Book Reviews: Customer Service, Absurdity, Westerns, and Lizards

Tried to remember “Shadowing of Angels” and “Fascist Lizards,” but of course when it mattered it came out “Shadowing of Lizards” and “Fascist Angels.”
Hmmm, I wonder if that last one is a sequel to Paradise Lost. . .

The Best Customer Service Quotes Ever Said
If you thought these would be quotes from people about customer service they’ve received, you’d be wrong. This is about how to give customer service, so the title is a little misleading. And most quote books don’t have such a narrow focus.
A lot of these quotes are by the author himself, but because I’ve read his previous book, which I considered one of the top of last year, it’s worth it. Every once in a while some gem will pop up, sometimes by the last person you’d expect.

Extraordinary Shorts
Very short stories that feel like the author is a Twilight Zone fan but wanted to write five minute episodes rather than half hours. The first one reminds me of the tale of the coat left on the girl’s grave I first heard as a kid, and most followed in that vein. Toward the end there were some stories that forgot to include a punch line. The author sure loves setting her scenes, almost overdoing the descriptions, but maybe because these are for kids there’s no great effort to make the plots anything but bare bones. I expected more.
The scariest part wasn’t the stories, but the pencil artwork, especially the faces.

The United States of Absurdity
From drunk baseball games to Agent Elvis to lobster madmen, here are moments in history that were probably better off left without this light shined on them. Michael Malloy, for example, is a darkly comic version of Rasputin.
But it’s important to remember this isn’t intended as a history book, rather to make the reader laugh. The snark is in full effect; it’s the best part of this. It’s not like these history lessons are important. . .
At times juvenile, but mostly innocent—and not so innocent—fun.

High Noon
Subtitled: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. That’s an important distinction, lest you make the mistake of assuming this is just a behind-the-scenes of the making of the popular Western film.
It starts with a fantastic bio of Gary Cooper, but then shifts to a long history of American communism during WW2. The Cooper stuff is the best part of the first half; the Red scare hearings drag things down, slow the pace, though once in a while there’s a gem, like the news that Ayn Rand had a big part in this that no one knew about.
There’s an interesting take by one of the lawyers representing someone “asked” to testify: “He would not represent anyone who took the Fifth Amendment, arguing that if they were former Communists, as all of his clients claimed to be, they had not broken any law and therefore did not need the amendment’s protection.” The best job description ever written has to be “the industry expert in frying producers.”
This is a difficult read, both emotionally and. . . reading wise. Thankfully there’s some optimistic moments, such as the part at the end that tells about the movie’s—or at least the poster’s—role in helping Solidarity overcome the Communist government in Poland. Another fun fact is that this movie has the distinction of being the most requested by American presidents. But the most heartwarming has to be the story of detective work that unearthed the original manuscript of the screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai, leading the author of High Noon to receive credit for the Oscar-winning work just in the nick of time.
Acknowledgements, notes, and bibliography take up the last 12%.
As can be perceived by my previous comments, the parts about the movie were so much more interesting than the hearings. 4.5 for the movie stuff, 2.5 for hearings, so according to old math that comes out to:

Fascist Lizards from Outer Space
Most likely the best title of any book this year, and not what you think of at first blush. Instead this is about the making of the incredibly popular science-fiction franchise known simply as V, from the original blockbuster to the lackluster reboot.
The first important note is in the intro, where the author states this project evolved from a master’s thesis to a full-fledged book. For the most part that’s hard to tell, but on the other hand it does explain a few niggling problems. For example, it’s stated right away that the original miniseries, of which I remember fondly and was a huge fan, drew more than 40% of the viewing audience, which even in the days before cable is an astounding number. But as awesome as that factoid is, it doesn’t bear repeating four times in the opening quarter of the book, and more times after that. Made me wonder if this was mashed together from several different writings, and not edited.
Another point that’s repeated time and again is the mention of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, a book that is incredibly relevant to the story as well as today’s America—more on that in a bit—but annoyed me by the fourth mention.
What I learned most about the making of V was the history of its auteur, Kenneth Johnson. Not being a Hollywood insider, I was unfamiliar with his name on anything other than this, so it was with fascination that I read about his work with three other intriguing series: The Bionic Woman, the Incredible Hulk, and Alien Nation. Much is made of his background in classics and literature, like how he equated the Hulk with Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, a “lonely fugitive relentlessly hounded by an obsessed adversary.”
There’s plenty of fun little notes, such as the fact that the original miniseries’ four-note motif represents the letter V in Morse code. And I’m loving some of the alternative stories that never got done. But at the end there’s no more fun, quite the opposite. Maybe this is why this book was written now; there’s a whole section on it, probably originally written as a stand-alone, but this is the basic sum-up: “The violence and discord occurring at Trump’s rallies harkens back to the brutalities committed by Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (also known as “Brownshirts”) during his ascendency to the German chancellery.” And since this is where Johnson got the original idea for the whole story. . .
The last 7% is appendix, book list, episode credits, merchandise, bibliography, and index.


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