Review ~ Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic

Cover via Goodreads

Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Adelaide Herrmann, Margaret B. Steele (Editor)

Madame Adelaide Herrmann (1853-1932) was a superstar of the Golden Age of Magic and now her story is finally told, and what a story it is! Entitled “Sixty-Five Years of Magic,” Madame takes us on an amazing adventure, from her beginnings as a dancer and trick bicyclist, to her marriage to Alexander Herrmann and their subsequent tours of the U.S., Mexico, South America and Europe. She peppers her memoir with hilarious anecdotes, misadventures, accidents and the continuous outrageous antics of the husband she adored. She describes their show in minute detail, including her husband’s magic repertoire and their baffling illusions which drew standing-room only audiences wherever they went. In heartrending detail, she tells the story of her husband’s death. She then reinvents herself into the first great female magician, and takes us through yet another thirty years of solo adventures. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the memoir of the greatest female magician of the early 20th century (perhaps ever). Are you kidding me?! Of course I was interested in this book!

What Worked
Often there are two kinds of magic books: the cheaply made public domain scanned reprints or the beautifully made limited editions that are beyond my budget if available at all. This book is thankfully neither of those things. It is a very nicely made trade paperback full of black and white pictures. Finding Mme. Herrmann’s memoir and collecting her writings and ephemera together was a labor of love for magician and editor Margaret Steele, and it shows. And…it’s available!  Because why wouldn’t you want to make Adelaide Herrmann’s memoir available?

The first three-fourths of the book is Alelaide Herrmann’s memoir, written by her with some editorial help. It covers her life from meeting, marrying, and becoming the assistant to Alexander Herrmann (“Herrmann the Great”) to the end of her career in the late 1920s. It covers their love story, many of their adventures, and her trials and triumphs working on her own as a performer. The last fourth of the book is articles written by and about Mme. Herrmann, including several from women’s magazines encouraging young women to take up magic.

I have often wondered why more young girls do not turn their attention to the study and practice of magic, as it develops every one of the attributes necessary to social success—grace, dexterity, agility, easy of movement, perfection of manner, and self-confidence.

Here’s Margaret Steele performing one of Adelaide Herrmann’s signature tricks:

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Bramble Books, 2012
Acquired: Amazon, 12/17/16
Genre: memoir

This is 6/10 Books of Summer!
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Review ~ Believe Me

This book was provided to me by Penguin Group and Blue Rider Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard

Critically acclaimed, award-winning British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard details his childhood, his first performances on the streets of London, his ascent to worldwide success on stage and screen, and his comedy shows which have won over audiences around the world.

Over the course of a thirty-year career, Eddie Izzard has proven himself to be a creative chameleon, inhabiting the stage and film and television screen with an unbelievable fervor. Born in Yemen, and raised in Ireland, Wales and post-war England, he lost his mother at the age of six. In his teens, he dropped out of university and took to the streets of London as part of a two-man escape act; when his partner went on vacation, Izzard kept busy by inventing a one-man act, and thus a career was ignited. As a stand-up comedian, Izzard has captivated audiences with his surreal, stream-of-consciousness comedy–lines such as “Cake or Death?” “Death Star Canteen,” and “Do You Have a Flag?” have the status of great rock lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “Executive Transvestite,” Izzard broke the mold performing in full make-up and heels, and has become as famous for his advocacy for LGBT rights as he has for his art. In Believe Me, he recounts the dizzying rise he made from street busking to London’s West End, to Wembley Stadium and New York’s Madison Square Garden. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
In 2005 (or maybe 2006), Eric and I were at the World Fantasy Convention in Madison (or maybe Austin). Seeking refuge from all the con activities, we went up to our room to rest and watch a little TV. We don’t have cable at home so HBO at a hotel is a little bit of luxury. And on HBO was a comedy special. The comedian was a man wearing heels, leather pants, a tunic blouse and a lot of makeup. He was very funny with a long-game comedy style that relies on clever call-backs. And so, Eddie Izzard gained two fans with his special Dressed to Kill.

What Didn’t Work
It’s hard to say that the first part of this memoir doesn’t work. Eddie Izzard’s early years were not super happy. His mother passed away when he was pretty young and he and his older brother were sent to boarding school because his father traveled often for work. Add to that Izzard’s growing sense that he had, as he puts it, a girl mode despite being very sporty and being interested in the army and the UK version of the scouts. This isn’t material that lends itself to a comedy take. I think Izzard knows this, but he does try to add some levity in the form of digressions. I think it was this juxtaposition that didn’t quite work for me in the first half of the book.

