Monday, December 31, 2012

Annie on My Mind

1982, 1997 Aerial edition
Nancy Garden
Annie on My Mind
Original and purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

Before this, most YA novels with gay characters had tragic endings, ranging from break-up to death.  (Death of protagonist, lover, in one case a dog!)  Garden does separate the two girls, long enough for Liza to narrate their story, looking back months later, during freshmen year of college, but Liza calls Annie in the last couple pages and they reaffirm their love.

Despite the New York City setting, there's a quaint quality to this book, yes, much more than Divorce Express.  There are no topical references, and lesbian subject matter aside, it almost feels like the '50s, with "damn" the strongest swear-word, and one teenaged boy even saying "heck."  Liza's private school is particularly a product of an earlier time.  And compared to Forever, or even Dinky Hocker, it's very pure and innocent.  We know that the girls take off their clothes and go to bed together, but there are no physical details. 

This may be deliberate.  As Liza says, the relationship is about love, so Garden doesn't emphasize the sexual side, just hinting at it.  The novel has nonetheless been challenged in different towns, even burned in Kansas City, and is probably more offensive to homophobes than a more explicit, less romantic story would be, especially since the girls are caught by a homophobic Christian.

I think in a way I'd prefer the book if it were more rooted in its time, or any specific time, if it didn't have a little boy saying, during the girls' pretend sword fight, "I'm for the one in the cape!," which I can't imagine any twentieth-century child phrasing like that.  I am grateful for this novel paving the way, but I can't help wishing it were better.

Rock on Film

1982, first edition, from Virgin Books
David Ehrenstein and Bill Reed
Rock on Film
Original price unknown, purchase price £5 (in Oxford)
Worn condition

An intelligent, sometimes funny look at a quarter-century of rock music and musicians on film.  The authors are at least as generous as Dave Marsh in their definition of rock, including (as he does) country, reggae, disco, and punk, although they draw the line at Pat Boone.  The focus is mostly on American movies, although British cinema is well-represented, so it's not too odd a book for me to have found in an Oxford shop.  The role of racism in music and film is addressed, and it's notable that Ehrenstein is biracial and in fact in 2007 wrote the article "Obama the 'Magic Negro.'"

It's good that he and Reed appreciate the beauty and absurdity of rock, especially on screen.  (Where else are you going to read that in Shake Rattle and Rock Margaret Dumont "lets fly with a mean funky chicken at the film's conclusion"?)  Unfortunately, there are some avoidable errors, not just punctuation, but things like saying that Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison all died in '68, when they actually went (all at the age of 27) in '70 and '71.  Still, the book holds up pretty well, even if music videos are still being called "promotional films" a few months into the MTV era.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Divorce Express

1982, first edition, from Delacorte
Paula Danziger
The Divorce Express
Original price $10.95, purchase price $3.95
OK condition hardcover

From roughly ages 10 to 15, I read a lot of Danziger, Norma Klein, and of course Judy Blume, thinking of them all as East Coast Jewish women I'd have liked to have as my mother.  (My own Jersey Jewish mom died when I was three.)  But I mostly got their books from the library, and the ones I own now (no Klein I think, but then she wrote less, it seemed) I bought as an adult, and in most if not all cases they're not the ones I grew up with.  So it feels odd to be reviewing this rather than The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, which I did actually own, until I read it to death, or even the Danziger novel with perhaps the best title, Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? 

This is probably my third or fourth reading.  It goes fast, if not expressly.  It's set mostly in Woodstock, NY, where Danziger lived for several years.  She idealizes the town, and the aging hippies who live there, but if you can get past that, it's a good setting.  Fourteen-year-old protagonist Phoebe spends the rest of her time in her old home in New York City, where her mother and stepfather-to-be have more materialistic values.  Phoebe's old boyfriend and old best friend start dating in her absence, but she gets a new and better boyfriend, and a best friend whose mother starts dating Phoebe's dad.

This is definitely aimed at younger teens, not only because of Phoebe's age but because of the content.  I can't imagine divorce being a particularly controversial topic post-1960s.  (I used to own a 1920s book called Children of Divorce, where it was a great tragedy.  And by the time Express came out, we had a divorced president.)  There is mention of unmarried adults hypothetically having sex, but Phoebe doesn't do more than kiss, and there's no drug usage, other than cigarettes by a minor character.  Even Phoebe's hobby of anagrams seems aimed at a younger crowd, although it's actually what I liked best about the book.

Phoebe returns in It's an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World, although that's from the perspective of best friend Rosie.  I remember liking it about equally, so we'll see when we get to 1985.

Fer Shurr! How to be a Valley Girl-- Totally

1982, undated later edition, from Bantam
Mary Corey and Victoria Westermark
Fer Shurr! How to be a Valley Girl-- Totally
Bought new for $2.50
Slightly worn paperback

Neither as funny or insightful or venomous as the Frank and Moon Unit Zappa song, this is at least a quick, light read that captures some aspects of its time.  (The pictures of Some Totally Cool Dudes are Rick Springfield, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon, David Lee Roth, E.T., and Morris the Cat!  And Princess Di is an Honorary Val.)  The first half of the book is a glossary, which makes sense because, unlike the groups in the Anti-Prep book, Vals were mostly known for their vocabulary.  I grew up further inland in Southern California, but I can still do the Val accent (a certain kind of singsong) as easily as I could thirty years ago.  We made fun of Valley Girls (and Surfer Dudes), but I do remember someone writing without irony, "Have a bitchen summer!" in my 8th-grade yearbook.  Also, the fact that "like" is still a filler-word must be at least as much due to the Vals as to the beatnik legacy.

Reading this book now, it reminds me of how with this and other handbooks, I didn't get some of the sexual references, making me retroactively blush for my innocence at 14 or 15.

The Mists of Avalon

1982, 1984 Del Rey edition
Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Mists of Avalon
Bought newish for $10.95
Worn paperback

I can't remember exactly when I got this book, but I'd guess my late teens or early twenties, let's say the late 1980s.  At that time I was drawn to Goddess religions, especially Celtic, and I bought the book for that reason, more than because of the Arthurian legends, which I knew only third- or fourth-hand anyway.  I've read the book a few times since, though not often, mostly because it's a heavy book, literally and figuratively.  And yet, it is in a sense shallow as well.

I still find it a interesting story, and it does evoke what I know of the misty, mystic allure of Britain.  (For instance, I've been to Tintagel, which is a bit kitschy nowadays, but with very dramatic cliffs.)  There's a large but manageable cast, fleshed out to varying degrees.  Much of Bradley's history is anachronistic, but she blends it into the fantasy with panache.  The central character of Morgaine convincingly ages from three to roughly sixty.  And I like the motif of spinning and sewing that, yes, weaves throughout the novel.

Now for the negatives, what kept me from giving this a B or even a B+.  First off, as the longest book I've reread in roughly a century (maybe since, oh, Anna Karenina) it could've used a better editor.  Not only are there redundancies and sometimes unnecessarily muddled chronologies (not just when Morgaine is in the Land of the Fairies), but just on the basic level of word usage there are some glaring errors.  I caught "cruel" for "curl" and "atone" for "intone, and a laugh-out-loud passage where Arthur says he must greet elderly courtiers, because his legs are young, "and some of them are grey and aging."

I also feel that the character of Gwenhwyfar (AKA Guinevere) could use some work.  At times, Bradley slips into Ivanhoe-like blonde vs. brunette stereotyping, made worse by the anti-Christian/pro-Pagan bias.  And even the bad things about Gwenhwyfar aren't consistent.  She's shy and agoraphobic, particularly in her youth, and yet sometimes she's very bossy, including Schaflily scolding other women for speaking up.  And at one point, she goes to talk to her supposed half-brother, Meleagrant, even though it means riding under the open sky and dealing with a brutal man.  This leads to Meleagrant raping her and then, in a plot development out of the worst of fanfic, her having comfort-sex with Lancelet.

She and Lancelet have already been to bed a few times, beginning with a threesome with Arthur.  Bradley presents Lancelet as more in love with Arthur than with Gwenhwyfar, although the bi/homosexual themes are mostly in the background.  (Morgaine is involved with another priestess, but not much is done with this.)

Although the book is pro-Pagan, I have to say that Paganism doesn't really come across well in this book, especially as shown in the characters of Morgaine and her aunt Viviane, both Ladies of the Lake.  The latter in particular manipulates people, playing with lives like knucklebones, as Morgaine says.  But Morgaine, too, in time meddles with more romances than Mary Worth, and even indirectly murders people who stand in her way.  Yes, the Goddess is dark, dealing in death as well as life, but all this scheming seems so pointless and cruel.  Also, I got tired of hearing so much about Fate, as if Free Will is a bad idea and you can only act by taking away the freedom of others.  (Ironically, this is what Susan Griffin says about pornography, that it pretends that abusing others is freedom.)  If Paganism is just as much about being in the hands of God(s) and/or their earthly representatives as Christianity is, what's the point?

All that said, I can still see why this book led me to other books by Bradley, most of which I no longer own.  I read two of her Avalon sequels and found them very disappointing.  I never quite liked the Darkover series.  (Although in fairness, I'm not a sci-fi fan.)  And there were two or three others that just didn't have the, well, magic of this story.  But we do have Firebrand coming up in 1987, so we'll see how she deals with the women of The Iliad.

Friday, December 28, 2012

One Fell Soup

1982, 1984 Penguin edition
Roy Blount, Jr.
One Fell Soup, or, I'm Just a Bug on the Windshield of Life
Original price $5.95, purchase price $2.50
Worn paperback

I can't remember if I first encountered Blount as a writer, likely of this eye-catchingly titled collection, or as a "news" correspondent on Comedy Central.  (Or it could've been his introduction to one of my Nancy collections, more on that later.)  Both his spoken and his written voice are unique, both goofy and wry.  In the introduction here, one of the funniest I've read, he tries to explain what this book is a collection of.  With copyright dates going back to 1967, there's poetry and sports writing and "spoofery" and various unclassifiable things that he sees as "juice-swapping" like Huck Finn's food in a barrel.  I've tried to select enough tags to cover the bases.

