WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND by Kari Maaren captures a definite Diana Wynn Jones vibe, which is a plus for me: the mysterious stranger who moves in near protagonist Frederica comes off very much as an eccentric in the style of Jones’ mages Chrestomanci and Howl. Unfortunately, Maaren doesn’t have Jones’ flair for character: Freddy is strictly one-note (Oh I Hate My Life!) and completely friendless, so I got bored and put the book down unfinished. That said, I do like Maaren making Freddy’s stepbrother deaf without making it a big thing — that’s not something I see often.
Nor did I finish Robert M. Pirsig’s ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE: An Inquiry into Values despite its cult status. I always find cross-country driving more an unpleasant necessity than magical so the framing sequence (Pirsig, his son and some friends taking a cross-country motorcycle trip) didn’t do much for me. A bigger problem is that Pirsig’s themes (science is just a human construct! gravity didn’t exist before Newton made it up!) feel like a dated product of the 1970s zeitgeist, though as it’s still in print obviously the themes still resonate for some people. After about 100 pages I threw in the towel.
After picking up a cheap copy of SUPERMAN VS. HOLLYWOOD: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen I figured I’d reread it. Nothing changed my opinion from the first read — Rossen is carelessly sloppy when he writes about the comics (comics Superman became a TV reporter well before Mario Puzo wrote that into his script for the first Reeve film), but much better writing about script problems, backstage feuds and some of the bizarre ideas floating around for what eventually became Superman Returns (Lex Luthor as a Man in Black who’s secret Kryptonian, for instance). Worth the reread
THE FINAL ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES are a collection of Holmesian apocrypha that editor Peter Haining argues belong in the Canon. “The Man With the Watches” and “The Lost Special,” for example, are non-Holmes mysteries that however include an unnamed Famous Investigator offering solutions to the mysteries that turn out to be wrong. No question the investigator sounds like Holmes, though I was gobsmacked to learn some Sherlockians credit Holmes with writing them too (for various reasons I think that’s dead wrong). The mysteries of “Uncle Jeremy’s Household” and “Sasassa Valley,” on the other hand, are early Doyle stories Haining argues prefigure Holmes, but I find that a stretch. In-between we get several parodies of Holmes by Doyle, the one-act play “The Crown Diamond” (later reworked into The Mazarin Stone), and some of Doyle’s own thoughts about his creation. Good stuff.
THE COMPLETE BOOK OF FASHION HISTORY by Jana Sedlakova is a very slight book that skims through centuries of fashion at a whirlwind pace (for recent decades I’m very conscious of the details skipped over). An adequate intro to the topic, but too slight to be much use.
LIFE: The First Fifty Years, 1936-1980 is a lavishly illustrated (of course) look at the once legendary photomagazine, showcasing dozens of covers, prize photos, Great Events of the Years and some commentary about the magazines own growth and eventual decline (though the photos from when it went semiannual and monthly are actually better — probably just because they have fewer images fighting for space in the collection. An interesting time capsule and a reminder how awesome really great photography is.
Cover by Nick Cardy. All rights to image remain with current holder. #SFWApro