The Book Of Survival by Anthony Greenbank

April 29, 2018 10:08 pm by Crocodile

If this book was made today it would be designed to ramp up your anxiety, because that’s what everything does nowadays. Instead this book (cover notwithstanding) is pretty calming! Because that’s what you need to do in an emergency- be calm. It’s completely unlikely you’ll have this book in an actual emergency, and it’s unfathomable that if you did you’d pause to look something up. But hopefully you’d remember the two key elements, which get repeated in some form throughout the book– Be Calm, and Might As Well Fight Like Hell. There’s nothing about buying any special gadget, using a common thing in a clever way, or being especially prepared. there’s very little extraneous or overly-specific information, so each tip is pretty easy to remember or even ingrain. And most importantly, there’s a lot of calm, methodical thinking about Being Calm and also Fighting Like Hell.

The book is organized into chapters based not on location but based on need. Too Hot, Too Cold, Too Crowded, etc.. The first chapter is Too Lonely, which is a great place to start. This practical suggestion to try prayer refers to the fact that you probably don’t know all the words to any given prayer, and that’s OK. Also contains a great (nearly) secular variant.

Something really nice about this book is it includes What If You See A Ghost and What If You See An Alien Walking At You From Its Spaceship. It doesn’t make fun of you for thinking these things might be possible, because that’s not helpful! It gives you a calm set of things to do and not do, and attitudes to have and not have.

OK, maybe it makes fun of you a little bit.

But this one doesn’t think you’re crazy! Was it the author or the editor who made it seem like aliens are more real than ghosts? I could easily picture a mass-market paperback editor removing a line about aliens being made up, in 1967, with a keen eye towards their audience.

If you’re a worrying sort of person, but to a minor degree, I would recommend this book, as it might make you feel that troublesome situations are in fact manageable. If you’re a very worrying sort of person it might spin you out just to consider digging out an ice cave or whatever.

I think this is a great bathroom book because you can open it at random and read a little thing and feel a little more like whatever it is you’re dealing with or might potentially deal with, you can handle it.

I got this book probably at a library book sale and probably for a dollar and almost certainly to use the illustrations in a zine. But then I eventually read the whole thing and enjoyed it! I probably have this same relationship with a lot of material items– I picked it up as collage material then just plain got into it.

Book reviews tend to hinge on the question of should you read this or not, or more cynically, should you buy this or not. I guess you could buy this book if you wanted to (there’s a few $4 copies on ebay as of this post), but I think the things I would like to stress in this review are more in the category of notes to the creator than to the consumer:

  • You can make something for a mass market context that has a basically arbitrary organizational scheme.
  • You can make something that survives it’s initial sales window purely because the pictures are cool and/or it looks kind of weird. This goes for books, records, anything with a visual component. looking gimmicky can work against you but “some visual interest” is important!
  • You can make something that isn’t stressful!!! Youtube is great at the stress-relief video format, why isn’t there more stuff like this? Not necessarily calming but at least calm. I mean, I know why- all sales is designed to make you feel horrible, whether it’s anxious, paranoid, or inadequate. But isn’t some part of art still not sales? is everything sales now? It’s tiresome. I mean, this book has a stressful cover, that’s the sales component, but then once you’re in it’s like “Breathe. Look around you.”
  • You can make something where the goal is not for the reader to read it all in one gulp. “I couldn’t put it down” is common praise but some of my favorite books on the planet I pick up and put down constantly. Some of my favorite books I’ve had for years and still haven’t read every word yet. I understand that some things are best enjoyed when you  charge right through them, but not everything requires or would benefit from this approach. There are many ways to read something, and I mean “read” not only as in “interpret” but as in “your eyes move across the page and you say the words to yourself”.
  • Much of the writing in this book is in terse sentence fragments. OK to break rules if it makes sense. Even in mass-market context.
  • Stay Calm
  • Fight Like Hell

This book was published by Signet Books, this is the second printing, paperback, 1967, $.95. $.95 in 1967 money is $7.19 in 2018.


Rod Serling’s Devils and Demons

February 6, 2018 5:56 am by Crocodile

Yikes I kind of fell off writing this blog! Well, back on. Today’s selection was a gift from my good friend Matt Z. He’s always giving me stuff because he’s a very giving person and also because he hates having a ton of stuff around. But I think he found an extra copy of this because I know he loves this one, and I was asking about it before Halloween. Actually maybe this one is his only copy and it’s just a loan?? I should double check.

