One-Minute Book Reviews, vol. 7

Slaughterhouse Five1329371266435565
By Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

I’ve been looking back at classics that I have not read.  It’s not my fault because schools can only assign a finite number of titles, and few schools are actually doing anything to encourage reading.  By going back at this “classics,” I’m learning that it’s not a bad thing that I’ve missed these stories.

Slaughterhouse Five is a book within a book.  The narrator talks about writing a book.  Then, when asked for details, he launches into it.  No pun intended.  Unfortunately, I was bored silly and very much annoyed by the repetition of “So it goes.”  It was used too often to signify the end of episodes of death and destruction.  Speaking of the death and destruction, it did not feature very prominently in a direct fashion but more of a recounting and discussion.  I’m not saying it should have been clearly and explicitly depicted.  I’m saying I was surprised that it wasn’t because, for a book that was supposed to be so controversial, it wasn’t.

I guess we’ll have to write off all the attention to the time in which it was written.  It was an anti-war book that surfaced at the beginning of the most controversial war in American history, at least up until that time.  There are elements of time travel and alien abduction throughout.  However, considering the mental state of the narrator, it’s pretty obvious that those parts are the narrator’s psychotic ramblings.  I don’t care that Vonnegut’s personal war experiences are echoed in the book’s experiences.  Just because something is true does not automatically mean it’s a good story.  

It’s very possible that I might have thought differently had I read this book back in the 70’s.  Well, it’s not the 70’s, and it’s not a great or even a good book.  The only reason for anyone to read this now is my reason – to visit some missed classics.  Unfortunately, I’m going to end that practice now and focus more on more current literature.

Not recommended.


 

Neil Armstrong: A Life of FlightNeil-Armstrong-A-Life-of-Flight
By Jay Barbree (2014)

There are very few American heroes left.  Neil Armstrong was one of them.  I was attracted to this book because I remember being a kid, not just watching the Apollo missions but obsessing over them.  I still have not forgiven whatever company it was to whom I sent the card cut from the back of the cereal box along with 15 cents for a scale model of the command and lunar modules.  Be certain that you don’t need to be a space fan or a child of the 70’s to enjoy this book.

It follows Armstrong from early years, high school, college, and then into the military before entering the space program.  His willingness to participate in experimental programs, including those in which death was not a distant chance, is beyond admirable.  His ability to face adversity, demonstrate patience amidst turmoil, and mix intellect with improvisation was something that we just don’t have in abundance be it politics or any other public service.

Another interesting aspect of the book is the specific and exact record keeping throughout the space program.  They could tell you down to the second the time of big events and small moments, whether it’s the launch of a rocket or just the separation of one stage.  What’s also amazing is the mathematical precision of their calculations.  Months in advance, they knew within a few seconds exactly what time a lunar module would touch down on the moon and what time it would dock with the command module afterward.

The book covers more than just Armstrong himself, branching into the Space Shuttle program, the politics behind the USA-USSR space race, and how the world reacted to the first humans in space and on the moon.  It was a time long gone, not completely forgotten, but pretty much unappreciated and taken for granted by today’s society.

If you’re old enough to have watched rockets, not space shuttles, but the old Saturn rockets blast into space, you owe it to yourself to read this book.  For everyone else, it would be nice for you to learn something they probably didn’t teach about in school.  This one is very much recommended.


 

Tony Curtis: American Prince089030
By Tony Curtis and Peter Golenbock (2008)

One positive about this book is that Curtis (Bernard Schwartz) was not at all shy about spilling the names of nearly every woman he slept with or tried to sleep with.  One negative is that when Curtis had reached an age at which older actors are no longer wanted in Hollywood, he didn’t seem to realize he had become a bit of a joke.

The book begins awkwardly, covering a moment in Curtis’s life when he had just gotten involved with acting professionally.  Then it leaps back to his childhood before climbing back to this teen years in which the book started.  From there it covers in sloppy detail nearly every breast he had gotten his hands on, including Marilyn Monroe, Yvonne DiCarlo, Natalie Wood, Britt Ekland, and a host of others.  He also doesn’t shy away from naming celebrities he did not like, including Shelley Winters and Jerry Lewis, who was the best man at Tony’s first wedding.

