Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Accidental Tourist

1985, 1986 Berkley [sic] edition
Anne Tyler
The Accidental Tourist
Possibly bought newish for $4.50
Very worn paperback

In my review of Earthly Possessions, I quoted the line, "We have been traveling for years, traveled all our lives, we are traveling still."  And I compared it to the message of Celestial Navigation, in which being unable to travel even off your own block means that you miss out on life.  Here the message is more ambiguous than in either earlier novel.  The main character, Macon, comes to think of himself as always married to his estranged wife Sarah, even as they split up for good.  So in a sense they're still traveling "together," even when they're separate.  Meanwhile, he decides to return to the quirky, irritating but brave and lovable Muriel.  The title refers to Macon's series of travel guides for people who hate travel or anything unfamiliar, including Macon, although he changes under Muriel's influence.  There also people, and pets, moving back and forth from one household to another, so that they're tourists even in different neighborhoods of Baltimore. 

There are other echoes, sometimes distorted, of earlier novels, like the eccentric family living in the big old house, and the brothers who interfere with romances.  Macon's family is very particular in their ways (and though I'm less of a grammar Nazi, I do agree with them on "disinterested"), but very likable, so it's believable that swinging single publisher Julian (who's a bit like the agent in Celestial Navigation) would want to marry Macon's sister Rose and even move in with her and the two oldest brothers.  I did have some issues with Muriel following Macon to Paris, but she comes across as less of a stalker than Morgan in Morgan's Passing.  Neither of Macon's romances are perfect, but I can see why he's drawn to these two very different women, and vice versa.  At the time I first read the book, I didn't know how it would end.  (I hadn't seen the movie yet, and it may not have even been released at that point.)  I like that Macon recognizes how passive he's been, and that from now on, although his journey will be more spontaneous, he will also take a more active role in getting to his destination.

Breathing Lessons coming up in 1988....

Paradise Postponed

1985, 1986 Penguin edition
John Mortimer
Paradise Postponed
Possibly bought newish, for $4.50
Very worn paperback

I think I saw the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation first, in '86 or '87.  I loved it at the time but haven't seen it since.  I do know I used to really enjoy this book, and when I first started it this go, I was inclined to give it a B.  But after awhile, I felt like much of the characterisation was thin.  (For instance, it seemed like I knew Agnes better in the miniseries.)  Also, now that I know Rev. Simcox's secret-- the book is a mystery, but not like Mortimer's more famous Rumpole stories-- the hints dropped along the way feel flatter than they once did.  And I felt dislocated in the chronology, not so much in the going between past and present (the latter Thatcherite England), but in the jumps of the past.  I would think a year had passed but it was actually three or five, or vice versa. 

All that said, the novel does have some great lines, and it is fun to follow the rises and falls and interweavings of the various families.  Oddly enough, it most reminded me of Austen and Rowling, the former because it is (despite trips to London and L.A.) primarily "three or four families in a country village," the latter because the line on the back cover, "All was well in the village of Rapstone Fanner-- until the Rector died" reminds me of a line in or about Casual Vacancy.  This village is more corrupt than Austen's, less than Rowling's.  There's no one to really identify with, except maybe Mrs. Simcox or son Fred, but Mortimer does humanise even the unpleasant people.  I wish the book was either deeper or more satirical (like Jane Smiley perhaps), but like the characters, I've learned to settle for what I get.

Speaking of time, it's time to look at the stats again.  First of all, thank you to all of you who have been reading about "My Poor Aunt" and other posts this month, so that the reading stats will be in the top four of the months so far.  (Eight more clicks and it'll be the top month.)  And I've read 100 more books since Doonesbury's Greatest Hits (1978).  At the time I'd given out

1 F
4 F+s
2 D-s
5 D's
11 D+s
16 C-s
26 C's
103 C+s
164 B-s
118 B's
43 B+s
7 A-s

I haven't read anything really dreadful lately, but I did give out another 3 C-s, 10 more C's, and 23 more C+s.  Nearly half, 44, of the new grades are B-s.  I gave 19 B's but only one B+ (Growing Up) and no A-.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Reign of the Phallus

1985, 1993 University of California Press edition
Eva C. Keuls
The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens
Original price $18.00, purchase price $3.95
Worn paperback with broken spine

Keuls not only looks at sexism in Athens of the fifth century B.C., but she tries to solve an ancient mystery: who destroyed the herms (phallic statues of good luck) the night before a planned invasion of Sicily?
( )

She argues that women, who had relative freedom during the annual rites of Adonis, committed the vandalism as a feminist/pacifist protest against macho militarism.  I find that her conclusions are not well supported-- there are a lot of leaps-- but the book is interesting as a "What if?" and as a gallery of art, mostly from vases, much of it pornographic, if oddly whimsical.  I think she overexaggerates the oppression of women in Ancient Greece, not that it didn't exist, but I don't believe it was as all encompassing as she presents.  (It's as if someone said that women had absolutely no rights or freedom in Victorian England.)  And one leap that especially bothered me was that she assumes that worship of the phallus added to male power but the earlier worship of the "female principle" had no effect on society.  Why?  I'm starting to feel like the mid-1980s led some female writers to a particular form of despair, as if men are naturally bullies and women naturally victims.  (This edition is a slight revision, but mostly of the bibliography and illustrations, so I don't see it as a product of the '90s.)

