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World Book Day is a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and… (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading.

It is the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over one hundred countries all over the world.

This is the Fifteenth year there’s been a World Book Day.

Tomorrow, children of all ages will come together to appreciate reading.

Very loudly and very happily.

The primary goal of World Book Day is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.

If you don’t have children of your own, you can be a volunteer reader at your local public library, or volunteer to buy a book for child in need.

Find out more about this important and wonderful programme here.


And So It Begins…

Ready and willing… or not, the New Year is upon us. The detritus of the past clings to us, stubbornly reminding us that although the New Year; with its promise of a new beginning, does not mean the end of all the threads of projects unfinished, relationships left unresolved, the hyenas baying at the gates or the woes that plague us in the dark of night.

Making A List, Checking It Twice

We make lists and resolve that we will do better ‘this year’. We avow to clean up the old messes before we start anew. We look at the pile of manuscripts collecting dust in the side drawer of our desk, the stack of rejection letters yellowing at the bottom of the inbox, the stacks of books lying idly about: some half-read and others ignored and collecting dust, the reminders of over-due bills and the collection of unfinished crafts projects and broken toys stuffed carelessly in boxes in the corner of the spare room.

… And then lunge ahead with reckless abandon like a child with a new toy on Christmas morning, to something new and shiny and exciting, all the while hoping and praying we won’t trip and fall as we leap over the past and into the future.

As Orson Wells once noted…

“Let us pray!”

A flash from my own past.

A scene from not all that long ago and yet it seems several lifetimes. Yet I find I can without thought bring this and many similar images to mind without having to close my eyes. I can still smell the stink of kerosene, JP4, WD40 and Carbon Tetrachloride and feel the hundreds of tiny vibrations that rippled through my body each time we took to the air.

My body remembers the aches from seemingly endless hours strapped into those ejection seats, my mind waring between praying I’d never have to pull that handle while at the same time praying the damn thing would work if I needed it to, and being thankful for a crew-chief who gave a damn about the airplane around us. 

Today is Veterans Day, a day we take to pause and remember those who went before us, to thank those who served with us, and to say Thank You to those who serve now.

Regardless of which branch of the armed forces you served in or currently serve, I wish you all safe skies, fair winds and following seas, and may we truly have peace on earth and goodwill to all.

Andrew Aitken Rooney was born on Jan. 14, 1919, in Albany, the son of Walter and Ellinor Rooney. His father was in the newspaper business. After his graduation from Albany Academy, he worked as a copy boy for The Knickerbocker News before attending Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., where he played left guard on the football team (even though he was only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds) and worked for the weekly newspaper, The Colgate Maroon.

In 1941, three months before Pearl Harbor, he was drafted into the Army and used his powers of persuasion to get himself assigned to Stars and Stripes. He did not know much about reporting, but he learned his craft by working with journalists like Homer Bigart, Ernie Pyle and Walter Cronkite.

He became a sergeant, flew on some bombing missions, covered the invasion of France in 1944 and won a Bronze Star for reporting under fire during the battle of Saint-Lô in Normandy. A year later, he was among the first Americans to enter the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Thekla, Germany.

In collaboration with Bud Hutton, a Stars and Stripes colleague, Mr. Rooney wrote two books: “Air Gunner” (1944), a collection of sketches of Americans who had been stationed in Britian, and “The Story of the Stars and Stripes” (1946).

After his discharge, Mr. Rooney returned to Albany and worked as a freelance writer.

He entered television in 1949, writing material for entertainers like Arthur Godfrey, Victor Borge, Herb Shriner, Sam Levenson and Garry Moore. Beginning in 1962, he had a six-year association with the CBS News correspondent Harry Reasoner, who narrated a series of Everyman “essays” written by Mr. Rooney. He also wrote scripts for “The Twentieth Century,” a documentary series narrated by Walter Cronkite.

In the early 1970s, after briefly working for PBS, Mr. Rooney returned to CBS and began appearing on camera in a series of specials, one of which, “Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington,” won a Peabody Award, and led to “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney,” his weekly segment on “60 Minutes.”

The segment made him one of the most popular broadcast figures in the country. With his jowls, bushy eyebrows, deeply circled eyes and advancing years, he seemed every inch the homespun philosopher as he addressed mostly mundane subjects with varying degrees of befuddlement, vexation and sometimes pleasure.

Andy admitted to loving football, Christmas, tennis, woodworking and Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the few politicians who won his approval because, as an Army general during World War II, he had refused to censor the Stars and Stripes.

He also claimed to like shined shoes and properly pressed pants, although somehow he always managed to look rumpled.

Over the years, Andy Rooney became better known for the things he did not like.

He railed against “two-prong plugs in a three-prong society,” the incomprehensibility of road maps, wash-and-wear shirts “that you can wash but not wear,” the uselessness of keys and locks, and outsize cereal boxes that contained very little cereal.

