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The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

 

By Will Eisner

 

W.W. Norton, $19.95

 

 

The story’s well worn, of course. In the 19th century, a book appeared in Russia
called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to outline a secret Jewish plan to take
over the world. The book was a fake—mostly cribbed from Maurice Joly’s Dialogue in Hell—but
that didn’t stop people from latching onto it. To this day, anti-Semites around the world still
insist it’s the real deal.

 

In the final decades of his life, comics legend Will Eisner’s work dealt more and more with
social and Jewish issues, so it makes perfect sense that the last thing he finished before dying
is this illustrated history of The Protocols.

 

The plot here mostly involves two men comparing texts in a cafe. But you rarely read Eisner for
his crackling dialogue, his nail-biter plots or his character development. It was the artwork
that was breathtaking, even if the stories weren’t. And Eisner’s artwork—which was amazing
back in the 40s when he was doing The Spirit—only improved with age. There is a subtlety
to his character’s expressions and gestures that you simply don’t see anywhere else.

 

—Jim Knipfel

 

Canceled Flight: 101 Tried and True Pigeon-Killin’ Methods

 

By A.V. Jones

 

Throckmorton Press, $24.95

 

 

As disease-vectoring winged rats prone to unleashing excrement on unsuspecting
foreheads, pigeons were doomed from creation. But the foul fowl are hardy urban survivors, copulating
as fruitfully as roaches. Left unchecked, reasons A.V. Jones ("the world’s foremost expert on
the subject of pigeon-killing"), pigeons will overpower humans, forcing future generations
to speak "coo." As pre-emptive strike, Jones has concocted Canceled Flight, a how-to primer on
pigeon genocide.

 

Murderous methods are grouped by personality types (like Handymen & Lesbians) and
described in recipe-like detail, such as: "The Aboriginal Assassination: Dip several blowgun
darts in poison. Load one dart in blowgun. Aim. Blow. Repeat." More than 80 top illustrators, photographers
and artists including DALEK, Travis M. Millard and the Press‘s Aya Kakeda then depict the
bloody formulas, leaving no artery unsevered. (Like Andrew Pommier’s "The Nut Job," featuring
a heretofore benign Christmas Nutcracker ruthlessly crunching pigeon skulls.) The effect is
equal parts provocative, funny and contrived. At 101 methods, the one-note joke, like an issue
of Vice, grows tiresome. But Canceled Flight succeeds in toilet-reading chunks,
which proves, I guess, that you can give a shit about pigeons.

 

—Joshua M. Bernstein

 

 

Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology

 

Edited by Donna Jarrell & Ira Sukrungruang

 

Harcourt, $14

 

 

Most anthologies suck, reeking of favors called in, big names included for
their exploitation potential more than their mediocre contributions, and excerpts we’ve seen
before. Scoot Over, Skinny isn’t the upbeat and delusional collection of stories on how great it
is to be morbidly obese that I’d expected, however.

 

"Big Game Hunters," an amazing piece of journalism by Sarah Fenske, studies the phenomenon
of "hogging." As one of her research subjects explains, "Sometimes you just say, ‘Fuck it, let’s
get a pig.’" I’m pretty sure I’ve been hogged, perhaps as somebody’s "slump buster"—another
way to describe sex with a fat woman, which, some believe, can break a string of bad luck and lift morale.
Ouch. Victor Lavalle’s piece "Big Time" details the life of a 275-pound black man getting it on in
the projects with the slightly indifferent single mothers who are among the few available candidates
for free sex.

 

It’s not all gritty. There’s a celebratory and funny story by Steven Shaw, the cofounder of the
eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, and, unfortunately, a story from Dave Sedaris’
Me Talk Pretty One Day that’s been around the block a few times.

