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REVIEW: Super Mario

Author Jeff Ryan

2011, Portfolio/Penguin

Filed Under: Nonfiction.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 4
Fanboyism... 9

Ninetendo’s Super Mario character is easily the most iconic video game character ever created. Mario games were and are still to some extent so popular that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s never heard of them.

Nintendo has a talent for that kind of ubiquity (cf. the Wii’s popularity with senior citizens), and on Mario’s shoulders the original Nintendo Entertainment System made “Nintendo” synonymous with “videogame” for a decade or more. Unless you were one of those kids with a Sega (sorry), your house was probably as likely to have an NES as a VCR. If it didn’t, you certainly had friends who had one.

Someone gave my grandfather an NES when I was 4 or 5. It had Super Mario Bros. (like lots of other adults he pronounced it Mare-E-Oh which drove me nuts), the combo pack with Duck Hunt and Track Meet (remember that weird PowerPad?). I was soon obsessed. More than two decades later, Nintendo games still have a significant claim on my leisure time staked out. I likely play more video games than most people my age–but that’s hard to guess, because in the past few years the rise of geek chic has made videogames socially acceptable.

So essentially, this book is a history of a toy company that’s been siphoning my money for almost 30 years and will probably continue to do so for a long time to come. It makes for an interesting story primarily because (and I’m admitting a weakness here) of how hard it is for Nintendo to do wrong by loyalists like me (I have a Virtual Boy in my closet). It’s a curious success they have, one I’m sure other companies wish they could achieve. I certainly don’t have the same rabid devotion to Random House.
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Judge a Book by Its Cover: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller

[Find previous installments of JABBIC here. You can suggest covers we should use, or volunteer to write a blurb, by emailing us here.]

JABBIC is back! I know we said it’d be back for the summer …but we sort of forgot. To make up for it, we’re doing a special extravaganza edition. We got eleven of our contributors to take a look at the cover of Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and write us a summary of what it might be about. We’ve mixed the real book’s blurb in with them below. See if you can guess which is real, or just pick the one you think should be the book’s plot.

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1. When Samantha’s ailing mother is forced to move in with her daughter, she comes with some unusual baggage: her long-time helper monkey and Samantha’s old childhood friend, Alonzo. For Samantha, it’s a strange reunion, one that calls into question her memories of her mother, her one-time friend, and her unbelievable early years. It’s a situation that will test Samantha’s ability to help anyone at all–especially herself. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is a sad, funny look at family (and a monkey) through time.

2. When six-year old Hannah’s father went away on a business trip, she didn’t expect him to return with “monkey business.” A 1960′s free-spirited animal exchange program filled her San Francisco neighborhood with lions, tigers, and yes–monkeys. Her new brother Alphonse might be the feature of every playground but Hannah is going to show this damn dirty ape that America is no zoo. Or is it?

3. Alexandra Fuller imagines the impossible with delightful fancy in her new novel, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. Rebecca had a childhood most would kill for, growing up in the lush rolling hills of a wealthy North Carolina family, attending all the right schools, and meeting all the right people. When her father, an importer of exotic animals, introduces her to the chimpanzee Allison, Rebecca knows she has found a best friend for life…or so it seems. Years later, as a socialite living in Manhattan’s upper east side, Rebecca spies a very familiar-looking primate in the Bronx zoo while taking her daughter for a play date, and suddenly a rush of repressed memories come flooding back, but none answer the question, whatever happened to Allison? Fuller’s masterpiece takes the reader on a boozy journey through half-remembered meadows of regret, exploring the topical themes of paternity, bestiality, genetic engineering, and neo-Darwinism as they have never been probed before.

4. Dr. Samantha Calloway is a scientist who studies memory loss in the elderly and patients with certain brain injuries. Samantha also has some memories of her own she’d like to forget, starting with her parents and the farm she was raised on and a pet chimpanzee named Charney. Somehow she cannot remember what happened to Charney, and what she does remember bothers her, and Samantha is driven to drink. The more she drinks, the more vivid her memories of Charney become, rich, fantastical snippets showcasing his intelligence, creativity, and human-ness. After awhile she’s torn between the scientific quest to find a way to prevent memory loss and losing herself completely to a recollection built on questionable truths.

5. In Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller braids a multilayered narrative around the perfectly lit, Happy Valley-era Africa of her mother’s childhood; the boiled cabbage grimness of her father’s English childhood; and the darker, civil war- torn Africa of her own childhood. At its heart, this is the story of Fuller’s mother, Nicola. Born on the Scottish Isle of Skye and raised in Kenya, Nicola holds dear the kinds of values most likely to get you hurt or killed in Africa: loyalty to blood, passion for land, and a holy belief in the restorative power of all animals. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is as funny, terrifying, exotic, and unselfconscious as Nicola herself.

