Saturday, July 1, 2017

"Vuckovic's Horror Miscellany" by Jovanka Vuckovic

This slim volume, less than one hundred pages, is a stream-of-consciousness discussion of all things horror- games, movies, books, and real-life true crime, peppered with some nicely done illustrations and assorted quotes from writers about horror. It is also a little too much here and there.

While I was thankful that the book was indexed, the areas looked at are not only very broad, but in such a random order that reading it through in one sitting will have your head spinning. Author/film maker Vuckovic has an obvious love for the horror genre, and I did glean a few authors to check out (especially from the nineteenth century) as well as some foreign films to keep an eye out for. Her coverage of horror gaming is brief, and I only skimmed those entries since I burned myself out on video game playing in the 1980's.

All of the entries are thankfully short, and while I realize a "miscellany" means randomness, some semblance of order would have worked better. Reading an article about German Expressionism, then coming across a list of films featuring German Expressionism had me turning back and forth as if I had lost my place or was seeing a printer's error (there are a few misspellings throughout). Vuckovic's writing is definitely not heavy-handed or falsely dark, she realizes most horror is entertainment despite the black subject matter. You won't finish the book and despair over the future of mankind. The book is appropriate for both the genre newbie, and the cynical veteran who has sat through more bad horror films than he or she cares to admit. A high (* * *) out of five stars from me. Buy this book from Amazon!: Vuckovic's Horror Miscellany

Monday, June 26, 2017

Capsule Book Reviews Volume II

I'm the first to admit that these decades-old capsule reviews are awful, but I did read all of these and they're on the internet forever!:

On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back by George H. Scithers
A great book for ALL fiction writers. The 1981 editors of Asimov's magazine use stories from their own periodical to illustrate some excellent points about how to write good science fiction. Do not worry if your stories do not involve robots and aliens, any fiction writer would find plenty to help here. Despite the outdatedness, as the editors lecture on how to set your typewriter in order to produce clear manuscripts, using the short stories is a great idea. Even the stories' authors admit their work is flawed. Throw in a great bibliography and reading list, and some very funny observations from the editors about submissions (they are rejecting papers you typed on, not you personally) and this is a quick read and very informative. I highly recommend it if you can find it! (* * * * *)

Out of Bondage by Linda Lovelace
Linda Marchiano (also known as Linda Lovelace) ties up loose ends to Ordeal in this excellent followup. I read Ordeal in one day, then checked this out and read it in six hours. Please read these books before you decide to rent Deep Throat. You will never look at porn the same way again, maybe you will not look at it at all. (* * * * *)

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
Pnin is pdull. I loved Lolita, but I found this Nabokov story to be dull and pointless. I was very disappointed despite all the wonderful language he uses. (* *)

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
I was impressed with Weber's point about capitalism being an offshoot of Calvinist's trying to please God through hard work, but this is a long and tough read for the layman. (* * *)

Red Lobster, White Trash, & the Blue Lagoon: Joe Queenan's America by Joe Queenan
Joe has been funnier...I usually enjoy Queenan's work, but here the laughs were few and far between. Yes, he spoke volumes of truth, but I was often puzzled by the lack of humor. What, Joe, no Denny's review? Also, there were a few factual errors in the book that made me wonder if Joe had indeed seen a couple of the films he mentions. (* *)

Relax, It's Only A Ghost by Echo L. Bodine
Relax, it's only a book. I certainly like Bodine's breezy way of writing, but I expected a little more from this than the shallow job I received. I wish she had gone into research about the spirits she encountered so we would know for a fact that they existed as she claims. Instead, she repeats herself often about the rules of ghosts, and tacks on a ridiculous chapter about dealing with a ghost. Of course, she also claims the ultimate Catch-22: if you believe in the spirits, you can see them; if you do not see them, you are not a believer. I will wait until I see them. This was a really short read, but I wish it had more substance. (* *)

