So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Santa Claus in Oz

Santa Claus in Oz: New Adventures in Oz (Volume 2) by Richard Capwell

Santa Claus in Oz is the second Oz book from Richard Capwell, and a delightful addition to the writings on the magical land of Oz first described in the books written over 100 years ago by L. Frank Baum. His first Oz book issued earlier this year was called The Red Gorilla of Oz. While this Santa Claus book takes place a little over a year after Red Gorilla ends, it can be read on its own.
The story starts with Santa Claus visiting Ozma's palace in the Emerald City. Santa tells Ozma that he is dying because the fairy-made Cloak of Immortality he wears is falling apart. He hopes that she, being a fairy, can help. The only clue they have is mysterious message and a magical compass devised by two long-gone manufacturers named Smith & Tinker, famous in the L. Frank Baum novels for creating the clockwork man Tik-Tok.
Santa asks Button Bright, another Baum character who is the perennial careless youth, to help him on a quest that takes them all over Oz. Meanwhile, the Wizard of Oz, assisted by the moonbeam fairy Iliana, is intrigued by a jar of keys left by Smith & Tinker in the Emerald City and starts to delve into Oz's ancient history.
Capwell has written another exciting adventure that skillfully weaves Oz's past lore into a marvelous new adventure. Glinda's secret past, hinted at in The Red Gorilla of Oz is revealed as the quests of Santa and the Wizard merge in a thrilling conclusion.
Illustrated with very simple line drawings by the author, this is a book that pleased me as an avid reader of Ozianic literature. I am not sure it will do well with those unfamiliar with Baum's writings.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Red Gorilla of Oz

The Red Gorilla of Oz: Founded on and Continuing the Famous Oz Stories by L. Frank Baum by Richard Capwell

The Red Gorilla of Oz is one of many books that are, as its subtitle states, "founded on and continuing the famous Oz stories of L. Frank Baum." It is the first of two Oz books written in 2012 by Richard Capwell, who has also written Santa Claus in Oz. He doesn't claim to be a "Royal Historian of Oz" as Baum did in the later of his 14 books about adventures in Oz, but it is clear that he is, like Ruth Plumly Thompson, Sherwood Smith, and Eric Shanower, writing in the same tradition.
The Red Gorilla in Oz is a typical Oz book in that it builds on the previous stories in the series, adding a few new characters and revealing new information about older established characters like Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman. This book is clearly aimed at the small group of readers like me who have read all or most of the L. Frank Baum books and maybe some others. It is not the best book to start reading about Oz, however it explains the history as it goes along and can be read alone. One small drawback is that, unlike most other Oz books, there is no illustrator, and Capwell relies on verbal description alone to explain the fantastic fairy world that Baum first created over 100 years ago.
The story is a typical adventure quest where three youths must prove themselves in overcoming some adversity and grow up and mature in the process. In Oz no one grows up unless they want to and people can stop aging when they like, so we end up with a coming of age story with characters hundreds or thousands of years old.
In The Red Gorilla of Oz someone is stealing all the magic from the land of Oz. Sebastian, the young prince of the Red Gorillas sets out from his secret mountain home to find Glinda the Good Witch of the South when the magic fire that protects his land goes out. He meets a young Kalidah named Priscilla who has gotten lost. Kalidahs are vicious predators with bodies like bears, heads like tigers, and sharp claws, but Priscilla is more of a rebellious child. The third "youth" is a fairy named Iliana, the youngest daughter of the Moon, who is bored with her life and is fascinated by Sebastian and his quest.
Capwell delves into the back story of Dr. Pipt, whose magic Powder of Life has animated more characters than was previously known. The story reveals the secrets of the loves of Nimmee Aimee, the beautiful Munchkin woman who was enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the East. Also readers learn the history of the Flying Monkeys who were forced to obey the wishes of the owner of the magical Golden Cap. As an Oz historian, he has done his research well, pointing out and explaining inconsistencies and the unrevealed past.
With all this attention to Ozianic details, he still tells a tightly scripted story that held my attention to the very end. It is a delightful tale for Oz-loving adults who have held on to a bit of their childlike fascination but may also appeal to a new generation of young people. I cannot wait to see how he treats one of L. Frank Baum's favorite character in Santa Claus in Oz.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lay Down Your Arms

Lay down your arms, the autobiography of Martha von Tilling 2d revised edition by Bertha von Suttner; authorized translation by T. Holmes. Published 1914 by Longmans, Green in New York.

