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The Despairs
The Despairs
by Cid Corman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.00
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars West Gone East, March 20, 2015
This review is from: The Despairs (Paperback)
“The Despairs” might be the best of all of Cid Corman’s many books of poetry. (He is said to have written over seventy of them.) In later life, he lived in Kyoto for decades at a time and his poetry became inflected by Japanese syntax and form, so that most of his poems are short. He wrote haikus in the style of the great old 5-7-5 masters of his home country and his adopted land, for example, “The Wanderer Theme” which reads, “Coming back after/ all this time only to have/ to find yourself gone.” He showed us that many of his poems could fit on one page of a then-traditional brand of a Japanese composition book, small enough to fit into a hip pocket, for example. Life wasn’t luxurious for Corman and his long-suffering wife, particularly in Corman’s final years when Japan found itself in a recession and prices rose, for everything had to be imported and the little island, so inventive, began charging for everything, as do we in America at the time. Corman was visited by a continual procession of American and Canadian admirers, maybe as many as five or six a year, the kindest among them bringing treats like cans of Campbells soup, or maybe fresh vegetables like artichokes, things unavailable in Kyoto except among the super-rich. In return, Corman always had a little book he had printed himself and he might give you one on your way home.

The Despairs has a gloomy title, but we come to understand that nothing will get the poet down, not seriously, though he flirts with foul temper and, like other expatriates, sometimes regrets having left his homeland. A host of old American friends are invoked—George Oppen and William Bronk among them, Bronk in filthy, Rabelaisian terms as though there were bad blood between the two. And there’s a note of whining about old age, though not despair as we know it philosophically, but even a bleak poem might wear a sprightly title like “Acme.” Here’s the poem, aired out with blank lines and plenty of blank space all around the page: “Isnt it/ / obvious/ you are as/ / good as dead/ already? And it wont/ get better.” (He abhorred the apostrophe as a form of punctuation, arguing that it detracted from the look of the word and called attention to that which is not there, just as his fellow Black Mountain-influenced poets made a fetish of the word “yr” for “your.”)

When he returned to the US for a brief fundraising visit I saw him in the second floor gallery of a Market Street emporium on an engagement for the San Francisco Poets Theater. He was going to fill the bill solo, he announced, for in the years since he was away he had written over five thousand poems. That night, as the fog rappelled down Market Street as if in the pathetic fallacy of parkour, and as the hours of the Western clock told us it was seven p.m, then seven fifteen, then seven twenty, and finally midnight, he read them all, none smoother nor truer nor more packed with old man defiance than the magnificent poems of “The Despairs.”

The Artaud Variations
The Artaud Variations
by Peter Valente
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars Scraped red and raw, mad with energy, February 26, 2015
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In recent months, whenever I feel low, or in a funk because of the depressed, gray state of the world today (not excluding the poetry community from my strictures either!), I have been fueled by the raw energy of Peter Valente's Artaud Variations, surely the best book on the subject,. Though the Italian born, New Jersey educated poet employs a very unusual method of "translation," I feel he has come as close as it is possible today to read that rich vein of madness in his life and work.

Dear Alain
Dear Alain
by Katy Bohinc
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $30.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Plus One, January 3, 2015
This review is from: Dear Alain (Hardcover)
We are presented with an audacious epistolary: a young American poet, based in New York, writes in English to the eminent French theorist Alain Badiou (born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1937), and writes him love letters of astonishing honesty and passion. Echoes of Max Ophuls fill my mind as I read through the first fifty pages, letter after letter from Katy, no response from le philosophe--you've seen Joan Fontaine write pages and pages to Louis Jourdan, filling the screen with impassioned hand, in Letters from an Unknown Woman, right? It's the saddest picture in movie history, so my first instinct is to say that young Bohinc has set her sights too high, and that he, "dear Alain," won't even remember her if shown a picture of her after her death. But then finally I get it, that what she is proposing is no ordinary love affair, but rather a test of love, a test to be played out according to her understanding of his writing, and the main action of the book turns into an interrogation, then a subversion, of his tenets, of the monstrances in which his words are displayed: his books and articles and public statements. As she writes, she changes his writing, at least its import, perhaps its meaning.

