Sunday, September 30, 2012

Media Sexploitation

1976, 1977 Signet edition
Wilson Bryan Key
Media Sexploitation
Original price $2.25, purchase price $1.65
Very worn paperback

Weak follow-up to Subliminal Seduction, this doesn't offer much new beyond a discussion of subliminal appeals to other senses than visual (which is hard to demonstrate in print), and the embeds are harder than ever to see.  Also, I'm dubious about the chapter on rock music.  While it is possible that "Hey Jude" and "Bridge over Troubled Water" are drug songs, I can't buy some of Key's other conclusions, including that the Beatles are responsible for the "Paul is dead" rumors.  For one thing, I think that the Beatles could've managed to get Paul's age right on the Abbey Road cover (28IF).  Had there been a conspiracy, it would've been better done.

Still, I did enjoy the lesbian Sears ad and the cross-dressing Playboy and Oui covers.  As I recall, his next book, Clam-Plate Orgy (1980), is better, or at least it has the best title of the bunch.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Welcome Back, Kotter #4: 10-4, Sweathogs!

1976, possibly first edition, from Grosset & Dunlap
William Johnston
Welcome Back, Kotter #4: 10-4, Sweathogs!
Original price $1.25, purchase price 49 cents
Worn paperback

A TV tie-in book for one of my favorite shows of my preteens, this is much less funny than the program.  (I've got the first season on DVD, and some of the later episodes, so trust me, this isn't just adult hindsight.)  The main interest here, other than the characters acting somewhat out of character (including an uncanonical backstory for Horshack's father), is in the topical references to CB radios (hence the title) and the Bicentennial.  I used to own #2, The Sweathog Newshawks, and recall it as having a better plot and I think better dialogue, although all the books seem to have been written by Johnston.  As with the Pussycats crossword puzzle book, this only mildly satisfies nostalgia.

MAD's Vastly Overrated Al Jaffee

1976, possibly first edition, from Warner Books
Al Jaffee
MAD's Vastly Overrated Al Jaffee
Possibly bought new for $3.95
Very worn paperback, with last page coming loose

A collection of "lowlights" written and/or illustrated by Jaffee, covering from 1957 to the then present.  Not only are there several fold-ins (with before and after versions) and some "Snappy Answers," but there are lesser known recurring features like "Hawks & Doves," "The MAD Hate Book," and my personal favorite, "MAD's Puzzle Page," as well as some interesting one-shots.  "If Kids Designed Their Own Xmas Toys" is probably the best of the latter.  Among the guest artists are Bob Clarke, who does a surprisingly dead-on parody of Charles Addams; and Wally Wood, illustrating "World Leaders," ca. 1960, including Ike, JFK, Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt, De Gaulle, Brigitte Bardot, Jack Parr, and Elvis!

The most important thing to keep in mind when reading Al Jaffee is that he had an uncanny ability to predict future inventions, and that the things he humorously suggested really weren't yet around three or four decades ago.  In this book alone, we see precursors to spell-check ("idiot-proof typewriters"), gimmicky postal stamps, the mute button on a remote, the breathalyzer, and the mechanical bull (well, horse).

As with the Snappy Answers book from 1972, this is entertaining but not hilarious.  Also, I got tired of the mild sexism, though he's hardly the worst MAD contributor for that.

Josie and the Pussycats Crossword Puzzles

1976, possibly first edition, from Grosset & Dunlap
Dawn Gerger
Josie and the Pussycats Crossword Puzzles
Original price 75 cents, purchase price 49 cents
Worn paperback

Twenty-four crosswords for children, I'm guessing approximately 3rd-grade level.  Surprisingly, none of the words have been filled in for this copy, so an adult, or a bright child, can do the answers in his/her head, as I did.

Not every clue or even subject has much to do with the title band, although the illustrations show a member, or one of their friends, performing an activity related to the topic, like Alan M. happily at the dentist's office for "Tooth Talk."  And not every clue is related to the subject.  Some words are repeated, like "dogs."  The book is mainly notable for the illustrations, which not only make Josie look as blonde as Melody but which (except for on the front cover in color) make Valerie look like a white girl with a perm.

The cartoon series from 1970-71 was being rerun at the time this book came out, and of course I was a fan of the show, and the "outer space" version.  So I bought this book for nostalgic reasons as an adult, although it doesn't capture the charm of the show.

Cat Catalog: The Ultimate Cat Book

1976, possibly first paperback edition, from Workman Publishing
Edited by Judy Fireman
Cat Catalog: The Ultimate Cat Book
Bought newish for $6.95
Very worn paperback

I remember getting this book when I was 8 or 9 and not understanding all of it (especially the bits about sex), but enjoying it because I loved cats and then lived with two.  I haven't had a cat since leaving home at 20, never feeling rooted enough to get one, but I still like cats and hope to have one or two when I retire, if not sooner.  (I no longer want to be an old lady with a dozen cats though.)

About a fourth of the book, Chapters VI through X (with headings like "The Healthy Cat"), seems like a feline version of Our Bodies, Ourselves.  There's also information about cats in history, myth, and pop culture, as well as methods for training and breeding cats.  The last chapter, "The Consuming Cat," seems skimpy, as if pet product merchandizing was still in its infancy.

This is a very '70s book, from its front cover painting of a giant cat hovering over the landscape to the discussions of astrology, psychology, and acupuncture for your cat.  The parts on catnip show the era's casual attitude towards drugs.  The humorous essay on cats sleeping in a pyramid was for years my main impression of "pyramid power."  Also, "Oriental" was still being used as a term for "Asian," which is rarely the case these days.  And finally, there is a story of Morris being interviewed by Gene Shalit.  You can't get much more 1970s than that!

This was also of course decades before LOLcats, but not that long before one sentence got very ironic.  After a lament that comics starring cats weren't as popular as in the first half of the century, with Snoopy the current most notable comics animal, the writer says, "But we can console ourselves, for some day another great cat comic will arrive on the scene."  Some might disagree about whether Garfield is great, but there's no question that the comic, which debuted two years after this book came out, is very popular.  (The world's most widely syndicated.)

It's still a fun book but would've been better with some color photos, especially in the chapter on breeds.  Also the book could've used tighter editing, to avoid redundancies, as with the multiple discussions of the Black Plague.  Still, I imagine getting all of these contributions, some from such celebrities as Edith Head, Adlai Stevenson, and Helen Gurley Brown, not to mention all the dead writers who are quoted, must've been like, well, herding cats.

I've now done more posts for the 1970s than any other decade, but I'm pretty sure that the 1980s will break that record.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Reagan: The Political Chameleon

1976, possibly first edition, from Praeger Publishers
Edmund G. (Pat) Brown & Bill Brown (I don't know if any relation)
Reagan: The Political Chameleon
Original price unknown, purchase price $2.00
Good condition hardcover with worn dustjacket

Let me start with a confession.  I used to hate Reagan.  For a long time after he left office, I could see/hear a recording of one of his speeches and get mad.  I never felt this way about any other president.  It's partly due to what he did in office and partly due to the age I was at the time, almost 13 to almost 21, roughly my adolescence.  I could've saved this confession for when we actually get up to the 1980s, but I need to tell you now because of my odd reaction to this book.

Over the past decade, I've become more apolitical, not only paying less attention to current politics, but mellowing on the past.  So when I started this book, which I haven't read more than once or twice before, and that probably shortly after Reagan left office, I didn't have any strong feelings about the subject.  I was curious to see how Reagan's time as Governor of California (from a couple years before my birth in So Cal till shortly before my seventh birthday) looked to his predecessor.  I vaguely remembered that when I read the book before, I kept thinking, Why didn't anybody see what kind of president he'd be?  All the evidence was there!  But I didn't remember specifics.