In 1905 Bertha Von Suttner was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It was given to her for this novel, Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!) originally published in 1889, and for her work in organizing an international peace movement. As our nation is about to enter its 10th year of foreign wars, and politicians are clamoring for another, I felt a needed to read this book.
Leo Tolstoy compared the effect Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin had on the abolition of slavery to the effect Lay Down Your Arms was having towards the abolition of war. Martin Gregor-Dellin in 1988 wrote "Bertha von Suttner belongs without doubt along with George Sand, Cosima Wagner, Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, and the Duse, to the great women of a century which still made it difficult for women to be great." Suttner died only weeks before the outbreak of World War I which she struggled so hard to prevent.
This popular novel introduced thousands of readers of her time to the arguments of pacifism. Written in an autobiographic style this book tells the story of a woman raised in a military family who becomes opposed to war and sets out to document rational arguments against the patriotic reasons nations put forward to justify their wars. Set in the second half of the 19th century, the story begins when she is a young woman in Austria who falls in love with a young officer in the army.
Suttner uses the actual European conflicts of the time as a backdrop for her heroine's disillusionment and growing arguments against war. As the politicians of Austria, Prussia and France lead them into one senseless war after another, she relates the horrors suffered by the the people of Europe. The main drawback of the book is that few today will have much knowledge of the political problems and figures she writes about.
However, the arguments used to start wars in 19th century Europe sound just like those used by modern politicians to justify invasions like those of Iraq and Afghanistan. Listening to her hope for find a rational way to end armed conflict, especially when we have the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, is so inspiring. Could it be that all the people have to do is "Lay Down Your Arms?"

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Heaven's Bride

Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman by Leigh Eric Schmidt

Ida Craddock was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison 110 years ago in 1902 for violation of the Comstock Act of 1873 that made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious" materials through the mail. Craddock was a sexologist who wrote and distributed through the mails several pamphlets on how married couples could achieve mutual satisfaction in their sexual relations. Rather than serve her prison sentence, she committed suicide. Outrage over her death marked the beginning of a Free Speech Movement that eventually overturned the Comstock Act.
But Ida Craddock was so much more, and Leigh Schmidt does an admirable job of writing a biography from the supressed documents by and about her. She was a brilliant woman who passed the entrance exams for the University of Pennsylvania"very satisfactorily," but was denied admission by the board of trustees because of her sex. She then became the secretary of the American Secular Union, one of the most important liberal organizations of the 19th century. She stood alone as the only woman researcher in the 19th century investigation of the phallic roots of Christianity. Craddock formed her own Church of Yoga to preach her mix of American Spiritualism, Quaker mysticism, Unitarian free thought, and Tantric Yoga. As a practicing sexologist Craddock suggested that the gyrations of the belly dance, along with male orgasmic restraint, could result in female gratification in the marital bed.
Craddock was hounded during her life by a mother who wanted to commit her to an asylum and Anthony Comstock who wanted to send her to jail. After her death her papers, which she tried to save from destruction by her mother, fell into the hands of Theodore Schroeder, an amateur psychologist. When her personal files were opened, her "marriage" to Soph, the spirit of a dead suitor from her youth, is revealed. As an American Spiritualist, her relationship with Soph was a natural outcome of her research into the spirit world. Schroeder, a lawyer turned psychologist, obtained her personal papers after her death and used her writings on "Heavenly Bridegrooms" to prove Craddock was a "sexual and religious maniac." He tried to show that her repressed sexuality expressed itself by taking on a spirit lover.
Craddock was a bold and gifted woman. Her efforts at reform in Turn of the Century America as revealed in this biography shine a light on the pressures women faced in the last decades before they obtained the right to vote. The terrible price she paid and her quiet resolve to pay it make her what the famous anarchist Emma Goldman called "one of the bravest champions of women's emancipation."
Leigh Schmidt is the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He got his BA from University of California, Riverside and his MA and PhD from Princeton University. His other books include: Practicing Protestants: Histories of the Christian Life in America, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality, The Religious History of America, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment, Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period, and, Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Wonderful Tonight

Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me by Pattie Boyd & Penny Junor
Pattie Boyd was a successful London model when she met George Harrison on the set of A Hard Day's Night, but most people today remember her for being George's wife, and later, Eric Clapton's. Her memories as a fashion model in the 1960s and with the Beatles provide a unique perspective and the core of this book. Her life with Eric Clapton and his struggle with alcoholism is an exciting but downward spiral which ends with her leaving and his eventual recovery. She lived with two of the most famous musicians of her time and her brush with romance and fame may be the big draw of the book. However, ultimately it is her own life that makes this book a success. She is not famous, but she has survived and developed a life of her own.