Tuesday, December 28, 2010


An Adventure History of Paris

Consider this an entirely unorthodox guidebook through the crooked streets and tumultuous times of Paris.  Robb, as expert as one can be without actually being Parisian, uncovers and shares fleeting tales of famous moments in the City of Lights.  

It is rather like finding a train ticket or a receipt and discovering an unknown afternoon.  He leads off with a somewhat innocuous story of Napoleon visiting the city (the Palais-Royal in particular) as a young man.  From a diary entry, the reader sees a generous and impressionable man -- not a fearless conqueror.

A sophisticated underground system
Robb continues to reanimate voices through the centuries.  Marie Antoinette is captured only because she became lost during her escape attempt.  M. Guillaumot literally keeps Paris from collapsing by shoring up old mining quarries and tunnels -- then finds a new use for his underground city.  The real, vengeful and masterful Comte de Monte Cristo is uncovered.  The romantic criminal-turned-detective Vidocq and the devastating life behind La Boheme.  There is a story of a small building in Marville that escaped numerous wrecking balls.  The photographs of it over the years show the lives it has held.  It is a study of which Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes would be proud.  Zola and Proust weave in amongst the crowds in the early days of the Eiffel Tower and the Metro - landmarks in their own right.  An alchemist takes clues from the facade of Notre Dame and an exuberant Hitler goes on an eerie tour of the city he has obsessed over.  

A famous Metro sign
The book slumps in the middle. The chapters "Occupation" and "Lovers of Saint-Germain Des Pres" do not hold up nearly as well.  Robb uses various storytelling techniques throughout the book, all in an attempt to enhance each tale.  Yet the distant, impressionist portrait of the lives of children during the war doesn't carry the weight it deserves.  The existential chapter is written in screenplay form (Godard-esque, perhaps?) but it is barely readable.  Thankfully, Robb returns to more approachable and appropriate styles of the remainder of the book.  (Sadly, he skips the surrealists and the street photographers of the 1920s.  Perhaps he feared too much had been written on them already). 

These are postcards; small tales, yet ones you can't believe you'd never heard.  It underscores the importance of archives, history-gathering, and storytelling in our own time.  It is not the streets and buildings that make a city -- it is what happens within (and under) them.  The foundations of predecessors determine as much as a cornerstone.  

Many thanks to the folks at WW Norton for the review copy.

Hardcover  - April 2010   ISBN 978-0-393-06724-8   6.5 × 9.5 in / 496 pages

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sheeeeee's baaaaack!

Rebecca DeWinter just won't stay dead. 

Read about her, and more, in the BACK FROM THE DEAD issue of the Revolving Floor:


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WIN BIG -- It's Happy Haul-idays from Chronicle Books!

It's SO easy to win.  Read about the list of items I've put together.  Leave a comment below.  If Chronicle Books picks your comment, we BOTH win up to $500 worth of great stuff in the list below!  Even if you don't win, you can always visit their website to purchase the items you just can't live without.  As a fan and customer of Chronicle Books for years, I have no qualms about recommending their products.

Since I have both a film criticism and a book criticism blog, I am combining the two interests into one enormous and amazing list which I'll call STORIES & STORYTELLERS.

For the Cinephile...

Secret Lives of Great Filmmakers, By Robert Schnakenberg $16.95
What Your Teachers Never Told You About the World's Greatest Directors

Readers will discover that:
• Charlie Chaplin's corpse was stolen and held for a 400,000£ ransom.
• Akira Kurosawa dreamed of making the ultimate Godzilla film.
• Alfred Hitchcock "lost" his belly button during abdominal surgery—and often shocked his leading ladies by flashing his curiously smooth tummy.

(I might be able to finish one of these...)
TCM Classic Movie Crossword Puzzles, By Turner Classic Movies $9.95
Foreword by Robert Osborne 7 x 9 in; 96 pp

Art of the Modern Movie Poster - International Postwar Style and Design $75.00
By Judith Salavetz, Spencer Drate, and Sam Sarowitz With text by Dave Kehr
11 x 13 in; 516 pp ; 1500 color images; b/w photos throughout
Critically authoritative, visually stunning, and physically massive, Art of the Modern Movie Poster is the first and last word on post-WWII film poster design.

