Saturday, January 9, 2021

The World According to Dutch

The World According To DutchThe World According To Dutch by Dutch Mantell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The World According to Dutch is a collection of mostly true stories by wrestler Dirty Dutch Mantell.

This has been on my radar for years despite my being able to count the number of Dutch Mantell matches I've seen on one hand. My wife grabbed this for me for the anniversary of our first date.

Dutch Mantell has a reputation for being a great storyteller and this book proves it. Dutch muses on his life in the wrestling business, wrestling a bear, working and booking in Puerto Rico, and mentoring future superstars like Steve Austin and The Undertaker. The book also covers some 3000 mile weeks working for Bill Watts, having the shit kicked out of him by Akira Maeda in UWFI, and various other wrestling misadventures.

Dutch's writing feels like sitting on the porch, listening to a disreputable uncle's stories over the cheapest beer imaginable. The 270 pages went by in a blur. Fortunately, there's a second volume to look forward to.

The World According to Dutch is a fun wrestling book from one of wrestling's last great storytellers. Four out of five bullwhips.

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Thursday, January 7, 2021

North American Lake Monsters

North American Lake MonstersNorth American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

North American Lake Monsters is a collection of nine short stories by Nathan Ballingrud.

I'm not a short story fan and whatever made me throw this on my wishlist is lost in the Swiss cheese that is the mind of a father of a toddler. My wife bought me this for Christmas and I have now read it.

These stories are heavy on atmosphere and there are feelings of desperation and loss in all of them. I wouldn't exactly call them horror stories, more like human stories that are horror adjacent. A man deals with the aftermath of werewolf attack and the destruction of his business, a man fresh out of jail deals with his home life while there's a dead lake monster not far away. A man blames himself for his son's kidnapping even as he's gazing upon the corpse of an angel. I could go on.

The writing reminds me of Laird Barron's with some very poetic descriptions amidst the horror. I imagine they have some of the same influences. "... her hangover as heavy as a mantle of chains" was my favorite simile but there were countless others.

I'm not normally a fan of short story collections but I enjoyed the hell out of North American Lake Monsters. Four out of five angel carcasses.

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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival CuriositiesRipley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities by Ripley's Believe It or Not!
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a fan of the Ripley's Believe it or Not series starring Jack Palance in the 1980s so this looked interesting. My in-laws bought it for me for Christmas.

This is a coffee table book about sideshow performers from the 19th century through today. It's loaded with photos and reproductions of old sideshow posters. Each performer is given a page or three of text and a couple photos.

Some of the entries, like Robert Wadlow, Jo-Jo the Dogfaced Boy, and Joseph Merrick, are fairly well known. However, there were a host of thin men, conjoined twins, and sword swallowers I'd never heard of. It's an entertaining book but it's also a little sad that some of the people's only livelihood was in exploiting their conditions.

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities is an interesting look at sideshow performers from the last 200 years. 3 out of 5 conjoined twins.

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The Old One and The Sea

The Old One and The Sea (Hardback)The Old One and The Sea by Lex H. Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an earthquake thrusts a strange black reef to the surface off the coast of Innsmouth, young Howard Phillips goes to investigate...

My wife and I have been accumulating odd children's books since before our son was conceived and I'm always on the lookout for new takes on the Cthulhu mythos so this was right in my wheelhouse.

The Old One and The Sea recasts Cthulhu as a misunderstood monster. The setup reminds me of Iron Giant or something of that nature. Boy befriends monster and the adults want it dead.

I like what Lex Jones does with HP Lovecraft and Cthulhu here. Cthulhu's like a big dumb dog with godlike powers, befriending little Howard. Howard, a little boy without a father, quickly grows attached, just in time for the adults to come fuck things up.

The artwork is cute but not nauseatingly so. There's still a hint of creepiness lurking around the edges. My favorite piece of art is after Cthulhu alters Howard so that they can venture beneath the waves together.

The Old One and The Sea is a charming new take on the Cthulhu mythos. I'll read it to my son when he's older and the stars are right. Four out of five Cyclopean monsters.

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons Art & Arcana

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual HistoryDungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History chronicles the history and evolution of Dungeons & Dragons, specifically the art.

I was a heavy D&D player from ages 14 to about 25 so this piqued my interest. Fortunately, my wife bought it for me for Christmas.

