When I launched this blog in 2010, I knew that sex and motherhood were the showstoppers of the blogging world. I knew that if you combined the two, you’d end up with a book deal. So naturally, I decided to write about music. This helps explain why, though money and I sometimes fall into bed, money always leaves early the next morning.

(Notice how I worked in sex there. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of sex in this blog, but we’ll never come near motherhood unless my mother happens to be having a birthday – which she did last week. Good work, Mom.)

Today’s post is another guaranteed money-maker: Part I of what books I read in 2014. But stay with me and I’ll offer you the first-ever Run-DMSteve sex tip!

A few Decembers ago, when I made my resolutions for the new year, I decided to give myself a reading theme. That first theme was 19th-century U.S. novels. I got through all the Little Women books and a couple of others, and then I cheated on my theme. I confess that I cheated several times. Then I gave up my theme because I thought I’ve cheated so what was the point? This was sort of like quitting your diet because you accidentally ate all the chocolate chip cookies.

Now I want to accidentally eat all the chocolate chip cookies.

In December of 2013 I realized that this sort of neg-head downer thinking will never get me anywhere. So I cheat on my theme – so big deal. We’re all adults here. I can always go back to my theme. I resolved to try again in 2014, this time with biographies. I chose this theme because I had collected lots of them but I’d read very few. So here’s the first half of my report, now with 50% more sex!

Writing a biography and making a life come alive is tough work. You need an interesting subject, or a subject you can make interesting. Things get a lot tougher if you’re a bad writer. That’s what happened with our first contestant, Gordon F. Sander’s Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man (1992).

Rod Serling created The Twilight Zone, thought up the iconic ending of Planet of the Apes, and was one of the best storytellers of television’s first golden age. Gordon F. Sander can tell a story, but not well. To be sure, he finds it almost impossible to begin a sentence without “To be sure.” Indeed, he can’t resist “Indeed,” either. Plus he’s the author of this immortal sentence, about the reaction of Serling’s future wife on meeting him when they were students at Antioch University:

At first, she admitted, she was as overwhelmed by the leather-jacketed kamikaze as the rest of the distaff Antiochans Serling had brought to ground.

If you loved The Twilight Zone and if you can absorb subpar prose without developing a rash, you’ll enjoy this book.

Rod Serling Fun Fact: Sander missed the boat on Alice Marble, Serling’s mistress in the early 1960s, whom he identifies as a former American tennis champion. What he doesn’t go into is that Marble was also a spy in WWII for the OSS (the agency that became the CIA). Also, Marble was 50 and Serling was 39 when they began their affair.

Bonus Fun Fact: CBS President Frank Stanton said that Serling “was the only writer I had ever met who looked like his work.”

What happens when you combine a bad writer with a bad person? You get Kenneth Silverman’s Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (1997). Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest in 1874) was intelligent, ingenious, fearless, the hardest working man in show biz, and one of the greatest athletes of his time. He was also paranoid, a liar, hobbled by sentimentality and a fear of death, a guy who always had to be right, and a relentless self-promoter. When he was invited to write the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on “conjuring” he turned in an essay on himself.

Having read this book, I know everything about Houdini, except why I should care. I’m not sure Silverman even likes Houdini. The author’s one-fact-at-a-time account makes for slow reading, but the book jumps to attention when Houdini survives 90 minutes in a coffin underwater. To be sure, that episode was hair-raising! Indeed, I’m not sorry I read Houdini!!!, but it could’ve been a lot better.

Houdini Fun Fact: Houdini contributed many articles to the newspapers of his day. One of his ghostwriters was H.P. Lovecraft.

Even when the writing is passable you can’t do much with a boring subject, as Herbert R. Lottman discovers in Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography (1996).

How did Jules Verne transform himself from a writer of light romantic comedies for the Paris stage and a part-time stockbroker into “the first writer to welcome change and to proclaim that scientific discovery could be the most wonderful of adventures” (Arthur C. Clarke)? We’re not going to find out from this book. Verne was dull, a man who read widely but didn’t like to leave home. But he could grind out the words! I could learn a lesson from that.

Jules Verne is interesting for a while, but Lottman is eventually reduced to recounting plots of melodramatic books and that became a chore for this reader. The book did induce me to reread From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon. They’re OK for kids. In the words of critic Kingsley Amis, “In its literary aspect [Verne’s] work is, of course, of poor quality, a feature certainly reproduced with great fidelity by most of his successors.”

Jules Verne Fun Fact: There are no Jules Verne fun facts.

One last example of how not to do it: Robert Calder’s Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham  (1989).

W. Somerset Maugham wrote The Razor’s Edge, Of Human Bondage, and The Moon and Sixpence. I don’t think he’s much read today, and this book did not turn back the clock. Calder methodically lays out his facts, but he doesn’t understand Maugham’s bisexuality. Does he enjoy Maugham’s books? I can’t tell. Calder will never be noted for his lyrical style…though Maugham wasn’t, either. I kept reading because Maugham’s life was fascinating (he was a British spy in WWI and probably came back for an encore in WWII) and that life glimmered through the pedestrian prose.

Maugham lived to be 91. He knew everyone. Calder notes every dinner guest, house guest, bridge partner, and traveling companion, but only occasionally gives you some context. There are five googleable names on every page; those I looked up reminded me of how fleeting is fame. Authors of 20, 40, even 60 books regularly enter these pages – names that have left barely a ripple in the fabric of space-time.

Because of Willie I finally read “Miss Sadie Thompson,” better known as “Rain.” Wow.

Maugham Fun Fact: Maugham was the highest-paid writer in the world in the 1930s. His competition was Hugh Walpole, another writer who has disappeared. If Walpole is known for anything today, it’s his mention in Monty Python’s “Cheese Shop” sketch.

In our next exciting episode I’ll present the winners in the biography sweepstakes. Now you get the first-ever Run-DMSteve sex tip: Read A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts is one of the many books I cheated with in 2014. The book’s premise is simple: Reverse-engineer human sexuality based on what humanity searches for online. The results are eye-popping. Approach this book with an open mind or be ready to skim lots of pages. Do you ever think about sex? There are lots of people just like you! Give this book a try.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts Fun Fact: Straight men and gay men like all the same things in porn. It’s all about the dick. The only difference between the two genres is the presence or absence of a woman.

Bonus Fun Fact: There are no gay women in this book. Well then who is the audience for Adventures of a Lesbian Cowboy?

 

Comments
  1. seasidedave says:

    Howdy Music-Man Steve-I very much truly enjoyed your writing about writers and books and books on writers and such, but was amply disappointed by the lack of any reference to the fine Soundtrackal music produced for all of the wonderful movies being based on these fine wordographs by the authorians mentioned therein. Can we be expecting some elucidation in that area in a future blog or tweet or whatever you young folks call communication today?

  2. Run-DMSteve says:

    Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking sends this link to prove that The Police weren’t kidding when they tried to warn us about synchronicity: http://tinyurl.com/krx4f4x

  3. thecorncobb says:

    So, I guess this blog is no longer “It’s all about the music”?

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      This blog is all about the music…and I guess whatever else percolates to the top of my head. Today I heard Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” (Oh oh oh-uh-oh-whoa-whoa-whoAH-whoAH, oh oh oh-uh-oh-whoa-whoa-whoAH-whoAH) and now the 80s are percolating pretty good!

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