More than just a few times Curtis mentions that he was rumored to be gay or pursued by older women when he was younger, and he blamed both on his hair.  More than a few times he pursued and married a younger woman simply because she was visually attractive.  He didn’t seem to care how intelligent or nice a woman might be, as long as she aroused him sufficiently.  More than once he went from wealthy to broke because of a divorce and once because of a drug habit, which also contributed to his becoming a Hollywood joke and “has been.”

When an autobiography doesn’t hold back, it doesn’t always work out well.  Curtis comes off as rather self-centered and arrogant, especially when referring to his two little-known brothers.  He didn’t seem greatly affected when recounting the death of his younger brother, especially when he explains how he contributed to the boy’s death.  He also doesn’t seem very sympathetic towards a brother with cognitive disabilities who occasionally visited him on a movie set.

His mother dealt with her own psychological issues, and Curtis seemed more concerned with how her condition affected him than how her own life was affected.  He comes off as selfish and fairly obnoxious, but maybe that’s what it takes to be a successful actor surrounded by others who want everything you have.

What surprised me was how few real hit films Curtis appeared in.  Everyone knows Some Like it Hot, Operation Petticoat, and Spartacus.  Maybe you’ve heard of The Great Race, The Defiant Ones, or Houdini.  Other than that, there’s not much that stands out, suggesting he was more of a pretty face than a good actor.  He appeared in well over 100 films and television shows, but most were as memorable as Lobster Man from Mars.

If you’re old enough to have seen and enjoyed a few of the above-mentioned films, you’ll probably enjoy the book.  It’s short, if that helps you.


 

Schulz and Peanuts:  A Biography41kJ7Xb4B4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
By David Michaelis (2007)

Let me start with two things: 

  1. I knew nothing about Schulz before reading this.
  2. I now know more than I prefer to know about Schulz after reading this.

This was a surprise, full of both positives and negatives, and leaves me unsure where to begin.

As a child, “Sparky,” as he is called throughout the book and during his life, a teacher identified him early on as a future artist.  Several people from his school remarked that anything he drew was far beyond anything that other kids might sketch.  His attention to detail, point of view, and eye for the “different” were on another level.  Away from paper and ink, he was strongly competitive and caused neighborhood friends at least one concussion and broken limb during hockey or baseball games.  Conversely, he also claims to have been the constant target of bullies who regularly took his lunch money or left him with bruises.  Friends interviewed could not recall any such incident, so take that how you wish.

His father experienced agoraphobia, causing him to keep the family living in an apartment located above the barber shop he owned and operated.  That kept the family from traveling much.  Most weeks involved Carl Schulz working with scissors and razors from Monday to Saturday and spending Sunday with church, newspapers, and not much else.  At one point, the family attempted moving from chilly Minnesota to a warmer California, but it was not long before they returned to the northern Midwest.  Schulz spent very little quality time with his father, an unfortunate circumstance that he perpetuated with his own children as well as their mother.

Remember those 370px-Oaklandtribsun111359 send it for evaluation, and possibly win an art scholarship?  Back then, we all tried it.  When we didn’t like our score, we thought it was crap.  However, that’s how Schulz got started.  His family didn’t have money to send him to college, but they did invest in what the Art Instruction Schools had to offer.  Obviously, it worked out well.

Schulz actually knew two people named Charlie Brown.  Though neither was as depressed and misunderstood like the Peanuts character, one was not thrilled when Schulz asked if he’d be okay with lending his name to Sparky’s creation.  When Schulz showed his friend a preliminary drawing of a round-headed kid, the real Charles asked, “Can you make him look a little tougher?”

Schulz was often asked, or it was speculated without asking, exactly who his characters represented.  Unfortunately, Lucy was influenced by his first wife, Joyce.  She was not shy about verbally criticizing and borderline abusing Schulz in public and in front of friends.  He was already a fairly passive individual, and she clearly took advantage of him.  In later years, he had more than one affair, which surprised nobody in his inner circle.

