Meet the Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames

In Meet The Frugalwoods, the author writes in memoir form about how she and herMeet The Frugalwoods husband followed the path to their dreams by extreme frugality.

As she’ll emphasize in the book, the monetary method that the couple followed was a personal choice, rather than a necessity.  The Thameses both had successful careers and were living the alleged dream in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  After years of living in basement apartments and squeezing pennies, they bought a house in one of the priciest markets in the country.  They had “everything,” but did much thought and research into finding what they really wanted – in this case, a 66 acre stretch of rolling hills and woods in Vermont.

Getting there required drastic measures.  They learned to pare away unnecessities, discovered the value of giveaways and discarded furniture, and put in warp drive a savings plan.  A few years later, with an infant daughter in tow, they were the proud owners of their Vermont homestead.

Are their goals attainable by anyone?  Probably not, and suffice it to say that Meet The Frugalwoods is not exactly a How-To-Get-Rich type of book.  The Thameses strike me as being way more driven than your average Joe.  Also, the author is quick to emphasize that she and her husband have had far more advantages to begin with than most people, and still do.  But, I won’t say that the two don’t have a work ethic – far from it.

With that disclaimer, Meet The Frugalwoods is still highly readable, and there are lots of ideas here to spur the reader onto focusing long-term preparation into future dreams.

(William Hicks, Information Services)




Nope, Nothing Wrong Here : The Making of Cujo written & edited by Lee Gambin

NopeThe past few years have proven an embarrassment of riches for horror film fans in terms of scholarly and popular investigations into the genre.  Both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises have been the subjects of exhaustive documentaries, while mini-books in the Devil’s Advocate and Cultographies series boast in-depth meditations on classics like The Evil Dead, Halloween, Suspiria, The Thing, Deep Red, and many others.  Whether your particular fandom embraces Canadian horror films (They Came From Within), Full Moon Video and its various incarnations (It Came From the Video Aisle!), obscure horror paperbacks from the 60s, 70s and 80s (Paperbacks From Hell), or meticulously researched examinations of the Slasher film boom (Blood Money), chances are there’s a book out there for you.

“But what about Cujo?! “someone cries out.  Friend, Lee Gambin has heard you and answered with this 487 page love-letter to the 1983 film adaptation of the Stephen King novel.  For his book, Gambin has collected interviews with just about every key player from in front of and behind Cujo’s cameras: director Lewis Teague, composer Charles Bernstein, makeup artists, and camera assistants.  There are also extensive interviews with the cast including Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, and Daniel Hugh Kelly.  Gambin takes us through the film scene by scene, examining the action and the wider cultural references in each sequence, and ends every chapter with a selection of relevant quotes.  The comprehensive nature of the book covers the soundtrack, the cinematography, and tons more.  Even if you’ve seen the three-part documentary included on recent DVD and Blu-ray editions of Cujo, there is still much to learn about the film.

It’s fascinating to wonder, for example, what kind of movie Cujo would have been had original director Peter Medak not been fired just a few days into shooting.  Medak, who was just coming off work on the haunted house classic The Changeling, wanted to push the film in a more supernatural direction, and undoubtedly would have brought a more poetic, cerebral style to Cujo.  The descriptions of the epic crane shot Medak wanted to open his film with are described in enough detail that the reader can practically visualize the sequence and long to see these lost dailies.

Gambin’s book includes hundreds of photos as well:  pages from Stephen King’s original screenplay draft, deleted scene stills, lobby cards, sheet music, and lots of behind the scene photographs.  Unfortunately, many of these images have a photocopy-like quality that makes it difficult to discern just what the photo is.

Another issue with the book is Gambin’s reliance on interviews to cover the making of the film.  Because he did no research outside of soliciting interviews with as many participants as possible, the reader is often treated to conflicting stories about key aspects of the film which, arguably, a full-length examination should resolve.  A perfect example of this is the firing of the original director.  You’re given at least two widely different stories about why Medak and Tony Richmond, his Director of Photography, were let go by producer Don Blatt, and Gambin simply leaves these statements as is, without any attempt to get to the truth of a major aspect of the film.