I’ve only read one story in this book, which I must’ve read when I stayed over at Matt’s house one night, and which I definitely only read because he insisted. It isn’t really spooky so much as deeply melancholy and unexplained, and it doesn’t jibe well with the paper mache ghouls on the cover (although the cover rules). It’s called “Adapted”, and it’s by Carol Emschwiller. It’s about slowly changing everything cool and weird about you because you think it’ll make your life easier. 🙁

Adapted is only 9 (paperback sized) pages, so I scanned it in and formatted it for you: adapted (pdf), and if you want to print it out and make a booklet out of it that you can leave places, I made a separate booklet pdf– if your printer does double-sided prints, you should be able to just print it out on 3 sheets of paper, staple them in the center, fold over, and trim the edges. Here’s the file: adapted_to-print (pdf) and it should look like this:

Because saddle-stitched books have to print in sets of 4 pages, and this story is only 9 pages, there are some extra blank pages at the end. You can use these pages to draw how you feel when you’re done reading this, or draw a picture of the main character, or just draw shapes while you think about it.

Again, if you’re reading it on your phone or whatever, use this one: adapted (pdf). The other one has the pages all mixed up in such a way that they sort themselves out only once the whole thing is printed and folded. It will seem foolish and wrong unless you follow it through to its true destiny.

Sound off in the comments if this format works for you and if you want to see more stuff shared like this! I hate pdfs but they are the format of choice if you’re going direct to printing stuff out. If you’re Carol Emschwiller and you want me to take this down I will. I love this story and I think about it all the time!

This Rod Serling-edited book came out February 1967, this is the 3rd printing, also 1967. Cover price is $.60, which, adjusted for inflation is $4.52 in 2018 money. Of the 14 stories in this book, a whopping 9 are in the public domain, which is a very cool style (and a cost-saving measure for a publisher).

“Adapted” is from 1961 and originally ran in “The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction”, May 1961. $.40 in 1961 is $3.36 in 2018 money. Here’s the cover of that one:

Big big big thank you to Matt Z for insisting I read this, and also for finding a cheap copy of Cat Eyed Boy vol 2 for me!!!!

Back on the horse! More soon!


2 yokai books by Shigeru Mizuki

October 6, 2017 2:50 pm by Crocodile

2 yokai books (titles in Japanese)
by Shigeru Mizuki

Here’s a great collection of drawings of yokai, the ghouls ghosts goblins and “creatures of the night” of Japanese folklore. Monsters in general tend to crystallize a fear or anxiety, providing something clear and distinct (and fictional) to be afraid of instead of something vague (and real). These monsters are no different except maybe they are more specific? Like rather than a monster being “about” fear of change, or sexual awakening or whatever, they’re more likely “about” why you shouldn’t leave your dishes in the sink overnight. The little red guy on the cover is a baby that makes baby sounds in the woods, and if you pick it up out of concern it turns to stone and pulls you down to the ground and never lets go. Don’t need to be an anthropologist to figure that one out! Not every one is so purposeful though, and some of them are scary but not really interested in destroying humanity so much as just chilling in their zone, or only fucking with you if you fuck with them. Pretty reasonable!

These characters from Japanese folklore were drawn and I think written about and most certainly researched by Shigeru Mizuki, who did a lot to bring the world of the yokai back into popularity, in Japan and in the states. His most famous creation is GeGeGe No Kitaro, a yokai who intercedes when the drama gets too heavy between humans and yokai. The stories are great, D+Q reprinted some of them in English, along with the excellent book “Nononba”, which is an autobiography and sort of “origin story” that talks about Mizuki’s youth and obsession with yokai. His nickname growing up was Gege, a cute reduction of Shigeru that also means “spooky”. It’s the sound of your teeth chattering when you’re scared!

I should scan in every page of these, but I’m not going to, because the point of this blog is that I just shit out an entry whenever I want, without laboring over it. Fa! I can’t read the Japanese, and I wish I could– my Old Take was that I liked not knowing exactly what was going on, and making up my own story for things. The Now Me wants the full story if possible. There’s plenty of stuff on Earth I don’t understand- “I don’t understand it” isn’t a rare quality that needs to be protected. That said, poring over each picture and trying to figure out the narrative is really fun. And I have it on good authority that some of the stories are just like “lantern licker – this freak loves to lick a lantern’s burning wick”. Hell yeah.

These books are 4.25 x 6″, Japanese digest size, about 200 pages, black and white interiors printed on that rough paper they used to print Mad Magazine on (before it shit the bed). The 4-color cover is printed on a separate wrap-around dustjacket, nice style. I bought both of these from a comic book store in Japan for 200 yen each, that’s about $2. originally printed in 1984, original cover price 360 yen. I’m very shaky on the conversion here but I think that’s like $9 in today’s money?

The pictures are dynamite, and, even though I strongly criticized the D+Q books for saying this in their blurbs on the first Kitaro book, I must agree that the style of having a realistic background and a more abstract subject is used to great effect. It seems like the yokai are divided into categories based on where they haunt- forest, town, outskirts, houses, waterways. This is very helpful when you’re trying to ID a spook– it cuts down on the number of pages you have to flip through before you figure out if you should run or hide or simply bow and say “konichiwa”.

