Monday, October 30, 2006

Christopher Robin: Freaky Mumbler's Manifesto

I Hate Microsoft Word But I Love Christopher Robin

Reviewed by Misti Rainwater-Lites

Misti acknowledges that she knows Christopher! You got a problem with that?

I. Hate. Microsoft Word. I have published several of my books at and each time the process has made me tear my hair out strand by strand. Santa Claus, bring this bitch a Mac for xmas!!! Just to illustrate how strongly I believe in Christopher Robin's poetry, I spent two days cleaning up the manuscript he e-mailed me and braving the wilds of Microsoft Word to put Freaky Mumbler's Manifesto together in the best possible way. I own the original edition of Freaky Mumbler's Manifesto which Christopher compares to a coloring book due to the size. The freakishly large size does not detract from the pleasure I experienced reading Christopher's poems. Christopher Robin is a true survivor. His poems were not written in an ivory tower but on the road, in a Section 8 apartment, at the carnival, in the depths of hell. You will not find a poetry book of this caliber at Borders or Barnes & Noble. If we lived in a more progressive society, a society that did not reward mindless mediocrity and overt sexuality with nothing behind it (hello, Britney/Christina/Fergie/Beyonce/et al!!!), Christopher Robin would be a billionaire. Bill Gates should not be a billionaire, by the way, because MICROSOFT WORD SUCKS!!! Buy Freaky Mumbler's Manifesto and become acquainted with a man who is famous but not rich, a man who knows how to heckle the hecklers right back, a man who embodies my favorite word, eBuLLieNCe. Christopher Robin is an ebullient son of a gun and I'm very glad to know him.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Joseph Parisi: 100 Essential Poems

Reviewed by: G. Tod Slone

Tod does not, to my knowledge, know Joseph. Nor, is my guess, does he want to.

100 Essential Poems. Selected and Introduced by Joseph Parisi.

Ivan R. Dee, Publisher. 2005. 305 pp. Hard cover. $24.95 US/$31.95 CAN ISBN: 1-56663-612-4. Ivan R. Dee, 1332 North Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60622,

“the work is secure in the canon.”
—Parisi (about his book)

This review is dedicated to all the college students in English classes nodding out during mandatory readings of anthology poems. This reviewer can relate to you. Indeed, the poems by Yeats, which begin the anthology, put me in an immediate state of nutation (i.e., nodding off—one of Alexander Pope’s words of predilection RE the poets of his time). As a professor, this reviewer always requests English students to define terms when they use them. Parisi's definition of "essential [and ‘greatest’] poems" is not up front but rather scattered in the obit/bios throughout the volume. Mostly it is the poet, not the poem, contrary to the title of this anthology, who lends definition to the term. Prize-winning, knowing the right people, coming from a wealthy background, and attending “prestigious” universities tend to characterize the poets. No doubt, Parisi has fallen for name-brand bards, as opposed to great poems. Not far into this anthology, one will notice, that is, a keen somewhat independent observer will notice, just how utterly pretentious the title is, even though backed by the most famous names in poetry.

The following, written by Dorothy Parker, according to this anthology, is one of the “greatest poems of the 20th century” (words written on the front cover of the book) and, sadly, there are a number of others like it in this volume:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Sure, it’s cute, but how can it possibly be “essential”? How can “the most popular comic poet in the United States [in his time],” Ogden Nash, be essential with his “genial nonsense” (the words in quotes are Parisi’s)? And what about Auden’s “fun to read” “Wise about Mores and Witty on Manners; ” Stevie Smith’s “slight, humorous, whimsical “ “Nursery-Rhyme formulas”; and “Manners” by Bishop, “one of the most esteemed of twentieth-century poets”?

Why are the poems in this anthology “essential”? Are they essential for highbrow entertainment? The term witty is used over and over to the extent that one might conclude that highbrow wit is indeed the principle determinant of great canon poems… as if such resulted from mere intellectual games. Certainly the poems in this volume are essential for understanding the canon and for anyone wishing to strive to be accepted by the canon. But who has dictated them to be essential? Well, in this case, one bourgeois, poet, Joseph Parisi, former editor of Poetry magazine, amongst other things. In this volume, the names, almost each and every one of them, are recognizable, but why do we recognize them? Perhaps most poets today lack the ability or inclination to even ask these essential questions. Never are we encouraged to question and challenge the canon, in this case, as dictated by Parisi.

Why are Sandburg’s “Chicago”, Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” Robinson’s “Minerver Cheevy,” or any number of other similar poems in this volume essential? Many of the poems seem to manifest an absence of passion. If indeed they are representative of the greatest, then clearly the past century was not at all a good one for poetry. To establish a great literature, we need more convincing criteria than Pulitzer Prize, Guggenheim, published in Poetry Magazine, and “wide popular acclaim” (the publisher’s jacket blurb). So many honors and accolades are listed in the obit/bios, yet so few courageous, risk-taking, activist poets are amongst the recipients! This does not speak highly for poets of the canon, which might explain why so many poets endeavor to spread the romantic myth of the poet. It is thus interesting to examine the diverse accolades, then to compare that with the naked product, the poems. Sadly, too often in this anthology do the latter fall short of the former. Bishop is perhaps the best example.

