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Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos

Bobby Derie. Hippocampus (www.hippocampuspress.com), $20 (314p) ISBN 978-1-61498-088-9

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Gahan Wilson's cover illustration of a Cthulhuoid flasher possibly says it all, but Derie boldly probes every wrinkle of his subject, from such classic H.P. Lovecraft tales as "The Call of Cthulhu" to their interface with Japanese tentacle porn, and onward even into the trivia of fan fiction. A slow start on HPL's own sex life—he didn't really have one of interest, even to himself—gets hotter when psychosexual aspects surface in the fiction. Influenced by the great Arthur Machen, Lovecraft and fellow scribes such as Robert E. Howard and August Derleth—Derleth, now he had a sex life—created the Mythos. This book is at its best covering those works, or such obvious Derie favorites as Brian McNaughton. Too bad some later figures, like the often brilliant gay Mythos writer Stanley C. Sargent, receive scant mention. Putting the topic to bed, Derie—perhaps seeking a veneer of objectivity—concludes that, sometimes, a tentacle is just a tentacle. Really? After 300 pages citing endless Cthulhu erotica? (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond

Meline Toumani. Metropolitan, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9762-7

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Born in Iran and raised in the United States, Toumani always knew that she was first, an Armenian. Her childhood was punctuated by commemorations of the 1915 killing of Armenians by the Turkish government and resentment at Turkey's refusal to admit that this was an act of genocide. As Toumani enters adulthood, she begins to wonder if "there was a way to honor history without being suffocated by it." This leads to a two-year odyssey across Turkey in search of, not truth, but explanations. She learns that rather than acknowledging slaughter, Turkish history classes brand Armenians as traitors who had fought against Turkey in WWI and had been deported as a result. She makes Turkish friends who are eager to help her search but when she tells her aunt how kind they are to her, the woman is horrified. In the end, Toumani concludes that, if hate is all that holds a group together, there is no reason for it to exist. This book doesn't take sides but it does show what these old grudges do to people living. This is a powerful memoir with a message for all who were raised to see only one side of a story. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Knit It! Learn the Basics and Knit 22 Beautiful Projects

Melissa Leapman. Chronicle, $22.95 paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-4521-2451-3

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Unlike many newbie knitting guides, Leapman's teaches and inspires in equal measure. No more suffering through dull projects until reaching the good stuff—this is the good stuff! The introductory material in "The Basics" section contains clear illustrations of each stitch and elementary stitch combinations, along with easy to follow directions on shaping garments; casting on and binding off; using double-pointed or circular needles; fixing mistakes; and blocking finished projects. Color photographs by Alexandra Grablewski of swatch samples further inspire beginners to pick up their needles and continue right on to the second half, which includes covetable projects from the drapey "Let it Flow" jacket knit in stockinette stitch from side to side, to the quick, striped tie "Tie One On" done entirely in garter stitch. Nothing is dumbed down, not "Color Me Mine," a baby blanket knit on the diagonal, nor the simple and adorable decorative stuffed hearts of "Home is Where the Heart Is." Luckily, the more involved projects aren't too difficult to tackle using just the author's clear instructions and her helpful advice. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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New York School Painters & Poets: Neon in Daylight

Jenni Quilter. Rizzoli, $75 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8478-3786-1

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Assembling text, visual art, and their interstices, this sumptuous volume documents the collaborative playfield where the New York School poets and painters thrived. With occasional critical text to guide readers along, the majority of this image-heavy treat goes to ephemera and rarely seen work. Frank O'Hara's poem "Why I am Not a Painter," for instance, mirrors Mike Goldberg's painting Sardines, which is referenced in the verse. Elsewhere, poet Ted Berrigan interviews artist John Cage, abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell creates a drawing with a James Schuyler poem on it, and Jasper Johns's In Memory of My Feelings—Frank O'Hara is paired with a letter in which the poet recommends new books to the painter. The art and poems are kept company by photographs of their creators, collaborating and partying, as well as literary magazine covers, notebook entries, postcards, and similar miscellanea. The New York School, although nebulously defined, is characterized by this collaborative spirit across art forms. Quilter renders this tendency as a lively practice rather than a historical fact, while loosening the edges enough to track the scene into the 1980s. Although often studied, the school is rarely given such intimate, collective attention, and even figures as familiar as Willem de Kooning and John Ashbery become dynamic and surprising once more in this volume's smart handling. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better

Maya Schenwar. Berrett-Koehler, $18.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-62656-269-1

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The American prison system, with by far the largest number of incarcerated men and women in the world (fully 25% of the world's prison population), also impacts millions of Americans with loved ones behind bars. Schenwar, editor-in-chief of social justice–oriented news site Truthout, is one of these, having a sister whose drug dependency finally led to her incarceration in a central Illinois prison. Schenwar's thoughtful analysis of a deeply flawed system centers on this personal experience, augmented by dozens of interviews with inmates and their family members across the country. Arguing that mass incarceration only serves to mask deep-seated issues like homelessness, unemployment, inequality, and insufficient social services, Schenwar first describes how families are fractured by incarceration, with communities of color and little affluence disproportionately affected. In the book's second part, she visits various community-based social justice projects, such as a Chicago high school's "peace room," aimed at interrupting the "school-to-prison pipeline." Especially timely in the wake of California's passage of Proposition 47, which rolls back the draconian "three strikes" policy, this thoughtful discussion offers alternatives to incarceration rooted precisely in the familial and social ties otherwise undermined when loved ones disappear behind bars. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

