Book Review: Scritch Scratch

I purchased this book from Volumes, along with author Lindsay Currie’s first book, which I’ve previously reviewed. I’m glad I got them both at the same time, as although I mostly enjoyed her prior, I wouldn’t have purchased this one. That would have been a shame, as the present volume is much more fun and enjoyable.

If it surprises you that I’m speaking fondly of a book for young adults, then you haven’t read my review of Why You Should Read Children’s Books.

gordon meyer with book

The protagonist is once again an angst-filled teenage girl, but this time she’s smart and likable, and she loves Chicago. (Perhaps too much angst, but as a middle-waged man, what do I know?)

The spooky elements are worthy of an older audience. I particularly enjoyed this phrase: “I sit completely still for a moment, the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck slowly rising like zombies from the dead.”

I stumbled a bit over the book’s unusually compressed timeline. When you read 3/4ths of the way through the book that all these events happened in a week, your analytical mind yanks you out of the story to see if that statement jives with what you’ve read so far. (It doesn’t.) Until then, elapsed time was both unclear and not necessary to think about. I had the same experience reading Currie’s book, and perhaps someday I’ll get to ask her about it.

There’s also an odd fixation on a drowning that took place “in only 20 feet of water.” Like the timeline, the depth reference is not essential to the story, and its frequent citation only serves to disrupt the reader with thoughts about how the author has apparently never heard of drowning in a bathtub.

Unlike Currie’s previous book, the portions specific to the city were appropriate and accurate. (Except for referring to a gangway as an alley, but that may have been at the insistence of her Editor, as the term is not widely used outside the city.) And there is a lot of Chicago in this book, with a nice collection of history and local lore embedded within. I particularly enjoyed the pitch-perfect visits to the Chicago History Museum.

Both books taken together mesh well, although at some points it was hard not to wonder if the characters from the last book are going to pass by the characters in this book while they’re at the same locations. (An Easter egg that would have been fun for Currie fans.)

If you’re desiring a fun, somewhat spooky, Chicago-centric adventure and ghost story, this is the book you should get. You can find it on the Amazon, of course.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Bird Feeder

What an unusual publication! From what I can gather, this book began as a short story, but it is published here in sequential art form.

gordon meyer holding book

As a result of its origins, in my opinion, it’s more finally crafted than a lot of “comics” tend to be. The art, by “Rosario,” is stark and striking, while the story by Ryan Oliver sets a similar mood with its phrasing. Much of the story is conveyed wordlessly, so I’m left with curiosity about how much of the text was utilized from the original story.

I’ll not be providing any spoilers, but in brief, the story is that of love, loss, discovery, and urban horror. Something dangerous is alive and hungry in a lush, suburban backyard!

The edition I read is a limited, numbered printing (Sort of, my copy was 000). I got it at Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago, but you can also get copy, with some extras, from the publisher.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Sharpie Art Workshop

I received this book as a gift from some dear friends, and I have to admit it was the most inspiring thing I’ve received in a long time. The book is essentially a showcase for various artists who use Sharpie markers as their medium, but it’s also a complete (apparently) catalog of the many different types of pens that Sharpie manufacturers.

The book’s subtitle is “Techniques and Ideas for Transforming Your World,” but for me, most of the learning comes from Timothy Goodman’s encouragement and diverse examples. The use of the word “workshop” is likely to be a stretch for many readers.

If you’re at all interested in getting a quick hit of inspiration, and you appreciate those who do remarkable work with limited tools, you’ll probably dig this book too. Get your copy at Amazon.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Death From a Top Hat

First published in 1938, this novel by Clayton Rawson is considered to be one of the finest “locked room mysteries” of the Golden Age. It’s also a “fair play” mystery, in that the reader receives with every bit of information necessary to solve the whodunit, provided that they have their wits about them.

gordon meyer with book

This book is the first in a series of stories around a magician who goes by the name Merlini. As a lauded amateur magician, and leading mystery writer, Rawson combined two of his passions to create the character and series. See his wikipedia entry for much more on this remarkable man.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found the references to magician culture to be both accurate and amusing. (It’s amazing how little it has changed.) There are no spoilers ahead, but here are a few samples of things that I particularly enjoyed:

