Books: Book Snobbery

MisterBooksellerBooksellers are asked “What do you read?” on a daily basis. I am always happy to answer the question even if some people are not happy with my answer. But, I’m not a book snob. Not really. My rule of thumb is, I’ll read anything as long as it’s well writtenNow that may seem “Duh”, but you’d be surprised what passes as good these days. I’ll read sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, bio, history… you name it. But don’t bore me, and don’t use simple langue and have zero style. We elevate our intellect when we challenge ourselves while reading. I strongly believe that.

I’ve been a bookseller on and off since my teen years and never before have I encountered such blatant Book Snobbery. Maybe it’s the rise of self promotion tools like Twitter and FB. Maybe it has something to do with needing to feel important. I don’t know. But I hear people call books they like (or love!) “My book”, as if they had something to do with writing it or they were the only person to have ever read it. Here, I’ll use it in a sentence. Have you noticed that my book sold out? Again!? The speaker didn’t actually write the book, and they get no commission if it sells, and yet they take responsibility for both. Gross.

It’s hard. A bookstore can be a place of subtle, unspoken competition, and inflated egos. And I’m over it. Who has read the most books? Who’s staff recommendations have sold the most? Who read the new hot title first? It’s all pretty juvenile and silly. Taking ownership of someone elses work is absurd. Feeling a sense of pride when a stranger chooses a book you like is pretty weird. Judging a book by its popularity with your peers is silly. And it is all a form of Book Snobbery. Our job isn’t to get as many people as possible to read our favorite book. Our job is to help the customer find something they might enjoy.

And it all comes down to this: People should read. Reading is good. Books are good.

syntax-booksellerOne of the reasons people turn to satan Amazon is because of book snobbery. Nobody wants to walk into a bookstore and see the bookseller roll their eyes at their choices. Projecting a type of ownership over certain types of books but not others is just another form of snobbery. And I get it. Bookstores are inherently snobby places. It’s the same kind of snobbery says that jazz and pino grigio and golf and “locally sourced” anything are for me, but not you. Absurd! There is snobbery of “Literature” over genre, of adult books over YA fiction, of “serious” over “funny”, of “real life” over dragons and unicorns and wizards, of Haruki Murakami over Stephen King. And it is lame. And silly. And pretty stupid. If books ever die, snobbery would be standing nearby with a smoking gun in its hand, and a smile on its face.

So, I have a message for all of you book snobs – stop it. You are defeating the purpose. We want people to read, not feel bad about reading. When someone wants the latest Oprah Book club book, I’m happy. At least they are reading! And who am I to judge anyway? She has recommended plenty of great books. Try having an open mind and watch your world expand. But, if that doesn’t happen – here is a list of things you can tell the next book snob you encounter – whether it’s in a bookstore or in your own home.

  1. Many of the world’s greatest writers wrote books for children. So stop making fun of it.  (Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, Maurice Sendak, C.S. Lewis, Judy Bloom)
  2. People shouldn’t feel bad about what they choose to read. When they feel bad about what they read, they’ll stop reading.
  3. Matt Haig said it best, “Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading. Books as exclusive members clubs. Narrow genres. No inter-breeding. All that fascist nonsense that leads commercial writers to think it is okay to be lazy with words and for literary writers to think it is okay to be lazy with story.” Yep. What he said.
  4. Don’t discount a book simply because it is a best seller. Lot’s of popular stuff is actually good. (ABBA. Bacon. Internet cat videos. Cupcakes. Harry Potter. Game of Thrones. Stephen King.)
  5. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or its shelf talker. Or who happened to recommend it. The only way to accurately judge a book is by reading the words inside.
  6. Have an open mind. Murakami said, if you only read what other people are reading, you’ll only think what other people are thinking.
  7. Proudly proclaiming that you only read literary fiction makes you sound ignorant. Well rounded people want to know about the world around them and the people who shaped it. Knowing your past is part of knowing you.
  8. Snobbery is prejudice wrapped up in a better sounding name.
  9. Genre shaming is lame. Get over it. There are some great books just waiting to be found in Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and historical romance. I promise.
  10. You can have your opinions about books, but just remember having opinions isn’t the same as being right. 

Books: What Book Should I Read?

