Book Reviews

by Robert Buchanan
  1. Alien
  2. Ana's Girls
  3. Argentina is my country
  4. The Best Little Girl in the World
  5. Brancusi
  6. The Exorcist
  7. Gastroanomalies
  8. Harukor: An Ainu Woman's Tale
  9. Henry Huggins
  10. If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor
  11. The Insanity Defense
  12. Interior Desecrations
  13. Irish Elections, 1918 - 1977: Parties, Voters and Proportional Representation
  14. Israel and the Nations in Prophecy
  15. Japanese Prints
  16. John Willis' 1979 Film Annual Screen World
  17. The Man In the Glass Booth
  18. One Man's Chorus
  19. The Prestige
  20. Ramona the Pest
  21. Ribsy
  22. The Rules of Attraction
  23. The Rum Diary
  24. Scottish Proverbs
  25. Shohei Imamura
  26. Swimmy
  27. Turn Me On!
  28. West Germany is my country
  29. World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime

Alien

Written by Alan Dean Foster
Based on a story by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett

When I was a teenager, I had scores of guilty pleasures; after shedding the majority of them in my twenties, few remain. Among these last silly indulgences are movie novelizations, the first feature-length books that I read as a child. Revisiting these books in the twilight of my young adulthood, I've noted that most of them are terrible, but a few do exist that are worth reading. Alan Dean Foster's adaptation of Ridley Scott's widely (and rightly) celebrated space horror film is among the latter of these.

Based very loosely on an early draft of O'Bannon and Shusett's script, Foster's Alien differs greatly from the film. The basic scenario and the characters are essentially the same, but the differences aren't limited to mere details. Scribed from a source prior to numerous rewrites, the influence exerted by visual genius H.R. Giger, on-set tweaking and Scott's own judicious post-production editing, this is certainly not what you'll see onscreen.

That said, the book is capably written. It only hints at the sporadic brilliance that Foster would later develop and implement in numerous film novelizations and his own original fantasy and sci-fi novels, but it is effective. The pace of the narrative is deliberately uneven and yields mixed results. While the book's slow first half does gradually generate tension, it's also quite dull in spots, often concentrating on minutiae that isn't of much interest. On the other hand, the last fifteen pages are a whirlwind of action, much of which is quite thrilling.

While the fully-grown alien is revealed sparingly throughout the film, Foster wisely chose not to describe its' appearance, only acknowledging its' large size to imply the creature's power and ability to intimidate. The more gruesome happenings are also hinted at with great effect, allowing the reader's imagination to visualize the gore between the lines.

Quite a few sequences in the book aren't to be seen in the original theatrical cut of the movie. Most of these are based on scenes that were cut from earlier script drafts, a few that were only partially shot, and numerous well-known outtakes that later resurfaced in laserdisc and DVD editions of the film, as well as the 2003 director's cut. While many of these portions were cut to preserve pacing, consistency or overall quality, they're all very effective in a written context. Foster's depiction of a scene wherein Ripley discovers Dallas and Brett's cocooned bodies is far more creepy than the middling equivalent that was cut from the 1979 theatrical release.

Most tie-in novelizations are subject to poor quality control, but I only noticed a few misspellings here. However, Dallas casually glances at Brett (actually Parker) nine pages after the assistant engineer has been picked off! This is the only serious mistake that I found in this book.

Of course, no tie-in novelization ever came close to crossing over as a serious work of genuine literature. But Alien is a pretty solid pop novel for its' genre. Employing the slightly prolix dialogue, uncompromising situations and exhaustive detail characteristic of 20th century science fiction, this would probably be regarded as a minor classic had it been released as an original novel in the '20s or '30s. As it is, it's still superior to most of the laughably juvenile trash that passes for adult sci-fi these days.

This is one of Foster's earliest movie novelizations and his second adaptation of a screenplay by Dan O'Bannon; the first is that of Dark Star, the quirky B-movie that O'Bannon created in collaboration with John Carpenter. Just as certain elements of Dark Star were recycled in Alien, the same recurring features can be found in both books. Although these novels have long since gone out of print, they're both cheaply available via Amazon and make for a fun (albeit brief) reading double-bill.

Just don't expect high terror on the order of Lovecraft.


Ana's Girls

Written and edited by Eda R. Uca

This self-proclaimed "Essential Guide to the Underground Eating Disorder Community Online" dispels the outdated stereotype of anorexics as overwhelmingly white and middle-class. More importantly, it also proves, beyond the faintest shadow of a lingering doubt, that the majority of anorexics (or at least those who discuss their beloved disease online) are not intelligent overachievers.

Every aspect of the online anorexia subculture is detailed: its asinine screed, derivative slang and vernacular, common methodology and absurd religious pretensions. Most of the book consists of survey results and message board posts, nearly all of which indicate that the average online anorexic is a spoiled teenage girl or young woman with a mid-80s IQ. This is where the average reader is likely to cull most of his or her entertainment. The spelling and grammar of these lunatics is analogous to that of a particularly stupid grade-schooler. Their self-awareness is predictably nonexistent, their selfishness mind-boggling. Those few among them who are adequately literate are also verbose, and therefore possess a better means with which to exhibit their insanity.

Approximately a fifth of this book's content is comprised of original writing, which describes the aforementioned elements and conventions of pro-ana communities, websites, message boards, etc. It's congruous with the cut-and-pasted, semi-coherent babble only because it's very poorly written and formatted. Spelling and grammatical errors are legion, many passages (both entire sentences and fragments thereof) are repeated in the same paragraph and citations are wholly absent. Text is frequently rendered beside delimiters. Survey fields that ought have been presented with bold emphasis often aren't. The book's text is formatted in a twelve-point Courier monospaced typeface, its every line double-spaced. This is both ugly and obviously intended to pad its short length; were it properly formatted, this trade paperback wouldn't be half as long as its underwhelming 218 pages.

Anyone who wants to learn more about the pro-ana community can very easily do so by joining a message board and observing these obtuse psychopaths firsthand. Not only are they eager to pour their undernourished, abused hearts out to other women and girls, but they tend to throw themselves pathetically at males for attention, if only because so many of them have driven away ex-boyfriends who aren't interested in dating something that resembles a skeleton. As this activity requires no financial commitment whatsoever, this book is entirely useless save as something to giggle at for those who don't care to suffer their eyes by staring at a screen when laughing at the illiteracy of emaciated crazies. It's also another of too many ineptly self-published volumes that does nothing to help those few talented authors who want to freely publish and promote their own work.

The following invaluable advice is tendered on page 164 prior to an incomprehensible, totally incongruous summary of cannibalism: "Only one thing matters for the rest of your life. Does what you are about to put in your mouth contain carbohydrates?"

Yow.


Argentina is my country

Written by Bernice and Cliff Moon

Delineated within: a farmer of llama wool from a rarefied elevation of the Andes mountain range, another hailing from sub-tropical Apóstoles, whose yield produces that city's cash crop of yerba mate, and granger in the grassy expanse of the Pampas; the director of a casino in tourist resort Mar Del Plata; two students attending primary and secondary schooling, respectively; a physician entertaining political aspirations in service to the preponderant, Peronist Justicialist Party; the occupational efforts of a kine farmer, cattle transporter, grazing gaucho and butcher, which reflect an ever-burgeoning beef industry and analog of North American cowboy culture; a news anchor articulating her audience's unsated appetite for domestic programming; one operative of Atucha 1, South America's first nuclear power station; a café proprietor patronized by farmers in an arid Patagonian prairie; the quondam mayor of popular vacation haunt Villa Carlos Paz; a conductor of goods and passenger diesel trains who plies harrowing routes through the Andes; vigorous dancers of tango and amalgamate folk variants carnavalito, chacarera, arrunguita, caramba, aires, etc.; one guard of the phalanx assigned to flank the presidential palace in Buenos Aires; a Franciscan monk from pious Salta; a warden of humid, picturesque Iguazú National Park, situated at margin of a Brazilian border; a Mendozan winemaker whose vineyard thrives in a locality of foothills east of the Andes; La Plata Museum's coordinator of pedagogical visits to observe the institution's prodigious gallery of prehistoric fossils; a polo participant who trains horses for that sport of enduring popularity; the skipper of a sightseeing vessel which navigates the delta of Paraná River; a factory chocolatier of San Carlos de Bariloche. Exposited in the first person, the localities and vocations of these twenty-six Argentinian nationals are further exemplified with adjunct photographs of each individual, their workplaces and vicinities. Spanish characteristics define Argentina's intrinsic cultural lineament, but this volume's survey manifests both Iberians of the Southern Cone republic and a representation of its population's aboriginals (most notably the Diaguita), Anglo-Saxons, Lebanese, Catalans, Welsh, Germans and especially Italians.

