Monthly Archives: September 2009

PAPERBACK COVERS By Michael Weinstein

Michael Weinstein’s brilliant Paperback Covers explores about 1600 paperback covers (while reproducing hundreds of examples of cover art both in B&W and color). I don’t know any other book that is this comprehensive. Weinstein’s approach is to use the five arts involved in the production of paperback covers–painting, photography, blurbwriting, typography, and design–as the focus of his analysis. If some of the examples seem overly weighted towards Robert McGinnis artwork and 1940’s paperback covers, it should come as no surprise these two areas are Weinstein’s preoccupations. If you’re as interested in paperback covers as I am, you need to order this book RIGHT NOW! You’ll discover hours of delight within its pages and a myriad of detail about cover artwork that you never knew. GRADE:A


No, I won’t be buying this box set of 90 CDs. The price is $789.98. And, although it comes with a 312-page hardcover book detailing Yo-Yo Ma’s career and there’s a dandy photograph of Yo-Yo Ma by Annie Leibovitz, I’m not shelling out that kind of dough for a career retrospective. SONY must think that people are going to buy this set, but in the teeth of a recession, this project seems misguided. It’s hard to imagine who the target market for such a pricey item might be. Perhaps, a few years from now when this set is selling for a heavily discounted price, I might consider it.


Books like The New Literary History of America attract me with an irresistible force. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by a 1,128 pages about Elvis, Walt Disney, noir, architecture, automotive history, and dozens of other aspects of Popular Culture. The title of this volume is a misnomer. Yes, Hawthorne and Melville make cameo appearances, but the main focus is squarely on rock & roll and movies with detours into books, magazines, and television. This should be expected with Greil Marcus, noted Rock Critic, running the show. The book bursts with photos and artwork (which explains the $49. 99 price tag). With this book around, you’ll be compulsively dipping into its vast collection of informative articles. If you can’t spring for it now, ask Santa for it for Christmas. GRADE: A


Health care reform is the key problem we need to solve or we’ll be losing ground to other countries as globalization continues. That’s the crux of T. R. Reid’s argument in The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. Reid suggests several approaches to managing health care based on models from France, the UK, Germany, Japan, and Canada. If you’re interested in health care reform, The Healing of America is required reading. You may think you know a lot about health care, but Reid’s book brings new facts to the table. I’ve read T. R. Reid’s previous book, The United States of Europe, and found that book just as compelling as The Healing of America. Reid is a Washington Post correspondent who specializes in breaking down complex topics and making them intelligible. He succeeds brilliantly in this latest book. GRADE: A

Kseniya Simonova – Sand Animation

If you thought you’d seen everything, check out this video at: This incredible “sand animation” is performed by Kseniya Simonova, the 2009 winner of the Ukraine “Got Talent” television series,. Simonova’s performance tells the story of life during WWII, explaining the emotional reactions of some of the audience. Ukraine was the area most devastated by the war, even more than Germany. It was a conflict that saw nearly one in four Ukrainians killed. Ukraine sustained almost 20% of all the causalities suffered during WWII. The scene ends in 1945, with the death of Hitler and the end of a long war.The text at the end where they’re staring at the sailor’s ghost says: “You are always nearby”. The 24-yr-old artist’s prize was 1,000,000 Ukrainian hryvnia, approximately $125,000. I’ve never seen a sand art performance like this and found it very moving.


Last Friday I chose Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith where I praised Highsmith’s case study of writing one of her most compelling works, The Glass Cell. Then Rick Robinson made the excellent suggestion that I review The Glass Cell which I immediately thought was a great idea. The Glass Cell is the story of Philip Carter, an engineer, who is falsely blamed for fraud in the construction of a school. Carter is convicted and sent to prison. Shortly after he’s incarcerated, Carter is viciously tortured by sadistic prison guards. This leads to a pain management problem that Carter can only solve with injections of morphine. Carter serves six brutal years of a ten-year sentence. Meanwhile, Carter’s beautiful wife Hazel, is having an affair with David Sullivan, a lawyer who Hazel believes is trying to get Carter a pardon. Highsmith ratchets up the suspense as Carter gets released from prison and has to confront life as an ex-con and his wife’s adultery. The case study in Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction shows how Highsmith rewrote The Glass Cell after Harper & Row rejected it. Highsmith says the book began to take form when she realized that even though Carter was out of prison, the effects of his horrific prison experience never really left him. I highly recommend both The Glass Cell and Highsmith’s slim, savvy writing guide.


AMC is currently developing an “update” to the classic THE PRISONER series starring Patrick McGoohan. When I first watched THE PRISONER 40 years ago, I really didn’t know what to make of it. McGoohan plays a “retired” spy who wakes up in an isolated place called “The Village” protected by a strange bubble device. Escape is seemingly impossible, but McGoohan (assigned the ID: No. 6) tries just about every week to flee The Village. The audience, and McGoohan, don’t know if The Village–filled with ex-spies and government officials who possess secrets–is run by the British Government or the Soviets or someone else. Of course, after 40 years, I don’t remember all that much about the series except that the final episode was surreal. AMC is making the original 16 full episodes available for view FOR FREE at their web site at: so you know what I’ll be doing for the next week or two. If you want to own THE PRISONER: THE COMPLETE SERIES AMAZON has it for $52.99.


Disney’s purchase of Marvel for $4 billion means we’ll be seeing more marketing of Marvel’s huge backlist. Last week, X-Men: Volume 3 and Volume 4 were released. Best Buy had them on sale for $14.99 ($5 off if you bought both volumes). These animated programs follow the comics closely. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll want these before Disney “puts them in the vault” as they are annoyingly prone to do, taking them out of circulation for five or more years. The women superheroes–Storm, Jean Grey, Rogue, Jubilee, etc.–are prominent and powerful.

BACH: PARTITAS 1, 5, 6 By Murray Perahia

I’ve made no secret of my admiration of Murray Perahia’s playing of Bach. Where other pianists “interpret” Bach–Glenn Gould is an extreme example–I find Perahia’s playing to be graceful and precise. It sounds like the “real” Bach to me. And I love the recorded sound of this new CD. The recording process makes the music as clear as glass. Murray Perahia is appearing in concert in LA and NYC in October. I’m sure Perahia will be featuring some of these marvelous partitas in his concert performances. GRADE: A


I promised my daughter that I would watch this Season Six 2-hour premiere episode, but the antics of the writers and producers of House over the past two seasons have driven me away from the series. House attracted me from the beginning with the medical mystery format. Every week, Dr. Gregory House and his medical team tackled strange and bizarre medical conditions. I found the program clever, intelligent, and compelling. But, a couple years ago, the series changed its focus from the mysterious medical conditions of the patients that needed diagnosis to House’s drug habit. I almost quit watching House at the end of Season Four when–incomprehensibly–the writers killed off the best actress and compelling character (other than Hugh Laurie), Amber. Then, last season, they brought Amber back as a hallucination. Weak! So I’ll tune in tonight and keep my promise, but I’m done with House.