With Halloween so close, I figured I would pick a scary classic: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Shirley Jackson is best known for her creepy, unforgettable short story, “The Lottery.” All of Shirley Jackson’s works have at their core the perversion of the normal into something quite sinister. The Haunting of Hill House takes the most domestic location of all, a home, and turns it into a Disneyland of horror. Two movies have been made of The Haunting of Hill House, the first 1963 version with Julie Harris, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, and Claire Bloom. The 1999 version featured Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor. But the novel tops both movies. It will put you in the Halloween spirit.
I heard Chick Klosterman interviewed on NPR last week. He was promoting his new book, Eat the Dinosaur (more about that book in a few days after I read it), but a quick search of Klosterman’s previous books revealed this gem. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs explodes with an analysis of breakfast cereal, reality television, tribute bands, Internet porn, serial killers, and the Dixie Chicks. Oh, and a lot more. Klosterman writes with popular culture in mind and he’s funny. My only complaint is that popular culture grows stale very quickly. Even though this book was published in 2003, references to The Legend of Zelda and The Sims are dated. If you’re looking for insightful cultural commentary and a few laughs, give Klosterman a try. GRADE: B
“Once you’re dead, you’re made for life,” said Jimi Hendrix. This collection of “Smart Quotes for Dumb Times” delighted me. The quotations are organized by subject with a useful name index so you can browse by topic or person. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” said Alan Kay. Or how about “To be a woman is something so strange, so confusing, and so complicated that only a woman could put up with it.” The author of those words was Soren Kierkegaard. I could go on and cite a dozen more cool quotations (quotations are like potato chips, you can’t stop at one), but I’ll end with this one: “Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it,” according to P. J. O’Rourke. GRADE: A
Rod Stewart’s SOULBOOK is obviously a labor of love. Rod sings 13 soul standards like “It’s a Rainy Night in Georgia” and “Love Train.” Stevie Wonder joins Rod on “My Cherie Amour.” Mary J. Blige shows up on “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” And Jennifer Hudson sings a duet with Rod on “Let It Be Me.” I love these songs and clearly Rod Stewart does too. I consider “Tracks of My Tears” to be the strongest track on the CD. Listen to it and if you don’t care for it, then you won’t like this album. But, if it strikes the same chord in you that it does in me, then go to AMAZON and take advantage of their $8.99 sale price. Best Buy has it for a buck more. Either way, this is a very affordable CD full of classic soul hits. I enjoyed it. GRADE: B+
Nick Hornby bursts with confidence: after all he opens his new novel in a toilet in Minneapolis. The Juliet referred to in the book’s title is an actual person–a woman rock star Tucker Crowe once had a passionate relationship with–and an album titled Juliet that chronicles the breakup of that relationship (think Joni Mitchell’s Blue). Shortly after that album’s release, Tucker Crowe left that rest room in Minneapolis and mysteriously retired from the rock world. Now, 20 years later, another Tucker Crowe album has been released: Juliet, Naked made up of Crowe’s early acoustic version of those songs. The Tucker Crowe obsessive Internet community, is rocked by this news. Brits Duncan and Annie, after visiting all the important Tucker Crowe American sites, find upon their return to the placid English community of Gooleness, that their relationship is disrupted by Juliet, Naked. Duncan considers it a masterpiece, Annie prefers the older studio version of Juliet. When Annie writes a review for the Tucker Crowe blog, she gets an amazing response, from Tucker Crowe himself. Although Juliet Naked is more discursive than Hornby’s other novels like High Fidelity and About a Boy, Hornby explores obsession and the fragility of relationships in this latest novel. GRADE: B
Celtic Thunder, like Celtic Woman, is a group put together to market pop music with an Irish flavor. Celtic Thunder’s new CD, Take Me Home is a mixed bag. The Irish songs like “The Homes of Donegal” and “Midnight Well” are entertaining. But “Wichita Lineman”? Or “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” and “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”? Since when is Paul Anka Irish? Then there are the overdone songs, “Every Breath You Take” and “You Raise Me Up.” Sting and Josh Groban did them better. Celtic Thunder fans will buy this CD no matter what I say. But, for the rest of you, be warned. GRADE: C
Michael Moore’s latest documentary with the ironic title is sure to cause plenty of viewers to panic. Moore’s critique of our economic system’s flaws together with his scathing indictment of our politicians should be a warning that more Bad Things are going to happen on top of all the Bad Things that have happened because NOTHING GOT FIXED! Throwing $700 billion to the banks ranks right up there with Nero burning Rome to the ground according to Moore. I found much of Moore’s presentation powerful and truthful. My only complaint is that Moore’s movie goes on a bit too long. Ten minutes less would have made CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY a better film. But, by all means see it. GRADE: B+
One of the highlights of the Indianapolis BOUCHERCON was the panel on Edgar Allan Poe. Mike Connelly, Sue Grafton, Peter Lovesey, John Lutz, and Sara Paretsky delighted the SRO audience with their insights on Poe. And, immediately after hearing their incisive commentary, I wanted to reread some Poe. I think it was Sara Paretsky who mentioned the special aspects of Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I reread it and rediscovered the haunting story that influenced H. P. Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu.” If you haven’t read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket be prepared to be creeped out. Poe throws in horror, madness, and high adventure to create his own special blend of weird fiction. What better way is there to celebrate Poe’s 200th Birthday than to read one of his forgotten works.
Patti Abbott recommended THE NOIR THRILLER and she’s right: it’s a terrific book. It’s basically a study of hundreds of 20th Century thrillers, both books and movies. The chapters are topical. “Hard-Boiled Investigators,” “Big Shot Gangsters and Small-Time Crooks,” “Strangers and Outcasts,” “Fatal Men,” and “Fatal Women” give you a glimpse of the way Horsley organizes her material. And I really love the cover photo of Rita Hayworth. It really sets the tone for this insightful book. Horsley’s book should be the Official Book of upcoming NoirCon. GRADE: A