Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: cigarette lighter, Jack Pendarvis

This book is part of a series called Object Lessons, published by Bloomsbury. Other books in the series deal with objects like golf balls, remote controls, and phone booths. They are quite varied actually. 

Jack Pendarvis was a writer for SPONGE BOB SQUARE PANTS and ADVENTURE TIME. He is also a close friend of Megan's who I have been fortunate to meet once or twice. He lives in Oxford, MA where his wife teaches at Ole Miss. 

I have read the first two essays or stories in this delightful collection. The first one, WELCOME TO THE NATIONAL LIGHTER MUSEUM tells of his trip to Guthrie, OK to visit Ted Ballard, the proprietor of this museum and its extensive collection which was more than seventy years in the making. Ted is hoping to find someone who will promise not to break the collection up and values at a million dollars. The most interesting item was a lighter made from a scrotum. T

The second chapter discussed the use of lighters in films and TV. As you might predict, the heyday of lighters is long past now. MAD MEN was probably the most recent show to use the lighter extensively, beginning with the first scene.

Although I am thanked in Pendarvis' acknowledgements, I can't think I did anything to help him other than to laugh at most anything that comes out of his mouth. Jack still has a blog, which has also provided me with laughs more than one. His other abiding passion is owls. He finds them everywhere (in books that is)

Read Jack for a while and you begin to ask yourself the kind of questions he asks himself on his blog.

Here's one from today. 

I am often running into people who tell me they don't have a sweet tooth. But are there people who don't like salty food? Just normal salty not food bathed in salt. Anyone here dislike pretzels or similar food because of the salt on it? 

George Kelley

Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House (radio script) 

Casual Debris

Todd Mason 

Jeff-I read Mary Lavin back in the seventies and got all of her books from the Wayne State library. Have never seen one in a public library. 

Monday, August 28, 2023

Monday, Monday


Finally gotten to watching THE AFTER PARTY, which is very enjoyable. Also SLOW HORSES (almost done though). HBO has become disappointing. I don't think we have felt the impact of the writers/actors strike yet, but there doesn't seem to be as much on. I am saving HIJACK for an emergency.

Reading STILL LIFE by Sarah Winman for my book group but the light and small font is not fun. I do need some procedure done to clean off the lens from my cataract surgery and perhaps that will help. I have a bunch of books waiting for me that I'd rather be reading. 

Kevin took his SATs Saturday. We went out to celebrate but he can take them five more times if need be. I hope he doesn't have to though. These kids have too much pressure on them. 

I am almost done my PT- but don't think it's helped my knee much. But the other day, walking down a very small incline, I wondered if my ankle isn't some of the problem. It seems to roll over.

We have been getting horrible storms with too much rain for the infrastructure. Why didn't we begin address climate change fifty years ago?

How about you?

Friday, August 25, 2023


A few days ago someone on Facebook was asking what writers deal with the lives of blue-collar Americans. Russell Banks immediately came to mind. Another one would be Bobbie Ann Mason or Bonnie Jo Campbell. There are lots but there should be more. Too many novels are about academics, the rich, the almost rich.

Continental Drift, Russell Banks.

It is hard for me to choose between AFFLICTION and CONTINENTAL DRIFT as my favorite novel by Russell Banks. But I am going with this one today. You may have seen the filmed version of AFFLICTION, a tremendous film with Nick Nolte and James Coburn.

Bob Dubois is a furnace repairman in a blue-collar town in New Hampshire, a state the American Dream has bypassed. Although Bob has a wife, three kids and a steady, if low-paying job, he is persuaded to look for a better life in Miami by his brother.

Bob is a good man although not a smart one. The sixties has persuaded him that there is something better out there. That it is foolish to be satisfied with a meager living in a depressed town.

Another character is also seeking a better life in Miami. A female Haitian refuge, who truly does need asylum and comes to the U.S. in a perilous manner. These two lives intersect in a Florida that is the antithesis of paradise, both characters suffering tragedy. This is not a happy book or one to escape into, but it is one that presents characters and situations that seem real and compelling.

Banks died in January. Here is his NYT obit.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: The Whimper of Whipped Dogs, Harlan Ellison

Randy Johnson's review from 2009.