  • “Half seas over” is an expression meaning “fairly drunk.” This is news to me, but I like it.
  • Referring to a man, one of the characters says, “I think (his) psychopathic ailments included the one called satyriasis, so you may have to question some blondes.”
  • Referring to a woman, one of the characters says, “(She)’s that way; she has considerable difficulty remaining for long in a vertical position.”
  • I loved Rawson’s eclectic footnotes, which either referred to other mystery stories or non-fiction reference material. One of them was for Wicker Park-Bucktown neighbor and Cliff Dweller’s founder, Hamlin Garland, and his book on psychic research.
  • Revealing one of the true secrets of conjuring, Merlini speaks: “That's peanuts for a magician, Inspector. Sometime I'll explain for you the inner workings of a good trick, and show you with what infinitesimal details a conjurer will concern himself. That, in itself, is the whole secret of a number of tricks; the audience overlooks a possible explanation because they don't think the performer would go to all that trouble for a mere trick.”
  • Regarding the sad tendency of magicians becoming wannabe skeptics: “Magicians are prejudiced bigots and wouldn’t admit there was such a thing as magic without trickery, even if they saw it.”
  • I had to suss out a reference to Hauptmann being talkative. It’s about the Lindbergh kidnapping, which would have been common cultural knowledge in 1938.
  • “Conjuring as a hobby appeals most to people with inferiority complexes. And the more they over-compensate the better magicians they make. Even the display of parlor tricks at a party imparts a glow of superiority, quite false of course, but not all of us realize that.”
  • In the final chapter, where the solution to the crime is given, Rawson includes footnotes that detail where the clues were revealed in the text! Such a nice and thoughtful touch. And I’ll only add that if you’re a reader who wants to try to suss out the answer, you best be paying attention early, and throughout.

Rawson’s book has seen various printings, but the best currently available is the American Mystery Classics edition, as it includes an insightful foreword by Otto Penzler. If you’re in NYC, get it from the wonderful Mysterious Bookshop, or of course, the Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Chicago America’s Workshop

This 2021 book by Peter N. Pero provides a plethora of photos from Chicago’s industrial era. It’s divided into sections for Heavy Industry, Manufacturing, Food & Beverage, Printing & Publishing, Retailing, Music, and Candy. Each section opens with a brief discussion of the industries and their impact on the city and country.

gordon  meyer holding book

I particularly enjoyed how the book highlights the city’s dominance as the country’s crossroads. The breadth of influence is almost overwhelming, and will certainly give you a renewed appreciation of Chicago’s cultural and economic power.

There are numerous photos, many of which I hadn’t seen before. The captions are helpful, but unfortunately often fail to provide much information about where the company or factory was (or is) located. I would have appreciated more detail in this regard.

As a love letter to the city, and a chronicle of the past, this book is a worthy addition to any Chicagoan’s shelf. I got my copy at Quimby’s in Wicker Park, but of course, you can also find it at the Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Old-Time Saloon

Originally published in 1931, this edition is a delightful facsimile reprint by the University of Chicago Press. Also included are an enlightening introduction and helpful end-notes by Bill Savage.

The author, George Ade, is an under-appreciated Chicago reporter, humorist, and playwright. He was especially known for his ability to reflect the vernacular of the commoners in his work, which is very much in evidence in this book. True to his journalistic background, the subtitle of this book is “Not Wet — Not Dry, Just History,” by which Ade means that it is neither pro-alcohol (“wet”) nor anti-alcohol (“dry”). And throughout the book, which focuses on the saloon culture that was lost due to Prohibition, he sticks to his promise. It’s descriptive, factual, and fascinating, but presented without judgement.

gordon meyer with book

Without judgement, but with full appreciation and a definite mourning for what was lost. Since this was written during Prohibition, with no foreknowledge of its eventual repeal, the book is an interesting snapshot in time. And even though the country eventually broke free of its delusion and corrected the mistake, the corner saloon never returned in the same way.

There’s much here to like, and most of it is best read or retold over a drink, but here are a couple of things that stood out to me:

  • Ade describes a culture of saloon singing, much of it fueled by the popular Delaney Song Books. Some of my best college memories involve the drinking songs of my fraternity (Ade was a Greek, too) so this really spoke to me. Alas, today, one can’t break into a rousing group sing-a-long, unless you’re in a karaoke bar, I suppose.
  • Regarding the proliferation of tied houses in Chicago, the breweries were not very selective with whom they partnered. Many of their conscripted proprietors had to resort to underage peddling and other nefarious activities to stay afloat, thus fueling the anti-saloon movement that doomed their existence.
  • Closing saloons led to more drinking at home, which primarily consisted of cocktails (hard liquor) and not beer. A textbook unintended consequence.
  • The separation of “wet” and “dry” proponents was largely an urban vs rural divide. Echoing the political problems we still suffer with today.
  • Although I had read about this before, Ade provides some new (to me) detail about Mickey Finn, the bartender on South State Street, who originated the knockout drops that allowed ladies to rob paramours while they were unconscious.
  • The term “scofflaw” is a Prohibition coinage, referring to people who drank despite the Volstead Act and its enforcers.

