To purge some of the crap I’ve been reading from the top of my brain, I read Amber Benson’s charming new book, Among the Ghosts.

AMBER BENSON co-wrote and directed the animated web-series, Ghosts of Albion, (with Christopher Golden) for the BBC. The duo then novelized the series in two books for Random House. [edit]
As an actress, Benson spent three seasons as Tara Maclay on the cult show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She has also written, produced, and directed three feature films, including her latest, Drones, which she co-directed with Adam Busch and will be released later this year.

I included this bio in case you didn’t know who I meant. I liked this book a lot. If I hung out with any kids, I’d recommend it to them.

Today I’m enjoying the nice weather and finishing a very entertaining book, Mary Roach’s Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. If Roach’s name is familiar, it might be because she’s back on bestseller lists with her latest, Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void.

The chapter on EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) was one of my favorites, for audio-technology-geekery reasons, and also because I was recently reading up on new archeological research regarding the Donner party. I don’t think you can do a graduate degree in audio technology without being asked 10 million times about EVP. I know I couldn’t.

There’s a nice excerpt from this chapter on her website, so I’m very happy to be able to share it with you:

From the chapter “Can you Hear Me Now?: Telecommunicating with the Dead”

“The National Forest Service has a fine and terribly dark sense of humor, or possibly they have none at all. For somebody, perhaps an entire committee, saw fit to erect a large wooden sign near the site where fourteen emigrants bound for California were eaten by other emigrants bound for California when they became trapped by the savage snows of 1846 and starved. The sign reads: DONNER CAMP PICNIC GROUND. I got here on a tour bus chartered by Dave Oester and Sharon Gill, founders of the International Ghost Hunters Society. IGHS, one of the world’s largest (14,000 members in 78 countries) amateur paranormal investigation groups, sponsors ghost-hunting trips to famously and not-so-famously haunted sites. By and large, we look like any other tour group: The shorts, the flappy-sleeved tees, the marshmallow sneakers. We have cameras, we have camcorders. Unlike most visitors here today, we also have tape recorders. I am facing a pine tree, several feet from a raised wooden walkway that guides visitors through the site. I hold my tape recorder out in front of me, as though perhaps the tree were about to say something quotable. The other members of my group are scattered pell-mell in the fields and thickets, all holding out tape recorders. It’s like a tornado touched down in the middle of a press conference.

A couple and their dogs approach on the walkway. “Are you taping bird calls?” I answer yes, for two reasons. First, because, well, literally, we are. And because I feel silly saying, “We are wanting to tape the spirit voices of the Donner Party.”

Thousands of Americans and Europeans believe that tape recorders can capture the voices of people whose vocal cords long ago decomposed. They refer to these utterances as EVP: electronic voice phenomena. You can’t hear the voices while you’re recording; they show up mysteriously when the tape is replayed. If you do a web search on the initials EVP, you’ll find dozens of sites with hundreds of audio files of these recordings. Though some sound like clearly articulated words or whispers, many are garbled and echoey and mechanical-sounding. It is hard to imagine them coming from dead souls without significantly altering one’s image of the hereafter. Heaven is supposed to have clouds and bolts of white cloth and other excellent sound-absorbing materials. The heaven of these voices sounds like an airship hanger. They’re very odd.”

Good stuff.

I couldn’t find video of her talking about this book, so here’s her delightful recent appearance on the Daily Show, where she and Jon Stewart gab and pooping in space and other weighty (weightless?) issues.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mary Roach
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

Happy haunting!

In this week’s New Yorker, Nora Ephron hilariously lampoons the 1st three of maybe four books in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series.

If you haven’t read the books but plan to (ahem, Husband), you probably shouldn’t click the link and read the whole piece. It won’t make much sense but it might spoil some plot points for you if you’re super-fussy about that kind of thing. The pull-quote doesn’t spoil anything, so giggle away at that.

“Please,” he said. “I must see you. The umlaut on my computer isn’t working.”
He was cradling an iBook in his arms. She looked at him. He looked at her. She looked at him. He looked at her. And then she did what she usually did when she had run out of italic thoughts: she shook her head.

“I can’t really go on without an umlaut,” he said. “We’re in Sweden.”

