Friday, December 26, 2008

Hubert's Freaks by Gregory Gibson

What becomes of a small-time dealer in rare books when he stumbles upon a possible photographic goldmine?

This is the scenario of Hubert's Freaks, by Gregory Gibson.

While soul-searching his way through life, Robert Langmuir has always found himself with a love for African-Americana. In his continuing struggle to keep his used bookstore afloat, he traveled the east coast in search of both books for his shop and collectibles for his soul. Fate was on his side when he stumbled upon an auction of an abandoned storage unit. Among the many unusual circus style artifacts that were being snapped up by dealers was a trunk full of photos, notes and diaries. Seeing these photos, it became obvious that this storage unit belonged to an African-American performer. Time for Robert to feed his soul. He was able to acquire about half of these paper goods.

After getting his stock home he started looking through the details of what he had just acquired. Among these items was a date book. This date book represents a turning point in the life of Langmuir. An entry reading, "Diane Arbus, 131 1/2 Charles St, WA-4-4608., morns 8-10 eves 6-8". Even more incredibly, the handwriting differed from other writing on the page. It appeared (especially in the writing of the name itself) to be written in the hand of Diane Arbus! What did this mean to the photographs? Could they, too, be from the same hand? It became Robert Langmuirs "calling" to find out.

What follows is years of legal wranglings, attempts to authenticate the photos and a goal of selling the works for a deserved price.

This is a book about Robert Langmuir, his professional, personal and spiritual trails.

This is not a book about "Hubert's Freaks". For me, there is precious little information pertaining to this small, African American run, dime museum. The author touches on the fact that he took part in an interview with a relative of the show's proprietors, Charlie and Virginia Lucas, however, after the initial haggling as to the parameters of the interview, there are no details as to what was said. Considering Gibson does recognize the importance of this lost part of Americana, I found this disappointing.

As for the Arbus photos, are they in this book? I couldn't say. Looking at the photos that are here, and judging by the descriptions in the book and my own passing familiarity with the work of Diane Arbus, I'm inclined to say, "no". I found this a bit disconcerting. As I also found the placement of the photos that do appear throughout this work. The pictures that are present show up on pages long before or after the mention of their subjects. For me, as much as I'm not a fan of pictures being bunched up together in the center of a book, it would have made referencing them much easier. As it is, looking at the pictures in their correct context requires long gaps in reading to find the photo, or, as I eventually did, giving up on looking at them in context at all.

Title: Hubert's Freaks
Author: Gregory Gibson
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-15-101233-6

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Anatomists by Hal McDonald

Edward Montague and Jean-Claude Legard are medical students in London. The time is the early 1800's and medical cadavers are hard to come by...legally that is...

After hiring a young resurrectionist, the doctors in training learn that the robbed grave was host to the wrong body. They take it upon themselves to discover who this body belonged to and where the original grave owner has gotten to.

This is the premise of The Anatomists, from author Hal McDonald.

The Anatomists reads as a Sherlock Holmes type of mystery, with roommate Jean-Claude Legard playing Holmes against Edward Montague's Watson. While this works for the era of the story, it has the unfortunate effect of the reader being told what happened as opposed to discovering what happens.

The plot, itself, is quite intricate with many twists and turns along the way to its conclusion, some that are given away a bit to early and many that are surmised far to easily by the Legard character who often decides upon the "answer" with no lead-in to how he could possibly have come to that conclusion.

All that being said, The Anatomists is a fun story if the reader can take himself back in time a bit as a reader and imagine reading this book in the era the story takes place as opposed to 2008.

Title: The Anatomists
Author: Hal McDonald
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 975-0-06-144375-6

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Urban Hermit by Sam MacDonald

For all the "lovable slackers" of the world...

Not living up to your potential? Credit cards maxed out? Behind on your bills? Living paycheck to paycheck? Motivated by beer? Aged 25 going on 17? Choosing jobs based on enjoyment as opposed to financial gain, or even, security?

This just may be the book for you!

In 2000, Yale graduate Sam MacDonald found himself tiring of certain aspects of this life-style and decided a drastic change was the only way past it. His motivating factor...the creditors. It was time to pay off the credit cards and change his life.

The plan was quite obvious: For one month he would simply spend less money. What could be easier? Hello to an extra job. Good-bye to beer. Good-bye to food. Sam was changing his life by changing his diet! For just $8 dollars a week he was able to fill his, soon to be, shrinking belly with lentils and canned tuna. That's it. Nothing more. But he weighs at least 300lbs and it's only for a month, so why not?

In The Urban Hermit, Sam MacDonald chronicles this extreme time of his life. Working as a journalist at a weekly newspaper, every penny that he "saves" through his new budgeting plan is sent to his creditors. Unfortunately, this leaves nothing put aside for life's little twists and turns:

A trip to Bosnia.
A trip to Montana to hang out with Hippies.
A dead car.

Everybody knows or has known a guy like Sam MacDonald. He's a young man with many personal failings and an optimistic outlook on life. He accepts who he is and is an easy-going, affable man. Sure, he has stresses in his life, but he's not going to let that get in the way of his weekends!

The Urban Hermit is a book that can be recommended to just about anybody. I can't imagine who wouldn't enjoy it. MacDonald portrays himself as such a likable and real character with his sheer honesty, the good, the bad and the "what were you thinking...".

This is a ridiculously funny book, seemingly, without setting out to be funny. The humor is just the natural result of living within ones means and still living in the real world. And, of course, the result of a personality like Sam MacDonald's.

Title: The Urban Hermit
Author: Sam MacDonald
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-37699-4