Once in a Lifetime Comic Sale

Every now and then a really nice comic comes into the store – a Giant-Sized X-Men #1 or the first Batman appearance of Ras Al-Ghul or maybe one of the old Tales of Suspense or Tales to Astonish or an early Justice League of America comic.  Not this time:

  • Amazing Fantasy #15 (first Spider-Man) CGC 3.0 Off-White Pages $12,000
  • Avengers #1 Off-White to White pages $2,500
  • Amazing Spider-Man #1 Off-White to White pages $6,000
  • Tales of Suspense #39 (first Iron Man) Slightly Brittle pages (beautiful cover)  $3,200

The comics will be on sale direct for the next week or so (shipping will be extra), and after that, they’ll be on eBay at higher prices (due to listing fees).  Contact the store directly if you are interested Reader Copies  The comics are back in the safe deposit box downtown, so if you need to see them in person or need more photos let us know.

large comic sale

How A Teacher Helped Me Break An Addiction

Teachers can have an impact on students, and often they don’t know just how much of an impact they’ve had.

When we showed up for our class back in 1958, our second-grade teacher had a strange assignment for us.  Mrs. Powers handed each of us a blank piece of paper.  We were instructed to write down the day and time of each television show we watched each week.  I dutifully racked my brains and did my best, carefully covering each half hour from morning to night, giving special attention to the dessert that was Saturday mornings.  Since school was in session I didn’t get to cover the shows I would watch during the day in the Summer, but it was still an impressive list: I had to use both sides of the paper, and not just because my handwriting was so large at that age.  Mrs. Powers collected the pages and went back to her desk to face us.  With a voice that had the chill of death, she pronounced our fate: she had already conspired with our parents, and for the next month we were not going to watch television.  At all.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day, I was too shaken up.  What were we supposed to do without television?  Sure, I spent some time playing with friends outside or playing simple board games, but the bulk of the day outside of school was spent plopped down in front of our 15-inch black and white television.  That afternoon and night I was miserable when I was banished to a bedroom while I could just barely hear my brothers watching shows.  It was small consolation that I could go into my parents’ bedroom and listen to their radio, but by that late in the fifties, most of the old radio shows had been replaced by music (I can still remember listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio before we got our first television).

My Mother could tell I needed help, and the next day she left my brothers at home with our Dad and took me back to the school where miraculously the library was open.  No doubt this was all part of the no television plan since I can’t recall a single other time the school library was open outside of school hours.  She helped me pick out a small stack of books to read.  Sadly, the books we took home were all pretty simple, and within a day or two, I had read them all and was miserable again.

Mom always seemed to have books around to read, even though three kids under the age of eight didn’t leave her much time to read.  The next day I found out where the books came from.  We piled into her shiny blue Impala and traveled to a small building on Jackson Avenue, the closest thing Syosset had to a downtown.  We were greeted by the musty smell of old books when we went inside, and that was my first introduction to the Syosset Public Library.  Mom dropped me off in the kiddie section, and I was less than pleased to find more of the same picture books that the school library had.  I enjoyed reading comic books, mostly the birth of DC Silver age comics at that time, but there were no comics at the library and I was not interested in swimming in the kiddie pool of picture books.  She came back after finding a few books for herself, and I complained (whined?) about not finding anything to read.  She explained that she usually read mysteries, and led me over to the Juvenile section of the library.  She pulled down one of the Hardy Boys books and asked if I thought I could read that.  The book had a colorful wraparound dust jacket, and the inside cover had orange pictures that were reprinted from older copies of their books.  There was another picture across from the title page, but the inside was almost all text.  Ick.  Reading the words was no problem, so I shrugged and told her I’d take it home and read it.

And my life changed.

It took me a few days to read that first Hardy Boys book, but I quickly got better at reading.  I continued reading the Hardy Boys series.  Near the end of each book, there was always a teaser sentence that contained the title of the next book, and I quickly decided that the books had to be read in order.  It was a challenge to track them all down, and at times I had to actually buy the books (which cost all of $1.95 at the time).  I branched out into Tom Swift Junior books (the senior books were too dated), and that led me to science fiction and I found Asimov and Bradbury and Clarke and eventually all the rest.

