Thursday, January 31, 2013


Check that bad boy out here Only $.99 for now. Great writers, great stories, great editor. My story is called "Wheels on a Bus."

My Life in the Theater" MAN OF LA MANCHA

This was the very first Broadway musical I ever saw-and probably the first professional play of any kind. We took the train up to New York from New Brunswick and I think returned after it. It was fabulous and Richard Kiley was terrific in his Tony-award winning role.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Opening Credits: Monsters, Inc

When your grandson says, "I love this song" how can you not love it too.

This Book Was So Depressing I Couldn't Finish It

 Beach wedding in La Jolla.

Leaving subjects like child torture and the slave trade aside, would you not finish a book because it is depressing? How about a movie? What subject matter is just too much for you? How many books/movies have you put aside for that criticism? Do you expect every book or movie to provide you with entertainment? I don't mean that as a criticism because sometimes I wonder why I am drawn to dismal, dreary fare. I guess it all comes down to why do you read? Why do you go to see a movie?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: Laura Branigan

Forgotten Movies: The Sterile Cuckoo

Other than CABARET, in which she is brilliant, this is the only Liza Minelli performance that works for me. But it does. She plays a kookie college co-ed, that is poignant in her attempts to forge a relationship with a straighter than straight guy. The boy tries hard, but her eccentricities are too much for him--a little like THE WAY WE WERE.

Sad and with a lovely theme song. COME SATURDAY MORNING.

Todd will have more links for you here. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Movie Theme Music: An Affair to Remember

Say Something Good About Detroit

 (from Model D)

Detroit actually has two cities inside it. Highland Park and Hamtramck. Hamtramck, traditionally Polish, has become a vibrant community for many ethnic groups today.

Hamtramck's non-motorized transit plan -- think pedestrians and cyclists -- has been seven years in the making but city officials expect to see some tangible rubber hit the road later this year.

Hamtramck is working with collaborative-design-studio livingLAB to finish the plan this year. The end result will be designs for more and better pedestrian paths, the groundwork for connecting Hamtramck to the Dequindre Cut and 25 miles of bike lanes.

"This would be all new bike lanes installed throughout the entire city," says Jason Friedmann, community & economic development director for Hamtramck. "The goal is to be done by next fall."

Hamtramck's new bike lanes would be along its major commercial corridors, such as Conant, Gallagher, Holbrook and St. Aubin streets, along with Hamtramck Drive, which circles the General Motors Assembly Plant. City officials are still debating the feasibility of putting bike lanes on Jos Campau because of already tight space for vehicles and pedestrians.

Friedmann says the non-motorized plan will make the city eligible for funding for the installation through the State of Michigan. He also hopes it will open Hamtramck up to more funding to extend the Dequindre Cut north from Eastern Market to the city, a stretch of about 3.5 miles.

How are things in your neck of the woods for transportation other than motorized ones? Detroit has been lagging behind and in fact, there is no safe place to ride a bike in my community.But things are improving day by day. Yay, Detroit!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Night Poetry: Theodore Roethke


Our GPS is quirky, annoying but has sometimes saved our behinds. Today we were coming out of a movie theater in a part of San Diego we had never been. ( I will see movies no matter what).
I had worried about getting home before dark throughout the entire movie because since I don't drive and Phil has absolutely no sense of direction going new places is a challenge.

I somewhat confidently punched in HOME on the system and we set out. It was 4:30 PM. Just as we passed what I thought was the freeway we needed to take I noticed the GPS had an estimated time of arrival of 8:45 AM. God knows where the sucker was taking us but that was sixteen hours in the future. Portland? Seattle? Who knows? Did the gadget want a road trip we had never planned? Had someone made it in Vancouver?

We did get home but the anxiety level in that car was high.

Do you fear getting lost? What was the most lost you ever got? I can tell stories to make your hair curl. Like going around a roundabout in England twelve times.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saturday Night Music: Carly Simon

Forgotten Writers

We went to a book talk at a local bookstore (D.G. Wills) here where Robert Lorin Calder, a Canadian historian, regaled us with stories about Somerset Maugham, and stories about getting his biography published. WILLIE: THE LIFE OF W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM was published in 1989. Some of his most interesting anecdotes concerned Maugham's work for the secret service, which Maugham used in ASHENDEN. Professor Calder is now embarked on a study of how the many film and TV shows made from his work fared. There were as many as ninety although many are lost.

Mr. Willis has his own you tube channel where he has films of many of his past guests.

Growing up, Maugham was one of my favorite writers. I think I read most of his major novels and loved his book on writing THE SUMMING UP. It is hard to believe a writer of his caliber is read no more but I fear he is not.

Any Maugham fans out here?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Beat It

Shakespeare Uncovered

I am very excited to learn that a new series on Shakespeare begins tonight on PBS. It will examine six of his plays, beginning with MacBeth, and then show new versions of four. What better to do on a rainy (or cold) Friday night.

Here is some info.
This picture accompanies the story in the NYT.