So for maybe the first half of the book, I was mostly amused, both at Reagan's quotes (many of them as contradictory as Nixon's in I Want to Make One Thing Perfectly Clear) and at Brown's failed attempts to try not to talk about his own experiences or personally attack Reagan.  But as I went on, I got pissed off at Reagan, just like in the old days!  Yes, Brown is biased, understandably, and it is funny when he can't help praising Reagan's successor, none other than Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Jr.  But I can't help it, Brown is right that Reagan was callous, particularly towards the poor.  I do disagree with the back cover quote, that "Ronald Reagan's election to the Presidency would be a national disaster."  It was more like an international disaster.

Reagan didn't get the nomination in '76, but that was probably just as well for him.  By '80, the wounds of Watergate were partially healed, so a Republican could be elected president, especially one as charismatic as Reagan.  And his time as governor was an accurate preview, except that Brown couldn't have predicted how much Reagan's anti-feminism would grow.  I wish this book was longer and went into more detail, but as it is, it's still a good early look at a candidate that Brown himself didn't take seriously enough back in '66.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book by and for Women

1976, but with a reference to a recent event in '77, so probably a later printing of the 2nd edition
The Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book by and for Women
Original price unknown, purchase price $5.25
Very worn paperback

Even at the time I bought this book, in the late '80s or early '90s, it was already dated, but that's not to say there's not still useful information about anatomy and health.  There are of course later editions, including the ninth in 2011.  This, the second edition, offers glimpses of left-of-center feminism at its height, and for a nonparous woman (never borne a child) it's especially interesting to see the rebellion against inhumane medical attitudes towards mothers and babies, as shown in fiction like A Proper Marriage and The Group, both in the 1950s, and to a lesser degree in Small Changes.  We'll revisit this topic when we get to A Midwife's Story (1988) and The American Way of Birth (1999), both nonfiction, but I can say now that I knew during my more fertile years that if I ever had a baby, it would have to be a home birth.  This book also convinced me to rely on birth control with the fewest side effects, condoms and a diaphragm, although condoms were not often used in the 1970s.

On the other hand, I can't say that I ever ate any healthier because of this or any other book.  Although most of the book understandably concentrates on sexuality and reproduction, including acknowledgment of alternatives (the section on "dykes" is pretty well done, and there's sympathy for women who choose not to have children), there are chapters on diet, exercise, and self-defense.  I wish that there was more on menopause, but that's probably partly due to the oldest woman in the collective being only 41.  I'm sure this is something that's been expanded on in later editions.

As I said, there's a lefty bias, but they do try to recognize that each woman needs to do what works for her, at each stage of her life.  One change from the earlier edition is that Roe v. Wade happened in the interval, so they talk about not only abortion but the "right-to-life" movement.  It's strange to see Herpes mentioned so little, and not under Venereal Disease.  And of course, AIDS wouldn't be discovered for another five years.  The era of relatively safe sexual experimentation was still in full flower when this edition of the book came out.  In the discussion of open relationships, they admit that jealousy and other issues must be addressed.  They don't pretend to have the answers, or the best "liberated" lifestyle, but they share their stories and encourage other women to as well.

Each chapter ends with a list of resources on that particular topic.  Although these are of course terribly out-of-date, I enjoyed reading their appraisals, with not everything getting a glowing review but its merit recognized.  It's probably not a good idea to read the book cover to cover, particularly since some of the subjects are heavy, although they do try to keep a friendly, readable tone.  There's a lot of text here, partly due to the font and partly due to the dimensions.  But that's not the only reason I was grateful for the photographs.  It's lovely to see the women-- sometimes with men, sometimes with each other, sometimes with children, and sometimes alone-- almost all delighting in their bodies and in life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lady Oracle

1976, 1978 Avon edition
Margaret Atwood
Lady Oracle
Original price 1.95, purchase price 50 cents
Very worn paperback

I think this is my favorite Atwood book.  It's certainly the one I've read the most.  It's funnier and in some ways quirkier than The Edible Woman, but it has some of the darkness of her later works, including the cruelty that little girls can inflict on each other, which she focuses on in Cat's Eye (coming up in 1988).  I've never read Surfacing (1972), her novel that comes between Edible and this, but it sounds much more serious than either. 

Joan Foster is similar to Marian McAlpin in that they both often have to choose between two unsatisfactory alternatives, in particular a pompous man (Peter and Arthur) vs. a slightly crazy man (Duncan and Chuck).  Joan also has issues with food, longer-lasting than Marian's.  In Joan's case, overeating is a way of rebelling against her controlling mother.  Even after Joan loses weight, "the Fat Lady" lives inside her.

The other "lady" of the novel is Joan's spiritualist side, which makes her accidentally write a best-selling book of poetry when she tries Automatic Writing, and which glimpses her mother dressed ca. 1949 at the most awkward moments.  Joan's Lady Oracle is ironically a trendy version of the Gothic Romances she secretly writes.  There's a great moment when Joan can't remember how many secret identities she has.  Like so much of the book, it's hilarious but surprisingly profound.

This isn't a perfect book.  The ending is too unresolved and introduces yet another man for Joan.  (At one point, the Polish Count who took her virginity treats her at a restaurant run by the first man who proposed to her.)  Also, Atwood's attitude towards rape and child molestation is odd to say the least, as if fat little girls or fat women never get attacked.

Still, there's much to treasure here, from the excerpts of the novels Joan and the Count write (he specializes in "nurse" books) to Joan's tendency to take the "political is personal" too literally.  (She speculates that Mao was much more fun than Stalin.)  I also love Aunt Lou, such a nice balance to Joan's cold mother and distant father.  There are so many moments that are absurd and yet somehow believable in the world of the novel, like the way she says, "I've got to go move the dynamite," as if it's an ordinary errand, when in fact she's already disposed of the dynamite and doesn't care about the radical politics of her husband and friends.

The novel gets a bit vague on how much time it covers.  From 1949 to '64, the dates and Joan's age are clear, but then it's just The Sixties and then The Feminist Seventies.  (Joan's publishers can plan to cash on the Libber demographic and tell her not to worry her pretty little head, all in the same minute.)  The story starts with her "death," and it's definitely not a linear tale, but I found it easy to follow even the first time.  Now I've read it enough I can notice details like Joan painting her face with blue eyeshadow as a little girl, and then again when she "dies."

The next Atwood I'll review, The Handmaid's Tale (1985), will be very different, although like this and Edible, it deals with women's (self-)images.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


1975, undated possibly first paperback edition, from HarperTrophy
Laurence Yep
Original price unknown, purchase price $3.75
Worn paperback

A Newberry Honor book about a Chinese boy, Moon Shadow, who joins his father in San Francisco at the turn of the century.  The title "character" is the plane that his father designs because of a dream he once had where he was a dragon.  The story is about both believing in your dreams and realizing when they're getting in the way of your life.  Because of the setting, much of the book tells of the 1906 earthquake and fire.  As with Julie of the Wolves, there's some content that's surprising for a preteen novel, including murder, opium addiction, and prostitution.

This finishes off not only 1975, but my first bookcase.  I've moved the 1971 books I didn't discard down to the bottom shelf, so I no longer have to split that year.  The penultimate bookcase runs from the Mrs. Grundy book to Sexual Politics, while this last shelf now starts with "Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own!"  The next bookcase was designed to go by windows, so it's more horizontal than vertical, and at the moment the top shelf holds from '76 to '81.  A lot of those books are in poor enough condition I'll probably get rid of them, so it's going to be awhile before I finish another shelf.

The Doonesbury Chronicles

1975, undated later edition, from Holt, Rinehart and Winston
G. B. Trudeau
The Doonesbury Chronicles
Bought newish for $10.95
Worn paperback with stains

The first large collection of the newspaper strips shows Trudeau improving his artwork (soon the non-speaking characters no longer lack mouths, as in the era represented in Just a French Major) and broadening his scope.  Trudeau not only moves off the campus at times, he follows regulars, semi-regulars, and guest stars to Washington, D.C., Berkeley, and Saigon.  Such major characters as Zonker and Joanie make memorable entrances.  There's a definite irony to B.D. thinking Mike is going for some "Mrs. Robinson" action, since Joanie's daughter will years later become Mike's first wife.  Zonker is a mostly asexual hippie "freak," who does wacky things like scuba-dive in Walden Puddle.  It's implied that protestor Mark dates girls, but we never actually see it.  (Years later, he'll have a neocon boyfriend.)