There’s a great movie full of yokai called “the Great Yokai War”, it’s very good! There’s an old (60s) one and a new (2000s) one, the new one is easiest to enjoy. Takashi Miike directs and a million Japanese comedians and rock stars have cameos. Gege himself has a great cameo as the most revered yokai of all, it’s very touching. There’s some parts that might be too scary for kids, and there’s a great part about beer and if you drink beer it’s going to make you want a beer, so stock up on beer. If you can get Kirin Beer, that’s ideal. If not, get any stupid watery beer you can drink a few of, and be sure to have one on hand to pound towards the end, when the guy onscreen pounds it. They don’t really do Halloween in Japan, but this is basically the ultimo Japanese Halloween movie, in that it’s about monsters and the world of monsters and some of the monsters are nice and all of the monsters have a party and it’s a graveyard smash. Here’s a link to the trailer (in Japanese) [link]

There are a few episodes of the Gegege No Kitaro TV show online, it’s pretty fun and the theme song is dynamite. There was a recent Kitaro movie too, I really really enjoyed it. Should you get beer for this one too? I mean, why not? Beer, popcorn, candy, have fun.

Happy Halloween!!!!


The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward

October 3, 2017 9:02 pm by Crocodile

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
By HP Lovecraft

Lovecraft lived in Providence RI, where I am now, and he set a lot of stories here and around here. Living here you sort of hear his name a lot. The first summer I lived here I read this book, and was delighted to find out that the demoniacal experiments of the main character took place in the part of town I was living in (Olneyville). Years later there was a Lovecraft festival in town (the “NecronimiCon”, or course) and they showed a movie version of this story. It was maybe the best movie experience I’ve ever had????

The movie was directed by Dan O’Bannon and O’Bannon’s widow was on hand to present. But what she presented wasn’t the official release (which looks kind of dumb) but a work print that O’Bannon made, a sort of “pre-director’s cut”. The important part here is not that we saw the “true version”- we didn’t. This wasn’t the version before studio hacks re-edited it, nor was this the work of an auteur, or even someone doing something on purpose. What we saw was a work print, a version of the movie made after shooting but before the finishing details. It was a version of the movie that was accidentally perfect but that basically could not exist.

First of all, there was either no music or very limited music. The music had yet to be added. This is a bizarre way to see a movie, and an incredible way to see a horror movie– it was completely lacking in emotional cues. In a normal movie if you’re creeping through a catacomb and a slithering hellbeast is about to lurch out at you with needleteeth glistening, the music lets you know that the mood is one of creepiness and that something sinister is about to happen. In this case, there was just the sound of footsteps and dripping, then suddenly something horrible. At first I didn’t notice that there was no music– it was like when someone gets a haircut and you know something’s weird but you can’t figure it out.

The other thing that was special about this version was that it was put together before most of the special effects had been completed. As a result, almost every instance of a horrible monster or a huge explosion was replaced with a black screen, followed quickly by the aftermath. You’re creeping through a catacomb, the screen goes black, and when the image comes back you’re covered in blood, and someone you were with is missing. It was insane. If memory serves there were some special effects, which seemed all the more special by their rarity.

Again, this was not the planned release, only a work cut- the director’s ideal version would have had music and special effects. But purely by accident, this version was incredible, and perfectly appropriate for the source material. A key element of Lovecraft’s fiction is that the narrators are not trustworthy, or to be specific, the narrators themselves don’t trust their own senses. They are confronted with something so outside of their frame of reference that they absolutely cannot make sense of it- the only thing they can do is try the best they can to refuse to try. By tapping out for the most extraordinary parts of the narrative, the movie (as I saw it) presented the best adaptation possible.

Incidentally, this is why I hate the Lovecraft fandom- the perfect thing about these stories is that they refuse to look closely at the monster. The fandom is mostly about looking directly at the monster. It sucks. Character design was not Lovecraft’s strongpoint, and glimpsing the monster without being able to look right at it is way scarier anyway.

Anyway, that was the movie. The book is also cool and creepy and scary and gross and fun, and takes place in my neighborhood. Parts of it were almost in the building where I lived when I read it, right after I moved to this city. I remember reading it and feeling pulled along with a feeling of mounting excitement and dread. But it also had a feeling of homework. Like, if I had moved to Concord instead of Providence I’d be reading Emerson, or if I had moved to Northhampton I’d be immersing myself in Dinosaur Jr.