6. It’s summer 1963, and the zookeeper’s daughter, Audrey, is turning three. An elaborate celebration, the biggest birthday party ever, has been in the works for months. The big day arrives, but is soon marred by a tragedy that forever changes the town of Midborrow. Now nearing 40, Audrey is haunted by vague memories of that day – what happened, and what does it have to do with the faded photograph of a baby chimp she found concealed in the family Bible?

7. From the New York Times best-selling author of Death Spares Not the TigerGown Syndrome: One Woman’s Struggle, Alexandra Fuller’s latest historical thriller is set to take the literary world by storm.  Set upon William Randolph Hearst’s palatial pleasure barge, The Oneida, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is a classic locked-room mystery of the highest order.  Featuring a glittering cast with far less glamorous motives, the novel examines the lifestyle of 1920’s Hollywood high society and, in the process, exposes one of its darkest secrets.  Who killed Thomas Ince?

8. How much can one girl learn from an ape? Olivia’s best friend since childhood was Kumba, a chimpanzee at the wildlife reserve in Zaire run by Olivia’s parents. Now, years later, Olivia returns to her parents former employ from London. She reconnects with her old friend, now an elderly chimp. Fuller’s poignant story or compassion and loyalty tugs at the heartstrings, and shows us there’s a deeper communication than language.

9. After an undercover assignment gets her hooked on a designer drug called Mneme, vice cop Melanie Starks finds herself haunted by vivid hallucinatory memories. Most disturbing is the giggling 6-year-old version of herself that keeps showing up—herself as she was before her childhood was ruined by a horrible crime that she has no memory of. When she gets assigned to a bizarre new case involving a carefree young girl who’s the spitting image of herself as a child, Melanie gets the feeling that the whole thing might be an elaborate Mneme trip, but that only makes it more important to get some answers.

10. What would happen if you bought your amnesiac daughter a drunken monkey? Alexandra Fuller explores themes of memory, nostalgia, and loss in her new memoir, a sequel to the wildly-popular Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. While grappling with issues of non-remembrance, Fuller fondly reflects on what she can recall about her South African childhood and her pet chimpanzee, Buster—a companion who helped her become the writer, and person, she is today.

11. Suzanne Robbins has spent her entire life – all 34 years of it – in Shreveport, Louisiana. Her five sisters have grown up, gone to college, married, and moved away.  Meanwhile, Suzanne dreams away her days, spending most of her time in the garden behind her house. One night Suzanne looks out her window and is amazed to see a young girl and a lively chimp dancing together under the moonlight. Too timid to investigate, Suzanne stays hidden in her home. But night after night she sees the pair enjoying the garden she works hard to create during the day. Finally, Suzanne can’t take it anymore. She tiptoes her way out of the house and is swept up into a world that she can barely believe exists.

12. In 1974, Emily Brewster is forced to move to Tanzania to live with her paternal grandfather, Bruce, after both her parents are killed in a car accident. Her grandfather owns a coffee plantation at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. The first weeks are tense between Emily and her grandfather; he has only seen her in pictures and has never enjoyed the company of children. Emily is afraid of his rough hands and the wild look of his beard. One day he takes her on into town to buy clothes and food when they come upon some children playing with a baby chimp. Emily begs and pleads for her grandfather to buy the baby animal, and seeing a smile on her face for the first time since her arrival he relents. So begins a friendship between Emily, her grandfather and Mr. Nickels the chimp that brings them all together, as the world around them changes. As Emily grows up on the edge of a jungle so far away from Ohio, as Bruce grows old and loses his land and wealth to revolution and Mr. Nichols yearns for the jungle that is all around him.

What's the real premise of "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness"?

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The State of My Pull List, Issue 10c: August (part 3)

[At the end of each month, Aaron surveys the comics he read, celebrates the best, considers the rest, and takes stock of what it means to be a contemporary comic fan. Follow "The State of My Pull List" here.]

[Note: this month's Pull List is mondo-big, so it'll be broken up into three pieces. This is the third part. Part one is here, part two is here.]

Farewells

On the eve of the DC relaunch I thought it appropriate to say goodbye to the titles I read regularly from the publisher. Some of them will return in a month as new #1s, while others are slated for relaunch towards the end of the year. Still others seem to be gone for good – two of which are among my favorite books of the year (one of which is Xombi, this month’s Spotlight book).


