Amazon’s introductory description for Ross Patterson’s At Night She Cries, While He Rides His Steed is not the real story of this new comic novel.

At Night She Cries, While He Rides His Steed is a side-splitting satire that perfectly parodies romance novels and western dramas.

Our hero, Saint James Street James is a tall, extremely muscular, 32-year-old man whose attributes and possessions include a mind stronger than Socrates on acid, a magnificent horse he loves more than anything in the world, a package so large that it requires a signature, a beautiful, passionate wife with a rack so perfect it belongs on a billiard table, a ton of children, and his own personal gold mine. His life, set in 1849 against the backdrop of the California Gold Rush, is one long parade of amazing sex, dynamite montages, whiskey, and explosive gunfights. The kinds of things men could do when men were actually men. He is the richest man in town—equal parts loved and feared by all. But when the Schläger Brothers come to town, so too comes the end of the good times. St. James is forced to defend everything that matters to him (including, but not limited to: prostitutes, his horse, money, and drugs. Oh, and his wife and children too, sort of). God help anyone who stands in his way.

Now, everything Amazon said is true, but it barely scratches the surface.  Forget a parody of western romances.  Instead imagine National Lampoon rebooted for the 21st Century.  Imagine Blazing Saddles meets gonzo porn as directed by Rob Zombie.

THEN you’ll have At Night She Cries, While He Rides His Steed.


Yes, this novel even has a murderous clown.

This is a ribald and sometimes-disgusting parody of a macho cowboy story.  It’s pure, insane guy humor: it’s rude, crude and over-the-top lewd, and occasionally hilarious if you can get past the excesses of the main character, St. James St. James, and his uber-masculine exploits using all the popular tropes of the wild west.

The novel is certainly witty when the author wants to be.

Chapter Eleven: An Ironic Name for a Chapter when You Lose All Your Money


“I saw you walk into the house last night covered in blood.  What the hell happened at that party, Dad?”

“Let’s just say you have a new brother.”

“Wait, what?”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Daniel, but it would be nice for you to learn Chinese.”

It’s also shallow and disgusting every now and then.

As I look down at the chick kneeling on the ground in front of me, I hit my stride.  Just when I am about to unload a triple-roper . . . my balls are backdrafting up into my body, and I ejac with a force that would baffle seismologists for years.  The woman seems to be in shock as I take a moment to admire my masterpiece.  Her body now resembles a Jackson Pollock painting.  She blinks her eyes in appreciation.

You could even call some of the humor racist–

Asians are just a step above slaves during this point in America, so we get a few looks from people on the ride back to my house.  Someone even screams out, “What are you, yellow?”  I refuse to answer, because I can’t tell if they are just being observational.

–but that’s not really the truth.  The novel’s sensibilities are such that St. J St. J. is an equal opportunity offender to everyone, including his own family, because he, of course, is the main and most important character–as he will tell you, if he doesn’t shoot you first.

The following memoir . . . will end all stories about every other man ever told, so go fuck yourself, Buzz Aldrin.

Now, that made me laugh.

At Night She Cries, While He Rides His Steed is a non-stop joyride on a rabies-maddened horse.  No, it’s not for everyone; but if you still miss the take-no-prisoners attitude of National Lampoon and the edgy humor of Blazing Saddles, this book is for you.


Barnes & Noble




If you’re like me, you get really tired of eating the same old things for lunch.  Whether you work in an office or in retail or even at home, in most cases, or options for a decent lunch are limited.

That’s why I was excited when I picked up The Little Book of Lunch: 100 Recipes and Ideas to Reclaim the Lunch Hour.  I’d love to be able to make a variety of lunches, usually the night before, so I could have something better than a Wawa sub, a Wendy’s burger, or a boring salad from the grocery store salad bar.

Visually, the book is beautiful, filled with photos of lunches that look incredible.  But I have to admit that I am dismayed by the recipes inside.  Simply put, the lunches here in The Little Book of Lunch just don’t reflect choices that most Americans would consider for lunch, breakfast or dinner.


The reason why: the book was not written for our stateside audience.  It was first published in Great Britain, and written by two Londoners.  Consequently, their choices here reflect some decidedly continental preferences, and far too many Middle Eastern influences.

As such, it’s one of the most annoying cookbooks I’ve ever read, from their choice of parchment paper for wrapping sandwiches (perhaps they don’t have Saran Wrap in England?) to a Mexican-style corn recipe . . . that uses mayonnaise.

I counted them (and forgive my math if I’m wrong; I was an English major who can barely use a calculator):

Out of 100 recipes, I would only eat nineteen.

