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Monday, December 20, 2021

Why would it suck to be a superhero? Because there’s always going to be more bad guys than good guys.

Think about it. Marvel and DC publish monthly comic titles starring individual superhero characters. While the lead character holds sway from issue to issue, s/he needs different opponents to tangle with each month. In no time at all, that rogues gallery adds up, and you’ve got a gross imbalance between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Periodical publishing is the ultimate aberrant force, it seems!

You’d think the supervillains would figure this out, band together, and overtake all the Batmans, Supermans, and X-Mens of the world. The numerical advantage is clearly theirs, after all. I guess that lack of organizational coordination is why they keep getting foiled…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/20/2010 11:31pm
Category: Pop Culture, Publishing
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Wednesday, December 15, 2021

In northwestern Connecticut, the small-town Torrington Register Citizen is going the distance in public-collaborative online journalism:

Speaking of the paper’s 34-year-old publisher, Matt DeRienzo: “Matt’s taking his audience and making it a colleague. A building with open doors, with no walls, is the brick-and-mortar metaphor for how the Web works.”

So the idea of the cafe, public lounge and free Wi-Fi isn’t to make money on coffee. It’s to let the public see The Register Citizen as its space. The same thought underlies the public meetings and open newsroom, the opening of the company’s archives, the public spaces for bloggers and the meeting room that will host courses on blogging and journalism, so residents can write and link to the site. The company put together an advisory board of the most enthusiastically pro-digital industry thinkers and actually listened to them. All the printing and traditional nonnews operations like circulation are being outsourced.

Wonder what it’s like plugging away on deadline, while some random “collaborator” wanders through to ask what’s going on…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/15/2010 11:28pm
Category: Internet, Publishing
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Monday, December 06, 2021

With so much of social media geared toward the shortest of short-form communication (status updates, tweets, etc.), it’s nice to see something like Figment inviting digitally-bred teenagers to expressively stretch out:

Figment.com will be… an experiment in online literature, a free platform for young people to read and write fiction, both on their computers and on their cellphones. Users are invited to write novels, short stories and poems, collaborate with other writers and give and receive feedback on the work posted on the site…

The young people on the site weren’t much interested in “friending” one another. What they did want, [founder Jacob Lewis] said, “was to read and write and discover new content, but around the content itself.”

It’s essentially a peer group centered around a common activity: Writing. As sociable a networking purpose as any — and better than most.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/06/2021 10:36pm
Category: Publishing, Social Media Online
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Friday, November 19, 2021

I’ve been known to quote from Peter Gent’s “North Dallas Forty” on this blog. So here’s another snippet I’m posting — a succinct meditation on getting uncontrollably older, with the attendant psychological shifts:

I am a man who has learned that survival is the reason of life and that fear and hatred are the emotions. What you cannot overcome by hatred you must fear. And every day it is getting harder to hate and easier to fear.

It takes a lot of energy to hate, and eventually you run out of the mental fuel — from redundancy, if nothing else. The resultant vacuum is filled by lower-impact fear.

Amazing how much I can pick out of this novel, even after reading it for the dozenth-plus time. I guess that’s the treasure-hunting point of re-reading any book periodically.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/19/2010 12:12pm
Category: Football, Publishing
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Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Both William Faulkner (allegedly) and my old creative writing professor (even more allegedly) made it a point to re-read “Madame Bovary” every year.

Me? I’ve made it a point to re-read Peter Gent’s “North Dallas Forty” annually.

Which is what I’m doing right now, about a chapter-and-a-half in. I’m actually late, because in previous years, the start of the National Football League season served as my cue to crack open the book. I guess the histrionics of this 2010 NFL season distracted me from my reading ritual. That, and life in general…

Anyway. I’ve remedied this lapse by picking up my worn copy today, and diving into it once again. Good thing, too, because “North Dallas” is essential reading for getting into a proper gridiron state of mind. At least I think so; no question that I hold an obscurely minority opinion there. Sure, it’s repetitive and outdated to revisit the excesses of a (mostly) fictitious 1970s NFL squad… But then again, the game seems to be acquiring an unbearable sameness as the years pile up, too. Why not reinforce the sense of sporting ennui?

