Thanks for the reading suggestions

In a column in the Saturday Gazette-Mail, I wrote about participating in the West Virginia Reads 150 project in honor of West Virginia’s sesquicentennial. At the end of the column, I asked for some book suggestions.

Luckily for me, several people were kind enough to weigh in with some reading ideas.

My uncle Mike Kiger showed up at a family event last weekend with a big pile of reading for me, including “All Quiet on the Western Front,” a classic that I’ve never read. His pile also featured two more World War I books — “The Greatest Day In History” and “To the Last Man.” Plus he offered up “May flower” by Nathaniel Philbrick. And “The Thread that Runs so True,” a personal account of teaching in Kentucky by Jesse Stuart. Thanks Uncle Mike!

My cousin Rebecca (Mike’s daughter) left a comment under the online version of my column: “We enjoy Marc Harshman‘s children’s books. He is WV’s Poet Laureate, and he happens to live in Wheeling.” Hey, children’s books count just as much as books aimed at adults!

Another online comment came from Elizabeth Fraser. She wrote, “For WV I recommend ‘Old Land, Dark Land, Strange Land : Stories by John F. Suter.’ He was a Charleston native and nationally award winning mystery writer. He has a rabid following in the UK. The Strand Bookstore has a good summary. The library owns copies.”

Jim Hatfield sent me an email and said, “I’m enjoying your column. Hey, have you read Craig Johnson’s ‘Walt Longmire‘ series?  The first volume is titled “‘The Cold Dish.’  Now there’s a little raciness and language involved here and there, but his writing is absolutely top notch.  I hope you haven’t read the series yet, because it’s such a treat.  Besides, it will count as NINE books!”

Mary Browning also sent me an email: “I am sure that you will receive a lot of recommendations about some books by West Virginia authors.  I have 3 that you may consider reading. ‘The Dirty Secret‘ by Brent Wolfingbarger, former WV Prosecutor. ‘Dead Ringers – Why Miners March,’ compiled and edited by Wess Harris, Gay, WV. ‘Coal River Rising‘ by Bill Currey, co-founder of the Coal River Group.”

Liz Gay of Edray, Pocahontas County, had a few suggestions. One was John Billheimer, a West Virginia native living in Calif. His books include ‘Highway Robbery’ and ‘Dismal Mountain:’ “His mysteries tend to be commentaries on big/small government, mountaintop removal etc… Wry humor… fun to read … a quick enjoyable read.”

She also suggested “In Country” by Bobbie Ann Mason, a Kentucky writer who visits Appalachian themes.

As Liz concluded, “So many books, so little time…”

It’s been fun to get the suggestions from people. Got any more? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.


My friend's fashion sense stands out — with Vanity Fair

Somehow my friend Craig Snodgrass, who I grew up with in Parkersburg, finds himself at the top of a Vanity Fair online contest for fashion.



If you go to Vanity Fair’s website for its “International Best-Dressed Challenge” and search by “most popular,” you will find my friend Craig.

He is fashionable indeed.










Here is the description he provided for himself:

“Direct from Atlanta, GA, Craig Snodgrass. Craig’s look is brought to you by the discount bin at T.J. Maxx… oh, the colors, the style… he is a one-man runway at Milan. What will he wear tomorrow? Will it be dreamy black, white, and gray?”

Craig needs your support. Vote for a native West Virginian who deserves to be an international fashion icon.

As he told his friends on Facebook, “I need your vote!!! I am currently in the lead for Vanity Fair’s International Best Dressed contest. Please click the link and vote for me. It’s time my pocket protector and pen fashion is recognized.”

Welcome: A 'Doctor Who' primer

Doctor Who (c) BBC

The Doctor tips his fez to a London crowd with his companion, Clara (left)

There has never been a better time to watch “Doctor Who.”

Ramping up to the show’s 50th anniversary, BBC America premieres the second part of Season 7 Saturday, March 30 at 8. The show, while all about the infinite possibilities of time, space and the drama in between, is incredibly accessible for new audiences.

Despite being played by 11 different actors, with multitudes of different traveling companions, “Doctor Who” is a show all about introducing itself to new fans. Every so often, whether it be to a cast change or a changing of the guard behind the scenes, the show allows a reset point – where the story continues, but new audiences can jump on.