At least five use couscous, which, I know, is trendy and beloved by foodies, but average American guys want nothing to do with it.

At least eight include chickpeas or hummus.

At least two incorporate quinoa, another trendy food, but is meaningless to me.

At least four use ingredients I’ve never heard of: ras el hanout, halloumi, harissa . . .

And at least five use ingredients that are just plain weird.  Herring?  Really?

I wanted to love this book, for I desperately want to find a way to break free from the burger/chicken sandwich lunch trap.   The Little Book of Lunch may be the answer for foodies and hipsters.  But it most definitely provides few answers for those whose tastes are less extravagant or gourmet.

Amazon          Barnes & Noble

Here’s a brilliant but BRIEF RANT by Bret Victor, a guy who knows his way around graphic user interfaces.  His thesis is that our current wave of handheld devices, as exemplified by ereaders, smartphones and tablet computers, is merely a sidestep in a technological evolution that actually leaves out a valuable part of human experience.

It’s justification, as far as I’m concerned, that what I’ve said for a few years now will become the future — the future of books.  Victor doesn’t come right out and say it, but the point of his essay is, ultimately, the reason that books will never be replaced, no matter how many varieties of ereaders eventually tsunami the market.

Books, simply, work.


Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is the best book of 2010.

It’s not just the pantheon of writers and artists that created the best American humor magazine ever.  It’s not just the special editions they published every year, along with the monthly mag.

It’s not just the writers who acted in or wrote the Lampoon movies.

It’s not just the single best parody of high school yearbooks.

It’s not just the topical humor or skewering covers.

It’s not just Mr. Mike, who went on to SNL during the heyday of Lampoon.

It’s not just the second best Lampoon movie.

Or the best cover.

Or the best Lampoon movie . . . for years the top-grossing comedy ever made.

It’s an aggregate.  It’s the whole.  It’s everything.

For a brief shining moment — okay, a long, shining moment that lasted just over a decade — Lampoon kicked America’s collective ass.  Lampoon lasted longer than that — technically, products are still appearing with the Lampoon name on them — but it was 1970 until about 1983 that Lampoon had a stranglehold on American comedy — and then, suddenly, it was gone, never again to return to its sacrilegious, sophomoric glory.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is as close to a comprehensive The Best of Lampoon book that we’re ever going to get.  It looks at the magazine not as one big collective volume, but as the product of singular individuals — and here the best pieces from Lampoon are presented chronologically — mostly — by author or artist, the true foci of this book.  It’s all about the creators and what they did –the subtitle is The Writers and Artists who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great.

And that’s the whole truth.  The whole is better than the individual pieces (although there are certain pieces that I’ll never forget, especially Letters from the Editors, the Tales of the Adelphian Lodge, Kit and Kaboodle (the precursors to Itchy and Scratchy), and the original “Vacation” story by John Hughes, which is not about Roy Wally, but about Walt Disney).  And this book celebrates the whole through the lens of each individual creator.

If you were a teen in the ’70s, you know exactly what impact this magazine had on our generation, not to mention our culture.  Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead captures the long gone magic, the forgotten heresies, the rudeness, the nudeness, the 100% absolute funny.  The ’80s are not so much highlighted — hell, John Hughes and “Vacation” aren’t really mentioned — because the ’70s is where it all really happened.  Doug Kenney, Animal House‘s Stork, who “walked off a mountain” in Hawaii.  Michael O’Donoghue, the guy on SNL who did impressions of Sinatra, Presley and Tony Orlando and Dawn . . . with “steel needles, say, um, fifteen, eighteen inches long — with real sharp points,” jabbed into their eyes.  Gahan Wilson, legendary Playboy and NL cartoonist of the macabre.  Sam Gross.  Sean Kelly.  Ann Beatts.  Tony Hendra.   P. J. O’Rourke.  There are so many, most of whom you’ve never heard of, but who still write and produce almost anonymously, and wonderfully.

They’re mostly all here in a celebration of satire, the likes of which will never again be seen on a monthly basis.  Hell, even Mad has gone quarterly now.

The Seventies.  

It was the worst of times

— but Lampoon made it the best.

Books from the Outer Rim: FULL DARK, NO STARS

Like every anthology, Stephen King’s latest book, Full Dark, No Stars, is a mixed bag of dark wonders.  Not one of the four stories included is as lyrical or evocative as the book’s title — and that’s a shame, because I’ve seen King write sentences that shook me to the core or nailed me with perfection.  There are some shining moments here, certainly; but they do not shine half as brightly as “The Mist,” “The Body,” or any of the stories in King’s first and uber-primal collection, Night Shift.