Tender Buttons has published many books that demonstrate this sort of twisty, suspense-driven turnabout, so I expect that whenever I pick up one of their books it is not going to be what I expect. Into this tradition Bohinc fits beautifully, but even so, the surprises are earned. The reader must bring a lot of attention and empathy to meet her on the page, and to be wise enough to distinguish lover from writer from artist, melancholic from joker. I'm sure I stumbled a couple of times across this lengthy book, but there was always something beckoning, a pennant faintly flapping upon Mont Blanc, to keep me murmuring "Excelsior" and going forward. Well, for one thing she's witty as hell, and for another, she has a gift for extravagant metaphor, perhaps from hip-hop roots, that delights in transforming itself into every variant of itself imaginable. Maybe that's what love does--love with a capital L, as she insists you spell it--creates a hall of mirrors around the loved one that produces infinite lights and angles.

The lovers live parallel lives on either side of fame; they experience the same events, like the resignation of Egypt's Mubarak, and she reads his reaction to Egypt int he papers and he reads hers in these letters. They are either end of the spectrum of age, and of gender, but ungodly connections bring them together. And she can sometimes boast that she knows more than he about this or that--not only matters of the heart, but cold facts, like math. "I suppose you've mapped sociality like a chessboard. But I'm mercurial, at best." In the next life, she recalls, the philosopher is going to reincarnate as a dancer; but as the poet will turn into a janitor, will he still want her? Cocteau or Demy sort of transformation turns old Ophuls plot into something more like a sun-warmed fairy tale, but Dear Alain convinces me, and will you too, that miracles can happen even in the most blighted of social circumstances and broken civic systems. I enjoyed it very much, and it spurred me to direct action, and to going back to the basic arithmetic I abandoned as a teen, and one can ask no more of a book or a friend.

Wild West Hero: An Erotic Novella
Wild West Hero: An Erotic Novella
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rocking of the Trailer, the Burning Sun of Spain, November 28, 2014
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Thom Wolf takes pen in hand to bring us the thrilling story of what actually happens on the set of the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 70s. A film scholar as well as one of today most acclaimed erotic novelists and short story writers, Wolf combines the critical acumen of the reviewer with the raw passion of one who fell in love with the good looking stars of these "westerns all'italiana" as much as with their violence, suspense, and revolutionary underpinnings. The (fictional) movie he chronicles is called Dollars in the Dust (1969) and his protagonist and narrator, young Eddie Drake, is new to film, though hardly to the casting couch, when he arrives in the remote Spanish location used for so many of the Italian coproductions of the period. He knows little Spanish or Italian, so he's lonely, but buoyed by knowing that the great Hollywood western star Hank Kinney is due on set for the last two weeks of shooting.

Wolf writes well of Eddie's loneliness and self-doubt, and about he has to negotiate his hidden sexuality in the mazes of Hollywood and international film production. There were then no "out" stars, or even "out" extras for that matter, but among those in the know there have been, for twenty years or more, whispers about the great superstar Hank Kinney, now down on his luck and reduced to playing in the sort of films he hopes will never reach America. Eddie is all excited to meet his co-star, but when the famous actor arrives he disappears into his trailer and won't respond to the director's entreaties. In despair, director Benito (sort of a Sergio Leone character, trying to make a masterpiece out of hackneyed materials and a tiny budget) send Eddie in to lure out Hank Kinney. In the heat of the Spanish noon, all of Eddie's dreams come true, but first, pure pain.

