Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Experts Speak

1984, first edition from Pantheon
Christopher Cerf & Victor Navasky
The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation
Probably bought newish, for $9.95
Worn paperback with curly corners

After deliberately mispredicting the 1980s in 1979, Cerf now, with the help of the editor of The Nation, collects hundreds of incredibly bad predictions, misstatements, and other errors from assorted experts.  Some of the quotes are laugh-out-loud, but I do confess to wishing that this wasn't just a collection, that there was more analysis and/or more context.  As with The Woman's Encyclopedia, this is basically a reference book, and I like a narrative.  Also, some of these quotes have appeared in other of my books, so it doesn't feel as fresh as it once did.  Still, who doesn't want to see everyone from Thomas Edison to Dixy Lee Ray getting things utterly wrong, and with great confidence?

This completes the extra-long top shelf of my horizontal-oriented (think landscape rather than portrait) bookcase.  Normally I don't like to split years, but I had to in order to get 1990 onto this bookcase.  I may re-divide down the road, but for now this shelf goes from Lady Oracle (1976) to this book.  And, yes, Margaret Atwood is long overdue for another novel (Maeve Binchy has double the number of posts already!), but she will return next shelf....

First Lady from Plains

1984, 1985 Ballantine edition
Rosalynn Carter
First Lady from Plains
Possibly bought newish, for $3.95
Very worn paperback

At the time this book came out, Jimmy Carter's reputation was very bad.  As Rosalynn notes, things soured in 1979, primarily but not exclusively because of the Iranian hostage situation.  When Ronald Reagan, a man she completely disagreed with, came along with his glib optimism, Carter didn't stand a chance.  So, yes, she's bitter here, but she also still believed in America, and in her husband.  And she still does.  She's still active for the issues she's been concerned with for decades, like mental illness, and she and Jimmy have been together 66 years. 

I wish that the book hadn't gone so quickly through the time before Jimmy became governor.  I'm still not clear what drew the Carters together.  Yes, she thought he was handsome, and he was the brother of her best friend (and no doubt one of the few eligible men in the tiny town of Plains), but their courtship and even the early years of their marriage pass, as her childhood does, with just a page or two per year.  It's really only during the presidential years that I get a sense of their relationship, how they supported each other, despite disagreements.  I like how she shows what it was like to be the confidante of a complex and once powerful man, as with the Camp David talks, where we feel the tension of whether Begin and Sadat will ever sign a peace treaty.  She also shows the delight of a small-town girl in the luxury and history of the White House.  But I'm not sure that the book holds together as well as it could, and there are some glaring typos (like "side strips").

Both Rosalynn's father and her husband discouraged her from crying, so when she cries at the realization that Jimmy is going to lose in 1980, it's memorable.  There is a sense, despite Rosalynn's honesty, of her often having to hide her negative feelings, including anger.  Yet overall, she seems to have been one of the most "real" First Ladies we've had.  Unlike the Cary Grant book, where I like the book better than the subject, I think I like Mrs. Carter more than I like this book, which is probably how I felt three decades ago.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hollywood Films of the Seventies

1984, first edition, from Harper & Row
Seth Cagin and Philip Dray
Hollywood Films of the Seventies:  Sex, Drugs, Violence, Rock 'n' Roll and Politics
Original price unknown, purchase price $6.50
Good condition hardcover

As with Hoberman and Rosenbaum's Midnight Movies, I am definitely not the audience for this book, or the movies it covers.  You might think that the two books are mutually exclusive, but in fact some films are in both (and Cult Movies 1 or 2), such as Clockwork Orange.  I find that Cagin and Dray handle violent content in movies, and more particularly the explanations of such directors as Kubrick and Peckinpah, in too unquestioning a manner, without even Rosenbaum and Hoberman's reservations, to say nothing of Danny Peary's consideration.  That Dray and Cagin have a left-wing perspective makes their attitude towards violence even worse, as they fall into the trap of thinking that showing violence is condemning it.  Also, they almost ignore one of the most significant political movements of the 1970s: feminism.  Like "black" movies getting not much more than a paragraph, movies about women and the role of women in mainstream movies are discussed only sporadically.

But then this isn't really a book about the 1970s, or not entirely.  There is in fact much more time spent on the late 1960s, or even the late 1950s, than on the late 1970s.  In fact, 1977 to 1983 is mostly in the Epilogue.  What we have here is another example, like Generation in Motion, of Baby-Boomers who have a very narrow view of what they might as well call The Epigonic Decade.  While Cagin and Dray seem at first to be presenting the 1970s as the time when the concerns of the 1960s found fuller expression on the big screen (thanks to a new generation of film-makers), by 1977 "escapist blockbusters" have triumphed and the dream is over.