What saddens this reviewer is that our university students are fed canon, rather than encouraged to question and challenge it. Yet doing the latter would make it stronger and more credible in the long run. Rare are the students and professors who do question the Pulitzer, for example, and ask who the judges are and how they’re appointed. Rather than literary-prize recipient, what is needed as criteria is passion and fire in the poet… and the poem. Far too many of these poems seem as dead as our “great” living poets on the university lecture circuit and on the dole of grants, Guggenheims, and MacArthurs.

“The selection is properly catholic, a fine representation of Mr. Parisi’s sophisticated poetic taste, and, poets and readers of poetry being highly contentious, also controversial,” notes blurber Joseph Epstein on the back cover. Yet almost all of the poems in this volume are inoffensive, do not make waves, do not go against the grain, and unlikely to shock anybody at all. Parisi describes the pre-Pound/Eliot poesy scene as “sentimentality, lofty but hazy notions, archaic diction and tired formulas.” Yet many of these poems might equally be placed in that very category. If you refuse to concur, then why not observe the state of nutation in an average college classroom as students attempt to read the poems? I’m sure some of those students, not yet fully indoctrinated by their comfortable English professors, might actually be dreaming of pushing Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” right over the cliff where it probably belongs. Williams himself had once declared, “to tell the truth, I myself never quite feel that I know what I am talking about—if I did, and when I do, the thing written seems nothing to me.”

“Above all I am not concerned with Poetry,” wrote Wilfred Owen. “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do to-day is warn. That is why the true poets must be truthful.” Perhaps this is the crux of the problem with poetry this century. Too many poets have been fixated on Poetry per se… not on truth. Interestingly, none of the poems in this anthology criticize the oligarchy and literary establishment.

Can “Recuerdo” actually be the best poem written by Vincent-Millay? How can it possibly be considered one of “the greatest poems in English over the past century, memorable masterpiece” (quote taken from the front cover of this volume)? The same goes for “Helen” (Hilda Doolittle) and “The Fish” (Marianne Moore). As a literary editor, this reviewer would have rejected most of the poems in this anthology. If this book had been titled “Favorite Poems of an Establishment Poet,” I would have had no problem with it at all.

So, what are “superior poems”? You’ll know them when you read them or the mandarins of poesy will tell you which ones? No definition is attempted, except canon-accepted. Do “exceptional technical skill and tonal range” (RE Louis MacNeice) necessarily produce great poems? Does “extremely erudite” (RE Berryman) make great ones? “The Dream Song” is hardly convincing. Many if not most of the poems in this volume do not weather time well and should thus serve more as historical examples, rather than greatest poems. Parisi informs that Roethke, for example, has “secured his reputation among literary historians.”

Stafford is “said to have written a poem a day,” but so what? Does that give “How to Regain Your Soul” greatest poem status? If so, perhaps Parisi should have chosen a poem by Lyn Lifshin, who must write at least 10 per day. Many of the poems in this collection are fancy... and deadly boring. You'd have to pay this reviewer to read through to the end of some of them, though inevitably I did check the endings of almost all of them to see what the "punch lines" might be. Do they use that term in poesy? Many, if not most, of these poems are written by professors, who seemed to have fed passively from the hand feeding them, rather than to have observed that hand with a critical eye. Perhaps more polemics and less "beautifully realized poems" would shake things up and make poesy matter a little more. But often polemics takes guts and nerve, sacrifice of literary prizes, teaching opportunities, grants, and reading invitations. Even Ginsberg, chief of the Beatnik poets, who figures in this collection, came off as a pitiful wannabee of canon. He was not the counter culture at all—that was his masque. No wonder he became a "fixture on college syllabi.” Canon fed him and he chewed and shut his mouth (and eyes) and got a job at Brooklyn College as Distinguished Professor. Carl Soloman convinced him (the words are Parisi’s) "of the poet's political role as outsider, prophet and social critic." But how does an outsider get inside the canon? He does not, unless he sells out. Perhaps Ginsberg would have been more honest if he'd written "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by desire for fame and canonic approval..." On the surface, Ginsberg comes off as a token outsider in this collection, but only on the surface thanks to his extensive image marketing. Parisi oddly fails to mention in the bio that Ginsberg was a proud proponent of sex with male children, not teenagers, but children. Why the omission? The Beatnik myth is perhaps a billion-dollar industry in the USA. Myth of course implies burying truths and contradictions. Canon itself is a myth. What to say about “Howl” today? Some of it is of interest but most of it is tedious and verbose and somewhat unintelligible.

One has to wonder just how much Parisi likes “We Real Cool” (Gwendolyn Brooks). Most likely he threw it in for political rectitude’s sake… as he did for Ginsberg. In fact, one has to wonder if he is really suited as a judge, bending here, there—but what does he really think? Maybe he doesn’t even know any more. Frank O’Hara’s two poems remind of Charles Bukowski’s style. So, why was the latter omitted… because O’Hara “was the life of the party”? Well, wasn’t Bukowski also “the life of the party” and didn’t he receive a Guggenheim, whereas O’Hara did not?

