Troy’s Book Club: A People’s History of American Empire

December 12, 2017

This book was particularly good to read this Fall, as we are still adjusting to a new POTUS, and his rampant nationalism. As much as he yells “Make America Great Again”, it’s imperative to really understand what is in America’s history…and there are >many< blemishes.

Howard Zinn is a writer I’ve often heard about and one I’m glad I finally got to read. This graphic-adaptation of his book was real interesting and made me a lot more informed about my country’s history. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about what kind of country the United States really has been.

You can get this from my favorite local bookstore, Boswell Books.



Troy’s Book Club: A Wrinkle In Time

December 2, 2017

Having heard lots of Twitter-chatter about the upcoming movie adaptation of A WRINKLE IN TIME, and how many women I knew who held great affection for the book, and yet I’d never even heard of it. I had to see what it was all about.

Turns out the thin novel by Madeleine L’Engle is about a young girl, her oddly mature younger brother, and a friend of hers, as they travel the universe trying to find her father who’s been missing for years. It’s a neat bit of whimsy, fantasy, hope and love, and learning to believe in yourself.

I will admit though, that I was a bit disappointed when I came to realize the book was more a “first chapter” in a few-book story, than a completely self-contained story. As I was reading and getting closer to the end, I was wondering, “wow, how is the author going to wrap this up?” and then suddenly the book was done.

I’ll probably go to see the movie when it comes out, just to see how it translates to the screen. Should be pretty neat, I think.

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Troy’s Book Club: The Great and Secret Show

July 25, 2017

Clive Barker has a special place in my reading-lovin’ heart. He created the worlds of Hellraiser and Nightbreed, which have inspired horror film fans for years; he wrote Weaveworld, another novel I’ve been wanting to re-read for quite some time; and when I was an intern at Marvel Comics, the office I worked for oversaw the “Barkerverse“, a family of comics all based on concepts from Clive (from that time, I have a framed photo-stat of a drawing by Clive, of my favorite of those characters – “Ecto-kid“!).

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To me, Barker has that ability in his writing to bring a lot of different variables into play in his horror/fantasy writing. Sometimes there’s just shadows that creep you out, sometimes it’s body-horror, sometimes it’s sex/sexuality-based, sometimes it’s straight-up monsters-who-would-even-think-of-that horror. With “The Great and Secret Show”, Barker created a sprawling epic of good vs. evil, that managed to feel ever large, and also intimate. I suppose that is a common attempt by writers – to make the personal feel all-affecting, like when personal heartbreak “ruins the world” for a person. Too, this book deals a lot with the theme of destiny vs self-determination, nature vs nurture.

With a novel as “game-board”, this particular game has many pieces, and Barker does a swell job of moving them from board-space to board-space – whether that means a back room in a rural post office, an isolated ruin, other dimensions, time-travel, underground caverns, trashy motels, dusty Mexican towns, or decaying Californian suburbs. I was impressed a lot by this novel because it sets up a LOT and it seems that it would be near-impossible for a writer to tie up all those threads by the book’s end. Barker manages to do that though, AND leave room for the story to keep moving on. Really enjoyed it and maybe have to go re-read Ecto-Kid now, and moved Weaveworld up on my To Read list…

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Troy’s Book Club: Wisconsin At War

March 22, 2017

I’ve always had a decent interest in history and have often wondered how those who have come before us have shaped where we are today. What’s also thought-provoking to me, is trying to understand how each of us is a wealth of experiences – good and bad – that make us who we are in >this< moment, and then that moment is added to the past that continues to defines us. There’s this wisp of our past, following us through all our days.

WISCONSIN AT WAR was a good read for me because it kept reminding me of that idea – we are all made up of our past experiences – and to a degree, we get to determine how heavily those experiences decide who we are. WISCONSIN AT WAR is a compilation of interviews/anecdotes from various WI veterans, from various wars, in various arms of service.

What makes these stories so “real” for me is that each story ends with a brief follow-up on what that veteran went on to do. It was a good reminder of how much we may not really know about the people we encounter on a day-to-day basis. For instance, in the story of Willard and Wilber Diefenthaler “identical twins from Kiel…”, who both served in WWII, ending up at prisoners of war, a situation that ended up with Wilber dying…

After I returned home, I arranged to move his body to the American cemetery in France. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see him, even after 50 years. Thinking about him makes me cry some more.

Willard took an electronics course after the war, worked in TV repair, and ended up owning a machine shop in Kiel until he retired.

Anyone who hasn’t served, will find an even greater appreciation for our veterans from reading this book, and people who have served may find stories and feelings they recognize, and experiences they can relate to. I’m really glad I got to read this book.

Get this book from Boswell Books or the WI Veterans Museum Store. And for the WI Veterans Museum in Madison, WI, click HERE.

