June 4, 2009

Your micro-review roundup: 4 June 2009

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

The Black Diamond Detective Agency, by Eddie Campbell and C Gaby Mitchell
The Black Diamond Detective Agency
By Eddie Campbell and C Gaby Mitchell
First Second / ISBN: 978-1-59643-142-3

Not all the books I write micro-reviews for are done so because they're not really worth your time (although that's definitely the cause in many cases); sometimes the books themselves are quite decent but I just don't have a lot to say about them, like is often the case with the graphic novels that come in and out of my life, which frankly I mostly read in these little 20-page fits before bed or while in the bathroom. And thus is the case as well with The Black Diamond Detective Agency, a 2007 tale by Eddie Campbell (from an original unproduced movie script by C Gaby Mitchell), which is all right for what it is, although there just ain't a lot there in the first place. The steampunkish story of a fictionalized Pinkerton-style private detective agency at the end of the Victorian Age, Black Diamond is clever enough with what it deals with, although limits itself to straight-ahead easily-guessed genre tropes (train robberies, revenge-filled outlaw antiheroes, tension between the Feds and the private agencies, back when the Feds were first being established to begin with); plus I have to admit, although I enjoy the unrushed, casual '70s style of illustration Campbell has adopted for his career, I always find that it works best when paired with an ultra-tight story (like was the case when he illustrated Alan Moore's Jack-The-Ripper tale From Hell), while in more rambling stories like this one, I tend to get so dreamily absorbed in the slow-moving images that I forget why I was reading the book in the first place. This always seems to be my most common complaint about graphic novels, whenever I have complaints, that the pages beg more to be gazed at lovingly than actually read; and so it is with Black Diamond as well, a good volume to fall asleep to a little at a time each night, but that borders on intellectual fluff otherwise.

Out of 10: 7.9

The Night of the Gun, by David Carr
The Night of the Gun
By David Carr
Simon & Schuster / ISBN: 978-1-41654-152-3

The premise behind this memoir is a fascinating one, which is why it's been on my wish-list for awhile; it's the true story of an award-winning journalist who was on a massive amount of drugs the entire time (ironically while covering both the gangs that occasionally sold to him and the cops who occasionally busted him), now looking back on the details twenty years after getting clean, and realizing what a shockingly profound difference lags between his memories of those years and the objective truth of what actually happened. But what would've been a riveting magazine article is instead written out here as a full book; and unfortunately, once you examine the full gamut of all legitimately interesting sociological and psychological things to reflect upon regarding the subject (which only takes a few thousand words, and that Cass covers completely in the first two chapters), there's not much else left to say, other than to fill endless pages with old drug stories that barely pass even the muster of titillation (an infinite number of nights at low-class New Jersey stripclubs, for example, being mean to waitresses while rushing to the bathroom every 15 minutes for more coke), followed by full transcripts of conversations with old buddies years later, arguing over details that no one cared about even when they were happening. ("Was the stripper's name Candi or Bubbles? Did I have a ribeye or a T-bone the next morning at breakfast?") It's a common problem among newspaper- and magazine-oriented journalists, of getting a book-worthy idea but simply lacking the writing chops to put together a decent book-length manuscript; and although he gets an A for effort (and for the first two chapters), in general The Night of the Gun is yet another of these journalistic failures.

Out of 10: 6.2

Common Sense Pediatrics, by S Cornelia Franz, MD
Common Sense Pediatrics
By S Cornelia Franz, MD
AuthorHouse / ISBN: 978-1-43436-910-9

One of the open promises I make at CCLaP is to absolutely (with just a few exceptions) review any book that a person takes the time to actually mail to me; but since I'm a one-man operation these days, that sometimes means receiving books I'm in no way qualified to actually review, yet owe a review to anyway. For example, let's take Common Sense Pediatrics, in actuality a bound collection of pamphlets written over the years by Dr. S Cornelia Franz for her patients, put together and then sent to me by our old friends at iUniverse/AuthorHouse. And hey, it looks all right to me, and certainly reads well as far as being a clear piece of advice-giving nonfiction; but I'm very uncomfortable giving it a score or recommending/not recommending it, since I'm not a parent myself and don't know even the first thing about the daily nitty-gritty of parenting, so couldn't begin to tell you whether the advice given here is good or faulty. When CCLaP is eventually a bigger operation, I'll simply be able to give books like these to more qualified people to review; but as it is now, about my only option these days is to recuse myself from reviewing it at all, other than to confirm that it's at least well-written.

Out of 10: N/A

Red Moon: Looming of a New World Order, by Ron Roman Riales
Red Moon: Looming of a New World Order
By Ron Roman Riales
iUniverse / ISBN: 978-0-595-45503-4

Being a champion of self-published literature like I am, I'm asked all the time for advice on the subject; and one of my biggest pleas is not only one of the most simple, but also one of the most ignored, which is for self-publishing authors to surround themselves with as many people as possible who will read that manuscript before actual publication, in order to catch all the highly basic mistakes that are usually caught right away by editors and professors and students and peers within a traditional academic-author paradigm. Take for unfortunate example the sci-fi thriller Red Moon: Looming of a New World Order by Ron Roman Riales, yet another recent arrival from our friends at print-on-demand outfit iUniverse; because although Riales was undoubtedly excited about getting his work set to paper and out into readers' hands, it's sadly filled on nearly every page with the kinds of basic, basic mistakes that would normally be ferreted out by any freshman writing course, or even an adult peer-based weekly cafe workshop. And there always seems to be the same response among some to reviews like this too, which is that I as a critic am somehow being "unfair" to a beginning writer with few resources, whenever trashing a book loaded down with this many natural handicaps, but to that I say there's actually a very simple solution: if you as an author feel unsure of your writing skills or the ultimate quality of your manuscript, simply release your book for free and hand it out to your friends, an easy option that avoids a professional critical response altogether. Literary weaknesses that are utterly forgivable in such a situation become simply unacceptable when instead trying to convince strangers to part with sixteen dollars of their money for that book; whenever that's the case, I have not only a right but a duty to my readers as a critic to stand up when appropriate and say, "Phew-wee, that stunk worse than Oscar Wilde trying to play fast-pitch softball." I have no problem with such material merely existing, but have a big problem with people trying to pass it off as commercially ready when it's clearly not.

Out of 10: 1.9

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:02 PM, June 4, 2009. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |