Monday, May 19, 2014


Since I've just completed watching the 100 oldest films I own, it seems time to cross-promote my movie blog.  Be forewarned, there are even more spoilers than on this blog. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


After twenty-seven, almost twenty-eight months, I'm done.  Not that I'll not reread any books, but I won't be blogging about them.  I will, however, in the next few days start blogging about the movies I "own."  Many of these are based on books I own, so you may get a sense of de ja vu.

Thank you to everyone who's read my posts, especially those who took the time to comment.  I'll still stop by now and again, so feel free to keep reading and maybe commenting.

I used to picture making lists like "The Longest Titles" and "Most Disappointing Reread," but I just don't have the energy to go through all my posts in one sitting.  I will though give you my Top Ten and Bottom Ten Plus:

Top Ten (most of them with A-s)

  1. Emma by Austen (quotable, clever, romantic, well-plotted)
  2. The Importance of Being Earnest by Wilde (incredibly witty but also insightful, romantic but cynical)
  3. The Land of Oz by Baum (also witty, fun, beautifully illustrated, ultimately feminist)
  4. Reasonable Creatures by Pollitt (simply brilliant)
  5. Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo by Adamson (a book as good as the Marxes at their best)
  6. Right Ho, Jeeves by Wodehouse (best in the series and jolly good fun)
  7. Where the Girls Are by Douglas (raucous roller-coaster through several fascinating periods of pop history)
  8. Pride and Prejudice by Austen (perhaps over-rated but still a great work)
  9. Little Women by Alcott (for all its flaws, undeniably lovable)
  10. (tough choice because there are 59 B+s, but OK) The Beatles Forever by Schaffner (still great almost thirty years after I first read it)

Bottom Seventeen (doing more than ten, in case you think it's unfair to pick so much on individual works by Shakespeare and want to omit them from the list, otherwise made up of four F+s, three D-s, five D's, and five D+s)
  1. Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare (gross, racist, implausible, it's got it all)
  2. Coriolanus by Shakespeare (BORING)
  3. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: A Novel by Edwards (and you thought it couldn't be worse than the movie)
  4. Salome (oh, Oscar, what were you thinking?)
  5. The Crimes of Charlotte Bronte: A Novel by Tully (implausible and sexist, while also sexist and implausible)
  6. Pericles by Shakespeare (speaking of implausible)
  7. All's Well That Ends Well by Shakespeare (one of the great misnomers)
  8. Caricature: The Wit and Humor of a Nation by various (unfunny humor collection that captures turn-of-last century racism, sexism, and other prejudice)
  9. Armande by Colette (one of the most unpleasant romances I've ever read)
  10. Cymbeline by Shakespeare (implausible and yet forgettable)
  11. Timon of Athens by Shakespeare (no reason to care about Timon)
  12. Venus and Adonis by Shakespeare (no reason to care about Venus or Adonis either)
  13. The Moor's Last Sigh by Rushdie (again, no reason to care)
  14. Once Upon a Time: A True Story by Vanderbilt (the worst biography)
  15. A Very Brady Guide to Life by Briggs (painfully unfunny and a bit homophobic)
  16. Delusions of Grandma by Fisher (very annoying style)
  17. The Golden Notebook by Lessing (possibly the most disappointing book)

Warm Bodies: A Novel

2011, 2012 Atria movie-tie-in edition
Isaac Marion
Warm Bodies: A Novel
Bought newish for $15.00
Slightly worn paperback

I'm not a zombie fan, as you might've guessed from my book collection.  Yet I found the trailer for the movie adaptation of this book hilarious, and the zom-com itself is one of the best films I saw last year.  (Third, after American Hustle and World's End.)  So I rushed right out and got the novel, only to be disappointed.  It may be a case of "you shouldn't see the book first," but that never dampened my love for The Wizard of Oz, book or movie.  I still laughed out loud and was moved the fourth or fifth time I saw Warm Bodies as a movie.  This second time reading the novel, I mostly tried to enjoy it as reliving a pale "imitation" of the film.

Actually though, it's more like Romeo & Juliet, where he's "dead" until the end.  His love for her brings him, and a lot of other zombies, back to life.  The movie gets away with this cheesiness because it's a very sweet movie.  The book is not sweet, primarily due to the zombie "society" and to the character of Julie.  In the movie, there is no zombie marriage, adoption, church, or school.  The zombies at most grunt at each other.  They do not attempt to have sex with each other!  Early in the beginning of the film, this isolation is playfully contrasted with the pre-Apocalypse world of "connection" (where even the little kids are focused on their cell phones).  

As for Julie, she has a much darker background in the movie (including having sex for money at thirteen), which might be OK, but R also sees her as angelic, as if he can't take in even that she drinks, smokes pot, and swears.  Damn, does she swear!  And her favorite thing is to call R's best friend M "a fat fuck."  Now admittedly, he, too, is less likable in the book than in the movie, but that has nothing to do with his weight.  She even mocks the dead fat people whose house she and R shelter in one night.  She's much nicer, more accepting, all round in the movie.

Not that there aren't problems with R's character, particularly his selective amnesia.  Marion may well be the youngest writer in my collection, having been born in 1981, but he's given R (who can't remember anything of his life beyond his first initial) and Julie a frame of references that seem rooted in the 1950s and 1960s, not just the Sinatra and Lennon music they listen to, but things like R comparing zombies "on the road" to Kerouac.  And R would have to be born sometime after Marion himself.

One of the many wise decisions in the movie was to make it more the YA story it should've been, to make R's awkwardness around Julie a funny and charming symbol of adolescence, to take him out of his suit and put him a hoodie.  This novel got a glowing recommendation from Stephenie Meyer, who apparently missed the little swipe about vampires' eyes changing color when they feed, but it's got much more potential than Twilight.  As it turns out, director/screenwriter Jonathan Levine (born in 1976) understood that potential better than Marion did.

Senseless Sensibilities

2011, first edition, from Random House
Text by Patrick Baker
Cover and Interior Design by Danielle Deschenes
Senseless Sensibilities: Create Your Own Austen-Tatious Mash-Up!
Bought new for $10.99
Slightly worn paperback

This is basically Mad Libs for Austen fans.  The problem is, Baker (in the female guise of Ima Hack) doesn't seem to know much about Jane Austen, as when he thinks Persuasion's Anne has a crush on Mr. Elliot.  Also, the trend of most of these partially blanked out passages is towards the trendy and shallow, which gets old after awhile.  Thirdly, come on, it's Mad Libs!  The readers are doing at least half the work.  

Of course, that means I can't rate this very low, since a clever reader and friends could conceivably indeed create austen-tatious mash-ups.  So dead C sounds right.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Harry Potter Film Wizardry

2010, HarperCollins first edition
Harry Potter Film Wizardry: From the Creative Team Behind the Celebrated Movie Series
Written (mostly) by Brian Sibley
Designed by Minalima Design
Bought new for $39.99
Hardcover in good condition

Like the pop-up books, this is a lot of eye candy, even more so of course, since it runs to 160 pages.  There are no pop-ups, but there are lots of "paper ephemera," such as Harry's Hogwarts letter, booklets like Advanced Potion-Making, Honeydukes packages, and best of all, the Marauder's Map!  The book is arranged roughly in chronological order, although there will be focus on a person, place, or thing if particularly prominent in one film.  Understandably, given the timing of the release, there are only fourteen pages on DH1, and only two on DH2.  Still, it's a great way to relive the movie series.  If I have any quibble, it's that the writing by Sibley could've been stronger, but it doesn't get in the way too much, and I especially liked the pages by production designer Stuart Craig and producer David Heyman.  I also like that, while it's mostly about the film series, the book series is discussed where pertinent. 

Highly recommended for moderate to obsessive fans.  Appropriate for, say, ten years old and up, although Helena Bonham Carter does get a bit naughty at times.

Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book Based on the Film Phenomenon

2010, Insight first edition
Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book Based on the Film Phenomenon
Paper Engineering by Bruce Foster
Art by Andrew Williamson
Text by Lucy Kee
Bought new for $34.95
Hardcover in good condition

Although there's more to this than to 2008's Magical Scenes from the Sixth Film in the Harry Potter Series, it does promise more, so I can't give it a higher rating.

  • Dumbledore's Office, this time with a packet from the Ministry and for some reason a Howler.
  • Diagon Alley, with pop-up buildings and smaller pop-ups of Hedwig and the Weasley-twin joke-shop statue.
  • Hogwarts pop-up, with a smaller pop-up of both the Beauxbatons carriage and the Durmstrang ship.
  • Magical Creatures, including the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid's Hut, and smaller pop-ups of Fluffy and a Mandrake.
  • "Magical Games and Sports," with Harry and the dragon in the First Task, smaller pop-ups showing the giant chess game and Ron as Quidditch Keeper.
  • The Dark Arts, showing Voldemort torturing Harry in GoF, and this time three smaller pop-ups: Nagini, the Inferi, and Dementors.

