Monday, August 31, 2015

China Flight by Pearl S. Buck

Good old-fashioned World War II-era potboiler
China Flight, published in 1943, is a novel by Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck. It is not one of her better known works, and possibly hasn’t been reprinted since the 1950s. I sought out this book because I suspected it might be the third novel in a trilogy with Dragon Seed (1942) and The Promise (1943). I was wrong about that, however, and it turns out that China Flight is a stand-alone novel. Regardless, I enjoy Buck’s writing and am rarely disappointed by her novels, so I was happy to read this book, even though it’s not one of her more renowned works.

The story begins shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. America has declared war on Japan, and all Americans are ordered to leave Japanese-occupied Shanghai. For one reason or another, three Americans have lingered past the departure deadline: Lieutenant Daniel James of the U.S. Marines, beautiful young journalist Jenny Barchet, and feisty middle-aged missionary Mrs. Shipman. These three, previously unacquainted, are apprehended and brought before the local Japanese commander. He makes Daniel a prisoner of war, interns Jenny in her hotel, and confines Mrs. Shipman to her mission. This brief meeting cements a bond between these three captives, and as each contemplates how to escape from his or her individual predicament and flee the Japanese, each resolves not to leave the other two behind.

The villain of the story is the Japanese official, Shigo Kuyoshi, a highly educated, culturally refined dandy, who’s nevertheless a brutal sadist. He falls in love with Jenny and wants to bend her to his will. Not surprisingly, Lieutenant Dan vows to protect her virtue. Shigo is a stereotypical villain, though thankfully not a racial stereotype. Buck, having been raised in China, is as free from anti-Asian racism as any American writer of her time. Nevertheless, this was World War II, so every Japanese soldier is depicted as unequivocally evil. Unlike many of the motion pictures of this time period, however, Shigo is not portrayed as a subhuman monster, but rather as the sort of oily, psychotic bad guy that nowadays might be played by Cristoph Waltz. Another Asian character that plays an important role in the book is Leone Hatford, a half-Chinese, half-French woman, married to a British banker, who attempts to aid the three captives in their escape. She becomes just as much a protagonist as the American characters of the novel.

Right from the get-go, China Flight is an engaging thriller, but as the story proceeds Buck drifts away from the action-adventure narrative in favor of soap-opera melodrama. This is a solid World War II era potboiler, but nothing exceptional in terms of literary quality. Unlike most of Buck’s novels, you won’t learn a lot about Chinese culture from this book. This is not a frank and brutal depiction of the reality of war under Japanese occupation, like Dragon Seed, but rather a romantic tale of wartime heroism focusing mostly on the American concerns of its American heroes. Despite the deep cultural knowledge of its author, this book feels more like a product of Hollywood than of Shanghai.

If you’re an enthusiastic fan of Buck, you’ll probably like this novel well enough. It’s no The Good Earth, but it has its merits. If you’re just a casual reader of Buck’s fiction, there’s no need to go out of your way to hunt this one down.
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Friday, August 28, 2015

Omega: The Last Days of the World by Camille Flammarion

With a bang or a whimper?
Camille Flammarion was a French astronomer and a prolific author who wrote both scientific texts and popular literature. His novel La Fin du Monde was published in 1893 and has since been translated into English as Omega: The Last Days of the World. Flammarion was a contemporary of Jules Verne, and both were pioneers of the science fiction novel. Judging by Omega, however, Flammarion is less interested than Verne in telling a crowd-pleasing story, and more concerned with educating people about science. If Verne was 19th-century France’s Michael Crichton, Flammarion was its Carl Sagan.

Astronomers have sighted a comet hurtling towards the Earth from the deep reaches of space. Intricate mathematical calculations determine that this comet will pass frighteningly close to our planet, perhaps even colliding with us. Spectrography reveals that the comet is composed primarily of carbonic oxide gas, with a few large, solid “uranolites” and “bolides” mixed in. Even if no catastrophic impact results from these solid meteorites, the comet’s gaseous matter is likely to have deadly effects on the human race, perhaps suffocating us all or igniting our entire atmosphere into flame. An emergency conference is called in Paris, at which experts from many disciplines—scientific, philosophical, religious—debate the effects of the comet and the possible end of life as we know it. Outside in the streets, humanity desperately awaits their verdict on the future of our world.