Ironically, her solution to the mystery is the most plausible aspect of the book.  I still recommend it but reading this book twice is enough for me and I won't be replacing my copy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

State of the Art

1985, first edition, from Dutton
Pauline Kael
State of the Art
Original price $12.95, purchase price $6.95
Worn paperback

Pauline Kael made me drop out of college.  Not directly-- we never met-- but as a sophomore I checked out a lot of her books from the library, and she was so much more intelligent and sarcastic than anyone on campus, that (along with a few other reasons) I decided that I could probably learn more on my own than in school.  A quarter century later, I'm certainly not as influenced by Kael as I was-- we part company on feminism and gay issues, not to mention violence in films-- but I still get a kick out of some of her reviews.  I found this collection less fun than Rex Reed's, but every once in awhile there's a great line, like this one after the novelization of Rambo being a "love letter to Rambo's weaponry," including how to order it:  "I can hardly wait for my set to arrive."  Or this:  "Downtown Prague does just fine as eighteenth-century Vienna.  It was fine as Dresden in Slaughterhouse-Five and as Hanover in Saraband and in many other roles, but I can't remember its ever being cast in a good movie." 

Not that it's all snark.  Sometimes she celebrates the joy of movies, as with Prizzi's Honor.  Still, as the back cover blurb says, "State of the Art" is less sexually suggestive than her past titles because movies weren't as fun in the 1980s as they were before.  This collection covers 1983 to 1985, so it was good to see she gave positive reviews (if not complete raves) of two movies I just rewatched recently for their 30th anniversaries, Yentl and Zelig.  But overall, there's a lot in here that I didn't care about, so I can't give her a higher grade.  We'll see how I feel about her take on the later '80s movies, when we get up to Hooked (1989)....

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cult TV

1985, St. Martin's Press edition from later that year
John Javna and various contributors
Cult TV: A Viewer's Guide to the Shows America Can't Live Without!!
Original price $14.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

As you might guess from the double exclamation mark in the subtitle, Javna's writing is much gushier and less intelligent than Peary's, and so I can only marginally recommend this.  It is interesting to get a mid-'80s look at television, a time when we could all believe that "eventually, all of the old TV shows will be on the market."  That didn't happen with VHS or DVD, and it won't happen with Blue-Ray.  (Try getting a last season of some programs that have devoted, if not cult, followings, like The Bob Newhart Show or Mork and Mindy.)  But it was true that many shows from the 1950s onward were available, and I think this homey quality, as well as the relatively inexpensive repeat viewings, made/makes cult TV a different beast than cult movies.  If you're sitting in your living room reciting favorite lines with friends and family (or alone), it's nothing like watching a movie at midnight in a theater. 

The book isn't arranged alphabetically or chronologically or by genre, even within sections.  The main sections are as follows:
  • Lost Cults, shows that had followings in their day but not so much later, e.g. Davy Crockett; Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare; Mod Squad; Upstairs, Downstairs.  (Though with the recent popularity of Downton Abbey, I wonder if people are rediscovering UD.) 
  • Cult Classics, ones everyone knows that may or may not have been popular in their day (I Love Lucy yes, Star Trek no), but picked up fans in syndication.
  • Underground Cults, which sounds redundant, but seem to be shows that have more "limited followings," like Blake's 7 and Super Chicken.
  • Prime Time Cults, which are '80s shows that, other than (at that time) David Letterman, all had great ratings, so I don't think they're cults in Peary's sense, but in Javna's sense of some people loving them, even if to make fun of, like Dynasty.
  • Future Cults, twelve shows that Javna predicts will develop strong cults.  Some are on the money (Green Acres, Police Squad, I Spy), while others are way off.  (Kate and Allie Not that I know of.)  Interestingly, although Gilligan's Island was already a Cult Classic, Javna wasn't the only one to fail to predict that within five years the other Sherwood Schwartz show would have a very devoted cult.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

1985, 1986 Bantam edition
Richard P. Feynman as told to Ralph Leighton, edited by Edward Hutchings
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character
Original price $4.50, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback with a lot of yellowing

