She gets the boring stuff out of the way first -- a tour of U.N. bureaucracies and statistics-gathering methods -- before setting off on what amounts...moreShe gets the boring stuff out of the way first -- a tour of U.N. bureaucracies and statistics-gathering methods -- before setting off on what amounts to a galloping rant about common knowledge, our perception, of AIDS and why it spreads. Lots of received wisdom gets demolished here -- I felt pretty much like an idiot at some points. For example, she evaporates the widespread trust in "peer advocacy" by citing a personal anecdote in which a skeletal, angry, dying "AIDS counselor" gets to tell a pregnant women she's HIV-positive by using the rage-shame-and-pointing technique. As for spending money on antiretroviral treatments, Pisani thinks that might not be such a great idea (without equal spending on prevention efforts, anyway) because those pricey drugs can make HIV and AIDS seem manageable and benign, thereby undercutting efforts to change sexual behavior. And this latter issue -- changing behavior -- points to another one of her rants, which is that public health is fascist: it restricts and controls personal liberty ostensibly for the greater good. She likes this, and thinks it's why public health works so well when religion and ideology don't fuck with it (very rare). I'm inclined to agree.
Anyway, this is a wonderful book to read at the beginning of the Obama Era, as her many anecdotes of U.S. funding having abstinence-education strings attached had me smiling, knowing that those ass-backwards days are over. I hope. (less)
This took me aback. Especially since I never liked the cozy Dykes to Watch Out For much. Bechdel uses stunning visual wit (cf. the vase that looks lik...moreThis took me aback. Especially since I never liked the cozy Dykes to Watch Out For much. Bechdel uses stunning visual wit (cf. the vase that looks like an anus early on), hungry allusions to myth and literature, and vibrant, strange prose ("humectant"?! what does "humectant" mean?) to craft a graphic memoir that pushes all my buttons. Bechdel knows her background: her dad was a boy-chaser with a baroque genius for decorating, plus impeccable literary tastes. He likely killed himself by jumping in front of a truck ("as if he saw a snake") when she was in college. He's the central character (mom is semi-peripheral and sibs are mostly absent), and she occasionally uses myth to illuminate her strange "genetic" heritage. Did she choose them or did they make her?
I now recant all my early rants about how Bechdel is "mediocre" and "not remotely funny". In Fun Home, she's proven herself a hilarious, resonant graphic novelist unlike anything I've ever seen. I hope she can pull it off again. (less)
The premise of this one is well-known: a wealthy businessman careens his car into a triangular wasteland between highways, and ends up a Crusoe-style...moreThe premise of this one is well-known: a wealthy businessman careens his car into a triangular wasteland between highways, and ends up a Crusoe-style castaway there. At first I figured this would be a carefully constructed modern parable, echoing noisily with depths of symbolism and apocalyptic meaning. But it becomes very clear that Ballard just came up with a groovy premise, added some horrible injuries, a trunk full of white Burgundy, a hippie prostitute, and some sort of hulking Tor Johnson creature, then let the plot ride out to its slightly predictable counterculture ending.
Also, here's where I notice how relentlessly humorless Ballard could be -- not a trace of wit or hilarity to be found in a plot begging for cruel, comical interludes. I suspect this one is not going to stand the test of time, though it is a breezy, burgundy-soaked read if you're into that sort of thing. (less)
Here's where the Punisher does two things he's never done before: turn down a prostate exam, and ... okay the second thing is a spoiler, but leave it...moreHere's where the Punisher does two things he's never done before: turn down a prostate exam, and ... okay the second thing is a spoiler, but leave it to Jason Aaron to construct a narrative that undercuts the "Frank Castle" myth to figure out where exactly where the vengeance began -- was it Vietnam, or the murder of his family? His assassin, Bullseye -- a serene, cruel, often hilarious seeker after the Punisher truth -- is genuinely frightening, like a trickster god descended among us to troll, then kill the Punisher. This, he almost does. With words. Which we don't hear. (less)
Title sounds like the start of a dirty pig-latin limerick, but really, this is a "serious" collection. These poems rhyme and keep time just like his t...moreTitle sounds like the start of a dirty pig-latin limerick, but really, this is a "serious" collection. These poems rhyme and keep time just like his trademark light verse, yet this feels like no rhymin' I've ever read. The only comparison I can make is a hybrid of the laff-a-minute drollery of Wendy Cope and the trickster sensuality of Alan Dugan. Topics include Emily Dickinson's answering-machine message, dealing with panhandlers, walking around nude, and death. Lots of death.
