So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Strangers in Paradise: Pocket Book 4. Terry Moore

This volume 4 of the Strangers in Paradise Pocket Books contains the original comic books Volume II, #41-#41, #47-#48, and #50-#60. Francine has gone home to her mom in Tennessee, and David and Katchoo are living in a cottage in Hawaii. Casey breaks up with Freddie and visits them in Hawaii. Eventually, Katchoo fights with David and he goes back to Japan. There Katchoo's half-sister Tambi catches up with him. Also remnants of the old mob try to seek revenge against Katchoo, while the FBI is also closing in on her.

Not as violent as the last volume, this is a somewhat introspective volume where the characters explore their feelings for each other. Each is eager to bring closure to their pasts and to get on with their life. Yet the readers know we are only in volume 4 of a 5 volume book version of a comic series that is still being published. So the odds of "happily ever after" any time soon are very slim.

Strangers in Paradise: Pocket Book 3. Terry Moore

Volume 3 of the PocketBook edition of Strangers in Paradise contains the original comic book issues numbered Volume III issues #18-#24, #26-#32, #34-#38. In this volume, Katchoo's art career takes off with an exhibition that includes nudes of Francine. Her ex-boyfriend Freddie and his wife Casey get into a fight over these highly-desirable paintings. Also, with Darcy dead, her mob organization becomes the center of a rivalry between Veronica Pace and Tambi. Katchoo, Francine and David are caught up in this conflict as they struggle to work out their jumbled relationships. Being the middle volume of the five now released, there is lots of action but little resolution in this book. For the romantically inclined readers there is a flash forward to Katchoo and Francine together ten years on.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Briar Rose. Robert Coover

Briar Rose is the name of the princess in Sleeping Beauty and the name of the Grimm brothers version of the story is Little Briar Rose. Robert Coover tells the story from three points of view. First is the point of view of the prince entering and cutting his way through the briars on a heroic/erotic quest. Then there is the princess dreaming of her rescue by a kiss from the spell induced by a spindle prick and the promised handsome prince who will do the kissing. Lastly, is the evil fairy who cast the spell and who keeps the princess company by telling her stories during her 100 year slumber. The story keeps switching between these three perspectives, with much repetition. Each character explores their own expectations and fears through this process.

This is a story rich in mythic and erotic symbolism, and Coover explores these in depth as each character relives the event in their mind from slightly different perspectives over and over again. As a study in the symbolism and possible overtones of the brief story, Coover's work is excellent. People looking for a romantic retelling of the original tale should definitely look elsewhere because some of the variations include disturbing elements like incest, cannibalism, adultery, and rape. While nowhere near as much an erotic fantasy as Anne Rice's three volume Beauty series, this book is still not appropriate for the faint of heart or children.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

ISBN-13 For Dummies. Zoe Wykes

ISBN-13 For Dummies is a great introduction to a sweeping change in the numbering system for books. Starting in January 2007 all books will be issued a 13 character ISBN rather than the traditional 10 character number that has been in use for over 30 years. This short 16 page guide also talks about how the ISBN relates to EANs (International Article Numbers) that are used on non-book items for sale and the 14 digit Global Trade Identification Numbers (GTIN). It also shows you how to compute the last digit of the new 13-digit ISBNs so you can convert your existing 10-digit ISBNs to the new 13-digit ones.

Admittedly, this is primarily for the book publishing and selling crowd and their programming staff. So most of us buyers don't need to think about it. However, with desk-top publishing, more and more of us are becoming small independent publishers, and then all this will be extremely helpful. This publication even tells you where to get ISBNs for your books (no, you can't just make them up!).

Even the casual book buyer may want to know a little about the secret inner workings of the book industry and this is the answer. Best of all it is free:

Saturday, April 22, 2006

SICK SICK SICK. Jules Feiffer

Sick Sick Sick is the very first compilation of Jules Feiffer's cartoons ever published. Starting in 1956 he wrote his cartoons weekly for The Village Voice, something he continued to do until 1997. In 1958 there were enough to put them out in book form.

