Saturday, November 27, 2010

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

(hb; 2010; illustrations by Ian Falconer)

From the inside flap:

"If animals were more like us,

if mice kept pets and toads could cuss,

if dogs had wives and chipmunks dated,

sheep sat still and meditated,

then in the forest, field and dairy

you might find this bestiary,

read by storks, by rats and kitties,

skimmed by cows with milk-stained titties.

'I found this book to be most droll,'

might quip the bear, the owl, the mole.

Others, though, would be more coarse.

'Bull,' could say the pig and horse.

As to the scribe, they'd quote the hen:

'Trust me, he's no La Fontaine.' "


Grim morality-toned book that looks like a kid's book, but isn't.

Falconer's stunning illustrations amplify the effect of Sedaris's short, sharp 'animals with anthromorphized motives' stories, from the bleak "The Crow and the Lamb", "The Vigilant Rabbit" and "The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat" (with their egregious, manipulative and self-righteous villains) to the comparatively gentle and sublime "The Parenting Storks" and "The Grieving Owl".

This book isn't for the faint of heart, but it should be read by as many people as possible. There's more than a bit of ourselves in these fickle, purblind, judgmental and pernicious animals, more than most of us would probably like to admit.

This is one of my favorite reads of late -- worth owning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Death Wish by Iceberg Slim

(pb; 1977)

From the back cover:

". . . greedy Don Jimmy Colucci. . . wants nothing less than to rule the 'honored society,' dedicated warrior Jessie Taylor. . . is driven to destroy it. . . Vividly real, these powerful implacable figures and their stubbornly loyal underlings stalk each other through pages teeming with life, love, lust, and death."


Slim, aka Robert Beck, serves up an inebriating brew of cynical sex, savagery, greed and street-level racism, peppering his explicit slang verbiage with a diverse array of characters, whose often labyrinthine plots drive them (and everyone around them) to extreme, inevitable betrayals and bloodbaths.

Slim also spices up this Chicago-set, ghetto Shakespearean mix with "voudoo" [voodoo], an instance of bizarre bestiality, and briefly-mentioned necrophilia, with many of the characters laying down "psychodramas" [traps, as Taylor's fellow guerilla militants, The Warriors, call them] for those around them.

Stirring this potboiler even further, Slim's occasional bits of awkward-phrase, jagged urban poetry are thrown in for good measure (e.g., "The sex-fiend squealing of city death wagons sodomized infant day. Chicago, the gaudy b**ch, had banged another carnal night away. Now the fake grand lady lay uglied in her neon ball gown. Sleazed in merciless light. Her bleak drawers hung foul with new and ancient death.").

This last trademark element of Slim's writing is a blessing or a curse, depending on which of his books you read. In Death Wish, it's a blessing.

Worth owning, if you like raw, blaxploitative, don't-give-a-f**k writing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Businesss, by Milton Meltzer

(hb; 2001: children's book. Illustrations by Bruce Waldman)

From the inside flap:

"When people think of pirates, they usually envision swashbuckling, adventurous figures who spend their time searching for buried treasure. This is a distorted, romantic view that has come down to us. In reality, pirates were little more than thieves and murderers, dedicated to robbery, pillage, and enslavement. Their business was a continuous, organized activity -- from which both nations and individuals benefited. People eagerly bought plunder from pirates, and perhaps the most profitable of all were men and women pirates enslaved.

"Milton Meltzer. . . uncovers the true -- and often bloody, always fascinating -- stories of pirates and piracy, both past and present. Here are portraits of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and other notorious pirates, including women like Ching Shih and Mary Read. Here are also forms of piracy that still plague us today, such as smuggling and copyright infringement. . ."


I read this as a research book for a story I'm working on, and was delighted by how well written this was: I'd read this, even if it wasn't for research purposes.

This is an excellent, intriguing, informative read. My only caveat about this book is that it does briefly mention rape and, to a larger extent, slavery (though not in "adult" detail) -- so, if any parents have younger/sensitive children, and wish to avoid potentially awkward conversations, they may want to wait until their children are older - say, about tween age - to let them read this.

Worth owning, this.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas, by Lewis Black

(hb; 2010: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas?