Not only the pain of fearing that your dreams of stardom will evaporate like dollars in the dust, but the pain of being invaded by the titanic male members first of insatiable Italian bit player Sandro, and then another one for whom the huge encroachment of Sandro will have only been a loosening up. Like many of Wolf's most memorable characters, Eddie experiences life through the sensitive membranes that make up his hot, molten, stretchable core, and between these two guys he's often left too sore to sit comfortably on his palomino. That feeling, and the endless plains of Pamplona, and the unforgiving sun of Spain, are the things I will take away from Wild West Hero long after I stop reading it with one hand, longing for Eddie to find the happiness he deserves. It is a book to treasure, to inflame, and you will never look at Django or Once Upon a Time in America in quite the same way after reading about the secret lives of their Wild West Heroes.

Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II
Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II
by Farah Jasmine Griffin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.84
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Triptych for the Double V, November 26, 2014
Reading Harlem Nocturne, I was constantly reproving myself for how little I knew about the Double V campaign that took place during World War II here in America. Indeed I had never heard of it before. Double V stands for "Double Victory" and it was an initiative pioneered by leftist and progressive groups trying to convince black American workers to put their backs into the War against Fascists overseas, while pursuing the nascent civil rights struggle at home. As Farah Jasmine Griffin explains, this double campaign was something new; in World War I we learn that black leaders were known to downplay their own political causes in times of national warfare, presumably to show white folks that black men and woman could magnanimously put being "good citizens" ahead of their own basic human rights. Well, no more of that in WWII, at least in Harlem, but Griffin shows how the struggle to keep two separate victory campaigns alive simultaneously was not always easy, perhaps especially for the women artists of the community during the War and in the troubled years immediately afterwards.

Only incidentally is this a biography, but I did ménage to learn far more than I had already learned about the three whom she selects as her principals. Pearl Primus based her modern dance choreography of what she could observe as ordinary black life both in the US and in Africa, insisting on the unbroken chain that linked the two continents. Herself an accomplished dancer, though with a body sometimes dismissed as clunky and short, she could jump straight up into the air five feet or more, from a standing position, a feat that left onlookers amazed.

In contrast, novelist Ann Petry hailed from the black bourgeoisie of Connecticut; Griffin describes her initial descent into Harlem almost as an act of "slumming," but she was assuredly drawn to working class life and the hardships endured by women in the Harlem homefront. Was she a communist? It's hard to say, though all three of the subjects of Griffin's book found that, if you ignored or shunned the leftist arts and political organizations, literally no one else supported you at this time. Frustratingly, many of the most interesting parts of her subjects' lives occurs after Griffin leaves them (roughly around 1950), and we learn only in an epilogue that Petry basically abandoned her role as America's greatest female black novelist in 1953, writing only stories and children's books until her death, and we never really find out why. I for one would love to read THAT HILL GIRL, a vehicle for the white star Kim Novak, that brought Petry to Hollywood in 1957, but Griffin supplies just enough material on that project to tantalize, not enough to please.

Mary Lou Williams was my favorite story, perhaps because Williams was the least "diva-like" of the personalities Griffin treats. (Although who doesn't love a great diva?) I remember seeing her when I was a boy, at the Smith Haven Mall in my hometown of Smithtown, Long Island, playing jazz piano in public and entertaining a whole shopping mall's worth of shoppers. My mother told me to remember this moment forever, for Mary Lou Williams was a genius. I wanted to hang out with my gang, but she said, hush, just be still, take this moment and listen to the gods with both your ears. I stood there and eventually I could understand what my mother was talking about. God bless them both, my mother and Mary Lou Williams, and thanks to Dr. Griffin for producing such a readable, if much too brief, book on a stimulating time and place.

The God of Longing
The God of Longing
by Brent Calderwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.60
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Man of Tomorrow, September 12, 2014
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I saw this young man read a few years back, and I made a mental note of his name, and then I went to an open reading at the San Francisco Museum of Performance + Design when I heard he was going to be what they call the feature. He’s got a lot of charm as a performer, he’s tall, good-looking, and he can even bring out a guitar and sing like Glen Campbell, so what’s not to like? But sometimes all that charm can fool a poet’s audience into thinking there’s more there than there is there, as Gertrude Stein once wrote about Hemingway or somebody. I vowed I would wait until a press put out Brent Calderwood’s first book, so I could read the words without the distraction of that personality, just to make up my mind. Now The God of Longing is here, and I can report, even if he was a troll his poetry could still deliver.