Subtitled" A Guide to Non-Confident Living," this collection shows the angst of Feiffer's characters in its earliest manifestations. Here you will find an 11 year old boy who feels that life has already passed him by, insecure Village artists and Bohemians, a dancer who performs her homages to Spring and Fall, corporate executives caught up in the rat race, single women who fret that men are only interested in one thing, conformists who seek individuality, and individualists who secretly desire conformity.

Most of the material still has relevance, even though there is one story about U.S. insecurity over the Soviet Sputnik that may require explaining to some readers.

Feiffer has gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar, and even the Milton Caniff Award for Lifetime Achievement. This book provides a chance to see how he began writing for The Voice back in the 1950s. A treat for any serious cartoon reader.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding. Robert Gover

I picked up Robert Gover's One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding to read because of the recent events in Durham, North Carolina where a black stripper, hired to perform at a Duke University lacrosse team party, has accused three white males at the party of raping her. Published 45 years ago this book has nothing to do with rape, but it does deal a lot with issues of sexuality as it relates to class and race, privilege and poverty in the southern United States.

Jim is a white college sophomore in a Southern college on a Friday night with a hundred dollars in his pocket. Kitten is a 14 year old African-American prostitute. Their paths cross as Jim visits a "Negro house of ill repute." The book proceeds with Jim and Kitten narrating alternate chapters. Each sees the other as an answer to their needs, and their encounter builds into a weekend of misunderstandings as their different backgrounds and expectations keep them from having meaningful communication. Yet, despite the insurmountable cultural chasm that separates them, their determination eventually makes small inroads possible.

This book made history at the time because of the frank discussion of sexuality and racial differences. Today, the terminology seems remarkably tame, even quaint. Yet the issues raised about sexual morality and class privilege are as relevant as ever.

Gore Vidal said: "There is always a division between what a society does and what it says it does, and what it feels about what it says it does. But nowhere is this conflict more vividly revealed than in the American middle class's attitude toward sex, that continuing pleasure and sometimes duty we have, with the genius of true pioneers, managed to tie in knots. Robert Gover unties no knots but he shows them plain and I hope this book will be read by every adolescent in the country, which is most of the population."

To truly appreciate this story it is important to remember that it is fiction. No 14 year old girls were lured into prostitution in the writing or reading of this book. Robert Gover states it as follows: "The caricatures in this story never were and aren't. If a reader happens to transmute them from typo-alphabetic symbols to figments of his imagination, they will continue to not exist, except as figments of his imagination. This also applies to the events which are this story - they didn't happen and don't. Any reader who imagines them happening I asked to please remember he is doing just that - imagining. In other words, the following is a made-up, untrue story."

As an untrue story, this book still does a great job of pointing out, through caricature, some of the seemingly timeless problems of class and privilege in American society, especially as they relate to the sexual behavior of the middle class.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Wonder Woman. Charles Moulton

Wonder Woman is a 1978 paperback book republishing of 6 stories from the DC's Wonder Woman comics of the 1950s. While it offers a delightful glimpse into the original Golden Age comics, the paperback lacks the color graphics and full size of the originals. Five of the six stories represented in this volume were copyrighted between 1953 and 1955.

The first story, "Wonder Woman's Lasso," is dated 1942 and was written by Charles Moulton (a pseudonym for Dr. William Moulton Marston) with art by Harry G. Peter. It tells the story of how Wonder Woman won her unbreakable magic lasso with mind-controlling powers. Written prior to the 1954 Comic Book Code, it contains lots of depictions of scantily clad women in various forms of bondage. In addition to winning her lasso, Wonder Woman saves the chief of American intelligence from a Nazi plot which includes an invisible ray and a cruel baroness.

"The Bird Who Revealed Wonder Woman's Identity," the second story, is about a talkative pet mynah bird that causes some awkward moments for Diana Prince when it reveals her secret identity.

In the third story, "Wonder Woman's Wedding Day" is ruined when Prof. Uxo's time dimension transfer machine turns her into an invisible wraith. Using only the power of suggestion, she convinces the evil scientist to return her to normal.

In "The Secret Invasion," Orlusians from the planet Orbus use mind control to confuse Wonder Woman while they plan their attack of Earth. Fortunately, she is able to use brute force to combat their nefarious scheme.

