GIVE THE GIFT OF READING

December 1, 2016
GIVE THE GIFT OF READING

I have always loved the written word – reading it, writing it, at home or at school or at the office or sitting in the back seat of one of Mom and Dad's old Volkswagens when I was a child – and it has been my great fortune to have been able to turn this love into something resembling an actual career. (Much to the surprise, I'm sure, of a certain fifth grade teacher who once made the mistake of telling me that I would never amount to anything… but that’s a discussion for another day.)


And long-time readers of my newspaper column are no doubt familiar with my occasional use of that forum to discuss the importance of literacy projects, both here at home and on the state and national level. I can think of no more worthwhile cause than to help provide someone with the single most important tool they will ever need in life: the ability to read.


Having said all this by way of preface, it probably comes as no surprise to many that my favorite holiday gifts – both to give and to receive – are books. I’m a bookworm; I make no apologies for that. 


Seeing as how we are now officially into the Christmas gift buying season, I thought I’d take this opportunity to pass along a few titles that captured my attention over the past few months. Perhaps you’ll come across one that might appeal to that bookworm on your gift list.


If your favorite bookstore doesn’t carry these titles – or any others you might be seeking– take the time to track down and corner one of those young store clerks, tell them to put down their cappuccino or latte or whatever funky style of coffee they’re drinking, and ask them to special order the book you’re looking for. After all, that’s what they’re there for; the coffee is just a perk. Sometimes they have to be reminded of that.


All right, then… On with the gift ideas:


• Topping my list this year is a two-volume set by Sean Lee Levin entitled Crossovers Expanded (Meteor House Press). An authorized follow-up to Win Scott Eckert’s earlier two-volume Crossovers, Levin’s work is (like its predecessor) a comprehensive timeline detailing meetings and interactions between famous fictional characters of literature, films, television, radio and comic books. 


From the Scarlet Pimpernel’s encounter with the vampire hunter Captain Kronos and Marshall Matt Dillon and Tonto teaming up to help track down Jesse James, to Charlie’s Angels’ trip aboard the Love Boat and Doctor Who helping the crew of the Enterprise battle the Borg, this compendium is sure to entertain and delight anyone who is a fan of pop culture.

 

• Speaking of pop fiction crossovers (and Win Scott Eckert, and Tonto), Meteor House has also published a “chap book” (i.e. a slim volume containing a single short story) by Eckert that fills in a missing adventure in America that Jules Verne chose not to include in his classic tale Around The World In 80 Days


Telling of an encounter between Verne’s British hero, Phileas Fogg, and the legendary western hero The Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion, Eckert’s short tale has an ironically long title: Being An Account Of The Delay At Green River, Wyoming, Of Phileas Fogg, World Traveler, or, The Masked Man Meets An English Gentleman. The story is a great deal of fun; look for it (and Crossovers Expanded) at meteorhousepress.com.


• While you’re there, do yourself a favor and check out two other recent Meteor House editions that I can not recommend enough. Both are continuations of popular series that were started by the famed Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Philip José Farmer: Dayworld: A Hole In Wednesday, a posthumous collaboration between Farmer himself and his grandnephew, author Danny Adams; and Blood Of Ancient Opar, Christopher Paul Carey’s latest addition to Farmer’s early history of the first of the lost cities discovered by Tarzan in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original novels of the jungle hero.


Whether you’re a fan of “hard” science fiction of the Asimov-Clarke variety, or prefer sword-swinging fantasy heroes like Conan the Barbarian or Elric of Melnibourne - or, like myself, enjoy both - these books will give the reader hours of enjoyment. Both are worthy additions to their respective series, but at the same time are excellent “stand-alone” tales that will thrill readers unfamiliar with the earlier books in both series.


• Before we leave the science fiction world behind, I would be remiss if I did not also take a moment to recommend what may be the single best Star Trek novel I have ever read (and over 40 years I’ve read a bunch of them). David A. Goodman’s The Autobiography of James T. Kirk (Titan Books) is just what it says it is: the life story of Starfleet’s most legendary captain, told in his own words. 


The Kirk of this novel is the original version of the character portrayed by William Shatner, as opposed to the Chris Pine “reboot” of the more recent films. The novel sheds light on what made Kirk the great hero so beloved by generations of Trek fans and - in one of the best chapters of the book - even reveals the truth about the events of the least popular of the theatrical films, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.


• If mysteries are more your cup of tea, Titan Books is also the publisher that has given us Elementary: The Ghost Line. Based on the hit TV show depicting the adventures of Sherlock Holmes in modern day New York City, Adam Christopher’s novel manages to successfully duplicate in print what makes that series so great while at the same time evoking the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes tales. 


• Fans of action-adventure and old-style pulp fiction will enjoy a new adventure featuring the aforementioned Tarzan. Written by first-time author Michael A. Sanford, Tarzan On The Precipice (Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.) is set between the first two Burroughs novels and tells of the Jungle King’s encounter with a lost tribe of Viking warriors in - of all places - the wilds of Canada!


Although occasionally marred by minor storytelling inconsistencies common to many first-time writers (the worst being a tendency to slide back and forth between past tense and present tense), this is an excellent story that fills in an important missing chapter of one of the great literary characters of all time. 


• For horror fans there is Frank Schildiner’s The Quest of Frankenstein, a sequel to Mary Shelley’s gothic classic that is also based upon a 1950s reinterpretation of Shelley’s immortal creature by Academy-Award winning French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrièr. 


