Sunday Book Reviews – 5/3/20

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello (2015, Blue Rider Press)

This book is less self-serving than I expected.

It’s full of anecdotes, as is any celebrity biography, and its structure is very traditional: opening with key childhood events which would trigger the eventual career choices that would in turn lead to fame and success, then moving on to early times in the person’s life, then to later controversies, through high and low points of the career and ending with recent activities of the performer.

We’ve seen it all before, and the book is typically enjoyable in direct proportion to how much the reader happens to appreciate or admire the performer.

In this case, the author does a good job of sharing the spotlight with others, putting onto the page his obvious enthusiasm for the works of the many people he respects. He also uses an interesting approach for the controversies he’s experienced: he provides context, he explains his philosophy and then moves forward. No apologies, but also no attempts to self-aggrandize. One example: What would become a defining moment on SNL is debunked by Costello in these pages. For years, the rationale behind him performing “Radio, Radio” and getting thrown off of network television has been that the anti-media song had been specifically restricted by the show. In Elvis’ version, his record company had arranged with NBC that another song, “Less Than Zero”, would be performed and he thought “Radio, Radio” would play better to American audiences. He explains that it wasn’t any great controversy over the song lyrics, just that he had defied his label (a bad idea, as they arrange media appearances) and that NBC was panicked about having an uncleared song, with unchecked lyrics, played live over their stations.

There are a lot of little moments like this, and it’s pleasant. The man’s had an impressive career, and he presents it… and himself… well.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (1897, C. Arthur Pearson)

This is one of the original thrillers, and the only real negative aspect of it is that it utterly fails in any attempt to generate suspense. As that is typically the goal of any decent thriller novel, one would expect the book to be a failure.

The story is remarkably thin, and can easily be broken into four segments: meeting the invisible man, the invisible man on the run, how he became invisible, and the invisible man attacks. It is a fairly tight narrative and it stands up remarkably well for its age.

When Wells wrote the novel, he could rely on the very notion of an invisible person… who might be standing beside you, ready to stab or bludgeon… to generate much of the anxiety of the story. The intervening years have made the idea fairly commonplace, to the point where it is now a common trait for a hero as well as a villain (the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Invisible Kid, the Gemini Man, etc…) We have also seen advances in technology such as infrared cameras or hypersensitive listening devices that have rendered invisibility steadily less useful.

His psychotic villain is also fairly benign. The invisible man begins his fall with theft and, until shortly before the end of the book, he never does more than threaten serious violence. He reserves any violence for those who have betrayed his trust. In fact, by today’s standards, he shows little loss of mental stability. That aspect was shown at the time of the novel’s writing by his movement from frustrated gentility to violence. Today, he is shown to have considerably more self-control than our President.

Despite the lack of suspense, the straightforward plotting and the fairly sedate villain, it’s still a very good book because of Wells’ gifts with the language and his storytelling. If it fails to maintain the intellectual dread of another novel Wells wrote around that time, The Island of Dr. Moreau, that is not much of a criticism.

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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.