In the Mail – Culture Edition

I have returned from Washington but am a bit worn out. So until I get a chance to post some reviews, here are some books that have recently crossed my doorstep.

The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems 1937-1952 by Allen Ginsberg

From Publishers Weekly

The troubled and excitable mind of the young Beat poet is given free rein in this exhaustive and often illuminating collection of his early private writing. The text serves as an evolving portrait of both a writer and a man: from the first, self-conscious high school entries to the stylistically mature entries of the early ’50s, the degree of insight and the fluidity of prose multiplies exponentially. Throughout, Ginsberg lives up to his reputation as the most intellectually rigorous as well as the most neurotic of the Columbia gang that included Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Luckily, his neuroses—mostly of a sexual/ romantic nature—are often expressed with lucidity and intensity. Ginsberg’s obsessive relationship with the charismatic Neal Cassady is discussed at particular length, often in a narrative, slightly fictionalized form that provides a fascinating, and significantly more interior, counterpoint to Kerouac’s On the Road. An appendix of early poems provides significant insight into Ginsberg’s developing aesthetic. As a whole, the poems are entertaining in their own right, but, like most of the journals, they can best be appreciated in reference to Ginsberg’s body of later writing.

Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield

From Booklist

Greenfield focuses on the early post-Jones era, when Jagger and Richards were esteemed songwriters, and the band was starting to make money in piles. Picking up approximately where his S.T.P.: A Journey through America with the Rolling Stones (1974) left off, he recounts happenings at Richards’ French villa, where the album Exile on Main Street was recorded in summer 1971. Jagger, having recently dumped Marianne Faithfull, was married to jet-setting Bianca, whose antipathy for Richards and cohorts was reciprocated. Richards was in the middle of a long liaison with dissolute actress, scenester, and Faithfull-friend Anita Pallenberg. The Stones had extricated themselves from manager Allen Klein and, thanks to Jagger’s banker buddy Prince Rupert Lowenstein, were about to begin self-marketing. Complicating things were Richards’, Pallenberg’s, and assorted resident playmates’ heroin addiction, which brought Corsican drug dealers, local scumbags, and sleazoid Richards factotum Spanish Tony Sanchez into the mix, so to speak. Greenfield merrily corrects Sanchez’s and others’ published misstatements and serves up such treats as Richards’ description of Jagger as several of the nicest guys one could hope to meet. Rough, raw, and ironic by turns, he lays down the facts of how heroin enslaved and immobilized the band at a time when everything seemed within its grasp. So doing, this wry depiction of a dark, decadent moment in rock history inspires a certain demented nostalgia.

Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game-And How it Got that Way by Philip E. Orbanes

monopoly.jpgFrom Publishers Weekly

In his account of the development of “the most significant money game in history” (200 million copies sold in 60 countries since 1935), former Parker Brothers vice president Orbanes (The Monopoly Companion) sets the game against a backdrop of political and economic events spanning a century. He introduces entrepreneurs and game inventors, beginning with Elizabeth Magie, who created the Landlord’s Game in 1903 to educate people about Henry George’s idea of a “single tax” on landlords (it even had a space called “No Trespassing/Go to Jail”). Initially unpublished, it circulated among game players in handmade copies on oilcloth. In 1930, Quakers in Atlantic City added local street names—Illinois, Pennsylvania, Mediterranean—to their handmade variation, which became the source of the Monopoly game that Charles Darrow marketed in 1934. Tracing this evolution, Orbanes covers collectors, foreign editions, memorabilia, licensing, copyrights and trademarks with fascinating details: Esquire magazine’s Esky was the springboard for Monopoly’s cartoon financier, and the metal tokens were inspired by the charms from charm bracelets that Darrow’s 11-year-old niece used as game pieces. Orbanes heightens the readability by interweaving his own personal story—at Parker Brothers, which he joined in 1979, and judging Monopoly world tournaments—throughout this lively chronicle that puts the iconic game in the context of a slice of social history.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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