Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Moonshine War

If you're a fan of Justified, as I am, and have already made it through the series finale, you may be jonesing already for a bit more of Harlan County, Kentucky, and if you are, The Moonshine War will likely fit the bill. A book written very early in Elmore Leonard's career--1969 according to my copy--it is nevertheless strikingly connected to his late stories about Raylan Givens, which were the basis for the TV series. It may be 1931 and moonshine rather than meth that everyone's craving, but the feel is very much the same, and certain plot elements seem to have been lifted from this book, though not in a bad way--I expect more in homage. I've read a fair number of Elmore Leonard novels over the years, but none have had this particular feel, and it's striking to me that the end of his career and the beginning should be linked in this way.

There's a slower pace to this novel than some of later ones, which from what I've read, seem to be much more dialogue driven. So it's interesting to me how adept Leonard was at a more descriptive form, which perhaps may discourage some Leonard wannabes, who perhaps take his famous Ten Rules for Writers a little too fanatically.

I happened to take this book up purely by chance and had no idea it would not only dovetail so well with the television series, but also, in a strange life imitates art moment, be a foreshadowing of a Kentucky whiskey heist just days ago. Prohibition may be over and pot gaining a purchase, but whiskey is still worth some scheming, apparently. Pappy Van Winkle, which is one of the particularly prized brands stolen, makes an appearance or two on Jusitified as well.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Being Dead by Jim Crace at Escape Into Life

My review of Jim Crace's Being Dead is up at Escape Into Life today, after having read and discussed it with my book group this week. The group is developing a predeliction for Crace after enjoying Harvest last fall. I was not as fond of that one as other members were, but I think this one is stunning. And discomfiting. It is, after all, about being dead. I have titled that post Mondazy's Fish, and what I'll reveal here that I didn't reveal there is that this creature, like much else in Crace's work, is purely his invention.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Underlining in books

Do you do it? I've had a couple of reasons to think about this lately and thought I'd throw it out there. Personally, I'm not much of an underliner, and while we're at it, let's throw in any kind of marking in books--maginalia, highlighting, whatever. I think there are a couple of reasons I didn't develop the habit. First, although it's not so true recently, most of my life I've gotten a lot of my books from the library, and it doesn't seem good form. Although now I think of it, I don't really mind underlining in books when it's fairly unobtrusive. And I've seen some interesting marginalia in my day. Once, I am fairly I came across the marginalia of a guy I liked in school, and that was fun, although it felt a bit like spying. And another time, I read a book by Reynolds Price out of the San Francisco Public Library and I have a feeling that the person who wrote in those books had some kind of kinky thing about one of Price's characters, although I am not sure that I ever really figured out what was going on there.

Another reason, though, is that my mind is  not all that organized. For similar reasons, I am not a good note taker. I seldom know exactly what it is I'm going to want for later. There was a period in my life when I wrote down long passages of books and articles in my notebook, and let's just say that aphorisms these were not. If I really liked something I tended to write down almost all of it. I would not be happy coming across a book if underlined in the way I copied.

We were down over the weekend going through my recently departed aunt's books. I used to work in a bookstore and my aunt and I shared a literary interest, so I gave her a lot of books over the years. Too many books, really, because unlike most people, she pretty much always took it upon herself to read them. I knew this from our discussions afterwards, but if I'd had any doubt, I would be sure now, as skimming through some of the titles I'd given her, I found them underlined right through.

My aunt was much more organized in her studies than I ever was, and you can tell it from her underlining. As in the Goldilocks story, there is not too much nor too little, it is just right. A sentence or two underlined here or there, with a star or maybe a word or two comment in the margin. If I ever do take to underlining, which I might, I would try to follow her method, as it is a good one.

I had another experience having to do with underlining et al. Every couple of weeks some friends and I get together in a pub and read Finnegans Wake together. And of course, given that there are seven or so of us, the group does include a fair number of underliners. A man from the bar, a tippler I would say, came over to our table and stared out the window by us, wobbling a little on his legs as he stood there. Eventually, he asked, as everyone does, what we were reading. One of our members obliged him. The man stood there for a moment and then said, "I hate people who write in books." My friend, a much kinder spirit than, say, I am said, without looking up, "I'm sorry to have made your bad list." The man, unappeased tottered off to the rest room.

Sometimes I take notes, sometimes I don't. It really doesn't matter, as I can't read my own handwriting half the time anyway. I am very much afraid that if we do Finnegan begin again, it will be as if for the first time, no matter how many incoherent notes I find written mysteriously in the margins.

Madolan Green's photo of her brother's copy of the Wake
 Here's a link I found to some famous writers and their scribbling in other people's books.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Guest post by Sarah J. Sloat on The Waste Books at Escape Into Life

I've been away and then busy with taxes, so am a bit late mentioning that we have a guest review up at Escape Into Life by Sarah J. Sloat, in which she talks about a collection of aphorisms by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg collected under the title The Waste Books. New York Review Books has done a nice little edition of them, so please do check it all out HERE.