Just in the four or five years that this collection covers, the characters change, most dramatically with Joanie, who goes from runaway wife to daycare worker to law school student.  And of course, we see the country move from the might-as-well-still-be-the-1960s to the post-Watergate era.  Not surprisingly, this is the first book I own to mention President Ford.

Reading it this time, I remembered that I liked Nichole, partly because I identified with her as a young sarcastic feminist with brown hair and glasses, and I was disappointed that she was phased out after a few years.  I was surprised this time to see how much Doonesbury uses child characters, most notably Ellie at the daycare, but also a few short-lived characters during a school-busing thread.

There seems to be less pop culture in this collection than later, just a few music references (including a Sunday spread from the POV of Gladys Knight's Pips) and some morphing Calder art.  As I recall, as Doonesbury moved into the later 1970s, there was more about things like disco and jogging, while still including deeper social and political issues.  Reading this comic is usually a painless way to revisit the past.

I just wish it were, um, funny.  It makes me smile but it rarely makes me laugh.

Movie-Made America

1975, possibly first edition, from Vintage Books
Robert Sklar
Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies
Original price unknown, purchase price 25 cents
Worn paperback

As with the Metz book on CBS, the writing style makes an interesting subject less appealing.  Sklar meanders through the decades even more than Haskell and Rosen did in their books on movies, although I do appreciate it when Sklar covers topics that aren't discussed much in my other books, like nickelodeons.  When I first read this book years ago, I was surprised to discover how different the early Mickey Mouse cartoons were-- raunchy and dreamlike-- than the later Disney products.

Sklar died just last year, and had updated this book in 1994.

CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye

1975, 1976 Signet edition
Robert Metz
CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye
Original price unknown, purchase price $1.65
Very worn paperback

A fascinating book could be written about the first half-century of CBS, but this book isn't it.  Metz has an ability to make everything, even gossip, or the defeat of plans to launch color TV in the 1940s, less interesting.  He also has a gift for the tortured metaphor/simile, as when he says that something could be "counted on the fingers of a leper's hand," or a merger that he compares to a marriage, for two or three pages, including a digression that brings up a new bride's batch of rice.

Still, this book does record what CBS was like from the early days of radio up till just before dark horse ABC shot to #1 in the ratings and changed the game.  (How's that for mixed metaphors?)  CBS founder Bill Paley was in 1975 still resisting retirement, but he did eventually withdraw, so that when he died fifteen years later, he owned less than 9% of the stock.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Here at the New Yorker

1975, 1976 Berkley [sic] Medallion edition
Brendan Gill
Here at the New Yorker
Original price $1.95, purchase price unknown
Paperback in terrible condition

I didn't know till reading the Wikipedia article today that this book was controversial among Gill's colleagues, although I do own E. J. Kahn's About The New Yorker and Me (1979) and vaguely recalled that he disliked Gill's book.  The issues they had with it aren't mine, since I don't feel any emotional attachment to James Thurber (whom Gill loathed) or even E. B. White.

Like The Dictionary of Misinformation, this is a book I used to enjoy more than I did this time.  In fact, I reread it so much, it had split in half, and this reading made another 100 pages split off.  What appealed to me most about the book was Harold Ross, so maybe part of the problem is that in the last three months I've reread the Thurber book on the same subject.  Yes, this book covers a greater span than that 1959 biography, but other than a nice glimpse of one of my favorite film critics, Pauline Kael, I don't find that to be as interesting a period at The New Yorker.  Another issue is that there are a distracting amount of typos in the book, and this bothers me in particular since so much emphasis is laid on accuracy in the magazine.  Also, while the meandering, anecdotal tone can be entertaining at times, I felt that not all of the side-trips were worth it.  (I got really bored in the section on the local bar and the writers who wrote of it.)

That said, I do like Gill's eye for what was quirky about The New Yorker, even into the 1970s, from the layout of the building to the layout of the magazine.  The photos and cartoons really do illustrate his points and this is actually one area that Thurber's New Yorker book surprisingly could've done better with.  (Perhaps Thurber's loss of sight made him think less visually?)  Gill does have some Ross stories that Thurber missed.  And Gill's autobiographical details are interesting, since he led a charmed but not perfect life.  Amusingly, Gill's son Michael's autobiography is called How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else.

And speaking of sons, Ross's successor William Shawn had a son named Wallace, whom it is impossible to think of as not middle-aged (in My Dinner with Andre, The Princess Bride, Clueless, etc.) but here he is in this book, as a young actor.

As for Brendan Gill, he outlived just about everybody (even two-years-younger Kahn), and kept writing for the magazine, dying in 1997, about 60 years after Ross first doubted Gill's commitment.

The Dictionary of Misinformation

1975, 1977 Ballantine edition
Tom Burnam
The Dictionary of Misinformation
Bought newish for $1.95
Worn paperback

I got more out of this book when I was a kid.  The most obvious reason is shown through one "amazing fact" mentioned on the back: "Columbus didn't discover America!"  Um, yeah, we know.  Much of the misinformation that Burnam corrects is no longer believed in anyway, like that milk is good for everyone.  Other things, like correcting quotes that are only slightly misquoted, kept me thinking, "Who cares?"  That said, there's still enough in here to make you go "hm," if not "wow!"  My favorite is that Shakespeare may've invented the limerick, in Othello.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape

1975, possibly first edition, from Simon and Schuster
Susan Brownmiller
Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape
Original price unknown, purchase price $9.00
Fair condition hardcover with worn dustjacket

A great book about a horrific subject, I don't think I've read this more than once or twice before, so I'd forgotten just how good it is.  Brownmiller examines rape in every setting, from the battlefield to prison to the streets to home.  She also looks at what was then starting to be called "rape culture," the ways media, religion, law, etc. present rape, as well as the presentation of weak women and strong men.  It may sound odd that a book about rape could be funny, but she does have a wry sense of humor that helps you get through some of the hypocrisy.  (At times, I found how the rape survivors were treated afterwards to be almost more painful than what the rapists did.)  Some of the "wow" moments were realizing that the concept of women having personhood, after the attempts to dehumanize them, was so obvious and yet so desperately needed to be stated by Brownmiller and other feminists.

Is the book dated?  In some ways, both good and bad.  My impression is that it's now much more likely that women will be listened to and believed by the police, family members, and society at large.  Unfortunately, as the recent remarks by comedian Daniel Tosh and Representative Todd Akin illustrate, there's still a lot of ignorance and insensitivity about rape.

Also, her view that pornography is always violent and sexist is one that I and some other feminists of my generation (third wave?) disagree with.  Yes, much of it is, but not all.  I do believe that media that celebrate rape (and that could include an ungraphic PG movie) are part of rape culture, but I don't equate that with all pornography.  Similarly, although I'm pretty vanilla myself, I think there is a difference between sadomasochism (which requires consent) and sex that is cruel and humiliating.

And what of her idea that all men benefit from the fact that some men are rapists?  I think this has been distorted.  She makes clear that men can have their consciousnesses raised.  (Hers was, as she didn't used to think of rape as a serious political issue.)  Men can be allies in the fight against rape.  However, she is right in a sense.  I know that in my own life, there are risks I haven't taken because of fear of rape, risks that most men don't have to think about.  These range from going some places alone at night to making out with strangers.  I was once pressured into sex by a friend I'd had a crush on for a couple of years.  Things went much faster than I wanted, despite my repeatedly telling him to slow down.  (We'd never even kissed before that night.)  It wasn't rape but it wasn't complete consent either.  I've tried to be more careful since then, but I know that you can never be entirely safe. 

