Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Word Nerd - Found in the Shelves! (sample)

This first edition of David Kahn's groundbreaking 1967 book about cryptology (the making and breaking of cyphers) is a real find. Before this groundbreaking book was published, the public never had such a resource about the romantic and sometimes tragic history about codes and cyphers used throughout history.

Read about:
  • Mary Queen of Scots dooming herself by using an easily broken cypher.
  • Brilliant Polish and British experts breaking German and Japanese codes and turning the tide of the Second World War .
  •  Technologies used in the Cold War

The importantance of this book resonates even today. Kahn was pressured by the NSA to alter it before publication. In fact, this was the first place that their name was publicly mentioned. And while it was published years before today's modern digital cryptography was ever devised, an updated Kobo eBook version covers current developments.

“A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life. I have a mad impulse to smash something, a warehouse perhaps, or a cathedral, or myself, to committ outrages...”

“But it's a poor fellow who can't take his pleasure without asking other people's permission.”


Steppenwolf is Hesse's classic story about a man divided in himself, certain that he is both a civilzed, refined human and a wolf of the Steppes. As he wanders the dark streets at night, a mysterious figure hands him a booklet that addresses him by name and which sends him on a journey that will either save him or destroy him.

This brilliant book is a classic look at a man's struggle to come to terms with the conflicts in society and himself which most of society tries to blot out and ignore.

This gorgeous edition contains in one volume many of Dickens' best works, including:

  • Tale of Two Cities
  • A Christmas Carol
  • David Copperfield
  • Great Expectations
  • The Pickwick Papers

Including a number of fine illustrations, it is a fine collection of the works of one of England's finest authors.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Shakespeare tattoo ideas

Ideas for a Shakespeare tattoo:

1) Words


2) An image of Shakespeare himself

3) Some memorable character from one of his plays. Either a villain like Richard III or some outstanding hero...

Booksellers for a Day

In an economy that continues to be very lean, the best way to thrive is to be innovative, to come up with ideas that are new and fresh. That's what Snohomish's Uppercase Bookshop did yesterday when they gave us the opportunity to be booksellers for a day.

Think about it: what book lover hasn't fantasized about what it would be like to work in a bookstore instead of their their current day job? Even if you enjoy your livelihood and find meaning in it, as I do, working in a bookstore is something I've always fantasized about.Bookshops are like travel agents that sell you tickets to other worlds for the same price as a cup of coffee. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that magic?

Now I know what it's like to work in a bookstore....and I want *MORE*!

Everett Herald article about Uppercase: link
Yelp reviews: link

Monday, November 4, 2013

Repent Harlan, Said the Drip Drop Man

(With apologies to Neil Gaiman. And Harlan Ellison.)

I’ve never been afraid of coffee or espresso machines before. I’ve had cups of coffee that might have melted spoons in diners that would make Edward Hopper’s blood run cold. But since visiting one particular coffee shop in Seattle, I’m now a lot more cautious about where I get my Java...

It started around 9 am one morning in Seattle. I had finished a late night book signing at around 1:30 am the previous night and on top of being jet-lagged was thus so seriously tired that I was having a difficult time staying awake.  Being in Seattle meant that I had a lot of cafes to choose from but there was something about small, dark café called the Drip Drop Café that caught my eye.

The coffee shop was old…very old. It predated Starbucks and possibly the arrival of Columbus in the new world. It had cups that appeared to have been carved from polished mammoth bones; drifting piles of coffee grounds in the room’s corners seemed to predate the pyramids. The very air in the cafe seemed liquid, warm, humid, probably highly caffeinated. The cashier and baristas were friendly on the face of it but in the way of Marines who are pretty sure they won’t HAVE to kill you. There appeared to be coffee grinding machines and steamers but from the stuttering howl they made when operated by the baristas, the grinding could have been done by damned souls or even self-flagellating gnomes under the counter.

When I ordered my coffee, the barista seized my hand and locked eyes with me. She asked “Do you want your coffee with room?”

“For cream?”

“For truth.”

“Uh, sure.”

A few minutes later, I sat down with my coffee. While it cooled, I watched people order and walk away with their drinks. This being Seattle, a lot of the drink requests sounded more like incantations to dark Vegan gods than coffee orders but the baristas handled the requests with aplomb and an intense efficiency that was actually quite impressive. Just then, a prominent local lawyer started walking away with his cup, took a sip, scowled and went back to the barista.

“Hey, my coffee is cold and bitter!”

“Like your soul,” she replied. “You said you wanted room for truth.”

“Well how about making it over again and doing it right!!”

Silence gripped the room: a dozen conversations abruptly ceased and people busily looked down at their coffee with scared expressions. I happened to be looking out of the corner of my eye and it looked like there was something else in the barista’s place, like a gargoyle from a desolate cathedral or a Faustian demon. Her hands planted on the counter and the chilling, ancient visage leaned across the counter, inches from the terrified man’s face.

“Leave. Now.” 

The man uttered a strangled squeal and scampered out, walking crabwise as if he was afraid he would lose control of his bodily functions. Conversations paused in shock resumed and it was as if the incident had never happened. But I knew and now I wondered what MY coffee would taste like, since so many of my stories involve pain and fear and haunted souls.

I took a sip. It was the best coffee I had ever drunk in my entire life! It was like being 20 again on a Spring day and you’re in the British museum and a pretty girl smiles at you! It was like being at the pier and seeing dolphins frolic there, jump through the air and then spell out your name. I sat there and savored the coffee as long as I could, each sip like a mouthful of recovered youth. Finally, there was no more left of it to drink and I reluctantly took my cup back to the counter. As I started to walk away, the barista said “I know you’re not local so I won’t ask you to sign our plastic bag ban petition.”

“You know who I am?”

“Of course. And thank you for staying so late last night to make sure everyone got their book signed. It was classy. I was near the end of the line.”

“Thank you.” I stopped to look at the petition. “If you tell me a bit about this, I’ll Tweet about it later. You’re trying to avoid landfills?”

“No, it’s more the metaphysical implications that we’re worried about. “ (pause) “Sorry, I just kind of dropped that on you there. Look, most of your writing has to do with mythology of one kind or another. The old gods versus the new ones in American Gods. All the gods needed sacrifices to stay alive, the larger the sacrifice the better?”


“How many sacrifices could be more significant than a dinosaur. One that lived 150 million years ago? That’s what the petrochemicals in plastic bags are made of, after all.”

What she was saying began making sense. She continued speaking.

“When you render down a plastic bag, it’s a kind of sacrifice. That’s why the human population is exploding.  That’s why the world’s climate is changing. Unconscious sacrifices are being made and they are being answered. If it doesn’t stop, the world is going to change in ways you could never imagine. Yes, even you. The old ones are waking up and they WILL wake up…hungry.”

“So what can we do to prevent it?”

The barista paused. Her face was like a stony mask with a hint of sadness behind the eyes, like she was trying to be loving and gentle while a beloved pet was given her last injection. Then that look was hidden behind a brave and blandly hopeful smile and she said, “Just do your best to get the word out and it will all be fine. Oh, and do me a favor and thank Harlan Ellison for his introduction to Strange Wine. He didn’t exactly convey the message we asked him to but he tried to do something and the effort was appreciated.”

I never went back into that particular café again. I didn’t have the nerve. I did start to talk to Harlan once about that café but I stopped when his face started to turn green.

I wonder how much time we have left.