Sunday Book Reviews – 9/22/19

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth by Trevor Norton (2011, Pegasus Books)

As a nonfiction break from the daily grind of politics, I found this book to be ideally suited to my preferences. It’s a mix of history, oddity, and science all presented in a smoothly flowing narrative style which will keep the book interesting to adults and teens alike.

The book chronicles the strides and leaps forward in science made by people who were willing, in the face of having no other test subjects available, to experiment upon themselves. Sometimes the movement forward came from the success of the experiment; often it happened because the failures put an end to a flawed line of reasoning.

Norton is fair with his subjects. Opening the book with John Hunter, for example, he chronicles the great work Hunter performed as an anatomist. Hunter’s work to detail the inner workings of the human body led directly to many key medical advances in transplants and arterial bypasses, but triggered a dramatic rise in body-snatching in the UK. Hunter’s development of gonorrhea toward the end of his life was claimed to be due to self-inoculation as he attempted to find a cure.

The subject matter keeps it from being all-ages. One might understandably not wish to speak with a pre-teen about injecting an STD into genitalia or the theft of corpses from graves, just to reference the opening chapter. Outside of that, it’s a fun and informative book.

Horror: 100 Best Books by Stephen Jones & Kim Newman (1988, Xanadu)

This is a book I can enthusiastically recommend to most people with an interest in literature. For those who don’t read horror stories of any sort, they can be made familiar with the basics of an entire branch of literature in the span of one book and need never revisit it; for those who enjoy a sense of disquiet from their reading, the book provides a nearly ideal list of choices for future purchases.

Unlike most other “best” books, this does not rely upon the judgment of a single authority or editorial board. Instead, Jones and Newman sought 100 of the most prominent writers and editors of horror and dark fantasy stories and asked them to provide a one or two page article on their favorite book within the field. Authors were not allowed to write on titles which had already been covered by someone else, and some historical essays from long-dead writers were included to start the book.

The result is a selection which ranges from classics such as Macbeth to then-contemporary titles like Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon. It includes work of graphic violence and stories where the action is purely psychological, with no blood spilled. It’s truly “something for everyone”, and because the articles are written by professionals within the field a reader is given a hint of those authors’ styles as well.

It even has something for the book collector: There was a hardcover edition limited to three hundred copies which included signatures from nearly every contributor still alive. The contributors included not only dozens who’d already developed fame like Clive Barker and Robert Bloch, but a fledgling comic book writer and a humorous fantasist who liked to include Death as a character – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, in what was among the first limited editions to which either of the authors would contribute.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.