Of course, that I spent most of the 1970s watching Disney movies on the big screen and old movies on the little screen probably disqualifies me as an authority, but Hollywood cinema did include the following movies that they don't profile: Harold and Maude (1971), Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), Foul Play (1978), and The Muppet Movie (1979).  Any one of these is going to tell you more about the 1970s-- and sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, or even politics-- than the likes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Rebel without a Cause.  And they're a hell of a lot more entertaining, too.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


1984, 1985 Ballantine edition
Susan Brownmiller
Original price $7.95, purchase price $3.50
Worn paperback

Almost a decade after Against Our Will, Brownmiller examines the title concept, which is not unrelated, since part of femininity is passivity, and it's harder for women to fight against rape if they've been trained not to fight.  However, she is not entirely against stereotypical femininity.  She admits to dying her hair and in her youth having taken pride in her pale skin.  Her relationship to femininity is ambivalent, as I think most women's are.  She talks about her personal experience, but also that of other women, of different times, countries, classes, and races.  She also incorporates what she knows of the experiences of men, both straight and gay. 

The wry wit of her first book is still present in this her second, but there's also a sense of what might be called middle-aged feminist burnout, not only that Brownmiller was then in her late 40s, but also that the 1970s had turned to the 1980s.  She doesn't blame other women for "giving in," for instance wearing skirts and make-up, and she admits that she doesn't want to seem boring and judgmental.  She acknowledges that femininity can be fun, if it's a woman's choice rather than something imposed by loved ones and/or society.

If I had to pick one detail that was most interesting to me on this reread, it was the mention of how First Ladies were/are expected to be slender, with Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan as extreme examples.  I wonder what Brownmiller later thought of Barbara Bush, but maybe people didn't hold Barbara to that standard because she fit more into the grandmotherly image, white hair and all.

The Lilac Bus

The Lilac Bus
Maeve Binchy
(see Dublin 4 for more information)

Tom takes seven people to Rathdoon and back to Dublin every weekend on the vehicle of the title.  Each chapter has a different perspective, so we see how the driver and passengers view each other, as well as the townspeople that they all know, like Celia's alcoholic mother.  The stories aren't all neatly tied up, but then this novella only covers one weekend (with flashbacks).  Themes and issues from before, not just alcoholism, but adultery, homosexuality (more here than in Dublin 4 or London Transports), and of course family, are addressed.  There's not as much of a sense of a little Irish town as in Light a Penny Candle, because of the split in setting (including on the road) as well as the length being less than that of the 1982 novel.  I didn't like Nancy, even after she had her "clueless person's realisation" ala Transports (maybe because I can see that same penny-pinching in myself at times, though not to that extreme), but the rest of the characters are interesting, flaws and all.

Haunted Idol: The Story of the Real Cary Grant

1983, 1985 McGraw-Hill edition
Geoffrey Wansell
Haunted Idol: The Story of the Real Cary Grant
Original price $3.95, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

The title sounds like the sort of low-budget '40s movie that Cary Grant would not have starred in, but Wansell sees the actor as haunted by his childhood, particularly the mental illness of his mother.  While there are times I felt sorry for Grant reading this book, I like him less because of it, mostly due to the way he treated his wives, especially Numbers 1 and 4, hitting them and limiting their freedom.  Wansell addresses the controversy over Grant's sexual orientation a couple times, to note rumors about Grant and live-in pal Randolph Scott, and Chevy Chase's homophobic remark which led to a slander suit that was settled out of court.  Wansell seems to think the fact that Grant was involved with so many women is answer enough, and doesn't consider the possibility that Grant was bisexual.

Grant suspected Wansell wanted to write about him because Grant was almost 80 and not likely to live much longer (he'd die the year after this edition came out), but it was more that Wansell found him a fascinating enigma.  Grant was always ambivalent about revealing his selves (there are a few "Archibald Leach" jokes in his movies), both fearing and desiring exposure, as with his medical experiments with LSD in the '50s.  I still enjoy the Cary Grant onscreen, in the more than a dozen of his movies I've seen, but it's a shame that he wasn't half as cool in real life as his costar and friend Rosalind Russell was.

Whew, only 30 years to go for this project!

The Book of Lists 3

1983, Bantam edition from later that year
Amy Wallace, David Wallechinksy, and Irving Wallace
The Book of Lists 3
Original price $4.95, purchase price $2.95
Very worn paperback

About as good as the first book, not as good as the second.  Pretty much more of the same, including the chapter "Encores," which updates popular earlier lists.  As they observe in the introduction, there had been some spin-off books by other people, not just the "rock" one.  The intro also says, "Like our previous books, The Book of Lists 3 tries to provide a balance between the lighthearted and the serious.  It is fun to read a list of...murder victims who were the hardest to kill."  If that's the Wallaces' idea of lighthearted fun, I'm surprised these books aren't more disturbing.

As far as topicality goes this time, there's of course a lot more of Reagan, and M*A*S*H makes the favorite TV series lists for Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke, and Phil Silvers (who also of course pick their own shows).  My favorite trivia is that "Let's get out of here!" is the most common line of movie dialogue, which may still be true.


Friday, January 25, 2013

The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

1983, undated but no later than '85 edition, from Harper & Row
Barbara G. Walker
The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
Bought newish for $19.95
Very worn paperback with broken spine and loose pages

I first read this book the summer of '84, while staying at my aunt's commune.  She hadn't read her copy yet, but I raced through it, fascinated by all the pagan lore, most of it then new to me.  A few months later, I was in a bookstore with my feminist boyfriend and excitedly pointed to the book.  We either bought it together, or I bought it and we both read it.  We/I got other "Goddess" books later, but this was the first.

