Monthly Archives: December 2014

Kick Off the New Year with a Pair of Good Reads

Didn’t get what you wanted for the holidays? How about a book? Or two? Here’s what Kirkus Reviews had to say about Zendoscopy:

In this memoirlike novel, a self-described nerd fond of ham radio and the accordion comes of age in the 1950s and ’60s. This second book by Wolf (Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, 2004) is not exactly a memoir. These loosely connected anecdotes follow Wolf’s narrator, Sherman Alt, through childhood and adolescence in Southern California before he attends medical school in New York City. Readers will easily identify with the trials and tribulations recounted here, from bullies and hideous acne to ballroom dance lessons, a momentous game of spin the bottle and fraternity high jinks. Most notably, readers witness Sherman’s protracted quest to lose his virginity; when he finally achieves his goal, he gets more than he bargained for. While the themes presented here may seem ordinary, the details are vivid and memorable, with amusing descriptions of his romantic, social and medical misadventures. After a long night of white wine and cheese fondue during his travels abroad in Europe, Sherman notes that he proceeded to “barf until my testicles were left dangling from my nostrils.” However, this book isn’t all fun and games, as a more pensive undercurrent runs through the collection. Sherman experiences the early loss of a childhood companion, a strained relationship with his father and the feeling of alienation caused by his avowed atheism, components that are nicely tied together in the final chapter. The prologue and the epilogue, full of tongue-in-cheek wordplay and parenthetical asides and written explicitly in Wolf’s voice, represent perhaps the least effective portions of the text. Wolf maybe felt the need to contextualize his tales by invoking the big picture and pondering theories of the universe’s origin; readers might appreciate the effort and the content but not necessarily the result or style. A respectable batch of entertaining anecdotes, mostly bawdy and occasionally moving, mixed with moments of human connection and philosophical musing.

    And are you fed up to your eyeballs with the environmental arrogance of today’s Republicans? Do you wish that, somehow, you could bypass this period of earth’s degradation by traveling into a pristine future? Then how about checking out “Spacebraid” in Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe?

Either book would make a good read and (in hard copy) look good on your bookshelf. So, get the new year off to a good start with a couple of good books. Both are available in hard copy or on Kindle.


Reader Thanks and End of Year Thoughts

As nears it’s first anniversary, I am struck by how wide its readership has become. The blog is now being read in 45 countries, a fact I find quite surprising considering its left-of-center, highly secular orientation and eclectic approach to subject matter. That some of my readers live in places such as China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and other countries not exactly known for their openness and/or access to liberal ideas has been eye-opening and extremely gratifying for me. So to all of you, thanks, and I hope you’ll keep reading as, in mid-January, the blog will be entering its second year of life.

Another event is also approaching. Late January will see the one year mark since publication of Zendoscopy. I was rather abruptly reminded of this when I received notice from my publisher in the form of a bill. Yes, a bill. Two, in fact. Apparently, I’m being charged for keeping the book on the publisher’s active list. One bill was for the hard copy and the other for Kindle.

Now, none of this makes much sense to me. First of all, the hard copy (trade paperback, actually), is set up for print on demand. This means that they have no actual stock and, therefore, no cost for storage of inventory. They get an order; they print and take their cut of the buyer’s payment. In other words, my book exists only as a file on a computer. So why should it cost $60 per year to keep it in their “active” catalog? Beats me, but I’m stuck paying it.

That leaves the question of the Kindle edition, which is even more puzzling. The Kindle edition resides on as a computer-based file. All the publisher gets is a cut from the sales. And yet, they’re charging $10 to keep it on their “active” list. As the guy on Saturday Night Live says, “What’s up with that?”

FYI, I paid both bills.

There’s a good lesson in this, and I’ve certainly learned it. My next book, which I’m currently trying to bleed out into my word processor, will be e-published by me and not by a publisher on my behalf. I did with Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, and it has worked out well. I will consider working with a publisher for hard copy, although I may handle that on my own, too, since the benefits of dealing with an on-demand publisher seem to be marginal at best. Perhaps the greatest advantage of working with the publisher of Zendoscopy was expert cover design, but that’s about it, since most of what the publisher offers in terms of marketing services can be done myself at half the cost.

Things have been so busy here that I haven’t had time to set up a Festivus pole. Maybe next year…Still, although we don’t have much seasonal change here in southern California, we do have subtle weather variations. And we’ve had a bit of a let-up in our long drought, with quite a bit of rain in the last week or two. This morning, we even had some lightning and thunder. Good weather for staying indoors and writing. So, as this blog entry comes to a close, it’s back to working on my next novel, subject to be announced…eventually.

‘Tis the Season…Again

Well, it’s that season again. You know which one: the one that’s always a bit awkward for us nonbelievers.