It's hard to pick out a favorite.  Usually, there's at least one line in everything, even the sports articles, that catches my fancy, makes me chuckle.  His poetry is a bit Ogden-Nash-like, and even when a poem is called a song, it looks impossible to sing, which is OK, because he claims to be singing-impaired.  I'm finding it hard not to slip into a Blountesque style, so I'll just conclude with this here quote:

"I once heard Blaze Starr ask an audience whether they would like her to uncover her (larger than life) breasts.  When the audience cried out yes, yes, ma'am, they certainly would, she froze; rolled her eyes; replied, with great, pungent reserve, 'I reckon you would like some friiiied chicken."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

London Transports

1982, 1995 Dell edition
Maeve Binchy
London Transports
Original price $6.99, purchase price $1.98
Worn paperback

This is another short story collection, set in and around London obviously.  (I think the titles are Underground stops, e.g. "Shepherd's Bush," "Victoria," and "Tottenham Court Road.")  They're not as good, since the formula seems to be mostly "Clueless and somewhat unpleasant person(s) getting his/her/their comeuppance or at least realisation in the end."  The story that's the greatest exception to this, and one of the better stories, is "King's Cross," where a super secretary remakes one woman's worklife every few months, and then moves on, sort of a nicer Nanny McPhee for the career woman.  As with Dublin 4, the time is the present, sometimes with old-fashioned characters having to deal with things like wife-swapping or porn bookshops.

The copyright page says 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982.  It also says, "This work was first published in Great Britain in 1978 and 1980," and then mentions copyright dates for a few of the specific stories, including "Euston" in '82.  Wikipedia says that Binchy published Central Line in '78, and Victoria Line in '80, then London Transports in '83.  Without digging further, my guess is that this is Central and Victoria put together.  (With maybe a bit of the Northern Line?)  So you can see why I decided, "Screw it, these three Binchys are going in '82."  And although Lilac comes before Light, Dublin is earlier alphabetically, and London is definitely last.  Thank goodness it's mostly novels for her from here on out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Light a Penny Candle

1982, 1989 Dell edition
Maeve Binchy
Light a Penny Candle
Original price $6.50, purchase price $1.98
Worn paperback

Unlike Dublin 4 but like some of the later novels, this is set in the past, in this case 1940 to 1960, mostly in London, England and Kilgarret, Ireland.  Binchy also contrasts Protestantism and Catholicism, the title referring to an Irish and/or Catholic custom.  During World War II, ten-year-old Elizabeth White goes to stay with the family of her mother's old classmate, Eileen O'Connor, since Ireland is not at war.  Eileen's daughter  Aisling is the same age as Elizabeth but much more outgoing.  We see the girls through awkward adolescences, unhappy relationships (particularly with Johnny, a man who takes both their virginities, years apart), and fairly successful careers, Elizabeth especially.

My two biggest problems with this novel are with the character of Eileen and the melodramatic ending.  Eileen is meant to be admirable, but I find it hard to forgive her for not accepting that the alcoholism and impotence of Tony, Aisling's husband, are grounds for leaving him.  Even when he hits Aisling, Eileen thinks she should forgive Tony.  OK, maybe Aisling can't get a divorce because it's against their faith, and Irish law, but why can't Eileen accept their separation?

As for the ending, it's foreshadowed in the prologue but comes almost out of nowhere.  Elizabeth's nice if insecure husband Henry first becomes a whinger like her father, and then becomes paranoid, and then gets drunk and decides to go have sex with Aisling, because she's had sex with a married man (Henry's friend Simon, although Henry doesn't know that).  Then, while rejecting Henry, Aisling accidentally reveals that Elizabeth had an abortion years ago (Henry knew about the long-term affair with Johnny, but not about the pregnancy), so he phones Johnny (who didn't know about the pregnancy either), and goes home to confront Elizabeth, who "accidentally" pushes him down the stairs when he threatens to take their daughter away.  Almost none of this is in character for anyone.  Only the last couple of pages, where Aisling and Elizabeth decide to endure, feels at all likely.  I realize that Binchy had a lot of loose ends to tie up, but I would've preferred something like Aisling telling Johnny about the abortion, and immediately regretting it.

So why have I read this book so many times?  Well, first of all, I'm a sucker for novels that show how people and their families change over time.  Secondly, I do like the two main characters for the most part, and sometimes Eileen.  There are a few supporting characters I like, in particular Aisling's kid brother Donal.  Binchy is good at creating little Irish towns that feel fully populated.  I appreciate that Aisling's mother-in-law and Elizabeth's stepfather are made into sympathetic human beings, rather than evil stereotypes.  Partly because of the length (500+ pages), Binchy goes much deeper than she did in any of the short stories in Dublin 4, but that makes the book all the more frustrating, the raised expectations. 

Next time (yes, three Binchys in a row), I'll go into the chronology of her writing a bit more.  For now I'll say that this is definitely her first novel, and yes, we'll be doing her second, Echoes, in 1985.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dublin 4

1982, 1992 Dell edition
Maeve Binchy
Dublin 4, published with The Lilac Bus under the latter's title
Original price $5.99, purchase price $1.98
Worn paperback

When Binchy died this past May, my first thought after the oddity of it happening the same day Gore Vidal died, was that it would be a long time till I got up to even the first of her books.  But here we are, seven months later, and we'll soon be at her second and third.  Dating these works is a bit tricky, since for one thing Lilac Bus was published in 1984.  But I decided this one is first, for reasons I'll discuss another time.

She married fairly late, at age 37, and published her first short story collection the next year, 1978.  I can't help wondering if this gave her a different perspective on things, two major life changes at the beginning of middle age.  Certainly her view of marriage, while not as bleak as that of Sinclair Lewis or Marilyn French, is surprisingly cynical for a writer celebrated for her cosiness.  And there are women in her stories who reinvent themselves in their 30s and 40s.

The "4" of the title are all set in the Irish capital and its suburbs, mostly with long-time residents, although "Flat in Ringsend" shows the paranoid fantasies of an 18-year-old country girl trying to adjust to the casualness of bedsitter life.  "Decision in Belfield" is also about a young woman, here a pregnant 21-year-old who remembers the mystery surrounding her older sister's pregnancy five years before.  "Dinner in Donnybrook" tells of a wife's revenge on her husband and his mistress.  And "Murmurs in Montrose" is the saddest story, about a "cured" alcoholic and his family.

Binchy is a strange writer for me to have so much of, because I don't entirely like her writing.  It's very readable, and I always want to see what happens next, even when I've read the books a few times before.  It's just there's something off, something not quite real, about her characters.  They always seem less vivid than she thinks they are.  Often the way other characters describe them, including characters whose opinions we're supposed to trust, feels exaggerated.  I didn't notice it so much in this collection, but it is notable in her longer fiction.  Here, I kept wondering, "How is it that these people seldom really talk with each other, when these stories are almost nothing but dialogue?"

Anyway, I'll try to articulate this more as I go along. 

Growing Up

1982, 1984 Signet edition
Russell Baker
Growing Up
Original price $3.95, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

Baker got his second Pulitzer prize for this autobiography, and deservedly so.  It's warm but not overly sentimental, with a wry sense of humor.  He sees the faults of his family and younger self with affectionate criticism.  The most prominent figure is his tough, determined mother, particularly as she struggles through the Great Depression.  The book begins and ends with her as an old woman who's lost her sense of time.  She didn't get along with her mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, both strong, stubborn women in their own right.  Other than the flash-forward to her old age, the book covers roughly the first half of the 20th century, and moves from Virginia to New Jersey to Maryland, plus Baker's travels in the South during World War II.  (He never fought overseas.)

It's a very quick read for 350ish pages, but that's partly because there are photos interspersed throughout.  Baker's family has interesting faces, and I think I like his no-nonsense sister Doris best.  It's too bad that he doesn't seem to have written a sequel to this book, as I would've liked to have read about his early life as husband and father.  He's still alive at 87 though, so who knows, although he does seem to have retired from journalism and other writing.

The Book of Predictions

1981, later edition, from Bantam
David Wallechinksy, Amy Wallace, and Irving Wallace
The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Predictions
Possibly bought newish for $3.95
Worn paperback

Although you might think it would be fun to look back at predictions of the future some three decades later, this is a mostly boring collection.  (It does pick up as it goes on.)  I think the two most ironic things are the predicted 1985 headline "KING CHARLES CHOOSES QUEEN" and, more sadly, Jessica Savitch making predictions, when she herself would die in a car accident in 1983, at the age of 36.

Most of the predictions are overly optimistic, with near-utopias by 2030.  Even the predictions of technology that came true, such as email, were a decade or two later than expected.  Online comments that go into specifics can be found here and here:

But the best failures are on the list of National Enquirer failed predictions for the late 1970s, such as "In 1979, Spiro Agnew will win a cinema acting award."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The People's Doonesbury

1981, undated later edition, from Holt, Rinehart and Winston
G. B. Trudeau
The People's Doonesbury: Notes from Underfoot, 1978-1980
Bought newish for $12.95
Worn paperback

Again, there's far too much about Duke in this collection, including Chinese translator/coed Honey's inexplicable unrequited crush on him, but luckily he disappears into Iran for awhile.  I most enjoyed seeing the introduction of "Joan Caucus, Jr.," at this point engaged to Duke's caretaker Zeke.  Joan's future ex-husband Mike is still unable to get a date for New Year's Eve, though he tries until literally the last minute.  Zonker gets a few plot threads, although the tanning thing gets old.  Mark is comparatively apolitical these days, with his most frequent radio guest a writer on "Mellow."  (It's a noun as well as an adjective, and maybe a verb.)  Bernie gets a Sunday page, but Nichole only merits one Christmas card appearance.  On the other hand, Boopsie poses for Playboy at the ripe old age of 20 [sic], and it's fun to see the characters' reactions to that.  (The photographer uses a backlash ploy that would become increasingly common, accusing Zonker of sexism for not letting naive Boopsie choose to be exploited.)

