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.

More Zingers from The Hollywood Squares

1978, possibly first edition, from Popular Library
Compiled by Gail Sicilia
More Zingers from The Hollywood Squares
Original price $1.50, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

Not surprisingly, the funniest zingers come from Mr. Center Square, the late lamented Paul Lynde.  (He died four years after this book came out, one year after the show was cancelled.)  His campy, bitchy, kinky, and oh so politically incorrect humor shines through on nearly every line.  I was also pleasantly surprised that most of the political, especially anti-Nixon, one-liners are his, as with
Q.  In order to keep the monkeys in the zoo occupied, they are given something to pick apart.  What?
A.  The President's foreign policy.

One line that wouldn't seem as funny without going back to the 1970s mindset (which I can do easily, so it made me laugh) illustrates what The Queening of America (coming up in 1995) reveals as the tricky game Lynde played with the host, the audience, and his own identity.
Q.  In the final scene of the classic movie On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando staggers up to a burly guy in an overcoat and the guy says "Let's...."  Let's what?
A.  Let's adopt.

Other times, it's just Lynde's absurdity, or even surrealism, that amuses me.  The other contestants are hit or miss.  If you like Rose Marie's horny spinster act and George Gobel's wimpy older guy act, you'll be pleased they're here, along with Vincent Price, Roddy McDowell, Carol Channing, Redd Foxx, Joan Rivers, Karen Valentine, future Squares host John Davidson, and of course Charo.

Along with a lot of sexual innuendo, there's also occasional drug humor.  The only tasteless jokes that actually offended me were the ones about rape, and the one about an exploding maid.  As near as I can tell the "real" answers are true, except about Henry VIII executing Jane Grey.

Sicilia not surprisingly compiled the first "Zingers" book, and went on to associate-produce a few 1980s Woody Allen movies.

The Beatles Forever

1978, undated ca. 1983 McGraw-Hill edition
Nicholas Schaffner
The Beatles Forever
Original price $9.95, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

If you've noticed a sharp increase in the number of Beatles-related books on this blog, that's understandable.  As Schaffner recalls, Beatles nostalgia began in 1974 with fanzines and conventions, and then became widespread a couple years later with the rerelease of much of their music.  So by the time we get to '78, there are a lot of Beatles books out there.  This book was originally published in 1977, as the references to the long hair of the new President show, but I'm going with '78 because of the epilogue, "And in the End," which includes not only updates on the four now middle-aged lads, but also mentions of three notable 1978 Beatle-inspired movies: not only infamous Sgt. Pepper, but also the charming I Wanna Hold Your Hand and The Rutles.

Schaffner was an 11-year-old living in New York when the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and he writes from that perspective, emphasizing how the Beatles seemed to Americans, particularly adolescents, and sometimes telling of concerts he attended.  (Not just for the Beatles as a group and as solo acts, but also Woodstock.)  He also tells what it was like to be a male fan, although he's refreshingly unsexist about the enthusiasm of the female fans.

He has an intelligent but accessible style.  He offers critiques of the music, without getting overly technical.  He has a few writing tics (like too many puns on "Wings" and "Starr"), but overall this is easily the best written of the Beatles books so far, probably of all that I own.  He's refreshingly even-handed, so that there's no sense of an agenda or even preference for one Beatle over another.  As he says, in what he admits is very '60s symbolism, the four Beatles were like four elements (fiery John, airy Paul, watery George, and earthy Ringo) that worked better together than apart.  And yet, he also acknowledges when they had critical and/or popular solo successes.

