So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Girls written by Joshua Luna and illustrated by Jonathan Luna

A small town is cut off from the rest of the world by a transparent dome. The fifty six townspeople find themselves threatened by a giant glowing sperm and a horde of naked women who kill the local women and reproduce through sexual intercourse with the men. The invaders' different reaction to males and females pits the women against the men for survival. The authors have created a community much more diverse than normal, creating a microcosm of the USA to show how people react to crisis.

Originally published in 24 separate issues, there is plenty of room for character development and cliff-hanging moments. The main characters are two men, a low self esteem cashier and the town cop, and the female bartender they both love. As the naked women multiply and townspeople are brutally slain, there is lots of graphic content that is handled surprisingly well. The story provides enough detail to convey the plot while relying on gory or titillating imagery too much.

The setting seems strangely similar to Stephen King's novel Under The Dome, only he doesn't use naked alien women and a giant spermatozoa to accelerate the plot of his 1000+ page book. The similarities are enough to make me think he read Girls and saw a good plot device.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut by Abbe Prevost

Manon Lescaut is a story of a young man, the Chevalier des Grieux, and his lover, Manon Lescaut. Set in the year 1721 and first published in 1731, this story of uninhibited love and its dire consequences was both quickly banned and widely read. The novel begins when a narrator, spending the night in a small town, who sees the townspeople gathered around two large wagons loaded with women criminals who are being banished to the colony of New Orleans. Amongst this "frail sisterhood" sits Manon "whose whole air and figure seemed so ill-suited to her present condition, that under other circumstances I should not have hesitated to pronounce her a person of high birth. Her excessive grief, and even the wretchedness of her attire, detracted so little from her surpassing beauty... " Asking one of the guards about this rare beauty, the guard points to a man who has followed them from Paris, crying all the way and says that he knows her. Asked about Manon, the despondent stranger replies that he is completely in love with her and having failed at all attempts to free her, he plans to follow her to the ends of the Earth. Seeing that the stranger has no money and is in desperate need, the narrator gives him 4 gold louis-d'ors and 2 more to the lead guard, and goes on his way.
Two years later he again sees the young man, poorly dressed and walking the street of Calais, having just returned from America. Greeting him and learning he is still destitute, the narrator offers him a room for the night at the inn where he is staying. That night the stranger, who is the Chevalier des Grieux, tells the story of his tragic three year love affair with the beautiful and charming Manon Lescaut.
Manon is poor but beautiful and the 17 year old Chevalier's love for her is instantaneous and intense. He must have her, and runs off with her to Paris in spite of the disapproval of his father and brother. Losing his savings through various circumstances, he relies on the generosity of friends and his skill at gambling to support their existence. Manon, while she professes love for the Chevalier, uses her beauty and charm to attract the generosity of other men. Instead of her loose virtue turning him away, their mutual love keeps him faithful to her. Eventually they run into trouble with the law and he follows her into exile.
Told completely from his point of view, Manon's life and motives are at best poorly understood. We see her through the filter of 300 years, a translation into another language, and the eyes of a deeply infatuated young man. It is believed that the story is in part based upon an early love affair of the author Prevost.
Manon's story and the Chevalier's love for her has inspired several operas, and, 100 years later, the novel and play Camille by Alexandre Dumas. Both Manon and Camille have been made into movies again and again. I am glad that I have read the original version of this classic love story.

Dancing Naked in the Material World

Dancing Naked in the Material World by Marilyn Suriani Futterman

Marilyn Suriani Futterman is a photographer and this is a book published in 1992 of her photographs, taken while she went "undercover" as a waitress in an Atlanta nightclub. Almost every other page contains a photograph or photographs and most of them are of women dancers in revealing costumes. Yet seldom are the pictures eroticized. They are documentary in nature. All are black-and-white and many use available light. Other were taken with on-camera flash, and still others were taken in a studio setting.
The text accompanying the pictures are the dancers own words. They talk about why they do this work and how they feel about dancing and the customers they dance for. Some are more articulate and insightful than others, but all are thoughtful and personal.
The book ends with an article, "Stripping for a Living," by Dr. Jacqueline Boles, a Sociology professor. It describes the history and setting of nude dancing in American society. All in all, this is a well-conceived and executed documentary on exotic dancers, an occupation halfway between entertainer and sex worker.
In writing this review I came across a video that was made recently of the photographer, Marilyn Suriani, talking about creating and publishing the book.