Dougs-booksI often have strangers ask me for a book recommendation. They walk right up to me and say something like, “Can you tell me what book to buy? Because, I have trouble thinking for myself so I figured I’d ask you. You work in a bookstore.” Where that might be a good idea in theory, it isn’t a good way to find a book. For starters, you might end up asking the bookseller who is super into dry historical non-fiction, or worse YA fiction. You’ll get talked into reading a book about a seventeen year old girl in love with outter-space vampires who are dying of cancer. Which kind of sounds awesome now that I think about it… But how are we supposed to know what you like? You might as well ask me to pick out a gift for your wife and kids.

You should be able to give the bookseller something to work with. Tell them the last book you really liked, or an author you love. Tell them what themes you are interested in and if you are open to non-fiction. Do a little research before asking someone to choose for you. If you can’t be bothered to do even that, here are a few books that you definitely should read.

  • You should read the book that you hear two booksellers arguing about while in the bookstore. Whatever it is, it was good enough to garner debate.
  • You should read the book that you see someone reading on the bus, trying to hide that they’re laughing. Or crying. Or both.
  • You should read the book you find at a yard sale with the inscription which says, “Happy Birthday! I hope this book has brought you as much joy as it has brought me. Love Grandma Jolene. 1949″
  • You should read the book that you find in the airplane seat pocket, on a park bench, on the bus, at a restaurant, or in a hotel room, or in a Book Sharing Library. Free books are the best, especially when they are found books.
  • BeFunky_Zarsthors_Bane_1983_95491-X.jpgYou should read the book that you find on the library’s free cart with the best or most outrageous cover. I found a copy of Zarsthor’s Bane (1978) and couldn’t believe no one had snatched it up before me. Just look at that cover! PS – It has illustrations inside, and cats. Lots of cats.
  • You should read the book that everyone claims to have read, but hasn’t.
  • You should read the book you avoided reading in High School because you thought it looked boring.
  • You should read your favorite book from when you were in high school. Reading it as an adult will be a whole new experience.
  • You should read the book about a place or time that makes you uneasy. Stretch your limits.
  • You should read prize-winners, bestsellers, beach reads, book club picks, and classics, when you feel like it. Mix it up!
  • 1959452_10152154561902496_1939943964569190439_nYou should read the book that is the polar opposite of the book you just finished.
  • You should read a book by a man if you just finished a book by a woman. (Or Vice Versa)
  • You should read the book that your favorite author says is her favorite book.
  • You should read the book that Jon Stewart can’t stop talking about.
  • You should read the book that your girlfriend just finished so you can talk about it with her. Chicks dig that.
  • You should read the book that your dad, teacher, friend or bookseller offhandedly says, “…which was a great book by the way…”
  • You should read the book before you see the movie.
  • You should read the book on the Staff Recommendations display of your local indie bookstore. The one with the funny blurb, not the one exuding exultations.
  • You should read the book about your city and its history that was written by someone who grew up there.
  • You should read the book set in the place you are about to travel to.
  • tumblr_lqswn2tC5r1qd9gmoYou should read a book from a genre you don’t normally read. Try a mystery or a science fiction novel if you normally go for literary fiction. You might be surprised!
  • You should read the book that your boyfriend says is his favorite.
  • You should read the book with characters you might not like.
  • You should read the book you’ve started a few times and keep meaning to finish.
  • You should read books about places you have lived or traveled to. See if your perceptions and memories match up.
  • You should read books about historical events you don’t know anything about.
  • You should read books about things you already know a little about and learn more.
  • You should read the book with an adorable kitten on the cover.
  • You should read the book you’ve never heard of before.
  • You should read the book that everyone is talking about. After they’ve stopped talking about it.
  • You should read books mentioned in other books.
  • You should read the book you feel drawn to.
  • You should read the book you feel like reading.
  • You should just read.

Get Out!

vintage_opels_summer49It’s summer! Time for cold beverages, hot dogs, and sunshine. Time to get your friends in the car and head out to nature. Here in Seattle we are in the midst of a nice dose of summer sun. The city is outside en masse and slowly simmeringAll the pale bodies walking around make me a little homesick for Prague, but that ends right about the time I look out and see Puget Sound. It’s beautiful here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And it isn’t even a little bit landlocked.

In honor of Summer and beautiful Seattle, here is a list of things to do outside.