And to draw on a quote from the book (actually, the movie, but let’s not split hairs): Ultimately, we’re all just whores anyway; might as well be the best. Cheerful thought to carry us through to Super Bowl season. And, perhaps, enough to mollify the aforementioned literary figures at the top of this post — at least, Faulkner…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/09/2021 11:24pm
Category: Football, Publishing
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Saturday, November 06, 2021

I have a constructive message for TBO.com, also known as The Tampa Tribune:

I moved away from the Tampa Bay area close to five years ago now. I think you can go ahead and remove the link-listing to this blog from your “sampling of top area blogs” sidebar.

In fact, have someone — an editor, assuming you actually employ any editorial talent nowadays — refresh that entire list. Because it obviously hasn’t been reviewed in ages now. That my blog, now a New York-based product, is still there is proof enough; but a quick click-through of the other blogs listed reveals a motley lot, with more than half obviously defunct. Surely Florida’s west-central Gulf coast has a couple of more current representatives in the blogosphere, even if the Social Media Age has made first-person permalinking somewhat passe.

And don’t worry about how I’ll survive over here without the linkage from a metropolitan newspaper site. Fact is, the only time I notice the incoming links from TBO is when they rarely come in — maybe once every 2-3 months, tops. Not exactly a deluge of traffic.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this overall lack of web media savvy from the Trib and its media group. Further evidence that they don’t know what they’re doing online: They feel the need to employ a bit.ly-styled shortlink URL: http://tbo.ly. Because, somehow, tbo.com is too damned long, with that extra-letter “m”?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/06/2021 03:57pm
Category: Bloggin', Florida Livin', Publishing
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Wednesday, November 03, 2021

When you, the writer, just can’t muster up the gumption to “murder your darlings”, it’s time to turn to Soylent.

Well, someday it’ll be time, perhaps. For now, it’s an experiment in crowdsourced copy editing, on a micropayment scale:

Soylent is an add-in for Microsoft Word that uses Mechanical Turk as a distributed copy-editing system to perform tasks like proofreading and text-shortening, as well as a type of specialized edits its developers call “The Human Macro.” Currently in closed beta, Soylent was created by compsci students at MIT, Berkeley, and University of Michigan.

And yes, the concepts at play — both the mass participation and the meat-grinder aspects of editorial tasking — are the inspiration for the iconic-cinematic name:

[Lead researcher Michael] Bernstein said they were looking for something familiar but also true to the idea of what they created. Soylent, is made of people. It is indeed, people.

“The original name was Homunculus,” Bernstein said. “It didn’t have the same ring to it.”

I’m guessing there’ll be no bragging about Soylent being powered by “Green” energy? That would put the tongue far too firmly into cheek.

(Via @Aerocles; who I thanked with a snarky “tasty!” retweet)

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/03/2021 10:46pm
Category: Creative, Internet, Pop Culture, Publishing
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Monday, October 11, 2021

I spent the first eighteen years of my life in the northeastern US. Somehow, I never caught on to the strident popularity of Fall Foliage Season around these parts.

And don’t kid yourself — it’s big. Big enough that Yankee Magazine sees fit to maintain a dedicated website with prime New England foliage maps and other leaf-gazing esoterica. This is, no doubt, crucial information for the tour groups who are regularly courted by charter buses for day trips to nearby arboreal hotspots in Connecticut and upstate.

Seriously, who knew? I appreciate autumnal charms as much as anyone else, but it’s never occurred to me to make a sport out of tree-watching. Maybe there’s still too much Floridian in me to fully groove on all the brown-yellow-orange scenery hereabouts.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/11/2021 09:59am
Category: New Yorkin', Publishing, Weather
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Thursday, October 07, 2021

Somehow, Esquire Magazine and I are in accord this month when it comes to whiskey:

A few days ago, I was browsing the liquor store shelves when I came upon a bottle of Paddy Old Irish Whiskey. I’d never heard of it, but I bought it on a hunch, given my affinity for Emerald Isle firewater. Plus it was on sale, with a fifth selling for twenty bucks. It’s turned out to be a pleasant surprise — silky smooth with just enough of an alcoholic kick.

Little did I know that Esquire was featuring the same obscure brand in its monthly liquor roundup:

Take Paddy’s ($30), for example, which blends not two kinds of whiskey but three: grain whiskey, malt whiskey, and a pot-stilled whiskey made from mixed grains. It’s grassy with angel-food-cake barley sweetness. You could sip it all day long.

It’s rare that I’m ahead of the curve when it comes to trendiness in fashion or food. So I’ll take this minor coup to heart.

