Dancing Queen: The Lusty Adventures of Lisa Crystal Carver

Lisa Carver

There was a familiar character at almost every high school. She seemed a little odd, was cute in a way that seemed a little off and exuded an exotic sense of mystery. (Winona Ryder played her in the movie Heathers.) Now imagine that she just invited you over for a (platonic) sleep-over. This book is the stuff she’d tell you about at one o’clock in the morning.
Lisa Carver is a unique American voice. She is guileless, honest to a fault and willing to say a lot of things that most people are afraid to think. She puts a glamorous spin on white trash. She has erotic fantasies about killer bears, sadistic beauticians, Russian leaders and gynecological exams. She makes Harlequin romances sound respectable. Victoria Holt, Victor Hugo, Judith Krantz and the Brontës fed through the filter of her fertile imagination not only blur the lines between high and low art, they blast them clean away. Lawrence Welk becomes more valid than Fellini in a very convincing discourse. “Like Hitler, Walt Disney and Henry Ford, Lawrence Welk was one of the astonishing men of our century who made his private dream a reality for everybody.” If Andy Warhol were still alive, she’d be his new favorite person. One can just hear him cooing, “She’s soooooooo modern!” SA

Publisher: Owl
Paperback: 138 pages

Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography

Judith and Neil Morgan

The actual life of the man that we know as Dr. Seuss was at least as interesting as anything ever concocted in his books. Born Theodore Geisel to a German immigrant brewer (and madcap inventor), he came of age in Springfield, Massachusetts, at a time when sentiments against immigrants, and Germans especially, were running high. The advent of Prohibition was jeopardizing the family’s resources at about the same time that he was starting college at Dartmouth. Snubbed by the fraternities, he set his sights on editing the campus humor magazine and became a college celebrity. In the process he formed friendships that would later serve him to advantage. He blundered his way into Oxford, met his first wife and hung out with the smart set of American expatriates in France in 1926.
What follows is an unimaginably charmed life. A cartoon published in a magazine which mentioned a certain brand of bug spray was spotted by the company owner’s wife at her hairdresser’s, leading to a lucrative 17-year advertising gig for Geisel. His first break into the book world came when he was asked to provide illustrations for a British collection of children’s sayings set to be published in America. His first solo book (Mulberry Street) had a painful six-month birthing in 1936 and was rejected by twenty-seven publishers. Geisel eventually published, but acclaim was slow in coming. During World War II, he landed in the Naval Intelligence unit working under Frank Capra. Soon he was writing scripts for military training films in Hollywood and meeting everybody who was anybody.
In 1957, The Cat In the Hat appeared with relatively little fanfare. (Geisel was already 53 by this point.) As teachers and librarians began denouncing his subversive influence, a generation of children were discovering a new way of learning to read. Geisel went on to champion the rights of children at a time before people seemed to know that they had any. He was by turns elusive, mischievous, private, social, reclusive, playful and eclectic. This book goes into enormous depth, utilizing full access to the Geisel archives. It is the sort of story that is so rich in detail and coincidence, luck and timing that were it fiction, it would seem utterly implausible. SA

Publisher: Random House
Hardback: 352 pages

The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste

Jane and Michael Stern

In the introduction, the authors cite Clement Greenberg’s observation that bad taste and kitsch are “becoming the first universal culture ever beheld.” Perhaps so. But for the sake of defining the parameters of this already hefty tome, they have focused on American examples of bad taste. What really sets this book apart is that the authors actually love this stuff: “We hate to think how drab things would be without bad taste.” And they certainly don’t take the easy way out with a pointed finger and a sneer. “Once a subject was chosen, we tried to proceed with the rigor an anthropologist might use after unearthing some enchanting cultural artifact from a strange civilization.” Their criteria for bad taste were a series of well-conceived and -measured choices. “Bad taste tries too hard to mirror good taste.” “Bad taste frequently tries to improve on nature.” “Good taste is what is appropriate.” “When things hang around this collective cultural Warehouse of the Damned long enough, they begin to shimmy with a kind of newfound energy and fascination. Their unvarnished awfulness starts looking fresh and fun and alluringly naughty.”
True to the tag “encyclopedia,” the entries are listed alphabetically and average a couple of pages each with copious and lurid illustrations. Among the topics are: aerosol cheese, artistry in denim, beer, Allan Carr, chihuahuas, children’s names, cedar souvenirs, designer jeans, elevator shoes, facelifts, the Gabors, Home Shopping Network, jogging suits, lawn ornaments, Liberace, macrame, meat food snacks, mime, nodding-head dolls, perky nuns, pet clothes, polyester, shag rugs, surf ’n’ turf, TV dinners, unicorns and rainbows, white lipstick and Wonder Bread. SA

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 335 pages


Peter Paul

At the beginning of the Fabio phenomenon, it was estimated that his likeness on the cover of a book could increase the sales by 40 percent. The author, who is also Fabio’s lawyer, has previously worked with other “unique personalities who were visionaries or iconoclasts in their time. From Bertrand Russell and Salvador Dali to Buzz Aldrin and Mohammad Ali, I experienced firsthand the unique qualities of legendary personalities.” Fabio comes from a well-to-do Italian family and doesn’t need the money or the validation of being a star. He has a “vision” that he wants to share with the world in the form of self-penned romance novels, calendars, exercise videos, a CD and a role on the television show Acapulco H.E.A.T. He is self-invented and living proof indeed that life is art. Whether this art is high or low is for the discriminating viewer to decide. SA

Publisher: Stabur
Paperback: 60 pages

Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2


After the band U2 sued over the record entitled U2 by Negativland, forcing the album out of existence (the remaining stock was ordered destroyed), SST Records (Negativland’s label) sued Negativland. This produced a big heap of paper, which got collated by Negativland into a book. A legal case over the “fair use” of the letter U and the numeral 2 makes for a bizarre document. Employing their own exclusive logic, Negativland convinced Gary Powers Jr. to write the book’s introduction. His pilot father was famous for being shot down behind the Iron Curtain in a U2 plane.
Included in this package is a CD oratory on the subject of fair use as well as an audio artwork constructed entirely of found soundbites. Together the book and disc provide much food for thought in the current climate where intellectual property is being redefined in the digital age. SA

Publisher: Seeland
Paperback: 270 pages

Hollywood Hi-Fi: 100 of the Most Outrageous Celebrity Recordings Ever!

