Tag: Books

Day 991: The Subjective Science of Getting Friendly With Your Water

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Good morning, water. You look lovely today. The way you have meticulously extracted the energizing essence of those crumbly brown nuggets of Sumatra in my coffee maker really brings out the glimmer in your droplets. Look, I’m a married man, but if I wasn’t, I would totally be gettin’ up in dat aqua, you feel me?

According to Dr. Masaru Emoto, I may have just created a more healthy and vibrant cup of coffee. Dr. Emoto is a revolutionary oracle of scientific knowledge, inasmuch as he has concocted his own definitions of the words “scientific” and “knowledge”. Dr. Emoto has “proven” (and it’s hard to find a source for his work that doesn’t nestle that word between the comforting pillows of quotation marks) that positive energy makes water better.

Not better-tasting, not more nutritious or refreshing… just better. Happier. More wholly fulfilled. Dr. Emoto unearthed that line where metaphysics and alternative medicine cross over into crazed Lynchian fiction, then leaped across it like a doped-up Olympian. He landed among the Technicolor bobbles of the absurd, cultivated his own particular brew of ludicrous reasoning and slapped a price tag on it.

And we bought in. Oh, how we bought in.

How could we not trust that sincere face?

How could we not trust that sincere face?

Masaru Emoto earned his doctorate at the Open University for Alternative Medicine in India, though I feel “earned” should be yet another resident of Quotes-Marks Manor, as I have unearthed a couple of sources which claim that such a degree can be bought for around $500. But Dr. Emoto’s doctorness is relatively moot, as he immediately set out to sail the vague ocean of alternative medicine, which contains far more fetid flotsam than it does navigable current. Read more…

Day 990: The Wonderful Wizard Of Political Allegory

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When digging one’s mental spoon into the lumpy broth of film studies, there are three things one must remember:

  • A disturbing number of gender-based analyses will reveal that most cinematic conflict is based upon the male fear of castration.
  • With a little imagination, you can build a political or social allegory out of almost anything.
  • No, seriously, it’s all about castration. Whether it’s Woody from Toy Story, Andy Dufresne or Han Solo, it’s all about castration.

Turning our attention to point #2, it should come as no surprise that a humongous heap of thread-pulling has been devoted to perhaps the most widely-revered and universally beloved of 20th century fairy tales, The Wizard of Oz. Everyone knows it, and the characters within are so bold and unprecedented, drawing a line from them to some aspect of modern society is a natural academic pursuit.

It helps that the heart of the movie can be found in a series of books, written by a man who was very much aware and engaged with the politics of his era. This adds a measure of validity to any political dissections of the literary world of Oz – though it should be restated that, like most conjecture and analysis, this is a wide portal of interpretation. This isn’t fact, but it’s a friendly maybe.

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Frank Baum has gone on the record as describing his Oz books as modern fairy tales in the style of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen, only without the romance and heavy-handed moralism. He was also seen as a political activist in his day. So who’s to say L. Frank wasn’t looking to poke a few of his own ideas about 1890’s politics into the flesh of his story? Read more…

Day 747: Holding Your Breath For Immortality

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We’re all looking for the answers.

In this chemically-saturated culture of corruption and perpetual impurity, we have a seemingly unending array of potential branches with which we can hoist ourselves a little closer to salvation, to spiritual enlightenment, to… dare I say it?… immortality. So which do we grab? Which branches will support our karmic weight and which ones will snap off, covering our hands and wrists in the sap of disappointment and astral imbalance?

Many follow the security of age-old religion, the oft-translated texts and teachings that have comforted and confounded terrestrial travellers for several millennia. Others opt for less-encompassing and more specifically focussed tenets, such as Transcendental Meditation or staunch veganism. Some folks allow themselves to drift upon the waters of rampant materialism and pop-cultural chew-toys, believing the truth will wash us all clean in the end anyway.

Then there are those who feel the road to the soul’s sustentation runs right through the County of Weird, never intersecting with Reason Street or Common-Sense Boulevard. These are fun people to know, but only if you keep one eye on the nearest exit. Buckle up – you’re about to take a Thursday cruise with the Breatharians.

Breatharianism

Breatharianism is the belief that food and water are unnecessary, that human beings can exist solely on light and the Hindu energy of prana, that which binds the universe together. It’s a beautiful and peaceful construct, one which promises a wholly clean and unfettered life, ensconced in the aura of awakening and light, except for that tiny little asterisk because THIS IS ENTIRELY BOGUS AND MORE THAN A LITTLE BAGEL-HUMPINGLY INSANE! Read more…

Day 713: A Rat In Their Midst

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Sometime around 10:00 or 10:30 on the morning of Friday, August 4, 1944, a German officer named Karl Silberbauer showed up at the doorstep of Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam, accompanied by a handful of plain-clothes Dutch policemen. The visit was anything but social. A few minutes later they were marching back out the front door with eight prisoners in tow, all of them Jews who had been hiding from the Gestapo. Among them was future unwitting best-selling author, Anne Frank.