I bought my copy at Quimby’s, but you can, of course, find it at the Amazon too.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Grave Tidings

This book by Paul Berra is subtitled “An Anthology of Famous Last Words.” It’s a British book, so American readers might quibble with some definitions of “famous,” but I found all the quotes interesting, enlightening, or entertaining, even when I had no idea who the speaker was. (Fortunately, Berra includes a brief discussion of each person and their circumstances, so you won’t feel completely ignorant.)

gordon meyer with book

I loved Barra’s opening paragraph in the Introduction:

In the midst of life, we are in death. Or, to paraphrase Jesus on the poor, the dead are always with us. They people our thoughts and memorials; they accumulate like dust behind locked doors and perch soberly atop bookshelves and mantelpieces.

For the record, that Jesus guy he mentions isn’t one of the people I’d never heard of. Also, I love the use of “people our thoughts,” which reminds me of Neil Tobin’s analysis of an artifact at the Winchester Mystery House.

Also in the Introduction, Berra refers to Robert Shea, and a personal patron saint of mine, Robert Anton Wilson, as “beat generation” writers. I suppose that is chronologically true, but it’s not a description that I’ve encountered before. I will ponder it carefully.

The book has about 200 examples of last words, and as there were many that I enjoyed, these are but a few examples:

  • “That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted”, said by Lou Costello before dropping dead, and “I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili,” said by Kit Carson. Succumbing with food on the mind seems like something I’m likely to do, too.
  • “Why should I talk to you? I’ve just been talking to your boss,” said Wilson Mizner to the priest who visited his deathbed.
  • “Hurrah for Anarchy! This is the happiest moment of my life!” declared a neighbor of mine, George Engel, just before being unjustly hanged until dead. (Guests on my Bizarre Wicker Park tour learn all about this.)
  • “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded” were the last words of Terry Kath, a founding member of the band Chicago, which he uttered before shooting himself during a game of Russian Roulette.
  • Ambrose Bierce, author of The Devil’s Dictionary, said, “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination” before doing just that. His whereabouts were never discovered and his death presumed.
  • “Only one man ever understood me, and he didn’t understand me” is the perfect dialectical riddle, appropriately uttered by Georg Hegel.

I bought my copy of Grave Tidings at Quimby’s in Chicago, but you can also, of course, find it in the Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Cows on Ice and Owls in the Bog

I love aphorisms and similes, so I was happy as a pig in shit to get this book. Subtitled “The Weird and Wonderful World of Scandinavian Sayings” it promised three of my favorite things under one cover. (For the record, those are: weird, Scandinavia, and sayings.)

The book is finely produced with the kind of subtle wit and attention to minimalist detail that you expect from two Scandinavians with names like Katarina Montnémery and Nastia Sleptsova. (Huh?)


gordon meyer holding the book

The sayings are fun, and the authors include a wonderful illustration and a paragraph or two of elucidation that eliminates any head-scratching moments. Most are not innately understood by American ears, so I probably won’t be slipping any into daily use. (You’re welcome.) But the cultural insights are fascinating, and at a higher level, demonstrate the universality of the human condition. A couple of examples:

  • Have a shit in the blue cupboard. Blue paint was expensive, so only the finest possessions were kept in cupboards painted blue. The saying refers to someone doing something foolish. (Swedish)
  • Even small pots have ears. This is how Swedish adults alert each other that children are within earshot, so discussions should be tempered accordingly. This reminds me of an expression from my upbringing: “Little pictures have big ears.”
  • Talk straight from the liver. A Norwegian expression meaning to speak frankly and freely, dating back to an age when the liver was thought to be the center of emotion and feeling.
  • With one’s mittens straight. A Finnish expression suggesting that one is not working hard, or contributing as much as they could, as their mittens are not showing any sign of wear.
  • Crossing the river to get water. In Norway, this means you are attempting to solve a problem in a convoluted way when there is a more obvious and easier solution.

I got my copy at the famous “goats on the roof” place in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. (Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik) But you’ll, of course, find it at the Amazon too.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

I’ve been hearing about this book for decades. I think the first reference I came across was when I was reading the book club (remember those?) edition of Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. I’ve encountered other references to Shirley Jackson’s work, too — sometimes in discussions about The Twilight Zone — but I’ve never taken the time to seek her novels.

And I still haven’t. I only read this one because it was left at my feet. That is, last October, someone put it in our Little Free Library. It was adorned with an enticing Post-It Note:

jackson book cover

I took this as a sign from a god and added the donated book to the pile of unread books that threatens to overtake my office. A couple of weeks ago, I opened to the first page, and by the end of the second sentence I was hooked:

”My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both of my hands are about the same length, but I have to be content with what I had.”