No longer au fait in service of general education, this mid-'80s British publication proffers a veracious snapshot of South America's most promising second-world middle power withal, in which the contemporaneous Falklands War was tastefully prescinded. Its text and photos are adapted from Alex Huber's preceding We live in Argentina.


The Best Little Girl in the World

Written by Steven Levenkron

The amount of popular fiction concerning eating disorders has swelled considerably in the past three decades since its initial publication, but The Best Little Girl in the World is still the most recognizable and venerable title of the lot - a favorite of psychologists and their patients, and an inadvertent classic of the online pro-ana community. This recognition isn't unwarranted: the book is serviceable as both a compelling story and an accurate representation of anorexia nervosa. For a psychotherapist, Levenkron is an able fiction writer. His prose is anything but elegant and much of his dialogue is stilted (common attributes of the competent, transitioning technical writer), but his characters and scenarios are so credibly portrayed that this seems a moot point. Actually, Levenkron's unpretentious style seems refreshing in comparison to most of this book's overwrought thematic successors, and his renowned experience in treating patients suffering from this disorder (Karen Carpenter was actually one of his clients) is evident throughout: the disease's symptoms and treatment are depicted in gruesome detail. Those who are very faint of heart or stomach may find it difficult, but The Best Little Girl in the World is essential reading for laymen of the subject, and anyone who's interested in a medical drama that isn't slathered with mawkish histrionics.


Brancusi

Edited by José María Faerna
Translated by Alberto Curotto

Modernity's premiere sculptural bricoleur apprehended intrinsic form, motion and character as fundamental contours, reflecting innate essence as elliptic curvature. Crafted by iteration from wood, bronze, stone and marble, Brancusi's figures - oblong piscine plates and phocine extrusions whose veined marble stria convey aquatic motion; ovoid infants and deities; curvilineal distaff busts of voluptuous convexity; osculating columnar lovers embracing in architectural symmetry; avian elation expressed with tapered elegance or distinct planes conterminous to parabola in graceful, contrasting arcs; twofold phallic, sonsie psychoanalyst princess; truncated cylindrical and droplet torsos of vernal vigor - are subjects of irreducible conformations solely indicative of vital properties. His Endless Columns are the quintessence of this sublimated aesthetic: undulate towers of repeated, symmetrical elements, halved at termini to arouse an impression of eternity. A titan of craft and culture alike, Brancusi resolved primitivism with transcendence and imparted substance to concepts theretofore regarded as mere abstractions.

Cameo/Abrams' obligatory hardbound volume of their Great Modern Masters budget line celebrating Romania's eminent sculptor is at least so robust as any other of the series, boasting a perdurable binding and pages of heavy, glossy stock. Forty color plates and grayscale photographs exceeding thirty count blazon works of unrivaled magnitude. These exposures' exacting compositions (ten among them were shot by the sculptor in the placidity of his atelier with contextual deliberation) provide the reader with various perspectives of early works evidencing an exceptional, repudiated talent for figurative sculpture, the majority of Brancusi's popular oeuvre, a sketched portrait of James Joyce and the culmination of his representational reduction as publicly manifest in his tripartite Targu Jiu memorial. Regrettably, a few of the color prints are marred by muddied hues. Exoteric, adjuvant text exposits Brancusi's idiomatic tenets, themes and techniques (a proficiency for direct carving proves especially clamant) as well as his collaborations and controversy. A comprehensive biographical outline itemizes significant personal and professional events in virtually each of the artist's eighty-one years.

Superior editions dedicated to Brancusi are currently in print, but at half of their average cost, this is a choice selection for those unfamiliar with the twentieth century's nonpareil craftsman of intangible pith as plastic media.


The Exorcist

Written by William Peter Blatty

Only an author of faith could write this. I refer not to the blind faith of the stupid ideologue or the empty hope of desperate and wayward dreamers. This book was written by a man of genuine, unshakable devotion, which was increasingly rare amongst his fellow Catholics when it was published in 1971 and which barely exists today. Faith of this sort is informed by a profound spiritual instinct, unquestionable to those who truly feel it. So while the subject of this novel is the demonic possession of a young girl, its far more significant theme is one of faith questioned, lost, tested, denied and ultimately restored. This is not merely a story of an inexplicable evil manifest in defiance of righteousness. Here, redemption and the restoration of faith are hard-won, at the ultimate price of life so that the soul of a lost and noble Jesuit finds its peace.

Based on events that occurred in the late 1940s, the location of this story is Georgetown, and quite a lot of it occurs in Blatty's alma mater of Georgetown University. Following the shooting of a feature film on the university's grounds, the interior of the nearby Holy Trinity church is desecrated, the movie's director is murdered in a bizarre and gruesome manner and the daughter of the film's star actress begins to exhibit violent and revolting behavior. An exhaustive battery of medical and psychological tests are conducted that fail to adequately diagnose the child's symptoms as they become wildly outlandish and seemingly supernatural in nature. As a last resort, her mother consults the aid of a priest in residence at the university, a gifted psychiatrist trained to counsel other members of the priesthood. Still in mourning following the death of his mother and struggling with little avail to find his faith, the troubled Jesuit's thorough examination of the girl indicates that her body has been inhabited by a particularly malevolent and powerful demon. His confrontation of both the demon and his own rational, unshakable doubt is intensified by the arrival of a renowned, elderly priest, whose frailty and experienced familiarity with the ritual of exorcism and the entity in question lead to a grave and momentous denouement.

Distinct from most other horror novels, Blatty's would have merely been another inspired, albeit opportunistic and vastly inferior effort like Rosemary's Baby if his prose wasn't so magnificent, his characterizations so vividly and subtly conceived. Very rarely can such lush description and beautiful sentiment be found in popular fiction, much less of a classifiable genre novel! Effectively paced, the narrative's idle humor, doleful tragedy and disquieting dread all seem entirely credible. Medical and religious procedures are accessibly depicted in extensive and nearly flawless detail, and as Blatty's own research of occult and supernatural phenomena surely mirrored that of his protagonist in its scope, the theological, psychiatric and psychological literature referenced herein is carefully utilized. Not a line of dialogue seems implausible - not the voicing of gentlest concern, panicked hysteria or brutal demonic taunting. Not one of Blatty's characters is underdeveloped or commonplace. Their own susceptibilities - desperation, terror, longing, reverence - color every aspect of the story.

Blatty himself adapted the screenplay of William Friedkin's famous motion picture adaptation from his novel. While the film lacks a subplot and numerous digressive sequences that are essential to the book and would surely have come across as conspicuously extraneous onscreen, quite a few scenes - and especially the dialogue therein - are identical to the source material, and no wonder: it's as visually detailed as it is expressive, and every exchange is recognizably memorable.

Very few contemporary novels of distinctly Catholic sensibility really appeal to me. Predictably, most of them are too preachy, stilted or thematically outmoded for all but the most devoted papists to find involving. I suspect that this novel will someday serve as a footnote to legitimate twentieth-century Catholicism, an inferior but substantial pop culture equivalent to Manzoni's The Betrothed or Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. Even for an unbeliever like this reviewer, there's nothing hokey, self-righteous or deluded about Blatty's convictions. Rather, he presents faith as a pure and assailable virtue, which is neither easily obtained nor preserved.


Gastroanomalies

Written by James Lileks

This critical appraisal of sickening photographs culled from fogyish kitchen publications is a thematic sequel to Lileks' earlier The Gallery of Regrettable Food, though its selections are, incredibly, yet more repellent and bewildering than those of the anterior volume. Vile aspics, soufflés of concrete density, inedible whitebread perversions of ethnic dishes and abominable admixtures of beef, vegetables and fruit, reworked and brutalized with abusive afflatus into hitherto unimaginable "meals" are wryly described, pondered and likened to all manner of vomit, construction materials, excrement and refuse, and not one of these comparisons is at all implausible. Those few dishes featured herein that may not have triggered the gag reflexes of adventuresome feeders nonetheless appear unpalatable by dint of abhorrent photography - the hideous oversaturated hues and squalid resolution of these pictures might well render the finest comestibles as foul to the eye as the worst.

