Jan/Feb 2006 Book Reviews

Eclectica Reviewers Recommend

Compiled by Colleen Mondor

Because there are so many incredibly cool things out there, we decided in the Reviews Section last issue to include a new column, "Eclectica Reviewers Recommend." Purely subjective and highly opinionated, but hey, that's the point. Here's another look at our favorite things.

Scott Malby wants the world to know that he's an idealist:

The world to me is a cracked shell I love to be stuck in. I like flea markets and making something out of nothing, like the large but chipped plaster bust of George Washington I bought and covered in pennies. My third favorite book is The Maclise Portrait Gallery of Illustrious Literary Characters with Memoirs; Biographical, Critical, Bibliographical, and Anecdotal Illustrative of the Literature of the Former Half of the Present Century, published by Chatto & Windus, 1898, and compiled by Bates. The volume consists of eighty-one literary portraits of English artists. The material was first published in Fraser's Magazine from 1830-38. I'm going to make it available for everyone on the internet when I get the time and money.

The Expressionism of Munch and the written work of Strindberg are my current art interests of the moment. Like Tolstoy, Strindberg never received the Nobel Prize for literature.

The next time you're up for a Bloody Mary, toss some good green olives in to keep the celery company. I'm tempted to throw the drink away just for the celery and olives-- it's an interesting form of salad dressing. I'm listening to the Kronos Quartet as I write. Music helps me in the development of a sense of literary rhythm.

Elizabeth Glixman has an interest in pet psychology. She asks,

Do you ever wonder what your dog or cat thinks about or why they act in a certain way like peeing outside of the litter box or chewing your slippers--or even if they like you at all? Dawn Allen is a modern day Dr. Dolittle who can help you with many of these questions. She talks to the animals and they tell her how they feel. In a half hour phone consultation I found the reasons why my kitty was behaving strangely and a few other surprises. My cat had lots to say. Allen is also the John Edwards of the animal kingdom. She talked to Sammie, the love of my life cat, who is now on the other side. She told me things only Sammie would have known and for you cynics out there I gave her no information or even a hint of anything that would let her know these things. A couple of friends called her and they were able to help their animals with the information she relayed. (Check out Dawn's web site.)

Here are some oldie but goodie movies: Primal Fear stars Richard Gere, and even if you already suspected, this movie will confirm how the bad guys get off in our judicial system. Jumanji, based on a children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, stars Robin Williams as someone who was trapped in a board game for 26 years--the game must be finished with the two original players and some new players to bring the town back to normal. Strange things are happening for everyone, and it is all great fun!

In Chicago Jen Finstrom recommends Joy Yee's pan-asian noodle house:

Wonderful food--my favorite dish includes lots of Thai basil--and a wide variety of bubble drinks. One whole wall of the restaurant is covered with fresh fruit. I have been to the locations in both Chinatown and Evanston. Also in Chicago, try Metropolis Coffee Company on West Granville. They roast their own coffee--it's the best I've ever had--and the people and atmosphere are great. There is a constantly changing display of local artwork.

For books, D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths is one of the first books that I checked out of the library. I never wanted to return it and my grandmother eventually bought a copy for me. It is large, lavishly illustrated, and the stories are well told. It isn't just for children; anyone with an interest in myth will love this book. Also, anything by Madeleine L'Engle whether her young adult Time Quartet titles," or any other fiction. She is so certain that the world is a good place, despite everything, that she makes me feel the same way.

Finally, for products, shop The Body Shop for cosmetics and skin care. Everything smells great and is attractively packaged. No animal testing and no animal products used. Their commitment to human rights and environmental concerns make me happy to shop there."

Maryanne Snell has a book she keeps going back to again and again: Misfortune by Wesley Stace.

It's a lush, beautiful novel about a baby boy found by a reclusive Lord and brought up to be the daughter the Lord always dreamed of. What happens when she finds out the truth and goes in search of the truth behind her birth is truly captivating. I am also loving Andi Watson and Simon Gane's new comic Paris, about two women in post WWII France.

