Spirit World

Michael P. Smith

This is primarily a book of black-and-white photographs taken between 1968 and 1983 of the various black spiritual communities of New Orleans. The photographer sees them less as art photos than as documents, even though they are beautifully composed and technically excellent. The communities run the gamut from fundamentalist, to “personal” (with a lot of really great “outsider art”-style signs), to Catholic/voodoo, to the “Indian tribes” of Mardi Gras. The text is succinct and does a great job of explaining the various ways in which spirituality manifests itself without being overly analytical about it. Probably nowhere better than New Orleans could one see this much diversity within any community, be it ethnic or religious. SA

Publisher: Pelican
Paperback: 120 pages

Dictionary of Symbolism

Hans Biedermann

This book was compiled in German in 1989 and translated in 1992. The most modern symbol discussed is the UFO. There are over 2,000 entries. The symbols are drawn from mostly classical sources such as fairy tales, legends, the Bible, folklore, mythology, philosophy and religion. The writing is direct and succinct. There aren't a lot of really obscure symbols. Most of the proper names are derived from Greek mythology, Germanic lore and the Bible. Otherwise the symbols tend to be things like eyes, thresholds and lions. When a symbol, such as the cat, has had a variety of meanings over the years, the author attempts to chronicle its meanings in as many contexts as possible. Overview is the operative mode of this book. It's the sort of thing that you might pull off of the shelf during a conversation to check a general fact. SA

Publisher: Facts on File
Hardback: 480 pages

Dictionary of Symbols

Carl G. Liungman

“The intention of this book is that it should function as both a reference work in Western cultural history and as a tool for those working with ideograms, e.g., logotype and trademark designers, those engaged in advertising, interior designers, researchers in communication, art historians, art and history teachers, etc.”
This is an amazingly well-conceived book. Dealing with non-iconic symbols (defined as pictures not easily recognized as depictions of objects), it breaks down hundreds of possible combinations of shapes into their most basic component aspects and lists any meanings which they might have in a broad range of Western cultural contexts. These symbols range from technical, astrological, alchemical, mathematical, elemental, to even a “hobo sign.” The categories have such titles as: “Asymmetric, straight-lined, open signs with crossing lines” and “Multi axis symmetric, both soft and straight-lined closed signs with crossing lines.” But if that doesn't compute with the side of the brain the reader uses, there is a chart in the back for visually locating symbols and the page numbers where their meanings appear. The signs can have a meaning which might be of a different context than a reader might have considered, making this a fun book to sit and read, even though its organization would suggest that its major application might be as a reference book. SA

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 596 pages

The Faber Book of Madness

Edited by Roy Porter

This book “endeavor(s) to present a rich miscellany of the experience of madness from the viewpoints of numerous parties: psychiatrists, nurses, friends, family, writers, artists, theologians and philosophers.” The writings span several centuries and vary from a couple of pages to the occasional well-placed one-liner (for instance, in the section on depression, Susan Sontag writes: “Depression is melancholy minus its charms”).
What could have been a tedious discussion of the various aspects of mental illness is rendered with deft editing into a seamless train of varied ideas. There are 19 major categories, many devoted to a single malady (possession, delusion, depression, etc.). The editor has managed to tie together the various accounts and perspectives with a sentence or two between each entry so that each section flows together as if the individual writers had been discoursing among themselves. He has a special knack for punctuating the dry and serious with a bit of Sylvia Plath or Woody Allen. There are also contributions from Charlotte Brontë, Antonin Artaud, Nietzsche, Poe and William Seabrook. SA

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 572 pages

The H.P. Lovecraft Dream Book

H.P. Lovecraft

Contains 23 letters from Lovecraft to various people in which he describes his dreams. In some ways this might seem to be a purer form of Lovecraft as his writing is less labored (although, even his letters are drenched in stylization). Lovecraft lead a pretty tortured inner life and through these dreams the reader can see many of his stories in their embryonic stages. If one is unfamiliar with his work but has an interest in the nature of dreams, this book might prove even more interesting. If one is not busy guessing which dream became a particular story, one can be struck by the machinations of a very twisted imagination. SA

Publisher: Necronomicon
Paperback: 42 pages

Abortion: Questions and Answers

Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Willke

This is the little book that is known as “the Bible of the Right-to-Life movement.” The format of the book is a series of questions and answers which focus largely on the various stages of fetal development. On Page 303, there is a list of things that real “right-to-lifers” do. These include: distributing food, working on crisis phone lines, helping abused women, volunteering at hospitals and hospices, working for scouting programs and Meals on Wheels, tutoring, distributing maternity and infant clothing and sharing their homes with a pregnant stranger and foster children. There is also a section on adoption. Hopefully, anybody who makes it up to Page 300 and is ready to act on his/her beliefs will take these suggestions to heart instead of making bombs and stalking doctors. Readers with a taste for the macabre will find a delightful array of ghoulish merchandise advertised for sale in the back of this inflammatory little tome. SA