Written with his usual snide bombast, Lileks' inspired scenarios and relational jibes target not only food but appurtenances thereof prominent in underdeveloped culinary cultures of modern yore. One chapter titled All Hail the Miraculous Magic Cold Box showcases advertisements for massive, potentially hazardous refrigerators, some of which were experimental models to which the consuming public was thankfully never subjected. Another, From the Cookbook Library: Selected Volumes of Fear and Loathing, exhibits not only more repulsive photos of horrid dishes but also: printed advice of mind-boggling inanity; portions of How To Take a Trick a Day, in which youthful Clark Gable, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are purported to recommend meals chiefly comprised of General Mills' famed pre-mixture; godawful excerpted recipes for squirrel pie, roast and fried beaver, scotch heart patties, simmered, sautéed and broiled brains and the immortal meal of the processed macabre - head cheese. Though not so stomach-churning, How To Drive Off Your Husband with Lousy Cooking is at least as horrific as amusing, supplementing its titular instruction with photos and text from 51 Ways to a Man's Heart, another dreadful grayscale survey of horrible eats (Soup From Chicken Feet being the most egregious of these) that surely dissolved a few marital relations decades prior to Lileks' appended scheming. Even worse, Chunder From Down Under exposes the dread terror of Cookery in Colour, an overview of Australian postwar cuisine, and another appalling photographic travesty that may drive even the most fervent consumers of bacon and seafood to undernourishing veganism. Concluding chapter End on a (Sickeningly) Sweet Note will give all readers pause, if only to marvel at early causes of widespread glycemic disorders and wonder just how prominent the use of hallucinogens in polite society may have been prior to their countercultural popularity. Only the book's pleasantly vibrant color design, imitation period typefaces and the drollery that they supplement can inhibit the nausea that its subjects will almost certainly provoke.

Having read this, I'll never again hear or read the phrase, "an exciting new recipe" without shuddering.


Harukor: An Ainu Woman's Tale

Written by Katsuichi Honda

I usually don't care for historical fiction because the history depicted in most of these novels is often inaccurate, and the author almost always presents an ethnic minority, a conquering nation (that has somehow been vindicated by history) or both in an absurdly romanticized context. I enjoyed this book because it contained no inaccuracies that I was aware of, and because the Ainu of the story were portrayed with a relative minimum of sentimentality.

The majority of the book's content is divided into three sections. The first of these is an almost exhaustive overview of Ainu history and culture, presented as much as an educational resource as a expository supplement to the book's story. Essentially, you're getting your money's worth just for this portion of the book. Scholarly English-language resources pertaining to Ainu subject matter are scarce and rather expensive. For the uninitiated, this is an excellent way to learn about this very unique ethnic group.

The second part of the book details the life of the titular character from childhood to old age, ending with the departure of her son from their village. While certain plot points feel a bit contrived, Harukor's story is touching and filled with vivid details. Honda's portrayals of women and Ainu have something in common: they are respectful but perhaps a bit too reverent. To be certain, the Ainu were undoubtedly among the most technologically and socially advanced of the world's "primitive" (re: illiterate) peoples, but all credible accounts report them as being as capable of vulgarity as they were of eloquence. This aspect of the Ainu character really should have been represented here.

The third part of the book consists of a short story concerning Harukor's son, Pasekur, and ends prior to the first armed conflict between native Ainu and Japanese settlers. While this section of the book provides closure for an extended story, it also effectively places the book's entire fiction into a historical position.

The text of the book is supplemented with a wide variety of rustic illustrations and photographs. The third part of the book is succeeded by an informative glossary that provides a translated word list of relevant terms in both Ainu and English and descriptions of a handful of people prominent in Ainu history. The translation of this text from its' Japanese-language source is quite good: colloquial and not too refined.

I'd recommend this for anyone who's interested in the Ainu or a simple, pastoral drama in a primitive setting.


Henry Huggins

Written by Beverly Cleary
Illustrated by Louis Darling

Cleary's first novel introduces her most popular boy protagonist and his mischievous pet dog, Ribsy. Immediately after adopting the lovable mutt, Henry experiences a variety of adventures: bedlam on a bus ride; mass guppy breeding and the consequences thereof; nocturnal worm collecting as a means to replace a friend's lost football; the messy resolution of an unwanted role in a school operetta; disastrous participation in a local dog show. In the book's final chapter, Ribsy's former owner comes calling for him, and what ensues is enough to make even the youngest readers cheer for Henry.

Even after six decades, the ingenuity of Cleary's scenarios and the enthusiasm of her characters still impart an enduring freshness to the proceedings in spite of the novel's dated attributes and vernacular. Louis Darling's illustrations are notably cruder than those of subsequent Cleary books, but they're no less charming or evocative of their innocent age for being so much less detailed.


If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor

Written by Bruce Campbell

As a favor to the uninitiated: if you're not a devoted fan of Bruce Campbell and his schlock-driven career, or of his frequent collaborator, director Sam Raimi, this book will bore you to sleep. If you are, get ready for fun.

Always equally and enormously self-deprecating and self-absorbed, few cult celebrities have been so enthusiastically received as Campbell, so this hefty volume's success was no surprise to anyone who's familiar with his dubious body of work. He's the B-flick Shatner of his age, a cult hero for cheese movie buffs. Here, the course and minutia of his life, career and success are laid out for every loving fan to admire in an amusing, dedicatedly accessible style. I read it just to learn more about the grueling production of The Evil Dead - the stuff of which independent B-horror legend is made - and was surprised to find myself hooked for its duration. Even productions that Campbell has engaged as performer, director or both that this reviewer hasn't a whit of interest in - Renaissance Pictures' goofy Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess TV programs; The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.; the nigh-unwatchable feature film adaptation of McHale's Navy - are recalled with anecdotes that anyone can enjoy. Of course, this tome's meatiest portions document the creation of the Evil Dead films, Crimewave, Army of Darkness, The Hudsucker Proxy and low-budget duds like Moontrap and Maniac Cop, but it's enjoyable throughout. Campbell's personal life dominates the first dozen chapters, but is necessary reading to understand how the actor developed from a pissant community theater thespian to a Super-8 performer to an underground horror icon to something akin to a respectable movie star.

Every single page of this book features a photograph, cute illustration, list or fan e-mail to better clarify its topic. This is just as well, because Campbell really is one too few motion picture veterans whose experience warrants an autobiography. He describes collaborations with character actors as varied as Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Mahoney and David Duchovny, the complications of traveling and working abroad, and the innumerable trials of filmmaking, both low-budget and otherwise.

The trade paperback edition is worth purchasing for its lengthy addendum, which documents Campbell's Chins Across America book signing tour, and all the sightseeing, locations, freakish fans and mishaps thereof. It also describes Anchor Bay's 20th anniversary Evil Dead reunion, a must for dedicated Deadites. For the truly obsessed, reading about the enjoyable yet overrated Bubba Ho-Tep (an all-too-brief account of only a few paragraphs), his raunchy appearance on The Opie and Anthony Show and the opportunity to meet devotees who have memorized his every word committed to film is at least as fun as anything else herein.

Despite its quality, this book contains faults that really ought to be addressed. Many italicized passages aren't uniformly formatted, which is unfortunate, as the layout is well-designed otherwise. An index is sorely needed to expediently direct the casual reader to any given topic. Typos are few and far between, but they are to be found in the form of homophones. More importantly, even the 2002 edition is pretty dated by now. Since its publication, Campbell has directed A Community Speaks, a documentary concerning land stewardship with his wife Ida Gearon, the horror-comedy feature Man with the Screaming Brain (still described in these pages as a disappointing, unfinanced project) and the silly vanity picture My Name Is Bruce, which was at least as enjoyable as it was underdeveloped. He's also starred in silly dreck like Terminal Invasion, Alien Apocalypse and Burn Notice, lent his voice to a number of video games and appeared briefly in quite a few popular Coen and Raimi films. An updated edition could remedy this, and is sure to shift more than a few units.