Troy’s Book Club: A Time of Terror

March 21, 2017

Though I’ve know the name “Dr. James Cameron” for nearly 20 years, it’s only just recently that I finished reading his memoir, “A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story.” Dr. Cameron was the founder of Milwaukee’s America’s Black Holocaust Museum, a facility devoted to helping Americans understand just how deeply racism has affected American culture, on the general and personal levels. Dr. Cameron’s life was a testament to how strongly he held onto hope and love for all, even for “decent and freedom-loving white people.”

I am certain that the majority of people, at the time they begin to have self-awareness, can never truly imagine the line that their life might draw across History. Could Dr. Cameron, raised by a single mom with two sisters, have imagined one day he’d be the father of five children, a husband of 68 years? Could the young boy shining shoes imagine that his life’s vocation would be to educate people on the ills of systemic and personal racism? Could a 16-year old conceive of a night that would begin with a car ride with friends, could end with him being the sole survivor of a lynching mob that killed two others, and leave him the only known survivor of an American lynching?

A Time of Terror tells that story in Dr. Cameron’s own words. It impressed on me how far my country still has to go, to fulfill the “American Ideal.” The book mainly deals with Dr. Cameron’s early life, through the lynching attack, and then his time in jail after that, up to his freedom from jail. A chapter devoted to his adult life is written by Reggie Jackson, current head griot at the ABHM.

This book offers an important window into American history, in an era that our country still hasn’t determined how to own up to.

You can find Dr. Cameron’s book at Boswell Books!

(I have a small note to make, of something I’m rather proud of. The chapter on Dr. Cameron’s adult life features a photo of mine, of Dr. Cameron at a KKK protest from the late 1990s)


Troy’s Book Club: Maya Angelou and Stan Lee

January 27, 2017

Two books to briefly write up: Maya Angelou’s “Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now” and the compendium of “Just Imagine: Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe”. Both were interesting reads as they were each authors that I was well-acquainted with as personalities, but hadn’t read much of their books before.

Maya Angelou, was a modern Renaissance woman – spending her 50+ year career writing (poetry, memoirs, and scripts for plays, movies, and TV), dancing, and being an activist. While her name is usually associated with “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, her first of seven memoirs, “Wouldn’t Take…” was written later in her years. It’s an easy read, filled with 2-4 page short essays on various thoughts and ideas she’s come up with over the years – relating her “wisdom of the ages.” It was a fun way to be introduced to her and to get a sense of who she was. What an amazing woman!

Stan Lee, is one of the biggest personalities associated with Modern American comicbooks. He shares credit for creating many of most famous Marvel comicbook characters in the late 1950s/1960s – Spider-man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, and many others. It has been quite awhile since he was a regular writer on any book, and “Just Imagine…” was an interesting project that threw him back into the role of comicbook writer. Stan has >always< been associated with Marvel Comics, but for this project, he was writing DC Comics’ characters! Marvel and DC are consider “The Big Two” of comics, so to see Stan re-create iconic DC characters was pretty fun. What made it particularly interesting is that Stan was paired up, mostly, with modern artists, but his writing style still had his classic 1960s flavor. Made for some very interesting comicbook stories. For instance, Batman, we all know, is Bruce Wayne, a millionaire whose parents were murdered when he was a child. Stan’s Batman is a black man framed for a murder he didn’t commit, who serves his time, becomes an all-star wrestler, and eventually a night-time vigilante! So, I won’t say the writing was “great”, but it was pretty fun, and it was really neat to see what Stan’s scripting is like and how various artists interpreted his ideas. Good stuff!

If you’d like to read these books, too, check them out from the Milwaukee Public Library, or find them at Boswell Books – Maya, Stan!

Oh yeah, and over a year ago, I read a neat book by Nick Hornby, where he talked about a really great biography of Charles Dickens. I’ve gotten that book now, too, and added it to my read-pile! It’s a ways down the list, but I WILL get to it! 🙂

Troy’s Book Club: Crenshaw

January 5, 2017

“Crenshaw”, by Katherine Applegate, is a book aimed at younger readers, but really is enjoyable, I think for readers of any age. It’s written from the point-of-view of a young boy whose family is going through some difficult financial times – his dad has gotten sick, his mom is working multiple part-time jobs, his little sister is annoying …and his long-gone imaginary friend, a giant cat, has just re-appeared. Honestly, with our economy still fragile, and our society increasingly divided, now seemed a serendipitous time to read a story about life-near-poverty.

This book is a quick read for an adult, given the reading-level it was written for, but that seemed appropriate given the age of the main character. It was neat reading the book from his perspective. This book reminded me again of the power of reading to make us all more empathetic, even for fictional characters!

I got my book at Boswell Books, but you can also find it at the Milwaukee Public Library (who have many of Applegate’s other books, too).