The last stories in the book are origin stories for two of her fascinating weapons. In "The Talking Tiara" Wonder Woman fights a Tyranosaurus, a Roc and a giant Octopus to win the right to wear the Linguagraph Tiara which allows her to understand and speak any language past, present or future.

"The Origin of the Amazon Plane" is the final entry in this collection. When she finds the plane it is in three parts protected by a giant underwater carniverous plant, an electrified tree, and a fiery volcano. She must defeat these three obstacles to put the plane together and use it to combat evil.

Interestingly, she uses her Amazon Plane in the first story to go to Paradise Island to get her famous lasso, then in this last story she uses her lasso to overcome the volcano and retrieve the last part of her plane. So it becomes an amazing chicken and egg paradox as to which came first, unless there were two Amazon Planes. The first 1942 plane is shown with a propeller, while the plane in the last story, written in 1955, has no propeller.

These stories provide a wonderful glimpse into the origins of a 20th century icon. They also provide a contrast between pre- and post-Comic Code depictions of the same super hero. If you can live without the color graphics, this is a good introduction to Wonder Woman.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Strangers in Paradise: Pocket Book 2. Terry Moore

Katchoo and Francine are roomates, and Katchoo has a crush on Francine. Francine loves Katchoo but prefers men. David is in love with Katchoo, but she hates men. This is the love triangle that anchors this multivolume series. In volume one we learned that prior to living with Francine, Katchoo worked for David's gang boss sister, Darcy Parker, as a call girl and also was her lover. She went into hiding when she ran away from Darcy with a whole lot of Darcy's money.

Now in Volume 2 Darcy has found Katchoo and forces her back into her mob with threats on Francine's life. Darcy needs Katchoo in her biggest blackmail project to date. The main theme of the volume is how Katchoo and David, with help from Francine, escape Darcy's nefarious plans.

Terry Moore takes us through three different time periods in this book. The main story takes place in the time when Darcy's plans are foiled by Katchoo. Then Mr. Moore takes us back to when Francine and Katchoo first met in high school. It is in there that we learn about the troubles that have shaped their current inability to develop loving relationships. Then we find that the high school flashback is just a reminiscence of Francine who hasn't seen Katchoo for ten years and is a wife and mother in a loveless marriage. If she ever needed Katchoo's love, it is at this moment.

The book ends with a short fantasy piece where Francine and Katchoo role play Zena, Warrior Princess. All in all, a delightful book with lots of twists and turns to keep you wanting more.
Love: The Legacy of Cain. Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch

Love: The Legacy of Cain contains new translations of three love stories by the infamous author of Venus in Furs, whose name has come down to us primarily as the term for a variety of sexual behaviour. But do not expect to find women with whips standing over cringing men in these tales. Sacher-Masoch was a much more complex writer who was considered a new Goethe by some of his contemporaries.

This book is a very good English-language introduction to the writings of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Not only does it provide new translations of three of his novellas, but it also has a six page Afterword by the translator that shows how these works fit into Sacher-Masoch's body of literature and literary themes. The author was planning a series of 36 novellas to be collectively called The Legacy of Cain. It was to consist of six stories on each of six themes: Love, Property, The State, War, Work, and Death. Only the two cycles on Love and Property were finished and finding English translations of any of them besides Venus in Furs requires the resources of major university libraries. This book contains the first three novellas of the Love sextet along with the prologue to the series which is called "The Wanderer." There appears to be an awakening scholarly interest in Sacher-Masoch's writings. This is the second book of translations by Michael O'Pecko, and Virginia Lewis has also recently translated a new book of the author's Jewish stories.

"The Wanderer" is the prolog to the whole Legacy of Cain series. In it a civilized man who is out hunting comes across a holy mystic wandering in the Carpathian mountains. The holy man attacks the narrator for being a hunter, a killer. A discussion begins in which the mystic claims we are all infected with the legacy of Cain's sin. The just person can only flee the world and its enticements to avoid the six things that are Cain's legacy: Love, Property, The State, War, Work, and Death. Confronted with this "Truth" the narrator returns to his village to ponder. The prolog ends and the stories begin.

