"I am always at a loss how much to
believe my own stories."
-Washington Irving, Tales of a Traveler, 1824


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Welcome to PenHead.org, an oasis of uninformed analysis in a desert of educated guesswork. What is a penhead? Do you fancy yourself a writer? Enjoy a good read? Then you may already be a penhead yourself!

We are your source for original stories, the occasional interview with our favorite authors, book and play reviews, recommendations (of current and forgotten finds), and more.

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RECENTLY REVIEWED . . .

state ['stat] noun 1: mode or condition of being; 2: condition of mind; 3: social position, esp high rank; 4: a body of people occupying a definite territory and politically organized under one government, also the government of such a body of people; 5: one of the constituent units of a nation having a federal government; verb: to express in words.

Larry Watson was the recipient of The Milkweed National Fiction Prize and The Mountains and Plains Bookseller Association Regional Book Award for Montana 1948. It's also earned him comparisons to Harper Lee. The novel recounts a series of horrendous crimes againsts Native American girls that ultimately result in murder. It's a dark tale played out against the backdrop of Bentrock, an idyllic small town in the northeast corner of Montana. The narration is presented through the memory of David Hayden - the son of the sheriff - a boy of only twelve when the crimes of . . . more >

Texasville is the follow-up to Larry McMurtry's highly acclaimed novel The Last Picture Show. Set in Thalia, Texas, he's brought the gang back in a sequel full of tilts and surprises. The Last Picture Show was generally depressing in its portrayal of a 1950's west Texas community that felt closer to a ghost town, youthful expectation its most redeeming quality. Texasville has none of that. Whereas Picture Show was a story written in sepia, Texasville is written in Technicolor.

The story swirls around the life of Duane Moore, who played Homecoming King to Jacy Farrow's Queen (portrayed by Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd, respectively, in 1971's film version of Picture Show, and its 1990 sequel). Thalia has seen enormous prosperity, followed by an even bigger bust, which everybody has their fingers in one way or another. Duane is holding on by a thread, but that doesn't seem to affect his wife's spending habits. Virtually everyone in town is in the same boat, but save for a few dour faces, they're nonplussed by it. Theirs is . . . more >

Higher education is both a bastion of comfort for the initiated, and a source of mystery for those left outside looking in. Similarly contradictory is its claim of welcoming open minds, while demanding total conformity. As a new college year begins, here are two selections that offer very different approaches to cracking the code of the ivory-towered set, while both remaining entertaining in their own rights.

Shortly after World War II, England was swept by a literary movement that meant to turn polite society on its head. Though similar to what was going on in America with the Beat Generation, England's movement lacked the devil-may-care balls out irreverence of the Yanks'. Decidedly British in style and appeal, it could be regarded as a timid rendition of the movement being propelled on the other side of the pond by Kerouac et al; Beat Generation lite, if you will. Dubbed "The Angry Young Men," the British movement was born of novels with a common theme: young men with rebellious . . . more >

When Lisa Birnbach came out with The Official Preppy Handbook in 1980, it took the publishing world by storm. Not only was she writing for a seemingly small niche, it was a closed niche that the general public had no invitation to join, much less interest to. Thirty-eight weeks at the top of The New York Times bestseller list, however, proved those assumptions wrong.

Recipe for Success
The Handbook was gifted to me as a birthday present. At the time, this seemed appropriate as I was nineteen and an interest in higher education had recently been awakened in me. I viewed The Handbook as my ticket to success; finding the right college where I'd be rubbling elbows with the right people. I was stupid and naive, but that was of no matter. Birnbach's book promised to set anyone interested on a course of schmoozing and boozing (alcohol's a big theme in the world of preps) with the upper-crust, regardless of brains. She was democratizing upward mobility! I dissected Birnbach's words as a chef might an unfamiliar recipe, committing some of her instructions to memory with a fool's . . . more >

In 1939, Winston Churchill said, "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma . . ." He was describing the Soviet Union, but he might as well have been speaking of modern China. A nation steeped in history and tradition, China's modernization in just the last twenty years has left Westerners scratching their heads. Seemingly overnight, the Middle Kingdom morphed into an economic powerhouse dotted with metropolitan centers to rival the West's. In an unholy alliance between Maoist communism and free-world capitalism, China has transformed itself from a nation of 1.3 billion peasants to one of 1.3 billion consumers, while maintaining deep roots in its past: a past of dynastic glory, dystopian regimes, rampant starvation and state-imposed slavery. A hybrid like none other the world has seen, Modern China is foremost to the Western observer, a nation of contradiction.

