Electric Review

Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms

Beat Revivals

New Releases on Bob Dylan

Beat Revivals Featuring City Lights

New Releases from Creatures At Large Press

New Releases from Oxford University Press

New Releases from Tor Books

New Releases from Viking

New Releases from Wiley & Sons

Simple Mind: The Poetry of Lew Welch

RING OF BONE. COLLECTED POEMS OF LEW WELCH. Lew Welch. Forward by Gary Snyder. City Lights.

Ring of BoneLew Welch is one of the lesser-known of the Beat poets whose body of work is both brilliant and bold – the clear-honed, semi-synthetic structure of his lines evolving through the vast hills of the mind like a thirsty new-born storm.

Coming through college, Welch was a close friend to fellow poets Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. Over a few short years in the 1950s, the three came to serve as vital influences to the poetics of icons Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: Enlightening their famous contemporaries to the taut and sleek nuances of the Eastern muse, educating them about Buddhism and the treasures inherent in the simple mind.

Even though Snyder and Whalen might be more well-known, Welch’s work nonetheless commands deep consideration – this grand exploration of soul and self meant to teach through inspection of the ordinary moment.

And the poet wrote:

“Old mountain,

how many years ago did you spit fire forth molten

rock & gold

splash hills with it, char trees,

incinerate?

That now you stand so cold….”

(From “Shasta”)

Welch was most obviously an illuminated heart whose sensitivity led him to drink from the great holy rivers of dream-milk and melody. Make no mistake – his journey started out all- consuming, intoxicating. But over time, he couldn’t cope with the pictures in his head. In sum, the same sensitivity that had nourished his blood and bones and skin ended up killing him.

On May 23, 1971, Welch walked out into the mountains of the northern Sierra with his hunting rifle and disappeared – yet another suicide victim shot down by the razor-sharp eyes of his own ghost.

And Welch wrote – the words falling soft as raindrops across cups of cold crystal:

“I just can’t figure it out. But I think the problem

is in my mind, now, and only there. I’ve looked

everywhere else and it certainly isn’t to be found anywhere.

“I’m going to sit beneath that tree and use my mind to

find my mind, even if it means I crush my mind.

I know of no other way. Goodbye.”

Gautama (From “A Very Important Letter”)

Ring of Bone serves as an incisive and in-depth summary of Lew Welch’s work and spirit. It remains required reading for both fans and scholars of the Beat Generation.

Purchase from City Lights Books.

by John Aiello

WHEN I WAS A POET. David Meltzer. City Lights Books.

When I Was A PoetThis is book number 60 in the renowned City Lights Pocket Poets Series – a revolutionary concept in publishing that came to present the work of many of the seminal Beat Generation voices in compact volumes that could be savored by the reader-in-transit.

In When I was A Poet, we are allowed to sample the work of esteemed Beat writer David Meltzer – perhaps not as well-known a name as Ginsberg, Corso and Ferlinghtetti, yet nonetheless no less powerful than his famous brethren.

Much like Jack Kerouac in his bold 1950’s prime, Meltzer’s intends to set the depth of self ablaze, cutting away the armor of skin until the true eye is revealed:

“When I was a Poet

I had no doubt

knew the Ins & Outs of

All & Everything

lettered

in-worded

each syllable

seed stuck to

a letter

formed a word

a world”

As we survey the distant past, it is obvious that the City Lights’ mission has been about opening up eyes to each unique world that exists at the end of each set of fingertips (as each installment of the Pocket Poets Series blooms into a statement reiterating this mission).

For City Lights, When I Was A Poet celebrates its noble purpose – pushing the reader deeper into the mouth of the vortex, pushing and prodding until the supple cool layered waves of language sweep over the consciousness like mist across the holy face of the river.

And Meltzer writes:

“When I was a Poet

the World was

a cluster of Words

splattered upon white space…”

In 50-plus years – what’s the same? And what’s changed into new? Maybe everything. Maybe nothing. Just more searching. Just more steps. Ultimately, answers are not important. Ultimately, it’s about having the depth of resolve to keep asking questions, to keeping flashing eyes, outward:

“When I was a Poet

I was an Acrobat

a Tightrope Walker

keeping balance

in my slippers

on a wire above

Grand Canyon

Inferno

Vertigo…”

Here, we bear witness to the moment poet and publisher join hands and step out together, cutting through the endless blank of space, hungry for that next bud-sparkle of light:

“Ultimates

certainly

Absolutes

absolutely

but otherwise

Nada

Zilch

great Empty

blank page

blank stare

into the core of it All…”

Purchase from City Lights Books.

by John Aiello

OF INDIGO AND SAFFRON. NEW AND SELECTED POEMS. Michael McClure. University Of California Press.

Michael McClure is one of the founding members of the Beat Generation, a cultural icon who has been publishing his poetry and plays for more than 50 years.

In Indigo And Saffron, we are presented with a compilation of McClure’s best work encompassing the last half century. Beginning with 1959’s Hymns to St. Geryon and culminating with 2002’s Plum Stones, we are offered the chance to sample bite-size morsels of McClure’s signature lyricism, enveloping ourselves in the distant melodies of his wholly original verse.

And the poet writes:

“Heel. Nostril.

Light. Light! Light!

This is the bird’s song

You may tell it

To your children.”

(At Page 30)

More than any of the other Beat Generation writers, McClure must be recognized for the risks that he took in honing his craft – setting out in million directions at once, milking the depths of his eyes until the light created next road.

Indigo And Saffron records the multiplicity of paths down which McClure’s boots have traveled. And as we read through this mixed bouquet of poems we come eye to eye with the heart of a writer whose sole mission on earth is to illuminate the vast icicles of consciousness – illuminating the unborn stars of the world, waiting for the breath of the sun to sate the appetites of the lost ones who keep searching.

