Travels In the Scriptorium by Paul Auster – A Book Review

Here’s the thing: if you’ve been reading Paul Auster for a long time, you’re going to love Travels In the Scriptorium because it was written for you.  Meaning, this little devil is so full of Easter eggs from Auster’s past works that longtime readers will have a field day.

Because I’ve read many of Auster’s works, it’s hard for me to disassociate what I’ve read before and look at Travels In the Scriptorium objectively as a stand-alone project.  If I were going to recommend this book to new Auster readers, I would say it is once again a captivating story that makes expert use of metafiction.  Auster often submits stories-within-stories in his writings, and Travels In the Scriptorium is no exception.  Furthermore, Auster explores his classic themes of isolation, identity, and self-analysis.

To the experienced Auster fan, I would say that yes, while Auster once again presents a story-within-a-story, and while he once again delves into ideas of isolation and ambiguous identity, he does so in a fresh, enjoyable manner.  I compare Auster’s talent to that of Michael Jordan.  Sure, when Jordan played, there came a time when we’d seen most of it all before, yet we still couldn’t take our eyes off of him because he made each dunk, each three-pointer, and each cross-over a thing of beauty, something far and away better than anything anyone else could ever hope to do.

Such is Auster.  I’ve read all of these themes before and seen most of the techniques, but he makes it all seem original with each new outing.  Consequently, though I won’t spoil the book, Travels In the Scriptorium covers new metafictional ground for Auster, and I think if anyone deserves to try something like what occurs in this book, it’s Auster.

I wouldn’t recommend Travels In the Scriptorium as a first read for someone new to Auster, but to those loyal Auster fans, it was a real delight for reasons you’ll notice almost immediately.

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The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch by Anne Isaacs – A Book Review

This children’s book written by Anne Isaacs and illustrated by Dan Santat is a perfect example of two people who are extremely talented coming together in perfect union and creating a truly special work.

Isaacs’ story is just as charming as can be.  Estrella is a young girl who runs so fast she leaves fire in her wake.  One day her pets- each of whom have an unusual ability as well-are stolen right out from under her nose.  Her search for her pets brings about a confrontation with a gang of ghosts who are trying to greedily take advantage of the 1848 gold rush. 

This is a story well told.  Isaacs uses figurative language originally and effectively and also offered some truly funny scenes.  While there are ghosts in this story, there’s nothing scary about them and because Estrella has the upper hand nearly the entire time, I don’t think even the most timid of children would find this tale creepy.  Other than offering an appealing yarn much akin to a tall-tale, Isaacs also executes some solid expertise.  She introduces elements in the beginning that play a relevant role later, and there is not one wasted moment in this short book.  Not only will your child read a fun, charismatic story, but they’ll also witness great writing as well!

And let’s talk about Dan Santat!  His artwork perfectly compliments Isaacs’ craft.  His renditions of the speedy Estrella, her incredible pets, and the dastardly ghosts are beautiful to look at and I have no doubt a child could sit and endlessly study each and every picture in the book.  I know as a thirty-one-year-old, I stared quite a bit at his work with immense enjoyment.  His figures are cartoony yet oddly realistic, and his colors are simply mesmerizing.    

Isaacs and Santat’s talents blended marvelously together to create a striking work that I think all children will enjoy.

The Wettest County In the World by Matt Bondurant – A Book Review

This book is based upon the true story of Matt Bondurant’s grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers, a band of bootleggers who were a fearsome and almost preternaturally tough group of men during the Prohibition Era.

In The Wettest County In the World, Bondurant presents an intriguing story at its core, but I’m afraid I found his writing far too verbose to suit my tastes.  Furthermore, Bondurant at times seems as though he’s trying to fill in the historical details of his relatives’ lives to the point it proves a hindrance to the story and severely disrupts the reader’s organic connection to the main characters, thus impeding the process of “ownership.”

