• Chris Van Allsburg
I remember few books from my childhood as warmly as The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Chris Van Allsburg's 1984 picture book. Van Allsburg—the same artist behind Jumanji (before it was a shitty movie) and The Polar Express (before it was a terrifying movie)—hit upon a pretty great concept with Burdick: It was a collection of surreal, gorgeous drawings, each one paired with little more than a short, tantalizing description. (The ominous words accompanying the image to the right, for example: "Two weeks passed and it happened again.") While the book was attributed to Van Allsburg, the story was that a mysterious man named Harris Burdick had provided the drawings and the short descriptions, then mysteriously vanished; readers of Mysteries were encouraged to come up with their own stories to explain the images. I wrote more than a few, using a cheap Bic pen and sheets of ruled notebook paper. (I was hardly the only one who was inspired: Stephen King's 1993 short story "The House on Maple Street" was inspired by one of Burdick's images.)

Burdick just got revisited via The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a new hardcover in which "14 amazing authors tell the tales," featuring a pretty all-star line-up of contributors: Van Allsburg, Lois Lowry, Louis Sachar, Sherman Alexie, Cory Doctorow, and yes, Stephen King. (And there's a great intro by Lemony Snicket, too.) Chronicles contains Van Allsburg's original (and still-fantastic) drawings, but each contributor tackles one of the images and tells a story around it. After spending some time last night reading the first few stories, I'm impressed: "Weird" and "sweet" and "creepy" and "funny" are all adjectives that spring to mind, and I'm not even halfway through yet.

Van Allsburg's appearing tonight at 7 pm at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing (3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd). I'd be there to get my copy of Chronicles signed, but I'll be busy cranking out some more words to hit my 1,600-words-per-day quota for National Novel Writing Month. And even though I won't be writing those words with a cheap Bic pen on ruled notebook paper, Van Allsburg undoubtedly bears some of the blame for whatever it is that I'll come up with.