Feynman is a good storyteller, and his life makes for good stories.  He's possibly the most down-to-earth Nobel prize winner ever, and he was probably a very good teacher.  He talks about science (not just his field of physics), as well as his experiments with music and art, gambling and safe-cracking.  There are times when he's amoral, which is unsettling, but he seems to acknowledge it.  To take the second biggest example, he "learns" that women (at least some of the women who hang out in bars) like to be treated like dirt.  He doesn't become abusive, but he is rude, and yes, he gets laid.  And when he works on The Bomb, he treats it just like another of the puzzles that have fascinated him since his childhood when he fixed radios.  (He's curious in more than one sense.)  One of his colleagues tells him that he has no obligation to be socially responsible, which eases his mind when he briefly has doubts.  I can't say I admire him, but he's definitely interesting, and at least he's not hypocritically pretending to be moral.

I liked this book enough to get the "sequel," What Do You Care What Other Think?, which we'll get to in 1988 (the year he died).  As its title suggests, Feynman is equally individualistic in that book.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World

1985, 1986 Laurel-Leaf edition
Paula Danziger
It's an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World
Original price unknown, purchase price $1.98
Slightly worn paperback

Yes, this is about equal to The Divorce Express, but unfortunately it works better as a stand-alone.  Phoebe seems completely out of character, and bratty.  Rosie is a likable enough narrator, her puns replacing Phoebe's now forgotten anagrams, although I sometimes feel like Danziger is rushing through issues/topics-- "Divorce!  Living together!  Remarriage!  Racism!  Young Love! Friendship!  Canada!"  The title is one of her more contrived ones, since it has to do with a dog (Aardvark) eating a turtle, and they aren't even the pets of the main family.  And again, she's over-idealizing Woodstock, and failing to humanize the "superstraights," Phoebe's mother and stepfather.  I do like that the theme is that life, especially family, isn't perfect, but it's worth working at.  There are moments of realism but also moments of ABC After-School Special.  Again, she's writing of and to younger teens, although Phoebe does some off-page "making out."  Rosie's interracial (and international) romance with Phoebe's Canadian stepcousin is more innocent and nicely done, although they say "I love you" far too soon.  (Even Blume's Danziger in Forever would tell them to slow down emotionally.)

There are a few non-1960s pop references, but there's not really anything to show that three years have passed in the real world since Express.  It seemed like the six years between The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and There's a Bat in Bunk Five (which if I remember correctly also had a kid sister from another book, maybe Pistachio Prescription) offered more than double the cultural change, but it's been a long while since I've read them.

I should note that my copy has a far more fan-servicy cover than other editions, with the girls wearing long shirts and apparently no jeans/slacks/skirts.  It's creepy considering they're supposed to be 14.  Other editions wisely play off of the moving and/or friendship themes.  (The Express cover shows the girls at a bus stop, Rosie trying to cheer up Phoebe.)

Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

1985, 1986 Penguin edition
Roy Blount, Jr.
Not Exactly What I Had in Mind
Original price $6.95, purchase price $4.95
Worn paperback

The title feels apt for a not bad but definitely weaker follow-up to Fell Soup.  There just aren't as many laugh-out-loud spots, although I did chortle rudely at a few of the swipes against Reagan.  The copyright page this time goes back to 1977, but it's mostly an '80s book.  I found the first section, "Talking Wrenches," to be the best, but his rambling style does wear thin after awhile, especially when I don't care about some of what he's rambling about.  (The sports writing is duller, although I was mildly interested in his take on whether Carl Lewis is gay.)  It seems like there's less poetry, and what there is less memorable.

But his piece on Erma Bombeck reminded me of why I once loved Erma, and why I'm not so crazy about her now.  The Bill Murray profile also captures a lot of Murray's appeal, and flaws.  And for that matter, he's good on Mark Twain, bringing the perspective of a Northern-dwelling Southerner.  Blount is a good observer, most of the time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


1985, 1989 Dell edition
Maeve Binchy
Original price $6.99, purchase price 99 cents
Worn paperback

Binchy's second novel is about as good as her first, less melodramatic but less memorable.  Like Penny Candle, it's set mostly in a small Irish town, in the past, although this time the span is 1950 to '62, and the "big city" is Dublin rather than London.  The title refers to Echo Cave, which has a Delphic aspect, in that locals whisper questions and the echoes provide an answer.  The cave is dropped as motif (the cliffs are much more prominent), although there are other echoes, as when young Clare's life resembles the teacher Miss O'Hara's in some ways.

Angela O'Hara steals every scene, with her mix of common sense and Catholic guilt.  When her brother leaves the priesthood to marry a Japanese woman, Angela tries to keep it a secret, always dreading the visit of "Father Sean" and his new family.  Then when they show up, no one recognises him, and it's rather anti-climactic.  Similarly, many of the other plots and subplots fizzle out, although the death in the prologue is explained much more plausibly than that of Candle.

