Monday, July 31, 2023

Monday, Monday


Enjoying THE MOTHER-IN-LAW although she does what so many writers of domestic novels do--she makes the young children too cute, too clever, too wordy. A small sin but it weighs on the book over a few hundred pages. Also have the first Anne Hillerman novel on tap. My book club book for September is STILL LIFE by Sarah Winman. It is long. 

I tried to rewatch THE X-FILES, but the episodes are so driven by an single idea (e.g.  a guy that can ooze through grates) that there is not much else going on except them chasing after him. Tried a British show called THE BOOK GROUP but like a lot of book groups (not mine) the idea of a book quickly gets lost. Wow, that sequel to SEX AND THE CITY is an embarrassment, especially to the actress who plays Charlotte. Was she that ditsy in the original?

PT is tiring and I keep getting caught in torrential rain going home. My knee seems much the same after four sessions. No strength for going down the stairs. And since I have none, I can't practice. I may never be able to go to New York (or any big city) again if it doesn't improve. 

My brother is off to Norway and Iceland via cruise ship. More and more a cruise makes sense especially for a non-driver. But on the other hand, I always get seasick on the water. My I am full of problems.

No new movies although I saw BARBIE twice. 

How about you?

Sunday, July 30, 2023


 "What if there's beach?!" Ken.

Friday, July 28, 2023


 From 2006

Book groups-- 2006

I have belonged to a book group for about five years. We have seldom read a book without  merit. We read more fiction than non, but not exclusively. We have read poetry (1) and plays (2). We have read polemics (What Happened to Kansas) and memoirs (Personal History and Made in Detroit). My favorite book was Bel Canto (Patchett).
About 25% have been classics like Pride and Prejudice, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Madame Bovary, East of Eden.
I stay in the group most of all because I like the women. They are thoughtful, caring people. That seems like a pretty good reason.
They read Megan Abbott's book Die a Little and came to her reading.

July 2023

I have belonged to this book group for another 17 years. About 23 years in all. We read far fewer classics and far less non-fiction nowadays. It is almost the same people but two of them have Alzheimer's, one Parkinson's, and two husbands have died, one moved and does it over zoom. We all did it on zoom for more than two years but we didn't miss many meetings. Almost all of us have had a tragedy of some sort over the period. The average age is about 78. Half of us caught Covid despite all having all the vaccines. One had it twice. We have trouble choosing books often and I pick too many. We rarely read mysteries because they don't usually have enough to discuss. We borrow a lot of ideas from an adjacent group. Although we have always been troubled by the state of the world, we are more troubled now. One or two came to Megan's latest reading (Beware the Woman), ten books later. We are hanging in there but it grows harder. My favorite book in all those years are books by Ann Patchett, Sigrid Nunez, Larry Watson, William Kent Kruger, Elizabeth Strout.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

NIGHT CALL AND OTHER STORIES OF SUSPENSE, Charlotte Armstrong (reviewed by Ed Gorman)

New from Crippen & Landru

 I first read Charlotte Armstrong after seeing a 1952 movie called "Don't Bother To Knock." The stars were Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe plays a seriously disturbed young woman asked to babysit the child of Widmark and his wife. Monroe is terrific--terrifying. Will she kill the kid?
   I'd seen the name Charlotte Armstrong on the metal paperback racks. She always seemed to have a new paperback out. And she was in Ellery Queen a lot. I tracked down Mischief which the Monroe movie was based on and became an Armstrong fan for life.
   If she was not as phantasmagoric as Dorothy B. Hughes sometimes was or as Elizabeth Sanxay Holding almost always was, Armstrong, as a critic recently noted, updated the gothic tropes of the previous generation and made of them tart and contemporary popular art.
  No critic of the time was a bigger promoter of Armstrong's work than Anthony Boucher. He noted that she was the creator of "suburban noir" and he was right.
  Though she used the tropes of what was dismissively called "women's fiction" she took them into a nether realm that was riveting and terrifying.
  Editors Rick Cypert and the late Kirby McCauley have collected here a collection of short and long stories that are a tribute to the Armstrong finesse and darkness.
  None of the pieces here have ever been collected before and there is also unpublished material.
  Everything in the book is packed with excellent storytelling but my favorite has to be the long novelette "Man in The Road") about a "career woman" (yes that was how they were divided from "real women" :) ) who returns home to a small bleak desert town only to find herself accused of a sinister mysterious hit-and-run. I'll pay this the highest compliment I can--this is the kind of twisty crime story Richard Matheson excelled at. It would have been perfect for the long form "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
  My favorite of the shorter pieces is "The Cool Ones" which concerns the kidnapping of a grandmother and makes as contemporary a statement  as the Flower Power era she wrote it in.
  This is not only a major collection of a major writer  (thanks to Sarah Weinman for bringing so many overlooked women writers back to our attention) but is also the most beautifully jacketed and produced book Crippen & Landru has ever published.   