Friday's Forgotten Books

A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES and THE VAULT, both by Ruth Rendell
(Reviews by Deb)
(SPOILER ALERT:  I have tried very hard to avoid spoilers in writing about these two books, particularly A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES; but because one book involves the investigation of a major event from the other, there is no way to steer clear of describing a few key plot points.  I’ve noted the paragraph where potential spoilers lurk.  Please don’t read them if knowledge of those points would make it difficult for you to enjoy the books.)
A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES (1995) is a Ruth Rendell “standalone”—that is, a self-contained novel that does not feature her recurring character, Chief Detective Inspector Reg Wexford of the Kingsmarkham police force.  In fact, with its psychological suspense, fateful coincidences, and essentially unresolved ending, SIGHT is much more in the vein of the books that Rendell publishes under her alternate pseudonym of Barbara Vine.  THE VAULT (2011), on the other hand, is a Rexford novel, but functions as a sequel of sorts to SIGHT.  Although you do not have to have read A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES in order to enjoy THE VAULT, having read SIGHT makes reading THE VAULT a richer experience.
In the trademark Rendell/Vine plot device of introducing unrelated characters whose lives do not appear to intersect in any fashion, we meet the main characters of A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES: First is Harriett Merton, a dissatisfied middle-aged wife.  She lives in Orcadia Cottage, a lovely old house made famous in the 1970s when Harriet and her then-boyfriend, a rock superstar, were painted in front of it by a well-known artist.  When her relationship with the rock singer dissolved, Harriett married the wealthy Franklin Merton who purchased Orcadia Cottage for them, seeing as even his wealth could not meet the asking price of the famous painting.  “A fine thing,” he grumbles, “when you can afford the house but not a painting of the house.”  All this happened in the early 1970s; by 1995, the Mertons are leading separate lives and Harriett’s boredom has led her to indulge in casual affairs, mostly with tradesmen that she meets by finding their ads in the Yellow Pages and getting them to the house under the pretext of needing repair work done.
Then there is Teddy Brex, a young man raised in both financial and emotional poverty.  Rendell possibly dwells too much on the squalor of Teddy’s upbringing—living in a filthy, cramped house with his apathetic father, mentally-limited mother, and an uncle whose only passion is for his prized vintage Edsel—but this emphasis highlights the contrast between Teddy’s environment and the man he becomes, one with artistic talent, an eye for good design, and perfectionism in creating furniture and doing period-appropriate architectural repairs.  Teddy is also quite good-looking and attracts the eyes of the women in his university classes, but he has no use for them.  His emotional isolation and quest for perfection leave him disgusted with what the reader perceives to be the normal interest of modern young women.
In a far more prosperous suburb, we are introduced to Francine, a young woman who has suffered an enormous trauma: As a child of six, she witnessed her mother’s murder and later inadvertently destroyed some key evidence in the case.  Francine’s father has long since remarried and Francine’s step-mother—a former therapist with her own past problems—has been so overly protective of her step-daughter that, at almost 20, Francine is still as innocent and sheltered as a pre-teen; she has never been on a date and any events she attends with school friends must be approved by her step-mother.
When Francine is permitted to go to an art show, she meets Teddy Brex, who has won an award for a mirror frame he has designed.  They are attracted to each other for all the wrong reasons.  To Teddy, the fragile, innocent Francine personifies his ideal of the perfect women, not at all aware that this ideal has been created out of his own isolation and cannot stand exposure to the real world; while Francine sees in Teddy a way to become more worldly and experienced, not realizing that his experience is almost as limited as hers and that he is damaged even more than she by the emotional deprivation of his childhood and family life.  Each of them has had too little experience of the opposite sex to understand that they are projecting wildly unrealistic expectations onto the other, but the reader knows and is uncomfortably aware that things can only end badly for them.
That bad end begins when Harriett randomly selects Teddy’s Yellow Pages ad and asks him to come to Orcadia Cottage to give her an estimate on some restoration work.  Unlike Teddy, the reader knows that Harriett’s real goal is to determine if Teddy would be a good candidate for an affair.  As Teddy walks through Harriett’s home, a home he immediately loves because of its outstanding design and architecture, Harriett’s propositions to the handsome young man become more obvious—obvious to anyone with some experience of human interaction, not someone like Teddy, who remains oblivious to Harriett’s innuendo.  And so a comedy of cross-purposes begins: Harriet trying to seduce Teddy and Teddy trying to determine exactly what in the house needs repair.
To say more about how the lives of Harriett, Teddy, and Francine intertwine would be unfair—but Orcadia Cottage is the focus of what happens and Teddy’s uncle’s beloved Edsel also plays a role.  We know that things will definitely end badly for some of the characters, but it is only in THE VAULT that the police become aware of and have to investigate what has happened.
THE VAULT takes place 12 years after the events of A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES have come to a close.  The novel begins with DCI Wexford now retired and no longer living in Kingsmarkam—the location for almost all of the Wexford novels.  With his wife, Dora, Wexford is living in London, in an upscale home owned by his daughter Sheila, a wealthy actress.  If you’re familiar with London, you’ll enjoy Rendell’s descriptions of some of its many areas—Muswell Hill, Shepherd’s Bush, Finsbury Park, Kensington, Hampstead, St. John’s Wood—and the social and architectural traits that define each one.  To facilitate this mini-travelogue, Rendell has Wexford do a tremendous amount of walking—more than he has ever done in any other book, so that the previous bane of Wexford’s life—his on-going struggle to maintain a healthy weight—is no longer an issue.
(WARNING: The following paragraph contains spoilers.) 
When four bodies are discovered in an unused coal cellar under Orcadia Cottage, Scotland Yard asks Wexford to help them with their investigations.  Three of the bodies are determined to have been dead for over ten years (if you’ve read A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES, you’re already familiar with this part of the story); but the fourth body has only been in “the vault” (as Wexford thinks of it) for about two years.  To a reader familiar with SIGHT, this forth body presents a new mystery; while, to the police, all four deaths are newly-discovered and have to be investigated.  And so Wexford goes about trying to determine the identity of the dead and why they ended up where they were found.  One of the interesting elements of the book—and the reason why I believe that reading this book would be a richer experience if you’ve already read SIGHT—is seeing how Wexford investigates what happened, including various dead ends and conclusions that only the reader knows are either right or wrong. The Edsel from A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES makes an appearance, as does the framed mirror that was the start of Teddy and Francine’s relationship.
As Wexford continues on his “unofficial” investigation, back in Kingsmarkham, his divorced social worker daughter, Sylvia (a strident type who no one—including Wexford or the reader—can generate much sympathy for), is brutally attacked by her former lover, a much younger man.  This brings Rexford and Dora back to Kingsmarkham to help Sylvia while she recovers.  This in turn keeps the action moving between London and the Wexford’s home town.  (Frankly, I think Rendell could easily have jettisoned the entire Sylvia subplot without harming the book at all.)
As usual in Rendell’s Wexford books, certain social/cultural issues come to the fore and are examined through the prism of one or more characters.  In THE VAULT, this issue is the sexual exploitation of women from former Soviet states who are smuggled into England and who, being without passports or the appropriate papers, are then forced to work in the sex trade (which is apparently thriving behind many of the doors of restored neo-Georgian houses in the London suburbs).  This element of the book involves several very unsavory characters, most of them also connected in some way to the building trade—which dovetails into the repair work that the current owners of Orcadia Cottage (with none of Harrett Merton’s ulterior motives) were trying to get done when the bodies were discovered.  Rexford must determine which of the several contractors and repairmen who visited Orcadia Cottage saw the bodies in the cellar and, instead of calling the police immediately, decided it would be a good place to dump another one.
As befitting a Wexford novel, eventually the pieces of the puzzle are put together and a plausible scenario and suspect emerge.  In addition, we are briefly reacquainted with a character from A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES who, we are happy to learn, is now working in a professional capacity and has a spouse and child.  Both SIGHT and THE VAULT are well-written books and can be enjoyed when read alone, but reading them in sequence provides an altogether deeper reading experience.