The Pinch Of Ginger If Not Salt that all Lovecraft writing requires is: Lovecraft (the guy) was a racist whose racism charted above the baseline of an already racist era and location. I can’t think of an instance where this is the foreground of a story, these beliefs, but it’s not uncommon for a narrator to drop an occational invective against “mongrel races”, and that sort of shit can still sting. Since nearly all Lovecraft narrators are weak weaselly shitbags, that changes the power dynamic a little– you’re already set against sympathizing with them so their shittiness is less destructive and can even convey the opposite, like how a bad Yelp review from clearly a bad person is a positive review to a careful reader. But it isn’t my place to say that such invective is No Big Deal. I feel like many of these instances could easily be translated into strictly class-based hatred with pretty much nothing lost, but doing this translation internally is easier for some people than others and takes energy that not everyone wants to exert.

I think I got this book from the free pile outside the Worcester Public Library. It’s a paperback with that adhesive plastic cover that libraries use, stamped WORCESTER PUBLIC LIBRARY and DISCARD, and the cover is half-detached. The cover is just a pile of skulls and an art noveau font, pretty sick! It looks like that 3 Six Mafia “pile of green skulls” shirt, but not green obviously, and not worn by an Oscar-winning rap group. That shirt was ubiquitous in 2005, I bet if you wore one now thirtysomethings only would yell I HAD THAT SHIRT at you from cars. Can you even get that shirt anymore? This book was published by Ballantine / Del Ray, in 1971, this one is the eighth printing, 1987. $2.95 cover price would be $6.39 today. Read with a pinch of salt and detest the narrator.

Here’s a trailer to the official release of the movie, it stars Chris “Prince Humperdink” Sarandon, the guy you (I) love to hate: [link]. The whole movie’s on YouTube as well but I honestly have no idea if it’s good as it is. It’s probably fun, or it’s fun if you think it seems fun. It’s probably pretty much as it seems.

Happy Halloween!


Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith

September 28, 2017 4:26 pm by Crocodile

By Cordwainer Smith

There’s a few things notable about sci fi novelist Cordwainer Smith- the first is that he helped organize the Army’s first psychological warfare section, and literally wrote the book on psychological warfare (“Psychological Warfare”, 1948). the second is that many of his stories are set in the same universe at different points in the timeline, though not necessarily with overlapping characters. The third and most unusual thing is that he might be the real “Kirk Allen”, a psychiatric patient mentioned in Robert M Lindner’s essay for Harpers, “the Jet-Propelled Couch“. Here’s a summary of the relevant parts of the essay, via wikipedia:

[he] became obsessed with a series of novels, the protagonist of which shared his name.

“Allen” attended University, and became a scientist, working with the United States Military on a classified research project during World War II, which helped to bring about the war’s end. Meanwhile, convinced that the novels were his personal biography, he “filled in” many omitted details from the novels, from his own “recollection”. He was incredibly thorough, creating full-color maps, sketches, a glossary of names and terms, socio-economic data, etcetera. In his own words:

“My first effort, then, was to remember. I started by fixing in my mind, and later on paper in the forms of maps, genealogical tables, and so on, what the author of my biography had put down. When I had this mastered, by remembering I was able to correct his errors, fill in many details, and close gaps between one volume of the biography and the next.”

Eventually, he reached the outer limits of the scope of the novels, and began to “recall” his/the character’s further adventures. He even began to hallucinate being in the various settings of his stories, physically experiencing them. Soon, his employers became aware of his psychotic condition, and demanded that he get psychiatric treatment. Reluctantly, he conceded. His psychoanalyst was Lindner, who would eventually write a popular case-study of Allen. Lindner eventually cured Allen, by immersing himself in the fantasy world, but in the process became himself obsessed.

the argument that Smith is Allen is not perfect but strong (links are at the end of the post). If it’s true, then there’s further speculation as to whether this book, “Norstrilia” is a story he remembered/hallucinated or one he invented willfully. It’s also possible that the world, or some aspect of it, was fully formed in his head, and then he invented a simple character to move through it. Honestly, that’s probably how most genre fiction works.

I didn’t finish this one, and in fact I didn’t get far, because it suffers the fate of too many stories I’m picking up nowadays, in that it relies on one of its characters being extremely rich to advance the plot. I understand why you write a wealthy protagonist- they have the means to support a narrative. They don’t have to work, and they have nearly infinite resources at their disposal. But it’s a pretty lazy move on the writer’s part, and it increases empathy for a set of people who are among the worst on earth. I don’t want to hear about a cool rich person! Rich people are why human life on earth (right now) is miserable for so many people!

Nova by Samuel Delaney had this problem. Batman has this problem. Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sort of had that problem but they solved it by making the rich guy an idiotic charismatic psychopath. I’m not going to make an exhaustive list of stories that have this problem, that’s not useful. But I’d like to say to any writers out there reading me: stop doing this! It sucks.