All of this takes place in the 25th century. At first, 25th-century France doesn’t seem to differ much from its 19th-century past. Gradually, however, futuristic details are revealed such as “domesticated monkeys” and “the inhabitants of Mars.” For the most part, this novel has no characters. As described above, various dignitaries make their speeches, but Flammarion usually refers to the human race or the inhabitants of Paris as a whole. Mostly he describes the scientific properties that govern the Earth and the Universe. He explores every possible outcome of the comet collision, as well as speculating what the end of the world will look like if nature is allowed to run its course. Though the book lacks the heroic narrative one expects from science fiction literature, Flammarion’s novel is nonetheless fascinating. His account of the Earth’s demise is related with the frank and factual delivery of science journalism. 

Needless to say, the science is not always accurate. Mars is still described as having seas. Geology is discussed with no awareness of plate tectonics. Flammarion describes the burning of the sun entirely in mechanical (non-nuclear) terms. For him, the sun’s light arises from flame not fusion, because nuclear physics hadn’t been invented yet. Despite these forgivable inaccuracies of a century ago, the novel succeeds in inspiring a wonder for science and the marvelous workings of the natural world. Admittedly, there are a few dull digressions here and there, but Flammarion’s boundless imagination and audacious speculations never fail to impress. Towards the end he includes some romantic passages that unfortunately betray the relentlessly rational, materialistic approach established throughout. I enjoyed the book so much overall, however, that I’m willing to forgive a little gratuitous spiritualism. Anyone who enjoys vintage science fiction or appreciates classic books that weren’t afraid to tackle big ideas should definitely check out Omega. It will not disappoint.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Moving the Mountain by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Not a bad world, if it’ll have you
Moving the Mountain, published in 1911, is a utopian novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story opens in the remote reaches of Tibet, where American Ellen Robertson is miraculously reunited with her long-lost brother John, who ventured into Tibet 30 years ago and was never heard from again. Once rediscovered, John suffers some ill-defined sort of amnesia in regards to his Tibetan years, and returns to Western Civilization as a sort of awakened Rip Van Winkle. During the last three decades, the world has changed dramatically, and his sister gradually introduces John to the revolutionary progress that has taken place in American society.

Moving the Mountain is the first book in a utopian trilogy, followed by Herland and With Her in Ourland. It is often described as a feminist utopia, but feminism is really only a small part of this book, which addresses many different aspects of society. It’s true that the first thing John notices about this changed world are its “new women,” who have careers and are no longer dependent on men to survive. The economy is socialistic. Everyone works, but only four hours or less per day. Food preparation and child care are communal, both conducted scientifically for optimum health. Religion has been supplanted by a humanistic worship of life and love. Few stones are left unturned in Gilman’s depiction of her ideal society, and many of her prescient visions have already reached fruition in the century since the book’s publication. Overall this is one of the more practical and realistic utopias I’ve ever read—not too far-fetched in its wish list—yet like almost every literary utopia it requires a populace utterly devoid of laziness, greed, or stupidity.

As far as utopias go, Gilman’s world seems like a pretty great place to live, but it does have its dark side too. Some aspects of the new society sound awfully fascistic, particularly in the areas of sex and family issues. Eugenics is brought up more than a few times in a positive light. In order to achieve their social paradise and cleanse the human race of its impurities, these brave new worlders eliminated or sterilized many of their criminals, perverts, idiots, and “degenerates” (no specificity in regards to the latter term, but one can guess). Anyone who contracts a venereal disease is prohibited from reproducing. Hundreds of thousands of prostitutes are allowed to reform and take up respectable jobs, but are likewise denied reproduction. It’s apparent that civil liberties weren’t a big concern back in Gilman’s time. The result is a sexual revolution that’s remarkably sexless.

The fact that the book is well written goes a long way to making such content palatable. Gilman’s clear and animated prose is a joy to read. The book is mostly just a series of conversations with little additional plot, but the fact that Gilman has made the narrator a skeptic and a curmudgeon makes for some lively dialogue and keeps the talkiness from getting tedious. The reader follows John Robertson’s gradual transition from knee-jerk resistance to reluctant conversion. This approach elevates the book above equally preachy but more boring utopian treatises like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.