This book takes place in one of those little towns in the Finger Lakes section of New York State near Utica. The town has been losing jobs and people for half a century. But disappearances suddenly are not due to a lack or jobs or a desire for more cultural offerings. Janice McNeal, a woman of ill repute, is murdered in her own home, her arm amputated. Her son, though seemingly bereft, arouses suspicion when he bites off a classmate's ear. Next three young girls vanish inexplicably, bundles of their clothes later turning up.

A Marxist study group at the local college and a vigilante squad of rednecks also comes under suspicion. The unnamed narrator, a high-school biology teacher, secretly keeps a collection of nasty objects submerged in formaldehyde (Remind anyone of WALKING DEAD). No one here is beyond or above suspicion. Some sort of mass hysteria has come about, reminding the reader of WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP.

This book examines the sort of hysteria that can overtake a small isolated community. Despite its title, it's a horror story-- a vivid and scary tale from the author of the Charlie Bradshaw Saratoga Springs crime fiction novels. Dobyns is also a poet. This is, no doubt, his darkest book.

You can find more links for forgotten books over at Todd Mason's blog, right here. 

MY REVIEW OF AMOUR is right here.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

MY Life in the Theater: Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood

We saw this play by Barret O'Brien in 2003 at the Southern New Plays Festival in New Orleans. If we are at a conference, we often seek out plays in the area and this was how we saw this play. Mr. O'Brien seems to be a prominent New Orleans playwright, an interesting phenomena that we have seen locally. A writer will find a local theater eager to perform his plays.

This play was included in the American Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2003. It was the story of husband and wife actors both nominated for Oscars. Sorry that I don't remember more but I think we enjoyed it.

What Are You Missing Out On?

At this time of year, I wished I loved football. I blame it partially on living in Detroit when there has been very little to cheer about for the last half century. But it must be fun to be interested in the games, to swell with pride at great plays or anger at bad ones for these months. I think I have it in me to like football but you really need to have a team to learn the game with.

