Currently making the rounds at the VCReporter offices is The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes by Dawn Schiller (2010, Medallion Press). Schiller spent most of her teenage years as the girlfriend of porn legend John Holmes after being abandoned by her parents. The book details her harrowing journey through L.A.’s darkest subcultures in the late 1970s alongside a cocaine-addicted, thieving and abusive Holmes, leading up to the horrific Wonderland murders in 1981 for which he was charged and later acquitted. A compelling read, mostly for the trainwreck aspect of it but also for the psychological elements. Schiller does a good job of straight storytelling, with tasteful flourishes that subtly hint at her talent for prose without excessive sentimentality or gore and almost totally devoid of reference to Holme’s famed 12-inch penis — a good move on her part, likely a result of direction from her editor. Overall, The Road Through Wonderland is captivating, fascinating and, in the end, oddly hopeful.

— Michel Cicero

2The Case of the Grinning Gorilla by Erle Stanley Gardner (1952, in The Detective Book Club, Walter J. Black)
“I wanted to read something by this author associated with Ventura.  It was fast and light reading.  Perry Mason and Della Street and a preposterous plot that raced along to an improbable conclusion.  Thoroughly enjoyable.”

— John Nichols, art dealer, Santa Paula



3The Aran Islands by J.M. Synge (Penguin Classics, originally published 1907)
“The author records his visits to the islands in 1898-1901, when he was gathering the folklore and anecdotes out of which he forged The Playboy of the Western World (we are in rehearsal now for September production). It’s a fascinating account of an Irish almost forgotten island life. No telephones, TV or wheeled vehicles, but strong island communities providing their own entertainment in the form of ceilidhs (stories, music, dancing).”

— Francisca Beach, theater director, Senga Classic Stage Company, Ojai

aThe Sky Below by Stacey D’Erasmo (2009, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
“Intense, thoughtful, a story about yearning and surviving as an imperfect person in an imperfect world.”

— Eric Wallner, creative economy specialist, Ventura






4Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond by Peter Selz, Ph.D. (2006, University of California Press)
“The Beat Generation possessed a certain romanticism not experienced much today outside of a creative, nonconforming lifestyle. Wounded and angry as it was, it refused to be destroyed. It responded in its own manner, living on the edge (quite literally on the edge of the continent in San Francisco) in anarchic nonconformity, and made its voice heard. This is particularly appealing S to me.”

— Carolyn Friend, artist, owner UpFront Gallery, Ventura


5Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow (2009, Random House)
“A variation on the theme of loneliness, brotherhood and the passage of time, by the author of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate. Homer and Langley Collyer grow up and age together, in a once-grand mansion on Fifth Avenue where they lived privileged and increasingly eccentric lives until their deaths in 1947, 18 days apart. Homer Collyer, blind and increasingly dependent on his deranged brother for food and care, is our first-person guide into their strange, cluttered universe. Langley, a concert-level pianist, world-class hoarder and chronic nonpayer of utility bills, disassembles a Model-T Ford on the street and rebuilds it inside the house to provide electricity.

— Lorenzo DeStefano, filmmaker, founder/director Ventura Film Society, Ventura