Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Compelling material, poor layout

PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives
by Frank Warren

Begin with the concept. The website says:

"You are invited to anonymously contribute your secrets to PostSecret. Each secret can be a regret, hope, funny experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, erotic desire, feeling, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything - as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. Create your 4-by-6-inch postcards out of any mailable material. If you want to share two or more secrets, use multiple postcards. Put your complete secret and image on one side of the postcard."

PostSecret is a compelling website, and so I looked forward eagerly to the book, which promised a selection of the best submissions shown online as well as others not previously displayed. It lives up to the hype in all respects except one. The selection truly does contain many of the best submissions, however the layout leaves quite a bit to be desired. In many cases the postcards (originally 4" by 6") are enlarged to fill a page, or even to stretch across two pages. For a book in which the visual element is so key, the bad layout is a major handicap. Nevertheless, it is an intruiging look into the secret lives of others -- many of which look strikingly familiar.

Retirement should have come sooner

The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus
by Harry Harrison

The latest installment in Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series begins with the title character, a.k.a. "Slippery Jim" DiGriz enjoying a comfortable but boring quasi-retirement with his wife and sometime partner Angelina. A picnic is interrupted by a mysterious man offering Jim a job to alleviate his boredom and, of course, augment is personal fortune substantially. Is this autobiographical? Like his famous character, Harry Harrison has been quite successful at his career for many years, leaving him with a solid reputation and the means to live comfortably. Whether he was motivated by money or boredom I don't know, but just as Jim should have turned down the job, Harrison should have known better than to write this book. The first Stainless Steel Rat book was as fresh and exciting as Slippery Jim. Other books in the series, such as The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!, exhibited a keen sense of humor. Although Jim is still skilled at the misdirection and sleight of hand that made him a successful criminal, Harrison's writing has become dull and predictable. At the end of this book, Jim indicates that he may retire permanently. I hope this signals an end to the series, because like Jim the series has grown old and tired.

Totally unique!

The Good Soldier Svejk: and His Fortunes in the World War
by Jaroslav Hasek

I read a tremendous amount, but I've never come across anything like this novel. This book is a funny anti-war adventure story, but also so much more. It gives the reader an excellent sense of what it might have been like to live in the Austrian Empire in 1914-15. I know it sounds strange, but after reading this, Kafka begins to make sense. Read this book once for sheer entertainment, but then read it again and give it some thought. It's well worth it!