When I was in fourth grade, I wrote to Lloyd Alexander’s publisher as part of some long-forgotten school assignment. Weeks later, the mailman dropped off a few brochures clipped to a generic cover letter. The impersonality didn’t faze me; simply receiving something from a publisher—someone who understood all that cryptic stuff on the opening pages of books—was a treat, not because I was enamored with the arcana of the industry, but because holding that packet was like receiving a transmission from the Mushroom Planet: These people, I marveled, really exist?
As a kid, I didn’t know any authors. I didn’t know any for much of my adult life, either—but I know a few now, and I’m happy to praise them, plug them, and let “QP?” readers know they exist.
Thanks to this blog, I’ve chatted with Alexis Fajardo, a cartoonist at the Charles M. Schulz Studio and the author of Kid Beowulf, a series of charming, all-ages graphic novels. The most recent volume, Kid Beowulf and the Song of Roland, is Lex’s humorous take on the Charlemagne legend; it combines his passion for world epics with a cartoonish style reminiscent of Jeff Smith or Albert Uderzo. Chat up Lex at comic cons, especially if you want to bring something home for your kids.
“Jeff,” I hear yon straw man cry, “you don’t seem like the ideal reader for a gay military romance set in ancient Rome.” No, I’m not, but The Soldier of Raetia by my pal Heather Domin is a sharp, engaging read. Knowing her book didn’t easily slot into existing genres, Heather opted out of the publishing industry snake-dance and instead went with Lulu—but hers is the rare self-published novel that’s as solid as anything on the bookstore shelves. Historical Novels Review liked it, too.
Steven Hart and I have yet to meet, but we keep finding people and places in common. He now owns a bookstore near my childhood home, and his 2007 book The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway is a perhaps the world’s only page-turner about transportation infrastructure. On the surface, it’s the story of the Pulaski Skyway, but you’ll also learn how America built bridges and tunnels in a far less politically genteel era. (At 224 tightly-written pages, The Last Three Miles is also the perfect length; you don’t have to commit to a 600-page tome.)
While wandering Iceland in 1998, I met William Short, an award-winning acoustic engineer who documented his ten-year study of medieval martial arts in the excellent Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques (which I wrote about here.) An increasingly familiar face to Icelandic scholars and reenactors alike, Bill has written a second book, Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas, a terrific introduction for would-be saga readers who haven’t been sure where to start.
A few years ago, Neville Tencer of British Columbia wrote to me from out of the blue to see what I knew about the Via Francigena, the old Frankish pilgrimage route to Rome. (Alas, I knew little.) Neville and his partner, Julie Burk, laced up their boots and hoofed it through the Alps, documenting their travels in An Italian Odyssey: One Couple’s Culinary and Cultural Pilgrimage. This news video about their journey makes me want to follow in their footsteps, undaunted by the reviewer who praised the book for telling “the grubby truth about pilgrimage.”
I’ve never met Bill Peschel, but I do read his blog, and I suspect he’s too modest to hype the fact that his book Writers Gone Wild: The Feuds, Frolics, and Follies of Literature’s Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes went on sale this week. The book looks like a fun peek into the libertine side of literary history, and I love that Bill has posted the book’s ideal soundtrack on the New York Times “Paper Cuts” blog. Black 47, Lou Reed, and Peter Gabriel—what’s not to like?