Thursday, 27 February 2014

An archipelago for The Beatles

I wonder where the limit is between the fiction of the Beatles enthusiasts and the non fiction of their enthusiasm

Full title: The Beatles in 100 Objects
Author: Brian Southall
Publisher: Sterling (New York: 2013)
Genre: Non fiction, monograph, memorabilia
Attributes: 256 pages, hard cover, printed and bound in Dubai on glossy paper

On the scale of zero to oneZERO (i.e. borrowed from local library)

Here’s an archipelago, a non fiction boulevard where fireworks can crack and spark and the enthusiast be praised for it. A royal collection of Beatles goodies summed up in three words: variety, surprise, enthusiasm.
The reason I like archipelago better than other words to describe this book is its unique ability to grow unpredictably in a multitude of directions, following paths never fully settled, objects that inhabit discreet regions of the Beatles subculture. And another reason has to be the author's ability to turn small, seemingly insignificant objects, into pages of history.
The collection of objects forming the scaffold of this book creates the sense of a unified body where there are only limbs scattered about. That's where the feeling of an archipelago comes from: from the realisation that none of these objects is an island. An ashtray meets a club menu and together join a host of disparate traces between separate episodes in the history of the Beatles. That’s, in one sentence, how things work in The Beatles in 100 Objects.

1964: The Beatles by their wax copies.
via DM's Beatles Forums
Reading through the book one doesn't get the impression that one needs to put on the robe of a specialist, of a museographer or something of the same resonance. A t-shirt will do just fine. Because this is not a pedantic visit to a national gallery. It is more like a stroll on a boulevard: a very crowded one, as a good florilegium should be, and a play with Beatles beads (or should I say memorabilia).
The effort is great, but let’s not forget, this is the feat of none other than Brian Southall, sometime PR at EMI music, who worked with the Beatles in the 1970s when they were no longer one band and who, ever since he's taken up writing, has composed, among other things, a history of the Abbey Road studio, and also a book containing Julian Lennon's Beatles memorabilia. The book is, thus, not only an act of collection but also one of recollection: an indirect memoir of sorts. As Southall himself admits in the introduction,
"the whole enjoyable exercise ultimately turned out to be an almanac of my own youth."
It's no wonder, then, that one finds in The Beatles in 100 Objects so many unexpected, yet perfectly sound objects which have crossed the paths of the band members at some point in time. We get to hear of the Beatles' tailor, of the hairdos they tailored themselves, of things they ate and things they drank, of how they flew over to New York, of how they read on the plane and used their various gadgets, how they wrote and signed and were turned onto wax statues at Madame Tussauds, how they drove expensive cars, how they won Grammy seven times, and how, eventually, they broke up in1970 and officially disbanded in 1971.
This is a story in fits and starts, like all stories: with no real end but with a continuous unfolding of its key moments. An archipelago, to be sure.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Quiet please! It’s reading time!

Full title: How to Read a Book
Author: Kelly Ana Morey
Publisher: Awa Press (Wellington: 2005)
Genre: Non fiction, autobiography
Attributes: 115 pages, paperback, printed on chlorine-free Munken paper

On the scale of zero to one: ZERO (i.e. borrowed from local library)

Kelly Ana Morey’s How to Read a Book is not a book about reading but a book about being a writer who reads. And one who writes, then reads, then writes again. And so on. There’s a long, very long (almost two pages long) list of her wish list, where one can see not only a writer’s choices, but also her searches. Mostly moderns and post-moderns feature in her reading list. At various points in the book she admits that she’s after the moderns in particular. That’s because, as she says so all could hear,
"like most readers, I’m simply searching for my own species."
Writers (especially the ones who are beginning or thinking of doing it in the near future) may find inspirational stuff galore. Many sentences (not only in the sense of grammatical units but also as verdicts, decrees, short pronouncements, even punishments – why not?) have the texture of aphorisms. It often feels like Kelly Ana Morey has written them with the intention of being memorable.
She often is. As here:
“I live to bleed myself dry during rewrites. Change after change. Page after page.”

No, this is not Kelly Ana Morey. But she has a lot to say about riding horses (and reading books)
(c) National Library of New Zealand
But there’s one thing to keep in mind. Not everything in this book is about what writers do or think. A lot is, in fact, about what the writer Kelly Ana Morey writes and thinks. This is, by all the settlements of the genre, a writer’s memoir. An autobiographical collage of moments when she encourages herself to admit things most mortals (and especially readers) refuse to admit: how long her reading list is, how little she likes writing poetry, drama, short stories, and many other things.
It’s worth reading this book with the mind open to the whims and sassiness of a writer who keeps herself within the confines of her own writing. Here one can learn that high horses and ivory towers are negotiable entities. Or, at least, one can rejoice in the recognition of one’s own weaknesses.
The ultimate conclusion: It’s so good to read when you have only your own sincerity to worry about!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

From Zero to Hero (in a way)

Full title: The Prophecy of Enchantria

Author: Mary DeKok Blowers

Sold by: Amazon Digital (2011)

Genre: fiction, Christian fantasy

Attributes: 34 pages (56 Kb), e-book

On the scale of zero to one: ZERO (i.e.: donated by the author)

A Christian fantasy in miniature, this YA novelette dives into several conventions of its genre: from fantastic animals to landscapes that spell out mysteries and fears, a wide spectrum of possibilities is touched on, as the story moves forth, one step in reality, one step in fiction.
There’s a parallel world, where two kingdoms (Enchantria and Carpentaria) are in conflict, and where a prophecy has announced salvation through innocence. The Christian story of Jesus Christ finds easy application in this context, where the evil-versus-good story finds resolution in the unexpected, feeble, confused intervention of a girl approaching maturity.
This is a world where miracles are multiplied endlessly, effortlessly. From talking snakes to giant eagles, from a glittering lake at midnight to the majestic beauty of a pair of peacocks at day, every inch of this world is an alternative to reality: an augmentation, a growth. Like the growth of the protagonist herself.

