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John Hodgman has described himself as a former weird 13 year old, who has made a career appealing to the weird 13 year old in all of us. For many of us, he remains the belligerent personification of the failings of Microsoft products. For others he is the cool voice of absurd reason in our ear-buds every week. The through-line in all of this has been his sardonic, laconic wit, put on display in four previous books and this October he will add a fifth as he achieves Medallion Status.

 

Hodgman has said that he never expected to become famous. He was the last person to every expect to be famous. No one expects a bespectacled, bookish, nerdy type to become a national icon. Such people were not prepared for the nerd revolution that gripped the early millennium, of which Hodgman became a patron saint. A native of Massachusetts, he grew up an only child imbued with, as he tells it, all the selfishness that that situation permits. He has described his parents more as old roommates, who happily shared their favourite movies and books with this increasingly weird kid who happened to be in their home. 

 

His career started as a literary agent, where he represented horror movie icon Bruce Campbell among others. Through this job he began writing columns and small humorous essays for McSweeney's. This inspired in him to write a book that had been long simmering in his brain, a book inspired by the weird 13 year old he had curled up inside him, a book of lies masquerading as facts delivered with the straight face and earnestness of a bookish New Englander. This was An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by myself, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in The Areas of My Expertise, which Include: Matters Historical, Matters Literary, Matters Cryptozoological, Hobo Matters, Food, Drink & Cheese (a Kind of Food), Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels, Haircuts, Utopia, What Will Happen in the Future, and Most Other Subjects. As the title might suggest, absurdity ran amok.

 

Here things might have ended for this whimsical nerd, were it not for an opportune interview on The Daily Show. Jon Stewart called his chapter on 700 hobo names, which lists the 700 most common hobo names, a "kind of genius," and Hodgman conducted the appearance in "character" as John Hodgman, Expert, for whom certainty is absolute. The segment was a hit, and Hodgman was invited to join The Daily Show as it's Resident Expert, appearing from time to time to lampoon whatever craziness was happening in the news as though it were normal and natural, and above all, Known To Be True.

 

Hodgman's international recognition came from his role as PC in the incredibly popular Apple "Get A Mac" ads, alongside Justin Long's Mac, where PC would flounder at simple tasks while Mac looked on with pity. These ads brought fame and fortune to Hodgman, and an unexpected, mid life career as a Famous Minor Television Celebrity, the character through which he wrote his second book and direct follow up to Expertise (the page numbers continue from the original, as though it were a single tome, For Your Consideration, The Firms of Dutton & Riverhead Books Present in the English Language: A Further Compendium of Complete World Knowledge in "The Areas Of My Expertise," Assembled and Illumined by Me, John Hodgman, A Famous Minor Television Personality, Offering More Information Than You Require On Subjects as Diverse as: The Past (as There Is Always More of It), The Future (as There Is Still Some Left), All of the Presidents of the United States, The Secrets of Hollywood, Gambling, The Sport of the Asthmatic Man (Including: Hermit-Crab Racing), Strange Encounters with Aliens, How to Buy a Computer, How to Cook an Owl, and Most Other Subjects

 

In these waning days of the aught decade, social media became prevalent and Hodgman used his Minor Fame to develop a large following on Twitter (@Hodgman) and later Instagram. As the Mac ads came to end, he began acting in earnest, appearing in small rolls in niche series like Flight of the Concords, Battlestar Galactica, and Bored to Death. During this period he took on a new character, a Deranged Millionaire, and in this guise wrote the final book of complete world knowledge, That Is All, which while still featuring the absurdest humour of the others is also a meditative and somber examination of sudden and unexpected fame. He released a Netflix comedy special to promoted the book, Ragnarok, which has since been removed to avoid confusion with the most recent Thor movie. As Jon Stewart left the Daily Show, so too did Hodgman. And then he did as many white dudes in the 10s were want to do: he started a podcast.

 

Judge John Hodgman is a comedy justice podcast, set up like court TV shows like Judge Judy. Real people submit petty and hilarious disputes on which Hodgman listens to their arguments, cracks jokes, and issues rulings. For nearly a decade, he has dispensed swift justice weekly from his chambers in Brooklyn on the Maximum Fun network. And through his Fake Internet Court he has built up a large backlog of Settled Law: hotdogs are not sandwiches, about which he debated Stephen Colbert; weird dads are the font of all embarrassment to children in the world; and husbands always come up with systems to make things easier which in practice never make things easier and are nearly always the wrong way of doing anything. 

