Saturday, August 30, 2008

What We Talk About When We Talk About Cliches

This was an amusing little item I found on Sarah Weinman's Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind about a particular over-used phrase. I love the article's last line. How many situations can you think of in which you've wanted to say that?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Are Books Really an Endangered Species? (Or Who the Heck is Cindy Weaver?)

Some people, like Cindy Weaver (the person quoted in these articles) would tell you that "the audience for books consists largely of the middle-aged and elderly while 'most people in their 20s and 30s... will tell you that books are so 20th-century.'" For this and other reasons, Weaver contends that "'there is every reason to think that books will be a thing in [sic] the past in the next 10-20 years,' to be replaced by multimedia stuff that places less and less value on text."

Weaver notes that "the vast majority of people who read books today do not find their information on books via the web. Most readers of books are 45-plus," then goes on to make that remark about books being "so 20th-century." Apart from the questionable assumption Weaver makes that old people don't use the Internet to find information on books (which the article calls her on), I'm really not sure what the heck that has to do with anything. I mean, I thought we were talking about reading books (which younger people are doing--I've seen it with my own eyes), not finding information online about them (which older people are doing--me being one of them).

Let's add to that the fact that I have no idea who Cindy Weaver is or why I should take her opinions seriously. Neither of the articles I've linked to in this post tell me anything about her or why I should care what she thinks. And while my casual observations don't amount to a scientific sampling, they do show that younger people out there are, in fact, still reading books. In fact, a commenter on one article pointed out that the Harry Potter phenomenon would seem to fly in the face of Weaver's position. I would follow that up with the popularity of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events books and countless other children's books, too numerous to mention.

While I fully recognize that the publishing business must adjust to new developments, such as the ebook, Kindle, Web publishing and all that, I suspect the rumors of print publishing's demise may be somewhat exaggerated. What say you?

Oh, and the proper expression would be "a thing of the past," not "a thing in the past." And you'd know that, Cindy, if you picked up a book now and then.

Monday, August 25, 2008

'The Ivory Grin': A Hardboiled Treat

Review of THE IVORY GRIN (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard ed. 2007)
Author, Ross Macdonald

Ross Macdonald was nothing if not a gifted stylist when it came to writing prose. THE IVORY GRIN starts off with a tension-filled meeting between the protagonist, private eye Lew Archer, and an unpleasant (in attitude and looks), but well-dressed, woman who wants to hire him.

You know the kind of person Archer's dealing with when he says that she "looked up at me with the air of an early bird surveying an outsize worm," then goes on to state that after giving him a handshake "as hard as a man's . . . she placed [her hand] behind my elbow, ushered me into my own office, and closed the door behind her." She then "seated herself in an armchair by the door and looked around the waiting-room. It was neither large nor expensively furnished, and she seemed to be registering those circumstances."

Right away, with a few short lines and a modicum of humor, we know quite a bit about this woman. And Archer. And we know any business between them won't go easily.

The woman wants Archer to find her former maid, who she says has stolen jewelry from her. The woman gives a name (Una--no last name, just Una), but won't give her address. Archer doesn't like Una or believe her story (right down to her name). However, (to paraphrase The Maltese Falcon) he does believe the hundred dollar bill she tosses his way to do the job. Archer sticks the bill in his wallet, "where it looked rather lonely." Despite his low cash flow, he almost returns it to Una as he gets to know and dislike her further.

He does, of course, take the case. But what Archer is hired to do and what he actually ends up doing are quite different.

The story mainly takes place in two small Southern California towns and involves such a tangle of characters and plot lines, I sometimes felt like I needed a score card (better yet, a flowchart) to follow what was going on.

But that's okay, because Macdonald was such a superb writer. He could deliver a wicked (often funny) turn of phrase that summed up character, situation, mood and/or viewpoint in a few well-chosen words. He had a flair for great dialogue, as well as for writing about dark issues from people's pasts, and a way with metaphors that rivaled Raymond Chandler.

Besides, at one point in the story, Archer describes his client being "in a spiteful rage, less than half a woman now, a mean little mannish doll raving ventriloquially."

Now "ventriloquially" is a real word (I looked it up in Webster's online dictionary), but how many writers would have the gumption to actually use it?

