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The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach

The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. BachOrder this bookStory: Professor Peter Schickele charts the life and career of P. D. Q. Bach, the twenty-first of famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach’s twenty children. Professor Schickele covers the three main phases of P. D. Q.’s musical output: the Initial Plunge, the Soused period and, finally, Contrition. He also delves into the legacy of P. D. Q. Bach, those he has influenced (or at least prevented from making the same mistakes) and a history of the rediscovery of the works of this justly underappreciated artist.

Review: The guys of Spinal Tap ain’t got nothin’ on Peter Schickele. In the late 1960’s, Schickele began performing the “lost” works of little-known composer P. D. Q. Bach, described by Schickele as the “oddest of Johann Sebastian Bach’s twenty-odd children.” He even adopted a fictional version of himself, Professor Peter Schickele, to differentiate when he is working in the real world from when he is working in P. D. Q.’s. In the years since, he has built up an enormous life story for P. D. Q., which was first set down as a single biography in this book. Also similar to the later Spinal Tap, Schickele portrays P. D. Q. himself, although given the character’s position in history, only through portraits. Schickele is an accomplished musician and composer, having written many award-winning pieces and even several movie scores (including genre work, such as the film Silent Running). All of this is evident in the text of “The Definitive Biography”, a book that any fan of music, classical or otherwise, should read. Continue reading

Boarding The Enterprise

Boarding The EnterpriseOrder this bookStory: A lively mixture of SF writers (many of them with connections to the original Star Trek) and other essayists look back to the dawn of Star Trek, dissecting the original show to ponder its meaning, and stepping back to analyze the meaning that the Trek phenomenon has taken on over time. Contributors include David Gerrold (who also co-edited), D.C. Fontana, Norman Spinrad, Howard Weinstein, Eric Greene, Michael Burstein, Robert Metzger, and several others.

Review: I’ve been an admirer of BenBella’s Smart Pop books for some time now, enjoying the variety of ways of looking at their subjects that the standard-issue scattershot of writers brought to the table for each book. Sure, there are the occasional bone-dry essays, and there have been a few occasions in the past where attempts at humorous essays flatlined like badly-written internet humor. Generally, though, I look forward to the more-or-less factual essays, examining their subjects from an angle that I might not have previously considered. And if there’s an occasional essay from someone who’s worked on the show, that’s icing on the cake that elevates it slightly above the other “Unauthorized! And Uncensored!” books about various pop culture phenomena that are already on the market. When you look at the short list of honest-to-God Star Trek luminaries lining this book’s table of contents and credits, it’s clear that “Boarding The Enterprise” has hit something of a home run. Continue reading

America (The Book)

America (The Book)Order this bookStory: The crew at The Daily Show turn their attention from fake news to fake education with “America (The Book),” a satirical look at American government structured as a civics textbook. The presence of actual facts within its pages is purely by accident, but the book will certainly make you laugh – if it doesn’t make you cry first.

Review: Jon Stewart has said in several interviews that one of The Daily Show’s biggest targets is hypocrisy, and that is certainly true of “America (The Book)”. Most mentions of the Declaration of Independence or the founding ideals of the country are accompanied by a parenthetical comment or footnote reminding the reader that at the time, “all men are created equal” meant “all white male property-owners are created equal.” A page of mock campaign buttons includes one with the slogan “My 5 slaves cast their 3 votes for…” There’s a fair amount of intelligent wordplay humor here – the table of contents identifies a section on foreign geography with the tagline “Denial: It’s not just a psychological defense mechanism.” But what often comes through is a certain amount of rage at the way America’s leaders and citizens have fallen short of its ideals. Continue reading

The Book of Ratings

The Book of RatingsOrder this bookStory: In this collection of columns from the now-defunct Brunching Shuttlecocks, Sjoberg picks around five members of a given group, and then spends a paragraph making witty comments in praise or denigration of said items.

Review: The Ratings were my favorite recurring Brunching feature, and I’m very happy to see they now have their very own website. Sjoberg has a very smart sense of humor, and could probably teach Dennis Miller a thing or five about blending pop culture references with obscure facts to create humorous non sequiturs on seemingly inconsequential topics. Sometimes Sjoberg specifically targets pop culture phenomena – hence the ratings for Star Wars villains, Super Friends, classic video games, and so on – while other times he focuses on everyday items, cultural oddities, or longstanding pillars of our religious and social traditions. (You’ll find the ratings of the plagues of Egypt, for example, hysterical or blasphemous. I lean strongly to the former.) Continue reading

Dave Barry’s Bad Habits

Dave Barry's Bad HabitsOrder this bookStory: Dave Barry collects some of his newspaper columns to form a “100% Fact Free Book.”

Review: In a way, “Dave Barry’s Bad Habits” is the reason my own website exists. When I read it in 1989, my career ambition began to shift toward journalism, and while like many other plans that one has since been relegated to the scrap heap, the skills and interests I developed while pursuing it have been funneled into Not News. So clearly I think this is a fine book. While it probably won’t cause you to go home and rethink your life, you should get a lot of chuckles and a few belly laughs out of the book. Continue reading

Feel This Audiobook

Feel This AudiobookOrder this bookStory: Comedians Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo dispense relationship advice both plentiful and disturbing, using the rather unfortunate model of their own failed celebrity romance as the basis of their words of wisdom. Stiller later goes off on tangents involving new-age affirmations and an attempt to discover himself on a cross-country trip. Garofalo takes well-earned potshots at the Hollywood concept of what makes people attractive.

Review: Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo’s vocalization of their own Feel This Book self-help spoof does a rare thing – it exceeds the potential and enjoyment of the original medium when performed vocally. Continue reading