Monday, February 04, 2002

Books Worth a Look
For Christmas, my folks game me a Reader's Journal published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. I've been keeping track of the books I read, writing mini-reviews. Here's what I've read in late-2001 and in January this year:

The African American Press: With Special Reference to Four Newspapers, 1827-1965 by Charles Simmons (1998)
This near-academic "history of news coverage during national crises" looks at how the Chicago Defended, Pittsburgh Courier, Black Dispatch, and Jackson Advocate reported on abolition, the black vote, and black sentiment during world wars I and II, as well as the civil rights movement. Balances accomodation with militance in the light of government suppression -- and serves as an indictment against Percy Greene, publisher of the Mississippi-based Advocate, which fought civil rights efforts in lieu of kissing up to the white power structure.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Good.

American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush (2001)
Steve was active in the DC hardcore scene, booking shows and touring with No Trend. His extensive oral history of hardcore as an outgrowth of and response to the negative aspects of punk includes many reproductions of fliers and record covers of the time. He focuses on some of the most important bands -- Black Flag, the Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys -- and analyzes the difference between the different scenes -- LA, Orange County, San Francisco, DC, Boston, New York City, etc. A must read.
Days to read: 10. Rating: Excellent.

The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing by Emanuel Rosen (2000)
An extremely lucid and useful handbook on how to further buzz within social and commercial networks. Rosen takes an action-oriented approach to developing contagious products and accelerating natural contagian by working with network hubs, seeding conversations, telling better business stories, and pursuing viral marketing efforts. A crucially useful, well-organized how to!
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Bread -- and Roses: The Struggle of American Labor 1865-1915 by Milton Meltzer (1967)
Picked up off a shelf in the lobby of an apartment building in Mexico City, this heavily underlined book details the earliest days of the labor movement in America. Drawing on newspaper accounts primarily, Meltzer celebrates some of the unsung heroes of labor, focusing his attention mostly on notable strikes, riots, and court cases. Also heavily dependent on the activities of formal unions.
Days to read: 60. Rating: Excellent.

Cold Print by Ramsey Campbell (1987)
A collection of short stories drawing on H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Dedicated to Fritz Leiber and Robert Bloch, Campbell's style is more similar to August Derleth and Stephen King than Lin Carter and Brian Lumley. Some stories are barely inspired by Lovecraft, which makes for a nice blend of contemporary horror and mythos pastiche. Might be a good introduction for people not into Lovecraft already.
Days to read: 5. Rating: Good.

The Executioner #277: Dirty Mission by Mike Newton as Don Pendleton (2001)
Mack Bolan throws in with a couple of lefty humanitarians to quell the stateside assassinations of Colombian exiles speaking out against an oppressive regime. There's the requisite overly verbose hardware descriptions, the romantic interest (who isn't obtained in this book), and a sneaky attack on some thoroughbred horses. Easy reading.
Days to read: 3. Rating: Good.

Fandom Directory #19 edited by Mariane Hopkins (2000)
This 525-page directory of science fiction and comic book fanzines, fan clubs, retail shops, and Web sites is a geek's paradise. Into Star Trek and wanting to learn Klingon? Read this. Obsessing over some random actor on Babylon 5? Come here. Mostly media tie-in fandom, but some pleasant subculture, comic, and zine surprises. The geeks of the geeks.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Forming: The Early Days of LA Punk edited by Exene Cervenka (2000)
The catalog to an exhibit of photographs, fliers, and album covers at Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, California, in 1999, this slim book compiles many iconic art examples from the era. The associated essays draw parallels to situationism, fluxus, and dada, including several reprints of writing by Slash's Claude Bessy and a timeline that puts the 1976-82 scene in a social, political, economic, and cultural context. Better to have seen the exhibit, I think.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Fine.

Fury: Fictions and Films by Clive Holden (1998)
Collecting a novella that interweaves three divergent narratives about three connected characters during a blackout, five short stories, and two mostly poetic representations of two of the author's experimental films, this book is short -- 170-plus pages -- but strong. Heavily Canadian in character, the writing reminds me of Jack Kerouac or J.D. Salinger, as seen with the Weakerthans' strong sense of the importance of place.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Excellent.

The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino (1968)
Cloaked as a religion and inspiration book, this slim volume is really a romanticization of sales and marketing and an apology for mercenary commercial behavior. That said, it does encourage people to donate a portion of their profits to the poor -- and it offers some solid self-help suggestions regardless of whether you're in sales. Renewal, love, persistence, mindfulness, and humor are all good traits.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (1999)
Odd. While reading this, I was enraptured. But two days later, I could hardly remember a thing about the book! D these have lasting value? The character of Gilderoy Lockheart makes for some great comic commentary n publicity, fame, and celebrity. And Dobby the house-elf portends that Harry's fame is far flung. Good ending with giant spiders, Moaning Myrtle, a basilisk, and the ghost of a young Voldemort. It all comes back to me now. A great read.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Excellent.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999)
Not as satisfying as the last novel, this volume has a convoluted Who Done It? ending that ropes in a new lackey who will probably have a role in the future. Not as mythic as previous books, this introduces lycanthropy as an element and ups the ante on the quidditch match descriptions. Not as funny as the last book, either, as tensions test even the best of friends and enemies.
Days to read: 3. Rating: Excellent.