Plus, Kennedy's verse is neither blank nor free, which seems to irritate snobs. I love it.
Here's one of my favorites, about... October! (yes I know he cheats the meter with a bad adverb, but that's part of its charm):
Flat-tired, the year sets out red roadside flares. An olive football in a casual toss Ovals its chain of overthrows across A wind-stirred dry martini. But the air's
As of two minds: to thunder or forgive? Clouds hold their fire. The parching widow's-bless Purses weak lips. Trees' signals of distress Turn more flamboyantly demonstrative.
Were we two stout perennials at heart Who knows what light we'd make of time's abuse. Sleep near me. Be a tough nut to work loose Before harsh hoarfrost wrenches us apart.
"Engaging illustrated tale wherein a mere human called Bertrand Russell attempts to deduce the foundations of logic and truth, at least as it concerns...more"Engaging illustrated tale wherein a mere human called Bertrand Russell attempts to deduce the foundations of logic and truth, at least as it concerns arithmetic. There are other crouching madmen here, finger-drawing their genius in the mud, including Gottlob Frege, Alfred North Whitehead (whose breeding wife was target for Russell's desire), Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Kurt Gödel (the only human to read Principia Mathematica start to finish). All of their brains apparently fell out long before they terminated. Here in the year 3000, the humans have long cast off such futile thought-structures in favor of purchasing our fail-safe Virtual Entrails, which provide both divination and calculation services." -- KochSucre Reviews, ca. 3012 (less)
Karl Marx figured out how capital works, but the other half of this title -- that's still a mystery after reading this unrelenting account of the trag...moreKarl Marx figured out how capital works, but the other half of this title -- that's still a mystery after reading this unrelenting account of the tragedies that befell the marriage of Karl and Jenny Marx, not to mention their fascinating daughters. The repetitions of debts, hemorrhoids, carbuncles, drunken binges, letters to Engels, and dead children that mark this narrative make this a tough slog overall. But Mary Gabriel does provide a better picture of the mechanics of Marx's influence and infamy than I'd seen in previous bios: really he didn't hit the international stage, beyond security-state paranoia, until the Paris Commune of 1871 (and descended back into obscurity quickly thereafter). And here I was thinking the Communist Manifesto meant something in the intervening years.
Weirdest part: as an intellectual, his mindscape appears much more like a majestic concatenation of epiphanies and brainfarts as we actually watch him working at his tiny, cluttered home desk, or shambling into the British Museum reading room.
As much as Mary Gabriel wanted to foreground or at least interweave the women in Marx's life into a better story, Karl Marx still remains dominant, and -- again this mystery of "love" -- we see loyalty and duty emerging as standard nineteenth century norms for women, this time surrounding a patriarch who was a huge failure as a provider. I have a guess how "love" may have worked here but I don't think Gabriel probes deep enough into a what really was a concept that got shifted and stirred by early 19th century romanticism.
Fun interviews with pornographers (Stu Mead, Ron Jeremy), serial killers (Manson, Ramirez, Lucas), satanists (not one, but two interviews with that wa...moreFun interviews with pornographers (Stu Mead, Ron Jeremy), serial killers (Manson, Ramirez, Lucas), satanists (not one, but two interviews with that wacky, humorless Anton LaVey!), artistes (Joe Coleman, Ed "Big Daddy Roth), plus that dude who was on the cover of the Smiths' debut LP -- Joe Dallesandro.