 

In the last decade, Hodgman has continued to be a part time actor, most recently appearing in the second season of Amazon's The Tick, but he has largely dropped the characters of his past and is now just Hodgman, a weird 13 year old turned Weird Dad. He wrote of these experiences in 2017's Vacationland, which began as a one man show and series of essays on his teenage children, the summers that his family spend in Maine (a world of Painful Beaches), and losing his parents at different times in his life. The book is his personal crisis of discovering the "awful truth of my life, which is that I am a strange, white, male monster with bad facial hair staring down what... I hope is the beginning of the second half of my life and not the brief, final tenth."

 

This month he releases a companion volume, Medallion Status in which he details his new career as a professional Delta Airlines passenger while crossing North America on book tours, taking acting jobs, and dispensing Live Justice for performances of the his podcast. Where Vacationland looked as this personal life as an aging man, Medallion Status will examine the second act of a career he never expected to have and still is uncertain if he earned, as objectified by his Delta medallion status and access to the privileged and secretive Delta Sky Club (which, I highly recommend his appearance on the Dough Boys podcast in which they review the buffet of the Sky Lounge).

 

Those near to the GTA have the opportunity to see some Live Justice this November, as Judge John Hodgman and his bailiff Max Fun founder Jesse Thorn come to the Danforth Music Hall for a night of good clean rulings and musical accompaniment. I have seen Hodgman live three times, and his wit is no less weird, his delivery no less straight, but his empathy so much more on display. 

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Yours, Fictionally

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I was working in a high school library just as teachers were beginning to appreciate the educational value of graphic novels. They finally understood what I had long known; they aren't just picture books, they are an expressive, immerse form of storytelling that is very appealing to readers who struggle with a page full of words. To someone who doesn't have personal experience with them though, they can be intimidating to choose from (because there are so many titles) and to keep up with (because there are so many volumes). But when students, teachers, and librarians ask me where they should start, I don't hesitate: Hellboy.

 

The title is goofy, and I understand why it might keep people away. In the books, the characters even recognize this, that Hellboy is a goofy name considering the arch heroism of his actions. But just as we were once warned not to judge books by their covers, I caution people from judging books by their titles as well. Hellboy, at first glance, is a goofy name. And it betrays a goofy original concept. Creator Mike Mignola just wanted to draw a demon punching nazis and gorillas and monsters and junk. It was a loving tribute to 1950s B-movies and pulp fantasy.

 

Hellboy began as just sketches and drawing that Mignola did not intend to do anything with. In 1993, these evolved into a series of short stories, six to ten page mini adventures in which much punching of nazis or monsters occurred. In 1994, Dark Horse published the first issue of an ongoing Hellboy series, which ran intermittently until 2011, and has since been collected into 12 volumes. It was here that Mignola began to craft a back story, an emotional centre, and a depth for the character. It was here that Hellboy became a classic tragic mythological hero. 

 

The backbone of the Hellboy stories is folklore. Mignola is an admitted myth junkie, collecting stories throughout his life, and weaving them into eventual Hellboy adventures. A trip to Europe and hearing a legend of the ghost of a gambler became The Vampire of Prague. A session of Greek myth make-believe with his daughter became The Hydra and the Lion. A half remembered Japanese folk story became Heads. Mignola used Hellboy to explore these cultural touchstones from a new perspective. Plus, they provided a lot of monsters to punch (or explode).

 

Somewhere along the way, the Worlds Greatest Paranormal Investigator (as HB was known) allowed Mignola to build his own mythology. The Hellboy stories can be fairly evenly divided between short fist fights with beasts and trolls, and a longer arc dealing with the character's destiny. Following in the footsteps of Tolkien, Mignola builds an entire universe from origin to apocalypse, with Hellboy the fulcrum of machinations by evil wizards, desperate gods, and the occasional alien. Drawing inspiration from Arthurian legends and the terrors of Lovecraft, Mignola’s stories are an ode to myths from around the world, and a poignant eulogy for old world paganism.

 

Summoned to Earth by Rasputin in the closing days of WWII, to bring about the end of the world, Hellboy is adopted by the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) and from 1952 until the late nineties worked as a government agent investigating and punching ghosts, vampires, and all manner of foul creature. His right hand though, the Right Hand of Doom, is a carved stone wanted by heaven, hell, and man for it is the key to summoning a great ancient Elderich horror from the abyss. As the story develops, Hellboy is confronted by, and rejects, the destiny others define for him. He doesn't want to destroy the world; he likes it too much. He just wants to live a simple life eating pancakes. His tragedy is that no matter his actions to avert his destiny, it seems unavoidable. Over the course of his story, his apathy turns to torment turns to anger. 

