Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Short Reign of Pippin IV, by John Steinbeck. Viking, 1957






In this short piece of political satire, the French government decides to bring the monarchy back. They settle on Pippin Heristal, an amateur astronomer who lives on the income from some vineyards. As a constitutional monarch, there isn’t really much useful he can do, and he finds himself obliged to live uncomfortably in a palace, and put up with an infinite number of hangers-on, all who have inherited positions that suddenly are providing them with money. He just wishes to go back to his old life. His practical wife, Marie, figures that running a country should be like running a household, and her best friend, a nun who was formerly a show girl, gives sage advice. As does an old man who lives by a lake, who Pippin meets on one of his escapes from the palace, which he manages disguised as a common man, riding a motor scooter. It goes to his feminist, politically active daughter’s head and she instantly turns into a Disney princess.



While written in 1957, a good lot of the satire is still relatable today. People and politics really haven’t changed much. The book pokes fun at America just as much as at France, and it’s a quick, sort of fun read if you’re a Steinbeck fan- although it’s very different from any of his other books. Four stars.   



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

This in no way affected my review. 

Confessions of the Fox, by Jordy Rosenberg. One World, 2018







There are a lot of layers going on in this book, so many that I suspect I’m not educated enough to even notice. It’s a story within a story; it’s a wild adventure story and also a statement about how people of color, the queer and the trans people have been erased from history. It also mentions colonialism, privacy issues, Marxism, women’s rights, and I’m sure lots of other things that I missed.



The first narrative is that of Dr. R. Voth, a transman in academia who comes across an old manuscript at the university library’s used book sale. When he reads it, he discovers it’s the biography of Jack Sheppard, who was a real historical person who attained legendary status. The date on the manuscript is 1724, and as Voth reads and transcribes it, he puts numerous footnotes in it. Some are just to let us know what the antique slang means, but as the story goes on, the footnotes take on a more autobiographical status and tells us Voth’s own story, which is even more convoluted and much more depressing. They also become very political in nature.



Jack’s story starts with him as P, a young girl sold into slavery to a furniture maker. Shackled to their bed at night, Jack learns to pick locks with ease, and by his teens is using his nights to explore London. Wearing male clothing and tightly binding his breasts, he escapes his owner and lands in the room- and the arms- of Bess Khan, an Asian sex worker. His adventures include running from both the police and the local crime boss, avoiding the plague, and a truly horrifying gender confirmation surgery. Despite the odds against them, Jack and Bess determine to be together. Despite all the other reviewers calling Jack ‘trans’, I swear he is intersex, identifying as male. This group of people seem even less understood than trans people.



There are so many characters that at times I couldn’t keep track of who was who- this wasn’t helped by having the two narratives weaving in and out of each other. Did I enjoy the book? Yes, a great deal. But a lot of the political references seemed grafted crudely on, rather than being a smooth part of the story, and that made them rather jolting- and not in the mind-opening, good way. It felt at times like I was reading an early draft, rather than a polished product. Because of that, I can only give it four stars. 


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Gannet’s Gastronomic Miscellany, by Killian Fox. Hachette Book Group, 2018






This is an enjoyable little book about food. It’s trivia that spans the millenniums as well as the world. There is no organization (and no table of contents or index); you can open it anywhere and read a bit anywhere. It’s just little tidbits of info. A great bathroom/waiting room/guest room book. It is mostly a nice presentation- nice cover, sewn in bookmark- but the paper is very thin and cheap looking! It would still make a decent little hostess gift, though. Four stars out of five. 










The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review.

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Design for Life, from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Rizzoli International Publications, 1997






The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum houses a huge collection of objects, and this book features photos of 500 of them, from typewriters to wallpaper, luggage tags to stage designs, and dinner plates to toilets. Everything humans make has design, be it good, bad, or indifferent, but we don’t normally think about it. Does the design of the object serve its purpose, or is it clumsy to use? Is it beautiful as well as practical? Whether the item is primarily designed by an artist or by an engineer, it’s all designed by the human imagination. I loved looking through this book and seeing examples of jewelry, clothing, furniture, cars, tableware, houses, advertising graphics, and more. Short on text but long on pictures, it’s an easy read as an introduction to design. Five stars. 



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

This did not affect my review.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles, by Gary Krist. Crown, 2018






I’ve read a good bit about the early days of Los Angeles, so there were parts of this book that had me wondering if I’d read this one before. Obviously, no. But there are just only so many ways of describing an event.



