Friday, August 16, 2019


Richard Wheeler passed away in February. Events caused me to first miss it and then neglect to post it on here. Richard would write to me every so often about music he loved and the books he thought I might like. None of them were crime novels.  He liked uplifting stories.
Here is his obit.  
What a great career he had!!  The Western Writers of America honored him with six Spur Awards, the 2001 Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement and a 2015 induction into its Hall of Fame.
And this bio of Max Perkins is one of my very favorite bios. 
Richard S. Wheeler was the author of more than eighty contracted or published novels that largely deal with the American West. These include historical novels, biographical novels, and traditional western fiction. In recent years he's been writing mysteries, including some set in the upper Midwest, under the pseudonym Axel Brand. He also has written numerous short stories.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg

I've finished rereading Scott Berg's great biography of Maxwell Perkins, which won the National Book Award in 1978. It is a massive book and took a week to get through. I've often wondered why it is my favorite book, and why I return to it with renewed thirst and joy, every little while.

For a long time, I thought it was because I had been a book editor and found common ground with Perkins. Or perhaps it was because my family is rooted in New England, though I grew up in the Midwest. There was something in Max Perkins' shy, awkward, introspective nature that rang bells in me.

The truth of it is that I have no idea why that book stands above all others in that place of the heart where I build altars. It is largely a description of the way Perkins, a Scribners editor, nurtured several wayward authors and the result was the most sublime period in American literary history. The list of those he encouraged and published is too long for this posting, but they include Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ring Lardner, Edmund Wilson, Erskine Caldwell, Sherwood Anderson, John P. Marquand, S. S. Van Dine, Taylor Caldwell, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Alan Paton, and James Jones. No other editor has even come close to discovering and publishing a list like that.

Scott Berg writes tenderly. He had his hands full, because of the acrimony, the disappointments, the bitterness, the craziness, the hurt, that he was chronicling. Somehow Perkins managed to nurture each of his authors, supplied the specific criticisms that lifted their books to new heights, all the while trying to remain anonymous because he felt that editors should not take credit or be known to the public. He often said that a book belongs to the author, and it is the editor's task simply to bring out the best in the author and the book.

This great work by Berg shaped me. It deeply affected how I think about literature. It changed what I aspire to in my writing. I am not the same person I was before this book entered the place of honor on my shelf. I lost my father, whom I loved and admired, when I was young. All those authors he nurtured lost a father when Max Perkins died.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Forgotten Movies: DON'T LOOK NOW

Eesh-that will wake you up.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star in Nicholas Roeg's 1973 adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier's story. Venice has never looked less lovely, filmed almost entirely at night or on rainy days.

A couple loses a child in a drowning. Sometime later they go to Venice where the man is restoring a church. The woman meets two older women who seem to have psychic gifts and are in touch with the lost child.

The man, a non-believer in otherworldly information, is at risk again and again. A warning seems to come from the lost child.

This is a frightening movie from start to finish. Other than an extended sex scene, there are no happy minutes. Everyone seems vaguely threatening including the police, the priest, the hotel keeper, the two sisters. And yet only the final scene has any real violence in it. So cleverly done.

Monday, August 12, 2019


Enjoyed ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD although the final scene in retrospect is strange. Don't want to ruin it, but he evokes some sympathy for the Manson girls by ending it the way he does.
Did not think much of THE FAREWELL. It was a nice enough movie but it was threadbare beyond its basic concept. There was not enough plot. Plus Awkwafina's glum, one-note performance was annoying.And how little we learned about the characters beyond their dislike of giving or getting bad news.A wedding banquet scene lasted as long as most banquets and I was reminded of Ang Lee's THE WEDDING BANQUET, which was a wittier and far better movie.
Reading a book about the Flint water crisis for my book group. I don't think it is a good discussion book. It will just lead to all of us bemoaning the state of our government, which has only got worst in the last two years.
Thanks to my friends I have been able to get out of the house every day this week. As long as I keep moving, I survive. Thoughts of the coming winter are frightening.
What about you?