 

—Jennifer Blowdryer

 

 

Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion—From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s
Columbine and Beyond

 

By Mark Ames

 

Soft Skull, $15.95 (July)

 

 

In 1989, a Louisville printing-plant worker walked into his factory with
an AK-47 and let rip. When it was all over, seven of his bosses and colleagues lay dead, dozens wounded.
For Moscow-based journalist (and Press contributor) Mark Ames, it’s no coincidence that America’s
first non–post office workplace massacre occurred at the end of Reagan’s second term. During
the 1980s the American workplace fundamentally changed. Unions were weakened or crushed and corporate
America became a much nastier place. A few of those on the receiving end of this shift went ballistic
with rage. The traditional explanation for these rage-murders holds that the perpetrators were
insane. But Ames offers an alternative explanation: that theirs were sane responses to an inhuman
system and will be vindicated by history. Much as 19th-century slave rebellions were incomprehensible
to contemporaries except as fits of madness, Ames believes we will one day see avenging workplace
assassins as the John Browns of their time. Whether or not the thesis holds up in 100 years, Going
Postal is a fascinating slice of cultural history that also offers up that rarest of things: an original
idea.

 

—Alexander Zaitchik

 

 

The High Cost of Free Parking

 

By Donald Shoup

 

Planners Press, $59.95

 

 

George Costanza, the quintessential New Yorker, once said, "My father didn’t
pay for parking, my mother, my brother, nobody. It’s like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay
when, if I apply myself, maybe I can get it for free?" The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup’s
733-page tour de force, has the answer. With the exception of a Monopoly board, there is no such thing
as free parking. In fact, free parking turns out to be the biggest problem you never thought about.
"We all want to park free," Shoup writes. "But we also want to reduce traffic congestion, energy
consumption and air pollution. We want affordable housing, efficient transportation, green
space, good urban design, great cities and a healthy economy. Unfortunately, ample free parking
conflicts with all these other goals."

 

But is this beach reading? Yes. Shoup is witty and profound. The Yoda of urban planning,
he compares the current national parking situation to the overfishing of communal waters, an outbreak
of cicadas, the Ptolemaic view of the universe, and all-you-can-eat buffets. The book inspired
me to begin building an SUV-size apartment on wheels and park it in the Manhattan neighborhood of
my choice. Call it "Alternate Side of Street Living." Why should cars be the only ones to get free,
fully subsidized housing in New York City?

 

—Aaron Naparstek

 

 

Wobblies!

 

Edited by Paul Buhle &Nicole Schulman

 

Verso, $25

 

 

On their hundred-year anniversary, the International Workers of the World
surge anew via Wobblies!, a heady 305 pages of narrative and comics that recount some of the most
bite-your-knuckles thrilling history you’ve never heard about.

 

The Wobblies (the origins of whose nickname have never been nailed down) emerged in 1905
from the need for an all-inclusive labor union; the AFL had existed since 1883 but allowed only skilled
white male laborers into its ranks. Yet what began as a multiracial, multinational labor movement
of both men and women grew into a sweeping sociopolitical (and "hobohemian") underground.

 

Verso’s graphic history revivifies a cast of characters whose names have long since left the
common tongue: Wobbly songwriter Joe Hill, wrongfully executed after being framed for murder
in Utah; African-American Ben Fletcher, sentenced with 100 other defendants in an absurd mass
trial—the biggest in U.S. history; one-eyed, one-legged Frank Montana, who went to Butte,
Montana, on crutches to inspire exploited miners and wound up lynched from a railroad trestle.
Well-known figures such as Gertrude Stein, Margaret Sanger, Red Emma and Lucy Parsons make prominent
appearances, but the intersection of their lives and their roles in Wobblies history will be fresh
to most readers.

 

Wobblies! brings together some of America’s most talented graphic artists, among
them several World War 3 Illustrated contributors (Peter Kuper, Sabrina Jones, Seth Tobocman,
Mac McGill) as well as painter Sue Coe and comics legend Harvey Pekar. Though the book’s only color
is on its cover, this is one of the season’s most vivid, prismatic releases.

 

—Kate Crane

 

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

 

By Vitezslav Nezval

 

Twisted Spoon Press, $14 (June)

 

 

Gothic sleazefest, menstrual fantasy, dime-store pulp fiction—Valerie
and Her Week of Wonders is a collage of a collage of a collage, a dream of a dream, an important early-century
surrealist novel only now translated from its native Czech into English by the able David Short.
The lineaments of the story—traditional "plot" devices are mostly lacking; conventions
are often parodied, sliced and diced—follow the general guidelines of the roman noir, a
dark genre best exemplified by Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, and most radicalized by Lautremont’s Maldoror.