I start with the title, trying to remember my ancient Greek and asking myself, who was the god of longing on Mount Olympus? Calderwood’s writing veers sharply between the high romantic mode and the slangy, quotidian I did this I did that of O’Hara, only he’s more explicit about sexual matters than even the old horndog Frank O’Hara allowed himself to be. The first poems in the book all reach back to various bygone eras of romance, from the pre-Raphaelite “The Golden Hour,” to the Rodgers & Hart Tin Pan Alley minor key “Stay Little Valentine Stay,” to the postwar homosexual irony of “Ballad of the Kind Young Men.” Later the poems pass through the region of great geological unrest—the days of the quake. But not everything is loud, nor cataclysmic, in this collection. Thematically there’s the tension of gods versus men, the tension between boys and men, the passages of time that turn a sweet love sour, that turn a boy into a man, and how these passages sometimes run, like a subterranean creek, deep underneath the surface of life so that you don’t really know they’re occurring. In every case, both loud and quiet, Calderwood finds a vehicle appropriate for what he wants his poem to do. (In that sense I wasn’t wrong, in thinking of him as a performative poet, but it’s the poems themselves that are performing themselves on every page.)

Turns out the god of longing is from Augustine, and his name was Himeros, and in the name of this god we detect the words for “him” and for “Eros.” Calderwood’s characters speak of a broken home, a brother fatally ill, an absent father; we get the picture of a boy isolated by his fears and by the pressures of his peers to be studly and straight; a fat boy who, slim as he makes himself in gay adult life, can never get over the shame of being a freak. These are strong issues and Calderwood creates tension wisely by reining in the emotion with a variety of formal devices. In “Abecedarius,” one of the most striking poems, each line of free verse begins with a successive letter of the alphabet, from A to Z: “So he goes to the room marked BOYS at/ Twelve each day, pretends to/ Urinate, then stays in a stall till the bell rings at one.” Elsewhere, in a more comic mood—though one equally resentful of the marks of beauty each man must carry like armor, Calderwood writes a poem about anal bleaching, and he makes it a villanelle—again, I suppose to ward off the bad magic of his subject matter.

I actually hate such forms but it’s a mark of my respect for this young poet that I’m giving him the thumbs up despite his attraction to the formal. Elsewhere, in “Swim,” we find the three-line stanza beloved of William Carlos Williams, the triadic measure he called the “variable foot,” supposedly one that could contain the raw power of America; and next to “Swim” the astonishing intimacy of “Intermission,” in which a speaker examines his boyfriend’s frenulum, in prose, to the point of no return, or so I read it, whereupon the poem erupts into the broken line of verse. If you don’t know what a frenulum is, don’t worry, he spells it out in a delightful allegory of him and Eros. In The God of Longing, Calderwood’s most striking poems resolve and revolve around an ever-shifting display, a pageant on the age-old conflict between Apollo and Dionysus, between the ecstatic experience and the quieter moments of remembering it, or wanting it so bad, so bad that sometimes it’s good, real good, exquisite in fact.