This volume gets partially through the 1980 campaign, with Mike an enthusiastic supporter of John Anderson.  The best political moment is when Bush tells a group of Preppies that after a year or two in various positions, such as head of the CIA, he thinks he can go the distance of the "big four" as President.

The I-Hate-Preppies Handbook

1981, undated later edition, from Wallaby
Ralph Schoenstein
The I-Hate-Preppies Handbook
Possibly bought newish for $3.95
Slightly worn paperback

I used to own The Preppy Handbook, along with various other "handbooks," including two for Jewish American Princesses.  It wasn't that I wanted to conform to any group, but rather that I thought it was interesting seeing the different types.  I got rid of most of the books, not necessarily by choice (details are fuzzy after three decades), but I kept this one and a Valley Girl book, the latter coming up in '82.  This one divides non-Preps, or as Schoenstein puts it Anti-Preps, into four categories: Jock, Greaser, Freak, and Nerd.  The fact that there's now "The Geek Social Hierarchy" shows that some things have gotten more complex:

This book is mildly funny, with the Photo Quizzes being the best aspect, the acknowledgments of people like Alexander Haig and Fats Domino being second best.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but if you run across it, it might be worth a good skim.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Midnight's Children

1981, 1995 Vintage Edition
Salman Rushdie
Midnight's Children
No American price listed, but AUS $12.95
Slightly worn paperback

I've never read Rushdie's infamous Satanic Verses, but there was a time when I was curious enough to buy two of his other books.  (The Moor's Last Sigh will be in 1995.)  I can't remember reading either of them more than once, and now I can see why, and also why I didn't get rid of this book before.  It's not a bad book, but it's not good either.  It really is a straight-down-the-middle average C.  (It won the Booker Prize, but you've probably guessed by now I don't have much respect for literary awards.)  There are times when there are lovely turns of phrase, and times when he's going on and on about snot.  In fact, Saleem's (the narrator's) sinuses are a major character!  And somehow Rushdie can throw away a whole thousand talented people (the title characters), giving them nothing much to do and yet acting as if they're closely linked to India's fate.  Even when he brings in quasi-incest, it's kind of boring.

I liked the early chapters most, the courtship of Saleem's grandparents, but then they got married and she turned into a fat shrew.  There's undeniable sexism throughout, with so many of the female characters being horrible people, without any reason.  (At least when the men are awful, we understand why.)

This book most reminded me of Tristam Shandy, in that there's a lot about noses and mutilations and family.  Saleem's sort of girlfriend Padma complains more than once that he's never going to get around to his own birth, although Rushdie isn't as circular a writer as Sterne.  He's also less funny, although there were times when I almost laughed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cult Movies [1]

1981, 1985 Dell Trade edition
Danny Peary
Cult Movies: The Classics, the Weird, and the Wonderful
Original price $14.95, purchase price $6.00
Very worn paperback with stains and split spine

While I think that Peary is a good writer, many of the movies he covers here sound unpleasant and/or boring.  For many years I've just read the reviews of the movies I like, mostly classics like All About Eve and The Wizard of Oz, and skipped over things like The Brood and The Wild Bunch.  Did you know that The Brady Bunch was almost named The Brady Brood?  Yes, that's TV trivia, and if you care, you probably already know that.  Which brings me to another problem with this book.  Some of these movies are no longer cult movies, either because the cults have faded away, or because things like the Internet have mainstreamed quirkiness.  It's no longer isolated bunches (or broods) of fans who feel like they're the only ones who have discovered or at least truly appreciated a lost gem of a film.  With IMDB and other discussion forums, fans can find each other, even if they live on different continents.  (Or you can do what I do, and generally lurk without commenting.)

On the other hand, it's hard to find other lengthy reviews, let alone analyses, of the movies Peary covers, so his book still serves a purpose.  If I rated the book just for the movies I care about, it would probably be a B.  A less squeamish viewer/reader might get more out of the rest of the book.  Whether Peary's left-wing Baby-Boomer perspective is a plus or a minus is up to you.  I will note that he's not as bad as the Medveds in concentrating mostly on recent releases.  There are a lot of 1970s movies here, and eight more (12.5%) for 1968 alone, but he does include selections from each decade of the sound film.

I liked this book enough originally, reading it in the late '80s at about age 19, when it opened up a whole other world for me (admittedly some of which I immediately wanted to forget) that I went on to buy the sequels, which we'll get to in '83 and '88.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Best of McCartney

1981, first edition, from Hal Leonard Publishing
Paul McCartney, arranged by Len Braunling
The Best of McCartney
Original and purchase price unknown
Worn paperback with number stickers on it

For the first year or so of our relationship, 1984-85, my then-future-ex-husband would buy me books about the Beatles, because I had decided for the 20th-anniversary-of-American-Beatlemania I would find out as much as I could about this band that had always been there in the background of my life.  So this book is likely a gift from him, although it has guitar chords and he was the musician, not I.  (He probably borrowed it though.)  This does, however, have a picture of my crush Paul on the cover.  And it shows the lyrics of eleven of his Wings-era songs.  Except for "Mull of Kintyre," I could hear the songs in my head as I read the words.

Still, I can't rate this higher because as a non-musician much of it is lost on me, like the strumming fingers being named p, i, m, and a.  (P is for "pollex," Latin for thumb, and big toe oddly enough.)  Also, for a 1981 book, it's oddly '70s-focused, with not even the catchy "Coming Up" from '80.  And, really, these days you can get lyrics and even sheet music from the Internet, so this book doesn't serve as much purpose as it used to.

The Book of Rock Lists

1981, first edition, from Dell/Rolling Stone Press
Dave Marsh and Kevin Stein
The Book of Rock Lists
Original price $9.95, purchase price $7.50
Worn paperback with covers torn off, a bit of my writing

This is obviously more focused than the Wallace/Wallechinsky collections, and it's an interesting general topic, here encompassing everything from bubble gum to punk, with a lot of soul.  Marsh, Stein, and their contributors have intelligent and sometimes witty opinions, so it's a good read, even when I disagree with them.  (I'm not even a Grateful Dead fan, and I think they're too hard on the Dead.)  The best lists are the quirky ones, like the one of '60s Psychedelic Band Names.  Unfortunately, I can't easily quote from this book, because it's too long to easily find things.

I have to deduct a notch for the lack of an index, which I think was also left out of The New Book of Rock Lists, which we'll get to in 1994.  As I recall, some lists were updated, others deleted, and somehow Ringo had moved up the list of great drummers.  This edition came out in the early days of rap and the same year that MTV debuted, so although I suppose it's always true that rock is in a time of change, it was particularly true then.

Back in the day, I found this book most useful in developing my bad-movie collection, using not only the list of worst rock movies (I seem to be the only person who didn't think Xanadu was enjoyably bad, so it got an X rather than a circle), but also their ratings of Elvis movies.  (Change of Habit is not a C+ and Spinout a D-, no matter what criteria you're using.)  This reading, I found that just the titles of songs would give me pleasant earworms.  Which brings me to our next book....

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sunday's Women: Lesbian Life Today

1981ish (copyright 1979 but includes updates to '81), from Beacon Press
Sasha G. Lewis
Sunday's Women: Lesbian Life Today
Original and purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

I enjoyed this book less than Sappho Was a Right-On Woman, from almost a decade earlier.  It feels like there are more assumptions made without support, as in the idea of "neoadolescence" affecting length of relationships.  There's much less about bi women, just one slighting comment.  It was interesting to see that lesbians were starting to explore legal avenues, as with wills, but it was sad to read that the closet was still a default, because it was so dangerous to some women's careers, motherhood, and even lives to be out.  The idea of marriage between women was still far-fetched enough to be put in quotes.  In some ways lesbians had made progress since '72, but violence and prejudice were becoming more common.  This update mentions not only Anita Bryant but the Moral Majority.

Not that the book is entirely dated.  The comments on "political correctness" and technology would be equally pertinent a decade or three later.  I don't know if it's the difference in authors or the times, but I prefer the fresh optimism of the early '70s to the frustrations and fears of the early '80s.  Luckily, things would get better, but first they'd deteriorate further, as the impact of AIDS on straight culture led to increased homophobia.  I'm not sure when the next "contemporary lesbian" book I own is, maybe not till we get up to Dykes to Watch out For.

"That Woman Must Be on Drugs"

1981, undated later edition, from St. Martin's Press
Nicole Hollander
"That Woman Must Be on Drugs": A Collection of Sylvia
Original price $3.95, purchase price $2.00
Slightly worn paperback

As the subtitle suggests, this collection focuses more on Sylvia, which I think makes it stronger, since she has a very definite point of view.  I laughed out loud a few times, with my favorite strip the one where Harry the Bartender cries, "My God!  Sylvia are you letting that cat smoke?", and Sylvia replies, "It's okay.  He doesn't inhale."  Not only is this funnier in post-President-Clintonian hindsight, but the expression of the slightly cross-eyed cat cracks me up.  Also, Hollander's last book to date is Nobody Owns a Cat, so I'm sure she knows that if the cat wants to smoke, even Sylvia couldn't stop it.

I've read but don't own Hollander's 1980 collection, "Ma, Can I Be a Feminist and Still Like Men?" (to which the answer is "Sure...just like you can be a vegetarian and still like chicken").  I do have 1982's "Mercy, It's the Revolution and I'm in My Bathrobe," so Sylvia will be making a welcome return shortly, no doubt spending the interval taking a bubble bath and making wry comments about televison, sometimes simultaneously.