And the poet writes:

“FROM THE PEAK

we see back here,

looking out from where we are

always…”

(At Page 225)

McClure, writing from the core of the biological self, goes off to explore uncharted territories: Rather than being content to wield wild swords of language, McClure seeks their point of origin – gouging deep beyond the flesh of the bone until he finds the stark eye of God staring up through the vats of a bottomless unknown.

And the poet writes:

“AND

we will jerk our tails

and squirt clear

fluid excrement

of the remains

of digested nectar

and midges

onto the black and green

lichen.”

(At Page 277)

If Indigo And Saffron reaffirms one fact, it reaffirms that McClure’s work must be viewed along-side the other notable poets who coalesced to develop the lyrical ‘voice’ of the Beat movement (Allen Ginsberg; Robert Creeley; Gregory Corso; Philip Whalen; Gary Snyder).

In sum, this collection serves to allow the reader to forge an intimate relationship with the multitude of McClure’s poetic selves – a comprehensive and layered journey into the mind of one of our modern masters.

Go to UC Press to order.

by John Aiello

KADDISH AND OTHER POEMS. 1958-1960. Allen Ginsberg. City Lights Pocket Poets Series – #14. 50th Anniversary Edition. City Lights.

Kaddish

Allen Ginsberg completed “Kaddish” in New York City in 1959 – a delicate elegy to his mother whose mental illness haunted the poet throughout his life. Many critics and fans regard “Kaddish” as Ginsberg’s ultimate poem: The poet at his solitary altar, opening up self and soul to reveal the darkest secrets of his life. In the 50-year anniversary edition from City Lights, readers are presented with many extras, most notably an essay from Ginsberg himself (“How Kaddish Happened”) which offers reflection from the poet on where his heart and mind were hovering when he sat down to draft “this…release of particulars.” Also note several family pictures, facsimile pages of the original manuscript and an afterward from Ginsberg biographer Bill Morgan that further illuminate this literary masterpiece. More than any other piece (including “Howl”), “Kaddish” evinces the sweet sensibilities that propelled Ginsberg’s work and person – a stunning memorial to a man and his mother whose collective suffering served to teach generations about the earthly journey.

Purchase from City Lights Books.

by John Aiello

THE AWAKENER. A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties. Helen Weaver. City Lights Books.

The Beat Generation is known for the ground-breaking work of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder, among a handful of others – men who literally changed the way the world absorbed its literature, changing the solitary rhythms of the American dialect.

However, the Beat Generation is remembered as a mostly male-dominated movement – the huge collective presence of Kerouac and Ginsberg pushing passed its female voices (who nonetheless remain such a vital and original part of the era, as evinced by the work of Diane di Prima and Anne Waldman).

Bluntly, it must have been difficult for any woman to clash with the big personalities of a Burroughs or Kenneth Rexroth – men who often stole the show just by being there. Thus, when we have the opportunity to gain a woman’s perspective on this captivating period, we must savor it.

In The Awakener, the reader is introduced to Helen Weaver, who knew Kerouac in the fifties when he slit open the belly of the sky and filled it with the poem-blood of his soul. Weaver was his friend and lover and she is the one woman in his life who we don’t really know all that much about (even though she appears as Ruth Heaper in Kerouac’s brawling confessional novel Desolation Angels).

As we read through this memoir, we are presented with an intimate glimpse of a Kerouac now far removed from his mother and the specter of his fame. As Weaver paints him here, Jack appears to be a blank contradiction: On one hand, we have a lonely man in search of a lover – hungry for softness and connection. But blink again and we are staring at the mirrored eyes of a poet too disconnected with the idea of relationship to give a woman all that she needs, wants and craves.

Simply, Kerouac was moving on that fast train down that fast road, consumed by the melody and motion of words, drunk on the taste of his own mind; from what we learn here, it appears that he couldn’t slow down enough to see that he’d found something real in Helen Weaver (something that most likely scared the hell out of both of them).

And Weaver writes:

“On the evening of Monday, January 14, I asked Jack to leave. I hated myself for doing it – felt pompous and self-righteous and ached for his dazed face that couldn’t look into mine. He hung his head and sang to himself, ‘Unrequited love’s a bore…’ I asked Jack to leave not because of some proto-feminist declaration of independence on my part. I rejected him for the same reason America rejected him: he woke us up in the middle of then night in the long dream of the fifties. He interfered with our sleep…”

Obviously, Jack Kerouac was a literary genius who woke up the soul of the world with his magnificent rolling poems that went on for pages and sang the song of the self like it will never be sung again. However, Kerouac was, too, a tortured soul who withdrew from community and relationships, hovering inside himself like a frightened child with nowhere to run.

The Awakener is Helen Weaver’s story about a collection of outlaw-characters who rode into the New York night and took her heart by storm. It is also the story of Jack Kerouac’s middle years, as seen through the eyes of a woman who knew his nakedness and his shyness and his passionate splendor for life (this great lyric poet who longed for love but who nonetheless could not completely open his heart to receive it).

Yet, in true Beat-style, Weaver doesn’t stop there. Through her insightful prose and piercing honesty, she manages to paint a universal face with this book, telling the story of many-a-man living at an invisible edge. If anything, Helen Weaver wrote this book for all these human shadows who hunger to be held (but who always come to break the embrace before it becomes another cage).

Since Kerouac died in 1969, fans and scholars have been inundated with countless summaries of his life that speak of the angelic demons that drove him over the cliff-side. Still, we’ve never seen a story on him or the Beats quite like The Awakener. Believe me, this one’s as real as the song of Ti Jean itself.

