Book Review: The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers

This is a collection of “gruesome tales,” compiled and re-told by Jen Campbell, along with amazing illustrations by Adam de Souza.

book cover held by gordon meyer

The memorable and striking tales are from all over the world. (As you might gather, from the titular story.) Campbell, in the afterword, explains that she has made every effort to restore the stories to their original, dark content. (Many fairy tales have been neutered by well-meaning parents and Hollywood execs.) She has also stripped them of any moralistic addendums that some re-tellers insist on adding. (I’m looking at you, Grimm brothers.) The result is remarkable, sparse, and hair-raising. In nearly every case, I wanted to immediately close the book and find someone to share the story with. These are not the Disney-fied fairy tales of your youth.

Also following a grand tradition, Campbell has, in some cases, slightly tweaked the stories to suit her own, modern sensibilities. That is, sometimes genders have been changed, or situations adapted to be more inclusive. This is done deftly, and had she not mentioned it in the afterword, I wouldn’t have noticed. Bravo.

Treat yourself to this book. It’s a keeper, and a conversation piece. You can get a copy at Quimby’s, as I did, or of course, the Amazon. (If you’re hesitant to dive into a so-called “Children’s book,” you need to read this other review of mine.)

Review: Atlas Obscura Online Course

I recently completed a writing course offered through Atlas Obscura. It was one of their “experiences,” and while I was skeptical of their ability to deliver on a good instructional seminar, I decided to enroll.

Overall, I enjoyed the course and I learned from it. The group was kept small (I feared that it wouldn’t be) — just 25 enrolled students, of which about 30% were absent during any given meet-up.

One thing I disliked, though, was how the learning platform was cobbled together. Atlas Obscura is using Eventbrite and Google Classroom, both of which requires you have accounts with those services. Sessions are delivered using Zoom, which has many well-known flaws. During every 90-minute class, time was wasted on tech support for Classroom, Google Drive, Eventbrite, Google Docs, and Zoom. Some students never did overcome their difficulties, which required the instructor to duplicate effort sending support material via email. And in the shared files area, it was apparent that Atlas Obscura personnel were uploading documents on behalf of struggling students.

The instructor was good, and the content acceptable, but the delivery platform made it feel like amateur hour. With a gross revenue of about $1000 per session, I’m disappointed that Atlas Obscura is running their courses on the cheap. I expect better for my time and money.

P.S.: One thing they aren’t skimping on is spam delivery. After signing up for the course, I began to receive multiple daily emails from Atlas Obscura. (And also, Eventbrite.) There’s no better way to drive a customer away.

Book Review: Poor Little Ghosts

I’m jealous of Davidt Dunlop. Not only did he write this charming tale, but he also created the remarkable illustrations that accompany it. That’s more than his share of talent, in my opinion. (He also has the most autocorrect unfriendly first name that I have ever encountered. Yes, goddmanit, I meant to type that “t” at the end!)

Like all good ghost stories, this one is short, poignant, and haunting. I mean that literally, it raises questions that stick with you. Questions about the nature and assumptions behind ghost stories.

gordon meyer with book cover

One tradition not questioned, thankfully, is the depiction of ghosts wearing bedsheets. I truly love a good sheet ghost (I blame Gilligan’s Island) and this book is chock-full of them. I’ve read it over and over for this reason, sometimes not noticing even a single word.

You can get a copy at Quimby’s.

Book Review: A Purple Thread

Author: Nina Antonia

Subtitle: The Supernatural Doom of Oscar Wilde

This booklet, published by “The Peculiar Parish of Fiddler’s Green” is utterly charming in both content and design. Just holding it and paging through is a pleasurable experience, and then when you begin reading, a whole new world (to me, anyway) unfolds with each page. As soon as I finished it, I went back to the start again, as if riding a soothing, lovely amusement park ride.

gordon meyer with book

If you’re a regular reader of mine, (thank you) you might recall that just over a year ago I was reading my first Oscar Wilde story. So, I can hardly be considered knowledgable about the man, but nonetheless I enjoyed this author’s exploration of occult and esoteric connections across his life and publications. I definitely have a new appreciation forming, and I look forward to exploring more of his works and legacy.

I got my copy of this book from Quimby’s in Chicago, and I encourage you to do the same, but you must also do yourself the favor of browsing the publisher’s website.

A holder for Square Moo business cards

There’s no doubt in my mind that Moo is one of the finest “online” print shops. They offer high-quality and unique designs, and the flexibility of mixing multiple designs in a single run. I highly recommend everything they offer.

In particular, their Square Format business cards on Luxe paper are like small works of art. Particularly when you add spot gloss or foil highlights to your design.

However, the card's unconventional shape means they won’t fit into any conventional business card holder. Moo sells a couple of different holders, but I’m not a fan of either. (Like Goldilocks, the cases are either too expensive, or too bulky.)

My solution is admittedly somewhat tacky, but practical. Buy a package of trading card sleeves, which cost a mere fraction of pennies each, and use those to put cards in the pocket of every jacket or bag you own. You’ll never be without your cards, and they will be pristinely clean when you proudly present them to a recipient.

gordno meyer hold card

And before you protest that each sleeve can only hold 3 or 4 cards, consider how often you hand out cards today (it’s a rapidly vanishing tradition), and that Moo’s own cases also hold a minimal number of cards. The sleeves are worth a try, right?

Book Review: The Practice

Author Seth Godwin is a contemporary writer who has managed to establish himself as a brand, thanks to the plethora of marketing and self-help books that he has published over the decades. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of them, but The Practice leads me to believe he has run out of original material.

What is the book about? Well, having read it through, the best I can come up with is that “the practice” is “the work” you must do to ship “creative projects”. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying. The book is basically a collection of 200+ short pep talks that are frequently repetitive, often inconsistent, and sometimes laughably vague. Oh, and each one is numbered, as if we are expected to refer to them as if they are Bible verses.

gordon meyer holding the book

Despite Godin stating in this very book that good ideas rarely come out of conference rooms, the apparent source for these bits of motivation/inspiration/advice came from an “Akimbo Conference.” (Whatever that is.)

The author(s?) also frequently borrows common anecdotes (mostly uncredited), but changes them so as to diminish their meaning. I turned against this book when Godin, or whoever is writing, makes it clear that they don’t understand Lou Reed, Higher Education, Apple, or Conjuring.

One interesting thing that did jump out to me is that this is the first self-help book I’ve read that directly references the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. The author ruefully observes that “the perfect tomorrow we hoped for is never going to arrive.”

Overall, I found the book to be as disappointing as it is disjointed. Godin should have “done the work” to make this a more useful and coherent book.

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.

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.

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.