Monday, November 11, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Went to a lovely Japanese Patisserie this week. Delightful sandwiches as well as pastry but what are all the millennial doing: playing with the laptops and drinking dull coffee. Remember when coffee shops used to be for talking.

Saw PARASITE twice and although I thought it funny, clever and scary, I don't quite get why it is getting so much adulation. Also saw THE LIGHTHOUSE, which was beautiful to look at and well acted but too over the top bonkers for me in the end. How long would it take you to go crazy from cabin fever if there were two of you? More than five weeks, I think.

This is my new favorite thing. There are quite a few episodes, all about 10 minutes. So restful and set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It is on adult swim but I just googled it. Try it if you need a rest from the world. Because the UP is another world.
Enjoying SLINGS AND ARROWS on Acorn. It is a three season Canaidan show from the early 2000s about a Shakespeare troupe. But more about the off-stage antics than on. Luke Kirby and Rachel McAdams are so young.

Well, I did it. I gave my car to my daughter-in-law. I am now the proud owner of an empty garage.

What about you guys?

Friday, November 08, 2019

12/29/19: DARE ME

FFB: THE ODDS, Stewart O'Nan

Another brilliant novel by the master.

A middle-aged couple, headed for divorce, decides to spend their final weekend together (Valentine's Day) at Niagara Falls, where they spent their first one.

They also decide to take the money left in the bank after some disastrous decisions and see if they can solve some of their troubles at the casino tables. This is not a travelogue of Niagara Falls but one that winds through their past a bit. They seldom leave the hotel, restaurants and casino in this book.

Sad, lovely, romantic, despairing, hopeful--all of these in this portrait of a marriage and what can go wrong and right with it. Just great stuff. There are few better writers for me.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

First Wednesday Book Review: THE BODY IN QUESTION, Jill Ciment

 THE BODY IN QUESTION tells the story of two jurors on a murder trial, sequestered for a three-week period, who begin an affair almost at once.Both jurors are only identified by their jury number (C-2; F-17) during the course of the trial. Although the testimony they hear each day in the jury room is given some attention, the author is more interested in their affair, how it affects the eventual verdict of the jury and how it affects the elderly husband the female juror has left behind. There is a significant age gap between C-2 and her husband, perhaps making it easier to leap into an affair. 

This is a very well-written book. The reader is anxious to see how this affair will impact on the jury decision or if it even will. The jury is small-only six jurors and an alternate and secrets are hard to keep with unlocked doors. We know far less about F-17 because the story is from C-2's pov. I am anxious to look for Jill Ciments previous books after reading this one.

For more reviews, go to Barrie Summy's place, right here.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Pretty much all about Bouchercon this week. I did a panel with George on the birth of the paperbacks and another one on Writing Short Fiction. I love doing panels, especially if I can ask rather than answer questions. I also attended two of Megan's. One on unlikable women and I don't think a lot of the audience understand a complex character is usually not likable all that much of the time. And if you are not writing a series, this is not a problem.
I enjoyed lots of good food, some a bit spicy for me but delicious. Typically I did not do a good job in meeting new people. I never do. There were a lot of tributes to Bill. And his daughter, Angela had a party for him. Very nice. Bill did himself proud with that one. And her husband is a great guy too.
I attended about ten panels of varying quality. The best ones pick a real subject rather than just allowing the writers to talk about their work.
Very good work by the organizers, especially in having films of early Bouchercons, old posters, book bags, programs. Always something to look at. 
Went to the Book Depository. It was very moving to stand where LHO stood. I still don't quite believe he did it alone. And why didn't he have a place to escape to after the shots. He just seem to run wildly around.
Went to the art district, mostly to eat pie but it looked like a fun area. Dallas was lovely at night with many buildings outlined in various colors. I was impressed. On to Sacramento--but not me probably.

