Harry Potter

The Complete Series (Paperback Box Set)

img_6677Harry Potter – The Complete Series (Paperback Box Set)

Another set of the Harry Potter books has arrived at our house for the newest HP fan in the family. Yes we already have a complete set of hardbacks (mostly first editions/first printings) and the two illustrated editions released so far. Just having moved a year ago we donated our second complete (and third incomplete) set of hardbacks, a complete set of paperbacks and a partial set of UK edition paperbacks. Who knew we would be delving back into the wizarding world again so soon? But this summer my 8 year old daughter has blasted through the first four books in about a month so I felt like she deserved her own set. Which brings us to disclaimer time, these books aren’t really even for me!

But I did want to take this chance to write for a minute about them. You just can’t understate impact they have had on the world, on culture and on reading in general. It has been exciting to try and describe the fever pitch of Potter-mania as the books were released to my daughter. I was surprised by my own nostalgia for the  midnight release parties we attended at different book stores. I’m not sure she believed me that we snuck a baby rabbit named Harry Potter for the lightning bolt shaped tuft of white fur on his forehead into one of those parties hidden in my wife’s coat. Or about the time the band Two Star Symphony played at midnight inside a multi-story Barnes & Noble which was filled to capacity with kids in costumes at another famous HP release party. Such great memories of these books and the effect they have had on my life not to mention the actual joy of reading them. And while I may not be thrilled with all of the post-Potter works in the Hogwarts world such as new movie spin-offs, plays, etc. for me it can never damage the original story, as long as you can still give a kid a new set of the books.


Author J.K. Rowling on Facebook
Pottermore Website, The Source for All Things HP

Harry Potter Books from Amazon


Studio Ghibli

My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Arrietty Blu-rays and My Neighbor Totoro Book

img_6667Studio Ghibli – My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Arrietty Blu-rays and My Neighbor Totoro Book

Studio Ghibli is an entity that is hard to describe properly to Westerners. The shorthand I see used most often is that they are the Disney of Japan. While that is an excellent quick way to get your point across there is so much more to it. Studio Ghibli have created around 20 feature films over the last 30 years, most directed by studio heads Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. These films are some of the most beloved in Japan.

Even though I am sure I miss some of their cultural significance and commentary on nationality and the Japanese identity, traditions, folklore and more I can still say with confidence that these films tread in deeper waters than anything Disney ever created. Ghibli films deliver more for adults, display more true humor rather than just comedic situations, show quality character development, reflect more upon life itself, all while being very strange and dreamlike yet also vastly entertaining.

My Neighbor Totoro is in many ways the studio’s flagship film. Its main character, the large spirit creature Totoro, is their mascot. In the movie two sisters meet some magical creatures in the woods. Their strange yet joyful interactions with these beings helps the girls deal with moving to a new house, cope with their mother’s illness, face growing up and get along with each other. Ponyo is Ghibli’s version of The Little Mermaid story and its quite different from the more familiar tale of Ariel. Arrietty is their take on The Borrowers stories. All of these blu-rays have many wonderful extras and the films can be viewed in Japanese with subtitles or as an English dub, usually starring the voice talents of many famous Hollywood actors.

I have included the novelization of My Neighbor Totoro in this post. It nicely captures the depth and whimsy of the film. It features illustrations from film director Miyazaki himself and the story is adapted by beloved Japanese children’s book author Tsugiko Kubo. Its a great companion to the movie.


Studio Ghibli Website (in Japanese)
Disney Studio Ghibli Website

Studio Ghibli from Amazon
My Neighbor Totoro Book from Amazon


Grady Hendrix

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

img_6452Grady Hendrix – My Best Friend’s Exorcism

No, this is not a high school yearbook or a VHS tape, its the latest genre-melding, society satirizing, scary/hilarious (scalarious?) book from that format obsessed master, Grady Hendrix. My Best Friend’s Exorcism follows two teenage best girlfriends as they navigate the murky waters of school, social life and demonic possession. We’ve all been there right? Cause what is high school if not hilarious and horrifying? And our man Grady has it down pat in his presentation here in a book that will alternately creep you out and have you laughing out loud.

The book is presented in a hardback format that resembles, you guessed it, a high school yearbook, complete with innocuous advertisements and inane signature messages that add nice little touches to the story. The paperback is designed like a classic cool campy VHS horror movie cover (much like the type of movie one would hope all of Hendrix’s books become some day), down to the last detail. On it you will find movie stills, plot descriptions as if the book were a movie and the obligatory video rental store stickers (Be Kind, Rewind).

It is no surprise that everything about these books from their presentation to the what is contained within is a stroke of genius. Grady is the guy who gave us Horrorstor, the cool, funny, scary story of an Ikea-like store built on the site of an insane-asylum where terrible things happened, all formatted like the well known Ikea catalog itself complete with product descriptions and drawings. Also not to be missed are his civilian rocket launch book Occupy Space and the hilarious yet cerebral epic Satan Loves You. Up next for Grady is a non-fiction book on the history of horror publishing, Paperbacks From Hell.


