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The Simpsons: One Step Beyond Forever
While this book does give bright children something to read aloud to their parents until they get yelled at, this book—like its predecessors—spoils the pleasure of rewatching Simpsons reruns by unearthing all the tidbits suddenly caught the fourth time around. Still, it will settle arguments: here's what the Ultrahouse said; here's the exact spelling of the Charles Nelson Reilly-style, finger-in the-collar reaction noise ("Guh-ooo!"). Suitable for framing is an illustration of Homer being assaulted by vengeful beavers. For the pondering is a Roger Rosenblatt-style fulmination by Abe: "Movies were better in our day. For a nickel, you got two movies, a cartoon, a bag of popcorn and a whuppin'! Kept your mind on your business!" For the searching, there is every "blackboard joke": "The giving tree is not a chump," "Vampire is not a career choice," "Spongebob is not a contraceptive." (Edited by Jesse L. McCaan; Harper; 128 pages; $14.95 paper)

—Richard von Busack


Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and, Like, Whatever
Leslie Savan watches way too much TV—commercials in particular. Luckily, she pays close attention to the way copywriters, sitcom hacks and filmmakers turn slang into "not clichés exactly, but snappy turns of phrase with a televisual sheen"—in short, "pop talk." We've all heard them: "I don't think so," "No way/Way!," "Duh," "Don't go there," ad nauseam. Savan analyzes the epidemiology of "buzzphrases," especially the ones driven by TV shows such as The Simpsons, Friends and Seinfeld (although, curiously, she turns a deaf ear to Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Savan is especially astute tracing the path of hip-hop slang through the media wringer. McDonald's misconstrues the sexual boast "I'd hit it" into an endorsement for a double cheeseburger in an effort to earn points with the urban demographic. Budweiser's ubiquitous "Whassup?!" campaign appropriated the exaggerated expression by black filmmaker Charles Stone III, providing "yet another way for white men, and women, to bond with black people without having to actually know any." Most pop talk is harmless rhetorical "bling," but when George Tenet predicates that finding WMDs in Iraq will be "a slam dunk," we've moved dangerously close to George Orwell's doublespeak. (By Leslie Savan; Knopf; 340 pages; $23.95 cloth)


Cities of the World: A History in Maps
Google Maps brings us closer to each other's backyards than is healthy for the penumbral right of privacy, but there is no aesthetic substitute for the magnificent hand-colored maps of the 15th through the early 19th century. Peter Whitfield's gorgeous coffee-table book presents a generous helping of such cartographic gems to study the growth of 64 cities (plus two imaginary metropolises). The cities surveyed include the obvious—Rome, Paris, London—and the quirky: the geometrical fortified city of Palmanova; the severe, religiously driven grid of Salt Lake City; the haunted ruins of St. Andrew's, a Scottish university town "on the way to nowhere" that flourished in the 16th century before "entering a period of slumber" that caught the attention of romanticizing travelers. Whitfield's succinct lessons in urban design are well worth reading, although the temptation is to keep leafing through these magnificent maps, until you end up at a circa 1550 bird's-eye panorama of Venice, with every significant church and building depicted in perspective view in a "precious, jewel-like city, floating on a rich sea of azure." (By Peter Whitfield; UC Press; 208 pages; $39.95)

—Michael S. Gant


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From the October 26-November 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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