Also some "normal" folks like G.G. Allin, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Henry Rollins, Ed Sanders (zzzzz), Jayne County, Lyndon LaRouche (zzzzzzz), John Waters, Tiny Tim, Stockhausen, J.G. Ballard, Buddy Miles (HORRIBLE interview!), Julian Cope (zzzzzz), and, um, David Bowie (proving once again that he's a complete wank artist).
I laughed, heckled, snoozed, became outraged, and learnt a few things. Nice reading experience overall. My only gripe is that this is a complete boy-zone: the only women here are Jayne County (who once wielded a penis) and porn stars Ashlyn Gere & Victoria Paris. (less)
Just as he did so often (and to memorable effect) in Scalped, Jason Aaron drops frame after frame of moral ambiguity to a Manichean plot structure. He...moreJust as he did so often (and to memorable effect) in Scalped, Jason Aaron drops frame after frame of moral ambiguity to a Manichean plot structure. Here, we are introduced to a foe, a hideous man-mountain who commits an unwatchable act of violence during a meeting. He's rendered by Steve Dillon as a Grimace-shaped (I'm talking the McDonald's character) hybrid of Tor Johnson and Lex Luthor, but Aaron takes him home to his loving wife and young child, who he kisses and tucks into bed. We even get to see him having sex! And we sympathize with his completely nutzoid back-story! So, yeah, this guy is much more likable than we figure, and he's angling to topple the pyramid of Frank Castle's crime-lord foes (in order to replace it with himself).
Later we're introduced to a cynical Mennonite whose wife is dying, and this man -- very similar to the Punisher in many ways, and tapped as his executioner -- gives us a climactic battle that I see rarely in Punisher tales. To be honest Aaron treads ever so near the cliff of making Frank Castle the most unlikable character in the story, which is kinda how he dealt with Dashiell Bad Horse in Scalped. In other words, he takes this to the next level. (less)
Most treatments of the Cold War and Vietnam eras conjure up images of stern-faced baldies scribbling strident tendentious histories. Here's something...moreMost treatments of the Cold War and Vietnam eras conjure up images of stern-faced baldies scribbling strident tendentious histories. Here's something different: a delightful, gossipy memoir of the White House from FDR through Nixon, written by its Chief Usher through most of those years. Although it obviously includes its share of pathos, you mostly get a sense of fun and strangeness: really it's about a bunch of odd families moving into this gigantic house and redecorating it (or gutting it, in Truman's case!). Memorable images abound: Mamie Eisenhower lying in bed all day covered in pink, LBJ installing all sorts of ultra-blast shower heads, Bess and Harry Truman breaking their bed during a night of passion...
And speaking of Bess, West implies strongly that she was a figure of major importance in Truman's presidency -- almost an Edith Wilson type figure, a co-President of sorts. I've never really heard this claim made by anyone else (alas I've not read McCollough's bestseller nor daughter Margaret's Bess bio), and I wonder why? (less)
A tiny WWII Lanc tailgunner volunteers as an extra in some postwar prison camp documentary, and then returns to his job at a used book store. That's t...moreA tiny WWII Lanc tailgunner volunteers as an extra in some postwar prison camp documentary, and then returns to his job at a used book store. That's the basic plot, but there's so much nasty in between. The constant shifting back and forth of the wounded narrative never lets you go. Plus, "you" are him -- the second-person voice kicks in frequently enough to make you wonder (when you're finished) whether you have a reliable narrator here. In the end -- the very last page -- things turn shifty-eyed and ambiguous, cast a pall (if palls may be cast) over many of the previous grim events. Makes me want to reread it, pry between the winks, scabs, and grudges.
Kennedy knows how to throw a description at your knees, usually things you thought could never be described, such as killing your dad with a brick, pitching desperate woo at a married bomb-shelter skirt, or (best of all) eating fear in the skies:
--thumbs firing and arse over tip into the corkskrew, thumbs firing and more noise than you can hear, thumbs firing and the gleam of tracer and churning at angles you don't understand, falling as if you will die and a bitterness filling your lungs and the belt cutting into your hip and doing no bloody good to hold you and the fit of the turret is close and you think of coffins and down Q for Queenie runs and surely you'll hit the water before you tear up, flat out, sick and staring.