For awhile after our divorce, he was more into paganism than I was, even contacting some of the writers we'd read.  But due to things like our divorce, I gradually drifted away.  Yet he's now more cynical about religion, of all sorts, than I am.  There are times I still pray to the Goddess, but she's more an aspect of myself, with a dash of the mother I lost at 3.  It's funny to me that Walker, still alive at 82, describes herself as an atheist, considering how she influenced us, and apparently many others.

I tried to separate out what I think of the book this reread, my first in many years.  I think many things actually.
1.  Any encyclopedia, no matter what the topic, is going to be a tough read, particularly at 1100+ pages like this one.  There are, perhaps of necessity, redundancies that make it even harder to get through.
2.  Although she's not as bad as Davis in First Sex, there are times when Walker is inconsistent about her conclusions and/or insulting about men.
3.  While she makes good points about the violence and oppression of Christianity and/or patriarchy, I'm not entirely convinced, just on the evidence of this book, that paganism was all that peaceful or loving.  How can cannibalism, castration, or human sacrifice be justified?  Yes, they're arguably "better" than war and the Inquisition, but is that how low you want to set the bar?
4.  The book got me thinking about the control of information.  Many comments on Amazon (I don't feel like reading them all) argue over her scholarship and research.  I'm not qualified to judge how well she did, although 25 years' investment should count for something, even if her conclusions might be wrong.  As with the books about John Lennon, it sometimes feels like different people's words against each other.  But I do think she makes some good points about how stories (history as well as myths) are affected by who's telling them, and how and how much they're distributed, and to whom.  (Like the centuries of the Bible being available to European peasants only as Latin read to them.)  Maybe Walker got things wrong, but I still can't believe many of the official stories.
5.  I admire the choice of sculptures, paintings, and other artwork included in the book, usually at the beginnning of each letter, or cluster of letters.  There are some absolutely lovely pieces, such as the cover of this edition, with the Minoan snake goddess.
6.  Underneath my cynicism, I still believe in the possibility of a better society, one founded on kindness and wisdom.  I haven't the foggiest how to get there, and I don't think this book provides such a path.  But I think it can at least be a conversation-starter.  And it is fun to read alternate stories for everything from Little Red Riding Hood to Ishtar.  (When Walker wrote that Pazuzu was "the only Babylonian deity to become a movie star," thanks to The Exorcist, she couldn't have imagined what Elaine May would come up with in a few years.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Not Quite TV Guide

1983, first edition, from Prince Paperbacks
Gerald Sussman, with many people helping on everything from modeling to the crossword
Not Quite TV Guide: Local, Network, Regional, Cable, Wire, Cord, and String Listings
Original price $3.95, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

Still funny parody of a once indispensible magazine, this captures the beginning of the era of, as Bruce Springsteen put it in 1992, "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)."  A string of shows are named "_____ & Marie", Latin film star Pedro Fumar ("smoking Peter") is ubiquitious, and early reality cable shows like Cooking for Cannibals and T-Man and Juggs find niche markets.  My favorite piece is "Reader's Poll: What Should We Do with the Jeffersons?", or more specifically, responses to the question "What in heaven's name can we do to George and Louise to get them off the air once and for all?"  Isabel Sanford had been playing Louise since '71, Sherman Hemsley was George since '73, on All in the Family, and their spin-off series had definitely jumped the shark by '83.  (I saw an episode taping around that time, and the cast seemed weary, although Sanford was very nice in answering one of my questions that baffled the warm-up guy.)  The answers in the poll are incredibly ridiculous, and hostile though they are on the surface, like the "reader who suggested that they should get into one of their typical stupid fights and go at each other with kitchen knives," there's definitely an underlying affection to this book, aimed more at the TV addict than the TV-hater.

And indeed, back when I was a 15-year-old TV addict, I owned a copy of this book, although I lost it around the time I lost How to Regain Your Virginity.  While it was still in my possession, I shared it with my future ex-husband, who a few years ago bought me a replacement copy.  And, yes, I didn't get all the sex jokes in this book either originally.  I also didn't get all the literary references.

My vote for most ironic entry goes not to any of the mentions of Princess Di, but to the blurb on Rocky XIII.  Rocky is now 60 and still boxing, unlike the Rocky of the real last movie (Rocky Balboa, 2006), who's in his late 50s and retired from boxing.  Still, the sequelitis already deserved to be parodied in '83.

I was such a TV addict, I used to collect TV Guide, so I can say with some authority that Sussman and company have captured the look and feel of the magazine, down to the little ovals with "END" in them at the finish of longer articles.  The crossword is based entirely on advertising, a nice jab, and there are some ad parodies throughout, such as the Sears Child-Cleaning Service.  Sometimes the artwork is too cartoonish, and sometimes the humor is a bit offensive, but overall this is much better than you'd expect.