Pornography and Silence

1981, 1982 Harper Colophon edition
Susan Griffin
Pornography and Silence: Culture's Revenge Against Nature
Original price $5.95, purchase price $2.95
Worn paperback with split spine

Although I don't entirely agree with Griffin, particularly in her view of pornography as by definition violent and dehumanizing, I do think she makes some good points about how images can be damaging.  (She's the first writer I own to quote Key on subliminal advertising.)  The links between pornography and racist propaganda, especially as seen in Nazi culture, are fascinating.  She argues that porn is actually anti-erotic, punishing sexual expression and pleasure.  Certainly, the examples she gives, as in The Story of O, advocate the abuse and silencing of women.  She argues for a culture that will celebrate the body in union with the mind/heart/soul.

It's not a fun or pleasant read most of the time-- both Christians and leatherfolk will probably be offended by parallels between Christ's crucifixion and the "ritual" of BDSM-- but I think it's worth reading once or twice, and drawing your own conclusions.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man

1981, 1992 Time Warner edition
Fannie Flagg
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
Original price $7.99, bought used for 99 cents
Worn paperback

It's odd reading this book right after Ramona, since they both have moments where a child tries to crack an egg on his/her head, only to find it's not hard boiled.  It happens to 8-year-old Ramona, who's very embarrassed, and it happens to Daisy Fay's 12-year-old best friend Michael, who takes it in stride.  Daisy Fay ages from 11 to 18 in this novel written as her journals, and along the way many embarrassing and sometimes even horrifying things happen to her, her friends, and her family, but she's a lot more unsinkable than Ramona.  She even ends up as Miss Mississippi!  The pageant makes the one in Miss Congeniality looks ordinary.

I could see this book made into a movie, like Flagg's novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which we'll get to in 1987.  It makes sense that this novel was originally called Coming Attractions, because it does have a movie-trailer-like feel at times.  Flagg combines outrageous events and people with a dry, understated wit.  This is her first novel and probably her least serious, although such issues as alcoholism, divorce, child abuse, rape/incest, abortion, racism, sexism, and homosexuality are addressed.  That last issue is interestingly handled, since Flagg is a lesbian (which I didn't know, watching her on game shows and sitcoms as a child), and a long-time lesbian relationship is at the center of Fried Green Tomatoes (less obviously in the film version).  As a preteen, Daisy Fay has crushes on women, but seems only interested in men as a teenager.  She does, however, have the friendship of an out and proud gay man, Mr. Cecil, and his sequin-sewing Cecilettes.

I remember this as my favorite of Flagg's books, or at least the funniest.  We'll see how it holds up to Fried Green and a couple of her others that I own.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ramona Quimby, Age 8

1981, 1992 Avon Camelot edition
Beverly Cleary
Illustrated by Alan Tiegreen
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Bought newish for $4.50
Slightly worn paperback

I don't remember owning Beverly Cleary books as a kid.  They were the sort I'd get out of the library.  Books I liked but didn't love.  I feel the same way about this one, rereading it as an adult.  This comes fairly late in the series, with Ramona four years older than when she was introduced in Henry Huggins, back in 1950, and two books before the last (to date), Ramona's World (1999), where she turns ten.  Although Mrs. Quimby has a job and Mr. Quimby has gone back to college, it's still a very 1950s world.  It was weird to see references to not only the Meow Mix commercial (which I recall as mid to late '70s), but also the "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" Alka-Seltzer ad, which was almost a decade old at the time of this book.  Somehow these attempts at topicality make the book more dated.

The more timeless moments are Ramona's quarrels at home and humiliations in school, particularly throwing up.  Cleary has insight into how kids, parents, and teachers think, although she does verge on cliche, as with the sisters messily making dinner.  And the Tiegreen illustrations are cute, but again, not terribly original.

This won the Newbery Honor book, with A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, which I've never read, getting the MedalI don't have any other children's books till 1983, so I can't say if this was deserved, but I think the Honor was partially given in nostalgic appreciation.  Even 30 years ago, Cleary was already a living legend.  She's obviously not my favorite children's author, but it's nice to know she's still around at 96.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A People's History of the United States

1980, 1990 HarperPerennial edition
Howard Zinn
A People's History of the United States
Bought new for $12.00
OK condition paperback

My aunt who regularly got me books as gifts gave this one for New Year's Day of 1992, writing, "With love and appreciation for your desire to know."  I remember that very little of "the people" was covered in my high school history classes, as opposed to the Founding Fathers et al.  Reading this book now though, it doesn't seem particularly earth-shattering.  I found my mind wandering quite often.  Ironically, I most enjoyed the chapters on the then two most recent decades.  Like Wolfe, Zinn would disagree with Pichaske's view that the 1970s were a lull.  He points out that while there was no longer the central issue of Vietnam, activism took many forms in the '70s.  (I had to shake my head at the use of quotation marks for "gay."  Really?  In 1980?  Or is Zinn trying to convey the novelty of the term a decade earlier?)

There is of course a certain poignancy in reading Zinn's tentative optimism in the last chapter, "The Coming Revolt of the Guards," although he was not just looking at the 1980s but at the world of "our grandchildren" and "our great-grandchildren."  He updated and did spin-offs of this book over the next three decades, dying in 2010.  The previous year, he said of turn-of-the-previous-century socialism, "Socialism basically said, hey, let's have a kinder, gentler society. Let's share things. Let's have an economic system that produces things not because they're profitable for some corporation, but produces things that people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because you have to go beyond capitalism."

The problem is, even within this book, socialism doesn't come across as much kinder or gentler than capitalism.  I kept thinking, "Yes, conditions were/are horrible, but socialism isn't the right answer."  Not that I know what the answer is.  I'll say more about this when we get up to Reagan for Beginners in 1984.

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Our Time

1980, first edition, from Farrar Straus Giroux
Tom Wolfe
In Our Time
Original price $12.95, purchase price $1.00
Good condition hardcover

I used to confuse this Wolfe with the novelist Thomas.  This is the Wolfe who wrote The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities, but I haven't even seen the movies.  So why did I buy this?  Was it because it was only a dollar?  In any case, in words and pictures, Wolfe captures aspects of what he had earlier named The Me Decade.  In contrast to Pichaske's "sober, circumspect, temperate seventies," Wolfe writes, "I keep hearing the 1970s described as a lull, a rest period, following the uproars of the 1960s.  I couldn't disagree more.  With the single exception of the student New Left movement-- which evaporated mysteriously in 1970-- the uproars did not subside in the least."  What's funny is Wolfe sees the '70s as hedonistic and yet, as he tells it, the casualness of the sex and drugs was in fact more notable than the outrageousness.  If Yuppies were smoking dope on their coffee breaks, then maybe this wasn't hedonism as such.  Were the '70s quietly, modestly loud and brazen?

Some of the art here actually goes back the early 1960s, but I still think of this book as a good encapsulation of the '70s.  The chapter "Entr'actes and Canapes" specifically, with it's paragraph-long descriptions of Disco, Punk, Upstairs, Downstairs, George McGovern, Gatsby, Elvis, Jonestown, Designer Jeans, Mondo Brando (and the high-price cameos he and a few others made), the Digital Calculator, Roots, Perrier, Light Beer, Muhammad Ali, Short Haircuts, the Fall of South Vietnam, Woody Allen, Brain Physiology, People, the Fall of Nixon, Sidewalk Stereo, and the Year the New Left Left, covers a wide array of topics any student of the 1970s should know about.  And the artwork, much of it caricatures, covers more.  Sometimes Wolfe is cruel, as with Carter, but he didn't seem terribly off-base from what I recall and what I learned of the '70s after my childhood.

Shelley: Also Known as Shirley

1980, 1981 Ballantine edition
Shelley Winters
Shelley: Also Known as Shirley
Original and purchase price unknown
Paperback that's split in two

On the last page, Winters writes, "Perhaps I'm sometimes vague about what took place in which year."  For instance, she claims her daughter was two when Winters's second marriage broke up, but Wikipedia shows that to have been in 1954, when her daughter was one.  And specific dates in the book are few and far between.  She also writes on that page, "TO BE CONTINUED, I HOPE...."  Although she talks briefly about some of her movies and other adventures in the '60s and '70s, this volume does end with that divorce.  Even in Shelley II, which we'll get to in 1989, her main narrative hasn't advanced more than a decade.  I used to hope she'd write Shelley III and maybe get up to The Poseidon Adventure, but she died in 2006 without continuing her autobiography.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure if I've ever seen any of her movies, although I've seen her on television.  Her larger-than-life persona (yes, in more ways than one) appealed to me, and so I was pleased to see that that's the way she's written this book.  She admits she's a loudmouth, one of the rare people who could stand up to Harry Cohn, but she's also good-hearted.  She had at least as many affairs with famous actors as Joan Collins did, though with a few more scruples about dating married men.  She also writes about having an abortion, back in the late '30s, as well as being a union organizer around that time.  She clearly wasn't afraid of controversy.

The period covered here overlaps with that of Lauren Bacall's main days in Hollywood (Winters is about four years older) and there are surprising similarities between these two actresses.  Both were Jewish New Yorkers and felt more drawn to the stage, although the call of Hollywood in the early '40s was irresistible.  They were sex symbols (in different ways) while seeing themselves as skinny and plain.  Bacall's image was more intelligent onscreen, with Winters sometimes fighting and sometimes playing along with her dumb-blonde image.  And both were liberal Democrats with crushes on Adlai Stevenson.  (Winters apparently bedded him though, while Bacall just had a long-term flirtation.)

I felt Winters was more realistic about her relationships than Bacall, in the books I mean, although perhaps also at the time.  Even as Winters made mistakes, she was less of a romantic than Bacall.  I also found this to be one of the funnier autobiographies I've read, although no one can yet match Rosalind Russell.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Book of Lists #2

1980, 1981 Bantam edition
Irving Wallace, David Wallechinksy, Amy Wallace, and Sylvia Wallace
The Book of Lists #2
Original price $3.50, purchase price $2.50
Very worn paperback with water damage

I found this marginally better than the first collection of lists, even the chapters on sports and war, although the book did get off to a slow start.  It seemed like there were more lists of oddities, which are fun.  I think the most ironic in retrospect list is that of "10 Couples Who Married Each other Twice."  Not only did Liz Taylor go on to husbands after post-Burton Warner (as I noted before), but Elliott Gould separated from Jennifer Bogart after their second marriage.  And there's this entry:  "It's a love story that reads like a movie script.  They were everyone's ideal young couple in love when they married in 1957.  [Then they divorced, remarried, and those marriages broke up.]  But Hollywood would not be denied its happy ending.  Bob [Wagner] and Natalie [Wood] rekindled their love and remarried in 1972-- to live happily ever after.  Pass the popcorn."  And the tissues, since she died in Nov. 1981, drowning after a fight with Wagner.