Hollywood Glamour Pack, includes $27.95
Leading Men 7 x 9 in; 240 pp; 200 color and b/w photographs, paperback

Leading Ladies 7 x 9 in; 240 pp; 200 b/w and color photographs, paperback
Full of surprising trivia, film stills, posters, and stunning photos, Leading Men and Leading Ladies pays tribute to the most charismatic, enduring, and elegant actors of their time.

(A flip-book, one of four "scenes" available.)
Petit Cinéma: Bridge $4.95
From the collection of Gaumont Cinémathèque and The Museum of Modern Art 
4 x 2-1/4 in; 120 pp ; b/w photographs throughout, paperback

Picture Show $19.95
Classic Movie Posters from the TCM Archives
By Dianna Edwards, Foreword by Robert Osborne
9 x 12 in; 168 pp ; 150 color images

Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters $40.00
Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla, and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film, By August Ragone
8-1/2 x 10-1/2 in; 208 pp ; 200 b/w and color images, hardcover

Moleskine Passions Film Journal $19.95
5 x 8-1/4 in; 240 pp; hardcover

King Kong Journal $10.95
5-9/16 x 8-3/8 in; 96 pp ; debossed cover with tip-on, 2-color throughout, hardcover
Cinescopes $14.95
What Your Favorite Movies Reveal About You By Risa Williams and Ezra Werb
5-1/2 x 7-1/2 in; 176 pp; paperback

The Action Hero's Handbook $14.95
How to Catch a Great White Shark, Perform the Jedi Mind Trick, Track a Fugitive, and Dozens of Other TV and Movie Skills
By David Borgenicht and Joe Borgenicht
5 x 7 in; 192 pp; paperback

The Action Heroine's Handbook $14.95
How to Win a Catfight, Drink Someone Under the Table, Choke a Man with Your Bare Thighs, and Dozens of Other TV and Movie Skills
By Jennifer Worick and Joe Borgenicht
5 x 7 in; 192 pp; paperback

Movies to Check Out $10.95
By the Imagineering Company
4-3/4 x 6-5/8 in; 128 pp; hardcover 

For the Bibliophile...

Lethal Vintage - A Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley Mystery $23.95
By Nadia Gordon
Lethal Vintage offers a look at what goes on in the mansions above the vines.

Ramayana - Divine Loophole $29.95
By Sanjay Patel
8-3/4 x 8 in; 208 pp; full-color images throughout
Pixar animator Sanjay Patel lends a lush, whimsical illustration style and lighthearted voice to one of Hindu mythology's best-loved and most enduring tales.

(Awesomest party game EVER)
Dracula's Heir - An Interactive Mystery $24.95
By Sam Stall 10 x 8 in; 88 pp ; interactive removable features, hardcover
As with The Crimes of Dr. Watson, Dracula's Heir features an original novella plus several removable clues, including a private journal, a death certificate, a newspaper, and more. Once you've solved the mystery, you can open the final signature (sealed at the printer) to test your sleuthing skills.

(I kinda want to try this now... )
The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects $24.95 
By John Tingey
6 x 9 in; 176 pp ; 125 color and 15 b/w images, hardcover

Mysterio's Encyclopedia of Magic and Conjuring - A Compendium of Astonishing Illusions $24.95
By Gabe Fajuri
7-1/4 x 9 in; 368 pp; hardcover  

(For lovers of THE KINGDOM OF OHIO)
Lost States - True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It $24.95
By Michael Trinklein
8 x 10 in; 160 pp; hardcover

And for the Bravest of All: The Writer...

Copywriting - Successful Writing for Design, Advertising, and Marketing $24.95
By Mark Shaw
7 x 10 in; 208 pp ; 100 illustrations, paperback

You Know You're a Writer When . . . $9.95
By Adair Lara
4 x 6 in; 96 pp; hardcover

(I know I could use this on my desk at times)
The Writer's Toolbox - Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the "Write" Side of Your Brain $24.95
By Jamie Cat Callan
6-3/4 x 9-1/4 x 2 in; hinged box, 64-page, 2-color booklet, 60 cards, 60 wooden sticks, 4 spinning palettes

Like anything on this list?  Have people on your gift list that you'd like to surprise?  Just leave a comment below!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


It has been just about a year now that I have been doing book reviews -- and I'm having a blast.  I'd like to thank everyone who takes the time to read my reviews.  But mostly I'd like to thank those that read books, those who write the words that inspire us, those that work tirelessly to see the book on a shelf.

And thank you to Penguin for being very supportive to a rookie reviewer.  Here's to another year!