Sussman was an advertising copywriter as well as editor-in-chief of National Lampoon.  He wrote six other humor books, and died only six years after this one came out.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Children's Novels and the Movies

1983, undated (but probably that year) Frederick Ungar Publishing edition
Edited by Douglas Street
Children's Novels and the Movies
Original price $8.95, purchase price unknown
Paperback where about half the pages detached from the binding

While reading this, I kept thinking of how much has changed.  Not just the nature of children's movies (from Harry Potter to the trend of the last decade of making full-length movies out of picture books), but even the methods of film distribution.  That there's a list of "Rental Sources for Films Listed in Filmography" reminds me that while cable TV and home video were becoming increasingly common in 1983, most families did not yet have them.  (I was middle-class and had neither.  A few friends had cable.  I don't remember knowing anyone who owned a VCR, or Betamax, although a few rich people had laser discs.)  Organizations, such as schools, still used film projectors, and rarely for entertainment rather than education.  (A year or two later, I did watch Romeo and Juliet [1968] on a classroom VCR, of course blushing at the topless Juliet and hoping no one noticed.)  As I've noted elsewhere, you can now watch an entire movie, sometimes for free, online.

So when I read about the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit, it wasn't just odd because of the current live-action version.  And yes, The Hobbit isn't a children's movie per se, but Street feels that any book with appeal to children is a children's book, so such classics as Treasure Island and Kim, not to mention more modern books that arguably have more appeal to adults, such as The Little Prince and Watership Down, are included.  There are even a few definitely YA examples, such as A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Sandwich (1978).  (It's a sign of the tendency of Hollywood to employ a small group of actors and actresses, especially those of color and at that time, but I was amused that both that contemporary story and Sounder [1972] of the Depression era star Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson as the parents.)

Contributors do their best to steer clear of Disney (at that time still seen as the predominant maker of children's films, which I think is less true in the era of Pixar et al.), although there's an interesting examination of Pinocchio (1940).  While in some cases the "book is better" syndrome prevails, some writers do find films that they think work equally well, albeit in a different way, such as Wizard of Oz (1939).  Admittedly, some of the movies that they (and other critics) trash as not just bad adaptations but bad films, I have a soft spot for from watching them on TV in the 1970s, like Pippi Longstocking (1969, but I think the American dub, which adds to the campiness, is from '73).  In some cases, they'll compare different versions, like the 1933 and 1949 films of Little Women, to each other as well as to the book.

I obviously found the contributions where I'd neither read the book nor seen the movie, like Tom Brown's Schooldays, less interesting, but overall I'd recommend this book, both as a product of its time (and the 15 or 20 previous years), and as a good starting point for the topic.

Friday, January 18, 2013

John Lennon In My Life

1983, undated (but probably that year) McGraw-Hill edition
Pete Shotton and Nicholas Schaffner
John Lennon In My Life
Original price $14.95, purchase price $9.50
Worn paperback

Shotton was Lennon's best friend for many years, to the point that John called them "Shennon and Lotton."  Schaffner of course is one of the best writers on the Beatles.  Yet, I feel like this book is less than the sum of its parts.  The parts that I suspect are Schaffner's contributions feel like a replay of Beatles Forever and British Invasion.  They don't blend very smoothly with Shotton's memories of his best mate.  This book is very definitely a reaction to tell-all books, and the slighting references to Peter Brown (whom Shotton worked with while running Apple out of a closet) suggest that either Brown's book had come out at that point, or Shotton was at least aware it was going to be published soon.  It is itself a "no trousers" book (sometimes literally, as in the chapters where the two friends would masturbate or have sex with women in the same room), but a much less vicious one.  For instance, Shotton minimises the heroin usage that Brown plays up, both shortening the length of John's experience with the drug and the impact it had on him.  It's clear that Yoko couldn't stand Pete, perhaps out of jealousy and/or insecurity, but he's more sympathetic to her than many writers.

I'm finding in reading so many books that discuss John Lennon that I'm not sure what to make of him anymore.  At 12, when he died, I thought he was just another dead stoner rock star, although dead by a shooting rather than drugs.  (Somehow I didn't quite connect him with the Beatles, or I had a lower opinion of him as a solo artist.)  Then at 16 or 17 I hero-worshiped him because of his pacifism.  Now I see that he was a pacifist, but violent at different points in his life, including his "Lost Weekend."  Under Yoko's tutelage, he became a sensitive feminist, but he never completely shook off his sexist "Northern" upbringing.  (Neither did the other Beatles of course.)  And so on, including with the different sides of his music.  The cover of this book symbolises the paradox he was, since the back-cover is a mirror image of the front, down to the title and authors.  Perhaps having coauthors is appropriate after all, even if, as with John himself, the sides never quite balance.

Two more views of Lennon, the emotional and the political, are coming up shortly, with John Lennon: For the Record (his Penthouse interview from 1971, but not published till '84), and Come Together.

