Friday, May 31, 2013

The Joy Luck Club

1989, 2006 Penguin edition
Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club
Original price $14.00, bought used for $4.20
Worn paperback

I recently got a bunch of VHS releases for 49 cents each at Goodwill.  They were mostly comedies, so perhaps it's not surprising that the one which made me cry (several times) was the 1993 adaptation of this book.  In fact, I'd argue that this is a case of the film (co-written by Tan) being an improvement over the novel.  For one thing, the structure of this book, with its four four-segmented parts, is harder to follow than the film's pairing of each daughter and mother.  For another, when one character admits, almost in passing, to having an abortion, there's just not the impact of seeing that character drown an adorable baby boy of a few months old.  That said, I didn't feel like another character's abandonment of her twin baby girls hit as hard in the movie, partly because she didn't look like she was as ill as she's supposed to be.  (The detail of the bleeding hands is strangely omitted.)  On the other hand, the movie actually gave me more of a sense of the friendships among the "club."

As for the book on its own terms, I liked the glimpses into lives so different from other fiction I own, the mothers' youths in China especially.  There are moments that feel like they're out of fairy tales, and then there's the shock of remembering that they happen in the 1930s and '40s.  The book goes up to 1987, and includes a line about the fear of catching AIDS from a gay hairstylist.  (This was omitted in the movie, a sign of increased tolerance, although I think Tan originally put it in to show how opinionated Waverly is.)  Also, there's a sense that many (maybe all) of the younger generation here are Yuppies.

I don't think I read this book at the time, but I certainly did by the time I heard Tan speak in my college town in 1994.  (Very funny speech, much funnier and wiser than this book actually.) I went on to read The Kitchen God's Wife, which we'll get to in 1991.

Spy Notes on...All Those...Hip Urban Novels of the 1980s

1989, first edition, from Doubleday
The editors of Spy
Spy Notes on McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, Janowitz's Slaves of New York, Ellis's Less Than Zero...and All Those Other Hip Urban Novels of the 1980s
Bought newish for $7.95
Worn paperback

I'm not the best audience for this book, never having read any of the novels in question, and not much of Cliff Notes either.  Still, the helpfully and repeatedly labeled "satire" serves the purpose of my never having to read these novels written by people who were a few years older than I was at the time they first published.  The Spy folks summarize and comment drily on the nihilism, narcissism, and ineptitude of the writing.  It gets to be a bit much, although this book is less than 100 pages.  Kudos on the Spy Novel-o-Matic, the sort of thing MAD Magazine used to do, albeit usually better.

This completes a short shelf that began with Cockburn's Corruptions of Empire.  I was able to move 1991 over to this bookcase, but I'm waiting to see if I can also move over '92.  That will affect the final distribution of the shelves.

The Clothes Have No Emperor

1989, edition from later that year, from St. Martin's Press
Paul Slansky
The Clothes Have No Emperor: A Chronicle of the American '80s
Original price $12.95, bought used for $4.90
Slightly worn paperback

I haven't bought very many books since I started this project, since I'm trying to stay focused on whichever time period I'm in at the moment.  But when I was reliving an earlier part of the '80s a few months ago, I couldn't resist getting this book.  I didn't mind rereading it so soon, because it nicely sums up so much of what drove me mad about the decade.  I can't rate it higher because, well, you know, it's not that enjoyable a decade to relive.  (And I disagree with Slansky on some of his comments about the music, the one aspect of the decade I can still stomach.) 

Slansky's introduction says in part, "I did not find the President's ignorance charming.  I was unwarmed by his genial head-waggling, unreassured by his stern frowns of manly purpose, uncheered by his hearty waves as he strolled to and from his limos and choppers and jets."  Wow, do I wish I could've got this book at the time it came out!  That's exactly how I felt in the '80s.  Unlike Slansky, I had neither the motivation nor the resources to collect news items (including "infotainment") reflecting the times.  He's arranged the chronicle chronologically (of course), from Election Day 1980 to Inauguration Day 1989, so yes, there's some of Dan Quayle here.  (Not as much as in Airhead Apparent, which Slansky coauthored, and which we'll get to in 1992.)  Future rivals George W. Bush and Al Gore make appearances (more of the latter of course, since he ran in '88), but dig this for irony: "a comically endless nominating speech by Arkansas governor Bill Clinton (who parlays his public humiliation into a guest shot with Johnny Carson)."  I think he parlayed it into a bit more than that.