 

This genre usually involves a woman—in this instance the noctambulating, supernatural
Valerie—and the men who want to prey on her. Nezval, one of the greats of Czech surrealism
and a disciple of Lewis Carrol, Sade and von Sacher-Masoch, lays on a vampire, a lecherous priest,
androgyny achieved through incest between brother and sister and so on. Valerie’s "week" is, of
course, the period of her period. It’s bloody. In this wonderful edition by Prague’s stalwart Twisted
Spoon Press, it’s beautiful too.

 

—Joshua Cohen

 

 

Chuck Dugan Is AWOL

 

By Eric Chase Anderson

 

Chronicle Books, $19.95

 

 

Eric Chase Anderson’s graphic novel cum tale of adventure on the high
seas is complete with eye patches, a flying submersible contraption called the Popcycle, secret
passageways, underwater graffiti and an excitable octopus. Chuck Dugan—lanky, red-haired,
tattooed with his family’s crest—happily attends the Naval Academy until "one helluva
Mail Call," when he receives a treasure map drawn by his late father and an invitation to attend the
wedding of his mother and an evil mystery man named the Admiral. Simultaneously excited and enraged,
Dugan goes absent without leave to find his inheritance and stop the nuptials.

 

There’s an echo here of the ironic sentimentality that pervades the films of Anderson’s
older brother Wes, as well as the same meticulous attention to the smallest of details (one diagram
illustrates profile and overhead views of Navy-style coffee, while a "fight map" carefully shows
not only the combat paths taken by Chuck and one of the sons, but also the undisturbed lunch of tuna
fish and cookies that sits between them). So, make yourself a Panama Canal (illustrated recipe
on page 74), climb out onto the fire escape and pretend that’s the ocean you smell.

 

—Jessica Allen

 

 

Weird U.S.

 

By Mark Moran & Mark Sceurman

 

Barnes & Noble, $25

 

If the idea of dragging the whole struggling, screaming clan off to Disney World again makes
you itch, try something different—something you’ll all remember for the rest of your lives.
How about a tour of the abandoned insane asylums of the Midwest? Or the haunted hotels of Maine? Or
fishing for one of Wisconsin’s (many) lake monsters?

 

It’s a big damn weird country out there, full of monsters, haunted houses, unexplained mysteries
and gateways to Hell—any one of which would make for a much better slideshow than another
trip to SeaWorld. And if one or two of the kids "disappears" along the way, well, you have a ready excuse.

 

Mark Morgan & Mark Sceurman have been putting out Weird N.J. magazine for a while
now, and have recently embarked on an ambitious series of Weird travel guides. While each state
will eventually get their own Weird guide, this photo-packed one-volume cornucopia of strangeness
should do quite nicely if you’re looking for a broad overview of the secret country that lurks in
the shadows behind the Wal Mart, the strip malls and the superhighways. It’s out there, and these
guys show you where to start looking for it.

 

—Jim Knipfel

 

 

Sexual Metamorphosis:

 

An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs

 

Edited by Jonathan Ames

 

Vintage, $13.95

 

 

Jonathan Ames, celebrity author and raconteur, compiled this examination
of the growing phenomenon of switching one’s gender. In San Francisco, the "binary gender system"
is widely scoffed at; one must use the term "bio boy" to make one’s birth gender clear, and gender-neutral
bathrooms are a must. People in New York aren’t quite there yet, but remember, we laughed at yoga
and hot tubs.

 

Ames starts the anthology with a piece from 1886 called "Psychopathia Sexualis." The tragic
story of gender dysphoria, as we must all now learn to call it, is narrated in a dated and hyper-articulate
tone that I can see Ames relishing.

 

Missing are contributions from the majority of pre-ops living on the margins of society, hustling
like fiends and frequently thrown in the queen tank. Ames consorted with this crew at the former
Sally’s in Times Square, where the clientele were so ghettoized that even in their own club they
had to request a strip of toilet paper on their way to the intriguing and aptly named powder room.
Thrillingly included, however, is the barfly subject of the present and future: Just exactly how
do they create an artificial dick, and does it really work?