And what about you?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

A nice week. Went to an event at the best comic book store I have ever seen (Green Brain). (They even had copies of Megan's NORMANDY GOLD) The event included music, an artist with slides of her origami, a poetry and a prose reading. How nice to spend a rainy night with such talent.
Had a friend over to watch BILLY LIAR on Criterion, which did not hold up at all for me. I am doubtful I ever saw it before although I thought I had
Saw the movie PAIN AND GLORY, which was gorgeous to look at and Banderas was terrific. I have often found Almodovar difficult-a lot of subtitles to read quickly and not always clear what he's saying, but this one was pretty easy to follow. And ultimately extremely touching.
Reading NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney, which is very good. Did not finish 1222 by Anne Holt. About 75% through I realized I just didn't care about anything other than the protagonist, who was a great character. It was probably me but a hotel full of characters who were never drawn out enough to be real for me sunk it. 
Watched WATCHMEN a second time and am now up to speed.
Looking forward to Bouchercon although sad that I will be going alone for the first time.
So happy though to see some of you there. 


Friday, October 25, 2019

FFB-THE WIDOWER, Georges Simenon

THE WIDOWER tells the story of a  designer named Bernard Jeantet who returns to his home in Paris from work one day to discover that his wife, Jeanne, is missing.  They met eight years earlier when he rescued her from her abusive pimp. They’ve lived a quiet life since then. A life that, at least in Bernard’s mind, was one of happiness until she wasn't home to greet him one day. When Bernard learns what has become of his wife, his entire life is turned upside down. When he learns of how she has spent the eight years, he is astounded.

 The Widower is a character study.  We grow more and more astounded at how a man could know so little about his wife, seemingly never interested in any life beyond their own. Does he love her or his idea of her? And what are her feelings toward this rescuer or perhaps imprisoner?

The Widower is a  pageturner. Only 143 pages and not a page of that is wasted. It begins with a mystery,but then opens up to answer the real questions that Simeon is concerned with. How little we know each other.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Glad to have last week behind me. I managed to keep busy enough to have it go by. I saw DOWNTON ABBEY again with a friend looking forward to it. And she made a lovely dinner to thank me for going for the second time. Another friend went with me to see FIRST LOVE, a Japanese film. We walked out. Just too violent for us but we had a very nice Lebanese dinner. That is the great thing about Detroit. We have the best Arab restaurants in the country. Had lunch with Josh. Read THE WIDOWER by Simenon, which was terrific. Boy, how could he spin these stories in a matter of weeks. Also liked THE BODY IN QUESTION by Jill Ciment.
Watched the last episode of SUCCESSION (HBO), which was pretty amazing. These are not nice people but they are interesting.

How about you?

Friday, October 18, 2019

FFB: APRIL EVE, John D. Mcdonald

April Evil, John D. MacDonald

I think this is the first novel, other than those in the Travis McGee series that I have read in many years by John D. MacDonald. I had truly forgotten what a great writer he was. There is not a page of this book when things don't happen, when the story isn't speeding along, when you will want to put it down. It is truly a manual for how to write a crime story.

Three men, one newly out of jail, and a woman converge on Flamingo, a Florida town. Their plan is to rob an old man who keeps all of his money in a safe in his house. There are at least a dozen other players who make things hard for this trio for various reasons. This story has three critical female characters. And a kid who noses around too much. It is vicious in spots, but also tender, observant, and clever. The atmosphere is excellent. I can't think of one good reason not to read this book.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Mostly taking a break this week as I try to get by what would have been Phil's 75th birthday on the 18th. I did go and march with the UAW strikers and I enjoyed MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER. Also enjoyed COME AND AWAY. So it isn't all bad. But pretty hard indeed. And I have dental surgery on Wednesday. Yes, damn bad week.

Tell me what you're up to.

Friday, October 11, 2019


Amor Towles wrote this book back in 2011, before he wrote A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. It is set entirely during the year of 1938 and mostly takes place in Manhattan. Katie Kontent, formerly Katya, is in her twenties and making her way in the city. Her close friend, Evie (Evelyn) and Katie are out on the town for New Year's Eve when they meet the glamorous and  mysterious, Tinker Grey. An automobile accident ensues, which takes them all on different paths than they might have imagined.