For Slansky's more recent thoughts on Reagan, and a plug for the e-book version of this long-out-of-print work, see

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Heart of Rock & Soul

1989, undated later edition, from New American Library
Dave Marsh
The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made
Original price $14.95, purchase price $5.95
Very worn paperback with split spine

As the main title says, this is a more soul-based view of rock than usual for music criticism, with the co-author of 1981's Rock Lists showing why these are his favorite songs.  As he explains, even focusing on singles rather than albums went against the then common practice.  In one of the later entries, he ponders the future of singles, with CDs having for the most part replaced cassettes and records.  Although I don't follow pop music as much as I did 15 to 35 years ago, I get the impression that there are still "hits," and ironically the advent of Amazon and other downloadable music sites (including free) seems to have strengthened a piecemeal approach to music-listening.

As with Rock Lists, I don't have to agree with Marsh, or even have heard all of the songs here, to find this an entertaining read.  He goes from highest to lowest, sometimes grouping songs that he feels have a dialogue with each other (same song, same artist, or same theme).  True, there were times when a title would give me an earworm for the wrong song (often something from my '70s childhood rather than a more obscure r & b number from 20 years earlier).  Even with his #1, I'm less likely to think of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" than CCR's or Gladys Knight's.  His #1001 is "No Way Out" by Joyce Harris, which I just listened to on Youtube, and it does feel like a borderline classic.  His reviews range from the brevity of "Just say yes" for "A Lover's Question" to the almost four pages on "We Are the World." 

The songs go from 1951 to 1988, although Marsh admits that almost half are from the 1960s.  He was born in 1950, and it's very much a Baby-Boomer's perspective, politically and otherwise.  I do appreciate, especially after the sludgy sexism of '90s Look Back, that he respects feminism, even if he doesn't agree with some segments of it.  (The part about people not taking Madonna seriously enough would quickly became outdated.)  And of course the book is more racially integrated than a lot of rock criticism, then and now.

Number the Stars

1989, 1990 Yearling edition
Lois Lowry
Number the Stars
Original price unknown, purchase price $3.75
Very worn paperback

Although this won the Newbery and deals with the serious topic of Denmark saving its Jewish population, I didn't find it to have any more depth than one of Lowry's "Anastasia" books, and a great deal less than Summer to Die.  In fact, although the reading level is 5.2 and the interest level ages 10 to 14, I found the writing style aimed at a much younger level.  It is ironic though that it's the first novel I own where cocaine affects the plot (with guard dogs).  Read it for the history lesson but I suspect that there are better World War II stories for children.  (None spring immediately to mind.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Headlines: Real but Ridiculous Samplings...

1989, undated later edition, from Warner
Compiled by Jay Leno
Headlines: Real but Ridiculous Samplings from America's Newspapers
Original price $6.95, bought used for $3.95
Very worn paperback

Still funny (if not hilarious) all these years later, these headlines are for the most part timeless.  (However, the ad with a picture of O.J. Simpson, holding a turkey when it should be a ham, of course would be even stranger five years later.)  I'd misremembered one of my favorites, "Trees can break wind," without the "can," but it works either way.  Nearly every headline gets a sarcastic comment from Jay (often accompanied by a picture of him), so it captures the feel of him doing this routine on The Tonight Show.  (He started performing it as guest host back in '87 and is still doing it as host.)  I'm less happy with the cartoons that open each section.  The caricatures of Leno (prominent jaw and all) are fine, but the background people are needlessly grotesque.  I was going to mark the book down to a C+ for the cartoons but I decided that the book overcomes them enough to merit a B-.

Monday, May 27, 2013


1989, first edition, from Dutton
Pauline Kael
Probably bought newish for $14.95
Worn paperback

I found this more interesting and quotable than 1985's State of the Art.  In fact, I often think of her remark here that the good movies don't make you feel virtuous.  These movies are from '85 to '88, a time that she saw a gradual improvement in overall quality, so I'm guessing that's why she's "hooked," rather than more removed as she was earlier in the decade.  (1991 will offer Movie Love.)

As always, the snarky reviews are the most fun, from "Top Gun is a recruiting poster that isn't concerned with recruiting but with being a poster" to her parenthetical remark that the armies in Willow "are led by a Darth Vader-like giant in a death's-head mask, General Kael--an hommage à moi."  She often reports on audience reactions (general, as well as overheard comments, including from her viewing companions), which appeals to me because one of the reasons I like to go to the movies, especially to movies I've already seen, is to see how other people react.  And as ever, even when I disagree with her, I like seeing how her mind works.  (Even she can't convince me to see Blue Velvet though.)  She agrees with Kathi Maio more than I remembered (and not just on Fatal Attraction), although Kael is a good deal less politically correct (or even political).  Although transfolk would probably object to how she always refers to Divine as male, she is right on target about the appeal of Hairspray

A good collection, still pertinent, even if it's hard to imagine Helena Bonham Carter was ever so young and unformed as to "lack the presence of an actress; she's recessive."