Expect to see this book on many of the “best of 2014” lists, and Brent Calderwood, get ready, a lot of young men will be picking up this book and wanting to write just like you, and to get there, they’re gonna start by first investigating your frenulum.

by Liv Ullmann
Edition: Hardcover
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can I handle the seasons of my life? One woman's poignant reflections in snow covered hills., May 13, 2014
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This review is from: Changing (Hardcover)
In Liv Ullmann’s memoir Changing, only a few colors stain the crystal radiance of the skies above Norway, gray, pink, white, black; someone holds the great Norwegian star for a few minutes, then lets her fall back to the rocks of Faro Island, and yet even though it hurts to be so deeply in love, and you’re betraying your husband, you still feel like life is worth living. All your allegiances are to the theater, and then top the cinema of Ingmar Bergman. All the phones are rotary, yet she longs to work on stage because that is one place in which you don’t hear the phone, she says. How different from today, where you can stay in touch with your daughter even if you are onstage playing one of your signature parts (in Liv Ullmann’s case, she became famous as she tells us at nineteen, in a Scandinavian town beginning with a “S,” (I just looked it up, it was “Stavanger”), playing Anne Frank; and later there was her sensational success as Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which she takes on a long straw hat circuit trail in the Sweden of the 1960s, and Norway in the 1979s, entertaining farmers and forest rangers in run down dinner theaters that had not seen a single play for over thirty and in some cases over one hundred years.

Everywhere the weather haunts her. The sun breaking through the snowcaps, the threat of the ground shifting beneath your feet, that moment between autumn and winter when you can see your refection in the snow covered hills. When this book came out during America’s bicentennial, it made an enormous impression on young California feminists and hedonists, who took the message of perpetual cosmic and personal shift to heart. The young Stevie Nicks took the emotional and wintry landscape of Ullmann’s difficult Scandinavia and condensed this book into her signature song. Like “Landslide,” Ullmann’s memoir is haunted by the puckish spirits of a girl child, her own child self, orphaned by a WWII accident and a beautiful, willful mother, and by her own daughter Linn, whom she gave birth to during her five year long affair with director Bergman. One or the other of the two little girls appears on nearly every page. As Stevie sings, “I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I’ve built my life around you.” Bergman was so jealous that he was the source of all of her fears and joys. He was like Lindsay Buckingham, the way Stevie writes about him in “Silver Springs.” Then little Linn broke the ice and made Liv see she was living in what had turned into an emotional nightmare.

When she left, Liv fled to Southern California as Stevie did. “Time makes us bolder,” said the latter. “Even children get older.” Eternal changing, but one thing that did not change is Liv’s penchant for human depravity. She dated Henry Kissinger, and apparently thought this behavior sort of cute. She had the opportunity many times to poison the world’s most evil living man, and yet she stayed her hand. The only star who comes off looking bad in this “Landslide” of an autobiography is Vanessa Redgrave, like Liv a stranger in Hollywood, but otherwise an inhuman freak who is interested in Liv only if she will write her a huge check to support the cause of violent Trotskyite revolution. It was a strange era in Hollywood, one never to be repeated, a time in which these two weird, beautiful, Nordic powerhouses could each be asked to anchor a huge Hollywood musical: Redgrave the box office disappointment Camelot; Ullmann, the total disaster of the legendary Lost Horizon musical. I guess there was also Jean Seberg, weird like them, European sort of, sort of respected for her acting, and so perplexingly cast as the lead both men wanted in Paint Your Wagon. But she at any rate was from America, like our own songwriting virtuoso, the one and only Stevie Nicks. I can only say that Camelot, Lost Horizon and Paint Your Wagon would have all been improved with the casting of Nicks, who has never been given her due in American movies, nor those of any other country or planet!
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The City of Palaces: A Novel
The City of Palaces: A Novel
by Michael Nava
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.10
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He returns in triumph, March 26, 2014
It spans decades, from 1897 through the spring of 1913, and like all the best historical novels manages to do two things simultaneously—a, it sweeps you out of your own world into one you’ve perhaps only vaguely imagined, and b, makes you realize how the events of the past in fact are the crucibles through which the present was poured and found its shape. The City of Palaces is rich with blood and revolutionary anger and the stench of disease, and yet at heart it’s a love story.

Something of a Mexican Romeo and Juliet really. Miguel Sarmiento is no peasant, in fact he’s a doctor, but he knows he’s not in the league of the Gavilans, the aristocratic and wealthy family whose palace dominates all others in its neighborhood.