Why did Poetry Chancellor Philip Levine, also selected for this anthology, who wrote about the spiritual costs of the toil of working class people, never write about the spiritual costs of rampant intellectual corruption in academe and the literary scene, something he must surely have been even more knowledgeable about since that was where he spent most of his life? Finally, Parisi seems to have made safe, as opposed to wise, choices. Establishment poets get so used to making safe ones that they probably confuse them with wise ones. Why is Eliot’s “Wasteland” not included? Parisi notes how it shook everyone up and, more or less, began modernism. Why is it not essential? Copyright problems? Too long? Where are the poems of our great Poet Laureates of the U.S. Library of Congress, Pinsky, Gluck, Hass, Kooser et al? And what about the other “great” Beatnik poets, Waldman, McClure, Ferlinghetti, Corso et al? A blind panel might be a solution to poor choice, unless of course all the blind panelists turn out to be canon indoctrinates.

A few powerful poems are included in this anthology, but only a few, including Anne Sexton’s “Wanting to Die” and, of course, Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est.” Many libraries already possess similar volumes. So, why purchase yet another one? This reviewer does not recommend this book.

G. Tod Slone, Editor

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Robert Crumb/David Mairowitz: R. Crumb's Kafka

Reviewed by: Tom Hendricks, Musea Review Service

Tom Hendricks is a ULA member. He has probably never met Robert Crumb, but might want to. I'd like to meet Robert Crumb.

What is it? : Franz Kafka's biography with text by David Mairowitz, and illustrations by celebrated underground comic artist Robert Crumb.

Technical Quality: High. Book is a well made, 175 page, trade paperback. Note the somewhat chilling cover with an orange Prague cityscape drawing , with a green insert of Kafka writing.

Innovative Quality: High. The book uses the graphic novel approach to tell the life story of the troubled but brilliant Franz Kafka. Crumb illustrates the main biographical events and portions from some of Kafka's most celebrated works.

Review: Three parts come together to make this a memorable and notable read: Franz Kafka's life and works, Robert Crumb's illustrations on every page, and an informative biographical text by David Zane Mairowitz.

Mairowitz writes: "Before ever becoming the ADJECTIVE (Kafkaesque) Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Jew from Prague, born into its inescapable tradition of story-tellers and fantasists, ghetto-dwellers and eternal refugees. His Prague, "a little mother' with 'claws' was a place that suffocated him, but where he nonetheless chose to live all but the last eight months of his life."

That well sums up a lot of the main threads of Kafka's life too. He was a Jew in a country that more and more hated and persecuted the Jews. He had an oppressive and abusive father that, like Prague, he could never escape. He had troubled relationships with all the women he was attracted to, and he never got the respect for his writing in his life time that he deserved.

The book goes into detail on all these issues and lets us see his world - a depressing world where it seems his only escape was his writing. And what writing he did. Throughout the book are illustrated excerpts of major Kafka works including: an early story 'The Judgement', the famous "Metamorphosis' where Gregor Samsa turns into an enormous bug; "The Burrow" an animal fable; "In the Penal Colony" with the new killing machine invention; his best known work, the novel, "The Trial" where 'K' is arrested - but for what?; "The Castle" the 2nd of 3 novels; "A Hunger Artist" who is a sideshow freak for his ability to starve himself, and "Amerika" his last unfinished novel.

At the age of 39 he retired from his insurance job (one that by improving safety standards actually saved many lives) due to tuberculosis. Kafka instructed his friend Max Brod, to destroy almost all his works upon his death. Fortunately for us, Brod did not carry that wish out.

The bio is fascinating, and the excerpts cover some of the best of Kafka's work. Now add to that the superb black and white illustrations of Crumb and we get a very great book indeed.

Crumb, known for his underground comics, has taken that style of art to high art here. His drawing style is the technical equal of any illustrator. Yet beyond that he has a gift for characterization , an eye for detail, and the ability to illustrate any scene. Had the bio and excerpts been any less compelling, the illustrations would have still been notable. Each page was filled with drawings and many of them are minor masterpieces on their own. An example are the illustrations on page 64 and 65. Kafka wrote many letters to Felice Bauer one of 4 women that he had important
relationships with. On the left side we see the couple up to their chests in pages of letters. On the right side of the page, we see Kafka writing at his desk in the bottom right corner with letter after letter stacked through the air, all the way up to the upper left corner.

Wisely Mairowitz, who wrote the text, does not try to embellish his work, instead his comments are sparse and to the point , thus better allowing Kafka the classic writer, and Crumb a world class gifted illustrator, to shine.

High marks all around in this new classic .

Contact Info:

(Blogperson's note: I was not able to locate this book on ibooks, but perhaps you will have more luck, as you are smarter, cuter and have better breath. It may be available through your local bookstore as it was reprinted in 2005 (my local store seems to have found a distributor--maybe), and it also appears available online at Amazon. So you may have trouble locating this book, but that is no reason not to try. Don't be lazy when literature is involved!! And support your local bookstore if possible!)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Aaron Cometbus: Cometbus #50

Review by: King Wenclas

King is a key member of the ULA. I don't think he has ever met Aaron Cometbus because otherwise he probably would use Aaron's real name.