Batman and Robin #26


Batman and Robin concludes a solid run with issue twenty-six, written by David Hine and drawn by Greg Tocchini and Andrei Bressan. I wasn’t too fond of Tocchini’s work in previous issues of this title, but it seems more appropriate to Hine’s reverie for Dada and Surrealism. Bressan’s style doesn’t match Tocchini’s at all, and the dual artist approach suggests that this was rushed in at the last minute while other creators worked on the relaunch books. Hine deserves better – I hope there’s room for his absurdist take on superheroes at DC in the months to come. And I’m excited for Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s return to the title next month.
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REVIEW: The Revisionists

Author: Thomas Mullen

2011, Mulholland Books

Filed Under: Thriller, Sci-Fi.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6

I’m not exactly sure why I’ve been reading time travel books lately, but so far I’ve benefited nicely. Much like The Map of Time–though it is a very different book–The Revisionists mixes just the right amounts of elements from different genres to make for an exciting and compelling read.

Zed is from the future, a future that purposefully obfuscates its own history. Books are only allowed in print for so long before being utterly obliterated from the record. When a person dies, the government scrubs all trace of their existence down to seizing photographs and belongings from the their loved ones’ possession. Faced with such a situation and left with nothing to lose, Zed, who works as an investigator for the government, accepts an assignment to travel back in time in order to protect the Perfect Present.
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 9/27/11

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]


The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, by Joe McGinniss. Reviewed by David Ulin (Los Angeles Times).

I usually try and leave politics out of what I write on the Internet but I’ve got to say, I really, really hate Sarah Palin. Moreover, I think anybody who looks at her and sees a legitimate Presidential candidate suffers from significant brain damage. So I love lines like this:

“The time has come to strike the tent,” McGinniss begins the closing chapter. “[N]o matter how much my book sales might benefit from a Palin presidential campaign in 2012, I sincerely hope that the whole extravaganza, which has been unblushingly underwritten by a mainstream media willing to gamble the nation’s future in exchange for the cheap thrill of watching a clown in high heels on a flying trapeze, is nearing the end of its run.”

Couple that with a more or less racist attitude embedded in her sexual history, and there’s plenty of dirt promised here. I probably won’t read this book just for the schadenfreude, but I hope lots of people do.

Get the book.

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Reamde, by Neal Stephenson. Review by Tom Bissell (New York Times).

I know Nico’s toiling away at this one, so look for a C4 review in the near future. In the meantime, Bissell does a great job of both making me want to read this 1000+ page work and demonstrating how to write a readable, entertaining review. If you know anything about Stephenson’s work (admittedly, I know little), you know how hard it would be to summarize the book in a couple sentences. It’s crazy, and it’s about a computer virus. Says Bissell:

If you are a Stephenson fan who believes “Snow Crash” and “Cryptonomicon” (1999) are his greatest novels, “Reamde” will come as very good news, for in many ways it can be read as a thematic revisitation of those excellent precursors. Once again Stephenson is asking us to think about virtual worlds and information storage; once again, by God, he makes reading so much fun it feels like a deadly sin.

Watch for Nico’s review to see if you’re up to the task of reading this tome. I suspect it’s worth the time.

Get the book.

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Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life and Lost, by Paul Hendrickson. Reviewed by Howell Raines (Washington Post).

I’m pretty sure the Most Interesting Man from the beer commercials is so popular because he fits into the world adventurer mold made famous by good ol’ Papa Hemingway. Hemingway fascinates people in part because his life sort of condradicts itself: he went everywhere and did every macho thing you can dream of, he wrote himself into immortality, he retired to the tropics. He seemed to be an epic success story, and yet he was a depressed alcoholic, who eventually killed himself with a shotgun. There are tons of Hemingway biographies out there, and here’s another. But I like the angle of vulnerability and conflict this book appears to take (hence the subtitle):

…the record is clear that an author who supposedly was terrified of homoeroticism understood that Gregory’s obsessive need to wear women’s clothes was linked genetically to the elder Hemingway’s own penchant for gender-switching, role reversal in lovemaking, and the fetishism underlying his fondness for dying and cutting women’s hair to make them boy-like.

Biography/Papa fans take notice.

Get the book.

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Bonus Book Trailer: Art Spiegelman’s Maus is an excellent, excellent book. This looks like a pretty neat retrospective into it, by Spiegelman himself.

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Bonus Second Book Trailer: I haven’t had much nice to say about Winters’s previous fare, but this at least looks original, so I’ll give him a fair shake and say I’m at least a little intrigued.

Top 5 Books I Never Get Tired Of

I’m not much of a fan of re-reading, possibly because, as a holdover from childhood, I tend to read for story. Once I’ve heard it, I’ve heard it. So I was surprised, while writing this post, to realize there are books I do find myself revisiting from time to time. Which, over a span of 50 reading years, is getting to be an awful lot of times. Mostly they’re collections of stories and poems. It’s as if the musical part of my writing brain has struck a deal with the bossy narrative part. OK, you got your story. So now can I hear it again, just for the music? And like half of a long-married couple, the impatient, let’s-get-on-with-it narrative side says, Oh alright. Wake me when you’re done.

Here, then, are the top five books I never get tired of.

1. Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

I was a kid in 1960 when the 26-year-old Roth won the National Book Award for this collection, his debut. At the time, I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the contents, but when I devoured these stories in high school, lifting the book off a readerly aunt’s shelf, they knocked my knee socks off. Last year, I taught selections to a crop of students who’d never read Roth. How great to see their socks get knocked off too.
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REVIEW: The Keeper of Lost Causes

Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen

2011, Dutton

Filed under: Mystery, Thriller

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6

The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first English-translated book in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s bestselling Danish crime series, about the unique Department Q. It stars Carl Morck, who’s one of Copenhagen’s best detectives… until he falls into an ambush and watches his partner crippled and another cop killed.

Morck is deeply traumatized by the incident, and his passion for detective work vanishes. Since his superiors can’t fire him without starting a union battle, they devise a plan to stash Morck away by creating a new department for high-profile cold cases, Department Q. Morck’s assignment to Q is technically a promotion, which appeases the police union, but really it’s a way to put Morck on ice. Nobody will care if the traumatized detective never solves one of the years-old crimes assigned to him, so it’s the perfect place for him to recuperate (i.e. not work very hard). Meanwhile, the bosses can route most of the government money earmarked for Dept. Q to their underfunded homicide division.

Morck, for his part, is more than happy to sit around staring at the covers of case files. Until, that is, he runs across an interesting case and his curiosity drags him back into an investigation. Keeper follows that investigation as a straightforward, quite entertaining police procedural.
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REVIEW: The Thin Man

Author: Dashiell Hammett

1934, Redbook

Filed Under: Mystery.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 6

For whatever reason, I’ve never really been into mystery novels. But after unexpectedly finding a lot of enjoyment in No Rest for the Dead, I wanted to ride the wave a little longer and figured I ought to hit some of the classics. I opted to hold off on Sir Doyle (A Study in Scarlet is in my short pile), and go for the more gumshoe-y cred of Dashiell Hammett. I wanted something that I would be totally ignorant of, so The Maltese Falcon was out–I love the film. The Thin Man, though it doesn’t have any written sequels, spawned a very popular series of films (that have been languishing in my Netflix–Qwikster?–queue for ages), and seemed to have a strong following of fans on the internet. So I went to library and snagged a copy.
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The State of My Pull List, Issue 10b: August (Part 2)

[At the end of each month, Aaron surveys the comics he read, celebrates the best, considers the rest, and takes stock of what it means to be a contemporary comic fan. Follow "The State of My Pull List" here.]

[Note: this month's Pull List is mondo-big, so it'll be broken up into three pieces. Here's the second part. Here's part one.]


Solid Reads

Secret Avengers #16

With Secret Avengers #16 Warren Ellis once again smuggles a sharp critique of superheroes inside of a frothy, expertly crafted adventure story (see also Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis, my Spotlight pick for February 2011) Ellis makes the most of the Secret Avengers concept, telling a story that’s relatively quiet and takes place in an abandoned city several miles underground  – Captain America and his team (Beast, who Ellis portrays as a neurotic, motor-mouth nerd, plus Moon Knight, and Black Widow) infiltrate the facility, drive around in a nuclear-powered Cadillac, and stop the bad guys (a classic faceless evil organization) from teleporting Cincinnati off the face of the planet. That quiet, offbeat tone is complemented by artist Jamie McKelvie’s backgrounds, which are starkly beautiful in a Michelangelo Antonioni sort of way—his double-page spread of Moon Knight soaring over the empty cityscape is breathtaking. Of course, McKelvie is equally adept at framing exciting action sequences, most of which are packed into the final third of the issue. Ellis saves the didacticism for the very end—it’s devastating, so I won’t give it away here—Beast’s notes of regret just make it all the more compelling. Apparently Secret Avengers is just going to be one-and-done stories by Ellis and a rotation of artists—I’d be happier with more from McKelvie every month, but I’m on board regardless.
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REVIEW: The Earth Chronicles Expeditions

Author: Zecharia Sitchin

2004, Bear & Company

Filed Under: Nonfiction, Historical, Sci-Fi.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8

Not that I buy into them, but pseudo-documentaries like the kind often played on The History Channel are a guilty pleasure of mine. Sitchin’s books (there are many) were mentioned in one I’ve been watching recently called “Ancient Aliens.” That show’s title pretty much sums up Sitchin’s thesis: aliens used to live on earth, and live amongst humans as gods.

Sitchin’s clearly a smart guy. He reads multiple languages (including Sumerian), and has spent a lot of time studying ancient artifacts. His basic supposition is that if Homer’s Troy (long thought by scholars to be a mythical place, until its excavation around the turn of the 20th century) can transcend myth, there’s no reason to outright discredit the rest of his rendition as untrue just because we don’t believe it. Hence there were really gods and demigods involved in the politics of men.
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