Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Books Worth a Look VII
These are the books I read in July 2002.

Gangster Holidays: The Lore and Legends of the Bad Guys by Tom Hollatz (1989)
Written by a resident of Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, this book details the adventures and misadventures of several Chicago-area mobsters who vacationed in northern Wisconsin during the '20s and '30s. Providing adequate context for the local stories, the book concentrates on John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson, who were involved in a shootout at Little Bohemia near Manitowish Waters, and Al Capone, who owned a cabin on Cranberry Lake near Couderay, Wisconsin. While the vignettes and descriptions of how the mobsters helped and harmed area communities were interesting, I was particularly intrigued by the details of what old bar or brothel became the site of what modern-day business.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Good.

Hellblazer Book 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano, John Ridgway, and Alfredo Alcala (1992)
After working my way through the run of Preacher trade paperbacks, and with the coming of the Hellblazer movie, I thought it was high time to check out this classic Vertigo comic. I'm not the biggest fan of the Charlton-esque comic art, and I don't find the protagonist or basic premise very interesting. What we have here is an exorcist of sorts who sees ghosts of former friends and lovers and combats denizens of the underworld. He's particularly good at it because he has some demon blood coursing through his veins. I did enjoy the Mnemoth and Vietnam vet storylines, though. What's up with the Swamp Thing crossover at the end? I'll give this another chance, but it's no great shake.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Fair.

In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, by Jean Baudrillard (1983)
Subtitled the End of the Social and Other Essays, this Semiotext(e) text collects four pieces. Baudrillard suggests that the mass isn't a good conductor of the political, social, or meaningful. He considers how the aggregate discourages valid analysis -- and how information doesn't mobilize the masses; instead it sedates them. While I'm not totally convinced by his pessimistic analysis of media, I do appreciate his critique of marketing and advertising -- and his coverage of microgroups and the role of capital. Baudrillard also addresses the media's role in terrorism, which is particularly timely given the approaching anniversary of 911.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

A Look at Historic Green Lake: Honoring Our Sesquicentennial 1847-1997 by the City of Green Lake (1996)
This 24-page booklet is a terse yet wide-ranging look at the development of Green Lake, Wisconsin, long a summer resort town. The pamphlet touches on the area's industrial beginnings, boom with the advent of rail service, emergence as a vacation hot spot, retail activity, and civic organizations such as community bands. It's a cursory history that's heavy on archival photos and light on text, but it's a good warm up for better books such as Bob and Emma Heiple's A History of Beautiful Green Lake.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (1984)
I borrowed this British fantasy novel from Chris years ago and am just now getting around to it. Mythago Wood is a near-epic fantasy in which an adventurous family explores a preternatural forest that gives rise to physical manifestations of mythical figures created by the collective consciousness -- think Robin Hood. Combining shades of Tolkien and Lovecraft, Holdstock carries the concept well, even though the mental construction of the creatures didn't quite wash with me. It's a heroic adventure, a mythological reconception, and a love story. Worth digging up.
Days to read: 7. Rating: Excellent.

Nothing in This Book Is True, But It's Exactly How Things Are by Bob Frissell (1994)
Kook science, conspiracy theory, and New Age theorizing combine in this hot and cold expose of a walk-in, the ascended masters, life on other planets, interdimensional travel, sacred geometry, and the shadow government. While I disagree with Jay Kinney that this could be the next Cosmic Trigger, I do think half of the book is excellent. I had to push through Frissell's description of sacred geometry and meditative construction of the merkaba, but I enjoyed his unified theory of most things esoteric and occult.
Days to read: 11. Rating: Good.

Revolt, She Said by Julia Kristeva (2002)
The Bulgarian psychoanalyst who participated in the May 1968 revolt in France weighs in on the meaning of that political and philosophical uprising. She addresses the causes of psychic isolation, how the French movement was different than the American counterculture, its ties to the revolution of 1789, people's diminishing capacity for revolution, and the role of the media. I didn't find the heavy focus on psychology very interesting, but Kristeva's experience and introspection provides an important look at the roles of revolution, rebellion, and representation.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold (2002)
Subtitled Transforming Cultures and Communities in the Age of Instant Access, this might very well be Howard's most important and prescient book. Building on his previous writings on online communities, Howard considers how developments in cell phones, short message services, open source, collaborative Web filtering, file sharing, and blogging go beyond connecting people in communication networks -- they mobilize them to act collectively. The book bogs down a little in the historical outline of Moore's Law, Metcalfe's Law, etc., but Howard impresses with his healthy and insightful look at the potential impact of these technologies -- as well as the social, political, and legal challenges they may spark.
Days to read: 3. Rating: Excellent.

Toodles and Her Friends by Harry Whittier Frees (1991)
Opening with the disclaimer that "these unusual photographs of real kittens, puppies, and bunnies were made possible only by patient unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times," this well-designed vintage children's book features occasionally disconcerting photos of animals wearing gingham dresses, drinking tea, reading books, washing clothes, cooking, and jumping rope. The story's not much to sneeze at -- Toodles raises funds to purchase a jump rope -- but the photos are a little known example of innovative animal photography.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

The War of Souls Vol. II: Dragons of a Lost Star by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (2002)
Truly, I am a sucker for Weis and Hickman's Dragonlance novels -- have been since junior high. It's a good thing their collaborations -- and characters -- hold up so well. Some of the classic heroes are here, including Tasslehoff and an aging Goldmoon, but it's the new characters and impending return of the gods that held my attention. Gilthas' elven fop turned ostracized king works quite well, and Medan's dark knight marshall lost in love with the elven queen mother is a sensitive study in forbidden affection. It's this interplay of characters that will keep me coming back to these two authors.
Days to read: 11. Rating: Good.

The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog by Rebecca Blood (2002)
A companion volume of sorts to Perseus Books' We've Got Blog, Blood's book steps away from reprinting some of the best of the Web and toward an understanding of what makes blogs work well, as well as the effect they can have on a blogger's life. She addresses blogs' common characteristics, bloggers' motivations, how to find your personal writing voice, and how to interact with other bloggers. Her pointers on link etiquette and how to balance the Web and "real" worlds are useful, although I disagree with her on a couple of key points. (Don't blog at work? Please.) Much more than a Blogging for Dummies how to.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Good.

Why do some books get a link while other books do not? If a publishing company or author sends me review copies for consideration -- and if I review the book in Media Diet -- they get a link as well as a review. I don't review every review copy or galley I receive, and I don't always have time to track down author, publisher, and other book-related links in general.

Most of the books I review should be relatively easy to find via the Harvard Book Store and Powell's Books online ordering services. If something's out of print, check the Advanced Book Exchange first.

And if you'd like to send me a book to consider for review, Media Diet's address is P.O. Box 390205, Cambridge, MA 02139. Thank you very much.

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