Aaron Cometbus is the most mythical writer in the literary underground; probably in all of contemporary American literature.

90% of all zine writers over the last fifteen years wish they were Aaron Cometbus. Rick Moody, Dave Eggers, and other establishment writers who pretend to be hip wish they were Aaron Cometbus. Cometbus does it without trying, makes it look easy. As the knowing been-around punk writer he's the prototype.

Issue #50 of his mythical zine Cometbus is one of his best. Much of it consists of interviews with punk musicians, or printed fan letters. Also two strong prose works by Maddalena Polletta. The writings by Aaron are powerful and truthful. No tricks. No creative writing gimmicks. Simple writing which is observant; very much of the world; and human. This is shown in his "New York Journal" at the heart of the issue: seven short tales which convey the diverse feel, smell, and voice of the great city better than other writers do in entire novels. To read this is to know the excitement of discovering authentic literature.

Cometbus is the most imitated zine of all time for a reason. My only question is whether it's for real. Paranoia suggests it's secretly produced by a gigantic corporation, rather than by one guy with the help of a few friends. I suggest this because it outdoes the corporations. Technical questions run through my head. What kind of pen or marker does he use for the handwritten parts? Are they really handwritten? They look too neat, too perfect. Maybe they're done by a computer program.

Cometbus costs two dollars. Two dollars! It's a better read than most $25 books. No address listed. Two dollars if you can find a copy.

[ULA Blogperson's note: the easiest way to find Cometbus is online, at Last Gasp Distributing. The web address is Check out the site. That site not only has Cometbus #50, it not only has other issues of Cometbus (including an anthology), it also has a lot of other great writing!! If you like underground literature, you will find plenty to love on that site. And, I have now received Cometbus #50: wow! Buy it!]

Misti Rainwater-Lites: Ebullient Vomit

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Christopher, a ULA member, knows Misti. Misti knows Christopher. They have reviewed each other's books on this site. You got a problem with that? The review is honest.

Misti Rainwater-Lites' poems are deliciously entertaining with stark raving mad, no nonsense honesty that will chill you in your bones; explicit poems that will make you laugh out loud even while reading them on a public bus. They may even turn you on. She has had a fascinating life, struggled with remorse, poverty, depression, and yet still bears a spirited ambition (Ebullience!) to put her whole being, the good and the bad, into her poems.

One thing I look for in a poet is the ability to laugh at one’s self, no matter what the situation. Misti does this. She’s not afraid to be wrong, vulnerable, ugly or sexual, often all at once. Her humorous tirades are directed at skinny women, the rich and the vacant, to name just a few.

“America You Can” should be written on a billboard: The first line of this poem: “America you can lick my pretty pink none too placid pussy until she purrs” is original, sexy (obviously) and political. And it goes on: “tell me that my man doesn’t have to break his back to take me and our children on vacation once a year/tell me that I don’t have to be sweet and pretty and docile like Laura Bush/to have some peace/tell me that I don’t have to run stark raving mad through Wal-Mart showing my thick black bush to zombies/shopping for cheap clothes and bad produce/to prove a fucking point.”

I have never read a poem that mixes politics and fellatio so dramatically. Shane Allison and Joe Pachinko are two poets that come to mind. Her style is as fluid and trashy, and as righteous, as theirs. She is engaged and on fire. Misti seems to have no lack of material at her disposal: from growing up in a small town in Texas, to pop culture, old boyfriends, road trips and bad love.

She holds my attention in a longer poem: ‘I Have a Daughter, Yesterday She Turned Nine,” and her short poems are great as well: in ‘Groupie’ she is unapologetic, plays it easy and cheap, a poem about hanging out by a pool with a drummer in Austin and ends with: “unbelievably wet/and not at all in love.”

Honest and powerfully simple. I happen to be one of the few people I know that has got to hear her read these poems out loud, with a Texas accent and wearing a school girl uniform. That, my friends is how poetry should be served. This is punk, it’s rock and roll, and it’ll make you laugh. As far as I’m concerned, she’s right up there with Jennifer Blowdryer, Joie Cook, Patti Smith, Wendy O’Matik and Chrissy Hynde, so stand back and watch the spitwads fly!

(ULA Blogperson's note: Ebullient Vomit is available through Lulu. Check it out. Buy it. Support the underground!)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Jack Saunders: Bukowski Never Did This

Review by Tom Hendricks, Musea Review Service

Tom and Jack are both members of the ULA. They may never have met. Tom is proud of his reviews being very honest.

What is it? Three short novels in one by Jack Saunders. Technical Quality: The technical quality of the writer is very good. His writing style is smooth and well honed. He has written over 250 books, about one a
month, and it shows. Technical quality of the book itself is similar to any published trade paperback. Innovative Quality: The writing gets high marks for innovation.

He mixes everything into the work: rants, Q. and A. self interviews, novel synopses, diary entries, poems, even liner notes for a CD.

