Kava: The Pacific Drug

Vincent Lebot, Mark Merlin, and Lamont Lindstrom

Order a Kava Bowl at Trader Vic's and you get a frothy concoction of rum and fruit juices. Order one on Vanuatu and you get a sticky porridge of chewed-up plant roots and human saliva. But before you decline, know that the roots are from the Piper methysticum, or kava plant, a powerful narcotic that makes the world go ‘round in many South Pacific cultures. Kava also has numerous medicinal properties, and elaborate social rituals attend its consumption on the islands of Melanesia. All of these are documented in Kava: The Pacific Drug, co-written by horticulturist Vincent Lebot, anthropologist Lamont Lindstrom and scientist Mark Merlin.
While chapters detailing the medical and economic potential of the plant are not without interest, the cultural significance of kava consumption makes for the most compelling reading. The islands of Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii and Papua New Guinea each have their own version of kava’s origin myth. “The broad leaf that extinguishes chiefs” has sprouted variously from a vagina, the skin of a foot, or the hair of an armpit.”
Preparation of the communal kava bowl hasn't changed much since 1773, when a naturalist on Captain Cook's second Pacific voyage observed Tahitian youths making a batch “in the most disgustful manner that can be imagined,” chewing pieces of the root, spitting the mass into a bowl, and mixing it with coconut milk, whereupon “they swallow this nauseous stuff as fast as possible.” JAB

Publisher: Yale University
Hardback: 256 pages

Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks: A Place for the Living

Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association

Forest Lawn’s five Southern California funeral parks are a perfect metaphor for suburban America: beautifully landscaped, spotlessly clean, impeccably trimmed gardens… spread thinly over a putrefying mass of human decay.
But it is so much more, as this picture book attests. Commissioned by Forest Lawn itself, and put together by a Santa Barbara marketing firm, Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks: A Place for the Living was no doubt meant to be sold as a memento—or memento mori—in park gift shops. But no fan of cadaver camp should shuffle off this mortal coil without it.
Why? Because Forest Lawn is the Disneyland of the dead. All that’s missing is the snack bar. Send grandpa to his final reward, then have yours: stroll among the “exact replicas” of Michelangelo’s sculptures… enjoy a touch of Old Mexico among full-scale replicas of Toltec totems… reflect in your pick of a series of churches inspired by historic buildings… and gaze in awe at some of the most amazing Christian kitsch murals this side of Wisconsin’s Precious Moments chapel. Or just buy this book instead. It’s all here in heavenly color, including Robert Clark’s monumental 1965 canvas, “The Resurrection,” featuring a foxy Jesus “regal in his victory over death, radiant with the fulfillment of His Mission.” Of course, you won’t be able to hear the dramatic taped narration and “Hallelujah Chorus” that play in the hall housing the painting… but what do you expect for $12.95? A miracle? JAB

Publisher: Forest Lawn
Paperback: 79 pages

American Utopias

Charles Nordhoff

Grandfather of the co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty, writer-editor Charles Nordhoff (1830-1901) wrote American Utopias in 1875. First published under the title The Communistic Societies of the United States, this survey of Utopian communities across l9th-century America is stranger than fiction: One hundred years before hippies and free love, there were hippies and free love. This unabridged reprint provides a fascinating glimpse into the “alternative lifestyles” of a century ago. Nordhoff’s journalistic approach is surprisingly modern: He provides balanced, detailed, first-hand observations of these mostly forgotten social experiments, from the Wallingford Perfectionists and the Separatists of Zoar to the Harmonists, who founded a town called Economy. Most poignant are the Icarians, human hermit crabs who moved into an abandoned Mormon commune called Nauvoo, succeeded where the Mormons had failed, then disintegrated after their leader decided that the best way to run a communistic society was under a dictatorship. A time capsule buried deep in our own back yard, American Utopias is a strange and memorable record of daily life as lived according to vanished religions, philosophies and cults of personality. JAB

Publisher: Berkshire House
Paperback: 449 pages

Cad: A Handbook for Heels

Edited by Charles Schneider

Several years before the revival of the Lounge Scene, Charles Schneider produced the Lounge Bible. Far more combustible than Combustible Edison, Schneider’s Cad: A Handbook for Heels resurrects the lost world of Eisenhower-era men’s magazines in all their leering, drooling, endearing naiveté. “Booze! Beatniks! Burlesque!” screams the book’s cover, promising “the forgotten lore of the red-blooded American male.” Cad keeps its promise.
Part parody, part appreciation, Cad takes the form of a vintage skin mag, in this case one of those bargain-basement imitations of Playboy that sprang up everywhere in the mid-’50s. The tongue-in-cheek “articles” include manly advice columns (“Ask the D.I.”), how-to manuals for swingers (“Cad’s Culinary Companion,” “Cad’s Cocktail Hour”), ribald humor (“Pinocchio’s Woodpecker”) and profiles of men who lived the dream, from Russ Meyer to legendary black-velvet artist/beachcomber Leeteg of Tahiti. It’s all done to a T, right down to the pseudo-intellectual patois of the sybaritic Thinking Man.
And let us not forget the cartoons and pictorials, some vintage (“June Wilkinson Dances for You”) and some wickedly funny, faked photo shoots (of beatnik babes and a B-movie producer’s casting couch). The rogues gallery of contributors will tell you everything you wanted to know about postwar Cocktail Culture. What Esquivel’s Space Age Bachelor Pad Music is to one’s stereo, Cad is to the (kidney-shaped) coffee table. JAB

Publisher: Feral House
Paperback: 152 pages