Binchy was born in 1940, but she makes two chronological errors that are glaring.  One is a baby born in the first half of 1960 and named "John Fitzgerald" after the "President."  If it was phrased as "the future president, we hope," or similar, it wouldn't bug me, but JFK didn't even have the nomination at that point.  Worse is the dance in 1957 where two girls are eager to demonstrate their Twisting skills.  You didn't know that Chubby Checker stole the dance from Castlebay did you?  He waited three years before he sang about it, just to be safe.

What does this matter?  Well, if Binchy is hoping to capture a certain time, she needs to get things like that right.  For all I know, some of the details of Irish culture may be wrong, too.  And anachronisms add to the feeling I get of her writing being not quite believable. 

Still, yes, I kept buying her books because I could pick them up so cheaply.  So, yes, I will be covering Firefly Summer in 1988....

The Handmaid's Tale

1985, 1987 Fawcett Crest edition
Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale
Original price unknown, purchase price $1.50
Fallen apart but taped together paperback

This story seems to be set around "now," since the sort-of-nameless heroine is 33, and her feminist mother had her at 37.  Also, all the changes in society-- from a right-wing coup to nuclear disasters-- seem to have happened in the later 1980s.  And there are some other clues.  But mostly it's set in a dystopic near-future that Atwood hopes won't happen.  Like Native Tongue, it's a feminist product of the mid-Reagan era, but in a more complex way, since Atwood criticizes the Andrea Dworkin wing of feminism, particularly its uneasy alliance with conservative Christians on the subject of pornography.  Also, Atwood's relationship with "femininity" is as ambiguous as Brownmiller's.  Her heroine is drawn to it, in a world that has banished make-up and frills, but she sees how shabby it can be when the powerful men break the rules and have their whores and mistresses dress as Playboy bunnies and similar.

Actually, the protagonist does have a name, but she never reveals it to us.  She is called "Offred," because the Handmaid's (sort of concubines, but only for child-bearing) are called "Of [name of man assigned to]."  Her name can be read as not only "Of Fred," but also as "Off Red" (red is the color the Handmaids wear), or maybe even "Off Read."  Atwood's wordplay in the book encourages alternate interpretations. 

Why do I like this book less than Edible and Oracle?  Well, it's partly that it's bleaker.  I like the whimsy of those early Atwood novels.  I also think that they're stronger feminist statements because they're set in the (admittedly exaggerated) real world.  Despite the cliffhanger, I'm not all that interested in what happens to Offred, although I'd love to pay a visit to Marian and Joan, even if things haven't worked out for them.  I don't entirely think that Atwood has lost her touch for humour or characterisation, since there's some good stuff in, for instance, Cat's Eye, coming up in 1988.  And I can see why this got the prizes and attention.  But I doubt I'll be replacing this copy any time soon.

Come Together: John Lennon in His Time

1984, first edition, from Random House
Jon Wiener
Come Together: John Lennon in His Time
Bought newish for $10.95
Worn paperback with broken spine

Wiener not only writes of how Lennon wanted to bring people together to make a better world, but he tries to bring together all the contradictions of Lennon's complexity.  He points out, for instance, when John is not living up to his (JL's) ideals, but he also looks for reasons why.  If you're bothered by how John treated Cynthia at the time of the divorce, well, so is Wiener, but he's not about the deep-dish gossip like Peter Brown.

Wiener has a good sense of humor.  (Yes, I suppose he'd have to with a last name like that.)  In particular I like when he makes fun of the lack of pop-culture knowledge, and sometimes other knowledge, of the FBI.  Yet there's definitely a serious side to the book, focusing as it does on Lennon's politics, especially from 1966 onward.  The music is discussed, but from a political viewpoint.  (So he's a bit harsh about McCartney's music, although more often he's comparing Lennon to Dylan and Jagger.)  Interestingly, Wiener agrees with Schaffner and others that Some Time in New York City is a weak album.  (I've never heard it though I have Mind Games and some other Lennon solo albums on cassette.)  But he argues that it's not so much that Lennon's politics ruined his music but that Lennon needed to connect the personal with the political, as in "Give Peace a Chance," "Imagine," and "Watching the Wheels."

Speaking of which, I like that Wiener took the time to interview Kate Millett, who provides insights into not just feminism but New York at that time, Japan in the early '60s, John and Yoko separately and together, and the art world.  There's also a nice interview with Yoko at the end.  Some of the photos you've seen elsewhere, but check out the official FBI photo of "John Lennon," actually New York musician David Peel.

Wiener battled the government for over 25 years to get them to release information on the FBI's harassment of Lennon.  (This book was sort of Round One.)  The Reagan administration thought it was a security issue.  But Wiener eventually succeeded, and along the way wrote Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files (2000), which I've never read but would like to.

