Saturday, November 21, 2020

#19-- A Covid Fall's Reading

 So, what's been worth my reading time during the past 6 months? Some old and some stunningly new. The 2014 debut novel in British author Mick Herron's self-titled Slow Horses series introduces the inhabitants of MI5's castoffs into London's Slough House. These men and women are the failures within the government intelligence service who screwed up an operation, crossed up an ambitious superior, became too dependent on alcohol or drugs and are now sent to quit the service or be bored into quitting with unending menial tasks. But a video of a young man being threatened with beheading on social media fire the Slow Horses into action utilizing their various, underappreciated skills. This series won the CWA Gold Dagger and is best read in order.

Studs Terkel (1912-2008) was best known for his radio show on Chicago's WFMT.   Talking to Myself: a Memoir of My Times, is great introduction to this late, lamented treasure. Terkel is laconic, wry, sometimes baffling. He needs his tape machinery, his Sony and his Uher.  He will reveal himself only as refracted through interviews with others, only in anecdotal banter. We learn in this memoir, a raggle-taggle patchwork, that Terkel was raised in his mother's Chicago hotel for transient men; where he learned to listen and to wait for the unforeseen moments when people reveal themselves. He worked as a poll watcher for some of Chicago's more entertaining and crooked politicians and knew Al Capone. His memoir is a lot like his radio shows, a wealth of interesting sidelights hidden in plain view of his story.

John Harvey 1938- is the prolific British author who introduced Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick of the Nottingham Police in Lonely Hearts in 1989. Resnick, a divorced loner with four cats named for his beloved jazz musician heros , is assigned a case involving a murdered woman whose last boyfriend was just released from prison and was heard to threaten her. Open and shut!  Not so as other, similar murders are happening as the suspect is held in jail. This debut was judged one of the 100 best mysteries of the 20th century.

So, What's New?    Among the new books I've enjoyed recently is Scott Phillips That Left Turn at Albuquerque which has zero to do with New Mexico, but a lot to do with corrupt people. Douglas Rigby, a lawyer in  LA has his back to the wall when he steals $200,000 from his last remaining client to do a cocaine deal that goes very wrong. Rigby cheats on his wife,a realtor who cheats on him, and who is poised to exercise her pre-nup that will bankrupt them both. Rigby concocts a scheme involving the last client, art forgery and subrosa sale to Russians of a painting but all ends in chaos and murder. Phillips, author of the classic The Ice Harvest, is one of the best noir authors, doesn't do heros, and apparently hates lawyers. What's not to like?

On the face of it, Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby is one in a long list of books riffing on a popular theme: the career criminal who wants just one last bite at the cherry, one last job to set him up for peaceful, affluent retirement. Beauregard “Bug” Montage however, is an African American man in the rural south, which leaves him a few steps behind the starting line when it comes to getting ahead. Bug  lives in the hills of North Carolina,is a responsible family man with a wife who brooks very little silliness from him, 2 sons, and is a small business owner of an auto repair shop with an employee who relies on him.Bug also owns and drives a Plymouth Duster 340 ci. that he inherited from his father and that he drag races along the Piedmont and never loses. An associate brings an opportunity to drive a stolen car from a jewelry store stickup but the action turns very wrong and puts Bug into a very evil crime syndicate revenge theft involving platinum. The book is stunningly well-written with a plot that hums on all 8 cylinders.

My final book under scrutiny is The Chain by Adrian McKinty which needs a little introduction. McKinty, born in Northern Ireland in 1968 during The Troubles, has been writing mystery novels for more than a decade, winning many awards including an EDGAR, a Ned Kelly in Australia, a McCavity, but making no money from his writing. He and his wife and child were about to be evicted from their home in Australia when word got to several big time American authors about his situation. He was contacted and connected with an editor/agent who asked if he had anything written with a US setting. McKinty replied he had a short story written almost a decade before called The Chain, and when sent to and read by the editor/agent who was stunned by it, the publishing wheels turned and the novel was released in 2019. 

The story presents a parent's worst nightmare, a phone call saying that a daughter is kidnapped from her school bus stop and will be murdered unless the mother can send an enormous Bitcoin ransom to an anonymous address and then identify a target child she has to kidnap, hold for ransom, and keep the Chain going. Rachel Klein is the Boston area mother, a single parent, cancer survivor who gets the call and must pull it together to get her daughter back. To say the book is "compelling" is a gross understatement as Rachel has to deal with a totally evil situation that police help isn't an option and all of her phone calls, computer activity, activities are monitored by The Chain. OK, so maybe the characterizations are a little thin and the book's conclusion is way past stunning, the concept is perfectly carried out by McKinty and if you want to give up control for 4 or 5 hours, read The Chain.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

#18 More Covid-19 Reading

#18 More Covid-19 Reading

So, what's been good stuff to read since the last time I checked, about 6 weeks ago. Goodness knows we all have time and apparently some money to spend on reading. Longs Peak Book Company, my used book business, has sold about 50 books in the past 10 weeks since this started. The four books I want present begin with the latest from novelist Don Winslow, Broken, his collection of 6 novella length stories that cover the western US with a stop in New Orleans in the book title story for a revenge fest involving an obsessive cop, his brother and mother and a very bad small-time drug dealer. The other stories capture the LA to San Diego cop culture, two characters in Hawaii and a return to El Paso. The stories are dedicated to and written in the style of Steve McQueen, Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler and there's not a loser in the 6 pack.