When Bondurant gives us action, he does it well, but those moments are far and few between.  The ending of his book is very good, but for this writer, it was a real chore getting there.    

This book had all the ingredients to be very good-it had an interesting story, a sense of danger and foreboding, a bit of a mystery, and characters that could have leapt off the page.  I’m convinced that had Bondurant simply written it another way, perhaps employing a different narrative technique focusing only on the brothers and making the story solely about them instead of including the Sherwood Anderson aspect which deals with his investigating a violent calamity concerning the Bondurant Brothers several years after the fact, I would have enjoyed it more.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army – A Movie Review

With the birth of our daughter over the summer, I was a little too busy to go see Hellboy II:  The Golden Army in the theatre, and boy, after watching the DVD, I wish we’d gotten a babysitter!

While I enjoyed the first Hellboy, I found it a little too mired in the occult and Nazis while failing to find a clear, confident voice.  Hellboy II did not suffer such soul-searching – it knew exactly who it wanted to be.

Writer/Director Guillermo Del Toro brought his vision and voice to Hellboy more completely than the first film and created a hugely entertaining story full of fantasy and charm.  This Hellboy had all-out action, incredibly intricate costumes and special effects, a fairly tight plot, great characterization, true moments of tangible emotion, and a genuine sense of humor and quick wit.

I appreciated the contemporary fantasy direction the film took using trolls, elves, fairies, and all sorts of mythological creatures and placing them firmly in our modern-day world.  I loved that Hellboy’s supporting characters got more face time, and the inclusion of the magnificently charismatic Johann Krauss was a testament to superb voice and kinetic acting.  Additionally, each actor had a much firmer grip on their character and therefore delivered far more believable performances.  There were scenes in this movie that never, ever should have worked (such as a Hellboy-Abe Sapien duet), but they did, and they were spectacular.  The relationship between Hellboy and Liz seemed much more authentic as well, and therefore created a far more convincing love story than the last installment.

Hellboy II:  The Golden Army held the kind of magical sense of wonder and fun that I’ve longed for in a science fiction/fantasy film.  Furthermore, the fact it didn’t take itself too seriously and readily injected some hilarious, even campy, moments made it all the more endearing. 

Haven’t seen the first Hellboy?  No matter.  You can watch Hellboy II without missing a beat and I recommend you do if you’d like to see a delightfully made, wildly entertaining fantasy.

Christmas At the Golf Course – My December News and Views Short Story

Craig Gobel thought he had the golf course all to himself on Christmas day, so imagine his surprise when the biggest man he’d ever seen rolled up in a red golf cart decked out in silver sleigh bells.   

To read about Craig and his unusual fellow golfer, read “Christmas At the Golf Course,” my December short story found in both the Peoria and Bloomington editions of the free periodical, News and Views for the Young at Heart.

Bloomington News & Views for the Young at Heart is virtually at any Bloomington-Normal medical facility.  You can also pick it up at the following locations:

Suds Subaru
Busey Bank on Fort Jesse
Kroger on the corner of Landmark and Visa
Commerce Bank on the corner of Towanda and College
Tuffy Muffler on Vernon
Kmart behind Kep’s Restaurant on IAA Drive
Eastland Mall at the main door between JC Penny and Macy’s
Kroger on Oakland Avenue
Schnucks
Jewel-Osco on Veterans Parkway
Borders
Kroger on Main Street
Bloomington Public Library on Olive Street
Drop Off Laundry on Main Street, across from Kroger

Or, if you live in the Peoria area, get your copy at:

CVS Pharmacies
Borders at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie
Save-a-Lot grocery store in Peoria Heights
Hospital lobbies
Barnato Pharmacy at Cub Foods in Peoria
KMart in Morton
Methodist Atrium Building in Peoria
Peoria Heights Library

The Peoria edition is also in most doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pekin, Morton, Chillicothe, Lacon, Farmington, Canton, East Peoria, and Eureka.

If you have any comments about “Christmas At the Golf Course,” feel free to get in touch at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.