Set in 1914 during the real-life horror that was World War I, Schildiner’s novel has the creature in war-torn France seeking a scientist who build the monster a mate. (Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize the scientist he aligns with.) Even of you have never encountered the French version of the creature (the book’s foreword provides a brief history of Carrièr’s series), this is an exciting tale that puts a unique spin on the Frankenstein legend while at the same time remaining far more true to Shelley’s original than most sequels that have come down the pike over the years. 


• And finally, if I may be allowed a brief and admittedly self-serving plug, I’d like to suggest Stories Of Old (Ethan Books), my own recent collection of stories from our local history here in Johnston County, Oklahoma, that were all originally published in the pages of the Johnston County Capital-Democrat over the past quarter-century. 


From the story of a German POW camp that was located in Tishomingo during World War II and a Navy veteran’s memories of serving aboard an atomic submarine during the 1960s, to the legend of how Pennington Creek got its name and a woman who claimed she saw a UFO hovering over her property, this is a collection of stories that are my favorites of all those I have written for the C-D since first coming to work here directly out of college back in 1991. Even if you don’t hail from the Johnston County area there are stories here that may appeal to you. I’d like to think so, anyway.


We have a few copies still available here at the C-D office at the moment (more should be arriving relatively soon… I hope), or you can purchase the book directly from the publisher at Amazon.com. Check it out, won’t you?

 

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS...

October 28, 2016


By this time next week it will all, at long last, be over. The American people will have spoken, and - barring any last-second temper tantrums, court challenges or some other kind of monkey wrench thrown into the works - we will know who the 45th President of the United States will be and, for better or worse, we’ll be getting our first real glimpse into what the next four years may hold for our nation.


But I don’t want to talk about the election or the candidates anymore. It’s just go...


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DID HE REALLY SAY THAT?

October 27, 2016

Something rather... disquieting, I think, would be the most appropriate word in this particular instance... occurred to me last Wednesday night as I was in front of the TV watching the latest episode in this sitcom we are rather euphemistically calling the Presidential Campaign of 2016.


I have been alive now for just shy of 53 and a half years... a little more than half a century as the eagle flies. During my lifetime, America has seen one president assassinated, another president resign, a ...


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DYLAN'S NOBEL AND "IS IT ART?"

October 14, 2016

If someone had told me while I was sitting at the breakfast table Thursday morning that I would be spending much of that day defending the decision to award Bob Dylan this year’s Nobel Prize for literature, I suspect I would have done a spit take and blew Raisin Bran all over the room…


Every year when the Nobels are announced, there is always at least one recipient who becomes the subject of some form of controversy. This year that recipient was Mr. Dylan; a lot of people agreed with the...


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IT'S MORE THAN JUST A RIGHT; IT'S A RESPONSIBILITY

August 24, 2016

Believe me, nobody will be more happy than I will to see this current campaign season - with all its circus atmosphere and a cast of characters that makes me wonder sometimes if both major party candidates are being funded by Mad magazine -  finally come to an end.   


People complain about “election fatigue” in pretty much every campaign cycle, but I can’t remember a time when my own sense of fatigue has been so pronounced and, at times, downright painful to bear. More than once in rec...


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A WRITING EXPERIMENT...

August 18, 2016


Okay, so here’s the thing…


Not too very long ago I was talking with a writer friend of mine who told me that he was taking a stab at writing a romance story. When I commented that this was a genre I was not particularly comfortable with, he basically called me a coward and challenged me to give it a try. So just to shut him up I told him I’d think about it and we turned toward a different subject.


Fast forward to this past Tuesday night, after I got home from the newspaper. I was sitt...


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HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION (2016 EDITION)

August 10, 2016
Above: Yours Truly (bottom left) and my FarmerCon friends at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus, Ohio, during the 2016 PulpFest convention July 21-24)

Apologies if I’ve looked or acted a little out of it over the past week or so, but it hasn’t been without reason. My mind and body have been in recovery mode, trying to get re-acclimated to the usual day-to-day routine after the whirlwind extravapalooza that was (drumroll, please) Small Family Vacation 2016.


We set out bright and early on the mo...


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SOMETIMES WORDS FAIL ME...

July 13, 2016

There is a lyric in the Harry Chapin song “Story Of A Life” that I’ve always found somewhat appropriate for those of us who toil in my particular line of work: 


“Sometimes words can serve me well,

Sometimes words can go to hell

For all that they do...”


As a newspaper columnist, I understand and appreciate the sentiment Chapin was attempting to convey in those lines. Because there are times when, as much as I hate to admit it, words fail me.


I was oh so proud back in 1991 to earn ...


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NEW TARZAN IS A WINNER

July 4, 2016

It occurred to me recently that it had been a while since the last time I devoted this space to reviewing a new movie. This seems like as good a time as any to rectify this - and frankly I could not have picked a better movie with which to do so.


Full disclosure: The Legend Of Tarzan was one of those movies I was looking forward to with both great anticipation and, at the same time, a certain degree of dread. Anticipation because, as I have written about many times in the past, Tarzan is a c...


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REMEMBER CIVILITY...?

June 23, 2016
(Note: This is a slightly revised version of something I recently wrote and posted on Facebook, and then published as my weekly column in the June 23, 2016, edition of the Johnston County Capital-Democrat.)


I recently had a… well, I don't know that it actually rises to the level of being an honest-to-Jed Bartlett "epiphany," but it is darn sure something that bears being shared the rest of the world.  (And if it does qualify as an epiphany then I'm just tickled to death, because I don't know...


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About Me


John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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