So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Cultural Slag

Cultural Slag by Felicia Lamport
Published in 1966, this collection of poems and short essays reflects the time in which it was written. Portions of the book previously were published in publications like The Atlantic, Harper's, Life, McCall's, The New York Herald Tribune, and The Saturday Evening Post. In addition to being a freelance author Felicia Lamport wrote the "Muse of the Week in Review" column for The Boston Globe. Cultural Slag is the third collection of her work all of which were illustrated by Edward Gorey.

For this collection Gorey created a series of full page drawings featuring striped insects and piles of stones that appear on the title page and introduce each chapter. In addition each poem or essay has its own pen and ink drawing. The combination of short poems and Gorey illustrations makes this book a quick and enjoyable read. Lamport had a sophisticated command of the English language and was often creative in her use of puns.

The short pieces of the book are clustered into chapters based on broad categories. Most are one page poems with a facing illustration, but there are also several essays as well.

THE NEW YORK PEDESTAL SET pays poetic homage to the statues and busts that grace public spaces in this city. These monuments are meant to pay homage to famous people, but what if the famous people of the past are no longer household names? That is the subject of one of the poems in this chapter called "Who He?" that begins:

One expects the mind to trigger
When one contemplates a figure
Cast for sempiternral fame,
But the brainpan starts to joggle
If the viewer starts to boggle
At the name.

This is followed by verses that remind the reader of some of the not-so-famous people who have commemorative statues in New York.

ALARUMS AND DIVERSIONS is a series of satirical poems on various performing arts and literature. My favorite is a poetic review of Edward Albee's 1964 play Tiny Alice called "DAS IST ALICE". I have never read a drama review written as a poem before. In one verse of this poem Lamport asks:

Was it turgid dramaturgy meant to vent on law and clergy
All the author's rage against the world today,
Psychopathia sexuAlice, or an allegoric chalice
He was raising in a reverential way?

This chapter also contains the first of Lamport's essays, a six page piece on non- and anti-book-reviews entitled "The Hypocritics". Anyone who writes book reviews will find much food for thought here.

POLITICAL CLINKERS is a collection of political poetry which has mostly aged badly as yesterday's politicians are largely forgotten quickly and with good reason. However her Viet Nam War era poem 'EMBATTLED OXYMORON" has some universal appeal even today. Here is a sample verse:

One grows strangely apprehensive
When one contemplates the sense of
Peace offensive,
Which, aggressively commanding
That which passeth understanding
Turns the sentiment it rouses
To: A pax on both your houses."

JOTS AND TITTLES is a collection of poems and an essay on travel and social interactions. The poem "SOUTHERN COMFORT' addresses that time in spring when the north is covered in snow while the south is in bloom:

No meter can measure
The infinite pleasure
Of people in tropic resorts
who squirm with delight
Through the sweltering night
At their home town weather reports.

ANIMAL SPIRITS is a short chapter of four poems about the Animal Kingdom. "ICHTHYOLOGIC" asks the question:

Why do fish, who get no pleasure out of mating,
Top all mammals in the rate of propagating?

PARTY LINES is another short chapter of five poems describing the urban party-going scene. The poem "DENSITY PROPENSITY" starts:

From five to seven every night
The party-goers coalesce
Participating in the rite
That equalizes social debts
In all the best sub-bourbon sets.

SWEET AND SOUR SERENADE TO CAMBRIDGE is a set of poems dedicated to Cambridge Massachusetts. The poem "EDUCATION INFLATION" ends with the verse:

Corporations vie to buy queues of the higher bracket I.Q.s
That were lately held in rather low esteem:
All of Cambridge now is reeling with such wheeling Ph.Dealing
As has never graced the grooves of academe.

SOCIAL SPINOFF is a chapter on social issues of the day. The preference for plastic cards over paper money is the subject of "YON CASH HAS GOT A LEAN AND HUNGRY LOOK". It opens with the verse:

It's funny what's happening to money:
It seems to have gone out of fashion.
The flashing of cash is considered so brash
That it turns any headwaiter ashen.

