Book News Talk

So, this former husband of Danielle Steele, Tom Perkins, a billionaire or something, comes up with an idea for a romance novel. He gives it Ms. Steele (or the former Mrs. Perkins or whatever her name would be) and she says, “Only a man could write this!” And what does he do? He writes it himself. Like he’s got nothing else to do. (Newsweek: scroll for it)

Okay, you know how people are all crazy over The Da Vinci Code, right? Well, Dan Brown calls his popularity a circus. He said people wanted his autograph all-of-the-time. Some even ask him to sign a throw-up bag. I think if I see him, I’m going to ask him to sign a Tom Clancy novel.

And you know what Kate Mulgrew reads? Ian McEwan. She says he’s a “wonderful writer,” but easy. “Novels are like chocolate,” she says and she “prefers biography, autobiography.” Calls herself a very disciplined reader.

So, Will Duquette is like an amazing reader, okay? He can read a whole book before I get through the first chapter, and like he reads all kinds of stuff, like stuff that would make me use the bag before I had Dan Brown sign it, you know? But he doesn’t get Lemony Snicket. The other day, he got to the end of The Bad Beginning with his sons, telling them he hated the book every time he picked it up. The writer “talks down” to the readers, he says, and everything is depressing.

And you remember The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo? Well, there’s a new book coming out by the same author! Yeah, yeah, he’s still dead; but this researcher found a serialized novel in old French newspapers. It’s called The Knight of Saint-Hermine and will be out in June.

And did you hear about Mark Levin’s book on the Supreme Court? It’s called Men in Black. No, I don’t know if Will Smith did a forward to it. But it’s a best-seller and the Washington Post quotes a law professor saying, “The fascinating thing is that it’s a bestseller on a subject where 100 percent of us who present ourselves as experts haven’t read it.” The publisher says his readers have been screaming for a book on the Supreme Court. I wonder if they were climbing over each other for Phyllis Schlafly’s book about it.

Where is Heaven? or Two Ways to View Death

I read the Sherlock Holmes’ case “The Five Orange Pips” recently, and it struck me that a reader could view the conclusion as a success or failure according to his worldview. The story itself is a bit of a disappointment. The client appears with a dramatic story. Holmes talks through his initial observations, and the next day, he discusses some conclusions. The story occurs almost entirely within his apartment. The final words describe what Watson could ascertain about the suspected criminals at sea.

Once Holmes does the office work to pinpoint some likely suspects, he mails a letter to them and one to the American authorities in order to apprehend them for murder charges in Britain; but all they ever heard was “that somewhere far out in the Atlantic a shattered stern-post of the boat was seen swinging in the trough of a wave, with the letters ‘L. S.’ carved upon it.” Watson could only assume the ship with the suspects was destroyed in the violent storms that day.

How does that strike you? Did the criminals escape justice through an accident which could have killed anyone? Did Holmes fail because he could see the murderers prosecuted? Or did a divine judge execute his own sentence on them through the storm?

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The Last Valley by Martin Windrow

The Last Valley by Martin Windrow is one of the best military history books I have ever read. It objectively examines both sides in the first war in Indochina – the French and their Vietnamese allies against the Viet Minh. The book explains the strategies of both sides throughout the war and the tactics used in individual engagements.

Windrow describes the history of French colonialism in Indochina and how and why the Viet Minh formed to oppose the French colonial rulers. He offers an overview of the hostilities between the Viet Minh and the French-led forces leading to the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Windrow’s descriptions and explanations of the battles leading up to the battle of Dien Bien Phu provide an understanding of the strategies involved. Particularly, Windrow describes a French victory at Na San that the French used as a basis for future operations in North Vietnam’s High Region. The French believed that Dien Bien Phu would be fought in the same manner as Na San. Windrow explains the many differences between the two battles and how General Vo Nguyen Giap, military commander of all Viet Minh forces, effectively applied the lessons he learned at Na San to the battle of Dien Bien Phu.

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Drama City by George Pelecanos

Now that my career as a sportswriter and prognosticator has come and gone the Friday review returns with a look at Drama City
by George Pelecanos
.

Crime thrillers have to start with a bang these days in deference to our much-maligned attention span, that collective fugue state we wander through between thirty second ads and subliminal shots of triple cheeseburgers. Drama City defies convention with a set-up that walks the reader through the lives of Lorenzo Brown and Rachel Lopez, the damaged protagonists of this urban landscape. Lorenzo is walking the line after eight years in prison. Back on the home ground in Washington DC Lorenzo sees things with old eyes, the kids on the corner, the cops on the beat. Lorenzo has a job with the dog police, the Humane Society, and a grim determination to stay away from his old life.