The '90s: A Look Back

1989, first edition, from Avon
Edited by Tony Hendra & Peter Elbling
(with many contributors, including George Carlin, Bill Murray, Penn & Teller, Bob Saget, and Mike Wallace)
The '90s: A Look Back
Bought newish for $12.95
Worn paperback

While I used to enjoy the '80s "look back" more than I now do, I'd always seen this as a lesser follow-up, so I was curious to see if it'd improved over time, or at least not declined as much as its predecessor.  Well, I gave a C+ to the first book.  Not only doesn't this have the thorough approach of the '80s book, but there are times when it's not merely unfunny but actually nonfunny or even anti-funny, as if deliberately not amusing the reader.  At other times, the writers seem to think that merely referring to something will be an automatic laugh.  For instance, while it's untrue that jokes about bestiality are never funny, it's also untrue that they're always funny.  The section on sex with small mammals could've worked (in a sick way) if the contributor were wittier.  On the other hand, even in my early 20s I was baffled by why the book closes out with a totally gratuitous insult to "women's writing," one that probably would amuse only the most rabid misogynist and seems to only serve the purpose of insulting half the readers.

That said, I thought Bob Saget's essay as a stay-at-home father/grandfather, nursing his 10-year-old daughter's baby, was kind of funny.  (Particularly when you remember that he'd just started an eight-year run on Full House.)  Jokes can be both fine and politically incorrect if they're well (or at least competently) done.  When I see a photoshopped (or '80s equivalent) nude Marilyn Quayle, I'm not sure how to take it, especially as it's part of their Dragon Lady view of 1990s world leaders.  It definitely doesn't work to have jokes about both the homeless (including the Reagans) and the second-homeless, because it gives an inconsistent view of the American economy in this fictitious decade.  The '80s book gave more of a sense of continuity.

As for how this stacks up to the "real" 1990s (and let's face it, they did feel a bit surreal), the parts on China and Russia (Raisa's coup aside) were closest to reality, as those countries ceased to be Communist.  On the other hand, King Chuck the Equal didn't exactly become ruler after Thatcher beheaded Elizabeth II.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Princess Furball

1989, 1990 Scholastic edition
Princess Furball
Adapted by Charlotte Huck, illustrated by Anita Lobel
Original price $3.95, purchase price 49 cents
Worn paperback

Our first picture book since the Peter Rabbit pop-up is an odd one, both because of the source material and the ways that Huck and Lobel interpret it.  The original folktale has a widowed king who wants to marry his own daughter, while Huck has him offer her to a rich ogre, but in the illustration, the ogre's portrait looks like a wartier, more wrinkled version of the king.  (And the nameless princess looks like her late mother.)  So the incest has become subtext.  Similarly, the princess asks her father for three beautiful dresses and a coat of a thousand furs, so for the latter we see animals being hunted, and then later the young good-looking king of another country goes hunting, and his men capture Princess Furball.  It's never clear if they see her as a talking animal or as a girl in a fur coat. 

The princess's "clever" scheme to capture the young king's interest is also odd, because she puts small golden objects in his soup (clearly a choking hazard), but doesn't use this opportunity to speak with him.  Then finally he "catches Furball by the hand, and while she struggles to get free the fur coat falls open and he sees the star dress."  And they live happily ever after, with three children in the last panel, including a girl who looks like her.

So the themes of capture and incest run all through the book, in both text and illustrations.  Read it for a variation on the "Cinderella" theme, but don't expect a brilliant interpretation.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

No Man's Land, Volume 2: Sexchanges

1989, undated later edition, from Yale University Press
Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar
No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Volume 2: Sexchanges
Original price unknown, purchase price $2.00
Very worn paperback with broken spine

I read a library copy of Gilbert & Gubar's Madwoman in the Attic (1979) twenty years after its initial publication and loved it.  But then it did focus on 19th-century women's writing, not just their title character, from Jane Eyre (and Miss Eyre herself), but the subjects of Austen, Eliot, and Dickinson.  Here, the co-authors look at the "modernists," covering roughly 1885 to 1940, with World War I central in more than one sense.  They examine the works of male as well as female writers, to discuss the ways that changing sex roles were feared and desired, sometimes simultaneously by the same author.  As the subtitle of this volume suggests, sexual orientation, as well as "transvestism" and "transsexuality," are part of this.

While there are some interesting insights-- I was intrigued by the idea that Alice B. Toklas actually wrote or at least cowrote her "autobiography"-- I was generally less interested in both the time period and the novelists and poets that G & G chose to represent it, compared to the subjects of Madwoman.  I'd much rather have seen their take on Sinclair Lewis's conflicted attitude towards women than Ezra Pound's or (yet again) D. H. Lawrence's.  (I got enough of him with Millett's Sexual Politics). 

Oddly enough, as with Fritz's Path, the now most thought-provoking aspect here is actually their references to the 1980s, including the androgyny of Yentl and Boy George.