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of the most eerie, compelling, and beautifully written stories I have read. I wish I had done so sooner. As soon as I finished it (no spoilers, but the ending is perfect) I immediately wanted to read it all over again so I could study and admire its construction.

If you read the more studious reviews of the book—of which there are many in the 59 years since its publication—you’ll find heaps of praise and appreciation, but generally very little detail about the story itself. (Still, don’t read them, spoilers suck.) The reason for all their editorial vagueness, including my own, is that trying to convey the atmosphere and feeling that Jackson has created is like describing smoke. You have to experience it for yourself.

Here are some excerpts that stood out for me:

  • “I decided that I would choose three powerful words, words of strong protection, and so long as these great words were never spoken aloud no change would come. I wrote the first word — melody — in the apricot jam on my toast with the handle of a spoon and then put the toast in my mouth and ate it very quickly. I was one-third safe.”
  • “I thought of using digitalis as my third magic word, but it was too easy for someone to say, and at last I decided on Pegasus. I took a glass from the cabinet, and said the word very distinctly into the glass, then filed it with water and drank.”
  • “Since Charles had my occupation for Tuesday morning I had nothing to do. I wondered about going down to the creek, but I had no reason to suppose that the creek would even be there, since I never visited it on Tuesday mornings; …”

If you’re not lucky enough to receive a copy by divine intervention, you can, of course, buy one at Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Lake Michigan Mothman

Having grown up in the land of the Bear Lake Monster, Skin Walkers, and Bigfoot, I simply can’t deny that, for me, there’s no lore like cryptid lore. So for that reason alone, this book by Tobias Wayland was a no-brainer addition to my library. When you add that it’s centered in my hometown — even in my neighborhood, — and that the legend is part of my annual “Dark Tales of Bucktown” tour, it’s surprising that I haven’t read it multiple times already.

Gordon Meyer with mothman book

Did I enjoy the book? Duh. Do I wish it were better organized and written? Yeah, I do. Don’t get me wrong; the book is unique and useful because it compiles so many creature sightings into one volume. And almost all of them are first-person accounts as written by the witnesses. Unfortunately, this is also where the books desperately needs an editor and unifying perspective. It’s great these witnesses came forth with what they saw, but most of them are not going to win any essay contests (or even get a passing grade in English 101.) It takes a more tolerant reader than I am to read more than a few pages of this book at one sitting.

The only other beef I have is the book’s title. It should be called “The Chicago Bat.” I understand that “Lake Michigan” is more inclusive, accurate, and commercial, so I’ll accept that. But “Mothman” is, in my opinion, just wrong. Let West Virginia keep the Mothman to themselves. (They have so little to boast about, after all.) And while I understand that referring to the creature in this way is easy shorthand, it’s also misleading. The only significant similarity between the Chicago creature and the West Virginia creature is that they are winged humanoids. (OK, I can hear some of my fundamentalist friends thinking — “Um, both are also imaginary.” But I’ve moved beyond that.) Furthermore, as it becomes clear from the reports in the book, almost every witness describes it as being similar to a bat. So for these reasons, and more, I will continue to use the name “Chicago Bat” instead. (But not, for certain, “Batman.”)

Now, I should acknowledge that if it weren’t for the Milwaukee-based Singular Fortean Society, much of this creature’s story would be lost. Through their website, and now this book, they are the leading source of timely and interesting reports of all kinds of unusual occurrences. Bravo, and gratitude, for their work.

Here are a handful of tidbits that stood out for me, but like all good stories, there are more if you dig in and follow the trails embedded within.

  • There have been more than a hundred sightings of the Chicago Bat since 2017, but Wayland’s research convincingly extends the timeline back to 1957. The latest sighting, as I write this, was less than a month ago, in the Loop.
  • The book’s subtitle is “High Strangeness in the Midwest.” I love this turn of phrase.
  • Regarding the controversial, if not downright wacky aspects of these types of stories, Wayland writes: “…(all this) is a hard pill to swallow for scientific materialists, but my job as an investigator isn’t to make mainstream scientist types feel better; my job is to follow the trail wherever leads, even if that’s right into the gaping maw of the impossible.”
  • One possible rational explanation for the sightings is that large migratory birds not normally seen in the midwest are being driven to the Lake Michigan area by climate changes. How’s that for an unforeseen consequence of global warming!

I bought my copy from Amazon, but you can also buy a signed copy directly from the publisher. Either way, you’ll enjoy the tales, and if you’re a local — keep your eyes peeled!


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer