by Chris Epting
(Santa Monica Press, 312 pages, $16.95)
Can't you see it now: Dad with his clip-on sunglasses piloting the family minivan while one little bugger in the back screams, "Daddy! Daddy! How long until we get to the place where Matthew Shepard was killed?"
It's definitely not the cliché image of an American family vacation, but James Dean Died Here provides the information a sick and twisted clan would need to plan such a road trip. Author Chris Epting's fully functional travel guide for dysfunctional people (complete with direction) pinpoints the exact locations where history's foremost pop-culture events took place.
James Dean Died Here is rather offensive when framed as a travel guide, but used as a light summer read, it's guilty fun. No other book will tell you which grate in New York City lifted Marilyn Monroe's skirt in The Seven Year Itch or from which marina in California The Minnow left for a "three-hour tour."
According to the book, Bogart and Hepburn's African Queen boat is forever anchored in Key Largo, Fla., next to a Holiday Inn. Further up the Floridian coast, Pee Wee's pee-pee made its famous public debut in a Sarasota adult theater. The book's namesake has his very own four-page section detailing everything from where he ate his last breakfast to where he crashed his Porsche.
Among the countless fascinating entries however, Epting has included some duds. For example, is anyone really going to seek out the Philadelphia ballroom where Hall and Oates first met? Sadly, the book fails to mention where the duo met the man-eater. David Berman
by Gregory McDonald
(Pantheon, 210 pages, $23)
McDonald appears at Murder By the Book at 6:30 pm Tuesday, July 15. 3210 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-9995.
In the newest installment in his Flynn series, Gregory McDonald focuses on CIA operative Francis Flynn's world, casting a sardonic eye on the nearby halls of Harvard. Tackling the foibles of contemporary higher education with wry humor, McDonald exposes the extent to which political correctness has obliterated the value of history.
Flynn's World is a whodunit without a murder and a rollicking cross hatch of three plots. Working undercover as a Boston police inspector, Flynn gets caught up with an aging Harvard professor who has suddenly become anathema to both his students and colleagues. He must also get to the bottom of an incident involving his 15-year-old daughter's boyfriend, who has been discovered nailed to a tree by his ear. While in the middle of these stories, Flynn must investigate a policeman who seems to arrest only minorities.
McDonald's language is pithy, ironic and loaded with home truths. It is Flynn's supposition that "office politics is the avocation of the vocationally incompetent." When asked to resign by an officious captain, he responds, "You don't understand, I am resigned." Such wit permeates McDonald's tale.
Although Flynn's World is awash with aphorisms, it also takes a serious stab at the myopic state of modern academe, where the function of professors is not to teach but to facilitate a process where students arrive at a consensus of opinion. The book also takes on ancillarily the evils of television, the horrors of contemporary parenting, the insidiousness of neo-Nazism and the absurdity of abandoning history.
Flynn's World is entertaining, enlightening and absorbing. If the mysteries of life intrigue you, and if you were not born without a brain, it's a world well worth entering. Jack Booch