The Encyclopedia Shatnerica
Quirk Books, $16.95
by Diane Werts
Really and truly, the last thing William Shatner needs is more attention.
TV, movies, books, video games, commercials, self-serving web site -- the man is more all over the place than James T. Kirk.
But if you're wondering what the T stands for -- and shouldn't we all know by now? -- you'll find it in The Encyclopedia Shatnerica, an old fave by Robert Schnakenberg just revised and updated in a paperback Millennium Edition.
The first edition came out in 1998, and the Shat-man has done oh-so-much since we wrote him off back then -- Boston Legal, Emmy wins, Priceline ads, that gonzo Has Been CD. (Is or is not his delivery of Common People worth incessant "repeat" play?) I hadn't even realized he'd auctioned off his own kidney stone online (for charity). But, hey, that's what we pay Schnakenberg the (semi-) big bucks to fill a book with.
He's even included photos and scattered info boxes collecting oddities like "Shatner's World of Pain," listing the ways the Shat's characters have been offed on-screen. My fave: "Crucified by Ernest Borgnine in The Devil's Rain." (Although that Kingdom of the Spiders web was pretty cool, too.)
I'm not crazy about the book's jumbo sans-serif type and wide-spaced lines -- that seems like the kind of pretty-for-its-own-sake layout that design "consultants" get paid to concoct, lest they concern themselves with, oh, readability.
But Schnakenberg's info/quotes/trivia work is first rate. He endures everything Shatner does, to report back to us, so we don't have to. Would you wanna research an entry titled "Horse Semen"?
Truth and Rumors:
The Reality Behind TV's Most Famous Myths
Praeger Publishers, $39.95
Veteran TV critic Bill Brioux has written a book that's heavily reported, immensely informative, and almost embarrassingly entertaining. The premise of Truth and Rumors is as original as it is ambitious: The idea is to collect, in one book, al the persistent rumors surrounding television shows, stars and events, and separate the facts from the fictions.
If the rumors don't make you drop you jaw, or laugh out loud, the answers will. Brioux employs a writing style that is both breezy and authoritative, as evidenced by this very quick setup to one unusual rumor.
"RUMOR: Joanie Loves Chachi was the biggest TV hit ever in South Korea because 'Chachi' is Korean for 'penis.'
"FALSE: Let's get one thing straight. Joanie Loves Chachi was never a hit, in Korea or anywhere else."
That's gold right there, but Brioux keeps going. He informs readers that yes, "jaw-jee" is a Korean slang term for the male genitalia, and no, the Scott Baio sitcom never aired on regular South Korean TV.
So much ground is covered here - and not just covered, but dug up. Did LBJ really call Walter Cronkite to complain about his CBS newscast while Cronkite was in the middle of that very show? Did a local newswoman in Florida commit suicide on live TV, after announcing to viewers she would do so? And did Michael Jackson provide the voice of a character on The Simpsons?
Through direct reporting, Brioux provides the answers: yes, yes, and yes. And answers to a lot more, in delightful chapters with such titles as "The Naked Truth" and "Ward, I'm Worried about the Beaver."
(Full disclosure: This is a new entry in The Praeger Television Collection, of which I serve as series editor. My duties, for the most part, are little more than "book pimp," steering worthy authors with good ideas to the publisher. The uniqueness of Brioux's concept, and his journalistic flair, are the reasons for my rave here.)
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