I've been listening to British pop band Girls Aloud; their new album Chemistry is unabashedly fun get on your feet and dance music. And inspired by the film, I'm listening to the Rent Soundtrack (the complete Broadway version of course) and Jonathan Larson's other work, Tick, Tick... Boom for the millionth time.

Pamela Mackey went shopping on the Internet this winter, and she thinks everyone else should too. Here are her favorite museum sites:

Shop by team or by price at the Baseball Hall of Fame
Postcards, pottery, the dog god Anubis... The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Boston's MFA demonstrates its understanding of the fine art of internet trade
MoMA's gift shop, more fun than the exhibits, and you don't have to wait in line
Just plain goofy: Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
Buy your flightsuits from NASA
Get a "Will write for Food" T-shirt here
Bigger than WalMart - Better stuff, too: The Smithsonian
Embroidered blouses, those amazing eggs, and Harry Potter books in (what else?) Ukrainian!

Tom Dooley swears up and down that The Shield is the best cop show in the history of television:

Better than NPYD Blue. Better than Hill Street Blues. Better than Law and Order. And as dramas go, it's right up there with The Sopranos. Ten times better than 24, CSI, or Alias. Given that its outstanding cast has never even been nominated for an ensemble award by the Screen Actors Guild, it's also possibly the most underrated show in the history of television. Its star, Michael Chiklis, has received some acclaim, but he wasn't even nominated for a Globe this year, a complete travesty if there ever was one. Great writing. Great acting. Some of the grittiest, most shocking without being gratuitous scenes ever to appear on the small screen. And given recent revelations in Voletta Wallace's wrongful death suit against the LAPD, among other things, it couldn't be more topical.

Editor's Note: Since writing this, I re-watched the entire fourth season on DVD. Flawless. Stunning. How Geena Davis was honored over Glenn Close for best actress in a television drama this year, I'll never understand. I've also now seen the first episode of the fifth (current) season, and ironically, it doesn't live up to all the abovementioned hype at all. The first ever, significantly flawed episode, it was still a very good "cop-u-drama" (a friend of mine used this term to dismiss shows he tends to avoid) but failed to transcend the genre like every episode before it. I'm pretty sure it's the fault of seldom-used director D.J. Caruso--that and series creator Shawn Ryan not being a co-writer on the script. I just hope that if I've managed to convince anyone over the course of the last six months of my "See the Shield" campaign to finally tune in, that they weren't so disappointed that they don't stick with the show. Every episode has its own combination of writers, producers, and director, and I'm hopeful the rest of the Shield crew will have the ship righted real soon.

Lapdog Rescue is an outstanding organization run by people who ought to be nominated for a special kind of sainthood. Source of Jerry Lee and Sabrina (now Nina), happy additions to the Dooley-King household. If you don't happen to live in Albuquerque, there are almost certainly equally wonderful organizations in your locale. It's a small but good thing to adopt a rescue dog.

A great movie that might be easy to miss from this past year was Hustle and Flow, starring the future Oscar winner Terrance Howard and a few of the most adorable ho's ever captured on film. Yes, that's right, adorable ho's. For comedy, David Spade has found a remarkable groove on The Showbiz Show, which combines all the guilty pleasure of tabloid tv with none of the guilt that comes with subjecting one's mind to the mind-numbing stupidity of tabloid tv. And while you're watching, bust open a bag of Poore Brothers potato chips. The parmesan and garlic ones. What every chip ought to aspire to be.

As for me, I've been occupying myself with The Rose & Briar book and CD set. (I got mine from A Common Reader) The CD includes ton of American ballads from "Frankie and Johnny" to Marty Robbins' "El Paso." It covers nearly 100 years of American music, and when you buy the book as well, you can read essays by dozens of authors who provide the histories of those songs as well as many others. This is the sort of thing that I just love--it's perfect for folks who like history or music (and if you are a music history buff, well you just found the best thing ever!) I've also been watching way to much American Chopper lately, but I still find myself enjoying every minute. It's funny and smart and creative as hell. The weird thing is that I don't even own a motorcycle, but I'm still impressed by how these guys design and build theirs. It's just fun television, you know? And lately, the world has been aching for some fun.

What do you recommend?


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