Schaffner would go on to write a children's book on the Beatles (which I don't think I've ever read), as well as The British Invasion, listed in this edition as his latest book.  We'll look at it for 1983.  And also that year, the book he cowrote with John's childhood friend, Pete Shotton, John Lennon in My Life.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


1978, 1979 Doubleday edition
Anonymous but copyrighted by "Rockwars Company"
Original price $6.95, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback with stained spine

What is this thing?  This was my third or fourth time reading it and I still can't do it justice.  The fact that the author(s?) couldn't decide on how many exclamation points there should be in the title-- the cover shows none, the spine has one, and the title page has three-- shows that even the creator(s?) weren't too sure what the heck this book is.  It's an early graphic novel.  It's the story of aliens who form one or two (or is it three?) bands in order to inspire the Beatles (known in the text as "Sargent [sic] Pepper's band") to reunite, and the Beatles themselves show up because they've read the comic, and they discover that they are indeed aliens themselves.  It's a collection of wordplay, and drug humor, and calls to higher consciousness, and insults to punk and disco.  It's brightly colored and poorly drawn.  It's got Satan as the recurring villain, although it's hardly a "Christian" story.  It's the only book to blame the Beatles break-up on not only "a lawyer" but "the forces of darkness."

Has anyone else out there even heard of this thing?  It may not be the weirdest book I own-- The Wonder City of Oz is arguably stranger-- but it might well be the most inexplicable.

The Westing Game

1978, 1984 Avon edition
Ellen Raskin
The Westing Game
Possibly bought new, for $2.75
Worn paperback

This is the book that won Raskin the Newbery, but I've always preferred The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) (1971), although that sadly was out of print for two or three decades, and I haven't yet picked up a copy.  (I did check it out from the library though.)  That book has twins, lots of purple, a more interesting puzzle to solve, playful illustrations, and much more heart.  This one isn't bad.  It's about on a level with the other Newberys I own (better than Julie of the Wolves, not as good as Island of the Blue Dolphins, equal to Wrinkle in Time and Terabithia).  Strangely enough, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.  The sixteen heirs/suspects/sleuths are fairly diverse in age, class, and ethnicity.  Unfortunately, there are just too many characters to keep track of for a medium-length preteen mystery.  Turtle Wexler is closest to a heroine, but we spend time with each character, without getting to know any of them particularly well.  In contrast, I cared and still care about Tony and Tina, and their adoptive mother Mrs. Carillon, and even mysterious Leon/Noel.

I can't really judge this book as a mystery.  I think, as with Mysterious Disappearance, I figured out part of the puzzle as a child, but missed the main solution.  Raskin's puzzles involve a lot of wordplay, and sometimes even syllable-play, which is still impressively clever.

Signs that this is set in the 1970s are not only the ways blacks, Asians, and handicapped people (or "cripples" as they were still known) are treated, but also Turtle's remark to her engaged sister Angela that no one gets married anymore.  The book has a self-conscious feminism to it, as when Angela's position on a form changes from "none" (which her fiancé mishears as "nun") to "person."  All of Raskin's characters in this book try to become their true selves, and I just wish those selves were more rounded.

Beatles in Their Own Words

1978, Delilah/Putnam edition, from later that year
Compiled by Miles, edited by Pearce Marchbank
Beatles in Their Own Words
Original price $6.95, purchase price unknown
Slightly worn paperback

A collection of Beatles quotes, arranged in a mix of chronologically and thematically, this doesn't really have too much you can't find elsewhere, numerous photos included.  It is though I think the first of my books to mention Brian Epstein's homosexuality.  (Cynthia Lennon glossed over it, along with much else, but as I said in my review of her book, she was somewhat naive.)  The best part of this book is probably the one-liners delivered at press conferences.  Ironically, these flippant remarks have aged better than the Beatles' musings.  (No matter how often I encounter it, I have no idea what John Lennon meant by comparing American girls to 1940s horses.)

The Fifty Worst Films of All Time

1978, Popular Library edition, from later that year
Harry Medved with Randy Dreyfuss
The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way)
Original price unknown, purchase price $8.50
Worn paperback

My ex-husband and I loved and collected bad movies, and we got our initial inspiration from a later of Harry's books with his brother Michael, Son of Golden Turkey Awards (1986), which I will discuss in its place.  But I'm mentioning it now because we came up with the term Medveditis to cover certain annoying writing quirks that the brothers have.  This book was actually cowritten by Michael (I'm not sure if cousin Randy contributed much), but he was initially worried that it would damage his credibility as a serious writer.  He'd cowritten the acclaimed What Really Happened to the Class of '65?, with classmate David Wallechinsky, yes, of the Book of Lists family.  In fact, there's a list in that first Book of Lists that has the ten worst films of all time.

