Little Chapel on the River by Gwendolyn Bounds

I wish I could write like this. Compared to Ms. Bounds, my regular blog, The Bizarre Bazaar reads like a sixth-grader's English assignment. (Even despite my best efforts to take a cue with my most recent post earlier this week Memories and Coffee)
The essence of this book begins with the events of 9-11. "Wendy" had been living with her mate in an apartment just down the street from the Twin Towers. They moved in with friends temporarily, but the end result was they moved into a little burg called "Garrison", just outside of NYC, and near West Point.

The reason for the love of the community and its citizens centers on a pub called Guinan's (referred to by one of the patrons as his "little chapel on the river" from whence the title comes.)

I never met any of the people Ms. Bounds describes (hell, I don't get out of Texas but once in a blue moon) but all of the regulars are instantly familiar. Whether you are a regular patron of a local bar, or even at church, or the corner store, these people will probably remind you of someone.

The owner is an elderly man named Jim Guinan who came to the town in the 50's. He rarely makes an appearance in the early portion of the book, however, as he is in and out of hospital and home care due to physical ailments, resulting from diabetes. Still there are others including several of the Guinan clan children helping keep the operation afloat.

Plus there are numerous others, posing as regulars in the bar. My favorite, and I think also one of the author's is "Fitz". William Fitzgerald is a former military man, and probably the last person I'd get along with if politics were the only subject. But Ms. Bounds paints in all the details, so that I think, under the right circumstances, I'd probably even buy him a beer.

In between, at the end of each chapter is a memoir of the author's childhood in North Carolina, which usually has some bearing on the present day in terms of what Ms. Bounds wrote.

The author chooses to attend "services" at this chapel with regularity so you get to meet lots of very interesting peopl;e along the way as well as her somewhat eccentric neighbors Walter and Jos (pronounced yos...) I enjoyed every minute I spent with this book.

I'm giving this one my first 10 star rating. Well done Wendy!

Next book is "Washington Goes To War" by David Brinkley.


How to Make a Million Dollars with Your Voice by Gary Owens

OK, I give up. I tried to read this book. I thought it would be a memoir of Gary Owens, a former member of the "Laugh-In" show from the '60's, and an accomplished voice of radio and T.V. And to be honest, it sometimes is. But the heart of the matter is it is exactly what the tiltle impiles it is. That is, a how-to book for aspiring voices desiring to break into show business.

In this vein, I could probably give it a thumbs up, (in the vein of Ebert and Roeper). It has some promise, to be sure. The opening lines are the essence of pure comedy.

"The entire text was scrawled on butcher paper with a chicken claw, then transferred by hooded scribes using an Underwood manual typewriter, and then blotted."

I mean, it is the essence of offbeat comedy. But once I started reading, although the comedy is still there, it still remains a how to book. Given that Gary Owens is still a legend in my own mind, I won't give this a completely negative reveiw, but I would definitel;y have enjoyed the memoirs much more than this.

I rate this one 5½ stars. Next book is "Little Chapel on the River" by Gwendolyn Brooks


Go to Hell: A Heated History of the Underworld by Chuck Crisafulli and Kyra Thompson

A very interesting book. The authors cover just about every historical form of what passes as damnation for recalcitrant and otherwise evil souls. The book is divided into six sections (No comments on the relationship to the mark of the beast (666) in Christian theology.)

Each chapter has little bites per section for each topic, making it for easy, if somewhat tempting to procrastinate to read. Take note the fact that it took me a week to read it.

Thats not because it is boring. The chapters, if they can be designated as that, are very interesting. Intersprsed with these "chapters" are sidebars which cover among other things, some personal ideas of Hell from famous personalities, including William Shatner, Patton Oswalt, Bob Newhart, and Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo).

The sidebars, I have to admit, are some of the more interesting parts of this book. They cover such things as the fact that The Twilight Zone series had several episodes that covered either Hell or the Devil, places in the world that have Hell or Devil in their name, and other incidental info that serves to prove humanity's fascination with the unknown area of the afterlife.

Don't be surprised by the similarities of the Christian Hell to some earlier incarnations. It is apparent that some ideas were borrowed by some cultures from other cultures. Your own particular view of Hell, or the non-existence of as the case may be, will possibly be challenged by this book. That's the ultimate appeal of the book for me. If you are steadfast in your views and unwilling to read or consider other possiblities, this may not be the book for you.

I rate this one 8 stars. Next book is "How to Make A Million Dollars With Your Voice (or Lose Your Tonsils Trying)" by Gary Owens


A Clockwork Orange by Anothony Burgess

Another in the series of books that are not part of the current reading regimen, but one of the classics of the past that influenced or affected me. (I need to come up with an alternate category title for these...)

A Clockwork Orange is a difficult book to read. Unless you are lucky enough to find a copy of the book with a glossary at the back to spell out the definitions of the gangspeak that Alex and his "droogs" (pals, gangmates...) are speaking, you will have to work at and guess some of the words meanings, but some are pretty clear, and if you have a bit of knowledge of Russian, almost all of it will be clear.