What do you wish you enjoyed more? What widely held interest eludes you?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Opening Credits" THE SHINING

When Books Could Change Your Life

This article discusses how books read at a certain age--around 12--seem to have a bigger impact on you than anything you read later. Yes and no for me. The books I read at that age touched my heart but maybe not my head. It was the books I read about 4-5 years later that really impacted my thinking. Are "Cry me A River" books more important in the long run. I am not sure. Certainly THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK would be in either category. Same with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT.

Some of the books that had a big impact on me would include The True Believer (Hoffer), the works of Colin Turnbull, The Lonely Crowd (Riesman), The Feminine Mystique (Friedan), The Second Sex, (de Beauvoir) The Silent Spring (Carson), In the Shadow of Man (Goodall) (a few years later), Catch 22 (Heller) The Greening of America. the works of Kurt Vonnegut and some of Bradbury.

I am sad when I think how rarely I read books like this today. The age of sociological studies seems gone.

What books had a pivotal influence on you as a kid and later? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday Night Music

We heard Joshua Roman play at the Atheneum in La Jolla on Sunday. Technology is a wonderful thing. He had made this short video the night before in front of the incredible sunset. The sky was orange, pink, blue. He was amazing as was the music. The Atheneum is a wonderful art and music library and center for various musical events, albeit small ones. 

Would You Scrap Old Memories for New Space

There was a very interesting article in the NYT today about how research with mice indicates that the reason older people find it difficult to learn new things or remember new things is because their brain is chock full. It's like trying to get one more pair of pants in the suitcase. Only you can't sit on it.

Or as the article said trying to write on a piece of paper already covered with writing.

If you could take a pill to discard some useless memories or information from years ago--such as how to play pac man or who was in your second grade class, would you? Kind of like ETERNAL SUNSHINE but with memories rather than feelings.

If it made it easier for you to learn new skills and remember where you put the car keys, is it worth it?

Sidebar-when Phil sees me pick up the science page, he groans. He knows I will tell him he needs to make some change and fast. 

Forgotten Movies: What Movies Have You Walked Out On?

Three that I can remember and they are all puzzling in retrospect.

UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG-it seemed ludicrous to me at age 16. I was not prepared for anything about it. I would probably like it now.

KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE-just didn't get the humor. Not sure if I would now or not.

LETHAL WEAPON-could not take watching Danny Glover's daughter get tortured (although it was mostly threat rather than action).

Of course, with movies on TV, we don't finish even half of them. It took us all we could do a few weeks ago to make it through 21 Jump Street.

What movies have sent you to the exit early? 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Movie Themes: The Usual Suspects

Say Something Good About Detroit: MLK in Detroit

(from Detroit Free Press archives)

These photos were taken on Sunday, June 23, 1963. On that date, Dr. King and former governor Swainson both participated in the Detroit "Walk to Freedom."
Dr. King was then in the midst of a tour (begun that spring) from California to New York. His Detroit stop proved the tour's biggest success. Police estimated the Freedom Walk crowd at 125,000. The day after the event, The Detroit Free Press labeled it "the largest civil rights demonstration in the nation's history." The walk began at Woodward and Adelaide and continued down Woodward to Cobo Hall. It lasted about an hour and a half, as marchers carried signs and sang songs (Songs included "We Shall Overcome" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic.").
The Detroit Council for Human Rights organized the Walk. The Council's director, Benjamin McFall, and its Chairman, Rev. Clarence L. Franklin, marched in a line with King and Swainson. That line also included Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh, United Auto Workers President Walter P. Reuther and State Auditor General Billie S. Farnum. (Then-current governor George Romney, a Mormon who avoided public appearances on Sundays, did not directly participate. He did, however, proclaim the day "Freedom March Day in Michigan.")
At the walk's conclusion, King gave a speech at Cobo Hall. According to the contemporary Detroit Free Press report, approximately 25,000 people sat in attendance, with African Americans comprising about ninety-five percent of that total. They listened as King spoke of non-violence and an end to racial segregation. The June 24, 1963 Free Press report notes that King "ended his speech by telling of a dream." According to the Free Press, King described his dream of whites and blacks "walking together hand in hand, free at last."
In his book King: A Biography, David Levering Lewis states that King repeated the phrase "I have a dream" several times during that Cobo Hall speech. Lewis notes that when King addressed a crowd in Washington, D.C. two months later, he "kept the refrain from the Detroit speech: I have a dream." (See Lewis' King: A Biography, second edition, Urbana: University of Illinois, 1978, pg. 227).
King's Washington speech of August 28, 1963 became famous as his "I have a dream speech." It was a defining moment in the American civil rights movement. In one sense, however, the seeds of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream were planted in Michigan - in Detroit's Cobo Hall

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Night Poetry: Wallace Stevens

Your Favorite Book Set in Maine

Thanks to Stephen King, there are a lot of good books set in Maine.These are two of my favorites although looking at a list of them on Good Reads, there are many more.

