Monday, September 09, 2002

Books Worth a Look VIII
These are the books I read in August 2002.

The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature by H.P. Lovecraft (Hippocampus, 2000)
Editing and annotating Lovecraft's original text, S.T. Joshi does a good job contextualizing the supernatural study from the late '20s and '30s. Lovecraft discusses the evolution of supernatural horror fiction, outlining its definition and elements, and describing and commenting on the work of writers such as Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, and others. If you're at all intrigued by the foundations of Lovecraft's writing, he lays it all out here.
Days to read: 3. Rating: Excellent.

Boston's Depots and Terminals: A History of Downtown Boston's Railroad Stations by Richard Barrett (Railroad Research Publications, 1996)
Written by a former Somervillain, this book details the history of the more than 12 train stations that predated and eventually merged to form today's North and South stations. Heavily documented with period maps, photographs, time tables, and assorted railroadiana, Barrett's book is a fascinating glimpse at the changing face of Boston, the city's commercial and cultural past, and the pre-Amtrak railroad days. More local places I need to visit to see what's changed!
Days to read: 15. Rating: Excellent.

Don't Sleep with Your Drummer by Jen Sincero (MTV/Pocket, 2002)
Evoking Pagan Kennedy's The Exes, this first novel by a former record company copywriter is an extremely straight-forward look at life in a rock 'n' roll band. The narrator quits her job, forms a band, and proceeds to embark on a series of romantic misadventures. The segments on new-member tryouts and interactions with the teenage band member's mother -- as well as the heroine's flamboyantly gay confidant -- are particularly good. The band goes on tour, gets a record deal, gets screwed, and -- in the end -- looms larger as an independent pop phenomenon.
Days to read: 7. Rating: Good.

The Executioner #287: Rogue Warrior by Mike Newton as Don Pendleton (Gold Eagle, 2002)
Don Pendleton's long-running adventure series is always a welcome palette cleanser and mindless read. A former Special Forces comrade of Mack Bolan's emerges as a cultish religious leader and guerrilla chief in Southeast Asia. Bolan falls in with a French journalist as he challenges the militaristic prophet, who seeks to unleash an Ebola epidemic on the world. This volume is no better or worse than others in the series.
Days to read: 7. Rating: Fair.

Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto (Grove, 2002)
It took 13 years for this novel to reach the United States in Michael Emmerich's translation, and while it's a welcome read -- Yoshimoto is one of very few writers I eagerly await -- it's a challenge to place in the context of her other work given its age. That said, the novel was worth waiting for. Yoshimoto continues her sentimental relationship narratives, weaving in several dark elements and a bittersweet edge. Love, loss, hope, and revenge all play a role in the story. Hope we don't have to wait 13 years for the next book!
Days to read: 2. Rating: Excellent.

The Great Swamp of Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge: An Historic Perspective of Its Development 1630-2001 by Sheila Cook (Alewife Watershed Trust, 2002)
Equal parts economic, environmental, and urban planning history and analysis of Fresh Pond and the former swamp land in northwest Cambridge goes far to explain the development of the area as well as the environmental impact of that development. Cook describes many lost landmarks of Cambridge but doesn't quite nail down her environmental critique.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

The Harvey Girls: The Women Who Civilized the West by Juddi Morris (Walker & Co., 1994)
Fred Harvey's restaurants and cafe cars along America's railways during the population expansion west in the late 1800's are fascinating examples of entrepreneurialism. And the Harvey Girls -- the women who moved west to work in the occasionally remote frontier restaurants -- are even more interesting. Harvey trained his staff well and despite his occasionally harsh restrictions (rules in the girls' dorms, etc.) managed his restaurants with heart. The book isn't very well written, but this is a good introduction to a little-known aspect of history.
Days to read: 7. Rating: Fair.

Haymarket by Wendy Snyder (MIT Press, 1970)
Haymarket, an open-air produce market adjacent to the meat markets near Clinton and Blackstone streets, has been operating in one form or another for 50 years. The 60 photographs and transcriptions of tape-recorded stories in this book represent several years of Snyder's work. The book captures the hustle and bustle of the market's atmosphere, vendors, customers, commercial culture, and place in the context of Boston as a city. Extremely well edited, the transcribed first-person accounts occasionally read like poetry, and Snyder's photos beautifully capture the face of the place called Haymarket.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Images of America: Somerville by Anthony Mitchell Sammarco (Arcadia, 1997)
Dover, New Hampshire-based Arcadia Publishing is doing the world a great service with its series of Images of America history books. This 128-page volume about Somerville, Massachusetts, covers the city's splintering from Charlestown, churches, schools, libraries, transportation, and role as Boston's quintessential streetcar suburb. It also includes material on the Ursuline Convent, which was destroyed by an anti-Catholic riot in 1834, and the McLean Asylum, which relocated to Belmont in 1895. Makes me want to walk around town to see everything that has changed.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Marmalade Boy Vol. 1 by Wataru Yoshizumi (Tokyopop, 2002)
Among the better manga translated into English in recent days, Marmalade Boy shares the unconventional story of two families who swap spouses and the effect the exchange has on Miki and Yuu, their teenage children. Miki doesn't approve of the new arrangement at all but quickly crushes out on Yuu. Over the course of the edition, Miki becomes more comfortable with her new family and wavers between the affections of Yuu and Ginta, an old friend. The art is cleanly cute, and the story is sensitive yet light-hearted.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

The New Sins by David Byrne (McSweeney's, 2001)
In English and Spanish with different images in each flip side, this is a quick read. Byrne expands on 11 new sins. The sins include previously lauded and admired characteristics such as charity, thrift, hope, contentment, and cleanliness. In exploring the new sins using language usually reserved for evangelical religious tracts, Byrne sheds light on the down side of the qualities while also poking fun at people who often build their images and careers on such characteristics -- celebrities, politicians, lawyers, and talk-show pundits. The beautifully designed book is a clever curiosity but doesn't seem to have lasting value.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Fair.

Pinky & Stinky by James Kochalka (Top Shelf, 2002)
James took 11 months to write and draw this graphic novel, and I'm actually rather surprised it took so long. It's a simple story: Two piglets get stranded on the moon on their way to Pluto. There, they commandeer a walking robot, discover an underground city,, save a princess -- and leave the moon as heroes. It's a quick and silly throwaway story, but there are several interesting snippets, such as Kochalka's determined missile and character design for the moon men.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Fair.

Solo Flights Through Shared Worlds by Mike Resnick (Dark Regions, 1995)
Resnick wrote these 16 short stories to participate in shared-world projects led by Jerry Pournelle, Isaac Asimov, Bob Silverberg, Phil Farmer, and Piers Anthony. His explanation of how shared worlds work is useful, and his admitted attempts to get away with as much as possible within what can be extremely limiting frameworks are evident. While the Dracula, Frankenstein, Elvis, and other popcult tales aren't as interesting as those from the Fleet and Riverworld series, the collection is an excellent example of shared-world science fiction.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

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