 

So, the short stories allow for easy digestion of action oriented fun, and the longer arcs draw the reader into a deeply realized world and the pathos of a character struggling against what is expected vs what they actually want. But those aren't the main reasons I recommend these books. I do so because, 1) they are very funny, and 2) they are gorgeous. Mignola seeds humour throughout his stories, usually in the form of other characters being very serious and Hellboy being very flip. His usual retort is to call whatever he's fighting "you horrible thing!" He complains about his back hurting after getting knocked around by Anubis, God of the Dead. He can't shoot straight. Mignola also draws on the absurdity of the situation, painting as often as possible the red demon with an apocalypse hand as the only sane man. 

 

Mignola, who was an artist before he was a writer, lavishes his works with nonverbal story telling. Entire pages will often feature only one brief piece of dialogue (or none at all), letting panel after panel of minimalist art pull you along. The lack of detail in the drawings accentuates the importance of elements, and sparse flashes of colour draw the eye to where it needs to linger. Mignola's style is wholly unique (so unique that Disney brought him in to help design Atlantis: The Lost Empire in the last nineties).  He fills the page, but he fills it with as little as possible. 

 

Hellboy was the favourite comic of director Guillermo del Toro, so much so that he made two Hellboy films in the 2000s. They are wonderful. A reboot film came out last year, starring Stranger Things' David Harbour. It is not wonderful. Two animated movies have been made adapting some of the short stories, and the comic series remains one of Dark Horse's most successful properties.

 

It has had multiple spinoffs, including BPRD, featuring the merman Abe Sapien, firestarter Liz Sherman, homunculus Roger, and ghost Johann Krauss. This series expands on the human perspective of the foretold apocalypse. Hellboy's early adventures are currently being chronicled in Hellboy and the BPRD, set during the fifties. And a host of other minor characters from the Hellboy world have gotten their own books, like nazi hunter Lobster Johnson, or Victorian Witchfinder Edward Grey.

 

Each book strikes its own tone, checks the box of a different genre, but are all united by the vision that Mignola originally set in Hellboy. If all you want to do is see a demon punch nazis, the series gives you that. If you want to do a deep dive and immerse yourself in the world of Anung Un Rama, there is material enough to last you ages. 

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Yours, Fictionally

 

*all images are the copyright and property of Dark Horse Comics and Mike Mignola.

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At LSC, we endeavor to ensure that Canadian libraries have unparalleled access to Canadian content, whether that be materials by Canadians, about Canadians, or what is important to Canadians. Part of that commitment is improving access to materials by Indigenous Peoples. Thanks to some recent initiatives, we now have additional tools to help with that.

 

Back in June BookNet Canada announced a research project they had undertaken, to generate a list of materials specifically dealing with Canadian Indigenous topics. As a starting point, they used BISAC codes to isolate the sales data on materials associated with Indigenous or Native American/Canadian headings. They were then able to see how these materials have sold compared to other English language materials. Happily, from 2016, there have been consistent gains in sales for Indigenous themed material. Next, they pulled just the data from Junes 2018 to 2019, identified the top sellers and broke down the results into Fiction and Non-Fiction categories for Adult and Juvenile. The resulting four lists they are calling the Bestselling Indigenous Books in Canada.

 

They are quick to point out that only two of the forty items were not written by Canadian or Indigenous authors. They also point out that Canadian publishers are responsible for most of the items on the list. This is all to say, this list represents a collection of books in which Indigenous Peoples are telling their own stories, a critical and foundational aspect of decolonization.

 

For a more complete breakdown of their methodology, see their announcement post here. For your ease, we’ve put all four lists together into one single Slist, from which you can purchase the items directly. The Adult Fiction list includes recent favourites by Joseph Boyden and Thomas King, as well as brand new books like There, There by Tommy Orange, and Starlight by Richard Wagamese. The Non Fiction list is a fantastic list of items that would bolster any collection, including All Our Relations by Tanya Talaga, and Indigenous Relations by Bob Joseph.