As one of the few victims of the Holocaust to wind up with a household name, the story of Anne Frank has been the subject of countless movies, books and school curricula. It helped that Anne was an astounding writer for her young years, and that she captured a horrifying experience from such an unexpected vantage point: when her youthful innocence could pose such a stark contrast to the inky shadow that was spreading across Europe at the time.

But while we all know the reason for the abrupt end to The Diary of Anne Frank, that she and her family were scooted off to concentration camps and that Anne was destined to perish there, we are still missing a key piece of the narrative. How did the police know the Franks and their companions were there? Who sold them out? There is a definitive answer to this query, but unfortunately we may never know it for certain.

Prinsengracht263

Otto Frank moved his offices of Opekta and Pectacon, spice and gelling manufacturers, into Prinsengracht 263 along the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam on December 1, 1940. Otto was aware that the outlook for Jews in Nazi Germany wasn’t good, and Amsterdam seemed like a wise relocation. Then the Nazis swooped into the Netherlands, and once again Otto was faced with the option of fleeing. But there was a reason he’d chosen that particular address. Upstairs, at the back of the house, he’d prepared a space for his family to hide. Read more…

Day 709 – Crowding ‘Round The Stage Door

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That’s me on the left. Beside me is singer/songwriter/reality show judge Ben Folds, one of my favorite talents in all three of his fields. On the right, that’s a groupie. Not one of Ben’s – she’s actually one of those women who gets all swoon-tastic over writers indulging in ridiculous online projects. Fame most definitely has its perks.

This was the only time I waited after a show to meet the performer. I have never possessed the dedication or desire to be a true groupie, and it’s not because many of my favorite artists are deceased (though they are). Being a groupie takes time, it takes perseverance, and it takes a healthy splatter of crazy across the bubbly surface of one’s brain. It’s not a commitment that necessarily commands respect or admiration, but it’s certainly something to marvel at. Like someone who collects a basement full of old beer cans.

Among the field of groupies, as with everything else, there are some stand-outs. Heading up a fan club is nothing, building a shrine in the corner of your bedroom is amateur hour. If you want them to scootch clear a little spot for you on a shelf in the Groupie Hall o’ Crazy, you’ve got a high standard to meet.

PamelaDesBarres

Pamela Des Barres has literally made a living as a groupie. With four books, a steady online writing gig, her own ‘Groupie Couture’ clothing line, and sufficient exposure to lead to a music and acting career of her own, Pamela is the queen of the superfans. She hung out with the Byrds when she was only in high school and later babysat Frank Zappa’s kids. As a teenager she moved to the Sunset Strip so she could be closer to the heart of the Los Angeles music scene – Pamela wasn’t just a fan, she was an insider. Read more…

Day 664: The Toys In Marvin’s Playroom

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Do you recognize this man?

Probably not, but if you’re over 30 he probably had a thunderous impact on your childhood. That’s Marvin Glass, concoctor of toys, brewmaster of amusement, mixologist of mirth. Marvin Glass & Associates was a fiendishly clever company, foregoing the tedious chore of peddling their goods to every toy merchant in the land, and instead focussing on creation. License it out to Hasbro or Kenner or Milton Bradley – let them do the filthy work of shipping this crap all over the country.

Let’s just make some good crap.

And oh did they make some astoundingly bodacious crap. Toys that spurned obsessions, toys that became icons. For a few marvelous decades in the 20th century, back before every toy needed a synergetic tie-in to a movie franchise, book series or procession of idiotic movies, Marvin Glass’s goods reigned supreme.

TalkingTeeth

It all started with a set of chattering teeth. Marvin’s employee, Eddy Goldfarb, came up with a concept so ludicrously simple and noisy it had to be a hit: the Yakkity-Yak Talking Teeth. This windup novelty put Marvin Glass & Associates on the map in 1949. The dentist community was finally rewarded with the desktop gimmick they’d craved for centuries. Overnight, the world was a happier and more peaceful place. Read more…

Day 554: The Fictional Elite

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Some lucky soul (or souls) claimed the Lotto Max on Friday night, the Canada-wide lottery that often stretches its jackpot to $50 million. This was one of those big-money draws, and I was denied the prize once again, for the silly inconsequential reason that I didn’t buy a ticket.

Who among us hasn’t imagined how our life would change with the sudden injection of eight pre-decimal figures in our bank account? Every year, Forbes magazine drops its list of the wealthiest humans on the globe, and because I know my name will never grace those pages, it’s with only the mildest of interest that I check to see if the big winner is Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or some Saudi Arabian prince, floating on a sea of oil.

I don’t wish any of these people ill-will, but they really don’t have a tremendous effect on my life so I just can’t get excited about their appearance on the list. But Forbes also prints another list. These wealthy money-hoarders may not be technically “real”, but some of them are a lot more interesting than the ones who top that other list. These are the Forbes Fictional 15.