What Worked
The pace picks up in the second half as Izzard talks about the evolution of his career and the things that have become important to him. This seems to be more comfortable territory for Izzard. If, like me, you came upon Izzard as a successful stand-up comedian, it isn’t evident that he originally wanted to do dramatic roles. The path to playing  Wayne Malloy on The Riches or Abel Gideon on Hannibal wound through sketch comedy and street performance before the stand-up stage.

…if I wish to do something, I am quite happy to go back again and again and attack the brick wall of “no” and find a way to push through to the other side.

Izzard has carried this through in his personal life as well. His career as a stand-up comedian was just taking off when he decided to come out as transgendered. It could have destroyed his career or it could have led to becoming a “niche” comedian. Instead, Izzard simply persisted in being an intelligent and absurd. One gets the feeling that if the stand-up thing wouldn’t have worked, Izzard would have pivoted to the next thing. What that might have been is a question for the ages.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub, Blue Rider Press, 2017
Acquired: NetGalley, 5/30/17
Genre: memoir

This is 3/10 Books of Summer!

Review ~ The Princess Diarist

Cover via Goodreads

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford.

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. And today, as she reprises her most iconic role for the latest Star Wars trilogy, Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. (via Goodreads)

I.

I started listening to The Princess Diarist as an audio book sometime back in December or January, but that wasn’t the right time for me. Instead, it wasn’t until I listened to Kevin Smith’s tribute to Carrie Fisher on an episode of SModcast that I finally really wanted to read this book.

II.

Often Doctor Who fans identify their era of Doctor Who with who their Doctor is. Is it Four (Tom Baker)? Or Ten (David Tennant)? James Bond fans do this too. (George Lazenby, anyone?) And maybe Star Wars fans will too. Is Rey your girl? Or Padme? Or Jyn Erso? Or, like me, is Leia your kick-ass, blaster-wielding diplomat alter-ego?

I was three years old when Star Wars came out. I remember seeing it at a drive-in and that was probably more than a year after it came out. I had lots of Star Wars action figures, and all the Leias.

Later in life, I remember being a little disappointed that Carrie Fisher had such a messy life. Forgive me, Carrie, I was young and dumb.

III.

The Princess Diarist is set up into three parts. In the first Fisher tells about her early education and career, getting the job on Star Wars, and how she came to be involved briefly with Harrison Ford.

The second part is the diary she kept during that period. It is, despite the singular situation, very much the diary of a 19-year-old girl. Of course, at the time, Star Wars wasn’t StarWars.  It was just some low-budget sci-fi flick that no one was getting paid very much for. It was a job and Carrie Fisher was an actress who wasn’t even sure she wanted to follow in her celebrity parent’s footsteps.

The third part of the book is Fisher’s musings on the celebrity that Princess Leia brought her. Imagine the nineteen year-old version of yourself being pretty much eternal. Imagine having fans who feel an intimate connection with you due to love of the film. Imagine fans who are a little disappointed that you aren’t entirely Princess Leia.

IV.

I’ll never be a blaster-wielding diplomat princess. I’m never going to be a quick-witted superstar writer either. But I wouldn’t mind being a woman who can age and keep a messy life together with and eye-roll and a glitter bomb. That’s something we can all reasonably aspire to.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle edition, Penguin Publishing Group, November 22, 2016
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: memoir

This is .5/10 Books of Summer!

 

Deal Me In, Week 18 ~ “The Real Work”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Real Work” by Adam Gopnik

Card picked: 2♣ – A Wild Card!
From: The New Yorker, March 17, 2008

The Essay
For today’s wild card pick, I went to my Pocket queue to browse. Alas, I’m still a little hungover from last weekend’s readathon, and none of the short stories I’d bookmarked caught my attention. Instead, I landed on an essay I had come across in the past, but not had the time to read. It was, not surprisingly, an essay about magic and magicians. Adam Gopnik catches a slice of the magic scene in 2008—about a decade after David Blaine came to prominence as a sort of anti-magic magician—but also explores the eternal question of what is the “real work” in regards to magic as an art.

Gopnik’s main subject is close-up magician and historian Jamy Ian Swiss. Swiss is obviously an advocate for the more traditional aspects of magic, but with a deep understanding that magic isn’t just technique. After all, with magic, technique should be completely invisible. Instead, it’s the magician’s job to engage the audience in agreed upon deception.

Gopnik summarizes Swiss’s philosophy:

Magic is imagination working together with dexterity to persuade experience how limited its experience really is, the heart working with the fingers to remind the head how little it knows.

In contrast, David Blaine dosen’t want magic that looks real. Instead, he states:

“What I want are real things that feel like magic.”

Obviously, these two approaches to magic are quite different, but  share much of the same space in the eyes of an audience. Both have a historical pedigree, with Dai Vernon being the patron of Swiss’s effortless sleight of hand, and Houdini the progenitor of Blaine’s death-defying derring-do. The focus though is firmly on Swiss  though with perhaps the question of whether the older philosophies of magic might be on the way out, or at least in danger of being destructively appropriated.

♣ ♣ ♣

Way back when I was first starting to get interested in magic, I had the opportunity to see Jamy Ian Swiss perform and lecture about deception at ASU. And it’s online!

Review ~ Exclusive Magical Secrets

Cover via AbeBooks

Exclusive Magical Secrets by Will Goldston

Exclusive Magical Secrets, along with the later More Exclusive Magical Secrets (1921) and Further Exclusive Magical Secrets (1927) were part of the “locked books” by Will Goldston. Each book came with a padlock and key with a clasp built into the book to keep the book, in a cheap red leather binding, closed. Thus, you were not able to walk in a magic shop (Goldston’s, mainly) and browse the book. (via Magicpedia)

Why was I interested in this book?
I was particularly interested in the chapter on Buatier de Kolta and his expanding cube mystery. Buatier’s was a forerunner to Joseffy’s similar trick. The chapter did not disappoint. It presented a nice-sized bio of Buatier and De Kolta, since the origins of the act involved two men.

What Worked
Exclusive Magical Secrets is a weird little collection of magic subjects. There is an range of how-tos from small pocket magic to theater-scale stage illusions, but then there is also the de Kolta bio—the only biography in the book— and individual chapters on subjects like a whist-playing automaton, quick-changes, juggling effects, and a nice bit of philosophy concerning comedy before a section on comedic tricks. (And, yes, a couple escapes contributed by Houdini…)

It took Goldston a decade to put the book together, but he didn’t seem to end up with a cohesive treatise. Instead Exclusive Magical Secrets is sort of a survey on different types of magic that might actually be more useful than if he delved into only one aspect.

Will Goldston magician
Will Goldston, 1911
What Didn’t Work
Reading about how magic tricks are done can be really boring. Goldston actually has a pretty light touch, but if you’re not really intending to perform the tricks, any instruction can be a little mind-numbing.

Originally published in 1921, it’s also a somewhat dated. Many common objects and situations aren’t so common any more. Also, “Chinese magic” was a prominent fad at the time of the publication. Goldston doesn’t hide the fact than many Chinese acts were performed by white Western magicians, but he also has no problem with that.

Overall
If you don’t want to know how magic tricks are done (even ones that are 100 years old), this isn’t the book for you. If you do want to know how modern magic is done, there are a few tidbits here and there that are still applicable. If you’re into magic history, this is a glimpse into the style of the time with a few glances back to even older magic acts. I picked up my copy used at Bookmans and it was well worth it for the chapter on de Kolta alone.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Dover Publications, Inc, 1977
Acquired: 11/19/16, Bookmans
Genre: non-fiction

Visit my Magic Picks shop if you’d like your own copy.
(Amazon associates store)

Review ~ Ghostland

Cover via Goodreads

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes,” Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as “the most haunted mansion in America,” or “the most haunted prison”; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living—how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made—and why those changes are made—Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I enjoy reading/hearing about hauntings. I was browsing through the library’s audio catalog and Ghostland had a good narrator.

What Worked
Like a lot of folklore, ghost stories are strongly tied to the history and culture of place. In Ghostland, Colin Dickey takes some of the most famous haunted places in the US, fact checks the story’s details (when applicable), and then takes a look at how the setting and history of the location has played a part in the narrative’s current form. There are differences between ghost stories in Athens, GA and Hollywood, CA after all.

Dickey also examines how modern society views ghosts. On one hand, there is a cachet to having a ghost “destination.” Many of the hauntings in Ghostland have been featured on ghost hunting TV shows. In many cases, like the Winchester Mystery house, not-quite-true stories continue because that is the narrative that sells. On the other hand, no one *really* wants to live somewhere they believe to be haunted, even if phenomena can be easily debunked. Ghost are good if you want a tourist trap, bad if you want to sell a house.

What Didn’t Work
The structure of Ghostland was roughly chronological, but also broken into specific types of locations—domestic places (houses), commercial places (bars, hotels), public works places (prisons, cemeteries, parks), and even cities themselves. I probably would have preferred a more strict chronological order.

This is also a popular nonfiction work, not a scholarly work. Some of the tenants of Ghostland aren’t exhaustively investigated. For example, it’s argued that the ghost stories of the American south edit out the horrors of slavery in favor of more romantic stories, like Myrtles Plantation’s Chloe. But a good investigation of such an assertion could take a book itself. Ghostland is a sip from the well instead of a deep dive.