 

The children’s lists consist of many items that I know are already being used in many elementary schools, including Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and The Sharing Circle by Theresa Meuse. As well as newer titles that will hopefully find their ways into the hands of more young Canadians, like The Girl and the Wolf by Katherena Vermette and Go Show the World by Wab Kinew and Joe Morse.

 

In addition to this, the UN General Assembly has designated 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. This resolution came about as “40 per cent of the world’s estimated 6,700 languages were in danger of disappearing— the majority belonging to indigenous peoples.” They hope to raise awareness of these languages and the cultures they represent internationally. You can see the full scope of their initiative here

 

Map: Chris Brackley/Can GeoIn Canada, 2011 census data shows that there are 60 active Indigenous languages, belonging to 12 root language families, spoken by 213,000 people across the nation. Canadian Geographic has put together a wonderful graphic mapping these languages, which can be viewed fully here (Image credit: Chris Brackley/Can Geo.)

 

To support this Year of Indigenous Languages, LSC has put together a list of recent and prominent Indigenous materials. This list of 101 items is a mix of Fiction and Non-Fiction, Adult and Juvenile, English and French. The items are all by Canadian Indigenous authors, again ensuring that people are telling their own stories. These items would form a powerful foundation to an Indigenous collection, and satisfies two of the UN’s five key action areas: “Increasing understanding, reconciliation and international cooperation”; and “Elaborating new knowledge to foster growth and development.”

 

LSC is committed to helping libraries decolonize and increase the representation in their collections. Indigenous languages are part of that commitment. We list Southern Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway among the languages available through our World Languages program. We are constantly looking out for new materials from new and existing publishers, in Indigenous languages. As demand for this material grows, so will supply, and LSC will be there to help libraries build the best collections for their customers.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Yours, Fictionally

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One of the reasons my bookclub fellows and bookworm friends keep me around is for the book recommendations. They know I have the inside track on what is currently popular, but also what is coming. And that is a great perk of working in libraries: knowing months in advance what books are to be published. But who do librarians turn to for reader advisory? That’s where Loan Stars comes in.

 

Loan Stars, for those who don’t know, is an amazing reader’s advisory program. Run in conjunction by BookNet Canada and the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, this service aggregates the recommendations of working library professionals into monthly lists. And unlike some commercial lists, which focus on bringing existing books to the public’s attention, Loan Stars is focused on the future. Their monthly lists consist of the most recommended items that will be published within the following month.

 

How does it work? Anyone working in a library in Canada can sign up for a free CataList account. Then, so long as you are logged in, you will see a “recommend” button next to eligible titles. Click the button, and that’s it. At the end of every month, the super computers and clever folk at Loan Stars tally the results, and the ten books with the most recommendations are added to one of two lists: adult and juvenile.

 

This is a fantastic way to get the word out about books that people haven’t heard about yet. At LSC, we swim in the galley proofs that are sent to us by publishers, and from my days in libraries, I know the case is true there too. And it is a (nerdy) thrill to have the inside track on a book that no one else will be able to read for months. I’m sure we’re all the same, when you read a good book, all you want to do is tell people they should read it. Loan Stars is one of the best ways to tell colleagues across Canada what they should keep an eye out for, or get the jump on and order in advance.

 

We all use things like the New York Times Best Seller list, or Canada Reads to build our collections, but those are reactive lists, and much of the demand for those items is driven by patrons. Loan Stars gives you the chance to get ahead of the rush on items no one has heard of yet, but will want. What I like about it is, it’s not just the best sellers. Those books are going to be popular regardless, they barely need our help. These are recommendations coming directly from staff; their actual opinions, not just what they think will be popular but what they think should be popular.

 

Take a book like Vessel, by Lisa A. Nichols, or Grass, by Kuem Suk Gendry-Kim. These are not books that would usually end up on conventional lists. But enough of your peers across the country liked them so much, they ended up on recent Loan Stars lists. It has effected my personal reading; every month there is at least one book that catches me by surprise and that I immediately put on hold at my local branch. I don’t know if I would have found No Country for Old Gnomes, by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne, without it.