Publisher: Hayes
Paperback: 325 pages

Bottoming Book: Or How to Get Terrible Things Done to You By Wonderful People

Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt

This is a well-conceived book on what the authors call “gourmet” or “graduate” sex. If you’re not already familiar with the bare-bones essentials of SM, they offer suggested reading to bring you up to speed. The two requisites that form the basis for this book are communication and negotiation. By anticipating context and details and setting the limits in advance, it really is possible to achieve the greatest fulfillment. There are all kinds of things that bear thinking through, and the authors offer some excellent guidance for those in the process of designing a rewarding experience for both parties. The tone is healthy, honest and enthusiastic. For somebody still in the process of coming to grips with these sorts of fantasies, the sheer guilelessness of the presentation could be a revelation. As “new school” SM is less rigid about roles, there are numerous examples of bottoms topping and tops bottoming. Alice would be right at home in this charming Wonderland. The spiritual aspects of it all are even addressed in a manner that doesn’t choke you with New Age platitudes. In a word, this book is pragmatic. SA

Publisher: Greenery
Paperback: 124 pages

The Correct Sadist

Terrence Sellers

At the core of this oddly beautiful little book is a sort of “how to” guide, which focuses on the specifics of the correct behaviors for a woman desiring the “top” or “mistress” role in a sadomasochistic interaction. (It is written in such a way that the “bottom” might be male or female, but the sadist is presumed to be female.) This is an excellent book for the novice who might not have a clue where to begin. It would also make a great gift to a wife or girlfriend with whom one might wish to initiate a sadomasochistic interaction. Besides the basic etiquette involved, there are actual sample dialogues to which one might refer for inspiration or guidance. Keen insights are also offered for very specific aspects of fetishism, plus tips on how to make the most out of a humiliating situation. When offered as a present, it might well include bookmarks.
What makes this an odd book is not the subject matter, but the juxtaposition of the texts. The book is divided into three sections. The first and last sections are a fictional work of enormous precision and craft purporting to be the memoirs of Angel Stern. The writing has an almost hallucinatory edge to it. The general flow of the story tells the tale of how Angel came to her sadism. “Like some exotic monster I rarely emerged from the green darkness of the ocean floor, where my frail phosphorescence lit the way. These light and fluid creatures, who fled easily through the watery latitudes to surface and air I envied; I wondered at their careless trust in a foreign light. I surface slowly into their bright and confused stream to find they care nothing about my icy home below. They know only that to follow me would be their death as slowly the terrible pressure crushed their bodies. Enough that they are well-amused by my lurid coloring and profusion of antennae.” SA

Publisher: Blue Moon
Paperback: 192 pages

Doing It for Daddy: Short and Sexy Fiction About a Very Forbidden Fantasy

Edited by Pat Califia

A well-written and highly entertaining collection of erotica which shares a common bond of dominance and submission. While it is not specific to a particular gender orientation, the high quality of the writing makes this a compelling read for all comers. It is not about incest or child abuse, but it does raise a lot of questions for the reader who might proclaim, “That’s not my cup of tea.” The editor explains it the best. “Daddy has gotten to be so popular that he threatens to eclipse Master as an honorific… Daddy fantasies sometimes function as a kind of SM-lite. A daddy is more accessible, flexible, and loving than a master or a sadist. A daddy-boy or daddy-girl scene is more likely to include genital sex than an SM scene. And there is less codification of the daddy role.” With 18 writers to select from, this book really does offer something for everyone. The introductory essay is one of the most intelligent essays on gender, family and role playing ever set in type. And for those who would balk at the bad name that such a book might give to Log Cabin types, Califia reminds us: “Books like this one make the rest of gay literature safer, because they push the edges and enlarge the territory of what can be said, thought about and done.” SA

Publisher: Alyson
Paperback: 240 pages

Extremes: Reflections on Human Behavior

A.J. Dunning

This is the perfect “gift book” for the Amok enthusiast. “It is meant to instruct and to entertain and the reader should not expect morals or explanations.” Loosely divided into four categories of extremes: “the heart,” “men and knives,” “faith” and “the senses,” this little volume is all over the map. Topics include Gilles de Rais and Joan of Arc, the satanic verse of Baudelaire, castrati, the invention of Braille, and body snatching for science in England. Translated from the original Dutch, the prose is spare but intelligent. One is allowed the guilty pleasure of a lurid thrill in a setting which does not compromise the sense of scholarship. Each piece includes a bibliography, which displays an amazingly obscure list of source material. SA

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Paperback: 209 pages