Reviewers are calling these four stories brutal, and King himself refers to them in his Afterword — the best part of the book — as harsh and visceral.  He’s accurate.  Only one of these stories involves the supernatural, and all of them revolve around horrors and deeds that are as real — and as visceral — as blood spurting from a gaping wound, or rats gnawing through rotting flesh.

Madness and death.  That’s what the stories in Full Dark, No Stars are all about.  Can you get more brutal than that?

Like most anthologies, this one follows a very basic structure.  Actually, this one is perfect — it only has four stories, and they exemplify the structure of a typical anthology:

Story #1    “1922”    B+

Story #2    “Big Driver”    C+

Story #3    “Fair Extension”    C

Story #4    “A Good Marriage”    A

As you can tell, the best story is usually saved for last, but anthologies still have to open with a very strong story to hook the reader.  The middle stories, no matter how many, are usually structured in a rising/falling format, like a staircase, all leading up to the A story — the Big Finish.  (Personal note: I think the story titles here are pretty dull.  Steve’s done much better, titlewise.)

Story #1, “1922,”  is strong.  Really strong.  Actually, I consider it the best tale in the book; but King, obviously, disagrees, by placing it at the opening.  “1922” takes place in rural Nebraska — in a town King used to great effect in The Stand, and which, I suppose, ties this story to that universe of evil and supernatural armageddon.  But there is no supernatural in this tale — only death and madness, and slow, Midwestern lives as empty as the Nebraska plains.  This is King possessed by Poe, and the stark setting is a much a character — perhaps even stronger — as the protagonist, who, in the first paragraph, confesses to murdering his wife.

There’s a good moment of freak out in “Big Driver,” when the main character, a rape victim, is left for dead in a roadside culvert.  Otherwise, this is a typical story of revenge — typical in the way that King’s most recent fiction has turned: realistic and fairly predictable, with characters that are rounded out just enough to satisfy short attention span readers.

The only story to turn into King’s trademark world of living dead girls, ghosts, psychic children and otherworldly beasts from beyond our ken is “Fair Extension,” a deal-with-the-devil tale that isn’t very original, nor memorable.  The devil guy is named . . . Elvid.

Come on, Steve.

What would you do if you discovered a box of trophies in the garage that proved your spouse was a serial killer?  That’s what happens to Darcy Anderson in the final story, “A Good Marriage.”  It’s a hell of a premise, but it’s not much of a story.  From the opening sentence, King fills the action with background and unnecessary exposition that do nothing to move the story along.  It’s modern King at his weakest, and it screams that he needs a good editor who isn’t afraid to cut.

Full Dark, No Stars isn’t bad.  It’s just weak.  The light seems to be going out.  Read ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand, Carrie and Night Shift for King at his most primal, most energetic — and his most brilliant.

A Halloween Present from Neil Gaiman

I found a Halloween link today, a little late — but to me, it doesn’t matter that Halloween is over for 2010.  To me, life is an endless, eternal Halloween, and we should do something every day to keep the spooky spirit alive in the childhood hearts that beat deep inside our adult shells.

Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust, American Gods and DC’s Sandman series, has given the world the germ of a Halloween present.  It’s a present I ask for every year at Halloween, and a tradition I want to share with everyone I can.

Here are some great ideas that combine scary with that innocent frisson we all felt on chill Halloween nights, when the moon rose, wolves howled in the distance, and we ran through our neighborhoods, capes flapping, leaves fluttering at our feet:

‘Salem’s Lot
The Turn of the Screw
Hell House
The Shining
The Stand
Something Wicked This Way Comes
October Dreams
The House Next Door
Anno Dracula
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Haunting of Hill House
The Exorcist

And if you want to help UNICEF — something us fifty-somethings did at Halloween during the ’60s — go here to keep Halloween literate, too.

Now this book?  Really scary.

I Guess I’m Not a NovelSnob

Why?  Because, like Jimmy says, “fiction over fact always has my vote.”

                                                       More Jimmy Buffett music on iLike

Because I prefer King over Proust, Puzo over Tolstoy, Moorcock over Tolkien over Lewis, and Burroughs (Edgar) over Burroughs (William).

Because I prefer Batman over Salman.

Because story makes characters and writing move.

Don’t get me wrong: I love good books, good novels.  But without a good story, to me, it’s just not very good at all.

