Still Foolin’ ‘Em:
Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?
Billy Crystal – 2013
I must preface this review with a reminder that my “reading” is all done with books on CD. It’s important because the beginning of this book because it started out as a stand-up show in which Crystal seems to be reading, which you can tell by his unnatural delivery. Luckily, after only about one chapter, it became a studio-read audio book instead of a recorded show. Good thing because it would have been greatly disappointing to think of people shelling out $30 for a recorded stand-up comedy show.
Once it turned into a traditional audio autobiography, everything fell into place and I was able to enjoy it more. Like most celebrity memoirs, it’s a collection of anecdotes and experiences from the author’s life. In this case, we get above average anecdotes. It’s nothing less than a treat to hear Crystal recount his beginnings as a film student in a class taught by Martin Scorsese, joining a fledgling comedy troupe, but never forgetting to aim higher. His account of going from a relatively unknown comedian to sitting on a dais in honor of Muhammad Ali in a matter of days is one of those amazing coincidences that remind you of how many unknown, great talents are out there whose only drawback may have been as simple as a coin flip.
For the most part, the chapters alternate because his career experiences with observational humor regarding being a grandparent, renovating a house, seeing a child off to college, and the usual things you’d expect from the usual comedians. To weed those chapters out would be to greatly improve the concentration of fun, but it would just about cut the book in half.
Probably the best story centers around the making of City Slickers, including the story’s birth, to casting Jack Palance in the role of Curly, and to its presentation at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s an outstanding but also disappointing tale, but the disappointment is not in the story telling but instead about Crystal’s account of the filmmaking process. To summarize, it was a serendipity kind of thing that allowed the film to be made quickly, easily, profitably, and without major studio red tape.
It’s not a long book, and it’s worth the short time you’d invest in it. One thing that bothered me a little was the amount of profanity. Crystal has been known for being funny without working “blue.” He hasn’t needed it. For him to use it here seems as if he fears he’s no longer funny and had to resort to cursing for a few extra laughs. I can only describe as more awkward than funny.
Mary Shelley – 1818
It’s unfair to say it, but this was mostly a disappointment. It’s unfair because, being a child of the 60’s and 70’s and loving the old Universal Pictures horror movies, I can’t possibly think of Frankenstein separate from Boris Karloff. To me, Frankenstein is a mad scientist’s laboratory, giant test tubes, blinding flashes of electricity, and a limping assistant named Igor. Absolutely none of that exists in the original text.
The original text is a story within a story that begins with Dr. Frankenstein, unnamed, being pulled aboard a boat breaking its way through the ice somewhere in the Arctic. Though the doctor, appearing near death, should be thrilled for his rescue, he instead is ready to jump ship when he realizes the crew has seen the object of his pursuit. We eventually learn that he’s chasing the murderous monster he created, and the entire story is actually a crew member retelling the doctor’s account of his creation and what went wrong with it.
The “monster” is actually no such thing. He’s an intelligent creature that enjoys reading classics including Milton’s Paradise Lost. Unfortunately, he’s still a hideous sight and can’t escape those who react accordingly. He’s created in the Doc’s apartment, no castle, without much of an explanation at all, no fireworks or lightning or storms. We’re just told that he’s composite of various people and left on a table. Victor goes out for a while, comes back, finds the creature alive. Upon seeing this, Doc runs out of his apartment. When he returns, the creature is gone and not seen again for six years. Yawn.
It might be unfair to the author, but I can’t help feeling greatly disappointed by what I believed Frankenstein to be. Due to that, I can’t recommend trudging your way through this, nor can I think of much else to say about it. There’s nothing outstanding about the doctor. He’s paranoid, angry, spoiled, and rambling. He grows up to marry his step-sister. Maybe that only seems weird by today’s standards, which is also unfair to the author, but it’s still something that softens my ability to appreciate the creator.