Robert Mapplethorpe: Pictures by Robert Mapplethorpe
One word: Ouch. You can always debate whether this book is "art" or not, but the fact is I am worried about what happened to some of the subjects. Helmut? Are you okay? I think Mapplethorpe wanted to shock, and he did, but I found the pictures had too much pain in them to be appreciated. I was deadened to what Mapplethorpe wanted to say, if he wanted to say anything at all. Ouch, ouch, ouch. (* *)

The Seduction of Hillary Rodham by David Brock
Sleazy title, good matter what you think of the Clintons, this is not a hack job. The writing is very balanced, if a little confusing during the Whitewater phase, and Hillary comes off as someone with flaws- her main one being her husband. Can't get enough of those Clintons! (* * * *)

The Stupidest Things Ever Said by Politicians
Very funny, which is very scary. Sure, we know how dumb things find a way to get into our politicians' mouths (Monica excluded), but this very funny book just shows how repeatedly dumb some politicians can be. Although I am Republican, I found most of the humor in Dan Quayle's quotes, of which there are many. The scary thing is we continue to elect these people to office to represent and lead us. Makes you think. (* * * * *)

Theater: A Crash Course by Rob Graham
A very funny book, I did not think the history of theater could be so funny. The author never condescends, but the information here is presented in a great format that will make you laugh out loud. Highly recommended, especially for all of those theater majors out there. (* * * * *)

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
Even the Russians have problems...I enjoyed this play immensely, although some of the relations were hard to keep track of. The characters were strongly written, and everything flowed really well. (* * * *)

VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2000
Quantity does not equal quality! Over the years I have found some glaring errors in the Retriever's Guide, including wrong names for director, writer, etc. I don't know if they still do it, but they had Don "The Dragon" Wilson starring in films from the 1930's under his filmography. Take it with a grain of salt...if they made this many mistakes in credits, how do you know the films were really watched? (* *)

VideoHound's Horror Show: 999 Hair-Raising, Hellish and Humorous Movies by Mike Mayo
Are we looking at the same book? The reviews are terrible, the non-horror choices are ridiculous (Apocalypse Now?, that's the horror of war, not horror), and the cast and director indices leave something to be desired. The author will give a film a great review, then short it in the # of bones rating. I have to recommend trimming off the fat before expanding into another edition. (*)

The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde
Doesn't do Wilde justice. While Wilde was one of the greatest wits of our time, this book of epigrams is sorely lacking. His bits of conversation are fun to read, but quotations from his written works are taken out of context and lose much because of that. I recommend this for any Wildephile, but with reservations. (* * *)

Capsule Book Reviews Volume I

I'm the first to admit that these decades-old capsule reviews are awful, but I did read all of these and they're on the internet forever!:

Aperture 154: Explorations: Nine Portfolios (Aperture Magazine)
Gorgeous, varied photography. The nine photographers featured here are so different that this edition of Aperture is a joy to look through. I really treasure this and as an amateur photographer, it inspires me to do better with my new hobby. I highly recommend this to anyone who can still find it. (* * * * *)

Cat and Mouse by Gunter Grass
Dead grass. I thought Grass' use of language rivaled Nabokov in sheer enjoyment of reading, but the story here wandered and was a little pointless. I was assigned this in a German film class, and enjoyed the film version of "The Tin Drum" much more. (* * *)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Modern Spirituality Series)
Easy and thought provoking...I have been nervous about Bonhoeffer's work until I picked up this slim volume. Although it is meant to be read day by day, I finished it in under two hours. Bonhoeffer was so uplifting, despite his final days, and this book perfectly takes his thoughts and compresses them into enough snippets that make you want to read more. I am a curious layperson who strongly recommends this little book with big ideas. (* * * * *)

Edward Weston (Aperture Masters of Photography)
Great Aperture book. Wow, a photography book that you do not have to buy with a loan application or perfect credit. Weston was such a commanding presence in so many photographic fields, and this overview of his work is great. One quibble: I wish there had been better ties between the women in his life and the nudes featured here. Who was who? Also, his bio mentions the last photo he took, but does not include it. Other than that, great work by a great artist and a great inspiration. (* * * * *)

