POPSThe twenty most popular book reviews, essays and readings from Ralph's first six years --- being those that have received the most number of hits over the last few weeks.
- Honey, Mud, Maggots and Other Medical Marvels, by Robert and Michèle Root-Bernstein (Houghton Mifflin). "The authors suggest that we might rediscover the past. For example, we could look to the positive aspects of bloodletting, we could let sugar and honey cure pressure sores, we could use maggots cleanse intractable wounds, and let "Laudable Pus" (pardon the expression) take care of grave injuries. Then there's urotherapy, whereby you drink down a glassful of urine each morning (your own, not your neighbor's) as a general tonic pick-me-up, which apparently adds natural antibiotics to the body's immune system."
- Six Wars at a Time by Howard and Audrey Shaff (The Center for Western Studies). "After reading this all-too-detailed life of Gutzon Borglum, yet another Pained and Tedious Artist, we are suprised that they didn't inscribe these words on his gravestone: I'm not dead. It's just a rumor. Spread by my enemies. So they can steal my ideas from me."
- Inside the Halo and Beyond The Anatomy of a Recovery, by Maxine Kumin (Norton). "Almost everything Kumin tells us about this six month period is based on the assumption that we are fascinated by her surroundings, her view of world history, her agony --- even the halo that supports her head. (Indeed, the image of "halo" --- a metal circle designed to support the head of the spinal chord injured --- implies martyred self-sacrifice, and more than a touch of holiness.) The fact of the matter is that the pain that came to Maxine Kumin is neither better nor worse than the pain that comes to all of us during the course of our lives. Agony is a universal given."
- "Tijuana Baby Jesus" "I go to the cathedral here in Tijuana with my mother, and it's dark, and you go in, and look up at the Holy Mother, and she's looking right at you. You can see she's breathing, because her chest is moving, up and down, up and down. Her eyes are wide and dark, and she's looking right into you, into the deepest part of you. You can see her lips move, and she's calling out your name. And when you look down at the holy babe, you can see he's staring right into you too. His eyes are wide and dark, darker than hers, baby-dark eyes, and he's staring into your heart."
- Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, by Laura Kipnis (Duke University Press) "This Laura Kipnis is no shrinking violet. In two hundred or so pages, she takes us through fat people's sex, the works of Larry Flynt, Transvestites ('Clothes Make The Man'), a tale of two men in prison for spilling out their sex-murder fantasies to the FBI, and --- in general --- some discussion of how feminists might better and more honestly deal with pornography."
- Anorexia. "If we were to take a snapshot during the very first therapeutic session, we should see an anguished expression on the parents' faces, the patient sitting apart from the rest, straight as a statue, pallid and detached, her face showing utter indifference to the others' distress. Her behavior is a clear message, not least to the therapist: If you think you can get me to break my fast, you'll have to think again. Just look at me: I am nothing but skin and bones and I might easily die. And if death is the price I have to pay for my power, then I shall willingly pay it."
- Die Liedersinger by Michael Ingall. "It began in his toes. He sat in the brown leather armchair behind the couch, as his patient, head resting on a clean white doily, spoke to the ceiling above her about her father's lack of affection for her as a child. He tried to listen, doggedly recording her litany of paternal neglect on his yellow legal pad. But the pins and needles in his toes were distracting him. If it were just one foot, he could try to shake it awake; but this was different."
- In Sam We Trust: The Untold Story of Sam Walton and How Wal-Mart is Devouring America, by Bob Ortega (Times Business). "Walton did it by selling. The great American dream. Sell enough and you become rich. Destroy your competition, and you become super-rich. Keep your employees underpaid --- minimum wage-earners are the best. (High turnover of employees means that you don't have to raise wage and ante up benefits.) Get your merchandise made overseas, in places like Bangladesh, where boys and girls, some as young as nine years old, become your workforce."
- Wind & Sand, by Lyanne Wescott (Eastern Acorn Press). "We were telling one of our friends that the reason we liked Orville and Wilbur Wright so much was because when they weren't repairing bicycles and flying around the dunes, they were sleeping with each other --- and we ain't talking about keeping cold bodies warm on a winter's eve on Kitty Hawk. Outside of that juicy fact (nowhere mentioned in this most respectful guide to their lives and works), they were drudges of the old school --- painfully, oh so painfully reworking plans, planes, and parts."
