Monday, June 23, 2014

Ten Books, Volume 4

  •  The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery: A Guide to Her Magical Performances by Herbie J. Pilato
    • I was a big fan of "Bewitched" as a kid (I enjoyed "I Dream of Jeannie" too but "Bewitched" had the more interesting characters) and for some reason, Elizabeth Montgomery always reminded me of my mom. I'm not sure why as my mother had dark brunette hair but maybe it was something in their faces? In any case, I have always been a fan and was excited to see that there was a new biography of Ms Montgomery. Alas, my library still does not have it, but it did have this book by the same author.
    • Ms Montgomery was in a zillion things on TV in the 1950s before "Bewitched" and she did a ton of TV movies afterwards so she really does have quite a large resume of performances.
    • This book irked me to no end though. The author kept up a steady patter of really esoteric "connections" to "Bewitched". Here's an especially egregious example (this is an actual quote from the book):
      • (About a performance in the 1950s) "Also, and only in retrospect, there are two interesting foreshadows to 'Bewitched': 
        • 1. The term "summer pavilion" refers to the gazebo which is at the center of this story's premise of reconstruction. Years later there would be an episode of Bewitched titled A Gazebo Never Forgets in which Samantha applies for a bank loan to remodel the gazebo in her backyard.
        • 2. Elizabeth's character says, 'Mother, I've got to fly.'"
    • See what I mean? How is this even remotely pertinent?! It's NOT interesting! It's stupid! I mean, you can do this with almost anything:
      • "In 1977 Kelly got her Social Security card. In retrospect, there are interesting foreshadows of her future. Years later she would apply for a credit card and need to supply her Social Security number. And every Human Resources department would demand the number too."
      • Or: "In high school English Kelly sat near a classmate named Mike Charles. In retrospect, she would think of this fact almost 35 years later as she wrote a blog entry. Perhaps she would marvel at the fact that she married a man named Michael. (Because, you know, WHAT ARE THE ODDS she'd marry someone born in the 1960s named "Michael"?)
      • Yes, I can do this all day.
    • It is fascinating to me how much more I have to say about books I don't like than books I do!
    • I am no longer interested in reading the biography of Ms Montgomery by this man. Oh well.
  • The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Casson
    • This was a really interesting book. Shirley was HUGE in the 1930s. Her name was so popular that it dwarfs any naming trend of today.
    • The dates across the bottom of the graph run from the 1880s to the 2010s. The peak is obviously in the 1930s.
    • Since she passed away earlier this year I was able to catch a bunch of her early movies when Turner Classic Movies ran a day-long tribute in March. She really was something.
  • The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as revealed by True Stories, Madness and Recovery by Sam Kean
    • This author also wrote The Disappearing Spoon about the Periodic Table of the Elements and The Violinist's Thumb about DNA, both of which I have read and enjoyed. (I saw him interviewed on some science show and he mentioned that his parents are named Gene and Jean Kean. Really.)
    • Early studies of the brain were basically cases of watching how someone with a head injury coped. This book covers all of that and more. Absolutely fascinating and highly recommended if you have an interest in the brain. The other two books are great too.
  • Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
    • I have a comic book collection (of which more at a later time) consisting almost entirely of Marvel Comics. This book covers the complete history of the company.
    • You know, you'd think a company that has existed basically since the 1930s would be well run and successful but that was never the case until now (with it's successful movie franchises including Spider-Man, The X-Men, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man I think they are probably doing okay).
    • As comic book trends ebbed and flowed the comic book staffs also waxed and waned. For example, in the early 1950s people got all riled up and accused comic books of causing juvenile delinquency. (Since a tiny percentage of comic book readers were actually delinquents, it was said that it was just as plausible that milk drinking caused it instead because a tiny percentage of those kids were JDs too.)
      • Sales therefore plummeted and staffs were ruthlessly cut. The early 1960s saw the creation of Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and a bunch of others and staffing levels recovered. But in the late 1960s teens and young adults were busy with other things so there was another round of punishing layoffs. Things eventually got better in the late 1970s and 1980s. Then there was another round of bad decisions and staff cutting.
    • Marvel Comics probably wouldn't be the same without Stan Lee (still with us in his 90s now) but I think a case could be made that he might not have been the best man to run the company as his interests lay elsewhere after the 1960s. 
    • As a Marvel Comics girl I was utterly fascinated by this book. But I am still mad at Ron Perelman for making my Marvel stock worthless in the 1990s.
    • I always assumed there was a specific comic hierarchy. By which I mean that the writer created the story, the artist drew the panels, and the inkers, colorists and letterers finished everything. Presumably the writer worked in conjunction with the other writers to keep things organized in the Marvel Universe and made crossovers possible (where Spider-Man, say, appeared in The Fantastic Four book). There was a little of this but basically it wasn't really how the system operated.
      • You had freelancers who just moved among the various comics companies (people moved between DC and Marvel all the time) and deadlines would come and go. It sounds like it was a mess.
        • And yet some of the greatest work still came out every month (and some stinkers too!).
  • One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
    • LOVED this book! Highly recommended. I couldn't believe how many things happened in the summer of 1927 (defined in this book as May through October).
      • Lindbergh flew to Paris, Babe Ruth set the record for most home runs in one season, the largest mass murder at a school (a record that still holds today), talkies began to replace silent films, the Academy Awards were founded, the murder that inspired "Double Indemnity" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice", and so much more.
      • I was most stunned to learn about the school massacre because I had never heard of it, nor have most Americans. It happened in Bath Township, Michigan. A man angered by rising school taxes (among other things) planted timed bombs in a K-12 school building. The perpetrator killed his wife, torched their farm and then drove to the school. By that point most of the bombs at the school had detonated (some failed to go off, thereby saving many lives). The killer drove up and detonated more bombs in his truck killing even more people (including himself). A total of 45 people, mainly children from 3rd to 6th grades, were killed.
        • The reason this event got lost to history seems to be because it happened on May 18. Lindbergh landed in Paris on May 20 and immediately wiped the school massacre story off the front pages. Crazy. But probably just as well so today's killers don't feel the need to exceed the death totals.
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
    • A woman from a small Missouri town returns there to report on 2 child murders. She tries to find out if they are related and then the mystery hits a little too close to home.
    • This is the first book by this author. Her second book, Dark Places, will come out as a movie later this year as will her more famous bestselling third book, Gone Girl.
    • I think I like this one the best of the three but they are all fairly similar in tone. It's like she's writing a mystery/crime series but the main character changes from book to book.
  • Locke & Key Volume 6: Alpha & Omega by Joe Hill
    • The final book in the Locke & Key series, this compiles the last seven comics in the series. I really liked the series but I was disappointed by the ending. It was fine but I somehow expected something more. Eh, glad it's done.
  • The Baroque Cycle: The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
    • I read the first book last month and loved it. The series of three books is made up of 8 novellas. This second book only has 2 novellas so it was just a wee bit more monotonous than the first volume with its three novellas.
    • I planned to read the 3rd volume immediately after this one but I had to take a break. Maybe next month...
  • Pearls Falls Fast: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury by Stephan Pastis
    • A compilation of the comic strip including the artist's commentary.
    • I read this strip every day so it is funny to me how many I had no memory of reading originally!
    • I really enjoy the commentary.
  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
    • A man has four wives, 28 children and a case of the blues.
    • It was pretty good. It made me want to binge watch "Big Love", the series on HBO a few years back. Maybe someday.

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