Colin Thubron was born with the chops to be a travel writer. John Dryden, England's first poet laureate, occupies space on his mother's family tree, while his father descends from Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse code. With that kind of lineage, it was only a matter of time before he'd be mixing adventure with writing, tramping . . . more >

Bertolt Brecht wrote The Good Woman of Setzuan in the late thirties while living in exile with his wife, a Berliner, in Scandinavia. Hitler, through his massive propaganda machine, was turning Germany into an echo chamber for his message of conquest, and Brecht, like most artists of the day, wanted no part of it.

The play centers around the village of Setzuan (it's presumed the author was referring to Szechwan - a Chinese province famed for its spicy cuisine - but thought the province was a city) and the characters who live there: drunks, dreamers, shopkeepers and out-of-work relatives. The play is comical, farcical and all the while teetering on tragedy. Given the times in which it was written, Brecht . . . more >

As summer advances toward autumn and the start of a new school year, so can the boredom for children and parents both. Activities that were fun and engaging in June, often feel like tedious "done-thats" by August. Here, in an effort to preserve the sanity of all, are a smattering of activity books for young and old alike. September's just around the corner; let's get there mentally intact.

First published in Spain (1969), Working With Paper made its American publishing debut in 1971. It's a colorful guide with ideas for paper projects that range from simple to advanced. Each project is provided with clear instructions - both in text and pictures - and a list of materials to practically guarantee success.

Included are instructions for doing origami; paper mobiles; sculptures; puppets; dolls . . . ninety projects in all. In no time, you'll be folding, tearing, rolling and cutting your way to paper art pieces you'll be proud to display as your own, or give as gifts. Working With Paper is the first volume in Franklin Watts' Color Crafts series, and . . . more >

Here's a coloring book worth mentioning. In its pages you'll not find the caricatures of Native Americans that were common in cartoons and coloring books a generation ago. Despite its name, the illustrations of Native Americans in A Coloring Book of American Indians are dignified. Taken from historical illustrations done by America's First Peoples themselves, and sketches by early explorers, there's nary a wide-eyed, buck-toothed, tomahawk-at-the-ready native in the whole lot.

Included in Indians, are depictions of ceremonial tools, masks, and charms in a respectful nod to Native American culture. Reproduced from carvings, textiles and even tattoos, they're displayed here in the familiar broad outline style coloring books are known the world over for. Of special note are the representations of works by George Catlin (1796-1872) who documented Native American life in the nineteenth century. Taken from After Catlin, an exhibit of the artist's paintings in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute, they portray a people rich in custom . . . more >

NEW IN TOWN. Good-lkng. GM, hzl eyes & boyish, seeks comp. to wine & dine. 25-35. Loves good food, fun, close friends. Box 18.

So reads the personal ad on the cover of Paper Boys: A Paper Doll Book. Conceptualized by Lynn Gordon way back in the dark ages (the 1980s; and they were dark days for the gay community what with AIDS, Anita Bryant, and the advent of spandex), it was a publication that braved full immersion into uncharted waters when most "trailblazers" barely dared to dip a toe. And that it turned up at a B. Dalton Bookseller (think ultra-conservative national bookstore chain with homophobic tendencies) in a church-going, middle-class suburb of Seattle is truly mind-boggling. Or miraculous. (Well, maybe not miraculous. After all, Boy George was all the rage mid-eighties, and ultra-conservative mega-chains do - regardless of their claim to a moral high ground - put making money ahead of everything else, so it probably didn't require a crystal ball in 1984 to predict they'd be peddling paper doll books featuring gay characters beside popular teen and music magazines selling fashion tips from the members of Culture Club. However, that was also the . . . more >

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