These criticisms aside, Nope, Nothing Wrong Here is an extremely entertaining look into the world of horror filmmaking.

(Chris Fox, Central Library)

Hippie Food : How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kauffman

In the 1980s, I started going to Deep Roots, a food co-op that thankfully still exists in Greensborohippie food.  There, in their narrow store on Spring Garden Street, you could buy grains and spices in bulk, peruse organic food items of all kinds, and inhale odors not typical of any “regular” grocery store.  The store had a unique vibe, as did the Sunset Cafe, a restaurant down the street that largely served vegetarian dishes, and was usually packed, with a line out the door, on an average night (OK – they did only have about six tables and a counter, but still…).

It was kind of neat, years later, to read a background of the foods that one saw in these places.  Hippie Food provides this amply – it’s a far-ranging historical survey of the natural and organic foods movement that details how different trends, many predating the 60s and 70s, introduced the general public to eating habits that were bizarre for the mainstream consumer of yesteryear, but are fairly commonplace today.

According to Hippie Food, the eating habits of the Vietnam era counterculture were a synthesis of health and vitamin trends that caught on much earlier – let’s say the early Hollywood era, where people became obsessed with youth and vitality – with ingredients from different cultures (tofu, yogurt, brown rice, etc.).  Their eating habits went hand in hand with the revolutionary spirit of the times, and were at odds with the prepackaged and processed norm that the American public ate.

As alternatives to a capitalistic profit-driven food economy, like-minded people started farm communes and food co-ops all over the country.  With a lack of proper business models, though, lots of these institutions faded as the movement changed and as people aged out of their hippie ideals.  Some managed to fit their alternative versions of food economics into the mainstream mindset.

Eventually, what was considered weird and radical became accepted.  As you step through your average grocery store of today, you’ll see foodstuffs that wouldn’t be there fifty years ago.  Eating locally remains a rallying cry, farmers markets are popular, and there’s still a decided determination to develop an economy beyond the big corporation – something more people-oriented.

From my reading of Hippie Food, I think that the outward thinkers of 40-50 years ago were more idealistic, but way more green behind the ears than today’s organic farmers.  I think they were more resourceful – they had to be, considering the absence of quick social media that we rely on in the present time.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

There Is No God and He Is Always with You by Brad Warner

there is no GodIn recent years, there’s been a fair amount of debate on the existence of God.  Depending on which side (atheist or believer) there is rarely any common ground, and we rarely hear another take on the subject.

In this book, the author, a Zen Buddhist monk and occasional punk rock musician, re-approaches the concept of a deity in a series of conversational chapters.  The hard questions of the universe, death, meditation, and even suicide are fair game.  Warner doesn’t purport to have the answers, and part of the frustration, and perhaps whimsy of his book is that he often raises more questions.

The appeal of this book is his style.  Warner doesn’t talk down to his reader.  Throughout, he remains personable and humorous, and even if you walk away quizzically from reading his book, it’ll get you thinking about how you approach the idea of God, whether you believe in one or not.


The book is not a dry tome.  There’s discussion of spirituality for sure, but you also get lots of Warner’s back history, and apparently he has had an interesting life as a musician, filmmaker, and Buddhist monk.  He has traveled a fair bit; locales in Japan, the Zen retreat of Tassajara in California, and even Northern Ireland all play into the picture.

Other books by Brad Warner include Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, Sit Down and Shut Up, Sex, Sin, and Zen, and Don’t Be a Jerk and Other Practical Advice from Dgen, Japan’s Greatest Zen Master.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The Last Castle : The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan

The Vanderbilt name during the late 1800s conjured images of opulence and immenseLast Castle wealth.  As a scion of this moneyed family, George W. Vanderbilt inherited in a big way, and spent most of his fortune building what would become the largest house in the United States.

Whereas his extended family made their homes mainly in New York City and Newport, George looked farther afield, into the mountains near Asheville, NC.  Here he found the climate congenial, began buying up thousands of acres there, and employed the best in their fields to design and create his grand estate.