Grady Hendrix Website
Grady Hendrix on Facebook
Grady Hendrix on Twitter

My Best Friend’s Exorcism from Amazon
My Best Friend’s Exorcism from Barnes & Noble
My Best Friend’s Exorcism from iBooks
My Best Friend’s Exorcism (audiobook) from iTunes



The MAD Archives

Volumes 3 & 4

The MAD Archives – Volumes 3 & 4

It doesn’t get more classic than this. These beautiful hardcover dustjacketed embossed tomes contain gorgeous full color reprints of MAD comics issues 13-18 (Volume 3) and 19-24 (Volume 4). Along with Volumes 1 & 2 they represent the full run of MAD as a comic, before it morphed into its better known format of a magazine. It also represents all but one year’s worth of Harvey Kurtzman’s work as editor-in-chief at MAD. 

During these early days, MAD struggled to find succes, eventually becoming a hit, then so much so that they drew the ire of parents and the law forcing them to change from a comic to a magazine format so they would not be subject to being censored. In this time artists like Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Will Elder, Basil Wolverton and Jack Davis poured their humor and talent into MAD, creating an impact that is hard to understand in this time of social media comedy and the 24 hour lifespan of memes. 

These MAD articles are timeless. My cheap childhood reprints of them along with Monty Python, the Marx brothers, Steve Martin and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (what is it with comedy and Ms?) did more to shape my view of the world than just about any other set of influences I can think of. It’s a wonderful thing to have them collected in books like this to pour over and to, someday, pass on. 

*full disclosure – while this was received in the mail, I didn’t order it. It was actually a 21st anniversary gift from my wife. Guys, when this is the type of anniversary gift you get, you know you’ve got a keeper!

MAD Magazine on Facebook
MAD Magazine Website

The MAD Archives from Amazon

Planet Of The Apes

The Original Topps Trading Card Series

Planet Of The Apes, The Original Topps Trading Card Series

I LOVE this series of books Topps has done of their old card series. They do a fantastic job of recreating the trading card experience. The dust jackets are made of printed wax paper, there is a picture of a piece of gum on the front cover, each page contains the front of a card, actual size, with the back of the card on the reverse. There’s even a sample set of cards sealed in a pack in the back of the book. It’s all too perfect. 

The book features an intro and text by Gary Gerani, a longtime Topps series creator. Aside from the movie stills, card concept art and promo shots we get  the card series from the original Planet Of The Apes movie, the cards from the beloved (by me at least) 1975 TV show. Sadly the bulk of the book is devoted to the larger card series from the abysmal Tim Burton Planet Of The Apes movie, a film and card set that is better forgotten. 

I truly hope Topps will continue with this series. The other similar books I have are both Wacky Packs tomes, Garbage Pail Kids, Star Trek, Mars Attacks and, my favortie, Bazooka Joe. Thus far I’ve stayed away from the many Star Wars related releases but I have seen them and they look very nice. 

Topps on Facebook
Topps Website

Planet Of The Apes The Original Topps Trading Card Series from Amazon

Van Halen

Runnin’ With The Devil by Noel Monk

Van Halen – Runnin’ With The Devil by Noel Monk

Now this is more like it! Forget the psuedo new albums and the cash-in reunion tours, forget Van Hagar (and of course forget Van Cherone, poor guy), this is the real Van Halen and the only one I want to listen to (and read about) !!!

This book is as fun, crazy and unbelievable as the band’s music and as thrilling as their meteoric rise. All told by a guy who was right there alongside them the whole way, Noel Monk. Noel knows music, prior to his stint with VH he was involved with Woodstock, The Filmore and a number of great bands from the Grateful Dead to the Sex Pistols. Here he holds back nothing in recounting the group’s tireless hungry climb to the top and their brutal, explosive collapse while riding high. 

Noel does a great job of taking you inside Roth’s unchecked ego, Eddie and Alex’s drug addled tantrums and Michael Anthony’s pure obliviousness towards his own self-preservation. It’s fantastic to have such an honest insider’s viewpoint. It makes this book a great companion to the recent Van Halen Rising by Greg Renoff, which is itself a killer chronicle of the band that is excellently researched. Read ’em both. Even if you don’t like Van Halen, hell even if you don’t like music, you will still be amazingly entertained. 

Noel Monk on Facebook

Runnin’ With The Devil from Amazon


by Jon Spira

img_6170Videosyncratic by Jon Spira

Videosyncratic is a book that used to be a video store. I know that sounds confusing but its true.  In the book author Jon Spira documents the rise and fall of home video culture and video rental stores as well as his personal involvement in the industry, first as a movie lover, then a VHS rental customer, becoming a video rental store cashier and finally as the owner of a video store named, you guessed it, Videosyncratic.  All of this takes place over the span of 20 years from the ’80s to the oughts in London, England. Surprisingly, with as fast as technology and society has changed, even though this is recent history, in some ways it is sadly like reading about events on another planet (possibly one in a galaxy far, far away) as we have become so removed from the lifestyles and daily happenings of the latter days of the previous century.

“Regeneration is inevitable, important and increasingly sad as you get older and see your world pass into the hands of the next generation.” The stories Jon tells are as hilarious as they are informative and even, at times as above, filled with wistful longing. The book itself is the exact size, shape and image of an old VHS cassette, making it a clever but compact and quick read of almost 400 small but packed pages. Evidently the book was a Kickstarter project, but I just learned of it when Amazon kindly suggested it to me, presumably as I have ordered about a half dozen other books on video and VHS culture in the past. It is worth noting that Jon is not only a fan of movies and video stores, he is also a director himself, having made 2015’s Elstree 1976, a niche documentary on the making of Star Wars and the impact it had, all told from the point of view of the actors who played secondary and tertiary characters in the film.


Jon Spira on Twitter

Videosyncratic from Amazon