This book is the first press (!) from 1975, although it’s composed of two stories that were previously published, in 1964 and 1968. Cordwainer Smith died in 1966 so there’s no way to fact check the cover- if that’s what the monkey doctor really looked like, we’ll never know. The cover says $1.50, that’s $6.86 in 2017. I don’t really remember where I got this or what I paid, but I think it came from Chris Cooper’s yard sale. Or maybe we just talked about it?

Also, to be clear: even though this novel had what to me is a fatal flaw, I was enjoying it, and I bet I would like some of his other stuff. And although the Kirk Allen stuff is interesting, the rest of Cordwainer Smith’s life is very interesting too! His IRL name (or what I’d call his “walking around name”) was Paul Linebarger, and other AKAs included Lin Bai-lo and Felix C Forrest. Lin Bai-lo is a name he received from his Chinese godfather Sun Yat-Sen, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China (!). Lin Bai-Lo translates as “Forest of Incandescent Bliss”- Felix C Forrest is an approximate translation into American namespace, “felix” being Latin for “happy” (as in “felicity”). “Cordwainer Smith” was his sci-fi name- a cordwainer is a leatherworker, a smith is a blacksmith. A feeling of handiwork, and things made on purpose. For deeper info see the Cordwainer Smith Scholarly Corner.

You can read the original Harper’s essay “the Jet Propelled Couch” here: [link]

For more about the connection between Allen and Smith, see “Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch“.

Here’s a video of Chris Cooper, he’s the best!!!!


Ecstasy And Me, by Hedy Lamarr

September 27, 2017 6:56 pm by Crocodile

Ecstasy And Me
By Hedy Lamarr

I’m not sure if this was the very very first tell-all celebrity autobiography, but it’s among the earliest and it has to be the absolute pinnacle of the form. Hedy Lamarr’s life was incredible, her attitude is the very definition of insouciant, and the book is fun, sexy, and indulgent, with just enough melancholy to keep things sweet. It’s great.

Hedy’s life was honestly crazy- a true riches to rags story full of sex, love, intrigue, spy shit, and other famous people. A very strong personality and a fascinating person. I wrote a little about her already, back in the first issue of Mothers News, let that suffice as a synopsis, or at least a teaser:

In 1937, excellent movie star and “most beautiful woman in the world” Hedy Lamarr convinced her Austrofascist husband that it was “a real good idea” for her to wear all her best jewelery at once to a party. Then, with the help of a look-alike maid, she drugged him and ran away to America. By this time she was already famous for a scandalous movie called “ECSTACY”, in which her throes of passion were caused off camera by the director poking her in the butt with a safety pin- Hollywood was a cinch. She was in dozens of big movies by famous directors, up to 1966 which brought us the Andy Warhol film “Hedy”, about her arrest earlier in the year for petty shoplifting. 1967 saw the release of her excellent autobio, full of buckwild stories she later denied as the work of a ghostwriter, and who knows? Who talks behind their own back? Somewhere in there (with the help of avant garde composer George Antheil) she invented the idea of spread spectrum communications technology, a key element in wireless communication. She was arrested again, for shoplifting, in 1991, age 78.

I wrote this before I got the book, and so to follow up: this book is definitely ghostwritten. And not only that but it borrows liberally from a 1965 article in Screen Facts magazine. Also contains personal letters and (almost certainly fabricated) psychiatric transcripts– no one would put that kind of stuff in their autobio, regardless of how insouciant their character. Hedy sued the publisher and lost.

Cy Rice later wrote a WC Fields biography and Leo Guild is the “King of the Hacks”, a paperback garbage slinger from the golden age of such a thing, who later took the admirable and revealing pen name “Arthur N Scram“.

I realize this is dangerous ground, but the lawsuit really energizes and reinforces the book in a strange way. Suing the publisher of your own autobiography, which you never read (!), is something the Hedy of the book would do. Also it makes whoever the real Hedy Lamarr is seem even more romantic and mysterious. Alsoooo I’m pretty sure the facts and situations are mostly real, just the vibe is too prurient or something. If it really bums you out you could think of this book as a dream someone has about her, or like an artifact from her life, but not necessarily the story of her life. Or an attempt at translating the fire of her being into a language spoken mostly by garbage. There’s a better (more well-researched) biography of her, with the less-catchy title “Beautiful: the Life of Hedy Lamarr” but from the reviews it seems just as prurient but also kind of boring? Nobody needs that.

In recent year’s Hedy’s life story has been re-written to focus on the engineering side. Without belittling the point, the feeling I get is that her inventions were just another facet of her fascinating character, but not the center point. It’s sort of like if the world suddenly discovered that Beethoven invented the precursor to ketchup– it would be weird and worth knowing but you wouldn’t come out with a play about him called Hot Dog Daddio or whatever. Or you might but the play wouldn’t be very good. He’s Beethoven, a feverishly hot instance of humanity- whatever else you want to add to the narrative is ultimately just more of the same. Ditto Lamarr. Besides that, “I invented the cell phone” is a depressing narrative.