There's more text than in Magical Scenes, although understandably still not very much.  I think rather than themes, I'd prefer a scene from each film to that point.  (Deathly Hallows, Part I was released that November, but they could've gone up to HBP.)  Or maybe they could've focused on a character, or group of characters, each spread.  The pop-ups are more detailed than before, including backs, but they seem to tilt more than necessary.  The book is probably less spoilery than Magical Scenes, although anyone willing to spend 35 bucks probably had seen all the released movies more than once by then.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Rise of Enlightened Sexism

2010, undated later edition, from St. Martin's Griffin
Susan J. Douglas
The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild
Bought newish for $16.99
Slightly worn paperback

This disappointing follow-up to Douglas's Where the Girls Are (1994) is not without its merits, but I do need to talk about its flaws first and foremost.  To begin with, the earlier book was written from her perspective as a fortysomething Baby-Boomer, while this time she's a "Vintage Female" and the mother of a then-twenty-year-old daughter.  She often writes here as if there was no generation of feminists in between, except for the riot-grrrls who produced music and zines.  Well, I was born in 1968, and I can't relate to any of the TV covered here, from Xena and Buffy to Survivor and The Real World, or even ER.  (I've seen more of the Elliott Gould sitcom of the same name!)  I have seen several of the movies she discusses, and I do appreciate, for instance, her appreciation of Clueless, but I think she missed the boat on Mean Girls and most definitely Down with Love.  I have seen a few celebrity magazines with the "baby bump" pictures.  And I sort of followed the way Janet Reno, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin were covered.

But this all may be a flaw in me as a reader, rather than her as a writer.  So let's take a look at her title, which was changed from the hardcover edition, Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work Is Done.  Douglas's thesis is that the American media present the following intertwined messages:

  • Women have achieved all of feminism's goals, as evidenced by all those women in power in real life and more particularly on TV.
  • Therefore, we can now relax and enjoy sexism "ironically," by showing retrograde images, like of scheming, skinny, large-breasted blondes.  (Like in Marcotte's It's a Jungle out There.  Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

The first part is what she calls "embedded feminism," where female bosses, judges, and even presidents appear as characters.  She has a problem with this, because it doesn't reflect most women's lives.  Well, no, neither did Bewitched, but she seemed to appreciate that in the previous book.  Is the problem that what's shown on TV in recent decades, as opposed to the '50s and '60s, is meant to be real, even when it's contrived "reality TV"?  

And, yes, as the more recent subtitle indicates, she does discuss the Spice Girls, and the ambiguity of their message.  She doesn't even mention the equally British Hermione Granger, despite my earlier hopes, although there's quite a bit on Bridget Jones.  It's as if she doesn't want to include any recent positive images of girl culture.  Where the Girls Are was much more balanced.

Still, when she does what she does best, like examining the devolution of Cosmo or mocking Mel Gibson, the book is funny and, well, enlightening.  If she does another follow-up, some fifteen or twenty years down the road, I hope that either I'll be more into the pop culture of that time than I am now, or she'll pick a wider range of examples.

Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of The BBVH

2009, first edition, from ECW Press
Written by Ted Nichelson
Commentary and Special Features by Susan Olsen
Art Direction and Design by Lisa Sutton
Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour
Bought new for $22.95
Paperback in good condition

I still remember my excitement as I taped the pilot episode of BBH ("Variety" was later dropped) off of Nickelodeon at midnight.  I of course watched at least some of these episodes when they originally aired.  Number one, it was the Bradys; and number two, it was a variety show on ABC, and I already faithfully watched Donny & Marie.  But I hadn't seen the show since, it having lapsed into what then seemed permanent obscurity.  By the time I was in my early 20s and watching Nick at Nite, I could appreciate BBH on a so-bad-it's-good level.  I later got the DVD with two episodes, and I've watched a bit of different episodes on Youtube, particularly because of reading this book a second time.  And, well, it is painful at times, but it's never boring.