The Path of Least Resistance

1989, but revised from 1984 edition, yet with a URL on the back, Random House
Robert Fritz
The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life
Possibly bought newish for very over-priced $12.00
Slightly worn paperback

I don't find self-help books helpful.  I'm not even sure when, where, why, or possibly from whom I got this book.  I think I (slowly) read it once before, and remembered the message as finding out what you want and focusing on that goal.  Rereading it now, the premise is both more complex and more confusing than that.  Fritz doesn't address, for instance, what to do when you want two things equally and they seem to be in opposition, other than to pick one and hope that the other will come to you in some form.  While I do appreciate that Fritz is trying to get away from the "problem-solving" personal growth field, he doesn't really explain how to get where you're going.  And while he's right that dwelling too much on the past (whether infancy or this morning) is crippling, you can't really just live in the moment, with no baggage.  If we're to learn from experience, as he recommends, that includes the negatives.

The book is actually most interesting in that it's a product of its time (although he did come out with a 2011 edition, for managers).  Unlike Alexander Cockburn's wariness about the personal computer a couple years earlier, Fritz sees this invention as a tool for creativity, and I think for the most part he's been proven more right than Cockburn.  Also, Fritz has a point about people like Helen Caldicott sometimes scaring people further into passivity, rather than motivating them.  Fritz himself seems to want to be both Yuppie inspirational speaker (much of the book is an ad for his Technologies for Creating), and '60s idealist who thinks that what JFK said counts for more than what he did.

The path of least resistance turns out to be a tough slog.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Harry and Wally's Favorite TV Shows

1989, first edition, from Prentice Hall Press
Harry and Wally's Favorite TV Shows: A Fact-Filled Opinionated Guide to the Best and Worst on TV
Probably bought new, for $14.95
Worn paperback

Like 1985's Cult TV, the historical aspect of this book balances out its flaws.  H & W review (zero to four stars) about 2,100 different shows, from 1948 to the fall of 1989.  (I know the book claims it covers half a century, but it barely touches even the Truman era.)  The subtitle is more accurate than the title, in that these are not just their favorites but also shows that they hate, dislike, are indifferent to, or only slightly like.  Confusingly, a 2 1/2 star show may be described as "great," while another is a marginal recommendation.  There are noticeable typos and a few errors.  (For instance, I remembered Evie's parents as married on Out of This World, and Wikipedia confirms this, but H & W think Evie is the result of a fling.)  Sometimes they over-explain things, such as what "LBJ" stands for.  (As an abbreviation I mean, not his principles.)  And they have a strong bias against any show, especially a 1970s drama, that attempts to be "relevant."

On the other hand, the book is readable, even at 600+ pages, with a lively, sometimes funny style.  As with Cult TV, it captures the 1980s experience of TV shows becoming rewatchable on VHS, with those four intervening years making this even more possible.  And dig this for irony, "Until someone comes up with the ultimate in viewer-oriented channels (which we'd subscribe to tomorrow, no questions asked), it's definitely worth exploring" home video.  With Hulu and Youtube and etc., viewers do have much more ability to be their own "programmers."  But it was exciting in the late '80s to buy, rent, or check out from the library some of the shows you liked, or were at least curious about.  (I was a library volunteer the summer before I started college, '86, and I made show capsules for VHS boxes.)

There are smaller ironies here, like that no one on Fridays went on to greater fame.  (Cough*MichaelRichards*cough.)  If you run across this book (long out of print, never updated), you'll probably most get a kick out of reading the '80s reviews, since the reputations of the earlier shows haven't changed drastically in the last almost quarter-century.  Moonlighting had just left the air when this book was published, so it's that era.  And they just missed by a few months the classic ending to Newhart, which makes the opening of their review surprisingly prescient:  "Imagine this: Soon after Chicago psychologist Bob Hartley left his practice to write and teach, he and his wife split.  He changed his name, became a full-time writer, remarried, and moved east to run a small Vermont inn."

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Cat Who Went Underground

1989, Jove Books edition from later that year
Lilian Jackson Braun
The Cat Who Went Underground
Probably bought newish for $4.99
Very worn paperback with broken spine

Although this is by no means the worst in the series, it is the worst since the first.  While I liked seeing Qwill deal with the frustrations of both remodeling and rural living, the book does have more striking flaws than usual, if none so glaring as would occur a decade or so later.  He's both 50 and "fiftyish" in this entry, set two summers after his inheritance, and in fact he returns to Aunt Fanny's cabin, for the first time since Played Brahms.  It should be 1986, and if so, Braun is correct that the Fourth of July fell on a Friday.  Qwill does make a "Pentagon shredding" joke that would be a bit prescient at that time of year, but maybe he isn't referring to Ollie North specifically.

