Recently I chatted over Lake Anne Brew House brews with Eric MacDicken and Kristina Alcorn about their hilarious new book, Myths & Monsters of Reston, Virginia. These two kept me laughing so hard that I didn’t notice two hours going by. As I reluctantly packed up at the end of a fun evening, I realized that I still had no idea which parts of their book were real and which weren’t. They grinned mischievously and told me that was exactly how they wanted it.
I wouldn’t have guessed that Kristina and Eric have such a comedic side. They are the team who earlier this year published an intriguing and elegant biography of Bob Simon, called In His Own Words: Stories From the Extraordinary Life of Robert E. Simon Jr. Kristina did the research and writing; Eric did the layout and design. The book is a fascinating look at Simon’s life and the history of Reston, as told through a series of in-depth interviews and a collection of photos. In His Own Words is a historical treasure for the community.
Then just a few months later, they surprised their fans with a much less historically accurate book about Reston. It’s barely true but laugh-out-loud funny.
During her research for In His Own Words, Kristina learned old legends about the Reston area, including some funny anecdotes told by Bob Simon himself. (Drunk cows? Bob suggested Reston had them and explained why.) These stories, coupled with lots of wild imagination, became the inspiration for their next book.
Myths and Monsters is told through a series of journal entries written by an ill-fated explorer during his 1819 voyage through what is now Reston. According to the book, it was a land inhabited by trolls, banshees, and other unsavory characters. I particularly loved the (mostly) nudist colony. And you’ll be pleased to know that yes, the Bunny Man makes an appearance.
If you have ever wandered along the Reston trails and jumped at the sound of movement in the underbrush, or if you’ve ever gazed at a lake and seen something mysterious lurking under the surface, you’ll appreciate this book. It imagines a world where Yeti throw acorns, a swamp man serves Virginia bourbon, and a sea serpent sprays Lake Anne’s water high in the sky. To make it even more fun, this world is Reston and the terrains these monsters inhabit are our own familiar landmarks.
It is all absurd, of course. And truly funny. I read it in a coffee shop and laughed embarrassingly loudly several times. Myth and Monsters is a hilarious fantasy, told with outrageous illustrations and a dry wit reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If you love the wicked sense of humor in the Hitchhiker’s series, you’ll get a kick out of this cast of oddball hometown characters.
Eric even included Hitchhiker’s author Douglas Adams in the book’s list of acknowledgements. That made sense to me, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Jane Goodall in that list, too. (Side note: Jane Goodall is one of my personal heroes.) It turns out that Eric and Kristina admire her work and they support environmental conservation issues. One of their goals for this book is to encourage Reston residents to spend more time outdoors in nature.
Myths and Monsters includes a map of Reston with the locations of the featured monsters. The book encourages you to wander the W&OD Trail and keep an eye out for the Choochoocabra. Or you can track down the slug dog of Lake Newport, or a troll’s footprints near Walker Nature Center. The end of the book also presents a list of activities for young people to do outdoors. Eric and Kristina hope that their book will give families a new reason to explore Reston’s trails and parks, and meanwhile develop a deeper appreciation for nature and desire to protect it.
Another reason that Eric and Kristina hope to inspire people to enjoy Reston’s outdoors is that they have happy memories of their own childhoods wandering those trails. They are long-time Reston residents who grew up here and have known each other since middle school. Back then, kids had more freedom to explore and let their imaginations run wild. As Kristina learned through her interviews with Bob Simon, it was his goal to have a community that would enable outdoor adventures for young people, and he was disappointed to see fewer kids outdoors in recent years. Kristina and Eric hope their book will contribute to a renewed Restonian culture of outdoor recreation and exploration.
The book isn’t just for kids, though. It’s a book for anyone who loves dry wit, playful illustrations, a hint of history, and a ton of absurdity. When you read it, you’ll need to surrender yourself to nonsense and just enjoy the ride. Then reread it and catch all the subtle comedy you missed the first time around. And the next time you walk along Lake Anne and look at the fountain, give a little wave to Annie, our hard-working local sea serpent.
You can meet co-authors Eric MacDicken and Kristina S. Alcorn at these upcoming book signings:
Sunday, December 4, 2016
Walker Nature House
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Lake Anne Brew House
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Myths & Monsters of Reston, Virginia was published by Great Owl Books in the fall of 2016. It was written by co-authors Eric MacDicken and Kristina S. Alcorn. Illustrations are by Eric MacDicken and photographs are by Caroline Schor-MacDicken.
You can buy the book on Amazon HERE. (Please consider supporting Modern Reston by shopping with this affiliate link.)
You can buy Myths and Monsters t-shirts, bags, magnets, water bottles and more HERE. (Fun gift ideas!)
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Local Author Kwame Alexander — Living Life According to Bob Simon’s Tenets