This novel is sometimes as frivolous as this setup sounds. A lot of the time is given over to the pursuits of the wealthy or wannabe weathy. But like Gatsby, it has other ambitions. Perhaps life is not as
glib and glamorous as it seems. Certainly our characters do not find bliss as they inch up on the war.

The writing is gorgeous. Towles can really put you in a club or a car or a country house. I think A GENTLEMAN was the better book but this was quite a first novel. Towles had already had a career in finance when he wrote it and his maturity works to his advantage. Good but not great for me.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Lots of cloudy weather and rain this week. Enjoyed RULES FOR VISITING although the protagonist remained enigmatic to me. Do you mind that in a book? Does it bother you if you never quite understand why a character's life is like it is and what their motivations are? Also enjoying MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER.It tales place in Nigeria, which makes it all the more interesting.
I am watching PRIME SUSPECT from the nineties. It holds up so well. Mirren creates an indelible character. Also enjoying DERRY GIRLS although I really need closed captions to understand this one.
Had lunch with my son on Tuesday. Nice to have him to myself. Really wished I had a bigger family.
Saw JUDY. Renee Z was excellent but the movie dragged and was flat in many sections. Such a sad life. Her years at MGM amounted to child abuse.

What about you guys?

Friday, October 04, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books, THE IMPERFECTIONISTS, Tom Rachman


THE IMPERFECTIONISTS is a debut novel that reads like the work of an experienced master of the genre. Is it me or are first novels growing stronger all the time? Perhaps since Mr. Rachman is himself a journalist and editor he is following that sage advice to write about what you know.

More like a series of short stories than a traditional novel, THE IMPERFECTIONISTS tells the stories of some of the personnel at a small newspaper in Rome. Here we have the story of the copy editor, a reporter, a stringer, the editor in chief and various other personnel including a devoted reader. A sort of Canterbury Tales.

In between these delightful, insightful, humorous and sometimes painful personal and intersecting stories, we also get the story of the Ott family, the newspaper's founders and how the family eventually slid into obscurity and the newspaper folded.

It is hard not to swoon over such a elegant writer. Each story is original and very much written with its own tone. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019


Of course, you all have seen this one. I never saw it on the big screen before and consequently never paid such close attention to it. Some observations: it was a lot funnier than I remembered, Bogart sure had a lot of tics, Mary Astor was very good and very beautiful, Lorre and Greenstreet were quite a team. I can see why they used them again in CASABLANCA. Hard to understand why Sam Spade was so attracted to a woman who was clearly up to no good. But I have never understood that about men, in general. The story is an exercise in how to tell a story with no let-up in tension. Was there ever a more minimal use of sets?  Amazing how little back story was necessary.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

It looks like the good weather is on its way out after two plus months of terrific days. I actually turned my heat on this morning, which was very self-indulgent. Something tells me the near future will not allow such actions.
Reading I LIKE TO WATCH by Emily Nussbaum, the New Yorker TV critic, which is loads of fun and also RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles, I find the writing odd but can't quite say why. It's like there are two writing styles used. My book group chose it. They really loved A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW last year and were attracted to this  his earlier book.
Saw AD ASTRA, which seemed like an overly elaborate way to tell a withholding father story. I expected to like it more. I didn't expect to like DOWNTON ABBEY and I didn't much. I think I have made my feelings about rich people known more than once on here. Although I have to admit, Fellows used a clever device to tell the story and the downstairs group most got the better story here.
The third and best movie I saw was THE MALTESE FALCON on a big screen. It is part of a series called FLASHBACK CINEMA, which brings old classics to a big screen. It does a pretty poor job of publicizing it though. If you want to see if it's available in your area, it
I finally got Kanopy to work on my TV, which gives me access to what my movies my library has. You might want to check that out too. Quite an array of stuff on there.
And what are you up to this week? 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Forgotten Books, BROOKLYN, Colm Toibin