Anyway, the symptoms of Medveditis:
1.  Cutesy and/or pathetic attempts at humor
2.  Inaccuracy
3.  Accusations of sexism that are themselves sexist
4.  Confusion over whether bad films are supposed to be enjoyably or painfully bad

This book has lots of the first symptom, and most of the time when it's genuinely funny, they're quoting some other critic.  Since I haven't seen many of the films, I can't say how accurate the summaries are, but I can tell you after countless viewings of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, that far from "dozens of kids" attacking Volgar, a grand total of four kids attack Voldar.  I understand this book was written before the days of VCRs, but that seems like an avoidable mistake.

As for the sexist accusations, they criticize Elvis's Spinout with this line:  "Notice that he refers to girls as 'it' [no, Elvis refers to a situation as "it"] because in this film females are characterized exclusively by their buttocks, bosoms, and bikinis."  And what does the caption say at the top of the page?  "Elvis Presley proves irresistible to all the plump cuties in Spinout."  The girls aren't overweight, but even if they were, this is hypocritical.  Also, the Medveds say of tomboy Deborah Walley's protests that she's a girl, not a guy, "She has a Beatles haircut and assumes the role of bossy manager of the singing group, so what does she expect?"

I have seen Spinout, and it is one of the more enjoyably bad Elvis movies.  I've also seen Robot Monster and some of the other So Bad They're Good movies in the book, but I don't really see the point in viewing bad movies that are just unpleasant, or boring.  And ultimately, that's why, after much internal debate, I had to go with a C+ rather than a B- on this book.  Even the introduction admits that these are not the fifty worst films of all time.  They're just a representative sampling of different types of bad movies, and not even the worst of each category.  I can tell you right off that although I've never seen Twilight on the Rio Grande (1948), it can't even be the worst Gene Autry movie.  The Medveds would later write about The Phantom Empire, AKA Radio Ranch (1935), which has a surreal sci-fi subplot with some of the worst robot costumes I've ever seen.

Still, the Medveds did pave the way for MST3000 among other things, and although I sometimes wince at their writing, I do appreciate them getting the ball rolling.  Disagree with them though you may, at least they put the topic on the table.  OK, enough with the mixed metaphors.  Maybe Medveditis is contagious.

A Twist of Lennon

1978, 1980 Star Book edition
Cynthia Lennon
A Twist of Lennon
Original price $5.75 (CAN), purchase price $3.50 (AMER)
Slightly worn paperback

Although Lennon starts with a funny account of her pregnant mum's evacuation to Lancashire in the early days of WWII, the book focuses on her decade with first husband John.  The title is a play on two of her married names, since she was married to another John, John Twist, from '76 to '83.  In between there was a marriage to Roberto Bassanini, who's mentioned briefly towards the end.  John L. had the gall to threaten to sue Cynthia for adultery, when he was increasingly publicly carrying on with Yoko.  Cynthia claims nothing was going on with Bassanini at the time, but even if there were, how many groupies did John bed?

Still, Cynthia doesn't seem to have held a grudge, and claims she knew immediately (before John did) that Yoko was his soulmate.  After the divorce from Twist, she went back to Lennon as her last name, keeping it even during her present marriage, to Noel Charles.  She seems to have always adored John Lennon, always forgiven him.  Interestingly, she doesn't mention his violence towards her, although he was open about it, as in the song "Getting Better."  She also omits the Beatles' drug use in Hamburg.  Perhaps she was unaware of what life was like for the band while touring, and she does admit to being naive.  According to Wikipedia, in 2005 she "published a more intimate biography, John."  Perhaps by then it was easier to talk about the more personal things.  I'm not even sure if this edition was published before or after his death, although I don't think it was because there's no mention of his death even on the back cover blurb.