Richard III: England's Black Legend

1983, 1984 Franklin Watts edition
Desmond Seward
Richard III: England's Black Legend
Original price unknown, purchase price $5.95
Good condition hardcover with worn dustjacket

Seward is even more of a conclusion-jumper than Josephine Tey, but this book is at least consistent in its portrayal of Richard III as being as bad as the worst you've heard.  And the book is quick and fairly entertaining, so even the military sections didn't bore me.  I was annoyed by the number of typos, and confused by the use of "condominium."  (Wikipedia gives its meaning in international law: "a political territory [state or border area] in or over which two or more sovereign powers formally agree to share equally dominium [in the sense of sovereignty] and exercise their rights jointly, without dividing it up into 'national' zones.")  Seward mentions a few good traits that Richard had, but he does believe that Richard was an incestuous, murderous usurper.  I'm still more inclined to the "grey legend," that Richard did some of the evil that he was accused of, but not necessarily all, such as the murder of Prince Edward of Lancaster.  (The family trees in the book are nice and clear by the way.)  After more than five hundred years, it often seems to be a case of various people's words against others, even more than with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The British Invasion

1983, undated (but probably that year) McGraw-Hill edition
Nicholas Schaffner (and friends)
The British Invasion
Probably bought newish for $14.95
Worn paperback

Although this was first published in 1982, and is listed as such on, for instance, Wikipedia, I'm going with the 1983 copyright.  Schaffner and his collaborators (including two with his last name) use December 1980 as a cut-off point (because of John Lennon's death), although in some profiles a band's releases and other actions for '81 are mentioned.  As such, I found it worked on two levels for me.  One is as a glimpse into a time of rock history (a term that Schaffner finds himself defending, though this is a decade after the Christgau book I reviewed) when I was either not yet born or too little to follow the charts.  (I would say 1975 is when I became aware of, in particular, Paul McCartney and Elton John.)  The book is also, in the second section, with its short profiles of the "Hot Hundred" a glimpse of British music shortly before I became a fan of Culture Club, the Thompson Twins, Dexy's Midnight Runners, and others, that is 1982 onwards.

Oddly enough, some of the artists, including the Kinks (one of seven bands and/or soloists that Schaffner has longer profiles of), seem not to have "invaded" the U.S. all that well, in that their music often flopped on American charts and had no more than cult status, a hit or ten aside.  This paradox, especially as it played out in the aggressively non-commercial punk movement, could've been explored in more depth.  Also, there are many bands here I just don't care about.  Still, the writing is good, with Parke Puterbaugh (a Rolling Stone reviewer) probably the best after Schaffner, as with his remark that "no one would own up to the origins of [Spooky Tooth's] name, which suggested a regrettable dental episode."

Schaffner's other 1983 collaboration, with Pete Shotton, is not mentioned on the back cover, so this probably isn't a much later edition.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cult Movies 2

1983, Dell Trade edition from later that year
Danny Peary
Cult Movies 2: Fifty More of the Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird, and the Wonderful
Original price $12.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

The problems with the first book continue, and in a way get worse.  Just like in my early 20s, I almost wanted to quit reading the book early on, because of thoroughly unpleasant movies in the B's, C's, and D's.  This time the issue is not just violence, as with Blood Feast and Daughters of Darkness, but rape, often by protagonists.  While I appreciate that Peary acknowledges feminist criticism, he's capable of writing of Basketcase (1982, the most recent of the movies in this book), "As for the film, despite the rape, it deserves to play on the Midnight circuit for, as Ievins hopes, 'ten years.'"  And it is Peary's choice to profile these movies, including ones he's not fond of, such as A Clockwork Orange.  In that and A Boy and His Dog, the post-apocalyptic antiheroes seek out women to rape.  Yes, these rapists are all presented as "bad" men but they're also presented as likable, and in the case of Don Johnson and Malcolm McDowell, handsome actors play them.

So even though I appreciate such favorites of mine as His Girl Friday, Some Like It Hot, and Willy Wonka being reviewed, as well as a few movies I sought out specifically because of this book (The First Nudie Musical, High School Confidential, Salt of the Earth), I have to average out my enjoyment and lack.  I must also note that the bias towards more recent films is even stronger than in the first book.  This time over half of the fifty are from 1971 on.

We'll see how I feel about Cult Movies 3 when we get up to 1988.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Beatles: The Fab Four....

1983, first edition (but see below), from Treasure Press
Editorial Consultant Jeremy Pascall, Material Compiled by Robert Burt, Epilogue by Chris Rowley
The Beatles: The Fab Four Who Dominated Pop Music for a Decade
Original price unknown, purchase price $4.98
Slightly worn hardcover

While it's nice to see so many color photos of the Beatles, including for Hard Day's Night, in this sort of cheap version of a coffee-table book, the writing is so mediocre to abysmal that I can't recommend it.  Earlier versions of the book appeared in 1973, '74, and '75, but this is listed as "Revised 1983."  Unfortunately, this means that the Epilogue covers only '75 to '80 (don't look for McCartney's '82 duets with Stevie Wonder), and in only two pages.  Although Rowley had years to prepare it, it's probably the most poorly written piece in the whole book.   Some samples:

"Yoko, who is should never be forgotten is an artist in her own right...."
"Ringo flew to America to stay as well....Everything he wanted to do seemed to be in that city...."  (L.A. presumably, although it hasn't been mentioned since the previous section on John.)
"Troubles begat disaster for the tour right from the start."
"John was tiring of the life-as-drunkard-socialite by mid '75 and he and a pregnant Yoko began dating again."  (Implying Yoko was pregnant by someone other than her husband.)

