James Monroe (2005) by Gary Hart.
This is a monograph in the series "The American Presidents." Hart's thesis is Monroe was the first 'national security' president; to this end he exalts the fifth president as much as possible - e.g., minimizing John Quincy Adams' contribution to the Monroe Doctrine.
Hart goes out of his way to criticize some of the ideas in another "American Presidents" volume; oddly, not ideas concerning Monroe, but rather dealing with his presidential predecessor as expressed in Garry Wills' James Madison. I'm sure this gratuitous attack has nothing to do with the fact Wills had some rather negative things to say about Hart in his Under God - describing Hart as "the first candidate of Adulterers' Lib," for example.
Leaving that bit of pettiness aside, I was not particularly impressed with this brief biography, but then I haven't gotten much out of any of the volumes of this series that I've read.
Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor (1971) by Isaac Asimov.
I don't think I've done any bookblogging this year, so I thought I would ease back into it with this pretty slight item.
My late father taught Sunday School, and he used this as a resource for many of his opening jokes before he started on the lessons. I used it as bathroom reading, though I had read it before back in my early teens and remembered very little of it. Not surprising, since it's not very memorable; and not very funny, either, full of chestnuts that were stale at the time of publication forty years ago (and thus perfect for a Senior Men's Sunday School class). I only chuckled a couple of times, at best, and usually was left completely stone-faced. It's also very sexist, which Asimov's repeated assertions that he is a feminist don't do much to remedy.
A few points of interest among the general drabness:
- He misattributes "I wonder how one augur can pass another on the street without laughing" to Cato the Elder, when it was actually Cicero. And thus he misses getting to point out that Cicero was himself actually an augur. (IIRC, Cicero makes the infamous comment in a private letter when he was actually running for the office.)
- Asimov includes the 'teeth in Hell' joke ("In Hell there will be gnashing of teeth!" "But Reverend, what if the damned are toothless?" "In Hell teeth will be supplied!") IIRC - maybe I read it in Bart Ehrman somewhere - some twentieth-century theologian prankster made a pseudepigraph where that is a bit of dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. (Still not funny.)
- There's a joke about building a supercomputer, asking it if there's a God, and getting the response from the computer that, "There is now!" Asimov then mock-petulantly complains that it's a de facto rip-off of his story "The Last Question." He generously allows, though, that maybe the joke is older than his story. Well, yeah, since it's basically a paraphrase of Fredric Brown's "Answer." That was published in 1954. Asimov's "The Last Question" came out in '56. Wow, at least the possibility of two plagiarism lawsuits there! I assume nothing ever happened on that front -- Brown died the year after this book was published, which may have something to do with it.
 The joke actually seems a bit longer than Brown's original short-short.
From Dorothy Sayers' dedication to Nine Little Tailors (1934): "From time to time complaints are made about the ringing of church bells. It seems strange that a generation which tolerates the uproar of the internal combustion engine and the wailing of the jazz band should be so sensitive to the one loud noise that is made to the glory of God."
And in the movie Goldfinger (1964) James Bond says, "My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!"
This is why I never say anything about rap.
If Thomas Pynchon ever won the Nobel Prize, would he decline it? Or would he attend the ceremony with a paper bag over his head?
(ETA: I'm assuming the equivalent of the National Book Award/"Professor" Irwin Corey schtick wouldn't be an option for such an exalted venue as the Nobels.)
Isaac Asimov by Michael White.
I'm way behind on my bookblogging, but here's a quick take on one I read several months ago.
I got this hoping it would provide a different perspective on this author from the (three!) autobiographies. Unfortunately, it really doesn't: it's mostly a paraphrase of Asimov's version of events. One welcome exception is White does rightfully spank Asimov for his attitude and actions during his time in the army. (Asimov had strongly favored the U.S. entering WWII, but was exempted from service due to his work at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyards. After the war he was drafted and reacted poorly, whining and fighting tooth and nail to get out. He finally received an early discharge due to a technicality. Asimov seemed totally unaware of how shamefully he had behaved.)
White also accepts without comment Asimov's own account of his divorce and the beginning of his relationship with Janet Jeppson, his second wife. I find this version of events difficult to believe: Asimov acknowledged he had been cheating on his first wife with various women for more than a decade, but he claimed he had not cheated specifically with Janet during the marriage, though by his own admission he moved in with her almost immediately after the separation. His story just doesn't pass the smell test. Asimov may have felt the need to keep up the facade - presumably for divorce settlement reasons - but his biographer should at least mention this seems suspicious. (White explains in his afterword to this edition that at the time he originally wrote this bio he knew Asimov had had AIDS - from a blood transfusion - but he kept it out of the book at the request of the family.)
Not recommended - it contributes nothing new of importance.
(Incidentially, as a child of the eighties I was very amused to learn this biographer used to be a member of the Thompson Twins.)
The SciFi Channel - sorry, Syfy - is currently showing a Land of the Lost marathon. For some reason, this marathon is being sponsored not by this summer's Land of the Lost movie, but by the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. As for the show itself, the actors are amazingly, jaw-droppingly bad, and they're wearing so much orange makeup they look like Oompa-Loompas.
Childhood me, why did you have such bad taste?
For those of us who didn't get enough kitsch stop-motion animation Christmas specials back in the seventies, ABC Family will be airing a new one on December 13: A Miser Brothers Christmas. It'll star our favorite characters from The Year Without A Santa Claus, Heat Miser and Snow Miser (well, duh!), and will apparently include a reprise of their original dueling songs, as well as . . . groan . . . some new crap too. Also, prepare to meet (brace yourself) "Doppler the baby reindeer". (Rudolf's child?)
Oh, this is gonna hurt.