Purchase from City Lights Books.

by John Aiello

THE BEATS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY. Text by Harvey Pekar, Nancy J. Peters, Penelope Rosemont, Joyce Brabner, Trina Robbins and Tuli Kupferberg. Edited by Paul Buhle. Art by Ed Piskor, Jay Kinney, Nick Thorkelson, Summer McClinton, Peter Kuper, Mary Fleener, Jerome Neukirch, Anne Timmons, Gary Dumm, Lance Tooks and Jeffrey Lewis. Hill and Wang.

This daring graphic novel seeks to step out from the tired and sleepy modes of the mainstream and recapture the passion that marks the Beat’s best moments. In A Graphic History, a grand collection of contributors (including Nancy J. Peters from City Lights and Peter Kuper from Mad Magazine) come together to celebrate Ginsberg and Kerouac and Burroughs in chapters or “strips” that delineate the lives of this odd assortment of poets who fought conformity to tell their story – their way. Highlights include the chapter on surrealist poet Philip Lamantia (Nancy J. Peters, Penelope Rosemont and Summer McClinton) and the “Beatnik Chicks” strip (Joyce Brabner and Summer McClinton) – a piece that illuminates the faces of the women who brought the scent of softness to a mostly male-dominated movement. New and vibrant, A Graphic History shoots new life into a literary renaissance that permanently changed our culture.

by John Aiello

OFF THE ROAD (Revised Edition 2007). Carolyn Cassady. Overlook Press.

I initially reviewed this book almost two decades ago for the San Francisco Chronicle. And after all this time, I note that Carolyn Cassady’s profound memoir about her life tending the fragile psyches of three of the 1960’s great icons (her late husband, Neal Cassady, in addition to famed writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac) still stands up. But make no mistake – Off The Road serves as much more than a nostalgic detour. Instead, the revised edition of the book shows us in definite terms the role Carolyn played in the evolution of these men as wanton adventurism descended into the blankness of middle-age. What really stands out about Off The Road is Cassady’s sharp honesty – no matter how vulnerable she might appear in print, she still has the guts to tell us what was going on there behind closed doors in the tender minds of these tortured souls. Still doubt that it took courage to write this book? Just picture yourself in her place: In love with the three ‘faces of a generation,’ yet still unable to say with concrete certainty that you know where you stand with any of them. Aside from sharing a compelling story about Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and their intimate bond, Off The Road also provides valuable insight into the life of a woman charged with keeping each of them in balance.

Off The Road is a real Beat Generation ‘find,’ noted for the snippets of letters flowing between Cassady, Ginsberg  and Kerouac that give us the rare chance to peek into the eye of their collective self – their private hungers, doubts and fragilities now in full view for all to see.  

by John Aiello

Also From Overlook Press

THE POETRY AND LIFE OF ALLEN GINSBERG. A Narrative Poem. Edward Sanders. Overlook Press.

Ed Sanders is a brilliant writer with a deeply original imagination – a man with the rare ability to synthesize thought into bite-sized chunks so that it can be easily absorbed into the dank cold buried crevices of the mind. Here, Sanders is able to capture the full breadth of Ginsberg’s epic life in fine detail, weaving the ‘life and times of Allen Ginsberg’ into a swift-rolling narrative poem that brings us back to the best elements of the late bard. Who else but the enigmatic Sanders would have the guts to write a biography in such sprawling form, using the non-structure of poetry to illuminate the sweet essence of the poet? This book is a true ‘page-turner’ from start-to-finish and serious students of the Beat era will find it indispensible.

by John Aiello

CITY OF DARK MAGIC. Magnus Flyte. Penguin Books.

“This deliciously madcap novel has it all: murder in Prague, time travel, a misanthropic Beethoven, tantric sex and a dwarf with attitude.”

– Conan O’Brien

Conan O’Brien? Well, never mind. That’s the blurb on the front cover of City of Dark Magic, and it creates an impression the story is a cross between ‘Bad Santa’ and Douglas Adams. It’s nothing at all like that.

It’s a well-done blending of fantasy and mainstream fiction (‘slipstream fantasy’) in an eastern European city, and it will remind you of Jonathan Carroll. That’s not faint praise; Carroll is the fantasy writer that Neil Gaiman looks up to. It has the same strong sense of local color backing an agreeably spooky world where the ‘real’ world is pretty nasty and the ‘unreal’ world flat-out horrifying.

Flyte’s story is deep and inviting, with flashes of humor lightening the ride. In one early sequence, the prim graduate student is at a table with a dozen other museum wonks she just met that morning, feeling very confused because she can’t remember which one of them she just had wild sex with in the bathroom between courses. But really, that’s about as ‘madcap’ as it gets.

As good as City of Dark Magic is, it doesn’t quite reach the level of Carroll, who is an undisputed genius in this field – a master at building gradually to an inevitable and terrifying climax.

Unfortunately, Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch, the two authors who are collectively Magnus Flyte, don’t quite manage that feat. In City of Dark Magic, the ending is somewhat abrupt, falling short of the promise shown in the first 90% of the book.

Nonetheless, City of Dark Magic is ultimately a provocative and well- written story and I could be easily persuaded to pick up the next volume when it comes out.

I just hope that for their next edition, they get Jon Stewart or Charlie Rose for the blurb; both pride themselves on understanding the books they discuss.

To order, see amazon.com.

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson


Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOUR CHILDREN ALL GONE. Stefan Kiesbye. Penguin.