 

 

 

What’s on their lists for August? Some choice morsels include:

  • Translated from Gibberish, by Anosh Irani, is a collection of short stories exploring his life and experience as an immigrant. Knitting together his life through seven tales set in India or Canada, with wit and heart, Irani presents a raw – if not entirely truthful – autobiographical journey.
  • Snow, Glass, Apples, by Colleen Doran and Neil Gaiman, is a graphic novel adaptation of Gaiman’s original short story from Smoke and Mirrors, itself a twisted version of the story of Snow White. As only Gaiman can, the story weaves melancholy and pathos with vampirism and necrophilia. This volume pairs that with Doran’s crisp style which blends clean characters with conceptual layout design. This is their second collaboration, having recently also graphically adapted Gaiman’s Troll Bridge (one of my personal favourites).
  • Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me, by Anna Mehler Paperny, is a frank, honest, and at times absurd memoir detailing her time in a psych ward after her first suicide attempt, and her journey through the long-term treatment of living with depression. While not unique to the experiences of those whose life is touched by depression, Paperny’s perspective is a uniquely Canadian one in publishing. There are few books that touch on the Canadian Health Care system, the Canadian pharmaceutical system, the Canadian Mental Health system as it relates to depression, which are far more relevant to Canadian readers than anything coming up from south of the border.
  • Code Like a Girl: Rad Tech Projects and Practical Tips, by Miriam Peskowitz, is a great resource for kids who want to learn how to code, and offers step-by-step instructions for actual projects, like building a motion sensor for their room, or creating smartphone gloves.
  • And, I would be remise in my duty as a professional and a connoisseur of fine literature if I did not point out that Does It Fart: A Kid's Guide to the Gas Animals Pass, by Nick Caruso, absolutely made this month’s list. As well it is should.

Now, you’re asking yourself, “how do I read these monthly lists?” There are two ways. One is to sign up for the Loan Stars monthly email, which has the lists delivered direct to your inbox. However, if you want to be able to see the list and immediately purchase the items on it, LSC creates an Slist version of every Loan Stars list, so you can view and add the items to your cart in our catalogue. Here are the links to the most recent Adult and Juvenile Loan Stars lists for August, and you can find older lists under the “Special” heading in the Slist page

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Yours, Fictionally

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I love language. I am effervescent in its multitudes.  I rejoice, exclaim, wallow, and exult in the verisimilitude of the vernacular. I delight in dialects, pontificate on puns, saturate in slang, and generally gestate in grammar. Often, I have been accused of using ten words when three would do, because why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to run wild with syntactic abandon when given the chance?

 

Of particular interest to me is the history of language. Where do our words come from? How has time and history and culture shaped the way the world pushes air out of its throat and rolls it across its tongue. It’s all well and good for the Académie française to try to keep French on the straight and narrow. But what about English, who is more likely to push another language into a dark alley and “borrow” some loan words? And it still comes out short compared to German, which produces words like Treppenwitz, literally “stair case joke”, for the comeback to a joke or insult that you don’t think of until later.

 

Reading for me can be a laborious task, as I’ll be working merrily through a text when suddenly I’m jolted out of the narrative by an errant word. What is this delightful collection of syllables, I’ll think? What precise congress of meanings have crafted such an expression? And off I’ll pop to look up its etymology. And where better to start than that trusted friend, the dictionary?

 

In the world of words, consistency of meaning is key to understanding. If we don’t all agree that the word “horse” means a large, four legged mammal with a long face and mane, then a trip to the farm is going to get very confusing very quickly. Enter the Dictionary, that compendium of terminology which keeps us on the same page. A concise definition of every word in the language. A thing of beauty.

 

But definition is only half the work. The other half is context. Knowing not just what a word means, but when it is appropriate to use are the cardinal ingredients in a delicious language recipe (garnished liberally with grammar, of course). Which is why dictionaries include something that you may have overlooked, or don’t pay that much attention to: an example of use. For examples, From the Collins Dictionary:

 

Certificate - An official document that you receive when you have completed a course of study or training. The qualification that you receive is sometimes also called a certificate. Ex. To the right of the fireplace are various framed certificates.

 

One person who didn’t overlook these snippets of speech was author Jez Burrows, who developed an ambitious plan: to write short stories comprised of just the example lines from dictionaries. To hear him tell it, he started by compiling a massive catalogue of every example line from a range of dictionaries, then sorted them into groups, including those that feature a person doing an action, or emoting, or the rarest of all, speaking. Treasured were sentences describing the condition of an object.

 

Taking all these disconnected, brief and context-lacking lines, Jez strung them together into short tales of absurdity, suspense, and melancholic beauty. What were once pieces of linguistic illustration become “I began to speak, but stopped short at the look on the other woman's face. It was not prudent to antagonize a hired killer.” Those line comprised of entries from the Collins English Dictionary and New Oxford American Dictionary.