Do men benefit from women living in fear?  In the sense that men benefit from getting things those women won't get, like higher salaries and cool adventures.  (I have, despite my fears, traveled to Britain alone, twice, and felt more confidence than I have walking in towns I live in.)  But I think men would benefit from a world where women felt safer, where women are with them only for companionship, and never for protection. 

This world?  Elayne Boosler summed it up well in 1989 (watch 0:45 to 1:30):

Monday, September 17, 2012

Forever...: A Novel

1975, 1976 Pocket Books edition
Judy Blume
Forever...: A Novel
Original price $1.75, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback with pages falling out

I mostly got Judy Blume books from the library rather than buying them.  I obviously didn't get this book at eight years old, but I did read it in junior high.  It was a rite of passage at my school, perhaps for many girls of my generation, and a little younger or older.  (Like knowing about the "must improve bust" thing in Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret.)  Everyone knew about "Ralph" and the "dirty pages."  Those aren't the ones falling out of this edition.  Actually, I'm losing the pages towards the beginning and end, including the "1970s shampoo commercial" color plate of Katherine and Michael, with the cover isolating her face inside a locket which in no way resembles the necklace he buys for her birthday.

At 12 or 13, few of us were sexually active, certainly not I.  But even five or six years after this book came out, it felt dated.  Katherine is almost 18, which seemed terribly old to be losing your virginity.  (More so than it did to 17- or 18-year-olds of course.)  There are lots of '70s touches, like the hooked rugs and embroidered jeans that Katherine's sister Jamie designs.  (Even the name "Jamie" feels so '70s to me, as it belonged to both the Bionic Woman and my ex-stepbrother who died in 1979.)  This reading, I was struck by how upper-middle-class everyone is, not just because they all plan to go to college, but because they go skiing and have not only a den but a room off of the den.  I also wondered if Katherine's last name, Danziger, was a tribute to writer Paula Danziger, Blume's fellow New Jersey juvenile/YA author.

But what of the book?  What of the characters, the plot?  The thing is, it's hard to separate all this out from the content.  Forever is as much its reputation (including Banned Books lists) as it is itself.  For instance, when I worry about Artie more than the characters seem to, is it because I'm more aware as a middle-aged bisexual how hard it is to be a "sexually confused" teenager?  Artie is "impotent" with Katherine's friend Erica, who pressures him into sex less successfully than Michael pressures Katherine.  ("Nice guy" or not, what jumps out at me now are the moments Michael grabs her hand or wrist, as when he first asks her out.  And he's only patient in comparison to her last boyfriend.)  Artie might be gay, it's unclear, but he does attempt suicide.  This isn't fully dealt with.  Nor is the surprise pregnancy of Erica's fat cousin Sybil, although it does lead Erica and Katherine to a brief discussion of abortion.

I do like the visit Katherine makes to Planned Parenthood, suggested by her liberated grandmother giving her birth control pamphlets.  The book certainly gets points for encouraging teens to be responsible about sex.  I do have to say that as an adult, I find the "dirty parts" neither hot nor repellent.  They're definitely more explicit than in the previous YA novel in my collection of a girl in her late teens becoming sexually active, Laura Ingalls Wilder in The First Four Years.  (There, Ma says in so many words that you have to pay for the fun of sex with pregnancy, but at least she admits it's fun.)

The book is more interesting than good.  I don't believe in the "love" that Katherine and Michael claim to feel for each other.  Even in my bad relationships (including with the first boyfriend, who was just trying to get me to join his Bible Study Group), we talked more about non-sex topics than these two do.  This might be OK if Blume's couple weren't supposed to be intelligent, articulate, and sensitive.  Their break-up comes when she admits she's attracted to another guy.  That's all!  She hasn't cheated, but Michael storms off into the night.  And I laugh every time because he claims he "screwed his way around North Carolina," and she shouts, "Lair!"  Of all the unfortunate typos....

Why does the title have ellipses?  Because the narrative has lots of ellipses.  And because forever may seem to stretch into infinity but it has to come to an end some time, or at least young love does.  One of the pamphlets Katherine reads asks, "Have you thought about how this relationship will end?"  The one thing I did get out of reading this book when I was so young is that I always think about how my relationships will end, I never think they'll last forever.  And in most cases, that's been a damn good thing, too.

What Are Little Girls Made of?

1975, 1978 Schocken edition
Elena Gianini Belotti
What Are Little Girls Made of?: The Roots of Feminine Stereotypes
Original price $4.95, purchase price $3.95
Worn paperback

Interesting take on early childhood from an Italian feminist perspective.  (Belotti was the director of the Montessori Pre-Natal Center in Rome.)  As such, there are definitely cultural differences, with both machismo and female passivity stronger than in then contemporary American society, although I suspect that there are still mothers and teachers in both cultures who, for instance, regard toilet-training differently for boys than girls.  Belotti is more empathetic with the children than most of the contributors to And Jill..., which at times makes the book hard to take, seeing babies and small children suffer so needlessly.

I wish Belotti had gone into more detail in the sections on primary-age children, particularly more of contrasting Italian children's books with those for Americans and French.  I also don't agree with all of her conclusions, but I certainly agree more than Margaret Mead seems to.  Mead is an odd choice for the introduction of the American edition, because she spends most of it criticizing Belotti, something I can't recall seeing in an introduction/preface/afterword etc. before, other than with some literary critics looking back 30 to 150 years, like in some editions of Jane Austen or Sinclair Lewis.  Belotti quotes Mead sympathetically in the text, so I don't know where this hostility comes from, other than that Mead appears to have had an ambivalent relationship with feminism.  (I've read but don't own her autobiography and some of her other nonfiction, long ago.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tuck Everlasting

1975, 1995 Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition
Natalie Babbitt
Tuck Everlasting
Bought new for $3.95
Slightly worn paperback

A wistful, bittersweet story about friendship and immortality, this holds up well.  At times it feels like a fairy tale, particularly with its poetic language and archetypal characters, so it's startling to see actual dates on the next to last page.  (And I think that ranks as one of the two greatest stomach-punch-as-you-turn-the-page moments in juvenile/YA literature, the other being in the American edition of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.)  It's not a perfect book, since the actions of the nameless man in the yellow suit are somewhat implausible.  For one thing, why not just go in the woods and drink from the spring himself, or get a guinea pig?  If he can't find the spring, sneak around some more until a Tuck goes to the spring again.  And he's got Supervillain Syndrome, where he explains his nefarious scheme.

Also, while the Tucks don't have to take the path of the Cullens in the Twilight series (going to high school forever), they certainly could educate themselves more and see immortality as more of an opportunity than a burden.  I understand what Babbitt is saying about the cycle of life, but their choice is different than Winnie's.  As a child, I felt she chose wrongly-- and not just because I don't think she should've burdened the toad with immortality when it had no way to consent or not-- but as an adult, I can understand that she would want a more normal life.  In the Disney adaptation, they made Winnie older, so she has less of a wait till she'd "catch up" with Jesse.  And the crush of a 10-year-old is different than that of a 15-year-old.  It's more believable that she'd grow out of it, especially as her memories of Jesse faded.

Still, there's something about this story that overcomes the problems, including that Winnie's friends are kidnappers, and in the case of Mae, a murderer.  Like the pond on the cover, there's a calm surface with troubling undercurrents, but sometimes you want to float along on this story, going where it takes you.


1975, 1976 Signet edition
Jane Austen and Another Lady
Original price $1.95, purchase price 75 cents
Paperback in poor condition

I gave the uncompleted fragment of Sanditon a B+, but this is still one of the better Austen spin-offs.  Another Lady does a decent pastiche of Austen, although there are times I suspect she's lifting direct (or nearly) quotes, as with Charlotte's description of Sidney that sounds suspiciously like Catharine's thoughts on Mr. Stanley in Catharine.  A.L. does get closer to chick-lit than Austen, and judging from the ads for other Signet books inside, this was aimed at the Regency Romance reader.  Indeed, the blurb on front, "Jane Austen's enchanting heroine sets out to snare Regency England's most dashing, eligible bachelor," does a disservice to the sensible, unscheming Charlotte Heywood.  Kudos to A.L. for keeping most of Charlotte's sense (although she does become irrational about Sidney), and keeping Clara, the secondary heroine, likable.