The book also has lists from soon-to-be-president Reagan, as well as ex-president Ford, and Carter's mother, "Miss Lillian," who died in 1983.  Sylvia Wallace is the mother of David and Amy, wife of Irving.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Morgan's Passing

Anne Tyler
Morgan's Passing

This is part of that set of Four Complete Novels that we last visited in the mid-'60s, with Tyler's first two books.  (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is coming up in '82.)  This is my favorite of her novels so far, and yet I can't say I exactly like the characters.  They are in turns selfish, passive, and irritating. 

Once again, Tyler presents a family of six or seven children (all or mostly female) that is both close-knit and chaotic, living in an old three-story house, a motif that goes back to Ben Joe's family in If Morning Ever Comes.  I suppose there's even a self-referential pun, in that "morgen" means "morning" in German.  But the Morgan that passes here is the eccentric husband/father/grandfather who passes as several different people, from doctor to minister to Leon, the (real) actor husband of Emily, the young woman he falls in love with, impregnates, and runs away with.  So Morgan's wife places an obituary in the paper, feeling that his passing out of her life means that she should treat him as if he's passed away.  (It's a hard book to describe, although more solid than Housekeeping of course.)

There are other minor motifs that echo earlier books, like photography and lost loves.  I think the main theme of the novel is that people often prefer fantasy to reality, and that's sometimes bad, as when Morgan's sister Brindle marries her lost love and finds that he prefers her photograph to her presence, and sometimes OK, as with the puppet shows that Leon and Emily put on.  Emily is an artist, like Jeremy in Celestial Navigation and some of Tyler's other characters, but she does try to cope with the world.  She and Morgan have to cope with the differences between their images of each other (especially his of her) vs. reality.  There's also a lot here about play-acting, not just Morgan's disguises and the puppets, and I think that's what I like best about the novel.  Also, even when I don't quite like the characters, they're interesting to watch.  And maybe that has to do with make-believe vs. reality, too.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Popeye Story

1980, first edition, from Tom Doherty Associates
Bridget Terry
The Popeye Story
Original price $2.75, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

Continuing the theme of "water," this is a behind-the-scenes look at the 1980 Robin Williams/Robert Altman/Jules Feiffer movie about the legendary cartoon hero.  I saw the movie as a 12-year-old fan of Williams and Popeye, and then again as an adult in hopes it would be So Bad It's Good.  Certainly the songs by Nilsson qualify, but I think the movie is genuinely good, if strange.  As for this book, Terry seems to have done a good job of getting the perspectives of many people who worked on the movie, and she does admit the troubles and quarrels of production, but there are times when she gets a bit fan-mag gushy.  Yes, there were many talented performers and crew who worked on the movie, and yes, Wesley Ivan Hurt is cute enough as Swee' Pea to justify nepotism (he's Altman's grandson), but was the set really one big happy supportive family?  And the quotes on this being a film on the level of The Wizard of Oz sound bizarre in retrospect, particularly since the movie is not a kids' movie per se.  (Not with a brothel in it.)

All that said, I've read this book a number of times (partly because I've now seen the movie multiple times) and appreciate the various stories, from how they found the perfect setting in Malta to how Shelley Duvall started publishing a newsletter, with Jules Feiffer drawings of her as Olive.  Even if you don't know much about the movie, this is worth a read.


1980, 1987 Bantam edition
Marilynne Robinson
Original and purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

This debut novel makes an interesting follow-up to Jacob Have I Loved, and not just because I was assigned both books in college.  They share imagery and themes, including sisterhood, water, death, and madness; and they both seem to evoke love/hate feelings on Amazon and other review sites.  The teenaged protagonist in both is difficult to sympathize with.  The time period is less clear than in Jacob, and could be anywhere between 1910 and 1960, although the movie version, which I've never seen, is set in the 1950s.  In Jacob, Sarah Louise imagines escaping her island to live in the mountains, while Robinson's town of Fingerbone is set in Idaho hills near a lake.

This is a more melancholy, delicate book, some of the language quite lovely.  There's less of a plot, and certainly less of a happy ending.  The heroine is even more estranged from her sister, although they were once as close as twins.  Sarah Louise has to deal with her cruel, senile grandmother, but Ruthie falls under the spell of her mentally ill, transient aunt.

In Jacob floods, bring death and destruction, sometimes welcome, as with the numerous cats, while here, Ruthie's family seems to be almost hypnotically drawn to drowning.  Her sister Lucille hungers for normality, while Caroline was special because she was frail, pretty, and musically talented.

I feel like this is clearly a better written book than Jacob, although that in turn was stronger than Terabithia (which also dealt with siblinghood and drowning, although not madness), and yet I can't say I enjoyed it more than either of Paterson's books.  It's meant for adults, but I could actually see someone recommending it over Jacob for an intelligent, sensitive teen, as long as she or he didn't mind no closure at all.

Jacob Have I Loved

1980, 1990 HarperTrophy edition
Katherine Paterson
Jacob Have I Loved
Original and purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

Well, it looks like I don't like this book as much as I used to.  This time, I kept thinking that Sarah Louise complained too much and her twin sister Caroline was much nicer, even if she was spoiled.  Also, it's hard to get worked up about Caroline "stealing" Louise's best/only friend Call, when Louise is always putting him down and they have nothing in common except that they're both misfits.  (It's not at all on the same level as Amy "stealing" Laurie from Jo, and even there Jo didn't want to marry him.)  Unlike some readers, I've never been that bothered by Louise's admittedly strange crush on a 70-year-old neighbor.  There aren't that many single men on their small Chesapeake island, and Louise had earlier imagined herself marrying a man who died at 19, if he'd lived, just because she liked his gravestone.

I like the setting, including the 1940s time period, and the characters are well done.  The later chapters are rushed, but I'm glad Louise has a happy ending.  I just wish that there'd been some sort of closure with her sister.

This won the Newbery, but like some of the other winners, it seems more junior-high level than preteen.  I don't own any other children's books from that year, so I can't really argue that there's a more deserving winner.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Girl I Left Behind

1980, undated later edition, from Macmillan
Jane O'Reilly
The Girl I Left Behind: The Housewife's Moment of Truth and Other Feminist Ravings
Original price $10.95, purchase price unknown
OK condition hardcover

In the last chapter, O'Reilly says, "I like being forty-four....I know my own mind.  I know who I am and what I can do.  I know what I want to do and what I won't do.  I will learn to tap dance, I will not learn to ski.  I might still be angry, but I will not be depressed."  I obviously relate to that.

Later, she imagines herself 21 years into the future, when she's 65, having a conversation with a 15-year-old granddaughter, trying to explain the battles.  To the question, "But, Granny, were you happy being a feminist?", she replies, "Of course I was happy being a feminist.  After all, consider the alternatives."  And I relate to that.  I related to it 21 years ago, too.

At the time of this book, O'Reilly had a teenaged son, so he'd be older than I am now.  And, though it's closer to 31 years later than 21, she does have a teenaged granddaughter.  Back in 1958, O'Reilly took her final college exams in a long raincoat, to hide the fact that she was heavily pregnant.  Unmarried, she gave the baby up for adoption.  She doesn't write about that here, and in fact she didn't see her daughter again till the girl was 32. 

I learned these facts from the Internet and I mention them because O'Reilly's own life shows that motherhood is not the simple, straightforward matter that Phyllis Schlafly and others pretend.  (And indeed Schlafly's gay son is proof of that.)  O'Reilly discusses the complexities of motherhood, and marriage, and housework, and paid work, and politics, and so much more.

I love that in a 2008 article, O'Reilly "said she devoted herself to the feminist cause, firmly believing that eventually the issue would be solved and she 'could take a nap.'"  In this book, she tells of that same fatigue.  And yet she kept going, still keeps going.  She's not as well known as some feminist writers, but I do admire her more than most.

She's also got a great turn of phrase, as with the "Clicks!" of realization, and the "Clunks" of blindness.  Sometimes it's just her combination of wryness and sense, as in the section on Upward Failure, as epitomized not only in Gary Hart's rise from the ashes of the '72 McGovern campaign but in George Bush:  "George Bush so well illustrates the rewards of loyalty that he has become the basic case....Question not, and ye shall not be questioned.  Instead, ye will be considered 'experienced' and hailed as a possible candidate for president of the United States."

I disagree with her on the issue of pornography.  Yes, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS sounds like a horrible movie on every level, but I don't think all porn is bad.  This is partly a generational issue, which is not to say that all the feminists of her generation thought one way and all of mine like I do, but rather that the terms of disagreement have shifted in the last 30 or 40 years.  As has of course the technology of porn.

Even more than Nowak's, her book shows the beginnings of the backlash that Faludi would write of a decade later, but here, too, there is optimism.  We weren't and aren't yet where we hope to be, but we are better off than we were in O'Reilly's youth.