As for the book, it captures much of the craziness onscreen and behind the scenes.  Too much time is spent on the swimming/dancing Kroftettes, who, yes, were hard-working but aren't really what's most memorable about the show.  I'd actually have liked to have heard even more about the costume- and set-designers.  I do love that there are many photos, all in color I think, showing the look of the show in all its tacky glory.  I like that Sutton uses a different color/object theme for each chapter, although I wish that less of the black text had been printed on gray.  I'm not color-blind, but it would've made the book literally more readable if it had been white text, or a different background.

As for the writing, Olsen's contributions are snarky but insightful, showing the perspective of someone who was a fifteen-year-old who hated disco and the Krofft look, but nonetheless appreciated all the effort put into the show.  And, yes, she reluctantly discusses Maureen's cocaine use and resultant unreliability.  She even talks about how she was regarded as fat compared to Maureen (who was also bulimic then) and "fake Jan" Geri Reischl.  (At nine years old and now I thought Cindy was then the prettiest sister.)  Geri, by the way, is proud of her role on the show, which is more than most of the cast would say of theirs.

Because there were only nine episodes, you're going to find more information per episode than you would in your average book on one program.  But if you're reading this book, then too much of a good/bad thing isn't a problem for you.

(And, yes, I'm using the Schwartiana tag, even though Sherwood was proud to have nothing to do with this spin-off.  They're still loosely based on his characters after all.)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Street Gang: The Complete History of "Sesame Street"

2009ish*, from Viking
Michael Davis
Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street
Original price $27.95, purchase price $7.99
Good condition hardcover

This is a case where the subtitle is just as misleading as the title, in that this is not by any means a complete history of the show that my generation and later grew up learning basic concepts from.  There's much more in here about Captain Kangaroo than there is about the then two most recent decades.  In fact, there's more in here on Barry Goldwater and Julia Child than there is about some of the latter-day cast and crew!  Davis doesn't even get to the first episode's premiere until the midpoint of the book, and that's counting the index and such in the back.  He acknowledges feminist criticism, of the sort that's in And Jill Came Tumbling After (1974), but he really doesn't spend much time on either the content of the show or its impact.**

This is quite a contrast to Stephen Davis's (no relation I assume) 1987 book on The Howdy Doody Show, which I really enjoyed despite my lack of Doody knowledge.  I do believe there's a good book here, buried under M. Davis's meandering chronology and sometimes overwrought style.  ("If Joan Ganz Cooney was queen of CTW's domain, Chris Cerf was its minister of mirth and high priest of the practical joke."  Jeez, just call him the court jester!)  Enough interesting stories and information come through that I can marginally recommend the book, although I'm curious about Sesame Street Unpaved (1999) by David Borgenicht, which sounds like more of what I was looking for.

*It's copyrighted 2008, but towards the end it says, "In 2009, it's hard to imagine a world without Elmo...."  So I'm going with that date.

**He does seem horrified by the idea of a pink Muppet (having forgotten the Snowths of "Mahna Mahna" fame), Abby Cadabby.  But it's not as if the less stereotypically girly female Muppets ever became integral to the show.

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of SMCH

2009, 2010 Touchstone edition
David Bianculli
Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
Original price $24.99, purchase price $9.60
Hardcover in good condition

A fascinating account of a pivotal television program, the narrative marred by Bianculli's tendency towards redundancy.  (Some information and anecdotes are given not just twice but thrice or more!)  Unlike Saturday Night Live, this isn't a show I watched often, even in the years after it originally aired (1967 to '69, so I was a baby when it got cancelled).  I am going to get the DVDs from the library sometime though, because I am curious about the program, and watching bits and pieces on YouTube isn't enough.  (I think I also watched the 2002 documentary Smothered, but it's been a long while.)

Bianculli had the full support and cooperation of not only the Smothers Brothers but much of their staff and admirers, as well as some of the censors that they (mostly Tommy) battled with.  This enables Bianculli to go into detail on several of the episodes, including ones that didn't air in part or in full.  He puts the show in the context of its time, both what else was on television and what was happening in the U.S.  He also looks at the show's legacy, including on The Daily Show.  Yes, although this book is almost five years old by now, it feels a lot more contemporary than anything I've reviewed so far.  (There's also what I think is the first reference to Obama in my book collection.)  Bianculli goes rather quickly through the brothers' post-show career, but it was interesting to get another take on John Lennon heckling Tommy.  (Apparently Lorne Michaels and Lily Tomlin were there that night as well.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware

2009, 2010 Beach Lane edition
M. T. Anderson
Illustrated by Kurt Cyrus
A Pals in Peril Tale: Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware
Bought newish for $6.99
Slightly worn paperback

While the idea of treating the state of Delaware as an exotic, forbidding land is amusing, I found this to be the least funny of the series so far.  (The letter from the real Governor of Delaware, reprinted in the back, is as witty as Anderson at his best here.)  However, the Cyrus illustrations are his best yet, especially the two-page spreads of the wondrous sights of Dover.  Of the writing, I most enjoyed the logic puzzle, which Anderson has the characters solve, deconstruct, and then reconstruct.  There's an excerpt from the next book, Agent Q, or the Smell of Danger!, but I'm not interested enough in the series (now, as you'll notice, renamed from M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales) to continue anytime soon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

HPHBP: Magical Scenes from the Sixth Film in the Harry Potter Series

2008, Penguin first edition
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Magical Scenes from the Sixth Film in the Harry Potter Series
Copyright by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
Original price £9.99, bought newish for $7.95
Hardcover in good condition

Ironically, I find this more entertaining than the book or the movie, for what it is.  Not that it isn't odd to see a book with "pull-tabs, pop-ups and flaps" that involves romance and violence, but such is the oddness of a fandom that spans many ages and interests.  Each two-page spread has a different theme, not necessarily in order.  In fact, there are even spoilers for Deathly Hallows!  

  • Hogwarts Express, with a ticket and four house badges
  • Quidditch theme, with a flying Ron and a small poster
  • "Severus Snape (TM) is the Half-Blood Prince (TM)."  You didn't know he trademarked it, did you?
  • Quibbler salute, with awesome Spectrespecs
  • Love and Friendship, with Harry/Ginny pop-up, although he's not even looking at her.  (Couldn't they have done the kiss, or at least hand-holding?)
  • Death Eaters theme, with a big flap that reveals some of the D.E.s.
  • Tom Riddle, with one flap revealing 1930s Dumbledore and another Voldemort's face hidden behind young Tom's.  Eek!
  • Horcruxes, with a dial to see what they are, very spoilery.
  • Room of Requirement, with pull-tab to see explanation, and a tab hiding Bellatrix in the Vanishing Cabinet.  Eek!
  • Dumbledore, with pop-up Fawkes and a portrait flap I can't pull loose.

The design of the book is generally impressive, although it could've been better.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady...

2008, first edition, from HarperCollins
Maureen McCormick
Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice
Original price $25.95, bought used for $20.76
Hardcover in good condition

Although this book is partly about McCormick dealing with the mixed legacy of her role as Marcia, there's not terribly much about the show or her life during that time.  Mostly, it's about the years afterwards, as she struggled with drug addiction and other serious problems.  Her family seems to have been very dysfunctional, from the beginning to the end.  (The last few chapters discuss her brother's elder abuse of their father.)  

It's an interesting read but, like other books of its time, it could've used a better editor.  Not only does she make mistakes about The Brady Bunch, things any fan could've fact-checked for her, but she thinks her hair is "chestnut," which is not a synonym for blonde.  There are typos as well.  And it felt like she rushed through the last twenty years or so.

Although Susan Olsen (little sister Cindy) hasn't yet written an autobiography, she will have her say on the Brady legacy in the book she cowrote, Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, coming up in '09....

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality

2008 edition updating from '06, from Seven Stories Press
Stuart Ewen & Elizabeth Ewen
Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality
Original price unknown, purchase price $14.00
Slightly worn paperback

The Ewens take a look at the ways that people (mostly white male Europeans and Americans of the last two or three centuries) have tried to label others, using dubious science (some of which threw out data that contradicted the thesis), as well as various forms of art and entertainment.  I found the book to be a bit unfocused, and there were some distracting typos, most oddly enough involving the word "the." However, there is some interesting information, from a 1910ish intelligence test to the Russian attitude towards "Caucasians."  Some of it's funny, but some of it's tragic, like the fate of Saartjie Baartmann, the Khosian woman who was exploited during her life and mutilated after her death, all in the cause of "scientific inquiry."