I enjoy reading utopian novels of every stripe, whether I agree with their ideas or not. A few of the ideas expressed in Moving the Mountain, however, actually made me feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, Gilman impressed me enough as a writer that I’ll probably give Herland a try.
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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Mummy Megapack, edited by Wildside Press

Where pulp fiction and Egyptology meet
The Mummy Megapack, published in 2012, is one of many genre-specific ebook collections published by Wildside Press in their Megapacks series. Here editor John Gregory Betancourt and his team at Wildside have collected 20 stories reprinted from classic literature, the vintage pulp magazines, and even a few contemporary authors. The title and the cover image conjure up images from the golden age of mummy movies, where bandaged corpses miraculously risen from the dead would terrorize the living in their search for ancient loves or to wreak vengeance on those who dug up their tombs. Only a few of the selections included here actually fit that description. The contents are actually quite diverse. Pretty much anywhere adventure or horror fiction intersects with Egyptology is fair game. There’s even one story about an Aztec mummy, and a couple that barely mention mummies at all.

The book gets off to an inauspicious start with a 1998 story from editor Betancourt, entitled “Sympathy for Mummies.” It’s a brief and bland tale that deliberately fails to deliver the goods you’d expect from this exotically titled Megapack. Luckily, this oddball offering is not indicative of the book’s contents as a whole. In terms of contemporary authors, Nina Kiriki Hoffman fares much better with her two 21st-century entries, “The Power of Waking” and “Whatever Was Forgotten.” The exceptional latter selection is particularly noteworthy for its narration from the mummy’s point of view.

I expected some startling and gory tales from the pulp fiction authors. Surprisingly, however, it is the classic writers of the 19th century who really stand out from the pack. Edgar Allan Poe’s “Some Words with a Mummy” is a hilarious comic piece about some arrogant scientists opening a sarcophagus. From Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, comes “Lost in a Pyramid, or The Mummy’s Curse,” a chilling and expertly told tale that couldn’t be more pleasantly unexpected. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle provides two tales—quite possibly the two best selections in the book—“The Ring of Thoth” and “Lot No. 249.” The former is a great archaeological thriller about the goings-on in a museum after dark, while the latter is a perfectly paced and suspenseful shocker that shows Conan Doyle at his absolute best.

One of the problems with this collection, which is common to many of the Megapacks, is that presented amidst all the short stories is one novel: The Romance of a Mummy by French Romanticist Théophile Gautier. This novel takes up a third of the entire book, so whether or not you enjoy this collection largely hinges on your opinion of that one lengthy piece. The verdict on Gautier’s novel is that it’s good, not great. It starts out as a treasure-hunting yarn, than switches to an ancient love story, then finally settles on a retelling of a familiar Biblical tale.

Some of the stories included here have a tenuous connection to the mummy theme at best. I’m surprised they couldn’t find more thrillers and chillers like the Conan Doyle stories or romantic epics of old Egypt like Gautier’s novel. Overall, however, it’s a pretty good collection—a couple duds and a lot of middle-of-the-road fare, but the highlights I’ve enumerated above do much to compensate for the bad. Despite its shortcomings, those readers who enjoy classic adventure fiction and have an interest in Egyptian lore will find this Megapack to their liking.

Stories in this collection
Sympathy for Mummies by John Gregory Betancourt 
Some Words with a Mummy by Edgar Allan Poe 
The Power of Waking by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Mummy’s Foot by Jessie Adelaide Middleton 
Lost in a Pyramid, or The Mummy’s Curse by Louisa May Alcott 
The Ring of Thoth by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
The Green God by William Call Spencer 
The Book of Thoth by Lafcadio Hearn 
An Aztec Mummy by C. B. Cory 
Lot No. 249 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
The Mummy’s Foot by Théophile Gautier 
The Story of Baelbrow by E. and H. Heron 
A Professor of Egyptology by Guy Boothby 
My New Year’s Eve Among the Mummies by Grant Allen 
Whatever Was Forgotten by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Forsaken Temple by C. W. Leadbeater 