The Insanity Defense

Written by Woody Allen

Two anthologies of Allen's tripartite output were issued in 1989 and 1992, respectively: a handsomely typeset trade paperback edition plainly titled Without Feathers/Getting Even/Side Effects and the hardbound Complete Prose of Woody Allen. The former omnibus comprised the entirety of Getting Even, Without Feathers and Side Effects. The Insanity Defense's subtitle of "The Complete Prose" is a disingenuous disclaimer: Allen's comic stageplays Death Knocks, God and Death (on which his 1992 homage to Weimar expressionism Shadows and Fog is based) are omitted from the contents of this anthology...as are those of Mere Anarchy, publication of which was postponed for a year to assure both maximal sales for both. For those who aspire to amass the majority of Allen's oeuvre in print (excluding numerous dramatic works), both the original collections and aforementioned anterior compilations of this material are affordable at a paltry expense, and sport tasteful cover designs far more attractive than this volume's unsightly face.

The rating assigned this book hardly denotes the excellence of its content. Much of Allen's superlative authorship may be observed in his less recognized works; two examples of inspired, relatively neglected spoofs are If the Impressionists Had Been Dentists (what the author accurately describes as "a fantasy exploring the transposition of temperament") and The Gossage-Vardebedian Papers, which consists of correspondence in which two haughty, duplicitous chess participants engage one another in an exchange of passive-aggressive, cumulatively delusive one-upmanship. Though peppered with non sequiturs, Allen's humor is uniquely subtilized, nigh-erudite; it deserves a better presentation than this book affords.


Interior Desecrations

Written by James Lileks

No vagary of fashion or passage of time could ever treat so cruelly of this volume's hideous digest of interior design as its curator -- Minnesotan proponent of satiric snark, James Lileks. Why not? His asseveration of the nineteen-hundred and seventies as the nadir of interior decoration is exhaustively corroborated by a stupefying succession of grisly splash pages and sordid spreadheads winnowed from a detestable selection of books, catalogs and pamphlets dating from '70 to '77, preserving artifacts of impossible opprobrium: sprawling expanses of shag carpeting (whereupon planetary camber may be descried) span unnavigable parlors cluttered with sofas of screaming variegation and coffee tables on which cryptical gimcrackery accrues to the perpendicular effrontery of tacky paisley and houndstooth, or looming xanthous partitions on which a welter of ugly falderol has been bolted; kitchen fixtures hued of processed cheese, bilious discharge and murder clash violently with drab, pseudo-floral prints, gray drapes and perpetuating mirrors; embrowned dens were observed as scenes of previously unimaginable sins postulating suspended bric-a-brac buckets, molding wicker and orange coffee tables sullenly elevated to ankle height; wallpaper striations everywhere -- from bathroom to garret -- cowed the sighted and terrorized piteous potheads; checkered and hexagonal patterns of brown, orange and tan assumed an obtrusive, oft-contiguous preponderance everywhere, diffusing from seat cushions to walls to polyester carpets from which wild fauna flee. Every convention characteristic of sane and habitable decor was deemed dispensable.

By what dementia was a bathroom of flossy carpets and nauseant curvilinear walls engendered, or iniquity were massive arrows commuted for friezes to designate fixtures and converge to aught in corners? Of what lunacy could embedded ladders in sitting rooms that rose to entresols too narrow for feline traffic have ensued? Many of these cataclysmic designs attempt to resolve color schemes of a repugnance so profound (teal consorts with orange; burgundy is insinuated in unholy congress with brass; violet is interposed with warm colors as apes invited to a soiree) that this discordant grotesquerie could well have been amalgamated from contrasting cultures. That which harmonizes does so only by virtue of a singular and unsightly plentitude, metastasizing ugliness: a garish lime floral print is propagated across valances, comforters, upholstery, drapes, columns; elsewhere, one plush synthetic rug of mephistophelian chromaticity concords in silent assent to heinous carmine plaid wallpaper by which coordinated upholstery, tablecloth and lamp shades are effectively camouflaged. Oppugnant bedspreads of distorted rhombus figures repeated in white, brown, orange and tan are reflected by those of adjacent wallpaper in defiance of the Lord's providence.

Neither appliances nor furniture nor trumpery of these selections were designed to furnish any luxuriance for humanity. Ovate and orthogonal frill of no imaginable function squander the scant space of translucent coffee tables. High-backed seating apposite to an airport concourse was upholstered and emplaced in a kitchen about a marble tabletop unwisely mounted upon a precarious Perspex pillar. Crafted in imitation of an egg slicer's configuration, wire-frame chairs threaten to incise parallel furrows into the derrieres of their occupants. A massive, asymmetic stretch of white fabric occurring in curls that terminate to acumen broods over a bedspread evidently comprised of conjoined canine limbs. Cable reel flanges were utilized as headboards, and canopy posts fashioned to resemble minaret spires. Worst, a telephone booth of constraining enclosure was erected indoors and furnished with a stabile chair, the width of which stymied entry. Folly of appalling inanity ran amok.

Finally, the ostensive artwork that adorned walls and tables, disquieting all present, represents a horrid convergence of faux avant-garde, post-representational dreck: slapdash watercolor shapes convey a puerile conception of cubism; miserable children and adolescents are depicted in somber graphics allusive of the sepulchral; enlarged photographic exposures of indeterminate splotches resemble crudely colorized colonoscopy images; geometric shapes are subjected to the most uninspired conformations imaginable, manifest in vapid, framed prints; a bronze bust of a downcast cancer victim pulls the room together in commiseration; acrylic montages abound, enabling a cottage industry of uninspired hausfrauen and art majors; a cluster of pastel crimson structures exude intimations of the macabre; painted in vivid detail and mounted over a fireplace, a god-damned bifurcated head of blanched broccoli; fifth-rate surrealism denoting nothing in which Dalian elements are poorly rendered and clumsily juxtaposed; rainbows are inverted and scorched wood employed as "found" ornamentation; transposed from '50s television, a clown's portrait leers at your dormant parity with minacious intent; a ballpoint likeness of Chopin composed of lissom feminine bodies likewise ogles all passerby; an illustration of a septisect Elizabethan squire and mirrors fitted to the mouths of frogs agape were intended for installation in a child's bedroom.

His aplomb seldom flagging, Lileks derides this phenomenal abeyance of propriety and discernment with ingenious quips, conjecture doubly hilarious for its sapience and evocative, often redoubtable scenarios of the anxious, languid, embittered and copacetic of '70s suburban domesticity. His abomination for these wretched manifold constituents and lunatic flourishes is fitly arranged with a layout of requisite pastiche, its text formatted in variants of Pump/Bauhaus, Avant Garde and other famed ITC typefaces of the period against backdrops of wallflower graphics. Each chapter of repellent furnishment is secernated in accordance with a color code: Entryways is imbued a mustard hue; Living Rooms, pea soup; Bathrooms, sky; Bedrooms, vomit; Kitchen & Dining, dull brass; Dens & Family Rooms, burnt orange. Antidotal to misguided nostalgia, this retrospective treatise declaims the domiciles of a culture that briefly repudiated all discrimination pertaining to interior ornament prior to a reclamation of sense in the succeeding era of cool white tiles, Lucite balustrades and clean contours.

Lileks is of this era's superficies engrossed to his revulsion, and so pessimizes a decade of sublime cinema, salutary cynicism and a hitherto unprecedented prosperity unique to the twentieth century as the abject age of extortionate fuel, governmental malfeasance and caterwauling matrimonial duets of dubious talent -- as though the latter assessment couldn't be transposed in address of the present. Such ingrained contempt is a corollary of any asperity eventuated of protracted exposure to these egregious trends, and this malicious representation of an otherwise delightfully meretricious era is among the most jaundiced of any in print...and splendid satire, besides.


Irish Elections, 1918 - 1977: Parties, Voters and Proportional Representation

Written by Cornelius O'Leary

O'Leary's little tome provides information of significant detail on every Irish election that occurred from the aftermath of the Easter Rising through the development of the Irish Free State and the establishment of the Republic proper. Events related to the elections and the electoral process are given sufficient review so as to place their relevance into context, but the book's title clearly defines its' ultimate focus.

Obviously, a significant amount of text is committed to discussion of Ireland's brand of PR that, while entirely relevant, may seem a bit tedious for foreigners who aren't personally familiar with the unique advantages and disadvantages of this brand of electoral formula. O'Leary clearly illustrates that, for better and worse, Ireland's government and people have always been steadfastly democratic, regardless of the terrorist factions that they've tolerated (and in the case of Sinn Féin, covertly supported).

If de Valera's dominance seems overstated in parts of this book, then the reader is mistaken - Éamon de Valera was undoubtedly the most charismatic, popular and dangerously powerful figure in Irish political history. His influence on every facet of the independent nation's formative years as an educator, politician and entrepreneur cannot be underestimated. Both the positive and negative connotations of these facts should be recognized.