The book includes some kind of bad poetry, and some hit or miss illustrations, yet I found that they added to the charm of the (auto)biography, reinforcing respectively her sensitivity and sense of humour.  There's no question that she's a survivor, and I like that she tried to do the best by everyone, including son Julian, whom she raised almost single-handedly.  When John also threatened to take Julian away, I got really angry at him, because he'd spent almost no time with his son, as he later admitted.  Yet even this, Cynthia quickly forgave.

At 73, her identity seems to still be primarily as John's first wife, but considering what he put her through, she can herself be forgiven for that.


1978, first paperback edition, from Jove
Susan Katz
Original price unknown, purchase price 95 cents
Falling apart paperback

You won't learn terribly much about Frampton from this short book, other than the number of his chest hairs (237).  Wikipedia is more informative, with the added bonus of covering the last 34 years, including the near fatal car accident he had later in '78.  There are many photos, most of them showing his chest hair and goofy/sweet smile, which makes his claims that he doesn't want to be judged by his looks a bit questionable.  I like some of his Frampton Comes Alive (1976) singles but I think I originally got this book because I wondered what it would say about his role as Billy Shears in the shockingly bad movie version of Sgt. Pepper.  He apparently loved acting, although he's the worst actor in the film, which is saying something.  He seems like a likable enough guy though, and a pretty good musician, so it's nice to know he's still performing at the age of 62.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Compromising Positions

1978, 1979 Jove edition
Susan Isaacs
Compromising Positions
Original price $6.99, purchase price $3.00
Worn paperback

I discovered Isaacs through a sort of indirect route.  I read a couple positive reviews (by Pauline Kael and Kathi Maio, both of whom we'll be getting to eventually) of the Susan Sarandon movie based on this book, but I think I read the book before I actually saw the movie, which I recall as a pretty good adaptation.  Interestingly, Isaacs adapted her own novel for the screen, and she changed the central romance, in my opinion improving it.  There are three problems with heroine Judith Singer's affair with cop Nelson Sharpe.  One, he has what must be the most unattractive nose I've ever encountered in a fictional lead, snub and even babyish.  Two, sometimes their bantering crosses over into actual hostility.  And three, there are a lot of issues with Singer's marriage and none of these are resolved even at the end, so it's no time for her to be starting up a fling (or more) with the policeman who's officially investigating the murder that she's amateurly (but competently) sleuthing all over the neighborhood about.  In the movie, Judith is involved with the much sexier and more likable Raúl Juliá, and they don't have a full-fledged affair.

The first half of the book, where Judith is snooping around unassisted, except by her reluctant friend Nancy, is much better, and would've earned a B+ on its own.  The novel remains funny, although very much a story of its time.  I like that it's Judith's boredom as a housewife that fuels her interest in the tawdry details of the victim's life and death.  Her husband is a sexist clod, although he is right in a way that she shouldn't be risking her life to catch a murderer.  The setting of Long Island, suburbia close to the glamor and excitement of New York City, matters, as does the Jewishness of the Singers and some of the other characters.  It comes as no surprise that Isaacs was a Long Island housewife, and her heroine's name suggests her own.  ("Susan" and "Judith" share vowel sounds, and Singer evokes Isaac Bashevis Singer.)  I'll talk about this more with the next of her novels, but there seems to be a degree of wish-fulfillment in her mysteries, with their middle-aged (or nearly) heroines with imperfect but good bodies, who find devoted lovers.

In fact, Judith will return in Long Time, No See (2001), which I've read but don't own.  I was disappointed with the reunion of Judith and Nelson, as well as the resolution of their marriages.  I can't recall anything about the mystery, unlike the one here about a philandering periodontist.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Well, today marks the first anniversary of this project.  I've covered about eight hundred years, although obviously not equally.  At the time I started, I assumed I'd get a full-time job in the next few months, but nothing turned out the way I imagined.  (For one thing, I had to move again a few months ago, although at least I didn't have to pack as many books as I did last Fall.)  Now I'm going to school part-time and working part-time, but I still read as much as I can.  I don't know how much longer the project will take, but even if you figure a minimum of a year a month, I'll be done in another three years.