The story seems to be moving along, with lots of interesting characters, including Mooseville neighbor Mildred, who would make some man a good wife if only her worthless husband weren't still alive (in jail).  She's smart, considerate, and a great cook, with a sense of humor.  But we know Braun isn't really shipping her with Qwill because she makes Mildred superstitious.  As for Polly, she's away in England, mostly sending postcards.  Meanwhile, Arch and Amanda continue to be on-and-off engaged.

The story falls apart a bit in the penultimate chapter:
  1. For no reason except misguided chivalry, Qwill discourages curious Yum Yum from joining his friend Nick and Koko in the basement.  For cripe's sake, she's a cat, not a fragile flower!
  2. Even though Qwill could have Nick stay in the cabin, hidden with his gun, while Qwill confronts the killer, he instead sends Nick on his way and then invites the killer over for pastry!
  3. Then he lets the killer confess and drive off, before he regretfully calls the police.
  4. There's no need for the killer to have a personality named "Louise."
Still, (with the exception of the final quibble) these are all consistent with Qwill's personality, annoying but human.  Braun has not yet had him, or anyone, do anything drastically out of character.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How Sluggo Survives!

1989, first edition, from Kitchen Sink Press
Ernie Bushmiller
How Sluggo Survives!
Bought newish for $7.95
Worn paperback

The focus this time is on Nancy's boyfriend Sluggo.  Why does a seven-year-old (or ten-year-old or whatever she is) have a boyfriend?  Not only that, why do both of them consider themselves engaged to be engaged?  If you find that odd, you'll also wonder why Nancy pressures Sluggo to get a job.  He gets several, the most prominent here as an office boy, to a cranky man with a mustache. 

Sluggo lives in a "slanty shanty" with broken windows, broken furniture, cracked walls, and junk in the yard, so poor that burglars feel sorry for him.  He seems to live alone, although he'll sometimes refer to "we."  Not just in this volume, but in all my Nancy collections, his parents are never mentioned, although he does have a few aunts and uncles who live locally but separately (some quite well off).  As with Nancy's eating disorder, you can't let realism intrude.  Otherwise, Sluggo's survival would be a very serious question.

Sluggo, with his N'Yawk accent, definitely is tough enough to survive, even when menaced by bullies.  He's incredibly confident and as ingenious as Nancy.  Even when things go wrong, he keeps going.  And although he, like Nancy, never gets any older, he imagines that he'll be a great success as an adult, maybe even President.  I guess that's how to survive, by believing that you'll thrive.

Nancy Eats Food

1989, first edition, from Kitchen Sink Press
Ernie Bushmiller
Nancy Eats Food
Bought newish for $7.95
Very worn paperback with broken spine

As the title suggests, Bushmiller riffs on a very basic concept, although there are some surprises along the way.  One is that Nancy, who at one point in one of these books says she's seven, acts more like a young teen, sometimes cooking (albeit badly) and getting crushes.  At one point she even stomps grapes for wine!  She also worries about her weight, but then so do the adults around her (worry about Nancy's weight), not just Aunt Fritzi but strangers.  Is there a subtext that she's bulimic?  Not likely, since Bushmiller's world is unchanging.  Nancy can eat food, or diet and exercise, and maintain the same chunky figure that all the kids have, even the "cute blondes" that Sluggo goes after.

The back cover shows panels of a strip where Nancy's original recipe for chili is nuclear-hot.  It also has quotes from Bill "Zippy the Pinhead" Griffith's introduction; Art Spiegelman, who says "someone" said it takes more effort not to read Nancy than to read it; and Roy Blount, Jr.  (Blount would go on to contribute a Nancy intro of his own.)

Some of the strips here also appeared in Walker's book, which is understandable.  Less forgivable is that Kitchen Sink would reuse some that fell under future themes, but I won't mark this book down for that.  Overall, this is nice kick-off to the series, although some of the views of Nancy eating look a bit Freudian, especially when she's got two bananas.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Wit and Wisdom of George Bush

1989, edition from later that year, from St. Martin's Press
Ken Brady & Jeremy Solomon
The Wit and Wisdom of George Bush, with Some Reflections from Dan Quayle
Possibly bought newish for $2.95
Worn paperback

I'd say this is closer to the style of Green and MacColl's Reagan book than to Ducovny's Nixon book, in that it's not just quotes but analysis of Bush's (and Quayle's) misspeaking.  At the time, we didn't know that George had sired a son who would say things like, "Is our children learning?" and "They misundestimated me." Reagan rambled but he sounded like he must mean something.  The Bushes (and Quayle) never gave an illusion of eloquence.  Perhaps that's why they never pissed me off that much.  I was more inclined to laugh.  And there are some still funny quotes here, among them:
  • "Those are two hypo-rhetorical questions"
  • "A thousand shining hill"
  • And of course, of Reagan, "We had triumphs, we made mistakes, we had sex...uh, setbacks."
As for Quayle, I'll try to hold off till 1992's Airhead Apparent....