Sorry I guess I’m not really talking about the book at this point. The book has a perfect cover in black white and yellow, a scheme you may remember from bees, the Pittsburgh Pirates, or a sign for a karate shop in your town. Book has not one but two punchy titles, “Ecstacy and Me” and “My Life as a Woman”. Unattributed cover quote designed to move units: “A Shocker”. 256 pages, paperback. According to the newspaper clip posted above, the hardcover was almost 400 pages, they must’ve double spaced it and added in a bunch of maps or something. The back cover’s a little torn up, which is maybe why this was just $1, from the bins outside the kitchy record store here in Providence (now closed). Original retail price was $.75 in 1967, that’s $5.53 in 2017 money, not bad. This is copyright 1966, and it’s the fifth paperback printing, all of which were in in 1967.

Sorry I’m putting up so much text this time but I have to include this preface, the first of two prefaces written by psychologists. It’s an all-timer.

In conclusion, this book is a fun and I would even say titillating read, and Hedy Lamarr is dynamite. Reading this book did not result in “resultful therapy” or much less “instant emancipation”, but it did make me feel good and I guess sort of less uptight? A little?

If I’ve teased you too much and you want like, “just the facts”, her wikipedia entry (link) is pretty good.


Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin

September 25, 2017 9:40 pm by Crocodile

Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin

translated by Charles Johnson

I got this a few years ago, and the reason I picked it up is that when I was in elementary school my hometown of Worcester Massachusetts had a sister city in Russia, Pushkin. Some kids from Pushkin came over and hung out, I guess we probably sent some kids over there too. The fact that Pushkin (town) was named after Pushkin (poet) made an impression on me. Not like I suddenly wanted to become a reknowned poet and have a city named after me, not that kind of impression. More of a “that’s nice” impression. Worcester had a good poetry scene, or, I don’t know if it had a good scene per se but there were a good number of poets that had spent time there in the past- noteable bards include Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O’Hara, Stanley Kunitz, and Charles Olson, although he hated it. Anyway Pushkin was on the radar with fond associations, and while browsing bookshops I found this at a nice price ($3), so I grabbed it.

It sat on the shelf for a while as most books do, and then, I forget exactly what happened but I got super super stressed out and needed a pleasant escape, so I picked it up and read a few pages, and it was great so I kept going. I might’ve picked it up because the pull quote on the back says “sublimely appropriate”, which was an astoundingly good hook for me at the time.

Long form poetry like this is nice to read when you’re sort of spinning out because you have to both fight and submit to the music of it. You can’t (or I can’t) read the whole thing in a sing-song way, pausing between each line, that’s too distracting, and seems overly-respectful in that way that’s rude. It’s like not wanting to get a shovel dirty, or letting food get cold while you take a picture of it. It’s rude to the food. I try to just plow through as though it has the same linebreaks as prose. Then the music just sneaks up on me, and rather than struggling with the format and trying to master it I find myself just swinging along, floating like a boat on the ocean. This translation is great, the poetry flows beautifully, and each stanza ends with a couplet that serves as a wonderful punchline pulling you across the gap into the next stanza. Pushkin rules, and this is a great (or at least fun) translation.

Anyway I was really enjoying it, really having a great time, and Onegin is a great character who I was enjoying hanging out with. We had laughs and smiles and long sighs looking out the window and regular low-key hanging out drinking tea moments. For your humble narrator it was just what the doctor ordered. Then (and I should’ve seen this coming) the hammer falls and all this bummer shit starts happening! I (and again the fault lies entirely with me) felt betrayed. My bookmark is still there, I got to chapter seven. Not far from the end, but I had to bow out.

Looking back I realize that I do the same thing (unfairly) when I watch a horror movie. It’s different because I know in advance that a horror movie has horrible things happen in it, that’s why they call it that, but the first 20 minutes of a horror movie are oftentimes so nice, just a bunch of people getting ready to go on a camping trip, or having a romantic getaway, or… being a leprechaun (?), and as the music turns dissonant, I always think “I would love it if the whole movie was just the part where everybody’s having fun”. Would I really like this? I don’t know. Let’s take an extreme example– would I like a version of the leprechaun movie where it’s just the end credits and he’s rapping in a hotel room wearing Ringo sunglasses, but for 90 minutes? It’s unclear. But would I invest my $3 and my however amount of time to a book about a funny idler that loafs, pines, bails on a duel, then loafs and pines anew? If it swings, then yes. Or maybe.