There are other Sanditon continuations out there, but I haven't read them because I like this one so much.  It might make a better film adaptation than some Austen-only works, since it has a nice twisty plot but the characters aren't as complex.  It's a good, soothing book to take on airplanes, although I don't quite agree with A.L.'s belief that Austen offers an escape from "the shoddy values and cheap garishness of our own age."  You can enjoy the elegance and wit of the Regency while also appreciating the beautiful tackiness of the mid 1970s.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Without Feathers

1975, possibly first paperback edition, from Random House
Woody Allen
Without Feathers
Original price unknown, purchase price $5.50
Worn paperback

Weak follow-up to Getting Even.  Some of the content is mildly clever, like the title that plays off an Emily Dickinson quote about hope.  But generally forgettable, except for the line about the Russian Revolution, "which simmered for years and suddenly erupted when the serfs finally realized that the Czar and the Tsar were the same person."  I might've given the book a C+, but I got tired of jokes about rape and prostitution.  Contains two plays, one of which he would adapt into the movie Shadows and Fog (1991).

Celestial Navigation

1974, 1993 Ivy Books edition
Anne Tyler
Celestial Navigation
Bought new for $5.99
Worn paperback

The second of Tyler's novels set in Baltimore, in fact mostly set in one boarding house, is a slip in quality from The Clock Winder.  Jeremy, an artist who is afraid to leave the block he lives on, falls in love with Mary, a competent but illogical woman who wants only to have lots more kids than the one she has.  She's good at taking care of people, including Jeremy, but gets tired of him not participating more in life.  They miscommunicate through the whole novel, and the only character who understands them hesitates to "interfere."  It's a very frustrating, depressing book, although the characterization is well beyond Tyler's work in the '60s.

The story is set from 1960 to 1973, and it includes a hippie girl who believes in men's liberation.  This attempt at relevancy make the novel feel more rather than less old-fashioned, particularly since Mary is an earth mother to even strangers.  The title has to do with sailing by the stars, although the title drop explains that head-in-the-clouds Jeremy has his own celestial navigation.  The problem is, everyone thinks he's wonderfully talented and that excuses his self-centeredness and neglect of his family.  Also, Jeremy is so out of touch with reality, it's hard to picture him having enough sex to become a father of five.

Since I don't own Searching for Caleb (1975), we won't return to Tyler until 1977....

Friday, September 14, 2012

And Jill Came Tumbling After

1974, 1978 Laurel edition
Edited by Judith Stacey, Susan Bereaud, and Joan Daniels
And Jill Came Tumbling After: Sexism in American Education
Original price $2.25, purchase price $1.75
Worn paperback

Covering from nursery school to grad school, this is a good overview of roughly a decade of change in girls' and women's education, with a few contributions from the 1950s or even earlier, as with the piece by the turn-of-the-last-century female president of Bryn Mawr.  With so many writers and subtopics, the quality and interest vary, but it's overall solid, not too dry.  Since I was 6 at the time this was first published and obviously not yet in school when many of the selections were written, I found the section on preschool, including toys (still a very gendered product, perhaps even more so than for my generation, who didn't think pink more than other colors) and Sesame Street's cast.  We'll revisit the latter when we get up to Street Gang in 2008, so it's good to get an early look at feminist complaints about that "progressive" show.

I don't own any modern books (post-1980s) on sexism in American education, but my guess is that what sexism that remains is much less blatant than four decades ago.  Even at the time I first read this book, as a young college drop-out in the late 1980s, it showed me a somewhat different world than I'd experienced in adolescence.*  And I would hope that nowadays more students, male and female, have heard of Sojourner Truth, since her life seems to have been one of many glaring omissions in education of the past.

*Rereading this time though, I thought of how I was put into Shop "by mistake" in junior high and then bungled my way through Home Ec.  What if I had stayed as the only girl in Shop?  Would my incompetence there have been more or less inexcusable?  What happens to girls who fit neither feminine nor masculine stereotypes?  The book doesn't really address this subject, but then I can't think of any books that do.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Billion for Boris

1974, two copies, both possibly second edition, from Harper Trophy
Mary Rodgers
A Billion for Boris
Probably bought newish, for $1.50
Both copies in terrible condition, but I've held on to them because of the Edward Gorey artwork

Annabel, her brother Ben AKA Ape Face, and her (boy)friend Borris AKA Morris are back.  Yes, considering his allergy, the real title might actually be A Million for Morris.  When this got made into a relatively obscure movie in 1984, they adjusted for inflation and called it Billions for Boris.  I've seen it once and it wasn't bad.  It's funny to find out that SNL's Tim Kazurinsky cowrote the screenplay and played Bart the reporter Annabel helps.  Ape-Face (hyphenated on IMBD) seems to have been the big-screen debut of Seth Green, yes, before he was a young Woody Allen in Radio Days, before his kid-genius role in the Willy/Milly (which is sort of the Freaky Friday of teen transgender comedies, only with just one body being changed), and the same year as his appearance in The Hotel New Hampshire.  So Billions would definitely be worth watching again.

As for the book, I find it about on a level with its predecessor.  There's definitely more plot, and an equally wacky premise, although I suppose a TV that predicts the future is more dated than switching bodies with your mom.  I'm not sure how they handled this in 1984, when Boris could've have just taped the shows Ben wanted to see and let him watch them upstairs.  A decade earlier, there was more of a distinction between "live" and "dead" programming.  Even the whole form of broadcasting has changed, thanks in part to the Internet.

But it's 1974.  And Annabel and Boris face the question, what would you do if you could predict the future?  (Or at least as much of the future as is going to be shown on TV, and with only 24 hours' notice.)  Boris wants enough money to change his eccentric mother's life.  In Freaky Friday, he said he hated her because she only cares about money.  Now, a year later (sort of, I'll get to that), he admits he loves her and she doesn't care enough about money.  She's irresponsible and her craziness is driving him crazy.  He doesn't need billions but tens of thousands would help.  So he bets on horse races.

Meanwhile, Annabel, good liberal and future journalist that she is, wants to help people.  Unfortunately, many of her good deeds go wrong.  I can still remember first reading the part about a supposedly kidnapped coed turning up safe with her boyfriend in Vermont-- "According to the Burlington chief of police, it was a case of 'seduction not abduction.'  Very droll fellows, those Vermonters"-- the wordplay and sophistication of that, which I didn't get as a preteen.

In some ways Annabel and Boris seem older than they are, like when they celebrate the Kentucky Derby with champagne.  And yet, although she loves him and thinks he might love her, their own relationship is far from seduction.  They hang out a lot in his apartment, not always chaperoned by the Ape, and I don't think they go further than him kissing her on the forehead.  For her birthday, he buys walkie-talkies, which she decides is more romantic than a ring or a bangle because more exclusive.  (Not if he buys multiple sets.)

It's her 14th birthday, on Friday, April 12th.  That puts this book in 1974.  (Well, it could be '68, since Ape Face likes to listen to "Yellow Submarine," but that seems a bit early for the enviromentalist themes in both books.  And there wasn't another April 12th on a Friday again till '85, which is far too late.)  Setting the book in the year of its publication seems reasonable enough.  But wait.  The events of Freaky Friday are supposed to have taken place in February of the previous year.  When Annabel was 13.  But if she was already 13 in February '73, she can't be turning 14 in April '74.  This has bugged me for over 35 years.  I have three possible solutions:
1.  Ignore it (but that's impossible)
2.  Pretend Annabel was 12 in Freaky Friday
3.  Pretend Annabel turns 15 in Billion
Of the three, I prefer the last, especially because of Bart.