In tonight’s episode, “The Bells of Saint John,” the Doctor (Matt Smith) – a lone survivor of an ancient race known as the Time Lords – is trying to find a mysterious girl he’s encountered twice before. Of course, being a science fiction show, she has a twist.

Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna Louise-Coleman), first encountered in the season 7 opener, has died twice before, both times the Doctor is unable to help. First, at the hand of the universe’s most ruthless killers, the Daleks, and the second at the hand of the frosty remnants of a manipulative enemy known as the Great Intelligence.

The Doctor becomes obsessed with her – how can the same girl die twice? In two different places and times? The mystery of “the girl twice dead” leads him to London, where something else is running amok among the Wi-Fi.

While sounding complex, the show is aimed at the family – and even the show’s younger fans have been able to wrap their heads around the time-twisting-space-travel plotlines that have given the show its credibility.

The Doctor, despite being 1000 years old, traveling in a London Police Box from the ’60’s called the TARDIS and has lived 11 different lives, is not jaded by his travels among time and space. Every so often, he brings aboard a new companion – a fresh face to rediscover the universe and the surprises it brings. This is the audience’s entry point – the journey of the companion is that of the viewer. The universe is ours.

“Doctor Who” isn’t just sci-fi, either. The show, over its 50 year run, has evolved from an attempt to teach kids about history to a show that deals with adult subjects and humanity’s foibles, while treating the audience with respect. It also does it with incredible emotion, humor and smart writing. It’s not a show that drowns itself in its own sense of self importance; rather, it will happily ignore a tense situation with a one-off joke.

After 50 years, “Doctor Who” is getting the recognition it deserves here in America. Despite being about an alien who travels among the stars, the show is very human.


Doctor Who and me and you

As a purveyor of popular culture and as a parent, I have often been poor at passing on great stuff to my progeny.

Appreciate Star Wars, they do not.

They do not love The Rolling Stones, Waylon Jennings or Run-DMC.

Well-worn shirt. Just not always worn in public.

My one area of success has been Doctor Who.

That guy — with his wit, his adventures and his phone box that can travel through space and time — has been a hit so far with my 4th and 1st graders.

This all happened by accident a few years ago when I was watching an episode with a giant spider lady. And my older girl walked in. And sat down and watched, too, because who doesn’t like a show with a giant spider lady?

After that, she wanted to watch some more, so I let her. This was when we tried to steer her clear of even mildly frightening scenes because who knows what might give a kid nightmares.

But the Doctor on the whole steers clear of violence, instead settling matters with his brain and his Sonic Screwdriver.

So we’ve been faithful viewers ever since — although there have been some missteps even in this area.

For example, multiple “The Doctor Is In” T-shirts that have been offered up as AWESOME gifts have been used as pajama shirts but never proudly worn to school.

Can you believe the tag is still on this awesome TARDIS snow hat?

And a new * TARDIS snow cap that was opened RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER FRIENDS on her birthday resulted mainly in a slightly askew nose, as if someone smelled something funny.

Nevertheless, when the 50th season of Doctor Who starts this weekend, I hope we’ll be right there, having a family adventure as we watch.

Do you have shows you watch together as a family? And have you been more successful than I have been in passing along an appreciation of other crucial aspects of popular culture?


*That’s the name of the time-traveling phone box. Time and Relative Dimension in Space.

Vanilla Ice loves West Virginia

Rapper Vanilla Ice, who is better known these days for his home-renovation reality show than for his early-90s hit song “Ice Ice Baby,” received a warm welcome to Wild and Wonderful West Virginia earlier this week, after tweeting about the Mountain State and one of its popular attractions, Snowshoe Resort.

Ice, who now lives in Palm Beach, seems to really love skiing.

But he also gives a shout-out to some other activities and destinations in West Virginia:

State Journal reporter Taylor Kuykendall reported on Twitter that Vanilla Ice’s visit even came up at the West Virginia Coal Symposium on Friday.

It was unclear if the 45-year-old Ice was coming back for another weekend in the mountains or if Capito was referencing an earlier flight.

Either way, his public shout-out to the state saw nearly 500 retweets from plenty of people who seemed thrilled to welcome West Virginia’s newest celebrity endorser.