Forgotten Short Stories: The Whimper of Whipped Dogs – Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison is hardly a forgotten writer, but I’m working under the assumption there are people today that haven’t read him. They should go right out and find anything by the man. He’s a writer worth reading. I’ve written about him before HERE.

My selection for the first edition of Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Short Stories is THE WHIMPER OF WHIPPED DOGS, the story of a woman brutally murdered in a courtyard while residents watched, not one responding to her cries for help, not even calling the police. The story concerns the aftermath and the decision the young woman protagonist, one of the watchers, makes at the end of the story.

It was inspired by the true life murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. A news story two weeks later reported on the non-response of neighbors to the brutalization that went on only a hundred feet from her apartment door. Stabbed twice, the attacker left, only to return ten minutes later to continue the assault.

The report may have been in error, no one knows for sure anymore. Nevertheless, it inspired a powerful story from Mr. Ellison on the general malaise enveloping people living in the city, the constant violence on TV, the mind your own business attitude of to many of us. It won the Edgar for best short story in 1974, one of the many awards(to numerous to list here) his writing has won in a long career.

It’s easily available in numerous editions.

1. Bad Moon Rising, eidted by Tom Disch: first appearance and reasonably priced with a little search
2. Deathbird Stories: good prices
3: Dreams With Sharp Teeth: omnibus containing Deathbird Stories, Shatterday, and I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream. A nice introduction to the man’s stories for anyone new to Mr. Ellison’s work
4. The Essential Ellison: A 35 Year Retrospective and the expanded 50 Year Retrospective

 George Kelley


Jerry House 

Todd Mason

Monday, August 21, 2023

Monday, Monday

 What a scene it is to watch hundreds of flatbed trucks removing thousands of antique cars from the streets along this 30 mile stretch. It's like watching the young push wheelchairs with the old strapped in. Many of them have come from half a country away. I saw a row of Avantis (Studebaker) outside my building.

Never heard of them before. I am hoping the noise is over until next Spring, but I doubt it. 

We saw three okay but not great plays in Stratford: RENT, RICHARD II and KING LEAR. We hit tremendous rainstorms coming and going. And Canada seems to not believe in either rest stops or shoulder to pull off on to.

Reading TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett, which is set in Michigan. 


Happy Birthday, Megan. 

What about you? 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Oh, Canada


See you next Monday! Be safe!

Have been enjoying this podcast/website. They discuss forgotten books.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Monday, Monday


For many years, our summer vacation was in Wellfleet, MA on Cape Cod. Last night I watched a documentary about a shark attack that took place there and the great growth in the shark population. This growth quickly followed the growth in the seal population which

happened when hunting seals was banned. This is a complicated problem to solve. Does the beach belong to the humans paying taxes and summer rental fees? Does the beach belong to the passive seals sunning themselves on the rocks? Does it belong to the sharks coming only where the food source is? And global warming is bringing more and more marine life there. 

Now as someone who has watched the seal population grow in La Jolla, I am not a seal fan. A huge number of smelly birds follow them around. They need to be dispersed if not slaughtered and other communities have done it. If they can neuter peacocks in Florida, they can deal with this. 

Anyway, I liked MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Lots of humor to go with the action. Beautifully filmed. And no matter how you feel about TC, he is a dedicated actor and film maker.

Finally got through the first season of SLOW HORSES. If I put my phone in another room, I do much better at paying attention. Also watched RESERVATION DOGS.

Reading TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett. Such a great writer. 

Wonderful if horrific article in THE ATLANTIC by Jennifer Senior about the discovery that she had an aunt institutionalized her entire life. Up until quite recently, children with mental differences were advised to be put away. Rosemary Kennedy was not the only one.  Apparently Geraldo Rivera made a doc about it. He used to be rather a good guy, wasn't he? 

Going to Stratford Tuesday. RENT, RICHARD II, KING LEAR. 

What are you up to?

Friday, August 11, 2023

FFB, DEATH OF A CITIZEN, Donald Hamilton

Stephen D. Rodgers (from the archives)

Donald Hamilton's DEATH OF A CITIZEN changed my life.

