Books: The saga of Queen, a Fran Lebowitz anthology, and a zombie bunny

[image-1]A shame, that.


It makes me wonder if she's become agoraphobic. This is the writer who took bitchiness and raised it — with good humor, I might add — into an art form. She's often been compared to Dorothy Parker or Gertude Stein, but Lebowitz's voice could only come from our times.


Some of her observations about "women's books":


"Women who insist upon having the same options as men would do well to consider the option of being the strong, silent type."


"Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publication."


"If your sexual fantasies were truly of interest to others, they would no longer be fantasies."


Judging from the Scorsese film, Lebowitz is alive and well. She's just not writing — it's a blockade, not merely a block, she says. So the Reader might serve as a good introduction, to bring young folks up to speed on her work. Let's hope her long-delayed, long-promised novel about the New York art world will end up on a publisher's schedule soon.


Lebowitz is one of those writers who might cost you friends, because you'll be calling them to read them passages from her book. In my experience, not too many friends appreciate these interruptions. Just send them a copy of the book.


AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Possibly the oddest book to arrive on shelves lately is Pat the Zombie (Ten Speed Press, $11.99).


[image-2]No, this doesn't mark the return of the androgynous Pat from Saturday Night Live of old. This is a self-described "cruel adult spoof" of Pat the Bunny, probably the first book you dragged around back when you were immersed in the world of drool and stool.


In Pat the Bunny, young readers were urged to use their tactile senses to understand that nexus between words and the rest of the world. Aaron Ximm and Kaveh Soofi crafted Pat the Zombie to take that experience to involve other senses — and a lot of blood. Instead of a nice, fluffy cottontail, the authors give us the rotting corpse of a hare.


It's sort of a one-joke premise and the joke is largely spent on the cover. Still, it will probably be the publishing sensation of the Easter season.


William McKeen chairs the journalism department at Boston University and is the author of several books, including the acclaimed Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist, available in paperback. Mile Marker Zero, his book about Key West in the Seventies, will be published in October.

Few genres of books are as delectable and tasty as the good books on rock 'n' roll, and the best publisher of the form is DaCapo Press.

DaCapo is so good at producing entertaining and informative tomes on music, you could just order everything in the catalog and be a satisfied customer.

Take Is This the Real Life? (DaCapo, $25) by Mark Blake. It’s the story of Queen — you know, the band from the ’70s and ’80s that featured Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor.

I was never a huge fan, but I didn’t need to be to enjoy this book. Queen was a larger-than-life band that reached its peak before the arrival of grunge and the "Everyman Rock Star" 20 years ago. Back in Freddie Mercury's day, we wanted our rock stars to be spectacular and mythic. (See the Freddie Mercury action figure, at left. We haven't seen too many other rock action figures since then.)

So return to those thrilling days of rock 'n' roll yesteryear with Blake's engrossing chronicle of talent and excess. It’s another one of those books that inhales you. Every rock band seems to have built-in storytelling drama and in the case of Queen, there’s a long battle for recognition and success, then the inevitable clash of talents and the sad fall, culminating in Mercury's death from AIDS.

It’s a straightforward story of how Frederic Bulsara from Zanzibar transformed himself into the mighty stage presence that was Freddie Mercury. With Brian May, guitarist and astrophysicist, we had a partnership that — while not quite at Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards levels — certainly made its mark on a generation of rock’n’roll fans.

From the note-perfect “Bohemian Rhapsody” through the must-be-Elvis funk of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," the band defined an era. Blake does a terrific job of gathering all of his sources to tell the band’s story.

Thought it’s over 400 pages, it’s the kind of book you’ll rip through in a day. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.

BITCHINESS AS ART: Speaking of thoroughly enjoyable reads, pick up The Fran Lebowitz Reader (Vintage, $15.95) for a collection of writing by one of America’s most treasured smart asses.

Fran Lebowitz was featured in the recent Martin Scorsese HBO documentary, Public Speaking. She is, without doubt, a monumental crank and therefore should be next on the podium to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom. I first read her books Metropolitan Life and Social Studies when they were released decades ago. The guts of those books form The Fran Lebowitz Reader and not much is added.

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