THE LANDS OF MALA DOOM by Michael Lee Wood
Amazon $17.99 (hardcover)
I have history with Mike. We’ve never met but we talk from time to time, in that weird telecommunications bubble that is a phone call from prison, where he’s been for the past 44 years. (And, no, he’s not our Prison Editor! Mike is in the Big House, our guy is in the relative holiday camp, Club Fed.) In the early 2000s Mike Wood wrote a monthly column on life in the Supermax in Colorado for my magazine, Gear. Letter From Prison was as rough at times as you’d imagine, and other times funny, and sometimes unexpectedly quaint, simple. What stood out is that Mike is a great writer.
The law says he can’t profit from his crimes, rightly so, so he can’t write a book about life in prison (where he’s committed some of those crimes). But he can write about fantasy worlds, and has done so, spectacularly, with this self-published novel, set in “ancient times” as Mike calls them, “a time of sorcery, magic, gods who interact with humans, and animals that walk upright and speak.” Part The Lord of the Rings, part His Dark Materials, and part The Iliad (get your head around that), the book traces a journey Parvati, a young girl — her age is never given — must take to a place called Mala Doom, in order to save, I don’t know, I guess everything.
She doesn’t know she’s the daughter of a god — it’s so rare that one does know — but the evil god Baz, currently in charge of… everything… knows, and he knows that if she makes it there, she will right the balance in the universe and he’ll get whatever the Olympian equivalent of a pink slip is. Baz does not want this to happen, poor Pavarti doesn’t even know what’s at stake.
Vlad and Kayla, a male and female warrior, and Bari, an intellectual — which makes for a nice balance and some great conversations — accompany Pavarti, who cannot kick all the evil gods’ asses on her own, to Mala Doom, which sounds like an awful place, or at least could use a PR tune-up. So, life as we know it (or, more accurately, don’t know it) is in play, in an ultimate odyssey and battle that makes the book of Revelation look like a climate change protest.
I’m not going to tell you how this ends (ah, you’ll guess anyway) but I will tell you this is tremendous fun! Great escapism. No doubt, when you’ve spent more than two thirds of your life incarcerated in serious, uncompromising hell holes like Mike has, escapism comes a little more naturally.
The Lands of Mala Doom, on Amazon https://a.co/d/4X1mQSH
~ Bob Guccione Jr
THE DINNER By Herman Koch
Hogarth | $17 | 2013
Have you ever been to dinner with your sibling, who irritates you? And you’re a history teacher who’s on leave for “medical” reasons and they’re in the running to be the next prime minister of The Netherlands? And both your spouses are at the dinner? And the main reason you’re all breaking bread is to discuss how each of your 15-year-old sons (who are cousins) assaulted and burned a homeless woman to death inside a bank’s ATM lobby – and that it was filmed and posted to social media? And the entire country is looking for two boys based on grainy security footage, but you know it was them that did it?
Well, that’s the delightful book cooked up by Dutch writer Herman Koch. It’s so good it was translated from Dutch and published in 50 different countries! It’s told from the point of view of Paul, the former schoolteacher, who describes every banal aspect of the meal, and how much he resents his brother, Serge.
One final question: Who pays for dinner?
~ Jason Stahl
Out of Print Books We Love…
Out of print books are recyclable and inexpensive. If you don’t mind reading on a screen, they can even be downloaded for free. No virtual strings attached.
Misia & the Muses: The Memoirs of Misia Sert
The John Day Company, New York, 1953, $3.50
Misia was the muse of her day. Proust modeled two society characters after her, Vuillard was in love with her (unreciprocated) and painted her portraits with a lover’s bewitchment – most famously the erotically restrained “Misia’s Neck.” Mallarme wrote a quatrain for her on a fan which she always carried, she befriended Verlaine who was surprisingly unpopular in his time, and modeled for Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard and Renoir too. Indeed, you’ll start seeing portraits of Misia everywhere once you know to look for her: an ample woman with red hair and baby-faced profile who is often at the piano or lounging about in floral wallpapered bougie comfort, with an elusive look that belied her famous wit, sarcasm, and ebullience. Misia didn’t create; it was enough that she existed.
Her name kept popping up in my various readings. She started to feel like a friend of a friend of a friend I never met. She was Coco Chanel’s only true girlfriend (per Coco’s disclosure) and they traveled and shot up drugs together. And then they were known to be more than just friends. She was Diaghilev’s best gal pal. Reminding one a bit of Anaïs Nin, who also married a rich guy and used her husband’s income to support Henry Miller and his famous artistic circle, Misia kept the Ballet Russes afloat, always ready to bail out the lavish spender Diaghilev, who lived for love and spectacular artistic productions that took a village, including Nijinsky, Picasso, Stravinsky, Cocteau. It’s Jean Cocteau who writes the introduction to Misia’s memoir and recalls this muse with her “soft and cruel face, like a pink cat.”
~ Helen Mitsios