Though shy with people he knew, he was not at all shy about flirting with women whom he did not know.  He regularly pursued – albeit verbally – other women and was occasionally in the position to deal with someone who accepted his advances, leaving him in the awkward position to back off, apologize, or continue.  One continuance resulted in his second marriage, to a woman who divorced her husband at the time in order to become Charles’s second bride.

Now, about Peanuts, it has an interesting evolution which itself alone is worth reading about.  From the original name of the strip to the real “red-haired girl” who Charlie Brown was in love with, it’s all fun and compelling.  You’ll learn about the real dog that inspired Snoopy’s character as well as the name Schulz had picked out for him before changing it. 

What I did not expect was how Schulz used his comic strip to mirror his own life.  When he was having an affair, it was echoed in Charlie Brown’s pursuit of a girl at school.  When Sparky’s wife was particularly mean to him, Lucy was extra mean to Charlie Brown.  It’s almost sad that he had to live his life vicariously through his characters, as if he were mute and using them to speak for him.

I also didn’t expect to be slapped in the face with the reality that Peanuts was not a fun comic strip.  It was not about happiness, love, and hearts.  Most strips were about kids experiencing disappointment, loss, and mistreatment.  Most strips were born from Schulz wanting to show the world that sometimes life sucks, but if we all get together and share it, then maybe we won’t feel so bad.  Maybe we’ll all identify with each other and laugh at ourselves, even if on the inside.

I have no trouble recommending this one.


 

The Casual Vacancythe-casual-vacancy-cover-jk-rowling-little-brown
by J. K. Rowling (2012)

Ho hum.  Boring characters, boring story, boring boring boring.  Too many characters who spend more time cursing than doing anything important.  It felt as if Rowling was approaching this book the same way many Disney Channel actresses approached their career after DTV – get as family-unfriendly as you can.  Not even 10% into the book offered enough talk about cleavage, erections, balls, used condoms, heroin, orgasms, and the F-word shouted enough times to be counted twice per page.

Apparently, it was eventually about a death causing a vacant political and/or council position that would be pursed by various people for various purposes.  I didn’t care.  I was finished about a quarter of the way through.  Highly not recommended.  Don’t waste your time.


9 thoughts on “One-Minute Book Reviews, vol. 7

  1. Thanks, Rich! Lots of insight. I always thought Peanuts was all love and hearts. Darn it! I feel so lost now. Who knew Rowlings had it in her to be so sexual. Do you feel like she’s trying to prove something? To get off the kiddie bus maybe?

    • exactly, trying to get off the kiddie bus, and it didn’t work. if you feel lost about peanuts, then it would be good to read the book. i’m not happy about what i learned, but i’m glad i learned it.

  2. Never thought slaughter house 5 was Vonnegut’s best work, though I enjoyed some of his other works back in the day. I think part of his success was that he was different in the years when the culture was fracturing.

    Armstrong is pretty cool! All the right Stuff talks about the space mission. If you haven’t ever been to Cape Canaveral, take the trip – those first space capsules were little more than sardine cans on top of giant bombs. I was astounded.

    Sad about Peanuts. So much for the “leave it to beaver” childhood ideas…

    • armstrong comments on that movie, saying that basically it got nearly every important thing wrong, but at least it had good intentions. the “wrong” involved the wrong people getting credit in the film for things they didn’t actually do. they didn’t seem to care about getting facts straight because they were more interested in everything “looking” right. still, it’s a movie worth seeing.

      • If I read the book first, the movie rarely satisfies. If I see the movie first it’s usually OK.

        I find the BBC productions tend to honor the book more so than the Hollywood ones. And though I enjoy Bollywood movies, when the night is darkest and almost all hope for the heroes is gone – and they break into a musical… well that’s another story.

      • when you read a book, then see the movie, you’re always disappointed at what they had to leave out. but if you see the movie first (like i’m doing now with The Book Thief), and then read the book, you get extra scenes that weren’t in the movie. so it’s like a bonus.

      • yes – the only drawback is that sometimes the actor paints the image of the protagonist in your mind. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. But I agree see the movie first if the choice is there.

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