George Gimrac and Pat Reeder

What distinguishes this book from similar titles is that the writing is laugh-out-loud funny and that these guys actually enjoy these records. They are astute enough to spot such oddball wonders as the Crispen Glover album, the actually very cool post-”boy reporter” recordings of Jack Larson (Jimmy Olsen on Superman) and Gloria Swanson’s self-produced attempt to bring Sunset Blvd. to Broadway in the 1950s. There is even a guide to stars with questionable vocal abilities who can only be experienced on video (including Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart). SA

Publisher: St. Martin's
Paperback: 128 pages

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Metal Lunchboxes

Allen Woodall and Sean Brickell

Metal lunchboxes are accessories that have defined American kids since the 1950s. For all of their seeming variety, there aren’t as many different designs as might be imagined. As of 1985, when their manufacture was banned because of their potential as weapons, only about 450 designs were ever produced.And of those, there are three variations each on The Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake. Alvin and the Chipmunks, Soupy Sales and Captain Kangaroo never got the full metal treatment (although they all did get vinyl lunchboxes). Who decided that Family Affair rated a box, while My Three Sons didn’t? The authors don’t even attempt to answer such questions.
What they have done is to photograph both sides of every metal lunchbox ever produced in America and to present them in full color and alphabetical order. The small amount of text includes facts about the boxes’ relative rarity, variations in design and trivia (the last metal lunchbox was a Rambo design). SA

Publisher: Schiffer
Paperback: 168 pages

Kitsch in Sync: A Consumer’s Guide to Bad Taste

Peter Ward

The concept of good taste seems to have originated in the late 1600s. The advent of mass production caused mass acquisition and loss of the exclusivity that had invested objects with a sort of good taste status. The word kitsch is derived from turn-of-the-century Viennese slang (verkitschen etwas—to knock off or cheapen). Fast forward to our era where kitsch items, “if owned by somebody with a little more taste and sophistication, [could] be regarded as chic and witty.”
So far, so good. The sections on household goods, ironic collectibles and “God and Mona Lisa” are all well-conceived. The chapter on highbrow art (Dali, Koons, Pop Art, Pierre et Gilles, high-end furniture designer Sotass, and the Memphis design group) is also a high point. However, a case is made by the author that an artist named Vladimir Tretchikoff was the ultimate kitsch artist, without a word about Keane or the multitude of others (Peter Max, Vera, etc.) who might lay claim to that title. Schiaparelli and Lagerfeld are among the designers taken to task in the fashion section. Finally, we get a subjective tour of schlock TV, which the author seems to submit as ultimate proof of his lamentable thesis: “Get into sync with kitsch, for you can’t escape.” SA

Publisher: Plexus
Paperback: 128 pages

The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic

Barnaby Conrad III

If any single cocktail ever deserved its own art book, it’s the martini. It is a symbol of power, elegance, sophistication, nostalgia and civilization itself. All manner of writers have had things to say about the martini. Among those included in this book are: Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, Luis Buñuel, Robert Benchley, Noel Coward and Ian Fleming. Whether it appears in advertising illustrations, the world of fine art or as a motif in cinema, the martini is a sexy and nearly universal symbol of class. (The author’s father owned the El Matador bar in San Francisco, a swank place with a “who’s who” clientele which spawned its own history book. One ascertains that the author properly reveres his subject and knows something, firsthand, of the martini’s heyday.)
The book begins with various theories of the martini’s origin. There follows a brief history of gin and Prohibition. The martini’s role is explored in literature, politics and film. There follows an assessment of the relative popularity of the martini through the decades. Then, of course, comes the dissertation on mixing the perfect martini. The illustrations are lavish and copious. If one were unable to read and had to guess what this book was about, from the pictorial evidence one would surmise it described an elegant world full of beautiful silver-and-glass containers peopled by a very sophisticated race of impeccably dressed beings. Bottoms up! SA

Publisher: Chronicle
Hardback: 132 pages


Richard Barnes

“The Mod way of life consisted of total devotion to looking and being cool, spending all of your money on clothes and all your after-work hours in clubs and dance halls. To be part-time was really to miss the point.” In 1962, a magazine called Town noticed a trend among teenagers devoted to a crisp new style and interviewed a number of fresh faces (among these was a 15-year-old Marc Bolan) who dubbed themselves “mods” (short for modernists). This was the first official recognition by the media. These youngsters were a part of the increasingly recognized market segment that had sprung into being after WW II dubbed “teenagers.” They obsessively collected records, with a decided preference for U.S. black vocal groups. They rode around on Vespa motor scooters with as many headlights and as much chrome as they could (il)logically attach to them. They popped amphetamines and paraded around like dandies. Numerous venues catered to them. This book is a pictorial feast featuring over 150 quality photos, advertisements for “mod” styles and reproductions of news clippings (as well as a firsthand account by somebody who ran a club which became a mod stronghold and watched it happen objectively). SA

Publisher: Plexus
Paperback: 128 pages