Lincoln: A Novel

1984, 1985 Ballantine edition
Gore Vidal
Lincoln: A Novel
Original and purchase price both $4.95
Poor condition paperback

In this novel, mostly set during Lincoln's presidency, Charles Schuyler and his daughter Emma appear only in the short final chapter, basically an epilogue, set in 1867.  Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the least cynical of Vidal's historical novels so far.  Not that Vidal puts Lincoln on a pedestal.  He shows "Old Abe" as human, from constipation to racism.  But he also presents him as heroic despite the flaws, the only person who could've reunited the States at that time.  Oddly enough, we get many perspectives, including wife Mary, but never the man himself.  As such, I never felt drawn in enough.  The novel is better than Washington, D.C. but not as good as Burr or 1876.  Also, while there aren't a large number of typos considering the book is over 600 pages, it seems like all of the typos there are jump at me, like "Gid" for "God," "soliders," and "nine eye" instead of "mine eye."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Doonesbury Dossier: The Reagan Years

1984, first edition, from Holt, Rinehart and Winston
G. B. Trudeau
Doonesbury Dossier: The Reagan Years
Bought newish for $12.95
Worn paperback

Although the "Reagan years" were far from over, the last Sunday page of this collection shows the "set" of the White House exterior being "struck," with this exchange.
REAGAN:  Oh, boy, another vacation!
STAFFER:  No, no, Sir, not you.

The strip was going on hiatus, Trudeau was going on paternity leave, in January 1983 because wife Jane Pauley had twins.  I think this is why he has middle-aged Joanie and Rick have a baby soon after their marriage.  Two of Joanie's children have been retconned out of existence, with Joan Jr. her only child till now.  Meanwhile, Joan Jr. has started seeing Mike, who, along with a very reluctant Zonker, finally graduates from college.  Zonker is somehow only 20 in 1981, but the gang is growing a bit older now.  Joan Jr.'s roommate Honey still carries a torch (and now a student debt) for Zonker's Uncle Duke, who, alas, is released from Iran soon after the other hostages.  Mark seems to have abandoned politics, except to shake his head over his father's corporate greed.  Bernie becomes Zonker's tanning coach, which gives him more to do than Nichole, Boopsie, and B.D., if less than two of Joanie's former daycare girls, who are now 6 and campaigning for the ERA.  A few of Joanie's ex "boyfriends" show up, Rev. Scot and Andy the gay guy.  Joanie's employer's husband Dick Davenport gets some plots of his own as James Watt's threats to the environment upset this normally apolitical (though Republican) man.

So, yeah, the strip should probably have been retitled Joanie and Zonker five to ten years before this point.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Reagan for Beginners

1984, first edition, from Writers and Readers
David Smith & Melinda Gebbie
Reagan for Beginners
Original price $4.95, purchase price $2.95
Very worn paperback

Smith returns, this time with Gebbie as illustrator.  She's somewhat better than Mosher, with a "fat cat" as her recurring motif.  However, the leap to advocacy for socialism feels more like it comes out of nowhere than in Smith's Orwell.  He does a nice job of showing Reagan's flaws-- and Carter's, not as different as you might think-- but there's no clearcut reason why instead of "Demopublicans" the U.S. should (have) embrace(d) revolution.

The "For Beginners" series is still around, with neither of these two 1984 titles though.  They do have Barack Obama for Beginners, and, no, I don't know when they decided to start using full names in the title.  (It seems to still mostly be single names, which I think sounds snappier.)

Orwell for Beginners

1984, first edition, from Writers and Readers
David Smith & Michael Mosher
Orwell for Beginners
Bought newish for $4.95
Worn paperback

Although the background on Orwell is somewhat interesting, especially the part on the Spanish Civil War, this book isn't nearly as well written as the two books I own by Orwell.  Also, near as I can tell, the Writers and Readers series exists mainly as propaganda for socialism.  That's not too far-fetched in the case of Orwell, but some of their other titles, such as DNA for Beginners, seem more of a stretch.  The art by Mosher is OK, nothing special.  He uses Charlie Chaplin as a recurring figure, to represent poverty and big feet, both significant to Orwell.  One of the upcoming titles listed in the back is Reagan for Beginners....