Like that. Best fiction writer in the English language (not sure if she researched this shit or just imagined it, but either way...). Yes sometimes she puts out trails that seem to be metaphorical and resonant -- dead mams and dads, benighted singing Irishmen, a "Dear John" letter rattled halfway out "your" brain. The whole enterprise comes to a head, I think, in the following exchange with a Brit government functionary toward the end:
"And no need to look at me like that. I follow the line which is the government line. We must think to the future, not the past." "Fuck you."
"The Sound of Los Angeles" -- now what does that mean to you? Or anyone? NWA? Black Flag? Tha Alkaholiks? Firefall? Lots of folks will zoom in on the...more"The Sound of Los Angeles" -- now what does that mean to you? Or anyone? NWA? Black Flag? Tha Alkaholiks? Firefall? Lots of folks will zoom in on the sixties, Beach Boys and Byrds and Doors, and yes this history devotes considerable attention to that very fertile and strange, even demonic era. But Hoskyns really does try to encompass the whole of L.A. music history, from early jazz beginnings all the way up to 1992 (this was published in 1996, but his narrative stops in that grunge-besotted year). Thus, you do get a thin seam of sociology -- particularly the oddly persistent phenomenon of East coast (primarily Jewish) carpetbaggers setting up in town in order to make lots of money from the music scene. Other phenomena -- such as surf culture and nose candy and weepy confessional songwriters -- also get proper attention, but on the whole, this book would be 800 pages thicker if he inserted everything about everything he clearly wanted to put in here, from evil (Manson) to creepy (Eugene Landy) to crazy (Phil Spector). This means that the many awesome interviews he conducted during research are often sadly truncated into soundbites throughout.
I should mention, too, that he really gives heavy metal short shrift -- sure, he mentions Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and G'n'R, but it's like he dismisses the scene as so many pathetic cockroaches feeding on the the greatness of "quality" music. The Red Hot Chili Peppers (zzzzzzzzzzzz) get many more paragraphs than Van Halen. Even worse, after dismissing Guns 'n' Roses as "merely a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox: the 1969 Stones via Aerosmith via Hanoi Rocks", he says this of slick charlatan Perry Farrell (who is from NYC, by the way): "This dionysiac guru was a true mongrel, a creature who stood outside even the prevailing norms of rock rebellion." So, yeah, Hoskyns kinda loses himself in ridiculous cock-smoking toward the end -- but on the whole, this is an engaging and insightful history of a wide variety of music scenes in a very strange city. (less)
Although some of the Bonus Expeditionary Force's story remains unknown -- not a whole lot of written archives outside of self-serving memoirs and the...moreAlthough some of the Bonus Expeditionary Force's story remains unknown -- not a whole lot of written archives outside of self-serving memoirs and the U.S. government's snow job -- this book digs deep and remains definitive 42 years later as the closest approximation of a chaotic reality. Here's what we know for sure: Communists were a negligible (and bumbling) part of the the Bonus March, and indeed nearly all veterans in the BEF had nothing but contempt for Communism. Gen. Pelham Glassford, often derided as an overly accommodating and "friendly" agent of order was absolutely effective in preventing violence: the only two deaths as a result of the march happened as the result of chaos and confusion, and Glassford contained these tragedies effectively. And finally, Daniels demonstrates that the Federal government was either unknowingly acting on misinformation in evicting the BEF, or deliberately gaming the situation to rationalize a military expulsion of veterans.