Yes, the Ewens discuss The Birth of a Nation, as well as other early movies.  Although there are times that they make connections to the present, such as wondering what "your face is destiny" theorists would've done in the modern world of make-up, contact lenses, and plastic surgery, the book would've been strengthened by more on the post-World-War-II era.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

2007, Canadian hardcover Bloomsbury first edition, American hardcover Scholastic first edition
J. K. Rowling
American edition illustrated by Mary Grandpre
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Canadian edition bought new for $45.00, American bought new for $34.99
Former in good condition, latter sounds like spine will break soon

I still believe this is the best book in the series, although it's not at all "a British school story with magic in it."  Yes, Harry goes back to Hogwarts, but only to lead the final battle against Voldemort and the Death Eaters.  Over one-fourth of the story is set in the pivotal 24-ish hours when Harry, Ron, and Hermione break into Gringotts and then head to their school to wrap things up.  

The whole book of course is tying up loose ends, quite the opposite of Snicket's "End."  I loved all the little shout-outs to previous moments in the series, and that Rowling really did resolve a lot of earlier mysteries.  It's not a perfect book, not quite at the level of L. Frank Baum's best, so I will talk about the flaws I found.  

The biggest flaw is that Harry starts casting Unforgivable Curses (although not Avada Kedavra), and there are no real consequences to this.  (Hermione doesn't even scold him.)  Is Rowling saying that they're forgivable in wartime?  If so, that's a non-Snicket slippery slope.  Also, while there are moments when Harry and Ron's chivalry is sweet (like when Ron says he'll pretend Hermione is his cousin, to protect her), I don't like that Harry tries to shelter Ginny during the final battle, when she's only a few months shy of being of age.  (She of course fights anyway.)  And thirdly, while there are a lot of great callbacks to earlier, there are also things like not only the Hallows themselves but Fiendfyre, that Rowling never thought to mention before.

All that said, I think this is Rowling at the top of her game.  There are no weak chapter, or parts that seem too detailed.  (I joke about the Never Ending Camping Trip, but I actually love the dynamic of the trio, and for awhile Harry and Hermione, on their own.)  There are genuinely moving moments, although it's not always the same ones that touch me each time I read the book or watch the films.  (This was I believe the first fantasy book of recent years to get the split into halves, or in The Hobbit's case thirds, ironic in light of Horcruxes of course.)  So much of the book, including the humour, comes from having a history with these characters of being, as Rowling puts in her dedication, someone who has "stuck with Harry until the very end."  I used to think that maybe I had over-rated this book because it was last, but, no, it really is the best.  

Even Grandpre has stepped up a bit.  Yes, some of the illustrations are still somewhat forgettable, but I'm fond of the ones that feature Harry, particularly the one for the chapter "Shell Cottage," where Harry sits on a cliff and reflects.

This is not the end for Harry Potter in my book collection, as I've got a few movie tie-in books coming up for '08 and '10....

Friday, January 17, 2014

It's a Jungle Out There

2007, 2008 Seal Press edition
Amanda Marcotte
It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments
Original price $13.95, purchase price $6.98
Slightly worn paperback

I'm going to discuss the controversy surrounding this book, because I think it highlights something I noticed about other aspects of the writing.  Marcotte uses the symbol of the jungle to represent the sexism that feminists must battle.  That in itself is troubling, and related to her preference for urban over rural communities.  (Probably the result of her growing up in rural Texas.)  But wait.  What is the definition of a jungle?  "An area of land overgrown with dense forest and tangled vegetation, typically in the tropics."  So trees, right?  Yet almost none of the illustrations at the beginning of the chapters show trees.

Instead they display a busty, scantily clad blonde fighting the dangers of the African plains.  Suffice to say, none of these dangers look like Jerry Falwell or Bill O'Reilly.  They look like wild animals and menacing black natives.  Marcotte and Seal Press apparently didn't see anything wrong with racist imagery in a book promoting feminism, not even after the original cover, of a blonde being abducted by a gorilla, was criticized and withdrawn.  (This edition, she battles a crocodile.)  It's as if they couldn't see the trees for the jungle.  

I could cut Marcotte some slack, since she was young, but it's not as if she was fresh out of college.  She turned 30 that year, making her not much younger than Mary Wollstonecraft publishing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman at 33.  And if Ellerbee, Ivins, and Hightower have taught me anything, it's that left-wing rural Texans are definitely aware of issues surrounding race.  Perhaps the pictures from the '50s comic books about Lorna the Jungle Girl were meant in an ironic, campy way, but that doesn't make them non-racist, no matter how many anti-racist blogs Marcotte mentions.