"Reading one of my books is like surfing the Internet, or reading several library books - and magazines and newspapers - at the same time."... "I write in a variety of genres. Poetry, fiction, drama, memoir, self-interviews, replies to rejection slips, letters to a friend. Sometimes in a single book."

Throughout the work he switches back and forth between a novel with the main character , Brew, a struggling unpublished, prolific writer; and entries from a diary by Brew. He even says IN the novel what it's about - a sort of Catch-22 review/synopsis of the novel within the novel!

"Bukowski never wrote 250 books without selling a word to New York or Hollywood. He also didn't "create a body of work, his stack, and invent a form to present it in, daily typewriting." Nor did he publish his books, himself in real time, daily , and respond to reader comment, in the work, so that his books were not only written, and published in real time, they were interactive, and responded to reader comment after he had had time to think about the matter. The book shows how Art Brew combines writing,
work and family. And fights the nomenklatura, the Retread Mafia the old ennui, out on a quiet spree. The book is divided into alternating sections, Diary, and Novel. The novel is an underground writer procedural novel and the diary is the diary of writing an underground writer procedural novel. And working etc."

The book cover is not as accomplished. It seems disjointed and looks too busy with the sensory overload you see on most website main pages.

Review: FIRST A DISCLAIMER. This reviewer, is a member of the ULA the Underground Literary Alliance, a writers group. Both author Jack Saunders, and publisher Lit Vision Press are members of the ULA. IF you think this is a conflict of interest - stop reading this review now. If not ...

This novel is written in a very free form that oscillates between a writers diary/notes and a novel about his life. The story is straightforward enough. Art Brew has got writing in his blood. All he wants to do is write his novels or talk about them. He writes one each month, sometimes every two weeks. But he can't get published and to support himself and his working wife Brenda, he must take jobs as a technical writer, usually with all the red tape associated with government work. His jobs are always temporary
so he seems to be out of work as much as in. And though he can't get published, (though in reality he is here - another Catch-22) he continues to write prolifically.

And what does he write about? "Stories about the writing life," such as writing, his novels, synposes of them, writers he likes, the Buzzard Cult
- a group of followers of his writing, his query letters to publishers, quotes from other writers, etc. There is some events outside of writing but they're not in the majority. He struggles with low finances at home, his long suffering wife supports him, they both love a band called Dread Clampitt, he sometimes drinks too much, they visit relatives, enjoy good food, and they move more than once to find work.

Here is a sample of his writing on writing:

"Brew's book took him over He was writing what turned out to be a series of related books, about being an underground writer, an underground writer on the worldwide web, a man using the worldwide web to write the
Great American Novel, online, daily, something new under the sun. This idea excited him so much he thought the book would be commercial. He thought the book would sell to a New York editor or agent, and rescue him from his dead-end job. In the nick of time. Here's a catalogue raisonne of what he had written so far..."

And here's a sample of his writing not on writing: "Shakespeare never blotted a line./ Same with Mozart. The music just flowed,? Like he was taking dictation. The paintings van Gogh did/ at the end of his life look sloppy, until you examine them/ closely with a painter's eye. A mistake is existential. Use it./ Ask a Zen master."

Overall it's a rich book that book lovers will enjoy. What you won't find is much emotional depth, characterization, or plot. What you will find is a seasoned writer full of bits of info, sparks of ideas, and totally committed to his writing, even in his writing!

Some more quotes that I enjoyed.

"That's what my book is about. Producing a body of work and inventing a genre to present it in. For a world that's hostile or indifferent to it."

"What happens if I (1) lose my job, and (2) don't sell my book? I write a book about that. I look for another job."

Contact Info:
Pat Simonelli
c/o LitVision Press
7711 Greenback Lane #156
Citrus Heights CA 95610

Leopold McGinnis: The Red Fez

Reviewed by Tom Hendricks, Musea Review Service

Tom and Leopold are both ULA members. Tom prides himself on his reviews being very honest. Leopold is honest, but he has not written this review, so what difference does it make?

What is it? Novella by Leopold McGinnis. 76 pages. Technical Quality: Very high. Attractive looking book has color cover of Red Fez and a Grapefruit (a plot point) in front of a map of Algiers and seen through an Arabic styled arch. There's easy to read type, 9 black and white illustrations and an easy to handle size that is slightly wider than a paperback. Innovative Quality: Nothing here that hasn't been done by others.

Review: Taut, lively story of a stolen antiquity, caught me at the opening and kept me reading to the end. The story opens with red fez wearing Habibi buying extra mustache wax, a sure sign that something big is up.

The author says that his story "is heavily film noir inspired. And it does have that "Casablance" film classic, feel to it. The place is 1936 Algiers, the locals hate the colonial French, and everyone is hungry to make a deal.

The characters are distinctive and crisply drawn. Besides Habibi, there's the police chief Pierre Rensard, cafe proprietor Savid, the evil British gun trader Sylvia Longshot and her hunchback henchman, Afiz.

Like good pulp fiction, the story goes with no stops. Habibi may have something worth a lot on the black market. But who does he sell it to and how does he escape the authorities that are cracking down on illegal sales.