1. Go for a walk in a new park or neighborhood. Change things up a bit!

2. Make “nature mobiles” with things that you find and hang them from the trees. It gives people something to Instagram.

3. Bury a time capsule with a note or story to go with it. I like to bury a single key in a plastic bottle and leave a random set of numbers.

4. Start a garden. If you are like me and live in a tiny flat, try looking for a neighborhood garden. I’ve seen a dozen in Seattle.

5. Lay on the grass and watch the clouds roll by.  

tumblr_m1po18ok6o1rqd5coo1_5006. Build a tree house or fort. When you are finished you can invite people to your fort. You can even have beer there. It’ll be awesome.

7. Go to the park and play bocce, wiffleball, frisbee, or if you must, hacky sack. Every park needs a group of people playing an odd sport.

8. Build a swing. I only suggest this if you own a home. Don’t go hanging swings off neighbors trees without asking first. Some people are touchy.

9. Take your pet for an adventure. Yeah, anybody can take the dog for a walk, but only you can take him on an adventure! Find a cool new park for you and Ol’ Yeller to explore. Maybe you are on the trail of a spy, or better yet running from one.

10. Meditate. Find your inner you. If the inner you can’t sit still and wants to do something involving a screen, resist. Take a deep breath and be the nature.

11. Take a nap. I suggest a hammock. Hammock naps are the best.

bp2412. Find an outdoor cinema. Many cities have a movie in the park after dark thing. Even better? Have one in your own back yard! Make popcorn, light some lanterns, and put up a sheet.  It’s cheap and you’ll be the badass in the neighborhood.

13. Build a weird bird house and hang it in a distant neighborhood.

14. Make a pin wheel.  

15. Lay out a blanket and read in the sun. Or take a towel to the pool and read there. Reading outdoors is the best.

16. Make sidewalk art. Get a set of outdoor chalk and start your career as the next Banksy.

17. Set up a treasure hunt. Leave clues around the neighborhood. Keep checking back to see if anyone was savvy enough to follow your breadcrumbs. Slowly realize everyone walks while texting and nobody will ever notice.

18. Take bubbles to the park. Sit near kids. Kids love bubbles.battle1_Renewal_06

19. Fly a Kite.

20. Watch LARPers. LARP is Live Action Role-Playing. It’s the folks who dress up in armor and swing swords at each other in the park. I caught sight of a gaggle of them at Gasworks Park a few weeks ago. It was epic.

21. Roast marshmallows! Make S’mores. Try putting Nutella or peanut butter in those sweet, sweet treats if you want to kick it up a notch.

22. Find a water park and go on a waterside. Make a slip and Slide. Actually, don’t. Those things are super dangerous.

23. Go camping!

24. Take a hike. A real hike, not a hike to  Happy Hour.

25. Make a Treasure Trade. Just make a sign that says “Treasure Trade” and put a basket under the sign. Put a few odds and ends in the basket and watch what happens. I traded a Happy Meal Furby for a plastic Weinermobile whistle. #Winning

Film: Top Ten Time-Travel Movies

esq-future-xlg-40192385It’s one of the oldest cinematic devices. It’s been used in comedies, dramas, science fiction, and even romance movies. I’m talking about time-travel. It’s been twenty-five years (this month!) since Bill and Ted hopped in that phone booth and rounded up history’s most famous folks for a class assignment, so I decided to round-up my own famous folks for this list. In honor of Marty McFly and the rest, I give you what I think are the best (and my favorite) time travel movies. In no particular order as usual. Enjoy!

