The Digest Enthusiast: Book One

digestenthusiastWhen a publication about your obsessive hobby reads interesting even to someone who doesn’t share that obsessive hobby, you’re doing something right.

Clearly, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST is doing something right.

Printed appropriately in near-digest form, the magazine devotes itself to — what else? — the world of digest magazines. Carrying the label of BOOK ONE, the new pub debuted in late January. Get aboard now so the out-of-love endeavor may continue.

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Death of a Dyer

deathdyerEleanor Kuhns’ DEATH OF A DYER has a great timeframe and setting: post-Revolutionary War America in the year 1796. And it has great characters, the farmer/itinerant weaver Will Rees, his petulant adolescent son David, and a Shaker woman named Lydia who Will loves dearly but is fearful to admit it even to himself.

Its plot also starts off promisingly: Rees’ childhood friend, from whom he has been estranged for almost twenty years, is found murdered in a cottage on his farm. Known for being helpful in these situations (as detailed in Kuhns’ earlier work A SIMPLE MURDER), Rees joins forces with the town constable to investigate the situation.

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March into These 3 New Books on Cult Movies

bisforbadDon’t be dissuaded by the rather extended-pinky subtitle of B IS FOR BAD CINEMA: AESTHETICS, POLITICS, AND CULTURAL VALUE, part of State University of New York Press’ ongoing “Horizons on Cinema” series. (Also don’t be dissuaded that Leos Carax’s critically revered HOLY MOTORS adorns the cover; co-editors Claire Perkins and Constantine Verevis have some ’splainin’ to do regarding that curious choice, and try to in their introduction.) Available in both expensive hardcover and affordable paperback, this is a livelier-than-anticipated collection of intelligent essays addressing not-always-intelligent film. Nothing encapsulates the approach better than Jeffrey Sconce’s truly funny “Explosive Apathy”; if you never thought an academic piece would examine Hollywood’s physics-ignorant love of shooting characters walking toward the camera in slow motion as a fireball rages behind them, think again. Amid evaluations of William Friedkin’s notoriously (and arguably?) homophobic CRUISING and Guy Green’s muddled MAGUS come works on botched subtitle translations, the technique of rear projection and the various DVD commentaries of Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD. While the book’s concept remains not quite clearly delineated upon reaching the back cover, its contents are strong enough to survive without the overarching cohesion.

qtFAQEmbarrassing as it is (especially when spoken aloud), the subtitle of QUENTIN TARANTINO FAQ: EVERYTHING LEFT TO KNOW ABOUT THE ORIGINAL RESERVOIR DOG rings true: There’s a lot I didn’t know about one of my favorite directors, and Dale Sherman has compiled an infinitely readable history of the man and his movies in a paperback package just shy of 400 pages. Last seen authoring another book in Applause’s FAQ series (2013’s ARMAGEDDON FILMS FAQ), Sherman fashions an honest-to-goodness narrative in Tarantino’s rise from high school dropout and video store clerk to multiple Academy Award winner and indie-film revolutionist. The road to his RESERVOIR DOGS debut is paved with far more stops than the “overnight sensation” label would have you believe, and the level of detail Sherman employs to tell that tale also is applied to the behind-the-scenes stories of each subsequent project. Also discussed: everything from grindhouse fare to GREEN LANTERN — can you imagine Tarantino directing that? He considered it “for a second,” and fans will enjoy their hours spent reading this FAQ, excusing a few “royale” errors.

noirwesternAs David Meuel demonstrates throughout THE NOIR WESTERN: DARKNESS ON THE RANGE, 1943-1962, more examples of this unusual marriage of shadows and saddle sores exist than I would have guessed. The McFarland & Company paperback gives Meuel — who penned WOMEN IN THE FILMS OF JOHN FORD for the publisher last year — 11 chapters (not including intros and outros) to discuss representative works of “the dark cowboy.” Among them are such iconic Westerns as William A. Wellman’s THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, Delmer Daves’ 3:10 TO YUMA and Ford’s THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE; Meuel divides his essays thematically and/or by director, yielding pieces both knowledgeable and enlightening. The one digging into maverick Sam Fuller’s subversive contributions to the genre was my favorite, and stands as a great litmus test for any book browser considering taking the ride. I only wish the author had extended his scope beyond ’62, but at least his afterword acknowledges a post-date existence and influence. —Rod Lott

Buy them at Amazon.

Canary

canaryNow that the delightfully outrageous Charlie Hardie series (FUN AND GAMES, HELL AND GONE, and POINT AND SHOOT) is behind him, crime author Duane Swierczynski decided to play it straight with his latest novel, CANARY.

But we’re talking about Swierczynski here, and playing it straight for him is as far from dull and predictable as can be imagined. So, not surprisingly, CANARY is brimming with inventive plotting, wonderfully cynical humor, and white-knuckle suspense as well.

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Don’t Cry, Tai Lake

dontcryDON’T CRY, TAI LAKE is Qui Xiaolong’s seventh book in a series featuring Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau in China. The series started in 2000 with the release of DEATH OF A RED HEROINE and is now up to nine books with the recently released SHANGHAI REDEMPTION.

This is my first Inspector Chen, and while there are some infelicities of text and plot, there’s a certain quality to the book, an atmosphere of peace maybe, or the granite core of Inspector Chen upon which the waves of chaos buffet, or maybe it’s just the frequent use of Chinese-style poetry throughout that lends the book a sense of grace, even while corruption abounds and horrible murders are being committed.

