Books That Keep on Giving

Does It Come in Paperback?

Tammy Faye Messner
Giving books as presents is almost a cliché. It seems to be the perfect answer to those gift black holes that seem to loom unexpectedly every holiday season. What in the world do I get for Aunt Tillie? A book, of course. The trick is, of course, that not just any book will do.

Books that might do on the shopping list this year are numerous. It's been a year when classic titles were reissued with a flourish and cyberspace proved to be the final frontier. Maybe it's Jane Austen syndrome, where everything old is new again, but the Random House Modern Library series of reissued titles is a welcome sight on bookshelves. These compact hardback books offer a variety of fiction -- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, and The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells ($15.50 each) but better, they offer compelling stories in well-designed jackets with aesthetically pleasing typefaces that will sit well for years on the shelf. Likewise, The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (Hyperion, $17.95 hard), needs no introduction and joins those classics to be cared for like precious jewels.

Also in the re-issue line is the 25th anniversary edition of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (HarperCollins, $18 hard). This is an interesting one -- the book galvanized a lot of women in the early Seventies who were reaching for something more meaningful in life. The author was not among those who found salvation; poet Sylvia Plath committed suicide before the book was ever published. Just an Ordinary Day by Shirley Jackson, edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman Stewart (Bantam, $23.95 hard) collects 54 of Jackson's short stories, many unpublished. Shirley Jackson was the author of 12 books during her 48 years, writing for such publications as The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker, but is best known for her countless short stories, including The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery. Many young writers will lean toward Plath's precise flow of words and the sad drama of her short, tortured life; I hope they also choose to peruse Jackson's clean, elegant simplicity also. Clearly, these writers are not going away.

poster from Psychotronic
24 Hours in Cyberspace: Paintings on the Walls of the Digital Cave, created by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt (QUE/Macmillan, $49.99 hard) was an experiment of sorts, a 24-hour look at life through the World Wide Web and how technology is infiltrating every corner of the earth. An ambitious, massive project, 24 Hours isn't wholly successful in its effort, but its groundbreaking attempt will likely set the precedent for other such ventures. The photographic images are staggering in scope and the book is much easier getting onto than your average Net provider.

Book packages are more popular than ever, especially for children. Dorling-Kindersley has extensive offerings to keep the little ones and their hands busy. The Mad Jack (Henderson/DK, $15.95 each) series is a real hands-on concept: titles includes Mad Jack Juggling, Mad Jack Card Tricks, Mad Jack Harmonica, Mad Jack Flying Machines... well, you get it. The trick is that you also get the juggling bean bags, the deck of cards, the harmonica, the little airplane to go along with the packages. Some of these seem rather noisy, but I suppose the little ones will like that. Parents might prefer the quieter Magic Set.

Older kids who find the bright packaging too elementary and babyish might enjoy a DK "action pack" like Tutankhamun & Ancient Egypt: An Interactive Guide to the Mystery of Tutankhamun (DK, $17.95) or perhaps The Eye of Thorus: An Oracle of Ancient Egypt by David Lawson (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press $24.99). Obviously, Egyptolgy is the game here. The DK pack is an interactive kit of projects, games, text, and a poster detailing King Tut's life and death; The Eye of Thorus is a bit more mystical, offering 25 I Ching-like handcrafted stones with heiroglyphs to cast and interpret the symbols with. Hmmm -- probably not up Aunt Tillie's alley, though if she's inclined to listen to the cards, maybe The Fortune Teller's Deck: Predict Your Future with Playing Cards by Jane Lyle (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press $22.99) might be her style; the box includes a custom illustrated 54-card deck and a book to help guide interpretation, if not a bridge hand.

Brigitte Bardot from Grindhouse
The hefty A Life of Picasso: 1907-1917 The Painter of Modern Life by John Richardson (Random House, $55 hard) is the second volume in an unusually dense series -- 500 heavily annotated and illustrated pages explore just 10 years in the artist's life. Lest this appear to be another scholarly biography, Richardson breathes more life into an already-fascinating personality with an eye for the scandalous as well as academic insight and artistic detail. Richardson -- a historian and currently an art professor at Oxford University -- believes Picasso was "as much sinned against as sinning," and with the insight of having known the artist and his circle of friends personally in Paris during the Fifties, lays out the groundwork for the artist's very controversial period beginning with the brothel study, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Wonder if Aunt Tillie liked Picasso's Blue period.

