Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Stephen Ausherman, Jessica English, Devin O'Leary, Benny Villalobos

NOVEMBER 3, 1997: 

There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos
by Jim Hightower (Harper Collins, cloth, $23)

Confined to a 10-inch column (as he is in this paper) Jim Hightower often sounds like a prosecuting attorney making his case while being ejected from the courtroom. His points sound desperate and not very well-grounded, thus easier to dismiss. But given 292 totally chlorine-free pages, Hightower produces a tome that kicks some corporate nads, rattles the congressional cages, assaults the media and makes the reader laugh at the armageddon that is contemporary American life. Few could pull off such an attack on the nation's most complex issues; but with an unsettling blend of shocking statistics and black humor, this Texas tornado does so with finesse. And I don't even like Texas. Still, I passed on nearly two dozen books with much better titles to get my hands on this one. You should, too. (SA)

by Anne Rice (Knopf, cloth, $25.95)

After 18 novels, Anne Rice is no longer at the mercy of her devoted legions. Because of this, her last novel, Servant of the Bones, received negative reviews and made her fans uneasy, which will most likely be true of her latest. Violin has all of the sensual description so loved by Rice's readers, but it seems more like a personal sojourn than any of her other works. Violin is the story of a middle-aged woman who is haunted by a ghostly violinist who hopes to drive her mad, following the death of her husband to AIDS. Instead, though, Triana derives strength and expression from the instrument's singing strings. Triana is quite obviously modeled after Rice herself, and the novel is even set in Rice's mansion on St. Charles Street. Though some will whine for Lestat or Lasher's return, Violin is most fascinating as a vision of Rice's own muse. (JE)

Mad About the Fifties
by The Usual Gang of Idiots (Little Brown, paper, $19.95)

Since 1952, whole generations of kids have been weaned on the twisted parody that is MAD Magazine. Now The Usual Gang of Idiots have strung together a fine collection of MAD's greatest gags from the early days. While it's no surprise to see some beautiful artwork from the likes of Wally Wood, Bill Elder and Jack Davis, it may surprise some readers to stumble across guest writers like Stan Freberg, Ernie Kovacs and Sid Caesar. Among the repros from creator/editor Harvey Kurtzman's reign (1952-55) are classic stories like "Mole!," "Superduperman!" and "Sherm-lock Shomes!" Later pieces from the post-Kurtzman era (1955-59) feature great advertising parodies and the introduction of MAD regular Don Martin. Several of the early stories and a number of covers are featured in full color. The perfect thing for comic lovers and retro seekers. (DO'L)

SPIN Underground USA
by Duncan Bock, ed. (Vintage, paper, $14)

If ignorance is bliss, then SPIN is in Eden. Apparently someone at the graying, glossy magazine thought it would be fun to publish a travel book for slackers, so now so we're stuck with Underground USA, an alleged guide to America's best music cities. Maybe some kids would like the idea, but as it turns out, all of SPIN's "tips" are either painfully obvious or just obscure and insider-ish. The best record store in Austin? Antone's. No shit. Best wicker bar in San Francisco? Who cares? Though it claims to be a guide to "rock culture coast to coast," most of their recommendations have nothing to do with live music--but it can steer you to the best vegetarian barbecue in Memphis. I also don't need to tell you that Albuquerque is not mentioned anywhere. But what does SPIN know? They like Bush. (BV)

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