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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Two Very Different Nonfiction Titles

 I have gotten ahead of this blog in my reading and will try to catch up during the next few weeks.

Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Subtitled: “Discourses on Reflexology, Numerology, Urine Therapy, and Other Dubious Subjects.” By Martin Gardner; published by Norton in 2000. Copies are readily available at $10 to $20.

Martin Gardner (born 21 October 1914, in Tulsa, Oklahoma; died 22 May 2010, in Norman, Oklahoma) was the long-time (25 years) author of the Scientific American column “Mathematical Games.” He was also a frequent contributor to The Skeptical Inquirer. Gardner was a prolific writer and there are numerous books by him. This book collects a number of his columns, mostly from The Skeptical Inquirer. One of his long-term missions in life was to debunk bogus science and expose frauds, such as the famous spoon-bender, Uri Geller. This book is wide-ranging, and I especially enjoyed: “The Great Egg-Balancing Mystery”; “Zero-Point Energy and Harold Puthoff”; “Claiborne Pell, Senator [Rhode Island] from Outer Space”; “Thomas Edison, Paranormalist”; “Isaac Newton, Alchemist and Fundamentalist.” It is interesting that while Senator Pell was a believer in psychic phenomena and had a Geller-bent spoon hanging on his office wall, he was also a six-term Senator and introduced the bill that led to Pell Grants. I picked this book up to read and its next stop will be in a donation to our local Friends of the Library.

Blues of a Lifetime Subtitled: “The Autobiography of Cornell Woolrich.” Edited, annotated, and with an introduction by Mark T. Bassett; published by Bowling Green State University Popular Press in 1991. The book was simultaneously issued in hardback and trade paperback. The print run of hard covers was probably small, and this is a difficult book to find in collectible condition. Copies have probably gone to the libraries of collectors of Woolrich's books.

Woolrich (born Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich on 4 December 1903 in New York City, died there on 25 September 1968) lived a strange and somewhat mysterious life. Except for a period spent in Mexico with his father during his youth, he lived much of his life in NYC. He was a long-time resident of several hotels and lived with his mother until she died in 1957. He attended Columbia University but did not graduate, leaving sometime after his first novel, Cover Charge, was published in 1926. He spent time as a screenwriter in Hollywood but the exact dates are not clear. He wrote as Cornell Woolrich, William Irish, and George Hopley. Many of his short stories and mysteries were adapted into film noir screenplays. A short story, “It Had to be Murder,” led to Hitchcock’s movie Rear Window. His “Black” novels are the most coveted by collectors and include: The Bride Wore Black, Black Alibi, The Black Angel, and three others. Collectible copies of the early “Black” mysteries, in original dust jackets, are scarce and usually command prices of $1000 and up.

This sketchy autobiography consists of five chapters, each written as if it were a short story and each with a somewhat surprising ending. It was a work in progress when he died and was discovered as a typescript in a safe deposit box after Woolrich died. The reader really doesn't learn much about his life reading these five stories. However, Bassett has added substantial annotations to explain things that Woolrich mentions in the stories.