Addendum: I'd like to thank the people at Vintage Crime/Black Lizard for reissuing this and several of Macdonald's other Lew Archer novels, which had previously been out of print. They are classics and it's great to see them back in circulation.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Whooo~hooooo! Here we go again!

The coffee table is stacked, they're strung from a clothesline on the back porch, and they're ready to fly free! Selected original works available again....Just follow us to Just Give Me Peace at Etsy where the hippie parade continues....Peace~love and all that hoo~hah!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

So Good, It's Criminal

I like to read a variety of books, but must confess that I tend to favor crime fiction, since that's what I write. I think it's good to read other types of work (freshens the literary palate, you might say), but crime fiction is what I'm most into right now. And there's an amazing amount of good stuff out there.

I've just started getting into Italian noir (there's not a whole lot of it at my public library, which means I must commit to a purchase before I can read many of those books . . . and there are so many good books to read at the library . . . it's a dilemma), but here's an article about how the genre seems to be faring rather well.

Plus a few items from The Rap Sheet, a blog authored by Jim Winter, a person I happen to know (hi, Jim!) who apparently likes Reed Farrell Coleman (hi, Reed!) as much as I do and has done a very interesting interview with him.

Jim also mentions a book or two (or more) that you may have overlooked for your TBR list.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

So Many Books . . . Part Two

Leo of Zen Habits shares his list of "50 Amazing and Essential Novels to Enrich Your Library," many of which I've either read and enjoyed or at least heard of.

And in her Work-in-Progress blog, Leslie Pietrzyk remembers L. Rust Hills, whose name and writing I'm not familiar with, but who sounds like he's well worth a look, too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Drawing in the Dark, Singleton 2008 Hippie Art

Drawing in the Dark(c) Singleton 20088 1/2 by 11 scribble and tired markers on card stockIt was just another night ofno frillscheap thrillsand thefortune cookiecracked,an empty raw egg...Sometimes you getwhat you pay for....So I closed my eyes andpretendedI could see....And drew anddrewand drew...And in the morning,whenshe looked back at me,scribbled skinand handless arms,I smiled....And

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Spy Thriller Writer Gives Us a 'World Without End'

Review of WORLD WITHOUT END (audiobook 2007) by guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Ken Follett; read by John Lee

Leave it to me to Magoo into a sequel before the original, but I did. WORLD WITHOUT END by spy thriller writer Ken Follett not only takes place in 14th century England, but is his second book in that locale. The first was PILLARS OF THE EARTH about the building of the cathedral in Kingsbridge, England.

Like the first thousand-pager, this audio experience is a honker—36 disks, to date my personal best for length. For about half a disk, being an ignorant little half-blind reader, I figured it would cover, you know, a few centuries, but it really delves into only 1327 to 1361. In detail!

As the election for Prior began to put our own elections to shame for chicanery and backbiting and the nuns tried to one-up the monks for quality of medical care, I quickly got into it and could relate. And of course, we have an epidemic—the Black Death—for that "ripped from the headlines" feel.

Basically, the story follows Caris, a businesswoman who has to become a nursing nun or be executed on a flimsy witchcraft charge; her lover (yes--spicy!), Merthin, an ingenious builder; Merthin’s brother, a boorish knight named Ralph; Gwenda, a determined peasant; and her handsome but slightly clueless hubs. See? The women rule. Modern as anything.

This is not a real bodice-ripper, concentrating on the realities of the day, at least as determined by present-day research. You get pretty caught up in it. Will Gwenda and her husband be able to escape the feudal system and get their lands back? Or will she have to work this out in trade with Ralph (OK, that bodice ripped a little)? Can Merthin keep his construction projects going in a bad Plague-ridden economy? Will doctors, so-called, start washing their hands?

John Lee has a stately English accent and does the voices well, without chirping on the female parts.

And I finally found out what pottage is—as in “not worth a mess of pottage.” It’s sort of a chronic stew set to simmer on the stoves of the poorer classes—like a soup made of compost. Yet, they make it sound quite tasty. Time for lunch!

Star Lawrence is owner of the health humor site, Health’s Ass.

Stuff I Like

I rather enjoyed this piece by Clayton Moore, the Mystery Strumpet of Bookslut on "Age, Wisdom, and Treachery," about creative people, age, wisdom and, well, you get the idea.

And I'd like to share Leo's "10 Books That Shaped My Life, and 40 Others I Love" from Zen Habits.