But where in Sweden were they? There was no way to know, especially if you’d never been to Sweden. A few chapters ago, for example, an unscrupulous agent from Swedish Intelligence had tailed Blomkvist by taking Stora Essingen and Gröndal into Södermalm, and then driving down Hornsgatan and across Bellmansgatan via Brännkyrkagatan, with a final left onto Tavastgatan. Who cared, but there it was, in black-and-white, taking up space. And now Blomkvist was standing in her doorway. Someone might still be following him—but who? There was no real way to be sure even when you found out, because people’s names were so confusingly similar—Gullberg, Sandberg, and Holmberg; Nieminen and Niedermann; and, worst of all, Jonasson, Mårtensson, Torkelsson, Fredriksson, Svensson, Johansson, Svantesson, Fransson, and Paulsson.

“I need my umlaut,” Blomkvist said. “What if I want to go to Svavelsjö? Or Strängnäs? Or Södertälje? What if I want to write to Wadensjö? Or Ekström or Nyström?”

It was a compelling argument.

She opened the door.

I’m a bit bored by the idea of Abraham Lincoln as a vampire hunter, whether in a book or a movie. Not because I’m tired of horror mash-ups – although I probably am – but because I think Mike Mignola’s Lincoln does such a bang-up job fighting evil in The Amazing Screw On Head that I’m not sure there’s anywhere else to go with it. If you haven’t seen Screw On Head, you can watch the entire pilot episode on google video or buy it on DVD. It’s worth 22 minutes of your time. Why? Because I said so.


Across the country, public libraries are being crippled by budget cuts. People in the state of Ohio have mounted an aggressive campaign, Save Ohio Libraries and are holding rallies, utilizing social media and encouraging citizen action.

The Governor wants to cut the budget for public libraries by 50%. About 70% of public libraries in Ohio are funded solely by this fund, so cutting the already shrinking budget means library closures, layoffs and cutbacks in hours and materials.

We have until June 30th to get our voices heard. ACT NOW!

You can get more official information from the Ohio Library Council here


Jim Rettig, President of the American Library Association, issued a statement about the situation in Ohio explaining why this is a National issue and not just a local one:

“A projected 50 percent reduction in funding for Ohio’s libraries would result in unprecedented national disaster,” said ALA President Jim Rettig. “We understand that in a recession difficult choices must be made, but libraries are part of the solution when a community is struggling economically, and are a necessity in efforts to get Americans back on their feet.

“From coast to coast, libraries have been first responders to the national economic crisis. They have been inundated by job seekers and users looking to better their lives through education. This also is the case in Ohio, as Ohioans are depending on their local libraries for free Internet access, employment services, personal finance resources, small business development and education and cultural programs.

“What will happen to the people of Ohio if their right to free access to information is taken away? The Governor’s drastic proposed library budget cuts are the largest in history and will impact more than 8 million registered library card holders. Every one of Ohio’s 251 public library systems could experience limited hours, program and staffing reductions or, worse yet, closures.

“Libraries are so much more than bricks and mortar. They are places where everyone – regardless of age, race or income – can come together, whether it’s for information, self-help or to find their place in the community.

“I encourage all Ohioans to contact the Governor’s office to express their opposition to his proposal to cut library funding and urge Ohio legislators to reject the Governor’s plan.”

You can follow additional developments by searching #saveohiolibraries on twitter.

Yesterday Husband and I went to Baltimore for lunch and an excursion to a favorite indie bookstore,Atomic Books. The occasion for our visit was a stop on the latest Found Magazine tour, the Denim and Diamonds Tour. We could have just waited til evening and gone to the evening appearance in DC at the Warehouse, but the rainy Sunday inspired us to get out of town for a few hours.

You can (and should) pre-order the new Found book, Requiem for a Paper Bag. I got a copy yesterday and I totally recommend it. It’s genius.

Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World
By Davy Rothbart

Over the years we’ve been able to share thousands of our favorite finds; now, we get to share some of our favorite stories about finding! When we asked our favorite writers, musicians, artists, and entertainers to share stories with us of their most memorable finds, we had no idea we’d be flooded with so many strange, profound, and hilarious tales. The new FOUND book, Requiem for a Paper Bag, contains 67 short pieces from an amazing clutch of contributors, including Chuck D, Sarah Vowell, Andy Samberg, Susan Orlean, Patton Oswalt, PostSecret’s Frank Warren, Tom Robbins, Dave Eggers, Miranda July, Jonathan Lethem, Chuck Klosterman, David Simon (The Wire), Jenji Kohan (Weeds), Katherine Dunn, Jim Carroll, Jesse Thorn (The Sound of Young America), Andrew Bird, Kori Gardner (Mates of State), Mike Schank (American Movie), Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Steve Almond, Paulo Coelho, Billy Bragg, Kimya Dawson, Damian Kulash (OK Go), Devendra Banhart, and dozens of other fantastic folks.