Krist tells LA’s story by focusing on three people who were important in shaping the development of old LA: William Mulholland, D.W. Griffith, and Aimee Semple McPherson. Mulholland was the engineer who found a (temporary) solution to Los Angeles’s lack of water: drain the Owens Valley of what they thought was ample water. It was him that allowed the green lawns and lush gardens that existed for decades, before water restrictions hit. D.W. Griffith was a director working during the birth of motion pictures, who made movies an art instead of hamminess - and also made one of the most racist movies ever, The Birth of a Nation. McPherson was an evangelist who moved from the mid-west to LA to found a church that is still going- and created a space for non-mainline religions in the city. All three shaped LA; all three ended up more or less in disgrace.



What makes this book different from the other “Old LA” books I’ve read is the amount of detail Krist has put into it. He’s dug a lot deeper than most others. Even though I knew the stories of Mulholland and Griffith, their stories held my attention- especially the part about the St. Francis dam failure that killed 400 people- I had never heard of that event! The chapters alternate between the three main characters; they never weave together even though they all were working during the same era. Enjoyable to read and full of facts. Four stars. 


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received my copy of this book free from Net Galley in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 


Friday, June 22, 2018

Bono: The Amazing Story of a Rescue Cat Who Inspired a Community, by Helen Brown. Citadel Press, 2018






After a bout with cancer, Australian author Helen Brown decides she needs something more out of life than what she’s getting. She gets an invite from her editor to come to New York City for a while, for the US release of her book, Cats & Daughters. I guess I should say, she asked her editor to ask her. She has been longing for the bustle and energy of the city that never sleeps; her marriage, while happy, (her husband is a jewel) is routine, and her days banal. So it’s arranged; Brown will go to New York with her daughter (in hopes of making that relationship better). She visualizes endless shopping, art, and Broadway shows. Then her editor throws her a curveball: since Brown’s new book is about cats, why not be the temporary foster parent for a shelter cat? That’s not what the author had in mind, but she figures it’ll work. She envisions a cuddly lap cat who dozes a lot, and, besides, what are the chances of actually finding a short term dwelling that allows cats?



Neither dwelling nor cat are what she expected. The dwelling is a dump when she gets there. It cleans up well enough, though. Then she goes to get the cat. He is Bono, a black long haired refuge from hurricane Sandy. Except his hair isn’t long now- due to horrible matting, he’s been shaved except for his head, the tip of his tail, and his paws. And he seems hyperactive. And he’s a special needs cat- he needs medication daily. Not the low maintenance cat Brown had in mind at all.



The story tells the adventures of capturing the cat, getting him to take his pills, and allow human contact are part of the story. The majority of the story, though, is about Brown and her daughter’s- and later, just Brown’s when the daughter leaves- adventures in New York. There is also a good bit about Brown’s relationship with her daughter, and how it changes during their stay. In the end, the book is more about these things than it is about Bono and finding him a forever home. While the book is good, I would have preferred more cat and less relationships- or, at least, an equal amount. Four stars out of five.



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free in return for an unbiased review.

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Mother American Night: My Life in Crazy Times, by John Perry Barlow, with Robert Greenfield. Crown Archetype, 2018





The recently deceased author had a really colorful life. He seems to have known everyone and done everything. Born to a cattle ranching family that was powerful in Wyoming politics, he went to school with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and later went on to write lyrics for the band. He mentored JFK Jr., and was campaign manager for Dick Cheney. Yes, he was an acid loving, alcoholic, Republican. The cognitive dissonance is still rippling in my head. Later he became a computer hacker and cofounded the Electronic Freedom Foundation, well as writing a book that was basically an ad for Steve Jobs and Apple. He hung at Andy Warhol’s Factory and dated the Dalai Llama’s sister. I’d have thought it was all bullshit, but the people involved say his life really was like that.



All was not sweetness and adventure. As I said, he was an alcoholic. He smoked three packs a day, was a coke dealer, cheated on women, and took off with a $5000 advance for a book he never wrote. He did some of the stupidest things with his health and safety; it’s a miracle he lived as long as he did. One thing his life never was, was dull. And he tells his story in short chapters, as if he was telling them over drinks. At least in the first half of the book; somewhere near the end he sort of … slows down. Given that he was in failing health, I suspect that he just ran out of energy for telling. The prose in the latter part of the book even has a different voice to it, as if the first part was Barlow telling it in full, while the co-author had to fill in a lot in the end. A truly amusing book- I figured I wouldn’t be impressed by the man, but I was. Four and a half stars.



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.