The project itself has gone about the way I figured.  Although I gave myself a range of F- to A+ for grades, so far it's been F+ to A-, which I guess makes sense.  There are very few thoroughly rotten or absolutely perfect books, or even books that come close.  This is not to say we might not still hit those highs and lows but I have more doubts about it than I did a year ago.

One thing that shifted was rule #4 about chronology.  As I said in my introduction, "If it's a collection of writings (essays, short stories, novels), then I will read each piece in the year it's from if clearly indicated, unless the editing is significant enough in itself to go with the year the collection was published."  As with P. G. Wodehouse and Anne Tyler, treating the novels separately hasn't been a problem, because they still seem like discrete units to me, even when bound together.  But with short stories and essays, I gradually stopped parceling them out.  It was quite easy to do this with Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen, because I didn't have much else to read in their era, but by the time I got to Gore Vidal in the '50s and '60s, I had a lot of works by other people.  Also, Vidal commented on some of his pieces, so I went with the date of the collection.

Ironically, this has resulted in Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose works that I read range from 1890 to 1916, having amazing stats.  (I mean amazing compared to other posts on this blog, not to other blogs.)  "My Poor Aunt" has 58 reads, and "Mrs. Beazley's Deeds" and "Mrs. Elder's Idea" 18 each.  (Wuthering Heights comes in second, with 20, which is more understandable.)  Are people that desperate for brief online reviews of Gilman?  Who's reading these-- students, feminists, people who like aunts?

Whoever is reading my posts, and why, I appreciate it.  This blog is mostly for my own amusement, but the stats are part of the amusement.  Although I don't know how much of my book collection we'll cover this second year, perhaps the remainder, maybe just into the books of my early adulthood, I promise you there will continue to be the sublime and the ridiculous, and a lot of stuff in between.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Harvard Lampoon Big Book of College Life

1978, Doubleday edition, from later that year
The Harvard Lampoon
(credited to 34 people, including Tom Gammill, who a year later was writing for Saturday Night Live, and went on to The Simpsons and Seinfeld, among other shows)
The Harvard Lampoon Big Book of College Life
Original price $5.95, purchase price $3.50
Very worn paperback

As with Bored of the Rings, the best parts of this book involve the de(con)struction of clichés, the best of these the campus hijinx story, "The Memorable Talent Show."  I also enjoy the nonsensical list of "campus contraband," full of very random phrases, like "menstruating dowager rats," as well as the language textbook list of phrases that are indivisible units, including "abject poverty," "pendulous breasts," and "Joanne Woodward."  College hasn't changed all that much in the last three decades, so the book isn't as dated as you might think, although it's certainly a product of its time-- drug humor, Watergate references, and all.

Unfortunately, it's often racist and sexist, and it's difficult to tell sometimes whether this is meant satirically.  The Afro on the stick-figure thief on the safety notice is probably meant as parody, but the thing on Mexican medical schools is dubious.  Similarly, I think some of the time they're making fun of sexist male college students, but there's one story that I don't know how to take.  At six pages (including a full-page creepy illustration), "The Unfortunate Coincidence" is not only unfunny but disturbing, with a friend of the narrator telling the story of how his attempts to seduce a girl were foiled when he accidentally reintroduced her to an accomplice to her rape of a few years before.  Are we supposed to think how shallow and insensitive the narrator is, or laugh at this pretentious Jewish girl who doesn't know that Abbey Road was one of the Beatles' later albums?

That said, there are some lines in the book I used to quote all the time, like "If you are not eating at home, kindly eat at this place."  I'd still recommend the book, though with reservations.