What is your favorite book set in Maine?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturday Night Music: Stevie Wonder

Your Favorite Sandwich?

Kieran was talking about a great meatloaf sandwich, which reminds me of a new one I have come up with that I have had almost every day. I alternate it with cheerios for lunch for weight control.

It is a slice or three of avocado, some freshly cut parm-reg cheese, a slice of an heirloom tomato (or the best one available) on thinly sliced multi-grain bread. The avocado stands in for mayo or mustard. All you need it a few cranks of the pepper mill and you will be in heaven. 

This graphic omits the cheese. Don't. If you want to be bad, add some bacon.

What's your favorite sandwich?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gene Kelly

Friday's Forgotten Books: January 18, 2013

Links to other books can be found at Evan Lewis' blog, right here. 

THE ASSAULT, Harry Mullish

Chief Inspector Ploeg, a sadistic collaborator with Holland's Nazi occupation force during the war, is assassinated by Bolsheviks on a street where four houses stand. The body is placed in front of the Steenwijk house. In retribution, Nazi troops storm the home of young Anton, killing his parents and brother.

Anton lives the second half of the twentieth century as normally as he can, encountering Ploeg's son, and the various neighbors who also lived on his street, Discovering the truth is a slow process and it takes almost half a century to come upon the full truth.

This book perfectly sums up what happens during war: people who have no part in it suffer. And that suffering reverberates over the years.
The book was made into a Oscar winning movie that as far as I know is still not available. Strange since it won awards at the time. Mullisch is a Dutch writer, who died in 2010.

Mullish's most ambitious novel, “The Discovery of Heaven,” also widely translated, was considered his masterpiece. A melodrama more than 700 pages long, it offers a sweeping discourse on history and art, science and religion, man and God, good and evil. The two main male characters in the book are consummate intellectuals like Mr. Mulisch himself.

Despite, or because of, the novel’s many layers of intellectual inquiry, it became a best seller and was voted “the best Dutch-language book ever” by Dutch readers in a 2007 newspaper poll.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Life in the Theater: TAKING LEAVE

We saw TAKING LEAVE by Nagle Jackson at the Performance Network in Ann Arbor in 2001. It is a comic treatment of KING LEAR. In this production, he has dementia--maybe one of the first plays we saw about Alzheimers. I remember it as a very fine evening. Of course, the real Lear often seems to be suffering from this sort of break too.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: Jeff Buckley

Things That You Really Can't Explain

And one for me is why I love THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Sure it's got Jeff Bridges in it but beyond that it is really a movie that speaks to you or does not.

Phil had an odd love for chalkware. These pieces were given out as carnival game prizes before stuffed animals took over. Amateurs painted them. The more dilapidated, the better. We have dozens of them.  All in Phil's study, of course.

What idiosyncratic taste can you not explain?

Forgotten TV: TWTWTW

That Was The Week That Was was on telly in Britain around 1962-63 and in the US in 1964-65. David Frost did the original. Steve Allen was part of the US version. The show looked at current events in a satirical way. Not sure why the runs were short. Perhaps shows like LAUGH-IN were more entertaining a year or two later.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Corvette Stingray: What Do You Think?


Say Something Good About Detroit: Detroit 2.0

 This information comes from an article in Detroit Free Press by John Gallagher

If Detroit is going to undergo a successful revival it will be through entrepreneurs like Dan Gilbert, a former area native who has gone onto great success though his businesses like Rock Financial and Quicken. He also is the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was born and raised in the Detroit area and attended Wayne State University.

The Quicken Loans founder and chairman announced  he has bought five more buildings in downtown
The buying spree brings the total bought by Gilbert and his partners to 15 buildings in the city’s core totaling 2.6 million square feet of commercial space, plus two parking garages with a combined 3,500 parking spaces. Last month, the Gilbert team also broke ground on a 33,000-square-foot specialty 10-story parking garage with ground floor retail downtown.

The partners operate through Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity that oversees Gilbert’s portfolio of companies, investments, and real estate, of which the flagship part is Quicken Loans, the nation’s biggest online home mortgage lender.

Gilbert has said many times that he is buying so much real estate to help launch what he calls Detroit 2.0 – a lively live-work-play district in the heart of the city based around entrepreneurial companies in the digital economy. He has already filled up most of his major purchases, like the Chase Tower and First National buildings, with employees of Quicken or its various spin-off firms.

“It has been an exciting year of opportunity in Detroit,” Gilbert said in a statement released by Quicken. “Our focus in 2013 will be on the three R’s – residential, rail and retail – all of which are vital in creating the vibrant, thriving urban core that we all envision.”

The buildings Gilbert has purchased are in the very heart of downtown Detroit, which is where any true revival much take place. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Night Poetry:John Betjeman

Five Canvasses

It is a cold day in the San Diego area-maybe 55 and people here are dressed as if it is anywhere from 35 to 75. We are across the street from a park butting up against the ocean. Five women are painting the ocean and all of their canvasses are exactly alike. Perhaps their instructor does not encourage individuality-she might be more interest in color.