The second worst section is the gushy one on Paul's 1970-74 career, starting with definitions of "super" and "star."  The earlier sections are mostly unremarkable, with no information or perspective you can't find elsewhere.  Yet the book is definitely a contrast to The Love You Make, censoring Lennon's profanity and cleaning up Epstein's messy life.  I think at the time it was worth the five bucks because I was still new to Beatles fandom and it wasn't yet possible to do an Internet image search that brings dozens of color pictures of the band within seconds.  But nowadays, there's not much point in keeping the book.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How to Regain Your Virginity

1983, undated later edition, from Workman Publishing
Patricia Marx and Charlotte Stuart
How to Regain Your Virginity..and 99 Other Recent Discoveries About Sex
Original price unknown, bought used for $3.95
Slightly worn paperback

While blunter than Thurber and White's coy Is Sex Necessary?: Why You Feel the Way You Do (1929), this isn't as funny, although it has its moments.  The difference of over half a century and two female coauthors means that we get jokes about feminism and abortion, as well as a lot of pseudo-1950sness, especially in the illustrations.  I had a copy of this book at 15 (my father misread "Regain" as "Reagan," which made it even stranger), but, yes, lost it long ago and, yes, regained it, used but in good condition, years later.  I was a bit savvier about sex jokes at 15 than the year or so before when reading the Anti-Prep and Valley Girl handbooks, but there were still a few jokes I didn't get.  (I can recall them on rereading.) 

Like the '20s book, this is a parody of sexology, but I've decided not to use the nonfiction tag as I did then.  (And all things considered, I'll probably rescind that one once I get around to using a "humor" tag.)  Unlike the Thurber & White book, there are lots of graphs and charts.  There are a few predictions for the then-future, and "Foreplay will be computerized" for 2000 and "Nude sunbathing will be a form of capital punishment" for 2010 are actually more accurate than the serious predictions in the Wallace-Wallechinsky book.  Similarly, the discovery "More People Have Had Sex Problems Than Have Had Sex" is I suspect actually true.  My favorite page is on variations of polygamy, including "Amyamy: marrying Amy while you are still married," and ending "Origami: the Japanese art of folding paper into birds and flowers."

In 1980, a book called The New Celibacy was published, and within the next couple years it would become a subject for humor on sitcoms.  According to Wikipedia, "Much of the hysteria and stigma surrounding herpes stems from a media campaign beginning in the late 1970s and peaking in the early 1980s."  This book needs to be seen as against that background, as opposed to the sexual experimentation of 1929.  While we did not in fact go back to the 1950s as some hoped and others feared, there was a complex ambivalence about sex at that time.  As a teen growing up in suburban Southern California, I sometimes felt that the 1950s trap of girls as either virgins (good, as long as they weren't stuck-up about it), teases (bad), or sluts (worse) had been changed so that all three categories were bad, although not as bad as lesbians.  Furthermore, I was a bisexual virgin who'd never had a boyfriend or a girlfriend, so I felt incredibly guilty and inadequate.  Laughing at this book probably helped me get through that time, and rereading it helps me relive that time painlessly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction

1983, 1986 Methuen edition
Margaret Kirkham
Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction
Original price unknown, purchase price $5.95
Worn paperback

I almost rated this a B- for three reasons.  One, I've read it too often; two, Kirkham's thesis that Austen was a feminist with views similar to Mary Wollstonecraft is no longer as revolutionary as it was two or three decades ago; and the discussion of Austen's novels is severely lop-sided.  These first two are not Kirkham's fault, and it's because her argument is so convincing that she's shaped the way that I and others see Austen.  The book probably isn't meant to hold up to the perhaps dozen readings that I've given it over the years.  (Well, physically it's doing all right.)  I do, however, find fault in the way Kirkham concentrates on the three later novels, with only a few pages to the first three, one page in the case of Sense and Sensibility!  The book would've been strengthened by doubling in size, since at 187 pages (counting notes and index) it's rather slim. 

That said, this is the best work of literary criticism so far, intelligent without being overly academic.  She also has a good dose of wit, including about literary criticism and biography, the two portraits of Jane, one by Cassandra and the other a Victorian "improvement," symbolising how badly Austen has been represented at times.

Shield of Three Lions

1983, first edition, from Crown
Pamela Kaufman
Shield of Three Lions
Original and purchase price unknown
Fair condition hardcover with worn dustjacket

While I appreciate the period detail, from eating eels to studying law in Paris, I can't recommend this book because of its disturbing sexual and/or violent content.  Preteen Alix disguises herself as a boy in order to gain an audience with Richard I, who's supposed to be in London, but she ends up accompanying him on a Crusade.  Her parents have been killed and her castle sacked, so she needs Richard's support.  Her mother was not only murdered but raped, as was best friend Maisry.  Alix herself, whether dressed as a boy or a girl, is repeatedly threatened with rape, by men ranging from a dockside mob to Robin Hood!  She's also more gently lusted after by a girl her own age and by King Richard!  Except, they think she's a boy of nine or ten.