Eve's Rib

1980, first edition, from St. Martin's Press
Mariette Nowak
Eve's Rib: A Revolutionary New View of the Female
Original price $5.95, purchase price $3.95
Falling apart paperback

Nowak examines females of assorted species, from insects to humans, pointing out the diversity of roles.  Some of this has been covered already in books I own, but it's still an interesting, accessible book on science.  (I will admit that I never knew before that Lionel Tiger's coauthor was named Robin Fox, which I think adds to the hilarity of them writing about animals.)  Nowak is generally optimistic, but she does acknowledge a backlash against feminism.  At that time, the backlash seemed small and manageable, and Nowak was not the only one to think that if people knew the wide array of human possibility, they would live up to it.  Interestingly, she does believe that babies benefit from a constant adult presence, but she doesn't think that has to be exclusively the mother.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Golden Turkey Awards

1980, undated later edition, from Perigee
Harry and Michael Medved
The Golden Turkey Awards: Nominees and Winners-- The Worst Achievements in Hollywood History
Original price $7.95, purchase price unknown
Falling apart paperback

This is a better book than Fifty Worst Films, not only because it covers more movies (425 plus a hoax), but because the Medveditis is mostly under control.  Yes, there was a point early on when I wanted to give an award myself, the Rowling for Adverb Abuse, but the style is generally less cutesy.  I also didn't see any notable errors, and the sexism was minor. 

They got 3000 responses to their request of readers' nominees for worst films, and the various categories are shaped by this, even if they can come up with only three or four "finalists," as in "The Worst Two-Headed Transplant Movie Ever Made."  The timing of the polling makes a difference, as I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that would choose The Exorcist II as the second-worst movie ever (or even of the late '70s), although obviously Plan Nine from Outer Space would still be many people's first pick.  Bear in mind that home video was still an exotic concept in 1980, and we were a long way from people watching an entire bad movie in chunks on Youtube.  (As I did with Soul Man, wondering if it was as bad as I remembered it being in the theater a quarter century earlier.  I ended up buying the DVD just for the commentary.)  People, including the Medveds to a lesser degree, were going to biased in favor of movies that were still fresh in their memories.  Unless an older movie became a staple of late night TV, or the burgeoning Midnight Movie circuit (1983's Midnight Movies will be one of the books I'll be discussing in the weeks to come), it faded into obscurity.

As for the hoax, I used to assume it was the "gay Jesus" movie Him, but that was apparently an actual porn flick, and the fake film was inspired by someone who lived for awhile in the Medved household.  No, it wasn't Kevin Allman, but Allman did go on to write TV Turkeys, which we'll get to in 1987.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Well, There's Your Problem."

1980, first edition, from Pantheon
Edward Koren
"Well, There's Your Problem."
Original price $8.95, purchase price unknown
Good condition hardcover with torn dustjacket

For 50 years, Koren has been a cartoonist for The New Yorker, along with a few other jobs, like art professor.  This doesn't really surprise me, because one, New Yorker contributors often work there for decades, as we've seen; and two, there's something very lovable about these furry yet prickly creatures he creates, the humans as well as the monsters and birds.  And these are not clearly three distinct species in his world anyway.  Monsters eagerly play the late '70s swinging singles scene, while long-haired and sometimes bearded humans glower and sulk. 

Perhaps the most famous cartoon in this collection-- I saw it in a Sociology textbook-- is that of a wife bringing in an anniversary cake, celebrating not only the wonderful years together, but the so-so and the rotten.  The cartoon that made me laugh out loud hard this time was of a woman's contagious depression affecting the entire household.  Koren acknowledges darker emotions, including destructive rages, but he also shows a world of acceptance-- the father praising the little girl's painting, the spouses and lovers praising their partners to friends, the hostess who's pleased to have a living-room-ful of monsters.  And meanwhile the birds make their social rounds.

The title quote comes from a cartoon where a mechanic finds a smiling monster under the hood.  It seems at once a very obvious but a very difficult problem to solve.  And it's one of many bizarre yet relatable moments in this amiable, fuzzy world.

The Clam-Plate Orgy

1980, 1981 Signet edition
Wilson Bryan Key
The Clam-Plate Orgy, and Other Subliminal Techniques for Manipulating Your Behavior
Original price $2.95, purchase price $2.00
Worn paperback

This is not only the best-titled of Key's books, but I think it's also the most entertaining.  First of all, he not only discusses subliminal advertising, as before, but he shows subliminal messages in classic art, such as the interrupted fellatio on the Sistine Chapel.  (Google it, Key is far from the only person to acknowledge it, although perhaps the first.)  I also enjoyed reading about the fallout of his first two books, including harassment by his university and, to his chagrin, increased usage of subliminal advertising, with some ad agencies sponsoring employees to take his classes.

I still don't entirely agree with Key's views of sexuality and pop culture, and there are still some embeds that are hard to see reduced and in black & white, but I think he makes some valid points about the unconscious and about information.  I don't own his 1989 book, The Age of Manipulation: The Con in Confidence, The Sin in Sincere, but I do have 1992's reissue of this book under the title Subliminal Ad-ventures in Erotic Art, which has Joe Camel, so I'll discuss that and any other changes when we get there.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Who's in Charge Here?: Campaign Edition

1980, possibly first edition, from Ballantine
Gerald Gardner
Who's in Charge Here?: Campaign Edition
Original price $2.95, purchase price $1.95
Worn paperback

This collection of pictures of politicians and their families, with comic-strip dialogue balloons superimposed, definitely has more historical interest than humor.  It's not simply that the jokes are dated, but some of them probably weren't that funny to begin with.  The best joke is on the cover, and it actually was funnier ca. 1987 than 1980.
OFFSTAGE VOICE [REPORTER?]:  You said that you'd resign if your memory ever started to go.
RONALD REAGAN:  When did I say that?

Gardner's first Who's in Charge Here? book came out in 1962, but this is the oldest one I own.  In my youth, I think the idea of anyone making fun of politicians was enough to appeal to me.  Gardner's humor is pretty gentle, possibly because of the era of humor he started in.  (He also wrote several Monkees episodes.)  The back cover shows not only Reagan and Carter but John Anderson, and I'll give Gardner kudos for being an equal-opportunity mocker in the book.  Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Teddy Kennedy also crop up fairly often.  Mondale is in there a couple times, his best line, again better with hindsight, is "If he loses, I'm out of work."

Strawberry Fields Forever: John Lennon Remembered

1980, first edition, from Bantam
Vic Garbarini and Brian Cullman, with Barbara Graustark
Strawberry Fields Forever: John Lennon Remembered
Original and purchase price both $2.95
Worn paperback with possible water damage

Published the same month that John Lennon was killed, this shows signs of being a rush job, with many errors, some of them repeated, such as Lennon's mother dying when he was 13 rather than 15, and the Beatles releasing a song called "Ask [rather than Tell] Me Why."  My favorite mistake is the Beatles film Medical Mystery Tour.  Still, the book does a good job of capturing the shock and outrage of Lennon's death, as well as discussing his life, although the latter has less fresh material of course.

After an Introduction by rock critic Dave Marsh (whom we'll be hearing more of as the '80s continue), the story unfolds in an odd order, first the death and its immediate aftermath, then background on Chapman, then John and Yoko's life in NYC, and then three chapters in chronological order, from 1940 to '80.  The penultimate chapter is Graustark's "exclusive" Newsweek interview.  And lastly is "a chronological biography," basically a timeline, and yes, I checked to see if anything happened on my birthdate.  (Announcement that Hunter Davies was going to write a biography of the band.)  So there's obviously some reduncancy, and the book certainly could've used a better editor.  There is a sense of the authors trying to cash in, although "a portion of their earnings" would be donated to "various charities."

Overall though, I think the book is better than could be expected.  And, yes, the immediacy is part of the appeal, including this soon to be darkly ironic sentence:  "Most predictable was the President-elect of the United States, who deplored the killing as a 'great tragedy,' and added that 'we have to find an answer to street violence' without mentioning control of the flood of handguns."

The Bleeding Heart

1980, 1981 Ballantine edition
Marilyn French
The Bleeding Heart
Original price $3.95, purchase price $2.50
Worn paperback

French's second novel is less wide-sweeping than The Women's Room, mostly concentrating on its main couple of Dolores and Victor.  (She's still symbolically naming characters.  Mira's husband was named Norm.)  Yet it's not just the story of their year-long affair but also that of the Battle of the Sexes.  As in Women's Room, the lives of the main characters and those of their friends are filled with tragedy, and it can be over the top at times.  I think French does make some points about the impact of sexism on love, and vice versa, and there was more I could relate to here, but it's too overwrought at times.  Also, there's a moment when the bleeding-heart heroine makes a gratuitously racist comment in passing, about her daughter's friend having "Asiatic blood," that makes no sense narratively or biologically.

I do appreciate French attempting to humanize Victor, although I didn't quite believe in him.  There are moments when he's like an 18th-century male lead, out of Fanny Burney's fiction let's say, plausible enough for the author's purposes but not as realistic as, well, a Jane Austen hero.  So far, Margaret Atwood's male characters, both the stodgy ones and the crazy ones, and Doris Lessing's domineering but insecure men, are the most believable in post-World-War-II women's fiction.

And, yes, yes, welcome to the 1980s!  The years of my adolescence, and therefore the years of a lot of book-buying.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Generation in Motion

1979, undated later edition, from Schirmer Books (Macmillan)
David Pichaske
A Generation in Motion: Popular Music and Culture in the Sixties
Original price $5.95, purchase price $4.95
Worn paperback

It's ironic that I'm ending the 1970s with a "left-wing" book that pissed me off as much as the book that I started the decade with, Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch.  Regular readers of this blog (if there are such things) know that I don't usually write in my books, but here are some mental notes that I scrawled in thin air as I went along, reading this book for the first time in over 20 years, and with much less of an inferiority complex than last time:
  • When Pichaske says that violent political protest is American as the CIA and John Wayne, "And that's exactly the problem I'm talking about."
  • When Pichaske fails to see that "I Am the Walrus" is a parody, "You, Sir, are an idiot!"
  • When Pichaske says that "Mother and Child Reunion" is about death, "No, it's about a menu."
  • And when Pichaske whines that "the free-wheeling, wild, magnificent sixties" turned into "the sober, circumspect, temperate seventies," I thank him for perfectly encapsulating the biggest reason why this book doesn't work for me.
The generation in the title refers to "the children of the sixties."  With most of those he profiles, he does not mean people like my boyfriend, born in 1958, who were in fact infants to preteens during the 1960s.  He doesn't even mean Baby Boomers.  He means people like himself, born during the War, 1943 to be specific.  He also mostly means white, middle-class males, since when he does write about the poor, or nonwhites, or women, he does it in a very othering way.  (Using an occasional "she" as a generic pronoun, does not get you off the hook, Buddy.)