As for a repeat purchase of Paddy: I stopped by the liquor store again today, and see that they’ve jacked up the price of a bottle to $35. They must have gotten wind of the Esquire endorsement. I may or may not validate the increased price-point, once my current bottle gets emptied out…

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 10/07/2021 09:21pm
Category: Food, Publishing
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Monday, September 27, 2021

As an admirer of the pithy art of headline writing, I approve of Schmedlines:

Schmedlines is the daily tabloid headline contest. Every weekday (and for one Weekend Edition), we select the most cover-worthy stories so you can write the best, funniest, most perfect headline — and vote for your favorites. During the day, the “Schmedline” with the most votes will be displayed on our homepage and whichever has the most votes at the end of the day will win. As you get more votes or even write a few winners, you’ll rise up the Schmedlines masthead.

The tabloid element is nicely conveyed by site’s logo typeface, which is more than a little reminiscent of the New York Post‘s. Also, by nature of this crowdsourcing free-for-all, the most prevalent story-toppers will be outrageous in nature. Not to mention pun-heavy, which goes with the territory. All in all, a ripe territory for hed games.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 09/27/2010 09:19pm
Category: Internet, Publishing, Wordsmithing
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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Slate’s Josh Levin has detected an ethereal meme in today’s publishing world:

While struggles for the soul predominate in a couple of subject areas (Islamic studies, evolution) you’re likely to find soul tug-of-war in every section of the bookstore — there’s a struggle for the soul of physics, as well as a struggle for the soul of judo.

The soul-wrenching tomes referenced in that last bit: “Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics” and “Ippon!: The Fight for Judo’s Soul”. Those are but two examples of a raft-full of books that employ the loaded term.

What’s with all this soul power? I imagine the cliquish literary editors got it into their heads that there’s nothing weightier than framing an issue in terms of its inner essence. And it’s a super-short word, so it fits great on a book cover.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/15/2010 11:07pm
Category: Publishing, Wordsmithing
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Friday, September 10, 2021

comfortably nullAfter much anticipation, I tore through Bret Easton Ellis’ “Imperial Bedrooms”, the sequel to his very first novel, “Less Than Zero”.

Then, I read through it a second time, at a more languid pace.

Sure enough, I came away with the same feeling both times upon story conclusion: I wanted to throw up. But in a good way.

So, job well done, Mr. Ellis.

Actually, not so well done. I realize that there are impossible expectations in following up an iconic work like “Zero”, but still, “Bedrooms” has a distinctly incomplete feel to it. It’s generally a stripped-down narrative, mostly devoid of Ellis’ typical descriptive depth.

And portions of it seem disjointed, especially the opening convention: That the “Zero” book and movie were fictional constructs, based on the “real” Clay and his cohorts. It would have been an interesting premise, yet Ellis largely abandons it as soon as it’s introduced. What replaces it is a lot less satisfying: Clay’s obsession with a manipulative would-be starlet, which doesn’t feel authentic enough to motivate the book’s subsequent events.

Still, the author’s imprimatur is still present. A sense of dread hangs over the story as Clay’s true nature is revealed. His self-confessional in the book’s final paragraph brings it home, and makes clear that the boy from “Zero” grew up into a twisted cipher (not-so-subtly underlined by his lack of a last name, whereas other returning characters had acquired theirs).

There’s plenty here to satisfy fans of the original, right down to the “moving the game as you play it” veiled reference (from the opening pop cultural song lyric in “Zero”). “Bedrooms” is a welcome revisit to a terrain that you wish you could avoid, but have to explore despite your better judgment.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 09/10/2021 10:47am
Category: Book Review, Pop Culture
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Friday, August 27, 2021

If, like me, you’ve been skeptical of Amazon‘s steadfast refusal to disclose just how many Kindles it’s actually sold, you’re not alone:

It’s in Amazon’s best interest to keep Kindle sales details under wraps, said Michael Norris of Simba Information, a research firm that covers the media and publishing industries.

“They can keep this perception of being the market leader without releasing the details,” Norris said. “It’s interesting to sit through Amazon earnings calls and nobody pushes for Kindle details. It’s as if people are trained not to ask.”

In general, e-books net Amazon more profit versus physical books, Norris said. He points to an “amusing” July press release that said the company sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books.

“A lot of the Kindle bestsellers cost 25 cents — of course they’re going to sell better than hardcovers for $14,” Norris said.

“They’re comparing apples to Apple Jacks,” he added. “This kind of message management is beyond normal corporate public relations. And now I’ve gotten so used to it that I’m becoming suspicious of any stats they release.”