 George Kelley


Todd Mason

Monday, July 24, 2023

Monday, Monday


OPPENHEIMER was very good although two things distracted me. First, trying to place the myriad of actors slightly altered to look their part. Of course, I recognized Matt Damon, Robert Downey, Jr and others, but I highly recommend if you intend on seeing it to look over the cast before going. Secondly, music played behind a lot of the dialog, and it was hard to hear. Or perhaps I am just overly used to using closed captions. But its greatness still shone through--even without seeing it on an IMAX screen. 

BARBIE today.

Watching a strange but likable show called PURE on Prime. Other than that, I drift. As I also have been doing with books. I got the book mentioned on THE BEAR, which is called THE REMARKABLE POWER OF GIVING PEOPLE MORE THAN THEY EXPECT (Will Guidara) This is advice on how to create a great restaurant, which Richie on The Bear has taken to heart. This could apply to any business though-making a customer feel valued, seen appreciated. At dinner last night, I felt like giving a copy to our waitress who kept trying to clear plates off the table before we were done. And there were plenty of empty tables at 5 pm.

Also reading TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, Graham Greene. Maybe. So far I read a page and fall asleep. I bought the copy at Toadvine Books, a lovely little bookstore in Berkley, MI. They have a great collection of mysteries there. I hope people know about it.  Also great art books and children's books.

Wednesday night I went to the park concert where they played surf instrumental music for two hours. Perhaps a bit too much, but they were good.

My book group struggled with DAUGHTER OF TIME. Although strangely enough when I got my report from 23 and Me, an ancestry site, my oldest known ancestor was Richard III. Me along with millions of other people. I do know now that my birth father was a man named Jack Yarnall. Ralph Nase was a wonderful father and I am glad he never knew this. I wish I had never learned of it too.

What about you?

Friday, July 21, 2023

FFB:THE DROWNING POOL-Ross Macdonald (reviewed by Bill Crider in 2010)

Forgotten Books: THE DROWNING POOL -- Ross Macdonald

The Drowning Pool (1950) is the second novel to feature private-eye Lew Archer. I have several copies of it, but when I saw one for a buck the other day, I couldn't resist picking it up. And then I figured it might be fun to read it again. It was.

Ross Macdonald was still feeling his way with this one, so the style isn't what it would be come, but The Drowning Pool has the themes that would occupy him for the rest of his career: dysfunctional families, the sins of the fathers setting their children's teeth on edge, the changing face of California (Ross Mac saw the same sorts of things happening there that John D. Mac saw happening in Florida), the conflict of the generations, and the widening gap between the rich and poor.

Lew Archer's client is a woman who's received a blackmail letter. She doesn't want to tell Archer anything about herself or her family, but he takes the job. Working pretty much in the dark, he begins to turn up plenty of secrets that everybody would like to keep covered, secrets that lead to murder. Typically, even when Archer is supposed to be off the case, he keeps on digging. He can never let go until he finds all the answers.

Macdonald isn't as popular now as his progenitors, Hammett and Chandler. Some readers complain that the plots develop too slowly, and The Drowning Pool doesn't have a murder until more than 60 pages have gone by. Macdonald is more interested in setting up the characters than in presenting a murder on the first page. Other readers might find the book a bit dated. It's not, certainly, in its environmental concerns, though the treatment of homosexuality is a bit off-putting to modern eyes. Still, the narrative works just fine for me, pulling me a long as easily as it did the first time I read the book, nearly 50 years ago. There's even some snappy patter that Spenser would envy.

While this book isn't Macdonald's best, it's still quite good. Macdonald could plot, and he could write.


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Short Story Wednesday-Self-Help, LORRIE MOORE


This was Lorrie Moore's first collection of short stories and they are terrific. The two I read were both written in the second person and read like a set of directions. "How to Become a Writer" is, I imagine, fairly autobiographical. Although the narrator is interested in writing, she is dissuaded by teachers, parents, other students who all agree she doesn't understand plot. She instead pursues child psychology. But eventually she begins to write and does what she has to do to begin her writing career. I am not sure this would appeal to readers who haven't at least tried to be a writer. But a lot felt familiar to me, especially the question, what do you write? 

The second story was told similarly (second person) but this is about a first romance. She is growing tired of her boyfriend when he develops a kidney problem that is difficult to diagnose. How long are you required to stay with someone you don't love because of an illness? Especially at age 20 or so.  

Literary stories used to be like these: easy to understand, beautifully written, about the kind of issues we faced. Or least I thought like that. 