“I don’t like any music I can’t hum,” he grumbled.

He observed that “there are more beauty parlors than there are beauties” and that “if dogs could talk, it would take a lot of the fun out of owning one.”

He made clear that he thought Gen. George S. Patton and Ernest Hemingway, both of whom he had known personally, were gasbags. He disliked New Year’s Eve, waiting in line for any reason and the bursars at whatever colleges his children attended.

On the subject of higher education, he declared that most college catalogs “rank among the great works of fiction of all time,” and that a student of lackluster intellect who could raise tuition money would find it “almost impossible to flunk out.”

Time magazine once called him “the most felicitous nonfiction writer in television.”

Andy Rooney was decidedly not everyone’s cup of tea. He was as outspoken about CBS, his longtime employer, as he was about everything else.

He made no secret of his dislike for Laurence A. Tisch, the network’s chief executive from 1986 to 1995. Protesting Mr. Tisch’s cost efficiencies and job cuts in 1987, Mr. Rooney said CBS News “has been turned into primarily a business enterprise, and the moral enterprise has been lost,” and he threatened to quit if a writers strike against CBS News was not settled.

Although his commentary was mostly written for CBS News, he also had a syndicated newspaper column for three decades, for which he was given a lifetime achievement award in 2003 by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

That same year he received a similar award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He published a number of books, primarily collections of his commentaries, most recently “Out of My Mind” (2006), “And More by Andy Rooney” (2008) and “Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit” (2010).

Rooney frequently said he considered himself “one of the least important producers on television” because his specialty was light pieces. “I just wish insignificance had more stature,” he once said.

But he put things in perspective in his 1,097th and last regularly scheduled “60 Minutes” appearance.

“I’ve done a lot of complaining here,” he said then, “but of all the things I’ve complained about, I can’t complain about my life.”

Andy Rooney died late Friday evening of complications from surgery. He was 92.

Sad to note the passing of a great actor, Peter Falk, shown here in his trademark Lieutenant Colombo trench-coat.

Peter Falk: The One-Eyed Man Was King

By Richard Corliss

What a mensch was Peter Falk. An average-Joe hero, he embodied the best of us on our worst day. He was best known as TV’s Lieut. Columbo, who, for 30 years, taught snooty murderers that, however crafty they thought they were, he was smarter. Every episode in the series was a class struggle, which reached its peak in the mid-1970’s, played as a comedy of manners and won by the wily proletarian. But Falk, who died last night at 83 at his Beverly Hills home after a draining siege of Alzheimer’s, was also a significant figure in American cinema. He spanned the gulf between mainstream movies (like The Cheap Detective and The In-Laws) and indie movies (notably those of John Cassavetes) with the ease of a Colossus navigating a mud puddle.

He had one of the great loopy stares in movie history, courtesy of a glass eye that was the trophy from a childhood disease. But Falk’s ocular eccentricity would not relegate him to weird comic status; he saw acutely into the human condition of the American male, 20th century, second half. Blessed with a crinkly face that viewers found it hard not to smile back at, Falk would stab the air with his cigar stub as an artist used a paint brush. He played tough guys, gangsters and cops, hundreds of times, managing to show the fraternity of both groups, the humanity of each. A modern folk (or Falk) poet of exasperation, he used a repertoire of eloquent gestures to portrait the weight of the human condition; the slow descending of his shoulders had the grace of Pavlova’s dying fall in Swan Lake(See pictures of Peter Falk’s life on screen.)

Falk, born in New York City in 1927, didn’t let his disability stop him from participating in sports. In a 1997 interview for Cigar Aficionado (a magazine for which the actor could have been every issue’s cover boy), he recalled a baseball game in high school: “The umpire called me out at third base when I was sure I was safe. I got so mad I took out my glass eye, handed it to him and said, ‘Try this.’ I got such a laugh you wouldn’t believe.” It was an early example of Falk’s career trajectory: winning by losing, falling upward.

Rejected by the Army for World War II service, Falk enlisted in the Merchant Marine. Back in the States and bored with college, he tried joining the Irgun, but the war for Israel’s independence ended before he could help. By 1953 he had secured a master’s in public administration from Syracuse University, and got a Connecticut state job in Hartford, where he started working in theater. Soon he was on Broadway, with a small role in the Phoenix Theatre’s 1956 production of Shaw’s Saint Joan and, the following year, in an adaptation of Ostrovsky’s Diary of a Scoundrel, with Roddy McDowall, Robert Culp and Jerry Stiller. (Read TIME’s 1973 cover story on Columbo.)