I’m sure Amazon has sold a good volume of Kindles by now. But I’m sure they’re not selling like hotcakes — it’s only after all the price cuts and heavy marketing that they started to move. If these truly were ever a hot item, Amazon would have been crowing long and loud about how fast they were flying off the digital shelves, just as any company with a similar best-selling tech device would. Their silence speaks volumes.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen evidence around me of how little penetration Kindles have had. It took a solid six months after the e-reader went on sale, before I saw one “in the wild” here in New York — and this is a prime territory for such a device. Meanwhile, I spied my first iPad being toted around within hours of its sales release. That’s a bit apples-to-oranges, in that there are several Apple Stores locally, and so there wouldn’t be the same lag in mail-order delivery. But still, I think it’s reflective enough of the reality that Amazon is trying to hide.

All told, the push for these dedicated e-readers feels like a race to the bottom. The now-standard notebook computers will morph into iPad-like designs, making other third-screen devices (other than phones) superfluous. Amazon and the other entrants in that space can cook the numbers all they like toward that end, but that won’t change the eventual outcome.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/27/2010 08:44am
Category: Business, Publishing, Tech
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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

bedroom eyesI’m going through my second reading of Bret Easton Ellis’ “Imperial Bedrooms”, and I’m struck by this matching set of questions:

“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

“What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?”

These questions present themselves at different points in the book, but the duality they represent is pivotal to the plot. Not to give anything away, but they echo the sentiment — from Ellis’ prequel narrative, “Less Than Zero” — to “see the worst”.

All of which sets me to wondering: What if the answer to both questions is the very same event? A deed so foul that it victimizes the same person who carried it out — think crimes against humanity, etc. — should rank right up there in self-inflicted torment. I’m guessing that that’s not normal for most people, and thankfully so.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/25/2010 10:50pm
Category: Creative, Publishing
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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The American Psychological Association apparently feels that we’re due for a Seduction of the Innocent Part Two, with modern-day movie superheroes as the corrupters of young boys.

“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday,” said psychologist Sharon Lamb, PhD, distinguished professor of mental health at University of Massachusetts-Boston. “Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Iron Man, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”

The comic book heroes of the past did fight criminals, she said, “but these were heroes boys could look up to and learn from because outside of their costumes, they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities,” she said.

Somehow, I think that Stan Lee is eating this up.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/17/2010 11:25pm
Category: Movies, Pop Culture, Publishing, Society
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Sunday, July 25, 2021

It’s true: When you massage the written word for a living, there’s no happy ending.

The job has its perks — an accumulation of random knowledge, for instance — but it also has its side effects when you unintentionally drink the copy Kool-Aid. Once you train yourself to spot errors, you can’t not spot them. You can’t simply shut off the careful reading when you leave the office. You notice typos in novels, missing words in other magazines, incorrect punctuation on billboards. You have nightmares that your oversight turned Mayor Bloomberg into a “pubic” figure. You walk by a beauty salon the morning after you had sex for the first time with a guy you’ve been seeing and point out that there’s no such thing as “lazer” hair removal, realizing that this may not be the best way to get to have sex with him again.

I’ve never consciously let grammar-policing get in the way of personal relationships. The closest I’ve come is in playing the spoiler to those early-Internet chain emails which contained the usual crackpot urban myths. Friends and family would inexplicably get mad at me for debunking nonsense like the Oliver North “warning” about Osama bin Laden back in 1987, and subsequently exclude me from the forward-message fun. (So I guess my compulsiveness paid off!)

Even though copyediting isn’t my primary gig anymore, I find the auto-editing switch in my brain never has turned off. In fact, it’s gone beyond bulls-eyeing mere typos — hardly a sporting pursuit since the advent of the filter-less Web. I now find it hard to read, watch, or listen to any lengthy piece, and not critique its overall structure: How it could have been shortened here, reworked in that section, and so on. I can’t decide if it’s a real problem for me or not. In some ways, it’s gratifying (on a strictly personal, internal level).

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/25/2010 05:23pm
Category: Creative, Publishing
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Friday, July 23, 2021

Who better than Franz Kafka — or, at least, his legacy — to get caught up in a courtroom-setting morass over ownership of the author’s personal papers?

A protracted legal battle over the contents of four safe-deposit boxes in a Swiss bank, believed by some to contain unpublished works by Franz Kafka or other material shedding light on his life, came to an end on Wednesday when an Israeli judge ruled that the papers should be made public. The decision follows the opening earlier this week of a vault at a UBS bank in Zurich, where the documents were stashed in 2008 by two Israeli sisters who had fought for two years to keep the papers private.