Now, Where Were We?

1989, undated possibly first paperback edition, from Villard Books
Roy Blount, Jr.
Now, Where Were We?: Getting Back to Basic Truths That We Have Lost Sight of Through No Fault of My Own
Original price $4.95, purchase price $3.95
Worn paperback

This is another slip in quality for Blount, though it still has its moments, mostly in the last 70 pages.  (Yes, right around the time he starts making fun of Reagan.)  One oddity to this copy is that pages 115 to 146 are missing, and are replaced by duplicates of pages 147 to 178.  So one minute he's talking about power-walking and the next he's talking about cola.

I did like seeing his take on health spas, compared to Jessica Mitford's a decade or two earlier.  (The pieces are from '78 onwards.)  The cover illustration riffs off of a piece imagining himself at the Constitutional Convention, which has a great last line.  His next book, the novel First Hubby, will offer a very different look at politics, which I'll discuss in 1990....

Roseanne: My Life as a Woman

1989, 1990 Harper edition
Roseanne Barr
Roseanne: My Life as a Woman
Possibly bought newish for $5.95
Paperback that's falling apart

I've read all three autobiographies of Roseanne and it's like they're about three different women.  This is the first (and I think the only one I own) and mostly covers her childhood and adolescence, as a Jewish girl in Salt Lake City.  There's not much about her first marriage-- she divorced Bill Pentland and married Tom Arnold the year this edition was published (also the year of her "Star Spangled Banner" rendition)-- and nothing about the child she gave up for adoption at 17.  She does talk about her quick rise as a stand-up comic, but there's nothing about her self-titled sitcom, which started airing in '88.

I avoided that show when it first aired, which is probably just as well, since it took a season or two to become really funny.  I did buy all the seasons on DVD (yes, unlike MTM and AitF, or even childhood fave Gilligan's Island).  Not every season is great, or even good, but I always find what she does interesting.  I felt the same way about this book, although I'm not going to rush out and buy a replacement copy.

Love Is All Around

1989, edition from later that year, from Delta
Robert S. Alley & Irby B. Brown
Love Is All Around: The Making of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Original price $9.95, purchase price $1.00
Worn paperback

Alley and Brown interviewed many people involved in the MTM Show, with the notable exceptions of Ted Knight (already dead) and Mary herself, although they did talk to her admiring ex, Grant Tinker.  The book would've been stronger if the co-authors didn't repeat themselves, but other than that it's a good look at a classic early '70s sitcom very unlike All in the Family, but nearly as influential and probably more fondly remembered.  Growing up, I watched the show often in syndication (I was nine when the last new episode aired), but I haven't felt like getting it on DVD.  I did watch the 1991 reunion show on VHS a couple years ago though, so the material covered in the book didn't feel too unfamiliar.

One interesting aspect of this book is the unabashed liberalism.  By '89, "the L-word" had become almost obscene (arguably that happened by '84), but both the writers of the book and the writers of the series seem to have been proud of the show's social values.  It was never as political as AitF of course, but feminism was taken for granted, and the way Gordy was treated was less stereotypical than most other sitcoms (including John Amos's next sitcom, Good Times).

If you're curious about the cast currently, especially the women, check out this link:

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's "Nancy"

1988, first edition, from Holt and Company
Brian Walker
The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's "Nancy"
Bought newish for $10.95
Worn paperback

I didn't grow up reading Nancy, or not so's I can remember.  As someone once noted, it's easier to read Nancy than to not read it.  Bushmiller designed the strip to be taken in without thinking, with seemingly simple artwork and writing, with strong black lines and geometric patterns.  He died in 1982, when I was 14 and "outgrowing" the comics.  But I can't recall any strips from earlier, while there is a Broom Hilda that I can still visualize because of the way the three main characters' elbows looked when they walked quickly.  I don't have any Broom Hilda collections, but I have quite a few for Nancy.

I'm going to blame The Harvard Lampoon Big Book of College Life, because it contains a "lecture" on Nancy & Nihilism.  A decade before this book, it juxtaposed (pseudo)-intellectuals and what is often regarded as one of the dumbest comic strips ever.  As Walker shows, many avante-garde artists from the '60s onward appreciated the strip.  And in the '50s MAD found it an easy target. 

Is Nancy so bad-it's-good?  Is it a basic but satisfying comic?  I don't know.  It rarely makes me laugh, and always at rather than with.  In some ways, I think it was more intriguing when it focused on Nancy's sexy flapper/actress aunt Fritzi.  Nonetheless, we've got all five of the Kitchen Sink Press G.H.W.Bush-era collections awaiting us....