Overall
Overall, thumbs up. It was good to listen to during my reading slump. If you’re a fan of podcasts such as Lore or Just a Story, this is definitely up your alley.

Publishing info, my copy: OverDrive Listen audiobook, Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, October 4, 2016
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: nonfiction, pop culture, history

Review ~ Fascist Lizards from Outer Space

This book was provided to me by McFarland & Company via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Fascist Lizards from Outer Space: The Politics, Literary Influences and Cultural History of Kenneth Johnson’s V by Dan Copp

When Kenneth Johnson’s science fiction miniseries V premiered in 1983, it netted more than 40 percent of the television viewing audience and went on to spawn a sequel, a weekly series, novelizations, comic books and a remake. Entertainment Weekly named the show one of the 10 best miniseries of all time and the franchise continues to enjoy ardent fan support at science fiction conventions around the world. Yet the 2009 V reboot was cancelled in its second season, despite a robust premiere. Both versions of V were products of their respective times, but the original was inspired by classic works by the likes of Sinclair Lewis and Leo Tolstoy. Johnson’s predilection for literature and history helped give his telling of V a sense of heart and depth that the contemporary version sorely lacked.

At first impression the original two-part alien invasion epic may seem a mishmash of science fiction cliches. Yet behind the laser pistols, anthropomorphic reptiles and flying saucers lies a compelling treatise on the nature of power, oppression and resistance, inspired by both classic literature and historical events. Featuring exclusive interviews with cast and crew, this book examines V’s cultural impact and considers the future of the franchise. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I was eight years old when the original V miniseries premiered on NBC. Living in a household that appreciated science fiction, it was certainly a viewing event for us. In my wider world, even Star Wars wasn’t playground fodder, so I had no concept of how popular V was.* What I knew then was: V aired in the 8pm-10pm time slot and my bed time was 9pm. I begged and begged to be allowed to stay up. My mom relented. I could watch on the little TV in my room (black and white, btw), but I had to be in bed and the TV was to be turned off at 10pm sharp.** I was glad to have my covers to hide under, because the second half of the first night, when the villainous Diana eats a hapless guinea pig whole, was pretty heady stuff for an eight year old.

At that age, I knew nothing about WWII or the Holocaust, but I still felt that V had a different weight to it than its TV contemporaries (Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica). V‘s story was happening in something closer to the real world than other sci fi. When the character of Abraham Bernstein, a Holocaust survivor, refers to the past, it’s actually the real past. While I didn’t understand it, it wasn’t lost on me as a kid.

* Note also: I’m a girl. Maybe the boys were playing Visitors vs. Resistance…
** Even though it was kind of a big deal to have my own TV in my room, I don’t recall abusing the privilege. My parents might remember differently.

What Worked
Dan Copp does a really good job showing how Kenneth Johnson, writer and director of V (and many other sci-fi shows), grounds his speculative fiction stories in literature. V is more or less a retelling of Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, a novel published in 1935 about the possible rise of fascism in the United States, with strong nods to the scope of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Copp also looks at Johnson’s career before V for evidence of science fiction strengthened by literature and finds it in the classically heroic underpinnings of Johnson’s The Incredible Hulk and The Bionic Woman episodes. Copp also notes how, without Johnson’s influence, V: The Final Battle and the V television series in 1983 and 2009 rarely rise above a shoot-em-up or the usual prime-time drama.

One of the other things the V does really well that  its later siblings doesn’t do, Copp points out, is show the use of media to control a population. In 1983, that was easily achieved by the Visitors taking over the small number of TV networks. The 2009 TV series (which I personally had forgotten existed until mentioned in Fascist Lizard‘s introduction) missed a great opportunity to similarly take advantage of how a fascist regime might levy social media.

What Didn’t Work
Much of Fascist Lizards from Outer Space is about how bad both TV series are. There is a nearly episode-by-episode breakdown of things that the TV shows do wrong. Some of it illustrates the choices that NBC (the 1983 series) and ABC (the 2009 series) made concerning the show’s budget and what they thought made the original popular. That part is interesting, but after a few strong examples, the litany of errors just gets boring.

I was also a little disappointed that Copp didn’t extend his evaluation past V to include Johnson’s Alien Nation. I was inspired by Fascist Lizards to rewatch both the original V and the Alien Nation TV series (1989). It’s hard not playing the “currently relevant” card right about here.

Overall
If you like reading about the history of science fiction in the movies and on television, this is solid choice.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub ARC, McFarland , April 1, 2017
Acquired: 1/17/17, NetGalley
Genre: nonfiction, pop culture