The first find is a handwritten, unpublished short story. If the trademark Kafka quirkiness holds, it should be about the alienation stemming from having your correspondence rifled through after your death — and be fittingly unfinished…

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 07/23/2010 05:45pm
Category: History, Publishing, True Crime
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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The alleged demands of SEO started taking a toll on online news headline-crafting years ago, and now we see the bland results:

Newspapers still have headlines, of course, but they don’t seem to strive for greatness or to risk flopping anymore, because editors know that when the stories arrive on the Web, even the best headlines will be changed to something dull but utilitarian. That’s because, on the Web, headlines aren’t designed to catch readers’ eyes. They are designed for “search engine optimization,” meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted “eyeball.” Putting well-known names in headlines is considered shrewd, even if creativity suffers.

Early this year, the print edition of The Washington Post had this great headline on a story about Conan O’Brien’s decision to quit rather than accept a later time slot: “Better never than late.” Online, it was changed to “Conan O’Brien won’t give up ‘Tonight Show’ time slot to make room for Jay Leno.”

I still question why such pun-filled blurb creativity needs to be sacrificed. I can’t believe that Google or any other content-crawler would penalize a page that’s otherwise chock-full of pertinent keywords, just because the headline doesn’t precisely jibe. In fact, I’d think that a unique hed would make an article link stand out from the surrounding vanilla descriptions. As in the above example: After scanning line after line of “Conan-Tonight-Leno-etc.”, wouldn’t the clever wordplay of “Better Never Than Late” lure more eyeballs, just out of curiosity? I’d like to think so.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 07/21/2010 08:10am
Category: Internet, Publishing
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Monday, July 19, 2021

It may seem morose to dwell on the following passage out of Bret Easton Ellis’ “The Informers”, but it’s been in my head for the past few days, so I might as well share it. From the end of the story/chapter “On The Beach”:

I walk away from Mona. I know what the word gone means. I know what the word dead means. You deal with it, you mellow out, you head back to town… “I know what the word dead means,” I whisper to myself as softly as I can because it sounds like an omen.

Mortality and nihilism, tied up in a tidy package of misery. Does the job.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 07/19/2010 10:41pm
Category: Creative, Publishing
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Saturday, July 17, 2021

There are fantasy camps, and then there are kid-lit fantasy camps:

Children have always sought to act out elements of their favorite books, becoming part of the worlds that the works create. Now, organized role-playing literary camps, like the weeklong Camp Half-Blood in Brooklyn, are sprouting up around the nation.

Some take their inspiration from the Harry Potter books, like the wizardry camp run by the Brandywine Learning Center in Chester Springs, Pa., which simulates the experience of attending Hogwarts, the school from the novels.

Bookstores have joined in, organizing day camps structured around children’s books, like “The Double-Daring Book for Girls” and the “Ranger’s Apprentice” series. But the biggest buzz has recently been around Camp Half-Blood, based on the popular “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series.

Total immersion in a day-camp setting. Although I have a feeling this is gateway recreation for future Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. fanboys…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 07/17/2010 03:25pm
Category: Creative, New Yorkin', Publishing
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Sunday, July 11, 2021

form of, a diety!
The Hypostatic Union is the theological term for the reconciliation of the holy and the mortal within Jesus Christ — in short, “that in Christ one person subsists in two [distinct] natures, the Divine and the human”.

That duality — which allowed Jesus to suffer and die in a manner identical with any other person, while also giving Him heavenly awareness — may be too complex to grasp for some people. For them, Philip Pullman’s satiric novel “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” simplifies things, albeit sacrilegiously: By rending that union of Jesus and Christ, literally.

The makers of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” dared only to propose that a very naughty boy had been born at the same time as Jesus in a stable adjoining his. Pullman outbids Python in profanity by having the Virgin Mary give birth to twins. One of these, Jesus, shows little gift for scholarship but exhibits charismatic talents. The other is full of scriptural knowledge and guile, and is his mother’s favorite on account of his sickliness. She gives him an ordinary name (not specified) for public purposes but to herself calls him by the pet name of “Christ,” meaning Messiah in Greek.

Life of Brian is one of my favorites, so Pullman’s book might be up my alley. Although the concept of twin Nazarene godheads is a little out there, even in a comic-novel setting. Why didn’t the author go all the way and give them a pet monkey?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/11/2021 09:04pm
Category: Creative, Pop Culture, Publishing
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