I would like to return to this book now that I’m not so adrift, even though I’d have to start from line 1 page 1. It’s good and I was being unreasonable. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially foot freaks, as there’s a nice passage about being a foot freak, which I won’t quote, just go out and get it. The main guy is great and even though he does stupid shit (has a duel), it’s just a stupid thing that happens. Others might disagree but I think the stupid stuff he does is not representative of his character. If there’s a lesson it might be “it’s ok to be a goof but not a goof with a gun”, or just “watch what you’re doing”. I support that.

I bought this for $3 but this 1979 edition is stamped $4.95, that’s $16.79 in 2017 money. Which is worth it! That’s like a movie at the theater in the mall, with popcorn. Or movies for 2 at the shitty theater and a 6 pack of not-even-the-cheapest beer. New Zealanders are advised to seek a cheaper copy- $NZ17.95 in 1975 US money is… $45? Did I do that calculation right? That’s too much. And twice as much as Australia??? There’s gotta be a pirated edition you can get. You’re not taking any food out of Pushkin’s mouth, he’s long dead (1837). Translator Charles Johnston did a great job but he’s also incapable of cashing royalties (1986).


Peace, Mommy, Peace! / For This I Went To College? both by Bil Keane

September 22, 2017 3:28 pm by Crocodile

Peace, Mommy, Peace! and For This I Went To College?

2 Family Circus Paperbacks by Bil Keane Sr.

Growing up I used to always read the comics, sometimes I would read 2 newspaper’s worth of comics a day. I read every strip, even the ones I didn’t like. I didn’t like Family Circus growing up, I thought it was stupid, though I realized early on that there was a sympathetic mind behind it, based on the sole clue that the dog’s name was “Barfy”.  Over time I developed an appreciation for it, and then I started to like it enough to pick up older paperback collections. The older ones are truly great, although I think I like them in a way that only underscores how the newer ones are bad.

“For This I Went To College?” is an extremely bleak title, and some of the early strips are kind of bleak. I don’t want to connect bleakness with sophistication, that’s a false equivalency. But let this serve to show that the intended audience for Family Circus strips of this era was adults. I think in later years and up to now the intended audience is kids just a little older than the kids in the picture, and grandparents. Or just “people who want something familiar”, that’s probably the large majority of the newspaper comics readership at this point (maybe all-time).

Below are a few pages I grabbed pretty much at random, but the thing I want to point out is how good the design of the panel is. When you put a picture in a square or rectangle frame, you have certain harmonies to deal with. There are relationships between the edges and the corners, and as a result there are certain areas of the frame where things pop (see: “rule of thirds” [wp]) Also you have to contend with a strong analog with the written page- you’re tempted to read a rectangular image from the top left corner to the bottom right. With a circle the rules are different, or the rules have yet to be codified. Things can spiral in, lines of sight can bounce all around, it’s more intuitive. No one in any field of flat design work does the circle better than Bil Sr., he is unmatched.

Also the circle frame, combined with Bil Sr’s excellent use of perspective, gives me a feeling of looking through a telescope at this scene. It’s something I don’t get from, for example, Dennis The Menace. Dennis The Menace feels like a play being put on for my benefit, whereas Family Circus feels more like a slice o’ life that I’m omnisciently observing.

Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik wrote a great article on How To Read Nancy, and I would like to invoke and expand their methodology a little bit for added appreciation of the following. Look at the whole thing, then look at the picture without the words, then look at the words without the picture, then look at the background without the characters, then look at the characters in groups (kids only, then adults only), and then look at the areas of solid black only. Try to think of balance- is the circle off-balance in some way? How does this make you feel? Try to think about how your eye moves around the circle, what it sees first, and what it sees last. Although this is just a one-panel comic, there is still oftentimes a sequence in which elements of the picture are read- what determines this sequence?

Great background diagonals here, nice balanced use of solid black. The Toy catalog is juuust about in the center of the circle, but it’s in motion, giving us a Matrix-like feeling of a bizarrely quiescent moment of frenzied activity.

This is the other grandma FYI. There’s a lot going on but still everything is clear and all the details are rewarding. The detail on this car is great and some would say unnecessary, but it gives me the feeling that they all just spent a lot of time there. Grandma’s apartment is kicked back at a little bit of an angle, which pulls her towards Billy emotionally and draws your eye in. It’s not hard to figure out who’s talking here. Even the little trees that separate Grandma’s building from the family are dashed through with an inexplicable but not jarring line of white-out. Maybe this is a printing error though.

Here’s a fairly flat panel but the flatness is fun, and active. It’s almost Egyptian. The door is flush with the wall which is parallel to our viewing lens, and even the little bit of diagonal we should see leading along the floor on the lower right is obscured by the vertical edge of the couch. The little bit of depth we get is the dismal void in the outside space behind Bil Sr, perfect for a Halloween theme. The perfect flatness of the door, just shy of being completely unobstructed, is an ideal frame for the Halloween decorations which are the focus of the gag.