Edward Weston: Nudes
Excellent book. This was the type of book I was looking for concerning Weston's nude photography. The background, written by his wife and model, was excellent, and the pictures were laid out perfectly. Highly recommended to any Weston fan. (* * * * *)

The Freedom Principle by Lansing Pollock
Easy to read explanation of libertarianism. Libertarians rejoice. Although this book is out of print, find it in a library and give it to your local doubter. It easily explains the libertarian philosophy in under 125 pages, and will convince even the most hardened liberal or conservative with its logic. (* * * *)

Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen
Hey, Whoopi Goldberg isn't in this...I found the play interesting, but Oswald's hysterics were melodramatic and bordered on comical. For a better play about a dysfunctional family, read Tennessee Williams. (* * *)

Guam (Let's Visit Places & Peoples of the World) by William Lutz
How to make an island paradise seem boring. Lutz writes an eighty page encyclopedia entry, giving you everything you ever wanted to know about this Pacific island, while proving he did not step foot on the island. The photographs seem to be from the 1960's, despite the 1987 book copyright date. The Guamanians are portrayed as backward and overly reliable on the government to cure its ills. Although this site lists this as a kids book, your child will be bored silly. (* *)

Harms Way: Lust & Madness, Murder & Mayhem: A Book of Photographs by Stanley B. Burns
Get out of the Way. While the photographs here were shocking, they were also exploitative. Just because they are old does not lessen the impact of photos of murdered children and freaks of nature. I am not sure what this book wanted to do, but it did not do it well. It is like reading a book version of the trashy Faces of Death video series. (* *)

Holy Hilarity by Cal Samra
More hilarity please. While this book was amusing, I have seen many of the items before, and I kept waiting for the various authors to break some real ground here, but they played it safe too often. (* * *)

Inside the White House by Ronald Kessler
Don't bother me, I'm showering off this book...Sleazy? Yes. Entertaining? Yes, to a point. Many flawed men have served as president, but many of Kessler's sources come off as bitter and possibly unreliable. I wish some of these bubble headed secretaries Johnson slept with would come forward...other than that, I think this is just a nonfiction potboiler that Harold Robbins or Jacqueline Susann would have written. Note to future presidents: try to be nice to the help and just have sex with your wives or husbands, end rumor mongering and run the country. (* * *)

Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others by Steven A. Beebe
Interpersonally...I read this book for an undergraduate class and thought it was very good. One problem-- the final chapter was too brief, they should have split it into three like the previous edition. (* * * *)

Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 1999
Comprehensive, to a point...I have been reading Maltin's books for years, but I wish he would include smaller films, and no Made -For-TV flicks. (* * * *)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Book with baggage...I hope no one refuses to read this book based on its subject matter. It is very funny, very real, and very well written. Forget about the mediocre film version of three years ago and just give this a chance. You will be pleasantly surprised. (* * * *)

Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese by Michael J. Nelson
Literally the funniest book I have ever read. I am a longtime MSTie, and this book was absolutely hilarious. Nelson's style of writing is so breezy, I felt like he was in the same room with me (although that may have been the shrine to him I erected in the linen closet). I recommend this to any movie lover, and any fellow Upper Midwesterner; it is nice to see references to other parts of the country besides L.A. and NYC. (* * * * *)

More Church Chuckles by Dick Hafer
Not all church folk are uptight. This small, funny book proves you can go to church, live a good life, and still laugh at yourself. I did not think this was as funny as the first one, but I am glad I have it. Very insightful, funny stuff here. (* * * *)

More Holy Hilarity by Cal Samra
More Holy, less hilarity. You can read my review of the first book in the series and apply it here. More of the same oft-told stories without trying anything new. I will stick to the Church Chuckles series instead. (* * *)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

"An Underground Education" by Richard Zacks

You must think you are the cat's patoot, so sure you know everything. You paid attention in class, got good grades, and everything Mr. or Mrs. Insert Teacher's Name Here said was true because they had a college degree and the bravery to stand in front of a bunch of slack jawed kids and try to teach them something. Well, have I got the book for you.