Now many of the stories I see in THE NEW YORKER are abstract, foreign, odd stylistically. Perhaps I have just outlived stories that feel familiar. First-world stories perhaps.  

Todd Mason

Jerry House 

George Kelley 

Casual Debris

Monday, July 17, 2023

Monday, Monday



 Still reading MISS ALUMINUM, (Susanna Moore) and finishing up DAUGHTER OF TIME.

Lots of rain in Michigan. Today I saw UNREST, a Swiss film set at the end of the nineteenth century. Can't say I liked it-too tedious, but it had some interesting ideas about the 20th century's dawn in terms of anarchy, communism, capitalism, feminism. All contrasted to life of the workers in a watch factory. 

I start some PT tomorrow to try and strengthen my knee. Hope it doesn't make it worse.

What about you guys? Maybe you are up to more than me. 

Friday, July 14, 2023



I chose this book for my book group to read this month. I haven't read it in thirty years or more and I'd forgotten how it's slow to get going and also assumes more knowledge of British  history than I have. 

Whenever a list of the most popular mysteries is drawn up though, this finishes near the top. Megan also reminded me that Phil and I insisted she read it and she found it fairly boring. It does not have the strength of a lot of mysteries or novels that use the show don't tell device. Most of this book is Tey's detective Alan Grant solving this mystery from his sick bed. It is almost all tell. But Richard III innocence or guilt in murdering his two child nephews to win him the throne is a fascinating story. And a novel and original mystery for me. 

So did Shakespeare get it right or not. What do you think? Here's a nice piece from 2015 (after his bones were discovered in a parking lot) in the New Yorker.  They have made a movie of that called THE LOST KING.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: My Ten Favorite Collections in 2010

Reading this 13 years later, I am surprised there is no Alice Munro collection on here and I would probably replace one of these with her work. But other than that, I stand by it.

 My Ten Favorite Collections (at least for today) Patti Abbott

Simply the Best Mysteries, edited by Janet Hutchings. This volume, put together in 1998, collected some of the best stories to win Edgar Awards that first appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It included stories such as Patricia Highsmith’s “The Terrapin,” Stanley Ellington’s “The Blessington Method” and Philip MacDonald’s “Dream No More.” A very impressive lineup, one that makes the case for the enduring contribution EQMM made to the mystery short story.

Hard-Boiled, edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian. This collection from 1995 includes stories from the 1930s through the 1990s, giving the reader a good overview of the genre as well as introducing him/her to writers that mostly wrote novels like Chandler, Hammett and Himes. Also here are James Reasoner, Ed Gorman, James Ellroy and Lawrence Block.

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990). This is one of the finest collections of stories centering on the war in Vietnam, or any war, that I’m familiar with. The title story, which lists the items found in a soldier’s backpack is a complete knockout. I have been trying to get my book group to read this for years. Maybe someone out there will.

Too Far To Go, John Updike (1979) This is a collection of stories that Updike wrote about the Maple family, closely mirroring his own, early in his career. It traces a marriage in freefall and finally dissolved. “Giving Blood” in my very favorite, but all of them are sad, cogent, true.

Shiloh and Other Stories, Bobbie Ann Mason (1982). These are the kind of stories you sink into. She along with Carver were known for creating the Kmart school, where brand names and contemporary names are important to her sense of place and time. This either dates or makes her stories more personal, depending on your view. Most of them take place in southwestern Kentucky. She can create beauty from the speech of ordinary people.

Airships, Barry Hannah. Back in 1978 "Airships" knocked everyone out. These stories are about as noir as it gets. You never can predict where a story is going. Just try “Coming Close to Donna” some night. The people and stories in Treme came from writers like Hannah, only a state away.

Lost in the City, Edward P. Jones. This collection of stories, published in 1992, introduced Edward P. Jones to the world, and then he went away and did something more practical to support his family until he got a large award and wrote THE KNOWN WORLD. These stories are about ordinary African-Americans living in Washington D.C. Each one is a gem.

Damn Near Dead, edited by Duane Swierscynski (2006) This is one of the strongest collections of stories on a single theme I’ve ever read. I’m sure most of you have read this collection, but several stories won awards, one at least went on to become a novel which won an Edgar. And Bill Crider's story was nominated for one, too. Stuart MacBride’s humorous tale will split your sides. I swear there is not a dud in the bunch.

Self-Help, Lorrie Moore (1985). I could have chosen her other collections just as easily. Every story of Lorrie Moore’s crackles with humor, sharp observations. I chose this collection because it contains, “How to Become a Writer,” which begins with the advice: “First, try to do something, anything else….It is best if you fail at an early age. Say fourteen….Show it to your Mom…She’ll say, “How about emptying the dishwasher.” Many of her stories are written in the second person and she pulls it off. Brilliant.