The park on a Saturday is filled with dog walkers, kids kicking a ball, lovers, groups of young women, young men, elderly people on walkers, birds--which people have a desire to feed despite the warning signs. Does feeding birds that live by an ocean full of fish really make people feel virtuous.

But I am still thinking about those five identical canvasses. And thinking about books that make good use of the ocean--that paint their picture vividly. JAWS comes immediately to mind. Also THE DAWN PATROL. I am also reminded of THE LIFE OF PI. Not all beach reading has to be beach reads.

What books do a good job of putting you by the sea? Any sea.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books/Summary Combined

This is a series I was sad to see end too precipitously.

Friday The Rabbi Slept Late., Harry Kemelman

In this first book of the series, David Small is the new rabbi of a Jewish congregation in the fictional suburban New England town of Barnard's Crossing. He is both religious and rational; practical and pious.Thus the perfect detective.

Usually Small is drawn into the events when they involve a member of his congregation or Barnard's Crossing's Jewish community in general but in the first book, it is he himself under suspicion.

He is accused of murdering a young woman whose body is found on the Temple grounds. Her purse is in his car.

The charm of this book, and all the books, is watching Rabbi Small deal with troublesome members of his congregation, balancing Temple politics with serving God.  And the mystery was almost always rewarding. I will always miss Rabbi Small.

THE MAN WHO DIDN’T FLY by Margot Bennett
(Review by Deb)
I purchased the 1993 Black Dagger Crime reprint of Margo Bennett’s 1955 mystery, THE MAN WHO DIDN’T FLY, at a library discard sale a few years ago and it languished on the “to be read” shelves (along with several hundred other books) until I finally pulled it down from Mount TBR last month.  When I finally did, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Martin Edwards (proprietor of the “Do You Write under Your Own Name?” blog and a fine mystery writer himself) had written a concise and informative foreword for this edition. I felt confident that if someone of Martin’s expansive knowledge of Golden Age and mid-century mysteries enjoyed this book, I probably would too.  And I was right—THE MAN WHO DIDN’T FLY is an entertaining and witty mystery.
The book, much of which is told in several long flashbacks, concerns attempts by the police to determine the identity of three passengers who died when a small chartered plane flying to Ireland crashed into the sea just off the English coast.  The reason the police are having difficulty determining the identification of the passengers is that four men were listed on the plane’s manifest as scheduled to fly that day, but only three did. The fourth passenger failed to appear and the plane took off without him; however, that man has not stepped forward to identify himself and, therefore, no deaths can be accurately attributed.  (In these days of having to arrive at the airport two hours before your flight carrying three different kinds of identification and a pre-printed boarding pass, there’s a nostalgic quaintness to a time when you could literally show up at the airport a few minutes before take-off and climb aboard.)  As the police interview witnesses (most of whom are either willfully or naturally unhelpful), the flashbacks begin as we learn of the events that took place over the days leading up to the flight.
Bennett establishes the main characters in crisp descriptive passages:  The Wade family (who, in one way or another, are connected to each of the four passengers) consists of Charles Wade, who is constantly dreaming up impractical ways to make money—all of which only lose him more of the limited amount he has—and his two daughters, Hester, a medical student in her early twenties, and Prudence, a sixteen-year-old whose temperament is the opposite of her name. In their orbit are Moira and Joseph Ferguson, a wealthy couple (it was Joseph who chartered the plane—he claimed to have business in Ireland) whose brash houseguest, Harry Walters, is in love with Hester but flirts shamelessly with the older Moira.  Harry is supposedly an artistic type, a poet, but he’s really a classic moocher living on people until they tire of him.  The Fergusons (particularly Joseph) had tired of him and were offering him a seat on the plane in order to get him out their home and their lives. Morgan Price is the Wades’ one paying boarder (another of Charles Wade’s money-making schemes that has failed to produce results), a hypochondriac who is hiding a secret past and, after an encounter with a group of Londoners, finds it convenient to arrange to go to Ireland “for his health.” Finally, there is Maurice Reid, a family friend who is supposed to be advising Charles Wade on how to invest his capital. He was the final passenger scheduled to fly—a decision hastily made when he, like Morgan, encounters a person from his past that he is eager to avoid.
Each of these men knew and had reasons to distrust the others.  And each, in his own way, was something of a con-man.  Joseph Ferguson is broke, but knows that it is almost as important to appear rich as it is to actually be rich, so he lives on credit and spends lavishly.  Harry Walters, in the guise of an unappreciated poetic genius, thinks nothing of pilfering other people’s belongings or charging items to their accounts at local stores.  Morgan Price circumvents questions about his past by focusing on his numerous imaginary ailments.  Maurice Reid is clearly a true con-man, although Charles Wade, eager to invest in a get-rich-quick scheme, fails to see this.  Even Harry Walters, not the most ethical of men, warns Hester that her father is going to lose all his money if he invests with Reid.
One of the interesting parts of the book is the realization that three of the characters we meet during the flashback scenes are dead in a plane at the bottom of the sea.  Bennett does such a fine job of bringing each of them alive that we can’t help but wonder, “Which character do I want to be the one who didn’t fly?”
The book’s ending is neat and satisfying, as the police arrive at the solution of identities by treating the scant clues they have as a logic problem: If passenger A mentioned Australia and passenger B did not smoke and passenger C’s name began with an M, etc., until the answers bring them to the required identifications.  The identity of the “man who didn’t fly” is thus established and it only remains to discover where he is.  He is in fact located almost by accident and not by the police--another one of the interesting twists in this thoroughly enjoyable and unjustly forgotten mystery.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Life in the Theater" The Misanthrope

