Monday, February 28, 2022

Monday, Monday

 In case you guys want a place to communicate. Not really watching, reading or going. Just making a million calls and signing a million papers and trying to decide what will fit in the new place. 

Tell me about your week.

In honor of the coming baseball season, this is my dad (right) around 1922,

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Monday, February 21, 2022

Monday, Monday


I am in the middle of preparing my house to be sold so I have done little else. I rented a two bedroom, two bath apartment in Birmingham MI. I am able to walk everywhere: movies, library, community center, etc. I feel very relieved that I won't be such a prisoner of not driving.

Although I did hear a great concert at the DSO Saturday night with Beethoven's 7th and two shorter pieces. I did watch KIMI, which I liked if not loved. 

What about you?

Friday, February 18, 2022


 From the desk of Bill Crider (not all forgotten books deserve remembering)

FFB: Catastrophe Planet -- Keith Laumer

This is a straight-up SF adventure novel.  Our Hero is Mal Irish, a guy about whom we know little or nothing and about whom we learn little or nothing more.  He's zipping across the post-apocalyptic landscape on some kind of hovercraft when he encounters a dying man in what's left of a small town in Georgia.  The man relates a wild tale of a lost race in the Antarctic and gives Mal a strange coin.  People try to kill Mal, and after that it's just one damned thing after another, with escapes and pursuits around the globe and deaths and a beautiful woman who's thousands of years old.  All this happens while the planet's crust is shifting and causing seas to rise and/or retreat, volcanoes to erupt and earthquakes to occur all the time.

None of it makes a lot of sense, though Laumer tries to tie it all up in the end.  It's part Puppet Masters and part Cthulhu and part James Bond.  And part other things, too, all in one big stew.  It's fun if you're looking for some mindless entertainment and don't mind plenty of coincidences and lots of implausible action, which I'm sometimes in the mood for.  Laumer writes with flair, and the story hardly ever slows down for more than a paragraph.  You might forget it all in a few hours, but it's entertaining for the moment.  You'll like it if that's the kind of thing you like.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Livvie" by Eudora Welty


There are many discussions of "Livvie" online, especially of its similarities to the Greek myth Persephone. I was not one of those kids that read a lot of myths or fairy tales or even bible stories so I tend to read stories in isolation. And I was not an English major (history) so even there I am lacking context. But this was a great story no matter what your background and it is easily found as a PDF online. So too many articles about it. I am not sure a white woman could write a story like this now with cultural appropriation accusations. But Welty tells it with extreme sympathy and familiarity with Black life. At least to this reader.

Livvie is a very young black girl in Mississippi when Solomon, a very old man, kidnaps her and takes her home to his house along the Natchez Trace, which is hidden behind bottle trees. He is kind to her in every way but will not allow her to leave nor does he allow anyone to come near her. After a period of time, Solomon has grown even older and lies in bed all day. Livvie is still young and tends to him. 

Two events disturb this isolation 

A woman, with the great name of Miss Baby Marie comes to the house and almost magically gets inside where she tried to sell Livvie cosmetics. (This is surely a reference to Madame C.J. Walker. She was the first black female millionaire based on her cosmetic lines). Livvie loves the lipstick (which smells like chinaberries) but has no money to pay for it and won't ask Solomon for any. So Miss Baby Marie leaves, saying she will never come back. 

The second interloper is a young man (Cash) dressed in pink and green who she finds on the Trace. He follows her home and soon Solomon has ceded Livvie to him and dies, giving her his gold watch. Cash carries her off. 

This is a beautifully realized story. The descriptions of the Trace and their house there are terrific. So two the four Black characters are all drawn with loving care.

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason

Monday, February 14, 2022

Monday Monday


 Freezing cold here but not a bad week at all. I got out to lunch with a friend, got out to see PARALLEL MOTHERS (excellent) with another. And had a

friend over for dinner Saturday night where we watched the extras from MILLERS CROSSING and a interview with Stephen Sondheim on you tube. 
I saw TWO FACES OF JANUARY in 2014 but enjoyed it again on HULU. 

HOME is a terrific UK show if you get HBO MAX.  REACHER is lots of fun on PRIME.

And today I am going to see BRIGHTON 4 at the Detroit Film Theater. 

Enjoying THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich. Also MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S STORY (Backman). so-so. 

I saw my oncologist this week and everything looks okay although there is some blood work out there. 

So what's up with you guys?