 

I am in love with this idea. Creating a jigsaw of story from the leavings of language; putting to work the orphans of description. These brief lines, once stagnating on the dictionary page have found bizarre and unexpected new purpose under Jez’s direction. It seems to me to be a form of linguistic collage, part and parcel with gluing sea shells and pine cones onto a picture frame. This concept seems tailor made for the era of Twitter and the character limit, but Jez has collected his foundlings and knitted them together into a tome entitled Dictionary Stories: Short Fictions and Other Findings.

 

A brisk read, but surprisingly soulful and elegant, and a love letter to language. A perfect companion to a snowy winter evening, or to share betwixt friends. A meal made of morsels has never tasted as sweet or been as filling. More about Jez and his work is available at http://www.dictionarystories.com/.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Yours, Fictionally

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The first personality test I ever took was the True Colors test. I took it at the behest of a manager who believed that the dynamics of the department could only truly be reconciled by colour coding. For those not familiar, True Colors groups people in percentages according to the colours Blue (passionate), Green (logical), Gold (responsible) and Orange (fun). 

 

According to that test, I am a majority green, which I immediately dubbed the Scientist Robot category. Most of my coworkers were Gold or Blue. I took this an excellent opportunity to break out my Mr. Spock impersonation, considering how many Kirks and McCoys I was surrounded by. Given that there were no Oranges in the group, my impression was not appreciated.

 

A few years later, at a leadership retreat, I took part in the Myers-Briggs test. This test blows out the possible number of results even more, with 16 possible personality types. There are too many to list here, but they all have cool sounding names like Commander, Protagonist, or Virtuoso. Essentially, after answering a battery of binary questions, you are assigned one of two letters in four different categories.

 

I was, apparently, an INTJ, which I immediately and continue to pronounce “integer”. This means I am Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking and Judging, each of which Mean Something. Mostly, it seems to mean that I’m at risk for attempting to take over the world as apparently most movie villains are this type. So I’ve got that going for me.

 

A couple years ago, a friend introduced me to Enneagrams, by which I mean their chosen past time was attempting to type a person and, within a few minutes of meeting someone, would start shouting seemingly random numbers at them. As party tricks go, it leaves much to be desired. Enneagrams place people on a nonagon, with two numbers between one and nine identifying their personality. For instance, you could be a 2-7, which means that you are mostly a two, with a heavy seasoning of seven. Unlike other personality tests, which tend to track your strengths, the Enneagram places weight on where you most need improvement. In other words, it tells you why you suck.

 

I am, again apparently, a 4-5, the Individualist and the Investigator. Which I immediately dubbed the Robot Detective. And what I learned is that people who take these tests earnestly really don’t like it when you start introducing yourself as a Robot Detective when other people are trying to be capital-s Serious. Which, as you may have gathered, I am not. I personally feel that personality tests can inspire fun conversations, but shouldn’t be something that workplace dynamics or your own life philosophy should be based upon. Many, many people disagree with me. And spend a lot of money for the opportunity to take these tests.

 

The three I've mentioned are not the end of it. Personality tests are big business. StrengthsQuest, 5 Love Languages, MAPP, Big Five; the list goes on. BuzzFeed has built a business out of easy to take tests that tell you what kind of grilled cheese, or what Winnie the Pooh character, you are. And whether you pay for the privilege or take it on your phone during your lunch break, all of these have about the same scientific backing as the daily horoscope. Unlike the horoscope though, many of these tests are presented as being Scientific.

 

Myers-Briggs, for example, was not developed by psychologists, but by a mother-daughter team of amateurs who had an interest in pop psychology and based their method on their personal interpretations of Jung’s archetypes – archetypes which were not backed by scientific research either. It is these two women who at the focus of The Personality Brokers, by Merve Emre. Part history book, part biography, Emre dives into the social conditions that were present between the two world wars that gave rise to the Myers-Briggs assessment (the word “test” isn’t officially used by the institute that bears the name today), and the paranoia of the post-war period that saw it become successful. In a time of Cold War mistrust, a simple test can tell you exactly who a person is? Of course that would be a hit!

 

Emre also goes on step further, and examines why they appeal to us as we take them. The fantasy of personality they can provoke. Do we answer this questions honestly, or wantonly? Are we identifying who we actually are, or who we want to be? There is no such thing as a wrong answer, and on the whole, no bad personalities. But if you could, would you rather be an Orange or a Green? Emre touches on this self-romanticism, while striking a balance between being factual and being critical. She isn’t anti-personality test, she just wants the reader to think more about what these tests tell us about ourselves, beyond what they tell us about ourselves.