Monday, February 11, 2013

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

1984, Penguin edition, from later that year
Compiled by Scott Rice
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The Best (?) from the Bulwer-Lytton Contest
Original price $4.95, purchase price $2.95
Slightly worn paperback

The contest is still running after three decades, but this is the collection of the first submissions.  Contestants have to come up with the opening sentence of the worst novel imaginable.  As such, many of the sentences run on to paragraph length, which gets a bit tedious if you're reading in a sitting or two, so that you'll be grateful for some of the pithier entries.  I thought the best chapter was the simile one, "Like an Overripe Peach in a Blender."  "The Way We Live Now" references Valley Girls, the Moral Majority, and marijuana (that last one not quite so timely), and contains one sentence that would still be timely if it hadn't mentioned a typewriter:  "Staring at the starkly white sheet of paper in his typewriter, John wondered-- is it possible to write a novel, even the first sentence of a novel, in such a self-conscious and hyperreflective age?"

So what won?  Scroll down at your own risk:

John Lennon: For the Record

1984, possibly first edition, from Bantam
Peter McCabe and Robert D. Schonfeld
John Lennon: For the Record
Bought newish for $2.95
Worn paperback

You know that this isn't the best researched book when the first sentence is "John Lennon first met Yoko Ono at a London art gallery in 1967."  In the saga of the Beatles, every year matters, particularly in the '60s, and everyone who knows anything about it knows that they met in late 1966.  (Well, Wikipedia offers a second version, where they met in '65 under other circumstances.)  It also matters because the interview in this book, conducted in 1971 as part of research for Apple to the Core (which I've never read), is actually of Yoko as well as John, since the couple were then inseparable.  Part of the interview was published in Penthouse earlier in '84, but this is the first time the full version was released.  If you've read at least one Lennon interview, you won't find out much new here*, although it is interesting to see how naively Lennon trusted Allan Klein.  There's not much about the music, and the focus here is understandably financial, but Lennon does make personal remarks about Paul et. al.  There's not terribly much about Lennon's politics either, although he had joined the New York New Left by that point.  Jon Weiner's Come Together, also coming up in 1984, covers that aspect in particular.

*Well, actually, the photos are different than what I've seen in the other Beatles/Lennon books so far.  And Yoko looks great in them.

Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst

1984, 1985 Yearling edition
Lois Lowry
Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst
Original price $2.50, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

Not as good or as serious as A Summer to Die, it does have in common with Lowry's 1977 novel that it's aimed at preteens but touches on mature topics, this time sex (or at least how it's spelled), adultery (which Anastasia briefly suspects her father of committing), pregnancy again (although this time of two gerbils), and hormones (including the punchline-less joke of "How do you make a hormone?").  This is the 4th in the Anastasia Krupnik series (I've read a couple others but I think this is the only one I own), and bespectacled Anastasia is now in the 7th grade and newly 13.  She's starting to think her parents are weird rather than cool, but is told this due to hormones, so when she starts to like her parents again, she says her hormones must be gone, and no one enlightens her.  There's also a statue of Freud (her "analyst"), whom she confides in, including when the eleven gerbils (each with a magic marker spot on its head for identification) go missing, after a visit from the little girl who's bullying Anastasia's genius kid brother.  (There's a slight similarity here to the Murry family of Wrinkle in Time, minus the twins, although the father here is a writer, as was the dad in Summer.)

This is less of an '80s book than Summer was a '70s book, although it's worth noting that there are references to the British royal family, including baby William.  Also, Anastasia and her best friends "all dressed alike, in jeans and hiking boots and jackets.  Last week a girl in seventh grade had come to school wearing a jumper and a ruffled blouse, and everyone had hooted and laughed and teased her until she almost cried."  That poor girl would've fit in fine at my junior high, or more particularly high school, since the influences of Valley Girls and Preps had brought (back) into style more formal outfits for inland California teens.  By 1984, the most sophisticated girls were wearing faux pearls to school.  Maybe things were different in Lowry's Boston, especially for a girl who, as Lowry's website puts it, "was born in 1979, at the age of ten."

Best of "The Realist"

1984, Running Press edition
Edited by Paul Krassner
Best of The Realist
Bought newish for $8.95
Very worn hardcover

The aunt who bought me so many books got me this one as a belated 17th birthday gift.  As a hippie, she didn't worry about Harry Reasoner's claim that Krassner "not only attacked establishment vaulues; he attacked decency in general."  I'm almost the age my aunt was then, and I definitely can't see giving this book to a 17-year-old girl.  Yes, it captures its time-- 1958 to '74, although most of the book seems to be from the JFK era-- but so did Caricature capture the first decade of the 1900s.  And, although Krassner and some of his contributors sometimes voice sympathy with women and/or feminism, this book is easily as sexist as that collection from 1909.  Also, some of the writing and much of the art here are gratuitously grotesque.  I don't feel like we're being shocked to make a point, to become enlightened.  The people who would be offended were not, for instance, LBJ (who from all accounts was an incredibly crude man himself) or Nixon (whose profanity on the White House tapes is legendary).  Besides that, there's not really anything funny here.  Yes, it's better than Caricature (which I gave a D), more intelligent, more ambiguous, but like so much of the '60s Left, it's over-rated.  The best of the lot is Psychita, a satire of Psycho and Lolita, but even that has a heavy-handed ending. 

