Book clubs are powerful tools. For example, any tome Oprah Winfrey features on hers instantly becomes a best seller. Same goes (to a lesser extent) for the books featured on other chat-show book clubs. Larry James and Central Dallas Ministries have the same goal, except for one important wrinkle. They don't want people who come to their Urban Engagement Book Club to buy the books. They want them to buy the ideas contained inside, thoughts about charity and its effects, politics and its soul, creativity and its importance. Every book leads to a lively debate and the feeling that maybe, just maybe, problems are about to be solved. You can see CDM is building up to something and, with the Urban Engagement Book Club, building a like-minded army to help them get there. Wish them well.

It's still early, but give Jack Matthews (the developer who brought the South Side on Lamar complex to life and owns much of the neighboring property) and the others brave enough to join him time. South Side itself is already home to the best artists-in-residence program in the area (and one of the best, period), as well as tenants such as Erykah Badu and The D.O.C. And sooner rather than later, Raphael Parry's new theater company, Project X, will have a home in the basement in the former confines of the building's boiler room. But it doesn't begin and end there. Gilley's opened a Dallas location in one of Matthews' buildings on the street, and David Card moved his Lower Greenville fixture, Poor David's Pub, to the area this summer. Plus, there's the up-and-coming, down-and-dirty dive Lee Harvey's to keep the locals well-lubricated on Pabst Blue Ribbon. Best part is, Matthews donated $1 million worth of real estate to the city so it could build the Dallas Police Department's headquarters directly across from South Side. So you don't need to worry about any Milk-Eyed Bandits going bump in the night.

As Chris Cree says, you don't have to know "antidisestablishmentarianism" to play Scrabble. Just plenty of two- to eight-letter words. Cree speaks from experience, because his knowledge of those words has made the local businessman the highest-ranked Scrabble player in Texas. He finished fourth at this year's National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans, losing a heartbreaking game in Round 30 to eventual champion Trey Wright. But it's still been a good year for Cree. A few months ago, he set an unofficial world record for most points scored on a single turn, when he played "blowzier" through two triple-word squares for 329 points, more than even many advanced players score in an entire game. Too bad it didn't happen in New Orleans.

You can get in free at any Dallas Mavericks game. Yes, you. It's simple. Here's the deal: Paint your face. Your body, too, if you feel up to it. Show up two hours before tip-off at the American Airlines Center. Find something called the "Mavs Urban Excursion." Don't worry, it shouldn't be hard to miss, since there will be more than a few people who look just like you. When prompted, scream and cheer and show just how much of a fan you are, even if you're the quiet type who'd rather just watch the game in peace. It's free, remember, so don't be shy. If you're lucky, and not too many had the same idea, the Mavs Street Team will hook you up with a ticket. And it's pretty close to the court, if you're still on the fence about the whole face-painting, whooping-it-up thing. By the time the final buzzer sounds, you'll be ready to do it all again next game.

Besides coming up with an undeniably sweet name, Art Prostitute founders Brian Gibb and Mark Searcy have come up with undeniably sweet things to go along with it. Like Art Prostitute, the most stylish art and design magazine around, geared toward building a new generation of art collectors. (It's a touch pricey at $20 but worth every cent because of the art prints--from Shepard Fairey, among others--that come with each issue.) There's also Art Prostitute, the duo's gallery that could one day be the epicenter of the North Texas arts scene the way the sainted Good/Bad Art Collective used to be, and it's already bringing in artists from all over, the kind of people you need to know about. Not to mention www.artprostitute.com, their Web site that acts as a tip sheet for everything that's worth checking out, be it music, art or whatever.

You might not have heard of Denton group Midlake, but Jason Lee has. Then again, you might not have heard of Jason Lee either, but that's a topic for another time. The actor-skater (you may remember him from such films as Chasing Amy, Mumford, Vanilla Sky and, yes, Almost Famous) swears it's one of the only bands he listens to. If you don't believe him, think of it this way: He came to town this summer on his own dime and spent a week shooting a video for their song "Balloon Maker." Before that, in May he hosted a Midlake show in London as part of an art opening sponsored by his skateboard company Stereo. So, if you were wondering, his money is, in fact, where his mouth is.

This is a tough one, because WFAA-Channel 8 still has Byron Harris and Brett Shipp, two of the consistently best investigative reporters in the market. But Channel 11's news team just seems to work harder and dig deeper day in and day out. Politicos and public relations types keep a close eye on Sarah Dodd's City Hall coverage to know what's up and what's coming. Steve Pickett provides smart, sharp coverage of the city's Byzantine public school system. Robert Riggs is a top investigative reporter. J.D. Miles is one of the city's most versatile general assignment reporters. Newcomer Jack Fink has hit homers on the police and terrorism beats. They've taken on top-flight journalists as their behind-the-scenes producers. And Tracy Rowlett, co-anchor and managing editor, always pushes his staff for that extra edge that makes them, we think, the best news show in town.

Readers' Pick

WFAA-Channel 8

Like comic books and graphic novels, customized motorcycle and auto art is underrated. The skill required to paint a flawless pinstripe by hand or to render Elvis' snarl on the body of a Gold Wing calls for the most delicate and gifted touch. Charles Arvin has that touch and is one of the most prolific "customizers" in the area. Sport bike stunters commission his work on their two-wheeled loves. He's created the most hypnotizing collage of American flags one has ever seen on a gas tank. Custom-car collectors call on him to flame the fenders of classics from the 1950s and 1960s. But Arvin's work isn't restricted to vehicles. Arvin also has to his credit a collection of paintings done of World War II fighter planes, and his wildlife paintings have a dynamic play of color and shadow, while every hair is represented and every leaf is crinkled just so. Arvin's portfolio feels like that of a tattoo artist. People entrust him with marking things dear to them, and his commitment to his work seems so much more dire, more serious than a painter of canvas works.

Think pageant and immediately the mind calls up Miss America-like shows with stupid and obvious questions answered by vapid, hair-sprayed women in sparkly gowns. It's different at Buddies II. (Somehow we suspect Adam West won't be hosting the next Ms. Femme/Ms. Butch Buddies pageant at the homey lesbian bar.) Sure, there's a formal dress competition, and there are questions for contestants to answer, but the mood is completely laid-back, fun and supportive. We don't anticipate anyone sabotaging the talent portion of the show, and the congrats given when winners are announced are wholehearted. This fun, girly/not-so-girly version of a pageant is truly entertaining, and the crowd feels like family.

From the warped mind of local photographer Bobby Jack Pack Jr. comes one sick, twisted and absolutely hysterical sketch comedy show. The show, started more than a decade ago, stars a rotating cast and is filmed, well, whenever the hell they feel like it. Same goes for the airing, too, as the BJPSCS randomly shows on public access television or at theaters like the Magnolia, which has aired it in conjunction with other local indie-film projects. Sketches involve anything from a grown man in a green sequined leotard pumping gas on Live Oak Street while on his way to a "dance audition" to a woman finding a severed head in her credenza and simply tossing it out the front door to create a grisly traffic obstacle. It's like Dallas' own Mr. Show. Thankfully, DVDs are available on the Web site since the show's airings are often anyone's guess.

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