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card (1990)
This slightly dated book published by Writer's Digest Books breezes through a sci-fi how to in 137 pages. Amidst digs on Analog, Star Trek, and hard SF, Card expands on various kinds of stories, the rules of world creation -- space travel, etc. -- the difference between science fiction and fantasy, and how exposition works differently in SF than in other genres. Card's commentary on abeyance is especially useful.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Make the Music Go Bang!: The Early LA Punk Scene edited by Don Snowden (1997)
Basically an excuse to publish some of the scene-specific photos of Gary Leonard, this book comprises almost a dozen reminiscent "essays" by long-time scene stalwarts, including X's Exene Cervenka, Los Lobos' Louis Perez, and the editor of Slash. While a solid romp through the people and places of the era, the book's a little shallow and mostly succeeds because it shows how various subgenres came together in ways other communities and scenes couldn't sustain.
Days to read: 6. Rating: Good.

Mutts: Sunday Mornings by Patrick McDonnell (2001)
Beautiful color edition of McDonnell's amazing comic strip, all from the Sunday funnies. The color is vibrant, and the full-page detail art adds a nice design element. While his commentary on animal shelters can be cloying, McDonnell's portrayal of how pets interact with their owners, as well as with each other, is poignant, powerful, and damn funny.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Overcoming Addictions: The Spiritual Solution by Deepak Chopra (1997)
By highlighting how addictive substances and activities such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sex, and work affect our mind body balance -- drawing on Ayurveda -- Chopra hones in on the root causes of addictive behavior and offers some solutions. These solutions are rooted in concentrating on positive alternative experiences, mindfulness, and conscious choice. This book has already helped me.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web by David Weinberger (2002)
The co-author of "The Cluetrain Manifesto" goes off on his own and crafts a well-reasoned and forward-thinking look at why the Web really matters. Considering how the Web changes our philosophical consideration of space, time, perfection, togetherness, knowledge, and matter, Weinberger contends that the Web can amplify humanity's social nature, offering a good measure of hope for the future of technology and business development.
Days to read: 7. Rating: Good.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (1961)
"The most famous science fiction novel ever written" starts out as a martian comes to Earth tale and quickly evolves into an Ayn Rand-like commentary on politics, organized religion, property, and polyamory -- complete with Jubal Harshaw, a Howard Roark-like character who turnd out to be the real hero. A bit preachy at times, but impressive in its ideas and narrative.
Days to read: 4. Rating: Excellent.

Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction 1949-1969 by Jaye Zimet (1999)
Awesome book highlighting the cover art and text from lesbian-themed pulp novels. The author's collection is impressive, and her comments are insightful and humorous. Sections analyze the use of the female gaze, how the books were marketed to men, the sleaze element, and other themes -- use of butches, body image, and so on. Good resource listing.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer (1951)
Hoffer's near-academic sociological and psychological study looks at the appeal of mass movements, qualities and characteristics of potential converts, the relationship between united action and self-sacrifice, and the important actors in various stages of a movement. Hoffer concentrates on fanaticism and draws parallels between Nazism and Christianity. A useful handbook for organizers, but not overly hopeful for positive success.
Days to read: NA. Rating: Excellent.

Victory Chimp by Neil Hagerty (1997)
Imagine Lancelot Link as written by William S. Burroughs, and you've got a good idea about this book. Interstellar espionage story about an intelligent chimpanzee, written in a beat-meets-dada wordplay style. Some of it works well, and some does not. A vanity book. There's a change to first-person narrative at one point, but the ending -- the wrestling lectures -- were excellent.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Fair.

We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of LA Punk by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen (2001)
More than 160 people contribute their stories to this oral history of the LA punk scene. More balanced and in depth than "Make the Music Go Bang!" (reviewed above), this book considers the scene's precursors, genre-specific splits, and eventual evolution -- largely influenced by the hardcord insurgence from Orange County. The book also takes on the scene's entertainment industry ties and negative aspects, something "Make the Music Go Bang!" glosses over in the name of positive recollection and nostalgia.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Excellent.

Work 2.0: Rewriting the Contract by Bill Jensen (2001)
The author of "Simplicity" weighs in with his analysis of the new work relationships possible in the post-New Economy, -recession, and -911 world. Written mainly for managers, "Work 2.0" concentrates on new work assets; personalized work tools, resources, and processes; peer-to-peer value and social networks; and extreme leadership. Equal parts call for grassroots leadership development and a customer service approach to management.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

What are you reading?

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