 

—Jennifer Blowdryer

 

 

 

Books

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LOCUST: THE DEVASTATING RISE AND
MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF THE INSECT THAT SHAPED THE AMERICAN FRONTIER


BY JEFFREY A. LOCKWOOD

BASIC, 304 PAGES, $25

 

IN THE summer of 1875, on the heels of a terrible two-year drought, the
largest insect outbreak in history took place in the western United States. A swarm of locusts estimated
to be three-and-a-half trillion strong covered an area of 198,000 square miles in a cloud ranging
from a quarter- to a half-mile deep. By way of lending some perspective on this image to the parochial
New York mindset, the swarm would have covered the eastern states of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and
Maine. They turned the sky black. The whirring of their wings filled the air. They struck like hail.
They ate the crops. They ate the laundry hanging on the washing lines and the clothing off the bodies
of settlers who flailed at them in vain. They ate the wool off the backs of frenzied sheep. They ate
window blinds, fence posts, wooden siding and demonstrated a particular fondness for the wooden
handles of tools such as shovels, rakes, axes and hoes.

Twenty-five years later, the Rocky Mountain locust was extinct. The
mystery of precisely how this devastating scourge vanished from the American landscape persisted
right up to the end of the 20th century. The case was finally cracked by an intrepid entomologist
with an appetite for physically challenging field work and a fondness for television detective
shows.

Jeffrey A. Lockwood is Professor of Natural Sciences and Humanities
at the University of Wyoming. He’s also the author of Grasshopper Dreaming and a recipient
of the Pushcart Prize as well as the 2003 John Burroughs Award. His latest work, Locust,
is a prime example of excellent scientific research presented in a clear and straightforward way
that makes the subject accessible to any reader.

He opens with a staggering first-hand account of the damage wrought
by the swarms. From Kansas: “At our place they commenced coming down about 1 o’clock in the afternoon,
at first only one at a time, here and there, looking a little like flakes of snow, but acting more like
the advance skirmishers of an advancing army; soon they commenced coming thicker and faster, and
they again were followed by vast columns, or bodies looking almost like clouds in the atmosphere.
They came rattling and pattering on the houses, and against the windows, falling in the fields,
on the prairies and in the waters… By about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, every tree and bush,
buildings, fences, fields, roads, and everything, except animated beings, was completely covered
with grasshoppers.”

The noise the swarm made was the stuff of sheer horror. As Lockwood puts
it:

“Perhaps even more unforgettable than the sight of a swarm was the sound
of the locusts as they arrived. A whirring buzz compared to ‘a distant threshing machine’ initially
heralded their coming, but this smothering hum soon gave way to the sound of their feeding and seething
in the fields. The settlers struggled for words to adequately describe this sensation, most often
drawing a parallel to a grass fire. A scientist who witnessed many swarms described the sound in
vivid terms: ‘The noise their myriad jaws make when engaged in their work of destruction can be realized
by anyone who has fought a prairie fire, or heard the flames passing along before a brisk wind: the
low crackling and rasping—the general effect of the two sounds, are very similar.'”

Lockwood quotes the U.S. Entomological Society as placing the economic
cost in damage to agriculture west of the Mississippi during the outbreaks of 1874-77 at $200 million,
stating “this is equivalent to $116 billion in today’s money, with annual agricultural production
in the United States being valued at $217 billion.”

The book proceeds through a thorough accounting of the efforts of the
states and the nascent federal bureaucracy to cope with the socio-economic havoc being wrought
by these pests and on to a comprehensive and succinct introduction to the brilliant and often eccentric
characters attracted to the study and possible containment of this plague. The flamboyant Charles
Valentine Riley is a figure out of American myth, with his convoluted family background and wildly
peripatetic career path.