When I first read the book, I thought, "Who is this Norman Mailer jerk who thinks that masturbation is worse than rape or murder, who thinks all middle-aged gay men are depressed, who thinks that stabbing his wife is a private matter?"  I hadn't read Sexual Politics yet, but it's funny that I was intuitively more sympathetic with the second-wave feminists than with the male-dominated Left.  Reading the book this time, I was of course less shocked by Mailer but I still think he's a jerk.  Krassner doesn't let Mailer, or even Ken Kesey, completely off the hook, so points for that.  But I can't really recommend this book, and not just to 17-year-old girls.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Who's in Charge Here? 1984

1984, Bantam edition, from later that year
Gerald Gardner
Who's in Charge Here? 1984
Possibly bought newish for $2.95
Worn paperback

This is maybe a shade better than the 1980 version (sort of a C+ 1/2), except that there seems to be more bathroom humor (literally, on the back cover) and some possibly racist jokes.  (It's hard to tell sometimes if the racism is being parodied.)  Ronnie and Nancy are understandably much more prominent than they were four years before, and there are some pics of Charles and Diana.  Mondale is shown as trying to distance himself from Carter.  There's no sign of Ferraro (it was published in July, the same month Mondale announced his choice), but Bush Sr. pops up now and again.  Nixon, Ford, and Teddy Kennedy are still around.  James Watt appears a couple times, in reference to his infamous "a black, a woman, two Jews, and a cripple" remark.  John Glenn evokes his past as an astronaut.  And there's Gary Hart in his pre-sex-scandal election bid.

The Art of the Beatles

1984, First U.S. edition, from Beech Tree Books
Mike Evans
The Art of the Beatles
Bought newish for $17.95
Good condition hardcover with worn dustjacket

Evans (no relation to the Jeffersons actor) looks at visual art by and about the Beatles.  This book was inspired by a Liverpool exhibition earlier that year, including "photography, painting, sculpture, book illustration, film animation, graphic design record sleeve art, poster art, theater, fashion, and comic strip cartoons."  So it goes from Stu Sutcliffe's paintings to the then most recent art inspired by the Beatles.  In fact, the best piece is the one that graces the front and back covers, Barry Agar's The Trojan Horse, a collage-like painting of nearly every well-known image of the Beatles from the '50s and '60s:

The writing is overall good, although like so many books lately, this has a number of typos.  By concentrating more on the look than the sound of the Beatles, Evans is able to offer a different perspective than usual.  Himself a Liverpudlian, he writes from that view, although he includes artists from the U.S. and elsewhere.  Not all of the artwork is great-- including the "hotel" painting by all four Beatles-- but it's always interesting.  As well as Stu's work, there are pieces by Astrid, Cynthia, Yoko, and Paul's brother Mike, although not Linda.  Understandably, the band's break-up, followed a decade later by John's death, froze the images of Beatles in time, so that while there are contributions by artists showing the solo Beatles, the art more often reflects the group as a group.

If I had to pick one page other than either page of Trojan Horse, I would recommend p. 101, an Abbey Road photo outtake, the Beatles walking to the left of the picture rather than the right, with more of a skipping movement than the almost regimented legs of the famous cover.  As Evans writes, the "Paul is dead" brigade would've had a field day if they'd seen all the alternate photos, including "the zebra crossing empty (now that could have signified all sorts of calamities)."

Native Tongue

1984, first edition, from DAW
Suzette Haden Elgin
Native Tongue
Original price $3.95, purchase price 25 cents
Very worn paperback

This is very much a product of its time, and not just with the little jokes against Reagan.  Set roughly 200 to 250 years in the future, and taking one of the main characters from childhood to early old age, it presents a dystopia in which women's rights have been revoked, 13 families of linguists are both the elite and the underclass, communication with humanoid aliens is widespread but dangerous, and the government conducts secret experiments with infant humans, nonhumanoid aliens, and LSD!  I'll definitely be comparing it to 1985's The Handmaid's Tale, but for the moment I can say that while it has an interesting set of concepts, I don't think it quite works.  The biggest issue I have with it is actually a comparison to the real 1980s, or now for that matter.  Those were and these are less repressive times than Elgin's 22nd and 23rd centuries, yet the last 30 (arguably 50 or more) years have contained men who are feminist and women who are anti-feminist.  Yet, none of Elgin's women agree that it was good to take away their rights to their own votes, money, and bodies (although most of them offer a surface docility when the men are around), and only one man seems to have even slight concerns about the way women are oppressed.  Is Elgin saying that even such women as Phyllis Schafly secretly are rebellious against sexism under the surface, or is she saying that if women got oppressed enough, we'd all turn into rebels?  Or is it just that she can't be bothered to show any men or women that think in a different way than the majority of their respective sexes?