Other elements of the book -- especially his history of military pensions, and his detailed examination of how FDR handled later bonus marches, were also new to me. I hope this can be resurrected as mandatory reading soon. (less)
One of the world's most naturally hilarious men because deeply unpleasant after big dollars start rolling in (Sanford & Son). A wonderful & th...moreOne of the world's most naturally hilarious men because deeply unpleasant after big dollars start rolling in (Sanford & Son). A wonderful & thoroughly researched bio -- recommended. (less)
I like this sort of work: both chatty and authoritative. If you want to avoid the lesser works such as the House of Fame or the Book of the Duchess, t...moreI like this sort of work: both chatty and authoritative. If you want to avoid the lesser works such as the House of Fame or the Book of the Duchess, this gives succinct explanations of them with choice quotes. As he wades deeper into the Canterbury Tales, though, your mind will be blown wide open.
Interesting speculation about the rape charge against Chaucer while he was Comptroller of London too. (less)
A set of conventional, if mildly eccentric, white collar workers (advertising) ogle and endure their mutual foibles, while staring down career death....moreA set of conventional, if mildly eccentric, white collar workers (advertising) ogle and endure their mutual foibles, while staring down career death. One or three of them also stare down Death itself, with mixed results. Definitely not the laff-riot the reviews promised (though one moment featuring a bloody toupee tipped me onto the ground), but certainly richer, funnier, and deeper than I expected from an MFA novel.
Half the fun is figuring out who's narrating the damn thing in that first person plural (OR is it the royal "we"?) -- I found two groovy clues early in the narrative, but when I came to the end I found myself at the same bubbling Lethe I discovered on the last page of Martin Amis's Other People A Mystery Story. By which I mean, this story is clearly an attempt to forestall death, or rather to use the enduring magic of totem poles, paintball clowns, and stolen ergonomic chairs to repaint the emptiness of death. This is why the strange optimism in Chapter Five (the last chapter) seems falsest of all -- at first I groaned at its obvious contrivance, thinking Ferris was a dozy screenplay-pitcher after all. But now I wonder if that final act is a conjured dream, and the rest is a frank, detailed remembrance of an end-times workplace wracked with cynicism and fear. (less)
This comic is crammed with swords, beheadings, explicit sex, and Jack Palance lookalikes (with beards) -- excellent traits, all -- but life is too sho...moreThis comic is crammed with swords, beheadings, explicit sex, and Jack Palance lookalikes (with beards) -- excellent traits, all -- but life is too short for a tedium as wretched and empty as this. Wood just can't seem to sustain an interesting or imaginative narrative here: every page features a predictable trope (don't get me started about that fucking crow) or a hilariously dumb plot "twist". Characters are stereotypes motivated by blinkered idiocy. There is no cunning or ambiguity anywhere -- a double motive exists only in the blindingly obvious "femme fatale." And, yes, I can kinda see where using contemporary English idiom is more "realistic" than the faux-King-James-version coming out of the Thor comics. But: "I should call this guy on his bullshit," really? On the whole, this reads like "The Fred Durst Behind the Music Special", but with dumber, less talented vikings.
I don't really want to diss artist Davide Gianfelice -- he obviously put his all into making this vacuous tale look exciting, blood and gore etc. But I can't tell the women apart except for their hair color. Also their nipples look like old Raytheon dial indicators. (less)
I'm pretty certain this book was released in conjunction with the 1996 ConventioCon ExpoFest-A-Rama 2: Electric Bugaloo, which I did not attend. And a...moreI'm pretty certain this book was released in conjunction with the 1996 ConventioCon ExpoFest-A-Rama 2: Electric Bugaloo, which I did not attend. And alas, its premature publication date means it's missing approximately 53 latter-day episodes, including my favorite, Space Mutiny. Still, the descriptions of the invention exchanges and Bot plots here are often more hilarious than actually watching them, and there's lots of goofy lists and insider jokes. Given what appears to be some factionalism within the Grand Army of the Bot Republic these days, rereading this is your chance to relive those gauzy memories of Tommy Kirk and Torgo. (less)
The most beautifully grim coloring I've ever seen in a comic. Even when the sun is shining gaily it's just Mars orange making everything cast death-pi...moreThe most beautifully grim coloring I've ever seen in a comic. Even when the sun is shining gaily it's just Mars orange making everything cast death-pit shadows. My new favorite. (less)
Thomas Ligotti is the type of eggheaded horror writer who prefers to spook you with metaphysics and dreary clowns, rather than the usual electroconvul...moreThomas Ligotti is the type of eggheaded horror writer who prefers to spook you with metaphysics and dreary clowns, rather than the usual electroconvulsive mix of corpses and demons. So let's just say that these stories aren't very frightening at all. Instead, you read this for the spooky art, which seems to improve on his originals in odd ways. I especially dug Ted McKeever's skin-gouging hard lines and Michael Gaydos's washed-out rainbow-noir coloring (in the freakiest of the four stories). (less)
One of the greatest and weirdest poets in English. He was a dirty tomcat trickster at his best, and even his metaphysical "conceits" or whatever were...moreOne of the greatest and weirdest poets in English. He was a dirty tomcat trickster at his best, and even his metaphysical "conceits" or whatever were pretty comical (cf. for example "The Flea" to prove both points). Simultaneously dirty and sublime, how often do you come across that?