 

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I’m an Owl, and a Provolone on Rye. Who knew?

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Yours, Fictionally

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According to Wikipedia, there are over thirty holidays, observances, and traditions celebrated world wide in the month of December. Some as ancient as Shabe Yaldā and some as new as Festivus. Most of them celebrating, in some manner, the shortest day of the year, and the turn away from the Bleak Midwinter. One holiday in particular nearly lapsed into obscurity until, a century and a half ago, it was rescued by some ghosts.

 

Last year saw the release of the film the Man Who Invented Christmas, telling the story of Charles Dickens and the mutual life support his A Christmas Carol gave to both himself and a fledgling celebration that had long since been dwarfed by Boxing Day. By the beginning of the 1800s, Christmas had already had a turbulent history. The Romans had celebrated Saturnalia at this time, but didn’t have to contend with snow. As they expanded into Northern Europe, they encountered the Germanic Yule, and other “pagan” celebrations happening at the same time, and merged those traditions with their own.

 

Time, as it likes to do, moved on, and Christmas largely remained an excuse to drink and be merry, with emphasis on the drinking. The rowdier elements of the pagan traditions did not sit well with the English Puritans, and Christmas was banned in England by Oliver Cromwell in 1645. It was restored along with the monarchy a few years later, but the wind was taken out of its sails, and for the next two hundred years the celebration in the UK was a much more subdued, private affair. No decorations, no presents, no carols or fanfare.  Just a goose, if you were lucky.

 

In 1819, Washington Irving (of Sleepy Hollow fame) wrote an account of Christmas celebrations, which were almost certainly fabricated. Irving was a notorious liar, who is also responsible for the myth that people before Columbus thought the Earth was flat. But Irving’s idea of a seasonal gathering which brought together people of all status, to celebrate a new year and enjoy the customs of the ancients caught the imagination.

 

In 1823, Clement Moore published The Night Before Christmas in New York (with its long Germanic and Dutch heritage, as well as healthy immigrant population), fully bringing the Germanic and Nordic traditions of St. Nicholas into the Christmas story. A few years later, back in the UK, a young Queen Victoria married the German Prince Albert and with him came more of the German traditions, still heavily influenced by the ancient pagan practices. Mistletoe, Holly wreaths, candles and carols came to England with the Prince. In 1841, a tree was decorated in Windsor Castle for the first time, illustrations of which made their way across England and over the ocean, cementing the Christmas tree as the centerpiece of the holiday home.

 

For more on the history of Christmas, and how it evolved over the centuries, check out the gorgeously photographed Christmas: from solstice to Santa by Nikki Tate.

 

Then came the ghosts. The Victorians were no strangers to ghost stories; they permeated much of their literature. As the Victorian age marched on and the Scientific Revolution began to take hold, spiritualism spiked. Charles Dickens wasn’t a spiritualist, but he did think of ghosts often. Not as the white sheeted frights of horror, but as the memories of those who have passed, especially in the last year (this being the Victorian era, and death common and indiscriminant). It was his belief that there was no better time of the year to consider the lessons ghosts might teach us then in the deep of the winter, when the trees were bare and the air cold, and candles danced shadows through long nights.

 

Having suffered a series of commercial failures, Dickens was desperate for a hit. But Christmas was a long shot at best. A holiday people barely made mention of was hardly the foundation for a best seller. His publishers were nervous, but Dickens had his ghosts to guide him, and wrote his Christmas Carol not based on any religious practice but on a common human decency. That Christmas was a time for families to come together, to celebrate and rejoice in their company, and toast the year to come. Most of this was – again – largely fictional. It made for a good story but shared little in common with a reader’s actual experience.

 

It struck a chord though. Upon publication, it was an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Readers saw in Dicken’s morality tale not what they had, but what they wanted and could have. Christmas as an idea exploded across the British Empire, heralded by ghostly warnings and promises. Ghosts never really took off as a Christmas staple – they lost their moral compass and became spooks over on Halloween. Thanks to Dickens though, they’ve never really left Christmas either. Each year more writers are inspired to tell their own paranormal tales - such as in the short story colletion Ghosts of Christmas Past, including the works of Neil Gaiman - usually featuring spirits seeking to put right what once went wrong.