Saw this one at the Attic Theater in Detroit in 1991. I am sure I have seen it several other times over the years. It endures because its themes endure I guess. Or that's what is says in the director's notes. The Attic Theater was such a great resource for Detroit. I am very sad it has never returned.

Lavinia Moyer helmed the Attic 1976-94, through years that saw great promise, artistic success and, finally, financial despair for the nonprofit. The Attic for many years was considered the city of Detroit's most artistically sound resident theatre, but a fire at its Greektown-area location began years of financial instability that saw the company move to various spaces, including a partially-renovated Strand Theatre in downtown Pontiac, MI (1992-94).
The Attic later limped along artistically and financially at a space in Trapper's Alley, in Detroit's Greektown, before presenting sporadically in Pontiac (after being shut out of the Strand by the city of Pontiac).
The Attic Theater Moyer knew -- one of beneficient subscribers and promise and donations and returning artists and Equity actors -- is gone now. Too bad for us.


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Opening Credits: Lolita

The Golden Age of Television

Critic Alan Sepinwall has declared this the golden age of television and a movie I recently saw at the dollar show points out why. EDGE OF WATCH was a darn good movie. Except it was far too much like SOUTHLAND, a tv show, to make me sit up and take notice. I spent the entire movie thinking about this. I don't know if police dramas at the movies can separate themselves from shows like SOUTHLAND and THE SHIELD. Especially ones that dramatize the danger inherent in police work. Sure they can have slightly more villainous villains and more profanity but then what. And this was a good movie, not the run of the mill sort. This is especially true of movies dealing with crime and police officers but I see other genres suffering the same fate.

Have certain genres of movies become obsolete in now that cable television can spend so much more time on character development, etc?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Movie Themes: Terms of Endearment

The Captive Reader

On the plane, I found out I could not access the book I had downloaded onto my IPAD. So instead I read THE NEW YORKER on the IPAD, cover to cover. I have never done this before. Usually, I read the book and movie reviews, perhaps the short story, and perhaps an article. But on a five hour flight, I had time to read it all. And I have to say, THE NEW YORKER just cannot be matched by any magazine for the depth and breadth of its coverage. I read an article about a talented pick-pocket, an article about Mary Renault's affect on a gay teenager, a review of the new Thornton Wilder bio, a movie review, a new short story and a few other pieces.

One thing that made a difference to me was the font was much larger than the font in the print magazine. Even years ago, I found the font size in TNY difficult. On the Ipad it was a joy to read.

Are you influences by font size? Have you ever been held captive and read something you might not have ordinarily? 

Say Something Good About Detroit: John Hantz and his urban forest

John Hantz is buying up lots of abandoned lots and planting thousands of trees.Critics see this as a entrepreneur getting land at far below its market value. Proponents see it as land littered with trash and burned out buildings being replaced by trees. If Detroit ever recovers from its malaise it won't be in this area, a few miles from my house and one of the most decimated areas of the city.

John Hantz wants to plant at least 15,000 trees on about 140 acres. Hantz promises to clear out all the trash and keep the grass cut, things the city cannot afford to do now.

At a demonstration area for the project, Mike Score of Hantz Farms shows off the progress made to transform the vegetation. It's basically a small-scare version of what Hantz Woodlands will look like.
"The brush is gone from alongside the road. There are still some houses, but the vacant space that used to be covered with tall vegetation and brush and garbage is clean," Score says.
It's cleaned up and filled with neat rows of small hardwood trees — oaks and sugar maples.
The company is paying $300 for each lot, a price below almost anyone's idea of a fair deal.

Although some cite him as an opportunist, it is hard to drive through this area of Detroit and not be hopeful that trees are preferable to what is currently there.

Score says that while thousands of trees won't reverse the fortunes of this hardscrabble neighborhood, he hopes it will stabilize things.

The project will buy 1,500 city lots. That still leaves more than 58,000 parcels the city owns but can't afford to manage. That means plenty more opportunities for unorthodox ideas about what to do with Detroit's most abundant resource.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sunday Night Poetry: Mary Oliver

My Best Of--but only the more obscure films and books

As I look over the books and movies I saw in 2012, I have to say it was a pretty good year in this regard.  
These are a few of the older books I read in 2012 or the more obscure 2012 movies.