Also, while I am noticing a larger number of typos lately, the ones in this book stand out because, well, it is about language.  I will say that Elgin does have a flair for parody; many of the excerpts of "modern" male writers that begin each chapter are not far off from some of the Victorian "thinkers" in The Experts Speak and other nonfiction works I've read.  Whenever she writes from a male perspective, she gets the right tone of smugness for that type of man.  But it is all too one-note.

As for the communication-with-aliens thread, I actually wanted more of this, and I'm not particularly a sci-fi reader.  It did bug me that ten of the thirteen of the linguist Lines are in the U.S., without any good reason, because it's not as if English is more analogous to the alien languages than any other Terran tongue.  The title by the way refers to the language that the linguist women are secretly developing to express concepts they can't in the "men's" language.  This is elitist, because they're going to (eventually) share it with nonlinguist women, rather than creating it in common with other women.  (Yes, the "Lingoe" women have the academic knowledge, but sometimes the unsayable is said by women without higher education, like Sojourner Truth.)

I like this book enough that I've read it a few times, but I was never intrigued enough to go on to the rest of the trilogy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hey! Hey! We're the I'm So Hollow

1984, Cox & Wyman edition
Denis Doyle
Hey! Hey! We're the I'm So Hollow: Group Names and Their Origins from Abba to Zoo
Original price £1.95, purchase price £1
Worn paperback

This is a rare case where the main title makes no sense until you think about the subtitle, in this case playing off of the Monkees theme, for a hypothetical band called "The I'm So Hollow."  Doyle doesn't explain Spooky Tooth, but he offers backstories and theories on why various rock groups are/were called such names.  Although many bands from the U.S., and a few from non-English-speaking lands, are covered, the perspective is definitely British, particularly in the first section, where he traces a general history of group-naming.  His suggestion that perhaps lower-middle-class American homes of the 1960s each had one car and "two garages," as an explanation of garage bands, will make Americans of any age shake their heads.  But he does provide some insights into how the class system affected British rock.

The book covers roughly the same period as British Invasion and Rock on Film, with additionally some bands from '82 and '83.  Doyle maintains that the 1950s weren't an especially creative time for band-naming, partly because a band as one unit of musicians (not just a back-up group with a lead singer, or an a capella singing group) was relatively unknown in rock & roll till roughly 1963, yes, with the rise of the Beatles.  But he does include the Crickets et al.  I found his explanation of The Lovin' Spoonful, along the lines of "Spoonful of Sugar," to be naive compared to the Rock Lists version (think 10CC), but then Wikipedia claims it comes from the song "Coffee Blues," so who knows?

There are a few errors, mostly of dates, but overall the book is a fun and enlightening read, a different look at rock history than what we've so far.  And, yes, it counts as "criticism," because Doyle offers opinions of some of the music, not just of the names.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Kennedys: An American Drama

1984, 1985 Warner edition
Peter Collier & David Horowitz
The Kennedys: An American Drama
Original price $4.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

Of the nine children of Joe and Rose Kennedy, only youngest daughter Jean remains, which is ironic since she's probably the one whom I feel I know least after reading this book.  The authors definitely pay more attention to the men in the family, as suggested by the titles of the four parts: "Architect of Their Lives" (father Joe), "The Stand-In" (Jack after Young Joe's death), "Brothers Within" (Jack and Bobby), and "The Lost Boys" (five of the male grandchildren).  None of the Kennedys come off particularly well though, although their family saga is still interesting.  Many of the third generation (really the fifth, since the book begins with Joe's grandparents arriving in America) seem to have gotten their act together in the three decades since this book came out, with the confusingly named Joseph P. Kennedy II having served the same Congressional district as his Uncle Jack.

Like the Rosalynn Carter book, this has some interesting stories of how politics works.  (There are also, as with that book, some glaring typos.)  It's good to see another side to the 1980 presidential campaign, since Rosalynn resented Teddy staying in the race so long, and it appears that he only did so because he didn't want to disappoint expectations for a Kennedy.  When I first read this book in my early 20s, it was a useful corrective to the common idea that JFK was a liberal.  He was in fact moderate, and his remarks about the minimum wage and civil rights, both of which he regarded as trivial compared to the grandeur of war, offend me as much as his sexism and homophobia.  RFK comes off better in some ways, although he did a lot of his elder brother's dirty work. 

Oddly enough, the authors spend more time on the gossip about Bobby's alleged affair with Marilyn Monroe than Jack's.  Not that they by any means ignore Jack's affairs, and rereading this book helped me better understand Jackie's viewpoint, that she tolerated Jack's adultery because of her father's.