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?