak DX7440 which had an automatic lens cover that needed an occasional nudge with a fingernail to open all the way. Most of the pictures were of my son at various nursery-rhyme-themes spots in Kiddy Land, but I took a few documentary-type shots, too, of the park and vintage playground equipment. Nothing too artistic (although this one was quite nice, I thought) but well-framed with context.

I posted the photos as a set on Flickr, and duly added descriptions, tags, and geocoding.

A little over a year later, last September, I received an e-mail from Publications International asking for permission to use the Monkey Island photo.

Today we got a box in the mail, and it was my contributor's copy of the book! I understand that it will be available to the public next month.

Amazing and Unusual USA is 320 pages, attractively laid out with large images next to informative and often humorous text, organized by region. It features many of the "World's Largest" statues from around the country. Oklahoma is represented with four photos: Ed Galloway's World's Largest Concrete Totem Pole in Foyil, Tulsa's Golden Driller, Hugh Davis's Blue Whale in Catoosa, and a couple of guys wrestling an enormous catfish at the Okie Catfish Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley. I have a number of books about weird Americana and roadside attractions on my shelf, but I've only heard of perhaps a third of the odd attractions in the book. The kids enjoyed paging through the book and had to be shooed away when it was time for bed.

The fact that my photo is in this book is not a tribute to my photographic skills but to the power of Web 2.0. Because I had uploaded the photo and tagged it in several meaningful ways, it could be found by someone looking for just the right image of the Birthplace of Miss Able.

PNS envy

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Pensacola Regional Airport has free wireless Internet service. In fact, 122 out of 218 U. S. airports offer free wi-fi to travelers.

Tulsa doesn't. Although the Tulsa Airport Authority provides its own wireless service to passengers (as opposed to working with a national provider like Boingo or T-Mobile), it charges $5.95 per hour, $9.95 for the whole day. Because it's their own service, they wouldn't need a provider's cooperation to drop the charge.

What many hotels, restaurants, and airports have discovered is that if you already have a high-speed Internet connection in place for business reasons (typically there's one for handling strongly-encrypted credit card transactions), it doesn't cost much more to add a few wireless routers and open it up for other users.

There's a practical advantage: Free wi-fi allows business travelers to stay productive during delays, which makes for less tension on the concourse when a flight is rescheduled or cancelled. It also makes it possible for travelers to investigate alternate flights, so that everyone doesn't have to wait in line to get booked onto a new flight.

Mostly, though, free wi-fi would be a way to extend hospitality. It would be a way to leave a positive final impression on visitors to our city.

No, Oklahoma City doesn't have it yet, but we don't need to wait for them to go first, do we?

Remembering Jane Jacobs

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Jane Jacobs, the urban observer who helped blow away the cobwebs of urban planning dogma so that we could see what really makes a city work, passed away in April. My Urban Tulsa Weekly column last week was a salute to Jane Jacobs, highlighting three lessons from her landmark 1960 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, one of my favorite books.

Also of note last week: Jamie Pierson's first column for UTW, in which she recalls a suburban Tulsa upbringing, gives thanks for her midtown-based young adulthood, and gives a tongue-in-cheek call for deannexing everything south of I-44.

Lifeboat scenario

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Tom Ascol, at Founders Ministries Blog, writes from the southwest coast of Florida about a dilemma which would break the heart of any booklover: A hurricane is coming; which books do I save?

It was my senior year in high school, and I was browsing through the religion section of B. Dalton Bookseller in Southroads Mall when I came across some books by C. S. Lewis. I remembered the author's name from 3rd Grade -- Father Ralph Urmson-Taylor read Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to us during weekly chapel. For whatever reason, I picked up The Abolition of Man, paged through it, and bought it, the first Lewis book I read for myself.

If you believe that our culture first took a wrong turn in, say, the 1960s, this series of three brief lectures from the '40s will give you a new perspective. The rotten fruit of relativism began to appear in the '60s, but the seeds were planted long before.

Lewis begins with an excerpt from an English composition textbook which subtly plants the idea that a statement of value is nothing more than a reflection of the speaker's emotions and is unimportant. The educators are debunking the idea that our sentiments ought to be ordered in accordance with an objective reality. In the process, the very qualities needed to sustain civilization are being cut out of it.

If you want to see the sad results of that radical surgery, read anything by Theodore Dalrymple. If you want to understand how such a sad state of affairs came about, read The Abolition of Man.

The Abolition of Man can be read online, on the website of the Augustine Club of Columbia University.

Hat tip for the link to Eve Tushnet, who also links today to Lego scenes of the life of Martin Luther -- Luther posting his 95 Theses, Luther at the Diet of Worms, Luther translating the Bible in the Wartburg Castle, Luther throwing his inkwell at the Devil.

Just finished reading a fascinating book on Project Apollo, one of a collection of books on the U. S. manned space program that my wife gave me.