A Woman of Independent Means

1978, 1979 Avon edition
Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
A Woman of Independent Means
Original price $2.50, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

Hailey tells the story of the title character, Bess Steed Garner, through selected letters, all written by Bess, covering from childhood in 1899 to near death in 1968.  Since we don't see the reactions to her letters (unlike with Lazlo Toth), it's hard to tell if other people find her as controlling and sometimes dishonest as she seems to the reader.  For instance, it's clear that neither of her husbands makes her happy, yet she acts like her first husband was the love of her life, despite his neglect.  Is she lying to herself as well as her friends and family, or is that just how things seem to her after losing him?  Her estrangement from her grown daughter is glossed over, partly because Hailey rushes through the last 30 or 35 years of Bess's life. 

This edition has many glowing reviews, but I didn't find it all that touching.  It moves along and is sometimes mildly funny, but I didn't feel like I knew or liked Bess particularly well.  The best aspects of the book, and Bess, are probably her courage, optimism, and willingness to adapt to changing times.

This is not only the 100th C+ for this blog, but this is the 100th book of mine for the 1970s, and obviously I'm far from done with the decade.  It looks like I've read more books from 1972, sixteen, than any other year.

Women in the Middle Ages

1978, possibly first paperback edition, from Perennial Library
Frances and Joseph Gies
Women in the Middle Ages
Original and purchase price unknown
Slightly worn paperback

Serviceable introduction to the topic, with both general observations and profiles of specific women.  Since the book covers about 1000 years and a few European countries, don't expect any depth.  Also, some of their conclusions are unsupported by the text, like that women's status "advanc[ed] with the civilizing influence of Christianity and of contact with Roman culture," or that one woman who had no dowry must've therefore been beautiful.  I did find it interesting how much women were able to participate in the guilds, and I liked that they tried to show differences and similarities among women of different economic classes.  Includes reproductions of Medieval art.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: A Novel

1978, Pocket Books edition from later that year
Henry Edwards
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: A Novel
Original price $1.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

This is possibly worse than the movie it's a novelization of, which is saying something, particularly since Edwards also wrote the screenplay.  For those who have missed the Stigwood "musical," you should know that there's very little dialogue, and it's mostly narrated by George Burns, as Mr. Kite.  So here we get not only conversation, but huge chunks of description.  And random characters that have nothing to do with anything.  Edwards loves to name everyone who passes through, whether a henchman's sidekicks, or the dog of the Heartland teacher.  Heartland is the name of the town the band hales from.  And, unlike Goin' Coconuts, I can't possibly briefly summarize the "plot."

But since you asked:  Brits Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees play respectively Billy Shears and the Hendersons, all-American boys (in their mid 20s) who form the modern-day version of the band founded during WWI by Billy's grandfather Sgt. Pepper.  Billy has a girlfriend named Strawberry Fields, whom he must leave behind when the band goes to LA to become instant stars.  Strawberry is also lusted after by Billy's "stepbrother" (actually half-brother) Dougie and by mean Mr. Mustard (Frankie Howerd), who works for FVB, the Future Villainband played by Aerosmith.  Billy cheats on Strawberry with Lucy (of the Diamonds), although this has no real consequences.  Heartland becomes Mustardland when the original band's instruments are stolen, then there's a benefit for Mr. Kite, which the evil producer plans to profit from, but Dougie and Lucy team up to steal the money, and then they and Strawberry are kidnapped, and then Strawberry dies, till Grandpa Pepper, whose spirit lives on in a weathervane, comes to life as a young black man (Billy Preston) and brings Strawberry back to life, while turning some of the villains into priests and a nun.  And then even more guest stars show up and humiliate themselves for the big finish.

This last part is represented in the book by over five pages of celebrity names, ranging from Fanny Brice to the Sex Pistols.  At least they get only one mention each, as opposed to "the brashy boys" and "the silly girls" (Heartland fans), or the computerettes who work for Mustard.  The book is not only cheesy but deeply sexist, since nearly every female character-- from an old woman to Lucy-- acts like a groupie.  At least the ethnic stereotypes on p. 11 are ludicrous, for example, "'Ha!  Ha!  I love to laugh.  It has been a long time,' trilled an Italian.  'This beats driving a Maserati through all the traffic lights in Rome!'"  It's actually surprising that Maserati was around in 1916, because Edwards isn't exactly a fact-checker.