There's also a Scot named Enoch who both protects and bullies her, while wanting half her estate.  When Alex/Alix's identity is revealed, Richard agrees to Enoch marrying her, in order to claim the barony, although she by then thinks the worst of Enoch, and her consent during the ceremony is obtained at knifepoint!  Things are eventually cleared up, including that she wasn't Richard's mistress, and there is a happy ending, but by then there's such a bad taste about the book that it's hard to enjoy.

I believe this was Kaufman's debut novel.  She went on to write an Alix trilogy, but although I liked the protagonist, I can't see reading further.

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Hi, This Is Sylvia."

1983, first edition, from St. Martin's Press
Nicole Hollander
"Hi, This Is Sylvia.  I Can't Come to the Phone Right Now, So When You Hear the Beep, Please Hang up."
Bought newish for $4.95
Slightly worn paperback

Not as good as the earlier collections, this still has its moments.  My favorite strip pairs a then-current ad with politics:
TELEVISION:  Spray and Wash gets out what America gets into.
SYLVIA:  Send some to El Salvador.

Sylvia's daughter has changed her hair to a shorter, more '80s style, while some of the other young women look more punk.  There are of course Reagan jokes.  Otherwise, the humor doesn't feel too fresh.  That may be why I stopped collecting Hollander for awhile, and I think the next of her books I own isn't until 1995's Female Problems.

Midnight Movies

1983, first edition, from Harper & Row
J. Hoberman & Jonathan Rosenbaum
Midnight Movies
Original price $9.95, purchase price $3.95
Poor condition paperback

This mostly covers the sort of movies I disliked most in Cult Movies, sometimes giving a whole chapter to a movie, as with El Topo.  And then when they discuss something I like, such as Magical Mystery Tour, they rush through it, and in this case still manage to make an error.  (John Lennon as "The Fool on the Hill"?  Sloppy!)  I did like some of their insights, such as the influence of Catholicism and the Midnight Mass on the ritual of watching films at midnight.  But overall, there's too much of the gross and the violent, not my cup of tea.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


1983, 1984 Pocket Books edition
Nora Ephron
Original price $3.95, purchase price $2.00
Worn paperback

I always enjoyed Ephron on talk shows, but I don't think that's why I bought this novel.  I bought it either because I was curious about the movie (which I still haven't seen) or because the book is discussed in The Queening of America (itself coming up in 1995).  Ephron, who died last year, was straight but she coopted camp humor, and made mildly homophobic remarks in this novel.  She also made mildly racist ones, or at least the heroine based on her does.  There are also disparaging remarks about feminism, yet Rachel tries to present herself as liberal. 

The book reminds me a bit of Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (1972), in that it's about a Jewish New York woman born in the early 1940s.  But while Sheila tries to get married, Rachel wonders if she should end her second marriage, since her husband has been having an affair during her entire second pregnancy.  This book isn't as funny as Sheila and it's harder to feel sorry for Rachel, partly because she's much better off financially, as a celebrity chef.  In fact, oddly enough, although I can't cook, my favorite parts of the book were where she talks about food, especially potatoes' relationship to relationships.  I didn't really care about hubby Mark (based on Carl Bernstein) and couldn't see what was so great about him, other than he sang silly songs.  I still might see the movie someday, but obviously no hurry.

The Little Kitten

1983, undated later edition, from Random House
Story by Judy Dunn,
Photographs by Phoebe Dunn
The Little Kitten
Original and purchase price unknown
Slightly worn paperback

One, two, three....Awwwwww!  Absolutely adorable photos of the adventurous, orange-and-white title character.  The story isn't as good but it's serviceable.  Besides all the pictures of Pickle and Jenny, the pigtailed little girl who mothers him, there are some great nature shots of a turtle, squirrels, a baby rabbit (awwww!), and so on.  After the last few unimpressive books, this is a true breath of fresh air.

The Love You Make

1983, 1984 Signet edition
Peter Brown & Steven Gaines
The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of the Beatles
Bought new for $4.50
Very worn paperback

What a difference 15 years make!  Instead of Hunter Davies having to get Beatles' approval for his authorized biography, and thus having to censor so much, longtime Beatles associate and friend Brown wrote what Time called "deep dish gossip."  (Yes, he's the Peter Brown in "The Ballad of John and Yoko.")  Apparently, Paul and Linda were deeply offended by the book, understandably so.  Everyone comes off bad in it, with Brown finding little good to say, other than an occasional compliment on the music, and it's more about John, or even Brian Epstein, than it is about Paul, George, or particularly Ringo.  I'm not sure what Gaines's contribution to the book was, though I suspect it was the more generic information that can be found in most books on the Beatles.  Although this is much less of a rush-job than John Lennon Remembered (1980), having been three years in the making, there are many careless errors and typos, among the most glaring, a name (Byrne) misspelled on a line right above the correct spelling, and the year that John and Paul met changing from one paragraph to the next. 