Angle of Attack by Mike Gray, published by Penguin in 1992, tells the story of the effort to reach the moon as it was lived by Harrison Storms, who led North American Aviation's efforts to build the Apollo command and service module and the second stage of the Saturn V. The astronauts would not have been able to do their heroic and historic tasks had it not been for hundreds of thousands of engineers, machinists, technicians, program managers, and professional worry-warts who solved thousands of problems that no one had ever solved before. Those problems weren't just about strength of materials and vibration and magnetic fields, but even more about managing incredible complexity and turning all these individual efforts into a final working product. Since Apollo was a government program, there's plenty here about managing expectations and playing politics well enough so you can get the engineering job done.

You might think a book about engineering and problem-solving would be dry and dull, but Gray keeps the reader's interest page after page. I finished the book in two days, despite the fact that it mainly deals with aspects of engineering that I know little about. Gray explains his approach in an author's note:

Along with everybody else in the country, I watched those heart-pounding early launches that proved so conclusively that Grissom and Company had the Right Stuff. But even then I suspected that the real story was not up in the cockpit, but back in the hangar where the thing was built.

Unfortunately, the men who built Apollo, like the stonemasons of Europe's great cathedrals, spoke an indecipherable language, and their work -- though almost certainly heroic -- remained shrouded in mystery. The spotlight focused on the astronauts because the bravery of the test pilot was stark and comprehensible.

A few years later, while doing background research for The China Syndrome, I discovered that engineering gobbledegook could be quite easily translated into common English. Engineers, like short order cooks and basketball coaches, talk in shorthand, and if you force them to explain every single abbreviation, what they say begins to make sense.

From the bibliography, you see that the book depends heavily on his interviews, mainly done in the late '70s and early '80s, of key North American and NASA personnel, as well as NASA interviews from the '60s and '70s. Gray weaves together all these different perspectives into a seamless single narrative.

The book even gives us something new to dislike about Walter Mondale.

Go, go, Pogo!

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Dawn Eden earlier today posted this interesting entry, reflecting on an essay about Catholicism and the empowerment of women. I'll get back to that thought, perhaps, but what caught my eye was her clever headline, "Churchy La Femme", which was hot-linked somewhere. Merely a pun on the French epigram, cherchez la femme, I wondered? (Churchy instead of cherchez, because it's about a church and women, geddit? as my seven-year old would say when he feels compelled to explain a joke that didn't get a big enough laugh.)

Or was this a knowing reference to my favorite comic strip, and its poet laureate, the turtle Churchy La Femme? Could it be that Dawn is a fellow Pogophile? The title was linked to to this review of a CD reissue of "Songs of the Pogo", a collection of Walt Kelly's whimsical poetry set to music, and in many cases, sung by Walt hisself. I am thrilled to learn that this has been reissued for a new generation to discover.

I started to categorize this entry under "Whimsy", but this really deserves to be the next entry in the BatesLine bookshelf, because Walt Kelly's possum had an early and deep influence on my sense of humor.

My grandma introduced me to Pogo when I was about eight or nine. Grandma had a great collection of comic paperbacks -- Peanuts, Andy Capp, and B.C. -- but Pogo was her favorite. She passed on a couple of her paperbacks, collections of the strip published back in the '50s. Pogo had puns, playful language, beautifully drawn art, and gentle satire of pop culture and politics. Every four years, Pogo's friends drafted him to run for president, and did their best to repackage his image -- against his will -- aiming for political success.

This entry introduces a new category. From time to time, I'll tell you a bit about a book that has had a significant influence on my life. I won't be writing about them in any particular order -- just as they come to mind.

Why? In part to give you a sense of where I'm coming from, a glimpse at my intellectual DNA. Some of these books will be famous and familiar, some obscure.

I'm starting with one that should be on every reference shelf. I picked up a copy in college. The first job I had after college was as a software engineer, but the job required writing technical white papers and sections of proposals for government contracts. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style sat on my desk as a reminder that writing is supposed to be clear and full of meaning, which is exactly what my technical writing at work was NOT supposed to be. I was once told to change a white paper I wrote because it was too comprehensible -- the readers would feel insulted -- so I was instructed to use the passive voice and to prefer multisyllabic Latinate words to Anglo-Saxon monosyllables.

Here's a memorable passage from E. B. White's introduction to the book and to his college English professor, Will Strunk, who wrote the little book that White revised and republished:

"Omit needless words!" cries the author on page 23, and into that iperative Will Strunk really put his heart and soul. In the days when I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself -- a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had outdistanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, "Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!"

White goes on to quote Strunk's elaboration of the point:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Strunk's imperative provides some inner pressure to keep me from running on and on. A blog has no space constraints and the immediacy of the form makes brevity difficult. There is little incentive to go back and edit something down, as one would edit an op-ed piece for a newspaper. This reminds me of a quote by Pascal:

The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.

Here's another useful bit of advice, part of White's addition to the book:

8. Avoid the use of qualifiers.

Rather, very, little, pretty -- these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.

Buy it, read it, absorb it.

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