I have begun reading The Overstory by novelist Richard Powers and can't recommend it too highly. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 and finalist for many other awards, the novel introduces its characters through separate short stories that tie the characters to a love of trees. This plays out in the body of the novel as these characters meet, fight deforestation, and develop their individual, extraordinary skills. The book is long, over 500 pages, but spectacular.

A new book that I got as an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) that will be published June 2 is Martha McPhee's novel, An Elegant Woman.Taken from her family history and recollections of neighbors and friends, McPhee presents her great-grand-mother and two daughters leaving a central Ohio town, her philandering husband in the early years of the 20th century to travel by train west to Montana and stake their claim. It's never easy for Glenna, the great-grandmother and her daughters, Katherine, the beautiful one and Thelma/Tommie/Katherine, the hard working one as Glenna basically abandons the girls for long periods as she works for suffrage and teaches at a string of one-room schools across the west. The girls make a decision on their futures that sends one to Hollywood, the other to nursing school back east and what will become a life as An Elegant Woman.

What with no authors doing signings, speaking tours, bookstores are working hard to stay afloat as are most every other small business.The Mysterious Bookshop in NYC solicited recommendations for weekly columns of a Who's Who of mystery writers-- DeMille, Connelly, Patterson, Perry, Sallis, etc. They individually listed the 5 books that most influenced them in writing and it was a lot of the expected-- Christie, Highsmith, Chandler, etc. But occasionally someone posted an author and title I'd never heard of. But the good old Loveland Public Library came through. Maybe they still have a few books that I recommended buying over the past 30 years. One that was new to me was Gene Kerrigan's "The Rage", set in Dublin of the 2010 period when the Irish Golden Dragon deflated. Garda Inspector Tidey connects an old, unsolved murder of a low level gangster with the current murder of a wealthy banker. A recently released prison convict is working with his brother and several others to pull a faultless armored car robbery. The cases coincide making Tidey's life hell and displaying excellent writing. Kerrigan is for those readers of Bruen, Rankin, Declan Burke, Malcolm Mackay and Adrian McGinty. Read and Enjoy!

Monday, April 6, 2020

#17 COVID-19 and Reading

#17     Covid-19 and Reading

So what's a YOLD guy ( Young Old--between the ages of 65-75) gonna do when in shut-down, confinement, stay-at-home going into a fourth week? Well, he can exercise so it's a 1-3 hour hike each day, he can do chores like spraying under the deck to kill carpenter ants, and he can digitize the last 5,000 35mm color slides dating back to 1977. And he can read, even if the library is closed. I mean I have 1880 books that are not converting into sales, so why not read some. What's been good as a Covid-19 read?

Four books for enjoyable reading begin with an ARC(Advanced Review Copy) of a book that will be published 04/14/2020." The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power" by Deirdre Mask is her debut and it presents a deeply researched history of the power of street names, location, as well as how street layout was determined. She reviews the Roman and early English developments on grid layout and ad hoc arrangement that is totally confusing and then looks at the power of naming and numbering streets and buildings in Vienna, Philadelphia and South Korea. Particularly interesting is her view of power following the Nazi rise in street naming in Berlin and what followed the defeat to those names. She explores this same issue in post-revolutionary Tehran , post Civil War Florida, St. Louis and South Africa following the end of apartheid. The book ends with a look at the effect of street names on homeless people. This book is all a reader would want to know on an obscure subject.

"Sports Illustrated Fifty Years of Great Writing" is exactly as billed collecting the best of 1954 to 2004 for a Fiftieth Anniversary Big Book. This is not for reading cover to cover but more for dipping in and reading an essay or two. And it's not presumptuous to say every reading will expose a great writer like Frank Deford, Roy Blount Jr., Robert Creamer, Dan Jenkins, Roger Kahn, Budd Schulberg, Thomas McGuane and George Plimpton. But who would have expected authors like John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Wallace Stegner, and Jim Harrison contributed to SI? This is a book to cherish for the long haul especially with no live sports on the horizon.

