Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Books of the Year, Part 5: Pop Culture

This has (obviously) been a long time coming, but since we're still technically near the beginning of 2011, I figure it's not too late to still be talking about 2010 -- at least for another couple of days. And so, without any further delay (ho ho ho), here are my picks for the best pop culture books of the past year. Pick them up at your local going-out-of-business bookstore or library.

This is the sort of book I love more than any other. I reveals a world I never knew existed -- in this case, the bizarre world of elaborate, mean-spirited, downright dangerous lodge initiations -- and does so with a real affection for and appreciation of the past. "Burlesque Paraphernalia" is a reprint of an actual DeMoulin Bros. catalog dating from the early 1930s, full of costumes, masks and (best of all) all sorts of crazy devices for tormenting lodge brothers. It's the sort of book that makes you think life might've been tougher a long time ago, but it was probably a hell of a lot more interesting, too. (Read more about this fine book here.)

All you need to know about "Destroy All Movies" is that it's such a complete guide to "punks on film" (as the subtitle promises) that not only does it include "Star Trek IV" because of the scene with the punk on the bus, it interviews that guy. Also, the pink-and-black-and-white design theme of the book deserves some sort of award. (Read more here.)

Like the more serious books from the British Film Institute (I highly recommend this one and this one), these books in the Deep Focus series pit a single author against a single film. This one, the first in the lineup, lets novelist Jonathan Lethem obsess in wonderful detail over John Carpenter's sci-fi action satire "They Live." It's such an entertaining and complete book that you really don't even have had to see the movie to enjoy it -- but I'm betting that, after reading Lethem's analysis, you're going to want to watch it. Or, more likely, watch it again.

Few magazines are more entertaining than old issues of Popular Mechanics. The ideas are wild, the prose is breathless and the illustrations are beautiful. This book collects dozens of crazy predictions from the magazine, which is fun, but the real fun comes from the drawings and visions of the world that was right around the corner (or not). As a bonus, the slipcover folds out into a giant poster -- though frankly, I'm not sure what good that does anyone.

There are dozens of "movies to see before you die" books that are nothing more than lame-o lists of lame-o movies. But this volume, despite that big number 333 in the title, is really a history of horror films -- and a smart, detailed one at that. Stretching from the silents to current films, if offers a solid overview of the genre with sharp writing, numerous overviews and some interesting choices (including "Lost Highway," "The Hitcher" and "Seconds.")

Much more focused and slightly less serious is J.A. Kerswell's loving history of a little-loved genre, the slasher film. Full of colorful ads and heartfelt memories, it can almost convince you that "Friday the 13th" is a good movie. Almost.

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