What makes Kiesbye’s novel so utterly creepy is that you have perfectly normal people doing perfectly normal things like having baking contests and hiring on as gardeners and playing in abandoned buildings, and in a perfectly normal fashion, ending up with an utterly horrific outcome. The villages of Hemmersmoor, locale for most of the story, contains elements of Steven King’s Derry, Maine, placed in the central European forests of the Brothers Grimm and tainted with the social poison of Hitler’s Third Reich. To the people who populate this diseased village, everything seems normal and, if not proper, at least not improper. An eight year old boy murders his eleven year old sister and then spends a half an hour molesting the corpse, and the family, seemingly aware of how she came to die, is content to simply treat the boy with aloof coldness in the years subsequent. The attitude is “Yes, what he did was terrible, but what can you do? This is Hemmersmoor!” The writing here is an absolute joy. The German born Kiesbye has an astonishing command of the English language, combining the rich, lurid characterizations of Steven King with the seeming simplicity and brevity of Hemingway’s best work. This one grips the reader from page one and refuses to let go.

To order, see amazon.com.

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson


Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

PRIMAL SCREAMER. Nick Blinko. PM Press.

Nick Blinko, one of the more innovative voices of the punk-anarchist movement in the UK during the Thatcher era, picked a singularly well-trodden format for his novel, “Primal Screamer.”

In this Gothic horror, Blinko employs the device of having an independent observer keep a diary of a troubled patient who seems to be descending irrevocably into madness. This is a trope that dates back to the days of Poe and Lovecraft, and was seen more recently in Stephen King’s “N.” The story follows a familiar pattern, with the patient descending deeper into insanity and strangeness, and it being more apparent as time went on that this is more than just a routine case of schizophrenia.

Inevitably, the observer is changed by the action of observing, the old reverse Heisenberg, and he is drawn into the madness.

The narrator, a psychiatrist named Rodney H. Dweller, recounts the story of Nathaniel Snoxell (“That’s perfect iambic pentameter!” exclaims Dweller). Blinko infuses what would otherwise be a rather shopworn manuscript with flashes of brilliant black humor, and has a deft touch at pacing and tone, creating an agreeable sensation of dread. He does a good job of making his narrator a perfect reflective instrument, and the reader doesn’t even learn the narrator’s name until after his denouement. The environment of the story, a decaying and despondent society in Thatcherite Britain, similarly reflects and enhances the story neatly.

The story is illustrated with Blinko’s own art, specializing in the grotesque and macabre.

To order, see amazon.com.

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson


Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

THE GANG THAT SHOT UP HOLLYWOOD. John Stanley. Creatures At Large Press.

I worked with John Stanley at the San Francisco Chronicle for a decade.  He was, simply, one of the best entertainment writers we had ever read. Stanley, a 33 year newspaper veteran with a keen ear and gentle disposition, was known for his ability to ferret-out interviews with many of Hollywood’s brightest lights. As one colleague often said – “John Stanley’s written about everybody!” I surmise that these actors and actresses were willing to sit down and speak on the record with Stanley because they could be confident he’d give them a fair shake.  In addition to being a writer whose prose flowed with effortless grace, he always found the relevant angle and the hidden core of the story: Appearing front-and-center in a Stanley column could not only  be good for your movie, it could also help to tell your own personal story in a way you might not have originally imagined. In The Gang That Shot Up Hollywood, readers are greeted with a representation of Stanley’s finest work. In sum, the book serves to introduce the reader to the story behind the star. Some of the best moments here include a wonderful essay on Karl Malden of “Streets of San Francisco” fame. Even though most know Malden for his later television work, Stanley paints a deep and lasting picture of the big-screen maverick who tore up the screen in “On The Waterfront” and “One-Eyed Jacks.” In addition, pieces on Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris provide insight into the intangible charisma and charm that set these actors apart from the pack. Chock full of rare photos, reproduced poster art and assorted memorabilia, The Gang That Shot Up Hollywood is required reading for any movie buff interested in the story behind the story, interested in the heart behind the star.

To order, see amazon.com or Stanley Books.

by John Aiello

NEXT MEDICINE: THE SCIENCE AND CIVICS OF HEALTH. Walter Bortz. Oxford University Press.

In this erudite treatise from Stanford University physician Walter Bortz, we are slapped in our collective face by the bloated and contaminated state of the American healthcare system.

Basically, Bortz wrote Next Medicine to educate the citizenry of the country as he dissects a medical system on the verge of implosion.

In essence, Bortz shows us that the core problem with the United States healthcare system is found in the fact that Americans have turned into perpetual patients.

Rather than look to themselves to sustain a healthy body and mind, people are instead programmed to run to a doctor and obtain that magic pill. It’s as if the country has regressed into a childlike state, believing that magic fixes for every ache and pain exist in the form of clear-plastic pocket-sized bottles.

And this illusion is destroying the economic foundation of the country – and the very world.

In Next Medicine, Bortz presents some astounding facts, asserting that Americans spend nearly 20% of the gross national product on healthcare (when they spent just 4% of the GNP on healthcare costs 50 years ago).

In addition, Bortz points out that just five percent of the US populace spends over 1.25 trillion dollars annually on hospitals, doctor visits, and medication.

Obviously, the American model is splintered and broken and in need of a complete overhaul. However, as the author astutely points out, the overhaul must begin with the individual; specifically, it’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our bodies and the things we do to them (such as stuffing them with fats and sugars and then leaving them in the idle position).

In sum, as Dr. Bortz stresses, the healthcare system will never be fixed until which time its users vow to take back ownership of their lives and their bodies. The ultimate goal: To build a new vision rather than rewrite the same old tired story.

To order go to amazon.com.

by John Aiello

OTHER EYES. Barbara D’Amato. Forge.