Breathing Lessons

1988, 1989 Berkley [sic] edition
Anne Tyler
Breathing Lessons
Possibly bought newish for $5.50
Very worn paperback

I found this equal to Accidental Tourist, which it resembles a bit.  Again, we have a long-standing marriage, almost thirty years in this case, but it's closer to the relationship between Macon and Muriel than to that of Macon and Sarah.  A reserved man and a "scatter-brained" woman, although Maggie believes that if she had married someone less sensible than Ira, she would've become more sensible.  I believe this to some extent, because I can see how I sometimes will try to "balance" out my partner.  I don't feel like I've changed all that much since my marriage, although I've grown up a bit in the last 19 years, but because he was the sensible one, he thought of me as a bit scattered, and now that I'm with someone who's less practical, he thinks of me as sensible.

Like other Tyler books, this novel is about what makes relationships work, or sometimes not work.  E. M. Forster wrote, "Only connect!", but he knew as well as Tyler how difficult that can be sometimes.  Maggie's son Jesse, who's like a nicer version of the rocker in Slipping-Down Life, was unable to sustain his teenaged marriage to Fiona.  Maggie is a meddler, wanting to fix things but making them worse.  Ira sometimes cleans up her messes and sometimes makes them worse yet by blurting out the truth.  Yet we also see why Maggie and Ira got together, and why they stay together.  Maggie's friend Serena and her recently deceased husband Max were also "opposites" who were right for each other.

The book covers just one day in their lives, although there are a lot of flashbacks.  The traveling theme returns, although here it's just a road trip with side trips.  ("Like life," you're supposed to think.)  On the way to the funeral, Maggie lies to a bad driver and then feels guilty about it when she realizes he's old and black.  She tries to make amends, but yes, it only makes a bigger mess. 

I promised way back on Clock Winder that I would discuss Tyler and race.  Mr. Otis is her first significant black character in awhile, and to some degree he's a stereotype, in the way he talks and acts, and his wife Duluth sounds stereotypically superstitious for being mad at him for something he did in one of her dreams.  But I think Tyler fleshes out Mr. Otis, and his nephew, at least as much as she does the white waitress whose shoulder Maggie figuratively cries on.  On the other hand, there are two hospital workers who seem black and are less nuanced.  (They reminded me of the maybe-racism of 1987's Nice Girls Don't Explode, which I'll discuss when I have a movie blog someday.)  On the other hand, Ira is one-eighth Native American and neither he nor his father seem to fit any stereotypes except maybe stoicism.

The title, by the way, has to do with Fiona's lessons while pregnant.  Breathing should be easy and automatic, but like so much in life, it isn't always.  This is the tenth Tyler novel for the project, and one I've read more than most.  I enjoyed the 1994 Hallmark TV adaptation, with Joanne Woodward and James Garner, although I haven't seen it since it originally aired.  Next Tyler, Saint Maybe in 1991....

Venus of Shadows

1988, 1990 Bantam edition
Pamela Sargent
Venus of Shadows
Original price $4.95, purchase price $1.50
Falling apart paperback

I found this book about equal to its predecessor, although I was less drawn in.  Iris's very posthumous daughter Risa is more sympathetic a character, except when she forces her five-year-old daughter Chimene to witness the death penalty on a murderer and his accomplices.  This, along with her great beauty, apparently warps Chimene into growing up to be a deluded and deluding cult leader.  Risa's son Dyami is gay, which is unacceptable to Chimene's (hetero)sex cult.  There's a scene where a younger man that he once expressed sympathy to rapes him, as punishment for Dyami's and his own homosexuality.  I get Sargent's point but it's still disturbing, if less than it would be if I really believed in any of the characters.  Meanwhile, Benzi grows older but remains youthful, mostly offstage for 30 or 40 years. 

Sargent was then working on the final book in the trilogy, Child of Venus, but it wasn't published till 2001.  I've never read it, but apparently it's about Chimene's posthumous daughter.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cult Movies 3

1988, undated later edition, from Fireside (Simon & Schuster)
Danny Peary
Cult Movies 3: Fifty More of the Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird, and the Wonderful
Possibly bought newish for $14.95
Worn paperback with stains

Maybe I've mellowed in the last few months, but I found this to be the best of Peary's "cult" series.  Even the movies I don't want to see were more interesting to read about, even when I disagree with him, as on Blue Velvet, his most recent choice.  Over a third (eighteen) of the movies are from 1977 to '86, but he does include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919).  And there are two back to back movies from '47.  (He's still going alphabetically, so it's Miracle on 34th Street and Monsieur Verdoux.)  It's arguable that this book is better because of the previous entries, so you can compare movies with related cult followings (as with Plan Nine from Outer Space earlier, Glen or Glenda? here). 

