Monday, March 08, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/6/21

This week, I got in a big box of books from the remainder dealers at I spent money on these books, but not very much money, and, as always, I recommend them highly. I've been ordering big boxes from them irregularly, but at least once or twice a year, since the early '90s. If you like buying books in volume, and particularly if you have wide interests and are willing to try out books because they're cheap, Hamilton is for you.

(End of commercial.)

I also got a few books from the library, but I'm going to hold those to next week's list. One, just because I can, and I revel in my power. And two, because I'm expecting more library books in the next few days, and that feels tidier. And three, because the Hamilton list is already really long to begin with.

Swearing Is Good For You is a nonfiction book, based on real science (so it says here) by British scientist and journalist Emma Byrne. And it's published by Norton, who tend to be on the slightly more serious, stodgy side, so I'm inclined to think it's not quite as frivolous as the Crown-published version of this book would be. (Yes, more than a decade out of trade publishing, I still stereotype houses. I bet I'm not wrong, either.) It is, as the title implies, a layman's wander through behavioral research about usage of the word "fuck" and its best friends.

Flesh is an early Philip Jose Farmer novel, republished in this edition in 2013 by Titan Books as "A Grand Master Novel," and I bought it at least in part because it's a bonkers choice for a series like that. Admittedly, Farmer's work is full of similar bonkers choices; he was a bonkers writer nearly all the time, and I say that with admiration and affection. I'm not sure I ever read this one; it was originally Framer's second novel (from 1960), but this edition is copyright 1974, right smack-dab in the middle of his explicit-sex period, with Lord Tyger and Image of the Beast, so I suspect he hotted it up for the re-issue. (And Farmer was not shy about writing about sex even in his earliest days, though he had to hide it more when writing for Campbell and crew.) So this is the story of a spaceship that returns to Earth eight hundred years later to find - no, not apes, this is a few years before Boulle - a tribal society riven by fertility cults and other shocking behavior.

Stuff Brits Like is by Frazer McAlpine, lead writer for BBC America's Anglophenia blog, and I suspect it is something of a brand extension (though it bears no official connection to the blog or to Auntie Beeb.) McAlpine is actually British - from Cornwall, which he seems to insist on specifying, which is terribly British of him - and that's a good sign. He's also still resident there, another good sign - sometimes books like this are written by expat screenwriters in Hollywood pining for the home soil, but McAlpine is still stuck in that home soil and so presumably ready to complain about it as the natives do. For a taste of the humor included, the first chapter is entitled "Pedantry."

Let's Start a Riot is a memoir of some sort by Bruce (Kids in the Hall) McCulloch, a book I never even suspected existed, even though it was published in 2014. (What can I say: the world is big and books are many.) It seems to be primarily designed to contrast his KitH life and stories with new stories (well, new for 2014) about his grown-up life as a Hollywood multi-hyphenate (screenwriter, director, etc.) with the requisite wife and family. McCulloch was always the quirkiest of the KitH kids, the ones whose monologues headed off the deepest into the territory the quickest, so I'm hoping for some of that here. (I still love "An Open Letter to the Guy That Stole His Bike Wheel," and, maybe even more so, "An Open Letter to the People Who Watched the Guy Steal His Bike Wheel.")

Astounding is a history of the magazine of the same name, more or less, by Alec Nevala-Lee. Well, maybe it's more of a biography of Astounding's founding editor and towering figure, John W. Campbell, along with three of his most important writers in that early era (Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard). To know exactly, I'd have to read the book, and I haven't done that yet. Nevala-Lee is himself a SF writer who has been published in Analog, which probably shouldn't be a requirement for writing this but will be in some circles. And I guess I still haven't given up on SF, since I think I want to read this.

Reynard the Fox is a famous - well, in medievalist circles - trickster narrative from 12th century Europe, known previously in an English translation by William Caxton from 1481. James Simpson provides a new translation here, though I'm not clear if he's translating Caxton into Modern English or starting from the underlying tales (or even what languages those tales were in; the book's flap copy and other descriptive bumf vaguely says "Europe" most places). This is not a book I previously knew about, or thought I had any interest in, but it had me at "medieval trickster narrative."

