Monday, January 17, 2011

IN THE DARK DEPTHS OF WINTER, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE MORE FITTING THAN READING A BOOK. And yes, I said a book; not one of those satanic Kindle things which are so unpleasant, unreadable and currently sticking a knife in the back of the bookstore industry. Any true book lover would never touch one of those things. But I digress (I do that). Back to reading books. If things were different, I'd be wearing a smoking jacket sitting in my well-appointed library in Gormenghast castle seated in front of a roaring fire in an overstuffed leather chair reading a leather-bound volume with gilded edges by the light of a green-shaded lamp. However, my current circumstances lean more towards the Weekly World News behind a dumpster. But this is cyberspace, so lets pretend it's the first example, shall we? As is my wont, I never read solely one book at a time but usually have several going at once. And I'd like to briefly talk about my pile of reading material. I know this is an unusual subject for this blog but hey. . .it's an unusual blog.
This first tome is one I've been reading off and on since the autumn: Bill Warren's KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES: THE 21st CENTURY EDITION. This is the new, totally revised version of the classic critical study of science fiction/horror films of the fifties (more or less) and its certainly indispensible for anyone remotely interested in the genre. Also, it's one of the most famous books on the subject so you really should read it at some point. Granted, occasionally you may find yourself violently disagreeing with Warren's opinion of a particular film but isn't that what film criticism is all about? After all, have you ever read one of David Thomson's books?!?
Peter Ackroyd's LONDON: THE BIOGRAPHY is also indispensible for anyone interested in history. Ackroyd is always immensely readable, witty and erudite and this book exemplifies that beautifully. This book was made into a BBC-TV (all too brief) 3 episode series (Hiya, Weaverman!) which serves to whet your appetite for the full-course meal the actual book will provide. Ackroyd covers everything from the ancient founding of the city to . . . well, . . . turds. Where else are you gonna get such coverage of a subject, I ask ya?!?
I have been a fan of the silly, irreverant work of cartoonist Fred Hembeck since I first encountered his tiny little strip on "The Daily Planet" page in late 1970s DC Comics. So I was nothing but thrilled to latch onto THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS which, as the title suggests, reprints "almost" all his stuff in one phonebook-sized tome. Granted, none of the DC "Daily Planet" strips are here; nor are Hembeck's "Marvel Age" pages or such Marvel Comics productions as the notorious "FRED HEMBECK DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE". But the classic early-80s Fantaco magazine-sized Hembecks are all here: THE HEMBECK FILES, BAH HEMBECK, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE BRIDE OF HEMBECK, etc. The volume also reprints early work from the cartoonist as well as his lengthy run in the pages of the Comics' Buyers Guide running right up to almost the present day. A treasure trove for Hembeck fans and comic book fans everywhere.
Speaking of comic books, I also found myself compelled . . . and I do mean compelled . . . to purchase the first two volumes of both ESSENTIAL MARVEL TEAM-UP and ESSENTIAL MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE. These are among the black and white reprint line of Marvel Comics which have been going for several years now. The reason why I felt compelled to get them is because the Marvel Comics of the first half of the 1970s are particularly magical to me; there is something about the look, the feel, the mood of them which I've always loved. And these 4 reprint volumes provide that feeling to me in spades! "Marvel Team-Up", of course, (usually) featured Spider-Man teaming up with a different guest star hero every issue while "Marvel Two-In-One" did the same for the Fantastic Four's lovable rocky hero The Thing. Being the early to mid-1970s, these books featured Spider-Man not only teaming up with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange and the Incredible Hulk but also such crucial mid-70's Marvel characters as The Son of Satan, Ghost Rider, the Monster of Frankenstein and Man-Wolf! The artwork of such great pencillers as Jim Mooney and Sal Buscema is exemplary but the single most mood-inducing factor in these comix is the gorgeous Marvel "house style" inking done by such stalwards as Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott and Mike Esposito. Tasty!
I've always had an interest in secret codes and ciphers (ask anyone who received a "Happy Birthday" sheet from me back in the Rustler days) so I naturally found THE CODE BOOK by Simon Singh as great read. This book not only gives you such famous ciphers as the Caesar shift and the Vigenere square but also gives the historical background of some of the most famous incidents in cryptography from the secret code of Mary, Queen of Scots to the famous German Enigma machine of World War II. A potentially dry subject is kept lively by Singh's obvious enthusiasm for the subject as well as his grasp of the workings of ciphers.
All these books, if'n you haven't guessed already, come to you highly recommended by me. And I know you can all read because you're not here to look at the pictures. So do yourself a favour and read an actual book and not one of those headache-inducing little pocket calculators.

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