- H. L. Mencken on Civilization. "The typical Oklahoman is as barbarous as an Albanian or a man of Inner Mongolia. He is almost unaware of the ideas that engage the modern world; in so far as he has heard of them he is hostile to them. He lives and dies on a low plane, pursuing sordid and ridiculous objectives and taking his reward in hoggish ways. His political behavior is that of a barbarian and his religious notions are almost savage. Of urbanity he has no more than a traffic cop. His virtues are primitive and his vices are disgusting."
- The Grand Canyon and the Southwest, by Ansel Adams (Little Brown) "All the while I am looking at these I am wondering how he did it? With nothing but an ancient 8x10 or 16x20 view camera and black-and-white stock, visually recording none but the most simple scenes, he created heart-stopping photographic drama."
- The Architecture of the Shakers, by Julia Nicoletta (Countryman Press). "It was a time when those interested merely in being left alone to pursue their own vision of the divine weren't labelled 'cultists;' when someone who built chairs or tables would not be thinking about selling them next week on the Internet. A time when individuals could set up a forge or a mill and not have to worry about a neighbor squealing on them for operating a business in a place zoned residential. It was a time when the United States could be proud of its religious freedom, a time when it was unnecessary to call in the Supreme Court to decide whether our schools were rightly defining our gods for us."
- Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941 - 1945, by Leo Marks (Free Press). "Between Silk and Cyanide is ostensibly about the world of secret codes and coding, and the subterfuge war of 1940 - 1945. In reality, it is about the coming of age of a slightly damaged, slightly neurotic, very funny, very insightful genius of code. You don't want to get into it. Because it's one of those books that won't let go, that sweeps us up to such a degree that we don't want it to end."
- We're All Doing Time, by Bo Lozoff (Human Kindness). "Prisons are the only institution in the country where the 'victims' run the whole show. The aged and the poor have almost no say about the Social Security system. Children have little or no input into the public school system. You and I and Joe Blow have almost no influence on the local zoning laws that can destroy whole neighborhoods willy-nilly. But prisoners run the federal, state, and county prison systems, and no guard in his right mind would dare interfere with 'prison justice.' The administrators ride uneasily atop the angry mass that make up the 2,500,000 inhabitants of our prisons."
- "Shanghai in 1949," by S. J. Perelman. "That night will linger in my memory as one of the most agonizing I have ever endured. Our teeth chattered so loudly that several Americans resident there phoned the Embassy to report gunfire. Just to indicate how cold it was, I left a tumbler of water at my bedside and when I woke up, it was gone. Hirschfeld had drunk it and also had eaten the glass. That was one cold night."
- "Hurricane Fred. " "A guy came along on a horse/ Shouting into a bullhorn that the turtles were coming/ We said so what/ He told us they'd eat the furniture/ Drink the gas from the cars/ Run up the phone bill and keep the lights on in the daytime/ Well we battened down the hatches/ And sure enough they came millions of them/ Moving in off the freeway/ Eating doorknobs and drinking fuel/ Wanting only to be loved."
- "Diary: Volume One" "The word 'I' is so basic and inborn, so full of the most palpable and thereby the most honest reality, as infallible as a guide and severe as a touchstone, that instead of sneering at it, it would be better to fall on your knees before it."
- "Why Anti-matter Matters," by Douglas Cruickshank. "Alfred Jarry, whose work prefigured theater of the absurd, Dada, Surrealism and Futurism also may have anticipated certain modern physics theories."
- Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight, by Henry Grunwald (Knopf). "The hangup in Twilight is not about a powerful individual going blind. That is in and of itself a story with interest. The problem, rather, is with the author. He wants us to know that he started at the bottom at Time, as a copy-boy --- and soon enough, ended up running the whole operation. He is eager for us to know that he has famous friends."
- Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond, by Jack Bass and Marilyn W. Thompson (Longstreet). "These things should be declared a public nuisance. Oh, not Strom Thurmond --- he's been a public nuisance for longer than anyone can believe. No, we're talking about these dump truck bios like Ol' Strom. Terrible type, terrible binding, ill-conceived, ill-designed, ill-put-together --- an altogether vile union, written in a style that would have flunked you out of Clemson Junior College's freshman writing program."