This weighty tome chronicles the history of Dungeons and Dragons, from the original pamphlets printed up by Gary Gygax in the 1970s through the most recent edition. It's not an in depth history, focusing more on the look and feel of the art over the years, from high school chuckleheads Gygax knew in Lake Geneva to heavy hitters like Larry Elmore and Erol Otus and beyond.

I knew most of the behind the scenes stuff from other books up until 3.5. Fourth edition's resemblance to World of Warcraft makes a lot more sense now. Is fifth edition still hung up on using miniatures? This book wasn't clear...

Anyway, the art is the star of the show, as it should be in a book of this type. The book is easily two thirds artwork spanning the lifetime of the game. Some of it was new to me but other pieces were as familiar as a ragged character sheet. I recently watched Eye of the Beholder, a documentary covering a lot of the same territory on Prime Video. I recommend watching that as well.

To be honest, my only gripe with this book is that it could have easily been 1000 pages bigger. There are a lot of memorable pieces from 2nd and 3rd edition that didn't make the cut. Hell, Spelljammer and Planescape got 2-3 pages apiece and Dark Sun fared about the same.

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is an essential coffee table book for any longtime Dungeons and Dragons fan. Five out of five dragons.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Is This Anything?

Is This Anything?Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is This Anything? is a collection of Jerry Seinfeld's jokes, from way back in the seventies through the post-apocalyptic train wreck that is 2020.

Seinfeld was my favorite TV show for years, from when it was originally on until my dad and I watched back to back episodes on TBS and quoted most of them to my mom's chagrin. I saw the Comedian documentary film in the theater and even drove to Nashville from St. Louis to see Seinfeld on tour in the early part of this century. My brother and I used to read Seinlanguage aloud to one another while we were sitting in a parking lot ditching church on Sundays. So, naturally, when I saw Seinfeld had another book out, I had to have it. Fortunately, the Christmas gods smiled upon me and here we are.

This book is surprisingly hefty at 480 pages but most of the length is due to the way the book is formatted. I think it would easily fit in 300. I guess we'll see how small they manage to make the paperback. It's divided by decade so it's easy to navigate, though I wolfed it down in three sittings.

If you like Seinfeld's standup act, you pretty much know what you're getting here. Lots of bits about cereal, the airport, the movie theater, going out to restaurants, and things of that nature. It's a fun book to read out loud to your wife, even if she's not a fan of the Seinfeld television show.

A lot of the jokes seemed familiar to me but that's only natural. This book contains all the bits that survived, road tested and tweaked through years of performing. I watched his Netflix special not too long ago and some of those jokes made it into the book.

I don't know what else to say about this. Your enjoyment level depends on how much you like Jerry Seinfeld as a comedian. Since he's shaped my sense of humor since I was a teenager, I'm giving it five stars.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

Under the Black Hat

Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and BeyondUnder the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond by Jim Ross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Under the Black Hat is the second volume in the biography of wrestling commentator and personality Jim Ross.

While I was a little let down by Slobberknocker, thinking it was a little insubstantial given Jim Ross's career, I was open to reading the second book. My wife got it for me for Christmas and I breezed through it the following Monday.

Under the Black Hat starts with Jim Ross becoming head of talent relations and ends with him leaving the WWE after calling one last Wrestlemania less than two weeks after his wife of 25 years was tragically killed and hits a lot of high and low points in between.

Vince McMahon sounds like a real mother fucker to work for but the WWE was pretty much the only game in town for almost 20 years so I guess Jim didn't have much of a choice other than to come back whenever they called despite being fired a few times.

Anyway, events like the death of Owen Hart, exodus of Jeff Jarrett, and retirement of Steve Austin are explored from Jim Ross's point of view. Ross gives an inside view of the pressures of working for the WWE during the Attitude boom. It sounds like it was a continuous dick measuring contest between Vince McMahon, the wrestlers, and good old JR.

There are topics I wish he'd spent more time on but overall I thought this was a much better book than Slobberknocker, with more emotion showing through. I could feel Ross's sadness and frustration at times. It had to be hell to have your dream job but constantly be in fear of someone yanking the rug out from under you.

Under the Black Hat is a great closing chapter to Jim Ross's WWE career. Four out of five stars.

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