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Trigger Warning

triggerwarningNeil Gaiman takes the title of his third collection of short fiction (joining SMOKE AND MIRRORS and FRAGILE THINGS) from the Internet term that warns of images or content that might upset readers: TRIGGER WARNING. He extends the meaning to everyday life and, as he expresses it in the Introduction, “those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming.”

That’s the effect of the 24 pieces gathered together here in Gaiman’s strongest and most varied short fiction collection yet. And as his many loyal fans know, Gaiman is so much fun to read that we are more than willing to drop through all these dangerous trapdoors.

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A Serpent’s Tooth

serpentstoothWillful Absaroka County, Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire is on the rampage again in A SERPENT’S TOOTH, the ninth entry in Craig Johnson’s outstanding series that has been made into a hit television show on A&E.

There is nothing quite like Longmire on today’s contemporary mystery reading lists. A man of the Western high plains, he charts a full “10” on the Character Meter, along with his colleagues like the representative of the Cheyenne Nation, Henry Standing Bear, and Longmire’s beautiful femme fatale of an undersheriff, the indomitable Victoria “Vic” Moretti.

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Mad Movies with the L.A. Connection

madmoviesIn 1985, I was 14 and at the peak of my obsessive love for MAD magazine. Late that summer, when I read a one-sentence mention in TV GUIDE that a syndicated show titled MAD MOVIES was among that fall’s new fare, I flipped. Finally, something to look forward to in my so-called life!

Imagine my disappointment when MAD MOVIES soon premiered, and under the full title of MAD MOVIES WITH THE L.A. CONNECTION. Not only did the program have zilch to do with my favorite “cheap” mag, but I didn’t find it all that funny, either, no matter how hard its rather desperate laugh track tried to convince me otherwise. (Don’t even get me started on FTV, the woeful MTV parody that shared the hour on my local station.)

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Hush Hush

hushhushIn her latest novel, HUSH HUSH, Laura Lippman brings the kind of emotionally intense and philosophically challenging topics that have distinguished her superb stand-alone crime fiction works to her Tess Monaghan series – the PI mysteries that launched her career several years ago. While its wonderful to see Tess’s character grow and develop, the novel’s overall results are unfortunately less than satisfying.

On a hot summer morning in Baltimore, Melisandra Harris Dawes, a wealthy mother of 3 children, left her two-month old daughter locked in the back seat of her car while she sat nearby. The baby suffocated to death, but in court Melisandra was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Freed, she left the country, her husband and her two surviving daughters, determined to start over.

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3 Film-Related Reads to Capture Your Ripped-Out Heart

theme70Overall, fans of cult cinema should enjoy Mark J. Banville’s THEME ’70: TACKLING THE BEAST THEY CALL EXPLOITATION CINEMA, yet it’s important to note what the trade paperback is and is not. First and foremost, UK publisher Headpress has blessed it with a subtitle that is not truly indicative of the actual contents. That’s because the book, largely reprinted from Banville’s THEME ’70 zine of the early 1990s, offers comparatively very little in the way of words; it works best as a collection of posters and ad mats straight from the kitsch-en sink. When the author does review a movie — most of the flicks covered herald from blaxploitation — it’s short and sweet and really more of a plot summary than actual opinion. That’s not a complaint, because the book is a ton of fun, but being more collage than criticism hardly qualifies as “tackling the beast”; in other words, expect images, not insight. I would have liked to have seen an introduction that told the history of the zine (one I had never heard of until now) and, thus, placed the material that follows in solid context. More telling is that I would like to see even more of this stuff. It’s a hoot.

evilspeak3Hey, speaking of zines, that DIY art form was huge in the 1990s, particularly in the realm of B movies, before the Internet all but killed them. Ironically, the print zine has been making a comeback where cult film is concerned, and one near-sterling example is the ad-free EVILSPEAK HORROR MAGAZINE. Now on its third issue, each one is impressively designed (by Justin Stubbs) and larger than the previous, to the point that the current edition is really a trade paperback. In its 134 pages, you get celebrations of horror, horror and — yep! — horror, with a deep focus on flicks that wallow in the gutter well below the mainstream. Issue 3 also features an article on the horror comics of Eerie Publications, plus an original comic of its own. If there’s a bone to pick with EVILSPEAK, it’s that a couple of the writers tend to summarize a film rather than discuss it, and co-founder/co-editor Vanessa Nocera (currently on display in the HI-8 anthology) is most guilty of this across all issues, even giving away the movies’ endings! Good thing I get a reading buzz nonetheless.

megarevengeLast fall, I ran a review of Danny Marianino’s THE MEGA BOOK OF REVENGE FILMS — VOLUME 1: THE BIG PAYBACK, which read in part, “Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re going to write a book about movies in which the whole point is characters seeking vengeance, shouldn’t you be able to spell ‘vengeance’? … [It] is so every-page-riddled with typos, run-on sentences and other egregious errors that it’s obvious he didn’t select ‘Check Spelling’ on his self-published manuscript.” However, thanks to the technological magic of today’s print-on-demand world, newly purchased copies of the paperback reflect Marianino performing a little clean-up work, including reinstating a lost photograph that originally resulted in a big ol’ blank space. What’s important is that even with the errors that remain, the man’s passion for these movies stands front and center. His shoot-the-shit approach to discussing (vs. reviewing) the films fan-to-fan is infectious; you’ll emerge from it with a large list of titles to catch or revisit, not to mention a yearning for MEGA’s promised 2016 follow-up, VOLUME 2: GLEAMING THE CUBE. —Rod Lott

Buy them at Amazon.

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