Now, obviously on a subject like this, a personal perspective can be welcome.  But Pichaske doesn't have Schaffner's gift for telling his own story and the story of a generation in an accessible way.  It's not even clear if he's writing to anyone beyond himself and people like him, despite the dedication addressed to his children.  If you're writing so young 'uns can understand, don't keep asking, "Do you remember?"  And although he points out early on that not everyone was everywhere in the 1960s, he seems to frequently forget this.

The main problem though is I am an unashamed literal child of the 1970s.  I adored the first decade I remember and did not find it in the slightest bland or quiet.  If it was less violent and angry than the 1960s in some ways (although that's debatable), that to me is a selling point.  I consider the machismo and self-righteousness of the '60s to be two of that decade's most unpleasant aspects, and not in the slightest ways to bring about a better society.  Unlike Pichaske, I see them as an extension of, not refutation of, the 1940s and '50s.

I enjoy much of the 1960s, particularly pop culture, from dope songs (although I've never been stoned) to, yes, Annette Funicello, the latter blasphemy in Pichaske's eyes.  I love the '70s in all their tacky, shallow yet deep, feminist, gay-friendlier, and idealistically cynical glory.  I'm grateful to the '60s for being the Point B to the A of the '50s and the C of the '70s.  So even though Pichaske is wrong, and bullying and sanctimonious when he thinks he's open-minded and wry, I'm oddly grateful to him, too, for making me thank the 1970s for giving me my start, as a reader and a critic.

Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby

1979, undated later edition, from Apple (Scholastic)
Jane O'Connor
Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby
Original price $2.75, purchase price 25 cents
Very worn paperback

Very cliched account of a ten-year-old girl's first summer at camp, although there are moments where it's almost funny.  Ironically, I bought the book in my early 30s because I had a friend who signed off her emails "Yours till Niagara Falls," but we lost touch and I never gave her the book.  I've read it once before, and now it's going in the recycling bin.

Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking

1979, 1988 Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Jessica Mitford
Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking
Original price $8.95, purchase price $5.40
Worn paperback with partially torn front cover

A collection of articles, some investigative reporting, others on some relatively uncontroversial topics, like "frenemies."  Equally good are Mitford's behind-the-scenes "Comments," discussing where the ideas came from, whether and how the articles were changed upon publication, and reaction, if any.  Best of the bunch are "Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers," which brought down a mail-order business, temporarily anyway; "My Short and Happy Life as a Distinguished Professor," which I enjoyed all the more as a graduate of the Cal State system; and the Comment on her two articles about a rip-off posh restaurant.  As Carl Bernstein says in his Afterword, Mitford tells and shows how to be a good reporter, including realizing your mistakes.  (She seems as gleeful about angles she missed as a frenemy would be.)

Mitford sisters notes:  "Frenemies" comes from one sister's term for a childhood companion (although Wikipedia credits Walter Winchell with the first published usage), and Nancy comes up a couple times, in the discussion of Jessica's visits to the set of The Loved One of course, and also in "You-All and Non-You-All," whose title had to be changed for American readers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Charmed Lives: A Family Romance

1979, possibly first edition, from Random House
Michael Korda
Charmed Lives: A Family Romance
Original and purchase price unknown
Hardcover with bent pages

The lives of the title are those of film producer-director Alexander Korda and his brothers, Zoli and Vincent, the latter Michael's father.  Michael grew up on the edges of their glamorous, eccentric world, idolizing Uncle Alex and then having to find his own path when Alex died.  Michael did fine in his own right, becoming a major publisher with Simon & Schuster.  (And yet it's Random House that published this memoir.)  Michael's only son Chris continues the family's fame/notoriety as "leader of the Church of Euthanasia, techno musician and software developer."

While the Kordas are an interesting family, they don't always come across as likable, or even as impressive as Michael K. thinks, or at least thought as a hero-worshiping young man.  Vincent seems to have been the nicest, which admittedly is like Harpo being the nicest Marx brother.  I almost gave the book a C+ because I was getting tired of Michael's crush on his "Aunt Alexa," Alex's younger by almost four decades wife.  Also, the timeline gets very muddled during the Alexa years, so that during the pivotal summer that Michael meets Alexa, I have no idea if it's 1948, when Michael is 14, or '52, when Michael is 18.  Luckily, revolution breaks out in the Kordas' native land of Hungary the same year Alex dies, so the book gets interesting again.

I think I originally got this book because Alexander Korda's second wife was actress Merle Oberon, whom I had a minor interest in.  Unfortunately, she's not in it much.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

About the New Yorker and Me: A Sentimental Journal

1979, 1988 edition
E. J. Kahn, Jr.
About the New Yorker and Me: A Sentimental Journal
Original price $9.95, purchase price $3.98
Slightly worn paperback

As I noted in my review of Brendan Gill's Here at the New Yorker, Kahn and other contributors to the magazine were unhappy with Gill's version, especially his portrayal of founder Herbert Ross.  But more of Kahn's book deals with second publisher, William Shawn, whom Kahn even dreams about.  (As does his wife at one point.)  You might guess correctly from the subtitle that this is Kahn's diary, for the year 1977, so he talks about Andy Young, and Annie Hall, and a lot of sports figures.  Quite a bit of the book tells of Kahn's research and longer writing process for an article on Georgia.  There's also a lot of name-dropping, some of it blunted by time.  (Rita Gam may've been a frequent crossword puzzle answer then, but she's hardly a household name these days.)  And Kahn talks about his family quite a bit.

Given the format, this doesn't ramble as much as it could, although it's definitely anecdotal.  I found some of Kahn's sentences unnecessarily long (and I say that as someone who's given to parenthetical digressions), and I couldn't help wondering if the New Yorker editors couldn't break him of this habit.  (At least the book isn't typo-ridden like Gill's.)  I was also struck by how Kahn, as a 60-year-old liberal was trying to adapt to changing times, sharing household chores with his wife, and yet using that annoying form of "the John Smiths" (to describe John and Mary Smith, even if Mary is known by her maiden name).  Yet overall, it's an entertaining enough read, and I did laugh out loud a couple times.

Kahn published a sequel the same year this edition was released, the later book called Year of Change: More about the New Yorker and Me, which I haven't read, but the year in question seems to have been when the new owners of the magazine forced Shawn out.  Shawn died in 1992, Kahn two years later, and Gill, as I mentioned earlier, three years after that.

Monday, November 19, 2012


1979, possibly first edition, from FOTONOVEL Publications
Neil Israel etc.*
Original price unknown, purchase price $1.85
Worn paperback

Once again, I'm giving a novelization of a bad 1970s movie a C+, although this one is a "FOTONOVEL."**  This makes it more faithful than, say, the Digby adaptation, although there are a few lines that didn't make the movie, and much of the sexual humor has been, um, stripped out.  I almost went with a B-, but some of the stills came out really dark.

Since the movie was released to DVD only last year and was a flop in theaters, I guess I should summarize it for you.  Narrator George Carlin looks back to 1998, when he was a young Peter Riegert and John Ritter was President.  (As the magazine covers in the Where Are They Nows reveal, the present is actually 2005ish.)  The country is broke, in debt to NIKE (National Indian Knitting Enterprises), and unscrupulous presidential aide Fred Willard might sell the US to the Hebrabs, unless a telethon led by has-been actor Harvey Korman raises enough money in time.  And there are lots of music cameos, most of which didn't make it into the FOTONOVEL.  (Another reason I can't give a higher grade.)

How does this world of the late '90s compare to Cerf & co's '80s?  Well, Look Back seems to have a more consistent overall plan, while this story just seems to be thrown together.  For instance, if Mouling was living with Warren Beatty in 2002, when she was 1/3 his age, that makes her about 22 to his 65, and only 18 in 1998, which Zane Buzby definitely doesn't look.  Also, if North Dakota is the first all-gay state, why is there a picture of Mount Rushmore?

There are some similarities in their predictions, as in both the UK is an amusement-park-like state of the US, Limeyland here, the United Magic Kingdom in Look Back.  The Arabs go broke in Cerf's '80s, due to the Oil Glut, while here they have an empire with the Israelis.  The US is equally bad off in both, especially economically.  In both versions of America, meat is illegal, jogging suits are fashionable.  OK, the latter was true in the real late twentieth century.  In fact, on the Internet there are quite a few lists of all the things that this movie predicted, such as China's embrace of capitalism and the emergence of reality TV.  By the time the real 1998 rolled around and I'd watched this movie several times on VHS, I'd noted the similarity of Chet Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.  Ironically, this story is much more prescient than the more intelligent Look Back, which is probably just as well.

Of Cerf et. al's vision vs. Israel (Neil I mean), I'd take the latter, because it just looks like people are having more fun.  As I recall, 1978 was a much happier year than '79, for me personally (10 rather than 11, and so not yet dealing with adolescent crap), but also for the US.  The Iranian hostage situation started in '79 and a lot other things soured then.  These two '79 books reflect this in their projections of what the next decade or two might be like.  But in Looking Back, almost no one seems happy, while here people look like they're making the best of bad situations.  And, even in stills, they're chewing the scenery like it's a meat substitute.

*It was a bit tricky deciding who's responsible for this, since no one is credited with the adaptation from movie to book.  I decided that since Neil Israel directed the movie, cowrote the screenplay (based on a play by Proctor and Bergman, of Firesign Theatre), and has a cameo as a protesting rabbi, he should get the credit/blame.

**The photonovel was popular in the pre-home-video late '70s and early '80s, with film stills and dialogue.  This is #14 in the FOTONOVEL series, the most ironic title on the list in the back being Lord of the Rings, that is, the 1978 Ralph Bakshi version.