Don Juan of Kolomea tells the tale of a man who falls in love and marries. He is blissfully happy until his wife has children. Feeling neglected by her, now that she spends her time with them, he seeks out lovers. But he can never recover the feelings of true love that he first had with his wife.

The Man Who Re-Enlisted tells another story of true love led astray. This time the lovers are young and poor. They are deeply in love, but her great beauty draws the attention of a rich man. She chooses security and wealth over true love and poverty. Yet this is a small town and the two must see each other in passing as the years go on. We see the man's unending love yearning for the unattainable through the eyes of his fellow villagers.

In Moonlight, a married woman becomes bored with her life in the country and takes her husband's friend as a lover. Everything comes crashing down when her husband finds out, and she is left only a shadow of her former self, playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata night after night.

These stories take us into another world. This is the 19th century in the Carpathian Mountains of rural Austria-Hungary. The people who live here were called "Little Russians" because they spoke a dialect of Ukrainian. Today we know them as Rusyns or Western Ukrainians. If you are looking for the Hollywood version of love that conquers all, these are not the stories for you. But if you want to see how the impulse of love plays out against the realities of 19th century life and, despite the intensity, doesn't always have a happy ending, you will find much to enjoy here. Sacher-Masoch will take you to another time and place and fill your soul with the poignancy of his characters.

The Boy Fortune Hunters in Yucatan. L. Frank Baum

Originally published in 1910 under the pseudonym Floyd Akers, Hungry Tiger press makes this volume in The Boy Fortune Hunters Series by L. Frank Baum available again with a new Foreward by David Maxine and a new cover illustration by Eric Shanower. The author wrote various adventure series under pseudonyms, while publishing his more famous Oz novels under his own name.

In this volume the boy fortune hunters team up with a Navy Lieutenant and a Central American Indian prince to find Tcha, a hidden Atlantean city in the heart of the Yucatan jungle. Equipped with lighter-than-air flying suits and electric stun-guns, fanciful inventions of Baum's fertile imagination, the group of nine adventurers take on two native Indian tribes and the secretive Atlantean culture to garner some of their fabulous wealth of gold and rubies. They overcome mosquitoes, warrior bands, blood sacrifices, and even an earthquake on their way to their goal.

The white male chauvenism of the early 20th century is evident in the writing, but can more interesting than offensive as a period piece that illustrates the prejudices of the time. Baum's take on Atlantean culture is certainly the most intriguing part of this standard boys' adventure. David Maxine in his Foreward draws some interesting parallels between this real world fantasy and Baum's magical land of Oz. Most outstanding of these are that the Tcha people are ruled by a teenage girl and live in a communist society in peace and happiness. This is a book that will interest Baum fans like me and those interested in adventure stories of the past.

The Boy Fortune Hunters in the South Seas. L. Frank Baum

Originally published in 1911 under the pseudonym Floyd Akers, Hungry Tiger press makes this volume in The Boy Fortune Hunters Series by L. Frank Baum available again with a new Foreward by David Maxine and a new cover illustration by Eric Shanower. The author wrote various adventure series under pseudonyms, while publishing his more famous Oz novels under his own name.

In this volume the boy fortune hunters take a job running guns from Australia for wealthy Colombians who are planning a revolution. The guns come in handy when they end up run aground during a typhoon on a tropical island full of hostile natives who worship a Pearl God. They have the richest pearl beds in the world and keep them secret by killing anyone who lands there.

Fortunately the Columbians have a Louis Bleriot Antoinette biplane in crates below deck. Louis Bleriot was famous in Baum's time because in 1909 he was the first person to fly across the English Channel. Using the biplane to fly themselves in and out of trouble with the local islanders, the boys have life-threatening adventures and stuff their pockets with lovely pearls.

The book's leading characters are full of White supremacist attitudes that jar the sensibilities of modern readers. However Baum relates these with an innocence that would be difficult to recreate today. In addition to being an adventure tale for young white boys, the book provides an interesting look into how racial stereotypes were presented at the beginning of the 20th century.

Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook. Scott Adams

If you think you can learn management skills from a character in a newspaper comic strip, this book is not for you. On the other hand, if you read Scott Adams' Dilbert comic strip before you read the headlines of your local paper, or if you find yourself LOL at most of his cartoons, you have already committed this book to memory and don't need this review.

Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook is a combination of reprinted Dilbert comic strips from the first half of the 1990's and a management handbook written as if it were the work of a cartoon dog named Dogbert. The cartoons are funnier than the handbook. I gave up reading the book linearly and read the cartoons first. Then I went back and read the management handbook.

The cartoons work better because you get to see Scott Adams' view of management both from the manager's point of view and also from that of the dumbfounded workers. It is this juxtaposition of manager logic and worker reality that makes the Dilbert strips so funny.

The text of the handbook is entirely one-sided. You get to see the world from the unrelenting point of view of the demented management expert. The cruel logic is there, but you, the gentle reader, are forced into the role of Dilbert facing the twisted thinking of middle management. You may laugh on the outside, but you may be crying inside. I do not recommend reading this book before spending lots of time with your own manager.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Strangers in Paradise: Pocket Book 1. Terry Moore

Katchoo and Francine are roomates, and Katchoo has a crush on Francine. Francine thinks she loves Freddie who is only out to get what he can, which he can't since Francine won't sleep with him. David is in love with Katchoo, but she hates men. Thus begins Strangers in Paradise which is a tightly scripted graphic comic that is now being released in a paperpack book series.

In volume one we learn the secret of Katchoo's past, and the three main characters struggle with their feelings for each other. Having been written for comics, similar to 19th century novels of Dickens and Dumas that began life as serializations in the magazines of the time, the plot keeps coming up with surprises. In book form this comes across as lots of plot twists and surprising revelations.

The drawings are fantastically well-drawn and expressive, and they are broken up by occasional pages of poetry and text (as if the artist got tired of drawing in her rush to fill in detail and get back to the story).

Despite the strong characterization, the true hero of the book is Love, the motivator and inner spark of all the main characters. In reality the book is about the healing power of Love. The title comes from a play of the same name that Francine was in while she was in high school. The book provides a flashback to the stage when one of the actors is saying "Without Love, we're never more than Strangers in Paradise."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Onions, Onions. Toni Hormann

Onions, Onions
is a story of love conquering fear. A young married woman is afraid of evil spirits and believes that onions will keep them at bay. So she serves onions at every meal. When her husband protests and tries to make light of her fears, she starts hiding her compulsion. It is only when he leaves her that they both realize that their love is true and stronger than their obsessions. Do they live happily ever after? Well, they ARE in love.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Notorious Victoria: the Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored. Mary Gabriel

Victoria Woodhull was one of the boldest, most renowned, and most villified woman of the United States in the 19th century . Yet today many people have never heard of her. Also, what has been written about her has been so biased by attempts to either deify her or demonize her. Thus today's reader is well-served by this factual and chronological presentation of what can be known of the life of Victoria Woodhull. Mary Gabriel puts her background in journalism to good use in putting together this unbiased account of the woman and her times.

With chapter titles that consist of place names, months and years Ms. Gabriel takes the reader on a trip through Victoria's live from her birth in Homer, Ohio to her last days on her country estate in Glooucestershire, England. More than half the book is focused on the years 1971-1973 when Victoria, with her sister Tennie C. Claflin, rose to fame in a meteoric fashion. In this brief time they opened a brokerage house on Wall Street and published a news weekly on topics of social and political reform. In addition Victoria was the first woman to address a committee of Congress; she ran for president of the United States with Frederick Douglas as her running mate; and she presided over the women's suffrage movement, a New York chapter of the International Workingmen's Association, and the American Spiritualists Association.

Her stated goal was to rescue the women of America from sexual slavery and guarantee their rights to their own sexuality. When she found out that the famous minister Henry Ward Beecher was sleeping with members of his congregation during the week and condemning her politics from the pulpit on Sundays, she exposed his hypocricy. He was never condemned for his duplicity, but she was hounded into jail and ruin until her only recourse was to leave the country.

Mary Gabriel does a wonderful job of presenting the complex story, picking through the slanders and exagerations, and creating a readable history of this social reformer and her impact on her times. This is the best account of the life of Victoria Woodhull that I have read and I recommend it highly.