P.J. O'Rourke once stood at the apex of up-against-the-wall-muthafucka journalism, skewering his peers and cultural enemies alike monthly in National Lampoon. Wicked, intelligent, and well-spoken, O'Rourke did one of the most astonishing about-faces, ditched his post-adolescent politics, turned Republican and still continued to write commentary liberals wanted to read. Age and Guile: Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut by P.J. O'Rourke (Atlantic Monthly Press, $12 paper) is a short, hilarious jaunt through O'Rourke's long strange trip from counter-culture humorist to political savant. It's funny enough to make Republicans seem like real people. Almost.

Miriam Worms in Venus Bound
One of the funniest bits National Lampoon did during the O'Rourke era was a little piece called Down Mammary Lane: Where You First Saw "It," which is, hopefully, self-explanatory. Although where I first saw "it" is fairly uneventful -- I had three younger brothers -- where I first read about "it" was of much more interest, my parents having a genteel collection of erotica that included the likes of D.H.Lawrence and Frank Harris. In my teens during the Seventies, I found Evergreen magazine to be the voice that mixed the sensuality of Fifties post-Beat writers with Sixties freedom of expression. And if Evergreen was the magazine of record then, Olympia Press -- who first brought us Lolita and Naked Lunch as well as equally titillating but less literary titles like There's a Whip in My Valise -- was its imprint. Venus Bound: The Erotic Voyage of Olympia Press and Its Writers by John de St. Jorre (Random House, $27.50 hard) captures the world of Maurice Girodias, the Parisian porn-publisher who built Olympia Press and gave a home to such writers as Vladimir Nabokov, Terry Southern, William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, J.P. Donleavy, and Samuel Beckett, establishing new turf for fiction. Between the covers of Venus Bound lie not only the answer to the 40-year-old mystery of who wrote The Story of O but the battle against censorship, illustrated with frightening clarity in the flap behind the publication of Candy, almost laughable now it is so tame.

While Candy (also re-issued this year) exploded in the publishing world in the late Sixties, it bombed on the big screen shortly thereafter, not enough to be a real stinker, just bad. Leave the truly wretched to fans -- The Psychotronic Video Guide by Michael J. Weldon (St. Martin's Griffin, $29.95 paper) will do just fine for them, thank you. This copious, 646-page encyclopedia of cult classics, biker and slasher flicks, drive-in standards, blaxploitation, and low-budget horror and exploitation films is sheer pleasure. Michael J. Weldon, editor and founder of Psychotronic Video magazine, includes more than 9,000 films from Abby to Zontar, and -- even better! -- lavishly illustrates them with over 400 posters and stills from these cheezy-but-lovable films available for rent on videotape. That's the "catch" here -- some of the best bad stuff is still not for public consumption. The genius of Psychotronic is that it worships these films for their worst qualities, subsequently there is little here about, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space, but you will find newer efforts such as Pump Up the Volume and Pink Floyd's The Wall. A perfect companion to Weldon's previous offering, The Psychotronic Film Encyclopedia.

Samuel Beckett detailed in Venus Bound
Of course, if you're a fan of the genre, do not pass up Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of "Adult Only" Cinema by Eddie Muller and Daniel Faris (St. Martin's Griffin, $19.95). This book should include an accompanying CD from the Naughty Ones but until it does, keep your copy of Voodoo Music handy while perusing this. Grindhouse's title is evocative and the authors know whereof they speak -- they wisely wrap their tribute to the blue movie era in the early Seventies, preferring the Sixties-style sexploitation flicks to the Mitchell Brothers hard-core porno era. It's also not just poster-collection-with-textbook either; there's genuinely interesting commentary detailing many of the producers, actors, actresses, and directors of these films. I'm old enough to remember when movies like these exuded that forbidden lure the same way my parents' collection of erotica did. Add Grindhouse to the other reels on the shelf.

Tammy tells us true in Tammy: Telling It My Way by Tammy Faye Messner (Villard, $22.95 hard) but how many times are you going to tell us? Isn't this your umpteenth attempt to "set the record straight"? How many versions of this story are you going to tell? At least Tammy Faye Bakker-now-Messner doesn't lie about her age. Could be just the thing for Aunt Tillie.

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