Richard Zacks explodes our often mythic look at the world. This is not just another "your teacher lied to you in school" book. Zacks backs up his own history with actual primary source documentation. As he writes, "I started muttering, 'You can't make this stuff up!'."

Zacks has divided the book into ten different sections: Arts & Literature, Business, Crime & Punishment, Everyday Life, Medicine, Religion, Science, Sex, World History, and American History. While each section can be read separately, it may be hard to put down the book after just one helping. Zacks covers a wide range of topics, but always keeps his writing simple and unpedestrian. You quickly realize that all of these icons in history were actually people just like you and me. Mata Hari was no genius spy, her mug shot taken before her execution shows a plain woman in her early forties.

William Shakespeare used to write down to his common audiences, letting loose with filthy puns lost on today's students. Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin, two of America's greatest humorists, both worked blue, writing material that you will not see in copies of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" or "Poor Richard's Almanack." You think Iraqi war profiteering is something new? Pity the poor soldiers of the Civil War, eating rancid meat and trying to fight with ancient weaponry all sold to the United States government by greedy business tycoons.

Speaking of the Civil War, did you know that almost a million slaves held in the Union states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were not freed until AFTER their enslaved brothers to the south? Thank the thirteenth amendment, since the Emancipation Proclamation only dealt with slaves in the Confederacy.

The material covered is immense, from the race to build the first electric chair to the world's first indoor toilet. Hermaphrodites, bestiality, and a pope pushing cocaine laced wine, oh my!

Zacks litters his text with photos, but they add to the prose. He lets his opinions be known often, from his outrage over the lynchings of the early twentieth century, to defending Amerigo Vespucci in light of criticism by others. Christopher Columbus does not get off as easily. He highlights the common as well as royal historical figures

"An Underground Education" is a very good read. Once in a while, Zacks makes his point early, and a couple of vignettes run a little long (especially privateers in the Revolutionary War, and some of the business anecdotes), but the things you discover will outweigh any boredom you feel. If education is the key to success, then Zacks takes that key and breaks it off in the lock. (* * * *) out of five stars. Buy this book from Amazon!: An Underground Education: The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew out Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human

"Legends & Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West" by Dale L. Walker

In twelve chapters, Walker touches on a dozen great mysteries of Western lore. He does not set out to solve any of them, but think again if you expect this book to do nothing but regurgitate old facts.

You may have heard of many of the stories in this book, since more than a few of them have been subjects of documentaries, especially on The Discovery Channel. The "real" death of Davy Crockett, what happened at the Battle of Little Big Horn, and who is buried in Jesse James' tomb have all been covered on television, too, which lends credence to Walker's research. But what about some cases you learned about in school, and find out later things may not have happened the way your teacher said?

I am writing of the strange suicide of famed explorer Meriwether Lewis in Tennessee in 1809. All my life, I was told he killed himself, and that was that. Reading Lewis' book, we find he killed himself after being attacked by an unknown assailant. He was shot in the head (exposing his brain), and offed himself before anyone else could come back and finish the, yeah. A move is on to dig up Lewis and do an autopsy (since he slashed himself to death (!)), and that might be a wise decision.

You may know that writer Ambrose Bierce wandered into revolutionary Mexico, and was never seen alive again, but did you know Boston Corbett, the man who killed John Wilkes Booth, also vanished in the American heartland? Or Black Bart, the famed stagecoach robber, also disappeared somewhere on the west coast?

What about the strange two deaths of Lewis and Clark's guide, Sacajawea? Or next time those nice missionaries from the Mormon Church come to your door and interrupt your supper, ask them about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where Church militia members and local Native Americans wiped out close to one hundred and fifty members of a wagon train, all because of lies and rumors spread about these people all over Utah?

Was Jesse James really shot in the 1880's? Did Billy the Kid really die in Arizona? Or did both men live into their nineties, getting to know each other in their new lives, and reluctantly coming out in the 1930's and 1940's? Okay, according to DNA testing, that is Jesse in his grave, lending little help to Brushy Bill Roberts' claims that he was Billy the Kid.

