Sindh Revisited: A Journey in the Footsteps of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton

Christopher Ondaatje

“The years Burton spent in India (1842-49) were the crucial formative ones. This was where he first learned about Islam, first mastered the art of disguise, first revealed his dazzling talents as a linguist. Yet these years are also the least known and least documented in the great explorer’s life. By boldly going in Burton’s footsteps to Sindh, Bombay and Goa and interviewing dozens of the subcontinent’s experts on Burton and the Raj, Ondaatje has shed new light on this obscure chapter and brought back new wisdom.” Beautifully illustrated with color photographs by the author and historical pictures.

Publisher: HarperCollins
Hardback: 320 pages

Do or Die: For the First Time, Members of America’s Most Notorious Gangs — the Crips and the Bloods — Speak for Themselves

Léon Bing

“The inside account of street gangs and their brutal world… Bing lets the L.A. gang members discuss their lives, loves and battles.”

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 277 pages

Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Americans

Malachi Martin

Next time you’re having a chuckle over the sub-soap opera antics of the various Greek gods, take a second to consider the behavior of the major players in the Judeo-Christian pantheon. For an omnipotent being that created the entire universe and his former second-in-command, who still holds some rather impressive titles (like “Prince of this World,” for instance), the maturity level is way below that of most suburban junior high school student mortals. With as long as God and Satan have had to work out their relationship (a few thousand years, even by the creationists’ count), one might assume that if they haven’t figured out how to get along, then they could at least keep their petty bickering and ridiculous power games between themselves instead of using a bunch of poor, dumb humans to fight their silly battles with. All this demonic possession/exorcism nonsense—it’s like a couple going through a divorce who, instead of talking things over and eventually coming to some kind of civilized understanding, just get their pet chihuahuas all riled up and toss ‘em in a pit to bark at each other until one passes out or drops dead. And these aren’t some rinky-dink, Third World, B-list deities either—these guys represent both ends of what for some reason is considered one of the “world’s great religions.” Pathetic!
And nowadays if the demon doesn’t cause enough grief for the poor chump caught in the middle of these megalomaniacs’ ludicrous tug o’ war over—of all the things neither of these jokers needs—his soul, the exorcists might stomp him to death to save him! Still, I’ve got to admit a certain guilty pleasure in reading the sometimes vulgar, often nonsensical, but almost always witty and incisive repartee—mainly a bunch of vicious barbs and insults, occasionally mixed with a Pythonesque absurdity—that seems to be the main form of social interaction for the current, better-educated generation of parasitic imps. What demons really are is a matter that’s open for speculation: whether they are actual malefic minions of Satan or merely a manifestation of some wholly banal electrochemical brain anomaly, there is definitely something going on here, and it is undeniably real.
Unfortunately, except for some kooky names like Uncle Ponto, Girl-Fixer and “The Tortoise,” the demons in this book are not quite as fond of free association as many I’ve read about. (Some of the best demon/exorcist banter is found in the book The Demonologist by Ed and Lorraine Warren.) These guys pretty much stick to the standard “your mother sucks cocks in Hell” motif, but there’s still some great high-yield nuclear insults, delivered with an attitude from… well, you know. Try this caustic quip from “Smiler,” a demon possessing a lapsed Roman Catholic girl, next time somebody is in need of a little reality check: “You ugly sod! You smelly little animal! You helpless, yelping, puking, licking, slavering, sweating, excreting little cur. You constipated shit canister. You excuse for a being. You lump of urine and excrement and snot and mud born in a bed on bloody sheets, sticking your head out between a woman’s smelly legs and bawling them when they slapped your arse and laughed at your little red balls—you… creature!” Owee! It’s lines like this that forced the Holy See to add the phrase “I know you are but what am I?” to the Holy rite of exorcism in the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis proclamation of 1994. DB

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 477 pages

The Sacred Ifa Oracle

Dr. A.A. Epega and P.J. Neimark

Newly translated from Yoruba, this work presents the basis underlying such African-derived New World religions as Santería, Candomble, Macumba and Vodun. The Ifa Oracle presents a window on a universe that resembles the Chinese I Ching system and holds the answers for the practitioner. The Ifa practitioner believes that the future can be known if the nonquantifiable world of spiritual energy is used to comprehend the quantifiable world of matter. MET

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 549 pages

Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

Aldous Huxley

Pioneering literary account of the psychedelic experience and its relation to art and mysticism.

