Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books-Non-Fiction

Babe Ruth reading.

Special Edition: Non-fiction Forgotten Books

Eric Peterson: Job Jumper
, The Whiskey Rebel

I am going to assume that most of you never heard of or have seen this book, for the reason that it has had very little in the way of distribution. It was released by a punk rock record label and is one of only 3 books to their credit. It is interesting to note that as Generation X ages it seems like a lot of member of the generation are finding the doors shut at major and tradation publishers, and just as with music a lot of the generation has embraced the Do It Yourself ethos.

Job Jumper is the true (but surly embellished) story of the work life of The Whiskey Rebel, the guitarist in the band Rancid Vat and Alcoholics Unanimous. Detailing this history The Rebel spins his tales of the work world from his earliest days as a kid picking up odd jobs, to summer jobs in college, dropping out of college and working in an office, becoming a manager, chucking it all for a series of medium to low paying jobs that allowed him to keep a roof over his head, a fridge full of beer and playing music. He finally found himself falling into the depths of retail hell before escaping the work a day world to make a living selling on e-bay.
Along the way he has what can only be seen as adventures, some of them of the on the harrowing end, almost dying driving from one store inventory gig to another. Others that are of the soul crushing variety working in a office were you are not the right religion, ethnicity or social class you are not welcome. Through it all he talks about how the work world has changed in his life time, and how that has effected him as a worker. There is no stary eyed vision of the past, just an acknowledgment that it is not enough to do your job many times, but you have to get along with the work culture, and that you can do nothing wrong and still be driven from the work place for not conforming.
The Rebel though it all makes clear that he might be a punk rocker and functioning alcoholic, but he knows the value of work and is more than happy to do what the job requires -- if only others would leave him to do that job. The book is his first effort at writing a piece of this length, but years of writing for zines has sharpened his style to be witty, funny and to the point. There are not a lot of books that I have read more than once as an adult and the ones that I have read three time or more-- L.A. Confidential, The Adventures of Kaviler & Clay come to mind-- are rare, you can add Job Jumper to that list.
Copies are still aviable from Steel Cage Records.

Patti Abbott

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff and Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff.

My forgotten non-fiction books are probably not all that forgotten, but as I went through my logs for the years I kept track of books, these two related books jumped out at me. Partly because of the unusual story they told, and partly because of an event where both brothers came and talked about the books. Both Wolffs appeared at the Community House in Birmingham, Michigan quite a few years ago and regaled the audience with tales of their childhood and the years since. The ways in which they were different due to their upbringing; the ways in which they were alike due to genetics.

The Wolff family broke up when the boys were young. The older brother, Geoffrey went to live with his Dad; the younger, Tobias, lived with his Mom. Mr. Wolff, Sr. was a con-man, a dandy of a conman in both meanings of the word. And Geoffrey led a life that was terrifying if exciting. His father was intent on living the life of an upper-class "Duke" at any cost and through any lie. Geoffrey himself inherited or learned some of his father's tricks and traits and would carry them into his adult life.

Tobias would suffer at the hands of the man his mother chose to hook up with. The problems of a single mother, lonely for companionship were never more clear. Both boys led horrific if sometimes exciting childhoods but went on to successful writing careers. I highly recommend both books, and the film made of THIS BOY'S LIFE is a dandy. You can't read one without the other. You need the full picture.

Kent Morgan-Forgotten Non-Fiction Book

Into The Badlands - John Williams - Paladin Books 1991

Welsh journalist John Williams was working in a record shop in London when a bookseller suggested he try Elmore Leonard's Stick. That led to him reading other American crime writers such as George V. Higgins, Ross Thomas and Charles Willeford. Williams writes in his introduction that reading Leonard made him want to visit Miami Beach, reading James Crumley made him want to go to Montana and reading Sara Paretsky travel to Chicago because the writers portrayed the places as alive.

In the summer of 1989, he spent a couple of months travelling around the USA interviewing authors on their home ground. In addition to Miami, Chicago and Missoula, Montana, Williams devotes a chapter to his visits to southern Louisiana, New Mexico, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Boston and New York City. The end result is a travel book that Williams subtitled A Journey Through The American Dream. Happily for the reader, the time Williams spent talking with the writers did not translate to the somewhat dull "same old" question and answer interview we see so often in mystery publications.

Williams provides a look at where some of the writers felt they were at that point of their career. After a Sunday Mass in Opelousas. La., not long after the publication of his third Dave Robicheaux novel, James Lee Burke tells Williams that he thinks his next book, A Morning for Flamingoes, will be "a smasher." In Los Angeles, James Ellroy has a new book out titled The Big Nowhere and claims to have "found a new maturity." Did he you might ask. Wanting to meet a black crime writer, Williams interviews Gar Anthony Haywood, who is frustrated that his novels featuring a black PI are not carried by bookstore chains. In Chicago, Eugene Izzi talks about feeling so miserable through much of his life that he was always thinking about suicide, but that he had pulled out of it. In 1996, he died under mysterious circumstances, but his death was ruled suicide.

My favorite chapter is titled Missoula, Montana: Saturday Night at Charlie's Bar. Williams has more a than a few drinks with Crumley and publisher Dennis McMillan, who he describes as looking like one of The Flying Burrito Brothers circa Gilded Palace of Sin. He also meets one of my favourite "unknown" authors Robert Sims Reid, a Missoula police detective. After reading his paperback original titled Big Sky Blues on a flight to Chicago, Williams writes that he is inclined to agree with the quote on the back from Crumley that it's "perhaps the finest police novel I have read." Note: A perfect candidate for a future Forgotten Book.

In 2007, Serpent's Tail in London published Back to the Badlands. Part one: 1989 recycles five chapters from Into the Badlands: Miami, southern Louisiana, LA, Missoula and Detroit. Part two: 2005 covers time spent with George Pelecanos, Vicki Hendricks, Kem Nunn, Kinky Friedman and Daniel Woodrell. If you are wondering why he chose those particular five, one good reason might be that their books have been published by Serpent's Tail or other UK companies.

Bill Crider

James Reasoner

Scott Parker

Randy Johnson

George Kelley

Martin Edwards

Women of Mystery (Kathleen Ryan)

David Cranmer

Todd Mason

Ann Cleves (fiction)

Kerrie Smith

Chris Jones

Kieran Shea

Paul Bishop (fiction)


Terrie Farley Moran said...

Thanks, Patti,

Another great list of books.

Terrie (who is still making the rounds of the flash stories.)

Paul D Brazill said...

This Boys Life is a 100% classic.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for the commenting today, Terrie. I always appreciate it more than I can say.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Hi Patti,

I've had THIS BOY'S LIFE on a reading wish list for a long time've just reminded me of it, and I must take it out on my next trip to the library. I wasn't aware of his brother's book, but I am now!


Kerrie said...

Is that Kate Smith with Babe Ruth?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I almost like Duke of Deception more because the mother hooked up with such a pig.