Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Sunday, February 17, 2013


If this were an Amazon review I have no idea how I'd rate this book. On the positive side it reads well, and it's nice to be get an overview of the events. On the negative side the book gives far, far, far too much weight to John K's detractors and doesn't answer the question, what were the innovations that Spumco was famous for, and how did they come about? It's hard to resist the conclusion that these were inadequately covered because an honest assessment would have made John look good, something the book is determined not to do.

The book does do a good job at describing TV animation before John. The industry was so corrupt, so lacking in even the attempt at any real artistic expression, that it was teetering on the edge of collapse. People tried to change it, but the obstacles were daunting. The industry had an enormous financial stake in staying exactly how backward it was, and a lot of animation artists had been so corrupted that they couldn't even conceive of anything better. I would add that only someone as combative, as driven and as stubbornly idealistic as John could have broken through the barriers and made the changes that we all benefit from today.

It's easy for the author sitting in his living room in suburbia, with a well-stocked refrigerator and a nice DVD collection to criticize John, who was fighting for his life in an unprecedented environment and had to improvise every detail of what he did during the day. John had to run an unconventional studio full of rebellious artists and simultaneously be a world-changing wunderkind. How many people could have done that? Not me. I'd have had a nervous breakdown. Did John insult people unfairly? Did he contradict himself? Did he sometimes do things that were in bad taste? Probably. Does it matter?

But ingratitude is the modern disease, isn't it? Moderns are skeptical, always looking for the tabloid dark side. If Louis Pasteur made his discoveries today we'd be regaled with stories about how the bum treated his lab assistants. Look at the way Thomas Jefferson is treated in books now. Geez, moderns are so self-righteous, so easily offended, so quick to condemn.

I'm not finished the book yet but I peeked ahead to the end which, if I'm not mistaken,  seems to say John created only one good cartoon in the post Nickelodeon years, "Ren Seeks Help." Maybe I didn't read it right, but if I did then that's ridiculous. Examples to the contrary are abundant. The cartoon that preceded it, "Naked Beach Frenzy," was hilarious. Watch it from end to end and see if you agree. I think the last 2/3 of that cartoon was the funniest short any animation studio turned out in 40 years. John is still wildly creative. Talk to him for just an hour and you'll walk away with your head in the clouds, full of thoughts of new possibilities and new directions.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


I'm reading a book about Thomas Cook called, "The Romantic Journey." Cook (above) was the world's first travel agent, and if you think that's a dull subject for a book then you couldn't be more wrong. Cook was a genius!

The man was born in 1808 while Napoleon was still in power. He spent the first half of his life arranging tours to English seashore resorts for the religious and temperance societies that he belonged to. I don't think it ever occurred to him or anyone else that you could make much money doing that. He just wanted to be useful to the organizations he belonged to. Besides, if there was money to be made, it would logically go to the railroads and hotels, not to the poor fool who got stuck with buying everybody's tickets.

Like I said, even Cook didn't think there was money in it. Travel in Cook's time was a dirty affair for people who weren' t rich. The railroads advertised cheap rates to the seaside towns, which resulted in shockingly crowded beaches and hotels. It wasn't uncommon for twelve people...twelve! share a bed, with other friends sleeping on the floor. Stressed out hotel patrons would sometimes show their resentment by pooping in the bureau drawers.

The streets were crowded with rowdies and the beaches were so densely packed that bathers could hardly see the sand (above). Women who could afford it rented clunky changing room wagons which attendants pulled out into the surf for them.

Occasionally big waves (above) would knock over the wagons and the women inside would have to be rescued....sometimes by naked men. It seems that a sizable number of men believed that bathing suits were unhealthy for the wearers.

Cook's insight was that was that many people would be be happier in less crowded resorts in places like Scotland. Some of those resorts weren't served by the railroad, so Cook arranged for carriages or boats to supplement the rail service. Some English customers regarded the Scots as barbarous, and didn't relish the idea of negotiating with them for meals and hotel rooms, so Scott sent agents ahead to take care of all that, and he was even able to get group discounts. Little by little, he assembled the modern concept of the package tour.

What's fascinating about all this was that each of Cook's improvements was copied by the railroads and steamship lines, who opened their own copy cat travel agencies, and who had the advantage of established reputations and lots of money for advertising. Amazingly, Cook managed to stay ahead of the game.

How did he do it? Maybe it's because his competitors were just hirelings of the railroad and had to get every change okayed by higher-ups. Cook was free to innovate. When a woman on one of his tours complained about unsanitary foreign toilets seats, he quickly invented a personal folding metal toilet seat cover. Now that's enterprise!