 

This year we’ve put together two lists (40777 for fiction and 40653 for everything else) of recent and popular material the celebrate the holiday season. With more than thirty to choose from, there is surely something for everyone in the coming month. And if you’d rather skip them all, there are still roaring fires, hot cocoa, and thoughts of tropical beaches you’d rather be on to keep you warm. Whatever and however you celebrate being halfway out of the dark, if you happen to meet any ghosts along the way, mind what they tell you. They might be friendlier than they look.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter. We also encourage you to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Yours, Fictionally

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With great power comes great responsibility. Many would recognize this as the philosophy that has driven Spider-man for the past 56 years. Equally it could apply to Spider-man’s creator, Stan Lee, who passed away last Monday at the age of 95.

 

It is no exaggeration to say that Stan Lee invented the modern superhero. While Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the architype with Superman in 1938, and Bob Kane and Bill Finger hit on a cultural icon with Batman in the following year, the early years of superhero comics were filled with pulp stories of war-time intrigue, gangsters, and simple characterization. Comics in the forties and fifties were more interested in tales of chilling horror to delight and amaze than telling complex, human stories.

 

Stan Lee changed that. Having already been a veteran of the industry by the 1960s, Lee was given a chance by the new Marvel comics to tell more complex stories. Instead of white-and-black hatted cowboy stories, Lee wanted heroes that had personalities, who suffered loss and self-doubt, and didn’t always win at the end of the day. Marvel’s heroes were modern heroes, and their masks became metaphors.

 

It is no surprise that Lee’s heroes – the rage-induced Incredible Hulk, the prosecuted mutants of the X-Men, the morally questionable Daredevil – all appeared and rose to popularity during the tumultuous time that was the 1960s. The counter culture revolution had young people questioning their parent’s straight-laced and more repressed mindsets. Unlike Superman, who was a stalwart beacon of truth, justice and the American way, Captain America was a man out of time, proud to wear his uniform but also willing to question his orders if he thought them unjust. The Civil Rights Movement and second wave feminism allowed the voiceless to rise up, and readers wanted to see themselves reflected in the comics. Lee obliged, with characters like Black Panther, and the Wasp.

 

His motivations weren’t all altruism and social responsibility. Lee was a showman, and had an eye for what would sell. He created She-Hulk – Bruce Banner’s similarly green afflicted cousin – as a response to the popularity of the Bionic Woman. His first creation for Marvel, the Fantastic Four, was a direct response to DC Comics own Justice League, and would eventually lead to the creation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers

 

His instinct for the limelight wasn’t always positive though. Through his monthly column Stan’ Soapbox, Lee became the face and the voice of Marvel throughout the sixties and seventies. However, the contributions and accomplishments of his frequent artist collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Dikto were minimized. It was these artists’ designs and visual storytelling that gave the comics revolution their style. Lee’s self promotion did not always win him friends, and he tied the Marvel Brand to his own.

 

Ditko – who died earlier this year – was Lee’s co-creator on Marvel’s most popular character, and the most relatable hero of the 20th century: Spider-man. Not a brilliant inventor, a billionaire playboy, a famed scientist, or an all-powerful alien; Peter Parker was just a boy. He found himself out of his element, in a world increasingly dangerous and unpredictable. He had responsibilities but struggled to keep up with them. He doubted himself. He had girl problems. Take off the mask, and he was no different than multitudes of readers picking up the comic week after week.

 

Lee left Marvel in the nineties, during a period of near bankruptcy for Marvel. Because of the nature of the industry, when Lee started working for them, he never saw any of the profits from the dozens of characters he created. But Lee had spent decades tying his name to his characters in the public mindset, and neither could ever escape the other. Lee’s cult of personality lead him to movies and television, where he pushed to have Marvel’s characters take to the screen.

 

While a painted green Lou Ferrigno won fans in the eighties, it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium when the action truly left the page and jumped to the screen, and Lee went along for the ride. From the release of 2000’s X-Men to this year’s Spider-man ; Into the Spider-verse, Lee made a humourous cameo in every film based on his creations, the superhero equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock. Lee lived to see his characters go from the funny pages to Saturday morning cartoons to the company he helped put on the map being bought by Disney for $4 billion. The MCU movies featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson are among the most successful movies ever made. Not bad for a bunch of characters jumping around in their pajamas.

 

"I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers,” Lee once told the Washington Post. “And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing."

 

We’ve put together an Slist of books and movies created or inspired by Stan Lee, which you can view here.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Excelsior!

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