Doc doesn’t really care much about the monster until he learns about a murdered family member halfway across Europe. Instantly, Doc knows it’s the monster and heads to see his family. He passes the monster in the wilderness and foolishly attempts to fight him, only to be tossed like a pillow. A family friend is prosecuted for the murder, but Doc claims she’s innocent and attempts to help.
When he ends up in jail for murder, a crime committed by the monster, it’s not due to any evidence but his own statements and behaviors that seem to easily implicate his guilt. My reaction was no less than, “Well, idiot, that’s what you get for crying when you saw the dead body – even though you were coincidentally crying about something else.”
There are also annoying point of view shifts from a crew member on the boat that finds Doc, to Doc, to the monster, and all over the place. It’s not just a shift but a change in first-person POV. Sometimes we’re listening to each of three people’s thoughts, three different narrations. It’s annoying but probably a product of that literature era.
If you haven’t seen the classic film, then read it. If you already have the film ingrained in your mostly normal brain, be happy with that. Reading the book will only cause confusion – unless you enjoy comparing film adaptations of books, even dull ones.
The Time Machine
H. G. Wells – 1895
As you may or may not know, I’m a big fan of time travel stories. As far as I know, the only one older than The Time Machine might be The Bible. How else could Satan be in all those places in all those different times? It was either time travel or Harley Davidsons have been around a lot longer than we thought.
Anyway, this is seriously one of the dumbest books I’ve ever read. For a time travel story to work for me, the device responsible must be plausible. I won’t say believable because we all know, or most of us know, it’s just not going to happen. So I’ll accept plausible. In this case, it wasn’t even “plau.” If you were to Google the various depictions of the device from this story, you’d come up with a hundred different interpretations, and for good reason. The description of the device included some brass bars, a saddle, some quartz levers, and something that was a combination speedometer, calendar, and possibly Sybian. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. Warning: not safe for work.
A guy walks into a room and tells people about his device and how he used it. Naturally, nobody believes him. He describes going about 200,000 years into the future, which right there loses credibility because we know Republicans will have destroyed the world by then. The “traveler,” as he’s called, tells about a land with lush greenery, shorty humanoids that don’t speak, and hairy primates that run from light. These things only made the story worse.
The humanoids did not speak an understandable language, yet the traveler was somehow communicating with them rather easily in a week. The primates, which the traveler referred to as Moorlocks, were small and weak, but it was hinted that the humanoids were their food. The little people did not fear pain or visible and/or audible threats, but they did fear the darkness because that’s when the Moorlocks arose from their tunnels.
When the traveler was distracted by the humanoids, his invention was stolen. He eventually finds it hidden in a pyramidal structure and escapes, but only to reappear in what may have been a prehistoric time that included gigantic crabs and butterflies.
In most time travel stories, the device doesn’t actually go anywhere during the travel process. If the machine were in 623 East 68th Street, apartment 3B when it was employed, the traveler would appear in exactly that spot on another day in another time. This traveler seemed to fly through both space and time simultaneously, yet there was no indication what or how the machine was either powered or moved. However, even if it had, the story still would be a snoozefest.
Also, be aware that if you go as I do with books on CD, this narrator’s voice was horrible. It sounded almost like a computer-generated attempt at the perfect commercial voice. Blech.
The Invisible Man
H. G. Wells – 1897
This is the third of three classic science fiction books that became films, and it’s the best of the three. It’s not great, but it’s the best. What I appreciated was that this one actually made an attempt to explain the process. Perhaps Wells received some criticism for his lack of explanation in The Time Machine. Perhaps he matured and realized what was missing. Or not.
The story begins with great tension as a man enters a hotel for a room. We see his behavior is odd, but we can’t be certain yet if he is or isn’t invisible. That’s part of the fun of reading – deciphering what an author has crafted for us. This was well done for the time. However, for this time, today, it’s not well done but done well enough.