Besides the cast of characters, there's a clear plot, a lively McGuffin - as Hitchcock called 'the thing everyone wants,' - and a menacing hot desert atmosphere that colors everyone's actions.

The story creaks a little when the wily Habibi is caught too much off guard without a back up plan - I am skeptical he would be duped - and he doesn't use the ropes he's tied up with to escape his rope - needing predictament! I'll say no more.

Overall a fun read in a great looking package, with a pulp fiction film noir style that I enjoyed. Perhaps the nicest compliment I can say is I read it straight through and didn't put it down till the story ended.

Contact Info:,

Leopold McGinnis: Game Quest

Reviewed by Tom Hendricks, Musea Review Service

As noted above, Tom and Leopold are both ULA members. Tom prides himself on honest reviews, no matter whether he knows the writer or not. I know Leopold, but don't know Tom--do you care? However, I have read Game Quest and thought it an insightful, funny and penetrating look into a critical point in computer gaming--no one else has written a novel about this subject. Buy it!

What is it? 500 Page Novel on a Computer Game Company. Technical Quality: Above average. The oversized paperback book is well made and well designed. Innovative Quality: Above average. Its subject matter, a computer game company, will be new to most readers. McGinnis seems to know the industry well and gives a wide coverage of most aspects of a start up computer company, named Madre, that becomes almost too successful.

Note the computer style extras: fake logo's for Madre and Che's Coffee revolution, and illustrations in that digital pixel style for both the cover , showing the Madre founder's family, and the illustrations at the end of each chapter.

Review: First novel by Canadian author Leopold McGinnis shows insight and scope in all things related to computer gaming. Main characters Will and Kendra Roberts have started Madre, a computer games company that has helped pioneer the field and made some of the best games anywhere. Their success leads to expansion and unwanted notice by big business corporate raiders, Melfina Enterprises, who just might upset all the good work the Madre team has done.

McGinnis shows us all aspects of a computer game start up company from the annual bar-be-que to the company cappuccino machine, and this reader felt that he must have both worked in the industry, and studied it on his off hours to know all these details.

We see the company from not only the point of view of the bosses, the couple that started it, Will and Kendra, but from Bill, Art, Geof , Tim, and Henry , long time employees; plus new hires, Kathy, and Tom Newman; and even the comical 'cool advisor', Tray Cool. Then too outside the business there's a subplot of charcters that includes the Robert's teen daughter Heather and her online friend Carol.

McGinnis seems to get into the heart of all his characters that range from teen girls to company presidents. The reader sees real insight and personality in the characters here. I had some quibbles with the lack of descriptions of some of the characters. For instance the middle aged Kendra is a main character but I still don't know if she was fat or thin, the color of her hair, tall or short, etc. I would have liked to have had more visual clues here.

The story is vast, and takes time for some side track events and sidetrack issues, that I enjoyed reading about. This kind of thing gives depth and breadth to a story and makes or breaks a novel.

There is the indie coffee shop Naughte Latte that fights takeover by the pushy conglomerate Che's Coffee Revolution. There is the attack on using interns as a way to get cheap labor. There is stock manipulation, and corporate raiders that see dollar signs in their eyes and nothing else.

There is the online world of game players with its own sense of community. There's a computer convention in Las Vegas, and a Hawaiian vacation. And there's the day to day running of a small California company. The story is engaging, and very readable. McGinnis easily switches from character group to character group. It is a well drawn world that any reader can relate to, with contemporary concerns and present day issues.

It's a David versus Goliath business struggle in computer gaming. McGinnis covers the small company side well, but only hints at the motivations of the behemoth on the other side - most clearly in an after the fact interview of Newman. Yet I wonder what motivated that side too. I can't fathom how they could be so cold and calculating. But to do that justice he'd probably have to write a second volume! As it is, McGinnis leaves us wondering, and concerned about corporate abuse of power and how it upsets lives.

Overall it's a fine achievement and a vast coverage of places ideas and people seldom seen in a first novel or for that matter most novelists' mature work.

Contact Info:

Michael Allen: and why Lisa's Dad got to be famous

Reviewed by: Leopold McGinnis

I have no idea whether Leopold knows Michael. Either personally or Biblically.

Book located at:
£9.99 (~$25 Cdn) or FREE! (you decide)

It’s ‘cause of AIDS. In case you were wondering. Or, rather, it’s because Lisa’s dad agrees to participate in a ‘reality’ TV show where he has to convince a woman to sleep with him, unprotected.

This isn’t really giving anything away because the book is more about the making of this TV show, Harry the man with AIDS, than about Lisa at all. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Lisa is little more than a literary contrivance to create the title and motivation for Harry, than and actual character in the book. Actually, I think the book might have been better and more appropriately titled as Harry the man with AIDS. The existing title is a bit contrived and who is Lisa? Who is Lisa’s Dad? Why should I care why he got famous? But you say ‘Harry the Man with AIDS’ and that gets my attention! This would also create an interesting tension in the reader who picks up the book out of morbid fascination only to find out they’ve fallen for the type of shock marketing the book parodies.

