Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Lost and the Blind, by Declan Burke

If you've read a few of Declan Burke's novels, as I have by now, you know that past outings may not offer much of a clue as to what the present one will be like. From the madcap circus that was The Big O and its sequel Crime Always Pays, to a true one-off, Absolute Zero Cool, in which a character named Declan Burke wrestles with a eye patched character of his own invention (and not just on paper), to the hard boiled adventures of investigator Harry Rigby in Eightball Boogie and Slaughter's Hound (and this last is so hard boiled it's like someone forgot to set the timer) there are many variations in tone and effect.

The Lost and the Blind follows a more traditional course, and may in part be a tribute to some famous writers of the last century. And in fact one of the characters is just such a writer. The reclusive Sebastian Devereaux is supposedly a kind of Alistair MacClean wanna be.

Nevertheless there are some common Burkian themes in this book. When Burke writes single point of view protagonists, they tend to be a bit like Tom Noone. These guys are likeable but difficult and usually have a fractured relationship or a family in tatters in the background. There's a great empathy for children in the books, and also for fathers, who, in these stories, usually make a wrong decision that affects their kids in some way. And in fact, children are again in play in the historical tale within the tale here.

That tale has a German submarine, nasty Nazi tricks, spies and rumors of gold, and all of them happening on an innocent seeming little island off the coast of Donegal called Delphi.It's interesting as I think about it now, that Delphi perhaps stands in for the larger Emerald Isle, or at least the Republic. As and American, I may not be entirely alone in forgetting that the Republic of Ireland was neutral in the Second World War, not because of an ideological stance sympathetic to Germany, but because of its own troubled history with England.  It's interesting to me that a couple of crime novels have dealt with the consequences of that war and that position lately, as if it's time to give this period an airing. Stuart Neville's Ratlines is the one that springs to mind, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were more.

Tom's offered a significant fee if he will go to Delphi and ghostwrite the story of Devereaux. It's a dicey proposition, but Tom's custody hearing for his young daughter Emily is looming, and Tom is determined to look more financially respectable by the court date. You can sense too that Tom's desperation to get a contract signed is also every freelance writer's life writ large. A sense of proportion doesn't necessarily come into it.

I liked the addition of the police officer Alison Kee as both Noone's nemesis and fellow hunter for the the gold--or is it the hunt for Devereaux? Or maybe something else entirely. As usual, Burke's stories get more and more twisty as they go along. Tom Noone is a hard man to pin down, but Kee seems to be a match for him--perhaps in more ways than one.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Rereading Siddhartha post up at Escape Into Life

I posted a few impressions after reading Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha after an interval of many years at Escape Into Life this morning. You can find it all HERE.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Of books, blogs and bookstores

I'm back. Had a great time in Washington DC, which I had never visited, and was so intrigued with it that I of course started accumulating books about it, as I am the kind of person whose imagination about a place is only really sparked once I've been there. Thanks to my sister's previous knowledge of the area around Dupont Circle, I visited Kramerbooks & afterwords-A cafe a couple of times, and I thought I'd say a couple of things about that. I don't know if it's because of my longstanding former job at a bookstore or just because I'm a reader, but I get a pretty good feel for a bookstore right away. Some bookstores have the "it" factor and some don't, and you can sense the energy of a place that has this right away. Even having worked in one, I don't really know how it's done, but some places, the books practically leap into your hands. If I hadn't had to travel across country with already stuffed luggage, I would have done a lot more damage there than my finances really allow.

Kramerbooks & afterwords- A Cafe-- has taken the idea of the coffee shop attached to a bookstore to a new level, in that it also has a bar, and a quite impressive bar at that. I was left to my own devices the last night I was in the city but had espied the casual nature of the bar on my previous visit, so had no problem walking in and as asking for a good IPA. "I know just what you want," the very able bartender said, and indeed he did. It turned out to be Evolution Craft Brewery Lot No. 3, and perhaps I had a bit too much of it, but it was the last night of my trip, and YOLO, a term that was expounded upon at my nephew's graduation ceremony, although the student speaker was using it to say that you only live once so you might as well serve others, not drink a lot of beer.

There was a book signing going on in the room next door, though I never did quite figure out of what, but a lot of very happy people drifted into the bar and drifted out again, and I felt perfectly comfortable reading my book--I think it was Drama City by George Pelecanos, one I was very happy to be reading in the city it is set in--in a space that seemed to accommodate both the social and the solitary in an easy way.