Living in North Dakota, I have always had an interest in Western history. George Custer left his house near present day Mandan and died in Montana. Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea spent winters up here, also near Mandan, on their great trek west and back. Teddy Roosevelt, after his mother and wife died on the same day, came to ranch near Medora, claiming he never would have had the courage to become president if it was not for his trials and tribulations in North Dakota.

Walker's book is interesting, even to laypeople who just have a passing interest in American history. The twelve chapters are evenly paced and never dull. There is an immense bibliography at the back of the book. A kind foreword by John Jakes, and Walker then plunges us into the "old days," writing expertly and with enough description to read like fine fiction.

"Legends & Lies" is a fantastic starting point if you want to start reading more about Western history. There is such a variety of true stories, you can pick and choose your subject and become an armchair expert like I thought I was, until this book opened my eyes and has forced me to do some more reading. A good book will do that to you. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Buy this book from Amazon!: Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West

"Drummer Boy: Marching to the Civil War" by Ann Turner

Author Ann Turner and illustrator Mark Hess team up to tell the story of a drummer boy who joins the Union army in the U.S. Civil War. It is a wonderful book that does not talk down to children.

The protagonist is an unnamed thirteen year old rural farm boy. His brother, Jed, has already gone ahead to him into battle, and the boy yearns to join. He makes his decision after seeing President Abraham Lincoln at a train station. The boy feels the sad president was looking right at him, needing him to serve his country. The boy's family seems rather indifferent to the slavery issue, feeling it is none of their business, but the boy does sympathize for the slaves. He writes a goodbye note, and leaves home.

He enlists, lying and claiming to be fifteen years old, and is assigned to be a drummer boy. He becomes part of his company, and then goes into his first battle. The terror of the cannon noise and falling bodies around him freeze him in place. A soldier dies holding his hand. Soon, the boy is almost a veteran, the battles run together. The faces of his friends and acquaintances blur together as well, and he takes special care to remember each and every one, since they may not be there the next day. The final page gives adults and children alike something to ponder, in the voice of the battle hardened boy: "And when the war's over and I go home, I'll stop to talk to Mr. Lincoln and tell him how it's his fault, how his great, sad eyes made me go and see things no boy should ever see."

"Drummer Boy" is a wonderful book for all ages. The text and pictures are just twenty eight pages long, with an interesting one page historical note, and Turner and Hess do not waste a word or image. Drummer boys were not just children who banged on the drums during battles, the drums were used to signal orders to the troops, making the children prime targets for the enemy.

The book is large, and every illustration by Hess would look wonderful framed on a wall. His portrait of Lincoln, and two page painting of slave quarters, are breath taking. I went back through the book at its conclusion, just trying to take in the pictures on their own. Turner does not overdo the contemporary vernacular, you come to care for this boy as a real person. Her writing is not overwhelmed by the art, both complement each other excellently.

"Drummer Boy" is appropriate for ages four through eight, according to the jacket notes. I think it is appropriate for any age above four, telling such a strong story in such little space. Truly a treasure. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Buy this book from Amazon!: Drummer Boy: Marching to the Civil War

"Verses That Hurt: Pleasure and Pain from the Poemfone Poets" by Jordan and Amy Trachtenberg

A few years ago a voice mail was set up in New York City, and poets were called in every month to read a new poem everyday onto the message. Then the public could call in everyday, listen to the poem, and respond after the beep with anything they had to say. The poems were recorded on an album, and the best printed in this wonderful book.

The book came out in 1997. The phone number they have listed in the introduction is either wrong or changed, I called it twice and kept getting the voice mail to someone named "Kika." The poets in this book are: Penny Arcade, Tish Benson, Nicole Blackman, David Cameron, Xavier Cavazos, Todd Colby, Matthew Courtney, M. Doughty, Kathy Ebel, Anne Elliot, Janice Erlbaum, Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, John S. Hall, Bob Holman, Christian X. Hunter, Shannon Ketch, Bobby Miller, Wanda Phipps, Lee Renaldo, Shut-Up Shelley, Hal Sirowitz, Sparrow, Spiro, Edwin Torres, and Emily XYZ. All the poets get at least three poems, and very good portraits by photographer Christian Lantry. The poems are short enough that you can probably get through this in one sitting, or read a poet a day.