Dona Alicia is the grande dame of the city, the merciful and benevolent patroness of a teeming clinic. Her private life, tragic, for her face has been scarred by pustules, her great beauty ruined, her visage always draped like Medusa, and yet she yearns for the tender embrace of a man—but who would have her?

Under the romance lies the epochal and agonizing drama about the native peoples who are being rounded up and exiled from their own lands. These people are just about untouchable, despite the fact that they are the rightful owners of the land under the Spaniards’ feet, just as the great City itself is built on the shards of the
Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Sarmiento is newly returned from seven years away in
Europe, and once back the impossible contrasts of Mexico City begin to shake his reserve. His practice is largely built of the society ladies his father once treated, but he is also a crusader for social justice and does his best for the Indians, truly the wretched of the earth. A growing group of revolutionaries have begun to see the truth, that European systems of capitalism and culture have pitted mestizo against pelado without thought of human feelings or liberty, only in pursuit of the eternal peso.

Among these intellectuals the doctor’s dandy of a cousin, Jorge Luis, a paradoxical exquisite whose jaded air conceals a fellow feeling for the underprivileged and the oppressed, for he himself is gay in a high Catholic society dedicated to pushing back sexual difference. If any of you know Jamie O’Neill’s 2001 novel At Swim Two Boys, some of the same dynamics play themselves out here in The City of Palaces.

Even novices to Mexican history, those of us who remember Paul Muni and Bette Davis as Juarez and Carlotta, and then only a fuzzy succession of generals, saints, chamuyeros, and heroes, will find yourselves glad you didn’t know more, because you have the pleasure of not knowing what happens next, and I expect even Mexican historians will be totally hanging on every word, not least for the love story which combines medical drama and the mad lust which I have come to know as a Michael Nava trademark. If you liked Magnificent Obsession, or All That Heaven Allows, think of this as the sweeping historical drama that Douglas Sirk didn’t live to make. It is transcendent and will make you fall over, sobbing and loving every minute of it.

An Ordinary Boy
An Ordinary Boy
by Brian Centrone
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your money's worth and much more, March 17, 2014
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Tom Grove is one of those unforgettable characters whom people either love or despise, or somewhere in the middle, as you can tell by the twenty wildly varying reviews on this site, to say nothing of those Brian Centrone’s debnt novel has elicited elsewhere. An Ordinary Boy is a book that everybody has an opinion on, if you can get past the first fifty or so pages. If you missed them, you would still have quite a substantial body of work on your hands.

When we meet Tom first, he is starting freshman year at ”Anadam,” an East Coast university with a diverse student population, and his upper crust parents are dropping him off at his dorm room. This is a common way to introduce a new student at a new school, and serves the triple purpose of introducing our appealing young hero—well, appealing but for some obnoxious traits which will be tamed or cut back by novel’s end—and we also get to see his amusingly clueless parents and meet his studly straight roommate, Joey Arkin of the football team. We learn that most everyone at Anadam shops at Bergdorf Goodman, which suits Tom down to the ground, He’s a gay Republican, and at this point I was like, OK, then the hell with him! But Centrone’s storytelling talent won me over quickly enough, to the point where I could at length ignore young Tom’s appalling POV and his quips about the “politically correct” that make him seem like young William Buckley only less sexy. Right away we see Tom being stuck in an unfortunate position, being set up by his mother, a monster of the first order, with a boy next door type called Matt.