But enough about the title. How and why Lisa’s Dad got to be Famous (which shall hereafter be known as Lisa’s Dad) essentially follows Harry, an everyman carpenter who, soon after finding himself diagnosed as HIV positive, is approached by a rather unscrupulous TV exec eager to sign Harry up to star in his new reality TV show – Harry, the Man with AIDS. Harry, being a bit of an easy going simpleton (almost too easy and simple to be believable at some points) agrees. But only so the money can go to his disabled daughter who he hasn’t seen in years.

The rest of the story involves Harry going through the behind the scenes motions of finding someone willing to sleep with him and dealing with sleazy producers and media who’ll pull anything to get ‘interesting’ reality. Throughout all of this, Lisa’s Dad doles out a fair share of satire on Rupert Murdoch style entertainment in contemporary culture and is a recommended read on that almost alone.

Lisa’s Dad isn’t groundbreaking literature by any stretch, but it’s right in all the right places. And in a world full of books stuffed to the brim with boring pomposity, Lisa’s Dad is like a breath of fresh air in a cold, dark crypt. First and most importantly, this book is entertaining. Sadly, too few books of literature these days come close to achieving this golden rule of lit. But no argument can be made that Lisa’s Dad does not satisfy this key aspect. The story moves quickly, is too short to ever get boring, avoids cliché, has an interesting, contemporary and modern-day concept (though I wouldn’t go as far as to call it unique). Overall, it’s just well-roundedly entertaining. And secondly, it fulfills the other golden rule: heart.

Michael Allen makes his book relevant to the reader. It’s coverage of a contemporary phenomenon in contemporary settings, with familiar-yet-unique characters makes it easy to relate to. It’s not your typical glut of literary self-absorption. Furthermore, the book has a purpose. Allen seeks to satirize and examine the phenomenon of reality TV – particularly taking to its extremes a form of entertainment most people don’t spend much time thinking about. Literature is good for this sort of analysis – examining and discussing our world without boring us like a textbook, making it relate. Allen manages this quite well. Though I wanted a bit more.

While Allen makes a lot of good points about the ‘hidden’ truths about this form of entertainment, I felt that, in the end, he kind of pulled punches. The book doesn’t touch much upon why this form of entertainment is so popular, or what it says about the culture that produces and consumes it. We see a bit of the sleazy underbelly of the typical goings on in production (all the shady legal mumbo jumbo), but the voyeuristic nature of this sort of programming, the negative aspects of the sort of media domination involved (ie, the fact that the show that airs the program is owned by the same company that runs the major newspaper that promotes the program, etc…, etc…), are ignored.

In the end everyone gets off scot free. I won’t go into details to keep from spoilers, but the worst that happens is we get a hint that maybe the producer of this show, who makes lots of money, is really not satisfied, but in fact a lonely man. Falls a bit too close to commercial pap for my tastes, but was still, overall, well done.

There are a few other things that don’t quite sit right, including the fact that the main character being so easy going. We’re supposed to believe that he’d go through all this hell, do anything for his daughter and yet wholeheartedly agrees to never see her again at his ex-wife’s suggestion because it might ‘confuse her.’ A few parts of this novel come off as convenient narrative devices before being solidly believable. Harry’s cluelessness is fun and a convenient trick for getting the story across, but sometimes Harry says ‘but I don’t know about that stuff’ at too many things, like TV, Newspapers, anything Michael Allen feels the need he has to explain. Additionally, because Harry’s so simple, it’s hard to understand what the woman sees in him exactly. I wouldn’t say it’s unbelievable, but does bring up the question.

The writing in Lisa’s Dad is incredibly tight. I really admire writers who can put together a story very succinctly and Michael Allen’s is a master at it. I’m am far from a tight writer. I’d say this is a strength for Allen and the book clips along at its own, quick pace. But if you like flowery prose, or stopping along the road for asides, to peruse the scenery, you aren’t going to find much (or any) of that here.

Michael Allen is a bit of a celebrity in the independent publishing circuit. He had several books published big name presses in the 60s and 70s before taking a decade long break. When he came back he found that there was little interest in his work amongst the literary bureaucrats. As he says in an interview at the back of the book, which is arguably one of the most interesting parts of the book – at least from my perspective – they weren’t interested in a writer who wouldn’t stick to a genre or who too old to be hep anymore. So Michael Allen started up Kingsfield publications and has been publishing himself since.

There’s a terrible pall against self-publishing, but us independent publishers are lucky to have someone like Allen in the game. Not only does he show that independent publishing is not just the realm of people who ‘can’t get published otherwise’, but also, with novel’s as craftily written as Lisa’s Dad, he’s surely raising the public’s perception, support and belief in independent writing. Certainly, How and While Lisa’s Dad Got to be Famous is better than a long list of best-sellers lining the shelves or award lists these days.

I’d recommend How and Why Lisa’s Dad got to be Famous to almost anyone. It’s fun, interesting and fairly novel. I’d readily read another book of Mr. Allen’s and, best of all, if you’re hard up for cash, or have extra time at work, you can read the entirety of Lisa’s Dad online at the above address for free! Now that’s novel! With generousity like that, it’s easy to understand How and Why Michael Allen (as Grumpy Old Bookman) Got to be Famous.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Charlotte Webb: Cruisin Central, A Rock 'N' Roll Novel

Cruisin Central, A Rock 'N' Roll Novel
by Charlotte Webb

Reviewed by Tom Hendricks.