  1. Planet of the Apes (1968) Planet_of_the_apes_Varese_VSD_5848By far one of the greatest “twist” endings in movie history happens in this Heston classic. Heston (who eats every scene he is in) travels to a distant planet only to discover it is inhabited by apes. Apes who walk and talk and have british accents. By the end of the film we discover along with The Hest, that he hasn’t travelled through space, but through time. Oh, and do yourself a favor and skip the horrible 2001 remake.
  2. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) titleThe only film on my list where you just aren’t sure if anyone has actually time-travelled. And that’s why I love this movie so much. It’s time-travel done the “Quirky Indie” way. Aubrey Plaza (Indie’s IT girl) stars as a young woman who answers an ad asking for a partner in (you guessed it) time travel. Is the guy crazy, or has he really found a way to travel through time? You tell me.
  3. Midnight in Paris (2011) urlBy far one of the best films Woody Allen has made in the last twenty years. It stars Owen Wilson as Woody Allen a screenwriter who takes a trip to Paris with his horrible fiancé and her family. While he is there he stumbles into 1920’s Paris and meets all the literary Who’s Who of the famed Expat community. A fantastic movie that reminds us how often we romanticize the past. And how much I miss living in Europe.
  4. Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)  Peggy_Sue_Got_Married_2 Francis Ford Coppola directed this comedy starring none other than Nic Cage. It’s really hard for me to make a list and not include him somehow. And he sings in this movie, which of course makes me even happier. Anyway, the film centers around Kathleen Turner, (the title character) a forty-something housewife who is dissatisfied with her life and her no good husband. She wakes up one morning to find herself as a teenager, living at home with mom and dad. How would you deal with dating the man who you know later in life you would come to divorce? Jim Carey and Joan Allen also have small roles. Great, funny film worth checking out again.
  5. Somewhere in Time (1980) – Christopher Reeve time travels again, but this time he isn’t a super hero. It’s simple. He falls in love with a picture of Jane Seymour and travels back in time to woo her. Self hypnosis is amazing.
  6. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) ST-IV-The-Voyage-Home-Behind-the-Scenes-star-trek-7879787-1000-690I struggled with which Star Trek movie to use since the two that deal with time travel are the best, and I went with the first. Sure, it’s a little cheesy, but that’s what I like about it. Seeing the Enterprise crew walking the streets of a mid-eighties San Francisco is just too much fun. They are trying to save the humpback whale from extinction (naturally) and wear really awesome “future” clothes while doing it.  Look to Spock for some quippy one liners.
  7. Time Bandits (1981) – I saw this movie in the theater when it came out. I was seven and I didn’t understand much. Years later in Prague I re-watched the movie and realized I understood it fine. It was just a Terry Gilliam movie. It’s absurd, funny, raunchy, over the top, and everything you might expect from a Gilliam film. Not for everyone, but it sure is weird. And I like weird.
  8. Twelve Monkeys (1995) tumblr_llo94gIddG1qk59nyo1_400And while we’re talking about Terry Gilliam time-travel movies, I might as well add this one. It stars Bruce Willis as a convict who is sent back in time to find out how the virus that has devastated the earth got started. Brad Pitt steals every scene he is in as the (maybe) crazy inmate Jeffery.
  9. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) tumblr_kti1veVoBU1qa55fxo1_400Special effects. Explosions. Time-traveling. Motorcycle riding. Badass babe. A cyborg made from liquid metal. What’s not to enjoy here?
  10. Back to the Future (1985) – Duh. I’d have to slap myself silly if this classic didn’t appear on the list. The all time best time travel movie ever. Hands down. End of discussion.

Honorable Mentions: Star Trek: First Contact, Time After Time, Groundhog Day, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Zen Habits: Questions to Ask Yourself at Year’s End

four-seasonsThe end of the year is nigh. That means people the world over will be looking back and taking stock of what they managed to do and not do in the past year. In the past I have used this blog to reflect on what I’ve done, and look forward to the year to come. This year is no different, but a lot easier since I took stock of my life mid year. I knew I wasn’t happy where I was and waiting isn’t really my style. So I asked myself some important questions and took action. The result is that 2014 is going to be an exciting year for me.

Even if you are totally content with your life and happy with where you are (both physically and mentally), it won’t hurt to look at these questions and see where your life is out of balance. I answered most of these questions last year and it showed me quite vividly that I was unhappy. Sure it was my first year in America in almost seven years, but reverse culture shock isn’t to blame for everything. I quickly saw that Austin wasn’t good for me. Most (if not all) of my unhappiness stemmed from living in a place I found stifling to my independence and growth. Once I figured that out, the rest was fun and easy. I developed an escape plan that commences in three weeks. It’s not enough to know what the problems are, you have to be proactive in your own life in order to create change.

