Dr. Hodgman, I Presume

Tags: ARFFF 2006.5, Hodgman vs. Livingston, Metaphysicians of Tlon, the primal scene of American historiography, The Muppet Movie, how history judges a dream-thief.

We’re still visiting family in (y)our nation’s capital and I’m finding it hard to write the second half of my books of 2006 post without more of the books in front of me. In its stead, I thought I’d excerpt two remarkable books I did bring with me on this trip. The books are John Hodgman’s crypto-pseudo-almanac The Areas of My Expertise, and James Livingston’s philsophical critique of American intellectual history, Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy. The two books have nothing in common except that: I brought them both on vacation, they both impressed me, and they look almost identical. OK, maybe not identical identical, but they’re trade paperbacks of similar size and their covers have nearly identical color schemes. All week I was picking up Livingston and expecting it to be Hodgman or Hodgman and expecting it to be Livingston. You think you’re so clever, you tell me which is which! Read more



Tags: All reading for fun at Fessenden, our quirky electronic childhoods, the great American elevator inspector novel, I don’t know Dick.

It’s year in review time, Loyal Dozens, that magical time of year when we review the year that went by since the last time it was time to review the year between the times when it’s time to review it. I’ll dispense with such fripperies as the year in movies, music, or current events, but I read a lot of books and every year I like to take some time to record a few that stayed with me, both for their own merits and for vaguely autobiographical purposes. (I try to associate the subjects of books with the places and times where I read them. Even though you can find a copy anywhere, for instance, it’s cool to me that I bought Colson Whitehead’s old weird NYC novel The Intuitionist, along with Ann Douglas’ Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s, at the awesome Strand bookstore in Greenwich Village. Or that I read Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon while actually en route from Paris to the moon.) This is made easier this year by the LibraryThing account I started last December. Most people use LibraryThing to catalog the books they own, but I use the library so prodigiously that my the set of books I possess bears only a passing resemblance to the set of books that have passed under my eyeballs. Instead, I used LibraryThing to catalog books as I read them, regardless of their provenance. You can, if you care, see all the books I read in 2006 here. But here are some highlights, starting with fiction first. Read more


Superman Returns

Tags: Saucer-Men from Saturn, death of a parallelogram, everybody loves robots, The WPA Guide to Smallville, Kludgeons & Klagons, Freakonomics, Superman Democrats, no good can come of criticizing The Dark Knight Returns.

Now he's just showing off.

I. It’s Superman!

When I wrote about Superman’s secret origins back in Smarch, I mentioned I’d just read two surprisingly non-terrible books about him. I talked at length about Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow. The other book was Tom De Haven’s novel It’s Superman! I assume there are any number of Superman “novelizations” out there, not to mention “graphic novels” (which are neither novels nor, in Superman’s case, particularly graphic–discuss). But It’s Superman! is meant to be an actual novel for grown-ups, or at least Gen-X men. It has a real live author, a loose regard for continuity*, a snappy Chris Ware cover, and no Charles Atlas ads in sight. Read more


Superman I: Secret Origins

Tags: Henry Ward Beecher’s Bowflex; what Batman, beefcake, birth control, and bootleg liquor have in common; “this looks like a job for Spicy Man.”

Tarzan, wasn't a ladies man...

Secret origin? What’s so secret about it? You all know the story. Even if you’ve never read a comic book in your life, you’ve probably heard the tale. Gotham City, in the days of film-noir fedoras and Hupmobiles. A young boy–bookish, awkward, a dreamer–goes to see Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro, and falls in love with the idea. A costumed hero who masquerades as a timid milquetoast, then bursts forth to battle crime and injustice with superhuman skill! Plot thickens: the boy loses his parents, shot dead in a mugging gone wrong. The crime is senseless, random. The boy’s life is shattered. He vows revenge, not on the thug that did his father in, but on crime itself. He vows he will become…

Hold on. Here’s the part you might not know. The city is not fictional Gotham but real life Cleveland. The boy is not millionaire Bruce Wayne but working class schlemiel Jerry Siegel. His father Michel, who immigrated from Lithuania in the first decade of the century, was murdered while closing his Woodland haberdashery in 1928. The police never found his killer. Ten years later, Jerry Siegel and his high school buddy Joe Shuster wrote and illustrated the first true “superhero” story for Harry Donenfeld’s Action Comics. This is not Batman’s secret origin, it’s Superman’s.
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