Remember when I suggested you should buy some oil stock? It was about a year ago. You can refresh your memory here. At that time, Marathon Oil (ticker symbol MRO) was $8 a share. MRO closed on Friday, April 7 at $16.26. You would have doubled your money in a little over a year. I know Maggie Mason bought some MRO and I hope you did, too. With the latest crisis in Syria and the looming crisis of North Korea, this would be a great time to buy some oil stocks. Oil always goes up when there’s an international incident. And with the present Administration, I suspect there will be a lot of crisis situations during the next four years. You might as well profit from it.
If this book was about me, the title would have to be changed to The House of 30,000 Books. Instead, this book concerns Chiman Abramsky, a key figure in the intellectual movement of Eastern European Jewry. Abramsky and his wife, Miriam, ran a well-known bookstore in London’s East End. Abramsky was a professor. He was friends with Isaiah Berlin, Erie Hobsbawn, and other key intellectuals. Abramsky wrote in a letter to Isaiah Berlin, “…[I would] be classified as an ex-communist, ex-Marxist, a mixture today of a radical-liberal-conservative-cum-counter-revolutionary; one who has lost his faith and has not yet found a new one, in a word a person who searches, gropes, doubts, constantly making ‘post-mortems’ on his own thinking…and somehow still believes in humanistic values” (p. 310). I found the story of Chiman Abramsky’s life fascinating reading. You would, too. How many books do you own? GRADE: B+
The Night Ocean is a mystery disguised as a faux-Lovecraft pastiche. Psychotherapist Marina Willett is married to a creative, but obsessive man named Charlie. Charlie’s latest obsession is with a rare book called the Erotonomicon allegedly written in “code” by H. P. Lovecraft to hide his sexual experiences. Charlie tracks down a copy of the Erotonomicon but that only leads him to the strange characters of Robert Barlow, a teenage fan of Lovecraft who may have had an affair with him, and L. C. Spinks who published the Erotonomicon. Spinks had relationships with the Futurians so Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, Frank Belknap Long, and A. E. Van Vogt are part of this story. Like an onion, layers of story peel away to reveal more convoluted stories. The book is narrated by Marina Willett who suspects Charlie is alive despite the evidence he committed suicide after escaping from a mental hospital. Like all things Lovecraftean, Reality becomes very plastic. I enjoyed The Night Ocean and hope Paul La Farge writes more books in this growing genre. GRADE: B+
Lionel White wrote some of the finest caper novels in the genre. I’m a fan of caper novels because I love the planning, preparation, and execution of the theft. But, of course, something always goes wrong. In his informative “Introduction” to this new STARK HOUSE edition of The Snatchers and Clean Break, Rick Ollerman puts these two works into context and explores the caper genre in detail. In The Snatchers (1953) Lionel White shows how the mechanics of a kidnapping operate. A gang kidnaps the teenage daughter of a wealth man. But, immediately, things start to go wrong.
You might not be familiar with Lionel White’s Clean Break (1955) but you might be familiar with the Stanley Kubrick film, The Killing which is based on White’s fine caper novel. The robbery of a race track produces all kinds of unexpected problems and suspense. If you’re looking for classic caper novels, The Snatchers and Clean Break are two of the best.
Remember the Swedish Bikini Team? That was a Stroh’s Beer marketing campaign that offended women but increased sales. Frances Stroh, member of a wealthy family whose fortune came from their breweries (established in Detroit in 1850), writes about the shopping trips to London, swanky restaurants, mansions, and a life of privilege. The Stroh Brewing Company was the third largest brewing company in the United States in 1984. At that time, the Stroh family fortune was estimated to be $700 million.
But as Frances Stroh’s memoir shows, the Stroh’s business plan was flawed. Detroit’s economy crashed in the 1980s. The family faced costly divorces, drug busts, business problems, and family feuds over the dwindling money flow. The story of the decline and fall of the Strohs shows how Bad Decisions and Greed can ruin everything. If you’re interested in family drama at its most extreme, I highly recommend Beer Money. What do you think of Stroh’s beer? GRADE: A
Back in July 1955, Imaginative Tales published Robert Bloch’s wacky The Big Binge with fabulous cover artwork by HAROLD McCAULEY. Pink elephants, vampires, a talking gorilla, and general silliness feature prominently in this tale. Back in the 1950s, Imaginative Tales represented the “risque” fantasy genre. The stories and cover art were intended to titillate the readers. Robert Bloch is in fine form in The Big Binge with his sly humor and clever plotting. Bloch seems to be channeling his inner “Thorne Smith” in this story of screwball fantasy. If you’re looking for the lighter side of Robert Bloch, I recommend The Big Binge. I have the original Imaginative Tales digest, but The Big Binge has been reprinted a couple times and is available online. What’s your favorite Robert Bloch work? GRADE: B+
Deb mentioned in a comment on my review of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) that she loved Joan Greenwood’s smoky voice and her role in The Importance of Being Earnest (1952). So, of course, I had to track down the Criterion Collection version of The Importance of Being Earnest and watch it again. I’ve seen The Importance of Being Earnest at least a dozen times. I generally prefer stage versions to movie versions. But the all-star cast of this movie version of The Importance of Being Earnest is something special. It features Michael Redgrave as Jack Worthing, Joan Greewood as Gwendolyn, Dame Edith Evans as the formidable Lady Bracknell, Michael Denison as Algernon Moncrieff, Dorothy Tutin as Cecily Cardew, and Margaret Rutherford as Miss Letitia Prism. Delightful! GRADE: A
In this new version of Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johansson plays cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi. Basically, the Major is a robot with a human brain. The Major works for Section 9, a Japanese defense agency focused on dealing with terrorism. And, for a country that strictly controls guns, there’s a vast array of weaponry in Ghost in the Shell. My favorite is the “spider tank.” Ghost in the Shell explores issues of identity and memory. And corporate corruption. There’s been some controversy about the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Major instead of an Asian actor. This seems like a phony argument to me since the Major is basically a machine without sex or race. And, of course, I’m a big fan of Scarlett Johansson.
If you’re in the mood for an action movie with philosophical questions, Ghost in the Shell is the film for you. Some fans of the original 1995 animated version might not like that fact that the original ending has been changed to allow for a possible sequel. GRADE: B
I love the appearances of new teams in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s FINAL FOUR. Gonzaga is here for the first time. So is South Carolina. Oregon hasn’t been in the FINAL FOUR since 1939–78 years! And, of course, North Carolina is looking for redemption after Villanova beat them last year with a buzz beater. Gonzaga is favored over the Gamecocks by 6 points. North Carolina is favored over the surprising Ducks by 5 and 1/2 points. I’ll be rooting for the Ducks and the Gamecocks (I love underdogs!). Who will you be rooting for?