It's three years since The Midnight Disease, where "blog" had to be defined, but this book is almost equally dated in its excitement over blogging.  As I think I've amply proved over the past couple years, any idiot with an Internet connection can have a blog, and blogs have not turned out any more remarkable than print books, except in the case of speed.  And you can turn a blog into a print book pretty darn quickly anyway.  This book seems to have evolved out of Marcotte's blog, and it shows signs of not being well edited, as in the "pubic" for "public" slip.  (It's still miles better than the editing in Forever Summer though.)

The racism and the giddiness contribute to a carelessness that I haven't seen in a feminist since Germaine Greer, almost 40 years earlier.  Marcotte shares with Greer a blindness to the full history of feminism.  (In Marcotte's case, "riot-grrrl" days are quaint, and the '70s are ancient, while no feminism existed before, say, 1965.)  Also like Greer, Marcotte (whatever mentions of lesbians and women of color she makes) is writing for women like her: white, young, straight, and a bit shallow.  Yes, anal bleaching, purity balls, and Girls Gone Wild manage to be both ridiculous and disgusting, but are they the biggest issues facing modern women?  Marcotte puts them almost on a level with reproductive rights and equal pay.

Still, I laughed at the book a few times.  Like Michael Moore, it's hard to tell how serious she is in some of her suggestions, so, as with Moore, I see this more as "funny politics" than humor per se.  I can't recommend it, but if you come across it, you might enjoy it if you just focus on the text and set your standards low.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Forever Summer

2007, first Avon Books paperback edition
Suzanne MacPherson
The Forever Summer
Bought in 2010 or '11 for $5.95
Slightly worn paperback, with an autograph that came with the book, "Happy Haunting! Suzanne MacPherson, Oct. 2010"

Outside of the Twilight series, this is probably the worst edited book I've read that's been published in the last decade.  (See for examples of the former.) MacPherson's unstopped errors and flaws include, but are not restricted to,

  • Sentences without enough commas, causing confusion of meaning
  • Sometimes laughably misspelled or misused words, like "in tact" for "intact" and "censured" for "censored"
  • The paragraph on p. 21 that begins "It was hard to believe..." and is repeated almost intact (or in tact) on p. 43, and not for any kind of Joseph-Heller disorienting intention, but instead muddying up the chronology
  • A passage where a character whose perspective we're supposed to be in is on his cell phone "to somebody"
  • Inconsistencies of character, including whether and if so how often and how harsh the protagonist swears (she of course says "ass hole" as two words)
  • The banishment of the sidekick for a good chunk of the novel (Either don't introduce her, or have her and the protagonist stay in touch more while she's away, if she has to be gone.)

If the book were competently edited, I would definitely give it a C+ or even a B-.  It's a romance/mystery/ghost-story/comedy and MacPherson does a nice job of blending the tones.  I will admit I'm not crazy about the romance cliches, like Lila and Lucas having a perfect First Night together.  (And for all the sneaking around they do, didn't it occur to either of them that she shouldn't scream herself hoarse with pleasure?)  He of course has a Keyesian "huge" penis and, as she points out, she keeps saying she's not going to have sex with him and having it anyway.  But I couldn't really take any of this too seriously, when there's a ghost leaving clues with Cheese Whiz, and the local book club is holding seances.

I bought this book in a now-defunct bookstore in Port Gamble, the town where the story is set.  I assume that MacPherson did an author signing and this was a leftover.  It'll now go to my favorite used bookstore, for someone else's "happy haunting."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America

2007, first edition, from Henry Holt and Company
Susan Faludi
The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America
Bought new for $26.00
Good condition hardcover

Albert: That's too bad 'bout some folks not wantin' to be rescued from trouble by the Loan Arranger.
Noah: Some is even more fierce.
Albert: More fierce?
Noah: Some won't get in trouble for him in the first place.  Not very obliging.

--Prehysterical Pogo (1967)

I kept asking myself why, as I read this.  Why did a tragedy whose victims were mostly male get recast as a need for men to protect women?  Why were the same men who failed to protect the 9/11 victims recast as heroic studs?  (As if Donald Rumsfeld's "sexiness" or George W. Bush's ability to cut brush, or for that matter John Kerry's huntin', would've stopped the attacks, or even upgraded the firefighters' communications system.)  And why was it, as it always seems to be in the mainstream media, feminism's fault?