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books: A WIDOW'S STORY

This is the second time I have read this. The first time it was just because of its good reviews.
More than Joan Didion's book on her loss, JCO's book spoke to me. I think we were both married to men who excelled in taking care of us. Her loss was sudden; mine was long, but both had a lot in common otherwise. Living largely in the academic world, much of it was so familiar. And her early years were in Detroit, which resonated.

She struggled with insomnia, depression. She realized after Ray's death there was a lot of Ray hidden from her. I would agree with this. Do men keep more of their past to themselves than women. I am not sure.

JCO would  marry again within a year, but now her second husband has died. I can't help but wonder if the second time is easier for her. Has the first experience lessened or worsened the second?
And will she write about it? Of course.

Traverse City Film Festival 15

The festival continues to be better organized every year. You can park your car outside of town and take a shuttle (they run every 15 minutes) from venue to venue or restaurant to restaurant. The quality of the films continues to impress. And there are panels on most film-related topics if you need a break. Seven venues show films six times a day. There are hundreds of films, heavy on the docs but that seems to be what most of the movie goers like. Lily Tomlin was the special guest this year and lots of the directors and actors were there to introduce their films.

People come from all over the country, hungry to see movies but also to talk to like-minded people. I saw 15 films--not all were great but none were awful. My favorites were MOTHER'S INSTINCT (a Hitchcockian Belgian film), THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE (a film based on the Danish Jussi Adler-Olsen novel), C'EST LA VIE, ( a French film about a wedding planner), BALLOON, a German film about an escape from East Germany) and ROSIE, an Irish film about a homeless family. Two films I missed--one because Michael Moore talked so long at another venue it had already begun when I got there and the seats were gone. 

So clearly I go for the foreign films. We were lucky enough to be able to stay with friends or the cost would be exorbitant. The weather was great-mostly in the seventies although it was in the forties one night. Lots of good restaurants. A good time was had by all.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

I saw another production of OTHELLO which I enjoyed. A really terrific Iago even though some of the other parts were not as strong. I think I have seen this play second only to HAMLET in numbers.

I got my garage cleaned out in anticipation of a new wall installed on the back. It will be nice to not have snow, leaves and dirt and most of all animals getting in there. Yes, the wrought iron gate is pretty but no practical.

Reading JCO's book about the death of her first husband, Ray Smith. Her second husband died in April. I have read it before but now it speaks to me.

Getting ready for the trek to Traverse City. We are seeing 14 films in the next week. Hope we are up to it. I am going with my friend Charleen who is so kind to be the driver. 

Watching BLACK SPOT on Netflix. Only two episodes in but I like it so far.

Kevin is reading ERAGON. Looks like he enjoys fantasy novels. Any suggestions for a 12 year old. Oh, and his voice has changed. Startling.

What about you?

Friday, July 26, 2019



Jean Parker Shepherd Jr. (July 26, 1921 – October 16, 1999) was an American storyteller, radio and TV personality, writer and actor. He was often referred to by the nickname Shep.[1] With a career that spanned decades, Shepherd is known for the film A Christmas Story (1983), which he narrated and co-scripted, based on his own semi-autobiographical stories.[2]

Of course, the movie, A CHRISTMAS STORY and its yearly showings, far surpassed interest in the books but there are so many more charmers in the three or four books of his I have read. It is mostly about his childhood in rural Indiana and he told these stories first on his radio show, but  good humor, especially his, which was neither bawdy nor saccharine, is rare. To this day, any neighbor that turn troublesome to our family is thereafter known as the Bumpus'. He is very good at names: Ollie Hopnoodle, Ludlow Scut Farkus, Ludlow Kissell, Grover Dill, Wilbur Duckworth and on and on. When your name is funny, how can you not be. Highly recommended.