In his mid-thirties, George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, descended from some of New York’s oldest families.  Edith was level-headed and charity minded, and brought these strong attributes to her role as mistress of Biltmore House.  She and George were active in the community, contributing funding and time to a number of pursuits.

Edith shouldered on when George died in his early 50s.  The vastness of Biltmore Estate and the costs to run it almost overwhelmed her, and Edith had to sell off certain interests of the estate, including a huge chunk of land to the federal government, which later became the core of Pisgah National Forest.

As a way of raising capital, the family began charging admission to the house in 1930.  Although it took years for the venture to make a profit, the move to open it to the public kept Biltmore House from neglect and the wrecking ball.

The Last Castle is a detail-packed account of the biggest house of the Vanderbilt family, the ordeals of building and financing it, and the ultimate triumph of its owners to keep it despite obstacles.  The author portrays George and Edith with compassion – they were not numb one percenters, but lively people who had consideration for others.  While they were decidedly rich and lived that way, they learned from and affiliated with the common person, and understood that their grand estate functioned by the work of many.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Logical Family by Armistead Maupin

Logical FamilyLogical Family follows the life of Armistead Maupin, who first made his mark in the literary world as the writer of a daily serial that began in the 1970s for the San Francisco Chronicle.  This serial would evolve into the long-lived and much-loved Tales of the City series, nine in all, that recount the juicy backstories of the residents of 28 Barbary Lane.

Maupin has quite a backstory – originally from Raleigh, he grew up with a conservative southern father and somewhat more tolerant mother.  In his young adulthood, Maupin was politically conservative himself (he even pulled a stint working for Jesse Helms), served in the navy during the Vietnam War, then spent his post- military life writing for several jobs and generally finding himself, and his sexuality.

Maupin’s move to San Francisco in the early 1970s provided him with a much needed community; he found there his “logical family” that he lacked earlier in life.  And in writing the serial that became Tales of the City, he tackled a number of issues that pertained to gay life in San Francisco at the time – the shooting of Harvey Milk, the AIDs epidemic, etc.

Although he’s written a few standalone novels (The Night Listener comes to mind) and now this memoir, The Tales of the City series remains Maupin’s best known batch of work.  I can’t attest to the series as a whole, but I did read the first four books years ago, and then the final (The Days of Anna Madrigal) much more recently and enjoyed them all very much.

In Logical Family, I liked how Maupin chronicled his changing relationships with his family.  Even when he had differences with them (especially his father), he managed to maintain a sense of civility with his parents that was touching, and everyone involved grew with the years – there was way more endearment here than bitterness.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Down The Wild Cape Fear by Philip Gerard

Cape FearDown The Wild Cape Fear is an admiring look at the river that has historically defined geography and commerce in the eastern central part of North Carolina.  The book is part canoe/boat lark and part intensive study of the river’s characteristics, which have been modified over the past two centuries by dams, lock systems, channel dredging, and industry.

The author, a professor of creative writing at UNC Wilmington, wanted to travel the entire length of the Cape Fear from its beginning at the confluence of the Haw and the Deep Rivers.  Although he has to do his journey in stages, he manages it well, and not only becomes better acquainted with the Cape Fear River, but meets numerous souls who share his love of this distinctive waterway.

Along the way, Gerard learns a quick respect of the river and its unpredictable strength.  Although the Cape Fear is no rushing mountain stream, it has plenty of dangerous spots, and is no place to be during an onslaught of rain.

His book is also enlightening for the savage and tragic histories that tell the river’s story.  The past two hundred or so years of the Cape Fear’s course read like a microcosm of the South.  We visit again the horrors of slavery, segregation, and greed that still haunt the area, and the strong-arming of big business that today threaten the Cape Fear’s many ecosystems.

On a happier and more latter-day note, you’ll meet a number of individuals who are working to keep the river environmentally sound and viable for a long time to come, whether it is used for commerce or recreation.

The author on more than one occasion goes off on a tangent, but I really didn’t mind this – Gerard writes well and personably.  As with other books about river journeys (two that come to mind are Far Appalachia by Noah Adams and My Paddle to the Sea by John Lane) part of the trek is the meander.

(William Hicks, Information Services)