  1. Where in my life do I feel stuck?
  2. What am I most proud of in this last year?
  3. Am I passionate about my job, or career?
  4. What have I learned this year?
  5. What have I been an example of?
  6. How have I been open minded?
  7. What new experiences, people or places did I experience?
  8. How did I express myself creatively?
  9. What projects did I start? Did I complete them, or procrastinate?
  10. Did I get in my own way and make excuses?
  11. In what ways can I restructure my time?
  12. How have I been a good and supportive friend/lover?
  13. Have I been unfair to anyone?
  14. Who do I need to forgive in order to move forward?
  15. What (or who) do I need to let go of?
  16. What old habits am I ready to get rid of forever?
  17. What habits would I like to integrate into my life?
  18. Am I healthy in mind, body and spirit?
  19. What do my finances say about my life?
  20. Am I spending my free time in healthy and productive ways?

20 Things I’m Thankful For This Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-pinup01In the spirit of the holiday, I’m going to list things in my life I’m thankful for. There’s a lot, so that’s good, but I’ll limit it to 20. I hope you all have a great holiday! Whether you are spending it with friends and family, or with anxious strangers waiting in line to spend money… Happy Thanksgiving!

What I’m Thankful for is:

  1. My super awesome, fantastic, hilarious, handsome, beardy boyfriend. He’s the best. He makes pancakes for breakfast… and dinner. He’s my partner in adventure. He’s pretty rad, and I’m pretty lucky.
  2. My health. God knows I should be dead by now, but somehow, some way… here I am. Thank you universe!
  3. A place to crash. I’m lucky. I know people all over, so I always have a place to rest my head. It’s essential for a traveler. 
  4. I completed NaNoWriMo! It is the second time in ten years of competing. I feel proud, and joyful! I did a happy dance and drank an expensive soda to celebrate. 
  5. Cold temperatures and rain. After a year of heat in Texas, it feels nice to put on a sweater.
  6. My friends all over the world.  And I mean that literally. I am so blessed. I have the best friends! I might not see them every day, or year, but they know I love them. So to all of you who have my back out there in California, Colorado, Seattle, Portland, Boston, Austin, Prague, Mexico, Germany, New York, Chicago, Hawaii, London, Budapest, Korea and even here in Houston and all of the places I forgot to list – Thank you! I love you all.
  7. Ice cream, wine, coffee, and cheese.
  8. I’m thankful that my gay and lesbian friends are finally getting the respect and equal rights they deserve. Took long enough!
  9. I’m thankful that my FB friends got tired of listing things they were thankful for around day 7.
  10. tumblr_mwh3dryoiQ1qjev1to1_1280Kittens. Every day.
  11. My voice. I did nothing to deserve it. I didn’t work hard at it, and I don’t practice. I just love singing. And I was blessed with a pretty darned good voice. I’m humbled and happy to have it and share it, even if it is just at karaoke or in the shower. If I couldn’t sing, I’d find some other way to make myself feel that good. And that would take a lot of kittens.
  12. The opportunities I’ve taken, and those I didn’t. I’ve had awesome opportunities at my feet dozens of times. Some I have taken advantage of while others I let fly by. I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made, but I sure am thankful I’ve had them.
  13. All of the great kids I’ve been able to hang with this past year. I miss all my little friends, all of them. Especially you, Cora.
  14. My family. Both the one I was raised with and the one I have made.
  15. Naps. I’m thankful for naps.
  16. I’m thankful for condoms. And the freedoms that they give. Bless you.
  17. My computer. And the internets that come with it.
  18. Airplanes. My life wouldn’t be the same without them.
  19. Modern Family, The Simpson’s, Amy Pohler, Louie CK, Sarah Silverman, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld and every one who makes me smile and laugh. Life can be tough. Thanks for making those hard days a little easier.
  20. Art. I’m thankful when I see it, and I’m thankful to be able to make it. It brings me joy.

Zen Habits: How to Stick to Your Path When Nobody Gets It

photo: Alicia Brooks

photo: Alicia Brooks

If you had asked me at twenty-seven years old what my life plan is, I would have laughed at you. I didn’t have a plan. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew what society, my friends and family expected of me, and I tried doing it. I got married. I got a job in an office. I made money. I was miserable, but I was doing what I was supposed to do. If you had told me that instead I’d divorce my husband and move to the Czech Republic, and spend the next seven years traveling the world and wind up at a Buddhist Center in Northern California, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

But somewhere in the midst of living the life I thought I was supposed to live, I realized I wasn’t happy. Or rather I was forced to realize I wasn’t happy. Looking back I feel like I was too dumb or too scared to see I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted. I was living the life other people wanted to me to live. But, my relationships were failing, my career was less than fulfilling, I was miserable.