Faludi points out the lack of logic, but she also shows why the particular myths took hold at that time.  She draws parallels not only to, of course, the 1950s but also to the second half of the 1800s, with a look at the very different attitudes of the 1600s and 1700s.  (In that earlier time, white Christians saw themselves as weak and vulnerable compared to God, and they were fine with this.) 

When Americans of the last two centuries feel vulnerable, they often hope for cowboys and other heroes to ride to the rescue.  (And, yes, she quotes Rogin on The Birth of a Nation.)  But for some men, perhaps most especially the men who are most scared and least able to admit it, there's a corresponding need to believe that women are, or should be, damsels in distress.  If women are strong, including Daniel Boone's "skilled markswoman" wife Rebecca, then it makes the men seem weak, and thus vulnerable to Injuns, Commies, and terrorists.  If a woman is actually a victim, like Jessica Lynch, her victimhood is magnified so her rescue can be enlarged.

As the discussion of America's early days shows, it wasn't always like this, and Faludi sees it as a pattern that can be broken.  Her book obviously has a sad, frightening base, but I was surprised how much I laughed.  As always, her speaking truth and cutting through the crap delighted me.

The title comes from the novel The Searchers.  She discusses that book, its movie, and other media, although as usual not much about music, other than Neil Young's "Let's Roll."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Interred with Their Bones: A Novel

2007, 2009 Plume edition
Jennifer Lee Carrell
Interred with Their Bones: A Novel
Bought new for $15.00
Worn paperback

Although this book is often understandably compared to The Da Vinci Code (which I've read but don't own), it most reminded me of Byatt's Possession (1990).  There's a literary mystery, but this time it's about a real writer, or set of writers, Shakespeare and his peers.  We get some glimpses of the past, but it's mostly set in 2004, as Kate Stanley prepares to direct at the rebuilt Globe.  She gets swept up in a mystery that involves a lost play of Shakespeare's, based on a subplot from Don Quixote.  I found this an irresistible idea, so I didn't mind that there's a lot of implausibility to its working out.  I was disappointed in the sequel, Haunt Me Still, then "coming in 2009," so I just checked it out of the library and didn't want to buy it.  This one held up to the third reading, especially since I didn't remember all the plot twists, but I could see eventually viewing it as a B-.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Digging to America

2006, 2007 Random House edition
Anne Tyler
Digging to America
Original price $14.95, purchase price 75 cents
Very worn paperback

Just as Snicket's End isn't about wrapping up the Baudelaire saga, this book isn't, as you might think at first, about foreign adoption.  It's not even about what it's like to be Iranian-American in the period a few years before to a few years after 9/11.  It's mostly about how an aloof woman in late middle age learns to love and accept people she initially finds annoying.  As such, it's not bad, and Tyler (whose late husband was Iranian) makes Maryam Yazdan sympathetic, if not exactly likable.  She's less successful with the other characters, but even bossy Bitsy wins Maryam and the reader over a bit by the end.

This is Tyler's seventeenth novel, and the thirteenth and last I'm reviewing, although she's published a couple since.  In my opinion, she never became a great writer, but she is at times a good one.  She at least has come a long way since 1964's If Morning Ever Comes, although what I said of that novel, "In particular, I can't understand why any of the characters make the decisions about romance they do, including Ben Joe's elopement with an ex-girlfriend.  So much of who ends up with whom feels arbitrary, and not in an ironic Jane Austen sort of manner," is just as applicable to this one.

This finishes off not only Anne Tyler and 2006, but the current bookcase, which began with Atwood's Robber Bride (1993).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book the Thirteenth: The End

2006, first edition, from HarperCollins
Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by Brett Helquist
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth: The End
Bought new for $12.99
Hardcover in good condition

And so it ends.  Not with alliteration, not with all the mysteries solved, not with a bang.  The once over-the-top satiric series has morphed into a philosophical question, so that among the references to Erewhon, Caliban, and the like, it seems like there should be a mention of Utopia.  In the mid-aughts, my book collection is full of war, invasion, fear, paranoia, betrayal, and abandonment.  Yet here the Baudelaires ponder whether it's better to be protected or to be informed.  Not coincidentally, a benign snake offers them bitter apples that save their lives.

I miss what the series was, but all things considered, and with over seven years' hindsight, I'm OK with this ending.