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As you may have guessed, the Forbes Fictional 15 is a list of the wealthiest fifteen fictional characters, as compiled from numerous sources, including books, movies, cartoons, comics, TV shows, and using the authors’ best guesses as to their respective fiscal value. Forbes started printing this list in 2002, and though they’ve skipped a few years along the way, the list has become a curious cultural touchstone. Folklore and mythological characters are exempt, as are real people that we simply wish were only fictional. Read more…

Day 530: The Bestselling Hoaxes

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The notion that ‘sex sells’ is a concept older than advertising itself. The beauty within that tiny catchphrase is that, for a long time, advertisers could manipulate the concept and the public really had no idea that they were merely succumbing to the prodding of their most base urges. We now live in an age of cynicism, where nothing is true unless snopes.com says so, where doubt and suspicion line the walls of our world-view, and where grand hoaxes upon the masses might be a little trickier to pull off.

Well, maybe. It’s impossible to say whether or not the great hoaxes – in particular the great literary hoaxes of the past could fool people today. It didn’t take long before everyone knew that the book topping the bestseller list last year was an adapted piece of Twilight fan-fiction, sprinkled with rough sex. But in the end, it didn’t affect sales.

In fact, it probably helped sales. It’s not a far cry from what went down some 34 years ago, back when the paperback-loving public went ga-ga over Naked Came The Stranger.

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Mike McGrady, a columnist for Newsweek, was sifting through the bestseller list one day in 1966. He was… well, disgusted might not be the right word. He was saddened by the current state of American literary culture. Where once the upper tier of book sales consisted of works by J.D. Salinger or F. Scott Fitzgerald, now it was dominated by what he saw as low-brow work by Harold Robbins or Jacqueline Susann. A book needed no intrinsic value – it only needed sex. Throw in enough swarthy, sweaty men and buxom, sensual women and the faceless denizens combing the nation’s bookstores will slap down their cash. Read more…

Day 92: Some Light Reading At The Beinecke

I don’t often write about architecture, mainly because I’m unfamiliar with a lot of the terminology, and writing that some aspect of a building is “cool”, while another feature is “bitchin’” will not provide much in the way of satisfaction with my work. When Ms. Wiki’s random skeeball landed in the ring of architecture today, I almost skipped on to another subject. But then I had a good look at the building.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, located on the Yale campus, is remarkably both cool and bitchin’, there’s no other way to put it. Actually, there are probably several other ways to put it, most of which would provide substantially more information.

The photo above appears to be of a rather drab, windowless structure, hardly worth a closer look. It resembles a large, square air filter or a giant, doodled-upon Kleenex box, plunked onto a concrete pad. But a closer look reveals that the bland ‘squares’ are actually somewhat interesting:

This is a rare book library, actually the largest single building in the world to be devoted solely to the preservation of rare books. As such, windows were not an option. Direct sunlight on old books is about as useful as saltwater for guppies (as an aside, Saltwater for Guppies would be a wonderfully cryptic title for my forthcoming novel about forbidden romance between two blind Inuit people in the 18th century… duly noted). The Beinecke Library is built from translucent Danby marble. The stone lets through a subdued light, casting a curious glow inside.

And the inside is really where the building becomes impressive:

I plan on using the same design concept for my next home's bathroom.

That’s a six-storey glass cube of sorts, displaying yet preserving the books in a way that allows for complete control of temperature, humidity, and whatever else needs to be controlled in order to keep old books safe (gamma rays, alpha particles, bad vibes, dark matter, etc.). Read more…

Day 55: Pretending I’m Well-Read – The Books Of 1955

 

Wikipedia has a number of groupings by year – births, deaths, I even wrote about the news events of 1927 in one of my less memorable practice articles months ago. I was not aware, however, that they grouped the events in the literature world year-by-year. Now I am. So are you. I think you can see where this is heading.

1955. It was the year that gave us this:

And this:

And it was also an important year for the book-readin’ types, of which I’m certain there were a lot more then there are now. Even if you only read material you can digest in tiny increments, like an Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader or thousand-word articles about useless trivia like the Burmese flag, this was still a big year for your genre.

August 1955 saw the first publication of the Guinness Book of World Records. The book was launched by Sir Hugh Beaver in the North Slob. No really, Beaver (whose middle initial was unfortunately not ‘J’) was the managing director of Guinness Breweries, and the North Slob is a bird reserve in Ireland. He was hunting with friends, and got into an argument about which is the fastest game bird in Europe, the koshin golden plover or the grouse. So he decided to publish a book that could settle bar (or hunting) bets without the use of firearms. (the answer, by the way, is the Prussian Invisible Speed-Penguin)

Maybe you’re more of a fantasy fan. 1955 was to fantasy novel fans what 1983 was to us sci-fi movie fans: the end of the Great Trilogy. The Return of the King, which was later adapted into an award-winning film about walking and fighting computer-generated creatures, was published in ‘55. Originally Tolkien wanted to publish one giant book plus a bunch of appendices (because fantasy novel readers love to cross-check stuff), but the publisher split it up into three.

Tolkien was also unhappy with the title of the book. He felt the title gave away too much of the ending. He felt The War of the Ring would be a better title, which just goes to show that no writer, no matter how great, can escape the fiendish manipulations of their publisher. Unless they publish directly to the Internet. For no money. Yay, freedom. Read more…