Monthly Archives: June 2009


I’m a sucker for books like this. Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s Greatest Hits is a breezy guide through World Literature. Jack Murnighan’s approach is to summarize the book humorously, then talk about the best lines, and finally, what to skip. Murnighan has a Ph.D. in medieval and renaissance literature. It shows in some of his favorite picks like Milton’s Paradise Lost. I have a few quibbles. Murnighan picks Wings of the Dove by Henry James as his best book. I’d probably go with Portrait of a Lady or the underrated The Bostonians. Murnighan does a nice job on recommending translations by giving examples. I had a wonderful time with this book! GRADE: B+

MRS. MCGINTY’S DEAD By Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is at her mind-bending best in this fiendish mystery of who killed a poor charwoman. Published in 1951, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead deals with post-WWII society in Britain where new identities are easy to fashion. Poirot’s investigation explores the troubled past of several families. Plenty of red herrings there. We’ll have to see how this book translates to the television screen tonight on MASTERPIECE MYSTERY. Christie is also playful about her work. She uses the character of mystery writer Mrs. Oliver to deliver her thoughts: “But you have no idea of the agony of having your characters taken and made to say things they never would have said, and do things that they never would have done.” (p. 94) I suppose those words capture my antipathy to books like Spade & Archer. Then, Christie has another character suggest to Mrs. Oliver to kill off her main character: “You might make a Swan Song book of it–to be published after your death.” (p. 148) Which is, after all, exactly what Christie did to Poirot in Curtain and Miss Marple in The Sleeping Murder to prevent them from being “taken over.” GRADE: A.

CREATORS By Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is one of my favorite historians. He writes clear, insightful books without the trappings of theory and Freudian analysis. In Creators Johnson explores the lives of great writers and artists. In a series of pithy essays, Johnson shows how they overcome their problems and created great works of art. Included in this volume are pieces on Chaucer, Durer, Shakespeare, Bach, Tiffany, Austen, Eliot, Wagner, Hugo, Verdi, Dickens, Blenciaga, Dior, Picasso, and Disney. I found reading this book a delight. GRADE: A


Miracle in Three Dimensions and Other Stories is published by Isle Books. This small press should be congratulated on bringing back into print the work of an underrated writer. C. L. Moore is best known for her Northwest Smith stories (an influence on Indiana Jones) and her marriage to another underrated writer, Henry Kuttner. Miracle in Three Dimensions brings stories long unavailable like “Doorway Into Time” and “Fruit of Knowledge” to a new audience. The production of this book was clearly a labor of love for editor, Ian Lohr. There’s a partial bibliography of C. L. Moore’s work included as well as a short biographical essay. At a mere $16.95 (less if you buy it on AMAZON) this volume delivers good value.

THE BEST OF MICHAEL MOORCOCK By John Davey with Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

The best of Michael Moorcock was published in fourteen-volumes by White Wolf Press over a decade ago. This anthology of Moorcock’s short stories is representative of his work over 40 years. It begins with a short work featuring Moorcock’s most famous character: Elric, the wielder of the magic sword, Stormbringer. There’s a Jerry Cornelius story. Moorcock’s Nebula Award winner, “Behold the Man,” is included. If you haven’t read Michael Moorcock, this volume would be a good place to start. If you’re a fan of Moorcock, you’ll want this book because it includes several obscure pieces reprinted here for the first time. Tachyon Press’s packaging is first-rate. GRADE: A


“Name me, if you can, a better feeling than the one you get when you’re half a bottle of Chivas in the bag with a gram of coke up your nose and a teenage lovely pulling off her tube top in the next seat over while you’re going a hundred miles an hour down a suburban side street.” That’s how Driving Like Crazy begins and if you don’t like that, stop reading now. O’Rourke writes about his 30 years of driving cars and motorcycles. Some of this book reads like Dave Barry on speed, but I like that. I also liked the adventures O’Rourke relates of racing in the Baja with Mike Nesmith (yes, the former Monkee). Driving Like Crazy is a homage to a world that swiftly slipping away. O’Rourke loves cars and if you love them too, you’ll love this book. GRADE: B+.


Yes, the cover looks like a polar bear in a snowstorm. But the music on this CD is haunting. Some of it is instrumental, some choral. But the music is always mysterious and atmospheric. Arvo Part makes music that is unique and unforgettable. If you haven’t tried Arvo Part, listen to some samples at AMAZON or iTunes. I find this kind of music hypnotic. GRADE: A-.


This is an embarrassment of riches! Last week, I reviewed the wonderful Dames, Dolls & Gun Molls: The Art of Robert A. Maguire and now we have Gary Lovisi’s eye-popping collector’s guide to “Sexy Pulp Fiction Paperbacks.” Dames, Dolls & Delinquents is a browser’s delight. I’ve seen plenty of these covers before, but Lovisi also includes some obscure paperbacks that were completely new to me. How many of you have a copy of Morals Charge or They Kill to Live? Lovisi has found a number of British paperbacks to include that have fabulous covers: check out Blonde Dymamite and You’ve Had Your Chance. In addition to the incredible cover art work, Lovisi also provides bibliographic information and tries to identify the cover artist. Lovisi even provides estimates of the market value of the book depending on its condition. You can not pass this book up! GRADE: A


Happy Fathers’ Day! I tried to find a good book about fatherhood, but the best I could come up with was Michael Lewis’ glib Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood. Home Game is a compilation of essays that Lewis wrote for Slate. Lewis tries to be Dave Barry, but fails. The best part of the book is Lewis’ story of his vasectomy. Basically, Lewis thinks being a father is hard work. And kids will surprise you. And your wife will take you for granted. That’s about the level of insight in Lewis’ book. I’d advise you to skip it. Have a nice Fathers’ Day anyway. GRADE: C