This book still isn't obsolete for anyone who's genuinely interested in its' subject matter. The prose is comprehensive and not too dry. However, this is best used as a reference tool; while most of it is interesting, it's not a historical book that reads comfortably from cover to cover.


Israel and the Nations in Prophecy

Written by Richard W. DeHaan

...in which the former leader of the Radio Bible Class explained and predicted significant Cold War conflicts by creatively interpreting biblical scripture. Yes, it's one of those.

To assume that reading this book cover-to-cover is a safe and reasonable activity is very wrong. If the first half somehow doesn't bore you into a coma, the bewildering fantasy of the second half will surely make your skull explode. You're better off perusing the book for its more lively excerpts. Russia is one of the more exciting topics herein (the phrase "Soviet Union" and the USSR acronym are seldom utilized, lest the author confuse his audience). For a fine example, just check out this excerpt from pgs. 130-132:

Antichrist's Sudden Change Explained

There are some other considerations which lead us to believe that the defeat of Gog and Magog will occur near the middle of the tribulation period rather than in its early months.

In the first place, the sudden collapse of Russia as a military power explains the abrupt change in the attitude of the Beast to Israel. He will not be completely comfortable about the Middle East as long as Russia exists as a great hostile power. He will feel that he needs the friendship of the Jews. Therefore, he will pledge himself to defend Israel against the Arab nations. Apparently Russia and her allies will expect to fight a major war in the Middle East when they come down. They will be anticipating a clash not only with Israel, but also with the United Western powers. When God supernaturally destroys these invading forces before they join in battle with the armies of the Middle East, the way will be clear for Antichrist to assert himself as the absolute world ruler, and even to demand that mankind worship him. We know from Daniel 9 that this will occur in the middle of the seven-year period. This certainly indicates that Russia will be defeated very shortly before the mid-point of Daniel's seventieth week.

Antichrist will apparently produce an image of himself, place it in the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, and demand that men worship him through this image or die. Speaking of the False Prophet, the religious leader who works with the Beast, Revelation 13:15 declares,

And he hath the power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

Jesus referred to this same incident in His Olivet discourse when He said,

When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand),
Then let them who are in Judaea flee into the mountains;
Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house;
Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes (Matthew 24:15-18)

Russia's crushing defeat will trigger this sudden display of "power madness" on the part of the Beast. We know that from this point on he will continue as ruler for 42 months, according to Revelation 13:5 where we read, "...and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months." This places the fulfillment of the Gog and Magog prophecy very near the middle of the tribulation period.

Eerily prescient, eh? You'll have to read the book itself to savor the author's perspective of the titular Jewish state, which is just too much for anyone else's words.

Read with caution.


Japanese Prints

Written and edited by Gabriele Fahr-Becker

Taschen's products have always impressed me. The high quality of these art books seems incongruous with their low prices, and most of them are expertly arranged and written. But this overview of the Ukiyo-e phenomenon is especially notable: every one of the exceptional print reproductions featured in this volume is accompanied by an excellent summary of the print's characteristics, as well as the technical, cultural and commercial circumstances in which it was created. This permits the reader to not only marvel at the exquisite, lively beauty of these prints, but to also learn more about the Edo-period culture in which they were first produced and appreciated.

An extensive glossary of technical terms and biographies of every artist whose works are featured here are included; in a pinch, these serve as excellent reference resources. Fahr-Becker's familiarity with Ukiyo-e is exhaustively thorough, almost intimate. If you only have enough space and money to purchase one book concerning the visual arts of the Tokugawa era, this is the one to buy.


John Willis' 1979 Film Annual Screen World

Edited by John Willis

More a time capsule than a useful reference source, this handsome edition (the thirtieth of its series) lists summary production information accompanied by attractive grayscale film stills and publicity photos of every major motion picture - both domestic and foreign - released in the United States in 1978. Cinephiles won't learn anything new from this, but it's nonetheless entertaining to see the likes of Christopher Walken, Anthony Hopkins, Faye Dunaway, et al. when they were still so fresh-faced. Featuring radiant head shots, the "Promising New Actors 1978" chapter includes the likes of Christopher Reeve, Eric Roberts, Brooke Shields, Olivia Newton-John and Brad Davis, and may generate some sort of dizzy nostalgia for anyone who was a theatergoer then. Comprehensive biographical data, obituaries and a complete index facilitate easy research.

A hardbound edition as neatly typeset, designed and organized as this one could never be published these days for such mundane subject matter. Obviously, this volume's content can't compare to the breadth and detail of information that IMDB affords, but it's a worthwhile novelty. If you see any edition from this series at a thrift store or yard sale, pick it up; if nothing else, it's a great conversation piece.


The Man In the Glass Booth

Written by Robert Shaw
Photographed by Bert Andrews

Reading this aloud, I was surprised more than once at the boldness of its language in my own voice, a clear indication that it's retained its dramatic force since it was first staged over four decades ago. Penned as a bittersweet acknowledgment of the Nostra Aetate, the reconciliatory announcements by Pope Paul VI that preceded it and the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Shaw's third stage play (adapted from his novel of the same title) is among the most fiercely caustic dramatic works pertaining to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

This titular man is an eccentric Jewish property magnate in the prime of his career. Soon after bewildering his obsequious assistant, physician and tailor with dangerously erratic and weirdly antisemitic behavior, he's arrested by Mossad agents who allege that he's actually a former Einsatzgruppen Colonel who's assumed the identity of a deceased concentration camp inmate. Detained in Israel during the second act, the lunatic tycoon is interrogated and arraigned; what he reveals during the course of his imprisonment and trial is bizarre beyond imagining, almost as much so as the truth that he's desperate to conceal.

Impossible and engrossing, Shaw's effort here was reportedly as controversial as he could have expected. Wrongly interpreted by some as anti-Jewish, this is as far from the preachy, saccharine storytelling that comprises too many postwar Holocaust-related stories as one could hope for. As a result, this is a curiously original perspective of many familiar themes: the politics of identity, the vanity of martyrdom and the personal cost of war and genocide - guilt, madness and loss. Even at its final resolution, the tension of the second act is not released by a redemptive catharsis; rather, it lingers on as the curtain falls. If only for effect, Shaw could be as cruel at his two-tiered writing desk as so many of the characters he portrayed on stage and screen.

Published to coincide with the 1968 staging of the play at the Royale Theater in New York, the '68 hardbound edition is an attractive volume that features ten illustrative photographs shot at the play's premiere. The American production was directed by Harold Pinter and starred Donald Pleasence, Lawrence Pressman and Ronni Gilbert. Both Jack Hollander and a young F. Murray Abraham played two very different parts each, and Abe Vigoda also had a small role! Pleasence was surely perfect in the lead role - one can easily imagine him as the paranoid, manic mogul - and the photos of this edition make it very easy to imagine just how tremendous his lauded performance was; even those critics who didn't care for the play had many kind words for him.


One Man's Chorus

Written by Anthony Burgess
Selected and introduced by Ben Forkner

A posthumous omnibus collecting the late topical prose of twentieth-century England's most colorful novelist/essayist/poet/critic/playwright/linguist/translator/composer was at least so crucial as inevitable! Among those brief articles collected in this handsome volume: a glowing, penetrative overview of Alice in Wonderland and its mathematician fictionist; address of A Clockwork Orange's final, metanoiac chapter, excised in its American editions until 1986; effluent, graphic praise for the magnificence of imagination invested in Gaudí's edifices, (deliberately?) contemporaneous with Teshigahara's filmic documentary of the Catalan master architect's oeuvre; pleasantly personal inquiries of British Francophilia and the interminably unsteady Anglo-French alliance and cultural exchange; conspectus of ancient Hebrew punning and irony as a foundation of Ashkenazim prevalence in modern comedy; laudatory acknowledgment of Orson Welles' indisputable genius as a master craftsman of his medium whose cunning resourcefulness trumped his financial restrictions; acknowledgment of Hamlet as theatrical genius manifest in its every thrilling part rather than its rather disjointed whole; one anecdote of maddening inconveniences suffered by the author on what ought have been a luxurious trip by Concorde from Nice to San Juan; stated esteem for J.R.R. Tolkien's prowess as a scholar of Anglo-Saxon linguistics oppugnant to Burgess's dim view of Tolkien's popular fiction and its sexless Germanic paradigm; nostalgic regret for the diminution by prejudicial curtailment of itinerant lifestyles in postwar Europe; tepid contempt for both Iron Lady Thatcher's authoritarian inclinations and the dysfunctional socialist government that hers supplanted; frustration concerning and grudging admiration for forceful Francophone chauvinism and grammatic stringency on two continents; one thoroughly modern summary history of European royalty in praise of nominal monarchy and jeering dismissal of republicanism; reverence for Kipling's exhaustive pencraft and unparalleled intuition in service to empire; an amused, bemused observation of Cartesian predominance in the French perspective that subordinates reality to abstraction; reserved regard for the singular history and society of a gloomy, nebulously morbid Venice characterized by grandeur and decrepitude; a favorable description of debut novel A Vision of Battlements, its vicissitudes of publication and the experiential influence imparted to it by Burgess's military service on the Rock of Gibraltar; so much more that a literary critique can scarcely convey the fullest scope of the accomplished polymath's purview.