The forceful patois of his rough-tenor voice must have made an impression in revivals of classical European dramas; but Falk’s was a face made for the movies’ medium close-up. He got an early starring role in Julian Rothman’s Z-minus The Bloody Brood (1959). Playing Nico, a drug dealer masquerading as a beatnik creep, he watches an old man collapse in front of him with a heart attack and lets the man die as a kind of performance art. (“Death is the last great challenge to the creative mind.”) He would play variations on that role, minus the preening sadism, for most of the next decade: in the films Pretty Boy Floyd and Murder, Inc. and on TV in The Untouchables. Graduating to gangster parts in A-list movies, he appeared in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles, as the chief bad guy in the Sinatra-Dino-Rat Pack Robin and the 7 Hoods and, finally above the title, as Maximilian Meen in Blake Edwards’ The Great Race.

See the top 10 murder-mystery series.

In the 1969 Vegas crime film Machine Gun McCain, he played the mob boss as harried CEO. (“What’s the matter, I can’t make an investment? I’m not allowed to make a dollar? I ain’t got that right?”) The movie wasn’t a keeper, but it cemented Falk’s friendship with John Cassavetes, its star. Soon these two and some other adventurous spirits — Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassell, and Cassavetes’ wife Gena Rowlands — formed a kind of Rat Pack of indie film to make, under Cassavetes’ direction, a series of anguished, sprawling, semi-improv psychodramas. Falk was one of the wandering spouses in the 1970 Husbands, and the decent guy watching his wife (Rowlands) spiral into madness in the 1974 A Woman Under the Influence. He also teamed with Cassavetes when they played two pals in Elaine May’s nighttime odyssey of anxiety, Mikey and Nicky.

While other members of the troupe might flex their Actors Studio chops to chew the material to gristle, Falk usually kept his tone nuanced and conversational; he was one of the few Method-era actors who didn’t demand a big screaming scene as a statement of his power and purity. Somehow he knew that he had already commanded the viewer’s attention, and that a whisper — or, in Columbo’s case, the trademark pause at the suspect’s door and a querulous pitch to the phrase, “Just one more thing…” — was as good as a wail. (See the top 10 movie performances of 2010.)

Neil Simon, who had given Falk a Broadway lead as the unemployed businessman contemplating suicide in the 1971 The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Jack Lemmon got to play that role in the movie version), finally handed the actor two starring film roles in the classic-mystery parodies Murder by Death and The Cheap Detective. In the first, Falk was “Sam Diamond” (think the hard-boiled shamuses Sam Spade and Richard Diamond), one of five detectives summoned to solve a crime. In the second film, as “Lou Peckinpaugh,” Falk anchored Simon’s comic hommage (commage?) to The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and the prime films of Humphrey Bogart — a movie icon, who like Falk, spent a decade playing supporting roles as gangsters before he found his star voice as a grizzled guy on the right side of the law. (In 1996, Falk and Woody Allen played the pugnacious old vaudeville stars in a TV remake of Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.)

He had first played Columbo in the 1968 TV movie Prescription: Murder, which became a series in 1971 and continued off and on until 2003, for a remarkable 35-year fusion of performer and character. But because each season contained no more than eight, and usually three to six, feature-length episodes — and because the movie audience loved Falk as much as TV spectators did — the actor was one of the few living-room stars able to duplicate his clout simultaneously on the big screen. He became a reliable conduit for crime capers with a comic tinge: a light retelling of The Brink’s Job and Andrew Bergman’s The In-Laws, with Alan Arkin as a nebbishy dentist drawn into a possible murder scheme by Falk, the father of the groom. The two actors later paired for the ill-fated Big Trouble, which Bergman walked away from as director, to be replaced by Cassavetes — his last, most frustrating gig behind the camera. (See TIME’s Hollywood covers.)

As Cassavetes had subsidized his indie films with roles in so-so movies and TV shows, so did Falk use Columbo as his day job, allowing him to go trekking into illuminating back alleys. In Wim Wenders’ angel tale Wings of Desire, he plays a visiting Hollywood actor (and ex-angel) who teaches a new friend some primal joys, simple things: “To smoke, have coffee. And if you do it together, it’s fantastic!” (Falk also appeared in Wenders’ Wings of Desire sequel, Faraway, So Close.)

That craggy, warm voice of authority was perfect for one of Falk’s late signature roles: the old man reading his grandson the boy that is the movie The Princess Bride. Who better than Falk could sell a kid the idea of the greatest kiss the world has ever seen? Who wouldn’t want a grandpa, a friend, even an enemy like the ones Falk played? Even now, at his death, we wish, like the boy in The Princess Bride, that Peter Falk could come over and read to us again tomorrow.

The Outer Alliance is a group of SF/F writers who have come together as allies for the advocacy of LGBT issues in literature. Made up of individuals of all walks of life, our goal is to educate, support, and celebrate LGBT contributions in the science-fiction and fantasy genres.


July 2018
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