What the book presents that you might not find as much elsewhere is the financial side, since Brown worked for Brian in Liverpool and London.  In fact, I think the book should've been called You Never Give Me Your Money, because it's not exactly a loving book.  It was one of the Beatles books that my then-future-ex-husband gave me when we were in high school, and it was an eye-opener for both of us, not just the sex and drugs but the anger and hatred in the Beatles circle.  I'm going to reluctantly recommend it, as a balance to the Davies book, but you should proceed with caution.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession

1983, 1984 Dell edition
Erma Bombeck
Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession
Bought newish for $3.95
Worn paperback

So I was wrong.  I do own another Bombeck book than Just Wait (1971).  I can see why I forget this one, since there's nothing much memorable here, other than the sort of poor taste title and the sort of amusing fairytale stepmothers' versions of their stories.  I remember Bombeck as less sentimental than she comes across here, yet I was also baffled by the things that the mothers got upset about.  (Long hair in the early '80s?  Let's move on, OK?)  Much of the book felt like the kind of email message that got over-forwarded in the late '90s, and in fact "God couldn't be everywhere so he created Mothers" comes from one of these chapters.

The Color Purple

1982, 1985 Pocket Books edition
Alice Walker
The Color Purple
Bought newish for $5.99
Worn paperback

What happened?  I remembered this as an amazing story that goes from rape and exploitation to a celebration of life.  Now, even reading the title-drop passage about how God gets pissed off if you don't notice beauty, like the color purple, I feel meh.  I didn't much care about Celie's life in the South, where she's saved by love and pants, or about Nettie's life in Africa, where she comes off sounding hypocritical or at least clueless.  And the coincidences in the novel verge on Dickensian, without Dickens's charm.  This book makes me appreciate all the more how Nella Larsen handled many of these themes and issues-- religion, music, clothing, heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, friendship, violence, class, race, etc.-- with such skill and style back in the '20s.

It's not a terrible book, but I definitely no longer see it as beautiful.  Sorry, God, if that pisses You off.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Anne Tyler
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

So it turns out that the only good story in Four Complete Novels is Morgan's Passing.  I'll get rid of this hardcover omnibus and get a paperback of Morgan's

While the writing in Dinner, particularly the imagery, is a great advance over the two mid-'60s novels, this contains what is probably the most unappealing family Tyler's yet come up with.  Father Beck abandons the family for 35 years, and mother Pearl is at best insensitive, at worst abusive.  Cody steals his sadsack brother Ezra's fiancĂ©e, but remains jealous of Ezra.  Only sister Jenny is at all appealing, and even she has serious issues.  The third generation don't seem quite as bad, but then we don't really get to know any of them except Luke, and there's a throwaway comment about Becky having "Anor Exia," so they're probably as screwed up as their elders.  When Beck returns, he tries to paper over the pain, and there's the sense that Tyler wants to give her characters a happy, or happy-ish, ending, but it just isn't believable.  The one thing I genuinely liked was the restaurant of the title, and I would've rather read more about that.  But Tyler here is not what Cody would call a feeder, preferring to starve readers this time.

Luckily, the next Tyler novel coming up is The Accidental Tourist in 1985....

"Mercy, It's the Revolution and I'm in My Bathrobe"

1982, first edition, from St. Martin's Press
Nicole Hollander
"Mercy, It's the Revolution and I'm in My Bathrobe": More Sylvia
Original price unknown, purchase price $4.95
Paperback where the pages have detached from the binding

Not as laugh-out-loud as the previous collection, this still made me smile a lot.  It includes a three-panel moment of Sylvia standing up, and yes, she's got a nice set of gams.  The fictional newscaster Patty Murphy appears often, for the more topical/political humor. 

Sylvia and friends will return in next year's "Hi, This Is Sylvia."

Girls Are Powerful

1982, 1985 Sheba Feminist Publishers edition
Edited by Susan Hemings
Girls Are Powerful: Young Women's Writings from Spare Rib
Original price £3.95, purchase price $3.95
Slightly worn paperback

Interesting look at the thoughts of female Brits, ages 7 to 22, in the punk era.  I would've liked to have seen specific dates of publication, and ages of contributors where not clear, especially since I wondered about the controversy over girls wearing trousers to school, which was long settled in the U.S. in 1982.  (Perhaps not in private school though?)  The writers and illustrators (there are some cartoons, unfortunately mostly reprinted too small to read all the captions) also address homophobia, classism, racism, and even ageism, the last in particular among adult feminists.  I found the section on work the most thought-provoking, as working-class teenagers are pressured by their families to get a job (much more than their brothers are) and yet do housework (again, much more than their brothers are), while being exploited by employers because of their age and inexperience.

Editor Hemmings explains that "Spare Rib is a women's liberation magazine," and I assume it's an Adam & Eve pun.  According to this article, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/whatever-happened-to-feminisms-extreme-sects-465970.html , Hemmings "picked her last name from an advert for bread rather than go by the name of her father or ex-husband."  If I did that, I would definitely pick Wonder.