I am most definitely not a NovelSnob.  Now, I have kicked a Star Trek novel across the room because it was such a shitty book.  But reading lit-tra-toor, whose worst crime is probably boredom, and recognizing bad, awful, repellent, stinking to the moon, shitty writing, no matter whether it’s a classic or it was written in a week, are two completely different things.

I ain’t no NovelSnob.  And neither is the author of this really good blog, who has something to say about  lit-tra-toor.

The important thing?

Read.  Just read.  Whatever you like.

Fight Evil.  Read.

Beware of the man of one book.

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.

John Cage

I’ve written before about the disease that has afflicted me since at least 7th grade: biblioholism. It’s a despicable condition: I cannot walk by a bookstore without going inside and smelling the paper and leather, the book dust, and the airy aroma of sheer wonder. It started with my mother, who taught me how to read when I was three by using comic books. I quickly became addicted to stories, and it eventually blossomed into a complete and absolute addiction to the written word.

Since the idea of The Enigma Club, my novel that has ballooned into a trilogy, came to me in 1996, I’ve been going to library sales and a lot of used bookstores, gathering up as many period books about the golden age of adventure and exploration that I could find — the weirder the better. (One of my favorite titles: I Married Adventure. The binding simulates the stripes of a zebra’s coat. Love it!) Of course, I didn’t limit myself to that topic — I’d pick up whatever struck my fancy at the moment.

One of those titles was I Love Books: A Guide Through Bookland.

Somehow, when I moved to Richmond, the book got separated from my Enigma Club collection, so I found it by accident today in our library as I was looking for books I no longer wanted, that I could sell to the best used bookstore in Richmond, Black Swan Books.

I’ve changed my mind. I’m keeping it. It’s a beautiful period book: written in 1946 by John D. Snider, a fellow Virginian. This edition was the 17th, published in 1958. The marbling is exquisite, the book is in almost perfect condition — it looks as tough it’s never been read — and the endpapers and illustrations are classic examples of the period’s bland style of drawing. It’s the Campbell’s Soup style of illustration: tasteless and inoffensive. (Thanks to Stephen King for the paraphrase.)

Even more importantly, I Love Books: A Guide Through Bookland, which I picked up thinking that I would find something in it of commiserative value, has pissed me off royally. I’m still keeping it; it’s beautiful. But the writer was a pompous ass.

Some time in the mid-’80s, I was at a mall bookstore looking through the paperback fiction section. Two other guys were nearby, and one turned to the other in exasperation and said, “Why do you want to read this stuff?” The second guy shrugged and said, “What? What should I read?” And the first guy said, “Like, have you ever read the Bible?”

Like, it’s that kind of limited and unimaginative attitude that pisses me off — so much so that 25 years later I haven’t forgotten that conversation. And, like, it’s that attitude that, unfortunately, permeates every page of I Love Books.

The author comes from the era and the tradition that the author is not just an expert, but THE expert on the topic, and that the writing style must be old-fashioned and authoritarian:

The story of Benjamin Franklin’s life is familiar to every schoolboy.

We have seen that a book is a creation of a living man, and should be regarded and judged somewhat as a man himself is estimated.

It is not the number of books that counts, but the kind. We are made or marred by the company we keep.

The term “fiction” has, in the thinking of many, come to connote the perverted, harmful form of imaginative writing often designed to exalt sin and sordidness, instead of portraying and glorifying truth and wholesomeness. First, we should exclude all books that tend to weaken our faith in God…

Sorry, but the custodian of the church library has no freakin’ idea what he’s talking about.

I’ve learned wonderful things from books this dead dude would have scorned: that men and women can be heroes and accomplish amazing things; that there are pink dolphins in the Amazon; that vampires are symbolic, not representative; that high school drama/trauma is universal; that bullies must be taught a lesson; that people prefer good stories over bad, no matter how well the book is written; and that, no matter what literature teachers say, there is no such thing as the perfect novel — not Catcher in the Rye, not The Great Gatsby, not A Moveable Feast, and not Attack from the Glorpnorg Nebula: Star Trek #197.

And I especially detest the holier than thou attitude that has existed since the novel first took shape in the 17th and 18th centuries: that fiction is worthless unless it glorifies God (that is, the Christian religion); and even if it does, it’s still fiction, isn’t it? It’s not real, it’s make believe, and therefore it is totally irredeemable.

This kind of attitude still exists even today. You see it in a burning hatred from the indignant, Bible-thumping masses, who despise restaurants that serve alcohol, public schools, guys with long hair (still!), tattoos, Hooters, comic books, Stephen King novels, the songs of Jimmy Buffett, and that ol’ devil rock and roll.