Go Figure is a book from The Economist, written by Economist deputy editor Tom Standage, and subtitled "The Economist Explains" [1] So it is very Economist-y, for those seeking such things. Standage has previous written other breezy histories, such as A History of the World in 6 Glasses, which I read more than a decade ago (and his name was still vaguely familiar, for whatever reason). It is indeed a book full of short sections explaining things that most people do not know, mostly on questions that they would want to know and might not know how to research themselves. It is, in short, a bathroom book, but a terribly classy, Economist-grade one.

Perfect Circle is Sean Stewart's 2004 fantasy novel, which may still be the last full-length SFF fiction he's made. (Assuming you don't count the artificial-realty games, and other ludic writing, he's done since -- and I do not.) I may have bought it for the SFBC at the time, but I haven't read it since, and didn't have a copy. And this is the nice, classy Small Beer edition, which implies that is now out of print. (Sad, but it happens. All books go out of print, eventually. The thought comforts Alan Moore in his warlock's mansion.) I hope to read this again. When, who knows? But I couldn't read it if I didn't have it, could I?

Space Opera is Catherynne M. Valente's SFnal version of Eurovision, to be really reductive. And I've read some of Valente's "Fairyland" YA books, but not for a while, and none of her adult fiction, despite having a couple of my shelves. So, clearly, the way to remedy that is to buy another book and put it next to the ones I haven't read yet, because that will make me read one of them. Let's see if that works.

Captain Cuttle's Mailbag is a collection of miscellaneous queries and answers (sometimes even in that order) from the Victorian magazine Notes and Queries, as  edited by Edward Welch in the modern day. It sounds incredibly random and odd, and so probably another interesting bathroom book.

The Praxis is the first book of the original "Dread Empire's Fall" trilogy by Walter Jon Williams. I understand the series has grown additional sequels since then, and is sometimes called "The Praxis," because every series will eventually be called by the name of its first book. (David Hartwell taught me that - he was actually more fatalistic and definitive about the subject - and I do mostly believe it myself.) I used to have the trilogy in their original mass-market paperbacks, back before my flood. But this is a nicer, newer, "Author's Definitive Edition" so clearly my delaying reading it for more than a decade is a good thing, right?

Now we get into the comics -- more than halfway done! My notes may also get shorter at this point, out of weariness or lack of material.

The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons is edited by Bob Eckstein, and it is what it says it is: a bunch of cartoons about books, arranged into a book of cartoons. It looks like they're mostly New Yorker cartoons - because who else runs a lot of cartoons about books, unless you are Tom Gauld? - but this was actually published by the Princeton Architectural Press, which is a bit odd. (I suspect that a deal fell through elsewhere, and somebody knew somebody, and hey! let's put on a show!)

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex, Vol.2 is one of those big fat black-and-white DC collections, and it gathers 27 issues of Weird Western Tales and Jonah Hex from 1976-1979 between two covers, mostly written by Michael Fleisher and drawn by a whole bunch of people, including Rich Buckler, Vincente Alcazar, Ernie Chan, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. I don't think I've ever read any of this stuff, but it's always sounded like an interesting corner of the comics world -- and, hey, this was cheap.

 is a standalone SF graphic novel based on a George R.R. Martin screenplay of the same name, adapted and drawn by Raya Golden. (And guess whose name is big and whose is small on the cover? But it's not about credit - it's about what will get people to pick up the book and spend money on it, which is what everyone actually wants.) I have no idea if this is any good, but you takes your new GRRM material where you finds it.

The next three will get lumped together: The Complete Peanuts series by Charles M. Schulz, the first three books in paperback format: 1950-1952, 1953-1954, and 1955-1956. I had copies of the hardcovers in the pre-flood days, and I guess I'm now planning to rebuild that shelf, maybe in paper. I also had a blog post about that first volume, some years ago - well after I wrote about the middle books, since the beginning of the series started before this blog did.

Rusty Brown is another big, complicated, difficult-to-read graphic novel by Chris Ware, whose name can only be discerned on the cover through the use of high-powered instruments.  I kid, I kid. I still haven't read his previous gigantic book, Building Stories, maybe because that was not so much a "book" as "a collection of printed objects stuck in a box to be sifted through in a search for meaning." I mean, I bought the thing, and plan to read it, but it always feels like more work than I want to jump into at any particular moment -- and a normal Chris Ware book is already more work than almost anyone else's graphic novels. So, I might end up reading this first, and see if that gets me into the Big Box.

[1] OK, sub-subtitled. The primary subtitle is "Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know."

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