The Doom of Al Zameri by Henry Iliowizi 

The Romance of a Mummy by Théophile Gautier 

Obsession, Possession by Elliott O’Donnell 

The Perfume of Egypt by C. W. Leadbeater 

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar by Maurice Leblanc

Sacré bleu! No jewel is safe from this master thief
Arsène Lupin is often described as the French answer to Sherlock Holmes, and for good reason. Author Maurice Leblanc seems to have created the character in response to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, and the stories of both share a common atmosphere and tone. The setting of the Lupin stories is slightly more modern than those of Holmes—more automobiles and fewer horses, for example—but both series sport an entertaining combination of period chic, intellectual challenge, delightful suspense, and good-natured fun.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar, originally published in 1907, is the first book in the Lupin series. It collects nine short stories that were originally published in the French magazine Je sais tout. The book is sometimes presented as a novel of nine chapters, but in fact each “chapter” functions as a stand-alone short story. Like the Holmes stories, however, it does pay to read them sequentially. Lupin’s debut adventure, “The Arrest of Arsène Lupin,” is a masterpiece. A transatlantic liner heading for America receives a telegram informing the crew that the notorious criminal is on board their vessel. This news leaks to the passengers, and everyone on board plays amateur detective, hoping to capture the infamous thief. Though I was prepared for a surprise ending, this one still managed to confound my expectations.

The eight stories that follow this auspicious debut are cleverly diverse in format but inconsistent in quality. Variety is their strength, as you never know what you’re going to get when you start reading one of these tales. Sometimes Lupin is a thief, planning a major heist. Other times he functions as a detective, thwarting the schemes of other criminals. Unlike Holmes, who possesses a very idiosyncratic and charismatic personality, Lupin is a chameleon. Not only is he a master at concealing his true identity, he actually has no true identity, but continually adapts himself to whatever circumstances require. Often a story proceeds for most of its length with no mention of Lupin whatsoever. At the end of the story it is revealed that this or that character was Lupin. You know it’s coming, but Leblanc keeps you guessing as to who it’s going to be.

Not every story here is a winner. “Seven of Hearts,” the longest entry in the book, is a confusing mess involving blackmail and stolen plans for a submarine. The climactic unmasking of Lupin delivers no surprise. “The Queen’s Necklace,” on the other hand, is a classic locked-room mystery that’s not only ingenious but also quite moving. “The Black Pearl” is another good caper in which Lupin sets out to steal the titular gem and ends up investigating a murder. In the book’s final story, “Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late,” Conan Doyle’s creation makes a guest appearance. Leblanc creates a mystery suitable for the master sleuth, but his take on Holmes isn’t quite fitting to the character.

At times Leblanc’s writing can get a little too cheeky as Lupin plays games with the police. I wasn’t thrilled by every story in this collection, but on the whole I would say that out of the many characters inspired by Holmes, this is the first one I’ve encountered that’s really in the same league with Conan Doyle’s stories. I will certainly be checking out the further adventures of this gentleman-burglar.

Stories in this collection
The Arrest of Arsène Lupin 
Arsène Lupin in Prison 
The Escape of Arsène Lupin 
The Mysterious Traveller 
The Queen’s Necklace 
The Seven of Hearts 
Madame Imbert’s Safe 
The Black Pearl 
Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Stories by American Authors, Volume VII by Octave Thanet, et al.

Bellamy & Co.
Edward Bellamy
This is the seventh book in the ten-volume series Stories by American Authors, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons from 1884 to 1885. Unlike Scribner’s other two series, Stories by Foreign Authors and Stories by English Authors, which were sort of “greatest hits” collections of 19th-century authors, the American series mostly consists of upcoming authors of the period who have long since faded into obscurity. This particular collection contains one notable exception: Edward Bellamy, the author of Looking Backward, one of the three bestselling American novels of its century. I’m not a great fan of that novel, but Bellamy’s entry here, entitled “Lost,” is clearly the best selection in Volume VII. An American, studying in Germany, falls in love with a local girl. When he departs for the U.S., he promises he will return someday to make her his bride. Seven years later, after having forgotten her, he wakes up and realizes that she was the love of his life. He heads back to Germany, finds her whereabouts are unknown, and begins an arduous hunt to track her down. Though the story contains its fair share of 19th-century chauvinism, the chase is exciting and it inspires readers to consider their own lost loves and missed opportunities.

