Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Book Review Or Press Release?

In today, Ben Cosgrove reviews Philip Ball’s new biography of Paracelsus. Cosgrove writes, “In Philip Ball's deeply weird and wonderful new book, ‘The Devil's Doctor,’ the man who might well be the prototype for that familiar mad-scientist figure -- the 16th century alchemist and epic wanderer Paracelsus -- neatly escapes the caricaturist's frame and emerges exuberantly and combatively alive. Hardly a hagiography, the book (subtitled, enticingly, 'Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science') rescues from obscurity a man...”

As soon as I read the word “obscurity” I began to wonder how much of this review came from a presskit issued by the book’s publisher. You see, before reading the review, I had gone and searched on “Paracelsus” at I was curious to see who had published Ball’s book. The first page of search results revealed four books about Paracelsus and several editions of Paracelsus’s own writings. How is Paracelsus obscure? I also wonder about Cosgrove’s phrase “deeply weird and wonderful.” It sounds a lot like dust jack flapdoodle to me.

In the last few months, I received review copies of three books about James Dean in order to conduct reviews for the web site The first book, Live Fast, Die Young, published by Simon & Schuster, came with a press release and list of canned questions printed on blue paper. The other two books came with press releases, both of which were filled with superlatives which could be pinched for a review.

I remember reading an article about John Carpenter’s movie Big Trouble In Little China in Cinefantastique years ago. The writers of the article wrote about Carpenter’s reaction when they first approached him. Rather bitterly, he suggested they write their review “out of the presskit just like other critics.”

When I conducted my interview with the authors of Live Fast, Die Young, I never consulted the canned questions. I had more interesting ones to ask.

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