With this brand-new thriller from Barbara D’Amato, readers are taken on an energetic journey through the ancient land of Peru. In the story, forensic archaeologist Blue Eriksen is on the threshold of a revolutionary discovery – the preventative cure for drug addiction. Eriksen’s cure comes by-way of the magic mushroom, a highly lucrative drug that scores big dollars on the black market. Unbeknownst to Eriksen, her quest for the precious psilocybin is being closely monitored by Leeuwarden Ltd., a top-secret organization that traffics illegal narcotics throughout the world. Viewing Eriksen as a threat to the cash flow, Leeuwarden hires a hit-man to protect the mushroom cache. Well-paced and drunk on suspense, Other Eyes serves as a top-flight mystery showcasing Eriksen’s considerable prowess as a novelist: Taut prose and in-depth characterizations galvanize the story with a deep realism that commands the reader’s attention (drawing us deeper and deeper, until we stand there along-side Eriksen in the lost land of Peru). How many eyes are watching? Whose eyes are watching? Does Blue sense the danger? In sum, Other Eyes is about making every reader a living part of the story – pushing and probing, forcing us to question what’s around that next corner. In terms of mysteries, it doesn’t get any better than this.

To order go to amazon.com.

by John Aiello

COMMITTED. A LOVE STORY. Elizabeth Gilbert. Penguin/Viking.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Love Story, now in paperback (Penguin/Viking), uses the landscape of two lives to examine the concept of marriage from multiple vantage points. In Committed, Gilbert’s literary signatures – crisp prose and energetic pacing – are on full display, and readers will no doubt find this an enticing and unique memoir with many twisting curves and thought-provoking passages. The proverbial ‘can’t miss’ of the new paperback season.

by John Aiello

MARRY HIM. THE CASE FOR SETTLING FOR MR. GOOD ENOUGH. Lori Gottlieb. Harper Audio.

In this recent release, Lori Gottlieb tackles the ultimate question for single women – when should I settle for ‘Mr. Good Enough’? It’s certainly every little girl’s dream to marry that fabled Prince Charming – that poet or painter who not only can provide support and stability, but who can also inspire the soul with romance and loving insight. While this is certainly a nice goal when you’re young and in school, at what point does it become a poison fantasy that can derail a woman’s life? In sum, Marry Him poses tough questions – most notably, when should a woman give up on the search for the elusive prince and settle for Mr. Dependable? Here, Gottlieb takes an intimate and up-close look at what it’s like to be 40 and single and hunting for a husband. What do I really want in a companion? And what do I really need? Am I being too choosy? Are my demands realistic and practical? As Gottlieb points out, answers to these questions don’t arrive without deep introspection and raw honesty. Simply, before you can actually find answers to these questions you first have to confront yourself and understand who you are and what you want out of life. As part of this in depth examination of the modern-day quest for marriage, Gottlieb uses herself as a vehicle to dissect how women should balance their secret “wish lists” of what they want in a man while simultaneously weighing the attributes that make a solid husband and father. Along the way, she consults an array of marital researchers, matchmakers, dating coaches, behavioral economists, neuropsychologists, sociologists, couples therapists, divorce lawyers and clergy who provide erudite comment from relevant vantage points. Ultimately, Marry Him challenges single women everywhere to grow up and stop dreaming of that ‘perfect’ man who’s about to materialize out of thin air. Instead, Gottlieb counsels women to refrain from the search for a husband until they discover themselves and what they really want out of life. Narrated by Mia Barron in a clear and compelling voice that never fails to draw the listener deeper. One of the best audios in the relationship genre to hit the market in 2010.

To order go to amazon.com.

by John Aiello

101 THINGS I LEARNED IN FILM SCHOOL. Neil Landau. Grand Central Publishing.

Just who doesn’t want to be a film-maker? And just who doesn’t believe they’ve got the script to the next “Star Wars” floating around in their head? In point of fact, movies have captured the human imagination – the cinema, sexy and alluring, drives us to want to experience the process ourselves. In Neil Landau’s 101 Things I Learned In Film School, we are given insight into how films are conceived, made, processed and distributed. Landau, who has written and produced for such heavy-hitters as Universal Pictures, Disney, Columbia Pictures and 20th Century, shares information in clear and present prose, stripping away the excess to give us a real-world summary of what it takes to succeed in this ever-evolving medium. Here, Landau covers everything from how to set scenes and develop camera angles to the art of the ‘deal,’ delving to the core of his subject without needless meandering. In essence, 101 Things I Learned In Film School outlines what it takes to build a profession in the motion picture industry – its sharp narration coming straight from the voice of a veteran insider. It’s required reading for anyone interested in working in the celluloid factories.

To order go to amazon.com.

by John Aiello

Dummies Alert

The best how-to books available still come in the form of the acclaimed For Dummies series. Boasting world-wide sales of some 200 million books with over 1,600 titles in print, For Dummies has become the go-to in general reference – with books that offer readers simple and clear instruction on complex topics that cover everything from health to music (and all stops in between). In turn, Spring 2010 presents with these notable titles:

GUITAR ALL-IN-ONE FOR DUMMIES. Consumer Dummies. John Wiley. This is a true hands-on guide to learning the guitar. Geared to both the novice and experienced player, Guitar For Dummies features 8 minibooks that offer instruction on both the nuances of electric and acoustic picking. Topics of coverage include correct hand position and posture; basic picking techniques; standard music notation and tablature; and tips for ways to excel at improvisation. In addition, multiple genres are covered, with the authors touching on rock, classical and blues idioms. Like the whole of the Dummies series, this book is notable for its writing (which provides in depth instruction without intimidating its reader out of the studio).

FACEBOOK FOR DUMMIES. Second Edition. Leah Pearlman and Carolyn Abram. John Wiley. Everybody has a Facebook account. It’s the cell-phone of the new millennium and it serves as the way that people network these days. Accordingly, this Dummies volume covers everything you need to know in order to effectively use the web portal. Topics of coverage include how to create a profile, add photos, find friends, navigate the interface, set privacy features and protect your identity on-line. This book is of huge importance because of the way it compels readers to take privacy concerns seriously. Sure, it’s great to ‘keep yourself out there’ and all, but the key is to do it safely. Thus, both Facebook veterans as well as those new to the service will be wise to keep this reference beside their computers.

DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY FOR DUMMIES. Julie Adair King and Serge Timacheff. John Wiley. This title proves indispensable to anyone who wants to break into digital photography and get the most from the endeavor. King and Timacheff are veterans of the process and their writing is deep and penetrating, with the ability to parcel this complex subject into easily digestible bites. Topics of discussion include how to pick the right camera; shoot quality snaps; transfer files from camera to computer; and how to enhance your pictures through thoughtful editing.

To order go to amazon.com.

by John Aiello

GO FRENCH. Speak and Read The Pimsleur Way. Simon and Schuster.

GO GERMAN. Speak and Read The Pimsleur Way. Simon and Schuster.

Also part of the tried-and-true Pimsleur MethodGo French and Go German provide listeners with courses designed to teach the basics of these heavily nuanced languages, allowing them to learn at their own pace in a manner both linear and logical. What’s best about the Pimsleur Method is found in this no-frills approach: Here, students and presented with the core- principles of a new language in relation to how they learn and speak on an individual level – just like with the Spanish and Italian versions of this series previously reviewed here, the idea is to teach students to develop an intimate relationship with the new language they’re about to learn. The Pimsleur Method is the brain-child of Dr. Paul Pimsleur, whose approach is premised on techniques that draw from the secrets of memory. In sum, Dr. Pimsleur’s research documented that when students are introduced to new information at “increasing intervals” they retain the data for longer periods – moving “from short term into long-term, or permanent, memory.” Thus, Pimsleur’s program drives students to learn a new language in the same fashion that they learned their native tongue – slowly acquiring vocabulary and then splicing it into the melody, rhythm and intonation of every-day conversation. The result is a lesson-plan that drives students to confront language by absorbing it into the thirsty layers of the brain. Go French and Go German offer introductory audio courses on two languages which remain part of the core-curriculum at both the high school and college levels. Each contains eight 30-minute sessions which allow listeners to gain a firm understanding of the material in well-defined segments that stress permanent retention rather than tricks to master the challenges of exam day. In addition, a reading book with over 50 reading lessons is included. Bonus material features an MP3 CD with audio files of the 8 lesson plans along-side an MP3 file containing three hours of reading lessons. Finally, each selection features a digital ultralingua dictionary with some 200,000 items on it (with a vast compendium of colloquial terms).

IN ADDITION to these four popular languages, Pimsleur also offers the same course-design in both Russian and Portuguese. Go Russian and Go Portuguese are notable because they synthesize two very difficult languages into readily approachable ‘lectures,’ taking students through the nuances of verb use and sentence structure in a coherent and logical way. While not as commonly encountered as Spanish or French, Russian and Portuguese are being used with more frequency today due to the influx of international students to the United States (which is spawning more interest among Americans to learn these beautiful languages). Accordingly, Go Russian and Go Portuguese offer the perfect primers for enthusiastic beginners.

These Pimsleur sets prove perfect for the at-home student looking to gain command of a new language outside the classroom.

DANCE A GOGO: SEXY NIGHTCLUB WORKOUT SERIES – 3 DVD BOX-SET. Andrea Lin. MVD Video.

Sexy is the word as far as this new triple-disc box is concerned. In Dance A GOGO, Andrea Lin shakes and shimmies her way to the center of the stage in a dance video that will inspire women of all skill levels. Lin is a long-time veteran of the music video who has appeared in myriad productions with the likes of MadonnaBritney and Velvet Revolver. Lin’s work is notable because of her style and the uncanny ability to consume the eye of the camera – a performer whose presence compels complete attention. In Dance A GOGO, Lin integrates hip-hop, ballroom, salsa and Asian moves, creating a genre that bears her own indelible stamp. In sum, the idea of this series is to create an exercise regimen that is not only about repetition and discipline. Instead, Dance A GOGO updates the concept of the aerobic work-out, using an assortment of hot night-club moves to encourage women to rediscover their sexy inner-self and move in time to everything they feel. The result is a triple-take DVD that escorts viewers toward a more-healthy physique while simultaneously stressing spontaneity and a reconnection to the animal within. Dance A GOGO includes the following titles: Music Video Dance Workout; Sexy Latin Groove; Nightclub Fun Workout.

by John Aiello

DYLAN: 100 Songs & Pictures. Omnibus Press.

This unique book, delivered from Omnibus Press in collaboration with Special Rider Music, serves as the first authorized book of Dylan photos, music and lyrics to ever hit the shelves. 100 Songs features the lyrics and music to many of the poet’s most piercing creations (with some of the selections hand-picked by contemporaries such as Paul McCartney and Bono). The lyric-sheets to the songs are set against an assortment of rare pictures depicting Dylan at various stages of his career (like the magnificent shot of a 60-ish Dylan lighting a cigarette juxtaposed with the words to his recent classic, “Mississippi”). However, as good as the pictures in 100 Songs are, what really elevates this book to the level of ‘must have’ are the mini-stories behind the songs. This feature provides the reader with insight into how Dylan wrote these pieces. For example, a quote from Dylan himself helps to explain how the skies in “Not Dark Yet” bloomed: “I try to live within that line between despondency and hope. I’m suited to walk that line, right between the fire.”

by John Aiello

I GOT THUNDER. Black Women Songwriters on Their Craft. Editor: Lashonda Katrice Barnett. Thunder’s Mouth Press.

