Saturday, March 29, 2003 :::
It’s Just a Lack Of Memory, Haunting Me
As I slowly dredge through writing these little comments on every book I finished in 2002, the task becomes more difficult and absurd—I am here writing about books finished slightly more than a full year ago, so this should all be read more as fantasy than actual “book reviews” though I am not—obvious jokes excepted—trying to be particularly Borgesian: all real book, reactions as honest as my bad memory can allow. I am contemplating skipping ahead to writing about all the books I finished in 2003, so my reactions and thoughts are fresher. I hope I can somewhere along the line waste a full day mulling over this momentous and vital decision.
THE SELECTED LETTERS OF PHILIP K. DICK 1974 by Philip K. Dick. Every once in a while I dip back into the world of Dick—usually reading one of his novels a year and this year, prompted by finding these relatively rare and expensive books on the UCLA shelves, delving into the world of Dickiana. I think it is a truism (or maybe I made it up) that Dick comes across like a character in his own novels, or that he came to live in one of his own novels, or he had one of his own novels (a small Ace Double, no doubt) shoved up his ass, or dammit I wish there were a clean spoon in the house so I could eat some ice cream with no effort.
Anyway, I don’t remember specifically much that was in this one, but undoubtedly some relatively emotionally uncomprehending letters to women he was hot for that probably didn’t want to hear from him, letters to the FBI about the commie conspiracy against him, and imprecations against Stanislaw Lem, as well as a fair deal of charm and insight on science fiction, drug addiction, and the plight of the impecunious novelist. Oh, the thought I tried to finish above: if he is like a character in one of his novels, he’s more interesting and fully developed than most of them, except maybe the ones in A SCANNER DARKLY. Longtime fans of SURRENDER might remember that in issue one back in 1992, I screamed loudly about the intellectual and literary failures of VALIS. It is altogether possible I was speaking from ignorant incomprehension there. I have not re-read it to check this opinion, though it is true that I had not yet found my way into appreciating that Dick actually could be good, sometimes. But he could: try SCANNER, MARTIAN TIME SLIP, PALMER ELDRITCH, DIVINE INVASION. Problem with even getting started with Dick is that he does get under the skin to the degree that you feel compelled to read even the many really bad ones.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE ASYLUM: SOCIAL ORDER AND DISORDER IN THE NEW REPUBLIC by David J. Rothman. Dense and dry but well-educated bit of history-with-a-lesson, about the ideological and social forces behind the creation of huge institutions of social control in America, mostly concentrating on the first half of the 19th century: how we got such clearly morally superior institutions (or…ARE THEY??) as insane asylums, prisons, and poorhouses. Without being overtly polemical about it, Rothman is clearly on the side that questions the Whig theory of institutional and social progress, raising the important (would that it were musical) question: Who says the stockades aren’t a morally superior and pragmatically more manageable method of punishment than locking people up? Providing much amusing grist for my already existing prejudices against institutionalized do-goodism that is imposed on those without much say in the matter, the way we create "others" and abuse them for their own good, as well as ours.
EXPLODING: THE HIGHS, HITS, HYPE, HEROES, AND HUSTLERS OF THE WARNER MUSIC GROUP by Stan Cornyn with Paul Scanlon. I said most of what I wanted to say about this one in the pages of Reason magazine, which you are invited to consult. It should be available on the World Wide Web. Try a “google search” on “Brian Doherty” and “Stan Cornyn.” I was amazed at how expensive and hard to find the Tab Hunter LP I had to dig up for the purposes of illustrating that story was--$60 at one of those stores catering to the cost-is-no-object needs of the entertainment industry. Cost is always an object, I mutter into my handkerchief. No one hears. No one makes a sound. At any rate, I have a seemingly insatiable desire for books about the music industry, and this one was satisfying if not satiating. I was especially amused at the insane sense of entitlement on the part of biz executives, and the absurd lengths to which corporate boards will go to satisfy that sense of entitlement—this books details a series of executive compensation decisions that the sane will react to with wondering: why didn’t they just say no?
THE ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 2 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby et al. Some great early Steranko in here, big heaps of sweet Gene Colan, that brat Rick Jones makes a nuisance of himself, and fabulous Kirby fight scenes. If I’m remembering correctly, some signs that Stan wasn’t thinking too hard of making coherent sense of the plots from issue to issue. And! The!! Cosmic!!! Cube!!!!
::: posted by Brian at 11:39 PM