There are castles in the story, not unlike this one, which change position
and through the windows of which one can see the truth behind deceit
(c) Igor Reshetnikov
It is after the first reading that one truly gets the gist: Enchantria is not just any fantastic land of promises; it is a land where ‘life after life’ takes on the features of the known biblical paradise. As one of the characters describes Enchantria early in the story, “Life is very easy, and as you come to see this, you may eventually decide to live here forever. Some people have.” Pandora, the protagonist, a troubled adolescent with fears of her own but endowed with the gift of those who fulfil prophecies, sees Enchantria as this kingdom where evil eventually turns into good. To her, though, things appear in simpler lights. When she first sees this parallel world she exclaims: “No school bullies… no school!”
As the narrative progresses, though, she grows out of this childhood of simple wishes, and puts on the serious appearance of Christian heroes. It becomes her task to save humanity itself. The book is the story of her coming to perform these miracles that transgress humanity in order to bring it back to where it belongs.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The metamorphoses of Manhattan

A non fiction book about Times Square

Full title: Times Square Roulette. Remaking the City Icon

Author: Lynne B. Sagalyn

Publisher: The MIT Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: 2001)

Genre: Non fiction, monograph

Attributes: 620 pages, hard cover, printed on glossy, alkaline paper

On the scale of zero to one: ZERO (i.e. free: abandoned book found on a library shelf)

The book is a visual spectacle. The 30 colour plates in the middle section, added to the hundreds of black-and-white reproductions, help Times Square appear on pages in full glory.
On, comments are not always appreciative of the text’s high quality (as if that were some kind of fundamental defect), some readers finding it overly highbrow and concerned with things that usually escape the attention of average readers. Some of these reviewers are right: this is not a book for superficial readers. It requires a certain amount of comfort with the subtleties of historical accounts. But let’s face it: the reading of any historical account calls for some participation on the reader’s side. At the end of the day, it’s all about the power of one’s imagination.

One of the 30 colour plates in the middle section of the book,
showing the renovated New Amsterdam Theater
(c) Lynne B. Sagalyn
But the text is fluent and its style is often decorated in ways that add pleasant oases of plasticity, where readers of all denominations and capabilities can enjoy good metaphors and remarkable similes, along with information that strikes as journalistic or even blog-like (although the volume was, obviously, not intended for the medium). So no, Times Square Roulette is not as distant as those Amazon reviews suggest. It is a long read, indeed (490 pages, plus endnotes, bibliography and appendices), but one that could easily be employed as a reference book. Its richness recommends it for a prime position on a bookshelf.
For those interested in a more detailed analysis, I’ve written a longer review, available at Francisc Nona’s Word Epidemic.
Note, Amazon provides a lengthy view of the volume’s content, and so does the snippet view at Google Books – enough to gauge the book’s overall tone and its purpose.

I need to stress, once more, that Times Square Roulette is a fascinating object, as well as a thorough investigation of an important landmark of Manhattan, New York.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Zero to One

Zero to One is an idea I just got today, after realizing how many books there are out there that cost nothing to purchase. What got me thinking was the fact that yesterday (that's February 4, 2014 - a historical date!) I found a copy of Zola's The Game is Over (English translation of La Curée: also translated as The Kill). It was there, on the sidewalk, thrown away or lost or stolen and dumped - who knows? This was the first time ever that I found a book like this. I mean, libraries giving away their out-of-stock, book fares where they gift their un-purchased - yes, I was familiar with these things. But such serendipitous encounter with a book lying on the ground like an abandoned child - that, indeed, had never happened to me.
Then today, walking into a university library for no particular reason, I saw two bookshelves full of unwanted prints, mostly books on engineering, business, computer science, and all the stuff that normally doesn't get my attention. But I've taught myself to look at books with patience. I did it again today, and found a beautiful book. It's called Time Square Roulette, and it seems to be about the history and the remaking of that New York icon. The book was published in 2001 and it's in excellent condition. And like I said, it's beautiful.
After these two serendipities, and because I've been quite attuned to strange coincidences happening to me lately, I thought I might start a new blog. What I want this to be is a place where I can review found books, gifted books, donated books, discounted books, in other words, books acquired through minimal financial effort.
Zero to One sprang to mind as a perfect title.
Zero to One because on this blog I want to post short notes, reviews, thoughts, jokes, talks, disparate words about books that costed me anything in the range of 0 to $1.00.
There will be e-books as well as printed books, short stories collected from e-book vendors, novellas, poetry collections, plays. Whatever comes my way, whatever the universe decides to put in front of me.
More than anything else, I want to keep track of books I come across and from which I gain a lot while investing ridiculously small amounts of money.
We'll see how it works. I am thinking of starting (one of these days) with the Time Square Roulette, which already looks too appealing to be left alone among my other books.

(To be continued)