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin

This is a very fine novel that I was resistant to reading for a long time. It sat on my shelf despite the urging of several friends who loved it. But after seeing the movie, I wanted to read the book. And I am glad that I did. 
There are no jobs to be had in Eilis Lacey's hometown in Ireland. Reluctantly she sets sail for New York where a priest has secured her a job and place to live. She is nearly overwhelmed by homesickness--and I don't think I ever read such a great description of it--but eventually settles into her new life and finds a beau. A sudden death calls her home again and she must decide where her future lies.
What makes this novel work so well is how much inside the head of his character Toibin gets. And I am truly amazed at how well he does a female voice. And how well he seems to understand how a girl feels about a multitude of issues.
Eilis is utterly believable as a very nice girl with very nice friends and a very nice family. The descriptions of Brooklyn life in the fifties are terrific. 
If I found one flaw in the book, it would be there was so little conflict or strife for Eilis. I am sure an immigrant coming here with no friends of family to succor them would find life a lot harder. And the ending is perhaps too swift.
But this is a small flaw in a wonderful novel. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Things That Are Making Me Happy

But now my garage door will not go down. 

Yay, My new tag and new Michigan registration arrive today. Somebody up there likes me.

Two days ago I wrote a cheerful post that said I was beginning to be happy, at least some of the time. That my fifty years of happiness with Phil had given me muscle memory to revert to happiness. That I was looking forward to new books, movies, TV, dinner and movie with friends, taking walks.

But yesterday a number of problems to be solved sent me back to my earlier state of anxiety. So I took that post down.

Lots of the issues concern the car I don't drive. My plate registration did not yield me the required tab for instance. It is lost in the mail, I guess. And I have to have the car serviced even though I don't drive it. And one credit card is still pulling money from the wrong account And at two in the morning, I woke up thinking I didn't know how to stop payment on a check should I need to.

And how do I feel about going to NY for Thanksgiving and staying at a friend's vacant place. Can I navigate NY on my own? Will I be nervous hailing cabs without a man beside me? Will I be able to handle walking back from the subway alone at night?

 Even though I was the one who always figured out where we were going and how to get there, Phil drove or was by my side in NY or wherever.  This is one of the selfish reasons for missing him. Another one: he looked at the mail and decided what to do with things. Now I must look at every piece of mail and determine what is to be done about it. Now I must open every jar, even if I use a wrench. I have to decide who to call about every problem. Selfish reasons but ones that occur every day.

I won't list the less selfish reasons. You know what they are.

Still it is better than five months ago. Some days. 

What's new with you?

Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books: Beautiful Ruins

BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jesse Walter does a very smooth job of juggling multiple narratives set in multiple time periods. We always know where we are and whom we are with. The prose is elegant, the scenes in Italy inviting. If that small village doesn't exist, it should thanks to the writing here.

The disaster that was CLEOPATRA was being made in the main narrative. A young actress in the film, believing herself to be dying, comes to a remote island where she is tended to by Pasquale, a young Italian hotel owner of a hotel so small that she is the only guest. Other stories intersect with this one.(Richard Burton is a minor player that we never see without a bottle in his hand. Surely we have something else to learn about him).Pasquale is being shaken down for protection money, but this story is also not developed.

Unfortunately many of the other minor characters in BEAUTIFUL RUINS didn't capture my interest and I was anxious to get back to the primary story rather than these less interesting ones.The book I would have loved would have focused on the young actress, the young hotel owner, and the circumstances of 1962. Of course it was not my story to tell.

We see the actress at various points in her life, but because they are not chronological it is often hard to invest in them. We also come to know her son, an producer's assistant, a writer trying to pitch a story, the producer himself who meddles again and again to disastrous consequences. Flash forward into the future and the romanticism of that small island in Italy is lost. If Hollywood is supposed to come alive, it never does. We know just how venal Hollywood is from so many other examinations. And the scenes in Spokane are even less involving.