I also snagged a copy of Davy’s short story collection, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas, which he inscribed to me while I giggled happily like the, um, happily giggling fangirl that I am. I’ve only read a couple of stories so far, but I’m enjoying the book a lot. I’m curious which 3 stories Steve Buscemi has optioned to adapt into a screenplay, but I wasn’t thinking yesterday and didn’t ask.

As long as I’m going on and on about Davy Rothbart and Found, you should check out his guest post at the Utne Reader’s AltWire Blog. It’s about YouTube and it contains some fascinating clips.

While I’m doling out reading, watching and listening assignments, you should also check out his This American Life episodes. (I think he’s done 7 of them). I’m going to listen to episode 184 tonight. In Act One. Mr. Rothbart’s Neighborhood, Davy interviewed a group of people about their neighborhood conflicts and then went to see Mr. Rogers and had Mr Rogers mediate the conflicts. I could listen to it and then blog about it, but what sport would there be in that? Plus, I’m about to faint from hunger and I need to flee the computer for the rest of the night. Someone has been roasting a chicken for a couple of hours and I’m getting cantankerous.

Before I go – it would be terribly wrong not to mention Davy’s brother and wildly talented partner in crime on this tour, Peter Rothbart. Peter writes and performs brilliant, funny, heartbreaking songs that are inspired by Finds.

I can’t do their act justice so I’ll encourage you to check out the books and the magazine and listen to Peter’s music and, most importantly, catch the road show next time it passes anywhere near your town. It’s fun to laugh and bond with strangers. It’s also fun to sing along to The Booty Don’t Stop.

(I must admit that I was secretly hoping for Wiggle on the Floor, which we once got to sing-along to 5 years ago with a somewhat perplexed group of Senior Citizens at a Politics and Prose event).

West’s previous failed proposals include requiring the high school band to perform the tuneless flute songs of the blind idiot god Azathoth and offering art students instruction in the carving of morbid and obscene fetishes from otherworldly media.

Several parents attending the meeting were not impressed by West’s outburst.

“Last month, he wanted us to change the high school’s motto from ‘Many Kinds of Excellence’ to ‘Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn,'” PTA member Cathy Perry said. “I asked if it was Latin, and he said that it was the eldritch tongue of Shub- Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young. I don’t know from eldritch tongues, but I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”

Don’t know why this got stuck in the drafts file – maybe I was going to obsess over the introduction to the quotation for a while?

I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance.

-Truman Capote

via Michele, via Cajun Boy in the City

I’m following Erqsome’s book meme. When I copied & pasted the list I almost left her commentary because I so agreed with her assessments. I think we’ve bonded in the past over our mutual dislike of Catcher in the Rye and Wuthering Heights, but I also think there was bourbon involved so I can’t be certain.

At any rate, feel free to be a copycat, but be sure to link back so I can see your answers!


1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Underline those you intend to read.
3) Italicise the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list so we can try and track down these people who’ve read 6 and force books upon them.

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien (I like these a lot, but they get kinda turgid)
3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman (I haven’t read the 3rd one yet cause Husband is hogging it)
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14. Complete Works of Shakespeare (All of them????)
15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye – J D Salinger
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy I’ve read some but not all…
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34. Emma – Jane Austen
35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis (See 33.)
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden (I tried, I was underwhelmed)
40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41. Animal Farm – George Orwell

42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel – I really disliked this book
52. Dune – Frank Herbert

53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
I liked this one a lot.
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding – I tried. It hurt my brain.
69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72. Dracula – Bram Stoker

73.The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses – James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal – Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession – AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom (Why is this here?)
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

I set a fairly high standard for the books I marked “loved”, there were plenty on the list I liked a lot. There were also some I truly hated. I think I’ve marked them accordingly.