And my thanks to Kathleen Kirk for getting it online and adding a few nice links in my absence. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tristram Shandy up at EIL

I have a new post up at Escape Into Life, which has to do with Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. It isn't a review so much as a sort of description of the experience of reading it. The links at the bottom are probably more useful than the post itself, as I think I probably didn't approach Sterne in the right way. I wasn't so glad to be reading the novel a lot of the time, but I am glad to have read it. I think I am most glad to have read it for it's part in the chain of literature--Sterne was influenced by the masters that had come before him, and in turn would influence many of those who would come after. "Masters" may be a more apt word than I am thinking, as I am not seeing much female influence or influence upon female writers either.

Here's a quiz from the Guardian that I forgot to put in the EIL links. And here's a picture of the famous mottled page 169.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bounce by Gerard Brennan

It's not often that you have a book hand delivered from clear across the Atlantic--at least it doesn't happen often to me. But such was the case with this terrific little book--and when I say little, I mean about 4x6. As the author happened to have ventured out of Northern Ireland to attend the Long Beach Bouchercon last November, and as I'd expressed interest in this book, he was good enough to bring along a copy for me.

Bounce was commissioned by the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry~Londonderry for something called the UK City Disobey Gravity program and was presented at the Killer Books Festival in October 2013. If you couldn't come by the Centre to pick up a free copy, you could read it free online, which you can still do right HERE. And of course I urge you to do just that, but I am very happy that I have this sweet little printed book, if 'sweet' is a word you should apply to any of Mr. Brennan's work, which possibly you shouldn't.

One thing I was realizing as I read this short novel, and that is that I never really know what to expect when I open a Gerard Brennan book. Just when I think I have him sussed, it turns out I haven't. If I knew what the plot of this story was at some point, I had since forgotten, so a book with the title Bounce could have been about anything. I think I half expected a caper. Instead, I found a touching portrait of a bouncer. Touching portrait of a bouncer, you say? In Derry-Londonderry?


The story is pretty straightforward. Paddy is a bouncer at a night club, a scene he doesn't have much trouble controlling, but he's also the father of a son just becoming an adult, who happens to be gay. Although you might expect that Paddy's problem would be about coming to terms with his son's identity, he has long since accepted that. His problem is really how he, as a restrained, non-emoting tough guy, can connect with his boy, whom he loves but also wants to protect in a homophobic culture.

The story couldn't actually be more timely. Just by coincidence, I happened to learn that there is a bill up currently in the Northern Irish Assembly that, if passed, would make it legal to deny service to gay, lesbian and bi people in restaurants, hotels and other businesses. So the struggle for equality is far from over in the North. (Although for sheer benightedness, my own state of California possibly takes the cake right now, as there is a guy currently trying to get a proposition on the ballot which would make it legal to shoot gay people.)

But I digress. Although most of the other books I've read of Mr. Brennan's focus on gritty action, and there's a bit of that here, this one is really more a portrait of an old style guy who is coming to terms with a new age and culture the best he can. I liked Paddy a lot and I really dug the Norn Iron speech patterns evident throughout.

One thing I admire a lot about Gerard Brennan's writing life is that he doesn't seem to worry too much about fitting standard formats. He somehow always seems to find a way to put his stuff out there. The only question, really, is--whatever will he get up to next?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty and some Irish crime reviewers

British edition

I just realized that St. Patrick's Day would be a great day to review the "fourth in the trilogy" Sean Duffy novel, which is supposed to be released tomorrow in the U.S.. As I couldn't wait for that, I went ahead and bought the British version a while ago, and put up the usual blurbs on GoodReads, etc. at the time, but thought I'd wait for the U.S. publication to write a little more about it.

As I recall it, McKinty himself didn't know that there would be a fourth book when he finished the last installment in the "Troubles Trilogy", but I believe that was a marketing strategy from on high anyway. As he tells it, he dreamt the ending and then pretty much knew he had to write it.

But I'm not going to tell you anything more about that. Get to the end yourself.

As Gun Street Girl opens (all titles in the series are taken from Tom Waits' songs, and luckily for us Tom is pretty prolific) Sean Duffy is a sadder and older if not perhaps wiser man than he was when we first met him in The Cold Cold Ground. He's been through the wars since then, meteoric rise, meteoric fall, and now lies in some indeterminate place in the middle. It's 1985 and he's a marginal part of an international team that is lying low on a Northern Irish beach on a November night waiting for some smugglers to come ashore. What could possibly go wrong?

American edition

Let's just say that Duffy is not particularly surprised at the outcome and handles it in a characteristically Duffyesque way.  But there's no rest for the wicked, or at least their pursuers, and soon he's on to other adventures, both criminal and political.

You can read the Sean Duffy series for the politics, the humor, the historical context, the music references, the occasional bleak philosophical aside or just for the great writing. This one you might want to get just so you can read about the Northern Irish dating scene, circa 1985. So what are you waiting for?


And if this isn't enough to whet your Irish whistle, why not head on over to Declan Burke's place, where he's done a St. Paddy's day round up of some of his reviews of Irish crime writers over the past few years. I've read a few of these books by now, so I can vouch for him...He's got a new one coming out himself here before too awfully long...

Check out his St. Patrick's Day Rewind HERE.

Oh, and I see that Rob Kitchin has compiled his own St. Patrick's Day list of reviews over at The View From the Blue House.
Such is the richness of the offerings of current Irish crime fiction that the lists don't even cross over that much.
Rob's current book is on offer there as well.