Very tense design with nothing in the center! It’s pretty flat but the wall is kicked back a little, and there’s a corridor or something behind Dolly that she could escape down. The drawing on the wall at Dolly’s level is well-matched with the framed picture at Thel’s level.

Another kind of bleak one that only adults would get. I love Thel’s hair… I knew a lot of very wonderful 90s punks with this sort of hairdo. Jeffy’s coat is wild but if you try to think of this panel with a solid-color coat, it just doesn’t work as well.

Great detail on these turtles, and a great layout, right through the tank and then out the window of the pet store to another building! I remember someone telling me they hated how everyone in Family Circus only has 1 nostril at a time- I had never noticed this before. It’s kind of weird if you really think about it, but if you draw in another one it looks weird, and if you don’t have nostrils at all, that’s sort of weird too. It’s a toughie, but I think 1 nostril per instance of nose is a good call (for this style).

Thel (the mom) is the real audience for so many of these strips, which makes you (me) sympathize with and love her. She’s the placid eye of the hurricane, but she’s not weak or secondary or removed. She doesn’t get very many lines but she’s the person that the whole thing is for, without whom none of this would exist.

Here’s some real-life boss behavior, via Thel’s wikipedia page:

Thelma Keane worked as the full-time financial and business manager for her husband while he continued to draw The Family Circus. Her family credited Thelma’s business skills as the main reason that Bil Keane became one of the first syndicated newspaper cartoonists in the country to regain the full rights to his comic. She led the 1988 negotiations with King Features Syndicate to return the copyrights for The Family Circus. King Features finally agreed to return the rights to the cartoon to Bil Keane after long and protracted talks with Thelma Keane.

Damn, I can just picture a bunch of 1988 suits underestimating The Mom From Family Circus. Bad move.

Nowadays Jeff (aka Jeffy) draws the strip and all the interesting design work is gone. Every strip now is just a big head talking in the center of the frame. I feel like this is a classic example of what happens when you just get something without having to fight for it- there’s no pressure to explore, advance, or be good. Anyway it still makes me smile and the old paperbacks should really be sought out if you’re interested in setting an image inside of a circle.

In conclusion, I love the Family Circus!

These books were published in 1967 & 1977, and retailed for $.75 and $.95. $.95 in 1977 money is $3.86 in 2017 money. I bought these used for $2 apiece. I also have I Need A Hug, Mine, I’m Taking A Nap!, I Can’t Untie My Shoes, Can I Have A Cookie?, Wanna Be Smiled At?, and Any Children?.


Why Not Eat Insects? by Vincent M Holt

September 20, 2017 7:13 pm by Crocodile

by Vincent M Holt

“Them insects eats up every blessed green thing that do grow, and us farmers starves.”
“Well, eat them, and grow fat!”

Nice little hundred-page paperback, originally printed 1885, reprinted in 1967, 1969, and 1973. Three reprints! Outlines in plain language why the custom of eating certain insects should be encouraged, which insects to avoid, and which animals we regularly eat that are much grosser than insects. Honestly it makes a pretty good case! If you eat (for instance) lobster, why not crickets? Lobsters eat literal shit, crickets eat grass or whatever.

The Bible says it’s OK, but the Bible says a lot of stuff that society ignores…

The technical term for eating insects is “entomophagy”, here’s the Wikipedia entry: [link]. A contemporary term for insects raised as food is “minilivestock” but I find that name irksome because “microlivestock” means small-size breeds of conventional livestock (miniature sheep, etc.). You’re gonna make mini smaller than micro? come on. I realize that you can’t say “nanolivestock”, but why not “picolivestock”? There’s a lot of prefixes at our disposal and pico is the cutest.

One curious thing about this is how the last word on each page is repeated at the start of the next page. This can’t have been for the benefit of the printer, because there are page numbers too. Maybe this was to help the reader?

Hell yeah. Love to see a weird niche served. Entomological Reprint Specialists, I salute you.

I showed this book to my friend Cool Breeze and he couldn’t believe it. “Why would someone write a book about why you shouldn’t eat insects? Seems obvious”. I told him it was about the exact opposite thing, then we figured out that he had been parsing the title in Hulk-speak. ala “Why Hulk Smash” or “Why Hulk Not Trust Humans”.

I probably got this at a library book sale from my first job at the Worcester Public Library, sooo I probably paid under a dollar for it, and I’ve probably been carrying it around since… 1996? $1 in 1996 money is approximately $1.57 today, that’s still a great deal.

Generally my paperbacks are organized under: classics, sci fi, trashy, and weirdies. this one is filed under: weirdie

full scan of this one up on

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