Let's just say that a bookstore with a cafe is great, but a bookstore with a bar is genius. I probably wouldn't have made the impulse buy of This Town, a great Washington tell all by Mark Liebovich if not slightly under the influence, but it turned out to be a good choice and a good time to read about Washington as a kind of Versailleslike court, which frankly, I never got near enough to feel the emanations from . And it kept me happy for many hours as I winged my way back across the country. It's a bit ironic that only last night, after watching a Daily Show which featured an interview with George Stephanopoulos, in better times, you might say, even though it was only a couple of weeks ago, and then saw a Daily Beast piece about how he had fallen afoul of some of the rules of Washington in contributing to some Clinton project. After reading this book, you only wonder that it doesn't happen more often, as the way people move into and out of the public sector and the private sector, and observe some lines drawn while ignoring others makes it a very complicated dance indeed.

As I purchased my book, I said, under the influence of beer, but also my happiness to be there, "I used to work at a bookstore on the West Coast and this is a great bookstore." The clerk seemed a bit taken aback by my statement and replied, "Really?" I said "Yes."

Unfortunately my pronouncement, though accurate, probably counts for very little in such rarified waters as these.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Lots of fun at Finnegans Wake!

I'm headed out on a trip for a week or so, but it occurred to me that I could give you something to do while I am gone. And apparently, it  will only take about 31 hours. A few of you may know that I meet with friends every couple of weeks and read Finnegans Wake with them. It's not something I really feel like afflicting anyone who isn't a willing participant with, so I keep a separate blog for this as it's a fairly self selected crowd that would be interested. But it's the anniversary of the publication of the Wake, which happened May 4th, 1939, and there is a pretty big celebration going on at Waywords and Meansigns. Here's the email they sent me a day or two ago:

"The moment has finally arrived.

31 hours, 8 minutes, 11 seconds. Finnegans Wake set to music, unabridged.
All audio is freely distributed via our website.
What an incredible journey. We've been embraced by international music communities as well as Joyce communities. We even were mentioned in the Guardian last week!
Dozens of people worked very hard to make this happen. Thanks to each and every one of you.
If anyone is interested in writing a review, please be in touch.
A second edition -- the Wake set to music again, by 17 new musicians -- will premiere next fall/winter. Featuring Mike Watt, David Kahne, Mary Lorson, Brian Hall, Simon Underwood, Neil Campbell, and more. If you want to be involved, get in touch.
Now here it goes.
Spread the word.

My friend and roving correspondent Peter Quadrino answered the call and actually has done a three hour stint in this mammoth tongue twister. As you know, Finnegans Wake doesn't really have a beginning middle or end, so maybe you'd like to start with part 15, where he does the Yawn chapter.

Here's a bit more from his friend Peter Chrisp on the project.

Just think, with a little momentum, you could have the whole book done by the time I come back.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Free Comic Book Day, 2015

Well, I'm sorry I'm only telling you in the aftermath, but I can't resist helping publicize this great newish tradition, which is one the best things I've added to my yearly calender. One of my cool young coworkers told me about it a couple of years ago, and though I am not attuned to the comics world in the way that she was, I did shyly go and look at the free comic books our two comic bookstores downtown had on offer, and after that, I was hooked. Except I accidentally missed it last year, so I really did take note this year. It's always the first Saturday in May, so if your mind works like that, it's not hard to remember.

I'm getting over an obnoxious cold, so if I hadn't missed last year I might not have been able to will myself downtown, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't. Between the two stores, I got eleven free comic books, which is quite the haul. I rather indiscriminately love them, just from a sheer design point of view. This year I even picked up one that comes in a manga form, starting from the back and reading right to left on the page. Well, not completely, but close enough.

My mom wasn't too big on comic books, so it was kind of a special treat when we got one. I can still remember picking out a Casper the Friendly Ghost or a Little Audrey. The funny thing is that I actually think the illustrated classics comics at our babysitter's house was what first taught me to read. The Bremen Town Musicians, I think it was. It was one of those one syllable words in a bubble, like Pop! or Bop! that showed me the way. So how could I look down on comic books? They get kids--and adults-- to think visually and verbally at the same time. How cool is that?

I did also buy a graphic novel this year, which I think I will make a part of the tradition. March, Book 2. As I told the guys in comic book store number 2, I already know I'm going to like it. After all, I did read Book 1.