Chronic City

chroniccityJonathan Lethem is currently one of those young favorites of the East Coast literati crowd who, like Michael Chabon, was influenced early by genre fiction. And unlike Chabon, Lethem keeps a much tighter reign on this influence in his own works, although he did edit the popular Library of America reissues of Philip K. Dick.

CHRONIC CITY, Lethem’s latest, is by no means a genre novel. Yet a few of those influences seem to creep along its edges. It’s narrated by Chase Insteadman, a former child star of a hit TV series. Chase hasn’t acted since the show ended production, and subsists these days mostly on residual checks and as a popular fixture at upscale dinner parties in New York City.

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Comedy Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914-2008

comedyhorrorfilmsSome of the most fun monster movies are the ones that make you laugh instead of scream. In the 1940s and ’50s, Abbott and Costello rode such a formula to a box-office bonanza, and this past decade, Anna Faris became a star on the strength of four SCARY MOVIEs. All those and nearly everything in between are covered by Bruce G. Hallenbeck in COMEDY HORROR FILMS: A CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY, 1914-2008.

To be clear, Hallenbeck states he’s not including movies that are funny because they’re woefully incompetent. To make the cut, they had to be funny — or at least tried to be — on purpose. Don’t worry: That still leaves more than 200 motion pictures ripe for discussion.

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Showcase Presents Ambush Bug: Volume 1

showcaseambushbugWith the exception of the regular cast of characters (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk), the first real comic-book hero that I became a real geeky, I’m-better-than-you-because-you-don’t-know-who-this-is fan of was the bizarro cult icon Ambush Bug.

It was around 1985 and I was living in a small town in Texas called Blooming Grove. There was a small, mom-and-pop video store that sold stacks of comics — literal stacks, with no rhyme or reason — and because my dad was chief of police, they always gave use free rentals and, every Friday, free comics. My brother and I picked up the weirdest stuff, from THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE: BOOK OF THE DEAD to the Jack Chick/fever-dream retelling of the Apocalypse in his CRUSADERS series. I even picked up a copy of a Mexican Spidey reprint where “El Hombre Araña” weds Mary Jane (Marijuana?), complete with pin-up poster.

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Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes

popgoesweaselDid you know “Old Mother Hubbard” is a criticism of the Catholic Church? That “Little Miss Muffet” was likely Mary, Queen of Scots? That “Humpty Dumpty” refers to a cannon? Those revelations merely scratch the surface in POP GOES THE WEASEL: THE SECRET MEANINGS OF NURSERY RHYMES, Albert Jack’s thoroughly well-researched study of seemingly innocuous songs from our childhood.

Not surprisingly, many selections from Mother Goose’s oeuvre are found to have political and/or religious meaning, meant to satirize authorities of that era. I don’t know where Jack got all his info, but he has a knack for unearthing the arcane. That goes for the rhymes, too, whose lyrics get printed — there are dozens I’ve never even heard of. Recommended for trivia buffs with a bent toward world history. —Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

DEALGASM >> 11.27.09

Current great entertainment sales on Amazon for the month of November:
Black Friday deals all Thanksgiving week long
• Preorder BREATHLESS by Dean Koontz for only $9
• Drop by the Christmas Corner for holiday ornaments, baking needs, festive music and more
Black Friday music deals with deep discounts, from Nov. 25-30
2009 Holiday Toy List at everyday low prices
Save $10 instantly on subscriptions to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, PEOPLE, TIME and hundreds more, through Dec. 31
50 MP3 albums for just $5 each, plus free songs and sampler albums
• More than 100 new games added to Amazon Game Downloads
• The 100 greatest live albums at Amazon MP3
• Amazon Kindle now only $259
Amazon Kindle with U.S. and international wireless for $279
Nintendo Wii now only $199.99
Sony PlayStation 3 120GB for only $299
Microsoft Xbox 360 Elite and Pro versions for only $299 and $249, respectively

LIT TRIP >> The Toy & Action Figure Museum

exteriorBorn from a million comic books, more than 10,000 mighty marvels of merchandising call The Toy & Action Figure Museum of Pauls Valley, Okla., home. Inside a former department store on an aged downtown street in a city you otherwise might never visit, the museum is one of those tourist attractions that’s actually worth the drive — roughly one hour south of the Oklahoma City metro area.

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9 Great Gift Books for the Holidays

amerfanttalesAMERICAN FANTASTIC TALES edited by Peter Straub — Should you have a horror hound on your holiday gift list, this is what you get them: Library of America’s two-volume set, well-edited with unconventional choices by Straub. End of story. Check. You’re done. Still need convincing? Damn, you’re a problematic one, but all right: This esoteric survey of the American scary story covers some 150 years across two handsome hardcovers, cloth bookmark included: TERROR AND THE UNCANNY FROM POE TO THE PULPS and TERROR AND THE UNCANNY FROM THE 1940S TO NOW. Either is exceptional, but purchasing both are a must. With talents such as Stephen Crane to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft to T.E.D. Klein, it’s a set to treasure … and terrify.

startrekartSTAR TREK: THE ART OF THE FILM by Mark Cotta Vaz — J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK reboot was an unqualified smash hit this summer, and partial credit for its success must go to its sleek look. Cotta Vaz explores this element of the movie in STAR TREK: THE ART OF THE FILM. The Titan Books release is “a lavishly illustrated celebration of that new vision, tracing the evolution of the movie’s look through a stunning array of previously unseen pre-production paintings, concept sketches, costume and set designs, unit photography and final frames.” Personally, I loved all the discarded poster designs that appear at the end.