Ultimately, this compilation is perhaps better assessed in discussion than by review, especially for those enthusiasts of Burgess and his favored subjects. Nonetheless, it is wonderful, addictive reading throughout. Organized by folk story preservationist Ben Forkner - whose introduction and section prefaces prove elegant, if unmemorable - the book's contents are grouped thusly: Genius Loci - stories and evaluations of travel, language and locale; In Our Time (and Other Reflections) - monographs of contemporary issues; Ars Poetica - treatises of artists and exceptional specific works; Anniversaries and Celebrations - writings providing illumination for the Burgessian nigh-obsession with the jubilee and especially centenary, for which those of Kipling, Ravel, Chaplin, Hopkins, among others - but especially beloved Joyce - are honored. Britain's last great Catholic adored music, literature, and above all, language itself. These formerly "uncollected writings" serve as yet another reminder of Burgess's erudition and love for lingual, artistic and cultural exploration...and juxtapositional comparison.


The Prestige

Written by Christopher Priest

First presented to their audiences was a promise of misdirection that seemed to confirm what those in attendance knew.
Then came an execution of a seemingly impossible act.
Immediately thereafter - the prestige, that astonishing and inexplicable result of a successful illusion.
Necessarily, the titular third stage of this achievement is of paramount importance, its success dependent on the secrecy of a comparatively ordinary act. Yet if the deed itself is just so extraordinary as the prestige, if magic beggars illusion as a presentation veracious to the senses, then what is magic if not the introduction of the unprecedented?

Nine decades after the successes of two rival Victorian stage magicians subsided to obscurity, their descendants - an unimaginative journalist and a peeraged inheritor - are brought together by the latter's deceit to solve a weird and terrible mystery in consequence of their ancestors' bitter feud. In the course of their lengthy written accounts, one of these prestidigitators is revealed a principled, industrious thaumaturgist of working-class stock, the other an equally sedulous showman of aristocratic lineage and visionary inspiration. Proving with finality that what was once imagined can be realized in actuality by dint of electromotive appurtenance, one of these obsessed entertainers duplicates the other's ingenious trick by means as extraordinary as its effect, for which both men and their descendants suffer fatal and enduring tragedy. Engaging their common profession and one another with fundamentally dissimilar tactics, neither man fully comprehends how flawed, vulnerable and ultimately proficient the other is until both have fallen inexorably to ruin.

Boasting characterization far more involved and ramified than its speculative elements, Priest's novel was written almost entirely in the first person. Uniformly organized, its narratives are comprised of the following contents: an introduction by the reporter which initiates the book's frame story; a brief autobiography scribed by the workingman performer; an unsettling anecdote disclosed by the patrician scion that supplements and furthers the frame; the diaries of her accomplished forebear; a thrilling conclusion in which the last of many ghastly and wondrous secrets are laid bare.
As usual, Priest's prose throughout is easily read. Though the mundane journalist refers to the polish of his Victorian progenitor's writings as labored, both his vernacular and that of his sworn opponent evinces a balance of contemporary accessibility and some verisimilitude of Victorian eloquence.

Through his characters' exploits, Priest assays personal themes pertaining to duplicity and obsession, as well as greater cultural concerns of the period - entrepreneurial ambitions, advancements of entertainment and the wonders of emerging technologies at the dawn of modernity.
Resonant with a fin-de-siècle ethos, this tale's protagonists and their feats bespeak an influence owed the era's luminaries of legerdemain: John Nevil Maskelyne, the Davenport Brothers, Ching Ling Foo and his famous competitor, William Robinson. Faith, both men's careers are advanced and forever altered through fictional interactions with Maskelyne, Foo and especially one Nikola Tesla, colorfully though credibly depicted as the unwitting originator of his employer's supreme achievement and grisly downfall.

Readers who open this volume expecting a narrative identical to that of Christopher Nolan's exceptional feature film adaptation are likely to be surprised and pleased by how very different these two tellings are. Unsurprisingly, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's screenplay further exploits the virtues of its medium with an array of visual metaphors and a painstakingly intricate - though wholly accessible - narrative bereft of linearity. To confound expectations of those who read the book, the Nolans also altered numerous key plot points, excised and modified many characters, and jettisoned sub-plots and frame story alike. Hence, Nolan's picture is a sleek, plot-driven condensate of Priest's phenomenal totality.

Hardly enough contemporary science-fiction literature exists which elicits horror, awe and inquisitiveness from its readers. His best work confirms that Priest knows full well what the genre deserves and how any given subject is best broached in a context of spectacular possibility. The Prestige is more than a love letter to an age of unparalleled progress and those assiduous practitioners of its most mysterious entertainment. In those thematic and stylistic traditions established by Wells and Lovecraft, it's also a tribute and cautionary yarn to the obsession of excellence.


Ramona the Pest

Written by Beverly Cleary
Illustrated by Louis Darling

Among all of Cleary's books, this one may be the most dear. The mischievous titular protagonist is surely the author's most beloved character, and she serves as a vessel for Cleary's uncanny comprehension of juvenile experiences and perceptions. Ramona's joys, adventures and trials are not merely the stuff of fiction; any child or adult who retains a clear memory of childhood will be able to relate to them. Inceptive conflicts with peers, tumultuous relations with authority figures and that first loose tooth are all explored, and both the significant and trivial experiences that Ramona endures all seem as genuine as reality. Many of Cleary's other principal characters figure prominently in the story's proceedings: quintessential schoolboy Henry Huggins and his adventuresome dog, Ribsy, older sister Beezus and Ramona's patient parents. But the focus on the sometimes bratty, well-meaning kindergarten-age child and her exploits is what drives the narrative of this book, and has preserved it far better than many of Cleary's other older titles. Over four decades after its initial publication, this is still as charming and relevant as it ever was.

As in all of his collaborations with Cleary, Louis Darling's numerous illustrations for this book are excellent. Every black-and-white image is rendered with vigorous flair, perfectly portraying the childish excitement and humor of Ramona's world.


Ribsy

Written by Beverly Cleary
Illustrated by Louis Darling

Fourteen years after introducing the lovable canine companion of her star character Henry Huggins, Beverly Cleary decided that the affable mutt deserved an adventure of his own. In creating one, she demonstrated a comprehension of the dog's mind as astute as her famously insightful depictions of children. Separated from his young master through a series of chaotic events, playful, inquisitive Ribsy finds himself briefly adopted by an overwhelmingly friendly bunch of young siblings, a lonely, elderly widow, a class of second-grade students and an opportunistic boy, all of whom find something to admire in the talented pooch. While exploring strange houses, a school, a football field and a tenement building, Ribsy's innocent observations and impressions are entirely plausible, especially to anyone who's ever owned a dog! These misadventures are usually pleasant, sometimes troublesome and occasionally embarrassing for the canid protagonist, whose genial demeanor helps him to overcome more than a few difficulties and discomforts. Several of the book's many amusing incidents are depicted in simple, vivid illustrations again sketched by Louis Darling, Cleary's first and best artistic collaborator. For Cleary fans and avid readers of any age who just love dogs, this couldn't be more heartily recommended.


The Rules of Attraction

Written by Bret Easton Ellis

If you were a WASPy, spoiled, vacuous student of a liberal-arts college in the mid-'80s and you jumped from one empty relationship to another and mulled obsessively over every mundane detail in your aimless life while thinking in run-on sentences, this book was written just for you. But I can't imagine possibly being interested, much less intrigued, by The Rules of Attraction. Ellis' second novel is only notable for being almost entirely unexceptional.