Matt’s an adorable Abercrombie & Fitch type of guy whom Tom loves right away, but he’s not ready to settle down, why, he’s not even twenty yet. Tom’s dreams of young love meet an awful smash when Matt neglects to take his virginity on holiday break, forcing Tom to deal with some less savory elements he meets on the seedy side of town, one of whom catches his attention and brings out his submissive side. Centrone writes superbly about lust and desire, and one of the best scenes brings us Tom, confused and horny, learning how much he longs to bottom for a guy, and yet unfortunately he gets more than he wanted, and the rest of the novel deals with a long period of PTSD for Tom, so suddenly An Ordinary Boy’s not as humorous (or satirical) as it once was. The novel has enough plot and meat to it for two or three ordinary novels, but Centrone knows what he’s doing and manages to keep the plot skeins firmly interwoven like the best Persian rugmakers of ancient tradition, plus as a garni, the latest technological advancements like texting acronyms and Scruff. It all leads up to the most elaborate and dramatic wedding scenc since 1967’s The Graduate. By that time you’ll be very glad to have made the acquaintance of “An Ordinary Boy.” Get it!

Incidentally, the book got me to wondering, do actual wealthy families still go to all the middle class bother of dropping their children off to college in person? So old-fashioned and bourgeois I would think. Why don’t the Groves hire one of those outcall services that do it for you? They obviously could afford it, and it’s not like Tom was their first child so that visiting Anadam would have the thrill of novelty. Indeed he’s they’re fourth, no wonder they’re blasé. These new services pick up your child and make sure he’s limo-ed to his new school and they wait and have extra keys made and vet the roommate. This would have been nice in Tom’s case but no, so we sympathize with him all the more after finding his parents so retardataire on social niceties.

World's Fair Gardens: Shaping American Landscapes
World's Fair Gardens: Shaping American Landscapes
by Cathy Jean Maloney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $35.25
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quickly Made Gardens a Treat for the Curious, March 14, 2014
Cathy Jean Maloney is one of our leading garden historians and here she seems equally adept in deciphering the curious history of the world's fair in America. You will not find much analysis of capitalism here, though there are some defining moments in which nationalism, the capitalist drive, and heavy planting commingle in which even Miss Maloney raises some questions. But for the most part this is a boosterish examination of why World's Fairs came to be, why they needed gardens, and in general, how each has left the city is was built in better than before. The razing of huge acres poses no ethical problems here, not when gardens are the result. And what a vast swatch of history she covers, from the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876, to the futuristic 1939 World's Fair in New York that brought the Trylon and the Perisphere to Flushing Meadow.

Everywhere her thought are about the gardens, and which imported plants mad their debut in what exposition. One gets the picture that the US on its own had a tiny repertoire of native flowers, and that most of the famous flowers came from other lands. For many years, foreign nations were invited to build their own pavilions and plant their own gardens, and in some cases this led to disastrous results, for often enough what grows well, in say France, fails to blossom in, say, Buffalo. And if she had to find a fault with World's Fair culture, Ms. Mahoney would say that far too often the gardens were a hurried afterthought, not given enough time to properly develop, and all concerned were crossing their fingers tightly until the day of the show.

Frank Sherlock, new poet laureate of Philadelphia, you would do well to read this book from cover to cover, but above all Chapter One, which details the making of your city's lovely Fairmount Park. You could even today stroll to the Horticultural Center there and gaze up at what is still called "Miss Foley's Fountain," while the present day Japanese garden and tea house is but an outgrowth of the original, Orientalist-and-how "Japanese Bazaar" of 1876. I remember when our nation was at war with Japan in the early 1950s, the Japanese garden was shuttered up under pain of jail sentence for trespassing, for the public outcry against all things Japanese was intense. Frank, have you ever visited either of the two brick restrooms across the way from the Horticultural Center? As you enjoy their comforts, know that they, too, are souvenirs of the Centennial Garden Exposition of 1976, though the plumbing and client base have both been updated and kept fresh. You probably also know the CTA fountain, still sprinkling pure H2O at people after 140 years, but did you realize it was installed by Catholic people, the original Prohibitionists, to give fair-goers a watery alternative to the foul saloons and beer gardens of the fair? All you had to do was to bend over, and sip. I know everyone has an agenda for the new Poet Laureate, but at least give the flowers a look in, will ya? The public will love you even more than they do already.

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