More so than in '81 or '83, the impact of cable and home video is seen in the late '80s, as midnight movies became less common, and some films found their cults via home-viewing.  This probably led to less of an in-person aspect to the "communities" of fans, which the Internet would further weaken.  On the other hand, it's probably easier to find even obscure movies now, given luck and opportunity.  So my guess is that there may be more cult movies now but less of the "midnight mass" feel that Hoberman & Rosenbaum discuss.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Democracy for the Few

1988, fifth edition, from St. Martin's Press
Michael Parenti
Democracy for the Few
Original price $18.00, purchase price $8.00
Good condition paperback

If Howard Zinn's People's History is not particularly earth-shattering these days, this book is even less so.  Parenti writes about the "plutocracy" that runs the U.S. and like Zinn he does have some "good news" passages, but much less so.  Occasionally, there's mildly interesting information, but not enough.  Also, the illustrations are weak, the original ones especially, like the cover by Eldon C. Doty, although Herblock is unremarkable as well.  In fact, the best of the lot is the well-known "Golden Rule" strip of The Wizard of Id, and that's more for the writing than the art.  Skip this book unless you're really curious about late '80s leftism.

Landslide: The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988

1988, possibly first edition, from Houghton Mifflin
Jane Mayer & Doyle McManus
Landslide: The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988
Original price $21.95, purchase price $12.95
Hardcover in good condition

The "landslide" of the title is a pun, both that Reagan won a landslide in '84 (although not really that many of the eligible voters' votes) and that he was sort of buried by the Iran-Contra scandal.  Well, yeah, not exactly.  True, Reagan's credibility was shattered, and his very high approval ratings dropped.  But he's still highly thought of by many.  Not me, as you know.  And that's part of the problem I had with this book.  It's not that the authors entirely let Reagan off the hook, but they seem to see him as kind-hearted, more concerned with the rescue of the hostages than with the law or Congress's approval.  They also accept some of Reagan's premises about Nicarauga.  So they make it seem like Reagan meant well.  This is a far cry from Schell and Lukas's analyses of Watergate, where even when they showed sympathy for Nixon, they never denied his bad intentions.

I was just as sickened reading this book as I was by Iran-Contra (and related matters) at the time.  Yes, there's more distance, but I didn't know then how it would work out, that the Teflon President would survive relatively undamaged (especially in terms of his "legacy"), or that his Vice President would overcome revelations of his own knowledge about the arms shipments and monetary diversions, and go on to pardon McFarlane and five other officials involved.  Reading the book for the first time in a long while, I couldn't decide if I was more disgusted by the dishonesty or the stupidity, to say nothing of what an immoral plan it would've been even if it had worked, even if Congress had known and approved.

Then and now it seems like there are only four possible conclusions:
a) Reagan was too easy-going and "delegated" his own responsibilities to people who couldn't be trusted;
b) Some combination of North, McFarlane, Poindexter, and Casey deceived Reagan, who may or may not have asked the right questions at the right time;
c) Reagan knew what was going on but didn't see anything wrong with it;
d) Reagan knew but couldn't "recall."

Whatever the case, this is a book with no hero, although ironically Nixon survivor George Shultz comes closest to seeming like a decent human being.  (Don Regan probably comes off the worst.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Feminist in the Dark: Reviewing the Movies

1988, possibly first edition, from The Crossing Press
Kathi Maio
Feminist in the Dark: Reviewing the Movies
Original price unknown, purchase price $5.49
Worn paperback

More than a dozen years after Haskell and Rosen's feminist criticism of movies from the silents to the '70s, Maio takes a look at movies from what seems to be 1985 to 1987.  (Unlike Kael, she goes thematically rather than chronologically in this collection, and then omits the dates most of the time.)  I recall reading her Popcorn and Sexual Politics first and always preferring it, so we'll see if that holds true when we get to 1991.  Here, as she admits in the Preface, she was getting her bearings as a new film critic.  Although she's generally thoughtful and insightful, including upon reflection her own blind spots, she does have some annoying tics, like the use of "womanist" (Wikipedia says it's Alice Walker's term for "black feminism," but Maio doesn't define it), and occasional wrong word choices, like "reprieve" for "reprise."

The only movie review here that influenced me to see a movie, and to read the original book, was Compromising Positions, although I think Kael's equally positive review (in her collection Hooked, coming up in '89) probably weighed more.  It is interesting to read Maio on Fatal Attraction, before not only Kael but Faludi.  I still haven't seen the movie, not just because it sounds incredibly misogynist (anti-single-woman in particular), but because I don't like horror movies.  Still, I probably will at some point, and it'll be good to reread Maio for that, as well as her appreciation for, of all things, Madonna's Who's That Girl.