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David Byrne on a bike, the genius of Poe and Rod Serling

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'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

Is 2009 shaping up to be the year of the e-reader? The devices, which originally cost $359 to $489, are thin and book-shaped but have been slow to catch on.

That may be changing with the power of Amazon, which has heavily promoted its proprietary Kindle on its website. When the company introduced two new models within months of each other earlier this year, it created tremendous Kindle buzz. More important, Amazon dropped the price of the entry-level device to $299.

Sony may have been quieter about marketing its more stylish Reader, but the company has gone further than Amazon in bringing prices down. Sony's petite Pocket Edition, introduced in August, is just $199.

Such readers use screen technology developed to make pages look like those in a book, and some people are fond of their resolution and brightness. But they are black and white, which, compared with full-color computer screens, can't help but feel a bit antique. This -- not to mention the desire for touch-screen capabilities -- has made people long for a tablet instead.

Last week, Toshiba introduced the JournE Touch, a 7-inch tablet, at a conference in Germany. It's a netbook that can play movies and will soon have electronic-book capacity. Though it won't be available in the U.S. until next year, it finally makes the tablet real: Although it has a Windows interface, it basically looks like an iPhone on steroids.

And where is Apple in all this? Long-circulating rumors of a forthcoming Apple tablet heated up this summer -- one hypothetical name is the iPad. It looks as if an Apple tablet might include e-books yet also be a large-screen, full-color mobile device for rich music content and movies.

One of the challenges to e-readers is that they're made for book lovers, many of whom are still quite fond of paper pages. It may take a device designed for a number of multimedia uses -- such as the elusive iPad -- to become a must-have.

-- Carolyn Kellogg Dark, dark L.A.

Crime fiction simmered to perfection in Los Angeles during the Depression: James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and others found fertile material in our blend of corruption, destitution and glamour.

If not much good has come from our current economic downturn, at least it hasn't slowed down our contemporary masters of crime writing. Three return this fall.

Michael Connelly's new novel, "9 Dragons," is set in the very near future and begins with his detective Harry Bosch ensconced in the new LAPD headquarters. The book is the 15th featuring Bosch, who ends up in Hong Kong for a third of the novel. Which still leaves two-thirds of it taking place here. "Harry Bosch is built to be of and about L.A.," Connelly says in the press materials. The author will read at Vroman's in Pasadena and the Barnes & Noble at the Grove on Oct. 13 and 14, respectively.

"Hollywood Moon" is Joseph Wambaugh's third novel since 2006, all set in the LAPD's Hollywood Station. Darkly funny, it again features Hollywood Nate, a handsome cop who, at age 37, still hopes he'll make it in pictures. Wambaugh did that ages ago, writing the screenplay for the acclaimed movie "The Onion Field" from his own book. He's written scripts, nonfiction and fiction; been a Marine, a cop and a college professor. Now in his 70s, he's having an awful lot of fun with crime in Hollywood.

James Ellroy returns to Hollywood -- or Los Angeles, anyway -- in "Blood's a Rover," the final book in a trilogy that kicked off with 1995's "American Tabloid." In the series, rogue FBI agents brush up against major international figures and presidential assassins, but L.A. returns to center stage in this book. Fans may notice a resemblance between Donald Crutchfield, a naive wheelman who dresses in a seersucker suit and peeps at Hancock Park ladies, and the young Ellroy. The book is close to home in more ways than one.

Los Angeles has long had a hard time distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys. John Buntin's new history of crime and cops in the 1950s, "L.A. Noir," is a dual biography of crime boss Mickey Cohen and LAPD Chief William Parker. Like Richard Rayner did with this summer's "A Bright and Guilty Place," Buntin uses two intersecting lives to try to understand what makes sunny Southern California the perfect place for a good, dark mystery.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Starring the book

Shortly after Thanksgiving, a group of Los Angeles authors and other artists will head for the 23rd Guadalajara International Book Fair. Hosted at the University of Guadalajara, the fair honors a particular place each year with a presentation of its literary culture. Typically, the invitation is extended to a nation, such as Colombia or Italy; L.A. is the first city to be chosen.

The Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs is organizing the exchange with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. From Nov. 28 to Dec. 6, four dozen authors will appear.

The lineup includes Mark Danielewski, Marianne Wiggins and Dagoberto Gilb, screenwriting crossovers Jerry Stahl and Michael Tolkin and mystery writers Gary Phillips and Denise Hamilton. Salvador Plascencia, born and raised in Guadalajara, will be interviewed by Rubén Martínez on a panel titled "Local Boy Makes Good."

Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold, also on the bill, launched his career chronicling the international fare of our city's restaurants. But does Los Angeles have a signature taste of its own? That's the challenge for chef Joachim Splichal, who's been asked to plan a Los Angeles-themed menu for the book fair's kickoff luncheon.

Samplings of L.A. dance, film and music will also enhance the cultural exchange. But Los Angeles is just the guest; the real star is the Spanish-language publishing world. More than 500,000 people, including 15,000 book professionals from 40 countries, are expected to attend.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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