Friday, February 11, 2022

FFB: THE JUGGER, Donald E. Westlake


From the archives, review by Ed Gorman


How this for an opener? I'm about to review the worst book Donald E. Westlake ever wrote. Don't take my word for it. Here's Westlake himself speaking.
"I spoiled a book by having him do something he wouldn’t do. The sixth book in the series is called The Jugger, and that book is one of the worst failures I’ve ever had. The problem with it is, in the beginning of the book this guy calls him and says “I’m in trouble out here and these guys are leaning on me and I need help,” and Parker goes to help him. I mean, he wouldn’t do that, and in fact, the guy wouldn’t even think to call him! (laughs)"

I found this quote on The Violent World of Parker website, a goodie.  Westlake has more than once cited The Jugger as a failure, and although I’ve never heard it straight from the horse’s mouth, I’ve heard he considers it the worst book he’s ever written. Well, Mr. Westlake, if this is the worst you can do after cranking out more books than I can count, I am in great envy of your abilities.

"Mr. Westlake is wrong about Parker acting out of character in The Jugger. He seems to have forgotten the details, which is perfectly understandable, as the book was written in 1965 and he probably has not had much reason to revisit it if he doesn’t care for it that much."

Me again: I frequently find myself liking books most other people don't and vice-versa. The Jugger's a good example. No it's not a great Parker adventure, but it's got a lot of early Sixties atmosphere, a cast of truly despicable characters, and a constantly shifting plot.

What we have here is a kind of psychodrama. We have a dumb but crafty Sheriff, a smart but unlucky FBI man, a dumb but uncrafty lady friend of a pathetic dead guy who'd been trying to find an imaginary sum of money hidden by Joe Sheer.

It goes like this. Parker and Sheer worked together sometimes and then Sheer got old and all he did was serve as a way station for Parker. If you wanted to talk to the big man you had to call Sheer who'd screen you. But when Parter got a nervous communication from Sheer he got concerned that maybe the old man was coming apart and would blow Parker's cover. He had to go to the small Midwestern city and make sure that didn't happen.

But when he got there Sheer was dead. And the (imaginary) enormous amount of stolen money was nowhere to be found--yes there;s money but it's modest compared to what others think. So Parker proceeds to deal with both problems. Under the name of Willis.

The Psychodrama: The Sheriff is a dope but a brutal one and Parker has to string him along in order to learn what he needs to. Watching Parter mislead him is a game worth watching. The Sheriff is a human pit bull. He's capable of killing Parker at any moment. But then Parker is more than willing to strike first. On the other hand the FBI man is slick and political. Mitt Romney could play him. Quoting Norman Mailer on a writer he didn't like: "He's as full of shit as a Thanksgiving turkey." But he suspects that this guy Willis is really a big catch under another name. He's already signing a book contract and learning to wave in parades.

So The Jugger ain't perfect and ain't gonna win none of them NYC awards but I don't care. I just enjoyed this particular take on Parker's world. I read it in two dazzled sittings.

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: WIFE-WOOING, John Updike


This is from the collection TOO FAR TO GO, which collected all of the stories about the Maple Family that John Updike wrote in the sixties and seventies. I know Updike is reviled by many today. I am not sure if it's his writing style or the people he writes about that angers readers. I love his stories. Yes, his writing is a little florid and he writes about the upper-middle class, but if he wrote about another socio-economic group he might be accused of cultural appropriation. Updike was a lower-middle class kid though. It is the college he went to and his career that brought him into a more Cheever-like world. 
"Wife-Wooing" is a very short story and the second in this collection. If you google it, you will find anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, English professors all weighing in on this story and what it tells us about sexual dynamics in young marriages of that era.  Lots of discussion of the first scene and its similarity to a prehistoric cave family. 
This story opens with   young family sitting in front of a fire eating hamburgers and french fries thae Dad has brought home. (Updike had four children in very quick succession). The husband finds his wife very attractive and is considering how best to approach her later for sex. He knows she is tired from caring for the three tots and yet is undeterred. He watched her read a book on Nixon and wants her to put it aside. Before he can pounce, she falls asleep and in the morning her charm has fled for him. But that night, she is the amorous one.
These are some of my favorite stories. You watch a marriage fall apart over the course of the collection. "Giving Blood" is my favorite. 

Favorite line. "Courting a wife takes tenfold the strength of winning an ignorant girl." 
How I wish he had used "innocent" instead of "ignorant."