1)      MEMORY, Donald Westlake. This was a recent publication of Hard Case Crime, but it certainly would top my list any year. The protagonist, an actor, is beaten senseless by the husband of a woman he beds for one night. The rest of the book follows him as he tries to remember who is, what he is, how to solve this dilemma. If you want to learn how to plot, how to climb inside someone’s head, this is the book for you. Not a boring page in the book.

2)      MONTANA, 1948, Larry Watson. A small book, full of pain, full of graceful writing. A dying Sioux woman will not allow her employers, the town sheriff, to call for the town’s doctor, his brother. Powerful stuff as we watch events unfold through the eyes of a boy.

3)      RED BAKER, Robert Ward. I can’t say enough good things about this story of man who loses his job and everything else when he can’t come to terms with the loss. Just terrific. Newly available as an ebook.

4)      THE SILENT LAND, Graham Joyce. What if you woke up at a ski lodge and everyone else had disappeared. This book explores that notion through a young couple. Haunting and it shows that white can be as dark as black.

5)      WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN A CASTLE, Shirley Jackson, Probably you read this a long time ago. Reading it again makes you notice so much more.

Five of the Best Short Stories I read this year

1)      The Babysitter, Robert Coover
2)      Things I Learned in Fairy Tales, Roxanne Gay, PROTECTORS
3)      Tetanus, Joyce Carol Oates, GIVE ME YOUR HEART
4)      Girls in Their Summer Dresses, Irwin Shaw
5)      A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor, THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF THE 20th CENTURY


1)      LE HAVRE, A great little movie that shows that community is everything for an African boy who turns up portside in a small French town.

2)      THE DEEP BLUE SEA-The wife of a judge falls in love with an air force pilot during the Second World War. He is not worthy of her love, which makes it all the more interesting. Rachel Weisz is brilliant in this moody little piece.

3)      A SEPARATION. When an Iranian couple wishes to separate, it turns out to be almost impossible. Insightful, sad, complex.

4)      AUGUST 31, OSLO. A day in the life of a recovering drug addict as he leaves his treatment facility to interview for a job.

5)      STARLET, A young woman meets an older one at a garage sale and they both impact the other’s life in surprising ways.Dree Hemingway is Ernest's great granddaughter and she is wonderful as is her co-star, Besedka Johnson, who has never acted before now.

6)      FOOTNOTES-A father and son, both Talmudic scholars, cannot move beyond earlier grievances.

Television-This will be the least unexpected choices, I am afraid

1)  MAD MEN-The best year yet was the 2012 season

2) BREAKING BAD-Since it was divided into two parts, it is hard to evaluate but I have faith in this one to have the nerve to take it to the mat,

3). The 2012 Presidential Election-horrible, sad, sickening, surprising yet the outcome made it worth it.When people mention 2016, I want to cry. Can't do it again.

4. VEEP/GIRLS-And these shows confirmed every impulse we had about politics in Washington or spoiled girls in New York

5. PARENTHOOD, When I needed a cry, this one was standing by and Peter Krause is the actor I would most like to have as my Dad. In effect, his family has two Moms.

6.  BIG BANG THEORY-Always there when I needed a laugh.

Not the greatest seasons for THE GOOD WIFE, JUSTIFIED, WALKING DEAD, MODERN FAMILY. And no new TV shows this fall showed much promise.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books

Todd Mason will have the links today.Hopefully I will return next Friday.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

My Life at the Theater: FAITH HEALER, BRIAN FRIEL

We saw a terrific production of this play at the Abreacht Theater in Detroit (this is the director, Charles Reynolds). It's done in a series of four monologues by a faith healer, his wife, his manager, and then him again. The performances were outstanding. I have to say the Irish know how to tell a good story and this one stands out. There are some mysteries here and you can make your own interpretation of events.

"THE" book for a reluctant reader.

Les Blatt was talking about the great children's book THE WESTING GAME last week. I can well remember my kids reading this one endlessly. And I read it too.

If you were going to recommend a book to a reluctant reader of ten or so, what book would you choose to persuade him that reading is his/her entry into a world like no other.

I always pick the same book. It is TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN. I would read this book right now if it was one my shelves. Maybe I will go to the library tonight.

What would you choose? 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Opening Credits: Dr. Strangelove

First Wednesday Book Review Club

TRUST YOUR EYES, Linwood Barclay

When Ray Kilbride's father dies, he moves back home to settle the estate and make arrangements for his brother, Thomas. Thomas has not left the house, except for doctor visits, for many years. He spends his days mapping, through a computer system, every street in the world. He believes that this knowledge will save the world after the coming apocalypse. When brother Ray, an illustrator, agrees to follow up on an image that has upset Thomas, the two run afoul of a dangerous circle of people. Ray, with the help of Thomas, must settle both this issue and determine exactly how their father died and what is the secret from Thomas's past that perhaps precipitated his agoraphobia.

TRUST YOUR EYES is a technological hat tip to REAR WINDOW. Very enjoyable.

This is a sure-footed thriller with action that never lets up. Highly recommended for those looking for a speedy, exciting read. Some days that is more than enough.

For more reviews, see Barrie Summy.