IN COLD BLOOD – Can you imagine the torrent of creativity, where two writers are confined to a Kansas motel room, penning what eventually became a sensation: “In Cold Blood”? All these years later, the vanguard non-fiction novel, endures not only for the story it tells. But, also for the creative process by which it was birthed. Many years earlier, Truman Capote and Harper Lee were next door neighbors, children that grew up side by side, in Monroeville Alabama. Truman stayed with cousins and “Nelle” had a father who was an attorney who owned the town’s newspaper. “In Cold Blood” details the murders of the Clutter family by killers, Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith. Capote and Lee interviewed case investigators and locals taking thousands of pages of notes. Was the book as factual as Capote’s staunch assertions? Probably not, but who cares? The book is regarded even today as the definitive example of the true crime genre. However, Capote was bitterly disappointed that he did not win the Pulitzer. Soon thereafter, “To Kill a Mockingbird” (by Harper Lee), on the other hand, did win the Pulitzer. It was an overwhelming smash success. But, it’s said that was too much for her to handle. She never wrote another book. Which is yet another interesting facet to the mystery of Truman Capote and Harper Lee.
CHARIOTS OF THE GODS? – The theories advanced in this book have had a profound effect on popular culture. Chariots of the Gods by Erich Von Daniken has taken a lot of criticism, with accusations such as questionable evidence, some critics have gone so far as saying the arguments he built are fraudulent. Some naysayers contend he ripped off HP Lovecraft, to come up with the ideas covered in the book, see The Call of Cthulhu. Nevertheless, Von Daniken has sold millions of copies the world over. Is there any validity to claims of ‘gods’ from outer space? Did extraterrestrial aliens visit early human ancestors and bestow advanced technology on them? Was Von Daniken sloppy and over-reaching with his early claims? ‘Probably’ to all three. However, what is clear is this book solidified the idea of the UFO, in the collective unconscious. With television shows and movies like The X Files and Ancient Aliens. With the dystopian genre of literature so firmly entrenched in the reading public. With a scientific theory that shook the concept of God and religion to the core. What if it were true? If so what does that say about the future of human-kind. I have no idea but it is certainly something interesting to think about. See below for a link to the television series.
I worked in the fitness industry in my twenties, but in my forties, it’s been difficult to maintain a healthy body weight. Back in the day, teaching twelve fitness classes weekly (plus weight training) meant eating healthy wasn’t critical. I ate whatever I wanted. I hear this often from my middle aged friends that were athletes when they were younger. Working out at that level (time or intensity) just isn’t feasible anymore. I have tried a lot of diets and have read a lot of diet books. Other approaches are unsatisfying, because of focusing on fads or lacking practical examples. For those reasons, Fire Up Your Fat Burn by Lori Shemek, strikes the perfect balance. This is a grab and go program coupled with the principles of why the approach works. Since I know a bit about exercise programs, I really appreciated suggestions that an average user can accomplish; at home, outdoors, at a gym or with little to no equipment. There are sections for at-a-glance; tips for success; what to/ not to eat; goal setting; understanding inflammation; using supplements, fiber and water. What I liked the most about this book were tasty food choices, embedded in the chapters, also concluding with an entire chapter at the end. This book lives up to the title and will give you what you need to jump start your lifestyle change.
BARBARY COAST – Enter the seedy underworld of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, circa 1849; at the height of the Gold Rush. The Barbary Coast by Herbert Asbury is filled with scandalous salacious details – a hedonistic city falling off the edge of civilization- with money to burn. The red light district was bordered Montgomery, Washington, Stockton and Broadway. Particularly notorious was Pacific Avenue leading directly from the wharf to Portsmouth Square. There are tales of government officials on the take: from opium dens, brothels run by pimps, pick-pocket street urchins, coalitions of the wealthy and vigilante lynch mobs. With a less than flattering early history- social, economic and racial tensions between the Chinese, Italian and Irish – the very working class immigrants responsible for California infrastructure; transforming it into the economic powerhouse it is today. Asbury finds his voice as a crime historian in Barbary Coast along with other titles; Gangs of New York, Gangs of Chicago and French Quarter. This is a reprint from the original 1930’s version. One might think it dry or old fashioned. However, I didn’t find that to be true at all. This is a great book taking you deeper into the colorful history of an iconic city.
CALIFORNIA MISSIONS – The California Missions, a Sunset Pictorial, is the story of El Camino Real. The Royal Road, first used in the late 1700’s, established missions for Spain from San Diego to Sonoma. The foot trail became a stage coach route; then a railroad and today the principal highway linking north to south. The book is packed full of photos and illustrations, a must have for anyone interested in California history. Each of the twenty one mission churches is very unique; some shoehorned into dense urban settings while others remain within a peaceful valleys, reminiscent of the mission’s pastoral history.
INDIANS OF THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST – Indians of the American Southwest by Steven L. Walker is a good topic resource. It’s not a typical book, as the focus is photography; there are 64 pages, so it’s really more like a magazine. The focus on photography isn’t a criticism, because many of the photos are beautiful. The photography aspect is important so the reader can envision the monumental natural settings and cliff dwellings. The title however is VERY misleading; the primary focus of this book is on the Chaco Anasazi. There are much shorter sections on a couple of other tribes and ancient inhabitants, along with arts and crafts. I think this book should have included articles on the Acoma or Navajo, but it didn’t. SIDENOTE – PBS (PUBLIC TV) has an excellent documentary on the topic of Chaco Anasazi culture, THE MYSTERY OF CHACO CANYON, see below for the link. Or, enter the title in the search field of the PBS website to pull up info on the documentary.
WHEN CAMERAS GO CRAZY CULTURE CLUB – When Cameras Go Crazy by Kasper De Graaf chronicles the meteoric rise of Boy George, up to 1983. Who could’ve imagined it? That a gender-bending, Grammy-winning band would catapult to pop superstardom, in the conservative climate of the Regan era? The book is chock full of George’s iconic and enduring contemporaries in 1980’s London: Steve Strange (Blitz), Malcolm McClaren (Sex Pistols, Bow Wow Wow), Sue Clowes (The Foundry), Leigh Bowery (performance artist) and Vivienne Westwood (fashion designer). The book captures the group’s early naïve charm and couldn’t have predicted their decline; in the midst of scandals and pitfalls of fame. Much later, the group was featured in a sad reunion tour and VH1 documentary: depicting them as bitter, portly, hardened, middle aged men; vying to rekindle the brilliance of their youth. George in particular has been vilified in the press for drug addiction and court involvement. Last year’s television movie (Worried About the Boy, 2010) by the BBC – was able to recreate some early magic moments. The lead actor is destined for more work, he was great. The same hand is apparent in all of the BBC’s productions: constrained budgets, imperfect production and at times it has a “homemade” feel. If you’re interested in things post punk/ new romantic – check out the early music, book and video clips.