One thing that’s surprising about the Stories by American Authors series as a whole is the attention that it pays to women authors. In Volume VII, four out of the six authors included are women. For its time, that’s admirably progressive on the part of the publisher, but unfortunately none of the four included here really offer up anything memorable. Octave Thanet’s entry, “The Bishop’s Vagabond” is an example of a genre which often shows up in this series, in which an erudite writer condescendingly examines a member of the lower classes as if they were a guinea pig in a sociological experiment. In this case the protagonist is a poor white man from South Carolina referred to as a “cracker.” “Kirby’s Coals of Fire” by Louise Stockton is similar fare, in which a theology student takes a ride on a riverboat in order to learn about the human nature of the unwashed masses. In the process, he’s treated to a humorous folk tale. Margaret Floyd’s “Passages from the Journal of a Social Wreck” is an interesting piece that provides some insight into the social conventions of the period. An educated gentleman is driven by financial desperation to take a job as a professional party guest. It starts out pretty entertaining, but becomes utterly predictable by its conclusion. Rounding out the roll call of female writers is Virginia W. Johnson, whose “The Image of San Donato” is a rather dreary and unpleasant soap opera concerning a young girl who has a religious vision which inspires her to prevent her mother from having an affair with an Italian count.

Speaking of soap operas, James T. McKay, the remaining dude in the mix, gives us a doozy with “Stella Grayland.” A doctor has maintained a longtime friendship with an attractive woman whom he knows to be shallow, manipulative, and perhaps even of loose morals. Yet when her father dies, leaving her without support, he marries her out of a sense of obligation. Trapped in a hellish marriage, he can’t help falling in love with another woman. The result is just depressing all the way through.

Overall, the Stories by American Authors series has been a disappointment, with the exception of a couple good volumes (numbers III and VI). I was hoping to be impressed by a few unfamiliar authors, but the relatively well-known Bellamy is the only one who stands out in this book.

Stories in this collection
The Bishop’s Vagabond by Octave Thanet 

Lost by Edward Bellamy 

Kirby’s Coals of Fire by Louise Stockton 

Passages from the Journal of a Social Wreck by Margaret Floyd 

Stella Grayland by James T. McKay 

The Image of San Donato by Virginia W. Johnson

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

Introducing Maigret
Over the years I have read several of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels, but only in a haphazard order based upon whatever copies I’d stumble upon in used bookstores. In November 2013, Penguin Classics began publishing new editions of all the Maigret novels, beginning with this one, giving a whole new generation of readers the opportunity to read this extensive series (75 novels in all) in their original sequence.

Pietr the Latvian, originally published in 1931 under the French title of Pietr-le-Letton, is Maigret’s debut. The title character is a notorious Eastern European gangster who’s wanted all over the continent. As the book opens, Maigret is monitoring a series of telegrams tracking Pietr’s movements across Europe as he gets closer and closer to Paris. Maigret, Detective Chief Inspector of the Flying Squad, is there to meet the train when it arrives. What he finds is unexpected: a dead body matching the description of Pietr the Latvian, apparently just murdered. However, another man is seen leaving the scene whose appearance is almost identical to that of the corpse. Which, if either, of these men is Pietr the Latvian? Just who has killed whom, and why?

Compared to other Maigret cases I’ve read, this is not one of my favorites. I didn’t find the mystery too mysterious, and much of what is revealed at the end feels like a foregone conclusion. However, I did enjoy how Simenon develops the character of Maigret in this first book and how he establishes the dark and seedy, rain-soaked atmosphere that pervades so many of the Maigret novels. It’s a refreshingly unglamorized look at the criminal underbelly of France and the workaday job of a police detective. Those expecting some sort of Maigret origin story will likely be disappointed. Simenon is always stingy with details when it comes to his hero. There’s never any complete portrait of Maigret that’s clearly delineated in any one novel. Rather, choice details leak out from between the lines, and eventually over several books you start to get a sharper image of the character.