The last third of the book is dedicated to Lockwood’s own efforts and
eventual success in his quest to uncover the truth behind the sudden disappearance of the species.
His eloquence hits its full stride as he describes the processes leading to his epiphany, itself
described as more of an unfolding than a leaping flash of insight. His expeditions in the field attempting
to recover specimens from melting glaciers are not in any way overblown or exaggerated. There’s
an endearing humility in his tone as he recounts what amounts to a forensic Indiana Jones adventure.
A quote in the bridge to this section stuck with me, as it gives the reader an excellent insight into
the workings of Lockwood’s fabulous reasoning, and a disturbing (probably unintended) implication
regarding our own destiny:

“In recent years, the emerging field of complexity is finding that sudden
catastrophic changes may be inherent in some systems, including populations. My own work in the
field of catastrophe theory suggests that modern grasshopper outbreaks may be precisely such
systems. Their erratic dynamics are entirely normal, although we can exacerbate the outbreaks
by mismanagement of the rangeland. We’ve even found evidence that grasshopper populations exhibit
a phenomenon called self-organizing criticality, in which they naturally develop to
the point where outbreaks and crashes are triggered by their own biology.”

“Self-organizing criticality” is a disturbing concept when applied
to human populations. Fortunately, Lockwood doesn’t go there, but he does indulge himself in a
Jeremiad at the conclusion that goes on just long enough to indicate a certain charming naivete
as regards the relation of people to entropy in ecological systems. He closes on a disarmingly perverse
note, suggesting that the Rocky Mountain locust may not, in fact, be truly extinct at all. The great
plague of the Golden West may simply be biding its time, lying dormant in the last pristine habitat
left to it: Yellowstone National Park.

Books

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KEITH RICHARDS: SATISFACTION

BY CHRISTOPHER SANDFORD

CARROLL & GRAF, 370 PAGES, $15

WHY CAN’T we leave Keith alone? For an allegedly shadowy figure, the guitarist’s
life has been heavily documented and his friends all heavily interrogated. In 1992, Victor Bockris
drew on interviews with Richards’ 60s girlfriend, Linda Keith, and other embittered former cohorts
for his Albert Goldman-esque, Keith Richards: The Unauthorized Biography. Then Stanley
Booth, who spent the early 70s as Richards’ smack buddy, came along with Keith: Standing in the
Shadows
, debunking much of Bockris’ detective work. There’s also the intimate I Was Keith
Richards’ Drug Dealer
, by Tony Sanchez, Keith’s longtime lackey and confidant.

Although Richards refused to be interviewed for this latest entry,
Christopher Sandford’s Satisfaction is arguably the best biography so far. The prose
sags throughout with lazy metaphors—”Keith’s cauldron of pop, R&B, country and jazz…stirred
at [his mother] Doris’ knee”—but the anecdotes come so quick and thick with sugar, you hardly
notice. The book opens with Keith singing in a children’s choir for the Queen and other dignitaries
in a performance that allegedly brought Winston Churchill to tears. Later, Richards is in Swedish
tax-exile, where his upstairs neighbor is Vladimir Nabokov. The reader is left to wonder what the
two might have chatted about while passing in the lobby. Alliteration? Open G tunings? The virtues
of pubescent American girls?

None-too-flattering details emerge, as when the usually chivalrous
Richards punches his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg in the face. Or when a member of Richards’ entourage
makes the mistake of asking him about money during a bender at his Jamaican estate, prompting Richards
to stick a 38 Special to the guy’s head. The legendary blood exchange turns out to be more true than
false; although Richards never traded all of his blood, he did undergo extensive dialysis for the
removal of toxins.

The best parts of Sandford’s account not surprisingly come from the
years between Dartford and Altamont. During the 60s, Keith is hopped up on bennies and lager and
is actively engaged with the world. He’d go on to spend the 70s sitting on toilets with a needle stuck
in his arm. (Sandford claims that when Keith went “clean” in ’78, all he quit was heroin. Coke, booze
and weed were still fair game.) From the 80s on, Richards is stuck in a rock ‘n’ roll corporate bubble
professionally, and domesticated personally.

The book ends with a couple of pages on the Stones’ current finances,
where hundreds of millions of dollars, global nostalgia tours and names like EMI blur in a depressing
crescendo. It’s unlikely there is, or ever will be, anything more to say about Keith Richards.

..