Almost every sentence in the book is either weak or terrible.  I'm trying to limit myself in quotations, but here are two of the worst passages:

"Billy and Strawberry run through the fields.  'I love you, Strawberry Fields!' Billy shouts as they frolic together."

"She is furious.  'Whoever is she?'  I'll dismember her!' she says to no one in particular."

The only redeeming feature is the mild social satire of L.A. and Beverly Hills.  Even the Beatles lyrics are misquoted.  I suppose I could rate the book higher, on a so-bad-it's-good basis, but the fact remains that it's still bad.  As with Goin' Coconuts, I'd recommend you watch the movie instead (if you're strong enough), because at least then you get to see the bad acting, particularly by Frampton, and learn that "wife" can be a five-syllable word when the Bee Gees sing "Good Morning, Good Morning."

The Official Rules

1978, first edition, from Delacorte
Paul Dickson
Illustrated by Kenneth Tiews
The Official Rules
Original and purchase price unknown
Good condition hardcover with worn dustjacket

This hilarious collection of Murphy's Laws and similar is surprisingly undated.  (It is though the first of my books to mention Jimmy Carter.)  "The real world" hasn't changed all that much, and the observations on technology, for instance, have actually become truer.  The book does wear thin after awhile, since there are many similar rules, laws, principles, etc., and they're arranged alphabetically.  Still, there's much here that's very tempting to quote, but I'll limit myself to one, "Expert Advice, The First Law of: Don't ask the barber whether you need a haircut," which clearly applies to more than hair.  The illustrations by Tiews don't really add much to the book, but they don't detract either.

Goin' Coconuts

1978, Laurel-Leaf edition from later that year
Vic Crume
Goin' Coconuts
Original price $1.75, possibly bought at the time
Worn paperback with minor water damage

As with Digby, this is a faithful novelization of a cheesy children's movie, and about as good.  Since there's no helpful title, as with "the biggest dog in the world," I'll try to be as brief as I can.  Donny & Marie perform in Hawaii, while being pursued by two ethnically mixed teams of criminals who are after Marie's necklace, which is a clue to sunken treasure.  I saw the movie at the time (I was 10 and a fan of their TV variety show, so it was demographically inevitable), and maybe half a dozen times in the 35 years since.  It's so bad it's sort of good, and the book works as a passable children's mystery.  (With a murder early on!)  Includes only four pages of photos, most of them of the other characters.  In fact, D & M fans may be disappointed in both book and movie because there's so much that's not about the siblings.  Read/view them with caution, although I'd probably recommend the movie more because the music is really catchy.  ("On the Shelf" is my fave.)

Past Imperfect

1978, 1983 Coronet edition
Joan Collins
Past Imperfect
Original price £1.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback with one photo-page loose

In a way, it's odd that I got this book, because I've seen even fewer of Collins's movies than I have of Lauren Bacall's.  And I can't say I particularly like her after reading her autobiography, although I don't really dislike her either.  But she's a fairly good storyteller, and it is interesting to see what film-making in the 1950s and '60s was like.  She doesn't say terribly much about the '70s, which means that not only don't we hear about Empire of the Ants (which I actually have seen), but also her earlier unhappy marriages, to actors Maxwell Reed and Anthony Newley, get much more attention than her time with businessman Ron Kass.  That marriage broke up the same year this edition came out, and she's currently with Husband #5.

She also talks about her romance with Warren Beatty, including the pregnancy she ended in the early 1960s, making her the first non-anonymous woman in any of my nonfiction to talk about undergoing an abortion.  She seems to sympathise with feminism, and it is admirable that she never wanted to be financially dependent on a man.  She has often been overly dependent emotionally on men, but that's understandable given the times and places she lived in.

Considering that this is Joan's first of many books, it's notable that she doesn't say much about sister Jackie during their childhood, although she does mention appearing in the movie version of Jackie's novel The Stud.  (And there's a very racy still among the photos.)