A Girl, a Carny, and a Purple Ape

Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash

The night is clear and pleasantly cool. Sal and Julia walk through the travelling carnival that has arisen overnight in the parking lot of a shuttered Sears store. Lights flash, music blares and rides thunder. Pre-school aged children squeal with terror and delight on the mini-rollercoaster with cars in the shape of a long Chinese dragon, older kids munch popcorn and cotton candy as their parents wolf down giant corn dogs and turkey legs, and teen boys try to win huge stuffed animals for their dates. It is a controlled chaos, and Sal loves it. …

It’s a Gentle Madness

Photo source: arlingtonlibrary.org

Most children develop a love of reading at their local library, and few people can afford to own every book they want to read. Therefore local libraries and local bookstores coexist in an important literary ecosystem. With cities around the country facing huge budget deficits, however, funding for libraries is often one of the first items slashed.

One way to help your local library (and get great deals on books in the process) is to support the annual book sale held by the Friends of the Library in your town. If you happen to live in a large metropolitan area…

The Good Old Days May Not Have Been Good, but the Music Was

Photo source: Universal Pictures

I wrote an article recently about my experience attending Warped Tour with my daughters a few years ago. In that article I wrote that on first hearing the band Cute Is What We Aim For play, I was suddenly 15 years old again. Since writing that article, and in particular that line, I have found myself thinking about that teen I was. I’ve heard this happens more frequently as 50 recedes in your rear view mirror.

Since I also like putting playlists together, this pondering of my past inevitably led to a playlist centered around the angry, angsty kid I…

A Beginner’s Guide to Book Collecting

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

My son-in-law recently informed me that Pokémon cards are now the hottest collectible on the market, with rare early editions selling for astronomical amounts. Unlike him, I have been alive long enough to have seen myriad “collectibles” come and go, from the baseball card hysteria of the mid-90s to the Beanie Baby craze shortly after. Anything can become collectible for a while, even GameStop stock.

There is one area of collecting, however, that has lasted for over 500 years, surpassed in longevity and devotion only by collecting art. That time-tested hobby is book collecting. And while starting out collecting in…

A Truly Bookish Hobby

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

For book collectors, a volume signed by the author is often the most treasured part of their collection. Owning a book that the writer held in their hands (if only long enough to scribble their autograph) gives a sense of connection between novel, writer, and reader that goes beyond the story contained within the covers. At least in part because of this, collecting signed first editions has become a specialty within the book collecting community which has exploded in recent years.

Before going into specifics about signed books, a few brief thoughts on book collecting in general are important, as…

Never Forget

Rick Rescorla (Photo: Rick Rescorla.com)

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 are etched in the memories of all who are old enough to remember them. We also remember the many brave men and women, from the FDNY and NYPD to the countless first responders, who gave their lives saving others that day. There is another man we should remember, a man who saved more than 2,000 people that day. His name was Rick Rescorla.

Rick Rescorla was born in Cornwall in the United Kingdom on May 27, 1939. He spent time in the British Army as a paratrooper and as a police officer in…

History Matters, Even at the Movies

Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

It’s no secret that movies shape popular culture; just consider the impact of the Marvel films over the past decade. Movies also shape history and our perception of it in ways you might not expect, and the impact can be long-lasting. To give a very simple example, if you are over a certain age and I say the word “Moses,” it is likely that you immediately picture Charlton Heston in your mind because of his iconic portrayal of the biblical hero in the film The Ten Commandments. This is true whether you’re an atheist or a priest.

Clearly film matters…

It’s Not a Simple Spell

Photo: scholastic.com

I did not receive a letter from Hogwarts when I was 11 years old; sadly, I ended up in the normal Muggle 5th-grade class of Sister Bernice, a nun who in her youth may have been a Golden Gloves boxing champ and who could certainly have given Voldemort a run for his money. I also didn’t read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a preteen, having turned 30 the year before it was published. But I have read all the books multiple times now, and want to share some thoughts about Harry and his creator, J.K. Rowling.

The good…

A Shelter in the Storm

Photo by author

As we finally start to emerge from the hardest, strangest year that most of us have ever experienced, the global focus is on immunization, and rightly so (get the shot if you haven’t yet). But while Pfizer and Moderna have a vaccine to protect us from COVID-19, there’s no magic injection for the psychological part of what we’ve all lived through. And while it may sound counterintuitive given that we’ve been isolated from each other for so long, what many of us need is a refuge.

There is one place that has always been such a refuge, and one of…

Great Songs About the Worst Day of the Week

The Bangles (Photo: Columbia Records)

Monday sucks; this is one thing, maybe the only thing, we can all agree on. Mondays suck so bad that the most famous songs about Monday all talk about just how much it, well, sucks. But there is a silver lining, small though it may be: some great songs about Monday have been recorded over the past six decades.

To celebrate that, and to help you navigate this Monday and the ones that will inevitably, brutally keep recurring every seven days, here is a “Monday on Monday” playlist. It’s got a little of everything, including a duo I would never…

Paul Combs

Author of The Last Word novel series. I podcast at Bookish and Angry Typewriter. My ultimate goal is to make books as popular in Texas as high school football.

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