But thats not the really difficult part of the book. Whats hard is identifying Alex as a sympathetic character. He has very few scruples, and almost no moral background. In effect, he is a typical hoodlum of today. Which makes the book remarkably prescient, since in the halcyon days of the 60's when this book was written, the gang violence and unrecacitrant sociopathic teenager was probably thought of as a fantastical imagination of the author.

The book is divided into three parts ( and get the British version or the unabridged version of the American publication, I will explain later) If you've seen Stanley Kubrick's movie, the first part pretty much is followed. We see Alex and his "droogs", Pete, Georgie, and Dim doing all sorts of evil little miscreant things, leading up to his betrayal and capture by the authorities.

The second part deals with his rehabilitation, using techniques that would make liberals cringe and conservatives applaud. What is left of Alex is a shell of a man who still has some memories of his past life, but through the Pavlovian style of rehabilitation, finds it repulsive.

The third part deals with how Alex interracts with life outside the prison. Here is where I promised I would explain why to get the British version. If you've seen the movie only, it ends prematurely. The book is divided into three parts, with 7 chapters to each part. But when the American edition was released it left off the deneoument, which puts a whole new perspective on Alex.

I read this first in the American abridged version as a young man. It shaped my thoughts on society and the establishment for 15 years. Maybe it was good that I didn't get a copy of the unabridged version until my own outlook on life had softened. But when I was 30, I happened across a British edition of the book. (How it ended up in a used bookstore in Austin, I leave to you to ponder.) Anyway, I found the ending as the author originally intended even more profound.

I rate this one 7 stars for the abridged version and 8 stars for the original unabridged version.



700 Sundays by Billy Crystal

700 Sundays is a memoir of sorts of Billy Crystal's childhood, growing up in Long Beach on Long Island. Like most comedians' books, it is peppered with what may be apocryphal incidents. Ostensibly it is supposed to be about the life that he knew with his father, who died when Billy was 15. The title of the book refers to the number of Sundays that he had to spend with his father before his father passed away.

Dad was a workaholic who held down several jobs, and Sundays were the only days he had time to spend with his family. There is more to this book than that, however, and maybe because of that short a time span, Crystal had to expand the book to cover more than just memories of his father.

At any rate, suffice to say that the book is a good memoir, as far as memoirs go, but if you are not a fan of the style of stand-up comedy that is Billy Crystal's staple, you probably won't like the book. On the other hand, if you hink Billy is hilarious, you will get a kick outof it. It doesn't read too schmaltzy, and is a fairly quick read.

Rate this one 7½ stars. Next book is "Go to Hell" by Chuck Crisafulli.


"Read free while you still can."


Update for those waiting

I have been busy as of late, so I decided to postpone my review of "How the Republicans Stole Christmas" until I have more time to devote to it. I will read it over the Christmas holidays and get back to you with a full report. In the meantime, I will be reading much lighter material, as well as posting a couple more classics of the past just to keep the blog more active. You can expect a review of "700 Sundays by Billy Crystal" Monday afternoon. It won't take me that long to read it, but Saturday is filled with overtime work in the morning and the company Christmas party Saturday night. Plus Sunday is my birthday, so no telling what good things might prevent me from being online. (Wishful thinking? Maybe.)



The Walrus was Paul by R. Gary Patterson

I have a confession to make. Prior to reading this book, all I knew about the subject was that the Beatles had attempted to convince the world that Paul was dead (just that bald fact, no intricate details), and that when the track "Revolution #9" was played backwards it supposedly sounded like "turn me on, dead man." And that second part I don't know for sure if it's true, since I never had the opportunity to test it out for myself. Thus I entered the premise of this book as a complete novice.

That said, I imagine that this book best fulfills the need to teach the novice. I couldn't expect a more in-depth and detailed covering of every clue that was concealed in the albums that the Fab Four tried to use to pull of this deception. I was entertained with a description of each album individually, with emphasis on album covers, but also the songs and backwards recordings that occured on each album.

One thing that could have made it better however would have been larger pictures so that one could see the details on the album covers to which the author is referring. The pictures included in the book were much too small to see some of the details. Given the rarity of being able to find each album in the dicount bins at vintage record stores, that is. This detail also makes it hard to check up on little things like the previously mentioned backwards recordings. With easy access to albums and (eegads!) a turntable, one could easily find these for oneself. But to the person without such treasures, a recording on CD of these oddities would have been welcome. I mean, I don't imagine every home has an intricate set-up with which to play the CD version of the albums backwards (if it can be done at all).

Aside from all that, though, the book is written in an easily readable style, although it does come off as a bit disjointed. Patterson seems to make leaps from one subject to the next, without regards to how well it fits in the continuum of the subject. To his credit, he divides the chapters into a discussion of a single album, so you are not treated to quick segues from a topic on the Sgt. Pepper's album to a totally new topic concerning Abbey Road.

All in all I rate this one 7 stars. Next book is "How the Republicans Stole Christmas" by Bill Press.