1979, 1980 Dell edition
Lee Israel
Original price $2.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn and falling apart paperback

Israel tells the life of the clever but naive, controversial gossip columnist/crime reporter/What's My Line? panelist.  This is one of the few biographies I own or have even read that seems to spend about an equal amount on every decade of the subject's adulthood, but then it was an eventful life, with 23-year-old "Dolly Mae" in a round-the-world race that started on the Hindenburg, and the 50-year-old getting an exclusive interview with Jack Ruby, as part of her investigation into JFK's assassination.  Kilgallen's death in 1965 is still unresolved, although Israel floated a few theories back in '79.

I've read this book a few times, although it's yet another biography of a celebrity that I didn't know much about before.  (I'd seen a few What's My Line? episodes, as well as her uncredited cameo in 1964's Pajama Party.)  She seems to have been much brighter and open-minded than Hedda and Louella, although definitely still with blind spots.  Israel does a good job in showing Kilgallen in all her complexity, and it's certainly an entertaining and thought-provoking read. 

While Israel is a good writer (although she or her editor let through a typo of "girls" for "curls"), this reading I found myself a bit frustrated with some of the conclusions Israel jumps to without enough evidence, although there are definitely some odd circumstances surrounding Kilgallen's death, including how she was dressed and who first discovered the death.  (She was "found dead" at least twice.)  Kilgallen's whole life was filled with secrecy, from the affairs of herself and her husband, to a judge's abrupt statement that a not-yet-tried defendant was guilty, which Dorothy told no one of publicly until a decade later, unwilling to break a confidence.

Adding to the oddity, when I Googled Lee Israel, I found out that in 1991 she committed forgery of Noel Coward's letters, because "she was jobless, broke and living in a fly-infested apartment with her 21-year-old cat, Jersey."  She fooled many, until the FBI trapped her.  It's the sort of story that Kilgallen herself would've enjoyed reporting.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I'm in Training to be Tall and Blonde

1979, possibly first edition, from St. Martin's Press
Nicole Hollander
I'm in Training to be Tall and Blonde
Original price $4.95, purchase price unknown
Paperback with worn out binding

One thing about being middle-aged, Sylvia (the snarky, chain-smoking couch potato/barfly) no longer seems as cynical as she once did.  In fact, other than the references to Carter and other then-current leaders, as well as a few fashions and hairstyles, this collection is not as dated as it should be.  Even the title still sums up the dominant cultural ideal for women.  (Only it should include "thin" of course).  And yet, just reading these women saying the unsayable is encouraging.  What better sign of hope to end on than this final exchange?
PATIENT:  Doctor!  I want to have my cake and eat it, too!

The '80s: A Look Back at the Tumultuous Decade 1980-1989

1979, Workman edition from later that year
Edited by Tony Hendra, Christopher Cerf & Peter Elbling
Art directed by Michael Gross
(with many contributors, including Jeff Greenfield, Harry Shearer, and Valerie Curtin)
The '80s: A Look Back at the Tumultuous Decade 1980-1989
Original price $6.95, purchase price $4.50
Worn paperback with broken spine

Like the Harvard Lampoon  book on college, this isn't as funny as I remember.  (One line about the fish sleeping with the fishes used to crack me up.)  It's still somewhat impressive how the contributors managed to cover so many aspects of American society (there's a bit on "The World"), and be consistent and yet get nearly everything deliriously wrong.  (The story of a pregnant Cher being dragged into court for smoking in public is not all that different from the "fetal rights" cases discussed in Backlash, particularly the pregnant Seattle woman who in 1991 "ordered a single drink in a bar [and was] hounded and lectured by two servers," only in real life the woman sued and the servers were fired.) 

As with the Lampoon book, there are times when I can't tell if they're parodying sexism and more so racism, or indulging in them.  There are some things that make me smile, like the debate over the "scrotal orgasm," and references to the "novel by an obscure English writer" that inspired the movie hit of the decade, 1984!  But I found my attention wandering too often for a book filled with interesting topics and lots of pictures.  Many of the latter are poorly done (I suspect literal cut and paste), although the Great Wall of Central Park is pretty convincing even in color.

Belshazzar: A Cat's Story for Humans

1979, 1982 Bard edition
Chaim Bermant
Illustrated by Meg Rutherford
Belshazzar: A Cat's Story for Humans
Original price $2.50, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

This is the tale of a British, "Jewish" (he eats kosher, mostly) cat, so it's of interest for that reason, but "Bell" has such an unpleasant personality (without a charming Morris side) that it was hard to have much sympathy for him even when his luck goes bad.  The illustrations are quite good though.  I've seen this listed as a children's book online, and it is a very short book, but it would probably only appeal to an unsentimental, slightly jaded preteen, who likes to look at pictures of cute animals.

The Two: A Biography

1978, 1979 Bantam edition
Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace
The Two: A Biography
Possibly purchased new for $2.50
Very worn paperback

The father and daughter of The Book of Lists family tell the story of the original "Siamese" twins, Chang & Eng.  They do a good job of showing the world of the early to mid 1800s, from Siam to North Carolina, and I like how they reveal the sense of humor and intelligence of the twins, but there were certain things that I didn't feel were adequately explained.  No, not how the twins fathered a total of twenty-one children, but how they reconciled their own experiences of discrimination with their ownership of black slaves.  Yes, I understand that they came to identify heavily with the Southern culture that they married into, but considering how they struggled to maintain their own freedom and independence from their original managers, didn't they have any empathy for their "servants"?  The Wallaces don't even raise the question.  Also, the book seemed to rush through the second half of their sixty-two years, not even covering their post-"retirement" tours in much detail compared to their original exhibits.

This completes 1978, which now holds the record for most posts, 21.  It's a record that will stand for the moment, but I'm sure it will be broken in less than a decade.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Doonesbury's Greatest Hits: A Mid-Seventies Revue

1978, undated later edition, from Holt, Rinehart and Winston
G. B. Trudeau
Doonesbury's Greatest Hits: A Mid-Seventies Revue
Original price unknown, purchase price $7.95
Worn paperback

As with the earlier collection, Doonesbury remains more interesting and likable than funny.  I could've done without so much of Zonker's "Uncle" Duke, but at least his adventures in Samoa and China give him good foils.  Joanie continues to be the most changeable character, finishing up law school and then going to work for the winner in a congressional campaign that Joanie's roommate runs in.  She also finds love with reporter Rick Redfern, after a false start with a gay friend.  As elsewhere, Trudeau handles gay issues with respect and humor.  Zonker, Mike, Mark, and B.D. continue to be perpetual college students, which Trudeau lampshades a bit.  Interestingly, Mike's second wife, Kim, is introduced as a Vietnamese baby orphan adopted by L.A. Jews in 1975, although retcon would later reduce their age difference.

As I noted in my earlier review, this "mid-seventies" collection (actually covering 1975 to '77) is more pop-cultural, with not only Rick humiliated by his stint at People magazine, but Mark shifting to lighter topics on his radio show, such as jogging.  Still, such issues as racism and feminism are further pursued, sometimes in tales of Zonker's 18th-century ancestors, tying in with the Bicentennial.  There's no question that Mr. Harris is the star of the strip at this point, with not only the front cover but illustrations introducing each year, as well as being either focus of his own plot threads or support in the plot threads of others, including his talking plants.  The title character doesn't seem to do much beyond answer the phone and watch TV.  Not only is Nichole fading out as a character, but B.D. and Boopsie are given very little to do, separately or together.  Rock star Jimmy Thudpucker and his pregnant wife Jenny are much more prominent than many of the original characters.  Luckily, at this point anyway, the second team is equally interesting.  We'll see how I feel about the next collection, which finishes off the Carter years.

This is my 500th review, so it's time to update the stats.  As of A Child's Garden of Graffiti (1971), we had

1 F
3 F+s
2 D-s
5 D's
10 D+s
15 C-s
21 C's
73 C+s
126 B-s
101 B's
37 B+s
6 A-s

We did get a new F+, but no more D-s or D's.  There's a new D+, another C-, and 5 more C's.  There are 30 more C+s and 38 more B-s, but only 17 more B's and 6 more B+s.  I said at the time, "I haven't seen an A- since Right Ho, Jeeves (1934).  Hopefully that will change as we get deeper into the 1970s."  And indeed in 1973 there was another A-.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fads: America's Crazes, Fevers & Fancies

1978, undated later edition, from Crowell
Peter L. Skolnik, with Laura Torbet & Nikki Smith
Fads:  America's Crazes, Fevers & Fancies, from the 1890's to the 1970's
Original price $5.95, purchase price $3.50
Worn paperback with "mutilation" by me (I put Zeppo's face over George Harrison's, and of course Groucho's over John Lennon's)

In very roughly chronological order, Skolnik and friends trace over a century of America's fads.  (Despite the subtitle, they actually start back in the 1860s, with croquet and roller skates.)  Their definition of "fads" includes not just wacky products and practices,but enthusiasms that are political or spiritual.  They offer explanations for why things caught on and then faded away, and in some cases, as with table tennis, came back again and again.  They discuss how large a fad was-- some were very local-- and how people reacted, as with protests against goldfish-swallowing. 

Beatlemania is of course is one of the fads, which is how I came to mutilate one page.  (As I recall, I was overly impressed by parallels between the Marx Brothers and the Beatles.)  As with Schaffner, the resurgence of Beatle fanship is also recognized.  Also like Schaffner's book, there's full nudity, in the former case that of John & Yoko, here of several streakers.

Although the book doesn't address fads beyond 1976, there are a couple mentions of Carter (including a caricature of him brushing the Washington Monument with a toothbrush), and this amusing prediction:  "We can speculate, but only precariously, about future fads: punk rock; more sophisticated computer games; satin boxing shorts a la Rocky; mopeds; and a fourth great roller-skating renaissance."  Not bad, guys, not bad at all, although I'm sure roller discos weren't quite what you were expecting.