Also, he commissioned a painting of what he would probably look like when he rises in the apocalypse, so keep your eyes peeled. (less)
Crouse warned us all about David Broder and Robert Novak way back in 1974: why didn't we *listen*? Fascinating account about the inner workings of the...moreCrouse warned us all about David Broder and Robert Novak way back in 1974: why didn't we *listen*? Fascinating account about the inner workings of the journalism profession, especially its intimate relationship with power and profit (something that seems to have gotten much worse since then, if you can believe that). (less)
At age 92, Ernest Borgnine ain't in the mood for poison pen or dishy gossip -- he's too busy masturbating! So he gives us the basics of his life story...moreAt age 92, Ernest Borgnine ain't in the mood for poison pen or dishy gossip -- he's too busy masturbating! So he gives us the basics of his life story, including scores of G-rated anecdotes about his hardscrabble Italian-American youth, his stint in the Navy, and his drunk buddy Lee Marvin. Very few surprises or revelations: even his 'Johnny Guitar' anecdote is just a rehash of the usual Joan vs. Mercy gossip we've been hearing for years. His marriage to Ethel Merman gets a bit more explication than we're used to though: "Ethel wasn't a bitch, but she was just naturally competitive in a very competitive business. She reacted strongly and emotionally to what she suddenly viewed as a contest between her and me." In other words, Ernie was -- according to his own self -- getting more attention than her. Could be true: her own memoir has a chapter entitled 'Ernest Borgnine' which is completely blank.
The best chapters are his reminiscences of several movies throughout the seventies and early eighties, including a 'Wild Bunch' sequel of sorts called 'The Revengers', the rat-horror 'Willard', 'Jesus of Nazareth' (where he plays a Roman centurion who mocks Christ), and 'The Greatest' -- a Muhammad Ali biopic starring Ali himself and co-directed by Monte Hellman of all people. Not to mention 'The Poseidon Adventure' and my personal fave 'The Black Hole'.
So. If you're wondering how such a plug-ugly dude could make it big, I think he sums it up thus: "For me, 'different' ended up being running my own career without all kinds of representatives. And thanks to guys like Lee Marvin, who always brought me in on movies he was working on, and directors like Robert Aldrich and John Carpenter who just got a kick out of my work, I've done okay." (less)
OK Richard: I love Robert Browning too. But the last thing the world needs is a late-modernist Browning imitator who's still stuck in the nineteenth c...moreOK Richard: I love Robert Browning too. But the last thing the world needs is a late-modernist Browning imitator who's still stuck in the nineteenth century. I mean, who's going to read a relentlessly highbrow poem entitled "Venetian Interior, 1889" (which features Browning and son lounging among Japanois furnishings, someone fetch the ipecac)? On the other hand, "Victor Hugo: The Deathbed Portrait" is a stunner (closing lines: "there is only / one pleasure -- that of being / alive. All the others are a misery.") As is "Oracles", an eloquent ramble through the wisdom, artsy trivia, and experience of an elderly Greek woman: I wonder whether David Markson may have absorbed that one before essaying his late-period novels?