When Annabel tries to prevent an explosion, she meets a cute reporter.  He's 24 and she pretends she's 18, although he immediately sees through that.  She actually goes to his apartment, in order to tell him she has ESP and can help him find news.  Nothing romantic happens, but she does lie to her best friend Virginia that she's having a romance with him, so Virginia will cover for her if Annabel's parents call.  And then later, Bart falls in love with Virginia!  Did she lie to him about her age?  It's unsettling for a 14-year-old to be dating a 24-year-old, and it would be marginally better if they were actually 15.  Or if Rodgers had left that part out.

There's always that weird blend of innocence and sophistication in Rodger's young-YA books.  Similarly, there's the issue of Boris's mother, Sascha.  When Annabel thinks she's the maid, Sascha tells Annabel that Morris's mother is "crazed."  It's unclear if she's as unresponsible as Boris/Morris thinks.  She does end up saving the day, with the money from a sold screenplay, when Boris's Derby bet goes wrong.  But it is genuinely scary when Boris thinks he's gotten them deeply in debt, and when she throws the new lamp at the new coffee table. 

Earlier, Boris shakes Ape Face till the little kid's teeth rattle, because Ape Face has lost them the Box (magic TV), so Annabel socks Boris in the jaw.  It's an intense, violent moment in what is otherwise a frothy read.  It's played for humor but it is disquieting.

Ape Face is both catalytic and off to the side in this book compared to before.  He fixes Boris's broken-down old set far beyond expectations, but he doesn't want to use the Box to affect people's lives.  Boris seems to find Ape Face more annoying than in Freaky, Annabel less so, except when she's caught in a snowstorm that he mysteriously knew about.  Ape Face does help Annabel comfort a younger kid, who he figures out must be a girl because no boy would have his hair so short.  (Again, it's 1974.)

Annabel's parents are also less prominent, her father in particular.  Her mother is taking courses at Columbia, which gets her out of the way during the scheming.  Feminism is more taken for granted than in the earlier book, as when Annabel assumes that she'll be a traveling journalist and hubby Boris will have to cook at least some of the time.  (He's better at it anyway.)

By the time of Summer Switch, Boris is an ex and Annabel is in college.  Ape Face is 12, no longer a cute little kid.  So it's of the series but less linked than these first two books are, like FF and BfB are siblings, Summer Switch a cousin.  (And Freaky Monday, which Rodgers cowrote in 2009 is a very distant relation.) 

As with Freaky being a project for English, this book is supposed to be a long account for (fictional) Barron University's Dept of ESP and Parapsychology.  The professor who replies says they're very interested in the Box, but his wife thinks it's fiction and should be submitted to "her old friend, Ursula Nordstrom, Senior Editor at Harper & Row."  That slightly in-joky, very New-Yorky touch is part of the fun of Mary Rodgers at her '70s best.


1974, 1990 Touchstone edition
Kate Millett
Bought new for $12.95
Paperback in good condition

I generally don't like stream-of-consciousness narratives that jump, or fly, around in time and space.  And this is, no question, a difficult read, particularly where Millett discusses violence and anger, her own and that of the people she loves.  (And of strangers.)  But I recommend sticking with it because it is rewarding.  Not counting the flashbacks, this is mostly set in the year after Sexual Politics made her famous.  She went a little crazy, with the attention and the criticism, not just from Time and other mainstream media, but from her Catholic mother and from her friends in Women's Lib and Gay Lib.  This is a more personal book, and she feels compelled to tell her own truth, yet scared to risk hurting people again, hurting herself.  In her introduction, she speaks of how her generation, her circle, hoped to lead new lives, but got caught in old traps.  Her beloved but-married-for-the-Visa husband Fumio and mystical Claire, the two of her lovers who come off best in the book, "didn't want to 'transcend' monogamy."

Millett addresses the danger of "stars" in Women's Lib, which was supposed to be about all women.  From the Left, she's told she should've published anonymously, to avoid an ego trip, even though Sex Pol was her work.  And the Right and Middle treat her like a freak.  Meanwhile, she herself is star-struck when she meets Doris Lessing, who comes off better in this book than in her own fiction.  (But then, Lessing comes off better in her own nonfiction than her fiction.)  Millett was friends with Yoko Ono, and there's a funny scene where Yoko explains to John that Kate speaks a tough kind of Japanese, "men's Japanese."

As you can guess from the condition, I haven't read this book often, maybe only once before.  It's sort of draining.  By the end, although there is still ugliness in the world, in ourselves, Millett has earned the moments of joyous love-making, of flying and losing a kite while sailing, of having a nervous breakdown prevented by the kindness of a "chivalrous" male stranger.  She's not a man-hater, despite how Time and others painted her.  She loves humanity, even though it's as hard as caring for her friends' brain-damaged and violent four-year-old.  As hard as loving yourself, warts and all.

As hard as loving this book?  Well, sometimes it's enough to settle for like.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman

1974, later 1974 Berkley [sic] edition
Merle Miller
Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman
Original price $1.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback with every page loose from the binding

At the time Truman left office, he had an approval rating of 22%.  Even at the time that Miller interviewed the ex-president in late 1961 and early '62, none of the TV networks wanted to air a program about "that old man."  But a dozen years later, in the wake of Watergate and many politicians (of both parties) doing the opposite of "plain speaking," Harry was looking very good in comparison.  So Miller published this book, which became a best-seller.  Then in '95, historian Robert Ferrell claimed that Miller had fabricated many of the quotes.

Be that as it may, the book is still a fascinating read, a glimpse into the mind and occasionally heart of one of our most down-to-earth leaders.  I don't agree with everything Truman did, particularly the use of the Bomb, but he seems to have been generally sensible and honest.  He also kept his modesty, while still being proud of his accomplishments.  He appears to have been more progressive on Civil Rights than any President before LBJ.  (He did use the N-word however.)  And on capital punishment, well, he didn't even want the death penalty for his failed assassin.  He was a man of forgiveness, except in a few cases, notably Nixon, whom he pegged as unscrupulous from the get-go and disbelieved could ever become a "new Nixon."  Truman died in December of '72, before much about Watergate had come out, so his comments on there never having been a corrupt president are especially ironic.  He also was against wire-tapping (unlike FDR), and he thought by the early '60s that the CIA had gotten out of hand.

Unless Miller made the whole thing up.  If so, then this is an impressive work of fiction.  His Truman show is all of a piece, presenting a consistent if complex character.  He even has Harry scold him and tease him!  I'd like to think at least some of it was true, that Truman was part history teacher (his thoughts on, for instance, the "five weak presidents" are fascinating), part farmer (after the presidency, he helped a woman herd her hogs even though he was late for an appointment), part shy gentlemen (he seems to have only been comfortable talking to women he was related to), and part salty WWI Army captain.

I haven't read Ferrell's book, Harry S. Truman and the Modern American Presidency, but I can't imagine it's anywhere near this good.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Kiss Hollywood Good-By

1974, 1975 Ballantine edition
Anita Loos
Kiss Hollywood Good-By [sic]
Original price unknown, purchase price $2.00
Worn paperback
Winsome, Loos some?
The old-fashioned spelling of "goodbye" plays off of the cover.  Is the blonde hitchhiking (symbols of wealth like a fur and champagne at her feet), or is she gesturing "getoutahere"?  And why an impossibly long-legged blonde nude when Loos was short, brunette, and probably only had one sex partner in her life, her insufferable but adored husband Mr. E?  In fact, one of the points of this book is that sex is over-rated and "romance" is better without it. 