I was brought up to be polite and courteous, to put others first, and -- if I had nothing good to say -- to say nothing at all.

Then, as a young teen, I opened DEATH OF A CITIZEN. Read it, flipped it over, and read it again.  And again.

Matt Helm was a no-nonsense protagonist who thought for himself and did what needed to be done. If he was polite and courteous, he was polite and courteous because he'd decided to be, not because someone else how told him how to behave.

Some may say I'm splitting hairs here, but DEATH OF A CITIZEN taught me not only self-awareness but self-determination.

Sure, Helm killed people, but nobody's perfect.

No book is perfect.    DEATH OF A CITIZEN comes very close.

Take the following exchange.     Helm and his ex-lover Tina are traveling together. Teasing has lead to a game of tag, and the longer-legged Helm eventually brings her down.

"'Old,' she jeered, still lying there. 'Old and fat and slow. Helm the human vegetable. Help me up, turnip.'"

It's funny and it's fitting and it's a damn fine piece of writing. I've read the book dozens of times and still continue to be blow away by that paragraph.

As a bit of background, Tina and Helm (or Eric, as he was known at the time) worked together during the war as government assassins. He gets out once Germany is defeated, marries, and leads a normal life until Tina reappears.

Donald Hamilton delivers on multiple levels. Not only does he create entertaining plots, and write them well, he provides a rich array of three-dimensional characters.

Take, for example, what happens when Helm borrows a car, rushing home to save his daughter who's been kidnapped by Tina and her partner Frank.

"It was the ugliest damn hunk of automotive machine I'd ever had the misfortune to be associated with...

"[The gas attendant thinks differently.] 'That's quite a car you've got there. I tell you ... when they can get something real sharp made right here in America.'

"Well, it's all a matter of taste, I guess."

Helm might be his own person, but he understands and accepts that his way is not the only way. That's as rare in books as it is in real life.

One finds murder, kidnapping, and torture within DEATH OF A CITIZEN. The disembowelment of a pet cat. And yet, one finds the following passage while Helm waits for a female guest to leave Frank's hotel room.

"...the tartier the girl, strangely enough, the longer the skirt. You'd think it would be the other way around.

"This one was pretty well hobbled."

And after the woman leaves, and Helm follows Frank out of the hotel and under a nearby bridge:

"There were a couple of cars going past overhead. It was a good a time as any. I took out the gun and shot him five times in the chest."

Only later does Helm explain that Frank was too big and unimaginative to be made to talk. Killing Frank at least took him out of the equation, freeing Helm to concentrate on Tina.

"She licked her lips. 'Better men than you have tried to make me talk, Eric.'

"I said, 'This doesn't take better men, sweetheart. This takes worse men. And at the moment, with my kid in danger, I'm just about as bad as they come."

Between 1960 (DEATH OF A CITIZEN) and 1993 (THE DAMAGERS), Matt Helm appeared in 27 books. Donald Hamilton died in late 2006. He was just about as good as they came.


Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Short Story Wednesday "Leslie in Caifornia" Andre Dubus II


I was listening to a long interview with Andre Dubus III on Fresh Air about his new book, SUCH KINDNESS, and much of their talk was about male violence. He relayed a story about how his Dad wrote "Leslie in Califonia" after the two of them discovered his sister was being beaten by her husband. Dubus II went home and wrote this very short story and his son Dubus III was very upset with his father using that incident to create art. "How does this help?" he asked. But of course, it does because it reminds us that this is going on right down the street, right next door sometimes. When I was a kid I watched the man I babysat for throw his wife out the front door. At night, I could often hear the man in the row house next to ours repeatedly push his wife against the wall. The walls are thicker in the places I live now but this still goes on.

So of course I had to read the story or rather reread it because it is in a collection I own. In the story, a woman wakes up with her eye hurting and we learn her husband has beaten her. And like all men in this situation he promises he will never do it again, but of course, he will. And the story ends with the woman indicating she is about to leave. There is nothing new about this story but it gets right to it without telling us a word more than we need to know.