Actually, I really have no problem with Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and whatever other holidays that annually more or less coincide with the big Christian one. But here are some of the things that do bug me:

  • People who say they’re offended by being wished Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Hell, how am I supposed to know what someone’s religion is? “Happy Holidays” seem sort of the polite way to say that I don’t know what you believe, but want you to have a good time whatever it may be.
  • Christmas wreaths on the front of cars. Jeez, do they look stupid.
  • All those automobile commercials with Santa running around, ogling the latest models (of cars, silly).
  • And while on the subject of Santa, I think he’s creepy. Here’s a guy kids are told to believe in, who spies on them all year long, knows they’re every move, and holds the threat of no toys over them if he dislikes what they’ve been doing. Sounds like the NSA to me, except that the NSA is real.
  • Trying to make Chanukah into Jewish Christmas. OK, I understand why this happened. Jewish kids need a holiday to create parity with their Christian friends. Only Chanukah doesn’t do that. It mostly comes off as cheap competition. And it doesn’t make kids feel an awful lot better hearing one cheesy Chanukah song amidst the crush of Christmas carols at the school’s annual “holiday” pageant. Arrrgh.
  • Holiday music. Jeez, it’s frustrating to hear nothing but The Little Drummer Boy rump-a-pum—pumming on every station on the dial, in every shopping center, doctor’s office, and bank.
  • Santa hats. (See auto wreaths, above).
  • Selling, selling, selling. Christmas is no longer a religious holiday. It’s a marketing event. But then, no one really knows when (if?) Jesus was born, so I guess it doesn’t really matter, after all.

I’m not Afro-American. I’m Euro-American. But, honestly, I think Kwanzaa may just be the best of the categorical holidays. Its values are stated in clear principles that are humanistic and sensible, and it hasn’t been commercialized to the extent of Christmas and Chanukah. Even better, everyone knows it’s made up, so it’s not tied up with any obligatory religious mumbo-jumbo. Maulana (Ron) Karenga was truly onto something when he invented it, and though he took some flak when he did it back in the 1960s, time has shown that he really knew what he was doing, and it was good.

Finally, fortunately, there’s Festivus, the holiday for the rest-of-us. Secular and fun, it’s for everyone who squirms in December. So for those of you who dread being wished a Merry Christmas by the Salvation Army Bell Ringer outside your local supermarket, break out your Festivus poles, let the feats of strength begin, and start your once a year airing of grievances.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

We’re Baaack!

After a one week break, is back. We hope all of our readers who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful holiday. We certainly did. Among other things, we noted a distinct uptick in sales of Zendoscopy, always a welcome finding. It’s also been tremendously gratifying to see the steadily increasing number of visitors to the blog, which seems to have persisted despite our taking the Thanksgiving week off.

And while we’re on the subject of upticks, I’d also like to acknowledge the increasing reach of We’re now read in 45 countries around the world. Of particular note is that we’re being read in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, countries that would not necessarily be expected to have readers checking into a blog with an openly secular orientation.


In this season of crass commercialism, the ads keep rolling in. My computer is being deluged with unwanted ads from vendors, many of whom are sending multiple ads each day. And the television ads are out in full force, especially the automobile ads. Folks who say they disapprove of all this holiday shilling seem to forget their reservations and flock to the supposed bargains proffered from every direction. What’s really remarkable about this is the simple fact that the majority of deals aren’t all that great. Things get much better after the holidays, but people don’t want to wait and don’t give a hoot over the fact that so many people who have to work on Thanksgiving are truly angry and resentful over it. Particularly obnoxious and cynical is this year’s backing up of “Black Friday” into “Gray Thursday”. I’m sure RadioShack employees just loved going to work at 8 AM on Thanksgiving morning, getting four hours off in the afternoon “to be with their families”, and then having to report back to work at 5 PM. And all this for a company that’s been showing losses for ten straight quarters. Wonder how much business they did on Thanksgiving…

Got a spam e-mail from a local retailer announcing that their “Cyber Monday” was underway “today”. That was last Sunday. Then, on Monday, they announced “Cyber Monday” was being extended. Go figure.


It came out last weekend that the current change in weather patterns has not altered deniers’ disbelief in human-accelerated climate change. Apparently, people are sticking to their desired, erroneous beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and without regard for what current trends portend for generations to come. If the 1960’s are sometimes thought of as the peak period of “me generation” behavior, one only needs to look at what’s going on now to realize that human selfishness and willful ignorance have progressed far beyond what anyone saw back in the days of turn on, tune in, and drop out. Besides, at least in the ’60s the behavior was understandable in the light of disillusionment over the Vietnam War and assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm X.

Much of my book, Zendoscopy, is set during the 1960’s, but it doesn’t address the “me” stuff or, in fact, the politics of the time. It’s about those of us who came of age awkwardly in a world of rapidly changing realities and were, in some ways, seeking an out from a figurative parallel universe. On a personal level, maybe one day I’ll write about the aroma of marijuana that permeated my college days, although it’d have to be from the outside since I was pretty much an observer rather than a participant. When it came to sex, drugs, and rock and roll, I seemed back then to hit on only one of them: rock and roll. That, however, is another story for another time.

I’ve mentioned it previously in the blog and on my Facebook page, but here is a reminder to mark your calendar for the 25th of January, when I’ll be doing a reading from Zendoscopy and signing copies at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. If you’ve already bought the book, bring it to the store and I’ll sign it anyway. Should be a lot of fun.