The Summer Before the Summer of Love, Marly Swick (1995). Bet you never heard of this one. Swick does not shy away from sorrow, sex, strife. Simply another great female short story writer whom no one outside the rarefied air of literary journals, now disappearing, has heard of. I have shelves full of books by Antonya Nelson, Jean Thompson, Joy Williams and on and on. All good.

Todd Mason

George Kelley


A Hot Cup of Pleasure 

Steve Lewis 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Monday, Monday

Really enjoying THE BEAR. Episode 6 and 7 were terrific. Put a book mentioned in 7 on hold at the library-UNREASONABLE HOSPITALITY. I have seen this sort of service play out at two restaurants recently.

Also loved VORTEX (thanks, Jeff) although it looks like Netflix is going to leave it hanging. 

Saw the movie THE LESSON, which I very much liked. Richard Grant should have had better parts than he's had.

I am getting so much out of my new writing group. I was so lucky to stumble on them. An English fellow's memoir about being farmed out as a kid during the blitz brought us all to tears. I so hope he has time to finish it. He is probably 92.

Have also met a retired English Professor whose specialty is Emily Dickinson. I have always meant to read her poetry all the way though because I find her very difficult. Maybe now's the time.

Been watching movies with method acting on Criterion. I don't think I have ever seen IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT all the way though before. Really a gem. As to RACHEL, RACHEL, based on the Margaret Laurence novel A JEST OF GOD. One of my favorite writers. 

How about you guys?

Friday, July 07, 2023


This was the first Sam McCain book I read back in 2009 and what a pleasure it was. All of Ed Gorman's novels are a treat to read. You enter a world that is mostly filled with benevolent, well-drawn non-stereotypical characters.

And then Ed throws in the monkey wrenches that set that peaceful Iowa world on its ear. There is murder and mayhem but you are never offended. We have a gentleman here.
And then he sets things right in a humane and compelling way.

Especially fun for me were the sixties touchstones-and I really admired the way he caught it on the cusp of a new era-and captured it without overplaying its markers. Sam McCain feels young, vibrant, and on the edge of adulthood himself.

What I liked most about Ed's books is his obvious admiration and enjoyment of women. This is unusual in the books I read. His women are rarely shrews or nags or harpies. All of them seem like a romance or an adventure is just within their grasp--young and old.

My very favorite Gorman book is SLEEPING DOGS, but this is right up there. They all are.


Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "Girl" Jamaica Kincaid

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color
clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don’t walk bare-head in the hot
sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take
them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum
in it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you
cook it; is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way
that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the
slut you are so bent on becoming; don’t sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn’t speak to
wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions; don’t eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you;
but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button;
this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a
dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the
slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that
it doesn’t have a crease; this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have
a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants;
when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat
itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole
house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too
much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to
someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for
dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a
table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence
of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut
I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own
spit; don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know; don’t pick people’s
flowers—you might catch something; don’t throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not
be a blackbird at all; this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona; this
is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to
make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to
catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don’t like, and that way something bad won’t
fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a
man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways, and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad
about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move
quick so that it doesn’t fall on you; this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to
make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all-are you really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?
 Seemed like a better idea to post the story than review it. What makes it interesting to me is the cultural differences. And the idea itself. What did you parents teach you to do? What did they not? We should all write a story like this.

George Kelley

Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House 

Todd Mason

Monday, July 03, 2023

Monday, Monday

 Lots of clouds and rain in Michigan. I am losing the sense that it's summer. Some of it is, no doubt, due to the fires. Although I remember a cloudy summer in 1972. I had two babies and couldn't seem to get a nice day to push them in their stroller. 

Saw NO HARD FEELINGS, which I liked more than expected. Jennifer Lawrence brings a lot of charm to her role and the actor who plays the teenager was great too. Dragged three women to see SPIDERMAN and I might be shot. Although the animation and art was good, the moral was good, the wit was good, it was still a kids' movie and waaay too long. And I forgot to warn them there was a "to be continued" at the end. 

Went to Megan's book signing in Northville, which seemed successful. She is good at it by now and the crowd was enthusiastic even if the B & N didn't seem very experienced at such an event. Too bad the Agnews could not have run things. (The Agnews ran Aunt Agatha's for years)

Watching THE BEAR (A+), SILO, HIJACK, ENDEAVOR. Finished JOE PICKETT, which I liked best as a family drama. Half the scenes were filmed so darkly, I couldn't make them out though. Is that intentional or do I need to adjust. I think I have raised this issue before,

Reading THE SOUVENIR (Patricia Carlon) and DAUGHTER OF TIME (Tey).

What about you?