So last night I tried a new series on Prime called THE LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART, an Australian series starring Sigourney Weaver and guess what it's about. And this time the man beats his child and wife. Some days you can't get away from it. 

George Kelley

Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House 

Tracy K 


Monday, August 07, 2023

Monday, Monday


I saw THEATER CAMP, which probably few of you have heard of based on the audience of six.

It was along the lines of a Christoper Guest mockumentary but less bite and more sugar. I didn't mind it, but I doubt I will remember it down the road. 

Watching JUSTIFIED: CITY PRIMEVAL, which probably will rank as one of the lesser seasons. Debating whether to watch HI-JACKED. Finished up GRANTCHESTER and is it me or was that one of the worst seasons too. They really didn't seem to know what to do with half the characters on the show. Maybe it is me. Trying SLOW HORSES again after hearing an interview with Mick Herron on the BBC.

Been rereading some of the Andre Dubus II short stories. A great writer indeed.

Trying to shake of the politics of this country and having little luck. 

What about you?

Friday, August 04, 2023


(Friday's Forgotten Books, February 25, 2011)


Although I love Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME, in many ways, I consider this a more compelling read.

There is no murder in Tey's THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR (1948). A young girl (15) accuses two women, Marion Sharpe and her mother, Mrs. Sharpe, of kidnapping her, beating her, and holding her prisoner at their house, the Franchise. The girl gives a spot-on description of the attic in which she was supposedly imprisoned.

A lawyer, named Robert Blair, investigates the charges. He' s convinced that the girl is lying. But how to prove it given her knowledge of the house and women.

The story is based on the real life story of Elizabeth Canning, an eighteenth century girl who made a similar charge.

THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR a wonderful novel. The characters are well-developed, the story is engaging, the writing is lovely. We learn a lot about English country life in the mid- twentieth century. It was made into a movie, and twice televised for TV.


Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Short Story Wednesday-BLOOD LINES by Ruth Rendell

(from the archives: B.V. Lawson)

Rendell is an author who needs very little introduction, having created the popular Chief Inspector Reginald "Reg" Wexford series under her own name and many other books under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, as well as having been nominated numerous times for Dagger and Edgar Awards. But the very first Edgar she ever won was in 1975 for a short story, "The Fallen Curtain" from a book by the same name (she won another short-story Edgar in 1984). Since that time, she's had nine short story collections published, the latest a compilation in 2008.

Bloodlines One of her anthologies, Blood Lines, dates from 1995 and includes 10 shorter stories and one novella. Most of the stories are familiar Rendell territory including the villages of Kingsmarkham and Stowerton, which are the stomping grounds of Chief Inspector Wexford and his assistant Mike Burden, featured in the intial story. "Blood Lines" finds Wexford and Burden solving a bludgeoning death that Wexford doggedly pursues despite the fact everyone else thinks it's a mere robbery gone bad, in the end piecing together a picture of infidelity, spousal abuse and betrayal.

"Lizzie's Lover" takes a new and literal twist on a Browning poem that comes to life; "Burning End" explores the difficult relationships between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law and what it takes to push someone over the edge; the accidental discovery of a poisonous mushroom in a garden leads to a game of culinary Russian Roulette by a mad man in a supermarket, in "Shreds and Shivers"; "Clothes" is the only story not to deal with death but rather peers inside an unusual obsession that drives a woman to emotional collapse.

The longest story, the novella "The Strawberry Tree" was one of seventeen televised feature-length adaptations of Rendell's work which aired on ITV in the UK and on some PBS stations between 1987 and 2000, under the title Ruth Rendell Mysteries, which Acorn Media just released in a DVD boxed set in March. It was apparently intended as a sketch for a Barbara Vine novel, a foreboding and atmospheric tale of lost innocence embedded in a lonely young woman's deep desire for love and friendship on the island of Majorca.

Rendell (and alter ego Vine) is known for her exploration of the darker human impulses forged out of society’s moral codes: passion, jealousy, anxiety, guilt, shame, rage are the colors she uses to paint psychological portraits as she allows the reader to delve into the minds of her characters. If you haven't read a Rendell novel, stories such as these make for a fine introduction.


George Kelley 

Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House 

Todd Mason 

Steve Lewis