I was checking off all of the boxes (Job? Check! Married? Check!) but it didn’t make me happy. I realized what I wanted from life wasn’t what most people wanted. I wanted a life of adventure, freedom, love, and learning. Staying in one place for twenty years, working in an office every day was not what I wanted from life.

Of course, living a life of freedom and adventure, love and learning isn’t enough. I still needed and wanted an amazing partner, enough money for what I need, and to live in a place that fuels my creativity. And why the hell not? Why settle down in a life that doesn’t fit?

But explaining your life goals and dreams to family and friends isn’t always easy. Most people don’t understand. When you live your life in an unusual way – traveling, living abroad, volunteering, not having babies, starting your own business – it makes people uncomfortable. It’s just too risky for stable minded people. They don’t understand it. They fear it, and you. They might even be envious of you. And that’s okay. Just take it in stride.

The trick is to not let all of that fear and doubt rub off on you. The last thing you need is to start doubting yourself. So how do you keep living your life the way YOU want? Here are some tips to help you figure that out.

  1. Give people the tools to educate themselves. We spend a lot of our time explaining ourselves to people. We try to explain why we are moving to Europe, or why we have decided to change careers. We struggle to make people understand our POV, and explain (over and over) what we are after. Well, stop. It won’t work. You can talk ’til you’re blue in the face, but it won’t change anyones mind. The best idea is to give friends and family the tools to educate themselves. I have sent my friends and family as much information about Ratna Ling as I possibly can. That’s all I can do. It’s up to them to read it, and ask me questions. I can’t force them to accept my choices, but I can make it their responsibility to educate themselves about it. I can’t have a meaningful dialogue about my life choices with someone who can’t take the time to educate themselves about it.
  2. Find a community of like-minded people. It’s a lot easier to live your dream when you have a group of people around you who “get it”. Start limiting your time with people who don’t understand what you are doing.
  3. Commit to your lifestyle in thought and action. Start a routine that includes yoga and meditation. Make time for the things which are important to you. Whether it’s writing, painting, exercising, singing… make it a part of your daily practice. Making creativity and inner connection a part of your daily ritual will help you in making it a part of your life.
  4. Allow yourself the freedom to change, even if nobody else will. I’m not the same person I was at sixteen. I’m not even the same person I was at twenty-six. Thank goodness! I should hope that we all grow and change over time. I don’t have the same priorities I did in my twenties, and that’s okay with me. I’m GLAD that getting wasted and dancing the night away isn’t my main goal in life. It was fun while it lasted, but that ain’t me anymore. But, people are comfortable with the YOU they first met. It fits into their idea of who you are, and that fits into their life. When your life shifts and your priorities change, it forces other people to change their idea of you. That makes some people uncomfortable. Don’t let that stop you from growing and changing. If your friends and family are having trouble adjusting to your new lifestyle, job, or home – that’s a THEM problem. Not a YOU problem. You just go on being awesome.
  5. Stay strong. You know deep down inside that you are a badass. You know that you are doing what’s right for you. Seeking the approval of others is an uphill battle that you’ll eventually lose. Do the best you can, every day. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t. The only persons happiness that you are responsible for is your own.

Scariest Books That Are Scary

scarystories1029291236With Halloween just around the corner, and me out of scary movies to recommend, I turn to the printed page. Scary books can be more frightening than any movie. Your imagination is a powerful weapon for fear. So, as the wind howls past your window on all Hallow’s Eve, why not curl up with one of these books, guaranteed to scare you worse than Tim Curry dressed up like a clown.

*As always, I do not put books, movies, anything on a list that I have not read/see/heard for myself. 

