BOOKS: FALL PREVIEW
David Byrne on a bike, the genius of Poe and Rod Serling
Plus: Good e-reads, Los Angeles in the shadows and the 23rd Guadalajara International Book Fair
'Shadow and substance'
What's the first thing you think about when you hear the words "The Twilight Zone"?
Is it a man in a black suit with a cigarette? Or that cool, lawyerly voice: "Submitted, for your perusal: a Kanamit. Height: a little over 9 feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of 350 pounds. Origin: unknown . . ."?
Rod Serling brought something new to television when the first episode of "The Twilight Zone" aired in October 1959. Some publishers have already celebrated the show's 50th anniversary: Douglas Brode's "Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone: The 50th Anniversary Tribute" (Barricade Books) and editor Tony Albarella's "As Timeless as Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling" (Gauntlet Press) appeared earlier this year.
Tor Books, however, has kept for a fall release the publication of "Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary," edited by Serling's widow, Carol. The book isn't a rehash of plots from the series, but you will find stories by authors (Whitley Streiber, R.L. Stine and Kelley Armstrong, among them) who tap into the same eerie point of view that Serling got audiences to accept with every episode.
When you think back on the show, the best stories presented a dark corner in an otherwise ordinary world. Many of this collection's stories use the same formula: Earl Hamner (an original screenwriter for the show) contributes a short sketch about a bonsai enthusiast's revenge on his hapless pool cleaner for injuring a plant, while David Hagberg's splendid "Genesis" tells the story of how Serling's World War II experiences led to his imagining of, as the opening words of the TV series go, "a land of both shadow and substance."
Meanwhile, Walker Books for Young Readers has gone back to the original TV episodes to produce a series of graphic novels ideal for children swept away by Harry Potter or Stine's "Goosebumps" books. This month, the publisher releases "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and "The Big Tall Wish," with two more -- "The Odyssey of Flight 33" and "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" -- coming later in the winter.
Horror today may be dominated by big, cartoonish elements -- vampires, werewolves and others from the supernatural creature playbook -- but "The Twilight Zone" reminds us that the best shivers often come from finding the devil in the details. As Serling himself explained in a film short before "The Twilight Zone" aired (you can watch it on YouTube): "This is a series for the storyteller, because it's our thinking that an audience will always sit still, and listen, and watch a well-told story."
-- Nick Owchar The telltale Poe
This year began in the shadow of a raven's wing -- with books and celebrations in honor of America's gothic master, Edgar Allan Poe, born in Boston in 1809. Here is the writer who made macabre subjects elegant and terrifying, who played with puzzles long before "The Da Vinci Code" and whose character C. Auguste Dupin was solving mysteries before Sherlock Holmes ever stepped onto London's foggy streets.
Though most bicentennial celebrations have centered on Poe's familiar, er, haunts, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has opened an exhibit, "From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe," that runs until January. The center is also featuring online content -- go to www.hrc.utexas.edu /exhibitions/2009/poe/ -- that includes parodies of the poem "The Raven" (you're invited to include your own), cryptographs and a preview video of the exhibit. In Los Angeles, actor Jeffrey Combs continues the one-man show "Nevermore: An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe," with appearances this month at the Steve Allen Theater.
Several new books consider Poe's life, including Brian Morton's "Edgar Allan Poe: Life & Times" (Haus Publishing) and Kevin J. Hayes' "Edgar Allan Poe" (part of Reaktion Books' Critical Lives series). You can also find new collections, such as IDW Publishing's "The Raven and Other Stories" and Vintage Books' "Great Tales and Poems," a selection chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts for its Big Read program.
Then there's Natalie Rompella's humorous spin on Poe's "The Telltale Heart" in "Edgar, Allan, and Poe, and the Tell-Tale Beets" (Lobster Press) -- a book that takes aim at kids ages 4-8. Whereas the floorboards in the original tale conceal the cut-up body of a murdered man, the three young boys here use this hiding place for Brussels sprouts, beets and other yucky things so Mom will let them have dessert!
If you're familiar only with "The Raven" or "The Fall of the House of Usher," now is the time to widen your acquaintance with a writer who famously said: "Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations."
-- Nick Owchar Bikes in motion
When Talking Heads co-founder David Byrne visits a new place or tools around his New York neighborhood, he does so on two wheels. And though Byrne finds most American cities "frustrating" for cyclists, what really freaks him out is the American suburb. In his new book, "Bicycle Diaries" (Viking), Byrne can be found wandering the well-manicured-but-devoid-of-people streets of Valencia. "I am more scared here than in a bad New York neighborhood," he writes, adding that the master-planned landscape seems less real than the mock-up of a suburban home on a television set he has just visited.
Byrne is on a mission. If cities and suburbs can be more bike-friendly, then maybe the people in them will interact on deeper levels as well. On Oct. 2, he will join urban planners and Jimmy Lizama, co-founder of the we'll-help-you-fix-it Bicycle Kitchen, on the panel "Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around," part of the Los Angeles Public Library's Aloud series. The discussion will be held at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., in downtown Los Angeles. (In true L.A. style, bicycle valet parking will be provided.) For more information, call (213) 680-3700 or visit lfla.org.
-- Orli Low A good e-read