Cook also benefited from his philosophy. Other travel agencies were diverted by lucrative commissions from the wealthy. Cook, on the other hand, found it impossible to disavow his innate sympathy with the working man, and instead chose to treat his ordinary patrons as if they were wealthy. He arranged tours for the rich, but he was careful to keep his standard prices low, and expected customers to dress well and avoid offensive behavior. Rowdies got a refund and were booted out. The much admired civility of the British middle class owes a lot to the nudges it received from business men like Cook.

BTW, the final two posters weren't originated by Cook's agency. I put them up because they exemplify the spirit of what the man was trying to achieve.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Hello! This is Chico Cognoscenti, book reviewer for the Theory Corner literary magazine. Today we're going to explore the strange world of the modern woman's novel. The book is "---------------." [name witheld]

It's a Tony Hillerman-type novel about an Anglo woman who's invited by modern Indians to participate in their sweat lodge ceremonies. It's not my thing, but I'd hoped that reading a little bit of a novel written by a woman exclusively for other women would give me some insight into the sex, and I wasn't disappointed.

Let's read a few paragraphs, shall we?

"Sara hurried, untying her hiking boots, pulling off her sweater, her black Levis, unhooking her black lace bra. the door creaked as one of Vera's seven cats, an all black streak of fur with one white paw, slipped in and meowed. Sara threw her thick, green socks in the duffle along with the clothes and slipped on the caftan....

...She saw herself in the mirror with her caftan ballooning around her ankles. Before she had time to disapprove of her big-boned face, her bright blond dyed hair, long and fuzzy, unraveling from the batik scarf she'd wrapped around her head an hour ago, she spied the gleam of her silver earrings and her turquoise choker. Quickly she took them off as well as her watch and Australian opal ring, a gift from her ex-husband, Paul, the year Dan was born. Sara dropped her jewelry in her cosmetic bag, along with her car keys, picked up her bagfull of clothes and rushed out, nearly slamming into a young woman outside the door...."

"She had a perfectly oval face, smooth peach skin, and almond shaped black eyes. Her thick, shining, black hair was twisted up in a gold and feather hair ornament. She wore a tiny orange halter and skintight blue jeans showing her perfect belly button. Sara couldn't help thinking how Deborah Yu (her co-worker) alternated between wearing similar designer tank tops made of silk with Calvin Klein jeans and logging boots...

So here was another newbie....who invariably wore skimpy bathing suits or tight short-shorts and T-strap tops without bras. This girl's firm, smooth body curved seductively...she looked both excited and fearful, her pert breasts bobbing beneath the orange jersey top."

"[This contrasted with Sara, who had] two large towels, one old and frayed to sit on inside the sweat lodge, another thick one for afterward when she would be streaming with sweat, and a pair of shapeless cotton underpants that she didn't mind getting soaked and dirty from sitting on the ground..."

Gee, women certainly seem to be fond of their underwear. It's hard to imagine a man describing his BVDs that way.

Come to think of it, women are always changing their clothes in this book, in the part I read anyway. I guess they really get a kick out of stuff like that. Of course it helps to have a cute, fluffy animal present, or to change in a room with memorable characteristics , like mildew on the floor or cold stones or peeling paint on the walls. I don't think men really care where they change. For us a toxic waste pit is just as suitable as a palace.

If you can trust the author, women are also obsessed with the details of life, and mementos...they LOVE mementos. One of the things I learned from this book is that if you're a bachelor, and you're going out with a girl, be sure to give her a one-of-a-kind gift that she can use to remember the experience...even if she didn't like you. Girls are strange, alien creatures. They don't know how silly it is to be sentimental like that, so we should take the opportunity to make them happy.

So, what's my review? My review is that I'm a guy. It's not meant for me. I'm glad I read a few pages, though.

BTW: To be fair to the author, I did some editing to highlight the clothing descriptions.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I love this book! I also love literature and so does Peter Thorpe, who wrote the book. What he's saying is that literature, even the best literature, has an unrecognized dark side and that it's hurt almost as many people as it's helped. Here's a sample of Thorpe's style:

Sorry about the underlining. I hate to read a book after someone else underlined it. Usually I do all my underlining lightly in pencil so I can erase it if I have to. It looks like I used a ball point pen here. Sorry.

A few chapter titles: How Literature Seperates Us from Our feelings/How Reading MAkes Us Lazy/Our High Toleration of Incompetence/Oversimplifying Human Nature/Why We Write Badly/How Literature Gives Us the Lust for Revenge.

Interesting, eh?