  1. The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty – You’ve seen the movie. It probably gave you nightmares. Well, the book is about one hundred times more frightening. I sat up one night and read it cover to cover. Shiver scale: 10
  2. Ghost Story, Peter Straub – Another well loved scary movie with a far scarier book. The idea of a group of old men sitting around telling horror stories doesn’t seem like much, but it is. Especially when those stories revolve around their real lives. Shiver Scale: 7
  3. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson – This book is terrifying. Instead of relying on horror and gore, Jackson uses her characters psyches and terrifying events to give big time chills. Written in 1959, it remains the best of the “Haunted House” novels out there. Shiver Scale: 8
  4. The Shining, Stephen King – I decided to only put ONE King novel on the list. It was hard to choose, but I went with a classic. There is no denying that this book is scary. It takes what you know from the movie and goes deeper. You might want to read this one with the lights on. Shiver Scale: 10
  5. The October Country, Ray Bradbury2013-08-15-octobercountryballantineorigJMI shouldn’t need to explain this one, but this book contains some really scary shit. The story “The Crowd” made me never want to get in a car again. Shiver Scale: 10
  6. Dawn, by Octavia Buter – I had the pleasure of meeting Octavia Butler when I worked at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. She was funny, clever, and beautiful. This book is all of those things. Except funny. It isn’t funny. Author Junet Diaz said, “This book still gives me nightmares and teaches you right quick that no trade is ever free.” Shiver Factor: 6
  7. The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum – My five favorite words in the english language might be “Based on a true story.” This book is one of those. Stephen King calls this guy the scariest man in America, and he’s Stephen King! Shiver Factor: 8
  8. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis – Yes, the movie was good. But the book is awesome. It stands as one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. Sure, the blood and violence are great, but the passages dedicated to Huey Lewis and the News are worth the cover price. Shiver Factor: 8
  9. Lord of the Flies, William Golding – Remembered mostly as a young adult classic, this novel still makes me cringe. For me, mob mentality is one of the scariest things in the world. Because it could totally happen. It HAS happened. Lord of the Flies reminds us that not all leaders should be followed.
  10. Bellefleur, Joyce Carol Oates – I know. I put JCO on just about every book list I make. But she’s awesome! And this book is regarded as one of her Masterpieces. It is haunting, disturbing, and scary as shit. It follows a family (as most of her books do) as it endures horror after horror. Shiver Factor: 10
  11. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz – The cover alone gave me nightmares for years. That deserves at least an honorable mention. The pictures in the original version of the book scared the pants off a generation of American kids. I’m going to pick up a copy of this for our upcoming camping trip. Camping is more fun with ghost stories! Shiver Factor: 7 Illustrations: 12

Zen Habits: Transitions

mountain-roadAs I write this, I have no home of my own. I have no keys to a flat or mail box, no address, and no roots. It won’t be this way forever, but for the time being this is my life. Untethered. Right now is a funny time. Most people would call it a “transition period”, or an “in-between” state. I’m trying to look at it as a sabbatical without pay. However I choose to think of it, it is a weird position to be in.

Our society rewards work and demonizes leisure. Whether it’s an out of work slob watching TV all day, or a privileged rich dude who doesn’t have to work, we think less of him. It’s kind of a bummer. Personally, I think highly of people who are smart and creative enough to figure out ways of avoiding work, or working less. Working for the man full time isn’t my idea of living life. And I certainly don’t want to wait until I “retire” to start kicking ass and traveling. So I’m doing the things I want to do an I’m doing them now.

The downside to being untethered is transitioning. I’ll be in a state of transition until mid January when I arrive at Ratna Ling. Once there we can settle in for six months. I’ve lived through many transitions and it gets easier each time. Transitions happen to everyone at some point or another. The key is to accept it and work with it, not against it. You can thrive through periods of uncertainty, no work, and lots and lots of free time. Remember: Beginnings are born out of endings.

  1. Create a routine. Don’t sleep ’til noon and watch game shows all day. This will rot your brain and rob you of ambition. Set your alarm, wake up and have morning coffee. Workout. Read. Go to the store. Cook at home. Set aside time for emails and Facebook so you are not spending all day doing nothing. Take time for yourself and be creative. You might not have this much free time again for a while.
  2. Get done what you can. Now. We won’t be in Seattle until June or July of 2014. That doesn’t mean I should wait until then to start looking for a place to live or for a job. I have already updated my CV and I already got an interview. I have our route to California mapped out (including gas cost) and we are making reservations for campsites. Waiting ti the last minute when you don’t have to is dumb.
  3. Don’t look back. Looking back is a temptation best left alone. It’s easy to look back at where you came from with nostalgia or longing. I try not to watch movies set in Prague because I don’t want to go through the pain of missing it. Instead, I keep my eyes focused on the present and what is to come. I left Prague in search of adventure and new experiences – things that I was not having there. Even the magic of living in Prague becomes common place after seven years. As much as I miss my friends – my family – in Prague, I needed to leave. As Yoda said, “Always in motion is the future.”