And if you like lists of recommended books and authors, The Reader's Advisor Online Blog is happy to provide many (just scroll down to the bottom of this post for the lists--and read the post, too, while you're at it), along with a recommendation on a book to read if you "feel like there's just too many books out there to read them all." An affliction I often suffer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Consumed by 'Death's Dark Abyss'

Review of DEATH'S DARK ABYSS (Europa Editions 2006)
Author, Massimo Carlotto; Translation by Lawrence Venuti

This is the first time I've ever tried Italian noir, and it's easy to see, after reading DEATH'S DARK ABYSS, why Massimo Carlotto is "widely considered Italy's foremost crime fiction writer" and "a major exponent of the Mediterranean Noir novel." It's also easy to understand why he writes noir about the Italian criminal justice system, given the fact that he served years of jail time for a murder he didn't commit, but was eventually given a presidential pardon.

The story is told by two characters--Raffaello Beggiato, a man who (high on drugs and with the cops hot on his heels) murdered a woman and her young son during an armed robbery with an accomplice who got away with the loot, and Silvano Contin, the grieving widower who lost his wife and son at Beggiato's hands (although Beggiato claims his accomplice pulled the trigger--a distinction that is not only untrue, but makes no difference with respect to his legal culpability).

After a prologue that sets up the situation, the story jumps ahead 15 years to when Beggiato may qualify for release because he has cancer. Each character tells his side of the tale in turn--Beggiato, sick and embittered with prison life, hopes Contin will write a letter to the court forgiving him for what he did so he can get a pardon or suspended sentence and enjoy his last days alive as a free man; Contin, who has obsessed over his wife's dying words--"Everything's gone dark, Silvano. I can't see anymore, I'm scared, scared, help me, it's so dark"--for the last 15 years, is bitter and enraged, and has no intention of forgiving Beggiato for what he did. Unless . . . there's something in it for him . . .

Contin concocts a plan--a way to use Beggiato's release to get back at him and his unknown accomplice. Meanwhile, Beggiato bides his time and plays the system, hoping to get out of jail, find his accomplice and share the stolen wealth. He'd like to use the money to escape to Brazil and live out his days in luxury, but as it happens, Contin has other plans . . .

It's interesting to compare the characters. They are both crafty and unscrupulous when it comes to using the judicial system to get what they want. In that respect, the two are much more alike than they are different. However, while Beggiato is a killer, you get the sense that he never really wanted to kill anyone and he seems to live by some sort of code (for instance, he never rats out his accomplice); Contin, after years of harboring deep-seated rage over the murders, appears to have lost his moral compass and is willing to do anything to get revenge.

The events in the book are chilling and Venuti's English translation has a kind of lyrical quality that may come from its Italian origins. Without giving anything away, I'll just put it like this. By the time you reach the epilogue, you have to wonder: Who is the more honorable of the two men? Who is the real cold-blooded sociopath? And how ironic is it that things end up as they do because the system allowed it?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Quick Guide to George Pelecanos

This article from the Washington City Paper about crime novelist George Pelecanos provides a look at the man, his writing and a "tongue-in-cheek guide" to some of the things he writes about.

Pelecanos, considered by many to be "the" Washington DC novelist (the fact of his writing in the crime genre being almost--though not quite--irrelevant) , is an excellent writer and storyteller, with a keen eye for detail. Or, as the article puts it, "D.C.'s most site-specific author."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Peace Rising, Singleton 2008 Hippie Art

PEACE RISING(c) Singleton 2008SOLDWorn out markers on8 1/2 x 11 spiral bound card stockCloser to the edge,and then down,down,down,into the rheumy river,rolling,tumbling,moving with the current,darker,further,fasteruntil there was deep silence andthe coffee colored sea became a velvet blanket,and we hid,there in the underworld,in buried peace....floating,dreaming...Her laquered fingernails,

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?'--Before the Movie

Review of THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? (Midnight Classics 1995)
Author, Horace McCoy

Sydney Pollack and friends turned it into one heck of a great movie, but THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? started out as a book--I'd call it a novella, though one blurb on the back described it as a "short novel"--not sure what the difference is or if there is a difference, but I can tell you the book is excellent.