"Not on your life.

"Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace on earth and goodwill toward all. But not for Lewis Black.

"He says humbug to the Christmas traditions and trappings that make the holiday memorable. In. . . I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas. . . Lewis lets loose on all things Yule. It's a very personal look at what's wrong with Christmas, seen through [Black's] eyes. . .

"From his own Christmas rituals -- which have absolutely nothing to do with presents or the Christmas tree or Rudolph -- to his own eccentric experiences with the holiday (from a USO Christmas tour to playing Santa Claus in full regalia), I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas is classic Lewis Black: funny, razor-sharp, insightful, and honest.

"You'll never think of Christmas the same way again."


Black's take on Christmas is less blasphemous than one might expect, given his public persona and other books. Oh sure, there's clever digs and mild sacrilegious statements about "traditional" Christmas beliefs and American society, but Black's trademark outrage is often tempered by thoughtful, humble maturity.

I related strongly to this book, in my own way (for the sake of brevity, let's just say that the bombast, commercialism and hypocrisy of the "holiday season" has made me a non-believer, on so many levels).

Black's closing chapter about his USO comedy tours is a touching, non-sentimental tribute to our troops, currently mired in two money-hemorrhaging wars.

Black Christmas is a pointed, hilarious and relatable book. Worth checking out, this.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell

(hb; 1960)

From the inside flap:

"Far off the coast of California looms a harsh rock known as the Island of San Nicholas. Dolphin flash in the blue waters around it, sea otter play in the vast kelp beds, cormorants roost on its crags, and sea elephants loll on the stony beaches.

"Here, in the early 1800's, according to history, an Indian girl spent eighteen years alone, and this. . . is her story. . . Karana had to contend witht he ferocious pack of wild dogs that had killed her younger brother, constantly guard against the Aleutian sea-otter hunters, and maintain a precarious food supply, even when it meant battling an octopus. . ."


Based-on-true-events story about a young girl who, left behind on her tribe's island, survives despite unfavorable odds. Classic, detailed, burn-through work. Worth owning, if you're into children's books.

This was released stateside as a film on July 3, 1964.

Celia Kaye played Karana. Larry Domasin played Ramo. Ann Daniel played Tutok. George Kennedy played "Aleut Captain". Carlos Romero played Chowig. Hal John Norman, billed as Hal Jon Norman, played Kimki. Martin Garralaga played The Priest. Alex Montoya played "Spanish Captain".

The film was directed by James B. Clarke, from a script by Jane Klove and Ted Sherdeman.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Handling the Undead, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

(hb; 2005, 2010. Translated into English by Ebba Segerberg.)

From the inside flap:

"Something peculiar is happening. While the city is enduring a heat wave, people are finding out that their electric appliances won't stay switched off. And everyone has a blinding headache. Then the terrible news breaks - in the city morgue, the newly dead are waking.

"David always knew his wife was far too good for him. But he never knew how lost he'd be without her until the night she died. Now she's gone and he's alone. But when he goes to identify her body, she opens her eye. . .

"Across the city, grieving families find themselves able to see their loved ones one last time. But are these creatures really them? How long can this last? And what deadly price will they have to pay for the chance to see their spouses and children just one more time?"


This is a sublime, dread-intensive, hard-to-set-down work, one of the best horror novels I've read this year.

Handling the Undead adopts a fresh narrative tack in terms of how society and individuals process their shock at the returning dead, who are less Night of the Living Dead than one might expect.

Lindqvist doesn't spoonfeed the novel's whys, hows and whos to readers, and that, for this reader, lent an "anything could happen" feel to Handling. Readers who are looking for action and gore should probably avoid this book -- Handling is not about that: it's about us, as people, collective and individually.

Worth owning, this, even if you're like me (tired of the overripe zombie genre, whose filmmakers and writers too often fail to establish their own unique voices, and who, instead, rest lazily on the storylines/violent tones established by George A. Romero's earlier work).


The film version is scheduled for a 2013 stateside release. I'll update the (concrete) information on this as soon as I become aware of it.

<em>Mother Night</em> by Kurt Vonnegut

(pb; 1961) From the back cover “ Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy du...