Black performers have been at the forefront of American music for decades, influencing both musicians (Van Morrison; Phil Spector; Woody Guthrie; The Rolling Stones; Dr. John) and writers (Jack Kerouac, Michael McClure, Jim Carroll) with equal intensity. However, even though it’s now common-place to recognize the vast African American contribution to the history of our popular song, critics often forget to pay respect to the women who helped move R&B into the 21st century. Here, Lashonda Katrice Barnett (Sarah Lawrence College) stitches together interviews with some of our greatest black female voices who share recollections about their influences and collective mission in terms both deep and human. Specifically, snapshots of Joan Armatrading, Shirley Caesar, Odetta and Dionne Warwick drip with passion, helping us to understand that the path these women cut through a male-dominated business during a constrained era of prejudice was as important a musical movement as we’ve ever seen. In the end, these interviews speak to the spiritual core of a people and their music while simultaneously offering each of us the chance to celebrate our own unique selves.

Also of Note 

BEST MUSIC WRITING 2007. Editors: Robert Christgau and Daphne Carr. Da Capo.

The 2007 edition of this annual compilation of essays on music is noteworthy for the inclusion of Jonathan Letham’s essay “Being James Brown” (originally published in Rolling Stone). This essay on the late Soul-pioneer brims with passion and depth, providing fans of the idiom insightful commentary on one of the most magnetic American artists ever to attack the stage.

by John Aiello

THE ART OF DREAMWORKS “MONSTERS VS ALIENS.” Foreword by Stephen Colbert. Text by Linda Sunshine. New Market Press.

This book pays homage to DreamWorks’ daring animation classic. “Monsters vs. Aliens” was truly a groundbreaking film that shattered the constraints of the genre, turning the idea of the monster movie into a feast for the senses. Accordingly, Colbert and Sunshine revisit just how the film was made and just how it evolved through its many phases. In depth interviews with the filmmakers serve to retrace how the film blossomed from idea into celluloid. More than 400 images are included and they shed light on the fine-points of the ‘creative process’ while showing in definitive terms just how “Monsters vs. Aliens” grew its wings and took flight across the stage of modern film lore.

by John Aiello

THE IMMORTALS. Amit Chaudhuri. Knopf.

This recent release from acclaimed novelist Amit Chaudhuri is one of the finds from the late-summer fiction self – a book textured and rich with characters that jump to life in truly original form. The Immortals, set in Bombay in the 1980s, introduces us to two disparate families ultimately brought together by a thread called ‘music.’ Chaudhuri’s novel is notable for both its depth and its immense spirituality. Moreover, he writes for us in a universal tongue: As he peels back these dark layers on time and tradition, we are invited to engage in an intimate dialogue with the ancient ghosts of our collective past.

by John Aiello

FAIRTAX: THE TRUTH. Neal Boortz and John Linder. Harper Audio.

The present state of America makes it impossible to debunk the theories set forth in Neal Boortz’s and John Linder’s Fairtax: The Truth. Simply, this is an extremely important book for all Americans to read, as it contains information on how the future of our vast economic labyrinth might be saved. Here, the authors share their plan for revamping the tax system and abolishing the IRS in favor of a national retail sales tax. The mission behind this revolutionary idea is to return the American tax system to a platform that serves the people with both equality and absolute transparency (while also taking away the myriad loopholes used by high-dollar earners to evade tax). Obviously, it’s no great secret that the current system of federal taxation is far too complicated and far too burdensome; accordingly, some changes are now required if the country is going to retain its position as world leader. And as Boortz (a recognized author and media personality) and Linder (Congressman from Georgia) write, change is indeed possible and plausible – if only enough Americans will make their voices heard in Washington. Read by Boortz, whose poised and direct cadence commands the complete attention of his audience. 6 hours on 5 CDS.

by John Aiello

Purchase each from amazon.com.

Random Reads

AUNT DIMITY AND THE LOST PRINCE. Nancy Atherton. Viking.

This tightly written mystery is one of the jewels of the new Spring publishing season – a book that recalls the shapely subtleties of both Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan DoyleLost Prince is the 18th installment in Nancy Atherton’s cozy mystery series and it moves with certainty and ease. Even though it’s often dismissed as ‘filler fiction,’ the mystery is one of the most difficult plots to pull off. So many mysteries have been written and so many plots have been spun that it’s hard for writers of modern ‘who-done-its’ to find something original to say. But originality is not one of Atherton’s problems, as she proves once again with Lost Prince. Set in Finch, Aunt Dimity (“the original paranormal detective”) and the Prince take a timeless tour of Skeaping Manor in a story that spans centuries. The plot to an Aunt Dimity novel is something that should be individually discovered and slowly savored, thus I am not going to ruin your fun by detailing it in a review. I will only say that Aunt Dimity unveils a few new faces here as she carefully guides us though a million and one artifacts in route to the truth. Aunt Dimity and The Lost Prince is an intricate story that speaks in soft intimate lines like the best of old friends. Atherton has truly struck gold with this one.

by John Aiello

THE SIX-GUN TAROT. R.S. Belcher. Tor Books.

Set in 1870s Nevada, this historical fantasy marks R.S. Belcher’s debut and should immediately place the novelist on the proverbial ‘map.’ Here, the reader is taken over and across the rolling hills of imagination – a non-stop ride through the cattle town of Golgotha where we encounter a sheriff who wears the permanent ring of the noose around his neck; a deputy who is half coyote; and a bar keep who prowls for secrets among the township. In actuality, Golgotha appears more like one of Dante’s circles of hell than it does an old-west hamlet as we come to examine every shadow for next assassin. Belcher has filled the pages of this story with tension and intrigue; once you enter the door to Golgotha you will not turn back – you simply have to finish the journey. As poetic as it is gritty, Six-Gun Tarot features in depth characterizations and a layered cool nuanced prose that presents a writer already working at the top of his game.

by John Aiello

THE LEFT HANDED DOLLAR. Loren Estleman. Tom Doherty Associates.