Penny Arcade starts the book off with a bang, using some really incredible verse. Tish Benson is next with poems that read like lazy blues songs, but filled with so much detail and activity, you can almost hear Billie Holliday gruffly whispering this in your ear. Nicole Blackman and her section is also incredible as she seems to speak for so many women who cannot find their own voice except hers. David Cameron's writing, while readable, is a little bland, like a freshman creative writing class. Despite his obvious emotion, I felt he was holding back on his own writing. Xavier Cavazos's section is slightly better, except for an entire poem that slams Rush Limbaugh. It may have been very clever when written and read, but it just give conservatives like Limbaugh more ammunition to go after art that they do not believe in. Why not a poem about Parkay hawking corporate monkey Al Franken, who had so much success slamming Limbaugh? Or Dennis Miller, whose rants against everybody was quickly dashed by asinine long distance ads. Nothing worse than a sell out. Todd Colby does better work with paragraph poems than traditional verse poetry. Matthew Courtney reads like poorly written Allen Ginsberg, full of "shocking" imagery and without a point. M. Doughty's work is scary and involving, and not your traditional stuff. Kathy Ebel left me with no response. I read it, I was done, and I was not terribly moved. Anne Elliot reads like poorly written Matthew Courtney. Janice Erlbaum is wonderful, filling a sonnet and sestina with modern situations, turning antiquity on its ear. Ginsberg is Ginsberg. Being a little familiar with his work, I expected to see poems about gay sex, followed by verses about a frog. Ginsberg is so Ginsberg. John Giorno's two poems are shocking, about more gay sex, and taking drugs. He seems to be shocking without TRYING to be shocking. I guess you could say his shock is natural.

John S. Hall also seems to be writing without getting to the heart of his point. His verse is so much posturing. Bob Holman is a bit of a bore, with quite a few poems here. Again, none stuck with me. Christian X. Hunter takes me into his world and it was hard to get out. He is probably my favorite poet here. Shannon Ketch reads like John S. Hall. Bobby Miller's very personal poems made me nostalgic for a time I could never experience. He writes about his first homosexual experience, and protesting Vietnam, so vividly, you swear you are there. Wanda Phipps opens with an angry poem, and never lets up. She is not threatening, but she has a lot to say. Lee Ranaldo also did not do it for me, his listed words seemed glossy and packaged. Shut-Up Shelley is fun because she is so different. Her changing font size on the page just screams at you, yet her photograph by Lantry shows her so whimsically. She is my second favorite poet here. Hal Sirowitz is my third favorite poet here, writing deeply personal poems about everyday things that had an obvious effect on his life. He is a blast to read aloud. Sparrow is weird. His first poem, involving possible sex with a cow, is a hoot, and his possible middle names for Bill Gates is a riot. Spiro is also very funny, especially his opening poem about heroin addiction. Edwin Torres also had me scratching my head for a while after I read him. His poetry is not hard, just inaccessible, and I was not interested enough in what he was saying to dig deeper. Emily XYZ reads like good Edwin Torres.

The 26 poets here are quite a variety, and I recommend this tome to any poetry lovers. I also repeat my mantra to read more poetry and keep buying those little chapbooks you might see in used bookstores or at flea markets. There is always time in your day to smarten up.

This does contain a lot of profanity, drug references, and sexual content, so giving it to your five year old to practice reading may not be a good idea. (* * * *) out of five stars. Buy the book from Amazon!: Verses That Hurt: Pleasure and Pain from the Poemfone Poets by Amy Trachtenberg (1-Apr-1997) Paperback

"Vuckovic's Horror Miscellany" by Jovanka Vuckovic

This slim volume, less than one hundred pages, is a stream-of-consciousness discussion of all things horror- games, movies, books, and rea...