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 185 pages

The Holotropic Mind: The Three Levels of Human Consciousness and How They Shape Our Lives

Stanislav Grof

Grof expands Freud's theories beyond their oral and anal limits. Through LSD psychotherapy Grof discovered the “womb” stage. With his guidance and enough acid, his patients could actually recall their “womb” experiences: “He saw images of religious and political gatherings with throngs of people seeking comfort in various organizations and ideologies. He suddenly understood what they were really seeking; they were following an inner longing, the same craving he felt in relation to the primal experience of oceanic ecstasy that he had known in the womb or at his mother's breast.” AF

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 239 pages

True Hallucinations

Terence McKenna

McKenna and Co. study psilocybin- and DMT- containing plants and their way of introducing the mind to the little machine elves of consciousness. A botanical trek through a South American river basin to search out a slowly dying breed: mystical Indians and shamans who are the keepers of the knowledge of yage and the strongest, most taboo version of DMT containing the tree resin known as oo-koo-hé. They try to find its relation to human consciousness and language and along the way discover many reasons to preserve the planet. Many personal sorting-outs between brothers and friends are complicated by mushroom consumption and DMT “study.” Mixing the two drugs psilocybin and DMT apparently has some ESP-type effects on the human mind. But this all proves to be just the tip of the iceberg—the DMT experience is as much as one mind can take without the “categories of consciousness being permanently re-written.” When asked if it is a dangerous drug, “the proper answer is that it is only dangerous if you feel threatened by the possibility of death by astonishment.” For great is the amazement that comes from dissolving the boundaries between our world and another dimension! DW

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 256 pages

Monsieur d’Eon Is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade

Gary Kates

And not just any woman: French diplomat Monsieur d’Eon was an 18th-century, gender-blending, male Mata Hari living in the center of international intrigue. He continued his career as a super spy after declaring himself a genetic female at the age of 49 and kept them all guessing until after his death. He/she was also an acolyte of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. MG

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 400 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

A Trip to the Light Fantastic: Travels With a Mexican Circus

Katie Hickman

Two kinds of people write books on the circus and carnivals: those who are with it (like Dan Mannix or Jim Rose) and those who wish they were. This is a better example of the latter category. British travel writer Katie Hickman and her photographer husband, Tom, joined a small Mexican family circus, Circo Bell, that traces its origins back to an illegitimate son of the famous clown Richard Bell. Their logo is the label for Bell’s Whiskey, and they recycle Raiders of the Lost Ark soundtracks for their theme music.
The troupe includes clowns, aerialists and an equilibrista (balancing act), and Katie eventually joins in as an elephant rider. Few of the acts are described in any detail, as Hickman is less interested in the circus-as-performing-art and more interested in the circus as an articulation of the Mexican spirit. The prose sometimes tries too hard to mimic Marquez’ and Paz’ magical realist style, but Hickman manages to recover with vivid observations. She describes a country of startling contrasts: a casual circus troupe without schedules and a time-obsessed Lacandon Indian, contemporary urban professionals and the last survivor of Pancho Villa’s Dorado honor guards, ancient pyramids and Mexico City shopping mall parking lots, and the circus’ respected matriarch and a maliciously raped dancing girl. While Hickman’s initial goal is to describe Mexico, Circo Bell’s wanderlust, self-sufficient community and quixotic commitment to performance illustrates the universal nature of the circus itself. RP

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 308 pages