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

New DVD Criterion Edition of MILLER'S CROSSING

 For those who still own a DVD player, this is a lovely new print that comes out today. It includes an interview with the Coen Brothers and Megan. Also an interview with Gabriel Byrne and John Turturro. She had great fun doing it and did a great job (I think). Her Ph.D was in noir literature and film noir so she was primed for MILLER'S CROSSING. 

Monday, February 07, 2022

Monday. Monday

So very cold and snowy in Michigan. But we have had more sun than is typical for our location in the Great Lakes. I have not been out of my house in a week now and I am getting a bit squirrely. Are you guys playing WORDLE? I hope the NYT which just bought the game from its inventor is not going to start charging to play it like they did with Queen Bee. I will have to consider canceling my print subscription if they do that. 

Reading a book about the making of the movie ALL ABOUT EVE (Sam Staggs), Backmans's rather twee MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY (for my book group) and David Lodge's DEAF SENTENCE. 

Enjoying REACHER (only watched the first one--I never binge), I also liked LICORICE PIZZA but I found it difficult to discern the dialog over the music. Which is why I am reading DEAF SENTENCE, I guess. Also watched WRITTEN ON THE WIND, a Sirk movie from the fifties. 

I got back my radon test and my house is fine. A relief that I don't have to find an honest radon mitigator. 

So what's new with you?

Friday, February 04, 2022

FFB, VENDETTA. Michael Dibdin

                                                   Vendetta, Michael Dibdin

This is the second in the series (1990) concerning the police work of Aurelio Zen. Inspector Zen is one of the more sophisticated cops and the Italian settings in this series always wowed me.
In VENDETTA, Zen investigates the assassination of a millionaire and all of his his guests at a posh location in the Sardinia mountains. Despite a sophisticated security system, no pictures of the intruders exists. A lot of pressure comes from Zen's higher-ups to solve this high-profile, seemingly locked room, type murder.

I liked this series a lot. Michael Dibdin died far too young. 

Aurelio Zen series

  1. Ratking (1989)
  2. Vendetta (1991)
  3. Cabal (1992)
  4. Dead Lagoon (1994)
  5. Cosi Fan Tutti (1996)
  6. A Long Finish (1998)
  7. Blood Rain (1999)
  8. And Then You Die (2002)
  9. Medusa (2003)
  10. Back to Bologna (2005)
  11. End Games (2007)


Wednesday, February 02, 2022

First Wednesday Book Review: HAMNET, Maggie O'Farrell


Hamnet, William Shakespeare's only son, died at the age of eleven. HAMNET is Maggie O'Farrell's imaging of the event and the months that followed. In 1580, the Black Death was surging across England. A young Latin tutor, (never named) impregnates a woman several years his senior. Called Agnes in this novel, rather than Anne, she is a woman very much of the land, adept in mixing potions to cure whatever ailed the townsmen of Stratford. The two marry.  

This book is very much her story rather than her husband's. She bears three children, Hamnet is a twin to Judith and Suzanne is their elder sister. This is a story of grief, a story of learning to accept living with a husband who is gone much of the time pursuing his writing and stage career. Not until the end of the book does Agnes come to understand what it is her husband is doing in London. This allows her some peace.

There is much about William Shakespeare that is not known, including the reason for Hamnet's death. Situating it as a result of this plague makes perfect sense.  O'Farrell has taken some of what is known and made it come alive. 

Highly recommended. 

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

Short Story Wednesday: THE INVISIBLE DAUGHTER, Anca Vlasopolos


I just got this collection from Amazon and have only read the first four stories but had to include it today. I have known Anca for 25 years and have been amazed at her poetry, her incredible memoir (NO RETURN ADDRESS) and her novel (THE NEW BEDFORD SAMURAI). She was in my writing group for a decade so I got to hear her read many of these endeavors on their way to publication. About eight years ago, she and her husband, Anthony, moved to Cape Cod and although I have not lost touch with them, I have lost touch with her writing. And now this fine collection.

Because Anca has had an unusual life (escaping from Romania with her mother during the Cold War, watching her Greek father die as a result of his politics, adopting a daughter from Guatemala, her years as a professor of English and union official, a potter,  knowing more about plants and birds than almost anyone I know, she has a deep knowledge base to draw from. And the first four stories certainly put that on display. 

I will talk about them more when I finish the collection but bravo, Anca.


Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House 


George Kelley 

Todd Mason