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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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Geography and geology go hand in hand; there is no separating the two. Likewise, the smaller components - rocks and minerals - that comprise the physicality of geology have a profound effect on the appearance of Earth's geographic features. In nature, no rock is an island.

Death Valley National Monument: A Pictorial History was published while Congress considered granting the Monument National Park status. With the outcome up in the air, the Death Valley Natural History Association (which commissioned the book) wisely proceeded with the project on the assumption National Park status would not be approved. Eight years later, and with the grant of an additional 1.3 million acres, Death Valley was finally awarded National Park status. At 3,373,063 acres, it is the largest park in the contiguous United States.

Hidden Forces
James W. Cornett's Death Valley National Monument is chock-full of information on the Monument/National Park. Once an ancient lake (Lake Manly, named after an early prospector whose unfortunate encounter with . . . more >

Joel Arem enjoys the nitty gritty details of structure. In Rocks and Minerals he dives deep into the atomic anatomy of over 700 rock and mineral types for identification purposes. It seems the gem world - the world of professional mineral traders and serious rock hounds - rely on the atomic make-up of their specimens for conclusive identification. It's these atomic arrangements that give rocks and minerals their unique shapes, determined by how subatomic particles are relating to each other on a level naked to the human eye, and to most microscopes.

While Rocks and Minerals isn't strictly limited to the subatomic world of the various species included in its pages (yes, the different types of rocks and minerals are called species, as if they were living things, which in a sense they are, reactive to temperature and pressure that can change them from one form into another), the bulk of the book's focus is. Although interesting to a point, if you haven't got a degree from MIT, it may be a . . . more >

Christmas: For many it means crowded box stores. For others, shopping for the best deals online. For still others, it can be defined in one word: family. No matter which group one belongs to, the holidays - no matter how rewarding - are often a hectic race to that big day, December 25th. Now, more than ever, it's important to self-care, whether that means finding a creative outlet, curling up with a book, or sharing a holiday classic with others.

This simple craft book puts the emphasis on doing. With simple instructions, it provides the know-how to create Christmas themed "pseudo" stained-glass. (They're entirely made of paper.) With four designs and full-color examples of the finished product, it offers guidance in easy-to-understand directions to complete your stained-glass creations through the use of templates. A godsend for anyone looking to create simple holiday decor that's off the beaten path . . . more >

First published in 1972, Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has become a holiday favorite. Written for readers with somewhere between beginning and intermediate skills, it's a story that's gained fans young and old alike. The simple narration is told through the eyes of a child about a common tradition played out in churches around the world: the annual Christmas pageant.

When the Herdman children (think of the worst family in your neighborhood - unsupervised, rowdy, irreverent and full of mischief) are allowed to participate in the annual Christmas pageant against everyone's better judgement, they result in bullying their way into the meatiest roles, and the production is prematurely written off as a failure.

Similar to John Irving's pageant in A Prayer for Owen Meany (Ballantine Books, $6.99), in which anything that can go wrong does, Robinson's pageant holds that same possibility for disaster, but disaster never pans out. Instead, the Herdmans do everything right - although different from past pageants - and the attendees gain a new. . . more >

The term "classic" is overused these days. But some things cannot be described any other way, whether they be a song, film, or book.

For many of my generation, Gene Autry's crooning over a little reindeer is the earliest song in their memory. Released in 1949, it clinched Rudolph's status as a holiday icon. The story (in case you've been in a coma) is about Rudolph, a reindeer living at the North Pole with an odd physical anomaly: his nose glows. One Christmas Eve, Santa can't get his sleigh off the ground due to fog. Rudolph's talent for lighting the way is discovered, and what's once a source of scorn, becomes a cause for celebration. The story, now approaching 85 years, has become synonymous with the holidays, and the song, a Christmas tradition. If that isn't the definition . . . more >

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 against 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). 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 a uniquely Texan . . . 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 >


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