Matthew Avery Sutton. Belknap, $35 (456p) ISBN 978-0-674-04836-2

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Drawing deeply on letters, newspaper articles, and other archival materials, Sutton, a history professor at Washington State University, challenges the now-accepted accounts of Christian fundamentalism that attribute its rise to conflicts with evolution and modernist theories of biblical interpretation. Rather, he argues in this elegant, judicious, and thoughtful new history, apocalypticism—or the belief in an imminent end of the world—shaped the development of fundamentalism and sustained it through generations, from the late nineteenth-century to the present day. Thus, he contends, the anticipated end-of-the-world provided an interpretation of natural disasters, geopolitical changes, and war. "Fundamentalism, therefore, is best defined as radical apocalyptic evangelicalism," Sutton writes. He deftly weaves this idea through political events from the New Deal through the Cold War and into fundamentalist response to 9/11, and he illustrates the singular power of individuals ranging from Charles Fuller and Billy Sunday to Billy Graham and Hal Lindsey to influence fundamentalist Christians to political action. Sutton's engaging book belongs next to classic texts on the subject, among them Ernest Sandeen's The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930, and Joel Carpenter's Revive Us Again. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sex After Service: A Guide for Military Service Members, Veterans, and the People Who Love Them

Drew A. Helmer. Rowman and Littlefield, $30 (150p) ISBN 978-1-4422-3056-9

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Helmer, director of the War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center, here examines the problems with sexual health often experienced by members and veterans of the armed forces due to residual trauma and injury. As he states in the introduction, the subject merits discussion precisely because it is so "often dismissed as unimportant and stigmatized in mainstream health care settings." Opening with basic introductions to the relevant medical terminology and features of military culture, the book addresses such topics as common adverse effects suffered by service members, which range from chemical exposure to PTSD, and the impact of aging on the sex drive. Helmer also discusses how belonging to the military shapes an individual's sense of self and communication style. At the back, he lists agencies and organizations that can provide further resources, including for homosexual and bisexual people, though transgender-related issues remain a notable omission throughout. Nonetheless, for both couples and caregivers, this book can provide a valuable starting point for long-term sexual health and wellness. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Letter to Jimmy

Alain Mabanckou. Counterpoint/Soft Skull, $15 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-59376-601-6

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Originally written on the 20th anniversary of James Baldwin's death in 1987, this book by Mabanckou (Memoirs of a Porcupine) addresses Baldwin in the second person. Much of the first half recounts Baldwin's biographic details, illuminating the pre–Civil Rights Movement Harlem in which Baldwin was raised or the sense of artistic and personal liberation he would find in France. Precisely because of the use of the second person, the format of the prose can feel a bit stilted; Mabanckou is ostensibly telling Baldwin about his own life: "During your childhood, you have countless opportunities to witness the extent to which your father distrusts the white man, whoever he may be…." Once the rhythm of the text becomes more established, however, Mabanckou displays more clarity on the cultural and political context that Baldwin both represented and contrasted. Eventually, as Mabanckou explores correlations between Baldwin's ideas and the contemporary world, the book really comes into its own. For instance, Mabanckou questions whether some of the "Rwandan genocide" literature echoes Uncle Tom's Cabin: "If we are not careful, an African author will be able to do nothing but await the next disaster…." One of the most influential and fearless writers of the 20th century, Baldwin deserves this celebration of his life, so that readers may encounter, in a new light, the fortitude of this true revolutionary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress But Surrendered the White House

Thomas F. Schaller. Yale, $32.50 (368p) ISBN 978-0-300-17203-4

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Political scientist and Baltimore Sun columnist Schaller (Whistling Past Dixie) charts the factionalism and internal schisms of the Republican Party in an astute and engaging manner, from the disappearance of moderate and liberals to the rise of a "xenophobic fringe" that consistently wins congressional races but alienates the electorate in presidential contests. While the topic of the modern GOP's rightward drift is nothing new, Schaller's explains the complex political history with plenty of nuance but largely without academic jargon. He persuasively argues that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, architect of the 1994 "Contract With America, had a "more lasting impact on the party than any other Republican, including Ronald Reagan" by making loathing of government a core principle. Schaller also lays out a case that simple majority control of the House of Representatives gives the Republicans enough power to govern, if sometimes only as "the party of no," without being forced to confront shifting national demographics in which a predominantly white male vote is no longer sufficient. Schaller's solution for the party's long-term survival—embracing effective state governors as less extreme candidates—is not novel, but he shows that if it does not happen, the GOP will weaken further still. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Once Upon a Grind

Cleo Coyle. Berkley Prime Crime, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-425-27085-1

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There's magic in the Ethiopian coffee beans that Matt Allegro, Clare Cosi's ex-husband, brings to her New York coffeehouse at the start of Coyle's 14th amusing combination of caffeine and chaos (after 2013's Billionaire Blend). The inaugural Storybook Kingdom, a festival in Central Park celebrating fairy tales, draws plenty of participants, many dressed as princesses and knights. When the two children of Clare's boyfriend, Mike Quinn, go missing, Clare joins the search, and winds up finding the body of the Pink Princess, Anya Kravchenko. After Matt, who's costumed as one of the knights, becomes a prime suspect, Clare must again play detective. Disturbing visions from drinking the special coffee help guide her, as does the mysterious necklace charm key worn by Anya and other women that leads to the exclusive Prince Charming Club and its sometimes surprising members. An extensive list of mouth-watering recipes rounds out the volume. Agent: John Talbot, Talbot Fortune Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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