THEY SHOOT HORSES is written in what could best be described as lean prose. Total economy of description, with an emphasis on dialogue and the thoughts of the main character, Robert Syverten. Robert is an aspiring director in Depression Era Hollywood--he comes on all humble, saying he wants to start out making two-, maybe three-reel shorts, but in the back of his mind he pictures himself becoming greater than Eisenstein. He accidentally meets up with Gloria Beatty, a woman from West Texas who has had a rough life and looks a bit too worn around the edges to make it into Central Casting, where most aspiring actors at the time tried to get noticed (which is to say, she doesn't look a thing like Jane Fonda, though I still love Fonda's portrayal, even if she is too pretty for the part by far and sounds like she learned to swear in prep school).

They wind up entering a dance marathon, not only for the $1,000 they could win, but to get the attention of Hollywood big shots who come to watch. Much like Romans watching the gladiators, as it turns out. Or maybe more like Christians getting thrown to the lions.

Robert describes the horror of the marathon--especially the grueling derby race scenes, the couple-by-couple attrition as the hours drag on--with the kind of matter-of-fact detail that seems appropriate for one who is telling the story in flashback after being found guilty of murdering Gloria. (And this is not a spoiler. This is revealed on the first page.)

The narrative goes back and forth between what the judge is saying to Robert while passing sentence and the events that led up to Robert's plight. Events, I might add, that differ significantly from the movie. Further, Robert's peculiar friendship with Gloria--one in which he sympathizes with her, despite her flaws and her not being the best of all people--is more fully explored in the book than the movie. And better explains the ending, which is shocking but more perplexing in the film because you're given less information about why he did it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

'The Things They Carried': More Than I Expected

Review of THE THINGS THEY CARRIED (Houghton Mifflin 1990)
Author, Tim O'Brien

Someone recommended Tim O'Brien to me, and when I decided to read THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, I checked it out first and discovered it was about Vietnam. I almost didn't read it. After all, I'd seen the movies--Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket--the horror, the horror, okay, I got it. But because he was so highly recommended by someone who seemed to share my tastes, I figured I'd give it 50 pages. (I always give a book 50 pages.) So I read 50 pages. And I kept going.

I kept going because it was so hard to put the book down. I'd never read a book about Vietnam, and while some of the scenes reminded me of parts of various movies, reading the book was a completely different experience. It covered so much more than the movies.

For instance, O'Brien tells us how he felt and how he thought about running to Canada after he got his draft notice. I never saw that in a movie. He also paints incredible pictures of his experiences during the war--scenes in which, right off, someone gets shot and killed and "dropped like so much concrete. Boom-down . . . like cement." How he remembered the face of the VC soldier he killed who looked like a young scholar, but whose jaw was in his throat and whose eye was replaced with a star-shaped hole. And how, under mortar fire in a flooded field of exploding human waste (where his company had mistakenly bivouacked), he saw a buddy get killed by being sucked under the shit and drowned and, with the field exploding all around him, he made a half-hearted attempt to save him, but ultimately ran away to save himself, breathing and swallowing shit in the process.

And there are funny parts, too. O'Brien has a great sense of humor and irony that leavens his stories in all the right ways and places. (Maybe it's an Irish thing.) He writes about courage, honor, cowardice, friendship, loss, guilt--and his stories tell you something about the awesomeness, waste, absurdity and lasting effect on the individual of war. They even say something universal about the human condition. But they told me something more.

O'Brien does what James Frey should have done when he wrote A MILLION LITTLE PIECES. He explains that he's making some of it up. And he tells you why, with a statement that I've always believed. O'Brien says he made stuff up because: "I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth."

And when I read that, I started to understand that I could never really feel what Tim O'Brien felt. That I would have to actually go to Vietnam and fight in a war there to completely understand the experience (no thanks, I'll pass). But Tim O'Brien was bringing me as close as I would ever get to that understanding.

And that, folks, is what I shoot for when I write. To tell other people about things I find significant (whether tragic, comic or absurd) as I have experienced them and do so in a way that brings them closer to understanding. And if I'm good--if I'm really, really good--to bring them as close as they can get to experiencing it without actually being there.

That's why I write. And, whether Tim O'Brien intended it or not, I know that now from reading this book.

Friday, August 1, 2008

SoCal Book Awards

If there's one thing I just love (that also drives me completely nuts), it's finding out about more notable books I might consider reading. Here are the finalists for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association's book awards. And that just covers Southern California.

So many books, so little time.

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