The twelve most popular book reviews, essays and readings from Ralph's first seven years --- being those that have received the most number of hits over the last few weeks.

  • Strange Foods,An Epicurean Adventure Around the World, by Jerry Hopkins (Periplus/Tuttle). "It's one thing to read about these interesting if not disgusting dishes --- it's quite another to eat, or (almost as bad) look at them. The photographs are, so to speak, all-consuming. The author, who has also written books on Elvis Presley (who, presumably, we are not to eat), is on a fine line here. I mean, they do eat duck embryos, on the street, in the Philippines. But I am not so sure you are prepared --- I wasn't --- for the closeup of a young fellow on page 139, chowing down on one (they don't get cooked until they are aborted at mid-term) with bits of yellow you-don't-want-to-know all over his puss."

  • "Joseph Stalin," by Eric Hobsbawm. "In turning himself into something like a secular Tsar, defender of the secular Orthodox faith, the body of whose founder, transformed into a secular saint, awaited the pilgrims outside the Kremlin, Stalin showed a sound sense of public relations. For a collection of peasant and animal-herding peoples mentally living in the Western equivalent of the eleventh century, this was almost certainly the most effective way of establishing the legitimacy of the new regime, just as the simple, unqualified, dogmatic catechisms to which he reduced 'Marxism-Leninism' were ideal for introducing ideas to the first generation of literates."

  • Conversations with E. L. Doctorow, Christopher D Morris, Editor (University Press of Mississippi). "Sometimes, we wonder how famous authors have any time to write, surrounded as they are by all these hungry reporters, pasty critics, graduate students, neo-intellectuals, all out for a coup. We're often put in mind of the comment of Ezra Pound: that the pain of being in St. Elizabeth's was not being thought of as crazy, but being at the beck and call of every miserable English major or PhD candidate from Nowheresville State U. for interview. He said that alone could drive a grown man bonkers."

  • "Tijuana Baby Jesus," by Carlos Amantea. "I go to the cathedral here in Tijuana with my mother, and it's dark, and you go in, and look up at the Holy Mother, and she's looking right at you. You can see she's breathing, because her chest is moving, up and down, up and down. Her eyes are wide and dark, and she's looking right into you, into the deepest part of you. You can see her lips move, and she's calling out your name. And when you look down at the holy babe, you can see he's staring right into you too. His eyes are wide and dark, darker than hers, baby-dark eyes, and he's staring into your heart."

  • "Hitler's First Photograph," by Wislawa Szymborska.
    A little pacifier, diaper, rattle, bib,
    our bouncing boy, thank God and knock on wood, is well,
    looks just like his folks, like a kitten in a basket,
    like the tots in every other family album.
    Shush, let's not start crying, sugar,
    the camera will click from under that black hood.

  • The Goslings: A Study of the American Schools, by Upton Sinclair (Upton Sinclair Publishing). "The theory behind the public schools, which cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions every year, is that they manufacture hordes of enlightened and incorruptible voters, and so safeguard and mellow democracy. The fact is that they are mainly manned by half-wits and bossed by shysters, and that their actual tendency is to reduce all their pupils to the level of Kiwanis."

  • A Woman Of Rome, Alberto Moravia (Steerforth Italia). "We've all heard the cliché of the saintly whore with the heart of gold. In the hands of Moravia, it stops being a cliché, takes another form. She pulls all men into her, sees them all with a dispassionate warmth that leads us to believe that perhaps she is one of the divine, a Mary Magdelaine, the Sweet Mother of Jesus, our Lady of the Streets. Her forgiveness is what sets her apart; no, better --- it is her clear her ability not to judge those who deceive and steal from society, or, at times, from her."

  • "The Rooster In the Wristwatch," by Jon Gallant. "One of my wristwatches has an alarm which mimics the sound of a rooster crowing. At some point in the distant past the alarm was set, God only knows how, to go off in the mid-morning, and I have no idea how to change or cancel its now irrevocable setting. Until recently I wore this watch every day. When the rooster sound went off in class or in a meeting each morning, I played innocent, looking around the room as if to discover where the sound was coming from. Eventually, this ruse began to fail, and to avoid further embarrassment I gave up wearing the watch...In one attempt to kill the alarm, I put it in my freezer for a week, but that didn't faze it. Not knowing how to unprogram the thing, I feared to throw it away, out of superstitious dread of what the garbage-men would think when they heard a rooster crow from inside my dumpster. I finally nailed the watch to the wall in my study, where it remains, sturdily crowing every morning at what it thinks is 9:41 AM."

  • The Grand Canyon and the Southwest, by Ansel Adams (Little Brown). "All the while I am looking at these I am wondering how he did it? With nothing but an ancient 8x10 or 16x20 view camera and black-and-white stock, visually recording none but the most simple scenes, he created heart-stopping photographic drama."

  • Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941 - 1945, by Leo Marks (Free Press). "Between Silk and Cyanide is ostensibly about the world of secret codes and coding, and the subterfuge war of 1940 - 1945. In reality, it is about the coming of age of a slightly damaged, slightly neurotic, very funny, very insightful genius of code. You don't want to get into it. Because it's one of those books that won't let go, that sweeps us up to such a degree that we don't want it to end."

  • Dr. Laura: The Unauthorized Biography, Vickie L. Bane (St Martins). "If Doctor Laura was seeking to become famous, she picked the right guy. If she was looking for someone who would keep her deepest secrets, she shoulda stood in bed. Over the years, Ballance seems to have lost whatever little affection he had for his old squeeze. His uncensored memories of their time together have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair, and several other newspapers and magazines. They are uniformly obnoxious, highly personal, and hilarious."

  • "Why Anti-matter Matters," by Douglas Cruickshank. "Alfred Jarry, whose work prefigured theater of the absurd, Dada, Surrealism and Futurism also may have anticipated certain modern physics theories."

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