On the negative side, I wasn’t thrilled with the shifting point of view. Sometimes the invisible man is narrating, but other times it’s delivered omnisciently. Why? No idea, but I’m guessing it had to do with convenience. Point of view is not something so complicated that it can’t be done correctly. The problem with this story is that two points are necessary but, for me, wrong.
You can’t have a story of an invisible man without hearing from his perspective. It would be worthless to not explore that. At the same time, there are many things happening away from his point that we can’t know if we’re locked into his mind only. So I can see the dilemma, and I can also see that it takes a great talent to pull this off. I’m not suggesting Wells did the best job possible, but I am saying it’s something I’m not able to do. Not yet at least.
There was also some humor, probably unintentional, mixed in. When six officers were attempting to subdue the naked, murderous, invisible man, they fumbled like the Keystone Cops flailing at slippery arms, legs, and other parts. It was only a moment, maybe one or two paragraphs, and it doesn’t diminish the overall story. It’s worth reading, but it could have been better, but it’s worth reading.
Nazism and War
Richard Bessell – 2006
I’m a child of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Most boys growing up then watched many memorable World War II films including Where Eagles Dare, Battle of the Bulge, The Longest Day, The Great Escape, and more. Those films caused two things: hours spent with friends chasing each other with toy guns while taking turns being Germans or US forces and deep need to learn more about WWII. The only reason for me to say all that is to preface the idea that I didn’t expect to learn much from this book because I already know a great deal about the war. When it came to the battles, strategies, and key personnel, yes, but I didn’t know as much as I thought about the politics and mechanics that set the deadly wheels in motion.
As stated in the book, it was a war of racism, but it did not start out as limited as a war against Jews. The initial targets were Communists and Democrats. Eventually, the Jews were included too. That’s the part on which I’ve been educated well – Nazis vs. Jews. This book goes back far enough to when the Jews were not the prominent enemy of the state.
There were significant weapons used in this war, including submarines, tanks, B-52’s, and P-51’s, but there was another weapon of which I had never heard even a whisper in anything seen or read prior – rape – but it was from both sides of the battle.
It’s been well documented how the Nazis waged a war of human terror that went eons beyond what ISIS is doing now in the Mid-East, but I never thought about the use of rape as a weapon. It was very common for German soldiers to take such disturbing liberties with women of conquered countries, most notably in Russia and Eastern Europe. Though I didn’t know about it, I wasn’t at all surprised. However, when Germany was on the retreat and Allied forces turned the tables on the Third Reich, they did not hesitate to retaliate with similar crimes on women of all ages, even occasionally men. It was so prevalent that in the year following there was a greatly inordinate number of abortions due to the likelihood that those unwanted babies were produced by Russian soldiers.
It was also interesting to learn that the Nazis knew their war was going to end as it did. They had no long-term plan to actually govern the areas they occupied. Their intent was to conquer, subdue, whatever you wish to call it, and then they were going to eventually retreat with the assumption that those territories would be stocked with only a few Nazi officials. They knew that those officials would likely be overthrown by even just a small resistance, but Hitler didn’t care. He knew, as did most of those in higher ranks, death was coming. They did not expect to survive much longer than they actually had, which makes their intent seem even more despicable. To conquer in order to have is one crime, but it’s a greater crime to conquer just for sport.
Nazism and War a good, succinct history lesson I can recommend.
6 thoughts on “One-Minute Book Reviews, vol. 5”
interesting – I thought that the Germans were trying to build the 1,000 year Reich.
seems they presented it that way, but according to documents and interviews, they knew they were headed for a wall. i guess they were more about the presentation and not much else. a sad chapter in history.
one of the darkest, and bravest for those who resisted.
don’t fear the Republicans – any branch of government with too much power turns oppressive. It’s a human thing 🙂
can’t argue with that
The Nazism book sounds as thought I’d enjoy it. Unfortunately, rape has been a weapon as long as their have been wars; hence “raping and pillaging.”
yeah, i suppose i’ve had a tiny speck of innocence and just never thought about it. i suppose what they teach in school or have shown on film leaves that part out.