The Scariest Ghost Movies of All Time

drag-me-to-hell-610x354It depresses me greatly to think about how far from scary Halloween has become. People don’t seem concerned about looking scary, or having a good scare. Halloween seems to be about sex and candy. Two things I am all for by the way, but Halloween should be scary. So, if you are planning a Halloween party, or you just want to get in the spirit of the holiday, try these oh so scary Ghost Stories.

Drag Me to Hell (2009) Sam Raimi excels at horror. He also excels at dark comedy. When you put those together you get classics like Army of Darkness, and this little gem. This is the story of a young loan officer who denies a really gross old lady a loan, and therefore gets gross old lady evicted from her home. Then gross old lady attacks Sweet Young Loan officer and puts a curse on her. The rest super fun so I won’t spoil it. But… there is a goat possession. That’s right. GOAT. POSSESSION.

The Others (2001) A fresh take on the Haunted House genre starring Nicole Kidman as a woman who lives in a huge house with her two weird kids who are sensitive to light. There are creepy caretakers, and odd nannies, and there are even cool, twisted memento mori photographs scattered about to keep the spooky vibe. I saw this in the theater when it came out and left happy. It’s a good one.

being possessed is hard work

being possessed is hard work

Amityville Horror (2005) I’m not usually a supporter of horror remakes, but in this case I’ll make an exception. The 70’s version just doesn’t stand the test of time. It’s hard to take a haunting seriously when James Brolin is brooding under six tons of facial hair. It’s much easier to take a haunting seriously when the unhappy ghosts want to inhabit the incredibly chiseled body of Ryan Reynolds.

Ghostbusters (1984) Ok, so Ghostbusters isn’t really scary. But, when I was ten years old seeing it on a big screen, it was pretty close. While it offers a few jumps and jolts, the most frightening parts of the film involve Rick Moranis trying to flirt, Zuul’s dogs, and a giant marshmallow man which terrorizes New York. It still holds up after all these years.

The Haunting (1963) I read The Haunting of Hill House in high school. I loved it. It was the first book that ever scared me. The book has been made into a movie more than once, but this is the best version. A doctor is researching the existence of ghosts in a really creepy old mansion that has a lurid history of death and insanity. The always amazing Julie Christie plays Nell – the young psychic who has a really hard time dealing with crazy.

The Shining (1980) the-shining-snow1The Grandfather of all ghost stories comes from the master of horror himself, Stephen King. Many people complain that the book is scarier than the movie. Whatever. Learn that film and literature are two different mediums, and that those two mediums work in two different ways. It’s like comparing apples to a steak. Anyway, Jack Nicholson is a writer with the worst case of writer’s block, like ever. He takes his family to The Overlook Lodge in order to work as the caretaker over the winter. Things start going spooky almost immediately. Look for Scatman Crothers as the Chef with the shining. Watch this together with Room 237 if you want to spend four hours in terror.

The Sixth Sense (1999) You all know the big secret of this movie, but knowing the secret doesn’t make the movie any less scary. Bruce Willis plays a shrink who is trying to help a cute little boy who thinks he sees ghosts. Angry ghosts. Mean ghosts. Ghosts who like opening cabinets… and not shutting them!

The Devil’s Backbone (2001) A movie directed by Guillermo Del Torro and produced by Pedro Almodovar is a movie worth seeing. Carlos is a twelve-year-old boy who stumbles upon an orphanage in the midst of the Spanish Civil war. He soon discovers the schools dark secrets, and its ghosts. This movie is awesome.

915852_originalThe Frighteners (1996) Long before Peter Jackson was gallivanting around New Zealand making gay hobbit porn, he made movies like this one. (And Dead Alive. And Meet the Feebles) Michael J. Fox plays a man who recently lost his family in a car accident. He soon discovers he can communicate with the dead and make a living as a phony paranormal expert. Not to be confused with a real paranormal expert. This is a pretty scary movie for young viewers, and the special effects are still pretty awesome.