Sometimes Maigret is compared to Sherlock Holmes, but such comparisons are more of magnitude than of any similarity in style or technique. Holmes’s cases are much more about the art of detection, while Maigret’s investigative procedures often involve merely stalking his characters until they slip up. He spends much of this book waiting outside of hotels. One thing Simenon and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle do have in common, however, is their concern for the back story of the criminal. In Simenon’s book, the crime is often an afterthought; it’s the psychology of the criminal itself that matters. At the end of Pietr the Latvian, Simenon treats the exposition of criminal motive with his usual sensitivity and nuance, but I wasn’t as moved by this human drama as that of other Maigret books like Lock 14 or A Man’s Head.

If you enjoy detective fiction you should already be reading Maigret. If not, what better place to start than where it all began? Many thanks go out to Penguin Classics for investing in a revival of Simenon’s classic novels, and I for one intend to support them in their efforts by reading these great books.
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Friday, August 14, 2015

Live from New York: The Complete Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales

Makes 40 years feel like two centuries
Live from New York, a behind-the-scenes history of the Saturday Night Live television series by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, was originally published in 2002. The latest edition, released in 2014, was timed to coincide with the show’s 40th anniversary and has been updated with coverage through the program’s 39th season. The book is an oral history comprised of brief bits of first-person commentary by hundreds of SNL cast members, crew, writers, hosts, and NBC network executives. The oral history approach evokes the collaborative nature of SNL and allows for the presentation of differing perspectives on events or controversies in the show’s history. The drawback to this approach, unfortunately, is that it all too often amounts to dozens of people making the exact same points over and over again.

Miller and Shales are attempting to accomplish two goals here: the first is to give the reader an idea of what it’s like to work at SNL; the second is to establish the show’s place in television history. Towards the latter goal, it’s not surprising that much space is devoted to the formation of the show and the original cast of Not Ready for Prime Time Players. For the television historian, the endless debates over the details of the show’s creation may be important, but for the casual fan the network politics can get rather dull. I understand that Lorne Michaels is the heart and soul of SNL, and likely a comedy genius, but does anyone really watch the show for Lorne? Most likely you watch the show for its cast members, and what this book doesn’t do well is let the cast members’ voices be heard, unless they’re talking about Lorne. Writers are an important part of the show also, and it’s interesting to hear them talk about how certain sketches were created. Unfortunately, too many of the writers just discuss the same things over and over again—how hard it is to get stuff on the show, staying up all Tuesday night writing, and once again, Lorne. Even though everyone analyzes Lorne ad nauseam throughout the entire book, when you reach the end you get a final chapter entitled “Lorne” which is an absurd exercise in eulogizing the living.

If you’re interested in romances or feuds between cast members, there’s little of that mentioned beyond what’s already common knowledge. Another problem with the oral history approach is that almost everyone is reluctant to say anything bad about anyone. There’s a few cast members that everyone seems to agree were difficult, and when the topic of worst host ever comes up, the usual easy targets are mentioned. Surprises are few. Some great cast members either declined to participate (Eddie Murphy) or are barely present (Will Ferrell, Mike Myers). The best part of the book is the Kevin Nealon/Jan Hooks/Phil Hartman years through the Adam Sandler/Chris Farley/David Spade/Chris Rock era, because that’s when you get the most cast input and the best idea of how much fun it is to put the show together. Surprisingly, an inordinate amount of time is devoted to the very recent years of the show, with a lot of unnecessary congratulatory back-slapping. From the way praise is heaped on Andy Samberg’s juvenile music videos, you’d think he were the next Fellini.

Fifty years from now, television historians are going to consider this book a valuable documentary record of the history of SNL. For the fan, however, it can be a colossal bore. It’s so easy, even addictive, to just read the next little tidbit, but at the end of twenty minutes you realize you’ve just heard forty people say the same thing, and you wonder why you wasted your time. If you can find this book cheap, get it, but just look up the passages concerning your favorite cast members. To read the whole thing is a disappointing and mind-numbing experience.
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