Sure, after a month I watched television again, but not nearly as much, and from that day on I probably read a few books every week until College came along and destroyed reading for me…but that’s a tale for a different time.

Perhaps before I’m done I should try to put this in context for you.  Imagine if you showed up at school one day and you were told that for the next month you would not be allowed to use your phone or view the internet or play computer games or watch television.  Do you think your life might feel disrupted?

Here’s Jimmy Buffett finding his own  Love in the Library.

How To Know If Readers Can Read What You’ve Written

Most blogs are written with a focus. Not this one, but that’s another story. Writers tend to focus on topics that are of interest to their target reader. The successful topics can be dieting, investing, travel, dating, fashion, politics, personal productivity or any of a zillion other ideas. The most important thing might be finding a topic that will appeal to a wide enough audience to build a collection of readers who will return on a regular basis. In this column, I’m going to suggest a secondary reason blogs (and books) may or may not appeal to the desired audience.

The grade level of your writing.

See Dick read. See Jane read faster and comprehend better. See Spot casually chomping down on the interior of the book because he isn’t capable of reading anything at all and the book had an olfactory residue implying a tasty repast.

If you write text that is too easy or too difficult for your target audience to read, you probably won’t have many readers at all. While we can easily see the difference in the three readers in the prior paragraph, what we really need is a simple way to quantify the difficulty of various passages of text.

Back when I was creating policy forms for insurance companies, one of the goals was to pass a readability test. The various state insurance departments required us to calculate a Flesch score for each policy we submitted to prove that the policy could possibly be read and understood. The formula we had to use was created back in the forties and required us to count the number of words, the number of syllables, and the number of sentences in the policy. Scores were like grades in school, ranging between 0 and 100. The higher your score, the better. The standards usually required policy forms to score 40 or higher. Something with this score usually challenges a college graduate due to the complexity of the material, and yet it was a very difficult score to reach when writing an insurance policy. I quickly learned a few tricks to help reach higher scores:

  • Lists.  Each list item counts as a sentence.  List items can be short sentence fragments.
  • Use semi-colons instead of commas where possible.  A semi-colon counts as starting a new sentence; I figured out how to insert semi-colons where a comma might work.
  • Two or three short sentences instead of one.  The word count will be longer than one long sentence.  The sentence count will be higher.  Those features help your score.
  • No words with three syllables.  If only I could find another word for “syllable.”

Back in the dark ages of the early seventies, I had to count syllables and words and sentences manually, and it was easy to mess up.  I frequently counted the numbers multiple times, marking up a form to help keep the counts straight.  By the mid-seventies software had started to show up that did a fairly good job even though it was written in FORTRAN.  Now, of course, there is much better software.

A really great site is at  Readability Formulas .  This site allows you to copy up to 2000 words into a box, press a button, and see seven different readability scores.  To give you an idea of how different works score, here are the scores for the first few pages of a handful of very different books:

  • Ray Brehm, The Author Start-Up, an Amazon best-seller about writing books.  89.5 (4th-5th grade level).
  • J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone.  76.5 (5th-6th grade level)
  • Chandler Bolt, Published, another Amazon best-seller about writing books.  75.4 (6th-7th grade level).
  • Steven King, The Stand.  73.1 (7th-8th grade level).
  • Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham.  73.1 (7th-8th grade level for the entire book).
  • Jim Molinelli, Remodel, an Amazon best-seller about remodeling your home.  55.9 (9th-11th grade level).
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.  46.5 (college students).
  • Every policy form I ever did, about 40.0 (advanced college degree).

My typical blog entry seems to center around scores near 60, which aims at 11th-12th grade, and the first few chapters of the book I’m working only hits 63, so perhaps I need to get to work making my writing easier to read.  Perhaps because of today’s topic, this column scored over 71, a definite improvement.  I’m not the only one worrying about words; here are the Monkees: