Popular culture has watered down Bram Stoker’s original concept for the vampire Dracula.

He hocks cereal on Saturday morning television. He counts numbers on Sesame Street. To Mel Brooks, he’s “dead, and loving it.” Stephanie Meyer’s Edward, in the Twilight Saga, bears little resemblance to the undead creature envisioned by Stoker, the one that clambered over windowsills to feast at the necks of hapless maidens.

Critical interpretations of Dracula (1897) range from psychoanalytical to an attack on female sexuality. Indeed, there’s something of everything for the literary theorist to analyze in Dracula. But, at its heart, it remains a horror story, one that involves one of the most frightening supernatural entities ever created on page.

Yes, you will recognize the main characters and their traits. Dracula’s dupe Harker, the vampire hunter Van Helsing, the virginal Mina Murray, the wanton Lucy, etc. And while it’s probably difficult to come to Stoker’s novel without your own preconceived notions on the nature of these characters, it’s best to leave them behind once you crack the book’s spine.

Stoker’s Dracula is not the dashing romantic hero imagined by countless Hollywood pictures. He’s a force of nature, a malevolent evil being, the last of his kind.

Humans are his meat.

Think Jaws in a cape.

In 1957, Homer Hickam Jr. was a sore spot for his father. He wasn’t interested in football, like his older brother. He wasn’t interested coal mining, like his father. He wanted to build rockets.

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Rocket Boys (1998) is your quintessential coming-of-age story, a memoir written by Hickam Jr. about growing up in a rural West Virginia town appropriately named Coalwood; for coal is the town’s life blood, what feeds, shelters and – sometimes – tears apart its families. Hickam Jr., nicknamed “Sonny,” is constantly at odds with his father, Homer Hickam Sr., who shows little interest in his son’s desire to join America’s race to space. Hickam Sr. has two passions in life: his oldest son Jim’s budding high school football career and, of course, the coal mine he supervises.

Encouraging Sonny is his mother, Elsie. Elsie, having seen the toll working in the mine has taken on her husband, wants something better for Sonny.

So, gathering a group of his friends together with similar aspirations, Sonny sets out to build his rockets.

SPOILER: He does, successfully. Homer Hickam Jr. went on to work for NASA as an engineer, following his graduation from Virginia Tech and subsequent tour of duty in Vietnam (It was Hickam Jr. who designed the cannon, Skipper, fired off at Tech football games – until its fatal last shot in 1982).

Rocket Boys is a fun read. Of course we have to keep in mind that “Sonny” Hickam is viewing past events through the rosy prism of his own memory. And he admits in the preface that some license has been taken in regards to the words and actions of his friends and family.

And yes, I’ve seen the film based on the book. October Sky, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper, was released in 1999. It translates well. (Oh, and October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys – apparently the film’s producers were afraid the original title would deter women audiences).

A physical copy is available at the library or you can download as an eBook.

Historical Greenville Photos Are Coming to a Computer Near You

August 28, 2014

Our Library recently received some wonderful news from the Alabama Public Library Service: A $3,200 grant we submitted to purchase a high-speed digital photo scanner has been approved! The funds will allow us to process and digitally archive hundreds of historical photos of Greenville and Butler County and make them available to the public via […]

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Old Reads That Are Good: Vonnegut’s Overlooked Masterpiece

August 28, 2014

It seems sometimes that we know Kurt Vonnegut strictly for Slaughterhouse-Five and Slaughterhouse-Five alone. It was, after all, the late author’s most influential work; a satirical postmodern story featuring a WWII soldier named Billy Pilgrim caught up in the Allied firebombing of Dresden. But to know Vonnegut for Slaughterhouse-Five only does the author a disservice. […]

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