This was certainly far from a bad book. But the pages didn't turn effortlessly.
I listened to this on audio. Perhaps that distanced me. Reading a print book always works best for me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Had a great week in DC visiting my brother and his wife in Virginia and old friends in Maryland. Loved both movies, liked the play (Sondheim) had several great meals, went to an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum on the Queens of Egypt, saw two old friends from my childhood (separately) went to Leesburg (mostly restaurants now) and got lost in a park. All great fun.

What about you if you are not tired of telling it?

Monday, September 09, 2019

Friday, September 06, 2019


I had to do a little work to get myself a copy of Dan J. Marlowe's THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH (from the archives).  I just want to list what made it such a perfect book to me.

1) the complexity of the protagonist

2) the writing-lucid, tense, succinct

3) the way Marlow integrates a necessary back story into the plot. Now a lot of writers today would say, we don't need to know all of this about him. I disagree. Without this info, he's just a psycho. Now he's a psycho, yes, but with grounding.

4) the length of the book. Truly you couldn't take much more of this degree of excitement.

5) the atmosphere, which is just exactly right for the plot, character, etc.

6) the integration of the violent aspects with the prosaic ones

7) the motivation for what happens. Because of the back story, we get it.

8) the ending.

I could go on and on. What did you like about this book if you've read it? If not, what book would you nominate for a perfect little gem? And I guess what "little" means is under 250 pages.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

WHAT THE EYES DON'T SEE, Mona Hanna Attisha

In 2014, virtually with no one looking or investigating the safeness of the switch, the state of Michigan shifted the source of Flint's water from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Almost immediately citizens complained about the color or the water, the taste, but they went unheard.

Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha took the officials at their word initially and told her pediatric patients' parents that the water was safe. But over a brief period of time, children were getting sicker and early studies began to trouble the doctor.

This book details her fight to obtain undeniable truth that the water was full of lead and to get city and state officials to admit it and do something about it. Time after time, people who should be on the side of the citizens, turned a deaf hear, preferring to either ignore or uphold the lies being bandied about.

This is a very disheartening book because you know similar problems exist in other cities (Newark) and are especially prevalent in black areas. When this was first noticed in Flint, GM and state offices received water that was not from the Flint River. So even here distinctions were made by state officials.

The dire nature of the story is somewhat lightened by Attisha's story of her own family and their trip to the US from Iraq. They are a family of activists indeed.

For more book reviews, go to Barrie Summy's blog. 

Monday, September 02, 2019

Things That are Making Me Happy

Happy Labor Day!

Enjoying HUNTING GAME by Helene Tursten. I am always amazed when a writer is able to present a milieu as successfully as she does with a hunting lodge and hunting itself in Sweden. Of course, maybe it is her scene. Will have to try her other series.

I am sad to be finished MINDHUNTER, where I liked the personal stories as much as the Atlanta Child Killer plot. Although it was pretty brilliant all around. Also enjoying TRAPPED on Prime. Thanks, Jeff.  Still enjoying SUCCESSION on HBO.

Had a nice family dinner Friday night. Kevin is getting taller by the minute. He is going to play hockey, soccer, cross-country and tennis this fall. As well as begin to learn the bass guitar along with the one he's been playing for years. The music teacher says most guitar players can play more than one thing. Today's parents, at least ones that can afford it because no school sports are free nowadays) are so busy getting their kids to various events.

What about you?

Friday, August 30, 2019

FFB: BLACKWATER, Kerstin Ekman

Blackwater, Kerstin Ekman

Long before the Scandinavian surge of crime fiction of today, a few Swedish writers caught my attention and one in the 1990s was Kerstin Ekman. In face, I think I came across this one the year we lived in England.

The plot centers on teacher and mother, Annie Raft, and is set in the 70s, and focuses on events surrounding, and following a double murder at the Blackwater lake in Sweden.

The victims of the murder are two tourists visiting Northern Sweden to explore its forested wilderness. They are discovered by Annie Raft, herself new to the region, as she and her young daughter Mia scrabble through the forest, searching for the commune where her lover awaits and where they are to start life anew away from the turmoil of their lives in Southern Sweden.