While the book is 52 years old, it can still provide some amusement, and the drawings of Edward Gorey fill the pages with art worth seeing.

Murdering Mr. Monti

Murdering Mr. Monti: A Merry Little Tale of Sex and Violence by Judith Viorst
While the title brings thoughts of a murder mystery to mind, the phrase A Merry Little Tale in the subtitle reveals this novel as a Comedy of Manners where the humorous situations, and some suspense, drive the plot.

Set in the suburbs of Washington DC, the book is about Brenda Kovner, a successful 46 year old syndicated advice columnist who is married to Jake a pediatric surgeon. They have two grown sons Jeff and Wally. Wally has fallen in love with Jo Monti the youngest daughter of Joseph Monti, a narcissistic bully of a man. Mr. Monti has dominated his wife and three daughters, and Jo has shown budding signs of rebellion by falling in love with a Jewish man. Mr. Monti stands in the way of Wally and Jo's plans. Not only does he intend to drive off Wally, but he has taken steps to ruin Jake and Jeff's lives.

Brenda has reached middle age having slept with only Jake her husband, and her attempts to micro-manage their life has created tensions in their marriage. She had decided before the story begins to sleep with other men before her 46th birthday in order to have a variety of sexual experience and ended up sleeping with three men in 24 hours. One of them was Mr. Monti.

Once she decides that the only way out of her problems is to murder Mr. Monti, the readers' fun begins.

Judith Viorst is an established author of poetry and children's books. This delightful novel shows her skills at character development and humor. Filled with her own advice from her syndicated column, well-developed characters, outlandish situations, and a complex plot full of surprises, this is a delightful fun read.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My Horizontal Life

My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands by Chelsea Handler
My Horizontal Life is a set of 18 stories depicting short-term sexual relationships that Chelsea Handler claims to have had between the ages of 18 and 28. Actually the first story "Guess Who's Having Sex with Mommy" tells about the time seven year old Chelsea walked in on her parents having sex. All the actual details of these stories must not be taken as factually true because Chelsea Handler claims to drink and lie an awful lot. So the possibility that she can't remember details or that she makes them up makes this book probably more fiction than memoir. What she does remember or lie about is more often humorous rather than lascivious. I get the feeling that even Chelsea was too drunk to actually remember the sexual part of the relationship. So these stories consist of a lot of amusing situations leading up to and following the sexual act, without any actual salacious sexual details.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

The Renegade Queen

The Renegade Queen by Eva Flynn
Eva Flynn's The Renegade Queen is a novel told in the first person about the life of Victoria Woodhull, one of the most amazing women of the 19th Century who, because of her radical positions, has been written out of many historical accounts of the time. There are several excellent biographies of Victoria that have built up the details of her life from the published sources of the time. Benefiting from all that research this novel, by telling her story in the first person, breathes life into the character and personage of Victoria Woodhull. What Eva Flynn has done most admirably in this book is to "channel" the spirit of Victoria's character so the reader can glimpse, not only what she accomplished, but why she did all the things she did in the fields of Spiritualism, Women's Rights, Civil Rights, Commerce, Publishing, Free Love, Politics, and so many others.

The Renegade Queen won the 2016 Independent Publisher Gold "IPPY" Award for Best Adult Fiction E-Book and I can see why. Not only does Flynn bring Victoria Woodhull to life, but she does the same for her two husbands Canning Woodhull and James Blood, her sister Tenny C. Claflin, her father “Buck” Claflin, Susan B. Anthony, Commodore Vanderbilt, Massachusetts Congressman Benjamin Butler, and a host of others. I feel the author has immersed herself in the Civil War and Reconstruction period and used her knowledge to create great depth in the characters and the settings of the novel. If you have ever wanted to learn more about Victoria Woodhull, this novel is a very enjoyable way to do that.