Coincidentally, as I was formulating my ideas for this blogpost, I visited the blog of a friend, who writes on the topic of books, both good and bad. I certainly agree with his sentiment that we should read good books, not bad. The real problems are: Who is to decide for us what is a good book but each individual reader? and Can we learn nothing from a book that critics perceive as bad?

As a reader and a writer, I’ve learned what makes a book good by reading bad books, as well as good.

And I’m a wine snob. I prefer the better wines rather the the thin, weak wines. Likewise, I prefer good writing rather than bad.

But the choosing of wines should teach us a lesson about books. No matter whether you think should have red wines with meat and white with fish, the important thing with wine is: Drink what you like. If you don’t enjoy it, why drink it?

It’s as simple as that. It should be the same with books. Read what you like, no matter who tells you what’s good and what’s bad. In time and with practice, your tastes will become discriminating, and you will learn what is good and what is bad . . . and how both can be valuable. Like Jimmy Buffett once said, “I’ve read dozens of books about heroes and crooks, and learned much from both of their styles.”

Beware of the man of one book.

Thomas Aquinas

21st Century Storytelling

Does anyone in Richmond own a Kindle? Does anyone in Richmond know anyone — anywhere — who has an Amazon Kindle?

Offhand, I can only think of Stephen King, who has written about the new version of Amazon’s e-book reader for Entertainment Weekly, and the author of this article from the Wall Street Journal, who makes some predictions that really don’t sound that far off to me. (On the other hand, writer Stephen Johnson notes “the breakthrough success of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader.” I don’t think the Kindle has had any sort of breakthrough success — yet — and that claim may be a little bit of hyperbole half-remembered from an Amazon press release.)

I ask because I have seen or read absolutely no evidence that the e-book has yet taken off. If successful, the Kindle and other e-readers will eventually offer some true competition to books. And, really, what is a book without paper and binding? What we’ll eventually be downloading will be, more properly termed, novels and nonfiction works. A real book, on the other hand, will still sit alone in your library, having tangible existence, and will not disappear when the batteries run out.

The things Johnson predicts in his WSJ piece may come true, but one way that every e-book cannot help but fail is with that physical presence; for there is nothing that can replace the feel of a good book in your hands while you’re reading it. Yes, it’s a highly romantic concept, to say the least — but I believe the look and feel of a book can also indirectly affect the feelings of a reader. I never would have bought the first Harry Potter book if I hadn’t seen it on the shelf, with adult books, and then picked it up out of curiosity. I instantly felt its weight in my hands — heavier than usual — felt the graininess of the dust jacket underneath my fingertips, and I knew that it was a real book; and when I started reading it that night and could not put it down, I was proved correct. Notice that all the other Harry Potter books used the same grainy stock for their dust jackets, and the interior paper stock was identical to the first book’s. That was a deliberate and genius decision on the part of the publisher: to repeat the same book magic with the sequels.

Issac Asimov, back in 1973, wrote an essay about a four-day series of seminars on communications and society he attended in late 1972. On the first day, he was in the audience when a speaker introduced the concept of video cassettes, the “communications wave of the future” that would “please specialized tastes” and offer stories, instructions, documentaries . . . in short, whatever the viewer wanted.

A few days later, Asimov was approached when another speaker had to cancel, and was asked to speak in his place. Asimov’s essay, “The Ancient and the Ultimate” (first published in the January 1973 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and later reprinted in Asimov on Science, Doubleday, 1989), is perhaps his most remembered nonfiction piece. In the essay — and in the hastily-written speech that preceded it — he predicted the ultimate video cassette: small, light, “completely mobile and self-contained . . . seen and heard only by you . . . controls operated, as far as possible, by the will.”

The next question is: How many years will we have to wait for such a deliriously perfect cassette?

I have that answer too, and quite a definite one. We will have it in minus five thousand years — because what I have been describing (as perhaps you have guessed) is the book!

Today, less than two percent of the American public reads more than one book a year. As Asimov explained in his essay (at that time percentage was less than one percent!):

. . . many more people watch television than read books, but that is not new. Books were always a minority activity. Few people read books before television, and before radio, and before anything you care to name. . . .

The book may be ancient but it is also the ultimate, and readers will never be seduced away from it. They will remain a minority, but they will remain.

Books will not be replaced by e-readers; people love them too much. Perhaps “disposable” information, such as magazines and newspapers, which are dependent on publication dates and schedules, will convert more readily to electronic reading. But novels, and long works of nonfiction, will be published in hardcover and paperback, for a long time to come.

That’s the real secret of books.

They’re magic.