Things also deteriorate in the commune. Paradise is not what it seems, nor is Annie's lover. It is years later when this story concludes.

Ekman explores the degradation occurring to the environment at the same time she sets up this plot. The darkness of the land mirrors the darkness of the people who inhabit it. She also examines the animosity between Swedes and Laplanders in the region. From reviews on amazon, I see that this book was too dark for many readers, but we both enjoyed it at the time.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Movies, movies, movies. And the best of them was TOY STORY 4. Truly. But I also liked REMEMBER MY NAME, which was a doc about David Crosby. I can't believe his voice is still great at 76. I also can't believe he has lost all of his friends.
Lovely weather in Michigan. But the mold is killing me from all the rain earlier in the summer.
Kevin was here Saturday night and between us we managed to lose the sound on the TV. I have a new cable box and remote and have not mastered it yet. We finally fixed it and proceeded to watch six episodes of THE OFFICE. I understand board games are undergoing a revival and I should pick up a few.
As always thanks to my friends for keeping me busy. If it was not for them....
Reading THE HOUSE OF BROKEN ANGELS by Urrea, about a Mexican family in San Diego. Pretty impressive.
Watching SUCCESSION, the funniest show about a horrible family. Great writing. Also MINDHUNTER, which is very good but very scary.  Have watched four episodes of ELEMENTARY, which is not bad but probably best watched one show a week.
What about you?

Friday, August 23, 2019


MY COUSIN RACHEL, Daphne DuMaurier

The story takes place in the 1840s in Cornwall. Philip's whole life centers around his Uncle Ambrose, his guardian, and their life in the country. When Ambrose begins to suffer health problems, he goes to Italy where he falls under the spell of Cousin Rachel. His letters home to Philip begin as odes of love but over time become dark. When he suddenly dies, Philip goes to Florence to ascertain the reasons for his death.

Initially suspicious of Cousin Rachel, Philip soon falls under her spell and alters his inheritance to make her the primary beneficiary of his uncle's estate. It is unclear for much of the book as he goes from complete suspicion, to devotion, to suspicion again whether he is falling ill from the same brain fever or disease that took his uncle or whether Rachel has a hand in both of their fates. (Much of her time is spent fooling with herbs and medicinal plants).
Is this a book about jealousy, disease or evil? I think you will come to your own conclusion by the end, but it may not be the same as mine.

This is a masterpiece of suspense. The type of book you will think about for many days following its ending.

Monday, August 19, 2019


A friend has invited me to share an apartment with her on Treasure Island (FL) for a few weeks in Feb-March, which is very nice and I am certainly considering doing that. Getting out of Michigan that time of year is great. We have spent a lot of time together in Traverse City so we know we are compatible. We are both movie-goers, concert lovers and readers and walkers. I have even got her reading Jussi Adler-Olsen after seeing a movie from his work in TC.

Saw LUCE and really admired it. So seldom a movie tries to confront as many issues as this one did. Naomi Watts is such a great actress. I am reminded of my favorite movie with her, THE PAINTED VEIL.

Started MINDHUNTER on Netflix and am not sure I am interested enough. It seems even more like a documentary this year. And sadly these serial killers don't differ much one from another.

Has anyone watched ELEMENTARY? Is it worth the seven seasons?

I have a great brother who is helping me decide what to do with a pretty large amount of money. I was ready to invest it but last week changed my mind.  There is no point putting money in the market just as it is about to go down. Jeff is about all the family I have from my generation. And now it turns out we are only half-siblings so even nicer of him to help me.

Having lots of allergy-sinus problems. Instead of being nasal it goes to my sinuses. And then I am dizzy and now that I am alone here, I have to be more careful that I don't fall and crack my head or hip on all the stone floors. The police here suggest you install a box outside your house with a house key and your medical cards in it. Has anyone done this?

Great weather here. The first half of the summer it rained but the last six weeks or so has been terrific. 

What are you guys up to?

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.