classictoysCLASSIC TOYS OF THE NATIONAL TOY HALL OF FAME: CELEBRATING THE GREATEST TOYS OF ALL TIME! by Scott G. Eberle and the Strong National Museum of Play — Who doesn’t love toys? That’s right: No one! Who doesn’t love pictures of toys? Ditto. From one of the nation’s largest history museums and a Smithsonian affiliate comes a heavy, hearty helping of some of the greatest playthings known to mankind. The detail on the photos helps gets your nostalgic juices flowing, including the Slinky, the Frisbee and that plastic hottie known as Barbie.

foodjourneysFOOD JOURNEYS OF A LIFETIME: 500 EXTRAORDINARY PLACES TO EAT AROUND THE GLOBE by National Geographic — You know how they say never to go to the grocery store on an empty stomach? Same goes for flipping through the pages of this culinary survey around the world, presented as only National Geographic can. Plane tickets aren’t cheap, but this 320-pager is certainly affordable, taking you to Japan for sushi, to France for a glass of wine, and all the other corners of the gastronomic globe. Warning: Yes, the photos are in full color.

bettedavisBETTE DAVIS: LARGER THAN LIFE by Richard Schickel and George Perry — Yep, she may have been a bitch, but she’s still one of the silver screen’s all-time greats. Celebrated movie critics Schickel and Perry team up for this authorized tribute to the star of such classics as ALL ABOUT EVE, JEZEBEL and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? This heavily illustrated book includes a complete filmography and hundreds of rare photographs culled from her long life.

1001children1001 CHILDREN’S BOOK YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU GROW UP by Julia Eccleshare and Quentin Blake — The only thing better than reading a great children’s book is reading about great children’s books you may have missed, and this guide certainly will introduce you to more than your fair share. Kids’ reading material isn’t just for kids — witness the recent phenomenon of HARRY POTTER, LEMONY SNICKET, et al — and this nearly 1,000-page guide covers all age groups and many a decade. Having vintage book covers to illustrate Eccleshare and Blake’s picks are a definite plus, for those with an eye for design.

batmanvaultTHE BATMAN VAULT: A MUSEUM-IN-A-BOOK WITH RARE COLLECTIBLES FROM THE BATCAVE by Robert Greenberger and Matthew K. Manning — If you already have or just have seen AmazonTHE DC VAULT, you know what to expect from THE BATMAN VAULT: a complete history of the comics’ caped crusader, and an absolute treasure trove of removable items. Those includes character sketches, posters, a glider, mini-comics, a mask, production-design pieces for the BATMAN films and other assorted ephemera, all in a ringed binder. Is this the perfect gift for fans of the Dark Knight? Duh.

whoshotrockWHO SHOT ROCK & ROLL: A PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY, 1955-PRESENT by Gail Buckland — Don’t let the extremely sweaty face of Tina Turner turn you off of this photographic history lesson of rock music. More than 200 images from a wealth of photographers are collected here, capturing such moments as Elvis Presley tonguing a female fan, Henry Rollins smashing a mirror with a bloody fist, or Sid Vicious messily eating a hot dog with mustard. Some of the photos are iconic; others will be new to you. Thumbnails of some classic album covers complement the volume.

lostworldsLOST WORLDS by John Howe — Known for his work on Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Howe is a supremely talented illustrator, and this 96-page trip into places that do not exist shows you why. Heavy on fantasy and mythology, the color spreads imagine landscapes of Atlantis, Asgard, Troy, Babylon, Mount Olympus, Hollow Earth, Timbuktu and many more.

Buy them at Amazon.


bullets broads blackmail and bombsFish or CutI’m a big nature enthusiast. I would love to move into the middle of the woods so I can work on my manifesto. But since that is not happening any time soon, reading some books with nature- like titles will suffice. I almost took the super-easy route by re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, the movie of which comes out today in theaters, but any book that wins the Pulitzer really doesn’t need me to promote it. (If you haven’t read it, do so. I personally think it’s his best work.) Onto the trio of titles I did choose.

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graphicclassics-lmaIt’s little women and big thrills as the all-new GRAPHIC CLASSICS: LOUISA MAY ALCOTT features an adaptation of the author’s beloved novel LITTLE WOMEN in comic-book form, and also presents lesser-known Alcott stories including the Gothic mystery “A Whisper in the Dark,” the horror story “Lost in a Pyramid” and the romantic triangle of “The Rival Prima Donnas,” adapted by yours truly. Plus, you get “Buzz,” “The Piggy Girl” and illustrated poems — 144 full-color pages in all.

We have one autographed copy to give away, going to:
• Rowena Yow of New York City

Buy it at Graphic Classics.


endercompanionOrson Scott Card fans will want to get their grubby little hands on THE AUTHORIZED ENDER COMPANION by Jake Black, author of some of the Marvel Comics ENDER issues. The book is a complete, in-depth encyclopedia of all the persons, places, things and events in the Ender Universe, including character biographies, time-lines, colony histories, and family trees.

We have two copies to give away, going to:
• Isaac Norlund of Orem, Utah
• Alan Blank of Oakland, Calif.

Buy it at Amazon.

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