Written in the classic noir tradition, The Left Handed Dollar features hard-boiled detective, Amos Walker. This is Estleman’s twentieth outing with the seedy but efficient gumshoe, and one might expect the series to be tired, with a sense that it climbed those stairs once too often. However, the book is saved from that fate with flashes of humor throughout, beginning with the appearance of a crusading defense attorney who likes the most unpopular clients: communists, terrorists, and Democrats. At least she represents both major political parties. This kind of wit and irony prevent Left-Handed Dollar from becoming just another night plod.

by Zepp Jamieson

EVE OF DESTRUCTION. S. J. (Sylvia) Day. Tor Books.

Eve is our plucky protagonist who has a one-night stand so torrid that she is condemned to hunt demons. Motivations aren’t particularly sophisticated at this point, which is an occupational hazard when you are in a good versus evil story. The following dialogue between Eve and a satyr named Garza sums it up nicely:  Eve:  “Killing demons is orgasmic?”  “How did you feel after you killed the Nix?” “Euphoric. Slightly drunk.”  “O-kay…That’s really kinda sick, Alec.” “Hey, the ad guys, remember? The scourge of the Earth. Evil incarnate. It’s okay to feel good about vanquishing them.” Destruction is informed by a breezy insouciance that livens up the story and renders it relevant.

by Zepp Jamieson

RANGE OF GHOSTS. Elizabeth Bear. Tor Books.

This novel skillfully blends fantasy with the ancient cultures of the middle world (extending from the Cossacks and Tatars of the Steppes to the legendary Persian cultures of Mesopotamia). Here, Wizards and Mongols and giant Cat-people fight legions of demonic ghosts amidst a great castle of intrigue. The quality of the writing is notable, with rich and vivid description and strong characters. Actually, the writing immediately places this book at the level of George R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire”) and Philip Pullman (“His Dark Materials”). In terms of genre, fantasy often collapses under the grasping need to assure itself that it is truly important, however, Range of Ghosts skillfully avoids this trap on the strength of plot and presentation alone.

To order, see amazon.com.

by Zepp Jamieson


Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.

Notable Cook Books

THE DESSERT ARCHITECT. Robert Wemischner. Delmar/Cengage Learning.

Dessert preparation is an art form, requiring the chef to plan carefully and pay meticulous attention to every last detail. In short, good pastry chefs don’t cheat or ‘play it by ear.’ Rather, they are devoted to the fine-points of their craft, devoted to creating desserts that look stunning and taste even better.

Robert Wemischner (Los Angeles Trade Technical College) is just such a pastry chef. And in the Dessert Architect, he shares his secrets on how to build a memorable ‘sweet course.’

Make no mistake, this book is more than just a compilation of cake and pie recipes, with Wemischner presenting a multidimensional primer on how to deal with after-dinner-fare.

Here, the reader will learn everything there is to know about desserts, including how to plate/present, how to pair desserts with the proper beverages and how to procure the best ingredients for what your dish about to make. Additionally, Wemischner includes 50 “multicomponent recipes” that can be mixed and matched with a multitude of entrees, thus insuring that you’ll have enough dessert options for both complicated and simple dinner parties.

For example, Wemischner’s upside down pineapple cake is a thing of beauty – combining lavender honey ice cream, rum syrup and crème anglaise to create an elegant and wholly original taste. Couple a slice of this cake with the bitter-bite of a cappuccino and you have the proverbial ‘hit of the party.’

Going further, Wemischner’s persimmon pudding marks another five-star winner. Here, the chef takes the classic late fall fruit and revs it up dramatically (an amalgamation of cinnamon caramel, persimmon sorbet and persimmon carpaccio challenge the diner’s pallet with an extraordinary array of textures and flavors).

Still, what sets this book apart from other cook books is found in Wemischner’s talent as a scribe.

More often than not, chefs do not not make good teachers or writers; no matter how hard they might try, they can’t seem to transfer what they know to the printed page. However, Wemischner does not suffer this fault.

Instead, his ability to give clear, patient and present instruction as he escorts his readers through the step-by-step process of building desserts is what makes this volume indispensable to anyone interested in bringing restaurant-caliber confections to their own kitchen.

Noted for its depth, organization and clarity, this is the finest dessert preparation guide book to be published in the last several years.

To order each go to amazon.com.

by John Aiello

VIVA VEGAN! 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes For Latin Food Lovers. Terry Hope Romero. Da Capo Press.

As we learn more about the origins of heart disease and various cancers, many of us are making a more concentrated effort to eat healthier. But eating better isn’t always easy, as boring and bland often lead us back to dishes with excess salt and high fat content. However, as Terry Hope Romero shows in Viva Vegan!, it’s entirely possible for diners to get big flavor with organic ingredients that fore-go all-things-animal. Here, Romero takes a fresh approach to vegan cooking (which forbids the use of animal products), introducing an assortment of recipes that simultaneously pay homage to vegan principles and the saucy-flair of traditional Latin cuisine. The idea here is to show people that vegan doesn’t have to mean flat. To this end, Romero shares many of her most creative recipes, demonstrating how to combine various spices, herbs, legumes, vegetables and fruits to build satisfying entrees. For example, Romero’s pupusas stuffed with black beans and plantains are textured and flavorful – set beside a light tomato salsa or sliced avocado, this dish bristles with that Latin taste (attacking the senses at their collective core). Additionally, the mixed mushroom ceviche takes mushrooms, onions, cilantro, chiles and a squeeze of lime and transforms the ordinary into a vegetable dish with real legs (showing us that healthy doesn’t have to sacrifice depth of taste). Viva Vegan!, which speaks with equal precision to both the professional chef and the novice, contains a complete course in how to apply vegan principles to Latin cooking (with guidelines for appetizers, entrees, desserts and drinks included). Noted for its clear narrative that educates without intimidating.

To order each go to amazon.com.

by John Aiello

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