It's been a long half century since Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  (Yes, this means that Loos spans 49 years on this blog, tying with Colette, whose Gigi she adapted for the screen.)  And Loos has actually become less of a feminist in her old age.  "To paraphrase Lorelei Lee, 'A kiss on the hand makes a girl feel respected, but a smack in the face denotes ardor.'"  That's not a paraphrase, that's a debasement.  Even Dorothy's humilation in But Gentleman Marry Brunettes can't compare to how John Emerson ripped off "his Buggie" of screen credits and money.  And Loos wants us to think it was OK because she loved him.  Sorry, no.  Nita Baby, if you like being abused, that doesn't mean you have to think someone's a wet-blanket feminist if she doesn't want to read about it.

I did enjoy the stories of Hollywood, Broadway, and Palm Beach.  Loos knew just about everyone, and she tells you what she thought of them.  Of course, she lies about her age, as was apparently habitual with her.  When she met Emerson in 1914, she supposedly was wearing a sailor suit, her hair in a braid, although the picture of her birthday in 1973, celebrating with Helen Hayes and Dolores del Rio, says in the caption she was turning 80, which would make her 21 in 1914.  In fact, she was born in 1888, so that would've been a very childish outfit for a 26-year-old.  She lived on till 1981, apparently clever and inconsistent, charming and infuriating, till the end.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

From Reverence to Rape

1974, 1975 Penguin edition
Molly Haskell
From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies
Original and purchase price both $4.50
Worn paperback with split spine

At times, reading this was like if a slightly more coherent Germaine Greer had become a film buff.  Although like Rosen, Haskell divides the films into decades, she not only digresses from this approach twice rather than once (for "The Woman's Film" and "The Europeans"), she more than Haskell drifts out of the decade she's supposed to be discussing.  (The part on Hitchcock was all over the place.)  Not only is she unfocused, but she contradicts herself.  "Labels are bad.  The actresses of the time were men's women or women's women, except for those who were both."

On the plus side, she was less homophobic than I remembered, although she does seem to see male-male friendships (which she calls "homophile") as more immature than heterosexual romance.  Also, when she does zero in on something, like the positive effect that sound films had on women's treatment, or someone, like Rosalind Russell or Doris Day, she's as good as or better than Rosen.  I'd recommend reading the two books in sync, like pairing their sections on the '30s, which is how I used to read them, and I got more out of it, comparing and contrasting their thoughts on specific films and stars.  Also, Rosen lists too many dates of films and Haskell not enough, so the books complement each other that way, too.

Haskell revised this book in 1987, but I've only read this edition.  I'm guessing that since she didn't change the title, she didn't feel that the movies of the later '70s to the mid '80s were any kind of improvement.  (Susan Faludi would partially disagree.)

The Firesign Theatre's Big Mystery Joke Book

1974, probably first edition, from Straight Arrow Books
Philip Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman & Philip Proctor
The Firesign Theatre's Big Mystery Joke Book
Original price $5.95, purchase price unknown
Slightly worn paperback

While Firesign Theatre is occasionally hilarious-- "Porgy and Mudhead in High School Madness" is a classic-- I often feel like they're cracking in-jokes that I don't quite get.  This is even more apparent reading their scripts (which this mostly is, despite the title), with seemingly deliberately typos, than it is listening to their recordings.  And the best of the lot here is the one mentioned on the cover, "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye," partly because I've heard it as well as read it.  (On the album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All?)  Even without the exaggerated voices and the dead-on radio sound effects, it's still funny, Beatles references and all.

Firesign Theatre was composed of Austin, Bergman, Ossman, and Proctor.  (Bergman died this past March, of leukemia.)  But within the world of this book, the group dates back to the Renaissance, with an elaborate and confusing genealogy, and plagiarism of and by Shakespeare.  So names like Benway and Acme/Acne go from script to script, and I'm not sure why.  A bigger fan of FT than I am would probably get a bigger kick out of this book, but I do find it interesting, and sometimes amusing.

Going Like Sixty

1974, possibly first edition, from McGraw-Hill
Richard Armour
Going Like Sixty: A Lighthearted Look at the Later Years
Original price $4.95, purchase price unknown
Slightly worn paperback

Forgettable musings on old age, from the then 68-year-old Armour.  He lived on till '89, his reputation resting on other of his sixty-five books.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Fireside Watergate

1973, possibly first edition, from Sheed & Ward
Nicholas von Hoffman and Gary Trudeau
The Fireside Watergate
Original price $4.95, purchase price $2.95
Good condition hardcover with worn dustjacket

This obviously is the first of my books to mention Watergate, and while it was written before all was revealed, there's certainly enough here for a satire.  Unfortunately, it's just not that funny.  Oh, Trudeau's cartoons (some of which we'll see again in the next Doonesbury collection) are fine, but von Hoffman somehow manages to turn the comedy gold of political scandal into tinsel.  Only his pun of "Impeach Melba" and the discussion of all the IIs, IIIs, and Jrs. in the Nixon White House made me grin.  He's very mean-spirited, which would be OK if it didn't feel pointless.  I also found his misogyny, particularly towards Dean's "Castro convertible" (wife), to be gratuitous. 

As I recall, Schell's The Time of Illusion and Lukas's Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years, which we'll get to in '76, are both not only more insightful but funnier.  Still, let's give von Hoffman credit for turning in his assignment early, and look forward to Trudeau getting a whole book to himself again soon.

Burr: A Novel

1973, 1980 Bantam edition
Gore Vidal
Burr: A Novel
Original price $3.50, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback with loose pages

Just a few days after I reviewed Sex, Death, and Money, Gore himself got to experience the middle taboo.  If there's an afterlife, which he doubted, he'd probably be amused that he's still a very controversial figure.  People speak ill of the dead in his case.  But then, as this novel proves again and again, so did he.

His title character is controversial Aaron Burr, although the story is not entirely from Burr's perspective.  Burr's young protégé, Charles Schuyler, is helping Burr write his memoirs, while also secretly trying to gather proof that Burr is Martin Van Buren's real father, in order to defeat Van Buren in the 1836 election.  Along the way, motives change, and ironically Burr turns out to be Charlie's father, too.

The twist ending is better than in Julian or Washington, D.C., since it actually affects the whole story.  I also found the layering of narratives handled more skillfully than in Julian, almost a decade earlier.  The characters are of course more developed than in Washington

Not that the novel is entirely faultless.  On the petty scale, there are a shocking number of typos.  And on the grander scale, while the characters are believable in the sense of consistent, it is a bit much that all of Burr's enemies are so vile or cloddish, even allowing for the protagonist's bias.  (I'd attribute the iconoclasm to this being the time of Watergate revelations, but Vidal has always been this cynical.)

Also, Vidal doesn't resolve the mystery of Theodosia, Burr's daughter.  Was she just his best friend and confidante or were they incestuously involved?  The rumor is brought up and then dropped, as an excuse for the infamous duel with Hamilton.  Not that Schuyler or Vidal has to untangle all the complexities of Burr, but if you're going to examine how many bastards he had and whether he really wanted to conquer Mexico, why introduce the controversy and not have some resolution, even if it's just "We can't be sure"?

As for how this novel relates to Washington, D.C. in the Narratives of Empire series, I think Vidal still hadn't yet seen them as connected.  But when we get to 1876 in 1976, I'll talk about how that novel is a link between them.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Popcorn Venus

1973, 1974 Avon edition
Marjorie Rosen
Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies and the American Dream
Original price unknown, purchase price $1.50
Very worn paperback

As the subtitle suggests, Rosen takes a look at the images of women in movies from the 1890s to the then present.  (She discusses at least three 1973 movies, including Last Tango in Paris.)  Overall, she's more optimistic than her contemporary Molly Haskell, as shown by the title she chose, From Reverence to Rape, coming up in '74.  For each of the decades, Rosen reveals both the good and the bad in female film images, not seeing definite progress or regress, except in the 1940s and '50s respectively.  Sometimes, to make a point about a genre, or sub-genre, she'll go a few years or even a decade or two beyond the time she's discussing, but generally she proceeds chronologically.  She has a good sense of humor, and an eye for the telling quote. 