Most of this story is recounted in a first-person narrative by central characters Paul, Lauren and Sean, among a handful of other friends, relatives and acquaintances. They spend most of their time ingesting all manner of drugs, legal and otherwise. They jump into bed with whoever looks good at the moment. They usually avoid anything resembling responsible behavior by habit. And when they aren't whining over every minor misfortune that befalls them, they're trying desperately to fool themselves (and us) into believing that the few positive aspects of their lives are so much more engrossing than they actually are.

In terms of accuracy and structure, there isn't anything particularly objectionable about this story. What exists of the plot was cunningly conceived, and the dialogue is entirely authentic. Ellis possesses a very keen wit, but it's utilized far too infrequently; for every hilarious incident that's depicted here, there are a half-dozen that very nearly put me to sleep. These characters are realistic, decadent, impulsive and thoroughly boring. The story moves along at a lively pace, but these people are so self-absorbed and their respective tellings of each sequence are so pedestrian that slogging through this rather short book is quite a chore. Even contradictions found in comparison of any two self-serving, entirely subjective accounts of a common episode aren't terribly engaging.

The most frustrating aspect of this story is that the only interesting characters here are confined to its periphery: flighty Victor, fastidious Patrick (Bateman, titular American Psycho) and Eve, Paul's emotionally estranged mother. If these characters had been afforded a greater share of the narrative, this book might have been a much more engaging read.

Setting aside the minutia of this critique, it must be noted that this entire genre of popular fiction has been rendered obsolete by the Internet. At any time, I can access a wealth of blogs scribed by self-obsessed wretches who are every bit as dysfunctional as the spoiled brats of this banal, miserable volume, most of whom have much more intriguing exploits to relate. I can read about and laugh at their pathetic lives for free and this book doesn't convey anything profound either, so of what use it it?


The Rum Diary

Written by Hunter S. Thompson

Not a decade before his invective was sharpened to a stabbing point, before he was paired with a British illustrator whose deranged inspirations garishly smeared freakish descriptions of latter-day institutional knavery and meretricious serfdom between paragraphs, before Bill Cardoso's hands first typed the word "Gonzo" in famed description, perhaps months prior to so many extraordinarily graphic accounts of bikers, junkies, politicians and other figures who deserved the periphery of society's attention rather than the central focus they enjoyed, Hunter S. Thompson scribed a novel in which his gifts of character analysis and period evocation were readily evident. The Rum Diary assumes a depth and maturity that belies the age of its author (HST was but twenty-two when he started it), and which outstrips the more vividly involved yet two-dimensional quality of his later fiction and reportage. Perhaps not entirely comfortable with himself or his relative lack of experience (America's most visible madman journalist and author was not yet a founding luminary of New Journalism), Thompson opted to burden a wholly fictional character - transient columnist Paul Kemp - with his identity, which would later be so amplified and distinguished to defy the notion of an invented equivalent.

Fleeing from hostile, inclement New York to steamy San Juan, Kemp finds employment at The Daily News, a mediocre Anglophone newspaper floundering in the shadow of the Miami Herald. Based very loosely on The San Juan Star (then newly founded and far more successful in reality), the News is at best a middling establishment owned and managed by one Ed Lotterman, a former communist of dubious competence whose newsroom is occupied by drifting wastrels and gifted professionals alike. Kemp's colleagues include: photographer Robert Sala, whose obsessive pessimism conceals essential decency; brutish, choleric Yeamon, a reporter of modest talent and a propensity for trouble; scheming, underhanded Nick Segarra, a sinecured fortunate son whose position is secured solely by dint of liaison; libertine newsman Moberg, a debauched and perverted Swede on the police beat; news desk editor Schwartz, an orderly workaholic whose joviality and competence belies an occasionally vicious temperament. Most prominent among Kemp's other acquaintances are Hal Sanderson, an amiable public relations executive secretly desperate to escape his humble Midwestern roots through success; churlish Marine Corps veteran Zimburger, whose ambitions as a tourism real estate developer both fascinate and revolt our protagonist; Yeamon's girlfriend Chenault, a zaftig, oversexed nymphet whose amorous appetites secrete an uncommon tenderness. Not one of this lot doesn't drink his or her weight in rum in the course of this story - a tasty luxury that speeds their course to personal and professional disaster.

Written in HST's uncomplicated, idiomatic prose and consequently brimming with imaginative analogue and picturesque description, The Rum Diary only suffers in dearth of that redemptive undercurrent of black humor that pervaded Thompson's best work. A darkness borne of his characters' fear, paranoia and doubt renders too many chapters ponderous without sufficient comic relief - a balance that HST maintained long thereafter. Nonetheless, there's so much to admire of a book credibly written in a perspective of weathered middle-age in rueful reminiscence to one's early thirties, by a man who wasn't yet in his mid-twenties. Most of Thompson's characterizations and scenarios were inspired by his acquaintanceship with employees of the Star and his own position at a struggling sports publication, and both his experiences and those of others molded Kemp's misadventures. As Thompson observed, so Kemp painfully evaluates the savagery of rural natives, police and tourists alike in Puerto Rico and neighboring St. Thomas, and their common venality shared by ugly American opportunists, most but a generation - perhaps two - removed from peasantry themselves, all intent on profiting from postwar expansion. Here, too, The Rum Diary is nearly unique among fiction of its age: few other American authors lamented the impending loss of natural beauty in the wake of development as soulfully as Thompson. Its penultimate chapter strikes home with manslaughter before a gently melancholy conclusion, scribed with prose so expressive that a reader may well smell, taste and hear Caribbean sea breeze, shot-glass rum, noise of argument, motorcycle and jukebox in predawn San Juan.

This is nearly as smart, lively, gutsy and sexy as American novels came in the '60s, a story of its moment and locale celebrating the wearily righteous (though hardly innocent) set adrift in a depraved world, a distinction that assured its rock-solid moral core.


Scottish Proverbs

Compiled and edited by Julie McDonald
Calligraphed and illustrated by Esther Feske

Befitting any spirited soiree, postprandial repose or protracted lull upon one's laxative throne, this slight compendium of apothegms sublimated by the characteristic concision of Scottish vernacular consists of epigrams profound, practical and wry, winnowed in extract from oral traditions and excerpting the verse of iconic Ayr metrician Robert Burns, whose poesy prefaces topics remitted to ascent of mull, such as Canny Observations.:

Craft must have clothes, but truth goes naked.
No weather's ill, if the wind be still.
Trouble follows all extremes.

...Concerning the Almighty:

Danger past, God forgotten.
No tear should fall on the face of a good man dying.
...Friends and Neighbors:
Be slow in choosing a friend, and slower in changing him.
The shortest road's where the company's good.
...Human Nature:
When I did well, I heard it never; when I did ill, I heard it ever.
Fools look to tomorrow, while wise men use tonight.
...Love and Marriage:
He who tells his wife all is newly married.
Never marry for money; ye'll borrow it cheaper.
...Money and Property:
A shroud has no pockets.
The purse of a sick person prolongs his care.
Content is no child of wealth.
...Sage Advice:
Give your tongue more holidays than your head.
If you don't see the bottom, don't wade.
You can beguile none but those who trust in you.
...Food and Drink:
He that buys land buys stones,
he that buys beef buys bones,
he that buys nuts buys shells,
he that buys good ale buys nothing else.

Handsomely printed and bound in a cover of Black Steward plaid, this slender book sports graceful chirography of faux Insular Half-Uncial and Anglo-Saxon Miniscule scripts beseeming the lineament of these maxims, and delineations of Burns, a lion of Royal Arms, a bagpipe set, thistles (adorning corners of page delimitations), et cetera, rendered by the skilled hand of one Esther Feske. Its brevity of content would entail a binding of mere staples were every page not blank overleaf; as adumbrated, its succinct length gibes with the terseness of the axioms within.


Shohei Imamura

Edited by James Quandt

Japanese cinema's dauntless postwar cultural anthropologist and satirist deserved a better account in Anglophone print than this ponderous, somnific selection of insipid treatises and middling interviews. Substantive literature in treatment of Imamura consisted exclusively of Japanese and French publications prior to this volume, and that hasn't changed.