Published in 1983 Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in Oz is one of 20 books about the land of Oz published by March Laumer between 1983 and 1999. While print editions are rare (the first edition consisted of 500 numbered copies), I found the text file online at T.E.A.M.L.O.A.D.: THOROUGHLY ENTHUSIASTIC ADMIRERS OF MARCH LAUMER'S OZ ACTION DRAMAS, The Official March Laumer Online Oz Books Website and was able to read the book (sadly, without the illustrations by David Maxine) using my iPhone's Kindle app and Amazon's Send to Kindle utility.

The land of OZ and its main characters were created by American author L. Frank Baum in his first Oz book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900. Most people know this story through the 1939 MGM movie starring Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz. Baum's Oz books were phenomenally successful (he went on to write 13 sequels). At his death, Baum's publisher hired a young writer Ruth Plumly Thompson to continue the series. She and others after her, went on to write official Oz books for the publisher until 1963.

March Laumer takes the characters of Baum's land of Oz, and writes novels that are not necessarily for children where he speculates on what would happen to them over time. The story of this book takes place 81 years after Dorothy, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry move to Oz (told in Baum's 1910 book The Emerald City of Oz). Having adjusted to life in a fairy land where no one ages or dies, there is one small thing that still bothers Em: she lost her thimble years ago in the tornado that took Dorothy and their original Kansas home to Oz. No other thimble would ever do, and Henry has patiently listened to her complain and regret the loss of the special mother-of-pearl thimble her brother gave her.

The adventure begins when Henry suggests that Em's thimble might still be in the house that has been turned into a museum where it fell in Munchkinland. They decide to take a second honeymoon and go visit their old house to search for the thimble. Things get interesting when they get there and the remains of the wicked witch of the east, who died and turned to dust when the house fell on her, start to influence Em. Meanwhile the remains of the wicked witch of the west, melted when Dorothy poured a bucket of water on her so long ago, having settled to the bottom of the Pond of Peculiar Powers just outside the Tin Woodman's castle in Winkieland, are starting to have unexpected effects on the pond life.

Laumer's novel asks the question: since they lived in a land where people do not die or age, what happened to the two wicked witches that Dorothy destroyed. He also questions the concepts of good and evil that Baum played lightly with in his children's books, but that later writers like Gregory Maguire in his book Wicked would use effectively to bring the Oz stories to new mature audiences. Laumer appears to be a transitional author in the genre of Ozian fiction, being the first to ask the question as to whether these two sisters were truly wicked, or just misunderstood.

I found the novel confusing at first, with characters from Alexander Melentyevich Volkov's Russian novels about Magic Land mixed into Baum's Oz, but, as the story develops, it brings new maturity and wisdom to Oz. Growing up can sometimes be awkward, even for a literary genre. Laumer brings us through a transition from the official Oz series for children to something more by showing us his vision of what happens to Oz and its people in the many years since L. Frank Baum died. Nowhere near as polished as Maguire's work, but charming in its own way, I am pleased to have found Laumer's first book and look forward to reading more of this little known Ozian author.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Flight Behavior

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behavior is in a new genre of fiction that is called Cli-Fi, or climate fiction (Wikipedia defines Cli-Fi as "a subgenre of science fiction that focuses on the Earth's climate, in particular emphasizing the effects of anthropogenic climate change and global warming..."). Here Barbara Kingsolver looks at the effects of climate change on a small rural community in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee. The story is told from the point of view of a disgruntled married mother of two living with her docile, slow-witted husband and his parents on a small sheep farm. Into their lives appears a "miracle" in the form of a swarm of Monarch butterflies that come to spend the winter, instead of in their normal winter home in Mexico, in the pine forest above their house. When the news of the butterflies gets out, reporters, tourists, environmental advocates, and a team of university scientists also wind up on their hillside. But the changes that sent them the butterflies are also wrecking their livelihoods and their town.
The title relates to how we behave when we take flight from a bad situation in hopes of survival or growth.