A third book was a re-read especially after attending a February Loveland Symphony Orchestra 250th birthday salute concert to Ludwig Beethoven. I re-opened Edward Dusinberre's "Beethoven for a Later Age: Living With the String Quartets" and enjoyed the book all over again. Dusinberre, the first violinist since 1993 of the world-class Takacz Quartet , now based in Boulder at the University of Colorado, blends his story from audition to the quartet to working with three other fantastic musicians, originally from Hungary, as they learn and perform Beethoven's string quartets, deal with a brutal travel and performance schedule, illness and death. This real life view of an elite musical operation is matched with Dusinberre's vivid re-telling the drama in Beethoven's life as deafness took over, Napoleon's armies repeatedly entered Vienna, and no one would pay Beethoven the agreed upon money for his compositions and concerts.This book is really special if you enjoy classical music.

The fourth book is a new classic and a most timely book, "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel. This book , a Finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, is a time-shifting tale that begins with the death by heart attack of a famous film actor on the Toronto stage of King Lear as witnessed by a child actor, nine year old Kirsten and Jeevan, a paramedic who tries unsuccessfully to resuscitate the actor. Their three stories intertwine as a worldwide pandemic begins that night from a Georgian Flu and The Collapse of civilization follows. Fifteen years later Kristen is travelling what's left of the coastal areas of the Great Lakes in Michigan with a troupe of musicians and Shakespearean actors in their horse-drawn caravan as their stories again intertwine in very surprising ways.In some ways this is a difficult book to read right now, but the author is a terrific storyteller.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

#16---Late 2019, Early 2020 Stuff to Read

So the last few months have been very conducive to some serious reading and you might be wondering, what's worth the effort? "Backstage Past" by entrepreneur and promoter Barry Fey fills the bill. Fey (1938-2013) lived a much bigger than life, fighting constantly with SOBs like Bill Graham while introducing acts like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix' last US concert, U2's Under a Blood Red Sky at Red Rocks, etc.This book captures that rock history from 1965 to 2000. Fey was no stranger to controversy and he tells his side vociferously, profanely and usually humorously. He provides lists of musicians, politicians, and business people he hated and loved as well as hundreds of photos of the rock legends that played his concerts, ate his barbeque and steaks and made him a legend.

JP Gritton's debut "Wyoming" is equal parts Daniel Woodrell, Annie Proulx, and Frank Bill and that's very good. It’s 1988 and Shelley Cooper is in trouble. He’s broke, he’s been fired from his construction job, and his ex-wife has left him for their next door neighbor and a new life in Kansas City. The only opportunity on his horizon is fifty pounds of his brother’s high-grade marijuana, which needs to be driven from Colorado to Houston and exchanged for a lockbox full of cash. The delivery goes off without a hitch, but getting home with the money proves to be a different challenge altogether. Fueled by a grab bag of resentments and self punishment, Shelley becomes a case study in the question of whether it’s possible to live without accepting yourself, and the dope money is the key to a lock he might never find.

Timothy Egan's latest "A Pilgrimage to Eternity" is equal parts travelog and philosophical, theological and psychological study as he walks, buses, car rides but never flies on the Via Francigena, a 1,000 mile journey from Canterbury Cathedral, England through France and Switzerland to Vatican City. Pilgrimaging by himself except for short stints with his son, daughter and wife, Egan faces his difficult history with the Roman Catholic church while he faces death in his family. The book is a fascinating trip through history and current headlines as Egan faces mortality, splendor, fellow pilgrims and a possible visit with the Pope.

The final book under consideration is one with some current controversy. "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins was read as an Advanced Review Copy several months before publication. I would recommend it unreservedly as a novel of great writing and current impact. Lydia Quixano Perez owns a small bookstore in Acapulco, has an 8 year old son Luca and is happily married to journalist Sebastian. The opening pages of the book are absolutely stunning as her life changes forever and she must escape with her son, walking and riding The Beast, railway boxcar roofs from Acapulco to Denver while their lives could end instantly. This is one book that demands non-stop reading! 

So to the controversy-- author Cummins was to be in Denver a week ago for a reading at the Tattered Cover bookstore and I was ready to drive down. She had received an Oprah's book club choice and many other accolades pre-publication, a big forward payment, etc. but the week before her publisher had cancelled the balance of her national tour because of fear for her safety. She was criticized for writing this book-- a research and writing project that took 4 years of her life-- as she wrote , not as a Mexican national, but as a white woman(with a Puerto Rican grandmother) and had received all the adulation. My sense of this is just as Shakespeare wrote about women-Juliet,the daughters of King Lear, Portia and Jessica in the Merchant of Venice,etc., Cummins had every right to research and write her book and if political correctness enters 2020 and her safety and the publication of her book are jeopardized, it's one more bad thing.   (I step down from my Soapbox). Enjoy!