Tom prides himself on his honest reviews. I do not know if he knows Charlotte. I read Charlotte's Webb, but that is not the same thing.

What is it? : A 274 page novel of 50-60's era teens growing up in Phoenix, Arizona.

Technical Quality: Above average. Its a quality trade paperback format with a fine color cover , quality paper, and clear easy-to-read type.

Innovative Quality: Very high. Examples include, but are not limited to: different typefaces that represent different things (see review); using lyrics from rock 'n' roll songs to preface the chapters; a glossary of slang; a bookmark for the novel; and even a mathematical formula for determing the last cool year of rock ‘n’ roll (1963?).

"Cruisin Central" is a complex novel that involves a community of characters - mostly teens - in a concentrated environment - a section of Phoenix, Arizona - during the early years of rock 'n' roll - the late 50's through the early 60's. And it requires some backup information for most readers to understand that insulated world.

Author Webb has supplied those extras. There's a map of Central Avenue where the teens cruise in their souped up cars, indicating all the hot spots. The style of car is very important to status and coolness. There is a glossary of slang including such terms as crewcut, hood, p.t., candy apple red, cherry, church key, lay rubber, rumble, etc. The typefaces are part of the story. There are separate texts for the main body of the story, flashback scenes, typed letters, unspoken thoughts, and lines of lyrics.

The novel is set up as a series of entries, each with the point of view of one major or minor character. Webb introduces each entry with a line of lyrics from a rock 'n' roll song that relates to the action. And in a 10 page separate booklet (available upon request with purchase only), she lists all the lyric lines plus the songs they come from, and the artist that made them. In an additional nice touch, the lyric lines, when read in order, tell a story of their own - a secret novel within a novel!

The music quoted is a vast discography of all aspects of not only rock 'n'
roll of the early days of the rock 'n' roll era, but other pop contemporary songs. Anyone wanting to know more about that era of music, and that has only heard oldies fare, would be wise to study the list for the real thing. The music is all over the map, and includes, Buddy Holly, Kingston Trio, Connie Stevens, Chuck Berry, Frankie Avalon, Johnny Horton, Elvis, La Vern Baker, Shirelles, Beach Boys, Marcels, Jimmy Reed, Cookie and the Cupcakes, and many many more.

The novel opens by introducing us to a bunch of teens from Cinnabar High School, Soon we see what is important in their world: cruising Central Avenue in the coolest cars, avoiding the violent 'hoods', fighting when you have to, keeping up with the newest rock 'n' roll songs, staying away from trouble with the police, drinking, girls 'reputations', dating, and sex.

Gradually one girl, Petey Stoner, becomes the main character to watch. She is a thin girl from an abusive family who is known to steal 45's for her vast record collection. Her mom thinks she's a slut but the boys think she is a cold fish - she crosses her legs in what they call the 'Petey Pretzel'. Petey is also very very smart and has to hide her IQ to fit in with her school friends. The main boy character is Jim Berling, who looks like Rick Nelson, drives the 'Honeydripper', and is a bit of a hood, even though his father is Judge Berling, 'the hanging judge'.

Both Petey and Jim keep files on other boys and girls. Petey notes the cars they drive, and the music they like. Jim notes their SQ, sexual quotient.

Through episode after epidsode the reader sees that everything is here from the 'Happy Days" type world depicted on tv. But unlike that world, this one is seldom happy. It's a very gritty, dark, cold, and harsh world where adults are either suckers or abusive, parents push too hard and have no respect for their kids, teen boys are often extremely violent, girls are either naive or tramps, and most everyone is provincial and living in their own very small narrow world. There seems to be very little chance for a change for the better for anyone.

Petey and Watson
“Goin to the river, gonna jump overboard and drown”
"I was trying to decide on the method of suicide I would use, because life without Denny wasn’t worth living. No one else had ever loved anyone as much as I loved him. But I was not going to give in to him, and risk getting knocked up, and ruin both our lives. Why couldn’t he understand?”

Later Petey hears Carole say the same thing about Mark, “No one has ever
loved anyone as much as I loved Mark”, and decides against suicide.

My main concern about the novel would be that no one of the many characters seems to get out - to get out of Cinnabar High or Phoenix, with a normal healthy life, let alone an accomplished successful life. The overriding tone is that of everyone being trapped in a conservative 'buttoned down' world. We, who grew up during this time, often forget how conservative it was, and those of a different generation, don’t know how bad it could be. But as bad as it was, some did get out.

Overall it is an exceedingly rich novel with some amazing detail - for ex. we learn the coolest makeup at the cosmetics counter. And it does a remarkable job of bringing that era to life with a mix of excitement, immediacy, and dread: romance , desire, and passion; and an overall driving hope for escape with someone - anyone. And perhaps nothing better expressed all that then the rock ‘n’ roll music that was playing in the background.

Contact Info:
Cost = $22 for US/CAN/MEX (postage included), Europe $27 + 10.40 postage

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