So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough: Early Writings and Cartoons by Dr. Seuss is a collection of writings from 1927 to 1937 by Theodore Geisel, from the time before be became known to the world as Dr. Seuss. These are not works for children, but rather humorous pieces for magazines like Judge, Life, College Humor, and Liberty. Filled with word play and absurdist writing, the pieces have lost some of their humor but are still interesting background reading for those interested in Dr. Seuss. The illustrations are probably more important than the writing as they show the development of the cartoon style that made Dr. Seuss famous.

Many of the essays are written under the pen name of Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, which would later be shortened to Dr. Seuss. There is a long piece where Uncle Theophrastus explains to his nephew Quackenbush "The Facts of Life." Another delightful story tells of a corporation that decides to forego profit to manufacture items of the highest "Quality."

A series of one-page Little Educational Charts attempt to explain the most absurd aspects of things like the importance of Simplified Spelling (see the book's title for a sample) and other one-page essays on imaginary uses of birds and beasts and whimsical word meanings were obviously humorous magazine pieces. The book ends with a series of ads for a spray insecticide called FLIT that all contain the catchphrase, "Quick Henry, the Flit."

While the writing has suffered a bit from the passage of time, the artistic humor of Geisel's drawings remains, and provides good background for those who only know his children's books.
Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk is a tribute to a man who was a major force for Gay Rights in the United States. Billed as a photographic history, it also contains moving statements by people who worked with Harvey Milk during his political career in San Francisco.

Part One is called "An Oral and Pictorial History of Harvey Milk" and is filled with pictures form his life and statements from those who knew him or were influenced by him.

Part Two is titled "Milk, The Making of the Movie" and details the movie starring Sean Penn. Both sections were put together by the Academy Award winning writer of the movie, Dustin Lance Black, based on his research for the film.

The Real/Reel life story of Harvey Milk and the 1970's Gay Scene in San Francisco are laid out side by side in this book which provides insight into both the era and the movie.

Important reading to anyone interested in Milk the man or Milk the movie.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


The Art of the Aloha Shirt by DeSoto Brown & Linda Arthur

The Aloha Shirt is what people on the mainland call a Hawaiian Shirt, a bright-patterned, collared, short sleeve shirt meant to be worn untucked. Although today we cannot imagine a world without them, this book delves into the origins of the classic shirt looking for its creator.

But first the authors look into the roots of the Aloha Shirt which are deep in the multicultural society of these islands. Polynesian, Japanese, Filipino and Chinese influences are found in this garment's past. The Hawai'ian fabric industry is the subject of one chapter with the local small businesses importing and producing fabric designs and competing with the larger mainland factories.

The roots of Dress-Down (or Casual) Friday are found in the adoption of the Aloha shirt as acceptable business attire in Hawai'i starting in 1947. Hawaii's Aloha Friday during the summer months spread to the mainland in the 1960s.

While the exact date and creator of the Aloha shirt has not been discovered by the authors, they do point to the decade of the 1930s as the likely time. The first mention of Aloha Shirts they can point to is a 1938 children's book called Hawaiian Holiday.

The Art of the Aloha Shirt is richly illustrated in full color with pictures on every page. Celebrities in Aloha print garments abound. Many of the pictures are ads from shops or magazines. There are also pictures of shirts housed in the Bishop Museum and the University of Hawai'i's Historic Costume Collection (Linda Arthur, one of the authors, is curator of this collection).

The Aloha Shirt becomes a symbol of Hawai'ian culture, something that the diverse population can find unity in. As such, it is much more than a garment. It becomes a cultural symbol that is not based on ethnicity, but on a shared sense of place.