Numerous interviews with Imamura herein yield only a modest insight into the filmmaker's themes, propensities and M.O.; far better may be found online. Most of the essays belabor ignorant speculation in regard to his output; expectedly, a feckless superfluity of conjecture and canard concerning the nuberu bagu doyen's topics and politics are expounded in substandard prose. Filming techniques and narrative innovations peculiar to Imamura's oeuvre are largely disregarded. The filmmaker's lively responses to stock interview queries and expositions pertaining to his preferred subjects and colleagues constitute the book's only substantial content. Imamura's affectionate portrayals of Yuzo Kawashima's aberrant lifestyle and successes are admirable delineations of his mentor, though no less penetrating for their sentiment. Published to coincide with North American theatrical screenings of The Eel, this anthology also wants for any documentation of Imamura's final two features. Ultimately, it's marginally more informative than and invested with the competence routinely observed in a Midnight Eye article: the nadir of source in essay of Japanese motion pictures.

For Francophone Imamura enthusiasts, cinema historian Hubert Niogret's Shohei Imamura: Entretiens et Temoignages is an adequate (if not exhaustive) resource far preferable to this squandered effort.


Swimmy

Written and illustrated by Leo Lionni

Lovely watercolor paintings and elegant, elliptic prose render an inspirational fable of a cunning wee fish's communal calamity by predation, peregrinating observations of polyps, crustaceans, coelenterate, et al. and ultimate triumph, the entirety of which may be comfortably digested by children. A unique celebration of personal and collective values, the author's narrative demonstrates how the salvatory ingenuity of exceptional individuals can transmit sublimity to and thusly preserve an able ingroup, here emblemized by a confluent shoal. Lionni's practical acquaintance in Italian avant-garde circles and occupation as a commercial graphic designer informed the stylism of his found-collage stampings, applied here in vivid, varicolored evocation of aquatic flora and fauna, and stony environs of brackish climes.

Few picture books are so requisite to a juvenile library as this title.


Turn Me On!

Written by Jack W. Thomas

Back when suburban NORPs and counterculture slackers alike lost their minds over relatively insubstantial "problems" on a weekly basis, the entertainment industry capitalized on both groups by pitting them against one another with an endless supply of exploitative popular films, music and literature filled to brimming with irritating, self-righteous moral posturing for both groups to relate to and lap up, as they predictably did. Located somewhere between Reefer Madness and one of those episodes of Hawaii Five-O in which Jack Lord pursued dangerous hippies, this slim volume was just one of many to cater to the straights by depicting out-of-control youth as the lunatics that they were once in a rare while - hardly a phenomenon unique to the sixties.

"The savage shock novel of the year!" proclaims a blurb at the foot of its back cover. Well, the month, anyway. "The sensational novel of a teen-age reign of terror" reads its reverse, beside a lurid picture of the book's underage femme fatale. Perhaps a malevolent spree would be a better way to describe these exploits of a slutty sociopath who turns on, tunes out, and acts like a raging, oversexed ass at every opportunity. Accompanied by a beefy ne'er-do-well, a horny, well-meaning yet aimless pothead and the token scrawny, hypertensive Jewish scapegoat, cars are stolen, weed is smoked and orifices are explored as hilarious dialogue is spouted every few pages, reminding the reader that four decades ago, hipster slang was almost as moronic as ebonics is now.

From page 14:

"How do such unhip cats end up with those groovy machines?" Itchy asked.

Page 25:

He took a long pull on his stick and let out the smoke slowly as he spoke. "I'm going to build me an airlines and call it 'Joint Aviation.' Man, that's the only way to fly."

Page 26:

Flip spoke lethargically. "Man, if you were Puff the Magic Dragon, we'd all be cinders."

Page 29:

As Flip started to disappear into the dark walk-in closet, he turned his head and called over his shoulder, "Toot, I'm a train, man, this is some crazy tunnel!"

Of course, these and many other groovy utterances are all even more amusing in context, as is the melodramatic narrative, which is jam-packed with metaphors - some of which are remarkably clever and elegantly phrased, while others are so embarrassingly maladroit that one wonders if this book was really written by one person. It's hard to determine whether or not Thomas regarded this as the camp it is; after all, when writing witty banter shared by the story's amiable square characters, he exhibits a keen wit.

Shenanigans ensue until a pseudo-rape and subsequent orgy turns into a murder, and as the story finds its way to the bereaved and into a courtroom, it turns into a bummer, man. However, a series of expository stories - especially a trip to Tijuana that the teens take to explore a whorehouse and score some grass - are entertaining enough, as is an investigation by a widowed protagonist, who does all of the footwork that absentee detectives might have done if Thomas wanted to write a book with fifty fewer pages and considerably less blond fetishism. When the tale comes to a climax spattered with blood and vaginal fluid, the dialogue's hilarity reaches a fever pitch, as on page 192:

"You can't stop now, man. All along you've wanted me. This is what you've been scratching around for, dreaming of! Now give it to me the way Craig gave it to her! Scream, man, swing; trip off, give it to your little baby Eve, soul out, go, go go!"
Page 193:
"That first time was a bummer. But now I've got to have it more than pot. Because I'm the best, I'm the first! I invented sex! I'm the greatest! I'm the champion of all time! Ain't that right, Daddy? Ain't that right? Swing, ball! Tell me about it, Daddy! Soul out, go, go! Love me to death! Love Eve to death!"

I swear to god that the above text was typed verbatim to what was printed in the book; this reviewer has neither omitted nor embellished a single word. That's what sold trash novels in '69. Finally, on page 200:

Paul started to reach out to touch her, comfort her, but she hissed, "Shine me on!" For the first time in their lives, the boys were embarrassed by these words.

If you read the scant entirety of this book's two-hundred and one pages, you'll feel the same way.


West Germany is my country

Written by Bernice and Cliff Moon

In this early reader souvenir treating of central Europe's pinnacle of postwar prosperity, twenty-five Germans (and one Yugoslav guestworker) of manifold vocations are paragraphed via first-person narrative, coupled with attractive photographs of each subject's person, workplace and related locales: residences and landscapes of rural and urban splendor. Skilled laborers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, entertainers, executives, clerics, politicos, students, etc. are profiled to communicate a cursory yet veracious impression of the West German populace, geography, industry and lifestyles commonplace in the mid-'80s. An implicit ethos characterized by diligent industriousness, a restive vigilance attributable to Cold War tension and the pragmatic environmentalism of contemporary Germany is conveyed throughout. Notwithstanding its patent superannuation in an era subsequent to reunification, this book is an indispensable resource for any parent who purports to cultivate an accurate (albeit superficial) perspective of the defunct FRG.

Though fit for a sitting, a table of contents enumerating each individual and index specifying prominent topics facilitates perusal. Two pages of informational items pertaining to demography, politics, education, climate, infrastructure, etc. provide basic facts for uninitiated young readers.

We Live in West Germany, authored by one Christa Stadtler a year antecedent, is a source on which this edition's content was based. Published in the '80s, other titles of this volume's ...is my country series canvassed representatives of Greece, Israel, Kenya, Japan, Argentina, Spain, New Zealand, America, etc. Long out of print, their excellence isn't overshadowed by obsolescence.


World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime

Written and edited by Jay Robert Nash

Nobody can claim as much accomplishment and detriment in the genre of true crime reference books than Jay Robert Nash. Over the course of over forty years and seventy volumes, Nash has repeatedly ripped off consumers by intentionally planting disinformation in his (otherwise exhaustively researched) books in the course of inept attempts to, as he phrases it, "detect any unauthorized use or duplication." As a strong supporter of individual property rights and a copyright enthusiast, I find Mr. Nash's paranoia and greed to be appalling. And in this book, like so many others, his inane tactics yield a reference material littered with inaccuracies.

On the other hand, it's not as though this would be a scholarly resource if Nash were principled. While it's well-organized and quite entertaining, this condensation of Nash's six-volume Encyclopedia of World Crime is written in a slightly melodramatic style. Despite its' faults, the scope of this book's content is impressive; it documents a wide variety of individuals, organizations and events in considerable detail.

Unfortunately, this book is also hopelessly outdated. Published in 1993, no mention is made here of the Russian mob that's engaged in massive international criminal affairs to enormous profit since the Soviet Union expired.

If you want to learn about organized crime, read scholarly resources concerning specific phenomena. This book is fun and even informative to a point, and it makes for compulsive reading, but Nash's idea of what constitutes legitimate reference material is just criminal.

© 2007-2013 Robert Buchanan

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