Rachel is Lorenzo’s probation officer. Rachel is leading a double life, struggling with alcohol and high risk sex; good at her job, she cares about her clients like Lorenzo who seem to want to change their lives. At night Rachel is prowling hotel bars dressed to kill or be killed.

Lorenzo knows nothing has changed on the street except the faces. As the story unfolds the reader is drawn into Lorenzo’s austere routine. His old friend Nigel runs the drug corners just the way he used to. The young studs sneer and posture; a dispute over a corner sets the novel’s plot into motion. Lorenzo and Rachel are caught up in the retribution unleashed by brutality and above all, bedrock stupidity.

As a character study the novel makes excellent use of the tension inherent on DC’s uptown streets. Pelecanos employs a lean style and a deliberate pace that establishes his characters and the realities of their world. Theme drives the plot without moralizing or side trips. Cause and effect follow one another with grim efficiency. The volatile mix of guns and greed overlay the simpler hopes of staying sober, staying free, or simply surviving; the novel succeeds as a study of what people don’t want. Lorenzo puts one foot in front of the other, not wanting to be the man he once was; Rachel spends her days paying dues for the night before.

Pelecanos plays the bounce allowing Lorenzo to glimpse love and promise long enough to put it everything at risk. The crisis brings the storylines together as it merges the action with the thematic inevitability of violence. Rachel and Lorenzo, long separated by role and perspective, are united by the savage actions of a psychotic teenager. Rachel walks the same streets as Lorenzo, always mindful of lines she cannot cross; Drama City shows us how these constructs and class distinctions can vanish in a single moment.

The novel doesn’t offer lush descriptors or lingering metaphorical phrases; other reviewers have been kicking Pelecanos around for the dialogue driven no frills approach. I think his prose is perfect for the subject matter and overwriting would have killed the mood it creates. We know what a street corner looks like; Pelecanos shows us what that corner feels like to Lorenzo and Rachel. That’s the novelist’s job and he does it well.

Catamount alert

Bob Ryan in the Boston Globe wrote that Vermont’s basketball team, the Catamounts, has drawn Syracuse in the opening round. Quoth Bob, “Niagara has a better chance of beating Oklahoma than Vermont has against the ‘Cuse.”

I know this is a literary blog, but Niagara is my dad’s alma mater, so I’ve got them penciled in for the Final Four. My nephew attends Vermont, dear Catamounts, so with apologies to Sam Lipsyte, they have to find a way to get past Syracuse. Maybe the Orange will be snowed in…perfect on St. Padraig’s Day, resulting in a forfeit.
So we’ve got Niagara and Vermont in this mythical final four along with Pacific and SW Missouri State. Remember this is a lit blog; after the ‘Mounts deal with Syracuse, Duke and Carolina, Niagara will be waiting for them in a battle of the…bands, maybe?

By the way Bob Ryan uses Town Car as a verb when discussing the Fighting Illini, as in Illinois will town car its way through the tourney; maybe the Catamounts can Vee-Dub their way to St. Louis.

Amazon.com Uses VidLit

I wanted to post a link to VidLit after seeing it at BookAngst 101, but tonight I discover that Amazon is using one of their animated promotions for Martin Kihn’s book House of Lies : How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time. Bravo! Other promotions are available on VidLit.com. My favorite is Yiddish with Dick and Jane. “What do you want on your hamburger, Sol?” Can I have some peace and quiet already?

Amazon.com Uses VidLit

I wanted to post a link to VidLit after seeing it at BookAngst 101, but tonight I discover that Amazon is using one of their animated promotions for Martin Kihn’s book House of Lies : How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time. Bravo! Other promotions are available on VidLit.com. My favorite is Yiddish with Dick and Jane. “What do you want on your hamburger, Sol?” Can I have some peace and quiet already?

Purpose Driven Sales

Amazon.com and BN.com rank Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life at #2 now (Bamm.com at #1 nonfiction), apparently from the dramatic publicity it has received through the Brian Nichols’ Atlanta courtroom shootings and kidnapping of Ashley Smith. Smith essentially talked Nichols into surrendering, in part by reading from the Bible, The Purpose-Driven Life, and discussing his life.

Matt Forge of the Lone Star Times has a different take on the drama, that is, Darwin’s Origin was the delightful topic, not Purpose.