Unfortunately, the book could've used a better editor or at least proofreader.  Not only does she trip my pet peeve of the misuse of "disinterested" for "uninterested" no less than three times, but she mistakes "penultimate" for "ultimate" and "exasperate" for "exacerbate."  I also wish she had incorporated the epilogue on women's early contributions as writers and directors into the general chronology.  Additionally, I think she overestimates the male Europeans' insights into women.  Perhaps the European (including British) female characters were more complex, but she lets Bergman off the hook too much for Cries and Whispers.  I've never seen the movie, but from what I've read here and elsewhere, the women are just as stereotypical as the women in American films of the time.  (And I'd rather finally see Klute if I had to choose.)  Finally, while less homophobic than Molly Haskell and Richard Schickel, Rosen is too dismissive of what she calls "freaky sex."

Still, a nice start to the category of feminist film criticism, at least for my book collection.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Small Changes

1973, possibly first paperback edition, from Fawcett Crest
Marge Piercy
Small Changes
Original price $1.95, purchase price $2.00
Very worn paperback with loose covers

Covering roughly 1965 to 1973, and telling the stories of brainy Earth Mother Miriam, shy but strong Beth, their lovers (including Beth's girlfriend Wanda), husbands, and friends, this is sort of all over the place, much like the era it represents.  I assume the title is meant to be somewhat ironic, since lives are changing and yet it's unclear, as the last chapter, "Another Desperate Soprano (Helen)," suggests, whether things have really become better or even different for women.  The female characters aren't exactly likable, and even the best of the men (Phil) is seriously messed up.  It's an interesting journey, including the glimpses of early computer science and the workings of communes, but at times it's harrowing, and I'm not sure what the point is.  Not the most successful, or optimistic, work of feminist fiction, but it might be worth a read if you're curious about the era.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About English

1973ish (see below), Washington Square Press Book edition
Maxwell Nurnberg
Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About English* * But Were Afraid to Raise Your Hand
Original price $1.25, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback with many pages loose, a few missing

The title is a parody of the 1969 book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* *But Were Afraid to Ask, with not only the asterisks but the scary topic in red on the cover.  While Dr. Reuben's book taught teenaged me such dubious information as that shoe fetishists like to check into hotel rooms to be alone with their loved objects and, as Wikipedia puts it, "all prostitutes are lesbians and all lesbians are prostitutes," the advice and information in Nurnberg's book is still fairly useful.  True, the latter says, "If I were given to predictions, I would say that in fifty years-- give or take five-- the only form used will be who," and here we are close to forty years later and "whom" still exists in formal English.  And I would fight for the form "Dickens's novels" rather than "Dickens' novels," although I know many who would disagree.  (Just don't say "Dicken's"!)  But his tips on spelling, grammar, and punctuation are generally reliable. 

Among the pages missing are the table of contents and the copyright page, so the book is less useful than it was.  And I'm just guessing on the edition, but there is a Germaine Greer quote (on gender and pronouns) from February 1973, so this can't be the first edition, from '72.  I also suspect, whatever his feelings about the use of "they" as a singular pronoun, he probably wouldn't have said "as every schoolboy knows" in the much later editions.  Hopefully, by '83 he was saying "every schoolchild."  And, yes, I've probably broken a dozen rules of English in this post alone, but he says the most important rule is to write as yourself.

There are several punny quizzes to emphasize his points, for example:
"In which case has the dog the upper paw?
(a) A clever dog knows its master.
(b) A clever dog knows it's master."
The book is readable, although it does get a bit tedious after awhile, as most manuals do.  Even sex manuals?  Well, hang in there till the early '90s and we'll see....

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Subliminal Seduction

1973, 1981 Signet edition
Wilson Bryan Key
Subliminal Seduction: Ad Media's Manipulation of a Not So Innocent America
Bought newish for $4.50
Very worn paperback with photographic insert loose

It's hard to look at this book the same way I did as when I was a teenager who believed in both conspiracies and the good in people.  And yet, if you asked me if I think that there are subliminal messages in advertising*, I would still answer yes.  Where I differ from Key is in visualization and interpretation.  Maybe it's because the ads are reproduced and so much smaller than the originals, but I can't always see all the embedded "dirty words" or people or creatures that he can.  That said, I have spotted them in original ads. 

As for interpretation, I enjoy his takes on the "story" ads, like the adulterous one for Seagram's.  He made me very aware of things like costumes that link up characters in movies and television.  (It's really obvious, for instance, on '70s sitcoms.  Note the outfits that harmonize and contrast.  These are clues to how characters feel about each other.)  But sometimes he's stretching.  If I can get wrong the answer to which ice cube is male after having read this book at least four times, there can't be universally correct interpretations to every ad.  When he's right, he's right.  When he's off-base, he's way off-base.  Also, I'm obviously going to see the incorporation of pagan symbols and "alternate" sexuality in a different way than he does. 

Still, even four decades later, this makes for an interesting read.  I own some of his follow-ups, so we'll be revisiting this issue.

*Key's spelling throughout.  Note it was "MADvertising" in the DeBartolo book.  I always thought it was a Z for the American spelling, but maybe this wasn't consistent in the 1970s?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The MAD World of William M. Gaines

1973, 1974 Bantam edition
Frank Jacobs
The MAD World of William M. Gaines
Original price unknown, bought used for 50 cents (cheap)
Very worn paperback

Jacobs, the MAD writer who'd been contributing to the magazine the longest (15 years at that point), tells the publisher's life story in the form of anecdotes.  (When Jacobs does finally get around to revealing Gaines's birthday, it's so he can put the man's horoscope.)  It's a nice, fun, sort of light read, although it does address Gaines's sexism, paternalism, and contradictions.  Much of the book isn't even about MAD, since the E.C. horror comics get quite a bit of attention, including Gaines's infamous testimony before a Senate subcommittee, in which he said that a beheading had been tastefully drawn.  Jacobs also discusses Gaines's falling out with original MAD editor Harvey Kurtzman.  Gaines and Kurtzman made up eventually, and the latter returned to MAD a few years before the two men died within months of each other.

Dick DeBartolo also wrote a book about Bill Gaines, which we'll get to in 1994.  And about halfway between the publication of the two books, I met the MAD publisher.  It was the summer of 1983, and I went to New York City for the first and only time, with my cousin and aunt.  We ended up on Madison Avenue, and my cousin and I, both devoted MAD readers, decided to look for "485 MADison Avenue," as the address was always listed.  We found the building and then we went inside to read the directory.  Then we took the elevator up to the office.  Every step of the way, my aunt was skeptical, but my cousin and I wanted to see how far we could take this.  It ended up with the receptionist asking if we wanted to meet Bill Gaines.  Of course we said yes. 

He was very welcoming, but when he noticed my aunt's T-shirt from an anti-nuke march in NYC, and she said how nice all the people at the march were, he snapped, "Well, they've gone home now!"  And that, as much as his girth and long hair and beard, told us that he was the real Bill Gaines.

By a Woman Writt

1973, 1974 Penguin edition
edited by Joan Goulianos
By a Woman Writt [sic]: Literature from Six Centuries by and about Women
Original price unknown, bought used for $4.25
Worn paperback

Goulianos selects women's writings in English from 14th-century Margery Kempe to modern poet Muriel Rukeyser, so this collection is understandably uneven.  I most enjoyed Aphra Behn, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, and Sylvia Ashton-Warner.  In the introduction, Goulianos suggests some themes, like fear and motherhood, but I don't feel like there's enough commentary or organization here.  Also, she doesn't give dates to all the pieces, and sometimes not even birth or death dates for the authors, so my labels are limited to the wider eras and I can't include the 20th-centuries decades, other than the 1970s of course.  (Not that there aren't a lot of labels on the post anyway.)  This is a serviceable introduction to women's literature, deliberately omitting some of the better known writers (although Wollstonecraft and daughter Mary are here), without going overly obscure.